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cruel to be kind

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Slam. Slam.

 

The great black silhouette floating above him, still as death, a sickly malaise in his lungs.

 

Slam. Slam. Slam.

 

The room of villains watching him with detached curiosity, metal crushing his chest and biting his skin.

 

Slam. Slam. Slam. Slam.

 

All Might’s weak and bleeding body, with that horrifying grimace, finger pointing at Deku.

 

Slam.

 

The punching-bag flies off its stand with a colossal banging noise, falling to the floor with unnecessary volume.

 

His fists throb as he unclenches his hands and crouches to pick it back up, breathing harsh even as he tries to keep it quiet, as though this belated attempt at silence will make up for the racket.

 

It doesn’t work, of course. He barely counts fifty seconds before there’s noise around him, first in the childishly concerned voices of his neighbours, and then footsteps, quick and mock-calm.

 

Predictable knock on the door. He opens it impatiently.

 

“Everything all right here, Bakugou?” Present Mic asks, bizarrely naked-looking with his hair braided back. He looks too casual; trying too hard to act as if they didn’t scramble madly the moment some slight noise came from his room.

 

“Everything is fine,” Katsuki says, flat. Once upon a time he might have peppered it with insults and outrage, but it’s not worth it. If he goes too hard they’ll call it lashing out again, because apparently nowadays anything he does falls under the bracket of trauma. Bull-fucking-shit.

 

“Well,” Mic says, hovering. He’s a weirdass person, but it’s weirder to see him look somewhat normal. Stripped of his costume and stupid hairstyle he just looks like someone’s hippie uncle. “You should get some sleep, then! Need the energy for tomorrow!”

 

“Yeah,” Katsuki says. When he doesn’t add anything Mic gives an aborted nod and shuffles away. He goes to slam the door shut but catches it just before it hits, tension heady in his nerves.

 

There is a bubbling rage under his skin. He very strongly considers punching the bag as hard as he can, but the risk of Mic making a bee-line for his room is too big. Instinctively he gravitates for the window, itching to blast something where it won’t be heard- but then his memory reminds him that there are patrolling guards out, and an explosion by his window would mean immediate alarms and panic.

 

His head rings; he clenches his fist so tight it starts to hurt. He wants to exhale but his chest throbs with poorly suppressed frustration.

 

Next door, there is a light rustling sound as someone moves away from their door and towards their bed. Katsuki carefully moves towards his own, sits down quietly, and closes his eyes.

 

Not for the first time, and with no less tormented rebellion at the thought, he wishes he was home.

 

 

Time passes. People start to lose the haunted look in their eyes. More pertinently, his classmates start to forget to look at him with open concern whenever he so much as breathes in the wrong direction, or to smile tentatively at him as if to let him know that despite it all they’re glad he’s there. It’s made so much more unbearable by the fact that whenever he threatens violence in response, their cowering is imbued with understanding. Like now there’s a justification behind what he does. Like he wasn’t already doing just fine justifying roughing up the fucking morons in 1-A.

 

Of all the clowns surrounding him, Kirishima’s attitude change is the only tolerable one, because the only real difference he displays is being more enthusiastic in approaching him. Which- fine. Katsuki can understand that from his stunted perspective it might look like Katsuki had allowed this to happen. The fact that Katsuki was in somewhat of a poor state of mind to be normally reacting to things seems to have evaded that whole gang of idiots. So he took Kirishima’s hand, and was sort of on board with the escape- he was evading a bona fide supervillain, it’s not like he’s obstinate enough to refuse a way out.

 

It’s not like Kirishima doesn’t act concerned and worried and whatever the fuck else, too. Katsuki resents it just as much as he does elsewhere. But Kirishima had already displayed an odd interest in Katsuki’s well-being before he got kidnapped. So he’s gotten accustomed to it, or it grates slightly less, because it’s not that Kirishima thinks Katsuki is helpless or broken or some shit, it’s just that he’s a dumbass who cares or something.

 

So people start to move on, and Katsuki- Katsuki feels on the brink of exploding.

 

It’s been so goddamned hard. He doesn’t like to admit even to himself than anything is hard for him; admissions by nature he dislikes. But he’s ready to go ballistic, and there’s no way out of it.

 

Other people think they have it all figured out. The school, the class, the fucking media, everyone has had their turn to play psychoanalyst, and a great time they’ve had, too. He’s a therapist’s wet dream, after all: anger issues, superiority-inferiority complex, social adaptability problems, whatever other jargon they slap onto his case. He doesn’t care- he doesn’t care. If they want to cream their pants over him being on a spectrum they can knock themselves out.

 

The truth is that by far the worst part of it all, really the worst, hasn’t been any of the “traumatic events” people so gladly rattle off on TV. Not the kidnapping, which has given his whole fucking school grounds for PTSD, not the hostage situation, not even standing stranded against the most-feared man in the world. It’s been the aftermath. The rehabilitation period, between brackets.

 

“This won’t be fun for you,” Aizawa had said, what might have been a warning, in the thirty second moment they’d shared when Katsuki was being dragged off to an ambulance. They hadn’t had another talk about it since- not alone, anyways. And everyone else has spoken of his courage, and resilience, or else about the services they had at his disposal, and the safety measures they were taking. Eager to placate, expecting outbursts.

 

Living on campus is living in hell. People track his every move, watchful, concerned; there are security cameras whenever he looks up. His schoolmates ogle him not with fear and dislike but some strange respect and sympathy. Teachers who had previously regarded him with flat distaste smile gravely at him in halls and try to have little chats with him about heroism. Even Aizawa, who doesn’t like him, watches him constantly. It drives him insane.

 

In his first few days, losing his temper, he flies into one of his usual rages, fists sparking at Jirou for causing him minor inconvenience. The usual charade- his dumbass classmates wasting his time, a healthy dose of shouting on his part, and so forth. But once he’s finished cussing her out, Jirou inhales, eyes troubled, and apologises.

 

He stills, explosions flickering, feels eyes on him and whips around to find the class watching him warily. Not with their usual disapproving but fearful glance; something else, more off-putting.

 

“Leave young Bakugou be,” All Might says mildly, cutting through the silence, as Jirou retreats, chewing her lip. And Katsuki, for the first time, realises what is happening to him.

 

So it is that paradoxically, at a time where everyone is falling over themselves to allow his bad behaviour, Katsuki is less of a nuisance than he can ever remember being. It eats his soul away, sure, but that’s less excruciating than being coddled like a misbehaving, pitied child. He forces his usual glowering silence into a more palatable one, storms off when he can’t resist the temptation to start biting someone’s head off, reserves his explosions for training. 

 

He feels like a fucking zombie. Some sort of pale Katsuki replica, operating along a model until people stop waiting for him to break down. Because he isn’t going to break down.

 

It’s just hard, not causing a scene. Everyone wants him too. It’d be more normal. He could, too, so easily. Blow up half the school, at the rate his plus ultra training is going. Everyone would make a fuss and then decide to let it slide just this once, given the circumstances, and that would be that. Except he knows exactly what that sort of thing feels like- it feels like being told he’s won first place when he knows damn well Shouto Todoroki didn’t try his hardest against him, a burning humiliated rage, drowning in a loss of self.

 

 

He’s lying on his bed, Kirishima straddling his deskchair, when the topic is first approached. Later he thinks he should be more wary around him, because Kirishima definitely capitalized on his being in a decent mood before asking. They’ve been sparring all day, weekend or no weekend, and a little bit of that aching itch in his chest has been temporarily subdued.

 

“Hey, dude?”

 

He blinks suspiciously up at the redhead. “What?”

 

Kirishima spins his chair a little aimlessly, and Katsuki shuffles onto his elbows, alert. He looks like he’s trying to find his words, and that never bodes well, in Katsuki’s experience.

 

“Look, uh... I don’t wanna push you or anything, and I know you’re fine, but if you ever feel like talking about- the kidnapping stuff? I’m here for you, man.”

 

Katsuki feels a belated sting of betrayal, then frustration at said sting. It’s not like he expected better. He’s been stupid to let them spend so much time together, anyways.

 

“The fuck is your problem? Do I look like I need some feelings-y bullshit time?”

 

“That’s not what I meant,” Kirishima protests, nervous but determined. “But I know school therapists and all that aren’t always- anyways, just, I mean. People have been doing real bad since the attack. Nightmares and anxiety and stuff. And I know I’m not much good at it but I’ve been trying to check in on people, but I’ve not done that with you. Which is stupid cause you’re the one who got the most of it.”

 

“Yeah, well, I don’t have nightmares and anxiety and stuff,” Katsuki snaps, registering distantly that Kirishima apparently has experience with school therapists. “And I definitely don’t need some lameass class babysitter to come hold my fucking hand through it.”

 

“Bro,” Kirishima says, fists clenched with conviction. “You know I’m not trying to coddle you. I know you’re really tough, but even pro heroes need sidekicks to support them, right? And- I was really scared too, back then. I'm not strong or smart like the rest of them, or you, so I wasn't- I had to do something, but I was seriously freaking out the whole time.”

 

“I don’t need a fucking- and you’re not a sidekick, you moron, shut up,” Katsuki barks, sitting upright and glowering out of the window. “I could have gotten out of there myself anyways.”

 

“I know,” Kirishima says, and he sounds so uncharacteristically miserable that Katsuki falters and squints at him from the side. Kirishima always looks disconcertingly softer with his hair down, and right now he just looks sad. Something once unfamiliar and now naggingly consistent twists his stomach.

 

“Their plan only worked because you were there, anyways,” Katsuki says, after a long silence, reluctantly. “That must have been fucking Deku, right? I wouldn’t have gone for it otherwise. So stop beating yourself up over nothing like a jackass.”

 

Kirishima looks up wide-eyed, and Katsuki looks away and flexes his fingers, unwilling to see whatever emotion is being projected his way.

 

“I-“

 

“Look, I don’t want to talk about that shit, okay? You have friends, right, you can tell them if you have hang-ups. And I’m fine without it.”

 

Kirishima hesitates a long while, then sighs, nods. “The offer still stands, though, if you ever wanna talk. I’ll see you after dinner?”

 

“Whatever.”

 

He pauses by the door, sharp little shark teeth visible as he runs his tongue over them. “Just so you know... I don’t like to talk about it either, with my other friends.”

 

Katsuki stares at the wall for a long while after he leaves, and wonders how he feels about being someone’s friend.

 

 

One of the many absolutely delightful little tidbits of the fiasco is that Katsuki is now sort of indebted to his rescue group. Out loud he proclaims that he did most of the legwork and that he wouldn’t do the same for them, but internally that nausea he knows so well is up and kicking. It’s the Deku feeling, that: the self-same sick feeling he gets whenever their local messiah extends his virtue towards him, spawned eons ago in a river and continued relentlessly through slime monsters and kidnappings.

 

Katsuki doesn’t do self-examination, psyche-wise. He very critically inspects himself physically, yes, knows every minute working of his quirk, extends the same analysis to his academia, but his person doesn’t interest him as such. What’s the point in trying to figure your every habit out? He knows he’s a big deal and that’s all that matters. Everything else is a matter of opinion, and he doesn’t care for it. So whatever think his deal is with Deku, they’ve probably given it more thought than he ever will.

 

He knows a few essential things about Deku: one, that he hates his guts, two, that Deku is the worst person known alive, and three, that Deku can get fucked. Slightly less pertinently he knows the pissbaby has some infuriating martyr tendencies, and that he handles Katsuki worse than anyone ever has. Nowadays he supposes that he also knows he’s All Might’s secret protegee, one way or another.

 

He wishes sometimes he could return to the good old days of their shitty middle school, where he was laughably superior to every single other person in sight and Deku was a quirkless bullied loser. People have often called him a bully, actually, mostly with regards to the green-haired idiot. He will say, though, that bullies usually pick on weaklings for no good reason, whereas he picks on Deku for being an annoying prick. And he hasn’t stopped since Deku got god-mode powers out of nowhere, even when he’s now in the minority, so really his behaviour should be fucking applauded.

 

Still, his relationship with the guy is somehow worse than ever. It’s all the impossible tensions between them, even more fraught since the kidnapping- Deku looking at him with those giant eyes, probably self-congratulating on his genius little plans saving Katsuki once again, or cursing him for what happened to All Might, his secret father or whatever. Either way it makes Katsuki want to rip his spine out and beat him to a pulp.

 

It’s funny, though, that Deku is their bullshit chosen one, but Katsuki is the one who keeps getting fucked by their life narrative. Villains really enjoy his company, it seems.

 

Nonetheless, that group- Kirishima, Deku, Iida, Yaoyorozu, fucking Todoroki- is the most burning presence of all in the back of his mind. They’re all so insufferable, bar Kirishima, is the thing: goody two shoes, stickler for the rules types. Iida and Yaoyorozu with their class rep schticks, Deku being Deku, and Todoroki- well, maybe less so Todoroki, but he’s insufferable regardless of whether or not he’s a nerd strictly speaking.

 

That night... When he’d seen them it’d been so unexpected he’d stared. And now he’s got this... expectant silence. Like they want him to say thank you or some shit. He doesn’t know what they want from him, actually, but obviously they want something, and he’s not giving it to them. Why would he? They made their own stupid choice to come see where he was, and he never asked for help. As a matter of fact he told Deku to fuck off, when that creep Dabi was wrenching him away.

 

Thinking of Dabi gives him hives.

 

He runs into Deku alone not long after the debacle, and they both grind to a halt, Deku apparently having developed self-preservation instincts to the point of just swallowing silently when they meet eyes as Katsuki’s moody slouch crystallises into a foreboding hunch.

 

“How a- hey,” Deku says. Always in that high grating voice. Katsuki knows he can speak in a different tone, but with him it’s always the falsetto. God, he hates him. “Kacchan. You’re recovering fast, huh?”

 

“It’s none of your business what I’m doing, Deku,” Katsuki snarls. “Don’t you have somewhere else to be?”

 

“I was just asking!” Deku protests, which is more than he might have said once. He’s growing too damn chummy. Katsuki takes a step forwards, fingers pulsing, then stops himself, head throbbing.

 

He can’t start a fight right now. Deku won’t fight back, and Katsuki will pummel him into the ground, and that’s exactly what they’re all waiting for.

 

“Kacchan?”

 

“Fuck OFF!” Katsuki yells, and storms past him into the open air to punch the nearest inanimate thing- a tree, as it happens. He has to get splinters dug out of his flesh.

 

 

While the other idiots flounder around, Katsuki throws himself into his schoolwork with great dedication. It might have worked better as a distraction if he weren’t already an excellent student in almost all respects. His grades have always been top of the class (higher than Deku’s, and Deku is a fucking nerd), and his quirk is easily one of the strongest in UA, even without all of the time and effort he’s put into it. To best himself he has to push really far, to the limits of his capacity.

 

There’s a gap in the world where All Might used to stand as a beacon. He might as well be prepared, for when he goes out there. Climb the ranking, by-pass Deku and Todoroki and whoever else thinks they can be number one.

 

He spends all of his free time training or studying. The studying keeps his mind busy, but only for so long- he’s too quick to grasp it all, and even begrudgingly explaining things to Kirishima doesn’t take so long. So it’s the physical work he does most- again and again and again and again, until his arms are too weak to lift and his fingers are spasming with cramps.

 

At training camp the class had all been on the verge of keeling over just from that “extreme” session. It never ceases to aggravate him that he’s forced to share ranks with that kind of weakling. He doesn’t care what pushing too hardis- he has his own standards, and they matter more than the school’s careful limits.

 

The only problem is that his brain won’t shut up.

 

It’s not that he’s lying when he says he’s fine. He is. It’s just some unknown subconscious force that refuses to be quiet, his every waking moment. It takes many forms- the sudden, retroactive feeling of being sucked into a portal, the cold bite of a muzzle on his face, the shaky beat of his heart. Sometimes he is vividly thrown into memories he’d rather not revisit: that man, whose name he finds hard to think of, that black mass he floated in on, the suffocating feeling of dying. And over and over, All Might, getting the shit beaten out of him, while Katsuki is useless.

 

He creates an explosion big enough that the foundations of the room shake. It’s no good. This voice, which is not his- which cannot be his- is always there. It replays everything from that forest to Kirishima, and eternally Katsuki is powerless. Rewind from All Might’s broken frame through to Todoroki just ahead of the others, eyes bright and desperate as he reached out. And him? The prodigy, the villain, the top of the year? Doing nothing.

 

Being saved.

 

His mother’s voice, biting and factual, rings in his ears: “It’s his fault for getting himself kidnapped, anyways- we know he’s a handful...”

 

He slams both his fists into the ground, the resulting burn loud enough to cover his frustrated shout. Why won’t it be quiet?

 

“Bakugou!” someone’s voice comes, suddenly, and he remembers himself belatedly, remembers that he is in class and not alone, remembers that he has just cracked a surface people are standing on.

 

He stands straight, hides his singed fingers, scowls as apathetically as his convulsing heart will allow. “What?”

 

“I’ve called your name several times,” Aizawa says, flat. Around him the others have stopped using their quirks for quite some time, standing half organized around their teacher.

 

“I fucking heard,” Katsuki grunts, shoving his hands in his pockets. His classmates’ eyes are everywhere, alarmed and inquisitive, and he can barely concentrate on Aizawa’s dark beetle stare.

 

“So then I suppose you’ve chosen a partner?”

 

“A partner?!” he wants to say. He doesn’t need a fucking partner. But he doesn’t have the energy to make a fuss. His eyes go habitually (god, habitually) to Kirishima, but the latter is already paired off with Denki, and shoots him a sincerely apologetic frown that lessens the unwanted burn he feels slightly.

 

Aizawa’s heavy stare is boring into him, and Katsuki’s palms are clammy. His eyes flicker left, where Deku and his current posse stand: Uraraka, Iida, Todoroki. The latter is impassively staring into space, but it’s clear he and Deku will be pairing up.

 

The thought makes him fume, stabilising him. If there’s one person in the class he thinks about in the same vein as Deku, it’s their icy-hot freakshow golden boy. Everyone and their mother knows that they form the trio of prodigy students at UA- and it’s equally obvious that Katsuki is the outlier. Adding insult to injury, the two of them have grown friendly.

 

They want him to be stranded with some two cent hero while they pair up, huh? Yeah, not likely.

 

“Todoroki,” Katsuki hears himself say, out of the sheer need to be contrary. Deku startles, Aizawa clicks his pen slowly, and Todoroki turns his mismatched eyes on him like headlights. He takes this all rather gamely, which is to say by glaring daggers by all of them.

 

“All right,” Aizawa says, tone suddenly back to bored. “Midoriya, have you chosen anyone?”

 

Midoriya flounders, and Katsuki exhales lowly, some of the shaky energy leaving him temporarily. Another crisis averted.

 

“Do you even know what the assignment is?” Todoroki’s dead voice asks, disturbing his momentary triumph. Katsuki turns to him irately, wishing he wasn’t shorter than him, didn’t have to break his slouch to properly give him attitude.

 

“No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me, jackass.”

 

“I thought you cared about your grades,” Todoroki says, which is surprisingly talkative for him but also chokes Katsuki with how angry it makes him. Cares about his grades? Of course he fucking- the disparaging tone burns right to his guts, the nerve of this guy.

 

They’re meant to be, like, coaching each other on their plus ultra- it’s an actual goddamn teamwork exercise, which makes Katsuki really regret his decision. With nearly anyone else he could have just bullied them into silence, done his own thing.

 

“Weak ass left,” Katsuki shouts, instead, as Todoroki casts him what may count as a slightly annoyed look over his shoulder. He’d insisted on freakshow going first, to get some of his rage out. “Are you roasting fucking marshmallows? Is that what you’re doing?”

 

Todoroki lands from his little demo, twines his ice and fire upwards in a deadly blast that propagates sideways once it reaches the roof, heat and cold radiating all the way to Katsuki. Someone near them audibly gasps, impressed. Katsuki watches the burn of the fire and zones out a little, not on purpose, slaps himself awake mentally.

 

Todoroki is watching him impassively.

 

“Redirect,” he barks. It feels lame. “You have to actually cover all bases when you use a big attack like that. Your powers will cancel each other out if you don’t control them more.”

 

“Your turn,” Todoroki says, after a beat.

 

He resets to his earlier exercise, but it’s a lukewarm imitation of the explosion he’d set off. He’s trying to keep it down, and it’s stunting his performance.

 

“Your hands,” Todoroki says, suddenly too close and too nosy as he flinches away. His opaque gaze is unbearable. “They’re singed.”

 

“That’s shit feedback,” Katsuki says. Pulse thundering.

 

“Midoriya injures his too,” Todoroki answers, a non-answer. And they stand like that in tense silence until Katsuki turns away and collapses a boulder.

 

 

There’s a patch of time in the middle where he’s not.... He’s not at his performance peak. That’s the only way he deigns to put it. And it stings, even that acceptance. That he’s not at his best. He’s always surpassing it, normally, and the fact that something in him is off enough (broken, some lame, wrong voicesupplies) to throw his game off makes him wanna puke.

 

He feels sick a lot, actually. Totally unrelated. He just does. His hands go clammy and his throat seizes up and he can tell beyond the physical because Kirishima has a sixth fucking sense for it and watches him with mild, clear caution. He doesn’t react to it because it’s bullshit and he doesn’t want to think about what or why. It doesn’t matter. It’ll stop with time. It all will.

 

He has a sort of brawl with Deku. He doesn’t want to think about it.

 

He wishes he could sleep. He’s never had an issue with sleeping before.

 

There’s a crack, in this segment. He finds himself standing like a dumbass, eyes wild, breath short, asking the gods and anything beneath why he had to be the one behind All Might’s end.

 

It’s nothing. It’s nothing. He has to get a grip. He has to stop letting these words that aren’t his crawl into his throat and cloud his mind for days on end. It’s like he’s been cursed since that debacle ended, intrusive thoughts like a manic washing machine in his brain, round and round and round.

 

He pours what he has left into class. And what he gives is more, but somehow the result is less, an underlying twitch in the school. Everyone is watching, waiting.

 

He doesn’t need this shit. He’s not this person, okay? He’s not. He has never been. Fuck, people always think he’s the way he is because he has some underlying terrible issue- he’s secretly been abused, he’s deeply unhappy, whatever. But he’s not. He’s just always been the best at anything life could think of to throw his way. Literally anything. It’s a fact of life; he’s smarter, stronger, faster on his feet, braver than anyone his age at any age of his life, usually more than anyone in his environment as well.   He’s always relied only on one thing, only needed to rely on one thing, always only saw it as desirable to rely on one thing, and that was himself.

 

Now that self is backstabbing him like a bitch, and he’s drowning in it. He is swimming as hard as he goddamn can, but he can feel himself going under. It’s driving him doubly crazy.

 

Aizawa is double as harsh on him, it feels like. All Might treats him fine, but he flees eye contact or meaningful discussions with him like the plague. He shuns his classmates as best he can. Midoriya he can’t even take anything out on because the sight of him makes his stomach churn, especially after the way their stupid fucking fight went.

 

In one class he stands, sleep deprived and stewing, doing some mild target practice. It’s been an okay day, actually. Sort of normal. He’s just thinking with something approaching a normal degree of boredom what he could do to unwind later when someone, Ashido he thinks, makes some offhand joke to Kaminari about their final exams, and how maybe they can get a pass because everyone is scarred for life. The latter snorts in surprise, maybe elbows her reproachfully. No way, he says. Not when Bakugoudoesn’t seem to have registered that he’s meant to be traumatized in the first place.

 

They laugh a little guiltily, then Ashido says: Sucks for All Might, though. That he’s the only one who....

 

He thinks he handles it fine. Slides right off his back. Except that when his volley of fire erupts into life, it’s followed by a scream or two, and Uraraka looking up at him with what would probably be indignation if she weren’t visibly still scared.

 

She thinks (they think) it was purposefully careless, obviously. But he’s missed his target, is the thing, he’s fucked up his shot. This was a misstep on his part. He lost control of his own goddamn quirk.

