Actions

Work Header

2 A.M

Chapter Text

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.

 

Chapter Text

AUGUST

Part I

 

His father’s flight is on the first Monday afternoon of August.

Katsuki hates airports as much as he hates train stations, so he stays behind willingly, letting his father hug him once before locking the front door behind his parents. He lasts ten minutes after their departure staring dully at the TV screen before he gets up, finds nothing in the fridge and nothing to do in the entire damn house, and gives in to the fact that he’s fucking bored and has to voluntarily go out.

The restaurant is closed on Mondays, the only day off Katsuki’s mother and the rest of the staff get, and yet he’s here anyway, biking uptown to stop in front of the locked doors and continue his scowling there, this time at the CLOSED sign handwritten in sickeningly cute multi-colored chalk by one of the morning shift staff.

He’d met them last week, both of them coming in roughly twenty minutes after Kirishima had left. Katsuki wants to roll his eyes just imagining Tokoyami writing anything so obnoxiously bright, so the sign’s probably by Hagakure, the third pea in the disgustingly happy pod already occupied by Kirishima and Uraraka. The place is at its busiest during the morning shift, predictable for a fucking breakfast restaurant, so it’s the only shift with the honor of having two staff members on the floor—though how reliable they really are, Katsuki frankly still doesn’t have in him to give a shit about.

He stares down the front door for a good more minute—muttering should have gone back to Tokyo if it’s gonna be this fucking boring in his head like a mantra—before locking his bike in and tromping over to the neighboring bookstore.

The air-conditioning inside, at least, is a welcome reprieve from the summer heat.

The place is surprisingly occupied—middle-schoolers gathered around the manga section, a group of teenagers arguing with each other over CDs, a giggling couple bent over the magazine. It’s a lot more noise than there should be, and Katsuki feels even more disgruntled and irritable as he rounds the corner towards the quieter sections—

—and bumps, as his luck would have it, into Kirishima Eijirou.

His shirt’s a horrible green, even more horrible against the red ponytail, and Katsuki lets himself glare whole-heartedly—at the shirt, at the hair, at the fact that he had to see this idiot looking like a goddamn kindergarten primary color mess on a day he’s supposed to be having to himself.

Kirishima smiles, like they’d planned on meeting up right then and there. "Katsuki!"

The glare zeroes in on the book Kirishima’s reading: What To Expect When You’re Expecting.

Katsuki shoves both hands into his pockets before he turns right around on his heels.

"Wait, wait, wait." Kirishima catches up at the door, almost setting off the alarms with the book tucked under his arm. He has a strong grip, managing to drag Katsuki back a few steps before he’s shoved off. "Sorry, sorry—"

"If you’re fucking sorry," Katsuki snaps, elbowing him back, "Then don’t fucking grab me like that again."

"Right, I—" Kirishima backtracks voluntarily, holding up the maternity book like that would help fend off Katsuki. "I’m sorry. Really. I just didn’t want you to leave."

Katsuki’s still hungry. It’s still painfully loud in here. He starts walking away. "Well, I’m leaving anyway."

"Wait—no—but Katsuki."

There’s something naturally annoying about the way Kirishima talks—his diction doesn’t match his voice, his tone doesn’t match his body language—and all of those annoying contradictory qualities seems to be packed into the way he says Katsuki’s given name, like they’re old friends meeting up and Katsuki’s being difficult as a joke.

Katsuki stops and turns around just so he can glare some more. "Stop pestering me. You do that every fucking day."

Kirishima beams, as if he’s pleased Katsuki even noticed. "I know it’s almost 5PM but—have you had lunch? Dinner?"

No, says Katsuki’s grumbling stomach. Out loud, he mutters, "What’s it to you?"

"I know a really good place nearby," Kirishima answers, without hesitation. He goes on beaming, like Katsuki had already said yes. "It will be really cheap~"

"Fuck you," Katsuki says.

His stomach grumbles, more loudly.

"I’ll just pay real quick, okay?" Kirishima holds out a thumbs-up and his dumb maternity book. "Real quick."

Katsuki, for his part, only thinks about leaving the bookstore. He doesn’t actually try.

Maybe he should have left, because the only thing ‘real quick’ about Kirishima going to pay for his book are the amount of words that come out of his mouth in the five minutes he spends in line. The guy’s really fucking chatty; he sheepishly explains to the old lady in line in front of him why he’s holding a maternity guide, and tells a full-length story of how he’s always wanted siblings to the poor fucker manning the register.

And maybe it had been planned all along, because something this shitty and unlucky can only be a conspiracy.

By the time Kirishima actually finishes, paper bag in hand, Katsuki’s ready to throw him into a hot pot.

"Pipe the fuck down," Katsuki says, killing whatever Kirishima had been about to say. "Or—" He breaks off, searching his head. "Or you’re fired."

"Fired?" Kirishima repeats as they walk out of the bookstore and back into the humid August air. "You can’t do that."

"Watch me, asshole."

Something crosses Kirishima’s face—a quick flicker that should have felt satisfying in how easily it seems to have shut him up, except it isn’t.

Katsuki scowls. "This really good place better not be a fucking scam."

"What?" Kirishima blinks, blatantly shaking himself out of something. Katsuki looks away and scowls up at the sun. "Oh—of course it exists—dude—what do you take me for?"

"I don’t fucking remember a cheap place around here."

"From what I hear," Kirishima says, in an irritating tone probably meant to sound sly. "You haven’t really been back in almost two years—so I think I know this place better than you do, yeah?"

"Why can’t people shut the fuck up about that?" Katsuki glares at pure sunlight. "I was fucking here last January."

"You were?" Kirishima frowns. "Uraraka said she hasn’t seen you since grad."

"Why the hell would she see me? I was here for three days."

"She said she called—"

"I didn’t want to fucking see her. Or talk to her. I still fucking don’t. End of story." Katsuki shoves his hands into his pockets. "Where do you hear all this bullshit?"

"Uraraka," Kirishima admits, like that hadn’t already been obvious. "She likes talking about you."

They haven’t moved at all from the front of the bookstore, but Kirishima looks unperturbed. Katsuki scowls at him, suspicious.

"Not like—you-you," Kirishima’s quick to say, misinterpreting the scowl. "Just. Baseball. High school."

Katsuki and Uraraka had both been part of a town-wide co-ed baseball team. The baseball program at their school had been too demanding, as it was in most high schools in a city like Musutafu, calling for too much commitment when Katsuki had only casually played baseball in middle school. By the time Katsuki made up his mind about joining a team instead of a boring club, tryout seasons had already passed. The neighborhood team had been the only one to let him try out past the deadline—granted, they’d have let in anyone high school age that can bat and pitch. Pitching had worked—baseball had worked—because Katsuki had only joined to be able to slap team onto his resume, without the actual excessive interaction involved had he been in a basketball or soccer team instead.

It was just him on the mound, games be damned, with motivation rooted in the fact that having this as his primary extracurricular activity will help get him into Todai.

Uraraka, on the other hand, had refused to be bullied into joining their high school softball team, and where Katsuki had gotten in with an entry-level fastball, she’d gotten into the team with a low-speed floating junk pitch bearing more resemblance to softball than actual baseball, as if to prove a point. They’d been looped together ever since, Uraraka unavoidable in school and out, even if they never did seek each other directly. They weren’t friends, because she was friends with Deku, Katsuki hated Deku, and—by the time they graduated—Deku had definitely grown enough balls to make it clear he’s as equally out against Katsuki.

It irritates him, even now, the kind that crawls, but graduation should have cut off whatever connection they had.

Katsuki scoffs now. "I don’t give a fuck about that bullshit."

"You were both starting pitchers," Kirishima points out, sounding entirely too confident about this for someone who’s been getting his information by proxy and hearsay. "And it’s still the same team—"

"I said I don’t give a fuck," Katsuki sneers. "Getting buddy-buddy with me about being teammates didn’t mean a damn thing. It still doesn’t."

Teammates is a shitty word to begin with, even without misunderstandings.

Kirishima shuts up at that—it’s a very audible pause, probably because even silence has to be loud when it comes to someone this naturally annoying. He’s quiet for a total of three beats, but Katsuki beats him to it before he can say anything:

"So? Does the place exist or not, shithead?"

"Uh." The momentary hesitation in Kirishima’s body language should have been alarming, but it’s fleeting. He turns around—and stays like that, walking backwards as he considers Katsuki.

Grin growing cheeky, he throws his hands out, the bookstore plastic bag almost hitting Katsuki. They stop in front of the restaurant, and Katsuki blames the hunger whole-heartedly for not seeing this coming.

"Ta-da. We’re here."

Kirishima’s already bounding over to one of the side gates without even checking in with Katsuki, nudging the gate open way too easily, no keys or sneaky unlocking needed. "Close the door behind you, yeah?"

Katsuki, against his better wishes, follows.

The gate opens immediately to a set of narrow steps, past the porch he’d seen from inside the restaurant and then down to a lower balcony. Katsuki makes it halfway, his shoulders rubbing against the cement walls on either side, then stops, abrupt, on the second landing.

"Oh no," Kirishima says, hanging back at the bottom when he notices. "Afraid of heights?"

Katsuki had guessed that the restaurant, geographically, sits right on the hillside, a little farther up than the rest of uptown purely because of the roundabout the house had been built on. He’d underestimated how much of it is actually built against the hillside, however, and he frowns on the rest of his way down, stopping right in front of the railing.

"Katsuki?"

The lower porch of the restaurant—the house—directly overlooks the heart of Musutafu, the city sprawling in all directions right underneath. Everything’s visible from here—everything from the university area to the skyscraper district downtown and all the way to the harborfront—and, for a moment, Katsuki just stares.

"Katsuki—"

"I’m not," he finally bites out, coming back into himself. "I’m not fucking scared of heights."

"Oh, yeah, I—" Kirishima’s watching him, but when Katsuki turns to make full eye contact, Kirishima violently looks away, flinching a little like he’d been caught. "My bad. You just looked really—"

"Really what?"

"Nothing," Kirishima says, hesitating slightly. He puffs out his cheeks, suddenly uncharacteristically timid, and shrugs. "I was just gonna say—I’m gonna go cook up food—you can—um—you can wait here, if you’d like."

Katsuki looks away in answer.

Kirishima seems to have gotten the hang of Katsuki choosing not to say anything, even if he hadn’t entirely gotten the message, because he goes without pressing for a vocal response.

Katsuki hears him run up metal stairs.

He keeps steadfastly staring over the railing.

There’s only ever one reason his mother’s company takes in a restaurant, and that reason, in any which way it’s twisted, is usually rooted in the fact that the place is in danger of shutting down. But Katsuki can’t imagine why this place would ever be allowed to shut down. If the view’s already like this from the lower balcony, it must be a shitload better from the dining porch upstairs in the restaurant. The view over the city is probably what attracted tourists over and urbanized the area in the first place, and it’s also probably what’s earning the inns and B&B’s nearby tons more than some of the cheap ass hotels downtown.

Katsuki had never noticed how much of Musutafu there is; it feels so much tinier than Tokyo, so much less than Tokyo, and it’s easy to forget that it’s a huge city in itself, with its own urban routines and transportation systems. It’s much smaller in land area and population, but Musutafu has its own life, going on down there, even if Katsuki had already left it behind.

The thought doesn’t sit well with him.

"Still looking? You sure you’re not scared of heights?"

Katsuki looks up to see Kirishima hanging by the doorway, wearing his black apron from restaurant shifts. He looks expectant, and when Katsuki just glares back at him, he laughs.

"You’ve been looking this whole time?" Kirishima raps on the open door, gesturing for Katsuki to come in. "Let’s eat, man. The city’s still gonna be there when you come back out."

The lower balcony leads right into a joint kitchen and dining room—the Kirishimas’ old house, right under the restaurant. The clock in the living room reads 6:08 PM, which means Katsuki had been sitting outside staring for no less than forty minutes.

He glares accusingly up at it.

Two places have already been set up on the table, a plate of waffles right next to a bowl of—

"Who the fuck eats fried chicken with waffles?"

Kirishima doesn’t even look up, untying his apron distractedly. "The restaurant’s customers. It’s part of the lunch menu."

Katsuki sits down sullenly in one seat, eyeing the waffles warily. "You cook?"

Kirishima looks wounded, taking his own place. "Dude—‘course I do. It’s a family business."

"Not anymore," Katsuki retorts immediately.

Kirishima flinches, but he takes even this in stride, shrugging good-naturedly. He gestures at the waffles on Katsuki’s side. "Have you tried the waffles from the restaurant? Or the pancakes?"

"No," Katsuki mutters, poking at them suspiciously with his chopsticks. "Are you trying to fucking poison me?"

"Nope. That’s bad customer service," Kirishima replies cheerily. "Have you tried anything at all from the restaurant since you got here?"

"It’s only been a week, calm the fuck down," Katsuki says. "The old hag said the pancakes and waffles are supposed to be special or some shit. You spit on them or something?"

Kirishima shushes him, but he’s laughing. "Just try it, Katsuki—please?" He widens his eyes for effect. "You won’t regret it, I promise. Scout’s honor."

Kirishima’s eyes are still wide and expectant, his own pair of chopsticks in mid-air as he waits for Katsuki. Rolling his eyes, Katsuki stabs at his waffles, taking off a small square and dipping it in the syrup that Kirishima had left in a small cup beside the plate.

Glowering back at Kirishima, Katsuki shoves the waffle square into his mouth.

He keeps his face still out of sheer willpower alone, refusing to give Kirishima the satisfaction as the waffles fucking melts into his mouth, soft and fluffy and definitely not as hollow and airy as it looked from the outside. It tastes like all waffles should fucking taste, except Katsuki’s hard-pressed to think of a waffle—or pancake—this soft and fluffy.

Kirishima beams at him.

Katsuki makes a face, swallowing with difficulty. "It’s a fucking waffle, not the second coming."

Kirishima has the audacity to wag a finger at him, shaking his head. "Maybe not, but I saw your face just now, Katsuki—don’t deny it’s good. Maybe not the second coming, but a religious experience, yeah?"

It’s pretty damn good, but Katsuki’s not about to tell Kirishima that, even if he’s on his second bite—then his third, and his fourth, and before he knows it, he’s eating it with the chicken, ignoring Kirishima’s happy, satisfied humming in favor of finishing his meal.

Kirishima looks way too smug while he waits for Katsuki’s plates before washing, and Katsuki rolls his eyes at him before stomping away.

It’s a small apartment-sized house—with two bedrooms visible down the hall and a tiny living room just past the kitchen and dining room, only separated by a long three-tier shelf. There are still boxes everywhere, piled up on top of each and shoved to the side, but most of the furniture is gone. All that’s left is a long couch pushed against a bare wall.

But where there should have been a coffee table in front of it, there is instead a knee-high replica of—of something, miniature buildings made out of paper, arranged around each other in a puzzle that’s definitely losing a hell lot of pieces.

It’s too fucking weird for Katsuki not to ask. "What’s with all this shit?"

"Hm?" Kirishima’s still scrubbing at the plates—probably grabbed from the restaurant itself, from the looks of it—but he halts mid-movement to follow the jerk of Katsuki’s head. He reddens. "I—That’s—it’s a miniature replica of the city—of Musutafu. I’m—doing it for extra credit."

Katsuki scowls, nudging a miniature version of the fountain in the main university plaza with the tip of his shoe. "You’re getting extra credit for building this shit?"

"I’m—I haven’t been doing so well in my Urban Econ class…" Kirishima trails off, staunchly avoiding Katsuki’s scowl even as he shuts off the tap. He’s still as red as his hair, so clearly embarrassed it’s fucking excruciating to witness. "So I’m just—looking for stuff to, you know, buff up my grade? Somehow? I get a list of areas in the city and I—I build parts of them out of paper. Then when I’m done with my list, I bring them over to where they’re arranging the entire city—and yeah, that’s it, pretty much. I do my part for the city and all that—get the extra credit."

Katsuki fixes him with a deeper scowl, discarding all that information to say, "You’re fucking failing?"

"Failing is such a harsh word, Katsuki—man, come on." Kirishima laughs nervously; that, too, is painful to listen to. "I’m taking make-up classes right now so it should be fine, really?"

He doesn’t sound too confident. Katsuki snorts.

"I just need to pass this make-up exam, and then finish this—" Kirishima gestures half-heartedly to the replica, coming over to the living room. "And I should be fine. Really-really."

"Really-really," Katsuki mimics, rolling his eyes.

"Oh, don’t be like that, Katsuki," Kirishima hums, plopping down on the couch. It’s getting dark in the living room as the sky outside approaches sunset, and he reaches over to switch on the light above them. "The prince enjoyed the commoner’s waffle, didn’t he?"

One thing Katsuki has gathered for sure in the week he’s been tagging along with his mother is that the kingdom thing is a running joke among the staff. He’d made the mistake of grumbling about it to the morning servers, prompting Hagakure to giggle unnecessarily as she blames the gag on her co-worker—Tokoyami, who contributes nothing but a solemn A horse, a horse! My kingdom for a horse! and proves yet again that his overdramatic theatre kid ass is good for nothing but equally overdramatic comments no one fucking understands.

If they’re going by cheesy ass kingdom metaphors, that would make Kirishima’s family dethroned at the hands of Katsuki’s mother, and Kirishima the fallen prince of the restaurant—it was a cheap joke to make on Katsuki when it’s so easily applicable to Kirishima, too, but Katsuki doesn’t have to extrapolate much to guess that Kirishima’s just not the type of person to think in complicated terms like that.

Especially when the bastard’s so defensive about failing Urban Economics.

"Hey, shithead," Katsuki says now, suspicious. "When do you have make-up classes?"

Kirishima blinks. "Tuesdays to Thursdays."

"Every week?"

"End of July all the way through August—" Kirishima blinks again. "Why?"

Katsuki runs through all of last week in his head—all the times Katsuki’s mother has mentioned hiring new people specifically for Kirishima’s sake and all the times Katsuki has seen Kirishima slumped over a textbook half-asleep by the time he and his mother come in. Deadpan, he says, "I really should fire you."

Kirishima stops—nothing more than a halt in the restlessness in his body language, but an uncharacteristic full-stop nonetheless. "You really can’t do that," he says, quieter than he had earlier, more worried. He’s biting down on his bottom lip.

"Yes or no question." Katsuki’s words come out too sharp to be his. He adjusts his stance and tries again, satisfied when it comes out more disdainful this time, "Did you fail Econ because you couldn’t handle the class with this job?"

Kirishima stares down at the replica. "It’s not that I couldn’t—"

Katsuki glares anyway. "Yes or no, Hair-For-Brains."

"It’s a not a job," Kirishima protests weakly. "It’s not like I’m doing it part-time—I mean—it’s—"

"What? The family business?" Katsuki watches the way Kirishima seems to register the words before he actually hears them. "It’s not, anymore."

Kirishima winces, and it takes him a while to say, "I know that, you don’t have to keep saying it, but—"

"You prioritize the restaurant, you fail the class." Katsuki raises an eyebrow. "You prioritize the class, you fall asleep during your shifts. Isn’t the solution fucking obvious here?"

Kirishima’s quiet for a while. And then, firmly, "You don’t know what you’re talking about, Katsuki."

Katsuki feels his glare harden into a scowl.

"You don’t," Kirishima repeats, carefully, slowly, like it pains him to say it. "This isn’t—this isn’t about just the job. Or the class."

"I fucking hate people like you," Katsuki bites out. "I fucking hate your brand of stubborn."

That visibly surprises Kirishima—he looks up, eyes almost frantic. Katsuki wants to scoff, but instead he bites down on his lower teeth.

Katsuki’s stubborn—he’s single-minded and selfish about his goals but it’s fucking fine, because it’s that attitude that gets him to the goals to begin with. Life can be a bitch, but not even life can do much if someone stubbornly barrels through obstacles without care for fuck-all-else. It works, for Katsuki, because it brings in results, and results matter more than some shitty desire to hold on to whatever the fuck Kirishima’s being stubborn about right now and making Katsuki’s mother’s job more complicated than it really should fucking be.

So he says, brusquely, "You can’t be selfish without consequences. Common fucking sense."

Give up one, he’s saying—but all Kirishima seems to hear is take responsibility for those consequences, because when he looks up again at Katsuki, he nods like someone that had just received a pep talk, all traces of the dejection from earlier gone. "I know," he says.

That kind of defeats the whole fucking point.

"You’re a fucking mess," Katsuki tells him, again. This feels like the sixth time in a week. "And you’re really fucking annoying."

"Good thing that my redeeming trait," Kirishima says, the smile creeping back, "is that I work hard."

And Katsuki doesn’t have a damn thing to say to something so naive, not when it’s a familiar statement. He grits his teeth. "I’m leaving."

"Sure!" Kirishima smiles, and just like that, the Kirishima from earlier is gone—whatever armor he’d brought up against Katsuki slipping away as he stands up, shoving his hands into his pockets. "I’ll walk you up."

It’s just past 7PM, but it’s gotten dark over the past hour, Musutafu coming alive with light under them while they’d been busy eating kindergarten breakfast food. There are still remnants of the sunset at the edges of the sky, a medicinal orange lighter than Tokyo’s late evening skies, and it’s fucking unsettling, how clear everything is—the skyscrapers exclusive to one area, the harborfront calm and still in the far distance, cars with their bright lights coming up from downtown. It doesn’t feel real, the way Tokyo hadn’t felt real when he first got there. Tokyo with its 24-hour clocks and neverending noises, a direct contradiction to the way Musutafu seems to be winding down now, yawning and stretching and breaths going even as it stills into the night.

It’s unsettling, because Katsuki had grown up in that, in this thing that’s now sprawled out under him, and it’s a weird thought, having spent roughly eighteen years here. Looking at it feels much like it had returning to his childhood home—like he’s seeing the place through someone else’s eyes, photoshopped into this picture in front of him now.

"How’d you get here, Katsuki?" Kirishima asks, when Katsuki gets to the landing.

"Biked," Katsuki mutters, brushing past him.

"Good thing the bookstore’s open 24/7, then," Kirishima says cheerfully. "You good biking back?"

"Fucking great," Katsuki returns, then stops, turning back to see Kirishima, the gate already half-way closed. "What, you don’t go home or something?"

"This is—" Kirishima starts, then sputters to such an abrupt stop that Katsuki knows he’d been about to say home. "No, I—I need to work on the replica. Nowhere better to work on it than from here."

He laughs his nervous laugh, and that’s that.

It’s none of Katsuki’s business how people define their houses and homes, and especially not in his interest at all when just thinking about it makes him feel shitty and disgruntled—so he rolls his eyes. "Whatever." 

He gets three steps forward before Kirishima calls out, "Hey, Katsuki?"

Katsuki doesn’t bother turning around—but he stops. "What, asshole?"

"Not everyone can say they got to eat good food for free." Katsuki does turn around at that, but Kirishima’s too far, still in the shadows, for Katsuki to really make out his smile. "So feel free to come around the restaurant, okay?"

"Like hell—" Katsuki starts, but Kirishima’s already waving goodbye.

Then the gate’s closed, leaving Katsuki staring at the front of the restaurant.

 

 

 

 

 

"Did you leave your phone? I’ve been calling you."

Katsuki stomps right past his mother without so much as an I’m home, speed-walking towards his room. He had left his phone charging, and there are two notifications waiting on the pull down screen when he opens it.

He stills.

The first one’s an email from ilo@adm.s.u-tokyo.ac.jp, and Katsuki only manages to read private and scholarship from the subject line before he yanks the phone out of the charging cable.

The Faculty of Science and the University of Tokyo has considered your application, it reads, and the screening process will be moving on to the Hakamata Foundation’s capable hands.

It goes on for two paragraphs, a bunch of fancy-sounding words that essentially boil down to the fact that Katsuki had gotten through the first two stages of his application to a private foundation scholarship.

He waits for the inevitable feeling of triumph, but it withers disagreeably at the last part of the email.

The Foundation will be looking into community service work, part-time job history and extracurricular activites. If there is anything not included in your transcript, please contact the Liaison Office promptly.

Whoever tells people that the shitty idiosyncrasies of high school end at some point is a fucking liar, because the deja vu comes easily—having to root around the faculty room for a recommendation letter as early as first year, and when that didn’t show promise, looking for a team-oriented club that will get him that recommendation.

He can’t win, when it comes to these things, with people and their fucking expectations and the assumption that he’s still not giving enough—even when he hasn’t failed a class, even when he shows up to every single one more prepared than half of the fuckers showing up in their pajamas. He works harder than the rest of them, so clearly more deserving than the rest of them, and yet even his goals are compromised because some asshole is out there running a foundation with requirements that shouldn’t matter in Todai.

Katsuki’s fucking good enough, he’s always been more than good enough, and he doesn’t wanna fucking go around letting a stupid email tell him he’s missing something—that they can’t accept him if he keeps proving he doesn’t have what other people do.

There’s a quick knock. "Have you eaten?"

It’s his mother, leaning against the open bedroom door. Katsuki refuses to make immediate eye contact, exiting the email window on his phone abruptly. It leaves the other notification open on his screen—a message from an unknown number, though it becomes clear who it is when Katsuki opens it and reads:

tnx 4 coming out 2 dinner!
c u next time @ the restaurant!!!!

(˃̵͈̑ᴗ˂̵͈̑)

Katsuki locks his phone.

"Yeah, I did," he mutters, finally looking up at his mother and hoping she doesn’t pry. It’s too much to ask for her, because something crosses her face, only she has the decency today not to do more than raise an eyebrow. Katsuki doesn’t indulge it. "Tell me again why that idiot Kirishima is the only one working night shift."

Katsuki's mother blinks. "Did something happen with Eijirou?"

"No?" Katsuki pauses at that—searching himself. The resulting conclusion has him throwing himself onto his bed, gritting his teeth. ”I hate his guts. He’s always half-asleep during his shifts, he can’t even fucking pass his classes, and he still refuses to quit the shitty job and focus on his bullshit class for fucking—"

His mother just keeps her eyebrow raised, blatantly amused. Her face is doing something complicated.

Katsuki picks up one of his pillows and chucks it across the room. "There isn’t a single sensible bone in his fucking body, and he acts like working hard is supposed to make his selfish decisions make sense—that’s fucking bullshit when he’s got nothing to fucking show for it—"

He breaks off, only because his mother has stopped trying to pretend like she’s not laughing. She’s fucking cackling now, the casual eyebrow raise abandoned as she squawks and cackles like a shitty ass witch from a low-budget school production.

"Sorry, Katsuki," she says, clearly not apologetic at all. "It’s just—I haven’t seen you be this—I haven’t heard you talk like that about anyone since—" She’s fucking incoherent, and she knows it, wiping tears of laughter from her eyes and sniggering at him. "You’re fucking cute."

Only his mother would think that outburst is cute. Katsuki aims the next pillow at the door, half-hearted. It knocks over something on his desk. He scowls.

"You and Eijirou aren’t so different in some things, you know," his mother says, purposely shitty at taking the hint as always. "Ochako, too."

"What the fuck is that supposed to mean," Katsuki hisses.

"It means whatever the fuck you want it to mean, kiddo," his mother tells him, patronizingly solemn. "If Eijirou’s work habits bother you that much, you’re always free to join him in that shift."

Katsuki rolls around, his back to her.

He hears her cluck her tongue. "Just a suggestion, god damn. Maybe you’ll get a fucking hint how hard it is to work an overnight shift."

Katsuki thinks of Kirishima’s pigheaded You don’t know what you’re talking about, Katsuki and grits his teeth—at this point he’ll go back to Tokyo with teeth half the size they were when he’d left. He lets the sentence play over and over again in his head for maximum anger before he mutters, rolling back, "Fucking fine."

His mother frowns—down at the pillows scattered all over his floor, then at him. "Fine? Seriously?"

"Yeah, holy shit," Katsuki snaps, reaching over and picking up the two pillows. "Leave. I’m gonna take a fucking nap."

His mother frowns. "You’re really not having dinner?"

"I fucking told you—I already fucking ate," he grumbles, shoving a pillow onto his face.

"You did? By yourself?"

"No," Katsuki mutters, his voice muffled through the pillow. "With some shitfuck."

"Who?"

"Holy fuck, Mom, are you still here?"

She curses back, fucking reflex at this point, but mercifully leaves him alone after that, pointedly slamming the door behind her. As soon as it’s closed, Katsuki rolls over to grab his phone, scrolling down his call log from last week and saving Kirishima’s number, accordingly.

 

 

 

 

 

Uraraka avoids Katsuki like the plague.

This would be a good arrangement if she was doing it out of intimidation—but the one and only time Katsuki had intimidated Uraraka was when their team had gone out for dinner together after a semi-finals game and he'd slurped down a jumbo bowl of spicy ramen to prove some fucking point. Now, she ignores him pointedly instead, going about her merry way all while looking straight through and around him.

Switching to take his mother’s place in the overnight shift means having to see Uraraka at the beginning of each shift. She doesn’t leave until Kirishima’s there, too, as if she doesn’t trust Katsuki with the restaurant, or the customers, or whatever shit she’s so fucking uptight about. Everything about this pisses Katsuki off—the way Uraraka purposely glances off him like she expects him to prove something any moment now, the way she hops around Katsuki’s mother passive-aggressively until Kirishima arrives to break whatever ice Katsuki refuses to thaw.

It was fine for the first week of overnight shifts—peace and quiet until Kirishima gets there and inevitably destroys the silence with a vengeance, minimal comments while Katsuki talks to his mother before she heads back home herself. But by Friday, his fourth time taking the night shift, Katsuki finds that he’s had enough of Uraraka Ochako’s bullshit.

"What the fuck are you so butthurt about?" he says, while she waits for Table Five’s banana milkshake.

Uraraka yawns, and doesn’t look at him.

Katsuki glowers at her. The sound of the blender from the kitchen fills the restaurant for ten excruciating seconds, and when that ends, Uraraka still says nothing, idly examining the flying curtains like they’re more interesting than Katsuki.

"I’m fucking talking to you," he snaps.

Uraraka looks at him now, eyebrows raised in mock surprise. "I thought you were too good for that."

And maybe Katsuki should have just left her alone while she was still shutting up. "I’m not the one acting like I’m too good here, fuckmunch," he hisses. "If you’ve got a problem, spit it out."

"You would know. You’re an expert in that." Uraraka looks at him, briefly, then she sighs, tired. "No one’s looking down on you, Tokyo boy."

"Then what the fuck is your problem?"

"You said you didn’t want to talk," Uraraka says, her gaze snapping towards the milkshake as someone from the kitchen rings the order bell. "You said you didn’t want to see me. You couldn’t be bothered last January—" She frowns. "Nor now."

Katsuki scowls at that, but she’s already turned away, taking the milkshake and placing it on a small round tray.

As she brings it over to the table, Kirishima walks into the restaurant, wearing a pastel pink shirt proclaiming Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost in Comic Sans. Katsuki realizes three things, then: that this is the earliest he’s seen Kirishima arrive for his shift, that Katsuki’s mother should probably start thinking about imposing a uniform dress code for the staff, and that Kirishima, from the way his eyes travel between Katsuki and Uraraka, had tattle-taled about last Monday.

"Hello, gang." Kirishima beams. "How’s our Friday night going?"

Katsuki turns his scowl at him in response.

"Doing well, I see, good, good." Kirishima pops his head into the office to continue singing his stupid hello’s to Katsuki’s mother, whistling as he comes back. "Boss wants to know if you want a ride, Uraraka."

Uraraka’s mouth falls open in a round o. "No—it’s okay—she doesn’t have to—"

"Just take it," Katsuki mutters testily. "She’ll just fucking nag."

Kirishima goes to clock in. "Being stubborn runs in the family, huh."

"Fuck you."

"Not a bad trait to have," Kirishima amends. Uraraka gives him a look at that, and he laughs, looking past Katsuki and back at her.

Katsuki suspects there’s an inside joke there he’s not privy to—and he doesn’t give a fuck what it is, he doesn’t, except there’s a good chance it’s about him. "What?" he demands.

"Nothing." Uraraka, surprisingly, is the one to reply. She tears her eyes away from Kirishima and squints at Katsuki. "I guess I’ll go take your mom up on her offer. I’ll see you guys tomorrow."

It’s not fucking nothing, though, because as soon as they leave, Kirishima searches Katsuki’s face. He keeps looking over his shoulder as he seats a pair of young adults with trumpet cases, and he’s still looking intently when he comes back with the order.

Katsuki stares back, but what he says is, "You fucking blabbermouth."

"Huh?" Kirishima blinks, surprised, ripping off the page from his order pad. But then it dawns on him in the next second, and he smiles sheepishly. "Did Uraraka rip you a new one?"

"Like hell she could," Katsuki retorts. "What, you two make a habit of talking ‘bout me with the old hag? Some dumb bonding exercise between the staff?"

"Well, no—we just—" Kirishima clicks his teeth together. "Discuss?"

Katsuki sneers. "Is that what they call talking shit nowadays?"

"Uraraka’s upset," Kirishima says, as if it’s not his fault, and as if Katsuki’s supposed to give a fuck. "I’d be, too. If I’d been trying to reach out to a friend, only to find out he doesn’t care."

"We’re not friends," Katsuki hisses. "I don’t owe her a single fucking thing."

"No, you’re right, you don’t. Though—no offense, bro," Kirishima starts, in a tone that sounds like it will be offensive no matter what, "But I think you won’t know what a friend is if you looked one right in the eye."

He’s even starting to sound like Uraraka.

Katsuki fumes.

"Which is cool, s’fine, you’re very—" Kirishima’s face scrunches up with the pressure of searching for the right word. "Self-reliant. All that stuff. That’s nice and everything."

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "You don’t fucking sound like you mean that."

"It’s just—" Kirishima searches Katsuki’s face again at that. "Doesn’t it ever…get lonely?"

He has the decency to look embarrassed by his question as soon as it’s out, but he doesn’t take it back.

Katsuki stares at him, long and unimpressed. "It’s Tokyo," he says, final, like that explains everything.

It kind of does.

Kirishima still waits for more.

Katsuki jerks his chin towards the one other occupied table—businesswomen, waving at them. "Table Three. Coffee."

Kirishima had looked surprised the first time Katsuki had shown up for an overnight shift, but he hadn’t otherwise said something about the abrupt change, welcoming the company with the same excessive cheer he welcomes everyone else. But this—this is the basic rundown of the past four nights Katsuki has spent taking overnight shifts with Kirishima: Katsuki will scowl at Uraraka until she leaves after her shift, Kirishima would take over while Katsuki sits at the bar, sometimes reading, sometimes staring at plain furniture and even plainer walls and thinking it’s no surprise a lifetime of this monotony has left something unhinged in Kirishima. Kirishima would last about two rounds of customers before he flits over to bother Katsuki about his book, sitting down beside him with a stack of paper and building houses with that. He’ll ask about personal things when all else fails, and then drop the question when Katsuki makes it clear he doesn’t want to answer.

Kirishima doesn’t drop it this time, though.

"Hey, Katsuki," he says, returning the coffee pot. "Do you have a 2 A.M?"

Katsuki narrows his eyes. "A what?"

"A 2 A.M," Kirishima repeats. "Like—the friend you call at 2 A.M. Not a literal 2 A.M—um—the friend you can count on, when you’re lonely or you need homework answers or you need a ride or need… to be… bailed… out… of jail… or something…" His words slow down, borders on its usual sheepish tone. "Just. A 2 A.M."

Someone must have ordered one of the full meals, because the restaurant smells like fried breakfast. The air coming from the kitchen window behind them is hot, suffocating alongside Kirishima’s expectant stare.

"I thought there had to be a reason," Kirishima continues anyway, "why you were so intense about not coming back. It’s all Uraraka and your mother ever talks about—things like ‘Bakugou left as soon as he could’, or ’Do I have to drag Katsuki straight from Tokyo to get him to visit his own damn mother?" His voice changes accordingly, but he’s not really laughing. "I thought: okay, maybe the guy just has a reason for staying there so much. Someone you liked. An S.O. Some friend or roommate you didn’t wanna leave behind during the summer, I don’t know. But they were like: nah, he’s not the type."

Katsuki turns back, if only to scowl.

"So. You know. I’m still asking anyway." Kirishima shrugs. "Because I wanna hear it from you—why you didn’t wanna come back so badly."

Katsuki does think it over, if only because the order is taking a long time and Kirishima’s nothing if not patient about shit like this.

"I don’t need a 2 A.M," Katsuki finally says. "You don’t get to leave anywhere when you have shit like that."

Kirishima blinks. "No?"

