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The Space Between

Chapter Text

We’re the people you don’t wanna know
We come from places you don’t wanna go

Holding his expensive camera tightly between his hands, Midoriya Izuku looked up at the once-white letters displayed on the black storefront banner. He bit his lip in apprehension, glancing up and down the street both ways. The sun had long faded and there was a chill in the air, a slight wind rustling his already tousled black-green curls. “The Hard Luck Bar,” he murmured to himself, unsure if he was getting ready to enter or flee.

A couple passed by him, a man and a woman. The woman had vivid green hair and at least a dozen safety pins through her ears. Izuku could hear the volume of the bar’s interior increase dramatically as they opened the door and entered. Looked like the show had already started. He stared at the door, fidgeting. 'You wanted this,' he reminded himself.

He peered at the upcoming event posters plastered messily against the bar’s windows in the dark. He’d never heard of any of these bands. Izuku was more used to heavily stylized beards and jeans, campy t-shirts and floral dresses. Acoustic guitars and pretty melodies. This was black and red, torn pants and chains, ink and middle fingers. There was a poster advertising a band named Blood Orgy. This hadn’t been what Izuku had expected when his coworker had told him about the place. Looking back on it now though, the too-wide smile and double thumbs-up probably should have tipped him off.

Izuku sighed, wondering if he should just go home. It was late and he was tired. Maybe he’d come back another day when he hadn’t had to work well into the evening. He shook his head and took a step back only to nearly collide with a large, muscled man with a shaved head passing by behind him. “Watch it!” the man snapped at him, flexing his arm, and Izuku briefly wondered if he was about to get punched.

“I’m sor-!” he started to say, but the man had already disappeared into the bar, not even bothering with Izuku long enough to let him deliver an apology. A spark of annoyance lit him as he stared after the man. Frowning, Izuku brought his camera up and snapped a quick picture of the bar’s front. To hell with it. He’d already taken the time to come all the way here and he wasn’t leaving without results, even if the place was a little divey. He nodded to himself in affirmation. He was Midoriya Izuku, after all. If his boss wasn’t willing to give him the opportunities he needed, he’d push his career by himself. Izuku rubbed his hands together then grabbed the door and thrust it open, taking several bold steps inside before he had a chance to change his mind.

The first thing that struck him was the loudness, and then the heat. The sound from the show was deafening, the air thick. Izuku stood by the entrance for a moment, letting his eyes adjust to the gloom. Once he could see well enough, he strode over to the bar running lengthwise across the far wall. It was peppered with an assortment of people Izuku would never run into in his daily life. Izuku leaned against the scratched-up wooden top in what he imagined was a casual way, determined to fit in. “Ah, one rum and coke, please,” he shouted pleasantly over the roar, holding up his finger. The girl with a buzz cut and frighteningly large ear gauges standing behind the counter gave him an odd look as she nodded almost imperceptibly.

Izuku glanced around the interior as the bartender prepared his drink. Nearly everyone was wearing some variation of black with the odd flash of red or white or neon. Many patrons had multiple tattoos or piercings. Some were wearing hardly any clothing at all. He felt horribly out of place in his green-and-grey plaid button-up and appropriately fitted dark wash jeans.

“Six,” Izuku suddenly heard in his ear. Lost in his thoughts, Izuku startled and the bartender eyed him suspiciously. “And your ID.” Izuku flushed, frantically pulling out his ID and a few bills. He grabbed the plastic cup, a dried-out lime wedge pressed into the rim, and retreated in embarrassment deeper into the venue. Apparently he wasn’t the only one who felt he stood out.

The bar was narrow, but deep. Beyond the long counter and the several old wooden tables and chairs was the source of the loudness and heat. A small crowd of people and a half flight of stairs mostly obscured Izuku’s view, but there seemed to be some sort of elevated stage at the back of the place. Letting his camera hang from its thick strap around his neck, Izuku held his drink as he paid the monster of a bouncer admission, earning him a stamp on his wrist, then took the plunge down.

Reaching the bottom of the stairs, Izuku quickly realized that the noise and heat from before had only been a lazy introduction to what was going on down here. A band consisting of three guitarists and a drummer were already well into their act, going full throttle. The stage itself was quite small, no more than a few feet off the ground and maybe twenty feet wide. The music ricocheted off the red walls and ceiling of the confined space, the heat seeping through Izuku’s clothes and taking root deep in the fabric in a way that was uncomfortable and sticky.

Izuku stayed near the back for a while, the music throbbing in his temples, and tried to put forth the appearance that alcohol and him were close friends and not distant relatives. He sipped his drink tentatively, grimacing over the watered-down taste, and knocked the sad lime into it. After a moment he set the drink down by his foot and took a few half-hearted photographs.

By the band’s third or fourth song, however, and well into his drink, Izuku was starting to grow accustomed to the volume. By the time he’d finished his drink, a small smile was growing on his face. The female vocalist was flailing around on stage as she sang in an unusually husky voice, her long bleached-blonde and red hair flying everywhere. Their music was loud and vulgar, but it was also passionate and raw in a way that Izuku found he didn’t mind. He’d never really had a rebellious phase but he could see the appeal of this sort of thing to certain people.

Finishing his drink and feeling a little braver, Izuku decided to wander around a bit. As he kept to the walls he noticed that there were a number of old photographs from past shows hung on them. He presumed they were of now-famous bands that had once played at the venue, but Izuku only recognized one or two of the names at best. He identified a coat check and, beyond that, a merch table run by a vacant-looking guy with a fohawk. Izuku approached timidly, avoiding the man’s gaze and choosing instead to peek at the goods. He felt a little relieved: CDs, t-shirts, the usual. His eyes scanned over a black shirt with bold white letters displaying the words FUCK THE ANTIHEROES in all caps and another with the image of a gun shooting red dollar bills.

“Twenty,” Izuku heard over his head. He looked up; the fohawk guy was watching him with a dazed expression. His mouth rolled as though he was slowly chewing on something.            

“Huh?” Izuku replied, not following.

The guy nodded towards the shirts Izuku had been looking at. “Twenty dollars.”

“Oh!” Izuku said, speaking loudly over the noise of the band. He took a step back. “I’m not… I’m just…” He gestured towards his camera. “I’m a photographer.”

The fohawk guy suddenly grinned. “You’re here for The Antiheroes,” he said, and Izuku was lost again.

“The who?” Izuku glanced back down at the shirts. That one band, probably?

Fohawk huffed in disapproval and narrowed his eyes. “What are you, new?”

“Very,” Izuku said, letting it slip out without thinking. He immediately reddened and started waving his arms, backing up. “A-Ah, well, thanks for…” he stammered. For what? “…yeah!” he finished lamely, and he turned around and stiffly walked away before he could see whatever face the guy was making at him. It had been a while since he’d embarrassed himself this badly and Izuku found himself wishing he’d brought a friend, though he doubted any of them would have wanted to go to a place like this.

Anxious to escape his embarrassment, Izuku retreated to the stage. As he glanced back towards the stairs, he could see that the room’s capacity had easily doubled since he’d arrived. It was starting to get crowded. The same lead singer was currently belting out some of the most colourful lyrics Izuku had ever heard, and it was a welcome distraction.

After another song or two Izuku braved the audience to try and get closer. He was noticing a pleasant buzz from his one drink, and some of his anxiousness slipped away as he angled his camera and moved around to try and get some better shots of the vocalist. The attendees were packed tightly by the front; he’d need to practice sneaking in and out of crowds if he decided to continue this sort of thing in the future.

As their next song ended, the female vocalist played a guitar riff and screamed into the mic. “YOU POSERS READY FOR THE ANTIHEROES?” Izuku had become immersed in the performance and was startled by the absolute roar that came back from the crowd. He craned his neck around and realized that the bar as far back as he could see was filled to beyond capacity. Where had all these people come from? There were easily over a hundred packed into the stage area alone. It was slightly claustrophobic, but Izuku only felt exhilarated as he fed off the excitement from the cries of the crowd. It was hard not to cheer along.

“Good!” the vocalist shouted. “We’re Pussy Magnet, and I hope we’ve gotten your dicks good and hard for the rest of the night!” As they blasted into their final song, Izuku chuckled and shook his head, wondering what his mother would think of all this. He decided right then never to tell her.

As the band wrapped up, instead of the crowd dispersing, it only drew closer. Izuku found himself being pressed forward until he was maybe twenty feet away from the stage and surrounded by people on all sides. The closeness made him acutely aware of his own dampness, and he pulled his button-up off in mild disgust and tied it around his waist. He fanned himself with his hand and flapped the edge of his white t-shirt, the warm air not providing much relief. He hadn’t even realized he was sweating.

There was shuffling around on stage as a group of hefty guys in black t-shirts and jeans came up from the back and started moving equipment around. The crowd tittered and pressed closer. Izuku took the opportunity to sort through the pictures he’d taken, analyzing them with a concentrated frown. He played around with the lens, making some adjustments, lifting the camera up to the stage and back down again several times. The photos were all right, but he’d need to really get close to get some good shots. He bit his lip as he considered how he might accomplish this when suddenly all of the lights went out.

The crowd let up a cheer, several girls screamed and Izuku barely had time to register the anticipation in his stomach when a hard electric guitar sounded at ear-splitting volume and the stage lights blazed back on in a fury of red and white that temporarily blinded him.

The band exploded into song, and the crowd exploded along with it. Within seconds Izuku was standing in the middle of a massive mosh pit, and it was all he could do to clutch desperately at his camera and keep himself upright as he was tossed around. What was this? If the band before had been loud, he didn’t even know what to call this. He could feel the drums in his chest like a heartbeat, the music so loud he could barely register the sounds the crowd was making around him.

Finally catching his feet, his heart beating wildly, Izuku managed to look up properly and get a glimpse of the band from around the glare of the lights.

There were three of them: two guys and a girl. One of the guys sat behind the drums, gripping the drumsticks hard as he slammed them into the offending instrument with fervor. His hair was spiked into an odd hairstyle and bright red, a large, toothy grin spread across his face making him look slightly crazed.

The girl was probably the oddest looking of the three. She gripped her bass with equal enthusiasm, jumping around like a rodent on fire. Her entire face was covered with neon pink face paint, and she must have been wearing some sort of contact lens because her eyes were unnervingly black with yellow irises. Her hair was pink enough to rival her face, and she wore a pair of devil horn hair clips on her head. Her tank top read in big bold letters ALIEN QUEEN, and on top of that, she was wearing strange green-and-purple camouflage hot pants.

The lead singer also held a guitar. Despite the girl’s odd appearance, he was by far the most striking of the three. Izuku couldn’t place his finger on exactly what it was, but the man held an aura of intrigue that the audience seemed to latch on to and feed off of. His presence dominated the entirety of the stage like it was an extension of his own body. His stance held an air of undeniable confidence and unbridled aggression.

His hair was ash-blonde and short, spiking out in every direction. Izuku couldn’t tell if he had styled it that way or if it was natural. He wore a tight black tank top with a large white skull emblazoned on the front. The cut showed off his well-defined arms and broad, heavily muscled shoulders. It also partially obscured a tattoo that stretched across his chest, making it impossible to read. As he moved his hands along his guitar his muscles and tendons shifted in a way that exuded power. He had smeared some kind of black grease paint across his eyes haphazardly, making them look concealed as if by a mask, but it was his eyes that stood out the most. Their piercing redness stood in stark contrast to the black around them, and Izuku was quite certain he’d never seen eyes that colour before. He glared down at his audience in a way that was both incredibly intimidating and inconceivably alluring.

And his voice. Izuku wasn’t sure if he was shouting or singing, but it was perfectly in key and the man barely looked like he was trying at all. No, perhaps that wasn’t right; he was definitely trying. Beads of sweat were already forming on his skin, his face furrowed in a look that could wilt flowers. Izuku was sure the energy he was giving off could power a home. But even so Izuku got the impression that the man could make almost any sound and it would come out perfectly in key and full of purpose. He sang at an almost inhuman volume, voice gravelly, his fingers not missing a second on the guitar. At one point he stomped over to one of the amps and kicked it for no discernible reason, still playing his guitar while it fell over with a loud thud. Izuku wasn’t totally sure if he was performing or getting ready to punch someone’s lights out.

Life’s gonna fuck me? / You got it all wrong / Life is my bitch / I’ll stop when I’ve won

The audience loved it. The mosh pit surrounding Izuku had not ebbed in intensity, and in the brief glimpses he could get around the room, Izuku had spotted at least two fights breaking out. It was unlike anything Izuku had ever been to before, and he found himself getting caught up in the energy. The Antiheroes were a few songs in before Izuku realized he hadn’t been taking any photos. He was still getting thrown around, but he raised his camera anyways, praying it would make it through to the end of the night.

After taking a few shaky shots, Izuku learned not to fight the flow of the crowd. There was no point trying to stand still in a moving pit unless he wanted to get trampled. It’d be hard to get quality photos, but that was why he’d brought his Nikon. After ten or so minutes of experimenting with focuses and settings and adjusting for the bright lights, he found himself getting into the groove of things. He managed to get a few wide shots of the band, but if he wanted to get the really good stuff, he needed to get in close. He spotted a couple of photographers with mid-range cameras closer to the stage; how had they managed it? Izuku tried to edge his way in to the packed stage front, a near-impossible feat for someone as polite as himself. He wasn’t bold enough to force his way through, at least not until he accidentally stomped on the heel of the girl in front of him.

“Ow, what the fuck?” the woman yelled. Izuku didn’t even have a chance to apologize before she turned around, glaring, brought her hand back and smacked Izuku so hard across the face that he reeled back, stunned. This knocked him backwards into a tall guy with a military cut standing right behind him, who did not take kindly to his presence. He shoved Izuku forward with a grunt and back towards the girl, who looked ready to punch him this time. Izuku wondered if he was about to be beaten to death when he felt a sudden sharp pain in his back. He shouted in surprise as he found himself being propelled right past the girl and several others in front of her with a powerful headbutt to the back. Izuku didn’t even have time to think about the fierce pain in his back as he immediately found himself one person behind from the front of the stage.

Izuku froze, his head still reeling; he had gotten even closer than he had hoped, close enough that the members of the band would easily be able to see him, and it made Izuku want to shrink back. Praying he was more invisible than he felt, Izuku used the opportunity and raised his camera. In all the commotion it was a miracle that he had managed to hold onto it at all.

From this close, the show was a different experience. Izuku could see the way the drummer gripped his drumsticks, the way the girl’s feet moved as she jumped around, the way the lead singer’s fingers travelled along the guitar strings. Izuku had never been this close to any musician at a show before. He could, in this exact moment, reach out and touch the lead singer if he’d wanted to. Through the lens of his camera, Izuku could see the way the blonde had gotten himself worked up into his own music. Parts of his bangs were stuck to his face and rivulets of sweat were running down his arms. From a distance, he had looked powerful but from up close… Izuku was bewitched.

Punk is dead / That’s what he said / Ass up in the air / Face down on the bed

Izuku wasn’t sure if he wanted to laugh or grimace over the lyrics that were spewing from the blonde’s mouth. Regardless, Izuku couldn’t help but stare, utterly entranced. He quickly forgot his place in the crowd as he watched the man through the lens of his camera, focusing, adjusting angles, appreciating his efforts perhaps a little too enthusiastically. The man’s eyes didn’t seem to be looking at anything in particular, but for a second, Izuku could have sworn his red eyes drifted his way, and he felt his skin tingle all over.

Moments later, the lead singer adjusted his position so that his guitar was angled towards Izuku, his hands’ movements on the instrument easy to see from his viewpoint. He tilted his head in a way that caught the lights, blasting through his spiky hair, his eyes glowering forward. If Izuku hadn’t known better he’d think the man was posing. Did musicians do that? Regardless, it worked a little too well, and Izuku managed to get a number of photographs that he was instantly pleased with, his stomach twisting into knots as he found himself desperately hoping the lead singer would glance his way despite his own nervousness. It wasn’t meant to be though; seconds later the blonde moved away from Izuku, focusing his attention on another part of the crowd.

Carbon dioxide is bad / But stupid is worse / So shut the fuck up / And save the Earth

Izuku was feeling rather disappointed when, out of nowhere, he received a blow to his brow, a stray elbow catching him in the face. His expression contorted in pain and he staggered back, within seconds finding himself four or five people back in the crowd. ‘What a violent show,’ he thought to himself, rubbing his eye and deciding to focus on the other band members for a while.

The show’s energy didn’t let up for a moment. During a refrain that was particularly heavy on the bass, the pink-faced girl rose to the forefront, swinging herself around and falling to the floor as she hit her chords flawlessly, a cheer rising up from the crowd coupled with chants of “PINKY! PINKY!” Izuku caught a nice mid-air jump shot of her, but not long after found his eyes being drawn back towards the lead singer.

Something about him stirred a feeling in Izuku’s gut that made him a little uncomfortable, a little turned-on. He’d made peace with his bisexuality over the years, but it wasn’t something he often talked about or shared with others. His preferences usually leaned towards women and it had been a while since he’d noticed a guy in that way. But who could blame him, really? The man was objectively attractive, even by non-punk standards. Izuku could see it in the cut of his jawline, the thickness of his neck, the way his tank, slick with sweat, clung to his abdomen, those dangerous, sharp almond-shaped eyes.

The show ended too soon with a loud crash of the drums and wail of the guitar. It was a few minutes before Izuku was able to hear anything other than the ringing in his ears and another few to escape from the crowd, retreating to the back of the room to catch his breath. He could feel sweat coating his body, and it was only now that he realized he’d lost his button-up somewhere on the floor. Now that the high from the show was wearing off, his temple and back throbbed, and Izuku rubbed at his face again. He vaguely wondered what time it was as he rifled through his pictures. He deleted a few, but he smiled over more. Izuku wasn’t one to pat himself on the back, but for his first up-close-and-personal show, he felt he hadn’t done half bad.

Izuku glanced away from his camera a few minutes later and noticed that a small crowd had gathered around the merch table. He assumed it was just fans wanting to buy merch until he saw a flash of spiked red hair. Izuku watched a little longer: sure enough, it looked like at least one of the band members—the drummer—was standing over there chatting with fans. There were a number of people surrounding him. Looking down at his camera, Izuku was struck with a sudden idea. He passed through his photos, selecting one of his strongest, and, with a fierceness probably brought out by the show, strode over towards the redhead.

It took a few minutes for Izuku to get his attention, and he watched as the drummer chatted in a surprisingly friendly manner to fans as one of them bought a CD. It made Izuku think that maybe the whole aggressive fuck-you energy thing was an act for the sake of showmanship. Maybe they were all really nice people. Eventually the fans left, and the redhead turned his gaze towards Izuku, the same toothy smile on his face from before.

“Hi,” Izuku started, rubbing the back of his head awkwardly. He wasn’t sure how to go about this. “You guys were… really great.”

“Hey, thanks man!” the redhead said enthusiastically, beaming. He looked him up and down. “Your first time?”

“Yeah,” Izuku admitted, feeling more than a little self-conscious that it was that obvious to literally everyone he spoke with. He paused for a moment. “Er… I’m a photographer,” he said. “I took some photos… Do you want to, maybe…?” Izuku could feel his face heating up. Surely the redhead didn’t want to be bothered by him; he was probably wasting his time. Nonetheless, he angled his camera towards the drummer and he stepped to Izuku’s side to get a better look. The first photo was one that Izuku had taken of the lead singer, an action shot from the torso up, his eyes closed and screaming into the mic, his hands gripping his guitar and the bright lights glaring through his hair. Izuku scanned through a couple of others, and the redhead whistled.

“Hey, you’re not half bad!” the redhead said encouragingly. “You a professional?” Izuku’s heart soared at these words.

“Ah, well, sort of-” Izuku started before promptly getting cut off by the drummer’s shouting.

“Hey! Baku- Er, Ground Zero!” Izuku followed the redhead’s gaze to the other side of the room and felt his stomach clench when he saw who it lead to. The lead singer, the blonde—Ground Zero?—was looking right at them, his brow furrowed. It looked like they caught him halfway through signing something belonging to a female fan. How had Izuku not noticed him?

“What?” he said in a clipped manner.

The redhead was unperturbed. “C’mere a sec,” he said, gesturing enthusiastically towards Izuku, who felt an anticipatory fear grip him as he saw those red eyes shift his way, his posture straightening unconsciously. The blonde turned back towards the fan and finished whatever he was doing, then stalked over to them.

Izuku could only watch helplessly, stunned, as Ground Zero approached, stopping just short of the redhead. Up close Izuku was surprised to realize the blonde was only slightly taller than himself, an inch at most. The elevated stage had given off a different impression. At the same time, however, Izuku also became painfully aware of their difference in physique. Sure, Izuku was decently toned, as one had to be when carrying around heavy equipment and regularly spending twelve hours or longer on your feet, but this guy was on a whole other level.

Ground Zero looked at him expectantly, and Izuku realized he was staring. Panicking, he tried to get a hold of his thoughts. What had he come here for again? As he scrambled the blonde made an expression of extreme annoyance. “What, you want an autograph or some shit?” he grunted.

That got Izuku going. “Ah… Er, no… I mean, maybe… But-”

“He’s a photographer,” the drummer provided helpfully, looking at Izuku with an amused expression, as though he’d seen this a hundred times before.

“Yeah, well, who isn’t?” Ground Zero retorted. Nonetheless he swung over to Izuku in a couple of easy strides, and with shaking hands Izuku held up his camera, going through the same photos, trying to ignore the heat that he could feel coming off the blonde’s body, the smell of his sweat that was still slick on his shirt…

“Tch,” Ground Zero said, unimpressed. “Not that great. Kinda shitty.” At those words Izuku deflated. The drummer seemed to have liked them, though. He hung his head, and the blonde stepped away. “What’s your name?” he demanded suddenly, looking at Izuku sharply.

“Er… Midoriya Izuku,” Izuku mumbled, head down.

“What?” The blonde made a face. “Did you just say Deku?”

“Izuku,” Izuku repeated just as a shout went up from another area of the room.

Ground Zero looked at the redhead. “He said Deku, right?” The redhead opened his mouth to respond when the blonde suddenly growled, distracted. “Fuck, that guy strung out again?” he asked incredulously, staring at the fohawked guy at the merch booth that Izuku had spoken to earlier. Izuku looked over to see the guy currently staring at a bill like it held the secrets of the universe.

“Think so, yeah,” the drummer replied non-commitally, shooting Izuku a sympathetic look.

Fuck,” the blonde repeated with more emphasis. “If anything goes missing I’ll kick his scrawny ass myself.” He rolled his shoulders as he dug his hand into his pocket, pulling out a small black plastic case and tossing it towards the redhead, who caught it easily. “I’m going to the back. Shirt’s fucking soaked.” With those parting words Ground Zero trudged off, feet heavy on the ground as he rounded the corner of the stage and disappeared from view.

Izuku wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry over the exchange that had just happened. “I should-” Izuku started, gesturing over his shoulder with his thumb, ready to get the hell out of there.

“What? Wait, no, no!” the redhead said, fiddling with the case. One side popped open and revealed a small stack of cards. The drummer took one and handed it to Izuku expectantly. “Here, take this,” he said.

Izuku accepted the item and turned it over. It appeared to be a business card: Izuku spotted a phone number and email address immediately. He gripped it and looked at the redhead questioningly, who grinned.

“He must’ve seen something he liked,” the redhead said, closing the case and pocketing it, and Izuku picked his heart right back up off the floor.

“Really?” Izuku said, unable to help the wide grin that was spreading over his features. “I thought-”

“No worries,” the redhead said, shaking his head. “He’s like that. Don’t take it personally.” He leaned in towards Izuku. “Listen, though. Don’t pass that card around. We’ve had some trouble with overenthusiastic fans in the past, if you catch my drift.” He stepped back again. “Once you’re done messing around with your photos, shoot them our way. If we like ‘em we’ll post them on our socials, shout you out and all that.”

Any previous disappointment felt by Izuku was long forgotten by this point. “Oh wow, really? That’d be amazing!” he said enthusiastically, beaming. “I’ve been wanting to focus on more of my own work, but it’s hard to get followers and I don’t get too much practice at my job besides product shots, although sometimes I do get to work with models, but I can’t use that stuff anyways because it’s owned by the company, so I thought that maybe if I got out and did some local events and news and things like that, I could develop myself more, since I really need a stronger portfolio to showcase my abilities…”

The redhead listened patiently as Izuku rambled on, lost in his own thoughts, but eventually he interrupted him with a friendly pat on the shoulder. “Well, good luck with all that,” he said, smiling, “but seriously, you’re pretty good. When you’re ready, send us your stuff.” He grinned. “Don’t make us wait too long, though. Oh!” The redhead extended his hand. “I’m Red Riot, by the way, but you can call me Kirishima. You’re… Deku?”

“Er- Izuku,” he corrected, shaking the drummer’s hand enthusiastically. “Midoriya Izuku.”

“Right on, Midoriya,” he repeated, laughing. He released his hand and rubbed his ear, twisting his finger in the canal. “Sorry ‘bout that. We’re all a little deaf,” he said jokingly. He rocked back on his heels and stretched a little. “Think I gotta get going… Pinky’s waiting for us to load up the shitmobile. Good to meet ya though!”

Izuku nodded like a bobble head, not entirely understanding Kirishima’s words but still smiling like an idiot as the redhead walked backwards away from him. “You too!” he said, waving. “I’ll get you those photos as soon as I can!” Kirishima grinned and gave him a thumbs-up before turning around and leaving.

Izuku stood there for some time, feeling incredibly pleased with himself. He’d done it: he braved a foreign bar, attended an underground concert, taken some great photos, talked to the band, and promoted himself as a photographer. He wasn’t quite sure what to make of Ground Zero, but at least Kirishima had turned out to be a good guy. Plus the show itself had been, all in all, pretty great. For now, there was only one thing left to do. His smile not fading in the slightest, Izuku approached the merch table, the fohawked guy looking at Izuku without the slightest hint of recognition in his face. Unperturbed by this, Izuku bounced on the balls of his feet and gestured towards the t-shirts he had seen earlier, specifically the one that said FUCK THE ANTIHEROES.

“I’ll take a medium, please,” Izuku said.

Chapter Text

Better than this, better than that
Better watch out when you get me going

“Oh my God Izuku, your eye!”

Izuku tried to smile but ended up wincing. He rubbed the back of his head awkwardly when he saw the concerned expression on his coworker’s face. “It’s not so bad,” he said, wishing he had worn something other than his All Might t-shirt into the studio today, even though it was casual Friday. The brunette was looking especially cute in her loose autumn blouse and smart pencil skirt, and it was hard to look at her directly. “It looks worse than it actually is.”

Izuku had arrived home the previous night far too late and still high on adrenaline from the show. In the optimistically three hours of sleep he’d gotten before his alarm went off, the elbow he’d taken to the face had manifested in the form of a black eye, ugly and purplish-blue against his freckled skin. He’d not known what to do about it so in the end he’d done nothing, resolving to lay low at work and hope for the best. It had sort of worked up until now.

Izuku stifled a tired yawn with his hand as he leaned back in his chair, the stamp from the night before still visible on his wrist. The brunette shook her head disapprovingly as she stepped closer to Izuku to examine the damage, her low heels clicking on the concrete floor. Izuku, all too aware of the way her carefully styled bob shone prettily in the studio’s fluorescent lights, moved his hand to cover his eye. The brunette tsked and put her hands on her hips, her lips pursed in worry. “Were you in a fight?” she asked, moving her head this way and that to try and see around Izuku’s hand. “That’s not like you at all. Oh God! Were you mugged?”

“No, nothing like that!” Izuku said reassuringly, his face heating up. All he could think about was how very close the brunette was standing to him right now. “I’m fine. You don’t need to worry about me, Ochako.” He swiveled back towards his computer to hide his face, willing the heat to recede. His two huge monitors were loaded with a selection of product images that had been chosen for digital enhancement. “Um, was there something I could help you with?”

Uraraka Ochako worked in the editorial department for The Beat, the same magazine as Izuku. She was an amiable woman and Izuku rather liked her. He glanced at Ochako from the corner of his eye, her troubled expression drawing a slow smile out of him. He didn’t want to worry her, but at the same time, it was flattering. For the hundredth time since they’d met, Izuku felt grateful that he’d accidentally bumped into her—literally bumped into her, sending them both sprawling to the ground—at the annual company barbeque last year, where he’d been too busy taking photographs to notice that he was encroaching on the young woman’s space. The editorial department was generally kept separate from the studio and they may not have ever had a chance to meet otherwise. Now, every once in a while, Ochako would visit the warehouse-like studio under some pretense, and when Izuku could get away with it, he’d stop by the connected offices.

Ochako sighed, letting the subject go for the moment. “I was wondering if you’d seen Kaminari,” she said. “He’s late again and you-know-who is about to lose it.”

Izuku blinked, turning back to her. “Is he supposed to be in today?” he asked. “I haven’t seen him.”

Ochako frowned and was about to say something when the offending individual himself entered Izuku’s field of vision from behind the brunette, a hefty bag slung over his shoulder. Izuku raised a finger and pointed and Ochako whirled on her heel, suddenly glaring and full of fire.

“Hey, Ochako!” Kaminari said with a wink and a smile that he probably thought was suave. He was dressed in black and white name-brand sportswear, his straw-coloured hair dyed with an irregular streak of black that Izuku imagined must be hell to maintain.

“Don’t you ‘hey’ me, Denki!” Ochako retorted, trying very hard to look ferocious despite her short stature. “You were supposed to be here half an hour ago!”

Kaminari shrugged the accusation off with a smile. “Was I?” he said mildly. “Didn’t realize it was that late. I’ll-” Kaminari’s eyes drifted over to Izuku, who was watching the exchange with some interest. They widened as they fell on his black eye. “YOU WENT!” he shouted with glee, grinning broadly.

Ochako turned just in time to see Izuku smile meekly. “He went where?” she demanded, looking back and forth between the two of them. “I swear- Ugh, never mind!” She threw her hands up in the air. “I don’t have time for this right now! Denki, you’re coming with me!” She stalked over to the freelancer and grabbed him by the back of his shirt, dragging him towards the studio exit as he made protesting noises. “Don’t think this is over!” Ochako called back over her shoulder, pointing at Izuku. “You’re going to tell me everything later! So don’t even try to get out of it!” As the studio door slammed shut, Izuku chuckled quietly, glad he wasn’t the subject of Ochako’s wrath. The brunette was normally a sweet girl with a calm disposition, but if you got on her bad side, she could be a force to be reckoned with.

Finally free from distraction, Izuku rubbed his palm into his good eye. He glanced around the several thousand square-foot studio, divided into various sets and partitions and working arrangements. Two of the other photographers whose workstations were near his were busy shooting at the far end and a third was off-site today. It was a quiet day save for the occasional sound of footsteps and the muted snapping of cameras, but the silence didn’t help him any.

Izuku’s attention was shot. He was exhausted and his entire body ached. Izuku rubbed at the tender spot on his back where he’d been headbutted and groaned. To top it all off, the images he was currently working on were no comparison to the photos he really wanted to be finessing. But Midoriya Izuku was an excellent employee, damnit, and an excellent employee recognized that work hours were for working.

And possibly for transferring photos to his computer. And maybe for scrolling through them eighteen times, trying to figure out which were the best ones. And perhaps for daydreaming about what he could do to make them as sharp as possible. And in doing so, just maybe impressing a certain band and its aggressive blonde frontman.

Izuku shook his head and set his thoughts aside, picking up his coffee mug only to discover that it was empty again. He normally wasn’t much of a coffee drinker, but he needed it today. Setting the mug down, he reluctantly turned back to his actual work: enhancing a series of images of vibrant nail polishes, their contents splattered artistically courtesy of the props department. He’d shot these the week before and his supervisor had taken forever to get back to him. Izuku had been dreading a reshoot.

The Beat was a mid-size monthly magazine that covered topics relating to fashion, music and local events. When Izuku had graduated college nearly three years ago, he had held big dreams for his career. He had completed his studies near the top of his class and was well liked by his professors, but the job market had been poor. Izuku had spent six months obsessively applying to the best jobs, then the interesting jobs, then literally every job within his field before he’d finally been called back by one of his more desperate applications. When he was offered the position, he determined to make the best of it, not wanting to burden his mother any further with his unemployment.

Hoping he’d start off in the magazine’s events section and build his career from there, Izuku had been disappointed when he found himself relegated to the fashion pages. Still he’d remained hopeful that he’d be able to worm his way into the other areas with time. Yet despite his overwhelmingly cheerful demeanor, relentless hard work and willingness to take on extra assignments and stay late, his boss had been less than receptive. Instead she’d proven to be quite territorial, not wanting to share him with other departments even when Izuku offered to work events without pay.

It had been almost two years since then, and Izuku was still in the same position as he’d been when he first started. Incredibly frustrated, Izuku had begun to wonder if he should have just gone for it as a freelance photographer like Kaminari had, even if it meant no job security and sleepless nights for himself and, more importantly, for his mother.

It was these thoughts that had provoked Izuku to confide in Kaminari the day before. They’d ended up chatting, and Kaminari had suggested that Izuku take on events unrelated to work in his free time. It had been a rare stroke of brilliance from the blonde. Izuku had possibly been a little overenthusiastic about the idea, which may or may not have led to Kaminari hinting at a ‘cool, off-the-road show at a hip bar that should be good practice,’ a mischievous smile plastered to his face.

An hour or so into his work, Izuku’s focus had once again wavered. Without really thinking about it, he opened a new tab in his browser. The Antiheroes were easy enough to find, and Izuku felt a thrill over having spoken to them when he saw the over 12,000 likes and nearly 4,000 followers on their respective accounts. They must be fairly popular, he realized. Izuku’s photography account, by comparison, only had a few hundred followers that largely consisted of friends, old classmates and vague acquaintances.

As he scrolled through their posts, Izuku noticed that the photos the band posted were mainly promotional shots, and the majority of concert images that he found were fan-posted or tagged. They primarily consisted of distorted video and images of questionable quality, many of them blurry from what Izuku assumed was the sheer intensity of their shows. There didn’t seem to be many fans with professional equipment. Izuku grinned, seeing a way in.

Scrolling further back through fan posts—six months, in fact—Izuku stumbled across an image of Ground Zero throwing a drink into a fan’s face from the stage of a venue. Laughing in a combination of horror and amusement, Izuku clicked over to the group’s profile details. While he couldn’t find anything regarding any of the band member’s names, he did learn that they had released a new album, their third, a few weeks prior, and that their first had been released nearly four years ago. They didn’t appear to be signed to any label.

“They made a fan out of you, huh?” Kaminari said from over Izuku’s shoulder, and Izuku just barely managed to suppress a yelp as he leapt out of his chair.

“K-Kaminari!” he exclaimed, ashamed over having been caught while being less than productive. “How long have you been standing there?”

Kaminari shrugged and smiled. “Don’t worry about it,” he said, patting Izuku’s shoulder. “I don’t think anyone here’s about to question your work ethic.” He pulled up a chair from a nearby workstation and slid it over next to Izuku’s desk as Izuku sat down again. “So how was it?” he asked with a grin.

“It was… insane,” Izuku said, finding it the most apt description. “I wish you had warned me.”

Kaminari laughed. “I thought it’d be more fun for you that way,” he said, nudging Izuku with an elbow in camaraderie.

“I thought I was going to die.”

“But you didn’t. And as far as I know, no one’s ever died.”

“As far as you know?”

Kaminari clapped his hands together. “Forget that!” he said. “You brought your camera, right? Let’s see what you’ve got!”

Izuku paused, glancing around the studio to make sure the coast was clear, then clicked on a minimized window on his screens. He passed over a couple of his favourites expectantly, and Kaminari grinned. “It’s been a while since I photographed for them,” he said. “I can’t believe you got so close! Those mosh pits are deadly.”

“It was kind of an accident,” Izuku said.

“Well, whatever works!” Kaminari replied. “You should definitely spam them your finals. Kirishima and Mina will be over the moon. Don’t think anyone’s gotten high-quality photos since their latest release.”

It took Izuku a moment to process all this. “Wait, you know them?!” he asked, his eyebrows rising to his hairline.

Kaminari immediately straightened out, a self-satisfied smirk on his face. “We all went to high school together,” he said in a bragging tone. “Kirishima—er, Red Riot—he’s one of my best buddies.”

Izuku tried very hard not to let his inner fanboy show. “What about the other two?”

Kaminari grinned and winked. “Mina’s great, if that’s who you’re asking about. We’re friends. Bakugou is… well, Bakugou.”

Izuku considered this. “Mina is… Pinky?”

“Yep, you got it!”

So that meant Bakugou was Ground Zero. Kaminari’s easy answers made Izuku want to ask a hundred more questions, but Ochako suddenly popped up behind them. Izuku really had to get better at this whole sneaking around thing. The brunette said nothing as she leaned over Izuku’s shoulder, looking at the photograph on-screen of Bakugou mid-yell.

“Did you take that?” she asked curiously.

“Yeah,” Izuku admitted.

She wrinkled her nose. “He looks scary,” she said, eyeing Izuku. “Is he the one who punched you?”

Kaminari’s eyes widened as the realization struck him. “Wait, Bakugou punched you?”

“What- no!” Izuku looked at Kaminari with grave concern. “I thought you knew him! Does he really go around punching people?”

“It wouldn’t be the first time,” Kaminari said, grimacing. “Guy’s got a temper like you’ve got freckles.”

Izuku was about to respond when Ochako suddenly reached over, grabbed a notepad from Izuku’s desk, and furiously began whacking Kaminari with it. “Where are you taking poor Izuku?” she demanded between smacks as Kaminari cowered, raising his hands above his head to protect himself. “You are a terrible influence on him!”

“I didn’t take him anywhere!” Kaminari protested. He stood and bolted to the opposite side of the workstation. “He just asked me about some local events worth photographing!”

“So you suggested that? He has a black eye!”

“I see, I see!”

Izuku, not entirely understanding what was going on, cleared his throat awkwardly. “I-it’s fine, Ochako,” he said, trying to mediate the situation. “I had a lot of fun, and it was good practice.”

Ochako huffed and set the notebook down. She folded her arms across her chest. “There’s lots of other events he could have recommended,” she said. She glared at Kaminari and he flinched away from her. Casting a sideways glance at Izuku, her gaze softened. “Who punched you then?”

“No one,” Izuku said. “I got elbowed in the face by accident.”

Ochako stared at Izuku for a long moment, and he shifted uncomfortably under her gaze. “Fine,” she said, relaxing. A moment later she turned back to Kaminari. “I’m watching you,” she said suspiciously, and Kaminari nodded, cowed. To Izuku she said, “I have to get back to work. Don’t let Denki trick you into any more weird events.” Kaminari didn’t even protest, because it was technically true.

After Ochako left, Kaminari let out a breath, then started to laugh. “She’s got it bad, huh?” he said, looking at Izuku knowingly. “Damn. Was kind of hoping I had a chance. Ah well; I’ll be a good sport and root for you anyways.”

Izuku, turning red as a tomato, opened his mouth and found nothing to say.

 

***

 

Kaminari stuck around for a while after that, helping Izuku select photographs. Izuku hadn’t photographed too many events since graduating, so it was nice to get feedback from someone who did them on the regular. Plus Kaminari seemed close with the band, so he probably had a good sense of what they liked. Izuku would have liked to extend the conversation, but one of the other photographers had returned while they were finishing up and Izuku had been forced to close the files.

Izuku spent the last few hours of his workday completing the product images he’d been assigned. Talking to Kaminari had gotten him excited all over again though, and his mind was whirring. As his coworkers left for the night, Izuku bid them goodbye, only semi-aware of his heel tapping impatiently on the floor.

By 5 PM, the studio was mostly clear. Izuku got up to grab a third coffee, then returned to his workstation and put on some quiet background music. Looking around a final time, Izuku grinned to himself. Don’t make us wait too long, Kirishima had said.

How was 24 hours?

Izuku cracked his knuckles and got to work. With Kaminari’s help, he’d chosen about a dozen photographs for finishing, and it was these that he focused on. He borrowed some of the techniques that he could discern from the band’s promotional shots as he enhanced, sharpened, adjusted, smoothed, and so forth. Izuku barely noticed as the studio darkened around its corners, stopping to turn on a desk lamp only when the glare from the monitors became too unbearable.

Izuku made the decision to leave the band members themselves alone for the most part. They didn’t seem like the type that’d appreciate being airbrushed, and it didn’t really suit a punk band anyways. He did, however, brighten their eyes, bring out the colours of Mina’s outfit as well as the stage lights, subtly darken blacks, and enhance the trickles of sweat on the frontman, Bakugou. It was easy when it already patterned down his arms and the sides of his face, and Izuku thought that it actually looked pretty cool, maybe even a bit dirty. Dirty was punk, right? He slapped a hand over his mouth when he realized he was muttering.

Roughly two and a half coffees later, Izuku was satisfied with the majority of his photographs. He narrowed his finals again and selected the ten that he thought were strongest, giving them one final look-over. He checked his watch: it was just past midnight. He’d skipped right over dinner without even realizing it, though now that he had, his stomach twisted painfully, wanting to be fed. Izuku ran a shaky hand through his damp hairline. He couldn’t tell if he was tired anymore: five coffees were five more than he usually had and he was pretty wired.

Izuku took his wallet from his back pocket and pulled out the card he’d been given the previous night. He looked at it, then back at the screen, then at the card again. Were his photos good enough? He flipped the card, tapping the edge of it along the desk, thinking. It felt like he had been given some kind of secret password, a code that would unlock another world. He felt pride in obtaining it at all. Izuku held the card up to his desk light, the edges glowing like an eclipse. A new beginning.

His heart racing, Izuku set the card down and transferred his photographs to a file-sharing service. Once he had the access link, he opened his personal email. Checking three times to make sure he’d written the address correctly, Izuku sent a brief but enthusiastic message, reintroducing himself and providing the link as well as his contact information and social media channels.

After agonizing over its tone and making small adjustments for several minutes, Izuku put his foot down. “Aurgh!” he cried out as he hit send, throwing himself back in his chair so hard it nearly tipped over. It was done.

Izuku sat there for several minutes, collecting himself and attempting to slow the nervous and caffeinated racing of his heart. He transferred the finals to his flash drive, pocketing it before unhooking his camera and getting his things to leave for the night.

Locking the studio and making sure to turn off the lights behind him, Izuku hefted his camera bag over his shoulder and set out. It was dark, though stars twinkled dimly behind the haze of city lights. There were worse ways to spend a Friday night, Izuku supposed. Besides, he felt proud of what he’d accomplished.

Izuku stopped to grab takeout before he hopped on the bus to get home. He didn’t bother to wait, inhaling the contents of Special #2 well before he got off the first bus and transferred to the second. It was a 45-minute trip back to his apartment, and Izuku spent most of it alternating between trying to maintain consciousness and trying not to twitch so hard he fell out of his seat.

Arriving at his apartment, Izuku took the elevator to the 14th floor, smiling when he saw the Post-it note pressed to his door.

Plans this weekend?

Izuku didn’t understand why his friend and neighbour preferred this to texting, but Izuku had long ago accepted it as one of the guy’s quirks. He peeled the note off the door before unlocking it and stepping inside his bachelor apartment. After drinking what must have been a litre of water, Izuku stripped off his clothes down to his boxers, grabbed his phone and trudged over to his bed, falling face-first onto the soft sheets.

Izuku groaned loudly in approval, already relaxing into the mattress. As he rolled over to plug in his phone, he noticed he had a new notification, an email. Figuring it was probably spam, he went to delete it, only to freeze. He recognized the email and was shocked that the band had replied so fast. Was it Kirishima? Biting his lip, he opened the message.

Will pass them on. –GZ

It didn’t take Izuku more than a second to figure out the initials, and his stomach twisted. Did that mean that Bakugou took care of all the band’s emails, or was he just the one who happened to check the account at that time? The idea that the contact information that Izuku possessed might actually be a direct line to the blonde made him far more excited than he wanted to admit. He puzzled over the message though. Pass them on? To who? The other band members?

Izuku couldn’t think of anything to say to such a short message, so after staring at it for a solid ten minutes, he reluctantly set his phone aside, deciding to just wait and see what happened. He plugged his phone in and set it on his small bedside table, rolling over to face the wall and-

Woke up to the angry sounds of street traffic and bright light filtering through the window. Izuku squinted and moaned, burying his face in his pillow. How was it already daylight? He’d barely blinked. Raising his head, he rubbed his eyes and immediately withdrew his hands, hissing, his black eye stinging furiously from the pressure.

The pain brought him to some level of wakefulness, and Izuku rolled over and stretched. He’d fallen asleep on top of his bed sheets. Again. Making a series of soft whining noises, he checked his phone blearily, jolting upright when he noticed that a) it was past noon and b) his phone was lit up with all manner of notifications.

Izuku opened his social media accounts and did a double-take when he saw the over 60 new followers, countless likes and three direct messages from fans of The Antiheroes asking if he’d taken more pictures with varying degrees of enthusiasm.

Izuku hadn’t known what he expected to happen, but he knew what he’d hoped. Grinning from ear to ear, he raced to the band’s page, shouting in glee when he saw that they had posted not just one or two, but eight of the ten photographs he’d sent them, all credited to Izuku and his social media channels. It looked like they were posted at some point overnight, and had already garnered several hundred likes and a train of comments from fans. It was the most attention Izuku’s photography had gotten all year.

Trying very hard not to weep with joy, Izuku left an emotional comment thanking the band. Wiping his good eye, he buried his face in his hands and allowed himself a moment just to be happy. After two years of constant frustration and disappointment, this felt too amazing for words. Finally standing up and stretching, Izuku practically skipped to the bathroom then over to his desk.

By the time he returned to his phone he had an additional notification, a friend request from one Kirishima Eijirou. It took Izuku exactly one second to accept it, and not long after he received a private message.

You made us look so cool!!!!!!

Izuku grinned delightedly over the words.

I’m really glad you like them! Thank you so much for posting them :)

Thank Pinky!
She called me screaming in the middle of the night.
She was totally freaking out bro!

Then, after a moment…

If you keep taking stuff like this we’re gonna to have to start paying you.
…Don’t tell Ground Zero I said that.
He’ll kill me.

Izuku, overwhelmed, didn’t know what to do other than stand there and smile stupidly. The messages just kept coming. He could feel the redhead’s excitement through the phone. Izuku was about to reply when another series of messages appeared. The words made Izuku’s heart leap to his throat.

Hey man, you said you wanted to do more stuff like this, right?
What are you doing next Tuesday?

Chapter Text

So here I am, doing everything I can
Holding on to what I am
Pretending I’m a superman

They were late.

Izuku shifted his feet and checked his phone. It was only 20 minutes past the time that he and Kirishima had agreed to meet, but Izuku had been diligent as usual and arrived early. He’d been standing inside the doors of the darkened entryway for over half an hour now. Part of him wanted to walk around and get a better look at the place, but the other half of him was worried that he’d miss the group entirely if he left.

This location was very different from the Hard Luck bar. It was an actual concert venue, for one. Izuku had never been to it, but he’d heard of it. The main act was still a ways off from playing and the place was already filling up.

Izuku toyed with his camera as a group of people passed through the doors. The attendees looked familiar but, at the same time, different. Izuku saw a lot of black again, but this time the men either had extremely long hair or none at all. At least he’d come prepared: Izuku didn’t stand out quite so much in his plain black t-shirt and casual jeans. He’d thought about wearing his new FUCK THE ANTIHEROES band shirt but wasn’t sure if that was considered improper concert etiquette. It wasn’t their show, after all. He’d also braved the cool evening air without a jacket after what had happened to his poor plaid button-up. It had been five days since then and his black eye only remained as a faint bruise circling his eye.

“Hey, Midoriya!” Izuku looked up from his camera and smiled when he saw red hair and a toothy grin, a sudden wave of nervousness passing over him as Kirishima approached. He was accompanied by a woman that Izuku did not recognize. It was both exciting and nerve-wracking, meeting up with the members of a band. Was this really okay?

Kirishima raised a hand to high-five Izuku, who returned the gesture enthusiastically, albeit a bit awkwardly. “Kirishima!” Izuku said. “Thank you for inviting me.”

“No problem, bro!” Kirishima said. “Mina’s real excited to meet you and we had business to take care of anyways.” He winked. “This is a pretty cool venue. You should get some good shots here.”

Kirishima’s companion observed the exchange silently, a single brow raised. Her deep violet hair was cut in an androgynous style, her bangs blunt and the back angled up into a sharp bob. She wore a black leather jacket and a long, ripped shirt. A pair of ear buds dangled loosely around her neck. The most interesting thing about her to Izuku, though, was the strange triangular markings on her cheeks. He couldn’t tell if they were makeup or tattoos.

“So this is the photographer,” she murmured, the corners of her mouth twitching. She surveyed Izuku up and down. “He looks like a roadie.” Izuku was caught off-guard and looked down at himself, surveying his appearance. Did he? He thought he’d done better this time.

Kirishima placed a friendly hand on the woman’s shoulder. “Jirou, this is Midoriya Izuku,” he said. The woman extended a hand, and Izuku tentatively shook it, not knowing entirely how to react to this person. “Midoriya, this is Jirou Kyouka. She’s a friend of the band.”

“A friend of the band?” Jirou drawled, turning to look at Kirishima. “I’m hurt.”

Kirishima laughed jovially, patting Jirou on the back. “Jirou is a sound producer,” he explained. “She records and mixes all our tracks. She actually has a pretty nifty studio right in her apartment.”

“Built it myself.”

“Oh wow, really?” Izuku said, his eyes lighting up. “You put together all the tracks? Does that means you get to hear everything first?”

Izuku may or may not have purchased digital copies of the entire discography of The Antiheroes over the past few days.

Jirou stared at Izuku in bewilderment, then started to laugh. “Hey, Eijirou,” she said. “I thought you said you weren’t going to befriend fans anymore.”

Kirishima laughed a little uneasily, glancing between his two companions. “Jirou,” he started, lowering his voice. “It’s not like that.”

“Bakugou’s gonna be really pissed if he finds out this guy’s a groupie.” Jirou grinned. “I’ll make sure to stick around to watch the fireworks.”

Izuku wasn’t following the conversation at all, but he sensed he’d maybe been a little overenthusiastic. “I don’t exactly understand,” he said, raising his camera, “but I’m just here to take pictures.”

Jirou opened her mouth to reply when a sudden shrieking filled the air behind Izuku, followed by a heavy weight thrown into his side. Izuku staggered, just barely keeping his balance as he caught a flash of neon pink hair. Thank God for his camera strap.

“IZUKUUU!” Pinky screamed into his ear. She looked at Kirishima expectantly. “This is him, right?” When the drummer nodded, the woman resumed screeching, wrapping her arms around Izuku’s neck and hopping up and down.

Izuku, bright red and at a total loss for words, could only stare at the face a few inches from his own. It wasn’t covered in pink today, but her hair was as vibrant as ever and she was still wearing those strange contacts.

“U-Um, hello?” he tried, struggling to maintain both his composure and balance.

“Hi!” the woman said, laughing freely. She planted a big kiss on Izuku’s cheek, a resounding smack striking the air. If Izuku was red before, he was absolutely scarlet now. “I’m Ashido Mina, but you can call me Pinky, or Mina, or whatever!”

“Hey, Mina,” Kirishima said, his smile starting to look a little strained. “You’re gonna scare him off.”

Mina pouted, releasing Izuku, then took a couple steps back and smiled widely. “You are my new favourite person, Midoriya Izuku!” she announced, pointing a finger at his nose.

“Me?”

“Yes, yes!” Mina resumed hopping up and down. “Aah! You took so many cool photos of us! That jump shot you got of me! It was so sharp! They usually end up too blurry to use.”

“I’m glad you liked them so much,” Izuku replied earnestly, trying to keep up with the pink-haired hurricane.

Mina nodded enthusiastically. “I did!” she said. “When I got the message from Ground Zero I just couldn’t wait, so I posted them right away!” She punched the air. “Bam!” she exclaimed. “Just like that!”

Izuku was starting to understand why the members of The Antiheroes made such a good trio. The amount of energy each of them gave off was extraordinary, if different in their own ways. “Thank you,” he said happily. “It’s been really great for me too.” Between the photographs that the band had posted and the ones that Izuku had added to his own pages, he had gained over 100 new followers in a span of four days.

Mina grinned, finally diverting her attention to the other members of the group. “Kyouka,” she said sweetly, giving the woman a big hug before positioning herself beside Kirishima and nonchalantly looping her arm through his. “Kiri,” she said. “Everyone’s here now, right?”

Kirishima watched the girl drape herself over his arm, then shook his head as if to clear it. “Yeah,” he said, looking at Izuku and Jirou sheepishly before tilting his head towards the venue’s interior.

Izuku hesitated. “Er,” he started. “Aren’t we still…?”

Kirishima looked a bit puzzled before his brows shot up. “Oh, right!” he said. “I forgot to mention. Bakugou—that’s Ground Zero—he got held up at work. He’s gonna be late.” Kirishima grabbed Izuku’s shoulder, leading him in with Mina still attached to his other arm. “I’ll give you a proper introduction once he gets here.”

Bakugou. Izuku pushed back a swell of nervous excitement. He still wasn’t sure what to make of the guy. Izuku had never met anyone that intense before, and they’d barely even spoken. “Great,” he said, allowing himself to be led.

Izuku forgot his thoughts as they entered the auditorium, a quiet gasp of appreciation on his lips. The mid-size space still held relics of its past as an opera house. Though the seats had long since been ripped out, the old stage remained and thick red curtains still hung from either side. The tall pillars winding around the mouth of the stage were ornately carved, meeting at the top in an elaborate crest. It was quite beautiful. Izuku was struck by how odd it was that the place apparently had a reputation for heavy metal acts. The current one on stage was belting out lyrics in a register so low and raspy that Izuku had no idea what the guy was saying.

Kirishima watched as Izuku stared open-mouthed at the stage, a self-satisfied smile on his face. He tapped Izuku’s shoulder to get his attention and gestured towards the bar. “I’m grabbing a beer. You want anything?” he asked loudly over the music.

Izuku glanced down at his camera. “I think I’m going to check out this place a little bit first if that’s alright,” he replied.

Kirishima nodded. “Do your thing, man!” he said, bringing his hands to his face and miming a photograph. “If you need anything, just look for the red hair!” He grinned and pointed at his head for emphasis.

Izuku laughed. There was some truth to that; even in the gloom Kirishima’s spiked hair was vibrant enough to stand out. “Yeah,” he said. “Uh, and if you need me, just look for…”

“The awkward guy skulking around like he’s trying to hide?” Jirou suggested. Mina smacked the woman playfully and they burst into giggles.

“You are terrible,” Mina scolded, not seeming bothered in the slightest.

“They’re just messing with you,” Kirishima reassured Izuku, biting his lip to keep a smile back. He scratched the back of his head. “We’ll meet up later, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Izuku said confidently. “It was nice to meet you both,” he said to the girls, who smiled and nodded in return.

As Izuku was walking away, he heard Mina say, “What a cutie. Can we keep him?”

 

***

 

Izuku got to work after that scoping out the old opera house and its acts. He felt a little sorry he hadn’t come here before; it was a gorgeous place. The old balconies along the sides of the stage still remained, and Izuku wondered if it was safe to go up there as he snapped a photograph. Part of him wanted to return to Kirishima, but Izuku was in work mode now, and the fire that had been lit inside of him due to his new success was burning brightly. He wasn’t going to miss this opportunity.

Izuku weaved amongst the crowd slowly. There were easily hundreds of people here, and it had gotten even more crowded since the main act had taken the stage. Unlike the show at the Hard Luck bar, the mosh pit was fairly contained to an area twenty or so feet back from the stage. Izuku debated braving it, but the sheer number of headbangers gave him pause. They looked like they had even less control than the crowd at the punk show. He should probably invest in a back-up camera if he was going to do this regularly.

Izuku took a number of photographs of the performance, getting as close as he dared. This was obviously a popular group, and they played with clear years of experience. It made for a surprisingly refined show, but Izuku found himself preferring the more DIY-feel and aesthetic of The Antiheroes. There was something about them that just felt so earnest.

As the band transitioned into another song, Izuku wondered how long it had been since he’d parted from Kirishima. He debated checking back with him and the others; he hadn’t seen them in the mass at the front. Maybe Bakugou had finally arrived, and the thought made his stomach tighten. Izuku internally chided himself: he was just another guy, he reminded himself.

Just another incredibly attractive, incredibly talented guy.

Setting his thoughts firmly aside, Izuku started scouring the venue for signs of the drummer. It took him a good number of minutes before he spotted a familiar flash of red near the back of the venue. As he approached the man, Izuku caught no glimpse of the girls, but he could see that Kirishima was definitely with someone.

Kirishima glanced Izuku’s way, then smiled and waved him over. “There you are!” he said. The man standing next to him turned his head.

In his mind Izuku had decided that the blood red of Bakugou’s eyes had only looked so intense because of all the black grease paint around them. He could see now that he was mistaken. Even without the makeup, Bakugou’s eyes burned with a fierceness that seemed impossible to contain. His eyes were a crimson fire, uncontrolled and wild.

Kirishima was saying something, but all Izuku could hear was the blood rushing in his ears as he looked at the thick, sturdy muscle of Bakugou’s neck and the way his black shirt tightened around his biceps. His pants were dirty with a light-coloured dust, and there was a dark smudge on his cheek under his left eye.

Bakugou shifted his weight, his eyes remaining on Izuku. It was the eyes that got him the most. He could feel their pressure as the blonde focused in on him. Izuku blinked: no, he really was focusing on him. Bakugou’s arms were folded and his eyes were getting narrower and narrower as he stared Izuku down. Izuku was trapped in his gaze, unsure of what was happening.

Finally Bakugou tilted his head, a flicker of recognition passing behind his eyes. “Deku,” he said, unfolding his arms, and Kirishima slapped his hand to his forehead as Izuku gaped.

“No, buddy,” Kirishima said, putting a hand on Bakugou’s shoulder. “I told you, remember? His name’s Midoriya. Midoriya Izuku.” The redhead looked at Izuku apologetically.

The blonde shrugged, reaching his hand up to the side of his neck and cracking it. “Whatever.”

The redhead groaned in defeat. “Midoriya,” he said, addressing Izuku. “This is Bakugou Katsuki, our Ground Zero.”

Izuku extended a hand that he swore wasn’t shaking towards the blonde, who stared at him as though he’d grown a second head. Bakugou glared at Kirishima. “The fuck’re you introducing us for? We already met, didn’t we?”

“Not properly,” Kirishima replied easily, and for a second Izuku seriously thought Bakugou was going to punch the guy. He remembered what Kaminari had told him about the blonde and lowered his hand. Yet despite his concern, a small part of Izuku was triumphant that he’d finally learned Bakugou’s full name.

“It’s nice to meet you anyways,” Izuku said. He almost immediately regretted his words when those eyes snapped back towards him.

“I need a fucking drink,” Katsuki said, and he stalked off.

Izuku released a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding after the blonde left. “Is he always like that?” Izuku asked Kirishima once he was sure Katsuki was out of hearing range.

Kirishima laughed. Izuku didn’t understand what was so funny. “Pretty much,” the redhead said. “He’s gotten a bit more intense since we started taking the whole band thing seriously, I guess.” He smiled warmly at Midoriya. “Don’t worry about it. Most people get used to him pretty fast.”

Izuku had so many things he wanted to say to this, but the blonde had already returned, three bottles in hand. He said nothing as he roughly shoved one into Izuku’s hands, and then Kirishima’s.

“Oh my God, you didn’t have t-” Izuku started, completely shocked, but one foul look from Katsuki caused him to interrupt himself. “-Thank you!” he squeaked, clamping his mouth shut.

“Hey, thanks man!” Kirishima said to Katsuki, taking a healthy swig from his bottle. Izuku timidly followed suit. He wasn’t much of a beer drinker, but this one had been given to him by Ground Zero of all people, and he was going to stand there and enjoy it.

Or at least drink it.

“Pink Face around?” Katsuki grumbled, raising his own bottle.

“Yeah,” Kirishima said. “I think Jirou recruited her into helping her pick up women again.” Katsuki snorted.

Izuku, wanting to be part of the conversation, tried to pick a safe topic. “Ah… Kirishima said you were working late,” he said to Katsuki after a lull.

The blonde was impassive. “So?”

Izuku gulped. “So…” he started. “You work and you’re in a band? You must be pretty busy.”

“We all do!” Kirishima chirped, elbowing Izuku in the ribs. “Gotta fund the habit somehow, ya know?” He raised a tragic hand to his brow. “It’s a hard life for us starving artists.”

“You’re not fucking starving,” Katsuki muttered.

“What do you do, then?” Izuku wanted to know.

“Road work,” Kirishima replied. “The weird shifts make it easier to travel for shows. Plus it pays well.” He winked.

“Oh,” Izuku said. “That makes sense.” He looked at Katsuki expectantly. ‘He’s just a regular person,’ Izuku thought, and the blonde sighed and rolled his eyes.

“Explosives technician,” he said simply.

Izuku was thrown. “What, like a bomb squad?” he asked excitedly. “That’s so-”

Izuku was interrupted by Kirishima’s sudden, loud laughter. Confused, Izuku glanced back and forth between the bandmates, feeling rather disturbed by the look on Katsuki’s face. The blonde’s features had contorted into the expression of one who was deeply offended, his mouth pinched and brow furrowed.

“Wh- You think I’m a fucking cop?” Katsuki said with the most disdain Izuku had ever heard someone speak of that profession in. “The fuck’s wrong with you?”

 Izuku was at a loss, baffled by the blonde’s twisted mouth and flared nostrils. “I- I don’t-”

“Fucking cop,” Katsuki repeated in disbelief, taking a step towards Izuku. Kirishima stopped laughing long enough to put his free hand out in front of Katsuki’s chest.

“Woah there, easy bud,” he said, not unkindly. Kirishima glanced at Izuku, and he looked like he might start laughing again. “He- he doesn’t get it, man. Look at him.”

Katsuki snarled. Izuku’s heart hammered in his chest. The blonde stood there unmoving for a long moment before he spoke again. “Construction, dipshit,” he said, and Kirishima dropped his hand as the blonde stepped back. “Wrecking buildings, shit like that.” He jerked his head toward Kirishima. “Same company,” he said. “And we’re fucking out of there the moment we blow up.”

Izuku made the mistake of continuing to speak. “Isn’t that pretty dangerous?” he asked.

“Maybe if you’re a FUCKING IDIOT!” Katsuki roared, nearly dropping his bottle as he violently twisted back towards Izuku, and Izuku almost wet his pants.

Kirishima took this in stride. “Hey, Bakugou, you didn’t see Danger earlier, did you?” he asked, abruptly changing the subject.

Katsuki gave Izuku a scathing glare. “No,” he said, still looking at Izuku. “Dunno where that asshole is.”

“We should find him before the show’s over,” Kirishima said cheerfully, nudging the blonde suggestively.

Katsuki gave Kirishima one hell of a stink-eye. “Don’t fucking tell me what to do,” he said. He ran a hand through his messy spikes, then pulled his phone from his pocket. Reading something on the screen, Katsuki growled. “Gotta handle something,” he said. He threw his head back and finished his beer in one gulp, then turned on his heel. He proceeded to slam the empty bottle down on the bar counter before heading to the exit, already furiously typing out some sort of reply.

Izuku stared at his own beer, barely touched. He felt as though his knees were about to give out. What the hell had just happened? He looked at Kirishima. “Did I do something wrong?” he asked anxiously.

Kirishima snickered. “Depends who you ask,” he said, shooting Izuku a cryptic smirk. He finished his own beer, then nodded towards Izuku’s camera. “You get anything good?”

Izuku wanted to know what Kirishima meant by that, but he thought he shouldn’t press too hard. “… I think so,” he said, trying to balance both his camera and beer between his hands. He took Kirishima through a few pictures, and the drummer nodded in approval.

“You have a good eye for this stuff,” he said amiably. “How long’ve you been taking concert photos for?”

“Not very long,” Izuku admitted. “Your show was kind of my first.”

“Damn!” the redhead said. “That explains a lot.” Izuku looked at him with a puzzled expression. “If this is what your beginner stuff looks like though,” Kirishima continued with a mischievous smile, “I can’t wait to see what happens when you get good.”

Izuku was taken aback by the sudden compliment. He beamed: he really liked Kirishima. He had a way of taking all the tension out of a room. “I think that’s one of the nicest things anyone’s ever said to me,” Izuku said. Kirishima just shrugged and smiled.

Not long after Mina and Jirou returned, both with half-empty drinks. They were all flushes and smiles.

“Any luck?” Kirishima asked, and the girls nodded.

“I got two numbers,” Jirou said, a triumphant look on her face.

“I’m a great wingwoman!” Mina added.

“It’s amazing what a little imaginary competition does.”

Izuku started to laugh but cut himself off when he felt a rough hand grab his shoulder from behind. He went as stiff as a board.

Kirishima, noticing Izuku’s reaction, glanced over and smiled. “Ah, Bakugou,” he said. “You found him?”

“Yeah,” came the gruff response. Izuku didn’t dare turn his head. “Come on,” Katsuki said, and he released Izuku’s shoulder only to seize his arm and drag him off. Izuku stumbled and nearly fell before he caught his feet and turned himself around.

Katsuki cut through the crowd like a tank on a mission. His grip was strong; Izuku doubted he’d be able to break free even if he threw his full weight into it. He could feel the rough calluses that had formed on Katsuki’s fingertips from years of guitar playing as they scraped against his skin. If Izuku wasn’t so scared for his life, he might have reveled in the sensation.

“Where are we going?” Izuku asked, a hint of panic in his voice. Katsuki responded by releasing Izuku with a thrust, sending him a step or two forward before he came to a stop at the far end of the bar.

A tall, husky man was waiting for them, his hip casually propped against the side of the counter. His thick meaty arms were crossed over the broad expanse of his chest. Twenty years ago, the man might have been a football player, but the balding head and gut served as reminders of the present. He looked Izuku up and down, his expression unfriendly. “This him?” the man asked, and a shiver went down Izuku’s spine. What had he done now?

“Yeah,” Katsuki said.

The man’s face split into a broad grin that encompassed all his features almost immediately. He reached out, extending his hand to Izuku. “Good to meet you!” he said enthusiastically. “You take some pretty nice photos, kid.”

Izuku was flabbergasted. He stared at the man for a moment before his brain snapped into action, and he reached out and shook his hand. His grip was powerful, and as they shook Izuku had the strange sensation of his arm waving around like one of those tube men in car lots. “Th-Thank you!” he said, glancing at Katsuki. What was going on here? Katsuki ignored him and instead leaned forward on the bar, his elbows propped against the edge.

The man laughed, a hearty sound that came straight from the gut. “You sure don’t look like much, but I guess talent comes in all shapes,” he said. “The name’s Rick Danger.”

“He owns the place,” Katsuki said.

Izuku balked. “What, really?” He looked at the strangely-named, heavily-built man, the owner of a converted opera house. It didn’t seem to fit, but Izuku was fascinated nonetheless.

The man laughed again, and Katsuki rolled his eyes as he signaled the bartender for another beer, completely disinterested.

“Sure do,” Rick Danger said. “I saw your stuff online.” He jerked his thumb in Katsuki’s direction and Katsuki grunted. “Been heckling them to put me in touch with you.” Rick glanced down, his eyes landing on Izuku’s camera. “You taking pictures tonight? Let’s see what you’ve got.”

“I haven’t had a chance to take a good look at them yet,” Izuku said, feeling his neck start to sweat. He wasn’t prepared for this at all. Izuku flipped through his photographs as quickly as he could, hoping to at least start on a good one, then carefully took his camera off and over his head. He delicately passed it to the man.

The man seemed to know how to handle it at least. Izuku was always a little skittish when it came to passing his expensive piece of equipment to someone else. The man scanned through the images with a serious expression then passed it back, a smile curling the corners of his mouth.

“Not bad,” he said. “I’d like to see what you do with the finals.” The bartender brought Katsuki his beer and he took a swig from it then set it down. He grabbed the edge of the counter with both hands, stretching his arms as he kept one eye on the exchange. “I’m guessing you’re new to this, am I right?”

“Yeah,” Izuku admitted sheepishly. Katsuki apparently found this to be the wrong answer, because he made a strangled noise in the back of his throat and glared at Izuku, who flinched.

Rick ignored the interaction. “How’d you like to get some practice in?” he continued. “Here’s the deal: I’ll let you in to whatever shows you want completely free. All you gotta do is ask for me at the door. You come, you do your thing, then send your photographs my way.” He winked. “Once you get better, I’ll even consider paying you.”

“I’d love to!” Izuku exclaimed without hesitation, his hands gripping his camera tightly. Katsuki let his head flop down toward his arms as he grumbled something unintelligible in an exasperated tone.

Izuku hadn’t been expecting this tonight. The owner of a concert venue had just asked him to be his personal photographer, hadn’t he? That meant he was going to get to take pictures of a lot of different bands, right? Concerts were a type of event, after all! It was a start, and Izuku found he was unable to stop himself from smiling.

Rick shot Katsuki a dirty look, then turned back to Izuku. “Great!” he said. “You got a business card?”

Izuku’s expression froze. “Not yet,” he said, kicking himself internally. He was going to have to learn a whole lot about this freelancing business and fast. “But I’m going to make some!” he added quickly, a determined expression taking over his face. “And when they’re done, I’ll come here and give one to you personally!”

Rick slapped a heavy hand on Izuku’s shoulder, causing him to wince. “What a go-getter!” he said, aiming a shit-eating smile at Katsuki. The blonde looked up long enough to send the man a withering glare. “I love this kid! Don’t you?”

Katsuki looked like he’d just eaten a lemon. “You just like him cause he’s fucking easy-”

“Enough of that!” Rick snapped, cutting Katsuki off abruptly. His smile had faded some. “Ease off on the sour grapes. Speaking of which, how’re The Antiheroes these days?”

Katsuki was watching the man with a stormy expression. “We’re great,” he said tightly, his voice without amusement.

That reminded Izuku of something he’d been meaning to ask. “I was curious,” he said, looking at Katsuki. “How do you two know each other? Have you played here?”

Rick snorted, and Katsuki let out a long stream of curses, causing Izuku to take a step back. He was beginning to wonder why he was even trying with the blonde.

“Come now, don’t be like that,” Rick said in a friendly enough tone, though there was mischief behind his eyes. “You’ve played here before.”

“That didn’t fucking count.”

“Ah, yes.” The man brought a hand to his chin thoughtfully. “It doesn’t count unless you’re the main act, right Ground Zero?”

Katsuki glowered at him. “You owe us.”

Rick sighed. “That I do.”

Izuku perked up, intrigued by this new revelation. “What for?”

“None of your fucking business.”

Rick smirked. “Now that’s no way for a hero to talk.”

“Shut the fuck up. You owe us, and you won’t keep getting out of it forever.”

“And I’ve told you. You’re not big enough.” The man gestured around his venue. “You think you can fill a space this size? I’m not calling a loss on your asses. Come back to me when you have a bigger following and then we’ll talk.”

“Your word means shit,” Katsuki spat. “Once you get better.” He looked at Izuku meaningfully. “A bigger following. Tell me what that looks like to you, and I’ll fucking do it.”

Katsuki must have hit a sore spot, because Rick was no longer smiling. “Fine,” he said, clenching his jaw. “Twenty thousand fans. There you go. Make it happen, and you’ve got your show.”

Izuku almost choked over the number. Twenty thousand?

Katsuki straightened himself up, meeting the man with a challenging gaze. “Done,” he said. He held out his hand, and Rick gripped it, neither of them breaking eye contact. “I’m gonna hold you to that. So don’t even try to squirm your way out.”

Izuku felt as though he was watching war being declared. He could see the muscles straining in both of the men’s arms.

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Rick said.

“We’re gonna be blowing up real soon. Next thing you know you’ll be begging us to come here and we won’t have time for your shitty venue anymore.”

“I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Katsuki snarled, releasing Rick’s hand. Still maintaining eye contact, he grabbed his beer from the counter then turned and left, leaving Izuku behind.

Rick watched him go, a look of extreme distaste on his face. “Fucking prick,” he said under his breath, and Izuku was inclined to agree. “You friends with him?”

“Me? Oh, no!” Izuku said, waving his arms frantically. “We barely know each other.”

“That’s probably for the best,” Rick said. “You’re a good guy, right, Midoriya? I can count on you?”

“Of course, sir!” Izuku said immediately. He was glad that Katsuki’s behavior hadn’t fouled this new relationship for him, even if the blonde had been the one to introduce them.

There was something niggling at the back of his mind though. “I hope you don’t mind me asking,” Izuku started slowly, “but what is it that you owe him?” He might be prying, but their heated exchange had only made Izuku more curious.

Rick sighed wearily. “Ah, that,” he said. “Well, if you really want to know…” He leaned forward, lowering his voice. “About eight months or so back, our buddy Bakugou and his crew were at a show here when some guy turned up with a knife. Seemed he was the jilted ex-lover of a girl attending and wanted revenge. He attacked the girl, got a stab in before Bakugou caught whiff of what was going on. He disarmed the guy single-handedly and held him down until the cops arrived. The other two dealt with the girl, put pressure on the wound. She was fine in the end.” He shook his head. “It was real bad, but it could’ve been worse. I made the mistake of telling Bakugou I owed him one after the police left. He took it pretty literally.” He grinned sardonically. “Guess it was my own fault.”

Izuku’s mouth dropped open, his brows rising to his hairline. Bakugou had done what? Here? He turned around but the blonde had long since disappeared from view.

Any prior negative thoughts Izuku had had regarding the blonde were instantly dismissed. ‘A real-life hero,’ he thought to himself, finding an entirely new sense of admiration being birthed. But something was off. “Don’t you want to pay him back?” Izuku asked innocently. Rick’s grin disappeared. “I mean, I know that I-”

“What, you gonna ride my ass too?” the man demanded, folding his arms and rearranging himself into an intimidating stance.

Izuku’s face fell. He was starting to see another side to Rick, and he wasn’t sure he liked it. “No, sir,” he said. He was done with him for now. “Thank you for your time. I’ll come back to give you my business card soon.” With that he bowed politely and walked away, his thoughts going a mile a minute.

By the time he found the group again, the band was in their encore. Izuku took his same spot next to Kirishima and Bakugou. He tried to watch the performance but his eyes kept getting drawn back to the blonde, a smile flitting at his lips. He couldn’t help it; he was starting to see the man in another light. Now that Izuku thought about it, Bakugou actually looked quite a bit like a superhero with his brawny physique and serious gaze. He imagined the blonde that night, holding his villain down, snarling threats in his ear to keep him complacent until the police arrived, and he felt his gut clench, a welcoming warmth spreading throughout his body.

Bakugou seemed to have noticed Izuku’s gaze, because his eyes suddenly shifted. “What?”

“Thank you,” Izuku said.

Bakugou was visibly startled. “What the f- What for?”