 

For a moment his mind is very silent.

 

His feet walk mindlessly towards Aizawa, who’s busy examining Sero.

 

“Not now, Bakugou.”

 

“Permission to retire,” Katsuki says, in a voice he doesn’t know. “Sir.”

 

Aizawa turns, sharp, and Katsuki doesn’t even try and meet his scrutiny, just stares at the ceiling.

 

“Granted,” Aizawa says. Mutely, Katsuki turns and walks, the room progressively hushing in curiosity and shock as they see him leave. He feels shut down.

 

 

When he reaches his room, the staircases he climbs spiralling into a blur, he shuts his door carefully, flicks the lock, takes off his shoes, his shirt, and walks backwards until his legs hit the edge of his bed. He sits.

 

Then his hands begin to shake.

 

It’s just too much. It is all just too much. He’s failed. He’s been fooling himself this whole time thinking he was going to win this. He’s losing.

 

Motherfucker. He feels short of breath, dizzy in the head; his thoughts jump from potential injury to potential injury. Concussion, poison, belated asthma- but no, he knows what this is, even though it’s hard to register.

 

A furious laugh tries to escape his throat, but he chokes on it, and the sound trembles, his pulse racing, his hands sparking against his thighs hard enough to bruise. Okay, so he’s having a panic attack. He knows how to manage those- he’s studied PTSD as part of pro-hero psych 101 when he was with that dumbass Best Jeanist.

 

His mind flashes back to Best Jeanist, torn to shreds with his usually impassive cool crushed out of him, and he retches a little, overwhelmed. Jesus. The room is swimming, and he’s trying to fight it, but now that he’s attempting to look around him, to refocus, his own room looks wrong.

 

The momentary idea that he’s losing it completely crosses his mind, and he fiercely shakes it off, panting breaths too loud to his own ears. No. No, this is a setback, he can-

 

That dark, crushing hopelessness, draining his very breath as he stands alone, bravado flickering till the last, and knows he is not strong enough for this.

 

No. He’s better than- he was fine when he was facing them, he was fine, and he’s gonna be fine now, he can’t not be.

 

All Might, always, that smile, Katsuki knowing he was going to get himself killed for his sake and feeling so- feeling like-

 

Breaking down makes him like any of them, makes him- weak, makes him... They aren’t right about him, they’re not, he’s not some fucking second rate...

 

That forest, everything going wrong in that split second, suddenly not enjoying the challenge, suddenly understanding the wrongness, but too slow to do much-

 

This isn’t... He isn’t... Why can’t he breathe?

 

Captured, bottled, released, and screaming at that fucking idiot Deku to stay back, not to go after him, knowing he wouldn’t- the cold scarred hands of Dabi holding him tighter than the shackles ever did, then that voice in his ear, and Todoroki, hand outstretched and a desperate tightness to his eyes that was never there, Katsuki’s mouth forced shut again-

 

His whole body is shaking, and his ears are ringing. What the fuck is happening to him? Why is he being like this? Why does everyone think they know better, why can’t they just leave him well alone- why did it have to be him they took, him who caused the end of All Might? There are streaks of orange colouring his vision, maybe a distant sort of burning, but he can’t focus on it, not when, when....

 

He can’t breathe. Slime in his throat, Izuku Midoriya uselessly clawing at him. He can’t breathe. A metal casing, the spike of failure. He can’t breathe. Scarred hands choking him, the petrified faces of his classmates. He can’t breathe. The muzzle, again.

 

Why is his face wet? He must be drowning.

 

News articles he reads late at night, playing clips on repeat. The way the school hollows out around him. Sudden spells of dizziness he’s never had before.

 

He doesn’t know how much time this all lasts, later. He knows that he’s properly hyperventilating when something cuts through his haze, sharp and uncomfortable in its alien presence. A sound. A sound his memory tells him he dislikes and recognises, but his body can’t seem to react to.

 

“...go. Bakugou.”

 

Eyes swimming, he fights with all the strength he can summon to concentrate, and there is Todoroki, standing in the doorframe, back to the door and posture frozen.

 

He’s too disoriented to react, stays blinking stupidly at him, the breakdown he was having clearing slightly and leaving him dazed.

 

“Bakugou,” Todoroki repeats, in what might be a tentative tone. It’s hard to tell, what with his monotone. His posture looks distinctly uncomfortable, caught between a fight or flight reflex. Katsuki tries very hard to keep picking up these things and not losing it again, but nothing is adding up.

 

“The fuck are you doing in my room?” he manages, after a superhuman effort. His voice sounds hoarse and drained instead of incensed and haughty, but it’s better than nothing, probably.

 

Todoroki’s gaze falters, looking around them, and Katsuki follows it, woozily. Then his breath catches again. This- isn’t his room. This traditional decor has nothing to do with the neat, bare walls of Katsuki’s own dormitory.

 

Slowly, mind putting two and two together but general consciousness too weary to follow this through, he turns back to Todoroki.

 

“This is my room,” Todoroki says, like Katsuki is a fucking idiot. If Deku and Todoroki had a competition on whose tone caused Katsuki to fly into a blind rage the fastest, Deku would have only a slight advantage.

 

“I can see that,” Katsuki spits. His chest is tightening again, hands damnably shaking still.

 

Todoroki swallows whatever he seems to have wanted to say, then wagers: “Our rooms are, I think, identically situated, but for the floor level.”

 

“Why,” Katsuki asks, having gathered the same, “Is your door unlocked?”

 

“No one ever tries to get in,” Todoroki reasons, and he doesn’t look it but on someone else this might have been somewhat of an admission.

 

They sit in silence. Katsuki, beginning to get a grip, feels his throat constrict with abject humiliation and fury. Maybe he can concuss Todoroki with one of the ridiculously gaudy incense holders by his altar, then explain the incident away as a trauma induced hallucination.

 

“I thought it best not to call upon a teacher,” Todoroki says, eventually. Maybe he was waiting for Katsuki to talk so he could lure him into an opportunity to monologue pedantically. Katsuki refuses to give him that final satisfaction.

 

God, a teacher, though. A surge of relief passes through him that no one in school will hear about this- no authority will send him to a shrink, or suggest he stay home, or...

 

A terrible though strikes him, and in a flash he’s on his feet, crowding Todoroki perhaps slightly unsteadily. The latter stares down at him fixedly as Katsuki tries to jab him in the chest with all the menace he can muster.

 

“If you even think of telling anyone about this,” Katsuki growls, the idea nauseating, even though his situation can hardly worsen from Todoroki knowing. “I will kill you. Eviscerate you. Your number one hero daddy'll be real upset.”

 

Todoroki tenses (easy, god, they think Katsuki is predictable), but his jaw only clenches before he speaks again.

 

“I had no intention of doing so. Rest assured that...” He trails off, causing Katsuki to resume his efforts not to turn his pose into a full lean on the taller student. His body is deplorably worn-out. 

 

“You’ve burnt yourself,” Todoroki says. Which isn’t quite what he was expecting. Somehow it sounds familiar. He looks down, and his pulse skips, frightened maybe. His hands look charred, which he knows is mostly just residue from the explosion but also feels to be more severe than it ought to be. For a heartbeat he thinks of Deku and his cursed quirk, fatalistically, but his anxiety clears, and he curls his hand challengingly, savouring the painful movement. This is different. They’ll heal fast.

 

“They’ll be fine,” Katsuki snaps, to regain control of the situation. He and Todoroki are still standing too close, and though per the norm Todoroki’s the one who’s visibly stiff as a result of this, Katsuki doesn’t usually stay so close to someone without violence occurring one way or the other.

 

Todoroki- well, later he would call it faltering. At the time it just seems to be a slight quirk of the brow, a vague tilt to his head. Maybe if Katsuki was thinking straight he would wonder at Todoroki’s remarkable restraint in the matter, having avoided sermon and sneer all in one, but he just wants to get out and maybe kill someone on the way to his room.

 

“I won’t tell anyone,” Todoroki says, slightly hesitant, as though he's considering saying something else. But he doesn’t, and Katsuki grunts in acknowledgment and shoves past him.

 

He doesn’t run back to his room, but it’s hard. Once he’s actually inside (and how bad could he have been not to realize he’d skipped a floor?) he sags, lying down bonelessly and clutching his face in despairing disbelief.

 

He doesn’t know what’s worse- having a panic attack, or having it in front of Shouto Todoroki.

 

Nevermind, he knows what’s worse.

 

He falls asleep like that, messy and shirtless with red-rimmed eyes and scarred hands, too tired to do much other than overthink.

 

 

In the following stretch of time Katsuki is careful. Loathe though he is to admit this, it’s mainly with himself.

 

Though it pains him immensely he tries to apply balance to his routine, less over the top explosions and repressions and more attempts at reasonable self-control. He’s added a layer of what he might call fear, but prefers to deem wariness, to his repertoire. The incredibly out of character experience he’d had that day was a neon warning sign, and he has to avoid its reproduction.

 

He also has to avoid making any kind of contact with Todoroki, because he knows himself well enough to know he risks a very volatile reaction indeed if he has to recall their encounter.

 

It’s more than just the humiliation, though God knows he copes poorly with that. It’s the weakness, the strategic advantage he laid out so easily. It’s the fact that Todoroki is wrapped in a veneer of superiority at the best of times, and didn’t deign to fight him properly all those months ago. It’s an amalgamation of the thinks he hates about his classmate wrapped into the things he currently hates about hims- about his situation.

 

Logic guides his next step, loathe though he is to pursue it.

 

“Hey, asshole.”

 

Kirishima casts him an inquisitive look. “What’s up?”

 

Katsuki half-sighs, casting his head back as their class empties out. He can see his reflection behind Kirishima, dark smudges under his eyes and a set to his jaw like a hunted animal. He wonders if it’s as apparent to anyone else.

 

“Remember all your feelings and stuff?”

 

The redhead furrows his brow, then brightens, eyes lit with recognition. “Yeah!” The meaning seems to hit him belatedly, and he looks at Katsuki with blatant trepidation. “I mean, uh. Yeah?”

 

“Wanna,” Katsuki starts, chokes a little. He glowers at the floor, past his desk. “Tell me about that, or something.”

 

It comes out like an order, not a question. He finds he didn’t really mean it that way, regardless of his natural dislike for asking for anything. He’s kind of over himself, right this instant. Doesn’t have his usual driving anger. It makes him disturbingly quiet.

 

“I’m up for that,” Kirishima says, straight-forward, and shoves his hands in his pockets. “Hey, wanna grab food before?”

 

Katsuki looks up, finds his earnest red eyes looking at him with a sentiment he doesn’t recognize, and honest to God has the momentary (vaguely panicked) thought that he’s being asked out. Thankfully the fleeting insanity clears before he has the time to react to it, and he stands up, loud and brash.

 

“As long as we get some proper shit. I hate fast food.”

 

“Aw, man,” Kirishima groans. “You’re such a grandpa.”

 

“Shut the fuck up,” Katsuki retorts, relaxing a final fraction. “And don’t try and make me pay or some shit. It’s your own fault you blow your allowance so fast.”

 

“Dude, I’m not Denki,” Kirishima protests, but with a wide grin now. He has ridiculous teeth, the kind you’d expect came with a matching quirk, but Katsuki knows from observation they’ve got little to do with it. Maybe he files them, for show. Seems coherent. “Besides, we can’t all be as frugal as you are.”

 

They eat in a sort of relaxed mood, Kirishima chatting away about all sorts of random things that apparently interest him while Katsuki grunts in acknowledgment or protests his ridiculous questions. It feels very casual, which belies the fact Katsuki has literally never done this before- eaten with someone else, outside of school. He doesn’t tell Kirishima this.

 

Once they wander back, Katsuki silently navigates them to Kirishima’s room. No one sees them go, which he’s grateful for. The last thing he needs is gossip about his rogue affair with Kirishima or something.

 

“So,” Kirishima says, perched against his bed. Katsuki slumps on his desk chair. “You really wanna ta- I mean, you’re sure you wanna hear about this stuff?”

 

“You said you wanted to,” Katsuki snaps. “Don’t pussy out now.”

 

“It’s just kinda lame,” Kirishima returns, scratching the back of his neck. He looks sideways, fiddles with his hands absently. Katsuki watches him through his lashes, waiting, and eventually Kirishima seems to figure himself out and make up his mind.

 

“I was scared shitless, when were there. You know, that guy- I wanted to puke, I was so scared. All of us, we were stuck against the wall looking like death. And you were still out there, talking back- I remember thinking how is this guy not scared? When Midoriya told us his plan, man, I was so sure he was wrong about you. Guess he was right, though, that you were too smart to try and stay- but I thought they had me all wrong, that I’d reach and fuck it all up for the rest of you. I know this sounds stupid, but I didn’t stop feeling like I was about to die until we were back at school. Even when we were escaping it didn’t feel like it was really happening.”

 

He takes a loud breath, winded, and flexes his back reflexively. “Afterwards it just went fast. People were in the hospital, and my parents called cause they’d been worried out of their minds, especially with what they saw on TV, with All Might. But the funny thing is I wasn’t really worried about me, the whole way through. I just felt like everyone else, everyone who was strong, was falling away- so I had to step up, you know. I was worried about that.”

 

“It’s got me thinking, though. I mean, I know I’m not the smartest here, but... All of the pros blindsided, and All Might completely destroyed... There’s so much more to becoming a hero than they tell you, you know? Seeing all the damage those people do makes me want to be a hero more than ever, but I dunno if I’m ever gonna be good enough. If even someone like All Might can be beaten, if someone like you can be caught- where does that leave me?”

 

Katsuki stares at him, blown out of the left field. He doesn’t know how to approach this. Though he supposes he holds Kirishima in some regard, considering they hang out quite willingly and Katsuki trusted him with his life, he doesn’t often have serious conversations with him; in fact he’s questioning whether he’s ever had one. They talk, sure, but usually it’s about school or training or Kirishima rambling and Katsuki responding at will.

 

Confronted with this whole spiel, he’s somewhat surprised to find he sort of cares. He’s thought once or twice about whether he might have raced to save Kirishima were he the unlucky victim of the League, but he didn’t pursue the thought too long, concluding that he would have but probably out of a desire to kick villain ass and not out of some more sympathetic emotion. Still, Kirishima quietly sharing his deep insecurities rattles him both because it’s so different from his usual personality and because it’s making him feel strangely defensive.

 

He glances at his classmates, starts when he finds that there seem to be tears in his eyes. Shit.

 

He doesn’t know what to say. He can’t give him reassurances. He’s only good at being honest, or cruel. Not kind- not the shoulder to cry on. He’s never even slightly wished he had a broader range than that.

 

“The League ain't invincible either.”

 

Kirishima looks up, eyes watery and expression surprised. Katsuki cracks his knuckles. His voice comes out quiet to his ears.

 

“It’s easier to be the villain than the hero. You don’t need to do half as much work. But that means they don’t have the guts it takes to be a hero, and eventually they fuck up.”

 

He tilts his chin up, thinks back.

 

“They took me cause they thought I’d join them. Like, they seriously thought I might. Which is fucking stupid, isn’t it? If you thought about it for a minute. And they got busted by All Might pretending to be a pizza man. Plus, the forest, all that- they basically lost against teenagers, apart from some minor wins.”

 

“Bakugou...”

 

He shrugs. “They didn’t even keep me long after all of that. And why? If one of them was taken, do you think a group of chucklefucks would go afer him to save him? No. They’d save their own ass and clear out. So... I guess one of the best things a hero can do is be like you, after all.” It comes out difficulty, a conclusion he’s just reached and is unwilling to think too much about. “A good friend.”

 

He can tell Kirishima is pretending he’s not super fucking touched or whatever, so he stares at his hands and lets him sniffle, mind dwelling on nebulous memories.

 

A touch to his hand startles him, and he whips around to find Kirishima’s oustretched hand hesitantly gripping his. Kirishima’s not meeting his eyes, and his face is blotchy. He thinks if it hadn’t been him he would’ve been wrapped in a hug by now.

 

Katsuki gingerly lets him hold on, and they don’t move for a long while.

 

 

They don’t have a repeat of that, or not for long, anyways, but there’s a slight relaxation in his chest that he’s begrudgingly aware of. Sometimes they hang out in total silence, and it’s still... He doesn’t want to say comforting.

 

Somewhere along the line this year, Kaminari , Sero and Ashido seem to have decided that because Katsuki tolerates Kirishima they’re somehow allowed in like the parasites they are. This is especially true of Kaminari, who has always shown a remarkable lack of self-preservation. It’s extremely annoying at best, but it camouflages him somewhat within the rest of the class, which he values.

 

The knowledge of this fact is particularly stark when Todoroki comes at him out of nowhere and he steels himself to face him only to realize he is in fact surrounded by a group of curious bystanders.

 

“Bakugou,” Todoroki says, face impassive and eyes piercing. He’s holding something awkwardly against his hip.

 

“Hi Todoroki!” Kirishima chirps, before Katsuki can say anything. “How are you?”

 

Todoroki blinks almost in sync with Katsuki. “Oh. I am well. How are....” He pauses, looks at the rest of them. “The rest of you?”

 

“Good!” Kaminari announces, going to sling an arm around Katsuki’s shoulders that he easily avoids. “Busted by that quiz, contemplating whether to yeet myself off a bridge, but good otherwise!”

 

“Ah,” Todoroki says. His expression is blank. Katsuki, for once in his life, empathises deeply with the utter lack of understanding he sees in his eyes.

 

“Denki, stop quoting online stuff at people,” Kirishima complains, shushing him. “I’ve told you guys no one else understands you-“

 

They dissolve into an incomprehensible argument, and Katsuki rolls his eyes. In a sense they’re operating as a distraction, which he thinks may have been an intentional move to help him. He doesn’t have the time to examine that.

 

“Ignore the Greek chorus. What do you want?”

 

He’s very tempted to ask to go somewhere else, because Todoroki lacks any ounce of tact, but surely someone apparently so insightful and clever (snore) can avoid causing a scene in the middle of a hallway. Maybe this is good, actually, maybe this will force Todoroki’s hand to leave him the fuck alone and go back to mutually exchanging handjobs with Deku, or whatever they do.

 

Todoroki looks at him, Katsuki’s glare dancing from a clear blue eye to a dark one, uncomfortably aware of his inability to focus on both.

 

“You left this,” Todoroki says. Low, in his eternally robotic voice, but quiet. He holds his arms out, body angled to cover the action, and there in his hands lies- what, exactly?

 

It’s his shirt. It takes him a moment because it’s so badly folded, awkwardly bunched like whoever did it couldn’t be fucked to fix it. He considers yelling at Todoroki for the wrinkles, but as he looks up to gauge if he’s doing that slight eyebrow raise thing that signifies he’s fucking with someone (rare but increasingly identifiable) it dawns upon him that Todoroki literally doesn’t know how to fold a fucking shirt.

 

“Do you never do your own laundry?”

 

Contrary to all expectation, Todoroki pulls what Katsuki thinks may be an embarrassed grimace for all of a second, eyes fleeing his incredulous scowl and cheeks colouring.

 

“At home my sister...”

 

He stops, and Katsuki doesn’t want to let him take the next move, to rectify things or flip them around. He feels vaguely off-kilter.

 

“I can’t believe this. You can’t cook and you can’t do laundry? Do you just buy new clothes whenever your old ones are dirty or some shit?”

 

Todoroki opens and shuts his mouth.

 

“Could you take your shirt back, please.”

 

Katsuki snatches it out of his hands and folds it back passive-aggressively. He has the acute feeling of being watched.

 

Thank you, Kirishima’s voice supplies, cheerily. Yeah, cause that’s happening any time soon.

 

He turns on his heel and stomps away.

 

If, the next morning, he happens to wake up early and prepare too much breakfast for himself, it’s pure coincidence. He leaves the surplus where anyone could find it, really. Is that Todoroki’s seat? How would he know?

 

“You seem in a good mood,” Deku yelps annoyingly, in class, where Katsuki is staring out of a window pretending not to listen. No, scratch that- he’s really not listening, it’s not his fault they’re so fucking loud.

 

Todoroki makes a non-committal noise. “Midoriya, did anyone miss breakfast today?”

 

“Ha? Um, lemme see- Mineta wasn’t there because he was trying to catch one of the girls in the shower- and oh, Yaoyorozu and Iida were in class early- and.... Kacchan was missing too!”

 

Todoroki stays quiet, and Katsuki very much doesn’t adjust to hear him. “Yaoyorozu can’t cook.”

 

“Wh- Todoroki! I'm sure she's-“

 

“Iida only makes health food,” Todoroki continues. Pensive. Of course he is.

 

“He thinks a healthy diet is important,” Deku recites a little sheepishly, though he seems confused by the direction they're going in. "Why do you ask?"

 

“It's nothing,” Todoroki says. Katsuki bristles and stares out of the window harder.

 

When class starts he shifts in his chair, and for a moment there’s a glimpse of mismatched eyes in his blind spot.

 

 

They go home for the long winter holidays. Katsuki refused to be picked up, so he’s taking the bus, bags and all. It’s not like it’s summer break; he packs and clears out. Still, he gets stalled by goodbyes. He and Kirishima part early, the latter taking a ride home, during which there may or may not be a hug suffered through on his part. Foolishly he assumes he’s free thereafter.

 

“Hey, hey! Bakugou!”

 

“What do you want now?”

 

Kaminari grins at him, hair static from his jumper, Sero and Ashido talking not far behind. Katsuki leans back warily.

 

“Happy holidays! Here.”

 

Katsuki takes the package suspiciously, but when he looks up Kaminari is still beaming, perhaps a touch less self-assured than usual. Behind him the other two are trying not to look as though they’re watching him.

 

“What’s this?”

 

“From the gang,” Kaminari says. Shifts from foot to foot. “You know. Holiday gifts.”

 

Katsuki grunts, peers up at the dumb and dumber motley crew. He feels vaguely chastised. Not that he has any obligation to. God, why is his life suddenly so full of niceties?

 

“Yeah. Happy holidays or whatever. You didn’t need to.”

 

“I know,” Kaminari winks, visibly hyped up by the acceptance. “That’s what makes us such great people.”

 

Katsuki rolls his eyes, carefully adds the package to his luggage. “I’ll see you.”

 

“Coming to my party, I assume?” Kaminari says, jokingly. Katsuki hides a smirk.

 

“I guess I could drop by for a hot minute.”

 

Kaminari is stunned into silence, which is a gift of its own.

 

On his way out he passes by Deku and his little gang, who still as he goes by.

 

“Happy holidays, Bakugou!” Uraraka calls determinedly after him. He gives her a shoulder twitch in response, begrudgingly respecting her refusal to ever back down for a second. Iida rapidly echoes the call.

 

“H-hey, Kacchan!”

 

He stops.

 

“What?”

 

Deku looks uncomfortable, expression subdued. “My mom is giving me a ride and she... Well she’s asking if you wanted to be dropped off? I told her you’d say no but she’s sort of insistent...”

 

Get fucked, Katsuki wants to say. Deku’s mom is watching them from her little car, and he suddenly feels weary. What good will it do him to take the bus now? He’s already made sure that his mom will chew him out, if he refuses to take the ride- and then as revenge she’ll probably invite them over for dinner or some shit. He works through scenarios, clenches his fist.

 

Fine, then.

 

“Thanks for the ride, Midoriya-san,” Katsuki calls, obnoxiously, and stalks right past the gobsmacked group to dump his bag in the boot.

 

“Katsuki! It’s so good to see you, Izuku is always talking about school- and I hear from your mother your grades are very good- oh, sit in front, please, Izuku won’t mind,” the small woman babbles, patting the seat next to her. Katsuki has to carefully avoid slamming the door out of habit.

