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2 A.M

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NOVEMBER

 

"I’m here to save you from death by midterm studying," Uraraka proclaims, looking wonderingly out Katsuki’s apartment window.

"You’re here for the game," Katsuki mutters, stretching. His back creaks in complaint. "Fuck you."

Mid-November had brought Uraraka to Tokyo for the fourth game of the Japan Series; Katsuki hadn’t offered to pick her up from the platform, and she hadn’t asked him to—only shown up at his front door that morning, his address typed into her phone.

He has his scholarship interview that same day, but she doesn’t give a shit—no surprise.

"Let's go get you some sun," Uraraka says, ignoring him altogether. "Remember the sun?"

"It's fucking winter," Katsuki tells her.

"It’s November."

"Fuck you," Katsuki repeats. "I’m leaving in a fucking hour."

"Are you going to your interview dressed like that?" Uraraka says, switching tactics. She’s already rifling through his closet, leaving Katsuki sitting sullenly on his bed with a towel balanced on his head. He glares at her, unamused.

"What the hell do you know about interviews?"

Uraraka turns to him, eyebrow raised. "I’ve probably been in more than you have, Bakugou Katsuki," she says, clucking her tongue. "Both job and scholarship interviews."

Katsuki shuts up at that—and this, at least, seems to appease Uraraka. She pulls out Katsuki’s only dress shirt by the hanger, rolling her eyes as Katsuki stomps over to the bathroom with it.

By the time he actually gets to the Shirokanedai Campus, he has a full list in his head of Uraraka’s interview pointers, unasked for and on loop like a shitty baking audiobook.

Katsuki isn’t nervous, exactly—just wary, unsure what to expect.

The waiting room is stuffy, even with windows making up an entire wall on one side.

He doesn’t wait long. The guy before Katsuki is some asshole that he knows for a fact belongs to the geology department—recognizable only because his smug ass face is plastered in the Eco hallway, creepy as shit every time Katsuki had to pass by it on the way to the Bio offices.

He gives Katsuki the same smug ass smile on his way out the boardroom. "Nothing to worry about," he says kindly, like they’re friends and Katsuki can’t see through that fake fucking face.

Considering he studies rocks, Katsuki’s not keen in trusting his opinion.

When he gets inside, there isn’t the panel he was expecting—just one person, hair gelled and coiffed and mouth hidden behind a scarf. Hakamata Tsunagu, head of the foundation himself. He blinks at Katsuki, face unreadable even through their respective greetings.

Katsuki feels his face twitch with annoyance, but he reins in it.

Hakamata has Katsuki’s transcript in front of him, but he doesn’t even look at it past a quick read-through, instead opting to tilt his head at Katsuki and ask him mundane questions.

Favorite color, favorite food, favorite chore to do, favorite childhood memory. 

Katsuki dully answers each of them, all while keeping his face clear out of sheer willpower.

Hakamata receives each answer with a contemplative hum, as if taking some savage pleasure in making Katsuki uncomfortable. He doesn’t flip through the folder until after the last question—favorite memory from high school, to which Katsuki had simply said; graduation.

If Katsuki looks closely, Hakamata almost looks amused.

"You did baseball in high school?"

Katsuki nods, stiff. Here they go. "I did. For three years."

"Not your high school team, though?"

"No," Katsuki says. Then, belatedly, gruffly, "No, sir. I wasn’t aiming for Koshien."

Hakamata raises an eyebrow. "Then what were you aiming for?"

That’s an easy question to answer. "Todai."

And no, it’s not an almost this time—Hakamata’s eyes do have a glint of amusement in them. "I understand you had a research internship last summer. What did you do this summer, Bakugou?"

Katsuki thinks he would have scoffed, had this been any other situation.

"I’m from Musutafu." It tastes weird on his tongue, saying it like that. "I went back this summer."

Hakamata raises an eyebrow. "Do you often go back?"

"This was my first time," Katsuki says, "since I moved up here."

"I see." Hakamata writes something down—and Katsuki, for his part, only clenches one fist on his lap. It’s too quiet, in this room, in the room before it. "It says here you did volunteer service for a restaurant in Musutafu."

Katsuki pauses, his whole body still as he stares steadfastly down at the carpeted floor.

Stiffly, he nods.

And then Hakamata’s reading off the folder—when he’d started, all the shit he did, from before he ever started overnight shifts to that one shift from hell; things that Katsuki technically did do, rearranged into fancy sentences certainly not his.

He hadn’t provided that information.

His transcript is supposed to say nothing else under extracurriculars but baseball.

"Bakugou," Hakamata says, closing the folder primly. There’s an odd grace to his lanky limbs that’s unsettling, renders Katsuki silent one way or another. "Why the restaurant, after your internship last summer?"

With job interviews, you usually have to lie a lot, Uraraka had said. But this time—be honest, Bakugou.

Katsuki’s track record with being honest hasn’t been at its best lately—he knows that better than anyone—but being straightforward, about his likes and dislikes, is still something he can do easily.

Why, after all, for someone like Katsuki, is an easier question to answer than an oversimplified what.

"My mother’s a restaurant consultant," he says. "And she called me back this summer ostensibly to help. I wasn’t gonna stay."

"But it seems that you did," Hakamata returns, blatantly entertained.

"It’s a long story."

Hakamata eyes him. "I have all the time in the world to hear it."

Katsuki spares a glance at the wide windows, at the way it overlooks just a small, insignificant area of Tokyo. Todai’s campus in November is nowhere close to how Musutafu had been, that July.

Then Katsuki has to scoff at himself for thinking like Kirishima.

He turns back to Hakamata, all ears now.

Katsuki, despite himself, takes a deep breath.

"My mom would have shut the place down," he starts, "But see, there’s this idiot."

 

 

*

 

 

JULY

 

When Katsuki returns that July, he’s welcomed by sweltering summer heat in Musutafu’s crowded station.

There’s something inherently irritating about train stations. It’s probably the collective mess it represents—people running from one end to the other, people blocking the way while they say their goodbyes, the infectious impatience, the noise. Train stations somehow manage to embody prolonged goodbyes and unnecessary sentiments, and as someone that had gotten on a train and never looked back with so much as a goodbye, it’s everything Katsuki has never wanted to be around.

The crowds are nowhere close to Tokyo’s rush hour, nothing unlike what Katsuki’s used to, but it’s still unexpected, and he stands irritated in the middle of it all with a backpack, a headache and an empty lock screen. He’s called his mother five times since he’d gotten off the train, eventually hissing his way through two voicemails after the fourth automated message left him with a nagging irritation and a throbbing head. By comparison, she had been the one to leave twenty-six voicemails on his phone in the past week alone, increasingly insistent and eventually more aggressive as the days passed without Katsuki picking up.

Fucking predictable, he thinks, for her to discard the situation altogether like some shitty magazine issue now that he’s back here like she’d asked.

There had been a system to her calls, and Katsuki grudgingly admits he should have been smart enough to see her eventual end goal ahead of time. She’d started last winter with short, casual calls, things like: Just reminding you that your father’s flight is at the end of July, so make sure to come and see him off, interspersed with I don’t give a shit what kind of bullshit you’ve gotten yourself into in between semesters this time, Katsuki. When the summer semester began last April, the messages started being less about his father and more about her, and how I’ll be alone this entire summer. Imagine having the house all to myself while my husband is off to Singapore and my only child loves Tokyo more than his own damn mother.

