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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.

Chapter Text

For a few days after the bruises incident, Izuku thinks he’ll have the chance to just keep his head down and let the whole situation blow over. Bakugou certainly doesn’t seem inclined to bring it up. He doesn’t mention what happened at all, and for his part Izuku is more than happy to let the subject drop.

Hero work is getting to him, he knows. He needs a better outlet for his stress, one that won’t embarrass him in front of his partner or put his career in jeopardy. But if such a thing exists, Izuku doesn’t know about it.

Bakugo keeps it to himself, of course. Izuku was never worried he’d say anything to their boss; Bakugou isn’t like that at all, was never like that even when he would rather have used Izuku to mop up a dirty floor than work with him. So Izuku has finally started to think he’s managed to get off consequence-free, right up until Calla calls them into her office four days later.

“There’s something I need to talk to you two about,” she says without preamble as they’re sitting down. Izuku’s heart immediately starts rabbiting in his chest. Bakugou glances at him, and Izuku can see Bakugou’s urge to kick him in the shin, but somehow he resists.

Izuku clears his throat. “Y-Yes?” he manages.

“There’s a long-term assignment that’s come up that you two have the potential to work,” says Calla. Izuku blinks. Bakugou leans forward in his chair. “But it would be undercover, with very little oversight or external support. You would have to rely on yourselves, and each other.”

Izuku frowns slightly. His anxiety ebbs a little, replaced by interest. “How long?” he asks.

Calla looks down at her paperwork, then up at first Izuku, then Bakugou. Izuku has never seen her look so serious, not even on the day she hired them. “Indefinite,” she says. “As long as it takes for the job to get done.”

“What would we be going undercover to do, exactly? What’s the job?” Bakugou sounds less impatient than he normally does, and he’s frowning. Izuku tries to guess what he’s thinking: maybe this doesn’t sound like his style, the whole ‘going undercover’ thing. They’ve trained for it—specifically because Calla is the Hero working at Synergy who can facilitate such a thing, with her Quirk of laying a geas of unrecognizability—but neither of them have done any undercover work that lasted longer than a few hours.

“There’s an organization called the Bright Path,” says Calla. “They represent themselves as a new age spiritualist group, with charity divisions that run things like soup kitchens and community centers, and they also manage a planned-living community. But the government has been studying and tracking them for awhile, and there’s significant suspicion that they are in fact a cult. A dangerous one.”

Izuku looks over at Bakugou, whose frown deepens. “A cult?” Izuku repeats.

“Yes,” says Calla. She slides a thick folder across the desk at them, and Izuku flips it open, staring at the pile of paperwork inside. Stacks of glossy photos sit on top of dossiers on multiple people, pages and pages of information. “We have multiple complaints of people being pressured to give them large sums of money, as well as individual cases of embezzlement, money laundering, covert gambling organizations, and multiple cases of missing people. Including, we believe, some Heroes that have gone missing.”

Bakugou mutters something under his breath that Izuku can’t catch. “If there’s so much evidence against them, why haven’t they been stopped yet?” he demands.

“That’s the thing,” says Calla. “There’s very little evidence that would stand up in court. Just complaints from a few individuals who have left the group. Some rumors from informants. Lots of shell corporations that can’t be traced back to an actual person or persons. Our group and a few others working with the government have been able to shut down small segments of illegal activity, but it’s always just a small pod, and there’s been no definitive way to trace anything back to the cult’s people.”

“No offense, but why us?” asks Izuku. “This doesn’t… really seem like our style. Bakugou and I are the kind of people you send to knock down the front door, not flush out a gang covertly.”

“A few reasons,” says Calla. “You two have overcome your history to have one of the closest working relationships between Hero partners in our group—” At this, Izuku coughs, his eyes watering as he tries to cover the way he nearly choked. Calla either doesn’t notice, or doesn’t care, continuing on without stopping. “—You work well together without much direction mid-battle, and I believe you would be able to rely on each other even if you weren’t able to contact me on a regular basis. You’ve worked hard at all the training I’ve set for you, even the things you clearly hated, and you’ve excelled at every challenge I’ve put in front of you. And you both have experience at resisting brainwashing and coercion, Quirk-related and otherwise.”

At this, Bakugou sits up straight. “Brainwashing?” he demands.

Calla’s expression turns yet more serious. “I’m afraid so,” she says. “Within the last week, three people have turned up on country roads less than thirty miles from the main facility of the Bright Path, all of them extremely traumatized, with their memories shot. ”

A chill goes through Izuku as he hears this; his throat tightens.

“This would be one of the most important and dangerous missions I’ve ever asked you to take on,” Calla says. She nods at the paperwork in front of them. “Take a little time to go through the information, and tell me what you think, before you—”

“We can do it,” Bakugou says instantly. His voice is fierce. “Midoriya and I can do it.”

“B-Bakugou, we should really look over it first—”

“It’s important, yeah?” Bakugou gestures vehemently at Izuku, his expression alight. “A lot of people have been hurt by this group?”

Calla exhales heavily. “We think so,” she says. “Yes.”

“I think I’ve heard of them,” says Bakugou. “There’s a rumor they’re doing human trafficking, isn’t there?”

Izuku’s stomach turns to lead. Calla nods. “That one hasn’t been substantiated yet,” she says. “But yes, that’s a suspicion we have. They’re very clever, and very careful, and very, very dangerous. Which is why I want you to think carefully about it before you accept it.”

“We’ll sleep on it,” says Izuku quickly, before Bakugou can insist on accepting right away again. Bakugou glares at him, but to his credit, he doesn’t argue. “When do you need to know?”

“Tomorrow would be good,” says Calla. “It’ll take some time to get you prepped to go into the field and redistribute your other upcoming assignments, and if you’re being deployed we want to place you as soon as possible. It’ll take at least two weeks to get you implanted.”

“Can we take this stuff home?” Izuku asks, gesturing at the file in front of them.

“Yes,” says Calla. “But there’s just the one copy, so you’ll have to share. And be careful with it. If any of that material goes missing or winds up in the wrong hands, I will personally mail the two of you back to Eraserhead in a box.”

Thus duly warned, Bakugou and Izuku rise, but Calla stops them with a raised hand, one finger extended. “One final thing,” she says. “Be honest with yourselves about if you think the stress of this mission would be too much for you. If you become entrenched, it might be difficult to extract you without compromising the mission, and failure could be catastrophic.” She seems to be looking particularly as Izuku as she says this, and Izuku tries very hard to keep a straight face and not give away the fact that he’s covered in some two dozen bruises in the unmistakable shape of gripping hands.

Izuku swallows. “R-Right, of course,” he says.

“Yeah, no pressure,” mutters Bakugou sourly. Izuku suffers a thrill of gratitude as he and Bakugou say their goodbyes and make their exit from Calla’s office, heading out to the elevators in the hall.

“We’re gonna take this, right?” Bakugou demands, as soon as they get out of Calla’s office, before the elevator has even arrived at their floor. “We can’t not take this, it’s too good.”

“I—we should really think about it and look at the information first,” Izuku says. He has to force his shoulders not to hunch, can’t bring himself to meet Bakugou’s intense gaze currently boring into the side of his skull. He stares straight ahead at the lit ‘down’ button for the elevator, and tries to not notice the hammering of his own heart.

“Come on,” Bakugou growls. “You know we can do this. And it’s not just patrol scut work, either, it’s an important mission, the first big one they’ve given us! We can’t let it just pass by!”

Izuku is saved from answering immediately by the arrival of the elevator. He files in, Bakugou hard on his heels, and oh, did he think being stuck in the elevator with Bakugou looming over him would be better? It’s so, so much worse.

It’s like he’s thirteen again and quaking under his one-time friend’s sneer. The thought makes his stomach lurch. He doesn’t want to be back there again, Bakugou a bully, a distant acquaintance at best. “Kacchan, look, I just… I just need time to think about it, okay?”

Izuku finally forces himself to look up, fully expecting Bakugou’s full-blown glower, the one that promises a nuclear explosion big enough to blow the roof off. But instead, Bakugou is watching him intently, his face full of heat but still hard to read.

The elevator dings. The door opens, signaling their arrival at the ground floor. Bakugou gives one short, choppy nod. “Alright, fine, you fuckin’ nerd,” he says. “Always gotta overthink things. I’ll come over in like an hour to look over the paperwork with you, I just gotta stop by my apartment first.”

“Okay,” says Izuku, and feels the band around his chest relax just a little. “It’s my turn to make dinner anyway.”

“Make that stir fry again,” says Bakugou. “The one with the eggplant and tofu.”

“I don’t have any more tofu, though,” says Izuku, and laughs when Bakugou scowls at him.

“Fuck off! Just pick some up then! And don’t put any damn bamboo shoots in this time, I hate that shit.”

“So picky,” Izuku says, and is treated to Bakugou cursing under his breath like Izuku just insulted his mother. Bakugou elbows him, hard, and Izuku stumbles to the side with another laugh. “Watch out, the next villain we fight might throw bamboo shoots at you, and then what will you do?”

“Set them on fire,” says Bakugou viciously, and slouches off down the street, roundly ignoring Izuku’s laughter following behind him.

* * * * *

Izuku’s relief lasts just until he finishes grocery shopping and gets home. He’s standing in his kitchen chopping vegetables, an episode of Great British Bake-Off on for background noise, thinking about what to put into the stir-fry this time. It pleases him a ridiculous amount that Bakugou will now make requests of him for dinner, knows Izuku’s cooking well enough to show up with ingredients and demand things of him.

(Bakugou is a perfectly serviceable cook himself, as it turns out, although often his meals are Spartan instead of comforting—healthy, filling, but not exactly exciting. Izuku tends to make things that veer more towards comfort food, straying about outside the diet recommended to them by their coaches. Inevitably Bakugou complains about the health content of dinner while simultaneously eating three portions of it before flopping on Izuku’s couch and demanding Izuku put on a movie.)

Bakugou. Izuku slows, staring at the pile of chopped vegetables as his stomach churns. His regular anxiety about being good enough to validate the support of his friends and mentors has been amplified by a factor of a thousand now that his relationship with Bakugou has been repaired somewhat. Izuku hadn’t realized how badly he wanted to have Bakugou back in his life until he’d come bursting back in, louder and scarier and more impressive than ever. Now the thought of that ending makes him sick to his stomach.

Izuku takes a deep breath and forces himself to go back to the calming, soothing ritual of making dinner, chopping the vegetables into unnecessarily small pieces. He’ll just… tell Bakugou that he’s not sure he’s ready for this, not right now. Not when work has already been so stressful lately. Izuku honestly isn’t certain what would happen if he and Bakugou went undercover—would he stop sleeping altogether? Would he blow their cover ten minutes into the mission? Would he punch through a building wall in frustration? Who knows! Izuku thinks with a stab of hysteria. Let’s find out!

But every time he pictures himself telling Bakugou that he has to turn the mission down, he cringes internally. Because Bakugou’s not wrong; this is by the far the most significant mission they’ve been offered, and it would be a real wasted opportunity to turn it down.

To say nothing of how deeply the particular slant of Bakugou’s scowl would cut—how heavy the weight of his disappointment would sit on Izuku’s shoulders. Izuku’s breath hitches, and he has to set the kitchen knife down before his suddenly-shaky hands betray him. His eyes sting, and it’s not from the onions he’s been mincing into ever-finer pieces.

He’s interrupted in his ruminations by the clatter of the front door. “I’m here!” bellows Bakugou from down the hall, as if he’s three rooms away instead of fifteen feet. “Food better be ready soon!”

Izuku smiles despite himself. “You better have brought something to drink!”

“Yeah, yeah, I fuckin’ did…” Bakugou comes into the room, dumping his bags on the counter and coming to peer over Izuku’s shoulder at the pile of vegetables Izuku’s halfway through making. “How much longer?” he demands. “I’m starving.”

“You could help me cut up the eggplant if you’re that impatient,” Izuku says. He’s painfully aware of Bakugou’s physical nearness, the incredible warmth his body always puts out. It makes sense, considering Bakugou’s Quirk, but he’s always been a human furnace. Izuku remembers him sleeping in boxers and a t-shirt in mid-winter when they were kids who still slept over at each other’s houses, and privately thinking it was so cool of him.

Bakugou snorts. “Nah,” he says. “You got that. But I could help you with something else.”

Izuku freezes. Bakugou doesn’t. Instead of moving away, he comes closer—Izuku lets out a strangled noise as Bakugou tugs up the back of Izuku’s shirt, exposing what he knows is another string of bruises from Izuku’s one-night stand a few days ago. The marks are an ugly yellow-brown now, but no less visible.

Kacchan,” Izuku hisses. He whirls, finding himself hemmed in between Bakugou and the countertop that digs into the small of his back. Bakugou is too close, staring down at him with the kind of intensity that’s always made Izuku’s knees go weak. “What—what are you doing.”

“You asked someone to give you those bruises because you needed to let go,” Bakugou says. His voice is low. “Right?”

Izuku stares at him. He feels trapped, hedged in; he does not think the body language is an accident. Bakugou frowns at him. “Deku,” he says, slowly. Deliberately. “Come on.”

“What do you want me to say?” Izuku’s voice comes out shrill, shaky, childish; he hates the way it sounds. “I’m sorry if you think I’m disgusting—”

Stop that,” Bakugou snaps, and Izuku stills. After a moment, Bakugou sighs.

“Look,” he says, voice softer, almost gentle, if that were a word anyone might ever use to describe him. “We need to take this job. I need it, and I can’t do it without you. And you’re… freaking out, because you haven’t been able to get what you need. Scening.” He adds this last word, as if he’s not a hundred percent certain he’s using it right. Izuku isn’t sure either, honestly, but right now the details aren’t what’s bothering him.

Izuku still can’t rip his eyes away from Bakugou’s face, is still tensed like a bowstring, ready to flee out the door and down the hall and off the fucking continent if given the slightest provocation. “Am I right?” Bakugou presses. After a moment that spans an eternity, Izuku nods.

“You haven’t been doing it because you don’t have time for a partner and you’re scared someone will find out if you just hook up,” says Bakugou, as if he’s just beamed directly into Izuku’s darkest shames and decided to read them aloud. “Or because you think it’s too gross for a Hero or something stupid like that. But I bet it’s the PR thing.”

“It’s not that simple,” Izuku says, because how dare you would start him screaming and not stop. “God, fuck you, do you really think I’m—what, stressed out because I haven’t gotten laid?”

“No,” says Bakugou. He breaks his serious facade for just a moment, flashing a toothy grin. “Well, not just that. But you need this, right? And I need you to do this mission with me. So let me give you what you need.”

Izuku’s throat vaporlocks. For a few seconds, he can’t even breathe. Then he sucks in a breath, swiping an angry hand across his face at the traitorous tears now starting to leak from the corners of his eyes. “You must think I’m really pathetic,” he grits out. “I don’t need you to throw me a pity fuck because you feel bad for what a gross loser you think I am, okay?”

Bakugou makes an irritated noise in his throat, like he’s trying to bite back a growl. “No, you prideful little dipshit,” he snaps. “I’m trying to—to—goddammit, am I not good enough to help you? I’m your fucking partner, Izuku!”

Izuku blanches. “This isn’t your job,” he says. His voice wobbles a little.

“No shit,” says Bakugou. “But come on. It makes sense. And for fuck’s sake, I don’t think you’re gross.” He exhales heavily, still glaring at Izuku, as though offended that Izuku didn’t immediately jump at his offer. “You need this, I can give it to you, I’ll be good at it, and then you don’t have to go try to pick up fuckin’ randos in a bar and worry about strangers finding out. Or worry about some dipshit who gets butthurt because you’re busy working instead of kissing his ass.” His voice lowers. “I brought a contract over and everything.”

This, of all things, breaks Izuku out of his panicky anxiety spiral. “You brought a what over? A contract?” All he can do is parrot Bakugou’s words back at him, blinking like a child’s toy someone hit reset on.

Bakugou’s ears redden, and he scowls. “Yeah I fuckin’ did,” he says, irritable. “I told you, I can be good at this. I can take care of you.”

Abruptly, Izuku realizes what Bakugou went home to get—and the amount of research he’s clearly done. He takes a deep breath, watching Bakugou consideringly. The red spreads from the tips of Bakugou’s ears into his face, and his shoulders hunch a little, but he doesn’t look away from Izuku.

“You know it’s not really a sex thing, right?” Izuku says at last. “I mean, not… just… that.” Then his brain catches up to the fact that he’s talking about his sex life with Kacchan—talking about having sex with Kacchan—and his own face starts to turn red, but it’s way, way too late to derail this conversation. Izuku thinks there’s a massive panic attack waiting to happen, but he has enough practice with Hero work to be able to put it off for now instead of immediately succumbing.

“I know that,” says Bakugou, jerking him back to the moment. “You said it didn’t work with this guy the other day because you didn’t know him well enough, right? You didn’t trust him. But you trust me, yeah?”

Goddammit. Izuku wants to kick Bakugou for that, because it’s not a fair question, and Bakugou has to know it. Izuku sighs. “Of course I trust you,” he says. And somehow, it’s true. “But it was shitty of you to corner me about this, you know that, right?”

Bakugou blinks at him, and then, miraculously, he backs away a little. “I was gonna wait to talk to you about it,” he says gruffly. “But we don’t have a lot of time.”

“Yeah, no pressure or anything, you dick,” says Izuku, and is rewarded with another one of Bakugou’s embarrassed scowls. Izuku sighs.

“Let me finish making dinner, and then I w-want to look at this contract you brought over,” he says. Bakugou flashes a smile at him that’s all teeth, all cocksure arrogance and satisfaction, and it does god-awful things to Izuku’s self-control, especially considering what’s just been put on the table.

Izuku puts Bakugou to work peeling potatoes while he himself finishes chopping the vegetables. They finish making dinner, and they eat. And then they look at paperwork. Izuku is honestly blown away by the amount of research Bakugou seems to have done in just four days. Not only did Bakugou bring over a contract for them—one he seems to have typed up himself, not just cookie-cutter printed from the internet, with lots of extremely specific caveats—but he also brought over a list of kinks. It’s the kind where Izuku is supposed to check off boxes about what things he loves, likes, tolerates, and detests. Izuku can’t help but laugh at this, something that flusters Bakugou again enough to make him almost shove Izuku off the couch. “What’s funny?” he demands.

“I’ve just never actually filled one of these out before,” Izuku says, and smiles at him. “Or ever had a contract, or anything like that. It was always just us messing around and figuring out what we liked. But uh, it’s, it’s good that you brought it over, actually, it’s really… thorough.” He flips through it—all five pages of it. Then he looks up at Bakugou again, curiosity getting the better of him. “Have you filled it out too?

Bakugou studies him a moment. “No,” he says. He sounds almost reluctant. “Figured this was about you, so it’s not super important.”

Izuku bites his lip, debating exactly how much he wants to share by way of answer. “Spit it out,” says Bakugou.

“Alright, fine,” Izuku says. He looks down at the list. “Uh, so… maybe you probably already know, but I—like to be the sub.”

Bakugou snorts. “Yeah,” he says. “No shit.”

“Uh, thanks, I think,” says Izuku. “Anyway. A lot of the appeal, for me, is that the scene is—it’s not exactly about me?”

Bakugou watches him intently, a faint frown on his face. “The sub is the one giving up all the control,” he points out, like a student doggedly arguing with the teacher about every single detail on a test. “The Dom is running everything and making sure it’s going well for the sub. How is that not about you?”

Izuku feels his face heat, surprise curling pleasantly through his stomach. “That’s true,” he says. “But like you said, I don’t want to be the one running things. I have stuff I enjoy during a scene, but I also like just doing what I’m told, and when I’m—when I’m down that far, when I’m really out of it, it makes me really happy to just do whatever makes my partner happy. That I don’t—that I don’t have to think about what I want, or my responsibilities, and that I can just do what I’m told and that’s it.”

Despite the fact that Bakugou is the one who brought this up, who wanted this conversation, Izuku still more than half-expects him to sneer in disgust at Izuku as he makes this confession. But instead, Bakugou is leaning in close, listening hard, staring at the list of kinks as though it has the secrets to the universe while Izuku relays all of this. “So you need me to fill it out, too,” Bakugou says, after a moment.

Izuku nods. “I’d at least like to know the things you really really don’t want to do,” he says. “And uh, I know this isn’t…” He trails off. Honestly, he doesn’t know what the fuck this is.

Bakugou must notice, because he looks up sharply at that. “No freaking out, Izuku,” he says. “This is to help you relax enough to keep on your game at work, alright? Friends with benefits.” He flashes a toothy grin, one that’s a little light on the humor.

The little bird fluttering in Izuku’s chest calms, just slightly. “Just promise me you won’t do anything you don’t want to do,” he says.

“I’d do a lot worse shit than beat your ass and make you beg for more if it meant I’d kick ass at my job, Deku,” says Bakugou. Izuku stares at him, eyes wide, feeling heat lick up his throat and face again, but for a slightly different reason this time. Bakugou smiles at him, slow and wicked. “Speaking of which,” he says. “Pick a safe word.”

Izuku gapes. Literally: mouth open, sputtering for words. “Uhhhh….”

“If you say All Might, I’m walking out right now,” says Bakugou, and Izuku chokes on a laugh.

“Well, it should be something you’d never want to hear during sex,” says Izuku. Bakugou rolls his eyes impatiently. “So… Mitsuki?”

“You little fuck, if you say my mom’s name in the middle of a scene I’ll leave you strung up by your fuckin ears!”

Izuku grins, wide and shit-eating, Bakugou’s glower not bothering him in the slightest. “How about Plus Ultra,” says Izuku, recovering after a moment. Bakugou gives him a disgusted look. “What, I can’t think of anything else! You were the one who mentioned All Might!”

“Fine, that’ll work,” says Bakugou. “By the way, I can’t believe you’re still such a fucking fanboy.”

“Yeah, real convincing, coming from the guy who has every interview All Might ever recorded on his computer,” says Izuku.

Bakugou elbows him hard in the ribs. “Whatever,” he says. He grabs the paperwork and sets it aside, casting a significant look at Izuku. “And now that we have that settled, we should try a scene tonight. A short one.”

Just the suggestion is enough to make Izuku shivers despite himself. But no matter how upsettingly appealing it is, Izuku needs to be better than that. “Kacchan,” he says, carefully. “We haven’t talked about anything yet. You don’t even know what I like.”

“I have an idea,” says Bakugou. He scoots closer to Izuku, until they’re practically on top of each other, Izuku’s knee touching Bakugou’s thigh. “And I’m not gonna do much. But you’re wound so tight it’s a goddamn miracle you haven’t snapped in two. So.”

His eyes flick up to Izuku’s, their faces inches apart. This close, Izuku can feel the incredible heat of him, radiating warmth even though all they’ve been doing is sitting. Izuku swallows. “What… what were you thinking?” he manages.

Bakugou’s eyes drop down to Izuku’s wrists, then moves slowly up his body, almost consideringly. “I was gonna get you naked, then tie you up and spank your ass until you cry,” he says in a low voice. “And then make you beg me to let you come. How’s that sound?”

Bakugou’s expression is as cocky as ever, but something about the way he’s watching Izuku says he’s listening very carefully to the answer. Izuku’s stomach ties itself into an impressive knot of anticipation. His libido isn’t nearly as conflicted about this suggestion as the rest of him.

Izuku lets out a shaky breath. Fuck it, he thinks. This might be a terrible idea, but he can’t make himself resist. “That sounds amazing,” he admits, and feels his cock twitch at the way Bakugou smirks.

“Good,” Bakugou says, almost purrs. “Now take off your clothes, Deku.”

Izuku gulps. “K-Kacchan, are you sure—”

“It’s Katsuki, or sir,” says Bakugou. His voice has dropped an octave, smoky like the air in the wake of one of his blasts. Izuku would swear his eyes are burning like hot coals. “And yes, I’m sure.”

Izuku’s face flames. He stares at Bakugou a moment longer, then stands up, reaching for the hem of his shirt. His face feels like it’s going to burn right off, his fingers tremble where they’re grabbing the flimsy cloth of his t-shirt, but inside his heart is pounding so fast in excitement that for a few moments Izuku is honestly afraid he might pass out.

“That’s better,” says Bakugou from behind him. A tinge of approval is mixed in with the smolder of his usual arrogance, and the combination is enough to make Izuku’s knees weak. Izuku masters himself, getting undressed in record time. He spares a moment to be grateful that Bakugou has seen him naked a hundred times or more now in their locker room, because it saves him from having yet another reason for a panic attack.

Izuku turns to face Bakugou again, and in that moment Izuku is struck by just how attractive Bakugou is—has always been, really, but especially so right now. He’s fucking cut, the physique and athletic grace of a boxer, wearing a tight tank-top that shows off his arms and suggests the flat plane of his abdomen. He’s watching Izuku with heavy-lidded eyes, slouched insouciantly on the couch, one arm draped along the back.

He grins at Izuku as Izuku turns around, very obviously giving Izuku’s naked body a once-over, and Izuku flushes. Izuku has worked hard to get strong enough to be able to handle One For All, and he has nothing to be shy about in the body department, but the way Bakugou is looking at him still makes him want to hide under the bed.

Or get down on his knees and beg.

Bakugou has produced silk cloths from somewhere while Izuku was undressing—from out of his backpack, Izuku realizes. “Come here, Deku,” Bakugou says, and gestures at the couch beside him.

Now or nothing. Izuku takes a deep breath and jumps with both feet.

“Okay, Katsuki…” He gets the words out, his voice shaky like his knees want to be. Bakugou smirks, but his hands are surprisingly careful as he helps Izuku kneel up on the couch and hold his hands behind his back.

“Stay just like that,” Bakugou orders. Izuku closes his eyes, letting out a sigh as he feels Bakugou’s callused hands adjusting the position of his wrists, fixing them in place and beginning to weave the silk cloths around them to tie them together. It’s not something that could remotely restrain him, even without his Quirk, but that’s not the point. Izuku tries to wiggle his wrists a little and finds them securely bound. The sensation elicits a soft noise of pleasure from him, out before he realizes it.

“Shit, you really like that, don’t you?” Bakugou strokes a hand down Izuku’s spine, the other resting heavy on Izuku’s hip. Izuku arches his back a little, shivering at the light touch. Bakugou hmmm’s under his breath, considering. Izuku tries not to wonder what’s coming next, what Bakugou has planned, tries to start letting go, but it’s much harder than he thinks it should be. He’s too aware of every spot Bakugou is touching him, of the heavy regard of his oldest friend, his partner, his—whatever this is, now.

A sudden slap to his ass makes Izuku yelp, jumping slightly at the sting. “I can fuckin’ hear you thinking,” Bakugou says. “Guess I need to do something about that, huh.”

With that, Bakugou presses his hand to the center of Izuku’s spine, right between his shoulder blades. “Lean forward, Deku,” Bakugou says in a low voice. “I won’t let you fall.”

Izuku gulps, and does as he’s told. He keeps his eyes shut, even though he hasn’t been told to. He kind of wishes Bakugou would tell him to, actually. Bakugou guides him down, leaning forward until his upper chest is resting on the arm of the couch, his bound wrists settled at his tailbone, his ass and spread thighs on display behind him. It’s an incredibly revealing position, and Izuku makes a small, nervous noise as he’s settled.

“Does that hurt?” Bakugou asks.

Izuku shakes his head. He hesitates a moment, then peers awkwardly back over one shoulder, catching sight of Bakugou behind him. “Katsuki, I…” He breaks off abruptly.

“What is it? Spit it out, Deku.” Bakugou strokes a hand along Izuku’s hip and ass, kneeling up on the couch too so he can see Izuku’s face better.

Fuck, fuck. Izuku takes a deep breath. “I… would like it if—if you told me when I was doing good,” Izuku gets out, and then hastily adds, “Sir.”

“Izzat so,” murmurs Bakugou. He sounds thoughtful instead of mean; Izuku wouldn’t mind mean, necessarily, but not yet. “Well, I’ll keep that in mind. For now, you should shut your eyes and hold still and let me take care of you.”

Izuku relaxes at that, just a little. He flashes Bakugou a smile and then does just as he’s told, shutting his eyes. “Okay, Katsuki,” he murmurs, and feels Bakugou’s hand squeeze his hip for a moment.

But just for a moment. A second later, Bakugou’s hands both move to Izuku’s ass, squeezing harder, with more intent. And then Izuku gasps as red-hot fire spreads through his backside from where Bakugou’s hands are pressed against his skin. “A-ahhh—!”

“That’s it,” Bakugou says. His voice is thick with satisfaction. He slides his hands along Izuku’s ass and flank, slow enough that it feels like he’s dragging coals over Izuku’s skin. Izuku chokes out a shocked moan, his thighs trembling at the burn that spreads through his skin, sinking deeper like sweet poison.

With the part of his brain not derailing over a cliff, Izuku realizes Bakugou is using his Quirk on him. Bakugou all but purrs out ”good boy, Deku,” and Izuku whines, lifting his hips up against those hot, punishing hands. Bakugou laughs, pressing a little harder into Izuku’s lifted ass, intensifying the burn.

Soon it feels like his whole ass is on fire. Izuku realizes distantly that he’s hard, his cock hanging eager and neglected between his thighs. Bakugou must notice too, because he reaches between Izuku’s thighs and wraps a burning hand around Izuku’s dick. Izuku gasps, stiffening in shock and shoving his face against the couch to stifle his loud noise.

“You fucking love this,” Bakugou says. “Damn. Look at you.” He sounds—he sounds aroused, and maybe surprised, and very very smug. But he sounds like he’s pleased, and that’s all Izuku cares about at this point. The fire Bakugou is lighting in his skin has started melting his always-overactive brain, and all he wants is to chase more of that sensation. He rocks his hips a little, trying to thrust his dick into Bakugou’s hand, only for Bakugou to pull his hand away almost immediately.

“Ah, ah,” says Bakugou. “Bad Deku.” And without any more warning than that, he smacks his open palm down against Izuku’s tender ass, hard. Izuku’s shocked cry is given full voice this time as his head comes up like a startled animal.

“Uh huh,” Bakugou says smugly. And he starts to spank Izuku, stinging open-hand slaps to his ass in a steady, punishing rhythm. Izuku is shortly gasping and trembling against the couch, his shoulders shaking with choked-off cries, punctuated by the loud swak of Bakugou’s hand on his raw ass.

“Hhhaa, haaaa, a-ah-ahhh, K-Katsuki, p-please—!” Izuku sobs, shoving his face hard against the arm of the couch, his shoulders aching as he strains against the silk cloths. He feels the shift of cloth releasing, and then Izuku yelps as the silk around his wrists splits open. The sudden give of his arms nearly topples him off the couch with the force.

“Shit!” Bakugou catches him before Izuku can fall, one hand on Izuku’s hip, the other grabbing Izuku’s shoulder. Izuku feels wobbly for a moment, unsteady like a colt, and he shoots Bakugou a look over his shoulder, seeking direction. Bakugou glances at him, and there must be something in Izuku’s face because the hand on Izuku’s hip immediately tightens. “Hey. I told you, Deku, I’ve got you. Who’s in charge?”

“You are, Katsuki,” Izuku says and relaxes an inch. He doesn’t take his eyes away from Bakugou’s.

“That’s right,” says Bakugou fiercely. “Now put your hands back where they were. Go on.” Izuku has to work a little to get his wrists at the small of his back again, but he does as he’s told without question. “Good boy,” says Bakugou, and grabs Izuku’s crossed wrists in one hand, holding them pinned against Izuku’s back.

The noise Izuku lets out would embarrass him at other times, but right now he’s too relieved to care. He sighs, arching against Bakugou’s hand, and hears Bakugou mutter “holy fuck” in a voice Izuku can’t quite parse. Izuku wants to know, but he wants Bakugou to spank him again more.

“Katsukiiiii,” he whines and lifts his ass a little. Bakugou growls, which sends a shudder of want down Izuku’s spine. He’s keenly aware of his throbbing ass and thighs now, too, all the skin on display down there consumed in a deep, pulsing burn.

There’s a long moment where Bakugou does nothing but hold him there, long enough that Izuku starts to worry that Bakugou is regretting this. Then Bakugou’s low voice asks, “Deku. Can you come without being touched? While I spank you?”

Izuku sucks in a breath. “Am I allowed to?”

Bakugou swears under his breath. “Yes,” he says, his voice weirdly hoarse. “Yes, you are. I wanna see you come for me, Deku. Come while I spank you.” And with that, he slaps his hand across Izuku’s throbbing ass, and Izuku yelps in shock and pleasure.

He starts off a little gentler, but he quickly ramps up to where he was when it becomes apparently how desperate Izuku is for it, how eager and wet and dirty his moans are with every rough slap across his ass. Izuku can hear Bakugou’s harsh breathing, feel how tightly he’s holding Izuku’s wrists, which just makes it that much better. The tension in Bakugou sings through his hands on Izuku, through the spot where Bakugou’s thigh presses against Izuku’s hip. Every time Bakugou spanks him, it lights Izuku up, sending shockwaves of heat and pain deep into his muscles, making him moan and rock against the couch and against the hand pinning his wrists.

It doesn’t take long. Izuku is too pent up, and Bakugou’s rough hands on him are somehow exactly what he’s been craving. And either Izuku is very easy, or Bakugou can just read him that well, because as Izuku’s cries get noisier and more desperate, the smacks come harder and faster, until Izuku’s climax crashes over him with a violence that locks his throat and nearly makes him black out.

Izuku sags, would collapse against the couch if not for Bakugou catching him and hauling him up. “Come here,” says Bakugou gruffly, and maneuvers Izuku around so that he’s lying across Bakugou’s lap face-down and not in the smear of come he just left all over the couch.

Izuku is more than happy to be man-handled. His head feels like cotton candy: sweet, light, and empty. Meanwhile, his ass and thighs burn like Bakugou’s still using his Quirk on them, with a heavier ache that goes deep into the muscles from where he was spanked. He’s going to be sore for days. Fuck, it’s so good.

Izuku feels a hand on the back of his head, cradling his skull; he sighs. “Katsuki, that was amazing,” he says warmly. “But you didn’t get off—”

“Don’t worry about it,” Bakugou says, and laughs. It’s a very nice laugh, Izuku reflects; not mean at all. Bakugou would try to shove him down the stairs if Izuku pointed this out, so he keeps it to himself. “Glad you liked it,” Bakugou says, and ruffles Izuku’s sweaty hair. “You made a mess.”

“I did,” Izuku agrees. “It’s gonna be gross to clean up.”

“White vinegar,” says Bakugou.

Izuku tries to turn his head and peer up at Bakugou, but the angle is wrong, and after a moment he gives it up as a bad job. “How do you know that?” he asks instead.

There’s a snort, and then Bakugou says, “Come on, you know I was such a shithead kid that I got stains on every single thing. My mom told me.”

“Oh,” says Izuku, and smiles. He can feel what a dopey smile it is, but he doesn’t particularly care. Izuku shuts his eyes, savoring the warmth in his ass and the sense of well-being he has right now. “What you did with your Quirk felt so good,” he says aloud as the thought occurs to him.

“Yeah?” says Bakugou. “Good. Knew you’d like it.” The hand in Izuku’s hair moves down a little, stroking down his spine. Izuku drops his head, sighing in satisfaction at the petting, and about melts in pleasure when Bakugou obligingly keeps doing it. Izuku knows it’s only because Bakugou is trying to show him he can be a good Dom, but at the moment it doesn’t bother him at all.

They lay like that for awhile. Izuku kind of loses track of time, and would probably have fallen asleep if not for Bakugou eventually sliding out from under him with an announcement of “you’re fucking heavy.” He returns almost immediately with a glass of water that he makes Izuku drink half of and a lotion that smells of aloe and some other herbal scent. Izuku moans into his forearm as Bakugou goes about rubbing the lotion into the abraded skin of his ass and thighs.

“Jesus Christ, your neighbors are gonna hate us,” says Bakugou, as he finishes and tosses a blanket over Izuku to cover him. “You don’t know how to keep quiet at all.”

Izuku turns his head, resting his cheek on one arm as he looks at Bakugou sitting on the floor next to the couch. “Good thing we’re gonna be gone for awhile, then,” he says. “Maybe they’ll forget about it.” He’ll be horrified later at how noisy he absolutely was before, but for the moment he still feels too good and too punchy to be that upset. Fuck, he’d forgotten what a relief it is to really get the lead out.

Bakugou is looking at him with an intensity that’s almost frightening, the heat previously in his hands now burning behind his eyes. “I was hoping you’d say that,” he says. “But we’ll talk about it in the morning. We’re not meeting Calla till 11 am ‘cause she has a meeting.”

“I’m not that out of it,” says Izuku indignantly. Bakugou scowls at him.

“You’re gonna sleep on it, and then I’m gonna ask you again, and you’re gonna say yes, and feel good about it,” says Bakugou. “But you can’t answer right now, that’d be bullshit, so don’t argue with me.”

Izuku laughs and lets it go. Bakugou scowls harder at him for some reason, and Izuku sticks his tongue out at him. “Ugh,” says Bakugou.

“Hey, this was your idea,” says Izuku. For some reason this makes Bakugou turn red and look away.

Izuku gets dressed in pajamas after that, and then (after cleaning up the couch to the best of his current energy and throwing a towel over the wet spot) they watch another movie. Izuku falls asleep thirty minutes into it, slumped over against Bakugou like a stuffed animal unable to stay up on its own. He awakens at maybe two am, alone in his apartment, but with a pillow behind his head and two blankets draped over him.

Bakugou is gone, but there’s a note on the table: Be ready at 8 am. I set your alarm. Izuku blinks at it a few times before realizing he’s already been asleep for a good six hours—

—and that the white noise crinkle of tension that’s been a layer of anxiety under his skin for the better part of two years is totally absent.

Izuku shuffles to his bedroom, groaning in the quiet of his apartment at how sore he already is from the vicious spanking Bakugou gave him. He crawls into bed, grabbing one of his pillows and curling around it like a child with a beloved blanket. He’s asleep again within minutes, and for once his dreams are blessedly empty of burning buildings and the faces of people he couldn’t save.

Instead, his dreams are full of red eyes, a harsh voice, and burning hands—and amidst all of it, the overwhelming sense of something long forgotten finally coming home.

When Izuku wakes in the morning, he remembers nothing about his dreams at all.

* * * * *

“We’ll take it,” says Bakugou.

Calla glances from him to Izuku. Izuku returns the question in her eyes with a smile. “We talked about it,” he says, “and looked over everything, and we want to do it.”

Their boss studies them for a long moment. Izuku sits quietly, Bakugou a tightly-wound presence in the chair next to him. “So you’re sure,” she says finally. When Izuku and Bakugou both nod at her, she finally smiles. “Good,” she says. “We have a lot to do to get you ready.”

“Great,” says Bakugou, finally breaking his impossibly stiff posture and leaning forward to betray some of his eagerness. “Midoriya and I were thinking about some possible covers—”

“We already have that part covered,” says Calla. From an unseen drawer on the other side of her desk she brings out a thick manilla envelope, which she opens and pulls out several pages of neatly-typed dossiers. “We’ve been designing your cover stories to be the most appealing target for the cult, in order to make sure they’ll try to bring you into their fold.”

Izuku leans forward, peering at the first two pages, which look to be profiles for him and Bakugou. “Wait,” he says. “I think this might have a typo? Both of these aliases have the same last name.”

“That’s because you’re going to be pretending to be a newly married couple,” says Calla serenely. Beside Izuku, Bakugou makes a noise like he just choked on a dead frog.

“Married?” Izuku yelps.

“Yes,” says Calla. “Moving into your first home together, cut off from your families, very wealthy, and in need of community and friends. After I use my Quirk to make the two of you unrecognizable as Heroes, no one will question it. You’ll be the perfect targets.”

“Oh,” says Izuku weakly. His eyes flick from the pages on the table to Calla’s serene expression. Next to him, Bakugou is suspiciously stone-faced. Izuku swallows. “Right,” he says.

This… is going to be a lot more complicated than he thought.

Chapter Text

There’s a lot of things that Katsuki Bakugou would have sworn he would never, ever do in his life. That list has changed a lot just recently; once, “Work with a partner” would have been at the top, right above “anger management classes.” For a great many years, anything to do with Izuku Midoriya would have been ranked in the top five. But at no point in his life—even after he and Midoriya became Hero partners—would Katsuki ever have thought he would be pretending to be the doting, newly married husband of the boy he ruthlessly bullied for years.

Maybe it’s karma, Katsuki thinks sourly. Payback for all the years he was such an absolute shitheel to Midoriya. Now he has to dote on Midoriya in public for an indefinite amount of time, and then turn around and beat him in private until he cries big happy tears—and best of all, it’s pretty much all his own fault. Every time Katsuki thinks too hard about it, he recoils, the situation still too much to process.

“We’re almost there, I think,” says Midoriya. Katsuki stays focused on the road ahead of them, but out of the corner of his eyes he spies Midoriya frowning at his phone. “This subdivision is really confusing. You’d think a planned community would be laid out better.”

“Guess Urban Planning 101 wasn’t in the cult’s bible,” Katsuki mutters darkly. He can only see a glimpse of the cheerful smile that earns him, and he has to suppress his own knee-jerk stab of exasperation. Even two years of working together can’t erase Katsuki’s bafflement that someone so genuinely good-natured actually exists in the world. The urge to give Midoriya a swirly still surfaces at least once a month—usually closely followed by the urge to throw something (himself) through a wall.

Ugh, god, he’s going to have to be around that every single morning. He’s gonna destroy half the house inside a week, Katsuki’s sure of it.

“There! Turn left at the stop-sign, this is our street.” Katsuki rolls down their windows as they reach the end of the street, glancing both ways more out of habit of watching for incoming attacks than out of concern for traffic on this quiet suburban road.

The only thing he spots out of the ordinary is their moving truck, already parked at the curb by the driveway of what is presumably ‘their’ house. The rest of the street is painfully, aggressively normal, full of perfectly manicured lawns, rows of meticulously trimmed hedge fences and bushes, flawless houses set back just far enough from the road and long tracts of unbroken sidewalks.

“Wow,” says Midoriya. He sounds genuinely impressed. He probably is, Katsuki thinks. Katsuki curls his lip, half at Midoriya and half at himself, and turns their fucking compact “I’m a PTA member” SUV down the street towards their house.

(Calla wanted them to have a goddamn hatchback, but Katsuki drew the fucking line there. He’d wanted to have a Charger, a Mustang, something cool and interesting, but it didn’t ‘match the profile,’ Calla had said.

Midoriya actually liked the car Calla picked out, naturally. He’d gushed about how practical and useful and versatile it was, all vocabulary that’s totally secondary to what Katsuki wants out of a car. Fucking thing can’t accelerate worth a damn. Fuck, there’s so much about this assignment that’s chapping his ass and they haven’t even fucking arrived yet.)

Katsuki is distracted from his irritation by the sight of some well-dressed strangers standing in their driveway, chatting with a few burly men who are clearly the movers attached to the truck. Katsuki parks the SUV on the opposite side of the street, then looks over at Midoriya. His partner meets his gaze; Katsuki can read the nervousness in the set of his partner’s jaw, but to Midoriya’s credit his face is otherwise calm.

“You ready?” Midoriya asks. “Do you want to practice anymore before we get out?”

“Nah,” says Katsuki. “We already went over it three times on the way here, I think we’re good.” He pauses, assessing Midoriya’s outfit—tight pink jeans that show off his muscular legs, a soft cream button-down, and a grey vest—before flashing a toothy grin at him. “That outfit makes you look fruity as hell.”

Midoriya turns an appealing shade of red, but his answering grin is no less cheeky. “Hey, you’re the one who put a ring on it,” he says, and hops out of the car before Katsuki can tell him off or come back with a good line. Katsuki curses under his breath and unbuckles his seat belt, hopping out of his own side to meet Midoriya in the road.

For his own part, Katsuki is dressed in much more posh clothes than he would normally be caught dead in—also part of the profiles Calla and her team designed for them. Midoriya is an accountant, and Katsuki is a freelance computer programmer who works from home. Katsuki is also apparently the sort of dickhead who wears designer black slacks with creases sharp enough to cut, tight button-down shirts with rolled-up sleeves, and a fucking skinny tie—at least it’s red, Katsuki thinks sourly. He knows the clothes were chosen not just because the characters they’re playing would dress this way on the regular, but because they’re trying to impress their neighbors. Too bad that doesn’t make it suck any less.

Katsuki didn’t miss the way Midoriya stared at him this morning when he came to pick him up in this ridiculous outfit, though. That’s something.

Midoriya comes around the back of the SUV and before Katsuki even has a chance to think about it, Midoriya’s hand is taking his, lacing their fingers together. “Look at our house,” he says warmly, beaming up at Katsuki.

Katsuki knows it’s an act, but his stomach still clenches for a moment at that hand taking his so freely, just as if Katsuki’s never given him any reason to not want to. “Jesus Christ,” he mutters and starts dragging Midoriya across the street by their tightly-laced hands. “Come on, let’s go tell the movers where to put our stuff, we’ve already kept them waiting for awhile.”

“Good morning!” calls one of the people from the driveway. Katsuki sees a curvy woman waving at them. Her fashionably cut suit is set off with chic red heels and platinum-blond hair that tumbles down past her shoulders. She’s got a round face, soft blue eyes, and a heart-shaped smile, and she’s carrying what looks like a large container of… are those muffins?

“Welcome to The Pines!” says the man beside her; he’s like a taller, more angular version of the woman next to him, down to the blue eyes and blond hair. His smile is more slight, more formal, but when he reaches out to shake Katsuki’s hand, his grip is reassuringly firm. “I’m Marcus Lazlow, the founder of The Pines, and this is my sister, Bethany.”

“Thanks for meeting us,” says Midoriya, shaking each of their hands in turn. He’s beaming at them like he swallowed the sun for breakfast and now has sunshine pouring out of every orifice in his fucking body. “We’re so sorry we’re late, we got caught in a big traffic jam on the belt line on the way in.”

“It’s no problem,” says Bethany Lazlow, and laughs. She has a really dumb laugh, Katsuki thinks; it’s a little horsey, not nearly as perfect as he was expecting. “Let’s get you inside and make sure you know everything you need to!”

“Sounds great,” says Katsuki, and forces a smile of his own. Marcus Lazlow raises an eyebrow at him and gives him what’s probably supposed to be a knowing look, but just puts Katsuki in mind of the kind of dumb “look at my dog’s stupid face” videos Kirishima always used to watch.

“Don’t worry,” Dog Face says. “I know moving cross-country is a lot, but you made the right decision having us plan the decor for you. I think you’ll like it.”

Shit, that’s right. That’s the reason the moving truck is so small—it doesn’t have any fucking furniture in it. When Katsuki and Midoriya were approved to fill a space in the planned community, they picked the option to let the homeowner’s association furnish the house for them, after giving them some basic preferences.

(“It’s the ‘gullible fools with money’ option,” Calla had said. “It’ll make you even more of a target if you’re so trusting with that much cash right off the bat.”

“Should we just paint a bullseye on our backs?” Midoriya muttered to Katsuki on their way back to Katsuki’s apartment to eat dinner.

“Or a sign that says ‘kick me’,” Katsuki said. Midoriya laughed all the way down the rest of the block at that, and for some reason Katsuki hadn’t felt the need to elbow him into a car door for it.)

Katsuki is bracing himself for a parade of posh, yuppie bullshit. But he’s still not prepared for the inside of the house. Their house, he reminds himself, as Midoriya’s hand tightens on his. Katsuki glances over at Midoriya and sees how big his green eyes have gotten, pleasure and astonishment writ large on his face. It makes him look young, fifteen again under his mop of messy green hair, despite the scars across his hands and the jagged one along his jaw that’s less than eight months old.

Once upon a time, that expression would have made Katsuki want to dunk Midoriya’s face in the nearest bowl of water. Now it inspires something else Katsuki can’t quite identify, and he stomps down hard on the tightness in his chest in favor of focusing on the house itself.

Because the house is ridiculous.

The house is small-ish but modern, with huge windows and wood floors. (Katsuki has no fucking idea what kind of wood the floors are made of, but they’re mahogany-colored, so… that’s good, he guesses.) There’s three bathrooms, two bedrooms, and an office, all painted and accented in what Horse Laugh refers to as “tasteful” shades of gray. The huge open kitchen has a butcher-block island, a gas stove, a refrigerator big enough to hide a full-grown man in, and countertops that are apparently made of quartz—why the fuck anyone would care about that, Katsuki has no idea, but Horse Laugh talks about it like they should be impressed.

She also drops the brand name of the appliances like she’s telling them they’ve won the lottery, but they have to be posh considering both of the ovens are like four fucking feet wide. The master bathroom has a huge jacuzzi tub, an equally massive king-size bed takes pride of place in the bedroom, which also has a pair of French windows that open onto a balcony—which looks out over the pool in the backyard.

(The bathroom is fucking outrageous, as far as Katsuki’s concerned. There’s some kind of goddamn stained-glass window bullshit over the bathtub, eclipsed only by the fucking Greek-inspired tile mosaic that fills up one entire wall. Katsuki is honestly disgusted at the idea of having to stare at that every time he wants to take a shit.)

