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“You’ve been called to something higher,” All Might says, from the high bench he’s seated at, surrounded by other guardians. To his right, Prudence rests his chin against his hand and hides his slump in the folds of his gray scarf. To the left, Enthusiasm smooths his blond hair and fixes Kirishima with an uncanny, wide-eyed stare. All Might should be known as Peace, but everyone still calls him All Might. “Be proud of yourself, my boy. You’ve done well.”

No one is called to be a guardian, to the Council of Ideals, by mistake. And yet Kirishima can’t quite believe that he’s been summoned. The council and All Might himself look down at him and nod, tell him this is where he’s meant to be. Guardians are people of conviction and purpose, each of them the embodiment of some great virtue or idea. Kirishima has always wanted to be one of them, longed for it with all his heart. But he can’t imagine what his essence might be, what power he holds within him that might make him worthy.

“It’s okay not to know, just yet,” Midoriya tells him, later, as they walk through the grand marble halls that the guardians call home. He runs a hand through his messy green hair, betraying a nervous energy that’s entirely at odds with his own ideal—he’s the inheritor of Peace, something he’d explained bashfully. “Even if it takes you a little while, you wouldn’t be here for no reason—”

The rest of Midoriya’s sentence is drown out by a loud bang as someone kicks open the door before them from the other side. The wood bangs against the wall, and Midoriya lets out a squeak as he barely dodges a blow to the head.

“Out of my way,” a rough voice growls, and the loose crowd that’s been milling in the hallway parts like the sea. Into the hall steps a young man about Kirishima’s age. The bright lights glint off his pale hair, and his face is contorted into a truly impressive scowl. Instead of the guardians’ customary white, he wears all black, his arms bare. His narrowed eyes rest for a moment on Midoriya before he notices Kirishima. “And who the hell are you, Shitty Hair?”

His hair had been an impulse decision. He’d been with Ashido, when he’d been summoned to join the guardians’ ranks. He couldn’t quite believe what was happening, and had said as much. She’d frowned at him, considering, then extended a hand towards him.

“What would make you confident?” she’d asked, just before her hand came to rest on his shoulder.

It was the first time he’d seen an ideal in action, up close. Pink light had shone from Ashido’s fingertips, surrounding him with an incredible warmth. When he’d blinked open his eyes again, she’d smirked at him with approval.

“Oh,” she’d said, “This’ll do. You’re really going to stand out, now.”

Maybe this guy can tell that Kirishima’s flaming red hair is the result of Confidence’s blessing. Maybe he’s trying to poke at what he perceives as a weakness, but Kirishima isn’t about to let him win. He lifts his chin, meets the man’s gaze with as much steadiness as he can muster.

“It’s Kirishima, not Shitty Hair,” he says. “And my hair’s not that different from yours.”

The newcomer’s hair is spiky, though not as much as Kirishima’s. Light seems to shine down on him. It’s not the sunlight filtering in through the windows, but rather a glow coming from the man himself—a pale, brilliant gold. A show of his own ideal.

The guy clicks his tongue against his teeth, red eyes narrowing with assessment.

“Whatever,” he mutters. Then, he turns suddenly, swinging at Kirishima with one clenched fist.

Maybe Kirishima should flinch, or try to dodge. He doesn’t have enough time to think about it, and it’s probably only instinct that his him holding his ground.

“Kacchan!” Midoriya calls out, sounding slightly panicked.

The guardian pauses an inch shy of punching Kirishima in the nose. For a moment, he and Kirishima stare at each other. Then, he relaxes his fist, flicking his forefinger against his thumb and striking the center of Kirishima’s forehead.

The pain registers first, and Kirishima takes an involuntary step back. A dust of golden sparks dance off Bakugou’s fingertips and drift in front of his vision.

“What the hell was that for,” Kirishima whines, rubbing at his forehead.

But without another word, the guardian is stalking off, hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans.

“Er,” Midoriya says, resting a hand on Kirishima’s shoulder, “You probably shouldn’t mind about Kacchan, too much. He mostly keeps to himself, but he’s got one of the strongest powers the guardians have ever seen, and…”

Midoriya continues to extoll the other guardian’s virtues for the next few minutes. Kirishima’s seeing stars all the while, long after the magic’s glow has faded.

