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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.

Right. Bachelor.

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.*・。゚

(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

Pause.

(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.

Except.

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 —

No.

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.

Fucking Deku.

"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."

Smile.

 

***

 

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.

"Baku-bro —"

"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.

 

Chapter Text

Roppongi at night was one of Bakugou's least favorite destinations, somewhere between the Department of Motor Vehicles and 'the kitchen, after he walked in on his parents in it'. Add to that about two days of shitty sleep and half the villains in Akihabara deciding they could squeeze in some petty crime before the next Pokemon release, and he was ready to explode some karaoke bars and pay for it later.

Starting with the one he was headed to.

The bartender eyed him as he stalked in, fumes still smoking from his black gloves, jacket smelling distinctly of burnt sugar and asphalt. Because fuck if Bakugou was gonna clean up for this.

Whose bright idea was it to host Izuku's coming-home at a karaoke bar, in Roppongi, on a Friday night anyways?

"They're in the back," the bartender gestured with a shrug of her shoulder.

Bakugou was early.

At least… they wouldn't be crammed together in a neon box. The backroom was a single big open space with the dodgy lighting and questionable stains of a dive bar. A row of booths pushed up against the wall around an empty zone of floorspace. There was a keyboard standing on a raised part of the floor that looked like a stage, and Bakugou was thinking it kinda looked like Jiro's scene when she poked her head out from behind the curtains.

She waved enthusiastically. "Katsuki! You made it!"

Pause.

"You look like you could do with a drink," she added.

He got one.

Not long after, every single fucker from UA started showed up — even their old teacher Aizawa, scarf piled up to his nose and hair in a ponytail, looking like he'd just emerged from either an interrupted nap or the secret vampire coffin he stashed the blood of youth in. Mina. Momo. Shouto, with a bottle of water ("I follow a one-to-one alcohol-to-water ratio," he explained, at the look on Katsuki's face). Kirishima, red-cheeked, in a bomber jacket and almost-fancy-looking dark jeans, and Bakugou was about to make fun of him before Denki whisked him away with a suspiciously-dreamy look on his face.

Invisible Girl. Toilet-paper-boy. A whole bunch of extras Bakugou didn't even remember going to UA. Hell was that Ojiro kid?

Aoyama rolled up in a glittervest with a stack of sparkly business cards — apparently he was now the host for some dumb reality TV show about people dating with ugly quirks — and proceeded to try to recruit half the bar. Rikido came in with a huge box of creampuffs (he had his own bakery now, which was so disgustingly appropriate Bakugou had to help himself to three) and then Tsuyu climbed in through a window no one ever realized was there. Then the floor started trembling and it was not, in fact, an earthquake, but Endeavor's massive form at the entrance, eyeing the crowd and holding the door open with a shoulder: Hawks, chatting happily with Tokoyami.

They must've made up after Tokoyami had decided to go it alone instead of joining Hawks. ("Well I don't like it," Hawks had grumbled, "But I respect it. Fledglings must fly their own way and all." Bakugou decided not to mention that Hawks had surrounded his kids' cribs with toy doctor kits and a small piano.)

Kendo and Tetsutetsu from 1-B showed up in matching sweaters and were warmly engulfed into the fold, then Mirio and Tamaki — the latter with the largest belly Bakugou had seen since Hawks was about to pop with the twins, and that was a war flashback he'd very much like to forget — and then Iida and Ochaco, with matching blushes, and the shrieks started.

"Oh my god we haven't seen you in ages!! "

Bakugou evacuated to the counter as every 1-A grad in the bar rushed them like high school girls at a BTS concert. The "Silver Pair" had moved down to Fukuoka after graduation — something about livability and an underserved population or something — and were making a name for themselves as the Hero Beta-couple: Turbo and Cloud 9, a package deal that wouldn't even list separately on the billboard charts.

He snorted under his breath. "Still Four-eyes and Round-face to me."

Said Round-face, redder than a beet, was holding out her hand to oohs and ahs —

"Hmm that's lovely. Congrats to the pair."

Bakugou glanced over. That husky voice was Tamaki, sipping his glass of water with a bemused little smile on his face. The waft of lilac settled like a halo around his hair. Bakugou hadn't seen him since graduation and his face didn't look much different — like one of those cranes on an old woodblock print, elegant and pale (yeah yeah Tamaki wasn't his type but he was pretty, Bakugou was stupid not blind) — but the Omega seemed different, and a moment later Bakugou realized it was because his shoulders were no longer hunched in like he was when a teen.

In the next blink Mirio materialized and wrapped Bakugou in a bear hug before he could growl.

"Bakugou! Congrats on the No. 2! We missed you at the wedding!"

Bakugou decided it was probably not very nice to tell them he would rather die, but seriously.

"Uh — sick. Typhoid," he muttered, and was saved by Mina sliding in on his other side with a loud sigh.

"What is he doing here," she groaned, eyeballing what looked like a small black poodle humping Hagakure's skirt. "Didn't we ban Mineta from our Line group?"

"I could launch him out the window," Bakugou said hopefully, because that would probably get him kicked out of the bar, which would be by far the best thing to happen tonight. He eyed the sleek row of scotches on the top shelf. Technically, they weren't supposed to expense more than thirty thousand yen a month on "entertainment", though Bakugou doubted if he'd get in trouble; Hawks hated paperwork enough he'd sign anything blind.

This was work business, after all.

He smelled it before he saw him.

It was like someone had left the door open — and in came the draft, the fucking night air, so crisp Bakugou was signaling the bartender one moment and inhaling pine trees and a sweet, warm summer rain the next.

He froze — the hell was that, that was not shit that could've come from Tokyo, or from anything that'd ever touched the city — but looking around, no one seemed to have noticed anything. How , it smelled so fucking good , when he inhaled and his lungs filled up his head almost went light with dizziness and stomach clenched — once, twice — around this strange empty ache inside it, a hollow that felt half like hunger and half like thirst.

A low, spontaneous rumble started in his throat. It was everywhere. Could taste it in his mouth — that was thickening with saliva like a fucking dog

"I'm sorry I'm late," a figure was saying at the entrance, bowing over and over again.

When the figure bent up he was smiling, and his cheeks were tipped in pink.

He looked better in person.

Fuck.

Bakugou only caught a glimpse before Izuku was mobbed by their class, disappearing under a whirlwind of arms, legs, wings, and shouts for shots.

Fuck it. He set down his glass. He'd thought he could do this — it would've been weirder to refuse to go, he wasn't gonna act scared of a dumb old classmate — but he'd stayed long enough.

He needed to get out. Made to move for the exit to the backyard when out of nowhere, temples streaked with sweat and jacket nowhere in sight, look-who-finally-emerged-from-the-fucking-bathroom:

"Kirishima," he growled.

The smile the red-headed Alpha shot at him was tentative, but his body didn't waver from blocking the way. "Come on Baku-bro! We should go say hi — it's the manly thing to do, right? Been a few years." Nodding past Bakugou: "I'm sure he misses you."

Bakugou was about to retort something like "yeah, like a fucking rash" when the scent hit him again. He nearly bit himself, his mouth shut so fast — but then he felt it, the faint tap on his back and he twisted around with a scowl, because who the fuck dared touched him —

"Hi, Katsuki."

Izuku peered up at him through his curly bangs, a shy smile flitting on his face, and waited.

Bakugou stared.

Everything about his old classmate's voice and posture screamed politeness — screamed Omega, demurring to an Alpha who was his superior, and likely a danger. Age-old, it was instinct, though most modern-thinking O's scorned that kind of shit: eyes lowered, hands held carefully in front like a promise not to resist, neck bent a little in a way that was meant to convey submission, but also to avoid exposing the vulnerable places to the Alpha, the scent glands and Marking spot. Not that it'd do much good if the Alpha was interested.

Bakugou was —

"Are you fucking kidding me," he growled.

Izuku blinked.

He was standing a polite foot away, but it felt closer. Too close. You could see his eyelashes from here. His mouth. The curve of his collarbones, peeking out from the wide collar of his pullover. That… was interesting.

Bakugou couldn't breathe without his lungs filling with fresh pine. It was fucking amazing and heady and he couldn't... fucking think right. He was suddenly deeply, intensely aware of his one-time rival's body: mostly hidden in that modest white pullover of his but it was practically radioactive with heat, vibrating with it.

Or maybe it was all in Bakugou's head, because half his blood seemed to have suddenly decided to vacate premises and the other half was pooling in his stomach.

No. Fucking Deku, he couldn't have suddenly turned — hot. He was still fucking Deku , for fuck sake — the shitty nerd would always be a shitty little nerd, Omega or not. Deku could smell like candy and rainbows and Bakugou would still want to steal his lunchbox and beat the snot out of him, because they were fucking rivals, and Deku always cried too much and then got back up again, so Bakugou would always want to be — such an asshole.

He stared rudely at him, searching for evidence of his own point. Freckles — freckles were ugly, right? Scattered all over the idiot's face, like some Pippi Longstocking shit or something. And still a full head shorter, he thought with vicious satisfaction.

Another, darker, pleased voice in him whispered: So much smaller. Bakugou could carry him off with one arm. Could fit him on his lap. Perfect size for an O.

"You know —"

"You smell," Bakugou grunted.

"Ah!" Izuku's face lit up like a Christmas tree. "Um, sorry about that. This is my… well, this is my natural scent without all those scent blockers I had back in school."

That's right — Izuku was a beta back in UA. All this fucking time.

Bakugou worked his jaw. Pushed it through, not looking at him. "Hn. Congrats. On coming back, I guess."

"Oh — yeah! And congrats to you too, of course —" But then out of nowhere, like an angel swooping down from the heavens, a flushed Yaoyorozu emerged with a row of shots held aloft in one hand and a less-than-thrilled-looking Todoroki in the other:

"IZUKU-KUN!! You have got to hear about this secret admirer of Shouto's — "

Bakugou forcefully pushed his way through to the back as the giggling behind him started.

"Can you believe — a real LV purse —"

"We looked it up and it's sixty thousand yen —"

The cold bit him when he emerged outside, the backyard still dusted with the frost from this morning. He stamped the rickety glass door shut behind him, leaned against the brick wall and sighed. At least there was one other fucker in there who was about as delighted as him right now.

Bakugou didn't know what Shouto liked, but it sure as fuck wasn't a goddamn purse.

"Like he's a fucking O," he snorted. But that made him pause.

What did O's like?

It was a bad direction to think in. He shut his eyes. His collar was soaked with sweat. The sting of the air felt good. No one else was gonna come out here to brave the cold, except maybe the smokers. Correction: no one was gonna come out here to brave Katsuki. He could get some peace and quiet out here.

None of that scent either.

He hit the back of his head on the wall with a muted groan. What the hell was it, his rut? Two months off, but he'd heard of weirder shit.

Fuck, he wished he was back at the gym. He had steam to blow off, and there was a couple of punching bags sitting in his locker, nice and new. It really was a good thing Hawks never checked his expense reports, because Bakugou had the suspicion that no one normal went through about six or seven of Tokyo PD's sturdiest gear a week.

No one normal took down cases at the rate Bakugou did either.

Somewhere inside, Jiro was prepping her band for the first song, some American one that Bakugou didn't recognize. Figures — Mina and Jiro seemed to round up a gang every other week for karaoke. (Shouto had confided to him that he was still traumatized from the one and only time he went.)

Not that he was listening, but Bakugou thought he could almost make out his voice before he drifted off…

… And woke to the sound of the door rattling. Bakugou eyed it without much alarm, and then it staggered open and a waft of warm air, smelled powerfully of sake, spilled out.

Followed by a mop of green hair.

"Oh! There you are." The smile his old classmate directed at him was as dazzling as the moonlight. "We were looking for you!"

Bakugou grunted. "No thanks." And felt a grim curl of satisfaction at the slight fall in Izuku's face.

The smell was back. That… could be a problem.

He tightened his grip over his arms, where he'd crossed them. Good thing it was too dark to see his jeans.

But instead of falling back, the Omega seemed to hesitate for a second before coming to some, likely terrible decision. His shoulders squared, and he stepped out on the patio, closing the door behind him.

