There were many things you could call Katsuki Bakugou, but certainly none of them would be inefficient.
"And stay out," he grunted, yanking tight the white Quirk-B-Gone cords around the Worm villain, Bunjiro Odaka, a former middle-school teacher who had just given them a real headache (fucker lopped off his arm and reconstituted, what the hell) and was now, thanks to a well-timed Explosion by his ear, knocked out in a pile with six of his other invertebrate minions.
This was the fourth case of small, shitty pest villains in Tokyo in the last week and Bakugou — pro hero Katsuki Bakugou, No. 2 on the billboard charts thank you very much — was starting to get real fucking annoyed. What were they, pest control? Did none of these assholes learn?
The sound of a helicopter, drawing close —
Speaking of pests.
"Bakugou-san! Bakugou-san!" The over-exuberant, bubbly voice of the Nippon Daily reporter jogging in heels towards him made him growl reflexively, hunch his shoulders over his work. There was no escape now though — he'd been sighted, and the Pro Hero Association were on some nonsense about a "closer relationship" to the media, which meant Bakugou was now being stalked by professionals who did this for a living. (Something about modernizing their image, which had earned the Association's marketing intern a glare that'd resulted in them abruptly redeclaring their major.)
"Bakugou-san, wow! What a fast takedown!" The reporter held out her mic, angling just out of the way for the cameraman to grab a straight shot of a sweaty, muscular young man with spiky blond hair, giant black grenade launchers for arms, and one of the most infamous glowers in all Japan.
"That's the fourth case just this week! You're on a roll, Bakugou-san — by our calculations at Nippon Daily, that makes one hundred and twenty-eight cases just this year alone! That's even more than the current No. 1, Endeavor!" She looked at Bakugou expectantly.
If looks could kill, Bakugou would be the world's Number One, albeit in mass murder. Shooting a flat-eyed stare at the camera, he went back to his task of wrapping the net around the stack of villains: PHA-branded, Hero Gear JP-supplied. Good stuff.
She tried a different tack. "There's some allegations, though, that your... proficiency comes at the cost of a rather concerning treatment of your cases — " the camera swiveled down to the heap of very, very unconscious villains, and zoomed in on one's face — "Do you have any remarks on that? Some are even calling the villains your victims — "
"That's funny." Bakugo looked up, and the cameraman involuntarily backed up a step. "They could say it to my face."
The reporter chuckled nervously, wiping her brow. But gamely pressed on: "So… word on the street is, you're still unpartnered. Does that make you the most eligible bachelor in Japan right now?"
Alright, now he was riled. "I don't fucking care," Bakugou growled, slugging the net over his shoulder. "Drop that Teen Vogue shit on someone else."
Why were they so obsessed? Bakugou was unmated, yeah, and an Alpha, but Endeavor was an Alpha too, and so were most of the Pro Heroes besides the notable exceptions of Hawks, Midnight, and some of his old classmates from UA. You had to be, to handle most of the combat work that a Hero's job demanded — and the 20% of Alphas out there were just stronger, tougher, and more physically capable than the other two second-sexes. There were a few Betas at the top tier who could go toe-to-toe with an Alpha — especially if they had a powerful quirk, like Todoroki — but in general, it wasn't just about the strength but the temperament, and Betas tended to be less aggressive and interested in command than Alphas.
There was no Omega in the top tier.
Bakugou shifted the weight on his back. Except Hawks, former No. 2, and he'd stepped out of competing on the charts when he'd had the twins and wanted to take less of an active combat role. You can fill in for me, Katsuki! ^_^ (Yeah, well, pay me overtime, was what Bakugou had grumbled, knowing full well he'd be patrolling anyways, or at least trying to — Hawks was a flighty little marshmallow of a boss, but one of the few things he was strict about was work-life balance… annoying.)
"Oi oi — Baku-bro! That was fucking awesome!" Kirishima's beaming face, one half covered in dirt and probably some unknowable waste matter that Bakugou didn't want to think about, appeared from behind the tree where they were clearing up the mess in the park; one of the villains had had a literal garbage quirk where they grew bigger by eating trash, and had ransacked half the trashcans in the park. "Need any help there?"
