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you turn me into somebody loved

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proximity’s worth

Bakugou’s handed over to the police.

The other kids form a line so the paramedics can inspect them: prob for broken bones, shine lights into eyes, wipe grime from faces, test the palpitations of hearts. An officer gestures towards Kirishima, a question mark framing her face: civilian pity encroaching upon professional exasperation. Every gaze is piqued – some shy, some made insensitive by exhaustion – and, like the beacon of a lighthouse that suddenly pauses, they cast their collective curiosity upon Kirishima.

Eyes as bright and glossed as cat’s eye gems, split through the middle by terror, blink back at words that are indistinguishable from the cacophony of tragedy surrounding Kirishima: concrete crumbling, sirens wailing, fire combusting, people howling and sobbing and silently mourning. Kirishima’s disorientated grimace protracts as he presses ever closer to Bakugou, their hands still interlaced like an umbilical cord, keeping them both alive.

A paramedic takes a step towards the officer, offering to perform surgery to separate the two boys, but she lifts one hand to stop him. There’s a sigh, a shrug of shoulders.

And into the back of the police van they both go, stumbling once, twice – through a darkness entrenched in their minds, a tar hampering their motor skills. Into a cruddy, stained seat, Bakugou climbs with fingers scorched by boiling water. Onto the window he slumps like a tourist eager to soak in the scenery. It’s all detritus: cinders, shrapnel, and chemical waste that he squeezes into his pupils, which are dilated for maximum viewing capacity. Wide-eyed and bleak, like he hasn’t slept all week.

He’s the illusion of serenity, until a clearing blows up and he flinches, knocking against Kirishima sitting next to him. With a countenance that is unequal parts elation and despair, Kirishima focuses mainly on their hands cradled against his knee. Occasionally, he follows Bakugou’s arm to the rest of his body, as if frightened of not finding all his parts present and in the right places. Kirishima’s relieved to be proven wrong every time.

The door of the van slams shut and they’re plunged into this strange bubble, safely removed from any immediate danger yet uncomfortably dissociated from their recent experiences. Bakugou’s struggling to breathe without the smoke. As adrenaline recedes, the pain that has been stretched like a rubber band to its limit ricochets against his ribcage, a tremor like the instantaneous shattering of every bone in his skeleton. Without a threat to justify hysterical strength, he’s forced to depend on this lackluster reservoir – a reminder of why he works best under pressure, of why he internally pressures himself until his muscles are fracturing from the stress.

There is nothing for Bakugou to love about this outcome, even if it’s the best he could’ve hoped for given the circumstances – a miracle, really. There’s nothing for Bakugou to love about any outcome after glory’s candle has blown out.

The officer passes Kirishima a cloth dampened with water. He thinks he smiles at her, but a sob hiccups through his vocal cords, so maybe he just looks scared.

The wheels of the van start to spin and Bakugou’s eyes almost roll backwards with them. He blinks – rapid, anxious – as he’s carried away from the only proof that everything he experienced tonight was real.

An ambulance rushes by, momentarily filling them with white noise. The high-pitched screech dislocates some tissue in Bakugou’s eardrum, making it bleed, but he’s too far gone to notice. Tentatively, Kirishima wipes it with the cloth, and Bakugou reels, snarls.

But even this proves too much and his mangled facial muscles slacken, turning him once more into a blank slate. Disappointment settles into his gut as he realizes he just wasted his last burst of defensive energy.

Kirishima musters a tired smile. Like the paramedics with the other kids, Kirishima wipes Bakugou’s face: dirt and ash and caked blood, but mostly sweat – so much sweat. The cool contact absorbs some of the heat congesting under his skin and his heart takes a step towards a healthier cadence. Tears that have been hiding in the brims of his eyes are coaxed free, Kirishima making sure to mop them up quickly so Bakugou can’t become aware of them. The bags under his eyes are thick and crimson, like they’ve been chiseled by sickles.

Kirishima brushes Bakugou’s lips and they wobble, his breathing once more cranking up, his whole complexion searching for a target to lunge at. Unable to settle for tranquility after such a terrific high, he keeps trying to agitate his body, feeding himself excitement so he can keep climbing this emotional skyscraper. He has no intention of coming down quietly, of performing anything short of a nosedive crash. Depression colonizes the cracks in his facade, waiting for its chance to engulf him completely.

Kirishima’s bleeding-heart can’t bluff anymore. Tears crowd his eyes, giving him kaleidoscope vision, and then drip messily onto his cheeks, following no set trajectory. A drop lands on the back of Bakugou’s hand, making him pull away but not out of Kirishima’s grip: Bakugou also depends on the ballast it offers.

Kirishima wants to hug Bakugou – wrap his arms around Bakugou’s spine, hold Bakugou’s head to his breastbone. There’s strength enough left to summon his quirk: a safe, sturdy dome against which Bakugou can kick and claw and blow up – vent all that vexed energy. But Kirishima can’t imagine how their bodies would fit together so soon after their hands have discovered synchronicity. He fears hurting themselves in the process.

Kirishima wishes the moment after saving Bakugou could extend indefinitely – all that triumph and relief without ever having to face tomorrow with its fear and regret and self-loathing. Without the trauma that’s already started to blossom like bruises across their tender teenage skin.

A mobius strip of catharsis that they can ride forever, without confronting their current, slow breakdown, which will fail to climax outward, caving in on itself and burying them in angry debris.

The van speeds up. All at once, they’re struck by the lights of the city – a glaring, menacing spotlight that exposes their crimes. They can’t hide behind their short-lived victory anymore. They aren’t protected by their victim status. Everyone knows what they’ve done and everyone’s demanding consequences – to teach them remorse, discipline, shame.

Everything they did was justified while they were just trying to survive, but in the aftermath it all turns out to be wrong.

After tonight, they know, they’ll just be a pair of kids that messed up. Kirishima for being reckless and selfish and disregarding the law; for endangering his life and those of his classmates. Bakugou for flaunting his rebellious personality, as villains do; for being too weak to defend himself and becoming someone else’s burden.

All the lights make Bakugou jittery, but he steels himself to take them in, glaring back in what is surely a rehearsal for how he’ll confront all the adults that’ll judge him soon. They can punish him, but they can’t make him care about their opinions.

Kirishima presses his lips to Bakugou’s knuckles – as if it’ll mean anything, as if either of them will remember it after tonight. Tonight is already so colossal that neither of them knows how it’ll fit into their heads. Surely, they will only recall a tailored version, smoothing out all the minor details, merging their feelings with those of others so as a whole it’s more tolerable – less of their pain and more of an outsider’s clinical assessment.

Bakugou remains awake throughout the trip, while Kirishima falls asleep, weighed down by fatigue. He curls into himself on the seat, knees bent towards his chest, one hand under his head.

The van stops in a neighborhood Bakugou doesn’t recognize until the door opens and he sees his parents standing in front of their house. Mitsuki’s first to reach him, her face grinning wide enough to swallow several of her tears before burying in his shoulder. Her tears and snot and sweat soak into his shirt, and so does her disjointed blubbering: words embracing him like a blanket he never knew he carried everywhere – the mother’s love he’s tried so hard to disown.

Throwing her arms around Bakugou, Mitsuki tries to lift him, cradling him as if he’s still a toddler and she doesn’t have to worry about all the dangerous things he’ll do as a teenager. She’s sobbing, “my dear, my baby, Katsuki – you’re finally home.”