And when that guilt-tripping didn’t work, she’d put her foot down in July, when she’d started working at the new restaurant, and going up until all of last week, the voice messages boiling down to: It’s summer, Katsuki. You can spare some fucking time.

So he’s here, taking the path of least resistance for fucking once, and she’s not even answering any of his goddamn calls.

As if solely to spite him, his phone vibrates—an incoming call from an unknown number.

Scowling, he answers. "Who the hell is this?"

"Hel—oh, I see you. Katsuki!"

The yell is equally loud in the station as it is over the phone; Katsuki doesn’t flinch so much as jerk in place, tearing his eyes away from the snack booth across the station to scowl as someone stops—skids, really, offensively yellow sneakers squeaking against the floor—in front of him, lowering a phone of his own. There’s red hair in a ponytail, a NASA shirt and a grin that looks uncomfortably expectant, and when Katsuki doesn’t deliver to whatever the fuck those expectations are, the grin dwindles to a less alarming smile. The ponytail waggles in place. "Dude, I was worried you won’t answer and I’d have to search the entire station for you."

Katsuki automatically grits his teeth as he hangs up. "Who the fuck are you?"

"Huh?" The stranger blinks twice, then beams—and something must have gone wrong in the cognitive process there somewhere, because that’s definitely not how most people react to being addressed like that. "It’s Kirishima."

Katsuki cranks up the contempt in his scowl, kicking his backpack closer. "Well shit, is that supposed to mean something to me? Why do you have my number?"

"Right." Kirishima drops the smile completely this time, frown taking over whole-heartedly. He peers at Katsuki, and whatever he finds there seems to placate him a little, because the smile flits back into place. "Um—your mom sent me? To pick you up? She didn’t tell you, huh?"

Katsuki resists the urge to toss his phone into the nearest garbage bin. He settles for imagining himself throwing his phone onto the ground and grinding it in with the sole of his shoe. The satisfaction is fleeting. "Maybe she could have told me if she’d answer her fucking phone."

Kirishima blinks some more at that, openly surprised. "Are we still talking about your mom?"

"Who the fuck else," Katsuki says, pocketing his phone and picking up his backpack from where he’d carelessly discarded it earlier. When he looks back up, the expression on Kirishima’s face is somewhere between surprised and amused—and, yeah, something definitely went wrong there. "Hey, Shitty Hair. Did you drive here?"

"Walked." Kirishima hesitates, frowning at Katsuki’s backpack. "Dude, is that all you have?"

"None of your fucking business," Katsuki says, punctuating the refusal by shoving past Kirishima. When Kirishima looks dubious, he snaps, "Start walking then, asshole."

"Walking?" Kirishima repeats dumbly, but he does walk, sparing one last concerned look at Katsuki’s luggage and wincing sheepishly at the glare he receives for it. "Man, your mom said you’re not gonna be too happy about being back here. Should have believed her."

Katsuki keeps up with sheer willpower, glowering down at his shoes like he can magically go back to Tokyo the way. "The old hag make a habit of talking shit about me or what?"

Kirishima laughs, and the sound carries over his shoulder easily. "Don’t be like that, man, come on," he says. "Are you sulky because she didn’t come to pick you up herself?"

Katsuki trains his glower at Kirishima’s back. His hair’s way too red, it has to be unnatural, some shitty dye that hadn’t been diluted enough. Or the red berries that grow on coriaria Japonica, easily mistaken for edible ones—but fucking poisonous.

Katsuki keeps glowering. "I don’t give a shit."

"She’s busy," Kirishima offers anyway, undeterred. "Dunno why she wants me to take you to the restaurant when it’s so busy around this time, but the Boss’ word is law."

Katsuki scowls. "Take me where?"

"The restaurant?" Kirishima makes an abrupt turn towards the exit, like he’d momentarily forgotten how to get there. "I work there. Boss—Bakugou-san, I guess—ran into some stuff, so she asked me to swing by to pick you up before I head to class."

It takes Katsuki three long seconds to realize that ‘Bakugou-san’ isn’t in reference to him, and that Kirishima hadn’t actually miraculously gained basic respect in the last five minutes they’ve known each other. Katsuki’s mother works for a restaurant conglomerate company as a consultant—which had sounded fancy enough on school show-and-tells and Parents’ Day presentations, but had to Katsuki only meant that his mother had long since cursed their family to having the same fucking kind of food on the table for months on end until they’re all sick of it and ready to move to the next type of cuisine she’ll work with. She’d jumped from one restaurant to the other for as long as Katsuki can remember, from ramen places to donburi shops to Italian restaurants, trying to improve the restaurant’s entire system—menu, interior, reputation, sometimes even the name—all while leaving her only child to do the actual cooking in the house himself.

Katsuki had been skipping the voicemails talking about her new workplace, but he’d gathered enough to be able to connect the breakfast restaurant his mother has been taking over for the past three weeks to the shit Kirishima’s saying now.

Out loud, Katsuki mutters, "I could have taken a taxi."

Kirishima beams. "Why would you when I can show you the way?"

"That’s exactly why I should have just taken a fucking taxi," Katsuki shoots back, just as they step out of the station, the sun high and hot but the streets less crowded than he’d been expecting.

"You’ve been living in Tokyo for how long and you wanna take a taxi?" Kirishima looks straight ahead, both hands shoved into his pockets as he maneuvers around the throngs of people rushing into the station. "You’re hurting my feelings, man."

"Fucking good." Katsuki makes a noise that sounds like he’s choked on his own spit—which is exactly how it feels as he glares at Kirishima’s back. "How do you know I’ve been in Tokyo?"

"Chill, dude, honestly." Kirishima’s voice is familiar—annoyingly expressive, the kind that probably makes him shit at lying. Katsuki doesn’t have to see the kind of expression Kirishima’s making to be able to tell from his tone alone. "Your mom talks about you a lot. Let’s see. She said you live in Tokyo during the school year because you go to Todai, except you haven’t really come back much since you moved up there—and that, uh, you hated baseball even though you played back in high school, that you graduated top of your class—oh, and that you live alone on the third floor of an apartment right near—"

"Shut the hell up," Katsuki cuts in. "That’s fucking creepy."

Kirishima winces, but he doesn’t disagree.

Kasuki rolls his eyes. "How far is this place?"

"It’s a couple of blocks away," Kirishima says, still frowning. "That’s fine, right? You like walking."

Katsuki glares balefully at him.

"I mean, I don’t know—you just—you’re from Tokyo, so—"

Katsuki grits his teeth. "Bring Tokyo up one more time and I’ll punch your fucking face in—"

Kirishima looks like he barely hears the threat. "Well, do you like walking, Katsuki?"

Katsuki has been back to Musutafu in less than an hour and he already really fucking wants to punch this guy. "Insisting on calling me by first name, too?" he pushes out through gritted teeth. "You’re pretty fucking shameless."

Kirishima shrugs sheepishly. "Yeah, but I can’t call you Bakugou, too, your mom—"

"I don’t give a fuck, jackass."   