"It's fine," Bakugou muttered. He saw his friend's face flicker a little, and sighed. Did they all have to be so worried about him all the time? Weirdos.
"I'm down for Ippudo later," he said, and at Kirishima's brightened expression: " After you get cleaned up. Jeez, you fuckin' reek, Shitty-Hair."
Katsuki Bakugou's life was going fuckin' great. He had his own apartment, his own money, his own freaking Nike line, apparently, though that was the work of the agent Hawks made him take on his first day. His face was on some Hero Gear JP's billboard in Osaka and apparently some cartoon about yogurt for upwardly-mobile young women in Shanghai. He was a popular main in Overwatch and one of the most cosplayed heroes in North America. He was his country's No. 2 at only 22 years old — the fastest rise since Hawks, who was a freak in his own right — and well on track to hit his one and only dream of making No. 1 by his prime.
So that was why, if Katsuki Bakugou was still a pissed, dissatisfied asshole, it was entirely his own fault.
He tossed the keys on the counter before making his way to the kitchen, where the cleaner had — christ — left a "thanks-for-your-patronage" card with a giant smiley face again.
"Should leave shittier tips," he muttered, but ignored it to open the fridge. The protein shake he'd left from breakfast was a little gritty by now — Kirishima was always on him to actually cook ("dude! there are so many of those make-your-own-meal services out there now!") but Bakugo wasn't exactly domestic. In between Bento and the five thousand other delivery apps in Tokyo, you didn't need shit.
His hi-rise opened up to the kind of view of Tokyo that you only saw on magazine covers: an endless sea of buildings, dotted lights, the spire of Tokyo Tower glittering against the night sky. When Bakugou first moved here, he'd look out and think: the whole fucking world out there, and that many people, and that many civvies and villains and families having dinner or whatever, every night.
And they were all gonna know his name. Because no matter what, no matter how, Bakugou was gonna make No. 1.
Though — from this height, you couldn't see anyone. You just felt it, the thrum of human activity below, the vast, never-sleeping engine of metropolis life.
Bakugou went back to the counter, picked up the keys. The apartment hummed with the sound of the icemaker starting up, then fell silent again.
He could do with a run.
"I have something to tell you," Shouto said, a moment after they'd gone two bouts and had both collapsed on the hard floor of the training center, Bakugou having (rather smugly) nailed Shouto's right hand with a hidden Stun grenade and Shouto having encased Bakugo's feet in an icebox. (Not bad, Nike , Bakugou thought, as he blasted it open, and his toes were still reporting for duty.)
Fucking Half-n-Half. Did he have to make everything sound like he was about to say I'm pregnant?
Not that he could. Shouto was as Beta as they came, and quite satisfied with it.
Shouto shot him a calm, patented-Todoroki look as he sat up. "I'm not going to be here weekday evenings anymore. I'm moving back home to help take care of the twins, since Hawks is returning to full-time work."
That was… interesting. Bakugou knew that Hawks was coming back to work this week, but hadn't realized that by "full-time", the Omega had meant actual full-time full-time. You'll still keep up most of my active-duty stuff, the pocket-sized blond had told him with a cheeky wink. Mister 1.5! (Another one of Hawks's annoying nicknames - it was one of his pet claims that Bakugou would be No. 1 within a year or two, which Bakugou thought was amusing considering who Hawks's mate was.)
With a raise of the brow. "Is he really going back to the field?"
Shouto matched it with his usual mild expression, folding his hands in his lap. "You know, he thinks it's important to have an Omega actually out there in combat, and I agree. There's a lot of discrimination in the public eye still about O's in Hero work —"
"Yeah yeah, I know," Bakugou muttered, passing a hand over his face.