Horse Laugh leads them from room to room, pointing out all the interior decorating touches in far more detail than Katsuki would ever give a shit about knowing. What the fuck is ship-lap anyway, he wonders irritably, and why would anyone give a damn about having it on their wall? But even he can tell how much redecorating went into making this house as fashionable and appealing as it obviously is.

“This is amazing,” says Midoriya, as he finally lets go of Katsuki’s hand to disappear into the walk-in closet. Katsuki shoves his hands into his pockets, trailing after Midoriya like a disgruntled dog. “We only bought the house a week ago, how did you get it done so fast?”

Horse Laugh beams at him as they emerge from the closet again. “We have a dedicated team of interior designers and contractors that we trust,” she says. “As I know you’ve realized, we are very selective about who we welcome into our community, because we want to take the utmost care of our residents from the moment they arrive.”

That speech is enough to make Katsuki throw up in his mouth a little, but he’s not going to be the one to blow this mission because he can’t keep his act together. So he walks over to Midoriya and puts his arms around his partner from behind, resting his chin on Midoriya’s shoulder.

“Well, it’s a nice change,” he says. Midoriya stiffens in his arms, then shivers and leans back, letting Katsuki take some of his weight. “And they got the butcher’s block and the closet you wanted, Izuku.” Midoriya has never given a single solitary fuck about shit like walk-in closets or shiplap—and thank fuck, because Katsuki doesn’t need any more reasons to be aggravated—but Horse Laugh and Dog Face don’t know that. They only know the things Katsuki and Midoriya put into their application and housing request.

“I know,” Midoriya says softly. He covers Katsuki’s arms with his own, and tilts his head, looking at Katsuki over his shoulder with big soft eyes that land like a kick directly to the chest. “It’s even better than I hoped.”

Katsuki stares at Midoriya, his stomach churning like he’s a blender someone just turned on Ice Crush. He can feel his face getting hot, and wonders stupidly if it’s too late to just blow up the bed and make a run for it.

He’s saved (or possibly cursed) by Horse Laugh’s ugly titter, startling him enough that he can jerk his face away from Midoriya’s. “Well, I’m so glad you both like the house,” she says, and smiles at them. “So glad to be able to make the newlyweds happy. You said you just got married, right? Just recently?”

“Two weeks ago,” says Katsuki. He hears how surly he sounds, and tries to force out a smile.

It must not be very convincing, because Dog Face’s pleasant, plastic expression wanes a little. “I suppose it must have been stressful, moving right after your big day,” he ventures.

Midoriya glances up at him, then sighs. “Sorry,” he says, sounding shy. “It’s a sore subject.” He turns in Katsuki’s arms until they’re facing each other, looking up at him with an expression far too fond and intimate to point at someone in front of strangers. Or ever, really. Fuck you, Midoriya.

Katsuki scowls, and Midoriya smiles at him. “We didn’t actually have a wedding,” Midoriya says, glancing over at Horse Laugh. “Just a civil ceremony at the courthouse.”

“Are you waiting to have the ceremony?” Horse Laugh asks. She sounds puzzled; Katsuki sees her exchange a look with her brother.

Great. They were supposed to wait on dropping this lure, but Midoriya’s stupid face is preventing Katsuki from keeping his shit together. Katsuki kicks himself internally, then decides to go for it. “No reason to have a ceremony if no one’s gonna fuckin’ come,” Katsuki growls.

“Katsuki,” Midoriya murmurs, and Katsuki grits his teeth.

“No, fuck that,” Katsuki says. He glowers at first Dog Face, then Horse Laugh, daring either of them to say anything. “Your parents sucked and mine are probably turning in their graves by now, and all our so-called friends couldn’t lose our numbers fast enough when they found out we were dating. I’m sick of hiding it. We’re starting over, Izuku. I’m not pretending you’re not mine anymore.”

Midoriya turns red and hides his face against Katsuki’s shoulder, his arms going around Katsuki’s waist. Dog Face and Horse Laugh are watching with raised eyebrows, but there’s something there that wasn’t there before, Katsuki thinks. Something greedy.

“Well,” says Dog Face after a moment. His voice is kind. “I am sorry to hear your friends and family couldn’t accept you for who you are, but please believe me when I say that you will not find that kind of attitude here. We work very, very hard to make all of our residents feel safe and welcomed here.”

“And we are so glad you have chosen to start over with us,” adds Horse Laugh. “You’ve definitely made the right decision.”

Despite the unmitigated bullshit being spouted in this room, Katsuki feels himself growing calmer, more settled. Midoriya relaxes a little in his arms, laying his cheek against Katsuki’s shoulder. “Sorry for the outburst,” Katsuki says after a moment, and manages to sound like he means it. “It’s—it’s been hard.”

“No need to apologize,” says Horse Laugh. She gives them that heart-shaped smile again, the one that made Katsuki want to punch her before, but this time it’s sort of endearing. Katsuki is immediately suspicious, but he lets himself remain placid all the same.

They make nice with the Lazlow siblings for a few more minutes, allowing paperwork and community by-laws and a number of folders to be pressed on them, along with the muffins Horse Laugh brought with her when she first arrived. Then the Lazlows depart, leaving Katsuki and Midoriya to round up their movers and have the rest of their things brought inside the house.

Katsuki is more than happy to let Midoriya direct them, so he can stomp upstairs and contemplate setting a few things on fire for stress relief. He ultimately decides against it—mostly because he knows Calla will appear out of thin air and murder him with her eyes if he bombs the mission this fast—but he does indulge in a harsh, quick jerk-off in the bathroom.

It’s definitely not the memory of Midoriya’s big green eyes staring up at his that he thinks of when he comes, either. Or the equally-searing memory of the noises he made just a week ago while Katsuki spanked him to the point of tears and hiccoughing sobs.

Twenty minutes later, feeling at least a little calmer, Katsuki comes back downstairs. The movers are gone, leaving stacks of boxes in their living room and kitchen. Midoriya is curled up on the couch, the community by-laws open across his lap. He glances up as Katsuki comes into the room.

“There you are,” he says. “How do you think that went? Do you think they bought it?”

“I think so,” says Katsuki. He does not let on how grateful he is that Midoriya is acting normal, and not letting the weirdness of pretending to be husbands affect their partnership. Katsuki thinks he would literally destroy the entire city if this job damaged the relationship with Midoriya he’s worked so hard on, especially now that they’re actually partners and Katsuki has figured out how valuable that is. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see. They better fuckin’ invite us to one of their weird cult things.”

Midoriya laughs. “That’ll be on the invitation, I’m sure,” he says. “Please attend our creepy initiation ceremony! Wear your best brain-washing clothes!”

“There was something weird going on, though,” says Katsuki, and frowns as he sits down next to Midoriya. “After I said that bullshit about how our ‘friends and family’ rejected us, and Dog Face—”

“Oh my god, you can’t call him that,” Midoriya exclaims, and Katsuki waves a hand dismissively.

“Whatever his name was, he said some shit about being happy to have us here and welcoming us into the community, and it felt weird,” says Katsuki. “Like, I believed both of them, right then. And I didn’t want to punch him or his annoying sister anymore.”

Instead of dismissing him, or offering any number of critical responses, Midoriya frowns, his head cocked a little as he listens. “I felt that too,” he says slowly. “I was nervous, and then I remember just feeling calmer. I felt—”

“Safe,” says Katsuki, and Midoriya nods. Katsuki does not bother to comment on how suspicious it is for them to experience that particular emotion at this juncture. “And you didn’t see it because you were pretending to be all embarrassed and shit, but they had this look on their faces like they were a little too interested in hearing about how ‘all alone’ we are.”

Midoriya reddens a little as Katsuki mentions this, but he nods again. “Those two are on the list of individuals that are believed to be involved with the Bright Path’s leadership,” he says. “We still don’t know what their Quirks are, though.”

“Wonder if they’re Shinsou’s cousins,” Katsuki says darkly. Now Midoriya does give him a reproachful look.

“Come on, Shinsou’s a good person and a Hero,” he says. Katsuki just rolls his eyes and drops the subject. Katsuki’s newfound working respect does not necessarily extend to all the people they went to school with, but he’s less willing to antagonize Midoriya about it than he used to be.

“Anyway,” he says. “They’re suspicious as fuck.”

“Agreed,” says Midoriya. He hesitates, then turns slightly, pointing himself at Katsuki, folding his hands in his lap. Katsuki groans internally, recognizing right away the sight of Midoriya psyching himself up to say something he thinks Katsuki won’t want to hear.

“Just spit it out, Izuku, I’m not gonna be mad,” he says impatiently, hoping to skip the ‘nervous blather’ part of this process.

Midoriya blinks at him, then relaxes a little. His crooked smile appears, the one Katsuki likes the best because it means he’s not being so damn self-conscious. “I was just thinking,” he says. “We kinda messed up at first there. And we caught it, and it was okay, but …I think acting like a couple performatively will be harder than we thought it was, and that—I don’t know, maybe we should practice more.”

Katsuki frowns. “How are we gonna practice more?” he demands. “We’re already here.”

“I know,” says Midoriya. “But maybe we should do what Calla suggested.”

Katsuki’s upper lip curls in distaste. “You wanna act like husbands 24/7? Didn’t think you were that desperate, Izuku.”

“Oh, fuck off,” says Midoriya reflexively, and the knot in Katsuki’s stomach unkinks just a touch. “I just don’t want us to mess this up. We don’t have a ton of experience at deep cover.”

“No shit,” mutters Katsuki. He frowns, fidgeting with his stupid skinny tie as he thinks for a few moments. “What do you wanna do different?” he asks, at last.

“I’m… not sure,” admits Midoriya, after thinking about it for several moments. “I mean, I clearly wasn’t that fucking great at it or else Davek wouldn’t have dumped me, so… I don’t know what it’d look like.” He looks crestfallen as he says this, as though admitting to some embarrassing sin.

“Like I give a shit,” Katsuki says. Midoriya looks up at him quickly, but Katsuki keeps talking, the mention of Midoriya’s ex making him angry for reasons he’s not looking at too closely right now. “Just because you’ve been too fuckin’ busy working on Hero stuff to fuck with dating isn’t a bad thing. You’ve had better things to worry about. But we’ll have to make something up then, because I ain’t got any fuckin’ ideas either.” Admitting to this weakness annoys him much less than it used to—although the fact that Midoriya’s track record isn’t much better does help.

Midoriya gives him a goofy smile at that, something he does more frequently than he used to. Katsuki likes to think it’s because Midoriya isn’t so nervous around him anymore, but he’s not about to fucking ask that question. “Well, I guess we should make a list,” he says.

So they do.

They spend a good thirty minutes coming up with things they could try, and though they reject at least half of their initial ideas, by the time they’re done, they have a nice little list of things to keep on top of. (Midoriya looks so horrified when Katsuki suggests ‘couples’ tattoos’ that he can’t keep his poker face for more than five seconds before he busts up laughing.)

The list isn’t long, but it’s fairly involved: sleeping in the same bed; eating meals together when they’re at home (“though we mostly already do that,” Midoriya says distractedly); pet names; helping each other get dressed; going out on dates together; holding hands in public; and kissing.

Katsuki makes a face at the list as they review. “Tell me again why you think we need to help each other get dressed,” he says. “Do you think sleeping in bed with you’s gonna fuck me up so bad I forget how to put on pants?”

Midoriya immediately gets flustered. “I-I just think it’ll help us stay focused on our act,” he stammers. “Also…” Katsuki narrows his eyes at Midoriya, who turns red. “You’re terrible at doing your own tie,” Midoriya says.

“Hey, fuck you!”

“You are, though,” says Midoriya, and grins. Katsuki flicks him off. Midoriya looks back at the list again and sobers. “There’s one other thing…”

“Here we go,” Katsuki mutters. “If it’s ‘why isn’t having sex on the list,’ it’s because I’m already fucking you, Izuku.”

Midoriya reddens even more, but when he looks up at Katsuki, his green eyes are steady. “Technically, you haven’t, though,” he says; he’s wearing a faint smile now, eyes bright and challenging.

Katsuki’s stomach flip-flops, and he growls, leaning over and getting up in Midoriya’s face. “Oh, did spanking you till you came all over your fucking couch not count?”

“It’s important to be precise,” says Midoriya, which is so goddamn obnoxious that Katsuki doesn’t even hesitate to shove him over on the couch and climb on top, hell-bent on wiping that shitty little smirk off Midoriya’s face. Midoriya’s face lights up like Katsuki is about to give him the best present of his life, and—

—and then the fucking doorbell rings.

Katsuki grits his teeth. He watches Midoriya deflate beneath him. For a moment, they just stare at each other. Then Katsuki rolls off Midoriya and launches himself off the couch, getting halfway to the front door before Midoriya catches up to him, a hand on Katsuki’s arm.

“We have to be friendly,” he murmurs, and Katsuki lets out a rough breath.

“Right,” he says. He proceeds the rest of the way to the door, doing his level best not to grind his teeth.

“Hello!” chirps the lady at the front door, a greeting immediately chorused by her three small children, each more snot-nosed and obnoxious-looking than the last. The woman is carrying a fucking wicker basket in her arms, filled with fruit and baked goods and a bottle of wine. “Welcome to the Pines! We wanted to stop by and say hello!”

“Oh, hello,” says Katsuki, and forces a smile on his face. Down the street, he can see another couple making their way down the block, carrying what looks like another welcome basket.

It’s going to be a tedious fucking evening.

* * * * *

The first few days of being in the Pines turns out to be just as obnoxious as Katsuki was afraid of, although thankfully not as tedious as he feared. Most of that is down to the fact that they’re so goddamn busy getting unpacked and their jobs set up—and the fact that it seems like every single person in their neighborhood wants to stop by and say hello.

Katsuki doesn’t know if the Lazlows said something to their constituents about the new kids on the block being ‘isolated,’ or if the people of this planned community are just that fuckin’ creepy-friendly, but regardless, three hours don’t pass in their home without something dropping by with a box of cookies, or a casserole, or an invitation to some event. By the end of the third day, Katsuki and Midoriya have been invited to an upcoming pool party, the next meeting of the neighborhood association, the nearby country club, and—by far the most promising event—a seminar for couples on ‘love languages.’

(Horse Laugh and Dog Face is still how Katsuki thinks of the Lazlows, but once Midoriya points out what a bad idea it’d be for them to forget anyone’s name, Katsuki makes an effort. He can’t possibly keep up with all the names of everyone in their neighborhood, though. Midoriya ends up making them a chart, with names and information about their neighbors, and he puts a copy in Katsuki’s wallet, along with a post-it note that just says “be nice!”

Katsuki uses the chart religiously. He sets the post-it note on fire, and smacks Midoriya’s ass for it the next time he sees it. Midoriya yelps but is otherwise unrepentant.)

A so-called ‘close friend’ of Horse Face’s is the one leading the love-language seminar. Midoriya was actually the one approached with the invitation, at the weekly neighborhood picnic held five days after their arrival. The picnic is at a park just a few blocks from Katsuki and Midoriya’s house, with a long covered area full of picnic tables set off to one side of the park.

Katsuki is by the picnic table laden with brownies and cupcakes and eight million kinds of cookies, cornered by the triplets who dropped by the house with their mom on the first day Katsuki and Midoriya arrived. The triplets have goddamn awful Quirks, which are only made more evil when taken as a set: Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil. Each child can temporarily banish the respective sense of their victim, which Katsuki witnesses first hand when a neighborhood shrill tries to tell them to shush and the loudest child simply silences her with a wave of his hand.

They’re also viciously smart, and have taken a liking to Katsuki and want to bother him every chance they get now. It doesn’t help that they are utterly delighted by Katsuki’s “Quirk”—or rather, the one he has to go with his cover as a freelance programmer, which is what Midoriya refers to as ‘asbestos hands.’ They follow Katsuki around, demanding that he grab hot things off the various hot plates around the picnic area, and cheer every time he effortlessly plucks a sizzling-hot hot dog or piece of charcoal from the grill.

It’s torture. Why couldn’t they have gotten obsessed with Midoriya’s fake Quirk, the dumb feather thing? (Midoriya can now make feathers appear on any surface, which is only slightly stupider than Katsuki’s fake Quirk.) Worst of all, Katsuki has to pretend to like the triplets’ attention, or at least not make a huge scene. Instead of sending obnoxious parents and stupid brats alike running for the hills, now all he can do is paste on a queasy smile and try to ignore how Midoriya is being assaulted by what seems like every soccer mom in the world.

“Bethany told me you’re new,” says one overly-interested woman in particular. She’s tall and willowy, with what Katsuki privately refers to as Fashion Hippie clothes: a long, patterned skirt with quilted panels, an expensive-looking blouse, dangly earrings made of rough-hewn gemstones, and stick-straight brown hair that tumbles almost to her butt.

“Yes, we just moved in,” says Midoriya, and beams. “But everyone has been so warm and friendly, it’s really been wonderful.” Fashion Hippie practically salivates at this response, and immediately takes Midoriya’s hand, earnestly launching into a pitch about some seminar she’s holding soon and how Midoriya should definitely come and bring his husband.

Katsuki suffers a burst of irritation at how easy it seems for Midoriya to be warm and friendly and approachable with all these oversharing neighbors who want to act like they’re his new best friend. Meanwhile, Katsuki just wants to punt everyone through the roof of this picnic awning. One of the triplets is trying to pry his hand open, peering at his palm, and says loudly, “Wow Mr. Nakamura, your skin smells kinda weird!”

“Kid, you need to not be sniffing strangers’ hands,” says Katsuki severely, and stares in bewilderment as all three triplets crack up. What the fuck, he thinks.

Midoriya rescues him then, coming over to take his arm and gently pull him towards one of the paths that circle the park. “We’ll be right back,” he says to the several people who are looking visibly disappointed at the prospect of them leaving.

“This is the worst thing I have ever had to do,” Katsuki mutters to him, as they make it a safe distance from the picnic area. “I hate every single person here.”

“They’re nice,” says Midoriya, “but yeah, they’re a little overbearing.” He smiles up at him from just a few inches away. Katsuki feels his face heat and doesn’t know why, so he stoutly ignores it. He does move his arm, sliding it around behind Midoriya’s back to rest a hand on Midoriya’s hip, so that Midoriya is flush against his side.

Midoriya rolls with it, moving his own arm around Katsuki’s waist in turn. The position brings their heads closer together so they can talk more easily, which is the real point. “What did that weird bi—woman invite you to?”

Midoriya raises an eyebrow at the near-slip, but answers the question anyway. “She’s hosting a love-language seminar,” he murmurs. “It sounds really promising. She described it as ‘life-changing,’ which I’m pretty sure means it’s gonna be expensive. And it sounds like a lot of other people in the community will be there too, including several who are on our suspect list.”

Katsuki makes a disgusted noise in the back of his throat. “Great,” he mutters. “Sounds perfect. Maybe they’ll try to sell us more artisanal mayo too.”

“The mayo’s pretty good,” Midoriya begins, but Katsuki isn’t having it.

“It’s twenty goddamn dollars for a jar of mayo, I don’t give a shit how good it is!”

Midoriya laughs, turning so that he’s pressed up against Katsuki’s chest and looking up into his face. They stop on the path, still within easy visibility of the picnic tent. Katsuki scowls down at Midoriya, who puts a hand up to push some hair out of Katsuki’s face.

“You have to try to be nicer,” says Midoriya. His voice is warm despite the scold of his words. “I know you hate it, but this is the job. We have to make them like us.”

“Easy for you to say,” mutters Katsuki. “Fuck, I hate putting up with idiots.”

“It’s a good thing we made you the house-husband, then,” says Midoriya, and Katsuki growls at him again. Midoriya shuts him up by leaning up and pressing his lips to Katsuki’s in a kiss. Katsuki freezes, too stunned to react for a moment, and then the part of his brain that’s still functioning kicks in and he’s kissing Midoriya back.

He grabs Midoriya’s shoulder in desperation, and Midoriya tucks himself closer against Katsuki’s chest. His mouth is unreasonably warm and soft; he tastes like chocolate, like the brownies that were sitting out on the picnic table.

This is it, the worst thing that’s ever happened to him. Worse than being forced to be partners with someone, worse than that someone being Midoriya, worse than being kidnapped by jackass villains. He’s kissing the only person in the world who knows how to drive him completely bugnuts, and he’s doing it in front of the fucking Stepford Wives Club.

Midoriya breaks away then, leaving Katsuki floundering, and bright green eyes blink up at him as Midoriya murmurs, “They’re watching us.”

“Of course they are,” Katsuki mutters. His heart has annoyingly decided to wedge itself in his lungs, and it’s hard to think, for some dumb reason.

“Let’s head back,” says Midoriya, and starts to lead him once more towards the picnic area. Katsuki lets him, because punching a huge, fiery hole through the wall of trees that surround the park seems a poor tactical decision, and he can’t think of anything else to do.

All he can think of is that it doesn’t really seem fair that his first kiss with Midoriya was in front of a bunch of asshole strangers. And that idea is so weird and offensive that he has to shove it down deep in a box, one he can’t look at too closely right now.

He doesn’t think about it at all until several days later, almost a week after they first arrived in The Pines. It’s 1 am and Katsuki is lying awake, Midoriya a sprawling warm sheet-hog in bed beside him, thoroughly spent after Katsuki paddled him with a spatula from the kitchen until he cried. (The spatula is broken, but the gorgeous marks on Midoriya’s ass remain, a pleasant memento of the experience.)

Sleeping in the same bed doesn’t actually bother Katsuki nearly as much as he thought it would. Midoriya is a sound sleeper, and even if he does have a tendency to latch on like a limpet, Katsuki normally sleeps well enough that it doesn’t wake him up.

But it’s the night after the stupid “love language” seminar. And just as Katsuki feared, it was a tedious goddamn exercise in all the ways some fucking stranger thinks Katsuki and Midoriya need to “improve their relationship communication.” Fashion Hippie (whose real name is Melinda Repplinger) has been upgraded to Fuckface Hippie after how she put the two of them on the spot during the seminar and gave them a list of things they should consider working on to improve the ‘bond of love’ in their relationship.

Six hours later, even after wringing Midoriya out, even after letting Midoriya suck his dick like he begged to after being spanked, Katsuki is still simmering with fury. Fuck her, he thinks viciously. She doesn’t know a goddamn thing about either of them.

But the thing is—the thing that really chaps his ass, the thing that made him grab Midoriya and carry him upstairs as soon as they hit the front door, is that on some obnoxious level, she might actually be right. And Katsuki hates her for it—but lying here in the dark listening to Midoriya’s breathing, he thinks he hates himself more.

It’s like being in counseling with Midoriya all over again, having to review all the awful things he’s done to Midoriya over the years, having to actually confront the thorny mess between them. It was hard, exhausting work, but Katsuki wanted to be a Hero badly enough to do anything, even confront his own worst flaws. Even admit to them, out loud, in front of Midoriya and a fucking therapist. Even apologize, shitty and inadequate as it was, for how cruel he had been, over and over, for years.

But somehow, during that whole process, he was finally able to get past his own anxiety enough to realize what a huge goddamn mistake it was of him to push Midoriya away from him for all those years—and how inexplicably lucky he is to get a second chance with him. And here he is all over again, having some bitch of a stranger lecture him on how he can be a better partner to Midoriya.

Katsuki grinds his teeth, wiping his hand over his face as he contemplates what a fucking shitshow this situation is. He glances over at Midoriya’s peacefully sleeping face, and flashes back to those full lips wrapped around his cock just a few hours ago. His dick twitches at the memory: Midoriya on his knees next to the bed, kneeling up, his face a mess of tears after being paddled so hard the spatula broke, his expression one of utter rapture as Katsuki sank his cock deep into his throat. Katsuki can clearly remember the O his lips made around Katsuki’s dick, the way his cheeks hollowed and he shut his eyes in satisfaction, his eyelashes damp with tears.

Katsuki came embarrassingly fast, already to his limit after manhandling Midoriya into bed and listening to his excited, desperate noises. He managed to dredge up enough energy to go get water and washcloths to clean them both up afterwards, at least. And laying Midoriya out in bed to rub lotion in his ass was weirdly calming for Katsuki, as well. But long after Midoriya passed out in blissful sleep, wrapped up contentedly in the nest of blankets and sheets and pillows in their goddamn enormous bed, Katsuki has lain awake, his exhausted mind running in circles.

The truth is, Katsuki has no fucking idea why Midoriya would even consider trusting him with this. No matter how much blood and sweat Katsuki has put into being a better partner.

But Midoriya does trust him. Somehow. Definitely for reasons beyond what Katsuki really understands. If Katsuki needed convincing of that beyond the fact that their partnership exists at all, Katsuki remains the only person who knows the truth of how Midoriya gained his Quirk. Katsuki knew since before their partnership, from back in their UA days, but it wasn’t until they started working together that Katsuki got more than the bare bones of the story.

He had been both gratified and annoyed at the knowledge, of course. Gratified to find out that he didn’t somehow miss Midoriya’s Quirk all those years, or that Midoriya hadn’t been hiding it from him, somehow. And annoyed at the confirmation that, yes, okay, Universe, he gets it, Midoriya is such an A plus fucking human being that even All Might recognized it—was impressed enough to bestow possibly the world’s greatest honor and gift on Midoriya. Thanks for that! Katsuki definitely hadn’t had enough crow to eat already.

Because he has. Repeatedly, and at great length. He was wrong about Midoriya, overlooked and outright bullied him for years. But nerdy, nervous, Quirkless, worthless fucking Deku somehow turned out to be more than deserving of All Might’s blessing—to be the kind of person who would challenge Katsuki and point out his flaws, instead of kissing his ass or blowing him off, and somehow like him anyway.

Midoriya makes a noise, interrupting Katsuki’s sour thoughts, and then his eyes open. He peers at Katsuki, his face impossibly soft as he tries to make his eyes focus. “It’s late,” he whispers. “Why aren’t you asleep?”

Katsuki’s lip curls. “Can’t sleep,” he says shortly.

Midoriya sighs and sits up, because of course he does. “Do you want to tell me about it?” he asks. His face is as kind as his voice. Of fucking course he’d ask that. Of fucking course he’d mean it, too.

Katsuki rubs his face. “It’s nothing,” he says shortly. Midoriya’s face quirks into a small smile. “No, it’s stupid, don’t… I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“Okay,” says Midoriya simply. “But you should tell me, when you feel ready. I’ll listen.”

Katsuki grunts. Midoriya crawls closer, studying his face. “Roll over and let me give you a massage,” says Midoriya. Katsuki squints at him, disbelieving. Midoriya rolls his eyes. “Come on, you’re always telling me how I need to de-stress so I can sleep but what, you’re invincible now?”

“Fuck you,” says Katsuki, surly, but he rolls over onto his stomach anyway. Midoriya climbs on top of him, and Katsuki suppresses a shiver at the feeling of his partner’s muscular thighs against his ass. Then Midoriya digs his hands into the meat of Katsuki’s shoulders, and Katsuki lets out a strangled groan, eyelids fluttering in satisfaction.

There’s a reason all the local soccer moms and suburbanites swarm Midoriya every chance they get, and it isn’t just because the sun shines out his ass. Midoriya has gone from a short, skinny twerp with a face just asking to be punched to a short, muscular Hero with scars enough to match anyone now working. It took a lot of blood, sweat, and tears for Midoriya to get strong enough to be able to handle All Might’s inheritance, and the physique Midoriya has as a result is ….well.

Katsuki can’t blame people for noticing.

Shit, he’s noticing right now. He groans as Midoriya apparently decides to knead him like bread dough, clever fingers working into the tightly-strung tissue of his back. Midoriya grunts softly, digging his knuckles into the ridge of muscle between Katsuki’s shoulder blades. Katsuki shoves his face against the pillow and gives in, making indecent noises into the pillow and not giving a damn who hears.

Katsuki isn’t expecting the massage to help much, really. But somehow, it does. Midoriya takes his time, using the same lotion Katsuki used on Midoriya’s thighs and ass a few hours ago. Twenty minutes later, Katsuki is all but melting into the bed, so relaxed that it’s questionable whether he counts as a sentient being.

Midoriya finally climbs off him, murmuring something no doubt inane to Katsuki as he does so. He gets off the bed altogether, going… somewhere. The bathroom, probably. By the time he comes back, Katsuki is out like a light.

Chapter Text

“Katsuki, where did you put the deviled eggs?”

Midoriya pokes his head in from the next room, brow furrowed with what Katsuki thinks is a ridiculous amount of anxiety. Katsuki communicates this through a heavy glower, one that his husband—partner—whatever—just fucking ignores.

“Those things are disgusting,” Katsuki says. He’s standing at the heavily-laden butcher’s block in the center of the kitchen, surrounded on all sides by pastries and hors d’oeuvres and goddamn tiny drink umbrellas waiting to be put in glasses. He’s in the middle of pouring himself some whiskey, purely for the sake of his sanity. Midoriya’s eyes fall on the bottle of Maker’s Mark, and his brows furrow.

“Please tell me you didn’t throw them away,” he says, coming into the kitchen and over to stand beside Katsuki. “Mrs. Morrin made a big fuss about using her family recipe when she dropped them off earlier.”

Katsuki growls in the back of his throat and knocks back some of the whiskey in his glass. Then he says, grudgingly, “I put them in the fridge.”

How? It’s so full!” Midoriya goes to their massive fridge and pulls the door open. “I don’t see them…”

“Top shelf,” says Katsuki, and allows himself a small measure of satisfaction at the impressed noise Midoriya makes. Fridge Tetris is not a skill Katsuki gives a shit about, at all, but, well.

Midoriya gets out the offending appetizer and sets it on the counter, then comes back over to Katsuki. To Katsuki’s alarm and disgust, Midoriya wraps his arms around Katsuki from behind, laying his cheek against Katsuki’s spine.

“Thank you for being so patient today,” he says, softly. His arms are warm, softer and sweeter than the warmth of the whiskey down Katsuki’s throat. “I know you hate this kind of thing.”

“Yeah, well, the dinner party was my goddamn idea, wasn’t it,” says Katsuki. Because apparently, he hates himself and loves suffering. He swallows hard. Setting the glass down on the butcher’s block, he turns around, staring down at Midoriya’s face. “You don’t have to do this ‘love language’ bullshit when no one else is around, you know.”

Midoriya smiles up at him in response. Katsuki can’t help but be aware of the fact that Midoriya is still hugging him. “I’m just staying in character,” he says, and tilts his face up, expression hopeful.

Katsuki’s stomach turns over. He suddenly wishes he hadn’t just started drinking, mostly because toothpaste probably tastes better to kiss than whiskey, but it’s too late now. “Fuck,” he mutters, and leans down, catching Midoriya’s lips with his in a kiss only slightly less awkward than their first time.

This is the fourth kiss. Katsuki is only counting because he wants to keep track of how much bullshit he has to put up with during this assignment. And because he hates the idea of being bad at anything, no matter how mundane or unnecessary. So he has to keep track, and he has to get better.

Midoriya doesn’t seem to mind, at least. He leans into Katsuki, and without thinking Katsuki brings up a hand, carding his fingers through Midoriya’s messy hair to cradle the back of his head. “You really gotta give up the ‘mop’ look sometime,” he murmurs against Midoriya’s mouth. “Makes you look like a fuckin’ teenager.”

Midoriya laughs. His nose crinkles distractingly this close up, but then he kisses Katsuki again, which is okay.

They stay like that in the kitchen for a few minutes, just practicing, which is at least less obnoxious than all the other party-planning they’ve been running around doing all fucking afternoon. Katsuki is just wrapping his arm around Midoriya’s waist to pull him a little closer when the goddamn doorbell goes off, and Midoriya jerks back, face flushed.

“They’re here,” he says. “I’ll get the door!”

“Fine,” says Katsuki. It’s not, but he lets Midoriya go haring off down the hall to the front door anyway. He turns back to the butcher’s block, grabs his drink, and slams the rest of the whiskey in one go. Only then does he head down the hall after his partner to greet their guests.

The dinner party is an ambitious bid, for sure, but Katsuki thinks it’ll work. For one thing, it’ll bring all their major suspects together under one roof; for another, as Katsuki pointed out to Midoriya before they made their pitch, it’ll be a flagrant display of their money. (It’s actually a flagrant display of Synergy’s money, and Katsuki is a little unnerved to think that he has no idea what their cut-off is, but regardless, Calla gave them the go-ahead.)

Which is why, at 6 pm sharp, what seems like every wealthy yuppie and trust fund hippie and crunchy start-up asshole within fifty miles shows up at their front door. Katsuki is a little worried that not all these people will even fit in their house, but at least they have a pool out back that people can mingle around. Or drown in, if Katsuki’s lucky.

Midoriya would be mad if he heard Katsuki say any of that out loud. But he might also make that smothered smile that Katsuki likes so much, the one that says loud and clear he’s still laughing even if his better nature says he shouldn’t be. Katsuki likes those. They feel like a victory.

He tries to think about those smiles, and about the satisfaction of clobbering a villain that he and Midoriya successfully drew out, and a dozen other scenarios that don’t involve mingling and making stupid small talk with inane fuckfaces. All of whom, for the record, want to talk about bullshit like homemade hummus and dog yoga and what juice cleanse emptied out their colon the best.

Katsuki can hardly believe that topic in particular. Who thinks it’s okay to talk about your indigestion and your bathroom habits with virtual strangers? Who the fuck does that?

Everyone at his party, apparently.

The house fills up. Before people got here, Katsuki and Midoriya had actually been a bit concerned that they’d gone overboard with the amount of food and drink they arranged, but now Katsuki is starting to wonder if they’re going to run out. Luckily, some of their guests bring food as well, and soon what seems like every flat surface in the house has dishes on it, with guests milling around snacking on petit fours and tiny bullshit snacks. Katsuki is already mentally dumping every single dish in the trash in anticipation of the night being over, but for now he plasters a fake smile on his face and continues to make meaningless conversation.

His struggle quickly becomes worth it, however. Within the first hour, Katsuki hears a number of rumors, including everything from an apparent murder-suicide on the other side of town to a few people who’ve unexpectedly moved away. The most interesting of them is about a wealthy heiress who supposedly “went insane”: went out into the country for a weekend party three weeks ago with socialite friends, did what everyone assumes must have been some really bad drugs, then vanished. She only just turned up earlier in the week, wandering out in the country in the shreds of her party dress and babbling about seeing monsters.

“She’s so lucky that Bethany Lazlow is such a saint,” says the gossip in question—a man with a shellacked pompadour wearing a camo army jacket and aggressively skinny jeans. “The Bright Path put her up in a facility and is arranging her rehab. I heard she donated a huge chunk of money to them, so at least she realizes she should be grateful.”

Yeah, that’s not shady at all, Katsuki thinks darkly. The woman in front of him raises her (aggressively plucked) eyebrows, and he realizes he missed something she said. Shit. “Sorry, I was just—thinking about my husband,” he blurts, and instantly hates himself. He hates himself worse at the way her expression changes, an uncomfortably eager look coming onto her face.

“The two of you are so cute together,” she says. “It almost makes up for what a tragedy it is the two of you are into men.”

Katsuki stares at her for a moment, honestly stunned that anyone could be that much of a shithead. The woman swans off, making a comment about how she needs another drink. It’s just as well. Katsuki would probably have thrown his in her face in another moment.

Not that most of the other guests are any better. Two people (one of whom is Fuckface Hippie, naturally) even bring their tiny toy dogs, who yap loudly at each other and everyone else who comes too close to them or their owners. Katsuki wants to know who the fuck thinks it’s okay to bring your fuckin’ piece of shit yap machine to someone else’s party, and then has his answer when the woman in question presents him with a box of sample tinctures to cleanse his aura and improve his sex life.

Katsuki is so annoyed by this last conversation in particular that he has to go upstairs and lock himself in the guest bedroom where he and Midoriya have stashed all the new toys and leather equipment they bought a few days ago. (Well, ordered online. They aren’t stupid enough to go into a store together, not right now.) He and Midoriya haven’t had time to do any more actual intense scenes since they went into deep cover—they’ve been too busy with reconnaissance and the business of pretending to be they people they present themselves as. But they did take the time to both fill out the kink lists, and just based on a few overlaps, Katsuki ordered them some things. (“Some things” include a ball gag, a shockingly beautiful silicone dildo that’s also a vibrator, and a few leather toys.)

Katsuki pulls out the box with those things in it now, rifling through it and picturing how satisfying it’ll be to truss Midoriya up in the thick leather straps, how beautifully his ass and back and thighs will bruise using the fancy flogger. Katsuki grips the leather in both hands, squeezing it tight, and belatedly wonders when Midoriya’s stress relief started becoming something he looked forward to.

Shit. That’s not… that’s weird. Katsuki scowls, shoving the leather back into the box, suddenly angry at himself.

So what if he likes it? Midoriya’s into it, isn’t he, he fucking begs for it when they mess around now—not that Katsuki has much data on that just yet, but he’s planning to. And Katsuki’s just doing what they said they would do, trying to be a good partner.

But the realization unsettles him. He shoves the box back under the bed, making sure the bed dressing hides it from sight, then heads back downstairs. So distracted is he that he doesn’t actually notice the too-familiar guests in his living room until one of them turns towards him and says, cordially, “Hello, Katsuki, it’s good to see you.”

Katsuki stares. The man in front of him is familiar, and yet not. The sardonic expression on his face is one that Katsuki knows all too well, but he can’t place those hazel eyes, the dark hair. His brain slides sideways, trying to wrap around something it can’t quite get ahold of.

The stranger sees it in his face, and blinks. He leans forward, close enough to whisper under his breath. “It’s Shouto Todoroki,” he murmurs, and with a pop! heard only inside Katsuki’s head, Calla’s Quirk of Unknowing is released and he recognizes his old classmate all at once. “My name is Shouto Hasegawa,” Todoroki says, louder.

“Nice to meet you,” he blurts, because they aren’t alone and he can’t freak out the way he wants to. “I uh… Your hair looks—” dumb, weird, different “—good.” It’s about the stupidest goddamn thing he’s said all day. Katsuki curses inwardly.

Amusement flickers across Todoroki’s face. “Thanks,” he says. “I can give you the name of my stylist, if you want.” Katsuki feels the urge to roll his eyes so hard they leave his body and launch into the sun, but instead he forces a smile. Hair color, contacts, maybe some artful makeup; all useful in hiding your face when you’re so recognizable like Half-and-Half bastard is. Maybe Calla’s Quirk wasn’t quite enough on its own, he thinks.

“That’s not necessary,” Katsuki says. Across the room, he sees another familiar face, a woman he can’t quite recognize. Todoroki sees him looking and say, in that same barely-there whisper, “Momo Yaoyorozu.” Again the pop! comes, and Katsuki can recognize another of his classmates. “That’s my wife.”

Hero Partners; that’s right. Katsuki remembers now. “I see your wife has met Izuku,” says Katsuki, glancing at Todoroki. There’s a flicker he can’t parse on Todoroki’s face, and then Todoroki inclines his head.

“Izuku is the one who invited us,” he says, which Katsuki knows for a fact to be bullshit, because he and Midoriya went over the invitation list with a fine-tooth comb. “We met at the dog park last week.”

“Ah,” says Katsuki, because fuck you and your shitty face isn’t really conducive to maintaining their mutual covers. He doesn’t like hearing Midoriya’s given name out of Todoroki’s mouth, as though they’re close—even though he knows they are, knows Todoroki is one of Midoriya’s best friends.

He wishes Calla had given him a heads-up that there were going to be other UA grads trying to infiltrate, as well. She mentioned that there would be other Heroes, but that she couldn’t give their names without endangering their covers—and considering her Quirk is the one they apparently used to go unrecognized, she had to have known who all of them were. Katsuki is able to recognize the need to keep cover, but that doesn’t mean he has to like it.

Or Todoroki.

Todoroki apparently feels the same, because he’s carrying a gin and tonic with the grim determination of a man about to have his fingernails ripped off one by one and is preparing himself to endure it. “You should show me around the house,” he says. He’s wearing an expression that says he’d rather be doing literally anything else, but Katsuki recognizes the bid for information sharing, so he turns and leads Todoroki back down the hall to start the ‘tour’ upstairs in the bedroom.

“You could have given me a fucking heads up before you turn up in my living room,” Katsuki says, as soon as the door’s shut behind them.

Todoroki’s expression does not change, save for a slight eyebrow raise. “Aren’t you supposed to be prepared to keep your cover through anything?” he notes. “Seeing a familiar face seems high on the list of things you should be ready for.”

“Eat shit and die,” says Katsuki. Todoroki gives him a small, cold smile. For a moment Katsuki thinks he can actually see the ice sheet in his eyes.

“Poor Midoriya, having to pretend to be married to you,” he says. “Your idea of a romantic evening is probably blowing up trash cans and getting corner store takeout.”

Katsuki grits his teeth, glaring bloody murder at Todoroki, who responds by looking thoroughly bored. His hands are physically itching to detonate something, and Katsuki is inches from grabbing something close to hand to ignite and hurl at Todoroki’s face—but through the cracked bedroom door, he hears a faint laugh carry up from downstairs. Midoriya, laughing at something or someone and somehow managing to sound genuine.

If that bright-eyed little shit can get through this, so can he, thinks Katsuki. He won’t let Midoriya be better at this than him, no matter how obnoxious Todoroki wants to be. “We’re good enough at the act to get invited to Melinda Repplinger’s love language seminar our first week here,” he says.

Todoroki’s eyebrows actually go up a bit at that, and Katsuki grins, vicious. Score. “They must really like Midoriya,” says Todoroki, and Katsuki is right back to wanting to throttle him.

“Look, did you come here to share intel or just annoy me?” he demands. They’ve already been upstairs longer than is probably safe, and they need to end this, quick. “How long have you been here? What have you and Yaoyorozu found out?”

Todoroki makes a face, then digs out his wallet. “I came to give you this,” he says, and brings out a small thumb drive. “Email’s not safe except through the VPN, and I’m not sure your company’s will work with ours, so we’ll have to do it this way. It’s everything we’ve found on the Bright Path so far.”

“Good,” says Katsuki, and takes it. Once upon a time, he’d sooner have thrown himself in oncoming traffic than accept help from someone he detests as much as he does Todoroki, but the past two years and some change have been an exercise in getting over himself in order to get the job done. “We’ve only been here a week and a half, but I’ll have Izuku collect everything we have and get it to you. Is there anyone else embedded?”

“Ochako and Iida,” says Todoroki. “They didn’t come tonight because they’re on a Starfinders retreat with the Lazlows.”

“Shit,” says Katsuki. “They better find something out, one of those getaways is fucking expensive.” The Starfinders retreats are one of the most exclusive, invite-only events the Bright Path offers, one that Katsuki has only heard word of around the Pines. Slots seem to book up far in advance and only be offered via word-of-mouth. The way Katsuki’s heard it, you have to be a close friend of the Lazlows to even get consideration.

“I know,” says Todoroki. His face flattens a little. “That seems to be a trend with this group.”

“Tell me about it,” says Katsuki. “Dog Face—that is, Marcus Lazlow put us in contact with one of his friends who does catering for this dinner party, and he gave us a ‘discount’ for stuff that still cost a fucking arm and a leg.”

Todoroki’s eyebrows go up at the nickname Katsuki uses, but he chooses not to comment on it. His expression turns more serious. “Be careful,” he says. “Momo has been running data analysis on some of the more suspicious events in the Pines, and she’s run into some disturbing trends. There’s an unusual number of people hospitalized monthly from this area, with reasons ranging from food poisoning to unexplained mental status changes.”

“Great,” says Katsuki. “I can’t wait to get food poisoning from nasty fuckin’ deviled eggs.”

“The deviled eggs are good,” says Todoroki mildly. “Mrs. Morrin’s recipe, anyway.” Katsuki gives him a dirty look meant to encompass all of his disgust, both in deviled eggs as an appetizer choice and in Todoroki as a person. Todoroki gives him a beatific smile by way of response.

They go back downstairs after that to mingle and pretend to be interested in conversations that range from banal to stupid to downright offensive. Katsuki takes a grim sort of pleasure in witnessing how unpleasant Todoroki and Yaoyorozu find these conversations—at least it’s not just him. But really, while not everyone in the Pines can possibly be ‘in cahoots’ (as Midoriya says, like they’re in a goddamn spy movie), plenty of them are substituting malevolence or greed with plain old human stupidity and vapidness. The conversation topics range from how useful essential oils are for fighting a cold, to the merits of GrubHub vs. Bitesquad for best delivery service, to how vaccines are an evil lie perpetuated by drug companies looking to get rich.

(Katsuki actually has to rescue Midoriya from this last one; Katsuki can see the gorge rising in Midoriya’s throat as he listens to this particular tirade, given by the Bikram yoga teacher who came to their dinner party in yoga pants and ugly boots that cost $250 if they cost a penny. Midoriya goes a little too hard in the direction of Protecting the Public sometimes, including things that have literally nothing to do with being a Hero, and this area is one of them. Which means Midoriya is seconds away from bursting into a fervent argument that will win them exactly no points with this crowd.

Katsuki defuses things by announcing “Excuse me, I have to go talk to my husband now” and dragging Midoriya off to the kitchen amid startled looks and some confused babbling. He wastes no time, wrapping an arm around Midoriya’s waist and loudly kissing him against the counter, another tumbler of whiskey in one hand. He hears excited whispering from behind them and does not care, pulling Midoriya harder against him, as if in defiance. Midoriya melts against his chest, fisting one hand in Katsuki’s pressed shirt, and Katsuki tells himself that at least this night wasn’t a total fucking waste.)

The rest of the evening is more of the same—that is, an exercise is increasing frustration. Katsuki has always hated small talk, and as his patience thins he winds up all but attached to Midoriya at the hip, having to rely rather heavily on his partner to keep up their end of the conversation. He makes obligatory noises at various points, but otherwise he mostly just sips his drink and thinks about punching things.

One last test of his self-control comes perhaps an hour or so before the end of the party. It’s 8:30, and Katsuki is just starting to think about kicking everyone out soon when he hears Fuckface Hippie calling after her little yappy shitmachine, and then the sound of a door opening upstairs. Katsuki’s stomach clenches up like he just swallowed poison. He walks off in the middle of a conversation with some person whose name he doesn’t even know, but he doesn’t even get halfway to the stairs before Fuckface is clattering down with her dog in her arms and a dangerously excited look on her face.

“Mr. Nakamura,” she says, and adopts an expression of concerned beneficence. Katsuki is immediately on guard. “My little Frito got away from me, and when I went after him to collect him, I couldn’t help but notice how lived-in your second bedroom looks. I knew the two of you had things to work on in your relationship, but I hope things haven’t come to this already?”

Her voice is too loud, much too loud. And Katsuki is sure that the door to that bedroom was shut, because he made sure both bedroom doors were closed when he and Todoroki left the second floor. But all of a sudden every pair of eyes in the living room is on him, and everything has just gotten deathly silent.

Reflexively, Katsuki looks over at Midoriya, just a few feet away with Yaoyorozu. Midoriya is white-faced, staring at him with eyes that are too wide. Katsuki clenches his teeth. His heart speeds up, his palms dampening in the automatic anticipation of a battle, but he can’t do the thing he most wants to do.

So instead he does the next best thing, and reaches for what will get everyone out of his house in a fucking hurry.

“We use the second bedroom for sex,” he says, loudly. He’s staring right at Fuckface Hippie as he speaks. “It gets really wet and messy, and that way we don’t have to change the sheets before we go to sleep. I hope your dog didn’t get into the lube, I hear it gives animals a bad case of the shits.”

Dead silence. Katsuki glances around challenging, taking in all the scandalized faces. Then Deborah, the owner of the essential oils shop, steps forward, and in a scarily reasonable voice says, “We sell some vegan, bio-friendly lube at my store that you should try; it’d probably be much healthier for you.”

Katsuki freezes. Midoriya makes a horrified squeaking noise, and then it’s like a dam bursts as people start talking again. “I’m so glad to hear you have such an active sex life!” says Fuckface Hippie. Her face is radiant like Katsuki just offered her a thousand dollars on a silver platter. “That’s wonderful!”

“Uh,” says Katsuki, because he doesn’t actually want to talk to people about his and Midoriya’s (!!!) sex life, he wants everyone to get the fuck out of his house, but apparently, the people in the Pines are a bunch of oversharing freaks in the bedroom, too. Katsuki feels his face go up in flames as Deborah gets out a fucking pamphlet from her purse and presses it on him, earnestly telling him about how she sells a collection of herbs that will ‘enhance performance in the bedroom.’

All Katsuki can think is that it’s lucky Fuckface Hippie didn’t find the goddamn handcuffs.

The party does wind down after that, thank God. The conversation veers abruptly towards sex, and although way more people are down with that than Katsuki wants, a significant number of people choose that point to leave. It’s only because Midoriya comes over and attaches himself to Katsuki’s hip at this point that Katsuki manages not to physically pick up their remaining guests and hurl them out the door with gratuitous violence. Which turns out to be a good thing, because the conversation takes kind of a weird bent when they’re down to a dozen-odd remaining guests.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” says Jeremiah, the caterer who helped arrange much of the overly pricey food and drink for this party. He’s stuck around, along with Deborah, Fuckface Hippie, and a dozen other men and women who are still standing around with wine glasses or cocktails in tumblers. Everyone is munching on scones brought from Bethany Lazlow’s bakery, which Jeremiah produced as a treat for the remaining party guests. Katsuki honestly isn’t even sure where the fuck he got them from, but he also doesn’t care. “You really made the right decision coming to the Pines. You were meant to walk the Bright Path.”

