Chatter filters through the cafeteria. It fades to static in Katsuki’s head, pleasant background noise that mingles with the clink of cutlery and loud laughter. Summer’s coming. That puts everyone in a good mood, including him. He likes the sun. He especially likes that the sun makes Deku’s freckles stand out, a soft dusting of pigment across his cheeks and nose that Katsuki sometimes wants to kiss. Slowly he leans forward, wondering if he can sneak a peck without anyone at the table noticing.
Deku doesn’t look up. He’s too busy watching Todoroki pick all the vegetables off his burger.
Katsuki frowns. He’s the jealous type. He knows he’s the jealous type, because Deku’s told him several times. Also because the simple act of Deku looking at someone shouldn’t annoy him as much as it does, but he finds himself nudging Deku with his elbow all the same.
He blinks and turns. “Yes, Kacchan?”
Katsuki doesn’t know. He just wanted attention. “Gimme a pickle.”
“No,” Deku says and tries to shield his lunch tray with his arms. Katsuki manages to stick his fingers in it anyway, and is rewarded with two pickles and some ketchup under his nails. “No, my burger!”
“My burger now,” Katsuki says and wipes his fingers on Deku’s hand. “Thanks, sugar.”
Deku whines. Uraraka laughs at them from across the table, a smudge of mustard on her mouth. “You shouldn’t bully him, Bakugou.”
The table goes quiet. Katsuki’s shoulders stiffen just a bit, and Uraraka realises what she’s said. “I’m not bullying him,” Katsuki says.
Deku puts his hand on Katsuki’s arm. “She knows you’re not, Kacchan.”
“I’m not a bully,” Katsuki repeats, voice gravelly. “I don’t do that anymore. I don’t.”
Uraraka wrings her hands. “I was only kidding! Nobody seriously thinks you’re being mean to him, okay?”
Katsuki grinds his teeth. Deku puts a hand on Katsuki’s cheek and gently turns his head so they’re facing each other, and then stares at him with the same determined expression he always gets before he goes off and breaks a bone. “Kacchan. I’m happy with you. Everyone can see that.”
Slowly, Katsuki’s scowl lessens. “Fine.”
“Sorry,” says Uraraka.
He grunts. The chatter gradually picks up again. Kaminari says something stupid and Sero slaps him. Lunch continues the same as it always does, with Deku’s hand planted firmly in his.
The bell rings and everyone hurries to finish their food. Katsuki takes his tray and Deku’s. “Hey,” Deku says quietly, tugging him back by the sleeve. “You know I like you a lot, right?”
“Yeah,” Katsuki replies, equally quietly. Lunch Rush takes their trays and zooms off to handle some other pressing culinary matters. “Me too, or whatever.”
Deku smiles at him. Katsuki doesn’t smile back, but he does lean in and steal a kiss when nobody’s looking.
It’s nice, this thing they have.
Nice. Something Katsuki’s not. He’s aware of that, unfortunately.
It was kind of weird, at first, crossing the threshold from mutual antagonism to tolerance to begrudging respect. But Deku’s aggressive with his kindness, and he spent their first year in high school pushing until they turned into something like friends. Katsuki can’t really pinpoint the moment he actually started to enjoy spending time together, but it happened fast; he likes Deku, god help him. He likes his corny jokes and shitty fashion sense and inability to see a stray animal without touching it. He likes how Deku never properly wakes up until after ten a.m. and spends his mornings barely functioning. He likes the way Deku’s whole face scrunches up when he smiles, and that when he gets snacks from his mother he always shares with Katsuki first.
“If I could go back in time a couple of years,” he tells Deku one day, “I think I’d find myself and punch me in the face.”
Deku snorts. “Why?”
“For being a dick to you, I guess,” Katsuki says and kicks a pebble. It goes rolling across the grass and comes to a stop under a bush. “And also probably tell me to get over myself and admit your dumb baby face is kind of cute.”
“That’s the nicest backhanded compliment I’ve ever heard,” Deku says and laces their fingers together. “Don’t worry about it, though. I think I got the message eventually.”
Their first kiss was a disaster. Katsuki planted one on him in the middle of dinner, and Deku dropped his chocolate milk and they’d both had to clean it up. Pretty reflective of their whole relationship, actually. Messy, bumbling, but ultimately pretty good. At least they’ve gotten better at kissing since then, although Kirishima does still make fun of them from time to time.
And it’s comfortable. Deku’s always been there, even if they haven’t always been on good terms. They get each other. Deku can handle him, and he can handle Deku.
He can now, anyway. He hasn’t always been very good at that.
So he reminds himself to be kind, when he can. Does little favours and waits patiently while Deku coaxes a stray cat into playing with him on their way to the mall. He pays attention to what Deku says and does, tries to get to know him the way a good boyfriend probably should.
And he finds, halfway through their third year, that Deku’s probably outgrown him.
Deku’s independent. He’s growing up quickly, becoming responsible and outgoing and comfortable with himself. He’s blossoming. People love him, just like they love All Might. He makes friends as easy as breathing, which is something that Katsuki still struggles with. He’s mellowed out a lot since they started UA, but his personality really isn’t great. He’s abrasive and rude and loud and cynical. People are nice to him, yeah, but it probably says something that the only other person who hangs around him has thick skin for a quirk.
He’s being left behind, he thinks. Not in terms of the whole hero thing— just, like, as a person. That’s fine, really. He doesn’t need a lot of friends, doesn’t like socialising and not getting any time to himself. But seeing Deku surrounded by people feels like getting pushed out. It’s infuriating. Not because he’s surprised, or anything. It’s just kind of humiliating to think that Deku is Katsuki’s person, but Katsuki’s only one of Deku’s. Probably not even the most important one.
“Come to the arcade with me.”
Deku raises his head. He’s lying on his stomach in Katsuki’s bed, nose buried in a comic book. “When?”
“That’s Iida’s birthday.”
“Fuck Iida’s birthday.”
“The girls asked me to go shopping with them.”
“Sure. Wait, no, I volunteered at the old folks’ home. What about next weekend?”
“I’m going home, remember?”
“Oh. Sorry, Kacchan. We can take a rain check.”
Katsuki chews the inside of his cheek. Deku doesn’t look all that concerned, clearly more interested in finding out exactly why Captain America joined Hydra out of the blue. “Do you even care?”
Deku looks up. “That we can’t go to the arcade?”
“That we haven’t hung out in a month. We’re dating. We’re supposed to go on dates.”
“We’re hanging out right now.”
“I mean doing romantic shit or whatever,” Katsuki says, turning around in his desk chair. His Biology homework sits unfinished on his desk. “This isn’t the first time, Deku. Whenever I ask you out you say you’ve got shit to do with your friends.”
“You know they’re your friends too.”
“Do you just not wanna be around me? Is that it?”
“Where is this coming from?” Deku frowns and sits up. The comic book flops onto the mattress. “We see each other literally every day. I sleep over in your room every other night.”
“You didn’t last night. You cancelled on me.”
“Just to play video games! I invited you, you’re the one who didn’t want to come.”
“It was supposed to just be you and me.”
“It’s always just you and me,” Deku says and throws up his hands. “But sometimes I want to hang out with my other friends, Kacchan. You should too. It’s normal to want to spend time with different people.”
“Like fucking Todoroki?”
“What does he have to do with anything?”
“You spend more time with him alone than you do with me!”
“Because he is my friend,” Deku says testily. “I appreciate my friends and I’m trying keep them. I didn’t have a lot of those growing up, Kacchan. I think you know that well enough.”
Katsuki’s mouth snaps shut. Deku releases a long breath through his nose. “Look. I’m gonna go. We’ll talk later or something, okay?”
The bedsprings creak as he gets up. Katsuki stares at the wall, thinking about how Deku always used to drift around middle school alone. He doesn’t hear the door click shut.
Deku left his stupid comic book behind. Katsuki picks it up and puts it safely on the bookshelf. “I’m supposed to be your boyfriend,” he says under his breath to an empty rule. “I’m supposed to be your number one.”
“We had that! We were gonna win and you ruined it!”
“He had it coming!”
“You can’t just fly into a rage every time someone says something mean about you, Kacchan! That guy had a bomb! What would you have done if he’d hit the detonator for real?”
The VR shuts off, cityscape melting back into the drab grey walls of UA’s battle simulator. The villain of the week dissolves with his finger on the trigger of an atom bomb. Katsuki rips his headset off and looks at the single remaining screen. Death toll: catastrophic.
“Fail,” Aizawa’s voice drones over the speaker. “Surrender the headsets and go to the waiting room for your evaluation.”
Katsuki knows how their evaluation’s going to go. Deku’s livid. They don’t look at each until they get to the waiting room, and then Deku’s in his face before the door’s completely shut.
“What were you thinking,” he demands, almost desperate. “You know how many people just died?”
“It’s a simulation, Deku,” Katsuki yells back. “Nobody’s dead for real, don’t look at me like I’m some fucking murderer.”
“But you could have been! If you’d just controlled your temper for once in your life—”
“I had a plan! I was going for the remote!”
“You weren’t fast enough! You got mad and lashed out and that made you sloppy! You can’t take someone by surprise if you’re gonna telegraph your movements to the whole world!”
“I’m the one who gave you that advice! Don’t fucking tell me how to be a hero, Deku, I know what I’m doing.”
“You don’t know what you’re doing, you have the self-control of a five-year-old. You can’t just lose your head the second somebody annoys you. That’s how innocent people die.”
“You heard what he was saying! I’m supposed to just take that? I have the right to be mad.”
“You’ve said worse!” Deku shouts. “You’ve said worse to me, to my face. If I can put all the stupid things you’ve said behind me and still fucking date you, then you can sure as hell take your pride being bruised for five minutes so a million people don’t die!”
Katsuki raises a hand. He doesn’t know what he’s planning to do. Slam a wall, maybe, or grab Deku’s collar and scream right in his face. But someone catches his wrist, and he whips around only to be met with mismatched eyes and a disapproving frown.
“There are other people here,” Todoroki says, voice low and warning. “You should cool off and take this somewhere else.”
Katsuki glances to his right. The rest of his classmates, the ones who’ve already finished their evaluations, are sat awkwardly on the other end of the room. Kaminari shifts like he wants to get off the couch and run off. Kouda just looks like he’s about to cry.
“Midoriya’s right,” Torodoki says. “You should have handled that better. Don’t get mad at him for pointing out the truth.”
Katsuki laughs. It’s a scratchy, ugly noise, and blood rushes in his ears and makes his palms itch to explode as he wrenches his arm away. “Of fucking course it’d be you.”
“Kacchan,” says Deku.
Katsuki ignores him. Face burning, he spins on his heel and leaves the waiting room to go back to the dorm. The door slams shut behind him as he steps out into the harshly-lit corridor.
Aizawa makes him run an hour of laps for every hour he missed of lessons, which is fair.
Katsuki’s lungs burn by the time he’s done. Aizawa left ages ago, but Katsuki hadn’t dared slack off because UA has cameras every ten meters. Sweat drips off his brow and disappears onto the track. He’s not doing cardio for a week, not until the sight of his own running shoes stops making him want to hurl.
Something moves in the corner of his vision. Deku’s sitting on the bleachers, a bottle of water next to him fresh from the vending machine. Katsuki stares. Doesn’t come any closer, but doesn’t walk away when Deku comes over to join him. The drink is proffered. A peace offering, he supposes. Katsuki takes it and forces himself to sip instead of downing it all in one swallow. “You’ve gotten faster,” Deku says. “You got more laps in than I could’ve, I think.”
“You’re a tank. Focus on bulking, not sprints.”
