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Vicious

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Izuku steals into the fancy, high-polish bathroom, glancing around to make sure no one is here. He stares in disbelief at the marble countertops (marble? seriously?) and then makes a beeline for the stall on the end. He shuts it behind him, then sits on the toilet and digs out his phone. He dials the number, sparing a moment to hope the call will go through—he’s on the 14th floor, after all, but with big office buildings you never know—and then hits send.

The phone rings and rings. Izuku swallows, shutting his eyes tight as he wills the man on the other end to pick up. There’s a click, and then: “My boy Midoriya! Hello!”

Izuku lets out a barely-there whimper of relief, actually tearing up a little at hearing Toshinori’s voice. “All Might,” he says, and takes a breath. “Sorry to bother you—”

“It’s no bother!” says Toshinori cheerfully. “But say, aren’t you at your first day of orientation right now?”

“Yeah,” says Izuku, and winces. “About that.”

“Did you find out who your partner will be?”

Izuku groans. “Yeah,” he says. “It’s Kacchan. Bakugou.”

“Ah,” says Toshinori. Something about his voice is strange. Izuku’s eyes fly open.

“You knew?” he demands. There’s an intake of breath on the other end, and Izuku can practically hear the pained expression on Toshinori’s face.

“Your mentor reached out to Eraserhead and myself, and the other teachers here at UA, to discuss the possible partnership,” says Toshinori. “And I was honest about the fact that you and Bakugou were two of the best students in your year, and that you could go far together.”

“But he hates me!” Izuku’s voice wobbles again, and he grits his teeth, suddenly furious—at himself, at Toshinori, at his mentor, at Bakugou. “I can’t believe you’re doing this to me again!”

“Midoriya,” says Toshinori. He sounds unhappy now. “I know you weren’t excited about being partnered with someone—”

That’s putting it lightly. When Izuku found out his beloved mentor actually voted in favor of the new laws mandating that all novice Heroes work in duos or teams for the first five years of their careers, he’d been devastated. He hadn’t spoken to All Might for almost a month.

“—but I think this will be good for both of you. And that you will be very successful. Synergy is an excellent company, and—”

“How could you recommend that I be partnered with someone who barely even tolerates having me in the room? How am I supposed to work with him?” Izuku’s eyes are watering in earnest now, and he rubs his hand across his face, feeling sick to his stomach. “All Might, I don’t think I can do this…”

“Yes, you can,” says Toshinori. “You can do it. You’re going to be great.” He sounds utterly sincere. For a moment, Izuku can see him as the idol and Hero Izuku though he was growing up: unstoppable, unshakeable, the solid last man standing who always knew what to do.

Izuku bites the inside of his mouth. He takes a ragged breath, and lets it out. “If I do this,” he says. “I’m gonna try this, but—if it doesn’t work out, I’m going to need a reference to find a job somewhere else.”

“Give it three months,” says Toshinori. “If you do that, I’ll back you up anywhere you go. But promise me you will give it your all, Midoriya.”

Izuku’s shoulder sag then, and he sighs. “I promise,” he says, resigned.

“Good,” says Toshinori. “That’s my boy. Now, tell me how your morning went.”

* * * * *

Izuku’s day started at 7:55 am that morning, on a crisp clear Monday in March, when he walked into huge Synergy building downtown and took the elevator to the 23rd floor. He was looking for Calla Ankari’s office, here to fill out the paperwork accepting his position as a professional Hero for Synergy, Inc—and to find out who his new Hero partner will be.

Synergy is unusual as far as Hero companies go. For one thing, it’s been one of the few Hero companies that’s had nothing but Hero duos or groups for the past decade. The idea of working in a duo isn’t necessarily any more appealing with that legacy, but Synergy as a company also has some of the best resources and work available for any Heroes working professionally anywhere in the world. They do international jobs; they do multiple seminars a year with the biggest professional Heroes in the business; they have the best, most impressive science and technology department outside of a government think tank. Their entire training program is geared towards training Heroes to be successful in duos and has been since long before the new law.

All of this is in the back of his mind as Izuku makes his way down the hall, fidgeting nervously with the buttons of his jacket as he scans the plaques outside the doors for the one that reads “Unseen.” Suits feel less like fake dress-up than they used to, but Izuku would still absolutely rather be wearing his Hero outfit and taking a pummeling than sitting in a three-piece suit in a stuffy office somewhere.

Soon, he reminds himself. Soon, he’ll be working full-time as a professional.

He’s still thinking about all the parts of his orientation that Synergy’s HR sent him information about already—the retreat in the mountains, the huge training facilities similar to what they had at UA, the mandatory rescue training—when he finds the right door and knocks. “Come in,” calls a woman’s melodious voice from the other side. Izuku takes a deep breath and pushes the door open.

“Hello,” he says as he comes inside, a smile rising to his lips. “It’s an honor to meet you, Ms.—”

“What the fuck are you doing here?” demands a rough voice. Izuku stops in his tracks, shocked.

Katsuki Bakugou is inside, slouched in one of two chairs across from the woman in the sharp suit on the other side of the desk. He’s staring at Izuku like Izuku is something he just scraped off the bottom of his shoe.

“This is your new partner, Izuku Midoriya,” says the woman. Her voice is calm, but Izuku can hear the steel beneath her words, sharp enough to cut. “And if you want to keep a position with this company, Bakugou, I need to see more respectful language and behavior from you, starting now.”

Izuku expects Bakugou to do what he always does: to swear, to explode, to flip the desk or throw a chair, to cuss out both him and their new handler. To snarl, I’m not working with HIM, and storm out in a huff. But instead, Bakugou sends one last venomous glare at Izuku, then visibly restrains himself and folds his hands in his lap. “Yes ma’am,” he says. He doesn’t sound happy, but for Bakugou, it’s practically a hymn of peace.

