"So, uh, yeah, that's about it," Kirishima said, wiping his sweaty palms on his jeans. "I like you. Date me?" He grinned sheepishly and rubbed the back of his neck as he glanced up at Bakugou, who was frozen still. "I mean, it's okay if you don't want to, I get it, and I'm happy to stay friends - or not - well not happy but..." His breath ran to an end and Bakugou still hadn't moved, a confused squint still stuck on his face. "I just had to let you know. That's the manly way to do it."
Tsk. Bakugou clicked his tongue, the way he did went irritated or frustrated and Kirishima's smile fell. "Of all people, why did it have to be you, Shitty Hair?"
"I'm sorry," Kirishima blurted out. "I shouldn't have said anything. It's fine, it doesn't matter."
"The hell it doesn't," Bakugou said and glared at the ground. "Just sucks it's you. Anyone else I could just..." Tiny explosions crackled unconsciously in his palm and Kirishima stayed quiet as he reigned them in again. "But it's you. Can't just do that to you."
Kirishima forced a chuckle. "Heh, yeah, guess my quirk makes that tricky..."
"You really do have hair for brains, don't you?"
"Not because of your quirk, dumbass. Because I like you too."
"Huh?" Kirishima took a moment to check he really had heard that. "You do?" He couldn't help the grin spreading across his face. "That's awesome! So, you want to date?"
"No," Bakugou replied and ice water drenched Kirishima. "No, it's not that I don't want to," he added quickly. "I just. I can't, okay? I want to date the shit out of you, but I can't."
"You can't? Why not? Your parents won't let you yet, that kind of thing?"
"You think they could stop me? I'd like to see them try."
Bakugou sighed. "I promised myself I'd be hero, that I'd always put that dream first. You understand that, don't you?"
"Yeah, of course. It's one of the things that's so cool and manly about you. But what -"
"I swear, I want to be with you but -" With a growl Bakugou turned away and Kirishima could have sworn his eyes were glassy. "Who ever heard of a gay hero?"
Kirishima felt sluggish all the next day and time turned to glue around him. His heart crashed from elation Bakugou liked him to despair at what had come next, then back up again in an endless loop. By the time the final bell rang, he felt like the day had lasted a week.
"Kirishima, stay behind," Aizawa ordered as the class packed up.
"Woo boy, is someone in trouble?" Denki said, laughing and then adjusted his expression. "I mean, hope not, man."
Kirishima nodded at his friends as they left before approaching Aizawa's desk. "Have I done something wrong, sir?"
"Nothing that I know or care about," Aizawa said. "However I have noticed a change in your attitude today. Your reactions have seemed slower too. I don't care about your personal problems, but it is my responsibility to make sure you perform your best in this week's practical lessons. If there is a problem that will affect that, unfortunately it is my duty to help."
"It's nothing," Kirishima said. "Really," he added when Aizawa's deadpan stare didn't change. "It's fine, sir."
"Oh good." Aizawa slumped forward onto the desk, narrowly avoiding the half full mug of coffee. "Then you're free to return to the dorms."
Kirishima turned to go, but then paused. "Sir? Can I ask you a question about pro heroes?"
"Can it wait for tomorrow's lesson?"
"It's not really to do with lessons..."
Aizawa inhaled and forced himself back upright. "Fine. Shoot."
"Are any of the pro heroes... uh, gay? Or like, you know, LGBTQA or that?" Kirishima dared to check Aizawa's expression but found it as impassive as ever.
"Openly?" Aizawa asked. "I can't gossip about my colleagues' private lives, and not just because I don't care enough to know anything anyway."
"Yeah, of course, I was just wondering I guess," Kirishima said. He started to blush with nerves. "You just never hear it on the news or anything."
"Obviously there are queer heroes, just as there are queer people in any profession," Aizawa replied slowly. "However, they rarely choose to come out publicly, especially those at the top. Do you understand?"
Kirishima nodded. It was something he'd thought about a lot growing up, ever since he'd realised he was gay. He'd never been able to decide what to do though, and so had pushed it aside to focus on becoming a hero. Relationships and all the new struggles that would bring could come later, he'd decided. Except apparently that 'later' had become this 'now.'
"There are a few pro heroes you may have heard of that are out to the public though," Aizawa continued. "For example, Tiger of the Wild Wild Pussycats transitioned while working as a sidekick, although at that time he was not well known so the press took little notice. I can't say the same would have happened if he had done so at this stage in his career. Now he helps fundraise for transgender kids."