--

His name is Bakugou Katsuki. Midoriya has known him for years, even though Midoriya is a relatively new inductee to the guardians and Bakugou has been one for years. No one doubts his power, or his effectiveness in taking on the forces that challenge peace. But rumors follow him wherever he goes.

“I’m just saying,” Monoma goes on, surrounded by a small crowd of other inductees, “We’re meant to be the guardians of virtues. What’s Mr. Explosive Temper the guardian of?”

Kirishima, sitting a few feet away, shifts uncomfortably. For most guardians, their ideal is obvious. It’s how they introduce themselves, or obvious from meeting them. Even nervous, muttering Midoriya embodies Peace in the way he connects with others and strives for goodness.

“See?” Monoma continues, when no one can give him a good answer. “He’s probably Anger, or Violence, or War. Does he really belong here?”

They’ve all heard those suggestions before. Given the way that Bakugou tends to go after Midoriya, it’d make sense if he was War. The two of them are surely opposites. But Midoriya always rolls his eyes at the suggestion, even if he doesn’t offer up any other ideas.

While Monoma’s carrying on, Kendou comes up behind him and smacks the flat of her hand against the top of his head. “Will you stop? He’s our ally. And we all know how quickly Admiration can become Jealousy, so maybe you shouldn’t be casting doubt on others, Monoma.”

Kirishima smiles as Monoma rubs at his head and mutters out an apology to Kendou—who, at the moment, is the obvious embodiment of Sense. Bakugou isn’t around for Monoma to apologize to directly, but if he was the conversation probably would’ve been over a lot sooner. And it would’ve ended with more violence that a whack on the head.

Even as he sits among his peers, Kirishima can’t help but feel defensive on Bakugou’s behalf. Their ideals are personal, the very essences of who they are as people. So what, if Bakugou doesn’t want to share who he is with all of them? That’s his business.

--

“So, who the fuck’re you, then?”

It’s not the first time Bakugou has asked him this question. Somehow, they’ve ended up as regular sparring partners. (Kaminari says it’s because Bakugou hasn’t managed to scare Kirishima off, yet, and Kirishima thinks it’s because Bakugou likes the fact that he can take a hit.) They don’t even really need to learn to fight—the battle that’s coming isn’t going to be a physical one—but it is a confidence boost, knowing that if all else fails you can punch the forces of evil in the face.

Kirishima lets out an impatient huff, catches Bakugou’s kick with his forearms crossed over each other. “I keep telling you, I don’t know.”

“Maybe if you focused on yourself instead of other people, you’d know.” Bakugou jumps back and moves smoothly into another strike. When he aims a punch for Kirishima’s jaw, Kirishima doesn’t react in time to stop it.

Most of what Bakugou says, he says carelessly. His words rarely reflect more than his surface intentions—his desire to keep everyone at arm’s length and to assert his superiority. When he questions Kirishima’s focus, it’s probably not because he’s noticed the way Kirishima keeps hanging around, the way he’s drawn to Bakugou like a moth to flame.

Still, the implication freezes Kirishima in his tracks, earns him a punch that sends him sprawling in the grass.

“Fuck,” Bakugou grits out, “Why didn’t you block, dumbass?”

Kirishima doesn’t respond, dazed as he stares up at the sky and tries to regain his bearings. The sun blazes bright above him, blurring his vision until a shadow falls over him. It’s Bakugou, leaning over him, blocking out the sun and replacing it with his dandelion-fluff hair and incurable scowl.

“You’re always glowing,” Kirishima tells him, even when Bakugou grabs him by the forearm and tugs him to his feet. “Your ideal, it’s always there. I can see it.”

It’s not universal. Most people’s ideal is only visible when they call on it directly, when it touches someone else to influence or bless them. Kirishima has seen Iida’s metallic gray surround Kaminari and Ashido when they’re getting out of hand, restraining them with the force of Responsibility. Uraraka’s power is opalescent, blooming in bubbles of Optimism when she’s trying to cheer someone up.

But Kirishima can always see the golden glow of Bakugou’s ideal, even when he doubts that Bakugou is consciously drawing on it. But that just makes it more frustrating that he doesn’t know who Bakugou is.

