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Indisputable

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He strains, he yearns for praise, for compliments, for recognition. All he wants is the positive attention, and he blooms under it like a flower turned to face the sun. With encouragement he is the best , and without it he’ll push himself without regard for anything around him until he’s there again at the forefront of people’s minds. He’ll force them to acknowledge him if he has to, because he can’t live without it.

And it’s not enough to come “first.” He needs to be indisputably number one. He needs...he needs his accomplishments to be set in stone, to be inarguable, so that his nagging brain doesn’t begin to pick them apart. So that he doesn’t start to look at the failings, to obsess about the mistakes, to run the events over and over in his mind until he begins to feel the crushing pressure of failure even after he’s won. So that he isn’t kept awake at night wondering whether he’d have won if Todoroki had taken him seriously.

Even if you come first, you can be a failure. Huh, Katsuki?

“If you weren’t so weak and got yourself kidnapped, you wouldn’t have caused all this trouble,” his mom says, and to All Might and Aizawa’s eyes she likely looks like she’s joking but she’s not. Or if she is, it had lost its humor long ago, the years ago that she’d first said that he deserved what he’d gotten. The years that she’s said things like it, over and over until it’s fucking drilled into his thick skull that when you’re hurt it’s your own fault. It’s your own failing. You should have done better, you should have tried harder.

“I’ll send you into the ceiling,” he says.

I killed All Might, he thinks.

 


 

If you knew how to use your quirk you wouldn’t have burned yourself, he remembers, from when he was six. If he’d known how to use his quirk he wouldn’t have laid in bed, sobbing as blisters broke beneath fingers curled into palms. His skin wouldn’t have peeled back from the flesh, shiny and red and leaking clear fluid onto his sheets. It wouldn’t have hurt at all if he’d known better, if he’d done better and been better.

But then, if you’d told me it was this bad you wouldn’t have gotten it infected , she’d said, and then he’d learned that the punishment for letting someone find out your mistakes later was worse. If he’d known how to take care of it, how to clean and bandage it himself, he wouldn’t have had infections beneath burned and ruined skin. He wouldn’t have had to visit doctors who made his hands hurt down to the bone. Who’d made him miss school.

Who’d made him fall behind.

Do badly in one thing and it was you don’t deserve to go to school. So many other kids around the world would have begged for the chance to go to school. Would have killed for his quirk, for his natural born gifts, and if he was wasting them, then he deserved everything he got.

So he’d practiced every day and taken care of himself when he failed. Popped his own arm back into its socket when he had been thirteen and he’d gotten carried away, setting off a blast big enough that the recoil had dislocated his shoulder. Cried and cried as he’d tried to jerk it into place, even though every limb was shaking so hard he could hardly stay upright. Visited the hospital on his own because you don’t leave this stuff to chance, you don’t risk your future on laziness, you take care of it now and you don’t bother anyone else. He hadn’t told his parents about what had happened.

 


 

He’d also never told them how it had felt to be crushed and suffocated nearly to death. He had come home after the sludge villain had attacked him, showered and changed his clothes, and sat at the dinner table as though nothing was wrong. But this time they’d known.

“So how did that happen?” his mother had asked him as he’d fiddled with his food, turning the katsudon over in the bowl. He hadn’t been hungry, had spent all afternoon vomiting and the idea of putting food into his stomach had felt like asking for trouble.

“What?” he’d muttered, and raised his eyes to meet hers. They were hard and the steady stare burned into the backs of his retinas. He’d dropped his gaze to his food again almost immediately. “The sludge thing?”

“Yes,” she’d said, “It’s not like the police didn’t call us, Katsuki.”

“Yeah,” he’d mumbled. His father had been silent, as was his preference most of the time. Katsuki had chanced a glance at him, but he wasn’t looking back, just eating as if nothing unusual were happening.

“Yeah? That’s all you have to say?”

“Well, fuck, what do you want me to say?”

“Well, first off, how about how my son managed to get captured by some sentient sewer water and then did a billion yen’s worth of property damage* while trying to escape?”

He remembers feeling the seriousness of her question, the way it made everything inside of him shrink away, recoil from her questions, because he could yell and bluster at everyone else, but not his mother. “He grabbed me from behind,” he started.

“So much for your hero career,” she’d finished, with a snort. Despite himself he’d looked up again, feeling fury and shame in equal parts rising up his throat. “Can’t even avoid being caught by some literal trash, huh Katsuki?”

“No,” he’d snarled, “My quirk didn’t work on the guy - what was I supposed to do --”

“I don’t know,” his mother had said, nonchalantly, “Fly away? Knock yourself out of his reach? Your little friends didn’t get caught, now did they? I’m guessing they had the good sense to remove themselves from a situation they couldn’t handle.” It’s true it’s true it’s true -- “If only you were so sensible.”

“It wanted me because I have a strong quirk, Mom,” he’d insisted, voice ragged.

“Do you? Seems to me like all it’s good for is destruction of property. Maybe you should go into the construction business, fill in for some sticks of dynamite.”

His face had been burning. His eyes too, “No, I’m going to be a hero.”

“Better start acting like one, hey, Katsuki,” she’d interrupted him as he’d stood abruptly from his seat, “I don’t remember excusing you from the table.”

His fist had been clenched so tightly around his chopsticks that they’d ground together unpleasantly in his hand. Through his teeth he’d gritted, “May I be excused?”

“No,” she’d said. “Sit back down.”

And he had.

