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Incandescent Snow

Chapter Text

The package arrived that morning. It looked like one of dad's photographs, the ones he took on his travels and sometimes sent copies of to them. Inko had put them up on the walls around the house, black-and-white pictures from all around the world, speckled with secret little spots of colour. His dad's photographs were really pretty, Izuku thought, even though they were just a hobby related to his actual job.

"Is it from dad?" Izuku asked and peered at the package his mom set on the living room table as if he could see right through the cardboard. He bounced a little on his knees, eager to see where his dad had been and what fragment of the world he'd thought worth sending to them.

Inko gave a quiet, small laugh. "Yes, it's from dad. Just hold on a moment, Izuku. Let me open it first." Carefully she tore the package open, picked up a framed canvas inside, and then let out a soft breath. "Oh," she said in wonder.

Izuku understood why, a few seconds after, when she tilted the canvas towards him. It was a black-and-white picture, taken somewhere deep in the untamed forests of Canada, and in the midst of Aunt Mitsuki's pale wolfhounds stood a small, scrawny boy, his hair white and tangled. He was looking out of the photo, eyebrows and mouth twisted down in a scowl, and the only speck of colour was his eyes, red like carmine.

"Wow," Izuku breathed, incredulous and proud that his dad had taken something like this. "It looks really pretty!"

"It does," Inko agreed, and then sighed a little wistfully, leaning her cheek on her hand. "Your father is such a talented man."

She pulled out a folded letter that'd been in the package. Her eyes skimmed over it and her face lit up. "Oh, it's from Mitsuki!" she said suddenly, sounding pleased and surprised. "And that must be Katsuki!"

"Katsuki?" Izuku asked curiously. His eyes flicked to the boy, somehow feeling like he was staring at him out of the photo. In spite of his irritable, almost hostile, expression and gaunt frame Izuku couldn't help but think he looked pretty, with thin lips and thin nose and thin eyebrows. Absently he skimmed his fingers over the canvas. He looked nothing like Izuku. "Are his eyes really red?"

"Uh-huh," Inko said. "Mitsuki and Masaru picked him up in a Canadian orphanage. Mitsuki said he's Japanese."

"Wow," Izuku breathed again. He wondered if his red eyes were related to his quirk, maybe something to do with fire or blood, or if it was something else. Then he looked up. "Wait, Auntie took him in?"

Aunt Mitsuki was always nice to Izuku when they saw each other, treating him with an open and unreserved affection, and he'd wondered why she'd never had kids of her own. She'd laughed a little sadly when he'd asked and said she was just so busy she'd never had the time. Afterwards Izuku had felt vaguely guilty - like he'd asked something he shouldn't have - but he'd still thought it a shame. Maybe Aunt Mitsuki's child could've been his friend.

"Yes," Inko said. She bit her lip, worried over something, but said nothing else. She smoothed down Izuku's hair, a gentle smile on her face.

"He's Japanese?" Izuku asked, folding his arms around his legs, chin resting on his knees. "Why was he in Canada?"

"Mitsuki didn't say. Maybe she doesn't know." Inko frowned, eyes anxiously flicking over the letter. "But she asks if we can visit them. She's busy with research and would like help with Katsuki."

Aunt Mitsuki wasn't known to ask for help even if she was busy. She must really need it, Izuku thought, and brightened. "We should go, mom! It'd be nice to see Auntie and Uncle!"

Inko worried her lip some more and then asked in a gentle way, "But not Katsuki?" and Izuku jolted in surprise. He hadn't even thought about that.

He looked at the photo again. The carmine eyes glared out at him; he looked wild, like something born out of the forest. Izuku lowered his head and shyly murmured, "You think he'd like me?"

"Oh Izuku," his mom said and pulled him into a tight hug. "Why wouldn't he like you? You're the sweetest, brightest boy there is. Katsuki would be lucky to have you as a friend."

Izuku didn't share his mom's confidence. All of his classmates either ignored him or bullied him but he hadn't told her that. He slanted a hesitant glance towards the photo. He didn't have any friends, no one his age to talk to, and he thought he maybe really wanted to be Katsuki's friend.

There was something about him - something about the slant of his shoulders or the tilt of his head or the look in his bright red eyes that attracted Izuku's eyes over and over again.

But nothing said Katsuki would want to be Izuku's friend.

Something seemed to occur to Inko and she pulled back. She held his face in her hands and smiled. "Oh, he'll be like your brother then if you become friends."

The word rattled in Izuku's mind for a moment before it settled. "Brother," he repeated, and blushed. It sounded nice. The only people who treated Izuku nicely were his family. If they were brothers Katsuki might treat him nicely too.

"Do you think," Izuku asked and looked down, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. "Do you think he'd like to be my brother?"

Inko smiled, smoothing her hands over his hair. "Well, we'll just have to ask him, won't we."

After a week of packing and hectic preparations they were in Canada, and Uncle Masaru picked them up from the airport. He dropped down into a crouch to ruffle Izuku's hair and then put their bags in the car.

Izuku sat in the backseat, exhausted after the long flight, his hand a little numb. Inko had kept a tight grip on it, telling Izuku every five minutes or so that they were going to be just fine and to relax.

Izuku curled up in the seat, head resting against the window. He was half-asleep in minutes, even as he tried to stay awake, the All Might figure clenched tight in his fist. He'd held onto it throughout the flight and had offered it to his mom, too, when she'd looked pale and generally distressed.

Masaru and Inko were talking quietly and snatches of their conversation ebbed and flowed in his conscious like half-dreams.

"Is Izuku still shy with other kids?"

Inko exhaled shakily. "Yes. I kept hoping things would get better after kindergarten but. No one ever asks him out to play and he never invites anyone to play. I hope he and Katsuki can get along," she added with anxious hope in her voice. "It'd be nice if Izuku could make a friend."

Izuku thought so, too, and it'd ease his mom's worries.

"Didn't Mitsuki tell you?" Masaru asked, something careful and troubled in his voice, but he often sounded troubled, more similar to Inko that way than his confident wife.

"Tell me?" Inko asked, the tentative hope drowned beneath the sudden flood of anxiety. "Was there something she didn't tell me?"

Masaru coughed. "Well... Katsuki is--"

"Is there something wrong with him?"

"He's just a little... intense. Even Mitsuki hasn't been able to tame him." He gave a laugh but Izuku, who became shy and timid around people who were intense, did not find this very reassuring.

When Masaru spoke next he sounded grave and old; Izuku had never heard him sound like that. "Look, Inko, that child has gone through a lot of rough things. Things that no one, least of all a child, should go through. He's never learned how to socialise properly. Of course we hope that he and Izuku can get along but... I'm worried." He let out a deep, heavy sigh. "I'm worried he'll be too much for Izuku. Maybe if Izuku was more confident..." His voice trailed off.

"Oh," Inko said, troubled and uneasy. "Should I have not come with Izuku? I want to help, I really do, but you know I don't want my child to get hurt."

"I understand," Masaru said, always ready to compromise, to soothe and placate. "If it comes to that, you can stay in a hotel. We'll pay for you, of course. It was us who invited you." After a moment he added, "Hisashi is still staying with us. If nothing else I'm sure you'll both be glad to see him. It's been almost a year since he was last in Japan, hasn't it?"

Their voices grew more indistinct, and Izuku thought about his dad and Katsuki - the other someone familiar he didn't quite know and the other a stranger he wanted to know - and dreamed of pale shadows running through pines.

He woke up later to the sound of gravel rattling beneath the undercarriage. He lifted his head and blearily looked up through the window. They were driving down a forest path, the sunlight flooding through the green canopy of leaves and needles, speckling the ground with fragments of gold. The shadows shifted, as if in a dance.

Then they turned along a widening curve and he caught a glimpse of the house, the white-framed windows like pools of light in the sun.

Inko turned around in her seat and smiled fondly when she saw Izuku awake. "Did you sleep well, Izuku?" At his nod she went on, "You woke up at the perfect time. We're here."

Izuku sat up, tense and still. He felt restless, his insides knotted with apprehension. He thought about Katsuki - about Masaru describing him as intense. He wondered what it meant, would Katsuki be similar to all the kids who bullied him in school.

He hoped not. He wanted them to be friends. For the past week he'd kept looking at Katsuki's picture when he hadn't been doing his homework or playing, had imagined what he'd be like, if he had a quirk, and if he could show him. When his mom had seen him repeatedly staring at the photo, she'd laughed and asked if he wanted it in his room. He'd agreed nervously, thinking of it like his All Might posters.

The car stopped.

They got out and the first thing they heard was a young boy shouting: "Fuck off, you old hag!"

Izuku flinched, Masaru looked troubled, and Inko looked shocked.

"Don't you fucking use that tone with me, brat! And mind your fucking language!" It was Aunt Mitsuki's voice. "Put those goddamn shoes on before you go out, how many fucking times do I have to tell you!"

There was no answer. Instead, something small and fast and pale darted over their heads, landing on the roof of the car with a loud thump. A scrawny figure stood up against the sun, and Izuku's breath snagged and caught in his throat. Sunlight glared off ash-white hair, the red eyes dark in shadow. Katsuki glared down at Izuku and he felt trapped beneath that glare.

So cool, he thought.

And then Mitsuki shouted, grasping the rail of the balcony, "Stop that fucking brat!"

Katsuki looked over his shoulder, clicked his tongue, and jumped off the car. When he landed Izuku reached out instinctively and gripped his arm.

"Um," he started to apologise, flustered, but never managed anything else. Katsuki whirled on him, red eyes intent and furious, his crackling fist high. Izuku shut his eyes, bracing for the punch, but instead he was slammed to the ground and Katsuki rendered him effectively motionless with his own weight.

"Izuku!" Inko cried out in distress.

Winded, heart pounding with awe and unexpected terror, Izuku stared up. Katsuki glared down at him, long pale lashes lowered, eyes glinting red.

"So cool," Izuku breathed unconsciously and Katsuki's eyes narrowed.

"Hey," he said, "you're real fucking weak, aren't you?"

"Eh?" Izuku said, startled he'd been addressed, and panicked because he didn't know any English yet, and belatedly realised he'd spoken in Japanese. "Eh, um, I'm - I'm sorry?"

Katsuki glared some more, and then clicked his tongue and stood up. Inko rushed to Izuku's side and gathered him up in her arms protectively. Izuku couldn't spare her a glance to reassure her, his eyes fixed on Katsuki.

Mitsuki, who'd jumped off the balcony and stridden over, grabbed the back of his shirt before he could run off. He snarled like a small, pale, vicious wildcat.

"Let go, you old hag!"

Izuku looked on, horrified, because no one talked to Aunt Mitsuki that way but she only sighed, looking exasperated and displeased.

"Hold on, brat. Before you go off anywhere you have to apologise to Izuku."

"Huh?" Katsuki stopped struggling and looked up as if he'd never heard anything more stupid in his life. "The fuck I have to! It was his fucking fault for touching me!"

A shadow passed over Mitsuki's face and then was gone. "Look, brat, you're the one who tossed him to the ground. Now apologise."

Katsuki gritted his teeth and glared over them all with dark resentment. Then he grumbled, "Fucking sorry," as if those two words were something foul and rotten he'd had to spit out.

Izuku stood up on shaky legs. His mom's grip on him shifted and she clutched his shoulders as if to keep him within reach. "It's fine!" he said hastily. "I'm sorry too. I shouldn't have touched you if you don't like that."

Katsuki didn't look appeased by his apology. If anything he looked more annoyed. "Who the fuck are these people anyway?" he demanded.

"Mind your fucking language!" Mitsuki hissed, exasperated. "They're guests. This is my sister, Inko. This is her kid, Izuku."

Then she visibly hesitated, which was unusual for her, and looked over their heads at her husband before she resolutely went on, "He's going to be your brother. So you have to be nice."

Inko gave her sister a wide-eyed look of horror as if she hadn't been saying the same thing just a week ago. Izuku gripped the hem of her shirt between his fingers and tried to make himself small.

"Fuck I have to," Katsuki muttered, voice and eyes distant like he was thinking of something else.

Then he wheeled on Mitsuki, the collar of his shirt stretching as he did. "Brother?" he asked like it was something he'd never heard of before and therefore didn't trust it.

"Yeah. Brother," Mitsuki said decisively.

Katsuki looked at Izuku from head to toe with a speculative gleam. Startled with the intense, keen attention Izuku flinched and fought the urge to hide behind his mom. "Does that mean he's mine? Like the dogs."

Izuku blinked, bewildered and unsure what to feel about this sudden equation to dogs, and his mom made an offended, upset noise.

Mitsuki spoke before she could. "The dogs aren't yours but yeah, sure, however you wanna put it. As long as Izuku is fine with it."

Then they were all looking at him, waiting for his answer, but Izuku could only look at Katsuki, amazed and completely intimidated. He felt intense was a bit of an understatement to describe him. Violently explosive seemed more accurate. He was honestly a little - terrifying and Izuku strongly suspected he didn't exactly see him as a person. He was too much, too loud and abrasive and self-assured. Nothing like Izuku.

Thousands thoughts flitted through his mind at once; his classmates who ignored him until they found a reason to jeer at him, the hours and hours of playing alone in his room or with his mom if she had the time, and the countless times he'd wished he could have a friend.

He thought how Katsuki had jumped to the roof of the car, how he'd changed from a punch into a throw in a split second, and how he'd rendered Izuku still with nothing but his body.

He was so cool. Izuku wanted to be more like him.

"Izuku," his mom said, low and careful. "If you don't want--"

Katsuki picked up her words, too, Izuku could tell because his face closed off into a mask of disdain and anger, and in that moment Izuku said: "I want to."

He looked up at his mom, face set and shining with determination. "I want to, mom."

Katsuki didn't look particularly happy about Izuku's declaration. He scowled and looked away. "We done here or what?" he asked, seemingly bored.

Mitsuki huffed and dangled his shoes in front of his face. "Yeah. But take your damn shoes for once."

"Don't be a nag," Katsuki said but took them. He didn't put them on. The instant he was let go he took off running, bright and fast like a firework whistling to the sky. He grinned at Izuku on his way past, wild and sharp and self-assured in a way Izuku didn't think he could ever manage. "Think you can keep up, pipsqueak?"

For a second Izuku hesitated, looking around at his mom and aunt and uncle, and then he took off after Katsuki and called him to wait up. A few seconds after the dogs followed them, running ahead and around and behind them like flitting pale shadows.

Katsuki ran ahead, a bright pale blur under the swaying shade of trees, and Izuku's breath hitched in his chest as he struggled to keep up.

He was so fast, too fast, and he didn't look behind him once like it didn't matter if Izuku followed or not.

He hated it but he didn't call him to wait again. He could barely breathe through the burn in his throat, the sting in his side. He ran, never losing sight of Katsuki, his hair flashing bright in patches of sunlight.

He thought, he had a brother. This person was his brother.

It was a little overwhelming.

Katsuki had almost forgotten the kid by the time he reached the river, his thoughts occupied with how he was going to practise his quirk. The dogs stopped at the shoreline, panting and pleased after the run, and settled down on the grass to lounge in the sun. He remembered him, a minute or two later, when the kid finally caught up and stopped, leaning on his knees and gulping down laboured breaths. Katsuki eyed him dubiously and thought he was as weak as he looked.

Still, Mitsuki had said he'd be Katsuki's brother, whatever that meant, and that meant he was his and he would do what Katsuki wanted. He just hoped he wouldn't be entirely dumb or useless.

The kid looked up, face flushed and sweaty, and offered him a tentative smile as if it was a secret he wasn't sure the other person was willing to accept. "You - you run really fast, Kacchan," he said, and Katsuki stopped and stared.

"What?" he said.

The kid blinked, seeming confused and flustered. "What?"

"The fuck is Kacchan?" Katsuki demanded.

The kid abruptly blushed, freckles drowned beneath a flood of scarlet. "Oh, that's - that's just a nickname," he said in a voice fraught with sudden anxiety. Really, it was kind of grating how fucking timid he was. "Did - did you not like it? Should I call you Katsuki? Or something else if - if you want?"

Katsuki had lost interest promptly after getting his explanation. He stared blankly somewhere over the kid's shoulder while the kid fidgeted nervously. The adults and some other kids at the house, and later in the orphanage, had called him all sorts of names. Katsuki didn't care.

He turned away. "Whatever."

He jumped up over the river and landed neatly on a rock jutting out of the water. He used his quirk to propel himself, to move faster and higher. The first time he'd done it he'd landed face first in the snow.

He heard a sharp intake of breath and turned to look. The kid was looking at him with wide, limpid eyes. "So cool," he said again in hushed tones, and Katsuki frowned. The kid took a step forward as if he couldn't help himself, shoes almost touching the water. "You have an explosion quirk, Kacchan?"

He'd just seen him use it so what was up with the useless, dumb questions?

With a blast Katsuki jumped to another rock twenty feet away. The stones were slippery, smoothed over years and years under the relentless grind of water. "Yeah," he said gruffly.

"That's amazing!" the kid chattered, some of the timidity easing out of him the longer he went on.

It wasn't. If he slipped even a little it'd be effectively useless, the blast either too large or too weak, the recoil was a bitch, and if he used it too much his hands began to throb and his skin chafed, but Katsuki was going to make it amazing.

The kid squatted down by the shoreline to watch him and made soft cooing noises every time Katsuki jumped from rock to rock, twisting and flipping in the air. The water beneath him and the sky above him turned over and over in glittering blue loops.

He heard the kid sigh wistfully. "You have such a cool quirk, Kacchan." Then a little more hesitantly: "I wish I could've had a quirk, too."

Katsuki stopped on a rock on the other side of the river. He looked over at the kid; his head was bowed and he fiddled with the pebbles on the shoreline.

"You're quirkless?" Katsuki asked, and thought about blue eyes and blonde hair.

"Yeah," the kid said, voice wavering on the word. "My little toe is double-jointed. Um, it's congential and pretty rare these days," he said, babbling on as if it helped him calm down.

The kid was quirkless. He had even less than Katsuki who'd never had anything.

The kid hugged his legs, chin resting on his knees, and then he looked up in a panic. "Um, do you - do you still want to be brothers with someone like me? Even though I don't have a quirk? I mean, I understand if you don't, I just--"

Katsuki tuned out the rest of his prattle. He measured the distance with a critical eye and then jumped over the rushing river, and it was the longest jump he'd attempted so far. He rose high with the propulsion of his quirk, flipped around in mid-air, and landed neatly behind the kid. He turned after Katsuki, eyes soft and bright as he looked at him.

Katsuki didn't know what to make of it. He scowled and squatted down in front of him.

"How do you write your name?" he demanded.

The kid hesitated for a moment, and then frowned and began to draw letters in the dirt in slow lines as if he wasn't sure of them.

Katsuki said, "Not fucking romaji, dumbass. I meant kanji."

Blinking, the kid asked, "You - you can read kanji, Kacchan?"

"I read the dictionary," Katsuki grunted. Mitsuki had bought it for him. She'd also bought him Japanese textbooks so he could study and reading them he'd realised Japanese was a dumb language. It was all about humbling yourself and being polite and vague and unobtrusive. But he had to learn it if he wanted to go there. And Katsuki was going. He had a plan.

"You really read the entire dictionary? That's amazing, Kacchan."

Was it? Katsuki didn't know. He'd just done it.

"There," the kid said, pleased and chronically nervous, finished with his name. "Midoriya Izuku."

Katsuki stared at the four characters, conjuring up the definitions he'd read in the dictionary. He traced the lines of 出久 and then snorted. He stood up. "Okay. I'll call you Deku."

"Er," Izuku said, sounding unsure. "Deku?"

"Yeah," said Katsuki, and couldn't believe he'd have to explain the intricacies of the Japanese language to him. "Like blockhead, good-for-nothing." He shrugged. "Useless." It was almost poetic, his name.

Face flushing with emotion, Izuku looked crestfallen and hurt. He smudged his name in the dirt. "That's - that's not very nice, Kacchan."

Like Katsuki cared.

Without thinking he reached out, sank his finger's into his hair, and ruffled it, a bit roughly, like he did with the dogs when they looked like they wanted it. Izuku's hair was a little like their fur, too, thick and tangled.

Izuku looked confused but tentatively pleased with his gesture, much like the dogs, a faint blush on his cheeks.

Katsuki grinned. "Then you just gotta stop being useless, Deku."

The boys returned before dinner, and Inko could finally relax when she saw her child unharmed. The boys ran up to the house, Katsuki ahead with the dogs and Izuku several feet behind. When he caught up he gave a tentative, breathless smile and looked up at Katsuki with nothing but sincere adoration.

Inko despaired.

It wasn't - She wanted Izuku to have a friend, she did, but Katsuki hadn't given the most personable first impression, too violent and coarse, nothing like her sweet Izuku, and Mitsuki hadn't exactly reassured her.

"Mi-Mitsuki!" she'd wailed as soon as the boys were out of sight. "You didn't say he's violent!"

Her sister had waved this away. "Oh that? That was still nothing. You should've seen him when he first came here. He didn't even use his teeth or his quirk!"

"His teeth? His quirk?" Inko had repeated, feeling faint.

She didn't want to think she'd brought her child halfway across the world just for him to get bullied by the very boy he'd so looked forward to meeting. It'd been cute, the way he hadn't been able to stop looking at Katsuki's picture and the shy way he'd accepted her suggestion to hang it up in his room.

Fretfully Inko returned to the pans and pots on the stove, bringing utensils and vegetables to her with her quirk. Masaru had said Katsuki had gone through horrible things, and she sympathised with that, she wasn't heartless, but she couldn't help but wonder what kind of terrible people had brought him up for him to turn out that way.

She was worried. Her Izuku was so kind, so willing to give his heart away, always so sensitive towards others and their needs. Inko thought about that look of adoration on his face, and he'd only known Katsuki for a few hours. She hoped his heart wouldn't get trampled on.

"Damn Mitsuki, not telling me everything," she muttered.

The boys came into the kitchen, Izuku's familiar chatter mingled with Katsuki's noncommittal grunts.

"Hi, mom!" Izuku said, and immediately launched into a tale about all the things they'd done at the riverside, praising Katsuki with breathless wonder every second sentence. Inko cut up the vegetables and listened attentively to detect if something else had happened that Izuku wasn't telling.

"Really?" Inko asked when he winded down. "You two must be hungry after all that."

Then she hesitated, and looked to Katsuki. He stood on the other side of the counter, eyeing the pots with dark suspicion. Inko didn't know what to think about this boy who looked beautiful and fragile with his pale hair and pale skin and pale eyelashes and who talked in a very insensitive, impolite way. And the way he acted...

Sensing her stare, Katsuki looked up with a suspicious glare and incongruously Inko thought it strange that the wolfhounds liked him so when he was more like a cat. Bristling and mistrustful of anyone who came too close.

Suddenly she felt incredibly guilty for her ungracious thoughts when her Izuku, who'd been the one tossed to the ground, could chat away happily with him and already adored this odd, hostile boy.

Fiddling with loose strands of her hair, Inko asked haltingly, "Are - are you hungry, Katsuki? Do you like cold soba noodles?"

He shrugged and eyed the pots. "Mitsuki's a shit cook," he declared, seemingly apropos of nothing.

Flustered, Inko didn't know what to say. Her sister was wonderful - intelligent and beautiful and confident - but cooking wasn't one of her many talents. Still, the way Katsuki had worded it left her helpless and speechless.

Should she reprimand him for his language? She wasn't used to reprimanding children. She rarely - if ever - had to reprimand Izuku.

Her son saved her from her indecision. "Don't worry, Kacchan!" he chirped in, beaming at him over the counter. "Mom's a really good cook!"

Katsuki seemed to accept his opinion, and then he wandered off when Mitsuki yelled, "Did the kids come in? Don't walk around the goddamn house with your dirty feet, Katsuki!"

"Did you have fun, Izuku?" Inko asked even though she'd gotten a fairly good idea from his excited chatter. She just wanted to make sure.

She wished her husband was there - Izuku had always been more similar to him than her - but Masaru had said Hisashi was strolling outside taking pictures.

Izuku looked up, eyes lit up in that way when he talked about All Might. "Yeah, mom. Kacchan is really amazing, even his quirk is amazing, you should have seen him practise. And he knows I'm quirkless but he's still willing to be brothers with me."

He was beaming, cheeks pink, and tentatively Inko let herself think that perhaps it hadn't been a terrible mistake to bring him here after all.

Hisashi trudged back to the house when the sun had set and it'd become too dark to take decent photos. The house appeared just beyond a bend, all windows lit up. He knew Inko and Izuku were visiting, Masaru and Mitsuki had both mentioned it, and he knew - he should've been there when they arrived, should've picked them up at the airport, his son and his wife.

But then, he supposed, he should've done a lot of things differently.

It was... difficult, made more difficult the more time passed and all Hisashi could see when he looked at them were the years he didn't know. Izuku was already eight when Hisashi still remembered him as a toddler, bright and shy and kind-hearted and so like his mother it sometimes startled him.

He stopped inside to take off his shoes. The entry was dim, illuminated by a single lamp in the corridor. He heard steps, quick and quiet, and recognised them as Katsuki's.

The steps stopped. Katsuki stood against the low light, face in shadows, eyes dark like old blood. "Outta the way, old man."

"Off to sleep?" Hisashi asked mildly. He didn't stand, looking up instead of down, and Katsuki's mouth twisted into a frown.

"Yeah," he said gruffly, looking somewhere past his ear.

Another set of steps hurried towards them. "Kacchan! Where are - dad?"

Hisashi's eyes slid almost involuntarily from Katsuki to his son. It'd been almost a year since he'd last seen Izuku and the sight of him was always like a quiet, small shock. He stared, wide-eyed, and Hisashi smiled. "Hi, Izuku. It's been a while."

Izuku took a hesitant step closer, eyes darting from Katsuki to Hisashi. After a moment he smiled shyly back. "Hi, dad. I was wondering where you were. Mom's been worried when you took so long."

He finally got up, wearily, as if his bones weighed too much for him stand. "Is that so? I better apologise to her."

He ruffled Izuku's hair. His expression was cautious like he didn't quite know him but wanted to please him all the same. Hisashi could feel a familiar, dull ache in his heart over the years when he hadn't been there. Not for his wife or his son.

"I'm going," Katsuki tossed over his shoulder, indifferent and impatient. "Night."

"Wait, Kacchan--"

He slammed the door.

For a moment Izuku stared at the door, upset and trying to hide it. He slanted a hesitant glance Hisashi's way. "Does Kacchan sleep outside?" he asked, sounding dubious and worried.

"No," Hisashi said. "He sleeps in the garage with the dogs."

Absentmindedly he looked into his son's incredulous face and thought about the one time when Mitsuki had asked why Katsuki seemed to be more polite to him. He didn't think he was, wouldn't have called it that, but suspected it was because he didn't try to change his idiosyncrasies or express dismay over them.

"In the garage?" Izuku repeated, worrying his lip. "Doesn't he have a bed? Won't he get cold?"

"He doesn't want to sleep in it. Mitsuki tried. And he has the dogs to keep him warm."

Izuku trailed Hisashi into the living room, muttering under his breath, and he caught snatches of Katsuki's name. Hisashi lifted the camera dangling around his neck and set it on the table with a quiet clink.

"How have you been, Izuku?"

Izuku abruptly stopped mumbling and looked up, startled he'd been asked, and then averted his eyes. "Ah, um, fine. And you, dad?"

He always hesitated on the word dad, unused to saying it.

"Fine. I was in Alberta. I took pictures of the migratory birds," he said, and thought of the cranes and the herons and their mating dances. He'd been with his team of biologists who studied the manifestation of quirks in wildlife but there hadn't been many to document.

"Cool," Izuku said with quiet, curious interest. "Can I see them when you have time?" Then his whole face lit up. "Oh! That picture you took of Kacchan, the one you sent to us, it was really pretty! I have it in my room!" Abruptly he blushed. "Um," he said. "Don't tell Kacchan, okay?"

Hisashi ruffled Izuku's hair again and nodded solemnly. "I won't let him know."

Inko walked into the living room. "Izuku? You should go take a bath. It's--"

She stopped, eyes wide with startled shock as if she hadn't really expected to see Hisashi even though she'd known he was there. "Hisashi," she breathed.

Cautiously she walked over to them and for a moment her hands hovered in the air, unsure how or where to touch.

Hisashi smiled, tired but fond. This was the woman he'd married, all those years ago. This was the woman he loved. "Hello, Inko," he said, and she blushed at the warm, tender tone in his voice as if she was still twenty-two and they'd just married.

"Oh Hisashi," Inko said, eyes glistening. "It's been so long." She hugged him then, arms tight around him. Hisashi smoothed his hand through her hair. "How have you been? Have you been sleeping well? Have you been eating well? And don't try to evade, I know how you get when you focus on your work."

"Everything's been fine," he said, and kissed the top of her head.

"Um... I'll go take a bath. I'll talk to you later, dad," Izuku said, grinned fleetingly, and then hurried down the corridor.

"Oh I'm so glad you're here, Hisashi." Inko lifted worried, green eyes up to him. "I wanted to ask you about something," she said, quiet.

Mildly he asked, "About Katsuki?" He smiled when she looked surprised and caressed her cheek with the back of his hand.

Inko stepped away, wringing her hands. "I know it's terrible of me, Masaru said he's gone through something horrible, but I worry about Izuku."

Ever since Izuku's birth Inko had placed their son first. Perhaps that's why it'd always been easy to leave; they all had something more important.

"When we arrived he tossed Izuku to the ground! You know Izuku is smaller than other children and he doesn't know how to fight. And the way he talks and acts..."

Hisashi slanted a glance towards his camera and thought about the one and only picture he'd gotten of Katsuki because he'd been unaware of being photographed.

Afterwards he'd almost smashed Hisashi's camera.

He remembered what Katsuki had yelled in that moment, snarling like a wild animal. "The fuck are you taking pictures for, fucking pervert?! For fucking wank off material?!"

Sometimes he said quite disturbing things, for a child his age, Hisashi could see that.

"And Izuku, he - oh Hisashi, he already adores Katsuki. You should have seen them when they came back from the river."

Hisashi looked at her, the worried twist of her hands, the tearful green of her eyes. "What is it you want to know, Inko?"

She hesitated for a moment, biting her lip. Then went on stubbornly; "Is he safe? Can I leave my son alone with him? What is it that Katsuki's been through exactly?"

Hisashi didn't think Katsuki was safe, not because of his volatile temperament or his inclination towards violence when triggered. Inko was a wonderful, devoted mother but she often was more concerned about the physical - the scrapes and bruises she could see - than what she couldn't see.

Hisashi worried about Izuku's heart.

He let out a deep sigh. "I think it's safe. And I'm sure Mitsuki will tell you more about Katsuki tonight. She has her suspicions."

Inko didn't quite relax but she smiled through her worries and asked if Hisashi wanted some cold soba noodles.

He agreed, and abstractly thought about home.

After his mom had stopped by in his room to bid him goodnight, Izuku gathered up the blanket and pillows and attempted to sneak into the garage when he noticed all the adults outside in the balcony. He heard them talking, and then he heard Katsuki's name, and stopped.

Eavesdropping wasn't very heroic, Izuku knew, but he clutched the blanket and pillows tightly to his chest and tiptoed close to the open doorway. A warm breeze wafted inside, carrying their voices. Izuku squatted down against the wall and listened in.

" don't just end up halfway across the world in foreign orphanages," Mitsuki was saying wryly.

"Then... then what are you saying, Mitsuki?"

His aunt sighed, and Izuku moved his head a little to peek through the glass. She ran a hand through her hair, eyebrows pulled down in a frown.

"Child trafficking."

Izuku wasn't sure what the word meant but his mom gasped in dismay, her hand over her mouth and the other held safe in his dad's hand.

"And it's not just that a Japanese kid was in an obscure Canadian orphanage," Mitsuki went on. "He showed up there almost a year ago and the caretakers said he was found on the side of a road. I checked up on things and Katsuki doesn't have any records. It's like he doesn't exist."

Mitsuki paced the balcony in the free space between the tables and the chairs, bare feet quiet on the boards. "And the thing is, if it is child trafficking that means there are probably other kids."

His mom's hand trembled and her eyes glistened with unshed tears. Izuku's chest constricted, seeing her distress, from the peculiar weight of the conversation.

"There is..." Hisashi said, and paused. Then he went on: "When I took a picture of him he asked if it was for masturbation. If we assume it was child trafficking they were probably filmed or photographed."

Inko made a horrified little sound. Mitsuki stopped, closed her eyes, and shuddered.

"God fucking dammit," she snarled under her breath. "You know, he has fucking scars on the soles of his feet. Like some dumb sick fuck was using his feet to put out their goddamn cigarettes. I don't know if it happened at the orphanage or wherever the fuck he was before that."

"This is still just conjecture," Masaru said, and leaned forward in his chair to touch Mitsuki's hand. She allowed the touch for a moment and then pulled away. "Unless Katsuki tells us what he's been through we can only guess."

"I've asked him but he doesn't say anything," Mitsuki said. "When I ask where he was before the orphanage he just tells me he doesn't know, doesn't remember, 'it's none of my fucking business.'" Suddenly she gave a harsh laugh. "It pisses me off that there's nothing I can do even if I'm right. If Katsuki doesn't say anything, there's no evidence and no evidence means no crime happened."

Then she looked at them all; Izuku had never seen her look so helpless. "You know, that kid, he's a genius. I've had my colleagues in Cern give him private lessons through video chats and he picks up most things like it's nothing." She took a breath, eyebrows furrowed, and ran her hand through her hair in agitation. "I just worry that with his genius and his personality and what he's gone through he'll never be able to relate to kids his age. He'll never have friends. And I don't - I just don't know what to do."

Izuku didn't listen more. He crept away and their voices faded. He hadn't understood everything they'd said but he'd understood one thing. Someone had hurt Katsuki and he hadn't had a hero to save him. Izuku had never really considered it possible, that there were people even heroes couldn't save. His chest ached and he didn't know what to do.

The garage was dark when Izuku tiptoed inside. He saw the pale shapes of the dogs, curled around each other in a pile. They huffed and lifted their heads when they heard the door creak and then settled back to sleep when they saw him. He walked closer. Katsuki was nestled in the middle of them, pale strands of hair the only part of him visible.

"Kacchan," Izuku whispered.

Katsuki turned his head, instantly alert, and glared at him with narrowed, red eyes and Izuku almost faltered. "The fuck you want, Deku?" he asked, voice rough with sleep.

"I--" Izuku said, and his voice wavered hesitantly. "Can I sleep here with you?"

For a moment Katsuki was quiet, regarding him blankly, and then he nestled back into one of the dogs, Ruska. "Whatever. Just keep your mouth shut or I'll beat your ass."

Izuku settled down close to him. The floor was hard and cold but the dogs and Katsuki were warm. He kept looking at him, the back of his head, the fair gleam of his hair in the darkness. Slowly he realised that even though Katsuki hadn't had anyone to save him he'd still saved himself.

He was amazing, this boy who'd promised to be Izuku's brother.

Izuku fell asleep to the sound of the dogs' quiet breaths.

Katsuki's breaths.

Chapter Text

"You really are useless at everything, huh, Deku?"

Izuku watched his stone sink into the water, mouth pulling down into a frown with it. Katsuki's stone had skipped five times and Izuku had watched what kinds of stones he used and how he threw them but he just couldn't imitate him.

Stubbornly he ducked down, picked up another stone, and threw it. It skipped once over the water and sank much like the one before it. Katsuki grinned and then tossed his own stone, and they both watched it skip six times across the wide expanse of the river.

"I'm not bad at everything," Izuku argued even though the more time he spent with Katsuki the more it started to feel like he really was. Katsuki wasn't just a genius, like Aunt Mitsuki had said, and he didn't just have an awesome quirk. He could do most things just because he did them, and Izuku felt equal parts of admiration and envy, a frustrated sort of emotion that made him vaguely restless.

"Nah, Deku," Katsuki said, and ruffled his hair in that unaware, rough way of his. Izuku peered at him through his fringe, feeling his cheeks go hot, and didn't mind if his fingers snagged in his hair a bit. "You really are. I'm surprised you can walk and breathe at the same time."

And then he said something mean again and Izuku couldn't tell if Katsuki even liked him or if he just saw him as something like the dogs and he liked the dogs. In fact, the dogs seemed to be the only ones he liked.

"I'm not that bad, Kacchan."

"You're weak, your stamina is crap, and you're even quirkless. You really are Deku." He seemed pleased with the nickname he'd given Izuku, like he was amazed at his own brilliance.

Izuku pouted, and tried to ignore the ache of upset hurt in his chest because in the few weeks he'd known him he'd learned Katsuki said most things thoughtlessly - like he'd never learned what was and what wasn't okay to say. Izuku scuffed the pebbles on the shore with the sole of his shoe, and then darted a quick glance his way. He almost didn't want to ask because Katsuki didn't need help to do things and Izuku was afraid of being rejected.

He worried his bottom lip. "Can't you just teach me then? I mean, you're good at everything, Kacchan, you could teach me, too."

Katsuki turned towards him, and his mouth quirked up in a faint smirk. "And what? Waste my time?"

Izuku frowned and couldn't ignore the overwhelming surge of disappointment that clogged his throat like a jagged shard. He lowered his head and moved the pebbles around with the toe of his shoe. Sunlight glittered on the surface of the river, small shadows darting in the translucent shallows.

"Tell you what, Deku," Katsuki said and cautiously Izuku peeked at him from the corner of his eyes. He picked up another stone from the ground and then tossed it in his hand. Light glinted on the dark, smooth surface. "I'll teach you once and if you can't make the stone skip at least twice I'm not gonna bother again. You can just be Deku forever for all I care."

He quirked an eyebrow, that faint smirk still lingering in the corner of his mouth. "Deal?"

Izuku stared at him, then at the stone, unsure of what to do. If he failed Katsuki would never bother with him again. If he declined Katsuki would never bother with him again anyway. Then Izuku set his mouth, and looked into his eyes. "Deal, Kacchan."

That faint smirk sharpened into a grin. "Don't cry if you lose, Deku."

Determined, Izuku said; "I won't because I'm going to do it."

Suddenly Katsuki tossed the stone at him and Izuku floundered after it and caught it at the last second. Face red, he straightened. Smirking, Katsuki walked backwards several steps. The dogs lounged on the grass, observing them with lazy interest.

"Okay. I'm gonna give you one free throw, Deku. Show what you've got."

Nervously Izuku weighed the stone in his hand. The river was almost calm this far downstream, trickling languidly over the pebbles at the bottom, sunlight caught in the ridges of the water. He thought back to how Katsuki had tossed the stones, how his body had moved, and tried to figure out how he could imitate that image in his mind.

"You're putting way too much thought into this shit," Katsuki said suddenly.

He was squatting down, petting Taiga while the other dogs gathered around him to be petted, too, nudging him with their noses. For a second Izuku was jealous before he sternly told himself he wasn't actually a dog, no matter how Katsuki thought of him.

"That just makes you tense up," Katsuki went on. "It's not fucking complicated, Deku. It's just about the angle. When you hit the right angle it's gonna keep skipping until it hits something or loses its speed."

"Ah..." Izuku said, his words piquing something in his mind. "The law of motion? An object is going to keep moving at the same speed unless acted upon by force?"

Katsuki looked up. Wind stirred his hair over his eyes, the pale strands gleaming like snow in the sunlight. Taiga panted at his feet, wagging its tail happily. "God, you're such a nerd. But yeah, pretty much."

"The right angle," Izuku muttered, turning the stone in his hand and looking over the glittering river. He adjusted the image in his mind, changed the focus from Katsuki to the angle of the stone when it'd hit the water. He took a deep breath and tossed.

The stone skipped one, two, three times.

A sudden bright sense of accomplishment billowed in his chest and Izuku inhaled deeply in an effort to contain it. But it burst worth, lighting up his eyes and smile when he whipped towards Katsuki. "Did you see, Kacchan? I did it!"

Katsuki gave a laugh, and he might have been laughing at Izuku, but for an instant Izuku believed he did like him. "That's just 'cause you had an awesome teacher. And it's just skipping stones, Deku. Don't be such a dweeb."

Izuku just smiled, and then squawked out a laugh when Katsuki kind of shoved his head and ruffled his hair roughly.

They stayed at the river until dinner. Katsuki practised his quirk and Izuku watched him move through the air, amazed how incredible he was. He would be such a cool hero, he thought, and ignored a twinge of regret that he couldn't be a hero with him.

Afterwards, they ate the snacks Inko had prepared for them and then filled the lunchboxes with berries they picked, their fingers stained red. On their way back Katsuki was quiet, expression thoughtful as if he was contemplating something.

"...hey," he said eventually. "Brothers share blood, don't they?"

Imprinting, Hisashi thought when he watched the boys walk back through the lens of his camera. In the wild, some of the abandoned or orphaned young made another adult imprint on them for safety and food. At first they had thought it a natural phenomenon, something similar to what had been recorded in the old age, but it had turned out to be the work of a quirk.

Looking at the boys he wondered who was the one imprinting - or if they both were.

Suddenly Katsuki looked up, as if sensing his gaze, red eyes glaring right at Hisashi through the lens. He lowered the camera and waved his hand in greeting. Katsuki ignored him with a sharp turn of his head but Izuku had followed the line of his sight and happily waved back at Hisashi. They disappeared inside. The dogs stayed in the yard, settling in the shadows of the house.

Masaru walked out into the balcony, offered him a beer, and sat down in one of the chairs. "What do you think, Hisashi? Is it going to work out?"

For a moment Hisashi took thoughtful sips of the beer as he considered the question. Wind ruffled his dark hair, fluttered the sheer curtains by the door. He heard noises inside, the boys and Inko talking. Katsuki had taken up watching her cook and Izuku didn't stray far from his side, going so far as to sleep in the garage with him, something Inko didn't like but didn't stop because it was relatively harmless.

"For now," he said.

Inko had told him, a few nights ago, that Katsuki had equated their son to one of the dogs. She had sounded upset, upset about the comparison, upset about Mitsuki not correcting it. Hisashi thought Mitsuki had made the right choice. Katsuki couldn't attach to people. Mitsuki had earned some form of his respect, in that he actually listened to her sometimes, and Masaru was like an afterthought attached to her. Hisashi he either ignored or glared, straying far in his periphery like a mistrustful cat.

If the only way he could attach to an actual person was by first considering them as something akin to a pet - to a possession - then they should try it.

"You're thinking," Masaru said, and Hisashi turned his gaze from the swaying treetops. Masaru adjusted his glasses and gave him a lopsided smile.

"I'm worried about the future." Hisashi looked at the bottle in his hand, the few drops of condensation running down the dark brown glass. "We both know their relationship won't be healthy in the long run. Izuku won't forever be satisfied being just the human equivalent of a dog."

In fact, Hisashi was sure the change in their relationship would come from Izuku. When or how didn't matter, what mattered was how Katsuki would react to it then. And how Izuku would handle that reaction.

His voice mild, Masaru pointed out, "We can't do anything about the future."

Hisashi smiled then, a little wryly. "'A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit,'" he said. "An ancient Greek proverb."

Masaru gave a laugh. "You've always been quick with the proverbs. What do you think we should do then?"

"For better or worse, we've already planted the seeds," Hisashi said. "Now we just have to wait and see what grows out of them."

For a long while they sat in silence, looking over the forest. Birds flitted across the sky, dark shadows against the clear blue. Absentmindedly Hisashi picked up his camera from the table and took a picture.

Masaru asked, "When do you have to leave?"

"In a couple of weeks. We are moving up to Alaska."

"Izuku will be sad to see you leave."

Mouth crooking in a self-deprecating smile, Hisashi said, "I'm sure he's already used to disappointments."

Masaru said nothing. Just smiled, sad and troubled.

Katsuki usually woke up before everyone else.

He got up from the tangle of sheets and Izuku made a soft noise of protest, and moved into his pillow. He cooed quietly in his sleep - a constant absurd noise broken by the occasional mutter - and Katsuki wondered if he was just physically incapable of shutting up. Maybe he wasn't quirkless. Maybe his quirk was dying if he didn't make some sort of noise.

For a moment he looked down at him blankly. Ever since that first night he'd slept all the nights in the garage. He was weird. Katsuki didn't get what he was thinking at all. What he got out of this because sleeping on a concrete floor couldn't be much fun. Even the other kids at the house hadn't liked sleeping in the basement and they'd been used to it.

Katsuki shook his head, left him sleeping, and went to the door to let the dogs out. Mist hovered above the moist earth, coiled around tree trunks in tenuous tendrils. The green gloom of the forest was quiet, the sky above pines and maples wet shades of grey, the air crisp and cooler than it'd been in weeks. It was going to rain, he could smell it. He hated rain. It made his quirk fucking hard to use.

He walked up to the house and went into the kitchen to rummage through the fridge.

When Katsuki heard steps shuffle over to him from behind, he tensed and turned around. Inko stopped when she saw him but then she eased out a small, sleepy smile and said, "Good morning, Katsuki. Are you hungry? Do you want breakfast?"

He considered for a moment but her cooking was edible unlike the unidentifiable shit Mitsuki cooked up. Besides, she was Izuku's and Izuku was his. It was fine.

Katsuki stepped away from the fridge. "...sure."

He sat down to watch her. Humming under her breath, she moved around the kitchen with ease, bringing the things she needed to her with her quirk. She was still in her nightgown, dark hair frazzled. She was a lot like Izuku, Katsuki thought, nervous and soft and chronically noisy.

She reeked of weakness, just like Izuku.

"Are you going to the river again?" Inko asked. The pan slipped out of its hook above the stove and she cracked three eggs into it. They sizzled as the pan heated.

"Yeah. I don't know about Deku," Katsuki added as an afterthought. He said that but Izuku had been practically glued to him since that first day. It was another weird thing since most of the other kids had avoided him even if they had at first approached him.

"Do you want me to make you snacks? Are the leftovers from yesterday good? I don't think you can stay out for long." Inko glanced out the window over her shoulder and pursed her mouth, considering the grey-dappled sky. "It looks like it's going to rain."