“The Bright Path?” repeats Midoriya, from where he’s leaning against Katsuki’s chest. He’s being unusually clingy, Katsuki notes; probably just an act for their guests, but it’s distracting.

“Yes,” says Deborah earnestly. “I think so too. It’s a way forward to unlock all your potential and achieve lasting happiness.” She looks a little stoned, Katsuki thinks, her pupils too wide and her face flushed. Maybe she’s tripping.

Either way, he can’t pass up the opportunity, even though he wants to serve everyone a knuckle sandwich and a quick exit. “I thought this community seemed different,” Katsuki says, and Midoriya makes a noise of agreement. “Most people wouldn’t react well to hearing what I said earlier.”

“You were trying to protect your relationship and drive us off,” says Fuckface Hippie sagely. Katsuki has to squash the immediate urge to punch her in the face. “And many unenlightened people would not have been so welcoming, it’s true. But now we have a chance to help guide you in a new direction. I’d like to invite both of you to come to a retreat the Lazlows are holding soon.”

“Oh,” says Midoriya, and he blushes appealingly. “That’s—that’s so kind of you, wow.”

“What kind of retreat?” asks Katsuki. He tugs Midoriya in front of him, wrapping his arms around his partner’s waist and letting Midoriya lean back into him.

“Just a camping trip to some cabins, don’t worry,” says Jeremiah. “There’ll be meditation, and nature walks, and some experiences meant to guide your spirit to the divine and help open your inner eyes.”

“Oh,” says Katsuki. For some reason, his immediate response to this isn’t your ideas are garbage and I hate you. Instead, he feels warm, pleased, satisfied, like this is some huge favor being bestowed on him. He flushes, and hugs Midoriya tighter. “That’s… wow, that sounds amazing. Thank you, we would love to come to that.”

Midoriya turns around in Katsuki’s arms. Instead of looking concerned that Katsuki has been replaced by a Stepford Pod Person, he looks thrilled: his eyes are bright, his lips trembling with a smile Katsuki’s only seen once or twice in his life. “I’m so happy you convinced me to move here,” he says, and leans up to kiss Katsuki hard.

Katsuki freezes for just a moment, conflicted in a thousand ways—if Midoriya looks like that when he’s kissing Katsuki, all Katsuki can think is that he doesn’t want to share it with a single other person—and then he gives in anyway, hugging Midoriya tight and kissing him back. He hears soft murmurs from their guests, knows this is the most obnoxious kind of PDA, but in that exact moment he doesn’t care.

Midoriya pulls back after a few seconds, laying his cheek against Katsuki’s chest and tucking his head under Katsuki’s chin. It’s ridiculous, puerile sentiment, but Katsuki’s heart feels like it’s about to hammer out of his chest. His eyes sting, like he might cry. This, more than anything else, makes him suspicious, and it sobers him up enough to be able to lift his gaze and look over at their guests.

Deborah looks radiantly happy for them, like she’s just watched a baby being born. Fuckface Hippie looks smug; Jeremiah has an expression on his face Katsuki can’t read. “Sorry,” says Katsuki, not sounding particularly sorry.

“It’s fine,” says Jeremiah, and the other guests all make noises in agreement. “We’re happy for you.” And despite himself, in that moment Katsuki believes him.

Their guests leave some ten minutes later, after a lot of nonsense about how ‘life-changing’ and ‘soul-affirming’ the retreat is going to be and a lot of other similar garbage about the Lazlows in particular. Katsuki waffles between being still furious at Fuckface Hippie for barging into their bedroom, and being weirdly elated at being included in this group and their plans. He latches on to the irritation, and by the time his guests are saying their farewells he feels mostly normal again: cranky, and wanting to be alone with Midoriya.

Midoriya doesn’t look normal, though. He looks high as balls. He shuts the door behind Fuckface Hippie, who is somehow the last goddamn person to leave their house, and then he sighs, leaning against the door with a blissful expression on his face.

“Snap out of it, Izuku,” says Katsuki with a frown.

“Sorry,” says Midoriya, and straightens, visibly trying to collect himself, but he still looks stoned, kind of dopey. Katsuki glances over at the tray of pastries still sitting out on their coffee table—sees the crumbs of the two scones Midoriya ate, and the half-eaten one that was his—and has a sudden epiphany.

“They’re fucking drugging us, or something,” he says. Midoriya blinks at him. His eyes are huge and dark, his face soft, giving him a doe-eyed expression that’s going right to Katsuki’s dick. “It’s something in those pastries.”

“Maybe,” says Midoriya, and smiles at him. “Can’t we just take tonight off, though?” His voice drops in pitch as he says this, and suddenly there’s absolutely no mistaking what’s on his mind as he stares back at Katsuki.

Oh, shit. “We should… probably just go to bed,” says Katsuki bracingly.

Midoriya pouts and pushes off the door. He comes over to Katsuki, leaning into him again and snaking his arms around Katsuki’s waist. Katsuki is abruptly too aware of his whole body, as though anywhere Midoriya touches is going to erupt whether Katsuki wants it to or not. “Come on,” Midoriya says, a rough note creeping into his voice. “It was such a long night, I know you hated it, and then you went and talked about all those fun things we’ve been doing in the second bedroom. Don’t you want to?”

An invisible vacuum appears over Katsuki’s head, sucking all his willpower and logical thinking right out of his skull. All it leaves behind is base lust and the overwhelming need to have his hands on Midoriya. He shudders, his hands settling carefully at the small of Midoriya’s back, Katsuki’s eyes glued to his partner’s face.

He knows that Midoriya isn’t totally in control of his faculties—the drinking, whatever was up with those goddamn scones, the suggestiveness of the scenario and the roles they’re playing. Normally he wouldn’t give a shit. That’s not his problem, is it, if someone else gets their head screwed on wrong and makes a bunch of stupid decisions. But the idea of Midoriya asking for sex, from him personally, without really meaning it—for some reason, that bothers him a lot.

He tries. He fucking tries. “Izuku, you’re not yourself right now,” he manages. “There’s something with the food—” Midoriya cuts him off by arching up against Katsuki, kissing him messily right and grinding against Katsuki’s traitorous hard-on.

“I feel good,” Midoriya whispers, “and I want to make you feel good, too. What’s wrong with that?”

Katsuki’s remaining protests die on his tongue. He grabs Midoriya, hauling him up Katsuki’s body and grabbing him under his ass; Midoriya wraps both legs around Katsuki’s hips and kisses him again, making excited noises into his mouth. Katsuki slides his fingers through Midoriya’s hair to hold the back of his head, returns the kiss with interest. He vents all his frustrations and discomfort with this weird evening into Midoriya’s soft mouth, biting at his lush bottom lip and drinking up his moans.

Midoriya is so fucking into it that he’s practically climbing Katsuki like a tree. His muscular thighs squeeze against Katsuki’s hips, his breath shudders in his throat as Katsuki devours his mouth; Katsuki can feel the excited hammer of Midoriya’s heart against his own chest. He wraps his arms around Katsuki’s neck, dragging his clever fingers through Katsuki’s hair, and grinds those sturdy hips against Katsuki’s. One of his hands finds its way into the back of Katsuki’s pants, yanking his shirt out to get at bare skin. Katsuki breaks off kissing with a curse, exhaling hard against Midoriya’s face as Midoriya’s nails scrape up his back.

“Kacchan,” pants Midoriya. “Please.”

“Fuck,” mutters Katsuki, and carries his husband upstairs.

He’s almost never seen Midoriya—Izuku—like this. Even during the few times they’ve scened and messed around, it usually takes Izuku a while to shut his brain off, to be able to sink into physicality and sensation. Seeing him like this right off the bat, begging for Katsuki to take him apart like Katsuki is the air he needs to breath—it’s a heady drug all by itself. The small part of Katsuki still awake enough to think of such things is scared what getting hooked on that will do to him.

Katsuki throws Izuku on the bed, the two of them stripping hurriedly, three-hundred-dollar slacks and designer shirts thrown on the floor like used tissues. Izuku is on him almost immediately, desperate to press their bare skin to each other as he grabs for Katsuki’s arms to pull him down. Katsuki catches him, crawling on top of him to push him down to the bed. He pins Izuku’s thighs apart with his own knees, his wrists caught in one hand and pinned to the bed so Katsuki can drink in the sight of him: all toned muscle and flushed pink skin dotted here and there with scars and freckles, hair a messy shock of green on the pillow, pupils hugely dilated, lips swollen from being bitten and kissed.

“I am going to fuck you up so bad,” Katsuki says. He’s rewarded by Izuku moaning and lifting his hips. His fat cock bobs over the dip of his stomach, red and tempting. Katsuki gives in, dropping Izuku’s wrists to get down between his thighs and wrap his hand around that sweet temptation. Izuku makes a noise like he’s dying, grabbing Katsuki’s head with both hands and pressing down as he spreads his thighs open.

It’s not the first time Katsuki’s blown someone, but it’s definitely the hottest. He goes down far enough to make his eyes water, Izuku’s cock thick and salty on the back of his tongue. Katsuki back off a bit, then sucks hard, reveling in the cries it earns him from Izuku as Katsuki works his hand around the base of Izuku’s cock. It takes what seems like no time before Izuku is smacking his shoulder in warning, gibbering something unintelligible as his hips jerk, and then he’s coming messily in Katsuki’s mouth, bitter and satisfying all at once.

Katsuki sits up, wiping his hand over the back of his mouth, to see Izuku staring at him with a dazed expression. “Katsuki,” he sighs. “You’re amazing.

“No shit,” says Katsuki, and grins when Izuku laughs. “But you better not be done.”

“Not even close,” says Izuku.

Katsuki suffers a terrible urge to kiss him for it—and since tonight has already been an exercise in a lot of bad ideas, he adds one more, crawling up Izuku’s body to flatten him against the bed and kiss him hard. Izuku wraps arms and legs around him, clinging to him like Katsuki is the only thing keeping him alive, and Katsuki feels the abyss close over his head and knows he’s going to drown.

It’s like a dam has broken. Maybe it’s whatever was in the scones, or maybe it’s the booze, or maybe it’s just the fact that both of them are pent-up from their undercover op, but something makes Katsuki want to completely wreck Izuku, and not just because he knows Izuku might need it. Izuku has to work in the morning like the boring fucking normal he’s pretending to be, but Katsuki keeps him gasping and moaning into the bed until well past midnight. He digs out some of the new toys they bought, eager to try them out—more eager to make Izuku’s eyes light up and sob out more of those fucked-out noises that Katsuki is finding he can’t get enough of.

It turns out Izuku isn’t just a masochist—he’s a complete slut when it comes to all the different ways Katsuki can overload him. Turns out there’s a lot more things than just liking being spanked raw, although Katsuki is more than happy to oblige him there. He cries when Katsuki bites and tweaks his nipples, leaking pre-come from his renewed hard-on; he looks positively radiant when Katsuki puts a ball-gag in his mouth and then ties his hands to the headboard; he wails around the gag when Katsuki folds his legs back and stretches his hole with one of the vibrators Izuku picked out from the catalog that Katsuki pushed on him.

The vibrator is a smooth work of art, all blue silicon and wicked ridges, with six different settings, all of which Katsuki works Izuku through. He’s absolutely ruthless, fucking Izuku’s pinkened ass with it, his own dick rock-hard and untouched between his legs. He can’t get enough of the way Izuku rocks back down against the slicked toy, making hot, needy noises around the gag in his mouth.

(Later, Katsuki will realize belatedly that there was no way for Izuku to safe word with a fucking gag in his mouth and his hands tied up, and contemplate bashing his own face against the wall for it. But the reality is that Izuku could break the restraints, the bed, the ceiling, and Katsuki all in one punch if he wanted to. It brings him cold comfort, though.)

At the time, though, recrimination isn’t on his mind at all. Getting his dick in that plush, well-abused ass, meanwhile, is at the very top. Katsuki fucks Izuku with the vibrator turned up to max until Izuku is screaming around the gag and arching like a bow, spurting more come across his belly. He sags to the bed and lays there like a rag doll, eyes shut in exhausted bliss.

“How are you so fucking hot,” Katsuki mutters under his breath. He’s hardly aware he’s spoken, too busy setting aside the toy and getting Izuku out of the restraints and the gag. His only thoughts are of how he wants to hear Izuku’s noises and feel Izuku clinging to him as he fucks him.

“Kacchan, you haven’t come yet,” Izuku says raggedly. He opens his eyes to peer up at Katsuki, who leans down to catch him in a messy kiss.

“Yeah,” Katsuki gets out between kisses, more teeth than lips. “Wanna fuck you, Izuku.” The hot please, yes! that Izuku moans out in response is all the go-ahead Katsuki needs. He’s rolling on a condom and slicking his dick with shaky hands, folding Izuku’s legs back again as he gets between his trembling thighs. Izuku grabs his own legs, holding them back and apart as Katsuki pushes Izuku’s cheeks apart and presses the tip of his cock to Izuku’s raw, pink hole.

Katsuki teases them both for a moment, pressing his cock-head against Izuku’s hole and then backing off. He grins wickedly at Izuku’s whine, then slowly presses forward. “Fuuuuck,” he grits out. There’s a tiny bit of resistance, and then the head of his cock slips past the ring of muscle and he’s sinking into that tight heat. Katsuki keeps going without stopping, not giving himself or Izuku a chance to breathe, just one long slow thrust that has him groaning in satisfaction as he buries himself in Izuku’s ass.

Izuku sighs, flexing slightly around his dick, and Katsuki swears at how fucking good that feels. “S’big,” Izuku mumbles. “Feels so good.” He looks blasted, blissed-out, high as fuck on having Katsuki balls-deep inside him. Katsuki swallows hard.

He tries to take it slow, but he and Izuku are both short on stamina by now, and it isn’t long before Katsuki has Izuku bent in half with his ankles by his ears, hips lifted up as Katsuki fucks him hard into the bed. Every thrust makes the bed creak, Izuku’s cries getting louder and louder as Katsuki’s hips slap hard against Izuku’s ass. Katsuki’s down on his elbows on the mattress, his face right over Izuku’s, so that he can’t miss the wrecked face Izuku is making, or any of the messy kisses Izuku keeps trying to give him as they fuck.

It’s heaven. Katsuki can’t think of anything but how good Izuku feels, how hot his noises are, how tight and perfect Izuku’s ass is, how Katsuki wants to bury himself inside him and swallow him whole. He comes hard, his mouth rough on Izuku’s as his hips jerk and he empties into the condom.

It takes a monumental act of will to not just collapse on top of Izuku and pass out. Katsuki groans, settling carefully on top of Izuku, face shoved against Izuku’s neck. He finds himself loathe to pull out, loathe to disconnect and crawl off the trembling, gorgeous boy beneath him. All he wants to do is wrap around Izuku and soak up every single one of his noises, his aftershock tremors, the hot sweaty spread of his body.

And since when the fuck does he think of stupid, twerpy little Deku in those terms? Katsuki snorts to himself and pushes the question away.

“You’re heavy,” Izuku says. He sounds soft, relaxed, happy. “Roll over.”

“Don’t wanna,” mumbles Katsuki. “Your ass feels good.”

Izuku lets out a laugh, and then Katsuki gets an elbow to his ribcage. “Let me move my legs, you monster, you’re gonna break my fucking hips.”

“Ugh,” says Katsuki, but he hauls himself off Izuku and rolls to the side so that Izuku can unfold his legs while Katsuki disposes of the condom. Only then does Katsuki notice the smears of come across Izuku’s and Katsuki’s stomachs—it seems much more than it did before. “Did you come again?” Katsuki demands.

Izuku looks over at him, his face pink but relaxed, no sign of his usual self-consciousness. “Uh huh,” he says. “While you were fucking me.”

Katsuki swears under his breath; his dick twitches in interest, but he’s far too spent to get it up again so soon. Unlike fucking Deku. “You are such a messy slut, I can’t even believe how much you love this shit,” he says. Izuku grins at him when he says this, and Katsuki finds himself smiling back.

“You like it,” says Izuku, and Katsuki shoves him with his foot. “Kaaaachaaaaaannnnnn….” Izuku injects a whine into the name, rolling on his side and making huge puppy eyes at Katsuki, which shouldn’t work, but somehow does.

“I’m gonna fuckin’ kill you,” says Katsuki. He grabs Izuku and pulls him in close again, kissing his mouth, biting at Izuku’s swollen lips. Izuku makes a happy noise and gives in willingly, kissing back soft and sweet.

In that moment, Katsuki doesn’t know if this is their friends-with-benefits agreement or role-play for their ‘cover,’ or something in between. He has no idea how to ask, either—and deep down, he’s afraid to find out the answer. He doesn’t know which thought bothers him more: that it’s all a show, just for their roles, or that there’s something more to it.

All Katsuki knows for sure is that signing up for this mission is turning out to be much, much more than he bargained for.

Chapter Text

Izuku wakes up the morning after their dinner party feeling sore and wrung out in the most delicious ways. His alarm is going off, but Bakugou is mysteriously absent. His side of the bed is still warm; he’s probably only just gotten up, judging from the light coming from under the bathroom door. Izuku sits up, his back and thighs protesting creakily as he moves. The burn gives him a nice review of exactly what they were doing last night, and Izuku flushes.

He can’t believe how demanding he was last night. And for some reason—duty, or commitment to their roles, or who knows what else—Bakugou went along with him. And not halfway, either; Izuku doesn’t remember the last time he was fucked that well. Even as his anxiety starts to rev itself to full bore, his sense of well-being from being taken down hard remains.

Mostly.

But now in the clear light of day, free of the effects of those weird mood-altering scones, Izuku still suffers a thrill at the thought of sleeping naked in bed next to Bakugou. (He definitely wasn’t Bakugou then, though. He was Katsuki. And Izuku is having trouble taking a step back from that closeness.) The sex last night confirmed it: his teenage crush has returned, and in full force. So much for ‘friends with benefits,’ Izuku thinks, and drags a hand across his face. What am I supposed to do now?

They can’t abort the mission; it’s too important. So Izuku has to try to keep his shit together until after they’re done, however long that might take. And then afterwards… his mind skitters away from it, terrified at the idea of scaring Katsuki off again, of giving him any reason not to want to continue their partnership.

Izuku remembers all too well how badly it hurt to have Katsuki turn his back on Izuku before, when they were younger. He buried that hurt down deep, but never stopped caring about his friend, albeit from a distance. Now that Katsuki is back in his life, is right here by his side… he can’t imagine having to make that cut a second time.

He’s saved from further contemplation of his new, Katsuki-shaped problem by the sound of retching from the master bathroom. Izuku frowns. “Kacchan?” he calls.

The retching sound comes again. Izuku jumps out of bed, not even bothering to put on pants before he heads into the bathroom to investigate. He finds Katsuki on the bathroom floor, leaned heavily over the toilet. His face is pale and sweaty, and he’s breathing a little hard. “Kacchan!” Izuku exclaims. “What happened?”

“What do you fuckin’ think?” Katsuki snaps, and rubs a hand across his face. “I don’t know, Deku, I just started puking, okay?”

“Maybe it was something in the food?” Izuku grabs a glass sitting next to the faucet and fills it with water, then brings it over. Katsuki accepts it, gulping half of it down and shivering visibly.

“If it was the food, why aren’t you sick?”

“Dunno,” says Izuku. “I don’t think we ate all the same stuff, though.”

“Fuck,” says Katsuki, and lunges for the toilet bowl again. Izuku sits on the edge of the bathtub by him and passes him a towel when he’s done. Katsuki slumps against the wall, panting like he’s just run a mile.

“I’m calling off work,” Izuku informs him.

Katsuki scowls at him. “You gotta go,” he says. “I’ll be fine.”

“No, you could have food poisoning, or something else from whatever people brought over last night,” says Izuku.

Katsuki makes a face, then sags. “Todoroki was saying there’s been an unusual number of otherwise healthy people hospitalized in this area, statistically,” he says, with obvious reluctance. “It’s on the USB drive he and Yaoyorozu brought over. We better take a look.”

“If you get sicker, we’re going to the hospital,” says Izuku. This warning is met with a streak of cursing with enough vitriol to blister the paint on the walls, but Izuku pays it no mind.

He does call in, and spends the rest of the day fussing over an increasingly irritable Katsuki. It’s a sign of just how shitty Katsuki must feel that he actually lets Izuku dote on him. Izuku runs out to get some anti-nausea pills for him, and brings home a mountain of Gatorade on his return. He makes Katsuki soup, the dumpling soup that his own mother would always make when he was ill, and he sits on the couch with Katsuki while they watch old movies.

Katsuki stops puking by mid-day, thanks to the meds Izuku got, but he’s still visibly exhausted. He complains until Izuku moves his laptop and then pillows his head on Izuku’s lap, where he lies like a limp, petulant noodle. Izuku quietly thrills to the feel of Katsuki’s head in his lap, but he keeps his smiles to himself. He keeps browsing through the data Yaoyorozu compiled, balancing his laptop on the arm of the couch to give Katsuki room to lay his head.

He gets more and more concerned as he digs into the situation. Turns out that not only have there been a rash of unidentifiable food poisoning cases, but also hospitalizations for it, as well as hospitalizations for the vague diagnosis ‘mental status changes.’ Izuku digs more into those, and is alarmed by how many of the people involved were straight-up hallucinating when they were admitted—people with no history of schizophrenia or drug use, no easily-reachable reason why they should be so altered.

Izuku signs into their VPN to reach out to Calla, hoping for some feedback. He tries not to do it too often, but it’s been three weeks, and it’s perfectly believable for him to be at home with his ‘husband’ when Katsuki is so sick. Calla gets back to him within an hour, first with an admonishment to be careful of checking in too casually before digging into the meat of his question.

Outbreaks of food poisoning and deaths from tainted food are classic community signs of illegal food and wine importing, she says in her email. Endeavor’s implanted team is also working to identify the smuggling chain, so you should stay connected with their activity on that front. Keep us apprised of everything you find, and be watchful.

Great, Izuku thinks. On top of the question of mood-altering baked goods, there’s possible E. Coli or something to contend with, and they can’t act suspicious by refusing to eat anyone’s gifts or they’ll just end up ruining all their progress. “Hope you don’t mind me cooking for the next few days,” says Izuku, and Katsuki grunts something that might be assent or might be more cramps.

Izuku will never admit it out loud, but he takes a significant amount of satisfaction from getting to baby Katsuki while he’s ill. Katsuki would normally just as soon hurl him through the wall than endure Izuku waiting on him hand and foot, but that afternoon and evening he keeps falling asleep in the middle of movies and has trouble even making it to the bathroom without help. He even allows Izuku to help him wash up, Izuku sitting on the edge of the bathtub to help scrub his back while Katsuki glowers at himself in the mirror. Izuku’s worried for him, but more than happy to play nursemaid—even if he keeps that satisfaction to himself.

But something yet more concerning than the possibility of wine and food smuggling pops up the day after Katsuki comes over with food poisoning. (Thankfully it’s now the weekend, so Izuku doesn’t have to call off work again.) That is to say, Izuku gets a phone call from Essential Oils Deborah asking him if he had heard that Ms. Rhodes “down the block from you just up and moved away! Can you believe it?”

“Who was that about?” asks Katsuki, frowning, as Izuku finally gets off the phone.

“The mom of those triplets that love you,” says Izuku. Katsuki’s face darkens.

“What happened to her?”

“Supposedly, she moved,” says Izuku.

Katsuki scowls, reaching for another Gatorade to suck down. “Bullshit,” he says, after a few swallows. “She wouldn’t have gone anywhere. She loved it here.”

The official story is that Ms. Rhodes—a wealthy young widow whose husband died on his last tour of duty—decided to donate a significant portion of her estate to the Bright Path in her husband’s memory, and took herself and her kids to go live with family somewhere on the other side of the country. Izuku, who distinctly remembers listening to Theresa Rhodes talk about how much her kids loved their school and teachers, finds this difficult to believe, and Katsuki agrees.

“So what do you think happened?” Izuku asks. Katsuki is feeling stronger today, able to shower and dress himself without assistance, but he’s still sprawled across the couch with his legs in Izuku’s lap.

“Nothing good, that’s for sure,” says Katsuki darkly. “We should touch base with Todoroki and Yaoyorozu, let them know to keep an eye out for the family. And we should get ahold of Uraraka and Iida to see if they know anything, either.”

“Yaoyorozu said something about Iida and Uraraka organizing a bake sale,” says Izuku. “I could stop by related to that, probably.” Katsuki flashes a toothy grin, probably at the mention of two formidable Heroes organizing something as mundane as a bake sale, but then his expression sobers again.

“I don’t like you goin’ around without me there to have your back,” he says. “This situation is fucked up, it’s not safe.”

Izuku glances at him, warring between a pleasant sort of warmth and irritation. “You’re sick, and it’s weird if we’re totally inseparable,” he says. “You’re the house-husband, remember?”

“Quit fuckin’ calling me that!” Katsuki’s scowl is back, in full force. Funny how it doesn’t have quite the impact it once had on Izuku. “Just ‘cause I got fuckin’ stuck staying home doing ‘freelance work,’ ugh.”

“Hey, it was Calla’s profile, not my idea.” Katsuki just rolls his eyes. “Anyway, it’s not practical for you to come out with me today. I’m just going to go by Bethany Lazlow’s bakery and then see if I can fish for information on the ‘bake sale,’ I’m not doing anything unsafe.”

“That woman is unsafe,” Katsuki says viciously. “I don’t trust her or her shitty dog-faced brother.”

“I mean, that’s fair. But you gotta trust me, okay?” says Izuku, and is treated to the sight of Katsuki swallowing his tongue and glaring at the wall.

“Dipshit, you know I do,” Katsuki says. He sounds grumpier than the situation warrants. His frustration is tangible, but Izuku can’t quite tell if it’s directed at him, at the situation, or at something else.

Whatever it is, something in Izuku warms, relents. Before he can stop himself, he’s leaning over, kissing Katsuki’s still-sweaty temple. Katsuki stills beneath him, but Izuku is already brushing the hair out of his face and sitting up again, trying to ignore the fluttering of his heart in his chest. “I’ll keep you posted,” he says. “And I’ll make dinner when I get home, okay?”

Katsuki mutters something no doubt obscene under his breath, and he still won’t look up at Izuku. His face is now distinctly pink. “You don’t gotta fuckin’ treat me like I’m made of glass,” he says, and Izuku has to laugh.

“Alright, alright,” he says, because he’s pretty sure Katsuki will choke him if Izuku embarrasses him any further, food poisoning or no.

Katsuki recovers enough to demand Izuku stop by the store for a few things before he leaves. Izuku takes off after that, and is glad that he can have a mini freak-out in his car about how very much he’s been enjoying playing house with Katsuki—and how much he’s letting it show.

He hopes, devoutly, that Katsuki is just writing it off as Izuku getting too into their undercover roles. The very last thing Izuku wants is to push the boundaries of their “friends with benefits” agreement, and have it cost him his partner. He’s just going to have to figure out a way to deal with how he feels, that’s all.

* * * * *

The drive to Bethany Lazlow’s bakeshop is all of fifteen minutes, just long enough for Izuku to get himself under control. He parks across the street then heads towards the front door. Not too fast—he has to take a moment to appreciate the first flush of spring. The sun is deceptively bright, making him want to take off his jacket even though he knows that it’s not nearly warm enough for short sleeves.

“Izuku, hello!” Bethany Lazlow waves at him from behind the counter as Izuku enters, a small bell jingling pleasantly as the door swings open. She’s wearing a smart polka-dot dress today that hugs her curves, a red ribbon in her blonde hair. The red matches the accents of the bakeshop’s decor, little flecks of red hearts on the robin’s egg blue walls and shuttering.

“Hi, Beth,” says Izuku, summoning a smile he doesn’t really feel. Both of the Lazlows insist on calling him and Katsuki by their first names and insisting they do the same in return, despite the short length of time they’ve known each other. He’s not sure if he’s pleased or not to find her here; from what Izuku’s been able to find out, Bethany only spends two days a week at the bakeshop, spending much of the rest of her time with her brother, helping him with the business of managing The Pines and all its various projects.

Bethany comes out from behind the counter to give him a hug, which is a little… weird, but Izuku rallies and returns the gesture without any trouble. “How are things today?” Izuku asks, as she pulls back and walks with him to one of the cute round tables that take up the front half of the shop.

“Oh, we’re keeping busy!” Bethany beams, then claps her hands. “Wait here just a second, I just finished a new batch of scones that I’m trying out for the bake sale. I want you to try one and tell me what you think!”

“Uh,” says Izuku intelligently, but Bethany is already heading back behind the counter and then disappearing into the back. Izuku sighs, running a hand distractedly through his hair, his stomach twisting.

He’s thinking about what happened at their dinner party the other day—about how sick whatever Katsuki ate made him, and how out of it Izuku was as their guests were leaving. He and Katsuki still don’t know exactly what’s going on here, whether someone has some kind of mind-control Quirk they’ve been using judiciously in groups, or whether there’s something in the food—or both. But Izuku also can’t just refuse to eat what Bethany puts in front of him, not if he wants to keep his cover and burgeoning closeness with their suspects in place.

Izuku just hopes he’s not about to give Katsuki a reason to be pissed at him.

All of this mental calculation happens within about thirty seconds, at which point Bethany emerges with a mug of tea and green-and-white patterned saucer, on which is a delicious-smelling scone. Izuku’s mouth starts to water immediately. “Oh, wow,” he says. “What’s in that? It smells amazing.”

“Rosemary and cheddar,” says Bethany. She sits down next to Izuku and sets the saucer and mug of tea in front of him. “I’ve had this recipe for awhile, but I’ve been tinkering with it lately. Tell me what you think.”

Izuku gives her a smile that feels only slightly forced. “You said this is for the bake sale, right?” he prompts, as he breaks off a piece of the scone and starts eating it.

“Yes, that’s right,” says Bethany. “A married couple who live on the far side of the community from you are organizing it, and they’re very dedicated, it’s lovely.” She starts chattering about Iida and Uraraka—how Iida is an accountant and Uraraka helps out some days at the bakeshop, how they have a beautiful golden retriever they’ve named Rita, and how they’re trying for their first baby.

Izuku nods along, eating the scone with an enthusiasm that he doesn’t have to fake at all. Whatever other sinister things are going on in the Pines, Bethany Lazlow is an amazing baker. The news about Iida and Uraraka trying for a baby makes him choke, though, and he has to sip on his tea and deflect Bethany’s sudden concern.

“Are you okay?” she asks, all but fluttering over him in distress.

“I’m fine,” he says, and coughs. “Sorry, sorry, I was just eating too fast. It’s really good,” he adds, and means it.

Bethany beams at him. “I’m so glad,” she says warmly. “I’m really happy with it, I’m glad you like it. I was wondering—” She breaks off as the phone rings. “Oh, hold on, I’ll get that. Be right back.” She stands, walking over to the counter to grab the phone on the second ring.

Izuku finishes his scone, spending several moments wishing with all his heart that it was Uraraka who was here today when he stopped by instead of Bethany Lazlow. Izuku needs all the opportunities to insinuate himself and Katsuki into the cult leaders, for sure, but he’s missed Uraraka so much, and it’d be such a relief to see another familiar face.

He’s still occupied with thoughts of his friends when Bethany comes back over, settling beside him in the chair again. She has a thoughtful look on her face. “That was my brother,” she says. “He says that you and your husband are going to be joining us on our next retreat, is that right?”

Shit, that’s right. “Yeah,” says Izuku, and smiles, a little nervous. “Melinda Repplinger invited us, I hope that was okay?”

“More than okay,” says Bethany. “We trust her, she’s an excellent judge of character. And I was going to invite the two of you if she didn’t beat me to it. I’m really excited at the opportunity to help you learn more about the Bright Path.”

“Y-Yeah,” says Izuku, and flushes. “I’m nervous, you know? But I think it’ll be good. It’s really new that we have people who want to include us in anything, so that’s… kind of strange.”

Bethany smiles at him, reaching over to pat him lightly on the shoulder. “I’ve been wondering how the two of you were adjusting,” she says, all sympathy. Izuku stares at her, and suddenly he feels—strange. Hot all over, maybe a little bit woozy, a little unmoored.

“Melinda was telling me how nervous you were the other day when she followed her dog into your room,” Bethany says. Her voice is still warm, kind, but something about it wraps around Izuku’s head now. He stares at her dumbly, just listening, waiting to hear what she says. “She said the two of you were a bit defensive about your sex life. I was wondering if there was anything else going on. Maybe you want to tell me about it?”

Oh, no. Izuku feels himself flush, warmth burning from the tips of his ears through his face and down into his throat. “We were pretty defensive, yeah,” he says, the words just tumbling out of his mouth. “I was really—Katsuki and I have, um, w-well, we’ve been trying some new stuff in the bedroom and …I don’t know, it’s pretty—kinky? And I’m scared he’s just doing it because he wants to make me happy and not because he actually likes it. I used to do it with m-my last boyfriend, and I’m afraid he’s going to hate it and resent me for it.”

Izuku stops, aghast at himself, at how truthful that particular confession was. He hasn’t admitted any of that out loud to anyone, barely even thought it to himself, and here he is, blurting it out to Bethany like they’re lifelong besties. Bethany is giving him a sympathetic look, though, not acting like he’s some vile little ant she’s having to scrape off the bottom of her shoe.

“No wonder you were so nervous,” she says. “It sounds like it’s been a lot for you to deal with lately, isn’t it? Not being able to have a wedding, and having your friends turn their backs on you, and the move.” Hearing the sympathy in her voice is—is—it feels like coming home.

Izuku feels his eyes burning, and he sucks in a breath that catches in his throat. Reaction rolls through him like an ocean wave, anxiety and relief in a potent mixture that has tears dripping traitorously down his cheeks. Izuku’s hands fly to his face in shock, and then Bethany is making soft noises and wrapping her arms around his shoulders.

The whole thing is surreal. Izuku spends a few minutes being comforted by a woman he’s almost sure is partially responsible for multiple very serious crimes, and the whole time all he can think is how much of a relief it is to vent, to let it out, to have someone hear him and be sympathetic.

He recovers fairly quickly, still a little dazed, but Bethany just pats his shoulder and smiles at him. “Stay here,” she says, and disappears into the back room again. Izuku takes a few deep breath, swiping his hand across his face to get rid of the honestly bizarre tears. Then she’s back, this time with a thick brownie to set in front of him.

“Chocolate makes everything better,” she says seriously, and Izuku chokes out a laugh. “Don’t worry, you’re fine.”

She leaves Izuku to have his brownie and recover, excusing herself to go back to work. Izuku is more than happy to let her. He wants nothing more than to flee back to the car and have another, separate freak-out in private, but he forces himself to sit and eat the brownie instead, and to leave the shop like a functional adult.

By the time he does make his way out the door, he’s feeling calm again, even happy. He trusts that emotion about as much as he trusts Katsuki not to give a stranger a rude nickname. But he makes sure to walk normally back to the car, to get in and drive off like he has nowhere in particular to be, instead of flooring the gas pedal and tearing off down the street like all the hounds of Hell are after him.

Izuku doesn’t know if he’s just extra-sensitive to it because of all the work he’s put into being attuned to his body for the sake of his Quirk, or if it’s because he’s investigating this kind of business, but he feels very shaken in the wake of his visit with Bethany Lazlow. One thing’s for sure; Katsuki’s going to be utterly unbearable when he hears about what happened. Izuku can already hear the “I told you so” in his head. He groans, then puts the car in gear and points the nose towards their house.

* * * * *

“Are you sure it’s safe for us to be over here?” Izuku asks, as they climb out of the car.

Katsuki glances at him as he comes around the car. “Don’t be stupid,” he says. “Nothing’s safe, that’s the whole point. But it’ll be fine as long as we’re careful.”

Izuku nods, trying to keep his expression calm. He can’t decide which is spooking him more at the moment: the fact that he and Katsuki are coming over to Iida and Uraraka’s house for dinner (secretly for information sharing), or that he’s painfully, deeply attracted to Katsuki in the angry accountant’s outfit he’s wearing right now.

Seriously, the outfit should be Too Much. No one should be able to wear pants that reddish-orange and not look outlandish, especially not with a green shirt. But ever since his partner came out of the walk-in closet wearing those slacks and that tight button-down shirt, both of which show off every single one of Katsuki’s five hundred muscles, Izuku’s been trying to pretend he isn’t half-hard in his pants. It’s so fucking unfair, he could choke. Katsuki never had to work hard at being attractive in the first place, but it’s like this undercover operation is hitting every single one of Izuku’s secret weaknesses. His boner isn’t going to survive.

“Izuku!” Katsuki’s snapping his fingers in front of Izuku’s face, looking impatient. “Wake the fuck up and stop daydreaming, they’re waiting for us!”

“R-Right!” Izuku all but jumps out of his skin. He compensates by leaning into all of what Kacchan would call his ‘gay, needy tendencies,’ grabbing for Katsuki’s arm and leaning up to kiss his partner’s mouth. Katsuki stiffens for a moment, then kisses back. To Izuku’s lasting brain damage and shock, a hand finds his, twining their fingers together as they stand there in the street by their car.

“You’re really jittery today,” Katsuki murmurs into his mouth. “Even for a dumb nerd like you. If you got something on your mind, don’t fuckin’ keep it to yourself, or I’ll shove you into the closet when we get home.”

The threat makes Izuku laugh, some of the tension bleeding out of him at how very… normal that interaction feels. “Sorry,” he says, and gives Katsuki a wobbly smile. “Just kind of wound up, I guess.”

“Yeah, well, maybe if you jerked off before we left the house, you wouldn’t be trying to walk with a chub,” says Katsuki. Izuku’s jaw drops open, and Katsuki smirks, squeezing Izuku’s hand hard.

“Oh my god,” says Izuku. “I—I’m not—” Oh no. Oh no.

“I saw you staring at my ass, it’s cool,” says Katsuki. His smirk is merciless now, toothy as the Big Bad Wolf, and his eyes are positively dancing. “Don’t worry, I can wreck you when we get home.”

“Not if I push you into traffic, you won’t,” Izuku says, and listens dizzily as Katsuki’s dirty laughter echoes in his ear. It’s only practice and training that’s keeping him from simply vaulting into the nearest body of water and drowning himself to escape from the horrified realization of how obvious his thirst is.

“There you are!” calls a voice from the front door of the house they’ve parked in front of. Izuku turns, seeing Iida’s tall frame standing on the front stoop. “Come on in, dinner’s almost ready!”

“Coming!” Izuku says loudly, then turns to give Katsuki a smile that’s only slightly less threatening than the one Calla always gives them after a particularly terrifying debriefing. “Be nice, okay?”

“Just don’t start humping me in the hallway like a bitch in heat, and we’re set,” murmurs Katsuki, who clearly wants Izuku to curl up and die of simultaneous horror and embarrassed arousal. He doesn’t wait for Izuku to reply, just turns around to open the car door and get out the contributions they brought along for dinner. Katsuki hands the bottle of pinot noir to Izuku, then picks up the pasta salad and shuts the door with his hip.

“You are the fucking worst,” Izuku tells him under his breath as they cross the road.

“You love it,” Katsuki says, and then plasters on a friendly smile as they reach Iida.

Iida—or Tenya Shimizu, as he’s going by here—is looking ridiculous domestic himself, dressed in designer jeans and a lavender button-down. He makes loud noises on the front stoop about how nice it is to meet Izuku and Bakugou, and how happy he is they’re coming over to help organize the bake sale, before ushering them into the house and closing the door behind them.

“It’s wonderful to get to catch up with you two,” Iida says as he shuts the door—or he starts to, anyway. He’s interrupted by a shriek from deeper in the house, and then there’s a blur as someone all but flies down the hall.

All of a sudden Izuku has his arms full of beaming Uraraka. “It’s so good to see you!” she cries, throwing her arms around his neck.

“Ochako!” Izuku can’t help but laugh. He picks her up and swings her around, hugging her tight. “I can’t believe you guys are here too!”

He sets Uraraka down and glances at the other two, feeling one thousand percent less nervous than he did—until he catches sight of the weirdly strangled expression on Katsuki’s face. Belatedly, Izuku remembers that Katsuki was never as close to Iida or Uraraka as Izuku was.

“Uh,” Izuku says, and then Iida is stepping forward and picking him up in a bear hug. It’s Izuku’s turn to be swung around in mid-air, and by the time Iida sets him back down again, he’s laughing.

“Let me take your coats,” Iida says, with a cheer to match Uraraka’s. “And then we can eat!”

“I hope you have some intel worth sharing, too,” growls Katsuki. “We didn’t come all the way over here for your shitty cooking.” He somehow looks even grumpier now than he did moments ago. Uraraka ignores his sour expression, throwing her arms around him too in a quick hug; Izuku has to laugh at how Katsuki’s face turns an unattractive shade of red. Iida claps Katsuki on the back, and then the four of them head down the hall towards what turns out to be the kitchen.

Uraraka takes the pasta salad from Katsuki and takes it to the table as Iida collects their light coats. As soon as his hands are free, Katsuki wraps his arm around Izuku’s shoulders, pulling him against his side. Izuku feels his face heating, and he glances up at Katsuki, suddenly unsure of himself.

Katsuki slants him a glare, as if daring Izuku to pull away. “We need to keep our cover,” he growls. “We don’t know who might be watching us.”

“The house isn’t bugged,” Iida says, coming back into the kitchen. “We check twice a week.”

“Doesn’t mean you haven’t missed it,” says Katsuki darkly. “The two of you should be more careful.”

“Well, our cover is easy to maintain,” says Uraraka. “Since Tenya and I have been together for over two years.” She smiles at Iida, who gives her a look like a man freshly smitten by Cupid’s arrow, not a long-time partner.

“Ah,” says Katsuki. Izuku can feel some of the tension leak out of him then—but only some. That’s… weird, Izuku thinks.

But then Iida and Uraraka are ushering them to their seats, and setting the table, and bringing out dish upon dish to the table. It’s a lot for what’s supposed to be a casual get-together. “Wow,” Izuku says, glancing from perfectly-browned chicken to expertly-smashed potatoes to crisply-roasted broccoli. “Since when do you guys cook?”

“Tenya is the cook,” says Uraraka, grinning. She’s pouring them all rather hefty glasses of wine, considering it’s not even 7 pm. “He’s amazing at it. I was getting fat already from his cooking, and now I’m working at the bakeshop too. He’s going to have to roll me out the doors in the morning.”

“That is not true!” Iida exclaims. “Don’t talk about yourself like that, you’re gorgeous! And I like cooking for you—”

“It’s not a complaint,” Uraraka says, and laughs as Iida gets flustered and nearly drops a pan.

It’s cute. Izuku had never thought either of them had any interest in each other, but he can’t help but be happy for them. He tries to ignore the stab of something like jealousy in his stomach, and has to fight not to glance over at Katsuki, not wanting to betray himself. He can’t let himself dwell on how nice it would be to replicate something like this for real, and not just for the sake of an undercover op.

Thankfully, Iida and Uraraka prove a pleasant distraction; they’re as happy to see Izuku as Izuku is to see them, and neither of them are remotely fazed by Katsuki’s sour attitude. All of them got pretty used to Katsuki’s sullenness from three years in school with him, but being a pro Hero for two years has clearly been good for Iida and Uraraka, too. Uraraka’s comments about Iida’s cooking turns out to have been an understatement, as well—Izuku takes one bite of the prime rib and makes a noise that has Katsuki staring at him like Izuku just whipped his dick out at the table.

“This is amazing,” he says, when he’s swallowed. “Oh my god, Iida.”

“I told you!” says Uraraka, and beams at Iida across the table. Katsuki glowers into his bowl like it’s just insulted him and his mother in one breath, but he’s managed to keep the shitty comments to a minimum, at least.

“I have found that I like cooking,” says Iida. He’s clearly pleased, and trying not to look too proud about it. “I took some evening classes after we graduated, and I’ve been practicing and working to improve in my free time since then.”

“Izuku’s a good cook, too,” says Katsuki unexpectedly. “He makes a fuckin’ amazing stir-fry.”

Iida blinks. “Yes, the pasta salad you brought is excellent,” he says after a moment. Izuku can tell he means it, too, but he’s too busy being shocked by hearing Katsuki give him a compliment; his eyes go wide and his stomach flip-flops impressively.

Uraraka glances from Izuku to Katsuki, looking way too interested in this comment, as far as Izuku is concerned. “What?” Katsuki demands. “Is it that weird?”

“Of course it’s not weird,” says Iida, apparently the first to record. “Izuku is good at most things, and it doesn’t surprise me that he’s learned to cook too. But it’s just strange hearing you say that.”

“He’s my partner,” Katsuki retorts. Izuku can practically smell the smoke coming off him as he bristles. “Why the fuck wouldn’t I say it?”

Oh, fuck. This is the conversation they’re going to have now? Fuck.

“I’m actually really impressed by how well you guys work together,” says Uraraka, who must be able to sense the death throes Izuku has entered and feels sorry for him. “Shouto and Momo told us about how well you guys did at that dinner party you held, too, but I guess I was kind of skeptical. No offense, Katsuki, but the two of you weren’t exactly on great terms in high school.”

“No shit,” says Katsuki, breezily distracting Izuku from his horror at what Todoroki’s and Yaoyorozu’s reactions to certain parts of their dinner party might have been. “You and Four-Eyes weren’t dating then, either, and Half-and-half hadn’t figured out how to not fuckin’ cripple himself in battle. Izuku and I worked shit out. We could kick both of your asses any day, any time.”

Kacchan,” Izuku says, exasperated. Katsuki subsides with a glower. Izuku exhales, then glances back at Iida and Uraraka, who are watching with raised eyebrows. He struggles for a moment, torn between irritation at Katsuki for his reflexive nastiness towards the entire world, and warmth at hearing him defend him and Izuku as a partnership.

“It’s true that we had a lot of work to do,” Izuku says, carefully. “But we wouldn’t have accepted this assignment together if we hadn’t thought we could do it. Katsuki’s an amazing partner.”

“Damn right,” Katsuki growls. “You know I don’t settle for anything less than the best.” He shoots another glare at Iida and Uraraka.

“Well, I’m glad,” says Uraraka simply, and Iida makes a noise of agreement. The moment hangs in the air, and Izuku is just wondering how to change the subject when he notices the way Uraraka looks like she’s trying not to smile.

“Katsuki, I’m sorry,” she says, losing her fight as she breaks into a mischievous grin. “But you look just like Melinda Repplinger’s little dog when you get all defensive like that.” Katsuki’s face purples in outrage, but Iida and Izuku are both already laughing.

“Fuck you!” Katsuki exclaims. Izuku suffers the terrible urge to kiss him. His hand flies out to take Katsuki’s before he can stop himself, and is privately thrilled when Katsuki doesn’t jerk it away.

“It’s kind of true, Kacchan,” Izuku says, teasing, and Katsuki rolls his eyes. “You don’t have to be so defensive, Tenya and Ochako are our friends, remember?”

“Ugh,” says Katsuki. After a moment, he mutters, “Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” says Iida. He even sounds like he means it. Izuku is already mentally saying a prayer for Iida’s endless ability to rise above when Iida adds, “If I’d had to host Melinda Repplinger in my house and act okay with her breaking into my personal space, I’d want to murder someone too.”

“She’s the worst!” Uraraka exclaims. “Shouto told us how she acted at your dinner party, and how you got her off your backs—that was really impressive, by the way, Katsuki. Did she single you guys out at her love language seminar, too?”

“Holy shit, she did that to you guys too?” Izuku demands. He spares a moment to be grateful she’s passed by the exact content of Katsuki’s commentary from the party. Impressive wouldn’t quite have been the word he’d use. “It was so embarrassing and manipulative, she said all this stuff about how we needed to improve our relationship—”

“I mean, that’s not a huge surprise,” notes Uraraka. “Katsuki’s not going to win any awards for his social graces soon.” Izuku is honestly starting to wonder if Uraraka is tipsy on wine or if she’s just secure in the knowledge that Katsuki can’t retaliate without destroying their covers—or if sleeping with Iida is just really that satisfying that she’s lost all fucks to give.

“Oh, fuck off,” says Katsuki grumpily. The hand still holding Izuku’s tightens, and Izuku actually feels sort of bad for him.

“You two are actually really convincing,” says Iida. “Shouto was right. If I didn’t know how you used to be in high school, I would have believed you’re a couple without question.”

“Yeah, actually, I’m super impressed,” says Uraraka. “It’s very convincing.”

“Uh, thanks,” says Izuku, and flushes. Wait, Todoroki and Yaoyorozu thought they were convincing, too? Izuku’s going to have to catch up with them—once he thinks of a good excuse to see them, that is. But he can feel Katsuki’s eyes on him, Katsuki’s hand still hot in his: all of a sudden he can think of nothing else.

Iida brings up the actual work they have to do, and Izuku is grateful for the subject change. Uraraka and Iida have been doing a lot of excellent surveillance work on their targets, and as they compare notes it quickly becomes apparent that an actual intervention is going to be needed soon. They move to the living room and put on a movie to better disguise their conversation, just in case someone is indeed listening in.