There was no fucking way Bakugou was going to indulge Deku in some conversation. He hoped that sentiment radiated off of him. Either that, or his killing vibe. Which was, apparently, infamous enough to get its own Twitter account.

"I wanted to congratulate you on making No. 2." Izuku's voice, soft.

Bakugou couldn't stop the snort. "Not exactly No. 1, is it."

"It's still amazing!"

"Yeah, well, congratulate me when I —" He stopped. Sniffed.

And growled, low and hard in his throat. Because yeah — it was faint, but it was definitely there: the gentle, herbal-smelling scent that an Omega released to calm the Alphas around them. A useful trick in the old days when O's were bartered and sold between tribes like property, or spoils of war.

It was a fucking low blow.

"Stop that," he snarled, and Izuku's scent erupted with the sudden, sharp note of fear —  and guilt.

"I — I'm sorry, I didn't even realize…" The boy trailed off, blushing ferociously. He had his hand up to his mouth, looking like a perfectly distressed little O. "I don't have a good handle on any of this… Omega stuff, I guess. Didn't exactly go to school for that."

"Yeah, well, whose fault was that."

Alright, that was kind of a low blow too.

Izuku stared at him, and for a moment it felt like they were back in school, another ridiculous tug-of-war over some dumb score on a test or mention on TV (because by their senior year, yeah, they were both pretty fucking famous… vying for the mantle of the most famous Hero in the history of Japan could do that to you).

But then Izuku lowered his eyes.

Like a perfectly — fucking — well-behaved — Omega.

"Alright," Bakugou growled, pushing off the wall, leaning in and not giving a crap about personal space. "I'm not buying this shit. You're telling me you're a good fucking little O now, is that it? No more 'becoming No. 1' shit, huh? 'Congrats, Katsuki' — are you fucking kidding me?"

"I don't —" Izuku's brows knitted together. "No, honestly, I'm glad you're so close to your dream, Katsuki —"

"Don't fucking call me 'Katsuki' ," Bakugou snarled.

He saw the moment Izuku realized.

"And it was our fucking dream, useless."

Bakugou was talented in a lot of things, but there was nothing he was better at than making Deku cry.

This time, though, the boy was able to hold it back, even though you could see how suspiciously shiny his eyes were in the moonlight. He pulled his arms close to his sides, tugged at his pullover. No coat; had to be cold. The stubborn-Deku look that Bakugou knew all too well crossed his face.

"I've been an O since I was eight , okay? I was always this way, you just didn't see it."

"See what? You were hiding this whole fucking time! You never told me —"

"Is that it?" Izuku's face opened up in a kind of comprehension. "Is that what you're mad about... that I didn't tell you guys I was an O?"

"I don't give a shit that you're an O," Bakugou said heatedly.

Fuck, he didn't know what he was saying. His heart was pounding and his jeans were too tight and he needed to be out of here, like ages ago. I give a shit that you're fucking *here*, idiot, after all this time. I give a shit that you smell like god's green fucking gift to earth and my dick is either having a medical emergency or about to snap off right now. I give a shit that you also — somehow — don't smell right at all —

He slammed the brakes on that train. Breathed out. Reached for his regular old jerkface.

"Well, obviously being an Alpha is better, that's a given. But you'll always be useless Deku to me."

Izuku's face snapped shut. He was turning around before Bakugou could drop the smirk.

"I don't begrudge you being an Alpha, Kacchan." The cool voice floated from inside the door, where he was stepping back in.

"But I do think it's shitty to keep holding on to a grudge from high school."

 

***

 

It had to be his rut.

There was no other option. Everyone knew Alphas got crazy twice a year when they neared their rut, got to the point where the government banned billboards involving Omegas and fruit because they were causing driving accidents and luxury stores required a separate signature confirmation that yeah, really, they did want to buy all five Hermes bags (some unscrupulous O's made a fine fucking living off Alphas-in-rut). Alphas were horny at the best of times, and grossly, amazingly stupid at the worst.

Though — usually their stupidity involved slavishly catering to O's too much, not pissing them off.

Bakugou slammed the door behind him and he didn't give a fuck if it was 3 a.m. and his neighbors already loathed him for the whole nitroglycerin thing.

The smart light in the living room turned on with an automatic beep.

"Alexa, shut up," he said before his own apartment could start lecturing him about his sleep cycle, in a voice that sounded suspiciously like Hawks.

Not for another two months. But he'd heard of triggers before, random crap that could throw you off-cycle: too much stress, a bad food reaction, even exposure to some new deodorant.

Or a scent.

Bakugou's ruts hadn't been all that bad since he first started having them at 16, but he had the standard rut room in his apartment, a reinforced-steel room with a panic button if things got too heated and the Omega felt unsafe. Not that that had ever happened with his — Bakugou was a shithead, but he wasn't that kind of shithead — but he'd responded to calls before involving some of them, and if that didn't make you loathe your own kind sometimes...

He filled up a glass at the sink and downed it in one gulp. He'd know it was around that time when he'd start noticing random Omegas out on the street, especially if they had a nice ass or a sway to their hips. And the ones he'd never been interested in before would suddenly become a great deal more interesting (that was the one and only time he'd nearly gotten into a fight with Kirishima, until they realized what was going on, because fuck if Katsuki would ever slobber over Sparky sober). Which made perfect sense with Deku, because he hit all those points:

Omega. Nice ass. Familiarity bias.

Nice ass. "Fuck," Bakugou muttered, kicking off his jeans and tossing them at the laundry pile before shoving his hand in his boxers, where a very sizable problem had not. Fucking. Gone down, and he had a vague, disturbing flashback to a Viagra commercial — but it was fine, Alphas could go for hours if in rut, if they didn't pop a knot.

Which — needed to be taken care of. He had about as much interest in trying to pull an Omega at a bar right now as he did in pulling teeth so he typed in the name of the Tinder knock-off one of the interns had been talking about months ago. Supposed to pair Alphas-in-rut with Omegas-in-heat based on location, they took a flat fee from the Alpha, which sounded really fucking unfair until you remembered that until recently O's weren't allowed to have jobs.

The website loaded with a picture of an anonymous woman's mouth. Tired of spending ages looking for a partner, or thousands of dollars courting a mate? Just need one night only, for when biology calls?

Sleazy, but accurate. Just biology's call

He tugged at himself roughly as he scrolled through the profiles. One man had black hair and liked "staying fit" and "live music". Another woman holding a mimosa in her bio pic liked "brunch, travelling to new places, and laughing". A few that looked like college students noted that they couldn't believe they were on this app because "they were definitely not like this in real life", and a few shirtless torsos wanted an Alpha "of at least 6-foot-4" to "take them to pound-town".

And that was when he shut the laptop, because one of them had just said he wanted an Alpha who "looked like that Pro Hero Ground Zero", and okay his dick was definitely flagging now, and none of them, not a single fucking one of them, had green hair or freckles.

Which he didn't realize he'd been scanning for.

"Fucking Shitty-Hair, pick up," Bakugou growled at his phone. The Facetime screen stayed still for a few seconds before the click of the receiver. And then there was a dark screen, and somewhere off-screen a muffled voice was saying — "Eiji, I swear if you pick that up" — and the video on the screen wobbled, suddenly flipped white and black and white again and thudded as if dropped from a bed —

"Hey dude." Kirishima's face, blinking sleepily, peered at him through the screen. His voice was hushed and the screen was dim and shaky, as if he was walking somewhere. "What's up."

"I'm in trouble," Bakugou muttered.

That got his friend wide awake fast. "Shit. What kind of trouble?"

"Not — trouble trouble." Bakugou stared at his laptop. Shoved a hand through his hair. "You ever heard of getting — fixated on a smell?"

"A smell?" Kirishima blinked. "You mean, like a human one?"

"Yeah." Bakugou shrugged. "You know — Alpha, O- kinda shit." Technically Betas had a smell too, though like most Alphas, his own nose wasn't sensitive enough to detect them.

"Well I mean, it's not uncommon for some scents to stand out more for some people than others," Kirishima said slowly. "It's like with crushes, different people float different people's boats. Could even be a total stranger. But it's usually a good sign of compatibility, if the scents are both really strong to each other… at least, it's supposed to suggest they're compatible sexually. Maybe even mates."

Bakugou raised a brow. "You and Denki?"

"Oh man, yeah," the other Alpha laughed a little. "I could smell him all the way over in Ryukyu's, that's kinda what made me make a move in the first place. Because, you know, it was a big risk, but I was going insane over here. Like bouncing off walls. Hawks locked me in the aviary one time and I could still smell him over all the bird poop."

Izuku was on the other side of the city by now and Bakugou thought he could still smell him. Or at least sense him, like a low pulse in the back of his head. But that was a fucking reminder and a half: wherever Deku was, he was in Takeo Shimizu's mansion right now, probably getting taken to orgasm on a fucking silk bed, probably moaning like a bitch, probably with his nightshirt open and his silk pjs flung all over some persian rug.

No. Not silk. No way Deku wasn't still wearing his All Might pjs.

Bakugou's jaw clenched.

"Can it blow over?"

"What do you mean? Like, the scent stop being that bad?" his friend hesitated. "I guess, if it's just a really bad crush, it'll fade with time. But honestly," Kirishima said slowly, and now he was stepping through his words carefully, "if it's a person you know, I'd just… ask them out? At least give it a shot first, there's no harm in trying."

"Unless you're like, best friends and it gets awkward or something," he added, chuckling.

Ha, Bakugou thought as he ended the call. Ha. Ha.

It didn't sound great but it didn't sound hopeless, either. They obviously weren't fucking mates so it had to be his body going haywire over an O it'd done a lot of its growing-up around. He'd treat it like a mission: stay away and tough it out.

He made a grim face at the ceiling.

Fucking Deku, always giving me problems.

 

***

 

Denki was not happy with him.

"I know you don't have a love life, Mister I-have-the-emotional-maturation-of-a-cabbage," he snorted, hands cocked on his hips where he'd stomped all the way to Bakugou's desk, "Or any kind of life at all, but the rest of us happen to value a work-life balance. Three a.m. and it better be your apartment burning down, your grandma dying, or your baby mama going to Hero Daily with the ultrasound of your firstborn child, or — "

"Or what?" Bakugou leaned forward, leveled a dangerous smile at the irritated blond. "Or you'll zap me, Pikachu?"

The Omega looked very much like he'd like to try, but he took a deep breath and a small burst of static shook off his shoulder. "Just — letting you know. How normal people behave. Because you can't do this shit to Kiri —"

"I thought you were the girlfriend," Bakugou drawled, "not the mom."

Denki's eyes narrowed. "You're a real fucking asshole, you know that, Ground Zero?"

"At least I do shit," Bakugou called after him, because he was in a bad mood, and yeah. Asshole.

Denki had gotten his license but had gone support staff, not Pro like them, and leaving a soft spot like that in front of Katsuki-fucking-Bakugou on a bad day was like waving a red flag in front of a bull, or a bucket of KFC in front of Hawks on a cheat day.

Ping.

iMessage popped up on his laptop. Yup, speak of the devil.

(Bird-brain): Katsukiiii come to my office ଘ(੭*ˊᵕˋ)੭*

Huh. Well, you couldn't really tell Hawks's mood from his emojis. Bakugou had once seen him send a cheerful smiley to a man who'd sent him a dick pic, in between texts promising to track down his address and let both his husband, who happened to be the No. 1 Hero in Japan, and the man's mother know. And the wife. And the neighbors. Maybe Hero Daily too.

(Bird-brain): ooh yeah can you grab my cold brew too

(Bird-brain): think I left it on Fumi's desk

(Bird-brain): got a little distracted this morning ヽ༼ ͠ ͠° ͜ʖ ͠ ͠° ༽ノ  

And that made Bakugou beat a hasty retreat for Hawks's office, because he just remembered that Endeavor had dropped by earlier this morning, and he needed to either stop Hawks from texting or disable his phone plan asap. The elevator took too fucking long — lunch hour, that had to be the damn interns — so he took the stairs two at a time and when he made it to the top with barely a breath out of place, observed, with smug satisfaction, that he was in pretty good fucking shape.

Sleeping well or not.