"Kacchan?" Izuku's sleep-rough voice called out. He shambled into the kitchen seconds later, rubbing his eyes with his fist, and sat on the stool beside him. "Mornin', mom. You could've woken me up," he said to Katsuki, and then hid a wide yawn behind his hand.

"Morning, Izuku." Inko leaned over the counter to kiss his head and Izuku blushed, glanced at Katsuki for some reason, and muttered in a whine, "Mom."

Katsuki watched them and vaguely wondered if this is what it was like in families that didn't abandon their kids or sell them for money.

"Kacchan," Izuku said, and Katsuki blinked and focused on his face. "Are you going to be a hero, Kacchan? I was just thinking, you know, because you're amazing and you have such an amazing quirk, too." He smiled, looking at Katsuki with that weird, soft expression that he couldn't understand and that made his skin itch with irritation. "I think you'd be a great hero."

"I am," Katsuki said, somewhat gratified that someone else, too, thought he was going to be an awesome hero. But he wasn't going to be just awesome, he was going to be the top hero.

"Really?" Inko asked, and set two plates with toast and fried eggs in front of them. "I think you'd become a really strong hero, Katsuki. Do you already know which hero school you want to go to?"

"Yeah," Katsuki said, and thought about Yuuei. It was one of the top schools in the world, and All Might and other top heroes had graduated from there.

Inko wandered out into the balcony with her share of the breakfast, kissing Izuku's head again on her way past. He blushed and ducked his head. "Remember to put the dishes in the sink before you leave."

Swinging his legs on the stool, Izuku nibbled on the corner of his toast. "You know, Kacchan," he said in hushed tones, and trailed his finger over the swirls and veins in the marble countertop. "I want to be a hero, too. It's dumb, right? Because I'm quirkless. Nobody thinks I can do it. Not even my mom even though she doesn't say it."

You, Katsuki wanted to ask. He thought how Izuku lost his breath after a short run, how he was clumsy and weak at most things, and how he trembled if Katsuki so much as raised his voice.

Instead, he shrugged and asked, "What's it matter what a bunch of nobodies think if you want something?"

For a while Izuku was quiet like he was turning the words over in his head until they finally settled somewhere. Then he smiled, this tiny secretive smile. "Right. You're right, Kacchan." Then he grinned. "Are we going to the river today, too?"

"Yeah," Katsuki said.

"Can you use your quirk if it's raining? It has something to do with your sweat, right, Kacchan? But I guess people can sweat in the water, too. Oh! Maybe you should try if you can do an underwater explosion!"

Before they left Katsuki picked up a few things in the kitchen.

At the riverside he moved from a run right into a jump, using the propulsion of his quirk, and landed on a large rock near the shoreline. He sat down, cross-legged, and smirked over at Izuku who'd stopped and clenched his fists at his sides, mouth and eyebrows pulled down in a frustrated frown. Then he kicked off his shoes and waded into the water, tried to climb the side of the rock and slipped.

He yelped. Katsuki grabbed his arm before he fell back first into the river and said, grinning, "Useless."

Something stubborn flashed in Izuku's eyes. With Katsuki's help, he climbed up and sat down beside him. "What do you have in that backpack, Kacchan?" he asked, and leaned over to have a look.

"Stuff," said Katsuki, and tossed it on the rock and pulled out two towels and a kitchen knife.

Eyes going wide, Izuku stared and cautiously asked, "Um... Kacchan, why do you need a knife?"

Twirling the knife in his hand, Katsuki said, "We're brothers, right?"

"Yes," Izuku said immediately like it wasn't even a question.

"And brothers share blood."

Nervously Izuku tugged at the fabric of his pants and eyed the knife. "Yeah, but... I don't know, Kacchan," he hedged and Katsuki's mouth twisted down in irritation.

"Don't worry. I'm clean."

Seeming perplexed, Izuku blinked and said, "I don't - Should we be doing this, Kacchan?"

Katsuki grinned, wide and sharp and taunting. "What, Deku? You scared of a little pain?"

His face set in stubborn lines like Katsuki had known it would and then he said; "I'm not."

He still winced and fretted with his hands when Katsuki cut a neat line across his own hand, blood beading through the cut and pooling on his palm. He grasped Izuku's wrist, noted the slight quiver in his fingers, and murmured, "Relax. I'm not gonna hurt you, Deku."

Izuku's fingers stilled, open and relaxed, but he still flinched slightly when the blade cut across his skin. Katsuki clasped their hands together, entwined their fingers, and he could feel Izuku's heartbeat like an echo of his own. Izuku stared at him, mouth parted on a breath, eyes bright like the leaves of a sunlit forest.

Katsuki's mouth edged into a smile, his eyes the same colour as the blood running down their wrists in thin, red strings. "See, Deku? Now we're brothers."

When the rain pattered on the window Mitsuki looked up from her work. The sky had darkened, wind tearing through the treetops and wailing in the vents of the house. With a sigh she pushed up her glasses and rubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hands, and then she leaned back in the chair. Since morning she'd been pouring over calculations and measurements and all those numbers and text were starting to blur together into gibberish.

"Dammit," she sighed, and listlessly spun around in the chair, the leather creaking. Mitsuki needed a break.

She strolled into the kitchen and grabbed a beer from the fridge. She capped it and took a long, blissfully cool swallow. Inko sat on the wide sofa, reading some paperback she preferred, Halley practically resting in her lap. Absently she petted the dog with her free hand, her eyes fixed on the book.

"Isn't he heavy?" Mitsuki asked as she lounged against the sofa and leaned over the backrest to scratch Halley behind the ear. The dog lifted its head slightly and then settled back down with a snort.

"No, not really," Inko said, her tone absent.

Mitsuki looked around; the balcony door was shut and the house was peculiarly silent. "Masaru and Hisashi went somewhere?"

"Mm... Hisashi wanted to take his photos to be developed and Masaru gave him a ride."

"And the kids?" Mitsuki asked, and half-sat on the backrest, one leg crooked. "They're not back yet?" She tapped her fingers on her leg and wondered if she could ask Inko now when the kids weren't there and Inko had softened up towards Katsuki.

Inko lowered the book, eyebrows pulled together in worry. "Now that you mention it I haven't heard them come in. They should be coming back, right? They're both sensible, they wouldn't stay out in the rain."

Mitsuki raised her eyebrow, noting she'd said both. Not many people would notice through Katsuki's volatile personality that the brat was actually pretty sensible - if stubborn as all hell. She took another swallow of her beer, thinking how to casually breach the question she wanted to ask.

"Izuku and Katsuki get along well, don't they?"

Immediately Inko narrowed suspicious eyes at her, and Mitsuki resented this lack of faith in her good intentions even though she supposed she deserved it, what with habitually failing to mention details that others might find important. In her defense, it wasn't her fault people couldn't pick up things between the lines.

"Did you not tell me something again?"

Mitsuki opened her mouth, and then the kids walked in, dripping water all over the floor, and she was glad she hadn't had the chance to ask when she saw the bloodied fucking towels around their hands. She immediately knew Katsuki had done something crazy again and resisted the urge to put her face in her hands. Inko dropped her book and stood up with a shocked gasp, and Halley jumped off the sofa and slunk away.

"Izuku, Katsuki, what happened?"

Izuku had the sense to look guilty but Mitsuki wasn't sure if it was because of whatever the hell they'd been up to or because he'd worried his mom. He cradled his bloodstained hand to his chest, eyes wide and guileless, and edged close to Katsuki. "Er, nothing much, mom. It's not a big deal."

Katsuki casually put a knife into the sink and then said, "Me and Deku became brothers."

Inko's eyes darted from the sink to Katsuki to Izuku, and then a terrible comprehension dawned in her eyes. "You did this to yourselves?" she asked, thunder gathering in her voice. "What were you thinking? You could have damaged a nerve or get an infection or--"

Katsuki scowled. "I'm clean."

The silence that followed his words was jarring in its horridness. Mitsuki blanched because he shouldn't know that, shouldn't even know what it meant, and Inko threw a horrified, accusing look at her. Then she opened her mouth, wavered, and took a small bracing breath.

"That's - that's not the issue, Katsuki. The issue is that you shouldn't hurt yourselves."

Katsuki tilted his head, regarding her like she was slow and he couldn't understand what she was going on about. "It's not like it hurts? It's just a cut."

Briefly Inko closed her eyes. "Even so. Come on, you two, let's go to the bathroom. I'll help you treat those cuts and they better not be too deep."

Before she followed them down the corridor she gave Mitsuki a dark, foreboding look that kind of made her wish she hadn't left her study after all. "And don't even think about going back to your study! We need to talk!"

When she was alone Mitsuki stood up, paced the width of the sofa, drained her beer and prepared to face Inko's motherly wrath. She'd forgotten how she could get like this, given the right incentive. Inko was like a bear that lumbered peacefully through the forest on any ordinary day and then turned into a thousand pounds of rage when her cubs were threatened. Mitsuki ran a hand through her hair with a grimace and thought how troublesome.

She didn't have to wait long. Inko stormed back in a few minutes and descended upon her with a terrible cry. "Mitsukiiiii! That is not something an eight-year-old boy should say! I can't believe you had him tested for - for--" She made an upset noise in her throat and a wide, sharp gesture with her hand that could have meant anything from measles to AIDS. "I can't believe you!"

"Look," Mitsuki snapped. "You've seen how he acts and you've heard some of the stuff he says! I was suspicious and I thought if I'm right and some sick asshole gave him something then it's better to know about it than live in blissful ignorance. If someone is fucking kids, Inko, I doubt they much care about things like protection. And I just sent a blood sample to an acquaintance. I never told Katsuki nor did I show him the results when they came back clean. The brat must have gone through my fucking drawers when I wasn't looking. Jesus, Inko, what the hell do you take me for."

She'd also thought, in the back of her mind, that if Katsuki had something it could've worked as evidence of something having happened but she also knew better than to mention that to Inko.

"Oh my god, Mitsuki, you should be sending him to therapy!"

"Therapy? That kid? Can you imagine that kid in therapy? He's not going to talk. I don't know if it's repression or whatever, but he sure as hell isn't going to talk when he barely tolerates us. He's just going to go ballistic and then he's not going to trust anyone of us ever again. Is that what you want?"

Inko pressed her mouth flat, biting her lower lip hard, but she didn't deny her words. Her eyes were bright with unshed tears and for a few moments she inhaled and exhaled until the tense line of her shoulders eased somewhat. "All right. You - you're right. You know what's best. You've known Katsuki longer than I have."

She took a few more shaky breaths and then brushed the loose strands of hair behind her ears. "What was it that you wanted to ask me?" Her voice wavered on how hard she tried to sound calm. "Before the boys came in?"

"Ah..." Mitsuki stalled. She thought it really wasn't the best time to be asking her, not when Izuku had just come back with a bloodied hand because of Katsuki, not when she was this upset. Then she exhaled and decided to just get it over with. Summer vacation wasn't going to last forever. "Katsuki wants to go to Japan."

He'd mentioned it when he'd asked her for a Japanese dictionary, his face twisted with reluctance and resentment like asking for a favour was something Mitsuki had forced out of him. She'd gotten him textbooks, too, and for the first two weeks he'd talked in keigo because it was all he'd learned and he'd looked like he hated every word out of his mouth. Then he'd gone and learnt colloquial Japanese from somewhere and now talked like a little punk.

He was unbelievable.

Inko blinked, nonplussed. "Oh...?"

"He wants to go to Yuuei. I can't say I'm happy about it. I mean, I think he'd be wasted in Japan, what with the general attitude of conformity still around there. And the level of education isn't that high, either, you know. But Katsuki seems pretty fixated on it. And - and I think it could be good for him. I really do."

Slowly Inko frowned, picking up on what she wasn't explicitly asking. "Wait. Are you asking if he could live with us?" At Mitsuki's silence she cried out, "Mitsuki! I can't take care of--"

Someone like Katsuki. Let alone a traumatised child.

She didn't say it aloud but Mitsuki heard her just fine. She couldn't see why not. Inko had an enormous capacity for love even if she sometimes was a bit wrong-headed about it.

Mitsuki had never been able to have children, something she regretted at three in the morning when sleep evaded her and her thoughts spun around in her head, and she loved Izuku and Katsuki like her own but she also knew she wasn't the most attentive caretaker. And she couldn't just put her own life and everything she'd worked for on hold for someone else. She wasn't like that.

Inko wringed her hands, looking miserable and distressed and uncertain. Mitsuki gave a sudden laugh, fondly remembering all the times in their youth when she'd looked like that. She worried too much, always had, but their mother had said Mitsuki just didn't worry at all.

"Hey, c'mon," she said, and ruffled Inko's hair like they were still kids and she was looking up at her like Mitsuki was her personal rock star. "It's not like I'm asking you to decide right now. You can think it over." She couldn't help but add, "But I think Izuku would be really happy about it."

Izuku would be happy about it, Inko knew that. And he wouldn't just be happy, he'd be over the moon. But that didn't mean she could take Katsuki in just to make her son happy.

Just because something made him happy didn't mean it'd be good for him. And as much as Inko wanted to help Katsuki she had to put her own child first.

Inko just wasn't sure anymore if Katsuki wouldn't be good for Izuku. In the short time they'd been together it was like Izuku had blossomed. He was spending more time outside than he ever had in Japan, he actually talked about his day and the things they'd been doing, and he was smiling all the time. Inko thought about the days when he'd come home from school and forced through a smile for her, not telling her much and avoiding her questions, and her heart constricted. She did not want to see her son like that, ever again, and it was all thanks to Katsuki she didn't have to see it now.

And she had always wanted more children, but then Hisashi had gotten his job overseas, and they'd both decided to stop at Izuku, and she'd - somewhat - gotten used to Katsuki's language even if he was still a bit too rough for her.

But she had no confidence. She had no confidence at all that she could take care of Katsuki.

Inko sat primly on the edge of the sofa, thoughts tumbling over each other in endless dizzying loops, and watched Hisashi sort through his photographs. He always did this, before he moved on somewhere else.

"Hisashi," Inko said and immediately her husband's hands stilled and he looked up with a mild smile as if he hadn't been doing anything else just a second ago.

Inko curled a strand of hair around her finger, nervous and indecisive. Hisashi waited patiently, hands loosely clasped together between his knees, giving her the time and attention she needed.

He'd always been observant and intelligent, considering everything at length and from a distance. He wouldn't let emotional tangles cloud his reason and he would never lie. Not even if the truth was unpleasant.

"Do you think," Inko rushed out, "do you think I could take Katsuki in? Mitsuki told me he wants to study in Japan and asked if he could live with us."

For a long moment Hisashi was quiet, regarding her with dark, keen eyes that had always made her feel like he could see right through her. Like he picked out all these details about her that she wasn't aware of herself. "What are you worried about, Inko?"

She frowned and tried to sort through the disarray of her thoughts. What surprised her was that she voiced something she hadn't even consciously thought of. "It's just... You've seen how Izuku looks at Katsuki, haven't you?" He should have; she couldn't be the only who'd noticed. "He adores him. If he wasn't so young I'd say he is - is smitten with him. And they cut their hands for each other," she added, mouth pressed in a stern line of disapproval and she was glad the cuts hadn't been deep at least. "If Izuku is already doing that for him, I'm worried what he'll be doing in the future."

And she knew without a doubt that Katsuki wouldn't even have to ask him at that point. Izuku would do anything if he so much as thought that was what Katsuki wanted.

"And - and the other day - Katsuki said he was clean." Her voice hitched on the word. Inko did not want to think about it, all the horrible, terrible things that must've been done to him. He was so small; she couldn't understand what kind of sick monsters could do such things to children. She twisted the fabric of her skirt in her hands. "I'm just, I'm not confident that I'm the right person to take care of him."

Inko was nothing like Mitsuki. She wasn't as intelligent or talented or confident. Mitsuki had always had grand dreams, grand plans, and she'd always been dead-set in her goals. She'd pursued them out into the world without looking back. All Inko had wanted had been to marry and have children, and she'd had that, but then she'd had to raise Izuku alone when her husband had left, too. It seemed like all the important people in her life had left her, and sometimes she couldn't help but think it was because she'd never been enough.

Hisashi smiled, kind and lopsided. He reached over the small table between them and took her hand in his. He'd always had such large, stable hands. "Inko," he said, voice low and calming. "I think you should do what you think is best. If you have any doubts that you can do it then you shouldn't. A--"

"'A half-hearted kindness is worse than no kindness,'" Inko muttered with a small smile, the words he'd repeated often enough.

Hisashi smiled back, dark eyes warm and wry. Then he frowned with a sigh. "But," he said, and squeezed her hand. "I'm afraid those two boys may already be irrevocably tangled up in each other. Perhaps we should have seen this coming. Neither of them has had any meaningful contact with other children of their age."

"Then... what should I do?" Inko asked in a small, worried voice.

"Perhaps you should ask Izuku," Hisashi suggested, so very kind and reasonable like he always was. "Seeing how he reacts might help you come to a decision."

She considered his words, and then nodded decisively and stood up. Hisashi returned to his photographs, dark head bowed.

She found Izuku in Masaru's study. He sat on the large leather sofa, sketching his favourite heroes. Katsuki sat at the massive desk, legs up on the chair, and talked in what sounded like very irritated French with a woman through a video chat. Inko glanced at him quickly but he had his back to them, and then she sat beside Izuku. The sofa sank in with a creak.

"What is it, mom?" Izuku peered at her with curious, green eyes through his fringe and Inko could feel her heart swell like it did whenever she looked at him. He was her precious, precious boy and she would do anything for him. Then her eyes darted to Katsuki and she wondered if anyone had ever felt the same for him.

"Is Katsuki having one of his lessons?" she asked, and carded her fingers through Izuku's hair, smoothing out the tangles.

"Yeah. He says he doesn't like them but I think it's just because he has to sit still and listen to someone else."

Inko watched him colour in the sketch of All Might. She took a quick breath and steeled herself. Her heart thudded, loud in her chest. She didn't know why she was so nervous.

"Hey, Izuku," she said gently and Izuku looked up into her eyes, sensing that she wanted his attention. "What if - What do you think if Katsuki moved in with us? In - in Japan."

For a long moment Izuku only stared at her, eyes impossibly wide. And then his face glowed with a quiet sort of intense happiness, like she'd just told him he had a quirk after all and he could be a hero, and that - that right there, she realised - was her answer.

Inko just hoped it would be the right one for them all.

Chapter Text

Japan was godawful. Too fucking hot and humid and overflown with people who seemed frantic and agitated to be anywhere but where they were. Katsuki hated it, everything, the assault of different smells and noises and lights. He already missed the dogs and the forest and it hadn't even been a day.

Fucking Mitsuki hadn't let him take the dogs with him, saying some bullshit how he couldn't possibly take five grown wolfhounds into a small Japanese suburban house.

"It's nothing much," Inko said nervously as she dug into her purse for the keys. "I'm afraid our home isn't as impressive as Mitsuki's."

Katsuki gave the house a disinterested look. It didn't differ from all the other houses on the street, illuminated in the faint glow of the streetlamps. Looking out the taxi window, he'd had the vague notion that all Japanese looked the same but apparently it extended to all of their fucking houses, too.

"Whatever," Katsuki said. He'd lived worse.

"We don't have a guest room either so you'll have to sleep in Izuku's room." Inko smiled fleetingly over her shoulder and then unlocked the door.

The flow of Izuku's constant chatter in his ear abruptly stopped. "My room?" he squeaked, looking stricken.

Katsuki wondered what his deal was when he'd slept in the same garage with him for the past three weeks. He already knew all of Izuku's annoying sleeping habits - like that he cooed and mumbled throughout the night, never quite shutting up - but Katsuki kicked him for it only sometimes.

"Well, he has to sleep in your room, Izuku. We can't have him sleep on the couch. It's not good for him." Then Inko frowned with sudden nervous sterness. "And we don't have a garage, Katsuki, and you definitely can't sleep outside."

Mitsuki had said the same thing before he'd left. Katsuki would really fucking appreciate it if people didn't think he was a braindead moron. He could sleep in a fucking house. He just didn't want to. "I get it," he said, flat and unimpressed by the world and all the people in it.

Izuku rushed inside, stumbling past his mom and kicking off his shoes. "Just, give me a sec! I - I have to clean! You definitely can't come into my room before I've cleaned, Kacchan!"

Katsuki really didn't know why the dumbass thought he'd obey.

He trailed Izuku upstairs into his room and looked around, somehow impressed in spite of himself. "I kinda figured it'd be something like this," he said, "but you really are a fucking nerd through and through, huh."

Katsuki's gaze swept over the garish yellow-and-blue posters covering the nondescript walls and the other assorted All Might merchandise. In the past three weeks he'd learned three things about Izuku; he was a huge nerd, he was a huge nerd who admired All Might, and he was a huge nerd who wanted to be a hero even though Katsuki had his doubts about that last one.

Izuku went scarlet and hid his face behind his hands. He mumbled, "It's just - I really admire him and I want to be like him one day."

"Like how? Through osmosis?" Katsuki said vaguely, wondering if nerdom was contagious. Then his eyes fell on the one incongruous thing in the room; a black-and-white photograph above the desk. He stepped closer to have a look and immediately sneered when he saw it was a picture of him. "Why the fuck do you have that picture?"

"It's not what you think!" Izuku squeaked, high-pitched, and made a useless effort to hide it behind his flailing arms. "It's nothing weird! It's just - it's really pretty, Kacchan, and it's kind of like my All Might posters. And - and - you're going to be a hero, right, Kacchan, and you're going to be amazing and it's like - it's like my limited edition item! Oh!" Izuku turned towards Katsuki, beaming. "You could even sign it for me!"

Katsuki stared at him with judgemental blankness until Izuku's smile faltered uncertainly. "You're such a fucking nerd," he said, and tossed his backpack to the floor with an exasperated sigh.

It took around fourteen hours to fly from Canada to Japan and he was fucking exhausted. And unlike Izuku, who'd slept and drooled on his shoulder, Katsuki hadn't been able to sleep on the plane.

"Um..." Izuku said and looked down at his hands. "I - I guess it's pretty embarrassing after all to be brothers with someone like me." He picked at the bandage around his hand. "I can take them down if you want, Kacchan," he added, eyes closed, as if he was prepared to make a huge sacrifice.

Katsuki slanted a glance at the bandage around his own hand. He exhaled an irritated breath. "Do whatever the fuck you want, Deku."

Izuku opened his eyes at his words and looked at him through his dark fringe, eyes wide and freckled cheeks stained red. Then he smiled and, voice wavering just a bit, said, "Okay."

Katsuki could feel the familiar itch of irritation on his skin when Izuku looked at him like that. He suppressed a restless impulse to do something - punch him, maybe, or yell until he just fucking stopped looking.

Before he could act on either impulse, Inko bustled in with a futon and pillows and a blanket. She spread the futon out on the floor. "You boys must be exhausted. Is there anything you want before bed? A bath? A snack?"

"I'm good," Katsuki said.

"I'm good too, mom," Izuku said and grinned.

Inko smiled and ignored Izuku's squirming and kissed the top of his head, and then she turned towards Katsuki and visibly hesitated. Katsuki stood still and watched her expressionlessly, hands in the pockets of his hoodie.

He followed the line of her hand when she slowly reached out and hesitantly touched his hair, just the tips of his pale strands. The touch was fleeting, almost intangible, and yet he could feel himself instinctively tense, his skin crawl.

"Don't forget to brush your teeth and put on your pyjamas before bed, okay," Inko said with a small smile. "Good night."

Even Izuku's sheets and pyjamas were All Might-themed. Katsuki thought there was admiration and then there was just taking things way too far.

Lying on his stomach, Izuku looked over at him, eyes gleaming in the light of a far-off streetlamp. "Um... You admire All Might too, don't you, Kacchan?"

"If you think I'm going to enable your fucking nerd addictions, Deku, you can think again."

"E-enable? Nerd addictions?" Katsuki could almost hear the pout in his voice. "I don't have an addiction, Kacchan. I just admire him, that's all."

Katsuki snorted. "That's what all addicts say." He remembered one of the older kids, at the orphanage, saying the same thing. His eyes had always been glazed over, his expression slack and his body gaunt, and once in a while he'd offered some to the younger kids with the promise of things being easier.

He'd been full of shit. The adults in that house had used the stuff too, sometimes, and those had been some of the worst days.

After a while Izuku went on, "Hey, Kacchan..."


"Um. Tomorrow... Do you want me to show you around the neighbourhood? I could - I could show you the forest near here. It's nothing like in Canada but it's still pretty big. I think you'd like it. Then there's the river and the playground and the shopping district and the shrine."

The forest could be good, Katsuki thought. He was going to keep up his training and he needed a good place for that. "Okay," he said.

For a while the room was silent but Katsuki could tell Izuku wasn't asleep because he didn't start with that absurd cooing noise. A car droned past the house out in the street and Katsuki counted the steady tick tock, tick tock of Izuku's stupid All Might clock. He listened to the faint sounds of Inko bustling around the house. A fan whirred quietly on the desk, moving the stale, stuffy air.

He couldn't sleep, staring at the unfamiliar ceiling in the unfamiliar room in an unfamiliar land. It was just because he was inside a house - with other people in it - and he missed the dogs and how they would wake up immediately if someone approached.

Forcefully Katsuki closed his eyes, willing his body to relax and his breathing to even out, because it was a stupid weakness he couldn't have. A stupid weakness heroes didn't have.

And he was here, in Japan, only to become a hero and he wasn't going to slack off.

"Hey, Kacchan..." Izuku whispered and Katsuki grunted. "Can I come down there?"

He almost declined because he didn't need Izuku to fall asleep but then he thought about it, how much of a baby Izuku was, and said, "Whatever."

He listened to the sounds Izuku made crawling down the bed, the rustle of the blanket and the sheets, and then he felt the tickle of his hair on his jaw when he inched close. Katsuki could feel his warmth, unobtrusive, but there all the same. He thought about the dogs, the feel of their rough fur and quiet snuffles, and closed his eyes again.

He leaned his cheek on Izuku's head. Just a bit.

It was fine. Izuku was fine.

He was his.

The morning after they'd returned to Japan Inko listed all the things Katsuki might need while making breakfast. She was glad Mitsuki had given her a credit card for a separate account to cover Katsuki's expenses even though it made her feel guilty. She knew Mitsuki had just been thinking of her, because it wasn't like Inko had all that much money, but she didn't like feeling like she got paid for taking care of Katsuki.

Because it wasn't like that at all, and she didn't want anyone else to think so either. That boy had gone through enough. Inko didn't want him to become the subject of ill-intentioned gossip of bored housewives.

And the housewives in the neighbourhood really did enjoy their gossip, Inko thought bitterly, remembering all the things they'd whispered about her when she'd moved in.

She was startled out of her thoughts when Katsuki walked into the kitchen with quiet steps and regarded her with keen, carmine eyes from behind the table. His white hair was tangled, his pale skin stained a faint pink with the remains of sleep. Everything about him was usually so loud - his voice, his behaviour, and incongruously even his looks - and yet sometimes he was almost like a ghost with how silent he could be.

"Oh," Inko said breathlessly, somewhat flustered to see him in the familiar surroundings of her own house. "You're up." And if Katsuki was up that meant Izuku would wake up soon as well. "Did you sleep well? Can you wait for a bit? Breakfast isn't ready yet." She fiddled with her hair, nervously filling in the silence with what came familiar to her.

She still didn't quite know how to talk to Katsuki. When he wasn't yelling or cursing, he was so very quiet and Inko couldn't tell what he was thinking at all. Izuku was so much easier to understand. Even if he didn't tell her everything, all of his emotions shone on his face, like looking at the changes of the sky through the window.

Katsuki eyed the pots and the chopping board. "Can I do something?" he asked.

Taken aback, Inko blinked. He'd never offered in Canada even though he'd often watched her cook, and she would've never thought Katsuki was someone who wanted to help with household work. She had to admit, though, that she would appreciate the help.

Inko hesitated and swept her gaze over the kitchen, trying to figure out what he could do. Her gaze fell on the block of tofu on the chopping board and worriedly she thought if she dared to trust him with a knife.

"Um, well. Do you mind chopping the tofu? Do you know how to use a knife, Katsuki?"

Other than to cut your own hand, Inko thought, but she had to admit that the cuts he'd done had been neat and fairly shallow at least.

Tilting his head slightly, Katsuki gave her a look of incomprehension. Inko had the sudden sense that he thought she was slow. "Why would I be good or bad with a knife?"

She realised she didn't really have an answer for that.

She still watched him closely from the corner of her eyes while she stirred the miso soup. Katsuki chopped the tofu into neat dices, working with a fast efficiency that alarmed her but he didn't accidentally cut himself. Suddenly Inko remembered Mitsuki saying he picked up most things like it was nothing and Izuku gushing how Katsuki could do everything.

Inko was starting to understand Izuku's infatuation with Katsuki a bit more, she thought. When faced with someone who seemingly could do everything effortlessly, you either admired them or hated them.

Katsuki's hands stilled and he looked up, carmine eyes shadowed behind white strands of hair. "There," he said.

"Oh," said Inko. "Thank you, Katsuki. You chopped them very well."

Again, he gave her that look - like she was slow and weird. Then he exhaled, eyebrows pulled together in a scowl and head turned away. "Yeah. Whatever."

"Um. You can go wash your hands. I'm almost done. Could you wake Izuku if he isn't up already?"

Katsuki slipped away like a pale shadow, and Inko let out a breath she'd been unconsciously holding in and immediately scolded herself.

"Inko, get a grip," she muttered, and somewhat viciously added the tofu dices into the soup. "He's a child."

He was a small, traumatised child and she shouldn't feel so nervous around him. She should - she should treat him like Izuku, Inko decided. Izuku already loved him and surely she would feel the same when she got used to his quirks.

A minute later Katsuki's voice yelled out, "Deku! Get your fucking ass up!" and Inko nearly dropped the rice pot in alarmed surprise.

She would get used to them, she repeated, very sternly.

Moments later she heard the boys thump downstairs. "Kacchan," Izuku was saying, "you didn't need to yell like that. It'll bother the neighbours."

They walked into the kitchen. Izuku was yawning and rubbing at his eyes, his dark hair like a bird's nest of curls. 

Katsuki's nose wrinkled in annoyance. "Who cares? If that shit bothers them then they shouldn't be living here."

With some confusion, Izuku frowned. "That doesn't make any sense, Kacchan."

"That's because you're a dweeb, Deku."

Izuku's frown deepened and his mouth pulled down. "That makes even less sense, Kacchan."

Katsuki smirked at him from across the table and his smile tugged a smile out of Izuku in answer.

Inko was glad when she looked at them. She was happy. Izuku was happy if the way he kept looking at Katsuki and smiling secretively to himself was any indication - like he was amazed that Katsuki was in their home.

Katsuki noticed, and frowned, and kicked one of his swinging legs under the table. "Don't look at me."

Izuku just grinned and shyly ducked his head.

After breakfast, he piled his dishes in the sink, standing on his tiptoes. He looked up through his fringe with wide, green eyes and said, "Um. Mom. We're going out. I want to show Kacchan around."

Inko momentarily stilled. It wasn't that unusual. In Canada they'd spent every day outside with the dogs and hadn't returned until dinner. But she remembered how - before meeting Katsuki - Izuku used to spend most of his time inside, watching hero vids on the internet and reading their official websites. He'd never gone out with a friend before.

He'd hardly gone out at all unless he came along with Inko.

Swallowing down the tears clogging her throat, Inko said, "That's nice," and wondered if she had enough leftover rice to make onigiri.

Izuku worried his lip and looked down into the sink filling with the rush of water. "I hope Kacchan likes it here," he said, quiet.

Heart aching, Inko brushed his hair. "I hope so too, Izuku," she said.

Fingers clumsy with nerves, Izuku tied his shoes. Katsuki leaned his shoulder against the door, carmine eyes fixed on him. He looked bored already and Izuku hadn't even shown him anything yet. Peeking at him surreptitiously through his fringe, he tried to swallow down the nervous jitters that swarmed up his throat from his stomach.

Incongruously it was his mom's anxious hovering behind him that helped settle some of his nerves even if her fussing was a little embarrassing. Izuku didn't want to look lame in front of Katsuki - he managed to be lame enough on his own.

With a little bounce he stood up and turned towards Inko with a bright smile. "Okay, mom! We're going now!"

Fingers clenched together in the loose sleeves of her cardigan, Inko said, "Don't come back too late and remember to be careful of cars."

She smiled, Izuku's nervous happiness mirrored on her face. "You boys have fun, okay."

"We will!"

"See ya."

They walked to the end of the street and stopped. Izuku turned towards Katsuki, still amazed that he was in Japan and lived with them and they could spend every day together just like they had in Canada. His hand twitched with the unconscious urge to touch him, just to feel he was really there.

"Um... Is there somewhere you want to go first, Kacchan?"

Katsuki shrugged. "The forest, I guess."

Izuku had said he'd show it to him but he'd never been to the forest himself. Sometimes he'd seen other kids heading that way, laughing and jostling their friends, while he'd trudged home alone.

He led Katsuki through the neighbourhood, chattering about the local shrine he visited with his mom and the parks and the shops. Katsuki walked beside him, hands inside the pockets of his open hoodie. He didn't look particularly interested or dismissive, and Izuku didn't know if it was a good sign.

He knew Katsuki was in Japan only because he wanted to earn his hero license but Izuku didn't want him to just tolerate Japan until then. He wanted Katsuki to like Japan.

In the forest there was a fenced area, vines coiling through the chain links, the sign hanging on it weathered and grimed with dirt. They were about to walk past it when Katsuki suddenly stopped.

"Hey, Deku," he said, and grinned wide, and Izuku was instantly apprehensive. "Let's go there instead."

He pointed at the decrepit sign and Izuku was about to protest, flustered, when Katsuki already shoved the creaking fence open and slipped through.

"W-wait, Kacchan!" Izuku cried, dashing after him. "We shouldn't go there! It says no entry!"

"I know what it damn says, Deku. When something says no entry it means enter. Don't be a wuss."

His words failed to convince Izuku. He looked around nervously, heart thumping loud in his chest. Sunlight dappled through the leaf canopies in hues of green and pale gold. "But..." he said. "What if it's dangerous, Kacchan?"

Katsuki looked over his shoulder, grin wild and sharp. "Didn't you say you wanted to be a hero, Deku? Heroes ain't scared."

Izuku forgot some of his anxiety when he watched Katsuki run around, pointing at different insects and demanding to know what they were called. He seemed to be having fun, Izuku thought. Unconsciously he smiled and wished he could answer all of his demands.

Abruptly Katsuki stopped and stared fixedly at one of the trees. Izuku followed the line of his sight but he didn't see anything peculiar on the dark bark. "Kacchan? What--"

Slapping a hand over his mouth, Katsuki squeezed his cheeks. "Shut it, Deku," he said, and then he let go and sneaked close to the tree and grabbed something. Eyes wide with fascination, he lifted a large, horned beetle high in front of his face. "The fuck is this thing?" he asked. The beetle tried to scuttle out of his hold, ridged legs moving, light gleaming dully in its dark brown shell.

"Um..." Izuku said, and leaned a little closer to have a look. "It looks like a beetle."

He watched Katsuki watch the beetle - the peculiar gleam in his carmine eyes like speculative interest - and for one insane moment Izuku worried he'd just been replaced by a bug.

Hesitating, he said, "Um... Kacchan, I don't think you can take it home. Mom hates bugs."

Immediately Katsuki scowled, turned his head away sharply, and clicked his tongue. "I didn't even say I fucking wanted it," he muttered and released the beetle in the high grass.

"I guess we could ask mom," Izuku said haltingly, and wondered would she say yes if they kept it in a terrarium.

Katsuki eyed him angrily. "Did I fucking say I wanted it?" he demanded, and Izuku let it go.

Deeper in the forest, they came across a shallow stream running in a steep groove. When Katsuki saw it, he pressed his mouth flat and gave an irritated sigh that anxiously hooked in Izuku's chest. If he didn't like the outdoors in Japan he didn't know how else to make him want to stay.

"Fuck this," Katsuki said. "Show me the river then."

Izuku had called it a river but it was more of a shallow bayou. He used to go there with Inko when the mothers in the neighbourhood had arranged playdates but the other kids had only let him in on their games when they'd wanted to watch him fail do things they could all do and laugh. Eventually they'd stopped going and Izuku hadn't been there since.

Katsuki scowled when he saw it. "You call this piss-stream a river?" he asked. He kicked some pebbles into the water with a frustrated scuff of his shoe. The surface rippled, the small rings overlapping.

"Well," Izuku hesitated, fiddling with the hem of his shirt. "That's just because of the dam upstream."

Tilting his head back, Katsuki exhaled in exasperation. His fair head gleamed in the sun, bright like snow. Izuku's fingers itched to touch it but he didn't dare.

"Um," he said because he didn't know what else to do. "Do you want to skip stones, Kacchan?"

He opened his eyes and looked at him through white eyelashes. "Fine. Let's see how good you've gotten."

The air was breathless and the stream stagnant enough that the clear sky reflected in the water in a wavering image. Katsuki's stone skipped seven times and Izuku's four. After, he ruffled his hair roughly and grinned. "Look at you. Maybe you ain't so useless after all, Deku."

Izuku blushed, pleased with the compliment and pleased that Katsuki was smiling again. "I had a good teacher," he quipped and made him smile more and kind of tug at his hair. Izuku leaned his head into his touch, and watched him and watched him.

Afterwards they raced each other home.

Katsuki won that, too, but Izuku didn't mind. He stopped in front of the gate, slightly out of breath and white skin stained a faint pink. He was grinning, bright and pleased after a day outside. When Izuku caught up, he ruffled his hair some more, fingers snagging in the tangles. If winning made him look that happy, Izuku wanted him to keep winning forever.

"Did you have fun, Kacchan?" he asked, somewhat nervous of the answer.

Katsuki considered for a moment, and then his grin dimmed into something more genuine - as if it was a secret just for Izuku. "It wasn't completely shit," he said, and Izuku could feel his heart buoy with happiness.

That happiness was long gone on the first day of school when his heart sat like a stone in the pit of his stomach.

He sat at the back of the classroom, flanked by empty desks, and tried to hide behind his math book. His classmates had their backs to him and their chatter filled the room like an oceanic murmur, intermittent and meaningless. Izuku doodled in his notebook, flicking glances over the edge of the book.

He felt sick with apprehension.

It wasn't because of school. Since kindergarten he'd been the quirkless weird kid who couldn't move like the other kids or shut up when he started talking. He was the kid everyone ignored unless they wanted someone to laugh at and he was used to it. He didn't mind.

It was just... Katsuki was so cool and pretty and he could do anything. For the whole summer it'd been just the two of them but now he would meet other kids who'd all want to be his friend. Izuku worried he'd realise how lame he was and find someone else who was smarter and cooler and stronger. He worried he'd get bullied too if he hung around Izuku in school.

Izuku picked at the bandage around his hand and tried to sink under his desk without slipping off his chair.

When Katsuki walked inside and stopped in front of the class, whispers surged through the room like wind through leaves. He scowled and his eyes found Izuku. Something snagged in Izuku's belly, a familiar blend of awe and worry and envy. Even in a world with quirks Katsuki was unique and pretty, and sometimes it didn't seem fair when Izuku was so plain and could hardly do anything. He wished he was more like Katsuki.

"Do you want to introduce yourself?" Ooda, their homeroom teacher, asked. She was a middle-aged woman with a permanent bitter slant to her mouth and a bored drawl in her voice.

Unimpressed gaze sweeping once over the other students, Katsuki said, "Nah. I'm not gonna remember any of these people."

When the other kids erupted into a commotion of incredulous noises and offended complaints, Izuku put his head in his hands, caught between the nervous urge to cringe or laugh.

The din quieted down when Katsuki walked over to him, and all the eyes in the room turned to look at him with suspicious incredulity. Someone whispered his name, and another echoed it.

Grinning, Izuku looked at Katsuki and fidgeted in his chair with nervous energy. Katsuki tossed his backpack on the desk beside him, slumped down in the seat, and glared over at everyone until they faced ahead again.

During class he flipped through their math book and then leaned close to Izuku across the space between their desks. "You seriously study this shit?" he asked, not really bothering to lower his voice. "Do you still count with your fingers?"

Ooda called them to be quiet. Katsuki balanced on the back legs of the chair with a bored expression and Izuku stifled a titter behind his hand.

He was painfully self-conscious of the whispers and looks flicked their way but the other kids didn't approach them, content to observe them from afar. Katsuki didn't seem to be aware of the attention, or just didn't care, and Izuku was glad no one bothered them.

Uneasily he glanced towards the three boys on the other side of the classroom, and tentatively hoped it would stay that way.

It didn't.

It started at lunch break.

They had just returned from the cafeteria with their lunchboxes and sat down to eat when someone knocked an elbow hard into the back of Izuku's head and he lurched forward with a yelp. He looked over his shoulder and his heart sank when he saw Ishii and Soiri and Honge, the three boys in his class. Furtively he glanced at Katsuki from the corner of his eyes and saw him observe them with a frown.

"Oops," Ishii said, and the other two snickered. "Didn't see you there, Midoriya. Did it hurt?"

Rubbing the back of his head, Izuku looked down at his lunch, cheeks flushed hot with sudden mortification. He hadn't wanted Katsuki to see this - how they treated him and how he couldn't do anything in retaliation. With an awkward, forced laugh he mumbled, "Um... No. It's okay."

"You should be careful of that head of yours," Ishii said, and Izuku went rigid when he knocked his head with enough strength for it to hurt. "It's so big someone might bump into it."

"Who the fuck was that?" Katsuki demanded when they sat at their own desks.

Picking at his rice, appetite gone, Izuku said, "That was just Ishii. Um, Ishii Daichi."

"I didn't ask for his fucking name, Deku."

Izuku hunched his shoulders, trying to shrink in, and stubbornly didn't look up from his lunch. Katsuki clicked his tongue and didn't say anything after that but Izuku could feel his glare throughout the break, louder than any words he could say.

After lunch they were assigned in teams to clean the classroom and the hallways.

Izuku tensed when Ishii walked over to him, like he usually did, and held out his broom towards him with a thin smile. "Hey, Midoriya. Can you do my share while you're at it? You don't mind, do you? We're friends, right?"

He was always like this. He knocked Izuku around and made him do his chores for him and called them friends. Izuku didn't like him, but he wasn't brave enough to tell him to stop. He'd tried once and Ishii had punched him in the face. He had a stone quirk and his punches hurt, and Izuku didn't want to go back home with another bloody nose and have his mom worry. He knew he couldn't win against Ishii even if he tried and for years he hadn't tried.


Katsuki was right there, staring at them expressionlessly. Izuku didn't - he didn't want to be like this in front of him. He wanted to be more like Katsuki, cool and strong and fearless. He wanted to tell Ishii off and have Katsuki ruffle his hair and maybe compliment him.

Head bowed, Izuku stared at his shoes, the rag clenched tight in his hand. "Um... I don't mind," he muttered, and felt so miserable he wanted to cry.

Katsuki narrowed his eyes but he still didn't say anything.

Ishii let go of the broom and Izuku barely caught it before it clattered to the floor. "Thanks, Midoriya. You're a big help. Really."

When they were walking out of the room, he heard them snicker. "See? He never fights back."

"I wonder if he's even embarrassed. That's his friend, right?"

"Some friend he's got. He didn't even try to help him."

Katsuki was still silent when they were walking back home and Izuku didn't much feel like talking, either. He could tell Katsuki was mad, the air around him bristling like hot needles under his skin, and he didn't know what to do. He wanted Katsuki to say something - anything - even if it was only to call him useless and say he didn't want to be brothers with him after all.

The thought ached in his throat like he'd swallowed fishbones and his eyes prickled. Wiping his nose with the back of his hand, he happened to look up and saw Ishii and Soiri and Honge in the playground surrounding another boy.

Izuku's steps faltered. He stopped and slanted a hesitant glance Katsuki's way. He'd stopped, too, eyeing the scene with bland curiosity. Their eyes met and Izuku couldn't read his expression at all.

Then the boy was shoved to the ground and he cradled his arm to his chest, and Izuku moved before he realised what he was doing and rushed in front of the boy.

"H-hey! Stop that! Don't you see he's crying?"

For a moment the three of them stared at him, bewildered. And then Ishii exchanged a look with his friends and sneered. "What's this? Are you suddenly playing at hero, Midoriya?"

Mouth pressed flat, eyes darting away, Izuku said, "I - I'm not. I just don't think you should bully others, Ishii. It's - it's not nice and you made him cry."

"What was that?" Ishii asked, and stepped forward to slap Izuku's forehead. He flinched, eyes closed, braced to be hurt. "I can't hear you if you keep mumbling like that, Midoriya."

The whole thing was like a nightmare.

Izuku had always wanted to be a hero like All Might. He wanted to help others with a smile but here he was with someone needing his help and he couldn't smile at all. He was acutely aware of Katsuki observing them with bland interest, standing on the edge of the playground and making no indication of interfering, and the boy crying behind him, and the advantage Ishii's quirk gave him.

Heart pounding, Izuku looked up, eyes shining with tears and determination. His voice trembled when he said; "I won't let you hurt him anymore."

Ishii laughed in clear amused dismissal. "Oh yeah?" he asked, and his fist turned to stone. "I guess you want your nose broken in again."

Izuku stared at his hand, breath snagging as if it couldn't decide between escaping or staying in his lungs. The tremble in his voice seemed to have overtaken his whole body. He knew there was nothing he could do against someone bigger and stronger than him but he couldn't just leave someone who was crying and needed help. All Might would never leave anyone in trouble and Katsuki would never back down from a fight.

Izuku wanted to be like them. He wanted to change. He didn't want to feel this miserable.

He lifted his fists, and they trembled.

Honge burst out laughing. "Look at him! He's seriously going to put up a fight!"