Not that he meant to sound like your typical chauvinist Alpha, he thought. It was just — if Hawks was going out there, Bakugou definitely had to keep an eye out for him, couldn't let him go off alone. It wasn't like Bakugou wanted it that way — because yeah, it was pretty fucking sexist, no matter how you sliced or diced it — but it was an instinct for Alphas like him. As much instinct as hunger or thirst, hard to explain. Unless Endeavor, Hawks' own mate, were there, they would want to protect Hawks first and foremost. For an Alpha it changed things, having an O at your back.
At least in Bakugou's experience.
Shouto left a little while later, with a reminder to wash his hair — "I can see the dandruff", the Beta had intoned, and Bakugou really hoped his AP Shot caught him in the shoulder, or he should sign the Todoroki up to some ridiculous dating site where he could nag some other poor fucker to death — and Bakugou was stalking out to the subway when he felt the buzz in his pocket.
(Bird-brain): Ground-Zero-kuuun! Hope you're getting some good rest! =^_^=
"I could've been," Bakugou muttered. Hawks's texting habits seemed to live on a different planet to normal human modes of communication, even with the least receptive of recipients (Bakugou had caught a glimpse of an exchange with Endeavor once, and if that didn't make a man google desperately for a way to bleach his eyes...).
(Bird-brain): Miss you all!
(Bird-brain): . * ･ ｡ﾟ☆━੧༼ •́ ヮ •̀ ༽୨
(Bakugou's thumb hurried for the airplane mode —)
(Bird-brain): Big week coming up, I got quite the mission for u, Mister 1.5! d–(^ ‿ ^ )z
(Bird-brain): Rest up!
"Donger me again," Bakugou growled, but the subway doors were already opening, and a little old lady side-eyed him as he huffed his way into a seat.
Hawks's official return party had the whole office decorated like a cross between a Macy's parade and a giant pillow fight, with huge down feathers tangled up in funfetti streamers and bird-shaped balloons and a rather impressively sized cake with everyone's face on it, in varying levels of accuracy. (No one dared eat the slice with Bakugo's.) Hawks, clutching a flute of what he swore was prosecco, and smelled suspiciously of Japanese whiskey, flew on top of a filing cabinet and declared his love for everyone in the agency, even the mouse, and then tipped towards somewhere in the floor, whereupon Sero promptly caught him.
(But not before he'd wobbled towards Bakugou and — in a horrible parody of a body lunge that Bakugou suspected was supposed to be a hug — whipped out an iPhone and snapped a selfie that was currently making its rounds around all of Japan's Twitter and Instagrams.)
(Honestly, while it was probably a bad idea to kill the man who was paying your bills, it was really only the thought of Endeavor showing exactly how much the nicer image was just a front that gave Bakugou pause.)
Mina had gotten Kyouka to DJ, but she'd long been distracted by all the catching-ups; now she was showing Mina and a gaggle of office ladies her new tattoo, the chorus to some AC/DC song. Shouto and Momo had showed up as well from their agency — Ryukyu's, the dragon lady sent her pardons for missing out — but Shouto at least was always here anyways, enough that they had a separate corner in the fridge for his soba.
Most of Class 1-A had, in fact, gotten somewhere in the pro hero world. Bakugou was the most prominent, but Shouto had gone No. 3 and 4 in the past two years, and Kirishima was likely to break top 10 soon — probably not so much for the caseload but for sheer popularity, because he was like the anti-Mineta, every man, woman, and grandma liked him. Bakugou eyed his fellow spiky-haired Alpha as he bent down a little to hear what Denki was saying, the usual good-natured grin on his face. Kirishima had been the one to convince him to join Hawks's agency, even though it was — unusual — to have an Alpha under an O, much less two of them at once.
That's just not going to work, the hero analyst on tv had sighed, and that'd made up Bakugou's mind.
Just because he was an asshole like that.
"Ahhh you guys are stockpiling powerhouse quirks over here," Momo sighed dramatically from across him, but smiled. "Wish mine was flashier… you can't get those popularity points when you're standing in the corner, stuffing your face!"