“We’ve been watching Melinda Repplinger really closely,” says Iida, just audible over La La Land. “And Ochako has intercepted some communication she’s had with some contractors she’s supposedly hired to do some work for her. We’re almost positive we have an upcoming slave auction date correct.”

“Slave auction?” Izuku repeats. His blood runs cold. Suddenly the dancing on screen seems a lot less cute. He’s sprawled against Katsuki’s side, Katsuki’s arm wrapped around his waist, and he can feel the way Katsuki tenses against him at this news.

“Repplinger is definitely involved in human trafficking,” says Uraraka. All her sparkle from earlier is gone, replaced by a grimness that Izuku hates to see in his normally-bubbly friend. “I was able to copy some of the data from her laptop onto a USB drive during the retreat Iida and I went to, since she hosted that one.”

“Maybe Mrs. Rhodes and her kids will be there,” Katsuki says. “We have to intervene.” Uraraka and Iida look over at him, eyes wide.

“The Rhodes family is missing?” Iida asks, and Izuku nods. “Then it’s decided. We have to be there.”

“Can we do it without blowing our covers?” Uraraka wonders out loud.

“We can if we’re careful and good,” says Katsuki. “We can go in our stealth combat outfits, and leave as soon as the situation is contained. But I’m not fuckin’ letting something like this go sideways. We gotta be there.”

“I agree with Katsuki,” says Izuku. Katsuki’s arm tightens around his waist, and Izuku glances up at him. Up close, Katsuki’s face is hot and complicated. He’s staring at Izuku with an intensity Izuku is too distracted to parse right now.

Now’s not the time for having a panic attack about his feelings for Katsuki. But Izuku can’t seem to shut that part of his brain up.

“Well, we’re going,” Katsuki says finally, breaking the moment. He looks back at Iida and Uraraka, and so does Izuku, albeit a beat later. “You can either join us, be on guard, or stay out.”

Iida and Uraraka exchange a glance. “We’ll help,” says Iida, and Uraraka nods. “But we need a really good cover story to explain where we were that day, and make sure we all know it so we can stick to it.”

What follows is an intense, surprisingly sharp debate about tactics and strategy, considering the amount of wine they’ve all had so far and Izuku’s unruly brain. Katsuki sits up, dumping Izuku on the couch as they get into it. Izuku is sad about the lost contact, but only briefly; he’s quickly distracted by debating the merits of involving a local police force or having the strike team be only Hero affiliates.

Izuku and Iida are in favor of involving the local police—if only to have the additional back-up—but Uraraka points out that any increased contact for the four of them risks exposing their covers. Katsuki surprises Izuku by agreeing with Uraraka, before laying out a detailed argument for how they can effectively handle the slave auction alone and call in the police for mopping up at the end—allowing the four undercover Heroes to slip away into the night.

“That’s a good plan,” says Izuku, turning it over in his mind. “We’ll have to be cautious about execution of our Quirks, since we don’t want anyone locally realizing the four of us are anywhere near here, but I think if we’re fast and careful it’ll go the way we want it to.”

“It is a good plan,” Iida says. “So that’s settled.” Uraraka is nodding her head. But the way Iida glances across the table and hesitates makes it clear he’s got something else to say.
“But Katsuki…” He breaks off, maybe reconsidering what he was going to say. Izuku wants to know, but he doesn’t know how to ask without putting Iida on the spot.

Katsuki, on the other hand, has no such problem. He growls, slanting forward with his elbows on the tops of his knees in a position Izuku is very familiar with by now. “Just spit it out,” he says.

Iida looks a little embarrassed. He straightens. “I am still surprised that you wanted to do an undercover job at all,” he says. “You’ve always—well, always wanted credit for the work you do, and wanted everyone to know when you achieve something.”

“Fuck yeah I do,” says Katsuki. If he’s upset by what Iida said, he doesn’t let on. “And I’m gonna make sure everyone knows what Izuku and I managed once all this shit is over. You two, too. But I want the job done right. I’m not gonna let my ego, or anything else, stop us from saving people who need our help and shutting these fuckin’ psychopaths down.”

Izuku has to take a breath. He finds himself staring at Katsuki, his chest hot with a warmth that has nothing to do with the wine they’ve been drinking. Katsuki notices after a moment, glancing over at Izuku with a scowl. “What?”

“Nothing,” says Izuku, because how did I get lucky enough to have you as a partner is a little too honest and let’s go home so I can suck your dick is even worse. Katsuki’s expression darkens, still staring at him suspiciously.

“Well, I think we’re in agreement,” says Uraraka, saving Izuku from having to do something drastic like throw the table through the window and claim he saw someone spying on them to distract Katsuki. “We need to run it by our supervisors, but our direct manager has given us carte blanche as far as designing and executing interventions.”

“So has ours,” says Izuku. “We’ll just check in with her and then confirm with you guys.”

The conversation ends after that. They finish the bottle of wine and the movie before Katsuki and Izuku leave, which gives Izuku just enough time to fall asleep leaning against his partner like some kind of lightweight. He wakes up to Uraraka laughing at him for having drooled on Katsuki’s shoulder and Katsuki’s grumpy aside that “he always does that.”

“No I don’t,” Izuku says sleepily. Katsuki just rolls his eyes.

“I’m taking this dumbass home,” says Katsuki, and stands up. “C’mon, Izuku, you gotta work in the morning.”

“Hey, wait—”

“Tenya works early too,” says Uraraka, standing up as well. “It was so nice to see you both.”

“I’m looking forward to working more with both of you!” Iida adds, beaming at them across the coffee table. Uraraka and Iida get in another couple hugs on both of them before they finally make it out the door, Katsuki enduring the hugs grumpily while Izuku revels.

“That was really nice,” says Izuku, as they climb into the car and he buckles himself in. “I wish we could do that more often.”

Katsuki glances at him. In the darkness, Izuku can’t read his expression. “I guess it wasn’t completely fucking useless,” he says after a moment, and starts the car. “Round Face and Four-Eyes are better at this than I would have thought.”

Izuku laughs before he can stop himself, still a little out of it from his wine-induced nap. “You can’t keep calling them that,” he adds, trying to salvage things.

“Yeah, yeah,” says Katsuki. “Ruin all my fuckin’ fun, why don’t you.”

“Isn’t that what you say I always do?” Izuku leans back, staring idly out the window as they maneuver down the side streets back towards the main road that will take them home. He feels warm, content. He hadn’t realized how much he needed to see his friends until he got to spend an evening with them—and what’s more, spend it with Katsuki at his side, the two of them acting just like a real couple.

Izuku liked it. He liked it way, way too much, actually. He’s simultaneously appreciative of and grateful for Katsuki’s dedication to keeping their cover, and starting to worry what effect it’s going to have on their partnership long-term once all this is over. Izuku isn’t sure he’s going to be able to forget what Katsuki’s sweat smells like on the pillow next to his, or go back to not waking up next to him every morning. And their undercover op is only just beginning, from what Izuku can tell.

He’s so lost in thought that when Katsuki says something, Izuku almost misses it. “Uh, what?,” he says, glancing over. “Sorry, I’m—falling asleep again.”

Katsuki snorts. “Lightweight,” he says. “I said, take the day after the op off.”

“What?” Izuku comes fully alert at this, staring at Katsuki’s face. In the shifting glare of headlights and street lamps, his face is sharp and strangely unfamiliar. Izuku swallows. “Why?”

Katsuki gives him an impatient look. “Because I’m gonna take you on a date,” he says.

“A what?” It comes out a yelp, and Izuku cringes internally. “I mean, uh—”

“We’re a newly married couple, it’s weird if we’re not going out on dates,” says Katsuki. Now he definitely sounds cranky. “Just fucking trust me, okay?”

Izuku comes over all sweaty, suddenly far too aware of his entire awkward, over-stimulated body. He feels like every inch of his him has suddenly become sensitized, every rustle of fabric against his skin like a spark down a live wire. Izuku takes a deep breath, and then lets it out. “You know I do,” he says, very soft. “I’d trust you with anything.”

Katsuki huffs. “Then take the day off,” he says, and grips the steering wheel much harder than Izuku thinks is necessary.

Izuku can’t stop the shaky smile that spreads across his face. This is such a bad idea, he knows it’s a bad idea, but he can’t bring himself to tell Katsuki no—or to not be excited about the idea, no matter how nervous it’s going to inevitably make him. “Okay,” he says. “Do I get to hear about what we’re going to do?”

“Nope,” says Katsuki. “It’s gonna be a surprise.”

Fuck, that’s even better. Or maybe worse, Izuku isn’t sure. “Okay,” he says. He clenches both his hands on top of his legs, unsure what kind of response is appropriate here. “You gotta at least tell me how I should dress.”

“Dress hot,” says Katsuki, and flashes a wicked smirk at him in the darkness. Heat burns through Izuku’s stomach like lightning in a summer storm. “Gotta show off.”

“R-Right,” says Izuku weakly. They come to a stop at a light; Izuku very briefly considers diving out the passenger side door to disappear into the night, so as to never have to confront the massive panic attack waiting for him once he gets the time to contemplate going on a date with Katsuki.

Katsuki, who after all has more than two years’ experience at recognizing an impending Midoriya Meltdown, doesn’t let him dwell. “Stop freakin’ out, nerd,” he says, and reaches to turn the radio on. “It’s gonna be fine.”

“Yeah,” says Izuku, and summons another smile. “It’ll be fine.”

He’s in so much fucking trouble.

Chapter Text

Their undercover sting to expose the human traffickers comes just four nights after the dinner party at Iida and Uraraka’s. Those four days feel like an eternity, even more so than the usual tension of pretending to someone else while in this community. Izuku had forgotten exactly how difficult waiting could be.

And while there’s plenty of preparation to be done, Izuku doesn’t get to do much of it. He has to go to work—they can’t risk drawing any attention to them this week, and that includes changing their regular patterns. So it falls to Katsuki to stay at home checking and double-checking their equipment and the intel they’ve received so far.

Izuku makes a Herculean effort to focus on his Fake Job those few days. He has to practically sit on his hands to keep from texting Katsuki every five minutes to ask him about checking some new thing that’s occurred to him: their gear, their stealth outfits, the car Izuku’s going to use, the surveillance on their marks. The planner in him is slowly going crazy, unable to satisfy the need to be sure that everything is done correctly. He settles for texting his partner around lunchtime on the second day with do I need to pick up anything from the store?

The answer comes gratifyingly fast, less than thirty seconds. No, I already got everything, it says. I told you, I’d take care of making dinner. Don’t worry.

Don’t worry. So much easier said than done. If he spends extra time in the gym those four days, well, at least Katsuki doesn’t rib him too hard about it.

(That might not be patience on Katsuki’s part, though; maybe he’s just over quota of giving Izuku shit for the week. He already flipped his fucking lid when he found out what happened to Izuku at Bethany Lazlow’s bakeshop. Izuku didn’t know whether to be grateful or annoyed at that particular bout of rage, but Katsuki at least apologized for it after the fact, and Izuku was able to recognize the concern for what it was.

“At least we don’t have to worry about Fuckface Hippie being as dangerous as that,” Katsuki had muttered. During their surveillance, they’d found out Melinda Repplinger’s Quirk was accelerating plant growth—useful for her cover of growing copious amounts of weed and things to make into paste, but not nearly as insidious or dangerous as they suspect the Lazlows to be.)

They reach out to Calla to corroborate the intel they received from Iida and Uraraka. She gets back to them in under twelve hours with an endorsement of their plan and a phone number to contact a local police officer who won’t betray their cover and who will actually act on their phone call when the time comes.

It’s vitally important that you not be tied to your Hero identities or your undercover aliases in any way, says her short email. Be careful, and good luck. There’s no recommendation or help beyond that, no offer of rescue should things go south. Izuku and Katsuki are on their own, along with the other undercover Heroes who are local.

As nervous as Izuku is, it starts to ebb the closer they get to their mission, replaced with a heady mixture of anticipation and aggression. Katsuki seems on edge, too; probably just as pent-up with the need to do some actual Hero work as Izuku is. He picks a stupid argument with Izuku the night before their op over literally nothing, just who’s supposed to take out the trash; it turns into them wrestling on the floor, which turns into rough making out and a mutual jerk-off session.

Izuku makes it only as far as the next morning before he breaks too. He all but assaults Katsuki in their bed, crawling under the covers to wrap hands and then lips around Katsuki’s morning wood. Katsuki comes awake with an oath, grabbing Izuku’s head and thrusting shallowly against his mouth. Izuku revels in the musky, salt-sweat taste of him, in the groans he makes as Izuku swallows down his cock, the hands knotted tight in Izuku’s messy hair. He rejoices in the bitter, sticky mess of Katsuki’s come in his mouth, in the burn of his own eyes as he gags around Katsuki’s thick length.

He’s already happier than the last few days, but Izuku’s mood ratchets higher when Katsuki drags him up the bed afterwards for a rough kiss. “Gross,” Katsuki mutters against his mouth, biting at Izuku’s lower lip. “Morning breath and come, fuckin’ nasty combination.”

“You’re the one who kissed me,” Izuku says breathlessly. Katsuki growls and kisses him again, harder this time, then pushes him down onto his back, spreading Izuku’s thighs open with his knees. It only takes a few of those rough kisses to get Izuku hard, and only a scant few minutes of Katsuki on top of him with two fingers in his ass and the other hand around Izuku’s cock to bring him off, too. Izuku comes with a wrecked moan, one arm thrown across his face, other hand clutching their bedsheets.

He opens his eyes to see Katsuki dragging his tongue up his own palm, the devil dancing in his eyes as he licks Izuku’s come off his fingers. Izuku’s stomach does an impressive backflip at the sight, his softening dick twitching painfully against his thigh.

His brain derails. “Now who has bad breath?” Izuku blurts, because cleverness is for people who haven’t just had their brains sucked out through their dicks. Katsuki doesn’t say anything, just gives him a thoroughly unimpressed look. Then he rolls off the bed to go wash his hands, leaving Izuku to scrape himself together and follow after.

Izuku is expecting to be the one who has to reign in his clinginess, but Katsuki is the one who gets in the shower with him and pins him against the wall for more wet kisses. Katsuki is the one who spends breakfast quizzing him on their plan and what they’ll do after they both respectively get off “work.”

“I’m just leaving an accounting firm and then coming to meet you, Kacchan,” Izuku says at one point. He can’t keep a little exasperation from creeping into his voice.

“That’s not the part I’m fucking worried about, dipshit! You’re going solo into the back door of a group of known slavers while the rest of us watch the other exits and wait for your signal,” says Katsuki darkly. “I still think I should be the one to break in.”

“I know, but we’ve been over this,” says Izuku. “You’d have to use too much of your Quirk to get past their safety measures, and we’d risk being recognized. Mine isn’t as obvious when I’m not using a Smash.” Katsuki scowls at him and looks away, but the fact that he doesn’t actually argue is clear enough sign he knows what they have to do.

Izuku sighs softly. “I’m going to follow the plan, I promise,” he says. “Don’t you trust me?”

Katsuki’s head whips around. He gives Izuku a dirty look. “Fuck you, of course I do,” he says. “It’s not you I’m worried about. It’s whatever’s mind-wiped those Heroes.”

Izuku swallows. Katsuki’s concerns aren’t exactly unfounded. Two professional Heroes have recently turned up in the area with their memories obliterated, wandering confused and aimless on a country highway some fifty miles outside the planned community of the Pines. Worse than their utter inability to recall what happened to them for the previous 72 hours was the speculation from Calla that the only reason these two turned up at all was that their physical-type Quirks made them too distinctive and obvious—that is, they couldn’t easily vanish into a slave market somewhere and be quietly sold off.

The Heroes weren’t affiliated with the undercover op that Izuku and Katsuki and their former classmates are working on, but they clearly ran afoul of the Bright Path somehow. It’s the first Heroes who’ve come to the same fate some civilians already have, and while Izuku has never worked with Avalanche or Meteor, he can’t help but take their fate as a personal blow.

“It’ll be fine, Katsuki,” says Izuku now, with more confidence than he strictly feels. “You and Uraraka and Iida will all be there. And we’ll have the police on call. Just stick to the plan, and it should all be fine.”

“Whatever,” says Katsuki, and stands up. “Get going, you’re gonna be late.”

“Right,” says Izuku, and hops up as well. He comes around the table, leaning his face up. There’s a split-second where he thinks Katsuki isn’t going to oblige him—that he’s taken too much of a liberty, that Katsuki is tired of this game they’re playing—and then Katsuki grabs the back of Izuku’s head and pulls him in closer, kissing him much more thoroughly than the good-bye peck he’d been intending.

“Don’t fuck it up,” Katsuki says, and then stalks off towards the study. Izuku stares after him, his chest tight. Then he forces himself to refocus and get out the door to “work.”

The day passes at a snail’s pace. The ‘thrill’ of pretending to be an accountant wore off after about a week, mainly because Izuku is not an accountant but for now has to do the work of one. During that interminable day that takes approximately 800 hours to pass, Izuku finds himself wondering how Calla even got him this job—what kind of application or exchange happened. The work itself mainly makes him want to rip out all of his fingernails, but at least he’s able to justify staying late by the fact that he’s ridiculously slow at every single project his bosses task him with.

Izuku waits until 6:30 has come and gone, and he’s bid farewell to every other person he works with. He has to decline two separate invitations to come out to happy hour drinks, telling his coworkers how he has plans with his husband already by way of deflection.

“You should bring him!” says Elaine, a particularly round and pleasant woman who’s gone out of her way to help Izuku whenever it becomes obvious he has no idea what he’s doing. So, basically, every day. “He’s so grouchy, getting some social time in would be good for him.”

Izuku laughs. “You’re not wrong, but he offered to make me dinner,” he says. “And he never cooks, so you know I can’t turn it down.”

Elaine and her friends finally leave some ten minutes later, after trying one more time to get Izuku to come out for drinks and to bring his “grumpy model husband” with him. Izuku files that one a way to tell Katsuki later—much later, he thinks. Like after their actual plans for the evening are finished.

He “leaves,” heading out of the office and down to the level above the parking garage, before making a pit stop in one of the bathrooms down a side hallway. Izuku locks the bathroom door, then quickly changes into his Hero outfit, something that involves considerable contortion due to the size of the stall.

The outfits themselves aren’t flashy, but Izuku knows how impressive the tech involved is. Head-to-toe black, with utility belts, hoods that have thermal vision and miniature communicators built in, a dozen other tweaks to make them all the more dangerous—Mei Hatsume works for the company Synergy partners with for their tech, and Izuku can tell from the quality of the equipment that she personally must have had a hand in it. But it’s also obvious as hell that it’s black op equipment, so Izuku is careful to pull on a hoodie once he’s changed, despite the warmth of the day outside.

After that, Izuku heads to the parking lot. He gets in the nondescript car left for him there by Iida earlier that day, leaving his own car in the work parking lot. It’s about an hour and some change drive to the meeting place opposite the building where the auction is supposed to be held tonight, but Izuku parks about a mile away from that and walks six blocks before turning right down an alley. There’s a linked series of old-fashioned fire escapes on the side of one of the buildings, and Izuku climbs ploddingly up each of the ladders.

It’s obnoxious, to have to conceal his Quirk like this—he could easily have just vaulted to the top of the building from the pavement below. But he and Katsuki are trying their best to complete this mission as incognito as possible, and flashy displays of their Quirks is a quick route to the opposite.

He finally hauls himself over the side of the building to the roof, landing light on his feet and glancing around. A figure on the far side of the roof turns and looks back at him from where he’s sitting on an overturned milk crate.

“You’re late,” says Katsuki. “What took you so damn long?”

Izuku grins, crossing the roof top to his partner. “Some of my coworkers kept trying to convince me to come out for drinks and bring my cranky husband with me,” he says, sitting down next to Katsuki on a second milk crate. There are some dozen of them up here, along with a large empty coffee tin that contains a veritable sea of cigarette butts, an enormous drum clearly used for housing fires, and more than a handful of used needles.

Katsuki snorts. “Did you tell them your husband would rather throw them off the side of a building than go drinking with them?”

“You’re so friendly,” Izuku says. “I mean, it’s really no wonder people want to spend time with you. It’s your winning personality.”

“Fuck off,” says Katsuki, and passes Izuku a set of long-range binoculars. Izuku takes them but doesn’t hold them up yet, squinting at the building across the street.

“Great place for a stakeout,” he says, nudging a dead rat out of the way with his foot as he sits down. “Anything yet?”

“Nope,” says Katsuki. “Just one van I saw park in front of that building an hour ago, but the dude inside went down the block into the sandwich shop.”

“Good, we’re ahead of them, then.” Izuku digs out the miniature laptop that Calla sent them with from his bag. “Nothing new according to Iida and Uraraka, so far.”

“Yeah, they’ve kept me updated,” says Katsuki. “We’re here early, like we planned. Now we get to pick lint out of our asses and wait for something exciting to happen.”

Izuku laughs despite himself, but he doesn’t bother to correct his partner. Mostly because Katsuki’s not wrong—stakeouts are boring as fuck. Most of Hero work is similar on some level, honestly. Calla described it once as “hours of boredom, punctuated by minutes of panic” and although at the time Izuku objected, he’s since come to admit the truth of it.

Hours pass. Izuku and Katsuki don’t stop watching, but they do start playing dumb games. Izuku starts making up drag queen identities for every person who walks by them on the street below— (“Their name is California Valentine, and they do a mean karaoke routine to Cher’s ‘Believe’!”) while Katsuki counters with their pro wrestler identity (“Nuh uh, that’s Professor Shredder, and she’ll throw you through a fuckin’ wall!”) After that, it progresses to secret superheroes, then porn stars. They try to outdo each other with the ridiculous names and dark or embarrassing secrets.

After that loses its novelty, they move on to exchanging stupid stories. Izuku tells Bakugou a story from their UA days about a mission he did with Froppy and her internship mentor that went awry, the one that ended with Izuku being dragged behind the coast guard boat at the end of a line like a bag of trash. Katsuki cackles outright at this, which immediately prompts Izuku to launch into another story—this one about the first undercover mission they all had to do at UA.

“Do you remember how we had to convince strangers we needed help?” Izuku says. He’s fiddling idly with the binoculars as they talk, trying to keep from giving Katsuki all his attention, a fairly Herculean task. “We had to get into character and convince strangers to help us do things, and whoever got the most people to believe their story got the best grade.”

“Yeah, I sucked at it,” says Katsuki. “I didn’t even manage to get one person to help me, I came in dead last.”

“It’s almost like you suck at asking for help or something,” says Izuku, and ducks the chunk of broken wood that Katsuki hucks at his head. “Anyway! I don’t know if you ever heard, but Iida was trying to come up with a new thing to ask a stranger to do for him, and he, uh, panicked and asked one of the mimes down by the square on a date, and the guy said yes.”

“Oh, shit,” Katsuki says. He leans forward, grinning at Izuku; for a moment Izuku is so distracted by him that he almost loses his train of thought. “Was this why he sulked for like three days and didn’t say a word in class?”

“Yeah,” says Izuku. “He felt so mortified at deceiving a stranger that he insisted on actually going on a date with the guy. But apparently it was a total train-wreck. The guy came to dinner in costume, did a bunch of gross impressions, and made a huge scene. Iida told me he ended up apologizing to every member of the wait staff they interacted with and tipped like forty dollars or something.”

“Yeah, that sounds about right,” says Katsuki, shaking his head. “Fuckin’ Iida. S’good he ended up with Round-Face, I think she chills him out some.”

“They’re good together,” Izuku says, stifling his surprise at hearing Katsuki express such a sentiment. “Anyway, your turn.”

“Yeah, yeah, lemme think a minute.” Katsuki stares at the building across for them for a moment, lost in thought, then snaps his fingers. “Got it. Do you remember during our second year at UA, when Kirishima suddenly started wearing a hat around with no explanation?” Katsuki is grinning at him, with a wicked expression that sends blooms of heat right through Izuku’s stomach.

“Yeah, of course I do,” says Izuku. “Mostly because it was right in the middle of warm weather.”

“Yep,” says Katsuki. “That’s because we accidentally ripped a bunch of his hair out and he had a huge bald patch for a while.”

“WHAT!”

Katsuki rocks back on the milk crate at Izuku’s shock, smacking his leg and cackling. Both of them are trying hard not to be too loud—it defeats the purpose of a stakeout—but it’s harder than Izuku thought it would be.

“Yeah,” Katsuki says, when he recovers. “God, that guy loves hair product way too fuckin’ much. Anyway, one time he read somewhere that glue was the best thing to use to make your hair really stick up super straight and stay put for days. So this dumbass fuckin special-orders expensive industrial-grade glue that’s quick-drying. And the day he gets it, he comes out of the fucking bathroom in a panic because he’s glued his fucking brush in his hair.”

“Oh no,” breathes Izuku.

“Yeah,” says Katsuki. “Anyway, we tried everything under the fucking sun to get it out. I thought Froppy or Mina might be able to help him get it unstuck, but he was too embarrassed to tell anyone else. So he finally asked me to just yank it out.”

“Why not cut it out?” Izuku demands. “Why would you pull it out instead?”

“Please, that guy’s hair is like iron ‘cause of his Quirk,” says Bakugou. “We tried that, the damn scissors just broke, you need special shears to cut his hair. So I yanked the comb out of his hair and a big fucking patch of hair came with it.”

“Oh no,” says Izuku, and starts laughing. He feels awful for laughing, because Kirishima is about the nicest person in their class from school, but the mental image of Kirishima ripping his own hair out with super glue is too ridiculous. Katsuki is watching him as he laughs, a mixture of satisfaction and something else on his handsome face.

“God,” says Izuku, when he catches his breath. “You shouldn’t—I’m pretty sure you shouldn’t have told me that.”

Katsuki shrugs. “I ain’t told nobody else for five years, and it’s not like you’re gonna tell anyone,” he says. “Besides, we’re partners, it’s normal for me to tell you shit, right?”

“R-Right,” says Izuku, and smiles despite himself. He hesitates a moment, then ventures, “Y’know, I wondered… um, well, maybe this isn’t appropriate to ask, but—”

“God, just fucking ask me already,” Katsuki says.

“Sorry! Sorry, I—um. Was there… did you and Kirishima—were you dating?” Izuku cringes internally at how stupidly awkward he sounds. Is he fifteen years old again and blushing bright red at the thought of kissing someone?

Katsuki raises one eyebrow. “Why, you gonna jerk it if I say yes?”

“Oh my god,” says Izuku, and covers his face with his hand.

Katsuki laughs. “Nah, we got drunk and fucked around a couple times, but that was it,” he says. “Haven’t really been interested in dating anybody, too busy.”

“You mentioned that before,” says Izuku, belatedly remembering their conversation about what married couples look like. “I honestly don’t know how people do it. I wasn’t any good at it.”

“Dude, you had one boyfriend, chill,” says Katsuki. “It’s not a fucking class at school, you don’t gotta ace the exam here, alright? Besides, what would you have even done differently? Spent less time on being a Hero?”

“No, I guess not,” says Izuku. “I still feel like we could be doing more, as it is—”

“Yeah, you still think you have to be constantly grinding or else you’re worthless,” says Katsuki. “I haven’t forgotten, No Chilloriya.”

“Oh my god, that was fucking terrible,” Izuku exclaims. “Come on, you couldn’t even do better than that?”

“‘You Couldn’t Even Do Better Than That’: title of your sex tape,” says Katsuki.

Izuku cracks up, but recovers enough to throw a granola bar at Katsuki’s face. “Isn’t that your sex tape now too?” he demands, when he’s done laughing.

“Nah,” says Katsuki. His voice is brazen, casual, devil-may-care. “That one’s titled ‘Dick Too Bomb.’”

“I fucking hate you,” says Izuku. It’s hard to make the insult stick, when he’s so busy trying not to lose it again and risk blowing their cover. And all the while, Katsuki is just watching him with this unfamiliar expression on his face: he’s got this jerk-ass charming half-smile that Izuku thinks he’d never get enough of, and he’s staring fixedly at Izuku, eyes just a little too wide, like he’s a little drunk or a little high. Izuku knows for a fact Katsuki would never drink on or before a mission, though, so it must just be the dusk drawing down around them, playing tricks on his eyes in low light.

He’s just about to tell Katsuki they should re-check all their electronics when the mini-laptop in his hand starts beeping. Katsuki straightens, his expression snapping into something sharp and focused. “It’s Iida,” says Izuku, scanning the screen. “There’s movement on the other side of the building.”

He passes the computer to Katsuki, who’s frowning as he reads. “That’s our signal,” says Katsuki, and glances up. “Time to go.”

Izuku stands, his stomach attempting an impressive launch directly into his throat. “Keep a weather eye out,” he says. Katsuki rolls both of his eyes so hard it looks as though they may fall out of his face to the floor.

“Are you a fucking sailor?” he demands. “Of course I’ll fucking keep watch, you dumbass. Just get going.”

“Right,” says Izuku. His cheeks burn, and he takes three steps towards the edge of the roof when he hears Katsuki get up too. Izuku turns around, and sees Katsuki standing there, the heat from his Quirk lit up in his face like a torch.

“Be careful,” Katsuki says. There is no joke or light-heartedness in his voice at all.

Izuku catches his breath. “I will,” he says. And with that, he’s gone, vaulting lightly over the side of the building and activating the Shroud built into his stealth suit.

Izuku likes this suit. The Shroud is a feature Calla helped pioneer, putting her PhD to good use for Synergy’s benefit. The Shroud takes low-level output from energy-type Heroes and converts it into a nanofiber-built light-diversion around the wearer of the suit. In layman’s terms, it renders Izuku into nothing more than shadow, virtually invisible unless his opponent is practically on top of him. His shoes also have silencers built into them, absorbing the noise of every step he takes. Those things, combined with all the stealth training and fine modulation of his Quirk he’s been doing over the past two-odd years, make Izuku as quiet and unobtrusive as a mouse.

Katsuki has the same things built into his Stealth outfit, of course. He also has the same nanofiber gloves that Izuku has, with tensile metal woven into the fabric, meant to give ultra-fine control over the energy output from his hands. But the building they’re breaking into today has temperature sensors meant to detect any sort of explosive or fire-based Quirks, and locks meant to withstand extreme temperatures. The locks, walls, and doors are also reinforced, meant to be extra-durable against strength-type Quirks.

They wouldn’t be able to stand up to either Katsuki’s or Izuku’s full Quirks, of course. Both Izuku and Katsuki are much too strong. But blowing in a building wall might put prisoners inside at risk, and it would definitely tip their hand before Izuku and Katsuki want to. So would using Katsuki’s explosive Quirk to blow off external locks or break in through a door. So it’s Izuku who’s breaking in, channeling his Full Cowl to increase all his instincts and senses—and to increase the sensitivity in his fingers to allow him to channel One For All at just one specific spot.

He makes it to the side door, and then sends the signal to Katsuki to kill the camera watching that entrance. Then he creeps over to the entrance, kneeling by the heavy lock that bolts the door shut. Izuku places one hand on the thick metal, and shuts his eyes, focusing on channeling a large measure of One For All into his fingers and palm. He can feel the joints of the metal as the nanofibers in his glove give him synthetic biofeedback, like he’s just extended his nerves into the metal itself.

There. The weak point is at the joint, where the lock hinges. Izuku licks his lips, takes a deep breath, and concentrates. He pushes force into that one spot, uses every ounce of fine control and power in his body—

—and ten seconds later, with only a faint crack like snapping a twig, the lock neck snaps off.

“Door is unlocked,” Izuku murmurs into his comms unit. “Any sign of response?”

“Nothing from outside,” says Katsuki in his ear. “Get in there so I can put the camera back online before they notice.”

“Got it,” says Izuku under his breath, and pushes the door open. He slips through, quietly shutting the door behind him, then sneaks down the hall, every sense on full alert as he listens for sounds of activity or any sign that they’ve been made.

He can’t hear anything, but he knows their time is short. Izuku sneaks through the massive warehouse, sending updates about the layout to his partner and their two teammates—this will help the other three get into position, so they can strike hard and all at once. He encounters six guards on his route, but his Shroud keeps him almost invisible, and he’s able to wait until their backs are turned before slipping behind them down the hall.

Izuku locates three separates groups of human trafficking victims, each in their own barred cell; about a dozen sets of guards on patrol; and the massive open warehouse room where the auction will presumably take place. All three groups of victims are being supervised by multiple guards, and all the guards appear to be heavily armed. Most of the victims appear to be young women, though there’s some children and young men mixed in. Izuku spots Mrs. Rhodes in one of the cells, huddled in the corner; her three children are in another cell, clinging to each other with their backs against a wall.

Instead of giving in to the increasingly strong urge to rip the nearest guard’s gun out of his hands and use it to beat him senseless, Izuku follows the plan. He climbs up into the second story, which is all just industrial tubing and maintenance ramps, and gets into position on the catwalk overlooking the main room, hidden from view on the rest of the catwalk by a large pile of rubber hosing.

The easiest, safest thing to do would be for them to bust the auction right now. But Izuku’s stealth search has confirmed two things: none of the buyers have arrived yet, and neither has any of their suspected Bright Path cult members.

We need to wait until more people arrive, says Katsuki in Izuku’s ear. He sounds like irritation personified, the scratch in his voice making the hair on the back of Izuku’s neck stand up. If we want to link this to the Bright Path, we need more evidence. And I want to fuckin’ arrest any would-be buyers too. We need to get everyone.

The longer we wait, the worse the risk this will go sideways, says Iida in response. We don’t want any of the victims to get transported out.

If more guards arrive than we can handle, it’ll make it hard to rescue everyone safely, adds Uraraka. Their voices whisper in Izuku’s ear like ghosts, and all the while he keeps his eyes on the movement of the guards down below.

“If it starts looking like anyone is going to get taken, we move,” says Izuku in a barely-there whisper of his own. “But I’m with Kacchan. We want to take these people down.”

He gets agreement back from all three of his teammates then, and settles in to wait.

It’s hard. The guards start bringing out some of the prisoners to the stage, apparently in preparation of the upcoming auction. Izuku can see the hunch of the victims’ shoulders from the second level, the way they flinch when the guards raise their voices, and Izuku grips the edge of the catwalk tightly enough to leave finger-shaped indents.

Not everyone gets brought to the stage. Izuku counts fully fifteen people on the raised platform where the auction will take place, which means another twelve left in two separate cells. They’re going to have to be careful no one hurts the prisoners, Izuku thinks.

Finally, buyers start trickling in. Most of them are dressed fairly normally, just jeans and jackets, though Izuku isn’t sure what he was expecting—a top hat? A twirling villainous mustache? Doesn’t matter. Izuku watches, keeps his eyes out for any guards coming to patrol the upper catwalks, and makes note of every new person.

He feels his heart skip a beat when the side door opens again and a familiar, long-haired figure walks in: Melinda Repplinger. She’s wearing military-style pants and a black long-sleeve shirt today, instead of her usual New Age outfit, but her long hair still falls free down her back. “I have eyes on Repplinger,” Izuku murmurs, and gets a chorus of swears and satisfaction back from his friends. “Are you guys all in position?”

We’re ready, says Uraraka. Katsuki and Iida chorus their agreement.

“Good,” says Izuku. “Wait for my signal. On my count: One… two…” He waits, watching Melinda Repplinger make her way briskly to the stage, reaching for what looks like a microphone. “THREE!”

The warehouse goes completely insane.

Katsuki bursts through the front of the warehouse, an explosion loud enough to deafen the whole room disguising the speed of his entrance. Screams fill the air, along with a huge plume of smoke that comes in the wake of the explosion—the cover Iida needs to dart into the building and off down the hall.

Izuku drops from above like a reaper, taking out four men in rapid succession as Katsuki flies at the guards in the rear. Full Cowl lets Izuku move almost as fast as Iida, flinging burly armed guards into each other like bowling pins, his feet and fists a blur. Katsuki spits deadly fire from his hands at guard after guard, guns exploding in men’s hands like grenades, leaving them vulnerable when Katsuki plows into them with all his pent-up rage.

And right down the middle comes Uraraka, slapping buyer after buyer, all of them rising into the air and flailing helplessly as gravity suddenly loses its grip on their bodies. She drops them hard, all at once, and they collapse to the ground with a chorus of screams that end with their faces hitting the floor.

There’s a lot of shouting, a few rapid clips of gunfire, and then the fighting part is done. Their attack took the auction completely by surprise; a few guards had fighting-type Quirks, improved speed and blades for arms, but the attack came too quickly for them to put up much of a fight. Iida re-appears long enough to tell them the guards in the hall have been disposed of and to help Izuku, Katsuki, and Uraraka restrain all the guards and buyers in the main hall. Then Katsuki goes with Iida to bust open the cells, while Izuku sets about ripping the shackles off the wrists of the prisoners on the stage.

The newly-freed victims are crying, trembling. One of them throws her arms around Izuku and starts sobbing, all but collapsing in his arms. It’s all Izuku can do to keep from stalking over to Melinda Repplinger and punting her through the wall—she’s off to one side, bound and gagged tightly by Katsuki already, with black eyes and a few burns she must have just somehow gotten in the chaos.

But he can’t do that. He’s a Hero. So he keeps his cool, and does his job, and quietly reassures person after person that they’re safe now, they’re free, everything is going to be alright.

Finally, Izuku finishes freeing everyone, at which point he digs out his phone to dial the number Calla gave them for the police. He’s just about to tell the man on the other line that they’ve interrupted a human trafficking operation when he hears children crying from behind him.

“Ah, j-just one second,” he says, and turns around to see Katsuki walking back into the main hall with a child in one arm, holding the hand of another, a third trailing at his other side and clutching his black shirt. All three triplets are in tears, clinging to Katsuki like a lifeline; Izuku takes one look at his partner’s face, and his heart stops.

Katsuki is still wearing the mask. All that are visible are his eyes, which are huge and hollow, the eyes of someone who’s just walked through Hell. The rest of him might as well be a stone, his posture perfectly calm. But Izuku can tell that he’s very clearly trying not to frighten anyone further then they’ve already been terrified.

A woman lets out a scream from the stage, scrambling to her feet as Katsuki and the children comes into her view. “Sir?” says the voice in Izuku’s ear. Izuku startles, coming back to himself with an effort.

“Yeah, sorry,” he says. “Get here quick, we’re working on containment but we can’t stay.”

“We’ll be there in three minutes,” says his contact, and hangs up—leaving Izuku free to watch as the sobbing Mrs. Rhodes all but throws herself at her children. Katsuki crouches, setting down the child he’s carrying so the little girl can go into her mother’s arms. Izuku walks over to stand by Katsuki, the two of them watching the reunited family cling to each other and dissolve into tears.

“How soon are reinforcements getting here?” Katsuki says after a moment. His voice is low and flat.

“Three minutes,” says Izuku. As if on cue, he hears police sirens, distant but getting closer. “Time to go.”

“Yeah,” says Katsuki, and straightens. The two of them turn around to find Iida and Uraraka approaching them. All of the guards have been incapacitated, bound back-to-back with standard-issue Hero restraint tape, their weapons in a big pile against the far wall. The human trafficking victims, meanwhile, are all milling around the room, hugging each other, crying, many of them looking dazed, like they don’t know what to do with themselves.

A few approach the cluster of Heroes, though their faces say they’re still nervous—probably because Izuku and his friends are all still wearing black masks to hide their faces. They have every right to be nervous, Izuku thinks. “You’re safe now,” he says, raising his voice over the crescendo of the coming police sirens. “The police are going to be here in a moment, and they’ll make sure you all get back to where you’re supposed to be.”

“Aren’t you even going to tell us who you are?” asks Mrs. Rhodes. She’s collected herself a bit and is standing up now, her children clustered around her, all of them clutching her pants or shirt.

“We can’t,” says Iida, bowing to her by way of apology. “Not right now. But we will continue to watch over you, so have no fear!”

Izuku suppresses a smile; beside him, Katsuki makes a noise of irritation. “Time to go,” Katsuki says loudly.

“Take care!” calls Uraraka, and gives a little wave. Then the four of them are making a quick exit through the rear door. Izuku waits just long enough to hear the sounds of police calling “Clear!” as they come into the room, and then lets Katsuki yank him out into the night.

They part ways almost immediately, all four of them haring off into the dark in different directions, just in case someone is tracking them. Izuku takes a circuitous route back to his car, and does a very thorough job of scanning it for any sort of bug or tracking device. Then he gets in and hops on the highway, heading to the place he’ll drop off the van to be picked up by Synergy’s people.

Changing back into his work clothes is possibly the hardest part of the night. All Izuku wants to do is go straight home and collapse, maybe just rinse off the grime of this evening before crawling into bed to die. But he sticks to the plan, changing back into his normal clothes before finally heading home in his own car.

Katsuki is waiting for him when Izuku gets in. He’s already changed and showered, slouched on the couch listlessly watching TV. Izuku drops his bag in the hall, pulling off his sweater and flinging it in the vague direction of the bedroom. Katsuki glances up at him. “Go fuckin’ shower,” he says. He sounds as tired as Izuku feels.

“Ugh,” says Izuku by way of answer, and trudges towards the bathroom.

Katsuki makes him eat a snack before they both retire to the bedroom. By now it’s nearing three am; Izuku is extra glad Katsuki made him take tomorrow off, because going in to work in the morning would be a particular kind of torture.

But sleep doesn’t come. Izuku lays there, wrung out and and used-up in body and mind, but he can’t fall asleep. He holds very still, waiting for exhaustion to claim him, not wanting to wake his partner. But some twenty or thirty minutes later, he hears Katsuki grunt in irritation and roll over.

“Fuck,” Katsuki says out loud. Izuku rolls onto his back, and finds Katsuki looking at him. “This sucks.”

“Yeah,” Izuku says softly. He rubs at his face. “We did something good tonight,” he says after a moment. “Right?”

Katsuki says nothing. In the dark, Izuku can hardly make out his face. “It was good,” Katsuki says finally. He sounds reluctant. “But it wasn’t enough.”

“No,” Izuku murmurs. He hesitates, then lets out a ragged breath. “Every time I shut my eyes—”

“Yeah,” says Katsuki, shortly. “I know. I see them too.”

Both of them fall silent. Izuku wishes he knew something, anything to say, anything to make the specter in their minds vanish—to make his brain stop asking the question, how many people disappeared before we stopped this?

But if there’s some magic words to say, he doesn’t know them. Won’t ever find them, he thinks. So instead, he does the only thing that feels right, and rolls over to lie against Katsuki’s side in the dark. He lays his head on Katsuki’s shoulder and drapes his arm across Katsuki’s stomach, and is gratified when Katsuki turns towards him, laying his arm along Izuku’s back.

Neither of them say anything. There’s nothing left to say. But finally, lying against the boy he’s loved down deep in the dark of his heart ever since he was little, Izuku is able to fall asleep. And if he wakes in the night with a racing heart and panic searing his skin, there are warm hands to grab him and ground him, to hold him fast until the ghosts recede.

Chapter Text

They have a video call with Calla the morning after the op, the first and only one they’ve had so far since arriving in the Pines. Izuku and Katsuki are still in their PJs when they make it, sitting on the couch together with Katsuki’s “work” laptop on the coffee table in front of them.

“Congratulations on a job well done,” says Calla, moments after their connection solidifies. “I’ll keep this brief for security, but I wanted you to know the extent of what you accomplished.”

She reads off a list for them: thirty-five prisoners rescued, half already restored to their rightful homes and the other half in process; three confirmed Cult members arrested, including Melinda Repplinger; two hard-drives found in guard and cult member homes with information on previous sales and data tracking previous prisoners, plus another laptop found in the auction house itself.

This, more than anything else, lightens Izuku’s heart. Katsuki shifts beside him, quietly letting Calla finish talking before he speaks up. “Any word on if our covers were blown?” he says brusquely. Izuku glances at him in surprise.

“Nothing so far,” says Calla. “You did good at making minimal obvious uses of your Quirks.”

“Wish our teammates had done the same,” says Katsuki. Izuku elbows him, and Katsuki scowls. “Uraraka has a fuckin’ obvious Quirk, she should have been more careful!”

“I can’t speak for the other Heroes you did the op with, but the important thing to focus on is that you were successful,” says Calla. Her expression is still serious, but there’s real warmth in her voice. Izuku feels his chest swell with pride. “If you are both OK with it, I’d like to inform All Might of your work here so far. He’s been eager to hear how you’ve both been doing.”

Izuku startles at that. “I didn’t know you were in contact with him,” he says, before he can stop himself.

“Only informally,” says Calla, “since he doesn’t work with our agency, but he expressed a particular interest in the case. I understand you called him to speak to him about it before you went undercover, Izuku.”

Izuku’s face flushes. He’d told Katsuki about it, but somehow it’s still sort of embarrassing. “Uh… yeah,” he says. “U-Uh, I just, I wanted to—”

“God, shut up, we all know you have the world’s biggest boner for All Might,” says Katsuki, digging his elbow into Izuku’s ribs in turn. He flashes a wicked grin as Izuku’s face turns red, but the normalcy of that interaction makes some of Izuku’s tension ebb. “It’s fine, Izuku, stop freakin’ out.”

“Okay, okay!” Izuku laughs. “And yeah, Calla, please tell him.”

“Yeah, tell him we kicked ass,” adds Katsuki, and Calla smirks at them.

They talk a little more after that, cleaning up a few details of the next stages of their operation; the other Bright Path members have all disavowed Melinda Repplinger and all knowledge of the human trafficking operation, naturally. This includes the Lazlows, much to Izuku’s disappointment, although not he’s not particularly surprised. And of course, none of the data that the techs have sorted through so far has contradicted their protestations of innocence. Same with the interviews from the prisoners, surprisingly.

Or maybe not that surprising. Izuku thinks of the quiet cloud of malice that the Lazlows exude, and suppresses a shiver.

Finally, Calla signs off. Izuku glances over at Katsuki, the next thing on their plates hanging in the air between them. “So, what are we doing?” he asks, tentative.

“I fuckin’ told you, nerd,” says Katsuki. He’s watching Izuku with an intense expression, his eyes hot. “We’re going on a date.”

Izuku fights the urge to roll his eyes. “Okay, but are we going hiking?” he presses. “Rock-climbing? Antique shopping?”

“What the fuck do you take me for?” Katsuki demands. “Hiking? You like hiking? What the fuck, are you some kind of fuckin’ mountain man now?”

“I don’t not like hiking!” Izuku laughs outright at the face Katsuki makes at that. “Look, I just want to know how to dress!”

“Fine, Jesus, ruin the surprise.” Katsuki grumbles like a cantankerous bear, standing up and stretching. Izuku can’t help but notice how his shirt lifts, unhelpfully showing off every one of his abdominal muscles and the mouth-watering arch of his iliac crest. Then Katsuki crosses the room to the TV table, opening one of the slim drawers and pulling out what looks like a pair of tickets.

“There’s an exhibition you’re gonna like at the MOAS downtown,” says Katsuki, coming back to Izuku to show him the tickets—MOAS referring to the Museum of Art and Science, about an hour’s drive from their house. “That one on the evolution of Quirks and their application, with all the tech and genetics and biology shit.”

Izuku literally gasps out loud when Katsuki says this. “The Smithsonian traveling exhibit?” he cries, springing up from the couch. “I thought it was sold out!”

“It is,” says Katsuki. “But I got tickets.” Izuku stares at him, then laughs and throws his arms around his partner. Katsuki grunts something under his breath, but he snakes an arm around Izuku’s waist anyway, turning his face to steal a kiss. Izuku is all too happy to give it to him, grinning against Katsuki’s mouth as he hugs him hard.

“How did you—”

“Not gonna tell you,” Katsuki says, and now his smirk is huge, verging on shit-eating. “So go get dressed, alright? I know you’re gonna be there all goddamn day and it’s one time entry only so let’s not fuckin’ waste it.”

Izuku grins so hard he feels like his face is going to break. “Okay,” he says. “You’re just—Kacchan, you’re amazing.”

So saying, Izuku kisses Katsuki again, and feels his heart take flight as Katsuki kisses him back, before breaking way and giving him a shove towards the bedroom. Izuku practically trips down the hall, his excitement starting to bleed into something warmer, a tiny flower blooming in his chest.

It’s for the job, he tells himself, but this time the reminder to keep his shit together doesn’t have quite as much oomph. Katsuki could have picked anything for their date, but he did this, picked something Izuku was literally dying to get to see. Izuku has a small, intense freak-out in the shower, hyperventilating into his hands as he considers the no-longer-so-impossible idea that maybe, maybe Katsuki might—

He might—

No, Izuku can’t even think it. Can’t consider it, not without dissolving into a ball of panic and longing and poorly-suppressed emotion. Izuku turns the shower all the way to cold, swearing loudly and putting all his imaginings out of his mind.

Or tries to, anyway. But it turns out to be really, really hard. Because Katsuki wasn’t kidding about having a “kick-ass date” planned for them. And while Izuku was already having trouble keeping a lid on his growing feelings for his partner, the day that Katsuki has planned for them makes all of his problems exponentially worse.

Despite Katsuki’s protestations, all he and Izuku are wearing are the nicer of their jeans and button-down shirts. It’s more than enough to distract Izuku, considering the deep blood red of Katsuki’s shirt and how the sleeves are just a bit too tight around his biceps. Izuku shamelessly picks the jeans that always makes Katsuki comment on his “bubble butt” and a light pink shirt that he feels particularly hot in.

