Kirishima had known it was going to rain. Weather Man, the weather forecaster who appeared on the news every morning, had advised the public to stay indoors to avoid the dreary conditions. His quirk was weather prediction, and he was never wrong.
Despite his warning, Kirishima was sprinting along a downtown street, pouring rain pelting against his face and his bare arms. His cell phone was getting wet and he was thankful for the waterproof case he’d snapped over it early that morning.
“I’m on my way,” he panted, checking the street signs before dashing across an intersection. “Give me three minutes.”
“Okay,” said the police officer on the other end of the call, “but hurry. I don’t know how much longer we can hold out.”
“Roger that,” said Kirishima. He ended the call, tucked the phone away, and ran faster.
The weather conditions weren’t ideal, but Kirishima was grateful that his assistance had been requested at all. He had only been back in Japan for three months. He’d been afraid that the years spent out of the country would have made it difficult to rebuild his reputation in Tokyo. Fortunately he was sometimes remembered from his days at U.A., and more often from his successes in Korea. He had discovered that the name Red Riot had spread internationally, and though he was no icon, he wasn’t a stranger, either. Random passersby recognized him on the street more often than he’d expected, and the police had been eager to add him to their list of active heroes. His reintegration into the hero community of Tokyo was going more smoothly than he’d expected.
He wasn’t fooling himself into thinking the police had called on him for any special reason, though. The villain attack was in the middle of the downtown district, only a few minutes away from his agency. The phrases “sharp appendages” and “lightning-fast reflexes”, paired with the sounds of combat in the background, made Kirishima think they had just been desperate for the closest available hero.
Kirishima heard raised voices in the distance and ran even faster, grateful for the hours of training he logged at the gym on a weekly basis. He splashed through a puddle, ignored the filthy water that soaked halfway up his calves, and cut sharply around a corner.
A screech that was half-scream and half-cackle peaked just ahead. Kirishima plowed forward, sprinted down a narrow alley, and emerged onto a main downtown street. He stuttered to a stop beside a group of officers who stood at the edge of the scene, watching helplessly as the villain roared and lashed out at the single hero that was still standing.
Kirishima knew the thing must have been human, but it was an impossible fact to reconcile. It existed as a large sphere of bubbling flesh with two short, stubby legs. The surface of the fleshy sphere rippled and something spear-like flew out of the lump. Unlike the villain itself, the projectile was sleek and swift, and the battling hero barely dodged in time to avoid a lethal wound.
The scene was a mess, with a pair of injured heroes and several wounded civilians tucked away in the shelter of a nearby alley. The police stood with their guns drawn, but Kirishima guessed the bullets had no effect, or this battle would have already been over. The villain was grotesque, the city was in danger, and Kirishima needed to act now.
He knew, and yet he hesitated. His attention wasn’t drawn to the horror-movie villain, but to the man who faced it.
Bakugou Katsuki hadn’t changed since U.A.
No, that wasn’t right. He was sturdier, as if he’d put in just as many hours at the gym as Kirishima. His hair was slightly shorter but still wild, his hero costume was less bulky, and he had a nasty scar twisting from the edge of his jaw down the side of his neck.
Physically he was different, but the snarl on his face was exactly the same.
Bakugou rolled as he dodged another spear of flesh, his shoulder slamming against the ground as he dove neatly away. His hair was soaked, water dripped into his face, and still the rain pelted down on him. He raised his hands, gritted his teeth, and sent a flurry of explosions directly at the villain.
It was a direct hit, but the villain hardly flinched. Bakugou could still use his quirk in the rain, but his attacks weren’t as strong. Kirishima remembered that from U.A., when they’d sparred outside together after classes.
It took Kirishima a few seconds too long to respond to his name. “Yeah?”
The officers were staring at him, and Kirishima remembered why he was there.
“Oh! Right, sorry, I’m going.” He clenched his fists and his skin prickled from fingertips to elbows to shoulders as it hardened. He jogged forward, stretching his quirk to cover his entire body with little effort. He’d activated his hardening ability often enough that it was second nature. Sometimes he woke up in the middle of the night with flesh as hard as steel, often after a combat dream, sometimes with no provocation at all.
