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Bakugou Katsuki has never been scared in his life. At least, that’s what he thinks until the moment he’s safe, when his adrenaline cools from its boiling point and he can finally breathe again. He couldn’t recognize the fear for what it was until it left him.

He’s still in a daze when the officers lead him back to the police station, when they insist that he sit through a physical exam before being allowed to go home. He would put up more of a fight, but he’s so damn tired. Deku and the others had been happy enough to hand him over to the cops, but Kirishima’s gaze had lingered on him, searching, until Bakugou was out of his view.

Why can’t Bakugou stop thinking about him?

The doctor instructs him to lift off his shirt, and it’s only once it’s off that Bakugou realizes he’s been in the same clothes for days, now. He hasn’t brushed his teeth or eaten anything in as much time. His chest is dotted with bruises, his arms are sore from overusing his Quirk. He’s a mess.

“Oh, my,” the doctor says, placing the cool metal of a stethoscope against Bakugou’s back. “Those are some beautiful soulmarks you have.”

Bakugou can’t help but wince at the reminder. There’s only one—okay, maybe two—other people on the planet who know that he’s started getting soulmarks. It was a secret he’d been hoping to keep, but now this old woman knows. He glares at her, but she just hums as she continues examining him.

“What the hell do you mean, we can’t go back there?” A shrill voice cuts through the clinical silence of the exam room, growing louder. “That’s my damn son, and he’s just been kidnapped, and you’re not going to let me see him?”

Bakugou is facing away from the door, but he knows the exact moment when his mother bursts into the room. He recognizes the clack-clack-clack of her heels against the floor, and the slower, heavier pace of his father’s footsteps behind her.

Katsuki!” His mother snaps, coming around the exam table. She brushes the doctor aside, hands landing on Bakugou’s shoulders. She’s wearing a loose cardigan, sleeves pushed up to her elbows. The lines of her own soulmarks cover her left arm, leaving almost no skin bare. Bakugou finds himself staring at the marks even as his mother pulls him against her chest. She threads her fingers through his hair, over and over again. “You’re okay, aren’t you, of course you’re okay, you’re too stubborn to get hurt, but—”

“I’m fine,” Bakugou spits, pulling away from her. “Get off me. It’s fine.”

Her eyes are red-rimmed, her hands shaking slightly. Bakugou’s father comes up behind her, places a hand on her shoulder and another on top of Bakugou’s head. His arm—browner, covered in a light dusting of hair—is marked just like his wife’s. On the inside of his wrist are two characters, spelling out Bakugou’s given name.

“We’re so grateful you’re safe,” he breathes out.

Bakugou looks down at his own bare arms, clenches his hands together. “Whatever,” he mutters. He’s always imaged that they’d hear of his heroic exploits while sitting at home, awed and proud. Not that they’d hear he was kidnapped and lose their minds with worry. He was never supposed to be a victim.

But someone had reached out to him, given him a way out. Bakugou had taken that person’s hand without hesitation. Kirishima’s skin was dry, his grip firm. He’d held onto Bakugou like he was offering him a lifeline, like he’d never let him go. They’d flown through the air, and Bakugou heart had slowed its beat. He knew then that he’d be safe, no matter what else happened. Because he was safe, he could recognize how scared he’d been even seconds before.

He winces as a startling pressure bursts along his back, right over his shoulder blades. “The hell,” he manages through gritted teeth.

“What?” His mother looks alarmed. “What’s wrong with him—”

The pressure faces as quickly as it started. Bakugou sits up, reaching a hand behind him before stopping short. Damn.

The gesture had been telling. Now both of his parents are looking at his back, seeing the intricate pattern of marks printed against his skin. The red line that starts at the base of his spine, working its way up his back, entwined with different images. There must be a new one, now, imprinted right where the pain had just been.

“When exactly were you going to tell us about this?” his mother asks, eyes wide but lips pulling into a smirk. Bakugou knows that expression well, because it’s the same one he makes when he’s caught off-guard by something that pleases him and is trying to save face.

Great. Now his mother’s never going to shut up about his stupid soulmate.

--

He didn’t notice when the marks started appearing. The first must have been during the incident at USJ, when he was too busy punching out second-rate villains and trying to figure out how to kick the teleporter freak’s ass. He’d been hit once or twice during that fight and been thrown through negative space by Kurogiri’s Quirk. It was easy to write off the pressure at the small of his back, the blinking instance of pain, as just another bruise forming.