He’d thrown up everything he’d eaten at dinner later that night.

 


 

And now there’s this, and he’s back from the villains’ hideout, on house arrest, and there’s nowhere he can go as he slips, slips a little further back, into Deku’s shadow, into that place out of the sunlight where nothing grows and he stagnates and becomes rotten. And for the first time, he finds he doesn’t care, not after seeing All Might as he is now, sickly and fragile, and knowing that that’s because of him.

For the first time, he actually does wonder if this is all wrong. Whether it’s not his destiny to become a hero. Whether he’s fighting against his own inadequacies and will never win because all he fucking has is a flashy quirk, after all! The kind of quirk that others would kill for! The kind of quirk that people attack other innocent people for, that gets others in trouble, that fucking -- ends with All Might -- like that -- because he’s such a fucking piece of shit that no matter what he does he can’t fucking escape the dark cloud of not good enough --

Ugh, god, it hurts, it feels like everything inside his ribcage is raw and used. Like he’s had something torn out from his chest. He presses a palm to his sternum and pushes down hard, as though he can stop his breathing from there. He’s not the best at being a hero, not by a long shot, and he doesn’t even have the personality to make up for it. People think he’s a villain, isn’t that the crux of it? He’d had nothing redeeming if not for his strength and now he doesn’t even have that.

He rolls over so that the tears on his cheeks are absorbed by the pillow before they have a chance to track down over his skin. So that he can pretend he’s not so pathetic that he’s crying over being a worthless piece of shit.

He shifts a little, so that his arms are crossed over his chest, hands clutching at the opposite arms, and as his weight bears him down against the mattress, it almost feels like he’s being held.

 


 

He fails the hero examination right after that and can’t bring himself to tell his parents, so he just ignores their calls. He doesn’t have to talk to them now, right? Not when he’s living in the dorms.

He doesn’t tell them about the fight with Deku either, nor the subsequent suspension, but he’s pretty sure the school must have informed them, given the sudden burst of calls that he declines and the increasingly angry text messages. He dreads listening to the voicemails, which he knows will be a litany of swearing and almost-screaming. So he lets them sit there until the voice mailbox is full.

“How come you never pick up your phone?” Kirishima asks one day, while they’re studying.

“I do,” says Bakugou, “I answer your calls, don’t I?”

“Huh,” hums Kirishima thoughtfully, “That’s true. But you never pick up when your mom calls.” Sure enough, the caller ID says Mom, and it and her associated picture is in full view of Kirishima where it’s sitting on the desk. “She looks just like you.”

“I look like her, you mean,” says Bakugou and hits the button on the side of his phone to turn the screen black.

“Guess so, but I knew you first.”

“You don’t know her at all.”

“Yeah, that’s true,” says Kirishima, and there’s about five seconds of silence before he speaks again, pen pushed thoughtfully against his lower lip, “You think I’ll ever get to meet your parents?”

“Why?”

“Well, you met mine,” it’s true, and they’re just like Kirishima, all smiles and touches and hugs, like there’s sunshine bursting from inside of them that they just can’t contain, that they have to let out or else explode. He’d felt burned by it, uncharacteristically revealed as the dark and gloomy person he is beneath the bravado. Kirishima’s smiling at him now, all wide eyes and gleaming teeth, “I dunno, just feels like looking into a crystal ball or something. What you’re gonna be like when you grow up, I’m interested to know!”

“Yeah, that’s what you think about two-face too, is it?”

There’s a pause, and Kirishima’s smile falters at his brusque tone, “A-ah, well...no, I guess not. But maybe he’s more like his mom?”

Bakugou hasn’t told Kirishima about what he’d overheard at the sports festival, but they all know that Todoroki is less than a fan of his father. Kirishima, however, is likely unaware that Todoroki’s face is fucked up because his mother had poured boiling water over it…

“Not everyone is like their parents,” mutters Bakugou. Sadly, he knows that he is . He’s exactly like his mom in almost every way. The thought makes his skin crawl.

“Guess that’s true,” says Kirishima. A couple of minutes pass before he speaks again, haltingly, like he’s struggling to put the words together, “Sorry for being pushy, I know you like to be a bit mysterious.”

“It’s fine,” says Bakugou. “Since when do you give a fuck about being pushy?”

 


 

 

Kirishima changes after his internship. He takes it more seriously now when they’re on the field or in practicals. Even off duty he’s less carefree, though Bakugou is still gratified to see that whenever Kirishima looks his way, that sunshine begins splitting out of him, as though when he’s with his friends, Kirishima can’t contain it.

And friends Bakugou thinks they are. Indeed, Kirishima says it enough, almost daily, as though trying to convince everyone around them. It’s worked on Bakugou at least, and now sometimes in his bad moments he dares to think of going to a friend for comfort, for cheering up, if not to tell him what’s bothering him.

Sometimes, when he catches Kirishima staring at him, or when he sees him smile at his approach, Bakugou dares to wonder: best friends? Are they?

He’s never had one before. As a child, he’d always been in charge. The people who trailed after him were not friends but rather lackeys, a term he’d heard villains use in his childhood cartoons, but which seemed apt to use for the useless people tagging along with a hero as well. ‘Sidekick’ was certainly too generous. Deku was the furthest from, the most useless, the most annoying, and nothing Bakugou had ever done had dissuaded him, made him go away.

