The ice rink was usually empty this time of night. Bakugou preferred it that way. He liked having the place to himself to train on his own. But when he passed by the front desk, the bored worker- Bakugou had never bothered to learn his name, despite the fact that they'd both seen each other at the ice rink for years- glanced up from his phone. “Someone new here today,” he drawled, entirely familiar with Bakugou's temperament. “Play nice.”
Bakugou grit his teeth and proceeded to the locker room, the shitty sound of the shitty music the shitty new person had chosen filtering through the walls. He dug his headphones from his gym bag and screwed them into his ears, blasting rock to both cancel out the other person's music selection and to match his mood, already pissed off from the idea of having to share the rink on what was supposed to be his own time. He spent enough time sharing the rink when he trained with his team. The only reason he bothered coming out here at this time of night was specifically so that he could have the place to himself. But he wasn't about to let some new asshole completely ruin his routine, so he gathered his things from his locker, changed into his gear, and carried his skates, stick, and bag out to the side of the rink.
Desk Dude was right. Another skater was already taking advantage of the empty rink, trailing lazy looping patterns across the ice. Bakugou sat on the bench and laced up his skates, refusing to look at the stranger any more than absolutely necessary.
He skated out onto the ice to start his usual warmups. He'd almost managed to lose himself in the exercise when something- someone- some specific shitty someone- ran into him from behind. He hardly budged, but it was the principle of the matter that infuriated him, not the physicality of it. Bakugou reeled on the shitty someone in question, ready to spew fire.
The person sitting on their ass on the ice didn't look particularly shitty, though, with a hand nervously running through long red hair and fucking weird shark teeth bared in an embarrassed grin that reached his eyes, a scar over one, and Bakugou couldn't tell if he was wearing contacts or if his eyes really were that kind of red but either way they suited his face well. There was something about the whole situation that made Bakugou wonder if the stranger had hit him upside the head when he'd skated into him because he was having way too difficult a time thinking clearly and there was no reason for Bakugou to be staring at the guy as much as he was.
He concluded, reluctantly, that the stranger didn't look shitty at all. But that just annoyed Bakugou even more. Or, at least, annoyance was the closest word he could think of to what that smile made him feel.
The stranger's smile parted and Bakugou eventually realized he was talking, but Bakugou couldn't hear him for the music blaring in his ears. Bakugou left him there, skated off to where he'd left his gear, grabbed his stick and several pucks, and channeled whatever the fuck entirely unwelcome emotion he'd just felt into slapshots. At least the stranger hadn't taken down the nets, and had the basic decency or sense of self-preservation to not run into Bakugou again, and left Bakugou to his training. But neither of them kept to one particular part of the ice- Bakugou out of territorial pride, the maybe-not-entirely-shitty stranger probably out of ignorance, and Bakugou kept getting glances of the stranger out of the corner of his eye. It was distracting, irritatingly so. From what little he tried not to watch, the stranger was a good skater, but didn't seem to be moving with any particular intent. As if he were just there for fun.
Like Bakugou cared why the asshole was there. He pushed himself further in his workout and focused on kindling the burn in his muscles instead.
The lights dimmed, Desk Dude's usual way of reminding Bakugou that the rink would be closing soon. Bakugou did a few cooldown laps and collected the pucks piled up in the net before returning to the bench. The stranger followed after, and the reminder of his presence made Bakugou scowl. He pried off his gloves and unlaced his skates as quickly as he could, keeping his headphones in and shoulders hunched and frown obvious but the fucking stranger sat on the bench beside him anyway and nudged him on the shoulder, just hard enough to be felt through his pads.
Bakugou glared over at him and his big fucking smile. The stranger tapped at his ears, then pointed at Bakugou's. Bakugou had no idea what the fuck the stranger was thinking. He couldn't imagine any possible way he could make it more obvious that he didn't want to talk, but the stranger just grinned at his glower. He tore out his headphones and snarled, “What the fuck do you fucking want.”
His fury just deflected off the stranger's big grin. “Sorry man,” he said, sounding very much not sorry at all, “but do you know how much renting a locker costs?”
Bakugou stared at him. What the fuck kind of a question was that? “Ask the fucking desk dude,” he snapped, and went to put his headphones back in.
“And sorry about earlier,” the stranger continued, and this time he had the decency to actually sound apologetic. “Thought I had the place to myself, so I was skating with my eyes closed. Dumb, huh?” he giggled.
Not a laugh. Not a chuckle. A nervous self-conscious cute fucking giggle.
“Well you fucking didn't,” Bakugou growled, unpleasantly bewildered by his own reaction to the sound. He shoved the feeling down, ripped off his skates and gestured with one, blade first, at the stranger with more aggression than was probably necessary to get his point across. “I usually have the place to myself, now. So what the fuck are you doing here?”
“Just moved here like a week ago,” the stranger answered, far more casually and cheerily than he had any right to sound. “Guess we'll have to share!”
Bakugou bagged his skates, their threat having clearly failed him, and wondered if this was what hell was like, if he was just going to have to deal with this asshole ruining his routine and privacy from now on.
“My name's Kirishima by the way! Kirishima Eijirou.” the stranger- well, fuck, Bakugou couldn't think of him as that anymore- said, unlacing his own skates, grinning from the bench. “What's yours?”
Bakugou was entirely ready to tell him to fuck off and die, but the words caught in his throat at the sight and sound of Kirishima's entirely earnest friendliness. “Bakugou,” he grunted, instead, frustrated with himself.
“Nice to meet you, Bakugou!”
With teeth like that, Kirishima had no right to have such a nice smile.
“Whatever,” Bakugou muttered and headed for the locker room.
Kirishima trailed him because of course he fucking did. “So are you a hockey player, Bakugou?” he asked, sitting and changing into his shoes as Bakugou opened his locker.
“I'm not fucking wearing this shit for my health,” Bakugou growled, gesturing at his pads. Kirishima's face scrunched up, clearly holding back laughter. Bakugou hated the fact that he didn't hate the expression. “What's so fucking funny.”
“It's just. Well.” A chuckle spilled out. “Health is exactly what pads are for. Right?”
He had a point. Bakugou turned back to his locker, grimacing, and decided to skip his usual shower, changing directly into his street clothes. He could shower at home. Anything to get out of there and away from Kirishima a moment faster.
“That's really cool, though! I love hockey. How's your team?”
The fucker really couldn't take a hint, could he? But Bakugou could never resist an opportunity to brag, even if only a little, even to some weird asshole who didn't know how to shut up. He glared at Kirishima over his shoulder. Kirishima's shoes were on, bag over his shoulder. He'd been wearing normal clothes earlier, so it wasn't as if he had to change. But instead of leaving, he was just sitting there, looking up at Bakugou with that fucking smile. “I”m on the team,” he said. “So it's fucking fantastic, obviously.”
Kirishima's grin broadened. “Obviously,” he agreed, and Bakugou couldn't tell if Kirishima was fucking with him or not.
He probably was. Bakugou narrowed his eyes at him. “We haven't lost a game yet this season,” he continued. He wanted to be sure he at least got across the skill of his team, since apparently he couldn't get across how very much he wanted Kirishima to fuck off, and finished changing.
“So when's your next game?”
Bakugou grit his teeth, slammed his locker shut, and grabbed his bag. “Saturday,” he snarled, heading out the door.
Kirishima followed. “Gonna be more specific than that?”
“Puck drops at seven,” Bakugou hissed. Was this fucker going to follow him all the way home?
“Awesome,” Kirishima beamed, mercifully stopping by the front desk. He waved as Bakugou continued for the front door. “I'll be there!”
“Sure,” Bakugou grumbled, and stalked out. He fumed the entire way to the bus stop. He usually felt relaxed after his private skating sessions. That was part of why he enjoyed them so much, really. They were not only his way to push himself further, to increase his skills to every extent he could, but they also simply served as a way to unwind. Just him and the ice. Tonight, though, he felt a tight tangle low in his gut and annoyed himself further by his inability to unravel it.
The bus arrived and he climbed into the back, feet up on the empty chair in front of him, glaring out the window. He tried to ignore the feeling, but that just made it worse. It wasn't just that his routine had been disrupted or that he'd had to deal with some talkative asshole. He knew that wasn't it, because, inexplicably, he kept thinking about Kirishima's smile.
And he kept thinking about Kirishima's smile all the way to Saturday.
They won the game, of course. Their opponents had put up a respectable effort and had even managed to score a single goal, but Uraraka balanced out the game with one of her own and Bakugou supplied the remaining three successful shots. As the Heroes did their victory laps and the losers skated out, Bakugou let the crowd bleed into his consciousness. The rink wasn't packed, by any means, but he wasn't looking for numbers. He was looking for one particular person.
And Bakugou found him, grinning and waving, looking as delighted as if he'd won the game himself. Bakugou frowned back. Kirishima's smile now was just as frustrating as the thought of it had been since Bakugou had first seen it. His pride at his team's win twisted with an entirely uncalled for sense of something uncomfortably close to relief at the fact that Kirishima had, actually, come to the game. If he was going to have to share his private ice time with the fucker, it was nice to know that he at least wasn't a liar.
But he knew that wasn't quite the reason, either, and Bakugou hated that he couldn't figure out the feeling. As the audience dispersed, he scowled and started off to the locker room. But his team had other ideas. Sero and Kaminari swung around and grabbed him, grinning, and Bakugou let himself be skated back towards the group as they chattered over him about how well the game had gone. Ashido had pulled Yaoyorozu from the seats and was skating in circles, holding her laughing girlfriend in her arms. “Momo's buying dinner!” she called out. Yaoyorozu bought the team dinner every time they won, but Sero and Kaminari still cheered in unison, releasing Bakugou to high five. Bakugou rolled his eyes, but he wasn't about to turn down free food, either, and conceded to staying still for the awkward group selfie the team always took after a game.
Once Yaoyorozu was satisfied with the photo, Bakugou seated himself on the bench, removing his skates as he waited for his teammates. While Ashido skated Yaoyorozu around, Uraraka helped Tsuyu with her bulky gloves, and Sero and Kaminari did their usual hopeless mutually oblivious flirting that was blatant enough for even Bakugou to have picked up on, Bakugou let himself return to basking in the glow of victory.
His relative peace and quiet didn't last long.
“Hey!” Kirishima beamed down at him from the raised bleachers, chin on his arms, arms on the half-wall. “That was awesome, man, you guys did really good!”
“Yeah,” Bakugou grumbled in agreement, immediately wishing that Kirishima had been a liar after all, because at least then Bakugou wouldn't have to be dealing with that foreign feeling in his gut at the sight of Kirishima's grin again. How could one guy look so fucking happy?
“That first goal you got? That was such a good goal dude, it was like their goalie couldn't even see the puck! And that second one? Your teammate set up that shot so well, and you did such a good job with it! Like, it would have been so easy to miss that chance, but you just went for it. It's like you moved on instinct, it was really impressive!” Kirishima's voice was loud and bubbling with excitement, as if still reeling from the same adrenaline that coursed through Bakugou's blood when he played. “Your team is just really super cool!”
Bakugou put the enjoyment he was getting out of listening to his voice down to the fact that Kirishima was complimenting him.
“Like I said,” Bakugou muttered, frowning up at him. “I'm on the team, so we're fucking fantastic.”
Kirishima laughed, bright and airy. “Obviously,” he said, and as before, Bakugou honestly still couldn't tell what the fuck he meant by that.
He opened his mouth to snarl something back, but Tsuyu's voice interrupted his thoughts. She and the rest of the team had finished screwing around on the ice and had joined him at the benches. “Bakugou,” Tsuyu asked, calm and relaxed as ever, as suited the team captain, “are you coming to dinner?”
“More importantly, is he?” Ashido asked, shamelessly pointing at Kirishima. Or, pointing as best she could, considering that she was still carrying Yaoyorozu.
Kirishima answered first. “Hi!” he exclaimed, and actually fucking waved down at the team. “You guys were so awesome! That was such a good game, you all did such a good job!”
“Yeah, I'd say he can come,” Kaminari smirked. “Flattery'll get you everywhere.” He shot Kirishima with dual finger guns and Bakugou very much did not appreciate the incomprehensible rise of discomfort that rose in his chest at the gesture.
Sero laughed. “At least take off your skates before you start flirting with fans you sweaty goof.”
Kaminari turned his finger guns on Sero instead, and Kirishima's bemused smile drew Bakugou's attention again. “I, uh. You... want me to go to dinner?”
“My treat,” Yaoyorozu said with a smile, arms around Ashido's shoulders. “Friends of the team are always welcome.”
Kirishima looked from Yaoyorozu to Bakugou. The shark-toothed weirdo wasn't his friend, but so what? It wasn't as if he were the one paying for dinner. If his teammates wanted to invite every stray hockey fan to their meal, then fine. Why should he care? So he just shrugged at Kirishima's inquisitive gaze. The gesture resulted in Kirishima's smile spreading, in the embarrassed creases between his eyes smoothing. “Sure!” he chirped. “That'd be great! Thanks!”
He waited for them in the entrance while they cleaned up in the locker room, chattering away with Desk Dude, and then chatted with the team just as much while they all made their way to the team's usual post-game haunt. Bakugou wondered how one person could possibly talk so much and annoyed himself further by realizing that he was actually paying attention to what Kirishima was saying. In Bakugou's defense, most of it was excited recollections and praise of moments from the game, so of course he was listening.
Their usual booth was available at the restaurant and they piled in. Rather than pulling up a spare chair like a normal fucking person, Kirishima just squeezed in at the end of the booth, apparently somehow either unaware of or unbothered by the way he had to press up against Bakugou's side to avoid falling off the edge. He was warm and smelled like cinnamon and Bakugou felt entirely disappointed in himself that he'd even noticed. The seating arrangement meant that he was trapped between Kirishima and Sero. Bakugou had to breathe through his nose and glare at his plate to suppress the urge to shove Kirishima away, since that would just make his teammates yell at him and he really didn't want to have to put up with any more of their bullshit than he already did.
Kirishima startled Bakugou out of his poor attempt to alleviate his definitely-not-anxiety by putting his hand on Bakugou's shoulder as he leaned across the table to show his phone to those at the other end of the table. “See? There's a whole bunch of awesome photos of you guys!” he said, his voice way too fucking close to Bakugou's ear. “Well I mean, it's you guys that are awesome, the photos are just,” he chuckled, sounding more uncomfortable than modest, “you know. But look! Here, pass it around!”
Kaminari snatched the phone from his hand and started swiping through photos. Sero leaned in to see, giving Bakugou a hint more breathing room, and Kirishima pulled back, grinning as Bakugou's team looked through the pictures and the food began to arrive and they started eating. But Kirishima's hand stayed on Bakugou's shoulder, as if he'd forgotten he'd even put it there in the first place.
Bakugou glared at the hand and pushed it off. Kirishima blinked at him, and a second later his eyebrows shot up. “Oh,” he said, significantly quieter than what his usual volume seemed to be, as if he were trying to avoid drawing attention. “Sorry! Sorry, Bakugou.” He withdrew his hand to the side of his plate and shifted his body so one leg was hooked over the side of the booth, sitting on the very edge. Kirishima's new position couldn't have been particularly comfortable, but it provided Bakugou enough space that he felt he could breathe properly again. He gave Bakugou a small smile. “I don't notice that kind of stuff sometimes, sorry.”
Bakugou wanted to demand what kind of stuff he was talking about, but instead he just muttered, “Stop fucking apologizing.”
Kirishima's smile broadened. Before he could respond, Tsuyu, now holding Kirishima's phone, said, “These are very good, you're an excellent photographer.”
“It's just a hobby,” Kirishima said, strangely sheepish. “Thanks though! I can send them to you all if you want them?”
“Yeah!” Ashido beamed. “I look like such a badass in them!”
Yaoyorozu laughed and kissed her girlfriend on the cheek. “You always do.”
Kaminari groaned. “Ugh, PDA, guys, I'm not trying to be reminded of my constant crushing loneliness, I just want to eat my dinner.”
“Your free dinner, paid for by our lovely friend,” Sero snorted, nudging him.
“Have you seen the photos yet, Bakugou?” Uraraka interrupted, rolling her eyes. “A lot of them are of you.”
“No,” Bakugou growled, raising an eyebrow at Kirishima. He at least had the decency to look embarrassed. Uraraka passed over the phone and Bakugou frowned down at it, working his way through the pictures. His teammates were right; the skill in the photography was clear, and a solid half of them featured Bakugou, including some before the game had even started. Kirishima had captured all of his goals perfectly, leading up to and following the shots, and Bakugou felt a pleased satisfaction at seeing those particular moments caught in still frames.
Before Bakugou could decide whether he was flattered or annoyed by sheer volume of the photos, Kirishima said, intent but with an undercurrent of insecurity, “I really like the way you move on the ice, it's just so natural and confident that it's like you're not even thinking about it, which I mean, it makes it so that you can tell you've put a lot of effort into your skill and it just was really impressive to watch! And like, combined with that huge smile of yours you look like you're just having the time of your life too, and it was just really inspiring, you know? So I wanted to kind of, I don't know, capture a glimpse of that. Sorry if that's weird.”
Bakugou's chest tightened and he realized he was gawking at Kirishima. Who the fuck said shit like that? Normally he'd be suspicious of someone saying nothing but compliments, but Kirishima seemed entirely and overwhelmingly genuine, and Bakugou couldn't discern any traces of deception or ulterior motive. He liked being complimented, sure, but didn't know what do to with that level of honest praise. So he just pushed the phone back into Kirishima's hands and growled, “I told you to stop fucking apologizing.”
Kirishima let out a bright laugh that only made the pressure in Bakugou's chest worsen. “So you like them?”
“Sure, whatever,” Bakugou grumbled, trying to focus on his food rather than the heat in his cheeks.
“Do you want me to send any of them to you?”
“The goals,” Bakugou said, realizing immediately afterwards that his response meant he'd have to give up his number. He grabbed the phone back out of Kirishima's hands. Like hell he was going to say it aloud, like hell he was going to let his teammates know he was giving this guy his number. When he exited the gallery, he had to stare a moment; Kirishima's homescreen wallpaper was the pro player who'd earned the nickname Crimson Riot for his skill as his team's enforcer, wearing a grin and a bloody broken nose, laughing as if in the middle of telling a joke. It was probably the most famous photograph of Crimson Riot out there. Even Bakugou had seen it before, after all, and he wasn't even all that familiar with Crimson Riot's career. He thought it was an odd choice of photo for a phone.
Bakugou dismissed his curiosity and switched to Kirishima's contacts, typed in his number, and pushed the phone back. “I'll send them after I get home, okay?” Kirishima said, sounding irritatingly self-conscious again. “I have to look through them and make sure I don't send the bad ones.”
“For fuck's sake, they're all good, just fucking send them,” Bakugou snapped.
Kirishima's momentary look of surprise was swiftly replaced with a massive, delighted, gorgeous, immensely aggravating grin. “Sure thing, Bakugou!” He sent them while they were still at the table, and Bakugou supposed sharing his number was a fair exchange for that smile.
To Bakugou's relief, Kirishima didn't abuse the possession of his phone number. The next time Bakugou heard from him was at the ice rink. Desk Dude warned him that Kirishima was there ahead of him again, and Bakugou found himself annoyed that he wasn't annoyed about that, which was a mess of emotions he really didn't want to have to deal with and so pushed down and out of mind. He headed out to the benches at the side of the ice with his gear in hand, Kirishima's shitty choice of music once more on the speakers. He put in his headphones automatically.
This time, Bakugou kept an eye on Kirishima as he laced up his skates. He moved with a fluid ease, casually graceful and clearly practiced. But as talented as the motions were, they still lacked any apparent purpose- they were too easy to be exercise and too meandering to be honing his skill. Bakugou frowned and finished with his skates.
Kirishima waved and grinned once he noticed Bakugou's presence. At least he had his eyes open this time, although Bakugou thought he spotted a bruise over one of them. Bakugou gave him a nod in return, curious about the maybe-bruise but not enough to delay his workout. A nod was the most social he could manage at the moment. Not that he felt like he had to be social, Kirishima was still just some guy he barely knew, after all. But Kirishima didn't seem to mind, and kept grinning as he skated off.
Having him on the ice was just as distracting as the first time. Kirishima kept out of Bakugou's way, fortunately. But whenever Bakugou caught a glimpse of him, Kirishima seemed to be smiling right back at him.
Bakugou really didn't like that fucking smile. There was something about it that made his stomach hurt, something about it that made it difficult to focus. He definitely hadn't thought about that smile on his way to the ice rink that day. He definitely hadn't.
Apart from the hindrance of Kirishima's presence, Bakugou's time on the ice went well. There were occasional moments where he could almost pretend he was alone, where he could take a frosty breath and let the sensation of the blades on the ice and the stick in his hands transport him into his own private world where there was nothing but him and the cold and the knowledge that this was his realm. This was where he belonged. This was where things made sense. This was where he could do anything.
And then he'd see Kirishima out of the corner of his eye and a hot wash of embarrassment would bleed across his face and he'd devote himself once more to his training. If Kirishima noticed any of those moments, he didn't say anything, much to Bakugou's relief. Not that he cared what Kirishima thought. Not that someone who skated with his eyes closed was in any position to comment on Bakugou's own possible peculiarities.
When the lights dimmed, Bakugou skated relaxed laps around the outside of the ice. He deliberated with his headphones, then took them out, letting them hang over his shoulder. It wasn't that he wanted to talk to Kirishima. It absolutely wasn't. It was just that, if Kirishima wanted to talk, it wasn't as if headphones would stop him, anyway. So taking off the headphones ahead of time just made sense.
Kirishima was seated at the benches already, fumbling with his laces. His face lit up at Bakugou's approach, and Bakugou didn't know what to make of that- nor did he know what to make of what was definitely a black eye, stark and vivid enough that it couldn't have been more than a day or two old. Kirishima's grin parted. “Hey Bakug-”
“What the fuck happened to you?”
Kirishima blinked at him, expression fading with confusion. “What do you mean?”
Bakugou glared at him. “What the fuck do you mean, what do I mean? The fucking black eye, what the fuck is up with that?”
“Oh.” Kirishima forced a chuckle. “Looks pretty manly, right? What do you think?”
“I think it looks like you broke some asshole's fist with your fucking face.”
This time the laugh sounded genuine. “Got it in one, dude,” he said, shark-toothed smile returning. “You're a good guesser.”
What the hell kind of an answer was that? Bakugou's jaw clenched of its own accord and he sat with a huff on the bench beside Kirishima. He had absolutely no reason to care about what had happened, but despite himself, he did. He tore at his laces.
“What the fuck,” Bakugou interrupted again. “Are you a fucking boxer or something?” He had the muscle for it. Not that Bakugou had noticed.
Kirishima pried off his skates, inspecting the state of the blades with far more scrutiny than necessary. “Nah. Just. You know.”
Bakugou definitely did not know. “So, what? You lost a fucking fight or something?”
“I never said I lost,” Kirishima retorted with a smirk, looking Bakugou in the eye again. He seemed nearly smug, sounded nearly dangerous. It was a sharp contrast to what Bakugou had seen of Kirishima before and the unexpected change in expression and attitude hit Bakugou like an elbow in the gut. “Look, yeah, I got into a fight,” he continued, that self-consciousness seeping back in, the flare of pride flickering out just as quickly as it had sparked. “I don't know the city too well yet, guess I went into a bad area or something.” He laughed.
Who the fuck laughed at that kind of thing? Bakugou had been in plenty of fights, sure, but it sounded like Kirishima had gotten fucking jumped on the street or something. Bakugou usually picked his battles. “Fucking hell,” Bakugou muttered, bewildered by how fast his heartbeat felt, by how much he wanted to see that smirk again. Not that it was any better than Kirishima's usual smile, just different. Not that Bakugou actually cared about what expression Kirishima wore. Not at all. “There's not that many places around here where someone'll just fucking attack you on the street, and they're easy to avoid. Where the fuck even were you?”
Kirishima shrugged. “I don't really remember, I was just kind of exploring? Wandered around for a while after that and then had to get a cab to get home. I had no idea where I was.”
Bakugou stood, gear in hand. “How the fuck are you even alive?” he grumbled, heading to the locker room. Kirishima followed, and this time, Bakugou didn't mind.
“Just lucky, I guess!” Kirishima chimed. He went to a nearby locker- so he had gotten one, after all- and sorted his skates as Bakugou did the same. “I have to learn the city somehow, wandering around seemed like a good idea at the time.” He grinned at Bakugou over his shoulder. “Do you have a better idea?”
“Of course I fucking do,” Bakugou growled, debating whether or not to shower while also trying to come up with a better idea. He took his toiletries and muttered, “I could just fucking show you around.”
Kirishima's grin brightened, and Bakugou's heart caught in his throat. “That's really nice of you to offer!” he said, beaming. “Hey, in that case, what are you doing after this?”
Bakugou grabbed a towel, turning away so he didn't have to look at that unfairly perfect smile. “Nothing,” he growled. “Just eating.”
“Would you mind showing me how to get home, then?”
Bakugou turned back to stare at him, incredulous. “You don't know how to get home.”
Kirishima laughed, eyes closed, fingers tangling in his hair as he tugged it behind his ear. He looked downright cute. Bakugou told himself he hated it, but even he had difficulty believing himself. “I've tried, dude,” Kirishima admitted. “I just get lost and end up calling a cab. It's getting pretty expensive.”
“Do you not have a fucking GPS in your phone or something?”
Kirishima shrugged. “I'm no good with maps.”
Bakugou just kept staring at him. He'd never had difficulty figuring out if someone was trying to pull one past him before. But then, he'd never had difficulty not thinking about someone's smile before, either. At this point he wasn't even entirely sure if he cared whether or not Kirishima could actually navigate himself home. If he was just fucking with Bakugou, then fine. And if he wasn't, then, well, that was fine, too. “Fine.”
“Awesome!” Kirishima's response was immediate and far more enthusiastic than it needed to be. “I'll be here or out at the desk, okay? Take your time! And thanks, Bakugou, I really appreciate it.”
Kirishima felt too genuine for Bakugou to know what to do with, so Bakugou just shrugged and went off for his shower, during which he did a decent job of not thinking. After he'd cleaned and dried and changed, he headed back. Kirishima wasn't there, so Bakugou closed up his locker, took a breath, and went out to the desk. Kirishima stood there talking about who knew what with Desk Dude. With a grin and a wave to Desk Dude, he pulled away from the conversation the moment he spotted Bakugou.
“So where the fuck do you live,” Bakugou muttered, hands in his pockets.
Kirishima pulled up the map on his phone. Bakugou knew the area. It wasn't too far from where he lived. For the most part, Kirishima could easily take the same bus route as he did. “Any ideas?” Kirishima asked, and it was then that Bakugou realized just how close he was standing, just barely not brushing shoulders.
“Yeah, come on.” Bakugou started off.
Kirishima walked along beside him. “I'm really lucky you know the area! And that you're willing to help, you're really nice, dude.”
“You said that already.” He'd never been called nice before. He wasn't sure what to make of it.
“Well it's true,” Kirishima chuckled. “But I'll stop if you want.”
“I didn't say that,” Bakugou snapped. Fuck, his face felt too hot again. What the fuck was with this guy?
“Okay then, you're really nice to be helping me out.” Kirishima's grin took on a mischievous edge.
Bakugou scowled at him. “Keep it up and I'll leave you in the middle of nowhere.”
“Yeah, sure.” Kirishima snickered. “You're too nice for that.”
