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Can We Not?

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“Oh my fucking god, you have got to be kidding me,” came a low growl from further along the underground pedestrian route. The overhead lights flickered ominously in the low light of the underground shopping area. The shops were closed for the night, gates locked tight to protect overpriced fashion merchandise from burglars with outlandish taste in accessories. Izuku stood at the end of the hall, frozen in a mixture of excitement and horror. About halfway down the hall, staring at a vending machine like it had personally insulted him, was none other than Ground Zero: Pro hero, certified badass, and threatener of inanimate objects, apparently.

Most journalists on a hero beat would have thanked their lucky stars. Izuku cursed his instead. Of all the heroes to run into, why did it have to be this asshole?

“So help me, if you don't fucking give me my coffee…” the hero scowled, punching at the button on the machine a few more times. Izuku noted that this behavior appeared to have a similar effect on the machine as the threats, which is to say absolutely none whatsoever. He smirked a little to himself, which was probably a bit mean, but hey, it was nice to see that even someone like Ground Zero didn't always get what he wanted.

The hero grabbed the sides of the machine and shook it hard. When that didn't work, the hero got down on his knees, pulling off one of his grenade gauntlets and sticking his hand up inside the machine from below, grimacing as he felt around. If it hadn't been so pathetic to watch, it might have been amusing to see a pro hero cussing out a vending machine that looked like it was chewing on his arm.

Feeling as though he’d had enough entertainment for the night, Izuku spun on his heel, intending to head down to the subway platforms before he missed his last train. From behind, he could hear the telltale rattle of vandalizing a vending machine come to a stop, so he could only assume the pro hero had given up on prying his drink out of the machine. He didn't think anything more of it until a gruff voice called out after him.

“Hey, you!”

Izuku felt himself turning around before his brain quite caught up with his muscle memory. “Yeah?”

“You have scrawny arms,” Ground Zero said in a matter-of-fact tone, locking his grenade gauntlet back into place.

It didn't sound like he meant it to be an insult, but Izuku couldn't help feeling a bit miffed. “So?” he answered, defensively crossing said appendages across his chest.

“So stick your arm up in this fucking thing and get my coffee for me.” Ground Zero pointed to the vending machine.

Izuku blinked. “I’m sorry?”

“I can't get my arm in deep enough,” Ground Zero explained agitatedly, “And I only have two minutes left to pound it before I’m back on the clock, just do it!”

There was as no way in hell Izuku was getting down on his knees in front of anyone, but especially not Ground Zero. He had his pride. Also, fuck Ground Zero. Who even liked that self-important explosive hero, anyway? He was a jerk who cared nothing for civilians, collateral damage, or anything but flashy rescues and looking “badass”. Izuku wouldn't get him a coffee if the man were dying of thirst!

While he didn't put it that way exactly, the words leaving Izuku’s mouth nonetheless did a decent job of getting his point across. “Why the hell would I do a thing like that?”

Ground Zero sighed exasperatedly. “I don't have any more cash on me, the can won't fucking come out and I could use some goddamn caffeine before pulling another double! Goddamn, what crawled up your ass and died? Just help me out for a second!”

Izuku wanted nothing more than to turn around and pretend none of this had ever happened. What an asshole. Who did  Ground Zero think he was, just barking out orders like that? “Hell no,” Izuku told him, turning to march away.

“What the fuck?” the pro hero yelped, “It's just a fucking coffee!”

“So buy yourself another one!” Izuku snapped. It wasn't his damn fault that the pro hero had only brought a measly two hundred yen with him as pocket change, so why was he expected to have enough money to buy him a coffee? What an entitled asshole, he thought, turning around to tell him exactly that. As Izuku's eyes landed on the pro hero, it dawned on him that antagonizing a man who sweats nitroglycerin may not have been his wisest decision. Ground Zero was coming right at him, and for a second Izuku squeezed his eyes shut, certain the next sensation he would experience was to be an intense burning feeling all over his body. Fortunately, Ground Zero seemed perfectly happy to simply grab him by the collar and slam him against the wall. When Izuku opened his eyes, he locked gazes with the pro hero. The explosion quirk user’s eyes were wide, white ringing his irises in all sides. His pupils were like tiny pinpricks, and his breath came in forced gasps.

