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The Art of Persuasion

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[Katsuki - Five Years From Present]

“Can you believe it, man? We did it! We graduated from the number one Hero university in Japan!”

It was bad enough to be crushed within the thrumming mass of new graduates, but it was made even worse with the sudden weight of Eijirou on his back. The other man had jumped up and wrapped his arms around Katsuki’s shoulders, almost knocking the blond off his feet with his exuberance.

“Get the hell off me, asshole, are you trying to break my back?!”

Eijirou’s laugh rings over the collective sound of the crowd, and then he’s sliding back on his own feet and wrapping a thick arm around Katsuki’s neck instead, ruffling the natural mess of Katsuki’s blond spikes even further.

With an audible snarl, Katsuki shoves Eijirou’s arm off and backs away, reflexively dropping into a fighting stance. His clawed hands don’t produce sparks, partially because he knows that Eijirou is not afraid, and partially because he’s not foolish enough to start a scuffle in the crowd. But he’s not above using his words to make his point instead.

“You sure you wanna die before you make your Hero debut? Try that again, hah, and I’ll make sure they won’t even be able to identify your stupid spiky teeth!”

Eijirou’s hands come up as if he’s going to harden in rebuttal, but they’re quickly dropped. “You really think I’m gonna throw away all that work just to kick your ass here, get in trouble, and ruin my chances at being number one from the get go? I don’t think so.”

Katsuki tries, he really does, to resist rising to the bait he knows Eijirou is dangling in front of him, but his pride refuses to let him take this without a fight. Instead of lunging at the redhead, however, he straightens up and smirks. “Good luck getting past me for it. Won’t be long before I’m in the number one spot from the number one school.”

“It’s cute that you still think you’re gonna make it to number one, Bakugou.”

Katsuki bares his teeth at the sound of the new voice behind him. “Can it, Zappy. I’ll be in that top spot in five years, you watch me.”

“Five years, huh? Guess that means that Eij and I will have to keep the spot warm for you for the first four.”

Eijirou howls as he opens his arms to catch Denki, who had been shoved by Katsuki in his direction. Setting Denki on his feet, Eijirou chortles. “Relax, man. We all know how badly you want that top spot - it’s all you’ve screeched about since our first day here.”

“I wasn’t— I don’t screech!” Katsuki hisses, purposely keeping his voice low so as to not prove them right.

Denki taps his finger on his chin. “That’s not how I remember it, dude. In fact, I’m pretty sure it was something along the lines of, ‘Stay out of my way or I’ll crush your useless asses under my boots on my way to the top.’”

“Don’t forget the explosions!” Eijirou chirps.

“Oh right, how could I forget? Yeah, when we laughed at you, you threatened us with all of those little tiny sparks you make that only happen now when you get reeeally pissed off, and—”

“Would you shut up?!” Katsuki roars, his body finally betraying him and producing a literal handful of the aforementioned sparks.

Eijirou chuckles, stepping in to mediate. “But in all seriousness, we get how bad you want this. It’s been your singular focus for as long as we’ve known you.”

Katsuki scoffs, not quite ready to play nice just yet. “Been my goal for way longer than I’ve known you freaks.”

“So there’s only one thing left to do, right?” Eijirou’s got that stupid grin on his face, the one that usually precedes some sentimental bullshit that ends up being somewhat motivational...according to his fans, anyway.

“Put your money where your mouth is, and make it happen!” He wags his finger at Katsuki, eyes glinting with mischief. “Denki and I will be watching to see how long it takes.” The redhead claps him on the shoulder while Denki brings a hand to his face to dramatically wipe away an imaginary tear.

“Look at him, Eij, our baby spark has grown into a bomb of a man!”

Katsuki takes a lunging step towards Denki, hands outstretched to grab him and throw him to the ground. He settles for growling instead. “You’re lucky I have a reputation to maintain, or you’d die before you even made it to your debut!”

Despite having moved to hide himself behind Eijirou, Denki grins. “Now that’s the spirit, Bakugou!”


[Izuku - Five Years From Present]

“We did it, Izuku-kun, we made it!”

Izuku has only a few moments to react before Ochako flings herself into his arms. He cinches his arms around her waist and spins her around, delighting in the giggles it produces and riding the high of the energy of their fellow graduates that surround them.

Izuku beams at the young lady in his arms, setting her back on her feet. “I’m just glad that it’s finally over - that last final had me panicked! The case studies that we had to do were far more complex than anything we’ve ever had to practice or perform in classes! I really hope that these were actually made up, or at least that they’re the extremes of things that are out there because I don’t know if I’d make it for too long in this field if I was having to deal with someone who was constantly fighting or upending any suggestion that I tried to make. Hopefully the majority of the clients know that it’s not “us vs. them,” that we’re on the same team to reach the same goal, we’re not competing! But I can’t help but worry that the case studies in the final were reflective of things that we’re going to experience because isn’t that the point of case studies? Watch, the first client I’m going to get is going to blow those case studies out of the water, and—

A soft hand places itself gently, but firmly, across his mouth, and Ochako laughs at him. “Izuku-kun take a breath, you’ve only just graduated!”

She pulls her hand away and Izuku grins sheepishly at her. “Hopefully the clients won’t be turned away by my rambling first.”

Ochako punches him lightly on the shoulder. “You know that only happens when you’re nervous and not when you’re working with a real client! You showed us that in the final case studies, you left the rest of us in the dust!”

Izuku gapes at her, face blooming red. “That’s not, th-that’s hardly true, Uraraka-san! I didn’t pass in first, I didn’t even pass in the top three! That’s not what, that’s why you can’t say—”

One of Ochako’s hands plants itself on her hip, and the other one wags her finger in his face. “Ah ah AH! Your class ranking doesn’t matter, Izuku-kun. Ask anyone that graduated with us, and they’ll tell you that you’ve been the top student from day one.”

Splotched red travels from his face and down his neck to disappear under his collar. “I— that’s an exaggeration, there’s n-no way that everyone would agree that I was the b-best…”

“And that’s where you’re wrong!” The finger that was once in his face now jabs at the air above her. “We all shared a class for three years, Izuku-kun, and we’ve seen how you work!” Her hands reach out to gently grab his own. “No matter what the final test scores were, we’ve all seen that you have a wonderful way of connecting with people. Even if you were nervous or stuck, you didn’t give up or fall apart, and managed to keep that good relationship. And even when clients were behaving badly, you never gave up on them!” She squeezes his hands when he opens his mouth to protest and continues on, “Even the clients that behaved badly and walked away - YOU never gave up on them. You did everything that you could for them, everything you could do and knew how to do until the very end.”

Izuku slips his hands free to cover his burning face, and Ochako ruffles his hair affectionately. When he finally lowers his hands and lifts his face, his skin is still pink with the praise and there are tears welled up in his eyes, but he’s grinning brightly. “I…thank you, Uraraka-san. I…I really enjoy working for people, for getting them to a better place than where they are. For advocating for them and helping them shine. And I can’t wait to go on and do that with different Heroes - it’s going to be so exciting! I have a chance to meet the people I’ve grown up watching! Or maybe there’ll be someone new and even greater that needs someone to vouch for them!”

A smile breaks out across her face to match his. “Heroes are going to be fighting each other for the chance to work with you, I know it!” She reaches up to pinch his cheek. “They’ll be drawn in by your cute charm and professionalism and they’ll never wanna let you go.”

Izuku grunts and struggles in her hold. “Wet me go Ur-wah-wah-kuh-suhnnn…” She giggles and releases his face, watching him grumpily rub the abused cheek. “I would really hope that my clients choose me because of my professionalism and not because of how c-cute I am...which shouldn’t even matter in this field because it’s not about me, it’s about the client!”

Ochako’s brown eyes take on a mischievous twinkle and she winks at him. “Trust me Izuku-kun, a good first impression is going to go a long way in securing the client at the start!”

“So if being good looking is all it takes, remind me why I went to school for this?” Izuku grumbles.

She laughs in response. “Because that’s not all it takes, and you know that. All I’m saying is that your looks are gonna help you more than you think.”

The blush returns in full force. “You’re embarrassing…if I wanted to show off my looks, I would have become a model instead.”

Her laugh gets louder as she bumps him with her shoulder. “Well, if public relations doesn’t work out, then you know what you can do instead!”


[Present Time - December]

The crisp, December air bites at the exposed skin on Katsuki’s face, turning his nose and cheeks pink as he shoulders through the front door of the little café he often frequents. It’s a tiny place, tucked between two large apartment complexes about two blocks from his own, and he’ll swear on his future as the number one Hero that he’s never had a better cup of coffee anywhere else but here.

Well…he’ll swear on it once he made it there, anyhow.

Spying a small, empty table off to the side, away from the handful of other patrons, he strides over to stake his claim. His jacket buttons make small pops! within the quiet of the café as he peels it off and hangs it over the back of his chosen chair. His scarf is next to follow as he unwinds the cream-colored fabric from around his neck and drapes it over his jacket before taking his seat. He reaches into the pocket of his jeans and pulls out a folded piece of paper, squinting at it as it rests in his palm. He’s so tempted to set it alight and not think about it anymore, but the smoke would disturb the other customers and possibly result in him being asked to leave. Plus, doing so would eradicate the reason he’s here in the first place.

His leg bounces silently under the table as a cup and saucer is set in front of him, and he thanks the waitress with a murmur and a nod. He’s come here so often and ordered the same thing time and time again that, more often than not, his coffee will be set in front of him without the need to ask. It’s especially helpful on the days he wants to escape the world and hide away in relative anonymity, and today is no exception to that. He supposes he could have asked to meet at his office or apartment, but neither place felt appropriate for this conversation. Plus, neither place had coffee this good, and the hot, semi-bitter liquid has reached the point of being a balm to frayed nerves, no matter what the cause.

Wrapping his hands around the cup and taking a moment to savor the warmth of the ceramic against his palms, Katsuki looks towards the door with a frown. There was no sign of the asshole at all through the shop’s windows, and Katsuki reaches for his phone to see if there was a reason he was running late when the tinkling of the door’s bell and an “Aye, Katsuki!” graces his ears.

Kirishima Eijirou, aka Pro Hero Red Riot, Shitty-Hair, and Katsuki’s best friend, though the last title would take a bit more “coaxing” before it was admitted to the general populous. However, a best friend was what Katsuki needed today and was the reason he asked the other man to meet him here. He weaves between the other tables and chairs, reaching Katsuki’s table and greeting the other man with a smile.

“You were right, this place is tiny! I actually walked past it a couple of times before I figured out this was it!”

Instead of replying with anything heated or snappy, Katsuki sighs, his forehead wrinkling. Eijirou’s smile falters for a moment at the expression but he keeps silent, knowing that Katsuki will eventually tell him, since it would seem it’s the reason they’re here together.

A waitress materializes by their table as Eijirou shrugs out of his coat, and he his smile returns in full force as he orders a hot chocolate with whipped cream. Katsuki considers teasing him about it, but chooses to sullenly flick at one of the corners of the paper. In a matter of moments, the redhead’s own cup is placed in front of him. He thanks the waitress before picking up his spoon to scoop up the whipped cream to eat.

“So. What’s up?” He asks between bites.

Katsuki opens his mouth to reply, but after hesitating for a beat too long, ultimately shuts it, squirming in his chair. It’s not like him to be so openly unsure about anything in general, but despite years of forcing himself to work on opening up to people that are close to him, admitting any feelings other than “triumph” or “pride” makes him want to gargle acid instead.

“I…well, I’m sure you saw this shit,” he mumbles, pushing the now-wrinkled paper across the table.

Eijirou takes it from him and unfolds it, his own red eyes flicking across the print. He nods slowly before handing it back to the blonde, his face serious. “I did. I got the email at the same time as you.”

Katsuki stares at the paper in his hand. A tiny, irrational part of his mind is hoping that Eijirou will suddenly burst out laughing, telling him that this is all a joke or a screw-up, that the agency got the wrong information and what he holds now is incorrect. The longer his friend stays silent, however, the more he’s forced to accept the fact that what he’s got in from of him has to be true: from its place near the center of the page, “Ground Zero (Bakugou Katsuki)” lies nestled at the number 13 spot. While the actual ceremony wouldn’t happen until a couple of weeks later, the ranking list was sent out to the top fifty heroes to request their attendance at the ceremony, as well as give the top three Heroes of that year a chance to prepare a speech after they were formally announced.

“I knew I was gonna be low when I started out...I didn’t like it, but I knew I wasn’t gonna be number one right after I graduated…” he mumbles, mostly to himself.

Eijirou tilts his head as he takes a sip of his drink. “Thirteen isn’t a bad place to be, considering that there are literally hundreds of Heroes in Japan.”

Katsuki looks up at him, raising his eyebrows. “Says the one that’s two places above me,” he remarks dryly.

Eijirou sets the mug down and holds up his hands. “Your fight ain’t with me, bro. If we got to choose, we all know you would have been at the top from the beginning.”

Katsuki grumbles, conceding. It’s true, he wasn’t here to fight with Eijirou - it was the fact that the redhead had managed to land ahead of him in rankings for the last two years that had Katsuki calling this meeting. Clearly he was doing something well to gain the public’s approval, and Katsuki wanted to know what his secret was, if there even was one.

Even more frustratingly, Eijirou was also correct that, in the grand scheme of things, the rank of thirteen wasn’t terrible for someone still so new. Objectively, he knows there are Heroes that have been working for ten to twenty years and still hadn’t broken the top fifty. And had he been a different person, he would be elated with this ranking, pleased as punch that the Hero Association would be able to recognize his natural talent and unwavering work ethic so quickly in his five years of work.

However, seeing his name hover among the same places over the last five years was getting old, fast. The first time the rankings came out once he became a Pro, he had been ecstatic over making number 15…probably more than he should have been, now that he’s had time to learn a little more humility since his school days. But after the first year, no matter how hard he pushed himself, how hard he trained or how many more people he saved than years previous, he could never seem to propel himself further than a few places away from where he started.

“I don’t know what to do,” he sighs, setting the paper down and taking a sip of coffee. The hot liquid warms him from the inside out, and he takes a few moments to let the taste distract him from his previous woes.

“It’s not like I have shitty standings - it’s why I’m where I am to start with. But every year I’ve gotten faster, stronger, and saved more people, and I’m still in the same spot.” He sets his cup down to wave his hand around. “Five years, Eij, and they don’t wanna acknowledge that I’ve gotten better and better. Hell, I’ve even had no negative press: no scandals, no lawsuits that were anything more than greedy bastards trying to make a quick buck, nothing!”

Eijirou lifts his mug again, but it’s not large enough to hide his teasing, toothy grin. “I’ve heard rumors that popularity goes down as the amount of property damage increases.”

Katsuki’s upper lip rises in a sneer. “Ya know, for a guy whose hands literally explode, I’d like to think I’ve done a damn good job at minimizing property damage when it matters.”

“Okay, I’ll give you that,” Eijirou chuckles. “You have gotten better over time at controlling your blasts and not leveling as many buildings. Damage is still damage, though.”

Katsuki glares at him, but Eijirou simply stirs his cocoa, long unaffected by the look. “I didn’t realize that the public cares so much about property that can be rebuilt when I’m busting my ass to save them from the villains that are trying to, I don’t know, hurt and or kill them?” he grouses, tossing back the rest of his coffee. It was a mistake, as the liquid was still much hotter than he realized, but he forces himself to choke it down anyway and not give Eijirou the satisfaction of watching him sputter.

His friend doesn’t laugh out loud, but Katsuki knows he would if they were somewhere that they could brawl immediately afterwards. No matter how much he wanted to give Eijirou a solid punch to the jaw, he was not about to destroy his little safe haven to do so. The problem was: now the bastard knew it, too.

Said bastard plunks his elbow onto the table and rests his cheek on his fist. “To be fair, defeating villains and saving people is only half of the job…you gotta make sure that they have some property to come back to after they’re saved.”

