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Anybody who ever told Katsuki it gets better is a liar, because it’d been the same goddamn shit every fucking year.

They all arrived fashionably late, sliding out of the seats belonging to the sleak, black limo before blinking away the stars from the flashes of cameras going off, then making their way down the velvet red carpet that got put out every Hero Awards. They posed individually as they came along, and then in groups, showing off their designer outfits, all differing from each previous year. For this occasion, Katsuki wore a suit with mourning bride petals clinging at the waistcoat, selected by one of his top designers.

When Eijirou saw him in it, his face had screwed itself up in thought.

    “The flower… it looks familiar...” Katsuki had only shrugged, and before the conversation could turn into something more, they were being ushered out of the building by Mina, who had stars dancing in her eyes.

Once they had passed through the paparazzi and slipped through the massive doors leading into the fouyer, Katsuki’s hand plucked a glass of something golden and in a tall flute from a drifting waiter, hardly giving a care for what was actually in it before downing it in two gulps. He wasn’t one to drink, and Kyouka reminded him of that fact with a raised brow.

Katsuki wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, abandoning the flute at a table with a face. “It’s the Awards,” he said shortly, as if it meant jackshit.

    “You’re nervous,” they observed, and Katsuki gave a gruff, mumbled reply that sounded like disagreement.

    “Aw, c’mon, Kacchan! It’ll all be good!” Denki promised cheerily, pulling him in close with an arm. “We’ll mingle for a bit, have some drinks, joke about. Then we’ll find our seats and sit, and wait for everyone to get on stage and then -” he used his free hand, switching out his own flute of shit to the other, to gesture dramatically, “- there will be a hush amongst the crowd, a near silent buzz of anticipation. Someone good-looking will strut on stage, and in their hand? A golden envelope. In that golden envelope?” Here, he whispered close to Katsuki’s ear. “Your name.”

At his words, an electric thrill ran down Katsuki’s spine. Whether it was from Denki’s quirked touch or his words, he wasn’t sure. Either way, he shoved him off. “I know my name will be in the goddamn envelope. Stop fucking babying me.”

    “Don’t swear!” Eijirou chided around some food. “This is a formal event!”

    “Don’t talk with your mouth full, idiot,” Katsuki shot back.

    “Boys, boys,” Mina warned. “Leave the fighting for the cameras, some clout could be fun.”

    “We’re Pro Heroes, Mina,” Kyouka pointed out. “We already have a shitton of clout.”

At their arm, Hanta nodded. “Exactly. It would be way funnier if we caught something on our own phones and posted it online ourselves.”

    “Yo, I dig that. Eijirou wouldn’t swing first though, so Kacchan -”

Gritting his teeth, Katsuki’s pulled Denki in close by his shirt. “You’re the one I’ll be swinging at if you don’t shut it.”

    “Hey, Kacchan!” Of course he was there when they all turned to look.

Goddamn fucking Deku.

He was surrounded by his own posse, all looking good in whatever they decided to turn up in, but it was nothing as designer as what Katsuki adorned. He was the child of fashion fanatics, not fools. He spared a glance at Deku’s feet, hoping to God he was wearing those ugly-ass shoes just so he could make a lazy snarky comment.

He was not.

The bastard fuck had one job.

    “You all look very handsome!” Iida praised them with a smile, Uraraka rushing to admire the fabrics Mina had slipped herself into, Yaomomo following suit. Beside him, Todoroki gave a wave, one Kyouka returned before going over to talk with them.

    “What do you want, Deku,” Katsuki shoved his hands into his pockets. It felt a little like Yuuei again; Deku smiling at him, unafraid, Katsuki slouched and wary. Things between them weren’t entirely resolved, but they certainly understood each other more. Except in that moment, Katsuki felt like his sixteen-year-old self again.

    “Just saying hi! Haven’t seen you for a while, not even on the field.” The two groups were now one, exchanging words and laughs. The pair were in their own bubble.

    “Been helping out Miruko a bit. She’s retiring soon, wants to tie up loose ends.”

Deku’s smile was genuine. “That’s sweet of you."

Katsuki shrugged. “Fuckin’ owe it to her, I guess.”

    “I suppose,” he nodded slowly. There was a look in his eyes. He was analysing Katsuki. It made his gut stir with even more nerves.

Then, Deku said just about the worst thing he could have told Katsuki.

    “I hope you win tonight.”

Katsuki hated how there was no malice in Deku’s tone. No cruelness, no coldness, no slip-up of a jeer. Deku looked at him like they stood on the same ground. Katsuki despised it, because he had been chasing Deku all these goddamn years, and the more he ran for, the more breathless he became, and the more unreachable the ground around Deku seemed.

