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It all starts because Kirishima lets slip to Kaminari, who whispers it loudly to Sero and is overheard by Ashido, who tells Jirou, who announces it the rest of the girls in the class, that Bakugou has some secret beefy dude mags hidden deep under his bed.

Izuku hears it from Uraraka, who wonders if Kacchan would be willing to loan them out. For the workout tips, she says, and the worst part of it is that he thinks she's being honest. Izuku doesn't have the heart or the courage to tell her that those kinds of magazines probably wouldn't have the sort of tips she's imagining.

He also doesn't bother to ask her to keep this information to herself, since apparently the only person in the class who hasn't already heard about Kacchan's poorly hidden porn mags is Kacchan himself.

"What an idiot," Mineta snorts derisively from the across the room. "Keeping physical evidence around like an amateur; who even uses mags anymore? You can't delete those when people start asking questions - I know, I've tried."

"I wonder if that's his type - muscles," Asui croaks. "It'd explain a lot."

In his periphery, Izuku can see Iida having some kind of internal struggle - he guesses it's probably a showdown between his need for public decency versus his own mortification at the topic. If anyone in the class was going to go the retro route to spank town, Izuku would have put money on Iida, so this might be hitting a little close to home for him.

See, if it was Iida, Izuku would not be surprised. He wouldn't even blink, because it's something that sounds logical and true, and it's really none of Izuku's business. And it might be Iida - probably is if the speedy retreat to his room indicates anything - but this isn't Iida's magazine collection the class is talking about right now.

It's Kacchan and his glossy collection of well-built men.

Izuku doesn't know what's logical and true anymore. What constitutes logic anyway? What even is the truth when faced with this new and shocking information?

"Right, Midoriya?" Asui says, staring at him and clearly waiting for a response.

Izuku hasn't been listening at all.

"Um. Sure," he mutters. He doesn't know, and it doesn't matter, because there's a head of wheaty blond hair climbing up the stairs and into an inevitable inquisition. A tiny part of Izuku really wants to drag Kacchan aside and warn him before it comes to that, but a bigger part of him thinks that's a really bad idea for his own health. He's been trying to nurture some measure of self-preservation instinct at the request of... almost everyone, honestly, and listening to the little voice that says 'don't' seems like progress.

They'd be so proud of him if he lives to tell this story.

 


 

He lives.

Surprisingly, they all do.

Izuku suspects this has nothing to do with Kacchan's tenuous self-restraint and everything to do with the fact that nobody actually confronts him directly as he walks through the door and straight up the stairs.

No.

What they do is somehow worse for all involved.

Forget Kacchan's collection, Izuku wants to know who's been leaving barazoku manga around the dormitory and where they're getting it from. He wants to know why random volumes of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure are scattered in with it, and he wants to know who left the bottle of vegetable oil outside of Kacchan's door with a note that just said: 'shine me anytime'. He wants to know why he's the one getting sat down for the 'take care of yourself because we worry' guilt-lecture when there's clearly some kind of group suicide pact happening without him.

Mostly, he wants to know how Kacchan is failing to react to any of this - like it's not even registering for him. Not even the oil.

He wants to think that Kacchan would recognise harassment - given that he's so good at it - but Izuku's always had the dark suspicion that Kacchan just thinks that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. It'd sure explain their entire relationship, and why the giant fold-out poster of some manly-rooster-fire-thing(?) remains whole and unburnt where it's been stuck on the fourth floor landing for at least two days.    

It's unfair. This entire situation is unfair on like, three different levels, because Izuku wants to be a hero but he not's entirely sure who he should be saving - himself from Kacchan, Kacchan from his classmates, or his classmates from themselves.

 


 

"Where are these coming from?" Kirishima says, squinting distrustfully at a random manga volume held pinched between two fingers. Izuku can't see which category it falls into - homoerotic or just JoJo's? Is there really a difference? He's too afraid to look at them both deeply enough to compare - but the cover has more muscles on display than a man should physically have, so at least he knows it's not one of the competing ecchi volumes someone else has taken to leaving around.

"I almost broke my neck tripping over this thing and I am not a man easily broken. Who's even reading these? It's like a plague down here."

Izuku shrugs, pushing a different one to the side of the kitchen bench to make way for his cup ramen. "I think they think they're being funny."

Or he hopes they do; if they're doing this to be mean Izuku might actually have find the culprit and sit them down for a long lecture about sensitivity - which they've already had to sit through at least once during their hero studies. Izuku wants to believe his classmates are better than that.  

"But why?"

"Why... what?"

"This!" Kirishima says, waving the manga around for emphasis before dropping it on a random stack. It's like a battle of chaos and control in here; someone's leaving them around, someone else is stacking them up. Someone comes looking for a specific volume because they've decided to read something and someone else decides the best use for these things is as a coaster for their drinks. "Who's doing this? Why are they doing this? This is unneighbourly behaviour at best, a safety hazard at worst." 

"Has anyone seen the sixth tankōbon of Jojo's?" Uraraka calls from her place over on the couches. Izuku watches as she skims the titles of a tall stack, pulling at random volumes like she's playing a careless game of jenga - chaotic good, Izuku thinks.

"Ask Tokoyami-kun," he calls back, slightly garbled through a mouthful of noodles. He swallows and continues more clearly, "I think he's been collecting those to read in his room - the whole stand thing? Dark Shadow likes it; it speaks to him on a representational level, he says."

"Thanks," Uraraka says and makes her way up the stairs to the boys rooms without even a hint of hesitation. Izuku wishes he had that kind of confidence; he can't just do that. He has to spend entire minutes intensely psyching himself up just to go anywhere near the girls dorms.

"Is this some kind of poorly organised exchange thing? Like one of those 'leave a book, take a book' places?"

"I doubt it, unless Kacchan is actually taking some of these to read," Izuku says, stops; pauses. Thinks about it, squinting at Kirishima. "...Is he?"

"What?" Kirishima says. "Bakugou? Why?"

Izuku squints harder, taking in Kirishima's clear confusion, the raised brows and the twist of humour to his mouth that suggests that he thinks the very idea is ludicrous. Like he can't see any reason why anyone would think Kacchan would be interested in a whole cornucopia of well muscled men, when-

Kirishima doesn't get it, Izuku realises. Kirishima has no idea what they're on about. Kirishima started this whole thing.

Izuku places his lunch, nearly forgotten, on the bench in front of him and frowns down into the depths of leftover noodles and broth and deep, swirling questions. Does this mean Kirishima doesn't know? Even though everybody traces the story back to him? It has a very defined lineage, this rumour; 'so someone heard it from Jirou, who heard it from Ashido, who heard it from Kaminari, who heard it from Kirishima', every time. How can Kirishima not know?

Unless something's been lost in translation? Rumour and gossip is well known to warp along the grapevine - right? A noodle bobs slightly and Izuku nods back at it. Right. So maybe what Kirishima started is not what they finished with. Makes sense. Still doesn't explain how Kirishima hasn't heard the end result, since everybody's heard it, but maybe nobody has bothered to tell him the thing he supposedly told everyone else in the first place.

Wait - does that make the 'beefcake magazine' part pure gossip? Or is that the truth, taken out of context? Does that mean the reason Kacchan isn't reacting to all of this is because he truly and honestly does not know he's the intended target of it?

Is Izuku going to actually have to be the one to explain this? To Kirishima? To Kacchan?! God, no, he hasn't injured himself in weeks - he was doing so well!

"You-ah. You alright there, buddy?" A hand lands gently on Izuku's shoulder and he startles, head snapping up to find Kirishima staring at him warily. "I couldn't really understand what's got you all - but you broke your chopsticks, dude."

Izuku stares down at the shattered remains of his chopsticks and the sad, soggy mess of his lunch. He feels an overwhelming urge to cry.

"Take care of yourself, okay?" Kirishima says, departing with one last consoling pat to the shoulder.

The urge gets stronger; he's trying, damn it.

 


 

The little voice that screams about his personal safety only gets louder as Izuku watches Kacchan navigate the downstairs area with the same sort of sense that allows him to move quickly and gracefully around obstacles on the battlefield. He steps over a knee-high stack of paperbacks, pirouettes around another chest-high stack, and slips sideways through the gap of two more middle-height stacks like they're not even there.

He'd be more impressed by this innate display of situational awareness, if only Kacchan gave a single hint that he's actually aware of the situation here. He's like water, moving fluid and unseeing though the great protruding stacks of targeted harassment, calmer about it than he has any right to be.

That's how fucked up this is - Izuku thinks that Kacchan is being too calm. Even if he's being beautifully oblivious about why this is happening, he should at least be kicking things over and mowing through the pages like they've personally offended him; they're in his way, they're impeding him, and Kacchan is skirting around them silently and without protest.

Kaminari is looking just as weirded out in the corner, watching the same scene unfold as Izuku, while there's nervous laughter coming out of the kitchen to his back. Kacchan leaves through the front door without a single pause or word to anyone about anything.

"Maybe he's picky about his type," Kaminari mutters and side-eyes a random volume to his left.

Izuku side-eyes a volume to his right. He's starting to truly question whether any of this is Kacchan's type.  

 


 

All Might.

It's the first thing Izuku sees, attention drawn to the muscular figure posed heroically in his silver-age costume of red and white, the long blue cape flowing dramatically behind him. "A Hero For The People!" written in bold block letters across his chest.

Heroic Monthly, issue 301, Spring edition.  He knows this the same way he knows he has his own copy sequestered away in a cardboard box in his closet, along with issues 288-352; anything before 288 is before his time and painfully expensive. They don't have any All Might in them either, so Izuku has never fully tried to get his hands on them.

Issue 301 wasn't an easy thing to get either, being All Might's second appearance in the magazine and featuring a full five page interview with the then up-and-coming hero. A collector's item. Izuku doesn't know why Uraraka has it, but his heart skips a beat at the sight of her curled up in the corner of a couch, reading it and with a bunch of similar magazines balanced precariously on one of the now ever-present stacks of paperbacks in their shared common room. He feels like he's found his people.

"This?" She says when he asks about it. "I'm borrowing it from Bakugou-kun. I asked him about those magazines he has, y'know? He threw them at me and said if any come back damaged I'm dead, but I don't see why you couldn't look at them too."

"Huh." Izuku stares down forlornly at the random assortment she gestures at while his heart returns to a normal rhythm. It figures; he's always known Kacchan is his people - smart and fanatical about All Might - it's just a point of tragedy that he's never been Kacchan's kind in return. It takes some of the zest out of him, finding out that Uraraka isn't the owner and he sort of hates himself for the disappointment he feels.

"This is gonna sound crazy but do you think Bakugou-kun can be, like, nice? This seems really nice of him; he didn't even threaten me that much when I asked."

"Kacchan can be nice," Izuku says defensively. Honestly, if anyone had asked to borrow his collection he'd think twice about it, and then only let it happen under his watchful gaze, so this is- "I mean, it's been known to happen."

He picks up a random issue and thumbs through it. He's about memorised a lot of the All Might stuff from his own copies, but there's sections on other heroes of the time that he's a little less familiar with - downsides of an obsessive mind, he guesses. He finds a bit on an international hero from India that can-

"Wait, are these the magazines?!"  Izuku looks down at the glossy pages in his hands; Heroic Monthly, issue 304, Winter edition. The cover features a man of dark features in a red and black costume - international, African-American, "Making Waves On The Global Scene!" - and the same kind of internal exposé of heroes the publication is known for.

Uraraka blinks at him, rubbing at her ear like his tone was a little too high-pitched to be comfortable. "I guess?" She says, looking back down at the pages in her lap. "Most of these heroes are dudes - which, bullshit - but there's some pretty interesting articles in here. This one guy runs twenty miles a day. I only jog five. I'm thinking maybe I should-"

"Can I join you?" Izuku interrupts, mind working a mile a minute. Uraraka responds by shifting further into the arm of the couch, opening up enough space so that he can sit down next to her. "Thanks."

She hands him issue 301."Here you go, can you pass me the next one?"

Izuku takes the offered magazine and hands her issue 302, Summer edition. They both settle in, commenting on random factoids and sharing bits of weirdness as they make their way through the collection of magazines.

Magazines that are entirely normal to have - if a little obsessive in the effort it would have taken to procure, he ought to know - and in no way what the rest of the class seems to think they are.  Sure, there's a lot of strong, muscled men in form fitting outfits, a couple of them wearing less than others here and there, but this would hardly qualify for... what everyone thinks Kacchan is doing with them. Izuku has these too, and he's not doing anything untoward to his. The magazines are whole and well cared for - the pages aren't even sticky.

Izuku feels dirty just thinking about it but it's true.

The only exception are the pages with All Might; across multiple issues Izuku finds the tell-tale creases that say that Kacchan likes to dog-ear the things that interest him. He'd judge, but Izuku's done a little bit of that himself, when he was younger and couldn't fully appreciate the value of what he held in his hands beyond it just being cool. No other pages have those marks - only the All Might ones. The ones that mark Kacchan as his people, if only they'd never formed a rift between them. If only they'd continued on like they had before things like quirks and worth came between them; long hours filled with videos and articles, spending their days at each other's house snacking on junk food and discussing heroes, driving their parents mad and just plain geeking out

Izuku carefully places issue 307, Autumn edition (Endeavour, "Burning A Path Of Righteousness!")  on the stack of borrowed magazines, moved from their precarious placement onto the coffee table, and sighs, closing his eyes against the wave of pure nostalgia that overtakes him.

Ah, simpler times.

A hell of a lot more simpler than this clusterfuck - the one that's about unfounded masturbation rumours involving his childhood friend - which he knows he's now going to have to explain to somebody despite the little voice practically wailing at him in despair.

Oh god, whatever. Izuku's never been good at keeping himself out of things that could hurt him, and he's already feeling pretty raw; sitting here, faced with the evidence of what he and Kacchan could have had for a lot longer than they actually did.  

So saving himself from Kacchan is out; it probably wasn't ever a legitimate option, if he's honest. The biggest question Izuku has left is whether he saves Kacchan from his classmates, or his classmates from themselves.

 


 

"Oi, Bakugou. Is this more your speed?" Kaminari asks, half hidden around a doorway and waving a random copy of - Izuku squints to make out the title as it moves up and down - Baki the Grappler? He doesn't know what that is, except yet another example of an industry apparently filled with a weird obsession with half-naked, well muscled men.

Kacchan doesn't even bother to look over, dumping what looks to be an entire shaker of ichimi togarashi onto his yakisoba. The sight of it makes Izuku want to cry - for the amount of spice, sure, but also because Kacchan's mother used to keep an entire shelf full of the stuff for this exact reason and Izuku's been feeling really nostalgic about childhood experiences of late.

The manga volume hits the counter next to Kacchan's dinner with a smack, sliding on the landing and hitting the side of his bowl.

"There's like, manly wrestling in it for you," Kaminari says, still shielding himself with the doorway.

"Who cares, what the fuck?" Kacchan grunts and flicks the volume away with enough force that it flies off the counter and hits the cupboards on the other side of the kitchen. It's the first and only time Izuku - or anyone - has gotten a reaction to all this, and he waits with bated breath for the rest of it.

It doesn't come; Kacchan just shoves a mouthful of food in his mouth and chews, oblivious to Kaminari's dramatic disappointment and Izuku's own quieter frustration.  

Kacchan from his classmates it is, then. Against all odds, his childhood friend-slash-bully is being more rational about this, and so he gets Izuku's pity. The rest of his classmates have dug their graves.

 


 

Izuku has an armful of magazines and a really uncomfortable sinking in his gut as he stands out front of Kacchan's dorm room door. He's been here for at least five minutes, and the longer he thinks about doing this, the more he's convinced that everybody who ever looked at him like he had a death wish was right - he's done a lot to himself for the sake of others, but he thinks this just about tops it as the worst idea he has ever had. Even the little voice, so new and growing, has given up; it's barely a whimper now. It'd withered right around the time Izuku had asked Uraraka if she wanted him to return the borrowed magazines and she'd dumped them into his hands with thanks.

Returning the magazines is just a cover. Both him and that little voice know why they're really here, psyching themselves up in the middle of the fourth floor corridor - they're here because there's no better conversational opener to "so everyone thinks you're jerking off to these" than the material in question.

This is a fucking terrible plan.

He's still gonna do it. He really feels like someone should, and it's easier to get Kacchan to stop everybody from harassing him than it would be to get all of their classmates on the same wavelength about it; especially since a few of them have decided to make a point of finding something Kacchan would like.

Yeah.

Easier.

Izuku is going to die. He won't live to tell this tale, and everybody who has ever cared about his well-being is going to be so disappointed in him.  

"The fuck do you want, shitnerd?" Kacchan says, swinging his door open wide when he knocks on it. Izuku chokes down a pathetic whine - he was really hoping Kacchan was out... somewhere. At ten in the evening, with a nine-thirty curfew.

"The magazines Uraraka-san borrowed," Izuku says. "I'm returning them for her."

"Who the fuck said you could touch them? I don't remember telling her she could share 'em around, the lousy, lying, bi-"

"It was just me!" Izuku doesn't think he should let Kacchan finish that; he'll be honour bound to defend his friend, and then Kacchan will get defensive - it'll turn into this whole thing and Izuku's uncomfortable enough already. "She was reading some, and I read some with her for a bit, okay? Can I put these down or something, they're heavy."

Kacchan squints at him, eyes narrowed and distrustful as he moves out of the way so Izuku can walk through his doorway and into his room. Izuku only hesitates for a second; this is his first time in here but it's nothing compared to going into the girls dormitory. He's honestly surprised he's being allowed this at all; he half-expected the magazines would be ripped from his arms and the door slammed in his face.

He takes a good look around the room as he walks in; semi-clean, books and clothes and little things all scattered about, a few band posters. It's all pretty normal, and Izuku thinks he even recognises some things from Kacchan's old room back home; which is weird and weirdly humanising, seeing that even Kacchan has things he cherishes from so long ago. "So, where should I-?"

"Just drop 'em on the bed, fucknut, and get out."

And that's not part of the plan. If Izuku doesn't broach this topic now, he'll never have his chance. The magazines are his opener, his shield, and as soon as they hit the mattress he'll no longer have an excuse to be here unless he opens his mouth now.

"I can't believe Yamaguchi wasted his whole section arguing that All Might wasn't going to make it as a hero," is what his says instead, and he's not sure what he's more affronted about - the scathing article about All Might in issue 303, or his own stupid cowardice. "So he damaged a building? So what?! He saved all those people - how is that the mark of a 'burgeoning menace to society in an obnoxious display of primaries'? What does his costume have to do with it? What an asshole."

He's expecting Kacchan to grunt at him, or tell him to shut up, or to finally rip the magazines from his hands and throw him out; he doesn't expect the derisive snort as Kacchan pushes a pile of clothes off the end of his bed so Izuku can set the magazines down.

"That shitstain just had it in for All Might - the bit he had after the shitshow at the airport? In one of the Winter Issues, or something; fucker does his best to choke on his own dick about it. "The cost to the central aviation" blah blah blah, like he thinks a hero's there to save fucking money and not people."

Izuku drops the magazines on the bed more out of shock than any planned action. The bed shakes at the added weight, bouncing up and down; Izuku feels like he could relate.

"What?" It is not the smartest response he's ever given, that's for sure. He sounds as dumb as Kacchan always accuses him of being and he can't, for the life of him, make himself come up with an intelligible reply. This is all just too much for him to handle all of a sudden. It's surprise and excitement mixing together to make him useless.

Kacchan clearly doesn't give a shit - about Izuku's stupid, stuttered non-answer, nor his frozen form stuck standing very still as he silently berates himself. He just makes a slight tsk sound and drops down to his knees to feel around in the space under his bed.

Izuku thinks he even stops breathing at this.

"No shit, that asshole has a whole fucking diatribe about it." Izuku watches, transfixed, as Kacchan drags out a crate from under his bed, piled high with magazines - at least that part of the rumour is true - and starts flipping through titles, covers of past heroes flashing by as he looks for something in particular. He barely manages to catch the magazine Kacchan throws at his face. "This one, and - these."

Izuku grips the one thrown at him like it might disappear and gingerly takes the other three on offer, Kacchan handing those over like a normal person from his position kneeling on the floor, half propped up on his bed. "Damage these and die, now get out of my room."

He doesn't even have time to process what's just happened before Izuku finds himself out in the corridor, Kacchan's door shut firmly behind him and with an armful of magazines that he already owns held up against his chest. He didn't even have time to put his plan into action - the whole reason he'd come here! To talk about the magazines - the ones he was using as a way to ease into the whole - ugh. Just once, Izuku would like to save Kacchan without him making it as difficult as possible for him.

Izuku stares down at the issues in his hands; he guesses with these he can always try again.

Not now though. He greatly doubts Kacchan would let him in again, and he's feeling a little fuzzy around the edges, besides. A weird sort of warm, tingling shock, like surprise nostalgia running through his veins. This is like what they had when they were younger - with a little more profanity, give or take - and Izuku isn't quite sure what to do with it, besides brushing up on Yamaguchi's shockingly wrong opinions so that he might sound a little more impressionable next time.

Next time.

Because he has a reason to return. Maybe even start a dialog.

Izuku smiles to himself; maybe the night hasn't been a total waste after all.

 


 

"-one has to wonder whether this new breed of hero is indeed worth the cost to the general public. If there's any doubt as to where the liability for collateral destruction lies, a single look at the demolished mess of the entire northern area of the 73rd ward should stand as an example of evidence. All Might, in his slovenly approach to constrained destruction, stands first and foremost as the cause of most, if indeed not all, of the-"

Izuku throws the magazine away from himself with disgust and then immediately regrets it. These are not his, and if he damages them Kacchan will never speak to him again, or worse.

He stares down at where it lies pathetically on his floor. Issue 312, Winter edition, the old water-based hero Hydro standing proud on the cover, "Cleansing Evil With A Single Pump!". Yamaguchi continuing to do the absolute most to be wrong within; Izuku can't wait to bitch about him to Kacchan. Kacchan will understand his indignation.  

In fact, he's going to do that now, while the anger is still fresh enough to inhibit that little voice that warns him against doing stupid things.

"I've never met this man, but I want to punch him full cowl," Izuku says as greeting when Kacchan opens his door. "Detroit Smash, one-hundred percent."

"I told you," Kacchan says, moving to the side so that Izuku can stomp in and continue his rant.

"I don't remember him at all; surely, I would have read this, but that was a long time ago and I don't. He's so wrong, I must've managed to block him from my memories entirely, because this is just-" He flings the offending magazine onto Kacchan's bed and spins around to where Kacchan has his arms crossed and a smug look on his face. "Forty-three lives saved, and he wants to argue potholes."

"He doesn't make it past issue 320; they fucking shitcan him," Kacchan says, grinning meanly. "When All Might took down Dystopia - remember? - he couldn't say a single fucking good thing about him, despite All Might getting personal thanks from the Mayor. Bastard never appears after that; my guess is the editors finally fucked him off for good."

"Good," Izuku spits. The idea that Yamaguchi was denied any further input into All Might - or really, anything at all - settles him. Makes him realise that with that little tantrum expressed, he doesn't really have much more reason to be here. He shifts awkwardly on his feet and looks around the room, mostly unchanged since the last time he was here. The piles of clothes have been swapped out for different ones, but really nothing he can comment on.

Kacchan seems to notice this as well, his own feet shuffling from the door towards the magazine Izuku had thrown on his bed. "What would you do?" He says, stilted but sounding curious as he picks it up. "Dystopia, I mean. Would you do anything differently than All Might did to stop him?"

His second time in this room, and Izuku is again caught off-guard. He hums as he considers it; trying to remember the particulars of Dystopia's quirks, the urban surrounds of the fight, the combination of moves and strategy All Might used to bring him down. The conclusion he comes to is, "Not really. A power versus power-type quirk is always going to have some structural damage to the surrounding buildings; I don't think there's really a way to get around that. I think, maybe, the only thing I would have done differently was try to contain the battle to those areas already damaged - but then, All Might taught us that, so either he couldn't do it in the fight regardless of intentions, or it's something he learned during. Doesn't really count, does it?"

Kacchan doesn't answer for a long minute, staring down at the magazine in his hands. When he does, it's with a tone Izuku is largely unfamiliar with from him - cautious, the words weighted as he says, "Not really. You should start fucking thinking for yourself a bit, Deku, instead of just copying All Might."

Kacchan's words sound accusing, even if his tone doesn't, and Izuku twitches.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Kacchan curls his lip and drops the magazine back down on the bed. "Isn't that what One For All is all about? Building it up and improving on it and all that shit? What the fuck are you adding to it?"

Izuku finds himself back out in the corridor once again before he can fully process how he got there. He knows, at least this time, that he slammed the door behind him himself.

Yeah, he thinks bitterly, this is more like what he remembers when it comes to talking to Kacchan.

 


 

 

Dragon Ball Z has now been added to the long list of things Kacchan has no interest in.

"None of these!" Sero says, flipping random paperbacks off a stack like he's dealing a deck of cards. A Baki The Grappler barely misses hitting Izuku's knee. "He has looked at none of these. I don't even know where they're coming from, and it's driving me mad! If it's driving me mad, how are these still here?!"

"I don't think Kacchan even notices them," Izuku says, and very intentionally does not add why that is - which he doesn't know. He has no idea how Kacchan has missed them, when everyone's taken to complaining about them. Nobody's actually claimed responsibility or cleaned them up, however, so he suspects one of the complainers thinks they're being crafty about it. He does know why they're not peaking Kacchan's interest though, and he refuses to give himself the hassle. Whatever, it's not his business anymore, because Kacchan can save himself.

He's feeling petty. He's not proud, but it is what it is.

"How can he miss them?!" Sero continues, and is backed up by Kaminari agreeing with him enthusiastically. "They're everywhere."

"About that," Todoroki says, poking tentatively at a random yaoi doujinshi. "Is there a reason this is all out here? If Bakugou is into this sort of thing, why can't he just get them for himself?"

This is a very pertinent and insightful question; bless Todoroki's unfailing pragmatism. Izuku leans back in his chair and waits to see how his classmates defend themselves.

They start with complete silence, which is not encouraging. Sero graduates to staring intently down at a manga cover, while Kaminari makes a strangled noise. Iida has his face hidden beneath a hand, staunchly refusing to look anywhere in case he sees something he deems inappropriate - which is everything, it seems like. Izuku doesn't know what his issue with JoJo's is, but every time he spies one he goes red and starts spluttering about indecency. Uraraka loves them though, which has made hanging out with the two interesting.  

"I mean-" Kaminari starts, before trailing off.

"This isn't-" Sero continues for him. "We're not-most of this isn't us, right?"

"Right," Kaminari nods. "Most of this isn't-so why would we know?"

Izuku tips his chair back, rocking lazily back and forth on its hind legs as he thinks about this. Much like he would've bet on Iida being the type to favour magazines over websites, he probably would've put money on these two being the largest offenders in the good-naturedly-burying-Kacchan-in-muscles endeavour. He suspects this is largely because, like Kirishima, these two seem to have some sort of in with Kacchan, that means they can get away with things that others would die for.

It begs the question: if they're not mostly responsible, who the hell is? Is it even that important? Sure, he'd like to do literally anything and not have to watch where he's walking, or sitting, or putting things down. He'd like their couches back, and he'd really like the fire-rooster-thing poster gone from the fourth floor landing because it seriously disturbs him.

But he's also still feeling petty, and Izuku thinks it's only a matter of time before someone other than himself gets frustrated enough to let Kacchan in on the joke.

His little voice is crowing.

"Could we at least, I don't know - there's empty rooms in the dorms, can't we ask Aizawa-sensei for one of those to be turned into a library?"

"That is a brilliant idea, Todoroki-kun!" Iida says, hand flying off his face in his enthusiasm. "I'll ask Aizawa-sensei about it!"

Izuku flips over a page of... something, he's not sure, he didn't look before he opened it. He closes it just as quickly - that... that is uncomfortable. Even in the word of quirks, bodies do not bend that way.

A personal class library to hide these away from sight and mind is the best idea he's ever heard, for everyone’s sake.

 

Chapter Text


 

 

The thing is, Izuku isn't entirely sure Kacchan isn't wrong about the accusations he's been flinging around. He knows – now - after coming to Yuuei, that the labels of quirkless and useless don't fit him like they used to; he's at least sure of that.   

But the fact that Izuku hasn't added any of his own flair to One For All? That hits a little too harshly on him, the way Kacchan's insults usually do. Kacchan's always been particularly good at finding the spots weakened with enough truth that Izuku can't defend himself.

Izuku finds a fresh batch of magazines outside his room one morning. He almost trips over them and takes a header into the corridor wall, only managing to catch himself through honed reflexes and sheer fucking luck.

They're all dog-eared, and they are all, in some way, reminiscent of his own fighting style and strategy type. He doesn't even have to ask who left them there and why - he's pretty sure he knows.

Kacchan is his people, after all.

 


 

And so it figures that Kacchan is the one Izuku finds himself paired with in training. He's never quite sure when it's going to happen - the teachers seem to keep to a schedule of keeping them apart and forcing them together in equal measure - but he kind of hates Cementoss for making this one of those on-again afternoons.

Particularly because this afternoon, it's almost like Kacchan can read him.

Izuku is used to being on the other end, with years of watching and studying Kacchan preparing him to be able to predict his moves - he doesn't like it from this side. This side is infuriating, and Izuku's starting to see why it made Kacchan so angry when he did it.

"Too fucking easy, Deku!" Kacchan yells, grabbing Izuku's left leg to swing him into a concrete barrier. Izuku, for his part, goes crashing through back-first, the impact stealing the breath from his lungs. His only thought is ow, shortly followed by, how.

He's on his feet quick enough that the debris is still free-falling around him. He spins on his heel, taking in his flanks - clear - and braces himself for an explosion from the front. It hits his arms painfully, sliding his feet backwards a good few feet; he looks above, to where Kacchan should be coming in for a second blow.

It hits him from below.

Izuku is scratched, bruised. Burned and bleeding and dirty and really starting to be pissed off about this whole thing. It's one thing for Kacchan to predict his moves - they have, after all, known each other for most of their lives - but for him to subvert Izuku's expectations so easily? It's like Kacchan is following Izuku's ideas of how Kacchan thinks and how Izuku thinks and approaches the conclusion left of field, quick and without time for Izuku to calculate. Retaliate. Anything.

"Too slow. Too slow!" Kacchan taunts, coming from the right when Izuku expects him to aim from the left. "The hell do you think you're doing, shitbag?! Fight back!"

He grits his teeth as the fist lands; there's blood in his mouth. He would, Izuku thinks meanly, if only he could.

"Time!" Cementoss calls, erecting a barrier of concrete between them. Izuku lowkey spits blood at it. "Regroup! Reflect! Now is the time to debrief - if you have any pointers for your sparring mate, give them constructively and respectfully!"

Like Kacchan hasn't been yelling his critique the whole match, Izuku thinks. He's got a pretty good idea of what Kacchan wants to say to him, and none of it could even be misconstrued as respectful.

The wall disappears, melting into the ground and dispersing to wherever the manipulated concrete goes. Izuku wipes the remaining blood from the corner of his mouth, panting, and looking at where Kacchan takes the same heavy breaths - minus the injuries.

That's annoying. Izuku wants to punch him on principle. Pre-emptively, even. "Good spar," he says instead, polite as he can.

"Like fuck it was," Kacchan spits, straightening his back to stare down at where Izuku is still hunched over. "The shit was that, Deku?!"

Izuku doesn't know what that was; he'd really like to ask that question himself. A fight like that between them hasn't been this one-sided since middle-school. "I don't - I couldn't-" he wipes away a trail of sweat stinging the corner of his eye, "What the hell were you doing?"

"Kicking your ass," Kacchan replies instantaneously. He moves to continue and then pauses, his tongue peeking out of the corner of his mouth - it's a mannerism Izuku hasn't seen for a long time. It's an unsure move: Kacchan's tell when he's feeling uncertain. He waits.

"Did you even read those articles?" Kacchan says, the words dragged out like he doesn't want to say them, let alone admit that he'd been the one to leave the magazines outside of Izuku's door, like it wasn't already obvious. And Izuku had; even though he had them mostly memorised, he'd pored over those dog-eared pages like they were new. None of what he'd read explains what'd just happened.

"You fight like All Might," Kacchan says, and Izuku knows that. He says as much, half-despairing and half-petulant, and Kacchan shakes his head violently, sweaty spikes of hair swaying over his frown. "No, I don't think you fuckin' do. You're fucking blind to it, dumbass, and it's gonna get you killed."

"That's a bit dramatic," Izuku mutters quietly. "What are you seeing that I'm not?"

The tongue comes out again, swiping at the corner of Kacchan's mouth. Izuku stands patiently, waiting and watching as Cementoss dismantles the temporary battlefield until it's the flat slab it began as.

"Later," Kacchan finally says. "Come to my room later. Bring my shit with you."

He stomps away, shoulders tense. Izuku watches him head towards where Kirishima is standing with questioning eyebrows up and rubs at a scrape on his elbow. He's not entirely sure how to take that... invitation? Or maybe an order would be closer. Semantics. The real question is whether Kacchan had meant it to sound like the rumoured magazines were important to whatever closed-door plans he has for himself and Izuku later.

"Non-combatants off the field!" someone yells, breaking into his rapidly spiralling thoughts.  

So maybe not quite what it sounded like; of course the magazines mean something to whatever wholesome thing Kacchan wants with him - why else would he have left them outside of Izuku's door like some kind of Christmas-in-July surprise? The totally not used as porn magazines; that's just what everyone else thinks they are. Izuku should know better. Izuku should get his shit together.

Izuku should get off the training field before an impatient student from B class drags him off physically.  

 


 

So by 'later', Izuku assumes Kacchan had meant after class. After dinner. Later that night, maybe. Just later, at some point on the same day.

He conveniently remembers that they have an assignment on the genealogical behaviours of quirks due within a few days, and that he really needs to edit and proofread what he has for as many times as it takes for the clock to display a time that's inappropriate to be knocking on someone's door at.

It isn't that Izuku is avoiding Kacchan per se , it's just that he's not sure he's prepared enough for Kacchan's particular brand of help. If this is indeed Kacchan trying to help. Izuku isn't sure, but he thinks it is; Kacchan doing something for the benefit of someone else is about the only time Izuku sees him unsure of his actions.

He's not really sure what it is Kacchan is trying to help, either. He can guess, Kacchan's obvious comparisons between Izuku's and All Might's fighting style and signature moves have been made loud and clear - but what Kacchan thinks he can do about it is a mystery. Izuku inherited One For All from All Might, it makes sense that he uses it in the ways it's been proven effective. Especially since Izuku still can't control it at anything close to one hundred percent without some sort of injury to himself. He's constrained by his own limitations here, and he doesn't see what going over All Might's heyday in print is going to do for him, no matter what Kacchan thinks he knows.

He is sure that Kacchan would be happy to yell his thoughts about it at him, though, if Izuku had actually deigned to show up at the uncertain time of later. Which he didn't, because it's now close to one in the morning and he's very purposely missed his chance. Kacchan didn't come and find him either, though, so it can't have been that important.

It isn't avoidance, he tells himself. It's just that the magazines are a complication he doesn't need in his life right now, whether that be because Kacchan is shoving them in his face with meaning, or because nobody has yet told Kacchan about what they think they mean and Izuku is starting to think he might actually have to be the one to do it again.

Worryingly, his little voice has nothing to say about any of this. He thinks he may have broken it somehow.

 


 

Aizawa allows them a spare room to use as a class library, located on the second floor of the girls side of the dorms. He stresses that this is because there's nobody occupying that floor and that it is not an invitation for any of the boys to use it as an excuse to annoy any of the girls in the class. He makes tired but intimidating eye contact with Mineta as he says this, and Mineta responds with more fear than defiance, so it'll probably be fine for a while.  

There's a lot of speculation and argument about what goes where, as a group of them spend the day moving the great stacks of paperbacks from all over into the single room - Iida will accept nothing less than proper dewey decimal system organisation, with everything in their proper alphabetical and chronological order. This means that Izuku has had to check entirely too many suspect covers to find authors and numbers, and he has seen things. A small part of him resents Uraraka and Tokoyami, who have decided that they're in charge of the numerous JoJo's Bizarre Adventure volumes, and Kaminari, who has appointed himself authority for all the Baki The Grappler.

"It's pretty okay, if you ignore all the homoeroticism," Kaminari says, turning a volume over in his hand. "I mean, there's more to it than that."