“Yeah.” The way back to the dorms is largely empty. Everyone’s either goofing off or getting ready for dinner. “Sorry I said that stuff,” Deku says quietly. “I don’t mean to make it sound like being with you is a chore. Or that I don’t like it, or anything.”
And here it is. Deku making the first move, because he’s always been the bigger person and because Katsuki’s a bastard. “You didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”
“Maybe, but there’s a way to say things. I still think I was right about you being too hot-headed. But I wasn’t trying to make you feel bad.”
“The hell makes you think you made me feel bad?”
“You stormed off. You seemed upset.”
And you didn’t come after me. “As if. I’m tough. Couple words might piss me off but it’s not gonna get under my skin.”
“That’s good,” Deku says. Katsuki’s finished the water, so Deku takes the bottle from him and drops it into the trash. “I just worried. Todoroki said—”
“Todoroki,” Katsuki says and rolls his eyes. “I don’t care what Icy Hot has to say.”
Deku stops walking. “What exactly is your problem with him?”
Katsuki turns. “What, you mean other than the fact he likes you?”
“He doesn’t like me, Kacchan, god. I told you, we’re friends. Do you really think I would cheat on you?”
“Did I say you were fucking cheating on me? All I’m saying is Scarface has a thing for you and you’re too naïve to see it.”
“You’re being a possessive jerk,” Deku retorts. “You can’t keep me away from my friends, Kacchan. I don’t make a fuss about you hanging out with Kirishima.”
“Kirishima doesn’t flirt with me right in front of you.”
“Neither does Todoroki!”
“And I don’t put Kirishima before you.”
“Do you think I do that?” Deku says. His shoulders are tight and tense and his face is starting to redden from anger. “What, because I make an effort to be around other people? We’ve been through this. It’s normal to have friends. It’s normal to hang out with more than one person. I’m not like you, I don’t push people away for no reason.”
“The hell you don’t,” Katsuki says. They’re being a little too loud, probably, but nobody’s around to tell them off. “What about me, huh, Deku? We’ve been attached at the hip since fucking kindergarten. Now all of a sudden you decide you’re too good for me and you wanna ditch me for shopping and video games? You never used to be like this.”
Deku steps forward so they’re almost nose to nose. “How do you want me to be, Katsuki? How I was in middle school? Afraid of you?”
“No!” Katsuki says, frustrated. The use of his first name is jarring, an uncomfortable and sudden reminder of Izuku’s notebook turning to ash in his palm. “You used to care about me! You used to go out of your way to make time for me. Even when we hated each other you said I was your inspiration, or fucking whatever. Now it feels like I’m the one chasing you trying to get you to fucking pay attention to me.”
“My life doesn’t revolve around you. You can’t expect it to.”
“Why the hell not?” Katsuki says. “That’s the way it’s always been. I’m yours, you’re mine, that’s the way it works.”
“I’m not yours,” Deku says, gesturing wildly. “You have to give me some freedom, Kacchan. We’re not children anymore, we can’t live life in our own little bubble. We have to grow and make friends and –”
“I don’t need that shit, I just need you.”
“I need more,” Deku says, stunning Katsuki into silence. “I need more than one person, Kacchan. You’re important and I care about you but I can’t just isolate myself the way you want me to. Do you know how draining that gets? I need to spend time around other people. You’re just- you’re a lot, sometimes. And that’s just how you are but you stress me out and I know you don’t mean to but all the fighting and coaxing you and acting like a go-between for you and the rest of the class is exhausting. You’re exhausting.”
Katsuki stares at him. A bead of sweat rolls down his back and into the waistband of his pants. The birds are making their usual evening racket. Deku’s chest rises and falls, and he sighs, reaches out to wipe something off Katsuki’s face. “I… that came out a lot worse than I wanted it to.”
Oh. He’s crying. Stepping back, Katsuki sniffles and fiddles with the hem of his t-shirt. Deku tries to follow. “Kacchan, I’m sorry. I love you, I do.”
“Don’t touch me,” Katsuki says hoarsely. “I’m exhausting? Fine. You won’t have to deal with me anymore.”
“Shut the fuck up, Deku. We’re done. I’m done trying.”
“What? No, no, Kacchan, we can fix it. I like being with you, I promise. We can’t just break up.”
“Watch me,” Katsuki says, scrubbing tears off his face. Deku tries to touch him again, and Katsuki swipes at him. “Go fucking date Todoroki, see if I give a shit.”
Katsuki doesn’t answer. The world is blurry around him. Whatever tiredness he’d felt seems kind of distant now, so he breaks into a run, high-tails it back to his room like the furious, stupid coward he is. Deku can’t keep up. Katsuki races up the stairs and slams the door shut behind him, then sinks onto the floor and sobs into his knees.
Several people knock on his door that night. Katsuki doesn’t answer a single one of them, just stares at his hands and lights tiny showers of sparks until he finally lulls himself to sleep.
He doesn’t go to class the next day. Doesn’t get in trouble, though, because he’s cried himself into a snotty mess and Recovery Girl makes him stay in bed and rest. Kirishima brings him lunch. Katsuki doesn’t say a word but doesn’t bite his hand off when Kirishima pats his hair either.
Deku tries to talk to him the next day. Katsuki stonewalls like a pro. He just acts like Deku isn’t there, even after he goes back to class and has to sit right in front of him. He eats lunch with Kirishima and the others. Refuses to make eye contact with Deku, brushes his hand away when he tries to touch him. It goes on for days. Deku even shouts at him at one point, but Katsuki doesn’t rise to the bait. He tunes the yelling out and keeps reading his book. You wanted self-control, Deku? You got it.
Eventually Deku stops trying. Things between them stay frosty, and that makes their classmates visibly uneasy. Katsuki doesn’t blame them. They’ve been split down the middle, in essence, probably thinking they have to take sides now that Katsuki and Deku don’t speak. He doesn’t actually care what they do, though. Let Deku keep his friends. Katsuki’s doing fine on his own.
Kirishima still sticks around. Doesn’t really talk to Deku much either, probably out of some misplaced sense of loyalty. Katsuki appreciates it. He hasn’t actually said anything, but Kirishima’s probably guessed that Deku had hurt Katsuki’s feelings somehow. Katuski supposes he deserves it. He was right. This is karmic retribution. There was no way he’d get away with dating the guy he used to pick on.
He calls his mother at the end of the week. She spends ten minutes chattering about work and making fun of Katsuki’s dad before finally bringing up Deku. “How’s your boyfriend?”
“I don’t know,” Katsuki says, trying not to sound mad. “We broke up.”
She’s silent for a long time. “What happened?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
She hums. “Did you turn out to be too much for him?”
“For fuck’s sake, Mom—”
“Because I did. Before your dad. I’ve been there.”
Katsuki falls silent. There’s clinking on the other end, like she’s brewing herself a mug of coffee. Black, with a fuck ton of sugar. “Boys used to be afraid of me when I was your age. Didn’t stop me liking them, of course, but it never worked out. They always said I was too much, too intense, too many harsh edges. All of them. It got exhausting after a while.”
Exhausting. That word makes Katsuki wince. “But you got married.”
“Not without a lot of heartache first. I mean, I get it. I’m not exactly easy to be around.”
”Quiet, you little shit. Where was I?”
“You’re hard to be around.”
“I’m gonna go over to UA and toss you out a window. But, yeah. I am. It’s not something I’m proud of. I always used to think the same thing; you think being with me is hard? Try actually being me. Having to feel things with way too much emotion, and keep hearing people say they can’t be around me too long because I drain them. Like there’s something inherently wrong with the way I am.”
Katsuki picks at a loose thread on his duvet. The window’s open, and a soft breeze blows through and makes the curtains flutter. “How’d you deal with it?”
“Well, I grew up. I mellowed out a little after a while. But more importantly, I had to figure out if it was worth whittling bits of my personality away so people would like me more. There’s a balance. You shouldn’t hurt people for no reason, you shouldn’t be cruel. But you shouldn’t have to become a completely different person, either. In the end I decided that I would be me, and accept the few people who could handle me. I guess I was just never built for making friends.”
Katsuki leans back against the pillows. Among them is an All Might plush that Deku gave him last year. He puts it in his lap and plays with its foot. “You still ended up getting married, though.”
“Masaru’s tougher than most.”
“Dad’s a marshmallow.”
“Only on the outside. Your dad’s pretty unshakeable, Katsuki. You ever seen reeds in a storm?”
“They bend in the wind. But that flexibility means it’s impossible to uproot them. There’s nothing I could throw at Masaru that would surprise him anymore.”
“You make him sound like some kind of zen master.”
“More like a lion tamer.”
“You’re a gorilla.”
“You’re a baboon.”
Katsuki snorts. “So Deku’s not strong enough for me, is that what you’re saying?”
“I don’t know. But he’s a kid, just like you. He’s still trying to figure out how to be a person. It’s messy and complex. Figuring out how to be in love on top of that is hard.”
Katsuki hugs All Might to his chest. He doesn’t sniffle too loudly, but he thinks his mother probably knows. “Thanks.”
“No problem, baby. Don’t worry. You’re gonna be just fine.”
Todoroki asks Deku out in November.
Katsuki doesn’t mean to find out. They’re all still in the same class, though, so it’s pretty impossible to miss them holding hands on the way to lunch.
Rage blooms in his chest like ink spreading through water. He doesn’t go to the cafeteria. Instead he goes to his locker and gets the clean workout gear he always has on hand, and then goes to the gym and runs until his lungs are in his throat and he’s gasping for breath.
He takes a frigid shower and makes it back just in time for class. Deku glances at him, but of course doesn’t question why his shirt’s damp and he smells like shampoo.
Lessons barely make sense to him, although he takes down notes on autopilot. He’ll review them later. Training is the same as it always is, and he only makes two mistakes. Kirishima touches his elbow and asks if he’s feeling okay. Katsuki says he’s fine and that he’s just sore from working out too much the day before.
The school day ends. Katsuki packs his things into his satchel, and then wanders into the quad and sits by the fountain to stare at the fish. He doesn’t feel like going back to the dorms. Todoroki and Deku are probably there, holding hands and giggling and kissing each other in the sunshine.
Deku’s trying to make him jealous. And Todoroki’d been waiting all this time to swoop in and claim Deku for his own.
Katsuki pinches the bridge of his nose. Don’t be a dumbass. They’re not together anymore. Deku can do whatever and whoever he wants.
He sits there for a while, just breathing, long after the sun goes down and the lights in the dorm buildings go on. The birds are cacophonous again. It’s annoying. He’d go inside if he could drum up the enthusiasm to move.
A shadow falls over him. “I don’t want to talk, Kirishima.”
It’s not Kirishima. It’s Yaoyorozu, wearing a baggy sweater that probably came from Dior. “How long have you been out here?”
Katsuki huffs. “That’s none of your business.”
“You’ll miss dinner.”
“Kirishima’s looking for you.”
She sits next to him. Katsuki growls at her, but his heart isn’t in it. “I didn’t say you could sit down.”
“I know. But you look unhappy.”
“I always fucking look unhappy.”
She tilts her head. “Is something making you unhappier than usual?”
“No. Buzz off.”
“I’d rather stay.”
“Used to be a time you’d get all flustered if someone dropped the F-bomb around you.”
“I’ve been in charge of a gaggle of troublemakers for three years. I’d like to think that’s toughened me up somewhat.”
“Fair,” Katsuki grunts and leans forward to rest his chin on his hand. Yaoyorozu’s posture is perfect and dainty. Next to her he feels like a gargoyle. “So, what? Kirishima sent you?”
“No. I just wanted to see if you were doing alright. You seemed kind of distracted today.”