 

The ride home is bizarre. He has no idea why Deku’s mom thinks they stopped hanging out, but it doesn’t seem like she knows Katsuki literally hates her son, because she talks to him like they’ve stayed friendly neighbors the past decade. Once in a while her gaze is uncomfortably sharp, but for the most part she’s just as annoyingly friendly as her son, minus the attitude. Deku flounders in the backseat, lost as to how to proceed, and Katsuki is quiet. Whatever everyone thinks of him, he’s relatively polite with adults, as long as they’re not looking to start shit with him. Fucking Todoroki is way more of a shitstirrer with adults- and Deku never listens to them about anything, so why is he the delinquent?

 

“I do worry about you boys,” Inko says, turning a corner. The roads are snowy. “Oh, I know you do well, but you’ve always been so headstrong, I don’t know if that school does enough to make sure you don’t overextend yourselves. Especially after all the nasty things that happened to you!”

 

“Mom,” Izuku says, in a softly urgent tone. Katsuki shifts so he can catch the tired look on his face in the rearview mirror.

 

“Oh, I’m sorry, I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times, but I am so glad you’re all right, Katsuki,” Inko sighs, turning to assess him. “When I heard- I was quite besides myself! I went to your parents’, and of course they were worried sick, but your mother said to me- Inko, of all of those kids he’s the one with the best shot of making it out of there. So I suppose you were! Still, watching you on your own like that, I couldn’t bear thinking of Izuku in the same spot. Your parents are braver than I am, I think.”

 

What’s he supposed to say to that?

 

“Thanks for the ride,” Katsuki says. He meets Deku’s eyes when he opens the boot, and he can tell they’re both thinking about their fight, ages back- or maybe something earlier, he doesn’t know.

 

The boot clicks shut sharply. He trudges up to his doorstep without looking back.

 

 

In actuality he has no intention of going to Denki Kaminari’s lame party. He dislikes parties as a rule- there is little social interaction he enjoys, and being stuck around vaguely tipsy teenagers and their shitty tastes in music. The food is never good, they’re too young for proper alcohol, and it’s only enjoyable if you want to unwind and “hang out with friends”. He’d enjoy gouging his eyes out with a spoon more than he will enjoy this party.

 

Of course, he goes. Unstoppable force v immovable object that they may be, Kirishima just has a way of combining earnest request and sneaky manipulations that Katsuki keeps falling for.

 

“C’mon, bro, please? I’ll owe you forever!”

 

“No.”

 

“It’s the holidays! You should at least hang out with us! Everyone wants to see you!”

 

“No.”

 

“Mineta won’t be there?”

 

“... Maybe.”

 

Eventually he gets... Well, probably guilt-tripped. It’s true that he sort of told Kaminari he was going, and he hasn’t gotten them anything in return for their gift, so.

 

Kirishima practically creams himself with excitement when he comes to pick him up. His hair is sticking wildly out of what could be qualified as a messy bun, and he’s wearing the least flashy ensemble Katsuki has ever seen him wear (which admittedly isn’t saying much): clearly, this is a dressed up Kirishima.

 

“HELLO BAKUGOU-SAMA!” Kirishima calls, as Katsuki tries desperately to get out of the door before anyone can exchange conversation. It’s futile; the demon he calls a mother emerges in the doorframe, bowling him over and clasping Kirishima’s hand in hers.

 

“Ah, you must be the Kirishima kid! Excellent! I am so glad you’re around to drag this one out of the house- honestly, I feel like I should be paying you in exchange, you can’t possibly be doing this of your own volition-”

 

“What the hell?! Stop slagging me off, you old hag!”

 

“Because honestly, the mood he’s been in the last while? Holiday spirit my ass!”

 

“Maybe I’d be in a better mood if you weren’t up my ass every second of the day!”

 

“Honestly, it’s no problem,” Kirishima interjects, maybe vaguely worried as he waves his hands. “Bakugou isn’t that hard to take out, really! He’s actually coming because he’s being nice to Denki- I barely had to talk him into it.”

 

Liar, Katsuki mouths. His mom stares at Kirishima with an expression he’s loathe to consider he often wears.

 

“Oho. Oh, I like you. You sure you don’t want to befriend lil’ darling Midoriya next door?”

 

“Hah, noo, I’m okay, thank you,” Kirishima says, mildly flustered now. “Bakugou’s a good friend.”

 

For a moment the ominous smirk vanishes, and his mother smiles approvingly, crossing her arms. “Not better than you, surely. Enjoy the evening, huh?”

 

“Okay, enough!” Katsuki barks, shooting up and dragging Kirishima out of the door. “Don’t burn the house down trying to cook again!”

 

“Watch your mouth, you little jerk!”

 

They arrive at the party. It’s already busy; it’s drawing late in the afternoon and the lights are on, music blaring. With someone like their host it’s no surprise everything is so- loud. Katsuki feels a headache coming on from a distance.

 

“Come on,” Kirishima says, with a laugh. “Don’t start killing people before it’s even started, bro.”

 

“You’re a nuisance.”

 

“Hey, Kiribaku’s here!” Sero calls, waving from the door. “We’re all in the living room, you two.”

 

Kirishima looks at him, and Katsuki sighs. They enter the house in sync.

 

Inside, there’s not much to do. Well- a lot is happening, including things he never needed to see and never wanted to see, but in the long term (as he could have told you himself, like, any fucking time), there’s fuck all to do for him. At the start, he’s still with Kirishima, and things are fine- not that he needs him to be fine in social situations, but in 1-A there are so few people worthy of his time, and besides without Kirishima he has to handle all of it alone- the point being that the company is bearable for a while.

 

“Hey, me and Shouji are gonna go armwrestle,” Kirishima eventually announces, excited gleam in his eyes. “Wanna come watch?”

 

Katsuki’s had his share of fun competition. Competition is only fun when it’s to the death and he’s crushing everyone else, and that’s not on the table.

 

“Nah. I’m going to go get myself a drink.”

 

“Don’t get wasted and puke on my mom’s stuff,” Denki interjects, with a flash of nervous terror. “Seriously.”

 

“I can hold my drink,” Katsuki retorts, impatient. He hadn’t even meant alcohol, but he handles it often enough- sake at home, or when he cooks with it. Nothing at a house party is going to be a problem.

 

“So cool,” Kirishima says, with that sparkle in his voice, and Katsuki rolls his eyes at him before clearing out. Kirishima is a social animal, and it’s only through superhuman effort that he’s stuck with Katsuki alone all night, so it’s not long before he’s vanished with people Katsuki swears he doesn’t recognise (are they 1-B students?), and suddenly he has nothing to do but hold his glass awkwardly and glower around him.

 

Goodie. He stays standing a moment, but too much is going on inside, and it’s making him jittery. Someone obviously brought alcohol, because even the idiots in his class aren’t normally so loud and stupid. To his right some of the guys are trying to make a human pyramid, and to his left Uraraka and Deku are giggling together- it’s just too much. He needs air.

 

Scene, left: enter Todoroki. Katsuki only notices him moving to leave because Ashido bumps into him “accidentally”, hand lingering daringly long on his chest before an embarrassed Jirou drags her away. He looks gratifyingly out of place- Bakugou actually doesn’t know which of their appearances at this lame teen house party is more surprising.

 

In any event, it’s only as he tries to get to the porch that he realises the prick is headed in the same direction. For a moment he considers just leaving all-together, but in the end his pride wins out. Nothing says they have to interact once outside.

 

It’s cold out. His breath clouds the air in front of him, and he spares a moment of regret for his thin hoodie, but in a way he’s grateful for the chill. It centres him.

 

“Oh,” Todoroki says, shattering any tranquility Katsuki was experiencing. He squints sideways at him, finds his expression as obnoxiously neutral as always. Something about Todoroki is seriously stunted. “I didn’t know you were invited.”

 

Katsuki very nearly flings him off the porch.

 

“You can’t accuse me of ruining this shitshow. You were already leaving the house.”

 

“That’s not what I meant,” Todorki says, simply. He looks overdressed for a house party; his gaze floats away then returns to Katsuki with a strangely scrutinising look. “It’s too warm inside.”

 

Katsuki snorts. A bad excuse if he’s ever heard one. “Says the guy who has ice powers. What, poverty line parties a shock to the upper crust system?”

 

“You are all extremely middle class,” Todoroki says, in a surprising display of snark. Then he seems to catch himself, eyes fluttering in something Katsuki might qualify as vague irritation. “I was just overwhelmed.”

 

Katsuki is a little taken aback by the honesty. Not that Todoroki usually obfuscates much- it’s more that his main interaction with him is usually his seething and Todoroki’s impassive silence. Maybe he’s drunk, he thinks, eyes narrowing to take him in. It doesn’t look like it- his face isn’t even flushed from the cold, freak, and he looks just as put-together as always.

 

The silence is uncomfortable. Katsuki hates being sat in silence with people; it’s always a precursor to some dumb comment or question on their part or an outburst on his.

 

His mind goes vividly back to the last outburst he had, and then he’s the one feeling sick, ears burning. He doesn’t look over at Todoroki- he’s relatively sure he’s watching him, and if it’s simple paranoia he doesn’t want to know it.

 

There’s a noise, and he looks up rapidly to find Todoroki closer, midway to speaking. His body thrums with nervous energy, but he feels weirdly unable to channel it outwards. Instead he just glares viciously at him, wishing he could knock his teeth out before the dreaded question is asked.

 

“Have you thought about your internships yet?” Todoroki asks, instead, completely out of the left field. Katsuki has to pause to register the question, then run it back again to make sure he’s not tripping. Not only has he never exchanged this sort of nonsensical career talk with Todoroki, but he’s never heard him even vaguely talk about his future.

 

“What’s it to you?”

 

Todoroki shrugs, eyeing his nails. “In the spirit of competition.”

 

Katsuki, for a second, understands him on a deeply uncomfortable level. It vanishes almost instantly, but it unsettles him enough that he gives a far tamer reply than he’d have liked.

 

“No. I haven’t. I-“ He stops before he can say anything stupid. It’s true, though- and moronic. This year, unlike the last, he has not been planning ahead. It makes him tremendously anxious and angry when he dwells on it, because he knows everyone else has, but something in him is just blocked. Unsure, if he’s being real, whether he’ll even pass his exams this time, whether anyone will still want him, whether he’s…

 

He can’t believe he’s sitting out here with fucking Todoroki, having yet another fucking internal crisis. Thank every deity this time he’s not having a panic attack over it.

 

Todoroki has stayed silent through this, and Katsuki half wants to storm off, half wants to pin him to the wall and shout insults at him, but either of those are too- predictable. What he did last time, his mind supplies. He’s a loss as to how he can turn the tables.

 

“Your old man is top hero now, isn’t he? Considered going to him again?” Katsuki finds himself saying, relatively calm but vaguely cruel. He doesn’t feel bad for it. It’s a plausible question. If it was him he’d have gotten over himself and worked for the asshole, just to get ahead. Although Todoroki has more of an authority issue than him, no matter what everyone thinks.

 

It takes his companion a while to say anything, so Katsuki turns to observe him, gratifyingly coolly. He feels a touch of his normal furious on-the-offensive attitude, but it’s subdued, maybe more pointed. In a weird way he feels like they’re levelling their approaches. Todoroki’s brows are lightly furrowed, and when he turns to look at him their eyes meet for an off beat, something flashing through Todoroki’s like Katsuki rarely sees. Even in class his gaze is more of a steely, concentrated confidence than the bursts of spirit he sometimes exhibits.

 

He remembers Todoroki’s ridiculous brawl with that other storm jackass and snorts vaguely. And they call Katsuki poorly adjusted.

 

“He’s not top hero,” Todoroki says now, fixing him with an undue intensity, even though his voice is jarringly flat. “He’s barely a person. I'm not sure there's much else he can teach me.”

 

Katsuki raises a critical brow. He’d call him a melodramatic bitch, but Todoroki’s being matter-of-fact, almost. “You really hate him that much, huh? He is good at his job.”

 

“I interned with him last time. Being a hero is more than the numbers you rescue,” Todoroki says, faintly. “I think I’ve started to think that way, at UA.”

 

Deku, Katsuki thinks, and knows through the tilt in Todoroki’s neck that the expression on his face is too transparent. He doesn’t even have the time to readjust before the latter looks away.

 

“He’s has given me all he had to give. I have his perfect combination. I wouldn't recommend his teaching methods.”

 

It feels bizarre hearing Todoroki talk about any of this. Katsuki has heard the stories, obviously- people gossip, and the Todoroki household situation is pretty common knowledge. He has siblings, as well, but Katsuki is relatively sure they’re not UA attendees or graduates. It’s only this obviousness that counters the almost private nature of their conversation, stopping him from just disparaging his neighbour and fucking right off.

 

He doesn’t know what he’s on his way to saying, but when he shifts to speak again something about the whole thing changes- a glint of moonlight on the silver highlights of Todoroki’s weird, colourless hair, a bird chirping somewhere- and it just gets too much to stay here, conversing with a person he can’t stand to look at most of the time. Maybe it’s all down to last time, that Todoroki is talking to him like this, maybe everyone else is standing pressed at the door laughing at how tame he’s become.

 

He stands up abruptly from his perch against the railing, chest heaving a little.

 

“Go tell this to Deku. You guys like your therapy sessions, right? What, are you going to cover the Bakugou chapter of poor fucking Izuku’s life tomorrow?”

 

Todoroki’s face is shadowed. Katsuki sneers and makes for the house.

 

“You're so-” Todoroki’s voice says, with what could be almost a flare of frustration, just as he goes for the door. It’s so weirdly humane Katsuki very nearly swivels to confirm it was him, but he doesn’t trust himself in this mood. The door closes on anything else Todoroki has to say.

 

Katsuki doesn’t think he was planning on finishing the sentence anyways.

 

 

Kirishima and co don’t hold his abandoning the party against him. Small mercies, he supposes- he would have bitten their heads off for complaining, anyways, given that he made the effort to show up and it sucked.

 

Apparently the whole affair devolved into chaos upon his departure. All the more reason for his absence.

 

The holidays go by fast. They’re not necessarily bad, but he feels increasingly restless. His parents are still acting a little off- his father asks where he’s going too often, and his mother seems doubly as harsh as usual. Old bitch.

 

He spends a lot of time revising. His studies are disrupted by infrequent requests for tutoring, which he only agrees to when it’s Kirishima asking, and even then he’s particularly unimpressed when some of the other idiots are present.

 

He wonders how the Big Three spend their holidays. The thought makes him a little ill, because those three are good without any of the complaints he gets, and that usually means he’s doing something wrong. He so hates being in the wrong.

 

He watches the news, every so often, taking note of what heroes make regular appearances, and what for. He stops when he begins to feel like Deku, with his pathetic little notebook. Back then he used to be no more than a glorified fan boy. Now he has All Might’s quirk in him, somehow.

 

Maybe Deku will turn out like All Might. Rise high and then crash and burn. Katsuki diverts his mind.

 

Endeavour, obviously, is on TV a lot. Katsuki’s never thought about it for long, but in a way he supposes Endeavour is the sort of hero he’s trying to be- excellent at his job, but never nice, never compromising his personal ideals. The comparison makes him uneasy, though. Not that he has anything against the guy, really, but Endeavour’s only second best, as everyone knows, and his weird eugenics schtick with his kids is sort of pathetic. If he ever had kids, he’d want them to be the best, too, obviously, but the thought of getting with someone just to try and obtain a mesh of their quirks is majorly fucked.

 

It’s also very weird to think of Todoroki as this creepy scientific project gone right. In a way it almost explains how he is- that off-beat, clinical approach he has, the fact he rarely acts like anyone else their age. He’s just a little lab project cooked up by some seriously kooky scientists.

 

He catches sight of the whole family on TV just once, a slightly dated paparazzi picture, during a more comprehensive segment on Endeavour. Todoroki’s younger than Katsuki has known him, but he looks essentially the same, his hair split perfectly down the middle where his two siblings have only little streaks of red. It’s funny that they both have their mother’s dominant traits; you’d have thought one of them was fully red instead. Regardless, Todoroki’s expression is more blatantly sullen than Katsuki’s ever seen him- Endeavour is glaring at the camera, the girl is ducking her head away in embarrassment, and the older guy is caught mid-action, but Todoroki’s eyes are pointed squarely above his father’s head, face the perfect image of neutrality. It’s maybe a little worrying that Katsuki can tell just from the set of his mouth how callous he’s coming off as.

 

Once in a while he thinks back to that conversation, and he doesn’t know what to do with himself. It just unsettles him. Sometimes he gets angry, convinced he was being fucked with, sometimes he gets worried, thinking he’s missed something, and sometimes he just feels weird, almost calm but too antsy for that to be right.

 

He breaks things down rationally, since mildly regular emotion-driven outbursts aside he is an entirely fucking reasonable person, runs through his most plausible scenarios with scientific rigor. 

 

Option one: Todoroki was fucking with him. Not that plausible. Though Todoroki might have a sense of humour once in a fucking blue moon, Katsuki has never seen him do anything close to punking someone, and no one else seems to have been in on it, Katsuki’s paranoid observations of the group having produced no results.

 

Option two: Todoroki felt sorry for him post room breakdown, and decided to try and provide him with company. This feels very out of character for Todoroki, who has never in his life made the first step towards someone else (that Katsuki knows of, he supposes) and doesn’t seem to possess any normal empathy unless Deku points him in the right direction. Todoroki has also seen Katsuki lose his shit previously without caring one bit (see: his undeserved victory and Todoroki’s impassive reaction at almost being beaten to a pulp), though admittedly his current predicament inspires a lot more unwanted sympathy. Also, if Todoroki was trying to be nice, he was being very weird about it. All of this aside, it’s the theory Katsuki can’t help but obsess over, maybe masochistically, because it makes him feel like real shit. It’s the fucking Deku-in-the-water conundrum all over again.

 

Option three: Todoroki… wanted to talk.

 

He doesn’t have any further thoughts on option three. He doesn’t.

 

He thinks too fucking much about this bullshit, is his problem. It categorically does not matter what Todoroki Shoto was trying to achieve. They barely exchanged a couple of sentences.

 

Still, he looks into his internship options.

 

 

The day before they’re due to return to UA, Katsuki almost sets off the whole neighbourhood upon seeing Todoroki outside of his house.

 

It’s an extremely upsetting sight, doubly so because he’s doing nothing outside of minding his own fucking business when it happens.

 

It’s mid-afternoon; his mother is prattling away about some bullshit (she gets angry over the stupidest things) and his father is nodding and making sympathetic noises with this dumb conspiratorial twinkle in his eyes that Katsuki scowls at. He’s not in a position to escape, because his dad is using him as an impromptu model, as per usual- not like he has anything better to do than stand around all day having various high fashion garments pinned to him by the world’s most unassuming fashion designer.

 

“I don’t get how anyone hires you when you look like that,” Katsuki gripes, interrupting his mother’s tirade. “What look are you selling? Suburban self-deprecation?”

 

“OI!”

 

His father just laughs. “I don’t like dressing myself up. I’m not exciting to dress.”

 

Katsuki glowers. “That’s stupid. If you’re in the business of making people look good, make yourself look good first.”

 

“There’s no fun in that,” his father shrugs, unphased. He’s so annoyingwith his unending patience- Katsuki always fizzles out eventually. “Hold still, please.”

 

Rolling his eyes, he complies. His mother has thankfully given up on making herself heard, settling for squinting at them with her arms crossed. Katsuki resists the urge to ask if she’s forgotten her glasses somewhere.

 

“What?”

 

“You’re going to get frown wrinkles,” his mother snaps, hastily, pressing her thumb between his eyes as he jerks away. “Would it kill you to smile once in a while, huh? What’s so bad about helping your dad with his designs?”

 

“Maybe I’d be fucking grinning if you weren’t standing around like a hawk!” Katsuki retorts, offended. “Besides, I thought your useless quirk at least meant good skin for your sole offspring.”

 

He swears she glitters when she takes offense. Case in point.

 

“Could you pass me my needles, honey?” his dad asks, mildly, cutting them off before they can start. She complies with a fierce look in his direction. “And yes, you both are blessed with a perfect complexion. I must be the luckiest designer in the world.”

 

“You’re so embarrassing, Masaru,” his mother snorts, albeit mollified. Katsuki wonders who she thinks she’s fooling. Everybody knows she’s the one who chased his father down (aggressively, at that). So self-deluded.

 

His father must reply, but Katsuki does not register it, because his eyes wander outside through the window and land on on Todoroki.

 

“Hey, watch it, idiot!” his mother yells, alarmed, as sparks fly from his hands unprompted. He blinks at them for half a second, checking his father at least is unharmed, but his gaze flies back outside in an instant, head spinning.

 

Todoroki is still there.

 

“What the fuck,” Katsuki barks, absolutely boiling with rage. “Why the fuck is he here?”

 

“Oh, it’s the Todoroki boy,” his mother says, fucking finally, far too calm for the occasion but at least with a hint of suspicion in her voice. “Huh, he definitely doesn’t live around these parts.”

 

“Has he come to see you, Katsuki?”

 

“He better fucking have not!” Katsuki erupts, and promptly shakes them both off, finishing pins be damned. “Freakshow- what the hell is he doing here-”

 

He storms out before one of them can step in, palms flashing. The door slams loudly behind him, rattling on its hinges, and Todoroki looks up, mismatched eyes another sign that it can be no one else but him.

 

Katsuki stomps up to him, midway through a tirade, and Todoroki looks genuinely surprised for a beat- eyes widening, brows rising.

 

“Oh, Bakugou. You live here?”

 

What the hell is he supposed to make of that?

 

“It says Bakugou on the post box, are you blind as well as stupid?!”

 

“I wasn’t looking,” Todoroki says, immediately sour, though his gaze remains sharp. “I’m here to visit Midoriya.”

 

Oh. Of course. For a moment Katsuki feels like an idiot. He forgets he lives pretty much right next to Deku, sometimes, given that he never sees him unless their parents happen to run into each other.

 

“Then why are you waiting outside like an idiot? His apartment is right over there.”

 

“He’s not answering my texts,” Todoroki shrugs, gesturing at a phone so cracked Katsuki cannot fathom it being operational. It looks like an iPhone X1, too, one of those brand-new models. The thought is so aggravating he can feel his pulse in his forehead.

 

“That sounds like a problem you should take somewhere else.”

 

“You’re dressed very differently,” Todoroki says, ignoring him completely.

 

“Do you ever listen to a damn word I say?!”

 

“Not when you're yelling,” Todoroki concedes, leaving Katsuki briefly speechless. The nerve of him. “Are you going somewhere?”

 

“Ha?” Katsuki glances down, and blanches. Just what he needs- to be seen in public in some of his dad’s creations.

 

It’s not that his father is bad at what he does. He’s good, obviously- they're perfectionists, in his family. It's just that Katsuki has a very specific style of his own, and that style usually involves black, more black, and the odd skull design, and most definitely doesn't involve fucking high-waisted velvet trousers or lavender hoodies full of half-applied patches like the token Japanese model straight out of Paper Magazine.

 

Fuck his life, the hoodie's got see-through sleeves. He has to fight himself very hard to resist ruffling his hair or burning the damn outfit to shreds. Whatever. He’s Katsuki Bakugou, and he wears what he pleases, even if he would not normally please to wear any of this shit.

 

“What, I’m not allowed to wear something other than a uniform around my own fucking house?” Katsuki grits out, crossing his arms and jutting his chin out. “Not all of us pick our outfits out of a government-issued dress code.”

 

Todoroki frowns, though his eyes are still wandering, making Katsuki bristle. “I don’t really care about what I wear.”

 

“Of course not,” Katsuki snaps, reflexively. “If you did you wouldn’t wear aquamarine with that hair.”

 

Todoroki looks down at his (stupid) turtleneck like he’s observing a new species of animal. When he looks up again his face is doing something that makes Katsuki want to blast him away.

 

“Is there anything you don’t have an expert opinion on?”

 

Katsuki runs it through once, twice, but he can’t make an insult out of it just yet. Accordingly, his split-second retort comes out almost off-kilter.

 

“The fuck d’you mean?”

 

“I mean,” Todoroki says, eyes flitting away neutrally before he refocuses. “Ah. I mean- folding techniques, and color-coordinating, and cooking, and- drums, too. You really have to be good at everything you do, don't you?”