The second probably showed up sometime during the Sports Festival. That had been a grueling marathon of physical exertion, from the obstacle course to the cavalry battle to the individual matches. None of it had provided him with the challenge he’d craved, but he’d gotten knocked around a few times. Again, he’d thought nothing of one moment of pain.

A couple weeks later, he’d been in the locker room later than the others, changing from his sports clothes back to his uniform. He toweled off the back of his neck, left his shirt on the bench beside him as he caught his breath. He’d been the last on in from training because he needed to push himself further, faster, more. Nothing he did was adding up to the kind of progress he craved, needed.

The door opened and Deku plodded back into the locker room. “Forgot my tie,” he mumbled in apology, as if Bakugou could have possibly cared. But Deku stopped short, staring at Bakugou where he sat on the bench with his back facing the door.

“What?” Bakugou had finally snapped, turning around. “Just what the hell are you staring at?”

“Kacchan,” Deku started. The idiot was blushing. Cheeks a furious red, he pointed at Bakugou’s back, his other hand clapped in front of his mouth. “I—I didn’t know you had a soulmate, already.”

“What the ever-loving hell are you talking about?” Bakugou growled. But Deku was pointing at his back and talking about soulmates. What else could he possibly mean?

He got to his feet, shoved Deku out of his way and rushed for the long mirror on one side of the locker room. It took some angling, his back facing the mirror and his neck turned painfully, but finally he managed to spot what Deku was pointing at.

The marks were more vivid than any normal tattoos would be. The red line could have been inked in his own blood, knotting at the small of his back and curling upwards around a black shield, crossed with two swords. Just above that was the white outline of a rosette, a wreathe of ribbons tied together.

Two soulmarks and the trailing red line as the promise of more to come. How could Bakugou not have noticed them before?

“You didn’t know?” Deku asked in a hushed voice, coming up behind him. “Do you—do you know who it is?”

Bakugou didn’t respond, just reached out to shove Deku back against the lockers. His throat was scratchy, his face flushed as he choked out, “You tell anybody about this and you’re dead. You hear me, Deku? Don’t say a word.”

Deku stared back at him, the fire that entering UA had lit in his eyes blazing a little brighter. “Of course, I won’t.”

Bakugou hated how easily he believed him, how sincere Deku was. Of course, he wouldn’t tell. It was one less thing to worry about, as panic rose in Bakugou’s throat, tasting metallic like blood.

--

The thing of it is, he knew how often Kirishima goaded him into things. It started after USJ, and then continued in earnest after the Sports Festival. When Kirishima had turned to him, told him there was no way he had the virtue to tutor anyone, and smiled at him with challenge in his—Bakugou knew exactly what the idiot was playing at. But that didn’t mean he could resist or back down from the challenge.

And that’s how Kirishima ended up at his house for the third time in as many weeks, sitting on the floor of his living room and pouring over a math textbook like it was written in Greek.

Bakugou snapped at him to focus when he started seeing Kirishima’s eyes glazing over. And if he noticed—well. It’s not because he was staring at Kirishima’s face, okay? And definitely not because he was focused on the scar above Kirishima’s eye, the way it added something rough to Kirishima’s wide eyes and boyish features.

“I am, I am,” Kirishima insisted, bringing his hands together in a gesture of supplication. “Go easy on me, Bakugou-sensei, I’m trying my best here.”


Bakugou took his rolled-up workbook and smacked Kirishima over the head with it. “Try better than your best, then.”

Kirishima wrinkled his nose and pouted at Bakugou, rubbing the back of his head. He started to retort, but then Bakugou’s mother came into the room.

Kirishima’s eyes followed her around the room as she retrieved her purse, fastened her watch over his soulmarked wrist.

“Get out of here, hag,” Bakugou seethed. “You’re distracting us.”

His mother stepped forward and crossed her arms over her chest. “Manners, brat. Kirishima-kun, I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into. Katsuki’s never had a friend over to study before, and there’s definitely a reason for that.”

The reason was that his mother is an insufferable busybody, Bakugou thought darkly. He’d definitely insist that they meet at a café for their next study session.

But Kirishima just looked up at Bakugou’s mother with stars in his eyes. “Oh, I can handle him,” he said, offhand.