(And it had made him sick, because if Bakugou isn’t good enough, then how can Deku be? If nothing he ever does is perfect, or right, or even worthy of his own self-praise, then how can Deku look at him and so proudly proclaim that he’ll be a hero? How could he devalue the meaning of being a hero with paper thin promises and cotton candy dreams? Wishing doesn’t make it happen -- (except it does, if you’re Deku)).

And yet, here they are. Deku is steadily gaining experience as Bakugou falls further and further behind. It’s a strange and visceral jealousy that he feels when he looks at Deku, at the way he improves, at the contacts he makes, at the things he sees and does. At the way fucking -- All Might -- fawns over him, gave him his power, entrusted him with everything .

At the knowledge that being that next pillar of peace, that next number one is Deku’s destiny .

It makes him itch beneath the skin, makes him feel like a fuse that’s always lit. Makes him want to explode .

But no one else wants that. The behaviour that had been overlooked or even praised in middle school is not acceptable here. The administration and his fellow students had made that abundantly clear over the last few months.

It’s obvious that venting his anger is not appropriate and that he will be punished for it, but now he doesn’t know where it should go. If not out, then where?

Simply don’t feel it seems to be the only answer given by the people around him. Don’t be angry with Deku, work together, be part of a team, accept him, accept those around you as strong, you’re just another member of the class, you’re not special, you don’t deserve more than the others here and they don’t see you as a threat, everyone sees Deku as their rival and you’re just -- nothing -- 

 

He’s cracking under the pressure of everything threatening to burst from inside his chest, and he can’t hold it in -- it’s not like the sunshine from Kirishima, it’s vitriol and he can almost see himself leaking, trembling fingers unable to hold himself together as he wraps his arms across his chest as though he can contain it. As if -- this is like being held --

When he breathes out next it comes out as a sob, a broken, ugly thing.

The sound makes it worse, the pathetic noise ringing in his ears, hanging in the air around him, and he breaks, just a little, enough for the tears hanging in his itchy eyes to flow, to stream down his face as he clutches at his upper arms and weeps. This isn’t like it had been before, it doesn’t even feel like it’s from sadness, but rather from being overwhelmed, like he’s too full.

And he sobs for a long time, long enough that the sun sets, that his stomach is empty and furious, that he’s cold, until finally he’s run out of tears. His eyes are swollen and itchy, face hot and sticky from where his nose has run.

He doesn’t feel better.

He feels hollow, like he’s been emptied out and there’s nothing there to replace it.

 


 

“Are you okay?” Kirishima asks him at lunch.

He hasn’t been feeling right today, not since he’d cried himself to dehydration last night. His eyelids are still swollen too, giving him the look of someone with a cold. “Fine,” he says, but it comes out flat. He doesn’t want his food but he eats it anyway, because it’s on his meal plan and he needs the calories for training later.

“You seem kinda down,” continues Kirishima, and Bakugou desperately wishes that they weren’t surrounded by the other idiots at this table. Thankfully Kaminari, Ashido and Sero seem to be caught up in something in a magazine that the former is waving. It’s probably not a coincidence that Kirishima chose this moment to speak to him.

“I’m fine.”

Suddenly there’s a hand on his forearm, where it’s resting on the table. Bakugou looks down. Kirishima’s hand is wrapped over the top of his wrist, the heel of his hand resting on bare skin, his fingers atop the sleeve of Bakugou’s jacket. He’s so warm, and it suddenly strikes Bakugou that it’s been a long time since someone else touched him except in battle. It’s always Kirishima, and only Kirishima. “Hey, if you wanna talk, how about we hang out later?”

“I don’t need to talk.”

“I didn’t say ‘need,’ I said ‘want.’” Kirishima smiles at him just a little, teeth kept safely tucked away behind slightly pursed lips, “I wanna hang out tonight either way. It’s been a while since we’ve had bro time.”

Bakugou is loathe to admit it, but this aspect of Kirishima’s personality - the ability to stand his ground, to nose his way in - is the reason why they’re friends. For someone so reticent to socialize as Bakugou, there is no room for subtlety. “Whatever,” he says, and Kirishima beams.

They meet up in Kirishima’s room that evening, and Bakugou sits on Kirishima’s bed as he scurries around setting up his gaming console. The room smells like Kirishima - a sort of spicy, masculine scent Bakugou knows is from a combination of deodorant and body spray - and it’s overwhelmingly, oppressively red . “Don’t you give a fuck about colour psychology?” Bakugou mutters, pulling his socked feet up onto the bed to sit cross-legged.

“Sure,” says Kirishima. He’s presently trying to get some wires plugged in and Bakugou wonders what the fuck they’re supposed to be playing that requires a component cable, “Red is for excitement and passion!”

“You don’t want something calmer for a bedroom?”

“No,” says Kirishima, unwinding two remotes. He finally turns to look back at Bakugou, seemingly pleased by the fact that he is curled up on top of the atrocious patterned bedspread, “When I’m going to sleep my eyes are closed. The rest of the time I want to channel that passionate mood.”

“Right,” says Bakugou, reaching for the controller being handed to him. He hasn’t played one of these in years - not since Deku was still inserting himself into Bakugou’s little group. “You don’t get tired of it?”

“Sometimes,” says Kirishima, hopping up beside Bakugou, “You know, no one can be one way all the time. Sometimes I feel pretty shitty about myself - well, you know that - like, that I’m not flashy and not cool and shit, like I’m not good enough to be a hero -- don’t say I’m being stupid, I’m just saying I feel that way sometimes,” Bakugou’s mouth clicks closed from where it had been opened in outrage, “And so sometimes the red seems, I dunno, wrong? But then it reminds me of what I want to be, so even then it’s good in a way.”