 

It sounds disturbingly like praise. Katsuki is somewhat dumbfounded, flounders for a comeback.

 

“Huh- what even are you on about? Of course I can cook and clean, some of us don’t have housemaids- and my old man’s a fashion designer.”

 

Todoroki raises one shoulder, like never mind, but Katsuki doesn’t like that, so he rushes to continue before Todoroki can throw him off again.

 

“And 'course I’m good at what I do. Why would you bother doing something if you’re no good at it?”

 

“People don’t start out good at everything.”

 

“I’m not people,” Katsuki scoffs, grounded again. “'Sides, that’s why you gotta put the hours in. If you want to do something, you oughta want to be the best at it, too.”

 

“You’re actually very consistent, aren’t you?” Todoroki says, slowly, hard to read. He falls silent after that, very clearly thinking a mile an hour behind his permanently shuttered eyes, and Katsuki wants to shake the words out of him.

 

“Shouldn’t fucking Deku be here by now? And what’s with the Spanish Inquisition routine lately?”

 

“I'm making conversation,” Todoroki points out, with a note of something petulant in his tone, though of course he looks completely unaffected. "You're free to ask questions in return."

 

“There’s nothing I want to know about you, fucker!” Katsuki retorts, throwing his hands in the air. He doesn’t know how he keeps putting himself in situations where he gives Todoroki what he wants.

 

“So don't ask, then,” Todoroki shrugs. Something imperceptible has changed in his expression.

 

They stand in silence for a while. Katsuki’s not sure how to make an exit. He sort of wants to wait around for Deku to show up so he can cuss him out properly, but he’s also growing suspicious regarding the veracity of Todoroki’s story. What if Deku never invited him over, and he’s just been stalking Katsuki like the little weirdo he is?

 

“Fine,” Katsuki says, eventually, shoving his hands in his pockets. “I have a question. How come you’re so…” He pulls a face, a low-effort facsimile of Todoroki’s own permanent frozen expression.

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“Poker faced, I don’t fucking know,” Katsuki groans. “Emotionally constipated.”

 

That’s rich, Todoroki’s eyes say, but he looks away, frowning. Katsuki doesn’t really expect him to answer, but he does.

 

“It’s how I was raised.”

 

“But the rest of you aren’t like that.”

 

Todoroki looks up at that, eyes meeting Katsuki’s with surprising ferociousness. “How would you know?”

 

“Oh, come on,” Katsuki snorts, crushing the discomfort low in his gut. “Endeavour is famous. You guys are in the news sometimes. I’ve seen what they look like- normal.”

 

Todoroki shifts his stance, unduly formal shoes scuffing slightly against the pavement. “I don’t know. I’m the one who got all the focus. Maybe that changes something.”

 

“You're more pissed than they are?”

 

Todoroki’s mouth pulls into a line. “He's done his worst with me. Since back then, I’d rather not give anyone the satisfaction of a reaction.”

 

Katsuki’s eyes go to the ugly burn on his face. For a moment his mind flashes back to uglier burns he’s seen, and his vision clouds a little. He wonders if he’ll ever be past this humiliating cognitive dissonance that strikes whenever Dabi creeps into his head, ears ringing automatically.

 

Unthinkingly, maybe guided by some instinct to compare, though he will swear forever that he has no idea what the fuck was passing through his mind, he reaches to touch the bare flesh around Todoroki’s eye.

 

They both freeze.

 

Shit, Katsuki thinks.

 

He yanks his hand back. A brief instinct to apologise risks an appearance in his mind, and he quashes it immediately, but his breath is still caught in his lungs, waiting for Todoroki to burst into flames, or worse, have some kind of emotional freak-out in his driveway.

 

Or he could laugh. That would be no better.

 

“It’s bad, right?” Todoroki says instead, in a near-perfect monotone. Near.

 

Katsuki almost asks him what the fuck he’s on about, but now that his mind is righted again, free of the latent fear-haze, he can follow- he’s got scars he doesn’t like touching either, as of right now, but they're fading fast. Having half your face disfigured by your parent is a more present reminder, he figures. Worse to carry around.

 

It's not that he cares, but Todoroki's gaze is so flatly expectant that he feels like he has to restrain the immediate barrage of insults, clears his throat instead, doesn't know what the hell he's doing even as he shrugs would-be dismissively.

 

“It’s just skin. Who fucking cares?”

 

Todoroki just looks at him, dark eye boring into his soul, and Katsuki wants to slap him, shove him back, blast him in the gut. Instead, he grits his teeth and extends his hand- touches again like it’s not fucking weird. His own fault for doing it earlier, dissociative fugue be damned.

 

“It’s barely even a different texture,” Katsuki says, out loud, callous, pressing too roughly with his fingers. “Smooths out with age, right. Good for you it happened as a kid.”

 

Todoroki has blanched, and Katsuki is scrupulously ignoring it, just like he’s ignoring the alarm bells in his head. This is the course of action he’s decided on taking, so he’s going to stand by it. Actually, if he solely focuses on the action and nothing else, it’s vaguely engrossing- Todoroki’s face is smooth, but the burnt skin is filled with little ridges and rough edges. Up close his 50/50 symmetry is ridiculously precise- the bright blue eye against the red of the burn, skin predictably warm on his fire-using side.

 

“Bakugou,” Todoroki says, but he sounds strangled. It’s so not Todoroki that Katsuki is forced to relinquish his denial and drop his hand, pulse hammering.

 

What?”

 

Todoroki opens and shuts his mouth, and his icy side is hot too, pink smeared flush across his cheek. Katsuki’s own ears flame hot with emotion. Fucking hell.

 

“You can’t just-“ Todoroki starts, still in this- affected voice. Like there’s human emotion in him. Katsuki wants to jerk away and cuss him out, but he’s also sort of fascinated.

 

They stare at each other for a long moment, the trail of pink creeping higher up Todoroki’s pale cheek. He has pale white freckles under his dark eye.

 

Something in Katsuki coils. His fists are curling. He’s- he feels like-

 

“Oh my gosh, Todoroki, I’m so sorry, I didn’t get your messages-” Izuku fucking Midoriya says, rushing out of the apartment lobby, and Katsuki launches himself about a metre away on instinct, hands exploding of their own volition. “I- I- uh.”

 

He wants to kill Deku at all times, but right now, he can feel his vision clouding with red. His hands are ignited, his eyes are burning, and Deku has devolved into high pitched noise that he hasn’t made since starting UA.

 

“H-hello, Kacchan.”

 

Deku,” Katsuki growls, barely comprehensible. This is the worst fucking day of his life.

 

“Midoriya,” Todoroki says, sharply reminding Katsuki of his presence. The flush has left his cheeks, but his eyes skirt back Katsuki’s way before they settle on Midoriya. “It’s fine. Bakugou was keeping me-“

 

His eyes don’t quite meet Katsuki’s.

 

“…Company.”

 

This is far too much for his nerves.

 

“Right,” Deku says, faintly like he wants to die. Katsuki wishes.

 

“Bastards,” is all he manages, and turns on his heel, promptly stomping back into the safety of his house. He singes his door a little.

 

Two pairs of eyes stay firmly on his back until he shuts them out. He looks up to find two different pairs watching him equally keenly.

 

“Oh, fuck no,” Katsuki says, before either of his parents can speak. “No. Nope. No.”

 

The hell-spawn grins fearlessly at him. “Katsuki, I didn’t realise you were frie-“

 

“I SAID NO!”

 

 

Moving back into his dorm room has all the potential to turn into a fiasco, so he goes early, waiting outside the UA gates before they open with his suitcases. There are a handful of families around, too, but he’s pretty isolated, standing with his earphones in and staring at the top of the school building.

 

Sometimes when he looks at UA nowadays he feels different. Not just because there are times he feels certain someone is lying in wait for him- he doesn’t know, it’s like it looks more like a school. More like a building with kids in it. Kids and a couple of teachers. It goes both ways: when he looks at it right now, it feels incredibly ordinary, no impenetrable fortress. And yet he also knows people in this school are some of the most powerful quirk-users in the world, for now and for the future.

 

When the gates open, he’s first through them.

 

He counts on staying in his room all day, avoiding the crowds of families and excitable students seeing each other after the break, but once he starts hearing voices down his hall it makes him feel out of breath, and he’s just tired of himself- he doesn’t quite sneak out, but it’s with certain stealth that he escapes the dormitory and heads to the training grounds.

 

He’s not sure he’s allowed in, actually. It takes him a while to cross the school, progressively in silence as the voices of incoming students fade. He catches sight of one or two people heading for the library, but the moment he hits the outer buildings, he’s alone.

 

Katsuki would bite someone’s head off if they called him a nerd, but he does enjoy being alone at school. It’s sort of refreshing.

 

The practicing grounds are big when there’s no one else there. For a heartbeat he’s uncomfortably self-aware, the silence deafening, almost incriminating. He’s not a rule-breaker, really, wearing his uniform crumpled and kicking his feet on his desk doesn’t mean he’s inclined to look for trouble with the school board. It’s only when he lets his temper get the better of him that things go off.

 

Well, okay. He may not exactly be particularly respectful. But he’s rude within the limits, all right? And he accepts it when he’s reeled back. That’s the understanding he has with Eraserhead, at least.

 

He exhales, flexes his hands. His equipment is still stowed away, so it’s bare-hand training.

 

His hands spark. Time slips away.

 

One thing people forget, he thinks, when they go on their little Bakugou rants, is how much fucking fun he has on the course. Yeah, maybe his having fun comes with far more violence and terrorising his fellow students than the rest of the munchkins, but he is filled with glee when he practices. Maybe it’s why everyone thinks he’s an arrogant brat, but come on- he can make a stun grenadewith his hands. He can blast through solid concrete. His quirk is fucking awesome. When he’s spinning through the air, explosions shaking the ground, blasts echoing in his ears, he feels nothing but pure triumphant joy.

 

It feels good, getting back in. If he had his way, those dumbass laws about not using quirks out of school would only be for people who were too stupid to control theirs. Not that it usually stops him from activating his for the little things- emphasis, frustration, showing off- but he’s not exactly able to use his to its full extent out in his backyard.

 

Typical that people with lame, boring quirks can get away with using theirs all the time. No one would notice if they did. Exploding half your neighbourhood’s pavement, not so unnoticeable.

 

He’s sweating and a little breathless, but the good kind, not the cold sweat and choked air he’s uncomfortably familiar with nowadays- and a lot of sweat is good on him, skin sparking at the slightest touch. Without much thought, he spins into the air, circular motions whipping the oxygen around him to fuel the incoming explosion. He lovesthe Howitzer Impact; the build-up. It’s theatre, okay, it’s show biz if show biz wasn’t lame. It’s a tornado forming around him, and when he plummets towards the ground, ready for release, all he can hear is the roaring of wind and the pulsing of his blood in his veins.

 

He slams down into the ground, and from there, the great stone wall in front of him cracks and shatters, fissuring upwards and skywards, backlash of energy sending Katsuki flying backwards as he contracts his muscles to land on his feet, legs outstretched and hand digging into the soil as he finally grinds to a halt. He has little time to pause, because rock is still collapsing everywhere, and he has to fend it off, throwing himself into the air to avoid the avalanche.

 

He lands again atop a boulder, and then takes into account the mess he’s made.

 

The rock wall is mostly obliterated. Nearly of the terrain, land or water, is covered in fragments.

 

On the bright side, the collapsing has stopped. So there’s that.

 

“Who said you’re allowed in here?”

 

Katsuki turns his head, still controlling his breathing, licks his lips when he sees Aizawa. He’s in plain clothes, hair in a messy bun and looking suspiciously approachable in his loose black jumper. His eyes, though, are always the kind of dark tunnels you don’t want boring into you.

 

“It’s not exactly like I can practice at home,” Katsuki snipes back, standing and stretching his arm. Aizawa keeps staring at him blankly.

 

“You’ve made a damn mess. Who do you expect is going to repair that mountain?”

 

“Someone with a telekinetic Quirk or some shit, I don’t fucking know.” It’s not like his Quirk is known for fixing things.

 

Aizawa’s eyes scope the room, and Katsuki flexes his fingers.

 

“This was meant to happen, though.”

 

He knows what he’s referencing. The thought of his slip-ups makes him ill. But this isn’t like that- he’s done with that. At least for now.

 

“Yeah,” Katsuki says, a bit hoarsely. His skin is crawling.

 

“Hm. Good.” Aizawa’s eyes meet his again. “Impressive coverage.”

 

He doesn’t crave approval. His self-confidence takes care of that. But somehow it’s good to hear- embarrassingly, his eyes prickle a little. It’s just- what he’s used to hearing. It’s what he should always be hearing. The last while’s not been so reliable.

 

“Don’t push it. Get back to your classmates. They can’t expect to be rid of you forever.”

 

Katsuki snorts dismissively, but he hops off the rock anyways, follows the older man out of the room.

 

Aizawa locks the door behind them rather pointedly, which Katsuki rolls his eyes at. They walk in silence into the rest of the school, and Katsuki’s mind wanders. He feels tired, but the good kind, where his body fits him right, and his mind is at ease, self-satisfaction in his chest. Aizawa’s permanently red-rimmed eyes are staring ahead, and he wonders briefly what their teacher thinks of in his spare time, what ghosts haunt his rest.

 

They stop outside student accommodation, and Katsuki sets his jaw. Aizawa looks at him impassively.

 

“Hey. Kid.”

 

His face splits into that terrifying smile of his. “Expect to get pushed until you cry, now.”

 

It says a lot about his fucked up life that Katsuki glowers at him with something like gratitude.

 

 

He’s in class when it all goes topsy-turvy.

 

The start of term goes pretty well, all things considered. Kirishima gives him a great big bone-crushing hug upon sight, which Katsuki really does not enjoy, but there’s something almost a little bit enjoyable in someone being so damn happy to see him that they’d lift him off his feet regardless of the fact he’ll blast him hard the moment he gets set back down. The rest of them are equally obnoxious about seeing him again.

 

It feels sort of like he’s back on track, really. Maybe a little different. Once in a while he’ll freeze and forget himself, or meet Kirishima’s eyes and not glare if he gives him a little goofy smile. Sometimes he catches himself not having the energy to throw Deku to the floor for breathing in his direction.

 

Still. It’s good, being back. Even if he’s not quite the same.

 

In any event, attitude firmly returned, he’s got his feet up on his desk and his chair leaned back flat as he listens to the useless prattling around him when his newfound optimism gets crushed somewhat.

 

They're on break, people switching their books around and chatter mindless; Katsuki is not in the mood for company today (ever) but he’s tolerating the buzz of Kirishima and the others nearby. Sero is doing god knows what- warming his coffee flask, he thinks, and Katsuki is obligingly letting him do so above his palm.

 

He looks sideways, and Todoroki and Yaoyorozu are suddenly in his line of vision, talking by the desk. The two of them are an unbearably classically handsome duo- not out of place in some cringe-worthy Hero fashion shoot. He wonders if they’ll get together. It’s not like Todoroki ever speaks to other girls, and Yaoyorozu certainly seems to hold him in high esteem. Most likely their families would be thrilled- such a suitable match.

 

God. They’d be so fucking boring. Katsuki snorts.

 

It’s because he’s keeping an eye on them that he notices they’re looking at him. It seems incidental, but more than once their eyes flicker back to him, and Katsuki’s own eyes narrow. Talking shit, he supposes. Todoroki’s never easy to read, and Yaoyorozu is too polite to be obvious.

 

He slaps Sero’s coffee away, the latter protesting, leans forwards to tap his fingers against the side of his desk. Yaoyorozu meets his eyes and flushes at being caught, tucking her hair behind her ears and leaning in to murmur urgently at Todoroki. Katsuki bristles.

 

“Hello,” Todoroki says, reluctantly, in his direction.

 

He blinks and raises his shoulders, ready to pounce if necessary. “Huh?”

 

“I said hello. Customarily you’d say hello back.”

 

“I’m not a fucking retail worker. What do you want?”

 

Todoroki inhales, looking extremely neutral. He’s started to know that the more neutral he looks, the more annoyed he is, but really, he’s being very reasonable here. He just feels defensive around Torodoki, of late. Somehow he's to blame for the latent weirdness in all of their interactions.

 

“I figured I’d initiate conversation. You seemed intent on disrupting mine and Yaoyorozu’s.”

 

“Because you two were talking about me!”

 

“Were not,” Todoroki retorts, unflappable.

 

“Were t- do you think I’m fucking blind?”

 

Todoroki actually sighs, which is outrageous, and shakes his head. “No, Bakugou, I don’t think you’re blind.”

 

He’s infuriating. Katsuki is rapidly losing his temper, which must be evident because Kirishima is starting to hover by his elbow, ready to do damage control (like Todoroki of all people needs protecting). Nonetheless, All Might comes in before anyone can act further, clapping his hands incredibly loudly.

 

“All right, class 1-A, settle down! We are working on something very exciting today- yes, yes. And I see you’re already making my work easy for me- thank you, young Todoroki!”

 

Todoroki stares very blankly at his cartoonishly big smile.

 

“Sorry?”

 

“We will be discussing hero partnerships today. Working with other heroes is an important aspect of every pro’s life- and in situations of crisis you must all be prepared to operate alongside strangers and rivals.”

 

Katsuki sees it coming, but it doesn’t make it any less bad when All Might beams at him. “You and young Bakugou will make a fine pair for this exercise!”

 

A sort of nervous titter goes through the class. Katsuki tries to convey through his eyes alone that he is only complying with this request under heavy duress, and that it is both offensive and painful for him to sink this low. Somehow he thinks All Might knows, and chooses to pretend not to.

 

Thankfully, they are not the only ones grouped weirdly- everyone’s friend groups end up mixed, although he and Todoroki are probably the two students with the smallest circle of acquaintances. Watching Mineta and a long-suffering Jirou sit next to each other, Katsuki isn’t too mad about the whole affair. Todoroki is annoying as fuck, but so is most of his class, and he’ll at least have someone on his level to work with. Like, what the fuck would he have done alongside someone whose quirk is invisibility, or excessive sugar eating?

 

He swears it’s ridiculous half these people are in Class 1-A. If they took themselves as seriously as they claim, UA would break the class down into people with actual pro-hero potential and people better suited to 1-B. Sure, that pro-class would essentially be comprised of Katsuki and like two people, but fair’s fair.

 

“Any ideas?” Todoroki asks, snapping him out of his daydreaming. Katsuki casts a look at his discarded instructions. They’re relatively straightforward- they just need to come up with a rescue routine suited to both of them. Application in practice is the difficult part. He’s just happy he’s not with fucking Deku. God knows they’d never get past writing their names on the assignment.

 

He lifts a shoulder, rolling his neck. “Our Quirks aren’t that hard to align, I guess. Should be easy enough.”

 

Todoroki nods pensively, twirling his pencil between his thumb and forefinger. “We’ve worked together a lot, actually. But you never want to actually cooperate.”

 

“When have we worked together?!”

 

“Side by side, then. In the nationals, and during our forest exercise, and when we were under attack.”

 

“That wasn’t exactly intended to be team-work,” Katsuki grunts, pushing his chair away from their table. Todoroki frowns reproachfully.

 

“Even if it had been, you’d have made sure of that.”

 

“Oh, like you’re such a team player! At least whenever I’m in a team, I make sure it wins.”

 

“That’s because you’re always in a team with your friends.”

 

“They’re not my friends, and besides you’re always with your stupid gormless group, aren’t you?”

 

“None of them are stupid.”

 

“I beat all of you in our exams except four-eyes, and he’s barely a functional human being, so he doesn’t fucking count,” Katsuki retorts, turning his head slightly to find Iida predictably buzzing with the urge to tell him not to put his feet up in class. He pulls a face at him. Amusingly, he’s been paired up with Kaminari, which is proving to be visibly painful for both of them.

 

“That’s a very arbitrary way of judging them.”

 

“Yeah, yeah, you guys are all in a wholesome circle-jerk situation,” Katsuki sneers, sitting back down. “I get it. Look, if you’re going to bitch me out this entire time, it works for me- I’ll just tell All Might it’s your fault we couldn’t cooperate. Like you and fucking Hurricane Insane in the exams.”

 

Todoroki flashes him an irked look. “I’m not – being difficult. It’s easier to argue with you than say nothing. If I do you’ll just get touchy about me not engaging.”

 

“Eh?!” Katsuki snaps. “Why do you act so casual about this shit? You realize I’m this close to blowing your face off at the best of times, right, Icy Hot?”

 

“So you say,” Todoroki sighs. Katsuki dislikes the look on him, so he grabs the pencil out of his hand aggressively and yanks out a piece of paper.

 

“Fuck’s sake- look, you and that dumbass aren’t a bad example. You made those stupid slides for the brats, right? Same principle. I can shatter your Giant Ice Wall with a Howitzer Impact, but that might not be practical for a rescue, especially in terms of compromising a terrain. Actually, that’s gonna be the biggest issue, right? Your Wall of Flames is destructive too, and in a rescue they’re gonna be up our ass if we make a mess. We gotta think of something that’s not just-”

 

He traces the outline of an explosion with the pencil. This is going to be harder than anticipated. In an attack scenario, no fucking problem. No other combination would make a more effective assault team. But rescues are not their forte, nor their quirks’, and their bedside manner has been described as lacking by some.

 

He flicks back into their potential rescue scenarios.

 

“Seems a common pattern is that there’s a remaining danger to clear out, and then the victims to locate and remove from a precarious scene. Also, some of them are injured, so we need precision.”

 

“Offense, location, defense,” Todoroki summarizes, softly. Katsuki nods, still lost in thought.

 

His mind is busy strategizing, little fighting game style graphics filling the paper as he infodumps, and he all but forgets Todoroki is there until the latter taps one of the sketches.

 

“Do you think you could combine your- is it a side AP Shot?- with a Howitzer Impact?” He picks up the pencil to demonstrate. “So you execute the basic movements of the latter, but instead of releasing upon collision, you direct it somewhere while you’re still in the air, only more powerfully than usually?”

 

Katsuki barely thinks it over. “You think I’m some kind of amateur? Course I can. The only issue would be getting that high without losing precision.”

 

“What if…” Todoroki starts, and neatly glides a curve up to the stick figure. “Ramp?”

 

“I blast myself up it?” He bites the pencil. “Yeah. Yeah, that’d give me the momentum. So I use the AP Shot to clear whatever’s in the way, but that’s still like 70% unused energy. Taking the flight into account, we’ve still got a solid 30-40% too much.”

 

“There’s still the offense unaccounted for. If you’re clearing the danger, someone has to fend off the original attacks.”

 

“Your point?”

 

“You have good control. Do you think it’s good enough that you could measure that 30% out and use it in flight?”

 

“What kind of stupid question,” Katsuki grumbles, but he’s calculating it in his head. “So you throw me up the ramp, I shred the ramp-”

 

“Not all of it. That’s too much strength.”

 

“Whatfuckingever, I shred the ramp and then carry the rest of it out with just the right amount of energy. Which leaves you free to take care of the threat.” He’s not thrilled he’s the one going after the victims, but not everyone can be as fucking multitalented as he is. “Here’s a thought: having been predictable as fuck, you actually use something else in this attack?”

 

“You mean fire?”

 

“Fire, whatever. Just not a goddamn wall. I get that it’s like a psychological metaphor or god knows, but it’s getting real old.”

 

“Excuse me?” Todoroki asks, low voice disbelieving. Katsuki gives him a sarcastic smirk.

 

“Work on your attacks,Todoroki.”

 

They manage to work in silence for a bit, Katsuki working on this way overdetailed approach (he’s a perfectionist, sue him) and thinking ahead to the actual rescue with little enthusiasm. If only there was a way of being a hero without actually saving the idiots who get themselves in trouble in the first place.

 

You’ve gotten into trouble several times now, his mind reminds him. Deku has had to save your ass multiple times since school started. If anything, you are the idiot victim.