"No," Katsuki says, shortly. It’s too hot. He can feel the back of his neck sweating in the heat from the kitchen. "You’ll have to stay. Staying doesn’t fucking get you anywhere, does it, genius?"

Kirishima looks back at him, face mercifully unreadable for once. "I guess not," he agrees quietly.

The bell rings, and Kirishima moves to get the orders—but not without looking back at Katsuki, still curious. Always fucking curious.

"It’s fucking hot in here," Katsuki tells him, standing up abruptly.

He doesn’t offer anything else before he tromps out to the dining porch, completely empty for the overnight shift. Musutafu’s even brighter when he’s looking at it from somewhere dark, an intricate electric web simultaneously resembling both the birth of a star and a supernova, one of those shitty graphics from Katsuki’s astronomy elective that remain behind his eyelids even if he closes his eyes.

If this was the street under Katsuki’s apartment in Tokyo, there would be cars passing by, salarymen rushing to and fro, drunken young adults laughing and whooping. Instead, Musutafu’s still, the kind of quiet Tokyo never gets, the kind of quiet that swallows someone whole.

Katsuki frowns down at it.

Uraraka’s upset.

I’d be, too. If I’d been trying to reach out to a friend, only to find out he doesn’t care.

They don’t fucking understand, is the thing. They don’t fucking understand that he doesn’t have it in him to give a shit about any of this—not Uraraka trying to pick up from where they left off in high school or whatever, not Kirishima trying to start something new. They have expectations, both of them, just like Katsuki’s mother does, and what they don’t seem to get is that they’re overcomplicating shit.

Katsuki knows he’s single-minded about a lot of things. He’s simple about this, too. In middle school, he’d wanted to be the only one in his class to get into the better high school. Deku had gotten in the way of that, because Deku always does. Katsuki had tried harder, because he had to be the best, he was going to be the best, so he’d become the freshman rep, gotten perfect grades, joined a team-oriented club outside of the school—because without recommendation letters from his teachers about his attitude, all of those were instead what was gonna get him into the best university in the country.

And he had. He’d gotten into Todai, left for Tokyo the moment he was able to, and never looked back. That was it, plain and simple, planned to that very end since he was eleven.

Yet all of them—his mother, the scholarship foundation, Uraraka, even Kirishima whom he’d known for two weeks, tops—expect more, which is ridiculous because this is enough, this should be more than enough to keep their mouths shut. It doesn’t matter if he doesn’t look back, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t wanna come back, because Katsuki’s goal has always been to be good, to be great, to be the best, and they shouldn’t be searching him like he’s missing something when he’s two-thirds on the way to where he wants to fucking be.

It’s easy, it’s simple. Who gives a shit if he only comes home for holidays, who gives a shit if he’s left high school completely behind, who gives a shit if he refuses to make friends here—it’s never been a problem, because those kind of attachments have never had anything to do with what he wants. He’d wanted Todai, he’d wanted Tokyo, and he’d gotten it. The only one to get in from his year.

He’s not missing anything.

They just don’t fucking understand.

Katsuki realizes he’d been gripping the railing too hard. It leaves a line of dirt on his palm when he lets go. The railing needs a fresh coat of paint—everything here does. He does a suspicious 360 now, taking in the covered chairs, the separate entrance he knows must lead to the kitchen, the hooks around the gazebo where hanging pots and terrariums must have hung.

"Katsuki?"

One of the servers from the morning staff has this annoying tendency to pop up out of nowhere—invisible until she starts talking and is suddenly just there. That must be contagious the way Kirishima and Uraraka’s constant cheer is infectious towards Hagakure, because Katsuki hadn’t even noticed Kirishima come in, swinging by from what looks like another coffee refill.

"I was just—" Kirishima hesitates. For someone who demands so much attention with his looks and body language, Kirishima hesitates a lot around Katsuki when Katsuki least expects him to—he has no problems throwing an arm around Katsuki in a pre-shift greeting, had barely reacted before he’d settled into calling Katsuki by first name, but he hesitates when it’s just the two of them, constantly visibly overthinking his words and second-guessing how he reacts to Katsuki. It’s annoying, because someone like Kirishima shouldn’t be hovering the way Katsuki’s father does.

"Just what?"

"Huh—oh—no—I—" Kirishima stares a lot, too—at Katsuki, at the things Katsuki does. He always looks properly chastised when he’s caught in the act, looking away and keeping his eyes fucking away whenever Katsuki looks up and stares back. He’s doing it now, blinking up at Katsuki, face semi-visible in the light coming from inside. "I was just checking on you."

Katsuki snorts. "For what, asshole?"

Kirishima shrugs. "Do you like high places or something?"

It’s not a particular fondness for being high up—the only thing he likes about it is feeling detached and far away, the rest of the world smaller, less relevant. He likes the feeling of being somewhere unreachable, like this, somewhere he can just look and be unbothered, somewhere quiet and still. It’s the same concept as being on the school rooftop back in high school, as being on the mound with a catcher that’s too much of a wimp to bother him while he’s pitching. It’s a superior feeling, albeit a solitary one, like there’s nothing anyone can do to him and about him that’s not something he decides for himself. So he says, shortly—

"No."

"Oh." When Katsuki looks again at him, Kirishima’s staring back into the restaurant, probably looking if anyone needs him. Or avoiding Katsuki’s gaze—it’s never clear with him.

Katsuki scowls. "Are you scared of heights?"

Kirishima immediately looks back at him at that, surprised. "No—‘course not. The opposite, more like. I think that you don’t really get to know a city until you’ve seen it lit up at night—so. I’m a bit of a fan of the view."

"Awful deep of you," Katsuki mutters under his breath.

Kirishima manages to catch it, somehow. He laughs. "Yeah, dude, maybe, but—things always look different at night—when it’s in a literal different light. I stand by that."

Something about the words fall different on Katsuki’s ears, and he stills. He looks up at Kirishima, who’s looking straight ahead past the railing, absent-minded. Something tugs and nags at Katsuki; he’d dismissed the familiarity with Kirishima from last July to be because of Kirishima’s natural demeanor—the easy smile and the boyish expressions. He could be anyone, if it isn’t for his red hair, and the realization registers wrong in Katsuki, stirs up something instead of settling it.

But the feeling fades when Kirishima smiles, lifting one shoulder in a shrug. It’s a very Kirishima thing to do, Katsuki’s beginning to realize. Sheepish smiles and sheepish shrugs. "I’ll leave you to it, then, Your Majesty."

Katsuki bristles audibly, and Kirishima’s smile widens into a grin. "Fucking leave."

Kirishima salutes, giving a little laugh, and then he’s off, taking long strides across the restaurant.

Katsuki, despite himself, watches him go.

 

 

 

 

 

Katsuki’s mother starts getting sulky two and a half weeks into August.

It’s like someone turned on a switch—she starts by brooding in her office, clearly and openly displeased with the kitchen staff, before she begins to nitpick on the smallest things: punctuality, how slow it takes for an order to be done, what they use to clean the tables. The only one spared from most of the nagging is Kirishima—fuck him and his fake ass innocent smile—which leaves Katsuki as his mother’s very easy target, both in and out of the restaurant.

This isn’t an unfamiliar period, as far as restaurant takeovers go. The first month is always more relaxed, Katsuki’s mother settling in and doing more watching than doing, trying to figure out what’s worth it and what’s not. The second month flips that over, once she makes up her mind—there are renovations, and financial consultants, people getting hired and fired in the same breath. Having to bear the brunt of that at home is one thing, but having to physically be in the restaurant and treated more like an employee than Kirishima is another story altogether.

He’s barely set foot into the restaurant for his shift that Saturday before she calls, "Katsuki?"

"What, Mom, holy shit," Katsuki snaps, ignoring Uraraka’s snickering as he stomps over to his mother’s office. "I just got here."

"Good for you," she snaps back, grabbing a handful of candies from the tray on her desk and tossing one at him. "You can go home."

Katsuki catches it easily. He scowls. "What?"

"Eijirou’s not in today," his mother says, chomping sullenly around her candy. "And like hell I’d fucking trust you to be nice enough to the customers. What do you even do here at night? Be a pain in Eijirou’s ass?"

Katsuki glares. "What, you’re gonna stay here instead?"

"Hell no. I’m closing up the restaurant after this."

"I can handle one fucking shift."

"Really." Katsuki’s mother looks at him, unimpressed. They favor each other, in that look, but that look isn’t favoring Katsuki in any way right now. "Let’s be real here, Katsuki, hm?"

"Fuck you," Katsuki hisses. "I’ll show you. I’ll fucking show you."

"Katsuki—"

He’s out of her office before she even finishes that sentence, ignoring the questioning look Uraraka gives him—ignore him or prod at him, she can’t make up her fucking mind.

"You’re staying?" she asks, when he plants himself behind the bar as per usual. "I thought Boss was closing the restaurant."

"I’m staying," Katsuki says, gruff. "What’s it to you?"

Uraraka studies him, contemplative, before she disappears into the office. When she comes back, her face looks mildly pinched, and her voice is strained when she says, "I’m staying, too."

Katsuki narrows his eyes.

"Boss agreed I can stay until 3 A.M. And then it’s all you," Uraraka says. "I’m not like Kirishima-kun, by the way. He won’t push you. I—I don’t care. You’re actually working." 

"I fucking know." The way she trips over the words makes it sound like she does care, but Katsuki rolls his eyes and doesn’t point it out. "Why?"

Uraraka blinks.

"Why are you staying?"

"I need the extra money." She hesitates for a couple other blinks, but that’s it—she’s never been shy about this sort of thing. "Might as well earn it while it’s still summer."

She’d been about to break eye contact, probably pretend to check in on a table for more coffee, but Katsuki nails her in place with a glare. "Don’t you have another job or some shit like that?"

"I do, but—" Uraraka shrugs. "One job isn’t enough to pay for expenses when you’re majoring in anything in sciences. Textbooks alone are, like, one day’s pay-check. You should know." She pauses, looking away for real this time. "Or maybe you won’t. But not all of us can be like you."

Katsuki has no fucking idea what to say to that.

"This has to be illegal," he mutters instead. "You taking an extra shift."

For some reason, that makes Uraraka smile, a little bit. Fleeting. "You ‘working’ here—" She lifts her fingers in air quotation marks, "—without pay has to be illegal, too. You’re here anyway."

"Fuck you," he says, and leaves it at that.

Katsuki’s mother surprisingly doesn’t make any more fuss about the situation before she leaves. Uraraka remains quiet for the most part, though she does issue orders to Katsuki—can you check on how long the omelette’s going to take?, or pour the coffee while I get the tray ready for the pancakes. It’s a much efficient way of going about things than how Kirishima does it, and Katsuki can’t bring himself to be surprised about that.

Uraraka has always been efficient—may that be as a student or an athlete. Katsuki doesn’t know shit about being a daughter, but Uraraka had always seemed to be efficient at that, too, holding her head high in high school even when people gossipped about her working part-time at the convenience store and bothered her about living alone at 16. Her grades hadn’t been stellar, and she hadn’t stood out outside of the mound, but Katsuki looks back at his high school years and realizes Uraraka has always been present, just not the way he was.

Around 2 A.M., Katsuki says, poking at the collection of breakfast teas by the coffee machine, "Why are you still in this shithole?"

"My parents," she replies easily.

"You moved back in?"

"No, I—" She watches him closely at this. "I live with Deku-kun. Now."

There’s a pause, somehow fraught.

Katsuki grits his teeth. "You together now or something?"

There’d been gossip, about her liking Deku all throughout high school. The baseball team had constantly teased her when Deku would come watch a game, and she would blush and sputter. She’d asked Katsuki, once, why his relationship with Deku was the way it was, but he hadn’t said anything, and she never mentioned Deku again after that.

"No," Uraraka says now, and it occurs to Katsuki he doesn’t actually know if the rumors had only been rumors. "It wasn’t—it wasn’t like that."

Katsuki grunts, non-committal.

"I still haven’t told him," she says, quietly. "That you’re back in Musutafu."

Katsuki abandons the tea boxes. "I don’t give a shit."

"He doesn’t, either." Uraraka’s looking at him, solid and steadfast. "He hates you."

Katsuki searches himself for the satisfaction he’d felt, knowing he was going to Tokyo while Deku was stuck in Musutafu. It surfaces easily, only it scratches and irritates.

He doesn’t say anything.

Uraraka takes the hint. "I take back what I said," she says, looking away. "Tokyo did mellow you out. You don’t go ‘Die, die, die!’ anymore."

"I never fucking did that."

"Yeah, you did," Uraraka deadpans, but she looks amused. "You used to yell ‘Die!’ whenever you would pitch against clean-up batters."

"I fucking hate you."

"You’re quieter," she continues, and it sounds like she means another word altogether. "Or maybe that’s just because it’s so late at night. Late nights do things to people."

Katsuki sneers. "Maybe I’m just fucking tired of listening to you talk."

"Are you?" Uraraka yawns, taking a seat and absently watching the couple on Table Four share their omelette. "Kirishima-kun talks a lot more."

Katsuki scoffs. "It doesn’t fucking matter if it’s day or night."

"You seem like you’re used to it, though," Uraraka points out. "I’m surprised you willingly signed up for shifts with him."

She’s not the only one. Katsuki rolls his eyes. "I fucking regret it every night."

"I feel bad for him. You’re kinda useless at this, Bakugou."

"Fuck you—"

Uraraka shakes her head, mockingly solemn. "Poor Kirishima-kun, he goes through so much. Has to take care of his mom, has to do make-up classes, has to take overnight shifts six times a week, has to take care of this pissbaby—"

"I thought you fucking said Tokyo mellowed me out."

"Do you admit there was something to mellow out?"

"I really fucking hate you."

Uraraka smiles, wider this time, more genuine. "There’s the Bakugou we know." When Katsuki just glares, she adds, "Your mom was worried, you know. About you being in Tokyo."

It’s the same thing Katsuki’s father said. "And her solution is to chain me down here."

"She’s not chaining you down here," Uraraka says, sounding mildly horrified. "She’s just—worried, about how you’re doing in Tokyo. I think. She tries to pull the proud mom card, but I think—I mean, anyone who’s ever known you is bound to worry every now and then."

"Worry about me? What the fuck is there to worry about?" Katsuki scowls at her, incredulous. "I eat fine, I sleep fine—"

"Yeah, but you’re not really Mr. Congeniality," Uraraka retorts. "You can eat all the vegetables and get your eight hours everyday but if you’re locking yourself up in your room—" Katsuki opens his mouth to snap something, but she has the nerve to hold up one hand and silence him. "—camping out in the library just so you can study and be better than everyone you hate doesn’t count. Tokyo’s a big, expensive city, isn’t it?"

Katsuki rolls his eyes.

"And you’re there, alone."

"I don’t give a shit about that."

"Maybe not, but your mom does," Uraraka says. "She’s worried about not getting to nag you, and you being alone in the biggest metropolitan area in the world, caged up in your apartment not talking to anyone."

It sounds exactly like the kind of stupid, unnecessary bullshit his parents would worry about, but Katsuki still demands, "Where the fuck are you getting all of this?"

"Woman’s intuition."

Katsuki snorts.

"I don’t think they’re wrong to worry." Uraraka looks like she wants to slap him with a menu. She’s welcome to fucking try. "When I say Tokyo has mellowed you out—I don’t mean—it’s not necessarily a good thing."

"Then what the fuck do you mean?"

"I mean that—you’re an intense person, Bakugou." Uraraka shrugs. "It’s just—I don’t know. Don’t let Tokyo squeeze that intense energy out of you."

Katsuki grits his teeth. "Are you saying I’m intimidated?"

"That’s nowhere close to what I said." It’s Uraraka’s turn to roll her eyes. "Hey, Bakugou," she says, abrupt. "The reason you never answered my messages, after you left, even when you came back—it’s not—it doesn’t have anything to do with me, personally, does it? Or Deku-kun?"

For a moment, Katsuki glares incredulously at her. It’s a silly thing to think, but it’s also the kind of silliness Uraraka’s prone to. He’d left Musutafu with no intentions of ever coming back, and that included minimal contact with anyone from there, his parents included.

Uraraka didn’t have a single damn thing to do with it, and yet here she is, asking him exactly that.

"No," he says, shortly. "I wanted nothing to do with this fucking city."

There must be something collectively wrong with the restaurant staff, because for some reason, Uraraka looks relieved. "Oh," she says, her voice small. "Stupid."

Katsuki scowls. "You’re fucking stupid."

"Yeah, yeah," Uraraka sings, back to her cream soda self out of fucking nowhere. She stands up, cracking her knuckles as she fishes around to get Table Four’s bill. "Glad to see some things never change, with you."

Katsuki continues scowling after her.

His phone chimes, and Katsuki knows who it is before he looks down.

my dad had me calling in im sorry ××՞

Kirishima had taken full advantage of having Katsuki’s number, proving exactly how annoying he can be by texting Katsuki throughout the day, sometimes even during shifts, just to be extra irritating. There are updates on every fucking thing that Kirishima does: his make-up classes, his mother’s pregnancy, the lady working the cafeteria on campus. Sometimes he’ll ask Katsuki basic math questions, and Katsuki will be forced to actually reply because Kirishima can’t be bothered to use a damn calculator like the rest of his classmates.

It’s unnecessary and counterproductive when he’ll be seeing Katsuki throughout the night anyway, but that’s Kirishima in a nutshell—so much unproductive energy, every part of his body language spelling out something simultaneously unnecessary and excessive, with no signs of ever stopping. Kirishima’s loud and restless with nothing to show for himself but the noise, but he’s yet to come close to dimming in the near month Katsuki’s been cursed with his constant presence.

His phone chimes again.

i feel small at night (•́︿•̀)

do u ever feel like that

Kirishima must be sicker than Katsuki had thought, because he’s not the type to send fake deep messages like that, even at 2 A.M. Katsuki rolls his eyes, but he unlocks his phone and types:

idiot

what the fuck are u talking about

He shouldn’t have phrased it as a question, because trust Kirishima to turn that into a conversation starter:

makes me feel isnigificent and all that ಗಾ ಗಾ

i guess u wldnt kno what that feels like

Irritated, Katsuki picks up his phone and, without really thinking it through, dials Kirishima.

The answer is alarmingly immediate. "Katsuki, you called!"

"What the hell are you talking about," Katsuki snaps, loud enough to garner looks from Uraraka and a couple of the customers. He turns his back to them and glares into the kitchen. "And you fucking spelled ‘insignificant’ wrong."

"My bad, my bad." Kirishima laughs. His voice is hoarse, raspy, and for a moment, Katsuki wonders why the fucker had picked up at all when he clearly shouldn’t be talking.

He says as much out loud.

"Why wouldn’t I pick up a phone call from the Bakugou Katsuki?" Kirishima asks, way too innocent. The image is ruined when he coughs, the sound fading off from the other end like he’d turned away from the phone. When he comes back onto the line, he’s sniffling. "Are you at the restaurant?"

"Yeah," Katsuki mutters. "Why are you still awake, shithead? You sound fucked up."

"Studying," Kirishima says, his voice grating. Katsuki closes his eyes, a weak alternative to the urge to wince at the sound of Kirishima’s voice. "I’ll sleep soon. I just wanted to check in."

"Not ‘soon’," Katsuki snaps irritably. "Fucking sleep now."

"Katsuki, I work the overnight shift all the time—"

"Like I don’t fucking know." Katsuki’s getting a headache, he really fucking is. "Stop that shit and fucking sleep now. You sound like shit. Drink water or whatever. Then fucking sleep."

There’s a pause on the other end. And then, quiet, "Okay. I—Okay. Good—good night, Katsuki?"

Katsuki’s genuinely surprised, for a second, that Kirishima’s actually doing it. But he scoffs, turning back to face the restaurant. "I’m hanging up, idiot," he hisses.

When he hangs up, Uraraka’s hovering on the other side of the bar.

Katsuki glowers at her. "What now?"

Uraraka reaches over to grab a menu, eyes on the lone middle-aged man coming in through the entrance. "Was that Kirishima-kun?"

"No," Katsuki says, belligerent.

Uraraka gives Katsuki a single look, though, brief, then shrugs. "Sure."

Katsuki wants to snap something back, but she’s already ambling over to the new customer.

He settles for glaring after her.

 

Chapter Text

AUGUST

Part II

 

Kirishima misses another night, condemning Katsuki to an entire weekend of Uraraka regaining the balls to mock Katsuki for her own entertainment.

When Monday morning comes and marks the third day of blissfully being free of Kirishima’s constant yapping, Katsuki’s mother finds him restlessly trying to read over a book on poisonous plants that he’d found in his room.

"Staying home today?"

Katsuki grunts, turns the page when he realizes he’s been staring at the same damn one for three minutes.

Doku zeri. Water hemlock. Cowbane. Poisonous. Looks like seri.

"I’m running restaurant errands today," his mother continues, pouring herself cold milk tea. "You’re gonna be alone all day."

"So?" he demands irritably. "I live alone."

"So, that is pathetic," she says, lowering herself onto the space left on the couch. "Didn’t you go out and eat with someone before? Someone from high school? Go do shit with them."

"What the hell are you talking about?" Katsuki finally brings down the book to glare up at his mother. "That was three fucking weeks ago—Kirishima forced me to eat with him."

"You were with Eijirou?" She blinks, surprised. "Oh. That’s good."

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "Did you miss the part where I said he fucking forced me to eat with—"

"Yeah, and I forced you to take the night shift with him," his mother says. "No one’s actually forcing you to do shit, brat."

"You’re forcing me out of the damn house right now—"

"I just fucking said you looked pathetic, excuse me for telling the truth—"

"Just fucking leave, holy fuck—"

"You can always come with me to visit poor Eijirou," Katsuki’s mother says, abruptly. "His dad probably had to force him to call in sick these past few days."

"Why would I fucking wanna visit Kirishima?" Katsuki rolls over, abandoning the manga altogether. "Why are you visiting Kirishima?"

"To finalize some contract things with his parents," she says, finishing her milk tea. "Are you gonna be pathetic here or are you coming?"

Katsuki groans, but he rolls himself off the couch.

Kirishima’s new house is right between Katsuki’s area and the campus side of the city, somewhere alarmingly residential—narrower roads and houses pushed together, futons hanging from two-story balconies and little alleyways criss-crossing in between streets. It’s exactly the kind of neighborhood an annoying loudmouth like Kirishima should have grown up in, greeting grannies whenever he passed by their gardens and generally leaving his sense of personal space to rot in constant abandonment.

The closer they get to campus, the harder it gets for someone driving a car, so his mother had left the car parked near the main road. It doesn’t look like it’s her first time here, because she nudges the front gate open easily.

It’s Kirishima that opens the door.

"Hey, kid," Katsuki’s mother greets him. "I brought the brat with me. Would your parents mind?"

"‘Course not—" Kirishima smiles, shuffling out of the way while he waits for them to take off their shoes. "Hi, Katsuki."

"Hi yourself," Katsuki mutters.

"Why are you up and about?" his mother asks, murmuring a quiet sorry for intruding. "Your dad told me you were pretty sick."

"Oh no—I—It wasn’t that bad," Kirishima says hastily, leading them towards the living room. "I was fine this morning. Sorry for missing the past couple of days."

"Don’t be," Katsuki’s mother starts—

—at the same time Katsuki says, "You should be."

Kirishima blinks at the two of them. "I’m gonna go get my dad for you," he says, slowly.

Katsuki rolls his eyes and watches him run upstairs.

He’d expected the Kirishimas’ living room to be messier, more crowded with all the moving-in—instead, it looks a lot like the restaurant, only with the added feature of the DVDs running the expanse of the shelves around the TV, open boxes pushed to the side, and several photos already up near the staircase. The biggest frame holds a family picture—analog camera quality, taken in front of the restaurant, and featuring a family of three: two adults, holding hands with a small dark-haired brat that can only be tiny Kirishima, annoying even then.

"That’s the first photo they ever took in front of the restaurant, I heard," his mother offers. "Eijirou’s mom showed me the first time I was here."

Katsuki thinks of Kirishima stumbling over the word home, and he doesn’t bother with a reply, moving on to the other frames.

Squeezed in between a kindergarten class picture and a wedding photo, there’s a picture of Kirishima in the Yakult Swallows’ navy-and-white baseball gear, bat at the ready and grin wide. There’s black hair peeking out from under his cap, longer than the usual baseball cut, but still much shorter than Katsuki’s used to seeing on Kirishima.

Katsuki feels the same tug of familiarity and deja vu.

"First name basis already, huh?"

"He’s been calling me that since I fucking met him." Katsuki turns to a raised eyebrow from his mother. "And it’s your damn fault."

His mother fucking winks. "Did you miss—"

"My folks will be with you real quick," Kirishima says, running back down the stairs.

"Real quick." Katsuki scoffs. "As if."

Kirishima shoots him a sheepish grin, but he doesn’t reply. It’s uncharacteristic of him, to not say something back, even if it happens to be a lame joke, and Katsuki would be lying if he said he didn’t feel a little bit ruffled by that.

But Kirishima’s already turning away. "Let me get you some tea."

"Katsuki will get it," his mother volunteers. "Right, Katsuki?"

"No," Katsuki grumbles, but he goes with Kirishima to the kitchen anyway.

The kitchen is a much more direct replica of the restaurant—white walls, wooden drawers and counters and shelves, all the utensils in sight stainless steel. There’s a four-seater dining table pushed up against the L-shaped island, and across from it, sliding doors to the backyard. Like the dining porch, there are pots and terrariums hanging from the ceiling, a few of them empty and the others—

"The soil in that pot is dry as shit."

"Huh?" Kirishima takes a while to focus on him, rummaging around the cupboards. "Oh—crap—really? My mom usually does it. Crap. I’ll do it later—here we go—" He breaks off, producing a tea pot.

Katsuki watches him with narrowed eyes. Kirishima looks pale, a little unsteady on his feet even for his clumsy ass, and the way he looks consistently out-of-it is the exact way he looks when he’s trying to soldier through a night shift on four hours of sleep.

"Idiot," Katsuki mutters, holding out his hand. "Give me the damn pot."

"What? No, you don’t have to—" Kirishima physically brings the pot away from Katsuki. "You’re a guest, dude, just—"

Katsuki steps forward and grabs the pot by the handle anyway. "You heard the old hag, just give it to me." He tugs, and Kirishima gives away easily. He scoffs. "Should you be up and about?"

"It wasn’t that bad," Kirishima says quietly.

"You’re full of shit," Katsuki returns, filling the pot with hot water. "You look like shit, too."

"I can handle filling a pot," Kirishima complains, but his voice remains quiet. He’s close enough, cornered against the counter, that Katsuki can feel his body heat.

Impulsively, he lifts an arm and presses his forearm against Kirishima’s forehead.

"Ka—"

"No wonder you look like shit," Katsuki mutters, letting go before Kirishima can even finish saying his name. "Your folks letting you run around with a fever that high?"

Kirishima presses a hand to his own forehead, looking dazed. "I don’t have a fever."

"You calling me a fucking liar?"

"I—" Kirishima watches him for a bit, waits for him to fill up the pot and drop in the tea steeper. "It’s not that bad," he repeats, stubbornly.

"You’re so fucking annoying," Katsuki gripes. "Sit the fuck down. I’m not gonna blow up your shiny new kitchen."

He delivers the pot and teacups safely to his mother, who’s making the rounds around the living room frames, still waiting. "Kirishima’s still fucking sick," he reports.

"What?" His mother looks vaguely alarmed. "How do you know?"

"He still has a fever, the fucking idiot," Katsuki says, and finds that the irritation in his voice isn’t entirely out of feeling inconvenienced.

"Are you…" Katsuki doesn’t like the look on his mother’s face. "…worried?"

"Like fuck I am," Katsuki snaps back, turning on his heels. He comes back to the kitchen to see Kirishima standing right where he left him. "Why the hell are you still there?"

Kirishima blinks—a perfection impression of what he looks like when it’s five a.m and he’s fighting to stay awake for one more hour out of sheer willpower. "What?"

"Your room, fuckmunch," Katsuki hisses. "Go to it. You’re gonna fucking get yourself killed."

"By standing here?" Kirishima asks, but he moves, shuffling towards another entryway from the kitchen. He hesitates. "Are you going back in there? With your mom?"

Katsuki can hear multiple sets of footsteps coming down; the thought of going back to the living room to sit through his mother making polite small talk and using her business voice to explain contract points doesn’t sound like much of a promise, so he grits his teeth and follows after Kirishima.

Kirishima’s room, in contrast to the rest of the house, is exactly the kind of messy Katsuki had been expecting; the closet’s semi-open—the clothes all thrown on top of each above the door straight from the boxes still open underneath them, and some of them creeping out from under it—and the bed, despite the headboard looking new, looks like it hasn’t been made in thirty years. There’s a lot of shit scattered on the floor next to the boxes: a pair of shorts, comic books, Kirishima’s phone.

There’s paper everywhere—clippings and half-built buildings next to at least two pairs of scissors and a pack of glue sticks. The glue gun’s still plugged in and Katsuki reaches over to yank out the cord.

The floor’s visible, though, which is much less than he’d been prepared for, even if the lone coffee table parallel to the bed is already covered with worksheets. One side of the desk still has small boxes, and the other side is littered with an open binder and book, nestled in the red plaid shirt from last July.

Above it, though, is a giant map, pristine next to the rest of the entire room. It’s twice the size of any whiteboard Katsuki’s mother has ever used, and dotted with small colored post-its.

"Sorry for the mess," Kirishima murmurs, half-hearted, before he gives in and collapses into bed, the blankets making way for him like something creepily sentient. "I’ve been meaning to clean."

"Were you," Katsuki deadpans, walking over to the map. He inspects Kirishima’s chicken scratch writing on each of the post-its, expecting them to talk about population density and trade agreements and all that stuff Kirishima’s studying, but instead they feature tourist-y shit; best tourist spots, best places to eat, things like best national park in the country! up near Hokkaido’s general area and good place to see the stars on top of some Northern country.

"Who’d have thought you travel a lot," Katsuki says gruffly.

"Hm?" Kirishima rolls over, and the blankets roll around him. He follows Katsuki’s gaze to the map, and laughs. "Oh, god, no, dude. I wish. I don’t. That’s just—" He breaks off, like he doesn’t know what word to use. He just shrugs. "Just. You know. I wish."

"Your fucking hobby, then?" Katsuki kicks the shorts and nudges a couple of boxes away. He sits down on the floor, regarding the worksheets on the table with disdain. "Are you actually interested in all these countries? All this economic and geographical shit?"

"God no." Kirishima blinks blearily down at the worksheets. Then his eyes widen, and he sits up. "Crap. I have class tomorrow."

Katsuki scowls at him. "You’re going? With that fever? Are you fucking serious?"

He’ll probably be better by then, if he stays fucking still today and doesn’t overwork himself—but Kirishima’s already scrambling around the coffee table, sending some stray worksheets falling onto Katsuki’s lap.

Katsuki grabs one of the comic books on the floor and throws it at Kirishima’s face. "Answer me, shithead."

"Yeah, I’m going," Kirishima groans absently, fishing out the worksheet he was looking for. "I’ll be fine by tomorrow. I didn’t finish the practice questions—crap, crap, crap—"

"You’ve fucking lost it." Katsuki grabs the worksheet so hard it almost rips in his hand. "You’ve fucking lost it. I’ll knock you out with that fucking lamp—" He jerks his chin at it irritably. "—if you don’t fucking—"

"You don’t know what you’re saying," Kirishima says, and there it is again, talking to Katsuki like there’s something Katsuki’s just too stupid to understand. "I’m not doing well enough as it is—"

"You’re not gonna fucking do better if you go there barely recovered," Katsuki hisses. "Even I know that, you fucking—idiotic idiot."

"Katsuki." Kirishima sighs his name, almost condescending if it had been anyone else. "We can’t all be like you."

Uraraka said the same thing, last Saturday. Katsuki glares. "Like what?"

"Like—you know—" Kirishima has abandoned the worksheet at least, looking at Katsuki tiredly from where he’s sitting on the bed. "Todai material. Talented at a lot of things. You’re—you get to leave Musutafu and not look back, you know, because you’ll be some topshot or whatever. I don’t know. You’re not attached to this city. I am." His eyes, for a second, flit over to the map, then he looks back at Katsuki and shrugs. He smiles, too, but it’s a helpless one, as if to say what can you do?

Katsuki scowls, because that’s annoyingly defeatist. "If you’re not interested in this shit—" This time, he jerks his chin towards the coffee table. "Then why the fuck are you taking this class? It’s hurting your average."

Kirishima sighs again, flopping back down on his back. "I need it."

"For what?"

"Business management degree," Kirishima says to the ceiling, voice small.

Katsuki stares at the ceiling, too, incredulous. "You’re in Business."

"And Communications. It’s a joint degree." Kirishima sits up, his ponytail loose. "It’s—it’s complicated. Can I have my worksheet back?"

Katsuki crumples the worksheet.

Kirishima makes a sound like a wounded animal. "Katsuki."

"How did you even get into Business?"

Kirishima looks dejected, but he answers anyway, "I got into Communications first. Interested in public relations and stuff. Then my counselor told me that—with management and marketing classes and all that—there’s a bit of overlap. So I took the chance."

"And ended up failing the classes you need," Katsuki adds, flatly. "Isn’t that great. Drop Business, then."

Kirishima hesitates. "I can’t."

"Why the fuck not?"

"Because—" Kirishima looks at his closed bedroom door, then at Katsuki. He sighs. "The restaurant."

Katsuki can’t help it—he groans out loud, tossing the crumpled worksheet into the trash. "You’re so fucking—" He rolls his eyes. "Your parents are selling the damn place. You know that, right?"

"I know," Kirishima says, voice still small. "I can—I’ll get it back someday. I don’t know."

The place means a lot to him, Katsuki’s mother had told him once.

He doesn’t know why he’s fucking remembering that out of nowhere.

"You’re stupider than I thought," Katsuki declares.

Kirishima winces. "S’not a word, dude."

"I don’t give a fuck," Katsuki snaps. "Ain’t there shit you wanna do? Shit that isn’t—whatever this is you’re doing?"

Kirishima blinks at that. He’s silent for a long time.

Katsuki’s beginning to pray Kirishima’s been rendered permanently silent and contemplative when Kirishima says, "Not really. I haven’t thought about it."

He pauses.

"There’s only ever been the restaurant, really."

Katsuki heaves an irritated sigh. "You’re really simple-minded, aren’t you."

"I—" Kirishima’s kinda red, but whether that’s embarrassment or the fever acting up, Katsuki doesn’t wanna fucking know. "Not everyone knows what they wanna do in life, Katsuki."

Well, I fucking don’t, Katsuki thinks.

A beat passes, then he realizes he said it out loud.

Kirishima’s frowning. "You’re in second year, though."

Katsuki grits his teeth. "Todai has two years of Gen Ed before you decide on a field of study."

"Oh," is Kirishima’s intelligent reply.

"Fuck you," Katsuki says, because that has always been the instinctive reply. Kirishima’s staring at him weirdly—Katsuki, inexplicably, feels the need to defend himself. "It’s not that I’m fucking clueless about it. Something Science, ‘cause that’s what I got into. I don’t fucking know."

"Oh." Kirishima looks like he’s having an epiphany, but he nods. Then he says, serenely, "Well, I’m sure you’ll be great at it no matter what it is, Katsuki."

Katsuki grits his teeth again. "How can you fucking say shit like that with a straight face?"

Kirishima blinks, like he doesn’t know what Katsuki’s fucking talking about.

"I’m not in the same boat as you," Katsuki says, flatly, because that shit needs to be said. "But that doesn’t fucking mean I go to class when I’m sick and generally just—" He waves his hand in the general direction of the mess that is Kirishima. "—fuck myself up."

"I don’t fuck myself up," Kirishima mumbles, in a way that simultaneously manages to accuse Katsuki and make it clear Kirishima doesn’t believe him.

Katsuki pins him with a glare.

"There’s just a lot to deal with," Kirishima continues hastily. "You know?"

"No, I don’t know," Katsuki snaps flatly. "And I don’t wanna find out. So you’re staying here and getting better so I don’t have to put up with Uraraka for one more fucking night."

Kirishima stares at him, then a slow smile creeps to his face, from one side to the other like some shitty comedy theatre mask.  "Aw. Do you miss me, Katsuki?"

Katsuki scowls, raising a finger to jab it in Kirishima’s direction. "Bullshit like that. Where the fuck is your sense of shame?"