Then they were all momentarily distracted when Katsuki moved to the swings and jumped on it, the chains creaking. He was still looking at them blandly, carmine eyes fixed on Izuku.

"It's the returnee kid," Soiri whispered. "Think he's as useless as Midoriya? Maybe he's quirkless, too."

Ishii regarded Katsuki suspiciously with narrow, dark eyes. "Hey," he said at length, "are you gonna stop us from beating up Midoriya?"

Katsuki barely glanced at him, bored and decidedly unimpressed. He kicked off the ground, the chains creaking louder with the speed. "You blind? Does it look like I am, shithead?"

Ishii blinked, seemingly taken aback by the insult. No one ever talked back to him because his dad was working in a famous company and his mom was the chairwoman in the parent-teacher and neighbourhood association. Izuku didn't think he'd ever heard someone insult him like that.

For a moment Ishii faltered, and then he ignored Katsuki like he didn't know what to do with him. He said, "Some friend you've got, Midoriya. Where'd you pick him up anyway?"

Ignoring the hurt confusion of Katsuki explicitly saying he wouldn't help, Izuku said, "Shut up! You don't know a thing about Kacchan!"

Ishii stared. "The first friend of your worthless life says he won't help you even if you get beaten up and you still defend him," he said, voice incredulous. "Midoriya, you really are pathetic."

Then his stone fist slammed into Izuku's cheek.

The punch knocked the air out of him and his legs buckled beneath him. He fell and scraped his hand against the sand. Pain blinded Izuku, coruscating through his head like a knell. He blinked the sparks out of his eyes and gasped for a futile breath, a stream of spit and blood trailing down the corner of his mouth. The sound of the chains creaking was a distant ringing in his ears.

Izuku tried to get up but his legs failed.

"You never fight back and suddenly you think you can do something," Ishii said, looming over him. "Who do you think you are, Midoriya?"

Izuku lifted terrified eyes up to him, saw him haul his arm back for another punch - and then the swing slammed into the side of Ishii's head.

Katsuki jumped off, a dark shadow darting against the sun. With a surprised grunt of pain Ishii staggered and stumbled to his knees. Blood trickled down the side of his face.

"Daichi!" Honge said and rushed to kneel beside him.

"Hey!" Soiri shouted. "Are you insane?"

Katsuki ignored them all and walked over to stand over Izuku. The tentative, pleased glow that he'd helped him after all died the instant he saw his face.

He made a quiet noise of terror and had half a mind to crawl back and away from him.

"The fuck was that, Deku?" Katsuki asked, a terrifying undercurrent in his voice.

Before Izuku could stutter out a confused answer, he hauled him up to his feet by the collar of his shirt and then turned towards the boy crying on the ground.

"And you, you little bitch!" Katsuki snarled, and the boy seemed to stop crying from the sheer shock of his words. Wide-eyed like a rabbit caught in the stare of a wolf, he blinked, snot and tears running down his bewildered face. "If somebody goes to the fucking trouble of helping out your pathetic fat ass then get outta the fucking way and fuck off!"

"Um..." the boy said, terrified, gaze darting between them all.

Katsuki waved a crackling hand over his head, explosions skimming his hair, and shouted, "Fuck off, retard!"

The boy scampered to his feet with a yelp and ran for his life. Izuku couldn't blame him and kind of wished he could run away too.

"Ka-Kacchan! That - you shouldn't have yelled at him like--" he tried to say through the throbbing pain in his cheek but then Katsuki wrenched him forward and pulled him away from the playground.

"You!" he snarled. "You shut the fuck up! We need to have a fucking talk!"

"Are you insane!" Soiri yelled. He ran after them and tried to grasp Katsuki's arm. "You can't just crack Daichi's head open like that and leave!"

For a second Izuku worried Katsuki had actually cracked Ishii's head open, and tried to crane his head to have a look, but then Katsuki whirled around and detonated a blast right into Soiri's startled face.

He fell backwards to the ground, staring up with wide eyes, his face scorched with small marks. "Don't you fucking dare touch me," Katsuki snarled. "I don't have time to waste on shitstains like you."

And then he dragged Izuku away.

Izuku stumbled along, trying to keep up with his furious steps. He almost tripped a few times but Katsuki's tight grip on his collar kept him up. "Kacchan! Kacchan, that - that hurts!"

Katsuki ignored him as if he didn't even hear him and he didn't stop until they were near their home. Then he slammed Izuku against the tiled wall of one of the houses, and the anger that had been building up in him since lunch break exploded like a star.

"What the fuck was that, huh, dumbass?! Didn't you say you want to be a goddamn hero?! Then what the goddamn fuck was up with that fucking cowering?! 

Breathless from being dragged and slammed against the wall, Izuku stammered, "What? I don't - I just - I just wanted to help, Kacchan, I didn't--"

Katsuki's face twisted with anger, red eyes furious, and Izuku realised that even though he cursed and yelled a lot he'd never really seen him angry before. It made him want to shrivel and hide. His shoulder blades chafed against the wall behind him as if to dig his way out.

"What fucking good is your goddamn help if you can't follow through on it?! You're just going to get yourself and whatever pathetic asshole you're helping killed!" He yanked Izuku forward and slammed him back up against the wall.

Wheezing, Izuku gripped his arm with both hands. "Ka-Kacchan. That hurts."

Snarling in frustration, Katsuki abruptly let go and wrenched his arm free. He turned away to stomp off, muttering curses in English and French under his breath.

Breath hitching, Izuku stared at his back. Misery of the entire day clawed in his chest like black mist and his mind reeled from the daze of pain and Katsuki's angry words. Katsuki was walking away. He was done with Izuku, he wouldn't want to be his brother anymore, and Izuku couldn't even really blame him.

He thought about Katsuki training every day in the forest in Canada. He thought about Katsuki moving halfway across the world to become a hero. He thought about Katsuki being hurt by someone and still being able to save himself.

He was nothing like Izuku who'd sat in his room and watched vids and researched quirks and written down notes and wished.

"Then--" Izuku said, and swallowed and cleared his throat. "Then what should I do, Kacchan? I can't just ignore someone who wants help."

Katsuki stopped and moved his head but he didn't look at him. Through gritted teeth he said, "The fuck are you asking me for?" He paused, and then bit out, "But nobody's gonna be happy if you try to help them and get your ass handed to you instead."

He was right. Izuku knew he was right but he just didn't know how or where to start.

Maybe, he thought in creeping awareness, it wasn't so much that no one believed he could be a hero. Maybe it was Izuku who didn't really believe he could be a hero.

He sucked in a breath, and something sparked in his head, something reckless and desperate and unsuppressible. He thought about that time at the riverside in Canada when Katsuki had taught him how to skip stones and Izuku had succeeded.

He said, "Please teach me, Kacchan."

Scowling, Katsuki turned around and for a long moment stared at him. Whatever he saw in Izuku's face made him grin, slow and sharp and a little terrifying. He gave a laugh, red eyes bright and intense. "You don't get to take that back later, Deku. I'm gonna pound the fucking nerd right out of you."

Heart thumping with unease at his words, Izuku set his mouth and smiled a tight-lipped smile that wavered around the edges. "Don't worry, Kacchan. Because I'm going to do it."

And he was, he realised, and not just for Katsuki.

He wanted to do it for himself, too.

Chapter Text

Usually Katsuki calmed down as quickly as he angered. After venting and seeing that Izuku wouldn't let some insignificant prick walk all over him again, he took his hand without thinking and dragged him the rest of the way into the house.

In the kitchen he shoved him into one of the chairs and gruffly said, "Sit down."

Izuku darted anxious glances at him and fidgeted like he was incapable of being still but he did as he was told. His hand hovered above his cheek, fingertips fluttering over the bruised skin and then flinching back.

Katsuki rolled his eyes, grasped his wrist, and decisively put his hand on the table. Izuku looked at him silently with wide, green eyes and didn't move. "Stop," he demanded, and then he went to rummage through the freezer.

He was used to being smacked around and even though the adults in that house had tried to go easy on his face sometimes they'd been so fucking pissed they'd forgotten. Katsuki knew faces tended to swell a lot and he knew cold helped to ease the swelling. Sometimes - when they'd refused to treat him as a punishment or he hadn't let them anywhere near him - he'd laid on the cold, bare floor of the basement just to feel the pain ebb a little.

He wrapped a towel around a handful of ice cubes he found in the freezer and handed it over to Izuku. "Use this," he said and their fingers brushed when Izuku cautiously took it. Katsuki sat down, lifting his legs up on the chair.

Tenderly Izuku put the towel on his cheek. For a while Katsuki just looked at him, and then he leaned across the table and unthinkingly touched the side of Izuku's mouth.

"Did you nick the inside of your mouth?" he demanded. "Do you taste blood? It fucking hurts when that happens," he added in a mutter.

Blinking, Izuku licked his tongue over his teeth and cheeks. He shook his head, messy curls falling over his eyes. "Um..." he said cautiously. "You're not mad anymore, Kacchan?"

"I wasn't fucking mad," Katsuki said, and Izuku gave him a somewhat dubious look that he ignored. "Tell me something," he said. "Why do you want to be a hero?"

Eyebrows wrinkling, Izuku thought for a moment. "It's just..." he started, haltingly, cheeks going red. "I really admire All Might. I just think the way he saves people with a smile on his face is the coolest thing ever. And I... I just want to be like that." He glanced down at the table and then his eyes darted up. "Um. And I want to be like you, Kacchan."

Katsuki made a face. "Why the fuck?"

The blush seemed to take over Izuku's whole face, flooding his ears and neck. Shyly he averted his eyes, keeping his head down. He scratched the edge of the table with his finger. "Because you're so cool, Kacchan. You're so strong and you can do anything and... I just... I really admire you."

Katsuki didn't get it. He didn't get his urge to save useless people when he couldn't even stand up for his own fucking self and he didn't get why Izuku would admire him.

Katsuki wasn't strong and he didn't think he could do anything. Most things were just so easy and he didn't get why everyone couldn't do them and he figured it was just because everyone else sucked.

But he supposed he didn't have to get Izuku to teach him.

He thought back on that asshole. His quirk had been standard, suited for defence and close-range fights. He hadn't looked particularly strong or smart, and Katsuki was sure he'd only singled out Izuku because no one in that shitty school seemed to care what happened to him and he knew Izuku would never retaliate on his own.

"You're quirkless," Katsuki said, thinking about that pitiful excuse of a fight. The real problem wasn't really that Izuku was quirkless - it was that he was weak and still thought it a fucking bright idea to put himself between some entitled asshole and some pathetic retard.

", yeah?" Izuku inquired cautiously, seeming confused why Katsuki would bring it up.

"Did you even think about how to deal with that shithead's quirk?"

Flustered, Izuku stammered out, "Um, no, I didn't - I just moved before I even knew it."

Katsuki had figured as much. He didn't want to bother with this shit but Izuku was his and he wasn't going to let some prick use him as a doormat.

"Yeah, well. You're going to have to start thinking about it before you do a fucking thing next time," he said flatly and Izuku nodded, eyes wide and attentive. At least he was eager to learn even if he was useless.

"You're quirkless," Katsuki repeated because that would always be his starting line. He was quirkless and most people weren't. Most villains weren't.

"I - I know, Kacchan," Izuku said, his eyebrows and mouth twisted in an unhappy frown. "I know I should give up being a hero because I'm quirkless and I shouldn't try to fight people who have quirks. I know that."

Impatiently Katsuki clicked his tongue. "I don't give a shit you're quirkless, stupid Deku. Most people have fucking useless quirks, it doesn't matter. Your mistake wasn't fighting with that asshole. Your mistake was fighting that asshole when you can't even fucking fight back and letting him punch you with his shitty fucking quirk. Are you getting this or do I have to fucking spell it out, you dumbass?"

Blinking, Izuku asked, "You don't care I'm quirkless?"

"Huh?" Katsuki snarled, patience wearing thin with dumb questions. "Didn't we go over this already?"

Izuku didn't seem to hear him. His eyes were shining with a peculiar, intense light as he stared fixedly at him. "Do you think I could be a hero, Kacchan?"

Katsuki scowled. "That depends."

Leaning forward, Izuku asked, "On what, Kacchan?"

"On what you're going to fucking do about it," he said, rolling his eyes like the answer should have been obvious and Izuku was a moron for not getting it. Then he demanded, "You have been doing something about it, right?"

Obviously Izuku hadn't been learning how to fight. Or doing any physical exercises, Katsuki thought, remembering how slow and awkward and out of breath he'd been in Canada. He'd really have to beat him into shape.

"Um..." Izuku said, and moved to stand. "Can you wait here for a bit? I'll be right back, Kacchan!"

He dashed into the hallway and Katsuki heard him pound upstairs. After a moment he returned and smiled nervously, and then grimaced when the smile pulled on his bruised cheek. He slid a notebook towards Katsuki.

"Here," he said primly.

The notebook was titled for the future - hero analysis #2.

Eyeing it dubiously, Katsuki picked it up. He flipped through pages and pages of obsessively small, dense notes detailing the well-known heroes and their quirks. On the last page he noticed his own name and wondered when Izuku had had the time to write about him. His eyes narrowed.

This was what Izuku did on his free time.

The kid was fucking hopeless.

After a moment, he closed the notebook expressionlessly, clapped it between his hands, and then detonated it, the billow of heat from the blast stirring his hair away from his face. The smell of burnt paper filled the room, and Izuku made a noise of abject horror and lunged for it. Katsuki pushed him back and held the notebook out of his reach.

"Kacchan! I can't believe you blew it up!"

Baring his teeth, Katsuki said, "See, it's this kinda shit that's the problem, Deku. While you sit in your room scribbling down these stupid little notes somebody else is actually out doing something." He waved the charred notebook in his hand and then tossed it on the table in disgust.

For a second Izuku had stilled, and then he picked up the notebook and cradled it close to his chest with a pout. "But," he said, fiddling with one blackened corner, "you didn't need to blow it up, Kacchan. I put a lot of effort into it."

"Can't you put that fucking effort into something practical?" Katsuki demanded. "What hero school do you even want to go to?"

All of a sudden Izuku brightened and Katsuki immediately had a bad feeling. "To Yuuei!" Izuku chirped. "It's All Might's alma mater!"

Looking at his small, bright smile Katsuki was - for an instant - almost tempted to change his school of choice. Something occurred to him and his eyes narrowed suspiciously.

"What department were you thinking?"

Izuku averted his eyes, looking down, and aimlessly doodled on the table with his finger. "Um... the... the heroics department," he said, voice fading into a mumble.

Katsuki gave him a blank look, the look that said he was judging him and found him stupid, and at least Izuku knew how to be embarrassed even if he was a goddamn moron.

Seeing his expression, Izuku hesitated and then went on doggedly, "Um... I know there's no precedent but you never know until you try...?"

"Deku," Katsuki interrupted, and Izuku started. "I've told you I think you're useless." After a perplexed pause, Izuku nodded unhappily. "But I never thought you were dumb," Katsuki added.

Izuku looked tentatively pleased with this unexpected compliment and then Katsuki said flatly, "I'm starting to think you're dumb."

When Izuku dropped his head, downcast, Katsuki huffed an irritated sigh. He leaned over the table to grasp his wrist and tugged the towel away from his face.

Taking a look at the bruised cheek, he went on, "You're such a dumbass. Do you know how many people with quirks don't get in the heroics department? You think you - quirkless fucking you - is just gonna pass the goddamn test? There's the general department for a fucking reason, Deku."

The bruise didn't look that bad. Katsuki had seen worse and he'd had worse.

His eyes slid up into Izuku's green eyes and he looked startled - like he'd never even thought about it and Katsuki knew as long as he was stuck at wishful thinking he'd never get anywhere.

Izuku's mouth wavered on unspoken words and then he asked, "Do you think I should apply into the general department then, Kacchan?"

"I'm gonna figure something out," Katsuki promised but that wasn't important right now.

If Izuku couldn't even handle some insignificant school bully on his own he could forget about being a hero.

Again Izuku regarded him with that weird, soft expression that made his skin itch. Then he ducked his head, worrying his bottom lip. He thumbed the corner of the notebook and peeked at Katsuki through his fringe.

"Just spit it out, Deku."

He blinked wide, green eyes and ventured, "Um... Can I still take notes, Kacchan?"

"'re fucking hopeless," Katsuki said but he didn't say no.

And then Inko walked in, saw the bruise on Izuku's cheek, and Katsuki tried to slip away before he got caught up in that shitstorm.

It was clear Inko should never have let the boys go to school.

After she'd watched them leave that morning she'd nervously paced around the house, bustling aimlessly with trivial chores, worried she'd get a phone call from the school informing her Katsuki had gotten into a fight with someone.

He hadn't been violent towards Izuku since that first meeting but Inko hadn't been sure how he'd get along with other children and she'd worried. Her mother had always said she worried too much, just like their father, and Mitsuki had always teased her about it.

But she'd been right to worry, she thought with some vindication, when she saw the bruise on Izuku's cheek and his wide, panicked eyes. Inko just hadn't ever thought it'd be her Izuku who'd get into a fight.

She rushed around the table and shoved the plastic bags of the corner shop carelessly on the counter, the shoppings spilling out and tumbling into the sink.

"Izuku!" Inko said, fretting at the bruise on his face. "What happened?"

Eyes darting away, Izuku said, "It's nothing, mom. I was just careless."

For a moment she stared at him speechlessly. It was obvious someone had hit him and he'd just lied to her, and suddenly Inko remembered him saying the same thing three years ago when he'd come home with a bloody nose. She'd had her suspicions then, and she had her suspicions now, but she hadn't wanted to press because he'd been so unwilling to talk about it and he hadn't come home with any more bruises after that day and she'd thought it was okay.

She regretted that choice now, like she regretted many other choices she'd made.

"Izuku," Inko said in a stern voice that surprised him. He started and looked up, green eyes wide and guileless. "Are you being bullied in school?"

He slanted a startled, nervous glance Katsuki's way. Inko narrowed her eyes, mouth pressed flat, and realised he must have seen what had happened. She turned towards him and asked, "Katsuki, do you know what happened?"

Katsuki stopped, halfway off the chair. He scowled and stared at Izuku for a moment. Inko's fingers tightened on Izuku's shoulder, unsure what she should do if they both lied to her.

Then Katsuki shrugged with one shoulder. "Deku decided to play at hero," he said dismissively, and Inko felt Izuku's shoulder slump under her hand. "It didn't go too well."

Hearing his words, Inko faltered. "It - it wasn't bullying, Izuku? You were helping someone?" she asked uncertainly.

Looking down at his feet, Izuku mumbled, "...something like that."

He looked so miserable and Inko wondered just what on earth had happened to make him look like that - if it was just the bruise on his cheek or something else they weren't telling her. She fiddled with strands of her hair, unsure what she should say, what was the right thing to say because it wasn't like she was happy about him being hurt even if he'd gotten hurt helping someone else.

Inko remembered how Izuku had constantly talked about becoming a hero when he'd been small. He used to run around the house in his All Might costume, pretending to be him patrolling the city, and sometimes Inko had played the civilian he needed to save. He used to smile then, so happy and innocent.

He hadn't talked about becoming a hero in years, though, not since that day he'd been diagnosed as quirkless and Inko was sure it was her fault. She'd always wondered if he'd given up on his dream because of what she'd said. She couldn't say she'd ever liked the thought of him being a hero, she'd seen the vids he watched and the news, and it was all too terrible and scary for her, that world, but she'd never wanted to ruin her child's dreams.

But how should she have explained to a small child that she blamed herself for him being quirkless, that she thought she must have done something wrong during pregnancy or childbirth, that she thought if only she'd done something differently then maybe she wouldn't have had to watch her little boy cry and not know what she could possibly do or say to make it better. That she hadn't apologised to him because he was quirkless but because she'd thought it was all her fault.

Inko tugged at the sleeves of her cardigan in a nervous, insecure gesture and looked at Izuku's bowed head, the unhappy frown of his mouth. She thought about what she had to say.

She took a breath and smiled. "That was brave of you, Izuku. You stood up for someone who needed help. Just like All Might." When Izuku peeked at her through his fringe, she smoothed down his perpetually messy hair and felt her heart ache. "I'm so proud of you."

He mumbled, "It's not like I did much."

"Well," Inko said, flustered at the lack of enthusiasm in his voice. "But you still helped someone in trouble and that is very admirable. It's more than many others would have done. And - and that's what heroes do."

With a shaky exhale she turned around to bustle with the shopping bags and went on, "But I think we should still tell the teachers. Whoever hit you shouldn't get away with bullying. Was it someone from your school, Izuku?"

"Um..." he said, and the sudden anxiety in his voice made her look over her shoulder. Grimacing, Izuku said, "I don't - that's - I don't think it's a good idea, mom. Kacchan..." He darted a troubled look at Katsuki and Inko had a bad feeling in the pit of her stomach. "Kacchan kind of hit him in the head with the swing."

Feeling faint, Inko said, "What?"

"He was fucking asking for it," Katsuki said.

"I--" Inko said. "I think I need to sit down." She pulled out a chair, sat down, and resisted the urge to rest her head in her hands. She tried very hard not to imagine any children lying in playgrounds with their heads open.

She wished Mitsuki was there. She'd know what to say, especially to Katsuki. Inko didn't know how to explain about the use of excessive violence to a child who probably didn't know anything else. Blankly she stared at nothing, worrying her lip and struggling how to put it so he would understand.

It was the nervous undercurrent in Izuku's voice that brought her out of her thoughts. "Mom?" he asked.

Inko started and looked into his wide, worried eyes. It wasn't that either of them had done anything wrong, not really, and she didn't want them to think they had. She could still feel her attempt at a reassuring smile waver.

"It's nothing, Izuku. It's just... Katsuki," she said gently to have his attention and he looked at her with a faint frown. "Katsuki, it was kind of you to help Izuku but maybe... maybe next time you shouldn't hit others in the head?"

He seemed to consider her words, head tilted to the side and face blank. "...fine," he said after a pause, and Inko wondered if it really was.

"I'm sorry, mom," Izuku said, quiet. "Kacchan only tried to help me."

She hated herself a little when he apologised to her, and wondered how she always managed to say the wrong thing. "Izuku," she said sternly and he peeked up through his fringe. "You didn't do anything wrong. Either of you. You were both like heroes. But you should just avoid serious injuries, okay? To yourself and whoever you're fighting. Even heroes aren't allowed to seriously injure villains, right?"

When Izuku hesitantly nodded, she leaned forward to kiss his forehead, mindful of the bruise on his cheek. Her hand fluttered over it and she said, "You should keep it cold for today."

Nervously she stood up, darting a curious glance at the charred notebook on the table. "I should start dinner," she said with forced cheer. Cooking had always helped her calm down and she could really use some calming down. "Do you boys want grilled fish or katsudon?"

"Can I do something?" Katsuki asked.

"You help mom cook, Kacchan?" asked Izuku in awed tones, and Katsuki shrugged in answer.

"Oh," Inko said, surprised and pleased that he still wanted to help. She swept a quick glance over the ingredients and then said, "Could you chop the scallion, Katsuki?"

He got up and walked over to her. Izuku stood beside him on his tiptoes and admired how fast he chopped. Watching Katsuki work reminded Inko of how she used to help her mother when she'd been young and she smiled. She resisted the urge to smooth his tangle of white hair, sure he wouldn't like it if she touched him.

"Can I do something, too?" Izuku asked then with a small, eager smile, looking up at her around Katsuki, and Inko let him add the rest of the ingredients into the bowl.

She watched them fondly and desperately wanted them both to be happy. That was all Inko wanted, and she didn't think it was too much to ask for.

His mom called Izuku in sick the next morning because of the bruise. It wasn't that bad, he thought as he looked at it in the mirror, the skin just mottled and off-colour, but she'd been adamant and Izuku hadn't wanted to argue with her.

He ate breakfast with his mom and Katsuki - grilled fish and rice and miso soup - and then sat in the genkan while Katsuki put on his shoes, arms wrapped around his legs and chin on his knees. Inko fidgeted fretfully beside him, her dark hair frazzled.

"Are you sure you can go to school alone? I can call you in sick too, Katsuki," she said in a worried voice. "Do you remember how to get there? If that bully from yesterday tries to bother you just let the teacher know."

Katsuki straightened up, and stared at her until she quieted down. "I can handle little shits like that," he said but that didn't seem to reassure Inko.

She pressed her mouth flat, frowned for a moment, and then amended, "Just... Just go a little easier on him if he tries to do something."

Katsuki glanced at Izuku, and Izuku picked at the faded fabric of his pyjama pants, avoiding his eyes. When he felt his fingers sink into his hair, he looked up and saw his mouth crook in a smile. "When I get back I'll take you out for a walk," he said and Izuku frowned.

"I'm not actually a dog, Kacchan," he said with a pout and Katsuki smirked, and then he was gone with a careless 'see ya'.

Izuku wandered around the house when he was gone, feeling restless and lonely. He napped in Katsuki's futon, caught up on his homework, and played with his hero figures and he'd never really thought about it before, how slow time could drag on. He wondered if the other kids approached Katsuki now that Izuku wasn't there. He wondered if Katsuki got along with them unlike Izuku.

When he wandered downstairs for the third time his mom called from the sofa, "Izuku, you know Katsuki will get out of school at three."

"I - I know, mom," Izuku said, startled. He padded over to her and climbed over the backrest to sit down beside her, lifting his legs up and wrapping his arms around his knees.

"Hey, mom," he said after a moment of mindlessly watching some Korean drama with her. Inko hummed, her hand absently rising to pat his head. "Do you think we could buy Kacchan a pet? I think he likes animals," he said, thinking of the beetle from the other day and the wolfhounds in Canada.

Frowning, Inko looked away from the television. "I don't think we have enough room for a wolfhound, Izuku," she said apologetically.

"Well," Izuku hesitated. "Maybe it doesn't have to be a wolfhound." He wasn't too sure about his own words, but then again, Katsuki seemed to consider him as something like a pet, too, and he wasn't horned or armoured or large.

Inko gave him a fond smile. "Well. I'll think about it, Izuku."

At three twenty Katsuki slammed in and Izuku pounded off the sofa to meet him. "I'm fucking home," he called out, and tossed his backpack in the corner of the genkan. He gave Izuku a look and said, "Get your ass moving, Deku. We're going out."

Hurriedly Izuku pulled on his shoes, tossed a goodbye over his shoulder, and followed Katsuki out the door.

"Where are we going?" he asked, bouncing with excitement until Katsuki smirked and he realised he really was acting like a pet. Izuku stilled, trying to save some of his dignity, and tugged on his hair to hide his flushed cheeks.

Katsuki stopped on the small patch of grass in the yard and considered it. "This will do," he said, and turned towards Izuku. He stretched his muscles like he usually did before he started practising. "I'm gonna teach you something."

"Um... like what?" Izuku said, heart skipping nervously. He tugged at the hem of his shirt and waited while Katsuki regarded him from head to toe with keen carmine eyes. Izuku swallowed when he prowled once around him and then stopped in front of him.

"You know, that's a fucking problem," Katsuki said and then slapped Izuku's hands away from his shirt. He pushed his shoulders back and kicked his legs slightly apart. "Is it a fucking instinct for you to cower, Deku? How have you survived this fucking long when you practically scream you'll let every asshole walk all over you?"

"I - I don't," Izuku protested with a displeased frown but he suspected it was true. He'd grown too used to cowering around Ishii. He looked down, hands going up to tug at his fringe. "It's just... most people are stronger than me and--"

He stopped abruptly when Katsuki glared at him.

"That's a fucking problem, too," he said. "Are you serious about becoming a hero?"

Forcefully Izuku stopped fidgeting with his hands. Yesterday, Katsuki had said he could be a hero, that even without a quirk he could be a hero, and Izuku wanted to live up to that. He was going to live up to that - not just for Katsuki but for himself too. He was going to be a hero like All Might. A hero like Katsuki.

"I am," he said, and looked into Katsuki's eyes.

"Then it doesn't matter how strong someone is. You'll have to beat them all if you want to be a hero." He took a few steps back. "And we're going to start with Mountain Whale."

" mean Ishii, Kacchan?" Izuku ventured after a hesitant pause, confused by the epithet. "Did you see him in school?"

"Nah. He wasn't in," Katsuki said, and for an instant Izuku worried he'd accidentally killed him with the swing. "When he finds his balls from wherever I knocked them into, he's probably going to get you alone and you're going to tell him to fuck off--"

"Kacchan," Izuku said, "I can't say that."

"Say whatever the fuck you want as long as he gets the fucking message. The thing is, assholes like that are used to getting what they want and they get fucking mad when you don't give it to them. He'll probably try to hit you again."

Izuku's heart thumped uneasily at his words because Ishii was a lot bigger and stronger than him and he didn't know what he could possibly do to stop him from beating him up. And this time Ishii was unlikely to leave it at one punch. His cheek twinged as if to remind him what Ishii could do. He fiddled with the cuff of his shirt.

"I'll show you what you need to do then." And then Katsuki said, "Come at me," and Izuku stilled and stared at him in apprehension.

"Kacchan. I don't know how to fight."

"Yeah, and we're gonna fix that. Stop being a wuss and let's get this shit started."

Feeling unsure, Izuku shifted on his feet and then he cautiously lunged towards him. He'd never really seen Katsuki fight and he didn't know what he would do but if he could just use his notes on other heroes as a basis and predict--

Before Izuku knew it, Katsuki had grabbed his arm and flipped him over in a dizzying tumble of earth and sky, and then Izuku's back hit the ground, his arms locked against his chest. Winded, he stared up into Katsuki's eyes. Sunlight glittered on his hair, his eyelashes.

Mouth crooking in a half-grin, Katsuki said, "You're so fucking weak," and then he ruffled his hair roughly and let him up. With a weak cough Izuku rubbed at his chest. "Did you get that? Because you're going to throw me next."

Izuku's eyes widened in alarm. "Kacchan!" he wheezed. "I can't hurt you!"

Katsuki snorted in amused dismissal. "You can't hurt me even if you fucking tried, Deku."

"But..." Izuku said apprehensively. He didn't like the idea of even accidentally hurting Katsuki. He tugged at his clothes, realised what he was doing, and forced himself to stop. "Well... Could you show me one more time, Kacchan? Um... maybe slower?"

Katsuki talked him through it. He grasped Izuku's arm, turned his back into his chest, and threw him over his shoulder onto the ground. Catching his breath, Izuku stared up at him in awe, reminded again how amazing he was.

Katsuki squatted down next to his head. "Did you get it now?"

"Um. I - I think so," Izuku said, and thought back on how his body had moved, how effortless he'd made it seem, and tried to figure out how to imitate that image in his mind.

When he stood up a moment later, he carefully tried to throw Katsuki over his shoulder but his attempt just seemed to irritate him. Kicking him in the knee, he got up and snarled, "Don't be so fucking timid about it, Deku! Just think I'm that fucking Mountain Whale!"

Rubbing at his knee with a frown, Izuku said, "I can't, Kacchan! You're--" He barely stopped before he said, you're a lot prettier than Ishii. His face went scarlet, his cheeks and ears hot, and Katsuki tilted his head and gave him a look like he was being weirder than usual. Izuku looked down at his hands, fiddling with his fingers nervously. "We're brothers," he said because that was the truth, too, and he didn't want to hurt him.

Staring at him flatly like he was the dumbest, most infuriating person alive - and Izuku didn't think he was that bad - Katsuki stepped up close and tugged at his hair. "Deku," he drawled, words threaded with thorns of irritation, "get fucking serious or I won't bother with this shit anymore, do you hear me?"

"Ow! Ow! I'm serious, Kacchan! I'll be serious!"

He stopped tugging at his hair but didn't let go. For a moment he stared into Izuku's face, scowling suspiciously, and then he stepped back. He shook out his limbs and said, "Okay. Let's go again. And this time do it fucking right."

It was just - Izuku had never fought anyone and he didn't like the thought of hurting others, and even less he liked the thought of hurting Katsuki, and he kept fretting over the bruises and scratches he might get when he'd hit the ground. And Katsuki cursed and yelled a lot, and then he cursed and yelled some more when Izuku stammered out flustered apologies, but he didn't quit until Izuku succeeded throwing him properly.

When he finally did he smiled down at Katsuki a little hesitantly and said, "Got you, Kacchan."

He watched Katsuki's mouth curve in a grin, the blades of grass in his ash-white hair. His heart skipped with unexpected pride and elation, and then Katsuki kicked him off over his head and he knocked the back of his head against the earth with a yelp.

He supposed he should have seen it coming and for whatever reason a breathless laugh escaped through the tightness in his chest. Katsuki sat up beside him, and gave him a perplexed stare when Izuku grinned. And then his cheek twinged and he grimaced.

He was learning, Izuku thought. Bit by bit he was learning, and Katsuki was still the most amazing person he'd ever met, and Izuku wanted to be with him forever. "I like you, Kacchan," he said simply after he'd caught his breath.

"Yeah?" Katsuki asked. "Then you're a dumbass."

But he leaned over to tousle his hair, fingers snagging in the tangles, and Izuku smiled up at him. Then Katsuki threw himself down on the grass next to him and said, "We're gonna do this again tomorrow. And you fucking better not wuss out on me, Deku. This is fucking useless if you don't come at me like you mean it."

"Okay," Izuku said, happy.

"Um, boys," Inko called out from the door, and gave an alarmed look at the dirt and smudged blades of grass on their clothes. "Dinner is ready... What on earth have you been doing?"

"Practising!" Izuku chirped, and Inko looked bemused but pleased that he was smiling.

"Well," she said, "go wash your hands before you sit down at the table."

Izuku pounded upstairs to fetch his notebook and when he sat at the table, Inko said reproachfully, "Not during dinner, Izuku."

He fidgeted through the dinner, much to his mom's fond exasperation, eager and impatient to write down everything he'd learned so far. When Katsuki mouthed, "Nerd," from across the table Izuku just smiled and ducked his head.

He liked to imagine Katsuki had meant it fondly.

The next morning Izuku wheedled until his mom let him go to school. She seemed reluctant but Izuku would rather stay with Katsuki than sit alone at home with nothing to do.

His homeroom teacher, Ooda, took one look at the bruise on his face, paused for a considering moment, and then pretended she hadn't seen anything. Flustered, Izuku slinked past her behind Katsuki and a murmur of whispers followed after him like a rising tide. Self-consciously he tried to touch the bruise but without looking Katsuki grabbed his wrist before he could and shoved him into the seat with a clatter.

"Stop touching it, stupid Deku."

"Sorry, Kacchan," he whispered, fidgeting.

Soiri and Honge flicked glares at them from across the room and Izuku started nervously whenever he noticed. Ishii wasn't there, and for a moment he worried Katsuki really had injured him with the swing.

He darted an anxious look at Katsuki who still seemed perpetually bored of everything, slouching in his seat. Uneasily Izuku thought back to the lessons he'd had in Canada, how he'd grumbled about the "stupidly hard" assignments, and wondered if it'd been a mistake to make him go to school with him after all, no matter how happy he was about it. It wasn't like Izuku's school was very high-level, either.

He ducked behind his textbook and doodled in the margins of his notebook with a frantic, restless energy.

Ishii came to school the next day, a white gauze on his temple. He glared at Izuku with dark, angry resentment that made him jumpy and nervous for the entire morning. Katsuki had been teaching him but he still didn't feel confident he could throw Ishii who was bigger than Katsuki and a lot bigger than Izuku.

"He's not gonna approach you for a while, stupid Deku," Katsuki muttered, scowling down at his paper.

"But, Kacchan," Izuku whispered anxiously, and then he happened to take a look at the haiku Katsuki was writing, and hissed under his breath, "Kacchan! You can't write that! The teacher will be mad!"

Katsuki clicked his tongue, crumpled up the paper, and tossed it at Izuku's head and the teacher reprimanded them anyway.

Katsuki was right, though. Ishii didn't approach him. Whenever Izuku thought he would, Ishii would dart a look at Katsuki and then quickly look away, turning towards Soiri and Honge as if he'd been absorbed in conversation. Katsuki observed this behaviour for a few days, seeming bored and disinterested.

"What's the deal with him anyway?" he asked.

"Um... with Ishii?" Izuku said, stooped over his notebook. "I... We've been in the same class since kindergarten," Izuku said uncertainly, and he supposed he could have called them something like childhood friends but he'd never thought of Ishii as a friend.

Ishii had always been the first and loudest to laugh at Izuku because he'd been awkward and small and shy. He hadn't moved or talked or behaved like the other kids, and they'd noticed and singled him out and their ostracism had worked on a terrible positive feedback loop. Things had gotten worse when Izuku had been diagnosed as quirkless and the teacher in kindergarten had told the other kids to be careful around him as if he was something fragile. The other kids had ignored him with titters of quirkless and how boring, and the only one who'd still talked to him was Ishii.

He hadn't done it out of kindness, Izuku knew that much.

He'd always made fun of Izuku because he only really had a mom and he'd never had any of the cool clothes or games or consoles the other kids had because they couldn't afford them. He'd made Izuku do his homework for him until his grades had dropped and his mom had found out and then he'd taken it out on him. Whenever Izuku tried to object or tell Ishii he didn't like something, he'd threaten him or knock him around until he cowered and did as he was told. He'd always thought Izuku was beneath him, not really because of what he did or didn't do, but because of the things he didn't have.

Izuku didn't like him.

"He's just," Izuku said, mouth flat, "he's just really petty."

"A prick," Katsuki amended and Izuku gave him a small, nervous smile.

He was taking out the trash one day after lunch when Ishii finally approached him with Soiri and Honge. Izuku gave them an apprehensive look, and then uncertainly put the trash bin down. He straightened up and turned to face them.

"Midoriya," Ishii said.

Out of habit Izuku tensed. Then he took a deep breath, chest rising and falling sharply, and willed himself to relax. Don't tense, Katsuki had said. It'd slow his reaction time.

Darting a look between the three of them, Izuku asked, "What is it, Ishii?"

Ishii scowled, disgruntled. "You should ditch that returnee," he said.

Izuku stared. "You mean Kacchan?" he asked, and Ishii jumped and looked around the yard frantically before he scowled and turned back towards him. Above them, a window clattered open, the faint voices of the other students drifting outside.

"I get it, Midoriya," he said. "For whatever reason he's talking to you and giving you the time of day and you're not used to that. But he's crazy and he doesn't really like you. You're dumb and boring and quirkless, Midoriya. I'm the only one who still talked to you when everyone else ignored you."

"I," Izuku said, "I don't want to."

Seeming confused that Izuku had opposed him, Ishii blinked. "What?" he said.

"I don't want to. Kacchan is--" He stopped, unsure what Katsuki was. He was Izuku's best friend, his brother, but he didn't know what Katsuki felt about him. He didn't know if Katsuki liked him but he supposed it didn't matter. His hand curled into a fist, fingertips touching the healed scar on his palm.

"Kacchan is mine," Izuku said.

It didn't matter that Katsuki wasn't really nice or that he yelled and cursed a lot. He wasn't like Ishii. If he genuinely didn't like Izuku, if he couldn't stand the sight of him, he wouldn't bother with him at all. Ishii didn't like him and he still wouldn't leave him alone because he thought he would forever do everything he said.

Ishii's face twisted in disgust. "You're such a freak, Midoriya. Why do you call him Kacchan? You aren't a baby anymore."

Slowly Izuku's eyebrows pulled down in a frown. "Kacchan doesn't mind it."

"Maybe Midoriya likes him," Soiri said with a strange amused emphasis.

Ishii glanced at him quickly and then smiled, but it wasn't a nice smile, all thin and snide. "Is that what it is, Midoriya? Do you want to hold his hand and kiss him?" he asked, and his friends snickered.

Face flushing with unexplained shame and anger, Izuku channelled Katsuki and said; "You're a prick, Ishii."

The smile on his face vanished. "What did you just call me, Midoriya?" he asked in a low voice and took a step closer, looming over Izuku. "Some crazy returnee pays a little attention to you and sticks up for you and you think you can just do and say whatever you want? You're worthless, Midoriya. No one likes you. No one has ever liked you."

Izuku fought the instinct to step back, his heart pounding like a frightened rabbit in his chest. Katsuki had taught him. He thought he could be a hero. If Izuku didn't change now, he'd always be useless.

Ishii's hands turned to stones and darted out to grasp his shirt, and Izuku moved like Katsuki had taught him. He sidestepped his arm, grabbed it, and turned his back into his chest and threw him over his shoulder. Ishii yelped in surprise, and then his back hit the wall behind them with a loud thud. Breathing hard, Izuku stared down at his dumbfounded face, and for the first time in his life he understood the feeling of triumph.

"Just - Just leave me alone, Ishii."

He heard a laugh from above and looked up. Katsuki leaned his arms on the window sill, looking down with a faint smirk, sunlight bright in his hair. "What's it feel like, Deku?" he asked, and Izuku grinned, tremulous and brilliant.

He picked up the trash bin and made to leave, eyeing Soiri and Honge cautiously but they'd always stayed back when Ishii had bullied someone. They stared at him, looking surprised and baffled that the useless, quirkless kid of the class had just thrown someone bigger and stronger than him.

"Stop him!" Ishii snarled, getting up from the ground. "I'm really gonna break his stupid nose in and let's see how brave he's--"

Someone let out a startled noise when Katsuki jumped out of the window. He landed behind Ishii, kicked his legs out from beneath him, and twisted his arm behind his back.

"Stupid fucks like you just don't know when to quit," he muttered. He grinned, slow and terrifying, and Ishii made a strange, strangled noise when he saw it. "Hey," Katsuki said, "what was that shit about breaking Deku's nose in?"

"Kacchan..." Izuku said, worried.

Katsuki ignored him, and twisted Ishii's arm until he whined. Soiri and Honge moved towards them uneasily.

"Hey, you're seriously going to break his arm," Honge said, and Katsuki flicked him a disinterested look and sneered.

"Like you were going to break Deku's nose, huh, shitheads?" Then he leaned over Ishii and said, low, "The next time you touch something that's mine, I'm gonna break your fucking head in."

Abruptly he shoved Ishii and let go. He stood up, and Soiri and Honge stepped back when he walked past them. Izuku watched Ishii sit up, the angry tears in his eyes, and felt a twinge of pity. Then he turned around and ran up to Katsuki. "You weren't really going to break his head, Kacchan?"

"Huh?" he asked as if he'd already forgotten what he'd said. "Nah. But he doesn't need to know that."

Suddenly he grinned, like he was proud of him, and tousled Izuku's hair. "Good job, Deku. You fucking owned that little shit," he said, and Izuku glowed.

Chapter Text

When Katsuki woke up he felt the tickle of Izuku's breath in his ear. He blinked with an irritated frown, rubbed his eyes, and stretched out his limbs. Beside him, Izuku snuffled and rolled over, hugging his pillow. Since that first night in Japan he'd wanted to sleep on the same bed every night even though it was fucking hot and miserable, the sheets and clothes sticking to their sweat damp skin.

Suddenly Katsuki remembered Mitsuki smirking and telling him to enjoy the weather in Japan, and made a terrible face at the ceiling. Across the walls All Might's chiselled face beamed down in encouraging approval, and his anger snuffed out as suddenly as it'd flared, leaving him curiously drained. The room really was as ridiculous as Izuku, and he should just burn down all of those fucking posters after all.

With an annoyed exhale Katsuki stood up and stopped to scowl down at Izuku's half-hidden face and then kicked him awake on his way to the bathroom.

"Kacchan," he mumbled, voice drifting after him, syllables slurring together with sleep. "D'you really have to kick?"

"I'm improving you morale," Katsuki said gruffly. "Get up. And take your phone with you."

"Mmkay, Kacchan..."

When he came back into the room, Izuku was sitting up in the rumpled bedclothes, his head a wild nest of dark hair. In the subdued light seeping through the curtains he looked almost wan, freckles standing out like smudges on his skin. He looked up at Katsuki blearily, rubbed his eyes with a fist, and asked, "Are we going somewhere, Kacchan?"

"Out. I'm gonna teach you something," Katsuki said, and watched Izuku's whole face light up with a smile. He scrambled up, sheets tangling around his feet, and stumbled into the bathroom.

Katsuki changed his clothes and went downstairs to raid the kitchen for something to eat. He slammed through the cabinets, found bags of onigiri, and sat down, his legs up on the chair.

He'd almost eaten when Izuku thumped downstairs and slid into the chair across from him with a small grin.

"Where are we going, Kacchan? Are we going to spar again?" he asked, and picked up an onigiri from the pile and fiddled with the corner of the bag.

"I've been thinking," Katsuki said, and abstractedly thought about the hero vids he'd seen and watched with him.

Izuku tore the bag open, eyes wide and attentive. He bit into the onigiri, cheeks full as he chewed. Katsuki stared and thought about explaining.

"...I'm just gonna show you," he said after a long pause.

Izuku didn't ask more questions. He fidgeted quietly for a while and then his voice picked up, one word at a time, muffled as he ate, like a continuous stream of noise and Katsuki tuned him out and let his chatter wash over him like an oceanic wave.

Outside, he stopped in the yard. The sky was an expanse of oppressive grey, air pressing on his skin like humid heat, charged with the promise of rain and thunder. Izuku gave him an inquisitive look, fingers linked together, thumbs twirling around aimlessly. His shoulders were slightly hunched as if to make himself small. Even after he'd thrown that Mountain Whale, or whatever his face was, he still hadn't quite gotten rid of his instinct to cower.

He was so stupid. It didn't matter if he cowered or cried or begged. People who were going to hurt him would hurt him regardless and all he could do was try to hurt them back with everything he had.

Izuku tilted his head. "What were you thinking, Kacchan?"

Katsuki turned towards the house wordlessly and jumped, using the propulsion of his quirk to land on the rooftop, the tiles slick after a night of rain. He leaned over the edge and asked, "What would you do, Deku?"

At his question Izuku's breathless smile wavered, eyebrows wrinkling in temporary confusion, and then his expression cleared and he beamed up at him. "I'd need a jet pack! Like Buster Hero has! His office used to be in my old neighbourhood," he added as if Katsuki cared about some no name hero or his office.