Before Katsuki can snap back, the waitress is beside him and reaching for his mug to refill it. He thanks her and she then turns to Eijirou, asking if he’d like another cocoa. He declines politely, and the two men are left alone once more. Katsuki picks up his spoon to stir his coffee and watch it swirl despite not having put anything in it, purposely keeping silent due to Eijirou’s teasing.

Ever the peacemaker in their long friendship, Eijirou is the one to finally break the silence between them. “In all seriousness, man, I do think I know what could be hurting your ranking despite your numbers.”

The spoon stops stirring and Katsuki lifts his head minutely, clearly still pouting but interested in what his friend had to say.

“Now to be fair, this is just going off of my own experience in the field, but,” Eijirou takes a sip of his cocoa, “well, I think nobody really knows who you are.”

Katsuki’s head comes up all the way, caught off guard at the change in the direction of the conversation. “What do you mean “they don’t know me”? I’m kinda hard to miss as it is, never mind having a decently high ranking.” The last sentence is bitter on his tongue but he forces it out anyway and hopes it doesn’t sound like he’s choking.

Eijirou lets out a tiny laugh through his nose. “Okay true. They do know who you are when you’re out there kicking ass. But other than that, when you’re off the clock, it’s like you disappear and you become this kind of...like a cryptid.”

Katsuki frowns, removing the spoon from his cup and setting it on the table so he could drink some of his coffee. “Dunno why that should matter though,” he grumbles. “I show up when I’m needed, I save the people, I beat the bad guys, and I go home. That’s what Heroes are supposed to do.”

“That’s…okay, that’s fair.” Eijirou looks thoughtful. “But don’t forget that all of the Heroes that have ever been in the top spots have been really well-known Heroes. They weren’t just known for the villains they defeated. I mean, All Might’s a classic example: look at how widely he was known! TV shows, ads, movies, documentaries, and his face has been put on every kind of merchandise that could possibly be made! It doesn’t change that he was a badass Hero, but getting his name and face out there helped, I’m sure!”

“Don’t care.” Katsuki replies tersely. “Not interested in all that crap.”

“Okay but, there’s more than just merch and TV. You reveal absolutely nothing about your personal life - and no, I don’t mean you have to give them every detail, but you know how much they soak up the little tidbits that we reveal. Even your press conferences after fights or missions are minimal. Reporters are lucky if they can get more than three words out of you, and there’s no way the public’s gonna know you if you keep on like that!”

“The public,” Katsuki begins, but cuts himself off by biting his lower lip, suddenly very aware of where they currently are. He drops his eyes from Eijirou’s face and stares very intently into his coffee. “The public can go to hell,” he mutters lowly.

Eijirou’s lips press into a tight line, but not in disappointment or reproach. He knows Katsuki truly doesn’t mean what he says - he wouldn’t be a Hero if he thought people weren’t worth saving. But he also knows that the same public they work so hard to protect could turn on them in an instant the moment they got a sliver of gossip or a piece of a larger story. Gossip had damaged the careers of many past and present Heroes, and they had been warned at length in UA that every action they took, as a Hero or as a civilian, would be picked apart by anyone that thought they could use it for attention or personal gain.

“Yeah…okay, yeah, you’ve got a point.” Eijirou rubs at the back of his neck. “The public…can make things difficult sometimes. But,” he looks at his friend sympathetically, “they are the ones that play a role in determining your ranking, so appealing to them is one of those necessary evils.”

This information does nothing to cheer up the scowling blonde, but Eijirou presses forward. “Has there been anything that they’ve suggested that’s even a little bit appealing?”

Katsuki takes a drink before replying. “No. Just all the shit you mentioned before: TV, merch, advertisements. And the stuff they want me to do doesn’t make sense even if I was gonna do it. Tell me, Eij,” he leans forward, pointing his finger across at him, “what the hell do toothpaste commercials or underwear ads have to do with being a Hero?”

“Guess that all depends on the person and how they define being a Hero, I suppose,” Eijirou murmurs solemnly.

“Which is why I want nothing to do with any kind of bullshit my agency’s PR team wants to conjure up,” Katsuki replies, nodding his head firmly in agreement with himself.

“Just because you don’t get along with your agency’s PR team doesn’t mean that it’s the only option you have, you know.” Katsuki raises an eyebrow, a silent request for his friend to explain himself, and Eijirou clears his throat before continuing. “Most Pros that I know have gone with their agency’s department because it was the most convenient option and they didn’t mind the advertising they were doing, but what if you hired someone outside of the agency to do PR for you? Someone you could work with by yourself?”

Katsuki jolts forward so quickly that it takes a Eijirou every ounce of training and experience he has not to flinch at the sudden movement. “I can…I can do it myself? I don’t have to use my agency?” His gaze is wide and firey, with an intensity Eijirou rarely sees outside of a battle.

The redhead nods slowly. “Y-yeah. I mean, you’d have to make sure that your contract with your agency allows you to do that, but there are definitely Pros that have used individual agents or outside groups to give them a media boost, or just to support and enhance what they’ve already been doing.”

Katsuki finishes the last bit of his coffee, pushes the empty mug off to the side, and props one of his own elbows onto the table. “I mean I read the damn thing over and over again carefully before I signed on and I don’t remember any part of it mentioning anything about PR bullshit so maybe there’s a chance that this could work…” As the blonde mutters, his hand comes to rest on his chin and he lowers his gaze from Eijirou down to the empty table space between them.

Eijirou’s smile is a small one, tentatively hopeful. “I’d think that if it’s all fine with your agency, you should be able to search for someone to work with that you like, or works with your style, or whatever you want to do.” He leans back in his chair and folds his arms, his smile growing. “Hopefully whoever you end up choosing can suggest something that you’ll actually agree too, and then you’ll be able to get enough of a popularity boost with the public to rise higher next year.”

Katsuki wants to curse, but he knows that Eijirou is right, so he settles for grinding his teeth together instead. “I guess if that’s the only way, then that’s what I gotta do.”

Even working with the freelance agent like Eijirou suggested was something that made him cringe, but his best friend had been able to jump ahead of him in ranking and not become a celebrity sellout…so perhaps some kind of balance was possible.

“It’s worth a shot, anyway,” he sighs under his breath.

Eijirou nods, his previously small smile growing into his more typical toothy grin. “Yup, it is. And the person you find may suggest something more substantial than toothpaste or underwear.”

Katsuki grunts and shakes his head. “We’ll see. They better come up with something creative and worth my time.” He catches the eye of the waitress that had served them and waves her over to signal that they were finished and ready to go. When she moves to hand Eijirou his check, Katsuki waves his hand for her to give it to him instead.

“Y-You don’t— I can pay for my own drink!” Eijirou sputters.

Katsuki doesn’t break eye contact with him as he takes out his wallet and pulls out a couple of bills that cover the cost of both their drinks. He hands the payment to the waitress and murmurs that he’s all set before crossing his arms and smirking.

“Think of it this way: if this thing goes to hell, I’ll make you pay for drinks next time.”

Eijirou laughs as they both stand up and pull their coats back on. “Are we talking coffee or whiskey?”

Katsuki’s smirk sharpens as he loops his scarf back around his neck. “I’ll let you know when we get there.”


[January]

“All right…all right, first thing tomorrow morning I’ll send him an email to see what he has available for interview space.” Izuku pauses, listening into the phone as his fingers move across his keyboard. “Yes, I’ll make sure I let him know that…thank you, yes, and I’ll send you a reminder in the morning. Have a good evening…goodbye.”

Izuku returns the handset to its cradle, finishes the note he was making, and, with a brief glance at the clock, drafts up the email for the television producer that he’ll edit and send in the morning, as promised. A tiny virtual chime trills, signaling the end of his work day, and he saves the email draft, closes out his applications, and logs off his computer.

“Another day done,” he sighs happily, tilting back in his office chair and enjoying the view of the cityscape outside his window. This particular client had managed to catch the eye of a popular local television show producer and Izuku was working to pull a few strings to get him an interview during peak viewing hours. If everything went through correctly, this would be an incredible jump-start to this young Hero’s career and—

The ring of his desk phone pulls him back to reality and he goes to reach for it out of habit, but pauses with his hand in the air. It’s technically past his office hours so he’s under no obligation to answer, but it pains him to ignore someone that was clearly searching for him. He slowly clenches his outstretched hand and forces himself to pull it away from the phone. “They’ll leave you a message, they’ll leave you a message, you can get back to them tomorrow,” he chants to himself as he lets the phone finish all of its rings. In the resulting silence, Izuku can’t help the little stabs of guilt at ignoring one of his clients. Ochako often scolded him for his workaholic tendencies, but Izuku’s counter argument was that it was the core of what makes him successful as a freelancer, and in high demand among Hero clientele.

For as long as he could remember, Izuku had been in love with Heroes, with a devotion to them that bordered on obsession. Life had been cruel, however, and handed him the diagnosis of “Quirkless” at a young age, crushing his dream of one day joining their ranks. When the shock of the news and the pain of his new reality had receded enough that it was no longer drowning him, he decided that not having a Quirk wasn’t going to hold him back: some way, somehow he was going to be able to stand side by side with his idols, with the Heroes that worked fearlessly to keep everyone safe.

Despite being Quirkless, his childhood was relatively normal. His lack of Quirk didn’t prevent him from making friends, and there were even a few other Quirkless children in his neighborhood that he played with often. There was some occasional teasing from other kids whose Quirks has manifested, but Izuku learned quickly how to shut them down, balling his tiny fists and telling them it didn’t matter that he didn’t have a Quirk, he was going to have a job where he got to work with all the Heroes he loves.

The only issue with that declaration was, what would he actually do? His grades in school were nothing exceptional, nothing that was going to get him into an elite high school that could get him noticed, and he had no impressive or outstanding skills that could be desirable for a Hero agency. His third year of middle school was filled with anxiety for where he would go next, at how he would ever be able to achieve the unachievable, and the empty decision form sitting on his desk only amplified his predicament. It would be his homeroom teacher, though, that would end up making the suggestion that would alleviate his fears and completely change his perspective of himself.

“You have a wonderful and friendly nature, Midoriya-kun,” his sensei had told him. “You work hard in the classroom, and it’s clear you’re passionate about working with and helping Heroes. Since you’re good with other people, what if you went on to work in a business area, such as marketing, recruitment, or public relations? It’s definitely a worthy career that a Hero would need, and you would get to serve as a bridge between Heroes and the public!”

It was the spark Izuku needed to re-light his dream, and from there he threw himself into preparing himself as much as he possibly could for the world of business and Heroics. Naturally, working with Hero or a Hero agency was not something that anyone could sign up to do: there was a nationally certified class, “Marketing for Heroes”, that had to be taken and passed before they could even be considered for hire. The class went in depth on the unique position that Heroes hold and how promoting them differs from a typical celebrity, as well as how to handle public backlash and negative press relating to villains, gossip, or a scandal. It was grueling, intense work, but ultimately, with his degree in one hand and his Hero-specialty certification in the other, Izuku was ready to enter the workforce.

Ultimately he had decided to become a freelance agent. It gave him the power to control the number of clients he took on, as well as the flexibility to work around and with his own schedule when the need arose. He found his niche working with up-and-coming Heroes: those who had just graduated from school and were searching for an agency to be hired with, or who wanted to have help jump-starting their careers in the public eye. Izuku found it incredibly rewarding to watch so many of his clients transform from fresh-faced graduates into professional Heroes who were recognized and lauded for their hard work and public service and knowing that he was able to play a role in getting them there.

He’s interrupted from his reminiscing by his cell phone chirping from his pocket. The screen displays Ochako’s contact image: a picture of them taken at their high school graduation, both of their faces squished comically together to fit within the frame of her close-up shot. He grins fondly at it before tapping the screen to answer. “Hello Uraraka-san.”

“I see you’re finally taking my advice about not answering your work phone after hours.”

Izuku lurches forward, nearly unseating himself from his office chair as he goes to check the caller ID on his work phone. “Ah, I didn’t know that was you! I’m sorry I should have checked—”

Her laugh crackles through the speaker. “You’re fine, you’re fine! The point is, I got a hold of you because you’re not going to believe what I just found online!”

“It had better not be another article for fashion tips on a budget.” Izuku tries hard to deliver the line seriously.

“Haha, you’re SO funny,” she quips back. “No this is actually a serious, legitimate thing I’ve found and it’s something you need to see.”

Izuku settles back into his chair, pushing his toe against the edge of his desk to make himself spin slowly. “Okay, I’ll bite: what did you find that’s so serious?”

“Here, let me send— are you still on your computer?” In the background, he hears her fingers fly across her keys.

“Mhm, one second, I’ll pull up my email.” With a few quick taps, his inbox opens and a ping signals the email from Ochako. When he clicks on it and reads the contents, he almost lets go of his phone as mouth falls open. “You…you’re not serious…this is a joke, right?”

On the screen is a “Help Wanted” advertisement for a Public Relations consultant for the number thirteen Pro Hero, Ground Zero. Izuku has to remind himself to breathe and remember that he has Ochako on the phone, waiting for his response. He wheezes instead, and Ochako takes that as her confirmation that he’d see what she sent.

“You absolutely need to apply for this, Izuku!! The top Heroes of today are typically using the PR groups that are a part of their agencies - for such a well known name to be searching outside of their agency is a HUGE deal!”

Izuku laughs at her, but it’s high pitched and full of nervousness. “Uraraka-san, you know that’s not my specialty. I don’t— I don’t work with Pros, I work with the new graduates and lesser known Heroes, the ones who would dream of having the kind of ranking that he has. He— he doesn’t…he wouldn’t need my help.”

“That’s a rather bold assumption, don’t you think? If he’s desperate enough to put out a help wanted ad as opposed to using his agency’s group, I’d say that anything is possible.”

Izuku leans sideways, propping his elbow on the arm of his chair. “I…” he trails off.

Other than his initial hesitation, there’s no logical reason for him to refuse. He’s qualified to work with any kind of Hero from their first day to their last, so it’s not like he needed to be certified in a particular area of a Hero’s career to work with them. And while it was true that Ground Zero was not the typical type of person Izuku did PR work for, that was more out of happenstance than from a conscious decision on his part. But the final nail in the coffin, he realizes, is that he does have time to potentially take on another client.

“…all right,” he concedes with a sigh. “All right, I’ll humor you and I’ll send in an application. But I’m telling you, I don’t think I’m going to get very far. I don’t have experience with big-name Heroes, so I really…wouldn’t be anyone that he’s looking for.”

He hears the grin in Ochako’s reply though her tone is warm. “The odds of you getting chosen are the same as you not getting chosen. If it ends up that you aren’t chosen, then nothing will change and you won’t have to worry. But, you’ll never know unless you take that chance.”


[January]

To his surprise, his supervisor and the PR department at his agency were thrilled that he was finally reaching out for some form of public recognition. Katsuki figures they were so desperate for him to get some kind of media coverage that they would accept anyone Katsuki deemed acceptable. Which was great - it was one less group of people he had to fight to do something he really didn’t want to do anyway...but if he had to do it, it would be his way.

What wasn’t great was the notification that popped up for him when he logged onto his computer and opened up his work email:

[247 Unread Messages]

“Holy shit…” he breathes, refreshing his inbox to make sure the number was actually correct. When it doesn’t change, he slouches back in his chair and runs a hand through his hair. He’s not sure whether he should be flattered that so many people want to work with him, or irritated that he now has so many applications to sort though.

He knows it’s his own fault for wanting to go solo. After his talk with Eijirou, Katsuki had spent the rest of his night poring over his contract, looking up all of the legal terms that weren’t immediately familiar to him to make absolutely sure that he wasn’t obligated to work with his agency. Once he confirmed that he wasn’t, he created a “help wanted” advertisement to present to his supervisor the next day so it could get approval and Katsuki could start the process of hiring someone.