It's up to Izuku and everyone else to sort the other odds and ends, some of which fly right past homoerotism and into pure, frighteningly graphic homoerotica. Izuku has never been so red and lowkey morbidly curious in his entire life.

About halfway through - the shelving more barren than the floor, but progress - the group breaks for lunch, each trickling out as they get hungry in search of food. Izuku is one of the last few left behind, along with Uraraka, sat on the floor where she'd gotten distracted with reading, and Iida, who is double checking everyone else's work and occasionally moving things. Hakagure is apparently also there, although Izuku only realises this when a book seemingly levitates itself to a shelf. It's kind of cosy and relaxing, like this; better than when the room was cramped with too many people all stepping on each other’s toes, even if it does mean more work with fewer hands.

He's contemplating suggesting that they add in some bean bags, or at least bring in a couch from the common room when they're done. He isn't entirely sure who would actually want to settle in here to read these things - apart from those reading JoJo's or one of the other, uh, less graphic series - but he thinks it might be nice. He might even be tempted himself, if only because he's currently flicking through something about office workers that can't seem to get it together and he has a masochistic need to see things through to the end.

It's at this point, where Izuku has shifted over to lean on a shelf as he wonders why this one asshole has to be so belligerent to everyone about everything, creating all sorts of drama, when Kacchan walks in.

The timing of this is not lost on him.  

Kacchan's eyes scan the small room, skimming over the shelves and the paperbacks that haven't quite made it there yet like they're invisible. The same could be said for the amount of notice he gives Uraraka and Iida, which is none. He skips over everything with purposeful obliviousness, before landing on where Izuku is standing, and glaring.

Izuku discreetly lowers the manga in his hands and pushes it back on a shelf behind him - it probably doesn't belong there and Iida will complain when he finds it, but it's a small price to pay. Kacchan is staring at him hard enough that he might as well be the only thing in the room, and Izuku does not want to be the reason he finally focuses on what these books are while he's holding onto one.

"You," Kacchan grunts, and then continues glaring without a follow up.

"Me?" Izuku squeaks, stepping away from the shelves. It puts him closer to where Kacchan is standing, blocking the doorway like he expects Izuku to flee on sight - which isn't totally unfounded - but puts distance between Izuku and all the incriminating evidence he's surrounded in. He thinks if he moves slowly but purposefully to the exit, Kacchan might unconsciously back up and let him out. At the very least, it might herd him back out into the corridor.

He's not sure why it's suddenly really important that Kacchan not be in this room, surrounded by all the things his classmates think he's into, but the feeling is strong enough that he's willing to put his own safety at risk to get him out.

Kacchan's eyes follow him as he moves, making no effort to move himself either further into the room, or to where Izuku wants him, which is out. He's half-tempted to start shoving - his hands are mostly shot anyway, and it's a good enough cause in his mind for him to ruin them the rest of the way. It's only the quiet whimper of that little voice in the back of his head that stops him; it picked one hell of a time to come back, Izuku thinks, with his hands half-raised towards Kacchan's sleeve.

"My shit," Kacchan says. "You were supposed to-" He cuts himself off again, frowning. Izuku watches in horror as his eyes shift to a stack of unsorted paperbacks to his right.

"I meant to!" Izuku lies quickly, firmly tamping down on the little voice that whines when he grabs Kacchan by the arm, and on the other little voice that likes to judge him for unhero-like behaviour. "I was reading through them again and got a little sidetracked - we can go get them now!"

Kacchan glares down at where Izuku has a grip on his forearm, but lets himself be dragged out and away from the pop-up class library.

"You were supposed to bring 'em to me two days ago," he grouses. "The fuck were you doing? Memorising them?!"

"I just wanted to make sure I'd read everything," Izuku says, instead of 'I had them memorised years ago'. He lets go of Kacchan as they reach the stairs, heading down into the common area and then back up to the second floor of the boys dorms. Izuku is quick about opening his door and scooping the pile of magazines on his desk up into his arms. His plan is to dump them just as quickly into Kacchan's arms and then make an excuse to close the door in his face.

Kacchan ruins that entirely when he walks in like he belongs there and drops himself on the end of Izuku's bed.

"Uh." Izuku clutches tightly to the magazines like a shield - a nervous reaction - before thrusting them back out towards Kacchan. Kacchan just stares at them pointedly and then at the floor, and then back at Izuku. His meaning is obvious, sit down, and before he knows it Izuku is sat on his floor, staring up at Kacchan, with the magazines held back up firmly to his chest.

"So?" Kacchan snaps.

"So...?" Izuku warbles back.

Kacchan mutters a low, "For fuck’s sake," with an edge of disgust to it. Izuku isn't sure whether it's meant for himself or Kacchan - usually he'd say himself, definitely, but Kacchan's got a hand scrubbing through the back of his hair and his tongue is peeking out from the corner of his mouth again. He looks awkward, and it makes Izuku feel awkward.

He lowers the magazines down again into his lap to stare at those instead of Kacchan acting shifty and awkward on his bed. It's a bad idea: the magazines just remind him of more awkward things he has no idea what to do with.

Everything is just so fucking awkward. Izuku does the only thing he can do, he laughs nervously in the face of it all.

"Is this fucking funny to you?"

Ah, so the wrong thing to do then; one day he'll learn that Kacchan doesn't like laughter - he always seems to think it's at him. Izuku manages to shake his head, no, but he still can't bring himself to look up. He can't stop his head snapping up, though, when Kacchan makes an impatient noise in the back of his throat and slides himself off the bed and onto the floor in front of Izuku.

Too close, is Izuku's first thought, because it is. All the dorm rooms are the same size, but Izuku knows from visiting others that his is one of the more cramped. He'd just kept adding stuff over time without anywhere to really put it. His room is an eclectic collection of furniture and memorabilia and books, all striving to leave so little space that Kacchan's legs have to half-bracket Izuku's to fit them both on the floor.

His next thought is slightly less coherent; it's mostly just a jumbled sort of surprise that Kacchan had physically, literally lowered himself to be equal to Izuku's level, and a faint internal hiccupping sound.

"Give me those," Kacchan says, snatching the pile of magazines to sit them in the small space between Izuku's crossed legs and Kacchan's...crotch. The weird internal hiccup happens again, and Izuku ignores it to readjust his gaze to the left of Kacchan's head. "What the fuck are you doing? Pay attention!"

"Yes!" Izuku replies instinctively. "Here!"

"We're not in fucking class, dickhead, get your shit together!"

The first magazine on the pile hits Izuku unceremoniously in the face--he was too busy still not looking at Kacchan to see it coming. He rubs at his nose, checking for blood across the bridge because he can feel the telltale stinging of a papercut, and glares down at the glossy cover in his lap: Milemarker, "Capturing Criminals With Speed And Grace!"

"Sure feels like it," Izuku says lowly. "I studied for this."

Whatever this is. Pop quiz? He hopes he has the answers or this could all go horribly wrong for him. More wrong.  He sneaks a glance at Kacchan, who's taken over glaring at the magazine in Izuku's lap. Without thinking about it, Izuku shifts, and Kacchan's eyes follow the movement.

It's quite possible this has already gone unsalvageably wrong and his mind won't stop hiccupping at him.

"Kacchan," he says, and then again, slightly higher in pitch when he gets no reaction, " Kacchan. "

"What?" Kacchan blinks as his head snaps up to the call, scowling when he finally focuses on Izuku's face staring back at him. "What are you looking at me for?! Page one-twenty, hurry it the fuck up. I don't have all day, Deku."

Izuku lets that pass, because there's a new voice arising out of the depths of his mind. This one says that questioning the last few minutes of his existence leads to a rabbit hole he doesn't want to enter yet, and for whatever reason, Izuku listens to it.

Page one-twenty. He finds it between pages one-nineteen and one-twenty-one, as expected. He stares down at it, and a large page full of text stares back. There's not even any images to help communicate context; just a wall of words and a title that says, "The Fine Line".

Izuku remembers this article.

"This prick?" he says, looking at Kacchan for confirmation. His face twists when Kacchan nods, instinctively recoiling in displeasure. "Why?"

"Because he's an asshole," Kacchan says, though his face suggests he finds this just as distasteful as Izuku does, "and asshole is a unique perspective."

Izuku frowns, eyes drawn back to the page laying open in his lap. "...The gross negligence on display by opportunistic corporations and easily swayed citizens pales in comparison to the government sectors in charge of maintaining law and order in such a volatile domestic environment. Allowing such open regulation towards the use and abilities of those employed to protect, the Government and its forces are passively enabling the stars of detrimental personalities and quirks to rise amongst the rubble their dangerous presence often creates. All Might-"

"Ugh," Izuku flicks the page with a finger: it's just as pompous and infuriating as the first time he'd read those words. "His unique perspective is wrong.  His whole argument might as well be the chicken or the egg - villains or heroes? He completely ignores the reactionary nature between the two - it's a slow climb to these sorts of large battles! What was All Might supposed to do? Nothing?!"

"Of course not," Kacchan snaps back. "That's not my point - get off this asshole’s dick for a second and think, dumbass. You know how this fight went and you know how it ended - it's written right there, if you need a reminder. I'm askin' you, would you do exactly what All Might did?"

"This again?” Izuku groans. “There was no way he could have saved those two without putting the entire train's passengers in jeopardy! All Might's choice was right!"

"Was it?!"

Izuku's mouth snaps shut. He feels like he's just been slapped. Friendly Fire, a little voice moans, man down .

"Kacchan," Izuku manages to force out, slightly wobbly, "how can you say that?"

Kacchan, to his credit, has looked incredibly uncomfortable since the words left his mouth, shifting as much as his position on the floor allows him. He's not even looking at Izuku, frowning down at the pile of magazines in front of him.

When he speaks, the words don't quite match up to the tone he uses, stilted and more contemplative than aggressive. "I just meant hypothetically, idiot. Untwist your fucking panties about it."

Izuku will not, because this is about All Might , their hero. And he knows that All Might isn't perfect - is in fact flawed in ways Izuku has experienced first-hand - but as human as All Might is to him now; a mentor, and the shadow of the figure he used to be, there will always be a little part of Izuku that remembers what All Might was to him as a child: infallible, and always right.

So no, it's not that Kacchan is expressing doubt at All Might's actions - although that, too, sends a little instinctive twinge down to Izuku's gut - it's that he's expressing doubt over the actions that saved one-hundred and sixty-six lives at the cost of two, and not vice-versa.   

"Well," Izuku grinds out, "what would you do?"

"The same as All Might, probably." Kacchan says, immediately and with a sharp grin. Izuku blanches. "But I'm not the one who needs to think about it. You're All Might's successor, aren't you?"

"I guess?" Izuku says slowly. He's having trouble following Kacchan - a first - and he's not really sure of anything now. If Kacchan thinks All Might was right, why can't he? Especially since he is the successor to One For All. "I mean - yes, so what?"

The sharp grin on Kacchan's face turns mean, and then falters at the edges. His expression takes on a grave, serious quality as he leans forward, drawing his legs up and away from Izuku's sides. Izuku waits for the drop, he can see it coming in the way the action makes Kacchan bigger, more imposing; he's expecting something true and cutting to come flying out of Kacchan's mouth.

It doesn't come.

"Next one, then." Kacchan says instead, reaching over to throw the magazine on Izuku's lap to the side and replacing it with the next copy on the stack. "Page eighty. Try and use your fucking brain this time; I know you have one somewhere."

Izuku flips it over to page eighty without argument, because Kacchan is clearly going somewhere with this. Izuku can't see it yet, but that was almost complimentary, in a backwards manner, and he'd hate to prove him wrong.

"Legend and Law" the title reads. Yay, Izuku thinks sardonically, it's Yamaguchi again.

"Are you sure you hate this man like I do?" Izuku mutters instead of complaining, and starts to read. The words almost blend together, none of them forming themselves into something that Izuku can take in as he skims through the text. He can't focus, his brain too preoccupied with solving the puzzle Kacchan's presented him with - differently than All Might, even though his actions were right? The perspective of a man who seems to find flaw in everything All Might does? Is this about All Might at all, or about the situations he's faced? Izuku can't put these threads together at all. It's like a riddle. He can't even ask Kacchan to explain, since he's clearly decided that Izuku has to find the answer himself, and he's prepared to sit on Izuku's dingy, cramped floor until he does.

It is quite possible the nicest thing Kacchan has ever done for him, but now isn't the time to get all choked up about it. He'll have to have that weep after he's satisfied whatever it is Kacchan wants from him and he's alone.

"... With the generous exemptions awarded to those in service of the public, it's little wonder that All Might and his ilk of high-powered, destructive, and dangerous breed of 'heroes' have seen fit to take advantage. Take, for example, the recent incident involving an as of yet unidentified villain. In the act of pursuit, All Might cost the government an estimated 264 million yen in damages, spectator injuries, and lost productivity for the three hour shutdown of the east Musutafu rail line. 264 million yen of taxpayer and corporate money, in an attempt to apprehend a villain that, I may add, got away and has yet to resurface."

Izuku screws his face up in directionless indignation, but keeps reading. Kacchan doesn't comment on Izuku's silence, nor when he grips the pages tight enough to crease them. He sits silent, balancing his cheek on a hand, steady and waiting.  

It's actually really unnerving. The general tone of no pressure makes Izuku feel like he's on a time limit and only has one guess to answer the question correctly, or else he loses the million and Kacchan forever.

"What the government, and indeed the general public, needs to ask is whether this sort of behaviour is acceptable from those touted as 'saviours'. Should we, the people, allow this wanton destruction to become the norm in our society? In what way do these actions benefit us, beyond a perceived need to be saved by others more powerful or brazen than ourselves? In All Might's unwavering approach to what he considers 'good' and 'evil', we allow him to become our moral compass, setting the standard of what is and is not acceptable in our way of life. Thus, this influence alters what we may perceive as suitable circumstances in which any amount of damaging aftermath is deemed a price worth paying."

"Nope." Izuku says, without thinking. "This man has nothing to teach me."

"It's not that fucking hard." Kacchan slumps like all of his string have been cut. The strings of hope and expectation, Izuku suspects; he thinks he might have just thoughtlessly cut them, leaving Kacchan dejected all over his floor, with his legs spread out around Izuku again. "Fine. You're a fucking idiot, I should have known. Page twenty, same issue."

Izuku turns back to page twenty and is greeted with the man in question, All Might, standing proud in amongst a mess of smoke and rubble. "Packing A Punch In Musutafu!" the title reads. Izuku knows this one better; he could quote it. It's about All Might's fight and subsequent arrest of the villain Street King , less an article and more a play-by-play given by the author, with quotes taken from All Might's interviews about the incident.

Izuku blinks. He thinks Kacchan has just thrown him a curveball. Was this supposed to be clearer?

"Am I supposed to be comparing All Might's record to philosophical opinion pieces?" He asks, just to be sure.

"No."

"Do they have anything to do with each other?"

" Yes, Deku. Shit."

Izuku squints down, flipping between pages twenty and eighty; he knows the All Might piece enough that he doesn't feel the need to read all the way through again. Back and forth, back and forth, All Might did this, should All Might have done this, like a never ending question of action and reaction, cause and outcome.

Without thinking about it, he moves the magazine off to the side and picks up the next one, scanning the table of contents. He finds the articles he wants - the battle and apprehension of the hilariously named Stoner villain, and the following piece by Yamaguchi calling into question whether a small-time thief replacing stolen goods with rocks is really worth destroying a freeway over - and leans over to shove the magazine under Kacchan's nose. "Accountability!"

Kacchan sighs; it sounds like it costs him to do so little, when his eyebrow twitches like he wants to do so much more. "Close, I guess. Get that out of my face."

Izuku rocks back on his heels, his ass hitting the floor as he retreats back out of Kacchan's space as far as he can. He looks back down at the article in his hands, eyebrows knitting together as his mind connects the dots. Accountability is one way to put it, but it's not as simple as that. What Izuku has been looking at is a dance between accountability and predictability, told in varying accounts but always with similarities in their facts. What Yamaguchi’s unique perspective brings is, Izuku guesses, a questioning of the status quo between the two, and Izuku’s position as the next Symbol of Peace.

On its own, it's less convincing, but Izuku remembers Kacchan's questions from before: their last class training match, and the suggestion that the magazines and Izuku's complete and utter loss were connected.    

"I fight like All Might," Izuku murmurs in slow realisation. "I learned to fight like that from reading and watching him."

"Give the motherfucker a prize! What the fuck have I been telling you?!"

Nothing, Izuku wants to say. Kacchan had told him nothing, he'd just given him enough hints and made sure he was around to see Izuku's worldview shake and shatter. The only reason he doesn't spit this out is because Izuku isn't sure he can even form words yet. The voices in his head are quiet - or not, he doesn't know. All he can hear is a buzzing sort of disassociation as his mind blurs through everything he has ever done and compares it to All Might's history, his moves and strategy and lines all blurring together as if their actions are interchangeable.

Without realising it, Izuku doubles over until his head hits the glossy pages laid open in his lap. He's too busy focussing on breathing to notice Kacchan jerk from his lax position leaning against Izuku's bed. He doesn't see him sit up, or forward, he doesn't notice the knees coming in until they're almost resting against Izuku's hunched shoulders. The brush of something against his hair barely registers.

"Fuck! What?" Kacchan says, from far away. "What the fuck is wrong with you?!"

Izuku lets out a high-pitched giggle - or a whine, he can't tell. "I fight like All Might," he says."But I can’t be All Might."

"Right," Kacchan says slowly. "But is that really a reason to do... whatever the fuck you're doing?"

Izuku laughs again, "I don't know what I'm doing."

"No shit, I can see that," Kacchan says, and the unsure but perfunctorily quality of his tone is what finally snaps Izuku out of it; Kacchan should never sound like that around Izuku. Izuku has shown him many things over the years - often the direct result of Kacchan himself - but he's never made him wary. He looks up to find Kacchan hovering over him, frowning almost, a strange quality to his eyebrows. HIs mind hiccups at him again.

"Whatever, just - read those again and think about it." Kacchan makes a move to stand, clearly at his threshold for whatever uncomfortable situation this is. Izuku looks back down at the pile of magazines on his floor with a sinking in his gut.

"I have my own copies, you know. You can have these back."

Kacchan brushes himself off, standing, and heads towards the door. He doesn't turn around as he says, "Keep 'em; do whatever you want, I don't give a shit. I don't need them back."    

"Kacchan-" Izuku says, and then stops. His door is closed already, and it's well enough, because he's not sure what he would have said.  

 


 

He finds himself curled up in a single-seater couch in their makeshift library. The chair was already here when he'd slunk in a few hours after Kacchan had left his room, so clearly someone else had had the same idea he'd had, and he silently thanks whoever it was.

His knees are up, feet dangling over one armrest, while the other supports his shoulder. The back cushion cradles him, and his hands have in them the continuation of tragic homosexual office workers that can't get their shit together.

He'd be more embarrassed, but fictional problems seem like a better alternative to pondering his own. He misses those days when the reading materials on offer were about Kacchan's mistaken porn collection and nothing more - at least then, Izuku's world was shaken in ways he could have mostly ignored.

He's wallowing. It's fine. He can't even find it in himself to be ashamed - over his melodramatics, or his chosen distraction.

After all, he’s pretty much just been slapped in the face with the knowledge that everything he’s been doing – everything he’s done for his entire life, honestly; all the notes, all the late nights studying, all the learning to be just like his hero – has been... well, not for nothing, no. But it feels like it, with the realisation that everything he knows is the result of public record. Izuku knows what others know, including villains, and that – that’s not really great for his burgeoning hero career.

How is he supposed to live up to All Might, take over the mantle of Symbol of Peace at all, if all the villains can see him coming from a mile and twenty years ago?

Not to mention the implications for his own life. Predictability is a weakness, as Kacchan had so helpfully pointed out. Izuku can’t help the little stab of resentment he feels over it.

He also can’t help but wonder why Kacchan went through all that just to let him know – sure, it'd dramatically tilted Izuku’s perception of literally everything, which might have been worth a few kicks, but in the long term it just sounds like it’d work more towards Izuku’s favour than against it. Leaving it alone might’ve gotten him killed. Izuku cannot conceive of a world wherein Kacchan wouldn’t consider that a plus.

It’s all too much. Izuku flips a page in his volume of convoluted gay romance because it’s easier than having a nervous breakdown.

"That one is pretty good," says a voice from his left. A girl’s voice - Izuku doesn't have girl voices in his head; they all sound like an unholy combination of himself, All Might, and Kacchan. "It's a little cliché at the end, but the dynamics getting them there are interesting."

A volume of something levitates itself from its place on its shelf, followed by a second; Izuku squints, trying to see any floating articles of clothing he'd missed. "Hakagure-san?"

"Oh! Yeah," Hakagure says. "Sorry, Midoriya-kun. Pyjamas, y'know? Us girls had to finish putting this together because we were all getting ready for bed and Mineta-kun started waxing poetic. It's okay for you to be here, though. I was just grabbing something to read."

A third volume, from a different shelf, comes floating over to set itself on the armrest next to Izuku's head.

"Next one in the series for you."

"Thanks," Izuku says, and carefully doesn't think about the fact that the only things visibly moving around are graphic novels. "Tell me, does this guy become any less of an asshole, or is that more I have to look forward to?"

"Oh, for sure," Hakagure says, not actually answering his question clearly. The only sign she's left is the door opening and closing seemingly on its own. Izuku doesn't even know how long she'd been there - whether she was already in the room, or had come in unseen at some point.

That's gotta be rough, he thinks. To be defined purely by the actions others can see.

 

Chapter Text


 

 

"Josuke," Uraraka says.

"Jotaro," Tokoyami argues.

"Nu-uh," Kaminari says. "Joseph."

"You're all wrong," Iida says, pushing up his glasses. "It has to be Jonathan, he was the start of it all, after all."

He's met with the largest reaction of distain Izuku has ever witnessed in a friendly argument. Uraraka slams her hand down on the table, Dark Shadow bristles. Kaminari lets out a loud bark of laughter, "You're wrong, Class Rep. So wrong--he's the most boring."

"Without Jonathan, there would be no Joestar line to-"

"Without Jonathan, we wouldn't need a Joestar line," Uraraka says, using the hand she'd slapped down to loom imposingly over Iida. "Dio killed his dog, Iida-kun, and Jonathan was fine with that--how is that the 'most heroic'?!"

"He killed his dog?" Izuku whines, horrified. "Iida-kun!"

"Is the fiancé not worse somehow?" Kaminari asks.

"No," Tokoyami says. "A hero should never consider one form of life more worthy than another."

"Exactly." Uraraka nods like she'd just won the argument. Izuku isn't sure how; he's not even sure what they're arguing about, if he's honest. "Jonathan didn't care about his dog. Jotaro was awful to the dog travelling with them, and so was Joseph. Ergo, Josuke is the best JoJo."

"Isn't there more than-"

"No," Uraraka snaps at him. Izuku makes a mental note: Uraraka can be stubborn and competitive in frighteningly familiar ways. "I mean--yes, but none of us are there yet. Do you realise how much of this there is? It's a lot, so the ones we don't know don't count."

"Okay." Izuku decides then and there to just stay out of the things he only has a passing knowledge of. He takes a bite of his katsudon and eyes Iida, who seems to have come to the same conclusion about staying quiet in the face of Uraraka's enthusiastic wrath.

The argument heats up again between the other three. Izuku can't quite follow what it's about - turtles? tortoises? - and so he stabs at his lunch and nudges Iida from under the table. "When did you start reading it? I thought you didn't like it much."

Iida clears his throat and stabs at his own lunch--also katsudon. "I find it best to be aware of the interests of my classmates," he says primly. Izuku hums and waits for the truth, which comes a beat later and quieter. "Uraraka-san seems quite fond of it."

Uraraka's apparently so fond of it she's willing to start a physical fight with Dark Shadow in the school cafeteria, by the looks of it. Izuku nods, "She is."

"Yes," Iida agrees again quietly. "I've often been told I can be rather rigid in my opinions of things, you know. I thought perhaps widening my horizons would bring about a deeper understanding and friendship with her."

A bit of crumbed pork hits the back of Izuku's throat as he inhales, choking him slightly. Iida takes this to mean a different reaction to what Izuku meant - Izuku was just trying and failing to eat - and goes red, straightening in his seat.

"Purely platonically, you understand."

"Of course," Izuku breathes out.

"It isn't so bad. I'll admit it isn't quite--but there are some things that are certainly unique. And there are elements of which are relatable, I think: harnessing ones power, the sacrifices one has to make for themselves, others, the greater good. I think perhaps it's those that Uraraka-san-"

"You can't judge the quality of a villain by the size of his bulge!" Uraraka says loudly enough that the students the next table over all stare. "You can't compare a loincloth to tight pants!"

"A successful villain should be intimidating in all the ways!" Kaminari argues back. "Size matters!"

"As I was saying," Iida says after a pause. "It's certainly unique. It's so unique I often find myself more confused than understanding."

Izuku leans over to pat him consolingly on the arm; after recent events, he thinks he can relate.

 


 

The last of Yamaguchi’s infuriating perspective is detailed in, ironically, the issue that started this whole fuss. Or rather, the issue that put these questions on the table: issue 320, and All Might’s fight with Dystopia.

Izuku find this article less maddening than the others--or, no, that’s a lie. He’s just learned to bottle that shit up so he can take in the words with some amount of objectivity. Objectively, Yamaguchi’s overall stance on All Might is biased and flawed, but there are points scattered throughout his work that even Izuku can accept as objectively worth considering.

He stares down at an image of Dystopia being carted away, shackled and restrained to an ambulance stretcher; “The villain Dystopia (centre) being transported to hospital after his ruinous fight with the hero All Might (top left)”. Like anyone could miss him, standing in the background and covered in so much dust and rubble that the bright colours of his silver-age costume are muted, but still bright enough to stand out in a picture of monochromatically grey destruction.

Fair enough, but that battle had been particularly brutal. Izuku remembers the news stations covering it for weeks afterwards, discussing and disseminating every aspect of it until it became a controversy--or a conspiracy, depending on who was talking. All Izuku knows is that he’s spent the last two nights pouring over the online accounts, watching old newsreels and grainy footage of the fight, reading all the articles written within the magazines, and still, still, he can’t say he’d do anything differently than All Might. 

All Might’s moves flow for Izuku, translating his expectations into reality. He punches when Izuku thinks he will, kicks and dodges with the same timing. Izuku hasn’t watched any of this footage for years, more distracted by more recent events in his history; he doesn’t know if he’d memorised this fight when he was younger and has just that good a memory, or if he’s studied All Might to the point where he can read him--both options send a shiver down him.

“In a fight such as this, where are the rules that state both parties must greet force with force of their own? By choosing this reactionary strategy, it inevitably raises the stakes of each consecutive hit until the surrounding environment is irreversibly damaged. What All Might has displayed here is an inability to consider his own strength in relation to anything another than his opponent. That the intended target was of a similar power-augmentation quirk does little to mitigate the fact that the battlefield was not. Are we expected to take comfort in the fact that a dangerous individual with the power to challenge All Might was apprehended, ignoring that professional analysis of the fight and subsequent damage firmly places the so-called Greatest Hero as cause of at least 78% of it? It beggars belief that-”

“-You’re still on about this, somehow,” Izuku finishes for him, rubbing tiredly at the corner of his twitching eye. “No wonder they fired you, you just wrote the same articles with names and dates changed.” 

The magazine gets placed on top of the others, Izuku shifting it from his lap to stand and stretch. His elbows twinge as he reaches his arms out towards his ceiling, his back giving a crack of discomfort at the move. He keeps that way, ignoring the places that complain at him and suddenly feels far older than he ought to.

He wants to ask All Might about this - and that little thrill? The little voice in his head that still can’t quite believe that he can; that he can just approach his childhood hero in person, without it being an image on a screen or glossy page – that just makes Izuku frown now. Kacchan has ruined that for him. That little part of him is part of the problem--his literal hero worship working against him.

He’s also not sure he even should ask All Might about this. He thinks maybe that would be unfair in some way, dragging up past battles and then questioning them, to a man that can no longer fight any. All Might is thin and frail now; still a force, but less of the idol Izuku keeps in his head. He’s a cautionary tale of what can happen to a hero when a villain knows all about him.

Izuku sighs and lets his body slump.

The magazine pile sits unassuming at his desk, the topmost still displaying the open page of Yamaguchi’s last article. Izuku glowers at it, and then squints in thought.

He has all this information on other heroes, past and present, at his fingertips, and he’s been lingering on the one he already knows best. He feels a slithering sense of wrongness just thinking about it but... All Might is not the only hero that ever made a difference, and variation is at least a starting point to something else. Something less predictable, something a little less... imitation All Might.

Walking back over, Izuku flips the magazine shut and slides it off to the side. The cover underneath is of a hero in all black, traditional Japanese katana in his hands, “Cutting Through The Darkness To Deliver The Light!” written boldly across his chest. Izuku flips to a random page and starts reading.

 


 

“This exercise is designed to test compatibility and teamwork, so we’ll be splitting you into initial groups of three. Two groups of three will begin; individuals will be tagged out for others without warning or explanation--once an extra appears on the field, it is up to the team to decide who leaves. You will have ten seconds to make this choice and have someone depart the field. Failure to do so in the allotted time will result in an immediate swapping out of all team members, do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, Sensei,” Izuku drones with the rest of the class. Aizawa blinks like he doesn’t really care whether they understand or not and starts calling names off a clipboard in a disinterested tone.

“Group A: Oujiro, Todoroki, Jirou. You three are to start, up against Group B: Uraraka, Hakagure, and Kirishima.”

Izuku watches as those called out assemble themselves, while those yet uncalled gravitate towards the classmates they’re hoping to be paired with. It seems unconscious to Izuku, and Aizawa ignores it like it might as well not be happening.

“Group C: Kaminari, Tokoyami, Ashido, get prepared to be swapped in. Bakugou, Yaoyorozu, Midoriya, prepare, you’re Group D.”  

Kacchan makes no obvious move that he’s displeased with this, but Izuku thinks he sees the corner of his mouth tighten anyway. At least Kacchan probably won’t trounce him like he did their last training match together. Not that that being on the same team has ever stopped Kacchan before but-- without thinking about it, Izuku inches over closer to where Yaoyorozu is tightening her ponytail.

Kacchan joins them a moment later, his face still impassive. Izuku tries not to hide behind the mass of Yaoyorozu’s hair too obviously. “I’ll switch out first, you two losers need all the fucking practice you can get.”

He’s looking straight as Izuku when he says this, his meaning clear, but still Izuku finds himself surprised. Kacchan’s never been one to take himself out of a fight--whether it be for himself, or another, his pride has never let him take anything less than total glory when it can.

“Are you sure?” Yaoyorozu asks. “We may need you if we’re swapped in before Kirishima-san’s out.”

“So figure out a way to get past his quirk, fuck.” Kacchan says. “I’m not doing everything for you.”

“I can take Kirishima-kun,” Izuku offers, ignoring the side-look Kacchan shoots at him. “Yaoyorozu-san, if you’d handle Kaminari-kun if it works out that way?”

“Leave it to me.”

Kacchan tsk’s, crossing his arms. “And what am I supposed to do? Sit on my ass?”

“You were the one who said you weren’t doing everything for us,” Izuku reminds him, saccharine and polite. Kacchan sees right through him with a sneer and Izuku feels an instinctive annoyance at it. “You’re an all-rounder, Kacchan.” He snaps. ” We don’t need to delegate to you, because you’ve proven yourself against everyone here.”

That seems to mollify him some, so Izuku turns towards where the first groups have already started. A six-way fight is chaotic, he can barely follow who’s fighting who. Most of the flashier moves come from Todoroki and Uraraka, which is expected--the others are more close-range fighters, using the ice and floating rubble to launch themselves around and at each other. Izuku watches as Oujiro flings some of the floating debris at Kirishima – keeping him in place as he tries to protect Uraraka from her own shrapnel – using his tail to throw with enough force that even objects with zero gravity leave impressions in the ground where they hit.

He thinks about how he’d react and retaliate and then scraps his first instincts, starting over until the imagined moves are less learned and more thought out, distilled and uncomfortable in his mind. 

“Tokoyami, you’re up. Group B, decide.” Hakagure is barely off the field before Aizawa yells again, “Midoriya! Group A!”

Izuku takes a deep breath and moves forward, slapping at the hand Oujiro offers when he tags out. As soon as he’s on the field, Uraraka greets him with a sweeping left leg to his knee—dodged--and a right hook–-barely dodged. Izuku thinks he felt her fingers graze his arm, though he doesn’t lose gravity. Not a solid hit then. He still moves back, putting distance between them. Close-range combat with Uraraka is always a cat and mouse game, and it’s one Izuku often loses.

“Bakugou! Group A! Ashido, Group B!”

Izuku is distantly aware of Kacchan taking Jirou’s place, blowing onto the mock battlefield like a hurricane full of fire and noise. He’s quietly glad when Uraraka swaps out for Ashido; close combat is still an issue, but Uraraka knows him better, and at least he can land a hit on Ashido without it immediately backfiring on him from contact alone.

This leaves a fight between himself, Kacchan, and Todoroki, versus Ashido, Tokoyami, and Kirishima for now. Kacchan has decided that he’d be better use against Tokoyami and Dark Shadow – if the light show in Izuku’s periphery tells him anything – while Ashido slides past him with a friendly wave, melting Todoroki’s jagged floor of ice as she goes.

“I guess it’s just us,” Kirishima says, the hard edges of his shoulders moving up and down in what Izuku assumes is a shrug. He’s not sure how Kirishima’s quirk really works--he gets it, but is it like, armour with a squishy dude inside? Do the rocky plates ever restrict movement? How far does it go? Does it affect muscle? Bone? Izuku should really find out; he feels like this is something he should already know this far into their friendship. “How ‘bout it, wanna dance?”

“I’m not good at slow dancing,” Izuku warns. “I might step on your toes.”

“That’s cool. Hard and fast is more my-“  

“Kaminari, take the last place of Group B.” Aizawa orders. “Yaoyorozu, Group A!”

“Oh, come on! Me and Midoriya were just about to get intimate!”

There’s an explosion so close that Izuku feels his hair getting singed, the heat hitting his left side like a physical impact. “Move it or lose it, Deku!”

“Next time!” Izuku yells after Kirishima, who gives him a thumbs up and cheeky grin from outside the boundaries. It distracts him for only a second, but that’s long enough for the flash of pink and green in the corner of his eye to take advantage--there’s the feeling of added weigh to his arms and the right side of his chest, and a faint burning sensation gradually making itself known.

For a split second, Izuku thinks that he’s collateral in Kacchan’s aggressive display of power – which wouldn’t be the first time or last time for either of them – before looking down and realising that he’s dripping with a faintly translucent substance that’s currently eating at his clothes and burning into his skin. He makes a noise as he tears at his uniform, using his glove to wipe away the acid that had reached his skin before throwing it on the ground.

“Oops,” Ashido says, swinging her body around so her next hit will land on his left side. Izuku follows her with his eyes, finding his centre of gravity and lowering himself, preparing to launch a counter attack before she has the chance. He wants to aim low, maybe get her off balance–-sliding around on her acid like that, her footing has to be a weak point in her stability, if he can–-but then, that’s instinctive. Maybe he should aim higher? A low-power punch might be enough to-

Izuku manages to dodge the next attack, but isn’t quick enough to fully get out of the way for the following that comes right on its heels. He feels the same weight on his left shoulder and tears at it before the acid can fully eat away at the fabric.

“Iida, Group C! Sero, Group D!”

“I’m out, keep going Kacchan, Yaoyorozu-san!” It’s out before he even thinks about it, his panic getting the better of him. Kacchan yells after him as he leaves the field, but Izuku doesn’t bother to look back until he’s positioned safely outside the battle zone and able to think. 

He stares down at the ruined state of his P.E uniform. Most of it is missing from the top up, his right glove and sleeve barely hanging onto the scraps across his chest, the left just as bad and missing the glove entirely. He might as well be half naked.

This training session was, without doubt, a resounding failure.

The second guessing of his instincts, the untested nature of his new ideas, his complete inability to trust himself–-it all combined to slow his reactions. Not even that! That suggests he’d reacted at all, instead of just standing there like a mannequin to be stripped!

“You okay man?” Kirishima asks, walking over. “Clothes don’t usually come off ‘till at least the second date.”

Izuku quirks a grin, he can’t help it. Kirishima is kind of infectious. “Was it that obvious?”