She drums her fingers against her knee. She’s looking at him, he can see it from the corner of his eye. “Is it Midoriya?”
A flash of annoyance seizes his chest. He tamps it down, though. It’s not fair to take his anger out on her. “No.”
She chews her lip, obviously trying to be careful with her words. “I suppose you must have found out about him and Todoroki, huh?”
He’s digging his fingernails into his cheek, he realises belatedly. They’re leaving little crescent-shaped indents in his skin. “I’m not talking about this.”
“I’m sorry,” she says quietly. “It must be hard, feeling like you’ve come in second place.”
Katsuki stands up abruptly, startling Yaoyorozu. “Fuck that. I’m not in second place. If anything I dodged a bullet. Deku’s made it real clear where his loyalties lie.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean he moved on pretty damn quickly. Guess I shouldn’t be surprised, he and fucking Todoroki have been making eyes at each other since they met.”
“I thought you were the one who broke things off.”
He spins around, aborting his plan of walking away from the conversation. The spite he’d felt when he first saw them holding hands is seeping its way back into him. “Yeah, I did. But I found out just today. How long have they actually been seeing each other? For all I know Deku threw himself right into that asshole’s arms the moment he was free of me. I know Todoroki was waiting for his fucking chance.”
“That isn’t fair,” says Yaoyorozu, eyebrows drawn together into a frown. “You can’t blame Midoriya for moving on when you’re the one who decided not to be together. Todoroki has nothing to do with it.”
“The hell he doesn’t. He’s a vulture.”
“He is not,” she says, clearly offended. “You’re acting like he stole Midoriya away from you. All he did was stay by Midoriya’s side when he was going through a hard time. That’s what friends are supposed to do.”
“And, what? They just so happened to fall for each other? I’m supposed to believe Todoroki didn’t plan that?”
“I don’t know,” Katsuki almost shouts. “By telling Deku what a shitty boyfriend I was. By hanging around him when he was sad so Deku would latch on. All I know is that Todoroki made Deku love him. I don’t know how.”
“He didn’t have to do anything,” Yaoyorozu says quietly. “Todoroki’s not hard to love.”
Katsuki takes a good look at her. There are bags under her eyes and her hands are clenched tightly in her lap. She keeps her gaze somewhere around his feet, teeth worrying at her lower lip. Her shoulders are lowered and tense.
Slowly, he sits back down. “You too, huh.”
“I never told him,” she says almost under her breath. “I was afraid. Bit late now, I suppose.”
He stares at his shoelaces. “I didn’t want to break up with him.”
“Then why did you?”
“It wasn’t working.” Crickets chirp from somewhere in the bushes. “Didn’t feel right, making him stay. Felt like the harder I held on the further he got.”
“At least you tried.”
“Todoroki’s an idiot for not noticing.”
“I’m an idiot for hiding it,” she smiles sadly. “But, well. I just want him to be happy, even if it’s not with me.”
Katsuki isn’t sure he can relate to that sentiment. Maybe he’s just selfish, but that’s hardly a surprise at this point. They sit there, side by side, saying nothing, just listening to the steady flow of the fountain and the cry of insects looking for their mates.
Sighing like a man much older than he is, he stretches his legs out and looks up at the sky. “You got your wallet?”
Yaoyorozu blinks. “Yes. Why?”
“Don’t feel like the Lunch Rush special,” he says and stands. “There’s a McDonald’s fifteen minutes away.”
He doesn’t offer her a hand up, but she joins him nevertheless. “You want to leave campus? Isn’t that dangerous?”
“Anyone who stands between me and a cheeseburger now is getting their throat ripped out,” he says and shoves his hands in his pockets. Someone shrieks with laughter from the dorms. “That includes the League of Villains.”
Yaoyorozu follows half a step behind. “I’ve never had McDonald’s before.”
“Of course you haven’t, princess,” Katsuki rolls his eyes. “Well, get ready. You’re gonna learn all about the joys of french fries dipped in ice cream.”
Time goes on, as time tends to do.
They finish their final exams. Aizawa’s last words to them as a teacher are, predictably, get out of my class. That night the hero department hosts a dorm party. Kaminari suggests sneaking alcohol in, but that idea is immediately shot down. The girls cry, which makes Iida cry, which makes everyone cry, and it’s a sticky mess that Katsuki gets stuck in the centre of because Kirishima decides it’s time for a group hug. Todoroki and Deku disappear. They’re probably making out on the balcony or something. Katsuki finds he doesn’t actually care, though. He’s okay. He’s going to miss this place, but he’s okay.
Sero, who’s the most business-minded of them, suggests they’re probably notorious enough to go pro on their own. The idea is intriguing. Katsuki’s got offers - Best Jeanist wants him back and Gunhead told him he’s welcome anytime. But being the boss of his own gang of idiots sounds like fun. “Ground Zero and Red Riot already have fans,” Sero explains. “Add me, Kaminari and Mina, and we’ve got a hip new agency. We can rent out an office and everything if we scrape up enough cash.”
Katsuki says he’ll consider it. He thinks about his future as he packs up his bedroom. His parents will bring the car at the end of the week to help get everything back home. It’s crazy how much stuff he’s accumulated over the years. Feels like it takes days just to empty his desk.
A worn hoodie catches his eye from the bottom of his wardrobe. It’s a bright yellow one that says Brave. “This is Deku’s,” Katsuki says out loud in the quiet emptiness of his bedroom. Huh. Maybe he should give it back.
He doesn’t. The idea of talking again is far too daunting, so Katsuki just shoves it into his suitcase and hopes he’ll forget about it soon enough.
Graduation is a stuffy affair. Nedzu talks for twenty minutes until someone unplugs the mic and All Might takes over. His speech starts the waterworks all over again, although Katsuki’s man enough to admit he sheds a few tears himself. They’re officially alumni. They’ve finished the hardest three years of their lives so far. Now they’re finally heroes.
Well, most of them, anyway. Aoyama announces he’s been scouted by a modelling agency, and soon he’ll be off to Paris to be in magazines and walk runways. Kouda’s found a wildlife rescue centre that needs his help. Satou’s turning his side business into a full-time bakery, and Hagakure gets snapped up by Public Security Intelligence the second graduation is over.
Katsuki wanders away from his parents once the speeches are done and the drinks are being served. Yaomomo’s standing by herself under a tree. She’s looking up at the flowers, graduation cap in her hand and cocktail dress obscured by her robes. He picks a petal out of her hair.
“We did it,” she says, smiling wide. Her lip gloss is pretty and pink.
“We did,” Katsuki replies. “You look unhappy.”
Her smile falters. “I’ll be okay.”
“Probably.” A cowlick is trying to ruin her updo, so Katsuki pats it back down. “So you gonna spill or do I have to beat it out of you, valedictorian?”
“Not in these heels, please,” she says. “I’m just thinking about my future, that’s all. My parents want me to join the family agency. They want me to move back home and take over the admin.”
“Admin? What about hero work?”
“I don’t know. The role they have in mind is more of a desk job.”
“Fuck that,” Katsuki says and sticks his hands in his pockets. “You’re a hero, not a secretary. Tell them to take their desk job and stuff it.”
“I really hope you don’t talk to your parents like that.”
“Sure I do.”
“Well, I definitely wouldn’t have to do the desk job if I said that. Wouldn’t be allowed back in the house, either.”
“Work with us,” Katsuki says without really thinking about it. Yaomomo tilts her head. “Me and the dumbass brigade. They wanna go independent. We’ve got a reputation already. We can be our own bosses, do things our way.”
She lights up, eyes slowly coming to life with hope. “Really? You’re forming your own agency?”
“Sure. We could use another brain. I mean, I’m smart, but I can only do so much with those deadbeats. And we probably need more girls. It’s kind of a sausage fest right now.”
“Oh,” she says, fingers curling tightly around the brim of her cap. “Oh my gosh. If you’d have me, I’d love to.”
“Cool,” Katsuki says, and doesn’t even yell at her when she beams and wraps her arms around his neck.
“What I mean is,” says Kaminari, “that we’re amazing. There’s no doubt about that.”
“Go on,” says Sero around the straw of his Starbucks.
“But Yaomomo,” Kaminari continues. “Yaomomo is out of our league. I mean, we’re rowdy. We’re cool, obviously, and I’m a bombshell—”
“—but Yaomomo’s sophisticated. She’s brilliant. Talented. Beautiful.”
“We know. What’s your point?” says Kirishima.
“My point is that we’re blessed to have her, but we’re probably bringing her IQ down collectively.”
Yaomomo laughs from the other side of the office. She’s making tea in the fancy little porcelain teapot they got just for her. “Am I being fired? Is this how we’re spending our anniversary?”
“Hell no,” says Ashido. “If you go, I go. ‘Cause, like. Feminism.”
“Nobody’s getting fired,” Katsuki says. He’s leaning back in his chair with his feet on his desk, leafing through damage reports and making notes with blue pen. “If she leaves then I have to deal with you fools. Except you, Ashido. You feel free to leave. You cost us more money than you make.”
Ashido slowly melts into the couch cushions like that’s going to help her hide. It’s the wonder the stupid thing is still standing, considering it’s literally being held together by duct tape. Most of the office furniture is second-hand. Nothing works right except the coffee machine, which Sero’s parents got them as an office-warming gift.
It’s a hideous space. Katsuki loves it. Maybe that’s architectural Stockholm syndrome, though. They’ve been stuck here four years to the day.
“Did we decide how to celebrate?” asks Kaminari, spinning around in his desk chair. “Let’s have a party and invite everyone.”
“I doubt we’ll be able to afford that,” says Yaomomo.
“We have to have some money,” says Kirishima. “Didn’t we have an official savings account and everything?”
“It’s empty,” says Sero.
“No way. I put, like, half my salary in there every month.”
“¥50,000 in tape residue cleaning fees after the robot attack,” Katsuki drawls, twirling his pen in his hand. “¥90,938 in reparations after short-circuiting an entire power plant and cutting off electricity to Shinjuku. And ¥821,736 in damages for collapsed buildings because Pinky and Hard Boy don’t understand the difference between regular walls and load-bearing ones. And that’s just this month.”
“Maybe we should just go out to eat,” says Ashido meekly.
“Numbers are depressing,” says Kaminari. “Turn on the TV or something, man.”
Ashido obliges. She flips through channels for a good few minutes before suddenly sitting up and shouting. “Hey! Midoriya’s on the news!”
Katsuki looks up before he can stop himself. The others crowd around the sofa and Ashido turns the volume up. Deku’s seated in a plush armchair, being interviewed by a pretty lady in a purple dress.
“And I’m sure the hundreds of people you’ve saved appreciate your hard work,” she says. “What are your career goals for the year?”
“I won’t bore you with the technicalities,” Deku smiles. “But the gist of it is that I want to become stronger.”
Bakugou rolls his eyes. It’s the most cookie-cutter response, the kind of thing a hero says when they’re getting bored of the interview and can’t think of something original. Deku seems so fucking earnest about it, is the thing. Like he thinks it’s a serious answer. Everything he says is cliché, which is probably why he’s so popular with old ladies and little kids.
“I hear that you received training from All Might himself. I imagine that must have contributed greatly to your growth as a hero.”
“It did! I owe him everything. He didn’t just teach me, though. All my peers benefited from being around him. That’s what makes them so formidable. I have a lot to learn from them.”
“He’s talking about me, clearly,” says Kaminari. Sero shoves him. “Come on, Midoriya, say Chargebolt.”
“Gosh, it’s a long list.”
“We’ve got an hour,” says the interviewer. The audience laughs.
“Well, the first person that comes to mind is Shouto. He’s a tactical genius, and his quirk has the kind of raw power I think most people only dream of.”