Kirishima laughs—it occurs to Katsuki that this is the first time Kirishima has laughed today—but he’s saved from saying anything by a knock on the door. The door opens barely a second later, and Katsuki’s mother sticks her head in.

"I’m all done here," she says, eyes annoyingly sharp as she looks between Kirishima and Katsuki. "Are you ready to go?"

"Been fucking ready since we got here," Katsuki mutters, getting to his feet. Kirishima’s stood up to bow to Katsuki’s mother. "You."

Kirishima straightens like a rod, a soldier at attention.

"You fucking try to go to class and you’re fired."

"That’s not fair," Kirishima mumbles. "You can’t fire me."

"I can," Katsuki’s mother says, like she’s fucking part of this conversation. "And I’m ordering you to take care of yourself. Okay?"

Kirishima heaves a sigh, but he nods.

Katsuki scowls at him on his way out anyway.

Kirishima’s mother is in the living room. "Is this your son?" she says to Katsuki’s mother. She smiles exactly like Kirishima, somewhere between quirked lips and a toothy grin. "My, he looks just like you."

Katsuki manages a stiff bow, and she bows back—how she manages to do that with a huge ass belly, he’s not entirely sure.

"Thank you for taking care of Eijirou."

"It’s more like the opposite, really," Katsuki’s mother says, which would be more annoying if she was using her business voice. She’s not, just one old hag talking to someone else’s mother.

"Oh, no, not true at all, Eijirou has talked a lot about Katsuki here since high school," Kirishima’s mother says.

Katsuki frowns. "High school?"

His mother immediately nudges him, unrepentant and entirely unsubtle. He fights the urge to roll his eyes and says, gruffly, "Someone has to take care of him. He was gonna spend all day doing homework with that fever."

What a fucking mess of a human being, he almost adds, but he gets another look from his mother that says she knows exactly the kind of shit he’s about to say.

"Eijirou’s fever came back?" Kirishima’s mom looks surprised. "He’s working himself so hard."

"He’s a really hard-working boy," Katsuki’s mother says, unhelpfully.

They exchange more shit about Kirishima—he’s always wanted siblings, he refuses to miss a shift if he can help it, all the restaurant regulars love him—and then they’re finally leaving, bowing one more time at the front door before leaving.

"Fire him, huh?" His mother says, as they walk back to where they’d parked. "You have the authority to do that?"

"Shut up," Katsuki mutters. "Are you gonna lecture me about—fucking—power dynamics and shit? Taking advantage of positions of power?"

"No, because you’re not in a position of power," she says. "I am. And I’m having fun."

"What the fuck," Katsuki mutters.

"Yeah, you know when you pick your kid up from the daycare—"

"You never put me in a fucking daycare."

"Your fault for being so fucking self-sufficient when you were, like, four." Katsuki’s mother grinning as they get into the car. "Anyway, I feel like I went to pick you up and saw you making your first friend ever."

"That’s really fucked up, Mom," Katsuki gripes. "Shitty Hair and I aren’t friends."

"Sure you’re not," his mom sings, backing out of their parking spot. "You just work together and had lunch together that one time—"

"Three fucking weeks ago."

"And just now, you were worried about him. ‘Course you’re not friends. How silly of me."

"I’m sick of his ass. I fucking hate him."

"Why do you see so much of Eijirou’s ass?"

"Do you fucking hear yourself—"

"I’m joking, I’m joking." Katsuki’s mother cackles her witch laugh, and he hates that she sounds genuinely delighted, not just amused. "Do you really hate Eijirou?"

She slows down in front of a red light, and Katsuki’s own thought process slows down alongside the car. He grumbles, but it takes him a while to string together a more acceptable response. "I just don’t fucking get him."

His mother frowns. "What about him?"

"I don’t fucking know," Katsuki mutters, and he really doesn’t. Something about Kirishima throws Katsuki off-kilter; it could be the nonstop smiling, the constant release of energy, except seeing Kirishima today, less of what he usually is, had succeeded at putting Katsuki off balance, too. It isn’t a specific thing, because if it was, Katsuki would have the urge to hit Kirishima for it, already—it’s Kirishima in his entirety, and the way he nags at Katsuki without meaning to, from the texts to the staring to the hesitation. Something about him isn’t fitting right, even as the rest of him fills Katsuki’s everyday routine, and that upsets Katsuki’s penchant for solidity more than anything.

To his mother, he says, "He’s too fucking stupid. He’ll collapse one of these days and all the shit he’s been doing will be for nothing."

His mother hums. "I told you, he works hard. He and Uraraka both."

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "It’s not that—"

"It is, though," his mother says, inching the car forward as soon as the light turns green. "Different people work hard… differently. You should know this by now, Tokyo boy."

"There’s a difference between working hard and the kind of stupid shit the asshat’s doing to himself," Katsuki mutters. "You don’t get to be fucking greedy about this shit—that’s just being childish."

"You pick one, and only one, then you work for that," his mother says, both hands on the bottom of the wheel. "That right?"

"Don’t mock me," Katsuki mutters. "That’s basic fucking knowledge. You focus on one thing, then you work your ass for that. You gotta pick what fucking matters."

His mother hums again, even more non-committal this time. "Just one?"

"Obviously," Katsuki says, irritated now. "You don’t fucking get anywhere by spreading yourself thin over things, do you? You’ll end up like Kirishima."

"Well," his mother says—and this sounds like her business voice, rehashing a dumbed down version of a contract. Katsuki glowers at her. "Sometimes, there’s more than one thing that matters to someone. Eijirou just has a lot of those."

"Stupid," Katsuki concludes, making his point.

His mother rolls her eyes, a gesture that looks too much like Katsuki that he has to look away.

"And Eijirou got you thinking about all of that?" she says, eventually, and it sounds like she’s asking a different question altogether. "About what matters and shit? Ain’t that too much for your head? There’s still space left between ‘I’ll fucking kill you!’ and ‘Gotta be the best, gotta be the—’"

"Holy shit," Katsuki mutters under his breath.

She falls quiet at that, thank fuck. But when Katsuki doesn’t turn to look back at her, even as the car slows down in front of another, she adds, in a mocking whisper, "Next thing you know he’ll have you being actually productive in the restaurant."

Katsuki leans back aggressively, still looking outside. "You don’t even fucking pay me."

"Well, no shit, why would I? You don’t do a damn thing."

"Like what? You said you don’t trust me with the customers."

"And you said you can handle it," she counters easily. "I don’t see you trying to actually help me—or anyone, for that matter—with the place." 

Katsuki thinks his mother is forgetting he didn’t exactly voluntarily sign up for this in the first place. He finally turns back to sneer at her. "What do you want me to say?"

She makes a face at the road. "Opinions? Suggestions? You’re the Todai brat here."

Katsuki stares ahead, too, but all that’s running in his head are moments from earlier that day—Kirishima in his kitchen, Kirishima in his room, the frames up in the living room.

Kirishima in baseball gear.

Kirishima’s mother mentioning high school.

There’s something here that Katsuki’s not piecing together, and he hates, more than anything, the feeling of missing something, like watching Uraraka and Kirishima share a look clearly meant to be a nod to a private joke.

"Katsuki? What’s this, are you actually thinking?"

"You’re so annoying," Katsuki mutters, sinking back even further against the seat. "Get plants. Get frames. Play some music in the damn place. It’s so fucking boring."

They slow down in front of a traffic light, and it’s quiet.

Katsuki fights back a sigh and turns to look at his mom. She’s watching him weirdly. "What? You wanted suggestions. I fucking gave them to you."

His mother nods, slow. "Yeah. Yeah, you did. Those ideas aren’t half-bad, brat."

"My ideas are fucking great."

His mother nods again, more purposeful this time. "Yeah."

 

 

 

 

 

Kirishima comes back the next night.

He’s really early for once, and when Katsuki shows up two hours before his shift, Kirishima’s taken over one table in a corner, his backpack open by his feet and a bunch of worksheets in front of him. He still looks pale, but his eyes are alert when he looks up and spots Katsuki, so the paleness might be because of the math problems he’s working on.

Katsuki slumps down on the opposite seat, fighting back a yawn. Sleep had been hard to get last night, for no discernible reason other than the fact that he felt way too awake, and the events at Kirishima’s house felt too vivid every time he closed his eyes and remembered them. The thought of Kirishima had nagged at him until the wee hours of the morning, and by the time he’d heard his mother shuffling around, he’d been just about sick of trying to figure out what had felt off about Kirishima from the day before.

He chalks it up to being used to staying up six times a week and sleeping until the afternoon.

"My exam’s next week," Kirishima explains, by way of greeting. "Uraraka’s helping me study. Final stretch, you know?"

Katsuki glowers, unimpressed, at Kirishima’s practice short answers. "How are they gonna mark you for this shit when they can’t even read it? Fucking work on your handwriting first."

"C’mon," Kirishima says, making a face. "We live in a technological age."

Katsuki’s beginning to think Kirishima just regurgitates random factoids and statements from other people whenever he doesn’t know what else to say. He flicks one of Kirishima’s sheets. "How does anyone’s handwriting get like this? Have you never handwritten anything in your life?"

"No! I mean—Notes? Tests? Worksheets?" Kirishima says, and then pauses. "And like, one handwritten letter?"

"In your entire fucking life?"

Uraraka comes around then with a cup of coffee—leaving it by Kirishima’s hand with a half-hearted nod towards Katsuki. Katsuki scoffs and grabs the cup just to spite her, only to regret it belatedly when he almost spits it back out.

"How much sugar is in this shit?"

Kirishima blinks, at the cup, then at Katsuki. "I… don’t know?"

"That wasn’t yours to begin with," Uraraka says, cheerful and completely unsympathetic. "Serves you right, Bakugou."

"You fucking—"

"Do you want coffee?" Kirishima asks, looking legitimately worried. "I can go make you some? With less sugar?"

"You, stop babying him." Uraraka makes a face at Kirishima, then at Katsuki. "And you, stop looking at me like I tried to put you in a diabetic coma. That was, like, two teaspoons of sugar."

"Is this shit why you’re both always so fucking hyper?"

"No, that’s called being a decent, easy-going person," Uraraka replies primly.

"Fuck you."

"Creative," Uraraka returns. "Just—mindblowingly creative, Bakugou. Reconsider your choices before it’s too late, Kirishima-kun." This last part she says in a fake whisper, mockingly conspiratorial as she turns to Kirishima with a pitying shake of her round ass head.

Katsuki pushes the cup back towards Kirishima as soon Uraraka leaves. "Reconsider what?"

"Uh—" Kirishima’s staring down at the cup, like he’s afraid to touch it. "I—Just—You know—My choices—in life—all of them—because—I’m a mess?"

Katsuki stares flatly at him.

"My major," Kirishima blurts out, eyes running on the sheets he’s working on. "My—uh—I should reconsider my major."

"You should," Katsuki says bluntly, nevermind the fact that he just agreed with Uraraka Ochako.

"I—I should." Kirishima laughs, and it’s so nervous and sheepish it gives Katsuki a headache. "But that’s—sorta—easier said than done, you know?"

Katsuki narrows his eyes, impassive. "Do you even know what you wanna do?"

"Told you I don’t," Kirishima says, but he sounds happier about it today than he did yesterday. "I mean, when you think about these things, you gotta consider things like, will it make me happy? But you also gotta consider how much money you’ll earn, where it will take you. Stuff like that."

"I have no fucking idea what you’re talking about," Katsuki says whole-heartedly.

"Huh?" Kirishima blinks. "Then how did you decide on Sciences?"

"My best subject area," Katsuki answers gruffly. It comes out neutral, detached, nowhere close to the amount of research and graph-scribbling that went into his college applications. Todai had been the goal, and no one was getting in there with less than an S in their prerequisites, and when it became clear that his best chance at scoring well in Todai’s notoriously difficult entrance exams was if it all had to do with science-related shit, the decision had essentially been made for him.

Kirishima starts twirling his pen, restless. "That’s it?"

Science isn’t half bad, but he wasn’t gonna admit shit like that to Kirishima. "That’s it."

"Really? You never reconsidered anything else?"

"Shut the fuck up for a damn second," Katsuki says, planting both elbows on the table and rolling his eyes at Kirishima. You don’t get into Todai unless you focus on the shit you’re the best at and take out everything else, he wants to say, but that feels too honest enough unspoken. "You’re not gonna fucking get anywhere with a major you’re not doing for anyone but your fucking self, shithead. Where the hell is your common sense?"

"Oh." Kirishima peers at Katsuki. "Are you telling me to follow my dreams, dude?"

"No, I’m telling you you’re fucking stupid for deciding on something based on shit that’s not even about you," Katsuki snaps. "I don’t give a fuck what kind of sentimental bullshit you’re getting out of this, but if you’re failing classes because you’re too much of a self-sacrificing martyr to think shit like this through, then you’re not gonna get anywhere."

"But—" Kirishima starts, his pen stilling. "I’m not trying to be special. I’m just trying to live. Hard enough as it is."

Katsuki looks at him sharply. "What?"

"I know it’s a hard concept for you, crown prince," Uraraka chimes in as she comes back with a coffee refill—completely unnecessary, since Katsuki only took a single life-ruining gulp. "But not all of us want to be in Todai."

"I mean, it’d be nice to be in Todai," Kirishima immediately adds, holding up his pen placatingly. He succeeds more at looking like a student caught in the act of vandalizing his desk. "But I don’t—I don’t really aim that big, Katsuki. I appreciate it. I’m not interested in legacies or lifelong triumphs or—"

"World domination?" Uraraka suggests, sticking her tongue out when Katsuki glowers.

"Not even world domination," Kirishima amends, like he genuinely thinks Katsuki’s capable of it. "I’d love to be the greatest at something—"

Uraraka nods.

"But as it is, you know—there are other stuff?" Kirishima finally lowers his pen, rolling it between his palms. "Being the best comes with a price…a lot of not-so-good stuff—like, I don’t know, a lot of pressure? Expectations. I wouldn’t know. But it sounds like a lot of work. Being the best just doesn’t…sound like the best, in the long run. For me. It works for some people, but not—not me, I guess. I don’t—" He exchanges a shrug with Uraraka. "My—our—goals are just—different. It would be cool, and I’d take it if given the opportunity, but it seems like a hell lot of work, being there."

At this, Kirishima looks at Katsuki, too hesitant for someone like him.

It’s way too contradictory, too, coming from someone like him—who had to be forced into calling in sick, who’d been about to go to class without rest, who’s stubbornly holding on to this fucking restaurant. It’s contradictory for Uraraka, too; Uraraka with her two jobs, with the constant stream of part-time jobs since she’d been fifteen.

It’s a lot of fucking contradictory stupidity for Katsuki to be registering all at once, and he just glares at them, like that would help them make sense. "Then what the fuck are you killing yourselves over for?"

"Uh," they chorus, looking at each other. Then, in creepy unison, they tilt their heads at him and say, "Life?"

Uraraka recovers first, giggling back at Kirishima. "We just work for the things we value most. You work because you wanna be the best. Good for you. I work because of my parents. Kirishima-kun—"

"The restaurant," Kirishima supplies, smiling sheepishly. "My parents, too, I guess. But mostly my own selfishness about this place. It’s, uh, different for everyone? There’s always other things. Other things that aren’t—"

"Trying to be better than everyone else," Uraraka finishes for him, with a pointed look at Katsuki. He considers knocking the coffee pot out of her hand. "Which you’re not, Bakugou. We all work our asses off around here."

"Uraraka," Kirishima tries—

But Uraraka adds, "You’re not that special, Bakugou."

Her voice maintains its usual cadence, the usual pitched lilt, not out of place in the night silence of the restaurant, but something about it makes Katsuki still.

He grits his teeth instinctively. "Get out of here before I give you a coffee bath, fuckface."

Uraraka, for a moment, looks at him closely, but she shrugs and goes.

Kirishima frowns after her. "I thought we were having a moment there, guys."

"Can’t have that with the crown prince around," Uraraka calls back over her shoulder, ambling back towards the bar.

Katsuki’s vision is swimming a little bit.

Tokyo is big—the University of Tokyo feels even bigger, simultaneously more crowded and spacious than anything Katsuki has ever known until then; grander, quieter, more, empty. Leaving Musutafu for Tokyo is one thing: it’s an achievement, something Katsuki prides himself in, a goal he’s always had and had worked towards without fail. Being in Tokyo is another, because Todai’s campus is littered with a shit ton of other Bakugou Katsukis, all there for the same thing, all there with the same expectations that Katsuki has for himself and the world around him. Todai is a lot of adjectives all at once, and in the one and a half years Katsuki’s been studying there, all those words had boiled down to the same thing Uraraka’s saying now: You’re not that special.

A lot of pressure? Expectations. I wouldn’t know. But it sounds like a lot of work.

Kirishima cracks his knuckles, oblivious. "Okay," he says, turning back to his worksheet with newfound vigor. "I suddenly feel so motivated. I’m gonna pass this make-up exam. I’m gonna ace it."

Katsuki refocuses on him—on Kirishima and his red ponytail and his constant refusal to back down from shit like this. He hadn’t budged about this since their first conversation about it, he hadn’t in his room, and he still isn’t budging, now. An idiot made of idealism and naive bravado, but an idiot who’d looked Katsuki in the eye and said; My redeeming trait is that I work hard.

"Not with these answers, you won’t," Katsuki mutters, helping himself to a worksheet. "Eight plus three, idiot."

"Twelve," Kirishima says confidently.

Katsuki gives him a withering glare, holding out one palm. "Lend me a pen."

"Why?" Kirishima asks, but he hands over a lead pencil.

"If you think Angelface is a better tutor than me," Katsuki mutters, "You’re more clueless than I fucking thought."

 

Chapter Text

SEPTEMBER

Part I

 

"Phi—Philo—Philis—"

Working the night shift, Katsuki and Kirishima welcome in September by getting stuck doing the afternoon errands for the restaurant. Katsuki’s mother proves herself too lazy to hire actual experts on this shit, so it’s the two of them that end up dragging themselves to the home store armed with a list Kirishima had taken off the internet.

Which he’s failing to read off off right now.

"Philodendron," Katsuki bites out. "Philodendron hederaceum oxycardium."

Kirishima beams, one hand tapping restlessly on the handle of their shopping cart. "Sure."

"What the fuck do you mean ‘Sure’?"

"Let’s see," Kirishima holds his stupid list up to better light. "It’s low-maintenance. Apparently, it’s not too needy with sunlight."

"Idiot," Katsuki mutters irritably. "We can’t take this one."

"Another no?" Kirishima sounds genuinely sympathetic as he lays his stupid list on his hand and crosses off an entry. "’S’wrong with this one?"

Katsuki jerks a chin towards it. "This is devil’s ivy. You’re looking for heart-leaf philodendron."

"I—what’s the difference?"

"You know what." Katsuki breathes through his nose and counts to ten. If his mother can see him right now, she’d be so fucking proud. "I don’t give a shit. It doesn’t make a difference to you. It probably doesn’t make a fucking difference to my mom, either. Who fucking cares if philodendron’s longer—"

"Katsuki—"

"Who fucking cares if all parts of both of those plants are poisonous as shit—let the children coming into the restaurant touch those, why the fuck not? Here, fucking try a leaf—"

"Katsuki," Kirishima repeats, a little more insistently. He’s laughing quietly, though, looking genuinely entertained. Katsuki clamps his mouth down shut. "Okay. How about you tell me what to look for?"

He sounds really fucking earnest, as always. Katsuki rolls his eyes. "You have your damn list."

"Come on, dude." Kirishima has the fucking nerve to nudge him playfully, smiling. "I’m sorry I doubted your tutoring abilities, okay? I trust you more than my list."

That doesn’t really mean much, because Katsuki’s cemented over the past couple of days that Kirishima’s the type of person to rely on guides even when he’s more street smart than he is fucking book smart—there’d been tourist guides in Kirishima’s room, he’d gotten a maternity book, he’d googled houseplants the night before. His approach to learning is simply to do what everyone else is doing, which is a shitty policy when what everyone else is doing clearly doesn’t fucking work for Kirishima.

Katsuki’s convinced Kirishima’s been failing because the practice problems he’d been doing were ones downloaded from some sketchy ass website instead of provided to him by his prof. Katsuki had been forced to go home and dig out a study guide he’d used in freshman year and dumped in his old room over New Year’s, knowing Kirishima’s using the same textbook. And though it takes Kirishima about an hour to answer one fucking problem, he’s making better progress than he ever did before he’d been blessed with Katsuki’s tutoring presence.

But more importantly, Kirishima doesn’t say I trust you more than Uraraka, which makes it a pyrrhic victory in Katsuki’s book.

He rolls his eyes again. "Cast-iron plant. Aspidistra elatior. Look for it."

Kirishima actually salutes. "On it, Your Highness."

For all that he’s shit at registering plant names, Kirishima’s surprisingly good at locating them. He points the shelf out to Katsuki, whom he’d left to sullenly push their cart along. "This one? Why this one?"

"Get the biggest one you can find, they grow fucking slow," Katsuki orders. "This shit is supposed to be impossible to kill—low light, any temperature there is. If this plant fucking dies, the restaurant will owe me a fuckton of money."

Kirishima whistles as he roots around carefully through the shelves. "You know so much about plants, Katsuki. Do you like them?"

Katsuki doesn’t look at him, staring at the nearest placard even though he doesn’t give a shit what it says. "Shut the fuck up."

"You do, though. Their English names, too, and everything."

"Scientific name, shitstain." Katsuki kicks restlessly at the bottom of the cart. Kirishima’s looking steadily at him. Katsuki doesn’t look back. "Say one more thing about it and I’m gonna fucking leave you here."

"No, you’re not," Kirishima sings cheerfully. "It’s cool, knowing a lot about plants. I don’t know much."

"No shit," Katsuki says. "You were this close to killing the plants in your kitchen."

"To be fair, we just moved in. My mom usually takes care of them." Kirishima chuckles, embarrassed. He gives Katsuki one more searching look, then, thankfully, gives up. "Anyway—but she hasn’t, really, because, you know—"

"She’s just fucking pregnant," Katsuki mutters. "Why the fuck are you acting like she’s bed-ridden for life with some incurable disease?"

"I mean, yeah," Kirishima says, distracted in his single-minded search for the literal biggest pot. "But—complications, you know? She’s not really as young as she was when she had me, and she’s having more than one baby—"

This is new information, and Katsuki feels kinda horrified. "There’s gonna be more than one?"

"She’s carrying twins," Kirishima clarifies, like Katsuki should have already known this. "Carrying multiples at any age is risky and stuff, I read—more than half of twins and triplets are born early, which means they usually have low birth weight, which means my siblings are gonna—"

"If you put this much energy into Econ, you wouldn’t fucking have that exam next week."

"Okay, true, dude, that’s fair." Kirishima makes a quiet little a-ha as he pulls up a pot one-handed. "I just—I worry. And I think about these things a lot. It’s what I do."

Katsuki knows that. He doesn’t want to, but he does, more than anything else about Kirishima.

Out loud, he retorts, "She was walking around fine when I met her."

"Tell me about it—she even had the energy to get mad about my fever," Kirishima reports, as if that’s supposed to be a bad thing. "Confined me to my bed, wet towel and porridge and everything."

Katsuki snorts. "What the hell do you want me to tell you?"

Kirishima shakes his head. "No, but she’s really scary when she’s mad—she fired my friend last year for bringing back leftovers after his shift. It got messy. I felt so bad I had to find him a new job."

It occurs to Katsuki, out of nowhere, that Kirishima has friends.

Probably not just any normal person’s definition of ‘friend’, either, because if he’s willing to do so much shit and talk so much to people he barely knows, Katsuki can only imagine what Kirishima does around people he considers himself actually close to.

He’d only started wrapping his head around Kirishima’s ability to act like everyone’s his friend, carelessly maneuvering social rules Katsuki never gave a damn about and tiptoeing recklessly around boundaries and personal space. For someone so reliant on other people’s guides and so easily ready to dive into boiling lava to save anyone, Kirishima operates by his own set of rules in shit that involve direct interactions with other people.

Katsuki stares at Kirishima.

Kirishima who lives in an world entirely out of the restaurant, even if Katsuki has only ever seen him like the restaurant is his world.

Kirishima’s cooing at the pot he picks like it’s a baby. When he looks up and sees Katsuki staring, he almost drops the pot. "I—"

"Hanging plants," Katsuki says abruptly. "Drag the fucking cart over to the hanging plants."

They’re loading the plants to the back of a rented car when Kirishima’s phone rings, loud and tinny.

"It’s your mom," he announces, before answering with a chirpy, "Yes, Boss!"

Katsuki watches Kirishima’s face closely, noting the frown that replaces his smile and the way his eyebrows scrunch together in blatant concern as Katsuki’s mother keeps up a tirade on the other side. At this point, Katsuki’s sure he’s seen Kirishima somewhere before—not this Kirishima, but the Kirishima that had been in the framed photo, with the black hair and the baseball gear. It’s too irritating to try and figure out where and when, and asking Kirishima is completely out of the question; Katsuki’s been around Kirishima long and often enough to know that he doesn’t have a filter, and when he wants something known, he’ll say it without shame.

He also doesn’t want Kirishima to think he gives a shit, because he doesn’t.

His mother would probably say, if she knew, that Katsuki’s blowing this out of proportion—probably played a few games against each other, had to shake hands after a game. Except he never fucking blows things out of proportion. He doesn’t—just does what he wants according to the situation. And this particular one is calling for a lot of infuriating musing.

Kirishima’s blinking at him, and Katsuki realizes he’d been outright staring. He rolls his eyes and glares back, waiting for Kirishima to say his goodbyes before going, "What’d she want?"

"So, um, the day chef bailed." Kirishima looks pained, shoving his hands into his pockets. "Boss—your mom had to go back to HQ. She said she might close up for the rest of today—"

Katsuki scowls. "What about the rest of the kitchen?"

"Yeah, about that—" Kirishima does his sheepish shrug. "They’re not exactly—a lot of the 2-10 shift staff are lifers, so—"

"Lifers?"

"Yeah, it’s—you know, people who’ve worked there for years. Some of them have been working there since before I was born." Katsuki hadn’t known the restaurant had started up before the two of them were even alive. Kirishima’s shuffling from one foot to the other, worrying on his bottom lip. "They don’t take well to working out of routine—"

"What else?" Katsuki interrupts roughly.

Kirishima blinks at him. "What?"

"What else did the old hag say?" Katsuki demands. "She said something else, didn’t she?"

"I—" Kirishima, thank fuck, only hesitates for a couple of seconds. "She said you could take over, for the afternoon. And you don’t have to show up tonight if you do."

Katsuki nails him down with a glare. "As chef?"

"No, just—do what she usually does, look over the kitchen, stuff like that—I’m not really sure?" Kirishima says, voice lessening in volume as it rises in meekness. "Your mom, she said—" He stops, abruptly, breaking eye contact so suddenly that Katsuki’s own eyes narrow in suspicion.

"What?"

"She said you—you’re a bit of a secret control freak?" Kirishima’s still biting down on his lower lip without looking at Katsuki, so either he’s genuinely apologetic for it, or he’s fucking lost it and actually has the audacity to be laughing. "And you might—enjoy taking over the kitchen."

Dealing with his mother feels like a shitty game sometimes, because when she knows better than anyone how Katsuki works, she’s shameless about using that to her advantage, even when it isn’t always completely true. She must have figured something out, because when Katsuki checks his phone, his lock screen’s empty—which means his mother had specifically chosen to use Kirishima as messenger.

When he looks back up, Kirishima’s finally looking back, beaming encouragingly at him.

Katsuki grits his teeth and swears to talk to his mother as soon as fucking possible. He slams the back door of the car shut. "Is that it?"

"Um." Kirishima’s smiling a little. "She’s—she said if you can’t do it, it’s fine and she understands if you’re not capable—"

"Fucking hell," Katsuki hisses.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s a mess. Everything’s a mess and it’s too fucking hot and Katsuki’s fucking pissed.

He’s never once worked the 2-10 shift—he’d assumed it was a lot more relaxed than the actual breakfast fucking shift, but the easiest shift award has to go to the overnight one, because Katsuki has not seen the place this packed, the dining porch completely filled up with families in matching sun hats and the main floor thrice as populated as it is during Katsuki and Kirishima’s shift.

"People in this area like to eat during the day," Kirishima explains sagely from his place in the corner of the kitchen, having been dragged by Uraraka off the table he’d been using in the restaurant. He’s set up shop on an unused counter, his glue gun already plugged in and a bunch of cut paper on his lap. He waves the glue gun at Katsuki now. "I used to have this shift."

"Then why the fuck," Katsuki snaps, grabbing the two pieces of paper that Uraraka had left, "aren’t you helping?"

"This is all due tomorrow, Katsuki—I’m on a deadline," Kirishima says meekly.

Katsuki fixes him with a look. "Fuck, aren’t we all?"

Kirishima only smiles, constrained, but he gets up, brushing paper bits off his jeans. He dodges a frazzled line cook as he makes his way over to Katsuki. "What have we got?"

Katsuki slaps the paper against Kirishima’s chest, who just pries it out of Katsuki’s hands easily. His hands are warm, and Katsuki moves his hands away as soon as Kirishima has the paper.

"Okay—" Raising his voice for the sake of the rest of the kitchen staff, he calls, "Breakfast Combo B, no meat. Chicken with half. Sandwich with bacon. Breakfast Combo C—with pancakes, not waffles." He switches to the second order. "Then just two dessert waffles."

"Fucking speak Japanese," Katsuki hisses, reaching behind Kirishima anyway to drop chicken into the fryer. Kirishima doesn’t budge, turning the paper over to Katsuki like that would fucking help—he’s too close, though, and all that really does is turn Uraraka’s list into something even more incoherent and unintelligible. "You’re making no fucking sense."

Kirishima laughs, and Katsuki feels the laugh against him. "Fine, sure—Breakfast Combo B has two eggs, two pieces of toast, two pieces of waffles. Then the next’s order just fried chicken with half a waffle." He squints at the order as he does, but behind him, Katsuki can see the kitchen staff falling into place, taking up their positions in prompt accordance to the things Kirishima’s listing off. It’s chaos, but with Kirishima there, it’s suddenly organized chaos, and Katsuki can’t shake off how weird it feels after a full hour of running the kitchen and finding the staff unable to function by itself.

Kirishima belongs here—had probably grown up in this chaos, listing off orders by the time he can read. It’s a language he speaks, more than he does shitty terms like GDP and metropolitan. He’s still listing things off, on to the second order now. "The first desert waffle just wants whipped cream, bananas and chocolates. The second wants chocolate chips and fudge and—Suzu-san, do we still have Earl Grey ice cream?"

The last part is directed at someone behind Katsuki, but Katsuki doesn’t look away from Kirishima, who blinks away from whoever the hell Suzu-san is and turns back to Katsuki—he reddens easily, stepping back like he just noticed the proximity. "I—sorry—"

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "Why the hell do you work the floor when you’re better at this?"

"What?" Kirishima says, inching past Katsuki to hang the orders back where Uraraka picks up the trays. "I’m no cook—I’m better at dealing with the customers—better at dealing with them than with food, you know?"

Katsuki knows. He rolls his eyes again. "Whatever."

"You can start on the breakfast sandwich, Katsuki," Kirishima calls cheerfully, taking some savage pleasure in this. "Egg, cheese, tomato, lettuce and mayo~"

"Fuck you," Katsuki says, decidedly, but he moves over to the sandwich counter.

Kirishima eventually moves all his paper stuff to the bar, taking over the order-calling and managing to help Uraraka keep track of which tray goes to which table. He builds a couple of houses while he’s at it, painstakingly gluing white paper shutter windows onto white paper walls. It’s a silly amount of multitasking—but Kirishima hardly looks fazed, glue gun in one hand and Uraraka’s order pad in the other.

It strikes Katsuki that he can’t imagine Kirishima ever going still, even for a moment—there’s always shit happening around him, he’s always doing shit, and it feels wrong to imagine Kirishima even just fucking standing without doing anything. There are things that just don’t fit—his mother with her business voice, Katsuki in a team-oriented club—and Kirishima being forced into a complete calm is one of them.

Maybe it’s why Kirishima in Business Management feels wrong; the mental image involves shoving Kirishima into a formal, uncomfortable suit, of forcing him into a 9-5 job like the businessmen that frequent the minimalist coffee shops right outside the restaurant. Kirishima’s a multi-tasker even at life, and he shouldn’t be thrown into a capitalist cage just because he’s too fucking much of a family person to really think this through—

"Katsuki, did you hear me?"

Katsuki understands, though—latching onto something and working towards that blindly. He understands that more than anything. Consequences and sacrifices don’t matter when he’s working towards something that matters to him, and maybe that’s what all of them—Kirishima, Uraraka, Katsuki’s mother—meant when they’d given him their respective versions of the same damn excessively sentimental spiel.

"I said," Kirishima says—and Katsuki doesn’t fucking jump, he doesn’t, only that Kirishima’s too loud for someone suddenly too close and it’s fucking rude. "Can you go get the omelettes? The chef usually does it."

Katsuki elbows him back, and Kirishima dodges, laughing.

"You weren’t listening—I had to come over before I left—"

Katsuki scowls. "You’re leaving?"

Kirishima nods brightly. "Class. My last one before the exam next week."

Katsuki doesn’t really have anything to say to that except, "Don’t fuck anything up."

"It’s the last class," Kirishima says, nodding again. "What’s the wors—"

"Don’t even fucking finish that sentence," Katsuki cuts in, rolling his eyes. He elbows Kirishima again, who just catches his arm this time and squeezes good-naturedly. His hand’s still warm, curling just under the end of one of Katsuki’s shirt sleeves. "Fucking scram, shithead."

"No, but wait—don’t show up later, okay? One shift a day."

Katsuki scowls at that. "Angelface over there did more than one shift two days in a row."

"And it won’t happen again," Kirishima says, a little too seriously. He makes it up for it with a perky grin. "Look, I know you’re gonna miss me, Katsuki, but seriously, don’t—"

Katsuki thinks Kirishima’s hand around his arm tightens, but he brushes it off in favor of retorting, "Who fucking said I wanted to stay anyway?"

"Right," Kirishima says—and he hesitates, for the briefest of moments, before letting Katsuki go. Katsuki looks away and pretends he doesn’t notice.

"You leaving or what, bastard?"

"I’m going, I’m going, jeez." Kirishima waves to the rest of the staff, looking like he’s barely stopping short of blowing them all kisses.

Katsuki, for once, doesn’t watch him go.

The restaurant winds down to its usual lull around 5PM, and when Uraraka slumps down behind the bar, Katsuki takes that as his cue to take off his apron and do the same.

Uraraka smiles up wearily at him. "Did you have a fun time, Prince?"

"Shut the fuck up," Katsuki mutters reflexively, sitting down two bar seats away from her.

Uraraka watches him for a couple of seconds. Then she asks, "Has your mom been…okay?"

"What the hell happened to shutting up?" Katsuki runs a hand sluggishly through his hair. "She’s fine, what the fuck. You saw her yesterday."

"That’s not what I mean." Uraraka sticks her tongue out. "She’s just—been spacing out lately, so I was wondering if things were okay. And all that."

"It’s none of your business, fuckmunch."

"You’re right," Uraraka says. "It’s yours. But you probably don’t even know what I’m talking about."

Katsuki glares. "Try me."

Uraraka frowns. "She’s been really distracted lately? Spacing out and stuff?"

"She does that all the time," Katsuki retorts. "She’s busy trying to get this place’s shit together. Easier said than fucking done."

"No, I know, but—" Uraraka squints at him. "There’s something bothering her. I just know there is."

"The restaurant," Katsuki says shortly.

Uraraka heaves a sigh and rolls her eyes. "Can you try to be less awful about these things?"

Katsuki doesn’t know which things she means, though; Uraraka and the morning staff probably see Katsuki’s mother more than he does, with the way their schedules have been arranged at the restaurant. The only time they ever really get to talk is on Mondays, but lately, all she’s had to talk to Katsuki about was the restaurant and what he thinks about it—and being ignored by her in favor of this shithole is fucking fine, but it also kind of defeats the purpose of him coming here at her request in the first place.

"I’m not Shitty Hair," Katsuki bites out. "I don’t try to helicopter parent my own damn mother."

"Yeah, no, duh," Uraraka counters. "How are you so different from Kirishima-kun, I don’t understand."

Katsuki picks up a menu from the stack in front of him, absently looking through it just so he won’t have to look at Uraraka the whole time. "Why would I wanna be like him?"

