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Drunken Fist, Minus the Alcohol

Chapter Text

Ground Zero, working solo, need backup on a level 4B threat, one target. Corner of Daifuku and Naboo. Fucking heavy civvie concentration. This is Ground fucking Zero. Backup needed. Daifuku and Naboo. Working solo on a level 4B threat. One target. Very heavy civvie concentration. I'm scatheless, a couple minor civvie injuries. Daifuku and Naboo, over.

Through static and labored breathing, Kacchan's voice rang in Midoriya's hidden earpiece. Midoriya rerouted from his patrol rounds in the north of his assigned ward. He soared just inches over a few potted flowers on a windowsill. Squinting against the sunlight, he raced up the sheer side of an apartment building. Thank All Might, if he channeled One for All at a slightly elevated rate to his legs, he could arrive at Kacchan's location in just over five minutes, without sacrificing power or stamina.

Another voice droned in Midoriya's ear.

Freezeflame, acknowledging Ground Zero. Rerouting to your location. Solo, estimated arrival two minutes. Freezeflame acknowledging Ground Zero.

He launched off the apartment complex roof, then switched between runs and leaps, zig-zagging his way over and along buildings of varying heights. He could make it in two minutes, if he powered through recklessly. But that would leave him severely winded, perhaps even injured. If Midoriya showed up in such a state, Kacchan would kick his ass first. Not penciled in on Midoriya's planner today.

Kacchan's weekly attempt to plant Midoriya in the ground and leave him there to compliment the scenery wasn't scheduled until Thursday.

The young hero tried not to sound like a mouthbreather as he panted into the comm link in his mouthguard.

"Deku, I read you, Kacchan. Rerouting to your location. Solo, estimated arrival five minutes. Deku, I read you. I'm coming, Kacchan!"

Midoriya's heart raced as he danced, like each building was a new partner in long line of brief waltzes. Still . . . Midoriya wished he could make it to stand by Kacchan's side before Shouto. Freezeflame was an incredible hero -- but he wasn't Kacchan's childhood friend. Shouto hadn't had dreams of fighting side-by-side with Kacchan since they were barely out of diapers.

After a brief eternity, he was on the scene. Civilians clamored shoulder to shoulder, taking whatever shelter they could find. Bodies upon bodies herded into the area of one city block by shredded cars and splintered tree trunks. Like the villain fancied himself a shepherd of the masses. He couldn't spot any injuries just yet. Midoriya figured he'd come across something like this. No wonder Kacchan needed backup. 4B wasn't an extremely high grade threat, but the stranger a situation, the less raw power a villain needed to be to force a hero's hand.

Speaking of strange, there wasn't a trace of explosions anywhere. Not even residual smoke or charred ash. Midoriya felt his pulse spiking. A Kacchan without explosions was unnerving.

The piercing animalistic scream from beyond an ice cream parlor to his right was a welcome return to the normal. A screaming Kacchan he could handle.

Following the sound he knew by heart, Midoriya sprung from car wreckage to car wreckage, flinging blockages clear where there was room. Clearing small exit routes in his wake. Yelling orders for the crowd to evacuate, and assurances he would cover their retreat. There were no threats up is his face, so it was up to him to find the threat, then evaluate priorities. Should he stand between the threat and the civilians? Or stand by the civilians, using his quirk to evacuate them faster and double-checking for injuries?

Gradually he drew close enough to make sense of Kacchan's vengeful caterwauling.

"You think a giant-ass sword matters? You piece of flaming shit! I will make your life so miserable, ghosts will be scared of you haunting--"

Midoriya peeked around the corner by the ice cream parlor and spied glass sprinkled along the cement in a sparkling, jagged sea. Kacchan and Freezeflame were standing back-to-back, angled and tense. Making themselves the smallest targets possible. Only Freezeflame's right hand wielded fire, and the tongues of flame were alarmingly low. Either he was almost spent, or he couldn't afford to burn anything.

Midoriya looked further. Like he feared, the villain further up the narrow alleyway held a five-year-old girl hostage, an enormous scimitar tickling the girl's chin. She was even smacking a wad of gum defiantly in one side of her mouth. Before she could spot Midoriya, he ducked out of sight again and scaled the wall of the building silently.

"Back off, pro heros. Before I stop playing nice!" he heard the villain screech.

The villain hadn't looked like she wasn't a day over twenty, though it was hard to tell how few years were hidden behind the blue mask. But the reedy, cracking sound of her voice clinched his theory; she was a teenager. Midoriya hated fighting the young ones the most. They had so much life ahead of them, and here they were, risking it to hurt others.

He whispered into his comm link, "Freezeflame, Ground Zero. Deku has arrived. Scaling building to ambush from behind, on your mark. Deku to ambush from behind on your mark."

He was at the building's crest now, thanking his stars that the sun was at an angle where the villain couldn't see his shadow. He started creeping down the wall in exact imitation of the many times he'd watched Tsu-chan at work. He had to use his quirk to make impressions in the wall to keep him from falling. He hoped he could stay quiet enough that the villain wouldn't notice. The villain's entire focus was on the two top-ranked pros in front of her.

"Let. The. Kid. Go. We won't stop you from leaving if you surrender her. But trust me, you don't want to take her with you. You. Don't."

Midoriya shivered at Kacchan's baleful tone. Even at his worst, Kacchan had never used it against him. If he did, Midoriya was sure he'd combust before Kacchan's explosions could even reach him.

Did Freezeflame just shiver, too?

The young villain gnashed her teeth. Her horns swiveled on her skull and started charging what looked like a laserbeam, aimed straight at the little girl.

Freezeflame screamed. Deku didn't wait for a mark; he leaped.

Bits of brick crumbled with a hollow clamor and fell beneath Midoriya, knocked loose by his launch. The villain flinched and started swerving to meet whatever she sensed behind her. As he fell, Deku cranked back a fist, ready to see if a partly-charged Arizona Smash was enough to deflect a laserbeam without affecting a civilian.

Kacchan got there first and grabbed the villain by the chin with his left hand, forcing her eyes and horns to face him and him only. He wrenched the scimitar away from the little girl's throat with his right.

A boom and flash all-but blinded Midoriya. He held back his punch. Arizona Smash would have to wait for another day.

He blinked rapidly as he landed on glass-strewn cement, relieved when his vision cleared. The little girl still stood under the villain's chin, too scared to move, but alive. Midoriya could hear her soft sniffling. He reached around the villain's back and whisked her away, just before Kacchan's fingers fell from both villain throat and villain scimitar. A torrent of ice locked the villain in a coffin with a small hole for her to breathe.

Midoriya hiked the little girl against his hip, the way his mother used to carry him. He saw Kacchan sway as if he were about to faint. Freezeflame rushed forward, meaning to catch him in his arms, but Kacchan staggered into his chest and shoulders.

Midoriya cooed soft nursery rhymes in the little girl's ear, his voice at odds with his thoughts.

"Um. Ground Zero. How do you feel?" Quietly, gently, Freezeflame pushed Kacchan upright and took a half step backward, hands on either bicep to keep Kacchan from crumpling. Kacchan stared blankly into space. Freezeflame peered over Kacchan's unsteady shoulder at Midoriya, casting a worried, almost haunted look at the little girl.

"She's fine," said Midoriya. With a twinge, he realized it must be terrible for Freezeflame to watch children frozen in harm's way, mirroring his own dark childhood memories. He went back to muttering to the girl, who was absentmindedly tugging his hair and patting his freckles. There were perks to having a fresh cherubic face. Her tears were already drying.

"So Ground Zero got the full effects of the laser," said Freezeflame, huffing a exasperated breath. He narrowed his gaze at the villain peeking out with glittering eyes through his ice coffin. "What does your quirk do?"

"I'd stand back, if I were you. All of you," said the villain, bubblegum snapping in her mouth. "He'll lose his shit any second now, and I'm the only one here with a protective sheet of ice."

Midoriya and Freezeflame shared a look. If Katsuki went nuclear due to some unknown quirk... This scene would be many, many times worse than Ground Beta after Midoriya and Kacchan's infamous fight that earned them both house arrest in the dorms. This scene might earn Kacchan house arrest for life.

"I'll evacuate the girl and the other civilians," said Midoriya, before Freezeflame could speak.

"Deku, will you calm that grasshopper ass of yours for five fucking--sorry, hon--five fudging minutes?"

Midoriya gulped. Kacchan wasn't staring into space anymore. He was smirking at Deku, like he knew all the answers to the invasive, personal questions Deku never had the nerve to ask their senior pro heroes. His posture was funny, too.

"Space Cadette and Karate Chop are evacuating everybody else," said Kacchan. If Midoriya didn't know better, he'd say Kacchan was leaning into Freezeflame's hold.

Midoriya heard first Ingenium's, then Uravity's voice. They reported that nearly half the civilians were secured in a safe haven nearby, then that medical staff had arrived and seen to the injured. With a start, Midoriya answered their queries for a status report.

"Uravity, Ingenium, I read you," he said into the comm. "Level 4B threat is subdued by Kacchan and secured by Freezeflame. No other targets. There was one hostage, but she's with me and seems fine. We're all uninjured. Will need to get her checked out by med staff and then put in police custody until her parents can be located. Kacchan was hit by the threat's quirk, but we don't--"

"Don't need to worry about it, I feel like a new man," Kacchan interrupted over the comm. Midoriya nearly jumped out of his skin, hearing Kacchan's gravelly voice both over the radio link and in person. It was like a double suckerpunch to the gut.

Kacchan's red eyes turned from Midoriya to Freezeflame, who was still stubbornly holding Kacchan up like a dutiful coworker seeing the drunk part-timer home. Kacchan was still standing all wrong.

"You are the one we need to worry about," said Kacchan. "String Bean could've made it to her in time, but you had to go and lose your cool."

Midoriya blinked. Freezeflame blinked.

Kacchan's devilish smirk only widened. "Get it?"

Freezeflame let go of Bakugou as if he had burned him.

Kacchan started laughing so hard, he put on hand on his own chest to contain his mirth, then another hand on Freezeflame's chest to keep from crashing into him again.

The little girl giggled. She didn't know what fun was happening, but she wanted in.

Freezeflame's eyes slowly slid to Midoriya, like he was begging him to tell him what this red-eyed hyena had done to Ground Zero.

"Um." Midoriya coughed, then spoke into his comm link. "Uravity? Ingenium? I think Kacchan was hit with the quirk equivalent of laughing gas."

The villain snorted from inside the ice. "Nope. Go fish."

Kacchan stilled so quickly, it took Midoriya a minute to process that he wasn't laughing any more. "Hah. Don't mind if I do." He pushed off of Freezeflame and almost sashayed over over to the ice coffin. He bent down like he was going to fling the whole contraption over his shoulder like a sack of rice, then dunk her in the nearest fish pond.

"Holy crap, okay fine, it's a quirk that takes away your inhibitions!" she shrieked. Kacchan, muscles rippling, didn't break stride, but actually began to lift the heavy mock coffin off the concrete. "Hey! Hey! I told the truth, stop! Geez! Why did you turn out a happy drunk? You're supposed to get even pissier!"

"I don't believe you," said Kacchan, straining and drawing his lifting power from his legs. Midoriya was so entranced, he couldn't budge if he wanted to.

"I believe her. She just miscalculated," said Freezeflame, surging forward to grip the ice and coax Kacchan to put the villain down. Kacchan reluctantly followed suit, acting as if it was his idea all along.

"Okay," said Freezeflame. "It's okay, Ground Zero. Bakugou. Just . . ." and a light of inspiration suddenly crept into Freezeflame's heterochromatic eyes. "Just chill."

Kacchan winked at him. "Now you're speaking my fucking -- sorry kiddo -- fudging language!"


Freezeflame looked curiously at Midoriya.

"No, no, no, no, no."

"Hah?" Kacchan swiveled to stare at Midoriya, too. It was then that Midoriya realized that he was the one saying "no" like it was a Gregorian chant.

"I think she's lying, too," said Midoriya. "If this quirk took away Kacchan's inhibitions, he wouldn't be making puns and flexing. He'd be making puns, flexing, and trying to annihilate BOTH of us, Shouto."

Kacchan tipped his head to one side, red eyes fierce and narrowed.

"Also, you're standing all wrong. I don't know how, but you are. Knock it off!" Midoriya wasn't entirely sure why Kacchan's posture was needling him. But it was. The little girl at his side started cooing at him, as if she were the adult who needed to calm him down now.

Kacchan cocked a hip to one side and rested his hand on it in defiance, eyebrows raised in Midoriya's direction.

"Like that! Just like that! Kacchan doesn't stand like that!"

"Like what?" Kacchan taunted.

Oh, Midoriya was going to let him have it. "Like a cat begging for cream. Poised and coiled and attentive. Kacchan slouches. Kacchan stomps. Kacchan bristles. Kacchan barges. Kacchan swaggers most of all. Kacchan does. not. saunter. around."

"Doesn't he?"

And Kacchan stretched, turned his back, and sauntered away.

Midoriya's brain short-circuited. His thoughts, for once in his life, were completely blank from shock.

"Oh my god." It took Midoriya a minute, but he finally tore his eyes from Kacchan's retreating form long enough to see another light of inspiration in Shouto's eyes. "Midoriya. Izuku. I think there's a reason Bakugou used to always swagger around everywhere like a mountain troll."

And just like that, Midoriya knew. He knew Kacchan had been holding back on him. Kacchan, who he thought never held back, ever. Kacchan had been holding back on the world for a very long time.

Kacchan's voice, laced with static, buzzed in his ear. Hey, Space Cadette. Karate Chop. Come help Brainfreeze over here save your damn nerd. Mouthbreather sounds like he's dying.

I thought he said you were all okay! Ochaco sounded like she wanted to punch Midoriya in the face.

The villain didn't get him. I did. I annihilated him and he ain't never gonna recover. Peace out.

And now Kacchan was unleashed and didn't give a flying fuck.

Chapter Text

Shouto looked back and forth between Katsuki's exaggerated strut and Izuku's wide eyes and slack jaw. Usually he'd rely on Izuku to scold Katsuki, but Izuku was obviously out of service.

"Bakugou!" Shouto called, and glided over a thin film of ice to catch up to his retreating back. Just as he'd hoped, Katsuki glanced back to watch and assess how he used his quirk. "You need to get checked. I'm sure you're fine, but it's standard. I'll get checked and make sure Izuku gets checked, too. All of us."

It took the combined efforts of Shouto in person, and Uraraka over headset, and Iida from a hundred yards away, to persuade Katsuki to obey the paramedics. Shouto suspected Katsuki caved was because the little girl showed fear. Izuku, still dazed, set her down beside him for her examination, and she nearly rocketed back up to perch on his shoulder. Katsuki shuffled to sit down on her other side to go first, so he could show her it was no big deal and make her laugh. He made faces at the paramedics as they stared at his tongue and ears and eyes.

"What's your name, kiddo?" he asked, as she finally clambered down from Izuku's shoulder.

The little girl crossed her eyes, giggled, then looked at Katsuki as the paramedic disinfected the bloody scratch on the underside of her chin. "I'm Hiyori. Who are you?"

"Ground Zero."

Hiyori huffed. "I know that. Who are you when you go home and drink juice and play hopscotch?"


The little girl wrinkled her nose, like she didn't like the sound of it. Katsuki put a hand over his heart and laughed. Shouto realized it was mildly pleasant when Katsuki wasn't laughing like he'd summoned an army of demons for a secret hero vs. demon fight club.

"Why does he call you Kacchan?" Hiyori asked, leaning her head against Izuku's arm. She looked mildly disappointed that Izuku was too shell-shocked to make faces like Katsuki, as the amused paramedic checked his freckled face.

"Because he's ridiculous," said Katsuki, "and because I only let him say that, and he knows it. So you can't use it!"

"Ohhh. Is it . . ." Hiyori leaned forward solemnly and whispered in awe, "a very bad word?"

This time Bakugou had to hold his chest with both hands to contain his laughter. Shouto felt himself softening, somehow. After Bakugou calmed down, he said, so quietly Shouto could barely hear, "No. It's a good word. But it's his. I let him use it; it's my way of saying sorry."

The little girl nodded solemnly. She had no idea of the context, like Shouto did.

"You should be sorry," said Hiyori, who gently poked a non-responsive Izuku. "He's broken. Fix him?"

Well, she did understand part of it, in her simplified way. Shouto found his lips quirking in spite of himself. Smart kid.

"Okay," said Katsuki, dramatically reluctant, like a teenager agreeing to be home by ten. "Here's how you wake him up: give me your own nickname."

Hiyori's eyes lit up in delight. "I'm gonna call you Bam Bam!"

Katsuki laughed again, muttering something about fucking old Western cartoon reruns. Shouto eyed Izuku, and to his surprise, Izuku's head suddenly snapped up. The Symbol of Peace slowly and methodically turned, like a vampire afraid to test his reflection in a mirror, and stared with narrowed eyes and quiet mutterings as Katsuki and Hiyori giggled.

The head paramedic cleared her throat to get Shouto's attention, and for a moment he spoke with her. She had a sour face but a kind voice. Maia was her name, he learned. All of them were fine physically, but she was worried that complications might develop with Katsuki. The tentacles along her forearms gesticulated as she spoke. She recommended taking him to Recovery Girl for better analysis of how this quirk would affect him, and how long. She also believed Katsuki should be kept too busy to return to his patrols for a while.

A very bold thing to say, but Shouto saw merit in it. Maia also shot suspicious glances at the villain as police carted the teen criminal away, still enveloped in ice. It struck him that he hadn't yet learned her motive behind all this. How remiss of him.