Izuku smiled brightly. “For introducing me.” He paused. “And for passing my photographs along. I didn’t get to say that earlier.”

Bakugou paused. “I didn’t do shit,” he said after a moment. “Shitty Hair and Pink Face wanted your photos and Dick Danger over there wouldn’t leave us the fuck alone.”

Kirishima took the opportunity to interject, wrapping a friendly arm around Bakugou’s shoulders. “Don’t listen to him,” Kirishima told Izuku. “He liked them too. Trust me. If he hated your photographs you’d be the first to know.”

Katsuki shoved Kirishima off of him. “How about you shut the fuck up?” he demanded. His shouting caught Mina and Jirou’s attention, and they drew closer to the sound.

Izuku paused. Was there truth in Kirishima’s words? “You liked my photographs?” he asked Katsuki hopefully. Even though he’d said they weren’t that great…

Katsuki met Izuku’s gaze, his eye twitching. After a moment he broke the contact, choosing to instead scowl at the floor. “Fuck, you’re annoying,” he muttered. “Don’t be so weird about it, stupid Deku.”

“Oooooh!” Mina crowed triumphantly. “I knew it! He made you look super cool, right Bakugou?”

“I don’t need anyone to make me look cool, dumbass.”

“But he did! He did!”

Izuku beamed. He had gained some sort of victory, hadn’t he? He’d even gotten a compliment from Bakugou himself. Well, almost.

“Deku did fuck and all.”

“That’s not my name,” Izuku said suddenly, feeling revived and newly confident.     

Katsuki turned back to him and glared. “Hah?”

Izuku wavered a bit, but he held his ground. This guy wouldn’t punch him. He was a good guy, after all. Kaminari had gotten it wrong. “I said that’s not my name.”

Katsuki tilted his head, looking like he was ready for a fight. “Deku.”

Izuku gulped. “If you’re going to give me a weird nickname,” he said, trying to sound confident and hoping he wasn’t coming off as nervous as he felt, “I’ll have to give you one back.” Jirou huddled in closer to Mina to watch. Her hands covered her mouth in anticipation.

Katsuki was clearly unimpressed. He met Izuku with a challenging stare as he raised his beer to his lips. “Oh yeah?”

Izuku was being called out. Damnit; he couldn’t back down now. He stared long and hard at Katsuki’s intimidating gaze, trying to think of something, anything, that might throw him off-balance.

“Kacchan,” Izuku said. It was the first thing that came to mind.

Izuku had never seen a real-life spit take, but he hadn’t realized just how messy they really were as Katsuki choked and spluttered, spraying Izuku’s clothes with the beer he’d been nonchalantly drinking. One glance told Izuku that the blonde was absolutely livid: he was so red it seemed to have transcended the actual colour itself and become purple.

Izuku, wet and very much terrified, was ready to flee based on the singular murderous look on Katsuki’s face. The only thing that stopped him was the howling laughter that came from the three witnesses to the event.

Kirishima was doubled over from laughing so hard. He slapped his knee while Mina splayed herself over him, pounding her fist on his back, tears streaming down her face. Jirou was clinging helplessly to Mina, looking like she was about to fall to the floor.

Izuku found himself stuck in the strange limbo of not knowing whether to run away or join in on the laughter.

Bakugou, sputtering, took a step forward, and Izuku took a step back, prepared to run, but Kirishima stopped the blonde by rushing forward and grabbing Izuku by the neck, giving him a vicious noogie.

“Midoriya, my man!” Kirishima howled. The girls piled in around him, laughing and poking at him interchangeably. Izuku kept his eyes away from Katsuki, afraid of what he might see.

“I love him,” Mina moaned, grabbing her sides and giggling.

“I think I might too,” Jirou said, rubbing her palms into her eyes.

Katsuki stood still, his fists clenching and unclenching. “You f-”

“Nah, bro!” Kirishima said, releasing Izuku long enough to give Katsuki a hard pat on the back. Katsuki looked ready to deck Kirishima upside the head with his bottle. “Don’t take it so seriously. Oh, but man! That was priceless.” He pointed at Midoriya and hiccupped. “I like this guy! He’s got spunk.”

“He should come to your party,” Mina said between breaths.

“Hell no,” Katsuki said.

“Hell yeah!” Kirishima said. He looked back at Izuku. “I’m throwing a big Halloween party this Saturday,” he explained. “I do it every year. You should come! It’s gonna be off the hook.”

Izuku managed to straighten himself out, the two girls still clinging to him. The entire evening had been surreal, and now this? “I appreciate the offer,” Izuku said, “but I kind of told my friend already I’d go to his.” When Kirishima’s face fell, Izuku reconsidered. “I mean, I guess I could come for a little while, although I don’t know how long I’d be able to stay, if you don’t mind that is-”

“If he goes I’m not going,” Katsuki said, glaring daggers at Izuku.

“Oh, he’s coming,” Kirishima said, “and so are you.”

“Like hell I am!” Katsuki shrugged out of Kirishima’s grip. “Fuck all of you!” he said, glowering at Izuku. “Especially you!” He dropped his beer bottle and let it smash right there on the floor, causing a few people to look over. “And fuck this place!” he shouted, flipping off the bar as he turned on his heel and stomped away.

“Where are you going?” Kirishima called out after him. He started laughing again.

“Away from you!” Katsuki shouted over his shoulder, not slowing in the slightest. “Have fun with your new fucking pet!”

“Alright, take it easy man!” Kirishima shouted back. Izuku wasn’t sure whether he ought to feel insulted, but after Katsuki left, the laughter started and didn’t seem to want to stop.

“Hey, you all right man?” Kirishima asked as Izuku doubled over, all of the tension from the night’s events releasing at once. He wasn’t sure if it was nervousness, or giddiness, or joy. Maybe it was a combination of all three. He wasn’t sure it really mattered.

After laughing for a solid minute straight, Izuku finally calmed himself, wiping a tear from his eye.

“I’m great,” Izuku said.

He grinned.

Chapter Text

Wild thing I think you move me
But I wanna know for sure

 

Red eyes.

Red eyes, fiery and furious, flickering in the dark. Eyes that pull you in. Eyes that draw a question out of you, that drive you forward.

Hot breaths against a mouth, light and teasing. A pair of lips, surprisingly soft and tasting of sweat and blood and ink. Wandering hands discovering arms, thick and muscular. Short hairs brushing under palms. A sudden pooling of heat in the gut.

Hands caressing a toned stomach. A low moan. Fingers moving southward, a breath hitching before starting again, a little faster, a little more unsteady.

Tongues joining, dancing around each other. Something deeper awakening. Not enough.

Ground giving way, falling forward. Plunging downward, hips on hips, twin needs. Hands hovering over thick, powerful thighs. Fingers digging into toned flesh. A deep, gravelly groan.

Surrendering. Leaning forward, staring into crimson flames. Pressing thighs back further, further, growing closer, closer.

A name wafting through the air. Hips bearing down, a sudden, tight heat and it’s good, it’s so good, it’s too good. Frenzied, all-consuming and utterly mindless. There’s nothing left but the lust and the motion and-

 

Izuku woke to the sound of his alarm, sweaty and gasping for air. He reached over and smacked it off then stared at the ceiling, dazed. It took him several minutes to reorient himself. He hadn’t had a dream like that in a long time, and he couldn’t remember if he’d ever had one that erotic.

Izuku shifted under his blankets, immediately uncomfortable. A glance southward told him why and he groaned. His hands found his hair and he grabbed at it, palms pressing into his eyes. He could feel the dampness of his hairline. Wasn’t he too old for this sort of thing?

He lay there for a while, thinking things through. Sure, Ground Zero was hot. And talented. And heroic. But he was also a musician, and it was no secret what sort of lifestyle those types tended to lead. Bakugou could, and probably did, bed whoever he wanted to, whenever he wanted to.

He wasn’t a teenager anymore, Izuku told himself. The time for crushes on guys in bands was long over. There was no point in letting his attraction get away from him. Hell, he didn’t even know if Katsuki was into men. He’d have to be an idiot to try anything.

Izuku resolved to treat this as what it was: a fantasy, and nothing more. He checked the time on his phone and grimaced, forcing himself upright. He needed to get ready for work, and to work out his issue.

It was all right, wasn’t it? Izuku got up, stumbled into the bathroom and turned on the shower. He’d do it once then never think about him again.

Less than two minutes later, Izuku stared into the shower drain, panting as water streamed down his face, his entire body quaking.

If only it were that easy.

 

***

 

Izuku didn’t need to check the door number on the apartment in the end.

This was because the door was, in fact, wide open. People were already spilling into the hallway and Izuku could hear the noise all the way from the elevator. Hopefully the neighbours didn’t mind.

Izuku peeked around the edge of the doorway. A couple dozen people were cluttering up the interior and it was only early evening. He sidestepped a guy dressed as Spider-Man, his mask rolled up far enough to expose his mouth as he raised a bottle to his lips. Izuku knocked on the open door before entering hesitantly. This had to be it.

The entrance led to a narrow open-ended kitchen. Two pots on the stove were presently emanating fantastic smells. Izuku had barely set his cooler bag down, mouth watering, when a pair of hands lightly touched his shoulders.

“Izuku!” a woman’s voice exclaimed, and Izuku turned around.

“Uh, yeah,” he said, squinting at the girl. “Mina?”

Mina beamed and struck a pose, tilting her gold sequined top hat down. “Don’t I look amazing?” she asked, twirling on the spot. She was dressed to the nines, all shine and sparkles. Her pink hair was slicked back and she wore a black strapless top with a gold jacket. The look was completed with a pink neck bow, and everything was covered in sequins. Her heels clicked as she spun. “I made it myself!”

Izuku was impressed. “You did a great job,” he said, and Mina giggled. He was glad he’d put a decent amount of effort into his own costume, not that he’d wanted to look cool in front of the band or anything. “I made mine too.”

Mina smiled kindly. “Did you genderbend The Grudge or something?” she asked as a man wearing a black greaser-style wig swung up behind her, wrapping an arm around her waist.

“Midoriya!” he said, grinning. Izuku recognized the smile immediately. “You came!”

Kirishima was wearing ripped jeans and a black leather vest lined with leopard print. “I’m glad I could make it,” Izuku said, smiling. He gestured towards his cooler bag. “I brought guac.”

“Nice!” Kirishima said. He tilted his head as he studied Izuku. “You’re… a dead body?”

Close enough. “An evil spirit,” Izuku corrected. He’d torn up an oversized white shirt and spattered it with dirt and fake blood, then paled his face with white cream makeup. It was cheap Halloween stuff and had ended up kind of transparent. He’d finished the look by smearing more black blood on his face, letting it run down from his eyes.

He might have gotten a little carried away with the fake blood.

Kirishima laughed and nodded, and Izuku hesitated. “…You guys are from Rocky Horror, right?”

Mina popped her foot, resting a hand on Kirishima’s chest. “Kiri’s my Eddie for tonight,” she said sweetly, batting her eyelashes up at him. “And I’m his Columbia.”

“Oh,” Izuku said. “I didn’t realize you were a couple.”

Kirishima quickly turned as red as his concealed hair while Mina started to laugh. “You’re so funny,” she said, shaking a finger at Izuku. “It’s just a costume, Izuku.”

Kirishima removed his arm from Mina’s waist and rubbed his neck. He glanced away, eyes coming to rest on Izuku’s cooler. “…Guac, you said?” he asked, stepping closer.

“Uh, yeah,” Izuku said, unzipping the bag. He felt bad for embarrassing Kirishima and was happy to change the subject. “I’m not much of a cook, but my mom taught me a few things before I moved out.”

“It’s homemade? Right on!” Izuku handed Kirishima the cheap bowl covered in plastic wrap. He also revealed a couple bags of nachos and a six-pack of the same brand of beer they’d been drinking at the concert. The redhead made a show of setting the bowl on the counter and ripping open one of the bags.

“Damn, not bad, not bad!” Kirishima said after sampling Izuku’s creation. He passed the bag to Mina then stepped out of the kitchen, cupping a hand to his mouth. “Hey, Bakugou!” he called out. “This guac’s almost as good as yours!”

“Fuck you, no it isn’t!” Izuku’s stomach lurched and he felt an immediate twinge of nervousness.

“You don’t know that!” Kirishima shouted back. “Come and try it!”

“I’m busy!”

“Oh my God,” Mina said, popping another chip into her mouth. “It is good.”

“Th-Thanks,” Izuku said, trying very hard not to think about the fact that Bakugou was in the other room. He grabbed the six-pack and extended a can to Kirishima, who accepted without hesitation.

“Midoriya’s got the goods!” he crowed, cracking it then picking up the bowl and walking out of the kitchen. Out the far side was a table littered with various snacks and an absurd number of bottles of hard liquor. Setting the bowl down along with the chips, Kirishima turned back to Izuku and gestured. “Help yourself to whatever you want,” he said. “Group donations.” He took a swig of the beer then raised his hand, brushing past Izuku to greet a new arrival. Mina skipped after him and Izuku was alone.

Izuku watched them go. He knew there’d be other people at the party, but he really didn’t know anyone else. At least he wouldn’t be staying long.

Feeling naked without his camera, Izuku grabbed one of his beers instead and wandered over to the cluttered table. It was covered in various snacks and Halloween treats, most of them store bought. He didn’t dare touch anything for now.

Izuku shuffled indecisively while stealing a glance around the apartment. The table was in a side area that opened into the main living quarters, where most of the partygoers were. It was a pretty decent-sized apartment, and Kirishima had taken the time to decorate it for Halloween. Fake cobwebs, caution tape, bloody handprints, the works. It seemed like a lot of effort. Maybe Kirishima had roommates? The partygoers were dressed in a strange array of costumes, and Izuku spotted Katsuki almost immediately simply because he was the only person who wasn’t wearing one.

Katsuki was sitting cross-legged in an armchair, glaring furiously at his phone as he hunched over it, typing out a message. He was wearing a black tank and a pair of heavily studded green army pants. Izuku thought it unfair that Katsuki seemed to only wear tanks and fitted shirts. It was incredibly distracting.

He wasn’t keen on talking to the blonde one-on-one, but Izuku didn’t recognize anyone else and he couldn’t stand at the table forever. After taking a few gulps of liquid courage, he approached the blonde timidly, standing a few feet away while the other partygoers raised a ruckus around them.

“Hi,” Izuku blurted out. Katsuki glanced up. It only took one look from those eyes for the heat to start in Izuku’s cheeks. He quickly glanced away, trying to rid himself of the guilty reminder that he’d gotten himself off while fantasizing about doing unspeakable things to this man.

Twice.

“God damnit,” Katsuki said before going back to his phone.

Izuku laughed nervously.

They fell into an awkward silence. Izuku was considering bailing when Katsuki spoke up. “The fuck’re you supposed to be anyways?”

“An evil spirit.”

“You look like a demented rag doll.”

Izuku frowned, momentarily annoyed enough to forget his embarrassment. “Says the guy who came to a Halloween party without a costume.”

“Costumes are stupid.”

This confused Izuku. “But you have one on stage.”

Katsuki looked up long enough to raise a brow. “What? No I don’t.”

Izuku gestured towards his eyes. “The black-”

“That’s not a costume, idiot. That’s war paint.”

The logic of this was lost on Izuku, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep himself from smiling. He tentatively took a seat on the long couch adjacent the armchair and sipped his beer.

“Well, whatever it is, it looks cool,” he said. Katsuki ignored him in favour of falling into a fuming silence as he fervently typed out what must have been a rather lengthy message.

This was going terribly. Izuku eyed the room, not seeing Kirishima or Mina in the near vicinity. Maybe he should try and strike up a conversation with some strangers. It couldn’t go any worse than this. Izuku’s nervousness made him stay put though, and he stared at his can wishing he hadn’t come at all.

Katsuki swore at his phone and stood. He hit a button on the device then raised it to his ear as he stalked away, flinging open the balcony door while yelling at someone on the other end. The door slammed behind him, but the other partygoers barely reacted. As he left Izuku caught sight of black ink curling over Katsuki’s shoulder blades. He hadn’t noticed that tattoo before. The one on his chest still poked out from under his tank teasingly, piquing Izuku’s interest despite their failed conversation.

Lost in his thoughts, Izuku didn’t notice the figure approaching him until a friendly hand gave his shoulder a solid pat.

“Midoriya!” Kaminari said, grinning devilishly, which was appropriate considering his costume. “Didn’t know you were coming.”

Izuku felt like giving Kaminari a hug. “Kaminari!” he said, relieved to see a friendly face. “Nice costume.” It made sense that Kaminari was here, Izuku discerned, since he’d said that he and Kirishima were close.

“Thanks!” Kaminari said, shaking his shoulders so that his bat wings bounced. He put his hands on his hips. “Just finished it. Nice ghoul thing. Sorry that I forgot I invited you.”

Izuku frowned. “You didn’t invite me. Kirishima did. Isn’t this his party?”

Kaminari tilted his head, looking puzzled as he sat down in the empty armchair. “It’s both of ours,” he said. “We’ve done it every year since high school. Damn, guess you made an impression then!”

“You guys are even closer than I realized,” Izuku said.

“We’re roommates.”

Izuku did a double-take. He looked at Kaminari with a betrayed expression. “You never told me that!” It was hard to imagine he’d only been one degree of separation from the band this entire time.

Kaminari shrugged and smiled innocently. “It never came up.”

Izuku was still processing this information when the balcony door opened and closed again. Katsuki stomped over to Kaminari and glowered down at him. “Outta my chair,” he grumbled.

Kaminari settled himself further into it, wiggling around stubbornly. “It’s my chair, actually,” he said. “I live here.”

“Great. Want me to throw you off your balcony?”

Kaminari groaned and stood, defeated. He skulked over to Izuku and sat down next to him, bumping his shoulder. Katsuki reclaimed his former position, crossing his legs again.

“Still dealing with that?” Kaminari asked.

“Fuck off.”

Kaminari leaned his head against Izuku’s shoulder, looking up at him woefully. “Bakugou’s mad at me,” he said. “He’s been mad at me all week.”

Izuku looked at Kaminari warily. “What for?”

Kaminari smiled guiltily. “I was supposed to come to their show to take photos, but I double-booked myself by accident.”

“Useless asshole,” Bakugou muttered, back on his phone.

“Aw, don’t be like that. I sent Midoriya, didn’t I?”

Izuku straightened suddenly and Kaminari’s head bounced off his shoulder. “You-!” he said, looking at Kaminari accusingly. “I thought you were giving me advice, not passing off a job!”

Kaminari rubbed his neck, wincing. “Why can’t it be both?” he said. “It worked out, didn’t it?”

Izuku opened and closed his mouth, not sure whether to be amused or frustrated by Kaminari’s sneakiness. Katsuki snorted. “Did for us,” he said. “Maybe we’ll use him from now on and ditch you, since you’re so goddamn unreliable.”

“Really?” Izuku perked up while Kaminari made a series of protesting noises.

“No.” Katsuki looked at Izuku humourlessly. “Fuck, you really are a sucker, Deku.”

Before Izuku could respond, Kaminari started to laugh. “Aw, you’ve joined the nickname club!” he said joyfully. “You should be honoured, Midoriya.”

Katsuki glared at Kaminari. “Want to die, Shitty Devil?”

Kaminari smacked his hands down on the edge of the couch. “And that’s my cue to grab a drink!” he said, standing. He looked at Izuku and Bakugou amiably. “Want anything?”

“I brought some beers. Help yourself,” Izuku offered, raising his can.

“Sweet, thanks!” Kaminari made his hands into guns and pointed them at Izuku.

Izuku hesitated, then glanced at Katsuki. “Want one?”

“I ain’t drinking.”

It was clear that Katsuki was occupied with something, but even so, it didn’t seem right. No costume, ignoring everyone… “Why’d you even come?” Izuku asked.

Katsuki sighed, throwing his head back against the armchair. “I didn’t come,” he said. “I just haven’t left.”

“But-”

Katsuki glowered at him. “You talk too much.” Izuku snapped his mouth shut. At least the blonde wasn’t yelling at him.

Not long after a woman approached. She regarded the two of them with mild amusement. She was wearing a white skin-tight ensemble resembling a bathing suit and a white belt, coupled with a black leather jacket and a plastic gun. Her purple hair was fluffed up, but Izuku recognized her by her triangular markings, which he could now assume were tattoos. Her outfit was revealing enough to make Izuku blush.

“Bakugou,” Jirou said, acknowledging the blonde. Katsuki grunted. She turned to Izuku, a small smile on her lips. “Groupie.”

Quick as lightning, Katsuki reached out and grabbed the front of Izuku’s costume, hoisting him up as he stood. Izuku, panicking, dropped his beer as he flailed his arms before holding them out by his sides, frozen. The can clattered to the ground, spilling its contents everywhere.

Katsuki’s expression was twisted up into a scowl, his eyes narrowed with suspicion. “You a groupie?” he demanded, and Izuku’s heart leapt to his throat. He shook Izuku by the front of his torn up shirt. A nervous squeak escaped him, his eyes wide in their sockets. Katsuki snarled. “Trying to get close to the band are you? Ain’t gonna let another of you fucking freaks stake us out to get your rocks off.”

Kaminari, returning with his beer, saw the commotion and dashed over. “Bakugou, what the hell?” he screeched, grabbing the man by the shoulder. Katsuki gave Kaminari a glare so withering that he immediately retracted his hand.

Jirou looked similarly startled. She shook her head vigorously. “Hey Bakugou, it was just a joke!” she said. “I wasn’t being serious.”

Katsuki’s gaze remained fixated on Izuku as his grip on his costume tightened. “Well?” he demanded.

“I’m not a groupie!” Izuku exclaimed, his breathing ragged as he tried to ground himself.

“Bullshit.”

“Bakugou, let him go!” Kaminari said, realization creeping in. “Midoriya’s cool, man! I know him. He’s not like that.”

Izuku struggled against Katsuki’s grip. “I barely know you guys!” he protested. “I’d never even heard of you before last week!”

Katsuki regarded him with eyes that spoke of distrust. “The hell d’you mean you’d never heard of us?”

“It’s true!” Izuku said. He decided to lay all his cards on the table, remembering how out of place he’d felt at The Antiheroes’ gig. “Do I look like the kind of guy who goes to these types of shows all the time?”

Katsuki growled. “Dunno what you look like. Why don’t you tell me?”

“Bakugou, seriously!”

“Shut up, Purple Hair!”

Izuku threw his hands up, fear giving way to frustration. He took a breath, mouth quivering, and looked Katsuki straight in the eyes. “You won’t punch me,” he said.

Katsuki’s expression began to take on a manic look, and for a second Izuku doubted his own words. The blonde brought his face inches from Izuku’s. “Oh yeah?”

Izuku gulped. He could feel Katsuki’s hot breath on his face. “You won’t,” he repeated. “I know you won’t.” Kaminari brought his hands to his face in horror.

Katsuki gripped Izuku’s costume even tighter. “How’s that?”

“Because-” Izuku started. “Y-You’re one of the good guys.”

Katsuki stared at Izuku blankly before a disgusted look came over his face. He released Izuku’s shirt with a shove, and Izuku stumbled back, putting a hand over his heart as he took a series of deep breaths to calm himself. Both Kaminari and Jirou looked at Izuku as if he’d gone insane.

Katsuki ran a hand down the side of his face in disbelief. “One of the good guys,” he repeated. “What are you, twelve?”

“Twice that, actually,” Izuku managed.

Katsuki shook his head. “You’re a real head case, you know that?”

Coming from Katsuki, Izuku found this statement incredibly strange. “Um,” he said.

Katsuki hesitated then took a step forward. He leaned in, jabbing his index finger into the middle of Izuku’s chest. “Listen up,” he said, eyeing Izuku warily. “Maybe you’re a groupie. Maybe you’re not.” Katsuki paused. “You fuck with me, and I’ll kick your ass. You fuck with them-” He jerked his head towards the entryway of the apartment, where Kirishima and Mina were currently chatting it up with Spider-Man. “-I’ll fucking kill you. Got it?”

“Bakugou!” Kaminari said exasperatedly. He grabbed Izuku’s arm and began dragging him away. “Leave Midoriya alone.”

Izuku was a whole mess of confused emotions. It was strange, being both terrified and enthralled by what was obviously a protective streak in Katsuki at the same time. “You must care about your friends a lot,” he said thoughtlessly. Both Kaminari and Jirou shouted at Izuku as Jirou grabbed his other arm. Together they hauled him off before Katsuki could make good on his threat.

“What are you, crazy?” Kaminari hissed once they’d taken Izuku aside into the area by the snack table. Both he and Jirou regarded Izuku with stern expressions. “Didn’t know you were this ballsy, Midoriya. But at least don’t egg him on!”

Izuku glanced over their shoulders and saw Kirishima grabbing Katsuki and dragging him away somewhere, an arm over his shoulder. “I wasn’t egging him on,” he said. “Was I?”

“You totally were,” Jirou said. She brought a hand to her face and sighed. “Sorry about that. I wasn’t expecting him to freak out so badly.”

Izuku considered everything that had just happened. There was a question on his mind, something that both Kirishima and Jirou had made allusions to. “He can’t hate his own fans,” Izuku reasoned, thinking aloud. “That wouldn’t make sense.” He looked between Jirou and Kaminari. “Did something happen?”

Jirou and Kaminari exchanged glances.

“Er-” Kaminari started, but Jirou interrupted him.

“It isn’t really our place to say,” she said, elbowing Kaminari. “But there’s been a couple of incidents. I shouldn’t have brought it up.” She looked at Izuku apologetically. “Bakugou or Kirishima might tell you if you ask. But don’t press them.” She leaned in closer, her voice lowering to a whisper. “And make sure you never bring it up in front of Mina, okay? I mean it.” She looked at Izuku earnestly.

Jirou’s words only added fuel to Izuku’s curiosity, but he nodded anyways. He didn’t want to upset anyone unnecessarily. “No problem,” he said. “You don’t have to worry about me.”

Jirou relaxed. “Let me make it up to you,” she said, turning towards the kitchen table. “I make great bitch drinks.” She eyed the alcohol and snacks. “What’s your poison? Vodka? Whiskey?” She narrowed her eyes and studied Izuku for a moment. “…Rum?”

“You really don’t have to,” Izuku said, gesturing over to the floor still soaked in beer. “I should clean up the mess I made-”

Jirou snapped her fingers. “Denki,” she said. “Go take care of the floor.”

Kaminari groaned. “Fine,” he said, and he turned his back, wings bouncing as he slunk away.

Jirou turned back to Izuku. “So?” she said.

Izuku winced. He was being read like a book, wasn’t he? “…Rum,” he admitted, hanging his head. A faint smile appeared on Jirou’s face.

“Got it,” she said. Jirou got to work and Izuku watched her with interest. By the time she was done she had created some mysterious purple brew, a heavy dark pool sitting at the bottom of the clear plastic cup and mixing in slow tendrils towards the top. She handed the drink to Izuku, who stared at it suspiciously. “In the spirit of the season,” Jirou said by way of explanation.

Izuku took a cautious sip, his eyes lighting up. “Oh, wow,” he said. “This is actually really good.” It was a little sweet, and didn’t taste alcoholic at all.

Jirou grinned. “I got you,” she said, giving Izuku a thumbs-up. “We cool?”

Izuku nodded. “Yeah.” Kaminari wandered back over, his beer in hand. He looked at Izuku’s drink.

“No fair. You made him a drink?” he said. “I want one too.”

Jirou reached up and pinched Kaminari’s cheek. “All right,” she said mischievously. “Since you were good.” She got to work and not long after proffered a cup containing a bright orange beverage.

“Yes!” Kaminari said, pumping his fist. He took the drink with one hand and chugged his beer to completion with the other before setting the empty can down. Izuku watched with mild amusement as Kaminari took a healthy gulp from the cup. “Jirou makes the best drinks,” he told Izuku, and Izuku was inclined to agree.

By the time they returned to the couch with their drinks, Katsuki was back in his armchair and Kirishima was sitting on the arm casually.

“Don’t worry about it so much, bro,” Kirishima was saying. “It’s a party. Relax-” The redhead perked up, seeing the group approach. They all piled onto the couch together, and he grinned when he saw the drinks in hand. “You’ve been mixing,” Kirishima said to Jirou, and the woman chuckled, sipping on her own green beverage.

“It’s been a while,” Jirou said. “I don’t usually get to play around this much.”

“Make me one too,” Kirishima said, his grin widening. He looked at Kaminari and Izuku. “What’re yours?”

“Whiskey,” Kaminari said.

“Rum,” said Izuku.

Katsuki looked over at Izuku and snorted. “Really?”

A smirk passed over Jirou’s lips. “You say that,” she said to Katsuki, “but all I hear is ‘vodka’.”

“I ain’t drinking.”

“‘I’ll have a vodka.’”

Kirishima laughed. “Can I get whatever he’s having?” he said, pointing at Kaminari’s cup.

“Sure thing,” Jirou said. She stood, stretching her arms. “You really ought to be paying me, you know,” she said to Kirishima, who laughed and waved it off.

“We’ll pay you in curry,” he said, motioning towards Katsuki. Izuku blinked; was that what that amazing smell had been?

“Fuck yeah,” Jirou said. “I might make the best drinks, but Bakugou makes the best food.”

“Damn right I do,” Katsuki said, and Izuku found himself surprised once more.

“You made curry?” he asked. His expression must have betrayed him, because Katsuki scowled.

“What’re you so damned shocked about?” he snapped. “Think I can’t cook?”

Izuku closed his mouth. “No,” he said. “It just smells good.”

“Nice costume, by the way, Major,” Kirishima said to Jirou. The woman grinned and saluted him.

“Thanks. I’ve got a date later, so I figured I’d dress to kill.” She picked up her gun and aimed it at Kirishima. “I just came for the food.”

As Jirou left, a pair of hands holding a headband with cat ears reached out from behind Katsuki’s armchair. Mina’s hat popped up over the top of the chair as she placed the ears unceremoniously on Katsuki’s head. “Surprise!” she said. “I found you a costume after all.”

Katsuki growled and ripped the offending object off his head before hucking them across the room. “My ears!” Mina cried out, laughing. She hung her chin over the top of the armchair and patted Katsuki’s arm gently. “Kacchan’s being a poop this year,” she informed Izuku. She giggled, her cheeks flushed. Izuku had to bite back a laugh. “It’s too bad because last year was a lot of fun. We dressed him up like the dentist guy from Little Shop of Horrors. He got so wasted he sang the song and everything.”

“Oh my God,” Izuku said. “I might actually pay money to see that.”

“Fuck’s sake, how long are you assholes going to call me that for?” Katsuki snarled, glaring at Izuku before jerking his head around to glare at Mina. Both her and Kirishima started to laugh.

“Mina’s been tormenting him all week,” Kirishima said. Katsuki pushed him off the edge of the chair and he fell to the ground with a loud thud.

Katsuki shot daggers at Izuku. “This is all your fault, shitty Deku,” he said accusingly.

“Hey, you started it,” Izuku said, his mouth twitching. Katsuki swore under his breath.

Mina stood up and skipped over to the couch, sitting on the arm next to Izuku. She peered at his drink. “What is that?” she asked curiously.

Izuku looked down; was it already half gone? The cups weren’t exactly small. “I’m not sure,” he said.

“Can I try it?” Mina asked. After a moment’s awkwardness, Izuku handed her the cup. She took a big gulp, then beamed. “Oh my God,” she said. “I love this. It tastes like candy.”

“Let me see,” Katsuki said as Mina took another gulp. Izuku grabbed his cup back hastily.

“Get your own,” he said, and the entire group burst into laughter. Izuku found himself joining in, feeling remarkably bubbly.

Jirou returned, passing a drink to Kirishima and another to Katsuki, a clear one with small particles floating in it. Katsuki stirred it with his finger disinterestedly.

“Kyoukaa,” Mina said, smiling flirtatiously. “Darling. Make me one of whatever you gave to Izuku? Pretty please?”

“For you, anything,” Jirou said, winking. She glanced at Izuku, delighted. “What, done already?” she asked.

Izuku looked down at his empty cup. “Oh,” he said, cueing up another round of laughter from the group.

“One sec,” Jirou said, scuttling off again. Katsuki raised his cup, sampled it, then set it down on the side table. His phone screen lit up and he seized it.

“Still?” Kirishima asked from his place on the floor. Katsuki groaned and Kirishima gave him a sympathetic look.

Izuku’s curiosity was really starting to get the better of him, and the bubbliness was making him forget his agitation. “What’s the matter?” he asked.

Kirishima sighed. “Problem with our new shirts,” he said as Katsuki shot off another message. “They messed up the designs and we’ve got to reprint. Bakugou’s been arguing with them all day. They’re saying they can’t get them to us by the date we need them.”

“Oh, they’re gonna get them to us,” Katsuki said, setting his phone down forcefully. “I sent that shit off months ago. Ain’t our fault they’re a bunch of dipshits who can’t do their jobs right.”

“We have an event in a few weeks,” Mina explained. “It’s this battle of the bands thing. We were hoping to have them for that. Plus we’re planning a tour for our new album and need them for the road.” She sighed dramatically.

We’re planning a tour?” Katsuki deadpanned. Mina smiled sheepishly.

“Bakugou arranges all our tours and handles the business end of things,” Mina said. “I take care of our social media. And Kiri-”

“I deal with the fans,” Kirishima said. “Plus whatever else comes up.” He looked at Katsuki earnestly. “I’d do more if you’d let me,” he said.

Katsuki glowered. “I’ve got it covered,” he said.

Izuku had never thought about how much work went into running a band. Since The Antiheroes were unsigned, he realized they must manage everything themselves on top of creating all their music and playing shows. It was probably a full-time job. And it sounded like Katsuki was taking far more than his share of the work. “That really sucks about your shirts,” Izuku said. “I hope it works out for you guys.”

“Drinks!” Jirou interrupted cheerfully, two purple beverages in hand. Before Izuku or Mina could do anything, Katsuki reached out and swiped one.

Katsuki tasted it cautiously, making a face. “The hell?” he said. “How can you drink this? It’s a goddamn sugar bomb.”

“It’s not that sweet!” Izuku defended.

Katsuki stared at him. “I bet you like pumpkin spice lattes too.”

“I don’t!” Izuku had only had two so far this year.

“Whatever, groupie.” Katsuki passed the cup off to Mina, and Izuku took the other from Jirou. Katsuki picked up his own.

“What’s yours?” Izuku inquired. It was the most normal-looking drink by far.

Katsuki was quiet for a moment, then passed his cup over wordlessly, a hint of mischief in his eyes. Izuku, too tipsy to consider the fact that Katsuki’s mouth had already touched the cup, sniffed it. It smelled like… pepper? He took a sip, and his eyes watered.

“What-!?” he spluttered. “Why’s it spicy?”

“You telling me you can’t take it?” Katsuki sneered.

Izuku passed the cup back. “It’s alright,” he said, trying not to cough. “But it’s a drink! A clear drink!”

“With cayenne,” Jirou said proudly. “I made it work.”

“It’s not terrible,” Katsuki said. Jirou smacked him lightly and he glared at her.

“Is that all you have to say to me?” she said, taking her place next to Kaminari on the couch.

“No. Your costume sucks too.”

“Augh!” Jirou huffed, turning to look at Kaminari. “Can you believe this guy? It’s a miracle he has any friends at all.”

“He’s not that bad,” Kirishima said. Katsuki promptly karate chopped him on the top of his head.

Izuku started to laugh. “You guys are great,” he said happily. “I’m glad I came.” He drank deeply from his cup.

“Thank me!” Kaminari protested. “I started it all!”

“Thanks, Denki.”

Mina clasped her hands over her heart. “I love this boy,” she gushed. “He’s such a sweetie.”

Katsuki’s phone started to ring. He snarled then threw his head back and finished his drink in one gulp before stomping away to the balcony.

Mina stood as well, dusting her skirt off playfully. She extended a hand to Kirishima. “Let’s do the food, yeah? I’m hungry and the drinks are going to my head.”

Kirishima nodded and accepted her hand. “Help us set up, bro,” he said to Kaminari.

“Yeah, bro,” Kaminari said, and they bumped fists before heading to the kitchen. Their friendship suddenly made perfect sense to Izuku.

Left alone with Jirou, Izuku smiled guiltily. “I feel bad that you’re spending the whole party making drinks for everyone,” he said.

Jirou smirked. “You act like I haven’t been taking shots every time I leave.” She looked at Izuku’s cup. “Let me make you another. I have a feeling you’re going to need it.”

Izuku had no idea what Jirou was talking about, but he nodded anyways. The partygoers were starting to gather around the kitchen and Izuku watched them for a while before following suit.

The aromas coming from the kitchen by now were heavenly. Izuku could detect a thick blanket of spices wafting through the room. Katsuki had really done this?

It took Izuku some time to get through the narrow space. Kirishima and Kaminari were sitting on the counter across from the oven, chowing down. There were two pots on the stovetop, one considerably emptier than the other. Izuku couldn’t tell why; they both smelled amazing. If anything, the fuller pot had an even richer scent emanating from it. Scooping a ladleful of white rice on his paper plate, Izuku paused then took some curry from the pot.

“Midoriya!” Kirishima crowed. Kaminari whooped. “So manly!” Izuku shot them a confused smile before exiting the kitchen.

Mina had settled into the empty armchair, her knees hanging lazily over the arm as she munched on her plate, humming happily. Izuku saw a whole slew of mixed drinks had been placed on the side and coffee table, but Jirou was nowhere to be found. It took him a moment to identify his own before he sat down.

“So good,” Mina moaned, twirling her fork in the air. Izuku took a big bite of his curry and his mouth almost caved.

It was so incredibly spicy. If that drink from before was hot, this was an inferno. His eyes teared up immediately, and he started coughing over the sheer intensity. He grabbed his drink and hastily downed a good third of it.

Once the burning sensation became manageable, Izuku reconsidered his plate. He took a smaller, more cautious bite and his eyes watered again, spilling over this time. It was almost unbearably spicy, but it was so, so good. The richness and depth of the flavour was unlike any other curry he’d had before. He sniffed loudly, and Mina glanced over. One look at him was enough to send her into fits of laughter.

“Izuku!” she exclaimed, her entire body shaking. “You took the hot one, didn’t you?” Izuku coughed again, and Mina laughed harder.

Katsuki decided to use this exact moment to return from the balcony. “Bakugou!” Mina called out breathlessly. Katsuki’s eyes snapped over. She pointed at Izuku. “Look at him!”

Tears were flowing freely from both of Izuku’s eyes, his face all pinched up. He swiped at his face, smearing costume makeup everywhere. He breathed through his mouth, tongue on fire.

Katsuki gave Izuku a bewildered look. “Are you crying?”

“No,” Izuku said. He sniffled.

“He can’t handle his spice,” Mina said, cackling.

Katsuki’s expression switched to understanding. “It’s not even that hot, you wuss,” he said scornfully.

“Bakugou is the king of spices,” Mina informed Izuku. “If it’s too much for you just go back and take another plate.”

“It’s fine,” Izuku said. Both Mina and Katsuki looked at him incredulously. Izuku thought it through. “It’s painful, but like… a good pain, I guess?” He shrugged and took another bite, new tears appearing. “Oh God, I can’t stop.”

“Ooo!” Mina crooned. “Izuku’s a masochist!” Izuku almost choked.

Katsuki shook his head, completely done with both of them, and walked away while muttering under his breath.

Izuku worked through his plate—which was doing wonders for his sinuses—as the others trickled back. He managed most of it with plenty of mixed drinks in between. They soothed his mouth and stomach, the latter of which felt as though he had swallowed a hot coal.

Minutes after Izuku finished, Katsuki returned with a heaping plate of his own curry. He stopped at the armchair and looked at Mina. “Get off,” he said gruffly.

Mina stuck her tongue out at him. “No.”

Katsuki scowled and kicked the leg of the chair. Mina kicked her legs back at him. “It’s my turn,” she said petulantly. “Go make nice with Izuku.”

“Ain’t making nice with shit,” he grumbled, though after looking between the chair and his occupied hands, he did as he was told and took a seat on the couch, leaving a healthy gap between himself and Izuku.

“Next time I pick you up and drop you on your ass,” he grumbled.

“Love you,” Mina said in a singsong voice. Izuku felt a sudden disappointment.

“Oh. You’re together then?” he asked Mina. Mina almost spit out her drink.

“Oh my God, Izuku!” She slapped the side of her leg as she laughed heartily. “Me with-!” She pointed her fork at Katsuki, who had his plate balanced between crossed legs as he read something on his phone. “Did you hear that, Bakugou?”

Katsuki looked up. “Hear what?”

“Izuku thinks we’re a couple!” She kicked out her legs in mirth. A flicker of what might have been amusement passed over Katsuki’s face.

“You wish,” he said. Mina clutched her stomach. Izuku was starting to feel a bit ridiculous.

“I think he’s trying to figure out if I’m single,” Mina said with a wink. Izuku promptly went beet red as Katsuki shot him an evil eye. He was starting to think that maybe Mina was just a flirt.

“It’s not like that at all!” Izuku said, shaking his head vigorously and finding himself unexpectedly dizzy.

“He’s telling the truth,” Kaminari said as he sat down between Katsuki and Izuku, having overheard the tail end of the conversation. “Midoriya likes Ochako.”

If a hole had suddenly appeared in the ground, Izuku would have eagerly jumped into it. “I-I-” he stammered. He didn’t know whether to agree or disagree with that statement. But he definitely knew he didn’t want to be talking about it while his late-night fantasy was sitting this close to him, demolishing his generous plate of curry. “I mean, don’t you like her, Kaminari?” Izuku finally responded, diverting the subject.

“Who’s Ochako?” Mina asked.

“My coworker,” Izuku said.

“My future girlfriend,” said Kaminari.

“Oh yeah. Weren’t you supposed to be bringing her?” Jirou said dryly, settling down on the floor.

“She… already had plans,” Kaminari admitted. He sighed despondently. “It’s just as well. She likes Midoriya anyways.”

Izuku brought his cup down from his mouth, looking at Kaminari in horror. “You don’t know that!” he said. He was further mortified when he noticed that Katsuki had raised his head and appeared to be listening.

“Pretty sure she does, bro.”

Jirou stared at Izuku. She flicked her eyes over to Katsuki then back to him almost imperceptibly. “Really,” she said. Her eyes seemed to be asking him a question. Izuku looked away, burying his face in his drink and trying to make himself invisible.

“Izuku,” Jirou said casually. “Your face is a mess. What happened? You should go clean it off; you look like a wet newspaper.”

Izuku stood quickly, grateful for the out. He swayed a little. “Right,” he said. “Thanks.”

Mina watched Izuku sway. “How many of Jirou’s drinks have you had?” she asked.

“Uh… four?” Izuku counted on his fingers. “Three… Five. No, four.” He paused. “And a half.”

Mina, Jirou and Kaminari laughed.

“That’s going to hit you like a brick real soon,” Jirou said. “You don’t look like you drink much. Might wanna take it easy for a while.” Izuku nodded dumbly and staggered off in a direction where he was pretty sure he’d seen a bathroom earlier.

Once he found the bathroom, Izuku locked the door and gazed into the mirror. He was a mess. The fake blood had mixed with his tears and turned his cheeks into messy grey splotches. There was makeup on his hands where he’d wiped his face. There was no saving this. Izuku took a few breaths to settle himself then washed his face in the sink. When he raised his head again he almost fell backwards. Those drinks hadn’t tasted alcoholic at all, but he’d downed a whole lot of them while eating that curry. He studied his reflection and made a face. At least he looked better.

When Izuku returned everyone but Katsuki had left the couches. Jirou was setting up a group of people around the snack table for some sort of drinking game. Izuku steeled himself before returning to the couch, plopping down in the same spot.

“Er- Your chair’s empty,” Izuku said to Katsuki, indicating the armchair.

Katsuki ignored him.

Izuku took up his drink again, trying to think of something to say. “Curry’s not really a party food, is it?” he asked.

Katsuki glared at him. “No one made you eat it.”

Izuku waved his hands, his drink sloshing over the rim. “I didn’t mean it like that,” he said, backtracking. “It was really good. The best I’ve ever had. Even better than my mom’s.” He raised his free hand over his mouth. “Don’t tell her I said that.”

Katsuki blinked slowly at Izuku. “Don’t tell your mom,” he repeated.

Izuku started laughing nervously. “Oh, right. Guess you don’t know her.” He hiccupped.

Katsuki kept staring at Izuku.

Izuku looked away, readjusting himself so he was sitting sideways on the couch. It was more comfortable.

“Izuku, sweetie,” Mina said as she passed by the couch. She looked at the cup in his hand. “You really should listen to Jirou. Her drinks can be deadly.”

Izuku clutched his cup closer. “M’fine,” he said.

“Let him have it,” Katsuki said.

“Yeah!” Izuku said a little too forcefully.

Mina laughed. “Ookay then.”

After Mina left, Izuku grinned. “Thanks, Kacchan.”

“Stop thanking me for weird shit, will you?” Katsuki said.

Izuku remained silent for a while, sipping on his drink while he watched Katsuki blearily. The fog was coming on strong now, and it made him feel dopey. His eyes were drawn back time and time again to Katsuki’s tattoos. He wanted to know more about them. He wanted to know more about Katsuki.

Katsuki looked up sharply. “You staring at me?” he demanded.

Izuku smiled. “You’re a really impressive person, you know that?” he said.

Katsuki looked to be at a loss for words. “…You’re weird,” he said. “If you’re going to be weird, get lost.”

“I mean it,” Izuku insisted. His vision was swimming but he could still see the cut of Katsuki’s jaw, the furrow of his brow, his fierce eyes. He felt as though they were in a dream. “You play guitar. You sing. You more or less run your band. You work. You cook.” He leaned his head against the side of the couch. “Do you sleep?” he joked.

Izuku thought he saw a smirk flicker across Katsuki’s face. “Sometimes,” he said.

Izuku grinned. They had something in common after all. “I’m like that too,” he mumbled. “I stay late at work almost every night. Sometimes I sleep there cause it’s too late to go home.” He chuckled to himself. “Not that it’s done me any good.” He raised his head and gazed at Katsuki meaningfully. “S’why I’m starting other stuff now,” he said. “Taking on events. I really like doing shows a lot.” He set his drink down on the coffee table sloppily. “Yours was the best one. Oh, but I’ve only done two. I’m going to do more though. Mina said you guys were having another show. Maybe I’ll come to that, if it’s okay.”

Katsuki paid attention to the entire length of Izuku’s rambling. “You never stop talking, do you?” he said finally. “Do what you want. I don’t care.”

Izuku smiled sheepishly. “Sorry,” he said. “I’ve been told I talk a lot when I’m nervous.”

“Yeah well, add when you’re hammered to the list.”

“Mm,” Izuku said. “Maybe a little of both.”

Katsuki turned back to his phone again as a cheer went up around the room. Since the drinking games had broken out the place had gotten exponentially rowdier. Izuku watched Katsuki, and a thought crossed his mind.

“You responded to my email about the photographs really fast,” he said. “Is the number on your business card…?” He gestured towards the blonde’s phone.

Katsuki eyed Izuku cautiously. “…Yeah,” he said. Izuku grinned. He’d had Katsuki’s number this whole time. “As much as I hate it, you gotta run a band like a business. Otherwise no one takes you seriously.”

“You don’t have a personal number?” Izuku asked.

“Don’t have time for that shit,” Katsuki said. “If it ain’t about the band I’m not interested.”

“So serious,” Izuku murmured. He should probably start thinking about his photography the same way.

Another cheer went up around the room and Katsuki bit down on his lip like he was holding back words. The noise was getting louder by the minute.

Jirou wandered over to them not long after. “I’ve got to go,” she said. “Don’t want to be late.” She grinned sloppily and gave them both a thumbs up. “Have a good night, boys,” she said. Izuku laughed drunkenly. Jirou was funny.

“Bye,” Izuku said, waving after her.

That reminded Izuku. Pulling out his phone, he checked the time and gasped. “Fuuuuuck,” he whispered.

That got Katsuki’s attention. He looked at Izuku expectantly.

“I was supposed to be at my friend’s party fifteen minutes ago,” Izuku said, groaning. “It’s on the other side of town too.”

“So go,” Katsuki said.

Izuku paused. He looked at Katsuki as he typed away on his phone, becoming progressively more annoyed by the rising noise levels. It probably made it hard to focus on whatever he was dealing with. He glanced around the room. Spider-Man had lost his mask and the black-haired guy under it was laying starfished in the middle of the floor, laughing hideously while spraying silly string at the ceiling.

Izuku was struck with a sudden idea. “Want to come?” he asked Katsuki.

Katsuki stopped typing and looked at Izuku. “What?” he grunted.

Izuku scratched his neck. “Well, it’s Halloween,” he started. “It’d be kind of sad if you spent the whole evening working, wouldn’t it? My friend- he won’t mind.” Izuku hoped.

“And why the hell would I want to go with you?”

“It’ll be a lot quieter,” Izuku said, latching on to the idea. “We usually end up watching movies and playing board games. It’ll be a smaller group too. So if you need to deal with something-” Izuku mimed typing out a message on a phone. “-it won’t be so distracting.” He paused, then smiled cautiously. “He has a balcony too if you need to yell at someone.”

Katsuki raised an eyebrow. “If I need to yell at someone?”

Izuku nodded determinedly. “Yeah.”

Katsuki stared at Izuku for a long time. Izuku stared back. It felt like a contest, so he tried not to blink.

After a minute or so Katsuki threw a hand in the air.

“Fuck it,” he said.

Chapter Text

And I was planning- er
I mean wishing- uh
How embarrassed I’d been if you knew what I was thinking

 
The old bus rumbled as it made its way through the pothole-ridden city streets. It was dark but the sidewalks were still littered with partygoers, their costumes mixing with the usual assortment of quirky city fashion, backpacked student garb and ratty homeless paraphernalia. The interior of the bus reflected much of the same crowd. Izuku sat near the back exit, trying his hardest not to stare at the man standing next to him.

Katsuki was still on his phone. A cord attached the device to what Izuku assumed was a power bank concealed within his jacket pocket. The jacket itself was a sight to behold, and when Katsuki had grabbed it carelessly before leaving Kirishima’s apartment, Izuku began to wonder what he’d gotten himself into.

The thing was black leather, worn so heavily that creases were permanently folded into the arms and torso. It might have been a high-quality jacket once, back before the myriad of studs and rivets had been driven into it. Inch-long spikes protruded from the shoulders. Lesser spikes, rounded studs and skull-shaped rivets adorned the arms, front and even collar in various groupings. The thing was so decked out in metal that Izuku was quite certain no one would be able to get close to Katsuki without risking a series of scratches and cuts. The studs must have been hand-done, judging by their imperfect spacing. The stuff Izuku saw floating through the fashion department was always more exact, more concerned with aesthetics. He wondered if it was Mina’s handiwork; she did mention she had made her own Halloween costume.

The jacket’s most noteworthy feature, however, was the message emblazoned on the back. Izuku had noticed it when he’d followed Katsuki outside. The paint was cracked and faded in parts, but the words EAT MY FUCK were still plain as day, scrawled in big bold letters for all to see. Izuku had no idea what that was supposed to mean, but the overall effect was both incredibly intimidating and fascinating. He imagined he and Katsuki made a rather odd pair, him in his partial Halloween costume and Katsuki in his studded army pants, spiked jacket and oversized skull belt buckle that unfortunately kept drawing Izuku’s eyes to all the wrong places.

At least the cool night air was doing him some good. The effects from Jirou’s drinks were receding and the chill had woken him up. He was content to sit quietly, his cooler bag tucked under his feet. A huge bottle of Jack Daniel’s that Katsuki had unapologetically filched from the party took up the seat next to him, still in its brown bag. Izuku wished he had said goodbye to everyone, but he hadn’t wanted to interrupt the game.

Now that Izuku’s mind was starting to clear though, he was becoming anxious. On one hand, he was thrilled that he was, at this very moment, hanging out with the Ground Zero. On the other hand, he had no idea how he was going to explain this to his friend. He’d debated texting him beforehand, but the guy seriously never checked his phone and there was almost no chance he’d receive it. On top of that, Izuku wasn’t confident Katsuki would get along with everyone. He barely got along with his own friends by all appearances.

Before Izuku had a chance to really get going, their stop came up. “Er, this is it,” he said, trying not to let his voice betray his nervousness. It was too late for regrets; he’d invited Katsuki along himself, and with great enthusiasm. He’d just have to hope for the best.

The silence was starting to become uncomfortable as they took the elevator up to the 14th floor. Izuku was going to have to learn how to talk to Katsuki properly, but he could barely make eye contact with him while he was wearing that jacket.

As they passed a door in the hallway, Izuku paused. He pointed to another door a little further down the corridor. “That’s my friend’s place,” he said. He glanced at the door he’d stopped at. There was a Post-it note stuck to the front. ‘You’re late,’ it read. Izuku grimaced and quickly tore it off. “This one’s mine,” he said, gesturing over his shoulder.

“You want a medal or something?” Katsuki asked disinterestedly, not looking up from his phone. Izuku reddened.

“N-No!” he said, shaking his head. “But I have to run in and grab something.” He hesitated. “You can come in, if you want.”

Katsuki didn’t want. Izuku unlocked the door and dropped off his cooler bag then grabbed a second bowl from the fridge along with a couple more bags of tortilla chips. When he emerged Katsuki was leaning back against the wall, his hands in his pockets.

“Thanks for waiting,” Izuku said. He scurried down the hallway before the blonde could reply and knocked on his friend’s door. Katsuki sauntered after him with no urgency.

After a moment the door opened, revealing a young man in a vampire costume. He regarded Izuku impassively. “You’re late,” he commented, repeating his note.

Izuku plastered a too-wide smile on his face. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “I kind of lost track of time.” He hesitated, then glanced at Katsuki. “I brought someone. I hope you don’t mind.”

Katsuki regarded Izuku’s friend, his eyes narrowing. Izuku looked back at his friend only to see him doing the exact same thing. Neither of them spoke. It was more than a little unnerving.

Katsuki was the one who finally broke the silence. “What, you give up halfway through?” he asked, gesturing towards his head. Izuku nearly cried out in dismay.

“He can’t come in,” Izuku’s friend said. He started to close the door.

“Oh God, I’m so sorry,” Izuku moaned. He stopped the door from fully shutting by wedging his foot in it. He looked at Katsuki pleadingly. “Kacchan, this is my friend, Todoroki Shouto. Please don’t say mean things about him.” He turned back towards Shouto. “This is Bakugou Katsuki. He’s-” Izuku cut himself off, realizing there was nothing he could say that wouldn’t result in pissing off the blonde. “Um, a peace offering?” he said timidly, holding out the bowl.

Shouto’s eye kept flitting back and forth between Katsuki and Izuku through the crack. He looked like he had roughly one million questions about all this but knowing him he’d hold off for now. “…Is that your homemade guac?” Shouto asked.

“Yeah!” Izuku said enthusiastically, looking at his friend with a hint of desperation. “And, um, Kacchan brought-”

“Booze.”

Shouto eyed the bowl. “Fine,” he said, opening the door wide enough to accept the gift. “You can come in.” The smallest of smiles curled the corners of his lips as he turned away with his prize.

Izuku breathed a sigh of relief. He stepped into the dimly lit apartment and removed his shoes neatly while Katsuki kicked off his heavy boots. A small group had gathered around a horror movie that was playing on TV, while others were seated at circular table with a couple decks of cards. A few of them looked up and called out to Izuku in greeting, shooting curious glances towards his companion, but a blue-haired man with glasses dressed as Frankenstein could be heard well above the rest.

“Midoriya!” Iida Tenya’s voice carried a scolding tone. “Are you aware that you are over one hour late? I regret to inform you that we’ve had to start without you, and you have almost no chance of catching up.” He tapped on the paper tally he’d been keeping for emphasis.

“I know,” Izuku said quietly as he approached the table. “I’m sorry. I’ll join in the next game if that’s all right. This is-” Izuku was about to introduce Katsuki but the blonde had already wandered off. He watched in fascination as Katsuki stalked over to the television and, after shooting a critical gaze towards everyone occupying the furniture, settled onto the floor with a loud thud, causing several furtive glances his way. Katsuki shrugged out of his jacket and leaned back on his elbows, his legs sprawled out in front of him as he turned his attention back to his phone. The guy had made himself comfortable in a stranger’s home in less than a minute.

“I know who that is,” a man dressed as a raven said. He turned his head towards Izuku, his expression a mystery behind the full-face mask. “Midoriya, how do you know Ground Zero?”

“Oh, you know him, Tokoyami?” Izuku asked, pulling up a chair towards the table and only wobbling a little. He couldn’t help but feel a little pleased. From what he recalled Tokoyami was into that scene himself.

“I know of him,” Tokoyami said cryptically. “He has a bit of a… reputation, you might say.”

“I would also like to know about him,” Todoroki said, setting Izuku’s bowl of guac and tortillas on the table. He cast a glance over to Katsuki. “I get the feeling that isn’t a costume.” He looked at Izuku dully. “Are you going through your rebellious phase?”

“No, not at all!” Izuku reassured Shouto. Shouto retook his seat next to the black-haired woman dressed as a femme fatale, a vampire’s bite wound painted onto her neck. Everyone at the table was looking at him now, eager for more details. Izuku considered, lowering his voice to a whisper. “Remember last weekend when I told you about that band I photographed?” he said quietly. “He’s… kind of the lead singer.” He chuckled nervously. “The drummer invited me to their party, and well, Kacchan didn’t seem to like it very much, so I invited him here.” He smiled guiltily. “Sorry for not warning you.”

Upon hearing the words ‘band’ and ‘lead singer,’ the entire group turned their heads in Katsuki’s direction. Izuku began to panic. “Don’t… don’t stare at him,” he hissed under his breath, trying to bring their focus back to him. “He already thinks I’m a groupie. Let’s just keep playing. I’ll join in next round.” His smile took on a forced edge.

Shouto studied Izuku’s face for a moment, and Izuku looked away. After a moment the man nodded curtly, picking his cards back up, and Izuku relaxed. When the current game ended, he took up a hand. After a few rounds, Izuku excused himself. He felt bad for leaving Katsuki alone like that, even though the guy seemed totally fine. He walked over to the blonde and took a cautious seat beside him on the floor.

“How’s it going?” he asked conversationally.

“Hang on,” Katsuki grumbled, halfway through typing out a message. Izuku waited patiently. His eyes shifted to the TV but he quickly lost interest. Horror movies weren’t really his thing. He preferred movies where the villains got caught and no one died.

After a few minutes, Katsuki’s phone buzzed. When he read the message, a victorious smirk passed over his face. “Bout fucking time,” he said.

Izuku took a chance. “Good news?”

“Fuck yeah. Bastards finally agreed to get those shitty shirts to us. Two weeks max. Took forever to get it in writing.”

Izuku grinned. “That’s great.” At least Katsuki hadn’t spent the whole evening on his phone for nothing.

Katsuki looked at Izuku, his brow furrowed. Izuku was about to apologize for whatever he’d done wrong when the blonde suddenly sat up, crossing his legs under him. He reached his arms over his head and stretched, his back cracking loudly. Izuku tried not to notice how his arm and shoulder muscles rippled with the motion.

Katsuki glanced at the TV, now playing the movie’s end credits, then back at Izuku. “This all your lame ass friends do for a party?” he demanded.

Izuku was about to answer in the affirmative, but paused. He considered his options. Katsuki was looking at him expectantly. Izuku wracked his brain, trying to come up with something the blonde might find interesting.

“We could have a tournament,” Todoroki suggested from behind them, apparently having overheard their conversation. Katsuki shot him an annoyed look while Izuku’s eyes lit up.

“Let’s do it,” he said excitedly. “I haven’t played in forever.”

“Played what?”

Izuku turned to Katsuki, all smiles. “Do you like videogames?” he asked eagerly. “Todoroki has an old Nintendo 64 with Super Smash Bros.”

Katsuki stared at him. “Fucking nerds,” he muttered. He grabbed the big bottle of Jack from the floor and leaned forward, setting it on the table in front of the TV with a heavy thunk. Shouto made a disapproving sound. “Let’s at least make it interesting. Loser drinks,” Katsuki said simply. He glanced over at Shouto. “Hey, Half and Half. You got something to stick shots in?”

Izuku could have sworn he saw Shouto’s eye twitch. “I have cups,” he said, turning stiffly to retrieve them.

Izuku looked at Katsuki exasperatedly. “Kacchan, please don’t call Todoroki names,” he said. “I don’t care what you call me, but leave him alone. He’s one of my best friends.”

“Then tell him to fix his stupid hair,” Katsuki retorted. It took all Izuku’s strength not to smack himself in the forehead. Instead he ignored the blonde and focused on setting up the system. By the time Shouto returned with the cups, Izuku had the game ready. The introduction blared as the majority of partygoers gathered around.

A mad dash for the controls and calls of dibs ensued as everyone got into the spirit of things. Observers started picking sides and cheering for friends. The winner stayed on the controls while the loser was replaced. Iida had a pretty good streak going before Katsuki’s turn came around. The blonde wrecked him in a matter of seconds, drawing out a big chorus of ‘oohs’ from the group. Considering that Katsuki had called them all nerds, it was surprising that he was so good at this. Was he good at everything he did?

Izuku watched as partygoer after partygoer failed to beat Katsuki, using the opportunity to study the blonde’s moves. When his turn came around, he settled on the couch next to him. “I can’t believe you picked Samus,” he commented mildly.

“What?” Katsuki sneered, his eyes on the screen. “You got a problem with girls?”

“No,” Izuku said. “I guess I thought you’d go for Fox or something.”

“Fuck Fox,” Katsuki said as the game started. “Have you seen this badass arm cannon? Shoots missiles and everything. Plus I can bomb the hell out of whoever I want.”

“I think you just like blowing things up.” Damn, Katsuki was really good. Izuku was starting to suspect that he had played this before.

“I’ll blow you up, Captain Dickhead,” Katsuki said as he wasted Izuku’s character. Izuku groaned.

“Captain Falcon is awesome,” he corrected. He cringed as he poured himself a shot’s worth of whiskey. So much for sobering up. Izuku downed it, grimacing over the strong alcoholic taste. “How are you so good at this?”

“How are you so bad at this?” Katsuki jeered.

“Let me try,” Shouto interjected. He cracked his knuckles. “It’s my game, after all.” He gave Katsuki a look that might have passed for competitive.

Katsuki glared at him fiercely. “Bring it.”

The brawl wasn’t like the others. The whole room went deathly quiet as they prayed for someone to bring Katsuki down. Everyone cheered when Shouto finally blasted Katsuki’s character out of the arena.

Katsuki was fuming. “I want a rematch!” he declared as he poured and downed his shot. “Fucking bastard, I’ll kill you next time!”

Shouto looked at Izuku impassively. “Your friend is a sore loser,” he said. Katsuki’s eyes bulged out of his skull.

Izuku only laughed. “Kacchan, let someone else have a turn,” he said. “You can beat him next time.”

Katsuki growled but rose from the couch. He poured another couple shots’ worth of whiskey into his cup then sat back down on the ground beside Izuku. Grumbling aside, the blonde did wait fairly patiently, handling a few other things on his phone until it was his turn again.

When Katsuki came back, it was with a vengeance. If anything the break had only fueled his competitiveness, and after a second long battle Katsuki wasted Shouto. The whole room cheered again. Everyone had taken at least a couple shots and the huge bottle was approaching half empty.

“Best of three,” Katsuki grunted, and Shouto nodded wordlessly. Katsuki wasted him again, and the cheering wasn’t quite so loud this time. Izuku noticed that a crazed grin had spread over the blonde’s face upon that last victory. It was a little disturbing.

After that, things started to break apart. No one wanted to fight Katsuki anymore, so Izuku and Katsuki ended up going at it game after game. Izuku was determined to figure out a way to beat Katsuki, which was unfortunately becoming exponentially harder as he took his second, third, then fourth losses.

“C’mon Deku, you’re making this boring for me,” Katsuki sneered as Izuku painfully downed another shot.

“I’m gonna beat you,” Izuku said determinedly, squinting at the screen. After his fifth loss, he decided to try a different tactic. Soon after the start of round six, Izuku glanced over to where Katsuki’s phone was lying ignored.

“What’s that sound?” he asked suddenly. It was a lame attempt, but in the half-second Katsuki spent glancing at the device, Izuku wrecked Katsuki’s character. When the blonde turned back to him, his eyes furious, Izuku could only laugh helplessly.

“You shitty little cheater!” Katsuki screeched, standing up and balling his hands into fists. Izuku, who had downed five shots in fairly rapid succession, laughed and laughed and laughed.

“Ka-Kacchan,” he wheezed. “Lemme have this one win.”

“Fuck you,” Katsuki said as he took a long swig straight from the bottle.

“I hate to kill the mood,” Shouto said, appearing behind the couch with the black-haired femme fatale, “but please leave. Momo and I want to sleep at some point tonight.”

Izuku twisted his head around. The whole place was empty save for the four of them, and it looked like it had been that way for a while. “Sorry, Todoroki,” Izuku managed, grinning sloppily at his friend. “I didn’t realize everyone had left.” Katsuki huffed. Still holding the bottle, he went to grab his jacket off the floor.

Shouto looked at Izuku, a slight crease in his brow. As Katsuki trudged out into the hallway, Shouto glanced at Momo. Seeming to get the hint, she retreated into the bedroom. Shouto lowered his voice.

“Midoriya,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “Who is that guy, exactly?”

“Um.” Izuku tilted his head in confusion. “A musician?”

Shouto shook his head. “No. I mean, what is he to you?” He inclined his head. “You were… really getting into it there. Plus, the nicknames are…” He trailed off.

Oh. A flush rose to Izuku’s face. “We’re-” Izuku hesitated. “We barely know each other.”

Shouto stared at Izuku like he was trying to read his mind. “Is it… like that?” he asked.

Izuku bit his lip. This was an embarrassing conversation, but Shouto was one of the few people who Izuku had trusted with his secret. “Maybe,” he said. “I mean, no. I don’t know.” Izuku buried his face in his hands.

Shouto studied Izuku silently, then reached out and touched his shoulder. “I think you’re drunk,” he assessed. Izuku groaned. “Don’t do anything stupid, all right?”

“I won’t,” Izuku reassured him, fully intending to follow his friend’s advice.

However, after bidding Shouto good night and stepping into the hallway Izuku only saw Katsuki’s retreating back. The words he’d uttered moments ago were instantaneously forgotten.

‘Don’t leave,’ Izuku thought, and he stumbled after the figure. “Kacchan!” he called out. “Wait!”

Katsuki paused, swiveling his head. “What?” he grumbled.

Izuku caught up to him, nearly tripping over his own feet when he came to a stop. What should he say? Izuku’s common sense said to let Katsuki go. Izuku’s emotions, spurred on by alcohol, said to get him to stay.

“Uh…” he said, fumbling. The photographs. Right. “I-I’ve been working on editing s’more photos from your show, plus the other one we went to.” This much was true. “Since you’re already here, could I get your opinion on them? I could use another set of eyes.” He looked at Katsuki imploringly. The blonde narrowed his eyes distrustfully.

“Please,” Izuku said, and the blonde released a burdened sigh.

“Fuck, whatever, why the hell not,” Katsuki said, raising the bottle to his lips and sucking on it like the thing was filled with water. Izuku’s spirits soared.

“Thank you so much,” he said earnestly, heading back to his apartment. He had to try a couple times before he successfully managed to unlock the door. Everything was a little out of focus.

“What the fuck, this place is tiny,” Katsuki said as he entered the apartment. He looked around the bachelor judgmentally. “Why’s yours so much smaller?”

Izuku was too busy having a minor heart attack over Katsuki physically being in his apartment to notice the blonde’s tone. He went over to his desk to turn his computer on and tried to calm his nerves. “Er, well, Todoroki’s family is pretty well off,” he said slowly. “Plus I think he gets some money for his PhD studies.” He smiled a little. “We went to the same college. We were roommates in first year.”

Katsuki snorted. “Didn’t ask for his life story, Deku.”

“Right,” Izuku mumbled, squinting at the screen as he stood over his desk. “Uh… You can sit if you want,” Izuku said, gesturing towards his desk chair.

“I’ll stand.” Izuku decided to let it go. While he was waiting for the images to load, he took his bloodied costume shirt off and stuffed it under his desk, then sat down himself. He was wearing a basic green t-shirt underneath.

In the meantime Katsuki wandered around the small apartment, pausing by Izuku’s bookshelf. It was mostly packed full of comic books but there were also some photography books as well as old college textbooks. Katsuki pulled a few out from various locations, and Izuku felt the heat rise to his cheeks.

“You really are a nerd,” Katsuki said, opening an All Might comic book from the 1990s. “With all this shit, I’m surprised you don’t have the Platinum editions.”

Izuku wasn’t the swooning type, but if he had been, Katsuki’s words would have sent him straight to the floor. “You read the All Might comics,” he said faintly.

Katsuki eyed Izuku. “Yeah,” he said. “When I was five.”

“You know about the Platinum editions.”

“Who the hell doesn’t?”

A stupid grin spread over Izuku’s face, and judging from Katsuki’s expression, it was pissing him off. He turned back to his computer, trying to fight the smile off. “Here,” Izuku said. “I got it all up now.”

Taking another swig from the bottle, Katsuki moved closer, bending over to get a better look at the screen. Izuku stumbled brokenly through some of his thoughts regarding composition and technique while trying to ignore the blonde’s closeness. Katsuki remained silent, his sharp gaze focused. After a while he stopped Izuku.

“That one,” he said purposefully, indicating a photograph from the metal show. “There’s too much empty space at the top and left. If you took it in it wouldn’t look so shitty.”

Izuku wasn’t sure he appreciated the language being used towards his photographs, but he performed a rudimentary crop and damn it all, if it didn’t look better. “Jeez,” he said appreciatively. “Is there anything you aren’t good at?”

Katsuki stared at him, then smacked him upside the head. “Don’t be so weird, groupie.”

“Ow,” Izuku complained, rubbing his head. He looked at Katsuki with a hurt expression. “What’s your deal with groupies anyways? Aren’ they just fans?”

“Crazy fans,” Katsuki corrected. “Fans who’ll stalk you and break into your fucking place, steal your shit.”

Izuku startled. “Is that what happened?”

“Why?” Katsuki sneered. “You taking notes?”

Izuku ran a hand through his hair thoughtfully. “I’d like to understand why you’ve been acting so suspicious,” he admitted.

Katsuki deliberated. He dumped his jacket on top of Izuku’s bed then sat down on the floor, rotating the bottle between his hands. “You really wanna know?”

Izuku nodded so forcefully that he almost fell off his chair. Thinking it probably safer, he moved to the ground. Jirou had told Izuku not to press them, so he didn’t say anything else.

Katsuki scowled at the floor. “I ain’t telling you the worst of it,” he said. “That’s none of your damn business.” He paused to take a drink. “Being in a band, you attract a lot of attention. Some of it comes from batshit crazy people.”

Izuku nodded again; that much was understandable.

Katsuki continued. “’Bout a year ago, one of our shows got a little wild. Some asshole threw a bottle, hit me in the face, broke my fucking nose. Made a real mess.” He glared at Izuku when he made a sympathetic noise. “Shut it, idiot.” He shook his head. “The day after, this blonde chick shows up and starts following me around. Thought I saw her at a few shows so I didn’t care much ‘til she turned up in my apartment. Dunno how she got the address, but I get home from work one day and there she is in my goddamn kitchen, holding one of my knives. Spouted some crazy bullshit about how I looked good covered in blood. She tried to come at me, so I knocked her the fuck out.”

Izuku was gaping. He didn’t even know where to begin. “She- she did what?!” he yelped, his eyes wide. “You did what? Why didn’t you call the-” One look from Katsuki was all it took to shut Izuku up.

“Call the cops?” Katsuki scoffed. “Know how quick that would have turned on me? She barely looked legal.” He growled. “I knocked her out, dropped her outside a women’s shelter and booked it. Changed all the locks on my place.”

This was already a whole lot worse than Izuku could have imagined. “Oh my God,” he said, his mind reeling. “I can’t even imagine-”

“I ain’t done,” Katsuki snapped. “You said you wanted to know, right?” Izuku clamped his jaw shut.

Katsuki pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled slowly. “While she was in my place she must’ve hacked my computer and gone through all my stuff, because she got her hands on all my personal info. Phone numbers, credit card numbers, passwords… she even stole some unfinished tracks. Leaked everything online. I had to close all my fucking accounts, change numbers… had to fucking move.” Katsuki raised the bottle to his lips and drank, his hand gripping the bottle a little too tightly. “The stolen tracks were the worst,” he muttered. “They were useless after that, had to scrap ‘em all. Took us months to get back to where we were. Haven’t seen her since, and it’s a damned good thing for her.”

“…That’s horrible,” Izuku said, utterly shaken. “I can’t believe someone would do that.”

“Fucking bitch.”

Izuku tried to wrap his mind around what Katsuki had told him. He couldn’t help but think that the blonde was being overly pessimistic in regards to the police. If he’d called them then maybe they could have arrested her and stopped her from leaking everything. Maybe the physical confrontation could have been avoided too, although Izuku supposed that was easy enough to say when you weren’t being rushed with a knife.

“I think I understand why you don’t keep a personal number now,” Izuku said slowly. “I dunno if I’d want to either after that.” He remembered how the band had even kept their business cards on the down-low.

Katsuki shrugged. “Less distractions are better for the band,” he said. “All that social bullshit is a waste of time anyways. Let Pink Face handle it.”

Izuku wasn’t sure if he could condone Katsuki’s actions, but the mess that girl had caused was undoubtedly terrible. If this wasn’t the worst of it, as Katsuki had said, Izuku wasn’t sure he wanted to know the rest. The blonde had hinted that someone may have tried to get close to the band at one point, and Jirou had told him not to mention anything to Mina. That was enough for Izuku to not want to speculate further.

“I’m sorry that happened t’you,” Izuku said sincerely.

“Jesus, what is with you?” Katsuki gave him a perturbed look. “Don’t apologize for shit that has nothing to do with you.”

“Still.” Izuku gave Katsuki a small smile. “If it makes you feel any better, I don’t have time for any of that. I’m too busy with my own stuff to stalk anyone.”

Katsuki set the bottle down on the floor. “The photography shit,” he said simply, his gaze a little unfocused. Izuku wondered how much liquor Katsuki had consumed. The contents were starting to get low.

“Yeah,” Izuku agreed. “I wanna push that a lot harder on my own now. I’ve pretty much given up on my job giving me any opportunities.”

“Where d’you work anyways?” Izuku straightened up a little. He was pretty sure that was the first real question Katsuki had ever asked him.

The Beat,” Izuku replied. “Fashion department.”

Katsuki’s face contorted and if Izuku didn’t know better he’d say the blonde was withholding laughter. “Fuck me,” Katsuki said, staring at the ceiling.

