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bring them low, make them crawl

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“People who try hard to do the right thing always seem mad.”  - The Stand.


 

 

It's not like this is the worst he's had.

There was that time when he was alone in a room with five of them and only three bullets, and then that other time when he woke up in his tent with one of those fuckers staring down at him about one second away from getting a good bite out of him. Now that was a close one. Since then Katsuki sometimes still wakes up in the middle of the night and throws a punch that hits only air, trying to fight an infected that isn't there.

So no, this isn't the worst. But it's admittedly bad enough. He made the stupid mistake of somehow injuring his leg (a broken tree branch or a pointy rock will do the trick just fine when you’re too busy running for your life) and his speed has been drastically reduced, leaving him with no option but to stumble through the woods like an idiot – because he's also run out of ammo. No three bullets this time, not even one.

So here he is with a messed-up leg, a useless gun he can’t fire, and only his knives to defend himself from the, what, four? Five? Half a dozen infected? He’s not sure of the exact number, which is dangerous. When dealing with these monsters, a single one of them can make the difference between life and death. 

The only thing he knows for certain is that the smell of blood running down his leg seems to attract them like sharks. And they’re quickly catching up.

Katsuki can make out the exact spot in the distance where the woods give way to an abandoned park. It can't be more than two minutes away - but that's with two good legs and no infected chasing him. With all of the above? There's no way he'll make it in one piece. He lets out a frustrated groan, stops running, and turns around to face the footsteps following him as he unsheathes his knives.

Right. Fine. This is the worst he's had.

 

 


 

 

 

They hadn’t seen this much action on a routine patrol in weeks. While Deku is busy counting heads (and tracking down the ones that had rolled away after being lopped off), Shouto climbs atop a long-abandoned transport truck and surveys the damage. The parking lot was already in a poor state, and now it has bloodstains and scorch marks to add to the cracked and crumbling cement and steel. In all, almost a dozen burned or otherwise dismembered bodies litter the ground, give or take a few, and there are definitely a couple poor souls here who hadn’t been part of the undead at all. Shouto narrows his eyes. What had been drawing them here?

He readjusts the flamethrower on his back before hopping down to the pavement. Iida had run ahead to scout the area, and they were waiting for him to return before moving on. Like any good rescue and retrieval crew, they have an unspoken creed to move on if a member of their party isn’t back at an allocated point in a (usually short) amount of time. Shouto looks at his watch. Only two minutes left.

But Iida is back within thirty seconds, red in the face and looking serious. Well, more serious than usual.

“Something wrong?” Shouto asks, voice terse. He’s always tense on these outings, even more so now considering they haven’t had the need to venture this far in weeks.

“Five of them up ahead, chasing someone,” says Iida, gesturing pointedly. “Whoever it is seems to be making good time, but I doubt–”

“Let’s go,” says Shouto before Iida can finish. He waves Deku over and watches as he scrambles to put his field notes away before jogging to meet them. Without another word, the two of them follow Iida at a run. It might already be too late, notes Shouto, but he’s never one to give up before that’s certain.

It doesn’t take long before they see it from a dozen metres away – someone hacking and slashing at five of the undead from close range, out in the open, spilling out of the woods and onto the pavement of what used to be a park. Shouto bites his lip and thinks quickly. The person in question is moving too fast for it to be safe for him to burn them at a distance.

Oh. He watches as two bodies crumple to the ground.

Deku audibly gasps and clutches Shouto’s shoulder.

“That’s – that’s Kacchan,” he says breathlessly, eyes wide.

Shouto only blinks, turns back, and then sees it: an opening.

Without hesitating, he charges forward and swings the flamethrower around, shouting Get back! as loudly as he can before hitting the ground. He flips a switch as he slides forward, a burst of flame roaring from his direction and covering the clambering bodies. They claw at themselves before succumbing to the fire, collapsing in blackened heaps, and though they seem to jerk and twitch involuntarily, they’re good as dead. Again.

Standing, Shouto brushes the gravel from his pants before approaching ‘Kacchan’. Bakugou. He tries to recall what he can about him. He remembers a hot-headed but intelligent person whom Deku clearly admired, despite the vitriol that was shot his way. He holds out a hand to the blonde when he’s within arm’s reach, quietly noting the wounded leg, the knives in his hands.

