Warnings: internalized transphobia, bullying, underlying themes of trauma and self-harm.
Katsuki had felt a kind of attraction toward exactly three people in his life. The first one was a cartoon character when he was a kid who had almost the exact same quirk that he did, and who always made villains blow up into pink and blue smoke. Katsuki couldn’t even remember the name of the show, let alone the character in it, he just knew that he got frustrated about it even more than he did everything else and that it got him some snide comments in school.
The second—and first real person—was Uraraka. And even Uraraka wasn’t a crush so much as a helpless sort of longing that had birthed and grown after the sports festival, after he had taken a good look at what she was worth and deemed her okay.
It didn’t mean he would do anything about it. Uraraka was closer to Deku and the girls in their class than she would ever be to him. She held Asui’s slimy hands with simple joy but she would never touch the sweat off Katsuki’s even if her life depended on it, because Katsuki was everything she disliked inside an ugly and looming body.
He knew that. He knew this lesson.
It didn’t stop his heart from flinching back when he heard Kirishima’s voice over the tremor of the fight around him, when he saw red hair and teary eyes and an extended hand and felt warmth speed through him like a sob. He grabbed Kirishima’s hand, dug his bitten-raw nails into the flesh of its back, and he squeezed tight, tight enough that it didn’t matter anymore how sweaty he was because nothing short of an earthquake could’ve made him let go.
He held Kirishima’s hand until long after they were back to safety. They crouched behind what had been walls and Katsuki didn’t let go, even after Kirishima winced and his hand turned to stone reflexively to avoid pain—and Katsuki only squeezed tighter then in the hope that it would be enough to cut his palm open and make the fear bleed out of him at last.
“You’re fine,” Kirishima said a lot of times. His face was turned halfway toward Katsuki as if he wanted nothing more than to turn around and see him, but fear was holding him back and forcing him to look ahead. He squeezed Katsuki’s fingers briefly. “Bakugou.”
Yeah, Katsuki wanted to say. His throat was tight, holding back sobs, so he didn’t speak. On Kirishima’s other side Deku was looking out, tense as a bow, pressed so close to Iida that their shoulders must be hurting, and for the first time in years Katsuki thought that he understood perfectly how Deku felt.
Even that thought wasn’t enough to shock him out of the panic. He watched All Might fight with his heart in this throat and Kirishima’s stone-like fingers scraping skin off his knuckles, and Kirishima was whimpering by his side the entire time, every time All Might took a blow or bled. It wasn’t until Katsuki’s lifelong idol broke into a million shards for the entire world to see that he felt the rage come back.
He shook off Kirishima’s hand because it was better than to burn it. His chest buzzed and ached and his clothes felt like they were digging into his skin, because All Might wasn’t looking at the crowd or talking about the grand future—he was looking at Deku and talking to Deku and Katsuki wanted to burn.
He walked away as far as he could before a police officer restrained him, ignoring Kirishima’s cries for his name, ignoring Yaoyorozu’s trembling voice by his side. He found that he didn’t have enough strength in him to resist either way when they took them all to safety, so he said nothing. He stayed silent. He burned.
He stood in a corner of the room at the police station, back turned to the others, trying his best to choke in silence because he couldn’t do anything about his chest here. When he hands started shaking, he dug his nails into his palms, and relished in the feeling of the raw skin of his knuckles rubbing painfully.
The others left one by one, taken home by the officers. First Yaoyorozu and Iida, then Endeavour himself to fetch Todoroki. Then Deku, feet dragging on the ground pathetically and eyes burning a hole into Katsuki’s nape.
And then there was one.
“You okay?” Kirishima asked as soon as they were alone. His voice was quieter than Katsuki had ever heard it.
Katsuki looked at the wall and let shame drip into him. He didn’t move when Kirishima sat next to him and he didn’t flinch when he felt soft fingers touch his and rub over his broken skin.
“I didn’t mean to—”
“Shut up,” Katsuki said. His throat hurt. His entire body felt like sore muscles and aching bones.
“Bakugou,” Kirishima said softly, and Katsuki ripped his hand away once more, palms sweaty and eyes hot.
“Stop talking,” he ordered. “Just—” He looked at Kirishima, hair falling over his face and bruises all over him and dirt and blood on his face and lips. Katsuki’s next breath was a wheeze.