He jumped back down and landed in a squat on the wet grass. "Yeah," he said. "So I was thinking you should aim for the department of support."

"But..." Izuku hesitated, worrying his bottom lip. "Don't they just make costumes for other heroes, Kacchan?"

Katsuki stared at him, hands in the pockets of his hoodie. "Yeah. So they gotta understand how everybody's quirks work and how to enhance their strengths or compensate for their weaknesses. And it's not just heroes' quirks, right? If they make defensive or offensive equipment, they gotta know what quirks general villains have and how they work."

Izuku made a soft noise of realisation and Katsuki paused. He regarded him keenly, head tilted to the side. "See where I'm getting at or do I have to spell it out?"

"You want me to get into the department of support so I can compensate that I'm quirkless," Izuku said, and he was staring again, eyes bright and soft, and Katsuki could feel his skin itch.

"It's the best plan, right?" he asked with an irritable jerk of his shoulder, trying to ignore it. "It's not like you'll ever stop being quirkless."

Suddenly Izuku's soft expression changed, and he bowed his head and mindlessly rubbed his thumb over the scar on his palm, a habit he'd picked up when it'd healed. "Um... do you really think I can do it, Kacchan?" he asked, voice low and nervous.

He'd thought they'd been over this already. Exhaling an irritated huff, Katsuki grabbed Izuku's hair and tugged his head up. He made a soft sound of pain, eyes wide and anxious. Katsuki could teach him and help him as long as he didn't prove himself useless but he wasn't going to hold his fucking hand.

"Deku," he said, expression solemn, and Izuku nodded cautiously that he was listening. "What I think doesn't matter. What matters is what you wanna do and what you're gonna do about it."

Mouth flat with doubt, Izuku blinked and considered his words for a while. Eventually he said, "Okay, Kacchan," and Katsuki let go of his hair.

"Take out your phone," he demanded.

Seeming nonplussed, Izuku took the phone out of his pocket and offered it to him with a small, hesitant smile. Thumbs gliding over the touch screen, Katsuki looked up one of the vids he'd watched on the computer the other day and handed the phone back to him.

Flicking a curious glance at him through his fringe, Izuku watched the video, eyebrows slowly pulling together in apprehension. "Um... You want me to learn this, Kacchan?"

"Yeah," Katsuki said. "Even if you're quirkless, it's not like you can lug around a ton of equipment. And that shit can always malfunction."

He leaned their heads close together to look at the phone screen. He remembered a couple of older kids in the orphanage practising the same stuff and thought it'd be good if Izuku learned it too since he didn't have a quirk to move around with.

"This developed from military training so I figure it should be pretty useful," he added.

"...military training," Izuku repeated in a mutter, sounding intimidated. He stole a timid glance at him through his hair, biting into his lower lip. "Are - are you sure I can do something like this, Kacchan? It looks - difficult."

Tilting his head, Katsuki considered the video for a moment. "Does it?" he asked, and stepped back.

Experimentally he sprinted towards the wall enclosing the house, stepped on it, and caught the edge with his hands. In the same smooth movement, he hoisted himself up and squatted down, balanced on top of it. Izuku stared at him with a conflicted expression, wide-eyed and thin-lipped, and Katsuki raised his eyebrows.

"Shit's not that hard, Deku."

Izuku released a sigh, expression smoothing out into a soft smile. "You're so cool, Kacchan," he said, looking down and fiddling with the corner of the phone.

He opened his mouth as if to say something else, wavered, and then hesitantly he put the phone back in his pocket. Face set, he looked up into Katsuki's eyes and said; "I'm going to try it, too."

He eyed the height and distance to the wall, breathed out, and sprinted forward. He caught the edge with his hands and inched up, shoes scraping against the tiles, until he lay on the wall on his stomach. He stilled for a confused instant, and then set out to turn around. Awkwardly he got his leg over, sat up astride, and turned to face Katsuki with a small tentative grin.

"I did it!" he said, out of breath and red-faced.

Katsuki stared. He wondered if he was supposed to say something to that. "You really don't know how to move, huh?"

Izuku flushed at his question, looking down at his hands and picking at the cuticles. "Yeah. I - I've never been good at sports or anything. Um... I'm sorry," he added in a nervous voice. "You're going out of your way to teach me and I can't even do something like this."

"Don't apologise for every dumb fucking thing," Katsuki said, annoyed, and kind of shoved at his head and tentatively Izuku peeked at him through his fringe.

"Sor--" he started, stopped, and frowned with some confusion. "Um," he said, flustered, a blush spreading across his cheeks. "Okay, Kacchan."

Katsuki rolled his eyes, and sat down next to him on the wall. "It's not like you're totally hopeless."

A tentative glow softened Izuku's face. "You think so, Kacchan?"

"Yeah. You threw that fucking Mountain Whale, didn't you?"

"Because you helped me," Izuku said, and it was a little embarrassing how disgustingly sincere he sounded.

"And I'm gonna help you with this fucking shit, too." Katsuki glanced at his hand, the one with the scar. It started to drizzle, quiet drops darkening the pavement. "We're brothers, right?" he said. "Who else is gonna put up with your quirkless, useless ass?"

Izuku looked at him, and then the corners of his mouth quirked up in a tremulous smile, the light in his eyes intense. "So we'll be heroes together, Kacchan?"

For a moment Katsuki considered. "Yeah. You can be the Quirkless Wonder and I'll be the King of Explodo-kills."

Izuku giggled and said, "That's not really a heroic name."

"Who fucking cares? It's an awesome name."

It took a moment before Mitsuki realised the noise she heard was her second phone, the one reserved for her family. She looked up from the thesis she was writing, eyebrows wrinkled in momentary confusion, and then went to pick up the phone from the sofa, thinking Izuku had sent her a picture again through LINE.

He did that sometimes, sending her random pictures of Japan because he didn't want her to get homesick. She wasn't sure how he'd gotten that thought in his head but he was such a sweet kid - so much like his mom, she thought a little vindictively, seeing Hisashi's face in her mind. Inko had done well raising him.

To her surprise, the message was from Inko. Mitsuki enlarged the photo attached to it and snorted, mouth curling in a smirk. It was a picture of the kids sleeping on the futon together; Izuku was on his side, curled towards Katsuki, while Katsuki was on his back, his head tilted towards him. The blanket was tangled at their feet, kicked off some time during the night, and underneath it Inko had written, should I just forgo the bunk bed?

It was cute, Mitsuki had to admit. Like two puppies curled around each other.

She checked the clock, pressed the call button, and tucked the phone between her shoulder and ear. As she waited for Inko to pick up, she leaned over the chair, saved her thesis, and closed the document.

"Mitsuki?" Inko said when she answered, sounding uncertain and pleased.

"Hey," Mitsuki said, voice unconsciously warming over the way it did when she talked to her family. "Cute picture. I'm amazed you got him to sleep inside the house."

In the time Katsuki had lived with Mitsuki and Masaru he hadn't once slept inside the house, preferring the garage with the dogs.

Inko sounded affectionate when she said, "I think that's more thanks to Izuku. I'm so glad Katsuki lets him close."

Mitsuki was glad, too. When she'd first had the idea to introduce them to each other, she hadn't been sure they'd even get on let alone become close enough that Katsuki would let Izuku sleep on the same bed. She was glad things had worked out.

She hoped they wouldn't get fucked up in the future.

"And everything else?" she asked, walking down the hallway into the kitchen. The dogs lay about the sofa, flicking their tails and not looking up when she went to the fridge. They'd been notably listless since Katsuki had left and Mitsuki could swear they sometimes looked at her with silent accusation as if she'd given their pup away. "How has Katsuki adjusted in Japan?"

"Well... I think," Inko said, and she noted the hint of hesitation in her voice but chose not to question her. Inko was an adult, a mother, and she could either handle things on her own or directly ask for help if she couldn't. "The boys spend a lot of time outside like in Canada."

She puffed out a sudden sigh. "I don't know what they're doing but lately they've been coming home with bruises and scrapes and their clothes are smudged with grass and dirt. I wish they'd tell me what they're up to but Izuku just calls it practise and Katsuki doesn't really say anything. He... When he isn't yelling or cursing he doesn't talk much at all." She sounded troubled - like she blamed herself for Katsuki's reticence.

Mitsuki raised her eyebrows, running a hand through her hair. Absently she scratched her shin with her toes, hand on the fridge door. She pulled it open, took out a beer, and kicked the door shut. "Katsuki's probably just practising his quirk. I doubt they're out doing anything bad. They're kids and they're boys. It's like a given they'd be dirty and bruised." She opened the bottle against the edge of the counter and tossed the cap into the sink with a clatter.

"You - you're right," Inko sighed. "I know I'm probably worrying over nothing. And I don't think they're doing anything bad," she added sternly as if daring Mitsuki to think otherwise. "You should see Izuku. He looks - he looks so happy every day and--" She paused. "He seems different, somehow. I don't really know how to explain it. Like the air around him...?"

Veering around the dogs, Mitsuki strolled out into the balcony and sat in one of the chairs. Sun was still high in the sky, light and shadows shifting through the leaf canopies. She could hear birds sing, somewhere deep in the shelter of trees.

"And Katsuki? Has he said anything suspicious since coming there?"

"No. He doesn't really talk about himself and I - I don't really know how to ask," Inko said, sounding dejected and contrite, and then sudden warmth infused her voice like sunlight and Mitsuki smiled instinctively hearing it. "He's been helping me cook," she went on, and unwittingly Mitsuki snorted.

"That brat is cooking?" she said, amused disbelief evident in her voice.

She suspected he only did it because he didn't want to owe anything to them but she didn't mention it. It'd just make Inko feel guilty and sad, and regardless of his dubious motives it would do Katsuki good to be helpful.

"I was surprised too when he wanted to help. But he's so talented. I can see why Izuku is so taken with him," Inko said, sounding pleased and proud like she was praising Izuku.

Mitsuki smiled, wryly thinking Katsuki had unintentionally charmed yet another person - and then her smile died when she thought what other kind of people had been charmed by him. She ran an agitated hand through her hair and exhaled a disgusted breath.

"Yeah, the brat's one angry bundle of overflowing talent," Mitsuki said, a slight strain in her voice.

Inko gave a quiet laugh. "He is. Izuku praises him all the time but - honestly I thought it was just because he seemed to be so smitten with Katsuki - but it's really different seeing it myself. That boy will be amazing. I just know it."

"I hope so," Mitsuki said, surprised how much she meant it. She cleared her throat and took a swallow of her beer.

"But it's good that you called, Mitsuki. There's something I want to ask you," Inko said, something nervous and eager in her voice. "You said Katsuki's birthday is in April, right?"

"Yeah," Mitsuki said, and thought back on that day when Katsuki had run away from the orphanage and they'd come across him on their walk. She still remembered how he'd looked sitting amidst the wolfhounds - that pale scrawny kid with eyes like blood - and how tentatively he'd petted them like he hadn't known how. She remembered how he'd glared at Mitsuki and Masaru with suspicious hostility when they'd approached and how from the first sight he'd tugged at something in her heart.

She scratched at the label on the bottle absently with her thumbnail, watching it peel off in wet strips. "He didn't know when his birthday was so we figured we'd just celebrate it on the day we picked him up. He didn't seem to care either way."

"Oh," Inko said in a small, deflated voice.

"Why? Did you think about celebrating it?" Mitsuki tried to imagine it, and smirked when she pictured Inko and Izuku fussing over him and the displeased wrinkle between Katsuki's eyebrows.

"Well," Inko hesitated. "It's just... Izuku said he likes animals and I'd like to do something nice for him. Something he'd hopefully like. Do you know anything he might want?"

As if giving him a home and all that boundless love isn't enough, Mitsuki thought with fond exasperation that her sister could be so kind and clueless at the same time.

"Well," she drawled after a slight pause. "He did once mention he'd like a Japanese wolf."

For a moment Inko was quiet. "...those are extinct, aren't they?" she said.

"Yeah." Mitsuki remembered the brat asking why she couldn't then do something about it as if she worked in biotechnology and not physics. He could be so fucking unreasonable and she wasn't sure if it was cute or exasperating.

"But he likes dogs, doesn't he?" Inko went on, sounding fretful. Something clattered in the background and Mitsuki imagined her bustling in the kitchen. Briefly she closed her eyes, reminded of her childhood, of sitting at the table and listening to the mingle of Inko's and mom's voices when they'd cooked. Those had been some of the few times when she hadn't been in a rush to somewhere else.

"I don't think we have enough room for big dogs but maybe a small one..." Inko went on. "Or is Katsuki too young? What do you think?"

"Well..." Mitsuki said reminiscently, lifting her legs up on a footstool and tilting her head back to look into the blue sky. "I'm pretty sure the only reason he came with us was the dogs. And I know he doesn't seem reliable, what with that shitty personality and everything--"

"Mitsuki," Inko said with reproach and her mouth slid into a smile. She really was glad it was Inko taking care of Katsuki.

"--but he's the type who gives his all into what interests him. I'm sure he'll take care of the dog if you do buy him one." Drinking the beer, Mitsuki considered for a few seconds and said, "And hey, let's split the cost. I can pay half of it."

"You'll be visiting Japan on his birthday then, Mitsuki?" Inko asked, and then habitual worry seeped into the delight in her voice. "Are you sure it's okay? What about your work?"

"I can arrange a few days off," Mitsuki said wryly.

She could hear Inko smile. With a teasing lilt in her voice she said, "You miss him."

Mitsuki made a face. "Like hell I do. It's been fucking peaceful and quiet without him around."

"You don't have to lie to me, Mitsuki," Inko teased with a laugh. "I won't tell him." Suddenly she said, "Oh, the boys are up, I need to go. Bye, and tell Masaru I said hi. Take care of yourself and I'll see you in Japan, okay."

She cut the call and for a while Mitsuki sat still, staring at the large clouds drifting across the vast blue sky. "Miss him, huh?" she wondered aloud.

Maybe she did. Since they'd all left the house really had been quiet - not that she missed Hisashi, she thought with a scowl.

She drained her beer, swung her legs down, and went back inside. She shoved the empty bottle and the phone on the counter and headed down the hallway into the back of the house.

Masaru was in the middle of his work, leaning over the flowers he was crossbreeding, when she unceremoniously walked into the glasshouse. Sunlight refracted through the ceiling, seeping through the lush foliage and weeping vines in quiet swaths of gold. The air inside was humid, smelling of moist soil and green and blossoms. She didn't understand his work at all - she'd never been good at raising or taking care of things - but she'd always admired how he could put so much care and attention into raising something so beautiful.

"It's nothing amazing," Masaru had laughed when she'd tried to explain, her words slurred and a little tipsy after several pints of beer. "Just be there when they need you and they'll grow all by themselves."

When Masaru heard her steps on the flagstones, he turned around with an absent smile and took her outstretched hands into his.

"Am I interrupting your work?" Mitsuki asked.

"Not at all," he said, and his eyebrows rose quizzically over his glasses. "But what about your own work?"

Mitsuki shrugged. "I called Inko. She's thinking about buying Katsuki a dog for his birthday. I promised to pay half of it."

"Katsuki would like that," Masaru noted mildly, and looked at her with infinite patience. He was one of the few people who stayed calm through her worst moods and didn't mind her personality or the way she talked, unflinchingly steadfast like a deeply rooted tree, and Mitsuki loved him. She squeezed his hands, just to feel their gentle strength when he squeezed back.

Mouth crooking in a wry smile, she tilted her head and asked, "What do you say about a trip to Japan?"

"I think I can get a few days off," Masaru said after a moment of consideration, and she loved that, too, that he didn't just heedlessly agree to everything she suggested. Then he smiled with kindness, the look in his eyes knowing. "Do you miss him?"

"...yeah. I guess I do. Just a little," Mitsuki said, and hid her face in the crook of Masaru's neck.

Izuku reminded himself there was no need to get discouraged.

Katsuki had said they were going to be heroes together and he never lied. But it was hard not to be overwhelmed when faced with the sheer talent he possessed.

Katsuki moved with an innate grace - like something feral and unfettered - and Izuku admired him so much he sometimes felt like he couldn't quite catch his breath but he envied him as well. He was amazing, and Izuku wanted to be more like him. It was just... the more they practised together the more he became aware of all the things he was bad at - as if Katsuki was his mirror negative - and the more he felt like he'd never catch up. He didn't want Katsuki to think teaching him was a waste of time.

Chest constricting with vague anxiety at the thought, Izuku rubbed his thumb over the scar on his palm. He tried to remember that feeling of triumph when he'd thrown Ishii and Katsuki had said he wasn't completely hopeless.

With a sigh of wistful longing, Izuku watched him jump from stone to stone in the pond, barefooted and quirkless and nimble. The water was opaque, verdant with plants, the vivid scales of koi fish glinting like treasures in the depths. His pale shadow flitted obscurely on the still surface, occasionally flipping over. Some of the adults and other children in the park had stopped to watch him, too, murmuring and tittering with curious wonder. Katsuki didn't seem to realise or care they were there, intent on his practise.

Abruptly he stopped on one of the stones, whirled around, and scowled right at Izuku with furious red eyes. He started, heart jumping with sudden surprise, and Katsuki yelled, "Deku! You're supposed to fucking practise! So what the fuck are you doing gawking at me, moron?!"

Izuku could feel his cheeks go hot. Self-conscious of the stares they were getting he tugged at his fringe in an effort to hide his face. "I did, Kacchan!" he called, flustered. "I practised them all!"

This seemed to make him more furious. "What the fuck! Say something then, stupid!" Katsuki squatted down with a scowl, red eyes fixed on Izuku. "C'mon, show me."

Flicking a nervous glance his way, Izuku turned to face the line he'd drawn in the grass. He took a deep breath and tried to shake off the unease he felt with Katsuki's intent eyes on him. He didn't want to mess up, not when he was looking. He was sure he'd learned how to land and he wanted to show him.

He muttered under his breath, staring fixedly at the line in the grass.

He jumped and landed in a squat like he'd seen Katsuki do so many times. He set his heels down and turned towards Katsuki with an excited smile. He stared at him expressionlessly, rolled his eyes, and said, "Yeah, and the other one?"

"Right," Izuku said and nodded, mouth set. He breathed in to ease his nerves and shook out his limbs with a frown. He jumped - and this time he landed on his hands, letting his forearm land on the earth first and tucking his head towards his chest. Sky and earth tumbled upside down as he rolled over his shoulder and came up to his feet. He looked over at Katsuki with a small, nervous grin.

"Maybe you're not totally useless," Katsuki allowed, and Izuku beamed. Then Katsuki stood up and used the stones to run to the other side of the pond. He turned towards Izuku. Wind stirred his ash-white hair, his faint reflection on the pond wavering. "Okay! Let's try this shit next! Jump over here!"

Rubbing the scar on his hand, Izuku eyed the stones between them with some apprehension. The stones looked smooth, moss growing in the cracks. The gap between each stone seemed to be around three feet. Katsuki had been jumping them with ease even without his quirk and Izuku should be able to do it too. He should.

In the past few weeks, he'd noticed Katsuki wouldn't make him do things he couldn't do himself. He didn't think Katsuki realised he was doing it, and Izuku hadn't had the courage to mention that there was a definite difference between what he was able to do and what Izuku was able to do.

And... He hadn't wanted to say anything. He'd thought about all the things Katsuki could do so easily and Izuku struggled with, and he'd realised he'd never learn if he didn't try. And if he didn't try he never would catch up to Katsuki who was like a bright star shining just out of his reach - and Izuku wanted to reach him. He wanted to stand in the same place as him. He wanted Katsuki to see him - not only as a pet but as Izuku.

He looked up and met Katsuki's eyes across the pond, mouth set. "Okay, Kacchan!" he called, and Katsuki dropped in a crouch to wait.

Izuku walked back a few steps, exhaled a quick breath to calm down the jitters swarming in his stomach, and then sprinted forward. He landed on the first stone with a slight waver and frowned in thought. It was really different to jump on a restricted surface than it was on an expanse of grass. He readjusted his balance and then jumped again.

With careful slowness he made his way across the pond. It frustrated him a little because Katsuki had ran back and forth on the stones agilely, sometimes flipping over in the air, but he'd notice immediately if Izuku's movements got sloppy with impatience and haste, and he didn't want him to yell at him if he messed up. When Izuku jumped from the last stone to the shore, Katsuki stood up.

"I did it, Kacchan!" he said with breathless joy, eyes wide and bright.

"Good job, Deku," Katsuki said, mouth crooking in a grin. He tousled his hair and Izuku didn't mind that his touch was still rough or that his fingers snagged in the tangles. He could feel his cheeks flush with pride and elation, and ducked his head, peeking at him through his fringe.

Afterwards Katsuki ran to the other side of the pond to pick up his shoes and Izuku followed, crossing the stones a little faster on his second time. They raced each other home and Katsuki won by several steps, slamming his hand against the gate that had become their unofficial goal.

"I fucking win," he said with a wide, pleased grin.

"I'll win next time," Izuku quipped, and smiled when Katsuki barked out a sharp laugh.

"You're fucking on, Deku."

The next day after school they raced to the shrine and stopped at the foot of the stairs, breathing hard after the run. Wind rustled through the trees rising uphill, sunlight streaming through the mosaic of leaves, the shadows of torii gates falling over worn stone steps.

"Didn't you say you were gonna win next time or some shit, huh, Deku?" Katsuki asked.

"I'll win next time, Kacchan," Izuku panted, leaning his hands on his knees. His head darted up when he heard Katsuki laugh; he liked seeing him smile and hearing him laugh. It was nice. He didn't do it often, not unless it was surprised out of him.

Katsuki tilted his head, hair gleaming in the light. "You gonna keep saying that until you win?"

Izuku smiled. "Yeah," he said and felt thrilled when Katsuki laughed again, mouth sliding into a crooked smile.


He tossed his backpack on the grass beside the stairs and, nonplussed, Izuku set his backpack down next to his. "What are we doing here, Kacchan?" he asked, looking up the stairs into the hush of green.

"You're gonna practise your lands," Katsuki said with a smirk, and Izuku felt a nervous flutter in the pit of his stomach. "You're gonna be jumping down those stairs."

Izuku gave the stairs an uneasy look, wondering just how high he wanted him to jump from. Unconsciously he touched the scar on his hand, eyebrows furrowed in doubt.

"You should already know how to do this shit," Katsuki added as if in a challenge, eyebrows raised, like he expected Izuku to succeed and suddenly he felt like he really could.

He smiled, tight-lipped, and nodded. "Okay. I'll do it, Kacchan."

Days went on like that, one after another. In the weekends they sparred and Izuku began to learn everything he could about engineering, asking Katsuki's help when he didn't understand something, nestled together on the futon. After school they trained their lands and jumps and vaults over low fences all around town, earning curious looks from onlookers.

Katsuki trained alongside Izuku - he showed him how to do things before he did them on his own, first without his quirk and then with his quirk. Sometimes Izuku forgot and stopped to stare at him in awe until Katsuki yelled at him for gawking.

Little by little, Izuku was learning to do all the things Katsuki showed him, and before he knew it each new challenge he gave him had stopped being daunting and gruelling and somewhat belatedly he realised he was having fun. Every day with Katsuki was fun and exciting, and he wanted them to go on forever.

He hadn't told his mom what they were doing and whenever they came home with dirt on their clothes and new bruises on their skin, he felt a twinge of guilt when Inko just sighed with a somewhat resigned smile and told them to clean up.

It wasn't like Izuku was keeping it a secret, not really, but he thought about the day when he'd asked her if he could still be a hero and she'd held onto him crying and apologised. The thought that his mom might do that again constricted in his throat and unconsciously made him swallow all the words he might have wanted to tell her.

He was trying and he was learning and Katsuki had said they'd be heroes together and Izuku didn't want his mom to unintentionally take that all away from him.

The day when Izuku vaulted over the wall around their house was the day when he finally told his mom.

He and Katsuki raced each other home like usual, their backpacks jolting on their shoulders, and like usual Katsuki ran ahead of him. Izuku was a few steps behind, air burning clean in his lungs, his hair swept back by the wind. To his confusion and surprise, Katsuki didn't run for the gate. Instead, he ran right at the wall and jumped up, stopping on top of it to look over his shoulder, eyebrows raised and mouth curled in a smirk. Then he jumped down and disappeared behind it.

Izuku realised Katsuki thought he could do it and that thought made him pick up his steps, his mouth set. He sprinted and grasped the edge of the wall, shoes scraping on the tiles, and then he vaulted himself over and landed on the grass on the other side.

Katsuki was waiting for him, his head tilted to the side, one eyebrow and the side of his mouth quirked up. Izuku stopped to lean on his trembling legs, gasping for breath, his heartbeat a wild thrum in his chest.

After a while he looked up and said, voice shaky and incredulous, "I did it. I did it, Kacchan."

"Isn't it fucking obvious?" Katsuki said with a roll of his eyes. "Who the fuck do you think taught you?"

Something bright and intense billowed in Izuku's chest and he gave a breathless, amazed laugh. "I like you, Kacchan. I really like you. You're so amazing," he said, needing to voice that brilliant, immense emotion in his chest, and Katsuki rolled his eyes with tolerant exasperation.

"Dumbass," he said, and kind of tugged at his hair in that way he did when he seemed to find Izuku weird but was fond of him anyway.

"I--" Izuku said when that intense emotion eventually dimmed. He stood up, face set. "I'm going to tell mom. I'm going to tell her I'm going to be a hero," he said, and Katsuki raised his eyebrows and shrugged.

"Do what you want, Deku," he said, seeming unconcerned.

They stumbled inside and stopped to take off their shoes. Inko was in the living room, watching one of her regular dramas in the television. When they walked in she looked over her shoulder and smiled. "Oh, you boys are back early today," she said, and then trailed off unsurely when she looked back and forth between them. She fiddled with the sleeve of her cardigan and asked, "Did something happen?"

Izuku glanced at Katsuki beside him and he looked back blankly, and then Izuku turned towards his mom, eyes intense and bright. "Mom," he said, "I'm going to be a hero."

Inko blinked for a few moments, seeming taken aback. She took in the mud and smudged blades of grass and tears on their clothes, the scrapes and bruises on their hands and knees. She pursed her mouth, eyebrows pulled together. "Do you promise you'll be careful?" she asked, and Izuku nodded quickly and Katsuki shrugged.

"Okay," she said, taking in a deep breath. "I'll be cheering you both on. And Izuku," she added with an endlessly fond smile, "you look really cool right now," and Izuku grinned, impossibly wide.

Chapter Text

She'd emigrated out of Japan at the age of twenty-four. Inko had been twenty then, finishing up her degree in the Mongolian literature, and she'd thought her sister would be fine even if she wasn't there.

Mitsuki hadn't missed all that many things about her motherland - she'd never been sentimental like that. She didn't miss things that were gone but first and foremost, always, she'd missed her family. She'd also missed the food and the language and the nature; that fragile transience of life and death that didn't seem to exist anywhere else.

What she hadn't missed had been the almost suffocating pressure to conform - to never stand out in good or bad and to live the same linear life as everyone else - and the claustrophobic feeling of Japan's big cities and the fucking humid heat in the summers.

She hadn't visited all that many times, not as often as she'd have liked, and before she knew it the kid sister she loved and had raised had become just words on letters or a voice on the other end of the line.

Sometimes Mitsuki wondered if her career in physics had been worth it, but she'd never been that good at regretting things.

With a groan she collapsed on the hotel bed and rolled over onto her back, sheets rumpling beneath her, brown hair fanning out. Masaru stopped beside the foot of the bed and smiled down at her.

"I'm fucking exhausted," Mitsuki said as if it wasn't self-evident, absently trailing her toes up his leg, not to be suggestive but just to touch him somehow. "Jet lag is a bitch."

Masaru chuckled, fingers grazing lightly over her bare ankle before he set her foot down. "It was a long flight," he agreed.

He set the portable cage on the bed and Mitsuki heard the puppy whine, peering through the gaps in the metal door. Masaru opened the door and the puppy pushed through immediately, wagging its tail, and padded across the bed in curious excitement.

Mitsuki gave a laugh, leaned over, and petted its dark, fluffy head. It turned around, sniffing and licking her hand. "Cute little shit," she said.

"Let's hope Katsuki likes him, too," Masaru said with a smile.

"He better," Mitsuki said. There weren't that many kennels raising Pomeranians in Japan and it had taken them hours to drive to the closest kennel and back. "What time is it?" she asked, and twisted around to dig the phone out of her pocket. "I need to call Inko."

She held out her free hand as she looked up her sister's number, and Masaru took it and pulled her up. "Thanks," she said, and squeezed his hand before she let go and walked past him to the window.

She looked out at the city skyline, the buoyant lights in the blackness, clustered together like a galaxy of false stars, the will o' wisps of modernity. In the reflection of the window she saw the puppy creep towards the edge of the bed and then back away, whining in need. Masaru chuckled, picked it up, and set it down on the floor.

"Mitsuki?" Inko answered, and a noise in the background cut off. Television, probably.

She blinked out of her thoughts and ran a hand through her hair. "Hey. We picked up the dog today. Wait, hold on a sec," Mitsuki said and dropped in a crouch to film a clip of the puppy sniffing around the room.

She sent the clip to Inko and heard her flustered oh through the speaker. She'd never been good with technology and Mitsuki listened to the sounds she made when she tried to work out how to view the clip without ending the call. She smiled, absentminded, and held out her hand when the puppy padded towards her in interest, small tail wagging back and forth. Masaru sat on the edge of the bed, leaning his elbows on his knees, and watched them with a kind smile. She rolled her eyes and mouthed at him to stop staring.

After several seconds Inko said, "Oh my god, he's so cute."

"Yeah," Mitsuki said, and scratched the puppy behind its ear. It looked up at her with dark, limpid eyes. "Sure is."

"Do you think Katsuki will like him?" Inko asked, a worried undercurrent in her voice.

Mitsuki shrugged and said, "Who knows. But wolves aren't exactly available as pets anymore. If he doesn't like him, let's just give him to Izuku."

"You sound so unconcerned about this," Inko muttered.

"Well, what do you want me to say? It's not like there's anything we can do if the brat doesn't like the dog."

"You - you're right. Maybe I should have just asked him what he wants instead of trying to keep it as a surprise."

"Hey," Mitsuki said. "C'mon, don't worry so much. It'll be fine."

Inko made a quiet noise and then breathed out. "Okay. I'll try," she said, warm and wry with humour. "The boys will get out of school at three. I'll see you tomorrow then?"

"Yeah, bye," Mitsuki said, and ended the call. She stood up and dropped the phone on the bed. "She really worries too much. Just like dad."

Masaru smiled, the curve of his mouth gentle. "It's just because she's kind. She's a lot like you," he added.

She snorted and kind of shoved at his shoulder. "You're full of it. I don't worry like Inko. No one worries like Inko," she said but she always felt a bit happy when someone called them similar. Not many people thought so. Often people had looked at Inko and looked at Mitsuki, and then asked her if they were childhood friends.

She knew it had bothered Inko and she'd been bothered because her kid sister had been bothered. Because of it she'd never had that many friends, too short-tempered and annoyed with assholes to act polite or pleasant. Not that she had that many friends now but at least she had her colleagues across the world and their closest neighbours in Canada sometimes had dinner with them. They were nice people, always willing to help out.

Masaru caught her hand and grazed a kiss on her knuckles. Mitsuki smiled, head tilted to the side. "Wanna take the little shit for a walk?"

He gave a somewhat troubled laugh. "I hope Katsuki won't name him that."

She thought for a moment and cracked up. "Y'know, I can totally see him doing it."

They stayed near the hotel, ambling down the quiet street. They came across a few office workers staggering home after a drinking party, a few students staring into their phones, and a few late night joggers. The puppy seemed excited to be outside; it sniffed and rolled around in the grass, apparently oblivious that it was supposed to be doing its business and not play around.

Mitsuki yawned, hands in the pockets of her jacket, and turned towards the cool breeze, hair stirring away from her face. The maple and cherry trees lining the street bowed, the crowns rustling faintly in the silence.

"Cherry trees bloom only for a moment, right, and then the blossoms get washed away by the first rain," she said, thinking to herself aloud. "The perfect symbol for the birth and death of things. Isn't it kinda funny that Katsuki's birthday coincides on this time?"

Then she abruptly flushed, realising what the hell she was saying. She gave a harsh, embarrassed laugh and rubbed a hand over her face. "Jesus, I must be more tired than I thought. Forget I said anything."

Masaru smiled, kind and concerned. "Are you worrying over something?"

Feeling uncomfortable, Mitsuki shrugged and sighed in irritation. "I'm - Just stupid stuff. I just have this uneasy feeling. I know it's just conjecture. That he was sold to some sick fucks who didn't find a better use for their dicks than rape kids. Just because he says a few suspicious things here and there isn't exactly conclusive evidence. I'm a physicist. I know."

She looked up into Masaru's eyes, worried and angry and miserable. "But what if I'm right and the people who sold him and all the people who bought him are still out there and free? He wants to be a hero and I don't think he's going to be satisfied being just some small-time suburban hero. He'll be famous. What if one of those people who abused him sees him in the news and recognises him?"

What if he accidentally met one of them again or one of them decided to seek him out?

She swallowed what felt like a shrapnel of glass. She didn't want to think these things. She didn't want to say them aloud but someone had to think them and say them. What the hell did it help if everyone buried their head in the sand just so they wouldn't feel upset by the world and the fucked up, horrible reality of it?

Suddenly she remembered Hisashi in middle school saying humankind was the snake that eats itself, and she'd always thought he was a gloomy withdrawn asshole, but often she couldn't help wondering if he hadn't been right.

Masaru looked sad and apologetic when he said, "I don't think there is anything we can do. Not unless Katsuki becomes willing to talk about what happened to him before the orphanage."

"I know that," Mitsuki sighed, cross and irritable. "Fuck. I just hate feeling this fucking helpless."

"You gave him a home. You let him pursue his dream. You've already done a lot for him, Mitsuki," Masaru pointed out, and he sounded so gentle it almost grated on her nerves.

"Yeah, I guess," she said, dull and flat.

He touched her hand, briefly, before he pulled away. "I don't think he's going to do anything," he said with a kind smile. "Want to go back inside?"

Mitsuki glanced at the puppy; it'd laid down on the grass, head resting on its paws, and yawned, pink tongue curling. The sight managed to tug a smile out of her and she snickered.

"C'mon, little shit. Let's go," she said and whistled.

The puppy stood up, stretched, and then tried to pad out into the street and Masaru picked it up with a chuckle.

After the third impatient ring Inko hurried to the front door, shoved it open, and was momentarily blinded by the spring sun. Her sister stood outside with Masaru, hand poised to ring the bell again. She stilled, and then her eyebrow and the corner of her mouth quirked upward.

"Inko," she said, threw her arms around her, and smacked a kiss on her cheek.

Patting her back, Inko wheezed, "Mitsuki, I can't breathe," and she let go after one more crushing squeeze and took a step back with a smirk. Breathing out in discreet relief, Inko tried to fix her frazzled hair and smiled at Masaru who observed them with fond kindness, used to Mitsuki's exaggerated displays of affection. "Hello, Masaru. Is that the puppy? Can I have him?"

She held out her hands and Masaru handed the portable cage to her. Inko hoisted it up and curiously peered into the cage. The puppy whined, restlessly moving around, a dark grey ball of fluff. She gave a quiet, delighted laugh and lowered the cage. "Thank you for picking him up."

"It wasn't a big deal," Mitsuki said with a shrug. Inko moved out of the way to let them inside and they stopped to take off their shoes.

"I'll take him up into my room," she said, feeling nervous and happy. Surely Katsuki would like such a cute thing, she thought, and again peeked inside the cage. The puppy pushed its nose against the metal door, trying to get its teeth on it. "You can wait in the kitchen if you like. I'm still in the middle of making the dessert."

Mitsuki followed her upstairs while Masaru went to wait in the kitchen.

"How was your flight?" Inko asked, glancing at her quickly over her shoulder, and she shrugged.

"Fucking long. Full of Chinese and tourists. Noisy as all hell."

In her room Inko set the portable cage on the floor, crouched down, and opened the metal door. The puppy padded out, small tail wagging, pointed ears pricked up. It looked up at her with dark, beady eyes and then looked around the room. Inko steepled her hands in front of her face and said, "Oh my god, Mitsuki, he's so cute."

Mitsuki snickered and moved over to tousle her hair. "You're cute," she said, and Inko rolled her eyes and pursed her mouth.

"An old woman is hardly cute."

"If you're old I must be ancient," Mitsuki said wryly.

"That's not true," Inko said, scratching the puppy behind the ear. "I just haven't aged as well as you."

She'd never been as pretty or as popular as Mitsuki, she knew that. Her sister had always stood out with her beauty and intellect and her abrasive but easy-going personality. She'd gravitated people towards her as naturally as the planets gravitated towards the sun. Inko had never resented her for it - rather she'd always felt proud to have such a beautiful and accomplished sister.

Mitsuki was still pretty and accomplished unlike Inko who'd gained weight and lost a few inches off her height. It didn't bother her because Hisashi still loved her as she was, and that was really what mattered.

Inko looked up and belatedly remembered Mitsuki had never liked hearing her talk like this when she saw the flat, harsh slant of her mouth. She leaned down and slapped her hands on Inko's cheeks and squeezed.

"Huh? What's this? Do I sense a mid-life crisis?" she asked, and uselessly Inko tried to pull her hands away from her face with mumbled protests of her name. Suddenly she stopped squeezing her cheeks and looked into her eyes. "You've always been cutest to me," she said, and Inko flushed at how serious she sounded.

"Oh, you," she said, feeling flustered and embarrassed. "I'm not a child anymore, Mitsuki."

She grinned, sharp and slanted like she was still a reckless, foolhardy adolescent and Inko had always felt a bit dazzled by her. "You'll always be my kid sister so suck it up," she said, and kissed her forehead like she'd done sometimes after their parents had died. Inko had never figured out if she did it to comfort herself or Inko.

Mitsuki let go and stepped back. Inko stood up and primly patted her clothes. "Masaru must feel bored being alone," she said, and then she looked down at the puppy sitting at her feet.

The puppy looked back, and then jumped up against her legs and whined. Inko could feel her heart squeeze and flicked a worried, hesitant look her sister's way. "Do you think he'll feel lonely in here?"

"Oh, c'mon. He'll survive alone for a few hours."

"I - I guess you're right," Inko said, and hesitated, and then she hurried out of the room before she'd change her mind. When she closed the door and heard the puppy whine behind it, she felt like the worst person in the world. "I feel like I just left my baby alone," she muttered when they walked downstairs.

Mitsuki looked over her shoulder, an eyebrow quirked, and smirked in amusement. "God, you're such a pushover."

Inko flattened her mouth and huffed.

She served them iced tea, set the glasses in front of them, and sat down to pound the sweet rice with a pestle. Mitsuki leaned her cheek on her hand, elbow propped on the table, and observed her for a few moments.

When Inko added a few drops of red colouring, she asked, "Sakuramochi?"

"Well," Inko hesitated, "it's seasonal and Katsuki doesn't really like sweets so I thought I'd try making a traditional dessert." And the pickled leaves the mochi were wrapped in would make them less sweet.

She frowned at the pink rice and hoped Katsuki would like them. He never really complained or complimented any of the meals Inko prepared but with Izuku's help she was slowly beginning to figure out his likes and dislikes. Apparently Katsuki's scowl was less pronounced when he liked something.

"And the boys?" Masaru asked, his voice mild. "How have you fared with them?"

Inko hesitated. She told Mitsuki most things in her letters, and she knew she let Masaru read them too, but there were some things she didn't know how to convey. Things she wanted to think were just her silly worries.

"I - I'm not sure," Inko said, mouth pressed flat in consideration.

She remembered all the scrapes and bruises she'd tended, the stained clothes she'd cleaned, and how the boys would sit together and pour over books on physics and engineering, their conversations going right over her head and reminding her of the times when Mitsuki had talked to her about particle physics or something similar. She remembered the one time she'd seen them spar out in the front yard and how her heart had nearly leapt out of her chest.

She couldn't say she liked it - any of it - but she'd promised she'd support them and she would.

"They're both very... lively," Inko said, and stood up to wash her hands and took out the balls of red bean paste from the fridge. "They're training to be heroes, you know," she went on, pride seeping into her voice.

"Wait," Mitsuki said, sounding confused. "Even Izuku?"

"Yes, even Izuku," Inko said, and sat back down. "Why? Can't he?" she asked, voice prickled with protective defensiveness.

Her sister scowled and said, "If the kid wants to be a hero, he can go ahead and try it out all he fucking wants. But you're okay with it? Heroics isn't exactly a safe fucking job, Inko, and Izuku doesn't have a quirk."

Her hands stilled in the middle of rolling the rice around a ball of red bean paste. Inko's mouth wavered, indecisively, before she said, "I - I can't say I like it. I really can't. I've seen the news and the vids Izuku sometimes watches and - I wouldn't want my child doing something so dangerous."

She looked up, eyes shining with tears. "But he wants to be a hero, Mitsuki. Ever since he was small he's wanted to be a hero and I - I'm not going to stand in his way. I'm not going to ruin his dreams before he's even tried to achieve them."

Stubbornly she wiped the corner of her eyes with the heel of her hand, and then wrapped the pickled leaf around the mochi and set it on a plate.

"Besides," she went on, her tone brightening with warmth. "I'm sure it'll be fine. Katsuki has been helping Izuku and they'll be heroes together."

And Inko was sure the boys would look after each other.

"If that’s what Izuku wants we'll support him," said Masaru, and then leaned forward to look at his wife, mouth curled in a lopsided smile. "Won't we?"

Mitsuki scowled and said, "Of course. Did I fucking say he can't do it?"

With an insulted huff she tried to nick one of the mochi and Inko slapped her hand away.

"Not until after dinner, Mitsuki," she said, and she slumped back into the chair and crossed her arms in a sulk.

Inko suppressed her smile, sneaking a peek at her, glad that some things never changed.

After their talk in the kitchen Mitsuki was really curious to see how Izuku had changed since last summer.

Inko had alluded to some things in her letters and the infrequent phone call but she hadn't mentioned anything specific and she'd had a hard time imagining it.

Izuku had always been sweet and cute and smart, reminding Mitsuki of Inko when she'd been young. He was a good kid, just way too shy and insecure, and secretly she suspected Inko's never-ending mollycoddling had had something to do with it.

She'd figured Izuku might change if he made friends with Katsuki but she hadn't been sure would his self-esteem weaken even more with someone so overwhelmingly gifted and abrasive or would having a friend improve it. If Inko's words and attitude were anything to go by, it was apparently the latter.

She was glad if that was the case.

Bored, Mitsuki circled the living room and looked over the black-and-white photographs on the walls. She'd never understood how Inko could be so proud and happy over the fucking scraps Hisashi sent them from overseas but she had to admit the asshole was talented. It pissed her off. She remembered him in middle school, looking at the world through the lens of the camera, always so detached and disinterested like the world didn't hold anything worth engaging in.

With an impatient huff she collapsed on the sofa and glared at the clock. Masaru was helping Inko with dinner and she could hear the quiet mingle of their voices drift from the kitchen. She'd asked if she could help out too, and then Inko had smiled kindly but firmly and told her to leave the kitchen. Mitsuki didn't think she was that bad at cooking but for some reason her meals always turned out a little... weird.

She sighed, head tilted on the back rest. She wondered if she should've learned how to cook from their mom, like Inko had, but she'd always been busy with studies and everything else that had seemed important at the time, and then she'd been busy with studies and providing for Inko.

If she'd known their parents would die so early, maybe she would've done a lot of things differently.

"Must be the old age," Mitsuki muttered, and rubbed at her face with both hands. Thinking of her parents always made her feel melancholy.

The kids stumbled in after three, Izuku's voice echoing from the genkan and chattering a mile a minute.

" really the best day for you would be hot and humid because you'd sweat more on hot days and the sweat doesn't evaporate as fast on humid days."

Frowning in confusion, Mitsuki leaned over the back rest of the sofa and tried to catch a glimpse of the kids through the doorway.

"From now on I'm not letting you on the internet," said Katsuki, flat and final.

"Eh? Why?"

"Because for the last twenty fucking minutes you've been talking about sweat like a fucking perverted nerd."

Mitsuki dropped her face in her hands and suppressed an unwitting laugh because, holy shit, the brat was saying weird fucking things to Izuku and maybe he was a bad influence after all and she shouldn't have introduced them. She felt bad for Inko, she did. She couldn't imagine what the past year had been like for her with someone as coarse and foulmouthed as Katsuki.

"But it's important, Kacchan!" Izuku entreated. "You said I should figure out how other people's quirks work and yours works through your sweat!"

"Then fucking figure out how other people's quirks work and stop stalking me!" Katsuki snarled, and two quick thuds followed his words like he'd just kicked off his shoes.

"Are you embarrassed, Kacchan?" asked Izuku, his voice nothing but earnest and understanding. "Is that it?"

From there their conversation dissolved into the sounds of a scuffle with Katsuki snarling and Izuku yelping with something close to breathless laughter.

Mitsuki's eyebrows shot up, surprised and curious. She thought back on how they'd been in Canada - Katsuki's dismissive interest, elusive like sparks flickering off fire, and Izuku's almost compulsive effort to please him.

"Boys! Not inside!" Inko called out in long-suffering tones, and Mitsuki whipped around to stare through the kitchen doorway in disbelief. Ever since Inko had been a kid she'd nagged worse than a mom over every scratch and bruise on Mitsuki, and her habits had only worsened after Izuku's birth. She couldn't believe she'd just tell the boys to behave instead of flying into a concerned fit of anxiety.

When Inko walked out of the kitchen in a huff, Mitsuki slid off the sofa and curiously followed her into the genkan.

Katsuki was pushing Izuku up against the wall, trying to grab his face, and Izuku was keeping him off, their arms locked in a stalemate. Katsuki stared into his face with narrowed eyes and Mitsuki could tell he was considering the merits of a headbutt and if he could get away with it.