Bakugou’s mother laughed before making her way out the door. “I’m rooting for you, Kirishima-kun.”

Once she was gone, Kirishima still looked a bit dazed. Bakugou snapped his workbook against the table.

“Focus,” he barked.

“Sorry,” Kirishima said. “I was just thinking.”

“Really,” Bakugou scoffed. “If you could think, I wouldn’t have to coach your ass through basic algebra.”

“Your parents are soulmates, then?” Kirishima asked, instead of focusing on the math that Bakugou was so graciously teaching him.

“What—yeah. What the hell do you care.” It’s not like soulmates were rare. There’s no bullshit about people being predetermined for someone, or going on a scavenger hunt for them via their soulmarks. No, soulmarks only appear after you’ve met your soulmate, after your relationship has begun to bloom. Then, the marks appear on your skin to match theirs, to show all the pivotal moments of your relationship.

Your soulmate isn’t just someone who you could have a successful romance with. No, they’re the person who gets under your very skin, who changes you so pivotally that you can never escape their impact on you.

Bakugou’s parents flaunted their soulmarks. Each of their left arms was marked with notes in the others’ handwriting, symbolic geometric patterns, interlocking wedding rings. And Katsuki’s name, which had apparently appeared just after his mother found out she was pregnant, when his father had first suggested the name.

Bakugou never knew what to make of the whole thing. To him, it always seemed like wearing your heart on your sleeve—literally. And that could be nothing but a dangerous baring of vulnerability, of weakness.

“You ever think about it?” Kirishima asked, leaning back against the wall. “Having a soulmate?”

He’d been thinking about it every day since Deku had pointed his soulmarks out to him. He’d knew who the possibilities were, and Kirishima Eijirou was on that list.

Bakugou was never stupid. He was well-aware that Kirishima could be—probably was—his soulmate. Out of everyone, there was no one else he was hoping for.

But what was he supposed to do about that? If he asked Kirishima about his soulmarks, and Kirishima revealed the same ones Bakugou had, where would that leave them? They’re both training to be heroes. How stupid would they have to be to pick up such a liability?

Kirishima, Bakugou knew from tutoring him, could be denser than his Quirk made him. He’d never think this through. So, it was up to Bakugou to protect them both.

“Bakugou?” Kirishima was suddenly leaning over him, his face just inches from Bakugou’s. “You okay there, dude? You zoned out.”

Damn. Bakugou had to keep it together, otherwise Kirishima was going to figure everything out. And that couldn’t happen before Bakugou figured out what he’s going to do about all of this.

“If you’re trying to get out of learning this, it won’t work,” Bakugou said to him, shoving Kirishima back to his side of the table toughly. “No soulmate’s going to save you from final exams, idiot.”

Kirishima huffed, crossed his arms over his chest. “I bet my soulmate is great at math, so I don’t have to be.”

“Your soulmate’s not going to want you if you can’t solve a quadratic equation,” Bakugou retorted.

That, finally, got Kirishima back on track.

--

Single-minded conviction has always been Bakugou’s strength. He knows he’s the best, knows he’s bound to be a hero, knows he doesn’t need anyone else. That confidence pushes him forward to reach for his dreams like they’re already foregone conclusions.

Kirishima has introduced a great deal of uncertainty into his life, and Bakugou isn’t about to thank him for it.

But the universe doesn’t care what Bakugou wants or should be grateful for. Instead, it just keeps sending him reminders in the form of soulmarks.

After I-Island, there was a rose against his back, above the white ribbon rosette. It looks just like the ones printed on his suit vest, on the stupid outfit Kirishima had picked out for him.

You didn’t have to invite him along, a traitorous voice reminds him. You wanted him there, and having him there probably saved your life.

“Shut up,” Bakugou growls, out loud.

And now, after Kamino – it’s wings. Red and powerful, spread to either side of his spine, not quite reaching his shoulder blades. Is this some kind of symbolic crap? The fact that he and Kirishima had flown over the battlefield had translated to wings?

It’s his first night at the dorms in UA, and Bakugou feels hollow and cold. He curls up in bed, knees against his chest, arms wrapped around himself. In that position, he can just barely reach around to his back, let his fingers trace the marks that have been burned into his mind as well as his skin.

If he can get rid of this feeling, will he finally be able to figure out what it is?