Katsuki said nothing, and he didn’t think Deku expected a response anyway.

 

The seats in the hall itself were plush and comfortable, making Denki sigh in pleasure as he sank down into the cushion. “This shit hits different...”

    “You done yet?” Kyouka sounded mildly irritated about his exaggerated performance. Denki gave one last sigh for good measure, expertly avoiding their earjacks that threatened to jab him.

Eijirou leaned over. “You good?”

    “Fine,” Katsuki spat.

Hanta, sat on his other side, helpfully said, “You’re singeing the armrest, my guy.”

Katsuki loosened his grip. “Whatever…” Hanta patted his shoulder sympathetically.

    “We’re trending!” Mina waved her phone triumphantly. “Just below Midoriya!”

Great.

    “GROUP PHOTO!” Denki sat up quickly, making grabby-hands for the phone despite having his own in hand. Katsuki grumbled loudly, reluctant to be involved, but there wasn’t much he could do with the way they all swarmed in on him.

    “EVERYBODY SAY GROUND ZERO NUMBER ONE!” Mina hollered, and the group echoed it back, five pairs of lips pressed against his face. He shook them all off.

    “Jesus Christ, you got your stupid picture, now post it or some shit.”

As the lights dimmed in the audience and focused on the stage, Mina typed away vigorously. Then, Katsuki’s nightmare began.

It was a long event, a date marked in the calendar every year, and all heroes were asked to attend. Awards ranging to Popularity, Overall Rankings, and then the Top Ten were given out and broadcasted live, viewed by fans all over the world and discussed for weeks after. Katsuki zoned out for most of it, only bothering to tune back in when Denki and Eijirou tied in the males category of the Popularity Award, and then again once Hanta, Mina and Kyouka were ranked within the Top Twenty Pro Heroes, all accepting their rewards graciously on stage and with wide smiles and pride flushed cheeks.

Katsuki knew he was part of the Top Ten, but that was a given. Alongside him, everyone else within the category had been informed a month prior to the ceremony for convenience sake. Then, the painfully slow evening came to a sudden halt. Next thing Katsuki knew, the spotlight was in his eyes, and the announcer - some new guy presenting the awards - had reached Number Four. Thunderous applause rang for Creati. Then Shouto. He had just missed Denki as the Top Fifth.

    “This leaves the Number One and Number Two Pro Heroes!” Katsuki hadn’t bothered remembering the name of the speaker. “This year’s Number One Pro Hero is…”

White noise, bright lights, dry throat, sweaty palms.

    “PRO HERO DEKU!”

Looking back at it, Katsuki’s memory was patchy. He remembered trying to hold back the tears, straining to keep his hands from shaking at his sides, begging himself not to scream out. All he remembered was the apologetic glance Deku gave him, one that passed right through Katsuki like a ghost. Then he recalled being led into his seat again, his trophy pushed into unresponsive hands just before. He said nothing, blocked out Deku’s speech entirely. The second they were allowed out of the hall, all awards handed out and words of thanks proclaimed, Katsuki faintly made his way to the cars out back.

He felt leather under his fingertips as he clung to it in the car, hardly processing the fact that his friends were all there, eyes rounded with concern when he chucked his blazer jacket over his shoulder. They followed him into the living room when they got there, straying a little behind with cautious movements. No one said a word when he headed to his bedroom. No one said a word when he made two trips there and back to the living room again to dump his past awards and trophies onto the couch, all with the same NUMBER TWO PRO HERO etched into them.

One of them said his name when he came back the third time with a hefty baseball bat, and a few more began to move towards him, hands reached out.

But no one stopped him from beating the absolute shit out of all his failures.

His yells and screams and cries bounced off the walls, and shards of glass flew in all directions when the bat didn’t dent metal. Eventually he casted the bat aside, palms hovering above the mess before him, exploding the little remains of inscriptions of his name and his title into even smaller parts. He sobbed into the cushion of the couch, knees sinking into soft carpet.

Pathetic. Useless. Second best.

Weak.

Gentle hands held him, and spoke soothing promises, whispers of affirmation. His hands bled a little from where glass had skimmed his skin, and they stung suddenly when wet cloths were pressed against them. Someone ran fingers through his hair.

He was tired. It was as if someone had carved him out roughly and left him empty. Nothing they said really moved him or made him feel any better. He could hardly process a thing. He wondered if he would feel whole again - if he was ever even whole to begin with. But the arms holding him felt like home, and Katsuki gave into the impulse to trust them.

Next time he wouldn’t be caught wearing mourning brides.