Yaomomo glances Katsuki’s way. He resolutely keeps his eyes on his paperwork, pretending not to listen to the audio in favour of looking busy.
“Uravity and Ingenium are role models too in terms of how dedicated they are to rescue. Your first duty as a hero is to civilians. It’s not all about fighting bad guys.”
“Chargebolt,” says Kaminari. Ashido tosses a cushion at him.
“All my ex-classmates are remarkable in some way. But, right now I’d have to say my biggest source of inspiration is Ground Zero.”
Five heads swivel in Katsuki’s direction. The pen in his hand skitters across the page, leaving a squiggly blue line in its wake.
“You have a history with Ground Zero, don’t you?”
“Oh, yeah, we grew up together. He’s been a driving force for me since we were kids. Honestly, he’s half the reason I became a hero. I’d always wanted to help people, of course, but his ambition and guts made me want to be tougher. For a long time I used him as a measure of my own success. He was the person I always wanted to catch up to. The one who made me do better and better.”
“Do you work together as heroes?”
“No, we’re attached to separate agencies. He’s the head of his own, in fact, which is really impressive at our age. I think today’s their anniversary!”
“Are you going to send him a card?”
“Maybe! I hope we get the opportunity to work together sometime.”
Silently, Kirishima turns off the TV. Katsuki breathes out heavily through his nose and pointedly doesn’t snap his pen in half. The clock ticks. Nobody moves for a second, awkwardly looking at each other while Katsuki reads the same numbers for the forty-fifth time.
“He really should have said Chargebolt,” says Kaminari.
Ashido scratches the back of her head. “Well, I guess he didn’t say anything that wasn’t true.”
Katsuki purses his lips. “Meaning?”
“You’re a slave driver. In a good way. Everybody does their best around you.”
“Maybe this is an olive branch,” says Sero. “When was the last time you guys talked?”
“Never,” says Katsuki. “And we never will. How the hell did he know it was our anniversary?”
“Everyone does. It’s in the Class A group chat. You’d know if you ever checked it.” Kirishima gets up and wanders across the office to pat him on the head. Katsuki doesn’t protest because he knows the idiot won’t listen. “Don’t worry about it, man. We’ve been in the news a lot lately. Maybe that just reminded him how cool you are.”
“Don’t butter me up,” says Katsuki. “Use your nails.”
Obediently, Kirshima scratches his scalp. “Bet Midoriya wants to get in with the cool kids,” says Kaminari conspiratorially. “You know, since we have the hero world’s hottest power couple.”
“Who?” snorts Katsuki. “You and your right hand?”
“It’s my left, actually. I meant you and Yaomomo.”
“We’re not a couple,” says Yaomomo at the same time Katsuki does.
Ashido bats her eyelashes. “But you live together and everything.”
“So?” says Katsuki.
“So, the sensible thing would have been for you to live with the guys while Yaomomo bunked with me,” she points out. “But you two got your own little apartment together and make dinner every night.”
“One, I make dinner because Princess can’t fry an egg and eats more than all of you combined,” Katsuki says. “And two, I got her to board with me because anything beats living with you frat boys.”
“I’m a girl,” says Ashido.
“It’s not like we sleep in the same room,” Yaomomo says, sipping her tea. “And I don’t eat that much.”
“You got us kicked out of an all-you-can-eat.”
“I helped,” says Kirishima cheerfully. “Don’t pick on them, guys. You know Bakugou likes boys.”
“And she’s too good for him,” says Sero.
Ashido stretches out on both his and Kaminari’s laps like an ungodly pink housecat. “It’s kind of sexy, though. Sophisticated rich girl with delinquent bad boy. No wonder the media loves you.”
“At least somebody loves him,” says Kaminari.
Katsuki throws an eraser at him. It bounces off his forehead and goes rolling under a cabinet somewhere. “I rule most of our fanbase.”
“Untrue. Yaomomo gets all the ad requests.”
“Can you imagine Bakugou trying to sell stuff?” says Sero. “Like, Bakugou the used car salesman. Or if he went door to door selling vacuums.”
Katsuki’s run out of erasers to throw, so he tosses a stapler. Unfortunately Sero ducks just in time to avoid it. “Shut the fuck up. You know I’d sell the hell out of whatever ad I did.”
“Do the underwear commercial, then,” says Ashido. “They keep asking. You know Calvin Klein himself is dying to see you nude.”
“Have you ever actually tried explaining to people that you’re not a couple?” asks Kirishima. “They’d lay off you if you corrected them.”
“I kind of prefer this,” Yaomomo admits. “My parents are hell-bent on having grandkids. At least if they think I’m dating Katsuki, they won’t keep trying to set me up with well-bred strangers.”
“I’m not coming out to the media,” Katsuki says. “Don’t any of you fuckers dare ruin my beard.”
Ashido puts her hands up in surrender. “Don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone you like to look at Kirishima’s butt.”
“I do not.”
“Aw, thanks,” says Kirishima.
“What about mine?” asks Sero.
Kaminari pats his arm. “You don’t have a butt, buddy.”
That starts a chorus of catcalls. Yaomomo covers her face with her hands to stop from giggling. Katsuki considers throwing his entire desk at them, but satisfies himself with flipping them off and ordering everyone to get back to work.
The day passes quickly. They end up going to a ramen place because that’s the only thing they can afford, but it’s noisy and fun and the spicy miso is so hot it makes Katsuki’s nose run. He eats three bowls, which delights the manager. Yaomomo eats seven, which horrifies him. After that they move on to beer, and by ten p.m. Katsuki’s buzzed and draped all over a giggling Kirishima.
“We should do this every day,” says Kaminari, gleefully prodding Kirishima’s ribs and watching him squirm. “Why don’t we do this every day?”
“We don’t have any money. And we can’t fight villains drunk,” Kirishima says. “Quit tickling me!”
“Yaomomo could afford a drink or two,” says Ashido. “She could buy a whole restaurant if she wanted.”
“My family could,” says Yaomomo. Her mascara’s smudged somehow. “I don’t have any money myself, you know. I’m saving.”
“Good,” Katsuki says and reaches across the table to pat her face. “We can afford houses when we’re eighty. Get you a cute twink and be his sugar mama.”
“Don’t push your dreams on me.”
“Bakugou likes twinks,” Sero whispers loudly. Katsuki throws a peanut at him. “He has a type.”
“I’m a twink!” says Kaminari. “Am I your type?”
“You’re a moron,” says Katsuki.
“You like morons,” says Ashido. “You hang out with us.”
“Am I a twink?” asks Kirishima.
“You’re a twunk,” says Sero.
Ashido takes a long sip of her beer. “Hey, hey Bakugou. Are you okay? Seeing Midoriya on TV again, I mean.”
“It’s not like I can avoid him,” Katsuki shrugs. “He’s just as big a name as I am. Probably bigger.”
“I don’t know why he brought you up out of the blue,” Yaomomo says, partly to herself. “I’m not sure if that was entirely appropriate. It’s not worth holding a grudge, I guess. It’s been years. But you barely ever speak.”
“Maybe Kaminari’s right,” Sero says. “It might just be a media thing. Pretend that all the heroes are playing nice, make us seem all unified.”
“Hang on,” says Kaminari. “Midoriya’s huge now. I don’t know if you can still call him a twink. He must at least be a twunk, right?”
“Bakugou has more than one type,” Kirishima says decisively. “He likes muscles too. He told me. One time he saw Iida naked in the locker room and right after he had this dream where—”
Katsuki shoves a fistful of peanuts into Kirishima’s mouth to shut him up. “Stupid handsome Deku. I can’t believe he had the nerve to hit his growth spurt after breaking up with me.”
“I thought you broke up with him,” says Ashido.
“He was a dick.”
“Midoriya is not a dick.”
Katsuki scowls into his beer. “He’s not. I was. It was probably karma or something. How dare I try to fall for the guy I used to pick on.”
“There’s no point being upset about it now,” says Kaminari kindly. He’s feeding Kirishima peanuts out of his hand like a horse. “You know sometimes things don’t work out. It’s nobody’s fault.”
“It was. It was his,” Katsuki grumbles. “Dumb bastard made me like him and then fucking outgrew me. I know I’m a lot. I know I’m not easy to deal with. But I thought he could. We spent our whole lives together already. I thought we’d grow old together too.”
“You were young,” Yaomomo says and squeezes his hand. “You did what you thought was right at the time. Maybe you guys just weren’t ready to be in a relationship yet. Maybe you needed time to grow up and be your own people.”
“I wanted to be his person,” Katsuki says morosely. “I don’t know why I’m telling you my life story.”
“You’re drunk,” says Sero.
“You’re drunk,” says Katsuki.
“We’re all drunk,” says Kaminari. “We should get more drunk and celebrate properly.
“Good idea. I don’t wanna hear any more sad stuff.” Ashido finishes her beer and puts the glass down. “Okay, Bakugou. Tell us the dream about Iida.”
“Explain to me how you’re not hungover.”
Yaomomo sips her coffee. “I think we’ve already established my metabolism is a mystery.”
Katsuki groans. It’s bad enough he woke up with a crick in his neck and a pounding headache, but his mouth tastes like ass. He makes grabby hands for her mug. “I need a shower.”
She hands it over. Only half of it’s left, but he gulps it down gratefully. “Take the morning off if you have to. I’ll let you know if anything comes up.”
“I’m not taking the morning off.” He tries to get off the couch, but halfway through his muscles kind of go fuck you and give up. “Fuck. Okay. Maybe I’ll be late.”
She pats his head and picks up her purse. “We’ll see you later. I’ll stop by the bakery on the way to the office.”
He manages to drag himself upright and clean himself up after only an hour of moping, inhaling an entire pot of coffee as he goes. In the end he makes it to work before lunch. Five pairs of eyes watch him warily as he comes through the door, and he tenses on instinct. “What?”
Ashido squeaks and hides something behind her back. “Nothing.”
“What did you do?” Katsuki asks, immediately suspicious. Kaminari and Sero share a glance. Kirishima slowly disappears behind some paperwork.
“You tell him,” Ashido says to Yaomomo. “Please! He doesn’t yell at you.”
Yaomomo sighs. “We’ve got a little bit of a situation. Ashi—uhm, somebody might have accidentally signed you up for a modelling gig.”
Katsuki parses this. “What.”
Ashido wails. “I’m sorry! I was drunk and we’d been talking about finances, and then I was looking through my emails and the Calvin Klein people keep contacting me, and—”
Katsuki holds up a hand. Ashido falls silent immediately. The headache he’d just managed to beat is slowly making its way back into his skull. “You’d better be kidding.” Slowly, Ashido shakes her head. “No. Okay. So what you’re telling me here is that you told Calvin Klein, the clothing company that I care nothing about, that I would model for them. In my underwear.”
Ashido sinks behind a desk to hide. “Yes.”
“For fuck’s sake, Ashido,” Katsuki says and pinches the bridge of his nose. “Call them now and tell them it was a mistake.”
“Hang on,” says Sero. “You haven’t heard how much they want to pay you. We are pretty short on funds, Bakugou. This might be a good thing in the long run.”
“The fuck it is!” Katsuki snaps.
Yaomomo shows him the forwarded email on her phone. “That’s what they’ll give you for five days of work.”
The number makes his eyebrows go up. “Huh. Okay, that’s a lot of zeroes. But why the fuck do I have to do it? Yaomomo’s the one everyone wants.”
“I’m not posing in my underwear,” Yaomomo says. “It’s antifeminist if I do it.”
“You’re a grown up, you’re allowed to wear what you want.”
“To be the face of some capitalist company that only wants me so they can objectify me for profit?”