“When I figure myself out, will you tell me who you are?” Kirishima asks, rubbing at his sore jaw with the back of his hand.

“No one else has the guts to ask me, outright,” Bakugou tells him, looking at Kirishima like he’s very, very stupid.

“That’s me, clueless.” Kirishima laughs, spreads his hands, shrugs. “But that wasn’t a no.”

--

They come without warning, in the darkest hour of the night. No one expects them—like Kirishima, they’ve come to think of their white marble walls as impenetrable. Maybe being surrounded by each other’s ideals has left them thinking that there’s no darkness in the world, at all.

But they are all of them mistaken. Because Deception comes first, and then Destruction. They’re aided by a handful of pettier vices and iniquities, and together they lay waste to the guardians’ sanctuary.

Kirishima looks out at the destruction and swallows down furious tears. He tries to call upon his power and finds nothing but an overwhelming terror. There’s no force he can draw on, nothing he can do to join the battle raging outside.

“Stay here,” Prudence insists, when he’s gathered a group of them—Kirishima and Ashido and Kaminari and Sero and Satou—in one of the inner sanctums. “Do not leave, no matter what.”

Prudence—Aizawa—is going out to defend all of them. He’s going out to save the rest of them. Something fierce blazes through Kirishima veins, and he rushes forward, grabs Aizawa’s arm and tugs him back.

“Let me help,” he insists.

Aizawa stares at him with dark, inscrutable eyes.

“Stay here,” he says again, and then he’s gone.

Kirishima’s never felt so useless—until the next morning. When the smoke clears and the guardians gather, there’s one missing from their number.

“They took Kacchan,” Midoriya says, his eyes glazed and his voice hollow. “They took him, I couldn’t stop them, I couldn’t—”

Iida and Todoroki are on either side of him, supportive hands on his shoulders. Uraraka stands to one side, and for the first time her Optimism is deflated.

Are they all thinking the same thing? Are they wondering why Bakugou would’ve been taken, singled out? Do they think he was never really an ideal at all, but instead belongs among the vices?

Kirishima looks around the group of them, sees the truth in their eyes and feels something burning through him. He turns away from them all, teeth clenched so tightly that it hurts, and lets out a wild cry as he swings a punch at the wall.

Light flashes around him as his knuckles meet stone, come away bloody and red.

He should have been there. He should have done something.

--

He can’t be sure whether it’s the force of his power, or just a furious desperation, that causes the door to give way as he throws all his weight against it. The wood bends and splinters, and Kirishima barely notices as he rushes into the room, squinting as he adjusts to the darkness and looks around, not daring to hope.

As he steps into the room, he inhales sharply and then coughs. The scent of alcohol is thick in the air, and the old bar is musty and dark. The windows are dusted over, and the bar stools are overturned and scattered. But his eyes are drawn to the far side of the room, where he sees a golden light.

All his breath leaves him at once, and Kirishima almost cries with relief as he steps closer and sees Bakugou for the first time in days.

They’ve restrained him, as of course they would have had to. His arms are extended to either side of him, bound against the wall. His cheek and jaw are bruised an ugly purple. His lower lip is swollen. His head hangs down, until he hears Kirishima’s footsteps and looks up, eyes narrowed and expression guarded.

But Kirishima sees it, the moment Bakugou realizes who it is. His face softens, expression opening like a rosebud coming to bloom. His lips part in surprise, and then he lets out a harsh, triumphant laugh.

“Should’ve known,” he says, almost to himself. “Who else would be stupid enough to come after me?”

And Kirishima laughs, because if Bakugou has the presence of mind to insult him then he must be okay.

“I wouldn’t have let anything stop me,” Kirishima says, when he can catch his breath. There’s moisture gathering in the corner of his eyes that he brushes away impatiently. “I couldn’t—I didn’t—it doesn’t matter. I had to come after you.”

Bakugou looks up at him, and even though he’s tied down and bruised he looks utterly confident, completely at ease as he lets out a derisive huff. “Everyone else figured me for a lost cause, then.”

Kirishima wonders just how much doubt Bakugou has heard, over the years. How many people have questioned his ideal, and his place among the guardians.