They reached the bus stop and Bakugou had to take a moment just to glare at the sidewalk. Kirishima made him feel almost sick, with a roiling stomach and swimming brain and it wasn't necessarily awful but he really wished he could get it to stop. Or at least figure out what it was about Kirishima that caused that effect.
They chatted as they waited- or, more accurately, Kirishima chatted, and Bakugou listened and occasionally grumbled back. He was surprised to find that he didn't mind the arrangement. They piled onto the bus when it arrived. Bakugou kept an eye on his phone to keep track of their location, showing the process to Kirishima as he did so, for which Kirishima seemed grateful. Bakugou led Kirishima off the bus a few stops ahead of his own and they walked the rest of the way to Kirishima's apartment building.
Kirishima grinned at him the whole way. Once they reached the entrance to his building, though, his smile wrinkled with something Bakugou couldn't quite identify. “So I know you said you were planning on eating,” Kirishima started. Bakugou had nearly forgotten that he'd said as much. “Did you want to join me for dinner? It won't be anything fancy but I'm a decent enough cook and I should do something in return for you helping me out, right?”
The offer held more appeal than it should have. Bakugou put it down to the fact that he was fucking starving and free food was free food. “Don't do shit just because you feel like you should,” he muttered.
Kirishima tilted his head at him. “Okay, then,” he said, hesitant, as if the mere extension of an invitation required more assertiveness than he was accustomed to. “I want to do something in return. Let me cook you dinner.”
To be fair to Kirishima's awkward offer, politely accepting that request required more social grace than Bakugou possessed. “That's fucking better.”
Kirishima laughed and led him inside.
Bakugou wasn't really sure what to expect, but a tiny flat whose only piece of furniture was a couch that looked as if it had been fished from an underwater dumpster wasn't quite it. Cardboard boxes were stacked here and there, but apart from that and a few things on the kitchen counter, the place hardly looked as if anyone lived there at all. “I haven't really finished putting the place together,” Kirishima said, sheepish. “Did you know that furniture is really dang expensive?”
“Yes,” Bakugou replied, voice dry. But he stepped inside anyway, letting Kirishima lock up behind him. There were two other doors in the flat, presumably to a bathroom and bedroom, and one out to a balcony opposite the entrance. A lone potted plant stood on the floor beside the balcony door. It was the only real splash of life in the entire space. “How fucking long have you even lived here?”
“Like two weeks, dude,” Kirishima laughed. He dumped his bag in a corner and pried off his shoes. “You can't expect me to have a pretty place after just a couple of weeks.”
Bakugou frowned, but followed suit. “Do you have literally anything other than a couch that probably has fucking rabies?”
“Couches can't have rabies,” Kirishima retorted, and Bakugou wasn't entirely sure whether he was being serious or was just terrible at sarcasm. With this guy, there was no way of telling. But Kirishima eyed the couch with something approaching suspicion. “I mean, if they did, that one would probably have them. It was free, though.”
“I sure fucking hope so.”
“I did spend actual money on the groceries, there's no way any of that has rabies.” Kirishima headed for the kitchenette in the corner and peered into the fridge.
Bakugou trailed behind him, propping his folded arms atop the counter that would have served as a bar if there were any stools to sit on. He had to wonder again how this fucking guy was even alive. “That's... really not something you should have to tell people.”
Kirishima turned from the fridge with a handful of vegetables and packaged pork and a broad grin. “I'm not,” he said, nudging the door shut with an elbow. He dumped the ingredients on the counter and searched through his cabinets before drawing out a cutting board and adding it to the pile. “I'm telling you, Bakugou.”
Bakugou put the twist in his stomach down to his appetite rather than Kirishima's expression, rather than the way Kirishima said his name. “The fuck is that supposed to mean.”
Kirishima looked up from the cutting board with a wry smile. “Whatever you want it to mean, man.”
And what the fuck was that supposed to mean? Bakugou scowled, but Kirishima had already turned his back to wash the vegetables in the sink. The food had better be fucking good to make up for whatever the fuck this was. He withdrew into himself while Kirishima returned the vegetables to the cutting board, then picked through a knife block for something to cut with. Bakugou's eyes caught on the block and the knife that Kirishima eventually drew and started slicing vegetables with, on the knife's obvious quality and craftsmanship that stood in clear contrast to the decrepit couch. Bakugou didn't know much about cooking, but even he could recognize when something cost money. “You're complaining about fucking furniture being expensive, with knives like that?”
Not looking up this time, Kirishima shrugged. “They were a gift.”
“Rich girlfriend, huh?”
“No girlfriend,” Kirishima chuckled. Bakugou ignored the way Kirishima's laugh made him relax. Because it was definitely the chuckle, not the answer, right? Because why the fuck would he care if Kirishima had a girlfriend or not?
“Rich boyfriend, then.”
“No, not a gift from your rich-ass boyfriend, or no, no boyfriend?”
The blade of the knife hit the cutting board with an audible thunk. Kirishima raised his eyebrows at Bakugou. “Uh. Both.”
It was then that Bakugou realized the potential implications of what he'd asked. He ignored the way his cheeks felt as if they were mirroring Kirishima's definitely-not-attractive blush and clumsily crashed past the question in hopes of pretending it hadn't happened. “So who-”
“My dad, so how did you get into hockey?” Kirishima replied in a single breath, overly focused on the vegetables beneath his fingers and the blade of his knife, each chop progressively heavier than the last.
Bakugou, despite what his teammates might say, did, occasionally, know how to take a hint. He followed the change in subject without comment, hoping he wouldn't make a complete jackass of himself with this one. “Grew up on it,” he said, noticing the way Kirishima's grip on the knife relaxed, and found himself somewhat relieved to be out of that particular minefield. “I've played since I was a kid.”
But then Kirishima led them directly into another. “You're really good, Bakugou. Why didn't you go pro? I bet you-”
“Why the fuck do you care?” Bakugou snarled, forcing down the reminder like swallowing bile. Of course he'd had to ask. Of fucking course. “What the fuck does it matter?”
Kirishima glanced up, but didn't maintain eye contact with Bakugou's glare for long. “Sorry,” he mumbled.
A thoroughly awkward silence followed as they both recovered from their respective detonations, only interrupted by the noises of Kirishima's methodical dinner preparations. Bakugou forced his fingers out from where they'd dug into his biceps, forced his breathing to calm. “I, uh,” Kirishima started, eventually, “I don't have a TV yet, but I do have my laptop? What kind of movies do you like?”
Bakugou latched on to the topic. There was no way either of them could fuck this one up as badly as they had the previous two. “Action.”
“That's what I was gonna guess,” Kirishima said. He gave Bakugou a smile before turning to the stove, clearly just as relieved as Bakugou to have found a mutually safe topic of conversation. “So like, action comedy, action thriller, pure popcorn action, or what?”
“If the fight scenes are good enough? Any of those, I guess.”
“You're one of those guys that recognizes fight choreographers better than directors, huh?”
“So what if I am?”
Kirishima grinned. “I am too! Choreography will make or break an action movie, right?”
Bakugou agreed, and the two settled into the discussion with an easy familiarity. Once the meal was finished, Kirishima withdrew to his bedroom to retrieve his laptop and set it up atop several cardboard boxes in front of the couch. Bakugou waited for Kirishima to sit before joining him on the dilapidated piece of shit. It was more comfortable than it looked, but that really wasn't saying much.
Kirishima insisted Bakugou, as the guest, pick the movie. Bakugou scrolled through a few options before shrugging and picking one he knew had good fight scenes, if not writing. Kirishima beamed at him, and while Bakugou already knew he'd made a good choice- he always made good choices- it was nice to have his frankly fucking fantastic taste be appreciated. Because that's why Bakugou was feeling as happy as he was, right? That massive, delighted smile of Kirishima's had nothing to do with it.
Between the food and the film and the fact that both of them knew all the lines by heart, Bakugou realized he was actually having a good time. He hung out with his teammates, sure, and he'd never considered himself to be a social person anyway, so it wasn't as if he was lonely or anything. He usually kept to himself and he was perfectly content with that. Work and hockey more than supplied any necessary social interactions. But, even so, this was good. Kirishima- that is, spending time with Kirishima, like this- was good.
When the movie ended and Kirishima offered dessert, Bakugou didn't decline. Kirishima took their dishes to the sink and returned to the couch with ice cream. He picked the second movie, and Bakugou didn't bother to hide that he was entirely pleased with Kirishima's selection. Kirishima said the one-liners along with the actors before catching himself and looking at Bakugou with an embarrassed smile. Bakugou just shrugged. If that was how Kirishima enjoyed his excellent choice of movie on his shitty couch in his shitty apartment, then, well, who was Bakugou to stop him?
And Bakugou didn't stop him next week, either, nor the week after that, and the routine that developed was unplanned and went unremarked upon. Kirishima joined Bakugou and the team to eat at the restaurant after games; Bakugou joined Kirishima to eat dinner and watch movies at his apartment after practice. Bakugou, despite himself, soon found that he looked forward to his no-longer-private time on the ice for more reasons than he had prior to Kirishima's arrival.
And then, one evening, Bakugou found that he had the ice rink to himself.
Bakugou wore his headphones all the way to the bench, and so didn't notice the lack of Kirishima's music on the speakers until he realized that there was no one else on the ice. He stood there with his bag in one hand and his stick in the other and felt a strange, unfamiliar emotion that dragged low and heavy on his heart.
Maybe Kirishima was just running late.
Bakugou laced up his skates and started his workout and definitely didn't have a difficult time focusing. He definitely didn't keep glancing towards the locker room, hoping for Kirishima to appear. He definitely didn't feel at all disappointed, certainly didn't feel any creeping loneliness, absolutely didn't feel even the slightest bit worried.
There were any number of reasons Kirishima might not have arrived at his usual time. He could've been working overtime, could've taken a nap and forgot to set an alarm, could've gotten lost. He could've had other plans, gone on a trip, had guests over, finally decided to finish moving into his apartment. Anything. It could've been anything. Just because Kirishima had been at the ice rink for each and every one of Bakugou's practice sessions since he'd first shown up didn't mean that anything was wrong. He wasn't obligated to show up or anything, and he wasn't obligated to tell Bakugou if he was planning on not showing up. He was fine. There was no reason for Bakugou to be worried- not that he was. He wasn't worried. He wasn't.
But then Bakugou remembered Kirishima's black eye, and maybe he was a bit worried after all.
Bakugou kept up his halfhearted training until the lights dimmed. He showered for longer than usual, trying and failing to relax. Maybe he just felt agitated from his poor workout- maybe he just still had excess energy to burn off. But even as he tried to convince himself that was the case, he knew that wasn't it.
After changing, he stared at his phone, at his text history with Kirishima. It was just photos that Bakugou had requested of those Kirishima had taken, nothing more. They had still yet to text a single word to each other. Bakugou's thumb hovered over the keyboard on the screen. He typed out and deleted several texts, never once sending them. He stuffed the phone into his pocket.
Bakugou exited the locker room and stepped towards the door, then paused and frowned at Desk Dude. Kirishima talked to him a lot, after all. It was worth a try. “Kirishima say anything about not showing up today?” he asked, gruff and aiming for indifference.
Desk Dude looked up from his phone with stark surprise. “No?”
Bakugou grit his teeth, choked down his thoroughly unwelcome emotions on the way to the bus stop. As he waited, he toyed with his phone again, tried and deleted several more messages. Then the bus arrived and he swallowed whatever the fuck he was feeling and hit send before boarding. did you get lost
There was no immediate response. There was no delayed response, either. Bakugou did his best to stamp out his rising anxiety on the bus ride home. He glared at the notification-free phone and then the door of the bus as it approached Kirishima's stop. There was no way he was getting off at Kirishima's stop. He absolutely wasn't getting off at Kirishima's stop.
He got off at Kirishima's stop.
Bakugou made his way to Kirishima's apartment building, increasingly aggravated with both the fact that he hadn't received a text in return and, even more so, with himself. Kirishima probably wasn't even home. He was probably out having a dinner date with some asshole or something equally fucking stupid. He was probably completely fucking fine and Bakugou was going to make a complete fucking idiot of himself. Probably. Probably, but Bakugou kept walking anyway.
When he pressed the intercom for Kirishima's flat, there was no response. That was enough, right? He'd texted and gotten no response and Kirishima wasn't there and that was enough.
Bakugou tried another apartment number. Then another, and another, until he got a response and was able to lie his way into the building. Once inside, he headed for the stairs and for Kirishima's door and fuck this was stupid, what the fuck was he thinking? Why the fuck was he doing this?
He stood at Kirishima's door and glared at it for a solid thirty seconds before knocking.
No response. Of course. He should go home. He knocked again, louder.
As Bakugou debated between knocking a third time, kicking down the door, and just going the fuck home like a normal fucking person, Kirishima's voice came through, muted and distant. “Who is it?”
Relief and embarrassment shot through Bakugou in equal measure, hot and entirely unpleasant. “Bakugou,” he answered. If he was so determined to make an ass of himself, he may as well go through with it.
Bakugou counted his breaths until the door cracked open, revealing Kirishima, eyes blackened and swollen, lip split, arm in a makeshift sling, skin mottled with bruises and marred with poorly bandaged scrapes and cuts.
“Don't flip out-” Kirishima was saying, but it was too late.
“What the FUCK?!” Bakugou yelled, slamming the door open. “What the fuck! What the fuck-”
Kirishima took a step back, holding out the hand of his good arm in a pointless attempt to calm Bakugou down. “Dude relax it's fine-”
“Fuck you it's not fucking fine what the fuck happened!”
“Don't fucking 'Bakugou' me you fuck! What the fuck-”
“Bakugou,” Kirishima repeated, sharper. “Close the door, you're gonna upset the neighbours.”
Bakugou stared, rage and panic searing his throat and crackling like lightning in his blood. Kirishima reached past him and closed the door. Bakugou wasn't sure when he'd actually stepped into the apartment. He didn't care. “What the goddamned fuck happened to you you fuck-”
“Please, Bakugou,” Kirishima groaned, delicately rubbing at his purpled face. “I have one hell of a headache, if you could lower the volume for two seconds?”
“What the fuck,” Bakugou hissed.
“That's better.” Kirishima wobbled over to and collapsed onto his shitty couch, picking up a bag of ice from the floor and holding it on the shoulder of his slung arm. He cracked open the less swollen of his eyes and looked at Bakugou, still standing by the door with his hands in fists at his sides. “You want to sit down?”
“I want you to tell me what the fuck happened,” Bakugou seethed. He wanted to know who the fuck it was that he needed to hunt down and beat the fucking shit out of. He wanted to know who the fuck it was that he needed to fucking murder.
“Yeah, I heard you the first time,” Kirishima snorted. Bakugou scowled at him and saw that the ice in the bag was mostly melted. He kicked off his shoes, snatched the bag from Kirishima's hand, and stalked over to the kitchenette before Kirishima could protest, dumping out the water and refilling it with fresh ice from the freezer. Bakugou wrapped the bag in a dishtowel and returned to Kirishima's side. Kirishima watched in silence as Bakugou gently pressed the ice onto Kirishima's shoulder again. Bakugou wasn't shaking. Bakugou definitely wasn't shaking.
Kirishima's fingers brushed Bakugou's as his hand moved to replace Bakugou's on the bag of ice. Bakugou pulled away.
“Thanks,” Kirishima murmured.
Bakugou's frown deepened. “What-”
“Just stop.” Kirishima interrupted. He sighed and closed his eyes again. “Can you just. Stop?”
“I feel like I'm gonna puke or pass out or both. Can we please do this later.”
Bakugou forced his fists open, let them close again, forced them open, let them close again. Breathed through his nose. “Where's your first aid kit?”
“Don't have one.”
“Where's your keys?”
Kirishima's eyes blinked open again. “What?”
“I'm gonna get you a fucking first aid kit. Where the fuck are your keys?”
Kirishima went quiet for a moment. “Jacket pocket,” he said at last, pointing with his foot at the red jacket crumpled in the corner. Bakugou rummaged through the pockets, desperately ignoring the bloodstains visible despite the jacket's colour. He found and drew out the keys and pulled on his shoes.
“Don't you dare fucking die before I get back,” Bakugou snapped over his shoulder, hand on the doorknob.
“Wouldn't dream of it,” Kirishima replied with a chuckle.
Bakugou didn't really remember going downstairs or getting to the store. He moved on autopilot, only becoming aware of his actions as he had to choose between the items of the pharmacy aisle. And he didn't really remember paying or walking back to Kirishima's apartment building or going upstairs until he stood outside of Kirishima's door again. He unclenched his fist where Kirishima's keys had gouged imprints into his palm and focused on keeping his breathing in check as he let himself in.
Kirishima's eyes were closed, apparently asleep on the couch, ice bag mostly melted and puddled on the floor to the side. He didn't look particularly comfortable. Not that he could look comfortable, beat to shit as he was. Another bolt of fury shot through Bakugou's stomach. He grit his teeth and locked the door behind him.
Kirishima's eyes opened. Bakugou took off his shoes and sat on the couch, legs crossed, shopping bag in his lap. “What's wrong with your arm,” he said, voice very carefully flat.
“Dislocated, I think,” Kirishima mumbled.
“Sit up.” Bakugou set the bag on the floor as Kirishima obeyed. Bakugou unwound the makeshift sling and draped it across the back of the couch, supporting Kirishima's arm with one hand. “Chest out, shoulders back,” he instructed. “Relax.” He slowly, delicately manipulated Kirishima's arm in a pattern entirely familiar to him. He'd relocated more than one shoulder in his time, including his own. “Relax,” he repeated, and he was absolutely only talking to Kirishima. Not himself. “Nearly there. Breathe.” He slowly, steadily finished the pattern, pushing Kirishima's arm back towards his torso. Kirishima's shoulder shifted back into place with a pop.
Kirishima's rigid back slumped, his shoulders drooping forward. Bakugou waited until Kirishima looked at him to release his arm. A faint hint of a smile leaked through the swelling of his face. “That feels a lot better. Thanks.”
Bakugou had trouble holding his gaze. His eyes dropped to the bag of supplies and he leaned over to pick them up. “Take off your shirt.”
Kirishima gingerly tugged his shirt off over his head, but Bakugou heard his sharp hiss of a breath at the effort. His entire torso was painted with bruises, his ribs by far the worst. Bakugou understood the implication of the location and spread of the bruising and cuts and felt another wave of fury like swallowing a wildfire. He'd been kicked. Kirishima had been kicked. Bakugou forced himself to breathe, forced his fingernails out from his palms, forced his jaw open. “Any broken?” Bakugou demanded, angrier than intended.
“Don't think so.”
Bakugou pressed his fingers into the sensitive area, testing for pain. Kirishima winced, sharp teeth biting into his torn lips, but nothing worse than that. “Could still be fractured. You should go to a doctor.”
“Would you?” Kirishima sounded amused at the suggestion.
Bakugou frowned and dug into his purchases, letting his silence answer for him. He distanced himself from his mind with the lengthy process of cleaning and tending to Kirishima's wounds, focusing on ensuring his touch was light, keeping himself from exploding by pouring his attention into making his efforts as precise and thorough as possible.
“How did you get so good at this?” Kirishima asked after a while.
Bakugou didn't reply. He didn't trust himself to speak beyond the occasional instruction, didn't trust himself to look at Kirishima's face. But eventually, after Bakugou had finished tending to all the rest of Kirishima's injuries, his face was all that was left.
He cleaned Kirishima's face as delicately as possible, hating every flinch and every sign of pain. Kirishima kept his eyes closed during the process, fortunately- although admittedly that may have just been due to the swelling. When Bakugou finally finished, he refilled the ice bag and held it to cover Kirishima's eyes. He took a long breath. “I've gotten into a lot of fights,” Bakugou answered, what felt like and probably was hours after Kirishima had asked. It took far too much effort to keep his voice even. “I still get into a lot of fights. And hockey's rough. Had to figure out how to patch myself and my team up.”
“I appreciate it,” Kirishima said. He sounded exhausted. He pushed on Bakugou's wrist, moving the ice bag just enough so he could meet Bakugou's gaze. He held both Bakugou's wrist and his eyes for a long moment. “Thank you, Bakugou.”
Even like this, Kirishima was beautiful.
“Text your boss,” Bakugou grunted, shifting the ice down again, a different kind of warmth mixing with the hot anger in his chest. “You have food poisoning. You're gonna be out for the rest of the week.”
“Already lied to her,” The mild cheeriness in Kirishima's voice was a vague hint of an emotion rather than the full thing. “Got my sick days all sorted.”
Bakugou picked up Kirishima's hand and guided it to the ice bag for him to hold himself. He checked his phone. It was nearly two in the morning.
They sat there in silence for a time, breathing in the unspoken questions between them, Bakugou's fire flickering but not fading with weariness. Kirishima's hand began to drift down from the ice. Bakugou took the bag from his hand and carried it to the sink. “Go to bed,” he said.
Kirishima grunted, but didn't move.
Bakugou returned from the kitchenette to the couch and glared at Kirishima. “Get off your shitty fucking couch and go to bed,” he snapped.
Kirishima's eyes cracked open. “This is fine,” he mumbled. “Bed's too far.”
Like hell Bakugou was going to let him go to sleep like that. His fucking awful couch was bad enough for sitting on, let alone sleeping. Bakugou slid his arms between Kirishima and the shitty couch cushions and pulled him into his arms. Kirishima started. “What are you-”
“Your couch fucking sucks,” Bakugou growled, and carried Kirishima into his bedroom. He'd never been in Kirishima's bedroom before, but he spotted the mattress right away, and set Kirishima down atop it. Kirishima's phone sat face-down beside it. Apart from the mattress and a dresser and a hockey stick alone and upright in the corner, Kirishima's room was largely empty. Bakugou paused in the doorway, suddenly feeling very, very tired, as if his anger had burned the marrow from his bones. He looked back to see Kirishima, chest rising and falling in a slow pattern that suggested he was already asleep.
Bakugou returned to Kirishima's side, tugged the loose sheets and blanket up to Kirishima's chin, and closed the door behind him.
Whether due to the shittiness of the couch or the myriad thoughts of what may have happened to Kirishima, Bakugou slept poorly. His alarm woke him bleary in the morning. Bakugou peeled his head from the cushion and swiped off the alarm, sitting up to hold his face with both hands. He needed to go to work. He should go to work. He should leave Kirishima to recover on his own and go to work.
He texted Yaoyorozu that he wouldn't be at work.
After a good half hour of ignoring Yaoyorozu's texts and calls, Bakugou stood by Kirishima's door, hand on the doorknob. “Kirishima,” he murmured. “You awake?”
Receiving no response, Bakugou set to pacing the apartment. He didn't know what to do with the energy and the fury still buzzing in his system. He did some pushups. He did some pullups on the bar Kirishima had hung from the bathroom doorframe- Kirishima still didn't have much in the way of furniture, but he did have that, go figure. He watered the plant by the balcony. He stepped out onto the balcony and watched the city below. He tried not to think about the fact that someone out there was the reason Kirishima was beat to shit and Bakugou was just standing there instead of beating them to shit right back.
He washed his face. He sat on the shitty couch and glared at the floor. He did more pushups. He knocked on Kirishima's door again, maybe an hour later. “You alive in there?”
He cracked the door open. Kirishima was breathing, eyes closed, drooling on his pillow. Bakugou watched him sleep for a moment- Kirishima was fine, he was perfectly fine- before realizing he was being fucking creepy and closed the door again.
He washed the dishes in the sink. He found cleaning supplies and cleaned the sink. He cleaned the counter. He cleaned the kitchen floor. He cleaned the bathroom. He tried cleaning the couch but it was too far gone for even his furious scrubbing to achieve anything noticeable.
He cleaned the fridge and pretended not to notice the hungry twist in his stomach at the sight of food. He checked his phone for the time, still not reading the messages Yaoyorozu had sent. It was a good two hours later than when he'd last checked on Kirishima. Kirishima absolutely needed his rest, but he needed his bandages changed and he to eat at some point, too. Bakugou debated between waking Kirishima up and eating without him, but ultimately ended up just sitting on the couch and distracting himself by watching an old martial arts show on his phone.
After burning through most of a season, Bakugou returned to Kirishima's door. He tapped on it with his knuckles. No response. His hand dropped to his side and he found himself inspecting the grain of the wood.
Bakugou was angry. He was angry and worried and something else that he wasn't entirely sure of.
His fingers curled around the doorknob but didn't turn it. He pressed his forehead against the door and closed his eyes.
Bakugou wasn't sure how long he stood there, but he stood there until he felt the doorknob turn beneath his palm. He pulled away, but not in time to avoid being there like an ass once Kirishima had finished opening the door. Kirishima didn't appear especially better than he had the previous night- that was to be expected- though he did look a bit improved if only for having gotten a solid rest. After his look of surprise faded, he offered Bakugou a nervous smile. “Don't you have work?” he asked.
Bakugou stepped back. “You hungry?” he grunted, turning and heading for the couch. Kirishima knew the answer; there was no need for Bakugou to tell him. He didn't want to- couldn't- admit that he'd been worried. Kirishima caught his wrist. Bakugou froze. They remained like that for too long, Bakugou motionless and staring at the ground between his feet and the couch, Kirishima's fingers loose but immobilizing on his skin.
Something uncomfortably warm bubbled up in Bakugou's chest, pressing on his lungs and rising into his throat.
“I'm sorry,” Kirishima murmured.
Bakugou stepped away, dragging his wrist out of Kirishima's grip. “Nothing to be sorry for,” he growled, doing his damndest to keep is voice in line. “Shower. I'll patch you up again. Then we'll eat.”
Kirishima did as he was told. He returned from the bathroom afterwards with his towel wrapped around his waist and the sight of his injuries again struck Bakugou like a punch to the head. Bakugou had been in fights. He'd been injured. Hell, he'd been hospitalized.
But this? This made him want to kill.
Kirishima joined him on the couch, where Bakugou had readied his first aid supplies once more, and Bakugou set to redressing his injuries without comment.
“I'm sorry,” Kirishima repeated, barely audible. Before Bakugou could chastise him, he continued, “I didn't. I didn't think this would happen. I thought...” he let out a breath of air that sounded as if it may have been equal parts an attempt at a laugh or an attempt to keep himself from crying. The sound was unsettling. Bakugou fucking hated it. Kirishima was meant for loud laughter and broad grins and bright joy and not fucking this.
Biting his tongue to keep himself from screaming, Bakugou focused on tending to Kirishima's injuries.
Slowly, Kirishima tried again. “There's this guy. He was kind of, I don't know, fixated, I guess. Whenever we had a match he'd come after me. Like, he'd ignore the whole game just to do it. He said I was a 'quality guy' whatever the heck that's supposed to mean.”
Kirishima had a lot of qualities. None of them made Bakugou want to fight him. Just the opposite.
“It pissed off his team and his coach and everything but I mean, I thought it was okay, since it was just on the ice and it meant he wasn't going after anyone else on my team. But. Then he started wanting to fight off the ice too? Which,” Kirishima winced as Bakugou applied fresh antiseptic cream to one of the cuts on his ribs. “Which wasn't great. I thought not having to deal with him anymore would be a nice side benefit of moving, but. Well. Guess I was wrong.”
“What's his name,” Bakugou bit out.
“What does it matter?”
Bakugou glared at him and gently pressed a fresh bandage onto the cut, his hands at odds with his mood.
Kirishima sighed. “Rappa.”
Stupid fucking name. “Where does he live.”
Kirishima frowned in response.
Bakugou pulled his hands from Kirishima's side and ground his fists into his knees. “Where the fuck does he live, Kirishima.”
“Why do you want to know that?”