In response, his supervisor had ripped it apart as professionally as possible and told him that if this was the direction he wanted to go, that they would take care of things from there. Naturally Katsuki argued against this: if he’s the one hiring the PR agent to work for him, why would his supervisor need to be involved? The answer to that was, anyone that Katsuki wanted to hire would be treated as if they were an employee of the agency: they would have to have all of their credentials verified, go through a background check, and be set up with payroll - in essence, they would be, on paper, another employee of his agency.

Still, Katsuki pushed back. While he now understood that it wasn’t as simple as just picking a person, he refused to let his agency be the one to call all of the shots. He insisted on having a say in the wording of the advertisement, as well as the one to do the selecting of the candidates. His rationale was that whoever was chosen was going to work for him specifically, not available to the agency as a whole, so it had to be someone that he personally approved of, or this whole process wouldn’t even matter.

Katsuki sighs, bouncing his leg under his desk. He doesn’t particularly want to spend his day off cleaning out his inbox, but he wasn’t going to let his supervisor exclude him from choosing his own agent. And if Eijirou was actually right and a measure of popularity was necessary to break the top ten...then it’s what he had to do. He sets his jaw, grabs a pen and a notepad, and starts clicking open the emails. He didn’t put all of his blood, sweat, and tears into his training and his dream of being number one only to quit because of a handful of digital messages, and his office is soon filled with the soft clicking of his mouse and the scratching of his pen over the paper.

It’s early evening when he finally gets through the last of the emails. He pushes his notebook, pen, and keyboard aside and pillows his forehead against his forearms. Many of the applicants didn’t have the proper certification to work with Heroes, which made them easy to filter out and reject. From there, the selection was a little trickier. How much experience was enough experience? Should he go with someone older and well established, or someone younger with a fresh perspective? There were actually many candidates that sounded promising, but it was hard to say who was the best by a piece of paper alone, which meant…

“Gonna have to interview them,” he groans dramatically. Which was a given, he wasn’t going to hire someone he hadn’t assessed in person. He needed to ensure that each person matched what they put on paper, and that they weren’t going to try and shove him into any publicity stunt they could book. If he wanted that, he would have stuck with his own agency’s group.

“I don’t envy anyone that has to do this for a living,” he grumbles, lifting his head and reviewing what he had written down in his notebook. There were about twenty names and their attached resumes that had really stuck out to him, and he’d have to narrow it down a little more to decide on the final candidates for the interviews…

…in the morning. He’d do it in the morning.


[February]

“C’mon, c’mon, pick up your phone!”

Izuku paces back and forth in his living room, his anxiety spiking higher with each ring that passed.

“I know you’re around and you phone isn’t dead because you just messaged me another stupid arti—”

“Hello?”

“WHAT HAVE YOU GOTTEN ME INTO?!”

The other line is silent for a few beats before Ochako responds. “Okay I realize that shopping can be addicting, but honestly Izuku-kun your wardrobe needed updates and they had some good tips—”

“No it’s not— what? No this isn’t about the articles, this is about that thing from the other day, tha-tha-that job offer!” Izuku’s fingers twist in his hair. “They sent me a confirmation for an interview,” he explains breathlessly.

“They did?!” He has to hold his phone away from his head to save his ears from her enthusiastic screams. “Izuku-kun that’s fantastic!! When is the interview scheduled for?”

“Two weeks from now,” he mumbles, sitting heavily on his couch. “You got me into this, you’re coming over to help me practice for the interview.”

“I’ve got to come over and help you pick out something to wear too,” she hums, before adding on, “or would you rather go out and get something new and fresh?”

“I really don’t think either of those options are necessary,” he whines.

“It is absolutely necessary,” she counters. “You’re a professional in your field but you’re also a fashion disaster, and you need to make a good impression.”

Izuku’s jaw drops. “That’s— I’m not that bad! Is that supposed to be a dig at me working from home?”

“No, this is from experience of going out in public with you - your taste in clothing is tolerably passable at best.”

In the end, he had ended up having no choice in the matter - as soon as their schedules had free time that matched up, Ochako had dragged him out to the mall to pick out a new outfit. When she showed up at his front door, he tried one last time to convince her to pick something, anything, from his closet instead, but she stood her ground, fists planted on her hips until Izuku cowed beneath her glare, grabbed his hat, scarf, and coat, and followed her to the mall. Ochako took pity on him, though, and assured him that he would be able to reuse everything they picked out today if he were to ever find himself in another interview situation, or if he just needed to impress a particularly fussy client.

The rest of the time passes in what seems like a handful of moments. It’s not that he forgets he has the interview per se - he can’t, not when he sees it growing ever closer with each box he crosses off his calendar - but it feels like no time at all has passed between receiving his interview confirmation date and waking up on the morning of The Big Day and fitting himself into the no-iron shirt and dress pants that Ochako had deemed acceptable on their trip. His fingers shake as he double and triple checks to make sure that each button is in the appropriate hole and his collar sits flat and near against his neck.

He sighs in relief when there’s a knock on his door and she’s standing there, telling him she knew he would need help with his tie. Which was true - he really didn’t want to die from accidentally strangling himself. But he also knows she wants to keep him grounded, from getting too lost inside his head and second-guessing himself, and he’s enormously grateful.

“Remember what I said when we graduated? And what I’ve said basically every day since?” She pushes the button for the ground floor and watches the doors swish shut before turning to him, brown eyes warm but firm in her belief. “You’re a natural with people, Izuku-kun. It’s the first time for an interview, yeah, but not in talking to a stranger. You do that just about every day of your life.”

Izuku feels his eyes water but a tiny, genuine smile starts to pull at the corner of his mouth. “I…okay. You’re right, it’s…it’ll be— no, it IS just like talking to a brand new client. Just…in a different setting.” The elevator chimes, and they both step out of the building. “Thank you, Uraraka-san. I’ll call you as soon as I’m done.”

She huffs at him, her breath temporarily obscuring her face. “You’d better! I’m actually a little jealous, you know.” She places her hand on her cheek. “For someone that’s been in the business for five years, the man is an enigma! He won’t even do post-battle conferences or interviews, let alone anything with promotions or advertisements.” She shakes her head. “It’s really a wonder he’s as high in the rankings as he is. But, that’s not the point right now.” Ochako lunges forward and gives Izuku one last hug. “Good luck, Izuku-kun, talk to you later!”

He hugs her back, and with a cheery wave, she takes off. Izuku turns and walks in the opposite direction towards the train station. The whole trip is a blur - he barely notices the crush of people surrounding him on the train, and the winter landscape remains unregistered in his mind as his feet continue their unconscious journey, and before he realizes it, he’s come to a stop on the sidewalk and is looking up at his destination: Heroes, Inc., the agency where Ground Zero is employed...and if all goes well, where he could be employed, too.

Despite the chill of the late January air, Izuku is sweating under his coat. He knows it’s because he’s nervous, so he spends a few minutes pacing back and forth in front of the front doors, taking deep breaths and muttering to himself in an effort to calm himself down.

“You can do this, you can do this! It’s just an interview, it’s just talking to someone, you do it all the time!”

Izuku closes his eyes and exhales heavily, his breath billowing in front of his face. Without giving himself time to think himself into a corner and come up with an excuse to walk away, he pushes through the front doors, careful to stomp any snow off of his feet.

The foyer is large, its light colored walls taking advantage of the sunlight pouring in from the front windows to give it a brighter and more open feel with chairs lining one side of the room to hold those waiting with appointments to see others within the agency. A large reception desk sits in the middle of the space, bookended by tall potted plants, and the click of Izuku’s shoes on the floor echoes in his ears as he forces himself to stand tall and smile. The secretary looks up at his approach, and tilts her head in question as she greets him softly. “Good morning, and welcome to Heroes, Inc. What can I do for you?”

Izuku grasps his hands behind his back. “I-I’m here for my interview with Ground Z-Zero. For the public relations position.”

The secretary nods, and she taps at the keyboard and spends a moment or two looking at the screen. “Midoriya Izuku, correct?”

“Uh y-yes ma’am!” He stutters, mentally slapping himself. How could he have forgotten to start with his name? Who knows how many other people were coming today?

There are a few more seconds of clicks before the woman gives him a small smile. “Please have a seat, and I’ll take you to see him when he’s ready.”

Izuku nods dumbly and forces his feet to move towards the chairs instead of out the door and back into the safety of his home office. He attempts to pass the time by fiddling on his phone, but social media only holds his attention for a few minutes before he’s back to tapping his toes against the synthetic hardwood floors.

The ring of the phone at the desk startles him, and he can’t help himself from looking over as it’s promptly picked up and answered. Izuku can’t make out the words, but once she hangs up the phone, she stands from her chair and looks over at him, and the sudden eye contact makes his face heat up, embarrassed to be caught eavesdropping.

“Ground Zero is ready for you. I’m going to get the previous candidate, and then I’ll take you to see him.”

He nods at her before dropping his eyes back to the floor, bouncing his heel and drumming his fingertips against his knees.

More quickly than he anticipates, he hears the now-familiar click of the secretary’s heels and the low tone of her voice speaking to the candidate she had gone to retrieve. Izuku looks up at their approach, and his stomach drops at what he sees. The gentleman’s face is unnaturally pale, as if his body was preparing to forcefully rid itself of whatever was causing it distress, but instead of a look of pain or discomfort to match said sickly appearance, his features are contorted with rage: his upper lip is curled when he makes his replies in the conversation, and his shoulders are hunched and his fingers are balled into fists, ready for a fight at the slightest provocation

Izuku immediately drops his gaze back to the floor, not wanting to be caught staring again by the secretary, or by the clearly agitated man. The two of them exchange a few more words, and then the man is striding out of the doors and on his way.

“You can follow me, Midoriya-san.”

Izuku scrambles to his feet. The secretary looks unfazed by the whole exchange, tilting her head in a silent request to follow.

At the end of a hallway tucked behind the foyer, both of them board an elevator and the secretary presses the button for one of the upper floors. Izuku fists at the material of his pants as they ascend. He tries not to let himself get amped and more nervous than he already was coming in, but it’s hard to keep the man’s pained and furious look out of his mind. Before he can stop himself, he’s breaking the silence in their tiny space.

“Do you…do you really think his interview was that bad? He definitely looked…uh…not…happy.”

She gives him a half smile. “I’m certain it was a…unique experience. Ground Zero isn’t one for working with the public beyond heroics, so his relations with non-Heroic professionals may be…unconventional.”

Izuku almost covers his mouth to keep himself from releasing a hysterical giggle. Unconventional was a generous word to describe an interview that left someone looking like they simultaneously wanted to go on a rampage and be violently ill.

The elevator doors slide open and they step out, and the secretary leads him down a hallway to a large door with a plaque labeled “Conference Room.” She knocks her knuckles softly against the door before giving it a push open and speaking into the room.

“Ground Zero, your next interview is here.”

Izuku gulps, fresh anxiety prickling over his skin as his fingers curl into fists. Since he had become a freelance agent, he hasn’t had to really apply for a job - potential clients either sought him out, or he was contracted by his peers to use his marketing skills in assisting with their clients. The days of making a resume and sitting in front of a potential employer to answer obscure questions about his work strengths and weaknesses had been left behind in his college classes.

Until today.

The conference room is larger than he anticipated. A large, dark wood table surrounded by plush chairs took up the majority of the space, highlighted by the afternoon sun that streamed in through the large wall of glass that overlooked the city. At the head of the table sits Bakugou Katsuki, aka Ground Zero, who looks like he would rather be anywhere else. The sound of the door opening and the secretary murmuring catches his attention, and crimson eyes lock with Izuku’s, sizing him up and reading every nuanced motion or out of place tic.

Izuku resists the urge to shiver. The other man didn’t even have to speak for Izuku to feel the strength of his presence. Perhaps this was why the other candidate had looked upset after leaving - maybe it wasn’t so much what he said, but more of the intimidation of being scrutinized by one of the most prominent, and yet most obscure, Heroes in Japan.

Straightening his spine, Izuku puts on his business smile - the one that, embarrassingly enough, he had practiced for hours with Ochako and Shouto in school before they had deemed it perfect for any potential client. It was a smile that said that he was here to serve, that he is happy to be here and confident in his skills and experience to be able to offer the best possible outcome. It was a smile that said, “I have the tools and the resources that you need, and I’m more than happy to help - the choice is yours to take it or not.” He hopes those intents are plain on his face as he sticks out his hand.

“Midoriya Izuku. Thank you for having me.”

Ground Zero stands from his place at the table, taking a moment to glance at Izuku’s outstretched hand before gripping it in his own.

“Bakugou Katsuki.”

The blond gestures to a chair next to him while he reclaims his own, lacing his fingers together and setting them on the table. He’s dressed handsomely in a three piece suit, though it was foreign to see him in something that wasn’t his Hero attire. Izuku covertly bites his tongue to keep himself from going off on a mental tangent, and accepts the offered seat. The silence is tangible as he waits for Katsuki to pull out his resume and begin the interview, and with every passing second, punctuated by the ticking second hand of the room’s clock, Izuku can feel the sweat start to bead up on the back of his neck and across his forehead. There was no class or mock interview that could have prepared him for something like this - every interaction had been training to answer any and every type of question that—

“So. What can you do?”

The frantic spirals of Izuku’s mind come to a screeching halt, leaving him stumbling for some kind of equilibrium. “Wh…I…what?”

Katsuki’s folded hands come apart as he gestures widely. “You’re here for the position of the PR agent, yes? The one that I put out?”

Seeing Izuku’s faint nod, he re-folds his hands and places them on his abdomen as he leans back in his chair. “So my question stands: what can you do?”

A thousand possible answers flash in Izuku’s mind, and yet his brain can’t seem to make sense of what Katsuki is actually asking of him. What can he do? Does he mean in general, like what his skills as a person are? Does he want to know what his day-to-day work life is like? Or what kinds of contact he has? The Heroes that he’s worked with? The people he’s trying to work with? Why did he have to ask such a vague question that could have multiple—

“Midoriya-san.”

Katsuki’s firm tone recaptures his fragmented attention. “I put out an advertisement for a PR agent. Many people applied, and I read all of the resumes. But anyone can write a resume. Anyone can answer questions. What I want to know is: what can you do?”

Focus, focus! he chants over and over. His mind is screaming at him to answer with something, running through every combination of every word he knows until he blurts out an answer that surprises them both.

“Anything you want me to.”

He feels himself pale at his audacity and his mind screeches to a halt to process what he’s just said, before it jerks back in motion to explain

“Ah, ha, well, I should say a-almost anything, because I’m only a human and can’t do everyth-thing, but…” he trails off, forcing himself to take a breath and re-center.

“Here’s what I m-mean: since my time in school, I’ve dedicated everything I have to every client that’s hired me. I’ve built my career on listening to each client’s goals and aspirations, and have worked with them with all of the resources I have available to make that happen. I can’t always guarantee perfect success,” he mentally slaps himself for displaying weakness when he’s supposed to be proving his strong points, “but I have never once given up on a client. Not once. If there was any failing it was because the client decided to end the relationship. I will not walk away. I will do whatever you need me to do to help you reach your goals.”

The loudest silence possible descends on the conference room at the conclusion of his speech, and Izuku feels a bead of sweat run down his spine, his knees starting to shake. Never once had he been this unprofessional, this forward and blunt! But, never before had he had an interview like this, with a potential client asking him, with no frills, what he is capable of doing for him.

Katsuki regards him carefully and Izuku wants to scream. His eyes are gleaming, watching Izuku carefully and picking him apart piece by piece, but his face gives away nothing to what he is thinking or feeling. With every passing second, Izuku grows more and more anxious, and as he is preparing to break the silence himself, Katsuki suddenly breaks their standoff, startling him.

“Thank you for your time, Midoriya-san.” The taller man holds out his hand. “The secretary will see you to the front door.”

Izuku puts every ounce of remaining strength he has into making sure his handshake is firm. “Thank you for considering me, sir.”