Katsuki throws his hands up. “So I have to be the one being objectified?”
“It’s less of an issue if you do it. And you’re the second-most popular in the agency.”
“I’m sorry,” Ashido whines. “I don’t even remember sending the email.”
“I’d go in your place but they don’t want me,” Kirishima says sadly.
“Think about it!” Kaminari says, clasping his hands together. “It’ll be embarrassing, maybe, but we’ll be able to pay off all our damages! Get some new equipment, training, interns, a new TV!”
“And the fans,” says Sero. “I bet your popularity’s gonna skyrocket once everyone sees your abs. Maybe you’ll even beat Momo.”
“Why me?” Katsuki barely manages not to stomp his foot. “I’m a fucking hero, what does my job have to do with underwear? It’s not even, like, sports equipment or self-defence shit.”
Ashido shrugs. “They’re doing some cheesy themed campaign, I think. You’re not the only male hero they asked.”
“Heroes are kind of celebrities in their own right,” Yaomomo says. “It’s not unheard of to accept sponsorship. It really does help pay the bills.”
“Todoroki’s family had to make money somehow, right?” says Kaminari. “And we can ride the popularity boost and start making merch.”
Sero snaps his fingers. “Ooh, good idea. We can have Yaomomo make some prototypes and expand if they do well. Have you ever made a keychain?”
“Can’t be more complicated than a cannon,” says Yaomomo.
Katsuki puts his face in his hands. “I still haven’t said yes, you money-hungry bastards.”
“Look, just think about it,” Yaomomo says, voice irritatingly reasonable. “If you really hate the idea, we’ll say something came up. But this could be a smart business move. And, like Ashido said, you won’t be the only one. Don’t think of it as selling out or whatever it is that’s worrying you.”
“It’s my pride that’s worrying me.”
“Pride means nothing in the face of a paycheque,” says Sero.
“Think of it as charity,” says Ashido. “Blessing the world with a view of your muscled torso.”
Kaminari wolf-whistles. Katsuki bellows across the room at him to shut up.
The thing is, they really do need the money.
Katuski knows this because he has direct access to their finances. And with the amount of damage these idiots rack up monthly, they barely have enough left over to cover the rent. That’s nothing to say of their actual salaries; Katsuki spends a fortune on groceries just because Yaomomo needs so much food to fuel her quirk.
He’s not planning on taking the job. He has pride and integrity, and won’t sell out to prance around half-naked in front of a camera for cash. Even if out’s a lot of cash. Even they’re in real danger of starving to death.
It’s a lot of cash, god damn it. And Yaomomo’s right. It seems kind of unethical to make her take his place just because he knows how advertisers tend to treat female heroes. It has to be one of the boys. Unfortunately, he’s the most popular one.
So he ends up downtown on a Wednesday. Calvin Klein’s Japanese headquarters loom above him, a sleek 33-storey building made of steel and polished glass. Katsuki hates it. Hates the polite receptionist who tells him where to go and hates the silent lift that takes him up to the thirtieth floor. Hates the gentle hum of the air conditioning and the plush carpet under his grimy boots.
He hates the armchair he’s given just a little bit less just because it’s so comfortable. The agent he talks to makes him think of a smooth-talking vulture, and she’s not put off at all by his scowl. “It’ll be a great opportunity for you to expand your business,” she tells him. “Accepting a sponsorship can be a lifesaver for start-up agencies. Your fan base will grow before you know it.”
The contract she gives him is as thick as a textbook. He signs where she tells him to sign, dying inside a little bit when she offers her hand to shake. He pointedly doesn’t take it. “Don’t worry, you’ll have fun,” she tells him with a big smile. “I think you’re going to do spectacularly well.”
The others are eternally grateful. They’d better fucking be, anyway, because Katsuki’s signed his pride away for the sake of the agency.
The shoot’s supposed to be in the beginning of April, so he has a whole month to be grumpy. His teammates are especially nice to him, though, and by the time he goes back to the Calvin Klein building he’s mostly just resigned to his fate. The intern assigned to be his PA quails a bit at the dead look in his eyes. Someone hands him a coffee, and he sips it and trudges to his doom and hopes that his parents never see this for as long as they live.
It’s chaotic. The whole floor’s dominated by cameras and complicated lights. Stylists and crew members power-walk around the set with terrifying determination. Katsuki’s ushered to hair and makeup, where he barely manages to sit through an hour of being primped and fussed over.
He’s probably ground his teeth to stumps when they finally release him on set. He’s not the only hero here, he realises belatedly. Monoma’s having his nails painted, and Aoyama winks at him from across the room.
Someone taps him on the shoulder. Katsuki turns, and then looks down. It’s a middle-aged woman with huge glasses and a bowl cut, and she frowns at him despite being less than half his height. “Why do they keep giving me blonds?”
“I don’t know,” replies Katsuki, somewhat offended. “You people are the ones who kept begging me to come here.”
She sniffs. “Go get changed. Tell Mari you’re wearing ensemble 6.”
Ensemble 6 turns out to be an open white dress shirt and a pair of briefs. Katsuki steps back onto set feeling like an idiot. “Why am I wearing half an outfit?”
“Your partner has the other half,” says the stylist.
“Hey, Kacchan,” says a voice from behind him.
Very slowly, Katsuki turns. Deku gives him a sheepish smile. Katsuki looks down and further down; they’ve stuck him in a pair of jeans and nothing else. The waistband of his underwear is clearly visible. “Jesus Christ.”
“Yeah,” Deku says and scratches the back of his neck. “I feel a little silly. You look good, though! Uhm, not in a weird way. Just a regular way.”
Katsuki’s going to blast a hole in the wall and walk out. “I’m not working with you.”
“You requested him,” says the stylist. “You were given a list of the other models in the initial invite and you specifically said you’d work with Deku.”
“I didn’t—” Katsuki says, and then swears. He’s going to murder Ashido. He’s going to make her clean the office from top to bottom and then throw her right out the window. “Fuck. Why are you even here?”
“Gran Torino said I may as well make myself useful and make him some money,” Deku says. He’s changed his hair, Katsuki realises. Cropped the sides into an undercut so his jaw looks strong and square. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen your forehead before.”
Katsuki fights the urge to hide his coif with his hands. “This was a stupid fucking idea. I quit.”
“You signed a contract,” says the stylist flatly. “Go get comfortable with the camera unless you’d like to pay the termination fee.”
Katsuki grumbles and goes. Deku plods after him, bare feet making no noise against the marble floor. “So, uhm. Congratulations on reaching four years. You guys have done a lot of great work.”
Katsuki grunts. The photographer snaps a practice shot. The flash makes him want to shut his eyes.
Deku twiddles his fingers. “It was nice of you to pick me to work with. I don’t think I’d be able to take photos with strangers. I mean, Aoyama’s here too, I guess, but he’s a pro. I think I’d just make him look bad.”
“Where’s Icy Hot?” Katsuki asks. The photographer asks him to smile, and he bares his teeth.
“I don’t know where he is,” Deku says, chewing his lip. He always does that when he’s flustered. Katsuki hates that he knows that. “We, uh. We broke up. We don’t see each other that often anymore.”
“Oh.” That’s kind of satisfying to hear. Maybe Katsuki’s just petty. “When?”
“Almost three years ago. We figured we’d be better off as friends.”
So they were barely together two years. “I see.”
“Yeah.” The photographer tells them both to try a few poses. She gives up pretty quickly trying to get Katsuki to smile, but does tell him to make actual eye contact with Deku instead of pointedly looking away. “I, uhm. I heard you’re with Yaomomo now?”
We’re not together, Katsuki’s about to say. Deku’s looking at him through his eyelashes, though, expression soft and kind of hopeful. Not the way you’re meant to look at someone you used to date. “We moved in together after high school.”
“Oh,” says Deku. “Oh.”
“I see,” he says, clearly trying to seem unaffected. “I kept seeing you in the newspapers, but I know reporters like to make conjectures. I wasn’t sure if it was true.”
“Take a seat on one of the boxes over there,” says the photographer. “Deku, you sit on the floor and look down. Run your right hand through your hair. Ground Zero, arms behind your head. Someone get his shirt open some more.”
They do as they’re told. The photographer takes them through about a hundred different poses, shouting strict instructions for them to move each body part as though it were a separate prop. Eyes up, shoulders back, tilt your head. It’s mind-numbing. By the she gives them a break Katsuki wants to punch someone, and half-hopes his alarm will go off so he can escape and fight some crime.
“This is exhausting,” says Deku. “I don’t know how Aoyama does it for a living.”
Katsuki flops onto a plastic chair by the snack table. This whole ordeal is slowly desensitizing him to not wearing pants, unfortunately. “I got punched in the face with a car two weeks ago. That was a little more bearable.”
The corner of Deku’s mouth lifts. They’ve been careful to keep his freckles visible through his makeup, so they go across his nose and cheeks and down his shoulders. He’s acquired more scars too, somehow. “I thought I was the one with the death wish.”
“Guess your dumb ass must have rubbed off on me at some point.”
Deku takes a coffee cup off the table and perches on the chair next to Katsuki’s. He’s obviously self-conscious, curled in on himself even though nobody spares them a second glance. “Yeah. Gran Torino still yells at me about that. Apparently I’m even more reckless without you around to yell at me.”
“No shit,” Katsuki snorts. The pang in his chest is a little hard to ignore. “That’s what happens when you work alone. Nobody calls you out on your fuckups.”
“Do they do that? Your team.”
Katsuki looks at him out of the corner of his eye. Deku’s studying his coffee, cheeks and ears a little pink. Katsuki can’t tell if that’s shyness or makeup. “Yeah. They take orders but nobody gets away with mistakes. Not even me. That’s how it’s supposed to work.”
“That’s good,” Deku says quietly. “You’ve changed a lot since we were kids.”
“Working with people. You used to hate that,” Deku says. “It surprised me when I heard you guys were forming a team. I didn’t think you’d want that. And you turned out to be so good at it. Well, you turn out to be good at everything, eventually. You were probably built to be a hero.”
And isn’t that a novel idea, after a lifetime of being told he’s too much, too harsh, too volatile. Katsuki folds his arms and turns away. “Where’s the coffee?”
“Oh, I took the last of it, I think. Sorry.”
Katsuki holds out his hand. Deku hesitates, then hands over his cup so Katsuki can finish it. He would make more of a fuss about sharing saliva, but they’ve done that a lot in the past.
“You two get back to work,” calls the stylist as she scuttles across the set. “We have a long week ahead. This is just a practice shoot, so you two had better not disappoint me.”
“For fuck’s sake,” Katsuki says and downs his lukewarm coffee.
Deku smiles. “I look forward to working with you, Kacchan. Come on. Let’s go.”
“Ashido’s going to die,” is the first thing he says when he opens the front door to his apartment.
Yaomomo’s on the couch eating chips. She sees his face and sheepishly waves, scooching over so he can flounce theatrically onto the cushions. “How was the shoot?”
“Did you know Deku was gonna be there?”
“I might have seen it in the email,” she mumbles. Katsuki glowers at her, and she hides behind her bag of Lays. “Sorry. We weren’t sure if we should tell you. If you’d known Midoriya would be there you might not have gone.”
“So you just let me run into him without warning? And why the fuck did she tell them I’d work with him?”
“You’ll have to ask her that,” Yaomomo says and meekly offers him a chip. “Sorry. Seeing him again must have been kind of a shock, huh?”
He crunches it savagely. He’s ravenous, he realises. It’s about seven p.m. now, and he skipped lunch. “It was humiliating. Bad enough I have to prance around half-naked in front of a camera for a week, now I have to do it with Deku.”
“At least he’s in the same situation, I guess?”