There’s a long pause. Bakugou doesn’t speak, suddenly wondering if the walls are thin enough that Kirishima might have heard him crying. It’s too on-the-nose, isn’t it? To say this right as Bakugou’s arrived, pretty much…

“Hey, sorry, you okay?” asks Kirishima when the silence stretches on too long.

“‘m Fine.”

“What colour is your room?”

The title screen for the brawler is glowing on the monitor. Bakugou chews on his lip. Kirishima’s never seen his room and he lives next door , “White.”

“You never painted?”

“No,” and his sheets are the same, plain, navy and blue checked pattern he’s always had. There aren’t any posters on the walls or anything like that. He hadn’t been able to bear looking at the All Might posters in his room back at his parents’ place after what had happened, and there had been little else that had interested him as a child that would have translated into decor.

They play for a bit. Bakugou barely remembers the controls, but he has good reflexes and the mind-numbing clicking of his fingers feels pretty good as the time melts away into flashes of light and colour on a small television screen. The sun goes down, something he doesn’t notice until Kirishima gets up to turn on a lamp and he realises they’ve been sitting in the dark for close to an hour.

Spell broken, he puts down his remote and with what could be construed as a sigh, he announces, “I should probably go do homework.”

“No,” says Kirishima, dropping back onto the bed with a grin, “There’s nothing due tomorrow.”

“There’s shit due the day after though,” Bakugou grumbles as Kirishima shuffles closer.

“So do it tomorrow.”

“This is why your grades suck.”

Kirishima just laughs. “But yours don’t. I think you can afford a day off.” At Bakugou’s frown he continues, “Come on Katsuki, I think you work too hard.”

It does not escape Bakugou’s notice that Kirishima has just used his first name, but it sounds natural enough coming from Kirishima that he doesn’t bother to protest. If Kirishima wants to be on a first name basis, that’s fine. Fucking Deku still calls him ‘Kacchan,’ after all.

If Kirishima’s grin begins to spread as Bakugou begins speaking without correcting his use of the name, Bakugou pretends not to notice, “If I was working too hard , I’d be number one already.”

“You are.”

“No, fucking...ponytail and exit sign did better than me.”

“In the written midterm, yeah, but not in practicals.”

Deku did better than him in practicals. Reckless, the report from his final exam had said. Deku had gotten a higher grade because he’d been more willing to work as a team, and because he’d landed the final blow and dragged Bakugou’s unconscious body through the exit gate. So no, he wasn’t the best there either. He doesn’t say that out loud, just stares at where his fingers are interlaced over his shin. Rests his chin on his bent knee.

“You okay, buddy?” asks Kirishima, after a few moments of elapsed silence.

The silence seems to fall heavy, punctuated only by the rattling thud of his heart in his ears. His whole body seems to shake with it, trembling around the fulcrum of his knee. The seconds tick by, awkwardly, that weight of the quiet becoming more oppressive as time rolls on, until finally, he breathes , “No.”

He’s not sure what he’s expecting, what reaction he thinks Kirishima will have, but a hand settling on his shoulderblade is not it. It’s so warm that he can feel it through the thin cotton of his long sleeved shirt. He doesn’t dare to look at Kirishima’s face, even though it must be close now.

“Can I give you a hug?” Kirishima asks, quietly.

And yeah, Kirishima touches him all the time, but they’ve never hugged before. Kirishima seems to recognize hugging as the intimate act it is, as though he knows that no one ever holds Bakugou that way and that he’s not used to it. And usually he’d tell Kirishima to fuck off. That he doesn’t need comfort, that he’s not weak, that Kirishima is being a pussy and implying he’s one too.

But wrapping your arms across your chest is not really like being held.

“Yeah,” he says.

Kirishima does it carefully, shuffling forward and wrapping long arms around the entirety of Bakugou, his chest pressed to Bakugou’s knee. It’s nice, comfortable, and when it doesn’t end after a moment, Bakugou lowers his knee so that it’s flat against the bed, and Kirishima shuffles forward into the space created by the V of his legs, pressing up against him so that their chests are flush.

No sooner has Bakugou’s chin come to rest on Kirishima’s shoulder than his eyes begin to well up, filling mistily with tears until the film of moisture makes it almost impossible to see. He tries not to blink for fear that they will fall, but the next intake of breath through his nose likely gives him away; it could charitably be called a sniffle.

Tentatively, his hands come up so that his forearms are at a ninety degree angle with his biceps, resting lightly against Kirishima’s mid-back. It’s barely a touch but it’s all he can think to give, even as Kirishima’s own arms coil tight around Bakugou’s arms and shoulders. He doesn’t even remember the last time he’d been hugged or cuddled, and the feeling is foreign and strange and…

And so…

It’s so nice.

Kirishima is warm and smells good, his body solid beneath Bakugou’s feeble grip, his arms strong around his torso. Every time he breathes in, Bakugou can feel it as Kirishima’s chest expands to push against his own, and he feels the hot escape of breath against his neck when he exhales. “This okay?” he asks, voice coming out a deep rumble that Bakugou can feel as well as hear.

“Yeah,” he mumbles, wondering how long it’s normal for male friends to hug.