“Good,” says the woman. She gestures at Izuku to come inside, and after a moment of hesitation, he does. He’s painfully aware of Bakugou sitting less than a foot from him, would swear he can feel Bakugou’s body heat radiating off him like a space heater, but he keeps his eyes forward, focused on their new handler.

The woman’s name is Calla Ankari, and she’s a pro Hero with about 20 years of experience. Her Quirk is one Izuku has never heard of, and when she tells them what it is, he understands why: she can make anyone unrecognizable, even to their close friends. She’s not tall, maybe Izuku’s height, but she manages to exude an aura of authority and confidence that draws the eyes of everyone in the room. She has thick black hair she wears in a plait down her back, olive brown skin, and sharp eyes behind tortoiseshell cat-eye glasses. And she has absolutely no patience for any crap from either of them.

“The two of you are a danger to yourselves and everyone else until you learn some self-control,” she says brusquely, maybe fifteen minutes into their orientation that very first day. “I’ve spoken to your teachers at UA, and Eraserhead and All Might both have good things to say about the two of you, but the fact is that you’re a liability as you currently behave now.”

“I’m not a fuckin—” Bakugou begins hotly, but Calla turns to him with a manic gleam in her eyes and he immediately shuts up. Izuku begins to sweat under his starched shirt collar.

“We believe that your skills and your potential outweigh the liability you represent,” she says, continuing only when it’s clear that he’s not going to interrupt her again. At least, not yet. “I also personally believe that the two of you will be a good match as a Hero partnership.”

“I don’t want to work with anyone who’s going to slow me down,” Bakugou says. Theeeere it is. He sounds sullen now, like he used to when he’d get told off at school for being a hothead. So, every single day of school, thinks Izuku, and has to repress a smile. “Hey, what’re you smirking at, shithead?”

“Bakugou,” says Calla, and this time there is no smile at all. Bakugou stills immediately. “That is what I’m talking about. That temper is unacceptable. Your drive to excel is commendable, as are your high grades and your performance in battle simulations, but you are terrible at listening to feedback and terrible about cooperating with others. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you what instigated the passage of laws mandating all newly graduated Heroes start in partnerships. You wouldn’t last a year by yourself, no matter how powerful your Quirk is. You’re too hot-headed.”

Bakugou slumps a little in his chair. Izuku can’t actually blame him. He doesn’t like to recall the thing she’s referring to—the catastrophic destruction of the mall on the edge of the city, where three separate novice Heroes who should theoretically have been able to fix things were killed by a runaway fire that was caused by a fourth newbie. To say nothing of the 41 civilians who died in the inferno.

“And you,” says Calla, turning her severe gaze on Izuku, who freezes like a bird pinned by the eyes of a predator. “You’re worse than him, and that takes some doing.”

That hits like a slap across the face. “I’m—I’m what?” Izuku repeats. “But—”

“You have a martyr streak a mile wide,” says Calla. She raises her hands, ticking off each item on her fingers like going down a list while Izuku slowly melts into a horrified puddle in his office chair. “You fail utterly at relying upon your teammates for help, you charge headlong into battle with no regard for your own personal safety or the effect your Quirk’s power will have on you, and you act as though success is a moving target that will vanish if you hold still for more than half a second.”

“Being a Hero isn’t about protecting yourself,” says Bakugou, startling Izuku so badly he forgets to be horrified for a moment. “It’s about protecting other people.”

“That’s true,” says Calla. “But you can’t protect people in a house-fire next week if you destroy yourself fighting a villain today. And it’s lazy, irresponsible, and unprofessional to throw yourself away without regard for the future good you might be able to do, especially if being a Hero is actually your life-long goal, as opposed to just some fantasy about self-sacrifice you have. Dying young as a Hero isn’t romantic. It’s stupid.”

Izuku nods dumbly. He and Bakugou sit there, chastened, both of them silent as Calla regards them from across the table. After a few moments where she seems to be waiting for some kind of response, Calla straightens, looking moderately please.

“Now,” she says. “You’re here, and you’re going to learn to work together, and rely upon each other. You will receive training in strategizing, cooperative battle methods, and rescue work. You will be able to save more people, do more good, and take less damage if you work well as a team. And you will be far more successful than you would be by yourselves.”

“Yes, ma’am,” says Izuku, because oh god why would you put me with Kacchan seems like a bad choice.

“Yes ma’am,” says Bakugou a moment later.

Calla beams at them. Somehow, it’s scarier than the glare she was giving them both. They leave her office like scolded dogs, tails tucked between their legs, and Izuku races to the bathroom to call All Might.

After his initial outburst, Izuku calms down a little. He spends just a few minutes more on the phone with All Might, telling him all the ways Calla outlined his and Bakugou’s failures as people. It’s sort of cathartic, and he gets off the phone feeling a little bit better than he did before he called. He stands up, pushing the door of the stall open as he tucks his phone away. He’s just considering what he might get for lunch when he looks up and catches sight of the person leaning against the wall on the far side of the bathroom.

It’s Bakugou. And he’s got bloody murder in his eyes. Izuku’s heart plummets into his stomach as he realizes what’s happened.

“You know this bathroom is real echoey, right?” Bakugou’s voice drips poison, but he doesn’t move, his arms crossed over his chest. “I could hear your fuckin’ whining from outside in the hall, Deku. I can’t believe you called All Might to bitch about me.”

Izuku flushes, the nausea returning in full, sickening force. Here he was, just telling Toshinori how he was going to try his best to work with Bakugou, and he’s already shot himself in the foot. “Kacchan,” he begins, but Bakugou cuts him off.