“It’s not that bad-” Izuku started to say, then stopped. He brought his knees up to his chest and ran his hands down his face “Oh, who’m I kidding?” he moaned. “It’s awful. I hate it. I hate it so much.” Katsuki wordlessly shoved the bottle of Jack in his direction. Izuku grabbed it and took an overenthusiastic gulp, coughing a little. “I mean, how many photos of shoes do you need?” he cried out, waving the bottle in the air. “The colours of the season are black, then orange, then pink, then black again! It never ends!”

Katsuki watched Izuku, a strange expression on his face. He turned his head away, pressing a fist against his mouth.

Izuku rocked gently, cradling the bottle in his arms. “This isn’ what I pictured myself doing,” he muttered. Katsuki turned his gaze back towards him. He didn’t say anything, but his eyes seemed to be prompting Izuku.

“I dunno,” Izuku said, raising the bottle to his lips again. It didn’t really taste alcoholic anymore. “You’re just gonna laugh at me.”

“Try me,” Katsuki said.

Izuku tried to gather his thoughts. “Ever since I was a kid I wanted t’ do something that would help people,” he said, his eyes unfocused. “Something good for the world. When I went to college, I thought I’d become a photojournalist. I wan’ed to be sent on special assignments, work on current issues, travel to other countries, maybe even go to war-torn areas. Y’know, bring more attention to important causes.” He dropped his forehead onto his knees. “I thought if I could get in somewhere like The Beat, I could move into the events section and work my way up to something bigger. But no one will give me the time of day. It’s been really frustrating.” He looked at Katsuki. “I still want t’ do it, though.”

“So what’s stopping you?” Katsuki said.

Izuku frowned. “Money, I guess,” he said. “I need a paying job.”

Katsuki grabbed the bottle back from Izuku. “Money comes from anywhere,” he retorted. “You’re the dumbass offerin’ everyone free work.” He took a swig.

“Are you talking about Rick?” Izuku said. “Because I really need the exposure-”

“Shut the fuck up,” Katsuki said, though it wasn’t with his usual venom. “Know what exposure gets you? Fuck and all. Our band’d be nowhere if we jumped on every bullshit opportunity for exposure. That douchebag Dick is screwing you and you’re the stupid asshole who’s letting it happen.”

Katsuki’s words were abrasive but there was a spark of truth in them. “I already agreed though,” Izuku said. “The next time somethin’ comes up-”

“Next time people’re gonna know you work for free, stupid. I didn’t see you sign a contract.” Katsuki raised the bottle again. “I don’t give a fuck what you do. But you wanna help people or whatever, you’re never gonna do it from down here.”

Izuku realized that Katsuki was actually making some really good points. “I… Wow, I think you’re right,” he said numbly, rethinking his whole perspective on the matter.

“Course I’m right,” Katsuki grumbled. “The hell d’you think I’ve been doing with the band this whole damn time?”

Izuku smiled, a warmth blooming in his chest. “Thanks for the advice, Kacchan. It means a lot.”

“…Ain’t advice really,” Katsuki muttered.

Izuku let go of his knees then took the bottle back from Katsuki. He scooted a little closer so he could lean against the bed. It was getting hard to sit up on his own and the room was starting to turn. “What about you?” he asked, sipping on the liquor. “You must have big plans for th’ band.”

Katsuki let his head flop back, a sloppy grin carving his face. “Damn right I do,” he slurred. He cocked an eyebrow towards Izuku. “We’re gonna be the number one punk band of our generation, dipshit. Gonna climb the stupid fucking system, then tear it all down.”

Izuku didn’t really understand, but Katsuki’s words sounded impressive. “Tear it all down,” he repeated, chuckling. “Kinda like what you do with buildings, hah.”

“Don’t laugh, shitty Deku!” Katsuki snapped. “The world is fucked up. Everyone’s pissed off but too lazy or stupid to do anything about it.” Katsuki splayed his arms out in front of him like he was conducting an orchestra. “The idiots need direction,” he said fiercely. “A call to action. Get em rioting, get em speaking up.”

Izuku stared at Katsuki in newfound wonder. “You wanna change the world.”

“I can do it,” Katsuki said casually, swiping the bottle back.

“I’m sure you can,” Izuku said admiringly. “If anyone can do it, I’m sure it’s you. You’re really amazing.”

Katsuki paused, eyeing Izuku as he took a long swig from the bottle. “Yeah well, guess you ain’t such a normie after all,” he muttered.

Izuku beamed. “We have a lot more’n common than I first thought,” he said happily.

“We have nothin’ in common, shitnerd.”

“Oh, I dunno about that,” Izuku murmured. “I’m gonna work a lot harder now. So hard that even you’ll have to be impressed.”

“Ain’t gonna happen.”

Izuku laughed, his head tilted towards Katsuki as he appreciated the blonde through his bleary vision. He was happy that Katsuki was the way he was. They both wanted to change things, to help people, in their own ways. His eyes drifted over Katsuki’s form, resting once again on that half-hidden tattoo.

“You’re staring at me again,” Katsuki said, his speech slow and lazy. “Why d’you keep staring at me?”

“Hm?” Izuku’s eyes went back to Katsuki’s face. “Oh. I was looking at your tattoo. Looks like it says somethin’ but I can’t read it.”

Katsuki’s eyes flashed dangerously. If Izuku had been sober he’d have been as red as a beet. “You wanna see it?” he asked.

“Yeah,” Izuku breathed.

Katsuki leaned towards Izuku. He grabbed his tank at the center and pulled it down far enough to fully expose the letters. There were two rows of them stretching in a semi-circle from collarbone to collarbone. Izuku found it very hard not to appreciate the extra skin Katsuki was showing him and tried to focus on the words. “Um… Aut viam inveniam aut faciam,” he said, butchering the pronunciation. “It’s Latin?”

“It’s Hannibal,” Katsuki said, releasing his shirt. “I will either find a way or make one.”

“That’s really cool,” Izuku said. “Is that your philosophy or somethin’?”

“More or less,” Katsuki said. “Got it four years back, when we decided we were gonna go all in.”

Izuku grinned, resting his head on his hands. “You’re so dedicated.”

“Duh. Makin’ it is all that matters, so of course I’m dedicated.”

Izuku hummed thoughtfully.

Katsuki squinted at Izuku. “…You think that’s cool, wait’ll you see my other one.”

“Show me.”

Izuku was not expecting the blonde to turn his back to him and take off his tank, but that’s exactly what happened. His heart nearly stopped when he got an eyeful of the waves of rippling muscle that bulged along Katsuki’s back. He became so distracted that he almost missed the tattoo completely, an impressive feat considering its size. Huge flaming dragon wings began at the center of Katsuki’s back, exploding up and outward over his shoulder blades.

“Oh, wow,” Izuku croaked, his voice betraying himself.

Katsuki shot him a strange look over his shoulder. He put his tank back on, much to Izuku’s disappointment. “Fuck’s sake, Deku. I can’t tell if yer drunk or hitting on me,” he muttered.

“I’m not that drunk,” Izuku slurred. Moments later he realized what he’d just inferred and found himself unable to care. He’d lost count of how many drinks he’d had a long time ago. “You’re really han’some.” He grinned.

“You’re a goddamn wreck,” Katsuki said, though the shift in his posture seemed to indicate at least a mild degree of flattery. “Thought you were inno girls.”

“Am into both.”

Understanding passed behind Katsuki’s foggy eyes. “Figures yer one of those half-assers,” he grumbled. He grabbed the bottle and, finding it empty, set it down again.

Izuku might have been offended if Katsuki’s word choice hadn’t given him pause. A half-asser. Someone who couldn’t commit the full way. A suspicion. Izuku tilted his head and gazed at Katsuki inquiringly. “And you’re not?” he asked.

Katsuki looked at Izuku knowingly, but he answered anyways. “Of course not,” he snapped. “Think I’d half-ass anything? Yer supposed to figure that shit out in grade school.”

No way. Izuku stared at Katsuki, and Katsuki stared back, looking like he was ready for a fight. All the decisions that Izuku had made earlier that week were immediately disregarded. His friend’s warning was long forgotten. Izuku had an attractive, talented, passionate, gay musician alone in his apartment. A guy with a heroic streak. A guy with just as much ambition as himself. A guy who was knowledgeable about his favourite comic book hero. Izuku started to lean forward before he’d even realized it.

Katsuki stopped Izuku by putting a hand to his chest. “What, y’think cause I like guys I’m inno you?” he sneered.

“No,” Izuku said, gazing blearily into Katsuki’s fiery eyes, dull with drink. “I just kinda hoped.” He could feel the warmth of Katsuki’s hand burning through his shirt like a wildfire.

Katsuki seemed taken aback. “Yer drunk,” he slurred.

“So’re you.”

Katsuki grunted. “I ain’t lookin’ to date or whatever.”

It was true that Katsuki had a lot going on with his band. He’d made it very clear to Izuku exactly what his priorities were. But Izuku’s priorities right then and there were focused solely on the blonde. The room had fallen away around them, Katsuki’s crimson gaze the only thing he saw. The distance between their bodies felt like an ocean, Katsuki’s hand a physical manifestation of the disconnect between their minds.

Izuku wanted to close that space. And so, he made a decision.

He lied.

“That’s fine,” Izuku slurred. He reached out, his fingers messily tracing the edge of Katsuki’s jaw. It was rough with late-night stubble and that drove him wild. “Neither am I.”

Izuku leaned in further, placing one of his hands over Katsuki’s, and pressed their lips together. Nothing happened for a while. Izuku was starting to think he’d made a horrible mistake when Katsuki relaxed and dropped his hand from Izuku’s chest. Izuku kissed him more insistently then and after a moment, Katsuki returned it.

Izuku had kissed a guy exactly once before. He’d been curious in college and his friend had been as well, which had led to a very brief makeout session in their shared room. Things had gotten weird after that until they mutually decided to forget it had ever happened for the sake of their friendship.

This was nothing like that. When Katsuki returned the kiss, a heavy warmth flooded Izuku’s body. He could feel a series of dull tremors travel down from his mouth and take root at the base of his spine. Despite the heat, he shivered. He moved closer and brought a hand to the side of Katsuki’s strong, thick neck. It was a lazy, drunken kiss, slow and deliberate, and it was so, so good. Izuku sighed. He felt a smirk pressed against his lips before Katsuki tugged on his lower lip gently, and Izuku gasped. This was amazing. Katsuki was amazing. The blonde’s hot breath tickled his sensitive lips, his mouth tasting of alcohol and spices. When Katsuki pushed his tongue past Izuku’s teeth and into his mouth, the whole room began to tilt.

Izuku’s hands travelled up into Katsuki’s hair before they started moving downward. He traced the edge of the blonde’s collarbone as their lips pressed, pulled, tugged, nipped at each other. He could feel a familiar heat rising in his gut as Katsuki’s hand moved to grip his curls. The sensation moved southward and was joined by another while blood began to pool. Everything felt very far away all of a sudden.

The last thing Izuku remembered was wondering how far he could take this before the floor gave away completely underneath him and everything went black.

           

***

 

When Izuku came to he was lying on the floor in a strange position. Splayed out on his side, one of Izuku’s hands was jammed up under his cheek and his knee had been bent forward. Disoriented, he sat up and his stomach lurched violently. He scrambled on all fours over to his desk, barely making it to the wastebasket before emptying the contents of his stomach into it. His head splitting, Izuku groaned loudly. The room shifted around him; was he still drunk? Once he trusted himself to move, Izuku forced himself over to the bathroom. He popped some painkillers and cupped his hands to drink from the sink before he slogged back to his bed. He collapsed on top of it, passing out again immediately.

When he came around for the second time it was mid-afternoon. Izuku groggily sat up, taking it slowly. His stomach shifted unpleasantly but settled after a moment. The events of the previous night slowly came trickling back through his receding headache and he moaned pitifully.

Izuku flopped backwards onto the bed and almost threw up again. He covered his face with his hands as he squirmed in embarrassment. What had come over him? He never drank that much, ever. What must Katsuki think? Had he really passed out on him? Just thinking about that possibility made Izuku want to crawl into a hole and never come out.

Izuku forced himself upright again, groaning as his stomach protested. He felt like he’d been hit by a truck. He staggered over to the door, whimpering when he realized it had been left unlocked all night. Izuku pulled the chain across and turned the lock.

He’d take a shower first then figure the rest out. The hot water provided much relief, and he came out a short while later feeling revived enough to take out the trash and attempt to eat something.

As he munched on some plain toast in his desk chair, Izuku tapped his finger against his knee anxiously. What had happened after he’d passed out? Katsuki must have left; there was no trace of him to be found in the apartment other than the empty bottle still lying on the ground. Had he gotten home all right? He’d had significantly more to drink than Izuku, although he looked like he could take it better. Izuku leaned his forehead against the desk and groaned. Todoroki had warned him not to do anything stupid. Yet despite everything, he couldn’t bring himself to regret the events of last night, at least not entirely.

Izuku spent the next several hours picking up his phone and setting it down again then walking over to his mirror and criticizing his appearance. He was toned, but slender. Too slender, in his opinion. He really ought to work out more if he wanted to… He shook his head. Wait, no. He was getting ahead of himself. Still, a gym membership couldn’t hurt, could it?

It was early evening when Izuku finally worked up the courage to text Katsuki. Picking up the band’s business card, he rotated it in his hands, deliberating nervously. Eventually he decided on a simple message.

Hey, hope you managed to get home all right last night.

Katsuki didn’t take long to reply.

What the fuck?
Is this Deku?
Don’t text me on my business line, idiot.

Izuku frowned.

You said you don’t have a personal number.

A pause.

Yeah, so don’t send me personal messages.
Better yet, don’t send me any messages.

Izuku hadn’t known what to expect, but he knew what he’d hoped for, and it wasn’t this. He sighed, dejected. Katsuki was mad, wasn’t he?

Sorry for passing out on you.

Katsuki’s reply stung him.

Stop. Fucking. Texting. Me.
I don’t know what you think happened last night, but it sure as hell ain’t happening again.
That’s what you said you wanted, right?
This isn’t your personal line to try and chat me up, so fuck off.

Izuku leaned back and ran his hands through his hair. He had said that, hadn’t he? That was the most infuriating part. He’d decided not to let himself get taken in by a musician and then he’d gone out of his way to try and make something happen. Part of him felt guilty for deceiving Katsuki, but the other part was upset with the blonde over the sheer rudeness of his messages. Was everything that had happened last night so meaningless?

Feeling uncharacteristically petty, Izuku responded.

 Fine.
Sorry to bother you.
It’s not like I was interested anyways.

That was the second lie he told Katsuki.

Izuku tossed his phone onto his desk then slunk over to his bed and lay on it face-down.

At least he could put it all behind him now.

Chapter Text

In the city there’s a thousand faces, all shining bright
And those golden faces are under twenty-five

“Is this okay?” Ochako asked, turning her head a couple of inches to the right. The brunette was perched carefully on a stool, her hands folded neatly in her lap. A broad neutral backdrop occupied the space behind her.

“Yeah, that’s perfect,” Izuku said, adjusting the shot and snapping a picture. These were coming out great.

It was an early Saturday afternoon and Izuku and Ochako were spending the day in studio.

As Izuku had turned his attention towards his freelancing career, he’d realized that he’d need a quality photograph or two to work into his business card design. He couldn’t use any of the photos he’d taken for work as they were technically owned by The Beat, so he’d had to come up with an alternative solution. Izuku had considered using his concert photography, but he’d need to get permission and he wasn’t keen on speaking with The Antiheroes much these days.

In the end Izuku had decided that the next reasonable course of action would be to set up his own photo shoot outside of work hours and create some original content. His plans had really gotten going when he’d started chatting with some of his coworkers about the idea. Ochako had been particularly enthusiastic, which had led to Izuku impulsively asking her to be his model. After ensuring that Izuku didn’t want someone more suitable, she’d agreed with a flustered wave of her hands.

“Angle your head towards the light,” Izuku said, gesturing to the tall softbox on his right. “Keep your shoulders straight… and hold.”

Ochako’s mouth twitched. “So professional, Izuku,” she murmured.

Izuku tweaked the zoom and focus on the company camera, firmly attached to a tripod. He chuckled self-consciously. “Sorry if this is weird for you,” he said apologetically. “Smile a little?”

Ochako did as instructed. Once Izuku took the picture, her eyes drifted back to him. “It’s not weird,” she said. “It’s just different. I’ve never done anything like this before.”

“You’re doing great,” Izuku reassured her. Ochako already appeared less nervous than when they had first started. He’d put on some relaxing background music before she’d arrived in the hopes that it would put her at ease. He was glad that it seemed to have worked.

After Ochako had agreed to model for him, Izuku had sought out a hair and makeup artist, successfully bribing one of the company’s freelancers to come in for a couple hours on a weekend in exchange for a complimentary pregnancy shoot for his expecting wife. It was a small victory that Izuku’s job had at least given him some contacts to network with.

Ochako had giggled and blushed her way through the whole application, unused to having a professional take care of her appearance. The end result had been a soft blowout with an earthy smoky eye and wine-red lips. It was a look that complemented Ochako’s natural colouring while being both professional and fashionable.

Izuku had also spoken with wardrobe to see if they had any old outfits that he could borrow. He couldn’t use anything current for legal reasons, but wardrobe had managed to procure a number of items in Ochako’s size from the prior spring that hadn’t yet been discarded. For Izuku’s purposes, that would work just fine. He’d had Ochako drop by the studio earlier that week to try everything on and select her favourites.

In the end it had taken Izuku a few weeks to get everything coordinated, but it couldn’t be helped. Finding a day that worked for everyone had proven difficult.

“Let’s take some standing shots,” Izuku said. Ochako climbed off the stool and Izuku moved it away from set. Once the prop was cleared, Izuku repositioned Ochako over the white ‘X’ taped to the ground, gently placing her at a ¾ angle before returning to the camera.

“Cross your arms,” he said, altering a number of settings and repositioning the tripod. “Look at me. Give me your serious business face.”

Ochako burst out laughing. Izuku snapped a picture anyways. “Okay,” he said, trying not to laugh himself. He reconsidered his wording. “Pretend that you’re going into a meeting?” That helped.

They went through a number of poses. Izuku checked them off one by one as he reviewed his notes. By the time he was satisfied, they’d been doing headshots and portraits for over an hour. Izuku could tell that Ochako was getting restless. “Why don’t you take a break?” he suggested. “Once you’re ready you can come back and change into one of the outfits you picked out.” He gestured towards the clothing rack where the garments had been steamed and hung carefully.

Ochako’s eyes lit up. “I’m fine!” she said excitedly. “I’ll go change now!”

Izuku laughed; Ochako’s excitement was catching. He was glad she was having a good time. He felt bad taking up her entire Saturday afternoon. “If you say so,” he said, pointing her towards the privacy curtains.

After Ochako left, Izuku took the camera and tripod and moved them over to the other set he’d put together. He’d arrived earlier that morning in order to get everything ready for the afternoon. This one had a wide white backdrop that extended across the floor. Izuku had meticulously arranged a variety of softbox and umbrella lights around it and set a studio fan at either side. He’d also filled a nearby rack with a variety of potentially useful props. He’d originally planned for a small portfolio shoot but, thanks to Ochako, his plans had expanded into a full-blown fashion event. As a result, what had started as new content for business cards had blown up into plans for a professional website. Izuku would need more than social media pages if he was going to give this freelancing business an honest shot.

Izuku paused when he set the equipment down and sighed. It would have been nice to have a couple shots of The Antiheroes to use professionally. He was sure that Kirishima would be fine with it, but since Katsuki seemed to handle everything on the business end, it would probably be him giving the final say. Neither he nor Izuku had contacted the other over the past three weeks, and Izuku wasn’t eager to rekindle the connection. Katsuki’s texts had hurt. Izuku had instead spent his time driving the blonde and his own embarrassment from his mind. He’d been glum, but at least the dreams had mostly stopped.

“Izukuuu,” Ochako called out in a singsong voice, distracting him from his thoughts. Izuku turned and saw the brunette flouncing towards him in a pastel pink vintage-style swing dress with white polka dots. She came to a stop, giggled and swished the skirt. “How is it?” she asked.

“It suits you,” Izuku said earnestly, and Ochako beamed. “Are you sure you don’t want a break though?”

“I’m good,” Ochako said, balling her hand into a fist. “You’re working really hard so I’m going to do the same!”

Izuku grinned. Ochako was great. He owed her one.

Izuku brought the brunette onto the set, giving her a few basic instructions. He took some test shots then turned the fans on.

“Ack!” Ochako exclaimed when her hair blew up around her face. She tried to bat it away.

Izuku bit back a smile. He’d done some photo shoots with models in studio before, and the amateurs always struggled with the fans. “Don’t try to fight it,” he advised. “It looks better than you think.”

Ochako pulled an errant strand from her mouth. “This is a lot less glamorous than I imagined,” she said distastefully.

Izuku decided not to tell Ochako what the makeup artists did to the models in order to achieve a wet look.

“We’ll just do a couple, then I’ll lower the intensity,” he promised. He showed Ochako how to position her hands around her face in ways that photographed well and took a few photos. Once she stopped wrinkling her nose, Izuku managed to get some nice shots.

Izuku dialed the fans back a few notches. “Let’s use the bike,” he suggested, wheeling a seafoam green bicycle over from the props rack.

“Oh, it’s so cute,” Ochako breathed. Izuku brought it to her and she took the handle.

A variety of more complicated poses reminiscent of a pinup shoot ensued. Each shot took some time to set up since Ochako was inexperienced, though she certainly put in her best effort. Izuku kept checking her positions and the composition on camera before going over to make small adjustments. He’d had to physically guide Ochako a number of times, something that made the woman blush lightly.

“I really feel like a model now,” she said.

Izuku smiled. A few weeks ago he’d have been flustered over the physical contact. Now, if he was being totally honest, he felt pretty unbothered. Maybe his focus had made him forget his nervousness.

A short while later, Ochako changed into another outfit. Izuku went through two more shoots with her: one nautical themed, the other high fashion. When he thought to check the time, it was nearly 5 PM.

“I think that’s a wrap,” he said.

Ochako slumped. “I always thought modeling looked fun,” she said with a tired smile. “But it’s really just posing in weird ways, isn’t it? I feel like I just did a workout at the gym.”

Izuku chuckled and detached the company camera from its tripod. “One of the models once told me that keeping a pose was harder than doing squats,” he replied. Ochako laughed.

Izuku hooked the heavy camera under his arm. “I’m going to transfer everything to my computer,” he said.

Ochako nodded. “I’ll change back into my regular clothes,” she said. “Then I want to see how the photos came out.” She turned on her heel.

Izuku got to work transferring the photos, amused when he saw there were nearly five hundred of them. The company cameras were top of the line; Izuku wouldn’t have been able to afford one in his wildest dreams. He expected to have some really nice, high-quality images to work with. Izuku wanted to get his business cards done as soon as possible. He’d finished touching up the photos from the metal show the prior week and needed to give them and his card to Rick. He couldn’t take much longer if he was going to follow Katsuki’s advice. The blonde seemed to know what he was talking about when it came to self-promotion and Izuku really, really needed to stop letting Katsuki come up in every stray thought he had.

“I’m back!” Ochako announced. “How are the photos?”

Izuku looked at his monitors, a dialogue box showing that the transfer was complete. “Oh,” he said. He must have spaced out again. Ochako frowned but said nothing. She took a seat next to Izuku while he opened the files.

Ochako quickly found she had a hard time containing herself. “Izuku!” she squealed. “Your photos are gorgeous! I can’t believe that’s really me.”

Izuku had been frowning in contemplation as he pored over the images. He turned to Ochako and smiled. “You think so?” he asked anxiously, clicking through a few more.

Ochako nodded, her hair bobbing prettily. “You made me look so beautiful,” she said, enraptured.

“I didn’t have to do much,” Izuku replied modestly. Half a moment later he realized what he’d implied. He glanced over at Ochako, who was blushing furiously. “Sorry,” he said, realizing he’d probably made her uncomfortable.

Ochako shook her head. “N-No, it’s okay,” she managed. She released a slow breath. “That was very nice of you- Ah!” She covered her face with her hands. “Let’s just keep going.”

Izuku guiltily continued through the photos. After a few moments, Ochako regained her composure.

“Ooh, I really like that one,” she said. She pointed to a photograph of herself in the nautical outfit, a hand raised to her forehead in salute as she looked off into the distance. “Do you think you could maybe send me a couple of these? I want to share them with my friends and family.”

“Of course,” Izuku said enthusiastically. “You can have as many as you want. I’ll clean them up for you and send you the hi-res finals, no problem.”

Ochako started to shake her head. “You don’t have to go that far,” she said.

“Don’t worry,” Izuku assured her. “It’s the least I can do. You’ve helped me out a lot today.”

Ochako hesitated, chewing on her bottom lip. “Then I’d like that one,” she said, gesturing towards the screen.

Izuku nodded and marked the file on his computer. They went through the rest of the photographs, adding tags here and there, and then they returned to the beginning and added a couple more. Izuku also put an asterisk next to the ones that he felt were particularly strong. By the time they were finished it was well past 6, and Izuku was getting hungry.

“Hey,” he said, a thought occurring to him. “Want to grab something to eat?”

“What?” Ochako asked, startled.

Izuku wondered if he’d overstepped his bounds. “If you don’t want to, that’s fine,” he said, backpedalling. “I have somewhere to be later tonight so I’m not going home. I thought you might be hungry too, but if you’re not that’s-”

“-Fine!” Ochako blurted, her face reddening. “It’s fine. I mean, sure, yeah, okay.” She smiled. “Let’s do it.”

Izuku relaxed. “Great,” he said, relieved. “I have to put the sets back in order, but if you don’t mind waiting a little longer, we can go when I’m done.”

Ochako nodded frantically. “Sounds good!” she said, her voice a pitch higher than usual. “Want any help?”

“That’s okay,” Izuku said. “Some of the equipment is a bit finicky. It can be hard to deal with unless you already know it.” Izuku didn’t want to risk damaging a camera or light. Not on his salary.

As he turned his back, Ochako took her phone out, furiously typing a message to someone.

Izuku had set all the cameras, props and lighting fixtures back where they belonged after about twenty minutes. When he returned to Ochako, the young woman was still on her phone.

“Thanks for waiting,” Izuku said. Ochako squeaked and shut her screen off, shoving the device back in her purse. Izuku blinked but let it go. He grabbed his jacket from his chair and picked up his personal camera. “Whenever you’re ready,” he said.

“I’m ready!” Ochako replied, standing up quickly. Izuku was starting to wonder if the brunette was feeling well. She’d become awfully jumpy all of a sudden. Kaminari’s words from the Halloween party came floating back to him, but Izuku quickly dismissed them. Denki had just been teasing him as usual.

They left the studio. Izuku turned off the lights and locked the doors behind them. It was already dark out despite it not being that late. Ochako shivered, pulling her scarf up around her face. At least it hadn’t snowed yet.

The Beat was located along one of the city’s main roads. It wasn’t long before they passed by a little ramen shop that Izuku frequented for lunch. Ochako jumped at the suggestion, eager to get out of the cold.

They stepped inside and were greeted by a welcoming warmth. They sighed in bliss simultaneously, and Ochako giggled. Soon after they were seated at a small table for two, a pair of steaming bowls of ramen in front of them, their fall jackets discarded on the cushioned bench.

“You know,” Ochako said, sucking on her chopsticks contemplatively, “I think this is the first time we’ve hung out outside of work.”

“Is it?” Izuku picked up a hunk of egg, trying to recall if they’d ever been anywhere outside of a work function. “Hey, I think you’re right.”

Ochako’s brow creased when Izuku didn’t add further comment. “Izuku,” she started, sticking the tips of her chopsticks in the bowl and swirling the contents. “Is everything alright?”

That gave Izuku pause. “What do you mean?” he asked.

Ochako paused. “I don’t know exactly,” she said, “but you seem… different, lately.”

Different? “Uh… Well, I’ve joined a gym?” he suggested helpfully. “I’ve only been a handful of times though.”

Ochako seemed to be holding back a combination of amusement and exasperation. “Not that,” she said. “That’s great, but-” She looked at Izuku inquisitively. “You seem more distant, I guess.” She smiled sadly. “You haven’t come up to visit me all month.”

Izuku blanked. Had he really not gone to visit Ochako since Halloween? She’d come down to see him a couple times, sure, but he usually visited her too. He shot the brunette an apologetic look. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I guess I’ve been pretty distracted lately.” He groaned and hung his head.

Ochako huffed, then reached out and patted the top of Izuku’s head. “It’s okay,” she said. “It seemed like there was something on your mind, that’s all.” She paused. “You can always talk to me.”

Izuku’s head snapped back up. “I’m fine!” he said loudly, a panicked expression on his face. Ochako withdrew her hand and looked at Izuku, bewildered. He grimaced and ran a hand through his hair. “I mean- Thank you, Ochako.” He tried for a smile. “You don’t need to worry about me. I’ve just got a lot on my plate.”

“The whole freelancing thing?” Ochako supplied helpfully. Izuku nodded, because it was partially true. He’d been busy trying to figure out how he was going to manage himself and get things going.

Ochako looked relieved. “You’re a talented photographer,” she said reassuringly. “If Denki can get by freelancing, I’m sure you’ll do well.”

The unexpected compliment caught Izuku off-guard. “Thanks,” he said, finding himself suddenly unable to look at Ochako.

Ochako laughed. “That’s more like the Izuku I know,” she said teasingly.

Izuku waved a flustered hand towards the brunette while staring intently into his glass of water. Was it getting hot in here? He started unbuttoning his shirt.

Ochako’s giggling petered out when she caught a glimpse of the t-shirt that Izuku was wearing underneath his button-up. “What’s your shirt say?” she asked curiously.

Izuku could have smacked himself. He self-consciously pulled the sides of his button-up away to reveal the full message.

“Fuck The Antiheroes,” Ochako deadpanned.

“It’s a band shirt,” Izuku explained, flushing. “They’re having a show tonight, sort of. It’s a Battle of the Bands competition. I thought I’d go take pictures.” Izuku had seriously debated not going after the whole Halloween fiasco, but Kirishima had been the one to change his mind. He’d messaged Izuku a few times since that night, once to chide Izuku for leaving the party without saying goodbye. He had, oddly enough, not mentioned a thing about Katsuki. If Katsuki had told him anything, Kirishima didn’t let on. The redhead had been enthusiastic when Izuku had mentioned he was thinking about attending the competition. In the end Izuku had decided to go because he very much liked Kirishima and Mina. Katsuki had said before that he didn’t care if Izuku went or not so it shouldn’t be a problem, right? It’s not like he was planning on talking to the blonde.

“Wasn’t that the band that gave you a black eye?” Ochako asked.

“They didn’t give me the black eye,” Izuku corrected.

Ochako stared at Izuku.

“They’re not that bad!” Izuku protested. “They’re actually really nice. Well, two of them are. Their lead singer is awful. But also amazing.”

“He’s awful… but amazing.”

“Anyways,” Izuku said quickly. “I thought I’d go and show my support. They’re up against five other bands, so it should be a good opportunity to take some interesting photos too.” He started rebuttoning his shirt.

Ochako chewed on a stray noodle thoughtfully, considering everything. “Let me come,” she said.

“Wait, what?” Izuku spluttered, taken aback. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Ochako.”

Ochako pouted. “Why not?” she asked.

Izuku looked at the brunette in her cute owl-patterned blouse and carefully ironed skirt, then thought about Katsuki and The Antiheroes. “I don’t think it’d be your kind of thing,” he answered honestly.

Ochako puffed her cheeks out, frowning at Izuku. “What, you don’t think I’m cool enough?” she demanded. “I like rock music just as much as the next person, you know!”

Izuku didn’t even know where to start with that. “I’m going for work,” he said instead. “I’ll be up at the front the whole time. The mosh pits can get pretty crazy. I don’t want you to get hurt.”

Ochako’s face fell. “I won’t get in the way,” she said. “I promise.”

“But-”

“If you don’t want me to go, just say so, Izuku.”

Izuku did not want Ochako to go. He wouldn’t be able to work with her around, and he didn’t want to take the chance that she might meet Katsuki. That was a level of complicated that Izuku couldn’t bear to think about.

Izuku fell silent. Before he knew it, Ochako’s face started to crumple. He felt a pang in his chest; he’d hurt her without meaning to. Izuku didn’t understand why Ochako wanted to go so badly, but the longer he was silent, the more and more the brunette looked like she was holding back tears. Like hell he was going to make her cry.

Swallowing thickly, Izuku stared at his empty bowl. “You can come,” he said.

“Really?” Ochako asked tearfully.

Izuku looked up and managed a smile. “Really.”

Ochako’s face lit up, her sadness forgotten. “Thank you, Izuku.”

“Yeah,” he said numbly.

Not appearing to notice Izuku’s lack of enthusiasm, Ochako giggled. “This is going to be so much fun,” she said, twirling a lock of hair around her finger.

‘Oh boy,’ thought Izuku.

Chapter Text

I’ve never been afraid of any deviation
And I don’t really care if ya think I’m strange
I ain’t gonna change

 

It was with a strong sense of trepidation that Izuku entered the doors of The Palace with Ochako.

Ochako, for her part, looked pleased as punch. She beamed at Izuku when he offered to cover her entry fee, only putting up a minor struggle.

“I like this venue,” Ochako said cheerfully. “They have some cute little bands sometimes.”

Izuku wasn’t sure ‘cute’ was a word he’d be able to use to describe The Antiheroes.

Izuku had been to this venue once or twice before; it was a hip place in the heart of the city. He supposed it made sense that the location would be trendier for a competition-style show with multiple bands.

They checked their coats—finally, a place with a coat check—then wandered into the interior of the venue. It was nearly 9 PM, and it looked like the show was almost ready to start. Izuku was glad to see a more diverse mix of people. There were plenty from the alternative crowd, sure, but there were also a number of people in casual wear, and a good deal more sporting band shirts. Izuku had already spotted a couple of The Antiheroes’.

“Let’s get a drink,” Ochako said, touching Izuku’s arm lightly. Izuku tore his eyes away from the stage where a couple of guys in black t-shirts and jeans were conducting a sound check.

“Yeah, okay,” Izuku said, allowing himself to be led away through the already dense crowd and over to one of two bars.

“One rum and coke, please,” Ochako said brightly to the bartender. She looked up at Izuku. “What would you like?” she asked, smiling. “It’s my treat, since you paid for dinner.”

“You don’t h-” Izuku started, but stopped when he saw Ochako’s frown. “A whiskey ginger,” he said slowly. “Thanks.”

Ochako smiled and nodded, passing on the request. Izuku checked his phone; looked like he had a reply from Kirishima. He’d texted him en route to let him know he’d be coming with a friend.

Awesome, my dude! A new fan! We’re backstage warming up, but maybe we’ll get to see you after the show. We’re fourth up, wish us luck!

Izuku smiled to himself and sent some encouraging words. It’d be nice to talk to Kirishima and Mina again, and if luck was on his side, he wouldn’t have to deal with Katsuki at all.

“Who’re you messaging?” Ochako asked curiously, passing Izuku’s drink to him.

Izuku pocketed his phone and accepted the drink. “Kirishima. He’s the drummer,” Izuku supplied helpfully. “Looks like they won’t be on for a while yet.”

“Oh, well,” Ochako replied, taking a sip of her drink. Her eyes lit up. “I know! Let’s take a picture together.” Ochako pulled out her phone and opened the camera feature. She leaned into Izuku.

Izuku crouched down so Ochako could get them both into frame. He looked at their reflected image on the screen. They looked good together. Ochako was all smiles, and Izuku was wearing one of his own.

Ochako took the picture then turned her phone back around. “We look so cute,” she said happily.

Izuku looked at the picture and felt nothing.

Ochako hummed thoughtfully. “Mind if I post this online?” she asked.

“Go ahead,” Izuku said, taking a sip of his drink. It’s not like it was a bad photo or anything.

The stage lights suddenly blazed, cutting through the dim interior. “WELCOME LADIES, GENTLEMEN, AND EVERYONE IN BETWEEN TO THE 18TH ANNUAL RESIST! BATTLE OF THE BANDS, PRESENTED BY RIOT FEST!”

The crowd cheered loudly. Izuku perked up and turned his attention toward the stage. A stocky bald guy in a ratty band shirt had taken the podium. His deep voice resonated throughout the room.

“WE’VE GOT ONE HELL OF A SHOW FOR YOU TONIGHT,” the man boomed. “SIX BANDS. SIX SETS. ONE CHAMPION.” The audience hollered.

“THE VICTORS WILL TAKE HOME BRAGGING RIGHTS AS WELL AS A $2000 GIFT CERTIFICATE TO TREBLE BOUND MUSIC LTD.! LET’S GIVE A BIG HAND TO THE BEST GODDAMN MUSICAL SUPPLY STORE THIS CITY HAS TO OFFER!” Scattered applause and hooting.

“WHO’LL BE THE WINNER? YOU DECIDE, SO YOU BETTER GET READY TO FUCKING SCREAM FOR YOUR CHAMPION! I WANNA HEAR ALL YOU BASTARDS COUGHING UP BLOOD BY THE END OF THE NIGHT!” More cheers.

Izuku grinned and glanced over at Ochako. Her eyebrow was raised toward the stage, her expression unimpressed.

“FIRST UP IS SOME NEW BLOOD! COMING AT YOU FROM THE WRONG SIDE OF MARS WITH THEIR DEBUT ALBUM, GIVE IT UP FOR ALIEN PROBE!”

Ochako did a double take. “Wait, what’s their n-”

The band burst into song and the rest of Ochako’s sentence was lost in the music. She made a face and put her hand over her ear.

“They’re awfully loud, aren’t they?” she shouted at Izuku.

Izuku wasn’t sure anything would ever compare to the noise levels of The Antiheroes as their music ricocheted off the narrow walls of the small bar he’d seen them at. “We can move further back until you get used to it,” he shouted in reply. Ochako nodded.

Izuku turned to lead Ochako away and nearly walked right into the guy standing behind them. The man grunted, bright red liberty spikes protruding from the crown of his head to the base of his skull.

“Sorry!” Izuku said, taking a step back.

A flash of annoyance passed over the man’s face. He eyed Izuku up and down and, after a moment, his expression relaxed. He raised his hand, palm open. “Fuck the Antiheroes,” he said.

Izuku quickly caught on; their matching band shirts were hard to miss. “Uh, yeah,” Izuku said, raising his hand as well. They high-fived. “Fuck them.”

The guy let out a short laugh then brushed past them.

Ochako sidled up next to Izuku and shot him a confused look.

Izuku shrugged, a smile tugging at his lips. “Guess he’s a fan,” he said.

Izuku led Ochako to the back of the venue and leaned against the wall. From here he could get a better look at the place as a whole. It was packed, though the crowd by the stage wasn’t particularly large or vocal. Izuku also noticed a sizeable merch stand at the opposite end of the rear.

Izuku watched the band for a while. He could see why they’d been selected for the first slot. The four members were quite young, probably no older than twenty. They were perfectly acceptable from a technical standpoint, but in Izuku’s mind they lacked a cohesive sound and a memorable punch. It was true that they were new, but when he compared their music to The Antiheroes’ debut album, there was a clear gap in ability.

Izuku fiddled with his camera. He glanced over at Ochako and saw that she was messing around on her phone. His heart sank; he’d had a feeling this wasn’t going to be for her. He finished his drink then tossed the cup into a nearby bin while the band wrapped up their short set.

“Want to check out the merch?” Izuku asked. There was something in the back of his mind that he’d been wondering about.

Ochako glanced up and put her phone away. “Okay,” she said, forcing a smile.

Izuku hesitated. “You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to,” he said.

“No, I want to!” Ochako quickly replied. She finished her drink then stepped a little closer to Izuku. “Let’s go look at the merch.”

Izuku didn’t believe Ochako for a minute, but they crossed the venue together. Against the adjacent wall was a vertical display boasting a dozen different t-shirts accompanied by a long table that grouped CDs and swag by act.

Izuku scanned the rack and chuckled when he found what he was looking for. So Katsuki had managed to get them on time in the end. He was glad.

There were three shirts in total. The words FUCK PINKY, FUCK RED RIOT and FUCK GROUND ZERO were printed in a similar style to the shirt that Izuku was wearing. Some sort of splattered pink slime ate away at the letters on Mina’s shirt. Kirishima’s was embellished with a red fist and forearm that punched up through the middle of the words RED RIOT. A vector-style grenade was placed by the word ZERO on Katsuki’s shirt, a loose pin at its side. The upper part featured an explosion that partially incinerated the word FUCK.

Izuku kind of wanted the Ground Zero one.

Luckily, Ochako was there to distract him. “That’s the one band you like?” she asked, pointing to the t-shirts. “They kind of look like the shirt you’re wearing.”

“Yeah,” Izuku said. “They’re new.”

Ochako examined them. “Why do all their shirts say to eff themselves?”

Izuku shrugged. “Maybe it’s tongue in cheek?” He wasn’t sure himself.

Ochako scrunched up her nose. “It makes it seem like their fans hate them.”

“I dunno. I think they’re kind of cool.” Izuku watched in amusement as a young girl in a red tank top and black leather skirt bought one of each.

“I don’t get it,” Ochako said. “It’s just so vulgar.”

“Wait until you hear their music.”

The look that Ochako gave Izuku almost made him feel ashamed. He turned away from the table. He shouldn’t even be contemplating buying a shirt after what had transpired between himself and Katsuki.

The booming voice of the MC filled the venue as he introduced the next act, Pussy Magnet.

“Oh!” Izuku said. “I know them.”

Ochako eyed Izuku warily, her mouth parted.

“They opened for The Antiheroes,” Izuku muttered. His mood was really starting to deteriorate with each furtive glance Ochako sent his way.

“Cool,” Ochako said falteringly. “If you like them I’m sure they’re good.”

Izuku led Ochako closer to the stage as the second act kicked off. At least she wasn’t complaining about the volume anymore.

Now that they were further up, Izuku could get a few shots in, although they wouldn’t be anything spectacular. He had half a mind to ask Ochako if she’d be okay if he went up ahead for a while, but the look on her face made him reconsider. The brunette’s mouth was twisted up into a pained smile, her eyes darting back and forth between the band and the surrounding crowd. She inched closer to Izuku, visibly uncomfortable.

“They’re… interesting,” she tried. She looked to Izuku for approval.

“…Yeah,” Izuku agreed. The band was definitely enthusiastic, and the frontwoman was pretty out there.

Izuku raised his camera, trying to make do with what he had. The stage at The Palace was fully elevated; he could have gotten some really neat angles had he been up near the front. He sighed in frustration.

Izuku tried to recall how he’d felt at that first concert over a month ago. Ochako’s reaction towards the bands held a flickering resemblance to his own initial thoughts. So why did he feel a creeping resentment towards her? There’d be other shows that he could take photos at. It wasn’t her fault. He owed her.

Izuku forced his attention back to his photography. The music was loud from their place in the crowd, but they were far back enough that as he worked, Izuku caught the odd snippet of conversation from here and there.

“That is one bad bitch.”

“Yeah. Too bad she’s up against The Antiheroes.”

“Ugh. Isn’t it time they stopped competing already?”

“Heard this is the last year they’ll be allowed to participate.”

“Good. When one band brings half the audience no one else stands a chance.”

“Can someone just get them a fucking record deal already?”

Laughter. “Bet you the second they have one they fuck right off to the west coast and never look back.”

Izuku bit his lip, bothered by the words of the group nearby, but he told himself that it was none of his business. Not everyone could be a fan when there were six acts competing.

Pussy Magnet finished their set, and the third act took their place after a brief interlude. By then Izuku was tapping his foot impatiently. He couldn’t help it; he was excited to see The Antiheroes again. When Ochako asked to see some of the photographs he’d taken, it was a welcome distraction and he eagerly obliged.

Eventually the third act finished. The event crew prepped a new round of equipment and Izuku managed to encourage Ochako a few steps closer to the stage.

“UP NEXT!” the MC roared over the crowd. “THE TWO-TIME REIGNING CHAMPIONS OF RESIST! WHETHER YA LOVE ‘EM, HATE ‘EM, OR HATE TO LOVE ‘EM, THE QUESTION ON EVERYBODY’S MINDS IS ‘WILL SOMEONE FINALLY TAKE DOWN THESE BASTARDS, OR WILL THEY CLAIM THEIR THIRD CONSECUTIVE VICTORY?’ EVERYONE, RAISE YOUR MIDDLE FINGERS FOR THE ANTIHEROES!”

The scene that unfolded was not unlike the show that Izuku had been to. A large portion of the crowd yelled and pressed forward. Izuku and Ochako were pushed a few feet closer to the stage.

“Izuku-” Ochako said, startled, but the hard sound of Katsuki’s electric guitar was already ripping through the air. Izuku’s stomach leapt in anticipation even as he fought against the feeling. He was here to take photographs-

The Antiheroes blew onto the stage and Izuku forgot himself.

Katsuki’s eyes were the first thing he saw. They were smeared with that same black grease paint, his fiery gaze slicing through the surrounding darkness like a blade. His hair was somehow even more spiked than usual, shooting up one side of his head and blasting off the other as though an explosion had detonated against his temple. His black tank was marked with a huge orange ‘X’ that stretched from shoulders to stomach.

Even from a distance, he was gorgeous.

The Antiheroes were merciless. Within seconds they had plunged into their first song, the crowd responding to their energy by shouting and pushing each other. The small mosh pit that had gathered for the other acts grew exponentially. The wail of Katsuki’s electric guitar was only matched by the pounding of Kirishima’s drums and Mina’s support on bass.

“Oh my God, Izuku,” Ochako said, shrinking back from the stage. “This is a lot-” She trailed off when she looked at him.

Izuku was gone, his attention fully fixated on the stage.

It was as though The Antiheroes had taken the energy of their full set and jammed it down into the allotted time. Izuku saw Kirishima break a drumstick only to immediately draw a spare one from his pocket and pick right back up again without missing a beat. Mina slammed out the chords on her bass, throwing her upper body back and tilting her bass towards the ceiling while proudly donning her new FUCK PINKY band shirt. Katsuki prowled the stage like an apex predator, his arms gripping his guitar with a ferocity that was only matched by the look on his face. His melodic snarl reverberated throughout the room, ensnaring the audience. Izuku saw something that looked an awful lot like a bra get thrown towards the stage.

That fuck’s got a gun / He ain’t shooting to miss / Got a quota to fill / And you’re next on the list

Katsuki bellowed, hissed and spat his lyrics towards the audience, his contempt shoved far down their throats and into every available cavity. Izuku knew better than to get pulled under by Katsuki, and yet he was drowning.

Ochako waved a hand in front of Izuku’s face. He blinked, slowly lowering the fingers he had pressed to his lips, and closed his mouth. He looked at the brunette, her expression uneasy.

“Are you okay?” she shouted close to his ear. “You had a funny look on your face.”

“They’re really something else, huh?” Izuku said.

“Oh God, Izuku.” Ochako’s brow crinkled in uncertainty as she searched his face. “They’re… uh…”

In that moment, Izuku wanted nothing more than to ditch Ochako and get to the front of that mosh pit. He could get some amazing photos. He’d be able to see better. He wanted to be closer.

“They’re great,” Izuku said.

Izuku could feel Ochako’s gaze lingering on him but he ignored her. He brought his camera to his face and tried to work with the parameters he’d been given. He played around with different zoom effects as he photographed the band, watching the performance through the lens. Izuku recognized most of the songs as ones off their latest album, and caught himself mouthing along to the lyrics more than once.

Katsuki was a sweaty mess well before their time was up, the physical evidence of his exertion drenching his tank and streaming down his face and neck. It was almost unbearably attractive. Izuku had thought he’d put all this behind him, but seeing the band perform again forced him to acknowledge that his attraction to Katsuki had never fully left him.

As Izuku followed Katsuki’s movements, everything that had happened between them returned through a collection of powerful sensations that left Izuku winded. It was as though every erotic dream he’d ever had about Katsuki had converged into this single point in time. His memories were hazy due to the amount of alcohol he’d consumed, but he still remembered what Katsuki’s mouth had felt like against his own, what his hands had felt like in his hair, how Katsuki’s thick neck had felt under his palm.

Izuku had kissed that powerhouse of a man three weeks ago while they were drunk and alone in his apartment. It was a surreal moment of realization.

It scared Izuku just how badly he wanted Katsuki.

Half an hour was not nearly enough time for The Antiheroes. They deserved so much more. When their set ended, Izuku roared for them along with the crowd. Ochako clapped politely.

“They’re certainly… um… passionate,” she said in the lull between acts.

Izuku nodded vigorously. “Yeah!” he said, pleased that Ochako seemed to understand the appeal. “They’re really talented.”

Ochako’s mouth quirked. “Izuku,” she murmured, shyly looping her arm through his. “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?”

Izuku looked at Ochako’s sweet face and immediately felt guilty for wanting to ditch her earlier. “Sorry,” he said. “I guess I’m a little weird.”

“Oh, no!” Ochako said quickly. “I didn’t mean it in a bad way!” She smiled cautiously. “It was just unexpected. You don’t really seem like the type of person who’d be into this sort of music.”

“I’m not, usually,” Izuku admitted, and they shared a laugh.

“I’m going to the ladies’ room,” Ochako said, gripping her purse handle. “Wait for me?”

Izuku gave an affirmative. Ochako turned, a slight bounce in her step as she walked away. Izuku flipped through his photos, grateful for the chance to cool off.

“I fucked him, you know.” A woman’s voice.

“No way. Ground Zero?” A male this time.

“Yeah way.”

“Huh. Heard he was batting for the other team.”

“Nuh uh. He took me backstage after their last show. Said I was the best lay he ever had and asked me to come on tour with them.”

“That’s-”

“-not true,” Izuku finished. He turned and shot the woman standing behind him a reprimanding look.

The black-haired woman glared at Izuku, jutting out her lower lip in a display of aggression. No fewer than four piercings studded her mouth. “The hell’d you say?”

“You shouldn’t lie about people,” Izuku replied. Her words had struck a nerve with him, though he couldn’t exactly say why.

“I ain’t lying,” the woman retorted, releasing her hold on the guy standing next to her. She flipped her long hair over her shoulder. “How the hell would you know anyways?”

“Maybe’s he’s fucked him,” the man replied with a hint of amusement.

Izuku’s face reddened. He spluttered, waving his hands to ward off the accusation.

“What, him?” The woman sneered. “Look at him. I bet he works a desk job.”

Izuku stilled. “Say what you want about me,” he responded crossly, “but The Antiheroes are my friends. Please don’t spread rumours about them.” It may have been a liberal interpretation of their relationship, but even if Katsuki was a jerk he didn’t deserve to be treated like a trophy.

Izuku watched with satisfaction as surprise etched itself into his combatant’s features. He grinned victoriously.

“Izuku!” Ochako returned with a smile. “Make some new friends?”

Izuku looked at Ochako, and then at the black-haired woman, who huffed and stomped away. The guy she was with laughed easily and shrugged, not particularly bothered as he trailed after her.

Ochako shot Izuku a bewildered look.

“Don’t worry about it,” Izuku said. He glanced towards the stage. “I think the next band’s about to go on.”

As the final two bands went through their sets it became apparent that the competition had saved the strongest performers for last. The remaining acts were quite good, and Izuku was no longer certain of an easy victory for The Antiheroes. In fact, if he was being honest, he thought the fifth band’s lyrics were the best.

As the final act came to a close, the MC took to the podium again.

“LET’S HAVE A FINAL ROUND OF APPLAUSE FOR THE GRAFFITI ARTISTS!” he bellowed. Izuku and Ochako clapped while a group of people at the front cheered and hollered.

The MC cleared his throat. “ALRIGHT YOU LITTLE BASTARDS! WE’VE HAD QUITE THE SHOW TONIGHT! ARE YOU READY TO SCREAM FOR YOUR CHAMPION?” A cheer came up from the crowd.

“THEN LET ME HEAR YOU GIVE IT UP FOR OUR FIRST ACT, ALIEN PROBE!”

A few members of the audience yelled, and there was a smattering of applause. Izuku clapped good-naturedly for every band, and Ochako followed suit.

“OKAY! AND HOW ABOUT OUR BAND TO BEAT, THE ANTIHEROES?” A deafening roar rose up from the crowd instantly, accompanied by a throng of whistles and screaming girls. Izuku clapped enthusiastically, letting out a shout of his own. Ochako took notice and whooped quietly. She looked at Izuku with bright eyes, her arms folded behind her back. Izuku smiled.

It took a few minutes for the crowd to settle down; a large group at the front had started chanting ‘Fuck the Antiheroes!’ repeatedly. But eventually they did, and the MC announced the remaining bands. The crowd was loud, but it was no contest.

“Fucking figures,” Izuku heard someone nearby mutter.

“IT LOOKS LIKE WE HAVE OUR WINNER!” the MC boomed. “FOR NOT ONE, NOT TWO, BUT THREE YEARS STRAIGHT, MAKE SOME NOISE FOR THE MOTHERFUCKING ANTIHEROES!”

The crowd exploded into a cacophony of screams and shouts. Izuku grinned from ear to ear as he applauded enthusiastically. The noise only increased as the band members reappeared on stage to accept their trophy and an oversized cheque. Izuku saw a number of camera flashes go off near the front of the stage and felt a twinge of envy.

Katsuki still wore his usual scowl, but Kirishima and Mina looked plenty happy. Kirishima raised his fist in the air and the crowd’s cheering intensified, a number of them reciprocating the gesture. Mina laughed and blew kisses into the audience then promptly turned around and mooned the crowd, earning her a series of whistles and shouts.

“Oh lord,” Ochako said, fighting a smile.

Izuku took a few shots. “They’ve got a lot of personality,” he said.

“I can see that.”

Once the band had retreated backstage with their cheque, Izuku whipped out his phone and sent a quick message to Kirishima.

Congratulations!!

Thanks dude!!!! We’re so excited! Wait while we figure out where to dump this thing, yeah?

Izuku grinned and replied with an affirmative. “I think they’re going to come out in a bit,” he informed Ochako.

Izuku eyed the crowd; it was thinning but many still remained. A flood of people were pouring over the merch booth at the back. Izuku assumed a good number of the loiterers were waiting around to try and hit up the bands.

“I’m going to stick around and say hi,” Izuku said decisively. If this was anything like their last show the band would come out individually and Katsuki would be easy to avoid. “You don’t have to stay if you don’t want to.”

Ochako pouted. “Sheesh, would you stop trying to get rid of me?” she complained, though her eyes danced. She nudged Izuku with her elbow. “I’m staying, so you’ll just have to deal with it.”

“Okay, okay,” Izuku said, raising a hand in mock defeat.

Ochako opened her mouth but became distracted by something behind Izuku. Her eyes widened. “Um, Izuku?” she said, her voice rising in pitch.

“Hm?” Izuku turned his head and followed Ochako’s line of sight. He froze.

It only took one second to identify the brawny figure steamrolling his way through the crowd. Izuku’s eyes found Katsuki’s and his heart leapt out of his chest.

It was unmistakable that the blonde was headed their way. Had Kirishima told Katsuki that he was here? Izuku never imagined that the blonde would actively attempt to seek him out. He had thought that Katsuki wanted nothing to do with him. Was he upset that Izuku had come at all?

Katsuki planted himself firmly in front of Izuku and Ochako and folded his arms. He was wearing a fresh shirt but the grease paint on his face was still a smudged mess. His glower was enough to make Ochako squeak and press closer to Izuku. Izuku opened and closed his mouth, completely thrown.

Katsuki glared at Izuku. Izuku stared back, his heart going a mile a minute.

Eventually the blonde cocked his head, though his expression didn’t change. “Deku,” he said.

“Scary,” Ochako whispered.

Struggling to regain his footing, Izuku forced himself to straighten his posture. He wasn’t going to let Katsuki know how off-balance he’d put him. “Kacchan,” he said.

Ochako shrank further back and clutched Izuku’s arm. Katsuki seemed to finally take notice of her. His eyes passed over her face then came to a stop on Izuku’s chest. His face contorted.

“The fuck? You wearing one of our shirts?” he demanded.

Breathe, Izuku, breathe. “Just supporting a couple of friends,” he returned as coolly as he could muster. Oh God, this was awful. This exact moment was everything that he’d feared would happen. Katsuki was looking at him like he’d just slapped his mother, Ochako was clinging to his arm for dear life and Izuku was trapped in what might actually be the most awkward conversation in the history of conversations.

Izuku was saved by an unexpected shriek that filled the air. A woman with long black hair tumbled into Katsuki’s side.

“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” the woman said, not sounding sorry at all. She planted a not-so-subtle hand on Katsuki’s chest and dragged it away over his stomach while she righted herself. Izuku recognized her immediately.

Not seeming to notice or care that she’d stumbled into another conversation, the woman looked up at Katsuki with wide eyes. “Ground Zero,” she breathed. “I’m your biggest fan.” She dug around in her pocket and pulled out a black marker. “Can I get your autograph?”

Katsuki, to Izuku’s surprise, barely reacted. If anything, Izuku was more upset over what was probably the world’s most obvious grope attempt. Who did this woman think she was, coming up to a stranger and putting her hands all over him? Did she have no sense or basic decency?

Katsuki grunted and accepted the marker. The woman grabbed her breasts, pushing them up and out. Ochako shook her head in disgust and looked away. Izuku watched, completely appalled, as Katsuki opened the marker and impassively signed his stage name over the woman’s chest.

The woman gave Katsuki a flirty smile. “Thank you so much,” she lilted, sucking on one of her lip piercings. Her gaze shifted and she finally noticed Izuku and Ochako. An expression of anger passed over her face as quickly as it faded. She smirked, pulling out her phone. “Could I maybe get a quick picture too?” she asked.

Katsuki remained silent as the woman squeezed in next to him. She rested her head on his shoulder and raised her phone. Katsuki’s expression twisted into a scowl that seemed put upon as she snapped her picture. Her eyes flashed vengefully as she glanced at Izuku.

Izuku said nothing, feeling utterly done with the situation. The woman ended her intrusion with a one-sided hug that once again made far too generous use of her hands before she flounced away.

“Ugh,” Ochako whispered from behind Izuku. “Bet he loves that.”

Izuku watched her go, repulsed by her behavior. Who the hell went up to their favourite band and pressed themselves all over the lead singer? Katsuki wasn’t even into women and…

Oh.

Katsuki watched her go as well. “Tch,” he said, a flash of annoyance flickering over his face. Izuku was starting to get a much clearer picture.

“Groupies?” he asked, chancing a glance at Katsuki.

Katsuki’s mouth quirked for the briefest of seconds, his posture relaxing. “Groupies,” he affirmed. Izuku snorted then remembered himself.

Before either of them could say anything further, a flash of red hair appeared from behind Katsuki.

“Kirishima!” Izuku said. He cracked a smile only for it to fall from his face instantly.

Kirishima ignored Izuku, putting a rough hand on Katsuki’s shoulder. He was wearing an expression that Izuku never thought he’d see on the normally chipper man's face.

“Bakugou,” he said tightly. “We’ve got a problem.”

Katsuki turned towards Kirishima. “What?”

Kirishima jerked his head towards the crowd. “He’s here,” he said. Katsuki followed the indicated direction and stiffened from head to toe.

“That motherfucker,” he hissed, his mouth curling into a vicious snarl.

Izuku tried to follow their line of sight but he couldn’t tell who they were looking at. The near-identical expressions on Katsuki and Kirishima’s faces were freaking him out though.

“Where’s Pink Face?” Katsuki asked, his eyes locked on his target.

“Finishing up with the shitmobile in the back,” Kirishima said, clenching and unclenching his fists.

“Good. Keep her there.” Katsuki wrenched himself away from Kirishima and stomped his way through the crowd. Izuku caught a glimpse of a man and a woman who appeared to be deep in conversation.

“Bakugou, wait!” Kirishima called out. He shot a look of alarm towards Izuku and Ochako before taking off after the blonde. “Don’t do anything stupid! Let’s just get-”

Katsuki was already over by the pair.

“Oi!” Katsuki shouted. By the time the man and woman had noticed him Katsuki’s hand was already grabbing the front of the man’s shirt. The man let out an unearthly shriek as Katsuki swung him away from the woman and brought him down hard on his knees.

The guy was a perfectly average-looking nobody. He had an unremarkable build with short forgettable brown hair. Izuku forgot Ochako and trailed after Kirishima, trying to figure out what the hell was going on and see if the redhead needed help.

“What the hell are you doing?” the woman shouted at Katsuki angrily. She smacked his back with an open palm. Katsuki ignored her.

Katsuki’s expression was beyond livid. His eyes were narrowed into thin slits, his lips pulled back like a wild animal seconds away from devouring their prey. Katsuki had grabbed Izuku by the front of his costume once, but Izuku realized that that had only been a pale intimidation of what was happening right now. Katsuki’s shoulders shook as he used his free hand to grab the man by the hair and jerk his head towards him, causing him to cry out in pain.

“What, ya change your hair and think we won’t recognize you?” he spat into the man’s face.

The man shook his head as best his could. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” he croaked, his eyes darting around wildly in his head.

“Wh- What is going on?!” Ochako exclaimed, her voice shrill. She peeked over Izuku’s shoulder then hid her face behind his back. “Izuku! Wh-”

“I don’t know!” Izuku said, freaked out himself. The guy that Katsuki was threatening was cowering and holding back tears. Katsuki looked like a villain as he towered over the other male. He was probably only half of Katsuki's build at best. The woman who’d been with the man continued to strike the blonde’s back.

For the first time, Izuku felt disgust towards Katsuki.

A small crowd began to gather. People murmured amongst themselves as they judged the scene unfolding before them.

“Ground Zero?”

“Yeah. Looks like he found someone he didn’t like.”

“What a psychopath.”

“That poor guy.”

“Someone should help him.”

“Ground Zero’s out of control.”

“I heard he punched a teenager in the face once.”

“Fight! Fight!”

Kirishima fisted his hands into his hair, looking between the two men in horror. “Bakugou, you can’t do this again!” he implored, grabbing Katsuki’s upper arm and attempting to pull him away. “You know I’d love to beat this guy’s face in too, but you can’t! You promised us!”

Kirishima’s words gave Izuku pause.

“Go find Mina,” Katsuki replied, his grip tightening on the man.

Kirishima looked torn. He took a step away from Katsuki, then a step back towards him. “Fuck, fuck, fuck,” he muttered.

Two bouncers made their way over, cutting through the crowd with ease. The brawnier of the two grabbed Katsuki by the shoulder and dragged him backwards. Katsuki didn’t release his victim’s shirt and the man went flying forwards with him. The other bouncer finally managed to get between the two of them, pulling them apart.

“The hell is wrong with you?” The bouncer who was gripping Katsuki’s shoulder glowered down at him. “Think you can throw your weight around whenever someone looks at you funny, Ground Zero? I think you need to step outside.”

Katsuki was spitting fire. “Fuck you,” he snapped. “Maybe instead of looking about me, you should be worrying about that asshole over there.” He jabbed an accusing finger towards the man, who screeched and stumbled backwards into the other bouncer. Katsuki glared at them both with a fearsome expression. “Or maybe you’d like to explain to your precious fucking patrons why you’ve let a sexual predator into your fucking establishment.”

The woman who’d been smacking Katsuki’s back immediately screamed and backed away in horror. A collection of surprised reactions and murmurs emanated from the crowd. Ochako gasped from behind Izuku. The two bouncers exchanged skeptical looks.

“Look him up,” Kirishima said, stepping in to support Katsuki. “You should have his name and photograph on file.”

“This piece of shit is supposed to be banned from here,” Katsuki said. He rocked back on his heels like he was about to make a lunge for the guy, but the bouncer pulled him into a headlock and held him in place.

Izuku was in a state of shock. What had initially been sympathy for the man had instantly turned to loathing. If what Kirishima and Katsuki were saying was true then-

“Izuukuu!” A voice called out.

Kirishima’s head shot off in the direction of the call and Katsuki struggled in the headlock. The colour drained from Izuku’s face.

Mina was gaily approaching him from maybe 20 feet away, her view of the scene obstructed by the thick crowd that had formed in front of and at either side of Izuku. Their eyes met and she waved.

Ain’t gonna let another of you fucking freaks stake us out to get your rocks off.

Make sure you never bring it up in front of Mina.

Where’s Pink Face?

Everything clicked into place.

Oh no.

Mina was drawing near. Kirishima started to move but the second bouncer grabbed him by the arm, staying him.

“Not so fast,” the bouncer said. “We’ve got some questions for you.”

Kirishima’s expression became panicked. Izuku could see that Mina had noticed the crowd, her brow creasing in confusion-

Izuku took action.

“Hey, Ochako, have I introduced you to Mina yet?” he said loudly. He grabbed Ochako firmly by the waist and led her towards Mina, half dragging her in his hurry.

“Um, no?” Ochako said, confused but playing along.

Izuku stopped in front of Mina and positioned their bodies in a way that he hoped would block Mina’s view. He didn’t dare glance behind them to check.

“Mina!” Izuku exclaimed, plastering a too-wide grin on his face. “Congratulations on your victory.”

“Hey, thanks!” Mina said, attempting to peek over Izuku’s shoulder. “What’s going on?”

“Oh, nothing important,” Izuku said, and he let out a laugh so forced he inwardly cringed.

‘Keep going,’ he thought.

“Mina, this is my friend, Uraraka Ochako.”

“Oh!” Mina said, a knowing smirk spreading over her features. “Oooh. Ochako.” She winked at Izuku, but Izuku was too busy trying to distract Mina to worry about his own embarrassment.

Mina took Ochako’s hands and clasped them in her own. “Well, aren’t you just as cute as a button!” she cooed.

“Oh. Thanks?” Ochako said, shooting Izuku an inquisitive look. “I… um… like your makeup.”

Mina laughed. “Thanks,” she said, fanning her face. “Though I’m sure it’s half melted off by now.”

The sounds of scuffling, a groan, and someone being dragged away behind them was plainly audible. Izuku grimaced.

Mina frowned. “Seriously though, what’s going on?” she asked. “I haven’t seen Kiri or Kacchan out here.”

“Oh, who knows?” Izuku said. “Uh, you know what Mina? I was thinking that your bass looks really cool. Is it hard to learn?”

Mina looked at Izuku suspiciously. “It’s more painful than hard at first,” she said slowly. She held up her hands, her fingertips riddled with calluses. “They look nasty, I know, but once they build up you can hardly feel a thing.”

The crowd began to disperse and Mina started peeking around Izuku’s shoulders again. “Izuku, seriously,” she said. “What are you-”

“Heeey, Mina!” Kirishima said, barreling over and throwing a protective arm over Mina’s shoulders. He shot her a forced grin. “Everything good to go?”

Mina gave Kirishima a look. “Kiri,” she said, shrugging out of his grip. “Why’s everyone acting so-”

Mina paused, catching a glimpse of Katsuki. He was speaking with and, from the looks of it, receiving a scolding from the bouncer who’d put him into a headlock. The man who’d started it all and other bouncer were nowhere to be seen. Katsuki’s expression was stormy as he turned away and caught Mina’s eye. The bouncer gave Katsuki a dirty look and flipped him off behind his back.

Mina approached Katsuki. The blonde seemed to be attempting to rearrange his furious facial expression through a series of unsuccessful tics and twitches. Kirishima followed in step behind her.

“Bakugou?” she asked, surveying the blonde’s face. “What’s going on?”

Katsuki stared at her. “Nothing,” he said tightly. “Everything’s great.”

His tone must have triggered something in Mina, because she looked at Kirishima, who grimaced and looked away.

Mina looked between Kirishima and Katsuki, then at Izuku, who also felt compelled to avert his eyes. He and Ochako ought to leave; this was none of their business anymore.

Mina’s face grew somber as she closed the gap between herself and Katsuki. She looked up and moved her head until Katsuki was forced to meet her eyes.

“Stop that,” he hissed.

Mina brought her hand to the side of Katsuki’s face. “Katsuki,” she said, her voice lowering. “Don’t hide things from me.”

“Stop,” he repeated, his troubled eyes speaking volumes.

Mina bit her lower lip. “Was it-?” Her voice trembled.

Katsuki cursed under his breath, then raised his hand and placed it gently on top of her head. “It’s fine,” he muttered. “He’s gone.”

Mina’s eyes welled with tears. “You big idiot,” she said, her voice cracking as she threw her arms around Katsuki’s neck and buried her face in his chest.

Katsuki let Mina cling to him while her shoulders quivered. His hand stayed put on top of her head but he was otherwise as stiff as a statue. His face expressed discomfort mixed with a level of concern Izuku had not known the blonde capable of.

“Don’t worry,” he grumbled quietly as Mina sniffed and hiccoughed. “Nothing happened. He’s gone. We ain't ever coming back here anyways. Shitty little competition isn't even a challenge anymore.”

Kirishima was visibly distressed. He took a few steps towards Mina and Katsuki, but Katsuki raised his free hand out to him, his palm flat. Kirishima stopped, then groaned and dragged his hands down his face. He caught Izuku’s eye, who'd found himself frozen to the spot as he tried to process everything that had happened over the past few minutes. Ochako remained attached at his side.

Kirishima approached them. “Thanks, man,” he said, his voice breaking. “For trying.”

Izuku felt as low as dirt. “I’m sorry I couldn’t do more,” he said softly.

“Nah, dude,” Kirishima replied, shaking his head and kicking at some litter on the ground. “He wasn’t supposed to be here!” he exclaimed suddenly in frustration.

“He’s the groupie,” Izuku said, feeling sick. The one who had started all these issues. The reason why Katsuki had been so jumpy around Izuku.

Kirishima shook his head vigorously. “You don’t get it,” he said. “He seemed like a really nice guy. We hung out for months, all of us. He helped us lug our equipment around for fuck’s sake!” Kirishima hung his head. “It was my fault,” he said. “I let him in. I introduced him to everyone.”

“You couldn’t have known,” Izuku said, wanting to offer the redhead some consolation. He felt torn up seeing the whole band look so… despondent.

“I should have known,” Kirishima said with a fierceness that startled Izuku. “I was a total idiot. I was out front, right here, chatting up some fans after our first fucking victory while Mina was in the back with that asshole. Thank fuck Bakugou heard her scream when he did.”

“He got to her in time.”

Kirishima nodded. “Yeah,” he said. Izuku breathed a sigh of relief. “But he took it too far.” Kirishima laughed humourlessly. “Fuck, I can’t believe I’m saying that. Honestly if I’d been the one there, I might have done the same thing.”

Izuku remembered the terror in the man’s face. “He beat him up pretty bad, I guess,” he surmised.

Kirishima looked at Izuku, his face deadly serious. “Midoriya, he put him in the hospital,” he said. “He beat the guy half to death and got himself arrested for assault. Spent two weeks in jail before we got the charges dropped.”

You fuck with them, I’ll fucking kill you.

“Oh my God,” Izuku said, his mind reeling. Ochako, who’d been silently observing, let out a frightened squeak.

Katsuki had not been messing around when he’d threatened Izuku at that party. Izuku had gotten far too comfortable with a guy he barely knew, and that realization hit him like a ton of bricks. He’d been right that Katsuki cared about his band, but this was a lot to take in.

Izuku glanced at Katsuki. When he saw the blonde staring back at him, watching them, his stomach lurched and his eyes snapped back to Kirishima. Had he overheard their conversation?

Kirishima looked at Ochako like he’d just noticed her for the first time. “Ugh,” he groaned. “You brought a friend, right.” He lowered his head towards her. “I’m sorry you had to see all that,” he said sincerely.

Ochako stared at him, not speaking a word.

Kirishima processed this, then nodded, crestfallen. “It’s okay,” he said. “I get it.” He took a step back, averting his eyes. “Thanks for coming, man,” he said to Izuku. “Good luck with your photography.” He turned and headed back toward his bandmates.

Izuku’s stomach felt as heavy as lead. Before he’d managed to figure out what he wanted to say, Ochako tugged Izuku down to her level.

“Izuku,” she whispered anxiously. “These people are dangerous. We need to go.”

Izuku didn’t know what to think anymore.

However he did know that he needed to get Ochako home safely, first and foremost. He was sure the bouncer had thrown that guy out, but who knew whether or not he was still lurking around outside.

“I’ll call a taxi,” he said. Ochako nodded gratefully.

Izuku cast one last fleeting look at Katsuki. The blonde was still staring at him, his expression unreadable as he ran his hand over the top of Mina’s head. “We’ll get you that new bass you wanted with the winnings,” he muttered softly. “The pink one.” Izuku thought he saw Mina nod against his chest.

Izuku turned away and took out his phone to call a cab. He could feel the heat of Katsuki’s eyes on him, though he couldn’t discern why the blonde was watching him so intently.

Izuku left the sparsely populated venue with a turbulent mind, his phone in his hand, Ochako at his side and Katsuki’s eyes burrowing into his back.

Chapter Text

I don’t know why
I got these feelings, yeah
I just can’t seem to get away from

 

Izuku almost missed the text completely.

It was some unholy hour of the night and Izuku was at work messing around with photographs. It may have been a bad idea to start the week off like this, but Izuku wanted to get his business cards done now that he had pictures to work with.

The remainder of the weekend had shot by in a blur, punctuated by swirling thoughts, doubts and confused emotions. Izuku had uncertainly decided that the best course of action was to give the band some space. He very much wanted to talk to Kirishima but after everything that had happened, he figured the band would want some time to let things calm down.

Izuku didn’t like it though. He wanted to ask if Mina was alright. He wanted to let Kirishima know that he didn’t think badly of him.

But when it came to Katsuki, Izuku had no idea what he wanted to say, if anything. A part of him was awed by the lengths Katsuki had gone to in order to protect his friend and bandmate. That type of loyalty was hard to find. Another part of him was intimidated by and perhaps even a little fearful of the blonde. To put someone else in the hospital and get yourself arrested… it was a lot to absorb.

This new knowledge had done much to snap Izuku out of his overzealous infatuation. He couldn’t help but wonder how close he’d been to getting his own face caved in when he’d been too naïve to believe that Katsuki might actually be dangerous. Then again, if Katsuki had really wanted to, he’d had ample opportunity to do so.

Izuku wanted to believe that Katsuki was well intentioned. He really wanted to.

Izuku sighed, pressing his fingertips against his aching eyes. He needed to think about his cards right now.

Izuku had picked up some basic design skills in college and could put together a simple card, but right now he was having trouble committing to specific images. His mind kept returning to the photographs he’d taken of The Antiheroes at that first show. He’d popped one or two into his design earlier that evening and was dismayed by how great they’d looked. His photos with Ochako were perfectly nice, but Izuku needed his cards to have more than just the fashion angle, especially if he wanted to move into other areas.

Izuku had made sure that Ochako had gotten into the cab safely Saturday night before heading home without incident. He hadn’t thought about her again until he’d noticed that the photo she’d posted online had received over a dozen likes and several comments, mostly from friends whose names Izuku didn’t recognize. He’d groaned inwardly though when he’d read his own mother’s overly sentimental comment about ‘how handsome he looked’ and ‘what a pretty young woman’ his friend was.