"It’ll just be ironic, because—" Uraraka gives him that look again when she breaks off, and this time Katsuki turns to her irritably.

"Because what? Use your damn words, Angelface."

"He—" Uraraka hesitates, audibly and visibly, before she shakes herself out of it, blatantly debating with herself. "I don’t know. He really looked up to you. In high school."

It’s hot out, today, the air humid even late into the afternoon—or maybe Katsuki has just been in the kitchen for too long, frying omelettes and chicken and pancakes. He feels a little dizzy now that he’s sitting down and letting it all catch up. There’s a thought, nagging at him insistently from somewhere in the back of his head, but he says, "How do you know that?"

"Huh?"

The smell of coffee is strong, too, dizzying, suffocating. "How do you know that?"

"I—" Uraraka startles, blinking rapidly. "Kirishima-kun went to the next high school over. Our team used—the diamond we used was technically his high school’s. He was the manager for the baseball team there—so—we saw him all the time. You don’t—" She pauses, hesitates again. "You don’t remember?"

Katsuki doesn’t remember a damn thing from high school that doesn’t involve Deku and Uraraka, and he’d like to keep it that way. But there’s still that shit knocking at his head, tugging and pulling for attention, except it refuses to surface. What he recalls instead is that framed photo of Kirishima in baseball gear, grinning at the camera, and Kirishima’s mother saying; Eijirou has talked a lot about Katsuki here since high school.

"I don’t give a shit," Katsuki manages, and he hates how strangled he sounds. He feels rattled, unhinged, like someone had grabbed him by the heel and dangled him from high up. "It’s not my fault Kirishima’s always fucking ready to drop everything when I ask him to."

Uraraka makes a noise that sounds like it’d been squeezed out of her. "You know?"

"What?" Katsuki glowers, hand tightening around the menu in his hand. It’s fucking offensive, how surprised Uraraka looks, like the fact that Kirishima gives more fucks about other people than he does about himself should be a shock.

Katsuki has never known anyone who juggles shit the way Kirishima does—he’s so fucking awful about it that he’s almost good at it, but Katsuki’s never known anyone else who’d stubbornly hold on to all that stuff and just expect things to work out, one way or another. Everyone knows that’s not how life works; you’re either good at it or you’re fucking not.

But Kirishima’s the type to believe otherwise, and Uraraka shouldn’t be acting like this is news to anyone.

"Who doesn’t fucking know?" Katsuki snaps. "It’s not like that idiot runs around trying to hide it."

He doesn’t. Kirishima goes through life every day expecting shit to work out if he just makes it through those 24 hours, then the next, and that if he just single-mindedly did what he can, he’ll get somewhere at some point. He’d been doing it just earlier.

Maybe he’s not too different from Katsuki, at that, only Katsuki is at least aware that no matter how hard you work, you can’t get anywhere substantial with anyone but yourself.

"That’s so—" Uraraka’s still staring at him like Katsuki committed the foulest crime she can think of, and she sounds strangled too. "That’s so shitty of you, Bakugou. You can’t do that to a person."

Katsuki grits his teeth and puts the menu down. "Do what?"

"Do what you’re doing to Kirishima-kun!" Uraraka stands up, her apron swishing, equally indignant. Katsuki stares up at her, unimpressed. "You can’t just—lead him on like that, if you know. That’s so shitty. You can’t—It’s not fair to him."

"What the fuck are you going on about?" Katsuki hisses. He scowls up at her form, barely looming over him. "Is it supposed to be a fucking secret? He’s doing a shitty job at hiding it."

"If you know, then tell him." For someone who’s so convinced of how terrible Katsuki can be, Uraraka looks like she’s having a hard fucking time processing whatever awful thing she thinks he’s done. "How stupid are you being about this?"

Katsuki glares at her, irritated. Kirishima doesn’t need to be told how annoyingly friendly he is—he wears it like something practiced, something grown into. Kirishima’s naive about a lot of things, but Katsuki’s willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to being aware, at the very least, of how easy-going he actually is.

Not for the first time that day, he tries to imagine Kirishima toning down the cheer, for once not greeting every damn person that so much as returns his smile, for once not poking at Katsuki and spitting out the most mundane shit Katsuki will ever have to hear in his entire life. It doesn’t fit, like that, because imagining Kirishima with someone else’s personality is like Katsuki imagining his mother with his father’s personality.

"You tell him," he snaps. "I don’t give a shit."

"Tell Kirishima-kun? That you know he likes you?" Uraraka throws right back. Katsuki freezes. "In what world is that a decent thing to do, Bakugou?"

Katsuki had stilled mid-movement, and the abrupt stop sends the menu from his hand sliding off the pile and onto the floor. He hears it fall, laminated paper against the floor. "What?"

It takes Uraraka a while to piece things through—it’s obvious when it falls into place, because she slaps both hands on top of her mouth like Hagakure had when she’d first met Katsuki. There’s surprise and disbelief and, from Uraraka, obvious guilt, and looking at her, Katsuki doesn’t have to ask her to repeat what she’d just said, nor to clarify which version of likes she means.

It doesn’t mean it registers easily in his head, though.

He stands up—absently, he goes to pick up the menu he’d dropped. His head’s still throbbing, painful and maddening, but he manages to bite out, "I’m leaving now."

Uraraka looks at him, and he hates how simultaneously concerned and expectant those round fucking eyes are. "Baku—"

"I’m fucking leaving now," he repeats, somehow finding in himself the energy. "Is everyone in this restaurant a fucking tattle-tale? Is that part of the job description?"

Uraraka has the sense to bite down on her bottom lip at that, and Katsuki has no fucking idea what she expects him to say—no worries, it’s fine, it was a misunderstanding?

She knows him better than that—she knows it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with her, she knows even better not to say anything as Katsuki gathers his things and tosses the one menu back to the pile.

 

 

 

 

"Katsuki, is that you? You’re done already?"

He hadn’t been counting on seeing his mom waiting in the living room—but she is, legs propped on the coffee table and laptop on her lap. She’s visibly distracted when she looks up, but the expression clears when she sees Katsuki’s face, only to give way to a worried frown.

Which means Katsuki’s doing a really shit job dealing with whatever the fuck this is he’s feeling right now.

Katsuki read, once, that there’s some weird tobacco plant that releases very specific compounds—distress green leaf volatiles—when it’s infested with caterpillars. Some German scientists with nothing better to do figured out that the compound attracts bugs that eat the caterpillars, getting rid of the infestation.

That’s what it feels like, having all the shit he’s feeling is so obvious to his mother he might as well be fucking blare-horning them to her.

But "I just got pizza on my way back," is all she says. She pushes the laptop off her lap, though, leaning forward as Katsuki stomps over to the kitchen, grabs the bottle of hot sauce, and spreads it over a pizza slice.

"The shift didn’t go well?"

Katsuki would have scoffed—as it is, he stuffs the pizza slice in his mouth and chews with vigor. It burns, the hot sauce, but he stares steadfastly ahead and chomps angrily at the pizza.

It’s not anger he’s feeling, that much he can tell. He wants to hit shit and throw shit at any given day, so those urges are no indication of what this is that’s hammering at his head—the telling sign is the lack of desire to go hunt down Kirishima and drag him out of his house, if only to demand why the hell he had to find out shit like that from Uraraka. That urge is completely absent at all, and all that’s left is a terribly blended mix of annoyance, frustration—and maybe confusion, if he lets himself dig that deep.

He doesn’t. He takes another slice, tongue still burning, and covers that with hot sauce, too.

When he looks up, his whole face burning, his mother’s patting the space beside her on the couch.

Before she can corner him, Katsuki drags a box over to the coffee table and says, "What’s your deal?"

She frowns as he throws himself heavily beside her. "What now?"

"Your deal," Katsuki repeats, stubborn. "Angelface said you had a deal."

"You’re not making sense, kiddo," his mother says, and he hates how patient she sounds, crossing her legs all regal, like she’s not being fucking difficult on purpose. "Use your words, Katsuki."

"I fucking am," Katsuki hisses.

"Unbelievable." She sighs, rolling her eyes. "I’m fine. Are you fine?"

"Stop," Katsuki says, fighting the urge to stomp alongside his own words, "turning this around. It’s fucking annoying."

"What’s annoying is that you’re literally near tears from all that fucking hot sauce," his mother returns, "And yet you’re still acting like nothing happened. You look bothered as shit. Now talk."

"I don’t fucking want to."

His mother sighs again, but there’s as much fondness in this one as there is exasperation, and that shuts Katsuki up, has him stopping at the fourth slice and slumping down against the couch. He just feels more frustrated when he opens his mouth, and he doesn’t know how to scowl back at his mother and be able to properly express the fact that he feels like someone has thrown him into a lake and asked him to walk on water.

She stares back at him, equally stubborn. She gives in first, though, still sighing. "You wanna know something, kiddo? Wanna know why I worry?"

Katsuki stares back at her, trying to convey you just always worry with his frown.

His mother rolls her eyes, but she looks like she knows exactly what he’s saying. "I worry because you always act you’re tough shit," she says, raising an eyebrow at him. "Which—yeah, yeah, you are, don’t look at me like that, good for you, brat—it doesn’t mean I stop worrying."

"What the fuck is there to worry about?" Katsuki bites down on his bottom lip, hard, when it comes out raspy. "What the hell do you take me for?"

"A cute son, an aggressive pitcher, a hell of a good student," his mom answers easily, ticking it off her fingers like she’d known he’ll ask. "But also the type of kid to convince himself he’s fine doing everything alone."

Katsuki swallows, and it goes down hot and painful. "I am fine."

He’s fucking great. He did everything alone; got into Todai alone, stayed in Todai alone, hadn’t ever had to rely on anyone but himself even when he’d been part of a team.

He’d never really tried anything else, but that’s never been a problem.

"I know you are," his mother says now. "You always have been. Self-reliant even when you were tiny as shit. It’s not a bad thing. But it’s not a necessity. You don’t have to be alone all the damn time."

The concept of loneliness feels like a ridiculous idea, but Katsuki has always been sure, above anything else, that it’s better to try things when the only factor involved is you—anything else will complicate things, and complications get in the way of virtually everything else.

It’s a simple philosophy, and yet people keep finding fault in it. Katsuki throws his head back against the couch. "I don’t have to not be alone, either."

"No," his mom amends, and Katsuki feels the couch shift as she leans back as well. "But sometimes it helps to have someone to—I don’t even fucking know what you do for fun up there. Do you even have fun?"

Katsuki turns his head to look at her witheringly.

She grins back. "It’s nice to have someone, period. No man is an island and all that shit. Doesn’t fucking matter where you are or where you wanna be, it always helps to have someone. You’re not proving shit just because you’re not relying on anyone."

The irritated sound that Katsuki makes comes from somewhere at the back of his throat, painful. "What the hell would I need someone for?"

"You tell me, Katsuki," his mom says, no fucking help as always. "Someone to help you study? Someone to distract you for when things get too much—don’t tell me things don’t bother you. Something’s bothering you right now. It’s never a bad thing, in any situation, to have someone you can call up at any time of the day or night."

"I don’t fucking want that," Katsuki mumbles, but it falls a little flat.

"Then you don’t. Whatever," his mom says, giving him a one-shouldered shrug. "But sometimes, other people wanna be there for you. They’re not looking down on you. It doesn’t make you—whatever you think it makes you. Helpless. Or vulnerable. It’s always a choice, when you turn to someone and trust them with whatever shit is going on with you, but it’s also their choice to be there for you. Common sense, kiddo."

Katsuki doesn’t realize he’s been biting his lip this whole time until his mother reaches out and lightly taps his lower cheek.

"Whether or not you want me and your dad to worry about doesn’t really change the fact that we do," she says. "We fucking do. Todai isn’t exactly known for being Disneyland. Can you blame us for worrying?"

When she says us, though, it doesn’t sound like she’s still talking about just her and Katsuki’s dad.

Katsuki thinks he understands what Uraraka had been nagging him about in that quick second it takes for his mother to widen her grin.

He narrows his eyes. "You’re worried about him."

Katsuki knows he’s right when his mother blinks. She makes a face. "Your dad? Of course I am."

"This isn’t the first time he’s been gone for work," Katsuki points out curtly. "He’s always fine wherever the hell he goes."

"Worrying doesn’t really work that way, brat." She moves her hand from his cheek to the top of his head, ruffling his hair. "When you’re that attached to someone, it’s not like you can just stop thinking about them and that’s it."

"Gross," Katsuki mutters, half-heartedly slapping her hand away.

"It’s pretty fucking scary, when someone you love leaves for a place where you can’t see them," his mother continues, like he hadn’t said anything. "It’s scary when it’s your dad. It’s even scarier when it’s you."

Katsuki swallows. His nose is runny, and his tongue still hurts a little from the hot sauce. "Then don’t get attached to anyone."

"Sure." She nods agreeably. "That’ll probably work if I isolate myself as much as you do. I used to be like that. But once you let people in, it’s kinda hard not to get attached back."

"Then work harder at not getting attached," Katsuki says shortly.

"Is that what you’re doing?" His mom lowers her voice, uncrosses her arms and lays her hands flat on her lap. "Working hard at not getting attached? How’s that going?"

Katsuki wants to think he’s got a comeback for that, but whatever it is gets stuck in his throat when he looks at his mother. She looks back right at him, eyebrow raised—and Katsuki feels, all of a sudden, incredibly tired.

"I’m going back in two weeks," he says.

He expects her to sigh, say something like did you not learn anything from this conversation just now, but all she does is shrug and nod. "I know."

It doesn’t get rid of whatever Katsuki’s feeling, but his mother’s already pulling out sheets from under her laptop and smoothening them out. "So, I got everything arranged and I was thinking of closing the restaurant for renovations the entire second week of September. It works—your dad’s coming home that week, and both Eijirou and Ochako have shit they need to attend…"

She keeps on talking, her voice still in that low register, and Katsuki tries to listen, he really fucking does, but all he can think about, staring up at the ceiling, is the way Uraraka had looked at him, and the fact that he’s seeing Kirishima tomorrow.

Kirishima with his stupid short-term goals and inability to think things through properly.

"What’s gonna happen," Katsuki finds himself asking, interrupting his mother mid-sentence, "to the restaurant? When you’re done with it?"

His mother pauses, the sheets stilling in her hands. "I don’t really know," she says, too quiet for her.

Katsuki swallows. "Will they sell it—to someone?"

"That’s how it usually works, baby." And Katsuki must look extra pitiful, because she hasn’t called him that in years. "The company might decide to keep it. But if someone wants to buy the place, then—we can’t really stop them, if they offer a shit ton of money."

"So basically what we’re doing here," Katsuki says, voice strangled, and wonders where we became a thing, "is working on the Kirishimas’ restaurant just so someone else can have it."

His mother doesn’t look at him. Katsuki waits for her to default to some bullshit she’s perfected over years of hearing this question, of having to deal with shit like this from people more involved than Katsuki ever will be—but what she says, still uncharacteristically quiet, is;

"It’s my job, Katsuki."

Katsuki stares at his mother, at the way she’s looking down at her sheets, contemplative.

"You said you would have shut it down," he says, and he hates that his voice is quiet, too. It doesn’t sound like him, not the way it echoes in a house with just two people. "Before. You said you were gonna shut it down. Why didn’t you?"

His mother hums, non-committal. "Wanna try and guess, kiddo?"

Katsuki tightens his hands around each other. It turns his knuckles white. "You stuck around because that idiot is too idealistic for his own damn good."

She finally looks up from her sheets to give him a look. "Eijirou cares a lot about the place."

"Too much," Katsuki mutters.

"We all have those things," his mother says. "That we care about. We all have shit that matter to us. Shit we’ll do anything for."

Katsuki scoffs. "All of us?"

"All of us." His mother smiles—not a shit-eating grin, just a smile. Katsuki knows they share that smile, just like they share so many other things. She reaches up and ruffles his hair, tugging at it exasperatedly before she lets go. "You and your father happen to matter a hell fucking lot to me. Don’t forget that."

"God," Katsuki mutters, but he doesn’t push her away.

 

 

 

 

 

Just Katsuki’s luck—and so typical of him to ruin Katsuki’s life without even trying—that Kirishima uses Katsuki’s number to his full advantage that Tuesday night.

It might as well be Wednesday morning, because it’s 2 A.M when Katsuki receives Kirishima’s brief, pathetic warning text: im calling!!!!!!

And then the phone starts ringing, flashing SHITFUCK across the screen like some post-modern ouija board message.

Katsuki’s sure, more than anything, that Kirishima would just call again if this one doesn’t get picked up. He yanks the phone off its charging cable.

"What the fuck do you want, Shitty Hair?"

"Katsuki." Kirishima sounds alarmingly awake—which should be unsurprising for someone who’s used to overnight shifts, but Katsuki still feels thrown off by how sharp and clear he sounds over the phone. "Um. Small question. Kinda ridiculous. How do I calculate nominal GDP?"

Or maybe Katsuki’s just so used to sitting beside Kirishima late into the night and spending eight hours listening to him talk. "Quantity of the shit produced in a nation—"

"The…shit?"

"Goods, idiot." Katsuki throws himself onto his own bed, almost hitting his head against the wall. "Quantity of the damn goods times current prices—"

"Multiplied together!"

"Added together," Katsuki corrects, rolling his eyes up at the ceiling. "What the fuck have you been learning all day?"

"I’ve been studying really hard," Kirishima protests from the other end. He sounds way too clear, or maybe the volume on Katsuki’s phone is too loud, but it’s rattling. "How did the rest of the shift go?"

Katsuki makes the mistake of closing his eyes and replaying his conversation with Uraraka. "Fine," he bites out. "No thanks to you fucking bailing."

"You still answered my call, though." Kirishima laughs—he sounds so close, his voice lower over the phone, and it makes Katsuki feel something.

It makes him feel flimsy, unnecessarily imbalanced.

"Hey, shithead."

Kirishima hums, the sound subdued, vibrating from the other end of the line. Katsuki feels shaky, for some fucking reason, the tips of his fingers warm as he tightens his hold on the phone, and he feels tempted to hang up right fucking then and there.

He doesn’t know why he doesn’t give in to that temptation.

"When they sell the place," Katsuki says, looking steadily up at his ceiling at the sudden silence on the other end, "Are you gonna stick around?"

The silence stretches on for another few beats; Katsuki pulls the phone away from his ear to check if Kirishima had hung up. But Kirishima’s not the type to leave anyone like that, and Katsuki almost misses it when Kirishima finally talks;

"Uh," he starts, ever eloquent. "Probably. I’ve never really thought about it."

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "When do you ever fucking think about things?"

"I—" Kirishima pauses, and Katsuki hears paper shuffling on the other side. "It hasn’t really sunk in, you know? That the place is this close to—not being ours. My parents are fine with it—they’ve thought about it a lot and stuff. I just—haven’t."

Another pause, and then, "I can’t imagine not staying, though."

That’s not something Katsuki can understand—not something he wants to understand, because as far as he’s concerned, nothing is ever meant for staying. It’s a childish notion, the idea of finding a place or person and being chained down to it.

"So you’re just gonna stick around?" Katsuki says, flatly. "Even when some fucker takes over the place?"

"Most likely," Kirishima says, faintly. "I—I grew up in that restaurant. In that house. We don’t have to own the place, anymore—I just wanna—I don’t know. I just don’t wanna leave that behind when I don’t have to. I just don’t wanna see the place I’d grown up in disappear, I guess."

It’s trapping, this kind of attachment, but that kind of logic is also what makes Kirishima himself. Katsuki fights the urge to sigh. "You really are fucking greedy."

Kirishima laughs again, low and genuine, and Katsuki rolls onto his side before his body can do something stupid. "I guess so. I’m still functioning pretty well."

"Who lied to you," Katsuki mutters.

"Katsuki?"

"What?"

"I do," Kirishima says, suddenly, and how he always manages to sound simultaneously firm and gentle about these things—Katsuki doesn’t wanna fucking think about. "I do think about things. I’m not your kind of reckless, Katsuki. I have things I think about before I do them."

Katsuki bites down on his bottom teeth. "Like what, idiot?"

For the briefest of seconds, it sounds like Kirishima’s about to instinctively reply. But whatever it is, he bites back, because when he talks again, he laughs first, less full this time. "Stupid things."

Katsuki’s holding the phone too hard; his hand feels clammy around the plastic. "No surprise from you."

"Nope," Kirishima replies, sprightly. "Guess not."

Katsuki rolls to his other side. There’s no light coming in under his bedroom door, and aside from the sound of his own voice, the entire house is quiet and still.

"Sleep," Katsuki mutters, abruptly. "Get some fucking sleep and maybe you’ll get back some damn brain cells."

"Is that what they tell you in Todai?" Kirishima counters cheerfully. "I can’t, though. I’m at the restaurant, remember?"

It didn’t even occur to Katsuki. "Why the hell are you on your phone?"

"Because I wanted to call you?" Kirishima says, his voice a question. Wanted, not needed. "You’ve called me at work before."

Katsuki grits his teeth.

"But hey—Thanks, Katsuki."

"For what?" Katsuki scoffs. "For telling you to get proper sleep?"

"That, too," Kirishima says, and Katsuki thinks he can almost see Kirishima’s grin. "But thanks for picking up at 2 A.M."

"It’s not even that late, wimp," Katsuki retorts. "We stay up like this all the damn time."

"I’m still glad I called you, though," Kirishima admits, voice too honest. "You don’t make a half-bad 2 A.M, Bakugou Katsuki."

Katsuki closes his eyes. He doesn’t know what to fucking say to that.

"I don’t make a half-bad anything," he mutters.

"No," Kirishima agrees all too readily. "No, you don’t. Except maybe an impromptu restaurant manager."

"Fuck you," Katsuki immediately says. "I don’t wanna fucking hear that from the fucker that bailed."

Kirishima laughs, loud and blithe, whatever edge it adopted earlier now completely gone. Katsuki, for his part, feels a little too triumphant about it. "That’s fair. But I should be telling you to sleep. So good night, Katsuki."

"Just fucking hang up, asshat," Katsuki says.

The silence feels too loud when Kirishima does hang up, and Katsuki blames that when he falls asleep hearing Kirishima’s voice.

 

 

 

 

 

Kirishima’s exam is on the first Friday of September.

When Katsuki gets there Wednesday night with four hours of sleep and the rare desire to chug down coffee, Kirishima’s already set up behind the service bar, muttering to himself. He’s focused enough, murmuring under his breath, that he doesn’t notice until Katsuki’s thrown his bag over the bar and already tying his apron around his waist.

Kirishima takes a while to blink up at Katsuki, then he beams. "Hey."

"Hey," Katsuki answers gruffly. He feels ruffled, hyper-aware of everything he does around Kirishima—did he used to Hey back, or did he ignore him altogether? He turns around and spots Uraraka across the restaurant, doing a shit job at pretending she’s not looking over at them.

Katsuki rolls his eyes upwards.

"Boss got a temporary replacement for the 2-10 shift, I heard," Kirishima’s saying. "But I thought you guys were doing fine yesterday."

Katsuki rolls his eyes at him, too. "Thanks for fucking leaving when it got the busiest—you better have paid attention to that last lecture or I’ll fucking—"

"I was productive!" Kirishima nods earnestly—and shit, Katsuki’s the ridiculous one here, because he shouldn’t be this conscious of Kirishima’s body language. "Are you—you alright, Katsuki?"

"What?" Katsuki snaps, before he can help himself.

Kirishima blinks, visibly confused.

"I’m fucking fine. Keep doing—whatever the fuck you’re doing."

"You told me flashcards might help with the terms and definitions, so—" Kirishima holds up his flashcards proudly. "Ta-da."

Katsuki scoffs. "Do they help?"

"They help a lot!" Kirishima nods, entirely too happy about the concept of flashcards. "You helped a lot, Katsuki."

Katsuki grits his teeth. "How the hell do you say shit like that?"

Kirishima laughs, waving his flashcards as if to say Katsuki’s overreacting.

He’s probably right.

"Hi—um—Bakugou," Uraraka says, popping up behind the bar. "Can we—can we talk? For a sec?"

No, Katsuki almost says, out of instinct, but Kirishima’s looking between the two of them, face openly curious. So Katsuki gets up, shoving his hands into his pockets, and follows Uraraka.

His mother’s eyes are sharp as they pass by her office’s open door, but she only smiles back at Uraraka and says nothing as they walk into the kitchen.

The kitchen is as hot and loud as ever, only less busy compared to the shift from hell the day before. He recognizes none of the faces running around from shelf to shelf now, even though there are only three of them—but he can tell just from looking why the overnight kitchen staff pisses off his mother so much: blatantly lazy, following the instructions straight off a piece of paper taped near the frying area. There’s none of the organized chaos from yesterday, or maybe that’s because Kirishima’s not around reading off the order pad.

"I’m sorry," Uraraka blurts out, pulling back Katsuki’s attention sharply. "About yesterday. It wasn’t my place."

How she could apologize to him after rallying against him for not apologizing to her, Katsuki doesn’t understand. Uraraka’s confusing like that, driven by an even mix of emotion and rationality that makes her unpredictable when it comes to conversation. It’s not because she’s kind, or undiscriminating and sweet—she’s not, especially to Katsuki—just that Uraraka’s own sense of morals might just be as defined as Katsuki’s set of values.

What he does understand, then, is that this apology shouldn’t be for him.

"Why are you apologizing to me?" he mutters, looking away from her. One of the kitchen staff is working on an omelette, transferring it to a sizzling plate and covering it with hot sauce with the enthusiasm of a dying tortoise. "Apologize to Kirishima."

"I—" Uraraka hesitates. "I will, but—do you want him to know? That you know?"

It’s never occurred to Katsuki that Uraraka’s the kind of person who’d willingly lie for him, despite everything—but it might be less about Katsuki himself and more about how the omission of the truth will affect Kirishima, in the long run.

Katsuki can understand that, at least. He wishes he couldn’t.

"I don’t fucking know," Katsuki says. He’d intended it to be dry, flat, but instead it comes out too quiet. "I’m out of here in two weeks. It’s your call, I don’t give a fuck."

Uraraka, too, is quiet for a bit. Then, hesitantly, she asks, "Are you mad at him?"

Katsuki wants to say yes, he really, really does—he wants to say I’m fucking livid, because this sort of shitty drama shouldn’t have happened after only one damn month. Instead, he doesn’t say anything.

Uraraka’s expression opens up easily at that—they’re both so easy to read, her and Kirishima, and it pisses Katsuki off. It’s easier not getting involved with people when they don’t open themselves up so fucking easily back. "Then. Do you—"

She doesn’t finish the question, looking at Katsuki knowing full well he’s capable of filling things in for her. He doesn’t. He pushes his lips into a tight line before he repeats, "I don’t give a fuck."

Uraraka’s expression shutters just as easily. "You do, though," she says, equally quiet. "About this. About Kirishima-kun."

Katsuki refuses to keep looking at her. Across from the guy making the omelette, someone’s working on the waffles, hissing as he accidentally touches the grill.

Katsuki, in that moment, has never hated a place more.

He turns back to Uraraka. "What the hell do you want me to do about it? Talk to him about this shit? We’re not in high school anymore."

"Well—no, but—" Uraraka bites down on her lower lip. "I don’t know."

It’s tiring, this situation. It had been easier to brush it off, with Kirishima on the other end of the phone, because if he wasn’t gonna say shit about it, then why would Katsuki?

"Exactly," Katsuki eventually mutters, and shoulders past Uraraka.

He stops by his mother’s office, rapping on the doorway. Without context nor explanation, he declares, "Waffles on sizzling plates."

He doesn’t get to see her expression, because he turns back away, stomping over to where Kirishima’s already worriedly looking Uraraka over as she clocks out.

Katsuki sits down beside him without a word.

Kirishima, surprisingly, doesn’t pry. He bids good night to Katsuki’s mother and Uraraka, and it’s not until they’ve heard the car pull away from the front of the restaurant that he turns to Katsuki.

"Is everything alright?"

"Fine," Katsuki bites out.

"Then…what’s with this—" Kirishima waves a hand at the entrance. "Tension?"

Katsuki snorts.

Kirishima frowns. "Have you still…not apologized to her?"

"Apologize?" Katsuki scowls, scornful. "Fucking apologize for what?"

"I—I don’t know," Kirishima murmurs weakly. "I just—I thought you’d have talked things out with her by now. And apologized."

Katsuki’s sick of hearing about this—and especially from Kirishima. "Don’t you have better things to worry about?"

Kirishima just stares back, genuinely clueless.

Katsuki barely fights back a groan. "The exam, fuckmunch."

"Oh," Kirishima says, blinking back down to the worksheets in front of him. "I think—I think I’ll be okay."

"Thinking isn’t the same as being," Katsuki retorts. "You better fucking do well. I spent a whole damn week of my life—"

"Hey, Katsuki," Kirishima interrupts, sudden. He straightens up. "If I study really hard and do well, will you do something for me?"

Katsuki looks at him flatly. "No."

"Oh, but—" Kirishima pouts—honest to god pouts. Katsuki has to look away. "I don’t wanna go by myself."

Katsuki, despite himself, glances at him sideways. "Go fucking where?"

"They’re unveiling the city replica this Tuesday night," Kirishima says, sounding way too sullen about it. "Like, the full one, once they get it all together. I dropped my parts off earlier today."

Katsuki narrows his eyes. "Why don’t you just—not show up?"

"I need them to sign me off so I can get the extra credit," Kirishima says, solemn.

"Ask Angelface to go with you."

"Uraraka has to be at this pottery thing her other workplace is doing."

Katsuki actually looks at Kirishima then, eyes still narrowed. "So you did ask her before you fucking asked me?"

Kirishima’s eyes widen for a fraction, and then he’s waving his pen around, scavenging for some shitty excuse. "N-No, well, I—I didn’t think there was a chance you’d come."

"Without asking me?" Katsuki scoffs. "You know me that well, do you, Shitty—"

"You don’t really have a track record—" Kirishima worries on his bottom lip, looking unaware that he’d just talked over Katsuki. "I mean—you know. You’re not exactly—you’re the type to show up only if you wanna be there. So. I took my chance with Uraraka first—and now—now I’m asking you."

"You’re making a hell lot of assumptions here," Katsuki points out grumpily.

The expression that crosses Kirishima’s face makes it look like his assumptions aren’t exactly founded on nothing. Katsuki narrows his eyes.

"Does that mean you’ll come?" Kirishima says anyway, leaning forward, ever fucking earnest. "Yeah? That’s a yes, right?"

Katsuki can’t look away, like that, so he settles for rolling his eyes. "When do the grades come out?"

"Should be out by Monday, since it’s a make-up exam," Kirishima chirps. "Why?"

"I’ll go if you pass," Katsuki says stiffly.

"You will?" Kirishima brightens up so visibly it’s hard to watch. "I’ll definitely ace it!"

Something in Katsuki’s chest clenches at the way Kirishima grins up at him. He’s saved from doing anything about it by the sound of a couple coming in, and Kirishima welcoming them in brightly.

Katsuki reaches over to grab a menu, hitting Kirishima’s head way too lightly. "Don’t make promises you probably can’t keep, idiot. Give me the notepad."

"Huh?"

"Give me the damn notepad," Katsuki snaps, before he can change his mind. "I’ll fucking do it."

Kirishima blinks. "But—"

Katsuki should really be offended by the lack of faith in those stupid wide eyes. "I just have to take their orders, right? Then bring it over?"

"I—yeah, basically—" Kirishima’s speaking too slowly, too disbelieving. "Wait, take two menus—"

Katsuki snatches them out of Kirishima’s hand. "Focus on your fucking exam."

"I—I will," Kirishima says faintly. "I—Thanks, Katsuki."

"Don’t give me thanks, give me results," Katsuki mutters.

He grabs the order pad.

He takes a deep breath, clenching the menus way too hard.

Then he stomps over to Table Four.

 

 

 

 

 

On the day of Kirishima’s exam, Katsuki’s mother closes the restaurant.

Katsuki still finds himself going there that day, though, squinting up at the CLOSED sign—it isn’t Hagakure’s cavity-inducing handwriting underneath it this time. Instead, Katsuki can almost see Tokoyami bent over the blackboard, painstakingly writing out Until we meet again on the second week of the ninth month. We shall open the gates once again on a day of unlocked potential.

"He’s so fucking dramatic," Katsuki mutters to himself.

"You’re not one to talk," someone counters, and Katsuki knows who it is before he turns—since he’d gotten here, there’s only ever been one person who’s had the ability to chime in with absolutely no invitation whatsoever and from absolutely fucking nowhere.

Uraraka looks hesitant, for her part, doing a spot-on impression of Katsuki’s father as she hovers a few steps away, fresh out of the coffee shop next door with a drink in hand. She’s blinking at him, searchingly.

"What are you—" She hesitates for a beat, then, true to character, barges on. "What are you doing here?"

Katsuki glances at her. "None of your fucking business."

Uraraka scoffs right back at him, but it’s half-hearted. "Fine, then, I’ll leave you to your brooding."

She gets about a half step away before she turns back aggressively, hands clenching around her drink’s cup holder. "Our old diamond—it’s nearby. I was thinking of—of going. Do you—do you want to come along?"

Katsuki has never understood Uraraka; her brand of stubbornness has always been less about being persistent and more about being unyielding, the opposite of Kirishima, who tries and tries again no matter what. Instead, Uraraka plays by her own motivations, and while she’s easily susceptible to other people’s suggestions in a way Katsuki has never been, she’s resolute when she needs to be.

It’s probably why people had thought they’d gotten along, back in high school.

But they hadn’t, as far as Katsuki had been concerned.

He doesn’t say anything, but he follows when she starts walking.

It’s right at the end of one of the streets connected to the roundabout; Katsuki feels a little stumped that he hadn’t recognized the area, but the closer they get to the diamond, the more it becomes obvious why. The neighborhood looks completely different—where the area had been exclusively residential, inns and pensions have been opened even here, stores and newly opened restaurants every which way they turn. It’s the most literal embodiment of the old being eaten away by the new that Katsuki has ever seen, and he thinks he understands why his mother had been so insistent about changing things one way or another at the restaurant.

"The high school nearby had to shut down," Uraraka says quietly, walking ahead. She won’t look at him, and Katsuki wants it to stay that way. "Kirishima-kun’s class was the last batch to graduate, I heard. They transferred all the other students to other schools."

Katsuki still doesn’t say anything.

Uraraka’s busy looking around, leading them through an alley and out to a gated area—and this, Katsuki recognizes, as the field comes into view ahead.

"Hey," he says. Uraraka still doesn’t turn around. "How do you know so much about this place? You didn’t fucking go here."

"Maybe not," Uraraka replies slowly. "But I pay attention."

The unlike you is left unspoken, unnecessarily, but Katsuki still grits his teeth. "That’s a little too much attention for something that’s none of your damn business."

"I used to come to this diamond all the time," Uraraka talks over the end of his sentence. "Kirishima-kun would be the one to open the gates for me. Then he’ll wait until I was done before closing up. He’ll let me stay for as long as I need. I tried to pay him once but he wouldn’t take money—just juice and snacks and a couple of favors."

That sounds like Kirishima. Katsuki narrows his eyes at her back. "Why were you even here to begin with?"

"Practice," Uraraka says, finally turning around. She stops, facing Katsuki. "It was more convenient to come here than go to those rentable baseball areas—which I know you went to. Everyone acts like everything’s natural talent with you, but you don’t get to where you are without putting in as much as work as you do."

"You don’t know me," Katsuki retorts, but it sounds too instinctive, haphazard in how much he feels, all of a sudden, like he doesn’t mean it. He breaks eye contact. "Even if you know a lot of shit about that idiot for someone who wasn’t even involved."

Uraraka turns back around, going up to the gates leading into the diamond. It’s been unused for a while, the grass long since overgrown around it and the bases obscured. The benches that used to be around them are mostly gone, except for the ones at the very end, covered in graffiti.

It’s such a sad, pathetic sight, but Katsuki feels nothing.

He’s never felt an attachment to this place—or the team, for that matter. He’s never understood the wistfulness that came with graduating and leaving, and he doesn’t get the nostalgia in Uraraka’s eyes now as she pushes the gate open, completely ignoring the AREA CLOSED OFF sign.

He follows Uraraka inside, and she just stands there, eyes far away.

This place means nothing to him, even if it does to her, and he’s never been the type to try and fake caring about something when he knows full well he’s never given a shit.