“Why the fuck do you think?” Bakugou snarled. His blood burned white-hot, steaming in his veins, scalding behind his eyes. “Answer the fucking question! Where the fuck does the piece of shit live?”
“In my old city. I don't know his address, Bakugou. What would you even do if I did?”
“What the fuck do you think I'd do!” Bakugou shouted, efforts with the first aid kit forgotten, chest too-tight and aching. “I'd fucking- I'd-”
A realization hit him. He snapped his mouth shut and stared. “You lied to me,” Bakugou hissed between scraping teeth. Bakugou didn't care if people lied to him, didn't care if people treated him like shit, because who cared about people? But this stung. It stung way fucking more than it should have. “You fucking lied to me.”
Kirishima pulled back. Bakugou was too angry to attempt to decipher his expression. “I didn't-”
“You said you got jumped! By fucking strangers on the street!”
“That's not what I said!”
“That's what you fucking let me think and you know it!”
“We'd only just met!” By now, Kirishima's volume matched Bakugou's, sharp teeth bared. “What the hell was I supposed to say! 'Hey I have some creepy kind-of-stalker who wants to fight me and I don't know how he found me but whoops, he's here'?”
“Yes!” Bakugou snapped. “If you'd fucking told me the truth, then-”
“Then you'd think I was some weird loser and you wouldn't-”
“Then what! Then! What!”
“Then maybe this wouldn't have happened! Maybe I could've-” Kirishima looked angry and upset, but not more than he looked injured. Bruised and bloodied and battered and fuck Bakugou hated it. He hated it on a level that he couldn't understand, and that incomprehensibility just infuriated him further. “I could've-!” Bakugou pressed his hands too-hard into his face, rubbing up into his hair, the heels of his palms pushing into his eyes, voice loud and scraping and screaming. “Fuck! Fuck! FUCK!”
Breathing was painful, gouging his lungs with choking gasps.
Bakugou pulled into himself and tried to crush his emotions into a size more manageable, a shape more understandable, but just felt as if he were burning himself on them in the process.
So he sat there and he burned and he burned and he burned.
Emotions still no better off after a time, Bakugou felt Kirishima's hands brush his, trying to tug them away from Bakugou's eyes and into his grasp. Bakugou jerked away, dragging his palms from his face but keeping them to himself. He dug his fingers into his thighs to hold himself in place and refused both physical and eye contact.
“You've been up for a while, haven't you,” Kirishima murmured as Bakugou counted threads in the couch cushion through definitely-not-blurry vision. “You must be hungry. Can I make some food?”
“Haven't finished,” Bakugou rasped, and even he wasn't sure if he was referring to patching up Kirishima's injuries or to his own detonations.
“We can finish after a meal.” Bakugou felt rather than saw Kirishima stand from the couch. “If you want.”
Bakugou didn't know what he wanted. It wasn't a feeling Bakugou was accustomed to. But then, nothing involving Kirishima tended to be what Bakugou was accustomed to. Too many possibilities crowded in on him from all sides and all he could do was sit there as Kirishima retreated to his kitchen and cooked. There were still too many questions Bakugou wanted to ask, too many things he wanted to say, too few comprehensible explanations for the particular focused extent of his own rage.
After a while, Kirishima handed him a plate of food. Bakugou took it. “You won last time,” he mumbled, looking up to see Kirishima wearing a faint smile. Something about the familiar expression, even as muted as it was, helped Bakugou relax, helped his heartbeat stabilize.
“You win some, you lose some,” Kirishima shrugged. He retrieved his own plate and sat again. His expression hadn't faded. “It happens.”
Maybe. Or maybe he wasn't quite telling the truth, again. Bakugou pushed the thought away and focused on Kirishima's smile instead. “What the fuck are you smiling about?”
“You cleaned.” Kirishima's smile widened to almost its usual grin, eyes glinting with an unexpected playfulness. “That was nice of you.”
Bakugou missed that grin, enough that he didn't even bother trying to convince himself he hadn't. “Nothing better to do, had to wait for your sorry ass to wake up.” Bakugou stabbed at his food.
Kirishima laughed, and the sound was a gift all its own, a private invitation to something quiet and hopeful that Bakugou couldn't help but accept.
Bakugou's feelings- whatever the fuck they were- could wait. This- whatever the fuck this was- couldn't wait. This, whatever the fuck this was, was more important than just Bakugou.
“So,” Bakugou started, slowly, delicately, searching for some return to normalcy despite the residual resistance to admitting there was anything between the two of them to need to return to normal in the first place, despite the nagging knowledge that nothing about Kirishima ever made Bakugou feel normal. “You play hockey.” It made sense- Kirishima was a good skater, had the body and the skates and stick for it, knew plenty about it.
“Not so much, anymore,” Kirishima replied. He chuckled. “Kind of a sore subject.”
“What fucking isn't with us,” Bakugou growled without thinking.
“Action movies. Food.” Kirishima listed off the two on his fingers and paused, face scrunched up intentionally comically in exaggerated thought. “Help me out here, Bakugou, there's got to be more to our relationship than that.”
“The fact that you still have no fucking furniture, the shittiness of your stupid fucking couch,” Bakugou suggested, desperately and stubbornly ignoring Kirishima's choice of phrasing. Kirishima hadn't meant anything by it. He couldn't mean anything by it. He just hadn't thought about the words for long enough before saying them. Kirishima did that, sometimes. He rushed in to conversations and friendships and poor word choices. It was part of his- well, not his charm, because admitting that would mean admitting that Kirishima was charming. And he wasn't. He absolutely fucking wasn't.
“You really have a vendetta against this poor thing, don't you?” Kirishima patted the arm of the couch, apparently unaware of Bakugou's distraction.
“I had to sleep on it, it fucking sucks,” Bakugou grumbled.
“You didn't have to, though.” Kirishima's grin softened. “But you did anyway.”
He was right. Bakugou could've just gone home. He could've. He still could.
But he couldn't, really.
Bakugou spent another night on Kirishima's couch.
During their lunch break at work the next day, Yaoyorozu berated Bakugou for ignoring her messages. He still hadn't checked them. He did so now, not actually reading them, just clearing the notifications from his screen. There were a few from Ashido that he'd missed as well. He'd probably get bitched at later for ignoring those, too. Ashido got very loud and aggressive when she was annoyed. Admittedly, she was very loud and aggressive normally, too. Bakugou wasn't looking forward to it.
He realized Yaoyorozu was waiting for a response to her chastising. “I was busy,” Bakugou said, honestly.
Yaoyorozu looked from him to his lunch and back to him, expression thoroughly underwhelmed. “You said you had food poisoning. Busy with what?”
“Puking,” Bakugou said, not so honestly.
Yaoyorozu sighed. “I'm not mad at you for skipping work, I'm just upset you didn't answer any of my messages. I was worried, you know?”
Bakugou had been worried, whether or not he wanted to admit it, when Kirishima hadn't answered his text. But why the fuck would anyone be worried about him? “I'm fine.”
“I can see that. It wouldn't have been particularly difficult for you to tell me that yesterday, would it?”
Bakugou shrugged. It wasn't as if ignoring messages was anything new for him.
But then, maybe for his friends- because Yaoyorozu and the rest of the team, despite himself, despite his efforts otherwise, despite stupid fucking inability to label them as such half the time, were Bakugou's friends- getting worried about his lack of responses wasn't anything new for them, either.
Bakugou didn't like the thought. He didn't like the thought of having been worried about Kirishima. He didn't like the thought of still being worried about Kirishima. He didn't like the thought of anyone being worried about him- about Bakugou, of all fucking people. “You don't have to worry about me,” he added, gruffly.
“I know I don't have to.” Yaoyorozu inspected him too closely. She was too smart for Bakugou's shit. “I was worried that you'd- well.” Her gaze dropped, her already gentle expression softening further. “I was worried you were skipping work for the same reason as last time.”
A chill pricked at the back of Bakugou's neck, his skin a bit too cold. “That wasn't-”
“And you don't have to tell me what you were really doing, either. But just maybe start thinking of replying to my texts, or Mina's, or anyone's, once in a while, okay?”
It was Bakugou's turn to break eye contact. He glared at his lunch and managed a nod, appetite gone.
Team practice started rough, as Ashdio, as expected, chewed into Bakugou for having ignored her and Yaoyorozu's messages. He didn't argue back quite as much as he might otherwise, had Yaoyorozu's concern not still been fresh in his mind. But that didn't stop him from snapping at Sero and Kaminari as they laughed together about Bakugou's so-called shit communication skills- his communication skills were fucking fantastic, what the fuck did they know- or Uraraka from butting in and agreeing, or Tsuyu from having to intervene and wrangle the team together onto the ice and into their exercises.
After practice, however, Bakugou felt good. As they all left the locker room, he talked tactics with Tsuyu and Uraraka, ahead of them Mina poorly attempting to play matchmaker to Sero and Kaminari. But both conversations stopped when a stranger peeled away from chatting with Desk Dude and approached the team. He was tall, long-haired and broad-shouldered, wearing an enthusiastic grin and looking directly at Bakugou. “Bakugou, right?”
“Who the fuck's asking?” Bakguou sneered.
“Just a fan! You know, I heard about what happened to you, with all those pro teams, and I wanted to say, they're really missin' out.”
Bakugou's stomach dropped. Who the fuck did this asshole think he was? “How the fuck do you know about-”
“My coach. I'm just a college player, but my coach has a lot of connections with the pros. They talk.” The stranger's grin broadened. His voice was heavy with excitement. “You know, I bet my coach would love to meet you. If he saw you play, I'm sure he'd agree with me. His pro buddies would probably love to have a player like you on their teams.”
Even as he desperately tried to strangle out the rise of desperate hope in his gut, Bakugou knew the pro leagues recruited strangely, sometimes. And he knew he was a fucking fantastic player. And he knew that if there was even the slightest chance of this guy being legit, Bakugou had to take it. He had to. His throat dried. “We have a game this Saturday.”
“That's a pity,” the stranger said, sounding honestly disappointed. “So do we.”
“And next Saturday,” Kaminari shot in.
“Great!" The enthusiasm returned immediately. "I'm pretty sure my coach is free then.” He tilted his head to one side. “Oh! And, he really likes your photographer's work, too. Will he be there?”
“You mean Eijirou?” Ashido asked. Bakugou had forgotten she'd encouraged Kirishima to put his photos of their games online. He wondered if that was how this guy had found him- if he had Kirishima to thank for the potential opportunity in front of him. “Yeah, I don't see why not?”
“That's perfect, then,” the stranger laughed. “I gotta go, but I'll see what I can do about gettin' my coach to come watch!” He reached out a hand. Bakugou hopefully-discreetly wiped the sweat from his palms before accepting. The fucker had a strong grip and a stronger shake. He kept talking even as he headed out to the door, walking backwards. “It was nice meetin' you! You seem like a pretty quality guy!”
And then he vanished out the door.
The team waited only a few seconds before they all started yelling at once, crowding Bakugou with way too fucking premature congratulations. The optimism bubbled up in Bakugou's mind despite his best intentions. It lasted all the way through his grocery shopping, all the way until the bus ride back to Kirishima's. He'd been too overwhelmed to remember to ask the guy's name, or his coach's name, or even his team's name. But, more pressingly, Bakugou felt a rising sense of something approaching dread at the idea of telling Kirishima about the stranger. Because if he told Kirishima about the potential opportunity ahead of him then he'd have to tell Kirishima about the opportunities that he'd missed, and all that entailed.
The idea of talking about any of that was too much. Bakugou pushed back on the discomfort the thought provoked, trying to fight his feelings as if they were a person. But he'd always been better at fighting people than his emotions, and so instead threw the feelings away entirely by resolving to not think about them, to not mention any of the encounter to Kirishima. He could bring it up later. The decision to delay brought him an immediate relief.
Kirishima opened the door fairly quickly when Bakugou knocked, his smile bright and cheery and at odds with the bruising still fresh on his face. “Shouldn't you be sleeping?” Bakugou grumbled by way of greeting.
Kirishima chuckled. “I was passed out for like fourteen hours dude, I think it's alright to be awake for a bit now.” He stepped aside, let Bakugou in, and trailed him to the kitchenette. “You brought food?”
“Of course I fucking brought food what the fuck else are you supposed to eat,” Bakugou growled. “You're not fucking leaving until you've healed up.” He glared at Kirishima. “Right?”
“Right,” Kirishima agreed, rolling his eyes with a wry smile.
Bakugou shoved the groceries he'd bought into the fridge. “And you should fucking talk to the cops. Get a restraining order or some shit on this fucker.”
“Is that before or after you valiantly beat him up for me?”
Bakugou definitely didn't blush. He definitely didn't dig deeper in the fridge to hide his face, because there was nothing to hide. Nothing at all.
He did still plan on beating the shit out of Rappa, though, whether or not Kirishima was willing to talk to the cops. But he had to figure out a way to find the fuck first. And just as Kirishima didn't need to know about the stranger from practice, Kirishima didn't need to know Bakugou had spent his downtime at work trying to do just that.
Kirishima cooked and they ate together as Bakugou's choice of movie played. When Kirishima's movie came on next, Bakugou changed Kirishima's bandages. It was an iteration of their routine that by its very nature wasn't as comfortable as the one they had already established, but despite Kirishima's injuries, they both still enjoyed the films as obviously as before. Bakugou was cleaning a mostly-healed cut on Kirishima's forehead when Kirishima grabbed his wrist with one hand and pointed at his laptop screen with it, a massive grin wide on his face. “Look!” he insisted, all enthusiasm and excitement. “This fight scene is the best one of the whole movie you're gonna miss it!”
Bakugou turned and looked. It was a damn good fight scene, with plenty of acrobatics and expressive choreography and clean editing that hid the cuts, but it wasn't good enough to distract him from the fact that Kirishima's hand was still around his wrist. Kirishima's touch felt like fire on his skin.
But it wasn't the worst thing in the world. He didn't move, not until the scene had ended and Kirishima had turned his beaming smile on Bakugou. “I saw an interview about that one, they had to do like seventeen different takes and the actors both ended up accidentally punching each other in the face-”
“Speaking of,” Bakugou interrupted, tugging up his hand to Kirishima's own punched face, twitching the cleaning cloth in his fingers.
Kirishima blinked at him, at Bakugou's wrist in his grasp. His mouth pressed shut into a thin line, face going red beneath the bruising. “Uh,” he mumbled, releasing Bakugou's arm to clasp his hands tightly together in his lap, staring at the screen again. “Sorry.”
Bakugou bit back the urge to yell at him for apologizing and instead agreed, “It's a good fight scene.” Kirishima's smile tugged back into life at the comment as Bakugou resumed tending to his face.
After the film had ended and Bakugou had finished with Kirishima's injuries, Kirishima pulled up the interview on his phone. He scooted in close to Bakugou and held his phone up between them. But Kirishima was careful to keep just enough space between them that they weren't touching. Bakugou felt entirely uncomfortable with the realization that he was maybe a little disappointed by that. There was no reason for him to be disappointed by that. Kirishima was being aware of Bakugou's need for space, for once. That was a good thing. Right?
Sero had told him he was touch-starved a few times. Bakugou had told him to fuck off a few times back. That hadn't stopped him or the rest of the team dogpiling him in hugs after games every once in a while- and only every once in a while, because even with their bullshit they still knew better than to press his definitely-not-anxieties. But maybe Sero had a point. Maybe that was all this was.
Bakugou knew it wasn't, even as he refused to admit that to himself, even as he refused to consider what that might mean. He shifted closer, just a hint, just a breath, just enough that their shoulders barely brushed together. Bakugou kept his eyes on Kirishima's phone, but in his peripheral vision he could see Kirishima's head turn towards him and felt Kirishima's eyes on him. Then he felt Kirishima relax ever so slightly into the contact. When Bakugou didn't pull away, Kirishima leaned in and rested against Bakugou's shoulder. His warmth and weight were a foreign comfort. They watched the interview like that, silent but speaking volumes.
Afterwards, Bakugou spent way too fucking long in Kirishima's bathroom trying to figure out what the fuck was wrong with him, trying to figure out the almost-sick feeling in his stomach, trying to figure out the ache in his chest, trying to figure out why the fuck he felt a strange sense of guilt like sand between his toes, trying to figure out whether or not to stay the night again. He washed his face for longer than necessary, splashing the water into his hair and rubbing it across the back of his head and neck, uncertain of too much all at the same time. Once he was absolutely fucking certain that he was himself again, Bakugou left the bathroom, ready to head out and disappear into his own apartment and pass the fuck out.
But Kirishima had set one of his pillows atop one of his sheets on the couch and looked up at Bakugou, his shark-toothed grin broad and bright despite the concern in his eyes, his relief blatant. “You okay?”
“You're the one beat to shit,” Bakugou grunted. He poked at the pillow. “You drool on these?”
“Washed them today,” Kirishima chuckled, aware or kind enough to not push the question.
If Kirishima wanted Bakugou to stay, as the pillow and sheet suggested, then there really was no way for Bakugou to refuse.
And the pillow and sheet stayed there for the rest of the week, so Bakugou did, too.
(for non ice hockey folks: boarding is a usually major penalty because of how likely it is to injure & can easily result in a concussion)
On Saturday, Bakugou began pulling on his shoes to head out for the game when Kirishima started doing the same. While he'd been healing nicely, with most of his cuts scabbed over or gone entirely and his swelling all but disappeared, Kirishima was still injured, bruises vivid, so Bakugou scowled at him. “I thought we agreed you'd stay the fuck home until you'd healed up.”
Kirishima chuckled. “There's no way I'm missing your game, man.”
“The team's gonna lose their shit when they see you looking like that.”
“Like you didn't?” Kirishima asked with a mischievous smirk. An actual, honest-to-fuck smirk. Bakugou narrowed his glare, but Kirishima seemed too busy laughing to notice. “I'll just say I fell down the stairs, it's fine. It'll be worth getting to see the match anyway.”
“Why the fuck do you care so much,” Bakugou grumbled, pleased despite himself that Kirishima would be joining him after all. And, besides, it wasn't as if Kirishima would be walking around on his own. Bakugou would be with him. So if Rappa showed up, Bakugou could- well. Then Bakugou could handle it.
“Because you're playing,” Kirishima said, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.
Bakugou had to pause and wait for his heart to resume its normal pattern before he could remember how to tie his laces. On their way to the ice rink, he sent the team a message, asking them not to mention Kirishima's injuries or the stranger. He still wasn't ready to deal with that particular conversation, yet. He could tell Kirishima after the game.
The team did, in fact, lose their shit when they saw Kirishima. But they did respect Bakugou's other request.
Kirishima watched the game from the team bench, beside Yaoyorozu, and Bakugou wasn't sure what the feeling was that he got when he and the rest of his team skated onto the ice at the start of the game and he caught a glance of Kirishima's fierce smile and caught the sound of him cheering Bakugou- cheering the team- on to victory.
But while Bakugou may have decided that whatever the fuck emotions he felt around Kirishima weren't necessarily the worst in the world, he still hadn't really figured out what the fuck they actually were, and so Bakugou shoved the thoughts of those emotions aside at the start of the match as he always did with his thoughts of everything else that wasn't directly relevant to winning the game at hand.
And it was a good thing, too, because this particular match turned out to be more of a challenge than usual.
Bakugou enjoyed the difficulty of hockey, welcomed the test of skill, welcomed the distraction from the stress of the last week. And besides, the last few games had been almost too easy; with this one, his first goal- the first goal of the game- felt like a real victory. After the first period, his was still the only goal.
In the second period, the opposing team started hitting harder, so Bakugou hit harder right back. He and the rival center exchanged increasingly vicious checks as they and the rest of their teams struggled for control over the puck. Bakugou focused on drawing the opposing forwards' attention to keep them off Uraraka and Sero, doing his best to work the puck out of their melee and into his wings' possession. They were fucking persistent, but that just made Bakugou want to beat the fuckers even more. His effort paid off as Sero managed to get the puck and shoot it right between the goalie's skates. Sero shot Kaminari a thumbs up and gave the rest of the team his usual massive grin while Bakugou smirked at the forwards he'd distracted. They scowled back at him.
The third period started with the opposing right wing checking Sero from behind, slamming him into the boards face-first and dropping him to the ice. Before the ref could even call the boarding penalty, Bakguou had dropped his stick, torn off his gloves, and caught a hold of the right wing's jersey with one fist and his face with the other, vision tunneled and red, mind crowded and jostling with the last time he'd been boarded, the last time he'd gotten a concussion as a result, the last time he'd been told that it was one concussion too many.
Bakugou didn't notice the rink medics attending to Sero, or the ref waiting to the side for the fight to break up, or any of either of the teams crowding around. All he noticed was the way his opponent tried and occasionally succeeded in hitting back, tried to dodge, tried and ultimately failed to defend himself from Bakugou's onslaught. Bakugou beat the shit out of him, knocking the helmet from his head, knuckles digging into skull. Bakugou wasn't sure whether he pulled the fucker onto the ice or if he just lost his balance, but Bakugou followed him down, still punching, even as members from both his target's team and his own dragged him off.
He didn't stop when they separated him. His punches just stopped landing hits.
The rival team released him the moment Bakugou was separated from their teammate, but Ashido and Uraraka kept a tight grip. As Bakugou became aware of their hold on him, he realized he was screaming just loud enough that he couldn't hear his heartbeat even as it hit his ribs like repeated explosions. Ashido and Uraraka kept holding Bakugou while his attacks faded and he grappled his fury down to something blazing still hot but manageable, only letting go once Bakugou had stopped spitting curses. His hand was split and bloody, though a far sight better than the right wing's face.
Bakugou felt a flare of deadly pride at the battered state of the piece of shit. Fucker deserved worse.
The medics concluded that Sero had a mild concussion, though he remained conscious and was still lucid enough to wave at the team as they carted him off on a stretcher that he assured them was entirely unnecessary. Play resumed after the asshole that boarded Sero was pulled off the ice and Bakugou sat out for his penalty. He spent his long few minutes fuming, ignoring the pain in his hand and head, watching the game with fire in his throat. He rejoined soon enough and the remainder of the game was entirely brutal and focused more on teaching a lesson than winning, but when it came to hockey and violence, Bakugou knew how to multitask, and the Yuuei Heroes won anyway. Bakugou stared down the fucking losers as they skated off the ice, channeling his fury into his glare.
His own team crowded around their bench. Once the losers were out of sight, Bakugou joined them, leaning up against the board as he listened in silence, waiting for the adrenaline to clear out of his system, for the burning behind his eyes to cool. Yaoyorozu was nowhere to be seen. “-went to make sure Hanta got taken care of,” Kirishima was explaining. “The medics said he'd be fine, it's just a light concussion, but Momo wanted to be sure,” he continued soothingly, speaking directly at Kaminari.
“A concussion is still a concussion!” Kaminari retorted, distraught, his skates already in his hands. “Which hospital did they take him to?”
“We might not be able to visit him yet,” Tsuyu said gently. “I'm sure-”
“I'll just sit in the waiting room, whatever,” Kaminari snapped.
“Look, I'll call Momo, okay? We'll go together,” Ashido suggested, a hand on Kaminari's back. That seemed to satisfy Kaminari. He frowned and waited for Ashido to remove her skates before heading to the locker room. Ashido shot the rest of the team a reassuring smile as she followed.
Uraraka sighed as she sat on the bench. “I hope he's actually going to be okay,” she murmured, then looked up at Kirishima. “You weren't just saying that for Denki, were you?”
Kirishima gave her a smile. “No, I wasn't. He'll be fine,” he insisted, with a confidence and honesty that got Uraraka's shoulders to relax. “He's really only going to the hospital just to be extra safe.”
“If the medics say he's fine, then he'll be fine,” Tsuyu said, offering Uraraka a smile. Uraraka's expression gradually reflected Tsuyu's. “I hate to say it,” Tsuyu continued, her smile fading, “but we do have other problems, too. Even if Hanta recovers right away, he's not going to be ready for the match next week.”
Uraraka chewed on her lip as she unlaced her skates. “We could ask Tenya?”
“It's worth a try,” Tsuyu agreed, sitting beside her. “I doubt he'll have the time to fly out for a game, though.” She looked up at Bakugou, still glaring at the ice. “Bakugou. Are you alright?”
Bakugou shrugged. He knew full well what she was asking about and lacked both an honest answer and the energy to lie. The adrenaline had finally gone, and now he just felt sore, the usual post-victory glow diminished to nearly nonexistence by Sero's injury and the resulting reminder of his own. His hands hurt. His chest ached. His mind was having difficulty focusing, simultaneously hyperaware and overly distant.
“We'll figure something out,” Tsuyu said, dropping the subject, removing her skates and standing again. Bakugou was immensely grateful that she didn't try to force a proper response, though he hated the fact that he felt that way nearly as much as he hated how hard it was to breathe. Tsuyu offered a hand to Uraraka and helped her up. “Keep an eye on your phone, okay, Bakugou?”
Bakugou replied with a nod, and watched as the two left for the locker room themselves. The crowd had already filtered out by now, leaving just Bakugou and Kirishima and the ice. After several long moments, Kirishima pulled himself from the wall where he'd withdrawn to put a hand on Bakugou's shoulder. Bakugou let Kirishima's touch guide him to the bench. Kirishima knelt and set to unlacing Bakugou's skates without comment.
“What the fuck are you doing,” Bakugou mumbled around his mouth guard. But he didn't try to stop him.
“You messed up your hand, didn't you,” Kirishima said. Of course he had- skull and helmet weren't the softest targets. Bakugou could easily have punched elsewhere. But he didn't do things easy. Bakugou was surprised, as he often was with things concerning Kirishima, because he realized that he didn't hate the fact that Kirishima had noticed. Besides, if Kirishima was focused on his hands, maybe that would mean he wouldn't notice everything else.
Kirishima pulled off Bakugou's skates, then reached out for Bakugou's helmet. His eyes met Bakugou's, deep and focused and way too fucking gorgeous and way too fucking close. Bakugou's breath tripped on his heartbeat. The effect of Kirishima's presence mixed like a bomb with the bullshit in his head and he jerked backwards, away from Kirishima's hands, away from Kirishima's eyes.
Kirishima splayed his palms at him, placating, and pulled back, waiting for Bakugou to make the first move. Bakugou found himself more confused than angry at his own reaction. He stared at Kirishima, desperately trying to figure out what the fuck it was about him that made his chest hurt so much more than it already had- it was a different kind of ache, sore rather than tight- what the fuck it was about him that made it difficult to think and act like his own fucking self. Kirishima held his gaze with a tenuous smile.
Bakugou swallowed down his incomprehensible definitely-not-almost-panic and leaned forward again. Kirishima's smile steadied. Bakugou kept his eyes on Kirishima's, considering his ability to do so a victory over himself, as he allowed Kirishima to undo the chin strap and lift the helmet from his head. Kirishima tucked the helmet under his arm and picked up Bakugou's skates, carrying them as they went to the locker room.
“What's your combination?” Kirishima asked at Bakugou's locker. Bakugou frowned at him. Kirishima frowned right back. “You gonna do it yourself, with your hands like that, or are you going to let me help you?”
Bakugou was supposed to be the one helping Kirishima. Bakugou didn't need any fucking help. He'd busted up one of his hands, that was all, and that was his own stupid fucking fault. Bakugou's frown settled into a scowl, but he spat out the numbers anyway. Kirishima opened the locker and took out Bakugou's bag, stowing the skates and helmet. Then he turned back to Bakugou and held out his hands, palms up. Bakugou silently complied, dropping one gloved hand into his, and Kirishima gently tugged it off. He winced at the sight of Bakugou's knuckles, his breath hissing in through his teeth.
