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appassionato (for a halcyon winter)

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Wednesdays are always the same.

“Shouto,” his mother says from her seat by the window, the smile on her face practised and bland. The sight of it always gives him that same tug at his heart — as much as she can pretend, he knows she isn’t happy here.

Neither is he.

“What is it?” he asks, hoping the weariness is absent from his tone.

“How are you doing in school?”

Shouto sets the apple he’d been peeling back down on the plate as he considers this. “I’m doing fine,” he says honestly. There isn’t much else to elaborate on. School is school, as it has always been for him. He gets the grades he needs to keep his father off his back, and he goes home as soon as the final bell rings on the days he isn’t visiting his mother.

“I mean,” she presses. “Are you having fun?”

Fun?

Shouto means to reply; to tell her not to worry. Because it’s not that he hates school — it just isn’t the case that he enjoys it.

There aren’t many things he enjoys these days.

That much, he’d never tell her.

But the reply dies on his lips when he notices the muted sounds of a violin, coming from down the hallway.

“Music…?” he wonders aloud. It is odd, given that they’re in a hospital ward. The sounds he’s used to hearing are coughs and frantic voices of the staff.

This is something else entirely — something beautiful.

He’s on his feet before he knows it.

“Mother — ”

She smiles knowingly. “It’s fine, Shouto. Go. It must be that boy again.”

He doesn’t wait to find out what boy. His legs are on autopilot, and he’s hurrying out of the room, grabbing his bag and calling over his shoulder a brisk, see you on the weekend.

He follows the sound to the pediatrics ward. Heart pounding, he catches his breath when he reaches the play room, where children are gathered in a loose semi-circle. No one bats an eye at his intrusion, transfixed by the performance, just as he is.

His gaze lifts, slowly, to the source of the music.

There’s a blonde boy around his age, playing the violin, eyes shut; a blissful grin lining his lips. His fingers move with expert ease across the strings, body swaying in tandem with each draw of the bow. Shouto doesn’t recognise the song, but even if he had, he’s certain he wouldn’t recognise the way it is being played with such utter carefree abandon, score lying scattered and forgotten on the floor.

There are many words Shouto could use to describe the sight: It is breathtaking.

Exhilarating.

Mesmerizing.

Electrifying.

But in the moment, the only word that comes to his mind is beautiful.

He’s beautiful, and it dredges up something inside Shouto that had been long since buried away and hidden with the rest of his childhood.

He reaches into his pocket and pulls out his phone, unthinkingly, to record the performance. He’s not quite sure why — he’s never been at all interested in violin music, or much else other than piano, really, but something about the sight has him captivated.

Perhaps, it’s because the blonde, in the midst of his playing, wild and unrestrained by the intentions of the original composer, looks happy — happier than Shouto ever remembers being.

Perhaps, it’s simply because he is beautiful, and Shouto has always been fond of beautiful things.

The song is over as soon as it had begun, and as he lowers the phone, their eyes meet.

A spark ignites in his chest, and time slows down.

“Hey, asshole. Recording’s not permitted,” the boy snaps.

And speeds up again.

Shouto slips his phone back into his pocket in vague hopes that he won’t be asked to delete the video. “I apologise.”

The blonde bares his teeth, shattering whatever pleasant image of him Shouto had briefly conjured up in his mind. The disappointment he feels is strange, but seemingly echoed by the children around him — though for disparate reasons.

“Aw, it’s over already?” one whines.

“Play another one,” a little girl demands heatedly.

“Yeah! Something faster!” a little boy crows.

“That’s the last song, so suck it up, you damn brats.” The blonde turns away to pack away his violin. The words are rough, but there is an undeniable gentle undertone to his scowl. “I’ll be back next week.”

There is a collective aw that goes around the room as the children grudgingly disperse.

Shouto turns to the nurse who had been supervising off to the sidelines. “Who is he?” he asks quietly.

“Bakugou Katsuki,” she tells him, looking a little surprised to be addressed. “A volunteer here. He’s very talented, but he’s got a bit of an attitude problem. The kids seem to adore him, though.”

Shouto makes a noncommittal sound, turning back to where Bakugou is attempting to pry three children off of his jeans.

“Let go already, damn it! You’re like fucking monkeys — ”

“One more song,” a child pleads, making begging eyes. “The one where you do that boom plah shiya zzhr zhhr shhh thing!”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about, now let go before I kick all your puny asses — ”

“Alright, that’s enough, kids,” the nurse intervenes, looking visibly pained at every curse word Bakugou utters. “Get back to your rooms now. I’m sure Bakugou-san needs his rest too.”

Pouting and blowing raspberries over their shoulders, they dash off, evidently still brimming with energy that the nurse trailing them will no doubt have to deal with. As soon as they’re gone, Bakugou droops visibly, shouldering his violin case. He stalks past Shouto, but not before giving him a passing vicious glare.

Undeterred and without thought, Shouto takes him by the wrist to stop him.

Bakugou flinches bodily at the touch. An overreaction, in Shouto’s opinion. He hadn’t grabbed on hard. The arm is yanked back with a snarl of, “The fuck do you think you’re doing? And who the hell are you, anyway?”

“Todoroki Shouto.”

Not what I was askin’, asshole. I mean what the fuck were you thinking, just barging in here like that? Didn’t you see the sign?”

Shouto blinks. “… What sign?”

Bakugou lets out an explosive breath of annoyance. “Nevermind. You’re obviously just a clueless rando. Whatever… Just get out of my way already.”

“Wait.” To his relief, Bakugou does, albeit irritably. “Just now… What song was that?”

Bakugou narrows his eyes. Shouto takes this inconvenient moment to notice that they’re red — beautiful, and ultimately unfair, with the amount of animosity they seem to hold for him. “What’s it to you?”

Is he defensive about everything? “I enjoyed it.”

At this, Bakugou’s reaction is unpredictable. His cheeks go slightly pink, and his gaze darts aside as if taken aback. It is strangely… pleasant. Shouto does not know what to do with this feeling building up in his chest, constricting his lungs. He wonders if he should get it checked out.

“Wh — You did?” He’s bristling, like a suspicious feral cat. “What did you like about it?”

“Everything,” Shouto answers honestly, hoping to see that red-cheeked reaction again.

But this time, Bakugou only scoffs. “Sure. If that’s fucking all, I’m gonna go now — ”

“You didn’t follow the score at all. Well, all the notes seemed correct, but you played rather liberally. There were even areas you improvised. It was interesting, as I’ve never seen a piece like that played in such a fashion.”

Red eyes squint up at him. “… You don’t know the song, but you know that much?”

“I followed along with what I could. You were stepping on some of the score, so…”

“You can read music? … Actually, don’t answer that, I don’t care. If you came in here to brag — ”

“I didn’t.” Shouto still isn’t sure why he’d come at all, nor why he’d asked Bakugou to stay. He’s simply trying his best to go along with it now that he has. So he’s still mostly on autopilot when he asks, “Can I hear you play again?”

Scrutinizing him for several more seconds, Bakugou eventually turns away in dismissal. Shouto’s heart sinks. That is, until he hears the mumble of, “… Do what you want,” thrown over the blonde’s shoulder, and it rises again, along with the smile on his lips.

Bakugou Katsuki is… something. The mere sight of him playing had Shouto’s fingers itching for the ghost of piano beneath his fingertips, something he’d all but thought had disappeared the day his mother had spilt boiling water on his face and called him a monster.

Music is beautiful and cathartic. He’d forgotten, with how hard and desperately he’d tried to erase piano from his existence.


The video is bad quality; shaky and unstable, and his finger makes an appearance too many times. Bakugou is far prettier in real life, as is the sound of his violin.

Shouto presses replay.

Despite it all — Bakugou’s firey temper that is at odds with the serenity of his smile when he’s holding the instrument, and the crude language he uses no matter who he’s in the presence of — despite all of it, Shouto thinks he’d like to see him again.

With or without the violin.

Unexpectedly, in the best way possible, this Wednesday had been entirely unlike all the others.


 

“Wait, wait,” Midoriya cuts in, as Shouto’s in the middle of recounting the tale in monotone, after much prodding at how uncharacteristically distracted he’d been all day. “Did you say Bakugou Katsuki? As in, Kacchan?”

Shouto blinks. It takes a moment to register — that Bakugou Katsuki could be the same ‘Kacchan’ that Midoriya had always mentioned to be his childhood friend from another homeroom, whom he, curiously, never seemed to interact with enough for Shouto to put a face to the name.

When it does, it doesn’t feel as shocking as it should have.

“Perhaps. He is loud and blonde, just as you said. Volatile, and…” Amazing. Exactly as Midoriya had described him to be. In hindsight, he should have put it all together sooner.

Midoriya laughs with breathless amusement. “So you actually met Kacchan… Wow.”

“What’s funny?”

“No, it’s just — ” He cuts himself off with another poorly restrained giggle. “I can’t imagine the two of you in the same room. I always thought if you met, it’d be… Unpleasant.”

Shouto wonders if he should feel offended. “Why?”

“It’s just, well… How do I put this…”

“I’m the type of person Bakugou dislikes,” he guesses.

“Well, um… Yeah?” At Shouto’s disappointed frown, Midoriya hurries to rectify, “But don’t take it personally! Kacchan doesn’t like many people at all. He mostly just tolerates them.”

“He likes you.”

“A-hah…” Midoriya scratches his cheek. “Debatable.”

Shouto would ask him to explain, but something about the answer screams it’s complicated and Shouto isn’t sure he’s emotionally available enough to handle that.

“Anyway,” Midoriya continues, salvaging the awkward lull in conversation. “Kacchan usually stays in during lunch to practise his violin. You could probably catch him in the music room, if you want to hear him again.”

Shouto nods. He doesn’t want to wait a week. “Thank you.”

“No need.” Midoriya still looks vaguely perplexed, though the wobbly smile on his lips remains. “I just — wow. This is just weird. Did you two get along?”

Shouto stays silent but it’s answer enough. Midoriya bursts into helpless laughter. 


The sounds of violin rings loud and clear, even through the closed door.

Shouto thinks if he hadn’t adamantly avoided the music room throughout his high school career, he’d probably have met Bakugou much sooner. There is no way he’d ever have been able to walk away from a sound as pure as this.

He opens the door cautiously, peering inside.

Bakugou doesn’t notice him at first, immersed in his playing. He’s next to the old brown piano, outlined by the window. Sunlight cascades against the blonde of his hair, painting it gold, dappling it with shadows from the overhanging trees.

Outside, the other students scream and shout, the courtyard layered with laughter. But Shouto hears none of it — sees none of it — his world tethered in that moment to one thing only.

Bakugou’s eyes are shut, lashes resting low against his cheekbones, his fingers moving smooth and swift, bow hand merciless. Yet the sound that comes out is nothing but beautiful, imperfect in its execution — and somehow, it’s perfect.

He knows this song.

Shouto can’t tear his eyes away.

It’s only when he enters the room completely, the door clicking shut behind him that Bakugou opens his eyes and the music falls away, leaving them in silence.

“You…” Bakugou starts, anger shaking his voice. “Did you follow me here? Are you a stalker?”

Shouto furrows his brows and gestures at his uniform. “I go here.”

Bakugou points his bow at him imperiously. “Bullshit. This is fraud. I’ve never seen your half-and-half head around here in my life.”

“My…” Shouto touches his hair self-consciously. “I’ve never heard your voice before either. And you’re quite loud.”

“Shut it. What the hell are you doing in here? There’s a fucking sign outside that says ‘don’t fucking disturb’. What’s the point of signs if pieces of shit like you never read them?”

Shouto hadn’t noticed it this time either. “I assumed it wasn’t meant for me,” he offers.

“You assumed wrong, dickhead. Now answer the question: what do you want?”

“To hear you play.”

Bakugou sputters, apparently taken aback. “Th-Then listen from outside, you fucking freak!” It seems the one way to catch him off guard like he had the other day is to tell the truth. Shouto is confident he can do that consistently.

“The sound would be muffled. I won’t disturb you. You can just keep playing.”

To prove his point, Shouto takes a seat on the piano bench, back held straight and attentive; the picture of patience.

“Your face is disturbing me, so get out!” Bakugou shouts, cheeks red and teeth bared.

“… That’s rude.”

“Yeah, well, you know what’s rude? Walking in on someone when they’re practising. Walking in on someone in the middle of a performance. You’ve got a list, asshole.” Instead of responding, Shouto just sits and stares, in the way he knows can be rather unnerving, until Bakugou visibly jerks back with a snarl of, “Fine. You asked for it. I’m gonna play the noisiest shit you’ve ever heard ‘til you run screaming.”

“I doubt anything you play could be considered noisy,” Shouto replies evenly. “But feel free to try.”

“You — aargh!” Shouto can’t help but find it amusing, how easily Bakugou gets worked up at the slightest provocation — the way he tries to keep glaring even as he brings the violin back to his cheek, visibly ruffled but trying with all his might not to show it. “I’ll make you regret that, you bastard.”

“I anticipate your success.”

Bakugou makes a vicious slicing motion across his throat. “Eat shit, dumbass,” he declares. But then he begins playing, effectively cancelling out the threat of the action through the crooning sounds of strings. Introduction et rondo caprioccioso, Op. 28. It’s ferocious and acrimonious — scathing, much like his words were — but Shouto is, without any better way to put it, enthralled.

Bakugou is, in his own odd and confusing way, charming. Shouto is having trouble putting together the enigma that is Bakugou Katsuki, who plays the violin with his heart and soul, but the rest of the time, the soft curves of his natural features are marred by the harsh lines of his expressions.

He doesn’t realise he’s leaned his elbow on the piano, resting his hand on his cheek, watching Bakugou intensely, until his elbow slips off when the music fades to nothing.

It hits the keys in a staccato of dissonant notes, and it resounds so wrongly in his head — like warning bells ringing — that he jerks his arm back with a glare at the offending appendage.

“You play?” Bakugou asks, after a thoughtful pause.

He looks up, both alarmed and irritated. “What?”

Bakugou’s expression shifts to something unreadable. An almost calm. “The piano. You play or some shit?”

“No. I don’t,” Shouto grits out. Not anymore. Never again.

“Weird,” Bakugou comments offhandedly. “’Cause you keep looking at it, ever since you walked in. And just now, your fingers twitched.”

Shouto gets to his feet. “I don’t play.”

“And now you’re getting mad because I called you out.” Bakugou scoffs. “You don’t play, sure. But you obviously want to.”

“What the hell?” Shouto demands, surprising himself. He takes a deep, calming breath, shutting his eyes. “I don’t want to. You don’t know me so don't presume — ”

Bakugou rolls his eyes, leaning back against the windowsill, droll. “I don’t have to know you. All musicians get that look on their face, when they’re around their instruments. They can’t help but want to get their hands on it. And the way you talked about my playing? Screams music nerd.”

“… You don’t know anything.” It’s feeble, this time. He’s tempted to walk out — he’s tried to hide this part of him for so many years now, so what gives Bakugou the right to just say it, pointblank, flay him apart with that infuriatingly casual air, leaving him exposed for scrutiny?

“I’m not wrong, though. You want to play, but you don’t. Why make yourself suffer like that?”

Through gritted teeth, voice hard, Shouto tells him, “Leave it, Bakugou.”

Bakugou glances out the window, at the students out on the playing field, the game of football loud and rambunctious in stark contrast to the darkening mood in the room. “You know how many athletes out there get so injured that they can’t play anymore? They sit at home, watching their team go on without them, aching to go out on the field.” He looks Shouto in the eyes. “That’s what you look like. But what’s stopping you? You should do what you love, if you can. Some people aren’t so damn lucky, idiot.”

“It’s not that simple. I can’t play anymore. I won’t.” He’d promised himself — sworn on his life that he’d never play again. Ever since his father had dragged him by the hand as Shouto let him, numb, too numb to even cry or properly register the sting of the burn on his face, away from his mother —

He stares down at his left hand. Right now, it doesn’t tremble, even as he clenches it into a fist. It feels normal.

But he can’t play anymore, even if he’d wanted to.

Bakugou sighs loudly and gets up. He packs his violin away, scowl etched across his features. “Whatever. It’s none of my business what you do, but your moping is killin’ my vibe. So, I’m out.” Case slung over one shoulder and his backpack on the other, he pauses by the doorway. Without turning around, he says, “It’s people like you that I can’t stand the most. The ones who are too fucking scared to take what they want, even when it’s right there in front of them.”

Then he’s gone, door slamming shut, loud and echoing. Shouto gazes down at the piano, unassuming — accusing.

Haunting.

What Bakugou had said is true. But it’s not that simple — not for him.

Shouto can’t play. He’d made a promise.

Though, at the moment, he can’t seem to remember who it’d been for.

The thought is hollowing.

 


 

“Why doesn’t he play?”

Katsuki had said he wouldn’t ask Todoroki again, but he hadn’t promised he wouldn’t ask someone else. And this someone else would answer anything out of Katsuki’s mouth with gratitude.

“He loses feeling in his left hand whenever he tries,” Deku tells him automatically, a deep, troubled frown appearing on his face. “It’s been like that ever since… Well, it’s kind of a long story, but it started when his mom was hospitalized.”

So that’s why the fucker had been at the hospital, huh.

“But Kacchan, why are you — ”

“You can tell him I asked, I don’t give a shit. But also tell him this: he’s playing my accompaniment in two weeks. Violin Sonata number 9 in A major, movement three.”

“Uh — What? Um, could you repeat that? I’ll write it down — ” He fumbles around his pockets for his notepad.

“Jesus Christ, you fucking nerd. I’ll give him the sheet music myself, so just tell him the first part.”

“Uh, about the — ”

Yes. Fucking hell.”

 


 

“Bakugou, is this some kind of joke?” Shouto snarls, bursting into the music room.

At the interruption, Bakugou lowers his violin, expression lax. “That was fast. I thought you’d find it after school.” He lifts the violin back to position.

Explain.” He tosses the stack of sheet music to the floor. “What the hell is the meaning of this?”

“Violin Sonata number ni — ”

“I can read. I know you asked Midoriya about why I can’t play, so… now you know. So what is this? If you’re making fun of me — ”

Bakugou snorts. “Figures he’d fuck up explaining even half of it. I’m playing for some old farts at the hospital in two weeks and I want piano accompaniment. You play piano. Put it together, dipshit.”

Shouto vehemently resists the urge to punch something. Even now, deeply ingrained in him is the pianist’s instinct to keep his hands in good condition. “I. Don’t. Play.”

“Don’t, or can’t?” Bakugou taunts. “You seem to have trouble deciding.”