 

He nearly snaps his pencil, but blissfully his misery is quashed by his timely realization that the rest of the class is faring no better- in fact, they seem to be faring worse. Iida seems on the verge of despair, Deku is nervously backing away from a leering Ashido, and Uraraka is faced with a gloating Aoyami. One or two pairings seem to have less personality issues than quirk compatibility ones- Sero and Koda are at a standstill, as are Hagakure and Sato.

 

As expected, the only person who seems to be doing okay is Kirishima, who bizarrely seems to be having a grand time talking to Tokoyami of all people. He forgets his company for as long as it takes him to snort disbelievingly.

 

“Teachers in this school are seriously sadistic.”

 

“So it would seem,” Todoroki says, resting his hand against his palm as he surveys the chaos. “The teaching credentials here are dubious at best.”

 

“No shit. Our principal is an overgrown rat.”

 

“I think he’s a mouse.”

 

Katsuki lets out a short bark of a laugh that he clamps down on fast. “Yeah, my fucking bad. An overgrown mouse.”

 

“I do find the nature of Quirks extremely unfair. Some of us are perfectly average people with extraordinary abilities, and then some of us…”

 

“Are literal blocks of stone with faces and shit? Yeah. Nothing we can do about it, though. Sucks to be born ugly, I guess.”

 

Todoroki makes his moralistic face. “That seems harsh.”

 

“Oh, please, like you’ve ever even had to look at anything ugly for longer than two seconds.”

 

“I don’t follow.”

 

“Whatever,” Katsuki groans, turning back to his graphics, because he’s not going to be the one to tell Shoto Todoroki that he’s good-looking. Even though, unfortunately, he is. If you’re into pretty boys.

 

Katsuki’s not into anything, really. Himself, mostly, he guesses. People just don’t interest him. He’s had his share of weird admirers.

 

He wagers a look at Todoroki, who has returned to staring out of the window. Yeah, okay. Todoroki is probably everyone’s type. There’s just nothing objectionable about his face, except maybe the scar. He’s got good bone structure, a nice nose, surprisingly pink lips, and of course his classic rich boy type anime eyes, both rimmed with long pale lashes. Even his ridiculous, midway split hair is easy on the eyes, albeit neglected. Katsuki is allowed to notice these things- his dad hires models constantly, okay, he’s just picked up that eye for detail.

 

Todoroki’s eyes are abruptly on his, and Katsuki stills.

 

“What is it?”

 

I’m staring at your stupid pretty-boy face isn’t something Katsuki ever counts on telling him, so he scrambles for an alternative.

 

“Your head is in the way, dumbass. I can’t see the board.”

 

“Oh.” Todoroki leans stiffly sideways, and the literal way he takes anything is briefly so hilarious that Katsuki almost laughs at him, catching himself in time to stare intently at the board instead.

 

“I think I’m done,” Todoroki says, after a beat. “Want to work on our rescue bit?”

 

Katsuki purses his lips. “Any bright ideas?”

 

“We’ve established you’re clearing danger around them. So we need to pick them up and get them out- carefully. I was thinking I could try to make slides again.”

 

Katsuki hums. “Like I blast up with them, and you take it from there.”

 

“Well, no. But that works too.”

 

“You’re the one with the first aid kit on your belt. It’s best you carry them the long way.”

 

“How do you even remember that?” Todoroki asks, non-plussed. Katsuki glances up at him, casual.

 

“I know everything about everyone.” His tone is flippant, but he relents upon further scrutiny. “Everything relevant. We’re rivals.”

 

“Yes,” Todoroki mumbles. Then, briefly, surprisingly, a flicker of a smile traces itself on his face. “You make a decent partner.”

 

“Eh?” Katsuki flounders, caught off guard. Todoroki smiles even less than he does, if you count smirks and grins as smiles. It’s an unfairly good look on him. “Of course I am, I intend to ace this exercise- what’s with that look, anyways?!”

 

Todoroki wipes the smile away, but there’s a twinkle in his eyes even as he looks away. Katsuki glares at him, but it feels somewhat misplaced. He feels too hot, like he’s running a temperature.

 

When the bell rings, signalling the end of class, he feels less relieved than he thought he would.

 

 

They have to put their theory into practice only the following day, which is a little annoying because it gives their idiot classmates time to try and catch up but at least gives Katsuki a breather on the Todoroki interaction front.

 

“Man, working with Iida is even worse than I imagined,” Kaminari groans, draped over the common room couch. “Forget sticks, the guy has a whole copy of the school’s code of conduct up his ass.”

 

“Thanks for that mental image,” Sero says, dryly. Katsuki commiserates.

 

“You guys come up with anything good?” Kirishima asks, from his perch next to Katsuki. “Your Quirks aren’t that easy to match up, huh?”

 

Kaminari shrugs. “They’re okay. He had a bunch of super boring ideas about the whole thing. Man lacks creativity.”

 

“At least you probably won’t fail, for once,” Katsuki remarks, darkly. How he has ended up surrounded with people who share one collective braincell never ceases to dismay him. Forward-thinking may not always be his forte, but he’s a natural born genius- sharing time with dumb, dumber, and dumbest is doing nothing for him.

 

“Hey! We’re being graded on cooperation, too, y’know! If he doesn’t take my feedback into account, he’s doing a poor job too!”

 

“I hope I’ve been doing OK,” Kirishima sighs. “Tokoyami’s quirk is super impressive, and he’s really smart, but he’s not exactly chatty. I feel like I’m forcing him to do something every time I suggest something.”

 

“You and Todoroki seemed suspiciously quiet,” Ashido says, accusingly waving a spoon at Katsuki. “You’re gonna get shit if you just work alone, you realize.”

 

“I’ve been cooperating just fine with the bastard,” Katsuki retorts, glowering. “Thank god I’m not paired up with any of you extras. Don’t think I didn’t see you traumatizing Deku over there.”

 

“That is the weirdest comment you could ever issue,” Ashido complains, “And anyways I wasn’t traumatizing him! I just wanted to know who he’d FMK in our class.”

 

“You used the word fuck in front of Midoriya?” Kirishima asks, vaguely dismayed. “Mina.”

 

“Don’t look at me like that! A girl needs answers, okay!”

 

A girl might, Katsuki does not. “I’m going to bed.”

 

“It’s eight thirty, you monster,” Kaminari wheezes, as if he doesn’t know the time Katsuki goes to bed to every damn night.

 

“Night, Baku-bro,” Kirishima calls, extending a fist hopefully. Katsuki begrudgingly provides the fist-bump as he picks his bag up, receiving an eyeful of shark-teeth in exchange.

 

The arena is jittery the next morning, explicable given the mess in their common rooms the previous night. Katsuki’s not nervous. If anything, he’s kind of looking forward to showing up the whole student body. 1-B is there for some reason, including that godawful blonde asshole with an inferiority complex.

 

Todoroki greets him with a nod, which Katsuki sort of returns, lacking specific ill-will against him. Their plan is pretty good, and as long as Todoroki does his part, he’s got no current beef against him.

 

All Might lays the rules in place, and they don’t go first, so Katsuki gets to watch some of his classmates do their thing. He’s never really had the chance- in the nationals, he’d been out fighting or thinking about his strategy the entire time. Here, their plans are detached from his own. And they suck.

 

“They don’t suck,” Kirishima says. “Most of them work.”

 

Katsuki snorts. “This class is pathetic. How the fuck is Mineta ever gonna be a pro-hero? What are they gonna call him, the incredible ballsack?”

 

Kirishima surpresses a laugh. “Point taken. But still- Yaoyorozu did her best working with him, which can’t have been easy, especially in that costume.”

 

Oh, right. The revealing outfit explains why Mineta’s been faring so poorly at this. Creep.

 

“I hate that little midget,” Katsuki mutters. Jirou, nearby, nods feelingly.

 

Their turn comes soon enough, following a lackluster performance by Iida and Kaminari. Obviously, the whole audience is immediately awake and paying attention again, teachers included. Whatever. Katsuki knows he’s more entertaining to watch than people with weird arm quirks, he doesn’t blame them.

 

He and Todoroki emerge into the arena quietly, exchanging looks as All Might rattles off the requirements. As expected, their challenge falls under the basic steps they’d predicted- their proto-villains are circling the water, and trapped under some mountain debris are several (annoying) victims, guarded by thick vines coiling up in the air.

 

“Ready?” Todoroki asks, hands slowly stretching out. Katsuki rolls his shoulders.

“Let’s blow this joint.”

 

Todoroki blasts a truly tremendous amount of ice out in front of them just as their villain makes his way over, making for some peak entertainment when the latter has to scramble not to smash into the rapidly rising ice. For all that he was frothing with rage when it was thrown his way, Katsuki has got to objectively say Todoroki’s ice wall looks sick. The ice crystallizing on his arms, sparkling solidity building up high, it’s just cool- not that he’d ever trade his quirk away, but it’d be fun to have Todoroki’s for a day, he thinks.

 

He goes sailing up the ramp with a flourish of his hands, holding his body tight and compact as the wind whistles in his ears, twist of his torso and arms increasingly rapid and powerful as the tornado builds around him. With the ramp boosting him, the loud crackling of his quirk reaches its full heat far quicker than usual, and he has to act fast once he hits the top, palms slamming downwards in one fatal blow that sends flame-coloured fissures down the block of ice, the resulting explosion throwing Katsuki even further skywards as the gathered students gasp and exclaim.

 

He goes spinning upwards, grinning wide, but he has no time to savour the chaos, hurtling back downwards with one hand powering his descent behind his back and the other outstretched towards the vines. Retrospectively 1-B’s presence makes sense, if they contributed to the obstacle course again. Katsuki’s far too high up to even be bothered by the writhing mass below, and the conserved energy from his Howitzer is more than enough for what’s left to do. Behind him, there’s a roar from the audience and the booming sound of collisions; he flips himself over, counting on the momentum to send him flying downwards as he places his palms together, whooping in aggressive delight.

 

AP-Shot!”

 

The vines don’t stand a chance. The whole covering gets obliterated in one smooth blow, that delightful smell of smoke and success filling his side of the arena, and Katsuki dives through the resulting boom, somersaulting into a clean landing.

 

His target victims stare at him with slightly gaping mouths (up close, he’s pretty sure they’re also UA students, but fuck if he knows who) from under their debris, only one remembering to continue to act injured. Katsuki grins fiercely at them.

 

“Duck.”

 

He blows away the fallen rock with ease, grabbing victims one and two out of the way with rough precision, and the slick sound of gliding ice alerts him to Todoroki’s approach, so it’s with extreme self-satisfaction that he throws them all up into the air without even looking back, prediction vindicated as he flips sideways mid-rise to find Todoroki rising to meet them.

 

“Catch!”

 

Todoroki swipes both arms sideways as the victims come hurtling his way, and they both hit the ice with nary a bump, slides winding their way downwards to glide them to safety at a relatively safe slope as Katsuki crashes back down to clear the debris around their final victim.

 

“My arm,” the victim groans, a little peevishly. “It’s trapped. You can’t remove the rock, it’ll splinter.”

 

Katsuki’s eyes narrow to slits. “You little shit.”

 

The victim pales, but Katsuki is not failing this because of some fucking aspiring actor, so he sends himself skywards to whistle at Todoroki, presently tending to the two recovered victims.

 

“Hey, season 2 Zuko! Come take care of this clown!”

 

Todoroki clearly does not get the reference, but he gracefully arcs upwards, carefully relying on his fire to send him to land by their side. Katsuki gestures to the fallen victim, who has now graduated to moaning and stirring feebly.

 

“Freeze him to this rock, will you?”

 

Todoroki barely moves a finger. The victim actor yelps far more authentically.

 

“That’s so fucking cold! Are you crazy! I’m not actually injured!”

 

“Only the best for our citizens,” Katsuki leers, and throws them both upwards with more force than strictly necessary as the citizen wails. Todoroki throws a ramp up halfway, and Katsuki hits it flying, feet on the ice like a snowboard, the victim’s screeching muffled by the sound of Katsuki’s boots on the ice. It’s more fun than he’ll credit Todoroki for.

 

They land, and Katsuki dumps the victim unceremoniously next to the others, eyes flickering to the timer, which stops just as Todoroki descends softly next to them, wiping his palms. Scattered applause follows, mostly withhold by some of the more shocked or resentful students (that blond asshole); Katsuki just laughs triumphantly.

 

They head for the changing rooms. Katsuki remembers the last time he accidentally barged into Todoroki’s changing room; this time he’s got less of a bone to pick. Maybe Todoroki’s thinking the same, because he huffs quietly as he pulls his suit off.

 

Katsuki’s gauntlets hit the bench with clangs, and removing his mask messes up his hair, so he pauses to try and get it out of his eyes. It’s only long when sweat sticks it down.

 

“Nice work,” Todoroki says, always in his stupid monotone, but with an almost amicable lilt to it. Katsuki glances down at him where he sits on a bench, undoing his boots. Todoroki’s costume being what it is (the blandest thing known to mankind), him out of costume is just him in a tight black tshirt and trousers.

 

It’s not a bad look.

 

“Yeah,” Katsuki responds, maybe a little slow, dismissively self-content. “I know. How’d the villain showdown go?” He says villain with audible disdain; Todoroki shakes his head. When it’s messy, the red and the white intertwine a little in the middle. Katsuki itches to separate them out again.

 

“Good. Easy. I’m not entirely sure what his quirk was. I got him down pretty quickly. It just took a while to contain the mess.”

 

Katsuki snickers, pulling off his belt and stretching once he’s down to his tanktop. “Embarrassing for them.”

 

Todoroki hums. “I don’t think anyone else will come near our time. The fastest players have been severely slowed down today.”

 

“We’re pretty evenly matched on speed, makes sense we didn’t have an issue,” Katsuki shrugs, leaning to stretch his back. From his tilted position he can see Todoroki better; the latter has stopped getting undressed in favour of just observing him.

 

“What?”

 

Todoroki slowly shakes his head. “Nothing.”

 

Katsuki pulls out of his stretch, lip curling. “What?”

 

“You’re so paranoid,” Todoroki sighs. “Just thinking of ways to beat you once we reach pro-hero.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“We can’t be evenly matched everywhere,” Todoroki says, a little cheekily, competitive glint in his eyes. “Especially on the ranking table.”

 

Katsuki cracks his knuckles, ominous smile threatening to make an appearance. “Dream on, candy cane. If this wasn’t a partnership I’d have made you eat dust.” It comes out less menacing and more- well, he’s not sure, but it leans elsewhere.

 

“You’d have tried,” Todoroki corrects, the hint of a smile on his face, and Katsuki’s not entirely sure why but he’s definitely smirking back at him. It’s sort of like the usual posturing but less infuriating.

 

“And succeeded, fucker. Gotta come up with better attacks if you don’t want me sleepwalking my way to beating you.”

 

“All I need do is mention Midoriya and you’d lose your entire game plan,” Todoroki says, sardonic. Katsuki automatically glowers, but he catches himself before Todoroki has the chance to look too smug.

 

“Dumbass. I always fight angry.”

 

“What were you angry at today?”

 

“Whatever idiot thought the rest of the class was in our league,” Katsuki says, plainly, and wipes his palms on his trousers. “Obviously.”

 

Obviously,” Todoroki parrots, and Katsuki snorts, entertained by the tone as he towels his hair.

 

He looks back at Todoroki, who still hasn’t budged from his spot (gross) but is now toying intently with the collar of his uniform shirt. His hair is still a mess, and there’s faint frost on the tip of his fingers, but he looks remarkably clean-cut otherwise. It’s both ridiculous and typical. Katsuki is stuck with the sudden and violent desire to-

 

He accidentally yanks at the hair he was combing his fingers through, cursing loudly. What the fuck?

 

Heart racing, he tries to rewind, but it’s too late- video game stats in place, his brain is fitting scenes into a sequence. From their first dismal interactions all the way through to sitting across the table, relaxed and talking like old allies; the inexplicable vanishing of his disdain for his classmate, his stupid fixation on him, touching his face like an idiot.

 

“It’s a good thing no one was actually injured,” Todoroki remarks. “I just realized I cleared my first aid kit out before the holidays. It’s got snacks in instead.”

 

Katsuki sends him a wild look. Todoroki extends a strawberry milk. He’s so out of it he actually takes it, staying frozen and having a mild conniption as Todoroki rifles through his bag to find a drink for himself.

 

He’s into Todoroki. This explains his sudden descent into bantering with him like he actually likes him, the way his moods go hot and cold around him, the fact he spend half his free time these holidays obsessing over his family dynamics. How the fuck has this crept up on him?

 

It’s not like he cares that he’s a guy. It’s more that he’s never- of all the people. There should be no people- least of all this asshole.

 

The strawberry milk explodes.

 

“I had chocolate, too,” Todoroki says, a little mournful and a little unimpressed. Katsuki wants to kill him and then himself.

 

 

Post-crisis, he does his very best to get over it. So he’s into Todoroki, and it’s more glaringly evident than he’d like to think about. Whatever. All he needs to do is not act upon it, and it’ll go away.

 

Your fixations never go away, his mother’s voice reminds him. You still have All Might figurines hidden under your bed.

 

He thinks he deals with it very maturely, actually. He’s only marginally meaner to everyone around him, and he doesn’t even respond with violence when Todoroki talks to him.

 

Yeah, that’s a bit of an issue in his avoidance plan. Todoroki does not seem to get the hint. Katsuki doesn’t want to overreact, because it would just alert the bastard to something going on, but Todoroki also lacks any awareness whatsoever, so he’s at a loss as to how to communicate leave me the fuck alone without slamming his face into the ground. It’s gotten to the point where other people in the class are skirting around Katsuki, but Todoroki continues to approach him unfazed.

 

He’s sure Todoroki didn’t use to talk to him this much, but since their partnership went so well, he seems to appear every couple of hours at Katsuki’s desk, hovering ominously as he is prone to do. Katsuki’s relatively sure it’s just because he’s too awkward to sit.

 

It’s doing his head in. Kirishima is starting to worry about his sanity, and Katsuki sort of wishes for the prevalent PTSD back. At least that was all him.

 

“I can’t believe you don’t like cold soba,” Todoroki is saying right now, like this is the pinnacle of disappointment. Katuski massages his temple.

 

“Your taste in everything is garbage. Cold soba is a fucking disgrace. You can’t claim to like soba if you don’t eat it hot.”

 

“Drowning your food in spice doesn’t make it good, either,” Todoroki argues, sullen. “You can’t taste anything.”

 

“You have no authority on this matter! You can’t cook anything except rice!”

 

“I have taste buds.”

 

Katsuki throws his hands in the air and shoves his own lunch at his classmate, jabbing at a piece of soba aggressively. “Eat.

 

Todoroki stares at him, then opens his mouth obligingly, which is not what Katsuki intended but now he’s rolling with too much bravado and he’s aware that half the class is gaping at them, so he thrusts his chopsticks at Todoroki and forces himself not to blow up his desk when the latter neatly bites the soba off the end of them.

 

The fuck is he meant to do now? Eat off the chopsticks Todoroki’s mouth just touched?

 

Todoroki, making matters worse, chews consideringly, and makes a little content noise.

 

“It’s good.”

 

“Of course it’s good,” Katsuki mutters, definitely reddening now. He hates his life.

 

“Thanks,” Todoroki adds, primly, which is just to annoy him, because he’s actually extremely lax on manners. Katsuki scowls at him, staring dejectedly at his tantalizing meal.

 

“So,” Todoroki says, after a while. “Are you going home this weekend?”

 

“No,” Katsuki responds, shortly. He doesn’t really miss home, and he definitely doesn’t feel the need to have his parents scrutinize him in these trying times. There’s still a way to go if he wants to be in top form this term- sure, he’s excelling, but it’s not hard, and it should be, if he’s doing his very best.

 

After a moment he raises his head to look at Todoroki. “Why, what’s it to you?”

 

“I’m not going home either. I just wanted to know.”

 

“Thought you’d go see your mom.”

 

“Now’s not the best time.”

 

Katsuki drops it, because he’s definitely not comfortable talking family matters with him, and because it sounds like Todoroki’s not too keen on it either. It’s fine by him. He’s had an extremely weird discussion with him already when Endeavour got injured, and that was a whole hot mess he’s not fucking eager to repeat.

 

“I don’t think many of the others are staying,” Todoroki says. Once upon a time Katsuki would have wasted ten minutes arguing in circles with him about the vagueness of his obvious ulterior motive, but he’s gotten used to balancing the simultaneous bluntness and complete lack of clarity that Todoroki’s speech is imbued with.

 

“Okay, so?”

 

Todoroki looks to the window. It’s an evasive strategy. Katsuki stares at him hard until he relents.

 

“We could do something together.” It comes out sort of hesitant, which Katsuki’s not accustomed to. Between the tone and the words, his brain grinds to a halt.

 

“Do s- like what?”

 

Todoroki actually squirms a little, which throws Katsuki for a loop. “I don’t know. I thought you might.”

 

Katsuki definitely does not. It almost sounds like a fucking date, but he’s never heard of anyone asking the object of their affections to plan their first date, even if he entertained the delusion that Todoroki was trying to do that. He has no goddamn idea what he is trying to do, though.

 

“You mean like a training regiment?” Katsuki finally musters, at a loss.

 

“If you like,” Todoroki says, looking relieved. Which makes even less sense.

 

“If I had any idea what you were doing, I might be suggesting better things.” He half-regrets not just leaving it there, but this coyness is getting on his nerves.

 

I don’t have any idea what I’m doing,” Todoroki finally grits out, fixing the desk intently. “I’m never the one in charge of planning things like this.”

 

With who?

 

“My other- friends,” Todoroki says, in extremely stilted tones. His hands, nearest to Katsuki, are flaring hot and cold, which probably translates to his whole body. Katsuki’s palms are sparking with sweat.

 

He wants to say We’re friends?! but he knows without doing so that it won’t go down well, and it’s too stupid for him to utter anyways. So they’re friends, apparently. That- maybe explains why Todoroki’s been talking to him. So much.

 

God, he’s starting to think Kirishima has a point. That’s never a good sign.

 

Fine. They’re- friends, or at least they are in Todoroki's screwed-up mind. He doesn't want to get thrown off the original weirdness at hand.

 

“I’m not exactly braiding hair and drinking tea with people either,” Katsuki says, instead, going for flippant. Has break always been this insufferably long? Surely not. “And I was going to stay to work, anyway.”

 

Todoroki nods, point of his tongue sticking briefly out between his lips in thought, a very Kirishima gesture. Katsuki’s face feels too hot, his tongue suddenly loose.

 

“I guess we could ge- go hiking or something.”

 

Get lunch? Has he been possessed? Maybe this is a very latent side-effect of the kidnapping. He always suspected a concussion.

 

“I’ve never been hiking,” Todoroki says. Neutrally.

 

Of course you haven’t.”

 

The bell rings, belatedly putting him out of his misery.

 

 

They do go hiking. Katsuki very nearly locks himself away in the gym to escape it, but he’s no pussy, so he forces himself to go knock on Todoroki’s door in the early hours of the morning, losing his powers of speech for a beat when Todoroki emerges fuzzy-haired and covering a yawn behind his hand, and aggressively berating him for not being ready to go.

 

“I didn’t know we were going,” Todoroki argues, but he sounds pleased, and he changes rapidly as Katsuki stands tapping his foot irately, swinging a backpack onto his shoulders.

 

They have a rapid breakfast. Todoroki is the type of idiot to think breakfast is skippable; Katsuki is a reasonable human being who knows breakfast is the most important meal of the day. He’s starting to suspect Todoroki plays up his uselessness in the kitchen to get food out of him, but it’s not like he’ll dispute the fact his food is that good, so he’s not about to call him out on it.

 

The actual trek is relatively silent. Katsuki powers on ahead, pushing his body to clear his head, resorting to his quirk to boost him every so often when he gets tired of grappling with the mountainside path. He’s chosen a route at random, not bothered to get far out of the scope of school, so it’s still near the city center- when he pauses to look, the skyline is a decent sight.