Sometimes those combat dreams had Bakugou in them, even though they hadn’t fought together since U.A.
Hell, they hadn’t even spoken since U.A.
Regardless, Kirishima knew about Bakugou’s status as a hero. He had his own agency and was renowned as one of the top heroes in the city. He called himself Ground Zero, which was a far better name than the ones he’d first presented when they were still first-years. Bakugou was highly respected in the hero community, despite his rough, abrasive exterior. He’d never been an easy man to get along with, but Kirishima had never minded.
“Hey, Ground Zero,” said Kirishima as he approached, keeping his eyes on the villain. His vision was fractured, the effect almost kaleidoscopic. It was a side effect of a full-body hardening, when his eyes were fortified just like the rest of him. “I’m here for backup.”
Bakugou glared at him, looked back to the villain, then whipped his head back again. The cut of his scowl flickered, surprise bleeding through the aggression. His snarl shifted back into place as another spear launched toward him and he dove to dodge it. He hit the ground so hard that Kirishima heard the breath leave his lungs. Even so, Bakugou was right back on his feet, a touch breathless as he growled, “Back off. I’ve got this.”
Kirishima moved closer. He noted the line of blood dripping down Bakugou’s arm where a projectile had grazed him. It didn’t appear serious, but the longer he fought, the slower his reflexes would become. The next one could catch him through the chest.
As the thought crossed Kirishima’s mind another spear hurtled toward them, this one shooting straight at Kirishima. Unlike Bakugou, he didn’t bother dodging. He stood firm, and the spear shattered into fleshy pieces on impact. Kirishima’s stomach itched where he’d been struck, but he felt nothing else.
“It’ll be a lot faster if we work together,” said Kirishima, stepping closer to Bakugou. “You look like you’ve been out here for a while.”
“Fuck off,” snapped Bakugou, with a fierceness that hadn’t been directed at Kirishima since their first year at U.A. He had a tendency to lash out, but during their final years of school, he’d become less harsh with Kirishima. He hadn’t yelled or spat or mocked him. They’d been friends, which Kirishima had always taken pride in. Bakugou was not an easy man to befriend.
It seemed that friendship was long gone, and Kirishima didn’t like the way that made him feel.
Obeying Bakugou’s brash request was tempting. It would have been easier for Kirishima to extract himself from the situation and avoid Bakugou altogether.
It hadn’t been Kirishima’s choice to lose touch with his favorite U.A. friend. He’d tried to stay in contact with Bakugou after they graduated. He’d sent message after message asking Bakugou how his new work was going, how his mentor was treating him, and if he wanted to grab lunch and catch up. He’d tried for months, but when the silence continued, he’d finally given up.
Kirishima didn’t know what he’d done wrong, but he could take a hint.
Regardless, now wasn’t the time to sulk. He was a hero now, not sad student whose attempts at friendship had been rejected. He didn’t have time to feel sorry for himself.
“No can do,” said Kirishima, baring his teeth in a forced smile. He tried not to smile around civilians when he was hardened. He’d heard it was a bit frightening. Bakugou was far from a civilian, though, and he’d seen Kirishima’s jagged teeth in the midst of unbreakable many times in the past. “We can do this together or I’ll do it myself.”
“Just get out of my way,” said Bakugou, as another spear pierced through the air.
Kirishima darted forward and planted himself in front of Bakugou. The spear shattered harmlessly against his shoulder. He raised his hands and his fists sharpened into honed blades. “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.”
“Don’t you even fucking think about-”
Kirishima lurched toward the villain, ignoring Bakugou’s indignant shouts. They were washed away by the pounding rain and the guttural grunts of the villain as Kirishima leapt forward and sliced a fist through the writhing sphere of flesh.