All the noise wakes up Kirishima, who doesn’t know Mitsuki but deduces who she is. Bakugou manages to free himself enough to exit the vehicle on his own, then turns when his whole body fails to follow.

Kirishima’s still holding Bakugou’s hand, a fact Bakugou’s surprised to discover after taking it completely for granted, after accepting its presence without considering a departure. The tips of his fingers are still white from gripping so tightly but his whole hand feels relaxed, suspended in water.

Caressing the pads of Bakugou’s hand with his thumb, Kirishima discovers a new battle scar. Mesmerized, Kirishima’s gaze follows Bakugou’s arm to the rest of his body, satisfied to find all of his parts present and in the right places. Then, with that tentative, encouraging smile, his fingers slip out of Bakugou’s.

Bakugou stares for a while longer, his surprise now directed at the absence of Kirishima’s hand, as if maybe he wants to take it back, or at least be the one to decide when to let go. But he’s being swept away by his parents – making sure they don’t smother him becomes his priority.

The van door shuts and Kirishima can’t see Bakugou anymore.


 the scope of all of this rebuilding

Kirishima gets out of bed because he hears a sound – heavy and dull, like a body slamming against a wall. Inside the living room, he smells thick chemical fumes. The air is warm – uncomfortably warm, like the heat is burrowing into his skin, kickstarting his own fight response; a syrup of gasps and held breaths, of panic and hostility.

A tremor travels his skeleton, electric like the energy that accompanies a scream.

Squinting in the darkness, Kirishima spies a toppled table and scattered picture frames; bits of glass with a trail of bloody footprints, stumbling in abstract circles throughout the room. Impossible to discern what’s recent and what’s already caked to the wooden floor.

All the signs of a struggle without its victim.

There are plenty of shadows in the room – space for someone to hide, to retreat and plan an attack. Kirishima’s hero training warns him to be cautious, but his heart contracts with worry and he treads into the open, swinging his head around in careful search of a familiar face.

“Bakugou?” he asks, hoarse from fatigue and anxiety.

A floorboard creaks under the weight of a shifting body. Fingers scrape against a wall, then clench together. The way Bakugou breaths, squeezing all of his muscles so they’ll move as slowly and quietly as possible, Kirishima recognizes it from the time he had to hide behind a crumbling wall from a villain that most definitely would’ve murdered him and his friends if they’d been discovered.

Their gazes lock and Bakugou sneers.

Bakugou!” Kirishima repeats, relief slapping a crooked smile onto his face as he rushes towards his friend.

Too hasty to circumvent the debris between them, his ankle knocks against the table – not enough to trip him, but the noise hits Bakugou like a searchlight and his pupils dilate. Kicking off of the wall, he lunges at Kirishima, palms spread wide like flowers in full bloom. There’s a yelp as the air’s punched out of Kirishima’s lungs, the world spinning for a moment before the ground rises to catch him. Bakugou grabs both of Kirishima’s wrists, nails digging in deep to prevent him from moving his hands without tremendous pain. His quirk kicks in to protect him, but he’s not in attack mode, so he regulates its intensity to avoid hurting Bakugou.

“Not that much of a threat without your hands, huh? Too bad for you mine are faster!” Bakugou yells, his voice haughty but still padded with fear. Kirishima can feel Bakugou’s arms shivering. His eyes, which glare with hatred at Kirishima, are dyed red from the blood stress is pumping into them.

He doesn’t seem to register the change in Kirishima’s skin.

He doesn’t register Kirishima at all.

“Maybe I should blow them right off!” Bakugou continues, his triumph thick but with a short fuse, like he knows he shouldn’t be exposing himself by talking but needs times to come up with his next counterattack.

“Wouldn’t that be fucking fun – watching your hands rot like all the other ones?”

Realization wounds Kirishima. Bakugou misinterprets his grimace.

“Hah! You think your shithead villain friends are going to show up to help you? I’ve already taken care of them! You’re the only one left!”

Sweat from Bakugou’s face drips onto Kirishima.

“And I’m going to make you fucking pay for what you freaks did to All Might.”

A threatening murmur, like noxious gas rising from a swamp. Suffocating.

Bakugou’s palms detonate with such power that Kirishima’s armor shudders, pain knotting his nervous system. Smoke billows between them, obscuring Bakugou so he appears faraway, unreachable. But first Kirishima notices the fault lines fracturing Bakugou’s facade, crammed with anguish, guilt, shame – this resolve, to make up for the tragedy Bakugou feels responsible for, shakes Kirishima from shock.

“Bakugou! Snap out of it! I’m not –!”

“Shut the hell up! Scumbags like you should keep their shitty ideals to themselves! You’ve got no fucking business inconveniencing people with real talent – like me!” Bakugou snaps, ramming his forearm into Kirishima’s neck. There’s another pair of synchronized explosions, prompting Kirishima to increases his defenses. But Bakugou holds on just as fiercely, blood trickling from his palms.

“C’mon, man! You’re stronger than this!” Kirishima tries, surprising Bakugou with his strength and managing to wrestle him off. “You’ve beaten it before!”

Bakugou looks momentarily dazed, panic puncturing his pupils before he leaps again. Circling around Bakugou, Kirishima dodges his attack, then wraps both arms around his stomach and lifts him into the air. He thrashes, unable to free himself. Frustration and terror nurture a scream in his chest, but his vocal cords are too raw to tune it properly, and fat, angry tears cascade from his eyes instead.

“You need to – calm down – and see things – clearly!” Kirishima shouts, holding Bakugou at a safe distance from anything he can destroy. This doesn’t include Kirishima, who braces himself and focuses on maintaining his balance – both vertically and quirk-wise. This is a battle of endurance.

“I’ll fucking kill you!” Bakugou barks, as gritty as sandpaper. “I’ll beat you so hard you’ll beg to be dead!”

“No,” Kirishima gasps, his legs going numb from holding Bakugou up for so long. He blinks through a blurring vision. “You’ll never kill anyone – because that’s not –”

Bakugou kicks Kirishima’s torso, attempts to incinerate his arms. His murderous intent is almost paralyzing, but this isn’t Kirishima’s first time dealing with it. He takes a deep breath, then exhales.

“What a hero does.”

Cursing his body for not being strong enough, Kirishima collapses, his quirk holding out for just long enough to protect him from breaking one of his bones. Bakugou lands on top of him.

“And you’re the greatest hero I know, Bakugou.”

Gasping from exertion, Kirishima spreads out his arms but is unable to lift them. Powerless, he watches as Bakugou sits up, casting suspicious glances around him.

“Motherfucker, you don’t even deserve to live! I’ll do you a favor and kill you!” Bakugou growls, but he’s losing steam, losing sight of his enemy. Disorientated, as if roused from a nightmare.

His eyes connect with Kirishima’s. There’s a tense pause.

“Kirishima?” Bakugou inquires, softly, experimentally, as if he’s realized that his mind’s playing tricks on him but can’t yet discern what part is the fake. His eyes are wide, like an animal caught in headlights, and his mouth hangs open in a frown.

Kirishima clears his throat to give Bakugou the reassurance he’s looking for.

“Hey, dude, you finally returned to your senses.”

A lopsided smile emerges naturally from his features, conveying more relief than he’d usually allow himself around Bakugou, but he figures the stunt he just pulled justifies it.