Katsuki, eventually, makes an irritated noise. "What’s the point of coming here?"

"They’re taking this area down this week," Uraraka says softly. "I just wanted to see it before then."

"For what?"

"I don’t know." Uraraka sounds confused. "It’s just—isn’t it weird? We played here for three years, and in a few days—none of this would be here?"

"That’s how life fucking works," Katsuki mutters. "Nothing ever sticks around. Nothing’s ever supposed to stick around. What’s your problem?"

Uraraka looks at him witheringly. "Would it harm you to be nostalgic every now and then?"

"Yeah, it would," Katsuki immediately retorts. "I don’t give a shit what they do to this place—this stupid field might be gone, but it’s not gonna do shit to the fact that I remember puking here. That stupid fucking coach making us run around, what the hell was his name—"

"Aizawa-sensei," Uraraka supplies, and he’s disgruntled to see the beginnings of a smile on her face.

"Yeah, him." The memory comes back vividly, and Katsuki feels his head throb in frustrated complaint. "He wasn’t even a real teacher anywhere—just an old geezer with time to spare bossing around some kids. He’ll always be like just pitch whatever the hell you want—no fucking help—I’ll never forget his bullshit." He rolls his eyes. "Who the hell cares if this is gonna be gone? Nothing’s gonna get rid of the shit I had to go through in this place, just to fucking get into Todai."

Uraraka’s smiling now—small, but genuine. It strikes Katsuki as fucked up of her.

"What now, Angelface?"

"Are you trying to cheer me up?" she asks, the fucking point going in one ear and the other. "Telling me the memories will still be there even if this place isn’t?"

Katsuki snorts. "Did you fucking miss the part where I said I don’t give a shit?"

"You always say that, though," Uraraka points out, her drink still sweating onto her hand. "You always say you don’t care about anything, but you do—not always the right things, but you do care about all kinds of stuff."

Katsuki scowls, shoving his hands into his pockets and turning to her. "The right things?"

"Yeah," she says, like they’re talking about the weather. "You care about not being trapped by anything, you care about being the best, you care about not having to rely on anyone. Then you act like that’s supposed to make us impressed."

Katsuki grits his teeth. "Listen—"

"No, you listen," Uraraka cuts in, talking over him, still not unkindly, even if a little defiant. "For once, you listen. Is it so hard for you to talk things through like a normal person, Bakugou?"

Katsuki finds it hard to continue protesting when she’s like that, like some fusion of the worst of Katsuki’s mother and Kirishima.

Uraraka barely hesitates. "I—You have this—this idea of who you want to be, what you should be, and you throw aside anything that doesn’t help you get to that. And you think it’s being strong and focused, only concentrating on that goal, but at the end of the day, aren’t you just pushing things away because you don’t know how to deal with them? Aren’t you just being selective? Picking the things you know how to deal with, and then ignoring everything else?"

Katsuki clenches his fist—he knows that, though. He knows all of that; it’s not something subconscious, he’s done it willingly and voluntarily over and over. Ignoring the things that don’t matter to what he knows, focusing on the ones that do. Life is complicated for everyone, but it isn’t when he’s learned to sort it through all that bullshit like he’s just organizing the files and folders on his mother’s laptop.

Uraraka has no right to be calling him out on it like it’s a personal crime against her.

"You act like you’re better than all of us because we’re stuck here and you’re out in Tokyo studying at the best school in the country," Uraraka plunges on, her drink almost spilling over as she gestures. "It’s never even occurred to you before we told you that Kirishima-kun and I chose to stay here for our own reasons." She shakes her head, slightly. "It’s not because we don’t try hard enough, or because we don’t work hard enough. If I had the money to be living there, maybe Tokyo would have been an option—I’m sorry if I don’t, and Todai was never something I considered. But you don’t get to tell me that makes me any less than you, because I—"

She’s pointing at him now, index finger raised against him, and she breaks off, faltering.

It occurs to Katsuki, right then, that Uraraka’s eyes also remind him of Deku—of Deku the week before graduation, facing Katsuki and saying; I hate your guts.

It still pisses Katsuki off, to think about Deku looking down on him, but looking at Uraraka now, standing there barely taller than the overgrown grass, strangely doesn’t.

"This whole ‘I don’t belong here and I’m leaving anyway’ doesn’t make you exempt from dealing with what’s here in Musutafu," Uraraka says, breathing in deeply in between sentences. "You can go back at the end of the month and continue your Tokyo act—graduate with honors and be pushed right into a jobstream while we all grovel around looking. That’s fine. I’m not gonna bother you anymore. I just thought—I just thought I did something, that made you not wanna come back."

Uraraka pauses, visibly steeling herself. Katsuki watches, biting down hard on his own bottom teeth. "But you—you don’t get to run away from your mother worrying about you. And you don’t get to run away from at least talking to Kirishima-kun before you go—not again. Neither of that is going to stop you from going back. I don’t—I don’t know why you think it would. Dealing with what’s here isn’t going to—it’s not going to stop you from leaving. I don’t understand why you’re so insecure about that—"

"Insecure?" Katsuki finally speaks, his voice slightly hoarse from staying quiet for so long. He scowls down at the overgrown grass. "I’m not fucking insecure."

"Then why do you act like one conversation is suddenly gonna stop you from going back to Tokyo?" Uraraka shoots right back. "Every time someone’s tried to talk to you about literally anything—what Tokyo’s like, why your mom wanted you to come back—you shut down. You—you say it’s none of our business, you tell us to be quiet. It’s one question—"

"You don’t fucking understand," Katsuki bites out.

"That, too—what, is the Tokyo life too complicated for us Musutafu people to comprehend?" Uraraka’s frustrated; it’s not visible on her face, but she’s clenching her drink, and her voice has gotten shaky. Katsuki hates her for that, briefly—her composure, her coherence, even when she’s clearly been dying to say all of this to him, letting it all pile up. "If we don’t understand that badly, then make us. Make us understand. Make us understand why it’s so hard for you to leave so much as a proper goodbye. Make me understand why being here would stop you from doing anything."

Katsuki scowls at her—at her stupid fucking drink, and her stupid expectant stare—but he doesn’t find it in himself to say anything.

"You’re Bakugou Katsuki, aren’t you?" Uraraka says now, shoulders slumping as she comes down from the most of what she had to say. Katsuki, for a moment, wonders if she’d planned this, asking him to come with her. "You used to say nothing could stop you—not Deku-kun, not the teachers, not Aizawa-sensei. You used to say you can do anything. When did you get so scared about every little thing stopping you?"

Katsuki waits for the anger at that, but it doesn’t come—just a flash of frustration, of dissatisfaction, at the way Uraraka keeps looking at him with searching eyes.

"I’m not scared," he says, but it falls flat.

"Sure," Uraraka agrees quietly. Then she blinks, and for the first time since he’d gotten to Musutafu, she looks like Katsuki had finally given her an answer. "Not even of apologizing?"

Katsuki automatically glowers. "I don’t owe you—" An apology, he wants to finish, but Kirishima’s voice takes over the sentence in his head, clucking disappointedly; I thought you’d have talked things out with her by now. And apologized.

Katsuki grits his teeth at Uraraka instead. "Whatever. I don’t fucking care."

"You don’t?" She widens her smile a tiny fraction—it doesn’t get rid of the tension between them, but it seems to settle Uraraka. "Then, how about taking me to a Yomiuri Giants game? You live near the Tokyo Dome, right?"

It’s her own version of an apology, Katsuki thinks; and her own way to test the waters after her outburst. She’s asking him for an invitation, not just to a ridiculously overpriced baseball game, but—but more. Fucking typical.

Katsuki searches himself for the desire to resist that. He doesn’t find any.

He turns away, his back to her as he stomps back to the gate. "I’m not fucking paying for your train fee."

When he turns back, looking over his shoulder and at her, he’s not reminded of his mother, or Kirishima, or Deku—just Uraraka, eyes wide.

He sees the ghost of a smile on her round fucking face, but he’s walking off their old diamond before either of them can say any more.

He walks all the way back home, the air suspiciously light as September brings them closer to the cooler seasons. When he gets back, his mother’s set up in the living room as usual, buried between stacks of paper.

"You just missed Eijirou," his mother reports without greeting him. "He just dropped these off—said they were yours—"

"I’m home," Katsuki mutters sarcastically, snatching the bag she produces from somewhere beneath her piles. He regards them, annoyed. "Why don’t you just fucking turn my room to your office?"

"Welcome home," she chirps sarcastically, before frowning at him. "Then where would you stay when you come back?"

When, not if. Katsuki stops in his tracks.

She’s had a full year and a bit to convert his room—but she and Katsuki’s father had left it untouched, not even questioning he’ll come back at some point. It’s such idealistic naivety, more characteristic of his father than anything, but it’s such a typical thing, for them to expect something they’re not even 100% on.

He wants to say don’t count on it, the statement a reflex on his tongue. But he stops, and the sudden lapse into silence surprises both him and his mother.

"Katsuki?"

"Nevermind," he bites out, looking away. "I’ll just sleep on the couch whenever I’m back. Take the damn room."

He hates the promise in his own words, but it’s too late to take it back, so he stomps over to his room without another look at her.

But closing the door behind him and looking closer at his childhood bedroom, Katsuki finds that he doesn’t really feel like taking it back at all.

He’d left his phone charging again, and he yanks it out now and unlocks the screen to a message from Kirishima.

im so nervus katsuki!!!! (Δ◯∥)

The time on his phone reads 3:23 PM—still seventeen minutes before Kirishima’s exam.

He calls Kirishima.

"I’m gonna forget everything," is the first thing Kirishima says, upon answering. "I’m gonna forget everything and I’ll fail and you won’t come with me to the—"

"Stop," Katsuki mutters. "Where the hell are your priorities?"

"Stop using big words, Katsuki," Kirishima bemoans. Katsuki can almost see his expression, probably slumping over the notes he’d been studying last minute. "You’re gonna make me forget everything."

"Shut the fuck up." Katsuki pinches the bridge of his noise, exasperated. "Stop—Just fucking close all your books. Close everything. Take a deep breath or some shit. You’re not gonna forget a single damn thing."

Kirishima’s quiet—Katsuki hears shuffling in the background, though, so at least he’s actually closing his notebooks. And then, "What if I fail this, Katsuki?"

"You’re not going to," Katsuki snaps. "You had me and Angelface tutoring the hell out of you, didn’t you? What are you trying to say?"

"Okay, okay." That gets a laugh out of Kirishima, soft and faint, but his laugh nonetheless. Katsuki’s chest clenches. "Fine. Katsuki-sensei—"

"Shut the fuck—"

"I’ll make you proud. You and Uraraka."

"You fucking better," Katsuki says gruffly, plopping down onto his bed. "I’m hanging up now."

There’s a beat of silence—Katsuki’s dead sure Kirishima just nodded, before realizing he’s on the phone. The sheepish laugh that follows pretty much confirms it. "Right, I—I’ll see you Tuesday, Katsuki."

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "We’ll fucking see."

"Yeah, I—" Kirishima hums. "Thanks for calling."

"You really gotta stop thanking me for everything, shithead," Katsuki mutters. "Bye."

Kirishima laughs his own goodbye, and Katsuki, for a few seconds, feels almost reluctant to hang up.

He shakes it off immediately, though, grabbing the bag that Kirishima had dropped off.

It’s full of all the books that Katsuki had lent him to study with in the last two weeks, each with a post-it thank you note stuck to the cover. But for all that there’s visible meticulousness in the way he’d written out the notes—beginning with a mocking Your subject is ever thankful for the generosity the Crown Prince has given him in even letters and escalating to dramatics that hint at Tokoyami’s potential involvement—Kirishima had also forgotten to take out his own practice sheets from the textbook.

It’s so like him, on top of not waiting until they see each other again to give all of this back, that Katsuki has to scoff, disbelieving despite himself, as he nudges a few of his high school textbooks aside on his shelf to make space—

—and ends up knocking over a couple of them.

They clatter to the floor alongside the books Kirishima had returned, sending all the practice sheets flying. Katsuki crossly watches the sheets scatter to the floor, cursing to himself as he bends over to pick up all of it.

Each of the practice sheets have Kirishima’s handwriting all over them—scrawled out calculations on the side, notes on urban expansion summarized from Katsuki’s old textbook, personal reminders at the corners. There’s a note detailing Uraraka’s acronyms for remembering specific formulas, and even notes on Katsuki’s own advice to always simplify the question first, narrow it down to a set of questions instead of one whole problem.

"If you still end up failing after all this," Katsuki mutters to himself. "I won’t know what to fucking do with you."

He gathers the sheets into a pile, painstakingly picking up each of them from the floor and organizing them by unit and date.

The last thing he reaches over to pick up is a Science textbook from his third year in high school—a textbook he’d had to share with Uraraka every other day, because it was one of the only classes they hadn’t had together, and though she never admitted it, he knew she never did buy her own textbook. He rolls his eyes, picking it up—until something falls to the ground from inside.

It’s an envelope, white and pocket book-sized.

Across the back, in familiar uneven scratch, it spells out Katsuki’s name.

Katsuki’s not stupid, and he knows what it’s going to be even as he picks it up, turning it over in his hand. The flap hadn’t been glued, and it doesn’t take much for Katsuki to open it and pull out the piece of paper inside.

Kirishima’s choice in notebooks hasn’t changed over the years, because when Katsuki slips the letter out, it’s still on the same lined page from hundred-yen store notebooks that Kirishima has been using while reviewing for his exam.

It’s not much of a reassuring realization, and Katsuki feels his stomach wobble and drop when he starts reading:

hi!

i'm really just a secret admirer
but i guess it won't be much of a secret anymore if i'm writing you a confession letter
i like you a lot, bakugou katsuki. i know this is a shot in a dark, but i'd really, really like to get to know you a bit more. we can start as friends!

can you meet me after your baseball game tonight?

i'll be waiting at the back of the school.

It reads exactly like one of Kirishima’s texts, written in handwriting straight-copied from one of the practice sheets, and Katsuki has difficult swallowing as he moves on to the rest of the letter.

p. s. i know it must be really weird to get a letter from a guy that goes to a different school, but uraraka said i should give it a try anyway

It ends there, abrupt.

"He didn’t even sign it, the idiot," Katsuki mutters.

The silence in his room is the only thing there to answer him.

With more vehemence, he repeats, "Kirishima Eijirou, you fucking idiot."

Katsuki tosses the stupid textbook onto his desk and sits down, lets the last month catch up—from Kirishima’s expectant stare the day he’d picked Katsuki up from the station, to Kirishima’s staring and hesitating and all the fucking bullshit he did when he could have just fucking said so.

Finding the last piece in a puzzle that’s been incomplete for so long should have felt good, but all Katsuki feels is frustration. He searches for something to direct it at—but finds nothing but himself and his inability to piece all this together when it had all been right there, simple and straightforward, right from his first day back.

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.

"Idiot, idiot, idiot," he mutters—about Kirishima, for being his unimpressive benevolent martyr self; about his mother being right, even if he doesn’t want to admit it to her face; maybe about himself, if he just lets it all pause. "Fucking idiot."

 

Chapter Text

SEPTEMBER

Part II

 

Kirishima’s more surprised than anyone else when he gets a 77% on the make-up exam.

It’s a far cry from his claims of acing it, but he calls Katsuki as soon as the grades are out, sending a screenshot of his grade in place of his usual warning text. He’d gotten near-perfect on the multiple choice, and though marks were taken off for some of his calculations and short answers, he’d come out of his make-up class two grades higher than where he was when he’d failed.

Kirishima ends the call with an all too victorious "I’ll meet you at the art gallery on campus this Tuesday, then!"

The paper replica makes more sense when put in context: the Musutafu University’s art museum is holding a paper exhibit. The banner swaying outside promises interactive tours on the history of paper, paper sculptures, even origami lessons for brats twelve years old and under. The city replica is supposed to be some symbolic kind of shit, the only permanent exhibit of the bunch—Musutafu represented for the years to come by the supposed "careful handiwork" of the university’s students.

Katsuki, as someone who’s seen Kirishima almost spill coffee over entire houses, has to scoff at that.

He’s barely tried searching the lobby for Kirishima before he pops up by Katsuki’s side.

"Dude, you actually came," Kirishima greets.

Katsuki tries not to note the genuine surprise in his voice. He eyes Kirishima testily. "Not like you messaged me forty fucking times yesterday."

Kirishima grins. "You counted?"

Katsuki hadn’t been expecting a line-up at the lobby—two long lines encircling the entire entrance hall of the gallery. But Kirishima leads them around one of the lines, taking out a laminated ID featuring his name written in marker.

"The other long line’s for some pottery exhibit that opened just this weekend or something," Kirishima explains, when Katsuki keeps eyeing the lineup. "Luckily for you, you don’t have to line up for this exhibit because you’re with—"

"Finish that sentence and I’m leaving," Katsuki mutters, nudging him forward.

With an hour to official opening, the exhibit’s still sparsely occupied—there are a bunch of people their age scattered around, pointing out parts of the knee-high replica to family and friends, and a group of uptight adults in business suits gathered suspiciously in one corner. It’s farther away from Katsuki’s idea of what an opening day for an art exhibit would have looked like, devoid of the excited crowds and exaggerated heat, and that, if nothing else, is something Katsuki can be reassured by.

Kirishima himself is not a reassuring presence, and especially not when he grabs Katsuki’s wrist, pulling him along without warning towards the center of the replica.

But he lets go before Katsuki can so much as form a coherent protest, Katsuki’s skin warm where Kirishima’s fingertips had been against.

"Let’s walk down—here," Kirishima’s saying, shoving his hands back into his pockets just like that as they stop at the south end of the mini-city. "Leads straight through where we are and then uptown where the restaurant is."

Katsuki’s mind had gone frustratingly blank, like it does when he’s heard or seen something particularly stupid—and he chalks it up to this being that kind of situation, even as Kirishima looks back at him expectantly.

Katsuki immediately jerks his head to look at the replica in whole, disgruntled, if it means not having to look back at Kirishima.  The knee-high paper replica of the city had been arranged around the vast expanse of the room, leaving space for the ‘streets’ big enough to accommodate one person walking across. There are labels everywhere, and across from where they are, there’s even a small road heading up towards the hillsides, represented by a papier-mâché mountain.

Following his gaze, Kirishima laughs. "Yeah, no, I didn’t make the mountain—they arranged it all themselves, I just did the buildings—and some of the people."

Katsuki narrows his eyes. "What peo—"

He breaks off, almost stepping on the kind of people Kirishima had meant.

There’s a whole bunch of them scattered across the entire replica—paper people in the area’s high school uniforms, paper people in casual dress spread across the main campus side, paper people in gray suits as Kirishima led Katsuki ahead through the business districts and paper skyscrapers, tall enough that they almost brush against Katsuki’s knuckles as he tromps along. It’s so easy for someone to trip and squish an entire area, just like that, the paper fragile and vulnerable, but Kirishima trudges on without a care in the world, whistling a little as he points out his old middle school to Katsuki.

"I don’t know how they managed to arrange all of this in a week, seriously," he’s murmuring, more to himself than to Katsuki. He stops and bends over the little cars in one parking lot, squinting. "Man, how much work did they all put into this."

He shouldn’t be talking, considering how much work he’d put into his own buildings—but Katsuki stops himself short before he can pursue that line of thinking, instead searching the city for his own middle school. He spots it easily, to the east, and his high school, three blocks away, gray-uniformed paper students gathered around it.

It’s so infuriatingly intricate that Katsuki doesn’t have trouble figuring out what’s what—which part of downtown he’s passing through right then, which neighborhood is to his right. They pass by Uraraka’s old apartment building, a restaurant Katsuki’s mother had taken over once, his father’s main office building. It screws with him without even trying, to be there in this exact minimized replica of Musutafu and be able to walk through it recognizing everything.

It had taken the gallery people less than a week to arrange all this shit—houses and buildings and even the people. Katsuki tries to imagine them doing the same for Tokyo, but the mental image sputters to an incredulous stop without bearing fruit. It’s impossible, for Tokyo—for Tokyo with its twenty-six cities and four sub-prefectures, for Tokyo with its population of 14 fucking million.

But it’s not, for Musutafu.

Growing up in this city hadn’t meant anything for Katsuki—it had just been Musutafu. A place. A city. It hadn’t even been a place to leave, when he was a child. It was just Musutafu. He hadn’t even realized how much of the city he knows without meaning to, just by growing up in and within it, by growing up and spending eighteen years of his life as one of these paper people.

It’s not his home, anymore, and his memories of it are lukewarm and blurry at best, just like it had been at the baseball diamond—but the city’s there, when he looks around, easily recognizable, easily familiar, the way Tokyo had never been.

The realization is sobering, but it isn’t unwelcome.

"This is so nice," Kirishima coos as they reach uptown, the streets opening to more space as they papier-mâché their way to form uphill roads. "Jeez—I couldn’t have done this."

It’s weird seeing it all together after weeks of watching Kirishima groan and shake his way through making the buildings, but it’s all there, the entirety of the neighborhood past Katsuki’s own. He finds the lone roundabout easily, identifying it by the tree across from the restaurant made through wet-folded origami. Katsuki frankly has no fucking idea how Kirishima manages to make paper look like wood, but it’s there, the facade of the restaurant recognizable even in its resemblance to the miniature shops around it.

Katsuki steps forward, actually careful not to accidentally step on the entire fucking mountain.

In front of the restaurant, there are three paper figures—all of them wearing the restaurant’s black apron. It doesn’t take much for Katsuki to recognize them, but a brief glance at the expression on Kirishima’s face, ever easy to read, might as well have been a vocal confirmation.

"You self-inserted yourself," Katsuki points out, flat and judgmental.

Kirishima doesn’t seem to hear him, crouching down and staring at the paper family. It’s an echo of the family photo Katsuki had seen in the Kirishimas’ new living room—except Kirishima’s much taller, older, with red hair, and his mother has a visible papier-mâché bump. It’s like someone had retaken the photo, only it’s made of paper, here. It’s sappy, so predictable of the idiot that had made them—only when Katsuki glances at Kirishima again, at the way his smile had faded, it seems less like sickeningly sweet family bullshit and more like a sickeningly sentimental goodbye.

"You’re so sappy," Katsuki mutters.

Kirishima just keeps blinking at him, mind obviously elsewhere.

Katsuki rolls his eyes and leaves him to his brooding.

But when he rounds that corner to look at the balcony side of the restaurant—he himself is there, in slightly rumpled paper form, looking out into the city underneath him like he had his first time out back. He immediately stops, almost crushing one of the cars.

"That was—that was a commission," Kirishima says, finally coming back to himself to follow after Katsuki. He grins, sheepish. "I asked your mom if there was something I could do after missing those two shifts—and she said—" At this, he crosses his arms and rearranges his smile into a grinning impression of Katsuki’s mother. "‘How about you drag Katsuki into that replica of yours? So he’d finally shut up about having no place in this damn city.’ So. There we go."

Katsuki stares on, unimpressed, as Kirishima uncrosses his arms. That sounds exactly like something his mother would do—probably as a joke, not anticipating that Kirishima would actually do it. It’s ridiculous, possible only because all the parties involves are unbelievingly ridiculous, and Katsuki scoffs, turning away from Kirishima so he doesn’t have to see Katsuki’s—

"Wait, dude—" Kirishima grabs at Katsuki’s arm, tugging until they’re facing each other. "That was a smile. That was definitely a smile just now."

Katsuki scowls, nudging him back. "You’re imagining things, idiot."

"Nope—no—I was watching you—" Kirishima’s grinning wide. "I mean—it was more of a smirk—you were judging me—but you still kind of smiled, dude. Was it that touching? I’ll tell Boss."

Katsuki wants to look away from Kirishima’s grin—but Kirishima’s still holding on to him, and Katsuki feels inexplicably frozen. He settles for rolling his eyes. "Who fucking said it was touching? It’s fucking weird."

"But you smiled—"

"Because it was so pathetic it was laughable—"

"So you did smile," Kirishima concludes, as fucking selective as always. "You did. You can’t take it back now."

Katsuki glares at him witheringly. "Keep deluding yourself." It doesn’t feel like enough, so he adds, "Asshole."

"You smiled, you smiled," Kirishima sings, squeezing Katsuki’s arm almost absently. "Don’t worry, I’ll let you go—let’s just look on ahead to the rest of my masterpiece, yeah? My old high school used to be right there, but I had to make this replica updated, you know, so—"

He’s pointing ahead, but Katsuki has difficulty following accordingly, his eyes stuck to Kirishima’s smile. But the confession letter from high school flashes in his head, and he finally tears his eyes away.

"Oh, and that’s where your old neighborhood team used to practice—" Kirishima pauses abruptly at that, rushing to catch himself, oblivious to the way Katsuki’s eyes narrow. "I mean—Uraraka told me about—that that’s where you used to practice."

He’s still denying it, the fucker.

Katsuki keeps listening sullenly.

"Anyway, the building across from it used to be my old school, and behind that—"

—is where you asked me to meet you, Katsuki’s mind supplies, a little more than sullen now.

Kirishima stills—Katsuki feels it through his own arm—index finger twitching mid-point, and Katsuki realizes he’d fucking said it out loud.

He really has to stop doing this shit around Kirishima.

Katsuki closes his eyes tightly. When he opens them, Kirishima’s staring at him, mouth having fallen open and eyes wide.

It takes him ten long seconds to patch things together.

"You—wait." Kirishima blinks his way through his epiphanies, the arm around Katsuki loosening until it drops back to Kirishima’s side. "You—did read the letter?"

Katsuki has had four days to groan and writhe his way around it, but there’s no explanation that comes to mind as he looks back at Kirishima’s increasingly panicked stare. He hardens his expression out of—instinct, reflex, whatever the hell it is—but an announcement overhead saves him from saying anything.

"We would like to ask all visitors to vacate the exhibit as we prepare to open the area to the public in twenty minutes. I repeat—"

"The exit’s that way," Kirishima says, pointing. His eyes don’t stray from Katsuki.

Katsuki doesn’t need directions, but he follows sourly after Kirishima anyway.

There’s a heavy feeling crawling underneath his skin and settling between his ribs—something that churns at his stomach. It’s an irritating feeling, and he wants to reach in and personally yank it out. Not even sunlight and the outside breeze could lift it; if anything, it intensifies as they get outside to see thunderclouds overhead, warning for heavy rain.

Kirishima immediately turns around, expression familiar in its hesitance.

"Is that—" he starts, and Katsuki doesn’t understand the palpable worry there. "Is that why you’ve been acting weird since you got here?"

Katsuki jerks to a stop in front of Kirishima. "Who the hell’s been acting weird?"

"You," Kirishima says plainly. He’s restless, adjusting his weight from one side of his body to the other. "Listen—you can forget it. Really. I was just—I was seventeen, man—I know you—you didn’t even know me, and you couldn’t have known—"

It’s a lot of words while Katsuki’s trying to process something—anything—so he holds a hand up. Kirishima, mercifully, shuts the fuck up immediately.

Words are suddenly hard to come by, and he has to focus, fucking focus, to actually figure out what he needs to be saying. He doesn’t want to be talking at all. "I didn’t read the—I didn’t read it until—fuck—last Friday."

"I—" Kirishima looks and sounds strangled. "I take it back—You can forget it. Really."

"Really," Katsuki repeats, and his tone comes out a perfect echo of Kirishima’s.

"Really," Kirishima says again. "I—I gotta go back in there. Get my sheet—signed. I—You can leave. Just—"

Katsuki nods—or he thinks he nods, but Kirishima’s already going.

He doesn’t wait for Kirishima to come back.

 

 

 

 

 

"I hope you know I just left Deku-kun to handle the entire evening himself," Uraraka says, pressing a cold bottle against Katsuki’s cheek. He nudges her away, and she rolls her eyes, muttering about ungrateful boys not appreciating what I do for them. "You know how long it takes to commute from the harborfront?"

"Then go the hell back," Katsuki snaps, taking the bottle from her.

It’s cream soda. He wants to throw it over the railing.

Defaulting to the restaurant mindlessly was apparently going to be a damn thing now, because that’s where Katsuki finds himself going after the gallery, taking a bus straight from campus to uptown. His mother’s car had been parked by the restaurant, but he’d heard the paint crew working inside and bypassed the actual entrance altogether. The side gate Kirishima had led him through before had given in easily, perpetually left unlocked.

There’s construction going on in the lower balcony, and he’d been forced to stomp back upstairs and onto the dining porch instead.

"I didn’t fucking ask you to meet me."

"You kind of did," Uraraka says now. "Sending me a panicked text about how all of this is my fault—"

"Leave," Katsuki hisses. "Fucking leave."

"No," Uraraka rejects flatly. She’d arrived with the rain, taken a long look at him, then disappeared into the restaurant proper, only to come back out with drinks and a knowing look. "I actually have a sense of responsibility about the things I did and didn’t do. Which is more than I can say for you."

"You don’t even fucking know what happened—"

"I know you went to campus with Kirishima-kun today, and I know he’s not here with you right now. So either he left you, or you left him." Uraraka makes a face, nudging his side with one foot before sitting down. "Doesn’t take a genius to figure out what’s more likely."

Katsuki chews on his bottom lip and doesn’t say anything. His phone’s lying face down three steps away, where he’d thrown it after texting Uraraka’s number from high school. He doesn’t even remember what he said. He doesn’t have it in him to give a single shit.

"So?" Uraraka prods, apparently having regained her attitude towards Katsuki from high school, even if some of the hesitance remains. "Did you reject Kirishima-kun?"

Katsuki rolls his eyes skyward. "Not even fucking close."

"What?" Uraraka’s eyes are wide. "So you do like—"

"Shut the fuck up." She’s looking at Katsuki like he’d proven a hypothesis for her, and he wants to fucking grab her own bottle and upend it by her feet. "What do you wanna fucking hear?"

"Bakugou," Uraraka says, crossing her ankles over each other. "Why did you text me, really?"

Maybe Uraraka had been right, try as Katsuki might not to acknowledge it, about how he handles shit like this. Katsuki functions through a process of elimination—if thinking about it isn’t gonna be productive, then he’s not gonna fucking think about it. He hadn’t thought about the scholarship application—had hardly thought about school at all so much as he’d thought about Tokyo.

Looking back at it, though, it mostly had been because of the restaurant—of Katsuki’s mother, of Kirishima—occupying most of his waking hours. His mother dragging him around and about it 24/7, Kirishima and his stupid neverending messages. It was all there, never giving space for much else, and though it never had been voluntary on Katsuki’s part, his time had been occupied anyway.

None of that distraction helps much, however, when it’s Kirishima himself Katsuki’s trying not to think about.

Katsuki glares at Uraraka.

She shrugs. "What do you want to hear, Bakugou?"

Katsuki looks at her. Cream soda Uraraka Ochako, who’d left in the middle of her shift because she’d considered Katsuki’s text that urgent. Sticky and bubbly Uraraka Ochako, who’s fucking smiling at him like he just keeps proving all her suspicions right. "Leave, if Deku can’t fucking handle himself."

"He can, though," Uraraka replies, without the slightest lilt of hesitation. Her smile softens when she talks about Deku. It’s disgusting. "Deku-kun’s always been more than capable. That’s why I’m here."

Katsuki scoffs. It doesn’t sound like pity, but it doesn’t sound like goodwill, either. He doesn’t know what’s worse. "You telling me I can’t handle myself?"

"If you don’t open your mouth, you’re a poster boy for a lot of things, Bakugou," Uraraka replies, "but dealing with emotions isn’t exactly one of your strong suits, whether or not you’re talking."

Katsuki narrows his eyes. "Fuck you."

"Point made," Uraraka says serenely. She’s looking ahead, Katsuki an afterthought. "Deku-kun’s grown up a lot. So have I. Your world is supposed to get bigger the older you get, you know. Graduating high school means you get to try new things instead of thinking and doing the same stuff. So why is it that you keep trying to make yours smaller and smaller?"

She’s not making any fucking sense. Katsuki stares sullenly ahead, too.

Uraraka’s unfazed. "Has it never really occurred to you that someone might actually like you?"

Where Katsuki had always relied on his fastball, fast and flashy and capable of barreling through anything, Uraraka’s slow pitch had been the opposite—floaty, unpredictable. She’s like that in conversation, too, when someone lets her get away with it.

Her question feels a lot like her pitch getting a strike against him.

Katsuki stares back at her, hard. "You put that letter in my textbook."

"Our textbook." Uraraka blinks. "Wait—you actually read it in high school?"

"Fuck no." Katsuki’s tired of explaining this.

"Then—" Uraraka blinks again. Her eyes are so fucking huge. "Oh."

"Yeah," Katsuki snaps sardonically, "So if you’re here to take responsibility or whatever fucking shit you wanna use as an excuse for feeling sorry—"

"I don’t feel sorry for you," Uraraka says flatly. "I feel guilty about this mess but I don’t feel sorry for you. I never have. I feel sorry for Kirishima-kun."

Katsuki clenches his jaw. "If I tell you he took it back, would you shut the hell up and talk about something else?"

Uraraka rolls her eyes. "Kirishima-kun likes you too much for him to deny it."

"I never said he denied it," Katsuki says, slow and sharp. "I said he fucking took it back."

Uraraka stills, finally looking at him. She waits a beat for him—to maybe say he’s joking, even though they both fucking know he’s not the type. "That’s—that’s not possible. Kirishima-kun liked you so much in high school—"

"I didn’t know him," Katsuki mutters.

"But you did," Uraraka says, eyebrows knitted in confusion. "You did. I did."

"Just because you knew him doesn’t mean I fucking—"

"Why, because I pay attention?" Uraraka considers him wearily. "Kirishima-kun took care of our team for three years—he didn’t have to, but he might as well have been our manager. He kept the diamond open for us, announced players for our practice matches, coordinated with his high school’s team so we never have scheduling conflicts with them. You—" She falters. "You used to judge him for liking the Swallows. But he—he looked up to you in high school a lot."

She’s looking at him like this should be making things come back for him, but they aren’t—there’s nothing, fucking nothing, except for the slightest feeling of familiarity and the framed photo of black-haired Kirishima in a Swallows jersey.

It must show on his face, because Uraraka sighs. "I wanted to do something for him in thanks, so I offered to bring a confession letter straight to you—I think I embarrassed him."

Katsuki can’t fucking believe her. "So you put it in my fucking textbook?"

"Our textbook," Uraraka corrects again, shrugging. "Yeah. You would have immediately thrown it out if it was in your locker and someone sees you with it." She glances at him briefly. "We thought—Kirishima-kun thought you’d just thrown it out, because you never showed up after that game."

Katsuki doesn’t want to listen to this anymore.

Uraraka sighs again, looking down at her bottle, untouched like Katsuki’s. "Was it that hard for you to pay attention to someone else?"

She sounds like Katsuki’s mother.

And Katsuki’s tired of it.

The bottle’s gone slightly warm, but he presses it against Uraraka’s cheek to cut off whatever the fuck she’d been about to say.

Ever out to spite him, his phone chooses to start ringing.

Uraraka looks at him for two beats, rubbing her cheek, before she gets up to fetch it.

Katsuki watches scathingly.

Uraraka inspects his lock screen, looks at him, back at the screen. Then she sighs, for the third fucking time.

"You’re so tasteless," she mutters, dangling his phone between index finger and thumb as she ambles over. "If you’re trying to insult someone, at least use something better than ‘shitfuck’."

So it is Kirishima. Katsuki tries not to look like he’d been sucker-punched, but that’s exactly what it fucking feels like. The phone keeps ringing. He says, strangled, "Shitfuck works fine."

"No one says shitfuck but the people without the creativity to come up with anything else," Uraraka retorts, still inspecting the lock screen. "It’s two of the most basic swear words put together—put some more heart into it if you mean it, Bakugou. Otherwise, it's just pathetic."

Katsuki doesn’t know if she’s trying to spare him out of sympathy, or just playing dumb. He glares at her until she sighs yet fucking again and hands the phone over.

It’s still fucking ringing.

"I’m leaving," Uraraka says mildly, picking up her bottle. "Answer it, Bakugou."

It sounds like an order, and Katsuki glares at her general direction until she disappears back into the restaurant.

The phone stops ringing in his hand.

Gritting his teeth and searching himself for defiance that’s no longer there, he swipes angrily at his screen and calls back.

It takes Kirishima a half ring to answer. "Hey."

Katsuki feels something dislodge in his chest—something abstract, intangible even as it curls its way around his throat and tightens. "What?"