"I didn't know that," Kirishima said, new admiration for him swelling. "That's hella manly."
"I won't ask why the interest, but UA does offer support to students who-"
Kirishima shook his head. "I'm good, thanks sir, really." He sighed, and then the pent up words tumbled out of him. "It's just, don't you think it sucks? We live in a world where people can fly and a guy in our class is like, an actual bird and my best friend can explode his hands and all that's fine but people can't accept some people love differently? It just doesn't make any sense."
"These song lyrics make no sense," Nemuri said, curled up in the corner of Aizawa's sofa and looking far too at home. The cheesy pop song playing on the radio was almost at an end. "Though it is the kind of stuff Hizashi would pick. You nervous?"
Aizawa took a sip of his beer. "No," he said. It wasn't really a lie. They'd discussed it at length. Hizashi's PR team had already been briefed. His own name would stay out of it. It would be fine.
"It's okay if you are. It's a big thing."
"Okay. Whatever you say. Hey, it's finishing."
The empty can crumpled under Aizawa's grip as Hizashi's voice, smooth and profession, started over the tail end of the song. "Wasn't that a great tune to end the night with, listeners? Now, it's eleven PM and I'd better head home to my husband. We're having company over and, much as I love him, he's really not the entertaining sort."
Nemuri laid a hand on Aizawa's arm and he leant into it. "He'll pay for that jab," he muttered.
"Woah, looks like we've got a lot of calls all a sudden," Hizashi continued. "But I'm afraid they'll have to wait for tomorrow night. Goodnight folks, have a good one."
The ending theme played, but Aizawa still couldn't move. His eyes stayed fixed on the radio.
"He did it," Nemuri said. "Hey, you think we should order takeout to celebrate?" When she got no response she prodded his side and peered round. "You okay? Are you - are you crying?"
"No," Aizawa said, swiping at his eyes with the back of his hand. He kept mentally replaying Hizashi's words. My husband. I love him. He'd never wanted any publicity, but to hear it acknowledged like that was...
"It's a big deal. Maybe some day you'll both be -"
"My private life is nothing to do with the press. I don't want that."
Nemuri nodded. "I understand," she said, twisting the black ring on her middle finger. Aizawa knew they shared the same sentiment. "But anyway, takeout?"
"Once I was in range, the villain was simple to take out," Nemuri explained to the heroes gathering in the rubble. She gestured to the snoring man tied up with rope. "He didn't think to wear a mask. Quite a boring fight in the end. And he wasn't even cute. Nothing to get me excited about at all." She giggled and winked to one of the younger heroes, who blushed as expected. She smirked. All heroes needed a public persona, and the one she'd chosen was a lot of fun.
"Good job, Lady Midnight," said Fat Gum. "Good thing you dealt with this guy before he could cause any more trouble."
"It was nothing. Though, if you're really grateful, you could always repay me with a kiss."
Fat Gum laughed. "C'mon. Let's do a final check, make sure there's nobody in the rubble."
"I've got it." The group of heroes parted to reveal Hawks. He spread his brilliant red wings and feathers darted out to zoom across the battlefield. "Not sensing anyone, but I'll take a walk around."
"Maybe that guy was a bigger fish than I'd thought, if even the Number Two hero is here," Nemuri said, slowly running her eyes up him.
"Eh, I just happened the be in the area honestly," Hawks said with a shrug. "Though it worked out. I'd been hoping to meet you for a while."
"A fan? I'm flattered."
"Not quite." Hawks moved closer with a smirk, his voice lower now. "'Not cute' and 'repaying with a kiss,'? That doesn't sound like you at all."
"What do you mean?"
He nodded down at her ring, the black one she wore on her middle finger. "I noticed a while back. You've got a good sense of humour. And you get the importance of this stuff. Always thought you seemed like a gal I could work with."
"So a fan," Nemuri countered. "Not many people get the joke. Are you-"
"Nah, not me. But I meet people. At Pride and that, you know." He flared his wings again and the feathers suddenly returned, settling into place. "All clear," he called to the other heroes, who smiled with relief and began to chatter more freely. "Nice work," he added to Nemuri. "You could almost say you... aced it."
She laughed and rolled her eyes. "Like I haven't heard that one before."
"Hawks, your recent speech to the Hero Association shocked many and it's been described as unlike anything heard before. Do you have any further statements you'd like to add?"