They looked even worse than they felt, torn open raw and red. The blood had dried, but it was smeared everywhere. Kirishima set the glove aside and helped him with the other, even though that hand hadn't been used as a cudgel and as a result wasn't in any way injured. He held Bakugou's hand for longer than was probably strictly necessary.
Bakugou didn't mind.
“You're gonna have to wash these,” Kirishima said, clearing his throat and releasing Bakugou's hands, shifting his attention to the bloody insides of Bakugou's glove instead.
Bakugou pulled out his mouth guard and glared at his gloves. “Wouldn't be the first fucking time.”
“Your jersey, too,” Kirishima pointed out.
Bakugou shrugged and pulled it off, eyeing the blood spatter without interest. He sat and draped it over one knee. “I'm good at getting blood out of shit.”
“Somehow that doesn't surprise me,” Kirishima chuckled. “Maybe you can help with my jacket, then.” Bakugou's gut churned at the reminder of the red-on-red of the bloodstains on Kirishima's jacket as Kirishima started on Bakugou's pads. Now that Bakugou had adjusted to it, even though he didn't need it, Kirishima's touch- that is, his help- was admittedly kind of nice. “That was really manly of you, anyway, jumping in to defend a friend like that.”
“It's just what you should do, when some fucker fucks with your team,” Bakugou muttered.
“But you don't do stuff just because you feel like you should, do you,” Kirishima said, quietly, setting Bakugou's pads on the bench beside him. Bakugou turned to stare at him. His own words sounded strange coming from Kirishima's mouth. Kirishima grinned in response, and Bakugou found himself having to look away. He fumed at the floor and chewed on his tongue, trying to ignore his erratic heartbeat and the pain in his hand and head. He didn't do especially well with either.
After Kirishima had finished with his pads, Bakugou retreated to the shower to strip off the rest of his gear and soak in the steam. The hot water burned into the tattered skin of his knuckles, but Bakugou pushed the sensation aside. There was too much else on his mind for that particular pain to register much.
He hoped Sero was okay.
Bakugou clamped his hurting hands tight over his mouth and screwed his eyes shut and definitely didn't scream.
After he'd toweled off and dressed and breathed, he returned to his locker, where Kirishima sat waiting, phone in hand. “No updates,” he said to Bakugou's frown. He pocketed the phone and helped Bakugou pack up his things, checked that Bakugou's locker was closed, and hesitated by the door. “Do you, uh,” he started, running a hand over his still-bruised face and through his hair. “Do you have anything to help with your hands?”
“Yeah,” Bakugou said, uncertain of Kirishima's discomfort. “I have a whole fucking ER worth of shit at my place.”
“Oh. That's, um. That's good.” But he still didn't stop fidgeting with his hair, still didn't look Bakugou in the eye.
“You could come over, if you wanted,” Bakugou forced out. “Since we're not going out to eat or whatever.”
Kirishima brightened, his eyes finding Bakugou's for just a moment before they closed with his broadening grin. “Yeah! Okay, that'd be great!”
The pain in Bakugou's chest didn't seem so bad, now.
Bakugou never had guests over. His space was just that- his. He'd always been bad at sharing, had never needed to learn otherwise, and that extended to inviting people over to his apartment, too. So while he thought he understood the rising sense of vulnerability he felt as he and Kirishima climbed the stairs of his apartment building, that didn't make it any less aggravating. There was nothing to be fucking nervous about. Not that Bakugou got nervous. That was Kirishima's whole thing, not his.
But Kirishima didn't seem nervous at all. He was chatting loudly and happily about nothing in particular and Bakugou let the words seep in warm and soothing like a massage, letting Kirishima's enthusiasm help carry him over the wall in his head.
Bakugou unlocked his door and dumped his gear bag on the floor, stowing his shoes on the rack in the corner. His studio was set up with a kitchen in the left corner and his bed in the right, bookshelves, desk, and table in between, the bathroom and closet door open at one end and the balcony door closed at the other. It was modern and spacious and Bakugou had taken months to find it because he refused to settle for anything less than perfect.
“Wow,” Kirishima said, raising his eyebrows. “Your place is really nice, dude.”
“No shitty couch to fuck it up,” Bakugou grumbled, pleased despite himself with Kirishima's approval, and headed for the bathroom. “Sit wherever.” He rummaged through the medicine cabinet before coming up with a bag containing bandages and a package of antiseptic cream, open from the last time he'd gotten into a fight.
When he returned, Kirishima was sitting on the floor in front of his bookshelf, head tilted sideways as he read the spines of the books, movies, and games Bakugou had arranged there. Kirishima blinked up at Bakugou with an embarrassed grin. Bakugou looked from Kirishima to the table, then back to Kirishima. “I mean I said wherever,” Bakugou admitted. “My fucking fault I forgot that you're a fucking weirdo.”
Kirishima laughed. “Sorry Bakugou. You have really good taste, though!” He stood and took the bag from Bakugou's hands without asking, then sat at the table.
“Of course I fucking do,” Bakugou muttered. Kirishima opened the bag and pulled out the cream and bandages, then raised an expectant eyebrow at Bakugou. Bakugou sat opposite him. Kirishima held out a hand again, as he had when he'd taken off Bakugou's gloves.
Bakugou frowned. Kirishima was still injured. Sure, his cuts had healed, so he really didn't need any bandages anymore, and all that could be done was rest and wait. But still, Bakugou felt entirely uncomfortable having someone else- having Kirishima- take care of him. Despite that, Bakugou placed his injured hand into Kirishima's open one, noticing but not knowing what to make of the way Kirishima's eyes dropped from his, the way Kirishima's smile crept a bit wider, the way his own heart tangled up its rhythm.
Bakugou breathed through his nose and willed his heartbeat to steady. It didn't.
Kirishima applied the cream with a practiced touch, far more tender than he needed to be, his grip on Bakugou's hand strangely reassuring and, Bakugou slowly realized, entirely unnecessary. There was absolutely no need for Kirishima to be holding his hand.
But he didn't move.
“Okay,” Kirishima said, giving Bakugou's hand a brief squeeze that may as well have been around his heart. “Let that dry. Let me check your other hand, too.”
Bakugou complied. Kirishima held it as well and carefully dabbed at the few small tears. When he'd finished, he returned his attention to the first hand, pulling it close to inspect the knuckles for a moment before wrapping the injuries with bandages around Bakugou's hand and between his fingers with a confidence and ease that suggested he'd done so a number of times before. Bakugou wondered if Kirishima had known how to do so before he'd gotten injured himself. “It looks bad, but the bleeding's stopped, at least,” Kirishima said, gently. “Not much I can do about anything deeper than that. But as long as you take care of yourself, you'll heal up in no time!”
“Thanks,” Bakugou murmured.
But Kirishima gathered Bakugou's injured hand into his and said, “Hold on, almost forgot the most important part!” He smiled and brushed a kiss onto Bakugou's knuckles.
Kirishima grinned at Bakugou, maybe a bit redder than usual, apparently oblivious to Bakugou's reaction. “Gotta have the kiss to make it better,” he was saying, but Bakugou was having a hard enough time breathing, much less making sense of Kirishima's words.
Bakugou couldn't think.
“Hey? Bakugou, you okay man?”
Bakugou tugged his hand free. “Yeah,” he managed, voice scraping its way out of his throat. “What, uh. What do you want. For food.”
“I don't know what you have, dude,” Kirishima said, looking at him with no small amount of concern. “Are you sure you're alright?”
“Yeah,” Bakugou repeated, but he sounded no more convincing than he had the first time. So he wanted Kirishima to kiss his hand again. That was all he wanted, right? So what?
So fucking what?
Bakugou made his way to his corner kitchen and threw open the fridge and pantry and busied himself in searching for a suitable meal for two. He scrounged out some frozen chicken and vegetables and a jar of premade curry sauce that he barely had the presence of mind to double-check that it hadn't passed its expiration date.
So. Fucking. What.
Kirishima stood from the table and approached the counter where Bakugou was definitely not panicking, where Bakugou was definitely not have any difficulty acting normally. Kirishima put a hesitant hand on Bakugou's arm and looked at him with blatant worry. “Bakugou? I'm really sorry, was it something I did?”
Bakugou tried for a dismissive laugh, but it came out sounding like a strangled bark. “No,” he lied.
“Oh,” Kirishima breathed, assumed understanding in his voice. “I-” he peeled his hand from Bakugou's arm. “I shouldn't- I shouldn't have done that, should I?”
“That's not what I fucking said,” Bakugou growled.
“I shouldn't have, though, I should have asked, I'm really sorry-”
Bakugou whirled on him. “Just- fuck! Just! Stop! Stop fucking apologizing when you have nothing to fucking apologize for!”
Kirishima stared at him.
A furious heat bled across Bakugou's face. He turned away and channeled his overwhelming and thoroughly unwelcome emotions into dinner preparations, doing his best just to stay afloat.
Kirishima, mercifully, left him to it.
Bakugou only looked at Kirishima again once the meal was finished and ready and his lungs had started functioning properly again. Kirishima was tapping at his phone. He looked up at Bakugou's approach with a massive grin, as if there was nothing out of the ordinary about Bakugou's stupid fucking behaviour. “Hanta's fine,” he said, sounding giddy. “He's been cleared for visits and everything. Momo's making sure they keep him at the hospital for another day or so just to be on the safe side.”
Thank fuck. “Good,” Bakugou said as he set the table, a cool wash of relief spreading through his veins. Kirishima's eyes held onto Bakugou's, and his smile wavered a moment. “That's good,” Bakugou tried again, louder, maintaining eye contact. Kirishima's smile returned. The relief doubled.
Bakugou retrieved his laptop from his desk and opened it on the table, checking his phone as Kirishima picked the first movie. He sent a text acknowledging the update of Sero's condition before putting it and thoughts of that situation aside. He could only focus on so many emotional disasters at once. He could barely fucking focus on one at a time, really. But Bakugou and Kirishima settled into their routine easily, as comfortably as if nothing had changed.
As if Kirishima hadn't kissed Bakugou's hand. As if Bakugou didn't want him to do it again.
Bakugou picked the second movie and scrounged up some storebought cookies that somehow weren't stale for dessert. Before Bakugou sat down again, Kirishima frowned up at him, nibbling at a cookie with the sharp points of his teeth. “Do you have ice?”
“Fucking weird thing to pair cookies with, but yeah,” Bakugou replied, desperately trying to push down the thought that Kirishima looked really fucking cute like that.
Kirishima laughed, which didn't help Bakugou's efforts at all. “I mean for your hand. It's got to still hurt, right?”
Bakugou winced at the reminder. “I guess,” he muttered, the closest he could come to admitting his own pain. He retrieved a bag, filled it with ice, wrapped it in a napkin, and sat beside Kirishima again. Kirishima beamed at him. He held on to the cookie between his teeth and reached out for Bakugou's hands. The motion caught on the air for a heartbeat, but Kirishima forged on past his own hesitation. He slid one of his hands beneath Bakugou's, fingers curling to grasp it, impossibly tender. When Bakugou didn't move, Kirishima gathered Bakugou's other hand into his and placed it beside the first, then draped the ice over both.
He pressed play and resumed gnawing on his cookie.
Kirishima's hand stayed holding Bakugou's for the rest of the movie.
Bakugou didn't risk moving his hands, not even after the ice had melted. After the film finished, Kirishima turned to smile at him with something small and quiet that went straight to Bakugou's gut. “How are your hands?”
“Fine,” Bakugou rasped.
“Are they really?” Kirishima asked, doubtful. Bakugou scowled. “Yeah, that's what I thought,” Kirishima laughed. “Here, I'll get more.”
“No fucking way, sit the fuck down,” Bakugou snapped and stood. “Pick another fucking movie, you're the fucking guest, I'll get my own damn ice.”
Kirishima tugged his hand out from under Bakugou's and Bakugou pretended he didn't miss the contact, just as he pretended he didn't miss the feeling of Kirishima's lips on his knuckles. “Sure, okay, whatever you say, Bakugou,” Kirishima snickered. “You're so hospitable, dude.”
So he could use sarcasm after all.
Bakugou retrieved more ice and returned to another film- a superhero one this time, Kirishima been delighted when he'd discovered that he and Bakugou both had a thing for the genre- and Kirishima held his hand again as they watched.
A couple of movies later and the hours passed much faster than Bakugou expected. It was well after midnight by the time Kirishima pulled his hand away from Bakugou's once more and checked his phone. “Crap, sor-” he paused with a grimace. “Uh, it's. It's really late, Bakugou, I didn't realize.”
“Not like I'm gonna do anything tomorrow but go visit Sero,” Bakugou muttered. “Why, you have somewhere to be?”
“No, but you probably got tired of me like, four hours ago,” Kirishima laughed. “How much do you think a cab is gonna cost from here?”
Bakugou shrugged. He wasn't sure if it was even possible to get tired of Kirishima. “You could just fucking stay,” he said before he could think better of it.
The silence stretched for a while before Bakugou was able to force himself to look at Kirishima. His face was red, his fingers tugging at his hair again. “You don't have a couch,” he said, stating the obvious to his feet.
“I can sleep on the floor, it's whatever.” Bakugou grumbled. “Better to have no couch than your fucking shit one anyway.”
“My free couch is great, you're gonna hurt it's feelings,” Kirishima chuckled. “But I'm not gonna make you sleep on the floor, man.”
“Why the fuck not? You're the one that said I'm so fucking hospitable.”
“Not exactly in those words.” Kirishima's laugh brightened. “Seriously though, you got beat on pretty bad during the game today, you'll get all kinds of super sore if you just sleep on the floor. If you just have a spare blanket or something I'll be fine-”
“You're still fucking beat up yourself, you're not fucking sleeping on the floor and that's it,” Bakugou insisted irritably.
“Well I'm not letting you sleep on the floor, either,” Kirishima insisted right back, crossing his arms. “I slept in my own bed when you stayed over, there's no way you're not sleeping in your own bed now.”
They glared at each other, an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
While Kirishima set up one side of the bed with the extra blankets Bakugou had pulled from the closet, Bakugou stepped out onto the balcony to put his bloody hockey gear in the laundry. He started the machine and took a moment to lean on the railing and breathe in the night air. His hands didn't hurt as much, now, and he knew it was the ice but some tiny sentimental part of him that he didn't even know he had suggested that, maybe, Kirishima's small kiss had done something. Well, something other than completely fuck up Bakugou's emotional state.
And then, of course, he'd yelled at Kirishima. Because of course he had.
He was such a fucking jackass.
Bakugou crossed his arms on the railing and pressed his forehead into them, the sounds of the city and the laundry machine holding him there, as gently as Kirishima had held his hand.
He was such a complete fucking jackass.
“Bakugou!” Kirishima's voice called from inside. “Got it all set up dude, I'm gonna pass out now!”
Shutting the balcony door behind him, Bakugou followed Kirishima's voice back into his apartment. Kirishima was under the blankets Bakugou had given him, buried to the chin, phone awkwardly in hand and held up. He grinned at Bakugou and promptly dropped the phone directly onto his face.
Some of the tension in Bakugou's stomach loosened as he and Kirishima both laughed. Bakugou joined Kirishima in bed shortly after, lying on his side with his back to Kirishima, entirely aware of Kirishima's close proximity, of the fact that he'd never shared his bed with anyone before- nor had he ever wanted or been willing to- of the fact that all either of them had to do was accidentally turn over in the night and they'd probably end up tangled in each other, of the fact that Bakugou didn't instinctively recoil at the idea.
“Hey, Bakugou?” Kirishima said over his shoulder. His voice was soft, barely audible.
Bakugou turned his head, but all he saw was Kirishima's back in the dark, stray locks of hair spilling over the pillow. Nothing he could glean anything from. No sign of why the fuck Kirishima was thanking him. “For what?”
Bakugou didn't know what to say to that. “Go to sleep, Kirishima,” he said, instead.
Kirishima chuckled. “Good night, Bakugou.”
In the morning, Bakugou woke warmer than usual. He kept his apartment cool enough that the temperature change confused him for a moment- but only a moment, only until Bakugou opened his eyes and realized the weight and heat around him weren't from his blanket, but from Kirishima.
They'd both clearly adjusted their positions during the night- Bakugou was flat on his back, as usual, but Kirishima was entirely tangled in his blanket, suggesting he'd moved around a lot in his sleep. More importantly, his head rested on Bakugou's stomach, one arm draped over his torso, the other by his chest, hand on Bakugou's ribs. And Bakugou's own arms had found their way across Kirishima's shoulderblades.
Kirishima looked just as beautiful asleep as he did awake, as he did with or without bruises, as he did skating or smiling or talking or eating or watching movies or breathing. He looked just as beautiful now as he did kissing Bakugou's knuckles.
That bandaged hand of Bakugou's reached out on its own and brushed a loose strand of Kirishima's hair from his face and back over his ear. Bakugou's hand hovered there even as his slowly waking brain screamed at him to move. But he didn't want to move. So Bakugou dropped both of his hands to his side and stared at the ceiling and tried instead to convince himself that any of Bakugou's stupid fucking feelings were okay- that he could still salvage some semblance of normalcy from whatever the fuck this was. But even as he tried, Bakugou knew his normal had gone the moment he'd first seen Kirishima's smile.
Bakugou's normal was completely and entirely fucked, and there was absolutely fucking nothing he could do about it.
Not that he wanted to, really.
Kirishima woke who knows how long later, his drowsy shifting drawing Bakugou's gaze. Kirishima's eyes drifted open and met Bakugou's, a sleepy smile blossoming. “G'morning, Bakugou,” he mumbled.
“Morning, Kirishima,” Bakugou replied, wondering how long it would take for Kirishima to realize his position.
Kirishima yawned and stretched, arms tugging into Bakugou in something approaching a hug. Then Bakugou felt Kirishima tense, eyes shooting open again. He stared at Bakugou for a moment, then his stare dropped down to see that what he was hugging was Bakugou and definitely not a pillow. Then back to Bakugou. He looked entirely awake, now, eyes wide and face a vivid red. He let go and pushed himself off, stammering noises that Bakugou couldn't make much sense out of. “Uh! I- um? I didn't- you-”
Fuck, he was cute.
Bakugou sat up, swinging his legs over the side of the bed, back to Kirishima to hide his face. “Guess I keep my place too cold, huh.”
“I really didn't mean to do that Bakugou I swear, I move around a lot when I sleep but I didn't think-”
“I know. It's fine.” It wasn't fine, really. But that was the fault of Bakugou's own useless fucking emotions, not Kirishima.
Kirishima put his hand on Bakugou's shoulder just long enough to get Bakugou's attention. Bakugou turned back to see genuine concern mixed in among Kirishima's embarrassed blush. “It's! It's really not! I know touching kind of makes you uncomfortable sometimes and I really don't want to make you uncomfortable, okay?”
“I said it's fine,” Bakugou repeated. He absolutely was fucking uncomfortable. Kirishima had made him fucking uncomfortable since they'd first met. But maybe being uncomfortable wasn't always all bad. “Why the fuck do you care so much?”
Confusion bled in. “Because I- I mean you're-?” Kirishima's eyebrows scrunched up as he searched for the words. “Because I care about you?”
Bakugou stared at him.
“Because we're friends!” Kirishima added hastily. “Because you're my friend. So of course I care?”
Right. Kirishima cared about all his friends. He cared about the rest of the team, too. He probably cared about whoever he'd left behind in his old city. That was just the kind of person he was. The fact that he cared didn't mean anything special. Not that Bakugou wanted it to mean anything special. Not that he'd know what to do if it did.
“Sure,” Bakugou muttered. Kirishima's embarrassment faded, replaced with something small. Bakugou fucking hated how close he looked to being sad, hated how he clearly had something to do with it, even if he had no idea what. “It's fucking fine,” he tried, not sure what words might alleviate whatever it was preventing Kirishima's smile. “It was,” he hesitated. Bakugou never fucking hesitated. But he didn't know how to quite put into words what it was. He reached for something close. “Nice?”
It was Kirishima's turn to stare again. Bakugou sounded fucking ridiculous and knew it, but he had no fucking clue what else to say that would both fix the problem of Kirishima's frown and not make himself sound like a complete dumbass. But if it had to be one or the other, well, Bakugou had already acted like an asshole in front of Kirishima before. “Normally it wouldn't be fine, yeah. But it's you, right?”
That seemed to work. Kirishima's frown brightened into a wide smile, red returning, shoulders relaxing. “In that case,” Kirishima said, humour in his voice, “you make a good pillow, Bakugou.”
Heat shot into Bakugou's cheeks. “You changed your tone fucking fast,” he growled.
At last, Kirishima laughed. The sound was a salve. “Well if it's okay with you then it's okay with me!” he grinned. “And I slept really well too, must be the good company.”
“If your bed is half as shit as your couch then it's probably just that my bed is fucking fantastic,” Bakugou grumbled, relieved just that Kirishima seemed happy again.
“My bed's pretty great,” Kirishima protested. “You'll have to try it sometime, see whose is better.”
Bakugou's breath came out as a cough. Did Kirishima even have any idea what the fuck he'd just said?
“I! I mean! I mean if you stay the night again?” Kirishima hastily clarified. So maybe he did realize. He had a fucking adorable blush. “You don't like my couch so next time- if there is a next time? I guess if you stay over? We could share my bed? Like with yours! If you wanted?”
“Right.” Bakugou couldn't help but chuckle. At least he wasn't the only one who stuck his foot in his mouth.
After breakfast, Kirishima insisted on rebandaging Bakugou's hand. Bakugou obliged, and definitely didn't spend the whole time somehow both dreading and hoping for another chance to feel Kirishima's lips on his knuckles.
Once the injuries were freshly wrapped, Kirishima looked up from Bakugou's hand to meet his eyes. His smile was hesitant, his expression uncertain. “Did you, um. Is it okay if I..?”
Bakugou swallowed down his heart in his throat and forced himself to nod.
Kirishima rewarded his efforts with a delighted, beaming smile. He brought Bakugou's hand to his lips and Bakugou watched in a strange fixated fascination as Kirishima closed his eyes and pressed a long, slow kiss onto each of Bakugou's knuckles.
That first kiss had been difficult enough to deal with. Bakugou had liked it, despite himself, but it had taken him off guard. And, maybe, he might have panicked a bit. But this was something else entirely. This was deliberate and unhurried and the pace of it allowed Bakugou to admit to himself that he fucking adored it, that- maybe- he fucking adored Kirishima.
Kirishima lifted his smile from Bakugou's hands, eyes opening and finding his once more. He was blushing and still holding Bakugou's hand and absolutely gorgeous and an actual fucking flutter breezed its way through Bakugou's heart.
Kirishima spoke quietly. “Bakugou, I-”
Bakugou's phone went off.
Kirishima jumped at the sound, mouth snapping shut. He released Bakugou's hand with an embarrassed, tangled smile, bringing his own hands together in his lap.
Bakugou checked his stupid fucking phone to see it was Ashido calling. He answered and did his best to keep the venom from his voice, in case it was something serious with Sero, but all Ashido did was ask Bakugou to bring food when he came to visit the hospital. Bakugou shouted murder at her and she shouted back until Bakugou hung up to see that he'd missed a good fifteen texts from her in the hour previous.
Bakugou shoved his phone in his pocket to see Kirishima laughing and heading for his shoes by the door. Bakugou followed, heart and stomach aching. He had no idea what the fuck had just happened or what the fuck he was supposed to do about it.
But his mind stayed on how Kirishima had felt asleep in his arms, how Kirishima had kissed his hand, how it had made Bakugou feel- how just the thought of it now made him feel- happy.
Until Bakugou checked his phone again while he and Kirishima sat together on the bus and saw a text from Uraraka asking if he'd told Kirishima about the stranger yet. Bakugou knew he would have to bring it up, at some point. Assuming Iida could make it for the game to fill in for Sero, Bakugou wasn't worried about making a good impression. He never was. His skills more than spoke for him. But he still had to tell Kirishima. Which meant he still had to tell Kirishima why he hadn't gone pro- how he'd fucked up his chance to go pro. He'd never actually told anyone; his team and anyone else who knew him already knew the story. It wasn't that big of a deal, really. It really fucking wasn't.
But even while he spent the morning searching for the words, they were no closer to his mouth by the time he and Kirishima stopped by Sero's favourite takeaway place, and even still not by the time they reached the hospital.
Ashido met them in the lobby and grabbed the takeaway bag from Bakugou's hands with a grin, deliberately pretending not to notice Bakugou's furious scowl. “Oh great, we're starving! Denki's been whining about being hungry for the past two hours!” She threw her arms over Bakugou's and Kirishima's shoulders despite Bakugou's halfhearted efforts to shove her away. “He's been in there since pretty much right after the game.” She squeezed the two together before finally releasing them. “On the plus side, I think those two dorks finally figured out that they've been crushing on each other for the past, like, two years. Can you imagine being that dense, that it takes a concussion to finally get together?”
Kirishima let out a strange, short laugh that Bakugou couldn't decipher. Bakugou just shrugged. It was about time.
With a wink at Bakugou that he didn't know what to make of either, Ashido led the two down the hall. “Momo's been insisting on Hanta staying, but his symptoms cleared up this morning. You know how she gets.” Bakugou couldn't blame Yaoyorozu's caution. He'd probably be insisting on the same thing if no one else was.
The others were in Sero's tiny room already, crowded around his bed and chatting. Sero looked entirely fine, with a wide smile and Kaminari's hand in his. He grinned up at Bakugou and Kirishima as they entered. “Hey, Bakugou! Tsuyu told me you beat the crap out of the guy who hit me.” He beamed. “Thanks, man.”
Bakugou shrugged again. “Fucker deserved it.”
“Told you he'd say that, pay up,” Uraraka said said with a smirk from the foot of the bed, hand out to Kaminari.
Kaminari swore under his breath and dug out his wallet with one hand. He leaned over and slapped a few bills onto her palm and glared at Bakugou. “You need more variety in your vocabulary, bro.”
Uraraka stuck her tongue out at Kaminari, but Ashido handing over the takeaway bag seemed to mollify him for his loss. Bakugou rolled his eyes. As Ashido joined Yaoyorozu on the only chair in the room besides Kaminari's, Kirishima asked, “So how are you holding up? Mina said your symptoms are gone?”
“Yup! Once my twenty-four hour wait is over I can start getting back to doing normal stuff. And then drills and training and all. I'll be back to games in no time.” Kaminari dug out the several boxes and peeked inside, handing one to Sero and keeping another for himself before passing the bag along.
“Don't push yourself too much,” Tsuyu said gently, beside Uraraka. They took boxes as well. Kirishima carried the bag over from them to Yaoyorozu and Ashido.
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Sero sighed. “It's only my first concussion, I'll be fine.”
“Make sure you fucking keep it that way,” Bakugou growled.
“Don't worry, that's one record of yours I don't hope to beat,” Sero said with a wry smile.
“Damn right.” Bakugou folded his arms across his chest and settled in with his back to the wall, ignoring the look Yaoyorozu shot at Sero. Kirishima took what was left of the takeaway and joined him, and Bakugou tried to ignore the way something so simple made him feel so warm, too.
The team dug in to their food and talked for a while about nothing in particular and Bakugou let himself slip unresisting as he rarely did into the familiar pattern and ease of the company of friends, relieved by Sero's safety despite his refusal to admit as much, almost glad for the distraction from his thoughts of the morning and the previous night.
