Tsunagu Hakamata was frustrated beyond belief.
From what UA’s teachers had told him, this was a normal response for anyone foolish enough to engage with Katsuki Bakugou.
On a rational level, he knew that he couldn’t reform every hero-in-training that came through his office. It wasn’t like he hadn’t failed before. To the contrary, he’d had a few interns in the past that ended up turning into villains. When you decided to take on the worst of the bunch, you had to accept you wouldn’t always succeed. But in each case prior, Tsunagu had known from the moment they had walked through his door if he’d be able to turn them around or not. He had understood them, been able to see if they really had the core of the hero or not. Of course, he’d always still made his best efforts. Never let it be said he didn’t try to save all of them. However, he didn’t let himself be frustrated with lost causes. Instead he gave it his all and let them choose their own fate after that. You couldn’t make someone walk on the right path, only offer them guidance.
Katsuki Bakugou was different. He’d been different since the moment Tsunagu had seen him chained to a podium at the U.A. Sports Festival. He’d been different since Tsunagu had reviewed extremely carefully written reports from Katsuki’s teachers, and he’d been different since the moment he’d walked through Tsunagu’s doors. Because regardless of what Tsunagu may have hinted at to the boy, Katsuki Bakugou was never going to be a villain. Even with a jagged exterior, foul mouth, and violent nature, the boy had a bright core to him that shown through everything else.
Tsunagu had been hopeful. He’d seen the talent the boy had, a hard work ethic and a determination unlike most others. Katsuki’s only issue was his behavior, he had the heart of a hero but carried himself like a villain.
It was tearing him apart because every day had felt like he was getting close to breaking through that tough shell. Like if he just waited a little longer or pushed a little more, he’d hit that breakthrough that Katsuki desperately needed. But something pushed him back every time. And that something was the core of his frustrations. It frustrated him because he didn’t understand it, couldn’t identify the root of the problem. Pride, anger, hatred even, he could deal with and had slowly been working through, but there was still something in the way.
Never before had Tsunagu so thoroughly understood the frustration of being so close to something and yet so far from it. He wanted to lie to himself and say it was just an issue of time. However, Best Jeanist did not believe in excuses. It was not a matter of time. Even if he were given years to work with Katsuki Bakugou, nothing would’ve changed. Not without finding that wall that he couldn’t understand.
Somehow, the boy being kidnapped only worsened his frustration. Now Tsunagu was well aware his emotions were unfair, irrational, and never something he’d admit to out loud, but the boy’s absolute determination to become a hero had only increased his feeling of failure. On a very selfish level, he would’ve almost prefer it if Katsuki had decided to become a villain. Like that would somehow make him it better if it had been a hopeless task the entire time. Those feelings were crushed and pushed deep down inside of his chest. It was selfish and cruel to be upset with the boy for making the correct choice. If anything, it just meant that if someone did finally get through to Katsuki, the hero he’d become would be all the grander for it.
But damn it, Tsunagu had been so sure that he could’ve been that someone. Yet he’d failed, and a very quiet part of him was blaming himself for the fact the villains had targeted the boy at all. Maybe if he’d pushed a little harder, or been a bit more insightful, maybe if he’d been reformed, they wouldn’t have been interested. As much as Tsunagu tried to pull his thoughts away from possible futures, they kept tempting him back. Taunting him.
It didn’t help that he was currently laying in a hospital bed ten feet away from Katsuki.
Tsunagu’s chest injury from the fight with All for One was already healed. It had been bad, but the healer on staff had been able to take care of it. Now he was merely resting. Katsuki was asleep, his own injuries also patched up. It was strange, the difference between the explosive hero-in-training who had been under his care and the child sleeping on a bed only a few feet away. Sure, Katsuki had always been childish, bratty, and quick to anger, but he had never really felt like a child. Not when he’d been yelling at children on his patrol, arguing back loudly, or fussing over his hair. Not when he’d been on TV and fighting other children in an arena, or chained to a podium afterwards. Not when he’d been captured and refused to even fake becoming a villain, choosing to fight even when desperately outnumbered and outmatched rather than forsake his morals.
Yet here he was, having fought his way out of hell, curled up on his side looking for all the world like any other teenager. The sight plucked at Tsunagu’s strings, pulling him towards that something . Still though, he couldn’t make it out no matter how hard he searched. A few hours passed during which Tsunagu was left to these thoughts. Sleep would not come to him no matter how many breathing exercises he did.
Eventually, Katsuki awoke with a start. The immediate change, how his form tensed, eyes flashed open, as if expecting an enemy in front of him almost pained Tsunagu to watch. He wanted to stride across the room and wrap the boy up in a hug. Tell him that everything was alright, that they wouldn’t be able to take him again. Had it been any other of Tsunagu’s interns, he would’ve done it in a heartbeat. But he knew it would only put Katsuki on the defensive, so he remained still and allowed him to get his bearings.
While Katsuki put himself back together, a nurse bustled in. Both of them had their vitals checked in rapid succession. Tsunagu was cleared to leave, and he almost did so. Standing up to stretch with every intent of offering Katsuki a few kind words and then heading home to reflect. But then the nurse had turned to talk to Katsuki quietly. It wasn’t as if he’d meant to overhear, but he had always been a bit too good at listening.