“Fuck you,” Bakugou spits. He pushes off the wall, stalking across the room at Izuku. Izuku backs up before he realizes it until Bakugou has him cornered against the wall, caught between the sinks and the mirror. “Believe me, you little shit, you are the last person I would want to be partnered with—”

Something in Izuku snaps. His hands fly out, and he shoves Bakugou out of his space, a few feet back. “Guess what, the feeling’s mutual!” he yells. “You heard what Calla said this morning, or did you block it out already? You’re gonna be an amazing Hero, you know I’ve always thought that, but you are fucking garbage as a partner!”

Bakugou’s eyes widen, heat coming into his face as Izuku throws his venom back at him. “Shut up,” he snarls, fists clenching. “You don’t know shit about what I’m gonna be like.”

“Yeah, it’s not like I went to Hero school with you for three years or grew up with you or anything,” says Izuku. “You couldn’t even be bothered to remember the names of most of our classmates. You thought you were too good for them.”

“I don’t waste my time on shit that doesn’t matter,” Bakugou snaps. He glares at Izuku, then takes a deep breath. To Izuku’s surprise, he steps back, visibly restraining himself—he shoves his hands in his pockets, though Izuku can practically see how he’s itching to do violence with them.

“I’m not gonna let you or anyone else stop me from getting this right,” Bakugou hisses. “I’m gonna be the best fucking Hero that ever was, and you’re gonna do your fucking part if we have to do this partner bullshit, or I’m gonna kick your ass.”

Izuku’s promise to All Might echoes in the back of his head, and he deflates a little. “It’s not gonna be me who gets in your way, Kacchan,” he says quietly. “It never was.”

Bakugou stares at him for a few moments more, color riding high in his cheeks. Then he turns and stalks from the bathroom, practically blowing the door off its hinges as he departs. Izuku is left alone, staring after the one person he always wanted to work alongside—the same person who’s always made it clear just how unwelcome Izuku was in that capacity.

“This is going to be such a disaster,” Izuku mutters, and trudges out the door to try to find lunch.

* * * * *

Calla is true to her word, even if her word tends to be to the point and painful to hear. In a very short time span, Izuku becomes keenly grateful for the blunt nature of Calla’s feedback—she never hesitates to tell him or Bakugou exactly what they’re doing wrong and what they need to do to fix it. It’s reassuring to know where he stands, Izuku thinks.

They spend almost six months in orientation, going out on patrol only with other senior Hero pairs at first, never by themselves. The restrictions chafe, especially considering their recent graduation from UA, but as Calla points out, they’re not learning how to fight—they’re learning how to work as a team.

And despite all of Izuku’s anxieties and misgivings and long-held feelings about Bakugou, all of Calla’s predictions turn out to be right.

It isn’t easy, by any stretch of imagination. It takes a lot of practice, a lot of shouting sessions, a lot of one-on-one coaching by pro Heroes. There’s also a lot of what Calla refers to as ‘mentoring’ but what Izuku thinks of as therapy sessions, him and Bakugou and Calla, just the three of them. The number of times Izuku thinks seriously about quitting this job and seeking placement at another agency hits the double digits a month into orientation, and he comes home bone-tired and feeling like an absolute beginner far too many times, those first few months.

But slowly, it gets better.

Bakugou stops responding to everything Izuku does with a stone wall or curses. He starts demanding they take a few minutes to talk about their strategy before they head into anything, starts wanting to discuss what they could have done better after each mission. And Izuku always knew that Bakugou was smart, but he never really had the opportunity to… to interact with that intellect, to engage in any meaningful way. Before, it was always just Izuku watching from afar.

Their first cooperative fight comes just six weeks into their partnership, and it’s a fight that shouldn’t have happened. But the senior Hero duo they were partnered with that day takes the brunt of the villain’s Electroshock Quirk and are too busy lying on the ground twitching to be of any help. The villain is turning towards them, hands crackling with blue lightning, a manic expression on his twisted face.

Bakugou is fast, already airborne as Izuku darts right. He blasts himself skyward and to the left, sending explosive bursts the villain’s way as he feints hard in a bid to get the villain’s attention tracking on him. It works, but none of Bakugou’s blasts land—they collide with the power netting the villain has extended around himself, fine as gossamer and made of pure electricity.

“RESCUE!” Bakugou bellows. He brings both arms forward, palms out, and an explosion screams from his hands, right at the villain’s netting. The web crackles blinding white as it absorbs all the force Bakugou is throwing at it, its protective shroud interrupted for just a split-second—

—And that’s the moment Izuku hurls a mailbox right at the back of the villain’s head. The netting catches some of the force, but the mailbox still lands with enough impact to slam the villain to the ground, unconscious. Bakugou yells in triumph as he lands; Izuku is already on the villain, whipping out the reinforced restraints all Synergy Heroes carry on them to neutralize villains.

Bakugou strides over to him, his face alight. “That was a perfect feint, Kacchan,” Izuku says, before his brain can think of how this compliment might be received.

But Bakugou gives him a fierce grin in response, and Izuku’s heart wallops hard in his chest. “You didn’t suck too hard yourself,” says Bakugou, and then he stalks over to their recovering preceptors. Izuku stares after him, feeling dazed, like he just dodged a bullet, and then shakes his head and goes back to work.

After that, Izuku stops debating calling All Might to demand a reference at the end of every week. And he starts remembering how, once upon a time, working with Bakugou seemed like the pinnacle of every dream he’s ever had.

Their rivalry doesn’t go away, but Calla helps them hone it to instead try to help each other improve. One night two months into orientation, there’s a knock on the door around 6 pm. Izuku opens it to find Bakugou standing on his apartment welcome mat with a heavy glower and a bag of takeaway in one hand. He stomps through the door before Izuku can even say a word, heading into the kitchen and putting the bag on the table.

“We have that certification class on Monday and Tuesday,” he says. “We have to take the test together. So we’re practicing.”