A while after they'd piled up their empty boxes in the too-small trashcan, Uraraka looked up from her phone with a frown. “Tenya texted back,” she said, looking directly at Bakugou. “He's got an exam next Monday. He can't make it.”
Of course. That would be too fucking easy, wouldn't it? Bakugou's arms pulled tighter against his chest. “Well who fucking can, then?”
“I don't know anyone else who plays,” Tsuyu murmured, then looked to the others. Judging by their expressions, though, neither did they.
“Sorry, Bakugou,” Sero said with a grimace. “If I'd been paying more attention-”
“Shut the fuck up, this isn't your fault,” Bakugou snapped, entirely honest. The only other hockey player he could think of was Kirishima- but Kirishima had said he didn't play hockey anymore, and there was no fucking way Bakugou was going to push that. He dismissed the thought.
But Kirishima spoke up anyway. “Why not just postpone the game?” he asked, confused at the preceding silence. “That happens often enough, right? What's the problem?”
Yaoyorozu turned her frown on Bakugou. “You still haven't told him yet?”
Bakugou scowled at her, but dropped his glare to the floor when he caught Kirishima's concerned look. “Told me what?”
“Nothing,” Bakugou lied, the dread of the impending conversation returning. He pushed down the bitterness of the increasingly likely possibility that he wouldn't be able to play next week after all, that in missing the game he'd be missing his chance to go pro yet again. “Just. Someone was going to watch the game.”
Telling Kirishima wasn't a big deal. Bakugou knew that, logically. Just as he knew that, as Sero's injury wasn't his fault, neither had Bakugou's injuries been his own fault. But that didn't stop Bakugou from hating himself for his weakness, and it didn't stop the idea of talking about it from being downright intimidating.
Before Bakugou could figure out how to respond, Ashido hopped out of her and Yaoyorozu's chair. “Okay, you two,” she said, grabbing them by the arms. She dragged them out of the room, willfully ignoring Bakugou's cursing and Kirishima's confusion. She only let go once she'd gotten them past the threshold. “Don't come back until you've gotten-” she waved a vague hand between them “-this, all cleared up. You can thank me later. Have fun!” She swung the door shut in their faces.
Bakugou was going to kill her.
Bakugou and Kirishima stood awkwardly in the hallway, the door to Sero's room stubbornly shut before them. Bakugou had no doubt that Ashido had already figured out a way to block the door from entry, so he just glared at it instead.
“Bakugou?” Kirishima said, slowly. “What's going on?”
One problem at a time.
“It's-” Bakugou cut himself off and let out a breath just long enough to steady himself. “There was a guy who talked to me after team practice this week. Said his coach liked your photography and wanted to meet you.”
“Okay?” Kirishima's furrowed brow didn't get any smoother. “That's cool, but obviously there's more going on?”
Bakugou swallowed. “The guy also said he was going to get his coach to come watch the game next week. And that his coach had connections with the pros. So if I make a good impression...”
“Then maybe you could end up going pro?” Kirishima supplied, suddenly animated with excitement. “That's awesome, Bakugou!” He looked as delighted as if Bakugou had told him he'd already gotten an offer. But his bright smile quickly faded at Bakugou's own reticence. “So... wait. Why didn't you tell me, then?” To Bakugou's surprise, Kirishima didn't sound angry at being left out or annoyed at Bakugou's reluctance. Instead, he sounded confused and just the slightest bit hurt.
Bakugou fucking hated it. He knew how to deal with angry. He didn't know how to deal with this. He didn't know how to deal with Kirishima. He didn't know how to deal with Kirishima holding his hand or kissing his hand or holding him as he slept and he didn't know how to deal with this, either.
If Kirishima wasn't going to get angry at him, then he'd just get angry at himself. “Because I had this chance before, too, and I fucked it up! I fucked it up, okay!” he shouted. “I didn't want to have to fucking tell you about that!”
“You don't have to tell me anything you don't want to, Bakugou,” Kirishima said, softly, the trace of upset replaced by tenderness.
That all-too-familiar tightness constricted around Bakugou's lungs. This wasn't how this was supposed to go. “I-”
“I do have a question, if that's okay?”
Bakugou grit his teeth and nodded, expecting the worst.
Kirishima offered a smile. “Where do you like to go to relax?”
The complete change in subject caught Bakugou off guard, pulling his fury out like a rug from under him. “What?”
“You're really stressed right now. Where do you go to get less stressed?” Kirishima's look of utter sincerity was as baffling as his question.
“What the fuck,” Bakugou said under his breath, struggling for an answer nearly as much as he was struggling to breathe. “The ice rink?”
“I said to relax, dude,” Kirishima chuckled.
Bakugou suggested the gym. Then the rock wall. Then the pool. But that just made Kirishima's chuckle bloom into a laugh. “Bakugou, what the heck! That's all exercise. You're gonna overwork yourself real bad one of these days. Do you even know how to relax?”
“I'm perfectly fucking relaxed!” Bakugou snapped. At the look of Kirishima's disbelieving smirk, he grudgingly amended, “I know how to fucking relax. If I'm not working out I fucking watch movies and shows and shit. Or read or game.” Nothing that Kirishima didn't already fucking know.
“Okay,” Kirishima said, still sounding entirely too amused considering Kirishima had just found out Bakugou had been willfully neglecting to tell him something, considering Bakugou had just been yelling just a moment ago, considering how close Bakugou had been to choking on his own emotions. Again. “Sure. But, like. Where do you go?”
Bakugou scowled. Fine. Fuck it. If Kirishima wanted Bakugou to show him around, then that's what he was going to fucking do. Bakugou spun on his heel and stormed out of the hospital, Kirishima tagging along at his side. Bakugou led the way to the nearby metro stop, Kirishima pestering him for hints as to their destination the whole way. “You still haven't told me where we're going,” Kirishima sighed, once they'd made their way down to the platform. It wasn't very busy, thankfully, but Bakugou still felt crowded.
“Just fucking wait and see,” Bakugou growled. “And people fucking say I'm impatient.”
“I'm just excited!” Kirishima laughed. “Typical of you to make a surprise sound like a threat, man.” Bakugou scowled at him. But Kirishima kept futilely pressing Bakugou for hints of their destination as they waited for and boarded and stood on the train. The train car was far too full for Bakugou's liking, but Kirishima's enthusiastic and futile attempts to draw out answers were oddly calming. Bakugou figured they were just distracting. Kirishima, in general, was just distracting.
By the time they came to their stop, Bakugou was back to feeling like himself again- as much as he could feel like himself, with Kirishima around. He and Kirishima left the train and walked up the stairs and out of the station in a comfortable quiet. They were out of the city center, with more breathing room between the skyscrapers and more trees planted in the sidewalks. Bakugou followed the path he'd walked dozens of times, Kirishima at his side. They finally stopped when they reached a closed gate with a park visible beyond it.
“Oh,” Kirishima said. “Is it locked?”
Bakugou pushed the gate open with a smirk that was undeniably his own. “Never is.” He held the gate open and waited for Kirishima to hesitantly step inside before following, pulling the gate shut behind them.
“Are we actually allowed to be in here?” Kirishima asked, voice low and conspiratorial.
“It's a public park,” Bakugou replied, chuckling at Kirishima's caution. “Not too many people know about it, though. Most people see a closed door and don't even think about opening it. Means less fucking people to deal with, thank fuck.”
Kirishima's expression returned to its usual gorgeous smile as he took in the park. It wasn't huge by any means, but it was green and clear, a pond in the middle with a dirt path winding beneath the trees and in front of the occasional bench. Bushes lined the edges, colourful with flowers. A slow, calm space among the haste of the city. “It's really nice. How did you even find it?”
“Used to live around here. The pond freezes over in winter,” Bakugou explained, starting on the path towards it, Kirishima going along with him. He'd spent a lot of time here when he was younger. Not as much now, but it was still always a space where he could go to breathe and destress. “Good place for kids to play hockey. It's a good place to go for a run, now.”
“Seriously?” Kirishima asked, chuckling. “Dude. Do you do literally anything that's not related to exercise? Like, I love working out. I do! It's great and manly and one of my favourite things! See?” He flexed almost comically to prove his point. Bakugou felt a tug of something unpleasant and uncomfortable in his gut. Not that Bakugou hadn't noticed Kirishima's obvious enjoyment of exercise before. “But I also know how to chill out?”
“I'm totally fucking chill,” Bakugou growled, glaring.
Kirishima's laugh pitched louder and looser. “You are so not chill.”
Bakugou dropped onto a bench, legs wide out before him, arms crossed. “Look. Fucking chill.”
“You look like you're planning a murder, Bakugou.” Kirishima sat beside him at his usual distance, or lack thereof. He still felt too far, somehow.
“Maybe that's my idea of relaxing,” Bakugou snorted.
“You worry me, man.” Kirishima shook his head, grinning. “Really though, you should learn how to relax? It might help your panic attacks.” Before Bakugou could ask what the fuck Kirishima was talking about- because there was no fucking way Bakugou got fucking panic attacks- Kirishima continued, “I loved knowing all the hidden nooks and crannies in my old city. It's great to know there are places like this here too!”
Bakugou pulled back on his instinct to argue and instead said, “You sound like you miss it.”
“Nah.” Kirishima shrugged. “I miss certain things, sure, but-” his grin brightened and he tossed one arm across Bakugou's shoulders, pulling him close into his side for a half-hug. “-I've met some great people here!”
Bakugou looked very carefully at the pond, well aware of the heat burning his face, of Kirishima's arm over him, of how softly Kirishima was holding him, of the fact that he still had yet to respond. “Why'd you move?” he mumbled, desperately searching for a normal answer to what Kirishima had said, and how he'd said it.
“Oh! That's easy!” Kirishima sounded delighted at the question. “My favourite hockey player is Crimson Riot. He was my hero growing up! Still is. And you know what he says?” When Bakugou shook his head, Kirishima supplied, “'A manly heart is a life led without regret.' That's the whole reason I'm here, really. I wanted to live without regret. If I stayed where I was, doing what I was doing, I was gonna regret it. Once I figured that out...” He ran his free hand- the hand not currently on Bakugou's shoulder- through his hair. “Well, it just made sense to move.”
He sounded almost embarrassed. But Bakugou didn't see anything embarrassing about the idea, and certainly not the fact that Kirishima actually had the courage to act on what he'd wanted. “Did that work?”
“Seems to be going pretty okay so far,” Kirishima chuckled. “I mean, my dad's upset with me. And Rappa's still a problem. But it's better.”
“Tell your dad to fuck off,” Bakugou suggested. And he'd handle Rappa.
Kirishima laughed. “Yeah, I'm sure that would go over well! No way, Bakugou. He's just...” he sighed, the humour slipping from his voice. “He's upset because moving meant dropping out which meant giving up my scholarship. He was... he had been really proud of me getting that scholarship.” His fingers tapped nervously against Bakugou's shoulder.
“If he's pissed at you for that, he's a fucking asshole,” Bakugou muttered.
Kirishima's fingers stilled. “Thanks, Bakugou,” he chuckled. “But, honestly, I just wanted to try to get better at photography, and college was making me miserable. Hockey, like that, with all the stress of the scholarship and being so focused on winning and how often I ended up accidentally hurting people and everything, was making me miserable. And there was Rappa, of course. It was...” Kirishima let out an uncomfortable hum. “Well. It wasn't great. I wasn't doing great. So I got rid of all the things that were making me miserable by moving here!”
Bakugou felt an unfamiliar mix of respect and gratitude. “And?” he asked, quietly, well aware of the trust Kirishima was placing in him by talking about the things he normally didn't. Well aware that, maybe, it was Kirishima's way of making it easier for Bakugou to do the same. “Are you miserable now?”
Kirishima pulled back from their strange half-hug just enough to give Bakugou a long, almost stern look. “No,” he said, firmly. Then his expression went gentle and honest and warm and Bakugou felt the effect of it nestle inside his heart like his own personal sunbeam. “How could I be?”
Bakugou opened his mouth, but nothing came out.
Kirishima was very close, somehow simultaneously too close for comfort and not close enough for the undeniable but undefinable sense of want that rose up in Bakugou's chest.
Bakugou stood roughly, shoving himself off the bench and shoving his hands in his pockets. He wasn't sure if he'd moved quickly enough to avoid Kirishima feeling his rapid-fire heartbeat. “There were some flowers last time I was here,” he managed, his mind supplying to his lips the first thing it could come up with. Bakugou started down the path and heard Kirishima's muted laugh before seeing him again at his side. But Kirishima had more than done his part. It was past time for Bakugou to give him the explanation Kirishima was owed. He hesitated by the pond, where he'd first learned to skate, where he'd first played hockey. “You know how it can be hard to tell if a kid has a concussion,” he started, diving into the words before he could think too much more about them.
Kirishima paused beside him. “Yeah?”
“And you know how they build up. The more you get them the worse they are.”
Bakugou saw Kirishima's reflection looking at his. “Yeah.”
“Then there's those fucking steps you have to pass through to get cleared back into games. Like Sero was saying.” Kirishima's gaze lifted from Bakugou's expression to Bakugou himself. Bakugou kept his eyes on the water and continued forcing out the words. “Turns out I probably had a lot of concussions as a kid. And I guess I kept getting them. Nothing big, at first, but. They stacked. Happens with a lot of athletes.” Bakugou's hands curled into fists in his pockets. It wasn't a big deal. It wasn't.
But it really fucking was.
“Where are those flowers?” Kirishima asked, quietly.
Bakugou latched on to the lifeline and led Kirishima further down the path, the bushes in sight. “There were three different pro teams,” Bakugou resumed on the way, eyes down on the dirt of the path. “I just had to finish high school and I'd pretty much have my pick. Two games left and I got fucking boarded. Didn't wake up for a day.”
They reached the bushes, where a number of colourful flowers were in bloom, reds and oranges and whites, with a few purples here and there. Bakugou knew fuck all about flowers, but from the potted plant Kirishima kept in his apartment, Bakugou figured Kirishima might like them. He took another breath. “And after I did, whenever I cleared a step, I'd fuck up, or some of those fucking symptoms would come back and I'd have to go back to the step I'd just fucking cleared.”
“I've heard of that happening,” Kirishima murmured in Bakugou's silence. He crouched down in front of the flowers, fingers gingerly tracing petals. He looked up at Bakugou to join him. “It's not terribly uncommon?”
“Right,” Bakugou grudgingly agreed, crouching as well. “But. I didn't clear the last step for... a while.” His own fingers tangled together into a knot between his knees. It was getting difficult to breathe, again. “Took seven months. Seven whole fucking months. None of the pro teams were going to wait that fucking long for some high school dipshit who'd probably be out for another fucking half a year if he ever got hit in the head again.”
Kirishima pulled his hand away from the flowers and offered it to Bakugou instead. Without letting himself think too much about it, Bakugou unwound his fingers and took Kirishima's hand into his own. It was a comforting presence. “Bakugou,” Kirishima said, his voice and touch equally reassuring. “If you're so at risk for another concussion, why do you still play?”
Bakugou let Kirishima's hand ground him, let Kirishima's eyes hold him. He loved hockey. He'd spent his life practicing it. He was fucking good at it. He probably shouldn't be playing, sure, but the idea of giving up on it made him feel as if he were giving up on himself. He rubbed at his face with his free hand and his voice definitely didn't crack when he asked, “What else am I supposed to do?”
Kirishima reached up and tugged Bakugou's hand from his face. He held both of Bakugou's hands in his and looked at him for a long moment, searching. “Whatever you want to do,” he murmured.
Kirishima made it sound so easy. But Bakugou couldn't even figure out what he wanted with Kirishima. How was he supposed to know what he wanted with his life, if not play hockey?
Then Kirishima released one of Bakugou's hands to drift between the flowers again. He paused by one, orange and star-shaped, and gently tugged it from the plant. Kirishima reached out with a look soft enough for Bakugou to wrap himself in and tucked the flower behind Bakugou's ear.
Kirishima's smile was a gift in and of itself. His hand started to pull away, but held in the air just beside Bakugou's ear for a long moment. His voice was honest. Soothing. “You know it's not your fault, right?”
At that moment, Bakugou was inclined to believe him. At that moment, Bakugou would believe anything Kirishima said. He would do anything Kirishima said. He would do anything for Kirishima to keep smiling that beautiful smile of his.
So Bakugou closed his eyes and leaned his cheek into Kirishima's palm and for the first time in a long time he felt as if he were actually being honest with himself when he said, “I know.”
A while after they'd thoroughly explored the park, Kirishima and Bakugou returned to the metro. Bakugou felt content. It was a simple feeling, but one that Bakugou wasn't particularly accustomed to. He felt it sometimes when he was alone on the ice, or occasionally alone in the countryside or alone in his apartment buried in a book, but it never had been a feeling that involved other people. But, right now, it was a feeling that Bakugou knew- even with his admittedly maybe-not-great grasp of emotions- was, at least at the moment, inextricably and undeniably linked to Kirishima.
The metro station and train were even more crowded than when they'd rode out from the hospital, much to Bakugou's displeasure. But the relief of finally having told Kirishima what happened was a tangible, calming knowledge. Bakugou hadn't expected that. He hadn't expected Kirishima to confide in him his own problems. He absolutely hadn't expected Kirishima to hold his hand again, or- ah. Fuck. He still had the flower behind his ear, didn't he?
Bakugou's hand reached up automatically. But then he thought of the smile Kirishima had given him along with the flower, and his hand dropped again to his side. He'd take it off before they got back to the hospital.
Kirishima caught the motion and gave Bakugou his wide shark grin and Bakugou flushed back at him even as he tried to scowl. Kirishima giggled his adorable fucking giggle. Bakugou's meagre attempt at a frown slipped away and he didn't even think of chasing after it.
Kirishima had no fucking idea of the effect he had on Bakugou, did he?
The train became progressively more crowded as they rode on, and even the diversion of Kirishima's smile began to fail. Bakugou shoved his fists into his pockets, pressed his back against the wall, closed his eyes, and focused on shutting out his surroundings. He definitely wasn't anxious. He didn't get anxious. He just liked his space. The metro was fine and all except for when it made him feel like he was suffocating, as it was starting to now.
“Bakugou?” Kirishima sounded concerned, his volume muted. Bakugou forced his eyes open. Kirishima was frowning, brows drawn. Behind and surrounding him were way too fucking many people. The train came to a halt, sending a ripple through the crowd. The doors opened. “Are you alr-”
The crowd fought its way off the train, shoving Kirishima towards Bakugou in the process. He'd been too close already, and was now way too fucking close, his wide eyes filling Bakugou's vision and his breath cool on Bakugou's too-hot skin. He'd caught himself with one hand on Bakugou's shoulder and the other on the wall of the train to the side with just a sliver of space between the two of them.
Kirishima had gorgeous eyes.
If Bakugou were to lean forward just the slightest, if he were even to simply speak, their lips would meet.
Bakugou's mind went into a numb blank at the realization of their position, of Kirishima's closeness, of the knowledge that, had Kirishima's reaction time had been just a moment slower, his mouth would have crashed into Bakugou's. Of the thoroughly unwelcome fact that the nearness of that having happened left Bakugou almost, almost wishing it had.
Bakugou had never kissed anyone before. Bakugou had never fucking wanted to kiss anyone before.
He wanted to kiss Kirishima.
As the crowd thinned, Kirishima managed to push off Bakugou and took two steps back, face burning the same shade of red as his hair. Bakugou was certain he looked no better off, with his blood pounding furiously loud in his ears, fingernails gouging into the too-sweaty palms of his fists, muscles locked and tight, adrenaline spiking with nowhere to go. He felt like he needed to say something to alleviate the sudden tension but his voice failed before it had even left his throat. They stared at each other for a few moments too long.
Fuck. Fuck, he wanted to kiss Kirishima.
Kirishima, eventually, looked away and found a space on the nearest pole. He held on to it, knuckles pale, eyes gouging a hole into the floor.
The lessened crowd of the train remained steady, now not too dense but still without leaving much room to think. Slowly, Bakugou's pulse calmed and he pried his fists apart, stretching his shaking fingers as much as his pockets would allow. When his breath finally resumed its normal flow, he grunted, voice rougher than anticipated, “We're nearly there.”
Kirishima looked up, his cheeks still darker than usual. He replied with a wavering smile before quickly diverting his gaze again.
Bakugou had told Kirishima about the stranger, about the bullshit he'd been trying to figure out a way to tell him about for a while now. And Kirishima had told him about his issues, too. But, somehow, as they made their way back into the hospital, Bakugou found himself thinking that they hadn't cleared up much between them after all.
While they approached the entrance to the hospital, Bakugou decided that they were fucked if they went back into Sero's room with things as they were. At best, the silence between them was insufferably, painfully awkward; at worst, Ashido would be able to tell that something was off and would give them shit for it. And, more importantly, Kirishima looked uncomfortable. Bakugou didn't like Kirishima being anything less than happy.
And Bakugou did really fucking want to kiss Kirishima.
He stopped outside the hospital doors. Kirishima paused, concern mixing in with the self-consciousness and trepidation still clear on his face. Before Kirishima could say anything, Bakugou stuck out one hand. Kirishima looked at it, then at him. Kirishima took Bakugou's hand, gently, without demanding. The worry in his look faded, though the embarrassment and confusion remained. “Bakugou, what-”
Bakugou lifted their clasped hands to his face and closed his eyes. He swallowed his nerves and kissed the back of Kirishima's hand.
He relaxed, holding Kirishima's hand to his lips, calm despite his racing pulse. He took one breath in. One breath out.
Bakugou opened his eyes again to see Kirishima frozen still, staring at him, eyes wide, lips parted. “Okay?” Bakugou asked, gruffly, guiding Kirishima's hand down to his side before reluctantly releasing it.
Kirishima's slack mouth bloomed into a smile in hitched stages until it was a massive grin that went all the way to his eyes and Bakugou's heart. He looked fucking radiant. “Okay,” he said, a gentle acknowledgment of something Bakugou couldn't quite understand.
Bakugou returned his own hands to his pockets and turned away, almost worried that if he stayed there any longer, he'd never want to move. He was relieved that the air between them felt easier to breathe, relieved that he'd gone through with his impulse, relieved that Kirishima hadn't minded. He fought down the smile seeping its way through his barriers and put in far more effort than he should have needed to fix his face into its usual frown as they made their way back into the hospital, side by side.
The door to Sero's room was still closed. Bakugou half expected it to be blocked, but it opened without issue. The team was more or less as Bakugou and Kirishima had left them, and glanced up from each other and their phones as the door opened. Their various conversations came to a too-sudden stop. Kaminari did an actual fucking double-take, phone slipping from his hands into his lap, and the entire team blatantly stared at him in a way that made Bakugou very distinctly uneasy.
“Oh my God,” Ashido whispered, looking worryingly thrilled.
The frown Bakugou had been having so much difficulty maintaining returned without issue. “What the fuck are you staring at?” he demanded.
Kaminari blinked at him. “You-”
“Don't!” Ashido hissed through her devious smile and reached over Yaoyorozu to whack Kaminari in the arm. “Don't you dare!”
While Kaminari protested, Uraraka spoke up, looking way too happy for comfort. “Nothing, Bakugou,” she answered- which meant of course there absolutely fucking was something. Tsuyu turned away and giggled into her hand.
“What the fuck!” Bakugou seethed.
“It's,” Sero said between stifled laughter, rubbing Kaminari's punched arm, “It's really nothing.” But his definite snicker said otherwise. “You just, uh. You look like you had a good trip.”
The fuck was he talking about? Bakugou glared at Yaoyorozu, but she looked just as inexplicably delighted as the rest of them. Then he looked at Kirishima, who had gone entirely red and was conspicuously not making eye contact with anyone.
What. The. Fuck. “If you shits don't fucking-”
“Bakugou,” Tsuyu interrupted, eyes bright and smile wide. “It isn't anything bad. Don't worry about it.”
“I'm not fucking worried, I fucking want to know what you fucking asshats are laughing about-”
Tsuyu failed to restrain another giggle. “Orange suits you, is all.”
The flower Kirishima had given him was orange. The flower still tucked behind his ear was orange.
He'd forgotten about the fucking flower.
Bakugou felt that heat that had become all-too-common when Kirishima was involved burn in his face and he retreated into a glower, hands once more balled into fists. “Damn fucking right it does!” he snarled, loud and aggressive in an effort that he already knew to be futile to mask his embarrassment. “You fucking shits have a fucking problem with that?”
“Not at all,” Uraraka said, overly innocent. They all looked way too fucking pleased with themselves. But Kirishima's eyes had lifted from the floor, looking at Bakugou with something like relief. “It's a good look,” Uraraka added with a grin.
Bakugou scowled at them all. “Fuck off and die,” he growled under his breath, but with Kirishima smiling at him like that, he couldn't muster up any real anger and his irritable noises were easily covered by the resumption of his friends' cheerful laughter.
Bakugou endured their fun for long enough before becoming desperate to change the subject and demanded, “Did you fucks think of another fucking player or what.”
That quieted them. So that was a no, then. Of fucking course.
Bakugou could do whatever he wanted. He could. Kirishima had been right about that. But, whether or not he should, he wanted to play hockey. He wanted another chance to go pro. He wanted to prove to himself that he could overcome himself.
But how could he do that, if he gave up on this opportunity?
“I can play,” Kirishima said into the silence. He sounded nervous. “I'm a defenseman but my coach always said I was pretty good up in offense too. I mean, I might not be great at it or anything but it'll probably better than just not having a player, right? So I can play one game at least, if you want?”
Kirishima looked almost as if he were trying to say something more with his eyes, something that made Bakugou's heart hurt, but Bakugou couldn't translate it. He couldn't understand why Kirishima was offering this. Sure, the way Bakugou and the team played was undoubtedly different than how Kirishima had played in college. But Kirishima's concerns about playing hockey couldn't be absent. He had to have reservations. Bakugou didn't want Kirishima forcing himself into doing something he didn't actually want to do. “But-”
Kirishima's lips curved into a small smile. “It's important to you, right?” Bakugou couldn't bring himself to answer. It was. It was more fucking important than Bakugou wanted to admit. But there was no fucking way he was going to put that pressure on Kirishima. Kirishima's smile grew until Bakugou lost himself in it. The worry fell from his voice, replaced by genuine enthusiasm. “So it's important to me, too!”
Bakugou stayed at Kirishima's apartment that night. Kirishima hadn't been wrong when he'd said his bed was pretty great. But as he drifted off under the spare blanket, back to Kirishima once more, Bakugou knew that he could be sleeping anywhere. He could be sleeping anywhere and he would still feel the same sense of peace and comfort as he felt now, so long as Kirishima was at his side.
Bakugou found himself at the ice rink again the next evening, helping Kirishima practice his basics. Kirishima had insisted he needed a refresher, but, watching him then, Bakugou felt inclined to disagree for more than just his usual contrary nature. Kirishima looked just as skilled with stick and puck as he did with his skates, and Bakugou felt himself almost excited at the prospect of experiencing how Kirishima played firsthand. As far as he was concerned, Kirishima was more than ready for a practice game, but he appreciated Kirishima's commitment to sharpening his skill, both for the familiarity of the dedication as well as for the feeling that Kirishima was, in a way, doing this for him.
Bakugou pushed that last thought down and focused on their drills.
Afterwards, once Desk Dude had dimmed the lights, they skated cooldown laps beside one another. Kirishima stretched and crossed his stick over his shoulders, hands draped atop it. Bakugou wondered how long it had been since Kirishima had played, considering the comfortable ease with which he seemed to handle the hockey gear. Kirishima's fingers tapped patterns in the air. “It does feel good to practice again,” he admitted with a hesitant smile “I really hope I do okay during your game, though.”