He decides to let Kirishima decide when to end it, but he doesn’t, he just holds Bakugou as he starts to relax in his grip, until his cheek is balanced against Kirishima’s trapezius muscle, most of his weight supported by the hard line of Kirishima’s torso. And it goes on, and on, until the tears are gone from his eyes and his muscles are like jello and he’s left with the aching, empty certainty that this is more than he deserves.

Chapter Text

 

He and Todoroki aren’t exactly friends . Bakugou wouldn’t say they have much in common, unless one counts the fact that both of them are socially inept (albeit in radically different ways) and that neither of them has much in the way of hobbies that aren’t quote, unquote, “useful.”

Despite this, Bakugou has found a certain camaraderie with him, brought forth by their shared suffering at the provisional license classes and by the bonding experience of mutual failure, something which he’s never even had to think about in the past.

They get paired together sometimes, for sparring or for exercises, sometimes on purpose, sometimes by chance. For the most part, practical training actually involves a lot of standing around waiting your turn, something which annoys Bakugou unless he’s been fortuitous enough to be paired with Kirishima, who is always willing to do a bit of additional sparring to help pass the time.

However, Todoroki is far from the worst partner (obviously that particular award goes to Deku, but there’s a number of other contenders). Except that he’s very blunt, “Are you jealous that the others got to do internships when we didn’t have our licenses?”

“Why the fuck do you ask that?” They’re hanging around in the room of their building, waiting for the ‘hero’ team to finish studying their map and come to rescue the scarecrow hostage they have flopped in a chair behind them. There’s nothing here to prompt such a conversation starter.

“Just thinking.”

“Vague,” he grumbles, crossing his arms over his chest.

Todoroki stubs his toe into the tiled floor. “Were your parents mad that you failed?”

“Were yours?”

“Not really,” mumbles Todoroki, “My Dad was there, you saw him.”

Bakugou huffs a mirthless laugh, “Yeah, he’s hard to miss. You’re not very much like him.”

He can see Todoroki’s head tip up from his peripheral vision, and then, somewhat haltingly, “You think?”

“Well, yeah, you’re pretty much the fucking opposite. He’s fucking screaming across the stadium and you’re like a fucking,” he gestures at the hostage, “Quiet.”

“Huh,” sighs the other boy. A minute passes and Bakugou’s assumed that Todoroki is done talking when suddenly he continues, “But were yours?”

“My what?”

“Your parents. Were they upset?”

Bakugou turns this time, to look at him, and scowls, “Why do you want to know?”

“Why don’t you want to answer?”

Angry, his voice begins to rasp against his throat, deepening, “I wouldn’t fucking know, I haven’t talked to them since before then.”

“Why not?”

“Why don’t you mind your own business? Huh?”

He’s finally looking at Todoroki head-on, and what he sees is hardly surprising. It takes a lot to get Todoroki flustered, and this is no exception. Of course, staying angry at someone so cool and collected is difficult, but Bakugou certainly does his best. “I don’t know you at all,” says Todoroki, as though talking about the weather, “I think I know everyone else in the class better than I know you.”

“There’s nothing to know,” says Bakugou, “What you see is what you get.”

“That’s a lie,” says Todoroki, with absolute certainty in his level voice, “Otherwise I would actually hate you.”

The statement is so absurd that a laugh bubbles up in his throat before Bakugou can stop it, “What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Look,” says Todoroki, and rubs his bare hands over his knees. He’s sitting on top of some sort of...junk, feet dangling half a foot from the ground. He looks like a little kid, “I keep thinking about something you said at provisional training.”

“What’s that?”

“That you were raised with violence?”

Bakugou’s heart squeezes unpleasantly in his chest, stomach lurching up to meet it, “So? That’s the normal way, isn’t it? Spank a kid when they’re bad.”

“Most people wouldn’t call that ‘violence’. Just…’discipline.’”

“So I’m... used the wrong word, whatever.”

Todoroki frowns meaningfully at him, “I don’t think it was the ‘normal way’. You don’t act like a normal kid.”

And fuck, Todoroki knows all about unusual children, doesn’t he? Bakugou can only imagine being the spawn of the famously harsh Endeavour... and knowing that Todoroki had been injured by his mother on top of that, well. He wouldn’t want to say that to Bakugou though, which meant that asking pointed questions was a surefire way to kill the conversation, “You would know, huh?”

“Yes,” says Todoroki, “My father has a temper, my mother is in hospital for mental illness.”

The air is instantly taken from Bakugou’s sails and his lungs sag as the breath is sucked from them, bluff utterly called.. “Why would you tell me that?” he mutters.

“Because you’re the same? Your parents...I mean, I guess….they didn’t burn you but they weren’t good to you, right?” At Bakugou’s silence, he continues, “Your anger doesn’t make sense, you know? I didn’t really think about it much at first, because I didn’t like you, but then you said that at the training and I couldn’t stop wondering what you meant.”

“Talking a lot doesn’t suit you,” is all Bakugou manages.

“Why do you hate Midoriya so much?”

It’s like flipping a switch and everything bubbles back up again, “Why the fuck do you want to know?!”

“It doesn’t make sense!”

“Not everything has to make sense! Why do I need a fucking reason? I just don’t fucking like him!”

Todoroki stands. It annoys Bakugou that he’s a couple of centimeters taller (won’t he get much taller too? If he’s Endeavour’s son?) and he sneers up at him, tensing. Todoroki speaks as flatly as ever, “If you don’t like someone you just don’t talk to them. You don’t go out of your way to try to kill them.”