“That you just kind of stood there?” Kirishima pats him lightly between his shoulder blades and the leftover scraps of uniform. “Yeah man. I hate to tell you this, but you were the only thing not moving on that field. Kinda makes a dude stand out, y’know?”

Izuku groans. Aizawa calls for another round of switching out, Kacchan storming off the field like he wasn’t the one who wanted to tag out first. There’s a low whine happening in the back of Izuku’s mind.

“What happened?”

“Froze, I don’t know.” Izuku says, inching around until Kirishima is between himself and Kacchan. Not that Kacchan is stalking towards them or anything--is in fact standing next to Asui and glaring at the ground like it personally offends him, but still. That little voice... Izuku thinks it’s better to be safe than sorry. “Indecision, I guess.”

“It happens to the best of us,” Kirishima says, still speaking like Izuku is beside him instead of behind him. “Don’t worry about it.”

Izuku groans again, because it’s not that simple. He has to worry about it, because it’s something that really needs to be worried about.

 


 

It’s especially something to worry about because Kacchan evidentially thinks it’s cause enough to corner him as soon as they enter the locker rooms. Izuku’s still wearing the tattered remains of his uniform--it’s not helping him feel less naked under that pinning gaze. Kacchan manages to make it worse by staring pointedly at the bare portions of chest on display with a glower, starting a new round of maddening mind hiccups along with everything else clamouring for attention in Izuku’s head.

“Um.”

“You know I didn’t fucking tell you that shit so you’d just not fight.”

Izuku laughs nervously. “That wasn’t really my plan either, Kacchan. It just kind of... happened. Or didn’t happen, I guess, is the more correct-”

A hand slams into the locker door by his head. Izuku unconsciously backs up further, the cold of the metal highlighting the uncomfortable level of skin he currently has on display. Which, yes, it’s a locker room; he’s displayed far more than this in this room before--but never with Kacchan looming over him, inches from his face and looking pissed.

“What the actual fucking shit, Deku?”

“I–-uh,” Izuku looks to the side, ducking his head at the tone of sheer outrage. “I froze.”

Much like he’s doing now. 

“You froze.” It’s more a statement than a question.

“Yes.”

His eyes catch on a group of his classmates gathering around in the corner to watch. He doesn’t know what’s so damn interesting about this scene, this is hardly the first time Kacchan has cornered him into a surface to voice his displeasure at Izuku’s very being. After the first couple of times, it was even treated as a ritual of sorts: come in, undress, shower, maybe catch a little bit of Bakugou threatening Midoriya in the corner, it’s fine as long as nothing turns physical.

He sounds bitter about it, but he’s actually not. If anything, it’d become a somewhat predictable part of his routine as well; some days he’d even make silent bets to himself over whether it’d happen and what it’d be about.

A second hand hits the locker on his other side with a bang, effectively bringing Kacchan’s face closer as he brackets Izuku into a locker. The audience they’ve gathered groups tighter and starts whispering behind their hands.

Why did you freeze,” Kacchan seethes at him, still less of a question than it’s probably meant. He starts using one of his hands to bang on the metal, right next to Izuku’s ear. “Fucking pay attention when I’m talkin’ to you, dickbag!”

And Izuku would honestly love to, but he can’t. He thinks he knows why everyone’s paying them all this interest all of a sudden.

This whole situation he’s in feels familiar. He knows this move! This is an incredibly aggressive variation of that cliché manga move that always happens! Kabedon, Izuku’s mind helpfully supplies before hiccupping loudly. No wonder everyone is staring!

“It isn’t!” Izuku shrieks at them. “No! It’s not what you’re thinking!”

Someone wolf-whistles at them, Izuku can’t tell who. It doesn’t matter, because his outburst has accomplished two things: one, it’s apparently enough to confuse Kacchan into backing off and away from him, letting his arms drop as he frowns at where Izuku is yelling. Two, the spectators start to disperse-–Izuku wants to believe it’s because they believe him and not because of Kacchan finally noticing them, but even he’s not that naive.

Whatever, it does what he needed it to do.

“Look,” Izuku says, now that Kacchan is at an appropriate distance from his person and he can breathe, “I know what it was and it won’t happen again. I don’t know why you even--but it’s fine, okay? I won’t drag you down again.”

Kacchan looks at him like he’s an idiot, his expression cycling through confusion, to indignation, to some weird constipated look that suggests he can’t decide between pity and rage. “You pull that shit again and I swear to fucking All Might he’s gonna need a new-“

“Kacchan!” Izuku hisses before he can finish that. Kacchan grunts at him, but clacks his mouth shut. He leaves Izuku with one last deadly glare, stomping over to his own locker to pull angrily at his clothes.

Izuku sighs down at the mess left of his own and does the same.

 


 

So clearly, this whole thing has now turned into an issue he needs to face. Izuku puts the shaky way it feels on the backburner and faces his most immediate problem: fighting fluidly. He thinks he needs to overcome those instincts he’s created for himself on the back of his All Might obsession. He realises that the obsessive amount of knowledge he has is a somewhat special case, in that few people, villain or otherwise, would be so read on the hero that the knowledge transforms into action, but it’s also not out of reason to assume that he’s not the only one.

He also, a little bit, wants to surpass All Might. He thinks maybe that’s the right way to feel, given the nature of One For All.

If his performance in the class’s last few training exercises have told him anything, it’s that he needs to be better and faster about dealing with this–-what’s the point, if he’s just going to freeze indecisively every time he’s attacked? He needs to at least progress himself to the point where he can move offensively and defensively enough to not be a total pushover.

Izuku decides that he’s going to need to train himself outside of school hours. He also comes to the unfortunate conclusion that he’s going to need help doing it–-someone with whom he can react against and who can push him beyond his instincts.

Kacchan would be perfect. Kacchan might even agree to it, too. He seems weirdly invested in this big flaw of Izuku’s and he’d probably love the opportunity to yell at him about it while punching him in the face.

Izuku asks Kirishima instead.

“Yeah man, whatever you need.” Kirishima says, casually pursuing something with a lot of flowers and bubbles on the cover. “Though you know, Bakugou can probably predict you more, so if you need someone to beat those instincts outta you...”

“Kacchan would love to,” Izuku says. “That’s why I’m not asking him. Besides, with you there’s less chance of things getting out of control. You can take me, right?”

“I can take anything you wanna throw at me,” Kirishima waggles his eyebrows before dropping the volume in his hands with an unimpressed noise. “Except this, whatever this is. You know, I still don’t know why these are here.”

Izuku can’t believe still no-one has actually told Kacchan about these, let alone Kirishima. He has a low suspicion that what started as a targeted joke has now transformed into a serious – if somewhat indescribable and bizarre – interest for the class as a whole. There always seems to be someone else in the room in the few times Izuku finds himself looking for reading material, and a steady rotation of books appearing and disappearing means that at least some of the class has taken to using the collection like an actual library.

In light of this, Izuku feels like he can get away with not explaining anything about this whole thing, since how it came to be is no longer the point of it.

“It’s probably best to just go with it,” he says, slotting tragically gay office workers volume three where it belongs and using a finger to tip out the fourth. “Ignorance is bliss, as they say. Except for when it’s not. This fucking series? This is a prime example of ignorance launching way past believability and into straight denial; what does Harunobu need to do to get this guys attention?”

Kirishima, bless him, seems to take Izuku’s ranting seriously, scratching at his chin as his face screws up in thought. “Buy him flowers?”

“Tried it,” Izuku says dully.

“Really? That seems like a pretty obvious gesture.”

“He made his sister deliver them, Tanaka just thought they were from her.” Izuku stares down at the cover. “I honestly don’t know why I’m still reading this.”

Kirishima pats him on the shoulder lightly. “Wanna take that frustration out on me now?”

“Yes,” Izuku says, sliding the yet unopened volume back on the shelf. “Please.”

Chapter Text


 

 

Between studying the habits of past heroes with the same kind of focus he used to give exclusively to All Might and his extracurricular training with Kirishima, Izuku actually finds himself improving over the next few weeks. The moves he has so intrinsically ingrained in himself seem to twist and form themselves around new ideas; incorporated, rather than rewritten. It’s still not perfect, but it’s progress.

Kirishima turns out to be a great choice of sparring partner, equally balanced between offence and defence. He can’t read Izuku well enough to completely shut him down, and the hits that Izuku manages to land barely scratch his hardened skin–-an added bonus that lets Izuku experiment without fear of hurting either himself or Kirishima.

His only problem is that it’s a double-edged sword. Kirishima’s general unfamiliarity with Izuku’s fighting style means that it’s easy for Izuku to slip back into old habits.

“You keep doing that move,” Kirishima pants out one afternoon. “I can’t tell when it’s coming until it’s there, but I recognise it.”

“I know,” Izuku moans in frustration. Who knew there were so many different ways to throw a punch? And that once you learned one way, every other way would feel unnatural? “But if I drop it any lower I’ll be sacrificing control for momentum.” 

“I don’t think that’s the problem, man. It’s like... like...“ Kirishima pulls himself out of stance to stand fully, waving his arms around as he tries to find the words he wants. “Like I’m watching re-runs, right? I remember the basics, if not the details, yeah? It’s like that. I couldn’t explain the way you fight out cold, but in the middle of it, it adds up to something I can recognise and the longer it goes on the more it comes back to me. That make sense?”

To anyone else, maybe not. But Izuku is not anyone else; he’s a man that’s been watching a whole lot of old re-runs lately. He gets it. “I ping your memories?”

“You ping my memories,” Kirishima agrees. “It’s super weird and kind of annoying, I gotta say. Half my attention is taken up trying to place what’s happening instead of, y’know, focusing on it actually happening. It’s tiring, fighting you is mentally tiring. I’m tired.”

“Sorry,” Izuku says, slumping out of his own battle stance.

“Nah man, I’m just not a huge thinker. I’m a ‘come at me bro’ kind of guy. Simple, uncomplicated.” 

“Nothing about trying to get past your quirk is simple,” Izuku says and drops to the ground, sighing. “It’s been a huge help anyway, so thanks for letting me try all sorts of shit on you.”

Kirishima drops down as well, shrugging at him. “No problem. Sorry I can’t help the rest of it though.” Izuku waves a dismissive hand, dropping it limply when Kirishima continues. “I think for that, you might need someone a little more familiar with your fighting style. I can’t stop what I don’t really know, you know?”

Izuku takes a second to parse his meaning.

“So... Kacchan?”

“Kacchan,” Kirishima nods. “Sorry bro. But hey, on the plus side, if we ever match up in a training session I’m way more familiar with you now–-we might get ourselves a proper dance yet.”

“I’m glad I could give you the confidence to kick my ass,” Izuku says blandly.

 


 

Once again, Izuku finds himself standing on the fourth floor landing trying to figure out a way to open the stairwell door without losing all the magazines held in his arms. The damned fire-rooster-stand poster is still there and Izuku hates it for its longevity and also because he feels like it’s judging him.

“One of these days I’ll do something about you,” Izuku mutters darkly, hiking up the magazines further into his chest so that he can reach out a hand to the doorknob. He doesn’t know why these doors need to open inwards, but it’s making an already tricky situation more difficult than it needs to be, and that stupid fucking poster–-he catches a foot in between the door and the jam, using it to leverage the space wider so that he can slip between the two and into the corridor.

“One of these days,” he mutters again and makes his way to Kacchan’s door. He’s not really in the mood to go through that whole ordeal again, so he kicks on the door with three steady thumps of his foot instead of knocking.

There’s a clatter and a yell from inside, “You put so much as a dent in that door, dickhole, and I’ll shove the entirety of it up your ass! Aizawa’s already on my case about fucking property damage or some shit, and if I have to-”

Izuku had wisely started backing away as soon as the yelling had started, and he’s glad for it–-the violent opening of the door swings it close enough that it ruffles his hair. Kacchan’s scowl deepens as he realises who’s trying to kick down his door.

“-Deku!?”

“Hi, Kacchan.”

“What the fuck do you want?” Kacchan spits at him, but moves to the side as a clear invitation for Izuku to walk past him and into his room. “I told you I didn’t need those back.”

Izuku shrugs as best he can and starts looking for an empty space to set the magazines down. “And I told you that I have my own copies of these. In a box, though, so thanks for letting me borrow them.”

He finds just enough space on the corner of Kacchan’s desk and sets them down gently. He double-checks that they’ll stay before turning around to where Kacchan is still stood silently next to his door.

Kacchan seems to shake himself off, blinking and stepping further into the room, letting the door slam shut on its own. “If any of those are fucked then I guess you know how you’ll be replacing them.”

“What did you think I was going to do to them?” Izuku says and then kicks himself. A little voice reminds him exactly what people think are happening to these magazines, and Izuku has a very vivid mental image set to the soundtrack of internal screaming. “Nevermind,” he says quickly. “They’re fine. If they’re not, I promise you can swap it for mine.”

“Like I give an actual shit,” Kacchan grunts placidly.

Izuku shifts his feet; there’s something weird happening here, he can feel it. Not only did Kacchan stop yelling when he realised it was him, but he also let Izuku in without a fight – or even him asking first! – and now he’s here, standing near his bed passively and not kicking Izuku out after he’s done what he came to do. It’s like a chain reaction of wrong and Izuku isn’t sure where to go from here. He half-expects that he’s just damaged now and can only competently deal with Kacchan when there’s yelling. Maybe he should do something that’ll make Kacchan yell.

His little voice moans a low warning, while some other part of him hiccups. He has no idea what that’s about, so he’s ignoring them both. 

“So, uh-“ Nothing. Izuku has nothing. He just really needs to fill this silence. “I read them. Like you suggested.”

Kacchan quirks a brow up, “Yeah, and?”

“You could have just said something, Kacchan, instead of that whole convoluted–-I still don’t know what you expected me to gain from Yamaguchi except, like, high blood pressure. You were right, I fight like All Might, okay? I’m trying to fix it but-” Izuku takes a breath, “-but I need, I don’t know, help?”

“You’re fucking helpless and you always have been,” Kacchan says immediately, reflexively. Izuku tries very hard to not take this personally. “What good would it have done if I’d just told you? You’re a stubborn asshole, always have to figure this shit out for yourself.”

“Were you trying to do good?” Izuku says. “I mean, why tell me at all? When did you even notice it?”

And this, this series of questions, gives Izuku a reaction he couldn’t possibly figure out for himself, even with all the Kacchan-guide books in the world. The scowl and threatening step forward is expected, the pause and slump is not–-Kacchan stops himself from whatever action he’d started to stand, defeated, in the middle of his own room.

“I just-“ He starts, pausing to licking at the corner of his mouth. “It seemed like something you should fucking know, okay? And you’re fucking dumb, you’d need to die or something first before even thinking about it.”

“Why would you care?” Izuku asks out pure curiosity and nothing even hinting at accusing. Kacchan still looks like he’s been slapped anyway.

“Fuck you! I-“ He pauses again, reigning himself in. Izuku idly notices the tips of his ears going red; he ignores it like he ignores the voices. “I just noticed is all. Why does it got to be more than that.”

It doesn’t, Izuku thinks, and it wouldn’t normally. It’s the kind of observation that he’d get from a teacher, or a classmate–-a simple critique of his fighting style, maybe some pointers to improve on his habits. From Kacchan though, it’s more, he knows it is. If it wasn’t, Kacchan would have at most yelled it at him and then went on his way, not spend time with Izuku, coaxing him into the realisation himself. Definitely not treat it like it’s something he doesn’t want to admit to.

Izuku can allow him that, though. He’s got intimate insight into dealing with things he doesn’t want to admit to, and when all is said and done, Kacchan had done him a favour. He can give him this.

“So,” Izuku says into the awkward quiet, “since you noticed it and all, you gonna help me do something about it?”

Kacchan glares at him. “What did you have in mind, fuckmunch?”

Izuku grins back. “I was thinking you could kick my ass until I can kick yours back.”

“Ha!” The cocky bark of laughter sounds more like Kacchan and it balances the mood in the room into something more even. “I’ll take you down whenever you want, Deku, but don’t ever think you’ll ever be able to beat me.”

And this is how Izuku gets Kacchan to agree to extracurricular training sessions three times a week: with taunts and posturing. 

The disfunctionality of it is comforting.

 


 

If the next two weeks of Izuku’s life was a training montage, it would just feature a depressing reel of Izuku being thrown into walls, punched into walls, exploded into walls, and just generally getting his ass kicked to a soundtrack that sounds suspiciously like the ‘whump whump’ noise that plays whenever a cartoon character fails spectacularly.

By the end of the first week he’s so angry about it that he asks Uraraka to teach him some basic self-defence moves on the side so he’ll at least have something to show for all his bruises.

It doesn’t help. This makes him angrier.

Kacchan comes at him hard and fast, giving no consideration for – or because of - Izuku’s handicap, dishing out a barrage of offensive moves so quickly Izuku can barely block them, let alone retaliate.  

Izuku wipes away a trail of blood from his temple, watching Kacchan as Kacchan watches him, waiting for the next move. There are times like this, in their sessions, where a lull falls in the action, Kacchan backing off his unrelenting assault to wait for Izuku to catch up. It is, amongst everything, the most infuriating and frustrating part of it all.

Kacchan takes a few smooth steps to the right. Izuku mirrors him, stumbling to the left. They’re circling each other, tensions high.

“You can call it quits any time, Deku!”

Izuku won’t give him the satisfaction. He darts forward, timed as Kacchan’s taking a step, preoccupied with the movement and off balance. The hit lands shallow, Kacchan using his momentum to shift himself to the side–-a glancing blow, leaving his arm stretched out enough that Kacchan is able to wrap both hands around his forearm and swing him out and away, Izuku landing hard on his back on the soft mats of the gym.

Kacchan follows him, pushing forward on the balls of his feet to match as Izuku slides backwards, launching up and then down with the palm of his hands already sparking. Izuku’s first instinct is to roll-–instead, he takes inspiration from Kirishima and holds his ground, only moving his head as a fist comes slamming in towards his right side. It throws Kacchan off guard, his left hand spluttering out as it slams into the mats at Izuku’s left; Izuku raises a knee to catch him in the stomach, to great success.

Kacchan makes a choked grunt in the back of his throat, falling to his elbows over him. Izuku has a split second where his world becomes the wheaty blond of Kacchan’s hair in his face – clean! A little voice pipes up, smells clean! – and hard puffs of breath on his neck before Kacchan rolls over to the side, off Izuku, and lands to his right to splay out on the mats next to him.   

“That’s new,” Kacchan grits out between his teeth.

“Kirishima-kun,” Izuku pants back. “Had a few rounds with him, before.”

Kacchan grunts an offended noise in the back of his throat.

“You sly little two-timing fuck! Who else?”

“Uraraka-san.”

“What the shit,” Kacchan grunts again, still on his back facing the ceiling. Izuku gives a testing tug to his arm, caught half underneath him, to no avail. “I told you about it, I should get first dibs on beating it out of you.”

“Don’t worry, Kacchan,” Izuku says, jerking his trapped arm until it could loosely be considered as patting the back it’s held under, “you’ve still given me the hardest time of all.”

There’s a noise at that. Izuku can’t place it, but it sounds like the verbal equivalent of the hiccupping sound his mind keeps making at him around Kacchan. 

“Fuck you and your ungrateful ass,” Kacchan says, sitting up and rolling to his feet in one smooth motion. He doesn’t bother to turn around or offer a helping hand to where Izuku is still flat on his back, clenching and unclenching his right fist to get feeling back into it. “I’m leaving.”

“Thanks, Kacchan!” Izuku calls after him and gets a middle finger flung over Kacchan’s shoulder in response.

The closing of the gym door echoes around the empty space and Izuku stays where he is. He’s mostly caught his breath by now, but there’s a tell-tale twinge on each inhale that says his ribs are going to hurt when he decides to move, and so he puts it off to catalogue all his other injuries. Unusual to a fight with Kacchan, but Izuku hasn’t suffered as many, or as serious, injuries during their personal training–-he thinks he was regularly getting more hurt during their middle-school encounters. For this session alone, he thinks he might be able to walk away with just some bruised ribs, a few scrapes, and minor burns to his arms; all in all, negligible damage.

All of their training sessions have been like that, something that Izuku can walk away from. He’d suspect that Kacchan is going easy on him, if he thought Kacchan was actually able and amenable to the idea-–which he greatly doubts. No, he thinks it’s more that Kacchan is pulling the force behind his attacks on purpose, rather than altering his typical fight strategy, so that Izuku might have a half a chance of countering in his current state.

Well, it’s either that, or Kacchan has developed a newfound respect for Izuku’s being enough that he no longer wants to actively kill him. Odds are about fifty-fifty on that one and Izuku’s not sure if he even cares which way it swings. Both options are fine, really, because both options mean that something new and different is happening between them and the little voice that’s been warning Izuku against rabbit holes is now gently him pushing towards whatever one this is.

The other little voice that screams about self-preservation continues to wail about everything, but that little voice has literally never been useful, so what does it know.

 


   

“So let me get this straight. This guy-” Todoroki points to a tall, dark-haired character,”- is interested in this guy,” he points to a shorter, blond-haired man.

“Yes.”

“And this guy likes this guy back,” Todoroki says, pointing from the blond man back to the darker-haired one.

“Yes.”

“And he can’t just confess to him because... why?”

“He has to be an asshole about it,” Izuku says. “I don’t know; drama, I guess. I supposed you can’t make a whole story out of it otherwise.”

“This is four volumes so far and the most he’s done is almost run over the blond in his car and then offered to drive him home–-which was refused, because the blond still thinks he hates him.”

“Yes,” Izuku says again. “I guess they really enjoy making this story and never want it to end.”

“It should have ended after three pages.” Todoroki states bluntly.

“Yes,” Izuku says. “But it didn’t. Hakagure-san tells me there’s twelve in total and I am going to read them all because I hate myself, and I hate them, and I need to know how it ends. I will not be defeated by fictional romance, Todoroki-kun.”

Todoroki just gives him a weary look and turns back to the manga in his hands. Slowly, he flips it over in his hands to read the blurb, before flipping it back and thumbing through random pages. “And these were meant for Bakugou?”

Izuku makes a noise–-the whole thing is so out of control by now that that explanation barely does it justice, but, “Yes. I mean, I think so. The timing is pretty suspect.”

“Because of those man magazines he has?”

“Initially, at least. But those magazines–-I don’t know where the idea came from that they were those kinds of magazines. They’re just old hero magazines! Totally normal, so this whole thing was... misguided.” Izuku feels like a weight has been lifted off of his chest. Finally, he gets to tell the truth of it all to someone. Finally. With any luck, Todoroki will spread it on like a reverse-rumour until it dispels the misconception from the rest of the class. He doesn’t think it’ll happen; in fact he has the awful feeling that it’s too deeply entrenched now, and Todoroki isn’t the gossiping type, besides. But he wants to believe.

“You’ve seen them?”

“Mm-hm,” Izuku says. “Uraraka-san borrowed some too–-completely innocent Heroic Monthly mags. He keeps them in a crate under his bed, so that part’s true, but there’s nothing else under there that I’ve seen.”

Todoroki stares at him, then down at the barazoku volume in his hands, and then back at Izuku.

“Are you sure he’s not-“

“Yes,” Izuku hisses.

 


 

Izuku’s choice not to hit up All Might with this particular issue of his is taken out of his hands when All Might pulls him aside after an afternoon training match to comment on it.

“You seem to be doing something new, my boy,” All Might says. “I’m impressed. I never thought to use air pressure as a defensive shield, quite like you’ve managed to.”

“Apparently it hurts less if I don’t actually hit someone,” Izuku mutters, trying to tamp down on the pleased flush on his face. “It’s not something I can take credit for, I got the idea from the defensive strategies of Shockwave.”

All Might’s bony fingers tap at his chin as he considers this, humming. Even after all this time, this form of All Might’s still manages to blindside Izuku with little details; today, it’s noticing the veins standing out stark against the thin skin of his hands. He thinks he should be more used to this–-especially since he’s been familiar with it for longer than most, but his classmates seem to have adjusted to it in ways Izuku still struggles with.

He has a sudden, intense urge to scrap this whole damn thing, despite All Might’s approval. He wants All Might to live on, through his legacy and ideals and signature moves. He wants, more than anything, to be that symbol of everything All Might stood for and was, in All Might’s place.

Izuku knows he can’t and it’s conceited to even think he that could, but he so fiercely wants to.

“That’s good, that’s good.” All Might murmurs. “An innovative inclusion, certainly. You were always very good at incorporating others into your own style, I’m glad that you’re continuing to grow with it.”

Izuku shrugs half-heartedly, all this previous pride in it shrivelled.

“You don’t think so?”

“No, I do.” Izuku says. “It just feels strange. It feels... untrue, somehow.”

All Might hums again, shadowed eyes staring Izuku down. “Like nothing you have is your own?”

“No.” Izuku frowns, pauses. “Yes. Maybe? I don’t–-it just feels wrong. I don’t feel like I’m stealing these things, I’ve never really thought about it like that. But I feel something like an imposter, maybe.”

“Ah,” All Might says, slumping to rest a bony hand on Izuku’s shoulder as he leans down to catch his eye. “My boy, let me tell you a secret–-not like our other secrets! Not like those!–-but listen: all heroes are like art. We learn from those who have come before us; we take and discard, we challenge and we arrange things in such unique idiosyncrasies that they become our own, you understand?”

Izuku nods, still frowning but for different reasons now: heroes are like what?!

“Well, I can see that you’re trying,” All Might chuckles at him, patting at his shoulder. “What I’m getting at is that much like One For All, we are all the culmination of our influences. Keep twisting what you know and eventually it will be recognisable as only something you could create. One might even say that this is the common factor between One For All users and all other heroes.” 

Izuku thinks about this. All Might keeps his hand resting on his shoulder, quietly giving him the time to process his words. In all honesty, Izuku knows exactly nothing about art beyond the drawings he keeps in his notebooks–-which, he thinks, is almost what All Might is getting at. In Izuku’s earlier notebooks, full of costume designs and plans for the quirks he was never going to get, he did a lot of revision. The pictures he drew on the first page were never quite like the ones on the last; not as streamlined, not as refined, not as good until he’d incorporated things he had seen and researched. This, he gathers, is All Might’s point.    

It’s something like what Izuku had told Todoroki way back in the Sports Festival: the ability to use is as good as the ability to own something. Todoroki never needed any permission but his own to utilise the fire side of his quirk.

Izuku groans; he’s so glad he hadn’t taken these concerns to Todoroki because he thinks the other boy could throw his own words back at him and be right about it. It’d be insufferable.

“I think I get it,” Izuku breathes, on the cusp of tears. He has no idea what he did in his life to deserve All Might as a mentor but he’s so fucking lucky. “Thanks, All Might.”

All Might booms a laugh at him. It rattles something inside his chest and there’s a little bit of bloody spittle that flies out, but Izuku just ducks his head down and lets his hair be ruffled. He feels like he’s been blessed; like All Might has just given him his approval to stamp over everything he’d left impressed in Izuku, like he had maybe done to the heroes before. In a way, Izuku guesses he’s still following in his footsteps, only now he feels better about it not being so literal.

“You’ve still got a ways to go, Midoriya, my boy, but you’re on the right path!”

An errant tear escapes his control and Izuku wipes at it absently. Seriously fucking blessed.

 


 

Use the down force of a Detroit Smash to create a shockwave of upwards air pressure, cushion the landing and use the lessened strain on the legs to launch back up--Kacchan should have spun by now, will be coming from the six. Flip midair–-yes! There! Hair!–-don’t grab the shoulder, ignore the shoulders, too easy a hold to break, go for the neck, chokehold–-good. Use backwards momentum to pull Kacchan’s weight off his feet, fall back, tow him by the neck. Land. Hook legs over shoulders–-hook legs over shoulders, don’t let his arms out–-yes, there! Pin. Hold. Win.

Kacchan struggles forward against Izuku’s arms held around his neck and then slams back down forcefully with a yell.

Right into Izuku’s groin. That was not part of the plan.

Gasp. Go limp. Lose.

Izuku groans and doesn’t even attempt to stop Kacchan as he slips from the hold and sits up in the lax vee of Izuku’s twitching legs. He’s down. He can’t recover from this.

“What the hell are you bitching about now,” Kacchan uses an arm to swing himself around on the ground, still sitting. “Get up, we’re not done here.”

“Yeah,” Izuku sobs. “Yeah, we are.”

Kacchan blinks at where Izuku is curled in on himself, frowning in confusion. Izuku glares.

“... What?” Kacchan asks slowly. “Did I break something?”

“You better not have,” Izuku snaps and rolls himself over on his side. He ignores Kacchan’s muttered ‘bullshit drama queen’ to concentrate on breathing until the sharp throbbing dies down. “Low blow, Kacchan.”

“Low-“ His eyes widen as he looks at Izuku–-his face, his groin, back to his face again. The tips of Kacchan’s ears go red. “Did I...?”

“It was very effective. I’ll have to remember that one.”

“Oh.” The red on Kacchan’s ears creeps along to his cheeks, his neck not fairing any better. Izuku would wonder more about why Kacchan’s suddenly decided to swap out his typical schadenfreude for embarrassment, but there’s still a painful dull throbbing in his pants and his voices are all clamouring to give him conflicting feelings about it. Kacchan shrugs awkwardly. “Well, whatever works.”

“No,” Izuku says. “There has to be some unspoken rule about this.”

“Conduct in Hero and Villain conflict: No nut shots,” Kacchan says grandly, before dropping it for a patronising look; the blushing kind of ruins it. “Yeah, dumbfuck, that’s totally a thing that exists.”

“I said unspoken,” Izuku mutters. He’s still on the floor–-the pain has mostly dulled by now by he’s not above hamming it up to see if Kacchan will feel pity enough to help him up when they’re done arguing. “If it doesn’t exist I should write it. Hey, Aizawa-sensei is giving us a free topic for that conflict resolution essay, isn’t he?”

“Yeah, what are you gonna do? Use this dumbass experience as your thesis?”

“This essay intends to argue that groin attacks are an effective means of resolution that should never, ever be utilised.”

The flash of teeth Kacchan calls a grin is mean. “Do it, I dare you. It’s not like it’s gonna matter, with your shitty grades.”

“Hey,” Izuku whines defensively. ”You know just as well as I do that I’m always just underneath you–-don’t get comfortable, Kacchan, I will top you one day.”

There’s a weird gurgling, strangled noise as Kacchan drops his head in defeat, the tips of his ears look like they’re on fire through the spikes of his hair. Izuku has just enough time to open his mouth, ready to gloat, but snaps it shut when Kacchan stands abruptly, face still tilted away.

“Are you going to help me up this time?”

Kacchan sighs, eyes flicking to Izuku’s pathetic form still starfished in the floor.

“Better luck next time, asshole.” He says, sauntering towards the door and away.

Izuku mirrors his sigh and stares up the gym ceiling–-there’s a basketball stuck up there. Izuku frowns at it. He wonders idly whether he could rig that to fall strategically for the next match.

Which is hopefully longer and more successful than this one; they’d barely started this one. In fact, they probably weren’t in here half the time they’d normally be and Izuku is surprised Kacchan didn’t pull him back up by the hair to continue.

In fact, Kacchan had seemed in a real hurry to get out of there.

Izuku’s best guess is that all that essay talk reminded him that it’s due soon. That’s probably it, his little self-preservation voice soothes. Izuku decides that’s the one he’s listening to today.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

At some point, a request sheet makes it up into the makeshift class library. Still nobody has claimed responsibility for the vast amount of volumes they already have, but the requested books have a way of appearing seemingly out of nowhere within a few days of being asked for, so clearly someone is filling them.

“It’s like playing Russian roulette with these things–-sometimes they look normal, and then surprise! Dick! And other times they look shady as fuck on the outside and just turn out to be Extreme Fantasy on the inside,” Sero holds up two different volumes, the covers exemplifying his point. “Is there any logic to these?”

“Depends, what do you want? Or, I guess, don’t want?”

“Less fluids,” Sero says with a face and then refuses to elaborate further. Ashido seems to get it anyway, nodding in deep understanding and handing him something that seems – on the cover at least – family friendly.

Izuku is still flipping though these damnable office workers, who have graduated to actual conversations - all it took was five volumes, three misunderstandings, and a sick cat. Or, he would be, but he’s been distracted by the request sheet and the fact that there’s one request there that’s been typed and stuck on, rather than handwritten.

He has an intense curiosity as to who it is, because nobody in their class has presented as particularly shy about these things. Even Kirishima, who’s apparently decided to take it all in stride and no longer questions it, has been seen poking gently at random volumes. Hell, so have Yaoyorozu and Todoroki.

It stands out, is his point. He can’t think of a single person who would bother with such a roundabout concealment of their identity in their class, apart from one – which he refuses to entertain even as a suspect, because the very idea that Kacchan reads these things, let alone pays attention to them, is just not something Izuku thinks is within the realm of possibility.

Right?

Surely not.

He supposes it could be Iida, but that rings more unlikely than even Kacchan. Iida is still struggling with JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure, and that is, from Izuku’s understanding, more suggestive than overt.   

In any case, it has Izuku’s attention more than anything else happening in this room. It seems to have a fair bit of attention from the others too; he’s overheard plenty of speculation over who it could be, with what sounds like half the class having aspersions thrown at them over the hour Izuku has been in the library. Yet still, nobody has come up with a solid sounding suspect – that isn’t Kacchan, because everyone is still assuming that this is his thing, even though Izuku knows it’s not, and so that doesn’t count.

He’s not sure why he’s not saying this though. He thinks maybe it’s because if he does, he’ll have to explain what and why he knows, and that seems.... personal, maybe. The magazines are a connection now. A thing that they share, for the two of them, that for whatever selfish reason Izuku wants to keep that way.

The Soft Sound Of Spring, typed clearly and stuck to the page with clear sticky tape. 

“I looked it up,” Uraraka says with a shrug. “It sounds like pretty standard fare to me, I don’t know why anyone would be embarrassed about it.”

“Maybe we should be setting up cameras in here?” Kaminari says. “You know, to keep tabs on shit like this.”

“That entirely defeats the purpose of anonymity, idiot,” Jirou rolls her eyes. “Who cares, let them do what they want. It’s none of my business and it’s not any of yours, either.”

“But-!”

“No, she’s right, Kaminari-kun,” Izuku interjects, looking at the list, and then back down at the volume in his hands. He’s mostly reading this out of sheer stubbornness now, but he is reading it and he’s pretty sure he wouldn’t tell his mother about it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, but who needs the assumptions? “If they felt the need to do this, we should respect their privacy.”

“Ugh.” The noise Kaminari makes is unattractive. “I just think we should all go down together in this. Plausible deniability isn’t fair.”

“What have you been reading?” Jirou snorts. “What are you trying to deny?”

“Nothing!” Kaminari squeaks.

Izuku leaves Jirou to it, pointedly stabbing remarks into Kaminari until the red of his face clashes horribly with his hair. Izuku looks back down at the manga in his hands and then takes in the largely full shelves that take up the walls of the spare room; the request list, and the classmates he doesn’t usually talk that much with, all sharing this space and this collection with him, and doesn’t really see anything they’d have to deny if anyone asks.

Well. There are some things – the few that belong in an R-18 section, to start – that should probably be hidden behind a curtain or something, but the concept on a whole is probably fine from a school-appropriate standpoint. They did get permission from Aizawa, after all.

 


 

It’s in the third – fourth? – week of after-class training sessions that Izuku finally manages to give Kacchan a solid opponent to fight against. He’s not sure what the turning point was, but their previous sessions all had Izuku conceding defeat flat on his back. This one has Kacchan staring at the ceiling in indignant shock for the very first time.

Izuku has all of a second to feel smug about it before Kacchan is back up again, and then it’s back to his regularly scheduled running and dodging and blocking in the face of Kacchan’s unrelenting onslaught.

It ends like all their other training sessions have ended: Izuku on the ground, Kacchan holding him down with knees on his thighs and hot hands pinning his shoulders. At least this time it had gone a lot less smoothly for him. Izuku had made him work for this victory.

He’s also pinned down on his stomach, rather than on his back, and this too he takes as some kind of progressive variation. His little voice seems to think so as well--although Izuku isn’t sure which one it is that thinks this is a benefit to him. Whatever, he’ll take it.

“Ippon,” Kacchan huffs in his ear, before climbing off of him. Izuku relaxes his muscles in response, letting himself go limp as he pants into the floor mats. He lays there for long enough that the humidity of his own breath rising back up in his face makes him uncomfortable, enough to muster the energy to flip himself over. He finds Kacchan sat on the mats behind him, still close enough that Izuku catches him in the side with a foot as he turns.