Katsuki nods, and pulls his cell phone out of his pocket. Izuku doesn’t wait around to find out who he’s talking to, focused only on walking out of the room without wobbling from his weak knees. Izuku releases the breath he doesn’t realize he had been holding as soon as the conference room door clicks shut behind him. A small part of his brain that wasn’t focused on staying upright realizes that Katsuki had probably called for the secretary from downstairs, and so he leans against the wall to help hold him up, waiting for the now-familiar tap-tap-tap of her heels to let him know that his escape is close. Every instinct screams at him to leave on his own and forget this disaster interview ever happened. It wouldn’t be too hard - as long as he only went down from here, he’d eventually find an exit.

The musical chime of the elevator and the secretary’s soft greeting pull Izuku’s attention back to the present, and together they travel down to the ground floor where she bids him farewell and reclaims her seat at the front desk. Izuku tugs his jacket back on, folding one edge over the other because doing up the buttons would mean spending more time in this building. The cold air is refreshing and he gasps in a large breath, slapping at his cheeks to keep himself grounded before stuffing his hands back into his pocket. His fingers brush over his phone and he pulls it out to see if there were any calls or emails he had missed.

As soon as he taps his screen, he notes the large number of texts from Ochako, begging for an update as soon as he had a free moment. He gives a weak chuckle - as if he wouldn’t have told her regardless of how it turned out. He taps reply, but his thumbs hover over the keys, hesitating. How can he condense this...experience, into a handful of text messages? With a quick shake of his head, Izuku opens up his contact app instead and taps on the phone icon next to her name. It takes one ring before she answers, forgoing her typical greeting for a breathless “tell me EVERYTHING!”

“There really isn’t much to tell,” he sighs. “When I got here, I saw the candidate before me come out of the interview and I honestly thought he was going to either be sick or start throwing punches.”

Izuku tucks his chin into his coat collar and his free hand into his jacket pocket. He begins his walk towards the train station to head home, not wanting to loiter.

“It was definitely shocking to see him in something other than his Hero gear…I think there was some part of me that expected him to be wearing it since that’s virtually all anyone sees him in. He looked…well, he looked like a regular person, for once!”

“Ugh, I should have had you take a picture! You do realize that getting a picture of him in civilian clothes would be a huge hit, right? Plus I bet he looked so handsome - he really is a looker! There are so many advertising agencies and television shows that would love to get their hands on him for marketing!”

Izuku chokes at the mere thought. “Th-there’s no way I could have taken a picture of him, and especially without his permission! I’m not the paparazzi, I was there for a job interview!"

Uraraka giggles at his sputtering. “Oh please, like you wouldn’t have wanted me to take pictures if our positions were reversed.”

His jaw goes slack before he shuts it with a quiet click while entering the station. “You— I—yes I would love to have pictures for something new and rarely seen but I highly doubt either of us would be able to convince him if other large advertising companies or even paparazzi couldn’t—”

“Take a breath, Izuku-kun!” He gasps noisily into the phone, more for the sake of drama but the excess oxygen did lessen the tightness in his chest. “Trust me, I know we wouldn’t have been able to…but it doesn’t stop me from wishing…” She sighs quietly, then returns to the topic. “Pictures aside, you called me more quickly than I thought…how did the actual interview go?”

“It was so bizarre…he didn’t talk about my resume, he didn’t ask me about my experiences in public relations or what Heroes I had worked for, nothing! All he asked me was ‘What can you do?’” He pauses for a moment, scanning the signs to make sure that he gets on the right train, and sits in the first open seat he can find. “I don’t know...it felt like being in first year of high school all over again,” he mumbles. “Feeling terrified of the interviewer, rambling on for ages, tripping over my words…he asked me one question and then said he was done with me.”

“He said he was done with you??”

Izuku shakes his head instinctively. “No no, it was more like…more like he thanked me for my time, and then told me that the secretary would see me out.” He slides further down into his seat. “I don’t really think I have a chance, though…the whole thing felt so off. The secretary did say that he was ‘unconventional’…and I know that everyone has their own style of interview, but I guess I was expecting something a little more…standardized.”

“I’m really sorry, Izuku-kun,” Ochako murmurs. “The only thing I can think of is that maybe he doesn’t know how to hold an interview because he’s never had to before. I can’t imagine he would have good people skills, seeing as he’s hardly worked with anyone outside of his agency since he started there.”

“You’re right, and I know you’re right.” The intercom pings and announces his stop, and Izuku lets himself be pulled along by the crowd getting off the train and back into the city. He sighs, and continues, “I gave it a shot, if nothing else. And at least I know I have other work waiting for me, too. It’s not like I wasn’t working and I was banking on this interview to secure a job for income.”

He can hear her smiling through the phone. “That’s a really great way of thinking about it, actually.” She hums thoughtfully, and then her tone turns somber. “I’m sorry that it didn’t turn out well though, Izuku-kun. Even…even if it wasn’t someone from your typical clientele, I’m sorry things didn’t work out.”

“It’s not your fault, you don’t have to apologize!” He shifts his phone to the other ear to dig his keys out of his pocket. “You didn’t give me the strangest interview of all time. And maybe later I can see it as a “new professional experience” instead of something that makes me want to go and hide under my covers.”

“Is that where you’re headed now?”

Izuku stops in his tracks, face heating up despite the cold air outside. “N-no! I mean, I’m going home, but not to hide! I still have work to do!”

She clicks her tongue. “Even after an interview, he still wants to work. Well, I suppose I’ll let you get to it - I am still sorry it was a rough experience, but at least you have good people you still work for.”

Izuku smiles genuinely for what feels like the first time that day. “Thank you Uraraka-san. No matter what ultimately happens, I know I’ll be okay.”


[February]

Absent-minded clicks fill the office space as Katsuki drags his files around his desktop, watching the clock in the bottom corner of the screen tick along. Izuku was due to meet him in about ten minutes to review his contract and then start brainstorming together to come up with ideas to start raising his ranking.

He glances over at the cream colored folder that holds the documents that will determine if Izuku decides to stay with him or not. His supervisor and the HR team had told him politely but firmly that they would handle the hiring and onboarding process now that they had the name of the candidate he wanted, and that they would let him know once they heard back from him.

Katsuki wanted to protest on principle - why should he be kept out of the loop when this was his PR agent? One of the HR employees provided him with that answer in the form of procuring a thick stack of paperwork out of nowhere, dropping it on their desk with a thud! that echoed in the office, and silently raising their eyebrows at him.

Katsuki quickly decided that he could be patient. It didn’t make the wait any easier, but he kept reminding himself that he could be doing that paperwork himself, or worse, he could be starting the selection and interview process all over again with a new batch of potential candidates.

He sighs through his nose, pushing his mouse away and fighting the urge to bend the corner of the folder. He did not want to hold any more interviews - the process had been just as uncomfortable and nerve-wracking for him as it seemed to have been with each person that he spoke with, but with each mental rejection of another useless nobody, Katsuki had begun to feel the pressure. The dread of going back through the submitted resumes and picking out a handful for another round of interviews - or worse, reading hundreds of brand new submissions - curled in his gut and begged him to just pick someone and get it over with! His pride, however, refused to let him pick anything less than the best. If he wanted to do that, he would have shut his mouth and taken his agency’s advice to plaster himself in any and all kinds of product advertisements.

Like hell.

He had been bracing himself for another disappointment when his secretary ushered the last man in but tried to keep his face neutral. The green haired man looked like he was seconds away from shaking apart, particularly when Katsuki, anxious for this now-or-never moment, cut to the chase and asked him what he really wanted to know. Screw the fluff and formalities: could this little bean sprout do anything for his image if he could barely hold a conversation without trembling?

But to his surprise, the mousy little man had some hidden moxie. His goal hasn’t been to entice Katsuki with the best advertisement deals or TV air time slots or brag about his past clientele to try and prove how good of a rep he was. He simply offered himself to Katsuki’s service: whatever Katsuki wanted to do, he would do to the best of his ability. Katsuki was not above admitting that he was impressed - this guy had spunk, and he seemed like he would actually listen to what Katsuki wanted to do, or more what he didn’t want to do.

Now, if only Katsuki knew where he was.

In Izuku’s defense, it was still before their meeting time and Katsuki could only assume he was on his way. However, the anticipation had him bouncing his leg underneath his desk. The sooner Izuku said yes and signed the contract, the sooner they could get started and the sooner Katsuki could finally be better than number thirteen.

“G-Good morning Ground Zero!”

He’s pulled from his musings at the sound of a new voice: Izuku is here. Katsuki tilts his head, studying Izuku as he enters and seats himself in the chair in front of his desk. He’s a little plain looking overall, but dressed nicely in a tan sweater, gray slacks, and carrying a leather satchel. Once he’s settled, he notices Katsuki’s gaze and the lack of greeting, and pales slightly.

“I-is Ground Zero too informal? Would you prefer I used Bakugou-san?”

Katsuki’s quick to shake his head. “No, Ground Zero is fine. Or Katsuki, that works too.”

Izuku relaxes, his smile returning. “Okay. Ground Zero. Or Katsuki. Both of those are fine.” But in the next moment, the switch was flipped again and Izuku’s hands start to flail. “And I’m Midorya Izuku! Though I think you knew that from, uh, from the interview wh-when we met earlier! You can call me Midorya-san, o-or Izuku! Either works, I’m not picky!”

“Oi hey, it’s all right, calm down!” Katsuki barks, trying to prevent the other man from accidentally unseating himself. “It’s – you’re fine. Don’t give yourself a heart attack before you’ve even read the contract!”

This, of all things, produces a giggle from the other man, and Katsuki breathes a silent sigh of relief as Izuku rubs at the back of his neck, a little sheepish but no longer panicking. “Aha, m-my apologies. I’m still in shock that I was chosen for this… I’m sure you had a lot of interest, a-and I’m not really well known in the high-ranking Hero world.”

Katsuki shrugs. “Your answer impressed me the most,” he states simply. “You weren’t coming at me with some kind of angle or ulterior motive. You told me you wanted to help me meet my goals, and that was it.”

Izuku relaxes for the first time in their short time of knowing each other. “I… yeah. I’ve watched a lot of public figures - Heroes, celebrities, other famous personalities… I’ve studied their teams and media outreaches, how they promote themselves and how they attract attention. And while there are a lot of strategies that are sound and strong, it… it doesn’t do well in the long run to be sneaky or underhanded. And I’ve personally never enjoyed feeling like I’m cheating someone else to get my client ahead. If they’re going to succeed, it ultimately has to be on their own, not because someone was manipulating every opportunity for them.”

Katsuki nods, pleased that his initial instinct about Izuku was right. Sure, increasing his Ranking would involve a certain amount of time in the spotlight, but it was a relief to know that Izuku wasn’t going to jump at every chance to use his name for every brand deal or feel-good promotion. The real test, however, would be in December - it was one thing to promise results, but Katsuki would make the final call of Izuku’s effectiveness at the end of the year.

“Sounds good.” One side of Katsuki’s mouth lifts in a grin. “I’m also not one for frivolous bullshit. I’m straight to point, I say what I mean, and anyone that doesn’t like it can get out of my way. But,” and here, he reaches for the folder that he had been toying with since he found it on his desk that morning, “none of that matters if you decide not to sign on. HR wanted me to meet with you and give you the official paperwork, go over the details, and have you make the final call over whether you want this or not.”

He slides the folder towards the other man, and Izuku opens it up and begins to read the contents inside. The sound of shifting paper is abnormally loud as Izuku carefully examines each page, nodding to himself at various points. Katsuki’s resisting the ever-increasing urge to wipe his palms on his pants to lessen the risk of an explosion, but before he can, Izuku’s closing the folder leaning back to rest his hands on his lap.

“Having read all this,” he begins, “What is your goal? What is it that you’re asking me to do for you?”

His voice is light, but his eyes, though bright, are focused, and Katsuki appreciates his questions. He doesn’t immediately launch into grand designs or plans, instead wanting to make sure that he’s going to be working towards Katsuki’s goals and not trying to make him a shiny plastic commodity.

“My goal is to secure the spot as the number one Hero.” Katsuki clears his throat. “Well, that’s the long term goal, anyway. The more important one for me is to break outta this…this holding pattern. This rut. I’ve been in the low teens since my debut, and nothin’ I do makes it any better.” He swallows the bitter lump in his throat - he knows it sounds like whining but damn it, no progress after five years of continually bettering himself was frustrating at minimum!

“But here’s what I was thinkin’, ‘cause the public is kinda fickle about how they rate people. I wanna be number one, but I wanna get out of this rut even more. So,” he holds Izuku’s gaze, “I want you to help me break into the top ten. If I can show ‘em that I can break out of it and rise up higher, then I think I can get by.”

Katsuki’s tone is confident but he holds his breath, waiting to see what Izuku thinks. Just because he was offered the job didn’t mean Izuku had to sign the papers and accept what he wanted. If Izuku didn’t agree, he could refuse and walk away, and Katsuki would be right back at square one.

But to his relief, Izuku nods, slowly at first, then with more certainty. “Traditionally I’m used to working with up-and-coming Heroes who have no ranking and are looking to earn their first one, or get some exposure and media presence so they can start developing a reputation and working towards getting on the ranking list. But since you don’t…have much of a reputation,” he waves his hand apologetically, “it actually makes my job a little bit easier, because I can use my knowledge and resources as if you were brand new. And despite the fact that you have very little public reputation, people still know who you are, which is an advantage to anything that we do, but we’ll have to…”

Katsuki can’t help but zone out a little bit as Izuku starts to muttering to himself, though he does appreciate the multi-tasking as Izuku combs over the contract again, this time taking in the small details and legal print. He watches Izuku grin and nod at what’s being offered before pulling a shiny black pen out of his satchel. With a few quick flicks of his wrist and a slight shuffle of paper, Izuku’s signed his name where it’s needed and closes the folder.

“I think that’s everything you need from me, right? As far as the paperwork part goes, I mean. Or is there something else you’d like me to do before I go?”

It takes a moment for Katsuki’s brain to catch up, surprised by how easily this all ended up coming together after so much fighting and planning and stressing and waiting. “Uh, no. I don’t need anything, anyway. Now that you’ve signed these and you’re officially hired, I gotta take these papers down to HR and finish my shift.”

“Ah, okay!” He returns his pen back to his satchel, then looks back up as he finishes closing it. “Would…could I get a copy of them before I leave?”

Katsuki nods. “Yeah, that’s not a problem. Actually,” he stands up and walks towards the door, gesturing for Izuku to follow, “there’s something I can show you while you’re still here.”

Once the copies were made and handed off, Katsuki leads them to a large open room, sectioned off into individual cubicles. The room itself is plain, but offers a stunning view of the city from the large panes of glass making up the far wall.

“Dunno if you have an office or a place you work out of, but we do have an assigned cubicle for you if you ever wanna work out of our agency. This space is for people that come and work with us from different agencies for different periods of time.” He gestures to the expanse of the room. “Any space that isn’t claimed is yours to choose from so…”

Katsuki shuffles awkwardly from foot to foot, not used to speaking with someone at work so casually. Anything at work was generally short and to-the-point, and more in-depth conversations were generally limited to Eijirou and his parents. Izuku meanwhile, oblivious to this conflict, circles around the cubicles, eyes scanning each unoccupied desk to see which one he favored the most. Katsuki watches him, mildly amused at how serious he was taking this, until Izuku turns and chirps, “This one will work for me!” He pulls the chair from the desk and sits down, spinning around to face Katsuki. “Do I need to do something special to claim it and keep it from getting stolen?”

Katsuki huffs through his nose, thrown by how easily Izuku spoke to him. “Nah, there’s no one else that’s expected to come in that would need one, so I think it’s safe.”