“It's not my game,” Bakugou argued. “You're playing. So it's yours, too.” And, besides, Bakugou had no doubt that Kirishima would do more than just okay, if today's refresher was anything to go on.
Kirishima grinned at him. “Well, then, I hope I do okay during our game! It's been a while since I've played and I mean I've never skated with anyone else on the team-”
“You'll do fucking fine,” Bakugou insisted. Kirishima had fit in quickly into the team's social group; he had no doubt that Kirishima could just as easily fit into the team's tactics. The team was going to meet up twice that week anyway, so they would find out soon enough how well Kirishima could integrate. “You did fucking great today, so just keep doing that.”
With a bright laugh, Kirishima promised, “I'll see what I can do.”
After they'd finished their laps and traded their sticks and gloves for Bakugou's puck bag, Kirishima helped Bakugou pick up the pucks they'd shot. There were plenty scattered across the ice, but most were bunched up in the goal. Kirishima and Bakugou crouched before it and scooped them into the bag. Their hands met as they reached out for the same puck in the very back of the goal, and Kirishima wove his fingers into Bakugou's automatically, as if it were only natural, as if that was simply where his hand belonged. Bakugou curled his own fingers to better accommodate Kirishima's, suddenly far warmer than the ice rink should allow. Kirishima picked up the puck with his free hand and the sight of his peaceful smile helped to put Bakugou's aching heart at ease.
They finished cleaning up the ice holding hands. It took much longer than it might have otherwise. Bakugou didn't mind.
He'd liked kissing Kirishima's hand. But as much as he might want to think it was, that really wasn't all Bakugou wanted. He still really fucking wanted to kiss Kirishima, and as Kirishima started chatting again, Bakugou had a difficult time paying attention to the words coming from Kirishima's mouth, rather than just his mouth. It was a nice mouth, nice enough that Kirishima's sharp teeth added to rather than detracted from its appeal, nice enough that Bakugou only realized he'd been staring at it when it stopped moving, closed, and twitched into a smile.
Bakugou forced his eyes to meet Kirishima's. Kirishima looked back at him with an expression as warm and gentle as the way he held on to Bakugou in his sleep.
Bakugou didn't know how someone so fucking perfect could even exist. He definitely didn't know how he could be so lucky to have met someone so fucking perfect. He absolutely didn't know how he could be so lucky to be holding that someone's hand.
Bakugou wanted to hold Kirishima's hand for as long as Kirishima would let him. The realization didn't distress him as much as he thought it should.
Then Kirishima's eyes drifted to Bakugou's own mouth and lingered there for longer than Bakugou knew what to do with. He felt his heartbeat like thunder in his chest, thoughts dissolving like mist in sunlight.
Kirishima leaned forward just the slightest. Bakugou felt himself mirroring the hesitant, longing motion.
The lights went out. Bakugou yanked back into reality, blinking in the dark. The puck bag slipped from his fingers, clattering onto the ice. He pulled away as stray pucks rolled across the rink, heart too big for his chest, flushed to his ears. Desk Dude's voice came on over the speakers. “If you're not out of here in twenty minutes I'm locking you in,” he threatened in his usual drone. Then the lights came on again.
Kirishima tensed, fingers now stiff between Bakugou's, his own face red enough that it may as well have been steaming. “Bakugou-”
“Katsuki,” Bakugou blurted, forcing the name past the lump in his throat. “My name. My name's Katsuki.”
Kirishima's rigidity faded, his fingers relaxing in Bakugou's grasp. “I'm Eijirou,” he said, smile shaky but no less beautiful, a quiet laugh behind his words that grew louder when he added, “Nice to meet you, Katsuki.”
They picked up the pucks again and barely made it out of the locker room before their twenty minutes were up. Desk Dude locked up behind them and left them to walk to the bus stop together in a slow, easy comfort.
During Bakugou's lunch break at work the next day, Yaoyorozu said, sounding genuinely cheery, “So. That day of work you missed?” Bakugou frowned up at her. She smiled back. “It definitely wasn't the same reason as last time, was it?”
The way she asked told Bakugou she already knew. She'd put together the timing and Eijirou's bruises and the flower, probably. She'd always been too fucking smart. But that didn't mean Bakugou had to say it. “I haven't been that fucking shitty in a fucking long time,” he grumbled into his food.
“I know,” Yaoyorozu said. “You're doing a lot better. And I can't help but notice that you've been doing even better than ever, lately.”
Lately. They both knew full well what had changed, lately. Bakugou knew full well what Yaoyorozu was implying, what Yaoyorozu was trying to get him to admit. But Bakugou couldn't bring himself to confirm or protest her conclusion, so he just scowled. “So fucking what?”
“So,” she beamed, earnest, “I'm happy for you.”
Bakugou hunched his shoulders and fumed at his lunch. He thought of the way Eijirou's kisses had felt on his knuckles, the way Eijirou's hand had felt on his cheek, the way Eijirou's hand had felt on his lips, the way Eijirou's hand felt in his. He thought of the way they woke up tangled together when they shared the same bed, the way Eijirou had looked at him at the ice rink the night before, the way the thought of Eijirou's smile made him struggle to contain a smile of his own.
Bakugou thought of Eijirou, and he realized he was happy, too.
He spent the rest of his break reading through online reviews. When Bakugou grudgingly explained to Yaoyorozu what he was looking for, she helped him search.
The first of the week's team practices went well. Eijirou adjusted to the team's style of play just as quickly as Bakugou had suspected he would, and the team adjusted to Eijirou just as easily. Eijirou seemed to be a far more physical player than Sero, less agile and accurate, somewhat slower, but with the power that would be expected of a traditional, talented defenseman.
That didn't mean Eijirou did poorly in his current position as a wing, though. Tsuyu had Eijirou and Ashido pair up for a skirmish against Uraraka and Kaminari. Bakugou watched from the bench, alongside Sero- he couldn't play yet but that didn't stop him from wanting to stay involved, something that Bakugou understood entirely- and Tsuyu and the two of them observed. Their conclusions were largely similar and largely positive, and Bakugou decided that, at least for the moment, he wasn't worried about Saturday's game.
After practice, once everyone had finished their usual discussion of what strengths and weaknesses they'd noticed and what they felt needed to be focused on during the following practice, the team sat on the benches to remove their skates and the conversation slipped from talk of hockey to their typical banter. Uraraka started, skates already unlaced but not yet in hand, “So, Eijirou. I have a question for you.”
Eijirou turned from listening in on Ashido kindheartedly making fun of Kaminari and Sero and grinned at Uraraka. “Sure, what is it?”
“You're really nice.”
Eijirou blinked at her, clearly still waiting for the question. “Um. Thanks? But, uh? That's not a question?”
“Yes it is,” Uraraka gestured at Bakugou, still working on his skates next to her, “because, I mean, look at Bakugou.”
“What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Bakugou demanded, skates forgotten. Ashido's joking petered off as she, Sero, and Kaminari very indiscreetly started paying attention to the new topic of interest.
Uraraka just ignored him and continued, still speaking to Eijirou. “Everyone knows Bakugou's kind of an ass, but you're super nice?”
Sero snorted into his water bottle and he and Kaminari both started laughing. Bakugou threw his own water bottle at them, but Tsuyu, sitting between Uraraka and the two, snatched it from the air and Bakugou's futile effort just made Sero and Kaminari lean into each other and both laugh harder. Bakugou glowered at Uraraka instead. “I'm right fucking here you fucking bitch,” he hissed.
“See what I mean?” Uraraka said to Eijirou, shaking her head. Then she looked to Bakugou and chuckled. “You're proving my point, you jerk.”
“I'm not fucking proving anything you fucking-”
“Temper,” Tsuyu warned. She sounded only somewhat exasperated, which undoubtedly meant that she was actually pretty annoyed.
Bakugou ground his teeth together and resumed tearing at his laces. But he couldn't resist glaring up at Uraraka and hissing one last “Fuck you,” under his breath.
“Don't be a dick,” Ashido interrupted, grinning at Bakugou. Bakugou scowled back. “But like, she does have a point,” she said to Eijirou, who was looking between the team members with some level of bemusement. “Our dear darling Bakugou, as he just demonstrated, is an ass.” She winked at Bakugou's glare. “But you're super sweet! How does that even work?”
“But he's not?” Eijirou said, sounding confused. “He's really nice.”
The entire team, Bakugou included, stared at him.
“I mean, you really shouldn't yell mean things at your friends,” Eijirou suggested with a wry smile at Bakugou.
Bakugou winced. Eijirou was right about that, of course. Bakugou knew he was. The team had put aside the time for today's practice specifically to help integrate Eijirou, specifically to help Bakugou make a good impression. It would have been easy for them to just postpone the game. It would have been easy for them to not care. “Sorry,” he muttered, spitting the word to the floor in front of Uraraka's skates before returning his attention to his own. He intentionally ignored Uraraka's reaction, though he would have sworn he could feel her eyes boring into him.
“Are we talking about the same Bakugou,” Kaminari asked, deadpan. Bakugou had to agree with the sentiment.
“Yeah,” Eijirou said. Bakugou pulled off his skates and looked up again at Eijirou's shark-toothed grin. “He's a really nice guy! When he does say nice stuff, you know it's because he really honestly means it, not just because he feels like you expect him to.” Bakugou couldn't tell who Eijirou was talking to, anymore. It could just as easily have been him as any of the rest of the team. “And he does nice stuff all the time! He's,” he glanced at Bakugou, and his broad grin slipped into something small and intimate. “He's a really great person.”
Bakugou felt as if his heart might jump right out of his chest.
Tsuyu intervened and changed the subject, but even as the others changed with her, relieved to drop what was getting uncomfortably genuine, Bakugou kept staring. He'd never been called nice before Eijirou had said so, that first night Bakugou had showed him the way home. He'd never had someone defend their choice to call him nice before. He'd never had someone defend anything about him before.
“Thanks,” he mumbled.
Eijirou's nervousness dissipated as his whole face lit up with a massive, beaming grin.
There was no chance of denying, anymore, that Bakugou fucking adored that smile. And there was no chance of denying that Bakugou wanted to kiss that smile.
He wanted to. But he didn't- not then, not during the following practice, not while they sat together on Eijirou's shitty couch or at Bakugou's table, not while they slept alongside and wrapped in each other without comment each night. Bakugou had always thought of himself as the kind of person to immediately go after what he wanted. He didn't let anything hold him back or slow him down. But it was different with Eijirou. He had never felt about anyone else the way he felt about Eijirou. He'd never felt so comfortable with another person before. He'd never felt so happy with another person before.
He'd never been in love before.
The results of Bakugou's and Yaoyorozu's lunch break searching arrived to Bakugou's door Friday evening. Eijirou paused the show they'd been watching while Bakugou climbed out of bed to retrieve it. He returned with the package and placed it unceremoniously on Eijirou's lap.
Eijirou stared at the package, then raised an eyebrow at Bakugou. “What's this?”
“It's for you,” Bakugou grunted, crawling back to sit again under his blanket.
“I didn't order anything,” Eijirou said lamely.
“Of fucking course you didn't, why the fuck would something you ordered get delivered here?” Bakugou asked, snorting at the idea. “You planning on moving in or something?”
“You don't even have a couch, it would never work out,” Eijirou laughed.
“You have a fucking couch, you could just bring it here,” Bakugou muttered.
Eijirou's laugh cut off with a look of surprise, which was quickly replaced by a sly smirk that Bakugou very much enjoyed. “Is that an offer?”
Bakugou scowled at him, refusing to acknowledge that he was blushing, refusing to reciprocate Eijirou's resumed laughter, refusing to admit that maybe Eijirou moving in actually wasn't such a bad idea. They'd been spending pretty much all their free time together, after all. And they'd been sleeping in the same bed pretty much every night since that first night, after all.
But now wasn't the time to dwell on just how much Bakugou was considering the thought. “Just open the fucking thing,” he growled, impatient already.
“Okay, okay!” Eijirou kept chuckling even as he tore at the packaging with a fierce grin. Bakugou watched carefully, arms and legs crossed, definitely not nervous and definitely not anxious of what Eijirou's reaction might be. Eijirou dug inside the packing material and uncovered the box within. He just started to pull it from the styrofoam peanuts when his hands froze and his grin faded.
He looked from the box to Bakugou, eyes wide, voice low. “I can't take this.”
“Too fucking bad.” Bakugou shrugged. “It's already yours.”
“This is way too expensive! I haven't actually opened it yet, you can return it, right?” He sounded as terrified as he looked. “I can pay for the return shipping-”
“I'm not fucking returning it,” Bakugou snapped. “Just open the damn thing and see if it's any good.” But Eijirou still didn't move. So Bakugou reached over and tore the top flap of the box open himself, then grabbed Eijirou's hand and set it there.
Eijirou took a moment that looked as if he were steadying himself, then finished opening the box with far more care and caution than he had the initial shipping package. He delicately removed the camera within and gawked at it as if it were a diamond, then inspected the additional lenses that had been tucked in safely alongside it. Once satisfied with his initial perusal, Eijirou very delicately set the box of lenses atop the nightstand at his side of the bed, then returned his wonder-struck attention to the camera itself, turning it in his hands and inspecting it at all angles, fingers running over the various buttons and dials, eyes shining.
Bakugou had no fucking idea what most of those buttons were for. But the reviews he and Yaoyorozu had trawled through had agreed that this particular camera had all the right ones- that this particular camera had the best specs and technology and that it the best camera available, despite its cost. Watching Eijirou's reaction, now, Bakugou would have gladly payed double the price. Bakugou never settled for anything less than the best for himself, so why would he for Eijirou?
“You can't just use your phone if you're gonna be a pro photographer, right?” Bakugou said, warm to his bones at the delighted look of awe on Eijirou's face. “If that coach offers you a job or something tomorrow, you'll need an actual camera.”
“Katsuki,” Eijirou whispered, sending a shiver down Bakugou's spine. He lowered the camera and turned to Bakugou with an expression that pulled Bakugou in like a magnet. “Katsuki, this is...”
“Yours,” Bakugou supplied. He dragged himself away from Eijirou's gaze and reached over to the drawer of his nightstand, where he'd tucked away the batteries he'd bought for the camera's arrival. But when he turned back to Eijirou to hand them over, he froze. Eijirou had set the camera on his nightstand, alongside the lenses and- far more importantly- was crying.
“Wh-” Bakugou barely had time to start panicking before Eijirou wrapped him in a hug so tight that it pressed the air from Bakugou's lungs and pushed him down into his pillow. “What-”
Eijirou squeezed harder, face buried in his shoulder, chest hitching against his. Bakugou had no fucking idea what was wrong or what the fuck to do, so he just returned the hug, horrified by the entirely likely possibility that he'd done something fucking stupid and caused Eijirou's tears. After he realized he could still breathe, Bakugou reached a hand up to the back of Eijirou's head and ran it through his long hair in a way that Bakugou hoped was as soothing to Eijirou as it was to him.
Eventually, Eijirou's own breathing calmed and the vice grip he had around Bakugou's torso relaxed. But he stayed where he was. “Hey?” Bakugou said, as gently as he could, trying to keep the worry from his voice. “You alright?”
“Yeah,” Eijirou murmured into Bakugou's ear. He pulled away, sitting back on his legs, and Bakugou's hand shifted on its own from Eijirou's hair to cup the side of his face. His eyes were red-rimmed and teary, but his smile was bright and wide, his blush dark on his cheeks and warm under Bakugou's palm. He looked fucking gorgeous. He always looked fucking gorgeous. “I'm just really happy!”
“But-” Bakugou faltered. “The crying-?”
Eijirou covered Bakugou's hand with his and leaned in to it. “I do that when I'm really happy, sometimes.” He giggled. That same cute fucking giggle of his that Bakugou adored.
“Who fucking cries when they're happy!” Bakugou demanded despite his thorough relief. “I thought something was wrong!”
“I do, obviously!” Eijirou laughed. “There's nothing wrong, I promise! You're just really, really sweet.” Bakugou had absolutely never been called sweet before. He wasn't sure if it was that or the look Eijirou was giving him that made his heart skip a beat or three, but he decided immediately that he didn't mind. But then Eijirou tugged Bakugou's hand to move it from his cheek to his mouth. He closed his eyes and pressed his lips onto Bakugou's palm, his breath like steam on Bakugou's skin.
The kisses were leisurely, reverent, each one lasting an indeterminable length of time, long enough to say what they needed to, short enough to make Bakugou long for more. After each kiss, Bakugou desperately, achingly hoped that it wasn't the last, the breath trapped in his lungs dense and hot. But, what felt too soon later even while feeling like a lifetime later, Eijirou's mouth spread into a smile against Bakugou's palm and his eyes opened to find Bakugou's fixed on him. Bakugou felt the warm puff of air disperse across his skin as Eijirou let out a silent chuckle. He slowly released Bakugou's hand, brushing his fingers with small hints of kisses as they retreated.
Fuck, he loved Eijirou. Bakugou tried to say something, but it just came out a soft “Uh.”
Eijirou's smile grew. “Thank you, Katsuki.”
“You, uh. You're.” You're perfect. Bakugou cleared his throat, holding his hand to his chest. “You're welcome. It's. It's just a camera?”
Eijirou laughed. Fuck, he was beautiful. He was the most fucking beautiful thing Bakugou had ever seen, more beautiful than the city on a winter night, the neon painting on the snow a rainbow portrait- more beautiful than the vistas Bakugou drank in when he reached the summit of whatever hill or mountain he'd been climbing- more beautiful than Bakugou knew how to not dream about. “It's not the camera, Katsuki,” Eijirou said, once his laughter had softened. “You know it's not the camera, right?”
Bakugou still couldn't quite get his words to work properly. The feeling of Eijirou's lingering kisses pressed heavy onto his hand and heart and head. “Right,” he agreed, even though he really didn't.
“No one's ever done something like this for me, before,” Eijirou explained, an amused tilt to his grin.
“What, no one's gotten you a fucking present before?” Bakugou asked, Eijirou's words allowing him to finally more in control of his own.
Eijirou's gentle chuckle returned. “That's not what I mean!” He shook his head, then his grin faded into a quiet smile, his expression melting. “I mean, no one's ever gone out of their way to just... to just help me do something I want to do, you know?”
Bakugou had just wanted to make Eijirou happy. He'd just wanted to give Eijirou something to smile about. And photography was important to Eijirou, so it just made sense to help with that. Getting a camera for him just made sense. Helping Eijirou do something he wanted to do just made sense.
Bakugou's unkissed hand crawled on the blanket in search of the batteries he'd dropped, but Bakugou couldn't bring himself to look away from Eijirou. Eijirou looked down at the motion, instead, and picked up the batteries for him. He held them out to Bakugou with humour and something indecipherable but tender in his eyes. Bakugou shook his head at the offered batteries. “Try the camera,” he murmured.
Eijirou grinned and followed Bakugou's suggestion. Bakugou sat back and watched, loving the joyous ease with which Eijirou familiarized himself with his camera, the light in his eyes, the thrill in his smile, the delight in his voice when he showed each photo to Bakugou on the camera's display. Eijirou crawled out of bed to take photos around Bakugou's apartment- several in particular of the flower he'd given Bakugou, still sitting on one of the bookshelves- with an enthusiasm that made Bakugou's cheeks sore from smiling. Once he'd gotten a hang of it, he returned to Bakugou's side and offered him the camera.
Bakugou took the camera warily, raising an eyebrow at him. “The fuck am I supposed to do with this?”
“What do you think you're supposed to do with a camera?” Eijirou asked, chuckling.
Bakugou looked down at the camera and frowned at the display. It was way too fucking complicated. Eijirou must have picked up on his confusion, though, and pointed out the basic controls that he needed to just take a simple fucking photo. Once convinced he had some basic grasp of what the fuck he was supposed to do with the damn thing, Bakugou pointed the camera at Eijirou and snapped a shot, catching Eijirou off guard.
“Hey!” Eijirou protested through a wide smile. Bakugou smirked at him and kept taking photos, even as Eijirou reached out to block the lens. By the time Eijirou got the camera back into his own hands, they had both dissolved into laughter loud enough to make Bakugou's sides sore.
And Bakugou even enjoyed himself when Eijirou turned the camera on him and repaid the treatment, taking repeated photos while Bakugou futilely attempted to hide from the lens behind his hands and arms.
“It's almost a pity I won't get to use this during the game tomorrow,” Eijirou said, still smiling, still chuckling, peering through the viewfinder at Bakugou. He took yet another picture of Bakugou entirely failing to scowl at him, then cradled the camera in his lap. “I'm really excited to give this a proper test!”
“You'll get plenty of chances to use it,” Bakugou said, happy with Eijirou's happiness. Then, thinking of tomorrow, he hesitated. There was still something he had to make sure of. “You still sure you don't mind playing?”
Eijirou looked startled at the question. “Of course? I'm looking forward to it.”
Bakugou frowned. “Really.”
“Really, Katsuki,” Eijirou smiled. “I was worried at first, yeah. But with how much it means to you, how could I not offer to give it a try? Besides, I still love hockey, even with the bad stuff I had going on around it. And now I get to play it again, without all that?” He closed his eyes as his smile bloomed into a genuine grin. “I'm excited!”
“Okay.” Bakugou had hoped as much, but hearing Eijirou say it- seeing Eijirou smile as he said it- convinced him more than anything else ever could. “Don't get too fucking excited now though, it's fucking late.”
Eijirou obliged, and they settled in to sleep. After a few minutes of lying there at their usual distance, Bakugou felt the mattress shift behind him. He rolled over onto his back to find Eijirou right beside him, embarrassed smile visible even in the dark. Bakugou didn't mind him being closer. Bakugou would rather he be closer. So he lifted his arm and Eijirou's smile spread as he adjusted his blanket and shuffled in. He nestled his head against Bakugou's chest, hand resting on the other side of Bakugou's stomach.
Bakugou looped his arms around Eijirou in something approaching a hug, a sleepy smile tugging at his mouth. He still had no idea what the fuck to do about his now-undeniable feelings for Eijirou, really. But this? This was good. This was enough to let him take a risk. So he tilted his head forward and, as lightly as he could, pressed his lips to the hair at the top of Eijirou's head. “Good night, Eijirou.”
Eijirou pulled closer into him. “Good night, Katsuki,” Eijirou murmured, and Bakugou could hear the smile in his voice. They slept easily.
Then it was time for the game.
When Bakugou skated out onto the ice, he ignored the crowd even more than usual. He didn't want to distract himself by searching for the stranger or his coach among the stands. So instead he took a long, cold breath, steadied his stick, and waited for the puck to drop. The electricity in his blood crackled into an excited buzz and the world outside of the rink faded away.
The game had a rough start as Eijirou settled into his new role. Bakugou had anticipated that- two practice sessions were never going to be enough to fully acclimatize someone into a team that had been playing together for years- but Ashido and Kaminari kept the opposing attackers at bay and Tsuyu kept the goal clear. That initial delay only lasted as long as it took Eijirou to adjust. He seemed to almost instinctively know when Bakugou was passing to him, and had a good sense of when to pass the puck elsewhere or to try for a shot on goal himself. His slower speed and bigger presence compared to Sero's made some of the Heroes' usual plays less viable, but Bakugou didn't find that to be a problem. Instead, Bakugou found adapting to the change just as enjoyable as the challenge of the match itself- and once he had, Bakugou found that he enjoyed just playing alongside Eijirou.
There were no goals by the end of the first period. But there was still plenty of time to score, so Bakugou wasn't concerned. That just meant their later goals would be all the more enjoyable. During the break, Eijirou in particular was animated with a fierce, unbridled enthusiasm that Bakugou couldn't help but notice spread to the rest of the team. When the break was up, Eijirou smashed his gloved fists together and, grinning sharp and confident and almost dangerous and really fucking attractive, said, “Okay team! We got this!”
It would have sounded cheesy, coming from anyone else. But from Eijirou, it sounded invigorating, and Bakugou believed him. During the second period, his prediction seemed to come true, as the Heroes gained a clear advantage and Bakugou lost himself in the sheer thrill and joy of the game. Bakugou and Uraraka each scored a goal apiece- Eijirou almost scored another himself, but it just barely deflected off the crossbar. Despite the near-miss, he looked just as passionately positive as before. It was a good look.
Then, inexplicably, that look disappeared during the following break.
The team was discussing strategy when Bakugou caught Eijirou staring off into the crowd, all signs of his previous elation conspicuously absent. His quiet felt like a cold void. Bakugou frowned at him. “You there?”
Eijirou tore his gaze away and blinked at Bakugou. He tried for a smile, but it wasn't particularly convincing. “Yeah. I'm good.”
“Sure doesn't fucking seem it,” Bakugou protested.
“Sorry,” Eijirou said, and the word made Bakugou flinch. If he hadn't been worried before, he sure as fuck was now. There was definitely something wrong. There had to be.
Bakugou felt himself reaching out to him. “Ei-”
But then the break was over, and the third period began.
Eijirou's performance was worse than it had been when the game first started. Bakugou tried to push his concern out of mind, but even as he tried to pay attention to the match, that worry wormed its way in circles at the back of his skull. The rest of the team kept up their positions- thank fuck- as their opponents pushed their way back into the Heroes' defensive space. When they finally managed to get a goal in past Tsuyu, Bakugou crushed his feelings into a ball and buried it deep. He could talk to Eijirou after the game. For now, he needed to focus.
The game turned into a prolonged struggle between the two teams, neither able to get the upper hand over the other for long enough to do much. A fight broke out between Ashido and the opposing center after he'd checked her a few times too many. Another of their forwards looked about ready to jump in when Bakugou skated up, more than ready to take out his stress by punching some fucker in the face- his hand had healed just fine, some face-punching would be more than worth whatever the fuck hurt it might cause himself- but she backed off after meeting his glare. Ashido won her fight and play resumed shortly after they skated apart. Bakugou tried to make use of his stupid fucking emotions by turning them into fuel for the game, instead.
Eijirou's apparent attention to the game improved as it went on, but his passes were less clean, his shots less accurate. The goalie easily blocked his attempts, and- with more effort- managed to keep Bakugou's and Uraraka's at bay as well. The opposing center seemed just as frustrated with the standstill as Bakugou- possibly more so, considering that Ashido had gotten a few good hits into his ribs- and became more physical. Bakugou matched his aggression with ease, trading shoves and checks whenever the other came into possession of the puck.
The second time the center knocked Bakugou into the boards, before Bakugou could retaliate, Eijirou hip-checked the center onto his ass and swept the puck away. Bakugou caught a glimpse of a more familiar expression on his face, a grin that was almost a smirk, before Eijirou passed him the puck. Bakugou fired. The puck shot just past the goalie's glove and into the back of the net. “That's more fucking like it!” Bakugou snarled, grinning, holding out a gloved fist. Eijirou punched his own fist into Bakugou's and grinned right back.
When the game ended shortly after, Bakugou's thrill quickly faded as his concern returned unimpeded. While his teammates let out happy hollers at their victory, Bakugou, instead, skated over to Eijirou, who was busy tapping his stick against the ice and looking off at nothing in particular. He jerked out of his reverie at Bakugou's approach and failed at smiling. “Sorry about-”
“Why the fuck are you apologizing?” Bakugou demanded. “You don't have anything to be fucking sorry about.”
Eijirou shook his head, grimacing. “I was kind of out of it that last period, I know-”
“We still won,” Bakugou interrupted, dismissive. “You got back into it.”
Eijirou gave a sheepish smile. “I just got tired of seeing that dude pushing you around.”