Anger swells in Shouto’s chest, and the words that spill out aren’t entirely him. “This is all a joke to you, isn’t it? Because it’s so easy for you to play that you expect it’s the same for everyone else — get off your high horse. Just because you can do what you love — ”

Bakugou barks out a laugh, but the expression on his face is shuttered and unrecognisable. Shouto feels the slow rise of guilt stirring. “Easy. Right. You don’t know anything about me either, so don’t go running your damn mouth.” He turns away, facing the window, leaving Shouto to stare at his back. “You can come and play, or you can just forget it. I don’t care, but I already penned your name in, so if you’re a no-show, they’ll remember how half-assed you are. Just like your stupid hair.”

Shouto has to take a moment to reign himself in — remind himself that Bakugou is trying to help. Midoriya had insisted as such, and he knows Bakugou best. Probably. Their relationship is still rocky and unclear to Shouto. “… You could have asked me first.”

“What difference would it make? You’ll either chicken out, or you won’t.”

With that, Bakugou draws his bow against the strings, a sharp sound that effectively ends the conversation.

Shouto looks down to the ground, at the scattered sheet music. He bends down to gather them up, telling himself it’s only out of his duty to be polite, even to someone like Bakugou.


Weighed down by the sheet music, his bag feels infinitely heavier on the walk home that day. 


It’s lunch time, and Shouto doesn’t have it in him to go to the music room. He doesn’t know how to face Bakugou, because even after sitting before his dusty piano for almost an hour yesterday, he hadn’t managed to bring his fingers to the keys.

Bakugou had been right. He is a coward.

But as much as he can admit he’d like to play again, the fact remains that he can’t. He’s terrified, of the numbness crawling through his hand, until the sounds of bass lag behind the melody and Shouto is forced to remember the murmurs of the audience when he’d stumbled for the first time in all his years of performing.

He doesn’t want to have to tell Bakugou no — not again, when every fibre of his being hungers for the opposite.

He’s jolted back to the present by several shouts of excitement, his classmates rushing out the door in a hurry. He lifts his head in question, and Kaminari calls over his shoulder, “Everyone, out to the courtyard! Kirishima’s band is performing live!”

Utterly bewildered, he lets himself be yanked out the door by an enthusiastic Tsuyu.

They end up joining the crowd out on the field. Their equipment is all set up, and it’s nothing overly complicated, but it has everyone jittery with excitement nonetheless. Shouto’s eyes skim over an unfamiliar redhead tuning his guitar, to land on Bakugou, who’s standing aside, talking to the drummer, animated in a way Shouto’s only seen him being with his violin in hand, bow in the other. They must have missed the first song, with how buzzed the crowd seems to be already.

Iida comes up to his elbow, adjusting his glasses with nervousness. “Surely the teachers will interfere, so there is no need for me to…”

“It’s just music,” Shouto tells him calmly. “Just enjoy it. There’s nothing to worry about.”

“… Right.”

They turn their attention back to the band. The redhead gives the strings one last tweak before giving Bakugou an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Shouto is mystified. Partly because he’s never thought there’d be an impromptu performance at their uneventful school — more so because it’s Bakugou there, uniform vest discarded aside, holding his violin amidst a rock band, somehow managing not to look an inch out of place.

Shouto can’t even imagine what they’re planning to do with a violin and electronic music, but the sight of Bakugou is enough to have anticipation building in his gut.

“For the next song, we’re gonna be featuring Bakugou, on the violin!” the redhead announces into the mic. “Ready, bro?”

Bakugou brings the violin to his chin, grinning at the murmurs surfacing in the crowd. “Bring it.”

The first chord starts slow. Gentle, like he knows Bakugou only is with his instrument, until the bass joins in — then the electronic chords, layered beneath the sound of strings, building momentum.

And like a tidal wave, it grows stronger, the beats pulsing in Shouto’s veins as he stares transfixed, at the immovable, effortlessly beautiful force that is Bakugou Katsuki. He pushes the song faster, the grin on his face turning feral, until the band is forced to keep up, fight their way to meet Bakugou’s brutal rhythm.

His whole body moves with the beat, lithe and powerful, and so bright that it almost hurts to look too long. In the face of the performance that almost seems like a battlefield in its intensity and ferocity, Shouto wonders if it could be him one day — the one playing with Bakugou, up there on stage with him — fighting him neck and neck until they’re in tandem, bringing the crowd to hushed awe.

It can be. He wants it to be.

The phantom itch is back, in his fingertips, up to his forearms, until it’s all-consuming. He wants to play.

He wants to play with Bakugou.

When it ends, there is abrupt quiet. And then the first student tosses his shoe up at them, which Bakugou deftly dodges with a bark of, “That wasn’t a dance performance, you fuck — ” only to be met with a wave of multi-coloured shoes tossed his way.

He’s smiling though, something small playing at his lips even as he’s dodging the projectiles and yelling at the other students to quit it, and this is when Shouto is hit with the realisation — that maybe, the next time his mother asks, he’ll be able to give her a different answer.

That he’s having fun at school, now that he has met Bakugou Katsuki.


“Shouto,” she says later that day when he enters the room, getting up to greet him with a warm hug. “You look happy. Did something good happen?”

He places his bag down. “The boy playing violin the other day,” he says. “He goes to my school.”

“Oh.” And the syllable is knowing. She touches a hand to his cheek, thumb brushing over the edge of his scar. “I’d like to meet him one day. The one who made my baby boy smile again.”

Oh.

He hadn’t known he was doing that.


The music room is quiet that day, but he knows Bakugou will be there. And today, with the sheet music in hand, determination lining his shoulders, Shouto has his answer.

He knocks this time, before opening the door, peering inside. The lights are on, but there’s no sign of familiar blonde hair and scarlet eyes.

“Bakugou?” he calls.

There’s no answer.

Shouto steps one foot inside to notice a violin lying carelessly on the floor, facedown, a bow haphazardously lying in an unclasped hand.

His gaze lands on Bakugou, slumped on the floor a ways away, unmoving and unresponsive.

His stomach drops to his feet.

Then he runs, the sheet music falling to the ground, scattered and forgotten.


Bakugou doesn’t wake up for four hours. When he does, Shouto has just about dozed off in the visitor’s chair in the too-familiar layout of the hospital room.

“… Half-and-half?” he croaks.

“After giving me a scare like that, this is the first thing you say?”

“Fuck off,” comes the mumble. He sits up, rubbing at his eyes like he’s just woken up from a particularly deep slumber. “What are you doing here?”

Shouto stare is incredulous. “You were lying in the music room, passed out. I thought you were a dead body. And you’re asking me why I’m here?”

“Uh, yeah? You could’ve just left it alone once you found out I’m not dying.”

“… What happened? The doctor wouldn’t tell me anything because of patient confidentiality.”

Bakugou’s gaze shifts irritably, like the admission pains him. “I have anemia. It happens. No big deal, I’ll be good after I eat a sandwich or something, so you can fuck off and go home.”

“You…” Shouto begins, but fails to complete the sentence under the force of Bakugou’s glare. He looks small and frail in his blue hospital gown, and Shouto can’t help but contrast the sight to the memory of him, vibrant and alive, playing his violin in the courtyard under the sun. It’s a painful comparison, not to mention unnecessary, so he shoves the thought aside.

He gets to his feet, dusting off his uniform trousers. “Right. Then, I’ll get going now. Get well soon.”

“Wait.” Bakugou looks like he’d come to an abrupt epiphany. “You said you found me, so that means... You fucker. You came to the music room?”

Shouto reminds himself that honesty is the best approach with Bakugou. “Yes.”

Bakugou abruptly looks smug. Shouto frowns and rethinks his approach.

“Why?” he asks, obviously knowing exactly why.

“I… have decided to accompany you,” Shouto forces out. “Next week. If you’re feeling better by then.”

Bakugou waves a dismissive hand. “I’ll be back at school tomorrow.”

“… Is that wise?”

“I’m fucking peachy, so quit looking at me like that. I’ll see your stupid face tomorrow, and you better be fucking practising so you don’t embarrass me.”

“In front of the ‘old farts’?” Shouto quotes.

“Shut it. They’re all wrinkly and judge-y, okay? So — Don’t fucking laugh, you red and white asshat, I’m serious!”

Shouto laughs. The feeling is new — a breath of fresh air — and a knot eases in his chest he hadn’t known could come undone. 


He brings his hands to the keys.

He still can’t do it.

Frustration has his teeth grinding; vision tunnelling. His father is in the next room — he can hear everything. Shouto doesn’t want to give him this victory like he’s won over everything else in Shouto’s life.

And still — still — his left hand does not obey him. 


When Shouto informs him of his plight, Bakugou tells him, “Then practise here, dumb shit.”

And when Shouto just stares, Bakugou places both hands on his shoulders and steers him aggressively to the piano, sitting him down and pointing to the keys.

“There. Now play.”

He can’t. The black and white keys stare back at him, daunting, and his hand is already going numb.

Imploringly, he looks up. Bakugou, gazing back at him, unimpressed, makes a tsk sound with his tongue. “Hopeless. Alright, here’s what we’re gonna do. Listen to me play, and join in when you’re ready. It’s fine even if you just use your right hand for now.”

Shouto nods. This much he can do.

Bakugou picks up his violin, and Shouto knows all the notes, every chord lingering in the air. Everything is familiar about this piece, as he’s been listening to it nonstop since Bakugou had left the sheet music in his locker, fingers pressing at air, aching for the real thing — the piano beneath his hands that’s been missing for far too long.

He wants to play. And his mother had told him it’s okay — that he should play again. That she wants him to.

That he should do what makes him happy.

So why won’t his hands move?

Bakugou sighs, cutting off mid-song. Then, to Shouto’s surprise, he drops down onto the bench next to him.

“Put your hand on the keys.” Automatically, Shouto obeys. Mystified, he stares at his right hand. It hadn’t listened to his increasingly frustrated commands to move, but the moment Bakugou spoke the word, it obeys as if it belonged to someone else. Traitorous.

Bakugou raises his own hand to the piano. “I’ll play the left.”

Shouto blinks uncomprehendingly.

Bakugou sighs with growing exasperation. “Ever heard of the mirror box?”

“The… what?” Shouto isn’t really listening at this point, distracted by their proximity; the weight of those eyes on him up close. Bakugou always seem to see right through him, even without having to truly understanding a thing.

“It’s a way of treating the phantom limb phenomenon. When people lose a limb, sometimes it feels like it’s still there, clenched so tight that it hurts. And they can’t do anything about it. So, the mirror box helps. They put their hand inside and unclench the hand they still have, and seeing the reflection makes it feel like they’ve unclenched their lost limb.”

“And you… are going to be my mirror box?” is all Shouto can manage out.

Bakugou gives him an impatient glance. “Uh, sure. Call it whatever the fuck you want, but since shitty Deku told me you can’t feel your hand when you play, just watch me play for you and get used to it. Until it feels like you can do it yourself.”

It sounds simple; so undeniably easy. And so clever that Shouto can only continue to stare and stare, until Bakugou begins to squirm beneath the gaze.

“Fucking… What’s with that dumbass look on your face, you Poptart head?”

“I was going to say, wow, so you’re beautiful and smart. But I retract the unsaid statement because of the insult to my hair.”

Bakugou flushes, all the way to his ears, just as Shouto had anticipated. “F… Flattery won’t get you anywhere, idiot! You still can’t play the damn song and we’re performing in a week!”

Shouto looks down to their hands, resting against the keys. For a moment, the sight is jarring, but not hauntingly so, like it always is when it’s just him.

Then, he realises: “… You can play piano?”

Bakugou recovers enough to sniff haughtily. “Obviously. I’m multitalented, bitch.” He pauses. “Just don’t go fucking fast ‘cause I don’t know the song.”

Endlessly amused and likewise charmed, Shouto can only smile.

“S — Stop lookin’ at me and look at the keys, you fucking dipshit! That’s the whole fucking point! Now go!” He stomps his foot violently but in rhythm, acting the human metronome. “In 1, 2, 3, 4 — Goddammit! I said, quit staring —


They get through the song, not once, nor twice, but three entire times, mostly because Shouto doesn’t want it to end. He’s awed, revelling at the feeling of the keys beneath his fingertips, and the sight of their hands moving, together, the music flowing slow but steady.

It’s therapeutic. It’s… amazing.

Bakugou is amazing.

“Again,” the blonde barks. “You fucked up that last measure, put some more emotion into i — ”

Shouto leans in, and kisses him.

Bakugou doesn’t kiss back. But he doesn’t push him away, either — just sits there, still as stone, until Shouto pulls back to gauge his reaction.

Taking the lack of negative response as a success, Shouto attempts another one. Bakugou stops him this time; two fingers firmly blocking his puckered lips, forcing Shouto’s head backwards.

“Get back to practising, dumbass,” is all he says, expression closed off — unreadable. Then he turns back to the piano as if nothing had happened, counting them in from where they’d left off.

It’s not the response he’d expected. Nowhere close.

There’s no shouting like he’d feared — nor the stammering and blushing he’d hoped for.

But there is a wavering set to his shoulders and Shouto doesn’t press him about it the way he wants to.


They don’t talk about the kiss, even after a week passes. He’s beginning to wonder if he’d imagined it happening at all.

Bakugou is running rosin along his bow, getting ready for the performance, and Shouto’s knee is jittery where he’s seated at the piano, thoughts a jumbled mess. They’re only performing one song, amongst the many other volunteers — it’ll be over before he knows it, and he’s been practising. There’s nothing to be nervous about, when he’s been performing all his life, but somehow — his chest feels tight and it’s hard to breathe.

Every corner he looks, he expects his father to show up, that gloating smile on his lips, his imposing figure looming in the sea of the crowd — I knew you would play again waiting on his tongue.

His own reflection stares back at him, from the glossy sheen of the piano.

You promised you wouldn’t play again, it accuses, don’t you know you’re only going to fail, just like last time?

Shouto feels sick.

Bakugou, seeming to sense his growing apprehension, heads over with a scowl. “What the hell are you freaking out about? I’ve heard you playing on your own. You’ve been using both hands.”

Shouto clenches his left hand. It’s numb again, like none of the work he’d done — none of what Bakugou had done for him — meant a thing. “I can’t feel it. I’m sorry… I don’t think I can play.”

Bakugou remains wordless for several moments. Shouto, worried he’s angered him — or worse, disappointed him — searches his face for some sort of answer that isn’t forthcoming. As expressive as Bakugou is, his true intentions and motivations are almost always a mystery.

Shouto has never asked why he’s so intent on helping Shouto play. But no matter the reason, he thinks he’ll still be grateful. Even if he can’t perform today, he’s been playing the piano nevertheless, after ages of convincing himself that he never will again.

“Let me see your hand,” Bakugou eventually commands.

Shouto lifts his hand, palm up. “Like this?”

“No.” Bakugou takes his hand in his, lifting it until they’re palm to palm, fingertips pressed together. His fingers are slightly calloused, a little shorter than Shouto’s, palm soft against his — a violinist’s hand. “Did you forget the feeling already?”

Shouto blinks up at him, bewildered.

“The mirror box, idiot,” Bakugou says, with an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “Don’t waste my time if you’re just gonna go and toss everything away the moment you step on stage. You’re a performer, aren’t you? So act like one.”

“I… don’t know,” Shouto murmurs truthfully, gazing back at their hands, pressed together like they’re one. “When I’m up here, it’s like everything disappears. I feel my father watching, and it’s just the two of us again, with him breathing down my neck. Ultimately, I think it’s impossible. I’m sorry, Bakugou…”

“Don’t tell me it’s impossible,” Bakugou hisses. “Even if it is, pretend it isn’t. Because that’s what musicians do. They play, until they can’t. They pretend everything is okay, and play even when nothing is.” He pulls his hand away, and Shouto misses the warmth immediately. “And you’re not alone with him up here, are you? You’re with me.”

Shouto is floored.

Bakugou gives him a flat stare, lips pressed into a line, like he knows that Shouto wants nothing more but to grab him again and kiss him. He thinks, up here on stage, he’d only be pushed away again, rougher this time for fear of spectators.

He almost tries it anyway, just to see the pretty red rush to Bakugou’s cheeks; hear the stutter in his voice — the hitch in his breath.

“Play with me, Todoroki,” Bakugou demands, and it’s probably the first time he’s heard his name come from Bakugou’s lips.

The sound is beautiful — just as beautiful as the ones he makes with his violin.

Shouto brings his hands to the keys with resolve, his gaze never leaving Bakugou’s. And the answering grin that blooms on the blonde’s face — wicked and sharp, all white teeth and dimples, is reward enough — steals Shouto’s next breath right from his lungs.

“Try and keep up,” Shouto challenges with faux bravado.

This earns him a snort. “Who’s the one who kept lagging behind during practise? Following the score isn’t everything, you know.”

It’s not what his father had taught him — beat into him until Shouto could see no other alternative. But right now, he’s looking at Bakugou, and he wants nothing more than to shed his upbringing. “I know.”

They say nothing more, as the senior residents filter into the room, chattering amongst themselves. A few of them stop by to greet Bakugou. To Shouto’s endless amusement, he is no less crass and impolite in his interactions with the elderly folk.

Shouto wonders, vaguely, about how familiar Bakugou is with the hospital setting and its inhabitants, even more so than Shouto, who visits fairly often. The image of Bakugou lying on the floor of the music room, unconscious — the tiny rises and falls of his chest, barely noticeable — surges up in his mind.

He shakes the thoughts away. Bakugou had assured him it is anemia already. There’s no reason to dwell on the matter.

Nonetheless, he makes a mental reminder to ensure Bakugou eats properly from now on. He spends all his lunchtimes in the music room, and Shouto can’t recall ever seeing him eating.

When everyone is settled, Bakugou leans into the microphone to introduce the song. At the polite applause, he turns to Shouto, who gives him the barest hint of a nod, the apprehension seizing up his throat and closing off his voice. He wipes his hands off on his trousers before bringing them to the keys.

Remember the mirror box, he tells himself. Even if he can’t feel his hand, he can still play. He’s done it before, and he will again.

He shuts his eyes, takes a breath, and waits, for Bakugou to play the first note.

Then he’s pressing down, his fingers moving across the keys. It’s easy, simple as breathing, in his second nature to keep up with Bakugou’s rhythm, within him an invisible metronome.

Staring at his hands, moving as if it were four years ago, and Shouto had still been able to perform, military and strict to the score — the sight would almost be alien, if it weren’t for all the hours he’d put into ingraining this image in his mind with Bakugou next to him.

Lifting his head, he catches sight of the blonde, eyes shut with carefree bliss, swaying with the unseen threads of music he’s crafted and woven, forcing Shouto to fight to keep up — fight even harder to take the lead.