Izuku hums, content, and takes a moment to look out at the cityscape. The late morning sun glints playfully off of hundreds of sparkling windows and casts oddly shaped shadows over other surfaces. Below, people flow in semi-organized crowds, never getting jammed up despite the large numbers.

“It’s a really beautiful view,” he murmurs. He catches Katsuki’s eye again and stands a little straighter. “I’ll be headed out, then, if you don’t need me today. But I’ll be brainstorming possible routes we can try first, and when we can try them.”

Katsuki nods. “Sounds good to me.” Then he crooks a grin, crossing his arms. “Just make sure you impress me. Don’t wanna be wasting my time.”

Izuku thankfully catches on to his tone - one that’s more of a challenge, less of a demand. He throws back a grin of his own. “Don’t worry Ground Zero, I’m good at what I do. I’ll be in contact with you soon about what I’ve got in mind.”


[February]

It’s not long at all before Izuku sends him an email asking for his next slot of free time to go over some ideas he’s come up with. Katsuki sends him his work schedule for the upcoming week, and Izuku replies with a highlighted time and day and laughs to himself in the safety of his own apartment.

Working with a Hero of Ground Zero’s caliber was such a refreshing challenge! He’s established enough in the field that not everything Izuku could do would be effective, but he’s obscure enough that there might be some tactics that could work. His situation was a complex and unique puzzle, and Izuku was delighted to be the one to solve it.

He’s jittery the entire way to Heroes, Inc., the list he had spent days generating feeling like lead in his bag. Hopefully there would be something there that Katsuki would want to try, or maybe try a variation of. If nothing else, Izuku would find out what things were off the table and perhaps generate some ideas from the blonde.

His feet take him past the cubicles and down the hall to Katsuki’s office. The door is propped open so Izuku doesn’t bother knocking. “Good morning Ground Zero!”

Katsuki looks up and waves him in, and Izuku grins, setting his coat and satchel down into the chair he had occupied not long ago. Reaching into his satchel, he commands his hand not to shake as he pulls out his list and hands it to Katsuki, and as the other man starts to read it over, Izuku can’t stop his words from tumbling out in an excited rush.

“I want you to know that it was a fun personal challenge for me to be able to come up with this list for you! I had to balance between things that would be good for someone starting with a limited visibility, while also keeping in mind that not everything I’ve done is viable for you because you’re well established and not just starting out. Now, this list is only my ideas, of course, but it has many things that I’ve found to be successful in the past, and it nothing else it c-could be a good platform to spark a conversation b-between us of what you’d prefer to do if n-nothing there catches your eye…”

He trails off into silence at Katsuki’s lack of response. There’s nothing in his face that gives away what he’s thinking about Izuku’s suggestions, so Izuku tries again to explain his thought process.

“O-of all of the possibilities there, I-I figured that a meet-and-greet would be a good first option: they’re easy to organize, even on a sh-short notice, and it’s a good way to be able to have contact with a large number of people in a small amount of t-time, outside of a battle of c-course, so naturally it would be m-much safer and—”

“I’m not doing it.”

Izuku flinches as if he was slapped in the face instead of being interrupted by four small words. “You…you’re wh-what?”

Katsuki tosses the list on the desk in front of him and crosses his arms, unimpressed. “This meet-and-greet bullshit, anything else on this list.” His eyes meet Izuku’s, red pools of fiery defiance. “I’m not doing it. This is the same shit that my agency’s PR goons have been trying to twist my arm into doing, and if I wasn’t gonna do it for them, I sure as hell ain’t gonna do it for you.”

Izuku feels his jaw physically fall open, stunned. “Wh-no! This has nothing to do with what your agency has done, th-this is something that I use with—”

“Listen,” Katsuki waves his hand to cut Izuku off, “I’ve come to a realization. The way your name is formed, it’s possible that it could be interpreted as ‘Deku,’ and you know what a Deku is? Useless. And I didn’t hire you to be a Useless Deku. I hired you to help me break the Top Ten. And if all you’ve got for me is recycled ideas that parade me in front of the masses, then,” his mouth twists into a sneer, “‘Useless Deku’ fits you well.”

Izuku’s face slowly morphs from shock into frigid stone. “So that’s the game, then. You don’t get your way, so I’m the one that’s useless.” He shakes his head, then snatches his list off of the desk. “It’s incredible, really, that someone with your brand of charm,” he spits the word, “has made it this far all on his own, without the help of someone useless like me.”

He grabs his coat and satchel and marches out, refusing to let his knees and lower lip tremble until he was at the station waiting for his train home.


[March]

The knock on his office door was sharp and unexpected enough to cause Katsuki to start. Usually people who needed to speak to him would simply open the door and say what needed to be said before leaving. Katsuki wasn’t one for idle or unnecessary chit chat, so while it was unusual, it was better for everyone in the long run.

And speaking of unusual…

His PR agent stands in the doorway, possibly waiting for an acknowledgement of his presence. Katsuki fights back a small stab of guilt - he was probably coming to drop off his resignation in person before leaving. He’s mad, but the rational part of his brain tells him to can it, the guy was just trying to do his job and didn’t deserve to be cussed at.

Well, he thinks, best to get it over with quickly, so I can start that interview shit all over again...

With an eerily unreadable expression, Izuku closes the distance between the door and his desk, setting down his coat and satchel and producing a few sheets of paper before laying them in front of him.

“You’re going.”

Katsuki opens his mouth to let out a sigh. He knew it - Izuku didn’t want to be anywhere near him after their blow up earlier, and while the nasty part of his brain wanted to sneer and tell the shorter man to suck it up and do his job, the softer, more heroic part of him—

Wait. You’re…?

It takes every ounce of training and self control to keep his hands from creating embers out of the papers that were handed to him. Bold and brightly colored letters cheerfully announce his presence at the meet-and-greet at the bookstore downtown, with the promise of autographs and pictures for anyone who attended. “I don’t know what you’re playing at, but if you seriously think you’re going to win with me over this meet-and-greet shit, you’ve got another—”

Izuku raises his hand, cutting him off. “I’ve set the date, I’ve booked the location, and I had your agency adjust your schedule. You’re going, Bakugou-san.”

Katsuki’s lip curls in disgust, his fury at the situation temporarily directed at the use of the formality. “Oh hell no with that ‘Bakugou-san’ bullshit! I’m not gonna sound like my old man!”

Izuku’s eyes flash. “You’re right, I shouldn’t give you the decency of being called by an adult name if you’re not going to act like one.” His own humorless smirk grows across his face. “In fact, I think ‘Kacchan’ would suit you well instead. A child’s name for someone who insists on behaving like a spoiled brat.”

Katsuki sputters, feeling the heat rise up into his face and tint the edges of his vision red. He stands quickly, slamming both palms on his desk, and to his credit, Izuku doesn’t flinch. It pisses Katsuki off further, despite being privately impressed, though he finds a dark satisfaction in the widening of Izuku’s eyes as he minimizes some of their distance.

“Listen here, Deku,” he hisses, “I told you you could call me Ground Zero or Katsuki, and if you think I’m gonna answer to anything else, especially that botched excuse of a nickname, you’d best think again.”

Botched excuse for a nickname? So ‘Useless Deku’ is some genius pun, then?” Izuku’s expression hardens as he crosses his arms. “If that’s the case, then as long as I’m ‘Deku,’ you’ll be ‘Kacchan.’”

Katsuki physically bites his tongue to keep himself from screaming, and when he feels just in control enough to throttle the stubborn man in front of him, he spits back. “For that, you can forget about me even thinking of entertaining this crap. Have fun explaining why you need to cancel my appearance.”

“Are you actually serious?!” Katsuki wasn’t expecting the sharp rise in volume and barely keeps himself from showing any type of response. He crosses his arms and watches Izuku begin to pace in front of his desk. “So you went through all of the fighting against your agency’s PR department for any type of exposure, set up an entire interview process with multiple candidates before hiring me, gave me the go-ahead to do what I needed to do to help you meet your goal, and now you’re going to throw a fit over the most basic type of public exposure event!” He stops pacing and locks eyes with Katsuki again, aggravation beginning to crack through his once-cool and composed demeanor. “If you can’t handle the simplest event, you clearly aren’t serious about moving up in the rankings!”

Battle adrenaline spikes and Katsuki’s arms splay out automatically, fingers curling in preparation to spark. “What the hell do you know?! If I wasn’t serious about wanting to get out of this stupid rut, I wouldn’t have gone through this entire bullshit process to begin with! Nothing else was working so it was time to figure something out!”

“And so shooting down the first suggestions to cross your desk is your grand idea of breaking this rut? Why would you even hire me to try something new if any sort of public marketing technique was apparently ‘off the table’?” The air quotes he uses make Katsuki desperately wish that his office door was shut so he could really let Izuku have it. As it was, he was mildly surprised that no one had at least poked their head in to see why they were yelling. He supposes people had learned to stay away if there was shouting from his office.

There’s an audible grind as Katsuki clamps his jaw shut. He squeezes his eyes shut to pull the last strands of his already delicate patience together to prevent a full-blown meltdown. “Fine, you know what? Just to shut you up, I’ll do your shitty little dog and pony show. Don’t expect me to be fucking peachy about it, though.”

Izuku laughs, but his eyes are cold as he gathers up his belongings. “Good luck with that public approach, it’s clearly worked for you so far.”

Katsuki’s grateful when Izuku slams the door shut and storms off, and he yanks his cell phone from his pocket to dial a well-known number.

“What’s up, Bakubro?”

The cheery greeting and nickname makes Katsuki snarl, but he delivers his message. “I wanted to give you a heads up that I’m going to choke you next time I see you. Hiring this guy was the worst fucking idea you’ve had, and I’ve known you for almost a decade and lived through some of your pretty shitty ideas.”

Eijirou laughs at him, which is not the emotion he was looking to provoke, but his friend speaks before he can tell him off. “I didn’t tell you to hire him specifically, dude. I only told you to try hiring someone outside your agency.”

“Yeah, and that went over so well. Asshole just came to me and handed me a list of things he wants me to do, which, funny enough, is everything that my agency has been trying to force me to do for the last five years.”

Eijirou lets a whistle loose, staticky over the cell phone speaker. “Yikes. He came at you with everything you hate, huh.”

“No shit.” Katsuki pushes his chair away from his desk and uses his toe to spin himself around slowly. “He wanted me to do a shitty meet-and-greet ‘cause he thinks it’s a ‘good start,’ so I told him exactly what I thought of that plan.”

There’s a pause, and Katsuki knows that means he’s not going to like what his friend says next. “But, dude…it is a good start. Especially since that’s the first thing he wanted to do instead of immediately trying to sign you into some kind of brand deal.”

“Don’t take his side! You’re not supposed to be telling me that he’s right!”

Eijirou hums. “Well, if I can’t say that he’s right, I guess I’ll have to say that you’re wrong, instead.”

Katsuki’s mouth falls open and he sputters, ready to fight again, but Eijirou speaks before he can start. “Remember what I told you back when we were at that little coffee place? People don’t know who you are outside of battle, and something like a meet-and-greet or a photo op is a way for them to see you outside of when you’re kicking villain ass.”

Katsuki bares his teeth are the ceiling. “I really fucking hate that you basically quoted him word for word.”

“Sorry man,” comes the absolutely not-sorry reply. “But when you’re right, you’re right. You can’t expect change if you’re gonna keep shooting down any attempt to change, you know that. It sucks, but if what you want is worth more than how big the challenge is, then you gotta brace yourself and go for it.”

Katsuki sighs, giving himself one last spin and watching the world around him blur. “…I hate you.”

“There’s my explosive ray of sunshine!” Eijirou chirps. “I know you’re not happy. But do it anyway and see what happens. You might find it’s not as bad as you think.”

“Fine fine, I’ll do the stupid thing. Thanks for your help or whatever the hell this was.”

“Anytime, my guy.”


[March]

This was going to be a disaster.

On the morning of the meet-and-greet, as Izuku’s train travels closer and closer to his destination, his anxiety climbs higher and higher, resulting in him subconsciously wringing the strap of his satchel.

He hasn’t spoken to Katsuki since they both blew up at each other in his office, and Izuku groans into his scarf at the memory. He had NEVER screamed at a client before, much less insulted their choices and questioned their ambitions, and yet the words spilled out with no hesitation that day in Katsuki's office. Sure, he could claim that he was bitter and stung over the “useless Deku” branding, but clients had been nasty to him before and he had never lost his cool. And to top it off, he had slapped a childish nickname on one of the more powerful and influential Heroes in the country, one that could do serious damage to his career if he were to make any sort of public statement on Izuku’s lack of professionalism.

Oh, he was so going to be fired after this.

The train sways around a corner, bringing him back to his present concerns. Despite spitting that he was going to be there, Izuku’s half afraid Katsuki will decide to ditch it anyway, just to make him look foolish. He’s in the middle of preparing what he’s going to say to everyone when he has to call off the event when the speaker announces his stop, shuffling off the train and making his way to the bookstore.

It’s a place Izuku knows well: it’s on a moderately busy street and had plenty of space to set up a table, a few chairs, and a lot of posters for advertisement. The owner had been thrilled to have a well-known Hero host an event here and had offered whatever Izuku needed to make sure it was successful. It was agreed that Izuku, Katsuki, and a few members of Heroes, Inc. would arrive at the store before they opened, ensure everything was in place, and then open up to the public, with the Heroes, Inc. members acting as security and crowd control.

A couple of the Heroes, Inc. staff wave to him when he enters the store, and Izuku is both relieved and disappointed that he doesn’t see Ground Zero right away. Could he have still cancelled without telling his agency members? Was he here somewhere and Izuku just wasn’t seeing him yet?

Forcing himself to look around the entire store, Izuku finally spots Katsuki at one of the shelves, browsing the different titles with a frown on his face. He’s dressed in his full Hero uniform, complete with mask and gauntlets, and Izuku would be grateful that he was fully dressed for his role, if he wasn’t already so pissed off about his general existence right now.

Unfortunately for Izuku, Katsuki happens to look up from the books and catch his eyes. Izuku’s face goes up in flames, but he forces himself not to not look away. That, however, gets monumentally more difficult when Katsuki marches over to him.

“So what am I doing?”

He’s clearly still pissed from their last interaction, and remembering their fight and why they were both mad gives Izuku the strength to reply. “It’s pretty simple, don’t worry,” and he inwardly crows at the flash in Katsuki’s eyes and the slightest hint of teeth under his raised lip, “all you have to do is sit and wait for people to show up. Sign what they bring you, take a couple of pictures, and try not to look like you’re absolutely miserable by being here.”

Izuku knows he’s dying to fight back, to escalate back up to their screaming from before, but he doesn’t physically move, save for the clenching of his hands. “Fucking fine, Deku,” he hisses. He turns and stomps to his assigned spot at the front table, his only greeting to his fellow agency members is a short grunt. Their response is a shrug, as if this was standard or expected behavior.

Izuku pinches the bridge of his nose, and prays for every person Katsuki’s going to see today - they’re going to need it.

+ + + +

To his surprise, Katsuki didn’t crack and erupt, even with wave after wave of people demanding a piece of his attention. He signed just about every piece of merchandise thrust at him, posed and took photos with each child and teenager (and a few adults!) that requested it, and tolerated every request to examine his (emptied, so he was told!!) gauntlets or surprise flick to the wings of his mask with no curses or outbursts.

When the last few people finally leave and the owner locks the doors for the night, Izuku allows himself to relax slightly. The event, from a PR perspective, was a complete success: the crowds had been thrilled with the chance to meet a battle-known but personally-obscure Hero, and the owner of the shop had been thrilled with all of the traffic in her store, with people browsing her shelves and making purchases while they waited for their turn or after they had their interaction.

And from a non-PR perspective? Things had gone much better than expected. Katsuki had actually shown up, they didn’t rip each other’s throats out, and he kept his cool when faced with a sea of people for multiple hours. It was nothing short of miraculous, to say the least.

“Hey.”