--

“You’ve got to be kidding me. Another one?” Kaminari’s incredulous tone rings throughout the locker room. There’s no ignoring it.

“It’s not like they’re going to go away, Kaminari.”

Bakugou grits his teeth. He still doesn’t turn around, but he can see the scene playing out in his mind—Kirishima, smiling guilelessly as he rubs a hand through his hair, craning his neck to demonstrate that he can’t see his own back. Bakugou’s imagination syncs up with reality when he hears Kirishima laugh.

“Lucky.” Kaminari whistles low. “And you haven’t figured out who has the same ones, yet? Anyone else got soulmarks on their back?”

Bakugou pulls off his uniform shirt and shoves into his locker. He pulls up his undershirt and pushes his arms through the holes in his hero costume, allowing his undershirt to slip off and pulling on his costume in one smooth motion. There’s never a moment at which he’s bare-chested in front of the other would-be heroes. Not after getting caught by Deku the first time.

The others laugh and titter and fall into line. Bakugou usually stomps forward to the front of the group, but today he hangs back. Kirishima, Kaminari, and Sero are towards the back—Sero begins to gesture for Bakugou to join them, but he takes one look at Kirishima and his hand falls back to his sides.

“Wings, huh,” Kaminari says. “Whatever those mean, you’ve gotta admit they look cool.”

When they’re a few feet ahead of him, Bakugou finally allows his gaze to linger on Kirishima. He updated his hero costume recently, new black sleeves encasing his muscled arms. But his chest and back remain bare, which means that his soulmarks are on full display as Bakugou walks behind him.

The newest marks trace the lines of Kirishima’s shoulder blades. Red, membranous wings spread out on either side of his spine, dark and imposing as a dragon’s. Between them, a thin red line runs, curling down and following the line of Kirishima’s back, charting a course to the other soulmarks that have appeared across his skin.

Bakugou clenches his hands to keep from lifting them to his own shoulders, to trace the same lines on his own skin. He’s losing it, and all because Kirishima had risked expulsion and worse to come after him, to call out to him, to reach towards him—

His palm burns with the echo of a touch, the ghost of another person’s grip.

--

He waits for the locker room to empty out after training. It’s Deku who lingers, because of course it is. He gives Bakugou one of those too-earnest looks, like just because Bakugou beat the crap out of him and cried a bit and then got let in on Deku’s biggest secret, now they share something. But Bakugou sends him on with a glare, even as Deku looks meaningfully over to where Kirishima is sitting on the locker room bench, still in his hero costume.

With Deku gone, the locker room is finally empty of everyone except the two of them. Bakugou stalks up towards the bench where Kirishima sits, eyes fixed on his back.

The dark wings, the red string tracing Kirishima’s spine. Below them, a geometrically-sketched rose, a rosette of white ribbons, and a crossed sword and shield. Separate, elaborate soulmarks tracing pivotal moments in Kirishima’s life, in his relationship with the person who shares those marks.

Bakugou, of course, knows who that person is.

“Hey man—what’s up?” Kirishima asks. They’ve been in silence for only a matter of seconds. But Kirishima licks over his lips nervously, like he’s waiting for Bakugou to announce that he’s only got a few months left to live.

Damn, wouldn’t that make his life easier? Bakugou grimaces, crosses his arms over his chest and slams one foot down on the bench, next to where Kirishima sits.

“You stupid or something?” Bakugou demands.

Kirishima tilts his head, blinks up at Bakugou with a tight smile. He’s used to Bakugou calling him stupid; otherwise, he never would’ve made it through so many study sessions. Maybe he’s even come not to mind the insult, since Bakugou thinks everyone is stupid. He doesn’t let everyone stick around, though.

“What am I stupid about this time?” Kirishima asks, like he’s cataloguing all of his own deficiencies.

His easy acquiescence sets a fire under Bakugou’s temper, slowly bringing it to a boil.

“Don’t be goddamn coy,” Bakugou grinds out, then immediately regrets his choice of words.

Kirishima blinks, dark lashes momentarily hiding bright red irises from view. His lips curl into a slow smile, one that’s at once warm and open and inviting, but also slow and dangerous and enticing.

“You don’t like that everyone can see them?” Kirishima guesses.