Izuku stares at him, bemused. “Hello to you too,” he says, because he’s tired and contemplating a Bakugou who isn’t yelling at him for some infraction (imaginary or real) is still new and strange. “What did you bring for dinner?”

“Curry and fried rice,” says Bakugou shortly. “I figured you’d just be eating garbage again. This ain’t much better, but it’s hot.”

“Hey,” says Izuku. “It’s not garbage.” Okay, it’s kind of garbage. The last couple nights have been a lot of instant ramen and corner store dumplings. In his defense, he’s been tired and there’s been little time to go to the store, but Izuku still cringes internally.

“Bullshit,” says Bakugou. “You eat like crap since we moved out of the dorms. You should eat better if you want to put on more muscle.”

“Did you seriously come over me to lecture me on my diet?”

“Are you deaf? I told you, I came over so we can review for the exam.”

Izuku smiles despite himself, and ignores it when Bakugou scowls by way of response. “Thanks for bringing dinner, and for the insults about my diet,” he says. “Let’s go eat at the kotatsu, we can go over the review materials there.”

Their review session goes some five hours, till almost midnight, reviewing the Rescue Hero certification materials they have to know by heart come Monday. One of the things Synergy insists on is that all its Heroes get certification in basic first responder training—to be able to render life-saving first aid to anyone who needs it, since they are so often first on the scene at any incident. Reviewing what to do for amputations, fractures, smoke inhalation, and crush injuries is grim work, but Izuku is going to learn whatever necessary to be the best Hero he can be.

And the best partner he can be. That part is new—or rather, something old that he’d long since abandoned as impossible, in Bakugou’s particular case. Izuku keeps stealing glances at Bakugou while they review, privately reveling in the frown being directed at the review packet in front of them. Being able to work like this with Bakugou is…

Well, “amazing” is too much, but better than Izuku ever thought, for sure.

All in all, he’s happy. Some things are still hard, but overall, it’s worth it. The job is difficult and rewarding, which he knew going in it would be, even after the worst of his misgivings gave way. But completely aside from the adjustment of working with a partner (and specifically with Katsuki Bakugou), Izuku makes a number of sacrifices.

He doesn’t get to see all his UA friends as often as he’d like, for one thing. Or his mom, for another. But probably the biggest adjustment Izuku has to make is one he somehow isn’t expecting at all: Dave, his boyfriend of just over a year, breaks up with him just shy of a year after starting work at Synergy.

Izuku meets him for coffee at their favorite cafe, on the opposite side of town from Izuku’s new apartment (and the Synergy building). It’s the cafe that he and Davek first met at, back when Izuku was studying for one of his many sets of exams. Davek has a lovely, unremarkable Quirk (he can heat liquid to any temperature he wants to, a useful trait for a chef), owns two cats, and rides a motorcycle. He’s also been very patient with Izuku as Izuku goes through his Hero training—or so Izuku had thought.

Apparently, he was wrong. “I was kind of hoping you’d see this coming,” says Davek ruefully. “You’ve been the one apologizing to me over and over about how little time you’ve had lately.”

Izuku smiles, trying for ‘bright’ but mostly managing only ‘painful.’ “You’ve been so good about it,” he says awkwardly. “I—I should have known, I should have…”

Davek waves his hand. “I wondered if things would end this way,” he says. He’s got that rasp to his voice that Izuku loves, the one that gets more intense during sex (especially when he’s spanking Izuku within an inch of his life and fucking him hard enough to make him scream). Izuku’s throat tightens as he realizes he’s not going to get to hear that anymore.

Davek continues talking, jerking Izuku back to the moment. “I know how important being a Hero is to you; it’s not a huge surprise that it kinda took over your life once you started the job. But right now you’re putting way more energy into your Hero partnership than you are into our relationship, and I don’t really see it changing.”

Izuku swallows. “You’re right,” he says. “I’m sorry.” It’s really the only thing he can say, especially when Davek is completely correct.

Davek gives him a small smile. “I just hope that dude figures out how lucky he is to get to have you as a partner,” he says. “From what you’ve told me, so far he’s been pretty slow to catch on.”

Izuku laughs. “You and me both,” he says.

The meeting ends amicably, or at least, as amicably as it probably can. They even hug before Davek turns and walks off, cutting a far too appealing figure in his skinny jeans and leather jacket. Izuku drags himself home and flops face-down on the bed, a position he’s still in when Bakugou comes over two hours later to review their work from earlier that week.

“Dude, what the fuck happened to you?” Bakugou demands, when Izuku finally answers the door. Izuku blinks his reddened eyes at Bakugou and then just steps out of the way. Bakugou comes inside, staring hard at Izuku, and then slowly pushes the door shut.

“Deku,” he says, irritated. “Are you gonna tell me or not?”

Izuku sighs. He wasn’t planning on telling Bakugou anything, but he should have known Bakugou would be too sharp to miss the change so soon after. “My boyfriend dumped me,” he says dully.

Bakugou blinks at him. “Since when do you have a boyfriend?” he demands. “When the fuck did you have time?”

“I didn’t, really,” says Izuku. “That was kind of why he dumped me.”

Bakugou’s expression clears, for some reason. “His fuckin’ loss,” he says, inexplicably, and then heads into Izuku’s living room with his bag of take-out. After a moment, Izuku follows—mostly because he can’t think of anything else to do.

He returns to that conversation more than once over the next few weeks and months, though. Izuku wishes he could tell Davek that even though Bakugou would never have been anyone’s first choice for ‘most supportive partner,’ despite all expectations, he starts to become just that.

Not supportive, exactly. Bakugou is always quick to tell Izuku when he’s fucked up, or that he’s being ridiculous. But he’s just as quick to harass Izuku for not getting enough sleep, for eating poorly, for not trusting Bakugou to have his back.