They separated when Inko said, "Boys, save that outside when you spar."

Izuku turned towards his mom and grinned up brightly. "Sorry, mom. We're back."

"...welcome back," she said, voice resigned and tender in a way Mitsuki never managed. She petted Izuku's hair and sort of touched Katsuki's hair.

Mitsuki's heart constricted when she observed the aborted gesture. She thought how painfully awkward it was, the instinctual way Inko wanted to be affectionate with Katsuki and the obvious way she had to hold herself back.

Then Izuku looked behind his mom and noticed her, his green eyes widening with realisation. She gave a little wave, mouth sliding into a smile.

When Izuku saw his aunt standing in the doorway, he realised immediately why she was there and it was hard for him to contain the excitement sparking through his nerves like an electric hum.

She had to be in Japan for Katsuki's birthday, and that meant they must have bought him a gift. Izuku wondered what it was - if they'd bought him a pet like he'd asked from his mom all those months ago - but he couldn't ask them or else Katsuki would find out. His mom must have been keeping it a surprise and Izuku didn't want to ruin it.

"Auntie!" he said, and then Katsuki noticed her too, made a rude face, turned around and tried to walk right back out of the door. Izuku stopped him with a laugh and whispered, "Kacchan, don't be rude. Auntie came to see you."

He peered into Katsuki's reluctant face with a small grin, eyes wide and bright, and he scowled back for a moment before he shook him off. He gave Mitsuki a flat look and said, "If you were gonna visit, you could've just sent the dogs instead."

Mitsuki's mouth quirked up in a smirk and she huffed out a laugh. "Still a little shit, I see. There's no way I could've sent the dogs alone to Japan."

Katsuki narrowed his eyes, clicked his tongue, and looked away.

"Mitsuki," Inko said, mouth pursed with reproach. "You shouldn't call him that or tease him."

Mitsuki scowled, looked away, and clicked her tongue.

Izuku suppressed a giggle behind his hand. They were surprisingly alike even though he was sure neither of them would like the comparison.

His mom seemed to think the same thing as him, a secretive smile playing around her mouth. Mitsuki gave them an unimpressed stare and a faint blush spread across Inko's cheeks.

She cleared her throat, fiddling with the sleeves of her shirt. "Could you boys keep Mitsuki company in the living room? Dinner is almost done."

"Sure!" Izuku chirped, and then nudged Katsuki with an elbow when he asked if they had to. Katsuki grabbed his hair and tugged, and Izuku leaned into him and laughed.

"Boys," Inko huffed, and when they stopped she ushered all of them towards the living room, mouthing at Mitsuki not to let them upstairs. Izuku flicked a glance towards the stairs, brimming with curiosity, and resisted the urge to go have a look. He really, really hoped it was a pet.

Katsuki sat on the end of the sofa and lifted his legs up, cross-legged. Izuku sat close beside him, the hard knob of his knee pressing into the side of his thigh. Mitsuki watched them with curious interest and for some reason the attention made him feel awkward. Somehow it reminded Izuku of the way their classmates sometimes looked at them - quick looks flicked from the corner of their eyes - but without the malicious undercurrent.

"How's school?" Mitsuki asked, and when Katsuki shrugged her mouth slanted in a smirk. "Fucking boring?"

"Yeah!" Izuku piped up before Katsuki could answer. "Kacchan never complains about the lessons or tests. And he always comes first in all the subjects," he couldn't help adding with a hint of pride.

Katsuki scowled and tugged at his hair. "Don't tell her pointless shit," he grumbled.

"But, Kacchan," Izuku whispered, peering at him through his fringe earnestly, "you miss those lessons in Canada."

Mitsuki raised her eyebrows, observing them. Something occurred to Izuku suddenly, and he turned towards her with a bright smile. "Auntie, can I ask you some questions about physics? I've been studying it, and Kacchan's been helping me, but there are still some things I don't really get."

"Yeah, sure," Mitsuki said, looking perplexed. "But why?"

"I'm aiming for the department of support in Yuuei!" he said with a grin, and Mitsuki looked at him for a few seconds before her gaze slanted towards Katsuki. His eyes narrowed as if daring her to say something.

Letting out a sigh, she frowned and rubbed the back of her neck. "Sorry, Izuku. I don't really deal with the engineering side of physics so if that's what you wanna know, you better ask someone else."

Izuku's shoulders slumped in disappointment. He'd thought for sure he could ask her a few questions and he didn't really know who else to ask. He supposed he could ask a teacher but they still didn't have physics in school. He wondered if his math teacher would know. Thoughtfully he rubbed the scar on his palm.

"If you want I can get one of my colleagues to give you lessons," Mitsuki went on, and Izuku's whole face brightened and he looked up with a smile.

"Really?" he asked eagerly, leaning forward and holding onto the edge of the sofa. Then he worried his lip and frowned. "Um, it wouldn't be a bother to them?"

"Nah," Mitsuki said, mouth crooked in a grin. "But I think you'll need Katsuki translating for you. He doesn't speak Japanese."

Izuku turned wide, imploring eyes to Katsuki who stared back at him flatly, thin eyebrows furrowed. He exhaled an irritated sigh and glanced at Mitsuki. "Indriði?" he asked, and Izuku looked back and forth between them in confusion, wondering what the word meant.

Mitsuki shrugged. "Yeah."

He considered for a moment, and Izuku tried not to fidget nervously, picking at the fabric of the sofa with the edge of his nail. "Fine. I guess I'll help you out."

"Thanks, Kacchan!" Izuku said, cheeks dusting pink, and unconsciously leaned towards him. "You're the best," he added. Katsuki rolled his eyes, pushed him off by the face, and Izuku yelped with a laugh.

He felt impossibly blessed. He knew he was incredibly lucky and he vowed again to become a hero so that all of Katsuki's and his aunt's and his mom's efforts wouldn't go to waste.

Katsuki slipped off the sofa when Inko called them to eat. Izuku was about to follow him when Mitsuki said his name and he stopped to look up at her inquiringly. His aunt ruffled his hair and said, "You look really different."

He tilted his head and gave a laugh, feeling perplexed and somehow embarrassed. He scratched his cheek. "I do?"

Mouth slanting in a grin, she said, "Yeah. Have you grown taller?"

"I don't know," Izuku said, flustered, because he didn't feel he was all that different. He looked up, eyes wide and sincere. "And, um. Thanks, auntie," he said, and Mitsuki snorted and ruffled his hair some more, her touch a bit rough.

Izuku could tell Katsuki had figured something was up because he sat tense throughout the dinner. Mitsuki and Masaru were visiting, Inko had made dinner without his help and stole anxious glances at him whenever he took a bite, and Izuku kept fidgeting and jolting every time his suspicious glare passed over him.

Masaru filled in the silence, nervously chatting with Inko about her houseplants, and Mitsuki interjected occasionally with complaints about her colleagues or strangers who'd happened to annoy her. Izuku had a feeling his family wasn't all that subtle.

He tugged at the hem of Katsuki's shirt to gain his attention, leaned in close, and whispered, "It's nothing bad, Kacchan."

He scowled at him and continued eating in silence but some of the tension in his shoulders eased and Izuku was glad. He didn't think his family would've bought anything bad for Katsuki but it was completely different would he like whatever it was.

"How is it?" Inko asked anxiously when they were eating the sakuramochi she'd made. "Is it - is it any good? I know you don't really like sweets, Katsuki, but it isn't that sweet, is it?"

Eyebrows furrowed, Katsuki looked at her and waited for her to quiet down. "'s fine," he said, and Inko smiled in delight, her hand flitting over his hair in a nervous, aborted gesture.

After they'd eaten Inko gave Mitsuki a meaningful look. She stood up, said something about the bathroom, and Katsuki followed her back with narrowed eyes until she disappeared down the hallway. Seconds after her steps thumped up the stairs. Masaru helped Inko clear the table, the dishes clinking in the silence.

"Um, Katsuki," Inko said as she turned around afterwards, and he looked up at her with a displeased frown. For a moment Inko fiddled with her hair, looking unsure where to start. "Today is your birthday, isn't it? So... we bought you something. Me and Mitsuki and Masaru. I hope you'll like him," she added with a small, nervous smile.

"You bought me something?" Katsuki demanded, standing up with a clatter, and he didn't sound all that happy. Izuku could practically see the thousand thoughts flitting through his head but he couldn't understand what had him so agitated. Unsure and anxious, he stood up to hover beside him. He wanted to touch him somehow but didn't dare, the tension thrumming through his thin frame prickling the air around him.

Inko didn't have the time to reply, her wide eyes flicking to the doorway. Mitsuki returned into the kitchen, holding something dark and fluffy in her arms.

"Here he is," she said as she stopped in front of Katsuki.

Katsuki stared. The bundle of fur stared back, and Izuku stifled a surprised giggle at how cute it looked with pointed ears and beady eyes and tiny nose.

"What's that?" Katsuki asked after a pause, the tension abruptly drained out of him.

Eyebrow quirking up in amusement, Mitsuki said, "It's a dog."

"That's not a dog," Katsuki said with a roll of his eyes, a faint smirk in the corner of his mouth. "That's a fucking fur ball."

"Do you like him?" Masaru asked, voice kind, and Katsuki flicked a glance over his shoulder. "He's a Pomeranian. They were used as guard dogs and they're intelligent and territorial. They're easy to train."

"Huh," Katsuki said, and turned back to the puppy. It made a low whine and squirmed in Mitsuki's arms, tail wagging vigorously.

"If you wanna keep him, you have to give him a name," she said, something sly in the tilt of her mouth. Inko tugged at the sleeves of her shirt, observing them with her mouth pressed flat and her eyebrows furrowed in worry.

Head tilted in curious consideration, Katsuki stared at the puppy for a moment and then he picked it up from Mitsuki's arms. He turned towards Izuku, holding it up to his face, and unsurely Izuku's eyes flicked from the puppy to Katsuki. A slow, wide grin broke across his face and Izuku had a sudden bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. His eyebrows pulled down in apprehension.

"I'm gonna call him Izuku," Katsuki declared.

Izuku stared, alarmed. "You're kidding, Kacchan."

"Nah," Katsuki said with that wide, wicked grin. "It definitely looks like you, Deku."

Mitsuki snorted into her fist abruptly, suppressing an obvious laugh, and Izuku gave her a somewhat betrayed look. Between snickers she said, "I can definitely see the resemblance."

Inko bit down on her own reluctant smile and nudged her with an elbow. "Um, so you like him, Katsuki?"

Katsuki glanced at her, a peculiar gleam in his eyes. "I'm gonna train him into a bear killer," he said in lieu of answering, much to the confusion of the adults, and then he dashed out of the kitchen and Izuku darted after him.

"I don't think there were any Pomeranians in that anime, Kacchan," he said hesitantly when they went out into the front yard. He also didn't think Katsuki could train it like the grandfather in the anime had trained his dogs; Izuku was rather sure it'd fall under animal abuse these days.

Katsuki set the puppy on the grass, dropped into a crouch to watch it, and smirked when Izuku squatted down beside him. "Think I can't do it?" he asked, and lifted his hand to ruffle his hair. "I've been doing a pretty good job with you, Deku."

He was smiling, his red eyes bright and his hair white like snow in the sunlight. Izuku frowned, feeling somehow cheated when Katsuki looked at him like that, and then he slanted a glance towards the puppy, mouth flat. "I'm not going to call him Izuku, Kacchan," he said, unyielding in that point.

"Fine," Katsuki said with tolerant amusement. "You can pick out his nickname."

Then he added, "I'm still gonna call him Izuku, though," and Izuku shoved him with his shoulder and they tumbled over on the grass. The puppy barked, excited, and pranced around their heads. It made Katsuki snicker, bright under the sun, and Izuku giggled with him.

He was happy. These days, he was so impossibly happy.

He hoped Katsuki was happy, too.

"Bear killer?" Mitsuki repeated, amused, when she helped Inko to wash the dishes because she could do that much at least.

Masaru had gone outside with the kids, the ruckus of their voices and Masaru's worried attempts to calm them down before one of them got hurt drifting faintly inside. Mitsuki didn't know how she'd married such a worrywart and smiled fondly.

Inko blew an errant strand of hair out of her face, her expression troubled. "I think it has something to do with this anime I bought them. It had dogs and I thought... Well, I didn't watch it much. It turned out to be too scary for me but the boys seemed to like it."

Mitsuki could imagine. She remembered the few times when she'd made her watch horror movies, more interested in watching Inko's reactions, the way she would hide her face behind her hands and curl up on the sofa, her head pressed into her knees. The memories still made her snicker. She put the rice bowl aside to dry.

"So... Heard anything from Hisashi?" she asked, going for casual and realising she'd failed when Inko's eyebrows and mouth pulled down in an unhappy frown.

"Mitsuki," she said, her voice weary. "I know you don't like that I married him but he's trying his best--"

Mitsuki scowled and interrupted her. "It's not that. It's just - you've always wanted a family and a husband who fucking comes home and kids. And I always wanted you to have all that. I wanted you to have everything you wanted," she said, glaring at the dishes in the sink.

And that stupid asshole had gotten up and left her after she'd trusted him to take care of her. Inko was her kid sister - her only kid sister - and she wasn't going to forgive him for that.

Inko smiled, fond and exasperated. "I have everything I wanted," she said in a kind, patient voice. "Maybe Hisashi doesn't come home as often as I'd like but I don't mind. He's out doing what he's always wanted to do. I have Izuku and now I even have Katsuki."

Her smile faded suddenly and she looked down into the sudsy water, eyebrows pulled down. "Um... Have you found out anything new about his - about his past?"

The question made Mitsuki sigh heavily. Suddenly she did feel ancient. "I'm not sure. I called through the hospitals in Canada and, well, there was a woman who gave birth to a child of Katsuki's description and age."

"His - his mother?" Inko asked haltingly, green eyes wide and worried.

"Maybe," Mitsuki said with a shrug. "The thing is, she was found dead some year later. Overdose," she added grimly.

She'd thought about it - if she'd been the woman who'd given birth to Katsuki, if she'd sold him for a quick dose of drugs, and she'd felt sick with anger.

"There're no records of her child after the birth."

Inko hesitated, hands still in the water. "Are you going to tell Katsuki?"

"If he wants to know but he doesn't seem interested in it."

She looked at the defeated slump of Inko's shoulders and leaned their heads together with a soft knock. "Hey," she said, low. "It's okay. Whatever happened to him, he's happy now, isn't he?"

Inko sniffed and nodded. "I - I hope so. I just worry that the people who hurt him are still free."

"Yeah," Mitsuki admitted, and watched the suds in the water dissolve. "Yeah, me too."

When the sky darkened outside and the streetlights flickered on, they got ready to leave. Inko and Izuku and Katsuki saw them off, Katsuki standing off to the side, his eyebrows and mouth twisted down in a scowl. After running around the yard with the kids, the puppy had fallen asleep in the living room.

"You'll stay in Japan for a few more days, right?" Inko asked.

"Yeah," Mitsuki said, and stood up after pulling on her boots. "We'll drop by one more time before we leave." She hugged Inko, tousled Izuku's hair, and then smirked down at Katsuki. "Be nice," she said.

He glared, unimpressed. "I'm always fucking nice."

Mitsuki snickered because it was such a lie.

"Good night," Masaru said with a nod, and then they went out, the cool air creeping beneath their clothes. Inko and Izuku hovered in the doorway, anxiously watching them leave.

Masaru gave her a look over the roof of the car and smiled, the car keys clinking in his hand. "Did you have fun?"

"It wasn't so bad," Mitsuki said and huffed out a laugh. They were about to get in when she heard quick, light steps behind her.

Curious, she turned around and saw Katsuki standing there, washed white by the fluorescent lights. He stared at Mitsuki and Masaru, hands in the pockets of his hoodie.

After a moment he averted his eyes and said; "Thanks."

Chest aching with surprise, Mitsuki stared. Thoughtlessly she reached out and ran her fingers through his white hair once, amazed how soft it was. She could feel him tense, like a slight thrum in his small frame, but he didn't snarl or use his quirk or pull back. He looked up with quiet red eyes, and she wondered if he was finally starting to get the difference between a touch meant to hurt him and a touch meant to show he was cared for. She wondered if it was Izuku's doing who was such an affectionate, gentle kid.

Her mouth quirked up in a smile, and then she pulled her hand back and watched him return inside, the gate clattering behind him. For a brief moment she observed the three of them standing in the doorway, illuminated by the light in the genkan, and then she waved her arm one last time before she got in the car.

"Do you feel reassured now?" Masaru asked after a while, his voice quiet and kind.

Mitsuki stared into the wing mirror, elbow propped on the door. She thought about the way Izuku looked at Katsuki, like he was the whole world and the kid was still fucking nine, the way Inko wanted to be affectionate with him and held herself back, and the way Katsuki didn't seem to notice either. She'd told Inko it'd be fine but she couldn't help wondering would it really be in the long run.

"I guess," she said.

Masaru took her hand, unobtrusive, and squeezed it. Mitsuki squeezed back, and the house disappeared behind a bend.

Chapter Text

Izuku stirred when something cool and moist pressed against his hand. His fingers twitched and then he pulled his arm up underneath the blanket and rolled over into something solid and warm.

"Kiku," he sighed, "not now."

The dog jumped up, nails clicking against the bedframe. It reached for him, breath snuffling restlessly over his nape. Izuku frowned reluctantly and burrowed into Katsuki's back, nuzzling his face into his shoulder. He breathed in deep, calmed by his scent, clean and inconspicuously sweet. With a frustrated noise Kiku dropped down.

Then Izuku stilled. His eyes snapped open. Confused, he stared at the back of Katsuki's pale head. He jolted upright in the bed and inadvertently jostled him awake. "Kacchan?" Izuku said, voice pitching high.

Katsuki gave him a sleepy glare over his shoulder, eyebrows furrowed and the bridge of his nose wrinkled. "Fucking pipe down."

"Huh? What?" Izuku asked, and looked around wildly. "What am I doing in your bed?"

With an irritated exhale Katsuki sat up, rubbed his hands over his face, and snarled, voice sleep-rough, "Some fucking dumbass wanted to sleep in his own bed last night, woke up to take a piss, and afterwards crawled into my bed. Wanna take a guess who it was?"

"Um..." Izuku tried without much hope. "...Kiku?"

Katsuki gave him a hard, flat stare before he snatched up a pillow and tried to smother him with it.

"Wait! Hold on, Kacchan! I'm sorry! I don't remember! I really don't remember!"

Katsuki stopped in his attempts to murder him and glared down, red eyes narrowed. After a tense standstill Izuku cautiously loosened his grip on his wrists and he yanked his hands free with a huff and tossed the pillow back on the bed. Seeming unconcerned that he was straddling Izuku, he leaned over to pet Kiku who'd jumped back up to see what they were doing. Kiku wagged its tail, ears pointed back.

"Did stupid fucking Deku bother you, too?"

"Um... Kacchan," Izuku said, feeling unaccountably uncomfortable with him sitting on his waist, his warm weight pressing into his bones and snagging his breath. It was familiar from all the times they'd sparred and Katsuki had rendered him motionless with his body and yet something about it felt - different. Izuku could feel a peculiar, restless itch, just underneath his skin. Heat suffused his cheeks and ears, and he resisted the embarrassed urge to squirm.

Flicking him a disinterested glance, Katsuki shook his head with a disgusted huff and stood up. Immediately Izuku scrambled out of bed, tossing the blanket aside, and hurried to the bathroom.

He splashed his face with cold water to abate the heat in his cheeks. He looked up: wild green eyes stared back at him, beads of water clinging to his eyelashes. Izuku breathed out to ease the weird tightness in his chest and with a bewildered frown rubbed his hand over his heart, feeling it thud rapidly. He wondered if he was coming down with something.

"Get a grip," he muttered, pacing the length of the bathroom, and inhaled a shaky breath.

When he cautiously went back into their room, peeking inside from the doorway, Katsuki had changed into his regular black tracksuit and hoodie, his fair skin almost translucent against the contrast. Izuku stared for one captured moment before his gaze skittered away. Blindly he looked at All Might's beaming chiselled face but even the sight of his childhood hero failed to settle him. Lately it'd been - difficult to look at Katsuki and Izuku didn't know why. It made him feel disconcerted and miserable, and he didn't know what to do.

"Um..." he said, fingers absentmindedly twisting into his sleep shirt. "I think we need to trim Kiku's nails."

"Yeah, okay," Katsuki said, and grazed past him into the hallway. "Hurry up and change. I'll wait outside."

In a hurry Izuku changed out of his sleep clothes and descended the stairs two steps at a time. Hopping forward, he pulled on his shoes and stumbled outside. Katsuki leaned on the wall on the other side of the gate, hands in his pockets, Kiku sitting obediently at his feet. It wagged its tail when it saw Izuku.

"Where are we going?" he asked, tidying his hair with his fingers and messing it up further.

Katsuki shrugged and started walking. "Does it matter?"

Izuku supposed it didn't. He fell into step beside him and Kiku trotted along on his other side.

It was barely six, the streets quiet underneath a sky of faded blue. They came across a few office workers leaving for work and a few housewives heading for the morning markets. Distracted, Izuku tugged the sleeves of his hoodie over his fingers, feeling them numb in the early spring air.

"I'm sorry," he said after a while, scuffing the pebbles on the pavement, eyebrows pulled together. "For waking you up. Um. Twice," he added even though he really didn't remember waking up and crawling into Katsuki's bed. Feeling embarrassed, he rubbed his cheek with the heel of his hand. Habits were really scary, Izuku concluded.

"Whatever," Katsuki said.

Izuku suppressed a smile, head bowed, and leaned their shoulders together. Katsuki gave him a tolerant look before he pressed back, putting his full weight into it, and tried to shove him off the pavement. Izuku laughed, bright and clear. He pushed back, shoes scraping on the tarmac, and they stumbled sideways. Kiku wagged its tail, thrumming with the urge to be included in their play.

"Fucking see?" Katsuki asked, mouth crooked in a faint smile. "You're a bad influence on him."

"That's still you, Kacchan," Izuku said primly, and then dodged with a laugh when Katsuki tried to scuff him over the head.

"Cheeky little shit," he muttered, tugging at his hair without much strength.

All of the strange, disconcerting feelings faded when they jostled each other like usual and Izuku's voice picked up, chattering on happily about everything and nothing while Katsuki listened with half an ear.

After their walk, Katsuki made them breakfast from yesterday's leftovers; rice with bamboo shoots and shiitake, miso soup with dices of tofu and scallion, and boiled eggs. It was something he did whenever Inko had stayed up late working and they were up before her. He sat down, one leg crooked on the chair.

When they were about to leave, Inko shuffled downstairs, dressed in her morning gown and slippers. She stopped in the genkan beside Kiku who watched them quietly; it used to whine all the time when Katsuki left the house until he'd trained it out of it.

"You boys ate already?" Inko asked, eyes squinted with sleep, dark hair dishevelled.

"Yeah. I put your portion in the fridge," Katsuki said.

"Oh. Thank you, Katsuki." She smiled, sleepy and pleased, and then her smile went soft and reminiscent when she straightened the collar of their gakuran. "Have a safe trip."

"We'll be back, mom."

Outside Izuku turned towards Katsuki with a tight-lipped smile, eyes bright and playful. "Are we walking to school, Kacchan?"

Katsuki gave a laugh, mouth slanting in a wide smirk. "Fucking bring it, Deku," he said, and Izuku could feel a familiar thrill of excitement in the pit of his belly.

They stared into each other's eyes for an instant, and then they both took off at a dead run.

It was a lot easier to race through town in the mornings - with less cars and pedestrians about - and Izuku could focus merely on the fast beat of his heart, the rush of blood in his limbs, the quickened deep rhythm of his breaths.

He could focus on Katsuki - the graceful, agile movements of his body and the hidden strength in his limbs. The way his pale hair shone in the tepid morning light or his cheeks stained pink with exertion.

Izuku grinned, exhilarated, wind ruffling his hair and flapping the hem of his jacket. He caught the edge of Katsuki's smile when he glanced at him, and then they made a sharp turn right like two cogs of a well-oiled machine.

They ran down the sloping street and through the underpass, the air chilly in the perpetual shade, the slap of their shoes on tarmac echoing in the hollow silence of the tunnel. When they made it out the other end, Izuku squinted his eyes in the sudden glare of sunlight. Katsuki passed up the stairs on the side of the pavement and instead sprinted up the wall, grabbed the railing, and vaulted himself over. Izuku followed just a beat after.

He met the startled eyes of a girl walking to school and tossed out a careless apology before he ran past her. Katsuki was incredibly fast, his stride long, his endurance high as if he'd been created for battle. He was amazing, Izuku thought as he incrementally caught up again, and he wanted to win against him and he never wanted Katsuki to lose.

As they neared the school they came across more students - girls in their sailor uniforms and boys in their gakuran - and they weaved around the stragglers and the crowds, heedless of the annoyed and concerned looks darted their way.

Izuku gained on Katsuki, infinitesimally, and if he could just touch the wall enclosing the school first he'd--

With a sudden yelp he lurched sideways, the back of his head smacking into the wall, when Katsuki knocked into him. He slapped his hand on the wall beside Izuku's head and grinned down, breathless and crooked and wild, his chest falling and rising sharply.

"I fucking win," he said, and Izuku was helpless to do anything but snort with laughter.

"Technically," he said, out of breath, "I think my back and head hit the wall first, Kacchan."

Briefly Katsuki considered this, shrugged nonchalantly, and amended, "It's a fucking draw then."

Letting his head fall on Katsuki's shoulder, Izuku chuckled breathlessly. His heart hammered in his chest, his shoulders rising and falling with each sharp breath he gulped down - and soon he realised he'd made a mistake when he could smell him.

He jerked his head up, blushing up to his ears, much to his utter bewilderment. But that turned out to be a mistake, too, when their faces ended up close. Breath stuttering with startled surprise, Izuku stared into dark carmine eyes, shaded by white strands of hair. A smile lingered in the corner of Katsuki's mouth, his expression still loose and pleased after the run and the challenge.

He was so, so pretty, Izuku thought, amazed and a little proud because Katsuki was his - and then Katsuki scuffed the side of his head with an amused smirk. "The fuck are you spacing out for, retard? That fucking sprint couldn't have tired you out."

He stepped back and made a face, pulling at the collar of his jacket. "Fuck, I feel all gross. C'mon, we've still got time before first period. I wanna wash some of this fucking sweat off me."

Feeling disoriented, Izuku wavered before he followed him.

They headed for the washbasins near the back of the school, the chatter of other students fading into a meaningless murmur. Izuku sat on the kerb of the passageway and absently stared at the bow of Katsuki's back when he leaned over the sink. The rush of water filled in the silence when he washed his face and scrubbed his wet hands through his hair, making it stand up in damp spikes. The trees surrounding the yard stirred in a gust of wind, the mosaic of shadows and fragments of sunlight wavering like reflections on water.

"Hey, Deku," Katsuki said suddenly, and it was all the warning Izuku had before he set off an explosion in the stream of water and it splashed in a wide glittering arc towards him.

Instinctively Izuku ducked over his knees and felt his back go wet in splatters. He jerked up and frowned indignantly when he saw Katsuki hold onto the edge of the washbasin and double over with laughter. "Kacchan, you jerk! I can't believe you! Now my clothes are wet!"

"Your fucking face, Deku," Katsuki said between snickers.

With a huff Izuku ignored him and took off his jacket, fretting at what he should do about it and his shirt. He didn't have enough time to let it dry out in the sun and he wasn't going to take off his shirt in the middle of the school yard. He really didn't want to be known as the kid who'd stripped in the school. There were enough weird rumours going on about them and he didn't want to start new ones.

Frustrated, he wondered if he should just change into his gym clothes.

Amusement lingering in his voice, Katsuki said, "Stop sulking, Deku. I'll dry your fucking clothes."

Eyebrows furrowed with doubt, Izuku peered into his face to see if he'd pull any more tricks and the side of Katsuki's mouth curled in an unrepentant smirk. After a moment of hesitation, Izuku turned around and sat down on the grass. He heard Katsuki settle down behind him and then he felt him set off tiny explosions along the wet spots on his shirt, more hot air than anything. The heat billowed upward and stirred his hair, tickling the back of his neck.

Katsuki did this for him, sometimes, when his hand ached from all the writing. Izuku stared down, absently rubbing his hand over his wrist, remembering the ghost of his touch.

"I was thinking," Katsuki said suddenly and Izuku started, heart leaping. He tried to crane his head to look at him over his shoulder but Katsuki grabbed his jaw and made him face forward again. "I'm not fucking done, dumbass."

"Um, what were you thinking, Kacchan?"

"Yeah, I was thinking we should join a club."

Surprised, Izuku asked, "You want to join a club?"

Katsuki knocked the back of his head with his knuckles. "Moron," he said. "It's for you. For your hero training."

"Oh," Izuku said in a distant voice.

Slowly he stooped over his knees as if in pain and hid his face in his hands, his cheeks and the tips of his ears hot, his mouth wavering into a doubtlessly weird smile. He closed his eyes and breathed in the darkness, futilely trying to calm down the mad fluttering of his heart. Sometimes Katsuki could be such a huge jerk that Izuku didn't know how to deal with him at all and then he did things like this, and Izuku liked him so much he couldn't breathe.

"The hell are you doing?" Katsuki asked, sounding amused.

"Nothing," Izuku mumbled. After a few more shaky breaths he leaned back and asked brightly, "Think it'd be fun in a club, Kacchan?"

"I fucking doubt it," Katsuki said, already bored as if he could just envision the drudge of it. "If it turns out to be useless, we're quitting that shit."

With a tired sigh Inko opened the fridge and took out the breakfast Katsuki had made for her.

She smiled, pleased and wan. She knew she should be happy he'd thought of her in his own small way and he'd learned to cook so well.

Still, it was hard for her.

He was so talented and independent, unwilling to rely on others if he could avoid it, and he was barely thirteen. And Izuku followed him in everything, trying to be more like him.

Inko thought how Izuku had wanted to be like All Might when he was small. He hadn't talked about it in a while and he hadn't asked her to buy him any new All Might merchandise either. She was sure Izuku still admired him because the boys watched all of his shows, nestled together on the sofa with Kiku.

But Inko was sure Katsuki had inadvertently and irrevocably replaced All Might in Izuku's heart, and she supposed it was understandable and unavoidable. From the beginning he'd admired Katsuki for his confidence and strength and talent, and he was so much closer to Izuku than All Might. Someone he could actually see and touch and talk to.

How could he not have thought of Katsuki as his hero.

Inko sat down and listlessly nibbled her breakfast, her eyes fixed blindly on the empty chairs. Silence prickled in her ears; deep inside the house a clock ticked away seconds then minutes, and she thought about being fourteen and waiting for her sister to come back home.

The house really was big and quiet without the boys.

"At least I have you here," Inko said with a sigh and looked down at Kiku who sat beside her chair, waiting for any scrap of food that might fall on the floor. It wagged its tail, jumped up, and rested its head on her lap, dark beady eyes looking up appealingly. "Good boy," Inko said and scratched it behind the ear. Kiku sneezed, and then rubbed its face on her thighs.

After breakfast she washed the dishes, and then penned a letter to Mitsuki and Hisashi. She sealed them and left them waiting on the side table in the genkan.

For a few hours she busied herself with household chores. She did the laundry, aired out their futons, and translated a few more pages from her recent work while she waited for the washing machine to pause. Inko wasn't sure what had made her choose a career in editing and translating all those years ago - if she'd just liked the easy world of books or if she'd wanted something of her own out of Mitsuki's brilliant shadow.

Absentmindedly she smiled down at the Archaic Chinese characters, unable to regret her choice even if there were other jobs she could've done from home. Her choice had led her to meeting Hisashi after all, and Hisashi had given her Izuku.

Around midday Inko usually took Kiku out and the dog tugged on the leash, displeased. Katsuki always let it walk free and seeing it look so unhappy made her feel guilty and terrible but she wasn't confident Kiku would obey her.

"I'm sorry. I know you don't like it," she murmured and petted it in apology.

They walked around the neighbourhood slowly, and when they circled back they stopped by the corner shop. Inko tied Kiku to a flower pot in front of it and then pressed her mouth flat with hesitation and guilt when it tried to follow her anyway. Steeling herself, she hurried inside. She just needed to send her letters and buy a few things. She wouldn't be long.

A radio played quietly behind the counter, the sentimental tunes of enka drifting in the air, the words mingling in the constant hum of coolers. The woman who owned the shop with her husband, Miyoshi, looked up from the magazine she was reading and greeted Inko with a warm smile. She'd always been nice to her, ever since she'd first moved in.

Inko moved through the aisles and picked up shishito peppers, edamame beans, pork cutlets and frozen berries before she went to the till. Miyoshi put aside her magazine and stood up, slow and careful with age.

While she scanned the items, her veined hands working slow, she asked, "How have you and the boys been faring?"

"Well, thank you," Inko said, and gave a laugh. "They're both so lively. Sometimes I feel like I can't really keep up with them."

Miyoshi chuckled. "I bet. I often see them running about the town, chasing each other, doing those crazy tricks of theirs. They both want to become heroes, don't they?" she asked as she packed the items in a bag.

"Yes," Inko said, warm pride seeping into her voice. "They're both going to Yuuei."

"Yuuei, huh. Such a prestigious name. All the famous heroes have graduated from there, haven't they?" Miyoshi set the bag on the counter and smiled, the laugh lines in her face deepening. "I'm sure your boys will be grand heroes."

Inko beamed, happy that someone else thought so. "I think so, too. They're working so hard for their dream."

When she handed her the letters, Miyoshi glanced at the names of the recipients and asked, "Has your husband been home lately?"

"No. He's been busy in - Antarctica, was it - but he always tries to make it home for Izuku's birthday," Inko added, feeling defensive on Hisashi's behalf.

Miyoshi clicked her tongue in disapproval. "Men these days. I understand working is important but they should make time for their families. My niece's husband does nothing but work all day long and afterwards he goes drinking with his colleagues and often isn't home until midnight. Is it no wonder young people no longer get married when they don't even see each other?"

When Inko gave a somewhat troubled laugh, she made an apologetic noise and said, "I'm sorry. I'm sure you don't want to listen to an old woman rant."

"You're not old, Miyoshi," Inko said, and she waved the words away with a pleased smile.

"You're too kind, Midoriya. Your husband should treasure you more," she said.

Inko smiled quietly and didn't try to explain that Hisashi had always treasured her in his own way, as best as he knew how. Even if she tried, people were disinclined to believe her when he was gone all the time. Even Mitsuki had never believed her, and she of all people should know better.

Miyoshi gave her the total of her shoppings and Inko handed her the money. She lingered for a moment when she went on happily, "Did you know, the other day little Katsuki greeted me. I remember when he first moved in here and he was always scowling from afar like a suspicious cat. He used to be such an angry, unsocial child. To be honest, it worried me a little. That's why it always warmed my heart to see him with little Izuku. Those boys are so close to each other."

Voice warm with affection, Inko said, "They are."

It was a good thing, she told herself, and tried to suppress her worries over the way Izuku looked at Katsuki sometimes - as if he was something more than a boy his age - and how he seemed to be unaware of it.

She narrowed her eyes in the sunlight when she went out, the door swishing shut behind her, and then she spent a few moments petting Kiku who was excited to see her.

"Good boy," she murmured, and Kiku licked her hands.

Inko untied its leash and leisurely walked home, a troubled frown between her eyebrows. She thought if she should consult Hisashi about the boys and then, quietly, decided not to.

It was fine. They were still twelve after all.

When Yasufuji handed Katsumi the club application forms, he flattened his mouth and made a troubled face.

"Just four?" he asked and tugged them out of Yasufuji's hand. "Can't you come back to me when you have more? It's been days since the entrance ceremony! I'm sure there should be more!"

"It's been two days," Yasufuji pointed out.

Katsumi waved this insignificant detail away. It was just like him to nitpick about everything he said.

With a groan he stooped over his desk and mumbled, "Why doesn't anyone want to join our club? Is it because we have too many boys? I should hire a girl to join us. If middle school girls can sell their time to sleazy old men, I'm sure they can sell it to us too."

The girl beside his desk gave him an uncomfortable look and discreetly inched to the edge of her seat.

"You say some appalling things quite often," Yasufuji said serenely.

Katsumi flicked him a disinterested glance. "Do I?" He frowned resentfully and shuffled through the applications. "Don't you think that Japanese names have gone into some strange directions in the past decades? Look at this kid, you can read his name as Deku. That is so unfortunate, I wonder if his parents did it on purpose - oh hey, he's quirkless just like you!"

He looked up with limpid eyes. "I sense the start of a beautiful mentorship."

Yasufuji made a subtle face; if Katsumi tilted his head and closed one of his eyes it would almost look like an expression. "Don't just give me disciples as you please," he said because he was an unsociable twat.

Katsumi pouted. "Why not?" he muttered. "I like disciples. I have so much wisdom to share." Also, they were obligated to bring him snacks and drinks.

"You constantly call them minions."

"Ah well. Look, if we can have heroes and villains in this age then surely I can be spared a few minions."

"The obsolete term for a minion is a loved one, did you know," Yasufuji said, and Katsumi thought about this for a moment and then laughed.

"Oh, I'll have a harem of minions then!" Yasufuji raised his eyebrows, looking like he might regret it, and Katsumi went on wistfully, "I've always wanted a harem. When all the girls compete to become my favourite, they won't have enough time to nag or plot against me."

Yasufuji let out a quiet sigh, the look in his eyes flat and pitying. He just didn't understand Katsumi's genius.

He looked at the applications again. "Why doesn't anyone want to learn jujutsu? What clubs do they join then?"

"Baseball is quite popular," Yasufuji said. "And soccer."

Katsumi made a face. "What's so fun about chasing a ball? They might as well be throwing sticks and yelling fetch."

"Judo is also quite popular," Yasufuji added mildly.

"Oh my god, judo? That's just the bastard child of jujutsu. It's the way of the rejects."

"Aren't all martial arts similar?"

"You make me ashamed," said Katsumi, and eyed him coldly.

He was about to launch into an explanation about the origins of jujutsu when the teacher walked into the classroom and rudely interrupted him. Yasufuji glided to his own seat and Katsumi glared through the applications again.

One of the kids, Bakugou, had an explosion quirk. That could be fun.

After classes they headed to the dōjō at the back of the school. They didn't use it much as they did most of their practice outdoors but it had symbolic value. And Katsumi liked to make the underclassmen clean it from time to time. The sight of people toiling on his command made him feel better.

Katsumi stopped on the engawa and Yasufuji gave him a suspicious look. Katsumi didn't mind him. He was such an unfortunate soul, he thought pityingly, always mistrusting people and their intentions. He was the captain and all he wanted was to make an impression suited for one on the new first years.

He shoved the sliding doors open and exclaimed, "Hello, my minions!" He smirked. "Don't worry. Yasufuji tells me it means I love you."

The second and third years greeted him with tolerant amusement, used to his antics. Katsumi eyed them benevolently, remembering all the times when he'd made them fetch things for him, and then he noticed the first years sitting on their knees near the wall and gasped. "Oh my god, it's a girl! And she's free!"

"Asagiri," Yasufuji said in long-suffering tones. "Please don't talk. Preferably ever." He turned towards the girl who started under the attention. "You should quit while you're ahead."

Looking crestfallen, the girl's shoulders slumped. "Um. Is it - is it impossible for me?" She gave an awkward laugh and her gaze darted nervously around the room. "I did think there'd be more girls here but it looks like I'm the only one?"

"I'm saying it for your sanity," Yasufuji added, and then she just looked confused and anxious.

"Never mind him, we'll just adjust the training for you," Katsumi said and squatted down in front of the first years with a bright smile, chin propped on his linked hands.

He looked them over with interest. The girl was a timid little thing with thin brown hair and a small face. The boy beside her had glasses and golden eyes with strange pupils and tiny antlers hidden in his hair. The other two sat slightly apart from them, pressed together from thigh to shoulder, a small kid so plain as to be conspicuous and a kid who looked like a disgruntled white hedgehog. The plain kid blinked wide green eyes, seeming bewildered, and the pale hedgehog scowled, looking bored and unimpressed.

"Please introduce yourselves. Names, class, quirks, reasons for joining," Katsumi said, and waved his hand in what he imagined to be a regal manner.

The girl and the boy beside her glanced at each other uneasily and then the boy cleared his throat.

"Hello. I'm Shimitsu Touka. First year of class four. I have a reindeer quirk." His cheeks went red when he went on, "Um. I just wanted to try out jujutsu when I read it was used to defeat samurai."

Oh, Katsumi liked him. He had potential.

"Er, hello," the girl started with a nervous bow. "I'm Torimo Akika. First year of class two. I can mimic any sound I hear. I - I was hoping to gain more confidence," she said, looking down at her hands, folded on her lap. And then she flicked a frightened, concerned glance towards the two boys sitting to the side which was a little odd. Katsumi wondered if they knew each other.

"Hi!" the plain kid said with nervous energy. "I'm Midoriya Izuku from class two. Um--"

When he hesitated the kid beside him said, flat, "He's quirkless." He glared at Katsumi as if daring him to say something and Midoriya darted him an anxious, flustered look and whispered, "Kacchan, don't be rude."

"Oh, that's fine," Katsumi said abstractly as he considered the nickname. Kacchan, he repeated in his mind with glee. It sounded far too cute and childish for someone like this kid. They had to be childhood friends or something because most kids grew out of such nicknames by the end of primary school. "Yasufuji, my vice captain, is quirkless, too."

Midoriya blinked, startled, and gave Yasufuji a wide-eyed look of curiosity. There wasn't even a twitch in Yasufuji's expression because his facial muscles had died at the age of four - or he was an android their scientists had perfected in secret and released into society. Katsumi was open to all possibilities.

Kacchan's eyes narrowed with a speculative gleam but some subtle tension eased out of his shoulders. He didn't look less rude or unimpressed, however. Oh the kids these days, they just had no manners, no manners at all.

"Bakugou Katsuki. First year, class two. I can explode shit."

After the second and third years had introduced themselves to the little minions, Katsumi clapped his hands and turned towards Midoriya and Bakugou. "Oh hey, you two didn't mention your reasons for joining."

Midoriya grasped the sleeve of Bakugou's jacket between his fingers and gave a sudden, blinding smile. "We're going to be heroes!"

"Heroes? That's cool," Katsumi said. "A lot of people forget the basics, you know, and think heroics is just about flashing your quirks. I'm sure you've all heard this before that quirks are just another function of the body, right? What they often fail to mention is that quite a lot of quirks work as weapons, too. Nowadays you're more likely to be attacked with a quirk than, say, a knife or a gun."

The first years listened attentively - well, aside from Bakugou but Katsumi was a magnanimous leader, he could let it slide. And Midoriya kept fidgeting as if he had a pressing urge to use the toilet and twitching his head towards Bakugou as if he wanted to say something.

"Like Shimitsu mentioned, jujutsu was developed to combat samurai. It was a means to take down armoured and armed opponents, using pins and joint locks and throws, and in that sense it should work well against most quirks even if you're quirkless or your quirk isn't offensive in nature."

Midoriya looked up, eyes shining with an intense light. He turned that look towards Bakugou who tolerated it a few moments before he shoved his face away.

Something in Bakugou seemed to stir - like a tentative interest - when Katsumi went on, "As such we've been given special exemption to use our quirks during club hours." Somehow that tentative interest was a little worrisome but he ignored it. He was sure it was nothing.

"So," he said, "does anyone have any previous experience in jujutsu or some other martial arts?"

Shimitsu and Torimo shook their heads. Midoriya said, "Er..." and looked to Bakugou inquiringly.

"...does fighting count?" Bakugou asked, and Katsumi shrugged carelessly and vaguely wondered what kind of fighting he meant.

"Sure. Why not."

Afterwards the first years sat on the engawa while Katsumi had the second and third years practise outside on the grass. Shimitsu and Torimo had to be taught from the basics and he had to check what Bakugou and Midoriya knew.

He could hear the constant indistinct stream of Midoriya's voice when he talked to Bakugou and the scratch of a pen on paper. When he looked over his shoulder he saw Midoriya had pulled out a notebook from somewhere and jotted down notes at a frantic pace, bent over it. Bakugou leaned close to him, occasionally making a remark that had Midoriya look up with a small smile. Torimo eyed them from the side with the air of a bird who'd seen a cat. It was a little odd and troubling. He wondered if she was afraid of boys.

"The little minions this year seem promising," Katsumi said fondly after the others had left. Torimo seemed a little too timid, and Midoriya a little too academic, and Bakugou was far too dismissive of his upperclassmen but he wasn't outright rude.

"It doesn't sound like a good thing when you say it," Yasufuji said because he was always like that.

"It's the first time I'll be teaching prospective heroes, you know," Katsumi went on, blithely ignoring him. "I need to give them proper guidance. If they become famous perhaps they'll think of me with fondness and mention my name in interviews. That'd be nice. It'd be free advertisement for our sweets and dōjō."

"I doubt that'll happen," said Yasufuji because he was a twat and didn't want him to be happy. "Ah," he said suddenly as something seemed to occur to him and Katsumi looked up from buttoning his shirt.

"What?" he asked.

"Nothing," Yasufuji said. "I kept thinking I'd heard their names somewhere and I just remembered it."

"Well?" Katsumi prompted with a touch of impatience.

Looking thoroughly disinterested, Yasufuji buttoned up his jacket and went on, "My little brother used to go to the same primary school as Bakugou and Midoriya. There're some pretty nasty rumours about them. Stuff like assaulting another kid in their class and bullying the others and cheating on tests. There's also one rumour about Bakugou being Midoriya's half-brother from a different mother. Another rumour says they're dating, though, but that seems a little far-fetched considering how young they are." He picked up his bag and added, "I'm meeting up with a friend. See you."