To Shouto's surprise, Maia recommended that at least Katsuki and Izuku remain on the scene, until Hiyori's parents were located among the evacuated civilians. Shouto nodded.

He looked to Izuku again, and was surprised to find him turning red underneath his freckles. He was glaring at Katsuki and Hiyori with an expression Shouto had never seen before. Was that . . . jealousy? Was Izuku jealous of a five-year-old?

* * *

What was this feeling?

Midoriya felt like his insides were drumming against each other under his skin. Kacchan was making an effort to keep the child entertained and happy while they waited. Kacchan, who almost never went out of his way. Not unless it involved directly fighting or frustrating a villain. Or challenging a peer. Now his childhood friend was talking with Hiyori, almost exactly the way he remembered Kacchan's parents talking to Midoriya and Kacchan when they were little tykes.

Also, it was strange how much Hiyori nicknaming Kacchan bothered him. He could understand bonding over a heroic gesture -- in her shoes, he'd think Kacchan was super cool, too.

But this whole day had been weird. He had to do something to feel better about it. "Hiyori," he said.

Hiyori's head swiveled over to him, eyes sparkling. "Yay! He's back!"

Midoriya smiled at her, feeling his odd resentment peeling away like old paint. "Yes. Will you give me a special nickname, too?"

Hiyori's eyes lit up. "Yes, please!" She scrunched up her eyes, tugged on her golden pigtails, and thought a moment. "I know! Green Goblin! A nice Green Goblin!"

Katsuki laughed so hard he fell off the bench they were sitting on side-by-side. Even worse, Shouto had a hand clapped to his mouth, and his eyes were brimming with mirth. Midoriya had tried to coax laughter from him for years, with little success -- and now a five-year-old makes him crack up in the space of half an hour?

He let his feelings of betrayal bleed into his face. Shouto removed his hand from his mouth. "It's just very fitting, Izuku, since you talk to yourself so much."

Midoriya had decided: he officially hated today.

Hiyori smiled at him in delight, and Midoriya's resolve cracked. She meant well; if he could forgive Kacchan, he could forgive her.

He still hated today, if only because today clearly hated him.

"Oh my god, my baby!"

At the sound of a woman's voice, Midoriya glanced past Kacchan, who was picking himself up after calming down. Iida was directing a man and a woman their way. The young couple broke into a run, and for once, Iida issued no scoldings.

Hiyori spotted her parents, crowed like she had just started summer break, and dashed to meet them.

After holding their daughter and crying for ten minutes straight, Toshi and Yuuki were very effuse in their thanks to the three heroes, as well as to Maia. Midoriya could barely understand a word they said, they were so choked up; but it wasn't necessary. His own mom was like that a lot, too. Yuuki even asked Katsuki if she could hug him. He let her, teasing as she sobbed on his shoulder, one hand still holding her daughter's hand like she couldn't let her go ever again. Toshi also went for a brief hug and strong handshake.

Midoriya was a little reluctant to see Hiyori go, since it was likely he'd never see sunshine incarnate with pigtails again. But he also couldn't wait to finish his patrol, and then just try to forget about everything.

Finally done with relocating civilians, Ochaco strode over to join Iida by Katsuki's side. Iida was asking Kacchan a thousand questions, partly to theorize about the villain's inhibition-stealing quirk, partly to test what was different about Kacchan.

"You're positive you feel alright?" Iida pressed for the third time, sweat still beaded along his brow from wearing his helmet.

"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Geez, you're even more of a mom friend now," said Katsuki, stretching his legs. "I think you've graduated to grandma friend. Congrats."

"Don't fuss, Iida," said Shouto, in a tone that was probably meant to be comforting. Even to Midoriya, it was still deadpan. "I'm taking him to Recovery Girl now."

"I can get there myself, Shouto, you don't have to be the gentleman and see me home," said Katsuki, smirking.

"Of course you can," said Shouto evenly, crossing his arms. "But what if you run into a villain? You'll need backup. In your current state, all a villain needs to do is tell a good joke and you're out for five minutes."

"Shouto's right," said Midoriya, standing up and ignoring how his back creaked in protest.

Kacchan glowered. "This is why I hate you both. But forget it, Shouto; you're very pretty, yes, but you can't be my escort. I can control myself."

Ochaco and Iida stared at each other, probably wondering if they were both hallucinating at the same time. Before, Kacchan's taunts never were downright . . . flirty. Ochaco actually looked like she was about to try to get Kacchan to taunt her, too. Midoriya couldn't blame her, and also, she was Ochaco. He could never be jealous of her. Ever.

"You give me no choice," said Shouto gravely.

Midoriya knew where this was going. He waved to his friends and started walking briskly. Kacchan and Shouto could duke it out till one of them got played dead. Midoriya was too tired to stay and gather more material for his hero notebooks.

"Why do the French eat snails?" Shouto asked.

Midoriya stopped. He turned to glance behind him. Kacchan had move to stand right in front of Shouto, stance wide, red eyes daring him to make a move. Was Shouto seriously going to --

"Because," Shouto continued gravely, "they don't like fast food."

Kacchan erupted into fits of laughter. Iida motioned urgently for Izuku to join him and Ochaco. With a defeated sigh, Midoriya acquiesced, giving a blinking Shouto and a gleeful Kacchan a wide berth.

"I'm very worried," said Iida. "What are we going to do? He hasn't set off an explosion once! Instead he's, well."

He gestured toward Kacchan, who was laughing with a hand on Todoroki’s chest again. Todoroki was staring like he couldn’t decide if he liked or disliked this new habit.

Bakugou saw the faint shadow of conflict on Shouto's face and removed his hand quickly. “If that bothers you, I promise I won’t touch the Todotitty.”

“The what?” Shouto repeated, probably wondering for the umpteenth time if his ears were playing tricks on him.

“Todotitty. As your fanbase has coined the term,” Bakugou explained. Blond eyebrows rose. “Are—are you really not aware of it?”

Ochaco began coughing a very persistent frog from her throat. Midoriya's eyes narrowed. He had thought he was the only pro hero aware of the Todotitty memes floating through online chatrooms. Now Ochaco and Kacchan? Who else knew?

“I... am grateful for my fan’s support,” said Shouto, the picture of caution. “But beyond waving at them, signing what they give me, and blocking them so they don’t throw themselves back in danger to spend more time with me...”

“Heh. Figures you’d avoid them like a blushing violet.”

In a rare fit of pique, Shouto spoke before his usual filter could snap his mouth shut again. “I don’t see you spending time with your fans. Not like Deku or Uravity or Ingenium.”

“My fanbase are little shits," Kacchan said, grin smug and satisfied. Almost like a proud father. "But they LIVE to be in my general vicinity so I can ignore them. I give ‘em what they want. And I know what they want because I track their activity online.” He added in a softer tone that still carried too well, “Now if I can only get them to stop calling me Ground Zaddy. What am I, Jeff fucking Goldblum?”

Ochaco lost to the frog in her throat. She fell to her knees with choked giggles. Iida waved his arms, pleading with her to be okay. He mourned that he was afraid his Heimlich maneuver was a bit rusty. Midoriya sighed, walked over and crouched beside her, and thumped her back till she breathed.

* * *

Midoriya was utterly disgusted that all four of them ended up in Recovery Girl's office with Kacchan. He was not needed there--he was needed elsewhere. He was sure. Kacchan had three other pro heroes and a new chipper side to his personality to sustain him.

Recovery Girl's first shock was Kacchan complying with all her directions and questions with little resistance. Her first thought: "Are you sure they haven't swapped his mind into someone else's body?"

Shouto and Iida quickly assured her they were sure. Ochaco's face went blank, then she looked at Midoriya funny. Like she was imagining how Kacchan would act if his life became all freckles, scars, and One for All.

Midoriya bristled before he could stop himself. "I'm not that out of sorts, Ochacho," he hissed, hoping the reproach would stick.

Ochaco smiled mysteriously and hummed. She looked enraptured as Shouto demonstrated reading a joke off his phone, rendering Kacchan gasping and immobile with mirth again. Recovery Girl laughed along.

Midoriya fidgeted glumly for the rest of the examination. Finally, after what seemed like three hours at least, Recovery Girl was satisfied.

"You're perfectly well, luckily, young man," she said cheerily to Kacchan.

"Thank FUCK," said Kacchan, blowing out a long breath and smiling back at her.

"However," she went on, waggling a matronly finger at him. "The advice Shouto relayed from Ms. Maia earlier is good. You cannot patrol, answer emergency calls. Or do anything more involved than helping the elderly cross the street, rescuing kittens, or scaring pervs on a bus. You must rest and devote your full attention to serenity. That's your fastest ticket to normalcy again.

"I saw this quirk, or something like it, about fifteen years ago, too. Possibly from the young villain's parent. If you distress or exert yourself, the quirk will take longer to dissipate, and you might be on the sidelines for up to three weeks."

"Roger, roger," said Kacchan, clapping his hands and rising to his feet. "This is a squeal and all--" he shot Midoriya a significant look -- "but I get antsy if I don't get combat in at least once a week. Kicking ass is most therapeutic. I'll do my best. Watch me. I'll bounce back from this in three days or less."

Recovery Girl patted his shoulder in approval. "Just don't blow up anybody when your anger returns, alright? I was happy to meet this side of you."

"I'm the gift that keeps on giving." Kacchan blew her a kiss with a mini explosion. The same way he used to do so for his mother, Mitsuki, when he first got his quirk and hadn't realized doting on your kaa-san was something people laughed at. Midoriya was pretty sure the teasing for that was what turned Kacchan off from showing any tenderness to anyone.

As the four of them strode out of Recovery Girl's office in step with each other, Bakugou's phone buzzed.

“Yo, Lavalanch!" said Katsuki, checking his phone and rapid-fire texting. "You still going home with me, right? Me and Deku are going to my folks'. My mom wants to know what to order for dinner to thank you.”

Midoriya tried to object that he couldn't tag along; nobody listened.

“I can’t use lava, Bakugou!” Sighing heavily, Shouto tapped his chin and thought for a moment. "Soba, please."

Kacchan nodded, fired off another text. He glanced at Shouto sideways, with a coy look that made him look more like Mitsuki than ever. “You sure your buddy Zuko didn’t teach ya?”

Shouto stopped walking and just stared at him, face blank and incredulous. Which, to anyone who knew Shouto, was his way of freaking out. Very nuanced difference from the regular half-serene, half-constipated blank expression.

"Oh my god." Kacchan backtracked and threw an arm over Shouto's shoulder. "You. Me. Cartoon marathon at 7pm sharp."

"If that is your attempt at Netflix and chill, sugartits, you need to work on your delivery," said Ochaco, twining the longest locks of hair at her temples around her fingers. Her gremlin-like grin widened. "Look, he's giving you the . . . cold shoulder."

Kacchan was on the floor howling in three seconds flat.

Midoriya muttered to himself, swearing on all that he held sacred. If anybody made another ice pun in his presence, their heathen lips would suffer forever

Ochaco tried to excuse herself, before Iida could get over his flustered phase and morph into a mighty lecturer. Kacchan wasn't having it.

"I just want you to know," Kacchan said, hauling himself up off his ass, red eyes burning into brown eyes, "that you. You. You are the only person on this godforsaken earth. Who could call me sugartits. And live."

Ochaco looked like her quirk had taken her over the moon. Her next smile would have given teenage Midoriya a nervous breakdown. "Sweets to the sweet! Have fun, boys, Iida and I have to go finish Midoriya's rounds."

The pair were gone before Midoriya could even lift a finger -- or rather, charge a finger with One for All and smash them into the wall to stay put.

Part of this was, in fact, because Shouto pinned his arms to his sides with a hug from behind. "Sorry, Izuku," he said. "Come on. Let's go eat soba." His deadpan was different, too. It wasn't the I-am-deadpan-because-emotions-are-too-much-work kind of deadpan. It was the wry don't-laugh-at-the-grumpy-Green-Goblin deadpan.

Shouto and Kacchan needed to be separated. Kacchan was rubbing off on Shouto; on his own, Shouto would have never thawed out enough to hug the frustration out of somebody --


Thawed. Out...

Midoriya wanted to punch himself in the face as punishment for his traitorous mind. Or turn around and beg a kiss from Recovery Girl. Ye gods! The puns were becoming contagious.

Chapter Text

Midoriya imagined half a dozen villain ambush scenarios, as Shouto drove them in a Todoroki family car to the Bakugou residence. (Endeavor had vehicles sitting ready and waiting in the darnedest places. Midoriya was the Symbol of Peace with a hefty salary in his own right. And yet, the sheer volume of Shouto's family wealth still boggled his mind).

Kacchan drummed his fingers on the dashboard (he had called shotgun, to nobody's surprise). Midoriya's mind conjured up a villain with a vicious quirk that launched rockets in a drumbeat-like staccato. Kacchan played air guitar along with a (too) quiet and (too) serene classical piano piece playing over the radio. Midoriya imagined a villain singing a song that entranced all around, manipulating everyone on the stree,t like so many puppets before a Pied Piper.

When Shouto stopped the nondescript black sedan before the house, Midoriya was locked in a vision of Katsuki standing atop a cliff, peering down the sheer, jagged drop beneath him. Whispering about how fun it was going to be to jump and blast his way to a gentle fall. The scary part of it wasn't the distance; it was Kacchan whispering. The very thought made Midoriya afraid to breathe.

Midoriya was snapped from his intense daydream by the combined rumble of Shouto's monotone and Kacchan's yelling. He sucked in a sudden breath and nodded.

"Oh, look, he's rejoining the living!" said Kacchan, hands on both hips. "Stand down, Peppermint Patty. We don't need Plan B after all."

Shouto put his hand down -- his right hand. Why had his ice-producing hand been raised?

Midoriya blinked. Maybe Kacchan and Shouto should team up together more often. His other friends often said it took them ages to break him out of a muttering streak. Apologizing, he shuffled out of the car. He knew that he must have changed out of his hero costume and into civilian clothes (his costume was in a duffle bag in the trunk of Shouto's sedan). But it still jolted him to see his red sneakers with white lacing when he looked down. He still couldn't remember changing or getting in the car.

Mitsuki must have been awaiting them impatiently. They were only halfway to the front door when she threw it open, crowing long and loud. "My boy! My big asshole baby boy!"

She rushed Kachan like a linebacker, stopping only just before she would have crashed into his orange jack-o'-lantern t-shirt. Her arms were open wide and inviting and just a tad hopeful. Kacchan smirked and gave her hug.

"Don't start leaking on me like a little raincloud, old hag," he said.

"WHO'S FUCKING CRYING?" Mitsuki yelled, corners of her eyes glistening with suspicious moisture.

Midoriya said softly aside to Shouto, "Kacchan hasn't hugged his mom for two decades. Normally she isn't clingy, either; but it's been twenty years. And she gets jealous when I let my mom hug me. She'll probably store up a few hugs before the inhibition-stealing quirk wears off."

Two pairs of red eyes glared at Midoriya. He suddenly realized his indoor voice needed serious work. He patted his cheeks to make sure they hadn't been sunburnt to a crisp.

"Y'know, hon," said Mitsuki, stepping back from her son, "if it weren't for the fact that Izuku is green sunshine, he'd fucking scare me sometimes. Does he write 'Kacchan wouldn't hug his mommy again, so I hugged my mommy TWICE' every day in his journal or something?"

"Fuckin' hell, naw. If he documented affection, he'd have four notebooks full of Kirishima leaning or napping on my shoulder."

Shouto coughed in a way that sounded like an agreement. Mitsuki laughed, then extended her hand to him for a shake. "Welcome, I'm this brat's mom. He turned out okay, despite inherited my terrible attitude about life."

Shouto shook her hand.

"Thanks for being in his corner today, hon. If you don't my calling you hon?"

"Hon is fine, thank you. You're welcome, Bakugou-san," said Shouto, the picture of graceful formality. Even though Midoriya was pretty sure the term "hon" had never crossed his lips before. "Katsuki did take the brunt of it, to be fair."

"And it's made my week!" said Mitsuki, grinning broadly and slapping her thigh. "Come on in, dinner's waiting."

They crossed over the threshold and shucked their shoes, lining them up by the door as a group. Masaru greeted them, introduced himself to Shouto, and ushered them to the dining table. Mitsuki grabbed drinks (alcohol for everyone except Kacchan, who got apple juice with a side of teasing).

Kacchan ignored the teasing, instead yelling "FUCKING FINALLY INDOORS!" and wriggling out of his baggy brown cargo pants so quickly, nobody realized he was pantsless. Until the pants were sailing serenely down a hallway. Kacchan coolly seated himself -- but not before Midoriya got an eyeful of green camo-printed boxers.

Masaru smacked his forehead, while Mitsuki just cackled. "I would apologize, but I'm pretty sure you already know we're all heathens here," she said to Shouto. And with that, her arms disappeared into her shirt, and before anyone could blink, something black and lacey and strappy was also sailing down the hall.

Masaru looked like he was about to plead for the sweet release of death.

Shouto, who was probably kicking himself for rolling up in the fanciest, tightass soccer mom car money could buy, just shrugged to put Masaru at ease. "I have a sister, this is nothing new," he said.

Once they were settled around the table and slurping soba, Mitsuki said, "Hey, brat. Speaking of that Kirishima bloke. I've been meaning to ask you for a while, you two going to be a thing?"

Shouto shot Midoriya a look, as if he were asking, Should I ready my ice? In case he blows up like a volcano?

Midoriya shook his head.