"What about an honorific?" Kirishima says, his hands burrowing further into his pockets. He has a familiar face, too—though Katsuki has no idea if it’s actual familiarity talking or just the fact that Kirishima’s face is expressive, the kind that breezes through expressions like his face is made up of book pages with size 72 font. "Katsuki-kun? Katssun. Katsukkin. Katsu-kun. Katsuki-chan. Kaccha—"

Musutafu is hotter than he remembers, more crowded than he’d been expecting, and with a talk machine like Kirishima thrown into the mix before 3PM on a summer day, Katsuki’s too fucking tired for this. "Just fucking keep walking. And shut the hell up while you’re at it."

Kirishima opens his mouth—and leaves it like that for three whole beats, steadfast even in the face of Katsuki’s unwavering glare. But Kirishima eventually closes it with a shrug, a one-shouldered what can you do gesture that hits even more of Katsuki’s nerves.

The perpetual smile is plastered back immediately, a testament either to whatever experience Kirishima’s had working at a restaurant or just an alarming lack of basic common sense, but he’s sensible enough not to say anything else.

Katsuki follows.

 

 

 

 

 

"Are you good, Katsuki?" Kirishima calls over his shoulder, still pushing easily at his stupid fucking moped.

"I’m fucking peachy," Katsuki snaps back.

‘A couple of blocks’ by Kirishima’s terms turn out to be several major roads, bypassing downtown altogether and getting steeper and steeper as they skip just past the neighborhood Katsuki had grown up in and towards the hillside areas of uptown Musutafu. The restaurant sits right on the mountainside, trapped in the middle of a roundabout caught between Musutafu’s main campus area and the roads leading back towards the financial districts. Most stores this side of Musutafu run on 24-hour clocks to accommodate tourists staying in the inns, pensions and bed-and-breakfasts nearby. They all look the exact same, too, somehow having lost their defining characteristics since Katsuki was last here and giving in to the same black and white storefront, restaurants and coffee shops and boutiques alike, as if the fake minimalism is the only thing that could appeal to both the pickiness of tourists and the dull and depressing tastes of 9-5 businessmen looking for an easy getaway.

His mother’s new project is guilty of this exact same fault, though where it looks trendy on the stores lining either side of it, it just makes the place look even more unremarkable than it is on the inside, nothing to distinguish it from the old izakayas across the street. It looks exactly like something family-run, a little bit too homey and boring in an area with stores sporting sleek awnings and second story porches with outdoor seating. It’s less of a restaurant and more of a fucking house, with one story visible on the road level and the rest of it stretching downwards behind it. There are nondescript gates on the left and right, marking the deviation from the coffee shop and 24-hour bookstore on either side, both of which also look like converted houses. All three places are easily twice the width of most houses in this area of residential Musutafu, but with a hipped roof and stone garden walls, the restaurant looks older than the modern facades of the stores it’s squished between.

Kirishima grins when he follows Katsuki’s gaze. He steadies the stand-up board on the low fence-less porch—proclaiming All You Can Eat Waffles From 8 to 10 A.M in colored chalk—before he mock-bows to Katsuki, gesturing grandly with his right hand. "After you, Your Majesty."

Katsuki bristles, but he marches past Kirishima without bothering to say anything.

He hadn’t had any particular expectations, but the main floor looks just like any other restaurant, albeit a little bit smaller and definitely more crowded. There’s no distinction between what would have been the living room or dining room, and instead the first thing to greet Katsuki is a series of sparsely occupied tables scattered all over the space. The interior looks even plainer than the front of the restaurant, the furniture a faded wood and the walls an egshell white.

There’s a wooden bar cramped against one side, and behind it, visible through a small rectangular window, the kitchen.

From where he’s standing, with perfect view into the kitchen, Katsuki can see his mother with her arms crossed in front of her, looking dangerously close to rolling her eyes. Katsuki can’t hear her, but he knows better than anyone what his mother looks like when she’s giving someone a tongue-lashing.

"Ah," Kirishima says, coming in behind him. He chuckles, a nervous sound that’s perfectly audible even over the chatter around them, and Katsuki barely fights the urge to turn and smack Kirishima with the back of his hand. "I guess the lunch thing’s still going."

Katsuki’s mother looks up then, a brief flit of her eyes from whoever she’s ranting at to Katsuki and Kirishima. Without breaking off her tirade, she points at Kirishima, jerks her thumb towards the entrance, then points at Katsuki, beckoning him towards her.

For a moment, they both stare at her.

"Right, crap, I—gotta go," Kirishima eventually says, and before Katsuki can make it clear he doesn’t give a shit, he adds, "Class. Tell your mom good luck—or something. I’ll be back for my shift later."

He hesitates for a long beat, contemplative versus the scowl Katsuki gives him, but then he shrugs, offering a small grin. "See you around, Katsuki."

"No, you fucking won’t," Katsuki retorts, but Kirishima’s already gone, half-running back outside and almost colliding with the wall as he checks the time on his phone.

Katsuki rolls his eyes.

"Katsuki!"

When Katsuki turns back, his mother’s stomping out of the kitchen, visibly infuriated, but all she does is jerk her head towards a room right across the bar. Then she’s turning her back to Katsuki, expecting him to follow without question like she always fucking does.

Katsuki grits his teeth, but he goes.

"How was the trip?" she asks, waiting for him to enter the room first. It’s an office—or a makeshift one, barely big enough to fit a desk and suspiciously resembling storage space. It has a window, though, albeit half of it is covered right now with the two stacks of folders his mother had piled up in front of it.

"Fine," Katsuki mutters, taking the seat opposite the desk. "Fucking hot."

"Eijirou picked you up okay?"

"Kirishima?" Katsuki plops down on the sole chair facing the desk. "He’s too fucking happy."

Kirishima had only managed to stay silent for barely two minutes after they’ve left the train station, ultimately letting loose a constant stream of words that remained unwavering even as Katsuki stayed unresponsive to half the bullshit that came out of Kirishima’s mouth. Kirishima had managed to squeeze irrelevant shit in between giving Katsuki surprisingly concise directions to the restaurant, and by the time they’d arrived, Katsuki had listened to enough of Kirishima talking that his ears are ringing in complaint.

"You think he’s too much?" his mother’s saying, slipping past Katsuki to squeeze her way between the wall and the desk. "You’re not one to talk, Katsuki."

Katsuki ignores her jibe in favor of reading the checklist up on her whiteboard—review the menu, check in with the boss about the catering team, report to HQ with a status update, ask Tooru if she can work this weekend. There are little notes under August too, things like Ochako’s helping out at the gala for her other job and Eijirou has his make-up exams, make sure to find shift replacements. His mother has one of those in their house, worn from use the last time Katsuki had seen it, having fallen victim to years of grocery lists, flight reminders, important e-mail addresses and extracurricular schedules. It probably has none of Katsuki’s schedule at all, nowadays, instead crammed with info about this restaurant and his father’s upcoming business trip abroad.