With a frown, Hawk's pushed away the reporter's microphone. "I already said all I wanted to there. Besides, that was weeks ago. Don't you guys have anything else to ask about?"
He'd half expected that to throw the reporter, but he just smiled and smoothly moved on. "How about telling us a little about your time working with Endeavour? How did it feel to be working with the Number One hero?"
He fought the urge to roll his eyes. There were only so many ways to answer the same question. Interviews and all were important he knew, he just wished they would be a little more interesting sometimes. Mix up up a bit, you know? Although, thinking about it, there was one reply he hadn't given yet.
"You're asking the wrong question," he said, giving the camera a casual smirk he knew would intrigue the viewers. "Yeah it's pretty great working with the Number One, but not that different to working with Numbers Three or Four. What you should be asking is how it felt working with my longterm celebrity crush."
"Alright. And when was this?"
Hawks blinked. "Like, a couple of weeks ago? When I teamed up with Endeavour? You were just asking about it?"
That did it. Finally. The reporter stared blankly, brows migrating together as they put two and two together. "You mean to say Endeavour is your celebrity crush?"
"Surprised? I'll admit he is a little mature for me, but when has that ever got in the way of some teenager's fantasies? Now don't get me wrong, I know he's married and all, this is nothing but harmless fun. I've looked up to the guy for a long time, and even with that scar he's still pretty damn good looking."
To his credit, the reporter rolled with it and Hawks didn't miss the greedy gleam in his eye. No doubt this would lead the gossip sections. Endeavour might murder him for it later, but it was probably worth it. Besides, not like he could ever say it to the guys face. "So, how did it feel to fight by your idol's - no - crush's side?"
"That interview, huh? Who'd have thought that Hawks played for the other side?"
Todoroki tutted in irritation and kept his eyes straight ahead as he walked down the hallway. That human loudspeaker Monoma was mouthing off again and he had little interest in being caught up in his crap. Unfortunately, that seemed to be the main reason Monoma was doing it.
"Hey, Todoroki? How would you feel about having two dads?" Monoma asked, rushing to his side with a shit-eating grin.
"I'd rather that than no father figure," Todoroki replied.
"Isn't it kind of weird though? I mean, Hawks is only a few years older than us, but you'd be calling him Dad. Or Daddy."
"That seems unlikely. Hawks will not be marrying my father."
"Oh? Why not? Hope you're not against gay marriage, Todoroki!" Monoma raised his voice toward the end of his sentence, making sure everyone in the vicinity turned to look at them. "I can't believe someone in the great Class 1-A would be so homophobic! That's not very heroic of you."
Todoroki didn't rise to it. "Why would I be against gay marriage? I might want to get married myself one day. However, Hawks can not marry my father because he is already married. To my mother. Who is ill." He scanned the passing crowds for Kendo's bright orange hair - usually she'd have stopped Monoma making a nuisance of himself by now, but she was nowhere to be seen.
Someone else, however, was.
"Who's not being heroic?" All Might asked, appearing from the crowd. In his shrunken form he couldn't be seen over the crush of students and so Todoroki hadn't seem him arrive. "None of my students I hope! What's going on, Young Todoroki?"
"Monoma is attempting to use Hawks coming out during an interview and his adolescent attraction to my father to aggravate me, in the hopes of starting a fight I will then look bad for," Todoroki said, looking All Might dead in the eyes. "I think he also had plans to humiliate me by making me appear homophobic. At least, that's what I think he was doing. It was poorly executed so who knows what his actual intentions were."
Monoma spluttered and turned red. "I never -"
"Whatever they were, it's nothing you need to worry about, sir," Todoroki continued. "We were just on our way to class."
"I see," All Might said, looking between the two. "Now, I didn't see everything that happened, but I would not like to hear baseless accusations of homophobia between students. We reserve the term villain for those actually deserving of it, so they may be dealt with appropriately. If we flung the word all over the place, no heroes would feel they had to respond when a true villain appeared. Do you understand me, Young Monoma?"
"I - I'm sorry sir. I hadn't thought of it like that." Monoma hung his head. Todoroki was mildly surprised to hear real regret in his voice. "I won't do it again."
"Being a hero isn't always about fighting the villains we can see," All Might said. "There are many types of justice we must strive to bring into the world. Heroes protect people, all people. Plus Ultra!"