“The fuck is wrong with you?” he demanded, and something about the whole situation set of serious warning bells in Izuku’s head. The kind of warning bells he hadn't heard since he’d been mercilessly bullied in High School. Ground Zero looked ready to do something drastic, over something as mundane as coffee!

“Okay, okay, fine, I’ll get your coffee,” Izuku promised, wriggling out of Ground Zero’s grasp and marching over to the machine and pulling out his wallet, trying to calm himself, willing his hands not to shake, trying to sound less intimidated than he felt. Had he said fuck Ground Zero yet? Because seriously, fuck this guy. 

Ground Zero followed Izuku over to the vending machine, hovering over his shoulder oppressively, watching Izuku’s every move. He grunted in acknowledgment when Izuku inserted the coins (not even a “thank you”?) and punched the button for his precious coffee once Izuku had stepped aside. After a moment of whirring, the machine spat a hot can of coffee into the bottom of the machine to be retrieved. The pro hero swooped down on it like an addict finally getting his hands on a fix. He fumbled the hot can, popping it open and lifting it to his lips with trembling hands. The can tipped too far and the hero choked on his first gulp, fingers clenching convulsively and sending the can clattering to the floor only after it emptied the majority of its contents down the front of Ground Zero’s costume.

For a moment, the pro hero stared blankly at the can. Then he roared in fury, kicking it viciously. The can bounced off the wall and rolled back to his feet where he stomped on it repeatedly. Once he’d tired of stomping on it, the hero stared down at the unfortunate lump of aluminum for a long moment before swearing at it creatively, profusely, and at top volume for what felt like an hour but was probably under a minute. Meanwhile Izuku had backed away from the abrasive hero and had flattened himself against the wall, trying not to flinch as coffee splattered against his pants with each of Ground Zero’s stomps, trying not to cower and cover his ears in an attempt to drown out the onslaught of vitriol.

As suddenly as they’d begun, the words died half-formed in the pro hero’s mouth. His shoulders slumped as his head drooped and his clenched fists relaxed. Ground Zero sighed dejectedly and buried his face in his hands. “Fuck,” he said in a broken voice, the sound muffled ever-so-slightly by the palms of his hands.

This was wildly outside of Izuku’s comfort zone. He wasn't comfortable with public displays of emotion just on general principle, but this? This felt like something out of a horror movie, the flickering lights, deserted train station hallway, a once-lauded hero finally snapping over something as mundane as a cantankerous vending machine. If Izuku had to put down money on a hero he most expected to go bad, he would've bet on Ground Zero, hands down. But he wouldn't have bet it would be over a vending machine and a spilled can of coffee, and definitely wouldn't have guessed that he would watch the hero crumble before his very eyes.

Feeling distinctly uncomfortable but no longer fearing imminent bodily harm, Izuku eased away, back still plastered flat against the wall until he’d made it a good five meters back. He continued to creep away after that, intent on getting as far away from this awkward scene as possible without attracting the hero’s attention again. He just wanted to catch his train home before Ground Zero turned violent again.

As Izuku skulked back down the hall, the hairs on his arms and the back of his neck stood up. He slowed to a stop, hyperaware of his surroundings. God, he really didn't want to be right about Ground Zero. At least, not when he might be the one to bear sole witness to the shattering of a pro hero’s psyche. In the distance between them, Izuku heard the whisper of air, the quiet rumble of trains, and Ground Zero’s ragged, labored breathing. It seemed almost unnaturally quiet after the shouts, and the empty, cold silence filling the stale air sent a chill down Izuku’s spine. He found himself growing morbidly curious and he turned around to look one more time, despite his better judgement.