The exhibition itself is phenomenal and engrossing. It takes up two full wings of the museum, the permanent collection stored elsewhere for the time being in order to house the vast expanse of interactive technology, video, sculpture, and art. The museum is also extremely busy, of course, having been sold out months ago, but Izuku doesn’t mind the crowds even a tiny bit. So absorbed is he in every section of the exhibit that it takes him awhile to notice that he’s being given an unusual amount of space by the other museum-goers—and even longer than that to realize that it’s because Katsuki is standing right behind Izuku, glowering like a harbinger of death at everyone who tries to crowd too close to his partner.

“Kacchan, stop doing that,” Izuku hisses at him when he realizes. “They paid to be here, too.” Katsuki scowls, but after that he turns down the death glare at least a little bit.

Izuku is one of those people who would spend every minute of every day in a museum or library if he wasn’t a full-time Hero, so instead of being exhausted by the time they’re done, he’s vibrating like a drum. He can feel himself babbling a mile a minute at Katsuki over the over-priced muffins and tea they have in the museum cafe, before dragging Katsuki to the gift shop so he can buy the thick, glossy book to go with the exhibit.

“Goddammit, what is the point of this?” Katsuki exclaims as they leave. (Izuku decided self-control was for the birds, so he also got the t-shirt and a miniature copy of one of the most elegant exhibit displays, a tiny, delicate Rube Goldberg-esque mechanism meant to illustrate an energy-type Quirk.) “Why do you need that crap? It’s just a watered-down version of the shit in the exhibit.”

“I want something to remember it by! And the art in the book is really cool, see, look—”

“I was literally in the museum with you, I looked at all of that art, you do not have to show me the souvenir,” Katsuki growls. “Come on, let’s get going, we’re gonna be late.”

“Late for what?”

“No, you already made me spoil the exhibition, you don’t get to know the rest of the date,” says Katsuki, and grabs Izuku’s hand to drag him down the front stairs. Izuku lets himself be dragged, still babbling about his favorite parts of the exhibit as he trails along in Katsuki’s wake.

The next thing turns out to be a walk along the Miracle Mile, a stretch of downtown that abuts a huge, meticulously-tended park. There’s a tea garden, a greenhouse full of orchids and other tropical plants, and a vast botanical garden, all directly opposite a city block awash with massive window displays and chic, upscale stores. Katsuki stops them halfway along the third block at what turns out to be a street cart that sells dessert crepes. Izuku gets a banana-and-nutella crepe and Katsuki gets one with ice cream and chocolate sauce, and they sit on a bench watching a live theatre troupe performing a comedy routine. Izuku keeps stealing little glances at Katsuki, feeling giddy and nervous and almost drunk with how happy he is to be here like this.

“This is really great,” he says at one point, as they’re wandering through the botanical gardens. “It’s nice to take time to do this together.”

“Yeah?” says Katsuki, and gives him one of those searing smirks that do such awful things to Izuku’s stomach. “Good. Now come here, it’s time to take some photos so we can stick them on our couples Instagram later.” Izuku’s stomach lurches a little at the reminder that this is still for their op, but he summons a bright smile as Katsuki digs out his phone.

Katsuki steps in close, wrapping an arm around Izuku, the other holding his phone out in front of them. Izuku tilts his head into Katsuki’s, his sunny smile in the camera field in direct contrast to the intense stare Katsuki is serving. Then Katsuki turns and kisses Izuku’s temple at the last minute before the camera snaps.

Izuku can’t help the way his face turns red, but neither can he tear his eyes away from the sight of their faces framed together in the camera field. “K-Kacchan,” Izuku stammers, and breaks off at the smirk Katsuki gives. Katsuki tucks his face closer against Izuku’s and keeps snapping, and all the while Izuku feels the grip he has on his feelings for Katsuki slipping away.

Katsuki’s been taking other pictures throughout the day, all throughout the exhibit and their walk along the Miracle Mile. Many of them are of Izuku alone, absorbed in a display or smiling hugely at Katsuki. A few have Katsuki in the forefront of the photo, with Izuku oblivious behind him.

(A few of the pictures are of Izuku’s butt. Izuku half-expected this, and yet he’s still somehow embarrassed. At Izuku’s stammering, Katsuki smirks and says, “What, I can’t take photos of my husband’s ass in those jeans?”

“You are literally the worst person I know,” Izuku says, and feels his face heat at Katsuki’s laughter.)

Katsuki shows all of these to Izuku over dinner—they get tapas at a trendy, upscale restaurant across the street from the park called Rolling Thunder. Izuku knows the place, of course; it’s owned by Jeremiah, the man who did the expensive catering for their dinner party and another Cult target. (The restaurant, it turns out, is named for the owner’s Quirk, something Izuku finds utterly bizarre—why is a man who can summon thunderstorms working with a cult and running a restaurant? He could easily have found work as a Hero, Izuku thinks.)

The restaurant also happens to be one of the classiest, most sought-after places in town, with a waiting list that looks roughly two hours long. Once again Izuku finds himself baffled as to how Katsuki managed to get them a slot during prime dinner hours.

But it’s not the possible connection to the Bright Path that occupies Izuku’s mind that night, or the owner’s Quirk, or the delicious food, or anything else. The flashy decor and alluring plates of meticulously-crafted tapas pale in comparison to the flares of heat Katsuki keeps sending Izuku’s way from across the table, filthy little glances and long looks that have Izuku sweating under his shirt.

Later, Izuku will find he has memory impairment severe enough to cause concern in almost any other setting; he’d suspect mind control like the Lazlows were it not for the fact he knows exactly what caused his sudden brain death. If you put him in front of a jury of his peers and asked him to recite the events of that dinner, he’d be at a loss. He wouldn’t be able to name even a single thing they ate that night, though he’ll swear up and down the food was as delicious as anything he’s ever eaten in his life. He won’t remember their server’s face or name; he won’t remember what kind of music was playing, or who else was in the restaurant, or even how long they were there. All Izuku can remember from that night is how fucking magnetic Katsuki Bakugou is, and how badly Izuku wants to climb him like a tree—and then never, ever let go.

And the worst part is, he honestly can’t fucking tell if Katsuki might feel the same way or not.

Their conversation isn’t normal, of course. They can’t talk about strategy, or Hero work at all, and definitely not about their current mission, so they have to stick to their fake jobs and pop culture instead. But Katsuki keeps making increasingly dirty comments, always accompanied by a damnably straight face, and Izuku is just glad there’s a table covering his lap because otherwise his hard-on would be way, way too obvious. Katsuki is flirting with him, hard, and Izuku is just tipsy enough to flirt back without second-guessing himself.

And every time he does, Katsuki gets this look on his face, equal parts challenge and delight. It’s only there for a split-second before he goes back to his usual cocky sneer, but Izuku keeps noticing it. If Izuku wasn’t already two whiskeys in, he’d convince himself it’s not what he wants it to be. But right now he’s drunk on the day they’ve had together and the smoke-burn of bourbon on his tongue—so he chases it.

“So,” says Izuku, circling the rim of his tumbler of whiskey with his finger. All the food has been cleared away from the table, leaving just their half-empty glasses and the paid check tucked away to one side. Katsuki’s eyes flick from Izuku’s finger on the glass back up to his face, his interest writ large as Izuku continues, “Is this a ‘Kacchan drives the car’ kind of thing, or are you taking suggestions for the rest of the evening?”

Katsuki snorts. “Please,” he says. “You like it when I’m driving the car.”

“And you like it when I tell you where to go,” Izuku shoots back. A faint flush creeps up Katsuki’s neck, and Izuku crows inwardly.

Katsuki narrows his eyes. “What are you thinking?” he demands. “You better have something good and not just be blowing smoke, Deku.

“Take me dancing,” Izuku says instantly.

Katsuki’s nostrils flare; spots of color burn high in his cheeks. “Since when do you like dancing?”

“You wanted a suggestion, I made one,” says Izuku. “Don’t give me shit if you can’t keep up with me.” He raises his eyebrows and sips his drink to hide the way he wants to dive under the table.

Katsuki’s mouth falls very slightly open, eyes too wide, just for a second. Then he snaps his mouth shut and leans across the table, a fire in his eyes to match the one Izuku knows is always burning just under his skin. “On one condition,” he says.

“Try me.”

“Don’t drink too much,” Katsuki says. He lowers his voice, quiet enough Izuku has to lean forward slightly to catch the rest of what’s said. “Don’t want you too fucked up for what I have waiting at home.”

It’s Izuku’s turn to be gobsmacked and speechless for a few seconds. Katsuki smiles at him, slow and lethal. You are going to be the death of me, Izuku thinks, and makes his decision. He grabs his drink and knocks the rest of it back, Katsuki still watching him expectantly. The bourbon melts on his tongue, leaving a dizzying burn in its wake. “Done,” says Izuku, and sets the tumbler on the table with a sharp click of glass on glass. “Let’s go.”

“Right,” says Katsuki, and stands up.

They go to a club four blocks away; Izuku has no idea if it’s to give them both time to sober up before driving home, or because it’s just the closest one and neither of them want to wait. It doesn’t matter. Katsuki is too close, too warm, too electric, and Izuku’s nerves are jangling in his throat and head like crackling live wires. Every brief brush of fingers against his as they walk makes his heart crawl into his throat.

The club is dark, modern, too loud with pulsing dance music and hip-hop—exactly what Izuku wants. Sweaty people are already crowding onto the dance floor even though it’s only 10 pm; Izuku and Katsuki have to elbow their way down the hall to even make it to the main floor.

They get down to a slightly more open area just as the song changes and the DJ’s obnoxious voice comes on, announcing the theme of the evening—Throwback Thursday, apparently. Katsuki makes a face, and Izuku can’t help but laugh. “Come on,” he says. “Lighten up, it’ll be fun.”

“Garbage music is never fun, Izuku,” says Katsuki grumpily. He looks exactly like a cat that’s had water dumped all over it. Izuku suffers a wave of deep affection for him, and acts on it before he can overthink. He steps forward, into Katsuki’s space, and grabs Katsuki’s hands to pull him even closer so their hips are almost flush.

“You need to learn to love yourself, Kacchan,” says Izuku, and grins at Katsuki from close up. Katsuki stares at him, eyes a little glassy like they’ve been doing shots. Then he leans forward and kisses Izuku roughly on the mouth, a scrape of teeth against Izuku’s bottom lip. He pulls back after a moment, but his hands linger on Izuku’s hips, pressing just a little too hard.

“You wanted to dance,” he murmurs, and digs his fingers into Izuku’s hips. “So dance.”

Izuku rolls his eyes. “No, you dick,” he says, and drapes his arms around Katsuki’s shoulders. “I wanted to dance with you.”

“Ugh,” says Katsuki, and makes another face at him. Izuku just laughs.

For a few minutes, Izuku isn’t sure that they’ll actually be able to let go and start moving without the lubrication of alcohol to loosen them up. But with the crush of people on the floor and the heavy thunder of the music in his chest, it’s easier than he expects. Katsuki is all but plastered against him as they move together, and even with his buzz from the restaurant bleeding off as time passes, Izuku manages to lose himself anyway.

Katsuki is a better dancer than Izuku was expecting, which probably says more about Izuku than anything else. The same athleticism Izuku has seen up close during their Hero work presents itself now, making Katsuki’s hips and body liquid, hands sliding over Izuku’s waist, stomach, chest as they dance. Izuku leans into him, teasing both of them with their closeness. Every move Izuku makes, Katsuki meets him, anticipating and leading into the next moment. Izuku has the sense they’re probably verging on obscene, but he’s finding it hard to care.

But ninety minutes of feeling Katsuki’s incredible body heat burning through both their clothes is more than enough. Izuku’s buzz has burned off in the sweat and throb of their dancing, a different kind of itch humming beneath his skin now. And Katsuki’s comment about why, exactly, they needed to stop drinking is making him more and more impatient to get headed home.

The song ends. Izuku grabs Katsuki’s wrist, dragging him towards the edge of the dance floor. Katsuki follows without complaint, but crowds Izuku against the wall as soon as they make the relative safety of the hall—and he apparently has the same thing on his mind as Izuku. “Are you done with playin’ around?” he growls. His head is bent low, close enough for him to brush his lips against the shell of Izuku’s ear, and Izuku shivers.

“Can you drive?” Izuku asks. He hooks his fingers in Katsuki’s belt loops, and wonders if this is actually how newly married husbands would act. He wonders if he cares.

“Drank less than you did, nerd,” says Katsuki. “C’mon, let’s beat it.”

They leave the club without any more conversation, Katsuki hard on Izuku’s heels. Izuku makes it two whole blocks before he loses his grip on his self-control. He grabs Katsuki’s wrist again, making him stumble after Izuku as he ducks down a side alley. Izuku is on Katsuki immediately, shoving him against the wall and kissing him hard enough that he tastes copper.

“Fuuuuuuck—” Katsuki curses into Izuku’s mouth and then grabs him with both hands. He drags Izuku closer, yanking his shirt out of his pants and shoving his hands beneath it, greedy hands leaving searing fingerprints all over Izuku’s back. Izuku groans, arching against Katsuki in a full-body shudder as they kiss harder, Katsuki’s tongue sliding along Izuku’s split lip and into his mouth. Every touch on Izuku’s body is the touch of a live wire, the press of his lips against Izuku’s a drug more dangerous than anything the Bright Path has in its arsenal.

A stiff lump digs into Izuku’s hip, and from the hitch in Katsuki’s breath, Izuku can guess exactly what it is. They both reek of sweat and hormones; Izuku fancies he can smell the ozone-sweet funk of the nitroglycerine that lives in Katsuki’s skin.

It’s too much, too intense, and yet not enough. Izuku is reeling, right on the edge of something dangerous, an edge over a sharp precipice—one he has no parachute for. One of Katsuki’s hands drags up Izuku’s spine to his neck; he cradles the back of Izuku’s skull, making Izuku glance up to meet his eyes. Katsuki’s staring at him, his gaze molten.

“Tell me to stop,” he says. His voice is low, demanding. “Or I’m gonna take you home and fuck you up so good you can’t walk for two days.”

Izuku’s throat goes desert-dry, tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth. He has to swallow hard. “I don’t remember using the safe word,” he says. Katsuki rolls his eyes even as he squeezes Izuku’s hip hard enough to bruise.

“Then come the fuck on,” he growls, and all but drags Izuku out of the alley again.

By the time they get home, Izuku is practically vibrating out of his skin. Instead of taking him up to their room, though, Katsuki banishes him to the second bedroom. But Izuku’s protests die on his lips when Katsuki presses a bottle of lube into his hands and says, “Go get yourself ready and then wait for me.”

Izuku gulps. “R-Right,” he says. Katsuki raises an eyebrow. “I mean—yes, Katsuki!”

“Better,” says Katsuki. He gives Izuku a wolfish grin and then vanishes into the master bedroom.

Izuku goes into the guest bathroom and strips off his clothes, then hesitates a moment. He thinks about showering, but he’s sort of reluctant to wash the smell of their day off him—he’s had Katsuki pressed against him for the better part of two hours, and he’s not in a hurry to get rid of the smell. So he settles for cleaning his privates thoroughly, then follows up with the lube. He has to fight to keep from bringing himself off right there in the bathroom, one hand braced against the wall for balance while the other has three fingers buried to the knuckles in his own ass.

Izuku jumps as there’s a loud slam on the door. “Hurry it up, Deku,” says Katsuki from the outside. Izuku yanks the door open to find Katsuki glaring at him. His glower fades as he takes in the sight of Izuku naked, though, replaced by a greed that makes Izuku’s half-hard cock twitch in anticipation.

“Are you ready?” he asks. Izuku nods, licking his lips. “Good. Come on.” Katsuki turns and walks back towards the master bedroom, Izuku trailing in his wake.

They walk into the bedroom, and Izuku’s stomach promptly drops through the floor. “Kacch—Katsuki,” he breathes, staring at the structure now standing against the far wall. “Where the hell did you get that?”

“Made it,” says Katsuki. “Got the shit for it from Home Depot and built it while you were at work.” He sounds extremely fucking smug. He should, Izuku thinks; the thing against the far wall is nothing short of incredible.

It is, at its core, a huge metal X atop a sturdy platform, reinforced in the back and sides with what looks like heavy-duty rebar. Attachments for manacles march up the arms of the X at multiple points; currently a set of manacles are attached to the grommets the second from the top, and dangle just at the height where Izuku might be able to reach. Another pair of manacles is attached near the base, presumably for his ankles. Both sets are lined with what looks like faux-fur, and most of the metal facing Izuku has thick leather padding.

Izuku lets out a soft moan of delight as he takes it in. “Katsuki, this is fucking amazing,” he says, turning to Katsuki in pure rapture.

Katsuki smirks at him; the look in his eyes is sweet poison, lethally inviting. He reaches out to run a proprietary hand along Izuku’s side, resting it at Izuku’s hip and pulling him in close against Katsuki’s body. Izuku leans into him, shutting his eyes for a moment as Katsuki’s warmth sinks into his skin, right through Katsuki’s clothes.

“Just double-checking,” Katsuki says in his ear. His voice has gotten rough, like he’s been eating sandpaper. “Don’t have any fuckin’ plans this weekend, do you?”

“Just that picnic Sunday night,” murmurs Izuku, eyes still shut. Katsuki reaches around to cup his bare ass in one hand, squeezing hard, and Izuku bites his lip, grinding against Katsuki a little bit.

“Well, you’re gonna be sore,” says Katsuki. “Enough fuckin’ around, let’s get you up there.” He turns, pushing Izuku towards the St. Andrew’s cross with surprising gentleness. Izuku lays against the leather-padded portion of the metal and reaches his arms up, and Katsuki locks the manacles around each of his wrists in turn. Izuku wriggles a little, testing the give, and then shivers in anticipation at how securely he’s held.

The leather is butter-soft and attached in all the right places to keep Izuku from chafing or pinching himself against the metal of the cross, but it isn’t much warmer than the frame it’s attached to. Izuku spares a moment to be grateful for the little space heater going in one corner of the room—it’s late spring, but without his clothes on, the room is chilly.

“I’m not gonna fasten your ankles unless you think you need it,” says Katsuki, snapping Izuku’s wandering train of thought. “So you gotta tell me if you need it to help you hold still.” Katsuki comes around to stand next to the cross, his eyes dark. In his hands he’s holding two separate toys, both of them leather.

Izuku’s breath hitches as he lays eyes on the toys. One is many-tongued, a dozen thick leather thongs of roughly equal length that are knotted together halfway along the length of the whip, finishing in a stiff leather handle. It looks not unlike something that might be used on a galley in an old pirates movie. The other whip is thinner, with just one long, braided length that tapers to a narrow plait of leather.

Oh my god, Izuku thinks dizzily. “I thought we agreed we weren’t going to order any more toys until this job was over,” is what he says out loud. They’d had a tough time explaining to Calla what that first shipment was about, and she’d ultimately ended the conversation with a loud I don’t want to know, but don’t do it again.

“Didn’t,” says Katsuki. He sounds even smugger than before, if that’s possible. “Made ‘em.”

“You made a flogger and a single-tail?” Izuku lets out a noise that sounds suspiciously like a whine, and he starts to reach for Katsuki, only to be brought up short in the manacles. Katsuki smirks.

“Yep,” he said. “Been practicing with ‘em too, while you’ve been at that shitty accounting job. Can you handle it? Do you need to be restrained more?”

Izuku’s mouth goes dry. He’s mentioned being curious about more intense sensation-play with Katsuki—it was one of the things he listed as being most into the idea of on their list of things to try—but he hadn’t seriously thought there was any chance of them doing it. And definitely not while they were doing an undercover op. His dick twitches with interest, and he opens his mouth to ask the first of probably a dozen-odd questions when something occurs to him. “Wait,” he says. “Is that what happened to the lamp in the living room?” It had disappeared two Mondays ago and Katsuki had glowered away all questions about it.

Now Katsuki’s face turns the color of a radish, and he scowls. “Shut up,” he says. “That’s not what I asked you, dipshit.”

“Oh! Uhhh—” Izuku rallies, straightening some and flashing a dizzy smile at Katsuki. “I think I’m good like this. And yes, I can handle it.” Please, God, let him have this. Katsuki beating him like this is literally something right out of his darkest, most secret fantasies, and to have it tacked on to the end of what has honestly been one of the best days of his life is probably more than Izuku will be able to handle—but the mental breakdown can wait till tomorrow.

Katsuki nods, apparently satisfied with that answer. He leans in, catching Izuku’s jaw in one hand and tilting his face up before kissing him hard on the mouth. Then he stalks away, leaving Izuku to shiver in the manacles and wait for what comes next.

Thankfully, Katsuki doesn’t keep him waiting. Izuku hears the rustle of the flogger’s thongs shaking out, and the swish of the straps swinging through the air. Moments later, the straps strike his back, a blow that lands broad across his left shoulder and then slithers down his flank before pulling back. A few seconds later they hit again, by his other shoulder this time, dragging down along his back again in mirror to the first strike. It feels good. It’s not particularly painful, not yet, the thuddy blows more like a heavy massage than anything else.

Katsuki wasn’t lying about practicing, though. The blows to his back are light at first, measured, before getting heavier and more intense. Katsuki quickly sets up a rhythm, landing the flogger’s tails in a strike pattern like a figure eight—he varies it some, letting the tails wrap around Izuku’s hip or flick down over his ass, but the pace is steady, solid. Just what he needs to drop.

Between the beating and the security of being held fast against the cross, Izuku finds it very, very easy to just sink into the rhythm. He shuts his eyes and lays his cheek against the padded leather, letting every moan and gasp and sigh leak out without worrying about how he sounds or how it must look.

Katsuki notices. “Good boy,” he says from behind Izuku; the praise comes out dark and somehow filthy. Izuku reacts instinctively, letting out a whine and flexing a little, but the manacles hold him fast against the cross. His back is starting to feel hot, a burn sinking into his skin that has nothing to do with the space heater off to the side. His head feels similar, like he’s sinking into a warm bath that comes up over his head.

Abruptly, the flogging stops. Izuku sucks in a breath. He twists his head around, trying to catch sight of Katsuki, and then all of a sudden Katsuki is right there in his space. He’s flushed, red in the face and all the way down his throat into his upper chest; he’s sweating, and he looks half-undone, which surprises Izuku at the same time as it delights him. He wants Katsuki to be as undone as he is, as into this as he is.

Katsuki grabs Izuku’s head, digging fingers into his hair and tugging, and leans in to press his own face against Izuku’s. “Tell me how it feels,” he growls. The hand in Izuku’s hair tugs harder; Izuku’s eyes water at the delicious stab of pain.

Izuku whines again, nuzzling Katsuki’s face. “Feels good,” he manages. “Want more, please, Katsuki.” Katsuki is staring at him from up close like Izuku just did something impossible, like sprout an extra head or transform into a bird. His face breaks into a smile at Izuku’s response, though, and he turns his face to kiss Izuku’s mouth again. The kiss is harder, full of sharp teeth, and Izuku returns it happily, trying in vain to shift against the manacles so that he can press more of his body to Katsuki’s.

“Fuck,” Katsuki mutters into his mouth as he breaks away. “You are goddamn unbelievable, you look like you’re fuckin’ stoned. You love this shit.”

“Yeah,” Izuku blurts, eager. He smiles helplessly at Katsuki, a dozen different thoughts crowding his mind, all of them variations on begging Katsuki for more and babbling out his joy at what this already feels like.

Katsuki smiles a little too, as if he can sense what Izuku’s thinking. He strokes a hand down Izuku’s neck and back, sliding coarse fingers over the sore spots that litter Izuku’s back like blossoming flowers. Izuku gasps as Katsuki’s hand lingers here and there, fresh heat blooming atop the flesh that’s already tender and warm from the beating. “Katsukiiiiiii…”

“Tell me you want more again,” Katsuki demands. He shifts just out of Izuku’s line of sight and rests both his hands on Izuku’s ass, one on each cheek. Izuku shudders as heat flares in those hands, and a vision appears in his mind of two red handprints on his skin, lingering marks of this scene, of this day.

“I want more, Katsuki,” he says. His eyes fall shut, lost in the sensation of Katsuki’s hands on him. “Please.”

Katsuki exhales roughly; Izuku feels the gust of air on the back of his neck. “Okay,” he says. There’s a beat, and suddenly Izuku can feel the shockingly gentle press of lips against his skin as Katsuki kisses him just at the base of his neck. Izuku whimpers, tearing up a little, but then Katsuki swats his ass again and steps away.

This time, he does make Izuku wait. It’s probably only a minute or two, but it feels like an eternity, long enough to start squirming against the cross. His back and ass are starting to throb; they’ll probably have some welts, Izuku thinks distantly. The idea pleases him, and he hums to himself, grinding his half-hard erection against the padded cross. The X meets right by his crotch; Katsuki built the thing almost exactly to Izuku’s height, which Izuku loves.

He’s startled out of it by a loud crack! right by his ear. Izuku yelps, jumping almost out of his skin as the sound races up his spine like a jolt of electricity. “Hey,” says Katsuki’s voice from behind him. “Didn’t say you could fuckin’ rub one off, Deku.”

“Sorry, Katsuki,” Izuku breathes. His hips still, but his neglected cock throbs, as much at the reprimand as for lack of stimulation.

“That’s better,” says Katsuki approvingly. There’s a swish of something heavy in the air, and then that loud crack! comes again, lethally close—close enough that Izuku can feel the faint rush of displaced air by his left shoulder. Izuku shudders, the hair on his arms and back standing at attention, his cock throbbing with pure want.

“That’s it, Deku,” comes Katsuki’s warm voice. “Now you’re gonna see what this can really be like.” That’s all the warning Izuku gets before the whip lashes across his ass, a bright sharp flare of pain. Izuku yelps, the noise dragging into a moan at the burn that comes in the wake of the single tail’s bite. The next strike comes higher, diagonally across the welts the flogger already left; tears spring to Izuku’s eyes at the first sharp sting, followed hard again by the warmth that bleeds into his skin, into his brain.

Katsuki isn’t as steady or regular with the single tail as he was with the flogger, but (with the part of his brain that isn’t liquefying into blissed-out goo) Izuku thinks that’s by design. It’s part of the thrill of it, that Izuku isn’t quite sure how the next hit will land: sharp and lethal, a tongue of fire across his back, or a slithering whisper along his flank, a tease to the sensitized skin. Sometimes it doesn’t land at all, and that loud crack comes instead, sending shivers of lust up and down Izuku’s spine. Those are almost more thrilling, a psychological blow in place of a physical one.

It’s exquisite. It’s the best kind of pain Izuku’s ever felt, sharp and hot all at once, and it isn’t long before he’s sobbing and gasping and crying out every single time Bakugou lands a hit. He loses himself utterly, trembling and tensing against the manacles. The cross creaks under him, groaning with the way he yanks at the manacles, but holds him firm—leaving Izuku to drown in the steadily-building rain of blows Katsuki is giving him.

And all of it is going straight to his dick, the ache in his balls getting worse and worse as sensation layers over sensation, dropping Izuku harder than he’s ever gone down in his life. His cock aches, throbs, giving the ache in the rest of his body a deeper urgency. Izuku moans, rubbing his face roughly against the padded leather of the cross, biting the inside of his own lip hard enough to bleed.

Katsuki must notice Izuku’s inner turmoil because he’s ramping up the pace now. Izuku can hear him panting, interspersed here and there with a curse. Izuku lets out a cry as another blow hits, then another, then another, criss-crossed on top of each other. The sudden build-up is too much for Izuku’s overloaded senses. He moans, gasping as two more blows land in rapid succession, and then his climax hits him like a wall of water. Izuku bucks hard against the cross, his muscles spasming—

—and with a deafening roar of collapsing metal, the cross tears apart under him. Izuku clatters to the floor on top of it with a yelp, narrowly managing to get his legs under him so he doesn’t face-plant against the cross.

“FUCK!” Katsuki is at his side immediately, throwing the single-tail to the floor as he crouches next to Izuku. “What the fuck, are you okay? Are you hurt? Holy shit what did you do?

“S-Sorry…” Izuku tries to sit up, but is caught short again by his manacled wrists. He nearly face-plants again, and would have if Katsuki wasn’t there to catch him. Izuku blinks up at him, dizzy and disoriented. The look on Katsuki’s face is distressing; Izuku has gone from the best high he’s ever had to sudden frank confusion, and the shift isn’t very fun. “Katsuki, I…”

“Fuck,” Katsuki mutters, and pulls him closer, stroking his hair. “Shhh, it’s okay. You didn’t do anything wrong. Next time you come before I tell you to I’m gonna paddle your ass, but you did just what I told you, okay? So don’t freak out. You’ve been good, Deku.”

“Okay,” Izuku says hazily, and relaxes. He leans into Katsuki, but is caught again by his manacled wrists and the awkward position of crouching atop the ruined cross.

“Hold on,” says Katsuki. He tugs Izuku into him, resting in the crook of one arm and shoulder, and then reaches out with his other hand. Izuku smells the sudden stink of heating metal, and then the manacle on his right wrist simply breaks, the pieces falling from his arm. Katsuki does the same trick with the other hand, and then he’s hauling Izuku into his lap on the floor, his hands and arms rough against the tenderized skin of his back.

Izuku lets out a small noise—not of discomfort, but of renewed distress. Katsuki built that cross for him, for their play, and Izuku broke it immediately. And god, it felt good while they were doing it, but Izuku’s brain is busy derailing over how he just ruined their scene.

“Don’t freak out, Deku,” Katsuki says. He bumps Izuku’s face with his own nose, stroking the back of his hair, and Izuku calms, staring at his lover’s red eyes, caught by the intensity there. “You’re mine, you did exactly what I wanted you to, okay?” Katsuki gives Izuku a warm, strange smile, one Izuku’s too dazed to parse. And he’s too caught by something Katsuki said to try to figure it out.

“I’m yours?” Izuku leans into Katsuki, staring urgently into his face. “Katsuki?”

“Yeah.” Katsuki cradles Izuku’s head close, keeping eye contact as though it’s the only thing keeping Izuku intact. “Mine. I’m gonna take care of you, Deku.”

Izuku feels his face break into another helpless smile. He presses himself against Katsuki, rubbing his face against Katsuki’s like an overly affectionate cat. Katsuki’s arms tighten around him; he makes a rough noise in his throat. For this one moment, Izuku permits himself to savor the feeling of being safe, cared for, wanted—and with the last person he’d ever thought he might get it from.

They sit like that for what might be two minutes and might be ten; Izuku isn’t really sure. Katsuki keeps his arms wrapped around Izuku, keeps kissing him, derailing everything his addled brain tries to come up with. Finally, another sensation makes itself known.

“Katsuki,” Izuku murmurs, “you’re still hard. You should fuck me.”

Katsuki groans, a harsh, closed-off noise. “Fuck,” he mutters, and pulls back enough to peer into Izuku’s face. “Yeah, I should. Can you handle it?”

Izuku kneels up to straddle Katsuki’s lap, moaning as the burn flares in his ass and thighs. He kisses Katsuki’s face, soft-lipped and messy, and is rewarded with Katsuki shuddering against him.

“I got ready for you before, just like you said to,” Izuku says, eager to prove how good he can be. He grabs Katsuki’s hand and pulls it around to his ass; Katsuki presses a finger against Izuku’s hole, and Izuku hears the sharp intake of breath when his fingertip encounters the slick there. “Please, Katsuki, I want it.”

Katsuki curses under his breath. He keeps hold of Izuku’s ass with one hand, shoving his other into his pocket; Izuku sees him come out with a foil square and a tube of slick. He presses the foil packet into Izuku’s hand. “Get me ready,” he demands, and it’s Izuku’s turn to catch his breath.

“Yes,” he breathes—and yelps as Katsuki’s hand burns against his sensitive ass. “A-Ah, yes, Katsuki!”

“That’s right,” Katsuki breathes. “Go on, get me ready to fuck you, you want it so bad.”

Izuku moans by way of response. He reaches down, tugging Katsuki’s pants open and wrapping a clumsy hand around his hard cock. He can’t resist stroking it, groaning softly into Katsuki’s ear at the weight of it in his palm, how hard and thick it feels. Katsuki growls, and then suddenly there’s a rough hand in Izuku’s hair, yanking hard enough to make his eyes water.

“Don’t fuck around,” he says roughly. His voice shakes, just a bit. “Or I won’t fuck you at all.”

Izuku whines at the threat, but does as he’s told. He concentrates, ripping the foil open and then rolling it onto Katsuki’s cock before slicking him with the lube. And all the while, Katsuki’s watching him from close up with dark eyes, one hand still in Izuku’s hair, the other gripping his ass. Izuku can feel the heat of that heavy gaze on him, as heady and intoxicating as the rough treatment Katsuki gave him before.

“Katsuki,” he says, when he’s done. He meets Katsuki’s gaze imploringly. “Please?”

Katsuki’s breath leaves his lungs in a rush. “Yeah,” he says. “Okay.” He lets go of Izuku’s hair, reaching down to grip Izuku’s ass with both hands now, helping position him over Katsuki’s lap. “Sit on my cock, Deku. Be a good boy and show me how much you want it.”

“Yes, please,” Izuku says, eager. He shifts backwards, slowly lowering himself down. The blunt, slick head of Katsuki’s cock presses against his hole; Katsuki’s breath hitches, betraying his eagerness. Izuku’s whole backside burns, from his shoulders down to his thighs, and it just makes the sensation of forcing himself down onto Katsuki’s prick that much better. Izuku lets his head fall back, eyes shut, mouth open and panting as he sinks slowly down onto that thick cock.

At this angle, it feels like being split open, filled so full even after fingering himself earlier. Katsuki’s fingers dig into Izuku’s hips as he sinks down, not stopping until he’s fully seated on Katsuki’s prick, Katsuki’s thighs flush with his ass. Izuku has a vague idea of what he must look like: blissed-out and needy, over-sensitized and still ready for more despite his thorough beating.

“Fuck, Deku,” says Katsuki. Izuku opens his eyes to find Katsuki staring at him, an expression of pure greedy writ large on his face. “You look so fucking good like that. Does it feel good, baby? You like having my cock in your ass?”

Yes,” Izuku moans. “Want you to fuck me, Katsuki, please!”

“Ride it,” Katsuki demands. It’s all the permission Izuku needs to start moving, to lift himself up and then drop down heavy on Katsuki’s prick. Katsuki groans, gripping Izuku’s hips hard enough to bruise. Then he’s moving too, thrusting up into Izuku’s ass as Izuku grinds down on his dick.

It’s heaven. Izuku thinks he’s never been so happy in his life.

He tries to communicate this the best he can, leaning in to to smear messy kisses over Katsuki’s mouth. Instead of scolding him, Katsuki grabs him and hauls him closer, so that they’re wrapped around each other as they fuck. Katsuki’s mouth presses roughly against his, biting at Izuku’s lips even as he pulls Izuku down hard on his cock.

And he doesn’t stop there—his hands keep moving, roaming over Izuku’s back, fingers digging into the welts left by the flogging, his hands like hot coals against Izuku’s skin. It just adds to the sensation, augments the feeling of being taken roughly here on the floor. Izuku moans happily against Katsuki’s mouth, tears of pleasure springing to his eyes at the rough treatment.

It isn’t long before Katsuki is losing his rhythm, though. His hips jerk against Izuku’s ass, his kisses rougher, more frantic. Izuku clings to him, grinding down harder against the cock in his ass, wanting to feel Katsuki lose himself—to feel him come apart. “Katsuki,” he breathes. He kisses Katsuki’s face over and over, arms lashed tight around his shoulders. “A-Ahh, yes, please—!”

The please is what does it. Katsuki groans, pulling Izuku hard against him and thrusting roughly up into him. Izuku gasps as he feels the hot spill, shivering in satisfaction. He doesn’t put two and two together until Katsuki slumps, arms still wrapped around Izuku, and mumbles “Fuck, think the condom broke.”

“Oh,” says Izuku, and blinks. “…oops. Uh. Well.”

“Sorry,” Katsuki says. Something in his voice is… upsetting, but Izuku can’t figure out what.

Izuku straightens. “I’m not upset,” he says, and means it. “There hasn’t been anyone but you in my life for awhile.”

Katsuki grunts. “You’re such a fuckin’ nerd, Deku,” he says, but his voice is soft, softer than Izuku’s ever heard. He cradles Izuku’s head in a gentle hand, nuzzling him. Izuku sighs, leaning into the warm touches.

“Did I do okay?” Izuku asks, after a moment.

Katsuki exhales against his mouth. “Yeah,” he says. “You were wonderful.”

Wonderful. The word echoes in Izuku’s head for a while after that, long after Katsuki drags them both off the floor and to the bed for clean-up and rest. Izuku falls asleep against Katsuki’s chest with that benediction still ringing in his ears.

The message on their phones—their private Hero phones, the ones they keep solely for communicating with Calla—will go unnoticed and unheard till early tomorrow morning. When they wake up, the shock of hearing that Uraraka and Iida have gone missing will hit like ice picks to the heart, and make both of them that much more paranoid about staying entrenched. It’ll bring the bloom off the rose of their “date” more quickly than any winter frost.

But for now, all Izuku knows is that the warmth in Katsuki’s voice and arms is equalled only by the answering warmth in his own heart.

Chapter Text

All things considered, Katsuki really should be enjoying himself more than he is.

He’s in a beautiful cabin up in the mountains—if “cabin” can be used to describe the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house with wood fireplace and massive great room. The front half of house is on stilts, the back half firmly grounded in the mountainside; the great room has floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides, windows that look out over into the green spread of the valley below. There’s also a wrap-around porch, which gives an even better view of the majestic spread of mountains reaching up to the sky, the trees scattered across them like an emerald mantle studded with snow.

They’re in some kind of national park, also, so everything is quiet and beautiful and scarcely-populated. Only a few other campers are in their area, since there are only a handful of cabins, and at this early hour of the morning almost nothing is stirring. It’s the picture of serenity.

Katsuki hates it.

He’d hate it less if he could be here alone with Izuku. But he’s not. They’re here on a Starfinders Retreat with other invited members of the Bright Path, and Katuski and Izuku are sharing their cabin with Marcus and Bethany Lazlow.

(“It’s a huge honor,” Essential Oils Deborah had told them breathlessly. “Especially for new initiates! They must really have taken to the two of you!”

“More like taken to our money,” Katsuki had muttered to Izuku afterwards. Izuku had laughed, but it was only funny because it was the truth.)

Being in the physical space of the two known leaders of an incredibly dangerous cult is bad enough, but Katsuki still has a sour taste in his mouth from the news they got two days ago. After almost a week of being missing, Uraraka and Iida were found separately on back-country roads far from the suburbs of the Pines with their clothes in tatters, utterly dazed and with no memory of the previous week. Worse, they’d both been covered in bruises and scratch marks, with blood under their nails, and Iida’s repulser engines were jammed—they’d fought their attackers, whoever had done this to them, but ultimately had failed.

As if there was any doubt about who had done this.

Calla was the one who had delivered this information to them, wearing an expression as somber as any Katsuki had ever seen from her. “Their human trafficking operation has been shut down, and they’re angry and even more vigilant than before,” Calla said. “I’m not sure if Ingenium and Uravity were made as Heroes, or if they just ran afoul of the cult’s operations, but it’s honestly a miracle they weren’t killed.”

“Bethany Lazlow hates killing,” Izuku had said. He sounded as terrible as his shuttered face looked, staring at the images of his closest friends with eyes Katsuki doesn’t recognize. The sight of him like that made the ache inside Katsuki that much worse. “She says it’s one of the worst sins a human can commit.”

“I suppose that’s something,” Calla said grimly.

“Will Iida and Uraraka be okay?” Katsuki had asked, surprising himself. He scowls at the way Izuku glances at him. “What?”

“They will be,” said Calla. “Eventually. We have Eidolon and Ascension working with them to help restore them, but right now what they need the most is rest.” Eidolon and Ascension are two well-known healer Heroes, whose Quirks Katsuki remains vague on beyond knowing they have something to do with stuff like astral projection and regeneration. “Regardless, the two of you need to be even more careful. We still don’t know how they achieve this kind of mind-wiping, but this looks more violent than what’s happened to previous victims. They’ll be on the watch for any other signs of infiltration. Be careful.”

Sure. Perfect. That’s exactly what they’re doing right now, being careful. Stay with the two worst offenders, there’s no way that’s gonna backfire. Katsuki sips his coffee, then makes a face at how cold it’s gotten. He’s been out here brooding on the porch for almost forty-five minutes, unable to fall back asleep after being awakened early by birdsong outside.

Izuku was still asleep when Katsuki got up, but Katsuki thinks he’s just gotten into the shower; the tell-tale sound of the pipes running started up a few minutes ago. That could be Marcus Lazlow, he supposes. Bethany already left a little while ago to “start preparing” for the events of the day, whatever those are. No one will fucking tell Katsuki dickshit, which is just peachy. He sure can’t wait to eat more tainted food and have another round of shits and vomiting to go with all the brainwashing that surely awaits them.

Izuku. His brain catches and hangs on the mental image of Izuku asleep, closely followed by Izuku in the shower, naked and appealing. Katsuki hunkers over, forearms on the railing of the porch, staring down at the trees that dot the slope, deepening as the grade runs towards the valley far below. Every time he thinks about Izuku, the same realization swamps him, more destructive than any villain’s Quirk.

He’s so fucked.

It hit him first not on their date, but on the stake-out before busting the human trafficking ring. Of all things, telling stupid stories while they waited for criminals to do something criminal, just passing the time—that was when Katsuki looked over and saw the light in Izuku’s face, saw the way the corners of his eyes crinkled with laughter, and got hit directly in the chest with a blow as powerful as one of All Might’s smashes. He doesn’t know how everyone in the city could have missed it when the shock wave felt like it nearly killed him.

Katsuki recalls that moment now, eyes still downcast towards the valley, remembering the warmth and the shock and the personal loss of gravity. It makes him want to run inside, pin Izuku against the wall, hold him close and tight and safe. He wants to beg Izuku for a million things, each more embarrassing than the last. His chest hurts; his body feels weak, so weak. He can’t seem to breathe properly. He hates it.

And he can’t think about it, or talk about it, or do anything about it, because they’re right in the thick of the most dangerous part of the op they’ve done so far.

As if the thought of the threat summoned the man, Katsuki hears the glass door slide open behind him. He turns to see Dog Face himself coming outside, already dressed to the nines in mountain chic—expensive-looking hiking pants and boots with a tech jacket that cost $250 if it cost a dollar—wearing a calm expression and carrying a mug of coffee in one hand.

“There you are,” says Dog Face. Maybe Katsuki’s imagining it, but there’s a kind of malevolence to his bland, pleasant voice. “I was hoping I would catch you before I had to leave.”

Katsuki forces a smile he doesn’t feel. “Good morning,” he says, and raises his own mug. “Just had to come out here to catch some of this, uh… mountain air.”

Dog Face smiles, sharp as a knife edge. “It’s lovely, isn’t it?” he says. “We try to bring people out here a few times a year, and it never feels like enough. I would stay here all the time if I could.”

I bet you would, Katsuki thinks grimly. “Thanks again for inviting us,” he says instead. “Izuku and I are really excited for this.”

“Ah, good,” says Dog Face, some real warmth coming into his voice. “I’m so glad. We were all hoping the two of you would want to come. Both of you are such bright lights, we’re lucky to count you amongst our number.”

Katsuki knows when he’s being bullshitted. For whatever reason, both Dog Face and Horse Laugh seem to have taken to Izuku more than they have to him.

Who the fuck is he kidding: Katsuki knows exactly why. It’s the same reason Izuku was so well-loved at UA, and why everyone else in the Pines thinks the sun shines out his ass. Katsuki doesn’t resent Izuku for it anymore, at least. Mostly he just wants everyone to fuck off and leave his partner alone instead of always grubbing after Izuku for his time and energy—time and energy that he’ll always give, instead of keeping anything for himself, because he has no fucking sense of self-preservation.

Katsuki would especially like all the members of creepy, brainwashing, violent cults to stay away from Izuku, thank you very much. But he can’t say that, so he keeps his fake smile plastered on to match the one on Marcus Lazlow’s horrible face, and takes another sip of his cold coffee.

“So,” he says. “What’s on the agenda for today?”

“Well, this morning we have vinyasa yoga in the foyer of the main lodge, followed by a hike, with a break for lunch at the summit,” says Dog Face. “Then decamp back at the lodge for a check-in, and then some time for rest and reflection. This evening we’ll have a big group meditation down at the amphitheater. That’s one of the main events, I have to say.”

“Meditation,” says Katsuki. His smile feels like a grimace of pain. “Right, good. That’s—I was hoping there would be some of that.” Katsuki was hoping for meditation like he was hoping for his right big toe to be chopped off with a rusty kitchen knife, but at least the hike sounds good. Hiking through a nature preserve without enormous monsters made of dirt or trees or stone coming at him will be weird—he won’t soon forget training camps at UA, no matter the fact they’re over three years ago now—but at least Izuku will be there.

Katsuki suffers a flare of warmth in his chest just at the thought of Izuku’s happy face out in the woods, and has to stomp down on it. He must not do a good job of suppressing it, though, because Dog Face gives him a considering look.

“You know, I admit I’ve been meaning to ask you how you’ve been doing,” says Dog Face. Immediately, Kill Bill sirens start blaring in Katsuki’s head. He freezes, fake attentive smile on his face to go with his fake attentive attitude, all the while contemplating just blasting Marcus Lazlow to hell before grabbing Izuku and running.

“Oh?” he says instead. It comes out very forced.

“You seem like you’ve had a lot of mixed feelings since coming here,” says Dog Face. “I was wondering if maybe you wanted to talk about it, that you haven’t had the chance to decompress. I know the move was stressful. I just thought I’d see if there was anything we could do to make you more at ease.”

As he talks, a new feeling washes over Katsuki. His body warms, and some of the tension bleeds out of him like a balloon that’s been punctured. Katsuki swallows hard, eyes dropping from Marcus Lazlow’s face to the bannister their elbows are resting on. His throat tightens; he has to take a deep breath, feeling a sting of what cannot possibly be tears pricking at his eyes.

“I,” he says, and has to take a moment. Abruptly, he realizes that all he wants to do is tell someone what he’s been dealing with, what he’s been struggling with. And before he even knows he’s going to do it, all of it comes tumbling out of his mouth. “I just—it’s—I’ve been worried Izuku will realize that he’s too good for my bullshit and decide to leave.”

Dog Face inhales softly, takes a step closer. “Oh, no,” he says. “I’m surprised, you two seem so happy together.” His voice is kind, warm, sympathetic. Katsuki hates him for it, but now that he’s started he can’t seem to stop.

The words pour out of him, coming faster now that the dam has been breached. “We—we’ve known each other for a really long time, but I was such an asshole to him when we were younger, and it took us, uh… It took us awhile to get past that and get together, and… I dunno, I thought this—being here would be good for us, but I can’t shake this feeling, you know? I feel like I fucked up too bad for him to ever really forgive me once he comes to his senses. I’m just on borrowed time.”

“He married you,” Dog Face points out gently. “He moved here with you.”

Katsuki barks out a harsh laugh. To his horror, real tears are trickling down his face now. He swipes a hand across his face, angry at Dog Face, angrier at himself, bewildered but unable to stop. “Some partnership,” he says bitterly. “He deserves better.”

“Hey, now,” says Dog Face. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You brought him here, you care for him, you’re protecting him. I can’t imagine how hard it’s been for you to get here, but you’re here now. You should focus on that.”

He comes closer, reaching out to put a hand on Katsuki’s shoulder, and as he does so Katsuki feels himself gentle, some of the turmoil in his heart subsiding. In its place comes a quietude, an ease, as though he’s lanced something foul and let it leak out safely out of him.

Katsuki swallows hard. After a moment, he nods. And the weird thing is, he does feel better.

Marcus Lazlow smiles at him, the picture of warmth and reassurance. “Listen,” he says. “You’ve been through a lot. And from what you told me, the two of you never really got to have a ceremony. What if you had a confirmation ceremony with us?”

Katsuki blinks. “A what?” What the hell, he thinks, but can’t find his usual venom.

“You never got to have a real wedding,” Marcus Lazlow says. “Have one with us. Let us help you arrange it. You can get married to Izuku, have a real ceremony, surrounded by people who value you and your relationship.” He’s the picture of warmth and persuasion, and now that Katsuki isn’t inches from having an emotional fucking breakdown, he swears he can feel the compulsion on him, coaxing him to enjoy this—to feel wanted, attended to, understood, valued.
It’s incredibly strong, like a very good drug. All he wants to do is relax and give in to it, to let the heady sensation of acceptance wipe away his prickly reservations.

Katsuki exhales, slow and a touch ragged. “That… that sounds amazing,” he says. It does, even though it shouldn’t, even though he should want to run screaming from this. But knowing it and feeling it are two different things right now, and he can’t stop the new sting of tears at the way Marcus Lazlow smiles at him. It’s like he’s just received validation from every Hero he’s ever idolized, all at once.

“Talk it over with Izuku,” Lazlow says kindly. “Take some time to think about it. But just relax this weekend, okay? You’re among friends.” He squeezes Katsuki’s shoulder again, and so deep in that thrall is Katsuki that he actually suffers the urge to hug the other man.