“Sorry to interrupt,” he says, and he’s not sure what kind of greeting he’s expecting from the other man, but it definitely isn’t having his hand slapped away hard enough to sting.

“You're lucky my leg's fucked,” Bakugou growls, “or my foot would be up your ass right now. I don’t know what you think you’re playing at with that thing, but you nearly burned my scalp off trying to help m–”

“Kacchan! Are you okay?”

A small part of Shouto is surprised at Bakugou’s hostility, but surprise is quickly replaced by clarity as Deku interrupts them. Ah, yes. This was why he hadn’t been inclined to seek Bakugou out despite Deku’s repetitive asking over the years. There was no room for someone who wouldn’t play nice in their safe haven, that had been Shouto’s first thought upon meeting Bakugou Katsuki for the first time years ago in brief passing during one of Bakugou’s visits to his hometown.

Shouto steps back and lets Deku take over with his fussing (only to see him be rebuked just as succinctly). Iida stands some feet away, using a scope to make sure there aren’t more undead on their way in for a second shot. Once a minute or two has passed, filled with Deku’s worried muttering, Shouto steps in again.

“You’re bleeding,” he says, nodding at Bakugou’s leg. His pants are torn and there’s a thin but considerably deep gash on his shin. “If you want to clean that up while we keep watch, fine, but I’m not staying out here in the open.”

“Please, Kacchan,” Deku says, glancing at Shouto, “just let us help.”

“How many times do I have to tell you I don’t need your help, Deku!”

“I know, but still–”

Deku’s cut off by Iida’s sharp whistle, one Shouto’s heard before – rather than shout, it’s better to whistle at the sight of approaching undead, as Shouto’s not convinced they can’t understand human voices any longer. He’s seen too many try to respond to their old names or change their sniffed-out target for a vocal one the second a word is uttered.

“Deku, help me carry him.” Deku, expression one of nervous determination, nods. Without waiting for approval from Bakugou, Shouto grabs his left arm and swings it over his shoulders. Deku does the same with his right before he can protest, and they take off, back into the woods. Iida follows at a distance, keeping watch, until they drop Bakugou at the foot of a tree. Shouto’s glad to be rid of his weight – the disdain had emanated from him in droves.

“I know you’re not stupid,” says Shouto, face blank. “Why were you out there on your own? This isn’t a controlled area, but you’re aware of that, aren’t you? It’s either pure luck we found you, or you were looking for us. Please do explain.”

Under the shade of the trees, out of the sun, away from any impending battle, Shouto could almost relax. But he doesn’t. Not yet. He watches in sharp attention as Bakugou leans back against the tree and pulls out a small, tightly rolled up bundle of bandages from one of the pouches hanging from his belt. Disinfecting the wound thoroughly will have to wait for later, they all know, when the undead are not a pending threat nearby. For the moment this will have to do.

“Of course I know the area,” Bakugou spits, hands working the bandages around his leg quickly and efficiently. It's not a particularly bad injury all things considered, Shouto notes, but it looks deep enough to slow someone down while running. “And why the fuck would I explain myself to you?” He looks up, wipes the sweat off his brow with his forearm, and focuses now on something over Shouto’s shoulder. “Oi, Deku, I need to talk to you. Think you can get this asshole off my back anytime this century?”

“Wait, Kacchan, that's not a bite, is it?”

“Do you think I'm stupid?”

“No! I just – okay, listen. We should still take you back with us before it gets infected. Shouto and I will help you walk. We can talk once we get there.”

Bakugou scowls, shakes his head, looks away, and lets out a frustrated sigh. It sounds a lot like defeat to Shouto, and apparently to Deku too as he immediately surges forward to try to help Bakugou stand up.

“Whatever, fine, but give me one of your guns first. And you – touch me again without my permission and you're dead, Half-and-half, you hear me? Now move, Deku, I told you I don’t need your help.”

Shouto isn’t one to roll his eyes, but now he wishes he was. Bakugou’s bravado is as dangerous is at it is annoying, but he’s survived this long with that attitude, so Shouto lets it slide as they make their way back to town. Bringing someone with them wasn’t on the agenda for today but he doubts anyone will complain. People like seeing survivors, even if they are as foul-mouthed as Bakugou. Shouto has a feeling that Bakugou would have flat-out refused this aid if not for Deku’s presence. As usual, Shouto’s glad he’s here.