Shouto finds that it truly is like a battlefield, playing duet with Bakugou Katsuki.

He’s merciless, utterly inconsiderate of his accompaniment, and heedless to the score’s true intentions. He’s also an explosive maelstrom of unpredictable beats, pushing and pushing until he gets what he wants — until the picture becomes one of traversing a minefield, surprises lying around every turn.

Shouto finds that he wants to do more than keep up. He wants Bakugou to look at him — to hear him too.

He can’t put a name to such an indescribable feeling. It’s liberating, but it also tethers him down, until he sees nor hears nothing but Bakugou’s violin.

It doesn’t matter, truly, whether or not his left hand obeys him at the moment. It obeys Bakugou’s music, following his commands and his rhythm, like it’s not his own. Playing the piano is in his blood — his sweat, and his tears.

One day, he’s sure now, it will obey him again.

And this, Shouto finds, is what it means to be a musician. To be shackled by the music notes, yet liberated by the sounds and the feeling of creating them with his own hands, crafting and shaping them, alongside someone who knows just as well as him exactly this feeling.

Who probably knows it better.

It’s strange, knowing that Bakugou would be the one to teach him such a thing. Someone like Bakugou, who plays with such utter carefree abandon and wild unrestraint that would have his father in rage —

He falters.

His father…

His stumbles on the next note, a beat behind the bar. Bakugou cracks one eye open to look at him, never faltering himself, silently urging Shouto to look back only at him and listen.

Shouto forces himself to continue, even as ice travels through his left hand, numbing him to the keys — until each press feels like it’s muffled through a glove, the mirror box at the forefront of his mind.

He finishes the song, military, and disappointed with himself. Even now, he’s letting his father’s shadow suffocate him.

But despite his mishap, they’re met with loud, appreciative applause and he can only stare, breathless and eyes wide, as Bakugou drags him up to a hasty bow.

And when he follows Bakugou off the stage, some of the weight lifts off his chest.

It hadn’t been an absolute failure. He’d played — with Bakugou, against him — and before his stumble, it had been… fun.

Just like Bakugou makes many things, he’s beginning to discover.

He only notices he’s smiling when Bakugou jabs an elbow into his gut. He doesn’t appear to want to hear the rest of the performances, stalking out of the auditorium with Shouto trying to hurry his pace to get a look at his expression.

Is he displeased, at Shouto’s mistake? Has he embarrassed Bakugou in front of the audience, just like he had feared?

“Proud of yourself, huh?” Bakugou asks, voice neutral, still looking straight ahead, steps taking them further and further away, out the front doors of the hospital.

There’s sweat beading at his temples, the only indication of fatigue. Shouto feels an irrational spike of worry.

“Somewhat. I hadn’t thought I’d actually be able to play…” When Bakugou doesn’t appear to want to make any sort of eye contact, Shouto takes him by the elbow, guiding him to a stop under the canopy of a tree. “Look, I’m sorry for — ”

Bakugou is stubbornly looking down, teeth gritted and fists balled at his sides, but even at this angle, Shouto can see the glistening tears streaming down his cheeks, droplets falling to his shoes.

Bakugou is… crying?

“I’m sorry,” Shouto repeats, trying to get Bakugou to look up at him, but the blonde is stubborn. “I know I made a mistake, but I’m sure the audience didn’t mind it too much. And you played perfectly — ”

Bakugou scrubs at his eyes with a fist, finally deigning to glare up at him, watery eyes glistening. “Shut up. You did fine, okay?”

Shouto, at a loss at how to stop Bakugou from crying, asks, “Then what’s wrong?”

“Nothin’,” he says stubbornly. “Just the adrenaline.”

Bakugou is an incredibly awful liar. Shouto takes him by the chin, gently, when he tries to avoid his gaze. “Tell me. I’ll do better next time. If it’s because I was too aggressive for an accompaniment — ”

“I’m saying you did fine! So stop fucking — ” He takes in a ragged breath. “You were fine. It was — I… When I signed you up for this, I just. I didn’t think you’d actually play.” The words trail off as a mumble.

“I don’t understand,” Shouto admits. “Did you not want me to…?”

“I didn’t care,” Bakugou insists, expression furious even as the tears continue streaming. He fights the urge to wipe them away for him, as Bakugou would surely not appreciate the gesture. Not when Shouto’s apparently the cause of them. “I didn’t care, but then you went up there, with that stupid as hell look on your face and the way you stared at the piano and — and… You actually played. What the hell? And now you’re smiling?” His voice cracks at the last syllable, and Shouto is abruptly — unbearably, indisputably fond.

He doesn’t know how Bakugou does it. Every time Shouto thinks he’s starting to understand, Bakugou pulls another one right from under him. And each time, Shouto falls deeper.

“It was thanks to you,” Shouto tells him, taking his left hand in his. “That I was able to play again. I never got to say it before, but… thank you. Even though I never asked for help, you insisted.”

“I didn’t do it for you,” Bakugou says gruffly, looking down to hide behind his bangs. “It was just ‘cause it was annoying, seeing you stare at the piano all the damn time looking all lost and shit. It was pathetic. So… I did it for me, you hear? Don’t get the wrong idea.”

Shouto just smiles. “You must be proud.”

“… Huh?” Bakugou glares, affronted. The tears have finally stopped. “Why the hell would I be?”

“Of yourself, I mean. For being able to make me play. After I’d sworn I never would again.”

“I still don’t fucking get that at all. If you love playing, then why do that to yourself, you goddamn masochist?” Apparently displeased by the ambiguous expression on his face, Bakugou huffs and turns away, stomping off in the direction of what Shouto assumes is home. Shouto follows at his side. “Actually, don’t tell me. ‘Cause I don’t care — ”

“My father,” Shouto begins.

“No, seriously, I mean it,” Bakugou interjects, going as far as to cover his ears. “Don’t fucking tell me.”

“He wanted me to be the best pianist in the world — the dream he couldn’t achieve himself. He hurt my mother, whenever I disobeyed or strayed from his strict regimen. So I did everything he asked, and my mother began fearing I was becoming too much like him. She threw boiling water on my face one day, after a particularly bad session. It’s how I got this scar.” Shouto touches a hand to his own face, subconsciously. Strangely, talking about it now doesn’t hurt as much anymore. When he’d told Midoriya the first time, it hadn’t felt as much like a distant nightmare. “My father sent her away after that, and I swore I’d never play the piano again. That I wouldn’t let myself be anything like him.”

Bakugou kicks at a rock in his path. “I told you I didn’t want to hear it, asshole,” he grumbles. But the look he gives Shouto is calculative, absent of any feigned animosity. “So your mom…”

“I only found out she was at the hospital where we met about a year ago. She wasn’t angry with me. Only… scared. Guilty, that she took out her fear on me. It turns out we were both guilty of the same thing, and at the same time, nothing.”

Bakugou scoffs. “What the hell were you guilty of? The only one in the wrong was your shitty old man.”

Shouto nods. It had taken him a long time to come that understanding. It’s strange, how everything seems so much simpler brought to light now. “I know. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that if I’d done more to protect her…”

Bakugou goes quiet for a while. They walk in silence, arms brushing every now and then. Bakugou doesn’t seem to notice, but Shouto does. He wonders when he’d become so hyperaware of everything Bakugou does.

“Thanks, I guess,” Bakugou says eventually, staring straight ahead, at the sky, at the trees. At everything but Shouto.

He matches up his steps with the blonde’s. “What for?”

“For playing with me today. Even after…” Bakugou’s hurries his pace to stay ahead, shooting him a fierce glare. “I still don’t fucking get you, alright? Letting your deadbeat dad hold you back all these years — I don’t get it. But it’s fine. If you can play again… As long as…” He trails off, looking stricken, and even when Shouto waits several moments, he doesn’t continue.

He opens his mouth to reply, another it's thank to you resting at his tongue, but at that moment, Bakugou’s legs give out.

And then he’s falling, red eyes wide with surprise as he catches himself on his hands and knees. Shouto, shock hindering his reflexes, had been too slow to help break his fall.

He hurries to kneel by Bakugou’s side as the blonde catches his breath, bent over on the ground, hands no doubt scraped from the impact.

“Are you feeling faint?” he asks urgently. “We can turn back — the hospital’s not far. You can get on my back if walking is — ”

Bakugou waves him off brusquely. “No, idiot, I’m fine. Just… give me a second.”

Shouto waits about half of one. “Did you not eat enough today? I believe for anemia, your iron intake is — ”

“That’s not it. I just forgot to take my meds this afternoon.” Bakugou fumbles through his bag, pulling out a bottle of pills. In one smooth movement, he pops several into his mouth and swallows without needing the aid of water, and the bottle is shoved away again before Shouto can properly scrutinize the label.

“… Does this happen a lot?”

Bakugou scrunches his nose at him, disapproving. “You a doctor or some shit all of a sudden? Mind your own business.”

“This is my business,” Shouto replies calmly. “Since we’re friends.”

The look turns incredulous. “We ain’t friends. You don’t get to just decide that on your own!”

“We are. It doesn’t matter what you say,” Shouto adds, before Bakugou can utter a word otherwise. “Can you stand?”

Shoving his hovering hands away, Bakugou staggers to his feet, righting his bag and violin case. An offer to take them for him is considered, and then quickly dismissed, as Shouto knows it won’t come across well. “I told you it’s fine, dumbass. I’m going home now, so don’t fucking follow me.”

“We live in the same direction.”

“And how the fuck do you know that?!”

“You live in Midoriya’s neighbourhood.” Shouto shrugs at the disdainful glare he’s given at the mention of the name. “He talks about you often.”

Impossibly, some of the irritation melts off his face to weariness. “Of course he does. Damn nerd.”

“… He mentioned you were childhood friends.”

Bakugou shoots him a look that says, I know what you’re trying to do and it’s not fucking working. “Friends,” he scoffs. “If that’s what he wants to call it.”

Shouto grudgingly lets the subject drop.

“… Oi, how long are you gonna keep followin' me, half-and-half?”

“I’m not following you — that would imply that I’m walking behind you. I’m planning on dropping by Midoriya’s place, so walking with you is simply a matter of convenience,” Shouto replies, the lie coming out smoothly.

The truth is, Bakugou still looks a little unsteady on his feet and… it’s worrisome. He’s still unsettled by the abrupt fall and feels unsure about leaving Bakugou to get home on his own.

“Right.” The tone is disbelieving, but still, Bakugou doesn’t demand to be left alone again. Shouto counts it as a victory. “If you’re gonna lie, don’t half-ass it.”

“I thought it was convincing…”

“Fucking hell — work on that. Just ‘cause your hair is stupidly half-assed doesn’t mean you have to live by the concept.”

“That is… insulting.”

“Good. ’Cause I’m insulting you, dipshit.”

He ends up walking Bakugou all the way to his doorstep. Bakugou doesn’t seem to realise it happening, as Shouto had kept him sufficiently distracted with some habitual bickering.

“Have a good night,” Shouto says, turning to walk away in the opposite direction.

“Wh — What the hell? Wait a sec — This isn’t my house, okay? Damn it…! Fuck, you goddamn stalker!

“You should go inside. It’s getting cold.”

“Don’t tell me what to fucking d — Hey, I just said, it’s not my house!”

“Okay.”

“It’s not.”

Shouto waits.

Eventually, having being bested in the game of patience, Bakugou goes to unlock the door, cursing all the way.

Shouto heads home, not even bothering to stop by Midoriya’s like he’d fibbed he would. When he enters the house, his sister greets him at the doorway.

“Where on earth have you been?” Her eyes widen with bewilderment as she takes in the hint of a smile still present on his lips. “Don’t tell me, you were on a date?”

Shouto considers this, setting his bag aside to remove his shoes. “Something like that.” She gapes. “Say… Do you suppose Nijima-san would be willing to make some extra food for me to take to school?”

Impossibly, his sister’s eyes widen further.


“Here.”

Bakugou places his violin down to squint suspiciously at Shouto’s offering, as if waiting for it to blow up in his face. It would be a little bit insulting, if Shouto weren’t at this point, all too familiar with Bakugou’s mistrustful nature.

“The hell’s this?” he asks, unwrapping the box slowly but deftly. It’s a bento, that Shouto had adamantly asked their chef to put together with as little care as possible. The man hadn’t listened, and the sight of the cutely cut vegetables and sausages, Shouto is aware, is a little disturbing. Bakugou gives the contents a delicate sniff. “Did you make it?”

“… If I said yes, would you eat it?”

“Hell no. That’d be fucking creepy.”

Shouto had expected as much. “I didn’t make it, so don’t worry and eat.”

Bakugou levels him a flinty stare. “What the hell? I bring my own food. Just eat this shit yourself.”

“But clearly you don’t bring enough, with how often you feel faint,” Shouto points out. “Eat it.”

Bakugou’s gaze flits between him and the lunch box sitting innocently in his hands several times, before violently attempting to shove the box back to Shouto, who pushes back automatically until they’re caught in a game of strength. “The hell… I told you yesterday was just ‘cause I forgot to take my… my supplements — ”

“Please,” Shouto insists, shoving harder.

Bakugou shoves back on principle. “I’m not fucking hungry.”

Please.

“I — Goddammit, were you fucking worried about me? Didn’t that blabbermouth Deku tell you this shit happens? It’s not a big deal, I’m fine, so just worry about your own damn self, Todoroki you asshole — ”

“If we’re going to perform together again, you’ll need your strength. Right?” At this, Bakugou stills, and Shouto takes advantage of the opening to win their brief struggle, pressing the bento into Bakugou’s limp arms.

“You… want to do it again?”

“Yes.” Shouto makes sure Bakugou’s got a firm grip on the bento before letting go. “If it’s with you, I think I’d like to play again… What is it?”

Bakugou turns away, teeth gritted, to sit at the windowsill. Viciously, he peels apart the wooden chopsticks and stabs them experimentally into the rice. “Fucking nothing. If you want to play again, that’s… that’s good. Fine. Whatever.”

Shouto is, not for the first time, left perplexed by the unpredictable response. Knowing Bakugou, he hadn’t expected his declaration to be met with open arms precisely, but still — to be met with ire?

Bakugou is truly a temperamental force of nature.

“I want to play again with you,” he reiterates.

Bakugou takes an angry bite of the bento, and does not reply.


Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, third movement. That is the song Bakugou shoves into his hands the next time they meet. They’re not in the music room for once, Shouto having being dragged outside after school by Kaminari to watch the football match.

Obviously, he’s rooting for their team to win, given that Midoriya is on the team, but he’s never had much interest in the sport. He’d been sitting in the stands, watching the game with a vague, growing sense of boredom, when Bakugou marches up to him with that familiar scowl on his face that has Shouto’s lips automatically tugging into a conditioned smile.

“Practise this,” he says, sheet music pressed unceremoniously into Shouto’s unsuspecting grasp.

Shouto nods. “Okay.”

“The competition is in three weeks, so practise hard.

The okay is at his lips when the words finally register, to be replaced with: “… What?”

Bakugou looks out to the playing field, avoiding his probing gaze, and his next words are nearly lost in the sea of cheers and shouts. “It’s a piano competition. You’re used to those, aren’t you? So it’s no big deal. You’re performing fourth by the way.”

“… What?”

“Three weeks, Todoroki.”

Then, Bakugou is gone, slipping nimbly away through the bodies until Shouto can no longer follow the crown of his golden hair.


Midoriya’s team wins, as expected, and Shouto can only find it in himself to congratulate him distractedly.

“Why was Kacchan here just now?” Midoriya asks, when Shouto fails to respond to multiple probing questions.

Shouto shows him the sheet music in his hands in answer, mind faraway. “He signed me up for a piano competition.”

Midoriya blinks several times in rapid succession. “He — Um… Huh?”

Shouto, with a growing sense of despair, agrees.


The realisation hits him that night, and it hurts, in a gut-wrenching sort of way.

That Shouto had asked to duet with him again, and Bakugou had signed him up for a solo competition in answer. It does not take a genius to figure out the implications.

Bakugou does not feel the same way, even though Shouto had been sure the breathless exhilaration he’d felt standing on stage together could not have been felt by him alone.


His left hand continues to fail to respond to him. Even as he digs his nails into his palms, the sensation is nothing but a distant, numb prickling.

From his seat on the floor by the window, Bakugou pushes pause on his music and pulls out an earphone. “How long do you plan on just sitting there? Didn’t I tell you you’ve only got three weeks? You’re already behind the other competitors in practise.”

“Why did you sign me up?” Shouto asks.

“… You said you wanted to play again.”

“With you.” The anger and frustration simmering beneath his skin is tangible in the air. He’s sure Bakugou, who’s adamantly refusing to look at him, can feel it too.

“Don’t be a fucking child. With or without me, you can still play.” Bakugou puts his earphones back in, in an evident attempt at ending the conversation.

But Shouto isn’t finished.

He gets up, the bench scraping against the floor. Bakugou’s eyes widen as Shouto heads over; crouches to tug his earphones back out, commanding attention. “Up on the stage that day, you told me I wasn’t alone with — him. Not anymore. Not with you there.”

Bakugou glares and snatches them, as Shouto proffers the earphones back apologetically. “I didn’t say I wouldn’t be there. But you can do it without me. Hell, you’ve been playing without me. Ponytail says she’s heard you practising at home.”

“Ponytail…?” Yaoyorozu, his mind supplies. He curses inwardly. He hadn’t known his neighbour was acquainted with Bakugou. “Now who’s spying?”

“It ain’t spying if she spit it out herself and I happened to overhear. Can you feel your left hand now?”

“… No.” It’s incredibly lonely — the sound of his right hand playing on its own, the melody flowing empty without its counterpart. Even when he thinks of the mirror box, the feeling never returns, when he knows Bakugou won’t be playing with him and moulding him to his music.

“How long are you gonna let that piece of shit hold you back like this, Todoroki?”

He knows. Midoriya has told him, many times over, that he’s not his father. That the hand is his — his to use. No one else’s.

Just like Bakugou had told him that playing the piano is his choice to make.

He knows, but it’s so fucking hard, when his hand hits the keys and it doesn’t feel like it’s true.

“I can’t — ”

He's cut off, when Bakugou reaches up to take his face in both hands, palms warm against his cheeks, sending heat rushing beneath his skin and sternly forcing their gazes to meet. “You can. I know you’re stronger than that asshole. All you have to do is prove it to yourself.”

And faced with eyes full of conviction he could only wish to possess even the half of, Shouto wants desperately to believe him. “It’d be easier, if you were there.”