It’s typical of his mother to take over a place like this—it’s not in her job description to do more than fix what needs to be fixed, workplace-wise, but she’s always taken it upon herself to commandeer the entire ship down to the very last plank. Katsuki got that from her, probably, that tendency towards perfectionism and the refusal to back down from what they see as a challenge. But while he deals with certainties—things he knows he can excel at, like he always does—she’s much more willing to deal with people, much more likely to try and wrestle something messy and unpredictable into a semi-decent state. Katsuki has never understood that about her, but looking at the board detailing staff member’s preferences and specific issues, it seems not much has changed since the last restaurant he’d seen her take over.

"You’ll be seeing him a lot." His mother’s still talking about Kirishima, and he knows that tone better than anything else. Play nice, she’s saying, even when Katsuki has never once listened to her warnings. "Eijirou’s family owns the place. Or—owned, technically."

Katsuki had restlessly been drumming his fingers against his knee. They stop now. "I never agreed to staying."

His mother doesn’t look at him, opening her laptop to punch in her password. "Why not?"

Katsuki grits his teeth, looking away. "I don’t fucking wanna be here."

He hears his mother’s fingers halt over the keyboard.

He feels a twinge of something, fleeting, at the sudden silence.

But Katsuki has always been sure about that. The University of Tokyo hadn’t been his first choice only because it was the best school in the country—but because graduating top of his class in high school hadn’t felt like enough. Leaving Musutafu had always felt like the bigger, grander option, the more productive one, because being the only one in his batch to go to school outside of the city—Todai, too, of all schools—felt like more, felt like something he deserves much more than going to the same university that his classmates from high school also are.

It was something significant, leaving; a sign that he’s worth more than just being the same as the rest of them.

And returning to Musutafu to stay kind of goes against that entire damn philosophy.

When he looks back up, his mother’s looking at him. There’s a brief unreadable expression that crosses her face, too fast for Katsuki to register completely, before she turns back towards the screen.

"Of course you don’t, you brat," she says, voice dropping to something passively subdued. "You can take my car back to the house. Help your dad pack."

Katsuki knows a dismissal from her when he hears one, but he sits there for another two minutes out of sheer refusal to move. He hates this—the way she expects him to know what she’s thinking even when she won’t say it out loud. It’s not his obligation to understand her, just like it’s not her obligation to deal with his issues like just another one of her restaurant employees, and yet here they fucking are, staring at each other over an old desk.

He sighs, loud and heavy, crossing the line over to a groan, but his mother doesn’t say anything else as he leaves the office.

 

 

 

 

 

When Katsuki gets to his parents’ house, his father’s bringing in the evening mail. He looks up and steps aside as Katsuki pulls into the driveway, smiling under slightly askew glasses.

Katsuki never has to expect an unwanted hug from his father, so it’s with a grudgingly neutral expression that he gets off the car.

"I wasn’t expecting you to actually come home for the summer," is his father’s greeting, opening the front door for them both. He doesn’t offer to take Katsuki’s backpack. Good. "When do you go back to school? September what?"

"26th," Katsuki grumbles, following him in.

The last time he’d been back was winter break last January, summoned home for a three-day New Year’s weekend. It’s been half a year and a bit since, but it’s still mildly disorienting to walk into the living room and find the furniture rearranged—the sofa pushed back against a wall it used to be facing, the TV on a new stand set in a corner, a hanging shelf above where a three-tier bookcase used to be. It looks simultaneously like the living room he’d grown up in and yet not at all, like something straight out of a furniture catalogue he’s only familiar with because he’d been staring at every individual piece long enough to remember it.

He stands there frowning at the entire scene.

"Your room’s still where you left it, you know."

Katsuki turns around to face his father, still taking off his shoes where Katsuki had just kicked his off. "I know," he mutters.

Walking down the hallway feels fucking weird, too, like he’s seeing it through someone else’s eyes. He almost expects his old bedroom to be locked, but the door gives away easily, the top hinge creaking lowly like it had since he’d slammed it closed too hard in elementary school. The room’s pristine at first glance, clearly untouched since he’d slept in it last January, but there’s a layer of dust on everything—the empty space on top of his cabinet, the dent at the top of his old alarm clock, the scratches on his desk from where he’d restlessly dragged his lead pencil doing drills before exams. His books look like they haven’t been cracked open in a while despite the creased spines, and his closet creaks when he tries to inch it open.

The window sill where his old plants used to sit is completely unused. There’d been five pots lined up there before he’d left, plants he’d looked after for all of high school, but the sill has remained cleared out—even when the small living room bay window had clearly been crowded with small succulents.

It rubs at him the wrong way, somehow, seeing his old room like this. It’s technically not his room anymore, though—not this version of him, because the kid that used to scratch on that desk was someone he’d left behind when he’d graduated high school almost two years ago.

He’d left home a month after grad, filling a single huge suitcase with the minimum amount of clothes he needed to settle in. He hadn’t taken anything he hadn’t needed for school—his walls had remained bare the entirety of first year, and even when he’d moved out of the dorms and into a one-room apartment in second year, he hadn’t had things to take with him out of sentiment. But those rooms—the one he’d had as a freshman, the one he has now—don’t feel like his room, either, and the realization nags at him, too, crawls down his throat and sits there feeling like it does when he’d yelled too much and for too long.

He gives the foot of his bed an experimental kick. It doesn’t budge, just like it hadn’t for ten-year-old Katsuki nor fifteen-year-old Katsuki.

That, at least, feels somehow satisfying.

"Katsuki?"

One of his father’s greatest talents is hovering—and he’s doing it now, standing just outside the open door like he’s some vampire needing Katsuki’s official invitation to enter. It’s exclusive to his body language, though, because when he asks, "Would you help me out with dinner?", it’s not really a question.

Katsuki washes his hands in the kitchen sink, if only not to give his father the excuse to gripe about him taking his sweet time—his father will never say that, the passive to his wife’s aggressive, but Katsuki doesn’t want to give him a reason to change his mind anyway. Where his relationship with his mother feels like something on a merry-go-round, always spinning and turning before he can make sense of things, Katsuki’s interactions with his father are much more solid, if a little less concrete when he can’t tell what his father is thinking. His dad has the weaker, softer personality, but it’s also the kind that just makes Katsuki feel like he should save most of his aggression for his mother’s own instead.

"I thought maybe omelettes? Are you fine with that?" His father doesn’t really wait for an answer, humming a little to himself as he takes out the egg carton from the fridge. "There was a vegetable sale at that market yesterday."

He talks like Katsuki should know exactly what store he means—he doesn’t, and the realization is grating. He pulls the carton over to him restlessly, looking for something to busy himself with instead of dwelling on why exactly it feels wrong to listen to his father talk like this.

"Make that four, Katsuki," his father says, not unkindly, when Katsuki cracks two eggs into a bowl. He’s looking at Katsuki a little too closely, watching Katsuki like he’s searching for proof of something, but all he says, smiling good-naturedly, is, "I know you’re used to cooking just for yourself—but tonight, you’re cooking for two people."

It doesn’t sound as consoling as the accompanying smile makes it seem like it should be. Katsuki looks away. "Two?"

His father hums, gesturing for Katsuki to give him the bowl once he’s done cracking the eggs. "It’s just the two of us. Your mother doesn’t eat dinner here during weekends."

"Thought you’ve been living off pancakes seven days a week," Katsuki sneers, sliding the bowl over. He still doesn’t look at his father, opting to nudge the crisper open to grab the peppers and tomatoes. "Why are you still willingly eating eggs when you have the chance?"