Izuku yelps, whirling in place and clutching his chest. “WAH-cchan, you scared me!”

Katsuki clicks his tongue. He’s changed out of his uniform and into something more casual and discreet to dissuade any surprise interactions. He jerks his head towards the door. “Let’s go. We’re getting something to eat.”

Izuku watches him walk away without waiting for acknowledgement before he shakes himself and scurries after him. A short walk lands them at a hole-in-the-wall ramen joint a few blocks away from the store, and the host is kind enough to direct them to a tiny table in the corner to avoid any curious gazes. Katsuki is quiet, save for placing his order, and with each slurp of his spicy noodles, Izuku’s anxiety ratchets one notch higher. He’s had a few bites of his own food and has picked at the meat, but he feels sick with anticipation, waiting for Katsuki to end his silence and get around to firing him.

“You haven’t eaten much,” the man in question comments, making Izuku jump for the second time that day.

“A-ah!” Izuku scrambles for some kind of coherent answer, but his stutter prevents any degree of success. “Uh, w-well I’m not really, u-um…I…A-aren’t…you gonna…wasn’t this…?”

Katsuki tilts his head, confused, and Izuku swallows the lump in his throat and forces himself to keep going. “Is this supposed to m-make firing me easier?”

The other man sputters as if he’s choking, not expecting that response. “Wh— fire you? Why the hell would I do that?”

Izuku twists his fingers into the material of his pants to ground himself, the action hidden by their table. “I thought…y-you were so mad when I c-came up with this idea, and then wh-when I made you come anyway…and all of a sudden we’re at dinner and n-not mad and so I thought…” he lets himself trail off, throat tightening and not allowing any more words to come out.

Katsuki slumps back in his chair, exhaling hard. There’s a long pause as he gazes down into his lap, then he lifts his head back up to face Izuku. The steadiness in his gaze is both reassuring and unnerving, and Izuku has to remind himself to breathe as he waits for the reply.

“I’m…sorry.”

The words are heavy and his face pinches a little when he says it, but Izuku sees nothing but honesty in his gaze. “I…shouldn’t…I’m a Hero.” Izuku stays silent, waiting for the elaboration he can see coming based on Katsuki’s expression. “I don’t…look, my job is to save people. Beat villains. Make and keep this city safe for everyone that lives here.” He pauses to swirl his glass, watching the water spin. “To me, that’s all that matters. Or…what should matter. Then I got stuck in the rankings. Didn’t matter that my numbers of wins and saves were better every year, that I was doing less damage in battles…” His eyes shine with anger, but Izuku knows it’s not directed at him this time. “It shouldn’t be a shitty popularity contest! Talk shows and swimsuit ads and movies don’t save lives, kicking ass and taking action does!” As quickly as his anger flared up, it was muted once more. “But that’s all my agency’s department wanted: go model here, advertise there, talk with this TV host. And I told them where they could shove it.”

Katsuki heaves a sigh. “So then when you were pushing for this public to-do, it…” he grimaces but finishes his thought, “it felt like it was a trick. Like it was a scheme to get me to do it anyway, even if I didn’t want to.”

Izuku nods slowly, absorbing Katsuki’s explanation and sorting through it all. “That…yeah. That makes a lot of sense.” He fiddles with the ends of his chopsticks and takes a deep breath. “Then…then I’m sorry too.”

Katsuki opens his mouth to protest, or maybe argue, but Izuku hurries on to make his point. “I was caught up in working with a big name, with a Hero that has a lot of popularity already, even if the rankings don’t reflect that. And I thought…” he takes a deep breath, “Well, actually, I didn’t. That was the problem. The clients I usually work with have so little public exposure that they’re open to just about anything I can set up for them. With you… with you, I didn’t ask about what you had tried before, and what worked and what didn’t. And so I ended up choosing what I thought was best, instead of making sure it was something you wanted to try.”

“Yeah, well,” Katsuki grumbles, “I coulda…been better about it. I didn’t have to be an ass when you brought it up, and I… I coulda spoken up then about what I wanted.”

Izuku cracks a smile, his first true one of the day. “Yeah, maybe.” At Katsuki’s dry eyebrow raise, he giggles. “We both didn’t do so well, huh.” He pauses, then continues slowly. “I guess late is better than never, so…so, do you have things that you prefer to do or not do? Like a list of what you’ve done before that you liked, or things you want me to avoid?”

Katsuki shrugs with one shoulder. “Not really. Not a formal one, anyway. I guess…I guess as long as it has meaning, y’know? Sure, this thing wasn’t my idea of…fun,” Izuku has to clap his hand over his mouth and nose to keep from snorting, “but…the people seemed happy. ‘Cause it was me, and not me through a screen or in a magazine.”

Izuku’s smile grows. “I can work with that. I’ll try to look for things that involve real interactions with people. Maybe not something like a meet and greet every time, but I’ll arrange events that have meaning to you…or ones that you’re comfortable with, at the very least. I’m not going to let you down, Kacchan.”

They both notice the slip at the same time, and Izuku’s face bursts into flames as he watches one of Katsuki’s eyebrows creep up his forehead. “We’re still stickin’ with Kacchan?”

Izuku alternates between covering his face with his arms and flailing them in the air. “N-no! That was a slip-up, an honest m-mistake, Ground Zero, I—”

“Damn it Deku, calm down, you’re causing a scene!” Katsuki hisses, swatting at his flopping limbs to keep any more of the wait staff from looking over. He shakes his head, though there’s a tug at the edge of his mouth. “Ain’t the worst thing someone’s called me, though, so do what you want.”

Izuku tugs at his collar to release some heat, but matches Katsuki’s smirk with his own tiny grin. “All right then, Kacchan…I’ll work hard to prove that I’m not a Deku that’s useless to you, and we’ll get you that spot in the top ten.”

Katsuki snorts, but his nod fills Izuku with confidence. “Bring it on, Deku.”


[April]

Regardless of the shaky start to the meet-and-greet, it was impossible to Katsuki to toss it away as a failed experiment.

In fact, it was actually the opposite. As draining as it was to constantly interact with hundreds of people for several hours in a row, there was something…nice…about each person’s excitement in seeing him. It made the long hours a little more bearable, and though he was tired by the end, it wasn’t the worst thing he’d ever experienced. If put on the spot, he might be able to admit that it was “okay.”

Anything more would be admitting that both Eijirou and Izuku were absolutely correct about it, and Katsuki wasn't ready to publicly give them that satisfaction.

One positive thing he’s noticed is that he’s a little less averse to public interaction now. He’s given more than a sentence statement after a few fights now, and has stopped to take a picture with a fan or two when he has a couple of minutes to spare before or after patrols.

It’s nice…kinda.

Katsuki’s sure that public engagement will never completely be his “thing,” but it’s becoming less of something he wants to completely avoid, which he supposes is progress.

He is thankful, however, that no one called for pictures or an autograph on this particular patrol. Not that it had been hectic - it had actually been pretty uneventful - but more that it happened to be a late night patrol and all he wants to do is get changed, go home, and face plant onto his bed.

He showers quickly and changes into casual, comfortable clothing for the ride home. Bag in hand, he exits the locker room and is making his way towards the stairs to the ground floor when he catches something off out of the corner of his eye. He pauses, but decides to investigate. Turns out, what he thought was off is actually something that’s on.

A lone desk lamp is still lit in one of the cubicles, and as he gets closer to it, his ears catch the faint clatter of fingers moving over a keyboard. It’s not hard to know who’s at the desk: they had few other interns, and the specific cubicle location gives him away.

The real question is: why is Izuku still here?

Katsuki doesn’t want to scare Izuku with his sudden presence, so he clears his throat loudly - hopefully he’s far enough away that the noise isn’t that jarring.

“Ah, Kacchan, you’re still here?” Izuku’s fingers have stopped their clacking and he spins himself around to face Katsuki.

Katsuki tries so hard not to roll his eyes. “Yeah I’m still here, I just finished my late patrol. Though I can’t say the same for you ‘cause I know you don’t have a late patrol. Why’re you still here?”

Izuku hums before answering. “Well, I started here late this afternoon by trying to finish up the arrangements for that interview I have you down for. When that was done, I checked my work email and found some requests and questions from a couple of the other clients I’m working with.” He turns himself back around to face his desk. “Since I was already here, I decided to stay and work, because why pack up and go home when I have access to everything I need here, more or less? And between the logistics of your interview and the information I needed to answer those questions, well,” he waves a hand around his cubicle but doesn’t look back, “here we are.”

Katsuki takes a couple of steps closer and peers over Izuku’s shoulder. At first glance, his desk looks like a miniature office supply store exploded on it - there’s pens and clips and sticky notes and highlighters and notebooks of all shapes and sizes on every available flat surface, with some of the important or heavily circled notes starting to climb up the walls. His computer is equally as messy - there are windows of all shapes and sizes open, some with multiple tabs open and arranged in a way that Izuku isn’t clicking around for ages trying to find what he’s looking for.

But Katsuki watches for a little longer, and what he first had labeled as absolute chaos is morphing into carefully controlled chaos. Izuku seems to know exactly what, where, and how all of this information is supposed to be arranged and stored, and does so effortlessly. No wonder he’s sought after by new Heroes - someone with this depth of knowledge and this many connections would be a valuable asset to any team.

And he’s decided to be on your team, his inner voice reminds him. He shakes his head clear, forcing himself to pay attention as Izuku continues.

“It also doesn’t help that, uh, I’m not the best at sticking to technical work hours, either.” He scratches at the back of his head sheepishly. “Uraraka-san always gets after me when I take a call or an email outside of hours, but,” he shrugs, “I don’t mind. Most of the time it’s something I can get or resolve quickly, and if it’s not, it’ll have to wait until the next day anyways because it would be too big to solve right then.”

Katsuki nods. “So what you’re really telling me is that you’re a workaholic.”

Izuku laughs, looking over his shoulder again and fixing Katsuki with a bright smile. “Perhaps so! But if it means I get the job done and my client reaches their goals, then I’d say it’s worth it!”

Katsuki shakes his head. “I think, for tonight, this is gonna be one of those jobs that you’re gonna finish in the morning. I don’t need you to be miserable and cranky if you work all night with no sleep.”

Izuku has the audacity to pout at him. “Mean, Kacchan. No one calls you out when you work late.”

He snorts in response. “Because my late nights are scheduled, dumbass. According to you, you’d work the entire day and all through the night if there was no one there to stop you.”

Izuku’s face colors, and Katsuki knows he’s right. “C’mon Deku, we’re both heading out. Call it for the night and let’s head home.”

“All right all right, no need to be pushy.” He saves whatever he was working on and closes his multitude of tabs before shutting the machine down entirely. A minute or so later, he’s closed and stacked all of his notebooks on one side of the desk and is standing up and stretching. “Oof, it feels good to stand up again. It’s probably a good thing you’re making me go home - I don’t want to develop a permanent hunch.”

Katsuki does roll his eyes this time as they walk down the stairs. “Yeah, a hunch from overworking would definitely be your biggest problem. Not the lack of sleep, or proper nutrition, or staring at a screen for hours upon hours.”

Izuku stops to sputter at him, almost getting hit by the front door closing on him for doing so. “You’re so rude, Kacchan! How the public finds you endearing, I’ll never know!”

Izuku’s mouth spews insults but his eyes are twinkling, proof that he’s playing along and enjoying himself. Katsuki grins and puts a finger to his lips. “Secrets of the trade, Deku. Get on my level and maybe I’ll consider sharing.”

Izuku giggles, but tilts his chin up defiantly. “I don’t need your silly secrets. I’ve got my own secrets and I’ll do just fine without yours.”

Katsuki turns away from him and starts to walk in the direction of his station. “If you mean the secret of how to have a permanent kink in your back, you’ve already spilled that one. Hopefully your better secrets are more carefully kept.”

Izuku doesn’t reply with words, but his laugh echoes in the cool spring air and in Katsuki’s head all the way home. He squeezes his fingers into a fist, replaying the last couple of hours over and over.

He was man enough to admit that he had seriously misjudged Izuku from the beginning, not fully realizing the depth of his work and how much he had to stay on top of to make sure that everyone he worked for was as successful as they could be. For him, it wasn’t play dates with famous celebrities and TV stars - it was endless pages of notes and numbers, walls of notes containing to-dos and don’t forgets, late hours at whatever landing spot was his office for the day and working to make sure every loose end was tied up in a perfect bow.

Izuku had chosen to be on his team, and while they didn’t have a perfect start, Katsuki swears to do everything possible to make sure Izuku wouldn’t regret saying “yes.”


[June]

“So what if we did something like this?”

A piece of paper is slapped down on his desk without warning, and Izuku jumps in his seat. “For the love of— do you want to give me a heart attack? I’m too young for heart problems, Kacchan!”

The man snorts. “Save your theatrics, Deku, and tell me what you think.” He taps his finger on the paper.

Izuku picks it up to read over. “Is this…you want to do a summer-themed event?” He tilts his head up and back and gets a somewhat upside down view of Katsuki.

“Yeah. You said you wanted to hear stuff that I wanted to do, right? Well here’s somethin’ that I wanna do.”

Katsuki’s plan is simple, but it’s one with a dual purpose: arranging a beach clean-up with himself as the central attraction.

“I mean yeah, part of this is for the public appearance, but like I said before, this shit’s gotta mean something to me, cause I don’t wanna do anything I’m not invested in. So what if we combine the public part with something that helps everyone else? I get exposure, they get a clean beach.” Katsuki rocks on his heels, his arms folded across his chest. “There’s no way anyone loses.”

Izuku spins himself around to face Katsuki, curling the corner of the paper under his fingers. “I think this is brilliant, Kacchan,” he replies. “Would you want to do one beach all day, or split time between a couple of different beaches?”

The other man frowns, considering the options. “I think…one beach should be fine. It gives one location for people to find, and then we don’t have to feel like we’re leaving a mess behind if we were to switch places.”

Izuku grins, nodding along. “I like it, I like it!” He swivels back to his desk and grabs a pen, starting to scribble down the logistical details. He finishes his thought, then looks over his shoulder. “Do you have a beach in mind?”

Katsuki shrugs, trying to appear cool and detached, but Izuku sees the spark in his eyes that he’s not even bothering to cover up. “Nah. Pick whatever one you want so that way you can feel good about having helped in my success.”

The remark is made without malice, and Izuku finds himself laughing. “Sure, okay, I’ll try to make my one and only contribution to your success worthwhile. You can count on me.”

“I knew you’d see it my way, Deku. Let me know what beach you pick and what day it’s on.”

Izuku can’t help engaging back. “Oh, so I get to make two decisions now. Whatever will I do with this much power?”

Katsuki snorts, already heading down the hall and back towards his office. “Whatever I tell you to do - I’m technically your boss, remember?”

Izuku’s jaw drops. He can’t even be mad at the reply, as it was not only technically true, but it was so smoothly delivered that it leaves him shaking his head. He picks his pen back up and wiggles his computer screen awake to get specific information confirmed before he was distracted by another task.

He’s alternating between his computer and refining more of the event details when his pen slows down, and continues slowing until it comes to a stop and he’s staring at his messy wall of notes without actually looking at them. When had he and Katsuki gone from the fragile but mutual understanding of one another after the meet-and-greet to casual requests laced with jokes and teasing? When had this man changed from stoic and enigmatic to proposing his own public appearances?

Izuku sighs gently, a mix of fondness and disbelief. Katsuki seemed to be getting more comfortable with public engagement, as long as it was something meaningful and not frivolous. Izuku can’t help the pride that blooms in his chest at Katsuki’s effort - no longer was this a game of Izuku pulling Katsuki along. No, now Katsuki is an evenly matched participant, taking control of his own career and shaping how people see him on his own terms.

He’s always been a wonderful Hero…and now people are finally going to see that he’s a wonderful Hero.