"Oh my god, they're delinquents?" Katsumi asked in horror, his hands still on the third button. "You brought delinquents into my club?" If they'd already been assaulting kids in primary school, soon they'd be slashing up the place with knives and demanding hush money. And then his entire trail of thought derailed when he caught up with what Yasufuji had said. "Wait, you have friends?"

He stopped, gave him a rude look over his shoulder, and sighed. "Sometimes I wish we'd never met," he said serenely and left.

Distracted by the revelation that Yasufuji had friends, Katsumi finished up dressing and locking up the clubroom.

His whole world was a lie but at least it now made sense why Torimo was so nervous around Bakugou and Midoriya. She must've heard the rumours, too, or gone into the same primary school as them.

He'd known those two would be trouble.

Chapter Text

It was her mother's latest words that drove Akika to desperation. She'd failed the entrance exams to every school her mother had picked out for her and she wasn't happy. Akika could tell from the red purse of her mouth. She sat in the uncomfortable dining chair, hands between her knees, her eyes lowered to her mother's shining brand shoes.

Takami sighed and tossed the results of her entrance exams on the table from where it slipped off and fluttered to the floor like a sad, abandoned thing. "You're really hopeless, aren't you, Akika? Why can't you be more like your brother?"

Checking that her purse had everything, she went on, "Well, I suppose I didn't expect anything different. I'm off to work. Eat whatever is in the freezer."

The sharp click of her shoes receded and Akika let out a breath she'd been holding in and stooped over her knees, her face in her hands.

Her brother, Keiki, found her an hour later wrapped in her blanket and burrowed in the bottom of her bed. She felt the mattress dip when he sat down and then the weight of his arm settled over her.

"Was it mother again?" he asked.

For a moment Akika wriggled until her face was visible inside the cocoon of her blanket and she could look at her brother, her expression miserable. "I failed all of my entrance exams."

Keiki raised his eyebrows, and absentmindedly pinched the tip of her nose with a laugh and Akika frowned. "For those private schools mother picked? Let's face it, you were never going to make it in any of those."

"I know!" she mumbled, voice reedy. "I don't know what mother was thinking!"

"That's just how she is," Keiki said, carefree. "Don't worry about it so much. You're still just thirteen. You have plenty of time to find something you're good at."

Akika stared. "I'm doomed," she said, and her brother laughed, bright and clear, because he always thought she was joking when she was dead serious.

Akika wasn't like her mother who was ambitious and confident. And she wasn't like her brother who was outgoing and affable, and secretly she thought it was because they had different dads. She wasn't particularly smart or pretty, and she didn't know how to do anything and even her quirk was terrible because all she was able to do were weird noises when she was overwhelmed with emotions.

The school wasn't all bad, though. It was within biking distance unlike all the schools her mother had picked and her friend, Fumi, had gotten in as well.

"You know, Akika," she said, her eyes fixed on her game console, one leg crooked on the chair. "I think you should really stop listening to what your mom says. She isn't exactly the nurturing, supportive type."

"I know," she mumbled, hands wrapped around a box of strawberry milk.

"And please try to friend people in your own class. I worry about you, I do, but I'm not going to walk my ass over here for every break during the next three years." Suddenly she looked up, and turned towards her with an excited grin. "Hey, you're in class two, right? You know Midoriya and Bakugou?"

Frowning, Akika thought for a moment. She realised she couldn't remember her classmates faces let alone their names. Just one more thing she was bad at. Keiki could remember everyone's faces if not their names but he had a social life unlike her.

"Um, I don't think I do?"

"You know," Fumi went on in hushed tones, "I heard they're delinquents."

"Delinquents?" said Akika, disinterested. "C'mon, Fumi, do you believe everything you hear?"

"Apparently they assaulted someone in their primary school. The kid had to hospitalised," Fumi said, pronouncing the word with morbid fascination.

"Eh..." Akika said who'd never been interested in gossip or rumours. She had a single mother who'd divorced and had two kids from different dads; she knew all about rumours and gossip.

Fumi clicked her tongue and turned back to her game. "Fine. Don't believe me."

Akika thought what was there to believe. "Are you mad, Fumi?" she asked. When she ignored her, she said, "Fumi. Fumiiii. Fuuuumiiii."

She made a sound of frustration. "Don't distract me! You made me die! Dammit!" She set the console down and frowned at her. "And hey, if you're that worried you can't do anything, why won't you just join a club? Go learn something. Live a little."

"Do you think I can?" Akika worried, and Fumi made a disgusted noise and left when the bell chimed.

Feeling despondent, she glanced through the applications for different clubs in bed that night and picked one blindly. Akika decided she was going to change. It didn't matter what it was, she was going to try it out, and she was going to find her own thing and then she'd never have to listen to her mother ever again.

The application was for jujutsu.

Cheeks puffed out, she stared at the application for one uneasy moment, gulped, and then filled it out stubbornly. She set the papers on the floor, rolled over, and pulled the blanket over her head.

Little did she know that she'd be resigning her life.

The club was full of boys and they were all very huge and looked very strong, and Akika was very tiny and she was sure they'd accidentally crush her to death when they weren't looking.

She sat kneeling near the wall, cold sweat on the back of her neck. Then the vice captain told her she couldn't do it and she hadn't even tried yet. Even complete strangers who didn't know a thing about her could tell from one look that she was hopeless.

And of course, because this was her life, Midoriya and Bakugou had to join the same club as her.

She hadn't believed those rumours and she'd believed them even less when she'd found out who Midoriya was. He just looked like this really plain, small kid with perpetually messy hair and freckles and big round eyes. Akika couldn't believe he'd assault someone and send them into a hospital.

But then she saw Bakugou and she nearly swallowed the heart that'd leapt into her throat because Bakugou was scary. He looked like a yōkai with his pale skin and pale hair and carmine eyes, and he was always scowling or grinning like a fiend and he had the vocabulary of a sewer. She'd never heard anyone talk like him and she imagined that was how delinquents talked, rude and coarse and violent.

They sat together at the back of the class, huddled close to each other, and they constantly talked during lessons in whispered conversations as if they were immersed in their own world and the outside of it held nothing worth paying attention to.

She still didn't quite believe that Midoriya was a delinquent but it was obvious that Bakugou was, and if he was then Midoriya had to be one as well because she couldn't see how they'd be friends otherwise. Maybe Midoriya was the boss of their little duo of underage lawbreakers.

And why did delinquents want to be heroes? Had it been a lie? Was it a cover for their illegal activities? What did middle school delinquents do anyway?

She went home that day, exhausted, and crawled on the sofa beside her brother. "You'll come to my funeral, won't you? Bring sunflowers, I've always liked sunflowers, they look so happy."

Keiki blinked, lowered his phone, and then patted her head. "Sure, I'll bring you all the flowers in the world."

"Thanks," Akika said, and tried to burrow herself into the sofa cushions.

The next day she was on class duty with Midoriya and she didn't know how or why it happened, and she really wished she didn't need to stay alone with him but she didn't know any of her classmates and couldn't ask someone for help.

Feeling distressed, Akika watched all of the other students meander out to their clubs and home. The whole school system had utterly failed her.

"Um..." Midoriya said, the legs of his chair scraping against the floor when he stood up. "You can go ahead, Kacchan."

Yes, please do! Akika thought desperately because she didn't know if she could handle Bakugou and his keen, red glare when it was just the three of them in the confined classroom.

Just to resent her, he said, "I'll wait for you."

Midoriya smiled - this small, intense smile - and for a moment he didn't seem to be aware of anything else but Bakugou. Which was just as well because Akika would prefer if they forgot all about her.

Bakugou took out his phone and earpieces, leaning back into his seat, and Midoriya walked over to her with slow, measured steps. "Er... Torimo, wasn't it?"

"Yes! That is me!" Akika said with strange harmonics in her voice because her quirk tended to activate when she was nervous. She gave an awkward, reedy laugh and said, "You can just go ahead. I can do this by myself."

He blinked wide green eyes and frowned. "But... I can't let you do all the work alone, Torimo."

"Yes," she said. "I guess you can't."

They worked on the attendance book in silence; the faint sounds of music from Bakugou's earpieces and the scratch of a pen on paper grated in her ears. Other students mingled outside in the yard, their distant chatter drifting through the window, a gentle breeze fluttering the curtain.

She thought about throwing herself out just to escape the horrible awkwardness of the situation.

Midoriya flicked glances at her through his fringe, a thin wrinkle between his eyebrows, and each glance made Akika more tense because she didn't know what he wanted. Maybe he was sizing her up. She wanted to tell him it was a silly thing to do because she was small and weak, and she lacked the ability and courage to fight back.

When they were done, Akika quickly stood up. "I'll just take this to the teacher, shall I? You two can go ahead to the club!"

She tried to snatch the book and accidentally knocked it off the table. She and Midoriya made to pick it up at the same time, stopped, and gave each other startled looks.

Midoriya gave an awkward laugh and stepped back, rubbing the back of his head. "Um. Sorry. Go ahead," he said, and suddenly Akika felt really stupid.

She dropped into a crouch, face in her hands.

"Eh? Are you okay, Torimo?" Midoriya asked, alarmed, and leaned over her. "Are you feeling sick? Do you want me to get the nurse?"

"I'm fine," she said, mumbled through her fingers. "I'm just - I'm feeling really embarrassed." She lowered her hands and peeked into Midoriya's startled, concerned face. "You're really different from the rumours. I thought you were a delinquent."

Eyes wide, Midoriya blinked and pointed at himself. "Delinquent? Me?" When Akika nodded, embarrassed, he gave a flustered laugh and scratched his cheek. "Oh. I knew people were saying stuff about us but I didn't know that's what they were saying. It actually explains a lot."

With awkward cheer he went on, hands making aborted shapes in the air, "Um, but you don't have to feel bad, Torimo. It was just a misunderstanding, right?" and Akika stared at him for one disbelieving moment before she dropped her head in her arms.

"Oh god, you're making me feel worse!" she wailed, and Midoriya started with panic, fretting uselessly with his hands. Bakugou gave them a look and made a vaguely disgusted, doubtful face before he went back to his phone.

"I'm sorry," Akika said when she calmed down. Feeling miserable, she blew her nose. "I don't usually cry like this in public. It's just - I've been feeling a little stressed lately. My mother wanted me to go to these private schools but I failed all of my entrance exams."

Midoriya looked genuinely sorry for her and somehow this made her feel worse about the rumours and all the stupid stuff she'd thought about them. She could feel her eyes prickle, her bottom lip waver.

"I'm sorry," he said, downcast. "You must have been feeling really disappointed." Then he went on, a little flustered, "Um... but it's not all that bad, right? I mean, because you got to go to this school we can talk now! Oh, but I guess that wouldn't really make you happy?"

He turned away, eyebrows furrowed in thought, mumbling to himself behind his hand. The earnest, awkward way he tried to cheer her up made Akika laugh.

"You're like stupidly nice, aren't you, Midoriya?"

He started, eyes wide. "Stu--" he repeated with a frown, and then he gave a small shy grin and ducked his head. "Er. Well, honestly this is actually my first time talking with a girl so I'm feeling a little happy. I think you're really nice, Torimo! So, um, you really don't need to feel bad or anything."

Oh god, he'd never even talked to girls before and she'd just accused him of being a delinquent and then bawled her eyes out. Akika's eyebrows flattened. "I must've given you the worst impression."

"Not at all!" Midoriya hurried to reassure her, and he really had an innocent, unintentional way of making her feel like scum.

Akika steepled her hands in front of her face, and hesitantly peeked towards Bakugou who still had his earpieces on and stared at his phone with a terrible scowl. She wondered if there was a polite way to ask. "So, um... Bakugou isn't a delinquent either?" she asked in a whisper.

"Kacchan?" Midoriya asked, and he looked so honestly confused that Akika knew his answer before he said, "Kacchan isn't a delinquent."

She gave a forced laugh. "Of course he isn't! How silly of me!" She felt that asking next if he happened to be a yōkai then would be a little redundant.

"So... um... how do you know each other then?" she inquired with careful slowness and Midoriya's face lit up with a small, bright smile.

"We're brothers!"

"Oh. Oh, you're brothers!" Akika said, and then she stopped and thought about the logistics of it. "Er... like... fraternal twins?"

Midoriya shook his head, messy curls falling over his eyes, and laughed like it was the silliest thing he'd ever heard. "No. There's no way Kacchan and I are twins. Kacchan is a lot prettier than me."

"Then..." Akika said, trailing off in confusion. "...stepbrothers?"

Midoriya blinked, seeming nonplussed by her questions, and then he glanced down at his hands, rubbing his thumb over his palm in thought. He smiled then, and Akika averted her eyes before she realised what she was doing. It was just - she suddenly felt like she was peeping into something secret and intimately personal.

"We're blood brothers," Midoriya said, his eyes very green, his voice suddenly too adult for someone his age.

Akika opened her mouth, thought about half-brothers, and felt like she shouldn't ask. She thought about her own family and figured everyone had their own issues.

She thought about Midoriya, who'd turned out to be a really nice, earnest and awkward kid with a massive brother complex, and suddenly she felt indignant on his behalf. "People shouldn't say all that stuff about you!"

"Well..." he hesitated, eyes wide and guileless. "I guess it's a bit true." At her horrified look, he quickly went on, "Um, not that stuff about delinquents! But Kacchan did kind of hit someone in the head with a swing! He didn't have to be hospitalised or anything, though! Oh man, I'm really not explaining this well."

Then he told her about being shunned and someone named Ishii and shoulder throws and rumours, and afterwards Akika felt like crying again.

"Oh I'm so sorry," she said in a fraught voice, "I had no idea you were bullied in primary school, and here I was, believing everything I hear like an idiot, you must think I'm horrible."

Midoriya looked at her with vague alarm like she was a bomb designed to go off at any moment. "I'm really sorry, too, Torimo. I didn't mean to make you cry again."

"Don't apologise to me, idiot!" she said, and sniffed.

Suddenly Bakugou rapped his knuckles on the table and Akika flinched with surprised fright, almost swallowing her poor heart. He gave her a flat, unimpressed glare before he looked at Midoriya. "Is the fucking sobfest over? We're fucking late."

"Ah! Right! Sorry, Kacchan!" Midoriya said, and clambered up to his feet. He stopped for a brief moment to give Akika one more earnest look, wavered, and then said, "Um. I know it's not really my place to say but let's both do our best, okay?"

Akika could feel a sudden rush of new tears because he was so nice, like stupidly so, even though he had no reason to be. Stubbornly she bit on her bottom lip to stop herself from crying again.

"Right!" she said, and stood up with sudden resolution. "I'll definitely cheer you two on so you have to become heroes! The best there are!"

Midoriya grinned, radiant. "Thanks! We definitely will!"

"Obviously," Bakugou sneered, and then he grasped Midoriya's arm and steered him out.

Akika listened to their voices and Midoriya's laugh fade down the hallway, the skid of their slippers on the floor, and waited for the frantic beat of her heart to calm down. With an exhausted sigh she picked up the attendance book and her schoolbag.

Midoriya seemed nice but Akika didn't think she'd ever get used to Bakugou.

Katsumi decided to deal with the rumours like he dealt with everything else. When Midoriya and Bakugou stopped on the engawa to take off their shoes, he strode up to them and demanded, "Is it true you assaulted someone in your primary school?"

Subtlety may, or may not be, one of his strengths.

Midoriya blinked wide green eyes and he thought he was so clever, tricking people with his innocent looks, but Katsumi wasn't fooled! "Um..." he said which wasn't a denial, oh god, he was a lunatic. He could go mad at any moment! Katsumi eyed him with suspicion to see if he had a knife somewhere hidden in his gakuran. He could take them, he thought, he'd been trained in the arts of war.

Bakugou, who seemed to be quicker on the uptake, scowled and said, "He fucking deserved it."

Which really failed to reassure Katsumi of their innocence on so many levels, he couldn't even tell. He was already imagining kids being gutted to death and buried in the bushes at the back of the school. Maybe they had a stash of bodies.

"Do you mean Ishii, senpai?" Midoriya asked haltingly.

Distracted by his morbid imaginations, Katsumi made an impatient noise and said, "You really need to help me out here, Midoriya. I don't know what that is."

"Er..." said Midoriya, seeming bewildered, and Katsumi had the pitying thought he wasn't all that bright. "Ishii is just a kid who used to bully me."

He was about to gloat how he'd just revealed himself as the hooligan he was when he realised what he'd actually said. "Bully? Oh, is that all it was. You should have told me."

Bakugou exhaled an irritated sigh, muttered something in secret code under his breath, and then yanked Midoriya back when he tried to sneak past him inside. He looked up at him, eyebrows pulled together in hesitant inquiry.

"Are we actually going to learn shit in this fucking club?" Bakugou demanded, and Midoriya flicked a troubled look towards Katsumi, whispered Kacchan frantically, and elbowed him in the side. Bakugou ignored him and glared at Katsumi. He blinked and vaguely thought if he was in his rebellious age.

"Well," he said, "that really depends on you? I was going to have you spar today to see what you already know."

Katsumi didn't care about social hierarchies, not in regards to ability and merit. In other clubs - such as tennis - the upperclassmen made the first years fetch the balls for a year and they weren't allowed on the courts until the upperclassmen were done. He thought it was stupid, a whole year of wasted potential, because what if one of them had trained longer or was simply better?

Midoriya brightened, turning towards Bakugou with a small grin, and mouthed the word spar. Bakugou narrowed his eyes, his expression no less disgruntled from before but his hostile stance relaxed somewhat.

Definitely a rebellious age, Katsumi mused sagely. It was all the raging hormones.

While they went to change their clothes in the locker room, Torimo hurried to the dōjō and stopped to catch her breath on the engawa.

"I'm so sorry I'm late," she said when she could talk, leaning on her knees, and distractedly Katsumi thought they should start with her constitution. "I was taking the attendance book to the teacher."

"The duties of a student are numerous and important," he said generously. "And you're not that late. We're going to have Midoriya and Bakugou spar. You may observe if you want."

"Spar?" she repeated, and then her eyebrows flattened with apprehension. "I don't have to do that, do I?"

Katsumi gave her a slow look over. She was easily half the size of most people, bird-fragile, and slim like a young willow. Then he thought about the boys in the club, all of them quite large and trained. He laughed at the absurdity of the thought, and then pressed his mouth flat. "I think it'd be best if you don't. Not unless you want to die. Please have a seat."

With a flustered bow she slinked past him inside, shuffled along the wall, and sat stiffly beside Shimitsu. When Bakugou and Midoriya returned into the room, dressed in loose tracksuits and shirts, Midoriya looked over at the people sitting by the wall and blinked, absently rubbing at his hand.

"Um... we're going to spar inside, senpai?"

"You may spar outside as well if you wish," Katsumi said magnanimously.

Midoriya looked to Bakugou inquiringly and he said, "I don't give a fuck where we do this."

He stopped in the centre of the room, stance low and loose, and fixed his eyes on Midoriya. Mouth crooked in quite an unnerving grin, he said, "Let's get this shit started. And give me all you've fucking got, Deku."

With a tight-lipped smile Midoriya mirrored his stance, his eyes bright and intent. "Don't worry, Kacchan. I have no intention of losing."

After these sweet nothings, Katsumi supposed, Bakugou gave a small thrill of a laugh and lunged. In two quick strides he was at Midoriya, brutal and inevitable like an avalanche. Midoriya dodged with what seemed more like familiarity and habit than pure instinct, and they settled into a strange, almost vicious, cadence of strikes and kicks and anything else to bring each other down.

What became abundantly clear to Katsumi in the next few minutes was that they may not be delinquents but they were crazy people.

With a consternated frown he watched as Midoriya grasped Bakugou's arm, twisted around, and tossed him to the floor with a loud thud. When he tried to fall back, Bakugou caught his ankle between his legs and brought him down with him. In an instant he straddled Midoriya, grasped his hair, yanked his head up and slammed it back down on the floor. "Do you give up, Deku?" he snarled between each thud.

"Um," someone said. "Is this even sparring anymore?"

Midoriya caught Bakugou in the jaw with the heel of his hand and in the fleeting opening it allowed him he bucked his hips and kicked him off over his head. Torimo flinched with a startled noise when his back hit the frame of the shōji, and Midoriya rolled over and staggered up to his feet. "I don't know, Kacchan," he said, breathless. "Do you?"

Smoothly Bakugou jumped up into a crouch. He gave a laugh that had Katsumi vaguely wish he'd sound less unbalanced when he did so. "Not a fucking chance," he said, and then they grinned at each other like two suicidally homicidal dolts.

When they dashed at each other again, Katsumi called out grimly, "Vice captain! Make them cease!"

Yasufuji, who was quite reliable in spite of being a mutinous git, stood up and heedlessly went between them. Expressionlessly he kicked Midoriya's legs out from under him and he crashed to the floor with a surprised yelp. In the same instant he flipped Bakugou over on his back, dropped down, and pressed one knee to his chest. He snarled and hurled out his arm with what seemed like adrenaline and blind instinct.

"Kacchan!" Midoriya called out in alarm.

Hand shooting out, Yasufuji grasped Bakugou's wrist just as his hand reached his face. The heat from an aborted explosion stirred Yasufuji's hair, the black strands sliding across his cheeks. Afterwards they both stilled and stared at each other. For one startled moment the only sound in the dōjō was Bakugou's breathing, harsh and shallow.

Then his eyes narrowed resentfully and he said, "What the fuck? Get off me."

Yasufuji eyed him cautiously before he stood up, expression unchangeable as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened. He held out his hand for Bakugou but he just scowled at him like the grumpy hedgehog he was, batted it aside, and got up on his own. Eyebrows furrowed and mouth twisted down, he brushed off his clothes.

Midoriya sidled up beside him, gave a flustered bow, and mumbled, "Sorry, senpai."

"What the hell?" Bakugou demanded. "First you want us to spar and then you want us to stop before either of us could win?"

With an impatient wave of his hand Katsumi disregarded the question. "Do you always spar--" Like two lunatics, his mind helpfully supplied. "--like that?"

"Er..." Midoriya said, and flicked an unsure glance Bakugou's way. "I - I guess?"

When Katsumi turned towards Bakugou, demanding an affirmation with his gaze, he stared back with an unimpressed scowl. "What?" he asked. "How's holding back gonna help him learn shit?"

Katsumi made a frustrated noise, realising he couldn't really argue with that, and resisted the urge to stomp his foot because that'd just be undignified. He thought about heroes and villains and quirks, and he had a feeling their complete incomprehension of moderation had a reason other than simple insanity.

But he had to say something because he wasn't going to let Bakugou have the last word, and he had a point, somewhere in the appalled mess of his thoughts, and it was a good point, he was sure of it. He thought about the rumours, about delinquents and brothers and--

"Violence isn't flirting, you know!" he exclaimed when he realised what he wanted to say and huffed in triumph, hands on his hips.

"Er... flirting?" Midoriya whispered, leaning over to glance in Bakugou's face, because apparently he'd been raised by sexless monks in the mountains.

"We're brothers," Bakugou said, sounding flat and disgusted like someone who'd had to make the correction countless times and was sick of making it.

Katsumi stopped, staring blankly, as his mind unravelled in terrible directions about faternal twins and stepbrothers and half-brothers. Then he shook his head to clear it of the messed up clutter of Bakugou and Midoriya, threw up his hands, and demanded, "Vice captain! You deal with them!"

Yasufuji made a subtly reluctant face and Katsumi would really appreciate it if he for once just obeyed his commands.

"Why do I have to?" he asked.

"Because," Katsumi said. "I - I shan't. I have a headache. I feel my vision blurring. I think I need glasses," he went on, warming up to this theme. He'd always thought he'd look rather distinguished with glasses. And then he went and abducted Torimo before Yasufuji could object again.

"That - that was really intense," Torimo said when they were outside on the grass, looking somewhat shell-shocked and apprehensive. "I really don't have to do that, do I?"

"No," Katsumi said, and eyed her sternly. "Bakugou and Midoriya are crazy people. It's evident. And like all crazy people they do crazy things. Don't assume them as examples for anything."

"Er..." said Torimo, hesitating. "Well... Midoriya seemed... nice. When I talked with him today. I - I think they have a lot of stuff going on in their family."

"Is that so?" Katsumi said, blankly.

He could feel Yasufuji's glare on his back when he blithely went about teaching Torimo and Shimitsu because they were cute and, more importantly, non-crazy. He should have learned by now that he was impervious to such poor attempts at intimidation and he didn't care about stupid Yasufuji and his stupid mean looks. He could glare all he wanted. Katsumi wasn't bothered!

When he sneaked a peek at them later, sneakily, he saw Yasufuji teaching Midoriya about wristlocks while Bakugou observed them from the side and pretended he wasn't listening. Midoriya nodded enthusiastically, eyes wide and attentive, and his hands twitched as if he was trying to write everything down. Bakugou wandered off for a moment, and then came back with Midoriya's notebook and shoved it at his chest, hard enough to make him stagger half a step. Midoriya beamed up at him, his cheeks flushed red, and Bakugou tousled his hair roughly. Katsumi narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

They were weird. They were so, so weird, and he was pretty sure that was no way to look at one's brother. He should ask Yasufuji, he had siblings, all of them more expressive and nicer than him, but then he thought about it and all he could imagine was his thoroughly disinterested face that judged him stupid.

Katsumi wasn't stupid. He was just above average in grades!

It occurred to him suddenly if it was a good idea to teach Bakugou and Midoriya how to do more damage when they both seemed utterly unconcerned about their own and one another's physical well-being. But it was obvious they both wanted to learn, and he didn't want to turn down people who wanted to learn.

He agonised over this after club hours, lying on his stomach on the floor of the dōjō, while Yasufuji mopped around him and occasionally nudged him in the arms and shins. He did it on purpose, Katsumi was sure of it. He was nothing but a speck of dust in his way. He'd go his whole life unrespected and unloved--

Suddenly the quiet sound of Yasufuji's steps stopped, interrupting his throes of melancholy, and he said, "I don't think they should learn conditioning."

Katsumi turned his head until his cheek was pressed to the floor and he could look at him out of the corner of his eyes. "I know," he said. He thought about his grandfather's words, about the difference between someone who learned how to fight from experience and someone who learned how to fight in a structured, controlled environment. The former would always have an advantage over the latter.

They wanted to be heroes, and Midoriya was quirkless. It wouldn't do for them to learn habits when most villains weren't trained but experienced.

Katsumi thought about how much work it'd take to teach them, groaned, and swung his legs up and down out of frustration. "I don't wanna do it," he mumbled.

"Who else could teach them?" Yasufuji asked. "You're our captain. Our leader. Our commander." Katsumi waved his hand to tell him to go on. He sighed and said, "Get up off the floor. It's disgraceful."

And so it went. He never wanted Katsumi to be happy.

He rolled over onto his back and held out his arms. "I shan't. I have a weak constitution."

Eyeing him dubiously, Yasufuji exhaled. "Dreadfully lazy is what you are," he said but he grasped his arms and pulled him up.

Katsumi counted it as a victory.

Katsuki was just about done with all the bullshit.

"It's like this whole fucking town has nothing better to do than talk shit about us," he said and kicked pebbles out of his path, hands deep in his pockets, eyebrows pulled down in a scowl.

Izuku gave a laugh and leaned over to look at him, the straps of his backpack clenched in his hands. "I don't think Torimo or Asagiri meant anything bad." He worried his lip and glanced down. "And I think - I think they're nice. The people in the club," he added, a stubborn undercurrent in his voice.

Katsuki stopped briefly to stare at him with blank disgust. "For fuck's sake, Deku, do you think every fucking asshole you meet is nice?"

Smiling, Izuku rolled his eyes tolerantly and kind of shoved his shoulder. "You know that's not true, Kacchan. I just - I just think we could learn a lot in the club. Like today!" he went on with tentative excitement. "When Yasufuji taught us about wristlocks."

Katsuki supposed that was true - at least the stuff about wristlocks - but he still thought all the fuckers in the club were annoying wusses who couldn't handle a little bit of violence.

He exhaled an irritated sigh, and faced ahead again. The plum trees lining the street stirred in the wind, the shadows and fragments of light shifting. The rustle of leaves grated in his ears like indistinct whispers.

He thought about their classmates in primary school, how they'd always glanced their way from afar and whispered behind their backs. Stupid fucking stuff about delinquents and dating. Katsuki had thought they were through all that bullshit but apparently it'd followed them all the way to middle school.


That sugar-faced asshole had said they were flirting and he'd only seen them two times.

Katsuki should - he shouldn't let it get to him, and yet each word itched like insects under his skin. Unaware, he scratched the bare skin on his wrist until it reddened, his chest tight with aimless, shapeless irritation. He struggled to suppress the violent urge to explode something.

Katsuki wondered if it was his fault. That people had a completely perverted view of their relationship.

Eyebrows furrowed, he stared into the distance, thoughts swarming in his head until it throbbed. That was why he was a beat too late when Izuku suddenly sprinted into a run and said, "Race you!"

"Deku! You fucking little shit!" Katsuki shouted, and dashed after him.

Izuku laughed and flicked a quick glance over his shoulder, his green eyes bright.

Katsuki barely won that one. While he leaned on his knees outside the house, exhausted and winded, he wondered when it'd become so hard to beat the kid who used to be useless at everything. He had a vague feeling he'd been way too thorough in training Izuku.

"Unfair, Kacchan," Izuku said between ragged pants. "You used your quirk."

"And who's the little shit who took a head start, huh?"

Looking up through his messy fringe, Izuku gave him a small grin, the cheeky little fuck. Katsuki looked at him - his familiar, soft features - and thought it didn't matter what people said about them. Izuku was his, and no one else got to decide what he was to him.

None of those shitheads knew them anyway.

"Kacchan?" Izuku asked.

"It's nothing," he said, adjusting the bag on his shoulder.

Kiku waited for them in the genkan and he squatted down to pet it. He scratched its belly when it rolled over onto its back, and Kiku gnarled and wagged its tail happily.

Mouth crooking in a faint smile, Katsuki said, "Dumb dog."

Kiku leaned around to lick his hands. Izuku watched them with a weird, soft expression and blushed when Katsuki raised his eyebrows.

He ducked his head and messed with his hair to hide his face. "It's nothing, Kacchan," he said, flustered. "It's just nice seeing you get along."

"Of course we fucking get along," said Katsuki, and the side of his mouth edged into a smirk. "Izuku's the only one who gets me."

Izuku's mouth flattened, the way it did when he called the dog Izuku, his expression unimpressed. Then he smiled when Kiku had enough of Katsuki's affections and went to Izuku to be petted some more. Expression blissful, it sat at his feet while he scratched it behind the ear.

"Dumb dog," Katsuki repeated with a snort, and stood up.

"Don't say that, Kacchan," Izuku said. "You'll hurt his feelings."

"Welcome back, boys!" Inko called from the kitchen. "Could you come in here, Katsuki?"

While he trailed into the kitchen with Kiku, Izuku thumped upstairs with their backpacks.

Inko bustled at the stove, her dark hair escaping from her coiffure. She looked over her shoulder with a soft smile and asked, "Could you deep-fry the tofu while I prepare the meat?"

Katsuki shrugged. He took off his jacket and draped it on the back of the chair and washed his hands. The pan and oil were already on the stove. He flicked it on and started dicing the tofu while it heated. Kiku sat at his feet, looking up with dark beady eyes.

"How was school?" Inko asked with a nervous grin. "Did you have fun in the club?"

Katsuki frowned, moving the dices of tofu on kitchen paper to dry. "It's... fine," he said. Over the years he'd noticed that Inko had an almost chronical need for him to like things, and while it was annoying, he didn't want to disappoint her. He owed her enough as it was, and he couldn't repay her any of it yet. If all she wanted was for him to like stupid shit, he could fake that much for her at least.

"Deku likes it," he added, and then his mouth curled in a sneer. "He thinks the--" Distracted, he was about to say fuckers when he caught himself. "--people in it are nice." Katsuki supposed it didn't matter if he didn't like the club or the assholes in it. It wasn't for him after all.

"That's nice, isn't it?" Inko chattered, sounding pleased. "Have you learned anything useful yet?"

"Just some stuff about wristlocks. Should be useful."

"That's good," Inko said with a small grin that reminded Katsuki of Izuku. "You'll be real heroes before you know it!"

Humming, she moved about the kitchen, utensils and ingredients floating to her. Katsuki watched her pleased smile for a while, and absentmindedly wondered that even though he'd lived with her for five years he still understood her less than Izuku.

He dipped the tofu into the oil and watched them sizzle, tint into golden brown, the bubbles rising and bursting on the surface.

After a while, Izuku returned downstairs. He stopped beside Katsuki, unobtrusively leaning into him like he usually did, and soon his familiar chatter filled the kitchen when he talked with Inko about their day.

Katsuki tuned them out, letting their voices wash over him.

When he went to bed that night, Izuku was still at the computer - like he was sometimes when he was reading stupid shit on the internet - frantically scribbling down notes.

He stopped suddenly, turned around in the chair, and asked, "Am I bothering you, Kacchan? I was thinking I'd look up a few stuff before I go to sleep."

"I don't give a shit, Deku," Katsuki said, voice tired. When he was a kid, he'd learned to fall asleep to the different sounds of shouting and fucking and crying. Izuku's stupid obsessed scribbling didn't bother him - except out of principle.

He leaned over the edge of the bed to pet Kiku's head before he turned around. The quiet scratch of pen on paper and the click of keys faded, and Katsuki fell asleep.

Hand stilling on the notebook, Izuku squinted his eyes at the monitor and glanced at the clock in the right corner. It was almost three in the morning. He blinked, lethargic, and wondered when it'd become so late.

The artificial light of the monitor washed the room in an eerie glow, the hum of the computer the only sound in the house. Izuku turned in the chair, looked at the back of Katsuki's pale head, barely visible beneath the blanket, and then glanced up at his own bed. Eyebrows pulled together, he thought he should probably go to sleep.

Then he turned back towards the monitor and stared at Indriði's email for one blind moment. Izuku thought he was pretty good in English, thanks to the lessons he'd had with Indriði over the years, but reading a line after line of scientific terminology was a challenge even for him. Indriði tried to use simple phrases and words when he could but Izuku still had to look up explanations for a lot of them. He supposed he should ask Katsuki's help later with the stuff he hadn't quite understood.

He sighed and rubbed his eyes with the heels of his hands, feeling them dry and ache. His whole body ached from the lack of rest.

Suddenly something rustled behind him. "Deku?" Katsuki asked, voice rough with sleep. Izuku went stiff, frantically trying to come up with an excuse why he was still up. "For fuck's sake," Katsuki said with an irritated exhale.

The blanket rustled when he tossed it aside. He padded over to Izuku and stopped beside the desk. Kiku woke up, glanced in their way, and then tucked its head back into its side. "The fuck have you been doing till this late?"

Izuku lowered his head, mouth thin, hands on his knees. "Er... Just translating a few stuff from Indriði's email?"

Eyes narrowed, Katsuki glanced at the monitor. "And that shit couldn't wait?"

Izuku frowned, a vague feeling of unhappiness and anxiety knotting in his chest. He hadn't meant to stay up so late and he didn't like it when Katsuki got mad at him; it always made him feel miserable - like he'd failed in some unexplained way.

"It's just..." he said, teeth biting into his lip. He rubbed his thumb over the thin scar on his hand. "I need to work so much harder than anyone else. I'm quirkless and there're so many things I can't do. If I don't work hard, I'll never catch up."

He thought about Katsuki and how hard he worked for what he wanted. Izuku knew best how hard he worked - he'd observed and admired Katsuki's diligence almost half of his life - but he also knew just how effortless most things were for him. If Izuku ever wanted to stand in the same place as him, he'd need to work twice as hard as him.

He looked up, agitated. "I'll never catch up to you, Kacchan. You're so amazing, and your quirk is amazing, and you can do anything--" he went on, unable to stop.

Katsuki stared at him quietly while he wheezed and babbled on, his head slightly tilted as if he was a bird of prey. Then he leaned down, slapped Izuku's cheeks, and squeezed his face between his hands. All at once, Izuku's panicked words stuttered to a halt. "You really like to prattle stupid fucking nonsense," Katsuki said.

He stared into Izuku's eyes, his gaze dark like blood. "I'm still fucking here, aren't I? So turn that fucking thing off before I explode the shit out of it."

Izuku's heart swelled with a sudden rush of feelings at his words, breath snatching in his chest. He stared at Katsuki for a long moment, wide-eyed, before he frowned and mumbled, "You wouldn't do that, Kacchan. How'd you play all those games then?"

Rolling his eyes, Katsuki leaned around him to turn off the computer, hair brushing Izuku's cheek, soft and ticklish. Then he grasped his arm and pulled him up.

He dragged him the few steps to the bed and shoved him into it. With vague alarm Izuku tried to stand up. "Er... I'll just--"

Sleep in my own bed, he tried to say but Katsuki shoved him back. "Go the fuck to sleep, Deku," he said, voice low and hoarse.

He climbed in beside Izuku and clasped his wrist, his hand rough and warm. He set off explosions against his bare skin, the heat seeping into Izuku’s bones, the faint light washing over the sharp angles of his face. "Stupid..." he mumbled, words slurring together. "You're going to fuck up your hand someday."

His breathing evened out and the habitual wrinkle between his eyebrows smoothed away and the tiny explosions faded. The computer turned off, the hum of the fans abruptly stopping, and then it was quiet.

Izuku stared at Katsuki for a long time after he'd fallen asleep. In the darkness he looked ephemeral, a blur of pale skin and pale hair and long pale eyelashes, and sometimes Izuku feared he was just a figment of his imagination. Someone he'd made up out of loneliness.

"I like you," Izuku whispered, the words exhaled on a breath. They did nothing to ease to tightness in his chest, not like they used to in the past.

He edged forward, close to Katsuki's warmth, and stopped in sudden realisation when he felt his quiet breath on his lips. His whole body flushed hot with a kaleidoscope of indefinable feelings.

He didn't know what he was trying to do, or what he wanted from Katsuki.

Izuku rolled over, facing the wall. In the small hours when the streetlights flickered off and the first birds began their songs he fell into an uneasy sleep.

He dreamed of a pale shadow in the midst of a forest, all alone in the wild green.

Chapter Text

"Asagiri," Yasufuji said, "you have issues."

"If there is an issue here, it is Midoriya and Bakugou!" Katsumi said, and narrowed suspicious eyes at them from afar.

They were outside underneath the trees, training joint locks together, because no one else dared to train with them after their spar the other day and Katsumi couldn't possibly inflict their crazy on someone else.

And he couldn't exactly call either of them a social butterfly. They liked to keep to themselves even during club activities and he couldn't see why they'd bothered to join in the first place. Surely they could've learned what they needed somewhere else and saved him the mental anguish of having to deal with them.

"Stop harassing the first years," Yasufuji said with a long-suffering sigh.

"But!" said Katsumi, and stepped aside and grasped his head between his hands to make sure he faced Midoriya and Bakugou. "Is that really any way to look at one's brother? Midoriya is like a girl in love!"

They both watched as Midoriya and Bakugou failed to do anything suspicious. Midoriya had dropped down into a crouch, stooped over his notebook. A severe frown between his eyebrows, he muttered obsessively under his breath and tapped the pen against his lips in thought. Bakugou was squatting down beside him, watching him sketch and scribble down notes with exasperated patience, and made the occasional remark that had Midoriya look up and smile.

"Is that so?" Yasufuji said, sounding thoroughly bored and unimpressed. He moved away from Katsumi's hold. "Why does it bother you even if he is in love with his something or other?"

"Because," Katsumi said, and momentarily blanked out.

He didn't know why it bothered him.

He thought how Midoriya and Bakugou sometimes stayed behind in the locker room, going over the things they'd learned that day and strategizing how each move would work against different quirks. He thought how Midoriya's fingers cramped because of all the obsessed writing he did and how Bakugou took his hand in his, the gesture thoughtless with longtime habit, and warmed the tendons and joints with tiny harmless explosions. He thought how Midoriya looked at him then, his cheeks stained red and his eyes bright, an expression on his face Katsumi was hardpressed to call anything but tender.

He thought how they both seemed to be utterly unaware of the way Midoriya looked at Bakugou, and they were barely thirteen, and it was all just so enormously awkward, and Katsumi didn't want any of it in his club.

"Because I shan't suffer this homosexual incestuous romance in my club! Besides," he added as an afterthought, "incest is psychologically and physically unhealthy. Regardless of Japanese history of marrying one's cousins, aunts, and half-sisters."

"Has anyone ever told you you're like a noisy, unbalanced aunt?" Yasufuji asked in serene tones, and glided away before he could retort.

He settled on an affronted glare and hoped Yasufuji really felt it in the back of his head.

All of this dissent just made him more determined to prove he was right and Bakugou and Midoriya were crazy incestuous dolts, and besides, Katsumi had always fancied he'd make a good detective.

He put his amazing detective skills to work the next day.

He started by distracting Bakugou away from Midoriya's side with the enticing offer of a spar with Yasufuji which had the double benefit of getting him off Katsumi's back. He was a genius, it'd always been apparent to him.

Bakugou gave him a suspicious, unimpressed scowl and Yasufuji looked subtly murderous. Katsumi couldn't understand all this hostility towards his person. He was as innocent as a newborn babe.

"Can I use my quirk?" Bakugou asked then, and regarded Yasufuji with a speculative gleam that was a little unsettling. Midoriya gave him a wide-eyed look, fretting quietly with his hands.

"Well," Katsumi hedged, "that depends on Yasufuji really."

Yasufuji hesitated, a faint frown between his eyebrows. "...I suppose it'd be good practise," he said eventually in the tones of a man going to his gallow. He was far too negative for a boy his age; it couldn't be healthy.

Bakugou turned towards Midoriya. "Keep a fucking close eye on this fight, Deku," he demanded, and Midoriya inhaled a quiet breath, eyes wide and bright, and then he frantically scrambled for his ubiquitous notebook. Katsumi thought he had an unhealthy attachment to the thing.

Bakugou and Yasufuji went outside and stopped on the grass, underneath the swaying shade of trees, and he observed them awhile as a cover.

For a moment Bakugou just watched Yasufuji, eyebrows furrowed. His stance was relaxed and loose, and it was impossible to tell what he'd do next. Most people gave away their intent through the minute twitches of their bodies but not him - like he'd learned to hide all of his tells.

Then his arm swung out, triggering a wide blast, and a cloud of blackened dust billowed up. Blades of grass flattened towards earth and leaf canopies stirred violently above. Yasufuji dodged, and when he rolled up to his feet another explosion followed him, relentless and inevitable like a tidal wave of heat.

Eyebrows knitted together in faint annoyance, he dodged again - and then Bakugou flew at him through the smoke and dust, using the propulsion of his quirk to speed his lunge. He hauled his arm back, ready to strike.

Katsumi realised, somewhat belatedly, that Bakugou Katsuki was terrifying.

Speed. Agility. Strength. A quirk that increased his flexibility and movement, and gave him the advantage regardless of range.

But his movements were still too wide and crude - like he'd learned to fight against people bigger than him - and jujutsu was all about using your opponent's force against him. And Yasufuji had ten years of experience ingrained into him.

At the last second, he grasped Bakugou's arm, turned around, and pushed him to the ground, a knee on the small of his back. He twisted his arm up towards his neck and his wrist sideways. Bakugou snarled, cussed up a storm, and struggled in the hold. He set off another explosion that steered harmlessly to the side, the aftershock jerking at both of their bodies roughly.

Breathing hard, Yasufuji narrowed his eyes. "If you struggle like that, you're going to dislocate your shoulder or wrist."

Bakugou stilled, gritted his teeth, and said something in what sounded like very rude English. He breathed for a moment, ragged and harsh, and then he spat out, "Yeah, what the fuck ever. Let go of me."

When Yasufuji let go warily, he stood up and stomped off, stretching his wrist with muttered curses.

"Bakugou!" Katsumi called. "Your movements are too wide!"

"I fucking know!" he snarled over his shoulder, and Katsumi shook his head sadly at the state of youth.

Bakugou stopped, faced Yasufuji again, and his mouth crooked in an unnerving bloodthirsty smile. "Let's do this shit again," he said, and Yasufuji made a disbelieving, reluctant face.

When they went at it again, Katsumi suddenly recalled he had a mission to accomplish. To the bedlam of explosions and Bakugou's frustrated snarls and thrilled laughs, he sidled up beside Midoriya on the engawa.

He seemed to be lost in thought; Katsumi followed the line of his sight and all he saw was Bakugou, brilliant and insane and slightly homicidal. Midoriya's mouth was parted, his expression wistful. His hand rested on the notebook, the pen still.

Katsumi decided to test the waters. Subtly. "Bakugou is peculiarly pretty for a boy, isn't he?"

He eyed Midoriya like a hawk. He started and looked up with wide, green eyes. That was another thing he'd noticed; both of them always seemed a little nonplussed they'd been addressed as if they weren't used to it. Then instead of going mad with jealousy he drooped like a withered flower and Katsumi had the sudden peculiar feeling like he was bullying him.

Midoriya fiddled with the corner of his notebook. "Oh... Um. Does that - does that mean you like Kacchan, senpai?" he asked haltingly.

Katsumi stared, blank. Then he threw his head back and laughed and laughed and laughed. And then he stopped laughing and said: "No."

"I like girls, Midoriya," he went on. He stopped and thought about it, their preoccupation with things like celebrities and popular culture and fashion and social media, and amended, "I appreciate the female figure." If he could only find a girl who could quote him any of the Chinese and Japanese classics, he'd marry her in an instant!

"Girls, you see, they have these things called breasts. And they're really quite nice, all soft and firm. You should try them sometime."

Midoriya looked red-faced and horrified like he'd just advised him to stick his hand in a hornet's nest. The poor, poor thing. He was never going to know the touch of a woman.

"Er..." Midoriya stammered. "I'm - I don't--"

He was interrupted when there was a sudden explosion and Bakugou crowed, breathless and loud. Katsumi turned his head towards the sound and saw him straddle Yasufuji's thighs, hand on his throat, Yasufuji's wrist caught beneath his knee. Katsumi's vice captain, how shameful.