Even if it keeps his neck at a painful angle, he wishes Bakugou wouldn’t let go so soon.

“I’ll be there,” Bakugou says, putting his earphones back in. Just not on stage. Shouto swallows back the argument. “Don’t disappoint me, half-and-half. If you act like your dumbass hair again, I’ll never forgive you.”

Strangely enough, the words are enough. He doesn’t want to play alone — doesn’t feel ready — doesn’t even know if he ever will be.

But he does, at the same time, want to see Bakugou’s prideful grin, directed at him. Only him. And even now, his fingers ache for the touch of his piano.

It’s enough.


Two days later, he gets through the entire song, with both hands. When he turns around to gauge Bakugou’s reaction, there’s the initial spike of fear when he sees the blonde with his eyes closed from his seat on the dusty floor of the music room, sunlight illuminating only half his features.

It dissipates, when he realises that Bakugou has merely dozed off.

Shouto walks over, and sheds his jacket to cover him.

If his hand lingers in Bakugou’s hair, thumb dusting lightly across the soft curve of his cheek, Bakugou doesn’t wake to berate him for it.

He goes back, to continue practising. Bakugou sleeps on.


Eventually, he begins even playing the air piano, when the real one is unavailable to him.

Midoriya catches him doing it more than once, and his only comment is a cheerful, “Can I come watch?”

Shouto nods, and goes over the measure he’d just fumbled another ten times. 


“Bakugou!” he calls, jogging to catch up.

The final bell has just rung, and most of the students are still milling about. Bakugou pauses; turns warily over his shoulder, jumpy as ever. He glances around, as if to make sure no one is paying them any attention. “… What do you want, fire-and-ice?”

The new nickname makes him pause, but not for long. “Are you heading home?”

Bakugou narrows his eyes. “What’s it to you?”

Shouto has found that, outside the music room, Bakugou tends to be pricklier, whatever gentler edge he’d sometimes adopted abandoned in favour of harsh words, keeping Shouto at a careful distance. “I was hoping I could ask you for a favour.”

“… Not today,” Bakugou says, turning away dismissively. “Ask me tomorrow.”

“My mother,” Shouto calls, before Bakugou can get far. The blonde’s next step falters. “She wants to hear you play.”

Slowly, Bakugou meets his gaze, shoulders slumped; defeated.


“You must be Bakugou-kun,” Shouto’s mother says warmly. “I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Bakugou shoots him a venomous look, as if to say, what’d you say about me, shithead? Shouto just shrugs in response. Aloud, he mutters, “Katsuki is fine,” before busying himself with tuning his violin.

“Katsuki-kun then. Thank you so much for agreeing to come visit. I’m sure you must be busy…”

Bakugou shakes his head. “It’s nothing. I was gonna come to the hospital today anyway.” Shouto assumes it’s for his volunteer work, but the way his mother frowns deeply is strangely concerning. He mimics the expression subconsciously.

“Nonetheless, I really appreciate it. I’ve been waiting to meet the one who’s got my Shouto smiling again.”

Bakugou looks up sharply, cheeks dusted red. Shouto can’t meet his gaze. He hadn’t considered his mother of all people would be embarrassing him in front of Bakugou.

“I don’t — What?” the blonde stutters.

His mother laughs breezily. “Yes, he’s been much happier lately. I believe I have you to thank for that.”

“Mother,” Shouto says tightly.

“It’s just ‘cause he’s playing the piano again,” Bakugou mutters, ducking his head. “Nothing to do with me.”

It has everything to do with him, but Shouto refrains from correcting him in their present company, who’s apparently watching them both with great scrutiny.

She hums. “Is that so?”

“Yeah,” Bakugou insists, stubborn as a mule.

“What will you be playing?” Shouto asks, steering the conversation away.

“Sonata in E Minor, opus 82, movement two. … Romance.” The last word comes out grudging.

If anything, the conniving smile his mother has on her face grows wider. He hadn’t known she had it in her.

“I look forward to hearing it.”

“Yes. Me too.” Shouto hopes he doesn’t sound as choked up as he feels.

Bakugou takes in a deep breath and starts playing.

Shouto cannot imagine what would be enough to shake someone like Bakugou up, but the song starts off hesitant and slightly unsteady. He knows it can’t be nerves, because Bakugou is used to playing in front of crowds. Right now, there is only him, and his mother. And he’s sure Bakugou has gotten used to ignoring his presence entirely.

But once he gets into the song, it’s as if they disappear, the notes flowing out unrestrained and unbidden.

And as always, when Bakugou plays, Shouto cannot look away.

So it’s only when the song ends, that he remembers to check for his mother’s reaction.

To his shock and horror, the smile on her face as she applauds is misted over by tears budding at her eyes, dried tracks leaving lasting traces on her cheeks.

He hasn’t seen her cry in years.

“Mother, are you — ”

She reaches over to pat his knee reassuringly. “I’m fine. That was beautiful, Katsuki-kun. Thank you for playing for me.”

“It’s, uh… nothing.” Bakugou shifts with discomfort, fidgeting with his shirt collar. He meets Shouto’s gaze over her shoulder helplessly, who can only offer him a frown of commiseration, as he’s equally lost. “I can come back again, if… if you want.”

Shouto starts. “Bakugou, you don’t have to — ”

“I wasn’t talking to you, idiot.”

Shouto’s jaw clicks shut and he turns to his mother, who answers, “I’d love that. Thank you.” Her eyes are still wet as she gazes at where Bakugou is hurriedly packing up his violin, shoulders tight and stiff with discomfort.

Shouto stares at her, then back to Bakugou, feeling as if there’s something fundamental he’s missing.

The feeling intensifies when Bakugou leaves in a rush without so much as a goodbye, door falling shut behind him before Shouto can even call out for him to wait.

“I’m sorry, he’s not good with…” Emotions. Empathy. Shouto knows this not to be precisely true, as Bakugou just has a complicated way of showing he cares, and would much rather avoid having to deal with it at all if he can help it. “Are you alright?”

“Yes, I’m fine. But that boy…” His mother gives him a tired smile. “The music he plays is incredibly sad, isn’t it?”

Shouto blinks, because Bakugou’s music has never made him feel anything but an inexplicable feeling of freedom. But that’s the beauty of it, he supposes — that the meaning of music lies in the ears of its beholder.

“I don’t know,” he answers honestly. “But I think it’s beautiful.”

“It is.” He wonders if she catches the double-meaning behind his words when she agrees. “Do bring him with you more often, Shouto, if he’s willing. He doesn’t have to play. I’d be fine if we could just talk.”

“I…” His mouth feels dry. “Alright. I’ll ask him.”

Even after all this time, it seems he still can’t put together the pieces of the puzzle that is Bakugou Katsuki.


 

“I knew you’d start playing again, Shouto,” his father says, entering his piano room without preamble. “It’s in your blood.”

Shouto doesn’t disagree, not entirely, but he keeps playing, viciously — stubbornly — note after note. He doesn’t have to think about it at this point — a well-oiled machine, courtesy of his father.

No, not of his father.

This is a product of his own practise.

“I hear you’ve signed up for a competition. I knew you’d come to your senses eventually.”

He drops a hand to Shouto’s shoulder, heedless of the way he flinches but plays on, teeth gritted. Shouto had thought the years would melt away his rage, but it hasn’t.

Not entirely.

It still simmers beneath the surface; a tempered fire.

“I’ll be there to watch you win.”

He strikes the final chord, a resounding sound that leaves a sick taste at the back of his mouth.


“What the hell was that? Are you shitting with me? The competition’s in twelve days and you’re banging around on the keys like a freaking robot.”

Shouto clenches his jaw. “… I’ll go again.”

“Uh, yeah, no, you’re gonna fuck up my ears at this rate. Get up, come with me.”

Shouto gets up, because in truth, he doesn’t want to go again. He knows Bakugou’s right — he’s been improving until now, but he’s back to playing monotonous, black and white keys blurry before his eyes like a faraway mirage.

His father has his hand again, latching on with an iron grip, forcing him away from his mother — his face stinging with phantom pain.

“Where are we going?” he eventually questions, as Bakugou has dragged him off campus, over to the bridge above the small pond near the neighbouring elementary school. He stops before they can cross to the other side.

Turning to face him, straight-faced, Bakugou says, “Jump.”

“… What?” He’s tired, so certainly he’d just imagined Bakugou telling him to jump into the water. He's still fully dressed, after all.

“Jump. It's not called the Courage Bridge for fucking nothing. Do you need a push to get started?”

To say Shouto is baffled would be an understatement. “… What the hell, Bakugou?”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. Impatiently, he says, “Come on, it’ll be fun.”

“Fun,” Shouto repeats. He leans over the edge, keeping an eye on Bakugou, just in case he tries anything. The bridge is not terribly high up, but that doesn’t change the fact that getting wet is a thoroughly uninviting thought. “Where’s the fun?”

Ugh. That’s why your music sounds so freaking boring. Like a goddamn military march or some shit. Just jump and learn to live a little.”

Shouto’s lips twitch, now that he’s made aware of Bakugou’s true intentions. “… You’re aware of how unrelated those concepts are, right?”

“Fine. If you’re gonna be boring as fuck, I’ll show you how it’s done.” Planting a foot up on the rails, he looks over his shoulder, grin animalistic and blindingly bright. Shouto is forced to bring a hand up to shield his eyes from the sun, trying to keep his gaze on him.

“Bakugou, wait — ”

“Catch you on the other side, half-and-half!”

Shouto’s eyes widen. And really, he hadn’t thought Bakugou would actually do it — because in the next instant, he’s throwing himself over the rails and falling backwards, blonde hair fluttering with the breeze, before landing in the water with a loud splash.

“You idiot…!”

He dashes to lean over the side, waiting for Bakugou to come back up for air.

Heart hammering in his chest, fear overtakes his mind at the sudden thought of Bakugou’s fainting spells hitting him while he’s submerged in the water. Without a second thought, Shouto shrugs off his blazer, kicking his shoes off along the way as he vaults over the rails.

The exhilarating free-fall is short-lived. As soon as he hits the water, he searches for Bakugou beneath the surface.

It’s minutes of fruitless, frantic searching before it finally registers — that Bakugou is floating idly a safe distance away, watching Shouto panic with red eyes glinting with ill-disguised humour.

Shouto scowls, and comes to the mortifying realisation that he’d just been played a fool.

“You idiot. You could’ve drowned,” he grouses, swimming over to grab Bakugou by the front of his shirt. To drive in his point or to keep him above the water, he can’t be sure at the moment. All he sees is red.

Bakugou lets himself be yanked close, gaze half-lidded. There’s drops of water running down his face, his blonde hair lying limp against his forehead. “So could you.”

And that’s about the only warning he gives. With that, he dunks Shouto’s head beneath the water. But Shouto manages to drag him under as well, with his arms wrapped around the blonde’s waist.

They’re forced to come up eventually, sputtering for air, Bakugou’s arms resting around his neck, a soft laugh bubbling at his lips that Shouto can’t remember ever hearing before. He tries to catch his breath, memorizing the sight and wishing he had his phone to immortalize the moment he’s sure only comes as rare as a blue moon.

“You bastard,” Bakugou says, there’s a fond undertone to his voice that has Shouto’s heart hammering. Something tells him the tightness in his chest has nothing to do with a lack of oxygen.

“Can I kiss you?”

Bakugou’s face shutters immediately and he lets go. Shouto almost regrets asking. “Way to ruin the moment.”

He starts swimming for the shore, but Shouto snags him by the back of his shirt.

“Were we having a moment?” he inquires.

“I was having half of a moment. When you almost drowned,” Bakugou hisses, fighting at peeling away his relentless grip before giving up with a sullen glare. “… If you kiss me, I swear I’ll punch you.”

Shouto weighs the pros and cons before sighing and releasing him. “We should head back, before we catch a cold.”

“You’re such a square,” Bakugou says, but the insult is subdued. They swim to the shore side by side, in silence. On shore, like a sopping cat, Bakugou shivers but tries to pretend he isn’t cold, his wet hair making him look smaller than Shouto is used to.

Shouto shakes the water out of his own hair, just to prompt a reaction out of him. As predicted, Bakugou leaps aside, flailing and cursing, even though he’s already soaked to the bone.

“That’s fucking evil,” he complains.

“So is tricking me into jumping.”

Bakugou snorts, stomping off, back in the direction of their school. “I didn’t trick you into anything. You did that on your own.”

“Forgive me, for attempting to save your life,” Shouto replies wryly, wincing as he shoves his soaked feet back into his shoes to follow along.

“Save the heroics for someone who needs it.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t jump into waters fully-clothed for just anyone.”

“Wow,” Bakugou drawls. “Lucky me.”

Shouto smiles privately. “… Though, please don’t make it a habit.”

“What, jumping off bridges?”

“The like,” he clarifies, the smile dissipating. “Endangering yourself to feel the thrill.”

Bakugou gives him a weird look. “There was nothing dangerous about that, you pissbaby. The water’s shallow as fuck.”

“That may be true. But in your condition — ”

Bakugou stiffens. “What’s my anemia got to do with this?”

“Everything. If you’d been unable to swim, or worse, if you’d fallen unconscious…”

“You’re just like that shitty Deku,” Bakugou gripes. “Always thinking too damn much. How many times do I have to tell you to worry about yourself?”

“And besides, wearing wet clothes in this weather can’t be good for anyone,” Shouto concludes diplomatically. “Do you have spare gym clothes to change into?”

“Of course I do. Don’t patronize me, you dickhead — ”

“That’s a relief.”

Bakugou spends the rest of the way back fuming and ranting, but oddly enough, with the sun warming their damp skin, the walk is peaceful.


In the change room, Shouto can’t help but map him out, as Bakugou pulls his soaking shirt over his head — at the soft curve of his neck, the slope of his shoulders, his tapered waist above the hem of his trousers.

“I can feel you staring, you pervert.”

Shouto blinks and snaps out of it, and continues changing out of his own wet clothes. “I apologise.”

“Not even gonna deny it?” Bakugou pulls his gym shirt over his head, and as it slowly dries, his hair begins to come to life again, standing in a comically fluffy contrast to his burning glare.

“Well, you’re beautiful,” Shouto says in explanation, checking his watch absently to make sure it’s still functioning. It isn’t. He sighs, and makes to remove it. “…What?”

Bakugou is staring at him, red eyes wide, despite the impressive scowl he’s sporting. “How do you just — say shit like that?”

“It’s the truth. You prefer it, when I’m honest. Don’t you?”

“I… What the fuck? It’s okay to lie or… I dunno — keep your mouth shut every once in a while!”

Shouto cocks his head to the side. “That’s true. But I don’t see the reason to lie about something so completely objective.”

Bakugou just sputters and tosses his wet shirt at Shouto’s face.

As expected, being honest with Bakugou remains the most effect strategy at getting the reactions he wants.


Shouto brings an extra lunch again the next day, as he had taken note of how unexpectedly thin Bakugou is beneath his baggy clothing. But the music room is empty when he seeks him out during lunch, and the lights are off.

He heads to Bakugou’s homeroom.

“Is Bakugou here?” he questions.

Bakugou’s redheaded friend from the other day, whom he recalls is Kirishima, answers, “Oh, Bakugou?” He glances around at the familiar faces of his classmates almost nervously. “He's actually at the infirmary.” At Shouto's expression, he's quick to add with a breezy laugh, "That klutz is always falling all over the place, so I told him to get the nurse to patch him up."

Shouto nods tersely his thanks before taking off, a million questions running through his mind.

When he enters the infirmary, he's almost scared of what he'll find. His mind conjures up the image of Bakugou, bleeding and unconscious, breathing shallow and erratic, and he prepares himself for the worst.

But what he sees instead is Bakugou sitting on one of the beds, playing with his phone. He looks up when Shouto enters, expression one of impatience, a you again written in his explosive sigh. Shouto scans him over, but aside from a cut on his arm and a slowly forming bruise on his cheek, he seems otherwise unharmed.

He lets out a breath he hadn't known he'd been holding.

"How do you always manage to find me?" Bakugou complains loudly, tossing his phone aside.

"How do you keep hurting yourself?" Shouto asks in return, stepping inside and closing the door behind him. The nurse must be out for her break, as the room is vacant aside from them. "Is it painful?"

Bakugou doesn't react when Shouto lifts his arm to examine the cut. "Nah. Used to it."

Shouto releases him in favour of searching for a bottle of antiseptic. "I didn't take you to be clumsy," he comments offhandedly. "How did this happen?"

"Fell," Bakugou says shortly.

"Were you feeling faint?"

"I tripped and fell," Bakugou grinds out, leaving no room for further interrogation. "And gimme that. I can do it myself."

Shouto hands it over and watches as Bakugou dresses the wounds himself with fumbling fingers. He takes a seat next to him on the bed, patiently waiting for the moment Bakugou realises it would be more efficient to ask for help.

But it never comes. This close, he takes in the bruising on the curve of his cheek — the terse set of his shoulders and the stubborn clench of his jaw, all with a fondness he normally reserves for watching a particularly finicky cat.

Eventually, Bakugou slaps a plaster over the cut with finality. "There. Done."

"Wait. You've started bleeding, here." Shouto soaks a piece of gauze with antiseptic before reaching out and dabbing it gently to his cheek. "You need to take better care of yourself."

"Why?" Bakugou asks.

Shouto pauses in his ministrations to meet his eyes. Dryly, he tells him, "Believe it or not, I find it extremely unpleasant, to see you hurt." Carefully, he places a bandage over the injury, smoothing over its edges before drawing back.

Bakugou stares, seemingly too surprised to move. "I mean, why? Why the hell would you care?"

"Why wouldn't I? You're important to me."

And as soon as he says it, he wants to take it back. He wishes he'd kept the words to himself, because as soon as the words slip out, Bakugou stands, hands balled into fists at his sides, looking seconds from bolting from the room.

"Bakugou — "

"Don't," he says, voice frail and brittle. He swallows, and Shouto wants to ask don't what? Is he meant to simply go and stop caring, like it were a switch he could easily flip, like hitting reset in a video game?

It's absurd, but Bakugou can be as unreasonable as he is unpredictable.

"Why wouldn't I care about you?" Shouto asks, desperate to understand.

"You're an idiot, and you shouldn't," Bakugou answers. And it's not an answer at all, but nothing more is forthcoming.  


Like the kiss, they don’t talk about this either, not even until the day of the competition rolls around — about why Bakugou had acted like the world had crumbled around him in the face of Shouto's concern. Like the kiss, Shouto is forced to let it be buried with everything else unanswered.