"Breakfast food isn’t so bad," his father says, sincere. No fucking surprise there. "Your mother said she asked for you to help out—"

"She’s got a screwed over idea of what ‘asking’ means." It takes Katsuki too long to find the chopping board—even the utensils have been rearranged, the chopsticks four drawers away from where they used to be, and the pans in a different cupboard altogether. "I’m not sticking around, obviously."

"Obviously," his father echoes, finally pointing him towards the knife rock. "Do you have any outstanding arrangements?"

"No," Katsuki retorts, washing the tomatoes. He tosses one over to the chopping board. "Doesn’t mean I wanna stay ‘round here."

"It’s not a permanent situation," his father points out, ever trying to pacify even where there shouldn’t have been an argument. "She wants to spend time with you, even working."

"It’s still her job." Katsuki grits his teeth. "I don’t got a damn thing to do with it."

There’s a pause, long enough that Katsuki feels the need to raise his head and turn his frown from the chopping board to his father. The silence stretches for a minute, before his father says, "For what it’s worth, I don’t think this has anything to do with her job at all."

Katsuki stands with the knife hovering above a tomato chopped in half. "What’s that supposed to mean?"

"I think you should ask her that instead of me, Katsuki," his father offers, mild as ever even as he beats the eggs in the bowl.

"I would if she’s the type to actually give me an answer." Katsuki has the urge to throw the knife at the wall, like some levelled up version of kitchen darts. He resumes his chopping instead. "What does she want from me?"

"She’s worried about you, that’s all," his father concedes.

Katsuki scowls down at the chopped tomato slices. His parents have nothing to worry about—that was sort of the whole fucking point of them allowing him to move to Tokyo, school requirements out of the damn question. "What the hell is there to worry about?"

"Your mother worries about a lot of things." It’s an avoidant response, characteristic of his father. "And when she worries, she can’t leave it alone."

Katsuki’s scowl deepens. "She’s got a shitty way of showing how she feels."

His father peers at him over his glasses, bowl temporarily forgotten. Katsuki knows what he’s going to say even before he actually does. "You’re not too different, in that."

"What are you trying to say?"

"What’s in the center of Tokyo that can’t be seen from Tokyo Tower?" his father says, sudden. He doesn’t stop whatever he’s doing, but he smiles when Katsuki looks up at him. "It’s a matter of perspective, things like this."

"You’re not making sense."

His father hums. He doesn’t say anything else.

Katsuki turns away again, biting down on his tongue irritably and letting the sound of frying omelettes fill the kitchen. His father lets him drop the conversation there, but it sticks with him like gum under his boots, an unanswered question that nags and tugs—so when 10PM comes around and his mother calls the house for someone to drive the car back to the restaurant and pick her up, Katsuki does so with only absent-minded grumbling.

He hadn’t noticed it earlier, but the restaurant smells like coffee and pancakes, a perpetual breakfast aroma that hangs heavy. He stays by the service counter upon entry, surprised to see three tables occupied, and even more surprised when the waitress on-shift turns around with a smile and a familiar round face.

Katsuki grits his teeth at the same time Uraraka’s smile widens, the menus she’d gathered from the last booth hugged close to her chest. "Bakugou!"

He feels fucking stupid, because—looking back at it—he should have anticipated this when he saw her first name on his mother’s whiteboard.

Katsuki had graduated high school pretty solid on comparing Uraraka Ochako to the human embodiment of cream soda—sticky when you don’t wipe it off before it dries, sickly sweet and unnecessarily bubbly. The comparison still holds true, because Uraraka bounces over now, dropping off her order notepad behind the bar before grabbing Katsuki in a one-armed hug.

"Your mom said you’d be back in town," she chirps, thankfully letting him go within the millisecond it takes for him to glower down at her. "I didn’t believe it, though, but—hey, first time for everything."

"What the fuck are you doing here?" Katsuki mutters, sour where Uraraka is disgusting, cavity-inducing concentrated vanilla.

"I work here," she says, simple as always. "The 6 to 10PM shift. You can sit—your mom’s on the phone, but she should be wrapping up soon. How’s Tokyo?"

"Shut up." Katsuki rolls his eyes, exhausted by her endless series of words, words, a hell fucking lot of words, but he takes a stool anyway. "Why the fuck do you care?"

"Courtesy," Uraraka’s honest enough to say, moving behind the counter to straighten the menus she’d discarded. "Manners. Something you still haven’t learned, I see."

Katsuki keeps glowering at her. "What the hell are you trying to say?"

"I thought going away to Tokyo would have at least taught you how to deal with people, but clearly not," Uraraka muses, pouting. It’s fake—Katsuki knows her to frown more than she ever pouts, but if there’s one thing he knows her to be adept at, it’s taking advantage of situations, even if that situation means cornering Katsuki with a pout when she’s about to say something accusing. Sure enough, she adds, "Okay, no, I take it back, I didn’t think that at all. I sent you, like, three messages when you first moved. Not a single reply."

Katsuki had deleted all three of those messages without reading them.

"There were a couple of get-togethers when we all finished first year," Uraraka continues, yawning passively. "No one really expected you to come but, you know—an RSVP would have been nice. Especially after—" She hesitates, then shrugs, pushing on, "—you so kindly didn’t keep in touch with anyone."

They’re not fucking friends, though, and for all that the cheeriness never leaves Uraraka’s voice, she’s irritatingly sarcastic half the time, so Katsuki feels more than justified in still continuing to glower at her. "Why in hell would I keep in touch with you?"

"Because that’s what friends do, Bakugou," Uraraka says, and the condescension in her voice, though playful, pisses Katsuki off. "Communication and all that."

This time, he says it out loud, "We’re not friends, Angelface."

Uraraka doesn’t immediately say anything, instead studying him for a few seconds. Quietly, she says, "No, probably not. I don’t think you even know what that means, Bakugou."

Katsuki takes a good look at her—at the way she’s staring at him, eyes wide and probing the way his father’s had been—and he doesn’t bother biting back his retort. "I’m fucking sorry if I don’t have time for idiots not good enough to leave this shithole."

He expects Uraraka to roll her eyes at that, just like she had when they first met at tryouts, just like she did every time they were in the bullpen together, just like she had in the three years they’d been in the same damn class in high school, but her face hardens, and the expression that crosses her face now is instead eerily similar to the one Katsuki’s mother had this morning.

"You’d think being unreachable in Tokyo for over a year would have mellowed you out but—" Uraraka does roll her eyes, turning at the sound of the bell as someone from the kitchen leaves a plate of waffles on the order window. "You’re still the same as always."

Katsuki glares at her back.

People seem to expect him to be something, just because he’s come back from Tokyo—and it’s fucking irritating, because it’s not like he’d wanted to come back anyway. Musutafu is everything he’d wanted to leave behind to prove a point, and he didn’t just magically decide to come the hell back because he missed the place.

He doesn’t, and he’s never missed it in the year or so he’s spent steadfastly away from it; it’s not home, just something that’s always been there for him to leave in order to prove himself, and just because he’s back doesn’t mean a damn thing.

It’s fucking exhausting, for people to keep talking and acting like it does.

"You have something against waffles or what, dude?"