“List ‘em, loser,” Kacchan says.

Izuku groans, playing back the match and sorting out which influences he’d used and where. “Dark Knight, Sky High, uh... Lovedrug?”

“Lovedrug?!”

“Loosely,” Izuku says in the face of Kacchan’s clear judgement. “Her idea of hugging villains into submission--I know her technique depends on her pheromone quirk, but with a few tweaks I thought they’d have potential as more aggressive holds. Almost had you a few times, didn’t I?”

Kacchan doesn’t deign him a response to that, just waves a hand dismissively like Izuku didn’t have him pinned once or twice in their fight. “Who else?”

“All Might? Does he still count?” The foot slamming into his hip says no. Izuku whines. “Ah, Kacchan, why? I don’t know! Those are the only ones I can point to clearly!”

“Be more aware of yourself, shithead!” Kacchan keeps kicking his hip. Izuku thinks he might have a new bruise to add to the others if he keeps it up. “You just doin’ whatever without thinking is what lead to this in the first place!”

“And I’m doing something about it! You’re even here, helping me! Would you-–stop kicking me?!” Izuku makes a grab for Kacchan’s ankle, barely missing it as Kacchan pulls his leg in and away. “I can place my inspirations, but there are some things that just come to me in the spur of the moment! Are you telling me you can name all your influences?”

“I don’t have influences, I’m a natural,” Kacchan snaps. “What about me? You stole a shit-tonne from me, asshole, don’t even pretend you didn’t!”

“You don’t count,” Izuku snaps back. “If All Might doesn’t count, neither do you.”

Kacchan kicks him in the hip again. Izuku manages to grasp his ankle this time and grips tightly. 

“The only person I’ve watched for as long as All Might is you, Kacchan. You don’t count, because you’re basically a given.

The leg in his grasp stops still, all attempts to pull itself out of his hold coming to a standstill. Izuku chances a peek at Kacchan’s face and finds it... strange. He has no frame of reference for whatever Kacchan’s expression is trying to do; the closest he can think of is the kind of expression some of the girls get when Mineta says something that would be flattering from anyone else, but is just annoying coming from him. That kind of torn look, where they’re not sure whether to blush or hit him...

Kacchan runs a hand down his red face in a vague attempt to deflect, muttering a low, “Whatever, nerd.”

Yes, Izuku thinks, it’s exactly like that.

“I’m just saying-“

“Stop saying,” Kacchan moans. “Shut your goddamn mouth.”

Izuku huffs a laugh, but decides not to push it. There’s a very fine line between embarrassment and hitting, and Kacchan as always opted for the latter. It has him thinking, though, about predictability and weakness and the fact that he can read Kacchan like Kacchan can apparently read him.

It’s not the same, not really. But there’s something there, he thinks, in the way Kacchan broadcasts his intentions with an edge of long-held habit. He scratches idly at a scrape on his chin and murmurs a noise of thanks as Kacchan gets up - the intention to leave clear as he stands abruptly and walks away without a word, like he always does - leaving Izuku alone to his thoughts.

His very, very dangerous thoughts, that are less about whether he should bring this up to Kacchan – because he should, fair is fair – and more about how he would go about it without ending up with more than a bruised hip.

 


 

“Did you know,” Izuku begins and then pauses. No. That’s too... patronising, maybe? Questioning of Kacchan’s intelligence? Definitely not a safe opener.

“I thought I should tell you,” that’s a little better; puts the onus on his thoughts, rather than Kacchan’s. “By the way? By the way, I thought I should tell you...”

Izuku groans, running a hand up his forehead and into his hair, yanking with agitation as his fingers catch in knots. He doesn’t know why this has to be so hard. He’s starting to see why Kacchan just dumped a whole lot of evidence on his lap and waited for him to figure it out himself – convoluted, sure, but at least he didn’t have to be around to deal with the fallout.

Nevermind that he did actually stick around. Izuku just puts that down to some kind of lowkey sadism on Kacchan’s part. Izuku doesn’t have that luxury, for that exact same reason. Or does he? Kacchan has been kicking his ass on the regular, but Izuku had actually asked for that, and outside of their training sessions they’ve been rather civil to each other, all things considered. Balanced. Would that kind of civility extend to a reversed situation?

No, a little voice whispers, because in a relationship of give and take, Kacchan has always given, and Izuku has had no choice but to take whatever he dishes out. 

Yes, whispers a different one, and then doesn’t elaborate beyond a hiccup.

 “Literally useless,” he mutters under his breath, “all of us.” 

 


 

His inability to find the right words and method follows Izuku throughout the week, leaving his encounters with Kacchan a little preoccupied as he spends more time scrutinising Kacchan’s moves than he does his own.

Currently, he’s watching as Kacchan and Uraraka do their utter best to replicate their Sport Festival showdown – all fire and noise and rubble orbiting two figures as they dance around the field in a cloud of dirt and ash. It’s difficult to tell, but Izuku is familiar enough with both of them by now to think Uraraka might be winning. Sort of. She’s at least holding her own far better than their first proper fight; more comfortable with hand-to-hand combat, more aggressive and lacking any sort of fear about getting up close to Kacchan and his explosions.

She is a true force, Izuku thinks, as she gets in close and catches a boot on Kacchan’s jaw. 

The other reason Izuku thinks she’s dominating this is because he knows Kacchan, and Kacchan’s spent most of this fight on the back foot, cornered and yelling about it in increasing volumes.

“Fuck you and your mother, you floaty bitch!” He roars, spitting blood to the side and then barrelling forward.  Izuku sighs, reduced vocabulary due to anger. Yet another great indication of how this is going for him. 

Kacchan gets a glancing blow at Uraraka’s side. She doesn’t even pause, using her momentum to spin around and lay two hands on his shoulder blades. Kacchan stumbles forward a step, his right boot on solid ground and his left landing on nothing as he loses gravity. The shout he gives is unintelligible through the rage, drowning out the scattered applause that had started amongst the spectators.

“Time,” Aizawa calls out blandly, unconcerned with the scathing round of expletives that washes over the area. “Uraraka’s win. Bakugou, give it a rest.”

Uraraka releases her anti-gravity influence, side-stepping as Kacchan comes down, landing on his feet like a cat. “Good match!”

Kacchan flips her off with a sneer and grudgingly mutters a low, “Yeah, whatever.”

“So gracious,” Sero comments from the sidelines. “I’d hate to play monopoly with him.”

Izuku shudders through the wave of terror that washes over him at the thought.

 


 

 “Todoroki-kun, how would you go about telling someone that you know them?”

Todoroki blinks at him from his place enveloped in a bean bag – when did they get those? – and lowers his book to stare. “I would think that someone you know would already know that you know them.”

“Yes.” Izuku says. “No. I meant, really know them.”

Todoroki thinks about this for a few seconds. “... Biblically?”

“Uh... No.”

The bean bags weren’t there last time he’d come into the class library. He wonders who brought them in and how they even managed it – there’s two, in addition to the one-seater armchair, and they’re huge, swallowing Todoroki up until he’s just some legs and a confused, mismatched face staring out at him.

“So wait, let me–-someone you know that doesn’t know you, and now you want to tell them?” Todoroki levels a serious look at him. “Midoriya, have you been stalking someone?”

The way he says it is suspicious in its resignation; Izuku thinks he should be offended. Instead, he can’t help grinning wryly as he says, “I’m trying to work out a good way to tell Kacchan that he twitches the shoulder of the arm he’s going to use without him, you know, being weird about it.”

“Ah,” Todoroki sinks further down until he becomes eyes and judgmental eyebrows over pink polka-dotted fabric. “Because Bakugou has always been so receptive to your insights before. Yeah, I see your problem: it’s that you never learn.”

Izuku eyes the second beanbag and wonders if he can hide in it. “I’m learning,” he hedges. “Kacchan’s helping me learn, and I just, I don’t know, want to return the favour.”

“You already know how to run and duck effectively,” Todoroki says. “Or is Bakugou teaching you something else now?”

And this, this is why Izuku realised halfway through this conversation that it was a mistake. He’s been getting the intense feeling that what they’re having now are two different conversations, and he suspects that Todoroki is judging him for whatever he thinks this is about.

“Earth to Midoriya, what are you talking about?”

Izuku blinks. At least he’s not the only one confused. “What are you talking about?”

Todoroki raises both eyebrows, looking around the room and then back at Izuku pointedly. Izuku’s gaze falls to the doujinshi, hanging limp and forgotten in Todoroki’s hands, before doing his own slow take of the room and snapping his eyes back to where Todoroki is giving him a silent but unmistakable expression of duh.

“No. What? No, Todoroki-kun!” He knew he should have better explained the whole magazine situation more clearly – he’d thought Todoroki had understood though! He was working on that assumption when he’d decided to ask him! “How many times–-these are not–-the magazines are not–-fighting! I’m talking about fighting! We’re fighting!”

“Well, in that case,” Todoroki nods like he gets it, finally, “Bakugou does seem the type. I read something the other day that had some of that. Third shelf up, over there.”

Todoroki doesn’t get it at all, Izuku realises with horror. He’s got it in his head now, and Todoroki is nothing but steadfast in his beliefs. Izuku doesn’t even know why he tried. “I don’t even know why I tried,” he says, turning to leave.

“Or did you mean making up? Because there’s-“

Izuku closes the door on Todoroki’s misplaced concern. Really, he should be more concerned for himself at this point – in the corner of his eye, he’d seen Todoroki trying and failing to crawl out of the bean bag trying to eat him. 

Izuku leaves him to his fate, making his way out of the girls dorms and across the common room towards his own. He figures there’s nothing else for it now, he’s just going to have to man up and tell it to Kacchan straight. He’s even starting to think it might not go as bad as he’s imagining – their last training session, Izuku had managed to block half of Kacchan’s attacks using what he knows, and Kacchan hadn’t shown near as much frustration in that fight than he had in his mock battle with Uraraka.

It’s fine, he thinks. He can do this.

He gets halfway up to the third floor before option B makes itself known as an acceptable alternate plan. One that doesn’t leave Izuku in the same room as Kacchan when he inevitably gets angry about being predictable in his own way.

Heading back down to the second floor, Izuku swings open his door and heads towards his closet. In with the boxes of magazines and merchandise that he couldn’t bear to part with, but had nowhere to put, is his collection of personal notebooks. Finding the right boxes takes some work – why didn’t he label these things properly? – but eventually he finds what he needs and starts sorting through until he has a small pile of lined notebooks to his side. The contents are rather scattered, organised more by year than subject, and Izuku has to flip through pages until he’s relatively sure he has all the ones containing notes about Kacchan.

Setting those aside, he grabs a recent notebook – filled with all sorts of information on villains, teachers, heroes, and his own classmates – finding the empty pages in which to jot down what he knows about Kacchan but hasn’t recorded yet. When he’s done, he goes through the pile once more, adding coloured sticky notes to highlight the relevant pages, until he has a solid stack of eight notebooks, all properly sorted and marked.

Grabbing the last few magazines that he hadn’t returned yet, Izuku places the notebooks on top and stands back to admire his efforts. It’s a solid pile of evidence, and if Kacchan has questions about it then it’s up to him to ask them, rather than the other way around. Izuku nods, pleased. There’s nothing like necessity to force creative solutions, he thinks, though he’s slightly chagrined he had to go through that whole thing with Todoroki before he’d thought to do it this way.

He picks them up and heads towards the fourth floor again. His plan is to leave the pile outside of Kacchan’s door and hope he doesn’t trip over them – it’s kind of a chickenshit thing to do, within a chickenshit but perfectly viable plan, but he still feels like it’s the best course of action in such delicate circumstances.

His little self-preservation voice seems to agree. 

 


 

Kacchan arrives to their classes the next morning more upset than Izuku has seen him in a long time. He hadn’t seen him in the dorms at all, either last night or this morning - after delivering his ‘package’, Izuku had figured that for the best.

But then Kacchan had walked into class on light feet, sliding the class door smoothly, and had sat in his seat in front of Izuku without looking at him. No sneering, no “morning nerd”, no feet on the desk, leaving Iida looking lost and bereft of a stern lecturing opportunity. Just Kacchan sitting in his chair quietly like a normal, diligent student. Straight back, contained.

Izuku’s little voice wails and shrinks into itself until it disappears.

This is... not great. An understatement; it’s in fact worse than Izuku was expecting, because Kacchan is loud and aggressive by default. It’s his state of being. When that state of being is rattled, Kacchan does this: he goes quiet. He simmers. Like a bottle rocket, totally innocuous but for the roiling insides preparing for an explosion.

Izuku takes a breath. Across the room, Torodoki shoots him a knowing look that Izuku doesn’t even bother correcting him about. Todoroki and his blind misconceptions no longer register as the greatest crisis in Izuku’s life, because Kacchan is folding his hands politely over the desktop and waiting patiently for Aizawa to start class.

His tie is on properly. His tie is on. His pants are pulled up. It’s a disaster. Izuku’s little voices are recoiling; his self-preservation is all but gone, shrunk in the back of his mind. The voice that likes to hiccup at him at inappropriate times seems to be sobbing quietly.

For maybe the first time ever, Izuku knows exactly what they’re on about. He’s not sure what he can do about it, but he knows he’s should probably do something.

 


 

He half expects that Kacchan will skip their regular training sessions – especially considering the school day they’d had, which was a whole lot of Kacchan being cool, calm, and collected, and everyone else collectively losing their shit over it like the world was ending - but to Izuku’s surprise, Kacchan makes his way into the gym on time and dressed for a workout.

Izuku stops stretching from his place in the centre of the room, where he was preparing for a lonesome afternoon of single-player attacks and imagination, to stare. 

“The fuck are you looking at, asshole? Keep going or I will break you.”

Izuku blinks. That’s about as expected as greetings from Kacchan go–-normal. He watches, mindlessly continuing his stretches as Kacchan throws his gym bag to the side, against a wall, and starts his own warm up. Also pretty normal.

They begin like they normally do, too. Izuku stares across the mats at Kacchan, taking note of his feet – balancing on the right foot – and fighting stance. There’s no change from his usual habits there, either. Izuku starts to wonder whether Kacchan had read his notebooks at all; whether he was just mad that Izuku had left them there at all.

Their proceeding fight does nothing to dissuade him of this thought. Kacchan communicates his intentions in his limbs, his footwork, his face. He twitches his left shoulder before pulling back and swinging, missing by a mile as Izuku manoeuvres himself to the to the right on the balls of his feet, dropping low to deliver a swing-kick to Kacchan’s calves. It’s evaded, but barely, Kacchan jumping back to land out of range, tongue swiping at the corner of his mouth as he backs away.

Izuku continues his turn, using his hands already pushing at the mats to help himself up at the end. He takes a step left, Kacchan moves right; they’re circling again. Now would be the time for taunts, Izuku thinks, if they were following their regular pattern. He’s not so sure they are though – something feels off. Kacchan is moving the same as he always would, but there’s something about it that seems more purposeful than instinctual. Izuku decides to let it play out instead of questioning it.

This seems the right call to make when Kacchan darts forward with a determined curl to his mouth. His left shoulder twitches again, and Izuku prepares to dodge – the blow comes, but not from Kacchan’s fist. His left leg catches Izuku in the hip and he stumbles, quick on his feet as he regains balance and frowns. Kacchan doesn’t give him the time, however, striking again, quick as a snake. Izuku expects the explosion aimed at his right, dodges it, but completely misreads the next attack – a knee to the solar plexus instead of an elbow to the area between neck and shoulder.

Izuku gasps, doubling over with the unexpected lack of air. He keeps going forward, dropping into a somersault to avoid being a stationary target. Getting his feet back under him, Izuku swings up and around just in time to catch the fist being swung at his jaw. With an unpleasant noise, he catches Kacchan by the wrist and pulls him in closer, rotating his body to catch Kacchan’s ribs on his shoulder and pulls him up and over, swinging him down with enough force that he hears the breath leave his lungs as his back slams against the mats.

Not giving him time to recover, Izuku drops the arm in his hands in favour of leaping forward and down, landing hard with knees slamming into the bones of Kacchan’s shoulders, hands repurposed to curl around his legs and keep them down.

“One,” he sing-songs through the combined panting as they both try to catch their breath. “Two. Three. Fo-“ Kacchan bucks, Izuku somehow manages to keep his grip, bearing down with his full weight. “-ooour. Five. Tap out, Kacchan.”

“Fuck you,” Kacchan grits out and bucks again. Izuku’s hand loses contact for a second and he brings it back down harder and higher than it had been. Kacchan’s own hands have curled around Izuku’s sides, trying to leverage him up and off. Izuku leans down harder. He doesn’t wonder why Kacchan isn’t using his quirk to move him, because it’s obvious enough – that would require a trip to Recovery Girl at the least, and the morgue at most, and neither of them want to answer those questions. It puts a leash on their training, but Izuku can’t help but be very, very glad for that silent understanding right now.

“Six,” Izuku grunts against the hands digging into some important internal organ; he’s going to be pissing blood at the end of this stalemate, he can feel it. “Seven. Come on, Kacchan!”  

“Ten or lose, motherfucker.”

Izuku grunts again, tightening his fingers. He can feel bone under muscle and he knows that he won’t be the only one bruised after this. “Eight, nine, ten,” he says in a rush. “Concede, you stubborn bastard!”

“Like fuck that counts, you weak, cheating prick,” Kacchan huffs, but his hands let go of Izuku’s sides before coming back to tap lightly at him. “Alright, alright. That’s fucking bullshit, but alright. Get off me.”

Izuku lets himself go lax, hands sliding off thighs to hit the mats at his side in relief. There’s a cramp running up the left side of his arm, any longer and he would have lost his grip and the hold completely.

“Off me, Deku!” Kacchan says, hands again landing on his sides to push him up and over. Izuku lets it happen, victory secured, landing on his back with a puff of air. He turns his head to the side, ready to offer some inane comment, and is met with the soft grey of Kacchan’s sweatpants inches from his nose. His mind hiccups as he snaps his head back towards the ceiling, and then up onto his elbows when even that’s not enough distance to stop the noises.

Kacchan is red. It stands out horribly bright against the blue of the mats and the pale yellow of his hair. All the primaries, Izuku thinks hysterically. 

The hiccups become louder.

“What?” Izuku squeaks, more out of irritation with himself. Kacchan somehow – impossibly - gets redder, the corners of his mouth tight in a downward turn. He mutters something; Izuku tunes out his internal meltdown to listen, but it’s low, the same kind of low Kacchan had been speaking all day, though thankfully not as blank and borderline polite. “What?” He asks again, leaning forward.

“I said let’s go again! Fuck! What do I gotta–-up, you useless fucking waste, up!”

His face is still like flame, redder than Izuku has ever seen it. He ignores it, because he thinks if he does his mind might finally shut up about it, and takes a second to rotate his wrists, clenching his fingers to loosen them up, ready for the next round. With a grunt, Izuku pushes himself back up onto his feet and into stance, mirroring where Kacchan has already taken his, balanced on the right foot and low.

Kacchan attacks first, like he always does, but that’s about where the predictability stops. The second round is ungainly and confusing, neither of them managing to land clean hits on each other for the first ten minutes of the fight. It isn’t until halfway through that Izuku notices that the flow is off on more than just his end – he’s come to expect the reduced reflexes and jerky motions from himself as he fights his instincts, but Kacchan has always been fluid and confident in his moves. Until now, it seems. Izuku watches as he twitches himself left and stumbles on his own damn footing, scowling and righting himself in an instant – if Izuku hadn’t been paying attention, he would have missed it. He moves forward, striking quick, trails of One For All lighting up as he takes advantage of the momentary lapse.  

Kacchan takes the hit and returns one of his own, leaving scorch marks over Izuku’s left shoulder and down his chest. They continue like this, both off balance enough that their hits start landing clean and solid. Izuku’s clothes are worse for wear and he can feel burns and heat stinging from seemingly all over his body; Kacchan’s damage is less obvious, but Izuku knows he’s feeling those hits to the ribs in the way he hunches forward and favours his right side. 

An open palm gets him in the side of his face. Izuku can hear the popping sounds of small explosions from too close and smells burning hair, feels the puff of air against his neck as his knee digs into Kacchan’s torso, just below the ribs.

Without words, they stop. For perhaps the first time in their training sessions – perhaps even their lives - they pull back with a silent agreement that they’re done. Neither of them are pinned or tapping out, but the energy in the room splutters, dampening the tension until there’s nothing but rough panting in the quiet of the gym.

Izuku pulls back first, dropping down on his ass to pat at his hair in case any of it is actually on fire, instead of just singed like he’s hoping. Kacchan’s palm slides up his face as he does so, and then he too is dropping down to the mats – slower, an arm curled around his ribs as he comes down with a groan.

Izuku groans back, sliding a hand from his hair – not on fire, but definitely crispy – to poke at the blistering skin on his shoulder. They sit like this for a while, each cataloguing their injuries, poking and prodding at themselves to gauge what’s happened and how bad it is. Izuku finds the wounds on his face and right side to be relatively negligible, if in need of some minor care, while his left is... yeah. There’s a chance he might need Recovery Girl after all. Kacchan pushes a palm to his ribs and his gasp rattles loud and shallow; he sounds like he needs Recovery Girl too.

Izuku reaches a hand out, hovering in the space between them as Kacchan glares at it. “I just wanna see how bad it is,” Izuku huffs. “I’m not gonna do anything to them, jeez.”

“The fuck do you think you could even do about it, asshat.” Still though, he moves his hand out of the way and settles it on the mat at his side, clearing the way for Izuku to close the gap. There’s no movement when his hand makes contact, just the shallow rise of Kacchan’s chest as he breathes lightly. No obvious protrusions, no missing pieces to be felt, no obvious shifting of bone that he can feel.

Izuku nods. “Bruised, maybe cracked. Not broken, I don’t think, but I’d treat them like they are until we get to someone who actually knows what they’re talking about.”

“Aren’t you the fucking authority on broken bones?” Kacchan snorts, slapping his hands away. “Shove off you grabby fuck and worry about your own damn self.”

Izuku pulls his hands back to hover over the worst of his shoulder; he has to fight the urge to clutch at the pain out of some instinctual response, knowing from experience that touching the wounds will just irritate them further. Second-degree burns are a bitch. “You read them.” It’s a statement, rather than a question, and Izuku sounds far happier than he should considering his current state.

Kacchan still shrugs a shoulder like it is though, ducking his head to the side before bringing it back to scowl at Izuku. “What I could, with your shitty chickenscratch. The fuck was that even about? What made you think leaving a metric fuckton of evidence on my goddamn doorstep was a good plan?!”

“You did it to me!” Izuku feels compelled to point out. Kacchan just shakes his head violently, seemingly regretting it if the twitch of his hand back towards his ribs is any indication.

“I gave you what your already knew in a new context, weasel dick, so you could do something about it! What you gave me was–-was--what the fuck? I don’t even know! But the cops would love it if I ever went missing!” 

The burning in his shoulder feels like it’s traversing up his neck and taking over his face, with how hard Izuku thinks he’s blushing. He hadn’t... surely, it couldn’t be that creepy? Could it? He has the horrible suspicion that yes, it could come off as that creepy.

“There’s stuff in there from when we were five, Deku. I was not that fucking great at five, but you sure as shit seemed to think so.”

Izuku groans. He probably should have read those notes back properly, before tagging them as simply about Kacchan and moving on. He’s staring at the mats in mortification, unable to look Kacchan in the eye and he’s thinking he might never be able to again after being called out like this. By his own actions, no less! He knew he should have just manned up and said something.

“I just thought I should tell you,” Izuku mumbles to the flat blue of the mats. “You’ve helped me. I just wanted to do the same.”

Kacchan snorts, predicably. “I don’t need your help, you loser. That’s not why I--besides, just because you think you can read me doesn’t mean anyone else can. Who the fuck pays me that much attention but you?”

Izuku frowns, taking a second to push away the embarrassment and pull himself together enough to tip his head back and look at Kacchan seriously. “You can’t think like that,” he says, chewing at his split lip nervously. “Because people will. Look at you, I mean. There’s already been the Sludge Villain, and the Sports Festival, and the League of Villains and the—the--that whole thing.” He doesn’t say kidnapping, but the meaning is clear and understood in the way Kacchan looks away first with an unpleasant curl to his mouth. Izuku barrels on, regardless, because he feels it’s important to make this point. “You’ve already got people’s attention, Kacchan. You’ve always been good at it, it’s not just me. What about when we make it as actual heroes? Thinking it’ll always just be me is stupid.”

“You calling me stupid, shitbag?” Kacchan mutters, after an uncomfortable minute of silence between them. It’s half-hearted at best, and Izuku matches it with his own weak shrug of his uninjured shoulder. The sting of his left side is starting to become bothersome, and other small pains are rising up to make themselves known the longer Izuku sits without distraction. Kacchan’s breaths are still shallow and hitching on the inhale; Izuku decides that whatever else they have to deal with, they need to deal with their wounds more right now.

Tipping forward to catch himself with his right hand on the mats, Izuku gently moves his legs under himself and pushes up with a low whine. Successfully standing, he steps over the space towards Kacchan, offering a hand to help him up. Kacchan glares at it and Izuku sighs, ”I am fully aware that you are capable and do not need my help, but for the sake of expediency, Kacchan, take my hand.”

“As long as you understand,” Kacchan grunts and takes it. The process of getting him up is slow – whatever he wants to pretend, those ribs are definitely hurting his mobility. Izuku has to bend at the knees to wrap Kacchan’s arm around his shoulders, heaving him the rest of the way to his feet at glacial pace. Kacchan’s hand grips at his burnt skin painfully, and Izuku bites his tongue to stifle the instinctive gasp as the pain buries deep into his muscles.

“Recovery Girl?”

“Recovery Girl.” Kacchan grits out through clenched teeth.

 


 

Chapter Text


 

 

Recovery girl had gifted them both with a stern, unamused look when they’d finally stumbled their way into the nurse’s office, and a perfunctory kiss for the worst of their wounds.

When asked how they came about and under the threat of yet another suspension, they’d told her. Izuku knows the look she gave him was one of scrutiny, even as she’d tsk’d at them and told them to “use their imaginations” for at least a week while their smaller injuries healed the natural way.

Apparently, they have a reputation that means that not even a sweet old lady believes them when they say they were training, instead of having a proper fight. It had made Izuku uncomfortable, in the moment, enough that he’d agreed.

Apparently, it’d had the same effect on Kacchan, who shows up on Izuku’s doorstep two days later, at their usual training time, and with a fresh stack of magazines, to announce that: “Theory is just as important as practice, or whatever bullshit Midnight keeps telling us.”

Izuku doesn’t even question it, he just steps aside so Kacchan can saunter his way in and drop himself and the magazines on Izuku’s floor. Honestly, there’s so many things he could question that identifying which to ask and in what order is too much for him, when coupled with Kacchan glaring at him and hitting the floor impatiently with an open palm, so he doesn’t even bother.

Kacchan also brings something else with him. Izuku stares down at the cover of tragic gay office workers the sixth and tries not to grey out completely.

He was wondering where that had gotten to. He’d had it in his hands when he’d walked out of the library after his amazingly unhelpful chat with Todoroki, and he’d just figured he’d placed it somewhere in his room. Maybe in one of the boxes when he’d put all the irrelevant notebooks back. He was planning to have a proper dig for it later, since he wasn’t going to be training and he had the time.

Izuku guesses there’s no longer any need for any of that, since he’s apparently training this afternoon after all and the homoerotica is already out of the box. There’ll be no putting it back in, after this, Izuku thinks with an edge of hysteria.   

“I don’t know what the fuck this is, or why it was in with your nerdass little notebooks, but it is sure as fuck not something I need.” Izuku takes the manga held out to him tentatively, still trying to find a believable denial and refusing to look up. Kacchan clears his throat awkwardly. “So, uh–-whatever. This never happened.”

Izuku squints at the cover in lieu of Kacchan. He doesn’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but... “Really? You have no interest in what this is or why I have it?”

“Not one fucking bit,” Kacchan says, slapping a hand on the stack of magazines to grab the top one. “Now lose it. It doesn’t exist if I can’t fucking see it.”

Which is suspicious. Suspicious and telling, in the blasé way Kacchan’s taking this--which is a whole lot like he’s taken the whole library and contents fiasco. It almost sounds like Kacchan’s chosen way to deal with all of this is purposeful denial. It’d sure explain a lot; nobody could possibly be that oblivious for so long, Izuku thinks. He’d just sort of put it down to Kacchan’s single-minded tunnel vision that only seems to see what he’s interested in.

But if he had noticed it all and had just chosen to ignore it–-Izuku can see that as a very Kacchan thing to do.

By that logic, he probably doesn’t even know it was all for him; Izuku feels like that little detail would tip anyone over into acknowledgment, however forced. So if the whole class’s propensity for these things is already on Kacchan’s radar–-if Izuku can play this off smoothly–-he is not the only one to have one of these things in his possession. Kacchan can’t use it against him if Kirishima is doing it too. 

“Okay,” Izuku says slowly. “That’s a great mindset to have considering we’re in here to play pretend.” He casually places the manga at his side and slides it across the floor until it’s behind him. Kacchan very obviously doesn’t watch him do it, eyes glued to the magazine resting open on his crossed knees. A little voice in Izuku whoops quietly; he thinks he might’ve successfully extricated himself from a potentially horrifying – definitely awkward – situation with the least amount of humiliation possible. Izuku really doesn’t give Kacchan’s uncaring attitude enough credit, sometimes. “So what exactly are we pretending?”

“That you’re a functional piece of shit who knows when to shut up while I find the right–-this. Here.” Izuku takes the magazine Kacchan hands him with a lot less dread in his stomach this time. It’s already open and Izuku looks down to the glossy page to find All Might staring back; the noise he makes in the back of his throat is confused. Not that All Might’s face doesn’t still fill Izuku with a sense of childlike wonder and awe, but he thought the point of this was to focus in slightly different directions.

He says as much and the look Kacchan levels at him makes him shrivel back a little. “That’s what you decided, shithead, and it’s–-y’know, better, or whatever. But predictability is not your only stupid problem.”

Izuku very carefully doesn’t point out that it seems to be Kacchan’s problem too, in his own ways. He also doesn’t ask for clarification on what particular problem Kacchan is referring too, since Izuku has many problems and he’s not really interested in having Kacchan list them all. He’s pretty sure he’ll understand what’s going on here, eventually, once the intense disconnect of them just sitting on the floor, hanging out like they used to wears off.

“You ever fucking thought about this shit?” Kacchan continues, pointing at the magazine balanced on Izuku’s knee. “It’s not all A equals B. If you wanna beat All Might, thinking like he does is only gonna restrict what you do. Like this, here,” he leans over to point out a section of the article, “he says he used Texas Smash to avoid the sidewalks and shit, but there’s a fucking T-section at the end of the street. You can even see the damage in the photo! And you–-you’d fucking do the same, wouldn’t you?”  

Izuku shifts uncomfortably, because yes, he probably would without thinking about it. He knows the article and the fight, could maybe even draw a rough approximation of the photographs in with the article, but he’s never really thought about it like this. He still believes that there’s nothing wrong with All Might’s handling of the situation – because it had solved the situation – and he can’t fully agree that doing anything differently would have ended the whole thing better, but he doesn’t think that’s really the point Kacchan’s trying to make with this. “Heroes are like art, we take and then we refine.” Izuku murmurs to himself, All Might’s advice rattling around in his head. 

“Heroes are like what?” Kacchan snorts, moving back out of Izuku’s space. “My point is: to surpass All Might you’ve got to be better than All Might. None of this fucking wishy-washy imitation bullshit that’s just gonna get you the same results.”

“In a battle of collateral damage, I really don’t think you get to throw stones, Kacchan,” Izuku comments--not because Kacchan isn’t on to something with his whole argument, it’s just that the hypocrisy is tripping him up and he feels safe enough right now to say something about it. God knows why, but he hasn’t heard a single peep internally since Kacchan walked through his door, and so he’s taking this as silent approval.

“Just because property damage is expected of me, doesn’t mean you can get away with it,” Kacchan returns loftily. “I will be the number one hero, and I don’t have to be the fucking Symbol of Peace to do it, that’s your bad luck.”

“You’re exactly the kind of dangerous, unregulated hero Yamaguchi kept screaming about.”

Kacchan flips him off and grabs his own magazine from the stack. Izuku looks to the one laid out in his lap and frowns in thought. “I have these too, you know,” he starts, waving off Kacchan’s rolled eyes, “I mean, if you wanted to go through these together instead of, I don’t know, different things. It makes more sense to discuss the same thing, right? Instead of--“ whatever they’re doing, “--separately?”

Kacchan frowns back at him, blinking. He eyes the magazine in Izuku’s hands and then the one in his own, and licks the corner of his mouth. “What are you getting at?”

Izuku was trying for nothing in particular, other than a need to overcome this weird sense of distance between them; he feels like he’s sharing a room in the library, each with their own preoccupations. He’s good at thinking on his feet, though, and he thinks he’s learning how to manage Kacchan into some measure of co-operative when he says, ”I just mean two heads are better than one, right? If we go over the same materials, wouldn’t it give us more perspective on it?”

“You mean, I can tell you all the ways you’re wrong,” Kacchan says, but he places his magazine back on the stack and shifts over slightly. Izuku stares at the space created, at the empty bit of mattress straight ahead of him where Kacchan had been leaning, and he thinks his brain goes static for a bit.

Kacchan gives him all of five seconds to sit there staring dumbly before grabbing the magazine from his fingers and tangling a hand in Izuku’s t-shirt to drag him forward. There’s forward momentum and the white of his sheets coming up fast to fill his vision before Izuku gets with the program, using his arm for support as he turns himself over, landing next to Kacchan with a vague grunt as the small of his spine hits his bed frame. “You could have just said--“

“Quit your bitching,” Kacchan mutters, handing the magazine back now that Izuku is settled at his side. “Takin’ your damn fucking time–-here, happy?”

And that might be one way to put it, Izuku certainly isn’t displeased with this turn of events. He’d just rather meant that he could dig out the right box from within his closet so that they both had a copy, but this is... fine. Sharing is fine. His mind takes this moment to hiccup at him.   

Kacchan shuffles closer, his shoulder bumping Izuku’s out of the way so that they can both see the pages laid open in his lap. His mind hiccups again; Izuku is starting to suspect that that--Kacchan, proximity--is what sets it off.  

“Go on then, what’s your fucking awful plan here?”

Izuku glances down at the shiny pages and mentally reviews the fight. He figures he should start obvious–-if a Texas Smash is powerful enough to damage even the far buildings at the end of the street then, “Upper-cut? Something that travels less directly ahead, at any rate. It can’t be Detroit Smash--because of the road---and an Oklahoma Smash is no good either. New Hampshire? Or–-I think maybe a derivative. Send both of us up high enough to clear the buildings, and then a straightforward attack at straight or upper angles.” 

Kacchan nods along vaguely, reaching over to tap at the next page when he’s done. “And this one?”

Izuku follows to where he’s pointing, and thinks.

 


 

Their next training session starts off much the same, both sat on Izuku’s cramped floor and armed with nothing but magazines and imagination.

By the middle of it, there’s paper graphs and notebooks splayed out across the free spaces of Izuku’s floorboards. There’s pages full of itemised lists of moves scattered around, set out like a chess game–-at first, to breakdown a fight with a predetermined set of moves taken from actual villain fights with All Might, before their squabbling and differences of opinion lead them to pretend fighting on paper, each taking their turns to describe attacks and damage. After the second one, Izuku had to stipulate that all attacks land, because if he heard Kacchan defend himself with, “I evade, because I’m better than you,” one more time he might’ve had to actually hit him for real.  

To say nothing of the All Might action figures posed within a crude circle of torn paper. Some things just couldn’t be expressed clearly using only words, and there’s only so much space to demonstrate in Izuku’s room. Not that Kacchan even would, refusing on grounds of not wanting to look like a fucking idiot nerd on display.

That Kacchan apparently thinks using action figures to act out moves on each other somehow makes him look less stupid is... well. Izuku doesn’t want to admit that they are, technically, playing action dolls together like they’re six all over again either, but they are, technically, playing action dolls together like they’re six all over again and he’s come to terms with that being just as bizarre as it sounds.

Kacchan makes his All Might figure to do some complicated looking downward whirlwind attack at where Izuku’s All Might figure is standing stationary on the outer edges of the circle. By the expression on his face, Izuku assumes Kacchan thinks it looks cool. Izuku just thinks it looks like a Tasmanian Devil in slow motion and a great way to lose equilibrium and smash yourself into the ground.