They return to the suburb in silence after handing a pistol over on not-so polite demand. It’s some ways up a hill, so they slow a bit then at Deku’s insistence, his concern for Bakugou’s well-being shining through a trip that would normally take thirty minutes. It ends up taking ninety. Once they arrive at the crudely constructed gates crowned with spikes and fences of wire, it’s nearly dusk.

The safe strip is a little less than a block of old single-family suburban homes. Surrounding it is a wall made of whatever could be found at the time, though it’s been fixed up over the years, made stronger in some parts and left still weak in others. Shouto wasn’t born here – none of them were – but it’s where he’s been long enough to call it home. His sister is here, his mother is here, his friends and whatever’s left of their families are here, too – and until the world is safe again, here is where they will remain.

It’s hard to know if it’s like this all around the world. Shouto knows some places had it worse than others. Information from outside comes infrequently, and any radio or digital broadcasts come from within relatively short range. He doesn’t think much about it, though sometimes he catches himself wondering if making it to the city would be worth it, just to see. Just to know.

Once they’ve signalled to the guards at the gates that all’s clear, they’re let inside. For all the world it looks like a normal suburb until you spot the sheds filled with weapons, the bonfire pits, and the piles of scrap metal, concrete, brick, and wood stored up near the walls. Once inside, Iida hurries off to report their patrol and he and Deku are left taking Bakugou to the infirmary – which is the converted main floor of the smallest house on the block. Some other patients are sleeping upstairs, but Shouto doubts they will be for long if Bakugou opens his mouth again. While Deku putters around gathering disinfectant and more bandages, Shouto leans his flamethrower carefully against the nearby counter and gestures to one of the beds in the middle of this stripped-down kitchen.

“Maybe once you feel better you can tell me what you were doing out there,” he says. “There are only two kinds of people who frequently find themselves alone.”

He refuses, of course, to explain what kinds of people he means.

 

 


 

 

 

It’s not Katsuki’s first trip to this specific infirmary; he knows exactly where they're taking him. His first memories ever are of these very same streets and decaying houses, where he used to live what seems like a lifetime ago.

And in a way it was – a whole different life. No life, as far as he was concerned. Staying passive and quiet, endlessly hiding, waiting for some kind of salvation that would never come... Maybe everyone else was content and satisfied floating pointlessly in this purgatory they called home, but Katsuki knows he'll one day die still not regretting once his choice to leave it all behind.

Some people stay put, play the heroes, burn down a couple of infected at an old parking lot, and call it a day.

Katsuki’s always looked for something else. Something more. A real answer. A real challenge, too, maybe. Anything.

Which is why he’s here now after it all went to shit.

He sits down on one of the beds, without hesitating to step on the clean sheets with his mudded boot as he brings his leg up to untie the bandages he wrapped around his shin only a couple of hours ago. The stains of blood are already visible. He takes the disinfectant and new bandages Deku hands him – and normally he'd remind Deku for a third time that his help is not needed, but Katsuki’s remaining energy is fully focused on Todoroki now, who is very much still on his back, demanding some kind of explanation he feels he's owed.

Asshole.

“What, you gonna tell me I can’t come back to my own house? Stop asking questions that aren't any of your damn business.” Katsuki glares. No wonder this guy is friends with Deku. Now there's not only one, but two nosy little shits nagging him. “I told my group to go ahead while I came here for supplies, we were running low and this was the closest town. I was supposed to catch up later, but before I made it here I fucked up and got those infected all over my ass in a second. That's it. You done with the inquisition now?” He flexes his fingers as the disinfectant makes the gash burn, but he's had worse. He'll live. “I'll be out of here soon enough.”

Not without those supplies, though. Namely, ammo. Katsuki’s been gone for years, sure, but he still remembers clearly where the armory is. And how to pick all four of its locks.

Yet none of his very generous explanation seems to be good enough for Todoroki Shouto.

“Why didn’t you tell us there were others?” he asks, moving closer. “They’re probably wondering where you are, why you haven’t returned. Are they going to be a problem?”

Katsuki’s eyes narrow. “I don’t see them anywhere here close enough to be a problem, do you, Half-and-half?”