“You know what, Todoroki?” The words rise in Bakugou’s throat, spilling from his mouth before he even has a chance to form the sentences in his mind, “I tried that! In first grade I fucking tried that. I tried straight up telling him to go away. I tried ignoring him. I tried threatening him and then beating the shit out of him and mocking him and telling him to kill himself and fuck, I tried everything but the little shit would never go away.” His fists are clenched so hard his knuckles are hurting, “Do you know what it’s like to have someone you hate follow you around for twelve fucking years, Todoroki? Every time you look over your shoulder he’s fucking there, following you? Except now he’s fucking -- in front of me --”

His voice cracks a little and he abruptly stops. He’s glad the cameras filming them don’t have audio capture, but everyone back at base will see him screaming. It probably looks like he’s threatening Todoroki.

“But why did you hate him in the first place?” asks Todoroki.

“Because -- !” he struggles for words. Todoroki’s face does not change, “Because he’s useless!”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Useless people don’t fucking deserve --” He stops suddenly, his jaw snapping shut with a click he can feel through his skull. That’s too much. He feels sick.

“Don’t deserve what, Bakugou?”

He doesn’t reply, just turns away and stares at the scarecrow as though she can help him. Todoroki tries again, quieter, but Bakugou doesn’t answer him. There’s something akin to panic coursing through his veins, making his entire body seize up around his broken core. The hostage situation will start any second now, any second now.

Any second now.

 


 

Kirishima asks him what happened with Todoroki that evening. Bakugou tries his best to ask for a hug instead of answer, bumping against Kirishima’s shoulder with his forehead and curling his shoulder in towards him. Luckily, Kirishima is nothing if not observant of people, and seems to understand straight away what Bakugou wants, hooking an arm under his and pulling him into the gap created by his bent and spread knees.

It takes a couple of seconds for them to settle into a mutually comfortable position, both facing the edge of the bed, Kirishima propped up by the pillow at his back, and Bakugou half on Kirishima’s chest and half on his bent leg.. This way, they can both still see the movie they were watching. Unfortunately it also means that they are now almost spooning, the realization of which makes hot blood pool in his cheeks. He’s the little spoon.

“This alright?” asks Kirishima, and all Bakugou can do is nod jerkily, because Kirishima doesn’t seem bothered at all by their position, and to make a fuss would only draw attention to the fact that Bakugou is . He doesn’t have much experience with having friends, but he does still have to wonder if this is ordinary behaviour.

Maybe it is, for Kirishima? He’s touchy feely, after all.  

Kirishima’s arms settle over him, heavy across his shoulder and side, his elbow bent so that his forearm is pressed against Bakugou, across to where his hand splays casually against his sternum.

It takes quite a while for him to relax into it, as it had when they had hugged, but he does eventually grow used to the warmth of a solid body at his back and large arms wrapped around his side and chest. And it’s nice, truly. As his muscles unwind, he can’t help but sigh in contentment, feeling Kirishima shift a little closer at that, and his hand begin to rub slow, gentle circles over Bakugou’s chest.

“You wanna talk about it, or no?” Kirishima murmurs at some point, what must have been an hour later, when the movie is done and they’re sitting in silent contentment. Bakugou’s been wondering what’s going to happen next while the credits roll, but Kirishima doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to extricate himself from the embrace.

“No,” says Bakugou. It’s not true. He wants to spill his guts in a messy spurt across the floor, to lay himself bare to Kirishima’s eyes. He wants to tell someone how he feels but he doesn’t want to lose the feeling of arms around him.

“Okay,” says Kirishima.

 


 

 

His mother slaps him across the face the first time she sees him. “It’s been months, Katsuki.”

They hadn’t been able to stay in dorms over the winter break, it’s the only reason he’s home. “Sorry,” he mutters, even though he’s not, not even a little bit.

“No you’re not,” she scowls, “Ungrateful brat.”

“Welcome home, Katsuki,” his father says, and pats him on the shoulder. “Try to be good while you’re here.”

It doesn’t feel like home. His room feels foreign. He lays down on the bed after his mother is done reaming him out and looks over his feet at the wall opposite. All Might. This poster had been the first and last thing he’d seen every day for years, a source of inspiration and encouragement even in the rare moments he’d felt his drive start to wane. If All Might could do it, so could he.

So could he.

Except, no. He’d been wrong. He can’t. Can’t be number one, in the end.

Deku can. Deku is All Might, or the closest thing to him now. Toshinori-sensei is just the withered, wasted form of someone drained of their quirk, the result of decades of fighting, persevering, pushing. That’s what you get in the end. You die or you wither.

He stares at his hands, at the fingers bent in towards his calloused palms. Will he wither? Or will he die?

Chapter Text

He’s suffering, he recognizes that now. This isn’t normal. People shouldn’t feel this way, like they’re choking on their rage, struggling to breathe against the oppressive feeling, only for it to evaporate, to leave them hollow and empty, like their ribcage is wrapped around a vacuum and on the verge of caving in.

He sits on a park bench, his heart hammering in his chest from his run, and waits for the cold to sink into his heated skin.

He sits there until long after the warmth has ebbed away, unable to make himself move. He’s aching . Pathetic.

“Kacchan,” comes a tentative voice from the path he’d been running down, and he doesn’t look up. No need, when there’s only one person who calls him that. He supposes he should have figured not to stay outside too long; Deku doesn’t live far away, after all, and Bakugou has terrible luck.

“What.”