“And if the villain moves out of the way? If you’ve forced yourself into a spin like that, how are you going to control a sudden shift of direction?”

The All Might figure goes careening into Izuku’s with a dull clatter, the sound almost lost under a loud and triumphant, “Fuck you! Every hit lands, you said so yourself.”

Izuku looks down at his sad pile of entangled plastic – they both look to be in one piece, but there’s still something very upsetting about seeing two All Might’s in that position together – and sighs, separating the two so they’re both standing and in a less questionable pose. “That’s not–-the point is to critique, Kacchan. It’s a legitimate question whether it lands or not!”

“Alright then, fucknut,” Kacchan flicks a finger to knock over Izuku’s figure and then turns the gesture into a patronising wave of his hand--exactly like when they were six. “What’re you gonna do about it?”

Izuku rights his figure and lifts Kacchan’s to recreate the latter half of his move. “If you were coming in like this, I would rightly assume that you wouldn’t be able to correct yourself quick enough to stop me from moving to the right, and then, I guess, up and land a kick to the... back? This ridiculous spinny thing--I don’t know what direction you’d be facing when I kicked you, and I don’t think it matters. That’s what I’d do.” He makes sure to drop Kacchan’s figure the last few inches to the ground and places his to stand victoriously over it. “Your move.”

“I’d complete my move and pound you into the fucking ground, you cheating little fuck. Your move was just a fancy way of evading! Evade this, asshole.”

Izuku evades the thrown pen so smoothly that the betrayed rage on Kacchan’s face makes him laugh, hard enough that he can’t quite miss the second projectile. The sharp points of All Might’s plastic hair dig into his cheek, making him splutter through his chuckling. Kacchan is a sore loser still; Izuku guesses he hasn’t really changed that much since they were kids after all.  

“You made these rules, this is bullshit. Next time, we’re doing this for real and I’ll show you how it fucking works.”

“Recovery Girl won’t like that.”

“You think I give a shit what that old crone likes?!”

“She’s not gonna heal you if you hurt yourself,” Izuku warns, although he doesn’t think that’s necessarily true. If they even need her again, which Izuku doubts; he thinks the outcome of their last training session was because they were both off balance enough to make it hurt. He doesn’t expect the same from the next one--at the very least, because he really hopes all this theory pays off for them in some way.

Kacchan throws a bit of paper uselessly at him. “The only one I’m gonna be hurting is you, you’ll see.”

“I still don’t think-“

“I don’t give a shit what you think,” Kacchan says airily. “Theory is for pussies who can’t do the shit they want and I’m sick of sitting on your fucking floor with dolls. Next time, we’re training properly.” He gets to his feet as if to punctuate his feelings, kicking notebooks and loose bits of paper out of his way towards the door. Izuku looks around at the mess they’ve made of his room and decides not to argue, if only because he’s going to have to clean this up now. Kacchan sure won’t help him.

“Training room three, normal time, Deku,” Kacchan says, halfway through the doorway already. “I won’t come get you.”

Izuku waves this off with a murmur of acknowledgement, using the slam of his door as a sign to begin picking up the bits and pieces on his floor before he starts on his homework. He likes this whatever that he and Kacchan have started again, but it does seem to take up more of his time and thoughts than he’d really planned on. He still wouldn’t change it for all the grades in the world, though, and he’s not sure what that says about his priorities.    

 


 

When Izuku was three, he’d lost his favourite stuffed animal in a department store, leaving his mother frantic as she retraced their steps while he’d cried and wailed about the loss. When he was five, he misplaced his shoe somehow--only the one--never to be seen again. When he was nine, he got curious about his mothers lipstick, the broken stick of it found months later in the back of their fridge. When he was eleven, it was his wallet along with his entire savings. At thirteen, an entire backpack–-although that might have been the work of someone else, if he’s honest.

At seventeen, it’s misplacing questionable reading material, only for it to be found by the most questionable person to find it. It’s at this point that Izuku resigns himself to the fact that he can no longer trust himself to keep track of the things he really, really should.

He slots the sixth volume back in its place on the shelf and takes out the next in the series, plus the eighth. He’s decided that he’s no longer taking any of these things out of their new library; it’s not worth the risk. He’ll make himself comfortable and read them here, and here only.  

The only downside to this is he can’t choose his company or their commentary on his reading materials.

“Does the blond still think the other guy hates him?”

Izuku turns his head to the left, towards where Todoroki is staring at him with a questioning eyebrow over the pink polka-dotted fabric of one of the bean bags. Izuku drops in the other, resigning himself to be slowly consumed alongside him. Kirishima is sprawled out in the one seater, where Ashido had left him when Izuku had come in, with a volume of JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure and tears in his eyes.

“No,” Izuku says. “There was this thing with a sick cat, they hugged it out.”

“Over a dying cat? That’s in pretty poor taste.” Todoroki shifts in his bean bag coffin, the rustling loud as he moves his arms out to show Izuku his chosen book. Izuku finds he cannot look away, even if he really thinks he should. “These guys didn’t even bother--should there be some kind of emotional element to these things? Because this series strikes me as very straightforward and to the point. You should read this one.”

“The cat was fine. It was a comforting experience, rather than--” Izuku raises his own hand out of his bean bag to wave at Todoroki’s extremely graphic novel, “--that.”

“I didn’t know bubbles could be so manly,” Kirishima whispers from the side.

Todoroki shrugs like he’d tried his best, settling back in to continue reading. Izuku does the same with his. He’s grateful that the two in his series are finally speaking – if stuttering and blushing on one end and awkward silence on the other can be called speaking  - but Izuku can admit that he wishes they’d get on with it like the characters in Todoroki’s. Maybe not get on like that, but... something a little more straightforward and honest would be refreshing. He can’t believe there’s twelve of these and he’s only halfway, if they don’t end up happy and married by the end of this he’s going to feel cheated.

“You know,” Kirishima says after a few minutes of companionable silence, “I think I’m starting to get why these were lumped in with everything else. I still don’t know why this whole book thing happened, mind you, but I can see the connection here. Caesar and Joseph, man.”

Izuku has his mouth open to comment – to say, maybe, that Uraraka had expressed something like that too – but Todoroki beats him to it. “What do you mean, you don’t know?”

“You mean you do know?” Kirishima blinks, tankōbon listing down towards his knees with distraction. Izuku forgets, sometimes, that Kirishima hasn’t actually been told about the thing he’d told everyone else. “Tell me.”

“Bakugou,” Todoroki answers simply, like he thinks that explains anything. It doesn’t–-Izuku knows this can no longer be boiled down to just ‘Bakugou’; even if that is a particularly succinct summary of the origin point. It’s still more complicated than that.

Kirishima leans forward in his seat, reading forgotten. “What do you mean, ‘Bakugou’? Every time he sees me with one of these he judges me for it! What does he have to do with this?”

“Why would he judge you for having them?” Todoroki shoots back, looking confused. Kirishima looks equally confused. Izuku is sat in the middle debating whether he puts in the effort to lift the confusion between them, or sink further into the bean bag until everyone and anyone forgets he exists at all. At least Kirishima’s able to shed light of how aware Kacchan is of these things–-which is apparently aware enough to judge, so Izuku guesses he was right assuming Kacchan had chosen the path of intentional obliviousness. “These were meant for him.”      

Oop, Izuku thinks, there it is.

“Right, Midoriya?”

Oop, there it goes: his chance to peace out of this whole conversation.

Izuku raises placating hands at Kirishima’s confused, “What do you mean ‘for him’? For Bakugou?!”, setting aside his manga and somehow managing to sit up straight enough to make eye contact, despite the bean bag trying to swallow him whole. He bitterly wishes it was doing better job about it.

Kirishima looks floored. Clearly, he’s somehow managed to stay clean and unsullied by even the rumours. Izuku feels a faint sense of guilt, taking that away from him–-but also, since Kirishima unknowingly started this, a vindictive pleasure in saying, “Our class seems to be under the impression that Kacchan is into this sort of thing--something about magazines with lots of men and muscles under his bed.”

“I thought you said those were normal?” Todoroki says.

“They are,” Izuku replies, not looking away from where Kirishima is putting two and two together with an expression of dawning horror. “But that became apparent a little bit late, and so here we are.”

He makes a wide, encompassing sweep of the room they’re in and everything it contains, as if to mark where they are. Kirishima’s wide eyes follow it, taking it all in with the fresh knowledge of why, and goes a bit red. And a little bit pale. Izuku’s honestly never seen a face do that before, he flails out of his bean bag in alarm but doesn’t get very far. “Kacchan doesn’t know! I don’t think. It’s not that anymore, I swear-–breathe, Kirishima-kun! Breathe! Deep breaths.”

“He’s gonna kill me,” Kirishima breathes on the exhale. 

Todoroki nods as he makes a show of taking it all in as well, like he didn’t already know the truth of this weeks ago. “Considering this was all an effort for the benefit of Bakugou, he really has shown very little gratitude for it. I can only assume no-one has formally gifted this to him yet.”

“Don’t be the one to do it, Todoroki-kun,” Izuku warns. “You know as well as I do this is just one giant, awful mistake. Kacchan actually has no interest in these at all.”

“What makes you sure?”

“Because he told me,” Izuku snaps and is treated to two very intense stares. He falters, shrinking until all he can see is the bright pink of the bean bag; he has a vague notion that it might camouflage his own bright cheeks. “I--I mean, I had one of these too, that he picked up by accident, and he seems very committed to refusing their existence.”

“Classic misdirection,” Todoroki says.

“Is that why everyone thinks there’s something happening between you two?” Kirishima asks.

Izuku breaks off his response to Todoroki and his propensity to cultivate weird perspectives and stubbornly stick to them, both of them leaving whatever argument they were about to have to stare at Kirishima, who stares back innocently. Izuku isn’t buying it. “What?”

“There’s been rumours. About you guys. Some people are saying you guys keep coming out of each other’s rooms and things.” Kirishima shifts uncomfortably, looking properly chastised. “I might’ve mentioned it, once or twice, you coming out of Bakugou’s room pretty late--“

“Kirishima-kun!”

“I just thought it was interesting, you know!? I figured you guys were getting along and it was good news! I didn’t know about the rest of it!”

“The way I hear it, Midoriya’s become quite familiar with Bakugou’s room, so you’re not wrong,” Todoroki comments blithely. Izuku spins as best he can in the bean bag to lob gay office workers the seventh at him. “You know what’s under his bed, why are you denying this now?”

“I’m not denying it!” Izuku says, mortified at the high, telling pitch of his own voice. “It’s just not what you–-what any of you-–are thinking! Totally wholesome, above-board discussions are the only things happening between us.”

“You manage to get Bakugou to help you train?” Kirishima asks.

“Also training,” Izuku corrects. “But nothing else. Kirishima-kun: all this is no longer about Kacchan, so you don’t need to tell him about any of it. Let him have his peace. Todoroki-kun: Kacchan is not into this, or me, and you need to accept that whatever idea you have is wrong. Let me have my peace.” 

He’s panting by the end of it, the little voice in his head that sounds like All Might keeps insisting that he shouldn’t lie-–Izuku is not lying, he doesn’t care what his subconscious has to say about it. The others are quiet, Kirishima scratching at his chin awkwardly with a wry twist of his lips; Izuku thinks he gets it now. Todoroki is twisting a loose pink thread with his fingers and frowning down at the floor; Izuku suspects he might be defaulting to a sulk while he processes his mistake.

“So I guess the moral of this story is I should just keep my mouth shut,” Kirishima says with a self-deprecating grin. Izuku doesn’t like that so much, his intention here wasn’t to put the blame square on Kirishima--especially since he’d had no idea of how his words had been twisted along the way.

“You could always put it to good use instead,” Izuku says, and has to throw the eighth volume at Kirishima when he barks out a laugh, wiggling his eyebrows up and down. “I just mean, you could correct people! This is all originated with you, they’ll probably listen to you if you explain it.”

“I think it’s a bit beyond that,” Kirishima waves at the room they’re in, ”but if it comes up I’ll try my best.”

That’s about what Izuku figures too, so he nods along in solidarity. The rustling of the bean bag beside him brings his attention back to Todoroki’s suspiciously ongoing silence. He looks over to find the other boy sunk deep down into it, leaving only strands of red and white hair breaching the top and long legs thrown out.

Izuku decides he doesn’t want to know.    

 

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

“Go left!” Iida yells, careening around the corner at breakneck speed, his quirk pushing him past Izuku’s own long strides down the alley. Iida takes a right at the end, Izuku takes the left.

He can hear the two villains that had taken the right yelling in panic as Iida catches up. Izuku huffs; if Iida doesn’t catch them then they’re going to have a nasty surprise in the form of Jirou up ahead. His own villain had taken a left, splitting off from the group—this is the one Izuku is herding down towards where Uraraka should be at this time of their probationary patrol.

The fourth of the villain group had run straight ahead into traffic and a police car. Izuku figures they’ve probably got that one covered, considering the target is laying inert and unconscious on asphalt. 

Tapping at his ear piece, Izuku keeps his voice low as he signals for Uraraka to respond. He’s keeping his distance, hoping to chase the man into a quieter area where he and Uraraka can subdue him without bystanders to worry about.

“Near the end of twenty-third,” Uraraka’s voice crackles in his ear, her excitement pitching her voice high and sharp. “There’s a bakery right across—when you see a panda with a loaf of bread, go right into the lane across it. That’s where I am, Deku-kun.”

“Got it, stand by,” Izuku replies. He wants to give her an ETA, but he’s not familiar enough yet with the route and the surroundings to give her an estimate. The best he can do is keep his eyes out and tell her to be ready.

The villain he’s chasing sticks out in the crowded streets, tall and surprisingly fast for a guy that’s all muscle. Izuku isn’t even sure if that’s tied to his quirk, or even what his quirk is—the man has so far done nothing but run after the group had been caught coming out of a jewellery store, accompanied by shrill alarms and startled shouts. He’d only caught the tail end of the commotion, being the closest to Iida’s position when he’d requested backup. Izuku has no idea who this man is, or what he can do, and the lunch rush milling about is making him nervous about his lack of information.

The bakery Uraraka had pointed out comes up into view, the large panda sign standing out even in the distance. Izuku has a brief moment to wonder how that’s even within building regulations, before his target is cutting a left, dodging an oncoming van and weaving through traffic. “Shit,” he huffs, accidentally shouldering a pedestrian as he changes direction to follow. “Sorry!”

Keeping one eye on the villain—who’s now at the other side of the street and making a speedy left through an alley—and another eye on oncoming cars, Izuku taps at his earpiece again to pant out a quick: “Change of plan, Uraraka-san. Target deviated on route, currently—uh--” he casts his eyes out for any signs or distinguishing landmarks, but doesn’t think an overflowing dumpster counts, ”—somewhere. No longer heading in your direction, so carry on with your patrol, I guess.”

“Deku-kun? What’s—“

Izuku silences her with another tap and a mental apology. He feels bad about leaving her out of the loop, but he needs all his concentration for what has essentially become a solo pursuit. The villain is nearing the end of the new alley Izuku has chased him down, only metres from the exit and a part of town that isn’t on their patrol route—Izuku doesn’t know what lies ahead in the oncoming street, or the layout of the area at all. He needs to stop the villain here, while he can. Speeding up, One For All straining at the ligaments and muscles of his legs, Izuku closes the distance in a flash, grabbing a handful of fabric at the back of the villains jumpsuit and yanking. 

The villain goes stumbling back with a yell, feet tripping over each other as Izuku pulls him back and swings him into a wall in one fluid move. The impact of the villains back against brick is more forceful than Izuku had intended, his limbs still lit up after his burst of One For All, and the awfulness of the cracking, shattering noise is matched only by the winded grunt of the villain. A chunk of brick falls to the ground, the clanking of its loosened neighbours loud in the empty alley.

“Uh,” Izuku says cautiously, keeping his distance even as his hands raise—to reach out? Help? Restrain? Not even Izuku is sure, just that he feels like he should be doing something, even if he’s not sure what. “Are you...”    

The villain lists sideways, Izuku takes an unconscious step forward. The next thing he knows, he’s the one slamming back-first into brick, the breath in his lungs escaping in one pained exhale. He takes stock of himself, the dull aching at the back of his head and the stinging in his shoulders from taking the brunt of the force. He feels... heavy, like his muscles have been replaced with cement, his veins thick lead piping that his bones are struggling to support. He manages to lift his head enough to look at his opponent on the opposite side of the alley—he’s like Izuku’s mirror, back still against his own brick wall and unmoving but for the rapid rise and fall of his chest. 

Sluggishly, every inch of movement a chore, Izuku takes the time to look at the villain properly. The bright red jumpsuit registers first—although he’d already noted that. Who the hell conducts a robbery in a garish red tracksuit and then tries to run away in it? It was like a painted target, moving in and around throngs of people in smart black and grey business wear. The villains size, too, Izuku had already noticed: a giant, red target. Like Santa Clause, hard to miss. The mop of black hair was more unremarkable, and the glimpses of his face just as plain. No physical sign of a quirk—but if Izuku had to guess now, he’d say something like forced gravity, maybe even an opposite to Uraraka’s abilities. He’s half glad that they hadn’t reached her for that, even though a small, terrible part of him that sounds like Kacchan thinks it might’ve been an interesting thing to see.

“Stupid. That was stupid.” Unlike Izuku’s monumental efforts, the villains head comes up smooth, moving side to side as if to work out the kinks. “Kid, that was the dumbest shit I ever did see.”

Izuku’s eyes follow as the villain detaches himself from what turns out to be a pretty respectable dent in the brick wall, not able to do much else. It feels like it’s taking all his effort not to crumple in on himself like wet tissue, crushed by the weight of his own body. He grunts in lieu of words, the simple curl of his lip over teeth an effort.

“What kinda thought tells a tiny thing like you to chase people down when ya don’t know what they capable of?” The villain bends down to give Izuku a once over—Izuku’s skin crawls. His legs are shaking from the effort of holding himself up, and maybe from something else, although Izuku won’t admit to it. He’s far more angry than he is scared, and he shows it by biting at his lip and spitting the mix of blood and saliva at the villains feet. He doesn’t quite have the force, more of it ending up on his own chin than the concrete, but the villain laughs like it doesn’t matter anyway. “Or maybe ya just don’t care, hey? I can respect that. Tell you what, but maybe I just leave you here and you find me again when ya can actually do something about it, yeah? Yeah.” The villain nods like this is the best idea he’s ever had, the enthusiastic movement dislodging a rain of dust and brick from his hair. “I ain’t fond of picking on the small ones. So you just stay there like that, and by the time I’m far enough that you can move, I’ll be far enough that you can’t catch me. Sound good?”

It does not sound good to Izuku, and he manages to shake his head with short, jerky motions. There’s pressure on his chest now, like a hundred pound weight laying on his ribs. Distantly, he wonders if the villains quirk extends beyond simple gravitational manipulation—each movement leaves him feeling heavier and more sluggish than before.

“Yeah well, sounds good to me kid,” the villain says jubilantly, shooting him double finger-guns and slipping out of the alley and out of sight. Izuku remains pinned to the wall for all of thirty seconds before he lets himself fall to the ground. His legs land awkwardly beneath him, and the wall at his back is the only reason he doesn’t tip head over ass and crack his skull on the ground.

Angrily, he sits there like a particularly graceless puddle, uncomfortable and unable to do anything about it. The biggest insult in all of this, he thinks venomously, is that a large man in a bright red tracksuit did actually manage to get away from him. And, also, everything else about the last twenty minutes of his life, but mostly that, because that’s just the bright red cherry on top of his own infuriating uselessness.  

Eventually, the weight begins to lift. Gradually, at first, and then all at once. Izuku stays where he is, moving only enough to get his legs out from underneath himself and to scrub at his hair. He cannot believe he’s in this situation—all that extra training, and it didn’t even matter. Whether it was something like All Might, or his own freshly cobbled together style, the difference between them meant nothing when he hadn’t been able to do any of it.

He knows, objectively, that there will always be times like this in a hero’s life. Times when they’re out-matched, or out-classed, or even just unprepared and pay for it. He knows that, but it doesn’t make him feel any better about it.

Izuku bites at his lip in frustration, the sharp stinging of the cut already there giving him something to focus on. It brings him back enough to notice that he’s sitting in something wet and gross. There’s damage to the wall opposite him, which is arguably more important than the damage to his pride. Property damage leads him down the path of reporting and apologising, which reminds him that he should probably check in—with everyone, but Uraraka most importantly. He’d left her hanging and went to fuck up on his own for he doesn’t know how long, she’s probably frantic by now. He would be.

“Deku-kun!” Uraraka yells frantically in his ear when Izuku radios in. He flinches at the pitch and volume; he probably deserves this. “What happened? Where are you? Are you okay? Cosmic Dash called in, he wants us at the station—can you make it? Did you get the villain? Do you need help bringing them in?”

Izuku stares at a loose shard of brick near his boot and sighs deeply, deciding which question to answer first.

 


 

“Gravity chamber? I think that’s what they called it, that thing where they’re training in like, five-G’s. Makes a strong motherfucker.”

“This is not Dragon Ball Z, idiot. You can’t just say, ‘fight gravity, get stronger’ and expect that that’s the answer to everything--real life does not work that way.”

Kaminari pouts, there’s no other word for it. Sero looks half-smug that he made a point, and half-disappointed that he had to make it at all.

Tokoyami looks annoyed from his place on the couch. “In what way does this relate to what we’re supposed to be doing here—which, by the way, is very real and due by tomorrow.”

Izuku stares down at his own notebooks and rough edits. He’s selfishly taking up a third of the coffee table with his own bits and pieces, his homework scattered about in a rough square so that he can see all the pages and work as the answers make themselves apparent. Kaminari and Sero are supposed to be doing their own reports, but Iida had come down to ask Izuku a couple of questions about the villain he completely failed to capture for his own report, and then Izuku had had to spill all the sordid details to his easily distracted classmates, and so now here he is, listening to them discuss his failings instead of doing their own work.

Izuku is at a state in his life where even Dark Shadow is looking sympathetically at him. It’s still haughty and borderline hostile, but there’s an edge of commiseration in there. Izuku thinks it might be because Tokoyami keeps trying to explain Dark Shadow as ‘basically a Stand’ to the students outside their class.

“It relates because—uh,” Kaminari turns to squint at Izuku, “Midoriya was fighting the personification of a gravity chamber?”

“And lost, because I wasn’t strong enough in the face of five-G’s,” Izuku mutters, before wincing at the look of awkward contriteness on Kaminari’s face. “I didn’t mean that, sorry. I’m still just angry the red bastard got away like that.”

Sero nods sympathetically, reaching around Kaminari to pat Izuku on the shoulder. “Red things always go faster.”

“Like an angry lobster,” Kaminari adds. “You don’t think they’re fast until they get out of the pot, and then it’s just screaming and red. People on chairs.”

Sero pulls back to stare. Izuku does the same. “Am I the screaming person on a chair in this scenario?”

“No one would blame you man, those things hurt if they get you. I’ve seen a grown man cry.”

Kaminari sounds like he’s speaking from experience. Izuku can’t help but laugh, the wry grin Kaminari shoots him is more than enough apology. Sero is shaking his head, laughing quietly on his other side.

“What are we talking about?”

“Dinner at the Kaminari household, I think,” Tokoyami says blandly, barely twitching as Kirishima appears behind him. “Which is not due tomorrow.”

“Oi, Kirishima,” Kaminari says. “You’re pretty red and fast, right?”

“I guess,” Kirishima blinks, leaning himself over the top of the couch, “but not as fast as you guys should be if Bakugou comes down. He’s on a warpath—the only thing we have to report is a little old lady asking for directions and you know how he feels about being left out of all the action.”

He gives a sidelong look at Izuku as he says this, and Izuku nods silently to say that he got the warning. It’s not just now, with this group—chances are his next training session with Kacchan is going to be intense and probably intensely unpleasant.

“Who did she ask?” Tokoyami asks, sounding curious despite himself.

“Bakugou,” Kirishima answers, with a measure of graveness usually reserved for deaths and failing grades. “If she wasn’t half-deaf already, poor woman is now.”

All four of them spare a few seconds of silence, in memory of the poor unsuspecting woman who thought a man with grenades on his arms was the right choice to ask for directions.

“Did he actually get her there?”

Kirishima quirks a grin. “You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Bakugou helping an old woman cross the street. I took video.”

Needless to say, not much is achieved for the next half an hour. Izuku worries for his classmates and their academic success, but at least it’s not his exploits they’re being distracted by this time.

And really, there’s something very new and endearing in watching Kacchan letting an old woman hook an arm around one of his gauntlets while he glares at the waiting cars like a dare.

 


 

Izuku was right when he assumed that the training session after their jaunt into probationary heroism was going to get off on the wrong foot. Literally, in his case, more tripping out of his shoes at the entrance than toeing them off smoothly like he’d intended. He blames Kacchan’s roiling, unhappy glare for throwing him off, making him more nervous and jerky than he’s felt in a long time. Kacchan’s look only gets more judgmental as Izuku straightens his shoes and steps onto the polished wood that leads to the mats.

“Deku,” Kacchan grits out. It sounds nothing like a greeting, and more like the way Kacchan used to call him when they were little, the underlying meaning of useless permeating the simple two syllables. Izuku knows, with certainty, that Kacchan has somehow already heard the details of his failed villain encounter.

He’s not sure how, and he’s not sure it really matters, but he has a brief revenge fantasy about finding out who betrayed him and telling them some things of his own. Stepping onto the mats, Izuku’s mouth twitches nervously at the corner. “Kacchan.”

There’s a moment of awkward silence; Izuku doesn’t know how to make it go away, and Kacchan makes no move towards dispelling it either. He just narrows his eyes, holding his ground as he stares Izuku down. Izuku shuffles his weight, feeling pinned already--and they haven’t even begun! The look he’s receiving is more predatory than simple scrutiny, and the curl to Kacchan’s lips suggests a low, seething anger: the kind that Izuku knows to be wary of. For all his impulsive rage, a truly angry Kacchan is all about the quiet menace. Izuku suspects that this is because after a certain point, Kacchan just transcends the human capacity for pure, unadulterated anger and has no choice but to shut down or risk some kind of physical internal combustion.

“You’ve got some nerve,” Kacchan starts, stops. Takes a single step forward, stops. His mouth works silently; Izuku stays where he stands and waits for the rest of it. It’s less bravery and more like playing dead until the threat passes. “Wastin’ my fuckin’ time like I don’t—like you—,“ a deep inhale, followed by a long exhale,”—what’s the point of us being here if you’re just gonna cock it up like you always do? I got better shit to do with my life than to watch out for your sorry ass.”

And that’s... yeah. Pretty much how Izuku expected Kacchan to react if he’d found out, because it’s basically Izuku’s own thoughts about the whole thing. It isn’t even that he’d failed—he’s used to that—but to do it so spectacularly after all this training? It’s disheartening at best, and he’s not done feeling shitty about it just yet. Despite his objective knowledge that things like this are bound to happen, especially early in his career, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow. If the roles were reversed—if he were the one to sink this kind of time and energy into another to help them, he’d be... well, not as disappointed and glarey as Kacchan, but he’d still take it pretty personally.

Kacchan’s glare says he is taking this very personally. Izuku shifts again, a shuffled half-step back as his shoulders perch themselves up around his neck defensively. His gaze lowers, falling down from Kacchan’s glower to land somewhere near his navel—he thinks he was going to go lower, to feet level maybe, since he can’t physically sink through the floor no matter how much he wants to, but a single thought stops him.

He’s not actually at fault here. He fucked up, sure, but he hasn’t actually done anything to deserve this from someone who wasn’t even there.

It’s like a revelation washing over him. His embarrassment is still settled deep, curling around the shameful knowledge that he let a villain escape him, his disappointment that he couldn’t do anything in the moment—but in that lies a new sort of denial that is slowly making itself known. Izuku is not the same person as he was two years ago, a year, hell, not even a few weeks ago. Izuku can do things, it’s how he came to be here in the first place. Granted, his body moved on its own that time, but that—that was the start of it. Kacchan, All Might, Yuuei, now; all because Izuku isn’t useless, despite this little incident. Izuku has done a hell of a lot and he’s not about to quit now after one setback. This shouldn’t be enough to grind him to a halt, after all he’s fought for and all he’s done, and it isn’t.

The next thing he has to do is to get Kacchan to see it that way.

Izuku plants his feet as best he can on the slippery mats, dropping his shoulders and squaring them as he brings his eyes back up to Kacchan’s. He resolutely doesn’t shrink away from the piercing glare that meets him—less intense than it was, he notes absently, the expression shifting with a hint of confusion—and takes a deep breath as his mind works out the words he wants.

“It wasn’t a waste,” he says haltingly. “Of—of time, I mean. For me.” He pauses for a second, thoughts still jumbled and unclear despite his best efforts to make sense of them. Surprisingly, Kacchan stays silent and watchful, letting Izuku collect his next round of words. “So I didn’t do so well this time; I was caught off-guard, careless. Whether or not I—it didn’t come down to All Might or not All Might, all this training to be—I couldn’t do anything once he had me. And that was my mistake, but that’s not—it isn’t—not every encounter with a villain is going to be like that. I won’t let it be.”

The glare is almost entirely gone now, replaced by raised eyebrows and a twist to the corner of Kacchan’s mouth. It gives Izuku the courage to keep going, his words taking on a ranting quality as he finds confidence in what’s he’s saying.

Taking a deep breath, he continues. “This was going to happen—it’s going to happen to all of us eventually. A villain that we don’t know, aren’t prepared for, can’t face, can’t fight. There’s always that chance that what we expect as a hero isn’t what we end up against, and that’s... that’s something we should expect; the unexpected.” He pauses for another breath. “This was one of those, but—but what we’re doing, what we’ve learned here, that’s going to minimalise those times, those uncertainties, and that is not a waste of time for either of us, Kacchan.”

Closing his eyes for a second, letting out a long exhale, Izuku lets the silence sit between them once again. Kacchan doesn’t say anything for a long moment, long enough that Izuku has time to settle, regain his equilibrium with a quiet sense of rightness in the aftermath of his words. He’d said what he needed to say, for himself and for Kacchan, and he’d done it with certainty and a sincere belief. In the wake of this, all he can do is wait.

The reply, when it comes, is preceded with a harsh noise. “I knew that,” Kacchan mutters, and then louder: “I know that. Don’t fuckin’ preach shit to me that I already know, Deku. That’s not the—fuck.” It’s Izuku’s turn to wait as Kacchan runs an aggravated hand through his hair, jerky and unbalanced as he battles his thoughts together into something he can express. “I told you so shit like this wouldn’t happen! I’m in this fucking piece of shit training room three times a week so it doesn’t happen. And what? It happens and I’m just supposed to say ‘better luck next time asshole—“ he throws his arms out wide, mockingly, face angry, “—shit happens’?!”

Izuku blinks, thinking this pretty succinct. “Yes! That’s what—“

“No! Fuck you! Shit happens all the time, Deku. Shit happens every damn day, but you’re not supposed to accept it! You just wanna roll over and take it? Fuck, fine. That’s a waste of my fucking time.”

“Kacchan,” Izuku pleads, hands reaching out to do he doesn’t know what, again, like that isn’t what got him into this situation in the first place. “It isn’t a waste! How is preparing ourselves—shit happens, yes, that’s my point! We can only do what we can to help when it happens, which is what we’re doing!”

“You’re not fucking listening to me!” Kacchan yells back, foot stamping ineffectually on the mats. Izuku unconsciously keeps an eye on his arms, which are back at his sides with fists balled. “So the fuck what if shit’s gonna happen or not happen?! That’s not—it doesn’t matter whether it’s inevitable or not, shithead, if you’re resigned to it before it even happens! Thinking you’ll just do the best you can and you’ll manage somehow, like you’ve always done. That shit is gonna get you killed!”

Chest heaving, Kacchan takes an angry step forward; Izuku holds his ground. “That’s been the whole fucking point of this, don’t you get it? Stop accepting shit! Making excuses! Fight it and win, Deku.”

Which is just—Izuku curls his own fists tightly. That’s what he’s been trying to do—in everything! His whole life, his quirk, his own instincts! What has he been doing if not fighting them all? Against them or for them, he’s never just accepted things. Izuku is not the only one who isn’t listening. It strikes him as profoundly unfair, all of a sudden, that Kacchan thinks that everything he has done until now has been easy. Beyond frustrated, hurt, and even a little bit defiant at the unfairness of it all, he shouts: “Why do you care?!”

“Why are you so fuckin’ insistent that I don’t?!” Kacchan roars back, voice cracking hoarsely at the end of it. 

Izuku reels, head physically rearing back as the words hang heavy and harsh between them. If their previous few silences this afternoon were awkward, this one is... oppressive, Izuku thinks. He feels like he’s back in the alley, pinned under five-G’s and unable to move under the invisible weight as Kacchan pants angrily through gritted teeth, red eyes wide with shock. At himself, Izuku thinks distantly; at the admission, and the words that left his mouth, and what the fuck.

“What,” Izuku breathes out, disrupting the air. It’s less the question being screamed in his mind, his own shock making his voice flat and thready.

Kacchan shakes his head absently, blinking his wide eyes once, twice. It takes him only a second, but then he’s scowling again, holding his head high and steady as he says, “You, asshole. Would I be doing any of this if I didn’t give a shit?”

A weird, high-pitched whine of confusion is all Izuku seems able to make in response to that. Slapping a hand over his mouth, he endeavours to get a grip on himself—at the very least, to stop the noise and any ensuing mental diatribes that he knows will come spilling out if he doesn’t gag himself. Of the many ways Izuku had thought this would go—and there were a lot, in varying measures of awfulness—this wasn’t one of them.

There’s a feeling in his gut though; a low, shameful suspicion that maybe he should have.

Chewing at his bottom lip, Izuku gives the idea some proper thought. Past the surface level shock, and down through the instantaneous denial, Izuku considers what he knows about Kacchan—what he knew before, what he knows now, and—most importantly—how all of that has concluded with the here and now. The fighting and the magazines and the training; the simple fact that they can now be in the same room alone without defaulting to grievous bodily harm. Izuku might have changed over these years and months and weeks, but he’s not the only one to have done so.

In fact, he might not have changed as much if there hadn’t been Kacchan changing right along with him—sometimes on different paths, sometimes parallel, but all the same. What might have been unreasonable when they were younger isn’t really the case here, Izuku thinks. So should he really be this shocked that Kacchan might care, after all they’ve been through together?

The answer comes almost as instantaneous as the denial had: Kacchan does a lot of the things he wants, and almost nothing that he doesn’t—he wouldn’t be here, if he really didn’t want to be. If he really thought that there was nothing to gain from it, even if that unlikely thing would be Izuku’s own wellbeing.

This conclusion is less surprising than Izuku thinks it should be.

He thinks that maybe he hadn’t given their newfound relationship any deeper thought before this because it lies outside of what he expects from the way they’ve always been. He thinks, that deep down, he’d suspected this simple truth but didn’t know what to do with it beyond just accepting it as something that was inexplicably happening.      

Turns out, even now he still doesn’t know what to do with it. Kacchan might be all against acceptance, but Izuku doesn’t want to fight this at all. What else does he have left, between those two options?

Say something, dickhead.”

He guesses he could always do that.

He starts with the most pertinent question on his long, long list of questions: “Why?”

It comes out wrong and almost accusing, and Izuku rushes to elaborate, thoughts tripping out of him without reason or order, or even the slightest hint of coherence. “Why do any of this? Why do you care, when you never—I mean, when? Why now? Why not—when did you start? Noticing, I mean. When did you, and why did you—I just. When? Why? What for?”   

The look Kacchan gives him is a cross between confused and affronted. “What... for? When? Why? What for?! Are you—I’ll tell you what for,” he snaps, voice rising with each reiteration. “How about so you don’t fucking die, Deku. What do you even—when?! This is a fucking hero course; you think I wouldn’t tell someone when they’re a fucking danger to themselves like you are?”

“You’ve been telling me that all our lives, Kacchan, but you’ve never tried to change it. This isn’t the same.”

Kacchan stamps his foot again, belligerent and frustrated. He blows an errant strand of hair off of his face as his arms cross defensively. “Yeah well, maybe this time I want you to die less.”