“Fine,” Todoroki agrees tiredly. “If you don’t want to talk, we’re done. It’s not in my jurisdiction to tell you if you can stay until you can properly walk again or not, that’s Izuku’s prerogative, but if you do stay, I want you to tell us everything we might need to be aware of. You’re helping no one by retaining information. And be aware,” he adds with an air of finality, “we don’t welcome lone wolves here.”

Deku's prerogative, whether to welcome Katsuki or kick him out? The mere thought of Deku having any kind of say on his stay is enough to make Katsuki grind his teeth. He's about to tell Todoroki where exactly he can shove up his prerogative, his jurisdiction, and his precious Deku, up until Todoroki finishes off by demanding even more information from him.

Katsuki has to make a very conscious, very painful effort to keep himself on that bed and his hands to himself, rather than grabbing Todoroki by the collar of his shirt and strangling him. He never imagined he’d find someone who could get on his nerves just as much or even more than Deku does, but it seems Todoroki’s somehow managed. Figures. The world’s population has been wiped out, and amongst its handful of dozen of survivors Katsuki is stuck with the worst possible two.

“Who says I'm retaining information? I told you I wanted to talk to Deku. That hardly counts as hiding shit, does it?”

Katsuki did come here to say something though, so he might as well say it. The fact that he hates Todoroki’s guts is irrelevant – if today’s close escape from the infected has shown him anything, it’s that it’s true that retaining information will be of help to no one, especially if it dies with him. He had meant to only talk to Deku, but so what if Todoroki is here too? He'd eventually end up finding out from Deku anyway what with how they seem joined at the hip, and Katsuki doesn't have time to waste playing coy. The guy with the glasses must have told everyone in town by now that Katsuki’s back, which means more eyes on him the longer he puts this off. And that means raiding the armory later will be even harder.

Discreetly, he moves his wounded leg to assess the damage. He makes a face of disgust at both the pain the movement causes, and the pain of having to answer to a guy that tosses questions left and right like he's the boss around town.

“We found someone out there in the woods. With a bite.” Katsuki runs a hand through his hair. “An old bite, rotten as fuck but mostly healed. It looked exactly like the infection, smelled the same, you name it. It was the infection. But this guy wasn’t infected.” Does Deku understand the full weight of his words? Does Todoroki? Katsuki finally pushes all the irritation aside and leans forward, taking the time to look into their eyes to make sure there’s no doubt when he spells it out. “He was bitten at least days ago and he was still alive. He didn't turn into one of them.”

Fuck it. Since he’s already spilling it all, might as well go the extra mile.

“We tied him up and were about to bring him here, but he escaped. Fucking Kaminari can't do his job for shit, I told him to keep an eye on the guy but he lost him. I should have done it myself.” Bakugou slams a fist down on the bed, hitting the softness of the mattress. He’d told them to keep chasing the guy while he got ammo for the group, but if he had known the amount of trouble and the sheer time he would waste on it, he wouldn’t have bothered. “There's someone immune out there, that’s what I’m saying, and the longer I stay here the longer he'll be gone. I need to hunt him down before he gets any further, I don't give a shit about my leg.”

He purposefully leaves out the part where all of the people he travelled with have an unspoken agreement: if someone goes missing, if someone doesn't come back, that's it. No time or efforts to waste looking for them. This search for supplies should have taken a couple of hours at most, but at this rate he’ll be lucky to be skipping town by morning. So no, by the time he’s out of here, no one will be looking for Katsuki, no one will be expecting him back, and no one will be waiting for him.

He’s on his own now.

 

 


 

 

 

 

Bakugou’s voice seemed to grow distant as he spoke. Shouto, his breath caught in his throat, tries to make sense of what he is hearing. It is almost unbelievable, but despite how little he knows about Bakugou, he knows he certainly isn’t a liar.

Still, he feels his sense of placement fade. Everyone else knows he has a tendency to zone out, but Deku once gave it a much more clinical name. Regardless, it’s not something that can go unnoticed. Deku clearly takes notice – when did his hand reach out for Shouto’s, fingers pressed to the back of a fist he hadn’t realized he’d made? A minute’s worth of information felt like much longer. Shouto wants to speak, but he can’t. To think of all the people left behind, abandoned or forced into isolation after being bitten – if there was a natural immunity… maybe his father, then…

No. Shouto opens his mouth, but it is Deku who speaks.