“Okay,” he says instead, and gives Lazlow a weak smile. “Hey, uh… Thanks for listening.”

“It’s my pleasure,” says Lazlow. God save him, in that moment Katsuki believes him.

Lazlow—Dog Face—leaves him after that, leaving Katsuki to drown in a wash of feelings he doesn’t know what to do with. It takes him almost twenty minutes to get his shit together. It might have taken longer, but at that point Izuku emerges from the bathroom looking for Katsuki and is more than a little alarmed to find him murdering an empty coffee mug on the porch.

Katsuki copes with the return of his rage and frustration by carrying Izuku inside, kissing him senseless on the couch for a few minutes before finally giving him any answers. He quickly relates to Izuku what happened—the emotional manipulation, the clear Quirk usage, the conversation that in retrospect was just as clearly an attempt to dig for information.

“That’s like what happened with me at the Beth Lazlow’s bakery,” Izuku says, eyes wide with shock. “You’re lucky you didn’t spill anything about our undercover op. What did you say, exactly?”

“Nothing you haven’t heard in our fuckin’ counseling sessions,” Katsuki says, because he’s definitely not about to have this conversation with Izuku right now. Or ever. Izuku’s face goes soft and sympathetic anyway, making Katsuki want to punch everyone in the Bright Path and then himself.

“You can tell me about it, you know,” says Izuku. Katsuki settles on top of him on the couch, feeling his stomach unclench a bit as Izuku strokes his hair.

“I know,” says Katsuki. “But now’s not the time.”

Later, when he’s alone, Katsuki will remember the things he said to Marcus Lazlow in the thrall of whatever his Quirk actually is, and he will hate himself for it—but he’ll hate Lazlow more, for robbing him of those words, those private ruminations on the boy who’s carved out such a space in his heart.

No one gets to hear those things. Katsuki can’t even bear to say them to himself, much less to a manipulative stranger he loathes. The conversation will come back to him on subsequent nights when staring at the ceiling and wishing for the courage to tell Izuku what he so freely told Marcus Lazlow. On those nights, Katsuki will lay awake, and burn.

* * * * *

The rest of the day is a continued test of Katsuki’s self-control. That, and his and Izuku’s commitment to their undercover roles.

First, there’s the yoga session that Izuku insists they not miss. It’s taught by a woman Katsuki ends up remembering twice, each time with a worse association. The woman is a short, elfin blonde named Jennifer Reisman, and she’s just as jaw-clenchingly horrible as Melinda Repplinger was, albeit for different reasons. First, about ten minutes into the class, he remembers her from their dinner party that now seems so long ago: she’s the yoga teacher who was ranting about how vaccines are evil lies, the one who nearly made Izuku blow their cover from sheer indignation at her bullshit.

(It doesn’t help that Katsuki hates yoga. He supposes not all versions of the practice do this, but all the New Age-y bullshit that abounds in this particular version irritate him far beyond any relaxation the practice might give him. And he’s not not flexible, and he’s plenty strong, but some of the poses are still challenging and annoying enough to make him grind his teeth. He focuses on Izuku’s ass in the stretchy yoga pants and tries to remind himself that it’s only another fifty minutes.)

The second time he remembers the yoga teacher is from a very different context. They’re finishing up at the end of class, rolling up their mats and heading to the changing rooms, when Katsuki happens to glance over and see the yoga teacher’s face in profile as she’s pulling her hair back into a ponytail. The shape of her jaw and face hits him over the head like a club, a rather alarming memory jumping to the surface of a file Todoroki sent him and Izuku a few weeks ago:

One of the cult members used to work as a mercenary-for-hire under the name Deadlight. Her Quirk is to be able to see the bones of any creature living or dead, through up to fifty feet of material. The attached picture was of their yoga teacher, Jennifer Reisman, wearing an army-grade flak jacket and holding an assault rifle, standing in profile outside some nameless military compound.

“Katsuki?” says Izuku from close by. Katsuki jerks his head away from staring at Deadlight, his heart hammering in his chest like a drumbeat.

“Let’s go get changed,” he says. He takes Izuku’s hand in his own, and is careful not to look back.

The hike up into the mountains and trees is actually extremely enjoyable, the only part of the day that really is. The hike is at elevation, and the path is not particularly easy—something that kind of surprises Katsuki. He would have expected the Bright Path leaders to pick a climb more conducive to conversation and emotional manipulation. Instead, they’re doing a four-hour hike to the summit of the nearest peak and back, with a break at the top for lunch and to take in the view.

They spread out as they hike, instead of clumping together, for which Katsuki is grateful. It’s really just him and Izuku who are close enough to talk at all, trailing after the other retreat members at what seems like a nice normal distance. They move through the woods in virtual silence, pausing now and then to stare out at the vast expanse of the mountainside as it falls away down to the valley. There’s few sounds but the crunch of the dirt beneath their feet, birdsong out in the woods, and the strange crisp quality the air has up here, like an added dimension of space and scent that Katsuki always forgets exists until they’re far out in the wilderness. He swears he can smell the chill lingering from that morning, the shocking clarity of the pine trees and the sun this high up.

It’s …well, it’s incredible.

(Katsuki and Izuku could have made the climb much quicker by themselves, of course; they’ve had more than enough wilderness and endurance training, and they’re probably the most fit of the people here. But it still takes more energy than Katsuki is expecting to make it to the summit.)

The peak in question isn’t anything special—they’re not in the Rockies, and this isn’t one of the famous “fourteeners”—but the view is still impressive, looking east down the slope of the southern Sierra Nevadas. A few peaks around them, higher up, still have stubbornly clinging snow from the winter, but at this point some 8,000 feet above sea level, spring is bleeding into summer, and everything is in bloom. The trees around them sway gently in the wind that whistles around the mountain; a few clouds float across the sun, dappling the valley below in a play of shadow and light.

Katsuki and Izuku pick a spot well away from the other climbers, under the shade of a fir tree, the better to sit in comforting silence and stare tiredly out at the huge expanse of rock and trees and sky. Izuku comes over and lays his head in Katsuki’s lap when he’s done eating, eyes half-shut as soaks up the quiet. Katsuki finds his hand in Izuku’s hair before he can stop himself, and then as Izuku’s eyes hood in contentment, Katsuki finds it hard to look at anything else, no matter what impressive view keeps trying to tempt him away.

“I wish we could stay up here,” Izuku murmurs. It’s soft, so quiet Katsuki almost misses it.

Katsuki’s heart seizes up; for a moment, he can’t get enough air to even speak. He forces himself to swallow. “Me, too,” he says in a low voice.

Izuku’s eyes crack open, just a touch; Katsuki finds himself captivated by the green there, more vital and alive than anything in the trees or mountains surrounding them. Izuku stares at him, and Katsuki stares back, because he can do nothing else, and there is nothing to say. Not here, not now.

Later, Katsuki will think back to that moment high up in the mountains and be able to recall it with shocking clarity. He’ll remember the quiet of the spot where land meets sky, where two wild hearts came to rest, if only for a little while. Everything will be carved into his mind: the scent of cedar and pine, the clarity of the air, the startling green of Izuku’s eyes, the freckles on his cheeks made more vivid by the faint sunburn he’s getting, the soft smile on his face as he rests.

He will remember thinking: maybe not everything the Bright Path does is total garbage.

Soon, all too soon, the Lazlows round everyone up to make the trek back down. They gather up their things and fall back into step and into role, following Marcus and Bethany as they guide their little group along a winding path down towards the cabins they’re staying at.

Somehow the trek back down is more exhausting than the one up was. The way is more treacherous, at least. By the time they make it back to their cabin, all Katsuki wants to do is pass out in their bed, maybe after a shower to rinse the worst of the grime off his skin. Izuku gives him first crack at the bathroom, and is consequently passed out on the couch by the time Katsuki comes out. Katsuki wakes him enough to send him stumbling into the bathroom, then forces down a protein bar before collapsing into bed.

He wakes some two hours later with Izuku sprawled atop him, the covers thrown haphazardly over them at some point. Katsuki doesn’t even know what fucking time it is; mid-afternoon, maybe, judging from the sunlight slanting directly into his fucking eyeballs through the windows that somehow have no curtains on them.

Katsuki groans, shoving Izuku off him and rolling off the bed. He intends to right himself, but misjudges the angle and face-plants on the floor instead. “FUCK!”

“K-Kacchan!” Katsuki rolls onto his side, sees Izuku peering over the side of the bed at him. “Are you okay?”

“M’fine. Ugh.” Katsuki glowers, mostly at himself, and sits up, rubbing the side of his head. “Don’t make that face, I’m okay, fuck.”

“You went down pretty hard…” Izuku sounds doubtful. For whatever reason, it irritates Katsuki.

“I’m not made of fuckin’ porcelain, Deku,” he snaps. Izuku flinches. Instantly, Katsuki feels like a shitheel. He grits his teeth and turns away, before he can do something he’s going to regret, like hurt Izuku worse or say something neither of them can ignore.

But Izuku doesn’t let him go. “Kacchan,” Izuku says from behind him, and then: “Katsuki.”

What.

Instead of an answer, warm arms wrap around him as Izuku hugs him from behind. Katsuki stiffens; against his back, Izuku nuzzles into his spine, before resting his cheek against the base of Katsuki’s neck. “You seemed really shook up by what Marcus asked you this morning,” he murmurs. “I wish you would tell me about it.”

Katsuki swallows hard. He shuts his eyes, has to take a slow breath against the painful lump trying to form in his throat. He glances down at the arms wrapped around his stomach: scars here and there, muscles beneath warm skin. After a few moments, he sags a little, his own arms coming to settle atop Izuku’s.

“I can’t,” he says. It comes out only with difficulty, a still-bleeding wound. “I want to, but… I can’t, yet.”

Izuku is quiet a moment. “Will you tell me? Eventually?”

Fuck. Katsuki shuts his eyes. “I’m gonna try,” he says after a beat. “I’m—I’m sorry, Izuku.”

“Okay,” says Izuku simply. “Then I’ll wait. As long as it takes.”

That’s somehow the worst possible thing Izuku could have said, mostly because Katsuki knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he means it. “I dunno where the hell you get that kind of patience,” Katsuki growls. “Might as well piss into the wind.”

“I’m your partner,” says Izuku. Of fucking course he would say that.

Katsuki turns around in the circle of Izuku’s arms and stares into those huge eyes, because he apparently feels like punishing himself more. “Bein’ my partner doesn’t mean you gotta put up with bullshit,” says Katsuki.

Something about that makes Izuku smile. “Oh, I get it now,” he says, light. “So you researching kinky sex stuff for me is just what’s expected of a good partner, but me listening when you have a bad day is going too far?”

Katsuki scowls. “That’s—different,” he says. It comes out surly and stupid, even to his ears.

“Excuse me, Calla, I’d like to file a complaint,” says Izuku. His voice is still mild, but Katsuki knows that shitty little twitch to his lips, can tell when he’s being fucked with. “My partner’s too busy sulking to spank me.”

“Fuck you!” Katsuki’s mouth falls open, sputtering despite himself. Izuku breaks into an absolutely shit-eating grin, and Katsuki can’t stop himself from grabbing him up and throwing him onto the bed. Izuku yelps as he bounces on the mattress, a noise that becomes as a shriek as Katsuki crawls onto the bed after him and shoves his hands up under Izuku’s shirt to tickle his sides.

“Stop, STOP! K-Kacchan, s-s-stooop, nooooooo—” Izuku shrieks and thrashes around on the bed, Katsuki on top of him, still tickling him mercilessly. Until they started fucking around, Katsuki had somehow forgotten that Izuku was ticklish as the day is long—a weakness all the more delicious considering how much stamina and endurance Izuku has now in most other ways.

Izuku’s shrieks of laughter also makes it impossible to stay surly. It isn’t long before real tears are standing out on Izuku’s face and he’s descended into whining, begging Katsuki to stop before he pees himself. Only then does Katsuki relent, leaning down to press his forehead against Izuku’s, grinning at him from up close.

“Ugh, haha, ugh, you’re the w-worst,” Izuku says, and hiccoughs. Katsuki smirks. It feels so good on his lips, like a drink of water after a long trudge through the desert. Izuku makes a face at him, but he can’t really make it stick, still too giddy from being tickled until he cries. Instead, Izuku wraps his arms around Katsuki’s neck.

“Who’s the worst?” Katsuki asks. He doesn’t recognize his own voice in his ears, is sure he’s never sounded so soft and gentle. “Pretty sure it’s you, shitty little nerd.”

“Maybe,” Izuku murmurs. “Still managed to figure out how to work with you, though.”

“Sounds fake,” Katsuki says, and Izuku laughs. When he tilts his face up for a kiss, Katsuki obliges him, settling on top of him as their lips meet. They lay like that for awhile, just slowly kissing and sinking deeper into the bed, Izuku hedged in by Katsuki’s arms on the mattress.

“I dunno where you get off being such a little shit,” Katsuki murmurs, in between kisses. “Punk-ass fucker.”

“One of us has to be, and you were falling down on the job,” says Izuku, who has apparently turned into a cheeky little bitch when Katsuki wasn’t looking. Or—more likely—he always was, and it’s only recently that Katsuki’s gotten the chance to enjoy it.

Katsuki narrows his eyes, and Izuku lets out a nervous little giggle. “Watch it,” Katsuki says. “Or I’m gonna tickle you till you piss yourself for real.”

“You could fuck me instead, that’d be more fun,” says Izuku. Katsuki pulls back to stare down at him, agape. Izuku grins crookedly, a blush riding high on his cheekbones; for a moment Katsuki can’t even breathe, he’s so blindsided by that sight.

He doesn’t get the chance to find an answer, either. A door creaks open at the other end of the cabin, and Katsuki twists around to look over his shoulder. Bethany Lazlow comes into the hall outside their room, slowing as she catches sight of them stretched out on the bed together.

“Oh, sorry to interrupt,” Horse Laugh says. She sounds not the slightest bit sorry. “I wanted to make sure you both had time to get ready for the banquet and meditation this evening!”

“Oh… uh, right,” says Katsuki. He makes no move to get off Izuku until Izuku stirs beneath him, trying to extract himself from the bed. Only then does Katsuki roll off him, not bothering to hide his resentment of the interruption. He sits on the edge of the bed, directing his glower at the floorboards in lieu of their host.

But Horse Laugh doesn’t look bothered. If anything, she looks tickled. “I’m glad the two of you are enjoying yourselves,” she says, and titters her characteristic horsey laugh. Katsuki suffers the powerful urge to blast her through the cabin wall. “Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty of time to yourselves again later, I promise.”

“I-It’s fine, Beth!” says Izuku quickly, from behind Katsuki. “Sorry, we were just, um…”

“No, no, don’t apologize,” says Horse Laugh. “But you do need to start getting ready. Remember to wear the robes we put out for you and wash up using that soap before you come down. Also, I left you some muffins.”

Do you want us to hit our heads beforehand too, or are we waiting for you to do that part? Katsuki bites down on that particular retort, opting to let Izuku be the one doing the talking right now. If he opens his mouth, he’s going to turn into a bona fide, foaming-at-the-mouth douchebag, and as satisfying as it would absolutely be, it wouldn’t do them any favors.

He does reach out and wrap his arms around Izuku’s waist as Izuku comes around the bed, which Izuku tolerates for some reason. “Sounds good,” says Izuku to Horse Laugh. “We’ll be quick. How soon do we need to come down?”

“You should be down there in an hour,” says Horse Laugh. “Give yourselves time to walk down, too. No driving till tomorrow.”

“Right,” says Izuku. “Got it. Thanks for coming to give us a heads-up, Beth.”

“My pleasure,” says Horse Laugh. With that, she leaves, but not before literally curtseying like she’s in some period drama.

Katsuki shakes his head as he hears the door shut behind her. “Fuck, I hate them both so much,” he says. “Please tell me I can punch them into orbit once we’re done with this.”

Izuku laughs, turning around in his arms. He rests his own arms on Katsuki’s shoulders, which puts him at the perfect height for Katsuki to smush his face against his chest. “If you can do that, we have to call All Might so he can congratulate you,” he says mildly. “But you know we have to arrest them.”

“Ugh,” says Katsuki, and sighs. “Whatever, let’s get ready. Don’t wanna be late for the freak show party.”

Despite the interruption, and despite his foul mood earlier, Katsuki feels a little better. Izuku has—not mellowed, exactly, because if there was ever a ball over-thinking, it’s him, but he apparently knows what to say to defuse Katsuki’s particular brand of anxiety. His worries aren’t gone, but they seem less impossible to overcome than before.

Besides: they have a brainwashing session to go to.

* * * * *

By the time they arrive at the location for the meditation, dusk is drawing down around their ears—darkness comes early in the woods, especially on the eastern slope of the Sierras, and Katsuki is glad there’s going to be a fire, because he can already feel a chill in the air. He’s fine, of course; he would be even if his Quirk didn’t turn him into a furnace, but if Izuku gets cold he’ll just shiver like an idiot and not say anything to anyone about it.

And it’s not as if their robes do much of anything. The robes that the Lazlows provided for them are mid-weight, some cotton blend that feels smooth and surprisingly silky against the skin. Probably garbage for actual camping, but then, this part isn’t camping—it’s brainwashing.

Pardon him, meditation. He’ll never be able to hear the word again without feeling a curl of disgust in his stomach.

Katsuki glances around. He catches a glimpse here and there of the other participants arriving. Weaving their way through the trees in their soft gray robes, lit only dimly by the dwindling light of day, they look like ghosts, wandering lost through the woods. Katsuki has to suppress a shiver at that thought.

Warm fingers brush his palms, and he jumps. “Hey,” murmurs Izuku—because of course it’s Izuku. Concern flickers in his green eyes. “You okay?”

“Yeah,” mutters Katsuki. “Don’t be stupid, I’m fine.” Izuku says nothing to this, but he walks a little closer to Katsuki. And when Katsuki takes his hand a minute or so later, Izuku has the wisdom to say nothing, only lace their fingers together and keeps walking.

Somewhere in the woods, a coyote howls. In the twilight, the sound is eerily loud and somehow near. Katsuki keeps his eyes on the path ahead of them, but out of the corner of his eyes, shadows seem to flicker.

The meeting place is a small, bare-bones amphitheater, set in the middle of a thick grove of pine trees some half-mile from the road; either by some natural accident of geography, or by human design, the amphitheater sits in a dip in the slope of the mountain, massive redwoods rising up around it on all sides. Long halved trunks of the huge firs make up the seats, rough-hewn and old, fanning out from a central stone platform in a loose semi-circle. Surrounded by the old pines that stretch their arms high towards heaven, the overall effect is of being in a natural cathedral.

Piled high on the stage is a massive mound of sticks and logs, clearly the preparation for a bonfire. The cult members slowly file in, settling in twos and threes, but Katsuki spies more than a few solo attendees in the crowd, sitting just slightly too far from the next person over.

That makes sense. Katsuki remembers from that first file how the Bright Path likes to prey on the insecurities of its members, and singling them out makes it that much easier. He tries to think about coming here alone, as a solo operative undercover, and fear stabs into his guts like a spike of pure ice. Being here, all alone in the mountains, at the mercy of whatever brainwashing Quirks the Bright Path members have?

Katsuki’s been by himself at the mercy of a group of criminals before, waiting for help, praying for the best while preparing for the worst. It was one of the most harrowing things he’s ever been through, and he’s not keen to repeat it. There’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then—now he knows the bitter taste of a failed mission, the dull ache of attending funerals of those he couldn’t save. He’s seen what the cult does to people it deems unworthy, or dangerous, or simply not useful enough. And he knows how very far away help is.

Now, all he wants to do is grab up Izuku, set the whole place on fire, and run as far and as fast as he can.

Instead, he walks with Izuku down one of the aisles, and takes a seat near the middle of the amphitheater. He sits close to Izuku, keeping their hands twined together instead of slinging an arm around Izuku’s shoulders like he wants to. He’s not supposed to be afraid of being here, just sort of nervous.

Hell, he’s not supposed to be afraid, at all. But Katsuki keeps seeing Iida and Uraraka’s faces in the shadowed figures collected in this theater, and he has to fight to keep his breathing slow and even. All he can do is wonder: is this what Iida and Uraraka were doing, when the cult came for them? Were they surrounded by other Bright Path members? What happened to them in the dark on the night they disappeared?

Katsuki startles badly as Izuku takes Katsuki’s hand in both of his. He catches himself quickly, holding very still. Izuku rubs his thumb along the back of Katsuki’s hand, over a scar Katsuki got during one of the last rescue missions they did together before taking this op. He can feel Izuku watching him, but for a few moments Katsuki can’t bring himself to meet that gaze.

“I’m with you,” Izuku murmurs, almost too quiet to be heard. “I’m here.”

Katsuki takes a slow breath, finally dragging his eyes up to meet Izuku’s. Izuku smiles. “That’s what I’m worried about,” Katsuki mutters.

Izuku blinks at him. “You picked a weird day to decide to be a dick again,” he whispers.

“Not what I meant,” Katsuki says, and squeezes Izuku’s hand, hard. Understanding dawns in Izuku’s eyes, but before he can respond, the pile of sticks on the stage bursts into flame.

Katsuki grits his teeth, tensing again. Next to him, Izuku says something, but it’s lost in the murmur and gasps of the crowd around them. Gouts of flame jump towards the night sky, illuminating the crooked arms of the trees above them, their boughs swaying in the wind. Then the flames dip, the bonfire settling down just a bit.

Two figures appear, one on either side of the fire—the Lazlow siblings, clad in their own gray-blue robes, like specters in the flickering light of the fire. They walk slowly towards each other, meeting directly in front of the fire, at the front of the stage before the amphitheater.

“Welcome, wanderers.” says Marcus Lazlow. His voice is strangely deep, echoing weirdly in the huge space. “Welcome, children of the light. Welcome, to all who come here, ready to walk the Bright Path.”

Immediately, Katsuki feels something wash over him—a warmth, a sort of lassitude, like being very drunk or high. It spreads through his whole body; his mouth goes dry, his muscles suddenly heavy. He shivers despite himself, and takes both of Izuku’s hands in both of his.

“Greetings, friends,” says Bethany Lazlow, and spreads her hands. Greetings, Bright Lady, comes the answer from all around them. Katsuki glances around, abruptly nervous; shit, was there a memo he and Izuku missed? It takes him a moment to even realize his anxiety stems not from a fear of being found out, but from a fear of being left out.

Bethany continues, answering the question Katsuki hadn’t actually asked: “Some of you are joining us for the first time. We welcome you, as we welcome all true walkers of the path, and bid you be at ease. You may not know all the words yet, but you recognize the song in your soul. We ask only that you welcome the song with an open heart, that it can wash you clean.”

Her voice is as intoxicating as her brother’s. For the first time in his entire (admittedly brief) acquaintance with the Lazlows, Katsuki does not want to punt them into low Earth orbit. Instead, he finds himself leaning forward, eager to hear what comes next. His fear is completely gone—and so is all his wariness.

Later, Katsuki will sit down with Izuku to try and recall exactly what happened during that night in the theatre on the mountainside. But try as they might, they won’t be able to recall more than a few details.

Marcus and Bethany speak for a good thirty minutes. During that time there’s a lot of call and response between them and the crowd; Katsuki and Izuku figure out the general gist without much trouble. Then paper copies of a pamphlet are passed around, and everyone joins together in another twenty minutes of chanting and singing.

Even Katsuki joins in. Katsuki can’t carry a fucking tune in a bucket, nor has he ever had any desire to, but that night he raises his voice as loud as anyone there—even though he can’t for the life of him remember a single word of what they sang the next morning.

What he does remember is an amazing sense of belonging, of being welcomed, of coming home. When the final chorus ends, Katsuki finds himself in tears. He turns and wraps both his arms around Izuku, who is also inexplicably crying. They just stand there in the sea of people, hugging each other and leaking tears on each other’s robes.

Everything after that is just a blur. Walking home, staying up late talking with the Lazlows and planning the affirmation ceremony they’ve apparently decided to have, making love in their cabin bed at four am and whispering all kinds of ridiculous promises into Izuku’s skin—it’s all strange and hazy afterwards, like a half-remembered dream.

All Katsuki knows is that despite how much he detests the Lazlows, despite how insidious and vicious their true motives are, he can’t recall the last time he spent an entire evening being so happy.

Chapter Text

Katsuki wakes the morning after the cult retreat with a sore back, a dry mouth, and the terrible feeling that he and Izuku might have confessed more to the Lazlows than is remotely safe. But the Lazlows are already gone. There’s a note on the kitchen table, next to Katsuki’s laptop and both his and Izuku’s cell phones:

Got an early start back to the Pines, we didn’t want to wake you since you were up so late! Looking forward to creating a special memory with you—thanks for sharing in ours! Love, Beth & Marcus

“Gross,” mutters Katsuki. He considers just burning the note out of spite, then decides to at least let Izuku read it first. He turns, glancing back towards the bedroom where Izuku was still asleep when Katsuki got up ten minutes ago. “Deku, you up yet?”

“Coming,” comes the slurred response. Izuku emerges from the bedroom with bed-head so tousled that Katsuki is momentarily distracted by the urge to plunge his hands into it. Izuku blinks at him, sleepy and doe-eyed; Katsuki takes a deep breath and reminds himself that he’s a hardass with a will of iron. Not the kind of man to melt into goo over a pair of green eyes.

Right. And he’s gonna learn to play the harp, too. Maybe become BFFs forever with Half-and-half.

“What’s up?” says Izuku. Katsuki snaps back to himself from dipshit land and holds out the note. Izuku takes it, scanning it with a faint frown as he comes fully awake. Then he glances back up at Katsuki, squinting. “What… did we agree to last night, exactly?”

“Fuck if I know,” says Katsuki, and Izuku groans. “But we can find out. I recorded everything.”

Izuku’s head snaps up. “You what?”

“I brought a recorder to the cabin, get with the program, Izuku,” says Katsuki.

Izuku flips him the bird, accompanied by a pleased smile that obliterates any teeth the rude gesture had. “With what?” he says. “They took our cell phones, what did you end up doing instead?”

“I thought the Lazlows might pull some shit like this, especially after losing Fuckface Hippie, so I rigged a program on my watch to record the whole night,” says Katsuki, more than a little smug. He and Izuku had both brought recorders with them, of course—the opportunity to stay the night with the Lazlows at their cabin, combined with the risk that entailed, presented an opportunity neither of them wanted to pass up. But upon arriving to the cabins, the Lazlows had spoiled everything by asking everyone to surrender their cell phones and laptops for the weekend.

We don’t want you to ruin your experience with distraction, Marcus had said. Katsuki and Izuku had known what the security measures were really about, of course, but they couldn’t protest the situation without drawing attention to themselves, which was the last thing they wanted. (Katsuki still thinks that the fact the Lazlows managed this at all is irrefutable proof they’re running a cult. Trying to get a group of random adults to surrender all their electronics for a whole weekend is an accomplishment akin to arm-wrestling a crocodile and coming out unscratched.) He hadn’t been sure he’d be able to get away with keeping his watch, but since it wasn’t a commercially-produced or recognizable smartwatch, the Lazlows must not have realized what it really was, and he’d gotten away with it.

“Kacchan, that’s incredible,” says Izuku excitedly. Before Katsuki can think of a good brag, Izuku’s thrown his arms around Katsuki’s neck and is kissing him. It’s a mark of how gone on Izuku Katsuki is that he doesn’t even mind the nasty morning breath they both have. He resists for maybe half a second, then gives in and wraps his arms around Izuku, returning the kiss with interest.

They’ve gotten pretty good at this by now, with all the practice. Or maybe it’s just that he’s gotten good at kissing Izuku. Katsuki’s been the Grand High Pharaoh of De-Nile for at least a couple months, but he’s having trouble pretending at this point: it hasn’t been ‘practice’ for a long time, and he knows it.

“It’s gonna take some time to port it over to a computer so we can actually dig through the recording, and I can’t guarantee how good the quality is,” Katsuki says, once they break away. Izuku is still in his arms, still leaning against him, looking for all the world like he’s really relaxed and happy to be there. Katsuki is distracted for several long moments wondering why—is it because of habit, because of their commitment to their roles? Or could it be something more?

“That’s okay,” says Izuku, yanking Katsuki out of his feverish Teen Romance musings. “We’ll have time to go over it on our trip ‘out of town.’ ”

It’s the second time this morning his mind has wandered quite that far away, and he hasn’t even fuckin’ been awake thirty minutes yet. Katsuki kicks himself mentally. “Right,” he says. “Plenty of time.”

“Speaking of which, we should get ready and on the road,” says Izuku. He steps back from Katsuki—and maybe it’s just his imagination, or just him getting his goddamn hopes up, but to Katsuki he looks reluctant. Like he doesn’t want to leave here anymore than Katsuki does.

“Yeah,” says Katsuki. “Yeah, probably.”

Fuck, he sounds like a fucking idiot. Izuku gives him a funny look, then leans up and steals one last kiss. Katsuki grants it gratefully, and cops a handful of Izuku’s ass for good measure. Izuku yelps into his mouth. It turns into a laugh, one that has Katsuki grinning against Izuku’s lips from how infectious it is, and then Izuku finally does pull away, heading for the bathroom.

Katsuki watches him go, unashamedly staring at the way the sweatpants hang low on Izuku’s hips. He spies a few bruises there, just barely peeking above the hem; abruptly he flashes on the night before, Izuku eager and writhing in the bed beneath him.

He shudders, suffering a bright flare of want, equal parts lust and longing. On its heels, the conversation he had with Marcus Lazlow comes to mind, souring the warmth of Izuku’s presence. I fucked up too bad for him to ever really forgive me once he comes to his senses, Katsuki had said. I’m just on borrowed time.

More and more, Katsuki’s wondering just what he’s supposed to do when that time runs out.

* * * * *

Their day turns out to consist of a lot of driving. They burn rubber heading back to the Pines; Katsuki drives, going probably way too fast around mountain switchbacks while Izuku white-knuckles it in the passenger seat. But it pays off when they make it to the bakeshop shortly after lunch.

(They’re meeting the rest of the retreat-goers at the bakeshop to “process,” which is the biggest steaming pile of bullshit Katsuki’s ever heard in his life—didn’t they just spend the whole fucking weekend with these assholes?—but there’s no getting out of it, so he doesn’t try. Which is to say, he bitches loudly in the car about it until Izuku tells him he should do something better with his mouth than complain, and then it’s Katsuki’s turn to white-knuckle it on the steering wheel trying to ignore his suddenly half-hard dick.)

But the bakery trip has an unexpected twist. Katsuki lets Izuku drag him into the crowd of people milling outside the bakeshop, but then detaches and goes to lean against the wall of the shop, watching the crowd with thinly-disguised impatience. All he wants to do is get back on the road, get to have Izuku all to himself again instead of having to share with all these grubbing, greedy bastards.

A woman’s voice interrupts his bitter ruminations. “Mr. Nakamura?” Katsuki blinks, looks up—and finds himself looking into the tired but determined face of Mrs. Rhodes. “Sorry to bother you,” she says. “I was just hoping I could talk to you for a moment.”

Katsuki’s stomach turns over; the last time he saw Mrs. Rhodes, she was a tearful mess, clutching her children to her in the aftermath of the human trafficking bust. The triplets are nowhere in sight today, which is a little weird, but maybe they need some time away from strangers who would only fuss over them right now.

The news about the human trafficking ring has spread through the community like wildfire. The Lazlows had been quick to denounce their former associate—had even gone so far as to hold a “vigil” for the victims of the perpetrators. The gall of them doing seeming charity work on behalf of people they hadn’t been successful at disappearing and profiting off of made Katsuki so ill with rage that he’d spent about half his waking hours at the gym since the op. Izuku hadn’t been much better off, especially with the added anxiety of worrying over what would become of Iida and Uraraka, fretting over if they would be able to recover.

(Katsuki’s been fretting too, of course—not that he would admit it if asked. He just isn’t as visible about it as Izuku.)

Katsuki had honestly expected Mrs. Rhodes to decide to move away, once and for all. No one could possibly have blamed her for it, after what she and her children had been through. But if she’s moving, it hasn’t happened yet.

Belatedly he realizes she’s starting to look nervous, still waiting for his answer as his brain derails off a fucking cliff. “O-Of course,” Katsuki says, and pushes off the wall. “What’s up?”

“Let’s go get coffee and talk,” says Mrs. Rhodes, by way of answer. The two of them make their way over to Bethany Lazlow in order to make polite noises about “needing a few minutes away from the crowd.” Bethany makes her own polite noises back at them, clucking sympathetically and telling them they should do whatever they need to do “for self-care,” which Katsuki thinks is fucking rich. Then Mrs. Rhodes turns and walks inside the shop, leaving an increasingly-wary Katsuki to follow her, wondering if he’s about to get made in public.

They buy coffee, then retreat to one of the tiny tables. The inside of the shop is almost empty, since everyone is outside socializing and pretending to like each other. Katsuki can’t help but notice the faint shudder Mrs. Rhodes makes when she glances at the muffins on display.

“It’s good to see you out and about,” he says, because the silence is starting to unnerve him. The alternative is to blow something up, which, as always, is off-limits to him because his life is hard.

Mrs. Rhodes glances at him with a faint smile. “Honestly, I still just want to hide in the house with the kids,” she says. “But I’ve been trying to get out, some. I have this idea that if I pretend everything is normal hard enough, eventually it might start to actually feel normal again.”

The knot in Katsuki’s guts twists. He lets out a rough breath, and finds himself wishing for Izuku’s gift with words—as if there were really anything anyone could fucking say to make this better, he thinks bitterly. But he has to say something. “I can’t imagine what you’ve been through,” he says, finally. “I don’t even know what I could do to help, but… if you need something, just say so.”

Mrs. Rhodes seems to relax just a tiny bit. “Actually,” she says, and then stops. “I…”

Katsuki waits. It’s the thing he least likes doing, but she’s clearly working through something. Katsuki thinks of the whiteness of her face in the dingy warehouse where they found her, thinks of the way her hands trembled and her voice cracked when her children ran to her across the stage. He remembers these things and decides that he can wait as long as necessary.

Mrs. Rhodes fiddles with the lid of her coffee, eyes on the table. Finally, she looks up at him. “You’ve already done a lot,” she says; Katsuki’s stomach lurches. “I wanted to say thank you.”

“I didn’t—” Katsuki begins, but she holds up a hand to stop him.

“No, no, it’s fine, don’t worry about it,” she says, and flashes a brittle smile. She keeps her voice low, quiet; Katsuki has to lean forward to hear her at all. “Lochlan told me how the man in black who rescued him and his sisters had funny-smelling hands. Just like his favorite person, Mr. Nakamura.”

Oh, fuck. Katsuki’s throat seals up, his heart stuttering in his chest, unable to do anything but stare across the table at her. Mrs. Rhodes must be able to read the reaction in his face, though, because she reaches across the table to cover his hand with hers. “I don’t want to know,” she says firmly. “I just wanted to say that I hope someday I find a way to repay you and your husband.”

Katsuki’s heart starts working again. He forces himself to take a deep breath, to fill his lungs with air. “You’re welcome,” he says. Once upon a time, he would have said it’s nothing, but he isn’t going to insult Mrs. Rhodes by saying something like that to her; he’s just going to grapple with himself in the dark.

She nods, as if he’s said something meaningful instead of trite. “Just promise me you’ll both be careful,” she says.

At this, Katsuki flashes a wry grin. “We will,” he says. “I promise.”

She doesn’t need to know how hard that’s going to be—or how just being here has made it virtually impossible to keep. But she doesn’t have to. That’s his job, Izuku’s job. So he turns his hand over, taking hers in his and squeezing it tight, and forces himself to bear witness to the pain and gratitude in her face, because there’s nothing else to be done.

* * * * *

As soon as they’re on the road, Katsuki wastes no time telling his partner about the interaction. Izuku is driving now, frowning at the steering wheel as they make their way out of the Pines again and back onto the highway. Katsuki can tell he doesn’t like the news anymore than Katsuki did.

“Should we do anything about it, you think?” Izuku asks. He glances over at Katsuki, still frowning.

Katsuki scowls. “Do what? Disappear her? I’m not gonna fuckin’ stoop to the level of those cultist fucks.”

“No, no, I didn’t mean anything like that, just… she’s a security liability, and—”

“No shit,” Katsuki says peevishly. “But I don’t like the idea of, what, putting her in WitSec? Forcing her to pack up her life and move her kids?”

“It would be safer,” says Izuku, a stubborn note creeping into his voice. “For her, and for us.”

“No, it wouldn’t be safer for us,” says Katsuki. Izuku glances at him again, startled, then turns his eyes back to the road. “The more police activity happens here, the more on guard the Bright Path are gonna be. It’s a fucking miracle they haven’t already just packed up and taken off.”

“I… guess,” Izuku says reluctantly. “You’re right, we don’t want to alarm them more than we have.” He doesn’t say how lucky the two of them were to still get to keep their invite to the Starfinders Retreat. As far as Katsuki can tell, nothing technically illegal happened on the retreat—unless you count the brainwashing the Lazlows are doing of their members. Katsuki spares a moment to wonder what’s been going on inside houses and behind the front facade of Bethany Lazlow’s bakeshop, how many people have already signed away their savings or the mortgage on their house to the all-too-charismatic founders of the cult.

Katsuki shakes his head a little, dispelling that distraction. “I’m more concerned about Theresa Rhodes being a target for the cult members again,” he says. “We don’t know how many cult members she might’ve seen or had contact with.”

“I thought Calla said that anyone directly involved with the human trafficking ring has already been arrested,” says Izuku. The newest obnoxious pop song comes on the radio, and Izuku leans over, flicking the music over to Katsuki’s phone’s input. Katsuki flips through a couple playlists before settling on the one he and Izuku like to work out to, then tosses the phone into the arm well that sits between the seats.

“Yeah, she did say that,” says Katsuki. “But we don’t know if that’s actually true. Obviously the Lazlows didn’t get arrested.”

Izuku sighs. “You’re right, we don’t have enough to convict them of anything yet,” he says. “But I agree, I think Mrs. Rhodes might be in danger too. According to the information we got ahold of for the bust, she was on the list of people thought to be targeted due to being a danger to the cult, in addition to a possible revenue source.”

At that, it’s Katsuki’s turn to frown. “Wait, what? Since when is she a threat to anyone? That woman doesn’t do anything but bake casseroles for strangers, play with her kids, and go to hot yoga.” That was one of the things about Theresa Rhodes that initially annoyed Katsuki. Those things still annoy him—why the fuck wouldn’t you want more out of your life than that?—but it’s hard to maintain the same level of irritation after, well.

They pull to a stop at a light; they’re still a few miles from the exit onto the highway. Izuku uses this moment to turn and give Katsuki a long look, one eyebrow arching like an uppity caterpillar. “Don’t you remember?” he asks. “We think she might be one of those people whose Quirk changes in adulthood. The report I read says that she used to just be immune to auditory Quirks, but after her pregnancy with the triplets, she can actually interrupt other’s Quirks, like Eraserhead but with her voice.”

Katsuki gives Izuku an incredulous stare. “What?

“Come on,” says Izuku. “Calla sent us a folder on her. There’s only been a few other people like her whose Quirks change in adulthood. They asked her to be part a study at UCLA and everything.”

“They did?” Katsuki frowns. “How come I don’t remember anything about this?”

“Well, she declined being in the study, apparently,” says Izuku. “And the results haven’t been published yet, but Calla got ahold of an advanced review of their research. But they had the details of the one incident where she stopped someone on a Quirk-induced rampage in a mall. She still insists they just needed someone to yell at them a bit, but that’s not what the report makes it sound like.”

“I never saw this folder,” Katsuki says. He narrows his eyes. “Was this part of that pile of shit we spilled wine on the night we tried using the sex swing?”

“Uhhhhh,” says Izuku. He turns red. The car behind them honks, and Izuku turns his attention back to driving, eyes on the road once more. “I… think it might’ve been, actually.”

“Well, fuck you too,” says Katsuki, but there’s no real heat to it. He’s remembering back to the various neighborhood picnics he and Izuku have been to, the ones where Mrs. Rhodes was there—and he’s remembering how no matter how much trouble her terror triplets caused, she always seemed to be able to corral them into line. At the time, he’d just thought she was a good mom. Now he’s wondering if he just saw a more subtle Quirk in action.

“Anyway,” says Izuku, as they merge into the lane that’ll take them onto the highway and out of town. “If you don’t want to put her and the kids into WitSec, what do you want to do? We can’t exactly put a patrol on her without drawing attention to her or ourselves.”

Katsuki makes a disgusted noise in his throat, staring out the window at the sea of cars passing by them. He says nothing, because there’s nothing to say. The best option would also make them more vulnerable; and who knows, maybe the cult won’t dare to touch Mrs. Rhodes or her kids anyway.

It’s a nice idea. Katsuki doesn’t trust it any farther than he could kick it down the street. He privately resolves to keep tabs on Mrs. Rhodes—and to warn her to keep her wits about her, and to consider a vacation out of town.

* * * *

Their own “out of town” trip is just that: ostensibly a trip to a beach house, taken as ‘extended vacation’ after the retreat with the Lazlows for a total of five days away from work and the Pines. It’s actually an opportunity for them to plug into their normal intel and communications without as much concern about being monitored or discovered—a chance for them to be Katsuki Bakugou and Izuku Midoriya again, Hero Partners, instead of Katsuki and Izuku Nakamura.

Between returning from the mountains and making it out to the beach, they’ve driven a good six hours today, out to another rented cabin, this one on beachfront property with access to the ocean. Stupidly, it even has a hot tub, as if the occupants would want to splash around in chlorine-piss water when they could be out in the actual Pacific. The cabin itself is roomy, with two separate beds, a huge marble shower, a kitchen that even Katsuki has to grudgingly admit is cute, and a massive TV hung on one wall. The other wall has an enormous bay window that looks out at the ocean. It’s gorgeous, well-appointed, and the perfect place to unwind for a couple days.

As is becoming his usual, Katsuki hates it.

He hates it not only because he doesn’t quite trust that they’re actually safe from prying eyes, but because he abruptly doesn’t quite know how to act without the excuse of being surrounded constantly by people they’re trying to deceive. Katsuki doesn’t know where their cover ends and the truth begins, and he’s too afraid to ask. He knows it’s his own fucking fault for suggesting they begin a friends-with-benefits arrangement, but how was he supposed to know that their cover was going to be pretending to be married?

How was he supposed to know that the closeness he’d developed with Izuku over the past two years of partnership might transform into something like this?

Katsuki doesn’t say any of this, of course. He just comes inside with Izuku, unloading all of their various and sundry equipment and luggage. He says nothing when Izuku flops onto one bed, leaving the other for him. Instead, he focuses on trying to transfer the recordings he made from his smart watch to the computer, so they can speed through and listen to what actually happened yesterday.

But keeping a poker face in place when he feels like his Quirk is burning him up inside is hard.

His skin itches, an ache the shape and size of the entire room sitting heavy on his chest. It’s so huge that it threatens to stop his heart, compress his lungs so he can’t even take a single breath. The space between him and Izuku yawns like a chasm, somehow wider than the four feet of space that’s actually between the two beds.

The windows are open; the salt air of the sea wafts in, reaching into the recesses of Katsuki’s brain. It smells like childhood trips to the beach, carefree days in the sun, a dear friend taken for granted. Katsuki glances out the window and catches a glimpse of a pair of people further down the beach, walking hand-in-hand as they wade in the rolling surf. He has to look away before he can get an eyeful of their happy smiles.

What he wants to do is push their beds together and pull Izuku into his lap. He wants to shove all of their shit onto the floor, where it can just burst into flame for all he cares, and kiss Izuku until they’re both gasping for air and neither of them can think straight. He wants so badly to tell Izuku that even though he wants to punch Marcus Lazlow directly into outer space, even though every single person in the Bright Path cult can jump off a fucking cliff as far as Katsuki’s concerned, that he would happily agree to the confirmation ceremony just for the chance to get to tell a room full of people that he wants to spend the rest of his life with Izuku Midoriya.

He’d do almost anything for that chance.

But he can’t. Not yet. Katsuki doesn’t want to shoot their operation in the foot, but more importantly, he’d rather blow off his own head with his Quirk than drive a new spike between him and Izuku. Izuku hasn’t said anything either about their questionable status, though, something Katsuki is both grateful for and deeply frustrated by. Fucking Deku is supposed to be the one who’s good at talking about this kind of shit, isn’t he? He’s always inspiring other people and managing to be honest about his fucking feelings.

And the fact that Izuku—one of the most honest and trustworthy people Katsuki has ever met—has not said one word about his feelings changing… well, that’s not super fuckin’ reassuring.

Katsuki watches Izuku out of the corner of his eye. Izuku looks absorbed in the intel he’s reading through. The tip of his tongue peeks out of his mouth, like it always does when he’s thinking hard. Katsuki bites the inside of his mouth.

He reaches for a pillow and flings it across the room. His aim is dead-on; the pillow hits Izuku square in the face. He jerks backwards with a squawk before turning and giving Katsuki a dirty look. “What was that for?”

“We’ve been here like thirty minutes and all you wanna do is work,” says Katsuki. “We just spent all weekend with creeps that make Shigaraki look well-adjusted. Don’t you wanna relax?”

Izuku blinks at him. “Is that what you want to do?” he says after a moment.

“I think we both suck at relaxing when we don’t have Calla on our asses to do shit like watch a movie or take time off from our jobs,” says Katsuki, which is true, but not why he’s making the suggestion. “And I am frankly fuckin’ tired of thinking about the Bright Path, so I’d rather do something else.”

Izuku relaxes a little, that familiar smile appearing on his face. Katsuki’s skin itches. “Yeah, you’re probably right,” he says, and shuts his computer. He gets off the bed he’s sitting on and crosses the room to Katsuki, looking down at him now from a standing position while Katsuki remains on the bed. “What do you wanna do, then?”

“We could listen to our messages,” says Katsuki, as he scoots over to make room for Izuku on the mattress. Izuku climbs onto the bed next to him, and some of the ache in Katsuki’s chest subsides.

“That’s a good idea,” says Izuku. He sounds happy.

Katsuki permits himself a smirk. “‘Course it’s a good idea, I came up with it,” he says, and listens to Izuku laugh.

The messages he’s referring to are the accumulated voicemails, emails, and other communications they’ve been strictly not allowed while being undercover. They haven’t even had access to their real phones the whole time they’ve been undercover, to help preserve their aliases. They still don’t, but Calla has forwarded all their messages to a secure email address using their VPN, and they’ll actually have the opportunity to go through them today.

Katsuki almost immediately regrets pointing them in the direction of examining their real lives, though. Having Izuku next to him in bed is gratifying, but as they both start going through recordings and emails about all the things waiting for them when they’re done pretending to be married, his heart starts to sink straight through his stomach and into the mattress beneath him.

He still doesn’t fully realize what a mistake he’s made until he hears Izuku gasp. Katsuki looks over sharply. “What’s wrong?” he demands.

“There’s nothing wrong,” Izuku says. He sounds dazed; after a moment, he glances up from his computer screen at Katsuki. “I just got an offer from another Hero company to come work for them when we’re done with this mission.”

Katsuki’s throat closes. He stares at Izuku for a moment, too incredulous to even respond. Then his base instincts kick in. “What the fuck,” he says fiercely. “Fuck that, we’re in the middle of an operation and someone’s head-hunting you?”

“I-I don’t know, I guess!” Izuku is turning red, looking back at his computer now with a dumbfounded expression. “What about you? Did you get anything like that? I can’t imagine I did and you didn’t, you’ve always been—”

“Shut up,” Katsuki says. “If you’re about to say I’m a better Hero than you, I’m literally going to put you in the trash can.”

Izuku laughs, his nose wrinkling up adorably. It’s fucking distracting. Katsuki thinks about punching him through the wall anyway, just for being the most excruciating thing in his life right now. “Fine, fine, okay. I just meant, there’s no way I’ve gotten offers and you haven’t, so you should at least check.”

“I don’t care if I got any offers,” says Katsuki. “I’m not lookin’ at them while we’re on a mission. That’s just more work shit.”

“That’s… true,” says Izuku. He glances again from his computer screen to Katsuki, quiet for a long moment as he visibly thinks through something. “But… Kacchan, you should at least think about it once we’re done.”

Katsuki’s stomach turns to lead. “Didn’t think you were that sick of having me for a partner.”

“That’s—it’s not that!” Izuku is turning red now. “I just—I know you really care about your career. You wanted to be the best.”

Katsuki doesn’t say anything. He has a dozen things he wants to say, but they all get stuck in his throat, lodged one behind the other like logs jamming up a river. None of them are safe. All of them would lead to I can’t stand the thought of not being with you, and that’s perilous territory right now.

“Doesn’t matter what I want,” he says, eventually, because Izuku is watching him with an apprehensive look on his face that Katsuki doesn’t like. “When we figure it out, we’ll go over everything together. But not till after this mission is over.”

When Katsuki says that, Izuku seems to relax, like something inside him has unwound. “Okay,” he says. His voice is warm. “That’s a good idea.” He shuts his computer, setting it aside; Katsuki’s insides unknot a few fractions.

“So, no work stuff,” says Izuku, and smiles up at Katsuki. “What should we do instead?”