"I—Hey, I’m really sorry—" Kirishima pauses there, abrupt. He sounds off-kilter, the natural intonations of his voice too half-hearted to be—to be Kirishima. "—about—about this."

Katsuki’s throat is still tight. "This?"

"Yeah, I—" Kirishima laughs a little bit—that sounds more like him, even if the rest falls short of the usual. "Can I cash in on one more favor before I never bother you again?"

There are so many things out of balance with the way he’s talking, the way this conversation is going, but words are spectacularly fucking failing Katsuki today, because all he manages to come up with, even in the haze of irritation and confusion and frustration, is, "What?"

"Right." Kirishima, it strikes Katsuki, sounds like something deflated. The realization doesn’t settle well. "Can you—can you come pick me up?"

 

 

 

 

 

Katsuki has never seen this kind of restless on Kirishima.

He’s seen Kirishima drumming his fingers restlessly on his knee, he’s seen Kirishima restlessly staring down at his Econ textbook, he’s seen Kirishima pacing the restaurant restlessly during slow periods. He’s seen Kirishima bouncing restlessly on his seat, but the way Kirishima’s staring out the window and through the rain, unmoving aside from the one leg jerking on a loop, is a far cry from that.

He’s not calm—even Katsuki can tell. He doesn’t think Kirishima’s ever fucking calm, and especially not when he keeps looking at the passing scenery like the buildings and other cars should be passing by a lot faster than they are. Hell, he looks like he’s trying to get everything to move faster out of sheer telepathic force.

Katsuki tightens one hand around the steering wheel. "Can you calm the fuck down?"

Kirishima doesn’t even look at him.

Katsuki grits his teeth.

He could have said no—could have said no and left Kirishima to find some other fucking way to get a ride. Instead, Katsuki had ran out of the restaurant, grabbing the car keys from the office without so much as a word to his mother, and drove back to where he’d left Kirishima.

Kirishima had looked surprised, even as he’d gotten into the car, hair slightly damp from the downpour outside.

Katsuki has no fucking idea what to make of that silence.

Kirishima hadn’t said much, had smiled his thank you, had asked if Katsuki knows how to get to the children’s hospital downtown. Katsuki had stared at him for a long minute—at this distracted, quietly restless Kirishima putting on his seatbelt—and wondered how much time he’d spent with Kirishima, exactly, to be this fucking aware of the imbalance.

Kirishima had looked back and smiled, crooked.

Katsuki had stopped thinking at all after that.

He’d managed to register things in snatches, underlined by the urgency Kirishima’s clearly trying not to let show as he explained things: Phone call. Kirishima’s mother. Labor.

When Katsuki parks in front of the hospital, it occurs to him that Kirishima looks scared.

He’s staring at the hospital entrance, fingers barely brushing against the handle on the passenger door.

Despite himself, Katsuki says, "Stop moping."

Very, very slowly, Kirishima turns to him.

"What the fuck did I say about acting like she has an incurable disease," Katsuki mutters. He doesn’t look back at Kirishima. "Your mom’s gonna be fine. Stop moping. Hospitals are already so fucking depressing."

Katsuki will never be able to get a handle on the kind of fucked up cognitive processes that occurs in Kirishima’s head, because that, somehow, triggers a small smile.

"Thanks, Katsuki," Kirishima says, soft. His eyes are softer now, too, like they’re finally focusing back on Katsuki. Soft voice, soft smile, soft eyes. Katsuki’s a fucking idiot for not cataloguing this sooner. "I’ll see you. Sorry about the last minute request."

That should have been it, but Kirishima still hesitates.

Katsuki closes his eyes tightly before reaching over across Kirishima to open the car door himself. He pushes it open, his shoulder digging against Kirishima’s chest. "Go."

Kirishima nods, slowly, as Katsuki pulls away and settles back into his seat.

His shoulder feels warm.

Kirishima gives Katsuki one more searching look before he’s closing the car door behind him.

The rain had stopped right before they got there, and the clear window gives Katsuki a clear view of Kirishima—of Kirishima as he takes a deep breath, visibly, before heading into the hospital.

Katsuki has barely started the car back up when his phone starts ringing.

He’s sick of this fucking ringtone, and he picks up his mother’s call without saying anything.

Good thing, too, because she’d have interrupted him anyway. "Where the hell is my car?"

"At the hospital downtown, hag," Katsuki snaps. "I told you I was taking it."

"The hospital? Why are you in the hospital?"

"When the fuck did I say I was in the hospital? It’s—" The name feels foreign as he contemplates it now, and even more so when he says it out loud, "Kirishima. His mom’s in labor or some shit. Blame him. I’m fucking driving back now. Satisfied?"

His mother’s quiet on the other end for a few beats—long enough to be worrying. "You drove him to the hospital?"

Katsuki offers an irritated noise as a yeah, that’s what I fucking said.

"And you’re leaving him?" They’re all beginning to sound so fucking alike in the tones they use with him—Uraraka, his mother. Like he’s doing shit wrong, even when they should be fucking aware this is how he’s always done it. "Why are you leaving Eijirou?"

"Why the hell not?" Katsuki says irritably. "I’m not gonna babysit him."

To that, his mother relays back the same noise Katsuki had given her seconds ago. "Can you at least check on him before you go? This could take a while. Poor kid’s been worrying about this for weeks."

Katsuki knows. He’s listened to Kirishima ramble about it, has seen Kirishima fret about his mother on top of school and work. He’d dismissed it as ridiculous, because Kirishima’s mother was going to be fine—except Kirishima has never believed that.

And from the look on his face when he’d said goodbye to Katsuki, he still doesn’t believe it one bit.

Fear doesn’t fit Kirishima—being sheepish and nervous does, being worried does, but not the kind of scared he’d been on the way to the restaurant.

Katsuki’s chest feels tight. He finds himself yanking the ignition key out.

"You know what, forget it," his mother’s saying over the phone. "Just bring the car back—"

"No, come get it yourself," Katsuki mutters. "I’m hanging up. It’s parked right in front of the hospital."

He knows his mother will more than likely figure him out from there, but he doesn’t give a shit. He hates it when she’s right, when even Uraraka’s right. It feels trapping, playing right into their expectations so easily, but it’s equally easy to think of Kirishima and connect him to the way Katsuki’s chest keeps clenching and tightening on him without warning.

"I didn’t fucking leave Tokyo for this," Katsuki grumbles.

He gets out of the car anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

When Katsuki finally makes his way up to the right floor, it’s 10PM—an hour and a half since he’d officially dropped Kirishima off.

It’s not that he had to pace around the lobby for half an hour, or that he got lost following the receptionist’s directions. That’s just insulting.

The blatant surprise on Kirishima’s face when Katsuki rounds the corner is even more so. "What—"

Restless, Katsuki throws a package of chocolate donuts on Kirishima’s lap before he can finish that sentence. He throws himself equally aggressively on the seat right beside Kirishima, and slams the coffee down on the table. It doesn’t even fucking spill.

The nagging restlessness remains.

"Why the fuck are you here?" Katsuki scowls, jerking his head towards the room across the hall. "Shouldn’t you be in there?"

"I—" Kirishima’s staring at him like he can’t quite believe Katsuki’s right there. It makes Katsuki’s stomach do a forceful flip-flop. "My dad…is in there… Katsuki, why are you—why did you come back?"

Katsuki crosses his own legs under him. The waiting room recliners are surprisingly comfortable, and he settles back as far as it will let him, if only to keep moving. "I never even fucking left."

"Oh, but—" Kirishima looks like he does when he’s trying to figure his way out through an Econ problem set, and it’s agonizing to watch. He also looks pale, like he had when he’d been sick, and his knuckles are white from how tightly his hands are gripping each other.

Katsuki’s stomach clenches again. He grabs the coffee and shoves it at Kirishima’s, who’s forced to disjoin his hands and take it. "The old hag said you’ll need this shit if you’re gonna be hanging around here for hours."

"Ah, so Boss told you to stay," Kirishima says, and the triumph there doesn’t sound relieved so much as it is only unsurprised. Katsuki still doesn’t look at him. "That makes sense."

It doesn’t, because his mother had eventually taken it back. Katsuki’s here anyway. "I fucking emptied half of the sugar box in there so you better not complain."

"I won’t." Kirishima laughs—he sounds more relaxed, more like him. He sounds, more than anything, reassured, even if not entirely relieved, and it strikes Katsuki how young Kirishima acts; in the way he speaks, the way he treats other people, and probably even the way he regards his parents. He’d probably gotten a little talking-to from his father. And that had been enough.

But there’s still tension there—though, judging from the way Kirishima glances at him as he sips the coffee tentatively, it might not be about his parents at all.

Katsuki stares down at his lap. "What?"

"You don’t have to actually stay, Katsuki," Kirishima says, like he’s doing Katsuki a favor by saying this. "My dad—he told me they’re doing it by Ce—Ca—"

"Just call it C-section," Katsuki mutters. "I’ll leave when the doctors are done or whatever."

Kirishima blinks. "Katsuki," he says slowly. "You don’t have to do this, you know."

Katsuki considers him irritably. "Do what?"

"You’re acting like—" Kirishima winces, lowering the coffee back down. "Like you’re trying to make up for something. Which—you don’t have to. Don’t be guilty or sorry for—"

"Who the fuck said I was?" Katsuki glares. People keep putting words in his mouth, lately. "I’m here because you keep acting like your mom being pregnant is the—the fucking sign of the apocalypse or some shit. She’s getting the brats cut out of her so get over it. Just get ready to take care of the damn monsters once they’re out or whatever the hell happens—"

"Katsuki—" Kirishima, for the first time since Katsuki has known him, holds up a hand. He looks queasy. "Okay, I—I get it. I just—I just thought—"

"Thought what?"

Kirishima chews on his bottom lip. "That you feel bad about—about you know."

Katsuki still doesn’t know exactly how he feels about you know, but guilt and sympathy have never been defaults for him. He knows that much. He can’t just take a feeling and attach it to something that’s only catching up now, a week before he returns to the exact things he hadn’t been thinking about while in Musutafu—and he’s not gonna give a half-hearted answer to a question Kirishima has had for at least two years now.

It’s still a shit ton to process, especially in a hallway that’s way too white and quiet and smells like antiseptic. So he says, "I’m not here because of that, idiot."

"Then—" For a moment, Kirishima looks like he’s going to pursue that line of questioning, but he pauses. "Right. Okay. But you can leave, just so you know. I’ll be fine."

Katsuki grits his teeth. "Why the hell do you keep doing that?"

Kirishima frowns. "Doing what?"

"That." Katsuki jabs a finger at the direction of Kirishima’s frown, finding himself genuinely infuriated. "The whole boo-hoo bullshit. Be—I don’t know, be more annoying. Be more—" Be more like the Kirishima I know, is the sentiment under his tongue. He bites down on it. "I’m not here to deal with you trying to—to not be you."

It doesn’t make sense, not in his head or out of his mouth, and Kirishima frowns back at him, equally confused. "I’m not—" He chuckles. "I’m not trying to not be me, Katsuki. I’m just—I’m just, you know, feeling. That might be a commoner’s concept to you, Your Maje—"

"Fuck you," Katsuki snaps. "Don’t get fresh with me."

"I’m not—" Kirishima falters, his chuckle fading off to a small smile. It looks tired. Katsuki can relate. "I just don’t know… how I’m supposed to be acting around you now. I thought I could start over, when—when I picked you up last July and you had no idea wh—you had no idea. But now that you know, I—"

"Don’t be stupid," Katsuki says shortly. The restlessness has faded, but the heavy weight on his chest has returned to replace it. "I don’t remember shit from high school. One fucking letter isn’t gonna make all that bullshit come back. You took it back. I don’t fucking care."

Kirishima blatantly hesitates at that. "Then—can I just—can we just keep—"

He breaks off, and his hands twitch.

Katsuki looks at Kirishima—Kirishima who’s too unthinking, too reliant on abstract things, for his own good. He swallows. "That’s exactly what I’m fucking saying, idiot."

He doesn’t remember Kirishima from their high school years. He doesn’t think he ever will, more than acknowledging the familiar face, the familiar voice. Katsuki wouldn’t have paid attention, much less cared—only saying that feels like he pays attention now, cares now, and he’s still not sure enough of anything to account for that. He doesn’t fucking know the Kirishima that Uraraka had, but he can read this Kirishima—with hands that had constructed paper buildings and a perpetual grin and the ability to push Katsuki out of alignment without doing anything, even now.

Kirishima’s hands twitch again, and Katsuki, instinctively, grabs one before Kirishima can bring his hands back together and cut off all blood flow there for good. Kirishima’s fingertips are cold, even as his palm remains warm from the coffee, and it’s all Katsuki can register as Kirishima turns to him.

The action had surprised them both, but it’s Kirishima that swallows and curls his hand, gently, around Katsuki’s.

He’s shaking—it’s slight, but Katsuki can feel it. Cold, nervous fingers, Kirishima’s pulse worried and frantic from where his wrist touches Katsuki’s.

Katsuki can’t find it in himself to pull away.

"Katsuki—"

"I’m taking a nap," Katsuki cuts in, turning away. He settles back against the chair. "Wake me up when you’re done finding an excuse to mope."

Kirishima doesn’t say anything, and Katsuki’s already closing his eyes before he can see what kind of expression his own words had left behind.

Just before he drifts off, he thinks he feels Kirishima’s hand tighten around his.

 

 

 

 

 

When Katsuki wakes up, it’s 2 A.M and his mother’s shrugging him awake.

It’s not until Kirishima starts stirring beside him that Katsuki realizes his head’s on Kirishima’s shoulder—and that he’s still holding Kirishima’s hand.

But then Kirishima’s pulling away, sitting up abruptly.

Katsuki ignores him in favor of glaring up at his mother. "Did you just come now to get the car?"

"I’ve been here since eleven," his mother retorts, taking one of the seats opposite them. There’s a few more people across the hall than there were before Katsuki had fallen asleep. "Both of you were fast asleep. Too used to sleeping during the day?"

"S-Sorry," Kirishima stammers, curling up in himself like a fucking hedgehog.

Katsuki glowers, tugging at the back of Kirishima’s collar. "What’s wrong with you now?"

Kirishima looks at him, then at Katsuki’s mother. Katsuki still doesn’t understand.

"I told your dad I’d come wake you up, Eijirou," Katsuki’s mother continues. Kirishima still looks like he can’t quite make eye contact with her. "They’re waiting by the NICU."

Kirishima blinks, his face immediately spiralling down from confused to crestfallen. "The NICU?"

"There’s nothing to worry about," Katsuki’s mother says gently. It’s hard to see her this—this tender, so unlike her, but Katsuki can’t roll his eyes at it when it’s the only thing that seems to make the worry on Kirishima’s face clear. "It’s just procedure—precaution, because the twins were born preterm."

Kirishima blinks again, mouth falling slack as realization sets in. Katsuki watches as the tension—finally—unknots itself from Kirishima’s shoulders. "The twins."

"Your siblings," Katsuki’s mother affirms. She’s grinning, taking obvious amusement in the innocent way Kirishima visibly comes to terms with the information. Katsuki does roll his eyes now. "They’re fine. You can go see them at the nursery now. You can’t hold them yet, but—you can go see them."

Kirishima’s on his feet, still disbelieving. "Right now?"

"Holy shit, stop repeating everything you hear," Katsuki mutters, stretching. Watching Kirishima right now is like watching a candle catch from a lit match—the flame starting small and hesitant, then growing steadily.

He waits until Kirishima looks like he’s just biting off a smile, then he scoffs. "Good for you, bastard."

"I can go see them," Kirishima says, sounding dazed. Then he’s laughing, turning to Katsuki with a grin he hasn’t seen—since that Tuesday morning, even if it feels like it’s been ages since. "Katsuki, I have siblings. Twin siblings."

"God, there’s more than one," Katsuki grumbles. It’s hard to look at Kirishima now; but not harder than it had been earlier. "Whatever. Go see the gremlins. Don’t let anyone feed them after midnight."

Kirishima doesn’t even seem to hear him, but he does absently murmur, "It’s past midnight." Then he straightens, turning to Katsuki. "Wait—oh crap, sorry—sorry for keeping you here—"

"Oh, don’t apologize," Katsuki’s mother says, dragging out her syllables as she raises an eyebrow furtively at Katsuki. "It was Katsuki’s choice. Don’t be sorry."

Kirishima’s eyebrows knit at that. "But he said—"

Katsuki grits his teeth. Without taking his eyes off his mother, he says, "I said go, fuckmunch. The longer you stay here the more you’ll miss of those fucking—"

"I’m—Okay—I—" Kirishima bows to Katsuki’s mother first, then to Katsuki himself—two unnecessary ninety degree bows, like Katsuki hadn’t just spent the last few hours fucking sleeping. "Thank you for all your help. I’m in your debt."

When he raises his head, he smiles at Katsuki. It’s a normal Kirishima smile, light and easy, and whatever had been accumulating heavily in Katsuki’s chest finally collapses. "Sorry—for sending you all over the city today."

It’s hard to think of time as a concept right now—in one day, he’d jumped from the art gallery to the restaurant, then back to the art gallery and to the hospital. In one day, he’d had more conversations with these people than he would have with anyone else at any other given fucking day, and he’s exhausted.

That about sums up the entirety of the last approximate two months he’s spent back in Musutafu.

Kirishima’s still smiling at him.

"Whatever," Katsuki mutters, settling back into the recliner and closing his eyes. "Are you leaving yet?"

He waits for the ding of the elevator across the hall before he opens his eyes—to Kirishima’s last goodbye wave, and to his mother’s piercing stare.

Katsuki narrows his eyes at her. "Couldn’t you just get the fucking car and leave?"

"You have the keys," she points out, doing a shit job at biting back her smile. "Why’d you end up staying?"

"No fucking reason," Katsuki bites out.

His mother rolls her eyes, settling back on the recliner herself. "Yeah? S’that why I come up here to see you two all snuggled up—"

"I was fucking tired, holy fuck," Katsuki snaps, straightening up on the recliner.

"Because you went out earlier today with Eijirou," his mother returns, unrepentant. Her smile softens. "What’s going on here?"

Katsuki wants to scoff, but he just bites down on his bottom lip. "Nothing," he murmurs. "Nothing’s going on."

His mother, thankfully, doesn’t accuse him of lying. "Whose fault is that?"

"It’s not mine," Katsuki mutters, looking away from the knowing in his mother’s eyes.

"Can you honestly say," his mother says, crossing her arms over her chest and regarding Katsuki more closely, "that you won’t miss Eijirou, when you go back to Tokyo?"

Katsuki opens his mouth, but he has to wonder why the yes doesn’t come as easily as it should have.

It doesn’t come at all.

His mother sighs, leaning forward on her seat. "It’s not so bad, you know. Talking things over with Ochako, doing—all of this—with Eijirou—it’s not going to stop anything you’re doing in Tokyo. People—people like these two—aren’t out to stop you from doing the shit you want to do. They just want to understand you, Katsuki."

Katsuki has never once, in his life, wanted nor needed to be understood.

But, as he turns it over in his head, he realizes that’s the unsettling thing that his mother, Kirishima and Uraraka’s smiles all have in common—the soft edge to it that seems to say, while their eyes remain searching and stubbornly expectant, that they know Katsuki. Or, if less than that, that they wanna get to know him. Katsuki doesn’t wanna be known, he doesn’t expect to be understood beyond the fact that he’s capable of anything—and yet here all three of them are, looking at him like he keeps proving them right one way or another.

It’s frustrating.

"Detaching yourself from people doesn’t always have to be a bad thing, but it is if you isolate yourself in the process," Katsuki’s mother murmurs in the quiet of the hallway. "You’re a gifted kid, Katsuki, but even you have to see people as your equals at some point."

When Katsuki doesn’t reply, she shrugs. "Being there for Eijirou today wasn’t so awful, was it?"

It wasn’t. "I have a neck cramp," Katsuki says gruffly.

His mother rolls her eyes. "A small price to pay for all the shit the kid’s done for you."

"Like what? I’ve done more shit for him," Katsuki points out. It holds true, as soon as the words are out. "I’ve taken shifts with him, I’ve tutored him, I’ve saved his ass while he was walking around with a fucking fever, I went to campus with him, I fucking drove him here—"

"When was the last time you’ve done that much for a person, Katsuki?" his mother interrupts smoothly, cocking a lopsided grin. "Pretend all you want but you care. You care enough to wonder about this—about Eijirou, about the restaurant."

"I don’t," Katsuki says, looking away stubbornly.

"Then I’m sure it won’t concern you to know my company’s buying the restaurant for good?"

Katsuki’s eyes snap back to his mother abruptly, searching for signs of a joke, a lie—but there’s nothing. Just his mother telling facts. "What?"

"They decided that, after spending money on renovations and new furniture, the view and location is too good not to keep for themselves," his mother says, slow. It’s not the first time she’s had to explain this, it sounds like. "That said, we get a hefty percentage—we’ll permanently take over management as well. There will be a lot more renovations and changes after this, and the Kirishimas won’t always be contacted about these changes. But for the most part, the building will remain under the family on contract, unless the company decides to sell it after all—unlikely—and the restaurant as we know it is going to remain intact once we open it next week."

We, she says. Katsuki swallows thickly. This has happened only once before, as far as Katsuki can remember—a small donburi shop near Musutafu campus, owned by an elderly couple. He remembers his mother explaining the advantages of any restaurant set up near the university, but looking back at it, she’d probably just had a soft spot for family-run restaurants with this much history.

He hadn’t even thought of it as a possibility for the Kirishimas’ place.

It’s a rough compromise, even if it is too good to be true, but all he can think of is Kirishima.

I just don’t wanna see the place I’d grown up in disappear, I guess.

Katsuki wonders if Kirishima already knows.

"With that said, thank you," Katsuki’s mother interrupts his thoughts. He looks up at her sharply. "You ended up doing more for the restaurant than just sitting around on your ass and doing fuck-all. The kids might call you crown prince mockingly, but at least you’re pretty useful as regent every now and then."

Katsuki frowns. "What do you mean?"

"When the restaurant opens back up, it’s going to be the first place in the city to serve breakfast on sizzling plates," his mother says. "That wasn’t my idea, was it?"

Katsuki narrows his eyes. "What the hell are you saying?"

"I’m fucking saying," his mother clarifies, rolling her eyes, "That I’m glad you stayed—and that you ended up taking this more seriously than I ever expected you to."

"I take everything seriously," Katsuki retorts.

"True enough," his mother amends, to his surprise. "So take this seriously as well, would you?"

For once, Katsuki doesn’t have to ask what she means by this. He grits his teeth. "You don’t have to fucking tell me."

"Just checking," his mother says, standing up and stretching. "You’ve exhausted yourself too much on this bullshit to just leave it open-ended. And you’ve been so busy actually using your head about this that you seem to have forgotten I’m supposed to be picking up your father from the airport four hours from now." She holds her hand out, ignoring Katsuki as he jerks upright at her reminder. "Keys, brat."

Katsuki gets up, fishing the keys out for his mother. Before handing it over, he pauses, staring up at her. "Why did you really want me to come here?" he asks, flat. "Don’t say the restaurant. I know that’s not it."

The question blatantly takes her aback, but she shrugs. "Are you wondering what the point was when we didn’t even see each other much?" she asks. Bingo. "I didn’t ask you to come down because I wanted to helicopter parent you, Katsuki."

Katsuki tightens his hold on the keys. "Then what?"

His mother sighs—a heavy one that she seems to draw from somewhere she’s been tucking it away. "You know, Katsuki," she says, quiet. "For someone who’s accomplished so much shit—and so fucking well at that—you’re not completely involved in your own life. I didn’t realize until right before you graduated, but you—you check off all these things from a checklist. It’s not even because you’re meticulous, it’s mostly—you have this idea of the kind of something you should be and how you wanna get there, but I don’t think you know at all what you wanna do with that something once you get it."

She pauses. "Things like that are always gonna be there. Hard work will always get you somewhere. But your world—it will change and evolve and all that shit. You don’t wanna look up from that checklist of yours someday not having participated at all in the world outside of the one in your head." She pokes his forehead lightly. Katsuki doesn’t shove her away. "Being ‘the best’ isn’t a bad goal—it’s just very broad, baby. So is the world around you. Look around every now and then—that’s all I wanted you to do."

Katsuki presses his mouth to a tight line. "That’s it?"

"That’s it," his mother chirps. "I know you’ve been spending the last two years in Meguro-ku, but it won’t hurt to actually realize there’s this complete other world outside the four walls of your apartment, and you happen to be part of it. But I don’t have to worry about you figuring that shit out for yourself after this summer, do I?"

"Shut up," Katsuki mutters.

It seems so damn simple, the way she’s talking about it—not drastic enough, even from someone Katsuki knows to always oversimplify things. But he knows enough to acknowledge that no one recognizes the idiosyncrasies of his personality better than his mother does, has always known that even if he hadn’t understood anything else about her.

When his mother takes the keys from him, all she does is grin that grin Katsuki knows he can mirror right back at her, as if to say; Good job.

Katsuki takes it.

 

 

 

 

 

The restaurant reopens on the 20th of September, at 5PM.

It’s a little ridiculous for a breakfast restaurant to be opening at dinner time, but the restaurant has never really suited normal guidelines. His mother hustles them over before noon, and Katsuki has to watch his mother try to simultaneously size up the new hires and not scare them away.

How she’d managed to hire replacement chefs and servers in the week the restaurant had been closed, Katsuki doesn’t really wanna find out. But they line up in front of the bar, pushed back by the renovation crew to make more room between the tables. Katsuki hasn’t seen the kitchen yet, but judging from the way the makeshift office has been transferred to another corner of the restaurant altogether, he’s willing to bet it’s gotten longer for what it sacrificed in width.

The plants Katsuki and Kirishima had gotten hang everywhere.

All the staff get actual uniforms now—stuffy white shirts and black pants under the same black aprons. The new hires, all with what sounds like snooty fine dining experience, look unperturbed by this, but when the old workers arrive one by one, the discomfort is palpable—Uraraka tugging repeatedly at her black stockings, Tokoyami in a black fucking dress shirt altogether. Hagakure at least looks happy about the uniform, but it doesn’t mean much for someone that might as well be invisible for all that the customers never notice her presence until she’s knocking on the table to get their attention.

And Kirishima—Kirishima looks downright suffocated, tugging at the top button of the white shirt like it’s making it personally hard to breathe. It probably is.

He slumps down beside Katsuki on the bar as soon as he gets there and stays like that.

"Things change so fast," he groans.

Katsuki rolls his eyes—but this feels like a really vivid case of deja vu, even if the instance he’s thinking of happened only a week ago, Kirishima slumping right beside him like this, getting ready for a make-up exam. But this isn’t that; Kirishima’s not wearing one of his awful shirts, for one, and the restaurant feels bigger, wider. In just a little over a week, it’s no longer the restaurant Katsuki had first seen when he’d first gotten back—and it’s fucking weird, just like how his old house had felt different, with its rearranged furniture and reorganized cupboards.

He thinks he gets how Kirishima feels.

When he turns back, Kirishima’s looking at him. Katsuki scowls back. "What?"

"You’re leaving tomorrow, aren’t you?" Kirishima says, and the blatancy of his effort to keep his voice stable pricks at Katsuki. Expressive voice. Shit at lying. That much hasn’t changed.

"You are?" Uraraka asks, coming out of the kitchen to join them both. Kirishima shuffles over to make space for her on the bar, and in the process, slides closer to Katsuki. "All packed and ready to go?"

"I came here with a backpack," Katsuki mutters, looking away from Kirishima. He keeps his eyes across the restaurant instead, at Tokoyami flipping through the new menu, kept in a fancy black folder, and at his mother, looking over her notes before they get ready to open. "I’m gonna leave with a backpack."

Kirishima laughs, loud from so close now. "I thought you were playing with me—I thought, ‘There’s no way Katsuki only has a backpack. Where are his clothes?’"

"I just used my old ones," Katsuki says flatly. "I wasn’t planning on staying to begin with."

"But you did," Kirishima points out, blinking.

Katsuki tries not to be too obvious about pausing. "I did."

"Now you’re going to back to Tokyo." Uraraka blows air into her cheeks and puffs it out slowly. Briefly, she exchanges a look with Kirishima—and even that, Katsuki has gotten used to. "Are you excited, Bakugou?"

And the thing is—Katsuki doesn’t know. There was a time, back after graduation, where Tokyo had been an exciting prospect: something new, something unknown, something momentous. Now he thinks of Tokyo and remembers the way it never sleeps, the way students at Todai are all aiming for the one thing Katsuki is as well. He thinks of the scholarship application waiting for him, and the small one-room apartment. It isn’t a bad thought, and it’s not that he doesn’t wanna go back—but looking around the restaurant, at the place he’d spent 85% of his waking hours in for the past month and a bit, Uraraka’s question gets really fucking hard to answer.

He doesn’t have to, though, because his mother’s suddenly clapping her hands together. Katsuki pretends not to see her take a deep breath, folding her notes and tucking them under one arm.

They all gather around, a loose circle around Katsuki’s mother. It reminds him of pre-match team circles, except less tight, and he knows Uraraka’s thinking the same thing when she looks over her shoulder and smiles at him—her biggest, most genuine one of the summer.

Katsuki’s mother straightens, and Katsuki, in a rare occasion, sees why people never fail to point out their resemblance. It’s the way her eyes light up as she looks at them, and the way her mouth pulls to a grin, ready-made for war.

She makes eye contact with Katsuki, briefly, and winks.

Then she turns to the staff.

"Tonight," she says, voice even, "We start a new chapter in the history of this restaurant. The place looks just a tiny bit different to those of you familiar with it, but it’s still ours, and we gotta take care of it. Our menu is smaller—new sections have been introduced, and some old dishes will be served differently now. If Tooru could pass around the menu, we can…"

Katsuki’s eyes catch on Kirishima, beside him—Kirishima who’s staring down at the floor like he expects it to drop from underneath him.

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "It’s not like you’re opening the restaurant."

"No, I know, it’s just—this is happening," Kirishima says, his voice low as Katsuki’s mother resumes her menu explanations. "Oh jeez, this is happening, Katsuki."

"You knew this was gonna happen," Katsuki retorts. "You’ve fucking known—"

"I know," Kirishima says softly. "Everything just feels so…different, even when it isn’t. It’s like I have to be saying goodbye."

"To the restaurant?"

Kirishima laughs. "Yeah." He sounds more wistful than sad, and he’s not gripping his hands tightly together. "You know how people feel when they leave their old house—I didn’t really feel it, when we’d moved out. But I feel it now."

Katsuki does not know how people feel when they leave their old house, but, thinking about going back to Tokyo tomorrow, he thinks he might be getting an idea. He pushes it down.

"When things like this happen," Kirishima continues, "I sorta wish I’d gotten a better feel of things as they were happening." He frowns. "Life moves so fast, man. I wish I’d taken more photos, or wrote down everything that happened here—I don’t know. I don’t wanna look back and remember nothing, just because someday I’d actually have to leave."

It’s surprisingly mature, coming from Kirishima—who’d been so single-minded about getting this restaurant back someday. But not even Kirishima is that idealistic, maybe, only greedy and a little bit selfish, despite the occasional tendency towards martyrdom. Still, his words echo sentiments Katsuki has already heard from Uraraka, wistfully walking around their old baseball diamond, and his mother, preaching at him at the hospital.

Katsuki doesn’t know how it’s possible to feel so simultaneously old and young, but it’s there, simmering under his ribs. To Kirishima, he says, "That exhibit’s there permanently, ain’t it? Just come back and make gooey eyes at it whenever."

Kirishima frowns. "The exhibit?"

"That creepy paper family," Katsuki mutters. "That you worked so hard on you almost failed your make-up exam, too. It’s always gonna be there, part of that—that snapshot of the city or whatever."

"Oh," Kirishima says. He hesitates, then he adds, "You’re there, too, Katsuki. Part of Musutafu."

Katsuki frowns, but then his mother’s raising her voice, "Tonight’s main event is our waffles being served on sizzling plates for the first time. That comes with ice cream on top, customer’s choice, as well as three toppings of their choosing. Then we’ll serve it with syrup—which the previous owners have so kindly provided the recipe for."

Kirishima doesn’t react to previous owners the way he would have, two months ago, but his smile is still a little tight as he looks up at Katsuki.

"The brain behind the spin on the regular waffle dish wishes to remain anonymous," Katsuki’s mother continues, even if her words fall futile when she’s pointedly looking at Katsuki anyway. "But let’s work to introduce this new option to the public tonight."

There’s a soft round of cheers that go around at that, and when it dies down, Uraraka pipes up, "It was Ba—"

Katsuki jabs her side before she can finish, poking her where he knows she’s ticklish. She breaks off with a little squeal, sticking her tongue out at Katsuki accusingly.

"Ten minutes to opening," Kirishima chirps helpfully, in an effort to get attention off Uraraka and Katsuki. "We should probably get ready."

Uraraka’s hand shoots up in the air. "Let’s do a team huddle!"

The way she glares at Katsuki after that makes it seem like she’s only suggesting it to spite him. He bares his teeth at her. "Let’s fucking not."

But then Kirishima has an arm over his shoulder and Uraraka’s tugging at him by the wrist, both of them grinning—and he’s pulled into the reluctant circle that the staff makes, hands all stretched out even if none of them quite meet the center.

Katsuki doesn’t hold the team huddles from high school in much regard; they hadn’t been special, and they’d felt like rote more than they’d felt like something supposed to energize him. But there’s a crackle of energy within the staff now, and he feels it in the way Kirishima tightens his arm around Katsuki’s shoulder and the way Uraraka grins. It’s not a war they’re going to, nor even a match, but working here is its own kind of battle, and none of is anything they’re not already used to.

Katsuki’s not one for remembering team huddles and cheesy sentiment, but something about this one—in how Tokoyami leads them all with a solemn To a new era, in how everyone raises their hands up to the bright lights hanging from the ceiling in one collective echo—

—is maybe worth remembering.

 

 

 

 

 

His parents are probably just shitty at saying hellos and goodbyes like normal fucking people, because when Katsuki’s father greets him that night, it’s with, "Excuse me, sir, which dish would you recommend?"

Katsuki, technically, isn’t there to work the floor—but his father seems hell-bent on ignoring this altogether. He’d shown up two hours after opening and waited twenty whole minutes to be seated on a small table, only to repeatedly wave at Katsuki until he’d come over and listened to his father take quiet amusement in treating him like a waiter.

Then he’d asked Katsuki to join him.

"Does Mom know you’re here?" Katsuki says now, as Hagakure comes over to bring Katsuki’s recommended dish to their table. It’s the waffle on sizzling plate, of fucking course, but with—

"Is this fried chicken?" Katsuki’s father regards it oddly, but he doesn’t argue the point further. No surprise there, but Katsuki’s a little disappointed. "She does—she offered to get me a seat, but I told her the place is a little too busy for her to be pulling strings."

It is—it feels almost twice the afternoon shift that Katsuki had worked before, only with more room to walk around, an actual kitchen manager, and four servers alternating for tonight. Katsuki can feel his mother’s satisfaction, just looking around, and, if he digs a little deeper, finds that he might share that feeling of triumph as well.

"This is—this is really good," Katsuki’s father says, mild as ever. Katsuki thinks he’ll still sound like that dangling off a cliff. He picks up the cup of syrup. "Do I—"

"Just pour it all over the damn thing," Katsuki advises shortly. "You’ll thank me later."

Katsuki’s father eyes him at that, amused. "You’ve sure grown into your place in this restaurant since I last saw you."

"What’s that supposed to mean?" Katsuki mutters, picking up the metal fork from the table. "I’ve been working here."

"Working hard or hardly working?" his father says, and Katsuki can’t tell if the surprise is genuine or played up for shits and giggles. "Your mother tells me this was your idea."

"It wasn’t," Katsuki retorts. "The sizzling plate was already there—just not with the waffles."

"A compromise of sorts," his father comments agreeably. "Does the person you like have to do with this sudden change in perspective?"

The fork clatters back on top of the table—it clatters noisily, but the chatter in the restaurant is mercifully still louder. Katsuki sputters; if he hadn’t dropped the fork, he’d be pointing it at his father accusingly now. "The—the fucking what?"

"Oh, you remind me so much of your mother," Katsuki’s father says, laughing around his next waffle bite. Katsuki just glares incredulously at him. "Your mother tells me there’s a someone."

"There’s no—where the fuck?" Katsuki has so many fucking questions, and he feels too fucking warm to be having this conversation. "You’re gone on a business trip for two damn months, and this is the first thing she catches you up on?"