Hawks's door had a yellow sticker of a falcon and a drawing of a bunch of stick-figures his daughter had made or something, and Bakugou strode in with a decided bang. "If this is about fucking Sparky — "

"Denki? What's wrong with Denki?" Hawks's face poked out from behind his monitor.

He wasn't the only one in the room.

Bakugou cast his gaze around: that was the Tokyo Chief Inspector, Kobayashi-san, with a young Beta that Bakugou briefly remembered as one of his assistants, and a short, muscular Alpha woman in civilian dress that Bakugou didn't recognize but had the stern look of a detective.

Standing behind her, though, was someone he did recognize.

Takeo Shimizu, son of prominent National Diet member Hideki Shimizu, and heir to the manufacturing giant Shimizu Corp —

Izuku's boyfriend, hands wrapped around a cup of tea, startled at the interruption. Before seeing the interruptor, and beaming at him.

"The hell is going on." Flatly.

"Katsuki-kun! Glad you could make it," Hawks hummed happily, pushing the stack of papers on his desk to the side. His wings rustled. "Thanks for the coffee. Okay, meet your new assignment. Shimizu-san —"

Takeo nodded and made a little wave. Bakugou nearly vomited in his mouth.

" — is hoping to acquire our services for the next few months, while the Tokyo police are investigating the White-out incidents in the Shinagawa and Setagaya wards. You know what those are?"

White-out. That was what they calling the new date rape drug that was going around the underground, or at least a very select part of it. Multiple Omegas, totally unrelated to each other, six or seven at a time — not runaways or sex workers, but high schoolers, office workers, teachers, not usually who you'd think of as getting dragged into this Yakuza shit — were waking up on the side of peaceful suburban streets with their clothes torn and no memories of what had happened in the last 24 hours.

Some people suspected a quirk instead, and that was Bakugou's leaning too. If only because it'd give him someone to punch.

"Yeah. Heard of it."

Hawks's mild expression didn't move. "Well, as you know, Shimizu-san's partner is one of the highest-profile Omegas in the country right now, and we have reason to believe that some of these attacks are being targeted against certain Omegas… liberal, progressive activists. There's suggestion of a connection to the right-wing Alpha nationalist group, the Sons of the Rising Sun." His mouth quirked. "Pleasant lot, that bunch. In any case, Shimizu-san is asking us to act as his partner's bodyguard for the next few months during his more prominent social outings. It won't be 24-7, they have their own well-trained security staff at home, but it'd be a relief to have a Pro Hero at hand as well."

Bakugou had stopped hearing at act as bodyguard.

Shimizu's partner.

"You mean — "

"Yes, Katsuki," Hawks sighed. His wings drooped a fraction. "I mean Izuku. He needs a bodyguard, and you'd be a great fit."

Bakugou couldn't bite out the "no" fast enough. "Find some other fucker — "

Aaand Hawks was ushering out the Chief Inspector and company with the speed and efficiency of a hostess at last call, tucking in the patter — "yes, of course, you must call" — "oh, yes, coffee would be delightful " — like a neatly-folded napkin in their suit pockets, and whisking them out to the elevator. Which opened instantly when summoned, because of course it would.

The Omega came back with a you-giving-me-this-shit look on his face like the first year he'd had the twins, and was rapidly discovering the limits of the human body.

The door shut.

"He's the one who's not going to like it," Bakugou said, quietly.

"Ha! I'll have you know Izuku's already given his approval." The blond crossed his arms, plopping on his desk with a huff. One wing reached back to idly twirl around the chair behind him. "Seriously, Katsuki, I think this will be good for you. Maybe even necessary."

Bakugou made a choked sound of disbelief.

One of Hawks's wings tapped the bulletin board behind them, which was covered in smudgy newspaper cut-outs of the agency's good work: Mina, rescuing a school bus of sixth-graders from hitting a storefront by melting signs into speed bumps in their path. Kirishima, protecting some petty gangster from a revenge hit by shielding him with his own body. Bakugou, wiping out the last branch of the Shie Hassaikai in Tokyo by taking down Kendo Rappa and his new partner, who'd crushed his arm so hard Bakugou had to wait three weeks to go back in the field, even with Recovery Girl's aid.

Still. Last branch.

"You're obviously talented in terms of sheer strength, Katsuki, no one can deny that, but — it takes more than strength to stand at the top." Hawks took a deep breath. "Heroes are role models, not just saviors. That's why the popularity component is such a big part of the billboard charts — because you have to be someone society actually likes. Or at least looks up to."

"I'm here to punch shit, not kiss babies," Bakugou drawled. "What do you want me to do, pinch the shitnerd's cheeks for the camera?"

"Yes! I mean — make up with Izuku, Katsuki. It'll show that you've finally emotionally matured," Hawks eyeballed Bakugou's stiff stance, "and about fucking time, Mister."

Then a rueful little smile. "You know, all of Japan is rooting for you two. To finally become friends, I mean."

"We're not — not friends," Bakugou muttered, but he hated it before it was even out of his mouth.

What the hell did these assholes know? They'd fucking grown up together, him and Deku, in the same fucking block. He'd eaten more of his Inko's onigiri than he had his own mom's. He was there when the idiot had lost his first wisdom tooth and cried because he thought it was a sign he was finally getting his quirk. He was there when Deku declared that that was his dream, becoming a hero like All Might, becoming the best in the world. Except how was the weak-ass gonna do that, when he didn't even have a Quirk, and Bakugou wasn't gonna be there all the damn time, and — and he hadn't reacted well.

Friends didn't describe it. Friends didn't even come close.

"Seriously," Hawks said gently, "I think this is what you need for Number One, okay? Scowl all you want, but — play nice with others. It's not just about blowing stuff up all the time." His mouth twitched. "Save me some damn insurance at least."

Bakugou's only reply was a scowl, but he exited without further protest.

Somewhere behind him, he heard Hawks sighing at his wall.

"Aye, big guy, was it this hard for you too…"

Chapter Text

Shouto had never liked the size of their house.

"Aya-chan!" Trying not to let the panic show in his voice, he padded down the corridor and pulled open the shoji doors in quick succession: washroom. The twins' bedroom. An airy room with a pile of toys, a mess of Hero plushies and action figures. At the very last, a giggle burst out of the pile and a blur of red bolted out, heading straight for Shouto and the open door.

"Aya-chan!" Years of Pro Hero training had honed Shouto's reflexes, and he scooped up the darting 3-year-old with one arm almost on instinct. Ayako squirmed like a fish, giggling happily, and grabbed for his uniform collar with one chubby fist:

"ONII-CHAAN! You caught me, you caught me!"

Shouto, who had no idea they were playing hide and seek in the first place, patted down her hair with his free hand. The light brown curls were sticky with sweat, dust, and some unnameable substance that smelled like sugar — she looked like her 'hiding' involved detouring through every dirty nook and cranny in their house and then pausing by the kitchen to swipe an anpan.

Sneeze. The preschooler looked momentarily stupefied by her own noise, before a little brow furrowed as if a thought had just struck her.

"Onii-chan, Yuu-chan stuck! "

Shouto blinked. "Stuck?"

"The AY-bee-ary!!"

The Aviary.  At that, Shouto rushed for the courtyard, Ayako tucked firmly to his chest. "The Aviary" was a tall enclosure that his parents had built beside the house to let the twins fly in safety (both winged, it was a real shock, but they were so cute #CupidTwins had trended worldwide moments after their birth). His parents had to baby-proof the entire house from floor to rooftop and Hawks, muttering gloomily the entire time, had stretched the limits of his domestic ability to cut holes in their baby outfits, but the Aviary was the masterpiece. Several times as high as the roof and canopied with netting like a huge bird cage, it had built in poles and platforms at different heights like a cat's play tower, and one time when Shouto had woken up early he'd seen Hawks sleeping on one of them with his head tucked under a wing. Perhaps he was wilder, closer to his namesake than Shouto had thought, or perhaps watching their rooms from a great height gave him comfort.

At three years old, Ayako could barely skim a foot off the ground for more than a few feet at a time still — but that didn't dent her confidence that she could.  Sputtering through the kitchen in determined little wingbursts, the little girl was a boisterous little terror that was so obviously an Alpha that it brought Shouto a small smile, remembering how he and his siblings were a string of Betas in a row (despite all that was expected of Endeavor's genes, and the quirk marriage besides...). When Shouto had first arrived, she'd grabbed his hand and nearly tripped over herself rushing to show him every —  single — room in their house (which, to be fair, had changed substantially since he'd moved out at 17) and then proceeded to declare that Shouto must watch her quirk —

And then she'd taken a deep breath and squeezed her eyes shut as if concentrating very hard, and a tiny feather on her back burst into flames and nearly lit Great-grandfather Musashi's tapestry on fire.

"That's amazing, " Shouto had exclaimed, because it really was; you almost never heard of a quirk manifesting so early. But with his other eye he was watching the face of his sire, and Enji Todoroki's face didn't move.

Shouto didn't know what that meant.

Ayako's twin, though… if anything, shy little Yuuri was the exact opposite. Shouto had only caught the briefest glimpse of him when he'd first arrived; the boy was hiding behind his father, and the only indication he was there was a sliver of black hair and a small fluffy white wing poking out from behind Hawks's yukata.

"Sorry," Shouto's stepfather had said, smiling ruefully. "Yuu-chan can take a while to warm up to strangers."

Stranger. Right. Shouto had not come back often since he'd moved out, seeing no reason to. It wasn't that he was not welcomed, but Endeavor marrying again made him hesitant about the configuration of their new family, made him feel like an intruder in a space that was re-forming itself, and had not yet decided what shape it would take. (This feeling was a wrong one, he knew, Hawks adored him and Natsuo and Fuyumi all, and emphasized this in loud and shameless ways that Shouto's sire would never have approved of when Shouto was young — but Shouto was nothing if not aware of all the complication of relations.)

Slightly out of breath, he made it to the Aviary; saw that it was already open. Scanned the lower platforms, one hand shielding his eyes from the morning sun. Where could the boy have gone? As far as Shouto knew, he wasn't any better of a flyer than his sister. "Yuu-chan —"

"Onii-chan, look! " Ayako tugged eagerly at a lock of his hair, pointing somewhere on the left. Shouto frowned, staring —

Ah. There was a small white hump poking out over the edge of one platform, but the platform was much higher than Shouto had expected — practically at the height of their roof. At Ayako's shouting, the hump stirred, and a second later Shouto saw a small, pale face peek out over the top.

Yuuri looked terrified.

"Oh no," Shouto breathed. How had the 3-year-old gotten up there?

"Yuu-chan scared, " Ayako whispered solemnly. "Then he fly."

Had the boy gotten anxious for some reason, and flown up too high to get back down? Shouto scoured the terrain of the enclosure frantically — could he scale up the cage, use the frame and platforms as ledge and foothold? But then how would he carry the boy back down? Could he use his ice to raise himself up like a pedestal?

A sudden, deeply unwelcome vision of himself slipping on his own damn quirk for the first time in his life and landing on top of a pair of tiny, extremely squishable preschoolers like a guided missile.

He'd play it safe. He was about to start filling the entire grounds of the Aviary with a flat sheet of ice before there was the sound of a car pulling into the courtyard. Ayako figured it out before he did; screaming "Daddy!!" at a volume that made a startled squirrel topple over from a nearby tree, she launched herself out of Shouto's clutch and rushed out the enclosure.

Shouto stayed. A moment later, his sire's substantial frame appeared, flame uniform extinguished from his overnight patrol, Ayako bouncing up and down and babbling happily on one arm.

"He's up there," Shouto said, hearing the uselessness in his own voice, but Endeavor was already looking up.

"Ah, did Yuuri fly up there again?" There was no trace of fear or annoyance in the deep rumble of the Alpha's voice, only the calm evenness that Shouto had grown used to hearing for several years now, as if everything had the emotional valence of the weather. How do you like the soba, Shouto. How is working at Ryukyu's agency, Shouto.  But Yuuri's face poked out a little further at hearing his sire's voice, and then Endeavor was setting Ayako down and levitating up, carefully, and reaching out. A small bundle disappeared in his arms.