The only other person who’d said anything to Izuku was Todoroki, who’d sent him a confused message privately. Izuku had withheld the details as to what had happened after he and Katsuki had left Todoroki’s Halloween party, but he was pretty sure his friend suspected something after Izuku had awkwardly dodged the topic on more than one occasion.

His photographs from the battle of the bands, as Izuku had suspected, were nothing to write home about. He’d posted one or two online then abandoned the rest, deciding that he’d rather post fewer images than sub-par quality work, especially now that he had followers who weren’t just friends or family.

Izuku played around with an image of Ochako disinterestedly, altering the positioning, crop and rotation. That one didn’t look half bad, with her hands positioned carefully around her face and her hair gently blowing out to the sides. He could fade the ends then give it a soft edge. Izuku picked up his pen to make a hard note on his pad but paused when a blinking light caught his attention.

His phone alert light was flickering in the dark next to him. Izuku picked up the device, his brow furrowing when he saw he had a text. The time on his phone indicated it was well past midnight. Who could possibly be messaging him this late-

He nearly dropped his phone when he saw the name.

You at work?

Izuku stared at the message in bewilderment. They hadn’t spoken for weeks, and now, two days after he’d watched Katsuki nearly pummel someone into next month, the blonde decided he wanted to talk?

Izuku had half a mind to ignore the message. He technically already had, seeing as it had been sent almost an hour ago.

Izuku set his phone down then picked it back up again. He couldn’t deny the fact that he was curious. A response couldn’t hurt, right? Chances were Katsuki had already given up and gone to bed anyways.

Uh. Yeah. Why?

Damn it all if the man wasn’t prompt.

Take a coffee break.

Izuku felt a churning in his gut as Katsuki named an all-night coffee joint not far from where he worked. Izuku knew it well; he passed the storefront on his way to work every day. How did Katsuki know about it?

Izuku knew he should ignore the text and get back to work. He didn’t have to go, contrary to Katsuki’s insistent message. Izuku really had no reason to speak with him, other than to find out what he wanted, see if Mina was okay, clear things up with Kirishima-

“Argh!” Izuku exclaimed in frustration, because he knew he’d already made up his mind.

Izuku saved his files and turned off his desk lamp before pulling on his fall jacket and stepping out into the night. The air had the sharp bite of oncoming winter, but Izuku still took his time getting to the café. He didn’t want Katsuki to think he was all that eager to see him.

Izuku paused when the little coffee shop came into view. He hadn’t thought to check his appearance before leaving the studio. He ran a hand through his curls and-

‘Stop that,’ he scolded himself inwardly. That wasn’t what he was here for.

Izuku stepped into the café, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the light. It really was late; the place was completely deserted.

“Oi,” a gruff voice called out.

Nearly deserted.

Katsuki was sitting cross-legged on one of the rickety wooden chairs in the shop corner. He was dressed casually in a pair of dust-marked jeans and a relatively plain black leather jacket. Once Katsuki had gotten Izuku’s attention, he pulled an expensive-looking pair of headphones down from his ears, his phone in his free hand. A large half-finished cup of black coffee sat on the round table in front of him.

Izuku cautiously approached. “Hey,” he said, self-conscious and unsure.

Katsuki watched him for a moment, then gestured towards the counter. “You gonna get something or what?” he said.

Izuku looked at Katsuki’s disinterested expression and felt a twinge of annoyance. “I guess so,” he muttered, turning his back on him and trudging over to the counter. While placing his order he chanced a glance or two towards Katsuki. The blonde scrolled through his phone without apparent concern.

When Izuku had gotten his cup, he returned to the table, pulling out the chair at the opposite end and sitting down.

Katsuki’s eyes never left his phone. Although his headphones hung around his neck, Izuku could hear the garbled tones of drums, guitars and what sounded like several horn instruments playing out of them.

“You’re working late,” Katsuki finally said. His tone was almost conversational.

“Uh, yeah,” Izuku replied, setting his cup on the table. “How’d you know?”

“Lucky guess.”

Izuku was surprised that Katsuki had remembered Izuku telling him that he often worked late. Katsuki fell silent after that though, so Izuku supposed it was up to him to continue the conversation.

“I’m uh, working on my business cards,” he said. “I want to get one to Rick soon. I had a big photo shoot this past weekend and-”

“What, still?” Katsuki interrupted, his expression incredulous. “Wasn’t that a month ago?”

Irritation flared within Izuku. “I had a shoot to plan-”

“Too long-”

“It took some time to coordinate everyone-”

“Still too long-”

Izuku grit his teeth. “I don’t remember asking for your opinion,” he said.

Katsuki’s face screwed up in frustration. “Fine,” he snapped. “Do whatever the hell you want. I don’t give a shit.”

Izuku flung his hands up. “Kacchan,” he said exasperatedly. “Why am I here?”

Katsuki glowered at him. “No one made you come.”

Izuku stared at Katsuki in disbelief. “Right,” he said, starting to stand. It was late and he was too tired for this. “If that’s everything-”

“You helped Mina,” Katsuki said suddenly.

Katsuki’s words caught Izuku off-guard. He sat back down again.

“I tried,” Izuku said, sighing. He rubbed his temple. So Katsuki had either overheard or Kirishima or Mina had told him. “She still found out in the end.”

Katsuki set his phone down. “She would have found out anyways,” he said. “Fans talk and shit. Better she hear it from us.”

Izuku gazed into his coffee, his expression sober. “Still,” he said. “Maybe if I’d been more convincing-”

“Shut up.” Katsuki raised his cup to his mouth. “Even if you did a shitty job, it worked long enough to get that asshole outta there. Pink Face didn’t need to see that fucker again.”

“Oh,” Izuku said. Was Katsuki… expressing gratitude? “Well, if I managed to help even a little, I’m glad.” He smiled weakly.

Katsuki said nothing as he observed Izuku from over the rim of his cup. Izuku had the strangest sense that he was being sized up.

“Shitty Hair told you,” Katsuki drawled slowly.

Izuku shifted uncomfortably, averting his eyes. He knew exactly what Katsuki was talking about. “Yeah,” he said, running his thumb over the rim of his cup.

Katsuki’s brow furrowed. “I don’t regret it,” he said, after a pause. He placed his hands on the either side of the small table, his eyes boring into Izuku’s.

Izuku shifted back in his seat. He regarded Katsuki’s confrontational stare, his searching eyes. “No,” he said finally, with great care. “I can’t imagine you would.”

“Asshole had it coming,” Katsuki spat reflexively, as though he were expecting Izuku to argue. “Sneaking in like that, playing nice. Thinking he can pull that shit on us.” His grip on the table tightened.

“You got yourself arrested.” The words were out before Izuku could bite them back.

Katsuki snorted. “What a fucking joke,” he said scornfully. “Those pigs cared more about that fucker’s damage than Pink Face’s. Who cares if it was physical?” He released the table. “Let me off with some bullshit anger management and community service. Since it was in defense of another.” Katsuki’s tone became mocking.

“Sounds like you got lucky,” Izuku said.

“Fuck lucky,” Katsuki snapped. His words were angry and bitter, but his eyes still watched Izuku attentively. There was something strangely earnest about that gaze. “That guy deserved what he got.” He drew a hard breath. “Let me tell you something. If what I did scared one asshole badly enough into making him a non-threat to anyone who might cross his path in the future, I’d do it all over again. Every. Fucking. Thing.” Katsuki pounded his index finger into the tabletop for emphasis.

Izuku found himself speechless. He wasn’t sure why Katsuki had breached the topic in the first place, but it seemed like he was trying awfully hard to justify himself. Why did Katsuki care what Izuku thought? Izuku wondered if he was just letting off steam.

Eventually Izuku managed to find his voice. “I’m not sure Kirishima or Mina would be happy to hear you talking like that.”

Katsuki’s gaze darkened. “How the hell would you know?” he muttered. He said something under his breath that Izuku couldn’t quite catch. “Anyways, this was two years ago. Told ‘em I wouldn’t pull that shit again.” He leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “If I got arrested again it’d be bad for the band.”

Izuku stared at Katsuki, perplexed, and before he knew it, his shoulders were shaking. He leaned forward, groaning in exasperation.

Katsuki stared at the top of Izuku’s head, his scowl deepening. “The hell? You laughing at me?” he demanded.

Izuku fought back a sardonic smile. “It’d be bad for the band if you got arrested,” he repeated.

Katsuki cocked an eyebrow. “Yeah, so?” he said.

Izuku groaned again. “Kacchan, it’d be bad for you!” he cried out in frustration. “It’d be bad for your friends! It’s not just that it’d be hard to do shows from behind bars!”

Katsuki growled.

Izuku shook his head. “You’re really something else, you know that?”

“Fuck you,” Katsuki said.

Izuku sighed then straightened up. “I hope you’re right about that guy,” he said.

“I am,” Katsuki asserted. “You saw his face, didn’t you? You watched. Fucker almost shit his pants.”

Izuku tilted his chair back and threw his hands over his face. “Oh my God,” he said. “I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.”

“Bet he cried all the way home too.”

Izuku started to snicker. “Stop,” he said. “That isn’t funny.”

“Then stop laughing.”

Izuku let his chair drop down. Katsuki looked about as amused as he ever did.

“How’s Mina doing?” Izuku asked.

“She’s fucking peachy.” Katsuki released a long-suffering sigh. “Won’t shut the fuck up about her new bass.”

Izuku recalled the snippet of conversation he’d overheard. “It’s pink?” he asked.

Katsuki looked at Izuku humourlessly. “It’s fucking hideous,” he said.

Izuku began to laugh in earnest. “Maybe you should get one to match.”

Katsuki reached out and swatted the side of Izuku’s head. Izuku snorted and buried his face in his arms.

“Yeah, and maybe I’ll smash it over your head,” Katsuki deadpanned.

Izuku laughed again. He sat up and sipped his coffee contemplatively as he watched Katsuki watching him.

He thought things through.

Despite everything that Izuku had learned about Katsuki over the past few days, he realized that he wasn’t afraid of him. Izuku’s starry eyes had burnt out when he’d been slapped in the face with the reality that Katsuki wasn’t some idol worth adoring. His infatuation had finally come to an end.

But in its place, a new kind of understanding began to well up inside of Izuku.

Katsuki was a talented man, yes. But he was also a flawed man. A man who maybe didn’t always make the best decisions. A man with a temper. A man with his own moral compass. A man who’d do nearly anything for his friends. A man who consoled his bandmates with pink guitars. Whose heart was in the right place.

Not a superhero. Not an antihero. Just a man.

A strange calm settled over Izuku. He smiled.

“I’m glad that you care so much about your friends,” Izuku said. “And that they care about you too.”

“What the fuck,” Katsuki said.

Izuku chuckled and shook his head. “Don’t worry about it,” he said. It didn’t matter whether Katsuki understood or not.

Izuku changed the subject. “You guys were great that night. You really blew the other acts out of the water.”

Katsuki smirked. “We always do.”

Izuku tapped the edge of the table. “I think you were a little too much for Ochako though,” he said dolefully. “Too bad.”

Katsuki tilted his head. “The round-faced girl,” he said.

Izuku groaned. “Don’t- don’t call her that.”

Katsuki’s eyes narrowed as he lowered his head and pushed his seat back. He folded his arms on the table and stared up at Izuku, the lower half of his face obscured by his thick forearms.

‘Cute,’ Izuku thought. He immediately wanted to punch himself.

“She your woman?” Katsuki asked. Izuku choked on his coffee.

“Wh-What?” he spluttered, thumping his chest.

Katsuki didn’t move, his narrowed gaze still watching Izuku. “You dating?”

Izuku paused. “Wait,” he said. “Why do you care?”

“I don’t,” Katsuki retorted. “It’s called making small talk, dumbass.”

Izuku hesitated. He wondered how he ought to respond. “Ochako is a coworker,” he finally said.

“A coworker,” Katsuki repeated.

“A coworker,” Izuku affirmed, “and a friend.”

Katsuki righted himself. “Some friend,” he grumbled. “Was starting to think you were married, the way she stuck to you.”

Izuku looked at Katsuki incredulously. “I think you intimidated her,” he said. “Besides, if we’re talking about women getting too close, I think that fan outdid Ochako by a landslide.”

“What fan?” Katsuki said.

Izuku became gravely concerned. “What do you mean, what fan?” he said. “The one who felt you up while we were talking!”

Katsuki shrugged. “Oh. That’s normal.”

“You don’t mind?” Izuku was flabbergasted.

“I’m used to it.”

“But it’s so inappropriate!”

“Hah?” Katsuki looked annoyed. “The hell are you talking about? You did the same thing, didn’t you?”

Izuku opened his mouth to argue the point, but stopped himself. He’d done the same thing? When?

At his apartment. While he and Katsuki were drunk. After Todoroki’s Halloween party.

Izuku tried to recall the hazy memory. He and Katsuki had talked. After a while, Izuku had leaned in. Katsuki had stopped him by putting a hand on his chest, made some excuses.

Izuku had reached over, touched his face, and continued anyways.

Izuku reddened.

“Oh, God,” he groaned.

Izuku brought his hands to his face. He’d spent weeks overanalyzing everything. He’d thought that Katsuki was upset with him for passing out on him.

Not once had Izuku considered what Katsuki might or might not have wanted in the first place.

Katsuki had kissed him back, that much was true. But they’d both been drunk, and Izuku had been pushy. It was entirely within the realm of possibility that Katsuki hadn’t appreciated Izuku’s sudden advances any more than he’d appreciated that girl’s.

He’d acted no better than a groupie in the end.

Izuku lowered his hands. “I’m really sorry,” he said, shamefaced. “I thought… Never mind. I was being an idiot. I shouldn’t have done that.” He bit his lip. “I know we don’t know each other that well, but I hope you’ll believe me when I say I’m not usually like that. I was drunk and… anyways, that’s no excuse. I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable, or, I don’t know-”

“Fucking- stop,” Katsuki said in exasperation. “Jesus Christ, it’s like you get going and don’t know how to turn it off.”

Izuku closed his mouth. “Sorry,” he said sheepishly.

“Stop apologizing,” Katsuki snapped. “Like I said. I’m used to it. And it’s not like- Fuck. Forget it.”

Izuku made a protesting noise.

“Oh for f- Look.” Katsuki slammed his forearms on the table forcefully. The cups rattled. “You’re too… Ugh-” Katsuki waved a hand toward Izuku. “-That… to be a groupie. Besides, you helped Pink Face. So you’re probably sort of okay.” Katsuki’s eyes narrowed. “For now. Try anything funny and I’ll still kill you.”

Izuku found Katsuki’s words strangely comforting. “Thanks,” he said. “For giving me a chance.”

Katsuki rolled his eyes. “Fuck off. If I had a nickel for every time a fan tried to start with me, I could open my own fucking label.”

“Oh my God,” Izuku said. “Is it really that bad?”

Katsuki regarded him impassively. “You have no fucking idea.”

“I’m sorry,” Izuku said. “That must be a lot to handle.”

“It’ll be better once we get signed,” Katsuki asserted. “At least then we’ll have security to keep the crazies at bay.” Katsuki eyed Izuku. “Not that I can’t handle it.”

“Of course,” Izuku said soothingly. He raised his cup and finished the last dregs. This had ended up being sort of nice. Izuku was glad he’d been able to clear the air with Katsuki. It felt like a load off his mind.

He should get back to work though. What time was it? Izuku checked his phone and groaned; it was nearly two in the morning. Had he really been talking with Katsuki that long?

“Guess I’m crashing at my desk,” Izuku muttered wryly.

Katsuki raised an eyebrow.

Izuku sighed. “At this time of night it’d take me nearly an hour to get home,” he explained. “It’s hardly worth it when I have to be back in a few hours.” He chuckled. “It’s fine. I’ve got work to do anyways.”

Katsuki stared at Izuku, his gaze hard but unfocused. It was like he was having some kind of internal struggle.

Eventually Katsuki’s eye twitched. “You can crash at my place,” he said tightly. “If you want.”

Izuku opened his mouth, but no sound came out.

Katsuki’s expression twisted painfully. “Fuck- Don’t make it weird, shitty Deku! My place is nearby, and we owe you one.” His hand formed a fist on the table.

Izuku couldn’t believe the words that were coming out of Katsuki’s mouth. “Are you sure?” he asked.

Katsuki’s face spasmed. Izuku began to worry the man might have an aneurysm. “Fuck’s sake, Deku!” he snapped. “I said it, didn’t I? Take it or leave it.”

“You’re okay with having a stranger in your apartment?”

Katsuki scowled. “I can take you.”

Izuku was running out of excuses, and Katsuki was expecting an answer. Izuku watched in mild horror as Katsuki’s face began to redden, a vicious scowl plastered over his features.

‘This is a bad idea,’ Izuku thought.

“Okay,” Izuku said. “Thanks.”

He felt dizzy.

Katsuki relaxed minimally. “Whatever,” he said, his scowl still present.

They fell silent.

“So… you live near here,” Izuku said, his mouth suddenly dry. “You’ve been to this café before?”

“Few times,” Katsuki said tersely. “After work. They’re open late.”

“You were working tonight.”

Katsuki shot him a confrontational look.

Izuku smiled feebly. “It’s kind of funny,” he said. “I come here for lunch with coworkers all the time.” It felt strange knowing they’d been frequenting the same café for who knew how long.

Katsuki growled. “You wanna sit here chatting all night or-”

“No,” Izuku said quickly. “We can go.” He glanced at his phone; the battery was low, but it’d survive until morning.

They left the café not long after, Izuku doing his best to hide his nervousness. This wasn’t weird, right? It was late. He was crashing at the place of a guy who he had unresolved feelings for and-

Oh God. What if he wanted to share the bed?

Izuku resolved to sleep on the floor.

Izuku kept his eyes focused on the ground, his mind racing.

“It’s fucking cold,” Katsuki said.

“Yeah.” Izuku laughed awkwardly, chancing a glance at the blonde. It was dark but the shop lights gave off a soft glow. They glanced off Katsuki’s hair and highlighted his handsome features. Their slight difference in height was almost imperceptible side by side, though their builds contrasted sharply. Izuku was glad for his gym membership.

“Hey,” Izuku said uncertainly. “I wasn’t going to ask you this, but…”

“Spit it out.”

Izuku flushed. “Would you mind if I used a photo of your band on my business cards?” He held his breath.

Katsuki side-eyed Izuku. “You asking me for permission?”

Izuku nodded.

Katsuki gave him a strange look. “I don’t care,” he said. “They’re your photos.”

“I thought I should check anyways.”

Katsuki shrugged. “It’s free advertising, ain’t it?” he said. “So long as you actually use them.” He looked at Izuku suspiciously. “If you start trying to sell prints or some shit though, that’s a different story.”

Izuku grinned. “Thanks,” he said. “I was struggling with the design, but that helps a lot.”

Katsuki grunted.

“I’ll give you one, once they’re printed,” Izuku said.

“I already got your info, idiot.”

“I’ll give you one anyways.”

Katsuki huffed.

Izuku smiled.

Katsuki hadn’t been joking when he said he lived nearby. They’d barely been walking ten minutes when they stopped in front of an older but well-maintained complex. When Katsuki swiped his access card over the entrance, Izuku’s heartbeat quickened.

They took the elevator up to the third floor. Izuku quietly attempted to pick apart the situation. Izuku wanted to take Katsuki’s words at face value, but he couldn’t help but wonder. True, the two of them had just resolved the whole Halloween situation, but here Katsuki was, inviting Izuku back to his apartment-

To sleep, Izuku. To sleep.

They stepped off the elevator and paused in front of a plain door. Katsuki unlocked it then trudged inside without a second glance behind him. Izuku entered after a moment’s hesitation.

Katsuki’s apartment was roughly the same size as Todoroki’s. Not that it was easy to tell, because the entire main area was packed beyond capacity. Everything was neatly organized, but the sheer volume was staggering. Izuku stood by the front door taking it all in, the sight providing a temporary distraction.

Cardboard boxes were stacked on top of each other. Words scribbled in black marker seemed to indicate that they were full of band merch. A couch sat by the far wall, a set of weights thrown onto one end. A training bench was placed next to it. Something that looked like an old green screen had been tacked up. Easels and a set of blank canvases were propped against an armchair. One, two, three… no, four guitar cases were scattered throughout the room. A coffee table sat in the midst of it all, partially obscured by a stack of books. Albums lay everywhere. An old amp had been set near the boxes. A desktop computer was stationed on the floor. And was that a cat tree in the corner?

“Don’t step on the fucking cat,” Katsuki said, as though he were reading Izuku’s mind.

Izuku blinked and looked down and, sure enough, a tawny long-haired feline was sitting near his feet, gazing up at him curiously.

“You have a cat,” Izuku said, finding this both surprising and endearing.

“Ain’t my cat.”

Izuku frowned. “You’re taking care of it for someone?”

“Fuck no.”

Katsuki’s responses only fueled Izuku’s curiosity, but it was late. If Katsuki wasn’t going to be forthcoming, Izuku didn’t feel like pulling it out of him.

“Hey there.” Izuku spoke to the cat in a hushed tone, reaching down to pet it. The cat promptly nipped his ankle and fled.

Izuku hissed and grabbed his lower calf. “It bit me!”

“Yeah, she’ll do that,” Katsuki said.

Izuku grumbled. Katsuki could have warned him.

“Your place is… interesting,” Izuku said as he removed his boots and jacket. He found the closet and hung his jacket himself.

Katsuki took off his own and slung it over the armchair. “Got a lot of stuff,” he said. “Not a lot of space to put it.”

Izuku nodded. He lingered uncertainly by the entrance. He didn’t know what to do.

Katsuki raised his hand and gestured towards the short hallway off the main area. “Bedroom. Bathroom. Towels,” he said, pointing to each door in turn.

“Right. Thanks,” Izuku managed. “Are you, uh-” He gestured helplessly.

“I got shit to do,” Katsuki grunted. He turned his back to Izuku and began clearing off the coffee table.

Izuku sagged in relief. He turned the lock on the front door then scuttled off in the direction that Katsuki had indicated. He found the bedroom and closed the door behind him.

Izuku turned on the light. He released a shaky breath, his heart pounding in his chest. He looked around; another guitar case was propped up in a corner. A queen-size bed with red sheets and a black comforter, unmade, took up a large portion of the room. A human skull replica seemed to be placed on a side table for the sole purpose of decoration.

Izuku fidgeted, debating what he ought to do. Something about laying in the bed of someone you barely knew was just so uncomfortable. Then again, he’d agreed to this. What else was left for him to do? Katsuki was busy. He probably wouldn’t be sleeping for a while yet. If Izuku could fall asleep before then-

Izuku bit back a groan. Why had he agreed to this?

Well, he was here now. Nothing to be done about it. Katsuki’s intentions had been purely innocent. That was a good thing, right?

Izuku approached the bed. He pressed into it with his hand before sitting on the edge cautiously. He took a few breaths, willing himself to calm down. This wasn’t as strange as he was making it out to be. He undid his button-up and folded it neatly. He placed it on the floor beside the bed, leaving his t-shirt on. He stared at his jeans then decisively stripped them off down to his boxers. Before he had a chance to change his mind, he turned off the lights, plunged under the sheets and– oh no, they smelled like him.

This was it. Izuku was going to die.

As the sheets settled around him, Izuku caught a whiff of something that might have been cologne, might have been body wash. There was also the slightest hint of that fragrance that every human being possessed. The one that was uniquely theirs, that could only be described as Katsuki.

There was something incredibly intimate about being privy to someone’s bed. It felt like waking up together after a long night.

Izuku was never going to get any sleep, but he set his alarm anyways. The proximity to his work meant he could cut down on travel time at least.

Izuku lay on his back and stared up into the dark. He was in Katsuki’s bed, under Katsuki’s sheets, in Katsuki’s apartment, enveloped by a scent that Izuku doubted he’d ever forget. It was intoxicating, much like Katsuki himself, and now that Izuku thought about it, was actually oddly relaxing-

Izuku’s alarm went off and his eyes snapped open.

Izuku groaned. A soft light trickled in through the slats in the blinds. It took him a moment to remember where he was. His head immediately shot to the right.

The space next to him was empty.

Guilt washed over Izuku. Had Katsuki slept on the couch? Izuku hated to think he’d kicked the blonde out of his own bed.

Izuku lay there a moment longer. He rolled over and buried his face in his pillow, breathing deeply.

It really was relaxing.

Izuku grabbed his clothes and tiptoed into the hallway and over to the bathroom. He grabbed a towel as quietly as possible; he didn’t want to disturb Katsuki if he was asleep somewhere.

Izuku closed the bathroom door and locked it. He’d rinse himself off then be on his way.

Izuku turned on the hot water and stepped into the shower. He eyeballed Katsuki’s bath products, and, after taking a tentative sniff of his body wash, identified it as one of the scents on Katsuki’s sheets. If he used it, he’d smell like Katsuki all day.

Izuku grinned.

Minutes later, Izuku emerged from the bathroom fully dressed. He hung his towel over the door, grabbed his phone and cautiously entered the main room.

Katsuki was not asleep.

Katsuki was, in fact, wide awake. He was sitting cross-legged in his armchair, his headphones over his ears. An old electric guitar covered in marks and stickers sat in his lap. His head was tilted downward as he played a series of chords that were inaudible to Izuku. On the coffee table was a stack of notebooks and a pen. Handwritten words were scrawled across an open page.

Izuku watched Katsuki in quiet fascination. It was an entirely different experience to see Katsuki at home, a guitar between his hands, looking lost in his own world.

Izuku eventually forced himself to speak. “Hey,” he said softly. “Thanks for letting me stay the night.”

Katsuki didn’t react. Izuku wasn’t sure if Katsuki hadn’t heard him, or if he was being ignored.

“I’ve got to go to work now,” he said, a little louder. “Get some sleep, okay?”

No response.

Izuku was perplexed. He went over to the closet, putting on his jacket and boots. He turned towards Katsuki, wondering if he ought to try one more time.

“Later,” Katsuki said, not looking up from his guitar.

Izuku’s breath caught in his throat. “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Later.”

Katsuki said nothing else, and Izuku stepped out into the hallway.

It wasn’t until the door was safely closed behind him that the smile threatening the corners of Izuku’s mouth began to overtake his face.

“Yeah,” Izuku murmured happily as he stepped into the elevator, earning him some looks. “I’ll see you later.”

Chapter Text

The faster we’re falling
We’re stopping and stalling
We’re running in circles again

 

“Well, well,” Rick Danger said, folding his beefy arms across his chest. An amused smile passed over his face. “I was beginning to think I’d seen the last of you, Midoriya.”

“I'm very sorry for making you wait,” Izuku said, bowing deeply. The interior of the opera house was a welcome reprieve from the cold and blustery streets. “My business cards took a little longer than expected. Please accept this as an apology!” Izuku thrust a disc into Rick’s hands, his new card tucked inside the transparent casing.

Rick accepted the disc and opened the protective cover. He lifted Izuku’s business card and examined it, flipping it over a few times. “Nifty design,” he said. “You do both fashion and events?”

“Something like that,” Izuku said. On one side of the card, Ochako posed in her polka dot swing dress, her hair bouncing prettily. Her hands rested gracefully on the handlebars of the studio’s vintage bicycle and her leg was carefully popped. On the other side, Katsuki’s sweaty face and light-penetrated hair took the forefront as he screamed into a microphone. Mina leapt wildly in the background. With his contact information repeated on both sides, Izuku had effectively created two business cards in one. He was quite proud of his work.

“That disc has all the finals from the Skullkrusher concert,” Izuku said, straightening himself. “They’re yours. You can do whatever you like with them.”

“Hey, good kid!” Rick said. He beamed. “I’ll take a look at them and see if they’re as good as I remember.”

Izuku nodded. He steeled himself. That had been the easy part. He bit the inside of his cheek and remembered Katsuki’s words of advice. He could do this.

“There’s one more thing,” Izuku said. He opened the brown satchel strapped over his shoulder and pulled out a thin sheet of card stock. He handed it to Rick.

Rick took the small rectangular sheet, his smile disappearing. “What’s this?” he asked.

Izuku swallowed. “My rate card,” he said. He tugged on the strap of his satchel. Izuku had collaborated with Kaminari to put that last item together. He’d lowballed himself a little, sure, but Izuku couldn’t charge the same rates as someone who already had years of experience as a freelancer.

“Your rate card, huh?” Rick said.

“Yeah,” Izuku replied, ignoring the nervous flipping of his stomach. He’d known that Rick wouldn’t be happy about this. He’d prepared for this scenario.

Izuku gave Rick his best impression of a confident smile and forced his hands back down to his sides. “Those images should provide you with everything you need to know in terms of my abilities,” he said. “I think you’ll find my prices fair.”

“You’ve been talking to that Ground Zero prick,” Rick muttered, folding Izuku’s rate card and shoving it, along with everything else, into his back pocket.

“Ground Zero has nothing to do with this,” Izuku said firmly. “I’m good at what I do. If you’re looking for someone to work free of charge, I’m sure there’s plenty of high school students around who’d be excited to get into a few shows.”

Rick looked personally offended. “High sch- Christ, you even sound like him,” he said scornfully.

“Take a look at the finals when you have a moment,” Izuku said, ignoring Rick’s jab. He held his hand out. “I look forward to working with you.”

Rick gripped Izuku’s hand, but didn’t shake it. “We’ll see,” he said, not a trace of a smile on his face.

Izuku responded with the biggest grin he could muster. “We certainly will.”

 

***

 

Izuku left the opera house feeling like he’d lost a few pounds in sweat. He zipped up his winter coat and pulled on his gloves before stepping out onto the darkening streets. He power walked a few blocks then decisively collapsed against the side of a random building.

Izuku let out a long breath. There was a chance he’d completely burned that bridge with Rick. Then again, Katsuki had made a valid point. Izuku was too old and too experienced to be offering his services for free.

However, Rick’s words hadn’t exactly been encouraging. Izuku replayed their conversation in his mind, wondering if he ought to have done anything differently. He’d perhaps been a little too bold. Izuku’s thoughts churned, splicing and reconstructing his sentences until he could barely remember what he’d actually said.

“Argh,” Izuku groaned, running his hands down his face. He wished he could talk to someone who knew how to handle Rick.

Izuku deliberated. He pulled his phone out from his coat pocket and stared at the screen. He hadn’t heard from Katsuki since that strange night over a week ago.

Izuku remembered what had happened the last time he’d tried to text Katsuki. He bit the inside of his cheek. The worst Katsuki could do was shut him down again. Besides, a lot had happened since then. Who knew; maybe Katsuki would be pleased to learn that Izuku had followed his advice.

Izuku pulled his glove off his hand. He held it between his teeth as he typed an experimental message.

Finally got my business card to Rick. Gave him a rate card too.
He didn’t seem too happy about it.

Izuku peeled himself off the side of the building. He’d barely walked another block when he received a reply.

Dick’ll string you along for a while. Guy’s a total asshole.
Sit on it. He’ll come to you.

Izuku grinned, feeling a little more at ease. He was happy that Katsuki had not only responded, but had done so in a surprisingly positive way. Did that mean that Izuku was allowed to text him now?

He shouldn’t push his luck. But still.

I’ll do that.
Thanks :)

A brief pause.

Whatever.

Izuku let out an excited whoop, startling a homeless man rearranging his sleeping bag over one of the city’s sidewalk grates. He smiled at the man apologetically and handed him a small bill before returning to his phone. There was one last thing he wanted to say.

I have to give you one of my business cards sometime.

Izuku crossed the street. The next bus stop wasn’t far off. He could make it home in time for dinner and get a good night’s sleep before work the next day.

Katsuki’s response stopped Izuku dead in his tracks.

Come over then.

 

***

 

Izuku located Katsuki’s building without much difficulty after retracing his steps from the coffee shop by his work. As Katsuki buzzed him up, Izuku felt that familiar twinge in his gut that was starting to become an almost welcome sensation.

Izuku could hear the music blasting through Katsuki’s apartment door before he even got off the elevator. The fast-paced beat and hard-edged guitar were loud enough to make Izuku wonder about the volume on the other side.

He wasn’t sure if Katsuki would be able to hear him, but he knocked on the door anyways. Not long after the music decreased in volume and Izuku heard heavy footsteps trudge towards him.

Katsuki opened the door.

“H-Hi,” Izuku said breathlessly, one hand clasping the strap on his bag. He started to eye the blonde up and down but caught himself.

Katsuki was dressed casually in a pair of black sweatpants and a loose graphic t-shirt. Katsuki’s clothes were, however, not the first thing that caught Izuku’s eye.

What caught Izuku’s eye was the flat glass palette that Katsuki held in his left hand. His forearm was covered with a variety of wet and dry paint strokes, some flaking and others blending. Splatters of paint adorned his shirt and pants. The look immediately piqued Izuku’s interest.

Katsuki grunted by way of greeting. He jerked his head towards the interior of his apartment and released the door. Izuku caught it and stepped inside, delighted that Katsuki hadn’t simply demanded the card then shut the door in his face. He gasped when he caught a glimpse of the living area and saw exactly why Katsuki was covered in paint.

Four completed canvases had been strategically propped against various objects throughout the room. A fifth rested on a standing easel near the room’s center, incomplete. Each depicted a human skull in various stages of decay. The backgrounds were dark and moody with garnet and deep greys. Thick paths of fresh paint ran from the top of the completed canvases down through the skulls, marring their pallor with pure blood-red.

Katsuki’s main room had been reorganized to make space for the easel and paintings. An old sheet, stained with paint, had been spread and placed under everything. A side table stood a few feet in front of the easel. Katsuki’s skull replica sat on top of it.

“Oh wow, did you paint all these?” Izuku asked, awestruck. He crouched down in front of a painting.

“No,” Katsuki said. “The goddamn cat did.”

“They’re amazing,” Izuku said appreciatively. He tentatively reached toward the side of the canvas. It looked like acrylic.

“Don’t touch it, idiot,” Katsuki said sharply. “They’re wet.”

Izuku retracted his hand. “I wasn’t going to,” he said, frowning.

Katsuki glared at Izuku. He set his palette down on a desk strewn with tubes of paint, paintbrushes and a small stack of canvases. “So where’s the card?” he asked.

“Ah…Right.” Izuku opened his satchel and pulled out a white cardboard box. He removed the top, withdrew a card and passed it to Katsuki. He tried not to notice when Katsuki’s rough fingertips brushed against his.

Katsuki examined the card, flipping it over. “You used the band,” he said.

“Well, yeah,” Izuku said, closing the box and putting it back in his satchel.

Katsuki flipped the card back to its other side and frowned. “Hm,” he said. He set it down and picked his palette back up.

Izuku scratched the back of his head self-consciously. “Rick seemed to like my card,” he said uncertainly. “The business one, at least.”

Katsuki shrugged. “You’re the one who told him you’d work for free.” He turned towards his easel. “He’ll get over it.”

Izuku sighed. “I think you were right about it setting a bad precedent,” he said. He set his satchel down beside him. “I tried to compromise by giving him the finals from that show free of charge. Hopefully that’ll be enough to sell him on my work.” Izuku groaned. “I think I got too cocky. I ended up telling him that if he wanted free labour, he could hire a high school student.”

“Ha,” Katsuki said. He mixed a couple of colours on his palette and applied the new tone to his canvas. “Nice.”

Izuku grinned.

Izuku didn’t have any further reason to be here, but at the same time, Katsuki hadn’t asked him to leave. Instead of letting himself out, Izuku took a cautious step closer. It looked like Katsuki was building up shadows around the skull’s eye sockets and nasal cavity.

“I had no idea you painted,” Izuku said, fascinated by another unexpected facet of the blonde. “Do you exhibit?”

“Nah,” Katsuki said, adding a few more strokes. “The Painted Lady takes them and sells them. Brings in extra money for the band.”

Izuku was starting to think there wasn’t anything Katsuki did that wasn’t for the band. “The Painted Lady is an art store?”

“Tattoo parlour,” Katsuki corrected. “Where I had my ink done. They pick up local artists and display their shit. It’s easy money.”

“If you know how to paint.” Izuku watched Katsuki’s practiced strokes. “This takes me back to college.”

Katsuki’s eyes flashed over to Izuku. “You paint?” he asked.

“Uh. Sort of?” Izuku said, who had taken exactly one landscape painting class back in first year. He’d done his best, but it hadn’t exactly been his strongest subject.

Katsuki regarded Izuku with what might have been a challenging stare. He gestured towards the stack of canvases on his desk. “Take one,” he said. He used his paintbrush to point towards the wall that separated the apartment’s main area from the bedroom. “Spare easel’s somewhere over there.”

Izuku had learned by now not to question Katsuki’s resolve. He nodded enthusiastically, thoroughly pleased with this unexpected turn of events. He returned to the apartment entryway to take off his coat and shoes before setting off to locate the spare easel. He was thrilled that Katsuki didn’t seem to mind having him around. It made his heart soar.

“I’ll do my best,” Izuku said brightly.

“Good for you,” Katsuki drawled.

Izuku found the easel shoved behind one of Katsuki’s guitars. He moved the instrument with the same level of caution he used when dealing with the studio’s cameras.

“You’ve sure got a lot of guitars,” Izuku commented conversationally. “How many do you own in total? Four? Five?”

 “Six,” Katsuki said, swishing his paintbrush in a plastic cup filled with dirty water. He pressed the brush against the rim then dabbed the excess water off on his forearm. When he glanced over at Izuku his jaw clenched. “If you drop that I’ll kill you,” he said, his eye twitching.

“Don’t worry,” Izuku said solemnly. “I know how to handle expensive equipment.” He set Katsuki’s guitar aside carefully then grabbed the easel.

Katsuki put his brush and palette down long enough to shift his stand over. Izuku set his spare easel up on top of the sheet, leaving a couple of feet between him and Katsuki. “You can’t use them all for shows,” he continued.

“Course not,” Katsuki retorted. “One’s for shows. Then there’s a backup in case something goes wrong.” Katsuki mixed a couple of shades together on his palette. “Pink Face has my acoustic. I’ve got a bass, one that’s better for studio shit, and my old one from high school.”

“You kept your first guitar,” Izuku said in realization. He pressed his lips together. If he had to guess he’d say that was the one he’d seen Katsuki practicing with. “That’s awfully sentimental of you.”

“Shut it, nerd,” Katsuki growled. “It’s a good guitar and it still works. Why the hell would I get rid of it?”

Izuku hummed a little. He chose not to answer Katsuki’s question.

“I’m a little jealous,” Izuku admitted. “I wish I could afford a backup camera.” Izuku examined the canvases stacked on Katsuki’s desk. “I’m saving for one, but it’s taking me a while to put a couple grand away.” He picked a canvas then set it on the easel. “I’m hoping if things go well with Rick, that day will come sooner rather than later.”

“Don’t rely on one person,” Katsuki said automatically. “You’ll only screw yourself. You’ve got cards now, so fucking use them.” Katsuki pointed towards Izuku’s canvas distractedly. “I primed them the other day, so you’re good to go. Palettes are in the second drawer under the skull.”

It seemed to Izuku that Katsuki was a veritable fountain of knowledge when it came to self-promotion. “Thanks,” he said. He smiled at Katsuki fondly. “You’ve given me so much advice, I wish there was something I could do for you.”

He paused, an idea coming to mind.

“Hey, do you want a copy of everything I took at your show?” Izuku asked. “I can put a disc together. The photos would be yours, so you can do whatever you want with them.”

Katsuki glared at Izuku. “What makes you think I want your shit?” he asked.

“Oh,” Izuku said. He deflated. “Okay.”

Katsuki fell silent. He frowned at his canvas. “Just use file sharing and email them or something,” he muttered.

Izuku would have very much liked another excuse to visit Katsuki, but he’d take it. “No problem,” he said, perking up. “If that’s what you want.”

Katsuki cursed under his breath.

Izuku went over to the side table and pulled out the second drawer. “Neat skull,” he commented. He located a palette and took it out. “It looks good for a replica.”

Katsuki stopped painting. He eyed Izuku from around the edge of his canvas. “Touch it,” he said.

It was an odd request, but Izuku didn’t think much of it. He ran a finger over the skull’s somewhat bumpy cranium, then tapped the top. “It seems pretty light,” Izuku said, bending down to examine it fully. “What’s with all the little holes?”

“It’s real,” Katsuki said.

Izuku raised an eyebrow and turned his gaze towards Katsuki. “No it isn’t,” he said.

“It’s fucking real, Deku.”

Izuku looked back at the skull. “That’s a real human skull.”

“Yep.”

Izuku stared at the skull, then yelped and leapt backwards, almost dropping his palette. Katsuki wheezed then raised his fist to his mouth, faking a cough.

“That’s real?” Izuku asked shrilly, pointing at the offending object. “Why do you have a human skull?”

“I got it from the last guy who pissed me off,” Katsuki sneered through his fist, his face reddening.

Izuku wiped his hand on his shirt as though it were contaminated. “You’re full of shit,” he said. A shudder ran through his body. He eyed the skull warily as he backed away. “Where’d you really get it? Please don’t say you robbed a grave.”

Katsuki lowered his fist, though his mouth still trembled. “Taxidermy shop,” he said. “I found it a few years back.”

“And you bought it?” Izuku asked in disbelief.

“Duh. You find a human skull for sale and you’re not gonna buy it?” The look on Katsuki’s face clearly indicated that he felt his question was rhetorical.

“And you call me weird,” Izuku muttered, tearing his gaze away from the skull. He returned to Katsuki’s desk and squeezed a selection of paints onto his palette.

“You are weird,” Katsuki retorted.

“Yeah well, maybe we’re both a little weird.”

Katsuki huffed.

Izuku shook his head and turned his attention to his blank canvas. The empty space stared up at him.

Still lifes were outside of Izuku’s narrow range of ability. The darkened view from Katsuki’s apartment only led to another building; not exactly a landscape. Izuku glanced to his right.

Katsuki worked with quiet intensity. His brow furrowed as his gaze flickered back and forth between palette and canvas. Dried paint flaked off his forearm as his muscles shifted. It was both similar to and different from watching him perform.

Izuku looked back at his canvas. If he couldn’t paint a still life, there was no way he’d be able to paint a figure. He’d stick with the skull.

Katsuki and Izuku worked in relative silence, Katsuki’s music playing in the background. Izuku caught the occasional faint pinging of a phone but it went ignored. Despite his uncertainty when it came to his companion, Izuku was having a great time. He’d had to stop himself from humming more than once.

A soft mew distracted Izuku. He glanced over his shoulder; Katsuki’s tawny cat was watching the two of them from a safe distance. The tip of her tail slowly flicked back and forth along the floor.

“Hello again,” Izuku said kindly. He wondered where she’d come from, although he supposed there were no shortage of hiding places for her in the overstocked apartment.

The cat looked at Izuku, completely still save for the tip of her tail. Izuku set his palette and brush down and approached her cautiously. He crouched down in front of her and slowly reached for her tag.

Izuku grasped the trinket and turned it over. “Missy,” he read aloud. “Cute name.”

Izuku looked at Missy.

Missy looked at Izuku.

Izuku reached out to rub Missy’s head.

Missy promptly bit Izuku’s fingertip.

Izuku hissed and recoiled while Missy darted over to Katsuki. He watched the cat take a great leap, sinking her claws into the back of Katsuki’s sweatpants. She climbed up the blonde’s back effortlessly and perched on his shoulder before turning her sharp gaze back on Izuku.

“What a mean cat,” Izuku said, returning to his easel. He burst into laughter when Missy suddenly began to gnaw ferociously on Katsuki’s ear.

“She’s a fucking asshole,” Katsuki replied, batting Missy’s mouth away. “Quit laughing. You’d be an asshole too if your family ditched you.”

Izuku’s smile faded. “She’s a rescue?” he asked.

“No,” Katsuki said, prying Missy away from his ear a second time. “She lives here. Shitty owner didn’t bother to take her with him when he moved out.”

Izuku’s jaw dropped. “What? That’s horrible!”

Katsuki glowered. “She was half fucking starved when I moved in too,” he said. “I called the number on the tag, but the shithead who answered put on some stupid act like she wasn’t his.”

“Poor thing,” Izuku said sympathetically. “I guess I can’t fault her too much.” He smiled at Katsuki. “But if you’re letting her stay with you, doesn’t that basically make her your cat?”

“No way,” Katsuki said. “She’s pretty good at climbing the trees outside. She comes and goes when she wants.”

“But you’re taking care of her,” Izuku pointed out. “You have a cat tree, and I’m sure you feed her too.”

“Shut up,” Katsuki growled. His grip on the paintbrush tightened. “She ain’t my cat. She doesn’t belong to anybody.” He glared at Izuku. “She’s free do whatever she wants. It’s better that way.”

“I wonder,” Izuku murmured. Katsuki’s words were troubling, but Izuku supposed it was sweet that he cared for her at all.

Katsuki snarled in displeasure. His eyes snapped over to Izuku’s canvas. “What, that’s it?” he demanded, jabbing his brush at the painting.

Izuku bristled. “I’m not done yet,” he said. “I was just getting the basics down.”

“Gonna be a real boring painting if all you paint is what you see,” Katsuki sneered. He turned back to his canvas moodily.

Izuku frowned. He studied Katsuki’s technique, then looked at the four completed paintings. Katsuki’s prior knowledge of composition suddenly made perfect sense.

Katsuki’s short, dry brush strokes gave off an aggressive energy, much like Katsuki himself. Izuku felt as though he were standing next to the world’s angriest Degas. It was interesting that his personality shone through his work like that. It gave Izuku an idea.

“Like I said,” Izuku asserted, determinedly taking up his brush. “I’m not done yet.”

Izuku decisively chose a few bold colours he hadn’t used yet. Shades of purple, yellow and blue ought to make his bland canvas a little more interesting. He looked at his painting and analyzed it as though it were a puzzle to solve.

‘Don’t just paint what you see,’ he thought.

Izuku took a bold swipe of purple and blended it with cobalt. He painted a long, sweeping stroke along the edge of the skull, then studied his handiwork. He wondered if he ought to go bolder. His hesitation soon transformed into uncertainty. Overlapping thoughts began to swirl in his mind, combining and twisting and breaking apart.

Izuku chased that feeling. He let his mind take over as he began to paint line after line of rich, swirling hues. Greens appeared where blue and yellow mixed. Izuku muttered to himself as he started to expand his scheme.

Izuku lost track of time. It wasn’t until he smiled to himself over a particularly satisfying stroke that he glanced to his right and caught Katsuki’s eye. Katsuki’s gaze immediately shifted to Izuku’s canvas, his expression unreadable.

Izuku took a step backward and examined his work. His churning brush stroke had overtaken the entirety of his canvas, giving Izuku’s painting an anxious mood. He looked at Katsuki’s canvas. If Katsuki was a Degas, Izuku was a Munch.

“Yours looks great,” Izuku said sincerely. “You’re a really talented painter.”

Katsuki scowled. “Fuck off,” he said. He continued to stare at Izuku’s painting.

“How long have you been working on this series?” Izuku asked curiously.

“A few days,” Katsuki replied distractedly. “In and around the day job.”

“No way.” Izuku gave Katsuki an incredulous look. “You’ve completed five paintings in three days, on top of working full time?”

Katsuki shrugged. “It wasn’t that hard,” he said.

Izuku’s brow creased. He knew that Katsuki was taking on the bulk of the workload when it came to running The Antiheroes, and Izuku had already seen him pull an all-nighter. It was probably a bit hypocritical of him to be concerned, but-

“Kacchan,” Izuku said. “Are you getting any sleep at all?”

Katsuki looked momentarily surprised, but he quickly covered it up. “When I can,” he grumbled. “Not that it's any of your damned business.”

“Okay,” Izuku said quietly.

“We’ve got a tour coming up next month,” Katsuki said defensively. “The band could use the extra cash.”

Katsuki suddenly swore. He picked Missy up off his shoulder and set her down on the ground. “Asshole,” he muttered, rubbing his ear.

Izuku bit his lip. He wanted to press Katsuki, but he knew that it probably wouldn’t end well. “Your paintings must sell at a decent price,” he said instead.

“Should be around a grand and a half between the five of them,” Katsuki replied confidently.

Izuku chuckled. “Geez,” he said. “Maybe I should try selling mine.”

Katsuki stared at Izuku. “No way,” he said. “No one will buy that.”

“Why not?” Izuku looked at his painting.

“It’s a goddamn mess, Deku.”

“I dunno,” Izuku said. “I kind of like it. It’s more interesting than anything I painted in college.”

Katsuki scoffed. “It looks like a finger-painting.”

“Hey!” Spurred on by a sudden vindictiveness, Izuku took his thick paintbrush, swathed it in purple paint, and flicked it at Katsuki.

It was unfortunate for both of them that Katsuki managed to dodge Izuku’s attack. Instead of hitting Katsuki, the paint splattered in great purple gobs right through the center of Katsuki’s canvas.

Izuku cried out in horror.

Katsuki drew a sharp breath.

Izuku raised his hands to his mouth, his paintbrush clattering to the floor. He’d really done it now. He watched with wide eyes as the paint slowly began to streak downward through Katsuki’s beautiful painting.

“Oh my God, Kacchan,” Izuku whispered through his hands. “I’m so sorry…”

Katsuki stared at his painting wordlessly. Izuku, awash with guilt, was starting to fear for his life. He wondered whether he ought to beat a hasty retreat.

“God, I’m sorry,” he repeated, taking a step backwards.

“It’s fine.”

Izuku froze. “What?”

Katsuki turned his narrowed gaze on Izuku. “It’s done now, ain't it?” he said. “Looks stupid, but whatever. Some hipster dumbfuck will probably think it’s unique and buy it for twice its value.”

Izuku stared at Katsuki. He couldn’t believe his ears. “I’m sure we can get most of it off while it’s still wet,” he tried. “It might only need a couple of touch-ups-”

“Leave it,” Katsuki snapped.

Izuku was flabbergasted. “But-”

Katsuki snarled. “I said leave it.”

Izuku worried his bottom lip. He didn’t like this. He’d damaged Katsuki’s painting. It was up to him to set things right.

Izuku paused, then bent down and picked up his paintbrush. He thrust the tool into Katsuki’s hands.

“Here,” Izuku said. “Mess mine up too.”

Katsuki looked at Izuku with a bewildered expression. “You fucking serious?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Izuku stepped out of the way and gestured towards his painting encouragingly.

Katsuki gave Izuku a strange look before sighing heavily and turning to Izuku’s canvas. He swathed the paintbrush in deep grey and wrote the word ‘SAD’ across the upper half of the painting with purposeful strokes.

“Aw, hey!” Izuku said. He cracked a smile. “My painting isn’t sad!”

Katsuki looked at Izuku evenly. “It is now,” he said.

“Yeah well, I still like it,” Izuku said. “I think I’ll hang it in my apartment.”

Katsuki stared at Izuku. “You want to hang that,” he said, pointing at Izuku’s painting with the paintbrush.

“Definitely,” Izuku said. His smile started to turn into a smirk. “I think you made it better.”

Katsuki dipped the paintbrush back into the grey paint. He didn’t break eye contact with Izuku as he slowly wrote the word ‘NO’ through the center of the canvas.

Izuku started to laugh. “Stop!” he said, setting his palette aside. He took a step towards Katsuki, attempting to grab the paintbrush from his hands. “You’ve already had your revenge!”

Katsuki sidestepped Izuku easily, dipping the brush back into the paint. “Don’t tell me what to do,” he said. As he brought the paintbrush to the canvas, Izuku lunged and tore the brush out of Katsuki’s hand. “Oi!”

Izuku took a step back, holding the brush triumphantly. “That’s enough,” he said between breaths, his shoulders shaking.

“I’ll decide when I’m done,” Katsuki said, his red eyes glinting. He set his palette down and closed the distance between them in half a second. Katsuki made a grab for Izuku’s wrist while simultaneously swinging his other arm around behind him. Izuku dodged Katsuki’s hand but the blonde's arm had already hooked around his waist, pulling him closer. Izuku held the paintbrush over his head, and Katsuki effortlessly reached up and seized hold of his wrist.

“Think you’re being clever, you little shit?” Katsuki sneered. Izuku tried to wrench his hand away but Katsuki’s grip was like iron.

“Goddamnit!” Izuku cried out in frustration as Katsuki successfully pried the paintbrush from his fingers. He’d have to up his strength training. “How are you so strong?”

“You think that’s strong?” Katsuki taunted. A lopsided grin spread over his face and his grip on Izuku’s waist tightened. Izuku immediately stopped laughing as a throng of butterflies fluttered up through his insides. “You haven’t seen shit.”

“O-Oh?” Izuku said. His whole body suddenly felt very hot. “Maybe you should show me then.”

Katsuki seemed taken aback but he quickly recovered. “I could bend you into a goddamn pretzel, you know,” he sneered, leaning in closer.

Izuku leaned backwards, grabbing hold of Katsuki’s arm for balance. “But you won’t,” he said. His lips parted slightly.

Katsuki’s intense gaze burrowed into him. “How’re you so sure?” he growled, his voice becoming quieter.

They’d played this game before. Izuku’s answer back then had been juvenile.

He had a different one to give this time.

“Because I trust you,” Izuku said. The words came easily.

Katsuki looked troubled. “How can you say that?” he muttered. “You don’t even know me.”

“But I want to,” Izuku murmured. He held Katsuki’s gaze evenly.

Katsuki’s eyes became unfocused as they drifted down to Izuku’s mouth. “Oh yeah?” he said.

“Yeah,” Izuku breathed.

This felt different from their last encounter. Katsuki’s eyes looked like they were asking something of Izuku, and he was all too happy to oblige.

Their mouths were no more than an inch apart when the support around Izuku’s waist suddenly vanished. Izuku stumbled backwards, just barely managing to catch himself. When he looked up, Katsuki was giving him a scathing glare, his face aflame.

“What the hell did you do?” Katsuki demanded.

Izuku blinked at Katsuki stupidly. “Wait…What?” He tried to gather himself. “I thought-”

“You thought what?” Katsuki snapped. “You know what? I don’t care. Get out.”

Izuku’s mind was going into overdrive. “Wait,” he said. “Kacchan-”

“I said get the HELL OUT!” Katsuki roared, grabbing Izuku by the back of his shirt and thrusting him towards the door. Izuku was barely able to grab his belongings before Katsuki shoved him into the hallway and slammed the door in his face.

Izuku stared at the closed door, confused and hurt. One of his shoes tumbled from his arms and onto the ground with a soft thud. His face burned with shame as he set his other shoe and satchel down and shrugged into his winter coat. As he turned to leave, the door opened again.

“Take your shitty painting with you,” Katsuki snarled, thrusting the wet canvas into Izuku’s hands. He shut the door before Izuku had a chance to respond.

Izuku looked at his painting and sighed unhappily. He was sure things had been different this time. Katsuki had seemed into it.

Izuku groaned, at a total loss. He trudged over to the elevator. Katsuki really wouldn’t want to talk to him ever again now. Things had finally started to go well and he’d fucked it all up.

The journey home was slow and painful. Izuku used the time to review his actions over and over again, driving himself mad.

Izuku spent the next two days sulking and beating himself up. He was feeling pretty despondent up until a new message distracted him from his self-loathing long enough to replace it with overwhelming confusion.

When’re you getting me that disc?

Chapter Text

Something tells me I’ll never learn

 

“Rick called me,” Izuku said as he flipped through the photographs on his camera.

Katsuki was sitting crossed-legged on the ground and hunched over his coffee table. A laptop was opened towards him. “Told you,” he replied nonchalantly as he glanced back and forth between his phone and laptop screen. The paintings in his apartment were long gone, his furniture rearranged to its prior state.

Izuku was seated comfortably in Katsuki’s armchair. Missy eyed him from across the room; Izuku ignored her.

“I can’t believe he made me wait almost two weeks,” Izuku continued. “You weren’t joking about him stringing people along.”

“No shit,” Katsuki said. “Fuckhead’s been doing it to me for nearly a year.”

Izuku looked up from his camera. Over the past couple of weeks he and Katsuki had developed a strange sort of friendship. After Izuku had returned to drop off the disc that Katsuki wanted only to have the blonde slam the door in his face a couple of hours later, Izuku had started to pick up on a pattern.

Firstly, Katsuki would message Izuku. This could take anywhere from a couple of days to a week.

Secondly, Katsuki would fabricate some reason to have Izuku over.

Lastly, Katsuki would throw Izuku out of his apartment a few hours later.

When this routine happened for the third time, Izuku learned to stop taking it personally. He didn’t understand what was going on inside of Katsuki’s head, but once he became familiar with the process, he decided to leverage it as an opportunity to explore Katsuki’s boundaries.

Izuku tried to reciprocate Katsuki’s invitations several times, but Katsuki abhorrently refused to go anywhere near Izuku’s apartment. He’d given a variety of excuses, but Izuku suspected it had something to do with what had happened during Halloween.

Izuku was okay with that. If Katsuki wanted to have control over the parameters of their relationship, Izuku would happily let him. He was fairly certain that Katsuki only wanted to be friends anyways.

Not that it stopped Izuku from flirting with him from time to time.

Izuku’s head lolled to the side. He noted the endearing furrow in Katsuki’s brow as he worked, his jaw taut as he chewed on the inside of his cheek.

Izuku shook his head and turned his attention back to his camera.

“I have a job with him on Thursday,” he said. “I’m sure it’ll work out for you too.”

Katsuki grunted.

Izuku chuckled. He chanced another glance at the blonde. “I was contacted by one of the bands you competed against too,” he said mischievously. “The Graffiti Artists. They found my work on social media and want to do a promotional shoot.” Izuku stretched his arms above his head. His biceps had gained a little girth. He’d need more before someone like Katsuki took notice though. “I’m getting pretty popular.”

Katsuki’s head shot up. He glared at Izuku.

Izuku’s spine tingled.

“You think getting a call or two makes you popular?” Katsuki demanded. He grabbed his phone and held it out towards Izuku, using his thumb to scroll through an endless barrage of emails. “Come back to me when your inbox looks like this.”

“Wow,” Izuku said, leaning forward. “Are those all for your tour?”

“Pretty much,” Katsuki grumbled. He set his phone down irritably. “Venue confirmations, hotel bookings, people being useless, advance ticket numbers, all kinds of bullshit.”

Izuku knitted his brow. “I can’t believe you manage everything by yourself,” he said. “Have you ever thought about letting Kirishima or Mina help?” Izuku had attempted to reconcile with Kirishima but things had admittedly become awkward since the Battle of the Bands. They’d had a brief conversation once and Izuku had left it at that. At least Kirishima knew that Izuku didn’t think badly of him.

Katsuki snarled. “What, you think I can’t handle it?” he said.

Izuku regarded Katsuki. He looked like his usual sullen self, save for a visible darkening of the skin under his eyes.

“I just hope you’re not driving yourself into the ground,” Izuku said.

“Fuck off,” Katsuki snapped. “What are you, my mom?”

“I sincerely hope not,” Izuku replied.

Katsuki stared at Izuku. Izuku froze. He could almost see Katsuki’s mind debating whether to throw him out.

Eventually Katsuki rolled his eyes and returned to his work.

Izuku relaxed. He remained quiet for a few moments before he changed the subject. “How long are you going to be gone?” he asked.

“Six weeks,” Katsuki said. “We’re kicking off New Year’s Eve. Gonna destroy the entire east coast.”

“Geez. That’s in like… two and a half weeks.” Izuku hadn’t realized he was going to be losing Katsuki so soon.

Katsuki nodded derisively. “Yeah,” he said, gesturing towards his laptop. “So maybe stop yapping so damn much. I’ve got shit to do.”

“Let me help,” Izuku said.

Katsuki closed his eyes and released a burdened sigh. “No,” he said.

Izuku frowned. “I mean it,” he said. He leaned forward until he could see Katsuki’s laptop screen. “What are you working on? Finances? If I can’t help you with that, give me something else to do.”

Katsuki reached over and put his hand on Izuku’s face. “No,” he repeated. He pushed Izuku back into the armchair.

Izuku growled. He didn’t particularly enjoy having his face used in such a manner. “Kacchan,” he protested. He slid off the armchair and settled onto the floor. “You’re always busy. There must be something I can do to help, even if it’s small.”

Katsuki stared at Izuku. “Jesus fuck,” he said. “Do you ever let up?”

Izuku grinned. “Almost never,” he said.

“You’re a real pain in the ass, you know that?”

Izuku smirked. “Well, at least I’ve got one thing going for me.”

Izuku realized almost immediately that he should have thought his wording through more carefully. Katsuki’s brows rose into his hairline, and Izuku reddened.

“Get out,” Katsuki said.

“Ugh,” Izuku said, flustered. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean-”

“Get out, Deku.”

Izuku groaned and rose to his feet. He didn’t need to be told again.

“I’ll see you later, Kacchan.”

“Like hell.”

 

***

 

Izuku did see Katsuki later.

“Woah, is that the variant edition of All Might issue 117?” Izuku asked excitedly, pulling the partially obscured comic out from between a stack of books. He’d been going through his latest concert photos when something that looked an awful lot like a comic book had caught his eye.

“Don’t touch my stuff,” Katsuki groused, his head jerking up from his phone.

Izuku, undeterred, turned the plastic-encased comic over delicately. “Oh, wow,” he breathed. “It really is. I could never get my hands on one of these. They only printed a thousand copies.” Izuku sighed longingly as he turned it over again. “This was one of only three covers that depicted All Might facing off against The Impenetrable Fortress. I’ve seen it once before, but it wasn’t for sale.”

Katsuki’s expression gradually morphed from annoyance into condescending awe.

“You fucking nerd,” he said.

Izuku flushed. “I don’t know how you can call me that,” he said. “Isn’t this yours? You told me not to touch your stuff.”

“Oh, so you can hear me!” Katsuki snapped. He grabbed the comic back from Izuku and set it aside with great care.

Izuku smiled. “It is yours, then.”

Katsuki scowled. “It’s old,” he said. “I was gonna sell it.”

Izuku’s eyes lit up. “I’ll buy it off you,” he said.

Katsuki’s scowl turned into a glare. “Fuck off, Deku.”

Izuku started to laugh. “Aw, come on,” he said. “Just admit that you like the All Might comics.”

“No way in hell.”

“Kacchan,” Izuku said teasingly, his smile becoming devious. “I won’t tell anyone.”

“Fuck. Off.”

Izuku brought his hand to his chin in mock contemplation. “Hm, I’m trying to remember the name of that one hero,” Izuku said. He squinted. “The guy who had the ability to temporarily take away anyone’s powers. Take away… Take Away Man? No, there was something about erasing…” He looked at Katsuki expectantly.

Katsuki clenched his jaw. “If you think I’m going to fall for that dumb bullshit, you’ve got another thing coming,” he said.

Izuku continued, even though his inner fanboy was squirming. “There was one villain who really creeped me out as a kid too. The guy with all the hands. What was his name? Hand Man? No, I think he had a proper name… Tom… Tom-”

“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Deku!” Katsuki exploded, his face contorting. “It was Eraserhead and fucking Shigaraki Tomura, you idiot! How the hell can you pretend not to remember them? They were fucking iconic in both the original series as well as-” Katsuki stopped suddenly.

Izuku clutched his sides as he convulsed with laughter.

“I knew it!” he exclaimed. “I knew you were a fan from the moment you mentioned the Platinum editions!” Tears welled up in Izuku’s eyes. “Kacchan! I’m so happy!”

Katsuki’s face erupted into a dashing crimson. “Fuck you, you fucking fuck!” he sputtered eloquently. “You fucking- Get out!”

Izuku couldn’t stop laughing. “No,” he gasped. “Don’t kick me out. I’m so glad that you’re an All Might fan too. He’s my favourite- Ow!”

Katsuki grabbed Izuku’s arm and twisted it behind his back. “Out,” he said through gritted teeth.

“Ughnn!” Izuku protested as Katsuki forced him towards the door. “How many times are you going to throw me out?”

Katsuki opened his apartment door and shoved Izuku into the hallway. He kicked Izuku’s boots out after him. “As many as I need to,” Katsuki replied, grabbing Izuku’s coat and thrusting it into his arms before slamming the door shut.

“Okay, then!” Izuku called out, a big dopey smile on his face. “Have a good night!”

 

***

 

“This tastes like it was forged in the pits of hell,” Izuku commented mildly while tears streamed down his cheeks. A bowl of spicy chili balanced precariously in his lap as he sat on Katsuki’s kitchen counter.

Katsuki regarded Izuku contemplatively. He sampled the chili straight from the bubbling pot and shook his head in disappointment. He added more chili flakes then began deftly dicing jalapenos.

Izuku watched him, staggered. “How are you doing this?” he asked, shoveling another bite of painfully delicious chili into his mouth. “I’m amazed you haven’t burned all your taste buds off.”

“You’re weak,” Katsuki replied. “This is nothing. I bet you’ve never eaten a ghost pepper.”

“Of course not!” Izuku retorted. He wiped his face with his sleeve. “Who the hell sits down and eats a ghost pepper?”

Katsuki glanced at Izuku from over his shoulder.

“…You’re crazy,” Izuku said in amazement.

This hadn’t been quite what Izuku had expected when Katsuki had texted him earlier that day, although he supposed there were worse meanings for the phrase I need a victim.

Katsuki snorted. “It ain’t that hot,” he said. He scraped the jalapenos into the pot.

“What’s all this for anyways?” Izuku asked. “Is Kirishima having another party?”

“Mind your own business,” Katsuki shot back.

Izuku persisted. “That’s why you came to his Halloween party, right?” he said. “Even though you were busy. Because you said you’d cook for everyone.”

Katsuki’s shoulders tightened. “Dunno what the hell you’re talking about,” he muttered, aggressively stirring the contents of the pot.

Izuku took another bite. “That’s really sweet, you know,” he said. He waved his hand in front of his eyes.

Katsuki turned, thrusting the dirty ladle towards Izuku. “Wanna die?” he asked, his expression ferocious.

“I think I’m already dying,” Izuku said, sniffling. He looked at Katsuki’s glaring face and smiled.

Katsuki held onto his glare, but after a moment his expression softened. “Yeah, well good,” he said.

Katsuki may be frowning, but he wasn’t angry. Izuku could tell.

Their eyes held each other in place for a heartbeat, and Izuku found himself trapped in Katsuki’s gaze for the umpteenth time. He distractedly watched Katsuki’s brow slowly crease, his eyes shifting into uncertainty. Izuku wanted to kiss him very badly, but he wouldn’t.

Katsuki broke the moment with an exaggerated eye roll. He turned back to the stove.

Izuku grinned. “God, you’re cute.” The words slipped out of his mouth.

Katsuki whirled around. “Hah?”

Izuku fumbled. “Er-”

“Get out.”

Izuku would have thrown his hands up if they weren’t otherwise occupied. “Let me finish this first,” he said stubbornly, stuffing an unnecessarily large forkful of chili into his mouth.

Katsuki crossed the kitchen in two easy steps and grabbed the bowl away from Izuku.

“Wh- Kacchan!” Izuku squawked as Katsuki pulled him off the countertop. Katsuki grabbed Izuku by the wrist and dragged him towards the door.

“I really wanted that,” Izuku complained, digging his heels into the hardwood as best he could.

Izuku was no match for Katsuki. Within seconds, Izuku was unceremoniously shoved out the front door. “Hey, wait-”

The door slammed shut.

Izuku groaned, hopping from foot to foot. “Kacchan!” he shouted. “I need my boots!”

There was no response. Izuku knocked on the door.

“I not going anywhere without my stuff,” he asserted. “There’s snow outside!”

One of Katsuki’s neighbours took this opportunity to step outside their apartment. Izuku waved at the woman and smiled. She shot Izuku a strange look before disappearing into the stairwell.

Izuku sat down in front of Katsuki’s apartment door. “I’m not leaving without my things!” he called out.

The apartment door finally opened a solid five minutes later. Katsuki was scowling, although that trace of uncertainty was still present. He tossed Izuku’s coat and boots at him.

“Get outta here, Deku,” he said gruffly.

Izuku pulled his coat off his head. The door had already closed. He was surprised, however, to see a rectangular object tied up in a plastic bag sitting on the floor in front of him. He had a pretty good idea as to what it was judging by the smell.

The next day, Izuku brought the leftover chili to work for lunch. He nearly choked and had to down three glasses of water before the burn left his tongue.

 

***

 

“Ugh,” Izuku said, his legs hanging over the arm of Katsuki’s armchair. Missy was perched on the back of it. She eyed Izuku from below her. “How can one person be so unphotogenic?”

“What are you whining about now?” Katsuki asked as he rearranged a stack of cardboard boxes.

Izuku turned his laptop towards Katsuki. “The Graffiti Artists,” he said. “We had a great photo shoot yesterday in an old warehouse near my work. Everything went well, except for one thing.” Izuku flipped through a series of images to illustrate his point. In nearly every photo, the band’s drummer was blinking, or smiling oddly, or frowning in a way that made him look obstructed.

Katsuki snorted. “Brutal.”

Izuku groaned. “I tried to direct him, but he didn’t want to listen to anything I had to say. Then he started getting mad at me because I kept singling him out.” Izuku went through a few more photographs. “Maybe I could splice him into the final images,” he contemplated. “There’s one or two photos here that are somewhat passable.”

“Or you could tell whoever’s managing the band to kick him out.”

“Kacchan,” Izuku admonished. “That’s horrible. What would you do if someone told you to kick Kirishima out of The Antiheroes?”

Katsuki pulled a cardboard box off the top of the pile. “Probably tell them to eat shit and die,” he said casually.

Izuku gestured towards Katsuki in exasperation.

“Whatever,” Katsuki said. He spread out the rest of the boxes on the floor in a semi-circle.

Izuku watched Katsuki as he sat down and opened the box in front of him. “Whatcha doing?” he asked.

“Inventory,” Katsuki grunted. He pulled out a thick stack of black t-shirts.

Izuku’s eyes lit up. “Great!” he said. “I’ll help.”

Katsuki clenched his jaw. “Don’t need your help, Deku,” he said, his eyebrow twitching.

Izuku opened a spreadsheet on his laptop. “I’ll throw together a quick chart so you can access the data quickly,” he said. “Just give me the numbers and I’ll pop them in for you.”

Katsuki glowered at him. “Don’t you have shit to do?”

“I’ve got time,” Izuku said easily. He’d been waiting for an opportunity to assist Katsuki for a while now. “You leave in a few days, right? The sooner you get this done, the sooner you can move on to other things.” Izuku named the file and smiled warmly at Katsuki. “How many shirt designs do you have? I’ve seen four, but are there others?”

Katsuki stared Izuku down, his scowl deepening. Izuku’s smile didn’t leave his face for a moment.

Eventually Katsuki huffed and averted his eyes. “There’s five,” he muttered. “We’ve got a handful of leftovers from a couple years back.”

"Okay,” Izuku said, trying very hard not to let his excitement show. He code-named the four shirts then added a fifth entry. “What sizes do you carry?”

Katsuki glared at the stack of shirts in his hands. “Small to XXL,” he said.

Izuku beamed. “Got it,” he said. He filled the column headings in accordingly. “Alright! Hit me.”

Katsuki gave Izuku the evil eye. “Stop looking so goddamn happy, will you?” he said. “It’s pissing me off.”

Izuku shrugged innocently, a small smile still curling the corners of his lips.

Katsuki cursed under his breath. He began dividing the shirts by design and size. Within minutes he was calling out quantities for Izuku to enter.

It didn’t take long to get through the shirts. “Want me to email this to you?” Izuku asked.

Katsuki glared at Izuku. “We ain’t done,” he said. He grabbed a pile of FUCK PINKY t-shirts. “Give me the numbers for Pink Face. Start at small.”

“Uh…” Izuku examined his spreadsheet. “Seventeen… eighteen… twelve… ten… eight?”

Katsuki paused in thought. “Add a new row,” he instructed. “Fifteen, fifteen, ten, five, five.”

“Right,” Izuku said, following Katsuki’s orders. “What are we doing?”

Katsuki began splitting up the shirts again. He placed most of them into an empty box and set the rest aside. “You think we’ve got room to bring all this crap?” Katsuki asked, gesturing at the boxes around him. “Shitmobile ain’t that big. We’ll bring what we can sell.”

“Makes sense,” Izuku said. He wondered if he’d ever stop being awed over all the small details needed to be taken into account in order to successfully run a band. It wasn’t unlike all the adjustments Izuku needed to know in order to achieve certain shots and effects with his camera.

Izuku was brought back to the present by an unexpected tug at his hair. He reached up gingerly and came into contact with Missy’s face and teeth as she chewed on one of his curls.

Izuku gently pushed Missy’s face away. She mewed in protest.

“Stop eating my hair,” Izuku gently scolded her.

Missy nipped his finger.

Izuku sighed and retracted his hand. He’d learned that ignoring Missy seemed to be the most effective way to deal with the temperamental feline.

Half a second later he felt another tug at his head.

Katsuki watched the exchange with a strange expression. “Huh,” he said.

Izuku couldn’t identify what Katsuki meant by that but decided to let it go. “Next shirt!” he said, determined to keep everything on track and prove his worth.

They went through the remainder of the t-shirts relatively quickly. Katsuki provided revised numbers while redistributing the shirts and Izuku tacked the new information onto his spreadsheet with efficiency.

Once they completed their task Izuku whistled. “Looks like you’re bringing over two hundred shirts,” he said, adding up the numbers. “Think you’ll sell them all?”

Katsuki closed the top of a second box. He grabbed a marker off the floor and scribbled some notes across the side. “Probably,” he said. “We sold nearly thirty at that stupid battle competition. Thirty-seven shows should get rid of the rest.”

Izuku balked. “You’re doing thirty-seven shows in six weeks?” he asked. That didn’t leave a whole lot of time for recovery and travel between gigs. “You guys go hard.”

Katsuki looked at Izuku with derision. “What do you think tours are?”

Izuku thought for a moment. “A way to make money and grow your fan base?” he suggested.

“A way to get signed,” Katsuki corrected. He reached up over his head and cracked his back. “There’s some good alternative labels along the coast. We’re hitting up every single goddamn city where they have a presence. I made a list of venues that scouts are known to frequent months back and got in touch with most of ‘em. We’re gonna tear the walls down every fucking night.” He got to his feet and stacked the two newly packed boxes on top of each other.

It was plain to see the sheer amount of effort that Katsuki had put into this tour. “I guess you guys are going to come back famous,” Izuku said wryly. He couldn’t entirely hide his somber tone. “Everyone will be falling all over you and you won’t have time to hang out with me anymore.”

Katsuki looked at Izuku. “That’s the plan,” he muttered. He was silent for a long time before he spoke again. “We’ve been doing this for over four years. This is our third major tour and third album. We’ve only gotten better. Our fan base is getting bigger.” Katsuki’s hand curled into a fist on top of the boxes. “This is gonna be the big one. I can tell. It’s gotta be.”

Katsuki’s expression was fierce, but Izuku could have sworn he saw something else flash across his face for the briefest of moments. He looked very much like a warrior ready for battle.