Izuku suddenly shakes his head, heat coloring his cheeks. No! Cut it out with the mushy praise! Just because Kacchan is improving doesn’t mean it’s okay for me to lose myself in Hero-worship!

“What Kacchan is doing is part of his job, and that needs to be respected. And right now, you have a job to do, Izuku,” he scolds himself, and resumes his writing.

But celebrating his growth was part of Izuku’s job, and if the fondness for the the other man grew just a little more in his chest that day, well, no one else had to know.


[August]

Katsuki should have known his lucky streak would only last so long.

It’s not like he didn’t know this would happen eventually. Every single Hero in the business had to face defeat at some point and know the anguish that came with the loss of life, not just property. The villain had been a no-name lowlife, but in the moment, he had seemed hell bent on causing as much destruction as he possibly could. Katsuki had raced to the scene as fast as he was physically able, dodging giant pieces of metal and concrete that the villain was ripping from a building and its adjacent streets and hurling at any opposition.

Despite his near impossible efforts, there were times he was simply unable to be in multiple places at one time before backup arrived. The villain ended up being captured, but not before there were nine people dead and over fifty injured, from both the thrown debris and from the building that collapsed, having been weakened from being shredded apart. The collapse was what ultimately put him in the hospital, a portion of it striking him while other parts buried him, though Katsuki wonders if he would have been able to get away before it came down had he not been weakened by repeated blows from debris and fists during the battle.

It’s his fourth day in the hospital and his first few hours awake and actually lucid when the call of “Kacchan!!” reaches his ears. Izuku hurries in and pulls a chair as close to the bed as he can, eyes wide and glassy.

“I’m-I’m so glad to see you awake, and with fewer tubes in you th-than when I first came to visit. How are you feeling?”

Katsuki grunts, wiggling a little in place and indexing what parts of his body give him what kind of pain. It didn’t really help, as he hurt everywhere, but he was grossly intact and that in and of itself was a good start.

“Sore, but I’ll live.” The last word is a sobering reminder of how he got here in the first place, and he clicks his tongue in agitation. “What’s going on out there? What’s happened since I got in here?”

Izuku grimaces. “You’ve been in and out of it for a few days while your body was being healed. The villain was captured not long after the building came down, and once they dug you out, you were taken here for emergency treatment. Since then, the police have started, and are almost done with, their investigation of what happened. Once we have the official word from them, you'll be able to make a formal statement on the incident.”

Katsuki blanches and silently curses the heart rate monitor for picking up speed and ratting him out. “You mean, my agency can make a formal statement. Or, you know, my PR agent can do it.”

Izuku quirks a tiny smile. “Theoretically, yes. One of us could do it. But honestly,” he leans closer, “It would have more impact if you did it yourself.”

Katsuki shakes his head, hair rubbing against the pillow. “I…I can’t, I…what the hell would I even say? What can I even say to…to save this? People died because of me, because I—”

Izuku slaps the edge of his mattress to cut him off, and Katsuki is frozen under his glare, fierce and sharp like the day they had fought in his office, only this time the anger wasn’t directed solely at him.

“No. Don’t even go there, Kacchan. I’ve watched the footage again and again, by myself and with senior members of your agency, including your supervisor. We all agree that you did everything you could, and exactly the way you should have. The police aren’t finished with their investigation yet, but I know they’re not going to find you or your agency liable for anything.”

“That’s not the point!” To his horror, Katsuki’s voice cracks with his outburst and hot tears gather under his eyelids. “Legally I might not have done anything wrong, but that’s a piss poor comfort to the families of the people that died! ‘Sorry for your loss, but if it helps, we didn’t find Ground Zero guilty of anything!’” His laugh is bitter, and he presses his bandaged hands against his eyes. “Some shitty, manufactured statement isn’t gonna bring their loved ones back!”

“And that’s all the more reason why you have to make this statement instead of us, Kacchan,” Izuku murmurs, his tone free of his earlier ire but no less intense. “No, your words won’t raise the dead. Yes, the families and relatives may be angry with you and blame you for a long time, perhaps forever. But,” he shakes the rail of the bed to keep Katsuki’s attention on him, “you making the statement makes it more real. More personal. If it’s me or someone else from your agency doing it, it’ll feel much more detached and clinical, more of a ‘this is something we’re saying because we have to say it’ kinda thing. But you saying it makes it personal - that you’re not erecting a barrier between yourself and the public over what’s happened, but instead staying close by and buoying the confidence of the people in you, despite this terrible accident.”

Katsuki is silent for a long while, turning each of Izuku’s statements over in his head and looking for any weak points to attack. Finding none, and realizing that he was most likely right, he sighs heavily and lays his un-IV’d arm across his eyes. “I…I don’t even know what I’d say.”

Izuku relaxes in the face of Katsuki’s acceptance, even if it was reluctant. “And that’s where I get to work my magic. Of course, you’ll ultimately have to personalize it and make it your own, but I won’t leave you floundering. I’ll be right beside you, each step of the way.”

If it was any other time and any other place, Katsuki might have laughed at him. Izuku's hair was more disheveled than usual, the buttons on his shirt were messed up and off by one hole, and his little speech, though genuine, was soaked in a saccharine peppiness that normally would have made Katsuki gag.

But right now, none of that mattered. Right now, Izuku was the pro and Katsuki was the rookie, and he would have to lean on the other man for support and guidance. And as much as he typically hated this sort of thing, he hated disappointing the public, and himself, even more.

He removes the arm covering his face and grumbles his agreement, wincing as he settles into the bed. “Okay…tell me what I need to do.”

+ + + +

“And now, a public statement from Ground Zero.”

It’s odd to not have a crowd immediately cheer when he comes into view. Katsuki stands behind the podium, a few bandages and bruises still visible on his otherwise healed body. The crowd is silent, waiting on what he possibly has to say, especially since he’s never made any kind of public statement before, good or bad.

He’s thankful that they aren’t booing him, at least.

He clears his throat and glances down at the index cards he’s brought with him, then over to his left, where Izuku and his supervisor were standing. Both of them nod in encouragement and Izuku gives him a tiny smile and thumbs up.

Katsuki breathes out and faces the crowd again. It’s for your reputation, but more importantly, it’s for them, he tells himself, to let them see that you’re right there with them, and not separated behind a PR wall.

“Good afternoon everyone. Thank you for having me here.” He pauses, scanning the faces in front of him. “Now that I’ve been discharged from the hospital, I want to make a statement regarding the v-villain attack ten days ago.”

He takes in and releases another breath, willing his voice not to shake. “I came here to say that I’m sorry for the injuries and for the losses that occurred. Despite doing everything in my power, it wasn’t enough to prevent this tragedy from taking place.”

Katsuki does his best to ignore the murmuring that’s started, clinging to his last few nerves to get through this. “I know my apologies won’t undo the damage. But I’m here to tell you that I’m going to recover, I’m going to get stronger, and I’m going to invest everything I have into working to prevent something like this from happening again. So to everyone here today, to everyone that’s listening - thank you for your continued faith in me. I pledge to work hard to make sure that it’s not misplaced.”

The momentary silence that exists after the end of his speech is worse than when the building hit him on the way down, he’s absolutely sure of that. Not having an immediate reaction to something he’s said makes him itch, tempted to take the microphone back and scream at them to say something, anything, to break the tension. But for as long as it felt like it lasted, it’s broken by one person who starts to applaud, then it catches on until the entire crowd is clapping and cheering for him, shouting words of encouragement and trust and gratitude for all of his hard work and dedication to their safety.

Relief threatens to buckle his knees, but Katsuki manages a smile and a strong wave to the crowd before moving back to join Izuku and his supervisor, who are quick to shield him from any further media prying and congratulate him on a job well done.


[October]

Despite wearing his warmest pair of gloves, Izuku rubs his hands together to generate some more friction. This particular October day was colder than seasonally normal thanks to the wind blustering around him and he shivers. The coffee shop Katsuki told him to meet him at should be close, so his eyes roam the signs on each building, not wanting to miss it.

When he catches sight of the correct place he hurries inside and a tiny bell on the door announces his presence. He’s immediately captivated, taking a minute to look around with bright eyes. “Oh, this place is so charming!”

As he looks around, he spots Katsuki at a table towards the back of the establishment. He’s not exactly inconspicuous - his cold-weather uniform clearly signaling who he is - but the patrons aren’t clamoring for his attention either, so it’s a place he’s frequented enough to have no one spare him a second glance. Izuku sidesteps around the other tables and claims the seat across from him with a soft greeting.

“You made it,” is Katsuki’s response. His gauntlets are resting at his feet and his mask, instead of hanging around his neck, is pushed up over his face. The new placement reveals his usually-covered forehead and makes his bangs look spikier than usual and Izuku bites his lip to keep from making a teasing remark of how cute and approachable it makes him look. He really didn’t want to have to explain the resulting bruises and burns at the emergency room.

Katsuki’s already got a cup of coffee and a half-eaten pastry in front of him, and Izuku shrugs off his coat before sitting down. “Yeah! I’d heard of this place before, but I’ve never been to it myself.” His scarf comes off next and is laid across his lap. A waitress materializes next to him and he places his order with a murmured thanks as she disappears. “Do you come here often?”

Katsuki nods. “Discovered it during my last year at UA and made damn sure to keep it as much of a secret as I could. Not because I don’t want them to have business, but because I like having somewhere I can go without people fussing over me.”

Izuku hums in response. The waitress returns with his drink, and he thanks her while she tops off Katsuki’s coffee. She doesn’t bother to ask him if he wants more which makes Izuku smile a bit - he truly must be a regular here if the staff knows what he likes without needing to ask.

“So,” Izuku prompts once he’s warmed his hands up with his mug, “how are you feeling about your reputation at this point, with a little more than a month before the next year’s Hero rankings are released?”

Katsuki shrugs, but Izuku knows he cares more than the motion lets on. “I feel…okay. I think things have picked up since August. No one’s actively calling for my head, anyway.”

Izuku chuckles. “Definitely a good thing.” He takes a drink of his tea, enjoying the full body warmth that spreads out from his center. “Would you want to do anything else before the Ceremony, or would you rather wait?”

Katsuki finishes the rest of his pastry, chewing as he thinks and swallowing before answering. “No…at least, I don’t have anything in particular that I’d want to do. Granted, I haven’t done an event since June, but if you think—”

The pattering of shoes across the floor interrupts their conversation, and both men look over to find a little girl staring at them with wide, blue eyes…or more accurately, staring at Katsuki.

“You’re Ground Zero!

It’s not a question, more of an emphatic declaration, but she can’t keep the wonder out of her voice as she looks him over and over, seemingly amazed that she had been able to find him, let alone have the chance to talk him.

“Ahh, I’m terribly sorry for the interruption, Ground Zero-san!” A woman, presumably the child’s mother, rushes over to join them, wringing her hands nervously as she glances between the Hero and her daughter. “We had plans to go to your first meet up earlier this year but we’re unable to make it. It hasn’t stopped her enthusiasm, though, she’s been talking about you ever since…we—we never thought we’d be fortunate to bump into you outside of an event!”

All eyes, including Izuku’s, are on Katsuki’s as he finishes a sip of his coffee. “I see.” And then, to everyone’s shock, he slides easily off his chair, careful when kneeling on the floor so as to not damage the wood, and brings himself to the little girl’s level. “Sounds like you’re a pretty big fan. What’s your name?”

Her eyes grow impossibly wider but she doesn’t back away. “I’m Kaida-chan,” she breathes.

He huffs a small laugh. “Kaida-chan, eh?” He pulls the mask the rest of the way off of his face, and sits up a little bit straighter. “Did you wanna take a picture?” He holds his mask out to her. “I’ll let ya wear it if you want.”

The offer shakes her out of her astonishment and she whips her head around to look at her mother for permission. Hearing no type of objection from Katsuki or Izuku, the woman nods, though before she’s done with the motion Kaida is at his side, carefully taking the mask from him and putting it on her own head. It’s unsurprisingly too large for her, immediately sliding down her face, but she’s too excited about wearing it and having her picture taken to care.

Izuku wraps both hands around his mug to keep his hands from betraying their trembling, blinking rapidly to sear images of this moment in his memory forever. This…he had never expected, or even hoped, that Katsuki would have changed his perceptions so much, or so quickly about public interaction. Less than a year ago he had been adamantly determined to stay as deep in the shadows as possible unless he was actively in battle. And now…

He’s brought back into the moment by a couple of pops and squeal. Leaning to the side, Izuku sees the wisps of smoke trailing from Katsuki’s palm, a dead giveaway that he had just used his Quirk. There’s silence for a split second before she’s begging him to do it again so her mom can get the sparks in the picture. He chuckles and voices his assent and she’s quick to pose, the light from his Quirk illuminating her grin.

Kaida’s mother is quick to snap a few more photos, the camera’s soft shutter clicks timed perfectly to catch the sparks in Katsuki’s hand. With assurance from her mother that she’s taken enough pictures to properly document the moment, Kaida pulls off the mask and hands it back to him. Her excitement at having a picture with her idol is boisterous, weaving in with her mother’s fervent gratitude for Katsuki’s time and patience with her daughter.

Katsuki stands to his full height and assures them he was happy to take the pictures before bidding the two farewell, ruffling Kaida’s hair as she walks by. His usually sharp grin is softer at the edges as she shrieks about Katsuki “messing it up!” but the sheer delight in her eyes at having been noticed by her Hero easily gives her away. Katsuki shakes his head fondly as they leave, watching the girl dance around her mother and imitating his explosions with her own tiny hands.

“What’re you all smiley for?”

Izuku starts slightly in his seat, not realizing he had been staring off in thought. “You were good with her. It was cute to watch.”

Though it wasn’t a lie, it was worth it to see the color flood Katsuki’s cheeks. “L-like hell it was! She just wanted to say hi because obviously I’m the only cool one in here worth talking to!”

Izuku props his cheek against his fist. “I didn’t realize that talking included letting her wear your mask and pose for pictures with her.”

The blush deepens, and Katsuki takes a breath to argue, but releases it instead, rubbing the back of his neck. “I couldn’t…I wouldn’t have been able to say no. She looked…she was too happy just to see me, I couldn’t wreck that.”

Izuku’s heart swells and he holds back the rest of his teasing, the warmth from earlier bubbling up again and making it impossible to hold back his smile. Katsuki was truly amazing, to have made such progress that he would now spare a few moments for fan interaction when it wasn’t even part of a public event! And those few moments would be a memory that Kaida would treasure for the rest of her life, thanks to him.

Katsuki picks his coffee back up, noticing Izuku’s expression mid-sip. “Ugh, wipe that grin off your face, Deku, it’s gross.”

His complaint only makes Izuku smile wider. “If anyone’s gross it’s you, you secret sap.”

Katsuki snarls, but there’s no real heat behind it as he leans back and crosses his arms. “‘Sap’ is the last word that anyone’s gonna use to describe me if they wanna make it with all their teeth in place.”

The gentle bickering doesn’t stop as they finish and pay and prepare themselves to face the brisk autumn air. Once outside, Katsuki pulls his mask back over his eyes and heads back towards his agency with grumbles of post-patrol paperwork to fill out before he goes home. He leaves without looking back, though he does raise his hand in a wave at Izuku’s farewell. Izuku smiles fondly at his back, watching him go, before turning in the opposite direction to catch the train to head home.

Leaves crunch under his shoes as he walks, mimicking the slow fracture of his smile with every step he takes away from the cafe, each one forward heavier than the one previous. It takes him a few tries to scan his pass and he has to blink rapidly to clear away the blurriness. His chest is sore by the time he finds a seat, and he wrings the strap of his satchel in his hands to keep from whimpering.

This is what he wanted! This is what he was hired for! To show Katsuki off to the public and truly gain their approval in a way that was meaningful to him. No flashy ads or commercialized stunts, he wanted connections with the public he was protecting that were authentic and genuine, and the interaction just now in the coffee shop was proof that he had embraced and mastered that challenge.