 

He’s not the sight-seeing type, though. They climb non-stop for a solid two hours at least, the lowest mountain-top suddenly within sight, and it’s only when his boot crunches satisfactorily down onto the peak that he finally stops for breath, hoisting himself up and casting a look around.

 

Todoroki isn’t far behind, long legs nimble as he steps to Katsuki’s side. He looks a little pink from exertion, face inexpressive otherwise, but his eyes are on the view.

 

Katsuki sort of wants to talk, but he’s got nothing to say, so he shrugs off his ruck-sack and sits heavily down near the edge of the mountaintop, legs dangling precariously above nothing. Good thing he’s not afraid of heights.

 

“UA looks like you could grab it between chopsticks from here,” Todoroki comments, still standing. Katsuki rolls his eyes hard.

 

“What a normal fucking thing to say.”

 

Todoroki shrugs, unaffected. “It’s nice up here. It feels sort of like no one else actually lives in the city.”

 

“You’d like that?” Katsuki asks, unfolding his bento box. “Living alone?”

 

“It’d be less busy,” Todoroki says, finally bending knee to come sit near him. “Less stressful. No villains.”

 

“No heroes, either,” Katsuki counters. “It’d be boring as fuck.”

 

“What, you wouldn’t enjoy being alone with yourself forever?” Todoroki asks, a note of humour in it.

 

“Then who would there be to see how great I was?” Katsuki retorts, snarky. Todoroki flashes him one of his split-second smiles. “And whose ass would I kick?”

 

“Maybe you’d start fighting trees.”

 

“Can’t be the best if there’s no competition,” Katsuki dismisses, biting into his skewer. “Could do without civilians, though. Just me and a bunch of villains whose ass I’d kick. Maybe a rival or two, for variety’s sake.”

 

“Not your parents?”

 

“They’ll not be around forever,” Katsuki says, flippantly. He’s not in the mood to be caught out in the details of his fantasy world. “If there were no civilians I’d never have to restrain my Quirk. Yours, either.”

 

“I’m there?” Todoroki asks, and Katsuki’s about to point out that he obviously didn’t mean that when he said that, but there’s a funny content look on his face that makes him falter.

 

“Sure, I guess. Winning against Deku’d get boring eventually.”

 

“Hm. Wouldn’t be a problem for me, seeing as you wouldn’t win.”

 

“Bite me. Maybe if you’d put up a fight last time we’d have settled this dispute.”

 

“I was going through a personal crisis,” Todoroki says, delicately. Katsuki shoves at him.

 

“Fuck off. You gave Deku a proper fight. And you responded to Yoarashi when provoked.”

 

“Guess you’re special.”

 

“I’m gonna shove you off this cliff, and no one will question it.”

 

Todoroki smiles at him again, longer and more unwilling, and Katsuki really wishes he had the willpower to not just stare at him dumbly.

 

“You’re pretty tolerable when you’re not too busy being an irascible bully, you know.”

 

He has too many sharp quips on the tip of his tongue, so he ends up just scoffing and looking away to shovel food into his mouth. Irascible bully his ass. He’s never anything less than perfectly fucking reasonable.

 

Something of his inner tirade about Deku must translate, because Todoroki huffs and leans back onto his elbows, staring up at the clear skies.

 

Katsuki considers him through his lashes. A real weirdo, Shoto Todoroki is. Smart but lacking in common sense, hideously attractive but totally unaware of it, coolly confident but socially awkward, emotionless and yet passionate. Everything from his love of cats to his sometimes feral attack style is inexplicable as part of one cohesive human being, and yet here he is, looking distantly at the sky, Japan if not the world’s next bigshot hero.

 

Todoroki’s such a medical miracle that Katsuki’s not even sure if he thinks his own taste is bad or not. Probably yes.

 

“You’re staring,” Todoroki admonishes now, probably smug at being the one to say so for once. He has an eerie habit of staring unblinkingly at people in their company.

 

“Am not,” Katsuki answers, though for some reason he makes little effort to stop. Maybe it's how without heat Todoroki sounds, like he doesn't mind either way.

 

“Yes, you are,” Todoroki states, either dead serious or making fun of him. He decides not to care which it is, bravado rearing its head.

 

“Is that gonna be an issue?”

 

Todoroki blinks. Katsuki looks at him with surprisingly genuine casualness, despite the rapid tattoo of his pulse.

 

“I suppose not,” Todoroki says, a little off-beat. Katsuki mentally punches the air in victory.

 

“Okay.”

 

He continues to stare at Todoroki more purposefully as he lies back down, and the latter’s cheek blooms slowly red, dark against the white of his hair, against the rising midday sun.

 

 

He caves. He has two choices: talking to Kirishima, or talking to his parents. Talking to Kirishima is infinitely better, but it suffers from the fatal flaw of Kirishima knowing Todoroki, and it being near impossible to have a private conversation on school grounds.

Even discarding the people whose quirks let them listen through walls, half of his classmates are unbearably nosy, to the extent that Katsuki tried to ask Uraraka one thing about an assignment once and returned to his dorm only to be literally accosted by Kaminari and co under accusation of ‘steamy illicit affairs’.

 

He does try to talk to Kirishima. It just fares really poorly.

 

Oi. Kirishima.

 

Sup, man?

 

People ever come to you with- personal questions?

 

Uh, depends what kind?

 

Like. Relationship-wise, or whatever the fuck.

 

Oh, no, dude, he's been going to you too? Oh, man, do not get me fucking started, dude! If Denki spends one more minute telling me about this week's crush- who is it this time? He didn't burst into yours at like midnight, did he? He has no sense of boundaries, bro! He cornered me in the shower last night! I almost punched through the walls!

 

It becomes clear that Kirishima is perhaps in more urgent need of support than Katsuki.

 

After they clear that nervous breakdown, Kirishima is apologetic and curious, but Katsuki has no desire to be comparable to Kaminari in any shape or form, so he makes him drop it. He doesn’t know how he’s never heard of any of this, but in retrospect this may well be what Kaminari talks about at length when Katsuki zones him out. He’s not sure what goes through the guy’s head at any given moment. Once, he briefly tuned into Kaminari’s conversation only to hear him argue that vegetables didn’t exist.

 

Still, Kirishima, being the insightful good friend that he is, just has to give him unsolicited help anyways.

 

“Bakugou?”

 

“Hm.”

 

“You know, we could always get lunch out of school or something. If the mood struck you.”

 

“Yeah, whatever.”

 

“I know a really nice McDonalds-”

 

Kirishima.”

 

“I'm just messing with you!”

 

It’s not a bad idea, but they’re horrendously busy, and Kirishima moreso is extremely stressed about their Quirk evaluations. Katsuki’d rather spend their time together working on their Quirks than dragging them out to a pointless meal, especially for such a stupid reason.

 

With great dread, he calls home. It requires him reaching breaking point, first, which he does in agonising fashion- Todoroki knocks at his door bleary-eyed and presents him with a (terrible) cooked breakfast “to repay him the free meals”, and within the same day pauses to fix Katsuki’s tie mid-conversation in class, which almost gives him a heart attack.

 

He is still on the verge of backing out when his parents pick up, but the sight of his father alone lulls him into a false sense of security.

 

“Katsuki! We haven’t heard from you in a while. How’s school?”

 

“Fine,” Katsuki grumbles. “Everyone else here is lame as per. Same old at home, too?”

 

“Actually, I’ve been working on remodeling the kitchen. Your mother and I were considering moving a while back, but we settled on staying in the end. While you’re still at home, it’s nice to stay in your childhood home.”

 

What?” Katsuki asks, indignant, then controls himself and waves his hand impatiently. “No- okay, whatever, anyways- I’m calling for a reason.”

 

“You’re not in trouble, are you?” His father frowns. “If you need to come home, you’re always welcome, you know.”

 

“I don’t need anything,” Katsuki grits out. “And I’m not in trouble. Why do you always assume I’m in trouble? I’ve never even gotten detention.”

 

“Good to hear. So, what is it then?”

 

Katsuki pauses. This is so much harder than being kidnapped was.

 

He doesn’t know what shows on his face, because his father shifts. “You know, at your age…”

 

“God, your wife already gave me the talk years ago,” Katsuki snaps, disgusted. “That is not what this is about.”

 

“Then what is it about?” His dad asks, shifting his glasses so he has a clearer vision of him. “And don’t call your mother my wife.”

 

Katsuki stays silent, then bites his lip painfully hard. “You know when you… Well, she’s the one who chased you down, right? How come you went for it?”

 

Mercifully, his father is good at translating his language, and he smiles, twinkle in his eye. “For her? Well, I thought she was beautiful, but that’s my job. No, I suppose I just liked her- she was razor-sharp, witty- never took no for an answer- and she carried herself like she had the best Quirk in the world until you believed her too. A dynamite girl- that was an expression, from a movie. I thought it suited her. She didn’t care what anyone else thought of her- and then suddenly she cared what I thought.”

 

“If she was so great, why did she need to chase you down so hard?”

 

His father laughs. “She was terrifying! I was quiet, studious, serious- I'd never had a long-term girlfriend before. My parents wanted me to have a long career, marry a very respectable woman- and then your mother waltzed into a shoot one day with no modeling credentials, bruised knuckles, and scuffed flats, demanding attention. Our first interactions didn’t exactly scream marriage material. Fortunately for me, she was remarkably taken by me- but I’ll confess I’d never have known it from our exchanges. Half the time I was convinced she hated me. I think she realized that- that’s why she chased me so hard, so I’d know for sure.”

 

“Huh,” Katsuki says. He wishes he couldn’t see a young adult version of his mother so easily- and he wishes she didn’t look so much like him. “So she bullied you into liking her.”

 

“She bullied herself into showing me she liked me,” his father corrects, laughing. “Your mother’s no bully. Except maybe at PTA meetings.”

 

“She literally hits me on a daily basis,” Katsuki complains. “No fucking wonder our household is so dysfunctional if you find it cute.”

 

“It’s how you two show affection. You hit that friend of yours, too.”

 

That’s not the same!”

 

“Speaking of which,” his father says, glasses glinting. “Why all the questions about this?”

 

Katsuki clams up. Of course, his mother chooses this moment to appear in the shot, eyes widening upon spotting him.

 

“I thought I heard you! What’s this, calling home and not even saying hi? Were you going to call without talking to me?”

 

“What, like your witch ears wouldn’t pick up on it?”

 

“Katsuki wanted to talk about how we got together,” his father says, the absolute fucking traitor. Katsuki fumes.

 

“Huh? He did, did he?” His mother’s red eyes glint. “Why’s that?”

 

“None of your damn business!”

 

“Is it Kirishima? Do you like him?”

 

“EH?! Of course I don’t like Kirishima, are you insane?!”

 

“Damn,” his mother sighs. “What a shame. I love that kid.”

 

Kirishima,” Katsuki mutters, in disbelief. “What’s next, you’re gonna accuse me of being ino Deku now?”

 

“You’re not, are you? That would be a hot mess.”

 

“OF COURSE NOT!”

 

“Geeze, volume control. It’s not like we see many of your classmates to know who you’re crushing on.”

 

“Wh- I’m not- I’m not gonna bring them home for you, am I?!”

 

“Hang on,” his mother says, holding a finger up. Katsuki freezes. She turns her gaze on him, sharp through the screen. His father watches them both with interest. Katsuki’s palms spark.

 

“Oho. Katsuki. There is one friend of yours you have been very elusive about.”

 

“Have not,” Katsuki says, hastily.

 

Shoto Todoroki,” his mother says, grin shark-like.

 

Katsuki knows he’s doomed, because he feels his stupid, youthful, poreless skin flush red. His mother lets out an unholy screech.

 

“That is adorable! Our son’s first crush, and it’s on the Todoroki kid!”

 

S-shut up! Do you want the whole dormitory to know?!”

 

Aw, you little twerp! You came to us for advice?”

 

“It won’t happen again!”

 

“I’m surprised it’s taken you this long,” his father interjects, stilling them both. “You were watching old news reports with him in over your winter break, and you didn’t even look particularly murderous.”

 

“You knew?” Katsuki yells, at about the exact same time as his mother.

 

So that attempt for help doesn’t fare much better.

 

 

In actuality, while calling home might’ve been somewhat useful on some level of his conscience Katsuki never bothers to access, the practical effects of the whole mess are somewhat of a disaster.

 

He’s been doing okay at just pretending nothing's off, but the reminder of how his parents got together has- well, freaked him out. Not that he'll acknowledge he and his mother are similar beyond appearance, but she does have a sort of single-mindedness that he knows he shares, and asides from her youthful flings, she basically met his dad and stuck with him for life. He’s still in high school, and while the thought may have crossed his mind of late, he’s obviously not solely lusting after Todoroki.

 

The thought of being seriously into the guy in the same way as his parents are into each other is disturbing at best. Katsuki is decisively unsettled.

 

Resolve shaken, he does what he does best: blow things up.

 

By things, he means Deku.

 

In his defense, he asks ahead of time. It’s not really a multiple-choice situation, but he asks.

 

He storms up to him in the arena, Uraraka instinctively ready to fight (that girl has anger issues), and Deku whips around, startled. They’ve been on weird terms, after everything that went down, but Katsuki approaching him has never lead to anything but a fight.

 

“Kacchan! Can I help you?”

 

“Actually, yes,” Katsuki says, hands igniting. “I gotta let off steam. You can take it now, right?”

 

Uraraka looks alarmed, but Deku’s expression only wavers a little before something like a determined smile flickers through his face.

“I’m ready!”

 

“Great,” Katsuki says, and blasts him clean into the air with no warning.

 

They do get in some trouble, predictably. Uraraka cries foul play, Iida comes literally sprinting out of thin air, teachers are summoned by his incredibly booming voice, and everyone assumes Katsuki was in the wrong here, when Deku clearly consented. At least the asshole also tells them this, but even so between Deku’s poorly handled All for One and Katsuki’s ill-tempered explosions, the chaos caused irks the teachers, who sic them both on clean-up duty.

 

“You really do keep on getting better,” Deku says, a little out of breath but in an incredibly parsimonious tone. “Good job, Kacchan.”

 

“Yeah, and I didn’t even need to steal someone’s Quirk,” Katsuki snaps, irately blowing debris up. It’s not quite as menacing as it might’ve been.

 

“I’m keeping pace,” Deku says, like he didn’t catch the obvious insult. “Between me, you, and Todoroki-kun, we’ll be giving the Big Three a run for their money, huh?”

 

It’s obviously meant in a jokey way, because Deku both has the most over-inflated sense of importance known to mankind and the most obnoxious amounts of humility since Mother Theresa croaked. Still, Katsuki shoots him a look.

 

“Yeah. One of them is Quirkless now. Maybe it’s a sign.”

 

Deku does at least look pained at that. “That’s a nasty thing to say.”

 

Katsuki shrugs. “He seems fine with it. Can’t be that big of a deal to him.”

 

“Or he’s just putting on a brave face,” Deku argues, in his stupid I’m on the verge of tears because of my scintillating empathy voice. “And I didn’t mean that I wanted them out of the picture.”

 

“Nah, but you did,” Katsuki says, cracking his neck. “Or are your number one hero speeches just for show?”

 

Thankfully, this seems to discourage Deku from talking to him again for a fair bit. When he does, he’s clearly gone off his earlier train of thought slightly.

 

“Is Todoroki okay, by the way?”

 

Of all the questions. Katsuki straightens to squint at him properly.

 

“Whaddya mean? What’s wrong with that asshole now?”

 

“He seemed upset the last few days,” Deku says, a little antsy. “We talk about stuff, usually- I mean, we try, I think he knows he can talk to me, but obviously I would never pressure him into-”

 

“Get on with it!”

 

“Right, well, I don’t know, he’s been very withdrawn! I thought it might be to do with the whole League confrontation, but he’s not said anything.”

 

“No idea what you’re on about,” Katsuki says, flatly, because he doesn’t, and especially because he’s now vaguely alarmed himself. He- fine, he kind of cares, but he’s also confused as to how he missed this. “Why would I know, anyways?”

 

“Uh, I,” Deku falters. “I thought you two were- I mean, it looks like- and Todoroki seems to…”

 

Great, now Todoroki’s apparently broadcasting their friendship to Deku and his group. Katsuki exhales through his nose.

 

“Forget I asked,” Deku mumbles, and vanishes to go clear a different area. Probably a smart move on his part.

 

Apparently he has to worry about Todoroki’s sanity too, now. As if his own wasn’t on the rocks half of the time.

 

They have written exams in the afternoon, so he forgets about Todoroki’s apparent melodrama for the duration of class, finishing with gratifying amounts of spare time that he uses to loudly rifle through his pages and slam them on the desk, catching the panicked eyes of his classmates as they cram. He’s usually the first to do so- Iida and Yaoyorozu always go over theirs a million times.

 

He does intend to check on Todoroki, somewhat. Leaning back to cast an eye over him, he looks fine, but he has to acknowledge something looks off. Like he’s too used to what he looks like- yeah, that’s exactly it. He looks like Todoroki from their very first entrance exams. Somewhere along the year he’s changed, and it’s only obvious now that he’s back to form.

 

Katsuki wonders what he looks like. Surely the same. Nothing wrong with how he used to look.

 

Todoroki doesn’t look up once during the exam, and he avoids eye contact even once the bell has rung, making his way out of the classroom in record time. Katsuki meets Uraraka’s eyes, and she pulls a worried face at him that he echoes mockingly. She just rolls her eyes.

 

“How’d that go, man?” Kirishima asks, bag swinging after him as he jogs to catch up to Katsuki after class. Katsuki huffs.

 

“Fine. Obviously. I studied, didn’t I?”

 

“Not so easy for all of us,” Kirishima mutters darkly. “I think I did OK at the parts we went over, at least. I just hate language tests. Grammar makes my head hurt.”

 

“It’s just like algebra,” Katsuki retorts, shaking his head. “Don’t know why you’re fine with maths but not with words.”

 

“Maths makes sense!”

 

“It’s just as arbitrarily correct as any humanities,” Katsuki argues. “Scientists are wrong all the time before they discover better science.”

 

“God, don’t start on your flat earth spiel.”

 

“I’m not a flat-earther, idiot.”

 

“I dunno, I can sort of see it!”

 

"Then you should have your eyes checked.”

 

Kirishima distracts him; they end up playing video games in his room for hours, because Katsuki can’t resist competition and Kirishima is good company.

 

As a result of all this, though, he only gets to his room late, and thoughts of Todoroki have distinctly slipped his mind- until he steps foot into his room, and it is unbearably cold.

 

Katsuki’s not a winter person in any sense, and even he can tell this is abnormally cold. His breath actually clouds the air when he breathes. He cusses, turns the lights on, but it does nothing to improve the chill in the air.

 

The thought strikes him. He stares at the wooden plafond separating his room from Todoroki’s, and there- a tinge of white-blue, frost seeping quietly further into Katsuki’s own room.

 

“Shit,” Katsuki says, and shoves his keys back into his pocket, all but throwing himself outside and into the stairwell. He swears the steps don’t usually take this long. Rationally, he’s pretty sure Todoroki is just having a crisis, but he could not be- he could be gone, windows thrown open and taunting note left on his bed, or he could be dead, or villains could be flooding the school. Katsuki’s not exactly speaking out of his ass on that one, so if he cuts corners too violently, he thinks he can be excused.

 

His suspicions worsen when he reaches Todoroki’s room, because the handle is frozen.

 

Well, fine. He doesn’t have those core muscles for nothing.

 

Katsuki kicks the door in with one solid blow, ice shattering audibly under his heel as he bursts into the room, poised for action.

 

Todoroki is standing by his desk, unharmed and alert. For a moment, Katsuki feels like an absolute fucking clown, but his eyes go from Todoroki to the rest of his room, walls covered in sparkling ice, and when he looks back Todoroki looks bad- something minute in his face that’s messy, out of his control.

 

Katsuki lowers his foot, sort of automatically reaches to shut the door behind him.

 

Todoroki’s hands are extended, he notes, and around him the ice has gone.

 

He wants to say something- bite out questions to feel less uncomfortable, demand answers as to why Todoroki’s fingers are imperceptibly shaky. He just can’t quite bring himself to speak up.

 

“Bakugou,” Todoroki exhales. His breathing is measured, a cloud of frosty air leaving his mouth.

 

“You really have to start locking your fucking door,” Katsuki says, shoving his hands in his pockets. He eyes Todoroki expectantly. The latter winces.

 

“How did you…”

 

“As you may recall, our rooms are above each other,” Katsuki grates, somewhat sardonic. The irony of the scene is not lost on him, and he doubts it has eluded Todoroki.

 

“Right,” Todoroki says. His eyes flutter shut briefly, tired. “Of course. I apologize.”

 

Answer my questions, Katsuki thinks. His arms are covered in goosebumps.

 

“I’ll take care of this. Your room should be fine.” Todoroki sounds calm, collected- but his fingers are still twitching. Katsuki feels like fucking Kirishima, but he waits him out, brow raised.

 

“And you?”

 

Todoroki’s eyes widen, and Katsuki thanks the cold for making the heat in his face explicable. He’s allowed to ask- Todoroki’s the one who decided they were friends. God, he wants Uraraka to show up and float him out of the room.

 

“I’ve been trying to melt it,” Todoroki says, suddenly, a rapid confessional. “But when I-” His voice tightens in frustration (Katsuki hopes it’s frustration), and his stance is taut.

 

He flexes his fingers, flames dancing along them, but they barely come alive before turning to smoke, billowing upwards.

 

Katsuki clicks his tongue, some instinct he doesn’t know how to describe kicking in to guide his actions. He can deal with this. Quirks are his expertise; even the baggage that screws their users over.

 

“Why’d you ice the room in the first place?”

 

Todoroki’s shoulders rise, and Katsuki follows his glance towards his laptop, the newsreel still on-screen, frozen.

 

“Explains the fire problem.”

 

Todoroki doesn’t respond, but his eyes are boring into his hands. Katsuki sighs, relaxes his muscles, steps on over to him. He’s just planning on trying to shake him out of it, but as he approaches Todoroki opens his mouth.

 

“I think I have some hang-ups about fire that go beyond the strictly paternal.”

 

Katsuki has no fucking idea what to make of that, because what logically follows from this confession and the image frozen on-screen is that Endeavour's parenting has spawned worse than just Todoroki, an idea that makes alarming amounts of sense when he thinks back to- but that’s not the issue at hand.

 

“Look, moron. Are you scared of me?”

 

Todoroki looks at him dryly through his fringe. “No.”

 

“You should be,” Katsuki says, first, because it stings his ego. “But you’d think, if you’re concerned with the harm your Quirk causes, you’d be fucking bawling at a Quirk that’s solely destructive, huh?”

 

Todoroki considers him. “It’s not the same.”

 

“Why not? Cause you’re scared you’ll hurt someone? Or cause you know I’m in control of my Quirk?”

 

“That is very arguable,” Todoroki mumbles, which Katsuki very gracefully does not react to because it’s progress, but his eyes are troubled. “I don’t know. It's not the self-control thing. I guess I can’t see you using your Quirk like that.”

 

“Watch it, asshole,” Katsuki snaps, offended. Still: “You can’t see me doing it, but you can see yourself- you saying I’ve got a better hold on my emotions than you? Cause that’s true, but I can’t see you thinking so.”

 

“That's definitely not it,” Todoroki mutters, frowning.

 

“You’re not making me want to help you get through your mental breakdown, you know.” He’s getting too bristly to be of much use- it’s embarrassing coming in here and getting put on blast for trying to help.

 

“Sorry,” Todoroki says, abruptly, and he reaches to grab Katsuki’s forearm. “I mean- it’s true. But I’m oversimplifying.”

 

Katsuki lets it slide, because this Todoroki is not in top shape, and winning fights against someone who’s not all in is no real victory. Alternatively, his brain went fuzzy upon contact. Maybe a bit of both.