"But you are the wealthiest woman in Japan," Bakugo said drily. "Could buy us all out if you wanted." Momo had indeed not gotten very far on the billboard charts, but Hero Gear JP was the biggest brand in the country for quirk-related accessories and lifestyle goods, manufacturing everything from specialized outfits and eyewear to protein formulas and robovacs.
Yeah. UA grads had done pretty well, in their own way.
He took a savage swallow of the punch, which tasted like over-concentrated syrup and bad memories of college. In the corner by the now demolished yakitori table, Denki was nuzzling Kirishima's shoulder with a slim leg draped over the Alpha's knee, and an annoying cloying scent was starting to waft over and irritate Bakugou's nose.
Momo smirked at him over her glass. "They're pretty open about it, huh?"
"And gross about it," Bakugou snorted. They'd gone official last year, and it wasn't like Bakugou disliked the annoyingly sociable blond (Denki was on the support staff after all, and had saved Bakugou's ass more than once) but christ, did they have to screw on every surface in a building Bakugou occasionally had to step in? It was like a minefield in here. Not to mention the dumbest scent lurched out of Kirishima every time the Omega walked past, like a dog perking up at seeing a squirrel. Or a very, very enticing hunk of meat.
"Haha I think it's cute! I've been trying to get Shouto interested in someone forever — I've got a friend in Yokohoma, see, he's a Beta in the air force…"
Bakugou quickly maneuvered out of there before she could start asking him if he was seeing anyone. Which was — not. Emphatically not. Katsuki Bakugou was not, as the entirety of Japan knew thanks to Nippon Daily and an army of gossip mags, the mating type.
It wasn't like he was gay — he was your standard red-blooded Alpha that liked O's just fine. Had hooked up with a few of them before, during his ruts when they got too bad to tough it out. Tinder was either a modern wonder or a modern disaster.
He just didn't feel the need to chase after any, like your stereotypical dumb-jock knothead. Kirishima had tried to introduce him to a few O's, pretty little blonds with timid smiles (yeah, okay, that was probably Bakugou's fault, he did have a reputation), but he'd sit there and completely fail to summon up even a trace of interest. They smelled like flower shops and banana crepes, and none of those things fit anywhere in Bakugou's life.
He liked that just fine.
Near the nearly-wall-sized TV in the rec area was a sudden commotion. Someone was shouting, "turn it up!" and Mina was reaching for the remote, juggling it with a worrying haste. People were gathering around the TV when Bakugou neared it, frowning —
It couldn't be.
Stretched out on the flat-screen TV, in perfect Ultra HD resolution, his freckles as perfectly messy as ever all over his nose and cheeks —
"Yes, I'm glad to be back," a face that Katsuki Bakugou thought he would never see again in his life was saying.
And then Midoriya Izuku looked up, and shot a single, bright smile at the camera that hit somewhere right in the chest.
Like a fucking arrow.
"The fuck," Bakugou growled, too quietly for anyone else to hear. Not that they could — everyone was staring, enraptured, at the screen. Like they'd seen a ghost.
Which, in a way, they just did.
Bakugou's pulse had just gone zero to a hundred, head hammering like a goddamn piston engine —
It couldn't be.
The fucking nerd couldn't be —
"Honestly, I don't have that many plans," the boy said, shifting a lock of green hair behind his ear. "My main priority is helping get that legislation passed, with the O.R.A."
He didn't look much different after half a decade. He was more angular, maybe, only a trace of the baby fat left in his cheeks, the green hair a little longer, rumpled as always. Bakugou didn't know to look back then — no one knew, everyone thought Izuku was a fucking Beta — but he could see now, almost painfully obviously, the telltale hints of an Omega: the delicate chin. The slightly elfin ears. The slimmer, gentler slope of his shoulders.
Those eyes, the same dark-green — the same ridiculous huge and round, lash-fringed, like some dumb anime character.
So bright they looked overexposed, like a photo. When Bakugou met them head on, sensing the ground open up beneath his feet, there it was again: that same shining, stupid, frustrating determination. That same fucking unguarded goodness, because of course he wouldn't learn any better.