Mouth curved in a wide smirk, he said, "Finally fucking got you. It's my win."

"Terrific," Yasufuji monotoned, out of breath. "Can we stop now?"

Bakugou gave an amused snort, stood up in one loose, fluid movement and then whirled on Midoriya who started under his keen, red glare. "Deku!" he yelled. "Were you watching?!"

He perked up and said, "Yeah, Kacchan!"

"Good. Bring that fucking notebook here!"

Hesitating, Midoriya flicked a glance at Katsumi and bowed. "Er... Senpai," he said, and then dashed towards Bakugou with a flustered, relieved smile. Bakugou grasped his arm and dragged him away underneath the shade of a large tree. They sat down on the grass, close to each other, engrossed in animated conversation. Katsumi realised he'd used Yasufuji as a performance for Midoriya and didn't know if it was sweet or psychopathic.

"I don't like that kid," Yasufuji said in a dark, low tone when he stepped on the engawa and touched his throat gingerly.

"Good job going against him," Katsumi praised with an encouraging pat on his shoulder, eyes wide and guileless. "I wouldn't have wanted to do it."

Eyeing him coldly, Yasufuji went on, "I don't like you, either," which Katsumi felt was just uncalled for.

After club activities he clapped his hands to gain everyone's attention and then went about the room handing them permission slips. "On Golden Week we'll hold our training camp. It shall be great fun. Attendance is not mandatory but if you'd like to join, please do remember to have your parent fill this out."

When he got to Torimo, he stopped and blinked with some confusion.

"," she said, eyebrows flat with apprehension, and all the boys in the club turned to stare at her.

"Just a moment, please," Katsumi said, and then gathered the boys for a quick conference on the other side of the room.

"It's not like any of us would do anything to her," Kumoto, a third year, said in his deep, reassuring way.

"Don't you think it's more of a question of morals?" Shimitsu asked uneasily. "I mean, a lone girl going to a training camp with a bunch of boys is a little..."

"A little what?" Midoriya inquired, perplexed, and Katsumi realised the problem with him was that he was completely clueless about the matters of flesh.

"Yasufuji!" he commanded. "Explain to him about the bees and the bees!"

"When bees sting something they die," Yasufuji said, bored.

Katsumi stared, aghast. "What kind of hateful things are you saying to an innocent child?"

"Facts of life."

"So fucking stupid," Bakugou muttered, disgusted, and wandered off.

Midoriya dashed after him because apparently he couldn't suffer to be apart from him even for a moment. "Kacchan, wait!"

It was just as well, Katsumi supposed when he watched them leave. He didn't think he needed to worry that those two even knew what a girl was.

"Well then. Thank you, gentlemen," he said, and strode back to Torimo who hovered by the wall anxiously, the permission slip clenched in her hands. She looked up with wide, worried eyes when he stopped in front of her. "You don't have to join if you don't want to but there shall be other girls there," he reassured her.

"Oh," she said, her shoulders slumping with relief. "Okay." She glanced at the permission slip and bowed. "Um... I think... I think I'll talk with my mother. Thank you."

When Katsumi had the permission slips back the next day, he stopped briefly over Bakugou's and Midoriya's, his mouth flat with unease. They had the same address and the same guardian, a woman named Midoriya Inko.

He really wished those two would make any kind of sense.

When Izuku thumped downstairs on Saturday, he found Katsuki in the living room. He sat beside his mom, legs up on the sofa, mouth crooked in a faint smirk when he watched Inko hide her face behind her hands.

Unconsciously Izuku stopped in the threshold and looked at him; the strong clean line of his jaw, the expressive mouth, pale red like cherry blossoms, the dark red of his eyes, framed by long pale eyelashes. It wasn't always apparent, how pretty Katsuki was, his features often marred with irritation and anger.

Katsuki looked over his shoulder suddenly, one thin eyebrow quirked up, a smile lingering in the corner of his mouth.

Izuku's heart fluttered like a startled bird and to his utter bewilderment he felt his whole face go hot. Unbidden, he thought about that weird thing from a week ago when he'd leaned too close to Katsuki, his body flushed hot with the memory of his breath on his lips, and he's peculiarly pretty for a boy.

Izuku didn't understand why senpai had asked him that if he wasn't interested in Katsuki. It wouldn't be weird if he was, he thought. Katsuki didn't have the easiest personality to deal with but he was pretty, and strong, and cool. It wouldn't be weird at all for people to be interested in him.

"Is it over yet?" Inko asked in a pitiful voice and Katsuki turned back towards the television, and belatedly Izuku realised they were watching a nature documentary.

He padded over to the sofa and climbed over the back rest to sit beside Katsuki, close enough to feel his warmth. Kiku stirred on the floor, stretched out with a yawn, and then jumped up against his legs to be petted. He scratched it underneath its jaw and Kiku rubbed its face into the sofa pillows.

"Yeah," Katsuki said, and cautiously Inko lowered her hands.

"Oh, I always feel terrible when I see an animal die in these films," she said, fiddling with loose strands of her hair.

Flicking a glance Katsuki's way, Izuku thought about the words his dad had once said. Predators hunt the young and the weak. He frowned and looked away, mouth pulled down.

"If that seal hadn't died, that bear would've starved," Katsuki said with a careless shrug.

Eyebrows wrinkled, Inko sighed. "I know. I know but..." Absentmindedly she floated edamame beans to her and handed some to them both.

Izuku nibbled on his, staring at the television. The film wasn't narrated, just accompanied with unassuming music, and something about the shot of grass pushing through melting ice and snow reminded him of dad's work.

"Is this dad's?" he asked after a while.

Inko gave a laugh, small and proud. "Yeah. It is. He filmed this last year."

While Izuku watched the film, he was reminded of something his dad had once told him. He remembered he'd been feeling down that day because he was quirkless, because he didn't have friends, because his dad was never home and he'd wondered if he didn't like him and his mom. He'd thought if he had all of those things then maybe he could've fit in. Maybe then Ishii wouldn't have bullied him and his classmates wouldn't have ignored him.

Hisashi had smiled sadly when he'd mumbled it all out from behind his blanket, his face old in the darkness of Izuku's room. He'd brushed his hand through his hair and said, "Did you know, Izuku, when water evaporates it falls back down as rain. When a tree falls, new life grows over it. Even stars, when they die, give birth to new stars from their dust. Over and over, hundreds of thousands of these cycles repeat, all across the cosmos, and converge into One. And that is the proof that you, your mother and me, we're all connected within these threads called life."

Izuku had frowned, trying to work through what his dad meant, and Hisashi had smiled, lopsided and wry. "Your dad is talking nonsense, isn't he?"

He'd never understood everything he'd said, his words and meanings behind them too vast and obscure for a child to grasp, but he'd always desperately wanted to understand everything his dad told him. "No," he'd said shyly, tugging at the edge of his blanket. "Um... you mean we're all connected, right, dad?"

"Yes," Hisashi had said. "Regardless of time and space between us, your dad loves both you and your mother. Never doubt that, Izuku."

Distractedly looking at the scar on his hand, Izuku thought about it, how nice it would be if it was true. If he was connected to Katsuki in the same fundamental way as all things in the universe.

When the film ended, Inko bustled with the dishes and carried them into the kitchen. Katsuki stood up and stretched; Izuku noted the lean line of his body and looked away with an unhappy frown. He didn't - he didn't know why he was so aware of him. Why he kept noticing every small insignificant detail that he didn't use to notice.

It was just - it was weird, right, he thought, confused and miserable, and then Katsuki grasped his hair and tugged his head up. Izuku blinked, startled. "You fucking listening or not, dumbass?"

"Oh..." Izuku said. "Sorry, Kacchan. I was thinking."

Eyebrows furrowed, Katsuki eyed him dubiously and huffed out a breath. "Yeah, aren't you always," he said. "Did you find a place?"

Izuku brightened and momentarily forgot all about the confusion he felt towards him. "I did! There's this old seaside park near here. The locals never go there because it's been used for illegal dumping for so long. I don't know if it's any good for sparring but we could go take a look?"

Shrugging, Katsuki said, "Let's go."

When they were putting on their shoes in the genkan, Inko peeked through the kitchen doorway. "You boys are going outside? It's late so don't stay out too long, okay?"

"Don't worry, mom," Izuku said. "We'll be back soon."

Sweet smell of grass and moist soil permeated the air outside, the verdure lining the pavement lush after rain, puddles gleaming like coins underneath the streetlamps. Moon peeked behind straggling, sheer clouds, in a sky fading from blue to pink. Izuku fiddled with the frayed sleeve of his hoodie and talked and talked and talked, the words nothing but nonsense in his ears.

When they got to the beach, they stopped on the seawall to take in the mounds of trash littered along the shore - rusting home appliances, rotting furniture, steel barrels, televisions with broken screens, even cars without their tyres. A briny wind carried with it the distant thunder of waves.

"I thought you fuckers were supposed to be clean," Katsuki said as he jumped off the seawall, hands in the pockets of his hoodie. The sand shifted beneath his shoes, and he looked up at Kiku and told it to stay. It sat atop the wall, alert with purpose, ears pricked up.

Izuku followed him. "I don't really know. We do have pretty high air pollution in a lot of places but most of it comes over from China."

"Huh," said Katsuki.

They meandered between the mounds of trash until they stopped in a wide clearing. "Guess this'll do," Katsuki said, and stretched his arms and shook out his wrists.

Mouth crooking in a feral grin, he asked, "You ready for it, Deku?" Fire and heat gathered in his palm, crackling like small fireworks. The bright fleeting light washed over his face, accentuated the fine arch of his bones, the dark carmine of his eyes.

Izuku dropped his stance and eased out a long, slow breath to calm the nervous jitters in the pit of his stomach. His heart thumped, loud and fast.

This was going to be the first time Katsuki used his quirk against him. He thought back on his fight against Yasufuji and the strategies they'd come up with afterwards. Izuku gave a tense laugh, sure none of it was going to help him now he actually had to face Katsuki. He wasn't the only one who'd learned from that fight.

He was about to say he was ready when Katsuki suddenly hauled his arm back, grinning wide, and yelled, "Ready or not, here it fucking comes!"

The explosion surged towards him, filling his vision with fire and intense light. Instantaneously Izuku dropped flat to the ground, the heat from the blast ruffling the ends of his hair, and rolled up to his knees. He squinted his eyes, trying to see through plumes of sand and smoke. He listened. All he heard was the crashing of waves, the whistling wind in his ears, the frantic beat of his heart. Izuku got up and ran around a mound of trash. The sand slowed his steps, shifting and sinking under his shoes.

"I know you're planning something!" Katsuki called out in a loud voice. "If you wanna win, Deku, you have to come and get it!"

Biting his lip, Izuku squatted down and frowned. He needed to think up a plan - and then he realised he was reverting back to old habits.

One of the things - the most important thing - Katsuki had instilled in him was the fact he was quirkless. He would never have the privileges others with quirks had. All he had were his instincts, the things he could do with his body, and his mind.

Quirk or no quirk, Katsuki was already faster and stronger and, honestly, smarter than Izuku. The only advantage he could think of was he'd never seriously try to harm him even if he'd never hold back against him. If Izuku wanted to win, he'd have to take him down fast and hard.

He stood up, hands on his knees, mouth set. "If you can't take it, dodge it," he muttered, repeating the words Katsuki had told him years ago.

He looked through the heap of trash close to him and picked up a rusted lid. He hefted it in his hand and then he weaved around the high, shadowed mounds to sneak behind Katsuki.

When he saw his back, the pale gleam of his hair in the darkness, he stopped. Katsuki stood in the middle of the clearing, his stance wary, his hands open and ready to set off his explosions.

"You wussing out on me, huh, Deku?" Katsuki yelled.

Izuku pulled his arm back and flung the lid high; it glinted, dull and dim, in the available light as it sailed through the air. It dropped in one of the mounds, clanging down the slope of appliances and barrels, and in the fleeting second when Katsuki turned his head towards the noise Izuku dashed.

Whirling around at the sound of his steps, Katsuki snarled, "You little--" He swung out his arm; Izuku dodged the blast, rolled over, and was up on his feet. Then he collided into Katsuki before he could set off another explosion, grasped his waist, and they both went down.

Most of their fights ended up like this - in a brawl of limbs and elbows and hands. They rolled around on the shore, grappling for advantage, sand rasping in their hair and underneath their clothes. Katsuki snarled, teeth bared, and grasped Izuku's face, fingers tight on his jaw. Izuku clutched his wrist and slammed his fist into the side of his mouth twice. When the pain made him falter, minutely, he rolled them over, straddled his thighs, and scrabbled for his hands while Katsuki struggled beneath him. He just had to catch his wrists and put them in a lock so he couldn't use his quirk, Izuku thought, blood roaring in his ears like the ocean.

"Don't even think about it, Deku," Katsuki snarled, and in the same instant Izuku caught one of his wrists he lifted his hand to his face.

They stopped and stared into each other's eyes, chests rising and falling sharply.

"Dammit," Izuku said, out of breath. He gave a laugh, feeling the familiar blend of awe and frustration. "I was so close."

"Like hell you were anywhere near fucking close," Katsuki denied, eyebrows furrowed, and Izuku's shoulders shook with a breathless chuckle.

Exhaling an annoyed breath, Katsuki slumped down on the sand, eyes shut, and unconsciously Izuku's gaze trailed down the long pale gleam of his throat - and something curious flipped in his belly.

Then his body flushed hot with vague confusion and guilt, and all of a sudden he had the feeling he shouldn't be touching Katsuki.

Upset and miserable, he rolled off of him and frowned down at his hands, mouth thin. Like fragments of glass inside a kaleidoscope, all of his feelings for Katsuki kept tumbling and shifting into something else, something alien, and Izuku was terrified what kind of image they'd eventually make.

"You know, you're going to get your quirkless ass killed if you fling yourself recklessly like that," Katsuki said when he sat up, eyebrows and mouth pulled down in a displeased scowl. He ran his fingers through his hair and muttered, "I got fucking sand everywhere."

Struggling out of the morass of his thoughts, Izuku blinked.  "Yeah," he said. "But nothing else would've worked on you, Kacchan."

"Don't blame your stupid shit on me," Katsuki said but it was distracted. He frowned in thought, staring out over the shadowed mounds, and then stood up and dusted sand off his clothes. "Think you should fight against the assholes in the club? Weren't there a few mutant and transformation quirks?"

"Yeah. Tosaki and Kumoto," Izuku said, and Katsuki gave him a blank look that said he didn't know who he was talking about. Izuku smiled weakly, reminded how bad he was with names and people.

Katsuki held out his hand and said, "C'mon, let's go. Kiku's waiting and you know how your mom fusses if we're out too long."

His hair shone in the moonlight, the white strands falling over his eyes. Izuku looked up at him through his fringe, his chest aching, and indistinctly thought Katsuki wasn't just pretty. He was lovely, everything about him, even all the parts that frustrated and angered Izuku, and that faint thought quivered in the pit of his belly.

Izuku had the slow sinking feeling that brothers didn't think that way about each other and maybe all the rumours about them and Katsuki's recent frustration were his fault.

The side of Katsuki's mouth quirked up and he tilted his head. "What's with the face, retard? Don't tell me you're sulking 'cause you lost?"

"It's nothing, Kacchan," Izuku said, voice small and trembling. There were things he could have and things he couldn't have and all of them were written in lines of blood they'd shared as kids.

He took Katsuki's hand and his fingers clasped around his wrist when he pulled him up, calloused and warm and strong. Awkwardly, Izuku shoved his hand inside the pocket of his hoodie and ruffled sand out of his hair, his head bowed.

His skin tingled, the whole way back.

Inko was about to go to bed when Izuku shambled into the kitchen. She smiled fondly and then her smile faltered when she saw the look on his face. Eyebrows pinched together in a severe frown, Izuku noticed her belatedly and started.

"Mom," he said, subdued.

"Izuku. Is - Did something happen?" Inko asked, careful and worried. Ever since they'd come back from their walk, Izuku had been quiet and downcast, lost in his own head.

Mouth pulled down, Izuku averted his eyes. "It's nothing," he mumbled. He walked past her and turned on the tap. Water rushed into the sink, the sound inordinately loud in the quiet house.

Inko looked at his thin back and hesitated, fretting with the sleeve of her nightgown. She couldn't force him to talk if he didn't want to but it didn't sit well with her to leave him alone when he looked so obviously lost and miserable. She wondered if something had happened between the boys but Katsuki had been the same as usual, loud and lively.

The sound of water abruptly ended and for a pause all she heard was the buzz of the single lamp above the sink, the hum of the fridge. "Hey, mom," Izuku said, haltingly. He didn't turn around or look up from his glass, thumb sweeping over the beads of condensation. "Am I - am I a really shallow person?"

Inko stared. She had a feeling she knew what this was about. "What makes you think that?" she stalled.

His ears turned red and he wavered, mouth set in thin lines. "It's just... Kacchan is... He's really pretty," he said, voice hitching on the word.

All of a sudden Inko wished Hisashi was there. She wasn't at all prepared to have this talk with Izuku and secretly she'd hoped she'd never have to have this talk with Izuku. It would've been awkward enough had he asked her about girls but he just had to be single-mindedly attracted to the boy he'd half his life thought of as his brother.

"Well..." Inko said, her heart thumping uneasily. "Katsuki is very pretty," she agreed, and thought about the almost languid grace about him when he was exhausted, the way white spikes of hair fell over his eyes.

"But it's... weird, right? Brothers don't - brothers don't notice stuff like that," Izuku said, and her heart ached at the way he struggled to put into words something he likely didn't want to consciously think of.

Her first instinct was to reassure him and had he liked anyone but Katsuki she could've just mindlessly said it didn't matter who he liked. She could've said all she wanted was for him to be healthy and happy.

But she no longer had just Izuku to think of.

She tried to imagine how Katsuki would feel if he knew Izuku's feelings for him were less than fraternal. He tolerated Izuku in ways he didn't tolerate anyone else, let him close in ways he didn't let anyone else, but Inko didn't know if it meant something or if it was just because he'd thought of him first as a pet and then as a brother for so long.

She didn't know but she was pretty sure being a mother wasn't supposed to be this hard.

Fretting over what she was supposed to say, Inko looked at Izuku's slumped shoulders, the resigned bow of his head, and slowly realised he didn't want to hear it was fine for him to like Katsuki. What he wanted to hear was that the reason why he noticed how pretty he was, why he wanted to act on that awareness, was anything else but him being in love with him.

She wondered if they'd made a mistake after all when they'd encouraged the boys to think of each other as brothers, if they should've weaned them out of it over the years, but she had a feeling Katsuki wouldn't have let Izuku close then and Izuku would've loved him all the same.

"It's..." Inko said, and then cleared her throat. "It's nothing strange. I mean, I've always thought Mitsuki is pretty. It's like - it's like seeing a pretty painting or a pretty scenery. That's all." She stepped close and smoothed down his messy black hair while he peered at her through his fringe, eyes wide and dark in the dimness. "That's all it is, Izuku."

It was obvious from the quiet helplessness on his face that he was aware his feelings for Katsuki were more than that and Inko wondered would there ever be a day when she'd feel less inadequate as a mother. She just wanted her boys to be happy but with quiet concern she realised Katsuki's happiness didn't necessarily mean Izuku's happiness.

After a while, Izuku inhaled a quiet breath. "Thanks, mom," he said with a wan smile. "Good night," he mumbled, and shambled out of the kitchen, leaving the glass of water he'd filled untouched on the counter.

For a while Inko stood still and listened to the quiet noises of the house; the groans of wood, the ticks of a clock, the buzz of the lamp, the click of the fridge going quiet. She thought about something Hisashi had told her a long time ago.

It was impossible to love with eyes alone, he'd said, and Inko feared her son was finally learning the harsh reality of it. She just hoped the change in his feelings wouldn't ruin the boys' relationship in the long run.

Chapter Text

"I wish they'd make sense, you know," Katsumi said in plaintive tones when they waited for their bus after school. "All this confusion is very distressing to me."

"I wish you'd make sense," said Yasufuji, muffled into the collar of his jacket.

"Really?" Katsumi asked, and gave him a limpid stare. "I'm an open book! Ask me anything!"

"Just because it's an open book doesn't mean you can read it," Yasufuji pointed out, and then gave him a flat look over. "Or even want to," he added.

Katsumi thought about this as he sipped his milk tea and after a while he concluded, "I feel like you're very mean to me."

"I'm sure it's just your imagination," Yasufuji said, wry as the sand in Kotogahama.

Shrugging indifferently, Katsumi went back to eyeing Midoriya and Bakugou with suspicious disapproval. Midoriya looked up at Bakugou with small, flustered grins that faded when his gaze dropped to his hands. He constantly shifted away and then back as if Bakugou was a poorly functioning shower which temperature he had to get just right. He fiddled with the hem of his jacket, his cheeks flushed red.

It was excruciating to watch, and Katsumi wanted to throw his bottle of milk tea at Bakugou's stupid oblivious head and yell at Midoriya for being so bloody obvious. If they were going to be incestuous dolts, at least they could be discreet incestuous dolts and save innocent onlookers from the spiral of madness that was their relationship.

The bus arrived before he could act on this well-justified impulse and they filed in through the back. Torimo sat across the aisle from Bakugou and Midoriya, and he heard her nervously offer some wasabi candies to Bakugou who flatly refused.

Women, Katsumi thought, evidently had terrible tastes in men.

Their stop was at the root of a mountain, on a long empty stretch of road. Worn stone steps led upward into the green gloom of the forest, illuminated by moss-cloaked stone lanterns on either side. The cedars and oaks bowed in a gust of wind, the leaves undulating like the scales of a great dragon.

"Our training camp is at a shrine?"

"Yes!" Katsumi said, pleased with his ingenious choice. "For this shrine is dedicated to the god of war and martials arts, Futsunushi! And," he added, shiftily, "Yasufuji lives here so we'll only need to pay for the food and travel."

"I didn't know you live in a shrine, Yasu."

Yasufuji shrugged. "My father is the priest here."

Bakugou gave the mountain a bland look, hands deep in the pockets of his gakuran. Pretending to be disinterested, Katsumi thought, he was so cute.

"Wanna race up the stairs, Deku?" he asked after a considering moment, and Midoriya perked up like a dog that'd been promised a treat.

"Okay, Kacchan!" he said with a small, eager grin.

Apparently, competitions were part of their courtship rituals or whatever. Before anyone could stop them, they dashed up the stairs, jostling and chasing each other. Soon their voices faded - the high note of Midoriya's laugh and Bakugou's shouted threats - swallowed into the hush of green.

"They are so energetic," Katsumi said, feeling indulgent. Even if they were crazy incestuous dolts, they were still his minions and he was very fond of them.

With a world-weary sigh, Yasufuji set out after them. The others followed behind him, arguing over different flavours of ramen.

Katsumi lagged behind with Torimo, fiddling with the strap of his backpack restlessly. She couldn't keep up with the boys and exhausted easily, unused to exertion. She said some silly things about how he shouldn't fall behind because of her and she'd be fine on her own. He smiled sweetly and decided to distract her from such trifling worries with lessons on the way of the gods.

"D'you know, Torimo, what is in the main halls of all shrines?" he inquired.

Seeming confused, she frowned. "The main halls are closed to the public, senpai."

"I don't see why that matters," said Katsumi who may or may not have snuck in to take a peek when he'd been a kid. Besides, she could always read these things. "Anyway, what hangs in the main halls is just a plain mirror. You see, when your heart is clear and placid, when you follow the ways of our gods in courage and honour, in beauty and chastity, you will find yourself in the adytum of our shrines."

She gave him a somewhat timid, questioning look that reminded him of the looks his cousin, Ami, used to give him when he'd talked to her about these things. He smiled and thoughtlessly patted Torimo's head and her cheeks flushed red.

She was very cute.

Linking his hands, Katsumi stretched his arms skyward. He thought how to explain it so she'd understand. "Take Midoriya, for example. He's crazy and quirkless and quite possibly in love with his brother and yet he's working hard to become a hero. That is to say, the best him that he can be."

Absentmindedly he wondered how much of it was Bakugou's doing; when standing beside someone that brilliant, he supposed, you either tried to ascend to the same place as them or drag them to the same muck as you.

"The best him that he can be," Torimo repeated under her breath. She looked up, eyes wide and anxious. "Um, is - can anyone do that?"

Katsumi shrugged. "Sure. As long as you follow the ways of the gods. You see, people mistakenly believe beauty is just skin deep. But a lot of people could be called beautiful while their behaviour is atrocious. There is a reason why people sought to refine the codes of conduct and codes of dress."

For a while she was quiet, thinking it over, and then she suddenly frowned, nervous and stern. "And I don't think Midoriya is in love with his brother," Torimo said belatedly. "He just... he just really likes him! And... you shouldn't tease them about it, senpai. Bakugou gets really angry when people think they are like that."

The poor thing, she was still so innocent. Katsumi smiled benignly at her and then chattered on about whatever that came to his mind and Yasufuji would've undoubtedly called appalling. Torimo listened, seeming nervous and bewildered and amused.

Halfway up the stairs, they stopped underneath the torii for a short rest. The large hemp rope swayed and creaked on the gate above them, the white shide gleaming and fluttering. Wind breathed through the leaf crowns, the trill of skylarks and swallows and warblers echoing from within the forest.

When they moved on, Katsumi picked up Torimo's backpack distractedly and blithely ignored her weak protests that she could carry it herself. She tried to tug the backpack off his shoulders until she realised it was no use and acquiesced, trudging quietly beside him.

He heard the others before he saw them. They idled by the water pavilion beside the stairs, their voices mingling with each other into meaningless noise. Midoriya seemed to have gotten over his twitchy fit, Katsumi noted. He was smiling and chattering on brightly, his eyes unconsciously tracing the angles of Bakugou's face.

Katsumi didn't approve of these lovelorn looks towards his whatever illegitimate brother, and it seemed Bakugou didn't approve of them either. He shoved Midoriya's face away, eyebrows pulled together in an irritated frown. Midoriya jolted and blushed up to his ears, and Bakugou gave him a flat look that judged him weird.

They were both weird and disturbed was Katsumi's unbiased and empirical opinion.

After they had purified their hands and mouth, he gave Torimo her backpack and sent her off with Hotaru, Yasufuji's big sister, whose room she'd be staying in. Hugging the backpack anxiously to her chest, she followed after her, a slight tremble in her legs. Katsumi supposed walking up three hundred steps had been too much and distractedly thought he should ask for some heat patches for her.

The boys followed Yasufuji into their room. They dropped their backpacks onto the floor, unofficially claiming their sleeping spots. Bakugou tossed his backpack beside the sliding doors leading out into the engawa. Midoriya set his backpack next to his, and Katsumi eyed this with some apprehension, and had the sudden horrifying thought of them sleeping on the same futon.

"Should I intervene?" he asked Yasufuji when they were making dinner under his mother's guidance. "I feel like I should intervene."

"I feel like you should stop harassing them," Yasufuji said, stirring the rice.

"It's just... I'm worried, you see," Katsumi said, ignoring him. "They are at that age, you know, when even seeing a macaque would probably excite them and honestly, Bakugou is a lot prettier than macaques and then there's the added thrill of the forbidden," he went on.

In fact, he felt Bakugou was a lot prettier than he had any business of being considering his personality and foul mouth. Like a Venus flytrap, he thought, and then he imagined a white Venus flytrap that had Bakugou's head as leaves and cursed his mind.

Yasufuji stopped, looked up, and stared at him in flat disgust. "...I wish I was deaf," he said in contemplative tones after a pause and then went back to stirring the rice which wasn't very helpful.

"Besides," he went on with reluctance, "on average people lose their virginity around twenty and they are still twelve."

"College," said Katsumi with sad wisdom. "They used to be houses of high education, you know, and nowadays people do nothing but party and hook up there." He was glad he didn't have to continue his education after middle school; he'd learn a lot more at home than he would at school.

"That's just how it is," Yasufuji said.

It wasn't until bath time that Katsumi realised they had an enormous problem.

"We can't let them bathe together!" he said, and waved his hand wildly.

The second and third years stopped spreading out their futons and gave him bewildered looks. Bakugou and Midoriya and Torimo were outside looking around, their voices drifting faintly inside.

"Asagiri," Yasufuji said. "You're delirious."

"No. You don't understand," Katsumi said, very serious. "There will be naked skin. Lots of it! Even the sage of Kume lost his powers when he saw the white legs of a girl, you know. What if poor Midoriya is overcome by all the white naked skin of his brother and does unspeakable things?"

"What's that?" asked Tosaki, a third year. "An erotica? 'A Lustful Assault in the Bath?'"

"Um..." Shimitsu interjected in a small voice, uneasily adjusting his glasses. "Aren't they brothers?"

Katsumi eyed them both with stern disapproval. He didn't understand why no one else realised how Midoriya looked at his whatever illegitimate brother. What he understood even less was why Bakugou didn't realise it, because Midoriya wasn't exactly subtle about it, and something about that lack of awareness bothered him.

Luckily, there were no lustful assaults in the bath. Instead, Midoriya seemed completely blasé about seeing all the white naked skin of his brother whereas Katsumi feared he'd go blind. Bakugou was very pale. He could light up a dark room with all that pale skin.

He collapsed into his futon later that evening, feeling exhausted. "Being their chaperone is very tiring," he said, hugging his pillow.

Yasufuji was opening the sliding doors, the indigo mosquito nets around the engawa wavering in a breeze. Outside, the metal lanterns swayed quietly on the eaves of the house. "You could always stop harassing them," he said mildly.

"I'm not harassing them. I'm trying to deter them from straying down the wrong path. Someone should do it," Katsumi muttered, and rolled over and fumbled for his phone.

He typed a quick message to his cousin, Ami, wishing her goodnight.

Something occurred to him suddenly and he asked, "The twins aren't home?"

"They're at grandmother's."

"That's too bad. I would've liked to see them. I like kids," Katsumi went on, brightly. "When I have my harem, I shall have plenty. I will singlehandedly bring up the Japanese birthrates! I will be like Genghis Khan!"

"He killed his brother, you know," Yasufuji pointed out.

Katsumi waved this away. Ami had replied to him, just a plain goodnight. He smiled.

Midoriya and Bakugou stumbled in, their hair still damp from the bath. "...I'd need something to restrain them," Midoriya was saying quietly, eyebrows pulled together in a frown. "It'd need to be from a material that can handle most quirks. Kind of like... kind of like what Eraserhead has."

Katsumi eyed them furtively over his phone; when he saw them settle into their own futons, he relaxed and thought he didn't need to chaperone them anymore for the night. He set his phone aside and settled down to sleep.

When he woke up, he realised almost immediately he'd been unforgivably naïve and he should never have let Bakugou and Midoriya set their futons beside each other.

Pale light spilled through the mosquito nets and paper walls in muted colours, illuminating one of the most ungodly sights in Katsumi's young, innocent life. Mouth flat, he sat up and stared fuzzily at Midoriya's messy black head.

In Bakugou's futon.

He exhaled, stooped down, and rubbed both hands over his face as if he could just scrub the sight out of his mind. He really didn't want to deal with any incestuous homosexual romances in his club and he'd really appreciate it if those two dolts kept all this shameless flirting private.

Even married couples didn't sleep in the same bed!

Cautiously he peeked through his fingers. Midoriya still had his arm curled around his supposed brother, cooing and mumbling softly in his sleep.

With a frustrated groan Katsumi pushed his blanket aside and stood up. He went about the room quietly, shaking the others awake, and gathered them for a conference on the other side of the room.

"Should we intervene or something? I don't think they're, you know, together," Tosaki said and slanted a look towards Midoriya and Bakugou, a wry twist to his mouth. "But... yeah, that's gonna be illegal in a few more years. It is illegal, right?" he asked, and frowned.

"Isn't it only illegal if there's a kid?"

"I've heard it's legal in Holland," Enami, a second year, put in.

They all paused for a considering moment. The land of Europe was truly a weird and unsettling place.

"It's not like we know for sure they're brothers," Yasufuji said, quite reasonably. "They have different last names after all."

Eyebrows furrowed in thought, Katsumi rested his chin on his linked hands and stared severely at the tatami floor. "A divorce," he said. "A mistress!" he said, getting into it. "You see, this is why harems are the only logical option for humankind! To decrease the number of illegitimate children and unwitting fatal attraction--"

"Asagiri. Shut up," Yasufuji said, and Katsumi turned his head away and pouted.

The futon rustled suddenly in the far corner of the room when Bakugou began to stir. "What the..." he groaned, the sound frustrated and rough with sleep. "Deku, you fuck... I keep telling you it's too fucking hot for this shit..."

He sat up, leaning on one arm, and rubbed a hand over his face. He stopped and looked down at Midoriya, who was stubbornly clinging to him, his expression quiet with the remains of sleep and almost - kind.

Then he happened to look up, saw them all staring, and that tentative kindness faded like morning dew under the sun. His face twisted into a hostile, furious scowl.

"The fuck are you staring at, you fucking perverts?" he snarled. He stood up, kicked Midoriya awake, and he rolled over into his own futon with a yelp. "Get your fucking ass up, Deku," Bakugou demanded, and slammed out of the room.

Midoriya sat up, his hair a wild nest of curls. "Kacchan..." he sighed, tired. "You really need to stop kicking..." Listless, he glanced the futon beside him, then at his own, and frowned in momentary confusion. Then his whole face went scarlet and he scampered up after Bakugou, his indistinct voice fading down the hallway.

"It's that age, you know," Katsumi said, and the others nodded.

They went into the kitchen and met Torimo who greeted them with a flustered bow.

Bakugou strode in after a while, still bristling with a hostile rage that radiated off him like sunflares off the sun. Midoriya followed him a few steps behind, flicking him nervous glances and fidgeting with his hands. Bakugou picked up a knife and started chopping the ingredients at the speed of light, the sound terse and angry.

Torimo eyed him for a while, seeming worried and nervous. Then she inched towards Midoriya and they had a whispered conversation; Midoriya looked miserable, running his hand through his hair and messing it up more.

Katsumi pressed his mouth flat and uneasily averted his eyes, suddenly feeling very guilty for meddling in their affairs.

It was just... It grated on his nerves, looking at them, and he didn't know why and somehow he'd thought if he could just make Midoriya admit his feelings for Bakugou, he'd stop being bothered by them.

Besides, all this shilly-shallying just annoyed him.

"I suppose I should channel my inner Confucius and leave them alone," he sighed dejectedly when they were outside. He squatted on the engawa, chin resting on his hands, and watched the others practise.

Yasufuji glanced down, and then he reached over and touched his forehead for fever. Katsumi pouted and batted his hand away. "What changed your mind?" he asked.

"Well..." Katsumi hesitated, and slanted a glance Bakugou's way. He was sitting on the other end of the engawa, one leg crooked over his knee. He was watching Midoriya spar with the second and third years, thin eyebrows pulled together in a frown. "They're both in denial! And Bakugou is very obtuse, to be honest. He doesn't notice Midoriya's lovelorn looks at all. I don't know how to deal with all this stupidity."

He stood up, hands on his knees. "Oh well," he said with bright indifference. "Even the ancient sages said it's pointless to meddle in the affairs of the world and others." He jumped off the engawa and stretched his arms upward.

"'re just getting bored, aren't you?" Yasufuji asked, and Katsumi glanced at him over his shoulder and raised his eyebrows inquisitively.

"I'm sure I don't know what you mean," he said primly, and then went over to where Hotaru was showing Torimo how to wield her naginata, much to her apprehension.

Late that evening, he sat out in the engawa, texting with Ami. A quiet breeze cooled his skin, still warm from the bath. The metal lanterns swayed and tinged on the eaves above him, moths flitting against the filigree panels. Dim voices drifted from down the hallway, the others talking and laughing.

Quiet steps moved towards him from behind and he looked up over his shoulder. Midoriya halted when their eyes met, and then he bowed and made to move on.

"Why won't you just confess to him?" Katsumi asked impulsively, deciding it would be the last time he'd bother him about Bakugou.

Midoriya stopped and looked momentarily confused before he broke into an awkward smile. "It's not..." he said, and trailed off. That small, awkward smile faded as if it couldn't bear its own weight and he looked down at his hands, anxiously rubbing his thumb over his knuckles, his thin shoulders hunched.

"If I..." he said, haltingly, an odd breathless catch in his voice. "If I liked Kacchan like... that... then he wouldn't like me anymore."

He looked up through his fringe. In the dim hallway his eyes looked dark, almost hopeless. Slowly his mouth slanted in a small, defeated smile and then he bowed again and went on his way.

Feeling confused, Katsumi stared after him. He didn't get him, why he was so sure Bakugou would dislike him, and vaguely he thought about that fleeting, tentative kindness on Bakugou's face when he'd looked down at Midoriya sleeping.

He didn't get either of them, and then suddenly it felt as if something in his mind shifted off its axis, filtered through Midoriya's defeated smile and halting words. He thought it over again, memories trickling through his mind like grains of sand, small moments played in reverse.

Heart thumping uneasily, he slowly realised it wasn't that Bakugou was unaware of Midoriya's feelings. When Midoriya gave him that bright-eyed look of adoration, he always looked irritated and shoved his face away like - like he couldn't stand to be the focus of that affection, because he didn't get what it meant, and--

Katsumi thought of his cousin, staring at the phone in his hand blindly. And he didn't want to think of his cousin, not in regards to Bakugou, because of what it implied.

It wasn't like they had anything in common. Ami was quiet and introverted, unwilling to be touched by others, and Bakugou was angry all the time and unsocial and--

And the only one he touched outside of fighting was Midoriya because - because--

We're brothers.

Kacchan wouldn't like me anymore.

If Midoriya liked Bakugou like that, they'd stop being brothers.

Katsumi stooped down, elbows on his knees and face held in his hands, thoughts tumbling over each other in horrified loops. He thought about Bakugou's exceptional awareness of his body and his seeming detachment to what might happen to it.

He thought about the scars on Ami's thin wrists, hidden underneath her loose clothes, and had the sudden clear thought of where Bakugou had his.

He heard steps behind him and then Tosaki asked, "Asagiri? You feeling okay?" He squatted down and kindly patted his back.

"Oh my god," Katsumi groaned between his hands, eyes shut tight. "I think I've been doing something really bad."

He thought about it until the small hours of the night, wavering between guilt and uncertainty.

Katsumi realised it was just speculation and he didn't actually know for sure that someone had abused Bakugou as a child. Just because he was angry all the time and hostile and detached, it didn't - it didn't necessarily mean anything and Katsumi might just be imposing his own biases onto him.

But when he'd almost convinced himself he was just imagining things, he was just being delirious and stupid like Yasufuji always said he was, he remembered that defeated smile on Midoriya's face and had the horrifying suspicion that Midoriya knew.

It wasn't like it was something that could stay hidden. It seeped through - maybe not immediately but eventually - like blood from a wound, expressed in behaviour and words and thoughts.

Ami had said it was like cockroaches eating beneath her skin.

Sighing in frustration, Katsumi hit his forehead softly with his crossed hands. "Stop thinking about it," he mumbled.

It wasn't like there was anything he could do even if he was right. Because it wasn't about him.

At breakfast that morning, he eyed Midoriya and Bakugou furtively. He didn't know what he expected to see but they were the same as usual; Midoriya chattered about all the thoughts and theories flocking inside his head while Bakugou listened with half an ear and occasionally interjected. Torimo sat at the same table as them, following their conversation with a bewildered expression. When Midoriya noticed he gave an apologetic smile and made a flustered attempt at an explanation which just seemed to make her more confused.

Katsumi exhaled and rested his forehead on his linked hands, elbows on the table.

"...did something happen?" Yasufuji asked after a pause.

"No," he said. "Yes. I don't know."

He kind of wanted to apologise and tell Midoriya he probably shouldn't confess to Bakugou that he liked him and not just because it was semantically incorrect.

Katsumi tried to imagine what Ami would feel if he liked her but the thought was too bizarre to contemplate.

"He reminds me of Ami. Bakugou, that is," he said, his voice flat as a steelwall.

Yasufuji stared at him with his quiet, steady gaze and didn't ask anything else. He'd met Ami a few times and he knew she was out of discussion. As if nothing had happened, he picked up a mouthful of rice, the chopsticks clinking delicately against the bowl.

Wind picked up after breakfast, rattling the frames of the paper walls. Large, murky clouds gathered over the forest and the shadows deepened in the nooks and crannies of the shrine. The skies opened and rain poured over the eaves of the roof like sheets of water, dark stray spots wetting the edge of the engawa.

"Aw, man," Tosaki said, leaning on the doorframe and looking out. "It's our last day and the weather's like this."

"It reflects my mood perfectly," Katsumi said, feeling melancholy.

Tosaki gave him a hesitant, worried look and said, "You've been kinda weird since yesterday. Weirder than usual, I mean. Did something happen?"

"No," he said, and sighed heavily.

"Uh..." said Tosaki. "Is this like one of those times when you say you're fine and want us to keep asking or d'you really not wanna talk about it?"

Katsumi considered. It wasn't like there was anything to talk about and even if there was it wasn't for him to talk about.

"It's nothing," he said, ruefully. "I just regret my life choices."

"Ah," Tosaki said, understanding, and kindly patted his shoulder. Katsumi had always liked him and eyed him with benevolent fondness.

The rain tapered off into a drizzle by the evening. They sat in the living room, taking turns trying to beat Bakugou in go.

"You know, Bakugou, is there like, anything you're bad at?" Arisawa, a second year, asked after his tenth subsequent win.

"Maybe you goddamn rabble just suck," Bakugou said blandly, and then even he seemed to get bored of all the winning and dragged Midoriya into the baths. As he was led away, Midoriya looked up at him, caught between scolding him for being rude and praising him for being the coolest thing ever to walk the Earth.

Katsumi stared after them and after a pause he said; "...those two dolts deserve each other."

That night, long after everyone else had fallen asleep, he stayed awake. He stared at the ceiling and listened to Kumoto's heavy snores and Midoriya's indistinct mumbles. The blankets rustled when the others shifted around in their futons.

Frustrated, he groaned and rubbed both hands over his face. He tossed the blanket aside, grabbed his phone, and snuck out of the room.

He walked along the engawa to the back of the house and stopped by the pond. He squatted down, looking into the dark depths, and saw glimpses of bright scales when the koi fishes languidly moved about. The surface wavered, ripples of raindrops overlapping.

Katsumi called Ami and listened to it ring. Bamboo pipes stood in the pond, conveying the sound of rain trickling into a metal jar, hidden somewhere near below ground. Each drop splashed inside, echoing from the pipes like the soothing chimes of a bell.

After a while Ami answered, her voice slurring with interrupted sleep. "...hello?"

"Hello, Ami," Katsumi said.

"...Katsumi?" she asked. "Wait... what time is it?" He heard the faint rustle of her blanket when she moved around. "'s two in the morning," she sighed. "Katsumi... why are you calling me in the middle of the night?"

"Well..." he said and hesitated.

He thought about saying, I think there is a kid like you in my club, but that would've been rude to her and to Bakugou. They had nothing in common and what they had in common might just be in his head.

"Are you happy?" he asked instead, thinking of Bakugou and his hostility and volatile anger, and after a moment of bewildered silence Ami gave a laugh, tired and fond.

"You really called me at two in the morning just to ask me that?"

Katsumi didn't answer. He leaned his cheek on his knee and lowered his other leg over the edge of the engawa, toes skimming over the cool water. A koi fish, a white-scaled one he'd named Akimi, rose to the surface and looked up before it sank back down.

Ami sighed. "I'm... okay," she said. "Some days are worse than others."

He'd known as much and vaguely thought about all the things taken from her, just because of a few selfish people. She couldn't stand to be touched by others and it was likely she'd never marry, and there was no reason why she couldn't be happy even like that, but Katsumi wanted her to be happy still when she was old and frail, surrounded and cared for by her children and grandchildren. He hated the thought of her living her life alone.

He thought about Bakugou and Midoriya, and realised Midoriya was never going to tell Bakugou if he could help it. He'd just stay by his side, never being able to tell him or touch him, and somehow that thought was so insanely sad that his chest ached.

"Katsumi," Ami said, quiet and gentle. "Did something happen? You seem... down."

He looked up into the underside of the roof, hair sliding down, and exhaled a mirthless laugh. "No. It's nothing," he said. "I'm sorry for waking you. Good night, Ami."

She hesitated before she said good night and they ended the call. He sat outside for a moment longer, swinging his legs back and forth over the water, and then he stood up and headed back inside.

In one of the hallways he stumbled into Torimo. She made a startled, stifled noise when she saw him and then breathed out in relief, her hand over her heart. "Oh my god, senpai," she whispered anxiously, "you scared me."

"You're still awake?" Katsumi asked reprovingly, completely heedless of the fact that he wasn't exactly asleep himself and had woken up someone else besides.

"I - I had to use the toilet," Torimo mumbled, embarrassed. "Um... Why are you up, senpai?"

"I..." Katsumi said, thought about explaining his acute need to hear his cousin's voice because he thought Bakugou had been abused as a child, and blanked out. "I wanted some fresh air. It's quite stuffy, you know, sleeping in the same room with nine other boys."

"Couldn't you have just opened the doors?" she asked, haltingly.

"Yes. Yes, I could have," he said, and then they stared at each other in silence. She shifted her weight. Her wide eyes gleamed in the ambient light as she looked up at him nervously. Suddenly Katsumi felt stupid for having worried her when he was her upperclassman. Mouth sliding into a smile, he patted her head on his way past. "Go to bed, Torimo. Children need sleep to grow."

"Um!" she rushed out in alarm, and he glanced at her inquisitively over his shoulder. "Is - Are you okay, senpai? You've been kind of--"

When she hesitated and kind of waved her hand helplessly, he raised his eyebrows and inquired, "Not my usual charming self?"

His question startled a laugh out of her and she said, "Yes. You're usually more, um, more excitable?" Her voice trailed off, her eyebrows flat with apprehension as if she was worried he'd be offended by her words.