Katsuki eyes him. He feels a dirty smirk twist his lips, and watches the way Izuku catches his breath in obvious anticipation. “I have a few ideas,” Katsuki says.

They don’t get any work at all done after that.

* * * * *

After they’re done breaking in Katsuki’s bed, they go outside to explore the beach. Neither of them have had the kind of downtime to make an ocean trip since starting their job with Synergy; Katsuki honestly can’t remember the last time he came to the beach. While they were still at UA, probably.

This particular beach is sandy and inviting, perfect for walking along barefoot in the shallow waves that bubble in over their feet. The ocean is pleasantly cool without being cold, and they both break out their tank tops and leave their sandals by the cabin as they head up the coast. This stretch of land is not completely exclusive—there are other cabins here, after all—but it’s not public land, which means they walk for thirty minutes and only encounter one other couple. It’s the same people Katsuki saw out walking before; this time they’re curled up in each other on a towel some fifty feet from the water’s edge.

Katsuki doesn’t give a shit. Not anymore. Izuku takes Katsuki’s hand barely a minute after they left the cabin, and they walk hand-in-hand along the ocean’s edge after that, the water burbling cheerfully as it ebbs and flows over the tops of their feet. Those callused fingers twined with his make all the difference between an exercise in loneliness and the contentment of a day off with the only person who matters.

The breeze coming in off the water keeps the day from being too hot, although Katsuki is fairly certain Izuku is going to come over all freckled across his shoulders and face like he does when he’s been outside too long. He can feel a burn starting on his own shoulders, but it hardly matters. He’s finding it difficult to care about anything when he has Izuku all to himself like this.

He never knew or cared why people liked corny romantic bullshit like this until very recently. He still thinks most love songs are shitty, asinine garbage, but it doesn’t keep him from stealing glances at Izuku as they wander along the water’s edge. It doesn’t keep him from stopping them now and then, pulling Izuku to him and stealing kisses from him, his heart swelling in his chest every time Izuku lets him, leans into it, slides an arm around Katsuki’s waist.

It’s ridiculous, sentimental horse shit. Katsuki wants to just die right there, so he never has to live in a world where he doesn’t have this anymore.

Izuku babbles like he always does, but about different things now, not just work. He tells Katsuki a story about coming to the beach when he was a kid, about a starfish and trilobite he found. It’s a rambling story with no real point, diverting down a dozen different tangents before Izuku manages to make it to the end, genius dumbfuck that he is.

“God damn, you are so exhausting,” says Katsuki, as Izuku finishes the story. Izuku startles, glancing over at him a little too quickly. Katsuki gives him a toothy smile and squeezes the hand still holding his. “You’re lucky I have the patience of a saint.”

Izuku bursts out laughing. “If you’re a saint, I’d hate to meet your evil twin,” he says. He’s grinning from ear to ear, and it’s blinding.

“Nah, you’ve already met him,” says Katsuki, because clearly Izuku’s stupid fucking face just burned the last of his brain cells right out of his stupid head. “He’s the one who fucks you so hard you speak in tongues.”

Izuku groans, tilting his head back and rolling his eyes, but he can’t stop himself from smiling, either. Katsuki is about five seconds away from saying or doing something he’ll regret, so he shoves Izuku hard enough to make him stumble and fall on his ass in the water. Izuku gapes at him. “You dick!”

“Ha ha,” says Katsuki, and grins. Then he yells as Izuku grabs his ankles and yanks his own feet out from under him. “FUCK YOU!”

It turns into the world’s crappiest wrestling match, both of them trying to get the better of the other in the wet sand that gives under their feet. Izuku overbalances and face-plants in the sand, coming up with what looks like a mud-mask made by a toddler. Katsuki laughs so hard at that he starts snorting, which is fucking mortifying, and made more so by Izuku yanking his shirt up and blowing a wet, sandy raspberry on his stomach.

“AHHFUGGYOU,” Katsuki gasps, and tries to kick Izuku in the stomach. Turns out you can’t fight very effectively while you’re too busy laughing your dumb ass off. Katsuki laughs until he nearly cries, and the two of them spend a few minutes recovering, just laying in the spot where the surf laps over the sand.

They strip off their sandy wet clothes after that and go swimming in the ocean in just their boxers. Both of them are strong swimmers—they had to be, after their UA training, despite the fact neither of them have done much in the way of nautical missions—but they still have to be careful, because there’s no lifeguards here and the undertow is stronger than Katsuki was anticipating.

They swim until they’re both parched and sun-burned, tired enough to drag themselves into shore and make the trek back to their cabin. Katsuki complains loudly about not having had the forethought to bring any water, but Izuku just slides an arm around him and leans into him, and then Katsuki finds it hard to complain about anything anymore.

It might only be a short reprieve, but he’ll take it.

* * * * *

The next three days pass in a blur.

Katsuki pointedly does not listen to the messages waiting for him on the computer app—though he does at least check who they’re from, just to know. Perhaps taking a cue from Katsuki, Izuku doesn’t listen either, or bring up the topic again. Instead, they do… very little, actually.

It’s the first time in their career as Hero partners where they spend a full stretch of days together that isn’t about work. They don’t even so much as mention their work at the Pines—instead, they focus on literally anything else.

They watch six crappy movies, each more insipid and banal than the last. One of them (the improbably named “Surf Ninjas”) is so dumb that Katsuki is starting to worry he’s actually losing brain cells. But the way Izuku giggles and relaxes against him during each film is enough to keep Katsuki with his ass planted firmly on that couch, an arm draped around Izuku’s sun-kissed shoulders. He keeps up a running commentary, too, not stopping even when Izuku elbows him in the ribs and tries to smother him with a pillow.

(Well, that’s not true. He stops the commentary, then, but only because it quickly turns into a different kind of wrestling, one with a lot less clothes involved.)

When they’re not lounging on the couch or swimming in the warm water, they’re usually fucking. “Fucking,” because Katsuki fucking hates the words ‘making love,’ even though that’s what it feels like, more than once. Some of their sex is raw and dirty; more than once it involves Katsuki spanking Izuku until he cries, or fucking his mouth until he’s gagging for air. Sometimes it’s just as simple as forcing Izuku against the wall and pinning his hands above his head to fuck him right there and then, sinking teeth into his throat and reveling in the excited, eager cries it earns him.

Other times, it’s sweeter. Katsuki takes great pleasure in binding Izuku with intricate knot-work before slowly, leisurely fucking his ass, listening to him gasp and moan beneath him. They take advantage of the hot tub, mostly for the pleasure of having sex in it. That’s the time that Katsuki finds himself grateful for the humidity and wetness that disguises any traitorous dampness on his cheeks while he has Izuku in his lap, Izuku draped around him, Izuku kissing him like there’s nowhere else in the world he’d rather be than here in Katsuki’s arms.

It sure doesn’t feel like sex just meant for stress relief, like friends-with-benefits. It feels like something more.

They roam the beach, too. Walking along the coast in the other direction brings them to the boardwalk of the nearest town, complete with surfers, beach-goers, and food trucks. They get tacos and horchata, then sit on the edge of the sidewalk, eating in companionable silence as the sun glides gracefully above their heads through a bright blue sky.

“This is really nice,” Izuku says, some time later. Katsuki glances over at him. Izuku’s expression is soft, relaxed; he’s staring out at the water, searching for who knows what. His shoulders and arms have gotten darker, kissed with freckles like Katsuki knew they would, and the sun and salt have done something to Izuku’s messy hair, given him a windswept look that’s far too fucking attractive. The sight makes Katsuki’s chest ache with words as-yet unsaid, makes his hands itch with the need to take Izuku’s.

He gives in to the latter, reaching over to twine their fingers together. Izuku looks down at their hands, then up at Katsuki with such a radiant smile that the sun overhead is immediately dimmed in comparison. Katsuki stares at him, his tongue cleaving to the roof of his mouth even as his heart gives a hard wallop against his ribcage.

“It is nice,” he says, lamely. Izuku’s smile softens, becomes something tender. Katsuki considers just ending his own suffering by running directly into the ocean to drown, but ultimately decides against it, due mainly to the fact he’d have to let go of Izuku’s hand to do it.

Those three days are sweet enough, happy enough, that even Katsuki is starting to wonder if this lightness between them could possibly be real, instead of just a ruse for their cover. The way Izuku looks at him—the way Izuku kisses him, crawls into his lap, falls asleep against him at night—he wants to believe that Izuku couldn’t possibly be acting like this unless he wanted to be here.

Right?

But he’s still unsure. Still scared of bringing it up, and not only threatening their operation, but risking his partnership with the boy he’s come to care for more than he ever would have suspected. So Katsuki does the thing he’s been wanting to do for awhile. After they have sex that night and Izuku is fast asleep in bed, Katsuki pulls on a sweatshirt, grabs his phone, and goes outside.

He doesn’t have the number programmed into this phone—it’s #1 on his speed-dial on his phone back home—but he has it memorized anyway. He just hopes the person on the other end will answer. Katsuki dials the number, hits send, and waits.

After the fourth ring, the call finally picks up. “Hello?” says a deep voice on the other end.

Katsuki exhales, hard. “Hey, Shitty Hair,” he says, and breaks into a smile.

“KATSUKI! What the fuck, dude!” Eijirou laughs in his ear. The feeling of relief that hits Katsuki in the stomach is like a physical blow; he leans hard against the porch railing, grinning stupidly at the night sky. “What are you doing calling me right now? Aren’t you on a mission or some shit?”

The question helps focus him a little. “Y-Yeah, I am,” Katsuki says, and straightens. “But uh—uh—fuck.”

Eijirou instantly sobers. “Hey, you okay? What’s wrong, man?”

Katsuki takes a deep breath, pinches his nose and shuts his eyes, lets the breath out slow. “I need advice,” he says, because it’s true, and because help I fell in love with the boy I used to bully, what if he doesn’t love me back is way too fuckin’ stupid and bullshit to just blurt out.

Yet.

“Yeah? Well, alright, just tell me what’s up, okay?” Eijirou sounds worried. Katsuki can’t help but roll his eyes, a reflexive reaction that makes him feel a little bit better even though he’s definitely the one here who’s being stupid, not Eijirou. But hearing his best friend’s voice does make him feel better, more in control—or at least like now he has a lifeline instead of just drowning in dark water far out to sea.

He talks. He tells Eijirou everything, starting from when they were offered the undercover operation and he proposed the friends-with-benefits arrangement with Izuku, on through the part where they’ve been pretending to be married and sleeping together every night, all the way through the stealth op, the date, the retreat, and their vacation today. It all comes tumbling out, the words falling from his mouth like stones that have been stopped up inside him for too long. By the time he’s done talking, he can barely get words out past the urge to start crying, of all fucking things.

“Damn, dude,” says Eijirou, when Katsuki’s finally done. “That’s pretty heavy shit. And you still haven’t told him how you feel?”

Katsuki takes a ragged breath. “No shit, Sherlock,” he says. “That’s the fuckin’ problem, isn’t it?”

“Are you afraid he’s gonna be pissed at you or something?” asks Eijirou. “You’ve been working with him for over two years, you gotta know by know that Midoriya’s not like that. He’d never make fun of you for something like this.”

“I’m not scared he’s gonna make up a silly rhyme about me, I’m scared he doesn’t feel the same,” Katsuki snaps. His voice cracks a little as the words come out, and he grips the porch railing hard enough that it cracks under his hand. Fuck, that’s gonna… well fuck it, that’s what security deposits are for.

“Uh, it sounds like he’s into you, dude,” says Eijirou. That fucking asshole, he sounds like he’s smiling. Katsuki wants to reach through the phone and throttle Eijirou, but that impulse is aborted as Eijirou adds, “I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be all up on you like this during your time off if he wasn’t feeling the same way. Midoriya’s always kind of had a thing for you, I think.”

Katsuki’s stomach tries to knot itself into a pretzel. Despite what Eijirou just said, it isn’t the soft looks Izuku’s given him lately that he’s remembering. It’s that first interaction when they got the job at Synergy, two years and some change ago now.

“Believe me, you little shit, you are the last person I would want to be partnered with—”

Izuku’s 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!”

Katsuki swallows. “I just don’t know,” he says heavily. “I was so shitty to him for so long, man. He hated the idea of being partners with me when we were assigned to each other, he even called All Might to vent. And I just, if he’s into me, why hasn’t he said anything? He’s like you, he’s always been better at this shit than I have.”

“I mean, you guys are on an imbedded op,” Eijirou points out. He sounds extremely reasonable, more patient than Katsuki thinks he probably would be in Eijirou’s shoes. “I’m sure he’s nervous for the same reasons you are, not wanting to mess up your partnership or blow your cover.”

Katsuki is silent. Eijirou’s… not wrong, probably. He bites his lower lip, chewing on it distractedly. “He got a new job offer,” he says, because if he’s gonna be an insecure fuckface he’s gonna get it all out of his system so Izuku doesn’t have to see. “He’s gonna get offered a better position and realize he doesn’t have to put up with my bullshit anymore.”

“Holy crap, Katsuki,” says Eijirou. “This is not like you at all. You really need to talk to him. I think you’re freaking yourself out.”

“Easy for you to say,” Katsuki mutters. “I just…” He takes a deep breath, trying to find the right words to express this, but Eijirou beats him to it.

“You’re really serious about him, aren’t you.” Eijirou’s voice is soft, instead of being a mocking dickbag like Katsuki deserves.

Katsuki swallows hard. “Yeah,” he says after a moment. He stares up at the moon overhead, almost full now and bright in the night sky.

“Then you gotta make sure he knows that,” says Eijirou. “You wanna be with him, right? Stay his Hero partner too? He’s not gonna know unless you make it clear. Remind him why being with you is the best thing that’s ever happened to him.”

Katsuki’s silent. I’ve been trying, he wants to say, thinking of the dozens of things he’s found himself doing, hoping Izuku would notice how much effort he’s putting in. Not that it feels like effort; it’s felt like only what he wants to do anyway—to work hard and be there for Izuku, to take care of him.

But maybe Eijirou’s right. If Izuku’s going to be thinking about what it would be like to have someone else as a Hero partner, it’s Katsuki’s job to make it clear how good his current thing is. “Yeah,” he says belatedly, realizing he’s been standing silent on the line like some kind of idiot. “You’re right.”

“You gotta go after Izuku like you do your career, man,” says Eijirou. His voice is encouraging; Katsuki can picture the look on his face so perfectly, that bright-eyed look he has. “Sweep him off his feet!”

“I’m workin’ on it,” says Katsuki, and grins despite himself. “Hey, I should get back inside before Izuku wakes up and wonders what pier I walked off, but thanks for listening.”

“Of course, dude,” Eijirou says. “Anytime. I’m serious though. Promise me you’ll let him know how you feel.”

Katsuki takes a deep breath. “Yeah,” he says. “I’m gonna have to, aren’t I.”

They say their good-byes and get off the phone, but Katsuki doesn’t go inside right away. He stays out on the porch, staring out at the moon reflecting off the water as he thinks.

By the time he goes inside, it’s almost midnight. They have to get up early tomorrow to drive back to the Pines—Izuku will be going into work after lunch, while Katsuki does most of the unpacking—but Katsuki doesn’t mind the lack of sleep. The conversation with Eijirou has lightened his heart and helped clear his mind.

He has an idea. Now he just needs to make it happen.

Chapter Text

Izuku is walking on air.

It’s not right to be this happy, he thinks. Not when they’re still in the middle of an undercover mission, with their lives in danger every day. Not when his closest friends came to such terrible harm so recently—though at least he can be grateful that Iida and Uraraka sound like they’re on the mend, thanks to the hard work of Eidolon and Ascension. Calla has been kind enough to keep him apprised, giving him regular updates on his friends’ status through the VPN.

But all of that aside, Izuku feels reborn. And it’s all because of how things felt like they changed between him and Katsuki after the retreat and their mini-vacation.

They still haven’t talked about it, but Izuku swears he can feel a difference. Katsuki’s gone from uncomfortable with PDA to downright needy, attached to Izuku at the hip every time they’re in the same room together. And it’s not as if the past few months haven’t been full of deepening attraction between the two of them, but more and more, Izuku is certain that his feelings are reciprocated.

He would have to have been blind to miss Katsuki acting like a love-sick puppy while they were at the beach. Izuku’s insecurity runs deep, but even he couldn’t ignore the clinginess, the hand-holding, the way Katsuki’s mood would plummet every time Izuku mentioned looking at their Hero job offers. It’s enough to warm Izuku all the way to his bones, to stave off his increasingly desperate need to confront Katsuki with his own feelings.

Which is good, because as soon as they got back to the Pines, Izuku and Katsuki find themselves with their hands full.

Perhaps sensing that their opportunity for making money off the oblivious and wealthy will soon vanish, the Lazlows descend on Izuku and Katsuki like vultures, hell-bent on “helping” them prepare for their “confirmation ceremony.” They’re all too happy to suggest everything from the guest list (“You want to make sure only people who will contribute positive energy to your ceremony are in attendance!” gushes Bethany over homemade banana bread) to the decorators, photographer, and caterers (their friend Jeremiah, he of the expensive restaurant they went to on their date, will of course be the primary caterer—why is Izuku not surprised) to the venue itself.

The place they suggest is an old Gold Rush inn, way out in the badlands near one of the national parks. It’s in a dead zone for their cell reception, which Izuku doesn’t love (and Katsuki loves even less), but the place itself is actually quite charming and appealing. It’s a mid-1800s three-story building that’s been lovingly restored to now function as a resort, complete with two stories of guest rooms, an indoor hot tub, a huge ballroom, a party room with a wrap-around bar and frosted windows behind the counter, and a horse barn. The front of the inn has a killer view, as well: it looks up the throat of a long canyon into the badlands, radiant blue sky above desert-red rock.

Izuku stands in the middle of the ballroom, listening to Bethany Lazlow describe how it can be redecorated for their ceremony, and he can almost feel how magical it’ll be to walk down the aisle, to stand in front of the altar and meet Katsuki’s eyes—to say out loud in front of a room full of people that he wants to spend the rest of his life with this man.

“Izuku?”

Izuku startles, turning around with a grin. “S-Sorry,” he stammers. “I was just, uh, I was—”

“You were picturing it, weren’t you,” says Bethany. She’s smiling at him. Izuku wants to be mad at her, scared of her, and finds that at this exact moment, he can’t.

“Izuku, did you forget your fuckin’ brain at home today?” Katsuki appears at the doorway, and though his words are harsh, his voice is warm. Izuku meets his eyes across the room and sees the moment when his lover softens. It sends Izuku’s heart soaring into the rafters.

Once they’re alone in the car, Katsuki reminds him that this is still somewhat dangerous for them, but even he sounds less gruff that he usually does. Izuku glances across the drink well at his partner, trying and failing to hide another smile.

“It’s kind of a shame the Lazlows are such monsters,” Izuku says. “They make really excellent wedding planners.”

“Yeah, well, I heard Overhaul loved dogs and tipped well, so why not let the guy off easy,” Katsuki says. Izuku snorts. “Seriously, Izuku, get it together. Don’t be taken in by them.”

“I’m not,” Izuku says indignantly. “Did you think I forgot about them selling people into slavery? I just…” He takes a deep breath, directing his eyes forward out the front window. “I’m just really excited to do this with you,” he says, softer.

Katsuki doesn’t answer. Izuku gets nervous after a moment and sneaks a glance across the car again, only to find himself on the receiving end of one of the softest looks he’s ever seen in his entire life. Izuku’s insides turn to mush, his heart aching at witnessing that look in Katsuki’s eyes. “I am too,” Katsuki says quietly.

Izuku opens his mouth to say something, but the car behind them honks, and Katsuki puts the car in gear as they head into traffic again.

Calla doesn’t trust the Lazlows any further than she can throw them, naturally. She not only assigns incognito backup, but she works on getting other, more familiar faces at their wedding—namely, Yaoyorozu and Todoroki. That fact alone puts Izuku much at ease.

Predictably, Katsuki is a little less thrilled.

“Of course fucking Half-and-half is gonna be at our wedding,” Katsuki says sourly as they’re going over the pile of pamphlets and suggested guest lists one Sunday afternoon. “I’d rather set myself on fire.”

“If it was really our wedding, he’d be my best man,” says Izuku absently. “Him or Iida.”

“Yeah, I know, you have goddamn terrible taste in people,” says Katsuki. Izuku glances over at him to find Katsuki watching him with a small, lopsided smile.

“Guess I must,” Izuku says, unable to resist. “I’m with you, after all.”

Katsuki rolls his eyes, but it’s off-set by the way his smile grows wider, taking up his whole face. “Yeah,” he says, voice soft. “What’s up with that.”

Izuku’s heart soars. He answers by way of crawling into Katsuki’s lap, and they don’t do much talking after that for awhile.

There’s about a month in between the Starfinders Retreat Izuku and Katsuki went on and the date of their “confirmation ceremony.” It’s not nearly long enough for anything resembling real wedding planning—at least, not according to this particular social class—but as Marcus Lazlow oh-so-reasonably points out, they’re already married.

“This is a celebration of your love with your community who supports that love,” he says. “So you should let your community help you bear the weight of planning for it. You already had to wait long enough to validate your relationship, we don’t want you to have to wait any longer than necessary.”

“Thanks,” Katsuki says, before Izuku can come up with an appropriate response. “You guys have been such a huge help to us. We really appreciate it.”

“I’m so glad that your path lead you to us,” says Marcus Lazlow, and smiles. Immediately, the by-now familiar sensation of warmth, acceptance, and validation sweeps over Izuku. He shivers and leans into Katsuki, letting Katsuki wrap an arm around his waist as the inexorable pull of Marcus Lazlow’s Quirk rolls over them like an ocean wave and drowns them deep.

They have a bit of practice recognizing when the Lazlows are using their Quirks on them, by now. That doesn’t mean it’s any easier for either of them to resist in the moment, but at least it helps them shake it off after the fact. (They still don’t know exactly what the extent of the Lazlow’s Quirks are, either; Bethany’s is clearly tied to her baking, while Marcus doesn’t seem to need any sort of in, he can just… change the way they feel. Both are terrifyingly strong.)

Izuku is way too excited for the ceremony, honestly. He gets very into picking out what suits to wear, what color their ties will be, the flavor of the damn cake—all of it. “Man, it’s a good thing Synergy has deep pockets,” Katsuki mutters, as they go through the umpteenth catalog they brought home from the catering company.

“Those deep pockets are the whole reason the Lazlows are working so hard on this ceremony with us,” says Izuku. His eyes are on the catalog before him and the different suit cuts displayed there. He jumps a little as warm arms wind around him, hauling him into Katsuki’s lap. Izuku turns his head to say something but Katsuki is already kissing along his jaw.

“Don’t forget we’re trying to take these people down,” he murmurs in Izuku’s ear. “As much as I’m looking forward to putting a ring on it in front of a bunch of New Age weirdos.”

Izuku laughs, twisting around and wrapping his arms around Katsuki’s neck in kind. “Some of those weirdos are kind of nice,” he says. “Deb is sweet.”

Essential Oils Deborah has gone above and beyond what’s called for as far as well-wishing for their ceremony. She’s come by with catalogs and fabric swatches, she’s offered to make handmade ornaments for their ceremony, she’s going to be one of the people who arrives early to set up decorations—she’s even baked them dinner a few times, brushing off their thanks with “You have so much on your plates right now, it’s nice to not have to worry about what to eat!”

It’s a little overboard, honestly, but Izuku finds he doesn’t mind. Even Katsuki has developed a grudging fondness for her by now. Izuku thinks that if they were going to keep living here for any amount of time, they might wind up as real friends.

Not everything about the confirmation ceremony is pleasant, though. About two weeks before the ceremony, Izuku finally gets a look at the full guest-list, and comes very close to breaking character when he sees that Theresa Rhodes is one of the names there.

“Uh… I see you’re inviting Mrs. Rhodes,” Izuku says, in a voice as normal as he can manage when he’s trying not to throw a table through a window.

“She’s had such a terrible time lately, we want her to be involved in something more positive,” says Bethany. She beams from where she’s sitting across the table from Izuku and picks up another muffin. “Don’t worry, she’s leaving the triplets with a family friend. I know you don’t want kids at the ceremony.”

“That’s… great,” says Izuku weakly.

That particular incident brings the bloom off the rose a bit; Izuku can’t help but worry they want her there for more sinister reasons. But what other choice do they have? It’s either go through with their plans or extract now and lose all potential of pinning the Lazlows for the vindictive, manipulative monsters they are. Izuku talks it over with Katsuki for a long time that night, but neither of them can come up with a compelling reason to keep Theresa Rhodes away from a ceremony that is ostensibly going to be safe and positive.

But of course it isn’t just the confirmation ceremony they’re preparing for—their surveillance on the cult is yielding more results, too. Todoroki and Yaoyorozu have been tracking sales of illegal weapons and arms, and have pinpointed a likely upcoming delivery date. They’ve confirmed at least one cult member is likely to be involved in the actual deal, as well: Jennifer Reisman, aka Deadlight, the yoga teacher with the history of being a paid-for merc. The deal is scheduled for the night before their ceremony, naturally; the four of them discuss it and ultimately they decide that Katsuki and Izuku will run surveillance and be on call as back-up, while Todoroki and Yaoyorozu run the actual sting.

Izuku has his reservations about this, of course; Todoroki has one of the most recognizable Quirks in the Hero world. But Todoroki is adamant about wanting to complete this portion of the operation himself, and Izuku can’t blame him, since they were the ones who did most of the footwork leading to this particular bust.

Katsuki surprises him by agreeing with Todoroki. “It’s their work, they should get the credit for the bust,” he says. “Besides, that leaves us free to nail Dog Face and Horse Laugh at the ceremony.”

Izuku is startled into a laugh. “Please don’t call them that at the ceremony,” he says.

Katsuki grins at him, wolfish. “Okay, fine,” he says. “But all bets are off at the reception.”

Despite all the stress and the narrowing window of opportunity, Izuku wakes up happy every day. The work is difficult, but the company isn’t, and Izuku doesn’t think he’s ever been happier.

Everything is amazing, until it isn’t.

Izuku comes home early from “work” one day. He keeps forgetting that normal people have things like holidays off and half-days for meetings or supervisory stuff, and he’s excited to get to surprise Katsuki with a pint of ice cream—hopefully to share outside by the pool before going for a swim. It’s in the 90s out, so Izuku is in sandals. He slips them off as soon as he gets in the front door, setting his work bag down on the table in the front hall and heading upstairs to find his husband, ice cream still in the plastic bag from the store.

He hears Katsuki’s voice floating out of the bedroom door down the hall to him; it sounds like he’s talking to someone. Probably on the phone, Izuku thinks. He walks a little more quietly, not wanting to interrupt, and in the moment between stepping onto the landing at the top of the stairs and turning to walk down the hall, he hears a snatch of Katsuki’s conversation.

“…benefits? What kind of pay would the position have?”

Izuku freezes. One hand is on the bannister, the other has the bag with the pint of Katsuki’s ice cream in it. It’s Katsuki’s favorite flavor, Moose Tracks. His brain short-circuits for a few seconds as he tries to process.

“Right, okay. I’d want at least five grand more a year above that if you want to be competitive. You know you guys aren’t the only job offer I’ve had.”

Something hurts in his chest. Someone is driving a shard of ice right between his ribs, the tip digging into his heart, sharper and deeper with every passing moment. Izuku tries to take a breath and finds that his throat is closed; his lungs won’t fill. There’s a faint crack as his hand on the bannister tightens.

“And do you know who I’d be working with? No? What kind of half-assed offer is this? You know I’m not willing to work with just anyone.”

Izuku swallows hard. There’s a thick knot in his throat, a lump of something lodged there that until very recently were the words he was going to say to Katsuki as soon as he walked into the room. They’re charred, black things now, melted together into something unrecognizable and useless. Izuku turns around, walking down the stairs with slow, exaggerated steps, taking extreme care not to tread on the step that creaks every time you put a foot on it.

He stepped right on it coming up the stairs, Izuku thinks distractedly. He doesn’t know how Katsuki didn’t hear him coming up the stairs—then again, he seems sufficiently absorbed by the conversation he’s having to not think about anything else at all.

By the time Katsuki comes downstairs, Izuku is long gone. The pint of ice cream is melting in the trash can, unopened. Izuku gets a few texts from his husband, but he only sends one by way of answer: Sorry, big project, I have to work late.

That sucks ass, comes the immediate response. I’ll make dinner.

Izuku can feel something in his jaw pop and realizes that he’s grinding his teeth. He stares at the phone for a few long moments, contemplating the new and sudden urge to hurl it through the window of the cafe he’s sitting in.

Don’t bother, he sends back. I don’t know when I’ll be home. Don’t wait up.

He doesn’t wait to see what the response is, just turns off his phone and shoves it in his pocket. He stays another twenty minutes in the cafe, fidgeting unseeing with his turned-off phone as he mechanically finishes drinking his iced coffee. Finally, he gets up and heads out, walking quickly as he makes for the bike path that runs along the street near this cafe.

When the green-haired customer is gone, the cafe workers will discover that both chair he sat in and the table he was at have visible indents in them, both in the shape of a man’s hand. The metal of the table is twisted and folded, looking almost like putty being worked in someone’s fingers instead of the wrought iron it’s made of.

Izuku doesn’t come home till past midnight. Katsuki has long since gone to bed, but there’s no rest in Izuku’s body. He sits on the couch until almost 2 am before he forces himself to go upstairs, to get undressed and crawl into bed next to Katsuki.

He leaves a foot of space between them and stares at the wall. Behind him, Katsuki’s breathing is slow and even; as always, he radiates heat into the bed around him, fighting with the air conditioning for dominance.

Normally, Izuku would find that heat reassuring, even comforting. Even when Katsuki makes him sweat through his t-shirt and the sheets, Izuku likes to sleep snuggled up against him. Tonight, he lies as far as possible on the other side of the bed from that heat, and it still manages to burn him.

It takes a long, long time for Izuku to fall asleep.

* * * * *

The next eight days are a new, exquisite form of torture.

Mornings are the worst. It’s like his stupid brain refuses to accept what he heard, refuses to keep hold of the idea that Katsuki Bakugou—his oldest friend, his one-time rival, his partner of over two years, the love of his fucking life—is planning to leave him. Every morning he wakes up having glued himself to Katsuki’s side in the night, tangled in and around him like the lovers they’ve been pretending to be this whole time. And every morning the memory of that conversation is waiting in ambush, ready to hit him over the head with fresh anguish.

Every single fucking time, there’s one specific moment when the realization comes rushing back. More than once, Izuku is nuzzling sleepily into Katsuki’s arms, even kissing him when the recollection hits and turns his blood to ice. He breaks down crying the second day despite himself, and has to make up some garbage on the spot about a work-related nightmare with Katsuki hovering over him like a worried thunderstorm.

That’s the most frustrating part: Katsuki seems no different at all. Either the idea of leaving Izuku for another partner doesn’t make him feel even the tiniest bit guilty, or he’s the best fucking actor in the world. He follows Izuku to the bathroom while they’re trying to get ready in the morning, trying to coax him back to bed for a quickie, trying to pin him in the doorway with a kiss. Izuku has to dodge, to redirect, try to act like everything is fine and normal. He can’t bare himself to Katsuki like this, can’t let Katsuki pull him open to see what’s inside. Not this close to being done with the mission; Izuku would never be able to go back to pretending after a fight the size of the one waiting for him.

But it’s so hard.

It’s the breach of trust that hurts the worst—the fact that Katsuki’s gone behind his back about this. Izuku could handle it if Katsuki wanted to pursue career options elsewhere; he’d be sad—okay, he’d be crushed, but he could still deal with it.

Katsuki’s always been ambitious; he’s made no bones about wanting to be the top Hero, and if he feels like working alongside Izuku isn’t the best way to accomplish that, well… that hurts something terrible, but Izuku would support him. They could sit down and compare their options, decide what’s the best, as a team, and Izuku would be okay with it. Especially if they kept this new thing between them—they could be lovers without having to be work partners. There are options, is the thing, and Izuku has always been adaptable.

But for Katsuki to say ‘let’s hold off on looking at this’ and then turn around and start pursuing it behind Izuku’s back… it makes Izuku wonder if any of this was real at all. Has all of this—the sex, the intimacy, the warmth and affection—was it all just for their cover story, after all? Has Izuku really just been a stepping stone for Katsuki this whole time, a pit stop on the way to something more important? Izuku doesn’t know. He wants to believe that Katsuki wouldn’t treat him so shabbily, but that overheard phone call haunts him, calls up all his worst fears about himself, his childhood ghosts of inadequacy and failure.

Has he failed somehow? Not appreciated Katsuki enough? Not worked hard enough for their success? Been too needy, imagined feelings where there were none? Maybe Katsuki’s tired of this charade and can’t wait to be done with the whole thing, back in his own apartment and not having to tend to Izuku every day and night. He doesn’t know. He doesn’t fucking know.

With Katsuki at his side, Izuku felt like he could do anything. Now, he can barely get through the day.

It’s all he can do not to collapse against Katsuki like a marionette with all his strings cut. Izuku wants to get on his knees and beg Katsuki to stay—wants to scream, throw things, sob and break apart and ask why. But he can’t. Now, more than ever, their undercover mission is in danger, their window of opportunity to pin the Bright Path members for the criminals they are starting to close.

The cult is getting suspicious, shutting down some of their operations; if they don’t move soon, there’s a good chance the core cult members will simply disappear before they can be arrested. Already they’ve heard from Calla about two cult-run businesses that were under surveillance closing down before enough info was collected on them to prove any wrongdoing. That makes the “confirmation ceremony” Izuku and Katsuki are planning to have all the more important—as well as the receipts and booking information they are sending along to Calla, feeding as much data about the cult members to the authorities as they can. So busy are they preparing for the ceremony and zeroing in on the Bright Path that they have almost no time for anything else.

Then, the day before aforementioned ceremony, things get worse: they suddenly find themselves planning to go into the field on a mission.

Todoroki and Yaoyorozu got made, somehow. No one seems to know what tipped off the cult, but only the sheer strength of Todoroki’s Quirk enabled them to get away when black-clad people armed with guns and Hero tape and gas bombs showed up at their house in the middle of the night. The whole neighborhood is chattering the next day with the rumors of the huge sheet of ice that erupted in the middle of the Pines around three am, and the fact that the Hasegawa’s house looked like it had been split open by some incredible force.

“Going after the arms dealers isn’t safe,” Katsuki says flatly. “They’re suspicious that they’re being watched, they’re going to be even more heavily guarded.”

They’re discussing it on an emergency video call with Calla at 2 pm the day after Todoroki and Yaoyorozu fled the area. They’re supposed to be preparing for their ceremony, putting on the finishing touches on things. Never in his life did Izuku think he’d be grateful for something going wrong with work, but he can’t help but be glad to have something other than his aching heart to focus on.

“So far it doesn’t seem as if they’re changing the night of the delivery,” Calla says. Her face is as steely as her words. “They might think they’ve rooted out the moles. If you can successfully thwart their operation, we should have enough dirt on the cult to arrest every single member. It’s an opportunity we can’t afford to miss. You might not even have to go to that ceremony the next day.”

“Well that’d be a relief,” says Izuku, before he can stop his reaction. Next to him, Katsuki stills; out of the corner of his eyes, Izuku can see Katsuki watching him with a wounded expression. It’s only there for a moment, because Calla starts talking, but Izuku can’t help the little stab of satisfaction it brings him.

Like you have room to talk, he thinks viciously. “But Katsuki’s right, we have to be careful or we could wind up as bad as Iida and Uraraka. What about the Lazlows? Would you have enough to keep them?”

Calla hesitates for just a moment. Beside him, Katsuki growls. “How do we still not have anything concrete on these assholes?”

“Proving that they’ve been coercing people has been extremely difficult,” says Calla reluctantly. “We’ve brought in multiple cult members who’ve signed over large portions of their estates or inheritances to the Lazlows, and all of them have been adamant that they did so under their own willpower with no coercion whatsoever.”

“Yeah, that’s the thing about their brainwashing,” says Izuku. “It doesn’t feel forced. It feels like it was your own idea.” He rubs a hand over his face, feeling sick to his stomach for a whole host of reasons.

“So we need something more,” says Katsuki. “We need concrete proof.”

“I still don’t like the idea of you two being at such a remote location,” says Calla, frowning. “I’m sending backup, but we still don’t have any concrete way to block or resist the Lazlow’s Quirks.”

“That was the whole point of this operation, that we have to be able to do this ourselves,” Izuku says. “You told us up front that no one would be coming to help us. If we can’t pin them with the weapons delivery, we have to go through with the ceremony.”

Katsuki is frowning harder now, hard enough that Izuku can hear it in his voice: straight past surly and into irritated. “Ugh,” he says. “This whole thing stinks. Izuku’s right, we have to go to the ceremony, but I don’t trust it.”

“You shouldn’t,” says Calla grimly. She sighs. “Alright. Get going, you have a lot of prep work to do before tonight and tomorrow. Rescue, your Quirk is more flexible and subtle, you’re going into the field. Ground Zero, you’re going to be his backup on the monitors; I want you to position yourself close enough to be able to lend physical aid if need be.”

Katsuki’s scowl, already present, now intensifies. “Can’t be that close,” he says. “Someone from the Bright Path is supposed to stop by tonight with some last-minute things for the ceremony, and to check in on us. One of us has to be here to meet them at the door.”

“Even better,” says Calla, sounding as disgusted as Katsuki looks. She shakes her head a little. “Well, it’ll have to do.”

“Got it,” says Izuku.

“Right,” says Katsuki. He sounds even pissier now than he did. Izuku can’t blame him; he knows how much Katsuki hates being kept home from the field. Then he remembers he’s angry with Katsuki right now, and suffers a little throb of exhausted unhappiness.

“Good luck, and don’t get caught,” says Calla, and signs out.

The next five hours are very hectic.

Izuku and Katsuki have to race around finishing getting all of their things packed and ready; they’ll be meeting Bethany Lazlow outside her bakeshop tomorrow morning with all their things, and she’s going to be the one to whisk them away to the venue, arriving early enough for plenty of time to get ready. That takes a good hour and a half; the other three and a half are spent frantically getting their field and monitoring equipment ready and figuring out the best way for Katsuki to surveil Izuku.

By the time they finally get going, Katsuki’s mood is predictably foul, something Izuku only notices because of the muttered curses he catches every now and then. Izuku’s own frame of mind has narrowed to just getting through the next twenty-four hours, so while he would normally be keenly attuned to his partner’s mood, right now he barely registers anything.

The operation is set to take place after dark, in the warehouse and industrial district on the shadier side of town. Izuku will be wearing the same stealth outfit he did to the operation they completed with Uraraka and Iida. That being said, Izuku can’t help but be mindful of the fact that despite taking every fucking precaution, his friends still got made during the last operation—and just as Katsuki said, the cult will be on even higher alert now than they were before.

Katsuki is viciously unhappy about staying home. Even with how low and uncharitable he’s feeling towards his partner currently, Izuku can’t blame him. Neither of them have ever enjoyed staying behind when danger rears its head, and whatever else is going on between them right now, Izuku would expect nothing less of him.

Finally, finally, Izuku is in place: atop another rooftop opposite the warehouse in question, covered by his own stealth outfit, the height of the building, and the large, shady tree that partially obscures his position. The warehouse appears empty, but the three camera views Katsuki’s able to get on his laptop from CCTV cameras in the vicinity show more hoodie-clad men in the area than is all that likely on a June day. The police are only a phone-call away, thanks once again to Calla’s connection with the local PD. Izuku thinks their threshold for calling for police backup is much lower than it was, but they can’t call until they’ve apprehended the culprits in the middle of the delivery.

Now all there is to do is wait.

No longer distracted by ridiculous amounts of preparation and left with nothing to do but ponder his own black thoughts while he waits, Izuku’s mood starts to spiral. He finds himself thinking about every single Hero operation he’s done with Katsuki since they became partners: all the long stakeouts, all the rescue operations, all the slug-fests against overpowered thugs. As his heart sinks lower and lower in his chest, he can’t help but note that it seems appropriate that on this, one of their last Hero operations together, Katsuki isn’t even really out in the field with him.

Izuku is alone.

He swallows. That lump in his throat is back, the charred remnants of everything he’d hoped to say or ask of Katsuki stubbornly refusing to subside. Once upon a time he’d dreamed of being the top Hero, a Hero like All Might: standing tall against evil, a symbol of peace. Now the idea of being up on that pedestal by himself seems desolate, too lonely to tolerate.

It isn’t fair that Katsuki should have worked himself back into Izuku’s heart the way he has these past two years, just to turn around and walk away again as though it doesn’t even matter.

Static crackles in his ears. Izuku winces and reaches up to adjust his ear piece, only to realize it’s not on his end. “Ground Zero, you’ve got some static on your end,” he says in a low voice.

There’s another crackle, louder, and then the noise subsides. “Sorry,” comes Katsuki’s grunted response.

Izuku can hear the crackling again, fainter this time. “What’s going on over there?” he asks. “Tech on the fritz?”

“No, it’s just my fucking Quirk,” Katsuki says. He sounds disgusted. Abruptly Izuku realizes what’s happening: Katsuki is shooting sparks from his hands. It’s something he does when he’s angry or agitated and having trouble keeping hold of himself. But he hasn’t done it in over a year, not since relatively early on in their career as partners. They’ve made a lot of progress since then, in so many ways.

The realization jars something loose in Izuku, something dangerous. He swallows hard against the ice shard as it tries to work its way up into his heart, his throat. “Get it together,” he mutters. It’s meant for himself, but Katsuki responds to it anyway.

“I know, fuck, sorry,” he says irritably. His voice is scratchy against Izuku’s skin; despite himself and the inappropriateness of the situation, Izuku can’t help but be attracted to the sound of it. “I just fucking hate this. I should be out in the field with you, not sitting here on my ass.”

Izuku stills. Don’t respond, don’t respond, don’t respond— “That’s rich, coming from you,” he says out loud. His voice is shaky in his own ears.

“…What? Dude, what the fuck does that mean?”

“You tell me,” Izuku says. He grips the tops of his thighs hard with both hands, trying to stifle the trembling that’s taken ahold of him. Fuck, fuck, now is not the time for this conversation.

“No, what the fuck, you asshole,” Katsuki says. Anger’s making his voice harsh, sharp like a knife. “You’ve been weird and distant all week and you wouldn’t talk to me, but now, now’s when you’re gonna get shitty? What the hell is wrong with you, Deku?”

“What’s wrong with me?” Izuku’s voice breaks. He barks out a harsh laugh, shoving his arm against his mouth to stifle it. He glances around, trying to see if any of the guards have spotted him from his noises. Nothing. He sucks in another ragged breath and continues, “I’m just trying to get through our fucking mission, that’s what’s wrong. But you decided you couldn’t wait, could you?”

stop stop stop stop stop you can’t have this conversation now you can’t have this conversation yet what are you doing

“What the fuck are you talking about?” Katsuki demands. “Izuku. What is going on?”

“I don’t know, okay?” Izuku fires back. “I thought we were a team, I thought I could trust you, we said we wouldn’t do anything till after the mission and then I turn around and y-you’re already halfway out the fucking door—”

What? What the hell are you talking about? Since when am I leaving?”

“Don’t fucking lie to me!” Izuku hisses. He crouches lower, pressing his spine against the cold stone. Tears prick at the corners of his eyes despite himself. The tendency to break down and cry when he’s mad or scared has never left him, and it seems that now is just going to be more of the same. Perfect fucking timing, as usual.

“One, you are out of your goddamn mind if you think I would leave you, and I’m gonna fucking throttle you for suggesting it when you get back,” Katsuki hisses back. “Two, now is not the fucking time. Can we have this conversation when you’re not in the field?”

That stings. “Says the man who couldn’t wait till we were done with our embedded operation to start returning calls for a new job!” Izuku snaps. His voice is too loud in the stillness, and it carries over the space to where the guard has just gone inside the truck. Izuku freezes, watching to see if his outcry will bring anyone out to investigate. The tears on his cheeks feel like they’re burning him where they’re drying.

Katsuki does not wait. The heat in his voice scalds Izuku’s ears. “You motherfucking stupid asshole,” he hisses. “That wasn’t—I guess you heard me making a call, but it isn’t what it sounds like, okay, it was gonna be a surprise—”

“Great surprise,” Izuku snaps. “Save your shitty explanations for later, I can see a truck pulling up.”

“Two trucks,” snaps Katsuki. He sounds furious. Good, thinks Izuku viciously. “One’s pulling around in front of you, the other’s on the north side of the building. The north truck’s parking, people are unloading equipment.” There’s a pause on Katsuki’s end, and meanwhile Izuku creeps closer, trying to get a better bead on the truck he’s closest to, but his vantage point is half-blocked by tree branches.

Katsuki curses in Izuku’s ear. “You have to get out of there,” he says. “There’s a third truck pulling up, and there’s already more than a dozen men between the first two trucks. You don’t have enough backup.”

“Maybe I would if my partner actually had my back,” Izuku says, before he can stop himself. The words tumble out of his mouth, forced out by his speeding pulse and the nausea lurking in the back of his throat. “Guess I need to get used to coping without you, why not start now?”

“Holy shit, you are fucking unbelievable,” Katsuki snaps. “After everything we’ve been through, you really think I’d do you dirty like that? You actually think I would stoop that low?”

“What the fuck am I supposed to think?” Izuku is talking in a harsh whisper now, rough enough that it hurts his throat. He creeps along the ledge until he can peek past the trees, his Shroud keeping him wrapped in shadows just thirty feet from his targets. He covers his mouth with his hand to keep the conversation from carrying as he hisses, “You told me we’d wait till after we were finished with this op and then I hear you calling recruiters, asking about benefits and pay? You’re that ready to be done with me?”

“Guard on your six,” Katsuki snaps. Izuku turns and sees the approaching guard. He hasn’t spotted Izuku yet. Izuku takes three steps, ducks silent as a reaper behind the pile of debris on the roof, and tackles the guard hard to the ground. The man is unconscious in less than three seconds, bound and gagged in Hero tape. Izuku relieves him of his radio and then circles back to his previous position.

“You have to get out of there, Deku,” says Katsuki, once Izuku’s done. “There’s way more guards than we thought there would be, it’s not safe.”

“Noted,” says Izuku, and turns off his comms unit.

It’s the stupidest thing he’s done in three years. But he can’t concentrate with Katsuki in his ear, drawing his attention from Hero work, telling him what he should or shouldn’t be doing after betraying him so grievously. Izuku knows he has maybe ten, fifteen minutes at most before Katsuki gives up the pretense of being at home for the cult and comes tearing across town full-blast, ready to tear Izuku a new one for jeopardizing their mission and/or destroy every single enemy in his path.

That just means Izuku has to be fast, and good.

He jumps light as a feather from the roof to the top of the truck directly in front of the building he’s on, flattening himself against it and listening. No response. He waits a beat, then drops to the street on the side of the truck facing away from the warehouse and falls on three men in rapid succession—each one drops like a sack of bricks, clattering too loud against the pavement.

Shouts and yells come from the other side of the truck. Izuku is already moving, using his Quirk to hurl himself at top speed along the pavement at knee-level, below the aim of all the guns just brought to bear against him. He tears through the next four men like a bowling ball through pins, popping upright at the last second to land a right hook hard in the face of the last black-clad man trying desperately to aim a gun at him.

The man—stocky, tall, built like a brick shithouse—crumples to the ground, but Izuku’s already moving. Hero-tape spits from the attachment on his arm, engulfing each of the dazed men and women on the ground. Normally, Izuku would stop, check to make sure the tape isn’t too tight and that everyone is securely bound, but right now he doesn’t have time.

Instead of dashing around the corner, he vaults up to the top of the warehouse they’ve been surveilling and sprints light-footed across its roof. He doesn’t break stride as he reaches the edge, launching himself into open space and dropping onto the half-dozen armed guards on the opposite side like the fist of a vengeful god. Izuku lands hard, slamming both fists against the ground, a shock-wave erupting outwards from the impact site. The six guards go flying, yells of surprise filling the air, before cutting off as gravity reasserts itself and bodies hit pavement. Izuku can feel energy crackling along his body as he moves at Quirk-speeds from foe to fallen foe, binding each one in turn before sprinting for the edge of the building.

Two trucks down, one to go. But the third set of guards have heard the noise he’s made taking down the first two sets, and a couple are rushing around the corner at him—one has an electricity weapon in his hands, energy flashing like lassoed lightning. Bullets spit from the gun of the other guard, not even bothering to wait as he brings his weapon to bear. Izuku ducks just a lick too slow, and a bullet grazes his shoulder, slicing open his suit. He snarls and hurls himself forward, heedless of the two new weapons coming around the corner.

He’s using his Quirk more than he should, but at this exact moment Izuku doesn’t give a fuck. All his pent-up frustration is flaring up and making him reckless: his rage at what happened to his friends, his fury at the cult for the things they’ve done to so many innocent people—and yes, his fresh hurt at Katsuki betraying him, all of it mixing together into a terrible high. It burns through his veins like fire, like poison, destructive as it is powerful.

Just for a moment, it feels like it did before he knew how to control One For All—like the sheer strength being channeled through him will char him to ashes.