Gawking, Bakugou reaches with one hand to touch the side of Kirishima’s hot, perspiring face – to confirm its physicality. The gentleness of Bakugou’s normally rough hand and the pleasant current it sends through Kirishima’s body makes him tilt his head slightly, enough to fit better into Bakugou’s palm. Then Bakugou moves away, simultaneously relieved by the information this gesture provides and disappointed in himself for having to perform it.

Standing too fast gives him a migraine.

Taking a deep breath, Kirishima wills himself to follow suit. He stumbles a little, then gratefully accepts the shoulder Bakugou offers as support.

Bakugou wears a stern, troubled look. Discovering Kirishima at the scene of the crime is no comfort: Bakugou prefers to deal with these issues alone, in private. Fighting Shigaraki for real almost seems easier than living with the knowledge that Kirishima witnessed one of his episodes.

Another of his episodes. This isn’t the first or last time, unfortunately.

If only Kirishima was as good as Bakugou at repressing uncomfortable memories, they’d both be better off.

Bakugou surveys the room, but the mess he’s made of it can’t compare to the mess he’s made in his head – a twister of feelings and memories that sucked up unfamiliar rubble. He wasn’t hallucinating the past this time: he was envisioning some kind of future. Wish fulfillment, perhaps.

This is the first time it happens, and what it means – for his brain, his moods, his performance as a hero – is frustratingly unclear.

Hopefully it means progress.

“Where –?”

Bakugou’s voice buckles: he shouldn’t be asking questions – he should be figuring things out on his own.

“Are we?” Kirishima finishes, sparing Bakugou the humiliation of simmering in his silence. “We’re at your place. This is the living room.”

Kirishima’s only trying to be helpful, yet Bakugou feels the sting of humiliation.

“And why are you here?”

Kirishima fails to register the onset of hostility.

“I came to hang out! But it got kind of late, so your mom said I should just spend the ni –”

“I know that!” Bakugou snaps, reeling to face Kirishima. A snarl joins his features, reckless and raw. “Why are you here?”

He means in this situation.

Kirishima meets Bakugou’s glare with caution.

“Well, I heard a noise and –”

“And you just couldn’t keep your nose out of it!” Bakugou yells, clenching his fists with a flurry of fireworks. Hatred encases him like spikes, simultaneously asphyxiating and stabbing. Kirishima swallows uneasily.

“You couldn’t mind your own fucking business for once! This is your damn problem – you don’t know when to stay away! You don’t consider the consequences to your stupid actions! Some people don’t need your fucking help – hell, they don’t want it! But there you go, biting off more than you can fucking chew without knowing the first thing about it! There’s shit you can’t fucking handle! Whatever the hell you’re trying to prove, or make up for, just forget about it! You’re only inconveniencing everyone that has to make up for your damn mistakes! And don’t expect anyone to thank you for being a fucking irresponsible idiot!”

Kirishima stares, more surprised than hurt. Bakugou heaves, wincing at the crash that follows such an extreme outburst. As his anger clears out, he discovers, inexplicably, self-loathing.

No: it’s not inexplicable – Bakugou’s self-loathing is perfectly founded.

What started as reprimanding Kirishima became a little too personal for comfort. Fucked up how his subconscious does that to him.

Chewing on his tongue, Bakugou looks away, pretending to have just noticed the broken glass littering the floor - pretending to have just noticed the dull sting in his soles.

Guilt gnaws at Kirishima’s conscious: Bakugou’s made it painfully clear that Kirishima’s company somehow leads him to these uncomfortable realizations. Maybe he should just follow Bakugou’s advice and stay away.

But maybe they aren’t so bad – maybe this, too, is a form of healing. Bakugou’s angry heart sure as hell isn’t going to heal in isolated house arrest. He’s suffocating in here.

But Kirishima can’t entertain that idea for long: he doesn’t know what’s best for Bakugou, and he doesn’t know how to help. Framing himself as righteous makes him uncomfortable.

Bakugou’s right: Kirishima’s just here because he can’t keep to himself, because he can’t tell himself “what Bakugou’s going through is none of my business” and believe it.

Kirishima wants Bakugou to accept his help, in matters both small and large. Why, if Bakugou could accept Kirishima’s help when his life was at stake, is he so adamant about not letting Kirishima help now?

Perhaps it’s Kirishima’s pushing that Bakugou hates. Perhaps, if Kirishima backed off, let Bakugou approach on his own, their relationship would harmonize.

But then what about times like now? Could Kirishima ever just roll over and go back to sleep when he knows Bakugou’s having an episode?

Kirishima’s not used to caring as much as he does about Bakugou, and Bakugou’s not used to being cared about as much as Kirishima does. They both lack the experience to know how to accommodate each other properly.

Bakugou cares about Kirishima, too, obviously, but he keeps people he cares about at an even greater distance. He doesn’t yet believe in the sort of relationship Kirishima’s blueprinting.

Kirishima takes a step towards Bakugou. The distance between them makes him nervous, as if there’s the possibility that Bakugou could lose himself in it again.

“What happened back there? When you had me pinned to the ground, it sounded like you were –”

“Forget about it.”

“Excuse me?”

“Forget. About. It,” Bakugou spits.

Indignant, but also dumbfounded, Kirishima hesitates to argue. Bakugou’s clearly quite serious.

“Okay.”

Bakugou expresses no satisfaction over this outcome, doesn’t even acknowledge it as he starts walking away. Kirishima watches. And while he watches, a frantic sensation swells in his chest – inescapable and untamable.

Ever since the incident at Kamino, Kirishima’s let Bakugou boss him around an awful lot. That didn’t use to happen. Before, Bakugou had to convince Kirishima that something was a good idea. Now Kirishima second guesses himself and gives Bakugou the last word every time. Has Kirishima just been doing this out of guilt?

How pathetic. Not manly at all.

“Wait!”

Bakugou doesn’t stop.

“What the fuck, man?”

Bakugou’s still walking away.

Sprinting to catch up, Kirishima takes a hold of Bakugou’s shoulder. Bakugou whirls around with unexpected aggression, yanking Kirishima’s arm off with an exploding palm. Breathing hard, panic scuttles across Bakugou’s eyes, then sinks back behind his bravado.

“You’re not okay! You haven’t even calmed down!” Kirishima exclaims. “Like hell I’m going to just forget about this!”

Bakugou grits his teeth and growls, “you think you’re so fucking noble with all your chasing after me and asking questions and caring, but you’re not! What you are is a fucking nuisance!”

Kirishima’s whole face flushes bright red – a mixture of embarrassment and indignation. He glares back at Bakugou.

You’re being a nuisance! You’re constantly making it impossible for anyone to get along with you! But I know there’s more to you than that, so I’m not going to let you prove your bullshit right!”

Kirishima’s skin hardens. “A man follows his gut – and right now my gut is telling me I can’t leave you when you’re like this! Make me leave if you’re so stubborn!”

Bakugou sneers. “Oh, is that what you fucking want?”

Advancing, he accepts Kirishima’s challenge by grappling with his fists and slamming his forehead into Kirishima’s. They both push with all of their strength, aiming to overrule this deadlock.

“You can’t accomplish a damn thing by just hanging around! You’ll be wasting your fucking time!” Bakugou yells.

“I can keep you company!” Kirishima retorts. “Sometimes company’s all you really need!”

“You’re looking down on me if you think I’m not strong enough to deal with my own fucking self!”

“What about being strong enough to know when you need a break? Everyone needs breaks! Even All Might!”

Startled, Bakugou’s heart skips a beat. The memory of All Might’s defeat intrudes upon his mind like a storm, sucking him in.