"It’s quite an urgent matter," Katsuki’s father says. "It’s not everyday that you like—"

"I. Don’t. Like. Kirishima," Katsuki hisses—before straightening up abruptly and searching the restaurant. Kirishima’s far across the floor, holding up the bar. He turns to his father, who’d just followed his gaze. "Urgent matter my fucking ass."

"Katsuki," his father says delicately. "Your behavior isn’t reassuring me much."

"I don’t fucking care, this is ridiculous," Katsuki mutters, crossing his arms and leaning back in his seat aggressively. His father’s eyes are still on Kirishima. "God, can you stare any more?"

"You realize I didn’t mention names," his father says, quietly amused as he turns back to Katsuki. "Is there something you’re not telling your mother?"

"Clearly," Katsuki shoots back, "I don’t need to be telling her shit. She’s got it all fucking figured out—"

"More than you do, I dare say." His father’s got his business voice on, and if it isn’t for the fucking plate of waffles in front of him and the excited chatter around them, this could have been a fine dining restaurant serving wine while his father gets a pen and a contract ready. Katsuki tries not to feel too much like an actual client. "What’s the story here?"

Katsuki narrows his eyes. "What?"

"The story here." Blatantly—and purposely, most likely—Katsuki’s father points across the restaurant. At Kirishima, who of course notices the fact that someone’s fucking pointing directly at him. Katsuki closes his eyes tightly. "You seem like you’ve had an eventful summer. Sure you don’t want to fill me in on it?"

For all that his parents are polar opposites in more ways than one, they work alarmingly well as a team; even if the mission at hand, as it most often is, is to slow-cook Katsuki on a metaphorical grill. At the end of the day, it’s always a choice of who to talk about it with instead of whether or not to talk about it at all. It’s always one or the other, when it comes to this shit, and Katsuki hasn’t really known otherwise—maybe because he’s always been the center of anything and everything with his parents, as an only child, or maybe because, when you have both Katsuki and his mother under the same roof, some things don’t have to be explicitly said to be noticed.

When Katsuki opens his eyes, the way his father’s staring at him is proof enough of that. He blames that—and the fact that if this was his mother, the grill would less likely be metaphorical—when, sullenly, he gives his father the bare bones of the story.

The very bare bones, but his father still looks his own kind of contemplative as he listens.

They’re facts, in the grand scheme of things: Kirishima had known Katsuki in high school. Uraraka put a letter in Katsuki’s textbook. Katsuki doesn’t see it. Fast forward two years later and they’re all fine and dandy about not seeing the damn letter, but Katsuki just had to fucking see it and bring it up.

It isn’t complicated. It shouldn’t be.

And Katsuki doesn’t wanna admit it, but it does help to have it all out there, out loud. He’s skilled at seeing past and beyond anything, at projecting and anticipating, and yet with this—with all of this—his own capabilities fall a little short of where it should be. The problem with the past couple of months is that his life had revolved around his interactions with his mother, Uraraka and Kirishima—and with the constant proximity, more than it has ever been around any other group of people in his lifetime, it’s hard to see beyond it.

It’s just been them, the entire summer.

He grits his teeth as soon as he’s done.

"Well," his father says. "What do you want, Katsuki?"

Katsuki hadn’t been expecting much, because his father isn’t reliable when it comes to bullshit like this. He’s like a shitty prof that thinks he’s being cute and progressive when a student double-checks an answer to a formula and he throws the question right back at them with Well, what do you think is the answer?—and this instance, apparently, is no different.

"Why do people keep asking me that?" Katsuki shoots back irritably. "I don’t want anything. I’m leaving tomorrow, for fuck’s sake."

"Right." His father looks surprised to remember this, even though he’d been the one to ask Katsuki all those weeks ago. "And you’re leaving things like this?"

"‘This’?" Katsuki scowls. "This is fucking fine."

"It’s fine to leave things unfinished?" His father frowns. "That’s unlike you, Katsuki."

This business isn’t unfinished; Uraraka had backed down with the promise of a Kyojin game, and Kirishima—Kirishima had told him to forget it, dismissed it for the both of them. If Kirishima says so, then—

Only, looking back at the entire summer: Kirishima saying saying such and so, when it comes to himself, doesn’t mean a damn thing.

It means fuck all, actually, from someone who’d claimed he was fine even with a 39-degree fever.

"It’s important to know what people want, Katsuki," his father says, slipping into preaching mode more comfortably than Katsuki’s mother ever has. "Not everyone’s going to want the same thing you do. You’re not always going to want the same thing as someone else."

"Yeah, well, no shit," Katsuki mutters.

His father ignores this—typical. "Relationships of any kind don’t work unless you make it clear what you want, and they make it clear what they want."

"No shit," Katsuki repeats.

"You know why people say absence makes the heart grow fonder?" his father continues, completely on his own tangent now. His waffle’s almost done, but he cuts it into even slices anyway. "It’s not the distance that improves the relationship—it’s when people are forced to adapt the way they communicate to each other. They talk about deeper things, about even the most inconsequential of things, because there are things you miss when you’re not with them every day. That’s why your mother and I—"

"Holy fuck." Katsuki glowers down at his father’s plate. "Can I leave?"

"You wanted to know how I found out about—" His father breaks off, popping the last waffle slice into his mouth as he looks pointedly across the room at where Kirishima had been—the space behind the bar is empty now. Leave it to Katsuki’s father to exercise tact when it’s already fucking unnecessary. "Well, there you go. Your mother was just catching me up. It might not be important to you, because you don’t realize a lot about the situation, but it’s something worth talking about, with us."

"Because I," Katsuki repeats, gruffly, "don’t realize a lot about the situation?"

"What’s in the center of Tokyo that can’t be seen from Tokyo Tower?" Serenely, his father offers a small smile, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin. "I told you. That’s what you’re like, about personal things."

Katsuki doesn’t understand. He grits his teeth and bites out, "You’re still making no fucking sense."

"Katsuki," his father says, voice abruptly soft. "You’ve never had a problem telling people what you want, what you think, why should this be any different?"

His father has a gentle temperament, in comparison to the rest of the family, but then there’s this: his own version of delicacy.

It should piss Katsuki off, to be handled like this.

It does, if he digs deep enough.

But his father isn’t wrong. He makes it sound easy, to go up to someone and be clear about what you want. And it is, for Katsuki, because his goals and objectives have always been crystal clear to him. This isn’t, though. It isn’t crystal clear. Telling someone what he wants won’t work if he doesn’t even know what he’s trying to get out of the situation.

Nothing, he wants to say. He wants to say he doesn’t want anything out of this, that he wants to go back to Tokyo and get all of this out of the way without ever having to deal with it. But his father’s right; he’s not the type to do things half-assed, even if his involvement may have been accidental.

And if Katsuki’s honest with himself, about the question of wanting things, a part of him nags and tugs more than the part that wants to leave this all behind. The bigger part that hounds him—with something unfamiliar, intrusive like irritation and insistent like bitter grudges—when he looks up at where Kirishima had been, where Kirishima had always been the entire summer, and finds nothing but empty space there.

"Are you going back with me?" his father asks. Katsuki has to stare at him for a long time before he registers the question. "Back home? You still haven’t packed, have you?"

"No," Katsuki murmurs. His eyes find their way back to the bar, and the feeling—the part of him that’s always unconsciously searching for Kirishima at this point—doesn’t fade. He heaves an annoyed sigh, shoving his hands in his pockets and standing up abruptly. "Can you wait for a couple of minutes?"

"Of course," his father says, courteous. Katsuki can’t tell if that’s genuine or mocking. He never can, with his father. "I’ll help myself to some dessert while you think about what I said."

Katsuki doesn’t dignify that with a reply, but he does nod—once, stiff—before excusing himself.

Uraraka almost bumps into him on his way to the kitchen, still unused to the new setup of the tables. She squints at his face. "Kirishima-kun took his break."

"Break?" Katsuki echoes, incredulous. "Since when do any of you fucking get breaks?"

"I know. It’s a new luxury," Uraraka returns sweetly. "It’s only for people that actually work, though."

Katsuki grabs one side of her face and pulls.

Uraraka yelps, slapping his hand away. She’s grinning, though—and Katsuki will never understand that about the restaurant staff, their tendency to be happy about the fucking weirdest shit. "Balcony downstairs," she reports, rubbing her cheek. "Cheer him up for me, too, okay?"

"Cheer—" Katsuki tries to repeat, but then she’s going, tightening her apron with one hand and grabbing a water pitcher with the other.

Katsuki understands when he sees Kirishima.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that Kirishima’s one of those people that thrive on interacting with other people—the kind of extreme extrovert that does not discriminate in his interactions with people, and lives life outwards more than he ever does inwards. So when he comes down to find Kirishima visibly dispirited, eyes locked somewhere underneath him as he looks over the railing—Katsuki tells himself it doesn’t particularly mean anything that he doesn’t feel good about seeing him like that.

It’s a deviation from the natural order of things, and those always unsettle Katsuki.

Kirishima doesn’t even look up.

"You look blue," Katsuki mutters. Kirishima jerks in attention. "Literally blue. You look fucking asphyxiated."

"Big words," Kirishima replies weakly, turning to him. His hair’s up in a tighter ponytail than usual, the tips much perkier than the weary smile he gives Katsuki. "I’m gonna puke."

Katsuki jerks a thumb at the wall behind them. "Good fucking news for you, the bathrooms are bigger now."

The construction crew had taken the bathrooms out from upstairs and renovated the entirety of the Kirishimas’ old home into the new washrooms. Kirishima looks even sicker when this dawns on him.

"Fuck, can you back away from there," Katsuki mutters, kicking an old patio seat over. "You’re gonna fucking faint and fall to your death."

That somehow surprises a laugh out of Kirishima as he takes the seat. "I’m not gonna faint."

"You fucking look like you are," Katsuki points out.

Kirishima makes a face. "Don’t exaggerate, Katsuki."

Katsuki glares. "When do I fucking ever?"

But it’s almost reassuring, to see this Kirishima. It makes more sense than the Kirishima from before opening, resigned and accepting. He can pretend all he wants around other people, pretend around them the way he pretended around his parents when he’d been sick, but that Kirishima will never feel right to Katsuki the way this Kirishima in front of him now does.

"I’ll be fine," Kirishima says quietly, and it doesn’t sound like it’s for Katsuki at all. "I’ll come to terms with this eventually. It’s just a lot to take in right now."

Katsuki hadn’t asked. "You’ll get over it."

"Yeah, I’m—" Kirishima winces, his eyes following Katsuki as he takes the seat beside Kirishima. "Not very good at that stuff. The getting over things."

"I’m fucking great at it," Katsuki mutters.

"You’re great at a lot of things, dude," Kirishima protests—only it doesn’t sound like it, because it’s Kirishima. "That doesn’t even count."

"You’re being pathetic right now," Katsuki tells him, leaning back. His shoulder presses against Kirishima’s. And it doesn’t sound too believable, because he doesn’t sound like he really believes Katsuki. "Everything ends at some point. Fucking deal with it."

Kirishima chews on his bottom lip thoughtfully. "Everything?"

There is an end to everything—to days, to months, to years, to the time Katsuki spent in Musutafu, to the time he’ll spend in Todai. Nothing’s ever designed to last forever, not even whole schools like Kirishima’s old high school, nor the old baseball diamond that came with it. Summer don’t last, either, and it’s Kirishima’s naivety speaking when he gets sentimental like this, even at this point.

So, quietly, Katsuki repeats, "Everything."

"What if I want something to last?" Kirishima says, tracing indiscriminate lines on his palm. It’s a nervous habit. Kirishima has a lot of those, for someone who so openly gains energy from interacting with the world. "What do you think I should do then?"

Katsuki presses his lips together. "I think you want too many things, shithead."

Kirishima considers that. "One of them’s bound to stick, if I want a lot of things."

It’s such a Kirishima thing to say: the Kirishima who’d answered Katsuki’s multiple-choice review questions by guessing each letter at least once, and the Kirishima who’d painstakingly glued windows to small buildings. It feels weird, to be next to someone who’s so aware and so unabashed about what he wants, even if he hasn’t figured out the rest of it. It feels weird, because, for once, looking at Kirishima, Katsuki isn’t sure at all what he wants himself.

Abruptly, Katsuki says, "Why didn’t you say anything?"

As soon as the words are out, he realizes how much it’s been bothering him. Kirishima hadn’t been subtle about it, looking back. He’d stared, and some moments Katsuki knows Kirishima came close to bringing it up—but he never did. He’d stayed quiet. He would have stayed quiet if Katsuki hadn’t found out.

That part is frustrating, irritating, but mostly, it’s just confusing, from Katsuki’s side of the situation.

And Kirishima can tell him to forget it all he wants, and Katsuki can avoid bringing it up as much as possible, but neither of that changes the fact that it’s there, it should be talked about, and Katsuki at least needs answers before he goes back.

Kirishima’s staring at him now, mouth parted. "Dude, I told you—" he eventually manages. "I told you it’s fine to—"

"Tell me to forget it and I’ll fucking throw you over myself," Katsuki cuts in. "I asked you a question. Answer it."

"I—" Kirishima’s panicking—Katsuki can see it in his eyes, the involuntary way he frowns. He wrestles with something in his head for a long beat; ultimately futile, because in the end, he sighs, slumping over in his seat. "I wasn’t planning on it. When your mom sent me last-minute to pick you up, I was honestly—I was like, how do I be cool about this? But then I show up to the station—" He breaks off, waving a hand at Katsuki. "I thought you were just pretending not to know me—but you were serious. So I thought it’ll be okay, because you weren’t staying anyway. But then—but then you did stay. And I—I didn’t really know what to do."

When Katsuki doesn’t say anything, Kirishima keeps at it, hands still waving around with no discernible pattern to them. "Me and Uraraka—we decided that either you don’t remember at all or you just—don’t care. And I—" He sounds pained, pausing to take a deep breath. "I didn’t think you’d stick around this much. So—I—I thought it was fine, to try and be friends with you. Maybe—maybe start over from scratch, even though—even though we didn’t really know it each other before."

Kirishima breaks off, contemplative.

Katsuki still doesn’t say anything. His stomach’s doing funny things, but he knows when Kirishima has more to say. Kirishima always does.

Kirishima takes another deep breath. It’s like Uraraka had been when she’d taken Katsuki to the diamond—a lot of piled-up sentiments, finding their way out. "Getting to work with you was supposed to be my chance to—to get over my idea of you from high school. I—I had this image of you, Katsuki—of you being the type of student even people from other schools know about. You were really, really cool to me, and I think—I think I just built you up in my head, adding things every time I saw you, despite not really knowing you. Which—which is kinda sucky." He breaks off and laughs, a little breathless. "So I worked to get rid of that perfect image this time, because no one’s like that."

I’m plenty fucking perfect, Katsuki wants to bite out, but Kirishima’s shoulder is steady against his, and his throat feels dry. "But?"

"But—" Kirishima’s definitely nervous now, his hands back to their tight praying position from their night at the hospital. Katsuki doesn’t reach for his hand this time. "It didn’t really work out that way—because—Uraraka told me about the kind of person you were, and for the first few weeks, she’d been right—she’s still right, about so many things—but then you—you kept taking me by surprise. You showed up on my shifts, you were there when I had a fever, you were there so many times after and that’s—that’s so unfair, Katsuki. You weren’t supposed to be like that. I—I was supposed to stop thinking of you like that at all."

Katsuki’s been staring at Kirishima this whole time—at the way his frown deepens when he stumbles over a particular word, the way his hands tighten around each other when he searches himself for the next thing to say. Kirishima’s so earnest about everything, and it never fails to push Katsuki off-balance, even now. He looks away. "What the hell was I supposed to be like, then?"

"I—I don’t know?" Kirishima sounds and looks genuinely stumped, the face of someone relying on what other people have told him. Nothing new there, when it comes to him. "Just—not—you were supposed to make it easier for me to look away from you, Katsuki, not—not harder than it was in high school."

Katsuki’s stomach lurches at that. "You told me to forget it."

"I—" Kirishima stares down at his lap. "I didn’t—I wrote that letter when I was seventeen—when the only words I’ve ever said to you were ‘good game’ or ‘nice pitch’. Even I—even I know infatuation when I see it. So you can forget that, because all I really wanted then was to actually get to talk to you."

Kirishima’s staring down at the floor like it’s the most interesting thing. It’s probably the first time he’s said any of this out loud—unless he talks about this shit with Uraraka. But Kirishima can be secretive about the weirdest things, and from the way he studiously avoids Katsuki’s gaze, Katsuki can guess that Kirishima’s coming to terms with the stuff coming out of his mouth at the same time he’s saying them.

Upstairs, he can still hear the flurry in the restaurant, the constant footsteps, the collective chatter. This was Kirishima’s home—this is the background noise when he’d procrastinated on his homework, the background noise, maybe, when he’d written the letter.

Katsuki thinks of Kirishima in high school, the dark hair, the Swallows obsession—they’re just pieces, nowhere close to the Kirishima in front of him now—but it was that Kirishima that had waited for Katsuki, who never showed up.

It’s not guilt, but it feels equally hassling.

Heaving a huge sigh, Katsuki pushes his chair back and faces Kirishima.

"Look at me, Kirishima."

Kirishima flinches visibly at the use of his name—it's fucked up that Katsuki has called him tons of other names before, and this is the one that gets a reaction. But Kirishima chews on his bottom lip, genuinely contemplative. Genuine in even this. Katsuki hates that he watches anyway.

Kirishima sighs, too. He still doesn’t look.

Katsuki reaches out and personally turns Kirishima’s face towards him.

Kirishima blinks, belated in registering the hand Katsuki now has on his cheek.

"Tell me," Katsuki says. The feeling in his stomach is gone, and in its place is something cold, expectant in a way he can’t articulate, anticipating in a way that turns his palms clammy. His hand feels cold, or maybe Kirishima’s face is just too warm. "Tell me what you want now."

Kirishima reddens quickly. "Katsuki, that’s—"

"I’ll tell you what I want." Katsuki’s throat is still dry, and his chest still feels it’s threatening to implode any second now, but someone’s going to come down to tell Kirishima his break is over, and Katsuki doesn’t want this—whatever this is—to be cut off prematurely.

He doesn’t want this to end at all, the way Kirishima stares at him, eyes wide, because the truth is that it feels good, to be the center of even Kirishima’s attention.

You’ve never had a problem telling people what you want, what you think, why should this be any different?

"I want to figure this out," Katsuki says. He hates that it surprises him, to hear his own voice so steady, even though his heart is beating treacherously. "I don’t like it when people hide shit from me. Shit that involves me. I don’t like it when people expect me to figure out what they want. I don’t like it when people overcomplicate bullshit like this when they can just fucking tell me. So make it clear."

Because you acting like this is pissing me off.

Or maybe, because I don’t like being the fucking reason why you’re hesitating like that.

"I’m really bad at getting over things, Katsuki. Really bad. I—" Kirishima swallows, but his hand finds its way to where Katsuki’s is. Slowly, he brings both of their hands down, curling his fingers around Katsuki’s. "If I do something stupid, are you gonna throw me over?"

Katsuki frowns. "I don’t care."

Kirishima kisses him.

It’s an off-center kiss, with the way they’re sitting, but Katsuki can’t bite off his own noise of surprise as Kirishima tugs him forward, pressing his lips against Katsuki’s, tightening his hand around Katsuki’s. It can’t be more than a couple of seconds that he stays like that, but then he’s pulling away, taking the warmth of his hand with him, and Katsuki—somehow—panics.

It’s a quick rush of something frantic that has him tugging Kirishima back towards him instead. He tilts his head, and then they’re kissing for real.

Kirishima makes a small sound that sounds like a whimper, and his lips part for Katsuki easily. Katsuki presses in close, his tongue brushing along the roof of Kirishima’s mouth—and it’s hot, Kirishima’s warm, and this is so much better than it should be.

He can hear Kirishima’s heartbeat—or maybe it’s that he can feel it, with Kirishima close enough. Kirishima has been this close so many times over the past summer, but Katsuki has never felt like this about it—something urgent, insistent. Kirishima has made him feel a lot of things—irritation, frustration, confusion, and tons more he can’t name even if he tries—but it’s never been like this, warmth pooling in his chest.

And then Kirishima flicks his forehead.

"Don’t—" Kirishima doesn’t yank his hand out of Katsuki’s hold, but he does push Katsuki back by the forehead with his free hand. "Why’d you kiss me back?"

Katsuki scowls. "You fucking kissed me—"

"Because you asked me what I—" Kirishima falters, eyes searching Katsuki’s face. He’s looking at Katsuki completely now, at least. "You asked me what I wanted."

"I did," Katsuki mutters, as it catches up. It’s still there, the warmth, and, stubbornly, all he really wants right now is to pull Kirishima back closer.

It’s an unfamiliar thing, to want without thinking.

Maybe Kirishima’s rubbing off on him.

"But—Katsuki," Kirishima says, soft. "Katsuki, what do you want?"

Katsuki’s sick of hearing people ask him that. It used to be an easy question—it still is, in some ways—but people aren’t variables easy to predict, and being in front of Kirishima and still being unable to think, to decide, makes it infinitely harder to answer.

He’s always known getting other people involved is just asking to overcomplicate things. That’s the one thing he hadn’t gotten from his mother—she might thrive on getting to boss people around, on being in the kind of environment that lets her deal with that kind of shit. Katsuki doesn’t. Not even this entire summer can change that.

It should be so easy, to tell Kirishima what he wants, but it isn’t at all.

Because for all that it’s easy to think of goals in more general terms, it gets more complicated when it has to do with unpredictable things—like Kirishima, like this entire summer and the way it stretched out farther than Katsuki ever signed up for. It gets more complicated when, confronted with such a simple fucking question, Katsuki realizes he’s never thought of what he wants in that context before.

It’s always what he wants in the future, what he wants in the long-term, in the grand scheme of things—but never what he wants now, never what he wants for the part of himself that’s barely keeping up with the desires of eleven-year-old him.

Kirishima sighs.

"You think so far into the future, Katsuki," he says—and Katsuki can't recognize the tone behind it.

That, too, is an unfamiliar thing, to not be able to recognize Kirishima’s tone.

Katsuki bristles. "And you don’t?"

"Not like you do." Kirishima hums, leaning back—he hesitates for the briefest of moments, which is much more composed than how Katsuki feels when Kirishima finally lets go of his hand. "It’s cool. I like that about you."

Katsuki’s face must do something weird, because Kirishima laughs. "I like a lot of things about you, Katsuki. Some of them—some of them are the same things I liked in high school, but others—others not so much. It’s not like Uraraka never told me that I’m better off crushing on other people. She’s been trying since we were second years." He grins sheepishly. "But first crushes don’t really work that way."

Katsuki takes a moment to process that.

Since they were second years.

Kirishima has been noticing him for four years.

God.

Katsuki swallows thickly. "You didn’t answer my question."

Kirishima blinks. "Which one?"

"What you want," Katsuki says. He’s not really sure what’s happening. "You didn’t answer it out loud."

"Katsuki, you—" Kirishima hesitates. Slowly, carefully, he says, "You’re the type of guy to do things well because you’re good at figuring things out. But you—you don’t have this figured out."

Dully, Katsuki says, "I don’t."

"You don’t," Kirishima repeats—and his voice, if Katsuki strains to listen, almost sounds disappointed. He considers Katsuki for a long moment, and it’s quiet, nothing but the restaurant’s cacophony in the background. "If you want—if you want, you can come to me—when you’ve figured it out. But until then—until then, you—you have stuff to do, Katsuki."

Katsuki wonders when Kirishima had gotten this mature about this situation.

It probably gets like that, when you’ve been stewing on something for years.

The reminder makes Katsuki feel a little sick.

"I gotta get back inside," Kirishima says quietly. He moves to get up, but Katsuki catches him by the wrist, still frowning.

Kirishima looks and sounds so fucking sincere, all the damn time, and Katsuki—Katsuki doesn’t know what to do about it. But Kirishima knows what to do, because he sits closer, and, tentatively, takes Katsuki’s hand, links their pinky fingers. "Look—Okay—Let’s do this the pre-school way. I’ll answer your question when you give me an answer. Pinky swear?"

"This is so childish," Katsuki mutters.

"I’ve never been the most adult about things like this," Kirishima says, smiling. Katsuki has to disagree with that. This entire situation is just Katsuki being swept away in Kirishima’s pace.

Kirishima’s smile droops, just a little bit. "And for what it’s worth, Katsuki, I’m sorry for not telling you, when I picked you up that day. I thought—I would have been fine, just being friends with you. I thought you didn’t care."

Katsuki hadn’t. He wonders what changed. "Being friends with me?"

Kirishima hums, holding up their linked fingers and shaking it a little. "I know you’re not too big on the idea, but we’re friends, Katsuki. You’ve been my 2 A.M way too many times for me not to call you that."

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "I’m fucking glad you know."

"Thank you," Kirishima says, sincere as fucking ever. Something in Katsuki’s chest hurts. "For everything. Now will you promise?"

Katsuki frowns at their hands. Then he sighs, a huff that should have sounded more annoyed than it was. "I’m going back tomorrow."

"I know," Kirishima says quietly. "Doesn’t mean I’ll stop bothering you any time soon."

Katsuki has to scoff at that, but Kirishima’s smile is wide and genuine, just like Uraraka’s had been, earlier. So he lets Kirishima tilt their hands towards each other, press their thumbs together.

But Kirishima leans forward, pressing a quick kiss on Katsuki’s forehead, just where he’d flicked it minutes before.

And then he lets go.

"I’ll see you around, Katsuki," Kirishima says, grinning over his shoulder. It’s the same grin from that day in July, all those weeks ago, when he’d picked up Katsuki from the station. It’s also his usual goodbye, on the phone and when they’re leaving the restaurant in the morning—and it doesn’t feel any different, this goodbye.

So Katsuki says, "Yeah."

And, like all the days that came before, watches Kirishima go.

If his chest feels heavy or if his head feels sluggish as he makes his way back upstairs to meet up with his father, Katsuki doesn’t let it show.

 

 

 

 

When Katsuki leaves Musutafu that September, it’s cold enough for a jacket.

It isn’t as crowded as it was last July; school had started back up that Monday for the Musutafu students, and if there was anyone traveling in and out, they’d probably done it last week.

Both of his parents come to drop him off.

It’s completely unnecessary, all things considered—they could have just easily dropped him off at the unloading station, but they get out of the car with him, walking him up to the entrance.

"I’m surprised you actually packed this time," his father says, rolling Katsuki’s tiny suitcase behind him.

"Yeah, well, my room might not be there when I come back," Katsuki mutters.

His father blinks at him, too surprised to notice as Katsuki holds out his hand for the suitcase.

He yanks it out of his father’s hand.

"I’m going," he declares, taking a deep breath.

His mother doesn’t even give him a warming before she’s pulling him back for a hug—it’s quick, but it’s tight, and Katsuki feels like a child again, momentarily, like that.

"You’ll outgrow places, Katsuki," she murmurs into his ear. "Home isn’t always gonna be the same place—but we’re always here, okay?"

"I know," Katsuki mutters, when she lets go. "You’re always fucking there."

His father’s hug is a lot less tight, but it’s rare enough of an occasion that Katsuki pretends not to notice how awkward it is for both of them.

They smell the same, his parents—like the house had smelled, of laundry soap and plugged in air fresheners. That had been home for as long as he can remember, and it’s one thing he’s not gonna have, when he gets back to Tokyo.

They both smile and wave when he gets through the entrance, but Katsuki doesn’t miss the expression that crosses his mother’s face, rueful, when he’d turned back for the last time.

I’m going, he mouths at them.

Have a safe trip, they mouth back.

He feels weird.

It hadn’t felt like this, when he’d first left.

The feeling doesn’t fade when he stows away his luggage. The feeling doesn’t fade as he leans back in his seat, stubbornly teasing his earphones into unraveling.

His phone starts ringing.

Katsuki’s stomach flops when he sees the caller ID.

"You stupid, stupid boy." It’s Uraraka’s voice, though, when he answers. "What happened to goodbye? Kirishima-kun ran out, like, five minutes into his first lecture of the sem. I thought something happened with the twins—but no."

Katsuki looks out the window—at the platform, people clustering around goodbyes. It’s what he’s always found unsettling about train stations, airports, hospitals: sentiment palpable, even when he doesn’t look at the source. "Where’s he now?"

"Right here," Uraraka scoffs. There’s a scuffle, Kirishima audibly protesting. "Probably wouldn’t have called you at all if we didn’t have that Statistics class together."

Katsuki swallows. "Put him on the phone."

There’s shuffling, a little bit of hushed arguing between Kirishima and Uraraka—and if Katsuki closes his eyes, it’s almost like another night at the restaurant.

"Hi," Kirishima eventually comes on, subdued. "I was gonna leave my goodbyes to what I said last night."

There’s an indignant squawk, Uraraka’s turn to protest.

"Don’t try to be cool," Katsuki mutters. "It doesn’t suit you."

Kirishima laughs—and Katsuki, in a brief moment of clarity, wishes he could see Kirishima.

It’s disconcerting, to look at the rest of the school year ahead of him and realize Kirishima’s gonna be here, while Katsuki’s there.

"We’ll miss you, Katsuki," Kirishima says. Katsuki swallows thickly. There’s murmuring in the background, Uraraka saying something along the lines of I won’t, and Kirishima laughs, again, right in Katsuki’s ear. "Fine—fine, I’ll miss you, Katsuki."

The sound sends his heart dropping down to his stomach.

It’s hard to find words, when he’s suddenly feeling so much. Too fucking much.

There’s a beep, the sound switching over as Katsuki gets put on speaker, and then it’s Uraraka’s voice. "You owe me a game, Bakugou."

"I know," Katsuki says, but the irritation in it sounds to him more forced than anything. "Jeez."

"Have a safe trip back," Kirishima adds. "Text me when you get to Tokyo, okay?

Katsuki closes his eyes. "You’re not my mom," he eventually manages.

"No, but we’re friends," Kirishima chirps. Just like that. "You didn’t deny it."

Privately, Katsuki thinks he won’t deny anything at this point, when it comes to Kirishima.

It’s a sobering realization to be making at a time like this.

"We’re gonna hang up now," Kirishima announces, like he always, always does.

Katsuki really doesn’t want him to hang up. But all he says is, "Don’t skip class."

"It’s the first day," they both protest on top of each other, but there are smiles in their voices, and it’s enough, for now.

The weird feeling is still there, prominent when they hang up with one last joint goodbye.

But Katsuki plugs in his earphones and leans back, closes his eyes and doesn’t look out the window as the train, eventually, leaves Musutafu.

 

Chapter Text

OCTOBER

 

Tokyo moves fast.

Tokyo’s always had a life of its own, even to someone like Katsuki who hadn’t grown up in its own kind of day-to-day endlessness. Tokyo stretches out from the center in all the ways it can—long days, huge districts, people anywhere and everywhere.

It’s a lot to come back to after the last couple of months, but this isn’t the first time Katsuki’s doing it.

Tokyo itself, as a whole, has its own soundtrack—not so much the sounds of a city but something much more subdued, even as the area throbs day in and day out like the heartbeat of something alive. It’s disconcerting for the first few days back, after long nights of slow, quiet overnight shifts, but Katsuki gets swept away in it.

It’s easy to get lost in all the noise.

And if Katsuki’s honest with himself, a part of him is seeking out the noise by choice, even if it means dragging himself over to a Denny’s nearby with his textbooks instead of doing his work from his bed. The Denny’s near his building refills coffee and tea even if he doesn’t order food, lets him stay until past midnight just marking up page after page. It’s familiar routine, and Katsuki thinks he’d be stupid not to recognize why his head still tricks him into going back every night.

It’s equally easy to get lost back into the pace of school—classes, things to memorize, things to read, sets to hand in. There’s urgency among his peers, this semester, now halfway into second year and with only months to go before their general education ends. It’s charged, the kind of energy this produces in Katsuki and the rest of the students, and, though Katsuki searches himself for what he wants to go into and doesn’t find a definite answer, it’s motivating.

But things loom in the backdrop of all of it: the scholarship, for one, making itself known every now and then with e-mail reminders about deadlines and transcript updates. Katsuki has an interview scheduled in November, but he feels nothing about the potential it offers—it’s a foreign idea, abandoning something, come what may, and it feels a little helpless not being able to do anything but think and wait for the November date.

Among the scholarship shit are e-mails from Katsuki’s mother, too; the restaurant remains as present as ever, throughout October, as his mother gets ready to step down and move on to the next place. There are updates on changes by the company—strict dress codes implemented, new staff systems as opposed to the non-existent ones from before, the manager the company’s sent to take over. It sounds like a lot of shit for the restaurant Katsuki remembers, so different now that he’s far away from where everything’s happening, that he doesn’t really bother replying.

Sometimes, it will be Uraraka, sending photos without captions—various parts of the dining porch repainted, Tokoyami showing up in a white dress shirt for the first time, or her own commentary on notes from the class she shares with Kirishima. It still feels tentative, on her part of the communication, but Katsuki’s one-word and one-emoji replies seem to suffice, for now.

Kirishima’s not too different—he still sends thirty texts at a time, telling Katsuki long-winded stories about rude customers or weird shit that happen in lectures. He’s also taken to sending Katsuki photos of the twins, even though Katsuki’s made it clear he wasn’t fucking interested.

It’s exactly what Kirishima used to do before, only he doesn’t call at all, in between being back in classes full-time, babysitting and working. Katsuki’s under the impression that Kirishima just likes having a lot on his plate, even if he complains about it multiple times via messages. He’s also under the impression, even if he’s never brought it up, that Kirishima’s just avoiding calls altogether.

That works, for Katsuki.

The thought of talking to Kirishima—hearing his voice, his laugh—leaves Katsuki’s throat dry, sends his heart clenching painfully. It’s not a good feeling, especially when he thinks about it in the middle of a math formula and thinks not of the test he has the next day but the way Kirishima’s eyebrows had scrunched up together when he worked on an Econ problem.

Being away should be an excuse to step back and think this shit through, but anything involving Kirishima has, at this point, become part of its own category in Katsuki’s head. Checking his phone in class to see if there’s a message, rereading texts if there aren’t. It’s like an itch he can’t scratch, no matter how often he lets himself get distracted by something else.

It’s always a downward spiral from there, thinking about Kirishima, and it’s something consuming, to be thinking so obsessively about something that the frequency of it drives him up the wall, pisses him off, sometimes.

Three weeks of it, and he’s cornered into doing something about it when Kirishima’s birthday comes around.

He’d have let it pass, if not for Uraraka’s rare message without a photo attachment.

I know you know it’s his birthday.

Don’t be a dick about missing him.

And no—Katsuki grits his teeth—he doesn’t miss him.

He plans on sending a message at midnight, be one of those people so neither Uraraka nor Kirishima can say he didn’t try, but instead he ends up stewing on his message—"Happy fucking day of birth, bastard. You better not be failing any classes."—for too long.

Kirishima doesn't need the greeting; surely he's spending the day out with his stupid friends or something like that.

Katsuki has a 9 A.M class the next day, but he sits up until two, futilely trying to teach himself the next unit in his class until he throws the textbook off his bed in frustration and decides fuck it.

True to form, Kirishima answers within the first three rings.

"Hello?" Kirishima’s voice is low, groggy.

"I woke you up," Katsuki says flatly, leaving no room for Kirishima to deny it. "I’m gonna hang up—"

"Katsuki!" There’s shuffling, Kirishima sitting up. "Wait, no, don’t hang up yet—"

And this—the feeling that comes with this, as Katsuki throws himself back onto his bed, glaring up at the ceiling—is the reason he hadn’t wanted to call to begin with. It’s hard to let go of something, anything, if he keeps letting it back into his life, replaying it in his head—like he does with Kirishima, constantly, because that’s just the kind of person Kirishima is.

"Happy birthday," Katsuki cuts into whatever Kirishima’s saying, before he can get side-tracked about what he called for.

There’s a surprised beat. "Thank you?"

Katsuki closes his eyes. "Now go back to sleep."

"No, no, wait—" Kirishima’s laughing. It’s fucking annoying, or it should be, at the very least, because Katsuki has no way of resisting the way a part of him jumps up in response to hearing Kirishima’s voice. "Don’t be like that."

"I literally just fucking called to tell you that," Katsuki says. "So I’m hanging up now."