"That is true," Katsumi said, and looked over at the dark garden, the sway of shrubs and trees. Rain pattered on the tiles of the roof, dripping on the engawa. All this moping about really didn't suit him.

He heard her open her mouth, the quiet intake of breath that never formed into words, and then she cleared her throat. Haltingly, Torimo began to make sounds, bird songs and rain drops, the chirp of evening crickets and the whistle of wind through hollows.

Puzzled, Katsumi glanced at her but she was staring ahead into the garden stubbornly, her cheeks dusted an embarrassed red in the dim light. He remembered she could mimic any sound she heard and realised she was trying to cheer him up. She really was a good kid, he thought.

When she stopped she brushed her hair behind her ear to hide her face. "Um... I sometimes do this for my brother when he's feeling down," she explained, and scuffed the hardwood floor with her toes.

"You know, Torimo," Katsumi said, feeling delighted that she'd thought of him. "Your quirk is quite lovely."

She turned towards him, her eyes wide with surprise and her cheeks flushing a sudden intense red. "W-what are you saying," she stuttered, breathless as if she'd had the air knocked out of her, and then she gave an awkward, forced laugh. "Good night, senpai," she said, and made to leave and then she turned back around and quickly bowed.

Feeling nonplussed, Katsumi watched her hurry away. They were all so strange, his minions.

When they went home on Sunday, he strode right into the house and found Ami sitting in the living room. Startled, she looked up when he stopped beside the sofa and sat on the armrest.

"I'm home," Katsumi said, and grinned.

"Welcome home," she said, seeming puzzled but pleased that he was in a good mood.

"Did you sleep well?" he inquired.

"Aside from you waking me up?" Ami asked, a wry smile to her mouth. "Sure."

Nodding, Katsumi stood up off the armrest and was about to take his backpack into his room when she stopped him. She grasped the hem of his sleeve between her fingers and stood up.

He looked at her inquiringly. Ami took a quick breath and said in a rush, "Um, I went to therapy yesterday and he said - if I want to - I could try hugging someone close to me." Nervously, she let go and pulled her hand back, rubbing her wrist underneath the sleeve of her loose hoodie. "Is that - is that okay?"

Wordlessly Katsumi spread his arms open and she hesitated, shifting on her feet. "Um... Don't..." she said, and he knew what she wanted to ask without her voicing it.

He stayed still when she inched close and carefully wrapped her arms around him. She pressed her cheek to his chest, her ear over his heart. She was tense, all the way down to her toes.

After a while, Katsumi said brightly, "This feels enormously awkward," and she exhaled a startled laugh.

She pulled back and said, "I like how you never change." She looked up, short hair falling around her small face. She smiled, just a bit. "Thanks."

"It was no trouble. I have lots of hugs to give." When he picked up his backpack, something occurred to him. "D'you mind showing up in the school dōjō sometimes? I have a girl minion this year, you see, and I've been practising with her but it really would be better if she could have someone of her physique and strength to practise with. I understand if you don't want to, though," he added.

Ami hesitated, mouth pressed thin. She looked very small in her loose clothes. "I'll... think about it."

Katsumi knew he couldn't ask more from her. She didn't like leaving the house and she liked crowds even less.

When he headed into his room, his thoughts turned back to Midoriya and Bakugou. He realised that as long as their feelings diverged in such a fundamental way, their relationship was just a powder keg ready to explode, and Katsumi would prefer if it didn't explode on him. He was too young and pretty to die.

He thought about Bakugou's detachment to his own well-being and what Midoriya would do if anything ever happened to him. He thought about Ami and how he would unhesitatingly kill for her if anyone ever hurt her again. Katsumi supposed he should really get on with teaching them. It wasn't much but at least he could ensure they learned everything useful about jujutsu so neither of them would get unduly hurt in the future.

With a sigh he dropped his backpack on the bed. He couldn't wait for graduation when he'd finally be done with those two dolts.

Chapter Text

Mitsuki listened to the call cut off into voice mail for the tenth time, gritted her teeth, and resisted the violent impulse to throw her phone at a wall.

“You’re not fifteen anymore,” she muttered over and over, eyes closed, and breathed until the tension in her shoulders eased. After a moment she set the phone decisively on the kitchen counter and loosened her grip on it.

She'd forgotten how much Hisashi's inability to pick up his fucking phone irritated her. He'd been like this since middle school, never answering his calls or mails, and Mitsuki didn't get how Inko could stand him. She had a sudden dark thought if it'd been a mistake after all to send her kid sister to an all-girls school. Maybe that was why Hisashi had been able to seduce her.

With an annoyed exhale, she pushed off the counter and headed outside.

Masaru sat on a stool out in the yard, washing the dogs with the garden hose. He looked up when Mitsuki stopped beside him and chuckled under his breath. "I take it you couldn't catch a hold of him," he said mildly, and rinsed the soap from Taiga's fur, its head resting contently on his arm.

"That fucking asshole never changes," she grumbled.

"He's always been eccentric," Masaru agreed, mouth crooked in a lopsided smile. Him and Inko, Mitsuki thought with fond exasperation, had always been too soft-hearted when what Hisashi needed was a good smack over the head.

Masaru let go of Taiga and it loped over to the grass and shook water off its fur. Then he turned around and coaxed Geri over to him. As she watched him, how kind and patient he was, she felt an old vague ache in her chest.

He would have been a good dad, she thought, somewhere in the dark nook of her mind where she stored all of her regrets. Sometimes she couldn't help but wonder if he wouldn't have been happier with someone else - with someone who could've given him a family.

In the end, nature rewards those that reproduce, she remembered Hisashi saying, in that distant and obnoxious way of his. From the smallest microorganism to plants and animals and even stars, all of their existence would be meaningless if they didn't procreate themselves.

For all of her intellect and success, in the cosmic scale of things, she was a failure.

Masaru sensed her stare and looked up, his smile tender and curious. "What?" he asked.

"Nothing," she said, her head tilted and her mouth slanted in a faint grin. "Just thinking how much I love you."

Masaru blinked, bemused, and adjusted his glasses to hide his flushed cheeks. Even after all these years, he still wasn't good with her impulsive expressions of affection. Breathing out a laugh, Mitsuki leaned down. She felt the tickle of his moustache, the wet slide of his thumb over the inside of her wrist. She exhaled into his mouth, all of the tension and irritation she'd been feeling fading with it.

She really did love this man, she thought, sunlight wavering on her eyelashes.

That evening, she sent an email to Ruth. He was one of Hisashi's colleagues and his assigned middleman when he didn't deign to answer his phone.

She didn't really feel like going through all this trouble but she'd promised Inko she'd invite Hisashi when she'd asked if she and the kids wanted to come in Canada for the summer. She and Izuku loved him even if he was never there and Mitsuki - she knew it said something fundamental about Hisashi but she didn't want to think about it.

Two hours later, Ruth replied to her email. He'll be there.

Mouth flat with annoyance, she thought that a date would have been nice.

A week before summer break, their doorbell rang early in the morning. Hisashi stood in the shadow of their threshold, a worn rucksack slung over his shoulder. He looked haggard, his hair a bird's nest of black curls. Mitsuki leaned on the doorframe, arms crossed, and gave him an unimpressed stare.

"You look like fucking homeless," she said and he gave a tired laugh. "What happened to your fucking phone?"

"I lost it," he said mildly, and she thought she should have fucking known. She had untoward flashbacks to their school years together when the same thing had happened and made a terrible face.

"Listen, Hisashi," she said, "that level of airheadedness isn't cute even on a teenage girl."

Mouth quirking in a wry smile, he ignored her and asked if he could come in. With a huff Mitsuki stepped aside and Hisashi stooped down to untie his shoes.

"Are Inko and the boys here already?" he asked.

"It's still the fourteenth," she pointed out.

Standing up, Hisashi made a soft sound of realisation and rubbed the back of his neck. "It's hard to keep track of time," he mumbled, absentminded, and Mitsuki frowned.

"When was the last time you were home?" she demanded, and he looked at her over his shoulder, expression measured in that way she hated.

At length he said, "A year ago, I think."

Mitsuki gritted her teeth and reminded herself it was pointless for her to feel upset when Inko was fine with Hisashi's prolonged absences. It just - it hurt. How little her kid sister thought of herself and she thought back on the smile she'd given her when she'd told her she'd be leaving overseas.

Besides, even if she didn't want to admit it, Mitsuki knew Hisashi had thought of Inko, in the best way he knew how. A nomadic life wasn't easy, especially on a pregnant woman who wasn't used to it.

And had he stayed, he would've been absolutely miserable, confined in that cobweb of steel and glass and concrete called a city. Mitsuki knew that, and she had a feeling Inko had known that and that was why she'd let him go.

They were both so stupid, she thought, and kind of shoved him. Hisashi gave her a puzzled glance but didn't ask anything.

In the living room, he stopped and set his rucksack down on the floor. He sat on a stool at the kitchen isle and Mitsuki gave him a glass of iced tea and then leaned her elbows on the counter. She took a good look at him then and realised he looked old, the lines around his eyes deeper than she remembered.

He'd always seemed old, she thought abstractly, years older than his actual age. His eyes had always been turned away, somewhere far, toward a place and time only he could see. She realised she'd known this man since they'd been fourteen but she'd never understood what went through his head.

"How were Inko and the boys?" she asked grudgingly after a while.

"The same as usual," Hisashi said, mouth quirking in a smile that faded under its own weight. He looked into his glass, gently brushing off beads of condensation. Then he rubbed a hand over his eyes, seemingly exhausted.

"What?" Mitsuki asked, terse with irritation.

Hisashi lowered his hand and regarded her with his dark eyes, flecks of gold gleaming in errant sunlight. "...I'm sure it's nothing," he said after a pause, and she pressed her mouth flat but didn't question him.

Leaning down, he picked up his rucksack and stood up. He asked if he could take a shower and Mitsuki told him to shave his stupid beard while he was at it. He gave a tolerant laugh and that was something she hated, too, how nothing she ever did or said fazed him at all.

With a wave of his hand Hisashi headed down the hallway and Mitsuki fetched her phone to let Inko know her husband had arrived.

Izuku hadn't been in Canada since the summer he'd met Katsuki; mostly because the flights were expensive and long, and his mom hated flying.

Worriedly he glanced at Inko. She clutched the armrest on her either side, pale and tense with distress. Izuku brushed his thumb over the thin scar on his hand, trying to think of something that'd relax her.

Faintly he remembered offering her his All Might figure as a kid and blushed at that childish attempt to make her feel better. Izuku wished he was better at this - at finding the right words to comfort someone.

He leaned over to look at her and with awkward cheer asked, "Um... Want to hold hands, mom?"

Her anxious expression eased into a tense smile. "Thank you, Izuku. You're a sweetheart."

He blushed at her praise and she took a hold of his hand, her grip tight. Leaning back into her seat, she let out a long, uneasy breath. Izuku eyed her for a moment before he turned towards Katsuki on his other side.

Elbow propped on the armrest, Katsuki leaned his cheek on his hand and stared out the window, seemingly bored. His reflection was a pale blur against the pitch black, haloed by the dim lights in the cabin. Kiku slept in the cage under his seat, head resting beside his foot.

Izuku wondered if he was still mad. He hadn't been happy about the flight or about the requirement to keep Kiku in a cage for its duration. "It's been a while since we were in Canada," Izuku ventured quietly, mindful of the other passengers in the cabin. "Are you excited about going back, Kacchan?"

With an askance glance his way, Katsuki said, "Shit's the same wherever you go," and Izuku gave an indulgent laugh.

Unconsciously his gaze lingered on Katsuki's profile. Lately, he'd started to grow into the fine bone structure he'd had traces of since he'd been a kid. His shoulders had broadened, his limbs elongated. His voice had been going low and rough in a way Izuku noticed and didn't want to notice.

Katsuki's reflection in the window scowled. "Don't look at me," he demanded, and Izuku's heart started with guilt, his cheeks flushed hot with embarrassment.

Eyebrows and mouth pulled down in a frown, he dropped his gaze into his lap and picked at the fabric of his pants. Katsuki had never liked when he stared at him; he always yelled or shoved his face away if he did. It wasn't his fault. It wasn't his fault he was pretty and it wasn't his fault Izuku noticed when he shouldn't.

At least Katsuki hadn't realised anything about him noticing. The last thing he wanted was to burden him with these unwanted feelings. He was just confused, Izuku thought, mouth set in a stubborn line. It'd been just the two of them for so long and he'd just gotten all of his feelings for Katsuki mixed up and he was going to get over it when they were older and their world expanded.

He was going to get over it.

He had to.

Early in the morning, they landed in Canada and Hisashi picked them up from the airport. When Inko saw her husband, standing near the doors outside, she let go of Izuku's arm and tottered towards him. Hisashi caught her outstretched hands into his, mouth curved in a fond smile, and she looked a little more stable when she leaned into him.

"What are you doing here, dad?" Izuku asked, surprised and pleased to see him.

"I thought I'd pick you up," Hisashi said and ruffled his hair, his hand heavy and familiar on the top of his head. Then his gaze slipped past them. "Katsuki," he said mildly.

"Yeah," Katsuki grunted, looking away.

Before they set out, they walked Kiku around the parking lot. Izuku walked beside Katsuki and filled in the silence with distracted chatter. Katsuki listened quietly, hands in the pockets of his black sweatpants. He seemed tired, the skin under his eyes shadowed. He hadn't slept for an entire day, and Izuku eyed him worriedly until he noticed and tried to grab his hair.

Izuku barely fended him off, breathless and weak with laughter. His mom gave them a tolerant look, mouth pursed with worry. His dad observed them with detached curiosity, and Izuku rubbed the back of his head awkwardly when he noticed. His dad had always been quick to notice things no one wanted to be noticed, and Izuku took an inconspicuous step away from Katsuki.

Afterwards, they got in the car. They drove along narrow roads, past a town spreading out in the distance. The sky was a misty blue, curving delicate over the open landscape.

Meadows made way for dense forests, sunlight dappling through needles and leaves. Redwoods towered above all the other trees, and Izuku remembered Katsuki climbing one when they'd been kids, using short bursts of his explosions to reach the lowest branches.

He'd been helpless to do anything but watch, breathless with wonder and worry when Katsuki had leaned over the edge and grinned down at him, sunlight captured in his bright hair. He'd always been amazing - impossible and daring and self-assured in everything he did - and all Izuku wanted was to follow down the same path as him.

Near the house, Katsuki suddenly threw the door open and darted out before the car had stopped.

"Katsuki!" Inko called out, alarmed, and Izuku hastily grabbed Kiku before it could follow after him and it made a frustrated gnarl. Hisashi pulled the car over calmly as if nothing had happened, and Inko and Izuku rushed out.

Katsuki had stopped in the middle of the yard. He whistled, the sound soaring high, and seconds after the wolfhounds all came running out of the house. Like arrows pointing north, they dashed right at him, toppled him over, and he grunted when his back hit the ground hard. Inko made a distressed noise and took an aborted step towards him, and Izuku's heart skipped with startled surprise.

The dogs crowded around Katsuki, wagging their tails and sniffing him over. Wrestling up from underneath them, Katsuki grinned and cussed them out with an unconscious, rapid mixture of French and English and Japanese. As Izuku watched him tussle and pet them all, his chest constricted curiously.

He was adorable, Izuku thought, and immediately wanted to die of mortification. Ears and cheeks going scarlet, he buried his face in Kiku's fur, unable to look at Katsuki. It was just because he rarely looked happy outside of fighting, he reasoned with quick desperation. That was why seeing him look so unconsciously, unawarely happy did strange things to his heart and it was nothing weird.

Cursing under her breath, Mitsuki hurried outside. She stopped abruptly when she saw Katsuki in the middle of the dogs, and then the side of her mouth quirked up in a smirk. "Only you'd look happy after being steamrolled by five wolfhounds," she snorted, and Katsuki looked up and scowled.

"Fuck off, old hag," he said blandly, and then he shooed the dogs off. "Now piss off, you little shits. I'm getting up."

Izuku snorted out a laugh because only Katsuki would call a hundred and twenty pound dogs little shits. Then he started when he suddenly turned towards him and demanded: "Give him here."

He gave Kiku over to him with a flustered grin, not quite meeting his eyes. Katsuki dropped into a crouch and introduced the dogs to each other. Curiously the wolfhounds crowded close to snuffle at Kiku, and it wagged its tail unconcernedly. "Be nice," Katsuki said, and ruffled Halley's large head. "He's fucking small. He can't play like you guys."

Inko made a stifled noise behind her hands, and Mitsuki snickered unabashedly and called Katsuki cute, and Izuku had the distinct thought he was really fucking unfair.

Eyebrows and mouth dropping into a scowl, Katsuki yelled at Mitsuki who yelled back, and they squabbled the whole time when they carried their bags inside. The dogs trailed after Katsuki, getting under his feet, and he yelled at them, too, his mouth curved in a pleased smirk.

Afterwards, he collapsed in the bed and muttered, "Fucking old hag. She's as loud as ever."

Izuku gave a distracted laugh, and eyed the bed nervously. The house had only two guest rooms, which meant he had to sleep in the same bed as Katsuki, and he'd - he'd been trying to avoid that. As long as he was confused about his feelings towards him, he didn't think he should sleep beside him. It - it wasn't right.

Katsuki hadn't questioned his change in sleeping habits, but then, he'd never really questioned why Izuku had wanted to sleep with him in the first place.

Katsuki's breathing deepened, the irritated expression smoothing out.

"Kacchan," Izuku said, hushed. "You should set an alarm clock."

Eyebrows furrowed, he mumbled something that could've been anything from "yeah, yeah" to "fuck off". He shifted, white strands of hair falling over his eyes. He was asleep in seconds and Izuku huffed out a breath, mouth slanted in an indulgent smile. Unthinkingly he reached out his hand towards Katsuki's hair, and stilled in sudden realisation. Slowly his fingers clenched into a fist and he pulled his hand back.

He shouldn't. Not before he'd sorted out his feelings.

Izuku set the alarm clock for Katsuki, and then left him sleeping.

Hisashi was surprised when Izuku asked him how to take photos.

"Torimo asked if I could send her some pictures from Canada," Izuku explained, restlessly fiddling with his phone. Then he sort of grinned and added, "Um... not that there's much else than trees here. I hope she won't mind. She didn't really say what she wanted to see anyway."

"Torimo?" asked Hisashi.

"Oh," Izuku said, flustered and happy. "She's a friend from my class and we're in the same club together. Kacchan thought I could learn jujutsu since I don't have a quirk." His cheeks flushed when he said it, his voice going unconsciously, tentatively soft.

Eyebrows wrinkling in a focused frown, he lifted his phone and took a picture of some pines. Shyly he held out the phone towards Hisashi for him to have a look.

"Have you taken photographs before?" he asked.

"Um, kind of. Sometimes I send Auntie photos of Japan through LINE but..." Izuku worried his lip with his teeth and went on, "They're really nothing like yours, dad."

Hisashi knew that. Mitsuki never failed to show him the photos Izuku had taken when they saw each other as if his affection was a competition.

"That means you have some experience," he said, and ruffled Izuku's hair and he peered up at him through his fringe shyly. "There isn't much to it. Just explore different angles and find what's pleasing to you. I suppose if there is a rule when it comes to photographing nature, you can avoid making the subject of your shot the centre."

Izuku repeated his advice, muttering intensely under his breath. Head tilted, Hisashi watched him fondly. He'd never spent much time alone with him. The only time it'd been just the two of them was when he'd read to him before bed; old stories, stories that people knew of but hardly ever read. Stories of old heroes and old wisdom, the same stories he'd read together with his grandfather.

", a friend," Hisashi said. "Have you made many friends in school?"

"I - I think so," Izuku hesitated, seemingly puzzled by the question. Then he grinned brightly. "The senpai in the club are really nice and helpful! They've been sparring with me, and it's really helped me figure out what quirks I can handle!"

He went on about their quirks and different ways to handle them, his words like a continuous stream of thought. Momentarily Hisashi closed his eyes. Inko was similar, nervously filling in the cracks of silence with care and concern.

"Asagiri said that I should be able to handle any quirk that is physically possible for a human to handle." Izuku gave a laugh, the corners of his mouth twitching in a nervous grin. "He's the captain of the club and, um, he's really eccentric but he knows a lot about martial arts," he added as if he didn't want Hisashi to think badly of him.

Then Izuku's voice stumbled and he stared intently at his phone, the back of his neck flushed scarlet. "Kacchan doesn't like him because, um... Because he used to say weird things about us dating and - and flirting and Kacchan doesn't - he doesn't really like it when people think we are like that."

Mouth set in a stubborn line, he went on, "It's - it's weird. Because we're brothers."

Head bowed, Izuku trudged on beside him. Hisashi realised his feelings had begun to change in the time he hadn't seen them, and wondered how aware he was of that change. He'd worried this would happen. Since Izuku had been a child, he'd been single-mindedly attracted to Katsuki who was like his antithesis.

They ambled on the beaten trail amidst the brambles and old, towering trees. Sunlight flooded through the cobweb of branches in quiet, glittering swathes. Birds sang hidden in the canopy of leaves and needles; the ascending trill of sparrows and finches and jays.

Hisashi thought about the scar on their hands. "Brother" was a word that used to have no meaning to Katsuki; he'd understood it as a possession, as consanguinity, but not as anything more than that. It was likely he'd never had any meaningful consanguineous relationships and whatever relationships he'd had before being adopted by Mitsuki had likely been overwhelmingly abusive.

Hisashi didn't know if it'd been unintentional or intentional but it was as if Katsuki had physically, neatly, shut Izuku off behind lines he couldn't cross when he'd made the scar on their hands. With that one impulsive act, he'd created the one person in the world who was safe.

Neither a pet nor a brother would want him, and so it was fine to let him close.

Laying his hand on Izuku's head, Hisashi stroked the tangled black hair so like his own and his son looked up, seeming confused and pleased by the gesture. "Izuku. Human brain isn't mature until the age of twenty-five."

Izuku blinked. "Yeah? I remember reading something about that too."

"Just because something seems definite when you're young, it likely isn't so when you're older." What Hisashi wanted to tell him was not to give his everything to someone who might not be able to give it back. But he was afraid this might be one of the few aspects of Izuku that was like him. That he'd be able to love only one person in his lifetime.

"Izuku," he said instead, hand falling from his head to his thin shoulder, surprised how young he still was and how much older he'd gotten. "Love, when it hurts, is worse than hatred."

For a long moment Izuku stared up at him with quiet, green eyes and Hisashi trusted him to realise what he wasn't saying. He'd always been bright, his and Inko's son.

Then the side of Izuku's mouth quirked up in a hesitant smile. "Where's that from?" he asked timidly.

"An old European tale," Hisashi said, and squeezed his shoulder before he let go.

When they returned inside, Inko and Katsuki had woken up from their nap and started on dinner, moving around each other with the ease of familiarity. Mitsuki leaned on the kitchen isle and watched them, mouth crooked in a smirk as she teased Katsuki about being an ideal housewife. Masaru sat beside her and uneasily tried to moderate her.

Breaking into a bright smile, Izuku went over to them and briefly distracted Katsuki's attention away from Mitsuki. He flicked him a glance and his fed up expression softened with tolerance. He reached over the counter and tugged on his hair. Hisashi watched his son unconsciously lean towards him, pulled in as inevitably as a gardenia towards light. Then he blushed in sudden realisation and pulled back to a subtle distance.

Katsuki didn't seem to notice, or just ascribed the behaviour to Izuku's peculiarities.

Either way, it was obvious he didn't think much of it.

That evening before bed, Hisashi mildly asked Inko, "Are you aware our son is courting Katsuki?"

She cringed, looking troubled and guilty, and he wondered just what she hadn't told him. " think so?"

"Yes," he said, and thought how each look and touch Izuku gave Katsuki seemed to be silently saying I love you, I love you, I love you. "I don't think Izuku is aware of it, and Katsuki doesn't seem to think anything of his behaviour."

Mouth flat with unease, Inko sat down on the edge of the bed and indecisively wringed her hands. Hisashi thought how hard the situation had to be for her since she'd have to balance the needs of both boys. But the longer it went on, the more intenable it'd become.

Voice kind, he said, "Inko, you know Katsuki is allowing Izuku close because he thinks it means nothing. If the intent behind Izuku's touches has changed, either unconsciously or consciously, he has to tell him or it has to stop."

Inko started, eyes wide and horrified and accusing. "Izuku would never--"

"I know," Hisashi interrupted, even and calm. "And that's part of the problem. He's thirteen, Inko, and his world revolves around Katsuki. Has revolved around him since the day they met. He spends every day beside him, not being able to touch him or tell him how he feels. Do you realise what kind of mental stress that'd put him under?"

"I... I know... I just..."

She hesitated, looking miserable, and he let out a sigh. He sat down beside her, and took her small hands in his, gently grazing his thumb over her knuckles. Her hands were slightly dry, from all the housework she'd done over the years. Inko looked at him helplessly.

"What should I do?" she asked in a small voice, and Hisashi didn't have an answer for her.

"What do you think is best?"

The problem was, Inko didn't know.

She sat out in the balcony and watched the boys head out for a run with the dogs. They did this every day at home, running to and from school as well as taking Kiku out for walks. They were so active and diligent, and Inko was so proud of them.

The boys jostled and messed with each other, the bright clear note of Izuku's laugh ringing across the yard. Then the air around them changed from one instant to the next and they took off down the road, both of them so fast the breath snagged in Inko's chest. The dogs darted after them, the small Kiku lagging behind.

It was so strange, being back in Canada, the memories of that one summer five years ago overlapping the present.

"All of you wake up so fucking early," Mitsuki muttered when she walked out into the balcony. She sat beside Inko on the sofa and handed her a cup of tea; one with milk and sugar. She drank hers black.

Inko smiled. As a homemaker, she'd gotten used to waking up early to make breakfast and bentō, and Katsuki had always been early to bed and early to get up, and Izuku had gotten used to it along with him. "You just go to sleep too late," she said, and Mitsuki scoffed.

After a while, she asked with fond wryness, "What's with the long face?"

Blindly, Inko stared out across the yard, at the somnolent sway of firs and maples, the delicate blue of the clouded sky. She cradled the cup of tea in her hands. "I feel I'm a terrible mother," she said, and her sister made a surprised, disbelieving noise.

"What?" she asked, an amused undercurrent in her voice.

Inko's talk with Hisashi had made her realise she might have unconsciously hoped Katsuki would reciprocate Izuku's feelings; she'd been raising them both for six years and she'd seen firsthand just how precious Katsuki was to Izuku. But she realised it wasn't that simple, not with Katsuki who'd been abused, emotionally and physically from a terrifyingly young age, and who'd never dealt with that abuse. Not to mention they were both boys.

"I... I think Izuku likes Katsuki," she said, hushed and furtive.

"What? Likes as in..." Mitsuki said, her voice going funny, the shape of her mouth wavering as if it couldn't decide between serious or amused.

"A few months ago he asked me if it was strange that he notices how pretty Katsuki is and I said no. He was just so confused and miserable about it that I didn't know what else to say. He hasn't brought it up since and..." Inko sighed, fretting with the fabric of her pants. "And I guess I just thought it was okay."

It wasn't like the boys behaved any different with each other. It was just... sometimes Izuku pulled away. Just a bit.

Suddenly she frowned and looked at Mitsuki sternly. "And you shouldn't tease them about it."

"I was so not thinking that," Mitsuki said, mouth curved in an unholy, unconvincing grin. Then all the humour in her expression drained away, leaving her abruptly solemn. "...hey, is this about Katsuki's past?"

Inko dropped her gaze, and tried to organise the disordered thoughts in her head. She inhaled a tremulous breath, brushing loose strands of hair behind her ear. "Katsuki is... Sometimes when I look at him it's hard to remember what he must've been through. It's hard to remember the scars he has."

Over the years, she'd seen some of them herself. The round, grainy scars on the soles of his feet and the thin ones all over his body, so thin and pale as to be invisible on his white skin. The thought of them made her chest ache, her insides knot with helpless horror and nausea. Her fingers whitened around the cup.

"He's... Most of the time he seems like any other boy his age. Sure he's a little... rough but he helps around the house, he goes to school, he has hobbies, and he plays video games. He smiles and sometimes he even laughs. He's such a beautiful and intelligent and hardworking child that it's hard to imagine all the horrible things that have happened to him."

But that wasn't all. Katsuki was also distant and indifferent and quick to anger, and Inko didn't want to think it was wrong for him to be so because that implied there was a right way to be and everyone was supposed to be the same.

But she thought how, sometimes if he was tired or irritated, he would wrench out of Izuku's touch and snarl at him. She thought how his mouth would press flat when Izuku flinched and shrank in as if he'd been slapped. She thought about the dark flash of rage in his carmine eyes, the grit of his teeth and the flex of his throat when he swallowed the words that wanted to crawl out of his mouth, and the twitch of his hand at his side. How he'd scoff in disgust and stomp out of the house and not come back until hours later.

Neither Izuku nor Inko knew how to deal with him when he got into that mood, and she knew Katsuki was aware of it and tried to restrain those dark, violent impulses.

"I just don't know what's best for them," Inko said, the cup of tea going cool in her hands. "Should I talk with Izuku? What should I even say?"

Leaning forward, her elbows on her knees, Mitsuki let out a sigh and rubbed the back of her neck. "Maybe you should just let them be?" she suggested. "You said Izuku just finds Katsuki pretty. It's not really that weird, especially when the brat is better looking than the average."

Inko wondered if it was really okay to leave them be. She was afraid of what Katsuki would do if he found out Izuku liked him and she was afraid of what it would do to Izuku if he rejected him. Katsuki was... He was Izuku's heart, and she realised this didn't oblige him to respond to his feelings.

She realised that, and yet... Inko desperately wanted to protect both of her boys but she just didn't know how, and she felt so much guilt, towards them both.

"Hey," Mitsuki said, noticing her expression. "C'mon, there really isn't any point in worrying about it. It's not like you can tell Izuku not to like the brat. He's always been really attached to him. Hell, he practically hero worships him. Maybe he's just confusing that for a crush?"

Eyebrows pulled together in a frown, Inko thought about the quiet, adoring looks Izuku gave Katsuki. The way he sometimes stilled and stared at him, lost in thought, the expression on his face frailly wistful. "...maybe," she hesitated.

Huffing out a breath, Mitsuki sat up and stroked Inko's hair. "If it's serious, I'm sure Izuku will talk to you about it," she said. "I mean, do you really want to talk to him about his sexuality when he isn't aware of it himself?"

The thought made Inko cringe. She shook her head while she ignored the doubts in the back of her mind. She didn't think Izuku told her anything that really mattered and wondered if that was just how kids were.

For a moment they sat in silence and drank their tea. Wind picked up, swishing through the forest, the treetops swaying as if to touch the clouds.

"So..." Mitsuki said, that funny undercurrent sneaking back into her voice. "How pretty are we talking about exactly?"

Mouth pressed thin with fond exasperation, Inko said, "Mitsuki."

Her sister stooped over and snickered into her knees.

The dogs beat them to the river, and Katsuki beat Izuku to the river by two seconds. He gave a ragged laugh and dropped into a squat by the shoreline, and Izuku sank down on the coarse gravel beside him and dragged in laboured breaths. The dogs settled on the grass in the sun and panted, pleased after the run.

"It's my win again," Katsuki said.

"I'll win next time," Izuku said, and Katsuki huffed out a laugh he loved hearing.

He looked over at him, mouth crooked in a grin and hair bright in the sun. "You're so fucking stubborn," he said, an amused rasp in his voice that hooked low in Izuku's belly.

Flustered, he felt the heat in his cheeks intensify. "That's not true," he said distractedly, averting his eyes. He stared sightlessly over the flat expanse of the river, the mirror of the sky and the puffy clouds and the fir trees flanking the banks. "It's you who's really stubborn, Kacchan."

"Fucking see? Again with the backtalk, Deku."

He yelped and flailed when Katsuki grasped his hair and tried to shove his head down between his knees. Then he gave a surprised grunt when he used his head as a crutch and pushed up to his feet. Izuku gave him an unimpressed stare and Katsuki smirked over his shoulder.

He tugged on the collar of his shirt. "I feel fucking gross," he muttered, and took off his shoes and socks and rolled the pant legs up to his knees. He waded into the river; he leaned down, back bowed, and scooped water over his face.

The hem of his shirt slipped up, billowing in the wind. Izuku saw a glimpse of white skin and flat stomach and the angle of his hipbone before he quickly looked away, heart thumping uneasily. At the training camp he hadn't cared at all when he'd seen Katsuki naked in the baths; and yet, sometimes, when he caught a glimpse of his pale nape, or the curve of his collarbone, or the delicate skin of his wrists his heart felt like it was on the verge of dying.

"You just gonna keep sulking there?" Katsuki asked, and Izuku sneaked a cautious glance towards him.

He stood in the shallows of the river, in the mirrored sky, eyebrows raised in question and his mouth quirked in a half-grin. Beads of water gleamed on his pale hair, his pale eyelashes, and his pale skin. For a moment he didn't look real, and Izuku was afraid if he blinked he'd disappear like something intangible.

His dad's words darted through his mind a second after. Izuku was sure he'd already figured out something, and it hadn't even been a day, and suddenly he felt complete and utter despair. If it was going to go on like this, even Katsuki would realise something eventually.

It wasn't his fault he was pretty. It wasn't, and yet Izuku wished he'd stop.

"Are you fucking ignoring me, asshole, or did you get a fucking sunstroke?" Katsuki snarled, and leaned down and scooped up water that exploded towards Izuku in a wave and splashed him from head to toe. The dogs looked up with lazy interest, tails flicking back and forth.

Izuku blinked, thoroughly drenched, water dripping into his eyes and down his eyelashes. All thoughts of Katsuki's prettiness cleared from his mind when sudden wet chills prickled across his skin. He took it all back; he was just a fucking jerk.

Mouth crooked in a feral grin, Katsuki stared at him and dropped into an anticipatory stance. Izuku had never learned how to say no to him; he broke into a smile, jumped up into a run, and dashed into the river.

He collided into Katsuki before he could dodge; he heard the wild timbre of his laugh in his ear, and then they both crashed into the water with a great splash. For one instant, all he saw was the pale blur of Katsuki amidst the bubbles and the opaque water, the sounds muted and distorted. For one instant, all that existed was this.

Then Katsuki's back hit the bottom and they pushed back up to the surface; he gasped for breath, head tilted back, blinding beneath the sun. Izuku caught a glimpse of his pale throat, the wild edge of his smile, before he grasped his hair and shoved his head back underwater and he snorted water up his nose.

Afterwards, they sat in the shallows and Katsuki patted Izuku's back hard while he coughed water out of his lungs. With a wide, pleased grin he said, "So fucking weak."

"...jerk," Izuku rasped, voice thick with mucus, his chest and throat aching.

When his coughs abated, Katsuki helped him up, pulling on his arms. They waded out of the river, their clothes heavy and dripping. He flopped on his back on the grass, close to the dogs, and Izuku settled down beside him. Katsuki had closed his eyes, the shape of his mouth relaxed.

He seemed content and Izuku was reminded how much he liked outdoors. In Japan, there was the beach where they sparred, and the forest where they went with Kiku, but they didn't have many opportunities to be outside like this, far away from everything. Underneath the open sky with nothing but the shadows of trees and the wind flowing through the leaf canopies.

"...hey, Kacchan," Izuku said, not really knowing what he wanted to ask. "D'you - d'you want to live together when we're adults? We could - we could get a place outside of the city. Like - like in the mountains."

It wasn't weird, right? Lots of siblings still lived together in old age, right? Heart pounding and heat creeping up into his cheeks, Izuku ignored how much the question sounded like a proposal.

Opening his eyes slightly, Katsuki moved his head and gave him a look underneath pale eyelashes. "Dumbass," he huffed, mouth curved in an amused smile. "You really wanna live together with your brother when we're older and shit?"

Izuku sat up, tugging on the blades of grass. "Why not? It would - it would be fun, right?" he said, a tiny breathless catch in his voice, careful not to look at him. "And - and cheaper," he added, knowing how meticulous Katsuki was about money, and thought how he went through the discount coupons with his mom on Sundays.

Katsuki considered the delicate arc of the sky and anxiously Izuku waited for his answer. "Well, yeah," he said after awhile. "I guess it wouldn't be too bad."

A slow, bright smile broke across Izuku's face. He threw himself back down on the grass. "Right, Kacchan?" he asked, excited. "It'll be really fun."

"You're so fucking weird," Katsuki said, and then reached over to tug on his hair in that fond way of his.

Izuku didn't mind. He laughed, chest light with happiness. This was enough, he thought. Katsuki had already given him everything. He wasn't going to ask him for more.

On their way back, Izuku chattered on as if he was physically unable to stop. He brimmed with restless energy, flicking bright glances Katsuki's way. When he got like this, he could go on and on about something without a breath in between. At least he didn't care if Katsuki just pretended to listen. Besides, it was kind of nice - the murmur of Izuku's voice reminding him of the restless stream of a river.

He hadn't thought he'd be this excited about the thought of them living together. He was so weird. He'd always been weird, ever since they'd been kids, and Katsuki had never been able to figure out just what went through his head.

"What?" Izuku asked, a blush spreading across his cheeks, and belatedly Katsuki realised he'd been staring.

He kind of shoved his head while he tousled his hair, and then his hand stilled. Eyebrows furrowed, he let his hand fall and put them inside the pockets of his sweatpants. "It's nothing," he said.

Tidying his perpetually messy hair, Izuku gave him a questioning stare through his fringe. He worried his bottom lip, and after a moment of hesitation his voice picked up again.

The tiled roof of the house appeared behind the treetops, and then they turned along a bend into the yard and the dogs went ahead inside. He heard chatter above in the balcony, the mingle of Inko's and Mitsuki's voices.

There was a pause, and then Inko stood up and leaned over the railing. "Oh, you boys are back early," she said with a smile. "Did you have fun?"

Katsuki shrugged and Izuku grinned and said yeah.

Mitsuki stood up beside her sister. "You brats have nothing to do, right? Go ask Masaru if he needs help in the glasshouse."

Katsuki made a face. Before he could tell where she could shove it, Izuku agreed on their behalf and dragged him towards the back of the house.

"C’mon, Kacchan, it could be fun!" he said, and Katsuki gave him the blank look that judged him stupid and Izuku set his mouth in a nervous, stubborn line.

With an annoyed huff, Katsuki shook him off and trudged into the glasshouse. He supposed it was fine. Mitsuki could nag like a fucking pitbull when she didn’t have her way.

It was humid inside, the air dense with the smell of moist soil and verdure. Delicate ferns spread out on the ground, lush vines climbing and coiling up tree trunks, and the trees fanned out their branches and leaves against the glass ceiling, dyeing the quiet light in green. They walked along the flagstone path deeper inside, following the indistinct murmur of voices and music.

Behind fragrant lemon trees was tucked a dim alcove. Masaru and Hisashi were there, standing in front of a stand, the shelves crowded with clay pots and vivid flowers. A radio played on the table beside it, the tunes of a piano and a violin drifting in the air.

"Auntie said you need help?" Izuku asked when they noticed them.

"Well," Masaru said, eyes crinkling behind his glasses when he smiled. "If you don’t mind helping."

For the next few hours they watered and pruned and changed the soil for potted flowers. At one point Izuku and Masaru wandered off, derailed by Izuku's incessant questions about all the different flowers in the glasshouse. Katsuki eyed them over a table of seedlings and then slanted a glance towards Hisashi who stood off to the side, carefully planting the seedlings in soil.

Katsuki had never liked him; he’d always thought he was a creepy asshole who looked down on him with those dark, inexpressive eyes that seemed to see right through him while Katsuki couldn’t read him at all.

Eyebrows furrowed, he stared at the seedlings; the delicate, pale green stems and the furled leaves. He didn’t want to ask him but he didn’t know who else to ask. “...hey, old man,” he said eventually, voice low so that Izuku wouldn’t hear. "What’s a brother?"

Stubbornly he didn’t look up, distractedly pressing the soil in the pot down. For a discernible moment Hisashi was quiet and then he said, "'Bare is the back of a brotherless man'," which didn’t really tell Katsuki what he wanted to know.

He scowled in frustration, and then Izuku wandered back and excitedly started talking about everything Masaru had just told him. Katsuki flicked soil in his face to make him shut up and he made an indignant squawk.

In the evening, they sat in the living room with the dogs lying around the sofa. A movie was playing on television and Izuku kept muttering about the implausibility of the plot, something about a cursed quirk. Katsuki watched for a while, too, but the movie was really tedious and before he knew it he nodded off.

Through the sluggish tide of sleep he was vaguely aware of the warmth beside him and the sounds around him; the occasional creak of the leather sofa like the rhythmic groans of a bed. Slowly the shadows of the room elongated into giants who weighed down his ankles and wrists and chest, and the warmth grew intrusive, stifling, invasive. He twitched, trying to move. After a muddled, indefinite moment of time it was quiet and Katsuki felt something close to his face.

His body moved before he was completely awake.

Blindly he grasped the wrist and the throat of the shapeless figure, and slammed him into the sofa pillows. He felt the rapid thud of a heart under his hand, like the frantic beat of wings.

Then a familiar voice rasped, "Kacchan?"

Eyes snapping open, he loosened his grip around the throat. In the darkness, he saw the gleam of Izuku's wide eyes and the pale blur of his skin.

Disoriented, Katsuki looked around the room. He made out the shape of the furniture, the plants in front of the windows, and the dogs raising their heads. The television was dark, the screen reflecting their faint shapeless figures. With an exhale, he rubbed his eyes and slumped into the backrest, his head in his hands. The impression of the dream lingered like a ghost on his skin and he resisted the mindless urge to scratch it.

Cautiously Izuku shifted on the sofa and sat up.

"...hey, Deku," Katsuki said after a long precarious poise of silence, and moved his head to look at Izuku out of the corner of his eyes.

Sluggish, unfocused thoughts floated through his mind. Over the past few months the rumours had steadily decreased, and even that sugar-faced asshole had stopped harassing them, but there were still girls who gave them sideway looks and tittered behind their hands. He knew Japanese were a bunch of sick fucking perverts - what with all the incest and gang rape and child porn - but he still couldn't shake off the slick feeling of anxiety, burrowed deep inside of him.

Katsuki had never had a brother. He'd never had anything. All he'd had had been the others kids who'd hated him, the caretakers who'd punished him for being a disobedient little shit, and the guests who'd all wanted to fuck him. He didn't know how to be someone's brother. He didn't get what he was doing wrong. And he had to be doing something wrong, for people to still think they were like that.

"'s not like that, right?" he asked, voice rough. "It's not like in the rumours."

Eyes gleaming in the ambient light, Izuku stared at Katsuki and he wished he could see his face. He had the vague, fleeting thought of what he would do if Izuku didn't deny it and unconsciously his hand clenched into a fist on the sofa.

Then he heard a quiet intake of breath and Izuku said, "Of course not, Kacchan. That'd be weird. We're brothers, right."

For an instant he stilled, and then all the unaware tension in him eased like a snapped wire. Katsuki gave a hoarse laugh and rubbed both hands over his face. "Yeah," he said, and exhaled. "Yeah." He stood up, his back turned towards Izuku. "I'm gonna go to bed."

"Okay," Izuku said, and shifted on the sofa. "I'm just going to the bathroom real quick."

In their room Katsuki collapsed in the bed, feeling exhausted to his bones.

It was okay, he thought, staring at the faint line on his palm.

He wasn't warping Izuku.

Chapter Text

Izuku splashed his face with cold water, turned off the tap, and breathed out a tremulous breath. Clenching the cool edge of the russet sink in his hands, he waited for the mad thumping of his heart to calm down.

That had scared him. Unconciously he lifted his hand and grazed the side of his throat with wet fingertips. Sometimes, if he touched Katsuki unexpectedly, he'd wrench away and lash out but he'd never - he'd never reacted like that before.

Eyebrows pinched in a frown, Izuku worried his lip and thought about the warm weight of Katsuki's head on his shoulder, the almost strained expression on his face, the inconspicuously stilted breaths. He should've just called his name. He should've but--

But Katsuki had been so warm and pliable against him, a pale gleam in the darkness, the shape of his mouth soft with sleep, and Izuku's hand had moved without his conscious thought. He'd just - wanted to shake him awake but he couldn't help the quiet doubt that hadn't been all he'd wanted to do.

"Dammit," Izuku muttered, voice wavering on how angry and disappointed he was in himself. He'd messed up. He wanted to apologise to Katsuki but he always got more mad if he did.

He sank down into a crouch and closed his eyes, grasping fistfuls of his hair. It was okay, he thought. Katsuki had accepted his answer, and Izuku hadn't lied. Katsuki was his best friend and his brother, and that would never change.

He just - he just had to do better. He had to remember the correct distance and get rid of this damn confusion he felt towards him. Then Katsuki would stop being burdened by Izuku's feelings, and his mom and dad wouldn't have to worry about him. It was okay.

Izuku sucked in a breath and opened his eyes, mouth set resolutely.

He stood up, flicked off the lights, and sneaked into the guest bedroom. The dogs lay about the bed, pale shapes in the darkness. Kiku was tucked against Halley, snuffling quietly in its sleep.

Katsuki was asleep, lying on top of the covers, a slight frown between his eyebrows. Something constricted in the pit of Izuku's belly when he saw him, and then he carefully sat on the edge of the bed and inched upward until he could lie his head down on the pillow.

Sightlessly he stared at the opposite wall; he was acutely aware of Katsuki behind him as if the warmth of his body was a touch on his back. With a frown, Izuku closed his eyes and waited for his mind to calm down.

He didn't need more than this. Katsuki had already given him everything; everything he was willing and able to give and Izuku wasn't allowed to ask for more.

If his last half-conscious thought was something suspiciously like regret he didn't acknowledge it.

Because he wasn't like that.

He wasn't like all the people who'd hurt Katsuki.