It’s Kirishima with his stupid ass ponytail, having come into the restaurant without Katsuki noticing. He’s smiling, and Katsuki’s beginning to think being an irritatingly happy person must be a requirement to work around here. "Told you we’ll be seeing each other a lot."

Katsuki rolls his eyes at him. "More reason not to stick around, then."

Kirishima blinks at him. "What’s that?"

"None of your business, shithead."

"Do you always look this grumpy?" Kirishima turns his back to Katsuki to pour himself a cup of coffee from the counter.  He’s wearing a red plaid shirt over his NASA shirt now, slightly big on him, and clashing with the restaurant’s interior set-up, he looks caught between a lumberjack scenario and some shitty hipster aesthetic. "How do I tell when you’re actually happy to see me?"

"You don’t fucking have to." Katsuki wrinkles his nose as he watches Kirishima pour sugar indiscriminately into the cup. "That shit will never happen."

"Oh~" Kirishima coos, downing his cup in one go. "Is that a challenge?"

"You’re fucking annoying," Katsuki replies.

Kirishima laughs like it’s a genuine joke.

Katsuki opens his mouth to retort, but there’s an aggravated groan from his mother’s office, and the sound of a plastic phone being slammed back down into the housing. Then his mother sticks her head out, face lined from a scowl she’d probably been forced to will away. Her face clears more naturally when she sees Katsuki and Kirishima, settling into a neutral expression when she calls, "Do you have a second, Eijirou? I need to talk to you."

Kirishima’s resting expression is a half-smile, his eyes naturally wide and relaxed, but the smile wavers visibly when he nods, putting his cup down and ambling over.

Katsuki watches him go with narrowed eyes.

Uraraka’s watching them, too, her face unreadable. For a brief second, they make eye contact, but Katsuki tears his eyes away before she takes it as invitation to come over and continue their conversation.

He gives the restaurant a cursory 360 instead, turning his back to the line cooks in the kitchen untying their aprons for the night. He hadn’t noticed it earlier, but exposed brick lines an entire side of the place, and, perpendicular to it, a set of doors leading outside to a dining porch. Right beside that, just a bit behind the service bar, is a spiral staircase leading downwards, barricaded by a small gate that looks like it’s there primarily for baby-proofing. It’s nondescript, narrow with metal steps someone could easily fall off from, but it, along with the brick, is also an unwanted reminder that this is a converted house, and that someone’s entire home sits right underneath this restaurant.

"No one lives down there anymore, just so you know. We’re all moved out."

It’s Kirishima, back from his talk with Katsuki’s mother. She’s still nowhere in sight, and all Katsuki has to glare up at is Kirishima’s face. "I didn’t fucking ask."

Kirishima clucks his tongue. He looks distracted, but he shrugs at Katsuki like he’s dealing with a middle schooler. "This prince is a stubborn one."

Katsuki continues glaring. "Prince—"

"Calling him stubborn is being way too generous." It’s Uraraka’s voice, light as she returns from bringing the order to the third table. She smiles at Kirishima, though, apparently deciding to ignore Katsuki altogether. He still scowls at her—what, is she too good to even look at him now?

"I’m sure Katsuki has his redeeming traits," Kirishima says, all too solemn for Uraraka, who scoffs at that.

Katsuki bares his teeth at them both. "I’m plenty fucking great—"

"I’m sure Kirishima-kun doesn’t need any more convincing," Uraraka cuts in again, physically waving the sentiment away. "As far as I’m concerned, you’ve just gotten worse."

The declaration’s too serious for the mood Kirishima seems to have been going for, because he’s quick to jump in with a half-hearted laugh, looking between Uraraka and Katsuki. "Um—"

But there’s a hand in Katsuki’s hair before Kirishima could say much of anything, ruffling it in a way definitely meant to hurt. "Hey, brat. Come to pick me up?"

He shoves his mother’s hand away, and raises his head to her shitty grin. "I’m not here because I want to be."

"I think we all know that," Uraraka mutters under her breath. Kirishima’s determinedly trying to catch her eye, possibly to do some weird telepathic shit only possible between stupidly happy people, but before either of them could coordinate, Katsuki’s mother asks;

"You want a ride home, Ochako?"

It’s probably not the first time she’d been asked, because Uraraka’s shaking her head even before the question is done. "I’ll be fine," she says, revoltingly courteous. "Thank you. You go on ahead."

Katsuki’s mother raises an eyebrow. "You sure?"

Uraraka nods. "I just wanted to ask Kirishima-kun about something—you don’t have to wait for me."

"Well, sure, okay." Katsuki’s mother leaves her eyebrow raised, looking between Uraraka and Kirishima. "I’m off for the day, then—get home safe, Ochako. I’ll see you tomorrow morning, Eijirou."

They mock-salute, still smiling.

They’re both so fucking happy, smiling and laughing as if it’s not fucking depressing to be working in a restaurant that looks like someone came in before and stripped it of all its aesthetic character. It’s ridiculous to be so happy in a place that’s so un-special and plain, and Katsuki keeps glowering at them until his mother elbows at him and urges him to his feet.

Katsuki rolls his eyes and turns away without saying anything.

His mother appraises him, somehow amused, when they get in the car. "Why were you watching them interact like a kid excluded out of their friend group?"

"Where the hell did you get that?" Katsuki hisses, slamming the car door behind him. His mother’s driving, so he settles for petulantly putting on his seatbelt and staring out the window. "They’re irritating."

"They’re good kids," his mother corrects. "Too hard-working for their age."

And whatever, Katsuki stands by what he’d said to Uraraka: they’re not hard-working enough, clearly, to not be stuck in this shitty ass city.

"You went to the same high school as Ochako?"

"Yeah," Katsuki grumbles. "Still as annoying as ever. Now she matches with that red-haired asshole, what’s his deal—"

"Eijirou’s family owned the restaurant," his mother interrupts smoothly, ignoring what he was about to say. "The place means a lot to him." 

Katsuki keeps staring ahead. "You told me. I don’t actually give a shit."

"‘Course you fucking don’t." His mother hums as she slows the car down in front of a red light, and when Katsuki gives in and looks at her, she’s staring at him. "Would it kill you to look at other people, Katsuki? For someone with a perfect average, you sure are shit at dealing with other people."

He grits his teeth and stares out the window. When his mother doesn’t say anything, leaving the silence to do the guilt-tripping for her, he gripes, "What the hell was happening earlier?"

His mother clearly knows what he means, but she hums in question.

Katsuki continues gritting his teeth. "You were shitting on someone when I came in today."

"Oh. The kitchen manager," his mother answers, and the sour expression from earlier comes back. "The day chef started getting cagey when I found some suspicious shit in the financial books my first week here. I started questioning the night shift kitchen manager today."

Katsuki snorts. "Replace them, then."

"I would, once I get answers," she says, cracking her knuckles, agitated, as they slow in front of a red light, "But no chef would wanna take the job with the messy state this place is in right now. I can’t afford to leave a hole."

Katsuki keeps scowling. "You’ve been there for three weeks."

His mother waves a hand at him, dismissive. "Too many things that needs improvement—I need a better staffing system, a more streamlined menu. I need to clean house. Literally. Figuratively."