Shouto watched with mild, deadpan shock as Kacchan smirked and slurped his soba. For a couple minutes more he ate, drawing out Mitsuki's fidgety impatience and Masaru's quiet suspense.

"Nah," he said at length. "S'not like that. It's platonic as fuck. Kirishima just needs lots of validation and skinship, mom. Like a newborn baby or something. Don't let this get around -- Deku, lookin' at your shit face, no notebooks ya hear? When Kirishima's quirk manifested, he hurt himself. It was rough on him. Skin-on-skin contact, gentle and soft, Bambi and Thumper kinda shit. That soothes and reassures him. Which is the only reason I toddle along, instead of blasting his rocky ass to the Styx. With spare change rattlin' in his pocket."

"Awww, my baby," Mitsuki laughed. "That's the sweetest thing I've heard out of your foul mouth. Izuku, thank you for teaching his dense ass to be a good friend."

"Um," said Midoriya, not sure how to respond to that. Kacchan's friendship with Kirishima had surprised him as much as anyone. At first, at least.

Kacchan guffawed, luckily without spraying noodles all over the table.

"Actually, it's the other way around, old hag." And then everyone, even Shouto -- okay, especially Shouto -- listened as Kacchan explained that Kirishima was the first peer Bakugou trusted to see him as an equal. It hadn't been till his and Midoriya's fight at Ground Beta that Kacchan realized that Midoriya looked up to him. Realized that he could have been trusting Midoriya, instead of misinterpreting Midoriya's care as scorn.

Shouto looked at Midoriya with something akin to sympathy. Maybe even a bit of guilt or remorse, since he distressed Bakugou so much, holding back at the Sports Festival. Midoriya was reminded just how much he treasured Shouto's friendship.

"You two are fuckin' hopeless," said Mitsuki, elbows on the table as she cradled her chin in her hands. She smiled with fierce pride as a mother and as an aunt figure.

"They were, my dear," said Masaru gently. "They've grown a great deal since, don't you think?"

"They've grown, yes," Mitsuki acknowledged, "but they've still got a ways to go. They're ridiculous yet, don't you think, hon?"

"Utterly," said Shouto.

"It's alright if we're familiar and call you Shouto, right?" Masaru asked, nervously tapping the side of his plate. "We can go on a first name basis, like with Izuku, if Todoroki sounds more like your father to your ears."

Midoriya suddenly realized that Shouto had never, in his hearing, said anything akin to Mr. Todoroki is my father, please, call me Shouto. And, even though Shouto's daddy issues could still be seen from space, nobody had ever thought to ask him: would ya rather NOT answer to your dad's last name? And here both of Kacchan's parents had asked in quick succession if they could call him something different.

Shouto had gone so still, it was like his very presence had evaporated. If Midoriya hadn't already been looking at him, he would have assumed Shouto left to use the restroom.

"Yes," said Shouto softly. Then, louder and firmer, "Yes, please. Do call me Shouto."

Midoriya was ready to bet fifty million yen that Mitsuki had just named Shouto an adopted Bakugou in her head.

As the meal wore on, Midoriya noticed the atmosphere in the Bakugou household had changed. Usually, the air was charged, vibrant and chaotic. Like they were living in the shadow of meteors crashing into each other over and over. But this evening, the noise, the roughness, the sharp edges were softer, duller. Like pebbles after years slumbering under waters a-rushing.

Midoriya couldn't tell if the Bakugous had softened themselves for Shouto's sake -- or if Shouto had worked a magical spell upon them by his presence alone.

Snake charmer, Midoriya thought, smothering a chuckle.

Shouto's preferences and possible crushes were also brought up abruptly, and dismissed just as abruptly. (Shouto had no preferences whatsoever, because frankly, my dear, he didn't give a damn.)

"Now, Shouto, hon," she said, with a disturbingly coy look that had both Midoriya and Kacchan flinching. "I'm sure you've been curious about embarrassing things from early childhood, that only a parent could tell you. Ask away! He's in no position to object today."

"Mom," said Kacchan, eyebrows aloft. "For real? He knew me at U.A. When a day didn't go by without me throwing a hissy fit. He's been on almost every. single. mission of mine where something went fucking haywire."

"Oh," said Midoriya, blinking rapidly as he sifted through mental notes. Every publicly known (and unknown) fight in which Katsuki loomed like a vulture of chaos. Patterns hitherto hidden rose to the foreground of his memories. "Ye gods, you're right, Kacchan! Like when a middle-aged lady hit her head. After Shouto saved her and passed her to you, she mistook you for her husband. "Or when a lapdog peed all over your shirt and pants. Or when a stalker villain tag team challenged you to a fight. They kept destroying one article of clothing at a time, till the the only thing left was your fight belt. And Shouto gave you his shirt to literally gird your loins. Also the time Shouto actually set your pants on fire!"

Kacchan nodded as he slurped, then swallowed and smacked his lips. "He knows plenty."

"Our boy has a point, my sun and supernovas," Masaru said to Mitsuki, after polishing off the last of his noodles.

Midoriya shot Kacchan a quizzical look. Kacchan rolled his eyes. "The folks have been watching too much Game of Thrones," he snickered, and dramatically mimed eating a giant horse heart.

Midoriya barely registered the reference; he had noticed another obvious pattern that should not have escaped him before. "You have a lot of pants mishaps, Kacchan."

Kacchan shot a glare at the cargo pants lying down the hall.

"He throws hissy fits every day now, too, big whoop," said Mitsuki, as if she hadn't heard a word said after Kacchan talked about U. A. Chances were, she hadn't. She turned her laser focus back to Shouto. "Besides. I wasn't talking about Katsuki."

Midoriya could practically feel the blood draining from his face.

Shouto looked back and forth from Kacchan to Midoriya. Multiple times. "I . . . I cannot pretend I'm not curious," he said, slowly, cautiously. Like Chris Pratt sweet-talking velociraptors. "It would be nice to know what Midoriya was like before I met him. But I don't think Midoriya is in the mood for this today."

Masaru backed him up, and together they haggled Mitsuki down to just one embarrassing story: when Katsuki and Izuku were four years old and supposed to be taking turns playing trapped civilian and hero. To no one's surprise, neither were content staying trapped. They ended up being two heroes trying to rescue each other. Shouto listened very intently, occasionally patting Midoriya on the back. Midoriya just ate more soba, pretended not to hear, and sighed when the story was over.

But Mitsuki had a lot of mischief left in her yet. "Katsuki, my darling of disaster!" she said.

"What is it, old hag?"

"If you're not dating Kirishima, who you wanna date, brat?"

"Pffft," said Kacchan, through a mouthful of noodles. He slurped and swallowed before going on. "The only dates I observe are my fists, meeting up with a villain's FACE."

Mitsuki smirked. "That's my son."

"Now, Deku . . . I can't say," Kacchan went on, waving vaguely in Midoriya's general direction. "He's been acting awfully suspicious lately." And he sipped his apple juice as loudly as humanly possible through the bendy straw provided. (Mitsuki was really going all-out with the weird nostalgia today.)

Mitsuki swiveled to zone in on Midoriya, yet again.

"Kacchan!" Midoriya squeaked. He slapped his hand over his mouth, mortified. He looked to Shouto for support. Shouto just took another sip of wine.

Midoriya wasn't so sure of their friendship anymore. How could Shouto, in Midoriya's hour of need? After being so supportive earlier, too! In a last ditch effort, he threw his biggest, widest, greenest puppy eyes on full blast to Shouto. Neither fire nor ice nor snake charms could save him from that.

Shouto finished his wine and sighed. "Izuku isn't dating anyone. He and Ochaco have been dancing around each other like a pair of confused chickadees for years."

Kacchan was shrieking on the floor for nearly ten. solid. minutes.

Midoriya was sure now: Shouto had temporarily forfeited their friendship. He would have to work a miracle (or get Midoriya an armful of limited edition hero merchandise) to mend the breach.

Shouto even shucked his chair and sat down on the floor next to Kacchan to keep him company. Maybe to avoid Midoriya's betrayed glare.

Mitsuki, meanwhile, was peppering Kacchan with questions about the floaty girl who distracted Izuku so much. Shouto answered the majority of the questions, since Kacchan could barely breath for howling helplessly on the floor.

Midoriya hastily finished his food and took that as an excuse to, well, excuse himself. To his surprise and relief, Mitsuki didn't argue when he said he needed to go home and rest. As pre-arranged, Midoriya brought in Kacchan's knapsack and Shouto's satchel from the sedan. Shouto was staying the night, so Midoriya would drive the sedan home, then pick up Shouto in the morning.

Kacchan was still laughing on the floor when Midoriya waved his goodbyes. He was really lucky Midoriya didn't challenge him to a fight right then and there, when he was helpless and suggestible.

* * *

"Oi, bratface," said Mitsuki, after she'd seen Izuku out. "You can stop laughing now. Izuku's gone."

Shouto looked from mother to son. Kacchan couldn't respond through his giggles. "I don't think he can stop," he said. "Remembering how Ochaco and Izuku acted around each other just two days ago is in the forefront of my mind, too. That's probably what is keeping him laughing."

"Do tell!" Mitsuki and Masaru latched their expectant gazes on him.

Since Midoriya was no longer around to slowly die inside, Shouto explained in vivid detail. Ochaco and Izuku had been practicing French phrases together, to make French hero exchange students feel welcome. Ochaco accidentally said a very raunchy innuendo, very sweetly and earnestly. Izuku turn into a red, stuttering mess, too embarrassed to correct her. Shouto hadn't known the innuendo, either. He patiently sat through two minutes of Izuku's hand signals before he understood, grabbed Katsuki, and had Ochaco repeat herself.

Katsuki had smirked and cast a wicked look Izuku's way. Then, with deadpan chivalry and quieter tone, Katsuki divulged the double meaning. Ochaco turned ever redder than Izuku. Katsuki cranked up to normal volume again, yelling that she shouldn't apologize or beat herself up over something so trivial.

But Shouto saw Katsuki smirking at Izuku every time their eyes met for the remainder of the day. And Aoyama was completely devastated that he missed the entire fiasco.

At length, Katsuki finally rejoined the world of the breathing, and rose back to his feet. "Come on, Snow White and Rose Red," he said, tugging on Shouto's elbow. "We have a marathon awaiting!"

"You need to quit while you're ahead, you ran out of good nicknames long ago," said Shouto. But he rose and thanked Katsuki's parents for the meal, then followed Katsuki out of the room.

"The day I stop giving you nicknames is the day I die," said Katsuki, leading Shouto to the flatscreen TV in the living room and popping in a Blu-ray. "Let it go, Frozen Phoenix."

In a moment, Katsuki grew abruptly serious, warning Shouto that the Supreme Asshole Firelord in this kid's show would remind Shouto a lot of his dad. Katsuki thought it would be cathartic in the end, because a) Ozai made Endeavor look slightly less like a doucheturd and b) Ozai's comeuppance was FUCKING ACE. But the sad parts in the meantime would be tough.

It took less than thirty minutes of viewing time for Shouto to forget his own name, so immersed was he in the world of the four nations of different elemental affinities. At first, he didn't say anything; but then Katsuki insisted he add his commentary. So he did.

"I think I like the water girl. Katara, right? She's practical but thoughtful. Though she mother-hens everyone almost as much as Iida."

Katsuki snorted.

"Hmmm. I'm starting to understand why you like this Zuko character, Bakugou. Angry? Check. Reckless? Check. Desperate for respect? Check. Terrible at making friends? Check."

Katsuki just smirked, like Shouto had sung an ode to all his best qualities, and passed him a beer. Shouto took a couple sips, then added casually, "Obsessed with chasing down a boy with a sunny disposition, who people look at like he hung the moon. Checkmate."

Katsuki rolled his eyes and blew an alcohol-laced raspberry at him.

What Shouto didn't say: he felt that Izuku had just as much reason to identify with the prince as Shouto or Katsuki. Zuko had to grapple overwhelming odds, not quite in the same way as Izuku had, but still. Very much a parallel underdog story. (Shouto had recently learned that Izuku was originally quirkless, really, truly quirkless. Not just a late bloomer. The revelation explained volumes regarding the Wonder Duo in general.)

His next thought, Shouto did voice aloud. "I wish I had an uncle like Iroh."

"Same, bruh. Same." And Katsuki paused serving up beer to make a couple cups of green tea instead.

True to Katsuki's predictions, some of episodes were . . . hard to watch. There were moments where tears streamed down Shouto's cheeks. He couldn't parse whether the Fire Prince's anguish over his mother, or resentment of his father, hit closer to home. He was shocked and mildly embarrassed to find himself leaning his head against Katsuki's shoulder in the most emotional moments. Even more shocking: Katsuki let him, and pretended he didn't notice to help Shouto salvage the pride that remained.

They ended up having to call it quits at the end of the first season, so Shouto could catch a few winks before his next shift. But he had to admit to Katsuki: they must finish the next two seasons. Soon. Katsuki assured him that Shouto was stuck with the binge-watch, even if Katsuki ended up helping him finish his patrols to make it happen.

* * *

Just as Midoriya was about to drive the sedan back to Kacchan's childhood home, his phone practically had an aneurysm. A call from Kacchan's mom. Gobsmacked, he answered nervously. Hoping against hope and peace and fifty bowls of katsudon that villains hadn't attacked the Bakugou residence. Not while Kacchan was down with a case of the giggles. Mitsuki yelled and added Midoriya's mom as a third line in a conference. They wanted him to drop Mom off to visit with Kacchan and Mitsuki at the same time he picked up Shouto.

Midoriya's first thought: Why didn't you just text me?

Midoriya's second thought: Why did Mom want to see Kacchan when he's just a walking laugh track?

Sure, he understood initial curiosity. But happy, flirty Kacchan got very old very quickly.

Oh, who was Midoriya kidding? His mother would find affectionate Kacchan as cute as punch. She'd be even worse than Kacchan's own mother.

As Midoriya flopped into the sedan and started his trek, he decided Mom was free to both Kacchan and Shouto and quote cartoons with them. Izuku wouldn't care. Izuku wouldn't be bothered. Izuku would be cool as a cucumber.

He picked up his mom with a few hugs and no special events. To his relief, she only asked questions about rescuing the little girl the day before. Izuku was happy to describe how Hiyori's reunion with her parents. It was really the only thing comforting him about this whole irritating debacle.

When he pulled up in front of the Bakugou residence, the clunkiest old red sports car he'd ever seen was already parked in the driveway. Kirishima jumped out of the driver's seat and waved to Mom. With a whoop, he dashed up to the sedan as Midoriya opened the car door. Kirishima was enveloping him in a hug before Midoriya's red sneakers had even touched the asphalt. Midoriya hugged back, then maneuvered his exuberant friend out of his path so he could exit the vehicle and shut the car door behind him.

Midoriya didn't even have to ask why Kirishima was here. "Anything you want me to say to prepare you, before you go in?" he asked the other man.

Kirishima laughed nervously and scratched the back of his neck. "Nah, thanks. Everybody says Bakubro's different, but I wouldn't listen to anything further. I'd rather be surprised." He waved yet again at Mom. "Hi, Midoriya-san! Great morning, isn't it?"

"Hi, Kirishima-kun!" Mom waved back and bobbed a bow. "Very great, indeed! I'm in suspense, too. Mitsuki wouldn't tell me anything."

"How do you know it's gonna be a good surprise?" Midoriya asked quietly, before he could smack a hand over his traitorous mouth. He shut Kirishima's sports car door for him, since Kirishima was quite distracted.

Kirishima beamed. "I just know. Todobro actually sounded like his was smiling when he called me to come over. Even Ochaco and Iida are pleased. Can you EVER remember a time when everyone was HAPPY talking about our boy?"

Why was Kirishima talking to him like they were two proud fathers of a recently-reformed delinquent? Midoriya just shrugged. He would be ecstatic to talk to normal, stubborn, filtered (somewhat) Kacchan. He knew how to deal with that Kacchan. This was a Kacchan whom he did not know, but who knew him far, far too well.

Meanwhile, Midoriya would adapt his own behavior to best deal with this newly unleashed side to Kacchan. Today's strategy: conceal, but still feel, still keep it real.

Time to break a leg! he thought. Figuratively, of course.

Mom insisted on bringing up the rear, so he and Kirishima walked side-by-side up to the door. Midoriya wished he was the one putting the most distance between himself and Kacchan. Once again, the front door flung open before they could knock or ring or call out open up, bro.

"Yo, Bakugou!" Kirishima yelled, as Kacchan leaned and leered out the open doorway. "What's up?"

"Piglet is up," said Kacchan.


"Winnie-the-Pooh," said Kacchan and Midoriya in unison.

Kirishima smiled, but still looked rather confused.

Midoriya inclined his head closer to Kirishima's ear and whispered, "He's been seized with nostalgia. Revisiting childhood favorite cartoons."

"Only the best!" said Kacchan, flicking imaginary dust off his plain black pajamas. Said pajamas had Midoriya reeling; he hadn't seen his childhood friend in pajamas in years. Made him remember all the sleepovers before he got his quirk. And now suddenly sleepovers were a thing again, but with Shouto, of all people. "Put 'er there, bro," Kacchan went on, extending a friendly hand for a shake.

Kirishima, throwing a delighted look over his shoulder to both Mom and Midoriya, grasped the hand warmly. Kacchan yelled "PSYCH!" and yanked hard. The next thing Kirishima knew, he was being squeezed to death in a big bear hug.

The young man promptly hugged Kacchan back and bawled his eyes out.

Kacchan had to whisper something in Kirishima's ear, before he let go. When Kacchan finally pried himself away from his best friend, Kirishima only relented because he was blocking the doorway. Midoriya would bet good money that Kirishima didn't want his first Kacchan-initiated embrace to ever end.