If Katsuki believed that this would be their big break then Izuku decided it must be true. His determination was inspirational. It made Izuku want to push himself harder, to go further than he’d ever dared.

“I’m sure it will be,” Izuku said encouragingly. “You guys work hard, and you’re really talented. You deserve it.”

Katsuki’s eyes met Izuku’s, his gaze losing its usual hard edge. Izuku wasn’t sure what it meant, but he couldn’t tear his eyes away from Katsuki.

Katsuki finally looked away, his fist unclenching. He stared at his open palm. “Fucking right,” he muttered. He set the packed boxes off to the side. “Albums are next,” he informed Izuku.

Izuku nodded. “Okay,” he said, turning his attention back to his spreadsheet.

They continued their work, moving through the remaining merchandise with ease.

“Whew,” Izuku said. He tidied up his rows and columns while Katsuki closed the top of a third box and added notes. “That’s a lot of swag.”

“It’s not that bad,” Katsuki replied. He moved all three boxes closer to the apartment entrance. “The equipment is what takes up most of the space.”

Izuku chuckled. “I kind of want to see your tour van,” he said. “It must have a lot of personality.”

“It’s a fucking box on wheels,” Katsuki retorted. “Piece of shit barely runs.”

Izuku laughed.

Katsuki finished with the boxes then sauntered over to Izuku. “Let’s see what you have,” he said. He picked Missy up off the chair, a wet curl falling from her mouth. She yowled when Katsuki set her down on the floor.

Izuku sat up properly so Katsuki could see the screen better. “How’s this?” he asked. “I colour-coded everything and enlarged the numbers on your tour inventory. It should be easy to glance at.”

Katsuki frowned. “Good enough for now,” he said. “Email it to me.”

“Sure thing,” Izuku said, beaming.

When Izuku opened his email he discovered an unread message. “Oh,” he said, clicking on it.

Katsuki glanced at the message and snorted. “Looks like you’re in with Dick,” he said. He settled onto the arm of the chair and pulled out his phone.

A slow smile spread over Izuku’s face. “Looks that way,” he said. He picked up his phone and popped a new date into his calendar. “It might not be anything close to what you guys are getting, but three paid jobs in a little over two weeks is a definite start.”

Izuku sent the spreadsheet to Katsuki then shot off a reply to Rick.

“You know,” Izuku said thoughtfully, “I’ve been trying to figure out what I can do to push myself further towards photojournalism. These shows have been great, but I think I need to go in a more topical direction.” He closed his laptop and set it aside. “I’ve been trying to come up with ideas for a personal project lately. It’d be cool if I could get something published. The problem is that not a lot of people want to pick up amateurs.” Izuku paused. “I could also find an event to photograph and try to sell the images to a news outlet, but it’s hard to know where to be and when.” He sighed. “Sorry if I’m rambling. I guess I need to pay better attention to what’s happening within the city and develop a better sense of timing. I feel like I only ever hear about protests and crises after they’ve happened.”

Katsuki eyed Izuku warily. “You want to shoot a protest,” he deadpanned.

“I think it’d be a step in the right direction,” Izuku replied. He looked at Katsuki inquiringly. “Why?”

Katsuki’s eyes narrowed. “You ever been to one before?” he asked.

Izuku’s eyes widened. “Kacchan! If you know about something please tell me,” he implored him. “It’d mean a lot to me.”

“Oh, fuck off,” Katsuki said. “You don’t look like you’d last two seconds in that crowd.”

“If I can handle one of your shows I can handle anything,” Izuku contested. “Besides, we covered field work in college.”

Katsuki looked like he didn’t believe Izuku for a minute.

Izuku switched strategies. He sidled up closer to Katsuki. “I’m flattered that you’re worried about me though,” he said. He nudged Katsuki’s elbow and gave him a shit-eating grin.

Izuku could have sworn that he saw Katsuki’s eyes do a full 360-degree rotation in their sockets. “Fuck, you’re annoying,” he muttered. He tapped out a message on his phone and sent it.

Izuku’s phone vibrated. He picked it up and saw a text from Katsuki containing nothing but an email address. “Who’s this?” he asked excitedly.

“Some asshole,” Katsuki said. “Drop my name. Say that you’re a photographer who wants to document his event. He’ll eat that shit up.”

“What’s the event?” Izuku prodded.

Katsuki hesitated. “Pop-up protest,” he said. He scowled at Izuku’s smile of delight. “Stop that,” he snapped. “You look like an idiot.”

Izuku closed his mouth. “Sorry,” he said.

“And don’t go spreading this information around,” Katsuki said sharply. “Everyone’s trying to keep things on the down-low so the cops don’t catch wind of it too early.”

“Right,” Izuku said. He tried not to squirm with excitement.

Katsuki held his phone up in front of Izuku’s face. The screen displayed an article highlighting a number of incidents of police brutality that had recently occurred in a particularly downtrodden area of the city. A couple of civilians had been hospitalized. “There’s been seven batterings this month,” Katsuki stated factually. “The fucking pigs involved are trying to stay out of the spotlight, dodging reporters and all that. We ain’t letting that shit stand.” Katsuki grinned. “Gonna give them a nasty little surprise.”

Izuku was impressed. It certainly sounded like something that news outlets would want to pick up. Katsuki’s description concerned him, but Izuku couldn’t deny that the cause seemed just. “Sounds great,” he said, then grimaced. “Ah- If everything’s on the down-low, how do you know about it?” he asked quickly.

Katsuki shot Izuku a dirty look. “Pull your head out of your ass every once in a while and look at the city,” he said. “If you care enough about a cause, there’s ways to get in touch with the movers and shakers.” He sighed irritably. “The three of us were gonna help out until that fucker changed the date. Said he needed more time to gather everyone. So he lost us. Too fucking bad for him.”

It was to be expected that a band like The Antiheroes wanted to be involved in a cause like this. “Tear down the system,” Izuku murmured to himself.

He was already looking forward to contributing in his own way.

“Hey,” Katsuki said. He jabbed Izuku in the chest with his index finger.

Izuku blinked and looked at Katsuki.

“This guy’s got a bit of a reputation. You got that, Deku?” Katsuki warned. “If things go south, you better know how to handle yourself.”

Katsuki’s words and actions caused a sudden unexpected warmth to flow up inside of Izuku. “If things get too ugly I’ll leave,” he promised.

This seemed to pacify Katsuki. He dropped his hand and looked away. “Fucking nerd,” he grumbled.

Izuku sat quietly with his thoughts while Katsuki dealt with his phone. Missy reappeared by their feet. She watched the two of them apprehensively.

“Does Missy have someone to watch her?” Izuku asked.

“Landlady’s taking care of it,” Katsuki muttered, his eyes on his phone. “She’s a real crazy old bat. Already got four cats of her own.”

Izuku watched Missy’s tail flick about. “Will you miss her?” he asked quietly.

“Deku,” Katsuki groaned. “She’s a fucking cat.”

Izuku sighed and rubbed his eyes. He looked at the boxes stacked by the apartment door and felt a pang of sadness. He’d gotten used to hanging out with Katsuki regularly. It was difficult knowing that they wouldn’t be seeing each other for a long time.

Then there was the tour. Izuku had seen the way fans threw themselves at Katsuki. If Katsuki wanted to have some fun, there’d be ample opportunity to do so. Thinking about it made Izuku feel ill, even though he knew he had no claim over Katsuki.

“I guess there’s a fair amount of partying on tours,” Izuku said hesitantly. “Sex, drugs, rock and roll and all that.” He laughed weakly.

Katsuki raised an unconcerned eyebrow towards Izuku. “For some bands, sure,” he replied.

“Not The Antiheroes?” Izuku asked hopefully.

“Hah?” Katsuki seemed confused. “I already told you, didn’t I? Getting signed is all that matters.”

That didn’t really answer Izuku’s question, but Izuku didn’t press any further. He felt guilty for bringing it up at all. “Nevermind,” he said.

Katsuki’s eyes narrowed. “The hell are you being so weird about?” he demanded.

Izuku shrugged. He clenched and unclenched his fists then looked back at Katsuki. His eyes started to water. “I’m going to miss you,” he blurted.

Katsuki seemed taken aback. His mouth opened in visible surprise.

Izuku laughed nervously. “Uh oh,” he said. He knew what was coming.

“Get out.”

Izuku gently shook his head. “No.”

Katsuki looked away from Izuku. “Get out,” he repeated.

“I’ll go when I’m ready to.”

“Deku.”

“Kacchan.”

Katsuki turned his head back around and glared. His eyes lacked their usual resolve.

Izuku stuck his tongue out at Katsuki. “N- Wh- Augh!”

Before Izuku knew what was happening, Katsuki had stood and hoisted Izuku up and over his shoulder.

“Argh, Kacchan!” Izuku cried out in astonishment and frustration. A thousand pinpricks of electricity coursed through his body.

“Stop fucking squirming,” Katsuki said as he headed for the door.

Izuku quickly dissolved into laughter over the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. He couldn’t believe how easily Katsuki had picked him up. Izuku may be on the leaner side but he was far from light.

“Kacchan! Don’t make me leave!” he protested. He gripped Katsuki’s back to steady himself.

Izuku would have been a whole lot more upset if it wasn’t for the fact that the pressure of Katsuki’s arms on his lower back and thighs felt unbelievably amazing. He was a human lightning rod and Katsuki was the conductor.

Katsuki shifted his grip on Izuku in order to open the door. He kicked Izuku’s boots out into the hallway then set Izuku down on his feet. He finally turned around and whipped Izuku’s coat and satchel at him.

Izuku started forward. “Kacc-!”

The door slammed shut.

Izuku’s face was on fire. He supposed he ought to be mad, but he only felt giddy.

“Kacchan!” he called out.

Katsuki opened the door and shoved Izuku’s laptop into his hands, his eyes glinting with amusement. He slammed the door shut again.

Izuku laughed. He stepped closer to the door. “Let me back in!” he said.

“Go away, Deku!” Katsuki’s voice was muffled.

Izuku growled. “Kacchann.”

“Get lost.” Katsuki’s reply was so close that Izuku jerked back in surprise. He grinned.

Izuku set his laptop down and pressed himself into the door, his face an inch from the jamb. He imagined Katsuki doing something similar on the other side, an old slab of wood the only thing occupying the space between them.

Still laughing quietly, Izuku lowered his voice. “C’mon, let me back in, handsome,” he crooned. “I promise I’ll be good.”

Izuku heard Katsuki take a few heavy steps back. “Wh- What the fuck?” Katsuki wheezed. “The fuck is wrong with you?”

Izuku started to laugh uncontrollably. “I don’t know,” he said, stepping back himself. He brought his hands up to his hot face, his smile impossibly wide.

Izuku heard a few wheezes, then a cough. “Get- Get out of here, you idiot.”

“Fine,” Izuku said, still laughing quietly. He started to put his boots on. “Have a good tour, Kacchan. Knock ‘em dead.”

“We always do.”

Izuku snickered. He slid his laptop into his satchel then slung the bag over his shoulder. “I’ll see you when you get back,” he called out. He waved at the peephole, just in case.

“You- You fucking wish.”

“I do,” Izuku said, “and I will.” With that final remark Izuku strode to the elevator.

It was a busy night within the building, and the elevator took longer to come than usual. Izuku was glad for it when he overheard what sounded an awful lot like earnest laughter echoing quietly down the hallway. Izuku pressed his lips together, refusing to make a sound lest Katsuki realize he was still there.

Katsuki’s laugh lit up Izuku’s heart the whole way home.

Chapter Text

You believe in authority
I believe in myself

 

It was pitch-black outside when Izuku rose for the day.

Not that it made much of a difference; he’d barely slept anyways. Izuku’s excitement had been building up all week, the hours at work dragging by more and more slowly as the weekend approached.

Izuku practically leapt out bed when his alarm finally went off. He buzzed with excitement, moving through his routine expediently.

Sitting in his desk chair, Izuku snapped his telephoto lens into his Nikon. He held the camera up to his face and grinned.

This was it: his first assignment as a photojournalist. Today, he was going to make a name for himself. He’d take the best photos of his life, send them to the major news outlets and bring attention to an important issue. Even Katsuki would have no choice but to be impressed.

Izuku’s grin wavered. The Antiheroes had left on tour nearly two weeks ago. Izuku tried to not let it bother him that Katsuki hadn’t messaged him once. Izuku had sent a text a few days in, but after receiving no response, he’d left it alone. Katsuki was probably focused on the tour right now. He was too busy to chat. Izuku wouldn’t let himself wallow in anxious thoughts. He had more important things to worry about.

Over the past couple of weeks, Izuku had kept himself busy. Besides preparing for his assignment, he’d managed to finish touching up Ochako’s photographs and had begun pulling content together for his website. His social media presence was growing steadily as he continued to post concert photographs and finals from his photo shoots. Izuku’s confidence in his abilities was at an all-time high.

Izuku shrugged into his plain winter coat and slipped on an old pair of gloves that he’d cut the fingertips off of for dexterity. He flexed his fingers then picked up his camera, wrapping the strap around his neck.

Izuku evaluated his appearance in the mirror. He brought his camera to his face and beamed at his reflection. He felt like the real deal, and he snapped a photo to commemorate the occasion.

“New year, new Izuku,” he murmured as he tucked his Nikon carefully into his camera bag. He nodded resolutely then pulled on his heavy boots.

Izuku strode out of his apartment with the air of a man ready to take on the world.

 

***

 

The sun was beginning to come up over the city when Izuku reached the downtrodden public square that he and his contact had agreed to meet at. The place was deserted save a couple of homeless men wrapped up in sleeping bags and a small group of people that were huddled by a street corner. A substantial number of white plastic buckets were stacked beside them.

Izuku approached the group cautiously. One of its members caught his eye well before he reached them and nudged another in the group. One by one, the group turned to look at him.

It was unnerving, but Izuku kept moving. He tried for a friendly smile.

A tall blonde man with piercing grey eyes glanced Izuku over. His eyes darted to Izuku’s camera bag.

“Uh… Monoma?” Izuku asked uncertainly.

The man was decked out in odd attire. He wore no coat despite the cold, opting for a formal suit instead. His hair was slicked back from his face and a pocket watch hung from one of his belt loops.

The group’s gazes turned towards the blonde expectantly.

“Midoriya Izuku,” the man said.

Izuku nodded anxiously, patting his camera bag as if to reestablish himself. “That’s me.”

The blonde’s face rearranged itself into an approving smile. “Good, good,” he said. He gestured with a gentlemanly air to the group. “Everyone, this is our photographer. He’s going to make us all famous. Treat him well.”

The group’s eyes returned to Izuku, less wary and more curious.

“He’s our guy?”

“The one who photographs for The Antiheroes?”

“The who?”

“You know. That one band.”

“He looks scared.”

“How cute.”

“Er,” Izuku said. “It’s nice to meet you all.”

“Now,” Monoma said, clapping his hands together. “I believe our plans have been made clear?” The group murmured affirmations. “Then it’s off to your stations. Be sure to direct your subjects properly. We strike at ten. Now go, before we draw too much attention.”

The group let up a cheer, raising clenched fists, then split off in different directions. A woman in a black corset laced over top of a Halloween store Victorian gown stayed behind, her long red hair twisted into a loose updo.

As the group drifted apart, Izuku glanced at the covered containers. “What’s in the buckets?” he asked curiously.

Monoma grinned, his eyes a little too wide. “Want one?” he asked.

Izuku looked at Monoma warily. “I think I’ll have my hands full with my camera, thanks,” he replied.

“Good man.” Monoma smirked. “The assholes have been keeping everything quiet for weeks. Our plan is to throw a little chaos into their lives, but we’ll need you to help spread the word.”

Izuku’s heart pounded with a sudden sense of self-importance. “You can count on me,” he said.

“I hope so,” Monoma replied. He cracked his knuckles, his voice slowly growing louder. “This is how it all begins. The cops and the media start covering up for each other and preventing the spread of information. When you control the flow, you control the people. How scary! Before long, we’ll find ourselves trapped in a police state and it will be too late to do anything, much too late. The only option left will be civil warfare and-”

“Neito,” the woman in the corset said suddenly. She karate chopped Monoma on the back of the head. “If you start acting crazy, no one will want to join our cause.”

Monoma scowled and rubbed his head.

The woman smiled at Izuku kindly. “Sorry about him,” she said. “He can get a bit… you know.”

“Ah, that’s alright!” Izuku replied quickly. He took a step back and averted his eyes; she was awfully pretty. “I guess you need to be an intense person in order to plan an event like this, right?”

The woman’s eyes danced. “You’re not wrong,” she said.

Monoma’s expression was sullen. “Midoriya,” he said begrudgingly. “This is my partner-in-crime, Kendou Itsuka.”

“I basically keep this idiot in check,” Kendou said. She patted Monoma’s shoulder.

“Don’t you have somewhere to be?” Monoma asked reproachfully.

“I do,” Kendou replied without missing a beat. She curtsied towards Izuku. He thought her legs must be very cold. “It was nice to meet you, Midoriya,” she said. She shot a look at Monoma. “Let’s do this right. I mean it.”

Monoma waved a hand towards Kendou dismissively. “I know,” he said. “I’ll see you soon.”

Kendou sighed. She turned on her heel and flounced away, shaking her head.

“Midoriya, you stay with me,” Monoma instructed. “We’ve got work to do.”

People slowly filtered through the square over the next hour or so. Some approached to receive instruction and, occasionally, a bucket. Izuku and Monoma received strange looks from several passersby but most people ignored them completely.

Attempts at conversation were stilted at best; Izuku quickly learned through their back and forth that Monoma wasn’t exactly the most pleasant person to talk to. Eventually Izuku began to make a mental game of figuring out whether or not someone who passed through the area was affiliated with the protest. He’d accurately identified a number of protestors sporting unusual haircuts and clothing, but there were also quite a few who didn’t look or dress much differently from Izuku himself. Some people were wearing masks or had otherwise obscured their faces. Izuku spotted more than one person wearing apparel emblazoned with a large ‘A’ surrounded by a circle. The strangest thing that he saw was a man dressed from head to toe in a Deadpool bodysuit.

Izuku learned that Monoma had been coordinating protests within the city for a number of years. To detract attention from the event, he had stationed his support team at various locations, sending groups of participants this way and that. The plan was to rally together in front of the police station and catch the division off-guard. Izuku had to admit that it was a pretty clever strategy.

Soon there was only a single bucket left. “Well,” Monoma said, glancing at his pocket watch. “It’s about that time. Shall we?”

“Yes,” Izuku said, his fingertips itching.

 Monoma bent down to pick up the final bucket. Izuku noticed that the back of his suit was painted and the phrase REVOLT/ACTION/INSURRECTION could be read clearly. Izuku snapped a quick picture. He shuffled his feet restlessly.

Monoma straightened and eyed Izuku with a flicker of amusement. “You know,” he said as he turned to leave the square, “when you first said that Ground Zero had sent you my way, I admit I was wary. I’m glad that the people he recommends can at least follow through on their commitments.”

Izuku was quick to reply. “Kacchan said that he’d planned on going, but you’d changed the date. They’ve been away on tour for a couple of weeks now.”

Monoma’s eyes slid towards Izuku. “Kacchan?” he asked.

Izuku flushed. “Sorry,” he said. “I meant Ground Zero.”

“How droll,” Monoma drawled. “You must be close.”

“It’s- It’s not…” Izuku trailed off. There wasn’t any way he could explain the origin of that nickname that didn’t sound strange. “Never mind.”

Monoma smirked.

Izuku wasn’t sure he liked the knowing glint in Monoma’s eye.

As they walked the buildings became more and more dilapidated. There were some obvious attempts at gentrification here and there but the majority of the area was riddled with pawn shops, fast food chains and low-income housing.

The police station was situated on a main road. It was an older brick and mortar building, a smaller station than those in the city core. Of the documented incidents that had occurred in the past months, nearly all had involved officers from this station.

Izuku became anxious as they drew closer. He could see protestors beginning to gather outside, many wielding placards and some holding buckets. He didn’t know exactly what Monoma was planning, but he intended to capture it as best he could. He wasn’t doing anything wrong by being here, he reminded himself. This was what photojournalists did. This was exactly what he had to do if he wanted to force his way into the field. He couldn’t always play it safe.

Monoma checked his pocket watch. “Five minutes,” he murmured.

Izuku readied his camera.

It was amazing to see the number of people coming out of the woodworks. Protestors quickly spilled over the sidewalk and onto the streets. More signs were raised. Izuku let Monoma go on ahead. He stopped to take a photograph of someone who was wielding a sign that read TO PROTECT AND SERVE WHO?

Everything came together very quickly. In a matter of minutes, the streets were clogged with protestors, stopping traffic in both directions. Many drivers honked angrily, but some seemed curious. Izuku watched a woman get out of her car and let out a whoop of solidarity. There had to be well over a hundred people, and more were coming.

“Dearest friends!” Monoma’s voice boomed from a megaphone. Kendou stood nearby, holding a megaphone of her own. “We are here today because a grave injustice has been committed against the people of this city!”

Protestors shouted and waved their placards. Izuku moved through the crowd, adjusting his position in order to find the best angle. He’d gotten used to working around large groups of people at concerts and he was glad for it. His hands trembled with anticipation as he watched Monoma rile up the crowd through the lens of his camera.

“The officers at this station have abused their power for far too long! Today is the day we take a stand. We are the citizens, and if the system does not work for us, then the system does not work!”

The shouting intensified. Pockets of people began chanting while others hollered words of support.

Kendou handed her megaphone to a young woman with dark hair who stood beside her. She couldn’t have been older than twenty.

“My brother was battered by two officers at this station,” she said into the megaphone, her voice wavering. Kendou put a hand on her shoulder. “He’s still in the hospital. He barely made it out alive. These assholes think they can get away with anything. Well, they’re fucking wrong. No more spilled blood!”

The crowd began stomping their feet. Some drummed on the lids of their buckets. “No more spilled blood!” they chanted.

The woman’s somber expression transformed into a grin. She repeated the chant into the megaphone, and Monoma and Kendou did the same. Izuku snapped a photograph of the three of them in mid-shout that made him proud.

The chant increased in volume, the stomping and drumming drowning out all other street noise. The vibration was intense. There was so much to take in, but Izuku couldn’t waver.

A number of armed officers began to pour out from one side of the building. They shouted at the protestors while other officers barred the station doors from the inside.

Izuku saw Monoma mutter something to Kendou. She nodded.

The chant continued as Monoma passed his megaphone to Kendou. He pried the lid off the top of his bucket. Izuku could see a thick red liquid sloshing heavily inside of it. Those in the crowd who had their own buckets pressed forward.

“No more spilled blood!” Kendou’s voice rang out over the crowd. She kept the chant going strong while Monoma surged towards the station.

It happened in a matter of seconds. Monoma hoisted his bucket back then flung it forwards, splattering the bright red contents against the station doors.

Izuku leapt into action. He ran towards the station, fanning out to achieve a better viewpoint.

The protestors bolted forwards en masse and began to throw the contents of their buckets against the station’s front. Red liquid flew through the air, quickly coating the atmosphere with its distinctive smell.

Paint. They were throwing red paint at the building.

Izuku didn’t have time to process; he only had time to document. He worked furiously, catching several protestors mid-throw. Red paint hovered in the air on his camera, milliseconds away from hitting the building.

Izuku didn’t have time to review his work. He moved like a madman, desperately trying to keep up with it all.

Protestors shouted as bucket after bucket of paint coated the windows and bricks, ricochet spattering their faces and hands.

A part of Izuku was terrified; the protestors that he’d come with were vandalizing a police station. He’d never been involved with anything illegal in his entire life.

Another part of Izuku was exhilarated. He couldn’t have pried the stupid grin off his face no matter how hard he tried.

This was it. This was what he was meant to be doing.

Once the protest had ended, Izuku would market his photographs to the news outlets he’d researched. With any luck, his work would be published within 24 hours.

For the first time since graduating, Izuku felt fulfilled.

The police officers approached the crowd, barking orders. The protestors continued to throw paint. The thick fluid ran down the walls and began to pool on the ground around the station.

“Back, all of you!” an officer shouted, her face contorted in a rage she was clearly struggling to suppress. A number of them made their way between the protestors and the building, each equipped with visible weapons. One of the officers pulled out a can of mace.

The protestors backed up, but they continued to chant, stomping their feet on the ground while others jeered. More officers poured from the building, now sporting riot gear. They advanced while the prior officers expanded outwards onto the streets, letting the shielded cops take the lead.

It was at this time that one of the officers spotted Izuku.

“Hey, you!” the cop shouted, stalking over.

Izuku’s blood ran cold. He straightened himself on pure instinct, gripping his camera tightly between his hands.

The officer planted himself firmly in front of Izuku. He loomed over him, one hand on his belt. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” he demanded.

Izuku’s heart leapt to his throat, but he forced himself to think. “I-I’m a photojournalist,” he said. The words gave him a sudden boost of confidence. He met the officer with an even gaze. “I’m documenting this event.”

“Oh, really?” the officer said. He sounded skeptical. “What agency are you with?”

The officer’s body language was clearly designed to intimidate. It wasn’t entirely unlike that of someone else Izuku knew. He could do this. “I’m a freelancer,” Izuku replied.

“Sure,” the officer said, his hand still hovering over his belt. “Why don’t you get the hell out of here, kid?”

Izuku stood his ground. “I’m only here to document,” he repeated. “I’m within my rights.”

The officer’s face reddened. He flicked his holster open. “You have exactly one minute to clear the area before I have you arrested and confiscate your camera,” he snapped.

Izuku’s hands tightened around his camera. He swallowed his rising panic. ‘Focus,’ he thought.

Izuku offered a wobbly smile to the officer. “Are you threatening me, sir?” he asked loudly.

Before the officer could respond, Monoma materialized beside Izuku. He grabbed Izuku’s shoulder and shoved him out of the way. “Excuse me, officer,” Monoma said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “I would appreciate it if you would stop harassing my photographer. We’re not quite done with him yet.”

The officer regarded Monoma with contempt. “This all your doing?” he asked, jerking his head around the group of protestors who had grown suddenly quiet.

Monoma took a step backwards and bowed exaggeratedly. He looked especially ridiculous with his pocket watch dangling from his pants and his face and hands splattered with red paint. One of his hands gripped a bucket of paint that hadn’t yet been spilled. “I see that my reputation precedes me,” he said.

“Great,” the officer said, snapping his holster shut and drawing out his baton. “You’ve just made my job a whole lot easier. Drop everything and put your hands in the air.”

The officer seemed to have forgotten Izuku completely. Izuku took advantage of this by slowly taking a series of steps backwards.

“For you? Anything,” Monoma replied coolly. “There’s just one thing I need to do-” Monoma moved his hand as if to grab his pocket watch, but instead he went for his bucket.

Izuku saw it coming almost immediately.

Monoma hoisted the bucket.

Izuku raised his camera.

Time slowed down.

Monoma flung his bucket forwards, dousing the officer in paint.

The photographs that Izuku took were arguably some of the best of his career.

For your consideration: the officer’s face contorted into a grimace. The rest of him caught mid-splatter, red paint coating his uniform and mere moments away from hitting his face. Monoma grinning devilishly, full of unapologetic intent.

Izuku didn’t dare move as the bucket clattered to the ground. Paint dripped from the officer’s face as he fiercely wiped at his eyes with his sleeve.

All hell broke loose.

Whistles were blown. Two officers came charging over. Izuku, watching everything unfold through his lens, gave them a wide berth.

Monoma ran.

One of the officers blew his whistle again.

The protestors erupted.

The crowd closed off Monoma’s path of retreat from the officers with their bodies, blocking the cops from pursuit. People began to shout and swear, pointing accusing fingers at each other.

The officers in riot gear pushed forward and started breaking people up. Someone threw a punch and received a faceful of mace. Izuku heard sirens, but he doubted the cars would be able to get through the blocked street.

It had taken less than a minute for the protest to turn into a full-blown riot.

It was nothing like a concert.

It was impossible to know where to look, for one. Izuku tried to snap a photo in front of him, only to discover something else going on at his side. Fights were breaking out. People were getting sprayed. It was total pandemonium.

If things go south, you better know how to handle yourself.

Izuku needed to get out of the line of fire and move to the sidelines. He was going to end up getting punched or maced or worse.

Izuku attempted to push through the crowd without much success. After a few attempts, a placard hit the side of his head. There wasn’t much weight to it, but it was enough to turn his head in the direction of a possible path of escape. Izuku took a deep breath and, using one arm to protect his camera and the other to force his way through, he ducked low and took off through the crowd not unlike a football player.

He lost his path a couple times and got knocked around a bit, but eventually Izuku made it to the outskirts. He sighed, placing a hand over his rapidly beating heart.

Izuku raised his head just in time to see Monoma getting handcuffed between two cars. He snapped a picture.

Monoma’s head darted up. “Midoriya!” he yelled, trying to raise his bound fists in salute. His wrists were promptly yanked back down by the officer. “No more spilled blood!”

Izuku nodded and raised a clenched fist to the sky.

Monoma grinned.

Izuku took another few photographs.

Monoma continued to shout while two officers dragged him back towards the station. The protestors took note and parted before them. They began to chant, this time taking up Monoma’s name. They raised their fists to the sky, waved their signs with fervor and stamped their feet wildly. Izuku could have sworn he felt the ground shake.

This, he supposed, was what change looked like.

“Neito!”

A woman’s voice cut through the crowd.

Izuku spotted Kendou, furiously stomping after Monoma.

“You goddamned idiot!” she yelled.

“Lucky number thirteen, Itsuka!” Monoma called back.

The crowd roared in approval.

“I’m not bailing you out again!” Kendou shouted.

“That’s okay!” Monoma hollered as the station doors were opened. “Wait for me anyways!”

The officers dragged Monoma inside. The doors were barred once again.

Just like that, Monoma was gone.

Without their ringleader, the protest quickly lost steam. A number of arrests were made. People began to split, not wanting to be taken into custody. As the crowd thinned, Izuku realized it was time for him to go as well. He needed to submit his photographs as soon as possible.

Izuku turned, fully prepared to leave, when the sound of breaking glass caught his attention.

A trio had shattered the windows of a closed pawn shop not far from where Izuku stood. He recognized the Deadpool costume from earlier that day. Izuku suspected that they intended to take advantage of the chaos for their personal benefit.

It was an easy decision; Izuku was already there. He adjusted his angle and snapped a couple of photographs.

The smallest of them, a girl, turned.

She looked young. She must have still been a teenager. A black surgical mask obscured the lower half of her face, but her catlike eyes shone with amusement.

“Oh!” she said. She pointed a finger at Izuku, her blonde buns bouncing on either side of her head. “A friend! We made a new friend!” She pivoted on her foot then skipped towards him.

For some reason, the girl seemed familiar.

The man in the Deadpool costume paused, a sizeable television in his arms. The other male turned to look at Izuku.

His appearance was unusual, but striking. His hair was jet-black, and a series of intricate tattoos snaked along his neck and the lower half his face. His blue eyes were cold and calculating as he regarded Izuku.

“…I’ve got this,” he murmured.

The man lazily slung the baseball bat he was holding over his shoulder and began to stroll towards Izuku. Izuku took a few steps backwards, dread soaking through his innards.

“Well, Mr. Photographer,” the man drawled. “Trying to make a name for yourself at the expense of others, are you?”

Izuku continued to back up. He put his hands in the air. “That’s not it,” he said, his mind racing. What could he say that would calm the man? He gestured towards the police station. “I’m with the protest. I’m on your side!”

“Oh my God!” The girl shrieked and pressed her hands against her cheeks. “He’s so cute! A real cutie! I think I’m in love!”

Something about that girl seemed off, but Izuku had more pressing matters to attend to.

“You’re on our side?” the man repeated. He tilted his head apathetically. “And whose side is that? You’ve just incriminated us, you know.”

The girl began to cackle. “He’s so cuteeee,” she wailed. She suddenly froze, her eyes crazed. “I want to see him covered in blood.”

Wait. Blonde hair. Manic demeanor. Mentions of blood…

Everything snapped into place.

The girl that had broken into Katsuki’s apartment.

Izuku needed to get out of there.

Izuku continued to back away, his hands still raised, while the two of them approached.

“Look, I’m really sorry,” he said. “I’ll delete the photographs, it’s no problem. If you’ll just give me a moment-”

“But, you see, we don’t know you,” the man replied effortlessly. “Why should we believe a word you say?”

Izuku grabbed his camera frantically. He prayed that someone had noticed the altercation. “I’ll delete them,” Izuku repeated. “Here, I’ll even show you-”

“That won’t be necessary.”

“It won’t happen again-”

“No,” the man said, slowly dragging the baseball bat off his shoulder. “It won’t.”

He swung the bat hard.

Izuku shouted as he leapt backwards, just barely managing to dodge the first blow.

The girl screeched in delight.

Panic set in. Izuku turned to run, his camera swinging wildly around his neck.

The second swing caught Izuku in the side.

Izuku wheezed, pain exploding in his abdomen. He stumbled sideways, desperately trying to catch his breath. He turned to face his attacker, one hand in front of him and the other clutching his stomach.

“Wait-” he gasped, struggling to stay on his feet.

The third swing came down hard from above.

Izuku tried to duck.

A dull thud resonated through Izuku’s body.

He didn’t even have a chance to register the pain.

From somewhere far away, Izuku saw the pavement rushing up at him.

Then he saw nothing.

Chapter Text

My life has been a waste of time
I’ve got a black hole in my mind

 

When Izuku finally came around, it was to a pair of shimmering green eyes peering down at him. Izuku registered the concerned crease of a brow, the trembling of a lower lip, the familiar sensation of something warm and soft in his hand. He squinted, willing his vision to focus.

“Hi, mom,” he said dazedly.

The trembling of Midoriya Inko’s lower lip intensified. “Izukuuu!” she wailed. Tears spilled down and over her cheeks.

Izuku looked at his mother groggily. Everything seemed a little out of focus. Was this a dream? Why was his mother here?

The grip on Izuku’s hand tightened, and his gaze shifted downward.

At Izuku’s side, his mother’s hand was entwined with his. He could feel it jittering lightly against his own. This didn’t strike him as particularly unusual.

The white sheets beneath their hands, however, did. Izuku’s eyes followed the sheets over to his right side. It was then that he noticed the IV line trailing from the back of his right hand, secured with medical tape. A clip was attached to the tip of his index finger, its cord running somewhere beyond Izuku’s range of vision. He frowned.

Inko continued to sob while Izuku distractedly tried to sort out his predicament. “Don’t cry,” he mumbled as he moved his hand experimentally, watching as the cords followed. He touched the sterile bed sheets, then startled when he realized he was wearing a hospital gown. Where was his winter coat? Where were his boots? His jeans?

Right; he’d been outside. He’d been photographing something. A protest. Yes; a protest at a police station.

Something tickled the inside of Izuku’s nose, and he scrunched up his face in distaste. He moved his hand to brush the thing away and encountered plastic tubing. He tugged at it and felt a pull from around his ears.

Inko released Izuku’s hand long enough to gently move the other away from his face. “Don’t- Don’t pull on that, baby,” she said, her voice tremulous. “Leave it be.”

No; this wasn’t right. A lump formed in Izuku’s throat. He raised his hand again and followed the tubing around his ear. His fingers brushed heavy gauze.

Izuku’s gut wrenched. He struggled to push himself upright, a trail of wires following him. The entire room tilted and he swooned, a sudden rush of nausea overtaking him.

Inko started. She put her hands on Izuku’s shoulders and guided him back towards the pillows. She seemed to sense his agitation, and her gears instantly shifted.

“Izuku, no, honey,” she said firmly. She brought her hand to his cheek and stroked it comfortingly. “It’s okay. Everything’s going to be alright.”

Izuku tried to focus on his mother’s face but his head was swimming. Instead he turned his head to the left, as far as it would go. For some reason his shoulders seemed incredibly stiff. He stared at the small side table by the hospital bed for a full minute before he registered that it was barren.

“Where’s my camera?” Izuku asked.

Inko shook her head softly. “Don’t worry about that for now,” she said.

Izuku tore his gaze away from the table and turned back to his mother. “Where is it?” he repeated.

“Oh, excellent,” a voice said. “You’re awake.”

Izuku glanced in the direction of the voice. At the foot of the hospital bed stood an elderly doctor with greying hair. She wore a pair of wire-rimmed glasses and was holding a medical chart. When had she gotten there?

“He’s just woken up,” Inko said, wringing her hands. “He seems confused.” She pulled a tissue from her purse and blew her nose.

The doctor nodded understandingly, then walked around to the side of the bed. “Welcome back,” she said, addressing Izuku directly. “My name is Dr. Nakamura. I’ll be working closely with you over the next few days. I’m afraid I’ll have to insist that you refrain from making any sudden movements for your own safety. Now, we’re going to take this slowly. I’ll start by asking you a few questions.”

Izuku stared at the doctor. He didn’t understand what she meant by ‘the next few days.’ All he knew was that he had to get out of there as soon as possible. “I need my photographs,” Izuku said. “I’ve got to submit them before it’s too late. Have you seen my camera?”

For some reason, Izuku’s words seemed to upset Inko. She whimpered, then reached out and tightly grasped her son’s hand.

Dr. Nakamura glanced at her chart. “Ah, yes. The paramedics who arrived on scene reported that you had been enthusiastically reiterating something about photographs,” she said. “You must have been quite the chatterbox, because the radiologist running your CT was compelled to give you a mild sedative.” The doctor smiled sympathetically. “I’m sorry but I don’t know anything about any photographs. Perhaps that’s something we can sort out in the coming days. For the moment, do you think you could tell me your name?”

Izuku looked at the doctor wearily. He had no idea what she was talking about. He hadn’t spoken to any paramedics or radiologists. “I need my camera,” Izuku repeated.

“Sweetie, listen to the doctor,” Inko urged.

Izuku frowned. He fell silent.

“…Can you tell me your name?” the doctor repeated. She watched Izuku intently.

Izuku blinked. “Midoriya Izuku,” he said.

“Good. Do you know who this is?” The doctor gestured towards Inko.

“…My mom,” Izuku said, confused by the doctor’s line of questioning.

“What’s her name?”

“Midoriya Inko.”

“Excellent. Now, Izuku. Do you know where you are?”

Izuku stared at the IV line trailing from the back of his hand and the clip attached to his finger. He felt the cool, steady stream of oxygen flowing into his nasal passages. He looked at the pristine bed sheets, then up at his surroundings. His bed was just one of many in a wide room, and each was surrounded by an assortment of monitors and medical equipment. Many of the machines emitted repetitive beeps and hums. Some beds were occupied, and others were not. A couple were concealed by a simple white curtain.

“…The hospital,” Izuku said.

“Very good,” Dr. Nakamura said appraisingly. “Here’s a trickier one. Can you tell me why you’re at the hospital?”

Izuku opened his mouth to answer and came up short. Why was he at the hospital? The fact that he didn’t immediately know was far more unsettling than being there in the first place. There had to be a reason for it. Izuku’s sluggish mind worked furiously, but there was no information to retrieve. Eventually he closed his mouth. He looked at the doctor helplessly.

Dr. Nakamura seemed to expect this. “Not to worry,” she said reassuringly, glancing at both Izuku and Inko. “It’s very common with this type of injury to have difficulty recalling the traumatic event.” She paused for a moment to let that sink in. “Can you tell me the last thing you remember, Izuku?”

Izuku tried to piece together what was being inferred. This type of injury… He closed his eyes. Images flashed behind them, fragmented and distorted.

Red. Endless red running down the sides of a building. A man with slicked-back hair shouting. Was… was somebody arrested? A chant…

“No more spilled blood,” Izuku muttered.

Inko looked at Izuku in horror.

The doctor eyed Izuku warily. “Are you able to elaborate on that?” she asked.

Izuku winced. All of this thinking was proving difficult and it was starting to wear him down. “A chant,” he said. “I think. They were shouting it at the protest.”

“Ah,” Dr. Nakamura said. Her expression cleared. “That’s good. Very good.” She smiled comfortingly at Inko.

“A protest!” Inko exclaimed suddenly. Her eyes filled with tears again. “Izuku, what were you thinking? To go off and do something so dangerous…” Inko looked away from him. She sniffled and rubbed her nose.

A pang of guilt ran through Izuku. “I was thinking I’d get some really good photographs,” he said slowly. “I’m going to send them to the news outlets I researched and have them published. Once I’ve been released I’ll clean them up and shoot them off. What time is it?”

Inko shook her head a few times, speechless.

“It’s mid-afternoon,” Dr. Nakamura supplied calmly. She added a few notes to Izuku’s medical chart. “The sedative we administered was only enough to allow the radiologist to run your scans without interruption.”

Izuku groaned. Mid-afternoon. There wasn’t a lot time left, but if he rushed, he could still swing it. He had to.

The doctor pulled up a chair next to Inko and took a seat. “I believe that you are lucid enough to be made aware of your situation,” she said to Izuku. “Your mother has already been filled in.” She paused. “You may find some of this information upsetting, but please know that you are in very good hands.”

“…Okay,” Izuku said. As far as he was concerned, the sooner he knew why he was in the hospital, the sooner he could focus on getting out.

“You recall that you were at a protest,” Dr. Nakamura began. “That’s very good.” She set Izuku’s chart down on her lap. “The paramedics who attended to you were informed by several witnesses that your injuries were sustained by an assailant wielding a baseball bat.”

“My baby,” Inko moaned. She inched closer to Izuku and rubbed his arm soothingly.

Izuku only felt confused. Someone had attacked him with a baseball bat? He was pretty sure he’d have remembered that.

“Your CT scan and x-rays have revealed no fractures or ruptured organs,” the doctor continued. “You have some bruising on your ribs, but none of them are broken. Your spine and neck appear to have been missed entirely. Your right shoulder was identified as the primary site of impact, with the back of your head as the secondary site. You’re very fortunate; your injuries could have been much worse.”

Izuku slogged through the doctor’s words, trying to focus on their meaning. He didn’t feel particularly fortunate. After a long pause he gestured towards the gauze on his head. “What about this?” he asked.

Dr. Nakamura considered her words. “You sustained blunt force trauma to the back of your skull during the assault,” she said carefully. “Your CT shows evidence of cerebral contusion. In layman’s terms, your brain has been bruised. You will likely also experience the symptoms of a concussion.” A longer pause. “There is a small laceration of the scalp where the bat struck you. We’ve closed it with a few staples. There is also some mild bleeding in your brain. At this point we do not believe that any invasive intervention is required. However, we will be monitoring you closely over the next several days in the NSICU for signs of swelling and any increases in intracranial pressure. You will be released once we have confirmed you as stable.”

Izuku processed the doctor’s words slowly. They were partially incomprehensible to him in his current state, but he had caught a few key phrases here and there. One of them in particular was highly distressing.

“Over the next several days,” he repeated in disbelief. “I can’t be in here for days. I have to submit my photographs today. Is there any way I can be released sooner?”

“Absolutely not,” the doctor replied without hesitation. “You are being kept in the NSICU for a reason. You may not feel critically ill, but your injuries are serious. Your recovery depends on a number of conditions being met that only close monitoring can provide. Should you try to move recklessly or leave preemptively, you could sustain a secondary injury far worse than your current.”

“But-”

“Izuku!” Inko cried out in exasperation. Her gaze was livid despite the trails of tears that stained her cheeks. “Would you please show a little more concern for your own well-being?”

Izuku opened and closed his mouth. There were a hundred things he wanted to say, but the expression on his mother’s face froze his tongue.

He’d worried her. Frightened her, even. His lips twisted unhappily. “I’m sorry,” he said, and he meant it. “But, my camera…”

Inko sighed and stroked Izuku’s hand. “Sweetie,” she said. “I’m not sure where your camera is. You might have dropped it when…” Inko’s eyes began to well up. “Maybe a good Samaritan picked it up,” she said hopefully. “You never know. We can look for it together once you’re better.”

Izuku’s face fell. So that was it. His camera was missing, and he’d been relegated to a hospital bed.

He could tell that his mother was trying to put on a positive face for him. “Maybe,” Izuku replied, though his heart said otherwise.

Inko offered Izuku a wobbly smile.

Izuku closed his eyes. Conversing was proving more and more difficult, and his head was beginning to throb. It was all too much for him to process, so he focused on the predictable beeps and hums of the machines around him instead. Maybe his mother was right, he thought desperately. Maybe his camera was out there waiting for him, full of photographs ready to be published.

“…need to be confident that you will not try to leave,” the doctor was saying. “If necessary, we will use restraints, but we’d rather it not come to that. Can we trust you, Izuku? …Izuku?”

“Yeah,” Izuku heard himself say. “I won’t try to leave.”

“Good,” Dr. Nakamura said. “I’m glad to hear it. Please get some rest for now.” The sound of a chair being pushed back floated through his head. “The nurses will be coming by to check on him frequently. We’ll be conducting regular tests as well. Visiting hours are strict in intensive care, but we’ll contact you immediately should any issues arise.”

“Thank you. I’ll need to leave to collect a few things from his apartment shortly, but… can I stay for just a few more minutes?”

“Of course.”

“Please take good care of my boy.”

“I will.”

           

***

 

When Izuku awoke next, it was evening.

The fog in his head cleared more quickly this time, although Izuku was still plagued with strange sensations. The lights in the NSICU had been dimmed in areas, one of two indicators as to the time of day.

The other was the dinner tray that the nurse who had gently roused Izuku had brought. Before she gave it to him, the nurse examined Izuku’s monitors, made a few notes on his chart and checked his IV fluids. She then sat down and asked Izuku to answer a series of simple questions. This was followed by having him complete a number of simple motion and reflex tests. Izuku was surprised to learn that his coordination was not as good as he’d thought it was. He was able to complete the tests, but he’d had to concentrate on his movements and especially their endpoints.

Once Izuku had done everything to the nurse’s satisfaction, she slowly adjusted Izuku’s bed until he was seated in a more upright position. She set up his meal tray then gave him a few basic instructions and showed him how to buzz for assistance.

As Izuku carefully worked his way through the less-than-thrilling hospital meal, he took some time to mull things over. Things could be worse, he decided with as much resolve as he could muster. His camera was only missing. He was pretty sure the doctor who he had spoken with earlier had said something about there having been witnesses to the incident. Perhaps one of them had picked it up. Maybe a police officer had taken it in as evidence.

Izuku smiled softly, latching onto the thought. His photographs wouldn’t make it onto the evening news, but maybe there was another route he could take. Hell, maybe he could write his own article about the protest. He wasn’t about to let the blonde with the slicked-back hair down. Monoma; Izuku remembered.

Then there was Katsuki. It went without saying that Katsuki didn’t need to know about what had happened. Izuku couldn’t imagine many people were aware that he’d been admitted to the hospital in the first place. Besides, Izuku really didn’t want to think about how Katsuki might react upon learning that Izuku had gotten himself injured after Katsuki had specifically warned him to be careful.

Izuku became so wrapped up in his thoughts that he barely registered the sidelong glances from passing hospital personnel.

Izuku made it halfway through his meal before he lost his fork. He watched it tumble to the ground with helpless amusement. When his eyes lifted he noticed that a small collection of items had been placed on his bedside table.

A modest bouquet with a small card propped against its vase. A pair of pajamas from his apartment. His phone charger and phone. A handful of newly purchased photography magazines. An extremely old All Might plushie from his childhood bedroom.

Izuku flushed. He couldn’t believe his mother had brought that last item to the hospital.

Deciphering Inko’s handwriting was difficult in his current state, but by the time that Izuku had gotten through the card, he was smiling. His mother really was amazing. If nothing else about this situation made him feel fortunate, that did.

He really ought to thank her. Izuku was sure he’d see her tomorrow, but there was no harm in sending her a quick message before then.

Izuku picked up his phone and was immediately bombarded with notifications.

Izuku rubbed his eyes in disbelief. What the…?

As Izuku slowly worked his way through the messages, his heart plummeted.

Holy shit, Midoriya! Are you okay?

Izuku! Please tell me that wasn’t you I just saw!

Midoriya-

People who he hadn’t talked to in months. Friends. Coworkers.

His throat constricting, Izuku thumbed over to a text from Shouto. Shouto, of all people.

Midoriya. Tenya just contacted me. He said there’d been some sort of assault-

Izuku quickly abandoned Shouto’s message.

It didn’t take him long to track down Iida’s.

Midoriya! I am watching the evening news. Are you badly injured? You must let me know right away! Which hospital are you staying at?

The evening news. Something had made it onto the news.

Izuku was ready to dig up whatever had been broadcast when another message caught his attention.

Bro! We just heard about the protest! Are you alright??
Bakugou is PISSED. Said he’d told you about the whole thing. I didn’t even know you guys were talking!
But seriously, you okay man?

Izuku whimpered. Out of all the reasons that Kirishima could have chosen to get back in touch with him, this had to be the one.

Katsuki knew.

Izuku wanted to sink into the hospital bed and disappear.

He’d screwed up, and Katsuki knew.

The glare from Izuku’s phone pierced his eyes like daggers, but he couldn’t look away. Izuku frantically searched and scrolled as best he could until he found the clip that he was looking for.

It wasn’t a long segment. As Izuku watched, his horror compounded.

“A protest held outside the police station at Danforth and Main this morning turned violent when protestors pitted their fists against the station’s officers. While no officers were harmed in the ensuing brawl, a photographer who appears to have been documenting the situation suffered serious injury when a group of looters took notice-”

Shaky footage clearly taken from someone’s cell phone replaced the news anchor’s likeness. The man continued to talk, but Izuku was only able to focus on the poor-quality video.

Izuku recognized himself instantly. Two other individuals were in the shot. One of them was holding a baseball bat as he approached. Izuku wasn’t entirely sure why, but the teenage girl seemed familiar while the tattooed man struck no recognition within him whatsoever. Izuku felt like he had been betrayed by his own mind.

“At one point you can hear the young photographer attempting to placate his assailant-”

The Izuku onscreen was doubled over. Izuku could see his camera—his camera!—hanging from its strap around his neck. One of Izuku’s hands was held out. A garbled “-Wait---” could be heard over the street noise.

Everything happened very quickly. The man swung the bat over Izuku’s head. Izuku ducked, but it wasn’t low enough to avoid the blow. The bat struck him hard, its end connecting over his shoulder and the shaft striking him in the back of the head.

It was disturbing to see just how quickly he went down. Izuku sucked in a sharp breath as he watched himself collapse face-first onto the pavement. He lay there completely motionless.

Izuku groaned. He raised his hand to his nose. Sure enough, he could feel the telltale roughness of a scab that had formed along one side of it.

Everyone who had messaged Izuku had probably seen this news clip. Iida had seen it. Shouto had seen it. His mother had probably seen it. Kirishima… Katsuki.

Izuku bit his lip to keep a wail of dismay at bay. This was a level of public humiliation that he was unused to. Izuku had gone to the protest to make a name for himself, to document events in real time.

Instead he had been the one who’d been documented.

Even while Izuku berated himself, the video continued.

The teenage girl shrieked with glee as she approached Izuku’s prone form. She crouched down in front of him. The quality of the video made it difficult to pick up small movements, but it looked an awful lot like the girl was dragging a finger over the back of Izuku’s head. She brought her finger to her mouth and licked it.

Izuku sincerely hoped that he had misread the girl’s actions. He didn’t even want to think about the potential reasons for them. He touched the back of his head self-consciously and shuddered.

Half a second later, Izuku forgot her actions entirely.

As the girl lifted Izuku’s camera up and over his head, Izuku’s blood ran cold.

“No,” he whispered, unable to tear his eyes away from the scene.

The girl held the camera up to her face.

“----------cracked----” was the only word that Izuku was able to discern.

The tattooed man swung the bat over his shoulder. “---------whatever you want---” he replied.

The girl whooped. In one easy motion she flipped the camera and ejected its memory card. She passed the tiny device to the man, who then tossed the wooden bat towards the girl. The man snapped the card in half and shoved the remains into his coat pocket.

Izuku felt the snap like a broken bone.

The girl dumped Izuku’s camera on the ground. She dragged the camera bag off his body and shoved it towards the man. The man rifled through its contents while the girl got to her feet and patted herself off. With one final shriek, the girl brought her leg back and kicked Izuku’s camera at full force. The camera skittered along the ground and smacked into the front of the pawn shop. The girl’s giddy laughter could be clearly heard over the sounds of the protest as she wildly swung the baseball bat and struck the camera with repeated blows.

It was over in a matter of seconds, but it felt like eons. Every time the bat struck the camera was a punch to Izuku’s gut. He couldn’t breathe. His hands shook. The pain that he felt as he watched his camera get smashed to pieces was all too real.

As the bat began to splinter under repeated impact, Izuku felt a fierce urge to throw his phone across the room. It wouldn’t stop the assault though. It was already too late. The video was merely replaying events that had happened earlier that day.

The powerlessness that Izuku felt in that moment was overwhelming.

The girl didn’t stop swinging until one of Izuku’s most prized possessions had become an unidentifiable mass of broken metal, glass and plastic on the ground.

A disembodied voice shouted at the group from off screen seconds later. The group looked towards the source of the voice, turned, and fled.

“The photographer has since been taken to a local hospital. His condition and identity are presently unknown. Police are asking that anyone with information about the suspects in the video come forward-”

Izuku set his phone down in his lap. His breathing was shallow.

His photos. His camera. His work.

Everything was gone.

This couldn’t be real. He must be having a bad dream.

Izuku picked up his phone.

He watched the video over and over again.

By the fourth replay, Izuku’s head felt like it was going to explode.

Izuku thought about the photos that he had taken at the protest. He thought about Monoma’s hard work. He thought about the news outlets that he had contacted. The amount of time he’d spent preparing. The man who had taken a chance on him and passed along a contact. The protestors who had been counting on him.

Izuku had let everyone down.

This awful knowledge struck Izuku harder than any baseball bat could.

Izuku’s first attempt at playing photojournalist was a total failure. His camera was gone. No; it was worse than gone. It had ceased to be, taken to pieces by someone who had no concept of how much it had meant to him.

Izuku had saved all through college in order to buy that camera. His mother had scrounged and bought him that expensive lens as a graduation gift.

Izuku had carried it around with him nearly every day since, an extension of his own body. It was the camera that he’d taken on all his jobs to date. That he’d used to shoot with Rick. To shoot The Antiheroes.

Izuku’s head throbbed. It was too much to bear, too horrible for any amount of tears.

Izuku had always prided himself on being able to look on the bright side of things, to find the silver lining in a bad situation. As the nurse took Izuku’s unfinished meal tray away and readjusted his position, he searched for it desperately, but came up empty.

How was he supposed to come back from this? How could Izuku be a photographer without a camera? He had some money in savings, but it wasn’t enough to buy a replacement. Of course he’d continue setting money aside from his day job, but judging by how that had been going, it would be at least another year before he could afford a new camera. How could he be expected to wait that long?

Izuku had followed his dreams, and this was where it had gotten him.

Everything that he’d worked towards in his entire life up until now suddenly felt very far away and incredibly pointless.

Izuku picked his phone up again. He needed a distraction.

Izuku read the messages that continued to pour in. He tried to take solace in them. These were all from people who cared about him. He ought to feel lucky.

He’d let them down too.

Izuku could feel his face pinching up.

He owed everybody who’d messaged him a response, but there were far too many. The most he could manage was a general status update reassuring his acquaintances and thanking them for their concern, and a small handful of personal replies to a few of his good friends. After some consideration, he sent a reply to Kirishima as well.

Typing was excessively difficult. Izuku’s fingers sloppily navigated the keys. He definitely let more than one typo slide, but it was the best he could do.

Izuku tried to rest after that, but he couldn’t lay still. Within minutes, he was back on his phone, watching the same video on repeat. It wasn’t until one of the nurses came by and threatened to take his phone away that Izuku set it aside. By then, his head was reeling, his eyes were burning and he was on the verge of throwing up.

Izuku lay in bed, clenching and unclenching his fists. He dug his fingernails into his palms. His camera had been destroyed while he’d been lying on the ground mere feet away. Izuku had practically let it happen.

He might as well have destroyed it himself.

The breathing apparatus was beginning to itch Izuku’s face. Izuku was struck with the sudden violent urge to rip it out of his nose. He wanted to pull these wires off of him and tear the IV line from his veins. He’d get out of this hospital bed and run until he had escaped this reality. He probably wouldn’t get very far before he succumbed to his injuries, but it’d be worth it.

Izuku pounded his fist against the bed in frustration, stifling a cry when he missed entirely and hit his injured side.

Izuku swiped angrily at the tears of pain that welled in his eyes. He looked at the items his mother had brought him. Izuku hesitated, then with a hasty movement reached out and grabbed his old All Might plushie. He pulled it into his arms and buried his face in its worn fabric. Somewhere around the rush of oxygen, he could faintly smell the familiar scent of childhood, of home. Maybe if he held it tightly enough, he could make himself stop shaking.

In the dim lights of the NSICU, surrounded by the consistent beeping and humming of machines, Izuku clung to that old plushie, feeling very small and very much alone.

Chapter Text

I never had a problem facing fear
But I’m done, over and out, my dear

 
“How are you feeling?”

Izuku smiled weakly at his friend. Dark circles lined the underside of his eyes. Another get well card sat upon his bedside table. The inside was blank save for a single name printed with neat precision.

“I’ve been better,” he replied truthfully.

Last night had been rough. The amount of time that Izuku had spent on his phone had done a number on his head. The throbbing and nausea had refused to subside for hours. After a nurse had come by and taken a look at his monitors, he’d been sedated again. Although his sleep had not been restful, he did feel a little more present today. His mood, on the other hand, left much to be desired.

Shouto studied Izuku from the chair next to his hospital bed. His brow furrowed as his eyes passed over the various apparatuses that were attached to his friend.

“That video,” he murmured.

Izuku grimaced. The news broadcast was the last thing he wanted to talk about and one of the only things he could think about. “I’d say it looked worse than it was but…” Izuku gestured at the hospital equipment.

Shouto didn’t smile.

Izuku’s shoulders sagged. “Sorry,” he said.

Shouto sighed. “I think I understand why you would want to shoot a protest,” he said. “That aside… I’m curious how you heard about it.”

Izuku fidgeted with his hands. “Couldn’t I have just stumbled across it?” he asked.

“Midoriya,” Shouto said. “You’ve been acting strangely.”

Izuku hesitated. Had he? “I’ve been trying to push myself further towards photojournalism,” he said, his gaze fixated on his hands. “That’s what I’ve wanted to do since high school. You know that. I told you about the extra work I’ve been taking on.”

“You didn’t tell me about this.”

“It wasn’t exactly a paying job,” Izuku admitted. “It was more of an opportunity. Kacchan was so hesitant to give me the contact and-”

“Kacchan.” Shouto’s eyes widened for a split second before his face returned to its usual impassive mask. “That guy from Halloween. He put you up to this?”

“Kacchan didn’t put me up to anything!” Izuku protested. “I wanted to do this. He wasn’t going to tell me about it.”

“But he did.”

 Izuku frowned. “This isn’t his fault,” he said. He could already taste the bitterness of his next words on his tongue. “I did this to myself.”

Shouto seemed to be considering Izuku’s words. “I can’t help but notice that you began pushing your photography in this direction around the same time that this… person… showed up,” he said. He looked at Izuku meaningfully. “You’ve been avoiding the subject for months, but I have to ask you one last time. Did something happen after that party?”

“…W-Well-” Izuku stammered, his face reddening.

“…Oh,” Shouto said.

“I-It’s not like that!” Izuku cried out, covering his scarlet face with his arms. He peeked at Shouto through the gap. “That is… Something happened… But it’s not what you think! We didn’t-” Izuku couldn’t even bring himself to finish the sentence. His face was already bordering on purple. “We drank some more. We talked for a while… We might have… M-made out a bit-” Izuku whimpered in embarrassment. He averted his eyes. “Just the one time! We haven’t… since.”

Shouto’s silence was deafening. Izuku began to feel horribly judged.

“He’s not that bad!” Izuku said defensively. “Kacchan may be a little rough around the edges, but trust me! He’s an amazing person!” He bunched his fists up in his lap. “He’s crazy talented, for starters. He does so much. He paints—we painted together once—and he cooks! It’s always way too spicy but his food is incredible. He let me crash at his place one night so I wouldn’t have to sleep at work. He’s given me some career advice that’s helped me too. He… He inspires me. I want to push myself as hard as he does. How else am I-”

“Midoriya,” Shouto said. “You’re doing it again.”

Izuku clamped his mouth shut. He furrowed his brow in confusion. “Huh?”

Shouto inclined his head.

Oh. Izuku shifted uncomfortably. “This is different,” he said.

“How?” Shouto looked at Izuku evenly. “He may be a guy, but you’re still you. You’re doing the same thing you always do. Going after these… artistic types… has never done you any good. They’re flighty, they have other goals and they end up hurting you.”

Izuku bit his lip. “What’s wrong with having goals?” he asked. “Kacchan is… I’m pretty sure he likes having me around. I’m working on him.”

Shouto’s eyebrow twitched. “If you have to convince someone to like you then you shouldn’t be chasing them in the first place,” he said tensely. “You asked me. You asked me to say this to you after what happened with your last girlfriend.”

“I know,” Izuku said.

“And the one before that.”

“I know!” Izuku snapped. He grimaced; his most recent relationship had ended nearly two years ago but her infidelity was still a sore spot. “I can’t… I can’t do this, Todoroki. Not right now.”

Shouto’s lips formed a tight line. “I just… I worry about you,” he said. “You have a bad track record with relationships, and this guy…” He hung his head. “Nobody wants to see you in the hospital, Midoriya. You deserve to be with someone who values you as much as you value them.”

Shouto’s words made Izuku’s heart ache.

As much as Izuku dreaded hearing from Katsuki, another part of him was upset that the blonde hadn’t tried to contact him at all. Kirishima had said that Katsuki had been angry, but then again, when wasn’t he? The more that Izuku thought about it, the less those words seemed to mean.

Izuku’s friend, however, had come to visit him in the hospital, and he’d been rude.

“Todoroki,” Izuku said. “I-” He brought a hand to his face. “Thank you. I’m sorry for worrying you. I… I’ll think about what you’ve said.”

Shouto nodded almost imperceptibly. “I’m sorry about your camera,” he said. “If you like, you can borrow my old Canon. It’s nothing fancy, but I hope it’s enough to tide you over until you can get a replacement.”

Izuku was familiar with Shouto’s camera. It was a basic model, but still nicer than something the average person would have. “Thanks Todoroki,” he said gratefully, discreetly rubbing at his eye. “That means a lot.”

Shouto averted his eyes. “Please take care of yourself,” he murmured.

“I will,” Izuku promised.

The sound of Izuku’s privacy curtain being drawn back distracted the boys. A nurse poked his head in.

“I’m sorry to interrupt,” he said, looking at Izuku, “but Officers Hertz and Chang are here to see you.”

Shouto raised an eyebrow.

Izuku scratched his neck self-consciously. “My doctor told me earlier that the police came by yesterday looking for a statement,” he explained. “I guess they thought I wasn’t up to it then.” He smiled wryly. “I don’t know what they think they’re going to get out of me. I don’t even remember the attack.”

Shouto’s expression became pained.

Izuku forced a grin. “Don’t worry,” he said reassuringly. “I’m fine. I’m going to be fine.”

The words felt hollow even to him.

Shouto stared Izuku down, then sighed. He stood. “I’m sure the officers will want privacy,” he said.

“Thank you, Todoroki,” Izuku said apologetically. “I’ll let you know when I’m home.”

The nurse parted the curtain for Shouto and saw him out.

Izuku sighed. A new feeling of heaviness was left in Shouto’s wake.

Izuku had known it was possible that Katsuki didn’t care much for him, but his friend’s words made the thought difficult to ignore.

After all, how could he? He hadn’t sent Izuku a single message.

           

***

 

The days passed by excruciatingly slowly at the hospital. There wasn’t a lot to do in the NSICU. Izuku could only use his phone for brief periods of time and looking at the magazines his mother had gifted him brought on headaches and dizziness.

He slept a lot. Bloodwork became a routine procedure, and he’d had another couple of CT scans. The nurses came by frequently to monitor him, occasionally having him complete more tests. The good news was that the doctors had been able to confirm that the bleeding had stopped.

The pain was really starting to set in. Izuku’s doctor had tried to incrementally lower his morphine dosage only to bring it back up again when the pain in his head, shoulder and side became unbearable. He was having some difficulty maneuvering his head, but at one point he’d felt brave and had shifted his hospital gown to examine his torso, almost gagging when he saw the aggressively dark purple and red bruise that was nearly a foot in length and only slightly less in width. He’d covered himself back up and hadn’t dared look since.

His mother came by every day and stayed for as long as they’d let her. A few of Izuku’s friends had also come by. Iida had been a bit much with his stiff demeanor and thorough tongue lashing, but Izuku had appreciated the visit nonetheless.

Messages continued to pour in from friends and acquaintances. Shouto had texted him mentioning something about a package that was sitting outside his apartment door. He’d told Izuku that he’d keep it at his place for now.

Izuku knew he ought to feel more grateful towards his friends and family, but as the days passed, he only grew gloomier.

The NSICU was a depressing place. Izuku watched the same visitors come and go. Some of the other patients had been gifted flowers and cards, but the side table belonging to the man laying a couple of beds over from Izuku remained barren.

He hadn’t moved once since Izuku had arrived.

The nights were long. The news clip kept replaying itself over and over again in Izuku’s mind. Izuku had been furious with himself at first, but his self-loathing eventually turned into something far worse.

Defeat.

Izuku knew that his friends were there to help him. His mother was as well. Shouto had even offered to lend him his camera. But the more that Izuku thought about it, the less he wanted it. Why bother? He’d probably end up destroying it too.

Katsuki still hadn’t messaged him.

Shouto was right.

 

***

 

“Good morning, sweetie!”

Izuku heard the sound of a curtain being pulled back. He opened his eyes.

Inko was smiling brightly today, her spirits much improved. In her hands was a simple white box.

“I thought you must be sick of all this hospital food,” she said. “So I brought us some treats from a little bakery that I stumbled across yesterday. Here, take one!” She placed the box gingerly in Izuku’s lap.

Izuku maneuvered himself carefully until he was sitting upright. He’d found that he could manage small movements so long as he took his time. He opened the box.

Izuku was sure the pastries inside should have looked delicious, but the delicate knots and flaky crusts held no appeal whatsoever. Izuku had noticed that it didn’t really matter what anyone gave him to eat. Everything was equally unappetizing.

Izuku took a sweet bun from the box, if only to please his mother. “Thanks, mom. These look great,” he said.

Inko beamed. She rifled through her purse and produced a couple of napkins. She passed one to her son then took the box back and selected a pastry for herself. “I thought so too!” she said enthusiastically, biting into a mini quiche.

Izuku wanted to smile at his mother. He really did.

He wondered how much work she was missing because of him.

Izuku picked at his pastry half-heartedly while his mother rambled on about her new find. She was interrupted only when the privacy curtain opened and Dr. Nakamura stepped inside.

“Good morning, Izuku,” Dr. Nakamura said. She nodded politely towards Inko.

The doctor was carrying her usual chart as well as an additional stack of papers. Inko returned the gesture while Dr. Nakamura took the spare seat next to her.

“I have some good news,” she said. “We’ve finally received the necessary documents from your work.” The doctor looked at Inko. “You may want to read everything and give Izuku the details verbally.” She handed the papers to her. “There’s a form that he’ll need to sign. Based on his current progress and estimated recovery time, I’m recommending a six-week leave of absence and a gradual return to work.”

Dr. Nakamura’s words only made Izuku want to sink more deeply into the hospital bed. Great. Six weeks with nothing to do other than think about what a giant disappointment he was.

“Your wounds are healing well,” the doctor continued. “Your blood oxygen levels are satisfactory and inflammation has remained manageable. I’d like to keep you here for at least another day, but so long as you remain stable, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to expect a discharge late tomorrow.”

Inko trembled with happiness. “Did you hear that, Izuku?” she asked. She took her son’s hand and squeezed it encouragingly. “You might be able to leave tomorrow!”

“Yeah,” Izuku said. “Terrific.”

Dr. Nakamura’s brow creased. “Your leave would of course be conditional,” she said, her gaze fixated on Izuku. “You’ll be on bed rest for a few days, and your mobility will be limited. What’s your current living situation?”

“I’ve got my own place,” Izuku replied. “It’s small, so I can manage-”

“He’s coming home with me,” Inko interrupted. Her grip on Izuku’s hand tightened.

Izuku balked. “Wait, mom-”

“Izuku,” Inko said. “You are not going back to an empty apartment right after leaving intensive care. You have six weeks off work. Goodness knows it wouldn’t kill you to spend some time with your mother.”

Izuku opened and closed his mouth. He knew there was no point in arguing with his mother, but he wished he’d been allowed to have a say in the matter.

Dr. Nakamura’s mouth quirked. “I suppose that’s settled,” she said. “I’ll leave you two to review the documents.” She rose from her chair and turned to go. When she reached the curtain she paused as if in afterthought. “It would probably do you some good to get out of the NSICU for a short while,” she said. “Things can be a bit grim around here. I’ll see if one of our nurses can grab you a wheelchair and roll you around the building later today.”

“That sounds wonderful!” Inko beamed. “Thank you, doctor.”

Dr. Nakamura nodded and bowed out.

“What a lovely woman,” Inko remarked.

“I guess,” Izuku mumbled.

Inko patted Izuku’s hand. “Hang in there,” she said softly. “You’ll be out soon.” She picked up the documents and began to look through them. “Oh dear,” she said. “These are quite dense. I think I’ll fetch a tea from the hospital cafeteria before we get started. Would you like anything?”

“I’m fine,” Izuku replied. He suddenly felt like laughing.

“I won’t be long,” Inko said. She set the papers and pastry box on Izuku’s bedside table.

Izuku watched her go. Eventually he turned his head towards the side table. He debated picking up his phone but quickly abandoned the idea. He doubted there was anything worth seeing on it. Instead he lay back, closed his eyes and let his mind drift.

“Um. I’m sorry. I’m looking for Midoriya Izuku?” An uncertain voice wafted through the NSICU.

“Right this way.”

Izuku heard footsteps and the slow draw of a curtain.

His eyelids felt heavy, but he opened his eyes anyways.

Standing just inside the curtained space was Uraraka Ochako.

Ochako was wearing a thick winter coat, a wool skirt and a pair of black leotards. In her arms was a substantial bouquet of white, yellow and pale blue flowers.

Ochako shuffled her feet. “I’m sorry if I’m intruding,” she said. “I tried to message you, but you didn’t answer. N-not that I expected you to! You’re injured after all…”

Izuku wasn’t expecting to see his coworker, but he managed a faint smile. “Hi, Ochako,” he said.

There was a time when Izuku might have felt embarrassed to be seen by Ochako while wearing nothing but a hospital gown and with a plastic tube up his nose. He slowly worked himself upright.

“Oh, you don’t have to-!” Ochako took a few steps forward then suddenly stopped. A flush rose to her cheeks. She stared at her feet. “You shouldn’t push yourself,” she said quietly.

“I’m not,” Izuku reassured her. “I’m healing well. My doctor said I should be able to leave tomorrow.”

“Really? That’s great,” Ochako murmured. She glanced at Izuku’s bedside table. “Um. These are for you.” She presented Izuku with the bouquet before carefully setting it on the overcrowded surface. “They’re from everyone at the office. This too.” She handed Izuku a card.

Izuku accepted the card. “Thank you,” he said.

Ochako was clearly ill at ease. When their eyes met Izuku tried his best to give her a genuine smile.

Instead of returning the smile, however, Ochako’s face puckered and her lower lip quivered. “Oh, Izuku,” she whimpered. She placed her hand over his. “What did they do to you?”

Izuku startled. Before he had a chance to gather his thoughts, Inko reappeared.

“I’m back, Izuku! I-” Inko stopped, her tea sloshing. Her lips parted in surprise. “Oh!” she said, a smile forming at the corners of her mouth. “I’m sorry, I didn’t realize I was intruding. I’ll wait-”

Ochako jerked her hand away from Izuku and leapt backwards. “N-no, it’s okay!” she stammered. “I was just- Ah! Y-you must be Izuku’s mother!” She bowed forcefully. “I’m Uraraka Ochako! I’m a f-friend!”

Inko pressed her lips together. “It’s so nice to finally meet you,” she said, returning the bow. “Izuku’s told me quite a bit about you.”

Izuku watched in horror as Ochako’s face proceeded to turn scarlet. “H-has he?” she squeaked.

Inko nodded enthusiastically.

The worst part of it all was that Inko was being honest. The fact that Izuku hadn’t brought Ochako up recently, however, seemed to be lost on his mother.

“Please have a seat!” Inko urged.

Ochako hesitantly obliged, her face still red.

Inko hurriedly retrieved the pastry box. “I brought some treats this morning from the cutest little bakery. Would you like one?” she asked. She opened the box and held it in front of Ochako.

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly-” Ochako started.

“Please do!” Inko pressed. “I bought far too many for the two of us.”

“Well- Thank you,” Ochako conceded. She selected a tart.

Izuku had no idea what was going on, but he was becoming more uncomfortable by the second.

“I have to say, you look awfully familiar,” Inko remarked. “Were you by any chance that model who Izuku posted all those lovely photos of?”

“Oh, I’m not a model!” Ochako waved a flustered hand. “I just work in editorial.”

“Really?” Inko asked, her eyes sparkling. “But you’re so pretty!”

Ochako quivered. She seemed to be resisting the urge to bury her face in her hands. “Thank you,” she replied self-consciously. She shyly slid her eyes towards Izuku. “Izuku did a wonderful job. He’s an amazing photographer.” Her face suddenly lit up. “That reminds me.” She smiled. “A couple of my girlfriends saw your photographs. They loved them and wanted to know if you were taking clients. Once you’re feeling better, that is.”

‘Great,’ Izuku thought. ‘More fashion.’

“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m kind of out a camera right now.”

Ochako winced. “I thought you might want to use the studio again…” She trailed off, shaking her head. “What that girl did to your camera was horrible. I couldn’t watch the whole video. It was too awful.”

“I can’t believe they played that on the evening news,” Inko said, her face paling. “I fainted three times.”

Izuku grimaced. “Don’t- Don’t think about that,” he said.

Ochako patted Inko’s hand sympathetically. “You must have been so worried,” she said. She looked at Izuku. “I… I was worried too. You ought to be more careful with yourself.”

“My Izuku has always been like this,” Inko lamented. “He gets caught up in his ideas and he forgets himself.”

Ochako glanced at Inko and set her jaw. She regarded Izuku with a stern expression. “Do you really need to be photographing protests?” she asked. “There are plenty of other opportunities out there. I remember you told me a few months back that your boss was reluctant to let you transfer. If you like, I could put in a good word for you.” She reddened. “If you were photographing events, we’d be working closer together.”

Inko beamed, clearly thrilled. “What a marvelous idea!” she said.