“I’m so glad you’re okay,” Kirishima said, like an idiot, and his hands took Katsuki’s again and held them gently, like something nice, something cared about. “I’m so glad—”
“If you don’t stop talking—”
“Bakugou.” Kirishima’s hand was shaking when it touched the damp skin of Katsuki’s face, and Katsuki felt his chest freeze, felt a burst of hot air inside him even as his veins turned to ice and his belly spasmed and Kirishima stopped looking at his eyes to look at his mouth instead.
Katsuki crushed Kirishima’s fingers between his. Kirishima crushed their mouths together, and let out a soft noise, like relief, and his hand touched down from Bakugou’s mouth to his shoulder and squeezed warmth and comfort into him.
Katsuki was shaking. It felt like tremors, and he had to clench his jaw so his teeth wouldn’t clang loudly and he wouldn’t bite Kirishima soft, dry mouth off, wouldn’t take the moment away from them both with his incompetence the way he had taken All Might’s life—he could feel tears in his eyes so he shut them, and one of his arms was hanging limp by his side so he took hold of Kirishima’s nape instead and tried to forget everything but how warm his lips were.
Kirishima’s hand at Katsuki’s shoulder squeezed again, and then dragged down to lay flat on his chest so he could press himself closer. And Katsuki choked again and pushed the other boy away by the throat.
He had put too much strength into it. Kirishima let out a strangled cry and slipped off the bench entirely, landing heavily on the floor. Katsuki felt words push against his lips like nausea, but his mouth was clamped shut again, and he couldn’t breathe.
They stared at each other in shocked silence. Kirishima looked confused and guilty—not even hurt from the fall or from Katsuki’s behavior because he never was, because that wasn’t something he was capable of feeling or showing. He must be, though. He had to be.
A policewoman walked in before either of them could speak again.
“Bakugou,” she said. “You’re going home.”
Katsuki’s neck cracked when he turned his head and stared at the blue-skinned officer. He nodded, wiped the sweat off his palms and onto his ruined pants where they only left another stain alongside blood and dirt, and he walked out behind her. He didn’t hear Kirishima say anything. His heart was beating erratically.
He felt numb all the way to his house. The policewoman let him sit at the front of the car instead of the back and tried to strike a conversation with him, but Katsuki only growled at her to shut up, which she did. She probably thought he was in shock.
It irritated him. It was better than to think about Kirishima or All Might, though.
He hadn’t realized how long they had all spent at the police station—or how long he has spent strapped onto that chair in the villains’ lair, trying to blast his way out of the shackles. It was almost dawn. The city was the murky brown of bad days, clouds heavy overhead, birds flying low, and not a chirp to be heard. Katsuki’s eyelids were too heavy, his body too relaxed, as if he was only now realizing that fatigue was something he should be feeling.
His mom was waiting outside the house for them, her face taut and worried and her voice already raised to a shout of concern before he finished stumbling out of the car.
“Thank you so much,” she said to the officer, one armed wrapped around Katsuki’s shoulders so that his face was pressed against her shoulder.
He couldn’t breathe.
“It’s nothing,” the woman said softly. “He’s been through a lot—”
“I was so worried—”
“Shut the fuck up,” Katsuki said. His tongue burned.
“Katsuki,” his mom said warningly.
Katsuki shook himself out of her embrace and made a beeline for the inside of his house. He ignored her when she cried his name, even when her voice turned from worry to anger. He shut the door behind him loudly when he reached his bedroom, and he didn’t bother to greet his father on the way. He had looked ashen too. More ghost than man.
“Fuck,” Katsuki rasped, tugging his clothes off over his head. The sleeves were stuck to his armpits from sweat and grime, and he smelled like garbage left under the sun for too long. Frustration brought tears to his eyes when he tried to make his binder move up in vain. The spandex clung to his skin no matter how much he strained the muscles of his shoulders and arms, no matter how he bent, pressing down on his chest and throat like a great hand, trying to suffocate him. “God,” he moaned, tears spilling wet over his face and rage boiling in his belly, so he pressed and hand against his own side and exploded the fabric off his ribs.
He flinched back instinctively from the heat and the noise. He threw the ruined garment to the floor and grabbed the old fire extinguisher by his bed—the one he hadn’t needed to use since the first day of class at Yuuei. The foam stopped the flames before they could ruin anything else, and Katsuki was left standing, looking at the burned-black piece of fabric on the floor.
He took a deep breath. His ribs throbbed.
There was a brief knock on his door. “Katsuki?” said his mom’s voice. She didn’t sound angry anymore.
“I’m fine,” Katsuki said.
“Come out, then.”
Katsuki glared at the door.
There was an audible sigh. “Please. I just want to know you’re okay.”
“Don’t lie to me.”