"You know, you were once one of the most famous candidates for pro hero in the country," the reporter was saying, her cheeks flushed with excitement; big scoop for a young reporter. "How does it feel to be back? Are you sure you wouldn't be interested in another try? You're so young, Midoriya-san!"
The boy — no, man , Izuku was 22 now, same as Bakugou — on the screen ducked his head, as if shy. "Well, honestly, I'm only focused on the Omega Rights Association right now, and that's where my attention will be. Not hero work." He looked up at the camera with a bashful smile. "Heroes are amazing, obviously, but... I've come to realize there's plenty of other ways to help society other than with one's fists."
An arm caught on Bakugou's, urgent: Kirishima. "Isn't that — I thought — America — "
The reporter hummed with pleasure. "Hmm right, and you're partnered now, right? Takeo Shimizu, of Shimizu Corp — I'm sure he wouldn't want you running around getting blasted by villains..."
A sticker tape on the bottom, noting: Takeo Shimizu, son of prominent National Diet member Hideki Shimizu, and heir to the manufacturing giant Shimizu Corp —
Izuku's cheeks flushed in a way that made Bakugou's fist clench involuntarily. "Oh no, Takeo's not my mate. But yes, we've been dating for the last few months. We met in New York and I'll be staying with him here, at least until I find my own place."
"Haha yes, we saw the pictures" — the screen flashed to a pair of magazine covers, Izuku bundled up and barely visible in a giant green scarf, Starbucks cup in hand, next to a black-haired, mixed-race-looking man in a slim trenchcoat and — was that glitter on his eyes?! — "You two are a delight together, I'm sure Japan will receive you warmly."
"Certainly the gossip mags," Izuku laughed ruefully.
A conspiratorial look now came over the reporter's face. "You know, we have to ask... have you kept up with Japan's Hero news at all? Did you know that Katsuki Bakugou is now the ranking No. 2 Hero now? You two used to be rivals back in school, right?"
Flash. Bakugou's official hero card popped up on the screen, showing his stats — first or second in nearly everything, except the popularity polls, which was fourth. As if to make a point, on-screen Bakugou scowled, and folded his arms.
It might have been a trick of Bakugou's eyes, but he thought he saw the slightest shift in Izuku's eyes: a cooling. But the Omega didn't hesitate before saying, "Yes, I'm really happy for him. I'm hoping we can make a better relationship now that we're no longer arch rivals in the Hero world."
"I will say though," Izuku continued, looking straight at the camera, "that Hawks is due to return this year, and it'd be amazing if people didn't forget he was the former No. 2. And I'm an Omega, so — I can't help but hope that we don't overlook the other Heroes just yet, especially other O's like me."
The office erupted almost as soon as the broadcast ended.
"He looks — amazing —"
"Can you believe it — "
Kirishima, the fucking shitty-hair, the fucking saint, grabbed Bakugou's arm and dragged him out into a side hall before anyone's eyes could fall on Bakugou and start — trying to do something suicidal like chat.
The moment they made it to safe air, Bakugou's back hit the wall with a shuddering force. His whole body felt like it was vibrating, a terrible pulsing that would not come back down. His jaw moved. Had to gnaw at nothing for air.
"Fuck off, Shitty-Hair." But without bite. Suddenly Bakugou felt exhausted, like he'd just gone five days of flinging relentless Explosion at villains.
Or one round with Midoriya, toe-to-toe.
"Hey, dude." Kirishima's face was softer than any man with a hardening quirk had a right to be; but that was probably the only rare gene combination that could endure Katsuki Bakugou. "I know I don't know anything, but I know that you guys were super close and got all this history and — and maybe you didn't leave on good terms. But he's back, right? And if you heard him there at the end, he didn't sound angry at all... if anything he literally said he'd like to be friends again!"
Bakugou laughed, short and sharp. Pushed off the wall, brushed past Kirishima. "It doesn't matter if he's back."
"We won't be friends again," Bakugou said.
Not when Bakugou was the reason Izuku had to leave Japan in the first place.