It's empty where you were
Just a big gaping hole
Now I tried every bottle
Every pill that I know
But time baby time
Works better than wine
And bloodshot eyes
Katsuki hates his job, but not enough to quit. Actually, he only hates his job enough to quit every first Friday night of the month. Twelve nights out of the year is not enough to make him his quit a job, so he suffers—but not in silence.
“Jesus Christ, get this asshole off the stage!”
“Bakugo, Yagi said you can’t heckle when you’re on the clock!” Kirishima, his perpetually sunny coworker chides him from behind the staff picks shelf he’s restocking. “Besides, this guy’s not half bad!”
Open Mic Night at Plus Ultra Books is and will forever be the bane of Katsuki’s existence, or at least until he graduates and gets a real job or gets fed up and quits, whichever comes first. For some idiotic reason, Open Mic Night nets a lot of profit at the bookstore-slash-coffee-shop just off campus in which he works part-time. That’s what he gets for choosing a university with both a stellar arts program and a kickass pre-med track. All the hipster liberal arts majors swarm the bookshop like flies on shit every first Friday of the month to hear bullshit wannabes play their sad acoustic indie rock, and Katsuki is but an unwilling bystander.
I went to the mountains
I thought it might help
I wrote some songs
But they were shitty as hell
Only works when I'm broken
Four inches from dying
And at my best
“Oof, baby boy is going through something,” Ashido says as she dumps coffee beans in the grinder, occasionally glancing at the crooning performer. Her biggest complaint about Open Mic Night is having to wait for the performances to end so she can use the grinder. “He’s got a nice voice, though. A bit weepy, but nice.”
The performer in question is currently assaulting Katsuki’s ears with the most pathetic ballad he’s ever had the misfortune to hear, complete with a fucking harmonica riff. Who plays the harmonica? Isn’t that the most bullshit instrument in existence, next to the triangle and the tambourine?
If you know what I know
And I think that you do
You’d head to the country
For a minute or two
And lie on the earth
And for better or worse
Let it swallow you whole
“Is it over? Thank god, it’s over,” Katsuki bellows. He might have permanent ear damage from the wailing harmonica. His complaining is only mildly drowned out by the half-hearted clapping of the gathered crowd. He makes eye contact with the idiot onstage, and he immediately knows the guy heard him because he looks just a bit put-off. Katsuki flips him off before disappearing behind a bookshelf, but not quickly enough that he misses the guy give a surprised jolt.
“Um… thank you. I teach guitar lessons. If anyone’s interested, you can find my number on the bulletin out front.”
There’s another bout of pity clapping and some microphone feedback, and Katsuki knows the next sucker is ascending the steps to take the stage even though he’s hidden himself away in the storage room at the back of the store.
When he comes back out, and some melancholic girl is reciting some spoken word garbage that’s either about her boyfriend or Jesus, he finds that neither Ashido, nor Kirishima are working. Instead, they’re chatting up the world’s worst harmonica player by the coffee counter. Bakugo’s blood pressure skyrockets. This always happens, and Katsuki is always left picking up the slack because his chatty coworkers can’t multitask.
He hefts the box of books he’s carrying onto the counter and drops it with a loud thud. Everyone—including the person performing (if you could call it that)—gapes at him in the low lighting.
“Jeez, Bakugo. You’re going to give me a heart attack!” Kirishima puts a meaty hand on his chest and Katsuki rolls his eyes at his antics.
“The sooner we unpack this shit the sooner we can close up and go home,” Katsuki says, looking pointedly at Kirishima, trying to impress upon him how shitty his work ethic is with just his eyes.
“I’m talking to a customer,” he says loftily, gesturing at the nameless performer. He’s got bushy green hair and he’s dressed like every other person attending Open Mic Night, a bulky thrift-store sweater, fashionably distressed jeans, and combat boots that look too clean to have ever seen any hard work, much less combat.
“Hi,” he says, stretching out a hand. “I’m Midoriya Izuku. Nice to meet you.”
Katsuki’s mouth pinches with distaste, staring at his outstretched hand like there’s a dead fish on the end of it. The hand drops slowly, taking the hint.
“He was asking if we’d play his demo around the store, maybe stock a few copies,” Ashido says lightly, her voice at an acceptable volume out of respect for the performers.
“It’d mean a lot to me! I’m just trying to get my name out locally,” the freckled musician beams at Katsuki, completely ignoring his scowl, and holds a CD with cheap-looking cover art in Katsuki’s direction.
“I will literally set this place on fire if I have to listen to a harmonica wheeze at me for eight hours at day. Absolutely fucking not.” Katsuki shoves the offending CD back into Midoriya’s chest.
“So, less harmonica. Noted.” The nerd takes out a small leather bound notebook and scrawls a quick note. “So, are you the owner, then? Bakugo, was it?”
“Do I look like the kind of person who would willingly own a bookstore?”