 

He flips their arms so his is palm up, Todoroki’s fingers skirting back before tightening their hold again, and focuses against the cold touch to let off small explosions in his hand, like the kind of crackers kids get to let off on firework nights. The very first time his Quirk presented he was in kindergarten, and it was like this- bright flashes, child-sized. 

 

It’s boring, but it’s easy, and consistent, lulls them both into a weirdly hypnotic focus. Katsuki lets this continue in silence, and gradually Todoroki’s hand warms on his arm, heat seeping through him again. He looks up with less impatience than he could.

 

Todoroki bites the inside of his cheek, expression a little closed off, but then he holds up his other hand, and it only takes a moment’s hesitation for flames to rise, careful but strong. Katsuki nods, satisfied.

 

Todoroki turns his palm down, feet moving to ground him, and the ice begins to melt away, turning to mist under the waves of hot air. It’s weirdly like a sauna; luckily Katsuki doesn’t mind the heat.

 

The room clears; they’re still standing there, Todoroki’s grip still solid on his arm, but less taut, no longer seeping ice into him. Katsuki, reflexively, feels the back of his neck warm. He’s not the type- he doesn’t touch people. His dad, maybe, reluctantly, less and less over time. His mother, but that’s mainly mutual scuffling. Kirishima, he guesses, now- he’s tactile, and after the rescue he’s gradually been increasing contact, arms around his shoulders, leaning against his back, nudging him when he has something interesting to say. That’s only him, though- Katsuki’s friend, his best friend, he concedes.

 

Whatever he and Todoroki actually are—god knows what friends means in Todoroki’s head– it’s definitely not a Kirishima situation.

 

Katsuki’s not sure what kind of situation it is, actually. That’s what he desperately doesn’t enjoy about it.

 

Todoroki exhales, soft, warm. Katsuki wasn’t paying attention, but he guesses there might’ve been some fire to it. They’re looking at each other now, sort of. Beauty mark on the side of Todoroki’s nose, slightly bruised jawbone, a couple of strands of his hair masking his one eye. Katsuki’s eyes wander.

 

He thinks maybe Todoroki wants to say thank you. He’s not expecting it, though. He certainly didn’t say it back when- he shoved Todoroki against a door and threatened him, as a matter of fact.

 

Neither of them are great at manners, anyways.

 

“Can I get you something to drink?” Todoroki says, finally. Katsuki almost snorts, on impact, because it sounds kind of like- but that’s not it, and he catches himself. Todoroki’s still holding on to him.

 

“Sure,” Katsuki says. Because he’s polite like that. “What type of tea do you have?”

 

“Let me look,” Todoroki says, and slips away, down, towards that ridiculous traditional set-up of his. Katsuki swears his grandparents have the same little kettle, the same bamboo-and-rice-paper doors. He cracks his knuckles.

 

“Sencha, Kabuse Cha, Hojicha,” Todoroki lists, gesturing to different little jars. “What would you like?”

 

Katsuki crouches. “Bet you have Gyokuro.”

 

“Mm.” Todoroki says, a little wry, or maybe sheepish. Rich asshole. It’s disturbing that the thought conjures mild fondness in him. “You’ll drink it?”

 

“Not gonna say no.”

 

They sit cross-legged as the fire burns gently. It’s funny, post all of the drama, to see Todoroki in his bed-wear. He looks so teenaged.

 

Katsuki shuts his eyes, waiting. He’s kind of tired, all things considered. Eventually something nudges his hand, warm. He takes the cup.

 

It’s good tea, too.

 

He puts his one hand down, leaning back, and it’s quiet. Maybe Todoroki’s not drinking, or he’s not a slurper, but all he hears is quiet crackling, the hum of electricity from the lights outside. Usually when it’s this quiet he doesn’t like it- the anticipation. This is okay.

 

There’s a light clink, a cup being set down. He cracks one eye open.

 

“Mm. Bakugou?” Todoroki asks, hands folded in his lap.

 

“What?”

 

“I’m going to start locking my door now.”

 

He can’t help it; he grins. Todoroki looks away, but there’s a smile on him too. It falters a bit when he continues.

 

“You’re- always welcome to knock, though.”

 

Katsuki looks at him, hard.

 

“Yeah?”

 

Todoroki waves his fingers, light, and the fire flickers away, pale smoke swirling by their knees.

 

“Yeah.”

 

 

After that things are different. It’s not the same as the previous changes, gradual, catching him by surprise only when he looks back. It’s obvious, and it’s obvious to other people.

 

Todoroki appears in the kitchen when he’s cooking. He falls into step with him when they enter the arena, and they practice their attacks together. His hovering by Katsuki’s desk is replaced by pulling up a chair and setting down two boxes of strawberry milk. He does all these things with no decorum. Katsuki, in exchange, knocks on his door every so often, once, loudly, and lets all the rest happen to him.

 

It is so much harder than it sounds.

 

First off, Todoroki is way more annoying when he’s relaxed around someone, because Katsuki now has to put up with far more snark and ridiculous character quirks- an obsession with cats, a tendency for dumb conspiracy theories, a capacity to make slurping any food passive aggressive. Not to mention now that he’s using his fire, he keeps fighting Katsuki and winning. Not always, thank you very much, but sometimes, and that’s a slight in itself.

 

Second off, their school is hell and its students are demons. Though blessedly cautious about “scaring Todoroki off” (rich, considering they never had such worries with Katsuki), the entirety of his group of idiots is positively gleeful about the recent development, and they creep out of the woodworks constantly to harass them. At least Katsuki has the satisfaction of being able to leave Todoroki to their mercy with a sardonic wave.

 

Third-

 

Third, Katsuki is decisively still into him, and his avoidance plan having being sabotaged, he has no escape strategy.

 

Katsuki always has a strategy. Okay- mostly. Sometimes he only has all-consuming fury. But mostly he has a strategy.

 

He doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. He’s spending so much time with Todoroki it’s making it extremely difficult to ignore all these fucking- feelings. Especially because as it turns out knowing a person better just gives you more things to like about them. Katsuki hates it.

 

He hates it especially when some shit goes down in hero news and his Bad mood resurfaces, nowhere as rattling as it was the first time round but worrying in its being present at all. It’s just a couple of panic attacks, a tendency to blow up, but he handles it okay. Having more people watch him is anxiety-inducing, though, and equally his mind goes in the opposite direction.

 

Last time it was him. Next time, it could be someone else.

 

He dreams of dark figures and ominous laughter, crashing in to save someone too late. More than once he plays the same scene over and over, trying to grab at Kirishima and dropping him.

 

Caring about people is awful.

 

All Might gives him a sort of pep talk, with his weirdo sixth sense for emotional drama, and it kind of helps with the panic attacks (he might’ve guessed All Might had his own set of night terrors) but not so much with the rest. All Might is the prime example of someone who lost everything for someone else- and a prime example also of Katsuki’s failure to do enough. Seeing him like he is still hurts.

 

Besides, All Might’s got his own charity project already. Katsuki’s not looking to take Deku’s spot.

 

In the end, his guidance comes from a highly unexpected source.

 

“Hi.”

 

Katsuki squints up at Uraraka. “Fuck you want?”

 

She casts him a bit of a look as she sits down, toying with the skin around her nails like a gross weirdo. Katsuki doesn’t like Uraraka any more than he used to, but he respects her on some vague level, so he waits her out.

 

“Look, um, Bakugou, I know we’re not friends, and we don't really talk, so this is out of nowhere. But I could do with your advice, and- I'd appreciate if you listened.”

 

“And why the hell would I agree?”

 

“You love giving your opinion on things,” Uraraka says, firmer now, despite her nervous flush. “And if you don’t I’ll find a way to make us do a mandated class karaoke session again.”

 

Katsuki considers this, finds it plausible. “You have a minute. Go.”

 

She exhales, pushing a strand of hair behind her ear. “Right. Let’s say you have a classmate. You are friends with this classmate. Or, y'know, you say you're not but you totally are, if that's more relatable.”

 

“Fuck you.”

 

“You two have become closer friends over the- over some time. You now hang out alone. And people have been noticing this probably before you have, but you’re starting to wonder if maybe you’re more than that.”

 

Katsuki looks up very sharply, but Uraraka is steadily reddening, and he pauses.

 

“Are you really fucking coming to me for romance tips?”

 

Uraraka turns red, slamming her hands down on her legs. “I know, okay? But all of my friends are friends with this person too, and if I bring it up with them they’ll definitely tell him by accident or because they feel morally obligated or something- and the girls are really great but they’re super intrusive and nosy and I’m- look, you’re sort of the objective bystander here, Bakugou, just deal with it and stop interrupting my minute!”

 

Fuck me,” Katsuki says. “This is about Deku, right?”

 

“Not so loud,” Uraraka gasps, looking around furiously. “Not so loud! Yes, it is, all right?”

 

“How am I an objective-”

 

“You’re his childhood friend but you also hate him, it balances out, please shut up and let me talk.”

 

Katsuki glowers at her, but he wants the sordid details now. A world where Uraraka and Deku are together sounds like his worst nightmare, but in fairness it’s sort of like that anyways.

 

“Talk.”

 

“Look, I’m not a deluded fangirl, or anything, okay? I really like Izuku. He’s selfless, and smart, and sweet, and funny, and- nevermind, I’m not complimenting him in front of you. But I really like him, as a friend, and he could have so many girls- he’s a local celebrity anyways, and he’s destined to do so well, and I’m just… Plain. And anxious, and awkward, and kind of rude, and- I don’t know. He’s got so many better options, and he’s never made a move or anything-”

 

“What is happening to me right now?”

 

“-But also, what if that’s not the point? Izuku is super focused on becoming number one hero, and making All Might proud, and what if he’s just never going to have the time to date? Or the interest? What if I ruin our friendship forever?”

 

“All right,” Katsuki snaps. “Enough! For the love of fuck. Stop talking. God.”

 

Uraraka gratifyingly actually does. Katsuki lets out a really loud sigh, just to make it clear how not into this whole shit he is.

 

“You’re a moron.”

 

She flushes, a more familiar flush. Katsuki cuts her off before she talks again. “I’m used to it. This is a grade of stupid beneath you, though.”

 

Uraraka narrows her eyes. “Thanks.”

 

“Yeah, Deku is a crazy obsessive little idiot. But also? He’s literally been into you since you met. Are you, like, legally blind? He loses his shit every time you have an interaction that could possibly be overanalyzed. I bet he has a notebook full of you-related charts.”

 

Disgustingly, Uraraka seems charmed by the last bit, but she steels herself. “You don’t know that. He’s flustered by nature. Mainly due to someone crushing his self-esteem to shreds his every waking moment since the age of five.”

 

“Fuck off, he was always like that. Anyways, it’s obvious. He doesn’t look at Iida like that, does he?”

 

They simultaneously imagine Izuku Midoriya trying to court Iida of all people, and Uraraka surpresses a guilty giggle. Katsuki shudders.

 

“Look. Deku is a little bizarro nerd. But he acts weird around you. Different bizarro.”

 

They sit in silence for a moment. Uraraka plays with the scuffs of her jeans, worn as they are. The little loose threads irk him; he wants to cut them off for her.

 

“You really think so.”

 

 “I’ve seen Deku have crushes. Mostly on people he never spoke to, so you’re different, I guess. But that nervous, open mouth grimace-blush expression he does? You know, with the arm behind the head? The eyes with the-”

 

“I know,” Uraraka says, red again, but she’s stopped fidgeting.

 

Katsuki looks at her. She doesn’t quite look at him.

 

“That’s well over a minute,” Katsuki says, and stands, dusting his palms.

 

He’s by the door when Uraraka clears her throat.

 

“Thank you.”

 

He shrugs.

 

“And Bakugou?”

 

“What now?”

 

Uraraka picks at her fingers a little more aggressively. “Todoroki’s been acting real weird of late.”

 

He storms out before the situation gets somehow more embarrassing for both of them.

 

 

It is mind-numbingly obvious, in retrospect. He has forgotten to question, over time, what the hell Todoroki is doing.

 

Because really, what the hell is he doing? He’s pretty much been the instigator here, and Katsuki has grown so self-analytical he’s forgotten to wonder what the fuck Todoroki’s goal here is. Uraraka is right: Todoroki is being weird. And yes, a different weird. He has somehow, uncharacteristically, forced his way into Katsuki’s life, without so much as an explanation.

 

Katsuki much prefers having solid targets for his anger or curiosity. Now he has two questions to demand answers two: one, what Todoroki is doing, and two, how he should react to it.

 

It’s a complete flip from his earlier avoidance tactic: he now scrutinizes Todoroki with the sort of intensity he usually reserves for his battle strategies.

 

It produces results.

 

“What’s going on?”

 

Katsuki blinks laconically at him. “Fuck you mean?”

 

Todoroki frowns, flat. “You’re… I don’t know. You know.”

 

“Nope,” Katuski says, popping the P. He spits out a seed from the watermelon he’s eating.

 

Todoroki huffs, irked. He’s getting increasingly paranoid about this, and it’s manifesting in an uncharacteristic nervous energy and more snippy comments than usual. It’s cute.

 

Katuski bites too much watermelon in a mortified sputter, ends up choking and wiping pink-tinged juice off his chin. Todoroki stares. He blinks back at him.

 

“Is this about... Do you want…”

 

This time Katsuki really has no idea what he’s on about. Todoroki looks at a loss, and he also looks very awkward, which he’s really not been around Katsuki for a while.

 

“Huh?”

 

“Nevermind,” Todoroki says, rushed, but there’s something alert in his eyes, suddenly. “Excuse me. I have to go- sleep.”

 

“You’re such a bad liar!”

 

So Todoroki is definitely hiding things, and as much as Katsuki’s natural suspicion and overactive brain can come up with thousands of other options, the most likely one does seem to be that there are- well, that Todoroki’s got some kind of feelings.

 

God knows why. Katsuki has no idea what he sees in Todoroki, who is a self-important, socially stunted, overdramatic, two-tone idiot (no, he does not say this with begrudging fondness, shut up, Kirishima), but he especially struggles to understand the reverse. Fine, Katsuki is a catch no matter what his self-loathing says, but he’s not exactly what he’d expect to be Todoroki’s type. In fact, Todoroki has made clear on many occasions what exactly he dislikes about Katsuki, which ranges from “you shouldn’t floss so hard” to “your egotistical and arrogant self-perception is fated to burn out for both you and your career”. Which he supposes was already weird back when they were making friends.

 

He doesn’t know what exactly makes Todoroki want to spend time with him. On the bright side, he clearly does, so it’s not like Katsuki has to guess too hard.

 

If this whole whatever is mutual, though, Katsuki has to know what to do. He is the determinator now, clearly. His previous issue was ignoring his feelings because they were embarrassing to him, but this is worse- this is the potential for that whole thing, his parent’s thing, a commitment.

 

Does he want that? Maybe. He brainstorms.

 

He thinks by now he can begrudgingly admit he likes things the way they are. Knowing him, that’s not going to change. He can’t see Todoroki stopping him from reaching his hero goals, considering Katsuki wants to beat his ass just as much as anyone else (likely more), and the asshole is just as competitive. And as much as having people he cares about makes them targetable, Todoroki Shoto is probably the best equipped to handle any such eventuality.

 

“Your room is looking like a crazed conspiracy theorist’s hideout, Bakugou,” Kirishima says, spinning on his chair. Katsuki hushes him and draws a neat line through another bullet-point.

 

“I didn’t let you into this to get shit-talked, dickhead.”

 

“Sorry, sorry!” Kirishima laughs. “I just- you guys like each other. You’re not usually scared about jumping head first into things.”

 

“I’m not scared,” Katsuki barks, without bite. “I’m just considering all the variables. With my Quirk I know where I stand.”

 

“Bro. If there’s anyone in the world who can tackle a romance with Todoroki, it’s you. You can do anything and make it look easy.”

 

“It’s not like beating someone in a fight,” Katsuki mutters, which would be more convincing if (a) he wasn’t analyzing it like one and (b) he wasn’t mellowed by Kirishima’s very sincere belief in him. Naturally, the idiot takes it as encouragement.

 

“I just wanna see you happy, man.”

 

“Shut up,” Katsuki groans, but he punches Kirishima’s shoulder without real resentment. The latter just grins.

 

“Also, I get to win whatever bet the class makes.”

 

“You're splitting the profits.”

 

What he said sticks with him, though. He has never been afraid of a challenge. This is just another one. And Bakugou Katsuki wasn’t raised a pussy-ass bitch.

 

 

You’d think, having made up his mind, everything suddenly became incredibly easy. Unfortunately, it is not. Todoroki of all people is making his life harder by proving incredibly elusive, surrounded almost constantly by Deku and his groupies, absent whenever Katsuki tries his room.

 

He suspects he did something wrong, somehow, but when he does see Todoroki the latter is perfectly civil, a rare feat for an angry Todoroki. Or annoyed. Really, Todoroki is a spiteful little dick.

 

So Todoroki is pulling a disappearing act, and Katsuki is not cool with it.

 

No matter if he pulled one himself weeks back. This is different. This time, he’s the one who has to put up with it.

 

Well fine. If Todoroki’s going to be difficult, Katsuki is going to be more difficult. He excels at being difficult.

 

He pounces at break, when Todoroki is sitting staring disinterestedly at the ceiling, guard down. Katsuki isn’t a delinquent, not quite, but he does enjoy the class-wide jump when he slams his hands down very loudly on Todoroki’s desk.

 

“OI!”

 

The latter only widens his eyes in shock.

 

“Bakugou?”

 

“Can we talk after class?”

 

Todoroki actually swallows. “Sorry. I’m- I’ve promised I’d help Yaoyorozu tutor some people.”

 

“That’s fine,” Katsuki says, easy as can be, and calmly returns to his seat.

 

The rest of the class is spent with everyone on the verge of a nervous breakdown, anticipating the blow-up that never comes.

 

He corners him before class the next day.

 

“HEY! ICYHOT!”

 

“Bakugou,” Todoroki says, less startled this time, while Mineta clutches his chest.

 

“Talk during lunch?”

 

“I,” Todoroki says. “I’m eating with Midoriya. It’s been scheduled.”

 

Katsuki’s eye only twitches a little. “Cool.”

 

“This is worse than when he shouts,” Mineta mumbles miserably. That’s a perk.

 

The moment Todoroki has put his tray down, Katsuki stalks him to training. He’s barely hit the locker rooms when Katsuki glares the other students away and throws his things down next to him.

 

“Bakugou.”

 

“Talk after practice?”

 

Todoroki inhales for a long beat. “My days are really busy this week.”

 

“Tonight, then,” Katsuki says, decisive, amicable, and slams his locker shut so hard the whole row shakes.

 

He walks off before Todoroki can answer.

 

“Oi, Ashido.”

 

“Am I dreaming? What are you doing outside the girls’ lockers, ya nasty?”

 

“Calm down. I’m not even into girls.”

 

“WHAT?”

“I need a favour.”

 

“WH- wait, fuck, okay, what favour?”

 

Katsuki scrupulously does not pay attention to Todoroki during practice. He only checks in on him once in the lockers, which escapes his attention. It’s only once they’ve set off for dinner that he lets his eyes tail him as he predictably goes for his first escape route.

 

“Do you have time for dinner?”

 

“Oh! Oh, I’m so sorry,” Yaoyorozu says, hands flying to her cheeks. “I completely forgot about- I’m afraid Mina asked me to have dinner with some of the girls, and it slipped my mind!”

 

“It’s nothing,” Todoroki assures her, shaking his head calmly. “Enjoy dinner. You must be happy that you’re spending more time w-”

 

Todoroki.”

 

Katsuki smiles to himself. The wonders of boarding school: your options are so limited. Especially when your friend groups are so small.

 

Todoroki heads for Deku and company next, and Katsuki stills a little, because his inside man there is a little bit of a wild card. Still, he need not have worried, because Todoroki has barely spoken a word before Uraraka clears her throat and takes Deku’s hand, short-circuiting his brain long enough for her to tell Todoroki some bullshit about wanting to spend some time with Deku to discuss god knows what.

 

Deku can do little more than nod. Todoroki turns to Iida, who looks supremely uncomfortable.

 

“Ah! My profuse apologies! I did not realize- I have class representative duties to attend to. I have received a complaint from one of our classmates, who shall remain unnamed, who is facing some difficulties with-”

 

Todoroki zones out, and Katsuki senses his eyes searching for him through the chatter, leaning yet more casually against the wall.

 

“I think I’ll just take something up. I need some fresh air.”

 

“OH MY GOD, GUYS!” Ashido hollers, running into the room. “Do NOT go outside! Someone has let off some wack Quirk, and the entire staircase is covered in stinking tar!”

 

Sero and Kaminari converge on her immediately. Katsuki smirks.

 

Todoroki scans the room, seems to come to the pre-emptive conclusion that he is simply out of options, and turns on his heel, heading for the stairs. Katsuki follows from a safe distance, accepting the conspiratorial look in many a girl’s eye with a curt nod.

 

“Why’s everyone so sweet on Bakugou suddenly?” Kaminari demands, voice following Katsuki up the stairs. “Seriously, you girls-”

 

Todoroki’s door has barely slid shut when Katsuki knocks, just the once, maybe a little spitefully. There is a terse moment of silence, and then the door opens, slow, reluctant.

 

“Hey,” Katsuki says, and sees himself in.

 

Todoroki exhales through his nose, eyes dropping shut, then turns to face him, something wild behind his eyes.

 

“Look, Bakugou-”

 

“I have something to say,” Katsuki interrupts, brash, cracking his fingers. “First, though, would you like to explain why you’ve been running away from me all week?”

 

“I haven’t been running away.”

 

“Bullshit.”

 

“You don’t-”

 

“Come on, Todoroki. Bullshit. You’re really gonna treat me like I’m stupid, huh?”

 

Todoroki falls silent. Katsuki runs his hands through his hair, which is his mother’s mannerism. He drops them.

 

“Look, I’m showing remarkable goddamn restraint, okay? I haven’t beat your ass or threatened you yet. That’s cause I’m fucking nice like that. But believe me- I'm happy to do either of those things. Or all of them. ‘M not picky. So if this all goes down south, it’s on you.”

 

“All of a sudden you're talkative,” Todoroki grumbles, flat, but his room is cool, and Katsuki bets if he took his hand it’d be frozen. He inhales, makes as if to pinch his nose, stops, brushes hair out of his eyes.

 

“I feel like I’ve gotten something wrong.”

 

Katsuki bristles on instinct, but that really explains nothing, so he stays put, and when Todoroki looks at him he keeps his face set. Todoroki bites the inside of his cheek.

 

“I thought I had got it figured out. But you’re not exactly communicative. And you’re- sometimes you seem like we're on the same page, sometimes not. I’m not sure what you want here.”

 

Katsuki pales. Right. Well. He hadn’t expected Todoroki’s issue to be Katsuki’s issue with him.

 

“’S that it?”

 

“Yes.” Todoroki says, firm, but he doesn’t quite look at him. Katsuki wants to die.

 

“That’s fucking dumb.”

 

Todoroki glares at him, but Katsuki just cranes his neck defensively.

 

“You could have asked. This all only started cause you were so incessantly nosy.”

 

“It’s different now,” Todoroki says, and then shuts up, like he’s embarrassed. Katsuki is starting to feel like maybe they’re not-

 

“Different how?”

 

It’s Todoroki’s turn to look at him blankly, with a familiar look of cool judgment. “You don’t need me to spell it out.”

 

“Actually,” Katsuki says, slowly. “I think I do.”

 

Todoroki looks at him, light and dark, and his mouth hardens, eyes glinting in the light.

 

“Fine. It’s different because at the time I didn’t realize that what I was doing would lead to this. To-”

 

He gestures between them, and Katsuki suddenly, stupidly, feels like he knows what the hell’s going on.

 

Todoroki. Are you’re saying we’re, like- an item?”

 

“I told you I didn’t need to spell it out,” Todoroki scowls. Katsuki reels.

 

“Wait a fucking- how the- you said we were friends now!”