The grunts spiked into the squeal of a wounded animal. Blood pooled to the surface of the gash, but it was sluggish and a shade too dark. The flesh rippled and more spears surged forward; three, seven, a dozen of them. Kirishima braced his boots against the ground and took the hits, the impacts a dull buzz against his skin. He cut his way close again, slicing through flesh, cutting his way to the core of the beast. When he struck deep, the slow drip of blood became a fount. It sprayed the concrete as the short legs staggered back, trying and failing to find balance. The creature toppled, the flesh shriveled, and a moment later a sad, bloody man lay in its place.
The police rushed forward, sturdy restraints at the ready, and Kirishima moved back to give them space.
As the villain was apprehended, Bakugou scuffed up beside Kirishima, arms folded tightly over his chest. “I didn’t need your help.”
Kirishima shrugged. “I’m sure you didn’t. I was just trying to speed things along so no one else got hurt.”
Bakugou made a sound halfway between a huff and a growl.
Kirishima sighed and flexed his fingers, deactivating his quirk. When he initiated his hardening ability, it was a prickling sensation. When he shed it like a second skin, it felt like warm steam rolling down to the tips of his limbs. Back in U.A., when he’d struggled with maintaining his hardened form for any length of time, he’d associated that feeling with defeat. Now it was relief, evidence of a successful job.
Kirishima could have left then. The police were carrying off the villain, and even if he regained consciousness and continued fighting, he would be weak. Bakugou could have handled him with no problems. Honestly, Bakugou could have handled him anyway, given a little more time. Kirishima had followed his career closely enough to know that Bakugou never lost a fight, no matter what sort of horrific villain he was up against. He would have found a way to win, with or without Kirishima.
“So how’ve you been?” asked Kirishima with a smile that was only a little forced. He should have left, but this was the first time he’d seen Bakugou in six years. He wasn’t ready to walk away just yet. “Haven’t seen you in a long time, man.”
Bakugou looked at him through narrow eyes. His wet hair was stuck to his forehead, there was blood crusted beneath his left ear, and his pants were torn from mid-thigh down to his calf. Despite the rough fight, he didn’t even seem winded.
There was a moment – fleeting yet gut-wrenching – that Kirishima feared Bakugou didn’t remember him. He expected him to say something like “I’ve never seen you before in my life”, or “Who the fuck are you?”
Bakugou’s actual response wasn’t positive, but it wasn’t as bad as it could have been.
“I shouldn’t be seeing you now,” he huffed, as stubborn as ever. “I was fine by myself.”
Kirishima was a little relieved despite himself. “Yeah, well, I’ve gotta take every call I get, at least until I get popular here. Sorry, man.”
Bakugou scowled toward the officers, who were rolling the villain onto a gurney for transportation. He would be carted off to the prison, where he would find residence in a cell made specifically for confining villains with his sort of quirk. “Whatever.”
“But seriously,” said Kirishima, “it’s good to see you, Bakugou. I heard you made the top ten last year! That’s great, man.”
Bakugou shrugged. “I’m only number nine. This year I’ll do better.”
Kirishima grinned. This time it wasn’t forced. “I’m sure you will.”
As the police moved past them, the villain strapped to the gurney gave a weak thrash. Bakugou clenched his fists, a swirl of black smoke sifting between his fingers. “Fuckin’ bastard.” He stomped off toward them and Kirishima guessed he would be escorting the villain while he was transported, just in case. Kirishima would have offered to go along, but he thought Bakugou would take it as an insult.
“I’ll see you around!” called Kirishima, just before Bakugou followed the police into a nearby alley. Reporters were beginning to creep close, still tentative as they scoped out the scene.
Bakugou didn’t turn back, but he raised a hand in a lazy wave.
It wasn’t much of a farewell, but Kirishima smiled anyway.
Maybe moving back home had been a better idea than he’d thought.
Though Kirishima hadn’t maintained his friendship with Bakugou, he’d been fortunate enough to keep in touch with some of his other classmates from U.A., even while he was abroad.