Katsuki scowls at his knees. “I don’t want to work with him. I don’t want to be in the same room with him, let alone take photos together.”
“Is it really bad?” she says, chewing her lip. “We shouldn’t have sprung it on you like that. Look, we’ll call them up tomorrow and tell them you won’t continue, okay? Don’t worry about the cancellation fee, we’ll figure something out.”
“You know we can’t fucking afford that,” Katsuki grumbles. He kind of just wants to go to bed. “Fuck. Maybe if I get myself hit by a car they’ll let me off.”
“Please don’t let yourself get hit by a car,” she says and curls her legs up under her. “It’s only a week. After that you won’t have to see him again, right?”
“It’s so intimate,” Katsuki says and puts his face in his hands. “It’s not enough to just fucking stand next to each other or whatever. I have to look into his eyes and pretend we’re bonding or whatever the fuck models are supposed to do. And the stupid bastard’s so jacked it’s distracting.”
“Do you still find him attractive?”
“Of course I fucking do! If you’re gonna bulk up like that you should at least have the decency to lose the fucking baby face, you know? It would be fine if it were literally anyone else. What am I supposed to do with those big green eyes staring holes into my skull?”
“I don’t think he can control what colour his eyes are.”
“The hell he can’t! I’m gonna call his mother and file a complaint!”
Yaomomo pats him on the arm. “One week,” she says soothingly. “I’m sorry, I really am. I know it’s awkward and uncomfortable. We really should have told you. But this time next week you won’t have to deal with it anymore.”
“Longest fucking week of my life,” he grumbles and flops over so he’s resting his head on her lap. “Did you know he and Raspberry Ripple broke up?”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“It’s in the past. And thinking about him puts you in a bad mood.”
“If you knew Todoroki was single why didn’t you ask him out?”
The fingers playing with his hair pause. “It wasn’t the right time, at first. And then the longer I waited the more daunting it got.”
“Because I like being his friend,” she admits. “I don’t want us to break up and hate each other. I don’t want either of us to get hurt.”
“Like me and Deku.”
“Do you ever wish you could get back together?”
“No. Yes. I don’t know,” Katsuki sighs. “I’m mad at him still. But seeing him today made me remember, I guess. I still know all these stupid things about him and it’s gross.”
“Maybe one day you can be friends again.”
“Maybe,” Katsuki says and buries her face in her pyjama pants. “I don’t even know if I want that. I need food.”
“Of course,” she says and roots around for her phone. “Pizza?”
“Alright,” she says and rests her hand on the back of his head. “You must be exhausted. Go take a nap or something. I’ll call you when the food’s here.”
That sounds good, actually. “Don’t wanna move.”
“I’m not carrying you.”
“Stay,” Katsuki says without meaning to. Yaomomo hums curiously. “Hang out with me here and talk to me until I fall asleep.”
“You’re such a baby,” she sighs, but obliges.
The night sounds of the city continue. Yaomomo pets his hair and tells him about work until Katsuki starts drifting off. Later he’ll gorge himself on cheap pizza and roll into bed without showering, but for now he does the sensible thing and curls up with his best friend for a while.
The next day’s shoot is happening on a boat, apparently. Katsuki supposes it’s better than being cooped up indoors, so he lets himself be packed into a van with mountains of clothes and shipped off to a pier that they apparently bought just to take ridiculous pictures like this.
Deku comes too, of course. He emerges from the changing booths in a sleeveless hoodie and underwear, and once again Katsuki can’t tell if he’s pink because he’s embarrassed or because the makeup lady thought it would look good.
Katsuki’s stuffed into a crop top that also has no sleeves. At least he gets boxers this time, thank god. He steps onto the boat and shivers in the early spring breeze. “Why the fuck couldn’t this happen in summer?”
“The launch is in summer,” Deku says, rubbing his arms self-consciously. “Aoyama said he gets to do regular clothes and not underwear.”
“Of course,” Katsuki snorts. He’s in a slightly better mood than yesterday because he’d remembered this morning to leave an ominous voice message on Ashido’s phone. “Give the amateurs the job nobody wants, great idea.”
“Get to your places,” calls the tiny stylist from yesterday. Katsuki takes a deep breath and steels himself for another day of torture.
Instructions are shouted and Katsuki’s moved into a hundred different absurd positions like a marionette. The sun’s in his eyes. Their little boat lurches every time somebody moves, and by the time the sun sets Katsuki’s head is pounding so hard he barely remembers how to get back into his clothes.
“I feel like the ground’s still wobbling,” Deku sighs, watching the boat bob in the waves. Katsuki grunts at him. The van pulls up a few feet away, and someone calls out that they’ll be heading back to HQ soon.
The idea of travelling makes Katsuki’s stomach lurch. Deku notices, nudging Katsuki gently with his elbow. “You okay, Kacchan?”
Katsuki grunts again. Deku touches his shoulder and jogs off to talk to one of the crew.
“I told them we’d meet them tomorrow,” Deku says when he gets back. The last bits of equipment go into the trunk. “I don’t really feel like getting back on the road just yet.”
Katsuki eyeballs him. Deku looks just fine. “You don’t get seasick anymore.”
He just shrugs. “Maybe. I’d still rather walk for a bit.”
Seagulls scream in the distance. The sky’s getting kind of muggy, sunset red mixing with dull grey clouds. “It’s a long way home.”
“Yeah. We can get the train later or something. And I really feel like some ginger ale. Wanna come with?”
Katsuki goes, despite seeing through Deku’s frankly clumsy attempt at taking care of him. He’s not really in the mood to argue right now anyway. They wander down the pier and towards the neat rows of shops, stopping at a kiosk to get drinks on the way.
The ginger ale helps. Deku gets Coke, which fizzes out of the tin the second he opens it. “Why are you being nice to me?” Katsuki asks.
Deku pauses in trying to sip his cola before it escapes. “Should I not?”
Katsuki shrugs. “It’s been a long time.”
“It has,” Deku says. Their shoes crunch over the gravel as they walk. “It was… kind of weird. Not seeing you every day, I mean. Not knowing what was going on with you except through the news.”
“That’s what happens when you graduate.”
“Yeah. It was even weirder considering how much time we used to spend with each other growing up. I guess it just hit me when I heard we’d be working together. I wasn’t even sure if I should still call you ‘Kacchan’.”
“Call me whatever you want, I don’t care,” Katsuki says and finishes his drink.
“Okay, Kacchan,” Deku says quietly. His voice is a little deeper than Katsuki remembers. It’s jarring to hear. “I was looking forward to seeing you. I, uhm. I kind of missed y—”
“Train station,” Katsuki says, crushing his empty can and tossing it in the trash. He doesn’t turn around to see the expression on Deku’s face. The last bit of sunlight’s fading away, replaced by streetlights that flicker on one by one. “Let’s go. I’m not staying any longer than I have to.”
“Sure,” Deku says after a pause. He follows him to the station half a step behind.
The train ride takes forty-five minutes. Neither of them says a word.
Day three is more of the same, except they’re back indoors and Katsuki doesn’t have to worry about motion sickness. Deku’s painfully chipper all through the shoot. It’s kind of odd, how excited he seems, and Katsuki can’t quite put his finger on why.
They sit across from each other during their lunch break because nobody else dares come near Katsuki and his scowl. He’s remembered to bring food today since they never feed them at these things. Deku hasn’t, clearly. He makes sad eyes at Katsuki’s sandwiches until he sighs and hands one over. “Don’t skip meals, dumbass. You burn through calories, you need to eat.”
“I woke up late,” Deku says through a mouthful of ham and cheese. “God, I was so hungry. Thanks, Kacchan!”
“Don’t talk with your mouth full. You’re so gross,” Katsuki says, and then pauses. Deku’s beaming at him. His nose and the corners of his eyes wrinkle with the force of his smile, making him look all squinty and young. That’s what was off. “Why are you pretending to be in a good mood?”
“Your face scrunches up when you’re actually happy,” Katsuki says, gesturing vaguely in Deku’s direction. “Which it hasn’t done until now. You’ve been plastic and weird all morning.”
Deku actually stops chewing for a second. “You can tell when I’m genuinely smiling?”
Shit. “Of course I can, don’t be stupid. I grew up around your dumb ass, didn’t I?”
“Oh,” Deku says, swallowing belatedly. “Uhm. I didn’t want to be a buzzkill, I guess.”
“You’re not convincing.”
“Oh,” he says again, ears going very red. Katsuki wonders if he’s overstepped his bounds. “Not much gets past you, huh?”
What’s up with you, Katsuki wants to say, but Deku keeps his gaze firmly on his food. He looks a little wistful, kind of tired. It’s not Katsuki’s place to ask. Whatever’s going on in Deku’s life is none of his concern, because they both gave up that bond a long time ago.
“You owe me lunch tomorrow,” he says instead and goes back to eating his sandwich. “Don’t forget. Get something good.”
“Of course,” Deku says, smiling crookedly. “Don’t worry. I know all of your favourites still.”
That night Katsuki googles Deku. Not to learn about his personal life, more to see what he’s getting up to as a hero. He doesn’t actually know much about his career, he realised today. Up til now he’s made it a point to avoid Deku’s forays into the news.
He works alone, Katsuki learns. Isn’t part of an agency, but does operate under the guidance of Gran Torino and All Might. People call him an avenging angel. He swoops in to save the day and disappears without a trace, only to show up again the second someone else calls for help. Everyone who’s met him says he’s calm and kind and positive. He’s following in All Might’s footsteps, looks like, a lone pillar of justice with a smile that never falters.
“Bullshit,” Katsuki says to himself, alone in his bedroom. Deku’s a people-person. He’d risk his life for a plant if he thought it would be friends with him. The idea of him not being on a team or having a partner to work with is bizarre.
The Deku on his laptop screen is at a meet-and-greet, wearing his uniform without the mask or hood. Katsuki’s noticing a trend. Every recent photo of Deku has him making the same expression, the plastic one where he’s trying his best to look convincingly happy. That’s puzzling. And it’s not limited to public appearances, if today was anything to go by.
He leans back in his desk chair. He can see it, how Deku’s hero life might be. Productive but isolated, under immense pressure from two living legends who love him but can’t really relate. Deku on his own is free to beat himself up and overthink every minor mistake. All Might’s quiet, awkward support probably isn’t enough to distract him. He must be tired, living in his own head.
Katsuki knows. He’s been there, and would still be there if Sero hadn’t decided they should team up. As dumb as they all are (aside from Yaomomo), they’ve pulled each other out of a funk more than once. Deku’s missing out. He’s following a path he wasn’t really built for, taking on battles he shouldn’t be fighting alone.
And Katsuki isn’t. Maybe that’s the vindictive part of him he never managed to shut up, but it feels like a win. A win he doesn’t really want, because Deku seems so sad, but now Katsuki’s in the better position.
He feels ugly for thinking it. He doesn’t want to watch Deku collapse on himself, no matter how much they hurt each other in the past. But that’s not his job anymore, he supposes. They cut ties a long time ago.
They don’t need to take care of each other anymore. “You’re on your own,” Katsuki murmurs, and slowly snaps the screen of his laptop shut.
It’s not entirely bad, working with Deku. Just weird.
Maybe Katsuki’s getting soft. The more Deku fake-smiles, the less Katsuki manages to hate him, not when Deku’s trying so hard to seem okay. Katsuki doesn’t push him away when he tries to be friendly. In a way it’s familiar. Kind of like a broken engine that fixes itself, or finding an old trinket you thought you’d thrown away. He’s spent more of his life with Deku than without him. By day four of the shoot it’s no longer a surprise to see him out of the corner of his eye.