But he couldn’t go out. Not like this, half-naked, skin blistered and bruised, knowing that he was responsible for All Might’s ruin and for Kirishima’s disgust—”I just want to sleep,“ he said. The words came out vulnerable and shaky, and his throat was tight again. “Just let me shower and sleep.”
His mom stayed silent for a long while. “All right,” she settled on. “I’ll tell your father.”
Katsuki didn’t thank her. He waited until her footsteps were long gone and until the murmur of her conversation with his dad had died—until he was sure enough that the door he heard closing was the one to their bedroom and that there was not even the sound of breathing coming from the hallway.
He grabbed clean pajamas from his closet and tried not to gag when he remembered why he hadn’t slept in days, why his bed looked untouched, why his clothes lay rumpled and disgusting on the singed floor, amidst wet foam and reddish dirt. He stepped quickly out of his room and into the bathroom, locking the door twice just because he could, and turning only the hot water on as he stepped under the spray.
He didn’t stay there long. The steam felt like smoke, the sting of water on his skin like cuffs around his wrists and ankles. Like powerlessness. He clenched his teeth and scrubbed his body clean, twice. Before long the water running down the drain turned clean instead of muddy.
He didn’t look at himself in the mirror as he dressed.
It was high light by the time he returned to his room. His parents were still inside theirs, carefully silent. He made sure to close his door loudly so they’d know when to come back out.
He crashed face-first into his bed. Exhaustion weighed on him almost physically, crushing the stress of the last hours out of his shoulders almost forcefully, so that the only thing he felt anymore were the bruises and the burns. His fingers tingled.
Katsuki pressed his face into his pillow and willed himself to sleep despite everything. Despite All Might’s body, bloody and thin and dying, despite Deku’s tears, despite Kirishima’s kiss and Kirishima’s hurt. Despite his own weakness.
“I’ll be better than All Might,” Katsuki bragged. “I’ll be the number one hero!”
His little following back then had clapped and oooh-ed and aaah-ed among the greenery where they played, where they showed off their quirks, where Deku followed and stumbled and followed and stumbled and lit frustration like lava inside Katsuki’s veins. Deku was there, black hair shining gold and green under the foliage, a bandaid on his nose and worship in his eyes.
They were all there. Deku, Todoroki, All Might. Uraraka, pretty and brave and earnest. Kirishima with a smile on his lips and his face burned pink by affection and Katsuki’s name on his tongue like a love confession.
“I’ll be All Might,” Katsuki repeated. In front of him All Might nodded, red running out of his nose and body deflating like a burst balloon, skin sagging from his bones, the once number one hero of Katsuki’s life falling to his knees and vomiting blood.
And the blood turned to blackness turned to smoke turned to the man with the floating hands, emaciated and rotten, whispering offers to Katsuki and shackling him down to meet his own death.
Katsuki sobbed, “Kirishima,” and woke up all at once, body drenched with sweat, drool and tears drying on his sheets.
He swallowed. He breathed. He closed his eyes again against the harsh light of midday and hoped that the next time he slept, the slumber would be deep enough to cut every dream in the making.
In the end, his mom didn’t bring it up. She was good at avoiding serious talks and so was Katsuki—and his father was very nice but very incompetent with emotions. It turned out okay for everyone. Life continued and no nightmares arose again, and though guilt clung to Katsuki like a second skin, he became good enough at changing it into anger that no one was the wiser.
Katsuki sat in tense silence when Eraserhead and All Might—the skinny, beaten down version of All Might—visited to tell his family about the new boarding school system. He tried to focus on what they were saying and take in everything it entailed, like living in close proximity to Deku and Uraraka, living next to and with Kirishima. Living with other people.
“Of course,” Eraserhead said gently, “considering Bakugou’s situation…”
Katsuki grit his teeth. “What, am I gonna bother anyone?” he said.
All Might shook his head somberly and exchanged a look with his colleague. Katsuki tried to stare at him without thinking about how drowned he looked in his own clothes or how translucent his skin was. He was almost sure he could count the veins in All Might’s neck if he tried.
“You will all have individual rooms,” Eraserhead replied. “We’re not sure yet how we’re going to separate you all.”
Katsuki wiped his palms on the fabric of his jeans and didn’t answer.
The conversation turned short once his mom agreed. He hadn’t expected her to refuse because he knew her about as well as she knew him, but his shoulders still felt like tense wire, like he was being strung up high between two poles and left there for his body to stretch and stretch and stretch.