"You still sound the same," Kirishima tells him, voice dropping to a low murmur, still drowsy with audible tiredness. Katsuki feels a twinge of something, at the realization that he really did wake him up. "It’s nice, getting to hear your voice."

Katsuki swallows. "You’re tired as shit."

"I am," Kirishima agrees, bordering on incoherent. "I miss you, though. So this could be a dream. Because I’m super tired."

"This isn’t." Katsuki stares up at his ceiling. "This isn’t a dream."

"The entire summer felt like a dream," Kirishima’s full-on mumbling now, each garbled whisper still clear to Katsuki. "Sometimes, I’m sure I’ll wake up and I’d have—like—dreamt up the past months. Being friends with you and stuff. I think that’d make me upset."

Katsuki doesn’t know what he should be saying to all of this. Kirishima’s not even gonna remember half the shit he’s saying now—Katsuki knows this from experience.

"Good night, idiot," Katsuki says.

Kirishima hums, already half-asleep by the sound of it. "‘Night, Katsuki. Take care of yourself."

When he hangs up, Katsuki lies there for a long time, until his pupils dilate and he can see the cracks in the ceiling paint where the moonlight’s shining on it.

Katsuki sends Kirishima a message, eventually.

Don’t tell me to take care of myself when you’re doing a fucked up job at it yourself.

You didn’t dream shit. The twin gremlins are there to prove it.

Happy birthday.

Too many weeks ago, in August, Uraraka had told him late nights did things to people.

It had felt like cheap sentiment, as most things did with Uraraka, but in that brief moment, it doesn’t feel too far off.

 

 

 

 

NOVEMBER

 

Uraraka waits for Katsuki to finish his interview.

Katsuki finds her in the cafe across the street, two mugs and a small tray of pastries in front of her.

She doesn’t look up at him as Katsuki throws himself into the seat across from her, busy taking a photo of latte art. "How did it go?"

He scowls, crossing his arms.  "Fine."

Uraraka blinks, lowering her phone. "Really?"

He’s not really sure. Hakamata had grown more and more contemplative throughout Katsuki’s story—as contemplative as a pair of eyes and eyebrows can look—but he hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t asked Katsuki anything else, either, about the summer.

Katsuki glares at Uraraka. "Why the fuck do you look surprised?"

"Well, you look—" Uraraka shrugs, poking at the sweet mochi she’d ordered. "You don’t really seem bothered by the interview. So I’m surprised. Like a—‘whatever happens, happens’ kind of deal."

Hakamata’s handshake had been firm at the end, and he’d nodded at Katsuki when he’d said I’ll see you soon, then. Considering Katsuki’s not really sure how they release application results, that soon could mean a million different shit, as far as he’s concerned.

He doesn’t think he did badly—he hadn’t sworn once, hadn’t raised his voice. His voice hadn’t changed at all, careful and controlled, especially for him, and it’s almost something to be proud of, if dealing with an interviewer keen on learning the most random shit about him is supposed to count as an accomplishment.

Mostly, if anything, he hates the way Hakamata had looked at him, after it was all over, like he was satisfied with whatever the hell he’d figured out.

Katsuki doesn’t see the point to any of it, but he doesn’t really give a fuck anymore, either way.

"I have other shit to think about," he mutters, and it’s not untrue.

Uraraka hums. "Like what?"

"Midterms." The tea’s still on the warm side, if not unbearably hot to the touch. Uraraka’s latte is still mostly untouched as well—which means she’d waited for him to leave the building, despite her blatant attempts to make it look otherwise. "What to go into next year."

The honesty takes her aback, her thumbs stilling mid-tap on her phone screen. "You haven’t decided?"

"No," Katsuki says. "Whatever."

"You still have a semester and a half left," Uraraka points out. It’s fact, far from an excessive platitude, and it’s the correct thing to say, somehow. "Kirishima-kun told me you like plants. Have you considered—"

She breaks off, looking up from her phone with something almost apologetic.

Katsuki stares crossly at her, taking a pastry off the tray. "What?"

"Am I okay mentioning him?" she asks, disgustingly genuine. "You’re not going to—like, freak out on me?"

"Why the fuck would I freak out on you?"

"You freak out about a lot of things," Uraraka mumbles, finally setting her phone aside. "Especially when he’s involved. I don’t know. I just thought you were doing your silent treatment act with him. From a prefecture away."

Katsuki thinks he should be offended by that. "We fucking talk," he points out testily.

"You do?" Uraraka blinks. News to her, unusual for Kirishima—who, Katsuki has resolved himself into thinking, just has a shitty habit of talking to Uraraka about every damn thing. "I haven’t seen him much outside of class lately. He’s been doing, like, three shifts a week since the school year started."

That’s news to Katsuki. He narrows his eyes. "Why?"

"School, I guess?"

Either Uraraka’s assumption is wrong, or Katsuki had managed to get through Kirishima’s thick skull about not biting off more than he can chew. Katsuki doesn’t let himself dwell on it.

"Then," he says, poking at the pastry, "Do you know who sent all that shit for my transcript?"

Uraraka blinks again. "Sent what?"

Katsuki scrutinizes her blank expression for a long second. "Nothing."

Uraraka makes a face. "Why are asking me about—about whatever this is? Are you sure you’re actually talking to Kirishima-kun?"

"Yes, I’m fucking sure—"

"Talking-talking or talking as in avoiding the elephant in the room?"

Katsuki glowers. "What elephant in the room?"

Uraraka pops a mochi into her mouth. Around it, she says, audibly incredulous, "The one where he’s in love with you and you’re clearly on your way to feeling the same way."

Katsuki stares at her, the pastry crumbling in his hands. His chest flash through at least six different emotions in the span of ten fucking seconds, all too fast for him to register. Eventually, he manages, "What the fuck?"

"What?" Uraraka stares back at him like he’s being stupid. It’s her default expression at this point, when it comes to Katsuki. Lowering her voice and looking far too smug, she adds, "Oh, I’m sorry—Is it supposed to be a fucking secret? You’re doing a shitty job at hiding it.’

Katsuki grits his teeth. "Fuck you."

Uraraka makes a noise of disapproval, picking at another mochi. "See, that’s what I mean. Kirishima-kun could be serenading you and you’d still—"

"Why the hell would he be—"

"Look," Uraraka cuts in. "My point is that there’s literally no reason for this thing you have with each other to keep being an ongoing thing. I don’t know why you both keep prolonging it. It’s obvious Kirishima-kun misses you, and I mean, look at you, you’re trying so hard to seem like you don’t—"

"I don’t," Katsuki hisses.

"Bakugou, this isn’t just about missing him," Uraraka says, weary now. She holds up a hand, starts ticking things off her fingers. "This is about how you stared back when he wasn’t staring at you. This is about how you got worried all the time, even though you were being an asshole about it. This is about how you’d have kept quiet about what I told you, if that’s what Kirishima-kun would have been more comfortable with. It’s about—it’s about you caring, and about you seeing him as an equal, even when all this time you’ve been running so fast without—without letting anyone else catch up to you. You—you always look back, at him. Don’t pretend you don’t."

Katsuki has difficulty focusing. "I—"

"Bakugou," Uraraka interrupts, before he can say much. "Aren’t you tired?"

Katsuki bites down on his teeth.

"I know you’re used to things eventually going away or things aligning themselves to your motives," Uraraka continues, voice soft, "but Kirishima-kun is the last person you should be stringing along. He adores you—more than you deserve, I still think—but aren’t you both tired of this?"

It’s kind of a stupid question because of course Katsuki’s tired—he’s been tired of this before he’d even left Musutafu, tired of the way Kirishima has made him feel all sorts of shit without even directly meaning to. Most of all, he’s tired, maybe, of the way he ends up second-guessing himself all the damn time when it comes to Kirishima, because it’s fucked up wanting to talk to and see and touch someone as much as he does, if he lets himself acknowledge it, with Kirishima.

It’s distracting, and it’s exhausting, always having to question the why’s and how’s when all he’s ever been up until this point is an expert at doing shit instinctively.

"Don’t fucking tell me what to do," Katsuki bites out.

"That’s—that’s true," Uraraka says, taking the last pastry. She falters briefly. "I don’t—I don’t have the right to be telling you how to feel. If you decide that what you want is this relationship you’ve already got going on, then—then fine. I don’t think he’ll go anywhere that will take him far away from you. He cares about you too much for that. But—"

She shrugs. "If you’re not interested at all," Uraraka continues, and the way she pronounces it makes Katsuki feel a little ill, "Then say so. Make it clear. At least give him the chance to actually want to get over you. Maybe you’ll feel better if you reject him for good, too. Who knows."

She’s crumpling up the paper around the pastries, having finished the last one, and it occurs to Katsuki that no, he doesn’t think that will make him feel better at all.

"Gross," he says, out loud.

Uraraka frowns at him. "You’re gross. All this pining and you’re still convinced—" She breaks off, shaking her head. "You know what. People have probably lectured you enough about this. You’re beyond help, Bakugou Katsuki."

Katsuki shoots her a dirty look. "What?"

"Nothing, nothing." Uraraka sticks her tongue out at him, gathering their mugs. "Let’s go. Show me around Bunkyo before the game."

 

 

 

 

DECEMBER

 

The rest of November brings midterms, then end-of-term preparations, and, when December rolls around, winter in full swing.

School does get busier with the promise of each new term, and it’s the kind of steady hum and drum that’s almost fulfilling in that it never leaves Katsuki with nothing to do. Days file in and out as quickly as tests are dished out and marked, lecture slides breezed through and notebooks laid out flat on diner tables.

Katsuki gets further consideration for the scholarship, one candidate among three; it’s a conditional one—the foundation promising to support him if he ultimately goes into one of the environmental sciences next year and maintains his average. It’s not terrible, as far as life-controlling conditions go, and Hakamata Tsunagu’s obsession with telling Katsuki to fix his hair is bearable if it’s his foundation that’s going to be paying for 97% of Katsuki’s shit for as long as he wants to remain in Todai.

Katsuki doesn’t wanna admit to the relief he feels when he gets the email to show up back at the Shirokanedai Campus, but it’s there.

Uraraka had left a jade plant on Katsuki’s window before she’d left last November, after finding out his apartment faces east. He’s not a superstitious person by any means, and he doesn’t believe a plant will bring bullshit like family harmony and luck in scholarly pursuits—but the bit of green doesn’t hurt, when he’s coming back from Denny’s dull color scheme.

So much shit going, but everything still screeches to a sudden halt when Kirishima texts him;

can i visit u nxt wk

No punctuation, as usual, but no annoying emoji, either.

Katsuki wishes that didn’t bother him—but it does.

Not for the first time in receiving a text from Kirishima, Katsuki hears Uraraka telling him; you’re beyond help.

So Katsuki grits his teeth at his phone screen and types, smashing down on the periods with frustrated thumbs; Meet me on the 23rd. Oval Plaza. Toranomon. 9PM.

Kirishima doesn’t reply.

Kirishima still doesn’t reply, fifteen minutes before he’s supposed to meet Katsuki.

Or fifteen minutes after.

It’s fucking cold, a dry December night set on freezing Katsuki to death. But he thinks of Kirishima—who’s never the type to break promises, who’s never the type to disappoint Katsuki—and he sticks his hands into the pockets of his coat, his face into his scarf, and waits.

He waits. And waits.

And waits.

By 10:30 P.M., he’s crouched on the ground, functioning out of sheer stubbornness.

He could fucking fall asleep right then and there.

Then someone’s stopping in front of him, skidding to a halt Katsuki’s seen before, and it’s not offensively yellow sneakers this time—but an offensively yellow beanie above Kirishima’s worried stare.

It’s such a familiar expression, despite being one he hasn’t seen in close to three months, and, for a moment, between the cold and the dozen other shit he’s feeling, Katsuki just stares.

Kirishima’s bending over him. "Oh—crap—Katsuki—"

It takes Katsuki a few more beats of staring at Kirishima before he registers Kirishima’s gloved hands on his face, the knitted material warm. Kirishima’s eyebrows are furrowed in concentration—the mission at hand, apparently, being to warm Katsuki’s face—and just like that, it’s like Katsuki hadn’t spent an entire season not seeing this idiot every night.

"Why are you still here," Kirishima whines. "You’re gonna get sick and then I’d have to go back and visit your mom to apologize."

"Why the fuck would you apologize to my mom," Katsuki says—or tries to say, except all that comes out is his garbled voice, hoarse and unused.

"It’s—" Kirishima makes a face. He’s so close, Katsuki doesn’t have to move much and lean over and kiss him. "It’s a long story. Can you get up?"

"Of course I can get up," Katsuki shoots back, irritable. He feels light-headed, unsteady as he gets up. "Why are you late?"

"Christmas traffic?" Kirishima reaches for Katsuki’s bare hands next, nestling them between his gloved ones. Fuck. And then he’s frowning, taking a knit glove off one hand, pressing it against Katsuki’s cheek.

Katsuki scowls. Everything feels warm. "What time is it?"

"What? Wait—" Kirishima blinks—and Katsuki doesn’t know if Kirishima’s eyes made him feel like this before. "Katsuki."

Katsuki untangles one hand from Kirishima’s to check the time on his phone himself. 10:48 P.M.

Out loud, he says, "Fuck."

"Um, Katsuki—"

"What?"

"You—" Kirishima’s so fucking close, leaning towards Katsuki. "I think—I think you have a fever, dude."

Katsuki stares back at Kirishima. "Fuck no, I don’t."

"No, I—" For some reason, Kirishima’s laughing, slipping the hand that had been on Katsuki’s cheek back into a glove. "Where do you live, Katsuki?"

Katsuki stares around the plaza, at all the lights flashing to distant Christmas carols. It’s hard to keep his eyes open, and he’s pretty sure he’s this close to shivering more than those Christmas lights are blinking, so he grits his teeth.

He doesn’t let go of Kirishima’s other hand—tightens his hold and doesn’t allow Kirishima to let go, either—and when he turns around, towards the direction of the crowds, for once it’s Katsuki tugging Kirishima with him.

 

 

 

 

Kirishima’s sense of direction really is much better than anyone would ever give him credit for, because even as Katsuki slides in and out of feverish awareness, he manages to get both of them back to Katsuki’s apartment.

When Katsuki fully comes back to it, no longer shivering, it’s 11 P.M and he’s back on his bed, tucked under two layers of blankets and duvets.

There’s a clatter, and when Katsuki blinks next, it’s at the small kitchen, five steps away from his bed.

"Hi." Kirishima smiles. Hesitant, sheepish, familiar. But his hair’s shorter—much, much shorter, tips barely brushing his ears.

Katsuki swallows. "Your hair."

"Oh—The new boss is super strict about dress code," Kirishima explains, rummaging around Katsuki’s kitchen. "It’s not so bad. It was getting kinda annoying?"

Katsuki rolls his eyes. "It’s not the only thing annoying about you."

"You sure you didn’t miss me at all, Katsuki?" Kirishima grins, but he doesn’t wait for an answer. "Okay, so—the Internet tells me it might have been mild hypothermia."

"No shit," Katsuki says. His voice is still hoarse, but it doesn’t sound as strangled as it had been earlier. Leave it to Kirishima to search up this shit. "I told you not to make me wait."

"I’m sorry." Kirishima, in his sweater, looks bundled up and warm, padding over carefully with a mug. "You only had hot chocolate, so that’s what I made you."

Katsuki sits up. He’s no longer shivering, but the warmth of the mug is still welcome. "Still fucking impressive in the kitchen, aren’t you."

Kirishima hums, sitting cross-legged on the foot of Katsuki’s bed. "Have I told you about that one time I washed the dishes with laundry detergent?"

"Well, shit," Katsuki says, deadpan. "You really are a fucking disappointment, aren't you."

Kirishima clicks his teeth together and grins. "Have I ever disappointed you, though?"

"You were late today."

Kirishima crosses his legs underneath him, shuffling until he’s taking up the entire bottom half of the bed, back to the wall. He looks at home right there, comfortable. "I showed up, though, didn't I?"

Katsuki pauses, taking a careful sip. It’s too fucking sweet. He swallows with difficulty. "I didn't, back then."

Kirishima’s hands pause around each other, his expression small. Hesitantly, visibly having to untangle the words before he says them, "Why would you have? You didn't know me."

Katsuki stops; stills. "If I say no," he says, slowly. "Will you stop—" Distracting me, monopolizing my attention. "Bothering me?"

"Is that code for ‘Will you stop worrying about me?’  because—" There’s a pause, soft but rough-edged with contemplation, before Kirishima continues, "No. I could never."

Katsuki swallows. "You worry too much about people, Shitty Hair."

"Not the same way I worry about you, though," Kirishima says, and Katsuki still doesn’t understand how he could say shit like with that face, how Kirishima thinks he could get away with saying bullshit like that. "I would stop, if you say no. I think—I think that’s all I’m waiting for."

Katsuki has heard himself criticized for a lot of shit—antisocial, rude, disrespectful, vulgar, territorial. Never selfish, though; maybe because selfishness isn’t usually associated with the abstract, with the ideas that Katsuki has always been greedy about. But apparently he can be selfish about other people, too, because Kirishima would have to wait a long time, Katsuki thinks, for that no.

"Why did you want to come today?"

Kirishima starts, blinking like Katsuki had interrupted his thoughts. "Well," he says, careful and, knowing him, probably rehearsed. "The year’s almost done. So I came to collect."

"Collect," Katsuki repeats.

Kirishima hums. "You asked me to tell you, out loud, what I wanted."

Katsuki puts down the mug on his bedside, tries not to be too obvious about how it’s because he’s having trouble holding it steady. "And?"

Kirishima’s quiet for a while.

"What I’d really like is for you to be my boyfriend," he says, suddenly—and no, Katsuki still doesn’t understand how Kirishima could say shit like that and still keep his smile steady. "But I thought that might scare you off, so you know—"

Katsuki stares at him incredulously. "And kissing me won’t do that?"

"You can brush off a kiss, nothing attached to it," Kirishima says, patiently, like he’s thought a lot about this. Way too much, probably. The thought doesn’t necessarily comfort Katsuki. "But if I came up to you and said ‘I like you, Katsuki, and I want an answer’—what would you have said?"

Katsuki frowns.

Kirishima’s smile doesn’t waver—and Katsuki hates how composed this Kirishima is. He looks almost relieved. "I wasn’t gonna be that guy, Katsuki. I knew better than to put you in that position—"

It’s not a conscious decision, but Katsuki makes a sound, annoyed, before he grabs a fistful of Kirishima’s sweater and drags him in. He’d gone in for a short kiss, light against Kirishima’s lips, just to shut him up—a faint brush of skin, but there’s a rush that comes with it, darting through Katsuki’s veins. 

His heart’s beating too fast.

His knuckles dig into Kirishima’s chest as Kirishima, just like that, melts against him, kissing him back, soft and gently, tilting his head so that his mouth fits better against Katsuki’s, better and easier and warm and breathy and sure.

Katsuki licks at Kirishima’s lips, comes in closer when Kirishima parts them, and he’s clutching at nothing but fabric and Kirishima—focusing on nothing but Kirishima, his hand on Katsuki’s cheek, chapped lips, wet kiss, chest pressed against his. Then Kirishima gasps into his mouth, and Katsuki’s mind stutters to a blank stop.

Kirishima breaks away first, back of his hand jumping to cover his mouth as he turns away, embarrassed.

"Payback," Katsuki mutters, even as his heartbeat doesn’t slow down, looking at Kirishima’s pink mouth, pink cheeks, and the way he stares back at Katsuki, his eyes for once not unsure. "I don’t know what the hell you mean, but I have no fucking problem with being ‘that guy’."

"Katsuki—"

"If you ask me some bullshit like why me, I swear to god—" Katsuki doesn’t lean back. "It fucking irritates me."

Kirishima still manages to look sheepish, like that. "Sorry—"

"That’s not what I meant," Katsuki cuts in, counterproductive when he still sounds irritated. He takes a moment, crossing his arms and rearranging incoherent bullshit into intelligible sentences. "It—it irritates me when I see you—fucking sad. I always feel like—like I wanna do shit for you. And I—" Katsuki takes a deep breath, even that irritated, his pause awkward. "I wanna—I wanna fucking stay by your side."

When he looks up, Kirishima’s staring at him like he’s positive he’s dreaming.

His expression sends Katsuki’s chest clenching painfully.

Katsuki grits his teeth. "Doesn’t that—doesn’t that mean I like you?" It sounds vulnerable, like that. He clears his throat. "Or whatever?"

Kirishima’s still staring at him like he expects either Katsuki or himself to fade away in the next minute.

He eventually blinks—once, twice. "Katsuki," he calls, sudden. "But you—"

"Shut up," Katsuki groans, this time grabbing Kirishima by the arm. There’s a rush that comes with how easily he drags Kirishima along, pressing him against the bed, hands on either side of Kirishima’s head, knees on either side of Kirishima’s thighs, mouth already moving against his.

It’s so fucking familiar having him this close, and it’s overwhelming—how clear and vivid and present Katsuki feels about wanting this, about having wanted this. It’s easy to get lost in it, the way Kirishima kisses back—more unsure, at first—and the way both of them shiver when they pull away.

"We could have been doing this for three months," Kirishima murmurs.

Katsuki flicks Kirishima’s forehead. That, too, is payback. "Just shut up for a sec, holy shit—shut everything down, you’ll hurt your fucking brain—"

"I don’t understand what’s happening," Kirishima says, as Katsuki rolls back over to lie down beside him.

"Do you fucking have to?"

"Yeah, I do," Kirishima insists. "I—This is just a little—"

"What, you wanna talk more about feelings?" Katsuki kicks around for blankets; he sounds sure, so self-possessed, even as his heart throbs painfully at the way Kirishima nods, small. He wonders if maybe it’s because he’s had weeks, months to think about it, or if maybe he just hasn’t had the time to process, either.

Only Kirishima’s had much longer than him.

"Write me another fucking letter or some shit. And for the fucking record—I should be pissed at you."

Kirishima frowns. "What about?"

"For deciding shit for me before you chased me out of the damn city."

"I didn’t chase you out—what are you talking about, Katsuki?"

"‘You don’t have this figured out’," Katsuki mocks, rolling his eyes. "‘Come to me when you know what you want’—well, I fucking do now. I want you."

Kirishima swallows. "You can’t say stuff like that—"

"Tell me that again when you’re not the fucking reason I was shivering my fucking ass off," Katsuki says shortly, pulling the blankets, finally, over them. "I’m still fucking cold. Stay there."

For some fucking reason, Kirishima’s laughing—giggles and chuckles and just his laughter, right fucking there. "Man—you’re so cute."

"Shut the hell up," Katsuki grumbles, but he tugs Kirishima closer anyway.

And anyone can ask Katsuki what he wants, and he can try to answer all he wants, but there’s nothing that would come close to expressing how this feels, and how this and everything that comes with it is all that he wants, when it comes down to it.

 

 

 

 

"Was it you?"

Kirishima blinks—at the eggs frying on the pan, then at Katsuki, so blatantly in a trance that Katsuki has to yank the spatula out of his grasp. Katsuki shoos him away from the stove, sends him sitting in one of the two dining chairs Katsuki has.

"Was it you who sent all that shit for my transcript?"

Kirishima frowns; at least his facial muscles are doing something this time. "I—what?"

"No?" Katsuki scowls. "Then who the hell was it?"

Kirishima just stares at him.

He’s been doing nothing but staring the entire fucking morning—when they’d woken up, when Katsuki had gotten out of the bathroom, when Katsuki had come back from grabbing the mail.

"That’s fucking creepy, don’t do that," Katsuki had said.

"Sorry," Kirishima had apologized, but he hadn’t sounded sorry at all, just confused. What’s fucking new. "I’m just—I’m still not convinced this is happening. Maybe this isn’t real? Maybe I’m not real? Maybe this dreamt-up Tokyo just exists in, like, I don’t know, a pocket dimension?"

Katsuki had thrown a pillow at him.

"Have you asked your mom?" Kirishima asks now, having busied himself spooning rice into bowls while Katsuki rolled up the omelettes. "She has, like, the authority and—"

Katsuki holds out a hand, breakfast abandoned.

Kirishima hands over his own phone without wondering about Katsuki’s.

It’s just past 10 A.M, but his mother sounds groggy when she picks up, pausing after her hello before saying, "Wait—is everything okay, Eijirou?"

"Why do you have his phone number saved, that’s fucking weird," Katsuki says, in lieu of a hello.

There’s another pause, his mother probably checking the screen. "Katsuki?"

"It was you, wasn’t it?" Katsuki immediately asks, throwing himself into his bed. It’s a short walk from the kitchen, but Kirishima disappears into the bathroom, closing the door behind him and pointedly turning on the tap. Katsuki rolls his eyes upwards. "That sent all that shit to the foundation?"

His mother’s quiet on the other end.

When Katsuki had finished talking, Hakamata had said, "You’re a bit of a late bloomer, aren’t you. A diamond in the rough—but interesting."

Katsuki still doesn’t know what to make of that, but whatever it is—it had been because of the restaurant, and it’s what got him the scholarship, in hindsight.

Stiffly, Katsuki says, "Thank you."

There’s no answer.

Katsuki sits up, annoyed. "I said—"

"No, I fucking heard you," his mother cuts in—and they even sound the same, when they get choked up. Katsuki pretends not to notice. "God, don’t make it sound like I did you some huge favor."

"You kinda fucking did," Katsuki says, sullenly.

"You’re my son," his mother tells him, stern and firm but gentle. "I know you wouldn’t have thought about sending all that stuff in, as smart as you are. I know you."

There are so many times Katsuki had wished she didn’t—that she couldn’t read him as easily as she does, as easily as she and Katsuki’s father do. This isn’t one of those times, and instead the words get stuck, as they often do, in Katsuki’s throat.

"Katsuki," his mother continues, "I’m your mother and you’re my stubborn son and I will do anything for you. It wasn’t a favor, you little brat."

"You’re being gross," Katsuki manages, but his heart’s not in it.

There’s a little stuttered laugh. "I’m not the one calling his mother from his boyfriend’s phone," his mother returns. "If that’s what it is now."

The water’s still running in the bathroom. "I think so," Katsuki mutters.

His mother kisses her teeth. "Don’t be a dumb, incommunicative teenage boy. If that’s what it is, tell him. I don’t want him coming back here thinking you—"

"No, I get you," Katsuki interrupts. "Just—shut up, this is fucking weird. I’m hanging up."

He can hear his mother rolling her eyes. "Sure. I’ll talk to you next time you feel like it, brat."

"I’ll—" Katsuki chews on his bottom lip, then gives into a small frustrated noise. "I’ll see you in a fucking week or whatever. Winter break doesn’t start until the 27th."

For the third fucking time, his mother stays quiet.

She could very well have fallen back asleep.

Katsuki can feel her surprise through the phone, though—and it’s stupid and unnecessary, because he came back for New Year’s last year.

Eventually, she says, "Fine. I’ll pick you up at the station."

Katsuki scowls at his own ceiling. "That’s what you fucking said last time."

"Are you really complaining about being picked up by Eijirou right now?" She sounds so fucking amused. "Are you really?"

"Well, I’m really fucking hanging up now," Katsuki snaps. "Bye, hag."

He pounds on the bathroom door as soon as he hangs up. It gives away easily. "You can fucking come out now, idiot," he mutters, leaning against the doorway. "You didn’t have to fucking go."

"Well, I—" Kirishima hesitates. "Privacy?"

"It’s a single-room apartment."

"Exactly," Kirishima says, fidgeting as he’s caught between Katsuki and the wall.

"Stop that," Katsuki mutters. "Stop the—the hedgehog act. And the staring."

"I can’t help it," Kirishima says quietly. "I like looking at you."

And yet he’s looking everywhere but at Katsuki.

Breathing in, sharp, Katsuki grabs Kirishima’s face with one hand and squeezes, ignores Kirishima’s little yelp. He lets go quickly, but Kirishima’s the one to pull him in for a kiss this time, hand still hesitant on Katsuki’s arm. Katsuki’s heart is pounding, but even that is steady, and he could really get used to the way their mouths slide against each other, Kirishima against the wall.

He kisses Kirishima—lips, corner of his mouth, jaw. He nips at Kirishima’s neck, relishes in the shudder he gets for that. It’s so new, having Kirishima like this in front of him, but Kirishima is still warm and solid, letting out a small ah when Katsuki bites his bottom lip.

"Listen," Katsuki eventually pulls away to say, voice low and equally quiet. "Stop thinking about high school—or any of that shit. I know fuck-all about it and I don’t care. I’m fucking here. So are you. This is real." He kisses that spot on Kirishima’s neck, wiping at it. Swallowing, his throat dry. "Is that simple enough?"

Kirishima, slowly, nods.

The mark’s pink, shallow, a few shades off Kirishima’s hair as Katsuki tangles his fingers at the soft hair at Kirishima’s nape and kisses him, light, on the lips.

"Your hair’s so fucking short."

Kirishima swallows, but he smiles, small, against Katsuki’s lips. "If you stick around, it’ll get longer."

"Good," Katsuki says shortly, letting go. "Because I’m planning to."

He leaves Kirishima in the bathroom, catching his own breath, willing his own heartbeat to slow and all his nerves to calm the fuck down. When Kirishima comes back out, a lot less red and smile bigger, all he says, teasing is, "Leaving marks before the first date? How bold, Bakugou Katsuki."

And this is his Kirishima, sitting down cheerily at the dining table—the one that had picked him up from the station, the one that had wormed his way where there shouldn’t have been space.

"Katsuki."

"What now?"

"I’m serious about the first date," Kirishima whines. "Didn’t you wanna go to Tokyo Tower last night?"

"Yeah, before you kept me waiting," Katsuki retorts. "Tonight. We’re going tonight."

"Oh," Kirishima says. "It’s Christmas Eve."

"No shit," Katsuki mutters. "I’m making up for the three months you keep fucking whining about."

It’s four years, really—only he didn’t know Kirishima from high school, just like Kirishima hadn’t known Katsuki, not really. But it’s fine, because the way Kirishima beams now, bright, has always been something worth it.

 

 

 

 

"It’s so bright."

With flashier Christmas displays going on in other areas—Marunouchi, Roppongi Hills, Skytree—Tokyo Tower had been, from the very beginning, the better compromise between crowds and sights. There’s still a shit ton of people, mostly disgusting couples holding hands as they walk around the observatory levels far too leisurely, but with lights hung from the ceiling above them and the city glowing below them, it’s distracting enough that the crowds don’t matter.

Kirishima has both hands pressed right up against the glass—his face would be doing the same if not for Katsuki grabbing the back of Kirishima’s coat and tugging.

"You’re acting like a tourist," Katsuki hisses.

"I am a tourist," Kirishima says, sticking out his bottom lip. "Let me have fun. I’m not cut out for the big city life, anyway."

That's pretty fucking ironic, because Kirishima is exactly the kind of person who can fill the demands of a big city life—a small talk expert, running on an endless amount of energy and drive.

And Musutafu isn't exactly a small city. Katsuki’s figured out that much.

He rolls his eyes and lets Kirishima go.

Katsuki hadn’t realized how much of him had been wary—almost apprehensive—that Kirishima would be different, would have changed drastically in three months. And he does feel different; he’s less keyed-up, even if there’s visible tension in his body language when he catches himself while turning to Katsuki. Looking at Kirishima now, eyes wide and bright as he takes in Tokyo beneath them, there’s relief blooming in Katsuki’s chest, among other things.

Blinded by lights from all sides, it should be hard to look at other shit, but Katsuki, despite himself, still stares at Kirishima.

He feels stupid, having interpreted what he wants from Kirishima to be anything else but this and this alone: pressed up against him, shoulder to shoulder, Kirishima making a joke about the way the Skytree sticks up across the city, and Katsuki feeling more at home in Tokyo than he has in the past two years.

"Why did you wanna go to Tokyo Tower so bad?" Kirishima suddenly says, huddling close to Katsuki. They’ve taken over a tiny corner on the lower observatory level, and Kirishima looks completely comfortable leaning against the glass. "Not that I’m complaining—I just thought it would be, I don’t know, too commercial for you?"

"Since when do you go around using words like ‘commercial’?" Katsuki shoots back, raising an eyebrow. "I’m here because my shitty dad’s been bothering me about it."

"Romantic," Kirishima snickers. "Bothering you about Tokyo Tower?"

"‘What’s in the center of Tokyo that can’t be seen from Tokyo Tower?’," Katsuki quotes, scowling. "I’m not gonna fucking go here by myself to figure that shit out."

"Oh," Kirishima says, face scrunching up. Katsuki’s just about to tell him to save himself the trouble of overthinking when Kirishima adds, "Isn’t it just Tokyo Tower?"

Katsuki’s scowl immediately deepens.

"I mean, you can’t technically see Tokyo Tower from Tokyo Tower, right?" Kirishima makes a face. "Or is that answer too simple?"

And no—it’s exactly the kind of shitty, simplified answer Katsuki should expect from his parents. That’s what you’re like, his father had said, about personal things.

Never seeing the big picture, past himself.

Katsuki’s sure that’s an insult right there.

He feels really, really stupid, and he hates feeling stupid.

"Why did we have to go tonight, though? With all the Christmas crowds?" Kirishima suddenly says, rubbing his gloved hands together. It’s warm, in the observatory, but looking out at Tokyo basking in its holiday glow, it’s hard to forget it’s winter, Christmas, a season and a half removed from the summer in Musutafu.

"Some idiot told me," Katsuki mutters, "that you don’t really get to know a city until you’ve seen it lit up at night."

Kirishima blinks. Then he grins. "So you did like the view from the restaurant. Was that what charmed you?"

"Fuck you," Katsuki says. "Don’t get smug just because you grew up with that view."

Kirishima hums, leaning against Katsuki. "I think I’ll quit," he says, careful, "after I graduate. Maybe."

Katsuki considers that.

"I can just quit now but—" Katsuki feels more than sees Kirishima shrug. "—I think I’m gonna save up. Travel money. Or something. I don’t know."

"What’s your problem," Katsuki grumbles. "You’re thinking too much."

Kirishima nudges him. "I learned from the best."

Katsuki scoffs. "Do what you want."

"Another thing you’re an expert at, yeah?"

"I’m doing it right now," Katsuki says.

Kirishima’s smile turns soft. "You know, when I got my New Year’s fortunes last year," he says, "I thought it was too good to be true."

Katsuki doesn’t even remember what his omikuji had said, last January.

"My family got so many different fortunes—moving residences, childbirth, business dealings," Kirishima continues. "I got considerable luck—but really good fortunes for—" He pauses. "—for ‘one’s wish and desire’, for relationships and—and ‘person being waited for’. So—"

"Considerable luck," Katsuki repeats. "It should be fucking excellent luck."

That gets a laughs. "I think so, too."

Katsuki’s been called lucky, fortunate, favored. Maybe he is, or maybe luck doesn’t have shit to do with it.

Katsuki knows he works hard. But Katsuki also knows now that there’s so many people that work hard for the things they want, and sometimes—sometimes, they get lucky while they’re at it. But luck, whether good or bad, doesn’t even come close to describing the realizations and trials and all the other bullshit that come with growing up.

They didn’t tell Katsuki this when he’d started at Todai: how liminal it would feel, being there.

There are tips on how to get over homesickness. There are programs accommodating people that don’t ever want to go back home. But then there’s the gray area—stuck between two points, straddling a boundary and not quite belonging to either side.  No longer teenagers, not quite full adults, either. First taste of the independence that comes with growing up, but equally aware he’s not quite past the threshold into adulthood. Caught between two places in the literal sense, home becoming something less tangible, less concrete.

There’s a word for that, somewhere, and maybe, in retrospect, it is luck.

Because, if he examines everything, looks at the big picture, Katsuki does feel pretty damn fortunate, to not have to choose just one place for home.

Maybe home is his parents’ house, and the bedroom he’d already given away. Maybe home is the one-room apartment, and all the apartments that will replace it, in the years to come.

Or maybe home is how Katsuki functions best in solitude, and Kirishima goes against the entire idea.

Or how, even where solitude reigns in every other aspect of his life, Katsuki doesn’t particularly miss it, when it’s Kirishima involved.

"Things change so fast," Katsuki says, abrupt.

Kirishima nods. "I know."

None of them—his mother, Uraraka, Kirishima—had been wrong, about Katsuki looking ahead, never around. The future is always a more comfortable idea to think about than the past, after all, and much more tempting than the present.

But for now there’s this—the present, Christmas Eve looming, Kirishima’s face half-hidden in a scarf but his eyes bright—and it’s not so terrible at all.