“Hey, Kacchan,” Deku says when Katsuki steps out of the changing room, freckles shifting a little as he smiles. They’ve put him in a soft sweater and boxer briefs. He looks like he’s just rolled out of someone else’s bed.
Katsuki regards him. Maybe he’s not going soft. Maybe he’s just a useless gay. “Is it in our contracts that only one of us is allowed to wear pants at a time?”
“I don’t know,” Deku says bashfully. “I like your jeans, though. You, uhm. You’re really defined. Good job.”
Katsuki looks down. They’ve contoured his abs with make-up, but he doesn’t tell Deku that. “The stylists treat me like a slab of meat.”
“Yeah. Aoyama warned me they would. Why did you sign up, actually? I thought you hated being in photos.”
“I just did it so Princess wouldn’t have to,” Katsuki says and rolls his eyes. “Gotta make an earning somehow. Agencies are expensive.”
“Oh,” Deku says, lips parting slightly in surprise. “She—oh. You call her Princess.”
Katsuki shrugs. “Dumb nickname. It stuck.”
“I see,” Deku says, oddly flat. “Princess. That’s cute.”
He seems distracted all through the shoot. Katsuki wouldn’t care, normally, except they keep having to do shots over and over. “Deku,” he hisses when they fail yet again to look meaningfully into the camera. “Get your head in the game or we’ll be here all day. I wanna go home.”
“Right, someone’s waiting for you, I forgot,” Deku mutters.
Katsuki raises an eyebrow. “What?”
“What’s that attitude for?”
“You complain when I smile and complain when I don’t smile. What do you want?”
Katsuki turns away from the camera. The photographer calls for his attention, but he ignores her. “Someone piss in your cereal? What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothing. I’m fine. Let’s get back to the shoot.”
“The hell you are,” Katsuki says, elbowing Deku until he turns around and looks him in the eye. “You’re not fucking fine. What’s your problem?”
“There is no problem,” Deku replies testily. “Could you leave it just this once?”
Katsuki shoves him. Deku shoves him back, and the force of it actually almost sends Katsuki tumbling backward. “What the hell, Deku. You were normal this morning. What did I do to piss you off?”
“Nothing,” Deku says. The whole crew’s staring at them now. “I’m not— just forget it, okay? Leave me alone.”
“Can you just use your damn words?”
“Oh, like you’re so good at that.”
Katsuki grits his teeth. Whatever fledgling friendliness he’d been feeling disintegrates, crowded out by the stirrings of irritation. “Have I ever not fucking told you when I’m mad?”
“You’re always mad.”
“I’m the most mad around you! You’re the common denominator here, dumbass!”
Deku snorts. He rubs his hands over his face and seems to finally remember the crew. “Sorry, everyone. Can we take a little break?”
There’s an awkward murmur of agreement. Deku shuffles off to the break room and Katsuki follows, fists still clenched and shoulders tensed. It’s empty, thankfully. Deku tries to sit but Katsuki grabs him by the arm and spins him around, getting in his face until they’re almost nose-to-nose. “What the fuck is your problem?”
Deku smiles. It’s tired but genuine. “Sorry. I wasn’t actually trying to be mean.”
“Then what were you trying to do?”
“Nothing. Ignore me,” Deku says and scratches the back of his neck. “We’re idiots.”
“Speak for yourself.”
“I’m an idiot,” he amends. Katsuki takes a step back. “I’m sorry. I forgot what it was like talking to you. How easily we both get riled up over nothing.”
“Your mood swings aren’t my fault.”
He chuckles. “No, I know. You just have a talent for making me blurt out whatever I’m feeling. I guess that must be why I used to be so intense back in UA.”
Katsuki’s righteous anger fizzles out somewhat. “What are you laughing at?”
“I don’t know. It’s kind of refreshing. I almost forgot what being angry was like. It’s just,” he says and gestures to himself. “Trying to be cool and collected all the time, you know. I have to think about everything I say before I say it, especially when there are cameras involved. So I look like an adult.”
Katsuki crosses his arms and huffs. Deku’s tension has bled out of his posture, which in turn dulls Katsuki’s anger into mild annoyance. “Why are you trying so hard to be something you’re not?”
“I have big shoes to fill,” Deku says, voice a little faraway. “Remember when we were toddlers and we’d get into an argument every day over nothing and wrestle? And then be best friends again two minutes later?”
“Yeah,” Katsuki says cautiously. “Back when you used to cry the second someone said a mean word to you.”
“I guess nothing’s changed, really. Being around you makes me childish. In a nice way, I think.”
“I happen to already know you’re a huge baby,” Katsuki says. Deku just laughs. “Are you done throwing tantrums? Can we get back to work now?”
“Yeah. Sorry. Let’s go.”
The crew’s on tenterhooks when they get back, but Deku smiles and waves and says everything’s just fine. “Sorry about that, folks. Minor tussle. Let’s pick up where we left off.”
“I can’t believe Deku got mad,” whispers one of the interns behind them. Katsuki turns to stare her down, and she squeaks and runs off to get on with her job. Satisfied, Katsuki gets back on set and lets the styling team rearrange his hair for the shoot, feeling weirdly relaxed even with Deku so close by.
“Lights,” says the photographer. “Beautiful. Give me some smoulder!”
Day five comes as a relief. It’s the longest shoot but it’s also the last, and after this Katsuki can take the weekend off and get back to work on Monday like normal.
They change outfits about three times. Some shots are solo and some are together. The photographer’s got it into her head that they need more photos where they’re engaging each other directly, so she makes them stand back-to-back, then shoulder-to-shoulder, then with their arms around each other like they’re dirty dancing in a club. Katsuki refuses to allow himself to feel self-conscious, even when miscellaneous staff wander over to ogle and put them on Snapchat.
“Did they put more freckles on you?” Katsuki mutters, taking the opportunity to study Deku’s face in detail. Deku blinks black, clearly unbothered about keeping such prolonged eye contact.
“I think they just darkened the ones I did have so they’ll show better on camera. I was hoping they’d cover them up.”
“Don’t be dumb,” Katsuki says. The photographer tells them to press their cheeks together and look at the camera. “This is overkill. How many photos could they realistically need?”
“Aoyama says they only use one or two out of hundreds of shots,” Deku replies, slipping his hand into Katsuki’s back pocket as instructed. “Although, uhm. I get the feeling we’re being taken advantage of a little.”
“Clearly. Did you just squeeze my ass?”
Katsuki headbutts him. Deku starts giggling, and the photographer quickly decides that candid shots are the way to go. “Bastard. Good to know you’re still the same pervert under that angel face.”
They keep working until long after the sun sets, after which they’re finally released with a hefty paycheque each. Several people pat Katsuki on the back and tell him he’s done a good job. The photographer tells him that he’ll be sent some of the nicer photos before the new launch officially begins. Katsuki doesn’t particularly care, but it’ll be a good idea to review them so he knows what to expect from the actual ads.
The fresh air feels fantastic. He’s in such a good mood, in fact, that he says yes when Deku offers to treat him to dinner.
They wander into some American-style diner with tacky décor and a tiny menu. Deku orders enough food for three people and Katsuki gets a cheeseburger, and they sit there and argue about breadsticks until the drinks arrive.
“What I’m saying is you’ll be stuffed by the time you’re done with the mains, so that’s just gonna make it seem like their portions are bigger than they are,” Katsuki says, gesturing with a fry.
Deku’s struggling with a ketchup packet. “Well, maybe. But they don’t actually gain any money from that, do they?”
“Reputation,” Katsuki says. Deku hands the packet over so Katsuki can open it for him. “You’d visit a restaurant more than once if you thought you were getting more bang for your buck.”
“Maybe they want to make sure everyone’s happy.”
“Always thinking the best of people. Change your name to Good Intentions Man.”
Deku squirts his ketchup into a blob on the side of his plate. “Everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt, Kacchan.”
“That’s gonna hurt you someday.”
“I know,” Deku says, smiling crookedly. “It’s hard, I guess, to still look for the good in people even after they prove you wrong. But I think it’s worth it. To actively choose to believe that people are capable of being kind, even knowing it might not turn out well for you.”
Katsuki rests his chin in his hand. “Why?”
“I just think it’s a shame to live life closed off and distrustful. There are so many wonderful people on earth. You can’t find them if you won’t give them a chance.”
“Guess not,” Katsuki says, regarding him quietly. Deku eats his food in small, polite, bites, and Katsuki watches the scarring on his hands shift every time he moves. “Is it what you thought it’d be?”
“Being a hero. Is it what you imagined?”
Deku chews his food slowly and looks at his plate. “I don’t know. This is what I’ve wanted all my life, but sometimes I think I’m not enough on my own.”
They eat dinner leisurely, the chatter of the other patrons a constant, comforting white noise. Deku remembers a lot about school that Katsuki had forgotten, and Katsuki fills him in on the current goings-on among the alumni. They talk until a waitress comes to tell them the restaurant is closing soon. Deku says he’ll walk Katsuki to the train station, since they’re heading in different directions from here.
“Are you happy?” Deku asks him as they walk side by side down the sidewalk. “With the way things are, I mean. In general.”
“I guess,” Katsuki says. His shoe sends a pebble rolling into a crack in the pavement. “Could be better. Could be worse.”
“That’s good,” Deku says, almost to himself. “You deserve good things. I always wondered. And hoped. That you’d be happy.”
Katsuki turns to him, hands in his pocket and head tilted curiously. The moon is full above them but neither of them bothers looking up. “You could have asked.”
“I didn’t think you wanted to talk to me,” Deku says, chewing his lip. “I’m sorry we didn’t part on good terms. I did miss you.”
“It’s in the past,” Katsuki says, because he doesn’t want to say I missed you too. “Don’t worry about it. We can keep in touch now.”
Deku smiles. It’s soft and small but genuine, far better than the manufactured happiness he arms himself with in public. “Thanks. I’d like that.”
“Sure,” Katsuki says. They enter the deserted metro station and he taps his travel card at the turnstyles. “See you around, I guess.”
“Yeah,” Deku says. Neither of them moves. The automated announcer tells them that the next train downtown will arrive in two minutes, and to please stand behind the yellow line.
“I—” says Katsuki right before Deku kisses him. His lips are warm and thin and in need of a chapstick, and Katsuki tilts his head and kisses back with all the longing that’s built up for four years. Cicadas chirp. Deku’s fingers tangle themselves in Katsuki’s hair, and he hums and melts and wishes, somehow, that they could get closer.
His hands shake when they part. Deku’s chest rises and falls, and he stands there for a good few seconds before his eyes finally widen in dismay. “Oh my god.”
“I’m sorry,” Deku says, hands coming up to cover his mouth. “God, I—I’m so sorry, I wasn’t thinking.”
“It’s okay,” Katsuki tries to say. “Really, I—”
“This is my fault,” Deku says, backing away before Katsuki can reassure him. “Please forget it happened. I’m sorry. Please don’t hate me, okay?”
“Deku,” Katsuki calls as Deku turns around and runs off. The turnstyles beep at him to hurry up and enter the station, and Katsuki watches green lightning zip around Deku’s feet as he sprints away faster than humanly possible. The automated announcer talks. He barely hears her, lips still tingling and heart pounding in his chest and feeling almost too big for his ribs.
He doesn’t know how long he stands there. Eventually he remembers he has to go home, and he can’t even bring himself to care that he missed his train.
“Are you alright?” Yaomomo asks him when he gets to the apartment. Katsuki looks down and realises he’s forgotten to take his shoes off. He’s trailed dirt halfway through the living room, which he’s going to have to clean up.
He’ll do it tomorrow. “I’m fine.”