Today, it’s Shouto’s turn, to be staring at the building like a prisoner on death-row, awaiting his execution. Until Bakugou smacks him lightly on the head with a rolled-up copy of the set list. “Calm down. You’re thinking so hard I can practically see the steam coming out of your ears.”

At his other side, Midoriya gives him a kind smile. “You’re going to do great, Todoroki-kun. You’ve been practising everyday. So, don’t worry and just go up there and do your best. It doesn’t matter whether you win or lose, right?”

“Idiot,” Bakugou berates. “Of course it matters. He’s gonna kick everyone’s collective asses and win first fucking place — ”

Kacchan,” Midoriya reprimands, gaze darting nervously to Shouto’s face and back. “Not helping.”

Fingers twitching, Shouto can only sigh.

“Listen here,” Bakugou begins, addressing him directly. “Just ‘cause you’re a walking yield sign, doesn’t mean you can just let those other assholes get ahead of you, got it?”

“… I’m beginning to think you’ve got some serious issue with my hair,” Shouto says, unable to suppress an amused snort. Some of the tension in his chest unravels.

“It’s stupid. And so are you, for getting all worked up over nothing. You’re better than everyone in there.” The words are said so simply, like it couldn’t be anything but fact. Shouto doesn’t doubt that Bakugou believes it to be so.

“You have too much faith in me,” he murmurs. “But I’ll do my best not to disappoint you.”

Stiffening, Bakugou looks away, like he always does when confronted with emotions he isn’t quite sure how to handle. “… You won’t disappoint me.” With visible effort, he manages to meet Shouto’s gaze again. “Just play like you did yesterday, and you won’t disappoint me.”

Yesterday.

Shouto thinks back to the sight of Bakugou’s teasing grin — the push and pull of his music that had drawn Shouto in like a moth to a flame — the unspoken come hither in every draw of his bow.

Shouto had sat at the piano, unthinkingly put his fingers to the keys like they belonged there and played along. I’m here, he’d thought, as Bakugou shut his eyes with the tiniest pleased, saccharine smile dimpling his cheeks. Listen to me.

The music had never flowed so effortlessly from his fingertips.

For Bakugou to ask him to play just like that — like he had with them, together, is… cruel. Shouto knows the feeling will be difficult, if not impossible, to replicate, alone up there on stage.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Bakugou sighs, picking up on the growing despair no doubt hidden just beneath his crumbling blank façade. “I’ll be there, just like I always am. I’ll even sit where you can see me. So just play.

It won’t be like yesterday, they both know this, but Shouto nods nonetheless. Bakugou narrows his eyes, apparently dissatisfied with the lacklustre response. Midoriya is left staring between them as if watching a rapid-fire tennis match.

Eventually, Bakugou loops an arm around Shouto’s neck, dragging him down until his face is pressed into Bakugou’s shirt and there’s a fist rubbing into his skull.

“Kacchan…!” Midoriya exclaims, alarmed.

“It’s for good luck,” Bakugou says gleefully. “Not that he needs it.”

“Are you sure you aren’t trying to give me bad luck?” Shouto asks, voice slightly muffled, but he doesn’t fight the hold. Despite its rough and playful nature, it’s also warm. He wonders if it’s pathetic of him, to wish it were a hug instead.

When Bakugou finally releases him, he snickers at the sight of Shouto’s red face as he attempts to fix his hair now left in a disarray — hair he’d spent an hour styling that morning.

“Thanks,” Shouto mutters dryly. “Just what I needed.”

“We should probably head inside now,” Midoriya says, ever-appeasing.

“… Right.”

Taking a deep breath, Shouto forces his feet forward, into the building.

The reception area is sparse with people, and Bakugou and Midoriya have to bid him farewell to join the rest of the audience. But Bakugou lingers a little, as if expecting Shouto to turn tail and leave as soon as his attention is elsewhere. Shouto gives him a nod that he hopes is reassuring.

Grudgingly, he goes, and Shouto watches them disappear forlornly, left to his own devices. Until he’s intercepted by a boy with a buzz cut, tall and imposing — back ramrod straight as he glares down at Shouto.

Shouto briefly wonders how he’d managed to offend someone within the few minutes he’s arrived.

“… Can I help you?” he asks warily.

The boy rears back, as if taken aback that Shouto had called him out. “You’ve got that same look in your eyes as last time, Todoroki,” he all but yells. “But this time, I’m going to be the one who wins.”

Shouto hesitates, just briefly, under that intense gaze. “I’m sorry, but… Have we met? I can’t remember…” He’d been too driven — too caught up in his own head and the demons on his shoulders to pay much heed to those around him.

“You will,” the boy declares. Then he steps back into a harsh ninety degree bow. “I apologize for staring!”

With that, he disappears down the hall, his immense presence commanding the attention of the other participants. Shouto thinks he should remember someone like this — but really, with the nerves churning in his gut and his fingers twitching with phantom notes, at the moment, he can’t be bothered to try very hard.

He can worry about possible enemies his past might have made him later.

Right now, he has a performance to mentally prepare himself for.

Sitting down on one of the benches in the waiting room, he leans down and puts his head between his knees to await the dreaded moment his name is called.

Calm down, he wills himself. You’ll ruin everything if you try to play like this. Calm down.

With perfect clarity, he recalls Bakugou’s words from yesterday, after Shouto had finished the song and turned, expectant and awaiting for whatever it is Bakugou would be willing to give him — the pensive look on the blonde’s face as he’d asked, What do you play for?

The answer should have been obvious. Someone like Shouto, who has only ever played for his mother’s sake, and by extension his father, could only be left to play for himself now that those reasons have been taken away.

But with the question is brought back up to the forefront of his mind, he’s starting to think that the answer he’d gave Bakugou — the I don’t know that had spilt from his lips — hadn’t been all that truthful.

Because while it might be true that Shouto doesn’t quite play for his mother’s sake anymore, nor is he sure he plays for his own, it’s probably a lie by omission, for him to keep a secret the face he sees behind his closed eyelids whenever his fingers touch the keys.

He doesn’t know for sure how Bakugou would take an admission like that. Would he blush and stammer the way Todoroki has grown to adore? Or would he turn to silence like he has on so many other occasions, leaving the moment to pass without acknowledgement?

It’s obvious Bakugou would have chosen the latter. He’s been no more forthcoming with his affections than he has since the first time Todoroki had thoughtlessly — recklessly — leant in to press their lips together.

But this isn’t the time to think be thinking about the not-kisses and the swooping feeling in his chest whenever Bakugou is near.

It's bad enough as it is — the nerves sending his heart hammering, fingers tapping silent melodies into his lap. He can’t recall ever being this nervous about a competition before.

As his father had said — playing the piano is in his blood. His whole body thrums with the sound, the rhythm vibrant and alive beneath his veins, and his hands an instrument of his own.

There should be nothing to fear — but there is.

Because the thought of failing, again, just as he did last time, when his hand felt alien and far away, only this time with Bakugou watching from the audience, a disappointed frown lining his features —

No. Shouto won’t allow that to happen. Not this time.

His father won’t shackle him down forever.

He glances up, clenching his fists in his lap. On the monitor, the boy from the reception is stepping on stage. His height alone is eye-catching, but what truly commands attention is the way he holds himself — like he couldn’t be anywhere but there on stage.

That there should be no one but him they should be looking at.

Yoarashi Inasa. This time, Shouto engraves the name within his mind.

Yoarashi plays viciously, unstoppable like a tycoon. He’s precision and careful control, yet wild inhibition. He hears remnants of Bakugou’s playing in his song, and Shouto is transfixed.

And some of the shaking leaves his hand, and his heart slows down, leaving him feeling like a shadow of the boy he once was — calm and composed, only sheer determination driving his every move.

It is an energetic performance, and he doesn’t miss a single note.

Respect me, every one of his chords demand. Remember me.

Shouto won’t forget him this time.

He applauds with the audience, even though he knows it won’t be heard.

When Yoarashi comes back in through the back door, he meets Shouto’s gaze, who dips his head in acknowledgement. Nothing more is said, for now.

Shouto is up next.

When his name is called, Shouto stands automatically, flexing his fingers at his side.

But it’s the image of Bakugou’s smile — the sight of his back as he held his violin in hands trembling from adrenaline and the feeling of being next to him, playing alongside him — that forces his feet forward.


Being on stage is a nightmare.

He pauses there, before the piano, waiting for the first move. Like it’s a creature sent by his father to swallow him whole, and the audience is watching with bated breath to witness his ultimate demise.

Or it’s just a piano, Bakugou had scoffed at him once. What makes it scary to you has nothing to do with the piano itself. The piano never did anything to you. So quit letting your dad ruin a good thing —

Impossibly, the briefest smile flits to his lips.

His father is probably there, in the audience, a spectre watching Shouto’s every move, but — right now, for once and likely the first time, Shouto thinks it doesn’t matter.

He bows and sits down; brings his foot to the pedals.

Takes a long deep breath.

Then he shuts his eyes and tries to remember the feeling.

The sight of Bakugou in the courtyard, the thrill beneath his fingertips as he ached for the piano.

Bakugou, surrounded by children, the day they’d met at the hospital and the blissful smile on his face as he pulled his bow.

Bakugou’s hand next to his — his palm pressed against Shouto’s — his mirror box.

When he opens his eyes again, his hands are steady. His left hand obeys his commands to play the first note.

The opening comes smoothly. His fingers sail across the keys like they were made to, just as he’d practised — and it feels like taking his first breath after years of suffocating.

He plays on stage, for the first time in his life, unshackled and unrestrained by the shadows weighing upon his back.

He chances a glance out of the corner of his eye. In the audience, Bakugou and Midoriya are seated near the front, just as promised — but Bakugou isn’t looking at him. Instead, his head is bowed, eyes hidden by his bangs.

Shouto almost falters.

When he turns back to the keys, his heart feels heavy. He’s anxious, that he’s disappointed Bakugou with his performance already, but the tension lining his jaw has nothing to do with fear but rather, frustration.

Even after everything...

Is he still not good enough?

What would it take for Bakugou to listen to him, too?

With renewed desperation and intent, Shouto plays a crescendo, in allegro, throwing aside obedience to the original score — he lets the music swell beneath his fingertips, filled with nothing but the thoughts of listen to me.

Look back at me.

I’m playing for you.

And the next time he checks, in an evident result of his efforts, Bakugou is finally staring up at the stage, eyes meeting his with a stormy mixture of shock, pain and unbridled rage.

Shouto finishes up the song without a stumble — his left hand following his every command as if it’d never failed him before. But he can’t help but think that something had gone terribly wrong.

The nagging feeling grows when he gets up to bow, and when he scans the audience, Bakugou is nowhere to be seen.

Shouto leaves the stage in a hurry, without a backwards glance, and when he reaches the waiting rooms, he makes a beeline for his phone.

 

[Sent to: Midoriya]

> Where is he?

[Received from: Midoriya]

> kacchan?

> he ran outside… he looked kind of upset

> im not sure why

> i was just about to go check on him

> i hope he’s not feeling sick….

[Sent to: Midoriya]

>  I’ll go find out what happened

[Received from: Midoriya]

> alright

> just let me know when u find out if he’s okay

 

Shouto pockets his phone, and when he hurries out to the lobby, uncaring of the voices that call for him to wait for his ranking, he almost runs headfirst into his father, who’d clearly stormed out in search of him.

“Shouto,” he booms.

“Not now,” Shouto grits out tersely, deflecting the hand the makes to grab for his shoulder, and shoving past him outside. As soon as the doors shut behind him, Shouto calls, “Bakugou?”

He doesn’t expect a reply, but not hearing one sends him into panic-mode nonetheless. He scans the front yard, the parking lot, and doubles back to the lobby, but it’s only when he’s running past the west side of the building that he hears a quiet sniffle.

Turning into the alleyway, he can make out the head of blonde hair from where he’s huddled up on the ground, head resting on his knees. The relief is quickly replaced by all-consuming fear.

He hurries over, pulling Bakugou’s arms from where it’s wrapped around his legs, trying to get a good look at his face. Bakugou fights him all the way — and while it’s a welcome sight as opposed to him being too weak to do so, the tears staining his cheeks are far less welcome.

“How the hell did you find me here,” he growls, voice hoarse and furious as he wipes at his eyes with his sleeve.

Shouto has to swallow past a lump in his throat before he can speak. “I worked really hard?”

Bakugou doesn’t respond, chin tilted stubbornly down at dirty gravel, eyes resting half-mast and swollen. After a moment, Shouto takes a seat next to him, uncaring of the unpleasant sensation of bricks pressing up against his spine.

“Did I play that horribly?”

It’s the wrong question, apparently. Bakugou glares at him, viciously, and there’s so much life to the expression that Shouto is left mesmerized. “Don’t be full of yourself,” he scoffs, even through another sniffle. “As if your playing could make me cry.”

Shouto leans his head back against the building with a sigh. “I didn’t presume so. Then, what is it? What did I do to upset you?”

“Why would you think it’s you? There could be a million fucking things in the world upsetting me right now, none of them having jack shit to do with you,” Bakugou says, suddenly sounding achingly tired. “Just admit you’re full of yourself.”

Shouto doesn’t rise to the bait. Something about the ragged sounds of Bakugou’s breathing makes it hard to think. “Perhaps. Or maybe it’s just wishful thinking.”

Bakugou makes a noise of derision. “What?”

“Because I would rather it were me, that had upset you. At least that way, I can do something about whatever’s made you cry.”

When he turns, Bakugou is staring at him, lips trembling in a way that implies a threat of tears desperately being held back. “What would you do, then? If I said it was you — just you. What would you do about it?”

Shouto reaches out, brushes a thumb to his cheek to catch the tear that slips, despite his ironclad stubbornness to hide them. His hand lingers there, but Bakugou makes no move to welcome or dismiss the action. “Anything.”

“Even if I told you to stay the fuck away from me?”

Shouto’s hand falls. “… If that’s what you want.”

“So goddamn noble,” Bakugou sneers.

“You aren’t telling me to, though,” Shouto says. “Are you?”

Bakugou doesn’t answer. He leans his head back to his knees and asks instead, “What were you playing for?”

It’s that question again. Time has proven that honesty is the best approach when it comes to Bakugou, but this time — he’s not so certain. Not when he still fears that Bakugou will tell him to stay away if he’s truthful. Still, he replies, “I’ve told you before.”

“Yeah, but obviously something changed. Just now, you were — I still can’t tell what’s going on in your goddamn head. Why did you play like that? What the fuck were you thinking about?”

“I tried to remember what it was like to play with you.” It’s the safest answer he can think of without straight up telling a lie.

But the truth only seems to aggravate Bakugou even further. “You freaking dumbass. You were thinking about something like that?”

“You told me to play like I did yesterday. And that had only been possible because you were — ”

“That…!” Bakugou interjects loudly, but seems to lose his words. He makes a sound of frustration before starting anew. “That’s fucking stupid,” he spits. “It wasn’t because I was there.”

“It was,” Shouto says stubbornly, meeting Bakugou’s gaze squarely when he finally deigns to raise his head. His eyes are wet, and Shouto is desperate to understand what he refuses to say. “You make me feel things I’ve never felt before — ”

“Don’t.” Bakugou brings his hands to his hair, tugging at the blonde strands with equal parts anguish and frustration. “I keep telling you not to fucking say shit like that.”

“But it’s true. When we're together — ”

“If you continue that sentence, I swear to god I’m never fucking speaking to you again.”

Shouto closes his mouth. He has no idea what to say, how to fix things, when every word he utters seems to drive Bakugou closer to tears.

Eventually, Bakugou pulls himself together enough to utter, “… Don’t think about me when you play.”

Shouto means to protest, but the expression on Bakugou’s face has him quieting. It’s desperate but also — strangely, confusingly — resigned.

Promise me, Todoroki. Don’t fucking play for me, or for your dad, or — or any other asshole out there. Just. Just play for yourself. Okay? Fuck.” He rubs his hands over his face, exhausted but, ultimately, sincere.

And Shouto tells his first lie to Bakugou that day, sitting in the musky alleyway behind the competition hall.

“I promise,” he says, and Bakugou seems to believe him.

Maybe he’s not so bad of a liar after all.


Second place. He’s moving onto the next round, and his father his delighted.

Bakugou, not so much.

“Second?” he rages, as if he hadn’t spent the last fifteen minutes crying behind the building and this had been a slight to his own performance. “The fuck is this shit? That baldy played so loud I thought my ears were gonna fall off.”

“Kacchan, please,” Midoriya says with waving, appeasing hands even though he’s unable to hide his laugh. It’s likely he agrees.

Shouto, not having expected to win anything at all, gazes at the silver ribbon in his grasp before decidedly handing it over to Bakugou. “I didn’t think I’d make it to the second round, let alone… This is thanks to your hard work.”

Bakugou clutches it in his hand, looking ready to explode. With a proper windup, he tosses it back at Shouto’s head, who just barely manages to avoid a minor head injury. “Are you shitting with me? You’re the one who played so don’t give me that crap. And if you’re gonna give me your medal, I expect nothing less than gold, dumbshit.”

That’s a tall order. Shouto tells him as much, but Bakugou is unimpressed.

“Gold, or keep it,” he reiterates.

Shouto squares his shoulder and nods his understanding. He’ll win first next time. Midoriya bobs his head along, thoroughly amused.

“And the fuck are you smiling about, Deku?”

Even under his father’s watching eyes, despite it all, in the presence of two people he can truly claim to care about, Shouto feels at ease.


“What song shall I play for the next round?” he asks, as he’s idly pressing at piano keys.

Bakugou gives him a look filled with disdain. “Decide for yourself. Or have you got half a brain up there too?”

Shouto raises a brow at the antagonism. “Was that necessary?”

Bakugou just clicks his tongue and goes back to plucking at the strings of his violin, some complicated tune that will be stuck in Shouto’s mind for the rest of the day.


“Let’s skip class,” Shouto announces, as he enters the music room.

The look Bakugou greets him with today is thankfully less filled with loathing and more with surprise. “Who are you and what’ve you done with my boring Todoroki?”

He tries valiantly to ignore the pang in his chest that Bakugou using the words my and Todoroki in the same sentence had given rise to. It’s pathetic, how little it takes to trip him up, when it comes to Bakugou Katsuki. “There’s a festival in town. I’d like to… visit.”

“Visit,” Bakugou mocks. “You’ve never been to a goddamn festival in your life, have you.”

It’s not a question. “There’s always a first time for everything,” Shouto says with determination.