“If you continue like this,” Kirishima insists, “you’ll only inconvenience yourself and others! How are you going to prove to the world that you can look after yourself if you keep burning out?”

Alarm stains Bakugou’s face. His stance is slipping, Kirishima’s pushing him back. He tries to throw himself back into it, but something in his body has given up, making his effort half-hearted at best. The anger he feels towards Kirishima – the anger that fuels him – it’s disseminating. Suddenly, Kirishima doesn’t look so pathetic – instead, he’s tougher, clearer, kinder. His words aren’t a half-assed attempt at sympathizing or empty moralizing. They’re just an honest desire to see Bakugou through to a better place.

Bakugou hates to admit it, but what Kirishima’s saying has some truth to it. Right now, everyone’s anticipating how he was affected by the fiasco with the villains. They’re waiting to point out his weakness, his inability to recover from a mess he started. He should be focusing on making sure they know he’s as strong and capable as ever. None of his exemplary potential has dulled.

But isn’t this what he’s been trying to accomplish all along? Is Kirishima’s suggestion, that Bakugou’s methods are insufficient, somehow correct?

“Don’t bite off more than you can chew,” Kirishima echoes Bakugou’s advice back at him.

Squeezing his eyes shut to keep them from crying out of sheer frustration, Bakugou headbutts Kirishima again, packing enough force to knock Kirishima backwards. Bakugou wipes the bit of blood that beads across his forehead.

“Fine. Do what you want,” is his verdict.

It’s unclear who won, but it hardly matters.

Kirishima’s entire face lights up, but Bakugou’s already turned away, heading for the staircase. Kirishima scrambles to fall in step.

They’re climbing when Kirishima says, “you were fighting Shigaraki.”

A fact rather than a question. Kirishima knows Bakugou hates when people ask questions they already know the answers to.

Bakugou grunts in response. Blood has drained from his face, leaving it oddly blanched.

“You know you can talk to me about it, right?”

Bakugou does know.

“You wouldn’t fucking understand,” he mutters.

But is that the only reason he won’t talk? Would he talk if he were sure Kirishima would understand?

Or would that just deter him further?

“I have them, too, you know,” Kirishima whispers in a detached tone, like he’s practiced saying it aloud a hundred times but only in front of mirrors. This must be a breakthrough. “Nightmares. Hallucinations.”

Bakugou hazards a glance at Kirishima. This is the first he’s heard of it.

“Nowhere near as bad as you, of course,” Kirishima adds, feeling embarrassed. He goes for a forced chuckle. “There’s no way I can complain when you’re…”

He trails off, sadness inundating his eyes until they’re dim and distant. Bakugou knows that worried frown all too well.

Kirishima’s empathy for someone else is eclipsing his empathy for himself.

Normally, Bakugou would be insulted by the implication that he’s struggling more than Kirishima. Yet, he can’t pretend to not realize that Kirishima’s complimenting him – because Kirishima’s impressed by his ability to persevere.

Bakugou lets it slide.

“Hold on,” Kirishima says, heading into the bathroom and reemerges a moment later with a clenched fist and hopeful smile. He gestures at Bakugou.

“Take my hand.”

Bakugou eyes him skeptically. “Why?”

“Do you trust me?”

The look Kirishima gives Bakugou – part admiration, part reassurance, part shameless affection –, Bakugou can only contend with it for so long until an unprecedented heat smothers his chest – a heat like panic, like excitement, like a conundrum he knows better than to stick his nose into. He needs to get away from it.

Bakugou scoffs. “I don’t have to. I can take care of myself.”

Kirishima’s hurt but doesn’t show that. He knows Bakugou’s circumventing the question on purpose so he doesn’t have to deliver a proper answer. So he doesn’t have to admit he does trust Kirishima.

To prove his point, Bakugou takes Kirishima’s hand, which unfurls to pass him something small and smooth before slipping away.

Bakugou looks down. On his palm are two white pills.

“You take these after an episode, right?” Kirishima says.

Bakugou swallows the sour sludge of alarm. He seems to be dealing with it a lot lately.

“How the fuck do you –?”

There’s a twinkle in Kirishima’s eyes, amused but not jeering.

“I’ve been coming over for a while, man. What, do you think I don’t notice your habits?”

Refusing to acknowledge the intimacy behind that statement, Bakugou pops both pills into his mouth and swallows without water.

Just as these pills are supposed to help Bakugou heal, maybe Kirishima’s presence is also a kind of remedy.

Kirishima follows Bakugou into his room – a first, but this isn’t the time to gawk over the scenery. Sitting down on his bed, Bakugou slumps against the wall. Kirishima picks a spot at a safe distance.

They’re exhausted, but nowhere near falling asleep. Too much energy that neither of them knows how to burn out.

It’s at times like this when good company really makes a difference.

“So how’s therapy?” Kirishima asks. An unusual icebreaker.

“Terrible,” Bakugou mutters, perplexed and slightly defensive.

Kirishima grins. “Then complain about it.”

Bakugou shoots him an incredulous look.

“Hey, I hate it too!” Kirishima proclaims. “The pep talk at the start of each session? The never-ending questions? How’s any of it supposed to help me become a better hero?”

“You idiot! If you just go along with what they tell you, of course they’re going to make you keep doing it! You have to show them you don’t need their damn help – then they’ll have to leave you alone!”

Kirishima manages a quiet chuckle. “So, what? You just show up, tell them off, and then walk out?”

“Pretty much,” Bakugou grumbles.

Kirishima bursts into heartier laughter. Wrapping an arm around Bakugou’s shoulders, he shakes Bakugou a little, a grin smeared all over his face.

“Maybe I’ll try that next time then!”

He’s looking straight at Bakugou while he adds, “how am I supposed to open up to a stranger anyway? If I want to talk about what’s bothering me, I’m going to choose someone I already trust – that’s just common sense!”

Bakugou holds Kirishima’s gaze without answering.

He knows the answer, though.

Chapter Text

any way to your wild heart

Kirishima rehearses his soliloquy aloud, a murmur so subtle it barely springs from the motions of his lips – clumsy, saccharine, words that have no business existing, nonetheless gushing from his imagination each time he considers the target of his infatuation. A plight so mundane, he should have no trouble excusing it in favor of more monumental problems – yet he finds himself prioritizing what he’s too inexperienced to solve. He knows more about punching villains than confessing feelings.

“You look like starlight,” Kirishima recites, inspired by his photographic memory of Bakugou propelled by a spectacular firework of an explosion, soaring through the air to reach Kirishima’s outstretched hand. Bakugou’s grin when their hands connected, full of panic and bravado and awe – Kirishima loves it all, the more so because they showed him a side of Bakugou he hadn’t known. What an honor to be responsible for it.

“You look like the view of the world from a mountaintop.”

It’s humiliating how he keeps this to himself. He doesn’t have the excuse of not understanding his feelings anymore. He knows exactly what needs to be said, yet continues to hesitate. He’s failing as a man. After all, what’s manlier than passionately declaring his honest feeling? What’s manlier than resolving to accept whatever response he receives, without fear or regret?

“You feel like safety, like the guy that’s always got my back.”

A sheepish smile curls Kirishima’s mouth, matching his half-sunken eyelids in projecting the tenderness of his first love. Love, after all, is sweet – and Bakugou’s so amazing that loving him is easy, at least privately. Kirishima’s a natural born romantic – a man should be, in his opinion.