Kacchan nodded and threw out a "Hey, Deku!" before turning to Mom. He spread his arms with a cocky, almost expectant expression. "Hi, auntie!"

Mom's eyes, which were already bigger than golf balls, expanded to almost flying saucer proportions. She moved almost as fast as Midoriya himself with One For All. She threw her arms around Kacchan and mumbled into his shoulder, "Oh my goodness! You haven't hugged me since you were four years old!"

This hug didn't last more than a few seconds, but to Midorya, it felt like an eternity.

Mitsuki always fussed over Izuku; Inko always fussed over Katsuki. It was practically a law of the universe. Midoriya, cherished as he was all his life, didn't like sharing his mom's affection. But Kacchan didn't count as a threat. Not until now.

Midoriya was nearly shake with anger. Because he knew Kacchan was baiting him. Those red eyes were promising him challenges unending, starting with buttering up his mom.

Midoriya steeled his patience. Just ten minutes; he had to get through ten minutes or so before Shouto was ready and they could leave together for their prospective shifts.

Twenty minutes passed, with Kirishima and Mom cooing over Kacchan by turns and Mitsuki smacking her thigh. Kacchan saw Midoriya's mounting impatience, naturally, and said that Shouto was a slowcoach prince in the mornings. Midoriya wondered if Shouto had to straighten his hair, or hold a blood sacrifice, or something else before he could start his day.

Then Kacchan got the bright idea to change, so he could be a proper gentleman host for auntie. Mitsuki yelled at him about being proper in front of his own mother. So of course, Kacchan yelled back that he didn't need to be fucking proper for the person who changed his diapers. Mitsuki argued he owed her special treatment because of said ass-wiping. Kacchan scrunched up his nose and offered to cook dinner. Mitsuki smiled and ribbed Mom, who just kept staring in amazement.

Thankfully, Kacchan did not shed his pants in the living room. Kirishima toddled after him on his way to his room, wanting to help his bro, but fully expecting to have the door slammed in his face. But instead, Kacchan actually noticed his red-haired shadow in the hall and said, "Hey. Pretty hair. You wanna help me decide what to wear?"

Kirishima didn't register everything spoken to him at first. Midoriya guessed that no one, especially not Kacchan, had told Kirishima his hair looked nice and pretty.

Midoriya was incensed. For Ochaco's sake. If Kacchan were to go around calling people pretty left and right? Ochaco deserved the first dozen compliments, before anybody else got any. It was her due.

When Kirishima finally understood the full context of Kacchan's words, he looked incredulous. "You are okay with me hanging out during your morning routine?"

Kacchan reverted to his old self with an unimpressed look, smacking Kirishima upside the head. But then he said, "What? You think only girls like trying on two or three outfits before they decide? Psssh. Why do you think I get up at the asscrack of dawn?"

And with that, Kacchan strutted away, and Kirishima followed with reverent trepidation.

Ten more minutes passed. Mitsuki repeated every conversation she could remember from the previous night to Mom, even wrangling Masaru over to help. He was better with details. Shouto still did not appear, and Midoriya was just grateful they still had a margin of half an hour before they had to be at the agency. (By now, Midoriya was dead certain Shouto was under a curse forcing him to battle a dragon or two before he could brush his teeth.)

Kacchan didn't show up again, either, but Kirishima did. He looked at Mom sheepishly, wringing his hands together, and said, "Um. Bakubro says my taste in clothes is shit. He wants your opinion."

Mom beamed and made her way to Kacchan's room. Midoriya saw Mitsuki looking at him funny, then snickering.

"So, Kirishima, hon," said Mitsuki, turning to the other young man. "What do you think of Katsuki 2.0?"

"I dunno," said Kirishima, shrugging. "I'm besties with manly Katsuki 1.0. 2.0 is also very manly, but . . . he's a lot. I never knew he thought my hair looked good!"

"Katsuki has a very good eye," said Mitsuki.

Oh, she was definitely up to something. Midoriya hoped Shouto could take him away before he could find out what it was. For once, he was not curious, did not want to investigate or learn.

But Kacchan returned first. And Midoriya promptly forgot why he was even at the Bakugou residence that day.

Kacchan wore black jeggings with a faint stamping of metallic leopard print and strategic rips accentuating thighs and calves. Chains dangled like a mock garland from belt loops at his left hip. Mismatched leather and onyx bracelets dangled from each wrist. He wore a deep, wine-red polyester v-neck with no sleeves. A green Venus' fly trap was emblazoned across chest and stomach. The wine red made his eyes look even more like fresh blood. So did the deftly smudged eyeliner.

Kacchan wasn't even using his quirk, and he was positively smokin'.

Wait. Where did that come from? Midoriya thought.

"Wow, bro, this is pretty punk, even for you! I like it!" said Kirishima, immediately draping himself over one of Kacchan's shoulders.

Masaru's eyebrows looked like they were permanently moving residence to his hairline.

"Who the fuck are you and what did ya do to my baby?" Mitsuki asked, getting right up in Kacchan's face. Cutting straight to the point, as always.

"I took his skin and left him in a ditch. I wear it better," said Kacchan, grinning.

Mitsuki grinned back. "Kinda late to bloom into a full-blown thot phase," she said. "A responsible mom would tell you kids grow out of that phase at your age." She smirked at her son. "Too bad nobody responsible is home! Do your thotliest. Who needs to be a villain to bring the world to its knees?"

"Ugh, really, okaa-san?" said Kacchan, drawling dramatically in a way that set both of them snickering. He sobered and went on, "You're one to talk. You were Mitsuki, Queen of Thots. Right up until I was born. And you and Dad did NOT meet at a festival like you told me when I was little. Skeleton has waltzed out of the closet, and oh look, he's wearing handcuffs and a girdle and a leather collar. Imagine that!"

Masaru was suddenly choking and excusing himself to attend to tea in the kitchen. Midoriya didn't believe anybody had been making tea.

Mitsuki's eyes burned like embers. "Who told you?!" she bellowed.

"Auntie Inko. Just today, too. She said my getup gave her serious flashbacks."

Mitsuki shook her fist.

Midoriya's brain flatlined yet again. He didn't need or want to know what this implied about the Bakugou parents' relationship. Or why Marilyn Manson and his albums practically had their own shrine in one corner of the Bakugou family den. Or what that could explain about Kacchan's behavior towards Midoriya himself for, well, since forever.


Midoriya had to be shaken before he came back to the real world. Mitsuki and Kirishima released his shoulders. His mom was back, and somehow seemed to have rounded up both Shouto and Masaru.

Masaru looked in mild concern at his son. In a you're not gonna wear those pants paired with that tank when winter comes are you sort of way. Mitsuki smirked at her husband. "Hey, could be worse," she said, jutting her hip to bump his. "At least Katsuki ain't singing Britney Spears karaoke while wearing a shiny orange jumpsuit!"

"Dear," said Masaru patiently. (Anybody who spent an extended amount of time around Mitsuki and Katsuki had to be very patient indeed). "You'd be tickled pink if he did that. Also, it's not orange. It's, as you'd say, fucking red."

Shouto finally made his entrance. Without even batting an eye at Katsuki's fashion taste, he hastily bid everyone goodbye and dragged Midoriya out the front door.

Once the sedan was safely on its way, Midoriya turned to Shouto. "I am never, ever, ever carpooling with you again."

Shouto waited until they were stopped at a light, then steepled his fingers above the steering wheel and raised an eyebrow at Midoriya. "Will you accept this as an apology?" he asked. He grabbed a folded piece of paper from his vest pocket (even casual Shouto was pretty formal) and laid it in Midoriya's lap.

Midoriya unfolded the paper. It was a drawing from twenty years ago, a boy with squiggly green hair, sketched in crayons. The top of the paper was emblazoned with "DEKU IS A LITL SHIT." And at the bottom, scrawled and smudged and tiny, but still legible: "Gona sav yu, nerd."

Midoriya was very proud of himself for keeping his voice steady and calm. "So . . . since you kindly smuggled this for me. From Kacchan's memory box. Which he keeps under his bed, if I remember correctly." He tilted his head further, making sure he held Shouto's undivided attention. "Does that mean you kindly slept in Kacchan's room?"

Chapter Text

Shouto didn't even realized the light had turned green, till blaring car horns snapped his attention back to the road. All the green he knew: two eyes boring into his skull with the wrath known only to gods, to monsters, and to childhood friends.

“What took you so long?” Izuku asked. As if he were only upset about being made to wait.

“My mission was twofold,” Shouto found himself blurting out. Since when was Izuku such an effortless interrogator? “One goal of mine was to find this drawing. Another was to completely humiliate the Fire Lord. Wait, wrong train of thought. Hold on.” He paused to gather his thoughts, coughed a couple times, and then went on, even more solemn than before. (Quite a feat for Shouto; he was always surpassing himself.) “I was also after this.”

And Shouto plopped a notebook down in Izuku's lap. It wasn't anything like one of Izuku's notebooks. It was dog-eared and filled with orange, red, green, and brown tabs. The cover was worn and slightly tattered and . . . was that a charred handprint on the back? Izuku squinted. Yes, it was! Like a reverse White Hand of Saruman or something.

“Shouto. I know you know better than to invade Kacchan's privacy and steal his diary,” said Izuku slowly, carefully. “So. I'm asking you. What is this, and why is it here?”

Shouto stopped at another light and shot him -– was that an amused look? Yes, despite his lips not moving, that was definitely amusement in Shouto's eyes. “Bakugou was . . . a little tipsy when he said he created his own notebook and had wanted you to see it for years. But never could bring himself to show you. This morning, I asked him if he minded if I showed you. And even sober, he said sure, knock yourself out, you walking thermostat.”

“Kacchan . . . Kacchan has a hero notebook?” Izuku squeaked.

Shouto turned his eyes back to the road and accelerated at the flash of green. “I don't know that you would call it that, exactly . . .”

“Okay. Hmmm. Here goes.”

And Izuku opened the notebook and read about Katsuki's in-depth ambitions and how they evolved over time. Unlike Izuku's many notebooks, picking apart every detail he could note about established and rising heroes, Katsuki's notebook was mostly about himself. Of course it was.

But there were so. many. things. that that Izuku would never have imagined Katsuki writing about himself. Katsuki shredded and remolded himself time and again. There were surprisingly self-aware plans for curbing or channeling his temper in the more recent pages. They made a sharp contrast to the early notes, mostly featuring BOOM and BANG and TAKE THAT DEKU.

There were also short snippets where Katsuki showed clever insight into strengths and struggles of another hero, and how Katsuki could apply the lesson to his own prowess or weakness. All Might featured heavily, naturally. That Izuku expected; not even Kacchan could focus on himself without roping All Might in. But after Aizawa, the hero appearing most often was –-

Izuku counted on his fingers to make himself sure, then stared at Shouto with mouth agape, as Shouto parked them in the agency's garage.


Apparently, Shouto didn't need to glance down to know that Izuku was staring at a surprisingly good sketch of Shouto's profile wreathed in flame.

“Hmmm. Yes. That . . . that surprised me, too. In a good way.”

“He used you as inspiration, more than anyone else in our generation. More than all but two of our predecessors!” Izuku screeched.

Izuku would never recover from this. He was pretty sure that many young heroes were inspired by Shouto. But Kacchan was the last person he would think to frame a portrait sketch with detailed analysis of Shouto's best qualities.

“Don't get mad again, Izuku. Please,” said Shouto, as they exited the sedan.

Izuku blinked, surprised that Shouto could predict his emotions so accurately.

There was, reasonably, no reason to be jealous of Shouto. But Izuku wanted to be the one Kacchan drew in profile as an adult. Not just Kacchan's childhood crayon scrawls. He wanted all of Kacchan's attention, save for the admiration of All Might.

Izuku took a deep breath. “I'll try not to be mad, Shouto,” he said. “But why did you want me to see this? Why did he want me to see this? He never mentions me, aside from TAKE THAT DEKU.”

Shouto was thoughtful as they walked across the garage, avoiding random unexplained puddles. When they stopped to wait for the elevator to catch up to them, he spoke. “Well. I mean. He borrowed the entire idea of the notebook from you. That seems tribute enough to me.”

Izuku was so surprised by this perspective that he stood gaping for five minutes, before he realized Shouto had gone on the elevator without him.

* * *

Katsuki couldn't seem to keep his focus. There was too much going on in his mind. He'd never felt quite so . . . scattered. Like everything that he'd kept a lid on for so, so long was finally running amok and wreaking havoc. And not only was he too sloshed to do something about it –- frankly, my beer, he didn't give a damn.

Deku and Snow Red were gone, and Katsuki felt both relieved and disappointed.

Relieved, because Deku's . . . dislike of the whole situation grated on Katsuki's nerves. Katsuki wasn't being a dick –- okay, he wasn't being as much of a dick –- to Deku, so what was Deku's goddamn problem?

Disappointed, because he was having a fine time needling Deku. Also Katsuki was pretty sure he was getting close to overcoming Deku's disapproval of this newly-emerged carefree side.

There was only so much Izuku could dislike about Katsuki, before his geekery and reverence for friendships and bonds and blah blah blah won out. Deku was a motherfucking sucker for that shit.

Kirishima stayed almost the rest of the day, which didn't surprise Katsuki at all. He had stored extra booze in the fridge, after all. Kirishima's rich excuse: taking advantage of his day off. Katsuki didn't believe that spiel for one second. Kirishima had definitely gotten assigned to him, to make sure Katsuki did not Seriously Wreck Shit while both Deku and Freezeform were working official prop hero shifts elsewhere.

* * *

Kirishima nearly rocketed through the ceiling when Katsuki asked him to play Kirishima's favorite video game. The two of them bumped elbows and ankles as they competed. Kirishima lost their matches nine times out of ten. He kept just grinning at Katsuki, instead of trying to actually beat him. Why would Kirishima care about winning a game, when he was winning precious time with his best bro?

But video games were nothing out of the ordinary for them, and Katsuki soon grew bored. He loudly proclaimed he should do whatever crazy shit he could, while he could still plead he was under the influence of a quirk.

Ignoring that his parents had already left for their day jobs (or, rather, counting on them to be glued to their phones anyway), Katsuki texted them for suggestions.

Masaru joked about finger-painting and naps. Katsuki accepted that as a challenge. Mitsuki texted a long list that Katsuki promptly deleted before Kirishima could kidnap his phone to read. Kirishima vowed to ask Mitsuki about it in person later.

The finger-painting, using paint sets that had survived countless summers hidden in random drawers, was a resounding success. After nearly three hours, they used up all the paint and paper in the Bakugou house. Katsuki smeared paint all over Kirishima in the backyard – and then Kirishima retaliated.

After the paint-bath, Kirishima excused himself to shower, then spent thirty minutes coaxing Katsuki to also wash up. Katsuki gave in, then returned to his bathroom mirror to reapply his smokey eye. This second time it looked cleaner, sharper. Katsuki complained that he was seriously out of practice on finer details, and that needed to change.

Before either of them knew it, Katsuki fulfilled his father's nap suggestion by passing out on the couch. Kirishima cooed over him and snapped just under two hundred pictures from innumerable angles. At long last, he settled to sleep just by the couch's base. That way, if Katsuki rolled off the couch in his sleep, his fall would be bro-ken by a body. Can't have any bros injured on leave, now can we? Kirishima thought.

Kirishima awoke to someone banging vigorously on a pot. He half-expected to hear a slurred English “Yeehaw!” or “Sukey!” he remembered from countless American Wild West dramas.

He never did find the culprit, because when he looked up, all he could see were the expectant faces of Mina, Denki, Sero, and . . . was that Momo? He rubbed his eyes and stared harder. Yep, nobody could fill out a cashmere sweater quite like Momo.

“Hey, bradies and gentlebros! Are you here to see Bakubro?” he asked, sitting up in his excitement.

He felt a hand card through his hair. “Makem fuck'ff, 'm tryin' to fuckin' sleep.” That speech was definitely slurred, but Kirishima was very good at interpreting even the most intimidating dialect of Lord Explosion Murder.

“Hey, Bakubro,” he said. He knew his voice was far too chipper, but he loved his hair being petted and he couldn't hide it. Katsuki almost never petted his hair. “Don't you want to crush the rest of the Bakusquad in gaming, too? Also, Momo's here. You gotta get your finery on.”

Katsuki buried his face stubbornly into a pillow, then shifted his face so his words wouldn't be muffled. "I always look fine. Five more minutes."

Mina was staring at Katsuki, like he was some dark fairy from a distant wilderness. It was pretty obvious she had been talking to Ochaco and was very, very impatient to hear Katsuki laugh and jest like one of Robin Hood's merry men. Denki looked ready to be inflicted with a barrage of Katsuki's softened, brighter side to his personality. Sero looked like he was ready to scoop his friends up and bail if Katsuki got too wild. Momo was quietly cautious, but observant.

Kirishima felt as if he were watching four lizards draped across a wall, awaiting the rays of a desert sun. Bracing to bask and gasp.

This was a new, exciting adventure for all of them. And they knew they had to enjoy this development while they could. The quirk's effects could end in a couple of days, or in a couple of hours.

And what should they do in the meantime?

It took ten minutes, but finally, Katsuki yawned and propped himself up on his dominant arm, one brow raised critically at Mina and Denki, who were leaning over the back of the couch to watch his every move.

“Ah, looks like the village idiots have arrived,” Katsuki said, glancing sidelong at Kirishima. “Time to get started on karaoke.”

Denki whooped in joy, but Mina threw up a hand for a time-out.