They start training together outside of work. Of all things, it’s actually Izuku’s idea. He gets up the nerve to ask Bakugou to start sparring and weight-lifting with him outside of their scheduled sessions at Synergy, since of anyone Bakugou will have the best idea what kind of training load Izuku can handle. To his shock, Bakugou agrees. “Only if you spot me too,” he adds with a scowl, and Izuku has to practically keep from tripping over his own dick in his haste to agree.

He starts asking Izuku for his input on their tech, too, which for some reason is about the last thing Izuku would have expected. When he mentions this, Bakugou gives him a glare that would melt the paint off a wooden fence post. “You spend so much fuckin’ time thinking about details and strategy and shit,” he growls. “The least you can do is share, if you’re gonna be such a damn nerd about it.”

But despite the improved relationship with his oldest friend, despite the satisfaction of finally getting to work the job he’s always wanted to have, despite the steady improvement he can feel himself making…. Something is still missing. It takes awhile for Izuku to admit to himself what he’s lacking, but it’s not as if he’s got more time for a new boyfriend than he had for Davek—even if he’s missing the release he got in the particular kind of intimacy he and Davek shared.

Because being a Hero keeps him fucking busy. Technically, he’s only on duty four days a week, with another day and a half devoted entirely to training, but both Bakugou and Izuku are overworkers who spend almost all of their free time studying and putting in additional time to train and strategize. They get so bad about it that Calla actually corners them at the gym one day. (It’s Synergy’s Hero gym, because if they were to go to a regular gym they’d not only be recognized immediately but probably destroy half the equipment if they were trying to train at their normal level.)

“This is your night off,” she says flatly.

“We’re just working out,” says Bakugou, grumpy as ever. Izuku sits up from the bench he was lifting at, and Calla immediately turns her glare towards him.

“You are not allowed to work out, study, train, or be on patrol every single night,” Calla says. “Get the hell out of the gym and go do something fun. I don’t care what. You just can’t be here.”

“But—” Izuku begins.

“No buts,” says Calla. “Get out, or I’ll ban the both of you from patrols next week. If I see you on camera in this building again before Monday morning, you’re in trouble.”

Bakugou scowls hard enough for both of them, but neither he nor Izuku are willing to argue. From then on, Calla has PERSONAL TIME written into their e-calendars every single week, with the note NOT TO BE SPENT AT WORK next to it.

She means it, too. The next night, Bakugou and Izuku are at Bakugou’s apartment, reviewing data from that week’s patrols and the statistics on villain activity from Synergy’s data banks. Bakugou’s phone goes off. He glances at the screen, and his expression darkens. “Ground Zero here,” he says, and puts it on speakerphone.

“What are you doing right now?” asks Calla on the other end.

Izuku winces. “We’re… we’re just….”

“I see the data you pulled from Synergy’s hard drives,” says Calla. “The ISP access is dated ninety minutes ago. This is during your personal time.”

“We can do whatever we want with our personal time,” Bakugou says irritably. “Isn’t that the fucking point?”

“The point of personal time is to spend it doing something relaxing that isn’t work-related,” says Calla. “And as long as you’re my employees, those are the rules. Watch a damn movie or something, it’s not that hard. If I find out the two of you are still pouring over work materials, you’re off patrol. Don’t forget.” With that, she hangs up.

“Nosy bitch,” Bakugou mutters. Izuku kicks him under the table. “Hey, fuck you!”

“Don’t call her that, she’s our boss,” Izuku says. Bakugou grumbles something no doubt rude under his breath, but at least it’s not a temper tantrum like he’s been prone to before.

(He’s much better about it than he used to be. Bakugou was actually the one who told Izuku that he’s been going to mandated anger management sessions, per Calla’s orders. The regimen isn’t a surprise; the fact that Bakugou was the one to tell him Izuku about it is. At the dumbfounded look Izuku was no doubt making, Bakugou punched him in the arm and growled “Don’t think you’re the only one willing to do what it takes to succeed, asshole.”

Izuku had had a bruise for a week, but his private estimation of Bakugou had gone up another few notches.)

But despite his improving relationship with Bakugou, and despite the extensive coaching and support Izuku receives from Calla and Synergy, nothing can erase the fact that being a professional Hero is stressful. Really, really stressful. And no matter how good he and Bakugou are, no matter how strong their strategy, mistakes happen.

Most of the time, they’re small—a villain gets away or takes longer to get captured than Izuku and Bakugou would like. Often, there’s more property damage than Calla would like (okay, almost always, there’s more property damage than Calla would like). They have some tough fights, where one or both of them gets injured, leaving the other to haunt their hospital room and leave threatening or encouraging text messages on each other’s phones, depending on who got the brunt of the villainy this time around. And people—other Heroes, or worse, civilians—do get injured. But Bakugou and Izuku were trained by the best, and both are too good at their job to be too sloppy. For the first year of their partnership, they’re good and lucky, and no one dies on their watch.

Calla gives them a raise and a party on their anniversary of hire. She pays for their evening out, and all of the other Synergy Hero duos and teams come to get loud and plastered and to clap Izuku and Bakugou hard on the back on a job well done. Iron Hand gets particularly drunk, spending what seems like half the evening with his arm draped around Izuku’s shoulders, warbling what is probably meant to be advice but mostly just sounds like drunken rambling.

Bakugou rescues him, shoving Iron Hand off and telling him to go sober up in the bathroom before he pukes everywhere. Calla just watches serenely, a seemingly endless glass of champagne in one finely-manicured hand. But it isn’t until the evening is winding down that gets a little more serious with them.

“Remember, boys,” she says, as they’re making their way to the exit. “You’ve done well, and that’s because you’re good and we trained you right. But don’t get cocky. No matter how hard you try, it’s better to be lucky than good.”

Thirteen months and three days after their hire date, their luck runs out.