“You changed your damn costume!” Bakugou exclaims, throwing his hands in the air. “And you only covered your arms! What the hell—what is wrong with you?”

Kirishima tilts his head up, lips parting uncertainly. But then something flashes in his eyes, and he smiles instead. Reaching out, he grabs Bakugou’s wrists and pulls him closer.

Bakugou’s eyes go wide, and he tries to yank himself backwards. But Kirishima’s grip is solid and sure, even without the benefit of his Quirk. Bakugou is trapped.

“I actually think the fact that they keep coming means we’re doing something right.”

Bakugou swallows, Adam’s apple bobbing in his throat. He just said that out loud, giving voice to the truth that Bakugou has been avoiding for months. How can he do that so easily? Isn’t this tearing him apart, the same way it’s eating away at Bakugou?

Kirishima’s hands move from Bakugou’s wrists, up to his forearms, holding him steady. “I know you like to take the lead, man, but I’m getting pretty tired of waiting.”

He sounds so forlorn, Bakugou almost regrets keeping him waiting.

“You haven’t thought this through at all,” Bakugou accuses, instead. “The villains targeted me, hair-for-brains! What do you think they would’ve done if they knew—if anyone knew—just what do you think would’ve happened!”

He thrashes against Kirishima’s grip, brings up one hand to smack him squarely against his sternum. “You never think!”

Kirishima’s grip loosens on his arms, but then there’s a soft touch against his cheek. Kirishima rubs a thumb gently under Bakugou’s eye.

“It’s okay,” Kirishima says, and Bakugou stares resolutely at the ground because Kirishima’s eyes are too bright, too honest, and Bakugou can’t bring himself to look at them. “I was scared, too. When I heard it was you they were after, I’ve never been so scared in my life. I had to do something. Because there’s no way I wanna be without you, ever again.”

Bakugou manages to pull himself away, taking two steps back. He can see Kirishima clearly now, everything but his back.

Kirishima shrugs, smiles wanly. “I don’t know, exactly. But I like being with you. I never want you to be in danger like that again. And I sorta love how badass our marks look. It’s manly, you know?”

Bakugou chokes out a laugh, hates that he looks up just to see Kirishima’s expression shift into a grin.

“It’s okay,” Kirishima says, closing the distance between them. “We don’t have to decide anything right now. But… can I see? Please?”

What had Kirishima said? That he was scared, too? Well, that’s crap. Bakugou Katsuki has never been scared in his life.

He grits his teeth, then pulls off his shirt in one fluid motion. For a moment Kirishima just stares at him, and Bakugou resists the urge to cross his arms over his chest. Instead, he turns around.

He feels Kirishima’s warmth as he comes up behind Bakugou. The first touch is tentative, barely brushing over the base of Bakugou’s neck. When he doesn’t move away, the touch returns, gently tracing the red line that curves its way down Bakugou’s spine.

The touch is just as strong, just as sure, as the grip of Kirishima’s hand had been a few nights ago.

Bakugou releases a breath he didn’t realize he’d been holding. Adrenaline leaves his system abruptly, and he turns just in time to stumble face-first into Kirishima.

Kirishima catches him easily, holds Bakugou up by his arms as they stare at each other.

“I’m not scared,” Bakugou insists.

Kirishima nods slowly. “Oka—”

Bakugou grabs Kirishima and kisses him, imagining that he can mark his lips as thoroughly as they’ve written themselves into one another’s skin.

When Bakugou pulls away, Kirishima brings his fingers up to his own lips, dumbfounded.

“Well?” Bakugou demands.

Kirishima smiles. “I always thought it was cool, y’know. That we got marks after we did something heroic, something important. I think—I think I’m going to be a better hero if you’re there beside me.”

Bakugou’s mind has never been able to process someone standing beside him, claiming a place as his equal. But now he can see it clearly—him and Kirishima, standing shoulder to shoulder, identical marks across their backs.

Kirishima leans forward, places a warm hand on the back of Bakugou’s neck and presses their foreheads together. “Plus, they’re on our backs, and there’s so much space left. Fate’s leaving us a pretty big canvas, isn’t it?”

Bakugou grimaces, but that may be because he’s hiding a smile. “Don’t be so damn cheesy.”

Kirishima shrugs. His eyes are bright. “I’m just saying. We’ve got a lot more story to tell, don’t we?”

Bakugou can’t disagree.