“I don’t know,” said Kaminari with a shrug. He plucked his sunglasses out of his pocket and slid them on as he and Kirishima stepped outside. The sun was covered by clouds, but Kirishima didn’t mention that. “He seems like a real dick to me.”
“No way, man,” said Kirishima. “That’s just how Bakugou is, you know that. He doesn’t mean anything by it.”
Kaminari snorted. “Dude, you’ve been gone too long. You should’ve seen some of the stunts he pulled as a sidekick. One time Best Jeanist almost strangled him with a pair of socks.”
Bakugou had been Best Jeanist’s sidekick for about a year. After that he’d worked with Endeavor until he’d gained the reputation to open his own agency. Best Jeanist had probably been relieved when Bakugou had left. They’d never gotten along very well, even back when he’d hosted Bakugou for his first internship.
“He seemed fine to me,” said Kirishima. “Not friendly, exactly, but that’s how he’s always been.”
“Once in an interview he told a reporter that all the other heroes in the city could fuck off,” said Kaminari flatly. “He said he could handle all the villains himself.”
Kirishima had watched that interview. Even he couldn’t excuse everything Bakugou had said. “That was a few years back, though.”
“He hasn’t changed.”
Kirishima sighed but said nothing. He’d been excited to tell Kaminari about his encounter with Bakugou, but he didn’t seem to be interested in their old classmate.
“Anyway,” said Kaminari, slapping the button at the crosswalk, “A lady from some magazine is coming by the agency to interview Jirou tomorrow. If you want to hang around maybe your name will get slipped in. Momo will be there, too. It’s about that villain they beat up last week, remember?”
Kirishima remembered quite well. He’d gone to that incident as backup, but had simply stood at the sidelines and watched. Jirou and Yaoyorozu had annihilated the threat. The villain was lucky he’d survived.
“I might swing by,” said Kirishima. “I need to keep spreading my name around.”
“You seem to be doing alright,” said Kaminari, nodding toward a pair of onlookers who’d come to a stop to stare at them. “They’re not just looking at me, dude.”
Kirishima grinned, and the passersby giggled as they rushed away.
“You still made the news here, even from Korea,” said Kaminari. “People around here like to keep up with U.A. graduates, no matter where they are. Makes them proud, you know?”
“I guess,” said Kirishima. “I just hope no one thinks I abandoned Japan or something. I just wanted to work with someone who had a similar quirk and I… Hey, is that Bakugou?”
He came to a dead stop in the middle of the sidewalk, staring down the street as Bakugou ducked into the same mochi shop that Kirishima had been walking to.
“I hope not,” mumbled Kaminari. He was ignored.
“That must’ve been him!” Kirishima slipped through the crowd and half-jogged toward the shop. When he stepped inside Bakugou was at the counter, waiting with his arms folded as his order was prepared.
“Hey, Bakugou!” said Kirishima brightly, approaching him with a grin. “How’s it going?”
Bakugou glared over his shoulder, the sharpness of his scowl lifting slightly when he recognized Kirishima. “Oh. Hey.”
“I thought you didn’t like sweet stuff,” said Kirishima. He probably shouldn’t have remembered that, but his brain had stockpiled a lot of information about Bakugou over the years.
“I don’t,” grumbled Bakugou. He grabbed the bag that the cashier nudged across the counter. “It’s not for me.”
He started toward the door, and Kirishima followed. “Who’s it for?”
“None of your business.”
Despite the less-than-friendly manners, Kirishima still fell into step beside him as he walked down the street. Kaminari passed them as he reached the shop at a slower pace, gesturing to indicate he would wait inside. Clearly he had no desire to speak to Bakugou.
“Since I moved back, I come by once a week to pick up some mochi for Fatgum,” said Kirishima. “He says I don’t have to bring him anything but he always eats it anyway. He did a lot for me, back in the day. He’s a good guy. Being his sidekick was fun.”
Bakugou grunted but said nothing.
“You worked with Endeavor for a couple years, right?” asked Kirishima. “What was that like?”