“Can we wait until we have more people here?” she asked. “I . . . I really wanna know if we can coax Todoroki to sing.”

“You can't,” said Momo and Katsuki at the same time. Almost like a chorus of two. Or a superhero duet, ABBA-style.

“No, but maybe,” said Mina, very slowly, “just maybe. You can. Now you and Todoroki apparently get along together.”

Katsuki scrunched up his nose thoughtfully.

“Please!” Mina begged, hands thrown over her heart. “I have been dying to hear him singing Katy Perry, ever since I first laid eyes on him.”

Red eyes flickered dangerously. Kirishima knew that look.

“Alright, alright, alright,” said Katsuki. “We'll hold karaoke later tonight, after Ruby Snows and Deku get off work tonight. Also, how are all four of you off work the same time as Pretty Hair?” He drummed his fingers against a couch cushion expectantly. Probably the same way his mother did at work, when someone botched the execution of a critical design days before a deadline.

Mina and Denki were too flustered (and maybe a bit jealous) at hearing “Pretty Hair” to answer him. Kirishima was glad he wasn't expected to say anything; his heart was too full with the knowledge that Katsuki was probably going to call him “Pretty Hair” for the rest of the day, in front of everyone. Sero was looking at floor, possibly wishing he had a spare invisibility quirk.

Momo stepped up to the plate. She did that a lot, now that Kirishima thought of it. “Katsuki,” she said, nodding to the carefully arranged couch potato with tight jeans and unruly hair.

“Madame,” Katsuki responded.

Momo blushed slightly, and said, “We called in some favors to get shifts covered.”

“Damn, I'm a special ducky, aren't I?” said Katsuki, grinning like a gremlin offered a magpie's shiny hoard. “What is it with you lot today? Are you all fucking doting on me while I'm in a patient phase, or something?”

“We wanted to see you for ourselves,” said Denki. “Honestly, a nicer version of you is too good to be true. I keep waiting for a shoe, or a base, or a bomb, to drop.”

“Forget he said that,” said Mina, smacking Denki upside the head. Sero smacked him, too, just because. Denki was a fun person to smack, after all.

“Oh, hon,” said Katsuki, hand on one hip as he continued to lay stretched out on the couch. “I'm not nicer. I just spark less, smile more.”

“Can I give you a funny nickname? Even though I'm not Ochaco?” Mina begged.

“Smart of you to know Sugartits is off-limits,” said Katsuki. “So long as you're not trying to one-up Space Cadette, you can. Since you asked nicely.” And he winked at her.

Sero clapped his hands and announced he'd find and make some popcorn, promptly shuffling off to the kitchen. Denki looked like a man seriously re-evaluating all his assumptions on sexuality (whether it were his or someone else's, Kirishima couldn't say). Momo blushed for Mina, since Mina was already so pink, it was hard to tell when she was blushing in the first place. Maybe she was perpetually blushing?

At any rate, Mina squealed and mimed an air hug. Katsuki clucked his tongue and rose up on the couch, reaching over and offering her a proper hug. She claimed it in a heartbeat, muttering something about Heart Eyes, Motherfucker.

Katsuki laughed and said that was a pathetic nickname, challenging her to do better.

“Suit yourself, Nitro-Slytherin.”

“Oh, I'm Slytherin to you, am I?” Katsuki asked, holding her out at arm's length suspiciously. “Not Gryffindor, even though their symbol is a fuckin' lion?”

“Everybody knows that a resting bitchface automatically qualifies you for Slytherin,” said Mina, scoffing.

Katsuki didn't look convinced. “So you think Freezeflame, Aizawa-sensei, and Brain-snatcher are also Slytherin?”

“Duh, of course!” Mina threw an arm around him conspiratorially. “I can't place Izuku for the life of me, though.”

“It's the dumb bitch energy,” said Katsuki, waving a hand. As if he were trying to clear leftover dumb bitch energy from Izuku's visit earlier. “He's too selfless for Slytherin. Too dense for Ravenclaw. (Remember how long it took him to remember he had fucking legs?) Too devious for Hufflepuff. Too quiet for Gryffindor.”

“I think he's a Hufflepuff!” said Denki, who obviously considered himself a Hufflepuff as well. “Nobody but a Hufflepuff would have stayed friends with you all those years.”

“Oh yeah? Why don't you ask him what house he belongs to?” Katsuki asked.

“Ha! Not falling for that trap,” said Denki, smirking. “He'd be muttering for hours on each house, then switch to the houses in Fantastic Beasts, and I'd never get an answer.”

“Correct. Bet you only know that because you tried twice already.”

Denki looked like he was three seconds from calling down Thor-worthy bolts of lightning on Katsuki's head. “Hey, I'll have you know, it was actually Hagakure who asked him!”

The topic of conversation drifted this way and that. Sero returned with popcorn salted and buttered in way Kirishima had never tasted before. A couple times Kirishima zoned out, just watching Katsuki at ease, cheery, even. It did his heart good to see them all enjoying themselves, but part of him wondered if everyone -- including Kirishima himself -- was doting on Katsuki too much.

They all cared about Katsuki, no matter what -- but would they get so fond of quirk-sloshed Katsuki that they might make normal Katsuki upset? Katsuki always wanted to be the best, and held himself to the most ridiculous of high standards.

How was he going to compete with another version of himself that everybody was more comfortable around?

Kirishima suddenly wished Izuku were there right then. Izuku would know what to do. He'd have a plan for whatever storm might brew, once Katsuki came to himself again and realized how . . . unguarded he had been. Best case scenario, Katsuki would shrug it off and ignore it. Worst case scenario, he'd flip his shit and run off like a monk to a convent. But in both scenarios, Kirishima knew Katsuki would bury ugly feelings even deeper, and they would choke him.

I'll talk to Izuku about this later, he promised himself. Izuku will tell me what to do.

Hell, maybe Todoroki would have some good insights, too. Kirishima found himself looking forward to the evening, and not just because he was curious what Todoroki's singing voice sounded like.

Katsuki was showing off their finger-painting to Momo. Momo, to his amazement, was offering to create more finger-paint, if Katsuki needed some. Katsuki shook his head, cupped a hand over her ear, and whispered. Momo's eyes widened.

Mina was still trying to come up with new nicknames, intent on learning Katsuki's specific brand of humor.

"AuROARa BOMBrealis?"

Kacchan's judgment burned almost as hot as his quirk. "Really? Really? You call that a pun?"

"Bomb Voyage?"

"You stole that from The Incredibles!" said Sero and Denki in unison.

"Honey Punches?"

"Pffft!" Kacchan refused to laugh, though Kirishima had to high-five Mina for that one. He might use it in future.

"How about Napalms? Get it?"

Kacchan giggled at that one, holding his chest with both hands.

Then everyone, even Momo, began telling funny stories from their previous shifts, trying to get Katsuki to laugh some more.

Kirishima and Kaminari ended up adopting the Bakuboobgrab™, as Mina dubbed it. Within an hour, her phone was clogged with videos of each laughing fit, complete with her own laughter in the background. Kirishima suspected she was set on building a fifteen-minute-long montage.

Mina must have sensed Kirishima was on to her. She put her finger to her lips, then removed it and squinted at Katsuki thoughtfully. “Can I ask you something that will probably piss you off, even now, when you're in a really good mood?”

“Go for it. I'll only explode your face if you bore me,” said Katsuki, tone nonchalant, eyes anything but nonchalant.

“Ah, you really know how to relieve a lady's tension,” said Mina, batting her eyelashes fondly at him. “Okay, so. You are pretty chill now, but please tell me you won't freak out too bad once this is all over. We're with you, bro, stone-cold sober or drunk on some laser quirk. Or is it technically high?”

“Definitely like being drunk,” said Katsuki. “And I don't fucking know how I'll act. Depends on how crazy I get now? Should be fine, so long as I don't fall on my ass in the middle of fighting a villain with cameras rolling.”

“I dunno, bro. You were pretty, ah, bold with Midoriya earlier,” said Kirishima.

Katsuki mimed the motion of a granny staring judgmentally over the rim of her spectacles. “You call that . . . bold? Oh, that's friggin' cute, Pretty Hair.”

Mina squinted at Katsuki in suspicion.

“Are we gong to have to come to Midoriya's aid, if you get too fond of embarrassing him, Bakugou?” Momo asked.

“We will sit on you, if we have to,” said Denki, miming finger-guns in response to Katsuki's invisible spectacles.

“All of us at once,” Sero confirmed.

“I'm just a little high-spirited, is all,” said Katsuki, waving away their concerns.

“Katsuki,” said Momo, looking dead into those red eyes. “You're frisky.”

Mina, Kirishima, Sero and Denki collectively stopped breathing. Denki and Mina even toppled over for added effect. One, because they realized Momo was right. Two, because even the drunkest Katsuki would never let such an accusation stand.

Katsuki looked like he was plotting an incredible bloodbath. “Well, if you're gonna talk big like that,” he said, rising to his feet, movements lithe and relaxed, but fooling no one. There was power dancing along his limbs and torso. “You are gonna hafta take responsibility.”

“Take responsibility? Isn't that my line?” Momo asked, unfazed. Holy hell, did she ever grow some nerves of steel since her beginning days at U.A. Kirishima might be just a little bit in love with her for that. “You're the one out to fluster Midoriya, from what I heard from both Kirishima and Todoroki.”

“Nope. It's my line now. I'm stealing all the roles,” said Katsuki, firing up the Bakugou den speaker system with a smirk. Of course, it was way too heavy on the base, the song practically thrumming in Kirishima's chest. “And now you get to put your moves where your mouth is. Come on, Mary Poppins, time to dance! This is a song Denki will approve of, anyway.”

Momo had always been shy about dancing, even during high school. With a long-suffering sigh that was mostly for show, she took Katsuki's offered palms and started to sway with him. Kirishima didn't know what they were dancing, but it wasn't quite a waltz, and it wasn't quite swing. But they made it work. They'd worked enough missions together over the years, to know how to match each other's mood and pace.

Falling into you
Even electricity
Can’t compare to what I feel
When I’m with you
Ooh baby
Given up my ghosts for you
And now I’m see through

You give me a feeling
Feeling so strong
I know you been treating
Treating yourself wrong
So let me care for you
Ooh baby
Ima love you differently
I’ll give you electricity
Give it to you

And then Mina roped Denki and Kirishima into dancing with her. Before they knew it, Katsuki had started a metal playlist (figures), and everybody was dancing with everybody else. After twenty minutes, the last two standing were Momo and Mina, and only because Momo was swinging Mina round and round and round.

* * *

Midoriya came to a decision: it was time to make Bakugou bored. This new behavior, he realized, is just another way for Bakugou to torment him. New, inventive, and possibly the most effective means of torment yet. (Oh, who was he kidding? It was definitely the most effective. Midoriya had no immunity to this nonsense.)

But he would acquire immunity. Izuku had surmounted every obstacle presented to him.

When Bakugou presented a challenge like this, practically gift-wrapped . . .

Well. Izuku felt rather obligated to trounce his rival.

It had taken an entire shift for Midoriya to come up with this plan, tailored to his own liking. If it had been a quiet shift, Midoriya might have come up with a list of ideas to speed the recession of the quirk affecting Katsuki's behavior.

But it was not a quiet shift. Midoriya came upon no less than four petty villains throughout his rounds. And so he had to devote his full attention to each challenge as it arose, no matter how mediocre it was.

The day the pro hero Deku, Symbol of Peace and protégée of All Might, grew complacent would be the day he lost his life. And Midoriya had just too damn much to live for. Too many people to protect, puzzles to solve, villains to vanquish, friends to manage.

Katsuki, he felt he was finally beginning to truly understand. Inside and out, sober and silly, vulnerability and bravado. This new taunting was very confusing, yes. But Deku had made it so easy for Kacchan to tease. No wonder Kacchan couldn't resist. They had always fed off each other's reactions, had they not? This was just a way to torment him that Katsuki hadn't tried before.

Midoriya would make him stop. And then their tenuous rival-steeped friendship would return to its former state. A state Midoriya hadn't realized keeping their messed up relationship where it had been mattered to him so much.

Katsuki really wouldn't like what Midoriya would have to do to set their friendship back to rights, though. This was going to be a lot of work.

And Katsuki was only getting started. Midoriya knew he had to think far, far ahead to keep Katsuki from outstripping him. Katsuki probably had a plan of his own in the works, if not finished already.

Midoriya's hands were squeezing the steering wheel hard as he parked his small, nondescript Toyota a few houses down from the Bakugou residence. He saw a collection of cars already in the Bakugou driveway and along the street. He wondered if half the graduates of Class 1A were already there, working Katsuki up into a frenzy.

When he let himself in, Midoriya was a little shocked to see Momo in addition to the regular Bakusquad. Ground Zero and Creati made a surprisingly efficient and complimentary team in the field. (Most of it was due to Momo knowing how to avoid aggravating Kacchan's insecurities.) Creati was completely unpredictable, even working solo. Working with Kacchan and bouncing ideas off each other, they were a strategist's worst nightmare. Anyone who thought they could take them, just by anticipating what Ground Zero would do, quickly lamented their entire lives leading up to that point.

But in their personal lives? Midoriya had never seen them in the same room, unless compulsory attendance at a big event was involved. And now they were trading Kirishima as a dancing partner back and forth, with metal playing in the background.

The second thing Midoriya noticed: Kacchan was flirting with everyone. Like it was as natural to him as breathing; but he was really, truly breathing for the first time in his life. Unhindered by worry or care.

Was Kacchan really happier this way? Midoriya wondered. If Kacchan had a choice on who he could be, free from consequence or judgment or obligation –- would he choose to be like this? Or to be as closed off as he was while sober?

Next thing Midoriya knew, the sound system had switched to a pop song, Mina squealed about karaoke, and Kacchan was singing lyrics at him.

Somethin' 'bout you makes me feel like a dangerous woman
Somethin' 'bout, somethin' 'bout, somethin' 'bout you

Shouto raised an appraising eyebrow. (Or was it critical?) He tapped his fingers along his crossed arms. "That's the Ariana Grande song you associate with Midoriya?" he asked.

"It's the bunny ears!" Kacchan huffed, waggling his index fingers upright along the crown of his head. "That song plays in the back of my head every time he wears that hero outfit with the ears. Come on, tell me I'm not the only one?"

Mina raised her hand, and to everyone's shock, a blushing Momo joined her.

"Ha!" Kacchan threw a triumphant smirk at both Midoriya and Shouto, hands on his hips. "Like you can come up with a better one, Strawberry Shortcake!"

Shouto actually rolled his eyes. Midiroiya had never seen that before, not even when his father was present. "I think you're losing your edge, that nickname wasn't snappy."

"You’ll need to change your tune, Song of Ice and Fire. Don't say another word, you'll make people think I have performance issues."

The next thing Midoriya knew, a surprisingly clear and silky baritone was belting out:

Right now, I'm in a state of mind
I wanna be in like all the time
Ain't got no tears left to cry
So I'm pickin' it up, pickin' it up

And the baritone was coming from Shouto!

Kacchan sneered on principle, but it was obvious to everyone that even he was impressed by Shouto's unexpected pipes.

But then Kacchan continued this impromptu sing-off, and nobody was ready for it.

I got the eye of the tiger, a fighter
Dancing through the fire
'Cause I am a champion, and you're gonna hear me roar

Mina switched the song to another by the same artist, shooting desperate puppy eyes at Shouto. Midoriya's eyebrows rose as Denki, Kirishima, and finally Momo motioned for him to go on. But it was Katsuki's scornful laughter that finally caused Shouto's shoulders to square, eyes to glint, and mouth to open. Even though they all knew he'd regret it.

'Cause you're hot then you're cold
You're yes then you're no
You're in then you're out
You're up then you're down
You're wrong when it's right
It's black and it's white

When Kacchan switched to singing Taylor Swift, pretending to scarf down diamonds in a bathtub, all jaws hit the floor.

But I got smarter, I got harder in the nick of time
Honey, I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time
I've got a list of names and yours is in red, underlined
I check it once, then I check it twice, oh!
Ooh, look what you made me do
Look what you made me do

Even Shouto couldn't make a sound after that.

Midoriya was convinced: this was the strangest, darkest timeline. Somehow.

Since everyone else was silenced, the Symbol of Peace decided to end karaoke night with a song Kacchan would strangle him for singing, if Kacchan was fully sober. It was the song half the girls at U.A. plus Denki and Monoma sang at him as a joke at their graduation.

Baby, can't you see
I'm calling
A guy like you should wear a warning
It's dangerous
I'm falling
There's no escape
I can't wait
I need a hit
Baby, give me it
You're dangerous
I'm loving it

Midoriya didn't finish the song; his point was quite clear before he even got to the halfway mark. At his motion, Sero and Denki hastily turned off the sound system. Katsuki, for once, just smirked and didn't say anything. Midoriya feared the worst, and began regretting his bullheaded decision. Shouto patted his shoulder sympathetically; both of them would spend the rest of the week nursing their dignity.

He was never more happy to see Katsuki's parents when they arrived with enough groceries to feed twenty starving soldiers.

Mitsuki used Eeny Meeny Miny Moe to pick people to help her cook dinner, and those eliminated drifted into the kitchen with her.

Midoriya observed that everyone present, including the Bakugou parents, made Kacchan clutch his chest laughing at least once. Everyone except for Shouto. Shouto's deadpan quips were leveling Kacchan to the carpet every ten minutes or so. Midoriya wondered if he'd ever get used to how much Kacchan relaxed in Shouto's presence now. And if Kacchan would stay that way, even after he went back to his usual dumpsterfire attitude.