“You’ve always known who you are,” Kirishima says, choosing his words carefully. He comes forward, and power surges through him as he tugs at Bakugou’s bindings. The red light of his power is warm, like coals heated over a flame. Focused as he is on Bakugou, he doesn’t even notice he’s drawing on it.

Again, Bakugou makes an impatient noise. “Obviously.”

“So, you could’ve just told everyone,” Kirishima says, getting one of Bakugou’s wrists free. He moves on to work on the other. “If they saw you like I do, they’d never question which side you belong on.”

Bakugou rolls his eyes, stretches out the kinks in his arm. “Everything we fucking do is based on belief. If those idiots don’t have any faith, it’s not my job to give it to them.”

“Mm,” Kirishima agrees, undoing the second restraint and taking a step back as Bakugou’s feet hit the ground. “But they didn’t, you know.”

Bakugou freezes, halfway through stretching his arms behind his back. “Ha?”

“Doubt you,” Kirishima clarifies. “The others are all out there, fighting for you. Midoriya and Iida and Todoroki and Yaoyorozu. And everyone else is waiting for us to bring you home.”

Bakugou turns away, at that, rubbing self-consciously at his wrist. “Idiots.”

“But,” Kirishima continues, “I think I deserve a little credit for getting here first.”

That, at least, gets Bakugou’s attention. He turns on his heel, sizing Kirishima up with his most critical look.

“Yeah, right.”

“Hey.” Kirishima frowns. “I mean it!”

Bakugou shoulders past him, lips curving into a smirk. “How hard could it have been? I gave you my blessing ages ago, it’s not like you were gonna lose.”

Kirishima opens his mouth to protest, but the words evaporate before he has a chance to speak them. Bakugou has never given him the benefit of his power, his ideal—wouldn’t Kirishima have noticed, if he had?

But then Kirishima thinks about why the vices would’ve wanted Bakugou in the first place—why they would’ve risked so much to attack the guardians and capture him, and him alone.

“They’re planning something, aren’t they,” Kirishima says, “Deception, and Destruction, and the others.”

“Chaos,” Bakugou says darkly. “That hand-covered fucker is their leader. They’re going to go after All Might, they’re trying to take us out entirely—”

Kirishima slaps a hand against Bakugou’s back as he realizes. “And that’s why they wanted you.”

Bakugou turns towards him, one eyebrow arched. “Fucking obviously. Keep up, Kirishima.”

“Because if you’re stuck here, and they come at us, then—”

“Then you’ll lose,” Bakugou says, flippantly.

Kirishima has never known Bakugou to face an obstacle he couldn’t overcome. He laughs in the face of challenge, revels at the thought of a true challenge.

“You’re Victory,” Kirishima realizes, feeling very foolish. How could he be anything else, when he’s so bright and golden and certain?

“Yeah,” Bakugou says, his voice hoarse. “And you were the only one brave enough to bring me back.”

Kirishima wants to protest. He isn’t brave, he’s a coward. He freezes up, lets his uncertainties get the best of him. The only reason he’s here, the only reason he made it this far, is because—

“If I wasn’t doing it for you, I couldn’t have done it,” he says, all in a rush. “If I’m brave, it’s only because I had to get to you.”

“It’s still brave,” Bakugou says, even as his cheeks go pink.

“We still have to make it back,” Kirishima says, his heart hammering in his chest. “We have to get you back before they strike—so we’ll win—”

Bakugou has already taken a step towards him. He reaches out, places his hands on either side of Kirishima’s head and tugs him forward with no gentleness.

“Guess you’ll need another blessing, then.”

Before Kirishima can say anything, Bakugou leans in and presses his lips to Kirishima’s forehead. This time, Kirishima feels the magic as it spreads over him, as certain and overwhelming as Bakugou himself. Golden magic dances like stars across his eyes.

“Let’s go home,” Kirishima says, reaching out with one hand.

Bakugou pauses for only a moment before taking Kirishima’s hand in his. Where their hands meet, gold and red dance across each other, like fireworks against the night sky.

“Lead the way,” Bakugou says, his usual sneer tinged with fondness.

Hand in hand, Bravery leads Victory home.