Bakugou mulls this over for several nerve-wracking minutes. Shouto hadn’t planned out what he’d do if Bakugou ultimately refused, even though he’s become aware that, unlike his initial impression, Bakugou is far more studious than his outlook on life implies and never misses a single class unless he’s forced to. So really, the chances aren’t high to start with, that Bakugou would say yes. Let alone say yes to going with Shouto, whom he hasn’t been all that fond of recently.

But he really hopes he’ll say yes. Because there’s no one else he’d rather go with — no one else he would voluntarily ask to go with.

“Alright, fine. Don’t get all constipated. You’re lucky my stupid math quiz was yesterday. But — wait, hang on, you mean right fucking now? And I’m only going ‘cause you sounded pathetic, you got that? Fucking — slow the fuck down, holy shit, are you for real?”


They forego the haunted house. And the ferris wheel. And the face paint. And the fish catching. At this rate, Shouto wonders what Bakugou is willing to do at all, other than sulk and glare at the sun.

“Isn’t that cute?” he asks, pointing at a big stuffed cat, growing desperate. “How about I win it for you?”

“I’ll win it myself,” Bakugou growls, stalking over to the shooting game stand, and Shouto follows at his heel, relieved and unbearably fond despite how difficult Bakugou has been. He slams a wad of bills on the table, and Shouto follows suit, though with far less aggression.

“If I beat you, you have to pick the song I play for the next round,” Shouto offers.

Bakugou, weighing the rifle in his hands, gives him the side-eye. “This isn’t even a competition, you fucking hothead… But whatever. Prepare to eat my dust. That cat is mine.

Shouto picks up a gun and smiles to himself.


Shouto ends up winning, easily — partially because three rounds in, Bakugou starts getting frustrated and his aim goes off. Shouto, who’s had an advantage from the start from his training on his father’s shooting range, manages to bag the big cat with droopy eyes without much fuss. The man working the stand hands it over grudgingly.

They continue walking through the festival — Bakugou sulking, and Shouto waiting in smug anticipation.

Then he hears the much anticipated: “Give it.”

“’Gold, or keep it’,” Shouto quotes with a straight face. “Wasn’t that what you said?”

“Goddamn smartass… It was metaphorical! You won, so technically that cat’s fucking gold, so hand it over.”

Bakugou, Shouto finds, can be as much of a child as he claims to detest. But Shouto had gotten the cat for him anyway, so he hands it over.

It’s enough of a reward, seeing Bakugou’s grouchy face as he tries to keep the huge stuffed animal from trailing on the ground.

“Why don’t you want to ride the ferris wheel?” Shouto prods later that day after they’ve gotten their fill of ice-cream.

“Heights,” Bakugou answers, and Shouto vividly recalls the way Bakugou had thrown himself off the Courage Bridge, dubious.

“And the real reason?”

Bakugou looks murderous. “I just told you.”

“Yes. But you lied.”

“I didn’t fucking — Fuck you,” Bakugou stomps ahead, forcing Shouto to speed up if he doesn’t want to fall behind and lose him in the crowd.

“It’s because you don’t want to ride it with me,” Shouto guesses, catching Bakugou’s arm to keep him tethered.

Bakugou shakes him off. “If you wanna know so bad, yeah. It’s ‘cause I don’t wanna sit in a little metal box dangling above the ground with your stupid face for company and no way to get out.”

“But if it were someone else, you’d ride it?”

They’ve stopped walking, somewhere in the midst of it all. Bakugou’s breathing heavy from the distance they've traversed. Shouto has half a mind to suggest they sit down for a bit, but considering he’s already getting his head chewed off as it is, he decides against.

“Or if you were alone?” he presses.

“I wouldn’t have come here in the first place,” Bakugou finally deigns to answer. “So how the fuck would I ride it? Idiot.” He spits the insult, petulant.

The feeling in his chest can only be described as bittersweet. “But you would ride it.”

“… I might. I might not. Who the fuck cares? It’s just a big stupid wheel.”

Shouto laughs with a shake of his head. “Even now, it’s impossible to understand you. Every time I think I’m getting closer, you push me away.”

“That’s…” Bakugou falters, as if he’d thought Shouto wouldn’t notice. There’s no way he wouldn’t, when he pays excruciating attention to everything Bakugou does. “Maybe it’s just that we didn’t get closer at all. Ever thought of that?”

Shouto brings a hand to Bakugou’s cheek, who stares up at him, perplexed. Until he realises what he’s let happen, and Shouto’s hand is roughly brushed aside.

Shouto’s smile is wistful. “See?”

“You’re just thinking too damn much like always,” Bakugou mutters, taking a nervous step backwards.

“Bakugou,” Shouto says. Then, after brief hesitation: “Katsuki.”

Bakugou jerks as if electrocuted. “The fuck are you saying my name for?”

“I just wanted to try it out. Is it okay if I use it? Katsuki?”

“The fuck? Hell no. We’re not — ”

“You can use mine too.”

“I don’t fucking wanna — What the hell is going on with you? First this shitty carnival, then that shit about the ferris wheel, and now — What the hell is this? If you want me to pick the song for you that badly because you’re freaking incompetent, I’ll fucking do it, okay? So cut it out. This shit’s giving me the creeps.”

“… Katsuki.”

Almost instantly, a hand is pressed to his mouth. “I said, cut it out! It’s Bakugou to you, shitface!”

Peeling the hand away, Shouto says, “If this isn’t you pushing me away, what is it?”

“It’s — It’s me being creeped out by you saying my name like we’re — ” He can’t seem to finish the complaint, opting to turn around and stalk angrily off in the direction of the ferris wheel. “Fine, I don’t fucking care anymore. Do what you want. Fuckin’ weirdo…”

He catches up with long strides and Katsuki shoots him a nasty look out of the corner of his eyes.

“Katsuki,” Shouto says, unable to mask his amusement.

“If you’re just gonna keep parroting my name like a goddamn idiot — ”

“So you’ll ride it with me?”

“Just to shut you up,” Katsuki grumbles. “You want the full experience, right? Well, you’re gonna get it — Hey, fucking — slow down! Walk behind me, you ass — ”


They end up racing to the ferris wheel. Chasing Katsuki’s back is more exhilarating than it should be, when the blonde is slowed by the large stuffed animal still in his arms.

“I would’ve won if I wasn’t holding this stupid thing,” Katsuki pants, as they climb into the car.

“If you say so,” Shouto answers, a little breathless himself. When he takes a seat, Katsuki resolutely takes the one across from him, the cat clutched to his chest tight as he rests his chin on its head.

Shouto ignores the glare he receives in favour of peering out the glass. He’s never thought about riding a ferris wheel before, let alone visiting a festival. His thoughts had always been permeating by the piano and appeasing his father.

It’s a rather beautiful sight, he finds, with everything reduced to something tinier — little bright lights against the skies. Real life seems so much further away, suspended up here in their little bubble.

Not as beautiful as the one across from him, of course.

“The sun is setting,” Shouto observes, gazing out at the orange spreading across blue.

“It tends to do that,” Katsuki drawls. When Shouto turns with a reprimanding look, he finds that Katsuki is gazing back, expression sullen but red eyes bright with something unnamable.

“Thank you,” Shouto murmurs.

“… For what?”

“For coming with me. Even though you weren’t feeling up to it.”

As much as Katsuki likes to hide it, Shouto is getting better at reading him — he has little tells after all. Now that Shouto knows what to look for, he thinks it’ll be harder for Katsuki to lie to him.

Katsuki doesn’t reply for several moments, lips pressed together in annoyance. But instead of yelling like Shouto expects, he asks, “So how was it? The full experience.”

Shouto thinks back to Katsuki rejecting most of everything that involved any sort of effort, and how much time they’d spent at the food stalls. Ultimately, it hadn’t been perfect — hadn’t been what he’d expected at all. Though, in hindsight, these are both things that are part of Katsuki’s brand.

And in the end, Shouto had fun.

“… Not bad,” he decides.

“You fucker,” Katsuki snorts. “Just admit it rocked your world.”

Shouto glances out the glass as they begin another descent. They ride is coming to an end already, as quickly as it had started. “I’d like to come again.”

At this, Katsuki lets out a huff that’s almost a laugh. “Obviously. You’re still a child at heart, I can tell.”

“With you,” Shouto clarifies, watching carefully as Katsuki raises his head, red eyes wide with alarm. Still, he takes the chance. “Shall we come again next year?”

Katsuki drops his chin back to the cat’s plush head. “Why wait ‘til next year when you could just come again tomorrow? The festival’s here for the whole weekend.”

And just like that, the ride is over, and Shouto is forced to drop the subject as they’re ushered out of the car.


He only realises Katsuki hadn’t promised anything about going again, be it tomorrow or a year later, when he’s seated on a bench, Katsuki next to him, nibbling at the dango Shouto had purchased for the both of them.

The sky has darkened enough that the festival’s truly started, the streets littered with people and the sounds of children’s laughter.

The blonde’s shoulders are sagging, weighed down by something invisible, scowling at everything and nothing all at once.

“Did you not have fun?” he inquires. “You seem…”

“It was fine,” he snaps. “Just tired.”

“You should’ve said something earlier. We could’ve taken more breaks — ”

“I said, it was fine, all we did was sit and eat, anyway. You don’t have to fucking baby me.” It’s not entirely untrue, but Shouto frowns nonetheless.

“That’s not — ” He stops himself from arguing with a sigh. “Do you think there will be fireworks tonight?”

“Probably.” Katsuki gives him a sidelong glance. “Wait, don’t fucking tell me… You’ve never seen those, either?”

“… Today will apparently be a day full of firsts.”

“That’s just fucking sad,” Katsuki laments, seemingly reenergized by the confession as he gets to his feet, tossing the dango stick into the nearest trash. Shouto doesn’t find it particularly saddening — it’s not like he’d never experience a festival somewhere along in his lifetime. And he gets to experience it all with Katsuki, so really, it’s not all that tragic at all in his eyes.

“Alright, come on.”

Shouto is on his feet in an instant, his own dango tossed away long ago. “Where?”

“We’ve gotta get a better view, duh,” he says, grin lighting up his features. “Try and keep up, old man.”

“You’re the one who needed to rest,” Shouto reminds him, but the words are nearly lost to laughter as he chases Katsuki down, weaving through the crowd until they reach the playground at the park nearby.

He stares at the plastic slide and monkey bars, the sand beneath his feet, lips twitching into a rueful smile. The only other time he’s ever spent in one of these had been in passing.

He’d never have thought he would step foot in one, for any reason other than shortening a walk home in the cold.

Briefly, he recalls the sight of his siblings playing out in the yard, before his father had gripped onto his shoulder and turned him away from the sight.

You’re different from them, Shouto, he’d told him.

He wonders if it were true. In any case, he’d ended up here, with Katsuki. Surely his father had been wrong — he doesn’t have to be alone, not anymore. He’s not born and bred so different that he has to stay that way.

“What’re you just standing there for? Come on.” In a display of surprising agility, having set the stuffed cat down at the top of the slide, Katsuki had clambered up to the roof of the jungle gym, legs swinging off the edge with careless ease.

“I’m coming.” When he gets to the top, he sits as close to the blonde as he thinks he’ll be allowed. The perch higher than he’d thought it would be, and it gives them a good view of the night sky.

Next to him, Katsuki shudders at a particularly chilly breeze. “Damn, winter’s almost here, huh…”

It’s said so lowly that Shouto isn’t sure it was meant to be heard, but still, he says, “It’s already November, after all.”

He huffs grumpily. “Fucking hate winter.”

“I quite like it,” Shouto says. “Especially the snow.”

Katsuki makes an impressive ick face. “’Course you would. Icicle head.”

Shouto begins looking forward to winter all the more, with the prospect of dumping snow down Katsuki’s shirt. “Let me guess — you hate snow.”

“I hate you.” But despite the bold claim, he shifts a minuscule bit closer to Shouto’s side, who’s hit with the urge to wrap an arm around him. He wonders what Katsuki would do if he made the move, given their current location. Any attempt at distance would have at least one of them falling off. “But I hate the cold more.”

Regretfully pushing the thought aside, Shouto leans back to rest on his hands. “We should do this again, at the next festival. When it isn’t as cold.”

Katsuki stiffens, turning resolutely away. He’s saved from answering by the sound of loud explosions, ones that bathes his features in shades of greens and reds. “It's starting.”

Exasperated by the poor timing and frustrated by the constant evasion, Shouto looks up.

And just as expected — the fireworks are far less lovely than the sight of Katsuki, enraptured by their brilliance.


Liebesleid. Love’s sorrow.

That is the song that greets him as he enters the music room the next day.

Shouto takes a seat to listen in proper. He hasn’t heard him play alone for a while now, and it’s rare, that Katsuki would willingly play just for him. Though, Katsuki doesn’t acknowledge him in any way, so absorbed in his playing that it’s possible he hadn’t heard Shouto enter at all.

The song is lonely without its piano accompaniment, hollow and haunting, yet beautiful played by Katsuki’s hands.

But mid-song, the bow falls to the ground in a clatter, cutting the song off with a jarring silence.

Bewildered, Shouto can only get to his feet and stare, as Katsuki curses and bends to pick it up. His hands are shaking, clenched tight and white-knuckled around the violin’s neck, and he makes no move to continue playing.

“Shit… Fuck. Goddamn it — ”

“What happened?”

Katsuki looks up, startled, as if only just noticing Shouto’s presence for the first time. The frustration melts off his face at the sight of him to cautious blankness. “Hand slipped.”

He’s lying.

Shouto approaches, carefully, and Katsuki only glares as he nears, making no move to push him away. Even as Shouto gently pries the violin and bow from his grasp to set them aside. Then he nudges the blonde over to the piano bench, forcing him to take a seat and crouching before him to get a good look at his face. “Why have you been overworking yourself?”

“… Shut up,” Katsuki growls, hands clenched in his lap. “If you’re gonna lecture me — ”

“I’m not. After all, that would make me a hypocrite, wouldn’t it?” He doesn’t wait for the obvious answer. “Do you have a competition soon? Is that why you’re…”

“Three days,” he bites out, vicious glare shifting aside as if to spare Shouto of its force.

“… You didn’t tell me. You’ve been helping me all this time — ”

“I didn’t want you to know, dumbass.”

The words send a pang to Shouto’s chest, one that he tries desperately to ignore. “Why?”

Katsuki grits his teeth. “’Cause then you’d show up. And I — that would fucking suck.”

“I’d stay away, if you told me to,” he reminds him, though the words are painful to produce.

“That’s the fucking thing. I don’t want to tell you to fuck off, but — but I don’t want you there either.”

Shouto weighs the words in his mind, trying desperately to make sense of them. As much as Katsuki likens him to fire and ice because of his hair, he’s the one who’s constantly hot and cold, leaving turbulence in his wake — and consequently, Shouto’s life. “Why not?”

“B… Because…” Katsuki clenches his jaw, as if forcing back words that threat to spill out. His first tell of a lie about to be woven. “You’re distracting. Your face, your shitty hair, and your — your everything.”

“My hair again? I thought we were past that.”

“We’re never getting past that,” Katsuki sniffs, folding his arms across his chest. They’ve stopped trembling, Shouto notes, some of the tension easing from his chest. “I’m guessing now that you know, you’re gonna be there. And so will fucking Deku, so I’ll save you the trouble of following me to tell you it’s gonna be at the concert hall in Tokorozawa.”

Shouto blinks, before a smile tugs up the corners of his lips. Katsuki says one thing, and means another. It’s impossible to keep up, but Shouto thinks he never wants to stop trying. “You could still tell me to ‘fuck off’. If you can’t do it today, then next time. I’ll leave you alone if you really don’t want me there.”

Katsuki says nothing of the sort, opting to simply jab his index finger into Shouto’s forehead, forcing him backwards. Shouto rubs at the spot mournfully, but Katsuki hadn’t said the word. So he stays.

“Meet me after school at the gates on Wednesday. If you’re late, I’m not waiting for your sorry ass.”


 

“Shit… Shit!”

Katsuki brings his hands to his eyes in frustration as the world spins before him and he staggers, catching himself against the wall. He collapses to the ground, his violin lying at his feet, having fallen from his grasp yet again, no matter how hard Katsuki wills his hand to obey him.

This time, he has to take an indisputable first place.

There’s no time for mistakes.

He gazes down at his hands, shaky and unsteady, and wonders how Todoroki had done it.

What Todoroki would do, left with an expiration date and hands that can no longer properly hold his instrument.

 


“Two things.”

Shouto looks up from his assignment to see Katsuki standing there — a rare sight, in the confines of Shouto’s classroom. Katsuki keeps their interactions to a minimum in front of the other students.

“One,” Katsuki says, tossing a stack of paper onto his desk. When he peers at them, it's sheet music for Chopin’s Ballade No. 1, Op. 23 in G Minor.

“Thank you — ”

“Two: I changed my mind. Don’t come on Wednesday.”

Shouto clutches the sheets in his hands and bites back the burning question of why? He knows Katsuki will only lie again. “Alright.”

Katsuki grinds his teeth together and looks like he wants to say more. But in the end, he turns tail and leaves, shoulders slumped.

His second tell.


“He said he didn’t want me to come,” Shouto explains, when Midoriya questions his shady-looking attire.

“So you’re — ” His friend muffles a laugh into his palm. “You’re going to sneak in anyway? Kacchan will be so mad…”

“If he finds out.” That’s the whole point of the disguise, anyway.

With his hair covered, he’s certain Katsuki won’t notice him amongst the audience.

He’d said he’d changed his mind, but Shouto knows better by now. Katsuki often says things he doesn’t mean.

“Also, please sit in another row.”

Midoriya wipes a tear of laughter away before giving an okay signal with his hand, moving to obey. “I’ll try not to blow your cover, Todoroki-kun.”

Shouto shrinks in his seat with annoyance at the teasing loudness of his voice. Doesn’t Midoriya recognise that this is Katsuki they’re talking about deceiving, and that it’s a matter of life or death?

He sits through the first few violin performances with only mild interest, as he’s never watched a competition for violin before. He finds his attention gravitating to the piano accompaniment more often than not.

He wonders who will be playing Katsuki’s accompaniment for today.

When the blonde’s turn is finally announced, Shouto automatically sits up straighter in his seat.

The blonde stalks onto stage — there’s really no other way to put it — and at his side, back as ramrod straight in contrast as Shouto remembers it being, is Yoarashi Inasa.

Shouto’s mouth parts with surprise, but what has his gut churning is — displeasure — and something darker Shouto doesn’t want to put a name to.

That should be me, Shouto can’t help but think, aggravation having his hands clenching in his lap, his jaw tensing.

It could’ve been me.

If Katsuki weren’t so adamant in keeping Shouto at an arm’s length away at all times, the distance between them unbreachable.