When they landed back down the little boy's dark, thick-lashed eyes were red and puffy as if from crying, and they watched Shouto warily as he mouthed at a feather (Shouto really hoped that wasn't a nervous tic). Shouto had the distinct impression of the one time Fuyumi got a cat from the shelter, and the cat had scurried immediately under the couch, and you had to lay down on the floor to see a pair of huge, morose eyes.

"Cute kid," Shouto said, and then kicked himself immediately, because he sounded like a stranger in a mall instead of, well, an older brother.

The expression on Endeavor's face as he looked down was so gentle that it made Shouto uncomfortable (as, granted, all displays of affection did). The huge Alpha tapped the boy's nose — the size difference was almost funny — and Yuuri broke out into a small, surprised smile before burying his face in his sire's shoulder as if embarrassed.

"Yuu-chan gets anxious sometimes, usually around people but sometimes even just a loud noise or smell," the Alpha said, quietly. "We think the burst of adrenaline is what makes him fly much higher than he normally can, and then he ends up there and can't get back down."

Shouto considered. "So… it was me?"

His sire had the good grace not to lie. "It's possible," Endeavor said, slowly. "He doesn't handle new faces well. But he'll get used to you."

"He's a good kid," he added.

Didn't say he wasn't,  Shouto thought, though he knew his sire didn't mean it that way.

He  looked at Endeavor's arms, where the boy had buried himself so far he looked like a small, quivering pillow. Hawks had not sent them to daycare, Shouto knew, preferring to stay at home with the help of Shouto and Fuyumi and a nanny. But they were nearly four — did that mean they would start preschool next year?

And how would Yuuri handle that?  "The involuntary flying sounds like it could be an issue though. For his safety, I mean."

Endeavor hesitated. "He doesn't fly far. He could probably make it to the roof at this point, but he wouldn't go over."

Shouto heard what he didn't say: Not like Aya.  Regardless of ability, an Alpha would always be fussed over first. An Omega would be too timid to fly far from home; a Beta would be too sensible to leave the safety of pack or the comfort of home and hearth.

What was Shouto? Too timid, or too sensible?

"You know," Endeavor said casually, bending to set the boy down, "I'm taking them to the zoo today since they're doing that panda exhibition. You're welcome to come."

"Ueno? That's fine," Shouto said, too quickly. "I have patrol later this afternoon. And I wanted to spend some time cleaning up their toy rooms first."

"No wonder Hawks wants to build you a shrine," his sire observed dryly. But Ayako had heard the word "zoo" and was already tugging him and her brother to the car, shouting frantically about pandas and monkeys.

Shouto didn't watch them leave, but he listened to the car pull out, the sounds fade away over the gravel. The courtyard was eerily empty without Ayako's loud laughter. She had the spent the whole first night asking Shouto questions: did Shouto have a boyfriend? Did Shouto like Ultra-man? Why did Shouto not like cheese?

He set his shoes down in the genkan. Why did Shouto have a big red spot on his face?

The broom closet was where he'd remembered it, though he eyed the rather modern addition to it: a hefty white disc that looked like a Roomba. They'd reinforced the storm shutters and rearranged some of the rooms by shifting the fusuma, and every room seemed to be filled with more stuff than Shouto ever remembered (Hawks clearly was no Kondo fan), but for the most part he could feel his sense of his old childhood home returning, the smell of the fresh tatami mats re-awakening under his skin. He'd known every nook and hollow of this place.

He should, after all. Ayako hid well, but it was nothing compared to Shouto when he was young.

Chapter Text

Bakugou woke up to the smell of plastic burning.

It took him a second to realize what it was. And when he did, he closed his eyes, slumped back against the headboard with a noise of disgust.

"Fuck."

Pulled the now-melted alarm clock from the wall, tossed it at the waste bin with eyes still closed. The dull plunk it made when it dropped in was startling loud in the darkness.

Bakugou hadn't accidentally lost control of his quirk in his sleep since he was 14 .

Fuck are you pissing yourself at this age.  He scowled at himself in the dim of his bedroom. It wasn't even dawn yet; the light saturating the shades was still a deep, somber blue. It was quiet enough outside to hear the birds rustling.

"Get your shit together, asshole," he muttered, running a rough hand through his hair, not caring that it was sticky with sweat. The sickly scent of nitro was thick in his mouth. It'd soaked through his shirt and bedsheets: cloying, over-sweet, like it'd been excreting from his skin all night.

Bakugou wasn't dumb enough to not know what it was. Or rather, who it was.

Izuku's already given his approval, Hawks had said.  

The hell was Deku thinking? Did he like getting snapped at? Did he like tormenting himself with his oldest, bitterest childhood rival, a Hero feared more than half the villains in Tokyo? An Alpha most O's couldn't even lift their eyes to, they trembled so bad just hearing his name. Ground Zero, as vicious as he was triumphant, an Alpha like all the rest.

And even after

Bakugou got up. It was too hot to sleep anyways, and he needed air that didn't smell like work. Or a nightmare.

Knowing Deku, the idiot probably had some fantasy about becoming friends . That without all the No. 1 Hero tension between them, the slate would be cleaned, Katsuki would magically become not-an-asshole, and he and Deku could have drinks over an izakaya and hash it all out and shit. And Deku would smile that low, too-wise smile of his 'cause he was a real fucking Omega now and all grown up, and they'd down their cups and look like real fucking adults, bonding over sake and war stories from high school. Big boy emotions.

Just the image of it made a sneer come to Bakugou's lips. Like he and Deku could ever be anything so — normal .

After everything.  He pulled on his track pants roughly, hunted for the socks at the back of the drawer. An early morning run sounded real fucking good right now.

Deku might be pissed at him for holding a grudge, but at least Bakugou wasn't fucking insane .  

Not like Deku, if he really had forgiven it all.

 

***

 

Four hours later, he was at the manor.

"You know," the narrow-faced steward said with a pointed once-over at Bakugou's entire… everything, "We require all guests to take off their shoes when they enter the household." Pause. "As well as their weapons."

"Yeah, 'cuz I can't wait to fight off an attacker barefoot and unarmed," Bakugou drawled. And shouldered his way past the sputtering servant.

Personally, he thought the grenade launchers were a nice touch.

Matched the black tee and camo pants and all, because when Hawks had told him earlier to "blend in" with "you know, whatever you wear off-duty", Bakugou had chosen not to tell him his idea of off-duty was more appropriate to a Nicaraguan warzone.

Didn't mind a fight anytime, that was all.

The Shimizus were one of the more private sort of rich folk, but all the buzz over Izuku's arrival meant that paparazzi had gotten their grubby hands all over the manor, from the distance of a long-range camera at least. Inside, the manor looked even bigger than it had in the pictures he'd studied online — real fancy Hollywood shit, at least three stories high with Western-style columns and alcoves, tucked at the end of a lengthy run-up through a lavish security gate that'd made Bakugou think, I could crumple you with one hand.

And in his fucking sleep too.

The painting in the foyer looked like one of Deku's shitty notebook scribbles and probably cost more than the entire insurance on Bakugou's left arm; he'd almost certainly never set foot on anything this valuable in his life. Didn't fucking like rich people, didn't take those kinds of jobs.

Wouldn't fucking live here anyway.  Golf course and the kind of "natural" woodland that didn't have a single worm or indigenous species in it didn't exactly scream Bakugou's favorite territory. The youngish, obviously-new-to-this-job chauffeur who'd picked him up from the station was eager to make small talk, and Bakugou had grunted his way through finding out that the Shimizu patriarch had become a politician and lived separately in the city, that the son was a bit eccentric and they had never quite gotten along, and that the household was so much nicer with an Omega in it.

"Midoriya-san is so nice," the Beta gushed. "I can't imagine he has any enemies. Except stalkers, I guess… some of those Alphas are crazy!"

"Hn," Bakugou grunted, and looked out the window.

After his run that morning he'd dug out the scent inhibitor patches, the unobtrusive new kind they were testing out at Hero Gear — small and transparent, you could stick them under your nose and they were supposed to dull your sense of smell for a few hours before wearing off. Bakugou didn't like it, this feeling of flying blind — with every scent muffled, it was like trying to hear underwater, and you didn't realize how much you relied on your sense of smell to feel out your surroundings 'til it was gone — but there wasn't much of a choice, was there.

He wasn't going to go crazy over freaking Deku.

Bakugou had come back from his run and decided, grimly, that if the Omega was gonna play civil — two could fucking play at that game. He'd come here as Pro Hero Ground Zero, the professional; not Katsuki, not Kacchan , the old fucking childhood acquaintance with a rap sheet long enough to drive a therapist into retirement.

Bingo.

Bakugou looked straight at the security camera perched on the banister, and blasted it.

"I — what are you doing??" The steward rushed across the foyer, flapping his hands. A few seconds later the pounding of heavy feet, and one of the side doors burst open: a pair of plainclothes security, big Alphas both, each looking about as thrilled as the other.

Bakugou didn't move. Leveled a look at the squawking steward. "Tell your employer he's an idiot. He's got the camera sitting right out there, any two-bit moron can take that out the second they walk in. You'll be left blind if that's what you're counting on."

Turned the flat look to the guards. "Took ya six seconds to get here; I would've made it up the stairs by now. The O's room — it's second floor, over to the southwest corner, right? All your shit's on Google Maps, your windows are too fucking big, it's the one with the pink fucking drapes."

"Oh! Oh dear, I think that's actually my room."

The new voice came from inside the side door, behind the guards. The tall, slim figure of Takeo Shimizu emerged, holding a tiny steaming cup of what looked like coffee in one hand and a rolled-up magazine in the other. Beaming.

Wearing a bathrobe that was, very clearly, printed with a pattern of little chibi Ground Zeros.

Bakugou stared.

"Like it?" The Shimizu heir whirled around, looking delighted. "I've never really been into Heroes, but when I heard we were getting you for the job, I had to look you up!"

"You never, " Bakugou started, slowly. Stopped. "Not into Heroes?"

An enthusiastic nod. "Yeah, just not my thing, you know? But I just love those gauntlets in your outfit, I've been doing some costume design for my next movie and I have to say, I did take some inspiration from your..."

No. Fucking. Way.  There was no fucking way this tittering creampuff here was an Alpha. He wouldn't be able to protect Deku from a fucking papercut, much less an enemy who might want — to do him harm, or worse. No wonder they needed to call up Hawks; Aoyama in a facial mask would be more intimidating. Almost reflexively, a low growl began to build up in the back of Bakugou's throat —

"Ahh sorry, Takeo-kun. Katsuki's not really into movies, I'm afraid."

The stairs. Leaning over the railing, ignoring the crater blast smoking around his feet, giving a small, tired wave — there he was.

This time, Bakugou was prepared. The jolt of seeing him — five fucking years, Bakugou had been prepared to let it go, the memory of that stupid freckly face, the flash of green that'd leap bright and stubborn in his eyes, because fuck if Deku wasn't too dumb to know when he was beat — 

And something in his guts still lurched at the sight.

Not a single fucking change. Izuku was in shorts and a tee (a fucking All Might tee, nerd would never grow up) and breathing a little hard, cheeks flushed and tendrils of hair stuck to his temples with sweat. Looked like he had just come back from a run, or the gym — something you could've plucked from any of the thousand training sessions they'd struggled against each other at at UA, barely alive at the end of each and too stubborn to die. If Bakugou had known Izuku was an Omega then, he wouldn't have —

No. He'd have been fucking embarrassed, getting pushed to his limits by an O.

And he was wrong, too. Because there was a difference: this time, Izuku was smiling at him.

A genuine one too. Whatever clusterfuck was going on in Bakugou's head, he didn't seem to share it. There wasn't a trace of displeasure in the Omega's voice even as his green eyes settled on Bakugou's: "Well, maybe he is now. Morning everyone, thanks for coming, Ground Zero — glad you could meet Takeo and the others! Want to grab some breakfast before we go?"

"You're fucking late, Sleeping Beauty." Bakugou let the coolness through his voice.

Izuku flushed. "I'm sorry… I woke up a bit late. Lost track of time on my run."

Amateur — wouldn't have that problem if you started at four in the morning,  Bakugou snorted in his head. Though why he was trying to compete here, too... well, let's just call it old habits.