But he’s not a trembling fifteen-year-old anymore. He’s a full-grown professional Hero. Izuku throws a half-powered Smash directly in the faces of the guards charging around the corner of the warehouse at him, power snapping through the air like an unleashed hurricane. The guards go flying, screaming as they hit cars and buildings—one flies far enough to go sailing into the reservoir ditch that runs alongside the warehouse district.

Too hard, way too hard. Shit. Izuku grits his teeth, recovering just enough to be a little horrified at himself. He goes from guard to guard, binding each of them in turn and dragging them into a pile. (He even jumps in the reservoir ditch to retrieve the unconscious guard, who was thankfully floating on his back instead of face-down.) Izuku looks around, counting as he tallies up the guards, but finds that he can’t remember how many people were actually present—did he get everyone?

He’s not sure. And for the first time in over two years, he has no one to double-check for him. It’s not a good feeling.

Izuku does one quick scout of the perimeter before poking his head inside the building, re-igniting his Shroud as he roams through the huge, mostly-empty warehouse like a restless ghost. No more guards attack; no overpowered villains erupt from hiding to strike at him. Izuku does find a fucking gigantic cache of weapons, along with what appears to be a large amount of cocaine in a few separate boxes. He makes a tally in his head and comes back outside to double-check that no one has escaped, called for help, or made trouble. Only then does he turn his comms unit back on, trying to ignore the way his hands are still shaking ever-so-slightly as he does so.

“—therfucking shit-ass stupid reckless goddamn son of a bitch,” spits Katsuki. Izuku winces despite himself, leaning uselessly away from the comms unit tucked into his ear. “You absolute fucking jackass—!

“Here,” says Izuku. Katsuki’s cursing doubles in vitriol and speed. Izuku stands there listening for a moment, his still-too-recent urge to pick a fight draining his patience. “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING,” Katsuki yells, and then finally pauses to breathe.

“Fuck you,” says Izuku into the momentary silence.

“Fuck you,” snarls Katsuki. “Y-You, you got fucking shot, did you even notice that you’re bleeding?”

“I’m what?” For the first time, Izuku looks down. With a start, he notices the blood seeping through his torn stealth gear, accompanied by an ache in his shoulder. “Ah, shit.”

“You are such a fucking—dick,” Katsuki hisses in his ear. The last word comes out choked. Izuku blinks, and with a splash of ice down his spine, he realizes that Katsuki is crying. “I’m c-calling the police. Give me your damn report, already, so you can get out of there.”

Izuku considers all of the thirty-five things he’d like to say, all the questions he still has, all the pain and anxiety and anger he’s harboring. But the waiver in Katsuki’s voice is like a knife to the guts. Suddenly Izuku finds all of his heady rage leaking out of him through that wound, leaving behind just fatigue and unhappiness. He’s cold despite the warmth of the day and his black suit.

This fucking sucks, Izuku thinks.

He sags a little, leans against the wall behind him. “Nineteen guards apprehended counting the one on the roof,” he says dully. “There’s an entire cargo container of illegal weaponry inside the building, along with several hundred kilos of what looks like cocaine. All guards are bound in Hero tape.”

Katsuki repeats it back to him, then pages through to the police. Izuku does nothing except watch the guards outside and listen to the distant sound of police sirens, rapidly approaching. “I’ll wait till the police arrive and then get going,” Izuku says quietly, to the silence that’s now stretching out uncomfortably long in his earpiece.

“I was calling recruiters to get enough ammo to make Synergy re-up our contract with better terms,” Katsuki says. Izuku freezes. “I was… I was gonna surprise you. With a better contract for us.” He swallows hard enough for Izuku to be able to hear it over the phone, the painful click of his muscles working.

“You,” says Izuku, stupidly. “You… you what?”

“I can’t believe you thought I was gonna do that shit to you,” Katsuki says. Fuck, he really is crying. Izuku can hear it, hear the tremble in his voice, the raggedness. “I worked so fucking hard to be better and you still just thought…”

The knife in Izuku’s guts is back, digging in harder. “Kacchan,” Izuku says, and curses inwardly. Now he’s starting to cry again too. “I-I, you..” Fuck. He takes a deep breath. “I w-wish you had just waited like you said we would,” he says shakily. “It scared the shit out of me. I didn’t know what to think, I, I thought, I thought you j-just wanted to find a better deal, that you didn’t love me back.”

The words fall out of his mouth before he can think about them and change what he was going to say. Oh, fuck.

Katsuki sucks in a sharp breath. Izuku shivers despite himself as he waits with bated breath for the response; the police sirens continue to grow in volume as they approach, warning him he needs to get going, but he can’t move.

“I cannot believe now is when you finally tell me that,” Katsuki says. “After you m-made me watch you fucking pull that dumb reckless bullshit, I can’t believe I love such an absolute asshole.”

Izuku’s throat closes. For a few hot, unbreakable moments, he can’t breathe, can’t even think. “K-Kacchan,” he gets out, and hiccoughs. “Katsuki, really?”

“Oh, fuck you,” says Katsuki, and starts laughing. It sounds fucking terrible, like he’s been gargling with shards of glass. Izuku squeezes his eyes shut as he listens to it, a disbelieving smile breaking out on his face. “I’m so mad at you, you fucking… just come home already, okay? I’m gonna fucking murder you when you get back.”

“Okay,” Izuku whispers. “I’m still mad at you, too. Worst partner ever.”

“That award belongs to you, fuckface,” Katsuki says in his ear. A few tears start trickling down Izuku’s face as he laughs. Oh, god. He’s so relieved. Angry still, and jittery, but so relieved that all he wants to do is stand here and cry.

Izuku opens his eyes, starting forward—and hears the zzzzip of a dart cutting the air, milliseconds before feeling the needle in his neck. He jerks, reaching up to grab it, but too late. Izuku shrieks as a massive burst of electricity rips through him, tearing his mind apart as pain assaults every nerve in his body.

“IZUKU! Izuku, what the fuck happened? IZUKU!” Katsuki’s talking, but Izuku can’t even respond. The jolt of electricity releases him, and he collapses to the ground like a broken toy, twitching where he lays against the pavement. Katsuki’s panicky voice fills his ears, saying his name over and over, but Izuku’s consciousness is fading as fresh agony takes over his body, shutting down his senses and his mind.

The last thing he’s aware of are a pair of boots that step into his vision, black-clad, military-issue. Someone crouches in front of him; fingers touch his throat, checking his pulse. Izuku’s mind flickers, darkness closing in before he can see the person’s face.

All that’s left is Katsuki, Katsuki like Izuku’s never heard him before—a Katsuki that is begging. “Izuku, Izuku say something, please say something, are you okay, Izuku wake up—!

Then silence.

Chapter Text

“Izuku, Izuku say something, please say something, are you okay, Izuku wake up—!

The line goes dead before the last words are even out of his mouth. Katsuki stares at the screen, desperately searching the various camera views, but the place Izuku was standing isn’t covered by any of the cameras outside the warehouse. All he can do for a few moments is sit there in shock.

This—this can’t be happening. How could things have gone from so good to so bad so goddamn quickly?

This week was difficult, but he’d thought Izuku was just having a tough time between the stress of the mission and concern for his friends. Then today happened. To hear Izuku accuse Katsuki of such betrayal was like having his own Quirk explode in his face; to have him confess like that (god, he can still hear Izuku’s choked-off voice, crying right after a mission like some kind of fucking baby, I thought you didn’t love me back) was like being hit dead-on by a runaway train.

Katsuki pulls his earpiece off, wiping at the sweat that’s broken out across his temple. His face is still wet with tears; his stomach aches from the awful cramps he’s been suffering for the past ten minutes after Izuku cut his comms to go ham on the guards outside the warehouse.

Izuku. He snaps out his daze, scrambling out of his seat and shoving the chair so hard it topples over, breaking the back piece. Katsuki ignores it. He stalks across the room, yanking open the bag with his equipment in it and grabbing up the top of his stealth outfit.

Fuck this. He should never have agreed to stay home. They should have come up with some excuse why they weren’t home, he should never have fucking agreed to let Izuku go out without him—stupid fucking Deku, how could he actually think that Katsuki would do something like go behind his back and abandon him, how could he—!

But you weren’t there when he needed you, says a terrible voice in the back of his head as he’s frantically changing into his gear, hopping on one foot as he yanks his pants on. You let him go into the field alone and thinking you were abandoning him, it distracted him, it put him off his game, and now he’s been caught, maybe killed—

“FUCK,” snarls Katsuki out loud. The word is all sharp edges, like broken glass in his throat; his eyes burn and his hands tremble. He has to stand still for a moment in the center of the room, head tipped back as he just focuses in bringing air in and out of his lungs—on breathing past the terrible panic that’s threatening to wall off his throat and suffocate him.

Into the silence comes a knock at the door.

Katsuki freezes. His fear does not evaporate, but it does sharpen, cutting through the fluttering chaos in his mind. With the sudden clarity comes Katsuki’s first thought: It’s the Bright Path.

His second thought is, Call Calla.

He turns and looks towards the front door. The knock comes again, more insistent this time. Katsuki takes a slow breath, then reaches down and depresses the tiny button on the side of his watch. The watch face doesn’t change, but Katsuki knows that the recorder is now running—will keep recording for a full 48 hours until the battery is exhausted.

Again the knock comes. “Coming,” Katsuki calls. “Just a second, I’m changing.” He retrieves his phone from his pocket, unlocking it with a thumb swipe and hitting the number to send a call through. He puts it on mute, then sets the phone on top of the tall cabinet in the front hall as he approaches the front door. Katsuki goes up on his toes, nudging the phone backwards from the edge of the cabinet so it isn’t visible.

Then he goes to the front door and opens it.

Marcus Lazlow is standing on his front porch. Behind him are several other members of the Bright Path—Katsuki can’t help but notice that while all of them are cult members, the only ones Marcus brought with him are tall, burly men wearing t-shirts that show off all of their excessively large muscles. Funny, that.

There’s a few moments where Lazlow stares at him, expression hard, searching. Then he says “Ground Zero,” in a clear voice, and with a faint pop! the last protection Calla’s Quirk gave him vanishes. Katsuki sees the moment when Lazlow actually recognizes him, when his anonymity vanishes, and he knows Izuku must have been forced to tell them their names.

Katsuki’s stomach tightens. “Hi,” he says out loud. He stares at Dog Face, wary. “Tell me why I shouldn’t just blast you right off my fucking porch.”

“No more pretenses, I see,” says Lazlow. He smiles, thin and utterly devoid of any warmth. “Good. Let us come inside, and we’ll tell you. Unless you don’t care what happens to your partner?”

Katsuki’s stomach tightens. He glares at Lazlow for several seconds, impotent fury making his internal temperature skyrocket to levels approaching the surface of the sun. Then, with an effort of pure will, he steps backwards, allowing them to come into the house.

“Ah, good, you’re being reasonable,” says Dog Face. “No need to make this nasty.” So saying, he walks past Katsuki into the front hall; his hired muscle files in behind him. Katsuki shuts the door.

“So,” he says loudly. “What did you do with Izuku?”

Lazlow smiles again. It’s slow, vicious, putting Katsuki in mind of a snake opening its mouth wide, ready to strike.

“You’re going to come with us and do exactly what you’re told,” he says. “Or you’ll never see Izuku again.”

“How do I know you haven’t killed him already?” Katsuki demands. His stomach twists horribly as he says it, but he has to know, he has to. He doesn’t care what the cost is.

By way of response, Dog Face pulls out his phone and taps the screen a few times. Then he holds it out for Katsuki to see. There’s a live video feed on the screen; it shows an unconscious Izuku bound in heavy chains. But he’s breathing—the camera is close enough for Katsuki to see the rise and fall of his chest… as well as the streak of blood at his temple, and the ugly bruise already forming along his jaw.

A woman steps into frame. It’s Bethany Lazlow. She smiles at the camera and waves, sunny and warm as ever; never has she looked horsier or meaner to Katsuki than she does right now. “Say hello to Katsuki for me!” she says brightly. “I’m here with Izuku, so don’t worry, he won’t wake up alone.”

“Whether he wants anything to do with you by the time you see him again is entirely up to you,” says Marcus Lazlow, who is definitely now more Snake Face than Dog Face. His voice is disgustingly pleasant. “So, Mr. Hero. What’ll it be?”

Katsuki swallows. Stupidly, he thinks of the play his parents dragged him to see the last time he and Izuku went home to visit. Lay on, MacDuff, he thinks darkly. Katsuki can’t help but remember the gruesome ending of that play, how many were dead on the ground before the morning finally came.

But now the only way out is through. “Let’s go,” he says.

* * * * *

Much to Katsuki’s surprise, they don’t leave immediately.

“Time to check in with your boss,” Dog Face says calmly. “You’re going to tell her that your mission went exactly as planned, and you’re going to go forward with your ceremony tomorrow right on schedule.”

Katsuki nods. He does not tell Lazlow that they wouldn’t be checking in with Calla after a successful operation. He also does not look at the cabinet on top of which sits his phone with an active phone call to Calla already going. If she’s listening—he hopes she’s listening—she already knows what’s going on. If she’s not, well. Katsuki’s pretty fucked either way, but if Calla can figure out how to send back-up without alerting the Lazlows, they might still have a chance.

“Here’s your list of what was apprehended by your people,” says Lazlow. His voice is still perfectly, creepily pleasant.

Katsuki scans the (honestly pretty damn satisfying) list, then glances up with an eyebrow raised. “You look awfully chill for a dude who just lost a hundred grand worth of illegal arms and drugs,” he says.

Lazlow eyes him; again Katsuki is put in mind of a viper ready to strike its helpless prey. “Don’t worry,” says Lazlow. “You’re going to help make up for what you’ve done to my people. But one thing at time.” He flicks his fingers at Katsuki in a condescending little go on gesture, and for the thousandth time since coming to the Pines, Katsuki suffers the urge to simply blast this nasty fuck into a thousand tiny pieces.

Marcus Lazlow and his goons stay well out of the frame while Katsuki makes the video call on the computer. Calla answers in under ten seconds, and Katsuki privately thanks whoever and whatever deities are listening, because his boss could not be more picture-perfect if she tried.

“How’d it go?” she asks. She pushes her hair out of her face, watching him through her cat-eye glasses.

“Just as planned,” he says. “Nineteen operatives apprehended, the entire delivery of weapons located and accounted for, plus half a ton of pure cocaine. We turned it all over to the police.”

That much is apparently true, according to the list Lazlow gave him, and Calla would be able to confirm. But if she’s alarmed, or knows something’s off, she gives no sign. “Good work,” she says. “Where’s your partner? Shouldn’t he be home by now?”

“Izuku’s fine, he’s in the shower,” says Katsuki. His stomach turns inside out at the magnitude of the lie. “Just had a long day.”

Calla makes an understanding noise and gives him a smile. “I bet,” she says. “Well, I won’t keep you. Keep your eyes peeled tomorrow, and remember you won’t be going in alone. Your backup will be there if anything comes up.”

Shit. Now Katsuki doesn’t know if she’s faking or not. He starts to sweat under the silky tech material of his stealth top, anxiety making his stomach cramp, his heart pound. Katsuki smiles anyway, pointedly not looking at Marcus Lazlow over the top of his monitor. “We will,” he says. “Night, boss lady.”

“Good night, Ground Zero,” she says, and ends the call.

Lazlow waits until Katsuki has shut the computer and looked over at him before he moves or speaks. “Thank you for confirming that for us,” he says. “We suspected we would be under surveillance, but it’s good to know.” Katsuki is briefly distracted by how weirdly polite he still is even as he’s calming threatening Katsuki and Izuku with physical and emotional harm.

He regrets his distraction immediately as Lazlow continues, “Pity neither of you can identify the operatives for us. We already asked Izuku, and he was sadly no help. Unless… you think you might be able to tell me what I’d like to know?”

Lazlow smiles at him. Katsuki is seized with the sudden, desperate urge to please him, to tell him what he wants to know—it abruptly sounds like the only thing in the world that matters. Hard on its heels is the despairing realization that he doesn’t have the information Marcus wants, and Marcus is going to be disappointed in him.

His oldest, most basic emotion rears its head. Fuck. That, thinks Katsuki.

He swallows, then bites the inside of his cheek, hard. Pain and the taste of copper fill his mouth; with it comes clarity, and a moderate return of his senses. Katsuki blinks a few times, then refocuses his gaze to see Marcus Lazlow watching him with obvious interest.

“Quite an interesting trick you just did there,” Lazlow says. His voice is mild. “How long will you be able to keep it up, I wonder? We have so little information on what effects resisting our Quirks has on people. I do wish we had the chance to spend more time with you, but alas, we have a ceremony to get you ready for.”

Lazlow smiles, wide and full of malice. Katsuki feels his guts turn to ice.

“Time to go,” says Lazlow.

* * * * *

Katsuki doesn’t remember much of the drive over—probably just fucking with his head to keep him under control, not to keep him from knowing where they’re going, since he already fucking knows.

Dog Face made him change into normal clothes, gather all his things for the ceremony, and then pile into the van parked out front of the house. As soon as they were in the van, Dog Face gave him a cookie to eat, which would be hilarious if Katsuki didn’t know exactly how insidious Bethany Lazlow’s abilities are. He eats it, because he doesn’t have a choice—even when he contemplates being more directly defiant, an image fills his mind of Izuku as wrecked and psychologically devastated as Iida and Uraraka were, and all the fight goes out of him. Five minutes later, he’s slumped over unconscious in his seat.

When they finally arrive at the Gold Rush Inn some unknown amount of time later, it takes Katsuki awhile to wake up properly. He stumbles climbing out of the van and almost eats shit on the gravel path, catching himself just in time. Katsuki squints up at the huge inn, lit now only by the moon and stars. The building is dark, squatting like a resentful giant between the canyon walls that rise up on either side.

It’s a very pretty scene during the day. Right now, though, all Katsuki can think about is the fact that none of their tracking tech works in this area, because it’s a total fucking dead zone. And he doesn’t have his phone on him anymore—it’s still back at the house, on top of the cabinet, doing him fuck-all now.

Not that it would have helped him much even if he had it. At least he still has his watch.

“Let me see Izuku,” Katsuki says, as soon as he’s awake enough to form words again. They’re trudging into the building from the car, and he stops in his tracks on the gravel road.

Lazlow levels a stare at him. “You can’t see him before the ceremony, you know that,” he says. His voice has a chiding note, like a parent scolding an errant child. “It’s bad luck.”

“Let me fucking see him,” Katsuki snaps. It’s meant to be demanding, but his voice cracks, betraying him.

“Now, now,” says Lazlow. Another wave of emotion rolls over Katsuki, this one so powerful it robs him of all his strength, drops him to his knees. And unlike most of the previous times, which were all positive or touchy-feely somehow, this one plunges his waking brain directly into a night terror.

Fear stampedes through him, despair a chill wind following after, turning his blood to ice. His tongue cleaves to the roof of his mouth as terror makes goose-flesh stand up painfully all over his body. Katsuki groans, tearing up immediately and curling up in a ball on the floor as his entire body abruptly goes haywire. His pulse skyrockets, heart hammering in pure panic; his stomach clenches, and he vomits, violently ejecting the remnants of his dinner.

“Please,” he chokes out. A string of spittle dangles from the corner of his mouth. He claws at the gravel path, his vision going gray, blackness creeping in at the corners. “No, no, no, nononono—”

“Shhhh,” says Lazlow’s voice. Katsuki feels a warm hand on the back of his head, and he lets out a sob. He turns, pressing his disgusting face against Lazlow’s leg, lashing his arm around the backs of his knee in desperation, like a frightened child clinging to his parent. “Shhh, I know, I know. It’ll be all right.”

This motherfucker, Katsuki thinks—but it’s distant. He can’t summon his usual rage for this man. The terror is still too near, a nightmare just around the corner, held at bay only by the man stroking his head and whispering soft reassurances to him. Katsuki’s breath hitches on another sob, and he shuts his eyes.

“I know,” says Lazlow. His voice is impossibly gentle. “I know.”

* * * * *

The next twelve hours are a waking nightmare.

Much like his experience at the retreat, Katsuki won’t properly be able to recall exactly what happened. The last thing he remembers clearly is puking his guts out on the ground in front of the inn and clinging to Marcus Lazlow’s legs like a toddler scared of the dark. After that, the next clear event is him walking towards the altar.

In between that is a morass of horrible, confusing vignettes. Katsuki remembers talking to both Marcus and Bethany Lazlow (though not at the same time), but he doesn’t remember well what was said. He remembers them asking him questions—he thinks it might have been an accounting of all his time spent in the Pines—but the actual words anyone said escape him utterly.

What he does remember is a weird sense of time dilation, and how he felt during that time. He remembers thinking that the night would last forever, that sunrise seemed an impossible length of time away. He remembers crying his eyes out, sobbing so hard he can’t even breathe, while Marcus Lazlow sits by him and rubs his shoulder, the picture of sympathy. He also remembers shying away from Lazlow’s touch like a colt afraid of the brand, and the slow, malevolent smile Lazlow gave him in response.

He remembers Bethany Lazlow giving him a phone—how the fuck did she get a phone to work, he wonders—and holding it against his ear and hearing Kacchan? Katsuki remembers almost crushing the phone in relief at the sound of his lover’s voice in his ear, fresh tears springing to his exhausted eyes. “You stupid fucking asshole,” he whispers into the phone, and shuts his eyes at the soft sniffled I’m glad you’re okay too, Kacchan, he gets in response.

Somehow worse than the fear and despair are the times when the Lazlows make him love them. Those are the moments when Katsuki feels most in contact with himself—which is to say, he’s aware that what he’s doing and how he’s feeling are total bullshit, but not aware enough to stop it in any way. Katsuki sits flush against Marcus Lazlow like a man reunited with his oldest friend, warmth and contentment radiating from him, and deep down in the back of his mind he’s shouting obscenities and screaming, but it doesn’t reach. He’s in a living nightmare, and he can’t wake up, can’t break free of the hold they have on him.

It’s awful.

Finally, after they get whatever it is they want from him, they let him sleep. Or maybe he just passes out from exhaustion, Katsuki will never know. They never do let him see Izuku, only assuaging his periodic certainty that they’ve murdered Izuku elsewhere in the building with the occasional phone call or live feed. Only once he’s asleep is Katsuki free of them, however temporary the reprieve is.

* * * * *

Katsuki is walking towards the altar.

He’s wearing the summer suit he and Izuku picked out for today, a matching three-piece white ensemble with a crimson vest; it fits him really well, he thinks. But the weird thing is, he doesn’t remember putting it on. And he doesn’t really remember how he got here, either. That’s okay, though.

Everything is okay.

The room they’re in is beautiful: the inn’s large party hall, now redecorated to the nines for Katsuki and Izuku’s recommitment ceremony. It isn’t really different from how it would be set up for a wedding; intricate bouquets of flowers are pinned to pillars at head-height, with tinier ones at the spot every row of seats meets the aisle, while delicate glass figurines strewn with soft lights dangle from the rafters. The rows are chock-full of people, everyone dressed in their summer best and beaming at him.

Katsuki lets his eyes stray from the flower-lined walkway in front of him, glancing over to the other aisle up at the person matching his slow pace.

Izuku.

Katsuki’s heart soars. Izuku looks amazing: a green vest for his own three-piece summer suit, his messy hair somehow corralled into handsome waves. There’s a bit of bruising on his jaw, but whoever helped him get dressed must have done something with makeup, because it’s hardly visible. Izuku’s expression is calm, almost dreamy; he catches Katsuki looking at him and flashes him a bright smile.

“Keep walking, now,” says a woman’s voice. It’s Essential Oils Deborah, who’s standing up at the alter holding a white candle and wearing a huge smile. “You’re almost there, boys.” A titter of laughter goes through the room, and Katsuki guiltily resumes walking, clutching the bouquet of orchids a little more tightly.

God, he’s wanted this for so long, and now it’s finally here. He couldn’t be happier.

(It’s the strangest thing, though; when he thinks that, his head hurts, and he keeps tearing up every time he looks at Izuku. There’s the briefest moment of… fear? But why would he be afraid?)

They reach the altar and the delicate harp music stops. Katsuki wonders vaguely who picked out the music, then remembers that Beth and Marcus must have, because they did everything else too. So nice of them. So thoughtful, to help Katsuki and Izuku have this day together.

(If it’s going to be your last day together, we should at least make it nice! And we don’t want to disappoint any of your guests, do we?)

Katsuki blinks. That… was weird. He tries to recall the words someone just whispered in his mind, but they’re already gone. He tries to surreptitiously glance from Izuku to the audience, searching for who knows what. His eyes fall on a number of familiar faces in the crowd—he sees Mrs. Rhodes, sitting with her hands folded, beaming with tears trickling down her face. A frisson of emotion goes through Katsuki at the sight of her, too fast and muddy for him to understand properly, but the thing that rises above the rest is fear.

He sees another person in the crowd, closer to the front: Jennifer Reisman, the Bikram yoga teacher. (Deadlight whispers a voice far, far back in the cave of his subconscious.) At the sight of her, something else stirs in Katsuki’s mind, an indistinct shape that disturbs the clear glass pool of his happiness, sending out ripples of uneasiness. She has a glassy-eyed look on her face, a perfectly warm and content expression that tries to match that of the other people in the room and somehow doesn’t quite succeed.

Then Deb starts talking, and Katsuki’s attention is ripped back to marrying the love of his life.

“Friends and family, fellow walkers of the Bright Path,” she says. Her voice is warm, radiating a happiness no one could possibly fake. “We are gathered here today to celebrate the love and union of these two souls, our friends, our fellow walkers.”

Katsuki swallows hard. He finds himself staring at Izuku, utterly mesmerized by his beaming face, by the green eyes looking back at him. And that’s not new—how long has he wanted this? When did Katsuki first realize that he wanted this as badly as he wants anything in life, including being the top Hero?

Deb’s voice washes over him, the words blurring together. Katsuki knows he and Izuku sat down with Deb to pick out exactly how they wanted the ceremony to go, but she might as well be speaking in Greek for how much sense most of it makes. All he can think of, all he can see, is Izuku.

He only catches snippets of it here and there, the reverent, ritualized tone of Deb’s voice lapping at his skin like warm water, ebbing and flowing in his consciousness. “…blessed are the ones who trust in each other, who share the warmth of their inner fire with each other, who learn to walk the path of righteousness as one…”

Maybe if I had told you sooner this wouldn’t have happened, Katsuki thinks. The thought fills him with inexplicable grief. Why wouldn’t he want this to happen? He’s here marrying Izuku right now, isn’t he?

“…we are here to celebrate and consecrate their love, and to be the earth and the rain that supports and sustains the tree of life their love will build…”

Izuku’s lower lip trembles. He’s still smiling, but now he looks like he’s trying not to cry. And it looks like a losing battle: tears are leaking down his cheeks, dripping off his chin. His smile is slowly going from “tearful and happy” to something more brittle, more pained, less blissful. The sight of his slipping expression is somehow terrible to behold. Katsuki finds himself thinking that it looks like Izuku’s mouth has been wired shut, that whatever he wants to say is being forcibly held back.

Deku, Katsuki thinks. His own heart starts to beat faster, a bitter copper taste filling his mouth. It takes him a few moments to realize that it’s because he’s biting his own tongue hard enough to draw blood.

Somewhere, someone is screaming. It’s high and desperate and afraid. Katsuki wonders why no one else seems to be able to hear it.

“Do you, Katsuki Nakamura, promise to love and protect this man with all of your heart? Do you vow to walk the Bright Path with him, to guide him when he strays, to be his rock when he stumbles?”

“I do,” says Katsuki. Now his heart is pounding, beating so hard and so rapidly he’s getting breathless just standing there staring at Izuku.

“And do you, Izuku Nakamura, promise to love and protect this man with all of your heart? Do you vow to walk the Bright Path with him, to guide him when he strays, to be his rock when he stumbles?”

“I do,” says Izuku. Katsuki’s heart wrenches in his chest. He sees Izuku tensing up just like Katsuki himself is, and dread fills his stomach, a dread he can’t understand, can barely even acknowledge. All through this he’s smiling, staring at the man he loves and wondering what on Earth he’s so afraid of.

If Deb is at all aware of their fear, she doesn’t show it. As soon as Izuku says ‘I do,’ she beams at them. “Then let everyone here present, and everyone who meets you for the rest of your lives, recognize the sanctity of your union and honor it,” she says. “You may now kiss your spouse.”

Izuku’s face contorts into a smile so sweet and sad that it steals Katsuki’s breath. Katsuki steps forward, taking Izuku’s hands; Izuku tilts his face upwards. Katsuki sees the brightness of his eyes the split-second before their lips meet in a kiss.

The room erupts with cheers and applause. Katsuki shuts his eyes, clutching Izuku’s hands in his for dear life as he leans into the kiss. Izuku squeezes his hands in return, his grip so tight it’s almost painful. A thought wells up from the deep parts of Katsuki’s mind: I’m so sorry.

Katsuki steps back, still trembling with emotion, still staring at Izuku. The crowd is still cheering, people on their feet applauding. Katsuki keeps right on smiling even as he and Izuku take several more steps back from each other, raising their hands in the air. Katsuki feels himself hesitate, resisting something, resisting an urge he still can’t identify—

—And then Izuku moves first, blasting Katsuki with a Smash hard enough to hurl him through the wall of the inn. Katsuki lands hard on the ground outside, the air leaving his lungs in a whoosh. He jumps to his feet moments later, hands already burning with energy waiting to be ignited.

The cheers and applause have turned to screams, panicked cries of confused people. Katsuki ignores them. He blasts himself skywards as Izuku follows him outside, already glowing staticky green with the unleashed power of One For All. Katsuki lets himself fall, hands down, aiming a Howitzer Impact at Izuku—moments later he releases an explosion violent enough to destroy the remainder of that wall of the inn, prompting more screams from inside.

Katsuki hardly even hears them. Nothing really registers. All that he’s aware of right now is the need to blast Izuku into a thousand tiny pieces, so small no one can even recognize what’s left of him. With that thought comes a mixture of grief and rage that Katsuki can see but not touch, can feel but not act on—because laid over the top of it is a terrible sense of righteousness, of certainty that this is the best and only possible thing he can do. Killing Izuku will make him happy, he’s sure of it.

No matter how loud the screams inside of him have grown.

Izuku dodged his blast, naturally. He’s already vaulting to one side, moving so fast he’s a blur, but Katsuki can still see the energy charging up in his feet as he prepares to fling himself at Katsuki with another attack. Katsuki zig-zags through mid-air like a rocketeer, leaving a jet trail in his wake as he tries to maneuver himself into a better position to launch another attack.

His upward trajectory is violently interrupted when Izuku flies right at him, aiming a high-charged kick at his face with a furious scream. Green electricity explodes in Katsuki’s face. He reacts before thought, blasting Izuku with both hands. It’s still not enough to save him completely from Izuku’s attack, though, and Katsuki takes a hit hard in his chest even as he flies backwards.

The force generated from their attacks sends them exploding outwards away from each other. Katsuki’s face is pointed skywards just for a few moments, long enough for him to notice the mountainous clouds forming rapidly overhead and just as rapidly speeding away to the north, as if summoned by something far out of sight. He hears the faint sound of thunder, and then Izuku’s attacking him again and he has no time for anything else.

Another Smash goes screaming by in the air to the left of him, Katsuki narrowly managing to dodge this time. He screams out loud, his fury burning his throat. Katsuki’s hands slam down, energy detonating from his palms in a plume of white-hot flame, and Izuku’s crackling green form disappears in a ball of fire. Anguish slices through his rage, but it’s not enough to make him stop, not enough to keep him from surging higher to see if he actually landed the blow like he thought.

Mother fuck, the shitty little nerd is still going—Katsuki can see scorch marks on him, black smears of ash on his right arm, but he’s already rearing back his arm for another Smash.

That’s when a woman’s voice rings out loud and clear from beneath them: “What the hell are you two doing?!”

Katsuki’s flight pattern stutters. His blast gives out for a moment as a crack of doubt breaks into his certainty. He glances away from Izuku, down at the tiny blonde woman standing outside the inn yelling at them.

“Fucking stop that right now!” screams Theresa Rhodes. Her voice is shaking—with fear, Katsuki thinks, but also with outrage. “What the HELL is wrong with you?”

As she yells at them, Katsuki finds himself faltering. His certainty starts to crumble, then crack apart—and then, all at once, it shatters into dust. Katsuki gasps as the compulsion controlling him vanishes, and suddenly he’s plummeting to the ground. He throws out his hands, trying to restart his explosions, but he’s too confused to make them go, his brain too addled, and the earth is rushing up to meet him—

—And then Izuku appears out of fucking nowhere, tackling him at top speed in mid-air like a linebacker. They tumble end over end for a few moments, and Katsuki can’t see, can’t think, can’t do anything but wrap his arms around Izuku and hold on for dear life.

You’re alive, you’re alive, I didn’t kill you, you’re alive

He catches a glimpse of the ground hurtling towards them, and his brain re-starts. Katsuki flings out a hand, blasting earthwards, and their velocity and end-over-end tumbling slows, enough to let them land in a breathless pile instead of crashing violently to earth.

Izuku pops up first like a manic groundhog. “Kacchan,” he gasps. His face is wild. Katsuki’s heart thumps hard in his chest; he reaches up a hand, cradling Izuku’s cheek in his palm. Izuku’s expression crumples, fresh tears spilling down his cheeks. “Kacchan, I’m s-sorry—”

“Shut up, nerd,” Katsuki says reflexively. His voice cracks as the words come out, though, and before he can second-guess himself he’s pulling Izuku in for a hard, tight embrace, burying his own face against Izuku’s hair. The tips are crunchy, seared from where more than one of Katsuki’s blasts narrowly missed him.

Katsuki’s throat constricts. He suddenly notices that he’s trembling, arms shaking where they’re lashed around Izuku like Izuku will float away if Katsuki lets him go.

For just a few moments, they stay like that, curled around each other in a pile on the ground, too addled from the clearing Quirk-compulsion to be able to think or speak or react. All Katsuki can do is listen to Izuku’s wet noises, feel his tears against Katsuki’s skin, and listen to his own hammering heart as salt tears drip down his own face at the impossible reality of Izuku alive in his arms.

The horror hasn’t hit him yet. He can see it, see the enormity of how near they came to utter annihilation, how completely in the Lazlows’ power they were. But the relief of Izuku’s physical warmth in his arms, the reality of his sweat and noises and touch against Katsuki’s skin, is still too big and overwhelming to let anything else in just yet.

He hears someone running, footsteps crunching the dirt and gravel of the canyon floor. Katsuki opens his eyes (when did he close them?) and sees Theresa Rhodes hurrying up to them, the half-ruined hulk of the Gold Rush Inn behind her.

“Are the two of you crazy?” she demands. Up close, Katsuki can see that she’s actually shaking, tears streaming freely down her cheeks, her hands clenched like she’s torn between tearing out her own hair and punching them in the face. “What the HELL was that?! Why would you do that?”

Holy shit, how does she still not know? “It was brainwashing,” rasps out Katsuki, wincing. He sounds like he’s been gargling broken glass.

Izuku coughs and sits up; Katsuki reluctantly loosens his death-grip on Izuku’s shoulders. “You broke the compulsion,” Izuku says, then coughs. Shit, he doesn’t sound much better than Katsuki.

“The what—”

A loud crack of thunder comes then, and Katsuki jumps, glancing away from Mrs. Rhodes and Izuku towards the north, where the noise is coming from. More enormous storm clouds are massing in that direction, a stormfront so large it looks like a mountain range sitting above the badlands.

Shit. That’s—that’s not good. Anxiety creeps into Katsuki’s mush-for-brains as he stares at the gathering storm. But he can’t quite remember the significance of it, can’t make his brain dredge up the reason. He’s still too drained from the past eighteen-odd hours of brainwashing and terror, of being deep in the thrall of a pair of psychopaths, of nearly fucking murdering Izuku.

Katsuki swallows hard at that last thought.

“What’s going on?” comes another voice from behind Mrs. Rhodes—it’s Deb, hurrying towards them from the ragged hole in the wall of the inn, her face blanched white. “What happened? What happened to Izuku and Katsuki?”

“We’re okay,” says Izuku. Which is debatable, really, but true enough for the moment. Izuku climbs to his feet; Katsuki grabs the hand he holds out and hauls himself up too. “But I think we should get out of here. Those storm clouds don’t look good…”

“We need to go, now,” growls Katsuki. His sense of foreboding is getting worse and worse. Something is badly wrong. He just can’t remember what.

“But why is there a hole in the side of the inn?” asks Deb. She doesn’t sound scared so much as confused—and as Katsuki glances from her face to the other people starting to stream out of the inn, he realizes that’s because all of them are coming out of the same kind of cloud he and Izuku have just emerged from.

The Lazlows didn’t just brainwash Katsuki and Izuku. They got to everyone. It must have been the food, Katsuki realizes now; Bethany did almost all the baking for their ceremony, and (as he now realizes, much to his lamenting) her Quirk is at once less immediate but more powerful than her brother’s. While Marcus can make his victims feel any way he wants them to, to almost any degree, Bethany can hijack the brain of anyone who eats her food and make them feel or do almost anything she wants.

Including try to murder someone.

Some of the guests are coping better than the others—or at least, that’s what Katsuki thinks until he sees one woman in a fancy party dress calmly reach under her skirt and grabs a Beretta 0.9 mm, cocking it with the ease of long practice. Katsuki has half a moment of renewed panic before realizing they’re Calla’s people, sent undercover as back-up. The woman with the gun kicks off her heels and makes a beeline for the throat of the canyon, clearing intending to scout out the area and secure the perimeter. A number of other men and women are walking around with a military purposefulness, the set expressions of people trained for combat and disaster scenarios. But even seeing that does not assuage Katsuki’s growing sense of foreboding.

The Lazlows, naturally, are nowhere to be seen, but Calla’s people start rounding up those of the perpetrators who do remain. Amongst the people staggering out of the inn looking dazed is Jennifer Reisman—Deadlight—the woman who captured Izuku. As she approaches, Katsuki’s immediate urge to stomp her flat is eclipsed by the way she looks north at the rainclouds, turns white, and drops to her hands and knees.

“It’s too late,” she blurts. “It’s—oh god, they left us to die, I can’t believe they abandoned me—!”

“What’s too late?” Katsuki demands. He stalks over to Deadlight, grabbing her by the back of her summer-weight blouse and hauling her to her feet, reaction making his hands tremble and spark. “What the fuck did they do?”

“Katsuki, what are you doing?” says Mrs. Rhodes, but Katsuki ignores her—there’s no Quirk control to break this time, and her powers don’t work on normal rage. “Let her down!”

“She works for them,” Izuku says grimly. “She’s with the people who kidnapped you and your kids, Theresa. So are the Lazlows.”

Mrs. Rhodes shuts up abruptly; she looks like she’s about to be sick. At another time, she’d be Katsuki’s foremost concern, but right now something else is looming. “What did Bethany and Marcus do?” he demands. Katsuki shakes Deadlight by the shoulders. His fury and anxiety are growing in equal measure, thankfully clearing some of the cobwebs from his mind. “TELL ME!”

“They—J-Jeremiah called that storm!” she blurts. Deadlight points north at the thunderclouds massing above the horizon, lightning flashing with disturbing frequency. “She, they, don’t you remember? T-they told you the same time they told me, they fed us Beth’s brownies and told us what we were supposed to do.”

“I remember,” says Izuku. His eyes are wide; color is blanching from his cheeks as some terrible realization sweeps through him, clear as day in his expression. “They told us we were going to confirm our vows, kiss, and then kill each other.”

The memory rolls through Katsuki like an ocean wave, leaving him dripping and shivering with horror and realization in its wake. He lets go of Deadlight, not particularly bothered by how she drops to the ground and smacks her face on the earth. The last, worst part of the recollection finally floats to the surface. “And they told us that if we didn’t kill each other, the flood would,” he says out loud. “Izuku—!”

“Right,” he says. “Kacchan, let’s go!”

The urgency in Izuku’s voice snaps something back to normal in Katsuki’s brain. “Round up the rest of the cult members and get these people to high ground, now,” he barks at the agents coming over to them. “That storm is going to send a flash-flood this way down the canyon. We don’t have much time.”

“A flood? W-what?” stammers Mrs. Rhodes, who’s apparently collected herself again enough to be frightened. “What are you going to do?”

“We’re going to stop it,” says Izuku.

“Let’s go,” snaps Katsuki. And before anyone else can say a word, he and Izuku are off, streaking north along the canyon towards the towering storm.

It feels good to be able to use his Quirk again unfettered, to not have to hide his powers, but Katsuki is already wishing for the enhancing and controlling abilities of his normal Hero suit. He has much better control of his explosions than he did as a teenager, but he’s still exhausted from the night he and Izuku just had, the horrorshow they endured—one that Katsuki can’t properly remember right now. Even their apocalyptic fight is mostly a blur.

That’s probably for the best. Maybe he’ll get lucky and he’ll never have to remember any of it. Or maybe it’ll all come back to him and he’ll be a fucking zombified wreck, just like Iida and Uraraka.

Either way, he can’t think about it now. He and Izuku fly at top speed along the canyon, Izuku in leaps and jumps that might as well be flight, Katsuki blasting a jet-trail with his hands. Such is their urgency and so strong is their connection that Katsuki doesn’t even yell instructions—Izuku already knows exactly what to do. The two of them vault higher, higher, getting up as far above the horizon line as they can to see what they’re dealing with.

It’s hard to see clearly. The storm raging to the north appears to be getting more and more powerful, massive purple and black clouds that loom like an aerial mountain range above the badlands. Lightning flashes erratically, white streaks in the bruised sky, crackling with a power that Katsuki can feel even from a mile or so off. But more frightening than the electricity is the heavy curtain of falling rain that Katsuki can see, pouring off the storm like someone opened a massive faucet deep in the sky and is dumping water onto the parched earth below.

Izuku is already falling back to Earth, but as he falls he must see something, because he yells “KACCHAN, LOOK!” Katsuki course-corrects in the direction Izuku points, and as he changes course he sees it: a massive wall of dark water coursing along the canyon in their direction. It’s still a ways off, maybe five miles, but it’s racing towards them at top speed—right towards the Gold Rush Inn full of people.

“We have to stop it!” Izuku cries.

“No shit!” Katsuki yells back. “Back the way we came, hurry! The land bridge!”

Along the path of the canyon they just ran cuts a massive outcropping of rock, stretching from one side of the canyon to the other—Devil’s Bridge, it’s called locally. It’s a state landmark. Katsuki wonders if there’s a penalty for destroying public property, then decides he doesn’t care.

They only have one shot at this. If they get it wrong, if they don’t block the flood waters, the people at the inn will drown. The mouth of the canyon is a long drive out, and there’s no way they’ll escape in time. But more than that, Katsuki is finding the weight of the past twenty-four hours sitting heavy on his bones; he must not have slept at all last night, to say nothing of the torture he and Izuku endured at the hands of the Lazlows, and the apocalyptic face-off they just had. Katsuki’s honestly not sure he has the strength for more than one assault on desert-hardened stone. He’s too exhausted.

The pair of them streak hell-for-leather back the way they came, a deadly race against the floodwaters roaring down the mouth of the canyon. As they fly onward, all Katsuki can think is that if they don’t stop this flood, if the people who were their party guests drown—

If he fails at this—

“There!” yells Izuku. The land bridge is up ahead. Izuku vaults into the air, bringing him closer to Katsuki as they fly towards the landmark. “You destroy it from above, I’ll smash up the mouth of the canyon from the ground!”

“Fuck that!” Katsuki all but snarls. “If I miss you’ll be buried in the avalanche or drown!”

“There’s no time, Kacchan! I trust you!” And with that, Izuku is hurtling towards the canyon floor like a green comet, moving so fast he’s a blur. Katsuki grits his teeth and vaults himself skyward, directly above the land-bridge. He can hear the oncoming flood waters as it rounds the bend they just passed, its roar loud enough to drown out the distant hue and cry of the storm. Izuku drops to the canyon floor, and Katsuki sees him building power, sees the green energy crackling around him like he’s in the thick of the lightning, like he’s a star about to go nova.

There’s no time left. Katsuki concentrates for all he’s worth, bringing his hands palms-down in front of him; his palms crack and spark and spit fire. A scream rips from his throat as his Quirk ignites, and in the explosion is all his hurt, all his rage at the events that led him here. Nitroglycerin erupts from his open palms, strong enough to send Katsuki hurtling skyward like a human rocket.

The land bridge vanishes in a gout of flames. Beyond it, Katsuki hears but cannot see the roar of Izuku’s Smash—all he can see from up here is a plume of pebbles and dust as so much desert rock is hurled up the throat of the canyon, directly into the onrushing flood. The combination of Katsuki’s fully-charged Howitzer Blast and Izuku’s Smash is like being in the middle of a nuclear bomb; without the hearing protection his suit provides, Katsuki is suddenly and profoundly deafened.

“IZUKU!” he yells, but he can’t even hear himself. Holy fuck, did it even work? He can’t see a fucking thing, all he can see is dust and flying debris. Katsuki throws a hand up and spits fire at the sky, arresting his upward trajectory before he can reach the apex of his flight. He rockets downward, staring frantically down at the clearing dust.

The floodwaters have hit the spot where the land bridge was, but—but there’s a massive wall of boulders and rock where before was an open canyon, and the furious waters can do naught but froth impotently at the way that is now shut.

“IZUKU!” Katsuki yells again. He feels, instead of hears, the crack in his voice, the break in what remains of his strength. Where is Izuku? Where is his partner?

Katsuki alights on the newly-made dam, looking wildly around. The canyon floor on the opposite side of the wall looks like a bomb went off in it—it’s deeper by about fifty feet than it was before, and the walls are blackened, huge sections of it sheared smooth by the amount of force just applied up its throat. Chunks of stone of various sizes litter the canyon floor, either broken apart in the Smash or falling backwards after being hurled at Katsuki’s oncoming blast.

But Izuku is nowhere to be seen.

“Izuku!” cries Katsuki. He can feel tears dribbling down his face now, unable to help himself as he drops to the floor of the canyon to continue searching. “Izuku where the fuck are you?” And still he can hear nothing—no answering call comes to his deafened ears. Fuck, what if Izuku is calling his name? What if Izuku is trapped under the rocks and Katsuki can’t hear him to dig him out?

He can’t hear anything. He can’t hear his own voice, can’t hear the angry floodwaters on the other side of the dam, can’t even hear his own labored breathing as he runs up the throat of the canyon, searching for any sign of his beloved. Katsuki grows more and more frantic as he searches, shoving boulders over, blasting suspicious-looking chunks of rock aside and finding nothing under them.

A hand falls on his shoulder. Katsuki jerks around like he’s been burned and finds Izuku standing there, right there, bloodied and bruised but real. There’s a cut along his temple that wasn’t there before, and literally his entire suit top is burnt away—a thick welt cuts across his chest, no doubt from where he was struck by some piece of debris, but he’s upright. He’s smiling at Katsuki.

He’s alive. They both are. They survived.

Relief hits Katsuki in the chest like one of those falling boulders just landed smack on his sternum. “Izuku,” Katsuki gasps. “Holy fuck—”

Kacchan, Izuku says—Katsuki can see the word on his lips, but can’t hear him at all. Izuku keeps talking, but Katsuki still can’t hear a fucking thing, and honestly doesn’t give a single shit either way about what he’s saying. It doesn’t matter. Not right now. Katsuki grabs Izuku by the shoulder and yanks him in for a kiss.

Izuku makes a noise against his mouth, felt instead of heard. Then he simply melts. He flings his arms around Katsuki’s shoulders as Katsuki lashes his own around Izuku’s waist, holding him close and tight and safe. Katsuki shuts his eyes, kissing Izuku and listening to the thunder of his heart in his ears, the only thing that can reach him past his own shattered hearing.

Katsuki can feel a cloud of dust settling onto his skin, slowly falling back to earth after the huge explosion they caused. He can feel the vibration the turbulent floodwaters are making on the other side of the dam; he can feel the aches and burns and bruises in every part of his body from the ordeal he and Izuku have just been through.

But mostly what he feels is Izuku’s warm, living body in his arms, the taste of his rough lips against Katsuki’s. It’s almost too much. Katsuki has to break away from their kiss after a moment, tucking Izuku’s face against his throat as he buries his own face in Izuku’s hair, cradling Izuku’s skull in one hand. Tears burn his eyes as he tries to get ahold of himself.

For a few long moments, they stay like that. Katsuki can feel Izuku’s wet face against his throat, and feels a faint tremble in his body. How are you even still standing, Katsuki thinks, and then: How am I still standing?

It’s Izuku who pulls back first, who meets Katsuki’s burning eyes with his own. To Katsuki’s relief, Izuku is crying too, but he’s also smiling. Katsuki stares at the curve of those lips and thinks, inexplicably, of All Might—the man who would always smile no matter how deep and dark the situation, no matter how dire.

“We did it, Kacchan,” says Izuku. Katsuki can barely hear him. “It’s over.”

It’s not over, not really. They still have to round up the Lazlows—have to question all the victims, all the cult members they’ve already caught. They have to make reports, to go through physicals, to debrief with Calla; have to make sure all the loose ends are tied off.

But for now, there is only silence, and the warmth of Izuku’s mouth.