Katsuki has no fucking idea what that saying means figuratively. He rolls his eyes. "Just shut the place down."

At this, she pauses. "I was going to," she admits after a long beat. "I would have already if it was any other situation, but—there’s potential. It’s a waste."

His mother says that about every restaurant; it’s not always true, because she’s closed down at least three places that Katsuki can remember. As much work as she puts into a restaurant—into taking care of its systems, of its staff, of its everything—it’s gotta earn that effort first, and a lot of places don’t make the cut.

This one had, somehow.

"This is fucking stupid," Katsuki grumbles. "You’re just making things shittier than they should be."

His mother hesitates, spacing out long enough not to notice the green light until the car behind them honks. "I called you down because I thought you could help."

Katsuki looks back out the window again. Dad said you’re worried, he almost says. What about?

What makes it out instead is, "What do you actually want?"

"Time," she replies easily, like it’s simple. Everything’s oversimplified with her and her expectations of everything around her, and Katsuki doesn’t know if that’s yet another thing he has to fucking share with her, or ultimately something they differ in. "Just until I can get the restaurant to a state promising enough that I can start hiring new people. I’m not asking for—hell—not even half a year. Todai has you for eleven months; a month and three weeks is nothing."

"I don’t fucking wanna be here," Katsuki says, slow as it is loud and irritated, because maybe the words will feel less like rote he’d memorized in elementary school if he lets it fill the space between him and his mother.

But she’s apparently steadfast in ignoring him today, because she barrels on, stepping on the gas like she wishes that was her son she’s squashing. "Don’t give me bullshit like ‘I don’t live here anymore’ or ‘I have to go back to Tokyo’. That shit gets old."

Katsuki scowls at the dashboard. "Hey, old hag—"

"I’d take it if that was the actual reason why you won’t stick around." His mother runs the next yellow light, tightening her hands around the wheel. "As it is, I don’t want to hear your half-assed excuses."

Katsuki bites down on his tongue, hard.

Fucking hypocritical of her, to be calling him out like this when she’s not some innocent saint asking him to stick around purely because she wants his help. He’s gathered as much from his conversation with his father earlier. But maybe they’re carbon copies of each other in even this, because Katsuki doesn’t say a damn thing for the rest of the ride, and neither does his mother.

She only speaks again after she locks the front door behind her.

"I’m not asking you to give up on your dreams or life goals or whatever the fuck you’re so keen on staying in Tokyo for." She turns on the light in the bathroom, leaving her silhouette to fill up the doorway. "Staying here for two months isn’t gonna get you kicked out, and it sure isn’t gonna change anything about the fact that you left as soon as you can and that’s that."

Katsuki stops in front of his room.

"You don’t owe me shit, and I’m not gonna try and say I’m asking this of you as your mother," Katsuki’s mom continues, undeterred even as her voice drops to something low and deceptively passive. "If you’d rather go back to your tiny ass apartment and spend the next two months living off stir-fry and National Geographic, be my damn guest. But you already kill yourself over for that Todai all school year round—and don’t try to argue when we both know it’s the hardest school in the entire fucking country."

She pauses when her voice starts rising in volume, shrugging. "Staying isn’t gonna make you any less of the person you were when you left. Todai can spare you for six weeks."

Katsuki, for some reason, feels like he’s burning.

"Also, you know—I haven’t been thinking." The bathroom door creaks as his mother pushes it open wider. "This is technically your first actual vacation since, what, you started at Todai last year? ‘Course you won’t wanna spend it not doing shit you’re gonna be no help at—"

Katsuki finally finds his words at that, clenching both fists at his sides. "I know what you’re doing, old hag."

The grin he gets from his mother makes him feel cornered.

"And I know you, kiddo," she says. "Think about it. I doubt going back to Tokyo right now sounds as appealing as you’re trying to tell yourself."

The grin softens into something else. It’s a smile that Katsuki never knows what to make of, when it’s from his parents—is that pity, is that worry, is that—

"Only one way to prove me wrong," his mother finishes, in lieu of a good night a normal fucking parent would have said, and closes the bathroom door behind her.

She leaves Katsuki standing there, still with clenched fists.

 

 

 

 

 

Katsuki had grown up aware of the similarities between him and his mother.

It’s not a one-time thing that happened to stay with him; it’s a constant loop of you look just like her, or you got that temperament from your mom, didn’t you, Katsuki?, or comments from his father about how you really are so much like your mother. It’s not something he can toss away, because they’re there, the similarities, impossible to ignore, much less deny—and especially not when people keep pointing it out.

Being hyper-aware of that similarity is fucking irritating at best.

He hates that it makes him feel like a self-insert manga character with his mother as the mangaka, he hates that more often than not he can’t even dodge a shitty heart-to-heart with his father because his father’s all too used dealing with Katsuki’s fucking prototype or some shit. Most of all, he hates that running away from his mother feels like running away from himself more than it does any other time, because no one knows to tug at his rigid system of motivations and values better than she does.

Running away from that fact feels like cowardice, and he knows his mother knows that, because the old hag always does, when it comes to him.

Sleep plays hard to get the entire fucking night.

By 4AM, after four hours of shitty tossing and turning and replaying Staying isn’t gonna make you any less of the person you were when you left in his head, he’s decided fuck it and goes for a run.

When he gets out of his shower, his mother’s already watching the morning news.

He stands by the couch she’s sitting on and purposely lets his hair drip all over the carpet. "I still don’t give a shit," he says.

His mother’s eyes just flit over from the TV screen to him, but she doesn’t say anything.

It’s like she’s already won.

"I still don’t give a shit," Katsuki repeats, hissing the words through teeth gnashed together. "So whatever. It’s just until I go back in September."

He expects her to be smug—grin or fucking laugh or some shit like that—but she just leans back against the couch and keeps looking at him. "If you got up at the asscrack of dawn for this, you’re already doing better than me, brat."

"I’m just staying," Katsuki talks over her, only it doesn’t feel as satisfying as he thought. "This doesn’t mean I’m gonna take over shit for you or whatever—it’s still your fucking job. I have nothing to do with it."

"Sure," she says. She doesn’t offer anything else—which at any other point would have been a welcome deviation from her usual, but it’s just fucking creepy this time.

She doesn’t gloat about Katsuki giving in, either, saying nothing and spending the entire ride to the restaurant humming to the morning radio.

A single table is occupied when they get there, a trio of college-age boys with full breakfast meals crowded in front of them. Kirishima’s behind the bar, chin in hand and elbow propped, but he doesn’t stir at all at the sound of the bell jingling overhead when they enter.

Upon closer inspection, it’s because the fucker’s near-asleep.

Katsuki slams a hand down on the counter.

Kirishima jumps half his height in his seat, jamming his elbow against the bar—and hitting his funny bone, it looks like, from the way he flinches. "Oh—crap—it’s the crown prince."

"The fucking what?"

Katsuki’s mother laughs, a couple of amused barks. "Good morning, Eijirou," she says, looking otherwise nonplussed by Kirishima sleeping on the job as she leaves the front to check on the kitchen.

"Before you say anything, I don’t sleep at all during my shift. I’m not that kind of work—"

Katsuki doesn’t give a shit what kind of worker Kirishima is. "What’d you fucking call me?"

"What?"