Izuku looked between his mother and Ochako. Ochako’s face was flushed prettily. He remembered the way that she had touched his hand earlier. Her feelings were becoming more and more apparent.

Guilt seeped into Izuku’s belly.

He couldn’t let this go on.

His mother would leave the curtained space if she was asked. Izuku was sure of it.

Izuku twisted himself towards Ochako so that he could face her properly. “Ochak-”

A sharp pain stabbed Izuku in the ribs, followed by a sudden bout of intense nausea. Izuku’s eyes widened. He clapped a hand over his mouth. For a split second he was convinced that he was going to throw up right then and there.

“Oh dear,” Inko said. She sprung to her feet and gently guided Izuku back to his former position. “I’m sorry,” she said, glancing at Ochako from over her shoulder. “I’m afraid this may have been a little too much for him.”

Ochako flashed Izuku a concerned look. “I should probably get going.” She stood up.

“It was lovely meeting you,” Inko said, clasping Ochako’s hand between her own.

Ochako smiled. “I’m glad we met as well.” She glanced at Izuku. “I hope you feel better soon,” she said. “Let me know if you need anything. I’m happy to help however I can.”

Everything was happening far too quickly for Izuku. He needed to talk to Ochako, but the turbulent wave of nausea roiling in his stomach had other ideas. The most Izuku could manage was a stiff nod. “Thanks,” he croaked.

Inko saw Ochako out then turned back to her son. “What a sweet girl,” she chirped. She winked. “I can see why you like her.”

‘Liked,’ Izuku thought.

He closed his eyes and tried to focus on his breathing rather than the heavy coil of remorse settling into his chest.

 

***

 

“Okay, Izuku,” Dr. Nakamura said. “You’re all set.”

Izuku shifted restlessly in the hospital wheelchair. “I can walk out by myself, you know,” he said with a hint of reproach.

“It’s best not to overexert yourself,” Dr. Nakamura replied. “Please remember that you are on bed rest for the next few days. We’ll see you in six days to remove your staples and to evaluate your progress. Should you notice any changes in your health in the meantime, go straight to the nearest hospital emergency room.”

“Thank you so much, doctor,” Inko said, tearing up. “I don’t know what we would have done without you.”

“Not at all,” Dr. Nakamura replied. Her gaze fell on Izuku. “Take care of yourself,” she said.

If Izuku had to hear one more person say that to him he was going to scream.

Inko went on ahead to fetch her car while a nurse wheeled Izuku down to the outpatient lobby. The cold evening air that wafted through the sliding doors every now and then was a refreshing change from the stale hospital atmosphere. A shiver travelled along the bare patch on Izuku’s head where he’d been stapled.

Inko’s car pulled around. The nurse rolled Izuku out to meet her. He opened the car door and helped Izuku inside.

Izuku had walked a couple of short distances under close supervision earlier that day. However, he was still unnerved by how gelatinous his legs felt after spending the better part of a week bedridden. Once he was off bed rest he’d have to work hard to get his strength back.

The nurse bid them farewell and closed the car door. Izuku fumbled himself into a seatbelt. His coordination was improving, but it still wasn’t great. Dr. Nakamura had told him that it would be a few weeks before he was fully mobile again.

Izuku was silent as Inko drove them over to his apartment. The sun had already set but the light from passing streetlamps was uncomfortably bright. After a few minutes Izuku closed his eyes. Inko seemed to sense his discomfort and let him be.

It wasn’t long before they pulled into Izuku’s complex. Getting out of the car proved a feat in its own right. Izuku could feel his ribs and shoulder protesting as he stood. He wasn’t entirely able to hide his grimace.

Inko insisted that Izuku hold onto her arm as they made their way inside. Izuku didn’t see how it would help but he humored her anyways. He’d just have to be careful not to trip so that he didn’t end up taking them both down.

When they finally entered Izuku’s apartment, it didn’t take long for Izuku to notice that the bed was made, that several articles of women’s clothing were folded and stacked neatly on his desk, and that the kitchen was immaculate.

“Mom,” Izuku said. “Have you been staying here?”

Inko flushed. “I hope you don’t mind,” she said. “Your apartment is so much closer to the hospital. It saved me a lot of driving. Oh, but your kitchen! Izuku, it’s like I never taught you how to clean in the first place!”

 Izuku’s stomach sank. Great. He’d forced his mother to stay in his tiny bachelor apartment instead of in her home outside city limits. He sighed, trudging over to the closet. He began to pull a shirt from it. He’d need a few changes of clothes if he was going to spend time at his mother’s.

“Izuku!” Inko admonished. She charged over to her son and yanked the shirt from his hands. She pointed to Izuku’s bed. “Sit,” she commanded. “Your doctor said that you shouldn’t be moving around much.” She set the shirt aside, grabbed her son’s hand and led him over to the bed. She smiled. “You can order me around from here if you like.”

Izuku groaned inwardly. Was he allowed to do anything for himself? Izuku understood that he was injured, but having that fact slapped in his face over and over again was almost unbearable.

Concern crept into Inko’s features. “Sweetie, are you okay?” she asked. She placed a hand on Izuku’s forehead. “You don’t feel hot,” she said. “Are you dizzy? Do you feel nauseous? Do-”

“I’m… fine,” Izuku muttered. “Let’s just pack.”

As Izuku directed his mother around the apartment, he vaguely recalled that Shouto had texted him a few days ago about a package. The sudden urge to get away from his mother for a couple of minutes was overwhelming.

“Sorry mom,” Izuku said, rising stiffly. “I just remembered that I told Todoroki that I’d let him know when I was out of the hospital.”

“Oh!” Inko said. “I’ll come with you.”

“That’s okay,” Izuku replied. “I’ll just be a minute.”

Inko made a protesting noise.

“Mom,” Izuku said exasperatedly. “Todoroki lives two doors down from me. I’ll be fine.”

After a few more reassurances, Izuku managed to extricate himself from his mother. He hobbled down the hallway and knocked quietly on his friend’s door.

The door opened to reveal a young woman with voluminous black hair.

“Izuku!” she exclaimed happily. “You’re back! I’m so glad.” She stepped closer and gave him a gentle hug. “Shouto will be pleased to see you. Would you like to come in? I’ve just made tea.”

“Thanks, Momo,” Izuku said. “I’ll have to pass this time. My mother is already unhappy about me being here without her.”

“Is she staying with you?” Momo asked, glancing down the hallway. She tsked. “Poor thing. She must have been worried sick. Just a moment! I’ll fetch Shouto.”

Momo left the door open. Within seconds Shouto emerged. His face was as impassive as always, but Izuku could sense a palpable relief about him.

“Midoriya,” Shouto said. “You’re back?”

“Sort of,” Izuku replied. “My mother is insisting that I go home with her. I’m just here to pick up a few things.”

Shouto nodded. “Your package,” he said. He disappeared and returned moments later with a brown parcel between his hands. He gave it to Izuku. “It was sitting outside your apartment door. I thought I’d pick it up before someone else did.”

Izuku turned the package over in his hands. It was roughly cube-shaped and approximately a foot in width. It must have arrived while his mother was at the hospital. Izuku looked at the return address curiously. “Any idea what it is?” he asked.

Shouto raised his brow. “You don’t know?”

Izuku frowned. “I don’t remember ordering anything,” he said. He thought for a moment. “Maybe I did something odd while I was in the NSICU. I was kind of out of it the first couple of days. I’ll check my credit account before opening it just in case.”

“Good idea,” Shouto said. “I’m glad to hear that your head is functioning again.”

Izuku gave Shouto a look.

“…Was that improper?” Shouto asked.

“Forget it,” Izuku muttered. “It’s nothing. Thanks for the package.”

Shouto hesitated. “Let me know when you’re home,” he said. “Momo feels badly that she wasn’t able to visit you in the hospital. She wants to cook you dinner.”

Izuku wanted to feel happy. He really did. “She really doesn’t have to, but I appreciate the offer,” he said. “I wouldn’t mind a visit. I’m going to be off work for a while and I’ll need a few distractions.”

Shouto nodded. “We’ll see you soon.”

Izuku rearranged his face into the shape of a smile. “Yeah.”

When Izuku returned to his apartment, he gave the package to his mother then forgot about it completely.

 

***

 

“I can’t get over how lovely Ochako was,” Inko gushed as they passed the city limits. “It was so sweet of her to come and visit you. The flowers were beautiful.”

“The flowers were from everyone,” Izuku mumbled. His eyes were closed and his seat was reclined.

“I’m sure she picked them out,” Inko said. “We’ll set them somewhere nice once we get home. Maybe we’ll put them on the kitchen table. Would you prefer to have them in your bedroom?”

“The kitchen table is fine,” Izuku replied. He wished his mother would stop talking about Ochako.

Inko hummed happily. “Such a sensible girl. She’s the one who you took to that show a couple of months back, wasn’t she? I saw the photo that you posted online.”

“She posted it,” Izuku corrected.

“Well, it was a lovely photo,” Inko said. “You’d certainly make an attractive couple.”

“Mom,” Izuku complained.

Inko chuckled. “Am I embarrassing you?” she asked teasingly. “I’m sorry. I won’t say another word.”

Izuku cracked an eye. “It’s not like that.”

“Of course not.” Inko pressed her lips together. The corners of her mouth twitched.

Izuku didn’t like the look on his mother’s face, but denying his interest further wouldn’t help his case.

Izuku had almost come out to his mother a few times since college. They had always been close, especially since she had raised him as a single mother. He already shared so much of his life with her. Every time he’d tried to approach the subject, however, he’d ended up putting it off. He’d never had any pressing need to tell her, after all. Izuku had never openly pursued another man before.

Izuku was suddenly tempted to tell his mother everything. He wanted to confide in her, to admit to his bisexuality, and to talk to her about Katsuki. It would be such a relief.

Another part of him said that the timing was bad. His mother was already worried about him. Why cause her further stress? He’d just suffered a major head injury. There was no guarantee she’d take him seriously. Besides, he and Katsuki weren’t dating. Katsuki, in all likelihood, wasn’t even interested in him.

Kirishima had messaged Izuku five days ago.

Izuku would have preferred shouting over radio silence.

Izuku balled his hands into fists. Why was trying so hard to get closer to Katsuki? Shouto was right. Izuku had a tendency to pursue ambitious people, and it had only ever gotten him hurt.

What was Izuku doing with his life? Why was he chasing after a guy who didn’t give half a damn about him? Why was he pursuing his dreams when they only caused his loved ones pain?

He’d upset his mother. He’d worried his friends. He’d worried Ochako. Did these people matter less than his selfish ambitions?

He should give it up. No one wanted him to be a photojournalist anyways.

Izuku could learn to be happy at his current job. Ochako had offered to help him switch departments. With any luck, he’d be able to photograph headshots for interviews and local events for articles. Even The Beat had to do the odd political piece now and then.

Ochako was trying to help him. Ochako had visited him in the hospital. Ochako cared about him.

Izuku had liked her at one point. He could learn to like her again.

His mother would be happy. Izuku would have a stable job. His life would be easier. He wouldn’t have to put himself into dangerous situations. He wouldn’t have to deal with the costs of losing his equipment. He didn’t need that kind of thrill. He could avoid the heartache. He didn’t have to help others. It wasn’t his responsibility to change the world. He could live peacefully without ever making a ripple, without standing accomplished in his field, without realizing his aspirations-

“Izuku?”

Izuku opened his eyes. “Huh?”

Inko’s brow was creased. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

Izuku frowned. It was then that he realized that his eyes were bleary. He raised a hand and touched his cheek. It was wet.

“Oh,” he said.

Inko’s gaze softened. “My poor baby,” she said. She reached over and squeezed Izuku’s knee. “You’ve had such a rough week. Don’t you worry. Mama’s going to take good care of you. We’ll have a nice, calm time together. You’ll see.”

For some reason, Inko’s words caused a fresh wave of tears to spill down Izuku’s face.

He closed his eyes and willed the world to disappear.

 

***

           

When they finally arrived at their modest single-level home in the neighbouring town, Izuku had every intention of hobbling to his childhood bedroom and sleeping through the next few days. Inko adamantly refused to let Izuku carry anything inside, so instead he sat at the tiny kitchen table and pressed his palms into his eyes. He’d become used to lying stationary and the last few hours had been a lot for him.

Inko joined Izuku not long after. She nodded understandingly when he excused himself to go to his bedroom.

Izuku closed his bedroom door and sat down gingerly on his old bed. It creaked beneath his adult weight. He breathed deeply, taking solace in the peace and quiet. It was the first time he’d been alone in days.

Izuku lowered himself onto his back, wincing when his body protested. He stared up at the ceiling.

In his younger years, Izuku had lain on his bed and envisioned his favourite comic book heroes fighting battles that he’d orchestrated. In his adolescence, he’d seen his hopes and dreams for the future dancing promisingly before him.

Tonight he only saw white stucco.

Izuku closed his eyes but reopened them seconds later. He felt restless.

He really ought to change into pajamas before going to bed. He slowly lowered himself onto the floor where his mother had left his overnight bag and unzipped it.

The first thing that Izuku saw was the mysterious package. It took him a moment to remember that he’d given it to his mother back at the apartment.

Izuku pulled the parcel from the bag and brought it close to his face. Studying it proved fruitless: its outward appearance held no clues.

Izuku sighed. He really had ordered something while he was in the hospital, hadn’t he? He grabbed his phone and signed into his credit account. He’d need to return the item as soon as possible if he wanted to get his money back. He changed the screen’s brightness to its lowest setting then began scrolling through his latest transactions.

Nothing seemed out of place. Izuku didn’t spot any unusual purchases or items that he couldn’t account for.

The next logical conclusion was that someone had sent him the package. Izuku shook the box gently. There was a heavy rustling. It sounded like a sizeable object.

Izuku crawled over to his old desk and grabbed a pen. He set the package down in front of him and got to work.

Izuku pried the thick tape from the box using a combination of the pen and his fingers. He extracted a smaller package, removed the bubble wrap and proceeded to have a heart attack.

Izuku’s hands trembled.

Was he dreaming?

The lettering on the packaging was clear and concise.

Nikon D810.

Izuku knew the camera well. It was several models nicer than his last.

It was also far more expensive than anything he could afford.

Izuku stared at the box, stupefied, then began to panic.

Izuku picked up his phone and rechecked his accounts. He must have missed something in his initial search. When nothing came up, he grew frustrated. If he hadn’t bought the camera, who had?

Izuku scrambled to his feet, gasping when his ribs throbbed painfully.

Izuku burst into the kitchen. “Mom!”

Inko’s head jerked up. Her tea sloshed onto the table. “Izuku? Honey? W-what’s wrong?” she stammered.

Izuku gestured wildly between the package under his arm, himself, and her. “What-? Did you-? How-?” He spoke haltingly, unable to form coherent thoughts.

Inko’s eyes followed Izuku’s spastic gestures. “I-is that a new camera?” she squeaked.

“It was-! The package! The package!” Izuku cried out, desperately trying to make sense.

“What package?” Inko asked. “The one that your friend gave to you?” Her eyes widened. “Don’t tell me that he bought you a new camera!”

Izuku’s brain short-circuited. “Augh! It wasn’t you!”

“Wh- Izuku! Sweetie, those cameras are really expensive!”

“I know!” Izuku wanted to tear his hair out. He turned on his heel.

“Izuku, slow down!” Inko called after him. “You’re supposed to be on bed rest!”

Rest? Izuku had no time to rest. He had a mystery to solve and a camera to return. It went without saying that he couldn’t accept a gift of this size from any of his friends. It wasn’t right.

One hour and countless messages later, Izuku had come to an impasse.

He lay on his bed and wracked his brain.

Shouto hadn’t sent the camera. Neither had Iida or any of his other friends.

Izuku stared at the All Might poster that beamed at him from the opposite side of the room. Was this a random act of kindness? He’d been in the news, after all.

No. The person who sent it had to have known Izuku’s address.

Izuku began to list everyone who’d ever visited his apartment on his fingers. No one new came up except for…

No.

It wasn’t possible. The thought was ridiculous.

Still, Izuku picked up his phone. He was running out of possibilities, and he needed to remove Katsuki from his list of suspects.

Feeling like a total idiot, Izuku messaged Katsuki.

Someone senft me a package in the mail.

Izuku didn’t bother to elaborate.

Katsuki wouldn’t respond.

Izuku’s screen lit up.

So what?

Izuku’s mouth dried.

Why now?

Izuku wrote back frantically.

It was a mnew camera. A Nikon. Same brandas m y last one.

Izuku waited a couple of minutes. He received no response.

Izuku bit his lip. What could he say that would get Katsuki’s attention?

He tried one last time.

It’s not a very good one.. I thinkI’ll return it

Katsuki’s response was instantaneous.

WHAT THE FUCK DO YOU MEAN IT’S NOT A VERY GOOD ONE?
THAT CAMERA IS A THOUSAND TIMES BETTER THAN THAT PIECE OF SHIT YOU WERE CARRYING AROUND!
WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?

Izuku bolted upright.

His head spun.

He felt winded.

Izuku forced himself to send a response with trembling fingers and his heart in his mouth.

Ohmy God Kacchan.
It was really you?????
Kacchan I-
I can’t accept this.
Its too much

Katsuki plowed over Izuku’s messages.

FUCK YOU DEKU DID I SAY YOU HAD A FUCKING CHOICE?
IT’S YOUR OWN GODDAMN FAULT FOR NOT HAVING A BACKUP!
I SWEAR TO GOD YOU ARE FUCKING USELESS!
YOU BETTER NOT TRY TO RETURN IT YOU FUCKER-

Izuku’s phone quickly became inundated with messages. Izuku’s heart raced as he struggled to keep up with Katsuki’s unrelenting pace.

Katsuki had never texted him like this before.

Izuku’s eyes began to blur.

Why now? Why, after all this time-

Tears spilled down Izuku’s face.

Katsuki had bought him a new camera.

The messages became difficult to read.

---FUCKING DEKU---
---DIDN’T TELL---PROTEST SO YOU COULD GO---YOURSELF KILLED---
---WHAT THE FUCK---THINKING---
---YOUR CAMERA NOW---TAKE IT---
---NOT DESTROY---AGAIN---
---AIN’T BUYING YOU---NEW SKULL---
---YOU SAID---HANDLE IT---
---FUCKING SAID---
---DEKU---

Izuku swiped at his soaked face, his breaths coming in ragged gasps.

He had thought that no one supported his goals, but he’d forgotten about someone.

Katsuki had never once laughed at Izuku or ridiculed his ambitions. He’d criticized Izuku’s naivety, sure, but he’d always taken his career aspirations seriously. He’d consistently approached Izuku from a place of experience, offering advice even when it was unsolicited. When everyone else tried to steer Izuku away from photojournalism, Katsuki bought him a new camera so that he could continue to pursue his dreams.

Katsuki, who was presently screaming at him for getting himself injured in the first place.

More tears poured down Izuku’s cheeks.

Katsuki cared about him a whole lot more than he’d been letting on.

The words that Katsuki was yelling were more valuable to Izuku than any camera would ever be. They rekindled the dampened fire that dwelled within him.

They made Izuku want to keep trying. They made him feel like he could pick himself back up again. That maybe, just maybe, everything would be all right.

Izuku was exhausted. He was terrified. He was reborn.

Katsuki could break him in half and put him back together again a thousand times over and Izuku would love every moment of it.

He’d love Katsuki every moment of it.

His crying began to take on a hysterical quality.

He would never be able to repay Katsuki.

Izuku looked at his hand and realized that he had dropped his phone. He picked it up again.

Katsuki was still messaging him.

Izuku tried to read the wall of text that he had missed, but his eyes wouldn’t focus. His head began to ache.

Kachahnn, I can’t
Readall of this
My head…. needs a break, dizzy

Katsuki’s messages did not cease, but he did switch topics.

---FUCKING LIE DOWN---IDIOT---
---GET OFF---PHONE---
---STOP---MESSAGING ME---
---TAKE CARE---IDIOT---
---IDIOT!!!!!

Izuku let his phone fall from his hand and onto the bed. It was all far too much for him.

After taking a couple of breaths, Izuku shakily picked up his new camera.

The sight of the Nikon tucked safely inside of its box only made Izuku cry harder. He took the camera out of its packaging and held it in his hands. It gleamed, shiny and unused.

Izuku would guard this camera with his life.

Izuku carefully put his camera away. He brought his knees up under his chin and wrapped his arms around his head.

He succumbed.

Izuku thought about everything that had happened over the past week and all that Katsuki was and meant to him as he sobbed uncontrollably into his arms.

Chapter Text

They say you’ve hit the bottom
We knew you’d be back

 

“You seem to be in better spirits.”

Izuku hummed contentedly to himself as he took a spoonful of cookie dough and rolled it into a ball. He placed it on the baking sheet in front of him.

“I guess I’m feeling more myself,” he said. He looked at his mother and smiled.

It had been a few days since Izuku had been released from the NSICU. After he’d ended his conversation with Katsuki on that first day and allowed himself to process his emotions, he’d set his new camera on his bedside table then immediately passed out. He’d woken up to the sight of the Nikon, which had prompted another round of tears. He’d cried again later when he’d gone back and read all of Katsuki’s messages properly.

Thinking about them even now made Izuku’s heart flutter.

Inko’s eyes danced. “I’m glad,” she said. She picked up her mixing bowl and began to hum her own tune.

Izuku plopped another lump of dough into his hands. It had been ages since he and his mother had baked together.

Izuku remained largely bedridden, but he’d used the time to get to know his new camera. He’d discovered that some of the Nikon’s features were identical to his last camera, and others were entirely new. Izuku couldn’t wait to get back on his feet and try them out.

Being bedridden also allowed Izuku an opportunity to think things over. It was true that his first attempt at photojournalism had been a disaster. He hadn’t been ready for the dangers that the protest had presented. But Katsuki had encouraged Izuku and given him a second chance. He’d be damned if he let himself roll over and die.

Izuku still had other avenues to explore. Attending newsworthy events had only been one of his ideas, after all. A new plan was already beginning to form in his mind.

The protest. Monoma. Kendou. The Antiheroes. Katsuki.

There was something in the midst of this world that resonated with Izuku deeply. He just had to figure out what it was.

Izuku’s phone vibrated on the kitchen counter. He glanced at the screen.

Sold out of half our shirts.

Izuku grinned. He picked up his phone with greasy hands.

That’s greatt!

After a few minutes, another message appeared.

How’re you doing?

Izuku’s body tingled from head to toe.

Izuku was trying his best not to read too deeply into Katsuki’s actions. He didn’t want to come off as any more eager than he already had. Holding back, however, was becoming increasingly difficult as Katsuki continued to message him.

“What are you smiling about?” Inko asked. She approached Izuku and touched his shoulder.

Izuku startled. He set his phone face down on the counter, his cheeks flushing. “N- Nothing!” he stammered.

“Nothing, is it?” Inko replied teasingly.

“Uh,” Izuku said. His face burned.

Inko’s mouth twitched. She turned away. “Well, I hope nothing knows how much you appreciate your new camera. And I hope you’ll bring nothing over for dinner sometime.”

“Oh, God,” Izuku moaned. He covered his face with his hands.

Izuku hadn’t told his mother the full story, but she’d always been a clever woman. He’d admitted that the camera had been sent from a friend who had refused to let him return it. He wasn’t sure how much she’d figured out beyond that.

“When you’re ready,” Inko said.

Izuku lowered his hands and nodded slowly, unable to meet his mother’s eyes.

Inko bumped her hip against Izuku’s leg gently. “Let’s get these in the oven,” she said, gesturing towards the full baking sheet.

“Yeah,” Izuku said. He smiled uncertainly.

As Inko put the tray in the oven, Izuku chewed on his lower lip.

He’d tell her.

Soon.

***

 

Izuku raised his mother’s hand mirror and turned away from the bathroom vanity. He angled the mirror until it reflected the back of his head.

Izuku could see the small pinpricks left behind by the staples that had been removed earlier that day. An angry pink scar roughly two inches in length divided the marks.

Izuku ran his finger over the bumpy tissue and grimaced. He knew that the scar would fade, but it wasn’t exactly pleasant to look at or easy to hide. His hair was already growing back but it would be another week or two before the mark was obscured.

Izuku sighed. Once the scar was concealed, there would still be a patch of hair on his head that was shorter than the rest. There was no way around it. He was going to need a haircut.

Izuku’s follow-up appointment at the hospital had gone well. His coordination was rapidly improving. As long as he limited his screen time, his dizziness remained manageable. He’d been given a referral to a physiotherapist for his neck and shoulder. The most severe side effect that Izuku had to cope with was the debilitating headaches that came and went with little to no warning.

Izuku set the hand mirror aside and grabbed his toiletries from the bathroom counter. He returned to his bedroom and sat down next to his overnight bag. He packed his toiletries and closed the duffel.

Izuku looked around his old bedroom. All Might’s ever-supportive, beaming smile could be seen from nearly every angle. The corners of Izuku’s mouth curved upward.

He wondered if Monoma would return his email.

Izuku stood slowly. He grabbed his duffel by the handle and hobbled to the front door. He set the bag down with a grunt.

“Izuku?” Inko called out. She appeared by the kitchen entrance. “You’re ready?”

“Yeah,” Izuku said.

Inko wrung her hands. “Are you sure you want to go back?” she asked. “You’ve only been here a week and-”

“Mom,” Izuku said. He approached Inko and took her hands in his. “It’s going to be all right. I can get around on my own and I’ve got friends nearby. Besides, the hospital cleared me.”

“I know.” Inko sighed. “I just worry.” She squeezed Izuku’s hands. “Promise me you’ll call if you need anything.”

“I promise,” Izuku reassured her.

“And that you won’t push yourself too hard.”

“Mom.” Izuku released Inko’s hands and hugged her carefully.

Inko returned the hug. She rubbed her eye. “Well, I can’t let my son go home empty-handed.” Inko bustled away only to return moments later with several bags stuffed with groceries.

“You’re in no condition to go shopping,” she said. “This should keep you properly fed for a while.”

Izuku smiled sheepishly. “Thanks mom,” he said.

Inko set the bags on the floor. She raised her hand and stroked her son’s cheek.

“Let’s get you settled.”

 

***

 

“Thanks for coming out with me,” Izuku said.

Momo smiled. “Not at all,” she replied. She took a deep breath and rubbed her gloved hands together. “I don’t get out enough in the winter. The fresh air will do us both some good.”

Izuku and Momo strolled down the sidewalk of a residential street. It was late afternoon and the sun already hung low in the sky.

“Your dessert crêpes last night were delicious,” Izuku said conversationally.

Momo flushed. “I’m glad you liked them,” she said. “I think my homemade jelly filling paired nicely with the Lavender Darjeeling tea. Maybe next time I’ll-” Momo stopped. She laughed self-consciously. “Thank you for visiting.”

“I should be thanking you,” Izuku replied cheerfully. Momo was undeniably cute, not unlike Ochako. It was easy to see why Shouto liked her.

Izuku had spent some time thinking things through and had decided to speak with Ochako when he returned to work. She deserved a face-to-face conversation at the very least.

A frosty breeze sent a shiver down Izuku’s spine. He tugged his wool hat over his ears and adjusted his sunglasses. When he’d gone outside earlier that week, the light had overwhelmed his sensitive eyes and he’d ended up having to spend the rest of the day in bed. Since then he’d learned to only venture outside during the later half of the day, for brief periods of time, and with a pair of sunglasses and a friend.

“How’s your new camera?” Momo asked.

Izuku’s hands instinctively grasped the worn satchel that hung from his good shoulder. “It’s great,” he said. A telling smile formed on his lips.

They turned onto a main street. Izuku examined the storefronts as they passed. “Here it is,” he said when he spotted their destination.

Momo looked at the store sign. “Photex Solutions,” she murmured. “I think Shouto bought his camera from here.”

“It’s a good shop,” Izuku said. He’d visited it many times before to drool over the expensive cameras and lenses. “I might need your help reading some of the print.”

“Of course,” Momo said. She smiled at Izuku. “That’s what I’m here for.”

After the better part of an hour, Izuku exited the store with a sizeable bag. Momo held a smaller bag of her own. It was snowing lightly.

Izuku peered at his loot: a sturdy new camera tote, a small box, and a bulk pack of a half dozen memory cards. He wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. Izuku may not have been able to afford a backup camera yet, but he could protect his photographs if he switched his memory card out regularly.

“That store has some beautiful photo frames,” Momo commented. “I should have come by sooner.”

“They’re great,” Izuku agreed. He pulled the small box out of his bag and opened it eagerly. A camera lens lay nestled in its protective packaging. It may have been a rental, but it looked barely used.

“Do you mind if I attach this quickly?” Izuku asked. “I’d like to test it while we’re still outside.”

“Go ahead,” Momo said. “Let me know if you’d like to stop somewhere.”

It didn’t take long for Izuku to snap the lens into his camera. They walked a little further down the street before Izuku paused at a frozen water fountain.

“How about here?” Izuku asked. “I could take a couple of winter portrait shots, if you don’t mind.”

Momo reddened. “Of me?” She clenched her fists and averted her eyes. “I don’t know. I’m not ready-”

“You look great,” Izuku reassured her. “If you don’t like them, I’ll delete them.”

“…I suppose,” Momo said reluctantly.

Izuku led Momo over to the fountain and positioned her appropriately. It was amazing how quickly his body fatigued after extended inactivity. He’d need to start heading back soon.

Izuku raised his camera and took a short series of photographs. His shoulder began to protest almost immediately. When he was done, he showed Momo the images.

“Oh wow,” Momo breathed. Her eyes sparkled. “These are wonderful.”

Izuku frowned. He was glad that Momo liked the photographs, but he could only see the blurred edges caused by his imperfect coordination. He was pretty sure that his old college tripod was buried somewhere in his apartment. He ought to dig it up.

“Thanks,” Izuku said.

“Would you mind sending this one to me?” Momo asked. She pointed at the screen. “I could use some nice pictures for my new frames.”

“I’d be happy to,” Izuku said. He took another look at the photograph on his camera’s display.

Next time he’d do better.

 

***

 

Got your record deal eyet?

Shut up. I’m working on it.
Taken any decent photos yet?

Izuku smirked.

Shut up.. I’m working on it.

Izuku shoved his phone into his coat pocket. Behind him, the subway car doors pinged and shut. He exited the platform and headed to the nearest stairs.

Izuku took the steps one at a time. He was glad that his earlier dizzy spell had cleared up. He couldn’t risk blowing today.

Once Izuku had reached the sidewalk, he looked at his phone again.

Big show tonight. Venue’s almost at capacity.

Although they had been texting for nearly two weeks, Izuku’s heart never failed to skip a beat when his phone vibrated and Katsuki’s name appeared. Their conversations were brief but they never failed to cheer Izuku up. They gave him something else to think about while he lay in bed with a pillow over his head to block out any traces of sunlight.

Awesome! You guys gonna blowthe roof off?

Fuck yeah.

Izuku grinned. He began to walk.

As the building that he was searching for came into view, Izuku’s stomach clenched. He took a deep breath then entered the establishment.

‘You can do this,” he thought.

Izuku took off his sunglasses and approached the front desk. An older woman was seated behind a tall glass panel with a narrow opening at the bottom. Her expression was intimidating.

“Hello,” Izuku said. He hoped that he didn’t look as nervous as he felt. “I’m here for a visitation. I’m a photojournalist. My name is Midoriya Izuku. I spoke with the warden.”

The woman eyed Izuku. “Sign in, then sit down,” she said. She slid a chained clipboard through the opening.

Izuku did as he was told. The woman picked up her phone.

Izuku twiddled his thumbs anxiously while he waited. He hadn’t expected much when he’d emailed Monoma more than a week ago. Kendou’s reply had both surprised and delighted him.

Kendou had been amazing. She’d run Izuku’s request by Monoma and had helped Izuku figure out how best to approach the detention center. He wouldn’t have made it this far without her.

Eventually Izuku was escorted inside by two officers. He was taken into a private room and questioned while the contents of his new camera bag were examined. He almost had a heart attack when one of the officers grabbed his camera and flipped it upside down.

After a thorough pat down, Izuku was cleared. He left his phone, belt and other personal belongings in a locker and was led into a separate room.

Monoma was sitting at a plain table. A second chair had been placed across from him. He was dressed in a grey shirt and pants. His hair was mussed. A security guard stood nearby.

“Took you long enough,” he said.

Izuku bowed as best he could. “I owe you an apology,” he said. “I’m sure that Kendou told you everything.”

Monoma’s expression remained impassive.

Izuku stiffly seated himself. The chair did not budge. “I’m going to do better,” he said.

“You’re going to do better?” Monoma drawled. “Didn’t you lose everything? I’m not sure how you could improve on that.”

Izuku persisted. “I don’t want all of this to have been for nothing,” he said.

One of the officers left the room. The other approached the security guard. She muttered something into his ear.

Monoma’s eyes narrowed. “What did you have in mind?”

Izuku looked at the officer and guard apprehensively. He chose his next words carefully.

“A wide-scope project,” he said. “I want to document social change happening within the city. I’d like to include a written piece and, ideally, have it published.”

“Interesting,” Monoma murmured.

“Will you help me?” Izuku asked. “I can’t do it without you.”

Monoma smirked. “You can’t do it without me?” he repeated. “I like the sound of that.”

Izuku grinned. He was glad that imprisonment hadn’t done much to dampen Monoma’s spirits. “Is it alright if I ask you some questions and take a few photographs?”

Monoma eyed the officer and guard distastefully. “I might not be able to answer everything,” he said. “For obvious reasons.” He batted his eyelashes at them.

“Watch yourself,” the guard grunted.

“That’s okay,” Izuku said. He set his camera bag on the table. He pulled out a small recording device and a pocket notebook. “I can get specifics from Kendou later. Why don’t we focus on ideology?”

Monoma’s smirk widened. “I can do that,” he said.

Izuku beamed. He placed the recording device on the table and turned it on.

“Let’s begin,” he said.

 

***

 

“That’s a nasty scar you’ve got there.”

Izuku grimaced. “I know,” he said. “The hospital had to shave my head.”

The hairstylist rearranged Izuku’s curls experimentally. A plethora of tattoos adorned the man’s arm from wrist to shoulder. “There’s not much we can do about that unless you’re looking for something more extreme,” he said.

Izuku had an idea or two. “What if we just shaved everything across the bottom?” Izuku asked.

The hairstylist raised his eyebrows. “You sure that’s what you want?” he asked. “It’ll be short, even for an undercut.”

Izuku nodded. “It’s time for a change. Besides, hair grows back.”

The hairstylist chuckled. “That it does,” he said. He slapped Izuku’s shoulder cheerfully. Izuku sucked in a breath. “You’ll rock it. You have the right hair for it.”

The hairstylist swiveled Izuku back towards the salon mirror. “Let’s fade it out at the bottom and leave it thicker towards the top.” He positioned his index fingers over the tops of Izuku’s ears. “I’m thinking we’ll start around here. Sound good?”

Izuku studied his reflection. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a proper haircut. It would be a fresh start. He was ready.

“Let’s do it,” Izuku said.

 

***

 

Izuku wandered along a downtown city street, his satchel slung over his shoulder. His eyes roamed freely.

Several inches of dirty snow lay on the ground. Izuku looked at it and smiled. It felt good to be out by himself. Izuku appreciated his friends, but he’d missed his independence.

As Izuku’s health improved, his brief excursions had turned into several-hour long expeditions. He hadn’t had a migraine in four days and his mobility was greatly improved.

Izuku paused in front of an interesting abstract sculpture that had been installed next to a corporate office. He set his satchel on the ground and pulled out his old tripod.

Izuku studied the sculpture contemplatively. He circled it until he found an angle that he liked.

Izuku’s photography had changed over the past couple of weeks. Instead of trying to force his subject, Izuku had been taking a more organic approach. Anything that caught his interest was fair game. As a result, his familiarity and skill with his new camera was rapidly increasing.

A storm drain clogged with cigarette butts. An elderly woman waiting for the city bus. A broken window belonging to a convenience store.

An abstract sculpture covered in frozen bird shit.

Something caught the corner of Izuku’s eye. A flash of short black hair and a long blonde ponytail sent him into a panic. Izuku stared openly at the distant figures until his brain registered that the person with the blonde ponytail was a male, and the man with the dark hair had no visible tattoos.

Izuku closed his eyes and counted to ten. He let the anxiety ooze off of him.

He needed to get past this. His friends wouldn’t always be there to reassure him.

The officers who had questioned Izuku at the hospital had told him that they’d be in touch should his attackers be apprehended. Izuku hadn’t heard anything, so it was probably safe to assume that they hadn’t been found.

Izuku wasn’t even sure if he wanted them to be caught. He just wanted to feel safe.

Izuku ran a hand over the back of his head and sighed. The fuzzy sensation was strangely calming.

Izuku turned his attention back to his work. He took a few more photographs then packed up his equipment, hefting his satchel onto his good shoulder. His physiotherapy appointments were helping, but progress was slow.

As he waited at a crosswalk, Izuku checked his phone for messages. He hadn’t received any texts from Katsuki today. That meant it was his turn.

How was the show last night?

Katsuki replied promptly.

Murdered it, obviously.
Setting up for our next.

Izuku grinned.

Wish I was there.
I miss watching you guys perform.

Izuku tucked his phone back into his pocket. He crossed the road then turned down a side street. He waited for something to catch his eye. When Izuku spotted a plethora of bright colours poking out from the side of a run-down restaurant, he made his move.

Izuku approached the building curiously. Its side was covered in a two-story mural. The likeness of someone who Izuku was fairly certain was a famous author claimed the majority of the space. His face and upper torso had been spray-painted in elaborate detail. A hand rested on his chin, his middle finger splayed against his cheek. A quotation had been painted with calligraphic letters next to him over a sepia background.

Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue.

It was more than graffiti. It was a work of art.

Izuku got to work. He experimented with his camera, trying different angles and effects. By the time that Izuku was satisfied, he must have taken over one hundred photos.

As Izuku packed up his equipment, a voice called out to him.

“I ought to charge admission.”

Izuku startled. He turned around.

A grungy-looking woman in her early thirties leered at Izuku from the sidewalk. She was sitting on a sleeping bag that had been placed over a hot sidewalk grate. A cardboard sign was propped against her shins.

Izuku approached the woman cautiously. “You made that?” he asked. He glanced back at the mural. “It’s incredible. You’re really talented.”

The woman laughed humorlessly. “Yeah, well,” she said. “Talent only gets you so far these days.” She jabbed her finger at the restaurant. “Fucks in there tried to have it removed for months. Every time they cleared a section, I’d come back overnight and patch it up.” She snorted. “Eventually they gave up. Now people go into that shithole just to compliment it. Bet it brings them a good chunk of change too. How’s that for hypocrisy?”

The gears in Izuku’s head turned rapidly. “I’d love to hear more about it,” he said. He rummaged through his satchel and pulled out his recording device. He showed it to her. “Would you mind if I asked you a few questions?”

The woman looked at Izuku warily. “What’s in it for me?”

Izuku thought for a moment. “How about a hot meal?” he asked.

“Fuck that,” the woman said. “How about a hard drink?” She raised her thumb to her mouth and mimed a bottle.

Izuku shook his head. He wasn’t going to indulge anyone’s bad habits. “I’ll buy you a hot drink and a meal,” Izuku said. “That’s my offer.”

The woman sneered at him. “You got five minutes,” she said.

Their conversation was brief, but Izuku managed to glean some pertinent details. He learned that the woman went by Ai. She was a street artist who was responsible for a number of murals throughout the city. Her choice in subject matter revealed an innate intelligence. Izuku couldn’t help but wonder what had forced her onto the street in the first place.

When Ai abruptly ended their conversation, Izuku thanked her for her time and went to fulfill his end of the bargain. She’d requested a local pizza chain. Izuku decisively ordered her an entire pie. While he waited, he checked his phone.

More like you miss watching me, nerd.

Izuku sucked his cheeks in. Katsuki wasn’t entirely wrong, but he didn’t have to phrase it like that.

He deliberated his revenge.

It’s not my fault.
You look good onstage.

Izuku shoved his phone back into his pocket before he could embarrass himself any further.

Several minutes later, Izuku returned to Ai with the pizza. She grabbed the box out of his hands and shooed him away.

Izuku didn’t check his phone again until he was on the bus heading home. When he unlocked the screen, he choked on his saliva.

I look better off.

The comment was suggestive enough.

The photograph was even more.

Katsuki was wearing his onstage makeup. He sported his usual expression of mild displeasure. This, however, was less interesting than the fact that Katsuki was completely shirtless.

Izuku reeled. Katsuki’s defined pectorals and chiseled six-pack were better suited on a Roman statue than a human being. His Latin tattoo curved and dipped below his collarbones, drawing Izuku’s eyes down and over his exposed stomach.

Izuku cleared his throat and swallowed. His face felt unbearably hot. He glanced around the bus, but no one seemed to be paying him any mind.

Izuku cupped his hand beside the screen. The longer that he stared at the photograph, the more inappropriate his thoughts became. Did Katsuki know what he’d done to him?

Izuku sent a reply.

You… You do.

Izuku moaned quietly. He buried his face in his hands. That photograph was going to haunt him every night for the next month.

Izuku wanted to reciprocate, but his location made that impossible. The fact that his side was still marked with ugly green and yellow bruises didn’t help either.

Izuku grumbled. He’d been going to the gym regularly before the protest, but his chest was nowhere near as impressive as Katsuki’s. He resolved to return to his routine with renewed vigor as soon as he was able. The next time that Katsuki sent him a photograph, he’d make sure that he had something worth showing off.

In the meantime, Izuku opened the camera application on his phone and reversed the view.

I didn’t tell you, but I had my hair cut the other day. Needed something new.

Katsuki’s response brought a smile to Izuku’s face.

Suits you.

 

***

 

Click.

Izuku stepped away from his camera. He examined the image onscreen.

‘Much better,’ he thought.

Since Izuku had spoken with Ai, he’d begun to notice street art everywhere. It had quickly become one of his favourite subjects to photograph.

Pull your head out of your ass every once in a while and look at the city.

Izuku chuckled quietly. He adjusted his tripod.

The alley that Izuku was currently photographing was of particular interest. Both walls were covered in graffiti. Bold, distorted letters were interspersed with portraits and symbols. Colours clashed wildly, ranging from bright reds and yellows to greens and blues.

Some of the words were illegible. Others were not.

RESIST.

Not MY culture.

Izuku hummed thoughtfully.

The late afternoon sun was beginning to cast long shadows on the pavement. Izuku smiled victoriously when his camera caught its rays at the perfect angle. Beams of light pierced the alley, brightening the graffiti in areas and obscuring it in others. He took a photograph. He had to show this to Katsuki.

Izuku’s smiled wavered. He’d been keeping an eye on The Antiheroes’ social media accounts for a while now. He’d enjoyed watching the fan-posted videos and reading Mina’s status updates.

The Antiheroes’ online presence was undoubtedly growing. They’d had over 12,000 followers before their tour. When Izuku had checked the other day, they’d been pushing 15,000. Mina’s posts were relentlessly cheerful. Yet something bothered Izuku.

Izuku had made a point of not asking Katsuki about any record label interest since the day he’d visited Monoma. He knew that Katsuki wouldn’t be the type to admit if things weren’t going as well as he’d hoped.

If The Antiheroes had gotten a deal, Mina would have blasted it all over social media. Izuku was sure that Katsuki would have told him too.

The fact that the tour was nearly over and neither of them had mentioned it was concerning.

Izuku sighed. He took a couple more photographs then called it a day.

Izuku stopped by a café on his way home. He grabbed a hot drink and sat down at a private table. He rummaged through his photographs until he found the one he’d wanted to show Katsuki. He transferred it to his phone and sent it off.

Izuku sipped his drink, enjoying the café’s warmth. He closed his eyes for a moment. When his phone vibrated, he opened them.

You take that?
Fucking rad.

Izuku beamed. Why was it that compliments from Katsuki always seemed to mean so much more?

Thanks!!!
I’ve been taking a lot of photographs lately.

Katsuki responded quickly.

Don’t overdo it, dumbass.

Izuku whimpered. He pressed his palms into his eyes.

His mouth twitched.

I’m not. Promise.

Izuku chewed on his lower lip. Katsuki would be home soon. There was something he needed to say in person.

I have to thank you properly for the camera.
When you get back.

Katsuki’s reply was slower this time.

Might not be for a while. Got a lot of shit to unpack and figure out.

It might not have been the most ideal response, but the fact that Katsuki hadn’t denied Izuku outright gave him hope. He sent Katsuki one final message.

No problem. Let me know when you’re free.

Izuku put his phone away. He ought to start heading back. He’d been out for a long time and his head was beginning to ache.

Izuku left the café and sought out the nearest bus stop. He wasn’t very familiar with this part of the city. Most of the buildings were foreign to him. When he came across a storefront whose name rang a bell, he paused.

The Painted Lady.

Izuku approached the window. A privacy screen had been set up near reception, obscuring much of his view. Izuku spotted a series of padded chairs, an elevated pair of feet, and someone holding a metal implement.

The name clicked.

Katsuki’s tattoo parlour.

Without thinking, Izuku went inside.

The small desk at the front appeared to be abandoned. Izuku looked at the walls. A wide variety of paintings hung from the exposed brick.

“Can I help you?”

Izuku jumped. Had the petite woman sitting behind the desk been there all along? He collected himself.

“I heard you have a gallery,” he said.

The woman looked at him and laughed. Her hair was aggressively red.

“I guess you could call it a gallery,” she said. She gestured over her shoulder. “Have a look if you want, but don’t disturb our clients.”

“Thanks,” Izuku said.

Taking care not to linger, Izuku walked along the walls. The paintings here were unlike the typical artwork you’d find in a gallery. There were a lot of darker themes and more experimental approaches. Izuku stopped when he saw two familiar paintings hanging side by side.

The first depicted a partially-decayed skull. Thick streaks of red paint marred the foreground. Izuku peered at the label: Decaying Breath III.

The painting next to it also featured a skull, but instead of red streaks, thick gobs of purple paint splattered across the canvas. It looked even worse than Izuku remembered; Katsuki must have added his own touches.

Izuku read the label: Decaying Breath V feat. Deku.

“That artist is really popular,” the red-haired woman said, popping up beside Izuku. The top of her head barely reached his shoulder. “He brought in a series of five paintings. These are the only two left.”

Izuku looked at the woman. He burst into laughter.

The redhead appeared taken aback. “W- What the hell?” she spluttered.

“Sorry,” Izuku wheezed. He clutched his injured side. He looked at the label and began to laugh anew. He pointed shakily at the painting. “I- I’m Deku.”

One of the tattoo artists approached the redhead. He jerked his head towards the entrance. The woman nodded.

“Okay, weirdo,” she said. “Time to go.”

Izuku waved goodbye cheerfully as he exited the parlour.

Quiet laughter continued to escape Izuku as he waited for the bus. He couldn’t believe that Katsuki had partially attributed the painting to him. His heart felt oddly full.

Izuku reread their old conversations until the bus pulled up in front of him. They’d certainly have a lot to talk about the next time they saw each other.

Izuku couldn’t wait.

Chapter Text

Can’t live without it
You can’t sleep til you’ve got it
There’s no way to ignore it
    It's not enough    

 

When Katsuki texted Izuku three days later, Izuku practically flew to his apartment.

‘Be cool,’ Izuku thought to himself as he shifted restlessly from foot to foot inside the elevator. ‘Be cool. Be cool.’ He put a hand over his chest and tried to calm the racing of his heart.

Izuku had spent a lot of time thinking about what he wanted to say to Katsuki, but none of his practiced speeches had done his jumbled thoughts any justice. Everything that he wanted to say was more sentimental than Katsuki would probably put up with, and anything less seemed insincere.

Izuku was so focused on his thoughts that he barely registered that the elevator had reached the third floor. He leapt out of the lift as the doors were closing.

Izuku needed to calm down. He was going to be good. He wasn’t going to give Katsuki any reason to throw him out.

Izuku forced himself to walk down the hallway at a reasonable pace. He stopped in front of Katsuki’s apartment door. He took a deep breath, raised his hand, and knocked.

His entire body trembled.

The door opened.

Katsuki’s familiar head of blonde hair and intense red eyes were a sight for sore eyes. The moment that their gazes connected, Izuku forgot himself.

“Kacchan,” Izuku said. Tears that hadn’t been there moments earlier sprang into his eyes. He rushed forward and flung his arms around Katsuki.

Katsuki staggered backwards. His shoulders stiffened but he did not push Izuku away.

“Oi, oi,” he muttered softly.

“Sorry,” Izuku whispered. He pried his arms off of Katsuki and wiped his face with his sleeve. He laughed weakly. “I’m sorry.” He stepped back and gathered himself. He smiled. “I’m just happy to see you.”

Katsuki’s brow furrowed. Dark circles, deep enough to be mistaken for bruises, lined the undersides of his eyes.

Izuku’s smile wavered.

“You coming in or what?” Katsuki finally grumbled.

“Yes!” Izuku said. He withheld a relieved sigh.

Katsuki turned away from Izuku. Izuku followed him into the apartment.

Evidence of the tour lay scattered throughout Katsuki’s apartment. Most of the stacked cardboard boxes were gone. A box that remained had been left open on the floor and was stuffed with rumpled shirts and discs. A guitar case rested on the couch. An empty rolling suitcase had been abandoned in the middle of the hallway. Izuku spotted a familiar pair of eyes and the tip of a twitching tail from behind the wheeled bag.

Katsuki trudged over to his small kitchen. “Want a beer?” he called out.

“I probably shouldn’t,” Izuku replied. He scratched the short growth on the back of his head. “I’m supposed to avoid alcohol for a while.”

Katsuki’s head popped out from around the corner. His narrowed gaze flickered across Izuku’s face.

Izuku reddened. “Kacchan?” he asked.

Katsuki blinked. He frowned and muttered something unintelligible.

Katsuki disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a half-empty bottle. He plunked himself down on the floor, crossed his legs, and leaned back against his armchair.

“How’s your-?” he asked. He gestured towards Izuku’s head.

Izuku gingerly lowered himself next to Katsuki. “It’s… better,” he said. “It’s getting better every day. I still get the occasional dizzy spell and the migraines really suck, but I’ve figured out my limits. I’ll be returning to work in a week and a half. My doctor wants me to start with half days-”

“You’re off work,” Katsuki said.

“Yeah.” Izuku chanced a glance at Katsuki. It really was amazing to see him again. “My doctor recommended that I take six weeks off, but it’s technically only five if you don’t count the week I spent at the hospital-”

“You were in the hospital for a week.” Katsuki’s eyebrow twitched.

Izuku backpedalled. “Five days,” he corrected. “Mainly because the NSICU wanted to keep an eye on me-”

“You were in intensive care.”

Izuku began to sweat. “For observation,” he said. “I didn’t think it was necessary, but I guess the hospital treats contusions pretty seriously-”

“Jesus fuck, Deku,” Katsuki said. His face paled. “You never told me any of this shit.”

Izuku found himself speechless. It had never occurred to him to divulge the specific details of his injuries to Katsuki. He was starting to wish that he hadn’t brought it up. He didn’t like the look on Katsuki’s face.

“…I’m fine,” Izuku said. “I’m doing well.”

Katsuki didn’t reply. Instead he raised his beer bottle to his lips and swallowed the contents in a single gulp. He set the glass bottle on its side and rolled it away from him across the floor.

Izuku eyed Katsuki warily. “I’ve been making good use of my time off,” he said. “I’ve got some ideas-”

“Any of them involve you getting your head bashed in?” Katsuki glared at Izuku.

“No!” Izuku exclaimed. “Of course not!”

Katsuki huffed and pulled his phone from his pants pocket.

“I should have never told you about the protest,” he muttered.

“Wh-” A new possibility suddenly dawned on Izuku. “Kacchan, what happened wasn’t your fault.”

“You’re damn right it wasn’t!” Katsuki retorted. He twisted himself towards Izuku. His eyes flashed dangerously and his lip was curled. “What kind of idiot tries to photograph looters at close range? Do you have any common sense at all? You said that you knew what you were doing, you fucking liar-”

“Kacchan,” Izuku repeated. His heart fluttered in his chest. “It wasn’t your fault.”

Katsuki closed his mouth. He ran a rough hand through his hair.

“Fuck,” he said.

An uncomfortable silence fell upon them.

Izuku tried to change the subject. “Looks like you sold most of your tour merch,” he said.

“Most of it,” Katsuki grumbled. He stared at his phone. “We’ll need to reorder soon.”

“That’s great!” Izuku said. “You must have done well.” A familiar but unwelcome feeling bubbled up in his stomach. “You must have m-met some interesting people too.”

Katsuki said nothing. His grip on his phone tightened.

“That Nikon is incredible,” Izuku babbled. “I still can’t believe you-”

“Shut up,” Katsuki said.

Izuku floundered. “Kacchan,” he said. “We haven’t talked in ages.”

“So what?”

“So tell me about the tour.”

“Ain’t nothing to tell.”

Izuku made a frustrated noise. “You’ve been away for six weeks! How can you have nothing to say?”

Katsuki’s face cracked. “Because the tour was SHIT!” he roared. He reared back and violently threw his phone into the nearest wall. It slammed against the plaster with a hard smack, leaving a dent in its surface.

Izuku jolted. His side throbbed painfully.

Izuku looked back and forth between Katsuki and the phone, frantically trying to make sense of what had happened. He stiffly got to his feet and walked over to the wall. He picked up Katsuki’s phone.

The screen was cracked.

“Kacchan,” Izuku said.

Izuku was greeted with silence. He turned back to face Katsuki.

Katsuki had drawn his knees up into himself and had buried his hands in his hair.

Izuku’s brow creased with concern. He returned to Katsuki’s side slowly, setting the phone down between them.

“You sold all your merch,” Izuku said. He tried to sound optimistic.

“Who cares?” Katsuki groaned. “It’s fucking merch!”

“I looked at your social media,” Izuku continued. “You’ve gained thousands of new fans.”

“It’s not good enough!”

Izuku took no pleasure in realizing that his suspicions about the tour had been correct.

There was no doubt about it. The Antiheroes hadn’t gotten signed.

Izuku had wanted to be wrong. Things had seemed to be going well. Katsuki had flirted with him less than two weeks ago.

The mood shift between then and now was like night and day.

Katsuki broke the silence while Izuku was deliberating what he ought to say.

“I think I might have fucked up.”

Katsuki’s voice was disconcertingly quiet. The weight of his words felt like a rock in Izuku’s gut.

“What do you mean?” Izuku asked.

“This isn’t working.” Katsuki’s hands began to shake. “The band isn’t working. Everything’s wrong. We were supposed to be signed by now. It wasn’t supposed to be like this.”

“I’m sorry that things didn’t go as well as you’d hoped,” Izuku said softly.

“I was so sure that this was going to be the one.” Katsuki’s voice trembled. “We’ve been doing this for almost five years. I’m going to be twenty-five in a couple of months, and what do I have to show for it? Three goddamn albums and a fan base that’s not even big enough to land a gig in Dick’s shitty venue!” He grabbed his hair with fisted hands. “We’ve been doing everything right. Fucking everything. We’ve put in the time, we’ve done the research, we’ve done the grind. We’ve got the talent. We’ve put ourselves in all the right places. So why are we still stuck playing amateur hour?”

“Three albums is really impressive, Kacchan!” Izuku protested. “Besides, your fans love you! You can’t tell me that they don’t. I’ve seen how crazy they go for you. That’s got to be worth something.”

“Our fans are a bunch of psycho stalkers,” Katsuki spat. His grip on his hair grew tighter. “I can handle myself, but what happened with Mina was a fluke. I just happened to be in the right place.” Katsuki’s voice cracked. “I might not be the next time.” He turned his head away from Izuku. “We need to get signed. We need the security. Even if I don’t, they do. We can’t keep doing this.”

Izuku remembered the night of the battle of the bands. He recalled Mina’s quiet sobs, Kirishima’s distress, and Katsuki’s protectiveness. Izuku hadn’t realized that what had happened continued to burden Katsuki so deeply.

“You will get signed,” Izuku reassured Katsuki. “Even if this album doesn’t work out, there’s always the next one!”

“Yeah, or the one after that, the one after that, or the one after fucking THAT!” Katsuki made a strangled sound. “Fuck, Deku. We’re going to end up as a bunch of 40-something year-old has-beens playing on street corners for tips!” Katsuki shook his head frenetically. “No way. I’d sooner put a bullet in my head than end up like-”

“Kacchan!” Izuku admonished. His eyes widened in horror. “Don’t you say that! Don’t you dare!”

Katsuki raised his head and looked at Izuku. His face was red. The shadows cast over his features by his arms only made the bags under his eyes look deeper. His brow was pinched. He looked completely and utterly exhausted.

“I dropped out of college to do this,” Katsuki said hoarsely.

Izuku’s stomach dropped. “Oh, Kacchan,” he whispered.

Katsuki snorted miserably. “Had a full scholarship too,” he said. He glowered at the wall. “I bailed after second year. Biochemistry didn’t suit me. Everyone was vying to work for Big Pharma or some other equally corrupt industry.” Katsuki tilted his head back against the armchair. “Mina had already graduated from cosmetology, and Kirishima was almost done with his trade program. The timing was right. We’d talked about going all in for years.”

“That’s a really big sacrifice to make,” Izuku murmured.

Katsuki’s face twitched. “The old hag thought so too,” he muttered. “She was so pissed off that she threw me out of the house. Told me to come back when I’d decided to ‘stop being a delinquent.’”

Izuku startled. “She what?!” he exclaimed. He couldn’t imagine his own mother doing anything of the sort under any circumstance. He chewed his lip anxiously. “You’ve made up since though… right?”

“Ha!” Katsuki’s shoulders shook. “As if. I haven’t spoken to the bitch since.” He hunched over and buried his face in his arms. “I can’t go back. I won’t,” he said. His voice was muffled. “Not until I can shove our contract in her fucking face and tell her that she was wrong.”

As Katsuki leaned forward, his shirt bunched, exposing a fragment of his tattoo. It sparked an old memory.

“That tattoo,” Izuku said. “When did you say you got it again?”

Katsuki fell silent. “Not long after all this went down,” he finally replied. “I will either find a way or make one. It’s a pledge.” Katsuki curled up further into himself. “I don’t know what to do. There’s got to be something missing.” He trembled. “If I can’t figure it out, we’re fucked. The band’s counting on me. I’m their leader. I’m supposed to ensure our success.” Katsuki swallowed thickly. “What a fucking joke. I can’t even ensure their safety. You-” Katsuki flung an arm out towards Izuku. “You’re running around and getting your fucking head caved in on my advice. And I-” He released a choked-off scream. “I might have fucked my entire life.”

Izuku wanted nothing more than to pull Katsuki close and to tell him that everything was going to be okay. It was agonizing to see him like this. Izuku had known that Katsuki was dedicated, but he hadn’t been aware of the sacrifices that he’d made for his dreams. It was unfathomable. It was far more than Izuku had ever done for himself.

Katsuki had risked everything, and despite his best efforts, it wasn’t paying off.

Izuku’s saw Katsuki’s rapidly rising and falling chest and heard his shallow breaths. He felt his own eyes well up with tears, but he wasn’t about to let himself cry. He wondered whether there was anything that he could do when Katsuki seemed so averse to physical contact and was struck with the sudden thought that maybe what Katsuki needed right now wasn’t a comforting touch.

No, what Katsuki needed was a reason to keep fighting.

Izuku wasn’t sure whether he could give Katsuki that, but he’d try his best.

Izuku scooted as close to Katsuki as he dared. He leaned against the armchair and tried to ignore the vibrations coming off of Katsuki’s shuddering form.

“When I was in the hospital, I was in a pretty bad place,” Izuku said slowly. He stared at his hands. “Everything that I’d been trying to accomplish had ended in failure. I’d lost my only camera. I’d let everyone at the protest down. My mother was upset with me. My friends scolded me. Everyone kept telling me that I shouldn’t have gone. They said that I should lead a quiet life with a safe job. The thing is that I never wanted a safe job.” Izuku sighed and ran a hand through his curls. “No one supported the one thing that I’d always wanted the most for myself. And so, for their sakes, I almost gave it up.”

Izuku glanced at Katsuki. He was still hunched over, but Izuku could have sworn that he saw an eye watching him. It urged him on.

“Then I got your package,” Izuku said. He smiled softly. “Even though we were far apart, it felt like you were telling me not to give up. To keep pursuing my dreams. That… that meant more to me than you will ever know. It wasn’t any of my friends and family, but you, who made me want to keep trying.” Izuku looked away and subtly wiped at the corners of his eyes. He took a shaky breath then turned back towards Katsuki. “I don’t have the means for grand gestures, Kacchan. But I will say this. Don’t give up, even if things seem really bad. You’re talented, and you work harder than anyone I know. You can do this. I know you can.”

“Yeah?” Katsuki muttered.

Izuku nodded emphatically. “Yeah!” he said. “You might not like it, but we’re more similar than you think.” He gazed at Katsuki fiercely. “So believe me when I say that if you quit now, you’ll regret it for the rest of your life.”

Katsuki mumbled something under his breath that Izuku couldn’t quite catch. His shoulders relaxed noticeably.

Izuku decided that this was a positive development. “Here’s what you need to do-”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” Katsuki retorted half-heartedly. He slowly unfurled himself and swiped messily at his bloodshot eyes. His shirt was soaked with sweat.

Izuku gave Katsuki a wobbly grin. He seemed to be returning to his normal self. “Take a break,” he said. “Or at the very least, get some sleep. You look like hell.”

Katsuki snorted. “You’re a fucking asshole,” he said. He extended his arm towards Izuku but suddenly froze. Seeming to think better of it, he withdrew his hand and shoved his fist into his lap.

Izuku frowned. He was about to question Katsuki’s actions when a nearby mewl distracted him. He found Missy sitting by their feet. She watched the two of them suspiciously.

“Hi, Missy,” Izuku said. “I missed you.” He wiggled his socked toes at her.

Missy bit his foot.

Izuku yelped. Missy latched onto the sock. It took a couple of gentle shakes to get her to let go.

“I guess we’re back to square one,” Izuku said mournfully.

“Don’t take it personally,” Katsuki replied. “She’s pissed at everyone right now. At least she’s not clawing your ankles every time you try to lie down.”

“Oh my God,” Izuku said. “She’s attacking you in your sleep? That’s awful.”

“She would be if I was getting any,” Katsuki admitted. His mouth twisted into a rueful smirk.

“Poor Kacchan,” Izuku murmured. He bumped his knee gently against Katsuki’s.

Katsuki bumped his back.

Izuku smiled. He opened his mouth, paused, then closed it again.

Izuku wasn’t sure whether he ought to say anything. It really wasn’t his place.

On the other hand, Izuku knew The Antiheroes intimately. He’d listened to them obsessively for months.

After hearing Katsuki’s concerns, Izuku had come up with a few suggestions.

The question was whether or not Katsuki was open to hearing them.

Katsuki looked at Izuku expectantly.

Izuku grimaced. He chose his next words carefully. “Uh. If you’re interested…” Izuku squirmed. “I have one or two suggestions. About the band.”

Katsuki’s eyebrows shot up, but he quickly recovered. “What, you think you know my band better than me?” he demanded.

“Not at all,” Izuku said. “But—you know—outsider’s perspective and all that.”

Katsuki stared Izuku down. After a moment, he straightened his posture and crossed his legs. “Let’s hear it, then.”

Izuku balked. “Kacchan, I didn’t mean right now!”

Katsuki gave Izuku a death glare. “If you’ve got something to say, then say it, nerd.”

Izuku twiddled his thumbs nervously. This could go south very quickly for him.

“Kacchan, you do so much for the band,” Izuku began. “I can’t help but think that you’re taking on more than your share of the load. Are you sure that there aren’t a couple of things that you could pass off onto the others? I remember Kirishima saying back on Halloween that he wanted to do more for the band. Why don’t you let him help out with the business end?”

“Shitty Hair doesn’t know a thing about business,” Katsuki retorted.

Izuku thought for a moment. “What about inventory?” he asked. “Is that something that only you can do? I’m sure that Kirishima would be more than happy to take it off your hands.” Izuku smiled hopefully. “It’d give you more time to work on the creative stuff.”

“Hm,” Katsuki said. He paused for a long moment. “Maybe.”

Izuku studied Katsuki’s face. He didn’t appear to be particularly annoyed. Izuku deemed it safe to continue. “Speaking of the creative side…”

That got Katsuki’s attention. “What about it?” he asked defensively.

‘Oh boy,’ Izuku thought.

“Well,” Izuku said. “There’s no doubt that you’re extremely talented. Your voice is…” Izuku reddened. “It’s unbelievable. But Kacchan, all you ever do is scream and snarl. You must have learned how to sing in a more traditional way first. Why don’t you use your full range?”

Katsuki’s eyes widened briefly before they narrowed. “That’s our sound,” he growled.

“It’s a great sound,” Izuku said soothingly. “But I’ll bet that if you used everything that you were capable of, you’d really blow everyone away.” He grinned. “Why hold back? Give your fans everything you have.”

Katsuki scowled. “Who the hell is holding back?”

“It’s just a thought,” Izuku said. “And-”

Katsuki glared. “What now?”

Izuku knew that he was pushing his luck. “There’s one last thing,” he said. “All of your songs seem to have something in common-”

“You saying they all sound the same?” Katsuki snapped.

“No!” Izuku sighed in frustration. “It’s more that they… I don’t know… seem to connect with your fans on pure energy. I don’t know if that makes sense. It’s as if it’s more about the sound than the…” Izuku gulped. He thought back to the battle of the bands. “Message.”

Katsuki folded his arms. “You think my lyrics are shit.”

“They’re not shit,” Izuku said. “It’s more that they…” Izuku didn’t know how to communicate the lack of depth in a way that wouldn’t offend Katsuki. “Have you ever tried to write a song that connected with your fans on a more emotional level?” he asked instead.

Katsuki stopped frowning long enough to appear genuinely puzzled. “What do you mean?”

Izuku could have laughed but didn’t dare. He tried to think of a way to explain it simply. “I guess it’d be the difference between going to a show and thinking ‘Wow, that was really cool!’ and going to a show and thinking ‘Wow, I really related to that!’ I’m not a music expert-”

“No shit,” Katsuki scoffed.

Izuku bristled. “-but pretty much all my favourite songs are songs that reminded me of something that happened to me, or that made me feel some kind of emotion, whether it was happiness, or anger, or something else.” Izuku’s eyes suddenly lit up. “Kacchan, have you ever tried writing a ballad?”

Katsuki’s face spasmed. “A ballad? Shit, Deku, what kind of band do you think we are?”

“Even punk bands must write softer songs every once in a while!” Izuku protested. “Or why not write a song about something that happened to you personally?”

“No one’s going to give a damn about that.”

“I think you’d be surprised,” Izuku said. “The point is that it might not be a bad idea to diversify.”

“Yeah, well, what do you know?” Katsuki said.

Izuku sighed. “You’re the one who asked.”

“Yeah, yeah.” Katsuki rolled his eyes. “I guess it’s something to think about in-between albums.”

Izuku eyebrows shot up in surprise. He beamed. He was glad that his advice didn’t seem to have been completely ignored.

Feeling rather victorious, Izuku held out his hand. “To album number four.”

Katsuki groaned. “To album number fucking four,” he said. He smacked the palm of Izuku’s hand.

It wasn’t Izuku’s fault when his hand closed around Katsuki’s.

Izuku realized what he’d done a split second later. He released Katsuki’s hand forcefully, his face rapidly turning several shades beyond scarlet. “Th- That wasn’t-” he stammered.

Katsuki looked at him knowingly. “Deku,” he said.

Izuku winced. “Forget about it,” he said.

Katsuki appeared to be choosing his words carefully.

“I’ve got a lot going on right now,” he said after a painfully long pause. “I have to think about the band before anything else. That’s the only way we’re ever gonna get signed. I can’t have any distractions.” He looked at Izuku meaningfully. “Nothing else matters. Got it?”

Izuku swallowed. He felt his heart plummet to the bottom of his toes.

Izuku understood Katsuki’s words all too well.

I can’t be with you.

It made perfect sense. Izuku didn’t want to put any more pressure on Katsuki than he was already under. If Katsuki felt that Izuku was a distraction, then that was that. He didn’t want to stand in Katsuki’s way.

“I understand,” Izuku heard himself say.

Katsuki’s brow furrowed. He appeared troubled, but he nodded.

“Good,” he said.

Izuku didn’t say anything else. It wasn’t right for him to feel so wounded over Katsuki’s words. They had been surprisingly gentle.

Somehow, that made it worse.

He ought to leave.

“Well, you should probably get some sleep,” Izuku said weakly. “You deserve a break.”

Katsuki grumbled. “I don’t need a break,” he said. He stretched his arms over his head and cracked his back. “I need a fucking vacation.”

“That’s a great idea,” Izuku said. He tried to sound chipper. Despite everything, Izuku cared about Katsuki. He wanted him to be successful and happy.

“We made pretty decent money on tour,” Katsuki continued. “Shitty Hair and Pink Face were talking about clearing out the Shitmobile and fucking off to Vegas for a while. Maybe in a few weeks.”

“Vegas.” Izuku chuckled. “I’m jealous.”

Katsuki picked up his phone and observed the damage. “You ever been?” he asked.

Izuku shook his head. “I haven’t travelled much,” he said. “Money was pretty tight growing up. I’d like to go one day. How about you?”

“Been a few times,” Katsuki said vaguely. He kept his eyes fixed on his phone. “Our first tour took us around that area. It’s a bit of a shitshow, but the assholes like it. They’ll probably round up the other idiots. Shitmobile’s pretty big once you get rid of all the band stuff.”

“Sounds like you have a whole crew,” Izuku said. “That’d be fun to do one day. Pack up a bunch of friends and take off for a while.” He smiled dreamily.

Katsuki’s gaze drifted over to Izuku.

Izuku eyed Katsuki warily. “What?” he asked.

Katsuki said nothing.

“What?” Izuku repeated.

Silence.

“Kacch-”

“Wanna come?” Katsuki blurted.

Chapter Text

If I had a scheme
For everything it seems I’d be sure
I could change it all

 

The morning sun was still rising, spattering the sky with orange and purple hues, as Izuku made his way through the dormant city. When he came across the street that Katsuki had specified, his heart skipped a beat.

Anxious excitement had been building inside of Izuku over the past few weeks. The prospect of spending an extended length of time with Katsuki had been all that he’d been able to think about. It had overshadowed his thoughts even when his coworkers were welcoming him back to The Beat.

A part of Izuku felt guilty for taking advantage of his open doctor’s note to secure extra days off for the trip. At this particular moment, however, his day job was the last thing on his mind.

Izuku adjusted the duffel bag that hung from his good shoulder and turned down the street. The cluster of people who were clothed in warm jackets and chatting idly next to a hulking van were easy enough to spot. The van was parked in the driveway of an old house. One of its sliding doors was ajar. At some point the van might have been white, but now it was heavily rusted and what remained of the original paint was hidden beneath an onslaught of graffiti.

Mina’s girlish laugh punctuated the quiet morning atmosphere. Izuku looked and found her sitting on the hood of the van with a coffee between her hands, her legs swinging freely.

Most of the groups’ backs were turned, but Mina’s eyes drifted over to Izuku as he neared the foot of the driveway. He saw her lips move, although he couldn’t make out the words. She slid down off the hood as the gathering turned toward him.

Izuku searched for Katsuki fruitlessly. He must not have arrived yet. Izuku hoped that he had let the others know to expect him.

“Hey,” Izuku said. He smiled uncertainly and raised his hand in a half-wave.

Mina appeared troubled. She opened her mouth to speak but was cut off.

“Midoriya!” A familiar blonde-haired man barreled into Izuku. He grinned and wrapped his arm around Izuku’s neck, tugging him closer. “Nice hair! How’ve ya been, man? It feels like it’s been ages!”

“Kaminari,” Izuku wheezed, pain radiating from his shoulder. “It’s been- I’m good, but would you mind letting me go? I’m still kind of sore.”

“Right, right!” Kaminari released Izuku and took a step back. He laughed. “Sorry about that. Dude, that video was nuts! When I saw you take that hit to the head I thought that it was game over. But in all seriousness, you alright?”

Izuku reddened. “I’m fine,” he affirmed, making a conscious decision to ignore most of Kaminari’s comment. “I’m still going to physiotherapy, but I’m doing well. My scar’s covered-”

“You have a scar?” Kaminari appeared delighted. “Wicked! Where is it? Can I see it?”

“It’s on the back of my head,” Izuku said. He gestured toward his undercut self-consciously. “There isn’t much to see though… Hey!”

“Hm?” Kaminari’s fingers were already knuckle-deep in Izuku’s curls. “Hang on a sec… There! I found it!”

“Kaminari,” Izuku complained. He suppressed a shiver over the unwelcome sensation of cold fingers pressing against his scalp. He tried to shake Kaminari off. When he looked up again, his eyes met Katsuki’s.

Katsuki was exiting the van, his hand gripping the sliding door. He watched Kaminari poke at Izuku’s head with a stony expression.

“Aw, it’s not that big,” Kaminari said, disappointment evident in his voice. “I was expecting a huge gash.”

Izuku swatted at Kaminari hands. “I told you there wasn’t much to see,” he replied. His eyes darted nervously between Katsuki and Kaminari. “It happened almost two months ago.”

“Is that why you cut your hair?”

“Denki!” A short girl with a violet bob grabbed Kaminari’s arm and hauled him off of Izuku. Kaminari spluttered. “Lay off already! Give the guy a chance to breathe.”

Izuku patted his hair down and shot the woman a grateful look. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Katsuki mutter something to Mina before he disappeared around the other side of the van.

“Thanks,” Izuku said.

Jirou’s eyes sparkled with amusement. “Denki’s like an overgrown puppy,” she said. “You have to put him in his place or he’ll jump all over you.”

“Hey,” Kaminari protested.

“Off with you!” Jirou ordered. She gave Kaminari a friendly shove.

Kaminari pouted but did as he was told. Once he had wandered away, Jirou shuffled closer to Izuku.

“You seal the deal?” she asked in a low voice.

Izuku blinked. “I’m sorry?”

Jirou sighed. “Don’t tell me that I went through all that trouble on Halloween for nothing.”

“Huh?” Izuku’s eyes widened. “You don’t mean-”

“Men,” Jirou said. She shook her head forlornly. “So clueless. I could tell right away, you know. Who you were looking at.” She grinned. “What, did you think I lured everyone away with a party game for fun? You really ought to be thanking me. I saw you two leave together.”

“Oh my God,” Izuku moaned. The realization dawned on him. “You set us up.”

“You’re welcome,” Jirou said smugly.

“Does Kacchan know?” Izuku whispered.

Jirou shrugged. “Beats me. Did things go well?”

Izuku chewed on his lip. “It’s… complicated,” he said. “He wants to be friends.” Izuku’s words sounded bitter even to himself.

“Bummer,” Jirou said. “I almost thought… Never mind.”