“Fine, I guess,” said Bakugou. “Being his sidekick was shitty but he mostly let me do whatever I wanted. It was better than the year I had to work with Best Jeanist.” He rolled his eyes and Kirishima smiled, remembering what Kaminari had said.
“Hey, do you want to go grab lunch?” said Kirishima. “You can choose where. I haven’t been back long enough to know all the good places yet.”
“I’m busy,” said Bakugou, waving the bag of mochi and effectively crumpling it. “I have somewhere I need to be.”
“Oh,” said Kirishima. He frowned at Bakugou, trying to decide if he was actually busy or if he just didn’t want to go. “Well, uh… what about tomorrow? I can come by your agency and we can go from there.”
Bakugou shrugged. “I might be busy then, too.”
“Oh,” Kirishima repeated. He looked over his shoulder, where the mochi shop was now barely visible down the street. He should have stayed there rather than following Bakugou around. “Okay then. I guess I’ll just go and-”
“I’ll try to make time,” said Bakugou gruffly. “No promises, though.”
Kirishima’s stomach swooped. From anyone else, that would have been discouraging. From Bakugou, though, it was practically a gold-plated invitation. “Cool! I’ll stop by at noon tomorrow. See you then!”
Bakugou mumbled something under his breath that was probably a farewell. Kirishima didn’t hear, and he was too pleased to care. He wove his way back into the crowd and headed toward the mochi shop again, beaming.
Based on Kaminari’s reaction to Bakugou, he probably didn’t care about Kirishima’s pending lunch plans.
He was going to hear about them anyway.
Kirishima arrived at the Ground Zero Agency at precisely noon the following day. He was a little nervous, but more than that, he was eager. After three years of silence from Bakugou, and three years of living in Korea, Kirishima thought he might finally have a chance to get his friend back.
He had others of course, in Tokyo and elsewhere. They were all great friends and Kirishima cared for them a great deal, but back at U.A., Bakugou had been his very first best friend. It had been a different sort of bond, the kind that had left him feeling a bit hollow once he was gone. They’d both changed over the years, but Kirishima’s desire to befriend Bakugou had not.
When Kirishima stepped into the lobby of the agency, he was immediately impressed. The interior was pristine, the lighting was bright, and the floors had been polished so immaculately that Kirishima could nearly see his reflection in the tile. A young woman sat at a round desk in the center of the room and she smiled as Kirishima approached.
“Good afternoon,” she said. “Can I help you?”
“Yeah, I’m here to see Bakugou.”
The girl’s eyebrows rose.
“Uh… Ground Zero?” he tried instead.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“I’m sorry, he doesn’t see anyone without an appointment. Other heroes included.” Her smile became a little more genuine. “Although you are a great hero, Red Riot, sir. I heard all about that shapeshifting villain you fought in Korea. It’s nice to meet you.”
“Oh, uh, thanks. Could you just tell him I’m here? He knew I was coming.”
“I’m sorry, but he doesn’t-”
“It’s fine.” The voice was low and gruff, and Kirishima spun to find Bakugou approaching from the open elevator. “I’m going to lunch. Be back whenever.”
“Of course, Ground Zero, sir,” said the girl, sitting up straighter.
“C’mon,” said Bakugou as he shuffled past, his hands stuffed into his pockets. “I’m starving.” He glanced at Kirishima and said, “Why’re you smiling?”
Bakugou shook his head, but said nothing else.
They ended up at a ramen shop just down the street. It was busy with the lunch rush, but they grabbed a vacant table in the corner, mostly away from the other customers. The restaurant was warm and just a little loud, but Kirishima felt comfortable there. He’d been back in Tokyo for three months, but he was still thrilled every time he got the chance to eat real Japanese food. He had no complaints about Korean cuisine, but this tasted like home.
“Your agency is super cool!” said Kirishima, when they’d placed their order and settled into their seats. “How many sidekicks work with you?”
Bakugou shrugged. His chin was propped in his hand, stare focused somewhere across the room. “Only four. I had more but I got tired of keeping up with them. I’d rather just do shit myself.”