Liebesleid, Shouto thinks, would have been an appropriate song choice for them, if it were him, up there on stage.

He tries to recall the sight of Katsuki’s back, the one fleeting moment they’d spent on stage together — the one time Katsuki had played and beckoned him closer — and thinks that the sight of him right now, even from a seat this far away, all things considered, is not unpleasant.

But he much prefers the synergy — the push and pull of Katsuki’s music alongside his own — and his teasing, challenging grins sent over his shoulder, over this.

Like this, he could be a stranger.

Katsuki and Yoarashi bow before taking their positions. Katsuki doesn’t look nervous, but Shouto knows from experience that the feeling never escapes you, no matter how many times you step up on stage. It’s as exhilarating as it is restricting.

He leans forward in his seat and wills everything to go smoothly.

Katsuki plays the first note.

And unlike every other time Shouto’s heard this song, his breath is taken away.

Every note is a gentle caress and every chord played between Katsuki and Yoarashi a sorrowful keen that forces memories Shouto had long since forgotten rising to the surface.

His mother, taking his hand as they snuck out one night to the store, because Shouto had begged and pleaded for sweets.

Her warmth, as she embraced him as he cried, through the all-consuming fear that he was becoming too much like his father.

Her smile as he’d seen her again for the first time after years of forcing himself to stay away — her voice, as she’d said his name.

He doesn’t realise he’s crying until a droplet falls to his lap; rivulets gathering at his chin.

He touches a hand to his cheek. He can’t remember the last time he’d truly cried — has it been years? The feeling is foreign.

The monotonous grey of his life and the vast emptiness in his chest, suddenly replaced with vibrant splashes of colour and Katsuki — worming its way into every crevice and leaving him full to the brink of suffocation, left with nowhere to unload the feeling.

And that is when he comes to the realisation that — Oh.

This is probably called love.

Katsuki’s violin sings for him, a song that Shouto knows so well yet can’t even begin to understand.

And Shouto thinks his mother had been right, after all. His music is incredibly, gut-wrenchingly, painfully sad.

Easy? Katsuki had scoffed at him once — a time that feels eons away, though Katsuki hadn’t forced his way into his life all that long ago, all sharp staccatos and explosive finales. You don’t know anything about me either, so don’t go running your damn mouth.

It’s true — Shouto doesn’t know a thing about Bakugou Katsuki, and every time he thinks he’s getting closer to the truth, it alludes him.

All he knows for certain is that Katsuki is beautiful — in every cadence and shade of anger and happiness — and Shouto has fallen into a hopeless, one-sided love.

The song comes to a grand finish, and Shouto wipes the last lingering tear away to applaud with the audience. And he finds that, unlike with the other performances, he hadn’t been able to take his eyes off Katsuki long enough to properly take in the accompaniment.


He wins first place.

It’s as expected, and Shouto watches from afar as Midoriya goes to congratulate him and Yoarashi. He intends to leave before he’s spotted, but he supposes something Midoriya said had blown his cover as Katsuki's gaze abruptly locks onto his.

A thrill runs down Shouto’s spine. He senses a storm coming.

But he does not expect it to come in the form of the rosy hue of Katsuki’s cheeks from his recent victory — the sheen of his gaze and the grin on his lips and the things it does to his heart.

“You asshole,” he says, clutching the medal tight in his grasp.

Shouto takes off his hood and pulls down his face mask, a weak grin on his own lips. “Congratulations, Katsuki.”

Katsuki’s lips wobble.

And helpless and utterly in love, Shouto spreads his arms.

He doesn’t expect much. He expects nothing at all.

All the same, Katsuki always acts to his own accord — greedy to a fault and absolutely, mercilessly cruel.

He runs into Shouto’s arms, his own thrown around Shouto’s neck, just like that time they’d jumped off the Courage Bridge into unforgiving waters and broken the surface, gasping for air with lungs filled with laughter.


“First place,” Katsuki says smugly, dangling the medal in the air from his perch at the windowsill.

Shouto pauses his practise to scrutinize him. “Is winning that important to you?”

“Only the winners are remembered,” Katsuki lectures loftily, before scowling and pocketing the medal. “Alright, you’ve been giving me that look for a while now. If you’ve got something to say, spit it out.”

“… It’s nothing. I’m just surprised, is all.”

Huh? You didn’t think I’d win, is that it — ”

“No, of course not. I knew you would. It’s just that… I’m surprised you haven’t gotten angry. That I came to watch, even though you told me not to.”

“Yeah, well… I didn’t explicitly tell you to fuck off, so… Congrats, asshole. You found the loophole.”

Shouto smiles as he ponders this. “… You wanted me to come. Didn’t you?”

“Now you’re just making shit up.” Katsuki reaches over to rap his forehead with his knuckle. “Get that stupid look off your face and keep practising.”

Shouto catches his wrist before he can pull away, with an urgency he doesn’t quite understand himself. “Katsuki… You’ll be there, right?”

“… What?”

“My next competition.”

Katsuki pulls his arm away. “Yeah, I will.”

And this time, there are no tells. It’s not a lie. Shouto lets out a breath he hadn’t known he’d been holding. “I’m glad.”

“D… Don’t be glad and be honoured, you shithead!”


 

There are thirteen days until the next competition.

And on the thirteenth, Katsuki drops his bow again.

But this time, he staggers and falls with it, violin coming to a clatter at Shouto’s feet. There's blood at his temple.

He doesn’t get up.

 


Katsuki wakes up by nightfall.

He sits up, rubbing his eyes just like he had last time and squinting at Shouto, who’s standing by the entrance to the hospital room, fearful of taking another step further yet unable to take a single step away.

“What’re you doing all the way over there?”

“It’s not anemia. Is it?”

Katsuki stills. Another tell. “It fucking is.”

Shouto clenches a hand around his backpack strap. “You’re lying.”

“You an expert on body language now? I’m telling you it’s not a big deal — ”

“It looks like a big deal!”

Katsuki goes quiet.

“It looks like a big deal,” he repeats, quieter; apologetic. He should know better than to shout in a hospital, but the fear he’d felt as Katsuki had collapsed — again — like a marionette with its strings cut — “Tell me. I don’t care what it is, just stop lying — ”

“Fuck off.”

“… What?”

“You heard me.”

And with no choice but to obey, Shouto turns on his heel and leaves.


Katsuki doesn’t show up at school for the next three days.

On the fourth, he appears in the music room, seated on the floor, clearly waiting for him, his violin nowhere in sight. There's that single bandage plastered to his forehead — a painful reminder. But as if nothing had happened and Shouto hadn't had his blood staining his hands, he lifts his head when Shouto enters and says, “I have shit I need to buy after school. Come with me.”

Shouto sets his bag down and sits at the piano, teeth gritted.

It’s only four songs later that Shouto, sweat beading at his temples from venting out his frustrations onto the keys, answers, “Alright.”


Katsuki ends up dragging him throughout the entire mall. He appears intent on buying out an entire bookstore, and forces Shouto to try on various red and white themed clothing. Shouto lets it all happen, because as much as he’s still angry, a smiling Katsuki is a rare sight — a laughing one even more so. He’d rather not miss out on being able to hear it.

Katsuki, he finds, is not all spontaneity. He’s also perfectly calculated, more than Shouto had given him credit for.

Katsuki shoves one of the shopping bags into Shouto’s chest. “Yours,” he states. And it’s as close to an apology as Shouto will get.

When he peers inside, there lies one of the trillion scarves he’d tried on for Katsuki’s amusement. “That's rather devious,” he acknowledges, knowing he will be wearing the atrocious thing.

“Gotta get your hopeless ass ready for winter.” Then, grinning, smug and absolutely, unfairly beautiful, Katsuki shoves the rest of his bags at Shouto.

“These are all for me?”

“No fucking way. The books are mine.”

Shouto doesn’t comment any further, noticing the slight shake in Katsuki’s arms. They take the bus home to Katsuki’s place as it’s gotten late, Shouto’s arms laden with bags, and it’s only then that he realises he’s not yet had the chance to meet Katsuki’s folks, even though Katsuki’s already met his mother — and his father, in passing.

He pauses at the front entrance, wondering if it would be impolite of him to drop the stuff off at the front doorstep before taking off.

Katsuki snorts, nudging him aside to unlock the door. “You look constipated.”

“I should go,” Shouto confesses. This is getting into dangerous territory. Meeting Katsuki’s parents is high on his list of things not to do before he’s even managed to get Katsuki to agree to a date.

“Uh, yeah, after you drop my shit off you can scram — ”

But before he can finish his sentence, the door opens of its own accord. And standing there, glaring with uncanny likeness to the blonde next to him, is who Shouto assumes is Katsuki’s mother.

“You’re late, you fucking brat,” she snarls, yanking Katsuki in by the arm. “I told you to call me if you’re going out. How fuck hell would I know if something happened to you?”

“Lay off, you damn hag,” Katsuki complains, fighting the hold. “I was just shopping.”

“You should’ve been packing — ” She pauses, finally taking in the sight of Shouto, awkwardly shifting his weight at her doorstep. “Did you pay some poor guy to hold your bags? Wait — This is the Todoroki kid, isn’t it? Wow, Katsuki, you really managed to — ”

Her next words muffled and lost beneath Katsuki’s palm leaves Shouto perplexed. “Shut the fuck up, woman!”

“Uh, I’m just here to drop some stuff off and I’ll be on my way, so…”

She waves her hand, swatting Katsuki aside. “Nonsense! Our Katsuki's worked you hard, so come in for a bit, we’ve got enough dinner for four. Don’t we, hun?” she calls back into the house.

“We’ve got plenty,” Katsuki’s father answers.

Katsuki, apparently too tired to argue, just shrugs morosely in a silent what can I fucking do?

And with that, Shouto lets himself be dragged into the Bakugou household.


Dinner is a rowdy affair. Shouto finishes his food without truly tasting any of it, too caught up in the bizarre family dynamics he’s presented with.

It’s completely unorthodox, a little brash, a lot loud — but Shouto thinks that something like this can only be rightfully described as warm.

He almost doesn’t want to leave, and return to the cold embrace of his own home. To the distant siblings who are as good as acquaintances, and his father whose mere presence is enough to sour Shouto’s mood.

“It’s getting late,” Ms. Bakugou says, as they show him out the door. “Are you sure you don’t want to stay over? We can pull out the spare mattress, it’s no problem.”

Shouto glances at Katsuki, who is surreptitiously not looking back and instead at some random spot on the carpet. "I shouldn't impose," he says finally.

"If you're sure.”

With a sigh, Katsuki pushes past him to shove his feet into his shoes. “I’ll walk him to the end of the street. Come on.”

Katsuki’s father folds his arms over his chest. “If you’re not back before midnight…”

“God, shut up. Who am I, Cinderella?” Katsuki snarls, grabbing Shouto’s arm. “I’ll be back in fifteen, tops.”

Shouto starts, “Katsuki, you don’t have to — ”

“You shut the hell up, too.”

Shouto shuts up, and lets Katsuki drag him out the door into the cool night air.


The walk is spent in silence.

Next to him, Katsuki is staring at the ground, hands shoved into his pockets. He’s close enough that Shouto can feel his warmth, but something about the distance between them makes him seem untouchable.

Even when they stop at the end of the street, Katsuki still has yet to say a word.

“Your parents are nice,” he offers.

Katsuki glances up to the sky, as if praying for patience. It’s late enough that the stars have come out, sprinkled across the vast expanse of dark blue. “They’re not the worst,” he grumbles.

Shouto knows he should leave, but something keeps him in place. Something, that has less to do with Katsuki’s inescapable gravitational force, and more to do with another scarier something — that gut feeling telling him this whole night seems unsettlingly, unerringly final. “The stars are beautiful tonight.”

Katsuki gives him a long, sullen look. “… Yeah.”

He waits, but nothing more is forthcoming. Defeated, Shouto sighs and murmurs, “… I'll get going now. You should head back and get some rest.”

“Yeah, yeah. Nagging asshole.”

There’s a moment where neither of them make a move.

And when they do, it’s simultaneous. Shouto takes a step away, and Katsuki jerks forward, wrapping Shouto in a lightning fast embrace before backing off just as quickly, red crawling up his neck to his ears.

And Shouto, bewildered, and having possibly short-circuited, is left to stare at Katsuki’s back as he stomps away in the direction of home.

Over his shoulder, when he catches sight of Shouto’s frozen form, he barks, “F-Fucking — Go already…!” only to be cut off by arms wrapping around his middle, a body pressed to his back.

Pressed up this close, his cheek against soft blonde hair, Shouto wonders if Katsuki can still feel the chill of winter brewing.

In his hold, Katsuki doesn't make so much as twitch. He’s completely, uncharacteristically still, but Shouto knows by now that the lack of a response isn’t any inclination of a positive sign, so regretfully, he makes to let go.

But Katsuki surprises him yet again, by turning around to reciprocate the embrace.

After the initial shock passes, Shouto tentatively rests his hands at the small of Katsuki’s back to bring him closer and leans down to hook his chin over his shoulder.

And because honesty is the best approach with Katsuki, he says, “Katsuki, I like you.”

Shouto feels his throat dampen where Katsuki has buried his face. Voice tight with tears, he says, “I know.”

Shouto wants to ask. But the way Katsuki lets him go that night feels so much like a goodbye that Shouto is too afraid to, the question weighing like lead on his tongue.

 


 

He doesn’t find Katsuki in the music room. Not the next Monday, nor the day after. Nor the day after that.

Shouto practises for the competition, the circled date looming along the horizon, even as the dread creeps through his stomach, constricting his chest until it’s hard to breathe.

By now, his left hand obeys him naturally and without thought. The piano is not enough to distract him.

But he plays, because he knows Katsuki wouldn't forgive him if he neglected to.

The worry comes to its peak when Midoriya comes to school one day, looking uncharacteristically harried. There are dark circles shadowing his eyes and his unruly hair mussed from anxious habits.

He heads straight to Shouto’s desk, somber and slow as a death march. “Did he tell you?”

Shouto’s on his feet without a second thought. “Tell me what?”

And the smile Midoriya sends him is so terribly wrought with self-deprecation and sorrow that the panic that lances through Shouto is so vicious it almost sends him back into his seat.

“Midoriya. Tell me what?”

“Kacchan’s been hospitalized. Indefinitely."

And just like that, the painstakingly welded fragments of his heart are shattered once again.


He doesn’t remember running out of the classroom. Later on, his classmates will tell him that he’d looked murderous — that he’d almost barrelled over their teacher on his way out with single-minded fury.

But it isn’t anger — not really. Just a terrible, aching sadness as it all comes to a head, what he’d always sort of known.

All he remembers is Katsuki’s embrace — the sight of his back as he’d walked away. And the sight won’t leave him even for an instant.

Not again.

He ducks his head, away from the glare of the sun, and keeps running.

Don’t leave me.


When he bursts into the room, Katsuki is sitting there in the bed, one of the books he’d bought that day with Shouto held open in his lap.

He takes in the IV drip, bandage covering the bruises on his cheek and his arms — the lived-in state of the room so reminiscent of how he’d found his mother that his vision swims and he braces himself against the doorframe.

Not again.

“When were you planning on telling me?” he asks, minutes into his self-loathing.

Katsuki snaps his book closed. “Never,” he says calmly. “And this is exactly fucking why.”

“I — ” I deserved to know. He doesn’t, not really. He hadn’t done anything to earn Katsuki’s trust or his affections. I needed to know. It doesn’t change anything, now that he does.

But even still, Shouto presses his palms to his eyes, forcing himself to calm.

“How bad is it? You’re going to get better, right? It’s only for a while until you — ”

“Shouto,” Katsuki says, and maybe it’s the cadence of his name spoken from those lips for the first time, or maybe it’s just the sight of him there and the sound of his voice that has Shouto cracking at the seams. The stalemate is broken and he staggers forward. Katsuki looks up when he stops at his bedside, before sighing and setting his book aside. "Sit down. Why do you look like you're the one who should be here?"

Shouto can't move. Not until Katsuki shuffles out from under the covers and gets unsteadily to his feet so he can push at Shouto’s shoulders and force him to sit.

“Tell me the truth. … Please.”

Before him, Katsuki shifts, debating whether or not to answer. But Shouto has always bested him in the game of patience.

“It’s not anemia.”

Shouto nods.

Katsuki swallows, before continuing. “It’s… It’s not good.”

“How long?”

This time, Katsuki does not answer.

Shouto just nods, absently. It all feels like a distant nightmare.

Then he drops his head forward to Katsuki’s stomach, feeling a hand come to rest hesitantly in his hair.

And for some reason or another, the tears never come, even though it feels like the world has been ripped out from beneath his feet, leaving him in a free-fall with nothing to catch him.


“You again.”

Shouto sets his bag down aside and takes his seat. Katsuki doesn’t look any different than usual, but Shouto can’t help but try to catalogue every minuscule change, memorize every tiny detail.

“Didn’t think you’d come back,” Katsuki says, eyeing him in return just as carefully.

“Of course I would,” Shouto answers, pulling out his school books. “Who else is going to help you keep up with everything you’ve missed?”

Katsuki sits up a little straighter. “You know that shit doesn’t matter at this point, so — ”

“What would you like to go over first? Maths or English?”

It’s fifteen minutes into Shouto explaining their algebra lesson for the day that Katsuki finally interrupts him. “What the fuck are you doing?”

“Math.”

“Cut the crap, smartass. You wanted the truth and now you’ve got it, so what the hell is this bullshit?”

“Nothing is set in stone, so I’m simply preparing you for the outcome that — ”

Katsuki grabs his notebook and tosses it aside. “I’m fucking dying! Get that into your fucking head! If you’ve got the time to sit around here blabbering instead of practising like the half-assed shit you are — ”

“I won’t be performing. So I see no reason to practise.”

Katsuki’s expression turns livid; dangerous. “What did you just say?”

“I won’t be — ”

He breaks off, when Katsuki leans forward to seize him by the lapels of shirt. “I dare you to repeat that. Go on.”

Meeting his gaze, defiant, Shouto says, “I won’t be performing at the competition.”

Katsuki releases him abruptly, expression thunderous. “Then fuck off. I don’t want to see your shitty face here ever again.”

“Katsuki — ”

“Shut up and get out!” Katsuki yells, throwing a book at him that Shouto barely manages to dodge by hurrying to his feet. “I said I hated people like you the most, and guess what? That much hasn’t fucking changed.”

Shouto clenches his fists and shouts back, “I can’t play! I can’t fucking feel my hand again, so what the hell do you want me to do, Katsuki?”

At the confession, Katsuki falters.