Todoroki tilted his head to the side. "Then how come there are never any pro-heroes at pride?"
Blood spurted from All Might's mouth and he tried to cover it with a coughing fit. Interesting. He waved his hand as the bell rang. "You'd best be getting to class, you two," he said. "I wouldn't want you to be late."
"It's never too late to come out," Toshinori muttered to himself as his made his way through the tightly packed, colourful crowd. That was what Hizashi and Aizawa had said to him, when he'd first approached them with his idea, and something they'd repeated often since. The words gave him comfort. Yes, he may be approaching fifty, but that was fine they'd promised. And it was fine if he never came out at all. He'd got a little choked up then. He'd only ever told one person before, and Hizashi had gotten a lot choked up when he told them that.
He could have done with Hizashi at his side now, but he was needed in the DJ's truck near the front of the parade and so Toshinori was left to navigate the throngs of people alone. Which was fine, he was an adult man after all. He'd prepared the best he could, reading up about what to expect and watching videos of past Pride events. He thought he'd been ready, but nothing could capture the intensity of actually being there, in the middle of it, surrounded by colourful flags and extravagant outfits and couples - trios even - holding hands and kissing and smiling and for once not looking afraid. Music pounded from out of sight speakers, mixed with laughter and chatter and the sizzle of fried food from the stands. A far cry from the dark alleyway he'd once impulsively kisses David in, before breaking apart and checking anxiously for witnesses, as though that was likely in such an isolated spot.
Toshinori stood a moment and just breathed, feeling like an invisible pebble in a rainbow river. Nobody gave him a second glance, their eyes skipping over the skinny guy with his hood pulled low and onto the next bright sight. Everyone walked with such purpose, such confidence, wide grins and flags held high for at least this day. He was out of place here. He didn't belong. That alleyway kiss might not have been the only one, but it wasn't like there were many more. Not enough. He wasn't enough.
His phone buzzed and Toshinori opened the new text from Hizashi. Having fun? Head over to the DJ truck once you've got your flag. You might not be the symbol of peace, but it will mean a lot to have you marching up front with us.
The message was followed by a long and mostly undecipherable string of emoji, and Toshinori smiled. A flag. He'd been looking forward to this.
It wasn't hard to find a stall selling them. The nearest had a young woman with long black hair staffing it. He approached the counter quietly and ran his eyes along the back. It was plastered with flags, more than he could name, though he'd done his best to learn. "Excuse me, miss," he said. "Do you have the -" He faltered. Aizawa and Hizashi had talked a lot with him about flags and labels. They were just words you could chose to help yourself understand, if that helped, they said. Sometimes people chose words only to find they didn't fit so well after a time. Sometimes people chose words they kept for a lifetime. Sometimes people didn't choose any at all.
Toshinori had wanted to understand. He had wanted the words to express how he was. A flag may be little more than a symbol, but if anyone knew the importance of symbols it was him. He wanted something concrete to point to, or as concrete as these things got. He wanted to make it obvious, so even his enemies wouldn't be able to deny the truth.
This required research. So he went online and read about people's experiences, some like him, some different, and been overwhelmed by the realisation he wasn't the only one. Of course he'd know, he'd heard about Pride on the news and he'd been to Aizawa and Hizashi's wedding and how could there have been David if he truly was the only one? But knowing it and keeping his distance because it hadn't seemed right, hadn't seemed viable for the Symbol of Peace to love men and women or love at all, all that was different to finally opening himself to it and hearing in the words of others the internal struggles he had faced so long.
And so he'd chosen one. It had taken a little while for that initial spark of recognition to grow into the certainty that this was the word he wanted to use, this was the flag he wanted to be a part of, and a little while more to raise the subject with Aizawa and Hizashi again. It felt strange, coming to these younger men with the fragile parts of his soul, but they welcomed him every time, and his confidence grew. Now, stood at this little flag stall at Tokyo Pride, it was time to bear a part of that soul to the world.
He cleared his throat and started again. "Do you have the pansexual flag?" he asked. "It's pink on top, then yellow, then -"
"Yeah, I know it," the woman said, ducking under the counter and reappearing with a folded cloth square.
"Thank you." Toshinori firmly grasped two corners and shook it, accidentally dislodging his hood as he did, to send the bright flag rippling out to its full size. It was larger than he'd expected. He looked at it a moment longer, then back at the woman. He'd forgotten to think this far. "What do I do now?"