The way he says it is petulant and all the more sincere for it. Izuku raises a brow in lieu of doing something equally pathetic and embarrassing, like crying. It’s almost sweet, coming off the bitter start of his week. Kacchan twitches like he knows what Izuku is thinking and wants to argue the point, but can’t. A tongue swipes quickly at the corner of his mouth, his feet shifting awkwardly as he slumps into himself. The sigh he lets out is one of utter defeat.

“Those magazines,” Kacchan says, “when round-face asked about them I had to haul them all out and... I don’t know. I was reading them, the All Might stuff, and I realised that All Might fights the same as you. Or you fight like him. And I figured, if I could see it, others would be able to, and that’d be... a stupid fucking way to take over the job he gave you, honestly. Who the fuck does things exactly the same? You goddamn freak.”

Izuku huffs a laugh. He honestly doesn’t think he can do much else at the moment. It’s all a lot to process, but there’s a welling in his chest that suggests that he’s learning to read between the lines of Kacchan’s particular brand of consideration: Kacchan’s been thinking about him. Kacchan thought about him and his hero abilities, specifically. In a way that gave them credit, for as much as they were a double-edged sword.

Kacchan cares.

Izuku is caught between an old kind of surprise, dredged up from what he thought he knew, and a new, fresh kind of understanding that he hasn’t known shit for a while now. He laughs again, a quick, delighted thing, and rubs at the wetness gathering at the corner of his eyes before Kacchan can see and take it all back.

“So,” he says, once he has himself under control, “what are we doing today?”

The grin Kacchan gives him is frightening. “Cutting shit off at the pass.”

Turns out, a Kacchan that cares is far more intense than a typical Kacchan. Intense, but much less intensely unpleasant than Izuku was expecting, even if he does end up flat on his back and tapping out, again. 

He’s gonna have to make sure he does something about that, too.

 

 

Chapter Text


 

 

In retrospect, Izuku really should have expected something like this to happen the minute they both limped their way through the dorm entrance, holding each other up with shoulders and snapping and sheer force of will.

He should have paid more attention to the rumours Kirishima had mentioned. Should have maybe looked into them and begun setting the record straight, instead of letting them grow and fester.

He should have, at the very least, known that their class has a deep and inexplicable investment in Kacchan’s love life—did, does know that.  He’s still not sure why it’s so interesting for them, but he thinks it’s because they’re expecting a train wreck in some way, and it would be a shame to miss it. Or else everyone is hoping a Kacchan in love is like a dog spayed—less aggressive and more agreeable. Izuku doesn’t know which is worse, honestly, and so he doesn’t truly want to know enough to ask.

The point is, he knows, even if he doesn’t know why, and he really should have remembered it. 

Because all those titters and whispers that he hears around corners and behind hands really should have been his first warning that things were about to get.... weird.

Or well, weirder, at any rate. Izuku figures shit blew past an acceptable level of normal a couple of months back, when homoerotic material first started appearing around their common room and the class responded by giving it a dedicated room in which to display it.

Things are now slightly more weirder than that. 

 


 

It starts small enough that Izuku can be forgiven for not noticing that it has anything to do with himself at all. A few of the racier volumes from the class library appear in his bag, which he knows he didn’t do because he’s no longer taking them out of the room after the last ill advised attempt landed in Kacchan’s hands, but he figures that they might’ve gotten mixed up, or misplaced somehow. He takes them back to the library, puts them somewhere close to where they belong, probably, and doesn’t think any more about it.

Some of the guys in class begin giving him pitying looks—Izuku ignores them. He’s used to that kind of thing, and even though he hasn’t been on the receiving end of those for a while, it still barely registers as something unusual.

Some of the girls take it upon themselves to enact some kind of shared commiseration with him, with soft consoling pats on the back and dark muttering about “boys” whenever Kacchan is his typical level of unpleasant. This is, admittedly, less usual than the pitying looks, but still not something Izuku could consider bad—just, not something the girls in middle school would have done.

The box of condoms stuck to the outside of his door with one of Mineta’s sticky balls is harder to ignore.

Izuku stares at it like it’s a modern art piece that he’ll understand if only he looks at it long enough. It’s square and blue and absolutely the worst thing he has seen in his life.

Izuku really should have expected something like this eventually.

The box stays firmly where it’s set on his door. He gives up after only a minute of futile struggling, leaving it smack bang in the middle as he goes inside to have his hysterical breakdown.

Half an hour later, he hears the ball lose suction with a muffled thump as it and the box finally give in to gravity. Izuku sneaks out an arm to drag them into his room, unwilling to just leave them there for anyone to find, and decides to give himself a pass this time. He’s pretty sure nobody grounded in reality could have ever expected this.  

 


 

“No,” Izuku says preemptively as Shouji spies him coming out of Kacchan’s room a few nights later, a stack of textbooks in his hands and eyebrows high enough to disappear under his hair. Izuku clutches his own textbook, lifting it higher up on his chest like he thinks all he needs to do is to get it within eyesight and let the other boy take it as the proof it is. “No. You’re not the only one with homework questions, Shouji-kun.”

Shouji shrugs, all of his limbs lifting in a move that’s so calculatedly nonchalant that Izuku finds it deeply suspicious. Izuku sighs.

“It’s not what it looks like,” he tries dejectedly, knowing he’s not convincing anyone. Shouji proves it by nodding awkwardly, not looking anywhere near Izuku’s face, and closing the door to his room behind himself with a quiet, judgmental click. 

Izuku toys with the idea of knocking on Shouji’s door to try and explain—he thinks, maybe, if he just argues it enough, the class will have to finally face the truth—but he decides against it. Shouji doesn’t strike him as the type to care enough to tell anyone what he saw here tonight, let alone pass on the message that everyone is wrong.

Just, so, so wrong. Izuku has never encountered anything so blatantly untrue in all his life, and he’s spent the last few months reading unflattering articles about All Might. It’s a damn achievement is what it is, to be this unimaginably wrong about something—and on a collective level, no less!

Giving the fire-rooster-stand poster his customary glower, Izuku makes his way back down to the second floor. Kaminari gives him a raised eyebrow and an enthusiastic thumbs up as he passes on the third floor staircase, fumbling his armful of snacks in the process.

Maybe if Izuku ignores it, it’ll go away.

“Midoriya,” Mineta stage whispers, popping his head around his door and beckoning as Izuku opens his. Leaving it to swing open, Izuku crosses the few steps to where Mineta is still sticking out of his doorway, a look of true concern on his face. “I figured you could use all the protection you can get.”

Izuku stares down at the second box of condoms he’s been gifted with in under a week and breaks a little inside.   

“Uh.”

Mineta reaches up to clench Izuku’s fingers around the box in his palms, patting them once the box is firmly enclosed. Apparently satisfied that Izuku won’t just drop them and run, Mineta nods with a determined noise. “Love yourself more, man.”

Izuku doesn’t move as Mineta retreats back into his own room, the door shutting inches from Izuku’s face. The box feels like a weight in his hands—far heavier than the textbook under his arm and far, far more distracting than the vague, hysterical voice in the back of his mind that’s wondering whether Mineta had meant to love himself more, or to love himself more. A louder, more rational part of himself decides it doesn’t matter, because he doesn’t need either, because this is emphatically not happening to him.

It’s just not. It’s not happening at all.

Except it apparently is for everyone else.

Somehow, he makes it back into his room, dumping his textbook on his desk and his ass on the end of his bed. His hands are still clenched around the box, the sharp edges of cardboard digging in as he struggles to not crumple the whole thing, contents and all, and burn it out of existence and memory.

Come to think of it, are condoms fire-proof? Is that even possible with rubber? Are they even made out of rubber, or is that a colloquial misnomer—

No, this isn’t what Izuku should be focusing on. Not in this way, at least. He should definitely be worrying about a way to make everyone stop giving him condoms, but not the condoms themselves. Those, he decides, are best left stuffed in the back of his bedside drawer and forgotten.

Idly, it occurs to Izuku that he really hopes he’s the only one getting these. He thinks he is, because if anyone was brave and or dumb enough to give Kacchan a box of these things, Izuku is sure he and the rest of the dorm would have heard by now. The explosions and yelling first, and then probably the reason why. He guesses it’s a good sign that neither of those things have happened, even if it would answer some of his questions about durability.    

Which aren’t actually relevant right now, fuck it. Izuku runs a hand over his face, shutting his bedside drawer with more force than necessary and throwing himself back dramatically on his bed. His head is a mess, a tangled web of emotion and thought as parts of himself voice differing opinions about this whole debacle. Loudest is the one that’s just yelling a steady stream of deny, deny, deny over the rest.

Just under that is what Izuku has always considered his bravery: a strong thought that nothing will ever change unless he does something about it, no matter how unpleasant or dangerous it is. He’s starting to think he wants to reconsider that one to something that’s closer to Darwinism, because that seems like a terrible idea in this case. This isn’t just about him this time; this is about himself, and Kacchan, and the still rocky foundations that they’ve only just managed to rebuild—not to mention the safety of his classmates should the whole sordid rumour finally come out.

Quieter, but still present enough to be heard is the voice that hiccups, before suggesting that he’s an idiot. Which is new and just unhelpful enough to get his attention over the predictable nature of the others.

Of all of them, this is the one that Izuku understands less—he assumes it has something to do with Kacchan. It always goes nuts when around him, with a meaning Izuku hasn’t quite figured out yet, but there’s a sense of dread growing in his gut that says he’s about to understand a little better and that he won’t like the answer. 

 


 

In his quest to find out exactly what it is he needs to deny, Izuku searches out Kirishima. Despite being one of only two people who had no idea of the reasons behind the sudden class interest in homoerotica, Kirishima seemed informed enough of the other rumours involving Izuku, and he’s really hoping the other boy can shed some light on what those are specifically and with detail.

He finds Uraraka first, curled up on a couch in the common room and, for once, not reading. On the television, a reporter recounts a villain attack from early on in the day—minor, but causing just enough chaos to make the news. Izuku’s first instinct is to sit and pretend he was in charge of the situation; weeks of considering his actions in the wake of All Might and his responsibility as the new Symbol of Peace have made his need to dissect and plan alternatives almost intrinsic.

Instead, he takes a seat next to her and steels himself for what he’s about to ask. The crisis currently happening to him is arguably more important than the hypothetical crisis he could be in, even if the idea of villain fights and property damage seems infinitely more preferable at this very moment.

Waiting until an ad break, Izuku clears his throat and shifts awkwardly on his seat. “Uh, Uraraka-san?”

“Hm?” Uraraka turns her wide eyes from the screen to Izuku; she looks so innocent, Izuku thinks. But he has to know. “What is it, Deku-kun?”

Turning back to stare at some bright, fast-paced advertisement, Izuku shifts again and blurts out, “Do you know what people are saying about me and Kacchan?”

There’s a beat of silence, and then Uraraka is making a quick, confused noise. Izuku chances a glance at her out of the corner of his eye—she has her head cocked to one side, eyebrows furrowing. Another beat, and then a soft, “Oh!” The raising pink dusting on her cheeks says it all, Uraraka sitting up straighter and staring back at the television in a mirror to Izuku’s uncomfortableness.

“The stuff about the... with you and him. Uh—the, uh...”

“You don’t have to say it,” Izuku says quickly, strangled and half hoping that she won’t—he’s not sure he’s ready to hear it, after that reaction. “I just—people are thinking things? That I’m pretty sure are wrong, but nobody has asked me about... whatever they’re thinking. Which I am almost certain is really, really wrong, considering the--”

Condoms. God.   

“And I would like to know—,“ he wouldn’t, but he thinks that he should, “—so that I can explain how wrong they are. So that they’ll stop... thinking wrong things.”

Izuku is so rigid he thinks his muscles are contracting his bones almost to breaking. Next to him, he can feel the couch shaking as Uraraka nods along frantically. On the screen, a woman is now reporting on the rising political issue between planes and flight-capable quirks sharing air space. Behind her, a winged man brandishes a sign exclaiming, “suck this up your *******”.

“It’s—uh. It’s...” The couch gives one last, final jolt as Uraraka tips forward to hide her red face in her hands. When she continues, her voice is muffled and more contemplative than Izuku expects. “...Those magazines I borrowed from Bakugou-kun—you remember? I only realised after I asked, what they were supposed to be. Or—what everyone thought they were? But I’m pretty sure they’re wrong. This building gets pretty good wifi, so... so I mean, uh.”

“They are not what everyone thinks they are,” Izuku confirms, deciding to just skip right over the rest of that.

“Right, so what everyone thought was wrong. This is... probably like that. This is like—Joseph and Caesar: you think they are, all signs point to at least once, but really it’s nothing like that. Probably. That’s probably what people think. ”

Izuku gives this a minute, and when no further explanation comes, he whines,” Uraraka-san, please. I have no idea what that means.”

“You think they’re doing it, or are at least slightly gay for each other, but all you get is beautiful, tragic friendship,” Uraraka blurts, head snapping up to stare intensely at where Izuku had jumped at the suddenness. “What everyone else sees is not what’s happening. You guys were never... people think it’s suspicious.” 

“Suspicious how?

“How much of the library have you looked at?” she asks. ”The reoccurring stuff that people think Bakugou likes?”

Izuku thinks about this and blanches. He hasn’t gone through a lot of them personally, but he’s seen things. Uraraka reaches over to rub the space between his shoulder blades consolingly. “You don’t want the details, Deku-kun. If it’s all wrong, then just say so.”

Which sounds so simple, but there’s a part of Izuku that isn’t so sure it is.

 


 

The comforting familiarity Izuku finds in the back of Kacchan’s head should probably be weird, he thinks, but Kacchan’s been in his field of vision for so long that Izuku is pretty sure he can get an accurate read of his mood by hair alone. In kindergarten, and then in middle school, when that head had been in front and approximately thirty degrees to his left, a constant in his peripherals. Izuku had spent most of his middle school years trying not to notice it—or to get noticed by it--and failing; sometimes, he still feels the ghostly sensation of a crick in his neck. In high school, it’s easier: he’s directly in Kacchan’s blind spot and he has a legitimate reason to stare straight ahead at it.

He spends a lot of his time after his talk with Uraraka staring straight ahead at it. It twitches, sometimes, like it can feel his gaze, and by the second day Izuku thinks that Kacchan’s hair is starting to look harassed—bristly, standing on end, and twitchy.

“Communication,” Aizawa announces, standing at the front of the class and looking especially tired today. “After reviewing your individual reports and talking to the pro heroes assigned to your teams, it’s come to my attention that some of you do not know what that is.”

Aizawa doesn’t seem to be singling anyone out specifically with his disappointment, but Izuku still shrinks lower in his chair, ducking his head to stare down at his desk. The spiky tips of Kacchan’s hair seem to relax, somehow.

“Hakagure, Todoroki, how and why did it take you three hours to notice you’d lost your teammate entirely? According to Boxing Bull, neither of you realized until you reported back, sans teammate—and you, Koda! What were you doing?” 

Koda slinks lower in his chair much like Izuku had done, the barest whisper of, “bathroom” heard from his bowed head.

“He’s very quiet,” Todoroki adds, like he thinks this explains everything.

Aizawa pinches the bridge of his nose, inhaling deeply.

“Oujiro, Asui, Aoyama, your excuse?”

“We had a schedule to keep to,” Oujiro says.

“It seemed more prudent to leave Aoyama behind,” Asui continues. “Our route included the shopping district, and Aoyama likes shiny things.”

“I told them to go on ahead,” Aoyama points at what appears to be some glittery tie-dye monstrosity underneath his regulation shirt, “I thought it worth the sacrifice.”

“And you, Midoriya?” Aizawa sighs, waving a hand that somehow manages to be both weary and inpatient in its movement when Izuku bolts upright in his chair, mouth already open and ready to plead his case. “No, I read your report, as well as those of Iida and Uraraka. What I want to know is why you thought nevermind and radio silence was an appropriate way to request backup? Backup, as I’ve been lead to believe, that was close to your position and aware of the situation?”

Kacchan’s spikes bristle back up, suddenly replaced by Kacchan’s face as he spins around with a glare, hissing, “You did what?”

“Um,” Izuku squeaks—to Aizawa or Kacchan, it doesn’t really matter.

“You’re making a habit of this kind of thing, Midoriya,” Aizawa comments, tone deceptively casual, but his eyes are sharp and narrowed. Izuku nods, jerky, murmuring a soft, shamed noise of agreement, because Aizawa is not wrong—might, in fact, be resigned to it now, if the look of tired acceptance on his face means anything. It seems like it does, as Aizawa spares a second to breathe deeply and rub at his eyes, before turning back to the rest of the class. “This goes for all of you, whether you were separated from each other on your last assignments or not: do not, under any circumstances, assume that there’s not enough time to request backup. Whether back up arrives in time is another matter, but at the very least, help will not come if you do not ask for it. Be aware of your teammates and other heroes in the area, know who your supports are and use them.”

Izuku finds himself nodding along unconsciously—dumbly, considering his actions sparked this lecture—and doing his level best to keep his eyes anywhere but directly ahead for a change.

“This isn’t over,” Kacchan mutters quietly, spinning back around in his seat, hair sticking out at a solid ninety degree angle at his neck and looking softer than anything that holds shape like that should. Izuku wants to touch it, with a sudden and intense feeling that it might be therapeutic, like petting bunnies.

Which is definitely weirder than finding the back of Kacchan’s head calming. Or maybe it’s the logical progression of that? Izuku doesn’t even know anymore, and the hiccupping in his mind the thought conjures is really not helping.

Curling his fingers into his palms, Izuku settles his hands sternly under his desk and away from any dangerous temptations; he should have never have asked about those rumours. He’s pretty sure they’re to blame for putting thoughts like this in his head.  

 


 

Izuku manages to keep his hands to himself for the rest of the day, and most of the day after that. He has extra training with Kacchan that afternoon, and his hands are too busy fending off Kacchan’s ferocious attacks to be put to use for any other reason.

Kacchan comes at him hard and fast, with a few curveballs that even Izuku doesn’t see coming until they land quick and painful. Whatever else Kacchan says about it, it seems he’s also taking this opportunity to address his own predictabilities. Clutching at his side, where Kacchan had ducked under his own swing to leave a glancing but painful explosive hit, Izuku regrets that he’d said anything at all—it’s for the greater good, sure, but Kacchan has always been a natural at combat, and picking up new moves at a pace Izuku can barely keep up with is apparently a part of that.

Ah, hindsight.

Izuku takes a second to find his balance, spinning on his heels to find Kacchan two seconds away from landing a follow-through blow. Before he can even think about it, Izuku is leaning back, catching Kacchan’s torso with a straightforward kick. He doesn’t quite have the momentum or stability for it to hold, or to even slow Kacchan down, let alone stop the attack—Izuku pushes forward while he tips back, helped by the sudden force hitting his shoulder. Neither of them are really prepared for Izuku’s lack of balance, going down in a pile of sweaty limbs and swearing.

Kacchan is the first to recover, seizing on the moment and his natural advantage of landing on top to start grabbing at unprotected areas of Izuku, aiming for a hold to keep him down. Izuku squirms as best he can, flat on his back for the nth time and determined to not let it end this way; a hand slips during one of Izuku’s attempts to roll, and he responds by reflexively kicking out.

“What the ff—“ Kacchan wheezes out, still somehow grappling with him even as his body does its best to curl into the foetal position. Izuku worms out of the lax grip Kacchan had tried to get, on what was probably supposed to be his thigh, rolling until he hits the edge of the mats and crouching defensively in the blink of an eye.

He’s got no idea what the inside of his head is doing, but it sounds a lot like screaming. Izuku would like to think it’s because of some misplaced self-preservation instinct, with how close he was to being pinned—again—but the sound has a uniquely hiccupy undertone that makes him suspect it has more to do with unintentional groping and Kacchan heavy breathing on his neck.

“You’re fucking dead, Deku,” Kacchan hisses, wincing as he gets to his feet to stand, still kind of hunched over. Izuku sympathises, he really does, because he knows how that feels—but he also knows that to not take advantage of a weakness is a weakness in itself, and he’s been meaning to test a variant of his Manchester Smash ever since their hypothetical imagination training.   

Kacchan goes from offensively indignant to defensively prepared quicker than Izuku expects; he wonders if there’s some kind of tell in his demeanour, a shift in posture that gives him away—thoughts to ask about later. He shoots forward, darting to the left as Kacchan goes low, stable in his footing and with palms held at the ready to counter whatever move Izuku might make. A quick exchange of punches follows, hurried and powerful, as Izuku waits for Kacchan to lose his cool and go on the attack. This, too, happens a bit quicker than Izuku had counted on—which is stupid of him, he should always count on Kacchan being on the offensive more often than not—the explosion propelling him flying backwards. Izuku’s feet hit the mats like a launching pad, channelling One For All through his legs to get him high and forward, leg extended and coming down fast towards the top of Kacchan’s head. It’s dodged by the barest of margins, caught roughly between palms—Izuku grins, at least this expectation went to plan. Using Kacchan’s own hold against him, Izuku twists his body mid-air and swings around with his free leg. It lands cleanly, catching Kacchan’s jaw wide and open with a dull, heavy noise.

Izuku drops to the mats back-first, leg still held aloft, clutched in Kacchan’s hands—he still hasn’t quite figured out what to do about the landing, honestly, but the effectiveness of catching Kacchan off guard is worth the ungainly afterwards. He gives his captured leg an experimental tug, aware that his position leaves him vulnerable and unable to stand, but the grip tightens the more he tries to pull it away.

Slowly, a trickle of blood makes its way out of the corner of Kacchan’s mouth, a tongue coming out to prod at what looks to be a spectacular bruise forming already. The glare directed at him makes Izuku’s tugging more frantic—he thinks he’s going to have his own bruises by the way Kacchan digs his fingertips into his ankle; they’re going to be clear and distinct and probably good enough to get a solid fingerprint sample from, which will be useful for the police that end up investigating his murder.  

“Yeah,” Kacchan mocks through gritted teeth, “what’s your smartass plan now?”

Well, if Izuku is going to die anyway—quick as a snake, he snaps out his free leg in a vicious kick to Kacchan’s shin, yanking at the leg that’s suddenly free so hard he almost catches himself in the chin with his own knee. The animalistic snarl that Kacchan makes has him rolling and crouching back at the edges of the mats on instinct, putting as much distance between them as possible without forfeiting the match.

“You motherfucker.” One hand resting on his jaw, the other cradling his injured shin, Kacchan grunts, “Fuck, you mother fuck fucker.

Izuku isn’t entirely sure what happens after that, it’s all a blur of high-pitched apologies and darker, venomous swearing in between what can only be called a brawl—unsophisticated and scrappy, comprised of cheap blows and absolutely no finesse. All he knows is at the end of it he’s sore in places he’s never been—like his spleen? He’s pretty sure that’s his spleen complaining—panting and wiping away at his own trail of blood from where a gash in his forehead meets the damage of a split lip. He at least has the knowledge that Kacchan is no better off, on his back next to where Izuku is laying starfished, and breathing heavily as he clutches his stomach, where Izuku had landed a knee with all his weight behind it not minutes before.

“Truce?” Izuku wheezes, focusing on the abandoned basketball in the rafters instead of his own complaining body.

“Fuck you,” Kacchan returns, not shifting an inch from where he lays with a stillness that suggests he can’t, rather than won’t, move yet. “You fight dirty.”

“You pulled my hair!”

The hand on Kacchan’s stomach clenches and unclenches as if remembering the handful of hair it’d yanked out of Izuku’s scalp. “And I’d pull it again, what the fuck, Deku. I’m pretty sure you left claw marks! Cut your fucking nails!”

Izuku lolls his head to the side, eyes appraising the raised red lines that he has indeed left behind—a few on Kacchan’s bare forearm, but most striking across the left side of his face, down his forehead and cheek and disrupted only by the eye socket. With the bruise across his jaw, it looks like Kacchan had fought a bear and lost.    

“You pulled my hair,” Izuku feels compelled to reiterate. He moves a weak, shaky arm up to point at where the dull stinging in his scalp is strongest. “Do I have a bald patch here? It feels cold and airy, because you pulled out my hair.”

Rolling his eyes, Kacchan struggles up into a position that could generously be called sitting, resting on an elbow to lean over and get a closer look at where Izuku is pointing. The face he makes belies his defensive mutter of: “It’s not that bad, it’ll grow back.”

“Awesome, can’t wait,” Izuku mutters. Kacchan’s face is closer now, the injuries he’d inflicted starker and more detailed as the overhead lights hit Kacchan’s face just so; the shadows deepening the swelling, the aggravated red of blood and marks a vibrant contrast against the paleness of Kacchan’s hair and skin. Without thinking about it, Izuku reaches out to touch lightly, a gentle press of fingertip to the worst of the bruising across the corner of Kacchan’s mouth.

To his surprise, Kacchan lets it happen with only a twitch, accompanied by a small noise, more felt than heard. It’s the excited hiccupping in his own mind, loud within the silence, that makes Izuku jerk back as if burned.

Whatever this voice is, he fucking hates it, suddenly and completely. Izuku can never just have a moment without it hovering around in the background, freaking out at the slightest hint of Kacchan and making him so very aware of everything. 

Slowly, Kacchan pulls back, pushing himself back up and out of Izuku’s reach. His face is inscrutable, but increasing more annoyed the more he moves as various aches and pains make themselves known. He grunts as he gets to his feet, hunched over and grimacing as he straightens his back.

Izuku continues to lay there, annoyed with himself and unsure whether he’s really ready to feel the repercussions of their latest training devolvement—he can feel those same aches and pains working themselves throughout his own body, waiting for the right movement to make themselves heard—when Kacchan does something unexpected. Letting out a long breath, he bends down again to offer a hand to Izuku.

Izuku stares at it, confused. It takes him a second, the twitch of fingers right in front of his face, for him to get it—Kacchan is offering a hand to help him up.

In all their previous training matches, Izuku had hoped for this moment—occasionally hammed it up in a poor attempt to manipulate it out of Kacchan—but he’s never, in all of those times, actually expected it to happen. He’s ashamed to say the thump under his ribcage is all him, surprised and excited, for reasons he doesn’t even need to guess at.

The fingers twitch again, impatient, and Izuku grabs at Kacchan’s hand like it’s his one and only chance; quick, his grip stronger than it needs to be. Kacchan’s hands are sweaty and too hot, skin still heated by the explosions from their fighting. Izuku ignores it like he ignores the painful pulling in his muscles, the twinge in his shoulder, and the exhilarated sounds rising up in his head; he lets himself be pulled up to his feet, letting go when Kacchan slides his hand away, his other coming up to hover vaguely as Izuku finds his equilibrium, before that, too, disappears back to Kacchan’s side.

There’s an awkward silence that follows, a few seconds where they’re both left standing facing each other dumbly, and then Kacchan spins on his heels abruptly to leave without a word.          

Which is fine. Izuku’s inner thoughts are making enough noise for the both of them, louder and more insistent than whatever they might have said to each other in the moment.

Kacchan is definitely the cause of this one, Izuku concludes. This loud, hiccupy one that’s steadily gaining precedence and clarity the more it occurs within his thoughts. He’d already kind of suspected this was the case, but this solidifies it: a happy, burbling sound that suggests he’s somehow thrilled with whatever has developed here.  

Izuku doesn’t think it’s as simple as just a hand up. He has a dark, unsettling feeling that it goes deeper than that. Rubbing at the sore spot on his scalp, he plods over to the wooden skirting and starts toeing his shoes back on, reassuring himself the whole while that it’s probably not what he thinks it is—these rumours have him all fucked up, is all. He’s never been this suggestible to hearsay and public opinion before... right?

Right.

Just because everyone else thinks there’s something more to their relationship doesn’t mean that he has to indulge the same madness. The class is wrong, Izuku is sane, and whatever his subconscious thinks can the hell shut up.

Nodding to himself with a sense of self-satisfied finality, Izuku slowly starts shuffling his way back to the dorms

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Each time Izuku makes his way into the impromptu class library, Todoroki is already there more often than not. Whether it’s before class, after class, or in the middle of the night when Izuku needs a distraction from all the thoughts whirring around in his head and preventing him from sleep, Todoroki can generally be found slumped in a bean bag and with a steadily growing pile of books next to him.

It’s always the beanbag on the left, too. Izuku squints at where red bleeds into white and wonders if Todoroki just owns that particular bean bag now; he’s never seen anyone else in it.

“Midoriya,” Todoroki greets, not looking up.

“Todoroki-kun,” Izuku says back, finding the shelf he wants and sliding out the seventh and eighth volumes of his stupid office romance manga. He’d given up on them the last time he was in here, the eighth volume still with a bend in its cover from when Izuku had used it as a projectile. On a whim, Uraraka’s words still rattling around in his head, he grabs another two volumes off the shelf at random with only a brief look at their covers: flowers, muscles, and pretty standard all things considered. Bypassing the free bean bag, he shuffles over to settle himself on the free one-seater, balancing his own smaller stack on the arm. 

Todoroki raises an eyebrow from over the pink fabric ensconcing him, “Feeling adventurous?”

“I prefer to think of it as expanding my horizons,” Izuku sniffs back, completely undermining his own point by grabbing homoerotic office workers the seventh and eyeing the untested ones suspiciously. God knows why, but Todoroki seems to gravitate towards the more questionable content like a straightforward moth to flame, so if anyone would know whether these were safe for Izuku’s fragile consumption... “You’d tell me if these were, uh, particularly adventurous, wouldn’t you?”

“I wouldn’t know about those, I haven’t read them yet.”

Izuku lets out a sigh of relief. That probably means he’s safe with his choices.

“If you wanted some recommendations, though,” Todoroki continues, already sitting up in his bean bag with only the slight struggling of someone who’s practiced enough to figure out the trick to it.

Izuku waves him back down quickly, “I really don’t, thanks.”

Todoroki shrugs like it’s all the same to him, settling back in with a quiet rustle. Izuku looks down at the volume in his hands, tapping lightly at the cover as he wonders whether he should just take a chance on one of the others—after all, the two main protagonists of his series are taking such incremental steps that he’s seriously beginning to think that nothing might ever be resolved. Izuku has enough questions and what-if’s floating around in his head right now that he hardly needs more, as fictional and unimportant in the grander scheme of what he’s doing with his life as they may be.

Shifting it to the side to rest on his thigh, Izuku prods tentatively at one of the newer ones he picked up—he’s even starting think that maybe one of Todoroki’s terribly graphic novels might be refreshing. It looks pretty unassuming from the cover and the blurb at the back tells him very little, rhetorically asking if ‘love is enough to overcome their differences?’; Izuku makes a face, because if it’s not then why should he even bother? The second one he’d picked at random is from a different series altogether and a peek inside has him wondering if he’s really strong enough to deal with hardcore bondage right off the bat.

He’s not, he decides firmly and instantaneously, placing that one back to the bottom of his meagre pile. He’s just about to go back to his gay office workers when his instincts flare up, warning him of something incoming from his left. Catching the novel thrown at his face with reflexes honed by surviving middle school, Izuku doesn’t even spare it a glance, sending a puzzled glare over to Todoroki instead.

“You looked unsatisfied,” Todoroki explains blandly. “This one might do you better.”

Izuku looks down at it, not even bothering to consult the cover (he now gets what Sero was complaining about) and flips a few pages in. Nobody is tied up, which is probably a good start, and the art is decent; Izuku thinks he could give this one a go. He slides the bondage nightmare back out to throw at Todoroki, as thanks, but mostly because it seems like it would be better appreciated over there. The raised eyebrow and nod he gets in return seems like it might be.

The differences between this and the office workers is obvious from the very first page, with only the vaguest suggestion of setting up situation and character. Barely ten pages in and Izuku goes red as the protagonist (?) thanks the man who saved him from drunken harassment enthusiastically and with tongue.

Izuku wishes he were more surprised about this hot and heavy turn of events.

“Todoroki-kun?” Izuku says blandly, waiting for Todoroki’s hum of acknowledgement. “What exactly is it that you get out of these things?”

“Well, at first I just thought it was funny, because, you know,” he flops a lazy hand out of his bean bag as if to signal Bakugou, head lolling to the side with a rustle to blink at Izuku, “but honestly now I just want to know.”

“Know?”

Todoroki tilts his head, face screwed up in annoyed contemplation as he tries to put it into words. “It’s—I don’t understand the dichotomy here, when they’re all about the same thing at their core. Your office workers, right?” He squints at Izuku’s pile, nodding at the volume numbers on their spines. “All that and have they even kissed?”

Izuku shakes his head, no, and Todoroki nods again like that’s somehow proved his point.

“If sex is the endpoint—and it always ends in sex, Midoriya, always—then what’s the point of all that other stuff?”

“Getting tab A to slot into tab B smoothly?” Izuku huffs a laugh. “I think the question to ask is: what’s the payoff without the other stuff first?”

“Masochism?” Sometimes, Izuku can’t deal with Todoroki’s deadpan delivery; he honestly can’t tell if this is a joke or an honest thought and Todoroki’s face is typically blank and unhelpful. “The other stuff is frustrating and ultimately superfluous to the cause. Love is not a prerequisite to lust and I see no need for the former to be in there if the goal is to get them all naked eventually.”

Izuku thinks about this and what he knows of Todoroki as a person. Yeah, he thinks, he can see how the other boy might’ve come to that conclusion. From what Izuku understands, love is not an experience high on the Todoroki family’s skill list—which is putting it nicely, he has met Endeavour—and Todoroki himself is less than proficient in almost any interpersonal relationship he’s put in.

So yes, this does actually explain a lot about Todoroki’s reading choices. But it also strikes Izuku as ironically closed-minded in this here library, full of homoerotica and widely questionable reading choices that they’ve surrounded themselves in.

Chewing at his bottom lip, still kind of sore and swollen from training with Kacchan—sometimes he misses the quick healing given by Recovery Girl after school sanctioned bouts of violence—Izuku turns in his seat to look properly at Todoroki. He doesn’t want to appear insensitive or prying in what’s now become a delicate and personal shift in conversation, but... “Are you sure you aren’t just avoiding all that other stuff because it’s confusing and you don’t know what to do with it?”

Todoroki levels him with pointed gaze, gesturing at Izuku’s pile with one hand, while the other waves the volume full of bondage around in the air. “Are you sure that’s not what you’re doing?”

Which—“No? That’s not fair! It’s not even the same thing!”

“Isn’t it?”

Izuku scrunches up his face. How to describe to Todoroki the differences between avoiding a subject matter that makes one uncomfortable via a direct lack of understanding and or social skills, and avoiding a subject that makes one uncomfortable for the amount of black censor bars and pixelated areas involved. If someone had told Izuku about this around the time of the Sports Festival he would never have believed it. He’s still not sure he believes this is what his life has come to now.  

“You’ll slog through multiple volumes of that convoluted crap—even though you claim to hate it—but the minute anything starts going down you clutch at your pearls like my great aunt Himiko. I’m not avoiding it like you’re doing, I just don’t see the point to it.” Todoroki blinks at this; Izuku suspects he’s just surprised himself. “So I guess you’re right, it’s not the same thing, because you’re the one avoiding things and I’m actually not.”

Garbling something unintelligible, Izuku buries his face in his hands and resists the urge to scream. It’s almost logic he can follow—it almost sounds like Todoroki has a point. Izuku hates the idea as it forms in his head like a particularly incriminating game of connect the dots. He thinks of the class rumours he’s yet to actively deny and the two—two—fresh boxes of condoms shoved into the back of his bedside table where he doesn’t have to see or think about them, and then eyes the volume still held open on his lap—the one he stopped reading to question Todoroki’s taste as soon as things had started to get... touchy. Which is actually the page he’s looking down at now, and he can hear a faint yelling in the back of his mind about it, although he honestly can’t tell if it’s for or against what he sees.

That’s probably a question he needs an answer for, he thinks. He’s just not sure he really wants it yet.

“I’m not avoiding it,” Izuku tries feebly, even though he’s a terrible liar, “It’s just—it’s not like I need to understand... that side of things.” Todoroki’s look somehow gets more pointed and narrowed, even as his eyebrows raise doubtfully. Izuku doesn’t know how he manages it. Flustered, he adds, “Yet? I—I mean, maybe? No? At least not—other stuff comes first, Todoroki-kun. Other stuff comes first. And that’s why I’m...”

He doesn’t know how to finish that. He can’t say that’s why he’s avoiding it, because he very obviously is, even though he’d just argued that he’s not, and Todoroki has this smug twitch to the corner of his mouth that says he knows all this and more. It occurs to Izuku with a rising sense of dread that what he’s done here is very successfully started a line of questioning that he was ill-equipped to handle and then had it turned back around on himself. He’s dug himself into a hole and he doesn’t know how to get out of it without admitting things he doesn’t want to admit to himself, let alone anyone else.