Izuku gave Jirou a quizzical look, but she laughed it off.

“Hey, Bakugou! We ready to load up?” she asked loudly.

“Yeah.” Katsuki’s voice was much closer than Izuku would have liked. He startled. “Go toss your shit in the back.”

“Thanks.” Jirou grabbed her bags off the ground and headed toward the van.

Izuku watched Jirou leave. His ears burned. He hoped that Katsuki hadn’t overheard their conversation.

Izuku turned his attention to the colourful markings and rusted exterior of the vehicle. “So this is your tour van,” he commented. He tried to keep his voice level. “It has a lot of character.”

“Told you it was a piece of shit,” Katsuki said.

Izuku laughed. He chanced a glance at Katsuki. He was handsome even with his black jacket zipped up past his chin. The shadows under his eyes were still present, although Izuku noticed that they had receded. He was glad.

“It’s not so bad,” he said.

The past few weeks had left Izuku disoriented. Katsuki had made it clear to Izuku that he only saw him as a distraction. Izuku had been upset, but had been fully prepared to back off. That was, until Katsuki had invited him along to Vegas. He also continued to text Izuku regularly. No matter how Izuku looked at it, Katsuki’s actions didn’t align with his words. He remained a puzzle that Izuku desperately wanted to solve.

Katsuki shoved his hands into his pockets and stared at the ground. “Was that why you had your hair cut?” he asked.

It took Izuku a few moments to catch up. “Oh,” he said. He grimaced. “Sort of? It’s true that I needed a change.” He fiddled with the strap of his duffel bag. “It was something that I’d been meaning to do either way.”

Katsuki cursed under his breath.

“You said it suited me,” Izuku said defensively.

“It does.”

Before Izuku could form a response, Katsuki grabbed Izuku’s duffel bag off his shoulder and hauled it over to the van.

Izuku beamed.

As Katsuki tossed Izuku’s bag into the van, Mina and Kirishima emerged from around the other side of the vehicle. The same troubled expression appeared on Mina’s face. She exchanged a look with the redhead.

Izuku smiled at them. He took a few steps forward. “It’s good to see you guys again,” he said.

Mina hesitated before she approached Izuku. Kirishima observed them anxiously.

“Hey,” she said slowly.

Izuku could have sensed Mina’s discomfort from a mile away. It had been months since he had last seen her and Kirishima.

Izuku recalled the Battle of the Bands. He remembered how he had tried to keep Mina away from the fray. She knew that he knew.

He tried to think of a way to lighten the mood.

“…I heard that you got a new bass,” he said finally. He recalled the conversation that he and Katsuki had had that night in the coffee shop. He smirked. “Kacchan said it’s hideous.”

Mina looked at Izuku. “Oh my God,” she said. She burst into laughter. “He would say that!”

Kirishima grinned. His shoulders visibly relaxed.

Izuku laughed as well. “It’s really pink?”

“The pinkest of pinks!” Mina exclaimed. She wiped a tear from her eye, then looked at Izuku and smiled. “You’re still calling him Kacchan, huh? I forgot about that.”

Izuku flushed. “W-Well, he’s still calling me Deku!” he replied.

Mina grinned devilishly. “So it’s true,” she said. “You two really have been hanging out. Are you friends? Kiri said that-”

“Oi! We going or what?” Katsuki interrupted loudly. He picked someone’s backpack up off the driveway and tossed it inside the van.

Mina pressed her lips together. “In a moment!” she called back. “I want to show Izuku around the van.”

“Ain’t nothing to show,” Katsuki retorted. “Shitmobile’s one more loose screw away from being a write-off.”

“Don’t call it that!” Mina cried out. She grabbed Izuku by the wrist.

Izuku allowed Mina to tow him around to the driver’s side of the vehicle. When they reached the door she let go of Izuku’s wrist and threw herself against the side of the van.

“This is my baby,” she purred. She caressed the worn exterior lovingly.

Izuku chuckled. He had nearly forgotten how lively the other members of The Antiheroes were. “The van belongs to you?” he asked.

“Yep!” Mina nodded.

“Well, it’s all of ours,” Kirishima corrected.

“No! It’s mine!” Mina stuck her tongue out at Kirishima. “I’m the one who has the garage and I drive it the most. Kiri did patch it up though; it was in pretty bad shape when we first bought it.”

Izuku looked at the heavily damaged vehicle. He hated to think what bad shape looked like.

Mina grabbed the handle and pried the door open. “Take a look,” she said.

Izuku poked his head inside.

The van was a lot to take in. The front seats were stained and torn in multiple places. The dashboard was covered in scratch marks and promotional stickers. Old garbage was stuffed under the seats. The fluffy pink steering wheel cover was, by contrast, pristine and markedly out of place.

“You really like pink, huh?” Izuku said.

“Touch it!” Mina said gleefully. She grabbed Izuku’s hand and thrust it against the cover. “It’s soft, right?”

Izuku started to laugh. “It is,” he said.

“By the way, how’s your head?” Mina asked. “Do you need to sit up front?”

Izuku opened his mouth to reply but hesitated when he saw the pinched look on Kirishima’s face.

“Uh, that’s okay,” he said after a moment. “I should be fine.”

“Glad to hear it,” Mina said. She patted Izuku’s arm sympathetically. “Kiri is the best with directions anyways. Okay!” Mina darted behind Izuku and pushed him around to the other side of the van. “You’re in the back!”

Izuku put his hand on the sliding door and peered inside. The back of the van was almost empty. All of the seats had been removed, making the vehicle seem broader and deeper. Everyone’s luggage had been piled against the front seats. Izuku imagined what the van must look like when it was stuffed to capacity with merch boxes, instruments and equipment.

Mina clapped her hands together. She hauled herself up onto the hood of the van then hopped onto the roof. She leaned back and cupped her hands over her mouth.

“All right, Team Vegas!” she hollered. Her voice echoed through the empty street. “Let’s goooo!”

Kaminari whistled and Kirishima raised his fist. Izuku copied Kirishima while Jirou whooped.

Mina swung herself back down to the ground with ease. “Get the fuck in the van!” she shouted, pointing enthusiastically at the open door.

“Yes, ma’am,” Jirou replied.

Mina grabbed Jirou’s ass as she climbed into the van. She laughed then turned to Kirishima. “Come, Kiri.” She batted her eyelashes at him. Kirishima happily obliged.

Izuku followed Jirou into the van and sat down on the far side. Kaminari flung himself in right after.

Katsuki was the last to enter. Once inside, he grabbed the interior door handle. The door screeched horribly as it closed.

“Don’t lean against that,” he said to Izuku, gesturing towards the door. He settled down across from him. “It doesn’t stay closed real good.”

Izuku imagined the door opening while someone was leaning against it on the freeway.

“Noted,” he said.

“Hang on back there,” Mina said while she fastened her seatbelt. “Things can get a little bumpy.”

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in here,” Jirou said.

“You haven’t missed much,” Kirishima replied.

“Kiri,” Mina whined.

Kirishima looked at Mina and laughed apologetically. “Okay,” he said. He rubbed his hands together. “Let’s do this!”

The group cheered.

Izuku looked at Katsuki. His heart fluttered. He couldn’t believe that they were really going on vacation together.

Katsuki looked at Izuku. Izuku could have sworn, for the briefest of seconds, that he saw the ghost of a smile flicker over his face.

           

***

 

“So, Midoriya. You’re back at work now?”

Izuku looked away from the window, his reverie broken.

Kaminari was lying on his side next to Katsuki. His legs were crunched up behind him and his arms were wrapped around a black backpack. He looked at Izuku expectantly.

“…I am,” Izuku said. Shortly after they’d departed Izuku had shoved his duffel bag behind his back in an attempt to make himself a little more comfortable. The van rattled loudly and it was impossible not to feel every bump, but Izuku supposed that there were worse ways to travel. “I’ve been back for about a week and a half. I’m not working full time hours yet, but I’m getting there.”

Izuku’s eyes drifted over to Katsuki, who had gotten comfortable in his own way. After he’d shrugged out of his jacket, he’d stretched his legs out across the van, his feet inches away from Izuku.

“You’re lucky,” Kaminari said. “I wish I could get six weeks off work.”

Izuku watched Katsuki scroll through his phone. He couldn’t help but notice that the screen was still cracked. “You’re a freelancer,” he pointed out distractedly. “Can’t you take time off whenever you want?”

“Still.” Kaminari sighed wistfully. “You must have gotten a lot of attention.” He turned his head toward Jirou. “There’s some really cute girls working at The Beat, Kyouka. You’d be jealous too.”

Jirou perked up. “Oh yeah?”

Kaminari nodded enthusiastically. “There’s pretty girls in every department. Like Ochako!” He smirked at Izuku. “I bet she was all over you.”

Katsuki glanced up from his phone.

Izuku stiffened. He’d completely forgotten about Ochako.

“I… haven’t spoken with her yet,” he admitted.

Kaminari groaned. “Midoriya, you really are the worst. You shouldn’t let a nice girl like that go! She likes you, right? You should tell her that you’re back.”

Izuku shifted uncomfortably. He could feel Katsuki’s eyes boring a hole into him. “I’ll get around to it,” he said.

“You’ll get around to it!” Kaminari wailed in dismay. “You know, if I had a girl like that, I’d be bringing her flowers every day.”

“Well, you don’t,” Izuku replied tightly, “and neither do I.”

“But that could change, right?”

Izuku pressed his lips into a thin line. Out of all the places where he didn’t want to be discussing the dateability of his coworkers, while he was sitting right across from Katsuki was at the top of his list.

Jirou watched the back-and-forth with interest. Her eyes darted over to Katsuki then back to Izuku.

“I don’t know,” Izuku said finally. “I guess that depends on whether or not you ask her out.”

Kaminari’s eyes bulged. “What? Me?” he asked. “I thought she was into you! Don’t act like-”

Izuku lost his patience. “I don’t care!” he snapped. “I’m not interested in her! Ask her out if you want to!”

Everyone’s eyes turned toward Izuku. Izuku felt his face grow hot.

“Woah!” Kirishima pivoted in his seat and peered into the back of the van. “What’d you guys do to Midoriya?”

Kaminari flailed his arms helplessly. “Midoriya’s trying to say that he’s not interested in Ochako!”

Kirishima furrowed his brow. “Ochak- Oh, that girl from The Beat that you’re always talking about?”

“Yeah, her! She’s basically perfect! How could he not-”

Jirou leapt across the van and tackled Kaminari. She pinned him easily before jabbing her fingers into his gut and tickling him ferociously.

“Denki, you know I love you,” she said as Kaminari yelped and writhed beneath her, “but you have to be the dumbest guy I’ve ever met.”

“Why? Hey, that’s not fair!” Kaminari wheezed, desperately clutching his sides.

Izuku and Katsuki exchanged a bewildered look. After a moment, Katsuki snorted.

Izuku took this as a positive development. He offered Katsuki a wobbly smile.

Katsuki held his gaze a moment longer, then turned and glared at Jirou and Kaminari. “Watch the door,” he growled.

Katsuki reached over and grabbed the black backpack away from Kaminari. He rummaged around inside of it and retrieved a familiar-looking pair of headphones. He plugged the headphones into his phone, put them on, and leaned back and closed his eyes. His foot bumped against Izuku’s side.

“I give! I give!” Kaminari screeched.

Izuku watched Jirou and Kaminari roll around on the floor of the van. He could only shake his head at them.

           

***

 

Mina was the first to exit the van when they parked at their first rest stop around noon.

“Gotta pee!” she announced loudly before making a beeline for the facilities.

Katsuki wasn’t far behind her. He got out of the van, yawned and stretched, then sauntered over to the nearest burgers and fries joint without bothering to ask whether anyone wanted to join him.

Izuku was the last one out. He groaned as he stretched his legs. He was about to follow Katsuki when he felt a firm grip his shoulder.

“Hey,” Kirishima said quietly. “Can we talk?”

“Uh… Sure,” Izuku said. He was hungry but he could wait a few more minutes to eat. Kirishima had hardly spoken two words to him since they’d left and the redhead’s quietness had been making Izuku wonder whether everything was all right.

Kirishima nodded appreciatively. He leaned against the side of the van and waited for the others to get some distance before he spoke.

“First off, I wanted to thank you for whatever you said to Bakugou,” he said.

Izuku’s lips parted in surprise. “What I said to Kacchan?” he asked. “I don’t understand.”

Kirishima rubbed the back of his neck. “Right. Well, a couple of weeks ago, Bakugou showed up at the apartment. He had all of our band merch with him. Said to me ‘You’re taking care of this now, shithead.’”

Izuku’s eyebrows shot up. “Really?” he asked. A too-wide grin overtook his face.

Kirishima nodded. “He mentioned something about you being involved when he sent me the inventory sheets and account information.”

Izuku’s face was starting to hurt. He covered his mouth with his hands. “He took my advice,” he said. He felt oddly giddy.

Kirishima eyed Izuku. “So you did say something.”

Izuku lowered his hands. “I hope you don’t mind! I remembered that back on Halloween you said that you wanted to do more for the band, and Kacchan has seemed really overwhelmed lately, so I thought… I was just trying to help, but-”

“Woah!” Kirishima held up his hands. “Calm down, dude. It’s okay. I appreciate it, I swear. I’ve been asking Bakugou to let me take on more for years.” Kirishima paused. “But if you’re giving Bakugou band advice, then that must mean that you two have been hanging out.”

Oh. Izuku averted his eyes. “We… We have,” he admitted. “I guess we’ve sort of become friends.”

Kirishima narrowed his eyes. “You’ve become friends.”

“Yes.”

“With Bakugou.”

“Yes.”

Kirishima seemed to need a moment to process this. “Bakugou has always been a private guy, but this is a bit much,” he muttered.

Izuku chewed on his lip. He could think of a few reasons why Katsuki might not have mentioned anything to Kirishima.

“I’m sorry that he never said anything to you,” he said.

Kirishima sighed. He appeared frustrated, but Izuku wasn’t sure with whom. “Dude, it’s not your fault. Don’t apologize.” He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Midoriya, please don’t take this the wrong way, but I’ve gotta know. Why are you here?”

“…Because Kacchan invited me,” Izuku replied, perplexed.

Kirishima’s eyes widened. “No way,” he said. “Bakugou invited you?”

“Yes?” Izuku was becoming more and more confused. “He didn’t mention that to you when he told you that I was coming?”

Kirishima blinked several times. “He-” Kirishima’s eyes wandered over Izuku’s shoulder. He waved at someone. “Hey Mina!” he shouted. “Come here a sec.”

Izuku turned. Mina was casually crossing the parking lot with a brown bag in one hand and an oversized fountain drink in the other.

“Haven’t you guys gone for food yet?” she asked. “You really should. If we want to hit the city by tomorrow-”

“Bakugou invited Midoriya to Vegas,” Kirishima said.

Mina startled. Her bag and drink fell to the pavement, the latter exploding everywhere. “He what?”

It was impossible not to feel disconcerted by Kirishima and Mina’s blatant shock. “Is it that weird?” Izuku asked nervously. “Does he not invite friends along to things?”

“We’re the friends,” Kirishima impressed. Mina nodded voraciously, sidestepping her spilled drink. “We’re the ones who get invited.”

“He never invites others?” Izuku gulped. “You know… like boyfriends?”

Both Mina and Kirishima’s mouths dropped.

“Holy shit,” Kirishima said.

Mina looked at Kirishima. “Is it-”

Kirishima looked at Mina. “Does he-”

Mina and Kirishima stared Izuku down. Izuku was tempted to either hide his face or beat a hasty retreat.

“Izuku, sweetie.” Mina shuffled unnervingly close to Izuku. She squinted up into his face. “I know that this is kind of a personal question, but like, what’s your deal? Denki seems to think that there’s some weird love triangle going on between the two of you and that girl, but-”

“Mina.” Kirishima groaned. “That’s way more than kind of personal.”

Mina’s face was only a few inches away from Izuku’s. Izuku looked anywhere but at her. He wanted to answer her question. He could tell them, couldn’t he?

“Uh,” Izuku said. He wrung his hands anxiously. “I-I like guys. Too.”

Mina’s eyes lit up. She beamed. “Twinsies!” she exclaimed. She grabbed Izuku’s wrists and started hopping up and down.

Izuku felt his apprehension melt away. He grinned. “You too?” he asked.

“Uh huh!” Mina nodded so fiercely that she looked like a bobblehead. “Wait, wait. Okay. Let’s back this up.” She let go of Izuku’s wrists and brought her hand to her chin. “Bakugou threw a fit when Izuku got injured. Then he invited Izuku along to Vegas.”

“Bakugou and Midoriya have been hanging out,” Kirishima added. “Midoriya gave him advice and Bakugou actually took it.”

“Oh my God,” Mina said. She wiped an invisible tear from her eye. “Our boy is growing up.”

“What do you mean?” Izuku asked.

Mina ignored Izuku’s question. Instead she grabbed his hands and clasped them tightly between her own. “I give you my blessing,” she said.

Izuku’s face erupted into flames.

“M-Mina, I don’t- Kacchan…” he spluttered. “He-”

“Y’know,” Kirishima said thoughtfully. “I thought that Bakugou had been acting kind of off lately.”

Mina nodded. “If Izuku likes him too-”

“T-Too?” Izuku squeaked. “No, you don’t understand. He just wants to be friends-”

“Is that what he said to you?” Mina asked. She put a hand on her hip. “If it is then he’s a dirty liar. Wow, that’s not like him at all! He must have really gone sweet on you.”

Izuku shook his head frantically, unable to process the situation. He glanced around the parking lot; Katsuki and the others remained nowhere in sight.

“Please don’t say anything to him,” he whispered.

Mina looked at Izuku eagerly. “You like him, right?”

“Of course I do!” Izuku exclaimed before he could stop himself. “How could I not? He’s amazing!”

Mina screamed.

Izuku groaned. He collapsed onto the ground and buried his face in his hands.

“I think I need to sit down too,” Kirishima said.

“I need to sing and dance and praise the heavens!” Mina cried out. “It’s about goddamn time! Oh, my heart!”

Mina was making far too much noise for Izuku’s already shot nerves. He peeked at her through a gap in his fingers. “Mina… please…” he said weakly.

“I think Midoriya’s had about all he can take,” Kirishima said.

Mina immediately quieted. She plopped onto the ground next to Izuku.

“What’s going on here?”

Izuku recognized the voice as Jirou’s.

“Izuku has a thing for our Kacchan.”

Izuku slowly lowered his hands. Jirou had taken a seat next to him and was sipping on her soda disinterestedly. “What else is new?” she said.

Mina gasped and put a hand on her chest. “You knew!” she said accusingly. She looked at Izuku. “You told her!”

“I did not.” Izuku whimpered. “She figured it out on her own.”

“Does it matter?” Jirou asked. “Midoriya said that Bakugou isn’t interested.”

“Bakugou invited Midoriya to Vegas,” Kirishima supplied helpfully.

Jirou looked around at their strange little circle. Her mouth curled upwards. “Heh. So what’s the game plan?”

Izuku blinked. “Game plan?”

Jirou looked at Izuku evenly. “You seem like you could use the help. It’s been months.”

“That’s not my fault!” Izuku protested. “It’s Kacchan! He… He’s just him!”

Mina, Jirou and Kirishima all nodded understandingly.

“So it’s Kacchan who we need to push,” Mina said.

Izuku felt a chill run down his spine. “Please don’t do anything to him,” he said.

“I second that,” Kirishima said. “You guys shouldn’t get involved.”

“We won’t do anything out of the ordinary,” Jirou reassured Izuku. “I’m good at being discreet, aren’t I? After all, you never figured out that I-”

“Okay, okay!” Izuku interrupted, eager to silence Jirou. “What did you guys have in mind?”

Mina and Jirou exchanged a look.

“We have a few rooms booked, right?” Jirou asked.

Mina grinned. “I love you,” she said. “Have I told you that recently?”

“We could abandon them somewhere on purpose-”

“Guys!” Kirishima said. “You’re getting carried away. Let Midoriya figure it out.”

Mina pouted. “Fine,” she said. “But that doesn’t mean that we won’t lend a helping hand every once in a while. Right, Kyouka?”

“They’ll be making bedposts shake before the end of the trip,” Jirou affirmed.

Izuku moaned in embarrassment. “You guys won’t say anything, right? I don’t want… Kacchan wouldn’t like it.”

“You worry too much,” Jirou said. She got to her feet and dusted herself off. “I won’t say anything. I won’t tell the idiot either. He’d spill the beans in two seconds flat.”

Mina smiled kindly. “It’s a promise, Izuku,” she said. She patted him on the shoulder then took Jirou’s extended hand and stood up.

Izuku looked at Kirishima.

Kirishima waved him off. “Don’t look at me,” he said. “I’m staying out of this.”

“Well then,” Mina said. “Kiri, be a peach and go get gas? Take Izuku with you.” She linked arms with Jirou. “We’ll grab you guys lunch. Is there anything in particular that you want?”

“Uh. I’m fine with whatever,” Izuku said.

“Okay!” Mina said happily. “Off with you then! Scoot!”

Mina and Jirou forcefully shoved Izuku and Kirishima into the van. As Izuku sat down in the passenger seat, he noticed that the view from the front of the van was nothing like the view from the back. He could easily see Mina and Jirou chatting and gesturing wildly while they headed into the rest stop, for one. He groaned again.

“Don’t worry about them,” Kirishima said. “If things get out of hand, I’ll say something.”

Izuku smiled at Kirishima gratefully. “Thanks,” he said. “You’re a good guy.” As far as Izuku was concerned, Katsuki had told Izuku exactly how he felt and he wanted to respect that. It was a complicated issue, one that Izuku couldn’t explain to the girls without revealing some very personal things about Katsuki that were not his place to say. He resolved right then and there that he wouldn’t go along with any of Mina or Jirou’s schemes. As long as he ignored them, everything should be fine.

Kirishima hung his head. “I’m not that good, bro,” he said. “To be honest, I thought that you had a thing for Mina.”

“Mina?” Izuku felt genuinely surprised. “Why?”

Kirishima kept his eyes on the rearview mirror as he slowly backed the van out of the parking space. “I dunno. You wouldn’t have been the first guy to try to get close to her.”

Izuku deflated. “Oh. Is that why you stopped messaging me?”

Kirishima grimaced. “I’m sorry. Things got weird. I thought that it might be best to cut ties.” He laughed half-heartedly. “Guess Bakugou thought differently.”

Izuku smiled. “I guess so,” he said. He realized that he’d never thought of any of his and Katsuki’s interactions in that light.

Izuku kept an eye on Kirishima as they drove past the rest stop and over to the gas station at the far end of the lot. “Does Mina know that you like her?” he asked.

Kirishima’s grip on the steering wheel tightened. “Is it that obvious?”

“Well, I mean…” Izuku paused. “Kind of, yeah.”

Kirishima pulled up next to one of the pumps. He turned the van off.

“We were almost a thing a couple of years back,” he said quietly. “Before the incident.” He closed his eyes. “Things were bad for a while. I’m grateful that Bakugou was there for her, but I can’t help but feel that it should have been me.” When he opened his eyes again, his brows were pinched and his eyes were shiny. “It was my fault that it happened in the first place. Besides, what kind of man can’t look out for his woman?” He swallowed. “Mina deserves better.”

Izuku’s gut twisted. “She can’t… She can’t possibly blame you,” he said. “I may not know either of you very well, but the Mina that I’ve met is funny, and kind, and strong. Don’t you think that you should let her decide what she does or doesn’t deserve?”

Kirishima released a burdened sigh. “I don’t know,” he said. “It’s been so long. She probably doesn’t feel that way anymore.”

Izuku frowned. “How do you know unless you ask?” he argued. “At the very least, you should talk to her.”

Kirishima laughed weakly. “You talk an awfully big game for someone who was just sitting in the middle of a parking lot with their face in their hands.”

Izuku reddened. “It’s only an idea.”

Kirishima nodded appreciatively. “Yeah. Thanks.” He raised his hand towards Izuku. “I like you, Midoriya. You’re a real bro.”

Izuku chuckled. “Thanks. You too.” They smacked their palms together.

Kirishima grinned. He quickly closed his hand around Izuku’s. “We’re in this together now,” he said.

Izuku laughed. “Looks like it.”

Kirishima gave Izuku’s hand a firm squeeze then released it. As he exited the van, Izuku followed.

“Let me pay,” Izuku said. “You guys are already doing all of the driving.”

Kirishima waved him away. “Don’t worry about it.”

Izuku shook his head defiantly. “I insist.” He withdrew his wallet from his back pocket. Kirishima laughed and raised his hands in surrender.

While Kirishima was filling the tank, Izuku let his thoughts drift. He had decided not to push things with Katsuki, but he couldn’t help but wonder…

“Hey, Kirishima,” Izuku said. “Do you know if Kacchan has a type?”

Kirishima looked up from the pump. “A type?”

“Yeah.” Izuku reconsidered his wording. “Is there anything that he looks for in a guy?”

Kirishima’s mouth twitched. “No idea. When I said that Bakugou was a private person, I meant it. He never talks about shit like that. Never introduced us to anyone.”

“He’s never introduced you to anyone?” Izuku asked incredulously. “Haven’t you known him since high school?”

“I don’t know what you want me to tell you,” Kirishima said. The pump clicked off. “I’ve never seen him with anybody. He doesn’t talk about much besides the band.”

“Not even when you’re on tour?” Izuku pried.

Kirishima fixed Izuku with a knowing stare. “No,” he said. “Tours are crazy, man. When we’re not performing we’re travelling, or sleeping, or running through sound check. It’s nonstop. I’ve seen plenty of fans try to start shit, but none of us have that kind of time.”

Izuku fell silent.

He was starting to think that he had gotten Katsuki wrong right from the start.

Izuku remained quiet until they returned to the van.

“Can I ask you one last question?” he said after Kirishima closed the driver’s side door. “If Kacchan didn’t tell you guys that he invited me, what did he say?”

“Oh,” Kirishima said. “He told us that you invited yourself.”

“He told you-” Izuku sucked in his cheeks. “Oh, that jerk!”

 

***

 

“Hey, Bakugou,” Kaminari said. He tapped Katsuki on the shoulder. “Play us something.”

Katsuki glanced up from his phone long enough to shoot Kaminari a dirty look. “Fuck off,” he replied. “I’m not in the mood.”

“Kacchan, please?” Mina called out. She was currently taking up residence in the passenger seat, having swapped positions with Kirishima. “I’m bored. I went through all the trouble of packing the acoustic for you too.”

Katsuki glowered at her. “You play it.”

Mina turned around in her seat and made a face at Katsuki. “You know damn well that there isn’t enough room up front.”

“Come on, Bakugou,” Kaminari pleaded.

“Give your phone a break,” Jirou chimed in. “You’re on vacation.”

Katsuki groaned. “Acoustics are lame,” he complained.

“Play! Play! Play!” The three of them chanted in unison.

Katsuki sighed loudly. He shoved his phone into his pocket.

“Dig it out, then,” he grumbled.

The trio cheered.

Kaminari rifled through the bags and retrieved a long, hard case from the bottom of the pile. Katsuki crossed his legs and Kaminari plunked the case down in the middle of the van.

Izuku watched the situation unfold with interest. He sat up a little straighter and crossed his legs as well.

Katsuki unlocked the clasps and raised the lid. As the lid fell open, it knocked against Izuku’s knees. Kaminari scooted away from Katsuki to give him more room.

Katsuki picked up the guitar and strummed a few chords. It sounded fine to Izuku, but Katsuki cringed. “When the hell did you last have this thing tuned?” he demanded.

Mina smiled sheepishly. “It’s been a while.”

Katsuki uttered a few curses under his breath. Izuku watched him strum a chord, turn a couple of the pegs, then strum the chord again.

“By the way, Midoriya,” Kaminari said. “What are you going to do about your camera? I’d let you borrow one of my old ones, but they’re not exactly in the best shape.”

“Thanks, Kaminari,” Izuku said. He smiled as he carefully closed the lid over the guitar case. “But that’s okay. I have a new one.”

“Really? That’s great!” Kaminari said.

Izuku nodded enthusiastically. “Yeah! It’s… It’s really great.” He paused and glanced at Katsuki. The blonde gave no sign that he was paying attention to anything other than the guitar. “I do miss my old camera, but this one is a lot nicer. It’s a D810. It has more features and I’ve been learning some new techniques.” Izuku grinned. “I’ve been using it a lot.”

“A D810!” Kaminari moaned. “Can I see it?”

“I didn’t bring it,” Izuku admitted. He looked at Katsuki again. “I didn’t want to risk it getting stolen or damaged. I can bring it to the studio the next time you come by though if you warn me in advance.”

Kaminari slumped. “Fine,” he said. He quickly brightened. “I guess that makes me the official photographer for the trip!” Kaminari reached over to the pile of bags and dragged a neon yellow satchel towards himself. He pulled out a scratched-up camera, turned it on, then aimed it at Katsuki. “Smile!” he said.

Katsuki turned one of the tuning pegs a final time, then sneered at Kaminari. He strummed a few chords. “Fuck off, you shit,” he sang with his trademark snarl. “Get that thing out of my face.

 “Oh my God,” Izuku said. He snorted into his fist.

Katsuki smirked. He appeared quite pleased with himself. He struck up a more complex chord progression.

You think you’re so suave, but you can’t get a date,” he jeered. “I get more girls and I’m not even straight.

The group erupted into laughter. Izuku shook with mirth as tears formed in his eyes.

Kaminari gasped dramatically. He clutched his chest then fell over onto the pile of bags.

“Officer!” Mina cried out. “There has been a murder!”

Katsuki grinned.

Izuku’s chest felt tight. There was something wonderful about seeing Katsuki letting his guard down enough to enjoy himself. It was a side of him that Izuku wished he could see more often.

“Do me next!” Jirou said.

You think that you’re smart but I know your game,” Katsuki sang immediately. “You’re only coming to Vegas so you can get laid.”

Izuku began to wonder whether it was possible to suffocate on your own laughter.

Once Jirou had recovered enough to speak, she looked at Izuku and smirked. She pointed a shaking finger at him. “Do him.”

Mina caught on immediately. “Yes!” she said excitedly.

Katsuki looked at Izuku. Izuku’s hair stood on end. He groaned and hid his face. He wasn’t sure that he wanted to hear what Katsuki thought about him.

When the silence became unbearable, Izuku looked up again. Katsuki was staring him down. His lips were pursed. Izuku wasn’t sure whether he was focused or confused.

Katsuki strummed the guitar slowly. “You think that you’re nice but you’re kind of a dick,” he crooned. “You can’t handle your booze. You go down like a brick.”

A quiet chuckle escaped Izuku. He couldn’t help it. There was a grain of truth in there. All in all, he supposed that Katsuki could have done worse.

Katsuki, however, was apparently not finished.

Your freckles are stupid and your plans get you maimed, but once all’s said and done guess we’re kind of the same.”

The group’s laughter died away. Izuku stared at Katsuki, his mouth agape and his heart thumping wildly in his chest.

Kaminari was the first to break the silence. “Damn, Bakugou,” he said. “That was kind of nice.”

“How the hell was that nice?” Katsuki growled. “Didn’t you hear what I said?”

“I heard you compare Midoriya to yourself,” Jirou said.

“Yeah! How the hell are you and Midoriya alike anyways?” Kaminari gestured between the two of them. “You guys are total opposites! Just look at him.”

Katsuki smacked Kaminari’s hand away. “I am,” he snarled. “Are you?”

Izuku’s breath caught in his throat. He couldn’t be hearing this correctly.

Katsuki looked at Izuku. His face twisted unpleasantly.

“This is stupid,” he muttered. He set the guitar down on top of the case and pushed it away.

Izuku frowned. Katsuki looked unhappy. He closed his eyes and forced himself to focus on something other than the turbulent swirl of emotions assailing him. He took a deep breath and steadied himself.

You act tough on stage, but you’re mostly just wet.” Izuku’s voice was uncertain and off-key. “You could drown a whole room with that ocean of sweat.”

Katsuki’s head shot up. He looked startled.

Everyone started to laugh again.

“Oh, burn!” Kaminari yelled. “He got you, Bakugou!”

“Deku didn’t get shit,” Katsuki retorted. Izuku saw the corner of his mouth twitch. “That was mediocre at best.”

“Nice one!” Jirou said. She playfully smacked Izuku’s arm.

Izuku laughed quietly, glad to have elevated the mood.

Katsuki fixed Izuku with a piercing gaze. “Is that the best you’ve got?” he demanded.

Izuku beamed. “I’ll try harder next time,” he said.

Katsuki’s brow was furrowed, but his eyes danced. “You better. I won’t go easy on you.”

Izuku grinned devilishly. “Promise?”

Katsuki raised his foot and kicked Izuku in the shin.

“Hey!” Izuku protested. He kicked him back.

Katsuki flipped him off.

Izuku laughed.

Mina and Jirou exchanged a knowing look.

“You guys are weird,” Kaminari said.

 

***

 

“This is E minor,” Katsuki said. He strummed the guitar quietly.

Izuku watched Katsuki’s silhouette contentedly. When Katsuki passed the guitar over to him, he tried to recreate the chord.

The sound that came from the guitar wasn’t anything like the chord that Katsuki had produced.

“What, no- Are you even on the same fret?” Katsuki asked exasperatedly.

“It’s hard to see your hands,” Izuku admitted.

Katsuki had rotated into the driver’s seat earlier that evening. During that time, Kirishima had joined them in the back, curling up on top of the bags and napping while Kaminari and Jirou played a number of card games that quickly turned into a competitive drinking contest.

Once midnight hit, Kirishima took over again and Katsuki rejoined Izuku in the back. Mina had fallen asleep in the passenger seat and Jirou and Kaminari had eventually collapsed on top of each other in a drunken heap.

“…Come here,” Katsuki said. He kicked Kaminari’s behind. Kaminari groaned and rolled over on top of Jirou, who complained unintelligibly before she fell back asleep.

Izuku bit his lip to keep himself from laughing. He clumsily made his way across the van then sat down next to Katsuki.

Once Izuku had settled in, Katsuki roughly grabbed his hand.

“Put your middle and ring fingers here and here,” he said.

Izuku allowed Katsuki to correctly position his hand. When Katsuki’s callused fingers brushed against his own, Izuku suppressed a shiver.

“Okay,” he whispered. He strummed the guitar again. The strings felt taut under his soft fingertips.

“Better. Next is C chord,” Katsuki said. Once again Katsuki moved Izuku’s hand into the correct position.

Izuku did his best to memorize the new chord but the tingling sensation that was permeating his arm made it difficult.

“Your fingers are so rough,” he murmured. “Can you feel anything in them?”

Katsuki shrugged. “Not really,” he said. “It’s not a big deal.”

“Hm.” Izuku strummed the chord. “They feel kind of weird.”

Katsuki withdrew his hands. “What, like bad?”

“No,” Izuku said. He played the chord a few more times and smiled. “Just different.”

Izuku looked at Katsuki. Katsuki averted his eyes.

“You’re an idiot,” Katsuki muttered. He flicked the guitar’s headstock. “See if you can go back and forth between the two.”

 Izuku hummed and happily obliged.

 

***

 

Izuku awoke when a particularly large bump sent a jolt of pain down his spine. He opened his eyes and was immediately blinded by a bright beam of sunlight.

Izuku groaned and squeezed his eyes shut. His entire body felt stiff and sore. The back of a van, as it turned out, was not a particularly comfortable place to sleep, especially when your legs were bent and a variety of appendages were poking you from every direction.

Izuku turned his head and felt something soft brush the side of his face. He reopened his eyes and saw a pair of socked feet. Izuku followed them all the way back to Katsuki on the opposite side of the van; he must have stretched his legs out during the night. Katsuki’s torso remained upright, but his head lolled to the side and his lips were slightly parted.

Izuku watched Katsuki sleep dazedly, then winced. He arched his back and pulled Kaminari’s foot out from underneath him, extracting his hand from behind Jirou’s head in the process.

“Sleep well?”

Izuku turned his head back to Katsuki. The blonde was watching him through half-lidded eyes.

“No,” Izuku replied groggily. He closed his eyes and let his cheek fall back against Katsuki’s feet. “Your feet reek.”

Katsuki pulled his legs back then proceeded to shove one of his feet into Izuku’s face.

“Ugh!” Izuku complained. He batted at Katsuki’s foot before finally grabbing it by the ankle and shoving it away.

Katsuki snickered tiredly.

“Good morning!” Mina’s singsong voice rang through the van. “I hope that you got some sleep, because we won’t be much longer now!”

Izuku sat up properly and rubbed his eyes. His shoulder felt incredibly stiff. Hopefully he would be able to remedy that with a few of his physiotherapy exercises. As he held his hands behind his back and stretched his shoulder, he looked at his surroundings. The back of the van was a mess. Bags were scattered everywhere. Kirishima was snoring in the passenger seat, his head tilted back and his mouth wide open.

Katsuki snickered. “Looks like Shitty Hair’s doing alright.”

Mina laughed. “Are those two still passed out?” she asked. “How much did they drink? Don’t let them puke.”

Katsuki responded by booting Kaminari in the ass a few times. “Wake up, Blondie,” he said.

Kaminari moaned and curled himself into a ball against Jirou’s side, burying his face into her armpit. Jirou’s eyes fluttered open.

“We there yet?” she slurred, her voice thick with sleep.

“Getting there,” Katsuki replied. “You hungover?”

“Nah,” Jirou said. She pushed Kaminari away and sat up. Her face contorted. “Maybe a little.”

“If you yak in the van, I’ll shove it back inside of you,” Katsuki said.

Izuku made a face. “Ew, Kacchan.”

Jirou chuckled. “You’re a nasty boy, you know that?” She looked at Kaminari and poked him in the gut. “Hey, you. Get up.”

Kaminari whined pitifully. “Are we there?” he asked.

“Soon. You gonna hurl?”

“M’fine.”

Jirou rummaged around the van and produced a bottle of water. She took a long swig from it then passed the bottle to Kaminari. “Well, now that everyone’s awake, maybe we should figure out room arrangements,” she said. Her eyes flickered over to Izuku.

“Kiri’s still asleep, but I’ll take him!” Mina said brightly.

Jirou grinned. “Then I’ll take Denki. Somebody has to keep this idiot in check.”

“Hey!” Kaminari pouted. “Maybe I want to stay with Midoriya!”

Jirou smirked. “If you stay with me, I’ll buy you a lap dance.”

Denki grinned. “Deal.”

If Izuku hadn’t had that conversation with Mina and Jirou the day before, he wouldn’t have suspected a thing. Izuku opened his mouth, his mind whirring. He was about to suggest that the girls stay together, but when he remembered Kirishima’s confession, he changed his mind. The arrangements that Mina had suggested would be a good opportunity for them to talk privately. He wasn’t going to take that away from him.

However, Izuku wasn’t sure how he felt about being shoved into a room with his romantic interest when said romantic interest was not interested in him. He looked at Katsuki uneasily.

Katsuki looked at Izuku and rolled his eyes irritably. “Whatever,” he said.

Jirou rubbed her hands together. “Now that that’s settled, can we argue over what we’re going to do first?”

“Grab some lunch,” Katsuki asserted. “I’m fucking starving.”

“After that,” Jirou said. “I want to go to a Burlesque show at some point.”

“Hear, hear!” Kaminari said.

“I want to go shopping,” Mina said. “Kiri will probably want to sightsee. Do you want to destroy the slots again, Kacchan?” She looked at Izuku through the rearview mirror and winked. “The last time we were here, he cleaned up pretty well, Izuku. You should have seen it.”

Izuku perked up. “Oh yeah?”

Katsuki grunted disinterestedly.

“Oh! I want to buy some fancy drinks too!” Mina bounced in her seat.

Jirou raised herself up onto her knees and looked out the window. “What do you want to do, Midoriya?” she asked.

Izuku thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I’ve never been to Vegas before,” he said. “I’ll follow you guys anywhere.”

“We’re going to pop his Vegas cherry!” Kaminari said gleefully.

Izuku laughed. “Don’t say it like that. It’s weird.”

Jirou nudged Izuku with her elbow. “Hey, Midoriya. Check it out.”

Izuku raised himself up next to Jirou and peered out of the tinted windows. A large green road sign with the words “Las Vegas” printed on it zipped by overhead.

“Wow,” Izuku said. “We must be getting pretty close, huh?”

“Yep!” Mina honked the horn rapidly. The sound startled Kirishima awake.

“What time’s our set?” he asked frantically.

The group laughed.

“No, Eiji, we’re not on tour right now,” Mina said. She reached over to the passenger seat and ruffled his hair. “We’re going to Vegas, remember?”

Kirishima looked at her dumbly. It took a moment for everything to connect. “Vegas!” he shouted excitedly.

“Vegas!” The group echoed.

Izuku grinned. He couldn’t have picked a better group to go with. He may not have slept much, but he’d push through.

Izuku looked away from the window. His eyes connected with Katsuki’s. He slowly sat back down.

What was the point of this trip? Why had Katsuki invited Izuku along after he’d completely shut him down?

“…Vegas?” Izuku asked uncertainly.

Katsuki inclined his head. He nodded an affirmative.

“Vegas,” he said.

Izuku smiled cautiously.

He might not have understood what was going through Katsuki’s head, but he sure as hell was going to find out.

Chapter Text

We’ve been friends for so long
Maybe it’s time we thought about dating

 

“We’re here!”

Mina shoved the hotel room door open. It hit the wall with a thud.

The group piled into the room, dragging their luggage behind them. Izuku took in his surroundings; he hadn’t stayed in many hotels before. Despite the pale yellow walls and the worn carpeting, he was impressed. The suite was sizeable with a main area, a bedroom, a bathroom and a kitchenette. A queen-sized bed had been placed in the main area and a second was visible through the open bedroom door.

“Dibs on the bedroom!” Mina declared. She dropped her bags and charged through the open door. Collapsing face-first onto the bed, she moaned in satisfaction. “Kiri, you’re with me.”

“I am?” Kirishima asked. A dopey grin appeared on his face. Izuku bit the inside of his cheek as he watched Kirishima tow Mina’s bags into the other room.

Jirou looked at Katsuki and then at Izuku. She smirked.

“I’m taking this one,” she said. She made her way to the other bed and sat down on the edge. “Us girls need to stick together.”

Kaminari bounded over and across the bed. After clearing the mattress, he went to the window and pulled back a pair of checkered drapes. Sunlight flooded the room. “Not much of a view,” he commented.

“You wanna pay strip prices, go ahead,” Katsuki sneered.

“No thanks,” Kaminari responded mildly. He released the curtains. “Where’s the other room?”

“Oh!” Mina rolled herself off of the bed. She stood up and darted past Izuku and Katsuki and into the hallway.

Izuku followed Mina, pointedly avoiding eye contact with Katsuki. His stomach had been in knots ever since lunch and it wasn’t doing much better now.

Mina stopped in front of the suite directly opposite them. She handed Izuku and Katsuki a card key each. “They wouldn’t let six people stay in one room,” she explained. She smiled at Izuku. “Don’t worry. We’re as close as close can be if you need anything.”

Katsuki rolled his eyes. He pushed past the two of them and sauntered into the room.

Mina lingered. She stood on her toes and touched Izuku’s shoulder. “Good luck,” she whispered.

Izuku reddened as Mina laughed. “Let’s freshen up then hit the strip!” she said loudly.

Kaminari cheered from the other room. Izuku looked through the open doorway and caught Jirou making a lewd gesture at him. He turned on his heel and fled.

Izuku made it three steps inside the suite and choked.

Katsuki had wasted no time. He was rummaging through his travel bag, his shirt tossed carelessly onto the floor. His tattooed dragon wings sprawled across his bare skin, the ink dark and lines jagged. His muscular shoulders and back undulated with every movement.

Izuku forced himself to breathe as he internally debated whether or not Katsuki was trying to kill him. Before he was able to make that call, however, Katsuki stood and dropped his pants. Izuku felt his soul leave his body.

Katsuki finally seemed to sense that he wasn’t alone. He turned his head towards Izuku, fully naked save for a pair of black boxer briefs.

“Room’s kind of small,” he said.

Izuku tore his eyes away from Katsuki’s impressive thighs. “Yeah,” he croaked. The suite wasn’t unlike his bachelor apartment; the bedroom, main area and kitchenette had all been crushed into one space. One door led to the hallway and another to a bathroom. The bed was generously sized but, in Izuku’s mind, far too small. He wondered if Katsuki would be annoyed if he asked the concierge for a cot.

Izuku kept his gaze fixed on the carpet as he made his way into the room. He set his bag down as far from Katsuki as possible. ‘Don’t look up. Don’t look up,’ he thought. He retrieved a fresh change of clothes and his deodorant.

Izuku was prepared to retreat into the bathroom when a new thought gave him pause. He was behaving strangely, wasn’t he? He’d showered and changed in front of other men in public locker rooms countless times before. This was hardly different. He didn’t want to make things any more uncomfortable between himself and Katsuki than they already were.

Izuku’s thoughts were disrupted by the sharp sound of a zippered bag being closed. He frantically yanked his shirt off.

“You have a fuckton of freckles.”

Izuku stiffened. He looked up. A now-clothed Katsuki was staring at his exposed torso.

Izuku laughed awkwardly. “I- I guess so,” he stammered. “I don’t think about it much.”

Katsuki’s eyes narrowed. Feeling vulnerable, Izuku raised his fresh shirt over his head.

“You been working out?” Katsuki asked.

Izuku violently pulled his head through the neck of his shirt. If his entire body was capable of flushing, it would have done so. “Uh.” Izuku gathered his dirty clothes together. Was Katsuki checking him out? “I was before I got injured. I started up again a couple of weeks ago. It’s important, right? Physical fitness.” Izuku laughed shrilly. He felt the strong urge to shove his entire fist into his mouth.

Katsuki didn’t respond.

Izuku manhandled his dirty clothes back into his bag. “Anyways, I’ll meet you outside!” he blurted. Abandoning his deodorant, he bolted from the room.

In the hallway, Izuku restlessly shifted from foot to foot. His skin tingled. He reminded himself that Katsuki had only seen him shirtless.

An image of Katsuki wearing only his boxer briefs flashed through Izuku’s mind. He whined into the palm of his hand.

Izuku sent a silent prayer up to any gods who may be listening for the strength to survive the trip.

 

***

 

“Cheers!”

Mina raised her oversized plastic cup in the air, its shape resembling a naked woman. It was filled with a strange pink beverage. The group raised their similarly odd concoctions and hollered.

Izuku laughed and sampled his neon blue drink. The tumbler looked like something that had come out of a science laboratory. He made a face as the syrupy liquid slid down his throat. He imagined that it tasted better with alcohol.

Izuku had begun to feel better once they’d left the hotel. Katsuki hadn’t brought up their odd exchange and Izuku was doing his best to forget that it had happened.

It wasn’t exactly hot outside, but the weather was comfortable. Izuku grew excited as they neared the strip, but before they turned onto the main road, Mina pulled the group into a bar advertising a variety of over-the-top drinks.

Mina looked at Izuku. “No good?” she asked.

“Doubt any of them are much good,” Katsuki said. He raised his beer to his lips.

“Sounds like you’re curious, Bakugou,” Jirou teased.

Katsuki growled. “Fuck off, Deep Purple.”

Jirou and Kaminari had chosen the same drink as Mina. Kirishima had caved to peer pressure and purchased a colourful drink held within an egg-shaped cup. Harassing Katsuki, however, had proven less fruitful.

Katsuki and Jirou continued to bicker as they turned onto the Vegas strip. Izuku tuned them out.

The contrast was striking between the strip and the side street. Numerous lanes carried traffic in both directions and a thick row of palm trees lined the center of the roadway. Countless buildings rose up around them, each competing for attention with an assortment of gimmicks.

The crowds were substantial despite it being mid-afternoon. As Izuku passed in front of a massive casino hotel, he heard a multitude of shouts and other noises arise from within. Moments later, he found himself in the shadow of a gigantic lion sculpture. Beneath the sculpture, a group of muscular men clad only in jeans and cowboy hats flexed for passing tourists. Izuku watched as a young woman wearing a pink tiara stumbled towards the men. She grinned, attempting to hold herself upright while her friends screamed and took photographs.

Izuku turned his head this way and that, trying to take everything in. Restaurants with flashy signage, each individual letter taller than Izuku himself. The biggest Ferris wheel that Izuku had ever seen. Open bars selling alcoholic drinks in increasingly bizarre tumblers. Casinos on top of casinos.

Out of the corner of his eye, Izuku saw a shoe sail through the air and hit the top of a passing car. The driver honked angrily.

As Izuku walked past a replica of the Eiffel Tower, he spotted a band who had gathered a small audience. One of the members was using empty plastic tubs as a makeshift drum set, another was singing and the third was performing a strange routine that Izuku could only describe as interpretive dance.

Izuku hadn’t realized that he’d stopped walking until he felt a hand on his shoulder.

“Oi,” Katsuki said. “You’re going to get left behind.”

Izuku blinked. He looked at Katsuki. “Sorry,” he said.

Katsuki grumbled. He released Izuku’s shoulder. “They’re waiting for us.”

Izuku looked ahead. He located the rest of the group roughly a block in front of them. “Right.” Fumbling with his drink, Izuku pulled his wallet from his back pocket. He withdrew a bill, crumpled it, and tossed it to the performers.

Katsuki frowned as they turned to leave. “I can’t believe you tipped them,” he muttered.

Izuku shrugged. “I was watching them. It’s only fair, right?”

“It’s fair if they’re talented.”

Izuku snorted. “You’re awful.” He nudged Katsuki with his elbow. “Who should I tip then? You?”

Katsuki gave Izuku a light shove. Izuku stumbled sideways. “Fuck you.”

Izuku laughed. “How about a beer instead?” he asked.

“Hell no.”

“Come on. Consider it payback.”

Katsuki raised an eyebrow. “Payback for what?”

Izuku thought for a moment. “For putting up with me?”

Katsuki stopped walking. He opened his mouth then hesitated.

“Guys!”

Izuku broke eye contact with Katsuki. He glanced ahead; Kaminari was waving at them. Izuku smiled apologetically and jogged to catch up.

Mina winked at Izuku as he drew close. She checked her phone then tapped Kirishima on the shoulder. “Kiri,” she said. She stood on her toes and peered across the street where a large crowd had gathered. “Give me your drink. I need you to pick me up.”

Kirishima handed his cup to Mina without hesitation and knelt down. Mina maneuvered herself handlessly onto Kirishima’s shoulders with surprising ease. The contents of their tumblers had become yellow; they must have purchased refills while Izuku had been lost in his surroundings.

Kirishima stood slowly. Mina found her center of balance and used her new height to peer over the crowd. “Yes!” she exclaimed. She wiggled her thighs on either side of Kirishima’s head. Kirishima grinned stupidly. “That’s what I thought it was! We have to get over there! Hurry!”

Kirishima didn’t have to be told twice. “To the crosswalk!” he shouted, taking off. Mina screamed, ecstatic. The rest of the group followed in hot pursuit.

While everyone was waiting to cross, Izuku spotted a nearby drink stand. He snuck away and returned moments later with a bottle of water and a beer. Katsuki gave Izuku a dirty look when he pressed the beer into his hands, but he accepted it nonetheless.

The group crossed the street then plunged into the crowd. It wasn’t until they were in the thick of it that Izuku saw the manmade body of water that extended along the side of the walkway.

“Is there going to be some kind of show?” Izuku guessed.

Jirou smirked. “Wait for it.”

As if on cue, booming music sounded over the reservoir. Jets of water burst forth from the water’s previously calm surface, reaching high into the air. The crowd cheered as the water rose and fell in a complex arrangement, meticulously choreographed to match the tempo of the song.

Izuku watched, transfixed. Mina oohed and aahed while Kaminari took photographs. When the song ended, the jets dwindled and the surface of the water returned to its previously dormant state.

“Well?” Jirou asked.

“I didn’t know that fountains could do that,” Izuku said, awestruck. “Maybe I should have brought my camera after all.”

Katsuki snorted. “It’s hardly worth it,” he said. “They’re a tourist attraction. There’s thousands of photos of them online already.”

Izuku looked at Katsuki. “One day, one of your songs will play here.”

Katsuki looked taken aback. “I…” He cleared his throat. “They don’t really use our kind of music.”

Izuku smiled. “I guess you’ll be the first, then.”

Katsuki averted his eyes. He ran a hand through his hair. “Don’t say shit like that,” he muttered.

“Picture!” Kaminari exclaimed. He charged towards the trio and thrust Jirou into Izuku’s side. “Let’s go! The three of you!”

Within seconds Izuku found himself crushed between Jirou and Katsuki. He could feel Katsuki’s torso pressing into his side and his face began to heat up.

Kaminari took the photograph. He looked at the image and frowned. “Bakugou, you have to look at the camera.”

“I fucking was!” Katsuki snapped.

“One more time,” Jirou said, ducking away.

“Jirou,” Izuku protested. Kaminari snapped another picture.

“You guys are terrible at this.” Kaminari sighed. “Midoriya, you ought to know better. Bakugou, it’d be nice if you smiled for once.”

“It’d be nice if you kept that goddamn camera away from me!” Katsuki spat.

Izuku stepped away from Katsuki. He didn’t dare look at him.

Kaminari shook his head and scampered off.

“S- Sorry about that,” Izuku stammered.

“Wh- What the hell are you talking about?” Katsuki retorted.

“Deku! Kacchan!” Mina waved at them. “Come here! We’re trying to figure out plans for tonight.”

“You’re going to love the Vegas nightlife, Midoriya!” Kirishima crowed. “It’s wild!”

Katsuki trudged over. “I ain’t hitting shit tonight,” he declared. “I’m fucking tired. Heading back after dinner.”

Kaminari gaped at Katsuki. “Bakugou! We’re in Vegas!”

“Big fucking deal. There’ll be other nights.” Katsuki folded his arms.

Kaminari looked at the group and gestured toward Katsuki.

Mina pursed her lips. “Leave him alone, Denki,” she said. “Kacchan’s had a lot on his plate.” Her eyes drifted over to Izuku. “Izuku, how are you feeling?” she asked. “Do you want to head back too?”

Izuku knew exactly what Mina was doing. Before he could reply, though, Kirishima cut in.

“Midoriya hasn’t been to Vegas before,” he said slowly. “He should come out. Right?” He looked at Izuku uncertainly.

Izuku nodded furiously. “Yes!” he said. “Definitely. I’ll- Uh- Definitely come out.”

Mina huffed. “Your call,” she said flippantly. She flicked Kirishima’s temple.

Kaminari beamed. “At least Midoriya knows how to have fun!” He grabbed Izuku by the elbow. “I need another drink before the sun goes down,” he said. “Let’s go!”

Izuku laughed. He allowed Kaminari to lead him away. When he glanced back, he noticed that Jirou was trailing with Katsuki. He watched as Jirou patted the blonde on the back, her mouth forming unintelligible words. Katsuki shrugged her off.

For the briefest of moments, Izuku could have sworn that he looked frustrated.

           

***

Katsuki was already asleep when Izuku returned to the hotel that night.

It was far too late by then to request a cot. Izuku chewed on his lip, then felt around for his duffel bag and tiptoed to the bathroom.

Reemerging in his pajamas, Izuku carefully slipped into the bed. He turned onto his side, his body as stiff as a board.

Izuku listened to the gentle rise and fall of Katsuki’s breaths, all too aware that the slightest of movements could have the potential to create physical contact between them. His stomach flipped.

Izuku forced his eyes shut. He spent the night clinging to the edge of the mattress and waiting for morning to come.

 

***

 
“Have you talked to Mina yet?” Izuku whispered to Kirishima.

“Cut me some slack,” Kirishima whispered back. His eyes darted nervously in front of him. Mina was swinging a large shopping bag back and forth as she chatted animatedly with Jirou several paces ahead. “Mina was dead on her feet when we got back last night. We both crashed.”

Izuku nodded in understanding. He tiredly rubbed one of his eyes.

The group hadn’t stayed out late in the end. By the time they’d eaten and checked out a couple of bars, Kirishima and Mina had called it quits. Izuku had returned to the hotel with them while Kaminari and Jirou had stayed out, the former citing the lap dance that the latter owed him.

The Vegas nightlife, even in the early evening, was wilder than Izuku could have imagined. He could still see the neon signs and flashing lights when he closed his eyes.

“How’re things with Bakugou?” Kirishima asked.

Izuku frowned. “Things are good. I think?”

Izuku had barely managed to fall asleep that night. When he’d awoken in the morning, the other side of the bed had been empty. Katsuki had returned some time later with a flushed face and a soaked tank. He’d grunted at Izuku in acknowledgement before he’d stalked to the bathroom and shut the door. “Things aren’t bad at least.”

Kirishima chuckled. “I guess that’s the best you can expect when it comes to him.”

Izuku sagged, but he smiled. Kirishima was probably right.

The girls shouted. Izuku looked at where they were pointing and grinned.

“Time to make up for that shopping spree!” Mina exclaimed.

“Time to make up for last night,” Jirou said with a grimace.

“Time to hit the jackpot!” Kaminari shouted, pumping his fist.

Izuku looked at the massive signs plastered around the entrance to the casino and the huge hotel looming behind it. He couldn’t begin to fathom what it must cost to stay at a place like this.

Kaminari opened the door and beckoned everyone inside.

The atmosphere shifted the second that Izuku stepped through the doors. The chatter and shouts of guests echoed off the sleek walls all the way up to the concierge. The scent of stale cigarette smoke was overpowering. Three different types of music played from three different locations. Izuku wrinkled his nose and waved his hand in front of his face.

“Better get used to it,” Katsuki muttered as he passed Izuku.

“Right,” Izuku murmured.

Izuku heard the slot machines before he saw them. As they passed the concierge, the telltale sound of the machines grew louder. By the time they reached the card kiosk, they were completely surrounded.

It was like looking into a sea of neon. The noise was cacophonous; each slot machine hummed its own tune and emitted a set of auditory effects that ranged from jingling bells to ringing alarms.

As Izuku patiently waited his turn, he looked about himself. Patrons of the casino ranged from young adults to senior citizens, each of them hunched over their respective machines. Izuku watched a woman old enough to be his grandmother pull a lever as a heavyset man two machines over from her performed the same action. The numbers on their screens began to rapidly spin as the slots played the same tune at slightly different intervals. When a series of tiny stars flew across the screens and bells began to sound, Izuku knew that he’d made a terrible mistake.

Izuku swayed as an intense wave of dizziness overtook him. He tried to clear his head by looking in the opposite direction only to see the word ‘WINNER’ flash across another screen six feet away from him in massive block letters.

Izuku groaned and covered his eyes with his hands. Everything in the casino suddenly felt much too bright, the stench of smoke overwhelming.

“Hey, Midoriya.” Kaminari nudged Izuku. “It’s your turn.”

Izuku lowered his hands and looked at Kaminari. “I don’t think-” Izuku clamped his mouth shut as a wave of nausea hit him. He hunched over.

“Oi, Deku.” Katsuki’s voice rose over the racket. “You good?”

Izuku wanted very badly to say yes. He gave Katsuki a thumbs-up instead.

Izuku heard Katsuki sigh. He felt a sturdy hand grip his shoulder.

“Go ahead,” Katsuki said to the group. “We’ll catch up.”

Katsuki forced Izuku upright and marched him out of the casino. The reassuring hand on Izuku’s shoulder was enough to keep him moving. Even after he stumbled out the front doors, the slot machines continued to jangle around inside his head. Izuku lowered his eyes and focused his efforts on putting one foot in front of the other.

“Sit,” Katsuki said.

Izuku raised his head; they’d turned onto a side street. The noise from the strip had been reduced to a dull roar and the bright lights of Vegas were momentarily out of view.

Katsuki scowled and jabbed his finger at one of the wooden benches that lined the sidewalk. “Sit down,” he repeated.

Izuku acquiesced. He didn’t realize how badly he’d needed to until he felt the solid bench beneath him. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

“What’s wrong with you?” Katsuki asked.

“Ugh,” Izuku said. “I’m a little dizzy. I think the slot machines were too much for me.”

Katsuki paused. “Do you need to go to the hospital?” he asked slowly.

Despite his state, Izuku snorted. “What? No, Kacchan. I’m fine. I just need a minute.”

Katsuki grunted. Izuku felt the bench shift as Katsuki sat down next to him.

“You can go back in,” Izuku said. “I’m sorry about this. I’ll meet up with you guys later. I’ll go back to the hotel or grab a coffee and walk around.”

Katsuki drummed his fingers against his knee. “You gonna die if I leave you here?”

Izuku chuckled. “No.”

Katsuki nodded once, then stood up. “Hang on. Don’t try to take off yet.”

Izuku frowned. “Uh. Okay?”

Izuku watched Katsuki saunter away. The nausea was fading but his dizziness persisted. Izuku leaned forward on the bench. The fresh air and the warm sun on his neck comforted him.

The next time that Izuku opened his eyes, the world was no longer spinning. He righted himself, content to quietly observe passersby. There was an ice cream parlour across the street and Izuku watched in silent amusement as patrons left with increasingly bizarre cones.

“Here.” Izuku felt something warm being pushed into his chest. He looked down and saw a coffee cup.

“One and two, right?” Katsuki grunted.

Izuku nodded. He wrapped his hands around the cup. “How did you-?” He raised his eyebrows. “I thought you were going back to the casino!”

Katsuki retook his place next to Izuku. He was holding a coffee cup of his own. “I did. Gave the idiots my card. Told ‘em to go nuts.”

Guilt washed over Izuku. “But Kacchan!” he protested. “I thought you were looking forward to the casinos. I don’t want you to miss out on them because of me!”

“Who said I was looking forward to them?” Katsuki raised his cup to his mouth. “Vegas slots piss me off. All of them are rigged.”

Izuku blinked. “But Mina said you did well.”

“On Blackjack,” Katsuki corrected. “Fucking Pink Face was so blitzed that night, I’m surprised she remembers anything.”

Izuku snickered guiltily. He took a sip from his coffee. “So you like card games.”

Katsuki shrugged. “Don’t care much either way. Blackjack’s easy money if you know how to bluff.” He ran his thumb along the edge of his cup. “That few grand got us through the rest of that tour.”

Izuku shook his head. “You are terrible, you know that?”

Katsuki smirked.

Izuku watched Katsuki take a sip of his coffee. He looked down at his own. “I thought I was over these dizzy spells,” he admitted softly. “I haven’t had one in weeks.” He laughed weakly. “It’s a bit embarrassing, to be honest.”

Katsuki threw his free arm around the bench. “Shit happens,” he said.

Izuku smiled. “Thanks for the coffee. I feel a lot better.”

“Yeah, well.” Katsuki kept his gaze fixed across the street. “Good.”

A peaceful silence fell between them. Izuku sipped his coffee. He’d be perfectly happy to sit next to Katsuki for the rest of the day. He was close, almost close enough to touch. It would be so easy to lean in and-

No. Izuku forced the thought from his mind. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t.

Izuku remembered the tattoo on Katsuki’s chest. He swallowed.

“So.” Izuku cleared his throat. “If you don’t want to go back to the casino, what would you like to do?”

Katsuki’s brow furrowed. He remained silent for some time. Eventually his expression cleared.

“You up for a hike?”

 

***

 

When Katsuki and Izuku met up with the rest of the group, it was past nightfall. Izuku waved enthusiastically as he approached, dirty with dried sweat and slouched with fatigue.

Kaminari flitted back and forth between them. “Where did you two run off to?” he asked.

“We went out to the canyon!” Izuku exclaimed. He beamed. “It was amazing! The views were incredible. The rocks were so red! It was like stepping onto Mars!” He paused to take a breath. “The sunset was gorgeous too; you guys should have seen it. Some of the paths were steep and we had to climb part of the way, but wow! It was totally worth it.”

“Ooh! That sounds so nice,” Mina said, clasping her hands together. Katsuki grinned.

Kaminari made a pained sound. “Are you telling me that you guys bailed on the casinos to go on a NATURE WALK?!” he screeched.

Katsuki’s grin faded. “Wouldn’t expect you to appreciate it, Blondie,” he snapped.

Kirishima playfully wrestled Kaminari into a headlock. “Come on, bro!” he said. He shot a toothy smile in Izuku’s direction. “It sounds like they had fun.”

“Am I the only person who knows where we are?” Kaminari cried out.

Izuku laughed. He looked at Katsuki, who was scowling at the pavement.

“We had a lot of fun,” he said.

Katsuki shoved his hands into his pockets and kicked at a piece of litter.

The girls exchanged a look.

Izuku stuck close to Katsuki for the rest of the night.

 

***

           

Izuku awoke early the next morning with the threat of a headache looming behind his eyes. He groaned and rubbed his face.

When he opened his eyes, all that Izuku could see was Katsuki’s back. His black tank was rumpled and one of its thick straps was twisted off of his shoulder. As Izuku’s senses returned, he felt an ankle overlapping a foot.

Izuku panicked. He raised his head and realized that he hadn’t moved all that much during the night. It was, in fact, Katsuki, who had stretched out and was taking up two-thirds of the mattress, his arms splayed in front of him as though he was fighting an unseen monster.

Izuku let his head fall against the pillows. He closed his eyes. It was okay if he didn’t move, wasn’t it? He wasn’t the one who had created this situation.

Izuku listened to Katsuki’s peaceful inhalations. He basked in the lingering musk of a restful night’s sleep.

He wondered what it would be like to wake up in each other’s arms. He imagined how nice it would feel to lean in and press a kiss to Katsuki’s tattooed shoulder.

A deep sadness unexpectedly welled up inside of Izuku.

Izuku sighed then forced himself up. He grabbed his pain meds from his bag before he dragged himself to the bathroom. It would be better for him if he warded off any chance of a migraine early.

Izuku downed two pills then splashed his face with cold water. He looked at himself in the mirror and thought back to the prior day. Exploring the canyon with Katsuki had been amazing.

Izuku watched his smile fade. He’d decided to set his feelings aside, but the longer that they spent together, the greater the divide grew between what Katsuki and Izuku had and what Izuku wanted them to have.

Izuku couldn’t have fathomed how difficult it would be to be Katsuki’s friend.

Izuku grabbed a towel and patted his face dry. Vegas was making things harder than necessary. It would be easier once he was home.

When Izuku exited the bathroom, Katsuki was awake. He’d shifted back onto his side of the bed and was looking at something on his phone with one eye cracked. He glanced up when Izuku returned.

Izuku smiled apologetically. “Did I wake you?” he asked. He tentatively took a seat at the edge of the bed.

Katsuki blinked slowly. “Alarm went off,” he said groggily.

“Oh.” Izuku stared at his hands.

Today would be their last day in Vegas. Izuku wasn’t sure whether he felt relieved or distressed.

Katsuki sat up. He leaned forward, stretching his back.

Izuku picked up his phone and scrolled through it distractedly while Katsuki walked around the suite. Katsuki was shoving his feet into a pair of sneakers when someone knocked at the door.

Izuku’s lips parted. The others shouldn’t be up yet; it was too early.

Katsuki glanced at Izuku before he headed for the door. Izuku’s phone vibrated.

Sorry, dude. Mina says enjoy.

“Room service.” The voice was unfamiliar.

Izuku heard the door close. Katsuki returned half a moment later with a tray that held two plates and mugs. He looked at Izuku suspiciously.

Izuku raised his hands defensively. “It wasn’t me,” he said.

Katsuki stared at him a moment longer before he set the tray down on top of the bed. He lifted the lid off of one of the plates. It was covered with a heaping pile of eggs, bacon and hash browns.

Katsuki looked at Izuku. “Think one of the assholes sent it?”

Izuku nodded. “Kirishima texted me. He said that it was Mina.”

Katsuki frowned. “He texted you?”

Izuku felt the hairs on his neck rise. He gestured towards the tray. “Why don’t we give it back to them?”

“Fuck that,” Katsuki replied. “I’m starving.” He sat down on the bed, crossed his legs and grabbed the nearest plate.

Izuku couldn’t help but smile as he watched Katsuki dig into the food with machine-like efficiency. He hesitantly picked up the other plate.

“Do you go for a run every morning?” Izuku asked around a mouthful of eggs.

Katsuki swallowed. “More or less,” he said. “Whenever I can make the time.”

“That’s a good idea,” Izuku said. “I should do that too.”

Katsuki eyed him. “Can you handle it right now?”

Izuku frowned. He jabbed his fork into a hash brown. “I’m not that fragile,” he said, irked. “I was fine at the canyon yesterday, wasn’t I? Besides, I’ve been running around all over the city taking photographs and doing interviews for weeks.”

Katsuki shoved a strip of bacon into his mouth. “Yerr doing innerviews?”

Izuku nodded. “I interviewed Monoma from prison while you were on tour,” he replied. “I interviewed a street artist named Ai as well. I’ve been talking to Kendou—Monoma’s girlfriend—and she said that she might have some other contacts for me. Everything’s coming together really well.”

Katsuki’s eyes narrowed. “Okay,” he said. “I’ll bite. What’s the vision?”

Izuku grinned. “A large-scale photography project focusing on social resistance,” he said. “I’m going to write a companion piece for it as well. I want to spotlight people who are trying to better their society in unconventional ways. Monoma has some really interesting ideas. I can’t say that I agree with all of them, but I liked what he said about giving the power back to the people. It’s not something that I’ve thought much about before. It makes me wonder whether there is a place in our society for bad behavior. If a police officer is abusing their authority, maybe they deserve to have paint thrown at them. Maybe people should stop and listen when bands like The Antiheroes scream.” Izuku took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. “It might not be the neatest way to push for change, but I believe that it comes from a good place. I think that kind of passion could really resonate with a lot of people. Maybe I could be a part of it by inspiring the public to help each other and themselves.” Izuku paused to take a breath. He flushed. “Sorry. I’m rambling, aren’t I?”

Katsuki was staring at Izuku. Izuku squirmed under his gaze.

Katsuki closed his mouth. “You…” He shook his head. “Goddamn.”

Izuku whimpered. “Is it stupid?” he asked. “You can tell me if it is.”

“It’s not stupid,” Katsuki muttered. He looked at his empty plate. “It’s fucking great.”

Izuku’s started. “Really?”

Katsuki nodded slowly.

It took every fibre in Izuku’s being not to fling himself across the bed and hug Katsuki. He set his plate down. “I- Thank you, Kacchan. That means… so much.”

Katsuki looked at Izuku. He chewed on the inside of his cheek.

“I’ve been thinking about the new album,” he said slowly. He picked up one of the mugs and rotated it in his hands. “I’ve got some ideas, but nothing seems good enough. It needs… more.”

Izuku thought for a moment. “My idea only started to come together while I was wandering around the city taking photographs of whatever seemed interesting,” he admitted. “Have you ever tried taking that kind of approach? What if you just created a bunch of stuff and saw what happens?”

Katsuki set the mug down. “Sounds disorganized as hell.”

“Well, if it doesn’t work out, you can always try taking a baseball bat to the back of the head,” Izuku joked.

Katsuki snorted into his fist. “I guess if you don’t mind the brain damage.”

Izuku shrugged and grinned. “What’s a little brain damage in the name of art?”

Katsuki laughed. “It’s amazing that you’re not dead with a philosophy like that,” he teased.

Izuku grinned. “Far from it,” he replied. “I feel better than I have in ages. Plus now I’ve got a cool battle scar.”

Katsuki’s smirk faded. “Can I see it?” he asked.

Izuku flushed. “I- It was a joke!” he exclaimed, waving his hands in embarrassment.

Katsuki said nothing.

Izuku faltered. For the life of him, he couldn’t imagine why Katsuki would want to see his scar. It wasn’t anything to be proud of. On the other hand, unlike Kaminari, Katsuki had actually asked permission.

Izuku was certain that if he said no, Katsuki would let it go. Perhaps that was why he lowered his head.

Katsuki’s fingers felt slow and uncertain. They sent shivers through Izuku’s body that had nothing to do with the shivers he’d felt when Kaminari had touched his scalp. Izuku felt his chest constrict.

Eventually Izuku raised his head. Katsuki’s expression was unreadable, their faces only inches apart.

“It’s not very big,” Izuku said, his voice barely above a whisper.

Katsuki mumbled something that Izuku didn’t catch. Neither of them broke eye contact. Time seemed to slow to a standstill.

Katsuki brought his hand around to the side of Izuku’s face. Izuku watched a light furrow form along Katsuki’s brow. Katsuki hesitated, then closed his eyes and leaned forward.

Izuku jolted. He pulled Katsuki’s hand away from his face.

“W- Well!” he said. He forced a smile. Katsuki stared at him, the perfect picture of confusion. “If Mina and the others are awake, they’ll probably want to leave soon. You should go for your run while you still can.”

“…Yeah.” Katsuki’s reply was eerily quiet. “Do you-”

“I’m going to take a shower!” Izuku loudly interrupted. He jumped off of the bed and raced to the bathroom, shutting the door behind him.

Behind the bathroom door, Izuku’s face cracked. He began to shake.

This was too much. This was too painful. Katsuki was being unfair.

Katsuki was the one who had called Izuku a distraction. Izuku had done the right thing and backed off.

He couldn’t possibly expect Izuku to moderate both of their behaviors.

Izuku locked the bathroom door. He didn’t get into the shower until he heard the other close.

           

***

 

Kaminari grinned and winked at a waitress as she handed him a huge beer off of an overstuffed serving tray. The waitress smiled politely. Her work uniform barely amounted to more than a brightly-coloured bathing suit. Izuku vaguely wondered how much she was being paid as she passed drinks around the large, circular table. When she passed him an oversized whiskey ginger that the group had harassed him into getting, he smiled apologetically.

Mina squealed delightedly over her fishbowl cocktail, embellished with a variety of candies and fruit. Kirishima eyed the drink and then Mina. Judging by their interactions, he still hadn’t spoken to her.

Izuku could feel Katsuki’s gaze honing in on him. It set him on edge. He’d been acting peculiar since the incident that morning. Izuku thought that he’d been imagining it at first, but judging by the encouraging gestures he’d been receiving from the girls, he wasn’t the only one who had noticed.

Izuku deliberately avoided Katsuki’s gaze and took in the sights of the lounge instead. The place had a swanky atmosphere; the lights were set low, creating a sultry ambience, and fire tables enclosed the sitting area. Neon lights lined the bar and stage.

“So, Midoriya.” Izuku’s gaze turned to Kaminari. “How was your first time in Vegas?”

Izuku took a sip of his drink. “It was great!” he replied. “I’m glad I came.”

Kaminari smirked. “That’s a relief. You’ve been spending so much time with Kacchan that I wondered whether you were actually enjoying yourself.”

Izuku spluttered. Next to him, Katsuki growled.

Jirou elbowed Kaminari. “Finish your drink and I’ll buy you another,” she said.

“It’s so kind of Kyouka to share her winnings with us,” Kaminari said. He gave Jirou a shit-eating grin.

“I didn’t win that much!” Jirou protested. “Three hundred doesn’t go far in Vegas.”