“Your confidence and perceptiveness, your dedication to your ideals; the natural spikiness of your hair and the cool arm grenades in your hero costume; the way your entire face comes alive when you’re having a good fight – I love all of it.”

Choking up a little, Kirishima clenches his fist. Even without an audience, he gets this worked up.

Bakugou would hate such long-winding, sentimental crap. Get to the fucking point! he’d snap, cutting Kirishima with a glare for wasting his time. Their relationship is based on direct communication – saying what they mean how they mean it, without worrying about how it’ll be received. This is easy for Bakugou because he genuinely doesn’t give a fuck about what others think most of the time. Kirishima’s struggled a little more, insecurity and hyper-empathy pinching his vocal cords sometimes so his thoughts come out filtered.

Bakugou’s been a positive influence in that regard, forcing Kirishima to not downplay his feelings or mince his words. Bakugou’s brutal honesty also means that Kirishima never has to doubt him, the way he tends to suspect others of secretly disliking him. The moment Bakugou granted his approval, Kirishima had the refreshing certainty that it would not be revoked – that they could only climb higher from there.

Bakugou taking Kirishima’s hand at Kamino – was that when Bakugou granted his approval?

No: that was just when they both noticed its presence. Like Midoriya said, the approval already existed.

“I love you,” Kirishima tries, savoring each word like a sunset fracturing the sky into different colors – beautiful to behold, but not quite special until it’s shared with someone else. Despite being the most optimal approach, it leaves Kirishima with a vague sense of dissatisfaction. It’s not enough – but then what can he add?

“I love you... the way I love all of my friends, but also in a way I’ve never loved anyone else.”

That’s just being redundant. Bakugou would roll his eyes.

Frustration claims Kirishima’s heart.

“I love you. I love you,” he repeats, weighing the words, trying to guess which will get caught in his throat when he tries to say it, which will change the way Bakugou looks at him.

Perhaps Kirishima recites such things in hopes of being heard. In hopes of being confronted. How else can he explain the calmness with which he whispers while Bakugou lies asleep on the opposite side of the bed?

“I love you... Bakugou.”

Shutting his eyes, Kirishima exhales through his nose and blood gushes into his face – a warmth that could be thrilling without the discomfort, if only he could vent his passion properly.

He’s working up to a confession that won’t transpire – he’ll lose his nerve last second, reluctant to wake Bakugou after such a long day, and tell himself that he’ll do it tomorrow instead, once Bakugou’s well rested and in a good mood for listening. But that scenario won’t materialize, either.

Bakugou stirs in his sleep: fingers twitching, mouth momentarily curling into a smirk. Amidst his peaceful complexion, it seems harmless, even playful – though, surely, his dream is far more exciting. Is he winning? Kirishima wonders.

Nestling closer to Bakugou, Kirishima traces Bakugou’s jawline, then his ear. Such superficial gestures, yet Kirishima feels wrong performing them, as if he shouldn’t – he hasn’t been granted permission. He wants Bakugou to be conscious when Kirishima touches him like this. It’s meaningless otherwise.

“I love you, Bakugou.”

Maybe it’ll seep into Bakugou’s dream. Would he recognize Kirishima’s voice?

Bakugou moves again, jerking his arm against Kirishima’s chest and then hooking three fingers into Kirishima’s collarbone. Gripping something imaginary and something real.

Wide-eyed with surprise, Kirishima’s heart leaps into his throat. This physical contact, though unconscious, weighs on Kirishima like the fatigue following a workout: heavy and sweaty and piping-hot. Bakugou’s eyebrows crease as if he’s concentrating and his mouth opens, but no words pour out.

Without thinking, Kirishima wraps an arm around Bakugou, fingers threading through his hair. Then Kirishima panics: he doesn’t know what he’s doing – he doesn’t know where it’s leading. If anywhere at all. Bakugou’s expression relaxes and Kirishima entertains the fantasy that his gesture provides comfort somehow.

Kirishima’s tongue crackles like he’s tasting bittersweet candy. He could kiss Bakugou – he wants to kiss Bakugou. But this isn’t how he imagines it happening. Bakugou has to know how Kirishima feels first, then somehow feel the same way – the kissing part comes naturally afterwards.

Kirishima places his lips on Bakugou’s bare shoulder instead: the start of a spiderweb of scars, acquired during his kidnapping. Neither of them can look at it without remembering.

Heroes act without thinking. Kirishima knows and fears this fact because he seems to lack it entirely: he’s constantly second-guessing himself and being overwhelmed by potential consequences, looking for a perfect moment that doesn’t exist to act.

When Kirishima decided to rescue Bakugou, he didn’t give it any thought. He knew from the start what he needed to do and knew he’d do it regardless of the opposition he met. He wasn’t counting on the support of any of his classmates – though he was certainly grateful for those that followed him. Those few that received his feelings and were unable to sit still afterwards – their actions are thanks to Kirishima. Together, they did accomplish something remarkable.

For one night, Kirishima truly and completely felt like a hero.

Bakugou mumbles and shakes his head. He’s waking up.

Untangling himself from Bakugou, Kirishima retreats to a corner of the bed, body curling into itself as if burnt. Blinking back into awareness, Bakugou misinterprets Kirishima’s posture.

“Nightmare?” he asks, hoarse.

For lack of a better excuse, Kirishima nods.

Bakugou lowers his gaze. “Yeah. Me, too.”

Kirishima’s curiosity is piqued.

“Tell you about mine if you tell me about yours?”

He’s half joking, expecting Bakugou to brush him off.

The silence between them simmers for a bit. Then Bakugou scoffs – weakly, like his heart’s not in it: this is just performative.

“I was fighting some villains – weak little shits, but there were. A lot. It was taking me a while to beat them.”

Won’t say there were too many, huh?

Kirishima wonders if it was the League of Villains Bakugou was fighting.

Probably.

Bakugou’s gazing at Kirishima expectantly. Kirishima panics. Now he has to invent something believable, something worthy.

“I was also fighting – I guess all nightmares are about fighting.”

A feeble laugh buys him some time.

“I’d run out of ways to push back, so I was pinning everything on outlasting the other guy. But I was starting to break, so I didn’t really think I’d win.”

Bakugou nods solemnly. Quirks aren’t a limitless source of power. They have biological limits.

A familiar combination of admiration and envy swells in Kirishima’s chest.

“Man, you’re so lucky, though – you’ve got a flashy quirk and a flashy personality. No matter who’s watching, you catch their attention.”

Misunderstanding, Bakugou bares his teeth in a snarl. His eyes narrow into a switchblade glare.

“You think I wanted their attention?”

“I – huh?” Kirishima stammers, puzzled by Bakugou’s hostility. “All I’m saying is, it must be nice knowing people like you not just for your quirk but for your personali –”

Nice?” Bakugou interjects, his chest expanding and contracting with agitated breathing. His fists are clenched, shivering. Quite accidentally, some immense, abstract pain has been disturbed. Now it’s spraying everywhere like a ruptured blood vessel.

“You think it’s fucking flattering,” Bakugou snaps, jabbing his index finger into Kirishima’s chest, then grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking. His voice cracks like he’s about to start crying, but his eyes remain painfully dry.

“To be compared to those weak-ass shit-headed fucking villains? To hear them spew pathetic self-pitying bullshit after bullshit about how similar to them they think you are?

Horrified, then devastated, Kirishima’s expression is truly apologetic. But he can’t take back what said, even if he didn’t mean it the way Bakugou interpreted it.