“We’ll help you find him,” he says, mouth set in a thin line. “T-that’s– I didn’t think–”

“I mean, how could you have?” Shouto says finally. “How could anyone have thought…” He trails off, turning away. “How long ago did he escape?” he asks, not looking at Bakugou. “Today? If it was today, there’s a chance we could find him before it gets too dangerous. But your leg…”

“No one’s going anywhere tonight,” interrupts Deku, voice rising. “It’s important that we find him, but Kacchan needs to rest. All of us need to rest.” He scrambles for his pack, pulling out his notebook. “Kacchan, c-could you sketch him, before the memory starts to fade.”

Shouto lets Deku fuss again and leans against the nearby counter, beside his flamethrower. He feels like an idiot for never even wondering, all these years, if that was a possibility. But like any disease, he supposes, even this could affect everyone differently, with varying intensity – or not affect them at all. He swallows and tries to reconnect with the ground under his feet.

“Put that shit down,” he hears Bakugou snap at Deku through his haze. “I'm not going to forget him. Long black hair. Skinny. Hasn't shaved in a while. Looked like shit. We found him five days ago and he escaped yesterday morning, so he can’t be that far.”

“We’ll find him,” Shouto decides, “and your friends. But Izuku is right, not tonight. Tomorrow, maybe.” Deku visibly relaxes. He tries a smile, but Shouto doesn’t look at him, can’t look at him, not now. Some strange part of him doesn’t want Bakugou knowing how much finding someone with an immunity to this terrible disease means to him. He keeps his eyes on Bakugou, then, wearing, somehow, an even blanker expression than usual. “You can sleep here. Breakfast is at eight in the largest house, three down from here. Join us. Or not.”

“My mom is still a really good cook,” Deku chimes in, clearly trying to clear the tension still left in the air.

“We can discuss a plan then,” adds Shouto, crossing his arms. “And you’ll get the supplies you need, despite your attitude.”

But if he thinks that’s the end of it, he’s quickly proved wrong.

“You have some damn nerve,” Bakugou says, getting up from the bed. If it hurts his leg, he doesn’t show it. “Last time I checked, you at least have to ask someone before you invite yourself to join them just like that. Don't you both preach about staying safe and sound here in this hellhole? Or were you just waiting for something big enough to be worthy of your attention?” He scoffs with no hint of humour, and Shouto tenses instinctively. “What is it, the infected aren't fun anymore, Half-and-half? Looking for something a little more challenging, huh?”

Shouto can feel his patience wearing thin. He’s not easily offended, no, it’s not that – it’s Bakugou’s stubbornness that’s difficult to deal with, his apparently complete lack of willingness to just make things easier for anyone, everyone. Even himself.

He moves in close again, leaning forward. He’s not attempting to intimidate – he just doesn’t want to raise his voice to Bakugou’s level.

“No, they’re not fun anymore. They never were.” There’s an edge to his voice that would go unnoticed by most, but he knows Deku and Bakugou aren’t stupid, they’re both smart and observant and incredibly aware – for the most part. “I didn’t ask to be born into this mess, but neither did anyone else, and if I can help people live even an hour longer than they might have been able to without me, then I’ll do it. Working out of this hellhole, as you so kindly call it, was only the first step. You’re about to help me take the second.”

If Shouto could emanate a cold chill, he would be. He can feel Deku staring at him, stilled with something like shock, but he doesn’t meet his gaze. That’s the first time in a long time he’s been even remotely close to anger. If Bakugou wants a fight, fine, but he’ll engage without raising his voice or, if it can be helped, lifting a finger. Finding someone with an immunity to the disease could mean that an antidote or a vaccine might be possible; he knows about such things, past attempts, recent failures. Deku’s diligent bookkeeping, Iida’s dedication to keeping a communications system open, Tsuyu’s quiet but reliable medical knowledge, Ochako’s endurance, strength and optimism – they would have hardly come this far without all of them, here, together, and if Shouto can find some way to immunize them, to make sure they stay safe, he will.

Maybe it’s too noble a thought. But it’s also only human, to want to preserve what you have and hold dear.