“Sorry,” mumbles Deku, and his shoes come into view where Bakugou’s been staring at the asphalt. They’re black and green and Bakugou thinks about rolling his eyes in exasperation, except that the feeling doesn’t come so there’s no point in expressing it.

“What for?”

“Bothering you.”

“Then why are you doing it?” he asks. His arms are resting on his thighs and he stares at the way his hand curls as it hangs loose from the side of his leg. The tips of his fingers are rough - the weather has been cold and it’s making his skin crack. That’s a new one; usually the glycerin in his skin takes care of that.

Tentatively, “You...you don’t look too good. Are you feeling okay?”

Bakugou finally raises his eyes, trailing up over Deku’s winter coat to his face, his big, round, worried eyes, wide in his pale face. He’s holding two bags of groceries in one hand. “Fine,” Bakugou says, and wonders what he looks like, sitting here on this lonely bench in the middle of a snow-dusted park. He’s in long sleeves and long spandex under loose shorts, but it’s nowhere near enough for this time of year when he’s not moving. “What do you care?”

“Well, of course I care, you’re my classmate. And a person besides.”

Bakugou snorts. Bullshit. “Deku it’s fine to not fucking care about someone. You don’t need to pretend. I mean, hell, it’d make more sense for you to wish I stayed out too long and froze to death than it does for you to want to help.”

“A hero wouldn’t wish death on anyone.”

“Is that so?” Bakugou bites at the cuticle of his thumbnail absentmindedly. “Is that a rule?”

A long pause, long enough that Bakugou looks back up at Deku to see what he’s doing. He’s just staring down at him, forehead crumpled from where his eyebrows are drawn viciously together into a worried frown. “Are you sick?” Deku asks.

“No,” says Bakugou. Sick in the head, maybe. “Now fuck off, Deku.”

Another long pause. Deku shifts under the scrutiny as Bakugou continues to stare up at him. Eventually, with what looks like quite a bit of effort, he sucks in a breath, and squeaks, “Todoroki told me what you guys talked about.”

That takes him aback, and Bakugou suddenly finds himself lost for words, his lips rolling in for form a thin line. What a little snitch Todoroki is. What a pathetic piece of shit, going to Deku with something that isn’t even his problem. Bakugou thinks he should scream, but still nothing comes. Eventually, faced with stony silence, Deku works up the courage to continue, “Does your mom still hit you?”

Deku had seen it, once, when they were kids. It hadn’t been anything so bad... Bakugou had set something on fire by accident when showing off, and despite putting it out almost immediately, it had scorched the rug. His mother had seen it when she’d gotten home, and unaware that Deku had been in the bathroom at the moment she’d walked in, had opted to punish him immediately. He remembers crying from the spanking, but it hadn’t been so bad. The worst part was that Deku had seen most of it from where he’d been loitering awkwardly in the hallway.

“What do you mean, still ?” he says, “Disciplining is not hitting.”

“She...she hit you, Kacchan, that wasn’t just like… like most kids, it’s a swat, maybe a couple. You couldn’t sit down after…” Fuck, Deku remembers, of course he does. He probably wrote it down in one of his creepy little journals.

“I was a little shit as a kid,” Bakugou says, “I deserved a spanking.”

“That wasn’t a spanking, Kacchan. She hit you in the face too, you don’t remember?” No, he hadn’t remembered. The specifics of the incidences all blur together. “Todoroki-kun told me what you said. That you were raised with violence. You know I know that’s true, Kacchan, and I’ve never known you to lie before, so why are you lying now?”

“It’s cold, I’m going to go,” says Bakugou, standing abruptly. Deku takes a reflexive half-step back. “If you wanna talk about parents, talk to Todoroki about his - there’s a kid with a fucking problem.”

He turns, but Deku is suddenly in his way, “Kacchan, please. There’s something wrong, I can tell, and I know you won’t wanna talk to me, even if I don’t understand why -- but talk to someone, please. I don’t know if it’s about your family, or something else, or...me, but you need to accept help. I know you don’t want to, that you think it makes you weak or something, but honestly, taking help is a sign of strength. All Might says --”

“I don’t wanna hear what fucking All Might says.”

“Why not?” Deku’s voice cracks with frustration, “He’s your hero!”

“He’s everyone’s fucking hero, Deku! Or was! I’m not fucking special, I don’t mean anything to him, and he doesn’t mean anything to me! He’s just a quirkless piece of shit now anyway,” he tries to turn away again, but Deku is once more in the way.

“Kacchan you don’t mean that.”

“Don’t I?”

“I know you don’t! What’s wrong with you, why are you acting like this?”

“Like what?!” the anger is finally making itself known, boiling beneath his skin. Deku knows how to get to him, that much hasn’t changed, “Like what, Deku? You don’t fucking know me! You don’t know anything about me, or my life, or what I want or who I care about! You and I aren’t friends and we never have been!”

“I want to be! Kacchan, we’re walking the exact same path. All I want is that instead of racing to our destination, pushing each other down to get ahead, that we walk together! If we support one another, who knows what we can do!”

“‘We’!” scoffs Bakugou.

“Yes, ‘we’!”

Bakugou sneers, “You’re going to be number one, aren’t you, Deku? What does that make me, in your mind?” His voices lowers, “Second place?”

“And what’s wrong with second place?”

Oh. There it goes.

Both his hands explode at once without warning, melting the snow around them into two overlapping circles of wet pavement and grass.