Kirishima uses his quirk to pry off one of Bakugou’s hands. He doesn’t touch the other. He needs it as a reminder.

“No. Of course not. You’re the complete opposite of them. But –”

Here he pauses: he needs to steer this conversation towards safer waters. The way Bakugou’s looking at him, it’s clear he regrets losing his temper just now. He must’ve woken up already upset about this.

“Well, obviously, not everyone was sure of that – and I know this doesn’t matter to you, but whatever doubts they had before, you blew them away with how you fought back.”

A smile finds its way back onto Kirishima’s face. Maybe it is safe to say this now. Enough time has passed.

“Even when you’re being rescued, you look like you’ve got everything under control.”

Just like a real hero.

Bakugou definitely looked like a hero that night.

Bakugou doesn’t answer, just holds Kirishima’s stare. He’s cooled down a notch, but doesn’t look ready to discuss this any further, in case it sets him off again. He wants to go back to sleep, pretend this exchange didn’t happen. They’re used to it at this point.

Kirishima thinks long and hard about whether it’s worth keeping Bakugou awake.

“Power-wise, my quirk’s pretty common,” he finally says. “But the way it manifests can be a little frightening – at least, I thought so as a kid. And some other kids thought so. And a few parents.”

He sighs, then attempts to cover it up with a chuckle, but it’s obviously painful.

Bakugou frowns. As far as he’s concerned, frightening is a positive quality.

“Mostly I’d hurt myself – overestimating the strength of my quirk and breaking a bone, unconsciously activating my quirk and cutting myself – that’s how I got this.”

He gestures at the thin, pink scar above his right eye.

So that’s his first battle scar.

“But sometimes I hurt others,” he continues, a sadness seeping into his tone that Bakugou reflexively loathes – what’s the point of feeling bad over something that happened in the past?

“Accidentally, of course, but intentions don’t really matter when someone gets hurt. A real man makes up for his mistakes without excuses. Fortunately, most kids weren’t really interested in playing with me anyway. They weren’t scared of saying what they thought of me, though – not that they said anything I hadn’t thought of on my own already.”

Guilt is catching up to Kirishima, choking his words: he has no real business sharing this with Bakugou, much less now of all times. And Kirishima won’t feel better just by having it off his chest: he’ll need some kind of positive reaction, which Bakugou’s unlikely to give. He’ll need sympathy, just as he’s trying to sympathize with Bakugou right now.

At least Bakugou’s still listening. He hasn’t interrupted. He hasn’t looked away.

“Still, I grew up wanting to become a hero. I thought quirks should be used to help people, and what better way to do that than by becoming a hero? But by middle school I’d heard about what happens to people that fail to become heroes – dropouts trapped in a life of bitter disappointment, petty villains resenting the system. And with my mediocre quirk, which only seemed to inconvenience people, it was easy to be told I should give up before becoming too invested. When I resolved to apply to U.A., I also resolved to give it my all so I wouldn’t have any regrets afterwards. But if I didn’t get in, I’d stop trying to become a hero.”

Interest flashes in Bakugou’s eyes – no: he’s been interested this whole time, but now his interest is personal. He’s realized something about Kirishima that Kirishima hasn’t, smart guy that he is.

“Is that still how you think?” he challenges.

Kirishima looks confused. Bakugou elaborates.

“When you decided to –”

He pauses, face contorting to spit the words out.

“Rescue me.”

Kirishima’s startled – this is the first time Bakugou’s admitted that.

“You must’ve known you could be kicked out of U.A. Would you have given up becoming a hero then?”

Kirishima hadn’t considered that actually – breaking the law, sure, but not being expelled from U.A. It surprises him that he never considered something so obvious. And so devastating.

But he does know the answer to Bakugou’s question.

“No,” Kirishima says, the certainty in his voice filling him with unexpected strength. He’s never stated this aloud. He never thought it mattered.

“Not after everything I’ve been through. There’s no way I can give up on becoming a hero now.”

Bakugou bares his teeth, in a grin this time. Nodding in approval, he almost looks proud. Maybe he is.

“If you ever feel like giving up midway, tell me and I’ll find another partner.”

Bakugou doesn’t mean that, of course – where would he find another partner?

Kirishima beams. He’s so moved that his eyes water a little, though he refrains from crying. He reaches for Bakugou’s hand, but halts when alarm corrodes Bakugou’s expression. Kirishima’s fingers remain suspended around Bakugou’s without actually touching them.

Time for another improvisation.

“Take my hand,” says Kirishima, the nonchalance in his tone a tad forced but hopefully persuasive enough. “I want to show you something.”

After a moment of eyeing Kirishima suspiciously, Bakugou laces his fingers through Kirishima’s, gripping him with that strength that Kirishima’s grown to find comfort in.

Slowly, gradually, Kirishima’s entire complexion changes. His skin hardens and lashes out, chiseling a terrain of spiked edges and fissures. His face endures the greatest alteration, becoming almost unrecognizable with his stone eyes and teeth. Even his hair lances out like some kind of ruby stalagmite.

While the top of Kirishima’s hand becomes as jagged and sharp as the rest of him, his palm remains one smooth surface, hard against Bakugou’s hand but harmless, incapable of hurting him.

Kirishima grins through his earthenware features.

“Pretty manly, huh?” he jokes, but his pride is unmistakable – and well-earned: Bakugou’s never seen such a menacing Kirishima – which, coming from Bakugou, is definitely a compliment. Kirishima’s voice is slightly different in this state – deeper, breathless. Must be the strain on his body.

Kirishima’s appearance relaxes somewhat, returning to one Bakugou knows well from all their sparring and fighting alongside each other.

“I’ve been working on this for a while,” Kirishima explains, “it’s tricky because I can only hold the hardest form for as long as I don’t breathe. Obviously, it’s not finished, but someday I want to call it… unbreakable.”

Red Riot Unbreakable.

Bakugou’s the first person to see this. Kirishima’s entrusted him with the privilege.

Excitement floods Bakugou’s bloodstream, lighting his eyes with a fire that’s so contagious Kirishima can’t help feeling his own heartbeat skyrocket. It’s obvious that the only thought on Bakugou’s mind now is testing out Kirishima’s new technique in a fight – go all out against him until they’re satisfied. Too bad it’s the middle of the night and they can’t try that without getting into a world of trouble.

Bakugou’s reaction is exactly the confidence boost Kirishima’s been needing. He knew he could trust Bakugou.

“You’ve been holding out on me,” Bakugou says, granting Kirishima a rare instance of open admiration.

Kirishima shrugs, but he’s smirking so wide, it’s like he’s already won that fight they have planned.

“Well, I can’t tell my rival all of my secrets – gotta keep him on the tip of his toes.”


somebody loved

Kirishima crouches by the door, sweat exuding from his hardened skin, teeth bared in an adrenaline-charged grin.

“So, what’s the plan?” he asks, quiet so he can’t be overheard by the villain hiding on the other side of the wall.

Bakugou scoffs, then turns away, examining the architecture of the building as if Kirishima isn’t present.

“Hey, you were chasing him first,” Kirishima protests, then adopts a more teasing tone: “I’m the sidekick in this situation. Tell me what to do.”

It’s obvious this goon’s just going to split the moment he spots either of them, so they need a quick way of knocking him out. Quick and unexpected.

Grabbing Kirishima by the diadem of his hero costume, Bakugou pulls him closer and hisses, “when I say now, you burst in and run towards him.”

Bakugou shakes Kirishima a little, for emphasis.