So why did Izuku feel like weeping?

He scrubs the heel of his hand across his eyes, desperate to hold it together and not make a scene in public. Maybe it was too early to say he had “mastered” it — there were still two months left before the Rankings ceremony, when they would find out for sure. It wouldn’t surprise him to see Katsuki improve dramatically, though…the public, now getting to see small pieces of him outside of battle, were absolutely taken by him. His gruff, no-bullshit attitude combined with devastatingly handsome features and a Hero record that could put veteran Heroes to shame had already endeared him to so many. Adding a newer layer of charm and public appeal to someone like that was pretty much a guaranteed ticket to the top.

He hurries out of the station and lets his feet instinctively guide him home, traitorous tears leaking out of the corners of his eyes. There’s no way that Katsuki wouldn’t have improved. He had been so close to the Top Ten before he had any significant public spotlight, it would be an insult to both of them if he didn’t make it in. And once he did…his contract would be up, and their time together would be over. Katsuki would go on to use his new public growth to continue to climb higher, and Izuku…

Izuku would go back to his cozy apartment, to his home office that was built from a labor of love, to his list of phone numbers and tasks and emails and deadlines for people who were eager to have that first taste of recognition. He’d be back to watching the Pro Heroes from the sidelines, taking notes on what he should and shouldn’t advise his clients to do, on what was popular, on what areas had the greatest chance of a public breakthrough. He’d be a stranger to any future success, only able to watch Ground Zero surge forward from then on and becoming nothing more than a memory, if he was lucky.

Izuku had never cried in anguish over a client’s success before, but he’d also never fallen in love with one, either.


[December]

Katsuki flexes his fingers in the gloves of his uniform, thankful that he had won this particular fight.

Sure, the Top Ten Ceremony had started as a celebration of the highest ranking Heroes in the country, as well as an unspoken challenge and competition for everyone else to improve so they could be on stage the next year, but over the years it became more of an extravaganza, another excuse for Heroes to dress up and preen in front of the cameras to gain more publicity points. As such, Katsuki had obstinately avoided going for as long as he had been working, refusing to be another shiny, glittering puppet to fawn over.

But he knew that this year, whether he’d like it or not, his attendance would be expected, both from the public, and from his agency. The public would expect him to make an appearance because of how visible he had been over the last year, and he couldn’t risk compromising his progress or his agency by not showing up.

His agency…

He inhales before blowing it out through pursed lips, willing himself to not shake at the memory, but he can barely contain himself. He’s not above admitting that he teared up when he got the email, scrubbing harshly at his eyes while a rare, slightly damp giggle escaped from his chest. As soon as he was sure he wasn’t going to make an emotional fool of himself, he had bolted from his desk and into his supervisor’s office to tell him the good news.

But his superior was just as quick at reading new emails, because he’s out of his chair and shaking Katsuki’s hand as soon as the Hero rounds the corner. With the ceremony in a couple of weeks, they would have time to make arrangements for who was going to attend with him. Katsuki had no preferences other than that Izuku had to be there, as he owed where he was to Izuku putting up with his bullshit. That prompted a snort from his supervisor, and he had then wanted to know if Katsuki wanted him to formally extend the invitation, or if Katsuki wanted to do it himself.

That made Katsuki hesitate, deflating slightly since first receiving the news. This…Izuku would find out eventually, no doubt. But the sooner he realized that his contract had been fulfilled, the sooner he would leave, and something in Katsuki’s chest snarled at the thought of Izuku leaving before he absolutely had to.

It was decided that his supervisor could extend the invitation, but frame it as “them going to attend the Ceremony as a public appearance” rather than because they were there to support Katsuki’s new rank. Katsuki waved off any questioning at his choice by saying that he wanted to surprise Izuku at the ceremony, as well as keep the other ranks a secret so he would be just as knowledgeable as every other non-Hero that was attending. To his relief, the explanation was satisfactory, and his supervisor assured him that he would leave plenty of time for Izuku to obtain a suit, with a deliberately pointed eyebrow raise at him to heavily suggest Katsuki do the same.

This, Katsuki fought back on. He was adamant that he would not be there unless he was in his Hero uniform, rejecting all requests, demands, and pleas for him to wear a suit. It was his Hero uniform or no attendance, and there would be no compromise. Izuku, after catching wind of this fight, assured him that his uniform would be perfectly fine and that there would be a mix of both styles there. He had then gone on to wish that he had a Hero uniform of his own to wear instead of the suit he knew his friend would force him into, and had laughed so hard water came out of his nose when Katsuki offered him a spare one of his, claiming that the look only worked for Katsuki and that he’d look like he was drowning in the excess material and huge gauntlets.

“Ka— Ground Zero!”

And speak of the devil…

Despite the thrumming energy and blended chatter of the crowd around them, Izuku’s voice sails over it all and catches his attention. The smaller man weaves through the tight press of people until he’s made it to Katsuki’s side, VIP lanyard bouncing against his chest. “The rest of the representatives from your agency are over there,” he gestures to where he had just come from, “and I wanted to make sure you found them! Are you ready to see who made it? I have a few hunches of who got shuffled around this time but your agency refused to tell me if I was right or not!”

He’s practically vibrating in place, glancing around to try and soak everything up at once. Katsuki can’t help but chuckle. “Yeah, I’ll be interested to see who else shows up tonight. There’s always a lot of people that I don’t recognize that come for the celebration.” A faraway holler grabs his attention, and he looks over his shoulder to see a uniformed Ceremony official calling for people to enter and find their sections before the ceremony starts.

He looks back towards Izuku, fighting the urge to smile. “I gotta go check in with the other Heroes. Make sure you don’t get lost, Deku!”

Izuku laughs, waving him away. “I’m an adult, I’ll be fine! See you when the ceremony starts!”

With that, he darts off. It’s not quite in the same direction he said his agency was, so Katsuki assumes he caught sight of someone he absolutely had to speak to. He shakes his head fondly, then braces himself and follows the throng of Heroes who were also attending, presenting his license and confirming his reservation. The woman checking everyone in smiles when she reads his name, and quietly directs him towards a smaller, less crowded hallway, away from the main crowd.

He takes a deep breath and enters a smaller room with nine other people, who each greet him with a warm smile and a congratulations. He can’t help but grin back and congratulate them too, before taking his place in line and waiting for the spectacle to begin.

“Goooooood evening everybod-ay!! Are you read-ay for tonight’s Top Ten Herooo Ranking Ceremon-ay!!??”

The crowd screams in response and Katsuki thanks himself for remembering to wear his hearing protection tonight - Present Mic is just as loud tonight as he ever was back Katsuki was a student at UA. He alternately squeezes his fingers tightly into fists and shifts on his feet. This is it!! This is the moment he had been dreaming of for literal years!!

Following tradition, Present Mic starts with the new number ten Hero, pauses for a brief statement from them, and calls for celebration before announcing the next spot. With every name that’s called before his, the roar from the watching crowd kicks Katsuki’s heart rate up even further, and he prays he’s not sweating enough to start literally steaming from his uniform’s tall collar.

“Aaaand this year, breaking his way into the numb-ah six spot: Groooooound Zeroooooo!!!”

The end of Present Mic’s booming announcement was drowned out by screams and cheers, and Katsuki resists the urge to wince and guard his eyes from the intense barrage of camera flashes. He steps up to the microphone and prays he doesn’t explode it on accident.

“I finally made it here, thanks to all of you.” He pauses, scanning the crowd as fast as possible, looking for the one person he really wanted to make sure heard his thanks, that deserved his thanks, and when he spots him, mouth open and eyes shining in awe, Katsuki’s grin spreads across his face.

“But you know I won’t stop until I make it to number one!”

The crowd erupts again, and Katsuki waves at them, stepping back to let Present Mic quiet them down so he can announce the remaining five places. He makes it backstage on surprisingly steady feet before bending over, bracing his hands on his knees and grinning like a maniac. The adrenaline has him shaking and he’s trying to hold it together to keep from whooping and fist bumping - he refuses to let that something that childish happen and bruise his brand new reputation!

Finally, once the last name is called, Present Mic directs the new Top Ten to the red carpet to give statements to the media, and then the real celebration of the new ranks can begin. Despite his best attempts to slip away, he’s bustled along by the crowd and Ceremony officials until he stumbles onto the carpet. There’s not even a moment for him to regain his footing before at least five different microphones were shoved into his face, each respective reporter clamoring for his attention. His eyes bug at the onslaught of attention - the speech after the accident in the summer hadn’t been this chaotic! - but he somehow, miraculously, catches Izuku’s gaze.

The green-haired man must have fought through the crowd to get himself pressed right against the red velvet ropes. He beams at Katsuki with two thumbs up in silent support, and Katsuki grins back before straightening up and facing the reporters, answering a question from a microphone held by a shining green tentacle before providing a statement to a shark in a well-fitted suit. The questions are thankfully simple, everyone more focused on his incredible rank jump than anything else, so it doesn’t seem long at all before he catches his supervisor’s eye: he’s surrounded by the other members of his agency, including Izuku, and waving for him to come over. Katsuki dismisses himself as gracefully as possible and makes his way out of the stadium with them, thankful for the chance to escape the suffocation of the crowds and cameras.

He had been foolish to assume that the shenanigans would be over, however. Instead of being allowed to go home, Katsuki was wrestled into the center of their group to prevent his escape and forcibly escorted back to Heroes, Inc., and inside waiting for him was an obnoxiously bright banner reading “CONGRATULATIONS GROUND ZERO!!” two tables full of food, and streamers of every color hanging in a tangled snarl across the ceiling.

Of course they were going to throw him a party.

This one, however, is more tolerable than the post-Ceremony party because there were far fewer microphones and camera flashes. It also helps that he actually…likes…the people here, instead of it being the stadium full of people he had been in before, very few of whom he truly liked and the rest he tolerated for the sake of professionalism.

There’s one person who should be here that’s missing, though.

No matter how much he searches, Izuku’s signature curly mop was nowhere to be seen. Katsuki refuses to believe that he would have left without seeking him out - not after he had made sure to make his presence known for support at the Ceremony. He also knew that Izuku had been wheedled into coming to this too, so he had to be here somewhere.

Katsuki slips away from the crowd as another, louder song starts to play, and climbs the stairs to the second floor of the agency. It was the only logical place for Izuku to go if he was still in the building, and Katsuki gives his eyes a moment to adjust to the near darkness before starting his search. All of the offices had been locked and their lights turned off, and none of the hallways held any sign of him. With his luck wearing thin, Katsuki moves to the last place he can think for him to be.

Rounding the corner, he spots Izuku at his cubicle. He wasn’t wearing his jacket anymore, the white of his button down bright in the low light of the room. He’s absorbed in the task at his desk, not noticing that Katsuki had spotted him and was moving towards him, and Katsuki doesn’t bother trying to keep his footsteps quiet, not wanting to scare the other man with a sudden appearance.

Izuku finally notices his approach and plasters a wide grin on his face, one that doesn’t quite make it into his eyes. “Oh, Kacchan! Con-congratulations on making it! For someone to move up seven spaces in a year…it’s an incredible achievement! It can take some Heroes years and years to move even two spaces, and you…you exceeded everyone’s expectations, even mine! Even y-your own, I bet!”

He’s trying so hard to keep up the cheery facade, but Katsuki knows that Izuku has never been good at deceiving anyone, and he wasn’t going to start now.

“Give yourself credit, Deku. You know that I couldn’t have done anything like that all on my own. This party ain’t just about me, it’s to celebrate you, too. So why aren’t you down with us?”

Izuku turns around to face him, leaning against his desk and wrapping his arms around his middle. “O-oh, I…well, I thought while I was here, I’d gather up my things…It’ll make it easier when I go to HR in the next couple of days for the termination paperwork.”

Termination paperwork.

It’s hard to not feel like he’s been punched in the chest. Any pride or celebration in him evaporates - his success meant that Izuku was going to leave. His contract was over. He curses his past self for making the contract’s terms too broad. If he had only made his goal “number One” instead of “Top Ten,” he could have had more time with Izuku instead of losing him so soon.

But maybe…maybe there’s something he could try to keep Izuku here with him…

“Deku, you… you don’t have to go.” Katsuki takes a step towards him. “You could always stay with me.”

Izuku shakes his head, heavy emotion making his eyes shine, though there’s no light behind them. “That…the contract is up, Kacchan. I have to go back to my other clients…to the other new Heroes that need to learn…”

Katsuki takes another step towards him. “I mean, you could stay with me. Personally.”

The shake of his head is weaker this time, and Katsuki doesn’t miss the tremble that runs through his body at their ever-nearing proximity. “Even…even if I wanted to,” he murmurs, “your agency isn’t hiring. There’s…there’s no opening for me here.”

His final step places him deep in Izuku’s personal space. Izuku is pressed against the edge of his desk, nowhere left for him to go and nothing he can do but face his slow and silent pursuer. Katsuki leans forward, testing, making sure he’s reading all of the signs correctly. Just because the two of them were alone in the dimly lit cubicles with mere inches between them, the city’s lights sparkling off of Izuku’s profile, and the Ranking celebration no more than a dull roar a floor below them, didn’t mean that…that Izuku felt…

He watches Izuku carefully for any sign of reluctance, and when his gaze settles and lingers for too long on the Hero’s lips, triumph blooms warm and full in his chest. His breathy chuckle makes Izuku’s wide eyes snap up to his as he rests his palms on the edge of the desk on either side of Izuku.

“I’m not talkin’ about work, Deku.”

The clarification may as well have been an order for Izuku to close the gap between them, the final push he needed to palm Katsuki’s cheek and bring their mouths together in a warm kiss. He doesn’t move for a moment, seeming stunned by his own boldness, but when Katsuki shifts and tilts his head to reciprocate, a tiny noise ekes out of his throat. The sound echoes loudly in Katsuki’s skull and his restraint snaps, winding his arms around Izuku’s waist while shifting his weight forward to pin him properly against the desk.

Izuku gasps at the sudden movement, momentarily thrown, but he recovers quickly and digs his fingers into Katsuki’s shoulders for stability. His lips are soft and slightly chapped from the dry winter air and Katsuki presses forward still, desperate to commit the sensation to memory. Izuku’s back bows slightly underneath him but he’s far from passive, one hand relocating itself into Katsuki’s hair in order to meet his kiss with equal enthusiasm. Katsuki trembles at the sensation of Izuku’s nails scratching against his scalp and he hums, tilting his head to slot themselves closer and indulge in the addictive slide and pressure of Izuku’s lips.

He reluctantly breaks the kiss when the need to breathe becomes overwhelming but he doesn’t go far, resuming his affections with a series of light pecks against his mouth. It’s nothing like before, each contact only lasting a brief, teasing moment, but underneath each one he can feel the smile growing on Izuku’s face. It’s only when Izuku starts to laugh and playfully pushes him off that he leans back to see the results of his work, and he bites the inside of his cheek to keep his jaw from hitting the floor.

Izuku looks delicious, the fiery blush in his face emphasizing the freckles dotted over his cheeks, the shimmer of tears in his eyes from the intensity of their kiss, and the slight swell in his lips from being crushed against Katsuki’s. What makes his breath hitch, though, is Izuku’s smile, his lips curved into the one he’d hoped to see when he had pulled back. Not the polite, media ready smile that carried the weight of his professional standing, no, something more intimate and authentic, reserved for the quiet moments out of sight of the public eye. And like every other time Izuku had smiled at him like this over the past year, Katsuki feels his heart soar: he’s weightless, fearless, the strongest man and the greatest Hero as long as that smile is directed at him.

He can’t resist one more kiss, a light smack! against Izuku’s cheek and the shorter man laughs, reaching up to wipe at his eyes.

“So whaddya say, Deku? You gonna stay with me?”

Izuku loops his arms around Katsuki’s neck, pulling the Hero close. “You’re charming and persuasive when you want to be, you know…so I think we can work something out.”