“Ah, Shouto…” says Deku, voice pitched. Shouto freezes, having only just realized he was shaking. With what? Anger? Anticipation? Something else entirely? “Do you need to sit down? You look pale. Kacchan, please, we don’t want gratitude, just–”

“Cooperation,” finishes Shouto, looking away again.

Cooperation,” Bakugou repeats with distaste, confusion in his voice like he’s parroting a foreign word with no meaning for him. “Deku, haven’t you told everyone around yet that I’m shit at cooperating?” Deku struggles for an answer, but it doesn’t matter. Somehow, it’s worked. Bakugou’s defensive stance relaxes, he sits down on the bed again, and looks away as he shrugs one shoulder dismissively. “Whatever. I’ll rest and be there for breakfast tomorrow, and then I'm leaving whether you want it or not. I don't give a shit about you two or your plan, but if you follow me then try to keep up without getting killed. Or get killed, I don’t care. Just don't bother me or try to slow me down.”

And with reluctant agreement, Bakugou punches his pillow into shape and lies down.

Oh.

Well, Shouto wouldn’t call that compliance, but he supposes it is Bakugou’s version of it. Despite the hostility, was there anything resembling resolve? Shouto can’t quite tell. Deku looks like he wants to speak, staring as Bakugou lies down and turns away from them, but Shouto puts a hand on his shoulder and turns him around. The two walk silently out of the infirmary, back outside into the night, the gentle hum of people settling into their evenings contrasting greatly with the crackling space they just left behind.

Shouto doesn’t relax, though. He’s not completely sure Bakugou will keep his word. If he leaves before they can find and follow him, any chance of hunting down the individual with immunity would be lost. Shouto sighs. Deku, of course, notices.

“I didn’t expect him to… you know… agree,” says Deku, glancing behind him.

“He’s not an idiot,” says Shouto. “He recognized neither of us were going to get off his back unless he was the first one to shut up.”

Deku laughs – it’s a tired laugh, but a laugh all the same. He’s silent for a moment. Shouto watches him intently, the way his face begins the fall, his shoulders shifting and slumping slightly. “He’s not going to be here in the morning,” he says, and there’s no laughter left in his voice now.

“I know,” says Shouto quietly. “I know.”

 

 

***

 

  

It’s nearly two in the morning by Shouto’s watch, and still nothing. He’s been camped on the roof for hours now, eyes closed, just listening. Any movement he hears comes from the wind and the few animals that venture close. Rats and rabbits, mostly. No opening window, no creaking doors, no footsteps – not yet. Of the four people in that home, three are old, two are dying, and one is Bakugou. His wordless promise to Deku (and to them all, he supposed) to make sure Bakugou was still here in the morning had hovered between them until Shouto had said goodnight and returned to his current post.

He’s tired but he’s not succumbing to it, not yet. He’s stayed up for days before and though expending such energy leaves him shaken, he’s not weak. He can’t be. This is the one and only chance they may ever have to do something that can go beyond what they have here, and what they have, in reality, isn’t much. Leaning back, Shouto looks up. The stars are clear as always. He lets out a long exhale through his nose and closes his eyes once more. He’d like to prove Deku wrong, but something tells him he’ll be dragging a kicking and screaming Bakugou to breakfast in the morning.

Shouto starts listening.

A shuffle or two, fine. Several, though, has his attention. The walls in these cheap homes aren’t thick. Soundlessly, he slides to the side of the roof and uses the upper floor’s east windowsill to lower himself down enough to jump. He lands into a roll and stands quickly, moving back to the rear of the house, knowing that Bakugou, despite his bravado, would never risk going out a front door.

Shouto’s not wrong, of course. He waits until Bakugou is about ten feet ahead and then moves. In silence he tails him, knowing that he knows his way around – though he’d left before Shouto settled here, this was once his home, too. How he can feel such disdain for it doesn’t sit well with Shouto, but he’s not here to comment on Bakugou’s moral standings. He’s here to make sure he doesn’t leave again.

Of course he’s heading to the armory. Shouto realizes that almost immediately. He’s not angry with him, no – he understands. Shouto’s stolen before. He’s been desperate before. But what’s driving him wild is how Bakugou doesn’t have to be doing this. Is his pride really that far up his own ass, or is it something else? Shouto can’t recall much of what Deku’s told him beyond their rocky childhood, mostly because Bakugou left so soon. No one talks about those who leave because they so often don’t come back. Someone like Bakugou should be easy to read, but in reality, he’s not. Though Shouto’s nowhere near as good as tapping into people as Deku is, he’s got a good eye for it and he’s getting better, but… Here, he feels somewhat at a loss.