The villain isn’t even trying to cause that much destruction—he was just trying to make a quick escape out the side of an apartment building. But the building is old and not up to code, and when the explosion takes out the western wall and half the support struts, the building collapses with people still inside it—and Izuku freaks out. All of his training goes out the window, and he runs directly at the blazing wreckage, frantically hurling twisted metal and chunks of cement out of the way. He doesn’t even hear Bakugou shouting at him, can’t hear anything but the terrified screams of the people trapped inside.

Bakugou doesn’t take well to being ignored. He’s at Izuku’s side seconds later, snarling a warning as he grabs Izuku and uses his Quirk to blast them backwards, just in time to get them out of the way of another collapsing pylon. “Fucking watch out, stupid!” he snaps. “Keep it together, those people need you to keep your cool!”

The hysteria ratchets back a few degrees, enough for Izuku to meet Bakugou’s furious eyes and come back to himself a little. “Right,” he says shakily. “R-Right. Okay, come on, Bakugou, they’re going to die if we don’t hurry!”

“No shit,” says Bakugou, and together they proceed into the hellscape that is the collapsing apartment building. Only Izuku’s Full Cowl and Bakugou’s natural resistance to heat allow them to withstand the inferno enough to get to the people still trapped inside. Other, more situation-appropriate Heroes exist out in the city, but the nearest are already deployed in another part of town, and the people here can’t wait for anyone else to arrive.

Together, they rescue six people; another three perish before Izuku and Bakugou can get to them, crushed by the collapsed building and suffocated from the smoke. A fourth dies because of Izuku’s frantic haste to get him out—Izuku pries the cement block off that was pinning the man’s lower legs in place, and the man dies less than two minutes later of a massive internal hemorrhage.

There was nothing you could have done, say the medical Heroes who are waiting at the edge of the scene. His injuries were too severe. Izuku doesn’t respond. He’s too busy staring at the wreckage, his eyes glued to the spot the man was pinned. One of the medics is so concerned that he tries to get Izuku to agree to come to the hospital for assessment, but Bakugou is right there, and all Izuku wants to do is get back to work, so he shakes the man’s concerns off. He’s all too aware of Bakugou’s eyes on him, more searing than the heat of the fire that consumed the building.

It’s not the first time people have died during Hero work—that cherry was popped back at UA— but it’s the first time that the job was entirely Izuku’s and his partner’s. Izuku doesn’t sleep that night. He lies awake, repeating the terrible ordeal over and over in his head like a film reel. It was only thirty minutes, but Izuku feels like that morning is a lifetime away.

But somehow he isn’t surprised when there’s a knock on his front door at 1 am, and that Bakugou is standing there scowling at him when Izuku opens the door.

“How did I know you’re not fucking sleeping,” Bakugou says, and shoulders past him into Izuku’s apartment. Izuku shuts the door behind him, but instead of the secret delight or resignation he’s felt at other times, right now he’s still too frayed from the events of the day to put up with Bakugou’s bullshit.

“You know what, if you can sleep after seeing what happened to those people, congratulations,” he snaps at Bakugou’s back. Izuku doesn’t bother to keep the irritation from his voice.

Bakugou drops the bag he’s carrying on Izuku’s kitchen counter and slants an irritated eyebrow at Izuku. “That’s the job, Izuku,” he says; his voice is gruff, instead of angry. The unexpected sound of his actual first name on Bakugou’s lips hits Izuku like a slap to the face; his eyes water, and he has to blink back tears. “You gotta find a way to keep going.”

Izuku wipes a hand roughly across his face and swallows hard. “Who said I wasn’t?” he demands. “I’m not calling in tomorrow, you know I wouldn’t.”

“No, I know you’d lay awake all night and come in lookin’ like you got another building dropped directly on you and try to pretend it was fine,” says Bakugou. “I need you to watch my back, dipshit. How can I trust you’ll be there if I know you aren’t keeping it together?”

Izuku stares at him. Fuck. Fuck. Bakugou’s right. If he made mistakes today on a normal night’s sleep and not frayed to pieces, what kind of mistakes would he make tomorrow? Izuku’s shoulders sag. “I—I’m sorry,” he says haltingly. “I just, I don’t know what to do, I can’t turn my brain off, and…”

His skin itches with the lie. Izuku knows exactly what he’d like to do to turn his mind off and de-stress. It’s just that Davek broke up with him over a year ago, and he can’t just go down to the nearest bar and ask the first halfway handsome man he meets to beat him black and blue and then cuddle him in a nice hot bath, now can he?

As he did earlier that day, Bakugou interrupts his anxiety spiral. “Why do you think I’m here, dumbass?” he demands, derailing Izuku’s train of thought in an extremely unhelpful direction. Izuku’s face flames, and he almost doesn’t hear the follow up: “Come on. I brought a movie and some snacks.”

Fuck, fuck, abort, abort— “Kacchan...” Izuku breaks off at the pointed stare that Bakugou gives him.

“Stop giving me that look, already!” And with that, Bakugou slouches off to the living room to put the movie on.

Izuku lets out a shaky breath. His brain keeps right on trucking down the new course, the route that suggests exactly how well Bakugou would be able to hit him, how hard Bakugou would be able to fuck him—how hot being tied up by Bakugou would be…

“Fuck,” Izuku mutters, and shakes his head. Well, if Bakugou wanted to distract Izuku from his trauma, he’s certainly succeeded.

* * * * *

That night, Izuku sleeps far better than he had any right to expect—far better than he would have if Bakugou hadn’t come over, for sure. He falls asleep on the couch next to Bakugou while Zootopia plays on the TV, the half-eaten bag of trail mix on the table in front of them. When he wakes up at his normal time of 6 am, Bakugou is gone, the TV is off, the room is dark, and Izuku is covered with a blanket. He has literally no memory of Bakugou covering him with anything, much less quietly seeing himself out.