“I… don’t know how to answer that?” Midoriya gives him a confused look, and looks to Ashido and Kirishima for help.
“He’s not the owner. He’s just naturally bossy,” Ashido says. Kirishima plucks the CD out of Midoriya’s hand. “I’ll ask my boss and let you know. Write down your contact info and I’ll have him get in touch with you.”
“Thanks,” he says, but instead of writing his name down he hands Kirishima a simple card, printed with his name, number, email address, and the idiotically obvious title guitarist.
“Open Mic performers get a free coffee right?”
“Right! Ashido, get this man a latte,” Kirishima says, and somehow he sounds even friendlier than usual.
“With vanilla, please,” Midoriya says, smiling sheepishly. Katsuki groans and takes the box to the nearest bookshelf, resigned to the fact that they’re never going to do their jobs.
He can still hear the inane conversation they’re having every now and then over the banging cups and the squealing espresso machine behind the counter.
“You’re definitely one of the better Open Mic performers we’ve seen. You’ve got a great voice!”
“Really? Your coworker didn’t seem to like it.”
Katsuki rolls his eyes. The only thing worse than overconfidence is someone fishing for compliments.
“He hates everything. Don’t take it personally,” Ashido says. “The harmonica was a little grating, though.”
Katsuki chuckles, feeling triumphant. Fucking stupid harmonica.
“It’s not for everyone. Thanks for the feedback!”
“What kind of music is that anyway? It’s not the typical coffee shop indie rock,” Kirishima asks.
“Bluegrass, but I do indie rock, too, I guess.”
“Bluegrass… like country?”
Katsuki can somehow hear the musician wince.
“Not...really. Similar roots, but I don’t really think they’re the same genre.”
“Right. Well, I’ll definitely buy your CD if we end up stocking it!”
“Thanks. I’m gonna get going. Thanks for the latte.”
Katsuki finishes stocking the books and heads back to the counter to yell at his coworkers. They’re still bickering behind the counter.
“Dibs!” They both say, pointing at each other in a heated standoff.
“You can’t call dibs on a person,” Katsuki says, entering the conversation, albeit a bit reluctantly. The sooner he can shut this shit down, the sooner they can get to closing the shop.
“I laid the groundwork! Who’s the one who got his number, after all?”
“Yagi, technically,” Ashido says, and Katsuki almost laughs at the way Kirishima’s smile drops off abruptly.
“Irrelevant,” he says, recovering his smile and waving his hand in forced nonchalance.
“That’s a big word for you, Kirishima,” Katsuki says idly, taking a rag and wiping off the counter, since it doesn’t seem like Ashido plans to. Ashido barks a laugh and goes to clear the grounds out of the machine.
“He’s cute,” Kirishima says dreamily. “And his voice!”
“He really was good. Bakugo, I think you hurt his feelings.”
“Like I give a fuck.”
“But… cute! You don’t think so?” Kirishima says, restocking the coffee filters—like that’s helping.
“I think youre a disaster gay. Go make yourself useful and boot out the Open Mic people, it’s closing time.”
Two weeks. Two weeks of blissful silence go by before Katsuki comes face to face with the green-haired nuisance who’s name he’s already forgotten. It’s a slow Monday, so slow that Katsuki is the only one working that day, covering both the coffee counter and the cash register on the book side of the store.
“Hi,” he says, dressed in pretty much the same thing he wore for Open Mic Night. Katsuki groans—he can’t help it.
“Welcome to Plus Ultra, what can I get you?” He asks, doing his best to affect a customer service voice and give him that Plus Ultra welcome Yagi is always going on about.
“Is your boss in today? I was hoping I could talk to him about stocking my CD.” The guy looks like he’s trying not to be nervous, but he’s failing miserably. He keeps trying to make deliberate, forceful eye contact, only to break it and look down at his fidgeting hands.
“What?” Katsuki barks.
“Nothing! I just didn’t plan to get this far into the conversation.” He wringing the hem of his sweater nervously, and it irks Katsuki. He rolls his eyes and goes back to taking inventory. He always does inventory on Mondays. It’s the only time when the shop is empty enough during the day to do it. He’s completely forgotten about the musician, making notes about the different types of coffee they have stocked and what they need to reorder soon.
Someone clears their throat and Katsuki looks up, annoyed that he lost count.
“Can I get a latte?”
Katsuki has to tell himself not to snap. He’s not made for the world of customer service. He’s surprised Yagi hasn’t fired him yet for all the verbal abuse his customers take at Katsuki’s hands. Instead of responding with a cheery smile, like Ashido or Kirishima might do, he grabs a cup from the stack with excessive force.
“What’s your name again? Deku, or whatever?” He asks, mostly as a formality. He’s already written Deku on the cup because he couldn’t care less if that was his name or not.