The little voice of self-preservation chooses this moment to make a respectable comeback into his mental dialog by announcing itself loudly and with a particular tone of horror, while another part of himself competes with a single loud, frustrating hiccup.

Izuku panics a little bit at all the sudden noise.

“I don’t think condoms are fireproof.”

The look of arrogant self-satisfaction disappears as Todoroki suddenly chokes on nothing.

“Just so you know.”

It’s not a perfect out, and Izuku isn’t sure he should be feeling a twisted sort of victory at successfully managing to turn this situation around into something neither of them want to take any further, but it does well enough for Izuku to not want to strangle himself, so that’s something. And god, but hopefully someone can make use of this information, because Izuku’s search history is defiled and he doesn’t want it to be for nothing.

After a minute of making his mouth move silently with no noise coming out, Todoroki lets out an uncharacteristically uncertain, “Do I want to ask why?”

“No,” Izuku soothes, “but it’s not because I’m having other stuff with Kacchan, so if you could pass that along to our classmates.”

Izuku doesn’t know why he always admits the truth of these little class misunderstandings to Todoroki first, when he’s yet to prove himself useful at doing anything other than hoarding the information, but he thinks if he keeps trying hard enough one day it might take. 

Todoroki stares at him. Izuku takes that as tactic agreement, because the alternative means talking about this more and neither of them want that after tonight, he’s sure.

 


 

 

Despite his self-sworn oath to never, ever take reading material out of the class library again after the last time ended with Kacchan handing his own porn back to him with no idea about it, Izuku slips out of the first floor of the girls dormitory later that night with a delicately balanced armful of books and a burgeoning sense of regret well before he even hits the staircase.

This is because half of what he’d grabbed was pilfered from Todoroki’s pile, left unorganised and unguarded beside the bean bag after he’d slunk off in a mix of tiredness and contemplation—about what, Izuku didn’t ask and probably doesn’t want to know after the conversation they’d had.

The other half may or may not be less regretful, Izuku isn’t sure yet. He’d just kind of blindly grabbed things from all over in the hope of getting a general idea of what was on offer. He’d also made sure to grab the remaining six volumes of his gay office romance, because Izuku is not a quitter but every time he tries to get any further with them in the room he gets waylaid by conversations that try to mess with his head.

Not to mention he’s pretty sure hardcore bondage made it in with his selections, and he has the awful suspicion that that’s not the hardest thing he’s going to encounter within his armful of questionable loot. Dumbshit miscommunication mishaps is a thing Izuku understands on a personal level, and he thinks it might end up a nice refuge from all the confronting things he’s signed himself up for with this.

Because between Uraraka suggesting he do his research and Todoroki using his inconvenient powers of insight to provoke some kind of internal crisis, Izuku has rediscovered his own need to know and understand what the fuck is going on. Somehow, various genres of homoerotic fiction is how he plans to do this.

His life has turned into madness. When he applied to Yuuei, it was with dreams of learning about heroes and fighting moves, not... whatever it is he’s trying to learn here. 

The hour is well past when the automated hallway lights flick off, leaving Izuku to stumble his way through the dark towards his room and wrestle with the key. He manages to get himself through the door without losing everything in his arms, hitting the light switch with his shoulder on his way in and setting the stack down on a relatively clear corner of his desk. It ends up being more like two stacks, after his first attempt at sitting it all down lists under the weight of itself, but eventually he gets his collection stable enough that he can take a step back—literally and figuratively—and eye the whole thing with equal amounts of determination and dread.  

There’s a loose sheet of written attacks peeking out from underneath it all. The sharp, aggressive lines of Kacchan’s handwriting stand out almost forebodingly against the white of the paper and the soft patterns of the barazoku spines.

Yeah, so Izuku is never letting Kacchan back in here ever again for as long as he has half the class’s porn stashed in his room, so help him and his shitty ideas.

Absolute, stupid madness.

But fine, Izuku thinks, rubbing at his eyes like he can pre-emptively scrub them clean. If he wants to understand whatever this is so badly, he’s just gonna have to suck it up and get his soul dirty. Surely, it can’t be as bad as he’s imagining—these might be the things the class has decided Kacchan might like, but even then they’re limited by their own imaginations and Izuku would know if he was sharing a class with depraved maniacs.

Surely, the worst they can think up is just some wholesome, kinky sex.

Flicking his light back off, Izuku leaves the paperbacks where they are and crawls into bed for the night.

 


 

“We’re heading over there next,” Uraraka announces with the authoritative tone of a girl let loose in a shopping mall.

Izuku follows at where she’s pointing, her other arm looped with Asui’s, and can maybe understand Iida’s tone of resigned judgement when he sighs, “Must we really?”

“We must, Iida-kun.” 

“I really don’t think we must, or even should,” Iida says doubtfully. “I’m fairly certain that room is well past the stage where it can be considered a fire hazard already. The last thing it needs is more unsavoury material when it’s such a mental and physical danger to the class already.”

“The entire first floor on that side is free, right?” Uraraka chirps back, completely ignoring his point. “Why don’t we just ask Aizawa-sensei if we can expand the library into one of the other rooms?”

Using her free hand to wrap around Iida’s forearm, Uraraka starts tugging them all towards the bookstore, situated in the far distance. Asui goes along willingly enough, while Iida stutters something before reluctantly letting himself be pulled along.

“I’ve already considered that,” Iida says, glasses glinting morosely in the overhead lights as he brings up a hand to pinch at the bridge of his nose, “but I’m too afraid that he might ask for more details if I do.”

Izuku wants to doubt that, since he’s fairly certain Aizawa doesn’t care what they do in the dorms so long as it’s not illegal or damaging anything—be it property or people—but there’s a suspicious part of himself that thinks that Aizawa just would, for reasons that are probably best left unthought of a man they’re supposed to trust. And Iida, being the responsible class representative that he is, would probably describe all the ammunition Aizawa could ever want in scandalous detail if asked.

“I’m pretty sure there’s some empty space on the bottom shelves,” Izuku says, like he didn’t open up half that space himself, ”and if there isn’t, we could make some.”

“I could create some netting to string across the ceiling, if need be,” Yaoyorozu offers from next to him. Todoroki walks on her other side, nodding and still not quite looking Izuku in the eyes after the other night. With all the things he’ll read, a random fact about condoms is apparently all Todoroki needs to discover his sense of propriety and Izuku is seriously starting to wonder whether he should apologise or be offended.

“That could work for extra storage, but I wouldn’t worry too much about the whole thing going up in flames—the boy’s side is still there and that stores Bakugou, so I assume there’s some anti-flammable safety measures in place.” Todoroki’s eyes flick quickly at Izuku as he says this and Izuku pulls a face right back at him. The other night was not his finest moment, sure, but he’s fairly certain he doesn’t deserve this lingering awkwardness for it.

“Has it occurred to anyone that maybe what we should do is sort and clean out what’s there properly? I don’t know about you guys, but I’ve come across things that should be burned.”

Kaminari nods in agreement, slapping a supportive hand down on Sero’s shoulder. From a little across, furthest from Izuku and Uraraka’s weird friendship conga-line, Kirishima is growing increasingly pale, shooting nervous glances at Kacchan whenever someone mentions the library a little too loudly for his comfort.

Izuku isn’t entirely sure how they’ve managed to drag Kacchan out for a day of “buying and bonding and hopefully not being attacked by villains” (Ashido’s suggestion, Kaminari’s words) but Kacchan is looking harassed and unhappy about being there, angrily dragging his feet and glaring at anyone who dares to step too close to him—except Kirishima, of course. How Kirishima managed to score himself a free pass to Kacchan’s personal space bubble from the very start is also a mystery to Izuku, but considering it puts Kirishima in danger more often than not, he honestly can’t find it in himself to envy him too much.

Eventually, the group breaks from the general crowd as the bookstore comes into reach. Izuku follows the still grumbling Iida inside, and it’s only after turning around to see how Kirishima is handling this detour that he notices that they’ve effectively split into two groups. Kirishima’s distinctive red spikes of hair disappear into the video game store across the way, followed by Kacchan’s spiky blond and Sero’s darker head of hair.

Seeing it relieves a weird little bubble of anxiety that Izuku hadn’t even realised was there; this honestly seems like the best way this could have gone for all of them. Izuku wouldn’t want to bring Kacchan into a place full of things he is absolutely not actually interested in either and risk something disastrous happening, like someone asking opinions or worse, offering him suggestions in person

“Maybe he’s still shy about it?” Asui croaks from right behind him and Izuku takes a moment to clutch at his chest as his heartbeat returns back to a normal rhythm. He’d thought she was still being dragged around by Uraraka.

“Or maybe he’s got more than he could ever want,” Kaminari adds from his other side. “I mean, I wouldn’t bother buying my own if it all just appeared randomly before me like some kind of gay magic either. Alas, that’s not how it works for the rest of us and I’m missing a Baki volume, so I’m gonna go find it.”

Izuku watches as he wanders off, eventually losing sight as Kaminari moves down an aisle further along. Turning back, he finds that Asui has also disappeared, along with Uraraka and probably poor Iida, since he’s also not here. In fact, nobody he’d walked in with had bothered to bring him along and Izuku realises that without that as an excuse, he really doesn’t need or necessarily want to be in here. He has, in his opinion, enough and more to read in his room already.

Blinking, Izuku has just enough presence of mind to grab this month’s edition of Heroes Monthly—two of them, after a second of pause. He’s not sure if Kacchan already has one already, but he thinks it might be nice to go over them together. Or... or not, it’s not important; Izuku has no ulterior motives here he just thinks it might be nice. Flustered for no reason, he pays swiftly and goes back out the way he came in, eyes searching for any of his lost classmates. There is a distinct lack of anyone he recognises milling about, and even a stint on his tip toes to see above the crowds gives him no one he knows.

Falling back to the balls of his feet, Izuku bites as his lip as he thinks about what to do now. He could go back into the bookstore, find Uraraka, save Iida, or he could—a flash of pink in the corner of his eye has Izuku swivelling to follow it, cutting across the flow of traffic towards Ashido without much thought, just happy to find someone. Even if that someone is holding up two dresses before he’s even in the store and asking for his extremely uninformed opinion on which would clash less with her skin.

One is fluoro orange. The other is an eye-searing bright red. Izuku doesn’t know how to say both without hurting her feelings, so he says nothing with a vague shrug.  

“I thought so,” she hums, neatly placing the two hangers back on the racks they came from. “You’re not very good at honesty, are you, Midoriya?”

Izuku blinks, “Uhm?”

“I mean, you should speak up when people are about to make mistakes.” Spinning around on her heel and leaning forward into his space, Ashido grins at him conspiratorially, “Especially if they’re potentially embarrassing mistakes, like those colours on me... or, say, a library of hot porn for Bakugou.”

“Uhm,” Izuku squeaks, and then frowns, because while he could have said something in between missing his chances and just plain not wanting to be the one to do it, none of that was actually his doing. “That mistake was well underway before I even knew it was happening.”

“I knew it!” Ashido laughs, ducking around his left to grab something off the rack at Izuku’s back. The shirt she holds up to him is a soft mint green. “Nobody who yells that loudly about misuse of handcuffs reads that stuff in his downtime without giving themselves an aneurysm. I knew there was something off about it, even before Kirishima said something. What about this one?”

“Uhm, sure?” She glares at him and Izuku takes the time to look at it properly. “I can honestly say I see nothing wrong with it.”

“Good answer.” Draping the shirt over her arm, she moves along. Izuku follows quietly as she picks up and puts down random things, feeling intensely out of place but also relieved that the dissonance of the Kacchan situation is apparently working itself out without him—his self-preservation voice is particularly pleased by this information. Ashido ruins it by lifting up a tank-top that’s almost the exact same shade as her skin and staring critically at it as she asks, “So are you and Bakugou doing the homo tango, or is that another mistake?”

Izuku chokes on nothing and makes a mental note to apologise to Todoroki, because it’s unpleasant and terrible. “Mistake,” he manages to choke out, “Mistake!”

“Yeah, I feel like it might make me look naked. Hold this, I’m gonna go try it anyway.”

Once again, Izuku finds himself alone—only this time he’s stood by himself in the middle of a girl’s clothing store, holding a mint green shirt with bows and lace against his chest and debating whether or not it counts as a successful denial if Ashido didn’t acknowledge it as such.

Predictably, this is how Kirishima finds him, Kacchan in tow. A low wolf-whistle is his only warning before a muscley arm weaves around to hang heavy over his shoulder. “Green is a good look for you, Midoriya. Brings out your eyes.”

“You think?” Izuku says stupidly, and then, “No, this isn’t—Ashido-san picked it out, this is hers!“

Kirishima’s arm drifts off of his shoulder as he looks around, saying: “I don’t see her.” Izuku pretends not to notice the tone of disappointment there, instead making vague gestures to the changing rooms at the back while he focuses on Sero trying to strongarm Kacchan further into the store. He gives up after a low growl of, “Like fuck I’m going in there,” scooting back with hands raised peacefully.

Izuku quirks a brow at Kacchan’s blink-and-miss stare into the store, tongue peeking out nervously. Kacchan has always belonged in any space he was in through sheer presence, and Izuku doesn’t expect this—dare he even think it—bashfulness from just being in the same vicinity of some frilly dresses.

“You sure you don’t want to flaunt it for us?” Kirishima say with an odd tone, squinting back in Kacchan’s direction with a pensive look on his face. “Give us a twirl?”

“The only thing that’ll get you is a kick in the mouth,” Kacchan grunts from still outside the store, gingerly touching at the yellowing bruise from where Izuku had landed a hit in training. Izuku still remembers how it had felt under his fingers: too warm, skin firm over the swelling. He twitches, fumbling with the hanger at the sudden recollection. Tightening his hold, he spins back in the direction of the change rooms at the sound of metal rings scraping across metal, Ashido walking out with an unsatisfied look on her face as she approaches them.

“I was right, it made me look topless.”

Kirishima makes a noise, hand raising back up to grip tightly at Izuku’s shoulder. Izuku spares him a look—he seems fine, insomuch as staring determinedly up at the ceiling like it holds the answer to all life’s questions is a normal thing to do—and eagerly hands the green shirt back over to Ashido when she makes grabby hands at it. He waits until she’s heading to the cash register to make his escape, forcefully shoving an unresponsive Kirishima with him back out to the relative safety of unisex mall walkways to ask about the whereabouts of the others.

“I’m pretty sure Yaoyorozu went into some fancy homeware place with Jirou, and I think Todoroki said something about finding a hardware store?”

Well that’s worrying.

Sero, oblivious to the implications of Todoroki in a hardware store that probably carries things like ropes and chains and other things Izuku doesn’t want to think about, continues by casually pointing in a random direction back the way they came. “I thought you and the others all went into the bookstore?”

“We did,” Izuku confirms, holding up his paper bag of purchases, “but I left before they did, so I don’t know if they’re still in there.”

Kacchan gives him a strange look at that, eyes lingering suspiciously on the paper bag. Izuku raises an eyebrow, ready to question it, but is sidetracked by Kirishima humming from beside him. “I haven’t seen them since,” he says, and then hesitantly: “I guess we could go in there to look?”

He sounds like he would prefer to do literally anything else, up to and including fighting the Eight Precepts of Death all over again. Izuku can kind of relate, because he too feels this weird need to keep Kacchan distant from the truth of these things. Especially since Kacchan himself has clearly chosen the path of intentional ignorance; it just seems inconsiderate to force him into a situation that shoves it right in his face.

“Maybe we should just make a time and place for everyone to meet up—I mean, if they’re in there or not, maybe they need more time to do… whatever they’re doing right now.”

Kirishima’s quick, “Yeah… yeah!” overlaps with Ashido’s similar noise of approval. Sero follows just a beat behind, slower like he’s just realised what everyone is low-key trying to accomplish.

Kacchan grunts, like he couldn’t care less. Izuku doesn’t want to make shit up or anything, but he’s pretty sure there’s a low undertone of relief in it.

 


 

Which is how Izuku ends up sat at one of the many planter boxes littered throughout the middle of the mall ten minutes later and forty minutes early, clutching at his paper bag as he and Kacchan find a place to sit on the rim.

After a few back and forth group texts, they’d collectively agreed on meeting at the central area at one for lunch, since it’d turned out that at least Kaminari had wandered off to parts unknown, as had Ashido (they’re turned around at one point to find her gone), in addition to the already missing Todoroki, Yaoyorozu, and Jirou. And Izuku isn’t even sure where Kirishima went, dragging Sero off with him after they’d all settled on a time and a place.

He remembers this place vividly from the last time he was here, the large palms planted within standing tall, the clock tower staring directly across from his seat. He’s pretty sure he never wanted to see this particular scenery again, which makes the fact that this was his suggestion all the worse.

In the corner of his eye, he watches as Kacchan slouches down next to him, arms crossed petulantly. While it’s true that Izuku didn’t really have anything he wanted to do, if he’s honest, he’s here early because Kacchan had started to take on the cranky countenance of a toddler on the cusp of a public tantrum when he’d learned they all planned to be here much longer than he’d personally like. He’s pretty sure they’re banned from the second floor now, just from the look the security guard had given them as Izuku tried to his best to drag an uncooperative Kacchan to the escalators as he’d screamed betrayal at Kirishima’s back.

Somehow, Izuku feels like this was part of Kirishima’s plan. He’s not sure what that plan is, he just knows that the subtle finger guns were conspiratorial and accompanied by winking as he left them alone with each other.

If he thinks about it, he can still feel the icy fingers of Shigaraki Tomura wrapped around his neck.   

People mill about around them, going about their business peacefully. Some are hurried, others more casual; there are people by themselves and others in groups, but all wrapped up in their own worlds. They’d been like this the last time Izuku was here, walking past oblivious to the danger. To the villain threatening their way of life from right in the middle of them. A small girl runs past, All Might grinning mightily from his t-shirt facsimile; Izuku feels a cold shiver run down his back, out of place and months past its expiration date.

The continued belief in the Symbol of Peace should be heartening, if it didn’t feel so much like ignorance of the truth. That’s technically Izuku’s role now, and a fucking bang up job he’s been doing to live up to it, huddled into himself from stale fear. Not for the first time, and definitely not the last, Izuku feels the weight of his responsibilities surround him, the knowledge that he cannot afford to fail under their expectations, despite all his failures just to get here.

He’s leaned over without realising it, knees digging into the scarred back of his hands as he grips his elbows in search of something to ground him. The paper bag nestled between his feet rustles with the movement, tipping sideways to lean against his leg. There’s a strange hyperawareness of every brush of clothing against his skin, the light breeze sweeping at the back of his neck, the movement of each individual hair as it moves along with the airflow.     

Four fingers. A fifth and it would have been over before it had even really begun.

The noise around him is simultaneously loud and muffled: heavy footsteps, high-pitched laughter, the sound of shopping bags rubbing together like rough sea smashing into itself; all loud, indistinct noise. Quieter conversations, half-heard questions and muttered replies, soft scolding and the fast, vibrant movements that indicate children and energy.

The floor tiles are blinding in the uninhibited sunlight, the shadows continually shifting and numerous, blurring and changing shape quicker than Izuku can get a lock on—it reminds him of Kurogiri: a darkness in constant flux.

“—ck‘s in the bag, nerd?”

It’s the tone, more than the question, that brings him back into reality. Kacchan stares from his seat next to him—were they always sitting that close? Did Izuku move and not realise it?—red eyes narrowed as they dart between Izuku and the paper bag at his feet. The tone itself is reluctant and forced, louder than acceptable speaking volume because of it. Or maybe it just sounds that way because Izuku still feels hazy and distant, his surroundings an overwhelming amalgamation of shape and sound blurring together indistinctly until it’s something that only Kacchan’s voice can cut through.

Izuku watches as Kacchan shifts under his sudden attention, eyes still darting between Izuku and the bag like he thinks either one of them could go off at any moment.

“I bought one for you too,” Izuku says dumbly, fascinated as Kacchan abruptly goes still, gaze travelling slowly back up from the bag to land squarely on Izuku and holding.

“One what?”

“Magazine.” His brain decides to remind him that magazines and gay porn are conflated within the class consciousness by now—even if Kacchan doesn’t know that part of it. He can feel his face go warm despite the fact that just moments before he was in the grips of a cold sweat. “Heroic Monthly magazine. For you. A—and one for me.” 

“Oh,” Kacchan says, suspiciously relieved. “Okay, cool.”

Maybe he’s got some idea after all, Izuku thinks with a squint. One day he’s going to find a way to bribe Kirishima into finding out just how much Kacchan actually knows; his forced ignorance of it all makes it really hard for Izuku to gauge where all the hidden conversational landmines are and he’s not built for this kind of ongoing anxiety on top of everything else.

“So why are you freaking out then?”

It’s Izuku’s turn to tense up, the muscles that were just starting to relax seizing all over again. He hadn’t realised he was being so obvious about it—but of course, Kacchan has known him as long as Izuku has known Kacchan. Of course he’d notice.

Saying something about it though, that’s new. And kind of unwelcome, if Izuku thinks about it. He’d really just prefer if it went unnoticed and not called out like he needs to explain himself and his traitor of a brain; especially if the person calling him out is Kacchan, who has historically given him shit for less. He’s not sure whether that’s still the case—he’s honestly starting to wonder if anything of what he knew to be true about them is still that—but he can’t find a way to say ‘I’m afraid I’m going to let everyone down’ without inviting an answering ‘that’s because you’re a useless waste of a quirk’, whether it’s meant or not.

The silence stretches on uncomfortably and Kacchan shifts, an arm raising and lowering in an aborted move towards his hair. A pink tongue swipes quickly at the corner of his mouth, and Izuku follows it with more attention than he feels he should—he’s blaming the lingering hyperawareness for the way his vision narrows as his heart rate jumps.

“I met Shigaraki Tomura here,” Izuku says finally, huffing a dry laugh at how casual it sounds. “Or rather, he sought me out for a self-confidence check and didn’t like what I had to say about it. Or—or rather, he did like it? But in the bad way. I think he took home the wrong message. I don’t know, he was hard to read.”

His shrug at the end is half-hearted at best, wilted under the prolonged confusion from that day and Kacchan’s renewed intense glaring.

“I swear to fucking god, Deku,” Kacchan hisses at last. “How the fuck are you still alive.”

Izuku shrugs again, conversely feeling more light-hearted about the topic the more Kacchan’s scowls about it. It’s moments like this—rare, but there—that remind Izuku that Kacchan cares. Even though he’d admitted as much himself, it’s the little things like this that go towards proving that it wasn’t just some fever dream or a delirious concoction born of morphine.

“Tsukauchi-san praised my not freaking out at the time, which is why I’m alive enough to be doing it now, I suppose.”

Kacchan’s teeth grind loud enough for Izuku to hear it. “Well, shit luck to him for missing his fucking chance to kill you, because now I’m going to.”

“I don’t think that’s how this hero gig works,” Izuku comments blithely and unworried. Kacchan’s hair is bristled like an angry cat and he has to force himself not to reach out and pet it consolingly. He’s already cheated death once at this mall, best not to tempt fate as his fingers twitch with interest at the urge. In an effort to distract himself, he ignores Kacchan’s spluttering to check the time—a quarter to, he expects their classmates to start trickling in soon.  

“I don’t think there’s anything I could have done differently then, or now, anyway,” he says, turning his eyes away from the large clock to land on Kacchan at his side. “It wasn’t a situation I could fight in without things being at their worst outcome already, at any rate.”

“Shit happens,” Kacchan mutters belligerently, backing out of Izuku’s personal space to cross his arms and slouch. “I fucking hate that, y’know.”

Izuku hums, giving in to temptation enough to reach out an arm to pat lightly at Kacchan’s knee. It’s fine, he can see Todoroki’s unique head of two-tone hair weaving through the crowds and headed in their direction, close enough to their position that Izuku feels safe in assuming he won’t be dying in this mall today either.

“I know,” he says.

Kacchan grunts and flicks him in a scarred knuckle.

 

Chapter Text

 

Picture this: a man finds another man slumped in a dirty alleyway, cold and half-conscious and missing most of his memories. And instead of doing the reasonable thing like taking the man to a hospital or the police, or even dropping by the local hero agency for a little help, the man just... takes the other man home with him.

Like this is an appropriate action to take, in lieu of all common sense. Piggybacking a total stranger several blocks, dumping him on a futon, and then trying to explain himself to someone who is rightfully confused and alarmed at waking up in a place he doesn’t know, with someone he has not technically met, and with no memory of how he got there or before.

Izuku doesn’t even care that this is some fictional situation, he still feels like he should be calling some kind of authority. As an aspiring hero, it worries him.

As a classmate to whoever is procuring these, it worries him slightly more.

Is this what counts as romantic in amongst his peers? Or is it more a case of endgame over journey, since Izuku can now admit that Todoroki was right in these things concluding in sex more often than not. Did anyone read this before himself and conclude that it was still an appropriate choice for Kacchan?

Exactly what kind of image does the class have of Kacchan? Because Izuku can safely say that in a situation like this, if Kacchan didn’t just leave the poor guy slumped in an alley, he’d at least take him to a hospital—if only so then the stranger would be someone else’s issue to deal with.

Or maybe he’s reading too much into this. Reading too much, period. This is not even the most questionable thing he’s come across, although it ranks pretty highly for the sheer amount of shifty happenings just to set it up, and he hasn’t even got to the boning. Which Izuku assumes is going to be happening—he thinks he’s starting to understand a little about the progression of these things, if nothing else, and if he’s right about this, then he fully expects some consensual amnesia sex to manifest out of two dudes being alone together in the vicinity of a futon.

Izuku rubs at his eyes tiredly. He still can’t quite believe this is the state his life exists in right now. It’s past midnight and under three different series of homoerotica sits his english assignment, only half complete and due a hell of a lot sooner than his budding opinions on the poor life choices of the fictionally gay.

Which are just so, so many. Izuku gets why Uraraka had pointed him in this direction, but at the same time he really, really wishes she hadn’t. The evidence in front of him suggests a whole new level of misunderstanding that transcends the original rumour into something that makes Izuku worry that the class opinion of Kacchan is... well. There seems to be a lot of sway towards dominant personalities and aggressive displays of affection—if some of it could even be called affection and not, like, borderline harassment.

There’s also a worrying trend towards the kind of meek love interest that uncomfortably reminds Izuku of himself in middle school. And then, sometimes, it’s equally aggressive on both sides; petty bickering and fighting in a way that uncomfortably reminds Izuku of his and Kacchan’s high school debut, stuck together through circumstance and incapable of ignoring each other. Relationships of push and pull, born of trials and butting heads until the rocky foundations grow into something more settled, more mutually beneficial, more... more.   

These are the ones he can’t help but find the most uncomfortable, because sometimes he can’t tell whether he’s describing gay fiction or his own relationship trajectory with Kacchan.

And if that wasn’t confusing enough, every now and then he feels a mental tug. Sees or reads something that perks his brain in vague ways: a panel here, a line of dialog there, just something that gives him a feeling of relation—or worse, some kind of faintly terrible wistfulness. Like his traitorous brain thinks that what they’re starting to repair isn’t enough and is greedy for some still undefined more.

The little voice that hiccups is growing in direct proportion to the amount of volumes on his read pile. It’s becoming loud and insistent, instead of the quiet and tentative thing it used to be, and Izuku is beginning to suspect that he knows what terribly ill-advised thing it’s pushing for.

More... More.

Whatever that is.

Groaning, Izuku slams the manga shut between his hands and drops it on the desk, slamming his head after it. Grinding his forehead into the cover, he eyes his half-buried english homework and thinks he should probably do that.

At least those problems make sense.

 


 

Beginning with the advent of the deplorable Hero Killer Stain, Pro Hero Endeavour’s explosive rise to the top has had little to do with the shock retirement of All Might and everything to do with Endeavour’s longevity and proficiency within the world of Villain extermination. With a fiery attitude that befits his Hell Flame quirk, the long-time number two Hero has situated himself at the top, to the delight of us all here at Heroic Monthly and the public at large. As All Might has fallen, we see no better Hero set to replace and retain the top spot—some might even argue that’s it’s been long overdue. Considering the fallout of the Camino Ward disturbance, Endeavour’s less destructive approach to heroing is perhaps what the modern Musutafu inhabitants need in this time of increased villain upheaval.”

The noise Izuku makes is rude and disgusted. While he can’t argue that Endeavour has been, overall, a benefit to the cause, the framing of it all leaves something rancid in his mouth. To frame something as a silver lining to All Might’s final act as the Symbol of Peace is, to Izuku, tacky and disrespectful to both of the heroes involved.

From next to him comes a similar disgusted noise, only this one is followed by something altogether much ruder than Izuku could ever put into words. He guesses Kacchan has just finished reading the same paragraph he had and is just as displeased about it.

“Do you think Yamaguchi had an understudy?” Izuku says blandly over Kacchan’s vague growling. “I haven’t read crap like this since they fired him.”

“It’s probably the same dumb fuckwit using a different name,” Kacchan grunts. “All kinds of assholes crawling back out of the shit now All Might’s not there to shove ‘em all back in.”

Izuku hums, soft and agreeing. A placid sound of acknowledgment that requires nothing more—from Izuku, or Kacchan.

It’s a topic they’ve tended to steer clear of; in all their revision and disassembling of All Might and all that he has done, there was always that one looming elephant in the room. They discussed All Might like All Might was still a thing, an active presence in the Hero world that they could learn from—not just from past deeds, but in future ones that will never be.

Izuku knows why that is, on both Kacchan’s end and his own. He suspects Kacchan understands in the same way. They both had a role in All Might’s retirement, no matter what the man himself says about it, and it’s just a fact that they’ll need to accept and move on from.

And who knows, maybe one day it might even happen. Although the possibility for himself is so far in the future—if it eventually happens—that it may as well be abstract.

As it is, it would be easier if this Yamazaki fellow wasn’t such an asshole about it. Izuku doesn’t know if it’s the same for Kacchan, but the article is stinging in its underlying message that All Might’s absence from the hero roster is a good thing. Overdue, it says. Izuku’s lip curls.

“I wonder if Todoroki-kun’s seen this,” he says, “I’m sure he’d hate it too.”

And he would, if for different reasons than they do. Izuku would bring it to his attention, if he thought he could approach Todoroki without the overwhelming urge to do something stupid, like hit him or try and explain the condom thing. Or both. Todoroki is still side-eyeing him awkwardly whenever Izuku is in the same room, brows furrowed and mouth twisted like he has something to say through his sour lemon expression. Izuku has tried asking what his problem is through his own contorted facial expressions, through questioning looks and exaggerated hand movements. He’d even asked outright once, and Todoroki had just looked at him before turning back to whatever he was reading in the moment. 

So, you know, he’d tried his best there with nothing to show for it but deep frustration. His next attempt is planning to ask someone else to ask Todoroki for him, as soon as he figures out who in the class Todoroki talks to that isn’t him.

Which just seems like his chosen tactic for a lot of things; Izuku’s starting to wonder if he’s becoming complacent with his plans. The pile of questions he has is really adding up. He’s still got to find out just how much Kacchan understands about the whole class library thing, which is—Kacchan is observant, no matter how much his personality portrays different, surely he must have noted the great stacks of gay romance manga piled up on Izuku’s desk.

From his vantage point on Izuku’s floor, in Izuku’s dorm room.

It’s a universal truth of Izuku’s life that despite his best efforts, Kacchan will just shoulder his way in to where Izuku doesn’t want him, and this is no different. Izuku had went from a comfortable afternoon of lazing about in the common room with a few of his classmates, to the uncomfortable situation he’s in now—all because Kacchan had leant over the back of the couch and idly commented that he wanted to read the newest edition of Heroic Monthly, didn’t Izuku say he had a copy for him, and if so, where the fuck is it nerd.

The stares of his classmates and the whispering that followed them out as they entered the staircase did not help Izuku feel better about this turn of events in any way, shape, or form. The fact that Kacchan had peacefully followed Izuku up to the second floor, pace at a sedate one step behind with no intention of pushing and shoving past him, helped even less.

By the time Izuku had reached his door his heartbeat had worked itself into a frenzy, his mind a directionless cacophony of oh my god’s, and I can’t let him see, and, least helpful of all, a bizarre fixation on where Kacchan had been looking on the stairs.   

It’s this unbalanced state that he blames for his graceless attempts to keep Kacchan out. Like wedging himself though the narrow gap of his door to futilely reach for his desk and the pair of magazines on it, surrounded by all his other reading material. Realising he was not actually blessed with a body-morphing quirk that would allow this to be possible. Continuing anyway, because no mere feet of space would best him, only to tip forward as his leg started to cramp with the strain.  

In retrospect, he honestly can’t believe he thought any of this would somehow be less suspicious.

There was no conceivable way he was ever going to reach that far in without having to enter the room properly. His sudden trip forward was all that Kacchan had needed to swagger his way in uninvited, like it was his room. Like it was his floor, his desk, his collection of gay porn piled atop it—which, technically, was actually meant for him, so perhaps that wasn’t the best example of misplaced ownership Izuku could have used. The rest of it though—Kacchan had just shouldered his way in defiantly, like he could tell Izuku wanted him anywhere but and didn’t give a single shit about it, and had planted himself to stare impatiently from the floorboards, propped up against Izuku’s bed.  

They’re the most prominent thing in the room though, once one got past all the All Might merchandise cluttered about, of which Kacchan has seen for most of his life and thus probably not a thing that would even register beyond background scenery to him.

The gay porn though? He’s an observant guy. There’s no way he hasn’t noticed it.

Izuku still has the remnants of cold sweat on his hands, making the glossy magazine pages clingy and uncomfortable to hold. They’ve been in here at least half an hour already and Kacchan still hasn’t said anything about them. 

He’s starting to think he should just get it over with. The thought is alarming on its own, but the suspense is worse somehow. He’s starting to think that maybe he should just casually place his magazine on the ground and walk over to the desk, start reading something else like it’s normal—like it’s nothing to comment on, or if it is, he doesn’t mind about it. God knows he’s feeling no particular inclination to go back to the perceived benefit of a world in which All Might isn’t holding peace together in his capable hands; that’s just torture of a different kind and Izuku can’t concentrate properly while waiting for something he’s not even sure will come.

Kacchan beats him to it, clapping the pages together with a scowl and making Izuku jump at the suddenness. Just as Izuku had almost managed to convince his self-preservation that inviting questions was a better plan than just sitting there, inert and unknowing.

“This abhorrent dogshit thinks All For One won the fight, in considerations of outcomes and cost,” he explains when Izuku blinks at him. “Why the fuck does it always come down to numbers for these wankers?”  

Izuku blinks again, and then snorts when the irony hits him. “Numbers are more than just the first, Kacchan. Before that, maybe consider how other numbers might impact your heroic standing.”

“Oi, that’s fucking rich, coming from you,” Kacchan snaps back, shooting out a hand to jostle at Izuku’s shoulder, a quick shove forward before it retreats back into his lap. Izuku sways, letting out a noncommittal grunt as his spine lands back against the frame of his bed, because he has no legitimate argument to that.

A moment of silence descends on the room, not quite awkward but almost. Kacchan is warm at his side, their shoulders close enough that Izuku could accidentally-on-purpose make them touch with the slightest of movement—if he wanted to, of course. Of which he resolutely doesn’t, because that way lies madness and Izuku is still trying to give some measure of peace to his screaming sense of self-preservation.

As it is, they’re already sharing the same space, propped up against the side of Izuku’s bed. It’s how Izuku knows Kacchan is going to say something before he actually does. A soft shifting of the bedding as Kacchan opens his mouth, closes it, shrugs jerkily, and then opens his mouth again.

Izuku’s been waiting for this, as much as he’s been dreading it, but it’s about fricking time. He holds his breath and waits for it.

Hesitantly, with an edge of thoughtfulness, Kacchan disrupts the quiet to say: “Maybe you should all be thinking more about how other shit might affect your heroic standing.”

Izuku’s at a point where he almost rolls his eyes at the meaningful glance Kacchan throws at his desk, like he thought Izuku had no fucking idea those were there, when that’s all he’s been able to focus on. He still takes the time to follow Kacchan’s gaze, if only to acknowledge the meaning behind his words. The pile looks so much more incriminating from the floor, the stacks seemingly endless from this perspective, towering above them.

That is, Izuku realises distantly, a lot of borderline porn that he’s displaying like it’s a normal thing to have out for guests.