Izuku sits up, staring at the blanket as though it were some new species of creature he’s never seen before. So flustered is he by this new aspect of his oldest friend that he winds up wasting almost fifteen minutes lost in thought and is nearly late for work as a result. He arrives just in the nick of time, possessed of a new appreciation for his partner and a determination to reciprocate the effort.

Assuming Bakugou will let him.

Bakugou just rolls his eyes at Izuku when Izuku ventures to thank him for the gesture, though. “It’s my job, dumbass,” he grunts. “I’m your partner.”

“Well, fine,” says Izuku, undeterred. “I s-still appreciate it. I promise I’m going to be the kind of partner you can rely on, Kacchan.”

Bakugou growls under his breath and looks away, but Izuku thinks he looks fractionally less annoyed than his usual. And when Izuku tells him to come over after work for dinner and to discuss their work this week, Bakugou doesn’t give him a hard time about it.

It’s progress. They’re a long, long way from the kind of ease and closeness Izuku once dreamed of them having, but there was a time less than two years ago where Bakugou could barely tolerate being in Izuku’s presence. Izuku thinks, sometimes, that he should be angrier or more resentful of all the bad blood that passed between them, but he just can’t find it in himself to spend his energy that way. It’s not like it would do him any good to be angry about all of it—and all he would really want is to ask Bakugou to try, to work with him, and that’s exactly what he’s doing right now. Maybe it’s for Bakugou’s own sake, for his career, and not for Izuku’s, but it’s still happening, and Izuku is grateful.

* * * * *

The relief doesn’t last.

Inevitably, another incident comes along. Then another, and another, and another. It’s the job, as Bakugou always says, but somehow that’s been making it harder instead of easier for Izuku. And it wouldn’t be as bad, probably, if Bakugou and Izuku hadn’t both been adamant about making themselves available for any and every job that comes up, which winds up including a lot of rescue work.

Because it’s the rescue operations that go bad that haunt Izuku the worst. Those, and the ones where civilians get hurt because Izuku and his partner weren’t good enough. The woman killed when Izuku is thrown through a wall by the villain he and Bakugou were fighting. The honeymooning couple who drown before Izuku can dig them out, trapped in the remains of their hotel being flooded by a broken water main. The four grade school students killed in a bus crash when a villain Izuku and Bakugou are chasing takes to the highway.

The kids are by far the worst. Izuku hates those so, so much. He can barely eat for two days after that last incident, and when Calla orders him and Bakugou off duty for the rest of the week, it’s a sign of how bad it was that even Bakugou doesn’t argue.

“You can’t save everyone,” says Calla as she walks them out of her office that terrible day. Her voice is unusually kind. “You have to remember that, Midoriya. Or you’ll lose your mind.”

Izuku tries to take that to heart, he really does. But there’s always another voice in the back of his mind that tells him, you should have been able to save them. It’s your job. Or: All Might would have saved them.

He’s not All Might. He doesn’t even like to think about how many more people he might have failed to save, if he wasn’t working alongside Bakugou. But he can’t seem to turn his fucking brain off.

Izuku remembers every single one of the people he lost, the people he failed, lies awake at night thinking about them. He goes to their funerals, which is above and beyond the call of duty even according to Calla.

Bakugou gives him dark looks when he insists on doing this, but he has stopped trying to talk Izuku out of it, as well. He accompanies Izuku to every single ceremony, even after Izuku tells him he doesn’t have to. Izuku doesn’t have words to express how grateful he is to have Bakugou at his side, a gruff, solid presence to ground him.

(Bakugou is—God, he’s a lot, but of all things Izuku is starting to appreciate exactly how comforting he can be. That’s a word he’d never have used before, but it’s a different story when you’re facing every kind of opposition possible and you have possibly the city’s scariest Hero on your side, bristling at all comers.)

Izuku knows to expect Bakugou to come over after the bad missions, now. Sometimes Izuku doesn’t even bother going home, just waits for Bakugou in the locker room and goes over to Bakugou’s apartment instead. Bakugou complains loudly about Izuku sleeping on his couch, but he makes even angrier noises when Izuku tries to quietly go home alone.

He knows Bakugou is affected by the bad missions, too, even if Bakugou isn’t as demonstrative about it. He can tell in the way Bakugou’s gaze lingers on a school as he and Izuku pass it on patrol, or in how angry Bakugou gets when they come across other Heroes who are being “sloppy,” as he puts it. He can tell in the way that Bakugou decimates multiple heavy bags at the gym a week after a bad mission, or in the heavy silences that settle on them the evening after a hard debrief. (Izuku doesn’t know when or how he began to be able to tell the bad silences from the good ones, but two years into a partnership with someone must give you that skill, he supposes.)

Izuku worries for Bakugou, honestly. But later, as it turns out, he should probably have been more worried for himself.

They do everything they’re supposed to do: they go to counseling sessions; they do ‘dumb shit’ during their personal time; they work out, they try to get enough sleep, they hang out with each other and their other friends. Occasionally, they even get enough time to go visit their parents. But sometimes it just isn’t enough.

* * * * *

Just over two years after he started his career with Bakugou at Synergy, thirteen months after Davek broke up with him, Izuku breaks his self-imposed ban.

It’s been a bad month. They’re working extra shifts because of how many people were injured during a recent villain attack on a public museum, and the lack of sleep and downtime combined with the regular stress of their job is kicking Izuku’s ass. He’s never not been missing the outlet of a good hard fuck, the kind with hair-pulling and lots of bruises the next day, but the itch is particularly bad tonight. So Izuku does what he promised himself he would try never to do, and goes out to a bar with a particular reputation and tries to quietly suss out a prospective partner.

The man he goes back to a hotel with is nice enough, and certainly not creepy or anything. Fit, polite, well-dressed; maybe a little too greedy to get Izuku’s clothes off. But Izuku is desperate enough not to care.