There was no smell though, he realized. Looked like the patch was working; he'd have to send Momo a gift card or some shit. Legs looked nice in those shorts — toned, not skinny like so many O's, but lean and functional, like all the Hero training had instilled some good habits — but whatever, Bakugou was a fucking Alpha, what Alpha wouldn't be looking.

Suddenly his day was looking up.

"Late night?" Couldn't resist.

"You could say that," Izuku said, hesitatingly, and the way his eyes darted to Shimizu suddenly made Bakugou forget why he was in such a good mood in the first place.

By some silent, merciful mutual agreement, they skipped the breakfast.

Bakugou stayed a wordless figure by the car throughout the goodbyes. The Lexus was large enough, almost a limo in size, but it felt irritatingly small when the doors clicked shut.

It was quiet for a good while though. Sitting in the back, the partition effectively silenced the chauffeur.

And personally, Bakugou had no fucking problems if it stayed that way. Moment he climbed in he folded his arms, scowled as they bumped against the door. Shifted in the too-small, too-soft leather seat. Stared stonily forward.

Surprisingly, it was Izuku who broke the peace first.

"Just say it, Kacchan." His voice was quiet. When the chauffeur had opened the door he'd immediately gotten in with a small thanks and folded himself at the other end of the seats, a distance that Bakugou knew was polite for an Omega with a stranger-Alpha, and still managed to feel offended by. "I know you think he's some kind of idiot."

"I think everyone's an idiot," Bakugou snorted, without a glance. But the soft way Izuku spoke about him pricked at something under his skin — like this guy was actually special to him. Like he was important enough that Izuku actually cared what Bakugou thought.

Well, if that's what he wanted — Bakugou smirked, grimly.

"Everyone's an idiot. But especially your little boyfriend. A fucking chihuahua has more bite than he does."

Izuku's pretty brows furrowed. "Why does he need — to have 'bite'? Why can't he just be — a normal human being — "

"Normal?" The laugh that came out of Bakugou was bitterer than he'd expected. "You're the fucking heir to Japan's greatest Hero of all time, you think normal's what you're getting?" He felt at his jaw. " Normal's what you want?"

Izuku was silent for a moment.

Then, in a voice as calm and still as a spring pond: "The normal life's not — that bad. Honestly."

He was looking at his hands in his lap. "I don't think you should look down on people like Takeo. I mean, these are the people you're supposed to be protecting, right? Why else are you a Hero?"

"I'm a Hero to be number — fucking — one," Bakugou retorted. The sneer came easily to his lips, it always did. "All that rescue shit? That was you. You and Round-face and all the other dorks. The only thing I've ever given a shit about — " and with an audible crack of his knuckles, the release of nitro suddenly filled the car — "is that if there's gonna be a pile, I'm gonna be the one standing at the top of it."

Izuku stayed quiet, hands folded in his lap.

...And fuck if that didn't piss Bakugou off.

So fucking proper, he thought, darkly, looking at the still profile beside him. A real pretty, high-class O.

Until you glanced at those hands and saw the calluses.

"I didn't say," Bakugou drawled, crossing his arms again, "that your boyfriend's worthless because he's normal. I said he's worthless because he's weak. "

"What — "

Ha: that got Izuku's attention. His body unfolded; the outline of a real frown tugged at his mouth as he shot an annoyed look at Bakugou. "First of all, no one  is worthless and that's a totally uncool thing to say. Second of all, just because Takeo likes art and opera more than — fighting, o-or explosions — doesn't mean he's weak —"

"He's weak in the ways that matter." Coolly.

Izuku took a breath. "And what might those ways be?"

Bakugou shrugged.

"You — how are you still so arrogant  —"

"Had a lot of practice," Bakugou said, and flashed a mouth full of teeth.

Izuku shook his head. "You think everyone's weak, but you never explain why. I'm beginning to think you just like calling us names."

"Oh trust me, I do," Bakugou drawled. "Doesn't mean I'm wrong."

"Not everyone has to be obsessed with strength —"

"Sure they do."

Izuku's body had turned entirely towards him by this point; he'd really gotten his old classmate riled now. The boy's cheeks were high in color, the dusting of freckles light-brown and stark against his pale skin.

It was a nice effect. Bakugou rather liked this version of Deku.

Not so proper on the inside, are ya Princess.

Said princess closed his eyes for a second before opening them again, like he needed a moment. And sighed: "Okay. So why is that?"

"Because."

"Because… what? Because that's what society says?"

"Yeah, because listening to society's my middle name —"

"Because... that's what you like? Because that's how we were raised? Because you can't stand someone living their own life — "

"Because he's a fucking Alpha, " Bakugou growled.

Silence.

Bakugou finally glanced over.

Izuku's eyes had blown wide, gone dark, stormgreen. His coat was open, and you could see his chest moving in short, rigid breaths as he regarded Bakugou; he looked like he very much wanted to demand to be let out of the car before he did something stupid.

Like throw Bakugou out of it.

Bakugou gazed at him steadily.

"You wouldn't understand."

"Don't think I want to," Izuku replied, eyes not leaving his.

"Yeah, well." Bakugou turned away, pulled his eyes to the window. Pushed a rough hand behind his neck, rolled his shoulder with a casual crunch. "An Alpha's got to have his fucking shit together."

The highway shot by, rhythmically, in blurry succession: one car, then another, then the next.

"An Alpha," Izuku said, slowly, as if just repeating the words in his mouth left a bad taste in it.

"That's what I said," Bakugou said, simply, and shut up.

 

***

 

He couldn't — he couldn't fucking explain.

It wasn't that O's couldn't be strong, or kick ass or whatever — it was just that it was different for Alphas. Expectation, not potential.

Omegas could be strong; Alphas had to be.

Made him feel like a fucking chauvinist, this shit. Wasn't gonna deny that.  

But it was real, something you could feel in your gut as much as hunger or rage. A holdover from back in those days when people lived in tribes and roamed in packs, back when Omegas were nothing more than property, breeding wombs and holes to satisfy some knot. Back when it was always an Alpha at the top, clawing at each other tooth and nail for the right to some Omega's body. Destroying whole villages, killing, plundering, carrying off the losing side's O's to rape en-mass — none of them were more than a delicate word choice away from beasts.

That instinct for violence… why else would Alphas make up 99% of all violent crimes in Japan even now. Why else would most of the villains Bakugou fought be Alphas at the head, and almost always Beta footsoldiers below. Why else would it take decades after the post-war reforms for most families to even let their O's out of the house without a trusted Alpha escort; just the act of walking down to the corner store was a risk, they said, when no Alpha in rut "could control themselves" around a pretty face.

Nice bright heritage, that. Every time some idiot politician moaned about the good old days — had to make you laugh.

A weak Alpha's O — that was fair game.

Felt like fair game, no matter what the law said nowadays. Maybe that was why Bakugou always felt it, long as he could remember, even before the fucking hormone-trainwreck that was puberty: that vestigial urge to protect . He'd never given a shit about anything or anyone so it had to be the Alpha in him that got fucking worked up whenever Hawks did his batshit crazy fly-off-and-attack-first thing because no one could keep up with him. Or that'd make him take an off-the-cuff patrol around the office whenever Kiri was on-duty in another ward and Denki had to go home by himself, because it was fucking dark outside and there were too many assholes out there.

A lone O… yeah, Bakugou had already seen too much shit in his just-started career. Deku —  whatever he was, he couldn't defend himself now. And even if he could, he was still a bright-eyed, trusting idiot with the moral universe of a fucking shounen anime protagonist — the kind of kid who thought that everyone who wasn't a Villain was decent, and even Villains could be saved, with the power of love or friendship or whatever.

Fucking naive in a Hero. Fucking fatal  in an O.

Bakugou watched the crew of strangers fuss over said O while he sneezed, then looked up to blink wide-eyed at the bright lights surrounding him like a host of villains. When Hawks had told him his first day was gonna be a photography shoot, Bakugou had laughed in his face.

At least Deku looked as miserable as he did.

Bakugou eyed the blond photographer who was talking to him. Speaking of unwelcome surprises — he'd never thought he'd ever have to look at the smug face of the Class 1-B Prince of Assholes, Monoma Neito, again.

But it was real: a real fucking shock when they'd walked in the glass doors of Tokyo Charm's media headquarters and there the blonde was, striding towards them, waving a manila folder with an almost genuine smile on his face.

Bakugou would've leveled a blast at his face right there and then, but Izuku was going up to him in the next instant, saying something.

And then he hugged  him.

"The hell, " Bakugou growled, clearing the ground in two strides. "You're not fucking cleared, 1-B."

"It's okay," Izuku laughed, brushing his hair behind his ear with a smile that looked distinctly relieved. It looked like a weight had lifted off him now that'd they'd escaped the car. Not that Bakugou didn't feel the same. "Neito's actually the photographer today. We… made up after UA, kept in touch a bit."

"Indeed, I was a less than pleasant person during school, I can admit that at least." Neito didn't look particularly sorry, though he didn't have the holier-than-thou expression that Bakugou had always remembered stamped all over his face. Without it, he looked like a completely different person, and it was real fucking weird. "Hopefully I'm a better photographer than I am a schoolmate — Izuku's doing this entirely as a favor to me." Izuku protested, and they fell into some chatter about America and food and jet lag as they headed to the elevators.

Bakugou, who liked small talk as much as he liked fashion mags and small children, stayed a comfortable few feet behind.

Kept in touch a bit.

That line... kept echoing in his head as they went up, no matter how he tried to push it aside like one of Kiri's nagging health tips.

He hadn't thought Izuku might've stayed in contact with anyone.

And out of all people… This close, in the overly-bright light of the elevator, you could really see him. Bakugou hadn't realized it before, and with the scent inhibitor he couldn't smell him properly — but Neito looked like an Omega despite being almost as tall as Bakugou, and wearing a suit. Just a little finer-featured than the average Beta.

"Yes, I'm an O." Bakugou looked up to a small smirk on Neito's face. "Me and Reiko were the only ones in 1-B. That's why I dropped out junior year — my parents wanted me in a safer school closer to home."

Huh. Bakugou didn't remember that. Almost definitely hadn't noticed at the time.

Though there were a lot of things he'd never noticed.

Click. Snap. Izuku was struggling valiantly with something that looked like a cross between a glittery scarf and a pink boa constrictor. An assistant squeaked and rushed over with a spray can aimed at his hair.

Not that it gave Bakugou some satisfaction to see Izuku being so bad at this. Whatever raw athletic talent his old rival had ( used to have ) on the battlefield was nowhere in sight — he looked like a colt trying to fight its way out of a laundry basket.

And losing that battle quite miserably.

Someone tried to tug the vest-thing they'd put on him open a little more, and Bakugou didn't realize he was growling until the mousy-haired assistant who was squatting next to him jumped a little, dropping her pen.

"Just keepin' it PG for the kiddies," he muttered, eyeing the assistant's twitching form. Good thing it wasn't the cup of water, he thought dryly. What a glare he'd have to give if any of that shit spilled on him.

But she wasn't the only one paying entirely too much attention to him. There was a whole gaggle of them in the back, whispering and poking each other and glancing at him every few seconds — probably interns. Definitely Omegas.

Bakugou stifled the growl in his throat. He hated this shit. In between Nippon Daily, Hero Daily,  and all the other 24-7 gossip rags that were obsessed with his every movement — what scandalized VIP did he blow off today, what criminals did he violently and forcibly convince into custody, how many little old ladies did he give the middle finger to (it was just the once, and she was honking her horn at him) — they'd hold him up as the biggest fucking bachelor in the country on the one hand, and the scariest fucking Alpha in Japan on the other. Dream on him, O's — but don't take him home to your mother.

No good little O would ever come near him. Which was fine by him, he just wished they'd fuck off properly.

Bakugou watched out of the corner of his eye as they dragged the mousy assistant girl over, whispering furiously at her. Turned back to where Izuku was either tugging on a sweater the size of Mt. Fuji or slaying a demon. Eye roll.

The voice was so small it took a few seconds before he heard it:

"Um. Sorry," the assistant was whispering, head ducked, whole body bent in a single trembling bow. She was holding out a stack of notebooks, the collectible kind you'd buy at a corner store with friendly Pro Heroes like Best Jeanist or Mt. Lady on 'em, splayed out like a fan. "We were… um, we were just wondering if w-we could get an autograph…"

Bakugou gave the shaking figure a cool look, before turning away with a grunt. "Don't give 'em."