It’s kind of annoying.

Once they’re about halfway there, moving behind the houses, Shouto ducks down between two of the buildings and bolts to an old garden shed Bakugou’s about to pass by. He clambers on top of it and crouches, waiting, cat-like – it only takes a few seconds for Bakugou to reach him. This little chase was only a couple of minutes in all, but it was still enough to see how well Bakugou does move, even if his form in terms of stealth manoeuvring needs some work.

“Sorry,” says Shouto, voice even but loud enough to be heard, “but it seems you forgot to say goodbye.”

Bakugou wouldn't have survived this long without quick reflexes, so he quickly turns around to fully face Shouto, body automatically adopting a fighting posture with an arm raised like a barrier before him. His other hand, Shouto notes, is already wielding a knife. When exactly did he draw it out? What Bakugou lacks in stealth he has double in reflexes, then.

“What the hell,” Bakugou growls, a violent scowl twisting his face. “What are you doing here? Back off! I’m not like Deku, shithead. If you try to mess with me, I’ll fuck you up.”

Shouto is silent as he jumps down from the shed, approaching Bakugou at a slow but steady pace. It’s dark, but distant light from the homes and the moon and stars above give everything a cool sheen. Though he can’t exactly make out Bakugou’s expression, he can at least tell it’s not one of complete and unadulterated rage despite his threats. Anger, frustration, definitely. Shouto tries to stand as straight as possible when he speaks, brushing the hair from his eyes.

“I know you’re not like Izuku,” he says, having already decided earlier that day to go back to calling Deku by his correct first name instead of the nickname he’d adopted and re-claimed from his childhood friend. “But if that’s your way of saying I can’t push you around like I might him, I don’t know how to continue from here. I don’t treat people like you do, Bakugou.”

He moves closer, palms out, so Bakugou can see he’s carrying nothing. The flamethrower usually strapped to his back is half a block away. He doesn’t even have rope or tape or anything that could be used to restrain. Near daily destruction wrought on once-human bodies makes Shouto never want to hurt another living person again, if he can help it. Sometimes defensive action is necessary, though, but he hopes it won’t come to that with Bakugou.

“I’ll give you the ammo you're trying to steal,” he continues, lowering his hands, “but if you’re still going to leave tonight, so are we. It doesn’t matter if you get a head start. We’ll be right behind.”

Apparently encouraged by Shouto’s lack of weapons, Bakugou gets closer. Shouto tenses at his approach, but holds his ground. Their height difference is more pronounced than ever as Bakugou stops right in front of him and looks up to meet Shouto’s eyes. 

“I don't fucking want you,” he says, slow and deliberate, his temper replaced by something a lot more serious. He tucks his knife away as he speaks. “You and Deku will just slow me down. You both care too much, alright? I don’t need two martyrs at my back. I need people who get shit done.”

For once, he’s not shouting or otherwise raising his voice – it’s somewhat more unnerving than Shouto anticipated. He lets him finish. Shouto’s not one to interrupt. Even after Bakugou’s said his piece, he’s silent, his gaze steady.

“You care, too,” he says. His voice is quiet again. “I know you do, or else you wouldn’t be doing this.” They’re so close he can see Bakugou’s eyelashes, the sheen of sweat near his hairline. How he’s already walking and holding himself so steady on that leg is either foolish or impressive. Maybe both. But he shouldn't be sweating that much from such a brief stint in the cool night air. On some level, he's in pain, even if he's refusing to recognize it. “Caring for people isn’t weak. Looking out for only yourself isn’t weak, either, but it leaves you vulnerable in a different way,” Shouto continues. He would know. He’s been there before, too. He pauses for a moment, then looks away. “I’m not here to lecture you. But I’m not going anywhere. I am coming with you, and so is Izuku.”

He turns away and starts walking in the direction Bakugou was headed. He clenches and unclenches his fists for a moment, wishing he had something to hold. If Bakugou thinks he and Deku are dead weight, fine. Shouto will just have to prove him wrong.

He lets out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. “Let’s get your ammo.”