Kirishima nodded. “It can be hard sometimes. Equilibrium – the hero I was working with – had ten sidekicks and a half dozen interns. It was tough for him to keep an eye on all of them but they worked really hard.”
Bakugou said nothing.
“My new agency isn’t as fancy as yours,” said Kirishima, “but it’s alright. I like it, anyway. I only started it up a couple of months ago. I was out of the country for a while.”
“I know,” said Bakugou, still not looking at him. He flipped over the menu and stared at it.
“Oh.” Kirishima blinked. “Uh… how?”
“Everybody knew,” said Bakugou. “When you got hired on with that agency it made the news over here. Deku didn’t shut up about it for a week.”
It made sense that Bakugou and Midoriya were still in contact. Deku was one of the city’s top heroes, too. They would have to see each other every now and then, whether they wanted to or not. Still, Kirishima couldn’t help but feel a little disheartened. Bakugou had still been speaking to Midoriya back then, regardless of the tension that had always existed between the two of them.
He’d still been on speaking terms with Midoriya, but hadn’t given a few spare minutes to Kirishima, who’d been his closest high school friend.
Kirishima couldn’t pretend that didn’t sting a little.
He realized, belatedly, that Bakugou was staring at him.
“What?” said Bakugou.
“You look constipated. What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing,” said Kirishima. “I’m fine. I’m great.”
Bakugou’s eyes narrowed. He looked like he was going to push, but the waitress chose that moment to swoop in with their food. Kirishima thanked her, his smile returning in full force. Before Bakugou could ask again, Kirishima said, “So I guess your tastes haven’t changed much. Still like the spicy pork, huh?”
“Of course I do,” said Bakugou. “Don’t be stupid. It’s better than what you’re eating.”
Kirishima seized a piece of tofu between his chopsticks and held it across the table. “Sounds like you want to try it.”
“Get that nasty shit away from me.”
They bickered for a few minutes, Kirishima bright and Bakugou sullen, until they dug into their food with purpose. Kirishima had never been to this restaurant, but he had a feeling he would return soon. It reminded him of a ramen shop close to U.A. that he hadn’t thought about in a few years.
He’d always visited that one with Bakugou, too.
“Do you still talk to anyone from U.A.?” asked Kirishima when his bowl was nearly empty. “I’ve seen a few people since I moved back but I wonder how everyone else is doing, too.”
Bakugou shrugged. “I have to work with Deku sometimes, and Icy Hot is always with him. Some of the others get involved in my work shit every now and then. I only talk to them when I have to.”
“Everyone seems to be doing okay,” said Kirishima. “The ones I’ve seen, anyway. I’m glad they all seem to be happy.”
“What about you, Bakugou?” asked Kirishima. “Are you happy?”
“What kind of dumb question is that?”
“It’s not dumb. Seriously.”
Bakugou scowled down at his empty bowl. “How can I be happy while you’re asking me stupid questions?”
Kirishima wanted to push, but stopped himself. Clearly Bakugou didn’t want to have this conversation. It was kind of a stupid question. Of course Bakugou was happy; he must have been. He’d always only wanted to be a pro hero, and here he was, in the top ten before he was twenty-five. He was probably thrilled.
“Okay, I have another serious question,” said Kirishima. Before Bakugou could complain, he asked, “Are there any good ice cream shops around here?”
Bakugou scoffed, but his expression lightened, mouth twitching with an almost-smile. “Guess you didn’t lose your damn sweet tooth overseas.”
Kirishima tried not to be too pleased that Bakugou remembered that little detail about him. It shouldn’t have been surprising. They’d spent a lot of time together during their high school years.
Still, even then Kirishima hadn’t been certain if Bakugou wanted to be around him or if he was just tolerating him. He felt much the same way now, but that wasn’t going to deter him from nagging Bakugou into leading him to dessert.
Maybe Bakugou would get tired of him and their friendship would break apart, just like it had done six years before.
Maybe, but until that happened, Kirishima would enjoy it while it lasted.