Deku takes a leap back, but only to put down his groceries, Bakugou notes with some disgust. “If you’re not first, you’re nothing,” he snarls, and watches as Deku brings his clenched fists up in front of him as if they’re actually going to fight.

“Only one person can be the best, Kacchan. I wish you wouldn’t think that way, because you invalidate everyone else! You really think only the best counts? That all the others putting in all their effort, dedicating their lives to a cause are just wasting their time?”

“Yes,” he snarls. “You know what drives me really fucking crazy, Deku? You feel the same fucking way! But somehow, because you appear, I don’t know, fucking….you look and act like a ‘nice guy’, nobody gives a shit. It’s fine for you to aim for the top. It’s fine for you to claim your fucking destiny to be number one. To have people see you as their rival, to give everything they have against you. It’s fine for you -- but not for me -- ” His voice is breaking, and he’s not sure if it’s in anger or grief, “ -- why? Why not me?”

Deku’s eyebrows go up, his voice coming out tight as well, “Kacchan --”

“You spent most of your life...dreaming! I spent most of my life working! You think you have the fucking lock on injuring yourself with your quirk? You don’t think I’ve had my fair share of burns? You don’t think I’ve fucking -- worked myself to exhaustion -- doing things over and over again until they’re perfect --” He only notices the tears that roll down his face because they’re hot on his freezing cheeks, “I spent my whole life in pursuit of this, and you -- you do one thing and All Might -- he --”

“You think I don’t deserve it?”

“No!” yeah, his voice is gone, a strangled mess, “I don’t! You’re a dreamer! A fucking fanboy who watched and wished but never did anything about it. You work hard now, but I’ve worked hard forever.”

“You’re naturally talented --”

“ -- that’s what worthless pieces of shit tell themselves to make them feel better! Yeah, I am, I got a great quirk, and fast reflexes, and I’m smart but that’s where it ends! You’re just as smart but you waste it on stupid fanboy bullshit. You know I didn’t just pop out of the womb knowing how to use my quirk. I don’t look like this,” he gestures roughly to his own upper body, “by being ‘naturally talented.’ You’ve seen my Dad, Deku!”

“It’s not just your quirk though, Kacchan!” Deku’s got his determined face on. Bakugou considers blasting himself into the air so he can get over him, since going around doesn’t seem to be working, “You’re good at everything! You could do anything!”

“You know what I’m good at, Deku, is fucking trying harder than everybody else! But that’s not working anymore, and when people look at you, they see a leader, and a hero, and when they look at me, they see a villain! All I want is to prove myself, but I’m punished over and over because I fucking -- feel -- ”

Deku’s fists are slowly uncoiling as he realises Bakugou’s are staying rigid at his sides, “No one’s asking you not to feel, Kacchan. Just to let go of your anger.”

“But what if anger’s all I have? What then?”

“It’s not.”

“It is !” Without it he feels fucking freezing.

“I know that’s not true,” says Deku and takes a couple of steps towards him, slowly reaching out a gloved hand as though approaching a wild animal. It’s probably an apt comparison, since Bakugou’s first instinct is to bite him. He slinks closer, sidling up until he can press his hand to Bakugou’s arm. “Kacchan, I know you think you don’t have anything else to offer, but I know you do, I’ve seen it. When we were kids...you were so happy. You lit up the room. People wanted to follow you because you were charismatic, and strong. That’s why I -- I mean, I always…” he trails off for a second, something so unusual that it makes Bakugou’s skin crawl with anticipation. Deku is never at a loss for words - he usually has far too many.

“You’re like….like the sun. You burn so bright and so hot. And we need the sun, or...we need people like you, who are like that. But be around you too long and we get burned. You know what I mean?”

“No. That’s fucking stupid.”

“Yeah,” sighs Deku, but he takes another half-step closer, rather than further away, “I never have been able to put into words how you make me feel. It’s ridiculous, right? That I still admire you and want to be close to you after everything that’s happened? Despite the way you treat me.”

“Yeah,” agrees Bakugou, fighting the urge to step back, out of Deku’s grip. “I think you’re insane.”

Deku moves closer, and slides his hand down the length of Bakugou’s arm, down to his hand, wool-covered fingers curling against Bakugou’s bare palm. “Well, we’re all a bit crazy to want to be heroes. Look, I just want you to be...happy. And I know you think that the only way to do that is by being number one but...you’re not even happy when you are. Even when you win, you’re not satisfied and I can’t help but think that maybe you’re looking for happiness in the wrong place.” Bakugou’s mouth twists in disgust but he doesn’t say anything, so Deku continues, “I don’t think you can ever be fulfilled by trying to be the best at everything -- and that doesn’t mean you should stop trying -- just that you...shouldn’t hinge everything in your life on that. You should enjoy other things as well.”

“Yeah, like what? What the fuck do you know?”

“Like friends. Like...just doing things for the fun of it! Like...eating stuff that isn’t on your meal plan - don’t even argue, I know you haven’t eaten anything off your training plan in...years or something - like doing activities that don’t….improve you! Like going to the movies, or playing video games or...something?”

He does those two things with Kirishima.

Bakugou has been staring over Deku’s shoulder, at the grooves in the tree across the path, the way the snow has settled into the cracks in the bark, but now he looks at his face. Deku’s eyes are shiny. Of course they are. “Why do you look like you’re about to cry?” he asks, even though he dreads whatever the answer is.

“Because I want you to be happy.” Deku sniffs, “I wish you wanted that too.”