“Okay,” she says, but doesn’t look like she believes him. Katsuki’s not lying, though. His heart’s fluttering and his stomach’s trying to turn inside out, but he’s fine.
He tries calling Deku when he gets back to his room. There’s no answer. He tries again, gets sent to voicemail, and then send him a text saying call me.
Deku doesn’t respond all weekend. Katsuki keeps his phone on hand and waits, but doesn’t allow himself to hope.
“You people are paying for all meals for the rest of the year,” Katsuki announces the second he walks into the office.
Kaminari opens his mouth to argue, and then closes it. “Fair.”
Ashido launches herself into Katsuki’s arms. Tries to, anyway – Katsuki sidesteps before she can reach him, so she loses her balance and falls on the couch instead. “You are in trouble. I haven’t forgiven you for making me work with Deku.”
She rolls over and looks up at him, guilty. “Sorry. I think drunk me was hoping you’d make up and be happy again.”
“Did you?” asks Kirishima.
Katsuki doesn’t answer. Instead he crosses the office and flops in front of his desk, pleased to see his paperwork tray isn’t terribly crowded. Yaomomo’s been handling his share of the work, it seems. “What did I miss?”
“Nothing much,” Kirishima says, zooming across the floor in his chair to hug him. Katsuki allows it. “Sero caught a purse snatcher and a little boy gave us a stuffed cat. We’re calling it Cat-suki. It’s the mascot.”
“Great,” Katsuki says, opening his email inbox. It’s flooded. “Get off me and stop slacking. Everyone get back to work.”
The day passes slowly, kind of monotonous after the rush of last week. Nobody’s yelling at him to fix his hair or change his clothes or following him around for an autograph. And it feels like nobody talks to him. They do, Katsuki knows logically; everyone’s full of questions about the modelling job and they’re keen on getting him back up to speed on work, but nobody sidles up to him to bump shoulders and look right into his eyes while he speaks. Nobody compliments his outfits or subtly admires the way he looks. Nobody calls him Kacchan.
The week goes on. The photographer emails him on Friday with some of her favourite pictures from each shoot. Ashido sees them over his shoulder and screams, and before Katsuki can say anything all five of them are crowded around him clamouring to see.
“Alright, alright, shut up and let me open it,” Katsuki hollers until they quiet down. Apprehensive, he opens the file. There are about thirty photos in here, only a fraction of the ones they actually took.
He scrolls through them one by one. It takes forever because everyone keeps insisting he go back or zoom in or explain his wardrobe. Sero actually demands he share the photos with all of them. Ashido keeps asking if they stuffed his pants.
“I can’t believe this,” Kaminari huffs, sounding genuinely upset. “You don’t even like modelling. Why the hell do you look like that? Why are you so attractive?”
“It’s natural,” Katsuki says, checking out the next photo. This one’s a solo shot of him in boxer-briefs, lounging in an arm chair and staring moodily at the camera. Next comes the one of him and Deku almost-dancing. Ashido whistles.
“Midoriya looks so different from high school,” she says. “I never knew he was so ripped under his clothes.”
“You never saw him in the locker rooms,” Kirishima says. “Look at his biceps. They’re godly.”
The last three are the only ones in full colour. All of them are candid; in one they’re huddled in a corner, just talking, and in the second they’re sharing lunch. The last is the only one Katsuki recognises. It’s from the final day of the shoot, where Deku’s face is scrunched up in delight and Katsuki’s laughing.
He hadn’t realised he’d been looking at Deku like that. His stomach squeezes, and he closes the window.
Yaomomo coos. “That was a really nice picture. It looked like you guys were having fun.”
“Yeah,” says Katsuki gruffly. “Alright, show’s over. Buzz off.”
They leave him alone, clearly sensing his mood. He keeps his head down and does his work for the day, then clocks out early and tells Yaomomo he’ll meet her at home.
He knows more or less where Deku operates. He and Gran Torino both live downtown, so Katsuki takes the metro and gets off at a little station that should be near the center of town.
Twenty minutes of wandering takes him to an old construction site that apparently never got finished. The stairs are still intact. He climbs up to the roof of the building, looking around at the litter and abandoned bags of sand that seemingly nobody remembers.
This’ll work. Planting his feet, Katsuki raises both hands to the sky and lets off blast after blast.
Eventually, the noise attracts attention. A figure in green leaps up to join him with grace. Katsuki stops the explosions and turns to face Deku for the first time in two weeks.
“It’s technically illegal to be using your quirk in public for no reason,” Deku says. His hood’s pulled back. He looks tired.
“Sue me,” Katsuki says. His palms itch. He steps forward so they’re within touching distance but stops just short of doing just that. “Why have you been avoiding me, Deku?”
Deku’s shoulders slump. “I’m sorry. I’m just… I’m ashamed.”
“I’m not trying to break you and Yaomomo up,” he says quietly. “I just saw you again and remembered. How important you are. How much I like you.”
Slowly, Katsuki reaches up and puts his hands over his face. “Yaomomo.”
“Yeah. She’s a good person. I’m sure you guys are a great couple, so I promise I’m not trying to—”
“Deku,” Katsuki says. “Yaomomo and I aren’t together. I’m gay.”
Deku’s face goes through several emotions at once. “You told me you were dating.”
“That’s the official story,” Katsuki says, feeling incredibly stupid. “She’s my beard. I’m helping her get her annoying parents off her back.”
“Oh my god,” Deku says, looking like he’s about to cry. “Jesus. I thought I was a homewrecker.”
“You’re not a homewrecker.”
“Why didn’t you tell me, Kacchan? I thought I had a crush on a taken man, I’ve been feeling guilty for weeks.”
“I tried. You ghosted me. Do you know how many times I called?”
“I couldn’t face you!”
“You could have picked up once.”
“Shut up! You’ve done exactly the same, don’t look at me like that.”
“Our last year of high school after you broke up with me!”
“The hell was I supposed to say?” Katsuki huffs. “You’re the one who went and fell for Todoroki.”
“We were friends, oh my god. I dated him after because I was lonely and sad and you wouldn’t speak to me.”
“Yeah, after you basically shit all over my personality and said you hated dealing with me.”
“I did not say that.”
“You called me exhausting!”
Deku throws his hands up in exasperation. “This is why! Everything turns into a fight with you. You act like a crazy person, and you make me act like a crazy person.”
“Is this how you’re confessing?” Katsuki says, wounded. “I’m annoying but all of a sudden you like me again and I’m good enough for you? Is that it?”
“You were always good enough! You’re the one who broke up with me!”
“You didn’t even like being with me!”
“I did,” Deku says, coming forward to shake him by the shoulders. “I loved being with you. I missed the hell out of you, it was like missing a limb. But you wouldn’t talk. You wouldn’t listen, you didn’t even try to make it work. You just left. You wouldn’t let me fix it. Do you know how that felt? Being dropped after sixteen years attached at the hip?”
“You hurt me,” Katsuki says, brows knitted. “You made it seem like being with me was a chore.”
“I didn’t mean to,” Deku says. His grip is so tight it’s almost painful. “I was clumsy. I shouldn’t have said it like that, I know. You had flaws. I did too, I still do. I was trying to address them and I went about it all wrong. But I was trying, Kacchan. That’s what you’re supposed to do in a relationship. If someone’s behaviour is hurting you or stressing you out, you’re allowed to talk to them and try to make it better.”
Katsuki takes a deep breath. Deku reaches up to wipe something off his face. Oh. He’s crying. “Don’t look at me like I’m something fragile.”
“You’re not,” Deku sighs. Slowly, his other hand slips off Katsuki’s shoulder so they’re just standing in each other’s space. “We should probably work on communicating.”
“I communicate fine,” Katsuki sniffles but doesn’t press the argument. “You missed me.”
“So much. I’ve been using you as a yardstick for so long I felt like I’d lost my direction.”
“Stupid,” Katsuki says, scrubbing at his face. “Shouldn’t have tried to go solo. You need people.”
“I know. You figured that out before I did. You’ve changed so much it’s crazy,” Deku sighs. “It feels like I just haven’t grown at all.”
Katsuki laughs. It’s gravelly and a little unstable, but it feels good, and more tears spill out of his eyes that he doesn’t bother wiping away. “God, we’re stupid. No wonder we didn’t work out the first time.”
“The first time,” Deku repeats, tone serious. “Does that mean there’ll be another?”
“Who knows,” Katsuki says. A pigeon flaps onto the ledge to coo at them. “Life’s long. We’ve got lots of mistakes to make.”
“You’re not a mistake,” Deku says, cautiously touching Katsuki’s cheek. “Even when we hated each other. I’m sorry if I ever made you feel like you were.”
“Sorry for stonewalling,” Katsuki says. “Treasure it. I’m never saying that again.”
Deku smiles. It’s soft and sweet and kind of lovely, and his freckles make Katsuki want to kiss them. “I’ll remember.”
Music plays. Streamers hang haphazardly from the ceiling, mostly made from Serotape that’s going to be impossible to remove. The party snacks are half gone even though nobody’s here yet. Kaminari’s on a sugar high and won’t stop spinning around in the office chairs, and Kirishima’s waiting by the door like a golden retriever eager to slobber all over the guests.
Katsuki sneaks a beer. Nobody bothers to chastise him. He’s the birthday boy, anyway. He can do what he wants.
Jirou and the girls arrive first. Then come Ojiro and Shinshou, then Iida, then Tokoyami. Soon their little office is crowded with former 1A students and some from 1B. Even some teachers show up halfway through to congratulate him on getting older. Aizawa and Present Mic demolish the snack table, and All Might gets teary-eyed as he hands him a small, neatly wrapped gift.
Deku appears at Katsuki’s side. He’s wearing a faded yellow hoodie that says Brave. “Having fun?” he asks and links their arms together.
Katsuki shrugs. “It’s alright. Kinda noisy.”
“Everyone you know is noisy,” Deku says with a smile. “Including you.”
Katsuki’s phone buzzes. He leaves Deku and goes to answer the door. Todoroki stands on the other side with a neat dress shirt and a simple brown box. “Happy birthday,” he says, soft and cautious. “It’s been a while.”
Katsuki holds out a hand. Slowly, Todoroki shakes it, and Katsuki pulls him close to murmur in his ear. “I’m gay. Not dating Yaomomo. Ask her out, or I’m gonna do it for you.”
Todoroki stares at him, wide-eyed. Katsuki takes the gift and goes back inside, leaving him to follow.
Deku’s where he left him, gazing out the window with a cupcake in his hand. It’s one of the cookie-flavoured ones that’s far too sweet. “Who was it?”
“Just Todoroki,” Katsuki says, coming closer to put a hand on Deku’s broad back. “Got me a gift. Real nice of him, huh?”
“He’s a nice person,” Deku hums, leaning into Katsuki’s side. “You’ll like him eventually, I think.”
Katsuki shrugs. Someone comes in with more booze. Sero shouts something about cocktails, and the crowd unanimously cheers. “As long as he keeps bringing me presents I’m good.”
Deku looks over his shoulder. Katsuki follows his gaze to find Todoroki, talking to Yaomomo in a corner with both arms held awkwardly by his sides. The back of his neck is very red. “What did you say to him?”
“Nothing,” Katsuki says flippantly. Deku raises a brow but says nothing, happy to hang out by the window and watch the party slowly devolve into chaos. Later they’ll go to a nice little restaurant somewhere, just the two of them. For now, Katsuki decides he’ll join in the fun, enjoy the company of the thirty-odd people who came here just for him.
“Happy birthday,” Deku says, leaning his head on Katsuki’s shoulder.
Katsuki turns and plants a kiss on his head. It gets lost in a tumble of soft hair, but he can tell Deku smiles. “Thanks, sugar.”