Fuck, he was cute. “I pushed him right the fuck back." Bakugou was unsure of how he felt about the idea of Eijirou being protective of him. He didn't fucking need protection- but, if someone was going to do it, he didn't so much mind it being Eijirou. It took Bakugou a moment to realize there was an all-too-familiar heat in his cheeks, to realize that Eijirou's soft expression was going directly to his heart. So maybe he did like the idea of Eijirou being protective of him. But he just mumbled, “I was fucking fine.”
Eijirou laughed. The sound was a relief. “I know! But I wanted to help.”
Eijirou helped just by being in the game. He helped just by being him. “Wouldn't have gotten that last goal without you,” Bakugou admitted.
The shadows in Eijirou's face dissipated as he grinned. “It was a good shot, Katsuki!”
“Course it fucking was,” Bakugou muttered, pleased for more than just the compliment. “So what the fuck is wrong?”
Eijirou glanced up at the stands. Bakugou followed his gaze, but the crowd was already on its way out. When he turned back, Eijirou had opened his mouth to speak, but shut it after a moment. “It's just. I... uh. I'll tell you later. You need to go talk to that coach, right? Where's he supposed to meet you?”
Bakugou frowned at him. He smiled back, but this time it was an unsettling gesture that made Bakugou almost uncomfortable. “Fine,” Bakugou muttered. If Eijirou didn't want to talk, then fine. That was fucking fine. “The guy didn't say. Probably out by the desk, that's where he was last time.”
“Great!” Eijirou's expression returned to its usual toothy grin. “Then let's go get cleaned up so you can make a good impression, yeah?”
“You too, remember?” Bakugou grumbled as they made their way to the benches where the rest of the team was celebrating with Yaoyorozu and Sero. Eijirou shared in the congratulations until Ashido ushered them on along. The team promised to stay out of the way until Bakugou told them it was clear to come out, which Bakugou thought was entirely unnecessary but appreciated anyway.
Eijirou and Bakugou removed their skates and changed in the locker room in a strange quiet. Maybe Eijirou was just nervous. Bakugou hoped he was just nervous.
At the door to the lobby, Bakugou stopped. Eijirou hesitated behind him, and Bakugou offered out his hand. Eijirou took it, his smile steadying. “You good?”
Eijirou took a long breath, holding on tight, and nodded. “I'm good,” he said, thankfully sounding like himself. Bakugou squeezed Eijirou's hand, at a loss of what else to do, then let go and pushed the door open.
By the desk, as before, was the stranger. There was no one else with him, but his grin was wide enough for two people. “What a game!” he said, voice loud, eyes bright. “My coach is gonna hate that he missed it! He wanted to apologize for that- family stuff came up, couldn't make it. But!” he held up his phone and waved it. “I got pretty much everything! I'll show it to him when he gets back.” His grin stretched further, his gaze fixing on Eijirou. “My camerawork might not be as good as yours, huh? Didn't figure you'd be skatin'.”
Eijirou didn't answer. Bakugou turned to see his hands balled into fists, his eyes down at the stranger's feet. Bakugou couldn't make sense of his expression, tangled somewhere between nausea and anger. Before Bakugou could even unravel his own response to Eijirou's reaction, the stranger continued. “I missed seein' you skate, you know? It was good. It was good to see." He took a step forward, the words spilling out almost too fast. “I miss playin' against you!” Another step. His arms stretched out wide, fingers splayed. “You look like you're outta practice, but I'd be happy to help get you back into shape!”
“I don't need your help,” Eijirou said. But his voice was quiet. Distant. Bakugou felt entirely lost by the conversation, a foreign, cold dread creeping up his spine.
The stranger laughed. It was a booming, aggressive sound. “Damn right you don't! You got back into it at the end there. That last goal with the two of you, that was just perfect! Reminded me of our scrapes on the ice. You may not need mine, but I need your help, Red. I haven't found anyone else with quite your quality, you know?”
“What the fuck-” Bakugou started, but the words caught in his throat when Eijirou gave him a sharp, warning look that put him even more on edge than he was already.
Eijirou looked back to the stranger, meeting his gaze. “Were you serious about what you told Ka- what you told Bakugou? That you're going to try to get him to the pros?”
The stranger's eyes flickered back to Bakugou for just a brief moment before settling onto Eijirou again. “Yeah. He's a good player. I like watching him skate.” He shrugged. “I'd like to play against him, sometime.”
“Prove it,” Eijirou demanded. “Show me whatever video you took.”
The stranger chuckled but obliged, passing the phone to Eijirou, who swiped through the videos and photos of the game. Bakugou looked over his shoulder. The vast majority were of himself, but those that weren't, were of Eijirou. Growing unease twisted and tangled in Bakugou's guts. Eijirou handed the phone back. “Okay,” he said, frowning. “What do you want.”
The stranger's smile seemed too big for his face. “Just a moment alone.”
“Eijirou.” A slow understanding sprouted in Bakugou's stomach like a choking weed, spreading up his throat, making it difficult to breathe. “What the fuck is going on?” He knew. He knew what was happening. But he had to know for sure. He had to hear it from Eijirou.
Eijirou's eyes found Bakugou's. “He's telling the truth. He's your chance to go pro.”
He was. He was the only way Bakugou was going to get a shot at going pro anytime soon, maybe ever. He was offering Bakugou's only opportunity. Bakugou had already missed one chance- he fucking had to take this one. He had to. He had to. If he didn't, what the fuck was he even doing here? If he didn't, who the fuck even was he?
But if he did-
Bakugou heartbeat hurt, blood burning in his veins. “That's not what I mean-”
“It's fine,” Eijirou said, firmly, deliberately. “I can handle him. It's fine.”
Bakugou's heart pounded against his ribs hard enough that he thought they might crack. He forced the words out through his closing throat. “Who is he, Eijirou.”
But he already knew the answer.
“I saw him in the crowd, earlier,” Eijirou said, instead. “So I figured I'd have to deal with him, I just didn't think it would be like this.” He glanced over at the stranger, patiently watching and grinning at the two, hands loose at his side. Heavily muscled arms, well suited for punches and broken bone. Fists suited for bruises and dislocated shoulders and black eyes. A desperate, helpless rage burned up what was left of the air in Bakugou's lungs as they pressed too-tight against his ribs, hands curling into fists of his own. Eijirou's expression hardened and he turned to Bakugou again, but Bakugou was having difficulty looking at anything but those fucking hands. “Just wait inside for a bit, okay? I'll be right back.”
If he acted on that rage, he'd be throwing away his chance. If he did anything but what Eijirou suggested, he'd be throwing away his chance. If he did what he should do-
But what, exactly, was that?
Bakugou couldn't breathe, the air cold and sharp on his skin. Was this a panic attack? Was he having a fucking panic attack like Eijirou had said? “But-”
Eijirou reached back and held open the door to the locker room. “Please.” He smiled, but it was too small and too quiet and didn't reach his eyes. “I want to help you do what you want to do.” He put his hand on Bakugou's shoulder and gently pushed him into the room.
Bakugou managed to grab on to Eijirou's hand. Trying to think hurt. Trying to talk hurt. “I-”
Eijirou squeezed his hand, his smile warming. “Let me help, Katsuki,” he murmured.
Then he pulled away.
Bakugou's empty hand fell to his side as Eijirou walked out with Rappa.
The door swung shut.
It blurred in front of Bakugou as he tried to breathe and not to think. He couldn't get enough air into his lungs, couldn't keep his mind clear of the crowding panic. He dropped to a crouch, making himself almost as small as he felt, and ran his hands through his hair, fingernails scraping at the scalp down to the back of his neck, elbows digging into his thighs.
He swallowed a scream and instead scraped curses from his throat, a rasping mantra that forced life gasping into his chest. Rage and hate of his own weakness bloomed into a toxic fog in his head. He tried to disperse that haze by telling himself that Eijirou would be fine. Eijirou had won against Rappa, before. He'd gotten a black eye for the effort but he'd won. He'd won.
But he'd lost before, too, and Bakugou felt the memory of Eijirou's injuries like bile burning in the back of his throat. And he'd just played a full game of hockey. He wasn't going to be at his best. He was going to fight Rappa and he absolutely fucking didn't need to and he was going to get hurt and Bakugou was just fucking letting it happen.
But what the fuck was he supposed to do? Rappa- the fucking piece of shit Rappa- was how he was going to get to the pros. He had the videos and Eijirou had said he was telling the truth and if Bakugou fucked this up he'd probably never get this fucking opportunity again. It was rare enough that he was getting this second chance- there was no fucking way he'd get a third. All he had to do was push down on his vehement instinct to fight. All he had to do was leave Rappa alone.
Rappa, who terrorized Eijirou. Rappa, who Bakugou had been trying to find in order to fight the fucker himself since he'd first gotten the name from Eijirou. Rappa, who had inflicted the injures Bakugou had tended to, the injures that had caused Eijirou pain, the injuries that the thought of made Bakugou's fingers press harder into his skin.
Rappa, who had just walked out with Eijirou.
No. Rappa, who Bakugou had just let walk out with Eijirou.
Eijirou was out there, with fucking Rappa, and Bakugou was just fucking sitting there like a jackass. Eijirou was going to get hurt, and Bakugou was just fucking sitting there. Eijirou was going to get hurt, and it was Bakugou's fault.
Bakugou thought of Eijirou's smile and the way Eijirou's hand felt drifting from his. He pried his fingers from his neck, his elbows from his legs, and forced himself to his feet.
Bakugou pushed his way through himself and made his way out of the ice rink, clammy and tense and fucking furious. He didn't know where Eijirou and Rappa had gone, of course, but he'd seen the direction they'd walked out towards, and that was enough to start. He tore down the sidewalk, grabbing at passersby to demand if they'd seen anyone fitting Eijirou's or Rappa's descriptions. Behind their various startled or frightened reactions, the other pedestrians confirmed Bakugou was headed in the right direction.
They couldn't have gotten far. Bakugou hadn't been in the locker room for that long. Had he?
Once he'd ran out of people who'd seen the two, Bakugou knew he had to be near enough to the right place. He ducked down alleyways and swore louder each time they came up empty. Where the fuck could they have gotten to?
And then, finally, there they were, hidden away in a filthy crevasse between buildings behind dumpsters spilling trash across the ground. Eijirou had his arms up in a block, shoulders squared, back to the wall, an angry frown tight and unfamiliar on his face that suggested he'd already taken a hit or two. Rappa crowded in close to him, fists low, face split into a sharp grin that seemed to cut all the way to his ears. He looked like he may have been speaking, but Bakugou didn't fucking care. “Hey!” Bakugou roared, stalking forwards, heart crashing against his chest like waves breaking on rock. “Back the fuck off!”
Eijirou and Rappa both looked down the alley to him. Rappa's grin remained unchanged, but dismay washed over Eijirou's face. “Don't-”
“You fuckin' kiddin' me?” Rappa demanded over Eijirou's protest. “I ask for one simple thing, and you can't even give me that?”
“You got your fucking moment,” Bakugou growl. “Eijirou, I shouldn't have let you go in the first place-”
“It's okay.” Eijirou's eyes darted between Bakugou and Rappa, still locked into his defensive stance. “You shouldn't be here-”
“Damn right!” Rappa interrupted again. “You heard him. I finally get some alone time and you fuckin' show up again? D'you know how frustratin' it's been, comin' all the way out here just to see my old pal, only for you to be there every damn time I find him?” His grin curled into a snarl. “Coach gets pissy enough with this, when it's just me 'n' Red, he's a total pain in the ass when there's other people involved.”
“You asked for a moment.” Bakugou stepped forward. Fuck he wanted to fucking butcher this piece of shit. He couldn't, not with his chance riding on it. But he wanted to, felt that want deep in his gut. He couldn't fight and he couldn't back off. So he had to try his words, instead. “You got a moment. So. Back. The fuck. Off.”
He'd never been very good with his words.
Rappa's grin returned. “No,” he chuckled. “No, don't think I will.” He turned on his heel and swung, his right fist reaching too fast for Eijirou's face. Someone so fucking big shouldn't be able to move so quickly. Bakugou couldn't reach them in time.
But Eijirou hadn't lowered his guard. He managed to deflect the blow up with one arm, past his head and into the wall behind him, and lashed out with a straight punch to the gut with his free hand. Rappa took the hit with a staccato laugh, but dragged his fist from the wall to clamp it down on the back of Eijirou's neck, pushing him down into the path of his raising knee.
The knee connected with Eijirou's stomach, forcing out a hiss from between Eijirou's bared teeth. As Rappa's knee drew back for a second strike, Eijirou grabbed on to Rappa, pulling him in for a grapple rather than trying to escape. One of Eijirou's fists clamped tight on the collar of Rappa's shirt, the other blocking his face as Rappa's left aimed for it as his knee drove up again. Eijirou's leg swept behind Rappa's planted one just as Bakugou finally fucking reached the two and barreled directly into Rappa's side. Between his force, Eijirou's leg, and Rappa's raised knee, Rappa toppled over. He landed heavy on the ground, but as Bakugou tried to follow him down, Eijirou grabbed on to Bakugou and yanked him back.
“What are you doing!” Eijirou demanded, breathing heavy, eyes intent and focused. “I can handle this! All he wants is a fight, it's not like he hasn't beaten me up before-”
“That's the fucking point!” Bakugou seethed, trying to keep an eye on Rappa even as Eijirou pulled in his attention. “I'm not just gonna let the fucker-”
“It's fine!” Eijirou said, desperate, insistent. “Please! Going pro is what you want, right? Let me help!”
Bakugou did want to go pro. He did. That had been Bakugou's goal for as long as he could remember having a goal. That had been the point of nearly fucking everything he'd done, everything he'd worked towards. He wanted it badly enough that it fucking hurt, a physical ache that coursed through his whole body.
But he wanted Eijirou, too.
He wanted Eijirou to be safe and unharmed and happy more than he wanted to succeed at his own goal. If going pro meant Eijirou getting hurt, then fuck it. If he had to give up one for the other, then fuck it.
He wanted Eijirou more. He loved Eijirou more.
“If It means you getting hurt, then I don't-”
Rappa's roaring laughter cut him off. “So you're gonna interrupt anyway?” He drew up onto his feet and eyed Bakugou with a gleeful excitement bleeding through his grin. “Guess you have a spine after all! Let's see how easy it snaps!”
Eijirou's expression went through several stages before settling on a quiet resolve. “He won't let us run.” Then he pushed Bakugou behind him and turned around, arms drawn into a block again as Rappa launched himself at Eijirou, head low.
Instead of shifting out of the way or trying to dodge, Eijirou just lowered his weight and braced, punching once Rappa got close enough. Rappa weathered the blows and his shoulder connected with Eijirou's gut and his arm snaked around Eijirou's leg, forcing him off his feet. Rappa slammed down onto the alley floor, Eijirou hitting back-first with a shout.
Bakugou moved on instinct, the long-burning rage catching and blazing.
One of Rappa's hands bit down into Eijirou's throat, cutting short Eijirou's shout and turning it into a choked wheeze, the other lifting for a punch. Bakugou ducked around Eijirou to Rappa's blind spot and buried his boot into Rappa's side, an ugly crack announcing his efforts. Rappa had nearly broken Eijirou's ribs, before- so fucking what if Bakugou did the same to him.
As Rappa recovered from the kick, Bakugou grabbed on to Rappa's raised arm, twisting it behind his back with both hands. Rappa yanked back on his arm, muscle preventing Bakugou from pinning it into a clean lock, so Bakugou drove his knee into the small of Rappa's back again and again and pulled. He might not pin the arm, but the force had to at least loosen Rappa's hold on Eijirou's neck.
Eijirou punched at the inside of Rappa's elbow with repeated, short blows, until- between his and Bakugou's efforts- Rappa's elbow folded and his hand slipped. Eijirou took in a loud, coughing breath and met Rappa with a sharp headbutt that allowed Bakugou's grip on Rappa's arm to slot into a proper lock. Eijirou scrambled out from beneath Rappa, gasping down air as Rappa's free elbow swung back and buried into Bakugou's side. Bakugou snarled at the impact and yanked viciously on Rappa's arm, feeling it shift out of place. Rappa had dislocated Eijirou's shoulder, before- so fucking what if Bakugou did the same to him.
Rappa let out a wild laugh that Bakugou felt in his chest and stood as Eijirou did the same. Bakugou managed to stay on his feet, stay holding onto Rappa's arm, pulling it sharper. But before either he or Eijirou could attack again, Rappa backed up too fucking fast. Rappa slammed Bakugou into the wall, cracking the back of his skull into the bricks, loosening his grip on Rappa's arm, forcing the air from his lungs. As Bakugou's head swam, black dots buzzing across his vision, Rappa grabbed onto the back of Bakugou's shirt and dropped nearly to one knee, throwing Bakugou over his shoulder.
Bakugou landed hard on his back and managed to blink his vision just clear enough to see Eijirou step in front of him to block. Bakugou staggered to his feet, feeling as if he were wading through water, readying himself to attack as Rappa came at them again, all fists and fury and a deadly smile that smudged as he moved.
Everything smudged as he moved.
Bakugou took a step back that turned into a stumble. It wasn't just Rappa that was out of focus. Bakugou's hand went up to his skull automatically, but his arm didn't feel as if it were under his control, anymore.
Rappa forced Eijirou back a step and turned again on Bakugou. Bakugou only half noticed and tried to dodge the blurry strike anyway, but his body wasn't listening. Rappa's fist drove into Bakugou's face and an encroaching darkness filled the hand's place like spilled ink as it pulled back for another strike. Bakugou fought back- whether against Rappa or the dark or both, Bakugou didn't know, couldn't think.
There were noises Bakugou couldn't make sense of. The blurs shifted and twisted like fire-cast shadows.
Red filled his vision- Eijirou.
And then everything
Bakugou wasn't sure where he was when he woke up. He wasn't sure where he was or how he'd gotten there or what it meant, but the sensation of being lost was a familiar one, so he clung to the calm of the unknown as his disparate thoughts filtered back in as a jumbled mess, catching on their own corners and tumbling into a pile heavy and unsorted in his mind.
He tried to make sense of his surroundings, but the lights were too bright to see. He screwed his eyes shut against them with a groan and a vaguely familiar voice interrupted his discomfort. “Bakugou?”
He shifted his arm, the movement dizzy and disconnected, settling his hand onto his face, over his eyes. “Lights,” he mumbled, the temporary comfort of limbo pulled away by the understanding of his own symptoms that had come with the sheer repeated knowing of them.
A concussion. He'd had another fucking concussion. Another. He remembered in distant pieces that he'd been fighting with Rappa and-
Bakugou dragged his hand from his face and forced his eyes open. Despite the glare, despite the way things shifted in and out of focus, he could tell he was in a hospital room- empty save for a person-shaped smudge who stood at the light switch, back to Bakugou. A darkness fell over the room as the person turned off the lights, resulting in an immediate physical relief that helped to dull the sharp panic of Bakugou's realization- barely, but enough to speak. “Eijirou?” he rasped. “Where's-”
“He's fine,” the person said, gently, and reached the side of his bed, setting a hand on his arm for a brief moment before pulling away. “He's fine. Don't worry.” The voice and the shape bled together into a name in his mind. Yaoyorozu. It was Yaoyorozu.
Bakugou pushed aside the temptation of dwelling on his delayed recognition for the moment. “Where is he?” he demanded, ignoring the pain in his head, the ringing headache that scalded its way around his brain. “How is he?”
Yaoyorozu sat in the chair at his bedside. “He's getting food. He's doing perfectly fine. He's been-”
Bakugou's vision wouldn't stop tilting long enough for him to get a read on Yaoyorozu's expression, but her voice was neutral. “How are you feeling?”
Bakugou tried to sit up and a burst of pain in the back of his head forced him down again. “What the fuck-” he realized his words were coming out slurred, sticky, as congealed as his thoughts felt. He swallowed and tried again, no better. “What the fuck happened-”
“Bakugou. Relax. You're just going to make your symptoms worse if you don't. You know that.”
Bakugou ground his teeth together. There was no fucking way he was going to be able to relax. “Tell me,” he insisted, stubbornly. But he closed his eyes and breathed in through his nose in an effort to at least steady his heartbeat.
“I don't know all that well. You'll have to ask Eijirou.”
“Rappa.” Bakugou felt sick, and he had no way of telling if the nausea was the usual post-concussion, post-blackout feeling, or it it was a result of the thought of Rappa- of Rappa's hand on Eijirou's throat, of what Rappa had done to Eijirou then and before, of what else Rappa could have done to Eijirou if Bakugou had just stayed in the ice rink. And of what not staying in the ice rink had cost him.
He had another fucking concussion and he was fucking never going pro.
Bakugou's hand found its way to his face again and held tight onto his mouth, desperately trying to suppress himself. His head fucking hurt, as if someone had replaced the fluid around his brain with gasoline and lit it on fire. “Fucking damn it,” he whispered, only barely noticing that the words were leaking from between his fingers. “Fucking shit. Fucking fu-!”
“Bakugou!” Yaoyorozu's voice was just loud enough to cut off his words. But he kept his hand over his mouth, the other tight in the sheets. He clamped his mouth shut to match his eyes, trying to isolate himself from the world as much as he was from himself. “Bakugou, you're okay,” Yaoyorozu's voice continued, softer. “Eijirou's okay. You're okay. Everything's okay.”
“No,” Bakugou protested, weakly. Because he was fucking weak. This wouldn't have happened if he wasn't fucking weak. If he'd just kept Eijirou from going with Rappa in the first place, if he'd just not been fucking a coward, then this wouldn't have happened. Eijirou wouldn't have gotten hurt. And Bakugou-
Another. Fucking. Concussion.
“I'm going to get the doctors, okay? And I'll tell Eijirou you're awake. He's barely left your room since he brought you in. He'll be relieved.”
“He-” Opening his eyes again was hell, as much a challenge as trying to talk clearly. His vision clarified on Yaoyorozu's face just enough to see that she looked exhausted, sad, worried. Bakugou choked down the poison in his head, trying to keep it from his voice. “How long?”
“Over a day,” Yaoyorozu said, quiet. “We're all here, you know. The doctors wouldn't let us all in at once while you were still out, though.” She tried for a smile. “I'll try to keep everyone from crowding in until you've recovered a bit more.”
Bakugou didn't know what the fuck he'd ever done to deserve such friends. “Thanks,” he mumbled.
Yaoyorozu's smile strengthened, and she left to alert the others- and the doctors, to begin what Bakugou already knew would be a long recovery process. After she'd gone, Bakugou bit down his tongue and rubbed at his eyes with the heels of his palms. He knew the process. He'd gone through it often enough. The doctors would poke and prod and scan and whine that he was a fucking idiot in words dressed up as a prognosis, tell him he was fucking weak in words dressed up as a treatment. He knew. He already knew.
How long was this one going to take to clear up? How long was it going to take for Bakugou to be able to skate properly again- or even just to speak properly, to see properly, to not have this fucking headache? How many fucking months?
And then hands covered his and tugged them from his face, gentle and familiar. Bakugou opened his eyes to see Eijirou- blurry at the edges, but Eijirou, soft and beautiful- and Bakugou loved him so fucking much that in that moment he didn't care about his concussion or Rappa or hockey or absolutely anything but Eijirou's gorgeous smile.
“Hey,” Eijirou murmured.
“Hey,” Bakugou murmured back.
Eijirou sat on the edge of the bed and leaned in, lips brushing Bakugou's forehead and lingering for several heartbeats. It didn't alleviate Bakugou's headache, really- but for those few long moments, Bakugou didn't notice it.
When Eijirou pulled back, still leaning over but far enough to see, he squeezed Bakugou's hands and looked at him with an expression that- even with his fucked up vision- Bakugou could tell was heavy with relief and comfort and something precious. And then Bakugou noticed the bruising in a line across his neck from where Rappa's hand had choked into him and his thoughts flooded back in, painful and drowning. “You okay?” he forced out, frustrated with the way his own voice sounded.
“I'm okay,” Eijirou answered with a small smile. If he noticed how Bakugou's words tripped over themselves, he didn't mention it. “I was really worried, Katsuki. I was... I was really scared.”
“I'm sorry,” Bakugou said, achingly desperate. He was. He was sorry for letting Eijirou get hurt, for being too fucking useless to keep Eijirou from getting any more hurt, for letting Eijirou worry about him. His thoughts might be a confused mess, but those particular regrets were as clear as the pain in his head. Bakugou's hands drifted up to Eijirou's face, carrying Eijirou's hands with his. Framing his face without touching him. “I'm sorry.”
Eijirou pressed Bakugou's hands onto his cheeks, thumbs massaging the backs of Bakugou's hands. He slipped into focus. “Nothing to be sorry for,” Eijirou replied, still smiling. But behind his smile, Bakugou thought he looked sad. His eyes were wet, overly glossy, and Bakugou felt that this time, if Eijirou were to start crying, it wouldn't be from happiness. If Eijirou were to start crying, Bakugou wasn't sure if he would be able to keep himself from doing the same.
“I shouldn't have let you go,” Bakugou whispered. The words tumbled out in a rush, and Bakugou wasn't sure if Eijirou could even make sense of them for how slurred they were but he couldn't bring himself to stop. “I shouldn't have let you get hurt. I shouldn't have made you worry. I shouldn't-” his voice caught on his throat. “I shouldn't have let this happen.”
Eijirou did start crying. Bakugou's vision blurred again, not from the concussion. He shifted his hands as best he could to wipe at Eijirou's tears, a pain deep and echoing in his chest. “I'm sorry, Eijirou. I'm so fucking sorry.”
“It's okay, Katsuki. You're here. I'm here. It's okay. You didn't make me go with Rappa. It's not your fault. None of this is your fault.” Eijirou's words were soothing despite his tears, despite Bakugou's reluctance to believe him. “Why did you-?” Eijirou stopped. Swallowed. “Why did you come after me?”
One of Bakugou's hands drifted down to Eijirou's neck, unconsciously carrying Eijirou's with it. His fingertips brushed the bruise that he'd caused by his own stupidity. “Why did you go?”
Eijirou let out a quiet huff of a laugh, some of the sadness fading even as the tears didn't. “Katsuki,” he sighed, an answer that even Bakugou could understand. The way he said the name was a solace all of its own, a quiet peace that let Bakugou's heart calm. “Katsuki.”
“Eijirou.” Bakugou tugged gently on Eijirou's face, the hand at the bruise on Eijirou's neck drifting to the back to twine into his hair, inviting Eijirou's forehead down to nestle against Bakugou's own. Eijirou complied, his hands drifting down from Bakugou's to rest along Bakugou's jaw. Eijirou's smile spread like a soft light diffusing across his face that warmed Bakugou more than anything else ever could. “I...”
Bakugou wasn't sure if his heartbeat felt too fast from the concussion and his own heightened nerves, or if it was from Eijirou's proximity, the way Eijirou looked that close to his own face, the way Eijirou's eyes let him hold onto himself, the way Bakugou longed to kiss him, to tell him what he actually meant to say. But his head was hurt and buzzing, his voice unsuited to words that should be perfect. So when Bakugou tried again, he used words more comfortable, more doable. Words that Bakugou didn't so much mind came out just as hazy as his own thoughts felt. “Do you want to move in?”
Eijirou laughed. Bakugou held on to the sound, light and airy and fucking beautiful and Bakugou felt himself laughing along with him despite the pain in his head, despite the pain in his heart, despite everything. “We're a mess, huh,” Eijirou murmured, smiling. Bakugou couldn't help but agree- but that wasn't so bad. Eijirou's lips pressed gentle and cool on Bakugou's warm cheek- Bakugou wasn't sure if Eijirou was kissing his tears or his blush- then again, and again, until Bakugou felt the world fall away and there was nothing left but what mattered- Eijirou and his smile and his chiming laughter and his brief, repeated kisses melting on Bakugou's face. “Okay.”