"Whatever you want," the woman replied. "Some people wear them like a cape, you know, hero -" She trailed off as her eyes widened in recognition. "All Might?"
Unreasonable panic flared, the feeling of being trapped in a villain's glare, or knowing you've said too much. He forced a smile. "I am here!"
"Awesome," the woman said and her eyes glistened with happiness. "Do you want me to - I mean - may I help you tie it on?"
The panic settled and real warmth took its place. The smile was no longer forced. "I'd appreciate that."
She dodged around the table to take the flag from his hands. "Turn around."
As Toshinori did, he felt her smooth out the flag before wrapping two corners around his neck and tying it in a loose knot. He caught a flash of black hair out the corner of his eye and in an instant, it was a very different darkhaired woman he was stood with. A lump of emotion blocked his throat and he didn't try to stop the tears from rolling down his cheeks.
"All Might, are you okay?"
Toshinori didn't reply. Tears still brimming, he looked to the sky and smiled. "I wish you could have seen this."
"Did you see that, folks? What an end to a nail biting fight. That makes Bakugou the winner of the end of term battles!"
Bakugou wiped the sweat from his brow and stood there panting as some teachers checked on Todoroki and Present Mic kept up his hyperactive relay of the match. His classmates had gotten stronger, but so had he. A lot had changed in the past few months. If the next few minutes went well, there was more change to come. His body had long since adapted to the adrenaline of fighting, but when he looked down he saw his hands were shaking. Nerves were something else entirely.
He didn't argue as the teachers marshaled him over to the podium and was so caught up in his thoughts he almost forgot to snarl his thanks when they draped the medal over his neck. Contrary to popular believe he could use manners sometimes, and he needed Present Mic well disposed towards him for this to work.
Present Mic. His news had come not long after Kirishima's startling own declaration. Pure coincidence of course, but had Bakugou been the superstitious type he might have taken it as a sign. As it was, he'd done his best to ignore the gossip and hoped Kirishima wouldn't use it as an excuse to ask again. His will could only take so much. Thankfully, Kirishima had kept quiet, not even mentioning it or the now infamous Hawks interview. Nobody had been able to ignore All Might though.
In mere days the picture had reached an iconic status. All Might in his scrawny true form, wrapped in a bright pink, yellow and blue flag and waving cheerfully to the camera as he strode confidently along with the parade. I am here, the picture proclaimed, and Bakugou had felt the world change. Only a little, it took far more than a picture for anything major, but just enough that perhaps it was possible. Perhaps he could do this.
Bakugou remembered how he'd felt when he'd first used eyeliner with his mask. The way his fingers trembled as he applied it in a locked toilet stall rather than in the locker room, the bubbling anxiety in his stomach that halved his already short fuse. This was a hundred times worse.
All Might was speaking to the crowds still, harping on about good sportsmanship and their abilities and some bullshit, clutching a microphone Present Mic had handed him. Maybe it was just Bakugou's imagination, but his angular body seemed bigger recently, less weighed on. He wasn't sentimental, but he held onto that thought.
"Oi," he muttered in Present Mic's direction and the teacher looked round. "Gimme that thing when the old man's done talking."
Present Mic grinned. "Finally taking an interest in announcing?" he replied quietly, or at least quietly for him. "You've got the lungs for it. You need to work on your attitude though. I'll let you if you promise you won't be using you're usual bad language."
"The hell do you mean my 'bad language?'" Bakugou said, then scowled when he saw Present Mic's expression. "Fine. Whatever."
"Now, say it with me!" All Might roared and everyone got to their feet. "Plus Ultra!" Bakugou smirked, glad he'd got it right this time.
"And now our champion has a few words," Present Mic said, taking the microphone and handing it to Bakugou. "Let's hear what he's got to say."
"I'll keep this short," Bakugou said and tried not to think about how many people were packed into the stadium, about how his voice was echoing out of speakers in every direction for all to hear. He kept his mind on the one he was talking to. "A while ago someone asked me out. I said no, for dumbass reasons. Now, if the offer still stands, I'd like to tell him I take it back. I'll date the hell out of him. He knows who he is and can tell me his answer later." Bakugou stopped talking. The arena was silent. He scanned the seats for the familiar shock of red hair but there were too many people to make him out. It didn't matter. Kirishima was definitely watching. Bakugou grinned, a challenge to anyone who might be thinking of testing him. "And that's about it."