Midoriya was braced to ignore all of Kacchan's incoming taunts . . . but Kacchan only threw a jab at him a couple times.

“Hey, Deku, did you defeat a villain by crushing watermelons with your thighs till he chickened out?”

”Deku, only four villains today? You're getting' fuckin' lazy. What do you do, offer to read bedtime stories and tuck them in? They show up on the fuckin' Symbol of Peace's watch because you're such a hospitable nanny.”

Mina shot Kacchan a sly look, but before she could say anything, Kirishima shushed her with food. Kacchan didn't notice, but Midoriya filed the interaction away to ask Mina about later.

Instead, Kacchan's eyes followed Midoriya carefully all throughout the evening. What could he be thinking? Midoriya wondered. Katsuki wasn't quite as raucous this second day. More mirth than mischief, but still not laughing quite as much. Midoriya wasn't sure if this made him relieved or wary. Sober Kacchan acting subdued was an ill portent, making the strongest blanch and scramble for alcohol. Midoriya's instincts screamed at him that emotionally compromised Kacchan would be far more terrifying if he were waiting for a more . . . dramatic moment to strike.

Kacchan kept looking at Midoriya sidelong. As if it would be easier to read Deku's mind from an angle. Midoriya relished this; it meant, for once, Kacchan couldn't figure him out, even on the surface.

After dinner was finished and dishes washed, Masaru and Mitsuki left abruptly on an errand that everyone found vaguely suspicious.

Sooner than he had hoped, Midoriya's excuse to leave to run errands was accepted, and he took a taxi to a nearby grocery store. While navigating unfamiliar aisles, he heard another shopper talking about today being Wednesday.

Midoriya felt every nerve tingling along his spine. And he hadn't even activated One for All.

No wonder Kacchan was biding his time! Tomorrow was Thursday, or their sparring day. Midoriya had completely spaced, thanks to his turmoil over Kacchan's behavior.

Kacchan probably had something grandly stupid planned.

Midoriya remembered to add pain pills to his handbasket, trying to block out the Britney Spears playing in the back of his mind.

* * *

Kirishima noticed that Kacchan seemed subtly distracted after Izuku left.

Kirishima wasn't sure what to expect from Izuku. He seemed strangely . . . off. Katsuki noticed it, too. Kirishima heard him wondering aloud how much of that he could lay down squarely at his own two feet. Kirishima would have told him, well, duh, ALL OF IT. But Katsuki probably didn't want the answer from anyone else.

* * *

After Deku chickened out and made his escape, Shouto excused himself to use the restroom. The way he was moving, Katsuki could tell Shouto thought he'd gone too far teasing Deku. Which was frankly ridiculous; Katsuki had been remarkably restrained, by the new standards this quirk inflicted upon him.

But he had a couple things to go over with both Deku and Shouto out of the picture.

* * *

Kirishima could practically feel that Bakubro was up to something. Something specific. He watched as Katsuki's eyes swiveled to Momo, his expression still mirthful, but with a familiar, calculating edge.

“So. Girl, are you and Freezeflame ever gonna be a thing?" Katsuki asked, voice mocking the tone of nosy aunties every young person tries to avoid like collections officers. "You guys are real close, but I can't fucking figure out what kind of close that is. Sometimes you look like a couple, and sometimes he seems hella ace and you seem hella gay.”

“We're like you and Kirishima,” said Momo, with the most serene poker face known to man. Or was that her normal face?

“Awww, that's so manly of Todoroki,” said Kirishima. “I'm glad he's such a good friend to you. It goes without saying, you're always a good friend. We take notes from you, honestly.”

Momo smiled at him. “That said, sometimes it is funny to read speculation about us, if we're together or if we're not,” said Momo. “Sometimes. Usually, it seems rather unimaginative. Like they're too lazy to come up with anything interesting about a hero power couple."


Six pairs of eyes shot over to the end of the hall, where Todoroki stood, hands in his pockets. "Why didn't you ask her that to my face, Bakugou?"

"He knew you were standing there," said Momo. "So did I. Your expression was entertaining--or, the brief flash of emotion before your expression went back to normal." She patted a spot on the couch beside her. Kirishima wiggled in delight -- they really were such good friends! Todoroki plopped down beside her, shooting a subtle glare in Bakubou's direction. Momo just continued her previous train of thought. "Once I read Todoroki supposedly lights cigarettes for me. But I don't smoke!”

“What do you guys actually do for each other?” Mina piped up. Sero and Denki immediately started teasing her about planning to copy everything with Katsuki.

“Well,” said Momo. “Usually Todoroki just warms my hands or arms when I'm cold, or cools my forehead when I'm sweating.”

"Momo makes me gloves or masks sometimes."

“Awww,” said Kirishima again.

“Now, if you don't mind,” said Momo, turning back to Bakugou, “may I ask if there's anything between you and Izuku?”

Bakugou shrugged. “A heckuva lot of bad blood. I've worked years to atone, but it's never fully going away. It shouldn't. I was a douchenozzle for a long time.

“Midoriya, now, has liked me for years. Though I don't know if he knows it.”

“WHAT?” Momo and Denki and Sero looked perplexed. Kirishima and Momo just studied the ceiling. They'd had suspicions about the Wonder Duo's rivalry, and its complexity, for months now.

Bakugou just went on shrugging. “I'm literally his vision of victory. I've always meant a lot to him, though hell if I'll ever deserve it. And I . . .”

He shuddered, actually shuddered, and let out a long breath, then huffed. “God. I have no fucking clue when I started to fall for him, but I knew he made me angry. So angry. And made me feel vulnerable like nobody else.

“But I started figuring out I loved him late in middle school. I was . . . really awful to him in an attempt to deny it to myself. You can't love someone you mistreat, can you? For a while, I convinced myself it was a weaker part of me whispering to be let out, so I ignored it like a prophet ignoring an evil spirit.

“And then. Then we both got into U.A., and I saw him use his quirk, and I . . . I knew I'd been lying to myself and lashing out on him. And I just lashed out again and again, because now I couldn't pretend to myself anymore. I wanted to protect him, and I wanted him to be safe, and I wanted him to depend on me. To need me. He was NEVER going to be safe, he was always trying to protect me and everyone else, and he didn't need me and wouldn't lean on me.”

The circle of friends all looked at each other. Nobody was surprised there were this many layers to Katsuki's feelings and opinions on Izuku. On how much the two of them had molded each other. But the nature of Katsuki's feelings? That took them all by surprise. Even though it made a lot of sense, and threw so many conversations and experiences into sharp relief, it was still a lot, a lot, to soak in.

How strange. In his messed up way, Katsuki's feelings toward Izuku might have been even more worried and protective . . . and jealous. Kirishima felt pangs, knowing his bro must have been in varying levels of emotional pain over the years. And Kirishima didn't feel he'd really helped him, at least with regards to his childhood friend, at all. Not in a way that mattered.

“So. Um. You've told us all this -- which, damn, I'm kinda surprised you did -- but . . .” Sero seemed to look at every inanimate object around them in search of something he could pinpoint as inspiration. Kirishima, Mina, and Momo were still too gobsmacked to offer him any help. Some heroes they were! Finally, Sero just spit out whatever word vomit his brain strung together. “Are you gonna tell Izuku? How do you tell Izuku this? He's gonna flip his . . . his lid.” (No matter how much time he spent with Katsuki and other foul-mouthed people, Sero never could bring himself to say anything more explicit than shut the front door.)

Katsuki raised both hands in the air. “No fucking clue,” he said, with a lopsided, devil-may-care smile. “Guess I'll just start spouting and wait for him to start muttering and tune me out.”

The time for Bakugou and Todoroki to marathon their cartoon approached, so everyone else prepared to leave. Each of them got to see or hear something about how much Katsuki cared about, thought about, or relied on them, which they otherwise would not have learned. After that, even Denki, who enjoyed drunk Katsuki the most, seemed torn between wishing Katsuki would be like this always, and missing the old Katsuki, who didn't try to find new ways to shock you.

Kirishima had resolved himself to being happy when he had his bro as he knew him back -- except in one respect.

He snuck in two extra hugs with Bakubro before he strode out the door.

Chapter Text

Hey. So sorry about lack of updates. I've been struggling with burnout at my day job, depression, and serious lack of confidence in my writing.

BUT! This fic isn't abandoned. I'm going to have more time in the next month due to traveling and job-hunting; this fic is my first priority in my writing. Deku in particular has been on my ass to get back into the swing of things, and y'all know. What Deku wants? Deku fucking gets.

Thank you all! Plus Ultra!

Chapter Text

Shouto lost count of how many beers were in the cooler that Katsuki plopped down next to the couch. He looked at his friend with a raised eyebrow as he queued up the DVD player. Katsuki just smirked, cracked open a can, and handed it to him -- while snickering to himself about cracking open a cold one with a cold boy. Whatever that meant.

It took some time, but finally Katsuki regrouped. Shouto was about to start the first episodes of the second season. Book 2: Earth, it was called. But Katsuki raised his hand, almost like they used to in class while attending 1-A. Shouto paused and looked at him expectantly. Katsuki preened under the attention (that really was the best word for his expression), then spoke.

"You're not working tomorrow? Right?"

Shouto shook his head. "We could watching Season 2 tonight, and then Season 3 tomorrow after we've slept."

"Nah, bruh," said Katsuki. "Let's watch it all in one sitting. Plus fucking Ultra, bitches. We die like mice!"

"Um," said Shouto, turning the beer can round and round thoughtfully.

"What? Don't think you're strong enough to marathon fourteen hours straight?" Katsuki guffawed and slurped down more beer. "Come on, Freezeflame, I expected more."

"No, it's not that," said Shouto. He was secretly glad that Katsuki, for once, was willing to forego that precious, precious beauty sleep that Mina was always teasing him about. And for Shouto's sake, too. That said a lot. "I just think the phrase is supposed to be we die like men."

"Not me," Katsuki deadpanned. "Give me a good, quick, clean mousetrap and make it snappy any day. Or poisoned cheese -- that's the way to go. Sensibilities of mice, not of men."

Shouto was tempted to search Katsuki's pockets for Sharpies or mushrooms. Instead, he said, "I'll ask Momo to make a mousetrap just your size, next time you annoy Midoriya."

"Damn, that's cold even for you, Elphaba."

"Elsa," Shouto corrected.

Katsuki's red eyes gleamed. "Oh, so you can tell them apart after all!"

Shouto ignored him and started the show. Damn, was Katsuki sneaky for somebody as subtle as a bitchslap to the face. Maybe Shouto should tell Shinshou that the guaranteed way to ensare villains with his quirk was this: spouting random lies ripe for contradicting. Or maybe he shouldn't. Shinshou might have a hard time restraining himself every time somebody started a statement with, "Well, actually."

Soon Shouto forgot his gripes. Everything about the Earth kingdom made Shouto think of Izuku. He told Katsuki he thought Izuku would have been an Earthbender, were their universe like this one divided into four elemental powers. Katsuki sneered and insisted that Izuku was most definitely a fucking airhead. He also told Shouto to wait for more bending, chastising him for forgetting that bending lightning was a thing.

For a few minute, they debated if technically lightning was closer to the green sparks that enveloped Izuku whenever he turned on his power. There was no debate that Katsuki would have been a firebender. Shouto said that, if he got to choose a power, he'd definitely be a waterbender; but if they were being realistic, obviously he'd be a child of a waterbender and a firebender and wield both.

When Toph started bending metal, Shouto felt like someone had snatched a rug from under his feet. When he recovered, he told Katsuki that he was sure Mina and Jirou and Hagakure especially would adore her. Katsuki grunted.

Given what Katsuki told him about this Zuko character, Shouto was well-prepared to find him the most compelling member of the cast, and he did, from the moment he appeared in the first season. But he wasn't ready for how raw his emotions ran in time with Zuko's outbursts, especially in the second season.

Zuko was far from a prodigy, and Shouto, being the last and only child of Endeavor to manifest and synergize a dual quirk, had no idea what that felt like. What was it like to feel overshadowed by a younger sibling bound to eclipse you? Hell, had more of Endeavor's personality gone to him, Shouto would be far more like Azula.

But Zuko's frustration, his need to forge his own path. Now that was something Shouto knew inside out, upside down, and backwards. And seeing Zuko venting emotions that Shouto could never afford to express . . . that was oddly therapeutic.

Perhaps, just perhaps, Katsuki found that venting everything that wasn't his usual anger was therapeutic, too. Maybe, after his inhibitions clamped around him with iron jaws once more, he'd be glad of this brief respite. It would probably depend on how much of this period he'd remember.

During some of the more tense or upsetting scenes, Katsuki yelled expletives or booed at the TV screen. A couple times, Shouto, lost in another beer can, shouted along with him. Shouto found himself particularly prickly at how so many people in the Earth kingdom turned a blind eye and wouldn't help each other. (Luckily, both Mitsuki and Masaru remembered Katsuki's noise when he first marathoned cartoons, and wore earplugs and earmuffs to bed. They slept soundly through the wee hours of the morning.)

Shouto didn't know what to say during the arc featuring Katara seeking revenge. Of course, Katara was the bigger person and showed mercy in this instance, and Shouto could respect that . . . but he couldn't applaud it. Deep down, in the darkest recess of his heart, where no beer could reach, he knew. He knew. He would never show mercy to a man who caused his mother pain.

Much less her killer.

He knew Bakugou wouldn't, either. Katara would have made an excellent hero. Her blood bending, too, was even more chilling remembering how it felt to chafe under Stain's power. What restraint she showed.

Even after they entered Book 3: Fire, and after dawn passed, and after they finished the beer, somehow neither of them crashed. They kept going, episode after episode, and Shouto started to wonder if he'd ever be able to use his quirk again without thinking of Katara or Zuko.

Neither of them mentioned Dabi in any of the scenes with Azula fighting Zuko -- not even at the climax. Neither of them could find the words. Shouto could feel his very throat shriveling up with every blast of blue fire from Azula. He practically ached with empathy watching Aang hold his own desperately against Ozai.

Shouto found himself clapping and yelling at the TV when Aang beat the snot, flame, and pride out of the Firelord.

Also, Aang defeating Ozai gave Shouto an idea: maybe, if he ever found himself in need of giving Endeavor a thorough drubbing, he could ask Inasa to pair up. Hell, Inasa might ask him to pair up first.

That was his last thought before he blacked out on the Katsuki family couch.

* * * * *

The morning of day three of the quirk aftermath dawned. Midoriya's nerves felt raw and ragged. Like his emotions had taken a pummeling from a meat tenderizer while he slept. Every few minutes, he had to assure himself that One for All hadn't activated and ramped up to twenty-five percent without his knowing. Silence seemed to mask a threat, birdsong or creaking floorboards seemed to foretell malice, and even the sun peeking out from behind mounds of clouds looked like the herald of a desperate fray.

But there was also a buzzing in the back of his mind, insisting that his power was leaking out the crevices in his self-control. And when there wasn't buzzing, it was a shuffled playlist of songs that he refused to name or acknowledge.

Midoriya wanted a drink, but there wasn't time to down vodka and process it before he had to leave. He seriously envied Momo -- once she attained legal drinking age, she discovered her body could break down alcohol at an impressive rate, so long as she utilized her quirk. It was theoretically impossible to get her drunk if she didn't want to be -- though she didn't actually exert herself to test it very thoroughly. For a few minutes, Midoriya theorized and found a little peace -- but then the buzzing came back.

Mercifully, his phone blared with guitar riff from X Japan's Kurenai, Kirishima's semi-urgent ringtone. (Midoriya had geeked out his personal phone with options for multiples ringtones the same way his hero phone was rigged.) Midoriya answered immediately. "Hey, Kirishima. Everything alright?"

Hi, Izuku! There was a touch of digital feedback warping Kirishima's voice. But Midoriya could tell that Kirishima was just a touch less vibrant and cheery than usual. I'm okay for now, but I think I might be a little off my game later on? Anyway that's not why I called, I have a message: Bakubro wants to spar with you in the afternoon at three.

“Oh, that's surprising.” Midoriya sat back down on his bed, mind running through a dozen different scenarios. “Are you sure you're okay, Kirishima? Do you want to talk? I have time.” He was betting himself 500 yen that this had to do with Kacchan.

Kirishima laughed appreciatively. I'd like to talk, yeah. Thank you so much, bro. It's nothing too crazy, it's just . . . I'm worried about Bakubro.

Bingo, Midoriya was right.

He's still quirk-drunk today. Still no idea how long that will last. But when it wears off . . . I'm worried about if I can be there for him the way I want to be. The way he may need me to be? Does that make sense?

"Absolutely! I think we all are --" that didn't even begin to cover Midoriya's feelings, but this conversation was for Kirishima's worries, not his! "--and it's perfectly understandable. This is nothing like anything we've seen from him before. We're so used to him being so particular, and now he's . . . not. But maybe I can help! What do you think he needs? Maybe we can go from there?"

Well, he's all about that Hug Life now. Kirishima's following laugh was bright and loud and light-hearted. Midoriya mentally pictured Kacchan insisting on Kirishima carrying him around on his back, just because he could, and bit back a snicker. And later, he's probably going to avoid all skinship, even from me. I . . . I don't think I can go back. No hugs? I want a lifetimg of Free Hugs. Without being blown to bits.

And by the way Kirishima's breath was hitching over the phone, Midoriya was pretty sure his tears were falling like rain in a typhoon.

Despite his frustrations (or maybe even because of them?) Midoriya found he was soothing himself as much as he was soothing Kirishima. "It's okay, it's okay!” he said. He would have given him a hug, or at least a pat on the shoulder, were they physically in the same place.