He didn't think Izuku would've seen anything outside his life-or-death match with articles of clothing, but later, as they were taking a break and Bakugou sauntered over:

"Please tell me you're not here to gloat." Izuku's voice sounded rather subdued from where he was buried in a glass of water, shoulders looking very small where he was hunched on the stool. He was now in a yellowish shirt-dress-thing that came to his knees and looked very much like a potato sack dipped in big fake sunflowers.

"Here to check on your injuries," Bakugou drawled. "Don't tell me you're wounded on our first day."

One dark-lashed eye — they hadn't lavished on the makeup at least, but with his face Izuku looked like one of those teenage Os in a Hollywood movie, a child they'd tried uncomfortably hard to make look adult — blinked at him over the rim of the cup. "Isn't that your charge? Mister Alpha?"

So Izuku wasn't gonna let this one go. Bakugou snorted.

"If you want me to punch your dress, just say the word."

"Wouldn't be a fair fight," Izuku said, dryly. "It's already taken down one  of our prides."

"Ha. Ha," But Bakugou let a small, savage grin tug at his face. Kiri was too nice to snark back at Bakugou's usual; Shouto didn't understand the concept (of that, or most human interaction) in the first place. Mina would just try to melt off his face.

It felt… good. Familiar. Like getting on a bike again, after so many years.

No. Bakugou brutally shoved that thought aside. Fucking look at it — they were sitting in a media megacorp where Izuku was getting glamour shots of him taken for some teenage Omegas' fashion magazine.

That was as far from UA as you could get.

"Not your vibe?" Izuku said, innocently.

"Hn. Watching you get your ass kicked by every brush, spray can, and maternity dress in striking distance? I could do this all day."

"Hey, it's my first time doing this!" Izuku colored, clapping his hands to his cheeks with mock indignation.

"Yeah, yeah, that's what she said — "

"Gross," Izuku groaned.

"Leave the opening, I'll take it." Rather smugly.

"Kacchan —" The Omega stopped, abruptly. And sighed, smoothing the hem of his dress-sack-thing. "It's a smock . By some designer from Milan. But yes, I see your point about the maternity dress." A little glumly: "I'm going to ruin  this shoot for Neito. I probably look like I'm in a hostage crisis in every shot."

Bakugou snorted. "So? Who cares what he thinks?"

"Some of us are into this fuzzy little thing called friendship," Izuku muttered, and that raised Bakugou's brow, because he didn't remember Izuku being this mouthy. Not unless he wanted a fight — and Bakugou was always happy to take him up on that offer.

But… was Deku always this small?

Bakugou looked down at him and felt it: an unfamiliar sensation, almost like discomfort, coiling in his guts. It was a weird feeling. Not  guilt,  obviously, but jeez, Deku really was small, maybe half the the muscle mass of Bakugou on a good day. The little dork was drowning in that smock. Better be careful — could probably snap that wrist by *accident*,  Bakugou thought, eyeing them. Crazy to think those slight hands once had the power of the Symbol of Peace inside them. Maybe still had it.

Should ask him, a voice inside him grunted.

The fuck no was just as instantaneous. Edged too close to Serious territory for his liking — and, as established through a 22-year-track record called his entire life on earth, Bakugou didn't do that shit.

"... wish you'd just try to be a little nicer sometimes," Izuku was saying now, soft as a feather, like he was padding up to a lion's cage. He was looking down at his cup, toying with it. "Is it that hard to sign your name a few times?"

"This about the autographs?" Bakugou gave him an unamused look. "You know I hate that kinda kiss-the-crowd shit."

"It's not kissing the crowd," Izuku came back firmly. "I just mean… seriously, they're your fans. Seeing you... it's a big deal to them. It barely takes a few seconds out of your day to make theirs so much brighter."

Bakugou snorted. "Fans? Them?  They don't know shit about what I do." Jerked his head to their direction, where at least they seemed to be distracted with something else on their phones; maybe some pap had gotten a creep-shot of Hawks' kids again. "They're all O's getting worked up by some shit they saw about me in Teen Vogue. Bet you they don't even know what my quirk is."

"Everyone knows what your quirk is." Izuku's voice had dropped a distinct degree in temperature. "Even some silly O's can watch the nightly news every once in a while. We are allowed to do that nowadays, you know."

Bakugou gritted his jaw. "Didn't mean it that way," he muttered.

Though yeah, he probably did.

Izuku kept regarding him with his dark, unreadable eyes. "All the employees they take here are Omegas," he said, finally, after a long moment. "At least some of them are working here against their parents' will."

"So? My mom doesn't like the shit I do either." Bakugou, but he shut up.

"I do hope Mizuku isn't kidnapping you to marry off to some thirty-year-old Alpha up in Hokkaido though," Izuku said. He got up abruptly, setting the cup back on the chair. " That'd be an awkward reunion."

"Yeah, can't imagine those."

"God, Kacchan, sometimes you are just so —" Izuku bit it off, looked away. Let out a deep, unhappy sigh. "I'm going to meet up with Ocacho and Iida later for lunch, at one of those new Korean places downtown. Can you at least pretend not to hate them?"

"Don't flatter yourself." Bakugou's smirk bared teeth. "No fucking way I'm sitting at your lunch table. I'll stay outside and be a good little guard dog."

"I," Izuku closed his eyes. Bit his lip, which was very pink. "Okay. If you don't want to say hi, that's fine. I accept that."

"Hn."

"I just wish —"

"Let's be clear here, useless."

And if Bakugou took a step forward, used all his height and considerable muscle mass to make very clear how much authority Deku had here — well, the smaller boy's eyes widened, though to his credit didn't flinch. Instead, his breath picked up, shuddered in rapid little flutters of air, a hummingbird caught in mid-air. The warmth of his chest — the smock was paper-thin, a nothingness — pressed back on Bakugou's own like an insistence. A nothing resistance. Those dark-rimmed Hollywood eyes were huge as Bakugou leaned down and growled:

"I'm here because Hawks asked, and because you're paying me. I'm here as your fucking bodyguard, not your old high school baggage — or whatever dumb fantasy you have of me in your head. Playing nice with your friends? Keeping ya company when you get bored? Get a boyfriend for that."

"Too late," Izuku said. "I have one."

"Good," Bakugou snarled, but Izuku was already walking back to the set, back stiff and somehow imperious in that sunny potato sack.

Bakugou watched him go.

He felt… did he fucking lose, or did he fucking win. Bakugou had the distinct memory of the thousand times he'd tossed Deku's notebook off the roof just because it was funny to see the dork have to go all the way back down, and every time the boy's back would be set the same: exactly like this.

Whatever. Whatever it was, he'd need a thousand fucking patrols tonight. Maybe a dozen hand-to-hand rounds with Todoroki and Kirishima; both, at the same time, if he could help it.

Bakugou rolled a tense, powerful shoulder, feeling his forearms flush with a wave of heat, feeling the eager leap of his quirk va-va-vrooming to go. Wait for it, asshole.  Though this day couldn't be over soon enough.

He saw her coming out of the set.

"You," he said, just before she made it to the elevators.

The assistant turned around, and very audibly squeaked. The stack of magazines in her arms scattered on the ground.

"Oh — oh my god! I am so sorry Mr. Bakugou-sir, I swear I won't bother you again — "

Bakugou cleared the ground in a few strides and picked up the magazines and pen with one hand. Tokyo Charm 's cover was splashed with something about upcoming spring trends and how to talk about "the big one" with your parents. Tokyo 's last O, if you looked closely, was an actual Ω, the kind they used for Omegas.

He flipped open the top one and brusquely drew the pen across it, where there was a white space.

"There." Pushed it at her. She stared at his hand, wide-eyed, before taking it. He was already turning back down the hall.

"Tell them if you want an autograph, they can fucking ask for it themselves," Bakugou said, without looking back.

 

***

 

Click.

Whirr.

The video stuttered a few times, buffering, but went on: "... what we have here is live footage of Pro Hero Ground Zero,  holding what appears to be the known criminal Blackout Fumiaki over the edge of a rooftop — Goto-san, that looks like a steep drop — "

The video was jittery, as if the person was struggling to hold their phone steady, but it didn't need to zoom in: it was obvious who it was, the arm cannons, the black-and-red suit stark in the glare of the helicopter's beam.

Nervous chuckle.

"Well, they do say he's a little — explosive —"

"We still have the little girl, Ami, who hasn't been found —"

Izuku closed the browser tab.

"It doesn't look good, my boy."

The deep voice of his former teacher, and one time greatest Hero in all Japan, was quiet through the monitor.  

"This level of behavior… I regret — I haven't been there — "

"You couldn't be there." Izuku's voice was firm. "Don't blame yourself, this was... he's always been this way. I've known him for a long time."

"Yes, exactly."

This other voice was a woman's: short, clipped. "We're hoping you can bring some insight here that we might not have, Midoriya-san. And that you can still understand our circumspection here… under such little evidence as we have now, it's important to consider every possibility."

"Yes, I understand." A deep breath. "I can understand why someone would see it that way. It's a fair suspicion."

"But you don't seem to share it? Midoriya-san, we have a — fairly extensive report of some  incidents from your childhood that, quite frankly, are pretty concerning — "

"Right. He was a bully." Pause. "Is a bully."

"But not, you believe, inclined to radicalism? Despite the profound history of juvenile delinquency, misconduct, multiple counts of over-aggression —

"Yes, I get it." A shaky laugh. "I was there."

"It's still difficult to see clearly when it's your friend."

Silence.

Then, almost too soft to hear:

"Yes, it would be. If we were friends."

Chapter Text

Denki was in quite the good mood.

He'd gotten up early, fixed the dishwasher (the ol' zap-it-a-few-times — bit of a one-note trick, but hey, if it worked…!), discovered the strawberry sandwich was back at 7-11, and, on the way to work, zapped an annoying old man who was glowering at a pair of Omegas who were daring to be young and pretty and unescorted on the train.

"Oops," he'd beamed an enormous sunny smile at the now-yelping old man, who Denki was just so sorry to bump into, of course. "Must be the dryness — all that static."

Kiri was out on an all-day patrol, so Denki had brought desk lunch — leftover oyakodon, saving money was hard and god knows trying to rent as a 99%-er in Tokyo didn't help — and hummed on his way to the break room, enjoying the rare quiet of the building after the usual frenetic madhouse of the morning.

So that was why, when he rounded the corner back to his desk and saw him pacing out in front of it, his happy little tune dropped a few octaves.

Bakugou stopped, looked at him with a familiar scowl.

Denki was about to toss out a snarky remark — the squirt of a water gun against all the casual annoyance of a pent-up tiger — but then he saw what the Alpha was holding in his hands.

"Ground Zero, what the — "

The bouquet was thrust in his face with such abrupt, violent force that Denki got a mouthful of orchid: waxy, ticklish pollen-bombs. He sputtered, sneezing so hard he could taste lavender in his nose.

"They told me to get this one." Bakugou could make any statement sound like a challenge. "The fucking flower shop."

"I believe they call them florists," Denki got out, still struggling to collect all the strains of thought that'd just escaped out his head and scampered away, perhaps a good deal smarter than he'd ever given them credit for.

Because it wasn't like Ground Zero showed up to your desk with flowers every day.

"I — what — why — flowers — "

"For being a fucking dick," Bakugou snorted. He wasn't looking at Denki. "And for calling you Pikachu and shit."

He eyed the bento box Denki half-forgot he was holding. "You're at least a Raichu."

"Ground Zero, that might be the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me," Denki deadpanned. Then he realized what was going on, and he doubled over in laughter.

Because a bear trying to thread a needle would be more adept than Katsuki Bakugou trying to say I'm sorry, it took him a few breaths before he could giggle out in between wheezes: "Flowers — are — courtship gifts, silly! You can't just — give flowers to an O you're not interested in —"

Katsuki muttered something about dumb old ladies, trying to take his money —

"...buuut I'll take them," Denki said, quickly, and snatched the bouquet before Bakugou could realize he should hide the evidence of this ever happening. It really was quite nice, now that he looked at it: orchids and cherry-blossoms and white tulips, an arrangement that was understated in a way that surprised Denki.