Izuku takes it all back. He rescinds his original impatience at not having Kacchan throw aspersions on him—not wanting that to happen was clearly the right way to feel. What the actual fuck was he thinking. 

“Uh,” he says, clearing his throat when it comes out more like a panicky squeak. “Uh...”

“Do not even try and explain that to me,” Kacchan says over the wordless noises that seem to be all Izuku can manage. “Kirishima tried once and I’ll never fucking get that out of my head.”

“’That’?” Izuku repeats, vaguely hysterical as his imagination conjures up an image of Kirishima trying to explain the contents of these things—tropes, relationships, sexual positions—complete with whiteboard and pointer. “What did he try to explain to you?”

“How the fuck should I know? I still don’t—whatever. I don’t need to hear about whatever weird shit you’re all into--” the ‘because I can see it from here’ goes unspoken, but Izuku hears it anyway, “—just...”

It trails off to end in a strangled, frustrated noise, Kacchan scrubbing a hand through his hair roughly as his face screws up. Izuku stays still and waits for the rest of it, if there even is more to come. Honestly, he feels like this is a conversation made to be had in strangled noises, because he, himself, can barely put the situation into words. Kacchan stares at the pile like he wants to incinerate it. Izuku thinks he might just let him and then agree to never speak of this again.

“Pricks like this--,” Kacchan flicks the closed magazine still resting on his lap,”—Yamaguchi, Yamazaki, whatever the fuck they call themselves, they’ll use whatever shit they can find as ammunition if they want to make a point of it.”

Izuku hums unthinkingly before blinking, because it almost sounds like—it almost sounds like Kacchan thinks that this is his porn. Which, it’s in his room, sure, and he is reading it, so maybe it’s a fair assumption to make, but—it isn’t. It’s supposed to be Kacchan’s porn. Because the class thinks that this is the stuff that Kacchan likes, not—not Izuku!

“No!” He semi-shouts on reflex, loud and high-pitched in his denial. Kacchan shoots him a startled, confused look—and that’s warranted, yeah. In the conversational flow, his response maybe doesn’t make much sense. “I—I mean, that’s not...“

Izuku stops, letting the denial die off as he scrambles to find a way to explain it all that doesn’t require him to actually explain it. Is there even a way to explain it, without digging a different, no less awkward hole? Because if there is, it’s not coming to mind.

Kacchan takes his silence to mean something else, by the way he shifts awkwardly next to him, eye going back to the desk like he can’t help himself.

“It shouldn’t be,” he says evenly after a truly uncomfortable moment between them. “Like, who gives a fuck who you’re—but there’s always gotta be one jerkoff who’ll twist shit like this enough to use against you.”

There is a whole notebook worth of information to unpack there, Izuku thinks as his fingers twitch unconsciously for a pen that isn’t there. It isn’t that Izuku is surprised, per se, in that he’s always suspected that Kacchan has little opinion for things that don’t affect him directly, but to hear it so bluntly confirmed has his traitorous brain latching on to the idea like it’s the only one worth focusing on.

“You don’t care?”

“Why the actual fuck would I care?” Kacchan says back, an edge of confusion in his tone like he can’t believe anyone would think otherwise. Izuku gives him that, because Kacchan doesn’t care more often than he does about most things.

“What I care about is that you assholes all can’t keep this shit to yourself. I care that Kirishima keeps trying to—to fucking educate me or whatever, and I fucking care that people keep throwing the gayest shit at me like they expect I’m happy to get a face full of dick—“ Izuku interjects with a strangled noise. Kacchan waves him off dismissively. “—but fuck it, where you’re all getting your jollies don’t matter a shit to me.” 

Rant over, Kacchan crosses his arms almost defiantly and grunts like a punctuation. Izuku blinks in reply, not really sure what else to do with that. Apparently, when it comes to the few things Kacchan cares about, it’s exactly the kind of stuff that affects him personally. Izuku feels vindicated.

“Except when they’re throwing it at you,” he can’t help but point out.

“Except when they’re literally smacking me in the face with it,” Kacchan agrees sourly, the tips of his ears pinking. “Whatever, the fucking point is they don’t need much to write shit about you as long as they think some people’ll read it, and you motherfuckers are blatant as shit. You know the general PR department are using you idiots as fucking practice already.”

So he guesses that answers his questions about just how much Kacchan knows about this: everything but his own role in it. The irony is almost physically painful, like a lump in his throat caught between laughing and sobbing. Izuku honestly isn’t sure which is more appropriate at the moment—at this whole afternoon, really. It’s simultaneously a relief and also a worry, because it means Kacchan’s still yet to learn everything, but he apparently knows more about the goings on within the class—and the school—than Izuku honestly thought he would.

How things and people change, Izuku thinks idly; Kacchan even a few months ago would’ve drowned everything not about himself into insignificant white noise, and now here he is, aware of everything but his part in it. He’s even remembered there’s a school outside of the Hero’s course; Izuku tries not to feel weirdly proud of him.

But also: “What, they’re what? How do they even—“

“You’re shitting me,” Kacchan snorts, “Hair-for-brains and that iron bastard have some kind of dumb and loud book club every week and I know the girls are up to something because there’s always more of ‘em than just our class around. There’s no escaping this shit. It’s fuckin’ spreading.”

There’s a moment of silence as Izuku digests this newfound knowledge.

“Oh.”

“Yeah, oh,” Kacchan mocks. “What the fuck did you think I was warning you for? It’s like you dumbasses‘ve forgot this is Yuuei. We don’t have to be pro’s yet for this shit to stick.”

Izuku nods along to this seriously, because this is actually a fair argument. Beyond the general internal screaming of this entire conversation, there’s some part of him that recognises Kacchan’s position when it comes to the topic. Between the villain attack in middle school, the sports festival, and the events of summer camp, Kacchan has probably the most written about him in all of Yuuei’s current students--with possible exception of the big three, and even then it's probably close. If anyone would understand how stories and actions get blown up and twisted outside of their control, it’d be Kacchan.

It’s also true that after all that, and all the other villain clusterfucks of just their first year, their class is likely under more scrutiny than any before them. Yuuei’s security doors and no media policy can only keep out—and in—so much, and if it’s made its way into the general department, when the two courses don’t interact all that much, then it’s not a stretch to assume that it’s made its way out further.

Izuku can feel a headache blooming at the base of his skull. It’s all just absolute, deafening madness all around them now. What’s happened to and within their class might actually be what ruins Yuuei’s reputation for good, god help them. Izuku doesn’t want to be the reason Yuuei loses its already strained credibility. He’s just not strong enough to shoulder that responsibility.

But it has officially, apparently, snowballed enough that even he’s not sure what he can do about it. He feels like they missed a turning point somewhere—probably around the time they made a library of homoerotica in the school sanctioned dormitories—and now it’s simply a matter of denying all knowledge and waiting for the inevitable.

“Bit late to do anything now though, isn’t it,” Izuku mutters fatalistically, mostly to himself, before slumping down against the bed until his head rests on the mattress, back bowed in an uncomfortable curve to hold the position. “It’s spread. There’ll be no putting it back in now.”     

“So fucking don’t,” Kacchan grunts with a stiff shrug of a shoulder. The mattress under Izuku’s head bounces slightly as Kacchan shifts his weight next to him, using an elbow on the bedding to lever himself up and off the floor. Izuku grunts back at the movement, mildly confused but willing to let it go since he thinks Kacchan is getting up to leave his room and this terrible, awkward afternoon behind.

There is a short, blissful moment where all Izuku can feel is relief washing over him. Tears prick at the corner of his eyes in unsung gratefulness.  

And then Kacchan casually walks the few steps to his desk and starts poking at the pile of displayed shame and regret—much like Izuku was planning to do what feels like an age ago, when this was how he thought he wanted his afternoon to go. He’d be more affronted if he wasn’t too busy being horrified, the reflexive jerk of his body unhooking him from his perch to slide fully on his back on the floor.

“This is all bullshit, but it can’t be that bad,” Kacchan says, even as he warily bends to glance at the spines. “I mean, fuckers can say whatever they want and some are gonna read into it, but a hit isn’t gonna land if you don’t think there’s anything wrong with it.”

Izuku lets out a hum that’s more a high-pitched whine in reply, because that’s all the verbality he trusts himself with right now, and decides that staring at the ceiling is better than knowing exactly what kind of debauchery Kacchan ends up looking through. God, he really hopes it’s the relatively innocent office romance and not... literally any of the others. He has to blink back a fresh round of watery eyes that have nothing to do with relief or gratitude at the thought. 

“All I’m saying is fuck whatever people think when it’s none of their business,” Kacchan continues. Izuku tries to drown out the sound of rustling pages with his own, loud heartbeat. “It’s up to you to decide what kind of shit is acceptable for yourself and screw everyone else if you have to.” 

Izuku hums again, slightly more stable as he thinks about this, and what it means coming from Kacchan. “That explains so much about you, you know.”

Which it does. For better or worse, the strength of Kacchan’s confidence has always carried him through life in ways Izuku’s own self-consciousness never could. It’s one of the things about Kacchan that Izuku has always admired in him—even though he was often on the receiving end of the worst impulses, which was conflicting on their better days and a solid negative personality trait on their worst.

But today, right at this moment, he’s finding that kind of selfish confidence almost uplifting. The way it just flies past any notion of objective judgement or shame is almost inspiring. Maybe, if everyone had an outlook on life like Kacchan’s, the world would be a better place for it.

Or... probably not. Still, Izuku’s certainly is, for having Kacchan in it to remind him that whatever people will say about others—about himself--he’ll always have someone to stand by him and tell him it doesn’t matter. 

“Thanks for not caring, Kacchan.”

“Shut up, you sick fuck,” Kacchan gripes back. “Bodies don’t bend like this without compound fractures, what the fuck it this?”

“Masochism,” Izuku says, still staunchly staring at the ceiling.    

 

Chapter Text


 

 

Despite it being literally hell on earth, and one of the most uncomfortable afternoons Izuku has ever lived through in all his short but eventful life, he has learned some things.

Izuku generally likes learning things. He can forgive a lot if he comes out the other end of it more informed and better prepared than when he went in.

That said, he’s just not sure he can forgive what happened as the afternoon wore on. He’s not even sure who he can hold accountable, who in this entire chaotic mess of awkward he can blame, but he wants to blame someone—if only so then he doesn’t have to blame himself.

Because while Izuku has always liked information, Kacchan has always liked being the most knowledgeable asshole in the room so he can lord it over people. He can’t exactly see how any of what they discussed could be used to feed Kacchan’s superiority complex, but if there was ever a person capable of making it so, it’d probably be Kacchan.

Who, once he’d decided that he was no longer playing ignorant, did what he did best: hound Izuku until he’d got what he wanted. And to make it just that bit worse, in the grand scheme of their relationship, this was arguably still one of the less painful examples—physically, at least. The mental anguish of explaining what limbs were going where, when Kacchan had finished his perusal to stomp back over with an open volume and questions, is going to be haunting Izuku for the foreseeable future.

Burying his face in his pillow, Izuku gives a vague attempt at suffocating himself. He can now say that he has shared two things with Kacchan in this room: Heroic Monthly magazines and barazoku porn.    

The fact that those two things were treated in a similar dry, academic tone was a thing Izuku wouldn’t have thought possible, if only Todoroki hadn’t been proving it to him for months. He hysterically suspects that his mental image of Kirishima with a whiteboard and pointer wasn’t too far off what might’ve happened, considering Kacchan’s almost matter-of-fact approach to the subject matter. 

Once he’d apparently decide to acknowledge it existed and got past the furious flushing that had him redder than Izuku had ever seen, at least. Which was just more salt in the wound, really; Izuku has had months more exposure to this sort of thing, but he thinks his face is still red, unfairly and hours later.  

He and Kacchan alone, once again sat on his floor, disassembling sexual positions instead of villain battles, character motivations instead of the finer points of saviour philosophy. Romantic overtures instead of fighting moves. Izuku guesses that in some way, this had given him the information he’d wanted, but honestly, he can’t find any kind of satisfaction through the mortification of it all.

It’s really little wonder that his head won’t quiet the fuck down

Lifting his head from the pillow, spitting out a stray hair from the corner of his mouth as he goes, Izuku squints at his phone screen: two am. It’s technically the day after, but in his mind it’s fresh, like it had happened only minutes ago and not several hours, interrupted by eating and showering and other things that should have knocked it back to an uncomfortable memory.

“Wait a fucking—,” Kacchan says, sat back on the floor across from Izuku and scowling at what looks to be, from Izuku’s angle, a tangle of upside-down limbs,”—this shit is physically possible?!”

Izuku didn’t want to admit that he’d thought about it enough to assume with some assurance that it was. He’d shrugged.

“This fuck’s an asshole.”

Kacchan’s confused grunting when Izuku had had to bite his fist to muffle the sounds only made it worse. He still isn’t sure if the sounds he was trying to stop were ones of laughter or screaming.

“I thought you were only supposed to give girls flowers, what the fuck, this is supposed to work on everyone?” Kacchan says, and Izuku has to lay a steadying hand on the floorboards to ground himself in the face of numerous assaults to his worldview. The first is that Kacchan would even ask something like this—doesn’t matter that it’s a mindless question, doesn’t make it any less surreal that in no world would Kacchan ever try to give anyone flowers, girl or no, but he asks it nonetheless and that throws Izuku.

The second is that he seems to actually want an answer, face confused and weirdly earnest, a foot away from Izuku’s own as he tries to remember how to breathe through the tilt.

“Well?” Kacchan demands after a moment, “Would you want fucking flowers?”

Izuku buries his face back into his pillow. Maybe if he lays here like this long enough, he’ll never have to wake up and think about his answer.

“It’s the thought that counts,” is what he’d said, instead of the insistent voice in his head whispering : I’ve always taken anything you’ve been willing to give.

 


 

Now that it has been so embarrassingly pointed it out to him, Izuku can see the signs almost everywhere he goes within the halls and grounds of Yuuei. The students of class 2-A seem to be around more, grouping in with the other students of 1-A in a way that Izuku doesn’t think he’s seen outside of the sports festival. Sometimes, he spies the more unfamiliar students of the other courses mixed in—but most often than not, those unfamiliar faces have a look of intense scrutiny on them that makes Izuku nervous. The clipboards and whispering only makes it more obvious and uncomfortable.

All Might does not share his misgivings.

“I’m glad to see this,” he says, dark eyes roaming approvingly over the mixed groups of students. “There was some concern in the faculty that the division between your classes would hamper teamwork down the line. It’s good to see you’re overcoming the separation like this on your own accords.”

Izuku looks over the groups settled about on the school lawns and wishes desperately to see what All Might sees. All he can see is blackmail material and lawsuits—or at the very least, some angry letters from parents—should someone find issue with what’s brought them all together. He eyes Monoma suspiciously. He doesn’t want to think the worst of people, but if anyone would find a way to use this to bring their class down a notch for whatever personal grudge they might hold, it’d probably be Monoma.

Monoma, who seems to be laughing derisively at something within his gathered group. “That’s all wrong!” His voice carries. “Don’t they know their limits? It should be done like this!”

Izuku watches as he does some complicated back-bendy move, his laughing rising an uncomfortable pitch as his limbs tremble.

“What is it that has you young ones so enthralled, anyway?” All Might asks, interrupting his thoughts. Izuku ignores the questioning gaze that slides to him when he jerks at the question, unable to contain his reaction; it’s a lot like being slapped with horror and tastes like guilt at the back of his throat.  

“... Dated hero magazines,” he says after a very uncomfortable moment. If he applies some very round-about logic to it, he might even convince himself that it’s technically not a lie. “We’re invigorating our youth through the actions of others.”

All Might’s laugh booms across the grounds, still impressively boisterous even if it ends on a rattling cough. “Ah, youth! Enjoy it well, you’re only young once!”

A few of the further groups startle, as if they’d only just realised All Might was here once he’d started expounding loudly. Izuku can’t imagine being in All Might’s presence and not immediately being intensely aware; diminished as he is, he still shines golden and exuberant in hair and suit alone.  

“These would be nice grounds for a picnic.” All Might muses after a minute. “Very little chance of villains ransoming the basket.”

Izuku wants to ask. Leading All Might away from the groups of suddenly shifty students, he does. The following tale he’s treated to does not disappoint and Izuku privately thinks that it’s a damn shame that that had never made it into the magazines. 

 


 

In his room later that night, Izuku squints thoughtfully at the two very separated piles of reading material on his desk. Juxtaposed as they are in content, the covers are weirdly similar in the way there’s a lot of men and muscles on display—together like this, Izuku might even see how one was mistaken for the other at first.

He’s half way across the room, reaching for a random Heroic Monthly when he pauses. Shifts tack, body moving towards the other side of the desk even before the thought fully materialises.

Maybe it’s time to throw away his instincts and consider something else in a new light.

 


 

“We have nothing to be ashamed of,” Izuku says by way of announcing his entrance to the class library a few days later. “I have nothing to be ashamed of.”

Todoroki, who is seriously, literally always already there, Izuku is surprised he even bothers to show up to class at this point, raises an eyebrow at him.

“Damn right we know no shame,” Kaminari says, holding up a hand and wiggling his fingers. Izuku obliges him with a high-five. “We’re young and free. If we can’t get away with shit now, when can we?”

“What are we supposed to be getting away with?” Kirishima asks, like he isn’t in an unofficial library surrounded in literary homoerotica. In his bean bag a seat away, Todoroki shoves a pocky stick in his mouth and blithely turns a page.

Izuku almost understands how he does it now.

Izuku has given this a lot of thought since his nightmare afternoon with Kacchan. An honest and honestly uncomfortable amount of thought, made all the more uncomfortable by just how comfortable he’s apparently become with it. And with all that thought, he’s only been able to come up one answer.

He has to hand it to Kacchan: not caring about the small things has a lot of benefits. Like waking up in the mornings with none of his usual anxiety about this particular aspect of his life; he thinks, in addition to offering a freshly apathetic perspective, his talk with Kacchan shifted his threshold for mortification—if not broke it completely.

For weeks now, Izuku has been hearing internal sirens every time he’d so much as cracked a cover. The morning after and every day since has been different: instead of his usual furtiveness was a blasé approach. No cringing, no quickly skimming pages, no... weird sense of doing something that he shouldn’t be doing.

Which was novel, because Izuku always feels like he’s doing something he shouldn’t just by existing. It’s what he blames for his tendency to actually do the things he shouldn’t do, like land himself in a hospital on a bi-weekly basis, because he’s so used to fighting the instinct.   

And so.

“There’s nothing wrong with anything in this room.”

“There’s a little bit wrong with it,” Kaminari mimes a cringe, pinching his thumb and forefinger together close. “Like, some of this shit is uncomfortably rapey, dude.”

“There’s some things I’d prefer not to be in it,” Izuku amends, “but there’s nothing wrong with, like, the two-dude aspect. Why should there be? None of us need to feel weird about it.”

Kirishima snorts from the one-seater, “I’m pretty sure it’s just you who was still feeling that.”

“But not any longer,” Izuku nods, feeling proud of his personal growth into not caring. “Because this is all normal and nothing to feel ashamed about.”

“I should think not,” Todoroki mutters, head popping out of the bean bag with a raised eyebrow. By the fact that he’s finally looking Izuku in the eye for the first time in days, Izuku immediately knows he’s going to hate whatever comes out of his mouth. “Once you’ve already plunged in the deep end, what’s the kiddy pool of pretend?”

Izuku is frowning before he even registers the innuendo behind the words. When he does, his frown only gets deeper as he blows out a frustrated breathe, ignoring the way his face flames. “That’s not—no. Just... no. You and I need to talk, I think.”

Mindful of Kirishima and Kaminari sharing looks between them, Izuku takes the few steps needed to offer Todoroki a hand out of his squishy tomb. He doesn’t really want to do this here, with an audience, considering his suspicions about what, exactly, Todoroki’s problem is, but he doesn’t want to kick anyone out of the shared space either.

Waiting for Todoroki to drop the book he was reading to the side, Izuku wiggles his fingers until Todoroki’s hand fall into his, heaving him up and out of the bean bag with a huff of effort.

“Let’s go for a walk, Todoroki-kun.”

“Is this your way of telling me I’m heavy?” Todoroki says, but follows him out of the library all the same.

They end up making it down the stairs and out the entrance of the dorms before either of them speak again. The day is nice out, picturesque with blue skies and a gentle breeze, making the little patches of grass out the front look as good a place as any to Izuku. Something tells him he’ll need the softness of the surroundings. This isn’t a conversation he wants to have on concrete; it’ll be a hard enough conversation as it is.

Flopping down on the green square of lawn, Izuku waits for Todoroki to choose his patch and get comfortable. Todoroki, who’s clearly developed some kind of weird aversion to free space, if the way he settles half-way into the bushes indicates anything, the shrubbery enfolding him quite like his favourite bean bag does.

Birds chirp in the distance. Leaning back to stare at the sky, Izuku tries to come up with what to say. After a minute of heavy, expectant silence, he decides his current theme seems to be tackling things head-on, so he guesses that’s what he’ll do.

“Whatever you seem to think is happening is not actually happening, you know.”

“And what do you think I think is happening?”

Tilting his head down, Izuku squints at where Todoroki is sitting, stubbornly picking at blade of grass. He forgets, since the sports festival, how difficult Todoroki can be when he feels like it. He’s not sure why Todoroki feels like it now, over this, when Izuku had thought they were past keeping problems to themselves, but whatever. Izuku will hold this two person intervention until they’re back on track, no matter how awkward it is.

Bolstering himself with a breath, he decides to just get it over with.

“I’m not having sex with Kacchan.” Izuku’s head spins. He can’t believe this is something he has to say. “I’m not having anything with anyone, Todoroki-kun. Why would you even think—”  

Spluttering, Izuku rolls over to spit out the mouthful of grass and dirt that had hit him in the face. He tries to glare at where Todoroki sits, looking entirely too innocent in his shrubbery nest, but something gritty in his eye ruins the attempt.

“What—“

“I know that, you idiot.” Todoroki says, too calm for someone who’s just assaulted a friend. “Although you coming in to announce your big gay revelations free from shame did make me wonder for a second. But then I realised you weren’t dead or at least crawling, which is how I assume sex with Bakugou would end for his prey.”

“Hey! I’m not prey,” Izuku says, and then adds: “And I’m sure Kacchan would be a gentle lover,” because he’s never been able to not defend Kacchan on instinct and blind faith alone.  

“Uh huh,” Todoroki deadpans. “And there would be the real issue, I think.”

Izuku grunts questioningly, still distracted by the dirt in his eye and his stupid fucking mouth. He should have kept it plugged full of grass. “Does this mean you’re finally going to tell me what that is?”

“I was hoping you’d figure it out yourself so I didn’t have to, but watching you be this clueless is literally painful,” Todoroki sighs. “You’re not stupid, Midoriya. You’re usually pretty insightful about people; I can’t tell if you’re doing it on purpose, or you’re just that dumb about yourself.”

Somewhere, a bird squawks in the following beat of silence.

“Wow,” Izuku breathes into the quiet. “And yet, still not explaining anything. Is this about Kacchan? The library? The condom thing? Because I can explain that if you’d let me.”

Todoroki, in the middle of opening his mouth, pauses. “... Can you?”

“Mineta-kun.”

It takes only a second for Todoroki to nod, “Well, if anyone had those to throw around before the expiration date—but that’s still only a part of it. What aren’t you getting about A, B and C eventually equalling D?”

Izuku blinks, still—understandably, he thinks—confused. Todoroki throws another handful of grass at him.  

Waving it away, Izuku sits up to cross his arms; he can’t properly show his frustration laying on his stomach. “Is this a code? Why can’t you just say it? Instead of hedging around with—I’m not getting it and that might be my problem, but you’re still not telling me what yours is.”

“Sex with Bakugou.”

Izuku groans, unlocking his arms to wave them around in annoyance. “”I already said—“

“That you’re not, okay, I believe you. But Midoriya, if you’re not, then you’re definitely aiming for it.”

For...

With Kacchan?

The distant birds suddenly sound a lot closer, a lot louder. The sun is bright in his eyes. Various itches from the grass make themselves known. Izuku lets out a weird, high-pitched giggle, strange even to his own ears.

“Why else would you even need to know whether condoms are fireproof if you weren’t at least thinking about it?”

“Because I was thinking about burning them,” Izuku hisses, hushed. He feels cornered all of a sudden without really knowing why, fully aware that they’re out in the open where any of their classmates could overhear. “Todoroki, what the fuck?!

Leaning in close to mimic Izuku’s hunched state, Todoroki holds up a splayed hand, ticking off his fingers as he says: “That, getting into the hardcore stuff, going in and out of Bakugou’s room at all times, Bakugou going in and out of yours the same—“

“Kirishima-kun started the whole thing rumour about Kaachan, you can’t believe everything he says!”

“—secret training with Bakugou, staring at Bakugou in class, touching Bakugou—don’t think I didn’t see you guys at the mall.” Izuku is levelled with a serious look as Todoroki lands the final blow: “If you had no idea what was going on, which you obviously don’t, what does this look like to you?”

That he’s gearing up for something intimately touchy with Kacchan, honestly, but he can’t just say that because it’s not true

And also because it’s not entirely not true, either. It’s not true, Izuku argues with himself. It’s just that occasionally he hears a voice that thinks it might be nice. To be true. But not the sex thing—just... to be around Kacchan. Touching sometimes. Platonically. And... and sometimes not? Izuku doesn’t know, because he hasn’t been thinking about it. Until now, apparently.

“I can’t believe you really weren’t aware,” Todoroki muses from somewhere far away. “Here, stop muttering for a minute and just breathe.”

“You’re a bastard,” Izuku groans, tipping forward with the pull until he’s bowed over his own crossed legs, Todoroki rubbing a warm hand over his shoulder blades. “Why do I have to know this just because you got frustrated?”

“Because I’d rather it be you than me,” Todoroki replies blandly, “and I care about your wellbeing, I guess.”

“So this is supposed to be a warning?”

“Like warnings and common sense ever stop you with Bakugou. No. But at least know what you’re getting yourself into before doing something stupid.”

He lets that settle in, and the implications of it.

“Someone stupid, you mean.” Izuku murmurs into the grass and ignores the rough tug of hair that gets him.

Despite his previous defense of Kacchan’s gentleness, he wouldn’t be surprised if it swung in that direction instead. He should probably get used to it now.

Hypothetically.

Just in case Todoroki is onto something with this. There’s an unsettling twist in Izuku’s gut that says he might be.

 


 

The next time he sees Kacchan it’s in class. Izuku looks at the agitated cotton-ball of wheaty blond hair from behind and thinks about what it might feel like in his fingers.

Platonically.

But also... maybe not.

Kacchan’s face and body are no stranger to Izuku. He’s known them since childhood, after all; watched him grow and develop at the same rate as Izuku himself. He knows almost everything about it, every freckle and scar. What it’s capable of, the power behind those muscles in a fight.

Worryingly, this little revelation of his has changed nothing about how Kacchan looks to him. That his hair looks soft, that he holds his pen gracefully, that his shoulders look sturdy and comfortable—these are thoughts Izuku’s had for at least the last few months, if not longer.

At least now he has an explanation for why his fingers keep twitching like they want to touch. It’s because they do.

Izuku throws a glare at Todoroki and is ignored. He refocuses his glare on Kacchan instead, watching as the hair bristles under the attention like it knows.

 


 

“You’re fucking late, asshat,” Kacchan says, mid-stretch on the mats already.

Izuku does a quick check of the time as he sits to unlace his shoes. He is late, but not as late as he’d thought he would be—which was going to be indefinitely, if his nerves had anything to say about it. Izuku’s decided that he hates his newfound awareness, because it’d had him locked up with anxiety as the time for their training had ticked ever closer. Worst case scenarios had filled his head: what if he gave himself away? What if he flinched from Kacchan’s touch now? What if he moved into it? What if his body did something embarrassing while they were grappling for a hold? 

What if, what if, what if.

“If you make me wait a second longer, Deku, I’ll kill you.”

“There’s a knot in the lace,” Izuku mutters back, using the excuse to buy himself an extra breath and fiddling with the untied laces just to make it look good. Death threats should not be giving him butterflies like this.

And yet.

With a final, steadying inhale, Izuku stands and turns to make his way on to the training mats proper.

Did Kacchan’s ass always look that good? Not even the loose sweats he’s wearing manage to hide it; it’s just suddenly there, taut and defined as Kacchan does his stretches.

Which are entirely innocent, god, one little change in perspective and here he is ogling Kacchan like a total creep. Izuku has no option but to close his eyes and find his centre again.

It’s not like he didn’t know Kacchan was in good physical shape, he rationalises. Anyone with eyes would know that. And—and of course that would extend to every part of him. It’s just that he’s never really bothered to think about it, or look at it, because... why would he? Intellectually, he’s always known. There’s no reason to get flustered over a nice ass now.   

Or a nice chest, either. His quick glimpse of the flexing muscles all he has time for as he ducks under a swinging arm. “H—hey! I wasn’t ready, Kacchan!”

“The dead don’t get to complain, dickhead. I told you to hurry up!”

From there, Izuku has little to no time to appreciate any more than Kacchan’s sheer skill at combat. Where he used to be able to read Kacchan’s moves smoothly through tells and experience, he finds that the longer their personal matches go on, the more he has to counter with instinct and speed. There’s no time for analytics or prediction as Kacchan ducks and weaves through Izuku’s own moves.

His biggest break comes as the training area starts filling with smoke, the leftovers from Kacchan’s rapid explosions dousing the dojo in a grey haze. It hangs almost solid near the ceiling and nearly as thick closer to the mats as the heavy air lingers with nowhere to go.

Using the reduced visibility as a cover, Izuku manages to give as good as he gets for at least a few minutes; his speed and shoot style an easy combination for coming in at all angles. Especially since, even though Kacchan is just a grey blob through the smoke, he’s vocal enough to give himself away every second of the assault.      

“Would you—fuck!” Kacchan yells as Izuku’s shin lands clean and hard in the small of his back.

Bouncing away, Izuku slides to a stop near the far corner of the mats and gives himself a second to catch his breath. The haze has gradually cleared with Izuku’s offensive, the lack of explosions to replenish the smoke and Izuku’s own moves dissipating most of it already.

Not to mention One For All makes him glow like a radioactive rabbit; it’s never taken Kacchan long to find him when this happens.    

As if on cue, a well-defined forearm materialises from the dregs to smack him in the ribs. Izuku goes down hard, breath hitching as he hits the mats, cursing himself for his second of distraction. The arm slides up to settle at his throat, a second putting pressure on his right wrist.

Blindly, Izuku fights against the hold, twisting so that his lower body might escape enough to give him a chance to break it entirely.

It doesn’t exactly go to plan. 

“What are you trying to do?” Kacchan grits out once everything has settled—their bodies and the smoke both. “Break yourself in half?”

Izuku, right arm and neck pinned to the mats, left leg twisted with Kacchan’s own and other bent awkwardly over Kacchan’s hip, can only stare at the ceiling and wonder why today was the day he had to twist himself like a pretzel around his... crush?

God no, that can’t be it. There’s got to be a better term for it, and Izuku will think of it later, when he’s not wrapped around and face to face with... whatever Kacchan is now.

 Yeah, their current position definitely takes priority over everything else going on.

“Spines weren’t meant to bend this way,” Izuku sighs, full of defeat. Raising his free arm, he makes a half-hearted shove at Kacchan’s shoulder; it slips with the sweat, flying up to brush past the tips of Kacchan’s hair.  He groans at the move, unsure whether it’s from the uncomfortableness of his position or finding out that, even sweaty, Kacchan’s hair is as soft as it looks.

“Hey, can you bend more?” The tone is inquisitive, and that more than anything sends red flags up.

He has only a split second to realise what’s about to happen before Kacchan is directing his body in ways it’s not supposed to go. Hands that were at his neck and wrist move until there’s one on his left shoulder and one at his right hip, and then Izuku feels himself being twisted in opposite directions like a rag being wrung.

“Wha—Ah! Kacchan, what?! What’re you trying to—Ow!”

“Huh,” Kacchan muses from above, remarkably placid considering he’s got Izuku facing both east and west. “So it can be done.”

Apparently done with proving... whatever he was trying to prove with this, the hands stop pushing to rest idly where they sit. Free of the force, Izuku rolls his top half back over until both his shoulders are back flat on the mats and groans again. “What the hell, Kacchan?”

Kacchan blinks, like he doesn’t expect the question. “You said it was possible, but you’re full of shit, so I had to check.”

“The limits to human flexibility?”

“No, the—“ Moving to sit back on his haunches over Izuku, Kacchan pats lightly at a swelling bruise on his cheek. “In that thing the other day, I thought for sure that’d break someone if they tried it. Guess you were right for once in your life, you little clown freak.”

It comes to Izuku, suddenly and terribly, just what Kacchan had tried to re-enact with him as the puppet. “Oh my god,” he breathes quietly. “But why?

“I was bugging me! If it can’t be done, don’t put it in shit like that! What if some dumbass got the idea and tried it, hurtin’ someone?”

“You just tried it on me!” Izuku cries, horrified and all the more horrified by the twinge of interest that rises up at having his assumptions that it was possible confirmed. Personally and with Kacchan, no less! “What if I’d gotten hurt?!”

Kacchan shrugs like wouldn’t make a difference, “I would have dumped your ass and found someone that could.”

Which is just... not actually surprising. Still though, Izuku feels a thin vein of offence run through his spine. Mouth open to deliver some kind of scathing retort—probably, he hopes—he falters. Somewhere in his monkey brain, a way more pertinent question comes rising up.

His self-preservation voice gives a hollow warning, rote like it’s realised it’s fighting a losing battle. Nothing in Izuku is capable of keeping the words in now that he’s thought them.

“But now you know that I can?”

It’s only because Kacchan is pretty much sat on his thighs still that Izuku feels him tense at the question. It takes some effort to keep his face wide and innocent as he tries to catch Kacchan’s suddenly shifty gaze—made all the harder by Kacchan glaring off to the side, arms crossed as he grunts: “You want a fuckin’ medal for it? Who cares what you can do, idiot.”

“You wanted to know,” Izuku huffs with more confidence than he feels. He’s got no idea what just happened, or what’s happening still, but something about the moment feels like he could push it, if he can find the right buttons. “The least you could do is give me a reward for actually doing it.”

It almost sounds like it’s coming from someone else, divorced from Izuku and the low whine in his head. His fingers scratch lightly at the mats as he waits for the outcome of his brazenness; he expects either a punch to the face or... something equally unwelcome, probably. He doesn’t dare think of anything else.

Above him, Kacchan has gone still, eyes narrowed as they stare at some far-off part of the training room. He gives no indication that he’d even heard Izuku other than the quick flash of pink at the corner of his mouth.

The silence stretches out for so long that Izuku can’t help but start to squirm. With his breath and body caught, there’s very little chance he’ll get out of this until Kacchan decides to free him. A small part of Izuku is still hoping for a response that he doesn’t dare think of, but the bigger part of him just prays that Kacchan lets him off the hook with this one; ignores it, pretends it isn’t happening, just whatever he needs to do to get them back to where they were before Izuku made it all unbearably awkward and silent.

A twinge in his lower back is what does it, like a knife in the kidney and sharp enough to cut through his frozen, expectant state. Between being contorted against his will and all the damage he’d taken in the fight beforehand, the pain doesn’t surprise him so much as spurs him into action. Pushing up on his elbows, Izuku starts a slow worm backwards out of the cage of Kacchan’s body and, hopefully, the heavy atmosphere underneath it.

The movement seems to break Kacchan out of whatever reverie he’d been having. He jolts above Izuku, blinking down like he’d forgotten where they are and what position they were in. Slowly, carefully, he rises from his crouch to stand over Izuku’s wriggling form. He gives another brief stare, expression unreadable, before finally replying: “You haven’t earned shit from me, Deku. At least try and get me on the ground and then we’ll see what that gets you.”

And that sounds equal parts challenge and suggestive to Izuku’s depraved, screaming mind. But since his previous attempt achieved only uncomfortable weirdness for him, he aims for safer ground. “A punch in the face?”

“I guess we’ll find out if it ever happens, loser,” Kacchan says, leaning down to offer a hand.

Izuku reaches up to take it with something that might have been a smile if he wasn't so busy trying to keep the butterflies down. The skin on Kacchan’s palm is rough, calloused, and ironically the safest thing Izuku feels he can touch now.

He’s blaming Todoroki.