Bakugou kept feeling those kisses on his face even as the doctors ran their tests, even as they told him more or less what he already knew. They gave him painkillers and sleeping pills and between their and Yaoyorozu's insistence Bakugou braced himself for a long and tedious wait in the hospital.
He slept mostly uninterrupted for the next two days, and could talk almost normally by the third. Being awake was worse than sleeping. He had to just fucking lay there in the hospital bed, unable to so much as fuck around on his phone for the doctors' concerns about adding stress. So Bakugou was left there with just his own thoughts, which were rarely pleasant company even on good days and, now, were desperately, crushingly toxic. He passed his time alone by trying to convince himself that he was fine. That the fact that he had another concussion was fine. That the fact that the bruise on Eijirou's throat hadn't faded was fine.
And sometimes he believed himself.
When he was allowed visitors, Eijirou and the team were there. It was an uncomfortable mirror of Sero's time in the hospital that Bakugou would have disliked more if Eijirou didn't hold his hand the entire time. They brought food and laughter and a much-needed distraction that Bakugou appreciated, even on the bad days when his fucking useless injured brain told him to think otherwise.
They were good friends.
Eijirou didn't tell him the details of what had happened. Bakugou couldn't quite bring himself to ask.
By the fifth day, Bakugou's vision had relearned how to focus, his voice readjusted to his tongue. His headache remained a persistent, constant source of irritation, his thoughts were sluggish, and he sometimes felt dizzy when he escaped his cell of a room and paced the hospital, but Bakugou could deal with that. If his symptoms stayed as they were for another day, he'd finally be able to leave the fucking hospital.
Eijirou arrived first that night, wearing a beaming, shark-toothed grin and hiding his hands behind his back. Bakugou adored that smile, adored the way just seeing it brightened his own mood, adored the fact that its genuine light meant Eijirou was happy. Bakugou loved that smile- even as he tried to crane his neck to get a look at what Eijirou was holding.
Eijirou noticed his effort and laughed. He walked up to Bakugou's bed and pressed a kiss to his forehead. “How are you feeling?”
Bakugou closed his eyes and breathed in. He had to think about the answer for longer than he should have. “Good,” he said, pleasantly surprised to find that he was being honest. “Bored as fucking shit. But I'm good.”
Still keeping his hands behind his back, Eijirou sat on the bed at Bakugou's side, not bothering with the chair. “I'm glad!” Eijirou exclaimed. One of his hands drew out from hiding and Bakugou gathered it into his without thinking, without hesitation. “About the good part, not the bored part.”
The sound of Eijirou's joy make Bakugou smile. He brought Eijirou's hand to his lips and kissed it, chuckling at Eijirou's awkward clarification. “Not so bad when you're here,” he mumbled around Eijirou's knuckles. And Bakugou loved the way the quiet comment made Eijirou go red. His small smile tugged into a smirk at the sight. It was true- things were always better when Eijirou was around. He felt more like himself when Eijirou was around.
“I have something for you,” Eijirou murmured, eyeing Bakugou's smirk with something approaching one of his own. Bakugou looked pointedly at Eijirou's side, behind which his other hand was still hiding. Eijirou brought their entwined hands to meet his other. Bakugou's smirk faded as the hidden gift came into view, as Eijirou guided the thin vase into Bakugou's hand. The vase itself was tall and narrow, delicate glass engraved with simple patterns. More importantly, it was bursting with a bright bouquet of flowers, star-shaped and orange like the one Eijirou had tucked behind his ear at the park, that Bakugou kept on his bookshelf even as it had started to dry and wither. Nestled in among the orange flowers were red ones, ruffled and dark and clearly suited to Eijirou's taste.
“I thought it would be a good replacement for that first one. But it took me a while to find a florist that had the same kind of flower! And, um. I saw the carnations too and, well. I wanted. I wanted you to have those too.” The hint of nerves in Eijirou's voice pulled Bakugou from the flowers to his eyes. “Did you know that different flowers have different meanings? It's kind of cool.” Bakugou didn't know. He didn't know anything about flowers except that he fucking loved these ones. Eijirou looked as if he were about to say something more, then caught himself with an apprehensive smile. “Do you like them?”
“Yeah,” Bakugou said, eyes lost in Eijirou's, heart lost in love. He picked his words carefully, using the opportunity for honesty as practice. “I love them.”
Despite his persistent headache and foggy thoughts and occasional dizzy spells, the doctors- and Yaoyorozu- finally cleared Bakugou to go. The first thing Bakugou did once he was fucking finally permitted to use his phone again was look up the meaning of carnations like Eijirou had mentioned. He stared at the initial result, then the next, his eyes scanning down the screen with his heart in his throat. The meaning was agreed upon by all of the results and was pretty fucking clear.
Bakugou looked from the phone to the flowers.
He knew, already. Bakugou knew he was shit with emotions, but he knew this. Eijirou had said as much a hundred wordless ways before. And Eijirou had to know Bakugou felt the same. But even with that knowledge, the confirmation made Bakugou's pulse race.
He sat there staring at the flowers until a knock at the open door drew his eyes to Eijirou with his fucking perfect smile, one hand at his hair, as red as the flowers he'd given Bakugou. “Ready to go?” he asked, bright and cheery.
Bakugou nodded. He carried the vase out as carefully as he could as they made their way to Bakugou's apartment. Bakugou shifted the vase so that he was cradling it in the crook of one arm and found Eijirou's hand with his. Eijirou paused, kissed Bakugou on the cheek, and continued walking, holding firmly but undemanding onto Bakugou's hand. Without being able to see himself, Bakugou had no way of telling which of them was blushing worse.
Being outside again was a relief. Just being out of the hospital was a relief. Eijirou's hand in his was a relief. Eijirou's lighthearted chatter kept Bakugou's mind occupied, even more than thoughts of flowers and feeling were already.
At the apartment, Bakugou set the vase on the table, beside Eijirou's camera, then showered and changed and finally felt mostly human again.
Eijirou was sitting in front of Bakugou's bookshelf once more, flipping through one of the books, a smile on his face. “You sure you're going to want to put up with my couch?” he asked, slotting the book back into place. “Not gonna ruin your whole design?”
“That's pretty much your only fucking piece of furniture,” Bakugou snorted. “I'll manage.”
Eijirou's grin widened. “You got attached to it, didn't you.”
“Like fucking Stockholm's or something,” Bakugou grumbled, enjoying Eijirou's ensuing laugh as he paced the apartment. “How the fuck are we even going to get it over here? No one has a fucking car.”
“We can carry it!” Eijirou got to his feet and stretched. “It's not far, right?”
Bakugou groaned. “It's far enough if you're carrying a fucking couch.”
Eijirou leaned up against the table and chuckled. “Well I still have four or five months on my lease, gives us plenty of time to figure something out.” And it gave Eijirou plenty of time to change his mind, if he wanted. Bakugou was glad of that; he didn't want to pressure Eijirou into anything. He didn't want Eijirou to do anything but what would make him happy. “Hey, Katsuki?”
“Do you want to go for a walk or something? You've been kind of cooped up for a while and,” his hand gestured the path of Bakugou's pacing, “you're gonna burn a line in your floor if you keep that up.”
He had a point. “There's a couple of good hiking trails nearby,” Bakugou admitted. “Could do with some exercise.” As long as it was only light exercise, he was okay. He wasn't cleared to properly exercise yet, really- he wasn't cleared to skate or run or even jog or anything that would actually get his fucking heart rate up. But a casual walk would be fine.
Eijirou grinned. “Great! I'm excited to have you show me around again.” He looped the camera's carrying strap over his head and headed to the door. As he walked by, Bakugou held out a hand. Eijirou stopped and took it with a smile.
Bakugou returned to the table, Eijirou trailing behind, and reached out for the vase. He tugged one of the carnations from the bouquet. “I looked it up,” he murmured by way of explanation, then stepped in closer. Eijirou's face was flushed red again. Bakugou nudged some of Eijirou's loose hair from the side of his face and slipped the flower over his ear. Satisfied, Bakugou brushed his lips to Eijirou's cheek, just barely touching the skin. He pulled back and managed a smile of his own, heart jumping in his chest. “Suits you.”
“Oh,” Eijirou breathed, soft, eyes wide. His hand drifted up to his face but didn't quite touch it- just hovered there for a few moments, the surprise on his face melting into happiness. “Uh.”
Fuck, Bakugou loved him.
“Let's go.” Bakugou led them to the door, then to the hiking trail. Eijirou held on to him with one hand and the camera hanging from his neck with the other. Bakugou pushed back on the familiar feeling of lagging weariness that he knew to be a result of the concussion and focused instead on the way Eijirou's face remained fixed in a small, intimate smile the whole way to their destination.
The metro was fairly empty, this time, for which Bakugou was entirely grateful. But he and Eijirou stayed close to one another, anyway.
They took the trail slow. It was an easy enough path, shaded with plenty of trees and gently sloped with minor hills, but Bakugou quickly found it deeply strenuous. Even worse, there were two separate times his sense of balance warped and stuttered and- had Eijirou's grip not kept him upright- he would have ended up face-first in the dirt.
Each time Bakugou's aggravation with his own mind and body built up too much- each time he nearly got to the point where he was starting to regret not just staying in the apartment, each time he thought he might have to stop completely- Eijirou found something to photograph. He'd tug away from Bakugou's hand with a beaming smile and take a few minutes to try out his camera on whatever it was that he happened to find. Then he'd take a minute more to show the results to Bakugou, delighted and gushing each time. Bakugou had no way to know for sure if Eijirou was doing it on purpose, to ensure Bakugou had a moment to rest, but the timing of the various photoshoots seemed too convenient to be anything else.
Bakugou appreciated it. He appreciated Eijirou's delight and enthusiasm, the skill and pleasure evident in Eijirou's photography, the way the sunlight filtering through the leaves draped Eijirou in a suiting glow. He appreciated Eijirou.
Even with the numerous breaks, though, Bakugou was entirely drained by the time they reached the end of the trail. He dropped down at the base of one of the trees, back resting against the trunk. Eijirou nestled in between the roots alongside him. The trees extended beyond the trail, of course, and the two of them had a view from their small summit of golden-green wood and wildflowers. Bakugou let himself relax, the fresh, clean air, the dozens of small flowers around him, and the feel of grass underneath him a welcome change from his week in the hospital- even with how deeply tired he felt, even with his ever-present headache, even with the fog around his thoughts.
“It's really pretty out here,” Eijirou said, sounding content.
Bakugou agreed. He brushed a strand of Eijirou's hair off the carnation still safely tucked behind his ear and couldn't help but grin at Eijirou's slow, easy smile. “Yeah.”
Eijirou turned to look at him, and Bakugou let his hand stay where it was, his fingers grazing Eijirou's jaw. Eijirou set his hand over Bakugou's and let his cheek rest in Bakugou's palm, eyes on his. Not for the first time, Bakugou was struck by just how gorgeous Eijirou's eyes were.
But even as beautiful as Eijirou was, even as much as Bakugou enjoyed simply just seeing him, Bakugou soon felt his own eyes begin to drift shut and his shoulders to slump. Eijirou's quiet chuckle pulled him back. “Come here,” Eijirou murmured, tugging on Bakugou's hand. Bakugou didn't resist as Eijirou guided him onto his back, cradling Bakugou's head onto his lap and in his hands. His fingertips gently traced massaging patterns into Bakugou's temples and forehead.
Between the warmth and the comfort and his own weariness, Bakugou barely had time to register how soothing the gestures felt before he fell asleep.
“Katsuki?” Eijirou's voice, an uncertain time later. Bakugou blinked open his eyes to see Eijirou smiling down at him.
“I'm awake,” Bakugou mumbled, waking up.
Eijirou laughed. “Right.” His thumb brushed over Bakugou's cheek. “How are you doing?”
“Good,” Bakugou murmured. Waking up to Eijirou's enchanting smile was more than good. “How-” he paused, trying to get a sense of the time from the light. “How long was I out?”
“As long as you needed to be,” Eijirou grinned.
It was definitely darker than before. Eijirou must have been sitting there waiting for him to wake the fuck up for a while. He sat up slowly. “Shit, you could've woken me up sooner.”
“I kept busy.” Eijirou's eyes sparkled with something mischievous. But before Bakugou could investigate, Eijirou's eyebrows furrowed, his smile fading to something almost hesitant. “How are you doing, in general?”
“I said I was good,” Bakugou said, even as he knew that wasn't what Eijirou was asking.
“That's not what I mean.” Eijirou searched his eyes, but didn't seem to find whatever it was he was looking for. “I mean, how are you doing, with everything? With the concussion, and what happened with Rappa...”
“It's.” Bakugou suddenly felt entirely awake, and his eyes found a distant tree to inspect. “It's fine.”
“Katsuki. I know how badly your last concussion hurt you-”
“What did happen with that fucker, anyway?” Bakugou demanded. He'd been wondering nearly since he first woke up how the encounter with Rappa had ended, but he hadn't been able to bring himself to ask. But now it provided an important distraction as Bakugou wrestled his thoughts back under control.
Eijirou's silence told Bakugou he was entirely aware of what Bakugou was doing. He tugged Bakugou's hand into his lap, drawing Bakugou's gaze back to him as he did so, and wrapped it with both of his hands. “I won,” he said with a hint of a laugh, eyes on Bakugou's hand. “I, um. I might've gone a bit overboard.”
Bakugou snorted. “What, you kill him?” Eijirou brushed patterns onto Bakugou's hand instead of answering, his expression nervous. Bakugou raised an eyebrow. “Uh. You didn't actually, did you?”
That did draw a chuckle. “No, Katsuki,” Eijirou assured him, clearly amused at the idea. “I'm pretty sure I'd be in trouble for that.”
“Eh,” Bakugou shrugged, pleased at the humour once again in Eijirou's voice. “I'd give you an alibi.”
“My hero.” Eijirou laughed, and Bakugou felt himself relax somewhat even as Eijirou continued. “No, but I did knock him out? I've never actually done that before.”
Bakugou stared. “How the fuck did you knock that piece of shit out? I cracked his fucking ribs and dislocated his fucking shoulder and the fucker just laughed!”
“Broke his ribs, actually,” Eijirou corrected. Bakugou felt a satisfied flare of pride at that. “I'm sure that helped, he always had this thing where he didn't really notice pain until later on.” Eijirou's eyes softened again. “But, like I told you before. I was really scared. And then I got really angry, too. When you blacked out, I just. I just knew, you know? I knew you'd gotten another concussion.” His gaze fell to their entwined hands. “And you wouldn't have if I-”
“Hey,” Bakugou interrupted, frowning. “If-” he reached out to the bruise on Eijirou's neck with his free hand. “If this isn't my fault, like you said-” he lifted his hand to tilt Eijirou's chin up, Eijirou's eyes meeting his once more. “Then this isn't your fault, either, okay?”
“It's not your fucking fault.”
Eijirou's smile filtered in again. “How do you make a reassurance sound so aggressive, Katsuki?”
“It's a skill.” Bakugou smirked, pleased with Eijirou's expression. “Fucking seriously though. You didn't fucking do anything wrong.” But Eijirou's smile still had yet to solidify, and Bakugou wasn't sure what else to say. So he pulled on the first thing that his hazy thoughts could verbalize and added, “You're amazing, you know that?”
That did it. Eijirou's big smile returned, bright and beautiful. Bakugou pulled away again and squeezed Eijirou's hand, hoping Eijirou was as happy as he looked. “So what did you do with the fucker once you'd knocked his ass out? Throw him in the dumpster?”
“Nah, worse,” Eijirou's grin took on a delightfully wicked edge. “Rappa keeps his phone unlocked, apparently. I called his coach.” He snickered. “I might not have killed him, but I'm pretty sure his coach will. I could hear him screaming at Rappa through the wall once he came to the hospital! He was so angry. It was pretty great.” He laughed. “I don't think Rappa'll be much of a problem, anymore.”
“Thank fuck. If he fucking does though we're going to the fucking cops, alright? Get his sorry fucking ass arrested.”
Eijirou toyed with Bakugou's fingers. “Deal.”
Bakugou looked out at the trees before them, relieved even as the tension of what he knew to be next started to settle in. As always, Eijirou had done his part. Eijirou let him have his silence as he tried to gather his thoughts. It was a challenge, not only for the nature of the thoughts but also for how distant and jumbled they were, for the murkiness of them. Finding the right words was like walking against the tide. “I'm,” Bakugou started, slowly. “I'm okay, I guess. I'm... angry, but that's nothing new, is it? I'm angry that I couldn't even walk here without getting fucking tired and fucking dizzy and shit. I know it'll take time to heal, but.” He swallowed. Eijirou's hand in his helped with this, too. “But I just. Don't know how long it's going to take to recover from this one. I'm really fucking not looking forward to finding out.”
“I'll be with you every step of it,” Eijirou said, softly. Bakugou looked at him again, and his heart ached when he saw the genuine tenderness, the gentle promise- the love- in Eijirou's eyes. “If that's what you want.”
Bakugou's feelings about everything but Eijirou were tangled and twisted and heavy and messy. They were hard to think about at best and burned as a physical pain in his head at worst.
But Bakugou's feelings about Eijirou were clear and bright and made Bakugou feel entirely, blissfully peaceful. Bakugou's feelings about Eijirou made all of his difficult emotions less of a challenge to bear. His feelings about Eijirou were easy. Loving Eijirou was easy.
“Yeah,” Bakugou said, honestly. And, honestly, he meant to say I'd like that. But, instead, just as honestly, he said, “I love you.”
Eijirou's smile was the most beautiful thing in the world.
Eijirou reached over to his side and pulled into view what it was that had kept him busy as Bakugou had slept- a wide ring made of the small flowers that had been within his reach, tied together here and there with blades of grass as needed- and set the flower crown on Bakugou's head. His hands drifted down to frame Bakugou's face and he leaned in, still smiling, to press a kiss to the tip of Bakugou's nose. He pulled back, hands still on Bakugou's face, warm and soft and entirely, desperately perfect. His voice was sincere and quiet and full of a calm, bright joy that made Bakugou feel at peace. “I love you too, Katsuki.”
Bakugou glared at the ice rink. Leaning against the boards was Eijirou, already on the ice, waiting patiently for Bakugou to join him, a smile bright on his face. Bakugou took a long, cold breath and stood from the bench. Eijirou held out his hand. Bakugou took it.
“I'm going to fucking murder this ice,” Bakugou declared. He pushed aside what were admittedly nerves and instead took comfort in Eijirou's laugh. Then he braced himself and skated out onto the ice, Eijirou at his side. Bakugou's legs felt shaky and uncertain beneath him, but his lifelong familiarity with the act of skating carried him through the initial awkward rediscovery of how the motions worked, and Eijirou's hand helped to steady him. Eijirou's hand in his made everything better. Eijirou made everything better.
He'd had to relearn how to skate, before, after his last concussion, and the one before that, and it was a process Bakugou detested. He hated feeling as if were falling behind on something, feeling as if he were losing a step. But this time, he wasn't here to get back to hockey as soon as possible. This time, with Eijirou, he was just there for fun.
Although, really, Bakugou wasn't sure how to skate just for fun. He'd never done so before. It had always been a way to hone his skill, a way to get better. Something competitive, with a sharp focus and goal. So once he made sure his balance was under control, Bakugou turned that control over to Eijirou.
Eijirou grinned his beautiful grin and tugged on Bakugou's hand, leading Bakugou first in simple loops around the rink, slow and easy. It was close enough to his usual cooldown laps that the minor change of holding Eijirou's hand while doing so wasn't such a big deal- except, of course, it was Eijirou, so it was a big deal- and Bakugou didn't find it too difficult. It was nice just to be skating again.
Around the same time as Bakugou felt his grimace loosening, Eijirou offered out his free hand, and Bakugou took that one, too. Eijirou beamed. He started skating backwards, facing Bakugou, gently drifting Bakugou along with him around the rink. “How are you feeling?”
By now, the fog around Bakugou's thoughts had lifted entirely and his constant headache had receded to a minor, dull tension at the corner of his eyes. His dizzy spells were few and far between. His sense of balance was still off, sometimes, like socks that didn't fit quite right, and he had to make sure he held on to the handrail when he walked up or down the stairs to their apartment. And he didn't even want to think about how much longer it might take to be able to play a just a simple, friendly game of hockey. But he was fucking finally on the ice again, could fucking finally resume doing some of what helped Bakugou feel like Bakugou. And, probably the most important- he had Eijirou with him, every step of the recovery, just as Eijirou had promised. So when Bakugou answered, it was with a smile. “Pretty fucking good.”
Bakugou was just being honest, but he still felt as if he'd given the right answer by how happy the words seemed to make Eijirou. Eijirou's face lit up brighter and Bakugou didn't resist as Eijirou tugged him closer. “I'm glad!” he said, sounding delighted. “You're doing really well, Katsuki. You sure you haven't skated with someone like this before?”
“Fuck no,” Bakugou grumbled. He skated alongside other people, fucking obviously, but never like this. Never holding on to them like he was holding on to Eijirou. “Why the fuck would I want to skate with someone?”
Eijirou laughed. “I don't know, because it's fun?”
Skating with Eijirou was- as he said- fun. But that was because he loved Eijirou. There was no fucking way Bakugou would ever do so with anyone else. “Fuck that. You're the only person I want to skate with.”
Eijirou's eyebrows raised, a hint of red surfacing above his smile. “Oh,” he murmured, a soft sigh of a sound. Then he released one of Bakugou's hands to loosely loop his arm around Bakugou's waist and waited until Bakugou reciprocated the change in position by resting his own hand on Eijirou's shoulder to start maneuvering them in more complicated patterns across the ice.
The position made sense, of course- with the amount of skating they were doing, balancing was more difficult, and Eijirou's arm steadied Bakugou better than his hands could. The fact that it was closer, more intimate, was just a side benefit.
“Where'd you learn to skate like this, anyway?” Bakugou asked, enjoying the way Eijirou's closeness made him feel warm, comfortable, safe.
Eijirou shrugged, expression almost bemused. “I dunno, I've just skated like this forever? Not-” he pressed a kiss to Bakugou's forehead- “not like this, exactly, but just on my own, just to skate, for as long as I've been skating.”
Even as he spoke, Eijirou skated them in lazy eights. “You're good at it,” Bakugou acknowledged, pleased with Eijirou's ensuing grin.
“The company helps.”
Bakugou smiled and relaxed. He rested his chin on Eijirou's shoulder and closed his eyes, enjoying the simple act of skating, enjoying Eijirou's hand in his, enjoying the way Eijirou was holding him. He let his heart transport him and Eijirou into their own private world where there was nothing but them and the cold and the knowledge that Eijirou would catch him if he fell.
Some time later, Eijirou's weaving slowed, and Bakugou stilled his skating along with him. Bakugou opened his eyes and turned to find Eijirou's eyes on his, smile small and beautiful, red no less present in his cheeks. Bakugou felt a tight tangle low in his gut, felt an ache in his heart, felt Eijirou's breath gentle and warm on his face, felt them both shift closer to one another.
The space between them faded away.
Their kiss was soft, lips meeting with a quiet acknowledgment of their feelings, tender and familiar despite the inherent unfamiliarity of the action itself.
The knot in Bakugou's stomach unraveled. They pulled back after a brief moment, each searching the other. Eijirou looked gorgeous. He looked gorgeous and peaceful and happy. He looked like everything Bakugou knew him to be- kind and brave and loving and entirely, blissfully wonderful.
Fuck, Bakugou loved him.
Bakugou's hand shifted from Eijirou's shoulder to the side of his face, thumb by his ear and fingers in his hair, just as Eijirou's arm around Bakugou's waist reached up, his hand pressing into Bakugou's back, urging him nearer, and the following kiss was desperate and eager and demanding. Bakugou had no idea what he was doing, really, but Bakugou was a fast learner and he'd wanted to do this for ages and with Eijirou it felt natural and easy and intuitive. Their entwined hands parted as they sought to pull each other closer, to finally figure out how their lips fit together, to finally kiss each other with all the love and passion and want that had sparked what felt like a lifetime ago.
When they did, eventually, break the kiss, it was to breathe. Bakugou swallowed gasps of cold air, heartbeat hammering in his chest- so much for not getting his heart rate up too much- and reveled in the simple act of seeing Eijirou do the same. Eijirou's face was entirely red, and from the warmth in his own cheeks, Bakugou knew he looked the same. Eijirou was fucking gorgeous. He was fucking beautiful. He was fucking cute and fucking handsome and absolutely fucking perfect.
“Katsuki,” Eijirou hummed, smiling, hands shifting to frame Bakugou's face. “Katsuki, Katsuki, Katsuki.”
Bakugou grinned. “Yeah?”
Eijirou kissed him, awkward but no less endearing for the fact that neither of them seemed able to stop smiling. “I-” and again, “-love-”, and again, “-you!”
Bakugou felt his grin spread further across his face with each kiss and couldn't help but chuckle. “I love you too, Eijirou,” he said before attacking Eijirou with more kisses of his own, too distracted to notice the way his legs were wobbling until he pressed in for another kiss and his balance gave out from under him. He slipped forward on his skates and into Eijirou, Eijirou catching him as they both tumbled down onto the ice, both dissolving into a pile of limbs and laughter.
Still laughing, knees cold on the ice, Bakugou gathered Eijirou's face into his hands and kissed him again, too happy to care about the slip. But eventually they disentangled themselves and Bakugou stood, holding his hand out to Eijirou. Eijirou took it. Bakugou helped him to his feet and Eijirou tugged Bakugou into his arms, then lifted him off the ice and spun them in circles. Bakugou held on to Eijirou's shoulders and rested his forehead on Eijirou's.
When their laughter finally quieted and their momentum stilled, Eijirou set Bakugou down on his skates once more, still beaming bright and beautiful. “You're a really good kisser, Katsuki,” Eiijirou said with a satisfied grin. “You sure you haven't kissed anyone before?”
“Fuck no why the fuck would- wait.” Bakugou narrowed his eyes at Eijirou's devious smile. “How the fuck do you know that?”
Eijirou giggled. Not nervous, not self-conscious, just a cute fucking giggle. “Hanta's known you a really long time, huh?”
Bakugou scowled. “That lanky motherfucker. The docs tell me to come in on a Saturday again and I'm fucking killing them. Can't fucking trust the team with you.” Although, really, the only reason Bakugou didn't want to go to the hospital on Saturdays was because Bakugou didn't want to have to miss seeing Eijirou play again. Eijirou made for a good center.
Eijirou just laughed louder, by now entirely familiar with the way Bakuou's scowl sometimes hid a smile. But Bakugou could never hide his smile for long around Eijirou- nor did he see any reason to, or want to- and he joined in.
Once his laughter had quieted, Eijirou admitted with a fucking gorgeous smirk, “I'm okay with helping you practice.”
Bakugou might not be able to play hockey, but that was okay. He might still be recovering, but that was okay. He'd figured out what he wanted to do. So he leaned in and did just that- kissed Eijirou again- long and slow and loving. When he pulled back, he replied with a smirk of his own, “Thank fuck for that.”
They continued to skate and steal kisses until the lights dimmed.
Bakugou never had the ice rink to himself, anymore. He preferred it that way.
title from chvrches' zvvl
thank you for reading!!!! <3 <3 <3