Another thought, one that brought a sly curve to his mouth: "Oh ho… I bet you asked Kiri and he suggested it."

If Denki wasn't so attuned to just the shape of the air surrounding his boyfriend's name, or so used to Bakugou's not-very-varied facial expressions after years of getting stuck in the same classrooms-slash-battlefields together, he wouldn't have noticed it. But there it was: the slightest flinch in Bakugou's stance.

In anyone else, it would've been nothing. In Katsuki fucking Bakugou, it meant —

"What's wrong with Kiri."

The steel of Bakugou's face held firm, but Denki didn't miss the split second of hesitance before he answered. "Nothing."

"You're the shittiest liar this side of Mineta's pick-up lines," Denki said. "What happened to Kiri?"

When Bakugou still didn't speak, he said: "I know you two were both out on patrol this morning, but were covering different areas. Did something happen?"

"No." The snarl was forceful; stood its ground. But then, quietly: "He's not hurt. The mission just — didn't end well. He went back early to take a breather."

"Hn," Denki said. He was watching his pulse calm, distantly, almost like a outside observer. Then he remembered where he was, and stepped around to tuck the bouquet on the ledge by his window, and grab the coat from his chair.

"Don't tell Red it was me," Bakugou said, but without much force, and didn't move as Denki left.

 

***

 

Denki had never been much of a runner.

Never had been, never was. Even as a kid he'd been one of the less athletic boys, and then in the gladiatorial cauldron that was UA, didn't even come close to Mina or Ochaco or any of the girls who liked to get up close and physical with their quirks.

Made sense later, honestly, when it turned out he was an Omega.

But he was a late bloomer. Not even a sign until he'd already started junior year. Then he woke up one day with this warm, disgusting slick between his thighs and the sweet, foreign scent of what he'd figure out later were daffodils on his tongue and that was that: he panicked. And quit.

Well — maybe running was something Denki was good at, long as it was the metaphorical kind.

He didn't know what he was doing. Just that at a normal school, a school that didn't have Kyoka or Mina or his insane-stupid-amazing friends, a school where people didn't know or care about how many volts he could squeeze into a pinky or what kind of bands he liked, it was easier to walk down the hallways. Easier to look at their smirks, and know they'd imagined his heat.

Aizawa, he found out later, had tried to talk to his parents, and they'd never told him.

"Ando-san, you're spoiling me," he teased, as the stout butcher pushed a substantial weight in his bag, while flapping a hand in the universal motion for shooing.

"Nonsense! You're too skinny," the butcher scolded, red-faced.

Wasn't always bad to be an O.

Denki set a brisk pace picking his way through the shopping street, surprisingly crowded for midday. Ando's shop was a little far off, but sometimes you just needed quality.

Kyoka had been more blunt than their sensei. I'm not saying you *have* to be a Hero, she'd texted him. I'm just saying that if you ever still thought about it, I think you'd be a fucking amazing one.

Why, Denki had typed, and then didn't send it.

The thing was, there was nothing in him that was above average — not his quirk, not his work ethic, definitely not his brains or looks. That a school as prestigious as UA had taken him in was — well, if not a fluke, at least a miracle. He'd wanted to say this to Kyoka, but the thought of leaving her groping around for a counterpoint felt bad, so he'd kept it to himself, regrouped on the thing he was getting back into: computers. Which Denki was, weirdly enough, always pretty good with as a kid despite the less-than-stellar grades, and the CS class at his new school gave him the chance to see if all that css and javascript might be useful for something other than building Minecraft mods and little joke websites for his sister. Maybe because computers were all just made up of the same old parts and electrons anyways, and so were people, just Denki more than most.

Not Kiri, though. Nothing with a negative charge could possibly survive in Kiri.

Denki picked up the pace, squeezing through the turnstile with an apologetic smile at the lady he'd cut in front of.

But Kyoka had won in the end, right? Because Denki had gone back for his license, after graduating and not knowing what to do with himself other than hand ice cream to teenagers and ignore dating requests from gross old Alphas all day. But then he'd gotten his ass fired for slapping one of them, and Kyoka and Mina had kept saying, But you're so close Denki!, and after that thing with Izuku, there was so much handwringing about Omegas and Hero work that Denki had just… decided to show up, and beam at all the Alphas at his night-school a lot, who were quite touched that this little O was trying so hard.

As it turned out, UA really was the best.

Well, at least you weren't marriage material anyways, his mom had said, when he showed her his brand new license, the thumbprint still fresh on the logo.

Denki flashed a smile at the doorman — Tachibana-kun, the kid was a freshman in college and had seen more than his fair share of Denki's less-than-finest 3am moments — and the boy grinned and waved back. A luxury condo wasn't exactly Kiri's milieu, but it was all Association agents that had helped them settle in when they first moved into the city, and he knew that Kiri had been too busy to really look for a new place.

Not bad, though, Denki thought, glancing at his reflection in the elevator. You've done well for yourself. For an O with nothing special about him, snatching a top twenty Hero, getting to be fucked in a place like this…

He gave it a few seconds after knocking before opening the door with a grand flourish. "Tadaima~!"

No one there. Denki raised a brow. His Doraemon slippers were still there where he last left them, and he set down his grocery bag on the kitchen counter with a notable thump. No answer. "Kiri? You in there?"

He found him, out of all places, out on the balcony, hanging laundry.

"Old school," Denki laughed a little to himself, and if there was relief in it he chose not to notice.

It was cold outside in the bright February air even with the sun, but his boyfriend didn't seem to feel it. He worked with his shirt tied around his waist, and Denki took some time to admire the powerful, muscular planes of his back, the broad line of his shoulders. His boyfriend was a working man, not meticulously carved out like a Greek god like all those men you saw on fitness magazines or Instagram pics, but rough-cut from a true wood, with all its lack of pretension: the kind of man who built his strength through sheer endless labor as much as hours in the gym.

Kiri finally turned around to set down his basket, and Denki waved.

That his eyes widened a fraction first before the wide, eager grin that Denki knew so well was the first sign that there was something wrong. But it took him only three bounds to go from the balcony to Denki suddenly feeling huge, strong arms around his waist, squeezing so tight it took away his breath in a gust of pleasure. A kiss on the forehead. "Denki! What are you doing here? Did you get out of work early?"

The earthy scent of musk and a fresh, clean campfire was heady; Denki wanted to lean into it, lap it all up with his tongue and more besides. If only there weren't business matters to take care of. "Yeah, I wasn't feeling well so I decided to take a half-day. I was going to tell you but heard you might've gone home early too, so I thought I'd drop by."

Kiri's face shadowed; ever so slightly, but it was there. "Yeah. I wasn't feeling too hot after my patrol this morning, so I came back to take a nap." A rueful smile. "And then I realized I hadn't done the laundry, vacuumed the floor, or watered the plants for like a month, so, uh…"

"So you decided to take your rest day to enjoy some domestic labor." Denki's mouth quirked. "Eijiro, you're like the dream man."

His boyfriend pinkened handsomely. "Nothing you don't do all the time," he murmured.

There was a little pause.

Denki pushed past it, held up the Alpha's big callused hand as if examining it. "Not feeling too hot? Who managed to put a chink in your armor?"

"I'm fine," the Alpha said, too quick. But then he sighed. "Yeah, I did get scratched up pretty bad this morning. But I got lucky — Recovery Girl happened to be with the retrieval team, and she took a look. It's nothing to worry about. You…"

" — should see the other guy, right," Denki said, dryly.

Did he imagine it, the darkening in Kiri's eyes?

"Yeah, you could say that." His boyfriend pulled his hand away and padded out; Denki watched the familiar, broad outline of his back make its way to the kitchen.

Kiri didn't even notice the grocery bag.

It was moments like this that Denki wished there was a script somewhere: not like one of those stupid dating shows where the old matchmaker would impress on you the importance of making bento boxes and preserving house, but a programming script: what inputs did he need to make, what steps did he need to retrace. What magical words did he need to invoke.

He tried this: "You said you missed the okonomiyaki we had in Hiroshima, right?"

Kirishima called out from the sink, where he was washing something now. "Miss it? I think I ate so many I couldn't move for a week."

"If you can spare a day," Denki said, "I grabbed some pork belly from the butcher's on the way here, and we have all that cabbage and yakisoba left over. We should totally make some — I, for one, am starving."

The running water stopped. His boyfriend turned around, the gentlest, most mournful puppy-dog expression on his face.  "That sounds amazing. But we have the Association dinner tonight, remember? I promised Hawks we'd sub in for him weeks ago. Though… now that I think of it, I think I just threw my shirt in the laundry..."

The Hero Association's quarterly charity dinner — a pretty excuse to dress up and get cameras flashed in your face while enduring the company of Tokyo's most ambitious socialites, PR-touring celebrities, and various minor politicians swearing to be tough on crime. But the mayor would give a nice fluffy speech and every agency worth a damn was supposed to be there, just for the public relations.

Denki liked dressing up but he'd rather eat a thousand-volt sandwich right now than endure other people, and he'd bet his (minimal, but growing) life savings that his boyfriend didn't feel much different. "I don't want to go. I'll text Mina, they can send someone else." At Kiri's hesitation: "I haven't felt good all day, and it looks like you're still recoverin', Red. At this point I'd even watch Aoyama's damn show if it meant I could coalesce with the couch."

"Man, Aoyama would love that," Kiri laughed, a bit sheepishly. Then he seemed to finally take in what Denki was saying, and his eyes widened: "You're sick? You should go to bed! I'll get you the Tylenol, and put on some tea —"

"Don't worry babe," Denki hummed, coming up beside him to start sorting out the grocery bag. "I'm too hungry to sleep. What do you think — carb-load and Netflix?"

"Well…" Still hesitant. Too much of a conscience, his boyfriend had.

Denki looked at him from under his lashes. "You get to smash the cabbage. It's super manly."

That poked out a laugh, and a fond squeeze, and Denki enjoyed the nuzzle on his neck, the warmth of that powerful chest pressed solid and firm against his back: somehow hard as a rock wall, but gentle as an oversized teddy bear. Kiri gave the best hugs. (Kiri gave the best everything. Some days, Denki veered back and forth from feeling like he was the luckiest O in the world to wondering when the fantasy would end, when he'd finally wake up to discover it was all a joke; when Kiri would finally realize how much he deserved and how poorly Denki was equipped to meet it.)

Stop it, he told himself. None of those lines of thinking were attractive. Or more importantly, useful. Kiri didn't deserve to get pedestaled into some imaginary Perfect Man, not when (not that Denki would ever confront him about it, but he knew, god knows he knew) he already pushed himself so hard to be one. Not when he'd probably practiced to get his hugs to this damn level, rain or shine.

And that was the problem, no? Rain or shine — the man who called himself Red Riot would never show sadness or fear, not when he had kids to comfort, people to defend, fires to keep alight.

Denki didn't have any of those things, just Kiri; so it should've been much easier. That it wasn't was, well… maybe he'd just fried his brain a few too many times.

And I'll fry it a few fucking more, he thought, darkly, when I figure out who hurt him.

"What are you thinking so hard about?" A deep voice, rumbling in his hair.

Kiri had fallen asleep almost as soon as they'd ate and snuggled onto the couch. Denki, in contrast, had stayed awake to ingest terrible things for his brain and think too hard.

He tugged his fingers through the Alpha's sleep-heavy ones, locked them together; it was evening already and in the deepening twilight, Kiri's scent tucked him in as much as the press of his body lying relaxed behind his, the muscled arms at a rare ease. "Mm. Nothing. Zapping people."

"Oh no… I don't think Aoyama's show is that bad."

"That's because you fell asleep in the first episode!" Denki gave a playful swap at the arm. "Look at this — it's awful! The dude keeps introducing his tail as 'little' Kenjiro!"

"Oh man… is he actually a bad person though? Or just weird?"

Denki conceded about two seconds of thought to this before snorting. "Whatever he is, it's not helping. All these girls think he's trying to bring it up as a sex thing. Like it's a metaphor for his dick or something... and he does not want to be connecting those two together."