He goes home with a fresh set of bruises, a lingering light-headedness, and a curious sense of emptiness. The pleasant fatigue and soreness is there, sure, but not the relief Izuku had been hoping for. He still collapses into his own bed and is asleep in minutes, but when he wakes in the morning it’s with the sense of anxiety and low-grade uneasiness he left his apartment with the night before.

Izuku rolls onto his side, trying to decide what, specifically, was missing about last night. His partner was perfectly competent—handsy, rough, more than happy to smack him around and pull his hair and all the rest of it. He was handsome enough, Izuku supposes, although not anything to drive him wild. But somehow it just wasn’t as good as it had been with his ex. Izuku was never quite able to drop as far as he wanted, let go of as much as he needed to. The physical release was there; the emotional one … was not.

Izuku lets out a long, muffled groan into his pillow. All that trouble, and for what?

Just as he’s busy lamenting his choices and their results, he hears a sound from the direction of the kitchen—it’s the jangle of a lock as someone lets themselves into his apartment. Izuku’s stomach plummets through the floor moments before he consciously realizes who it has to be: there’s only one person with keys to his apartment.

“Hey, you lazy fuck, are you up yet?” calls Bakugou, from the kitchen. “It’s our day off, we gotta do something halfway worthwhile with it.”

“Uh, coming!! Hold on!” Izuku scrambles out of bed, nearly face-planting into his nightstand in his haste to pull on some clothes. He hops into pair of pants and is pulling on a shirt inside-out as Bakugou appears in the doorway, just a moment too soon.

Bakugou frowns at him, his eyes falling on the exposed stretch of skin across Izuku’s abdomen. Izuku yanks his shirt down, but the damage is done. “What the fuck did you do to yourself?” Bakugou demands. “Those marks weren’t there when you left work yesterday.”

“It’s nothing!” Izuku squeaks, turning a bright, incriminating red. “It’s n-nothing, it’s not—I didn’t—”

“Dude, what the fuck.” Bakugou crosses the room and reaches out, unceremoniously yanking Izuku’s shirt up again to expose the parade of blooming hickeys and fingerprint bruises across Izuku’s hip and stomach. Izuku freezes, staring idiotically at Bakugou’s shoulder. Every nerve in his body is screaming at him to run, hide, lock himself in the bathroom, maybe jump out the fucking window—literally anything to get away from the conversation he’s about to have.

Bakugou finally wrenches his gaze up to meet Izuku’s. To Izuku’s shock, there’s a flame ignited there, a heat he wasn’t remotely expecting. “Who did this to you?” Bakugou demands. His voice is hushed—and furious. “Tell. Me.”

“K-K-Kacchan—!”

“I’ll fucking kill them,” Bakugou snarls. “Did they drug you? They had to have, they couldn’t have gotten a hit on you otherwise—”

Oh, fuck. Izuku is so stunned that all he can do is blurt out the first thing he thinks of, which happens to be the truth. “Kacchan, no, I asked him to.”

It’s Bakugou’s turn to freeze. He stares at Izuku, and for a few split-seconds the look on his face is so baffled and uncomprehending that Izuku has to stifle a hysterical laugh. “Why?” he says, finally.

Izuku swallows, his moment of hilarity quickly souring. “B-Because… because I…” He takes a deep breath. “I was trying to do what you always say I need to, and… do something to de-stress.” He averts his gaze, feeling his cheeks burn under the intensity in Bakugou’s red eyes. He knows he has nothing to be ashamed for, but he can’t help the mortification welling up in him like water from a poisoned well.

He’s expecting a tirade, a litany of disgust, maybe more yelling. But for several more seconds, Bakugou says nothing at all, until finally Izuku is so anxious he has to dare a quick glance up again at Bakugou’s face. Bakugou is watching him with a curious expression—like Izuku is a puzzle or a training hurdle for him to solve.

The next words out of his mouth are not what Izuku is expecting at all. “Did it work?”

Izuku stares. He forgets to be embarrassed, actually surprised into thinking about his answer instead of deflecting. “Not really,” he says after a moment, and his shoulders slump.

“Why not?” Bakugou cocks his head a little, a faint frown creasing his face.

Izuku blanches. “Kacchan...” Bakugou raises his eyebrows, and Izuku sighs. “I don’t know,” he says. “Maybe because he was just… some dude, someone I didn’t know well enough. It’s been awhile, okay? Maybe I’m out of practice.”

Bakugou snorts, then. Izuku feels his face go red again. “I know it’s dumb…”

“Didn’t fuckin say that, did I,” says Bakugou, and shakes himself a little. “Whatever. You look like you got run over by a truck. Go take a shower and I’ll make breakfast and then we’re going out.” With that, he turns and walks out of the bedroom.

Izuku just stands there, staring at the empty door in shock like the victim of some kind of drive-by. Only this one was emotional, the whiplash all in his head—no bullets necessary. Bakugou just casually interrogated him about his deepest, darkest secret, then walked off like it was no big deal.

What the fuck?

“Goddammit Izuku, what are you doing in there? Get your ass in the shower!”

“Fuck off!” Izuku yells, a knee-jerk response, but it jerks him to life. He hurries to the bathroom, stripping off his clothes again and jumping under the spray before it’s properly had a chance to warm up. Izuku grabs the soap and starts washing himself, shivering as the water warms, hoping devoutly for the spray to take the confused jumble of words and emotions inside him with it as it sluices off his body and down the drain.

On another day, he’d be annoyed at Bakugou’s casual commandeering of Izuku’s day off. Maybe when he gets out of the shower, he’ll put up a show of being irritated, just to keep things normal. But at this exact moment, Izuku is grateful to be swept along—grateful to Bakugou for being determined to keep them moving along the path they’ve set for themselves, no matter how jarring he is about it.