"You’ve been fucking calling me that since yesterday."

"Oh." Kirishima yawns around a smile, rubbing at swollen eyes. Katsuki doesn’t know if they’ve been like that last night. "Crown prince. Because, you know. You’re the son—like—the son—"

So clearly sleep deprived it’s fucking painful to watch, Kirishima pauses, regarding Katsuki like he’s realized they’re not speaking the same language. He re-props his elbow on the counter, chin back in hand, and starts again, "Okay, bro, think of this restaurant as a castle. A kingdom. Your mom’s, like, the queen. That makes you His Majesty the Crown Prince, buddy."

Katsuki can hear his mother’s voice, audibly displeased even though he can’t make out what she’s saying, but he settles for levelling a glare at Kirishima’s eyebags, decidedly not amused.

Especially not when the idiot’s too sleep-deprived to realize he’d left his phone sitting on top of a textbook open on the counter.

Katsuki watches him fail through checking all his pockets—inner shirt chest pocket, plaid outer layer chest pocket, apron pockets, back pockets of his jeans—before saying, deadpan, "Your phone’s right here, fool."

Kirishima blinks at him for three excruciating seconds, uncomprehending, before his eyes move towards his phone. It’s another three seconds before he actually grabs it.

It’s enough secondhand embarassment to be painful, and Katsuki means it wholeheartedly when he says, "You’re a fucking mess."

Kirishima nods sagely, like that’s fair. "I get that a lot."

Katsuki’s mother looks mildly annoyed as she walks back out of the kitchen—it’s not directed at either of them, though, because her face easily unfolds itself when she asks, "What are you boys talking about?"

"Talking shit," Katsuki says, unrepentant.

Kirishima immediately shakes his head.

"Yeah?" Katsuki’s mother grins, pouring herself coffee from the smaller machine behind the counter. "If you’re gonna talk shit about your boss, say it to my face, Eijirou."

Kirishima laughs sheepishly, grabbing his textbook—something for Economics, from the colorful cover flap—and shoving it into his messenger bag. "There isn’t a single bad thing to say, I promise."

"About me, maybe," Katsuki’s mother continues, "but don’t hesitate to let Katsuki know exactly how you feel. The harsher, the better."

Kirishima’s stare swings back over to Katsuki, abruptly, eyes wide. "You’re staying?"

"I’ll beat your ass," Katsuki clarifies.

"You can leave, by the way," his mother says, talking over Katsuki easily. "We’ll watch over the restaurant while we wait for the two morning stragglers."

Kirishima hesitates, but he’s already zipping up his bag. It looks like the restaurant still functions via the old clocking in system, because he locates his time card and punches in his time, eyes slightly watery as he visibly fights back a yawn.

Katsuki’s mother notices it, too.

"Eijirou," she calls out just before Kirishima leaves. "Straight to bed when you get back today, okay?"

Kirishima hesitates again—it’s not a good look on him, scrunching up his entire face and crumpling it up into an expression it’s clearly not used to having. But he nods, waving on his way out.

Katsuki watches him go. "The front pocket of his bag’s open," he mutters. "Idiot."

"I really need to hire more people." His mother groans thoughtfully, filling up another small cup. "I can’t keep having Eijirou take night shifts four days a week on top of everything else."

Katsuki scoffs. "Shouldn’t he be used to that?"

"This wasn’t a 24-hour restaurant before. It was my decision to change that, when I took over beginning of this month," his mother tells him. "Everything’s 24-hour in this area, and I thought it wouldn’t hurt to jump on that bandwagon, get more customers while we’re at it—but it’s tough on the staff if I scatter them around out of nowhere. Eijirou only volunteered because his make-up classes aren’t letting him take his usual 2-10PM shift this summer."

"You said ‘owned’," Katsuki says, sudden even to him. "Past tense."

There’s a pause. The look he gets for it isn’t surprised, exactly, but it’s pretty damn close, coming from his mother. Katsuki looks away before eye contact makes her think he’s actually interested.

"The short version is—his mom’s pregnant. They’d moved out of this house and into a new one downtown, and with the family situation and other shit as they are, they’re not in a good position to keep the place open from afar. The family handed the restaurant over to the company I work for, and now my job’s to get it to a state that other buyers won’t hesitate to invest in. Concise enough for you?"

Katsuki doesn’t say anything.

Katsuki’s mother hums, and when he turns to her, she’s watching him. "The place is in a bit of identity crisis," is all she says, balancing her elbow on the bar. "Everything’s so old in here—and it’s part of its charm, but the problem is that it’s getting left behind by the places around it."

"That’s why they called you in for this?" Katsuki grumbles. "Because the entire fucking place needs re-modeling?"

"The design is the least of its problems," his mother says, and she sounds oddly contemplative. "There’s too much on the menu. They need a good definitive meal to define their reputation—their best bet are the waffles. Family recipe. I’m testing out an All-You-Can-Eat waffle thing right now." She pauses, thoughtful. "The place is severely understaffed. They’re too nondescript for a tourist neighborhood full of 24-hour everything."

Katsuki doesn’t know why she’s telling him this—he’s never been interested in her work, but the look she’s giving him is almost expectant. "I don’t give a shit," he says. The college trio look up at that, clearly taken aback, and Katsuki glowers at them before turning back to his mother. "It’s your job—"

She rolls her eyes, unimpressed with him. He grits his teeth. "Your job now, too, Katsuki. You said it was."

"Don’t put your shitty words in my mouth," Katsuki says. "I only fucking said I was staying. You’re the one that keeps nagging and na—"

"It’s your job now, too," his mother repeats. "I said I needed you for six weeks, didn’t I? Did you think it’s to let you dick around in Musutafu?"

"You’ve never needed my help before," Katsuki points out, still through gritted teeth.

"I’ve also never had to work on a 24-hour restaurant before." His mother doesn’t look at him. "And a restaurant is only as good as its chef. This place doesn’t have one."

It sounds too complicated, so Katsuki stands by what he’d decided last night, "Just shut the place down."

His mother grabs the back of his head and pushes down at that, laughing when Katsuki slaps her wrist away. "Sure, but then what kind of restaurant consultant would I be if I gave up on something that has a chance? Just because it’s too hard?"

"A shitty one," Katsuki answers dutifully.

"Exactly," she says, ignoring his indignant squawk as she gives the top of his head another dunk. "You’re not a quitter, are you, kiddo? You gonna be a shitty restaurant consultant?"

"I’m not one."

"You’re a junior one now."

"God—okay—fucking damn it, Mom, you’re so annoying," Katsuki hisses, because he gets what she’s saying, what she’s implying about incompetence and all that bullshit, and he’ll be damned if he gives her reason to keep talking like that. "I already said I’m staying, okay?" For emphasis, he repeats, "God fucking damn it."

The vehemence seems to convince her, if nothing else, because she lets his head go.

More likely, it’s because the college-age trio had miraculously finished all their food and had asked for the bill.

Katsuki groans audibly.

He hates this, hates having to deal with his mother—mostly because he can’t. He’s used to going at his own pace, only they’re the same in that, too, and being back in Musutafu instead of enjoying time constantly alone in Tokyo means being dragged into her pace, just like this.

And the next month and a bit, since he’s apparently lost it enough to stick around.