“It’d go further if you and Denki weren’t out every night buying drinks for cute girls,” Mina playfully scolded.

Jirou shrugged. “It worked out pretty well for me.”

“Did you get a number?” Izuku asked.

“A number and a letter,” Jirou said with a wink. “The letter ‘Oh.’”

“Oh my God,” Izuku said. He put his head down on the table. Mina and Kaminari cackled gleefully.

Kirishima reached across the table and high-fived Jirou. “Way to go,” he said.

Izuku raised his head. “How’d the rest of you do?”

Kaminari slumped. “I lost two hundred,” he lamented.

“I ate fifty,” Kirishima admitted.

“I won three dollars and fifty cents!” Mina announced.

Katsuki snickered into his fist. “Try not to spend it all in one place,” he said.

Mina pouted. She slid down in her seat and kicked at Katsuki underneath the table.

The music in the lounge faded out and was replaced by an old jazzy tune. The crowd cheered as a trio of sequin-covered burlesque dancers took to the stage. Not long after, Kaminari and Jirou abandoned the table in favour of moving closer to the stage.

The table was quieter with the two of them gone. Mina watched the girls onstage, humming along to the music contentedly. Izuku nursed his drink while Katsuki ordered a second and then a third beer.

Izuku glanced at Kirishima. He was watching Mina watch the show with the most endearing expression he’d ever seen on the redhead’s face. His eyes drifted towards Izuku and he stiffened, rubbing the back of his neck guiltily.

Izuku felt Katsuki nudge him with his shoulder for the umpteenth time that night. Izuku sighed and turned towards the blonde. He supposed that he could only avoid speaking to Katsuki for so long. “What?”

His response came out more abruptly that Izuku had intended. Katsuki looked taken aback. He opened his mouth then paused. “Earlier-” he started.

“Don’t worry about it,” Izuku replied quickly.

Katsuki remained quiet for several minutes. “You pissed?”

Izuku startled. “What? No!” His reply was loud enough to draw the attention of both Kirishima and Mina. Izuku reddened and waved them off, adjusting his tone. “I’m not mad. I’m just…” He trailed off.

Katsuki’s mouth twisted unpleasantly. Izuku couldn’t help but think that it was his fault. It was possible that avoiding conversation with Katsuki all day hadn’t been the best solution.

“Kacchan,” he whispered. He reached over and squeezed his knee. “It’s okay. I promise.”

Katsuki stiffened. Izuku, realizing what he’d done, retracted his hand. They both looked away.

When a hand grabbed Izuku’s leg out of the blue nearly an hour later, Izuku almost jumped out of his skin. He side-eyed Katsuki. His gaze may have been focused on the show, but his hand clutched Izuku’s leg with an uncomfortably tight grip. His jaw was clenched and his shoulders were stiff. Izuku’s stomach burst into butterflies.

Izuku tried to process the situation with no small degree of confusion. Since Izuku had rejected him that morning, Katsuki had been behaving like a wounded animal. Was it possible that he was having second thoughts? It sounded too good to be true.

Izuku decided to leave his hand be. After a few minutes, Katsuki seemed to relax and his grip on Izuku’s leg loosened. Izuku was glad; although he didn’t want to push Katsuki away, his leg was starting to become numb. He nursed his drink while Katsuki ordered another beer.

They didn’t speak for the remainder of the performance. As Katsuki finished his fifth beer, his hand began to inch down Izuku’s thigh closer to his hand. His movements were excruciatingly slow; Izuku felt tempted more than once to simply grab his hand and be done with it. He held back, though, partially out of nerves and partially because he found it incredibly endearing.

Izuku recalled the conversation he’d had with Kirishima back at the rest stop. It couldn’t be true. The idea that someone as amazing as Katsuki might have never had a proper relationship was more than Izuku could comprehend. As Katsuki’s hand slowly nudged Izuku’s, Izuku had to choke back a sob. It wasn’t right for a man as confident and tough as Katsuki to be this cute.

Suddenly the blonde shifted. His removed his hand from Izuku’s leg and shoved it into his pants pocket. When he retrieved his vibrating phone and unlocked it, Izuku’s heart dropped.

“Back in a sec,” Katsuki murmured. He stood and exited the lounge.

Izuku could have screamed in frustration. Instead he looked for a distraction. Across the table from him, Mina was resting her head on Kirishima’s shoulder. Both of them clapped enthusiastically as the show wrapped up.

When Kirishima glanced Izuku’s way, Izuku shot him a purposeful look. ‘Talk to her,’ he mouthed. Kirishima’s brow creased. Careful not to catch Mina’s attention, Izuku slowly flexed his bicep in what he imagined was a macho way.

Kirishima grinned toothily at Izuku. His expression cleared. Izuku’s lips parted in surprise as Kirishima nodded determinedly then turned to Mina.

“I’m going to go grab another drink!” Izuku announced loudly. He leapt out of his seat and high-tailed it to the bar, barely acknowledging Mina’s confused wave.

The bar was only a short distance from their table. Izuku smiled at the bartender as he gestured towards one of the beers on tap, his mind elsewhere. He’d been hoping to give Kirishima and Mina some space, but the post-performance lull allowed Izuku to overhear parts of their conversation despite his best efforts.

“I know… been years since…”

“Eiji? What…”

“After… things were weird… wanted to give you some space, but… I never…”

Mina sounded emotional. “You never… thought… tainted or something…”

Kirishima’s stricken gasp cut through the crowd. “No! Never… should have been there…”

Mina burst into tears. “Oh, Eiji… not your fault… I never blamed…”

“…love you…”

Forgetting the beer entirely, Izuku pulled his phone from his pocket and scrolled through his social media feeds. This wasn’t meant for his ears.

After a long period of silence, Izuku took a chance and glanced at the table. He regretted it almost immediately; Kirishima and Mina were in full lip lock. He looked away, his ears burning.

Izuku rotated his beer on the bar top. He stared into the pale effervescent liquid. He was happy for Kirishima and Mina, but the situation left him in a bit of an awkward position.

Kaminari and Jirou were nowhere in sight. Kirishima and Mina were completely engrossed in each other. Along with a pang of jealousy came a strong sense of isolation. Izuku became all too aware that he was standing alone at a bar in the middle of Las Vegas.

Who was he kidding? Nothing was ever going to happen with Katsuki. He’d been stupid to think otherwise for even a second. If Katsuki’s words weren’t enough, then his actions were. The guy had other priorities.

 Izuku felt a presence slide up next to him.

“Looks like Shitty Hair finally made his move,” Katsuki muttered.

“Yeah,” Izuku replied quietly. He glanced at Katsuki. “Wait. You knew?”

“Of course I knew.” Katsuki shoved his hands into his pockets. “Asshole’s been whining to me about her for years.”

Izuku chuckled unhappily. “Right,” he said. That made sense. They were friends, after all.

Katsuki glanced at the beer in Izuku’s hands. “You still drinking?” he asked.

“Not really.” Izuku offered Katsuki the glass. “Do you want it?”

Katsuki eyed the beer before he accepted it. “Where’re the other two?” he asked, downing half the contents.

“I haven’t seen them.” Izuku searched for something to say. “…Did you take care of whatever you needed to?”

Katsuki finished the beer and set the glass down on the bar. “Yeah,” he said. “We’re doing a small show a few days after we get back. I was waiting on the confirmation.”

Izuku smiled despite his poor mood. If there was one thing that he could count on, it was that Katsuki would always have plans for the band. “Do you ever stop working?” he asked.

Katsuki scowled. “What are you talking about? I’ve barely done anything this entire trip.”

Izuku paused. Now that he thought about it, he only recalled seeing Katsuki on his phone a handful of times over the past few days.

Katsuki glanced around the lounge disinterestedly. He tapped his fingers on the bar. “Wanna get out of here?” he asked.

Izuku frowned. “Why?”

Katsuki shrugged. “I’m over all this shit,” he said. He looked at Izuku meaningfully. “We could just… bail.”

For some reason, Izuku’s entire body tingled. “Yeah,” he heard himself say. “Okay.”

 

***

 

The night might have been cool if not for the dense crowds that filled the streets. Tipsy tourists swarmed over every square inch of sidewalk, many spilling out and onto the road. In front of bars and casinos, the crowds became almost impossible to walk through. High heels lay abandoned in the gutters. Homeless men sat on nearly every corner and beckoned to the masses for donations. A bride in a torn dress stumbled past Izuku and Katsuki while three police cars sped along the boulevard with blaring sirens.

“Fucking Vegas,” Katsuki muttered as they sidestepped a man who was vomiting into a trashcan.

When they turned down a side street, the loudness of the strip began to fade. Not long after, Izuku felt Katsuki’s eyes on him again. Steeling himself, Izuku returned the gaze. Katsuki flinched and averted his eyes.

Moments later, Katsuki’s shoulder bumped against Izuku’s. Neither of them moved away.

Katsuki and Izuku remained silent for the rest of the walk to the hotel. As they took the elevator up to their level, Izuku was possessed by a sudden sense of trepidation. There was no denying it; something felt off.

It took Izuku a couple of attempts to get the door unlocked, but Katsuki didn’t seem to mind. When he opened it shakily, Katsuki pushed past him. Before Izuku knew what was happening, Katsuki had circled around him.

Izuku gasped as Katsuki pushed him up against the back of the door. The lock clicked itself shut.

“K- Kacchan?” Izuku wheezed, barely managing to push the syllables through his vocal chords.

Katsuki placed his hands on either side of Izuku’s head and leaned into his personal space. Izuku could smell the beer on his breath. He didn’t dare move. He didn’t dare speak.

Katsuki’s gaze was unfocused. His lips were parted but no sound came out. It was as though he was searching for something and coming up empty. He looked, truth be told, a little bit lost.

“Deku.”

Since its beginning, Izuku’s relationship with Katsuki had been punctuated with gaps. They’d gone through long periods of time without contact, left important words unsaid, and created physical barriers between their bodies and emotional barriers between their minds.

Izuku trembled from head to toe, but it wasn’t out of nervousness.

“Katsuki,” he breathed.

Izuku saw something shift behind Katsuki’s eyes.

For a moment, the space closed.

Katsuki shoved himself against Izuku and kissed him fervently. Izuku threw caution to the wind and flung his arms around Katsuki’s shoulders, returning the kiss with equal intensity.

Katsuki’s hands found Izuku’s waist. Izuku eagerly continued the kiss as Katsuki half-dragged him over to the bed. There was a desperation in both of their actions that made their movements erratic and left Izuku wanting more.

Katsuki pushed Izuku onto the bed and climbed on top of him. Without hesitation Izuku reached up, grabbed Katsuki by the front of his shirt and pulled him down.

Izuku groaned over the welcome sensation of Katsuki’s weight bearing down on him. He frantically explored every inch of Katsuki within arm’s reach. Katsuki was slower to respond. He hissed softly when Izuku pulled at his lower lip, then lowered his head and slipped his tongue into Izuku’s mouth.

It wasn’t enough. Izuku arched his back into Katsuki. He couldn’t think straight. Katsuki moved his hand to cup Izuku’s jaw as he deepened the kiss. Izuku’s hands wandered lower and lower until they passed over the curve of Katsuki’s ass. He could feel the front of his jeans becoming uncomfortably tight. With newfound confidence, Izuku firmly squeezed Katsuki’s ass then slid one of his hands into the crevice between his upper thighs.

Katsuki froze. He retracted his tongue from Izuku’s mouth. Izuku tried to kiss his neck.

Katsuki shook his head. He slowly pushed himself up off of Izuku.

Izuku’s hands fell to his sides. “Kacchan?” he asked breathlessly.

Katsuki’s pupils were blown, his eyes wide in his head. “Fuck,” he said. He climbed off of the bed and started to pace while he tugged at his hair.

Izuku sat up and moved to the edge of the bed. “Kacchan, what’s wrong?”

“Shut up,” Katsuki snapped. “What am I- Fuck!”

“Kacchan,” Izuku protested. “Please-”

“Shut up!”

Izuku’s stomach lurched. “Talk to me-”

“Shut the FUCK UP!” Katsuki roared.

“NO!” Izuku snapped. “I WON’T! NOT UNTIL YOU TELL ME WHAT’S-!”

Katsuki screamed, turned, and drove his fist into the wall. There was a loud crack as his hand broke through the plaster. Flecks of compound flew into the air.

Izuku yelped and leapt backwards.

Katsuki cursed and grabbed his hand. He looked at Izuku with a crazed expression.

A heartbeat of silence passed.

“Kacchan…” Izuku said weakly.

Katsuki turned on his heel.

Izuku’s mind took a moment to catch up. He scrambled off of the bed, his heart in his throat. “Wait, Kacchan!”

Katsuki ignored him.

“Wait!” Izuku shouted again.

Katsuki stalked to the main door, flung it open, and slammed it shut in Izuku’s face so hard that the walls shook.

“KATSUKI, YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE!” Izuku screamed through the door. He fell to the ground. Angry sobs wracked his body as hot tears fell onto clenched fists.

Izuku pressed his forehead to the dirty carpet and wept.

Chapter Text

Catalyst you exist to pull me down
You contradict the fact that you still want me around

 

Izuku didn’t know how much time had passed when he finally picked himself up off the floor.

He shuffled over to the bed and sat down on the edge. He stared at the hole that Katsuki had created, too exhausted to cry anymore. Flecks of plaster lay scattered on the ground. As Izuku’s gaze travelled along the floor, he discovered one of Katsuki’s shoes lying abandoned on its side.

Despite everything, the thought of Katsuki ambling around Vegas without a shoe worried Izuku. He shakily attempted to text him. When Izuku heard a responding vibration from within the suite, he investigated and quickly located Katsuki’s phone by the hotel room door.

When he saw the phone lying on the ground, a part of Izuku gave up. He picked up the device and set it on Katsuki’s side table, then proceeded to curl up into a ball on the bed.

How had things gone so badly so fast? Nothing made sense to Izuku. Katsuki had kissed him! He’d really-

Izuku had to bite his lip to prevent himself from dissolving into tears again.

Izuku spent the remainder of the night curled up on the bed with his knees hugged into his chest. He barely noticed when sunlight began to filter through the curtains.

The sound of the suite door opening with a bang startled Izuku out of his daze. Katsuki stormed into the room, his movements stiff and robotic. He refused to make eye contact or acknowledge Izuku as he gathered his things together.

Izuku sat up. A sense of hopelessness took root within him. He couldn’t bring himself to care about the dried tears that had left an unpleasant salty residue on his cheeks. He looked at Katsuki’s feet.

“Your shoe,” Izuku mumbled. He gestured towards the discarded item on the floor.

Katsuki didn’t bother to reply. He stalked over to the shoe and snatched it up. Izuku shrank back on the bed.

“Where did you go last night?” he whispered.

“None of your fucking business,” Katsuki spat.

Izuku’s eyes welled with tears. He stood and retreated to the bathroom, locking himself in for the second time that trip. He remained in there long after he heard Katsuki leave the suite.

Eventually Izuku returned to the main area and packed his duffel. He finished the task far too quickly. Left with nothing to do, Izuku turned on the television and stared at it blankly, too drained to focus.

Izuku returned to reality when he felt his phone vibrate.

Dude, you coming down? We’re ready to check out. Everyone’s waiting.

Izuku sighed. He supposed he oughtn’t to keep Kirishima waiting.

When Izuku reached the hotel lobby, Jirou waved at him gaily. Mina and Kirishima were completely occupied with each other, their hands and lips roaming freely over each other’s faces and necks. A wave of envy washed over Izuku.

Izuku ignored Jirou and sulked towards the concierge, where Katsuki was involved in a heated discussion with the staff.

“Sir, I don’t understand. There’s a hole in the wall?”

“You fucking deaf? I already said that. Charge it to my card or whatever.”

“Sir-”

Izuku didn’t stay long enough to hear the rest of the conversation. He slid his card key across the desk then turned and left without a word.

Jirou smirked as Izuku approached the group. “You look like hell. Didn’t get much sleep?” she teased. She jerked her thumb towards Kirishima and Mina. “These two had a pretty good night too.”

Izuku felt his face crumple. He looked away.

“Woah.” A hand reached out and touched Izuku’s shoulder. “You good, Midoriya?”

“I’m fine,” Izuku gritted out.

Jirou’s slid her arm around Izuku and began to lead him away. Izuku acquiesced. Once they’d distanced themselves from the group, Jirou released him.

“Seriously, you okay?” she asked quietly. “Bakugou is acting… strange.”

Izuku clenched his fists at his sides. He couldn’t trust himself to confide in Jirou without falling apart. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Jirou’s face fell. “Things didn’t go well, did they?”

Izuku snorted. “Don’t see how they could have gone much worse,” he replied bitterly.

Jirou glanced over her shoulder at Katsuki. “That idiot,” she muttered. She turned back to Izuku. “Do you want me to try and talk to him?”

Izuku hung his head. “Please don’t,” he said softly. “Leave it alone. This entire trip was a mistake. I shouldn’t have come.”

Jirou bit her lip. After a moment’s hesitation she pulled Izuku in for a hug.

“I’m sorry, honey,” she murmured.

Izuku accepted the kind gesture. When Jirou released him, he swiped at his face with his sleeve.

Jirou patted Izuku’s shoulder. “Take a walk,” she said. “Pull yourself together. It’s going to be a long trip back.”

Izuku nodded. Jirou turned and headed towards the group.

Izuku only stayed away long enough to get his emotions back under a decent level of control. Shortly after he’d returned, Katsuki abandoned the concierge. The highly distressed employee spluttered after him.

“Thanks, Bakugou. What do we owe ya?” Kaminari asked.

“I’ll figure it out later and text everyone,” Katsuki replied brusquely.

Kirishima pried himself away from Mina and retrieved a pair of car keys from his back pocket. “Guess I’ll take the first leg,” he said.

Katsuki grabbed the keys from Kirishima. “Fuck that,” he said, already walking away from the group. “I’m driving.”

Kirishima shrugged then grinned. He returned his attention to Mina. Mina giggled and wrapped her arms around Kirishima’s shoulders.

“Just wait until we’re home,” she said with a devilish smirk.

Kaminari whooped.

Izuku felt ill.

 

***

 

Kacchan.
We need to talk.

Izuku fidgeted with his phone before setting it aside. He stared at the photograph that he was currently editing: a carefully arranged group of shoes offered in a variety of tropical colours. Two of his coworkers were chatting idly while they worked at their respective stations.

Izuku rotated the canvas then paused. He pressed his palms into his eyes. He’d only been back at the office for a few days, but it felt like it had been weeks.

The journey home had been horrible. Katsuki had insisted on driving for the majority of the time and Kirishima and Mina had been all too happy to oblige. With the two of them engrossed in each other, Izuku had been left with Jirou and Kaminari. He’d attempted to sleep during the drive without much success. More often than not, Izuku had simply feigned sleep so that he wouldn’t be forced to interact with anyone.

Izuku looked at his phone. He picked it up again and scrolled through his unanswered texts. Katsuki hadn’t responded to a single one of them, not even to tell Izuku how much he owed for the hotel room. He was back to square one.

Frustration smoldered within Izuku. What the hell was Katsuki thinking? He couldn’t just invite Izuku along to Vegas, kiss him, then ignore him! Oh, no. If Katsuki thought that he was going to get away with this, he had another thing coming.

Izuku glared at his phone. He began to type.

Stop ignoring me. I know that you’re reading my texts.
I don’t care if you don’t want to talk. I do.
I’m getting really sick of this, Kacchan.

There was a pause before Izuku’s phone vibrated.

Not delivered.

Izuku stared at his phone in disbelief. He tried to send another text.

The same message appeared.

Izuku scrolled through his contacts, found Katsuki’s number, and pressed call.

It immediately went to voicemail.

Izuku stared at his phone dumbly. He couldn’t believe it.

Had Katsuki blocked his number?

“Fuck!” Izuku shouted. He slammed his phone down onto the desk.

Izuku’s two coworkers stopped talking. One of them leaned back in her chair and peered at him, an inquisitive expression on her face.

“Sorry,” Izuku said. “I… accidentally deleted a file.”

The young woman eyed Izuku then sat upright, returning to her conversation.

Izuku fumed at his desk. He chewed on his lip as he concocted a plan.

Izuku had more than Katsuki’s phone number, after all. He also knew where he lived.

If Katsuki was going to go to extreme lengths to avoid him, then Izuku would simply pay him a visit.

Izuku checked the time on his computer. It was shortly after 2 PM.

He’d stop by after work and get this sorted out once and for all.

 

***

 

Izuku stepped inside the doors of Katsuki’s apartment complex. He hit the buzzer and then he hit it again.

No response. It figured.

Izuku resisted the urge to stomp his foot. He mashed the buzzer repeatedly to no avail.

He could always come back another time. It wasn’t like Katsuki was going to pack up and leave. Izuku would get a hold of him sooner or later.

It wasn’t enough.

Izuku debated contacting Kirishima. He might be able to convince Katsuki to meet up with him and talk things over. Kirishima wouldn’t mind helping him out.

Izuku retrieved his phone, typed out half of the message, then paused.

Something was nagging at his mind, something that Katsuki had said in Vegas. Izuku deleted the text and brought up his social media. He went to The Antiheroes’ band page.

Sure enough, there it was: the show that Katsuki had arranged. All of the details were there: the ticket sales, the venue information, the start time.

The gig was tonight.

It was still early. Izuku could grab food somewhere. He’d get to the show late and find the band afterwards. Izuku would convince Katsuki to unblock his number and they’d arrange a date to talk things over.

Perfect. Izuku shoved his phone into his pocket. He left the apartment complex with much improved spirits.

He’d talk to Katsuki tonight.

 

***

 

The sun had been long set when Izuku arrived at The Hideout. Izuku almost missed the venue when he passed by; the exterior was entirely black and possessed no obvious signage.

Izuku stepped inside, paid the cheap admission, and scoped the place out. The main room had all the markings of a standard dive bar. Its narrow wooden tables, abrasive neon signs, and dim lighting lent to an overall grimy atmosphere. Izuku could hear The Antiheroes playing deep within the venue. His heart leapt to his throat when he caught Katsuki’s distinctive snarl over the sound of the drums and guitars, but Izuku wasn’t about to let himself get sidetracked.

There was no way that Izuku would be able to handle the full volume of The Antiheroes with his still-healing head injury. Instead he stayed near the bar and ordered a drink to keep himself busy. He sat at one of the tables, leaving the drink untouched, while he listened to the band. When their set finally ended to muffled shouts and applause, Izuku stood.

As fans filtered out, Izuku pushed his way into the venue’s back room. A few lingered near the tiny stage, probably hoping to talk with the band. Izuku leaned against the far wall and patiently waited.

Kirishima was the first to emerge. Izuku caught his eye and waved. Kirishima grinned. Before he could return the gesture, however, he was ambushed by two women who pushed an album each and a marker into his hands.

Katsuki emerged moments later. He was sweaty and his chest was still heaving. He was immediately swarmed by a group of male and female fans.

Izuku chuckled. It was nice to see The Antiheroes back in their element. He was once again reminded of all the hard work that Katsuki had put into the band. Izuku couldn’t help but admire him for it.

Izuku sighed wistfully. What had happened in Vegas probably boiled down to a moment of weakness between them. Izuku knew that regardless of whether his feelings were reciprocated, Katsuki would never pursue anything with him. He’d been foolish to get his hopes up, but that was okay. They’d talk things over and everything would be fine.

One of the women in the group that was accosting Katsuki shoved her male friend forward.

“Iss his birthday,” she slurred. Her voice carried easily in the small room. “Hees a huge fan, Groun Zero.”

“Hees got a huge crush on you,” another woman added.

“Shu’ the fuck up,” the man slurred. He waved the beer bottle that he was holding threateningly at his friends.

“You should give himm a kiss,” the first woman drawled.

“Ohh yes,” the second said. “A birthday kiss.”

Izuku shook his head. It was amazing how shameless fans could be. Whatever. Katsuki was hardly the type to give in to the ridiculous demands of strangers.

Katsuki rolled his eyes. He opened his mouth to reply, but before he said anything, his gaze drifted across the room and landed on Izuku.

Katsuki’s eyes widened. His mouth closed. Izuku offered the slightest half-wave.

Katsuki’s face became pinched. Tearing his eyes away from Izuku, he looked at the drunken man and decisively grabbed him by the back of his neck.

Izuku watched in horror as Katsuki pulled the man towards him and planted a long, deliberate kiss on his mouth.

The group surrounding Katsuki cheered.

Izuku felt something inside of himself break.

Izuku had wanted to believe that Katsuki wasn’t like most musicians. Everything that he’d seen and that Kirishima had told him had made Izuku believe that Katsuki was a good person.

Then again, Izuku had believed that his last girlfriend was a good person too.

Katsuki released the man. The idiot was grinning from ear to ear as his friends jovially slapped him on the back. Katsuki ignored the group’s antics and slunk away backstage.

Izuku watched Katsuki leave. His body shook with a rage that surprised even himself. Before he knew what he was doing, his feet were moving.

The corridor that ran alongside the stage was dark and narrow. Izuku saw a flicker of light illuminate the walls near the end as a door opened and closed. He raced towards the door and flung it open.

“What the hell was that?” Izuku snapped.

Katsuki whirled around, almost knocking over a small table. His eyes were cartoonishly wide in his head. The room wasn’t much larger than a couple of walk-in closets. Black instrument cases lay stacked next to a tattered couch.

“You’re not supposed to be back here,” he said.

“I don’t give a damn,” Izuku spat. He stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. “Who the hell do you think you are? How could you kiss a fan like it’s no big deal?”

Katsuki took a step backwards. His eyes darted around the room. After a moment he set his jaw.

“What do you mean, who the hell do you think I am?” he snarled. “I ain’t claimed, Deku. I can do whatever the fuck I want.”

“Bullshit,” Izuku retorted. “You think I’m stupid? You weren’t going to kiss that guy until you saw me. Tell me I’m wrong.”

Katsuki fell silent.

Izuku laughed humourlessly. “So, what? You kissed a stranger to piss me off?”

Katsuki’s face twitched. “I kissed him because I thought it would make you leave!” he snapped. “Obviously it didn’t fucking work!” He tugged at his hair anxiously. “Why are you here, Deku? Aren’t you sick of harassing me?”

“Harass-!” Izuku’s hands flew up. “Harassing you? You blocked me! What else was I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know! Not ambush me at a fucking gig!” Katsuki cried out.

“You didn’t leave me any other choice!” Izuku’s voice wavered. “I don’t understand, Kacchan. What happened in Vegas? How can you freak out when we kiss, but be fine with a fan?”

“Oh, yeah. That’s all that you were trying to do,” Katsuki scoffed.

Izuku frowned. “Wh- Yes, Kacchan. That is what I was trying to do! That’s what you do when you like someone! Besides, you started it! Don’t even try to tell me that you’re not into me!”

“Like hell!” Katsuki spat reflexively.

Izuku stepped closer. “You’re a liar. You like me. I know you do!”

Katsuki backed up. “F- Fuck off!” he stammered. “How the hell could I like someone who always acts so goddamn desperate?”

Izuku lost it. “YOU BOUGHT ME A THREE THOUSAND DOLLAR CAMERA!” he screamed. He slammed his hand against his chest. “My own mother wouldn’t have gone that far! Do you honestly believe that that’s the kind of gift anybody would buy for an acquaintance?”

Katsuki stiffened. “You needed-”

“Why the hell should you care what I need?” Izuku shouted. “That’s the point!” He ran a hand down his face and attempted to get his breathing under control. “Kacchan, you invited me on a trip with your closest friends. You ditched them to go hiking with me. You fucking kissed me! You can’t look me in the eye and tell me that you don’t like me.”

Katsuki leveled Izuku with a narrowed gaze. His shoulders quivered. “I don’t like you.”

Izuku glared at Katsuki. “I don’t believe you,” he said. “You cooked for me. You named that painting that I ruined after me-”

Katsuki startled. “How the hell do you know about that, you fucking stalker?”

“Don’t try to change the subject!” Izuku snapped. “You like me, Kacchan. You fucking like me!”

Katsuki released a strangled scream. He stalked over to the small table and flipped it. It hit the wall with a loud smack.

“OH, STOP IT!” Izuku shouted. “What the hell is wrong with you? Stop acting like a child and TALK TO ME!”

“WHAT DO YOU WANT ME TO SAY?” Katsuki screamed back. He twisted his body back towards Izuku. His face was contorted beneath his stage makeup. “I can’t do this, Deku. The band-”

“Fuck the band,” Izuku spat. “You’re full of excuses. If this was only about the band then you wouldn’t have invited me to Vegas in the first place!”

Katsuki’s expression became positively demonic. “Don’t ever say that about my band.”

“This isn’t about the band,” Izuku insisted. “This is about you and me. You know what I think?” Izuku fixed Katsuki with a contemptuous stare. “I think you’re a coward.”

Katsuki’s face reddened. “Fuck you!” he yelled. “You don’t know shit about me!”

“I would if you’d talk to me!” Izuku cried out. “Why is that so hard? What are you afraid of?”

“I ain’t scared of shit!” Katsuki shouted back. His forehead creased with countless lines. His mouth wavered and he pressed his lips together.

“There’s got to be something!” Izuku yelled. “Is it me? Is it the idea of being in a relationship? Help me out here!”

“Fuck off!” Katsuki glowered at Izuku like a cornered animal.

Izuku hung his head. His throat burned and his chest ached. “Kacchan,” he said. “I’m tired. I don’t want to do this anymore. What do you want from me? You’re on again then off again. You invite me over to your apartment and then you kick me out. In. Out. In. Out.” He looked at his feet and choked back a sob. “It fucking hurts.”

Izuku heard Katsuki’s footsteps approaching hesitantly. “Deku…”

Izuku looked at Katsuki. His face was pained.

“I love you,” Izuku blurted.

Katsuki’s face blanked.

A terrible silence fell between them. Katsuki’s mouth opened and closed. After a long moment, his gaze hardened. He leaned in towards Izuku and sneered.

“You’re pathetic,” he said.

Izuku recoiled as though he’d been slapped. He closed his eyes. When he opened them, his expression was so loathsome that even Katsuki looked frightened.

“Fine,” Izuku said. The word came out as a low hiss. “You win.”

Izuku couldn’t decipher the expression on Katsuki’s face, nor did he bother to try.

“What?”

“You win,” Izuku snarled. He headed towards the door. “I’m done. You want me to stop harassing you? Okay. You. Win.”

“Deku-”

“Shut the FUCK UP!” Izuku yelled. “I don’t care! I don’t care anymore! Fuck you, Katsuki! Have a nice fucking life!”

Izuku flung the door open and slammed it shut as hard as he could. He turned on his heel and plowed into Kirishima.

Kirishima staggered backwards. He averted his eyes guiltily. “Jesus, dude,” he said. “What the hell happened?”

Izuku broke down. He turned away from Kirishima and tore down the corridor and out of the venue.

Izuku ran through the streets blindly, not caring where he was going or why. He didn’t stop until his head was swimming, his heart was pounding, and the pain in his lungs overtook the pain in his heart.

Chapter Text

This time I'd really rather be alone
Can we forget this? I can just go home
This time I'd really rather be alone


 

Stupid.

Stupid.

Stupid.

Izuku stared listlessly at his computer screen, barely registering the image that he was supposed to be editing. He glanced over at his phone for the umpteenth time that morning, its lack of notifications no longer a surprise.

He should have known that things would turn out like this. How could he have expected anything different? Katsuki had said that he wasn’t looking to date right from the start.

Despite everything, though, Izuku continued to hope that Katsuki would reach out to him. He’d guiltily entertained more than a few fantasies since their fight a couple of days ago, fantasies where Katsuki would call or message him, asking him for forgiveness. Izuku wasn’t sure whether he even wanted to forgive him at this point, but he’d hoped that Katsuki would at least try.

The longer the silence stretched on, however, the more and more obvious the truth became.

Katsuki wasn’t going to call.

Izuku sighed. He needed to accept that this was it. He wasn’t doing himself any good by hovering over his phone. Izuku picked up the device and dropped it into his workstation drawer. Out of sight, out of mind. Something about the action felt too final though, and before he knew it, his eyes were tearing up. He angrily swiped at his face.

From somewhere behind him, Izuku heard the sharp click of heels. Seconds later, he felt a tap on his shoulder.

Izuku turned in his chair and found himself face-to-face with an irate Uraraka Ochako. Even in his distressed state Izuku had the sense to cower before her ferocious glare.

Ochako pursed her lips and crossed her arms. “Midoriya Izuku,” she said. “Welcome back.”

Izuku winced. “Ochako-”

Ochako held up a finger to silence him. “Oh no, Mister. Don’t you ‘Ochako’ me. I have some words for you and you’re not going to like them.” She took a breath, centering herself. “I offered to help you. I told you to let me know if you needed anything while you were in the hospital. Why couldn’t you even be bothered to tell me that you were back at work? I had to find out from Denki, of all people! How is it that a freelancer knew but I didn’t?”

It was too much for Izuku. He felt his lip tremble as he tried to form a halfway decent response. “Ochako, I-”

“Izuku?” Ochako’s glare softened. Her eyes scanned Izuku’s face.

Izuku looked away.

Ochako sighed. She placed a hand on Izuku’s cheek. “Honestly. What am I going to do with you?” she said. “I’m not happy, but this is hardly something worth getting yourself worked up over.”

Izuku saw the genuine concern plastered on Ochako’s face and was wracked with shame. He pushed her hand away and buried his face in his palms.

“I’m sorry, Ochako,” he spluttered. “I can’t do this.”

“Can’t do what?” Ochako asked. “What’s wrong? Is it your head? Do you need-”

“Stop,” Izuku begged. “It- It’s not my head. It’s not you. It’s me.”

Ochako’s nervous laughter filled the spacious studio. “I don’t know what-”

“I’m sorry,” Izuku wept. “Everything got out of hand so fast. I really thought we had a chance. He really seemed to like me-”

“He- Izuku, who are you talking about?” Ochako asked exasperatedly.

“Kacchan!” Izuku cried out. “It’s always been Kacchan! God, I hate that so much!”

“What?” Ochako paused as she attempted to piece things together. “The guy from that band? What does he have to do with-”

“He called me pathetic,” Izuku sobbed. “When I told him how I felt.”

A deadly silence fell over the room. When Izuku finally raised his head, Ochako was staring at him with a pained expression.

“Oh,” she said. Her eyes began to take on a shiny appearance. “You’re… Oh.”

The dreadful realization of what he’d done dawned on Izuku. “Ochako,” he said weakly.

Ochako shook her head. “Don’t,” she said. Her lips wavered and she pressed them into a thin line. “It’s fine. I’m…” A tear slipped over her waterline and rolled down her cheek. She turned and fled from the studio.

Izuku wanted to call after Ochako, to ask her to wait, but he couldn’t force the word past his throat. He put his head down on his desk and wrapped his arms around himself.

He deserved this.

 

***

 

Izuku dragged himself home from work that night. While commuters happily chattered about their weekend plans, Izuku sat quietly, lost in his own thoughts.

When Izuku finally arrived home, he flopped onto his bed. He stared at the ceiling, unable to get Ochako’s anguished expression out of his head.

Izuku watched the minutes tick by on his phone. He knew that he ought to do something other than lying around and feeling sorry for himself. His eyes passed over the camera bag on his desk, his camera nestled safely within. He was struck with the sudden impulse to pick it up and throw it out the window. He wanted to scream. He wanted to cry. He wanted to break something.

Izuku pressed his palms into his eyes. He needed to talk to somebody. Not Shouto; Izuku wouldn’t be able to bear the knowing expression on his friend’s face after he’d explicitly warned him against Katsuki. Besides, Izuku already knew who he wanted to talk to more than anyone else in the world. He just wasn’t sure whether he was ready to tell her everything.

Izuku ferociously chewed on his lip until it began to bleed. The unpleasant tang brought him back to the present and urged him to make a decision. With shaking hands, Izuku picked up his phone and scrolled through his contacts. He almost changed his mind twice before he finally pressed call.

The phone rang twice before the receiver answered it. “Izuku?”

Izuku took a shaky breath. “Hi, mom.”

“Sweetie? What’s wrong?”

That was all it took. Izuku broke down, semi-coherent thoughts flooding out of him between wet sobs.

He told his mother everything. He told her about the band, about Katsuki. He told her about his aspirations, about his camera. He told her about everything that he and Katsuki had done together. He told her about the things that Katsuki had said to him, about how much it had hurt. He told her about what he’d done to Ochako.

Izuku had no idea how long he rambled on for, but by the time he ran out of steam, he was exhausted.

Inko hadn’t spoken a single word the entire time. The longer that she remained silent, the more that Izuku’s old fears began to creep back into his heart. He swallowed, hoping that he hadn’t made a terrible mistake.

Eventually Inko spoke. “Izuku…”

“Y- Yeah?” Izuku whispered.

“Come home.”

 

***

 

“Here. Take one.”

Izuku helped himself to a still-warm muffin off the small plate that his mother held out to him. Inko had retrieved the muffins from the oven not ten minutes earlier. He took a bite; the half-melted chocolate chips stuck to the roof of his mouth in a familiar way that reminded him of his childhood.

Inko sat down next to Izuku on the couch. She set the plate of muffins on top of the coffee table then poured tea from a steaming pot into two teacups. She handed one to Izuku. “I’ve always found tea to be soothing,” she murmured.

Izuku brought the teacup to his mouth and inhaled. She wasn’t wrong; something about the earthy scent comforted him. “I’m sorry for dumping everything on you,” he muttered quietly.

Inko chuckled. “No need to apologize. You’ve been this way since you could speak. I’m well used to it.”

“Still,” Izuku said. His stomach twisted unpleasantly. “This… must be a lot to take in.”

Inko paused, her teacup half-raised to her mouth. “How do you mean?”

Izuku grimaced and looked away. Inko hadn’t spoken much since they’d arrived home, and she’d remained quiet while she was busying herself in the kitchen. Izuku had tried to give her space to process everything, but the silence was becoming unbearable. “I don’t know,” he said. “I can understand if you feel upset or disappointed…”

Inko reached over and took her son’s hand. “Izuku,” she said.

Izuku raised his eyes reluctantly to meet his mother’s.

Inko squeezed his hand tightly. “You are my son,” she said. “I love you more than anything else in the world. There is nothing that you could tell me that would ever change that.” Her gaze softened. “I know that I can be a worrier, but ultimately I just want you to be happy. Whoever that may be with.”

Izuku could feel his eyes watering before his mother had even finished speaking. He lunged forward and enveloped her in a crushing hug.

“I’m sorry I waited so long,” he whimpered into her shoulder. “I wanted to tell you sooner. I tried to push it away for so long, but I couldn’t, I couldn’t do it anymore, I’m sorry, I just couldn’t…”

Inko rubbed soothing circles into her son’s back. “Shh, it’s okay,” she whispered into his hair. “Don’t cry. It’s okay.”

Izuku held his mother for a long time, taking comfort in her acceptance. Eventually Inko pulled away.

“You know, ever since you received that camera, I thought that there was something you weren’t telling me,” she said. She smiled even though her face was damp. “Mothers’ intuition, I suppose.”

Izuku tried to laugh but it came out as a wet burble. He sniffled and wiped his nose on his sleeve.

Inko looked at her son with fondness. “You and I will always have two things in common,” she said. “We’ll always be prone to waterworks and we’ll always wear our hearts on our sleeves.”

Izuku pulled his mother in for another hug. “I love you,” he whispered.

“I love you too, baby,” Inko soothed. She patted Izuku’s back gently. “I think there’s been quite enough tears for now, though. Let me reheat this tea; I’m certain it’s lost all its heat.”

Izuku released his mother. While she busied herself with the tea, he retreated to the bathroom and washed his face.

“Let me make dinner tomorrow,” Izuku said when he returned.

Inko glanced up from the kitchen stovetop. “As much as I’d love you to stay, I’d prefer it if you didn’t burn down my kitchen,” she said.

“I’ve gotten better!” Izuku defended. “Trust me. I haven’t set anything on fire in ages.”

An amused smile curled the corners of Inko’s mouth. “Okay, then,” she said. “I’ll hold you to that.”

Izuku grinned. “It’s a date,” he told her.

 

***

 

Izuku rubbed his eye tiredly as he scrolled through a series of photographs on his computer. He selected two of his favourites from his interview with Monoma and attached them to a new email.

It had taken time, but eventually Izuku began to heal. Coming out to his mother hadn’t taken the pain of losing Katsuki away, but it had reminded Izuku of the people in his life who loved and supported him unconditionally. With newfound determination, he buried himself in his work.

Katsuki may have given him the initial kick in the ass, but Izuku’s dreams had always been his own. His head improved by the day, allowing him to work longer hours. He began to take on side jobs again. He spoke with Kendou regularly, interviewing and photographing whoever she sent his way. He continued to go on walks and look for inspiration.

He began to write.

Izuku had never been a journalist, but he’d taken several writing courses in college. During that time he’d gained a basic sense of how to craft a story. Where he lacked, his friends were happy to help out. Iida had been surprisingly supportive despite working in the public sector, and his advice had been invaluable.

When Izuku wasn’t writing, he would spend hours reviewing his photographs. He’d reorganize them again and again, trying to figure out which images told the best story. As the weeks flew by, Izuku became more and more entrenched in his project.

Kirishima and Mina messaged him every once in a while. Jirou, too. At first it was primarily to encourage him and Katsuki to talk to each other, to make up. Like hell; Izuku was done. He’d moved on to bigger and better things. Eventually they got the message and gave up.

Izuku had debated what he ought to do with the camera for a long time. Even now he felt a sharp pang in his chest whenever he looked at it. He could have given it away, sold it, or destroyed it. In the end though, he’d decided to keep it. Even if he wasn’t thrilled about it, he needed the camera. It didn’t make sense for him to punish himself, especially when he’d finally saved enough money to buy a lens.

Izuku attached the opening paragraphs of his article to the email as well before he sent it off to Kendou for approval. She’d been great at filling in the gaps in Izuku’s memory caused by his head injury. Monoma’s trial was coming up soon, she’d told him. With any luck he’d be off with a fine and community service and then he’d be back to his old ways. The thought made Izuku smile.

Izuku browsed through the images on his computer, now in the thousands. His hand froze when he stumbled across his old photos of The Antiheroes. He’d been waffling over whether he wanted to include them in his article. A pettier side of him told him not to, but his more logical side told him that they were important to the story.

Izuku scrolled through a couple of the images. His chest tightened when he landed on his photograph of Katsuki in mid-scream, the stage lights blasting through his hair. Izuku hated how much it still hurt, how much he missed him. They hadn’t spoken in well over a month; he shouldn’t be feeling this way anymore. He shouldn’t be struggling to find his happiness.

Izuku closed the folder. He took a moment to collect himself before he turned his attention to his website.

 

***

 

“Let me assist you today.”

Senior photographer Togata Mirio looked up from his viewfinder, his eyebrows raised in mild surprise. “Excuse me?” he asked.

Izuku met Mirio with a determined stare. “I’ve accomplished my work for the day,” he said. “I’ve observed multiple cover shoots in studio. Let me assist you.”

Mirio crossed his arms. “What’s brought this on all of a sudden?”

“I…” Izuku debated how much he ought to tell Mirio. Mirio was well-liked in the studio and he seemed like a trustworthy guy, but that didn’t mean that he should divulge more detail than necessary. “I’ve worked here for two years,” Izuku said. “I’m a good photographer, but I’m not going anywhere. I want to take on more responsibility. Even if… Even if others don’t want me to.”

Mirio considered. “You’re going behind Takeyama’s back,” he said.

Izuku nodded slowly. He knew that it was a long shot. Mirio was one of their boss’s favourites and easily the highest-profile photographer in the studio, which was precisely why Izuku needed to get in with him.

“She won’t be happy if she finds out about this,” Mirio said.

“I know,” Izuku replied. He clenched his fists. “I’m prepared to take that risk. Besides, what’s the worst she could do? Demote me?”

Mirio frowned momentarily, but then his eyes brightened and his mouth split into a wide grin. “You’ve got spunk, Midoriya!” he exclaimed. He laughed jovially and slapped Izuku on the back. “Sure, why not? I could use an extra pair of hands today.”

Izuku perked up. “Really?”

Mirio’s eyes danced. “Really. I’ve had my eye on you, you know. Your new website looks great.”

Izuku startled. “You’ve seen it?” he squeaked. “It’s only been up for a few days-”

“It’s a small studio. Photographers talk.” Mirio winked. “Don’t worry. I’ve only heard good things about you. Now, can you grab me an umbrella light and set it up? I’ll need a beauty dish as well.”

“Right away!” Izuku responded eagerly. “Thank you!” He dashed off.

Izuku spent the rest of the day making sure that he was the best damn assistant that Mirio had ever had. When he returned home that night, his feet were aching and his head was spinning, but he was grinning from ear to ear.

 

***

 

“How’s your project coming along?” Shouto asked.

“Really well!” Izuku responded. He smiled at Shouto from across the diner table. “I have more photos than I know what to do with. The hardest part has been narrowing them down.” He shoved a couple of fries into his mouth. “I’ve gotten Monoma’s and most of the others’ approvals for their mentions in the article. I’m starting to feel really good about it. The only thing I’m still struggling with is coming up with a good title.”

Shouto took a careful sip of his float. “Do you have any ideas?”

“Nothing that’s really stuck with me,” Izuku admitted. He sighed. “I know I want the title to be something impactful, but everything either seems too obvious or too vague.”

Shouto nodded and rested his cheek on his fist. He eyed Izuku warily. “…How are you doing?” he asked finally.

Izuku sighed. He twiddled his thumbs. “I’ve been keeping myself busy,” he said. “I haven’t had time to dwell on things.”

“Is that good?” Shouto asked.

“It’s been good for my project,” Izuku replied. He put his elbows on the table and leaned forward, closing his eyes. He’d told Shouto everything in the end, and to his friend’s credit, he’d barely brought it up since. “I don’t know. It’s been hard, Todoroki. I’m doing my best.”

Shouto fell into contemplative silence. “Do you think meeting someone else might help?”

Izuku opened his eyes, regarding Shouto suspiciously.

Shouto shifted uncomfortably. “I’m not really the type to set people up,” he said. His cheeks began to redden. “I have… an acquaintance. He’s working on his PhD, like me. He’s smart, and he seems like a nice guy. I think you’d get along. I… I showed him your picture, and he expressed interest.” In a matter of seconds Shouto’s face had become scarlet. “I could give you his number if-”

“That’s okay,” Izuku said. He watched the colour fade from Shouto’s face as he sagged in what Izuku assumed was embarrassed relief. “I appreciate it, Todoroki, but I think I want to focus on my work for now.”

Shouto nodded. “Understandable,” he said. His face returned to its usual impassive expression. “About your project though… Do you think I could see it?”

Izuku blinked. “Uh. Okay?” He unlocked his phone and sent Shouto the latest draft of the article along with a few of his edited pictures. He squirmed self-consciously as Shouto looked through the files.

“These are your photographs?” Shouto asked, his eyebrows rising slightly. “They’re… really good, Midoriya.”

Izuku stopped squirming. Shouto had never been one to give false compliments. “You think so?” he asked.

Shouto nodded. He continued to scroll through his phone.

“The article isn’t done yet,” Izuku said, his face heating up. “I’m still working on it. I have a long way to go before-”

“Midoriya.”

Izuku stopped talking. Shouto closed his eyes. He remained silent for a full minute.

“When you’re finished, send the final files to me. I’ll pass them along to my father.”

Izuku gaped at Shouto. “Todoroki!” he exclaimed. “Please don’t feel like you have to do that for me. I know that you aren’t on speaking terms with your father-”

“I’ll pass them along to him,” Shouto repeated. “Your work… it deserves to be seen.”

Izuku was left speechless. Shouto’s father, Todoroki Enji, was the owner of one of the largest media conglomerates in the country. His empire included newspapers, broadcast media, magazine publishing, and entertainment websites. However, Shouto’s tense relationship with his father had made Izuku abandon that potential contact years ago.

“Todoroki…” Izuku’s hands trembled. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t say anything yet,” Shouto said. “I can’t guarantee that he’ll look at it, and I don’t know whether he’ll like it. It’s pretty out there. But I’ll send it to him.”

Izuku hung his head. He didn’t deserve his friends. How could he have ever thought that they didn’t approve of his dreams? “Thank you, Todoroki. I’ll make it up to you, somehow.”

“Make it up to me by giving this project your all,” Shouto said. A small smile formed at the corners of his mouth.

Izuku felt his eyes water. “Yes.” He nodded and set his jaw. “I’ll do that.”

 

***

 

Izuku scanned his article and photographs for the hundredth time. A title. A title was all he needed. He scrutinized his opening photograph: an image of Ai, disheveled and unimpressed, sitting in front of her Oscar Wilde wall mural. The next image was of Monoma. He was wearing his rumpled prison clothes, arms crossed as he regarded the camera with an air of superiority.

"We are the citizens, and if the system does not work for us, then the system does not work!" These were the words spoken by Monoma Neito on the cold winter morning of January 12th, 2019. He’s standing outside one of the city’s local police stations, surrounded on all sides by people from every walk of life. People who are holding banners. People with white plastic buckets. People who are angry.

Monoma is currently being held at the South Bank Detention Center.

Izuku scrolled down. He passed a photograph of Kendou and Monoma’s anarchist group, masks obscuring their faces, and a photograph of another one of Ai’s murals.

“That’s the thing about the world we live in,” Ai says, taking a long drag on her cigarette. “Nobody cares about your art unless they can find a way to monetize it. Sad, ain’t it?” She pauses. “Companies’ll steal yer message, dilute it, and sell it back to the masses under the guise of progress. ‘Look at how divergent we are,’ they’ll proudly say while they shove a bottle of Pepsi down your fuckin’ throats.” Ai shakes her head in disgust and puts her cigarette out on the sidewalk. “The only true divergents are the ones who’re willing to suffer for their art.”

Izuku rapidly scrolled past a photograph of The Antiheroes in concert and several images of the other punk bands he’d photographed more recently. In the end he’d decided to include them. As much as he hated to admit it, the bands were a critical component of his project.

If you’re brave enough to look, their message is everywhere. They’re challenging us to give a damn, to get mad. They’re screaming about the failures of our justice system, the problems created by a capitalist society, the hatred marginalized people experience simply for existing. They refuse to be downtrodden even while playing in dingy nightclubs and filthy dives at ten bucks a gig, sometimes less. It’s hard not to think that they deserve more. That they deserve to be heard.

It had ended up being a substantially sized article. Izuku hummed thoughtfully as he skimmed through his other interviews, personal observations, and reflections on society.

Maybe it’s time for all of us to get a little angry. To stand up and demand better. The people are disgruntled. They’re defiant. Some of them are violent. They also care for their world far more deeply than I ever could have imagined. Regardless of how you view their actions, you can’t deny their heart. The message that Monoma was sending as he tossed a bucket of red paint over that officer’s head was far more meaningful than the action itself: ‘I care.’

What do you care about?

Izuku rubbed his eyes. His project had boiled down to twenty-eight of the best photographs he’d ever taken and three thousand words of text that had been rewritten and edited more times than he could count. He’d even paid a professional copyeditor to review the final draft.

Izuku looked through his photographs again. He thought about the people he’d included, the messages that were contained within his images.

Disobedience, in the eyes of anyone who has read history, is man’s original virtue.
RESIST.
Not MY culture.

The wheels in Izuku’s head began to turn. He returned to the beginning of his article and moved his mouse to the top of the page.

 

CULTURAL RESISTANCE
The Merits of Public Disobedience in the Modern Era

 

Izuku smiled. He gave his story a final once-over. He made sure that the captions for each photograph were perfect. That each image was as clear and high-quality as possible.

With his stomach in knots, Izuku composed an email to Shouto. He uploaded his final files to a secure transfer site. Months of hard work had culminated into this specific point in time.

He clicked send.

Izuku reviewed the media list that he’d painstakingly collected. He’d give it a few days to see if Endeavor Enterprises took interest, and if not, he’d blast his project to every other major news outlet in the city.

He had a feeling that he wouldn’t be sleeping much until he’d heard back from someone. Putting something so intensely personal into the public realm was terrifying. He prayed that someone would want to pick it up.

Izuku closed his files. His project was completed.

He wished he could have told Katsuki.

 

***

 

Izuku spent the following afternoon worming his way into another assistant role with Mirio. Running around on set proved more difficult than usual after tossing and turning all night. Nevertheless, he’d been delighted when Mirio had let him operate the camera while they were conducting test shots and for a short portion of the shoot itself.

When Izuku returned to his workstation, he noticed that a number of the studio’s photographers had crowded around one of the nearby computers. The girls were pointing at something on the screen, muttering and shushing each other in turn.

“It’s only been out for two days and look at the numbers on it.”

“It’s definitely going viral.”

“He’s so handsome.”

“Who hurt him?”

“His voice is so sexy. God, just listen to it.”

“Wonder if he sounds like that in bed.”

One of the girls squealed in protest. Izuku didn’t think much of it. They were probably watching some new cover of a popular song.

As Izuku sat down at his desk, one of the girls glanced his way. “Hey, Midoriya,” she said. “Have you seen this yet?”

“Seen what?” Izuku asked distractedly.

She beckoned Izuku over. Izuku hesitated until the whole group joined in, at which point he could no longer ignore them. He got up from his desk and approached the workstation, squeezing into the middle of the group. He peered at the video onscreen.

His heart dropped out of his chest.

Chapter Text

Your freckles are stupid and your plans get you maimed
But once all’s said and done guess we’re kind of the same

 

Izuku stared at the screen stupidly. He only remembered to blink when his eyes began to sting. Closing his open mouth, he glanced at his coworkers. Thankfully, no one was paying him much attention. They were all staring, transfixed, at the video playing on the computer.

Izuku recognized the interior of Katsuki’s apartment immediately. The main room had been shuffled around, but Izuku had been there enough times that he remembered the layout. Katsuki was sitting on a chair, his body only visible from his hips up. He was bare-faced and wearing a simple black t-shirt.He was holding one of his electric guitars in his lap.

Something from behind the camera caught Katsuki’s eye. He nodded curtly. “Alright,” he said, shifting his furrowed gaze towards the lens. He somehow seemed to stare straight through the camera. A shiver ran down Izuku’s spine. “Let’s get one thing straight. This ain’t some sappy ass ballad, okay? I…” He sighed and shook his head. “I wanted to try something different.”

Katsuki moved his hands into position. He exhaled loudly before he began to play a slow, off-beat melody. He progressed into the tune, muting the chords on the downstroke. The sound was quirky and somehow soothing, very much unlike the unapologetically harsh chords that Izuku was used to hearing from The Antiheroes.

Drop dead, gorgeous
You ain’t gonna break me down tonight
This heart’s ain’t got room for two of us
Stop putting up a fight

Izuku gasped. His mouth went dry. His face felt hot.

Katsuki’s voice carried its usual gruff edge, but he sang with a level of control and a somber tonality that Izuku hadn’t heard from him before. Izuku had known that Katsuki could sing, but this was different. His voice perfectly harmonized with everything from the mood of the song to his appearance to the setting. It felt stripped down, raw, and earnest.

I wanted to do things my way
I wanna do this right

I just thought I should tell you
That my cat hates you, but that’s cool / My cat hates me too
You never shut up, but that’s fine / You can talk to me all night
You were kind of a jerk and I’m one hell of a mess
You really weren’t half bad, I guess.

Katsuki’s voice paralyzed Izuku. He couldn’t tear his eyes from the screen. He couldn’t move. His heart ached anew with a profound sense of loss.

Izuku could have tried to deny what was obvious, but he’d only be fooling himself. It was all too obvious that the song was about him.

Here’s to nights spent under the moon
Strumming old chords with a ghost or two

Memories of Katsuki teaching Izuku chords on his acoustic guitar while they were en route to Vegas came flooding back to Izuku. Katsuki’s voice was painfully gorgeous. None of this felt real, yet somehow it was too real. Izuku bit his lip. Why was this happening? Why was Katsuki- Was this his way of apologizing?

I know you’re gonna be just fine
You’ve got your plans and I’ve got mine

Izuku choked back a sob and buried his face in his hands. This was too much. It felt like Katsuki was speaking directly to him.

But I wanted to tell you
That I was giving you what I had.
(I guess that’s pretty sad)

Izuku lowered his hands. His brow wrinkled, his distress momentarily replaced with confusion. I was giving you what I had…?

The tempo picked up before it slowed down once more. Katsuki sang the final lines under his breath, a humourless smirk quirking the corner of his mouth.

You were kind of a jerk and I’m one hell of a mess
I really fucked things up, I guess.

The final lyrics of the song hit Izuku like a gut punch. He could feel himself trembling from head to toe. How had his coworkers found this? If Katsuki had really written it, then did that mean…? Izuku pulled his phone from his pocket and checked the screen.

He should have known better, but his stomach sank anyways.

Nothing.

What had felt like a heartfelt apology seconds ago soured instantly. Izuku glared at his phone, no longer moved. He felt raw, exposed, and in a way, humiliated. He hated this. He hated how much power Katsuki still had over him. How could he care enough to write a song about him but then continue to ignore him?

Three months. It had been three months since they’d last spoken.

Izuku angrily shoved his phone into his pocket. He peered at the video details that were displayed on the computer.

Drop Dead, Gorgeous – The Antiheroes. The song had been out for all of two days and had already gained half a million views. So that was it. Katsuki had taken Izuku’s advice and used it against him. He’d written a sad song to gain popularity and it had worked. Great.

At some point, Izuku remembered his coworkers.

“He’s so dreamy,” he caught one of them saying.

“I cried the first time I saw it.”

“He sounds like a prick,” Izuku interjected. His coworkers’ expressions were a reflection of his own surprise over his choice of words.

“How can you say that?” one of the girls shrieked in outrage.

“That song was beautiful!” another protested. “He sounds like a fallen angel!”

Izuku shrugged and mechanically returned to his desk. He didn’t know whether or not Katsuki was being sincere, but if he thought that Izuku was going to reach out to him just because he’d finally learned how to emotionally connect to an audience, then he had another thing coming.

“I dunno,” he said as casually as he could manage. “I guess I find it sort of derivative.”

Izuku sat down at his desk and forced himself to return to work. His coworkers’ cries of indignation were the only thing that got him through the rest of the afternoon.

 

***

 

“I saw the song.”

Izuku grimaced. He watched Shouto as he slid off of his living room couch in incredibly slow motion. “Even you, Todoroki?”

Shouto nodded. “Momo found it. It’s… getting really big.”

Izuku groaned. “I’m not sure I want to know.”

Shouto stared at Izuku as he continued to inch towards the floor, his face a silent question.

“Ugh,” Izuku said. “Fine. Tell me.”

Shouto hesitated. “When Momo showed it to me this morning, it had around two million views.”

Izuku choked. He jumped up from Shouto’s armchair. Shouto hit the ground with a dull thud. “Two million?” Izuku exclaimed. “It was barely at a quarter of that yesterday!”

Shouto glanced his phone, pursed his lips, then looked at Izuku. “It’s closer to three now.”

Izuku’s eyes bulged out of his head. He groaned. “I don’t know how I ought to feel about all of this,” he admitted. “A part of me is touched, I guess. The rest is…” Izuku shook his head. “Whatever. I’m… I’m happy for them. They’ve been waiting for something like this. Kirishima and Mina must be over the moon.”

“Have either of them contacted you?”

Izuku joined Shouto on the floor. “No. I think that they might be nervous about reaching out right now.”

Shouto set his phone aside. “What about him?”

“Him can go to hell,” Izuku retorted. He recalled the final lyrics from Katsuki’s song and pushed them from his mind. “He’s a jerk.”

Shouto paused. “You haven’t thought about contacting him?”

“No,” Izuku lied. He glared at the ceiling. “He hasn’t messaged me for months, Todoroki. Why should I go out of my way for him? I’m over it.”

“You don’t sound over it.” Izuku shot Shouto a dirty look. Shouto paused. “Let me rephrase that. You were pretty cut up over everything. It might be good for you to get some closure. As for him…” Shouto frowned. “I don’t know the guy and I won’t pretend that I do. But it seems like he could use some closure too.”

Izuku stared at Shouto, flabbergasted. “I thought that you didn’t like him!” he said accusingly.

“I don’t,” Shouto replied evenly. He brought his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around them. “I’m only suggesting this for your sake. I, quite frankly, think that you can do better.”

Izuku chuckled despite himself. “I can do better, huh?”

“I mean, it doesn’t sound like it’d be hard.”

Izuku laughed. He looked at his friend thoughtfully. “Hey. What did you say your coworker’s name was?” he asked.

Shouto opened his mouth to respond but was interrupted when Izuku’s phone began to ring. He looked at the screen and frowned.

“Who is it?” Shouto asked.

“Dunno,” Izuku replied. “I don’t recognize the number.” He answered the call. “Hello?”

“Hello. Is this Midoriya Izuku?”

The voice was unfamiliar. “Yes, speaking.”

“Great. This is Nakamura Alice calling from Outreach News. I’m contacting you in regards to the photo essay that you recently submitted for publication-”

Outreach News… That was one of the media affiliates connected with Endeavor Enterprises. It was a trendy online publication that was popular with young adults. Izuku’s heart leapt to his throat.

“-and I was hoping to schedule a meeting with you to discuss your work in further detail with our Content Director. Are you available on Monday?”

Monday? Izuku would be expected at The Beat on Monday. Maybe he could pop by after work… Wait, what was he thinking? Take it! Take it!

“Yes!” Izuku exclaimed. He leapt to his feet. Pinching his phone between his cheek and shoulder, he frantically mimed the likeness of a pen and paper to Shouto. “Yes, I can absolutely do that.”

“Okay! How does 8:00 AM sound?”

“Perfect!” Shouto dashed to the kitchen and back. He shoved the requested items into Izuku’s hands. Izuku quickly jotted down the date and time then confirmed the address and a few other details. “Yes! Thank you! Thank you so much! I’m looking forward to it!”

After thanking Alice for what felt like the hundredth time, Izuku ended the call.

“What was that about?” Shouto asked.

A painfully wide grin split Izuku’s face. “Outreach News,” he said, barely able to contain his excitement. “I owe you one hell of a nice dinner.”

Shouto grinned. “I’d prefer cold soba.”

Izuku gave a joyous shout then tackled Shouto into a bear hug.

 

***

 

Sneaking in late Monday morning proved easier than Izuku had anticipated. Barely anyone even glanced his way; they were too busy chatting about the latest gossip. Izuku’s previously euphoric mood was somewhat dampened when he realized what the cause of all of the excitement was.

“Can you believe it?”

“I had no idea they were even from the area.”

“I spent the whole weekend listening to their songs. I’m such a fan.”

“I’m dying to see them live.”

“When are they playing next?”

“Do you think they’re working on a new album?”

“Who cares? They should take advantage of all of the attention and book a tour.”

“God, I want Ground Zero to step on me. Do you think they’ll let us meet him?”

“I hope so. Maybe we should stake him out.”

Someone hummed the tune to Drop Dead, Gorgeous as they passed by Izuku’s desk.He sighed. Was this his personal hell?

As Izuku quietly got to work, one of his coworkers sidled up next to him. “Have you heard the news?” she asked.

Izuku frowned. “What news?”

Her eyes lit up. She leaned in. “Apparently that band… The Antiheroes… they’re from around here. Rumour has it that editorial is trying to get them in for an exclusive interview.” She grinned. “They’ll probably have them in for a photo shoot too. Ugh, I can’t wait. We’re actually staying on the cutting edge of something for once!”

Izuku tried to wipe the horrified expression off his face, but he wasn’t fast enough. His coworker frowned. “You know, you could be more excited,” she said. “Their music is good. Maybe you just don’t get it.”

“I never said I didn’t like them,” Izuku responded hotly. He couldn’t help but feel irked by her words. “I doubt they’ll agree to do it anyways.”

His coworker put one hand on her hip. “Why not?”

Izuku recalled a conversation that he’d had with Katsuki a long time ago. “I’m not sure they think too highly of magazines like The Beat.”

“Oh, like you’re an expert?” she shot back. “What do you know? You’re not even a fan.”

Izuku pinched the bridge of his nose. He’d had enough of this conversation. Every word that his coworker said rubbed more salt into what, thanks to Katsuki, was a freshly reopened wound.

The sudden ferocious stomping of heels made the studio instantly turn deathly silent.

“WHERE IS HE?!”

The photographers looked at each other with panicked expressions. They scrambled to their respective desks. Izuku tried to focus on his revisions. The sound from the heels grew louder.

‘Don’t come this way,’ he thought. ‘Don’t come this way. Don’t come-’

“Midoriya Izuku.” Izuku felt his blood run cold. With dread oozing from every pore, he slowly turned. He plastered a huge, fake smile on his face.

“G- Good morning, Ms. Takeyama,” he stammered.

Takeyama Yuu held up her hand, silencing Izuku. She was an attractive woman; her long blonde hair was styled immaculately and her fashion sense, while bordering on inappropriate at times, was always modern. She stood at well over six feet tall in her stilettos, earning her the whispered nickname of ‘Mt. Lady’ amongst her colleagues. She was capable of being pleasant, but when she was upset, it was best to run for cover.

Izuku took one look at his boss and gulped. He knew that he should have taken the entire day off rather than tried to sneak in late.

“I’m so angry, I can’t even look at you right now,” Yuu said. “Come with me.”

Izuku nodded dumbly and stood. His coworkers watched him leave solemnly. He could sense them planning his wake.

Izuku followed Yuu as she stomped her way through the studio. She pushed open the back doors and headed for the elevators that connected the studio to the rest of The Beat. Izuku balked. He’d assumed that Yuu was going to take him into one of the back rooms and yell at him.

“Ms. Takeyama?” he asked uncertainly as Yuu pounded the ‘up’ button on the elevator. The doors opened and they stepped inside.

“Be quiet,” Yuu snapped. She tapped her foot impatiently as the elevator ascended. Izuku pressed his lips together.

As they stepped off the elevator, Yuu began to mutter angrily to herself. “…does she think she is? It’s my damn department… old hag. I should be up there running the show myself…”

They passed by the rows of cubicles that made up the editorial department. Izuku noticed Ochako and a few others poking their heads up, Yuu’s loud muttering catching their interest. Izuku and Ochako’s eyes met briefly. Shamefaced, Izuku averted his gaze and followed his boss right up to-

Oh no.

Fear coiled in his gut.

The Editor-in-Chief’s office.

This wasn’t about him blowing off work. No, this was worse.

Yuu knocked on the closed door then, without waiting for a response, pushed it open. “Alright, I’ve got him. Happy?”

The black-haired woman sitting behind the minimalist desk blinked, murmured something into her phone, then set the device down.

“Perfectly,” she purred.

Yuu looked like she was holding back words. Izuku didn’t dare move or speak.

Kayama Nemuri, Editor-in-Chief of The Beat, smirked. Izuku shrank back. He’d never been introduced to Nemuri but he’d heard stories about you-know-who. Nemuri was a proud woman with a confident demeanor. Her dark hair was long and sleek, her blue eyes framed by a pair of bright red cat-eye glasses. She had a reputation that put the fear of God into most of her employees. Those who liked her, however, referred to her as ‘Midnight,’ due to her uncanny ability to worm her way into any major city party or event regardless of how elite it was.

Nemuri watched Izuku with the penetrating gaze of an apex predator. “So this is Midoriya Izuku,” she said.

“I- It’s a pleasure to meet you, ma’am,” Izuku said. He felt faint.

Nemuri frowned and Izuku almost vomited. After a moment her expression cleared and she smiled. “Adorable,” she said, “but don’t call me ma’am again. You’re going to make me feel old.” She gestured at the empty seats across from her desk.

Izuku mumbled an apology and shuffled over to a chair. Yuu huffed and made a display of slamming the office door shut before she joined them. She crossed her arms and glared at both of them. Izuku winced.

“Now, Yuu,” Nemuri scolded lightly. “Lighten up a little. You’re scaring the poor boy.”

“He should be scared,” Yuu retorted, crossing one leg over the other for good measure.

Izuku had heard that there was bad blood between his boss and the Editor-in-Chief, but he’d never witnessed it firsthand. He wasn’t sure whether it was caused by jealousy, repressed attraction (if the rumours meant anything at all), or something else, but the last thing he wanted was to be caught in the middle of it.

Nemuri laughed before she turned her attention back to Izuku. “Did Yuu tell you why she brought you here?” she asked.

Izuku shook his head. “I’m afraid not,” he said meekly. “Am I in trouble?”

“Trouble!” Nemuri chortled, slamming her hand onto the desk. Izuku almost died right then and there. “I suppose that depends on a few things.” When Izuku paled, she laughed again. “First of all, I’m dying to know… What is the nature of your relationship with The Antiheroes?”

If Izuku had any saliva left in his mouth, he would have choked on it. “I’m sorry?” he asked.

Yuu kicked the side of his chair irritably. “Answer the question.”

“We’re friendly acquaintances, I guess.” Izuku faltered. “I’ve photographed a couple of their shows.”

The look on Yuu’s face made Izuku want to sink into the chair and disappear. “It was for personal interest!” he squeaked. “I took them outside of work hours.”

“Let me see your photographs,” Nemuri said.

Growing more confused by the second, Izuku gave Nemuri his social media handle. He writhed in his seat as she scrolled through his work disinterestedly. “Hm.” She narrowed her eyes. “What’s your experience with photo shoots?”

Izuku hesitated. He couldn’t bring up what he was doing with Mirio, not in front of his boss. “I’ve assisted on a couple.”

Nemuri gave Izuku a sidelong glance. “So, what? Did you call your buddies and ask them to do you a solid? Are you trying to force your way into a position that you’re underqualified for?”

“I’m sorry?” Izuku repeated, completely lost and terrified.

“Are you sleeping with one of them?”

“What- No!” Izuku cried out.

“He’s lying,” Yuu said.

“I’m not!” Izuku protested. He felt like a minnow trapped between a shark and a giant squid. “Please, I have no idea what either of you are talking about. Would someone tell me what’s going on?”

Nemuri leaned back in her chair. “Well,” she started, “this band that everybody’s talking about is what’s going on. The second that I found out they were from the area, I knew that I had to have them. They’re new, they’re edgy, they’re on the cusp of success.” Nemuri smiled hungrily. “They’re exactly the kind of story that The Beat is looking for. The lead singer is a looker, too. I’ll bet he photographs really well.”

Yuu grumbled.

“I had my people contact them, but apparently the lead singer isn’t interested, not unless one of our entry-level photographers is given the shoot.” Nemuri gave Izuku a pointed look. “He asked for you by name. So would you mind telling me what this is all about?”

Izuku’s jaw dropped to the floor. “He did what?” he asked weakly.

Nemuri exchanged a look with Yuu. “Well,” she remarked, “at least he has the decency to look surprised.”

Izuku’s head was spinning. Never in his life would he have guessed that this was why he’d been called into Nemuri’s office. He was mortified. He was elated. He was furious.

First, there was the video. Now, this. What the hell was Katsuki trying to do?

“…I’m very sorry for all of the trouble that this has caused you,” Izuku finally said. “Don’t worry. I’ll talk to the band and sort everything out. I’m not going to do the shoot.” He’d speak with Kirishima or Mina. They would be reasonable.

“Oh, you’re doing the shoot,” Nemuri said.

“What?” Izuku felt the colour drain from his face.

“I want this band,” Nemuri said. Her gaze hardened. “I want The Beatto be the first magazine that The Antiheroes are published in. I want to be credited with discovering them. These ungrateful assholes’ faces are going to be on the cover of the next goddamn issue one way or another. If they say that they’re not going to come unless you do the shoot, then you’re doing the shoot.” Nemuri sighed. “We’ll have to figure out how we’re going to manage this.”

“Would they settle for Izuku as an assistant?” Yuu asked.

“Apparently not,” Nemuri responded dryly. “They were quite clear with their stipulations.”

Izuku was pretty sure that if he ever saw Katsuki again, he was going to strangle him with his bare hands.

“We’ll put on a show then,” Yuu said. “Let Izuku run around with a camera for a few minutes. My Togata will handle the rest.”

Nemuri nodded slowly. “I don’t particularly like it, but I don’t think we have many other options.” She looked at Izuku, her smile vanishing. “Do not breathe a word of this to the band. Do not whisper a single syllable to your coworkers. Do you understand?”

Izuku gulped. He nodded. “Yes.”

“Good.” Nemuri’s smile returned. “I’ll go ahead and let them know.” She looked at Izuku one last time. “Not. A. Word.”

“Yes,” Izuku whispered.

Izuku clenched and unclenched his fists as he followed Yuu out of Nemuri’s office. He’d almost pissed himself back there. Was Katsuki aware of how much trouble he could have gotten him into? What the hell had he been thinking? You couldn’t force your way into people’s lives like that!

“I’m sorry,” Izuku repeated.

Yuu ignored him. The moment that they stepped inside the elevator, however, that changed. Whirling on Izuku, Yuu shoved her hand against his shoulder and pushed him into the wall. Izuku yelped. His heart slammed against his ribcage.

“You’re a liar,” Yuu snarled. She was significantly taller than Izuku, an intimidating presence even when she wasn’t mad. “You think you’re clever, don’t you? ‘I’ve only assisted on a couple of shoots.’ Give me a break. Do you think I’m stupid?”

Oh God. She knew about Mirio. “I- I-” Izuku stuttered.

Yuu sneered. “There’s nothing I hate more than liars. Did you ever stop to think that maybe there was a reason that I kept you on edits and product work? That maybe I need good people working on things besides photo shoots? Not everything is about you, Midoriya Izuku.”

Izuku somehow felt insulted, complimented, and terrified all at once. “I can’t stay at the bottom forever,” he protested with as much conviction as he could muster. “If I’m good at what I do, why shouldn’t I get new opportunities?”

“Because that’s not how the world works!” Yuu tossed her hair haughtily. “Do you think that I wanted to be in charge of the photography department at some middle-of-the-road fashion magazine? I-” She paused. A malicious smile appeared on her face. “You know what?” she sneered. “You want ‘new opportunities’ so badly? Fine. You’re in charge of the shoot.”

Izuku’s heart stopped. He stared at his boss stupidly. “What?”

“You’ve been working with Togata. Think you’re really good now, huh?” She jabbed a finger into his chest. “It’s your shoot. Togata will assist you.”

There were a thousand things wrong with this situation. “But Ms. Kayama said-”

“What Nemuri doesn’t know won’t hurt her.” Yuu smirked. “What’s wrong? You don’t want it? Don’t think that you’re qualified?”

Izuku wasn’t qualified; he knew that much. He had a feeling that he didn’t have a whole lot of say in the matter though. “…I do want it,” he said.

“Good.” Yuu stepped away from Izuku.

The elevator slowed to a halt. Izuku opened and closed his mouth. He felt like he ought to say something. “Uh… Thank you?”

As the elevator doors pinged open, Yuu looked at Izuku and smiled humourlessly.

“If you screw this up,” she said, “you’re fired.”