And it’s the truth. Shouto can’t touch the keys without remember the way Katsuki had sat next to him as his mirror box — the way he’d cried into Shouto’s throat instead of saying goodbye.

Every time he sits at the piano, static overtakes his mind until his hand becomes numb, ice crawling through his veins as if everything had been reset to before they’d met — before Katsuki had shaped him to his music and dragged him along to his rhythm.

“You said you’d be there,” Shouto says raggedly.

“You idiot,” Katsuki says, bringing his knees to his chest. Shouto would hate to know that he’s made Katsuki cry again, but there are no tears this time — just tired resignation. “You freaking idiot. Even if I’m not there, you’re not alone if you have the piano.”

“I hate the piano.”

Katsuki stares at him, uncomprehending. “Don’t say shit you don’t mean.”

“I hate it. It hurts to play,” Shouto says, voice breaking.

“Sometimes,” Katsuki replies. “But sometimes it’s fun. And that’s the shit you gotta remember.”

“… It isn't. Not without you.”

Katsuki sighs and leans over to grab his hand, tugging him back into his seat. He stares at where their hands touch.

He should probably wish they hadn’t met — that Katsuki hadn’t entered his life and turned it upside down, leaving him vulnerable once again. Perhaps he’s cursed, for the people he loves to always leave him.

But he doesn't wish that even for an instant. 

“I’ll always be there,” Katsuki says, not meeting his eyes. “Whether or not I’m there physically. If you think of me when you play, then isn’t it the same thing?”

Shouto clenches his jaw and forces himself not to disagree. Instead, he asks, “Is it okay for me to think of you? You didn't want me to, before.”

Katsuki’s grip tightens imperceptibly. “… You can do whatever the fuck you want. As long as you play. I’ll know if you don’t, so — so don’t fucking think you can skimp out, you hear?”

Shouto simply nods; brushes his thumb over Katsuki’s knuckles before bringing the back of his hand to his lips.

Another whisper of a kiss that Katsuki refuses to acknowledge.


It’s Wednesday, the day of the second round of the competition.

Shouto stares at the familiar outline of the building, and tries desperately to force his thoughts away from last time. Midoriya approaches from a distance, waving and calling his name. There’s a figure next to him, and Shouto’s heart jumps before he registers red hair and unfamiliar red eyes.

As they near, Shouto greets them politely, trying not to let the disappointment show on his face.

Midoriya, who looks no better than him in terms of sleep, as he’s been in an out of the hospital almost as frequently as Shouto has been visiting, just gives him a tired smile.

“Good luck today, Todoroki-kun. I’ll be cheering you on as always.” With that, he wanders off, eyes far away, and Shouto has half a mind to stop him.

They haven’t had much of a chance to talk lately, and Shouto thinks the only one who’s taking the news about Katsuki harder than him is Midoriya.

But Kirishima lingers behind and beams a megawatt grin, keeping him rooted in place. “In case you’re wondering why I’m here, I’m Bakugou’s spy!”

At the mere mention of the name, Shouto perks up. “Katsuki sent you to…”

“Yup,” Kirishima says, popping the ‘p’. “I’m supposed to, and I quote, drag the fucker there if you have to! He was pretty adamant that I use physical force, so I’m glad it didn’t have to come to that. Also, he wants picture proof that you went, so say cheese!”

Shouto blinks as he’s abruptly bombarded by the rapid flashing of Kirishima’s phone. “Er…”

“Don’t sweat it, man, you look great,” Kirishima says, scrolling through the evidence with little nods of his head before sending them off. “By the way, can I record your performance?”

To say Shouto is bewildered would be an understatement. “I… I suppose?”

“Cool. ‘Cause Bakugou was all, don’t fucking ask and just do it, but I figured it’d be more polite if I asked. Y’know?”

Shouto somehow, absurdly, knows. There’s a warmth brewing in his chest, despite it all, that Katsuki wants to hear him.

That Shouto can still play for him.

“Thank you,” he says.

“Seriously, don’t sweat it! I’ve always wanted to go to one of these things. So, should I head inside now? Man, Bakugou always made me stay away from his ‘cause he’s real paranoid about messing up in front of people he knows, so I don’t even know how these things work…”

Shouto smiles to himself as he explains the process to Kirishima who nods with rapt attention. He understands now, that Katsuki, in spite of how hard he tries to push people way, is someone who is truly loved.

And perhaps, Shouto thinks, as he heads backstage to prepare, even without Katsuki at his side, he is not so alone either.


Yoarashi Inasa is there — the first place contender whom Shouto will not let get the best of him again.

This time, he will take first for Katsuki, just as he’d promised.

Only the winners are remembered. The words never made as much sense as they did now.

And like last time, it is Yoarashi who approaches him. “I was wrong about you, Todoroki,” he says.

Shouto inclines his head. “How so?”

“You’re nothing like your father.” Shouto stiffens, but Yoarashi powers on. “But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to give it my all to beat you again.”

“I… will also do my best not to be defeated,” Shouto replies. Now that his head is filled with thoughts of that man, he does his best to ensure that none of the consternation he feels shows on his expression, lest he offend Yoarashi yet again.

Yoarashi bows stiffly before turning away. Then, almost comically, he spins right back around on his heels. “You’re friends with the little explosion boy,” he says.

Shouto, pushing all errant thoughts aside, attempts to focus on the wayward conversation. “… Who? Oh, K — Bakugou?”

“Yes! He hasn’t been replying to his messages, so I’ve been worried!” He shouts it, as if reciting from a textbook written in the air above him.

“Bakugou is… unwell,” Shouto reluctantly says, the words leaving a sour taste in his mouth. Despite his best efforts, the expression on his face must give something away because Yoarashi stares a moment longer than strictly necessary, uncharacteristically somber.

“I see. Thank you for informing me! Good luck on stage!”

“Yes. You too,” Shouto replies.

And Yoarashi leaves him be, a pensive line to his mouth.

Shouto, left to his thoughts, cannot help but wonder, not for the first time, what it is about Bakugou Katsuki that leaves such a deep and lasting impression on those around him.


It’s not as if anything has been reset. Nothing is the same as before, and Shouto knows it never will be again.

If anything, there can’t be a feeling more alien than the one he’s experiencing, as he walks onto the stage. The sight of the piano that usually sends his heart into a frenzy only serves to incite a prickling of numbness to his fingertips before even that fades away.

He has to play.

At the very least, one last time.

As he acknowledges the audience and takes a seat, he wonders if the piano can ever make him happy again.

He brings his fingers to the keys, and his chest feels heavy with doubt.

A movement that was once unfairly easy — a jubilant freedom that was only brought about by the sounds of Katsuki’s violin — is now immeasurably difficult.

He loves the piano, and in some sense of the word, he always has.

But he hates it, just as much, for the feelings it brings about. Katsuki had been right — he isn’t alone up on stage, when the music he makes brings everyone listening together as one. It’s just that none of it seems to matter when it’s all so far away and none of them are him. The one he plays for.

If you think of me when you play, then isn’t it the same thing?

It isn’t. It can’t be.

Shouto plays the first note.

Like a lullaby, the melody is woven. Like a resonating cry of desperation, the bass responds.

Shouto plays, every note painful and forced until he renders it anew — forcing them to come out gentler. Because it’s a song for Katsuki, he can’t be cruel.

He can’t be rough.

He has to be patient, like Katsuki hadn’t always been with him.

It has to say I love you in a way that Katsuki will accept.

But what does it matter? an errant thought in his head asks. What does any of it matter in the end if he’s going to leave you anyway?

Just like she did.

He doesn’t stumble. He doesn’t falter.

He forces the thought away, because it does matter. He won’t forget, the time he’d spent with Katsuki, no matter how short. They’d been bright — brighter than fireworks against a night sky.

Some things are worth remembering.

The song isn’t about the ending, after all. It’s the bits in between that stick with you and change you, for better or for worse.

Shouto plays, and thinks of the sight of Bakugou Katsuki, holding his violin — of how the world had fallen away, leaving only the two of them.

A violinist, and his accompaniment.


 

“How did it go? Did he play?”

Shouto bites back a laugh as Kirishima gives him a conspiring grin. “After all this time, and you haven’t even given me your number.”

There is a pause on the other end of the line, and Katsuki curses under his breath. “… Half-and-half? Why the fuck do you have shitty hair’s phone?”

“He let me borrow it.”

“Well, what the fuck do you want? I’m not in the mood to listen to your stupid voice, so make it short.”

“I wanted to apologise,” Shouto begins, but is almost immediately cut off.

“This shit again? I don’t wanna hear it, I’m hanging up —

“I’d like to apologise, because I didn’t win first today.”

There’s a brief pause and a grumbled, “Whatever. S’ no big deal, as long as you played.”

“Yes. I’m sure you’ll enjoy the recording that Kirishima so kindly made for you,” Shouto says, amused.

“Th… That fucker — Did he tell you everything?!”

“Just about.” Shouto laughs at the muffled mutter of traitor. He shoves his hand into his pocket, away from the biting air. “It’s cold today,” he muses. “I’m glad I brought the scarf.”

“Damn right, asshole,” Katsuki grouches. “You’re fucking welcome, by the way.”

“To show my gratitude, I suppose I’ll have to try harder next time.”

There’s a brief silence — this time, much heavier. Shouto waits with bated breath, before Katsuki says, “Next time?”

“I’m going to do my best, even though playing is painful. I’ll bring you a gold medal,” Shouto tells him. “So please don’t give up either.”

There’s a quiet hitch to Katsuki’s breathing. “You fucking jackass. You sadistic fuck. Do you even know what you’re asking?”

As if he hadn’t spoken, Shouto says, “For now, please accept two silver medals.”

“… In your damn dreams, you half-assed piece of shit! If it’s not gold, you can shove it up your — ”

“Katsuki, can I get your number from Kirishima?”

“J — Just do what you want, you awkward fuck! I'm hanging up!”

It’s as close to a yes as he’ll ever get.

Shouto smiles and vaguely, as his next breath comes out in a puff of cold air, he hopes they can see the first snow together.


 

[Sent to: Bakugou Katsuki]

> which one of these do you prefer?

> [attachment: 23123.png]

 

[Received from: Bakugou Katsuki]

> don’t just send me shit out of nowhere

> i should just block your number

> that’ll show you

> and i want all of them. obviously

 

Shouto smiles, and purchases all of the books on the display.


“Those better be the fucking pastries I asked for or get the hell out,” Katsuki grouses, sitting up as Shouto enters the room.

He sets the bags filled with novels aside before presenting Katsuki monotonously with an artfully wrapped box.

“Fuck yeah. Open it.”

Shouto obeys, taking a seat and untying the ribbon. Katsuki licks his lips and dives right in.

“What shall I bring tomorrow?”

Through a mouthful, Katsuki glares. “Shouldn’t you be practising instead of coming here everyday?”

Shouto idly reaches out to brush the icing away from the corner of his lips. “I’m fully capable of multitasking.”

“You ain’t doing that right now, jackass.”

“… It’s too late for you to be pushing me away, don’t you think?” Shouto reprimands.

“It’s not too late. You’re just a stubborn fuck who won’t catch a damn hint no matter how hard I try,” Katsuki says, glaring at the pastry in his hand. “If you slack off on practising, I won’t forgive you.”

“I won’t slack. I said I intend to take first place, and I meant it.”

“… Good.”

“As long as you hold onto your end of the agreement.”

“Uh, I don’t recall agreeing to anything, shithead.”

“I’ll struggle on, and so will you,” Shouto says. “Because if we didn’t, we’d both be the type of people you hate the most. Right?”

“That makes no fucking sense. You don’t know what you’re asking of me. You’re in denial or some shit and I get that, it took me a while to get used to the idea at the beginning. But I’m fine with it now. There’s no struggling for me, because this is just it. So don’t fucking ask me to try — " He leans forward, peering at Shouto's face. "Oh my god. Are you — Are you crying? Shit. Shit. Shouto — ”

“That's unfair,” Shouto says, as Katsuki shoves the box of pastries aside to mop at his tears aggressively with a wad of tissues. He hadn't realised he'd allowed his tears escape.

“Yeah, but that’s just how it is. You think this is what I fucking want? To waste away in this goddamn room?”

“… I’m in love with you,” Shouto says, and there are no more accompanying tears. He doesn’t have it in him.

“You’re an idiot,” Katsuki tells him, just as aggressively as his ministrations. “And I know, so you don’t have to fucking say it.”

“Did you listen to my performance?”

Katsuki drops the wad of tissues aside. “Obviously.”

“I played for you. Did you like it?”

He clenches his hands in his lap and says, sharply, “Enough, just drop it — ”

“I don’t care that you think you have a time limit.” Before Katsuki can tell him he doesn’t think, he knows, Shouto powers on. “I don’t care about any of it. I’m in love with you, and I want to know if you feel the same.”

“It’s better if you don’t know.”

“Why?”

“Because — ” Katsuki grits his teeth and looks away. “Because it’ll be easier for you to forget — after. Okay? So just fucking drop it already.”

“Katsuki,” Shouto intones. “I don’t plan on forgetting, ever. Not in this life and not in the next.”

Why? If it’s gonna hold you back — ”

“It won’t. No matter what, I want to remember.” Some things are worth remembering, after all. No matter how much it hurts to, he won’t forget this.

There’s a long moment where Katsuki seems to swallow without knowing what to say. Then, he murmurs, “We shouldn’t have met.”

“Don’t,” Shouto grits out. “Don’t say that.”

“It’s true. If we didn’t meet, then you wouldn’t have — ”

“I wouldn’t have fallen in love with you, yes,” Shouto interjects. “But I also wouldn’t have started playing again. I wouldn’t have faced my fears, and I wouldn’t have learnt to see the world in colour. It was black and white without you, and there’s nothing that could make me wish I never got to see it as something else. So — don’t say that we shouldn’t have met. I’m glad we did and I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Katsuki is quiet, eyes suspiciously wet. Then, hesitantly, he reaches out, hand trembling just slightly, and Shouto meets him halfway to take his hand into his own. “You damn asshole… For what it's worth, I’m glad I met you, too.”

Shouto, who will take anything Katsuki will give him with earnest gratitude, can only smile.

Outside the window, there is the beginning of flurries. The first snow of the year, and Katsuki has made it this far.

Shouto thinks it isn’t farfetched, to wish to see the fireworks together again.

“Let’s go outside, to the rooftop,” he says.

Katsuki gives him an icy look. “It’s fucking snowing.”

“Yes. Exactly.”

The look filled with utter loathing can only mean, you know I fucking hate the snow you bastard. But eventually, something on his face must have convinced him, because Katsuki sighs, “… You know what? Fine. But you’re gonna have to carry my ass up three flights of stairs.”


The trek up is slow. Katsuki’s weight on his back is not heavy, rather much lighter than he’d hoped, and Shouto can’t help but want to prolong the moment.

But Katsuki demands, “Faster.”

“I’m not a horse,” Shouto returns, pausing briefly to hitch Katsuki a little higher to get a better grip.

“If you don’t want it all to fucking melt before we get there, hurry the fuck up. At this rate, we won’t get there before summer.”

Shouto snorts, but reluctantly picks up the pace. “Eager, are we?”

Wrapped up in Shouto’s scarf and jacket, Katsuki buries his face into Shouto’s shoulder. “Hell no. Just want to get this over with.”

“You haven’t been outside in a while, right? The fresh air will be good for you.”

“Shut up. That ain’t fresh air, it’s freezing air.”

“A needless distinction,” Shouto answers absently, as he kicks open the door to the rooftop. It’s not as cold as Katsuki had exaggerated it to be, and the snow is still falling gently, melting as soon as it touches the earth.

He sets Katsuki down on the bench, who yanks him down with him immediately. Agreeably, Shouto takes a seat next to him, and Katsuki plasters himself to his side. “If you take even one step away from me, you’re dead. Got that?”

Shouto suppresses a laugh. “You’re being dramatic. It’s not that cold.”

I’m cold, so I’m saying it’s that fucking cold!”

“Should we go back inside?”

Katsuki glares at him before turning away, to stare up at the grey sky. A snowflake lands on the tip of his nose. “No. I’m enjoying the view.”

“I thought you hated the snow.”

“I hate feeling it. But looking at it… is okay, I guess.”

Unable to resist, Shouto takes the plunge, and brings his arm around Katsuki’s shoulders to draw him closer. Cautiously, suspicious as a feral cat, Katsuki peers at him through his eyelashes.

“Sly motherfucker,” he says, but makes no move to reject the action. It’s likely he’s just cold, and Shouto naturally runs warm, but he sags a little with relief anyway.

“Next time, we'll watch the fireworks again,” Shouto murmurs, catching snowflakes in the palm of his free hand.

“Next time,” Katsuki agrees quietly, and Shouto turns to him.

“So, you’ll…”

“I won’t give up. I’m not gonna make any promises, but… I’ll keep fighting. So y — you better not slack off, either, you got that? If I hear anything from Deku or Shitty Hair about — ”

Shouto leans in and kisses him.

This time, Katsuki kisses back, hands gripped shakily to the front of Shouto’s shirt. His mouth burns hot, but his cheeks are cold from the winter air.

Shouto wants to imprint the sight of him like this, flushed and beautiful and pliant beneath his fingertips and so very real, beneath his eyelids, forever.

“Until we can stand on stage together again,” Shouto says, taking his hands in his, blowing out gently to warm them. “One more time.”

Katsuki hums and closes his eyes. He drops his head onto Shouto's shoulder, and it’s not a yes. It’s not a no, either. But it could be a maybe.

And that’s enough for Shouto, because he’ll take anything Katsuki is willing to give.


“I’ll do it,” Katsuki breathes. Outside, elsewhere, the fireworks are starting.

His mom and dad stiffen in alarm. Even the doctor blinks in surprise. “If I should remind you of the risks — ”

“No need. I’ve made up my mind.” He knows them by heart, after all. But this time, thinking about Shouto’s earnest gaze and the way he’d clutched Katsuki close under the first snow — the way he brought his fingers to the piano keys, every touch filled with trepidation as if they were burns scalding his skin — he thinks he could fight for this.

There’s no way he could lose to Todoroki Shouto.

After all, he can be brave, too.

So when the doctor asks, once again, “Are you sure?”

With a tired grin, Katsuki answers, “Bring it on.”


Shouto brings the gold medal to his lips, before raising it to the audience’s thunderous applause.

“That was such a spectacularly emotional piece, Todoroki-san! You’ve truly done it again!" the interviewer exclaims. "May I ask, what you were thinking about today while you were playing?” 

“The same as always,” Shouto tells her with a hint of a smile. “Winter.”

 

fin.