“Make sure you’re running in the right direction. He’s going to try to escape.”

“Just run?” Kirishima asks, eyebrows scrunching.

Bakugou’s lips form a thin, amused smile. “Oh, and try to not throw up.”

His sarcastic sense of humor is lost on Kirishima.

“Why would I thr –?”

“Now!” Bakugou yells.

Throwing his entire weight against the door, Kirishima bulldozes it down, then sprints forward without delay. His arms sharpen into cutters to pin the villain down, but he’s not moving fast enough: the villain’s already scrambling up the dilapidated furniture to reach a window. A narrow alley divides this building from the next. If he manages to leap across, it’ll be a pain to track him down again.

Yanking the trigger on his arm grenade, Bakugou’s explosion propels him to Kirishima’s side.

“Take my hand!” he commands. Kirishima’s only too glad to comply.

Bakugou twists Kirishima sideways, channeling the momentum they’ve both built up into spinning him around, before launching him diagonally with another explosion from his fist. This is Kirishima’s cue to maximize his aerodynamic potential by pressing his limbs to his body.

Bakugou races forward, set to fire at the villain if breakneck, boulder-hard Kirishima somehow doesn’t knock him out upon contact. This proves unnecessary: Kirishima hits him square on the back and he goes limp. Kirishima also falls, landing right in Bakugou’s outstretched arms.

“Hey, thanks, man!” gets muffled by Bakugou dropping him, his body conveniently preventing the villain from trying to stand again. Kirishima’s a human paperweight.

Laughing, Kirishima exclaims, “all right! You did it!”

Bakugou holds Kirishima’s expectant gaze for a moment, then gives up and knocks his fist against Kirishima’s. Even Bakugou can’t leave him hanging.

“We did it.”

 

Kirishima should be getting back to patrolling, but Fat Gum probably won’t mind him taking a small break to chat with his friend – with whom he so happens to have just apprehended a villain (Fat Gum will have to excuse that). Kirishima waltzes over to Bakugou, who’s standing not far from Endeavor and a group of officers – a safe enough distance to focus on his own thoughts while remaining within earshot in case Endeavor decides it’s time to move on.

“I know I already said this, but great job, dude! I’m always blown away by how you come up with these things right on the spot! I struggle with that a lot and end up just doing what Fat Gum tells me way more often than I’d like.”

Kirishima clasps a hand on Bakugou’s shoulder, which is acknowledged by a glance but not commented on. Bakugou fastens Kirishima with a critical look and Kirishima reflexively straightens himself up – a leftover from all those hours of pouring over textbooks in the library, desperate to understand whatever Bakugou’s lecturing him on.

“You just have to know how to use everything at your disposal,” Bakugou says. “Including your own quirk.”

Kirishima’s grin stretches into sheepishness.

“Okay, but I never could’ve pulled that off on my own – I mean besides the fact that I’d literally need someone else to throw me. We still make a good team! I’m the brawn, you’re the brain – and more of the brawn. You’re multi-talented.”

Bakugou gives Kirishima a playful shove. “When has that been in doubt?”

Kirishima laughs, loud and hearty. “Nice catching up with you, man!”

“You idiot, I still see you every day in class!” Bakugou chides, forgetting completely about the possibility of being overheard. Wouldn’t be the first time they’re featured in a Hero News article together.

“Yeah, but we don’t get to hang out as much as we used to!” Kirishima argues. “Plus, these internships are kind of like rehearsals for when we’re pro heroes. I’m just playing the part.”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “That’s literally the definition of internship, genius.”

“Hey, see? I’ll miss this when we’re pro heroes! Hopefully we’ll run into each other pretty often then, too.”

Amusement evaporates from Bakugou’s expression. His eyes narrow with gravity and annoyance.

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Kirishima misunderstands.

“Well, I guess there’s a chance we won’t work near enough to run into each other. You’ll be a top hero like Endeavor, so you’ll probably be busy with only high-profile cases.”

Bakugou takes a step towards Kirishima, making his challenge clear.

“You think we won’t fight together?”

“But – when we applied for our internships!” Kirishima stammers, wide-eyed with surprise and blushing a little at his blunder. “You said – you said you didn’t want to do anything together!”

“Dumbass!” Bakugou hollers. This is the second time he’s insulted Kirishima during the brief period they’ve spent together – clearly, being away from Bakugou is having a debilitating effect on Kirishima’s intellect.

“We chose the pro heroes that best suit our abilities so we can learn as much as possible! That doesn’t mean I don’t want to –!”

Bakugou stops himself, startled by the realization that he doesn’t know how to conclude. Is he swearing an oath, or merely leaving the door open to possibility? This feeling in his chest – this fact he’s taken for granted since they became second years –, it’s not clear enough for translation. He resents this newly discovered uncertainty.

Kirishima, however, understands enough.

“Oh, man, I’ve been stressing over nothing then!” he exclaims, too upbeat for his own good.

“Like you always are,” Bakugou mutters, the gravel in his lowered voice making it sound scornful, while in reality it’s driven by concern. He’s still surprised by how familiar he is with Kirishima’s bad habits.

Kirishima shrugs his shoulders. “Sometimes stress is useful. It makes you do things you wouldn’t normally.”

And there he goes again, defending one of those bad habits. Like he constantly needs to justify what he does. Who he is.

Bakugou’s honestly no stranger to such stubbornness, though he doesn’t explain himself for anyone.

Something’s been steeping in Bakugou’s mind for well over a year, simultaneously hoping and dreading to be addressed. He’s always found ways of postponing and downplaying its importance. But, seeing as he’s probably going to spend a good part of his future in Kirishima’s company, he should make an effort to attain closure – Kirishima’s a constant reminder of it, after all.

There are lots of types of closures. In Bakugou’s experience, most are fake: temporary relief rather than liberation. But he knows true closure is rare in his field of work – there are a lot of wounds that never heal in heroics –, so he should get used to it.

Still, this is something Bakugou long ago resolved to go through with – even if the relief turns out to be impermanent, even if he’s not satisfied by Kirishima’s answer. Then, he can at least say he tried, and trying is a kind of closure in of itself.

Bakugou’s been inspired to broach this issue now by the flawlessness of their recent choreography. Kirishima could’ve expressed doubts over what seemed like a simple and unlikely to succeed plan, he could’ve insisted on more details, he could’ve failed to act right when Bakugou screamed – but Bakugou never considered that any of those would happen, which is exactly why he risked screaming, alerting the villain to their presence: he knew Kirishima would react even faster. Bakugou didn’t have to wonder if he’d be able to spin and then throw Kirishima: he already knew he could.

They succeed because they put their complete trust in each other.

Bakugou’s worked with enough heroes and heroes-in-training by now to know most of them are too exasperating to accomplish any genuine teamwork with. Bakugou recognizes his special relationship with Kirishima.

Bakugou also recognizes when such a relationship started.

Bakugou glances at Endeavor, who carries his gaze for a moment before producing a single nod. Kirishima has no idea how those two fiery-tempered guys that pretty much hate each other manage to maintain a civil student-teacher relationship.

They start walking. The destination’s unimportant but Kirishima’s smile is askew with curiosity anyway. Bakugou waits until they’re far enough from other people to speak.

“Was it also stress that made you save me? Or guilt?” Bakugou asks in a whisper.