Ground Zero still stood exactly where he’d been standing before, but a Izuku could detect an air of despair sinking down on the hero, permeating the air between them like a thick perfume, choking the two of them with its smothering  stench.

“Dammit,” Izuku muttered to himself before fully turning around. He better not miss his last goddamn train for this. He walked back towards Ground Zero. “Did you want another coffee?”

The pro hero started, like he’d forgotten Izuku was even there. Rude. “Oh, shit, no,” he patted absently at his shirt, scowling at the wet coffee spreading down the length of it. “Fuck me,” he said brokenly, which frankly had Izuku reeling.

Ground Zero was not the type to mope or give up, even when he had no business sticking with whatever idiotic mess he'd gotten himself into. Izuku found himself demanding answers before he quite realized how stupid it was. “What’s wrong?”

Instantly on the defensive, Ground Zero’s eyes landed on him, brilliant scarlet and piercing. “Nothing, fuck off.” He growled at Izuku before stiffening and muttering to himself under his breath, pinching the bridge of his nose. When he turned back to Izuku, his gaze seemed less feral. He looked almost bland , as if that was even a word one could justify using when attempting to describe someone like Ground Zero. “What I mean is, uh, fuck, uh, worry not, citizen, everything is under control.

Izuku looked down at the crumpled coffee can, then back at the hero. “I can see that,” he said in a mild sort of tone that clearly stated he was not actually agreeing, simply attempting to pacify the volatile hero.

Ground Zero clenched his fists, pressing his lips together in a thin line before shutting his eyes briefly. They flew open again and he stared at Izuku for a long moment. “The fuck do you want, an autograph?”

Izuku shook his head ‘no’. “I just wanted to make sure you were okay. You seemed… distressed.”

Ground Zero barked a derisive laugh. “How’s someone like you s’posed to help a guy like me even if I did need rescuing?”

“I did buy you a coffee,” Izuku snapped, “You could at least say thank you.”

“Fine, fuck, I’ll buy you a replacement,” Ground Zero extended a hand and scowled at Izuku.

Izuku stared blankly at his hand. “Sorry?” he looked up at the pro hero in confusion. “What do you want, a handshake?”

Ground Zero looked at Izuku like he’d spat in his hand. “Your phone, you moron.”

Izuku did as he asked, feeling thoroughly baffled. “What does my phone have to do with-?”

The hero snatched the phone from Izuku, scowled, and shoved it back in his face. “Unlock it.”

Izuku did as he was told, asking as he did so, “Am I being mugged? Why do you-?”

Ground Zero took the phone back from Izuku with a growl. “How the fuck am I supposed to buy you a replacement coffee if I can't find you again?” he explained, throwing the phone back at Izuku.

Izuku fumbled the phone, nearly dropping it with a yelp. He stared back at Ground Zero, feeling both touched and utterly baffled. “I didn't think you were serious,” he commented weakly.

Ground Zero narrowed his eyes at Izuku. “I always fuckin’ say exactly what I mean. Don't forget that.”

Izuku nodded slowly, “Right, uh… I’ll keep that in mind.”

At that point Ground Zero must have decided it was time to go, stomping past Izuku, his broad shoulders jostling the smaller man on his way by. “You better,” he rumbled ominously, and then he was gone.

Before Izuku could quite process what had just happened, he realized he was standing alone, in a creepy shopping area of a train station lit by flickering lights, with only a smashed coffee can for company. He looked down at his phone and saw that Ground Zero had apparently added himself as a new contact on his phone. Except, rather than adding a normal name, or even his hero name, Ground Zero had entered himself as ‘King Explodo-Kill’. Izuku shook his head slowly. “What a weirdo,” he muttered, about to shove his phone back in his pocket when his eyes landed on the time at the top of the screen. “Shit!” Izuku exclaimed, nearly tripping over himself as he spun around, “I’m going to miss my last train!”