He felt Kiri raise his head a little to see the TV. "I don't see… Huh. Yikes. It is small."

"See what I mean??"

A quiet chuckle. Then, a long moment later: "... I can't blame him for trying. It's not easy to find love."

The wistfulness in it gave Denki pause. (Not that Kiri's brand of manliness was all ~macho man~ but saying the L word was a little… out of character, to be honest.

Not that Denki wanted to risk that territory; Denki wasn't the kind of person to upset the applecart, not when he spent half his time defending it from his own baggage. Some questions were better left unasked.)

He kept his tone light.

"Mmm. How romantic of you, Red Riot."

"Heh — I thought you liked romance!"

"Me?" Denki sat up with a yawn, turned around so he could look straight at the Hero, bury his hands in those big shoulders like a lazy-eyed, purring cat. Kiri's hard, bared chest was a masterpiece under him; as trashy-romance-novel as anything. With an extravagant toss of his hair, Denki purred: "God no, I'm a cold-hearted bitch. I eat romance for breakfast. Don't send me flowers, send me the blood of my enemies!"

"Ha!" The laugh was quick, but died even quicker. Then, there it was, the emotions playing out on the Alpha's face, like shadows blazing and dying in a flame: discomfort. Apprehension. Shame.

Denki looked at him, and the Alpha glanced aside.

Enough.

Denki said, "I don't care what you do. But don't tell me I can't — I will — hunt down anyone who fucking hurts you — "

"Denki — "

"I'll zap 'em so hard Tokyo Electric'll send 'em a damn bill —"

"Denki —"

"They'll be shocking themselves on their damn toothbrush when I'm  —"

"Denki."

The tone of it was what made him stop. That, and the look Kiri was giving him.

The Alpha's jaw moved. His eyes didn't. "No one hurt me. It was us who killed him."

The weight of Denki's hands lifted, reflexively, a fraction. "... Killed?"

"Yeah." The Alpha's voice now steadied, though not the flickering gleam in his eyes. "It was a minor crime — not violent, I mean. We had reports of a pair of thieves robbing vacation homes and when we confronted them, it didn't start out bad but it — it ended up in a fight. But she didn't — his partner, I mean — react well with the Quirk-B-Gone, we think now it was an allergy — and she collapsed. Like, she just started seizing up." As if on cue, the TV light dimmed, and then his eyes became glints in the darkness.

"We didn't know that they were mates." Quietly. "True mates. He was her Alpha."

Denki stared down at him; a dark pool was beginning to spread in his stomach. "So he — "

"Yeah. He saw her go down, and thought we were killing her."

Denki closed his eyes. "He went into Fight."

The immediate tensing under his fingertips answered him. "Yeah."

"And you were the target?"

"I think everyone in the vicinity was the target." The Alpha's laugh was a dry, bitter rattle of leaves. "I've never really seen… I can't even describe it. It was like he suddenly became a hundred times stronger, and he literally couldn't feel anything we were throwing at him. I went full Unbreakable and he was ripping off chunks of my armor faster than I could even regen —"

"Fight kicks the safety switch off adrenaline and shuts down sensors for pain and fatigue, he could've gone for days —"

"And we didn't want to risk that." Red eyes sought his in the darkness; Denki could feel the effort it took. "I don't know who made the call. But they brought in snipers. One to prod him away from me, another to fucking mow him down."

Mow him down. "Eijiro, they had to. He would've killed you — "

"Maybe. Probably. But he… Denki, he didn't deserve it."

"I know ," Denki whispered. Before he could think, his hand was on the Alpha's cheek, not stroking, not caressing. Just touching.

Kiri didn't move. "He couldn't… he couldn't help it."

"Yeah..."

"We killed a man for nothing."

"It's not your fault," Denki murmured. God, he was so bad at this — how did anyone say these things without sounding like they were spewing out cliches? Even when they were all true, he just wasn't… he never felt like the right messenger. People didn't go serious around Denki; he was the kind of background noise for a fun party in Shinjuku, not another man's quiet moment.

But he tried to keep going. "It's no one's fault. Everything you're saying … you guys didn't have a choice here."

"There's always a choice." Verging on argument.

"... in the real world? We're not living in the Marvel cinematic universe here, Red."

"I could've figured something out — could've brought him out of it — "

"Only his O could've done that, that's not even biologically possible for you — "

"If I were stronger, I could've knocked him out —"

"No." Denki surprised himself with the force of the snarl that came out of him. "The force it would've taken to knock him out? Would've had to kill him. We've seen cases like this before, Kiri. An Alpha in Fight isn't conscious anymore. They're barely even human."

Red eyes, cool as flint. "Seemed human enough to me."

Denki looked at him, his handsome too-good-for-him boyfriend, and felt it: that pull, that invisible tug under his skin ever since he was born to be liked, to appease, to agree. To be everyone's friend, to make people happy: one of the few things he felt made for, out of all those unremarkable parts.

Denki sat back.

Denki said, " You're alive. Yes I feel for the dude, but that's all I can think about right now. I'll take you over him every damn day of this earth."

Denki said, "I'm going to take myself to bed."

And he did.

How long did it take for Kiri to join him? Too long it felt, and also too short, because Denki didn't sleep, just kept getting dragged into the same stupid loops: how bad of a boyfriend was he, leaving his partner on the couch. Why couldn't he be sweet and affectionate like all those other Os in the K-dramas, who could say things like I'm here for you and Are you okay easy as curling their hair. Denki couldn't even come check in without making up this whole convoluted excuse to stay ("sick", his ass).

Wasn't it his job to give as much comfort as he could. Maybe he wasn't any good at comfort, yeah, but why couldn't he have just stayed, groped for the right words until something fit. Why'd he have to be like his mom said, never did realize when to quit.

He just couldn't bear to hear Kiri hurt himself.

The footsteps were so soft he didn't sense it until the bed dipped, and then a heavy, substantial weight was pressed against his back, bare skin hot as a furnace. An arm wrapped around his waist, warm and something fierce.

"I'm sorry." The low murmur came right behind his ear.

The arm pulled him in closer, as if verifying he was real; as if afraid Denki could disappear from its clutch at any moment. "I was too caught up in my own self-blame."

Embarrassingly hoarsely: "It's okay —"

"No. Don't apologize," the Alpha sighed. "Everything you said was right. There wasn't anything we could've done. I was afraid giving up was unmanly, but... facing reality isn't giving up."

"I should hope not," Denki couldn't help but pipe up. "Otherwise that dishwasher's been making off with my balls every day."

A surprised laugh at the nape of his neck. Then, a moment later, a gentle hand ruffling through his hair: "You really… you're the best, Denki."

Denki's face was hot; part of it was Kiri's hand big and rough and warm on his stomach (if only he'd move it lower!), part of it was who-the-fuck-knows else. "I know!"

Rewarded with another rumbling laugh. But they were both getting dragged to sleep now, and Denki felt the Alpha's breath move into line with his: deep, even, opening up a space in the darkness, a space where nothing could touch.

Kiri was murmuring. It took a few moments before the words took shape.

"All I could think of," he was murmuring, "was that I was him. If it were me, I'd do the same."

 

***

 

Denki woke up to a mild, gloriously contented scent all over the pillows and a chirping phone: missed notifications, a bunch of them. Texts from their Secret UA No Boys Allowed Group.

(Mina): OMG did u guys see the pics??? :joy:

(Ochaco): they were on the news the morning!!

(Hagakure): lmaooo you mean the PHA dinner right

A picture — and that got Denki's attention, because wasn't that Bakugou, sitting next to the Kpop star what's-her-name, staring at his wine glass like he wanted to laser-beam it into oblivion and wearing an actual, sleek-black, sharp-cut suit?

(Tsuyu): He does look different

(Ochaco): wow there's some gossip about him and Yuna now

(Mina): bwahahaha no he TOTALLY got roped into it! bet Hawks made him the beautiful bastard

(Mina): look at his face that is NOT voluntary

(Kyoka): oh he's got the homicidal one on

(Momo): but i don't *think* he threatened to kill anyone?? It's progress you guys

Denki pulled himself up with a grunt and padded to the bathroom, phone in hand. Browsed Kirishima's heart-filled texts as he brushed his teeth (went to work, didn't want to wake you up <3) and then grabbed his coat and ran outside, stretching on his way down in the elevator.

If he hummed a little too — well, it wasn't like every day began with Katsuki Bakugou in a suit.

It took him little time to find him. Luckily, the Explosion Hero was a man of habit, and so recognizable a Twitter search usually yielded something close to live updates (not that the inherent security problems there didn't make Denki cringe, but bringing it up to Bakugou usually ended in something like "they can fucking bring it").

He managed to catch up to him at Hamarikyu park, and the fact that the Hero didn't immediately try to blast him on sight suggested how tired he was.

Instead, all that was summoned up was a glower. "It's my fucking day off, Sparky."

"Ha! That's a lie, you don't take days off."

"I don't," Bakugou muttered, grudgingly. "But I could."

"Hawks would throw a party, if he were still alive after fainting off his perch."

Bakugou snorted, and fell silent. He was going through the park at a brisk, uncompromising jog and Denki had to hustle to keep up.

"I'll have you" — (puff) — "know I was going to say" — (puff) — "thank you!"

That made his step pause. "For what?"

Denki considered for a second — it was possible he had it wrong, but he doubted it. "For taking our place at the dinner! I thought I was screwed after Mina said she had plans."

"Oh." Bakugou scowled, as if that was a memory he didn't want to be reminded of. He shrugged. "Wasn't gonna make Hawks do it."

Denki thought about having toddlers that could fly straight into a rooftop and didn't sleep, and silently agreed.

"Well," he panted, "for what it's worth, Kiri and I are grateful. Did not want to be sitting next to Representative Ito for five hours — dude looks like a Power Ranger villain and keeps asking me where my ring is."

Bakugou grunted. "...not even gonna ask what Red thinks about that."

"We've been dating for one year dude! One year!" Denki shook his head. Technically one year was the longest he'd ever been in a relationship, but still — he wasn't going to ask for anything more than what was offered. Counting chickens and all that. Kiri and him — they had fun together, they worked well together, but who knew what it all meant when the music stopped? Denki wasn't a serious person, who'd take him for serious things?

Even with moments like last night.

He changed the subject. There was one thing gnawing at him lately about Bakugou's scent — brooding as usual, but there was a restless note in it, like a lion in a big plains that'd finally seen its edge — and if there was anything Denki liked, it was innocent gossip. "You know," he said casually, "I gave you bad advice. Flowers are actually kind of a shitty courting gift."

Bakugou rolled his eyes. "Yeah, yeah I know, fucking florists —"

"No no it's not the flower shop, they're great! I just mean, flowers are just a super generic gift, you know? And it's not even about the gift. I'd say the thing that Omegas — well, people — want most is just to be treated like an actual human being." Denki paused. "By that I mean, everyone wants to be seen as an individual, and not a chapter in a rulebook somewhere."

Bakugou eyed him. At least he wasn't jogging as fast anymore. Man had the endurance of a tank.

"Like, if I were courting someone, I'd just — actually try to show interest in them as a human being. Like, ask them about how their day was, if they saw something interesting. It's all small talk, but sometimes small talk... is how you get to the big talk." He made a thinking face. "Or something like that."

"That sounds like a book," Bakugou grunted.

"I'll have you know Denki's Unsolicited Life Advice is 4.99 on Amazon right now," Denki quipped. "But seriously, sometimes it's the small stuff that's interesting about people." He tossed his hair back in a little dramatic gesture. "How do you think I ended up snatching Kiri? I'm all small stuff."

Bakugou snorted. "No you're not."

"Mmm but how can you say that if you don't know me?" Denki made a short burst to catch up. "All I'm saying is, none of this shit can be bought, or shortcutted, or whatever. You have to put in like, actual effort. All this grunt work — that's how you get to know people. And sometimes if you get to know them enough, you end up liking them."

Bakugou side-eyed him, or maybe it was because Denki was at his shoulder. "I don't like anyone."

"Yeah, well, you wouldn't have stepped up for Kiri then, now would you," Denki said, and sped up past him before Bakugou could react.