Instead, he drummed his fingers along his thigh. “I'm not sure what we'll need to do, as a group. But you, buddy? I think you'll be the only person he's likely to talk to when he comes to himself again. And I think you'll be just who he needs, even if you're not sure what you'll do. You really get him, you know that?

“And maybe you can mime air hugs when you want? Not as good, I know, but it's something.”

Kirishima grunted in assent. “Thanks, bro. Is it okay if I hug you after all this?”

“Anytime, Kirishima.”

* * * * *

Midoriya, Midoriya, Midoriya. The name had been a mantra in Katsuki's head for years. He was pretty sure his preschooler self had not intended to blot it out with the new nickname when he first coined it. Deku. But the older Katsuki got, the more effective "Deku" was in distracting him from the chant of Midoriya, Midoriya, Midoriya in his mind.

For some reason, this distraction wasn't working as well. He didn't realize what he was doing until he saw splinters marring the smooth surface of his flawless kitchen table. Or, ex-flawless table.

He had etched Midoriya into one corner of the mahogany.

* * * * *

Kacchan didn't even bother to leave Midoriya a note or text on where to meet him for their Thursday spar.

Midoriya could sleepwalk to Katsuki's latest favorite location: an abandoned elementary school. It was marked by the demolition corp sponsoring Kacchan's agency. (To avoid corruption, sponsorships for hero agencies did not involve monetary contributions, but rather endorsements. Sometimes collaborations.) Kacchan had a standing agreement that he would train his quirk on deserted demolition sites, leveling whatever they needed destroyed. In return, the demolition corp would donate the net worth of his services to a charity of Kacchan's choosing.

Midoriya was ready to doubt his memory, though it rarely ever failed him, when he circled the vacant complex three times, with no sign of Kacchan.

The school was barely upright, looking to Midoriya's eyes like a ghost in disguise. What a terror that would be, to live in a house that wasn't haunted with ghosts, but rather was a ghost itself. Sounded like Tokoyami's kind of pad.

Kacchan was so obsessed with punctuality, he always arrived early. Like, super early. Like, why did you show up thirty minutes too soon, that's rude, Kacchan kind of early. (Kacchan's birth was a week early, Midoriya was sure Mitsuki had told him once or twice.)

He even tucked in to terrorize his own bed early.

True to Midoriya's initial fears, Oops I Did It Again had been playing in the background of his mind for the entire week following Mitsuki's jokes about red catsuits. (And the karaoke session made it even worse). The silence onsite only made the stubborn tune harder to ignore.

After Midoriya sent four texts and one phone call and kicked about ten rocks in worry, Kacchan finally rounded a corner and walked up to him. In one hand, he held a grocery bag. He wore a thin black choker nestled under the collar of a red button down that wasn't buttoned, a web-textured white undershirt, and form-hugging, soft pants -- in dark green. Midoriya had never seen Kacchan wearing that much solid green at once. the most he'd ever seen were green accents on Kacchan's hero costume.

Midoriya knew Kacchan associated green with him. Hell, everyone did. He knew Kacchan must be saying . . . something with those pants. But he couldn't be arsed to care. He was here to kick Kacchan's arse, strictly that, and nothing more. He was irritated, and for once, he was gonna be the one to take it out on Kacchan. Then go home, and sleep peacefully, free from nightmares about the inhibition-stealing quirk becoming permanent. Hopefully.

Just last night, Midoriya awoke at midnight after dreaming that Kacchan wore nothing but garish neon leopard print for a month. It was horrific. Took Midoriya till three in the morning to fall back asleep.

“Deku! Just the sparring partner I was looking for,” said Kacchan.

“You haven't sparred with Momo in forever,” Midoriya suggested, perhaps too quickly.

“She's not up for a spar; Mina had her spin her around for like a thousand years,” said Kacchan, snickering. “And I was looking for you, dummy, didn't you hear that part?"

“You're two minutes late, Kacchan,” said Midoriya. He wasn't going to let Kacchan off easy. “Did Shouto have to sit on you to keep you from blowing up a villain on the way here?”

Kacchan laughed. Midoriya's frown deepened. “No,” said Kacchan. “We were just talking in the car. Doofus took a while to put his thoughts into words. He never was good with that.” Oddly enough, Kacchan's tone was amused, but not scornful. It was strange to hear him lose all bite when talking about Shouto. But that, for the first time, was a good strange. The only change Midoriya felt good about lately.

Midoriya let loose a brief smile. “No. I guess not.” But that was all the emotion Kacchan was going to wring from him tonight. He schooled his features to calm, channeling Shouto's resting blank bitch face. He was not going to be trifled with this afternoon. Kacchan could be outrageous as he liked. "Just give me a minute or two to warm up.”

“Heh, I'm not that eager, Deku.”

Could have fooled me, Midoriya thought.

He was still surprised that Kacchan had asked for afternoon, rather than a morning meeting. Heroes shuffled their days off at random (imagine how many Friday crimes there would be if All Might had never worked Fridays). So they ended up fighting screaming early before a day shift on a working Thursday, or fighting mid-morning on an off Thursday.

Midoriya had long suspected that Kacchan preferred his early morning attempts to eviscerate Midoriya over breakfast. Or at least pushed his meal back, till after he had fed on Midoriya's attempts to not die that day.

Midoriya entertained himself by imagining that Kacchan's red eyes meant he was a vampire. But instead of withering in the sun, he discharged its power through his palms. Instead of craving blood, he ate Midoriya's emotions.

Katsuki was doing that . . . thing again where he was moving like a cat, all relaxed and oddly poised. Every movement was actually calculated for maximum agility and power. And attention. It was so arresting, Midoriya had never felt more aware of anyone's presence. (Except maybe Stain at his most intimidating. Now, though, Stain seemed considerably less irritating)

“Deku,” said Kacchan. “Before we begin.” But there he stopped, and didn't go on.

“What, you're in a talkative mood?” said Midoriya. He promptly regretted it. Kacchan had wanted him to respond, hadn't he? Midoriya should have let him stew in silence. Damn. You'd think being overtaken with Shinshou's quirk at least once every time he saw him would teach Midoriya to keep his mouth shut. Oh, no. Midoriya was a dumb gingerbread man, alright.

“Heh. You're gonna hate me for this, Deku--” How did he make a simple statement sound like a taunt? “--but you need to know. I want this fight to be all-out. I don't want you holding nothin' back.”

"You don't want it to be like the fight right after the provisional exam, at Ground Beta, do you?” Midoriya asked. “We can't recreate that.” He started to delve into more guesses, about what Kacchan would possibly want; but Kacchan cut him off with an amused snort.

“Chill, Deku,” he said. Midoriya was getting so tired of that word. “Don't make me ask Cherry Vanilla Slushie to freeze your damn brain."

“You really need to stop with the dumb nicknames.”

“Fine, I'll stick to Zuko for now,” said Kacchan, stretching languidly. At this point Midoriya was sure he was warmed up and was just showboating. “What I wanna know is this: will you piss yourself off for me? Or should I just piss you off myself, the good ol' fashioned way?”

“I . . . what?” Midoriya blinked. “Did you just say you don't feel like making me mad yourself? Um, Kacchan, I think that quirk is getting stronger, not weaker.”

Kacchan smirked. “I'm fine, nerd. I just . . . you're pissy right now, and I know you've been pissy since I got hit. But I want you to try to fuckin' wipe me off the face of the Earth today, Green Bean.” Kacchan squared his shoulders and stared at the crumbliest corner of the dilapidated school roof, as he went on. “I wanna feel like not even All Might at full power could save me.” Then those red eyes flickered to rest heavily on Midoriya again. “You feel me, nerd? You ain't that mad -- yet. Can you get yourself there, or do I have to get you there?”

Midoriya was liking this development less and less. “What do you mean, get me there?”

“I mean, make you mad as hell. Then madder. That's what I've been saying.”

Midoriya thought over his carefully crafted mental plans for the day, and the conversation which had forged them.

* * * * *

It was only an hour until his scheduled spar with Kacchan. Midoriya's nerves were fraying at an increasing rate as the time drew near. Momo texted him an invitation to join her and several of their peers at a coffee shop not far from Midoriya's apartment, on the second floor of a large mall. Biting his lip nervously, Midoriya had accepted before he knew what his fingers were typing.

One look at his hand trembling on the door handle as he entered the shop, and Momo offered to order him tea without caffeine.

He slipped into a vacant seat at the same table as Mina, Momo, Kirishima, and Denki. Mina amiably patted him on the shoulder and started squealing about the pictures of stray cats he sent to her from his last shift. The topic of conversation drifted to pets, including the new puppy Jirou had adopted.

Midoriya found it odd that nobody was bringing up Kacchan. He knew Kirishima or Shouto must have let everyone know he still wasn't his usual self. So why was everyone here and not with Kacchan? He sipped his tea, spouted a random fact or two here and there, and waited. He would not ask after Kacchan.

Ten full minutes passed before his waiting paid off. Kirishima told Denki that Kacchan and Shouto had slept in till almost one in the afternoon after their cartoon marathon.

“Bakubro texted me a picture of his bedhead,” said Kirishima.

“But he always has bedhead!” Denki sputtered with laughter.

Kirishima nodded and smiled. He leaned over the table in Midoriya's direction. “Thank you again for making me feel better earlier, Midoriya!” he said. “You're right, and I think we all will be able to support Bakubro just fine! Do you know what he told me today on the phone?” His eyes shifted from friend to friend around the table, and everyone watched him expectantly. Kirishima gave the table a friendly thump each sentence for emphasis. “He told me thank you for taking him seriously, for treating him like he had power and was a force to be reckoned with. He said all of Class 1-A made helped him move on from feeling insecure, like he always had to prove himself. Pay for status in sweat, for respect in blood.

“I wanted you all to know that. He's rough around the edges, but he does care about us, I feel.”

Mina looked a little misty-eyed, and Denki seemed to be playing back memories in his mind. Midoriya was as well, but he still couldn't reconcile the mental image of Kacchan, even the very drunkest Kacchan, telling Kirishima about insecurities, of all things. Kacchan had always been the most secure person Midoriya knew -- he had wished a thousand times he could somehow borrow Kacchan's confidence."I think I understand Bakugou's feelings a lot more now," said Momo, with a quiet, regal smile.

"Yeah, now he's expressing ALL his feelings, not just rage and battlelust," said Mina, bumping her hip against Kirishima as a prompt for the Certified Bakugou Bestie to confirm or deny her words.

Kirishima gave her one wide grin, two up-turned thumbs, and three quick nods.

"No wonder he resented you so much for so long," Momo went on, fixing her dark, inquiring gaze on Midoriya. "He thought you were treating him like a delicate damsel in distress, who needed somebody else to save the day."

Midoriya shot up in his seat like a rocket on a tether. Tapping his nose analytically, he went over every memory that rose quickly to the surface. That made sense when Kacchan didn't want him helping him up from the water when they were very small. It made sense when Kacchan was jealous about Midoriya acquiring a quirk and not telling him. It especially made sense when Kacchan admitted he thought Deku had been mocking and looking down on him, all this time, in their major fight at Ground Beta.

"Earth to Midoriya! You're muttering again!"

He thought that was Denki's voice he heard, but he wasn't sure. Midoriya stilled. It really was weird how he still didn't know half the time when he switched to muttering up a storm. He looked Momo squarely in the eye. "Thank you. You're right! Kacchan has always acted like the world was underestimating him. I knew that, but . . . but I never thought of it quite like that. I . . . I need to go now."

Momo nodded. Midoriya already had a healthy respect for her, growing as she had from being doubtful about her own abilities, to placing consistently in the top ten pro hero rankings for four years running. She was the go-to mentor for young female pro heros discouraged by the media infantilizing them. She was the hero Shouto preferred to pair up with on missions when he was given the choice. Now Midoriya realized she must have overcome obstacles that even he, when quirkless, hadn't had to face.

He opened the nearest window, confirmed his memory that they were on the second floor of a multi-level shopping mall, then powered eight percent of One for All in his legs and vaulted through the window.

"This bitch gone YEET!" he heard Kaminari howl after him.

Then Mina laughing. "It's actually 'this bitch empty YEET,' my dear friend."

* * * * *

Fuck everything. Midorya abandoned his plan to tell Kacchan he always looked up to him, didn't consider him a damsel to save. But Midoriya would not going along with Kacchan's plan today, either. Kacchan could play matador and bull with somebody else. Now Midoriya didn't know how to handle him anymore.

So, starting that moment, he would stop trying to be Kacchan's handler. Kacchan deserved better than that. He also deserved worse. Even if he was practically sulfur and acid knit into the silhouette of a man. Silhouette, because Kacchan was a patch of darkness that knew himself only when basking in the piercing light.

Right now, the worst Midoriya could do was deny him. Acknowledgment is what Kacchan seemed focused on right now.

“I'll fight you at full power, Kacchan, but not in rage. Don't test me. If I can stop from raging at a villain when the stakes are high, I can stop from raging at you for practice.”

Kacchan's smirk was far, far too cocky. “Guess I'm getting you there after all.”

And Kacchan promptly threw off his tank top and started slipping his soft, dark green pants down his legs.

“PUT. YOUR. PANTS. BACK. ON.” Midoriya felt One for All igniting in his clenched fists and then spreading to activate throughout his body.

Kacchan whisked his pants back up with a smug look. “Wow. Nice. I owe Shouto one now.”


And Midoriya sprang, only one goal clear in the red haze engulfing his mind: make Kacchan pay.

* * * * *

“Hey, Bakugou. Katsuki. Whatever you're planning to do, please don't,” said Shouto, turning in the van's driver seat to peer at Katsuki earnestly over the gear stick.

“Don't worry, Freezeflame," said Katsuki slowly. He was staring out car window, rolling up the window one inch at a time in between each word. "We're just sparring, like usual.”

“But it isn't like usual. Not at all. You're almost cheerful, and Midoriya looks like a leafy storm cloud. I mean it, Bakugou. Seriously. Midoriya is ready to explode if you rub him the wrong way. Just fight without needling him and live to see another day in one piece.”

“Forget it, you excuse for a Christmas decoration," said Katsuki, playfully slapping Shouto's shoulder. "I'm never going to stop pushing his buttons. The power rush is great. You should try it!” He smirked at him. “I mean, it won't give you the same thrill as dissing your old man, but still. Worth it. We could tag team or something.” Then he noticed Shouto's expression. “Ugh, you know I didn't mean it that way. Stop it, perv.”

Shouto rolled his eyes. “You were just fishing for a reaction and you know it,” he admonished. “Now. Honestly. Midoriya is at his emotional limit. For once in your life, don't set off an explosion. You've actually avoiding explosions ever since you got hit with that quirk. Just keep that habit up a bit longer. Okay?”

“Pffft. It's only Deku, what are you afraid of?”

“Did it never occur to you that, if he gets mad enough to throw away his inhibitions, you two will eviscerate entire cities?”

Katsuki snorted. “What inhibitions? He cries if he steps on a bug by accident.”

“Katsuki, please. Just relax." said Shouto. It was a massive blow to his pride, but he put his hands together like a monk in prayer and lowered them in a choppy stroke. He hoped he was referencing the meme Katsuki told him about correctly. He felt like he was miming Iida. "Boy. Consider how much damage control sober Bakugou will have to do, if you take things too far today.”

“Sober Bakugou is a fucking beast,” said Katsuki, laughing and flicking a bit of dust off the dashboard. He paid no attention to Shouto's gesture, and Shouto thought his face would light on fire. “He'll handle whatever I dish out.”

Shouto massaged his temples. “You're really making me miss him right now, too.”

“Aw, fucks.”

“You mean, aw, shucks?”

“No, aw, fucks. Because you actually give a fuck about me,” Katsuki explained. “Even though you look like your field of fucks is barren forever. Do you --” he paused to snicker for a good thirty seconds before going on, “-- do you gather and save your fucks just for me, chumbucket?”

Shouto massaged his temples, wrinkled his nose, and muttered a prayer (without the hand gesture). “It's vaguely creepy when you're affectionate.”

“Yah. That's why I don't do that shit much. That's Pretty Hair's schtick.”

Shouto blew out a long breath. There was stuff to unpack there, but he wasn't in the mood to do that. “There's nothing I can say that will persuade you, is there, Katsuki? Not even holding back so you can pass me in the hero rankings?”

“Ha! Especially not that! I will pass you fair, square, with points to spare," Katsuki announced, cracking open the passenger side door. Shouto was running out of time, he had to act fast . . .

“What if I promised to pose nude with fig leaves for a magazine? You'd have enough material to make fun of me for the rest of my life. Would that make you leave Midoriya be?”

“Posing nude, huh?" The glint in Katsuki's red eyes grew stronger as he shimmied out of the car. "Is that code for you should fight Deku pantsless, Bakugou? Crazy, but yeah, that might work to piss him off, though pretty sure Deku would rampage before I get my dance belt off.”

“Wait, Katsuki, no! NO NO NO!”

And for the first time outside of a tense battle, Katsuki heard Shouto screaming his lungs out. He promptly shut the car door and admired just how loud Shouto was, even through glass windows. Katsuki made a mental note to remind Shouto to never have car sex (unless gagged) when he got back to the car for his ride home.

Katsuki whistled on his way to the dilapidated school grounds. A new day, a new way to destroy Deku.

* * * * *

Midoriya was one of the most deeply sensitive and feeling people Katsuki had ever encountered. Katsuki had seen so many expressions on his face over the years.