Physically, Katsuki was healed and allowed to leave. However the hospital was under strict orders not to release him unless his parents were able to come get him or one of his teachers was able to escort him home since he was underage. His parents had been contacted but were too busy to make the drive up to the hospital, so he’d need to spend the night. One of his teachers would probably be free to escort him in the morning.
Maybe it was how Katsuki had tensed at the prospect of spending the night in the hospital. Or maybe it was how Katsuki had merely nodded, as if unsurprised that his parents had more important things to do after their son had been kidnapped. Tsunagu couldn’t pinpoint exactly what it was that made him act, but he knew damn well he wasn’t leaving this child alone in a hospital. So he’d intervened.
“Nurse Kita, correct? If he’s healed and ready to return, I would be more than happy to escort Katsuki back to his household. I am not staff at U.A. but I’m sure the school wouldn’t mind if I stood in for one of them.”
The wide-eyed look that Katsuki fixed him with hurt Tsunagu more than All for One’s air cannon had. As if the boy were absolutely blown away by the idea that someone would help him when they weren’t required too. Surprise narrowed to suspicion after no more than a heartbeat, but Katsuki kept his mouth shut. Most likely unsure of Tsunagu’s intentions but wanting out of the hospital badly enough to play along.
It took a game of telephone involving Tsunagu personally calling Principal Nezu to assure him that he was well enough to see to the boy’s safety, but within the hour Katsuki had been signed out into his care for the evening and the two of them were sitting in the back of a car as it rumbled to life. Throughout the entire affair, Katsuki had been uncharacteristically quiet. To be fair, he’d also almost fallen asleep more than once. Now that they were settled into their seats, Tsunagu could already see red eyes drooping and his posture leaning every so slightly. Despite his clear exhaustion, Katsuki stayed awake for the first five minutes of their drive. His gaze was accusing and even without looking at him, Tsunagu could feel the questions radiating off of him.
Five minutes was all Tsunagu could stand before he broke the silence.
“While I know you may not care for my opinion, I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you that you were incredibly brave. Many of the experienced pro-heroes I know wouldn’t have dared try to fight against so many villains at once and you didn’t even hesitate. When we first met I had my reservations about you, but clearly you have a much stronger moral code than I gave you credit for.”
The snort and eye-roll were expected, but Katsuki didn’t try to refute the point. Instead he just turned his gaze out the window. Contemplating. It was a few long minutes before the other finally spoke.
“I would’ve been fine to just stay in the hospital for a night. You didn’t have to go out of your way like this and waste your time just because you felt bad or some dumb shit like that.”
Up went the walls again. Even after being kidnapped he was already trying to push others away. It invoked frustration and pity in Tsunagu in equal measure. Still, Tsunagu knew better than to offer kind reassurances. He’d learned quickly that they would be taken as an insult.
“My assigned task was to help return you home safely according to Detective Naomasa. As you should well know a true hero doesn’t leave their job half-finished.”
Katsuki still seemed suspicious, but he accepted the answer at face value. As long as Tsunagu had selfish motivations he was willing to put his pride aside. His glare softened a little as his gaze grew unfocused. Tsunagu tried to ignore the pain in his chest. The two of them were only a seat apart, but it felt like there was a chasm splitting the car in two. It should’ve been easy for him to cross, to mend. Stitching things back together was a passion of his, he was known for it among the other pros. Yet here he sat, unable to even find the hole let alone a needle and thread.
So he stayed silent and watched as Katsuki fell asleep. It wasn’t quite the same sleep as before, even in his rest there was a tension to his shoulders and a furrow to his brow. As if he were expecting an attack.
After what he’d just lived through, it wasn’t unreasonable.
Tsunagu turned his gaze out the window. There wasn’t anything left for him to do. He’d return Katsuki home, let the boy know he could contact him if anything came up knowing damn well that he never would, and that would be that. Anything else was up to his teachers and parents.
Why then, did he still feel pulled towards the boy sleeping against the other window? Why was Katsuki any different than any of the others he’d failed in the past?
Even as he questioned his emotions, he knew the answer he didn’t want to acknowledge. It was because, as Katsuki had proved tonight, Tsunagu hadn’t failed him yet . He hadn’t saved him, but Katsuki Bakugou both didn’t need saving and needed it more desperately than anyone Tsunagu had met before. Katsuki Bakugou would never be a villain, he was going to be a hero and there wasn’t a force on earth that could or would stop him. Unlike the others before him, that had never been the issue Tsunagu needed to tackle. No, the issue with Katsuki Bakugou was whether or not he would ever be happy. Whether it would ever be enough for him. Whether he’d learn to let others in and make real bonds.
It wouldn’t stop him from becoming a hero, but it ate at Tsunagu to know that he couldn’t even start to address how deep rooted the problem was. That he had finally met something beyond his abilities and he was going to just give up and walk away rather than try to push through.
Because god, Tsunagu hated leaving a job half-done.