“Izuku,” he says, and the way his eyes linger on the marker in Katsuki’s hand tells him that he noticed his actual name wouldn’t be going on the cup no matter what he said. Katsuki adds two pumps of vanilla syrup to the cup before he starts fiddling with the espresso machine because Katsuki can’t remember a name to save his life, but he’s never forgotten an order.
There’s a long silence between them while the espresso is dispensed, dripping from the machine at an agonizingly slow pace. Katsuki steams the milk while he waits.
“Can I ask you something?”
“No,” he says reflexively, picking up the little saucer of espresso and adding it to the to go cup. The cup of milk turns a pleasing shade of beige and he pops a lid on it, placing it on the counter in front of Deku.
“$4.80,” he mutters, more than ready to have his only customer out of his hair so he can go back to cataloguing inventory.
“What was so bad about the song I sang? Seriously, be brutally honest. I can take it.” The guy’s eyes are wide, like a puppy’s, seeking approval, but there’s also a hint of determination that Katsuki doesn’t entirely despise.
“Other than the shitty harmonica?”
The guy laughs, and slaps a bill on the counter.
“Yes, besides the harmonica.”
He plucks the same notebook from his pocket and finds a page half-marked with writing. His pen settles on the page, and he looks expectantly at Katsuki. Katsuki wonders, for a moment, why he would care about Katsuki’s opinion. Does he think Katsuki’s some shitty music major who can give any real advice?
“Your lyrics made me want to blow my brains out,” he says, just for something to say, really.
“Okay, but like… in a bad way?” He asks, moving to a nearby armchair, biting the top of his pen. He looks like he’s settling in, and that’s the last thing Katsuki wants.
“Is there any other way to take a statement like that?”
Deku looks like he’s thinking hard about what Katsuki asked, tapping his pen against his lips thoughtfully.
“Well, they’re not cheery lyrics. It’s supposed to hurt, but does it resonate?” He looks up at Katsuki again with those big, stupid eyes. Katsuki grimaces.
Before he can say anything, though, he’s saved by the bell. The bell on the door chimes as Kirishima walks in, ready to help Katsuki with the expected night rush of studious coffee addicts. A soft gasp escapes Kirishima’s lips when he sees Deku, still poring over his notes.
“Midoriya! Hi! What are you doing here?” Kirishima asks, looking more than a little frantic as he tries to subtly fix his messy hair.
“Hey. I was hoping to meet your boss, but no dice.” He shrugs goodnaturedly.
“Wow, you’re pretty dedicated, huh?”
“Just trying to get my name out there,” he says, looking a tad bit uncomfortable. “I guess I should get out of your hair.”
“No! You can stay. We can play your CD. Right, Bakugo?” Kirishima hastens around the counter and puts his apron on quickly. It’s lopsided and inside out, the logo’s stitching facing outward. Katsuki gives him a judgemental look. Kirishima ignores him and starts shuffling through all the crap in the cabinet below. Katsuki shakes his head and mutters under his breath.
“Desperate. Disaster. Gay,” he says, emphasizing each word.
Kirishima looks wide-eyed at Katsuki when he finds the CD and hisses, “Shut up. Don’t ruin this for me.”
“Fix your apron, dumbass.”
Kirishima goes to the back of the store where the sound system is, and in no time a banjo is twanging softly through the speakers.
“You put vanilla in this?” Deku says from his chair. Kirishima still isn’t back, and he hopes he’s doing his job somewhere in the store while he works through his crush. Katsuki gives him the evil eye.
“That’s what you wanted, ain’t it?”
“Yeah, I’m just surprised you remembered.” Deku gives him a tentative smile that Katsuki blatantly ignores.
Deku goes back to his book and Katsuki goes back to doing inventory. He’s annoyed that the music lilting through the speakers isn’t terrible. It’s entirely composed of string instruments, all blending together to create a powerful beat. He recognizes Deku’s voice from Open Mic Night, and the absence of the harmonica is a godsend.
“There’s no way this is just you playing,” Katsuki blurts out while he’s cleaning the espresso machine.
“Huh?” Deku looks up from his book, a bit dazed.
“This is like three different instruments,” he says, instead of asking him if the rest of his band is as annoying as he is.
“Jesus, how big is the band you’re in?” Katsuki can’t imagine spending time with that many people, or that many loud instruments.
“I’m a one-man band.”
“You play six instruments?”
“Seven, if you count the harmonica,” he says, smiling and chewing on that pen again. Disgusting habit.
“I don’t,” he deadpans.
“I don’t believe you.”
“That’s alright. Not like you’re in a position to offer me a record deal.”
Katsuki grunts, annoyed by his attitude and his easy smile.
“So… do you like it?”
Deku has the audacity to laugh at him. “Yeah, alright.”
Kirishima comes back, and Katsuki can tell by the coif of his spiked hair that he spent all his time away in the bathroom fixing his hair and not unloading books. He sits down in the chair next to Deku and they talk about his music until the Monday night rush shuffles in and Kirishima has to actually do his job.
Katsuki doesn’t care.