 

“You never said you wanted to- put labels on it,” Todoroki says, defensive, in the tone of someone who read a Cosmo article to get that phrase. Katsuki is maybe losing his mind a little.

 

“You- wh- neither of us ever said anything like that! Where the hell are you getting this from?” He must have missed something, something, but his memory provides no such thing, and his mounting panic is only countered by the fact Todoroki’s expression has also loosened into something resembling horror.

 

“You touched my face. Unprompted. And you kept- hitting on me. We had lunch together for weeks. And you- we went on a date! And when I-” He cuts himself off, eyes big and expression unreadable.

 

“What the fuck,” Katsuki repeats. His mind is racing backwards- the fucking hike, Todoroki’s presence at his desk, everything that’s been happening seemingly randomly- and his head spins. “Wait, so last week, when you freaked out-”

 

“I thought you were just- you wanted to be more…” Todoroki trails off, eyes glazing over as the enormity of the misunderstanding hits him. Katsuki flushes anyways.

 

“You really thought you’d have to guess if I wanted to make-”

 

“How could you not have known?” Todoroki asks, rapid, cutting, hands curled loosely into fists. “How- what did you think was happening?”

 

“Course I didn’t fucking know! I thought you were a fucking weirdo, okay? You just waltzed up and called us friends and whatever else! Didn’t have much of a say in the matter!”

 

“Oh, my god,” Todoroki says, finally, in a voice bizarrely similar to when he’s just had the shit kicked out of him. “You really didn’t.”

 

“That’s what I’ve been saying this whole damn time!”

 

“Oh, my god,” Todoroki repeats, and then falls silent, pulling himself together, face shuttering.

 

Katsuki doesn’t know what the hell he was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t the realization that Todoroki not only was fully aware of Katsuki’s feelings, but also thought they were dating. Classic. No wonder Deku and Yaoyorozu- oh, Christ, Todoroki’ll have gone to them for advice, too, this is a spectacle.

 

He’s driving himself insane overthinking this. His heart is pounding, and his anxiety is mounting, and there’s something in all of this-

 

Wait. Todoroki likes him.

 

Todoroki likes him enough to date him, even when he’s seemingly the most incompetent person to date on earth.

 

Todoroki- thinks he’s wrong about all of this.

 

Katsuki snaps out of it. Inhale, exhale.

 

Todoroki has barely moved a muscle. His shoulders are painful to the touch, when Katsuki shakes them, one scalding and one sub-zero. He meets his eyes vaguely, face oh-so carefully neutral.

 

A blank slate.

 

“You’re a moron,” Katsuki says. Todoroki’s eyes narrow. “Really. You actually thought my way of entering a relationship was subtle and gradual?”

 

Todoroki’s face goes a fraction less steely, but his eyes are cool, waiting for more. This isn’t exactly what Katsuki pictured the whole thing to be like.

 

“I wasn’t even hitting on you. Or- well, a little. Guess I’m fucking flirtatious, sue me. You were the one who kept following me around.”

 

“You came to my room. And followed me outside at the party,” Todoroki points out, still monotone. “And you came to me outside your house. And made me come over before we got assigned.”

 

“Those were all provoked- look, nevermind. It felt like it. Then out of nowhere we were friends. Then you kept spending time with me. You get it.”

 

Todoroki’s eyes are glazing again, and Katsuki steels himself.

 

“Maybe I could have been a little more suspicious, but I guess I didn't mind too fucking much. Hypothetically you could argue I was into it."

 

It takes a great deal of bullying himself into submission, but he manages, static sparking coursing up and down his arms as he juts his chin up.

 

“Problem is, Todoroki, when you’re accidentally dating some asshole who keeps waltzing into your life unprompted, it’s not that easy to encourage healthy fuckin’ communication. Especially if you’re into said asshole, and he seems completely goddamn oblivious.”

 

Todoroki’s full focus is suddenly and completely on him, features loose and eyes aglow with trepidation, and Katsuki very nearly looses his grasp of Japanese and his capacity to think straight in one swift blow. Fuck.

 

“So no, I didn’t know. Would have made things a lot fucking easier for me if I had. Also-”

 

Don’t loose your cool right now, dumbass. See it through.

 

“If we had been, you wouldn’t’ve needed to ask me to kiss you.”

 

It is unbearably hot in Todoroki’s room, or else it’s just him, but Todoroki’s own cheeks are a mottled pink, so that can’t be right. Katsuki thinks pretend you’re in a fight over and over again, because he can physically feel himself losing his nerve.

 

He can’t believe he’s had to explain himself for like full minutes of speech uninterrupted. This is probably the most excruciating conversation he’s ever had, and he’s been forced to listen to the League of Villain’s idea of small talk.

 

“Mm, Bakugou?” Todoroki says, voice wavering. He seems to try and say something, but he just stares at him for a moment, catching himself. “You’re saying this whole time you thought we were just- friends.”

 

Katsuki is done talking, and besides he’s kind of- very distracted. His mind seems to have latched onto a million of different things. He just jerks his head up, half a nod.

 

He swears to god Todoroki’s eyes sparkle, though his brow is still furrowed. He looks- younger than he normally does. “So you did all of that- as friends. While you liked me.”

 

“Hearing comprehension stellar.”

 

Todoroki lets out this short breathy disbelieving little laugh that cuts off Katsuki’s circulation for a moment, then covers his mouth. Neither of them speaks, probably trying to mutually not react to that, and then Todoroki seems to get a grip.

 

“In my defence, you were very misleading, and I am not known for my ability to pick up social cues.”

 

“And you just went along with it.”

 

“I liked it,” Todoroki says, pauses to inhale as Katsuki flinches. “And I really like you.”

 

Katsuki desperately wants to bury his face in his hands. This is awful, in a weird, pseudo-good sort of way.

 

“You have a seriously misconstrued vision of a relationship.”

 

“My parents didn’t exactly provide a solid example.”

 

Katsuki almost gets shocked back into normalcy, choking down a laugh. “Misconstrued vision of me, then.”

 

“I didn’t exactly picture you as the hand-holding chocolate and flowers type.”

 

Fair. “So, what, I was the make room for Jesus type instead? Pride and Prejudicing up in here?”

 

“I don’t understand that comment, but I’m sure I can muster an appropriate reaction,” Todoroki says, and kind of raises his brows in a judgmental manner.

 

“I dunno. There’s something that’s not quite the usual face of vague disapproving superiority.”

 

“I guess I'm not in the mood.” Todoroki bites his lip, looks right at him. Somehow Katsuki gets his question before he asks it.

 

“I did come up here to talk to you about something, remember. Figure you can guess what it is by now.”

 

“This time on the same page, presumably.”

 

“That was on you, not me.”

 

“I strongly disagree.”

 

“I told you ages ago,” Katsuki shrugs. “When I do shit I do it properly.”

 

Todoroki drops it, ghost of a smile on his face. Katsuki’s gotten used to the sight of it without knowing it. “So we’re doing this shit properly.”

 

It startles an answering grin out of him. “Guess we fucking are.”

 

“There’s probably quite a lot to talk through on this topic,” Todoroki says, quite judiciously.

 

“I am so fucking done with talking,” Katsuki scoffs, frank. Because he is, and because even if he had something to say, it is getting increasingly hard to care because Todoroki's right there, into him, looking at him like that. Bad luck for Uraraka; Deku couldn’t look at anyone like that if he tried.

 

Todoroki half-nods, an aborted movement, and Katsuki, belying his own judgment, can’t help but stare him down. He can feel his brows furrowing, but it’s his reflex to frown when he’s thinking- Todoroki’s expression doesn’t change.

 

“Shit, you’re pretty,” Katsuki mutters, vaguely irked, definitely embarrassed, with a mind to say it now so it gets lost in the rest of the conversation. He doesn’t know that it works- Todoroki’s stupid eyes really do sparkle, even as his shoulders rise in shock.

 

“I- ah.”

 

“Told you I wasn’t hitting on you back then.”

 

“Subconsciously.”

 

They look at each other another moment. Katsuki is maybe slightly reconsidering how much he enjoys having sweat that explodes. He’s rearing up, though- changing directions, calculating his most effective approach-

 

Todoroki kisses him first.

 

Katsuki is planning his move, and Todoroki kisses him first. Cups his face in his scalding hands (motherfucker), tilts his head, and kisses him. Katsuki would bet everything he owns that this is his first time doing it, because his eyes stay open too long, focusing, and it’s so dumb and in character he wants to hit a wall. He’s just a little distracted.

 

Katsuki stays frozen for too long, feeling like he’s tripping hard, and Todoroki moves back, steady, just slow enough for Katsuki to catch the spark of worry in his eyes before he reads whatever’s happening on his face and relaxes.

 

“Figured I’d be clear this time.”

 

“Shut up,” Katsuki says, mortified, and yanks him back down by the nape, closing his eyes because he’s actually a normal fucking person (and he doesn’t want to see what Todoroki looks like, right now) as they crash together. Admission: Katsuki’s never done this before, either- but he’s better at faking expertise. Or if he isn’t, neither of them can tell, because Todoroki’s hands flutter a minute and then settle on fisting his shirt, maybe harder than he meant to. It feels kind of like the split second between launching himself into the air and regaining his balance; dizzying, his stomach dropping as he goes.

 

One of them goes to inhale a little, sharp, but it’s worse, actually, because suddenly it’s open-mouthed, and Katsuki curses himself out as loudly as he mentally can for wasting all this time obsessing about emotions and whatever the fuck else when he could’ve been doing this, tugging at Todoroki’s stupid hair and swallowing whatever noises that produces.

 

Todoroki ices him through his shirt, and Katsuki starts in response, sharp canines digging into Todoroki’s bottom lip on impact. They fall apart, Katsuki swearing hoarsely and Todoroki’s hands flying away.

 

“Fucker,” Katsuki manages, rubbing his chest where it’s frozen, goosebumps all over his arms. His pulse is pounding ridiculously loudly, and he’s cold enough that he knows he’s blushing through no fault but his own.

 

“Sorry,” Todoroki exhales, and he actually looks apologetic for once, although Katsuki forgives him pretty instantly when he looks up. His hair is deliciously tousled, freckles obvious against his cheeks and lips still parted in surprise, his one hand almost subconsciously prodding at the slight bleeding. “Sorry, I- that wasn’t on purpose.”

 

“I know,” Katsuki snorts. Shock fading, he can feel himself smirking a little. “Lost your cool. Happens.”

 

Todoroki gives him an unimpressed look in return, jutting his lip out. “I’m the one who’s bleeding.”

 

“’S your own fault,” Katsuki says, though he leaves it at that, instinctively reaching to swipe the beading blood away. Todoroki’s breath is hot on his thumb; he jerks away a little.

 

“You’re a good kisser,” Todoroki says, matter-of-fact. Probably to get a rise out of him, which works. He has a knack for doing that.

 

“Hah?! How would you know? You’ve never been kissed before!”

 

“It’s like hot soba,” Todoroki says, corner of his mouth lifting in quiet amusement. “You know it’s good from the first bite.”

 

“Don’t make food metaphors at me! Seriously!”

 

“I’m also not a good cook. I think last time you said- practice makes perfect?”

 

“You know damn well I’ve never said that in my life.”

 

“You’re right,” Todoroki concedes. “You said do it till you get better then, idiot.”

 

“Perfectly fucking reasonable adv-”

 

In retrospect he might’ve seen that one coming.

 

 

He and Todoroki really don’t try very hard to keep anything under wraps. Half Todoroki’s friends already thought they were dating, Kirishima and Ashido were both brought into the whole secret, and besides the reveal is probably less damaging to either their reputation than whatever wild theories everyone else was coming up with to explain their changed relationship (he’s pretty sure he heard the words secret love child).

 

Also, Katsuki is apparently quite possessive. And physical.

 

They don’t write a banner or anything. Everyone gradually catches on, or if they don’t they figure it out about a week in. They’re all just sitting in the stands, reviewing everyone’s solo performances, Katsuki sprawled across his seat, arms crossed, Todoroki using his knee to prop up his elbow as he bandages his arm, the class descending into aimless chatter the moment Aizawa steps away.

 

Katsuki’s done exceptionally well with his kicks, so he’s sitting gloating quietly; the sun is shining softly through the glass dome, and his cheek’s a bit roughed up but he’s gotten it done up, so he’s really got nothing else to do than feel good about himself and eye Todoroki.

 

“Done,” Todoroki announces, retracting his hand. Katsuki feels himself frowning and quashes it.

 

He’s not sure since when he’s so touchy feely, but both of them are sort of like cats who’ve warmed up to someone, since the whole revelation- suddenly tactile. All that’s standing between him and obsessively touching Todoroki at every opportunity is his own common sense, and even that’s clearly taken a hit, considering he spent the previous evening slouched against his chest in the common room, watching Sero kick Ashido’s ass at Mario Kart.

 

“Dumb injury.”

 

“Yours too,” Todoroki retorts, unfazed. Katsuki’s only got one eye open, watching him warily, but he’s got no such qualms, leaning to rest his cheek against his palm and observe Katsuki where he sits.

 

“Got something to say?”

 

“No,” Todoroki says, then seems to reconsider it. In the filtered sunlight his red hair has a golden tint, like sunset. “Yes. You’re cute.”

 

“F-fuck off,” Katsuki sputters, stumbling over the vowel as he scrambles to regain his seating. “D’you want the whole class hearing you?!”

 

“So you’re saying you don’t mind in private?”

 

“Course I mind in private, you bastard!”

 

Todoroki laughs, a little, self-satisfied, and Katsuki glowers at him, emotions running high. Of all the words in the world, he is damn sure cute is one no one in their right mind has ever associated with him.

 

Then again, Todoroki’s hardly the picture of sanity.

 

“Would you like to go get lunch tomorrow?”

 

“We eat in the same cafeteria.”

 

“Outside of school.” Todoroki flounders a little under Katsuki’s scrutiny, regains his cool. “I don’t really know any nice places to eat, though.”

 

“Always have to do everything my damn self,” Katsuki grumbles, but he’s running possible food places through his head already. Somewhere nice enough that he can’t hear Todoroki mentally think the word quaint, not nice enough that Katsuki will have to intimidate a waiter into not charging for water. Somewhere with edible food, but also enough catering to weirdoes like his- like Todoroki.

 

“So, yes?”

 

“Yeah, whatever. Come to the lab with me before. I gotta get some suit modifications.”

 

“I like your suit.”

 

“Bet you do. I don’t like yours.”

 

“What’s wrong with my suit?”

 

“It’s boring. Not to mention you look like a plumber.”

 

Todoroki blinks. “I was hoping to defeat my enemies without relying on my renowned sexual magnetism.”

 

“Yeah, I’d fucking hope so, for your sake.”

 

Todoroki pulls a face. “You don’t seem to have an issue with it.”

 

“Aw, Todoroki. I like you for what’s inside,” Katsuki leers, flexing his muscles a little as he shifts. No good doing well on the course and pulling one in the aftermath.

 

“I, on the other hand, am merely into you because I am extremely superficial and you’re physically attractive,” Todoroki deadpans, which is such a stupidly overexplained Todoroki joke that Katsuki can’t help but laugh at him.

 

“No shit?”

 

“Sorry to break it to you this way.”

 

Katsuki laughs again, hoarse as always, and they’re sitting so close it’s really not difficult at all to loop a finger through Todoroki’s UA-mandated belt and tug him in, catch his mouth when he lowers his head obligingly. Todoroki’s fingers are cool on his jaw, and for a minute he really forgets that he’s sitting on these shitty plastic seats, surrounded by morons.

 

Someone squeals ear-splittingly, and Katsuki’s eyes open a fraction, meeting Todoroki’s as the noise around them suddenly reaches unbearable levels.

 

“Well,” Todoroki says.

 

When Aizawa walks in, he is struck by the utter confusion of most of the class losing their minds as Todoroki and Katsuki sit surveying the scene with varying levels of interest.

 

“Don’t ask,” Katsuki grits out. Wisely, Aizawa complies.

 

 

[EPILOGUE:]

 

Slam!

 

Katsuki soars through the air, arm-blasters activating with a dangerous hum as he slams his fists into the building, cement and glass flying in all directions as he pummels further through the exterior, free-falling into the room as several villains gape upwards.

 

He grins savagely down, diving right through one attack to catapult the assaulter into another, the brute force of the hit slamming them both solidly into the wall.

 

“Ground Zero!” someone shouts, voice strong with relief and wonder. Katsuki doesn’t spare them a glance, skating down the wall at a steep rate as he scans the room for the last villain. There- black sickly coils rising up to swallow the room.

 

Not this bastard again. Katsuki inhales once, face dark, and then a violent smirk flashes into existence on his face.

 

When he slams his palms together, the security camera topples to the ground.

 

Beep.

 

“That’s really not an effective alarm anymore,” Shoto yawns, shifting upright anyways. “You know I can sleep through explosions.”

 

“Louder than fire or ice,” Katsuki argues, sliding the tablet away as he slings one leg over the side of the bed. It’s early; it’s still only barely light outside, but then he’s an early riser. Shoto not so much.

 

“No one should be awake before the sun,” Shoto says, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.

 

Katsuki glances at him, glances away when it turns out the faint sunlight is dancing on his neck. They’ve not got time to waste.

 

“Take that up with Nezu, then. He’s the one who put graduation in the morning.”

 

“I will.”

 

Katsuki snorts, pulling himself out of bed and heading to the sink to brush his teeth aggressively. In the mirror he tsks at the still-slowly healing scars under his eye, gaze wandering behind him to watch Shoto as he very slowly sinks back into the bed.

 

Oi. Awake.”

 

Shoto only squints at him lazily.

 

Katsuki hits the kitchen, putting something together quickly, kicks Shoto’s door open with a nod at Yaoyorozu, on her way to the showers. She almost manages not to blush.

 

“Thank you,” Shoto hums, immediately upon his entering the room, sounding a great deal more awake as he outstretches his arms. Katsuki passes him a bowl with an eyeroll, leaning over him to pull the curtains. Technically it’s not the wisest move; they’re not supposed to be seen in each other’s rooms. At this stage, though…

 

“Ow,” Shoto says, mildly, eyelashes fluttering. His cheeks are round, bowl half-empty as he chews; Katsuki pauses to prod at one. Shoto crinkles his nose.

 

“Next week we’re sleeping in.”

 

Katsuki scoffs. “If you wanted to waste your time you could’ve let me stay in my room. Saved me a lot of near-expulsions.”

 

Shoto’s eyes twinkle. “But it’s so boring without you to bully me awake.”

 

“Delinquent,” Katsuki accuses.

 

“And yet here you are.”

 

Katsuki flips him off and collects his suit off the chair. He hates dressing up, but this is his father’s creation, so he can only half-glare at it. It’s good material, as well. Expensive.

 

By the time he’s reached his shirt buttons, Shoto’s made the bed and brushed his hair somewhat, staring his own suit down. He catches Katsuki looking and smiles.

 

“You look good. Very handsome.”

 

Katsuki rolls his eyes, cheeks heating. “Shut up.”

 

“I mean it,” Shoto hums.

 

“I know.”

 

They’re both quick dressers, so Katsuki clears out cutlery as Shoto gets tea ready, both missing shoes. Shoto looks great in suits, so it’s either a very good or very bad thing that he so rarely wears them. Katsuki mentally devours him as he drinks his tea.

 

“I think the last time I wore a suit this nice was at a funeral.”

 

“Cheerful,” Katsuki groans, setting his cup down. “Ugh. I hate ties.”

 

“I’ve noticed,” Shoto snorts, reaching for him. “Sit?”

 

Katsuki does, rifling through his phone as Shoto loops his tie on for him, quick and neat. His hands linger to straighten his collar, brush the sides of his jacket.

 

“I think the tie’s done,” Katsuki observes, without looking up. Shoto shrugs.

 

“You’ll be wearing more of these in the pro-circuit.”

 

Their eyes meet; Katsuki sets his phone down. They’ve had their conversations about the future, including one very melodramatic screaming match and one frankly epic fight on school grounds that got them both in serious shit, but things are pretty settled now, trepidation aside.

 

“Not if I can help it. I’m gonna go to as few galas as humanly possible.”

 

Shoto nods, like that makes two of us. “Award ceremonies, then.”

 

“Who says I can’t go to those in costume?”

 

“Hm.”

 

Katsuki shakes his head. “Okay, out with it.”

 

For once, Shoto doesn’t take seven fucking months to think it through. “I’m getting used to the thought of never seeing UA again. Before here, I was… It’s been transformative.”

 

“Yeah, no shit. But it’s just high school. We were kids when we got here.”

 

“I never had friends before UA. Let alone everything else. People don’t tend to keep in touch. And I’m bad at it.”

 

So that’s what this is. Katsuki flicks him between the eyes, finger sparking. “Dumbass. Most people also don’t tend to go through like twenty different villain attacks together. And we’re almost all going into the same kind of career. In the same country.”

 

He sits back. “Besides, I’m fucking stellar at being kept in touch with, so even if your lame friends stop talking to you they’ll still talk to me. Presumably you’ll be around.”

 

“Being kept in touch with, huh.”

 

“These morons have been forcing themselves on me my entire academic career. Can’t see why they’d stop.”

 

Shoto closes his eyes, thoughtful, and Katsuki occupies himself with getting his shoes on. His eyes wander to the mantelpiece, still the only part of the room to have personality asides from all of Katsuki’s various belongings. There’s a variety of knick-knacks pinned to it- cat almanacs, newspaper clippings, exam scores, class pictures, and a whole bunch of polaroids.

 

The oldest one dates back to their first year. It’s an embarrassment to both of them, but it’s also, what’s the word, horrible(adorable), so no one has ever taken it down. Katsuki swears he never looked that young, face bratty, overlarge skull tee and all, but Shoto also looks like a kid, moody. They’re not looking at the photographer, because they’re both arguing over the picture being taken- Katsuki’s got his mouth open, gesticulating, and Shoto’s giving him a foul look in return. They’re sitting incredibly close together.

 

“You better not be stealthily falling asleep,” Katsuki warns, gruffly, turning away from the board before he gets emotional or something. He’s got half a mind to stick some eyeliner on, but then Shoto’s going to be incredibly distracted the whole time.

 

Shoto merely looks at him, working his laces. “Arguably I wouldn’t be so tired if I’d gone to sleep when I wanted to.”

 

“Should’ve complained then.”

 

Shoto pulls the edge of his shirt pointedly higher. Katsuki bares his teeth at him, mocking. Still-

 

“I have someone’s foundation somewhere, ‘f you need it.”

 

Shoto shakes his head. “Maybe I can give my father an aneurysm. That’d be a nice graduation gift.”

 

“And let him take our well-earned fucking spotlight? No thanks.”

 

Outside, there are faint noises, other students emerging from their rooms. Katsuki flicks eyeliner on, sharp, steady. Yeah, he’s about done. His mother flipped at the scars, but they’re sort of badass, really, and besides he’s not about to start hiding them. As for his hair, well. He guesses it’s more… Artful.

 

Shoto peers into the corridor, waves at someone, steps back in.

 

“Everyone looks like they’re playing dress-up.”

 

“That’s adulthood for you,” Katsuki says, capping his liner and tossing Shoto lipbalm. “Especially amongst adults who wear spandex on the down-low.”

 

Shoto smacks his lips expectantly. Katsuki eyes him, nods. Yeah, they’re good to go.

 

“And we have about thirty minutes to spare.”

 

“Crazy how you can be early when you don’t leave shit to the last minute.”

 

Shoto just smiles. “There are some upsides to punctuality, yes.”

 

Katsuki lets him crowd him against the door with only slight exasperation. Shoto’s eyes are bright, and they’re leaving school today.

 

“If you mess up my suit, I will blow you up, you realize.”

 

“It’s a risk I’m willing to take.”

 

“Bastard,” Katsuki mutters, and lets himself be kissed, looping an arm around Todoroki’s neck. The joys of having a boyfriend who never fucking stops growing.