These are the two possibilities he’s thought of. Maybe the stress of waiting idly, of entrusting the future to others, of not knowing what’ll happen next – Kirishima couldn’t stand it, so he created a goal to power through in his powerlessness.  Or maybe it was the guilt of feeling responsible for something that was always entirely out of his control – which is so like him, Bakugou’s learned –, making him desperate enough for redemption that he’d endanger his own life. The only problem is both of those result in pity, and Bakugou didn’t feel pity when Kirishima saved him – that’s exactly why he accepted Kirishima’s help.

Kirishima surprised but not stunned: he’s thought about this question plenty himself. He expected Bakugou to ask someday.

“Neither,” Kirishima answers with absolute conviction. In his mind, he’ll repeat this conversation many times: he’ll remind himself, word by word, of a truth even his insecurities can’t overrule.

“Why did you rescue me then?”

“Because… that’s what a hero does,” Kirishima says, confidence waning. He can never make that phrase sound as cool or brave or appropriate as when his friends say it. To him, it just seems flat and out of place, like he’s stealing someone else’s motto.

Fortunately, Kirishima doesn’t have to fear Bakugou challenging him. He really would be devastated if someone insisted he had no right to call his actions heroic.

Bakugou produces a low snicker. Amusement. Approval.

“So not just because it was me?”

Kirishima notices how Bakugou relaxes, the tension in his muscles released, the wrinkles across his forehead and nose disappearing. He’s relieved - more than he could ever articulate.

Kirishima thinks about all the people he’s helped.

Looking Bakugou straight in the eye, Kirishima declares, “no. If anyone else had been in your place, I would’ve gone all the same.”

Satisfied, Bakugou nods – and, just like that, there’s the sense that it’s the end: closure attained, conversation over.

But Kirishima can’t help opening his mouth again. He isn’t satisfied by this outcome. It’s unfair to only give Bakugou half of the truth.

“But… you’re still special to me,” Kirishima admits.

Bakugou manages to raise his eyebrows without altering the rest of his stoic complexion. No way of gauging how he really feels.

“Special how?”

Kirishima’s heartbeat accelerates. Here’s his chance to be honest, to passionately declare his feelings – like he’s been daydreaming about, always hoping to find the perfect moment to deliver the information naturally, without bothering Bakugou out of nowhere. He’ll probably never get a better chance than Bakugou asking him at point blank what Kirishima means when he says his feelings for Bakugou are special.

It would be real fucking manly to just go all out, right here, right now.

Dashing in front of Bakugou, Kirishima blocks his path. He requires Bakugou’s undivided attention for this.

“You’re my partner, of course! My best friend!” Kirishima exclaims, escalating in fervor as he goes. “Even back then I knew you were someone special to me! I wanted to be around you, I wanted to get to know you – more than anyone else! I knew if anything happened to you, I’d never get over it. So I had to try to save you. Maybe that makes it selfish, but I don’t care! I didn’t want to lose you!”

Bakugou takes such a long time to react that Kirishima starts worrying he’s messed up. But then Bakugou’s mouth quirks into a half smile, which he doesn’t even try to hide.

“Yeah. You’re special to me, too, idiot.”

The way he says it, so matter-of-factly, it’s clear he doesn’t think this needs to be stated aloud – it’s a given, inferred from their dynamics. But Kirishima does think it needs to be said. He needed to hear it.

By saying what Kirishima thinks he should, he realizes what he really wants to.

“I love you, man.”

Kirishima looks as shocked as Bakugou to hear it: he wasn’t expecting to go quite this far. Though, in retrospect, it was inevitable.

Kirishima’s blushing bright red, mouth frozen in an awkward but sincere grin. He swallows nervously.

Bakugou’s confused – confused and upset. His emotions have been all over the place for a while, but he really can’t handle another roller coaster twist. First he was proud of catching that villain with Kirishima, then he was angry and ashamed remembering his kidnapping, then relieved to finally hear Kirishima’s explanation – and now he’s been knocked completely out of orbit by Kirishima’s unexpected and frustratingly unspecific declaration. Bakugou’s had about fucking enough.

What?” Bakugou snaps, aggressively cynical. “What the hell?”

Alarmed, Kirishima realizes the message must still be up for interpretation. A simple, straightforward I love you isn’t enough. Was all his rehearsing for nothing?

No: it wasn’t. He just isn’t saying it the right way.

He can’t let Bakugou intimidate him into compromising now. He has to insist on the truth, as shocking as it may be.

“I love you!” Kirishima shouts, holding Bakugou’s frantic gaze with unabashed affection.

Turns out it’s the last word – you – that changes how Bakugou looks at Kirishima.

A roar of laughter cleaves through the silence, shaking Bakugou’s whole body like a tremor. He kneads his fingers into his forehead as if nursing a migraine, but really he just can’t believe he didn’t realize the extent of Kirishima’s feelings on his own. His teeth are bared in that precarious stage between a grimace and a grin – impossible to label –, though Kirishima recognizes it from Bakugou’s victory speeches.

Kirishima holds his breath.

Pointing at Kirishima, Bakugou declares, “I didn’t know what to make of you at first! Of anything you did – all the teaming up and hanging out and helping me, even when I was telling you to fuck off and mind your own business! You were working so damn hard, and I couldn’t figure out why – what did you have to gain from investing so much in someone like me?”

Slamming his fists together, Bakugou cracks his knuckles, then his neck.

“But now it makes perfect sense – you’re just in love!”

Bakugou’s smart, he gets it. His ability to quickly travel backwards through time and explain situations with new information is being put to good use.

Fortunately for both of them, Kirishima’s confession helps Bakugou sort out his own feelings – after all, if he feels exactly like Kirishima, then the answer is obvious.

Kirishima pouts. He’s glad Bakugou figured it out, but this oversimplifying is a tad insulting.

“I’m not just in love!” Kirishima argues, as if that’s really what he should be concerned with in this situation. “You’re still my best friend! I did all of those things before I figured out the love part!”

“Shut the hell up already!” Bakugou shouts, yanking Kirishima’s hand. Kirishima falls right into kissing Bakugou on the mouth.

It’s so fast and sudden that Kirishima doesn’t really get a feel for it, gasping when they separate. Bakugou’s still smirking – he knows he got the upper-hand by surprising Kirishima –, a cloudy blush spreading across his face that Kirishima’s never seen before. His heart exhibits a pirouette as Bakugou moves closer again. They exchange a proper kiss.

Like being submerged underwater, Kirishima’s senses are thrown out of whack – his vision blurs; sound merges into a blanket of white noise, occasionally punctured by something nearby: Bakugou’s forehead rubbing against Kirishima’s, the gentle hum enveloping Bakugou’s vocal cords; smell and taste still work but Kirishima can only smell and taste Bakugou; touch becomes the most important sense, guiding and reassuring Kirishima through a process he’s never performed before. Bakugou’s not huge on physical affection, but he holds Kirishima’s hand, tight and warm, even after he breaks the kiss.

Kirishima remembers to breathe.

Bakugou snickers. “You talk too damn much! What happened to a man speaks with his actions?”

Instead of answering, Kirishima has to hide his face in his forearm: he is seconds away from crying. Bakugou interprets this as bashfulness.

“Hey, now, don’t go changing on me just because this happened! We’re still the same, you hear me?”

Obviously, that’s not quite true, but Kirishima nods anyway. He’s so happy he knows he won’t be able to contain it for much longer – fortunately, Bakugou seems willing to forgive it, just this once.

Taking Bakugou’s other hand, Kirishima lowers his face into Bakugou’s chest and lets the familiar warmth of Bakugou’s body envelop him.