But now. Whew. Katsuki had no idea what kind of rage Deku was exhibiting. Deku didn't let anger punch through often. But when he did? There were different kinds.

Katsuki knew them all. Intimately. He'd summoned most of them just by being fucking Bakugou Katsuki.

One: There was the desperate rage of Deku angry at seeing someone in pain.

Two: There was the righteous rage of Deku trying to protect someone from danger.

Three: There was the tearful rage of Deku when Katsuki was being particularly devious and thoughtful. (Thoughtful about mayhem and misery, that is.)

And so on and so forth.

But this rage was tinged with resentment. It was damn near incandescent! Was Deku angry because he wanted Katsuki to stop baiting him? Did he think Katsuki was manipulating him, with an aim to humiliate? (To be fair, Katsuki was using a little bit of manipulation. His hips told many stories, but all of them were true.)

When it boiled down to it, Katsuki wanted to know, why was Deku mad about Katsuki's interest? Did Deku think it was too early to deal with feelings just now, but maybe later? After Deku found his successor? Or after they had both retired from hero work?

Maybe Deku wanted to ignore the elephant in the room of their friendship forever? Just keep things as they were, locked in some goddamn stasis. Pretend neither of them noticed the many unspoken things between the lines in their rivalry?

Or did Deku want to be the one throwing hints like avalanches? Did he want the reins on this crazy carousel?

Katsuki had no idea. No idea at all. He hoped Deku would clue him in super fucking soon.

Smash! Deku's fist careened past his jaw and crushed the corner wall behind him to pebbles and dust. Every hair along Katsuki's body rose, half-alarmed, half-delighted.

Ah, now, what next?

Katsuki had a couple good ideas. He scored a one-two punch combo along Deku's left side, but Deku didn't seem to even feel it. Well, well, well. Definitely running on pure adrenaline. Adrenaline that may have been simmering under the surface for a while. Maybe from the time that Deku realized he was stuck with a quirk-drunk best friend.

Katsuki dodged a few falling bits of concrete, smirking because Deku was just too powerful to try lobbing a chunk of concrete at his head. The force of his throw made the chunk disintegrate before it even got close to Katsuki.

But he knew Deku knew that. It had to be a diversion.

Katsuki hazarded a wild guess and threw himself backwards on the ground, catching his weight on his hands before he could crack his skull open like a hard-boiled egg. Deku also anticipated this, barreling up to him and lashing out with one leg after another. Katsuki rolled out from under Deku's first kick. But oh sweet merciful tonkatsu, did the second kick bruise Katsuki's ribs. Dammit.

Katsuki rolled like a sack of flour down an incline. He caught himself at the bottom, gritting his teeth. Just as he was halfway up to his feet again, Deku clothes-lined him with the crook of his elbow, sweeping him downward again.

Katsuki's lower back slammed into the dirt, but Deku's hand stopped Katsuki's head from hitting the ground. It would have been oddly tender, this gesture; but when he opened his eyes, Katsuki saw green fire boring down into his psyche. Suddenly Katsuki didn't have a fucking clue what to think, or feel, or breathe.


“Hiii, Deku.”

There was no reason for Katsuki to act like a smack to the head had scrambled his wits. But he wanted to do that anyway. It would be fun. So much fun.

“Kacchan, focus. I've had enough of this. I need you to knock this off. I do not have any intention of flirting with you. You can relax. It's not happening.”

“Oh. Kay. Wait, Deku, what's not happening?”

“I don't flirt, Kacchan. That's not me.”

“Well, don't fake it, then. You're earnest. You're fucking sincere, like a Disney princess or some shit. So be real with me, Deku.” Katsuki schooled his features, for all of five seconds, to show an earnestness to rival Deku's. To get Deku to just communicate. Usually that wasn't this difficult.

“I AM being real with you, dumbass.”

“Nah, dumbass, you're fucking holding back.”

“Ah. Okay.” Deku looked like he wanted to scream at him that Kacchan had been holding back on him forever. And, yeah, fair enough, Katsuki had. Almost worth it, though.

Instead Deku smacked Katsuki's face, hard enough to make blood gush down his lips and chin. But not hard enough to break his nose or cause permanent damage. He glared at him all the while, as if his disapproval could make Katsuki bleed more.

Well, at least my lips probably match my eyes now, Katsuki mused. Aha ha ha. Katsuki was so scrambled, just by Deku looking at him like that. Whew. Gotta keep it together.

Deku's passion drove him forward, propelled him, even when Deku was scared stiff fighting villains. Made him focus (and Deku really was prone to spacing out). It was pretty fucking flattering to know that the nerd was zoning in on Katsuki.

And now. Now. He had to connive and prod Deku into working with him.

* * *

Midoriya had no detailed strategy at hand for reference for a hand-to-hand fight, for the first time that he could remember. Especially while fighting Kacchan. And that was probably a good thing, since this new, strange Kacchan who spontaneously weaponized his sex appeal without warning . . . well.

Pretty much none of Midoriya's previous references mattered. Not in the face of a Kacchan out for worship instead of blood and glory.

Midoriya didn't even know if Kacchan was out to win like he normally did. What exactly would count as winning this time around, in Kacchan's new frame of mind?

No. It wasn't a new frame of mind. It was an old frame of mind that Kacchan never let see the light of day, nor the glow of night. It was only new to Midoriya's perceptions.

Midoriya knew exactly what his image of victory was now, though. Kacchan utterly discomfited, and regretting everything he'd said and done in the last three days.

But he wasn't sure he could achieve that victory. Depending on how this conflict developed, climaxed, and crashed, Midoriya might refuse to spar with Kacchan ever again. Even as he plunged his entire being into instincts of rage and ruin, the back of his mind was bracing for cutting Kacchan out of his life entirely, save for professional collaborations, after Kacchan returned to himself under a comfortable mask.

Kacchan tried to disorient him by rapid-fire punches and swings at his head and shoulders. His knuckles were red with the blood he'd swiped off his face. Midoriya blocked each one without a blink, even when Kacchan added mini explosions for flair. Or flare, perhaps.

Would the separation begin with Kacchan being too enraged or embarrassed to object to Midoriya drawing away? Or would it begin with Midoriya doing everything he could to drive Kacchan away? Midoriya couldn't say. He wasn't very concerned. For once, he was content with everything being up in air, and anything possible.

If Toga and Dabi showed up with popcorn, firecrackers, and lawn chairs, like Hollywood picnickers All Might dealt with during his time in America, Midoriya wouldn't even blink.

Kacchan dove for his ankles, snarling; but Midoriya flipped feet up, head down, fists swinging. He caught a gleam of red from Kacchan's eyes as Kacchan tilted his head and shoulders to slide by his knuckles. Midoriya could practically feel what was coming next; he nearly cracked his back trying to avoid a knee to the hip. But avoid it he did.

Midoriya was firmly ensconced in a half-dissociated state, reduced to distant instincts alone. His body went wherever his emotions and the energy around him led his limbs. His mind hummed with a strange commentary, apropos of and focusing on nothing, half-heartedly keeping track of his own movements.

Kacchan went for his head, and Midoriya nearly broke Kacchan's arm. Kacchan threw taunts and explosions at his left ear; Midoriya deflected with his forearms. Kacchan tried to barrel him over. Midoriya kicked the wind straight from Kacchan's lungs.

What could he do about this bad, bad habit? Midoriya needed to have mind and body knit together to unite him in a solid front to crush Kacchan. No more autopilot.

Kacchan drew back a little, only to set his feet against a broken slab of concrete angled at forty-five degrees, then burst forward with explosions to accelerate his approach. His breath was still whistling from that kick.

Midoriya side-stepped and reached out with his right hand, hoping he guessed Kacchan's trajectory right.

Kacchan's eyes were eager, even rather welcoming, in the way they were shining at him.

Why were they shining?

He miscalculated, his hand missing the chance to close down around Kacchan's throat.

Midoriya blinked, and Kacchan seemed to find a burst of new energy. Maybe Midoriya's confusion fueled him. He crowded Midoriya recklessly, rushing right past his waist and hip, trailing explosions in one hand behind him. Midoriya half-twisted out of the line of fire, half-blocked with one forearm, while the other hand tried to seize Kacchan's arm. But excess sweat made finding a grip impossible; Kacchan slithered out of reach while pivoting on one foot. Midoriya rooted both feet in the ground and launched forward, trying to catch Kacchan off balance.

Boom! Kacchan had already anticipated this. Explosions rocketed Kacchan's body -- while still spinning -- into the air, forcing Midoriya to shield his face with crossed arms instead of grabbing one of Kacchan's boots. Before Midoriya could lower his arms, Kacchan changed trajectory and plummeted toward him, veering last second to barely brush against his shoulder, before swinging with a hand squeezing Midoriya's bicep like a monkey bar. Kacchan was looming behind him now, and Midoriya felt his every nerve scream at him in warning.

Midoriya dropped down faster than a villain who had pissed Ururaka off.

Kacchan's knees still grazed along his back and shoulderblades as he fell. He was huffing with smug laughter, far too close to Midoriya's ears for his own liking. Midoriya hit the ground, angling his hands to push himself away to the right, still skirting low to the ground. Kacchan's exploding palm and bare palm both missed swiping at him, but the toe of one boot swung far enough to clip him behind the ear.

Thwack! Boom! Between that impact and the explosion just out of reach, Midoriya's ears rang in punishment.

Kacchan hit the ground and rebounded first, still in pursuit. In frustration, Midoriya gave up on putting distance between them, reconnecting with the jagged ground in a crouch.

Kacchan crowed. "That's it, Deku!" His nose started bleeding again, but he probably didn't notice as he rocketed forward. Midorya somehow blocked his blows aimed at his torso, and Kacchan's gaze drifted to Midoriya's stance. Something in his mind must have sparked. "Oi. Deku. Are you favoring your left leg?"

"No," said Midoriya, teeth gritted as he made Kacchan keel off-balance with a surprise slap to the jaw.

"Aren'tcha though?" Kacchan persisted, recovering and planting his feet in the rubble again.

Kacchan's incoming punches and kicks were all aimed for that leg -- until Kacchan tossed an explosion toward Midoriya's right leg. Midoriya swerved, ignoring the sound of his pant leg sizzling into ashes, keeping his gaze locked on Kacchan's eyes. He was glad that the mild pain meant the injury was trifling. He was not glad to see Kacchan lick dried blood off his lips in satisfaction. And those eyes . . .

Oh. Dear. Kami.

Yep. Midoriya couldn't pretend to ignore it or explain it away. Not this time.

Kacchan, without a doubt, got his fucking rocks off taunting, tantalizing, torturing Midoriya.

Now, exactly when that become a thing, Midoriya didn't know. It was simply Kacchan lashing out at someone to distract from his own weaknesses when they were young.

But it was definitely different now.

Was . . . had it begun before, or during, or after their heart-to-heart, first-to-fist, scream-to-scream fight at Ground Beta? That fight had been such a turning point for them before . . . why not add one more ridiculously complex layer to the whole thing?

Midoriya woudn't ask him yet, though.

He felt as if someone had boxed his ears and reached into his chest to puncture his lungs and seize his heart to still its beating. Would only be fitting to make Kacchan feel like that, too. Why not make Kacchan feel like he would never breathe freely ever again?

He was actually surprised quirk-drunk Katsuki hadn't tried a swift kick to his balls. Midoriya was seriously considering doing so when he had an opening. But he didn't at the moment.

Amazed that Kacchan hadn't charged yet, Midoriya decided to go for a target he rarely led with: Kacchan's legs. He threw a feint at Kacchan's shoulder, then his side, then circled back to grip each ankle. He expected to get rebuffed -- but Kacchan launched one explosion with his left hand too late, swung too early with his right. His ankles were wide, wide open.

So, you wanna get swept off your feet, do you, Kacchan? Midoriya thought.

Midoriya's fingers slipped closed around Kacchan's ankles and he heaved. The only reason he didn't shatter the bones in his grip: Kacchan had a shift tomorrow, which he would work if Recovery Girl pronounced him back to normal and fit for duty. Midoriya would leave him with a slight limp, but Kacchan would still walk away from this fight. Barely.

For some inane reason, Kacchan was laughing when Midoriya flung him almost fifty feet.

Kacchan merrily twisted in the air, using explosions to rotate and propel himself upright before he could crash into the ground. Those red eyes widened and dulled when he saw green fists catching up to him already. This time Midoriya connected each punch with purpose. Jaw, shoulder, then a follow-up jab at a kidney.

Down Kacchan went.

Midoriya raised a leg, ready to pin Kacchan's neck down under one red shoe.


And just like that, Kacchan was up, explosions winding their way to Midoriya in a torrent of sparks and smoke. Midoriya leaped back, channeling eight percent of his power to his legs, for there wasn't time to counteract with a smash.

Kacchan tried to circle round and intercept, but Midoriya was ready to offer hospitality that would make All Might proud. He jumped forward at a strange angle, this time seizing Kacchan by calf in one hand and thigh in the other.

Yet again, Kacchan went flying via free ticket on Angry Childhood Friend airlines. If they still counted as childhood friends; Midoriya was doubting it for the first time in his young life.

I guess you could say I'm LITERALLY throwing all my emotional baggage around, Midoriya's still-traitorous thoughts supplied.

This time, Kacchan only partially broke his descent, letting his thick boots dig into rubble and dirt as he skidded to a stop.

“Aren't you glad you didn't take your damn boots off?”

Oh, shoot, that was Midoriya talking out loud again, wasn't it?

Kacchan pursed his lips, then smirked. “Eh, they're alright. I had been planning on stealing and wearing your stupid red shoes if I had to, anyway. I'm adaptable like that.”

“Don't you dare touch my shoes. You'll probably put studs or chains on them.”

“That's more Midnight's schtick.”

“Could have fooled me!”

Kacchan laughed -- until Midoriya unleashed the punch he'd been holding back.


The school behind him crumbled. Kacchan had to dodge left, dodge right, dodge down, then use his explosions to dodge up to avoid falling chunks of steel and brick and concrete. Midoriya patted the singed edges of his hair. When had Kacchan's explosions gotten that close? At this rate, every article of clothing and half the hair on his body would become cinders.

Midoriya craned his neck with a pop, debating with himself internally. Did he want to draw this out for another minute? Two? Or three?

He decided for the middle ground. Two was better than one; if he shot for one, Kacchan would notice his hurry and start resisting like a two-year-old sensing impending bedtime.

* * *

Katsuki rolled over onto his stomach and coughed up bile. Deku's knee had hit his internal organs like a battering ram. He only hoped his spleen and appendix were both intact. He was pretty sure his kidney was permanently bruised.

“Kacchan! Are you done yet?”

“Done with what?” Katsuki paused, hunched over with both elbows to the ground, ejecting a bit more bile. Then he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. Grimacing, he put his hands to the dirt and lifted himself a bit, turning to glance sidelong over his shoulder. “Done hacking up a lung? Or done seeing how mad I can make you?”

“I almost wish you'd go back to telling me I'll never be a hero,” said Deku.

Somehow, that bothered Katsuki more than anything else Deku had said or done that day. “Because that was a fuckin' lie, right?” said Katsuki, turning all the way over and propping his back on the smoothest bit of concrete nearby. He hated that Deku was referencing his past bullying. As if it were preferable to what was happening now. “I ain't lying now, Deku.”

“You aren't acting of your own volition, though,” said Deku, nose wrinkling, as if something smelled rank.

Katsuki chuckled. He could feel his lungs rasping, ribs protesting having to lay against concrete. “This is free will, baby. Too free for you?”

Deku rolled his eyes. “What do you want?”

“What do I want?” Katsuki was pretty sure this fight had been about what Deku wanted thus far. And anybody could guess what he wanted. He wanted Deku.

“Will you stop acting out if you just tell me and get it over with?” Deku clarified. “You always want something, Kacchan. But this is the first time I've ever seen you avoid straight up saying what it is.”

Katsuki almost had his wind back now. He flexed his fingers, then hauled himself to sit upright, patting dust off his thighs. “I'm not avoiding it. I like you, you stubborn git. Let's go do something fun. Doesn't have to be a date. I just wanna spend time, you an' me, without dancing around each other anymore. Is that okay by you?”

Every inch of Deku lit up with One for All. “No. No, that's not okay, Kacchan. How can you say that so . . . so casually?”

Kacchan wanted to heave a sigh. Of course that wasn't good enough for Deku. “How do you want me to say it?” The question was half-serious, half-mocking. Depending on how Deku reacted, he might just acquiesce. It'd been one of those days. “I wasn't gonna take ten minutes to lead up to it -- you know damn well where all this was going. My body language has been screaming it for three fucking days and I'm not a subtle man.”

“Yeah,” said Deku. “You aren't subtle, Kacchan.”

Katsuki was a bit taken aback that Deku was speaking his mind like this. Maybe he shouldn't be. Guess the nerd wasn't pretending to be oblivious about what Katsuki was after anymore.

If he knew what my behavior was saying this whole time, why didn't he just speak up? he wondered.

“But why like this?” Deku went on. He spread his arms and shrugged. “All this baiting and hinting and gay chicken ring-around-the-rosey. Only for you to go to oh, yeah, something something kokoro something doki doki, Deku.”

Now Kacchan was getting mad in earnest. He heaved himself up to his feet and started walking toward his childhood friend, stubbornly ignoring the slight limp in his aching left leg. “Deku, leaving you flowers and admirer's notes and chocolate would've pissed you off, and it ain't my style anyway.”

“I'm mad now,” Deku's voice was rising with each word, “because you're ONLY SAYING THIS BECAUSE OF THAT BLASTED QUIRK!”