He walked out after All Might without asking for permission. His parents didn’t try to stop him, and Eraserhead only threw him a brief look before rolling his bloodshot eyes and walking toward his car. All Might looked between the car and Katsuki with indecision on his face.
Katsuki said, “What is Deku to you?”
All Might flinched very lightly back, and Katsuki felt it like a stabbing pain inside his chest where his guilt was the tightest.
There was only silence for a long moment. It was too hot for long sleeves or thick fabric, so Katsuki was in a T-shirt, arms bare and hands in his pockets, and he saw the way All Might looked at his bruises, at the scabs around his wrists where the shackles had been and his skin had blistered.
“Like you,” All Might said, “I consider Midoriya one of my students, full of potential.”
But he wasn’t looking at Katsuki in the eye. And Katsuki remembered the tears on Deku’s face that night and the words All Might had directed not to all, but to one.
“Okay,” he replied. His voice was weak.
Katsuki didn’t come out of his room at all the day of the move. He inevitably had to be in the others’ presence during Eraserhead’s speech and then when he showed them all to their rooms, but as soon as he had the reassurance that he was located on the side of the boys and not of the girls, he locked himself inside and spent the day throwing clothes and items around until he felt comfortable enough.
Of course, they had put him right next to Kirishima. They didn’t know that Kirishima and Katsuki wouldn’t be talking very much, now.
He tried to tell himself that he was fine with that.
He heard the others laugh and yell through his door during the day. The isolation was better than at his own home, but not enough to completely mask the others’ voices and the sound of their feet padding along the hallways, opening door and gawking. Someone knocked on his door once, briefly, before invisible girl’s hushed voice told them off. Katsuki didn’t even have time to get angry himself before they were gone.
The noise stopped around eight in the evening. By then the mauve sky had stopped being enough of a light source, so Katsuki turned off his phone and dragged himself out of bed to test the tiny shower stall in his bathroom.
It was still silent when he emerged, so he guessed that the others were probably on the first floor, watching TV together and binging on snacks. That was fine by him. He threw on an old T-shirt and went back to playing games on his phone until his eyes started itching from the brightness of the screen and night had fallen, thick and pitch-black. There was no more light pouring through the interstice of his door and no sound either from anywhere in the building.
Then something knocked lightly on his wall.
Katsuki turned his head. His old posters looked back passively, unchanged, and he hadn’t made any noise that he could remember. He hadn’t even had an occasion to use his fire extinguisher yet because he had been too busy staying in his corner and moving as little as necessary.
The knock came again. Annoyed, Katsuki banged once, loudly, so that whoever was on the other side of his bed would stop—but another series of quick knocks sounded through his room in answer, like a dialogue, and Katsuki remembered that Kirishima was his neighbor.
He heard a door open to the hallway before he could move away from the realization. He sat up abruptly in bed, hunching over the drawer under his mattress so he could grab something different to wear, but it was too late—Kirishima was knocking on Katsuki’s door this time. “Bakugou?” he said softly, so no one else would hear. Katsuki didn’t know how anyone could ignore Kirishima’s presence.
He sat still. He had one hand in the middle of his shirts and tank tops, mussing up his mom’s careful ironing and folding, but he didn’t take it back. The air seemed thinner and more sparse, like it had been back in the police station, like it had been with Shigaraki’s rancid breath on his face.
“You’re not sleeping, dude,” Kirishima said through the door. “I just wanna talk.”
Katsuki took his hand back slowly. He pressed it against his thigh so he wouldn’t accidentally bump it against anything else, but he wasn’t very good at being still and silent. He never had been.
“Shit,” he whispered.
“Hey,” Kirishima said instantly, tone lighter. “Hey, come on, just open the door.”
“It’s one in the fucking morning.” Katsuki swallowed past the burn in his throat.
“Like you care.”
Katsuki rubbed his nape and dug his fingers into the ache of tension there. He felt too hot and too cold at once, back slick with sweat but belly shivering instinctively, as if he had been plunged into icy water. “Bakugou,” Kirishima said again. Katsuki closed his eyes and felt the other’s hands on his face and shoulder again, Kirishima’s lips pressed sideways on his and his eyes closed in complete trust—and then the surprised on his face as he sat up on the floor where Katsuki had pushed him.
Katsuki felt nauseous.
“Go the fuck away,” he growled warningly.
For a moment nothing moved. But then—”All right,“ said Kirishima. Katsuki heard him take a breath as if he were standing right next to him, and after that a scratchy sound against his door as Kirishima’s footsteps turned to the left, like stone rubbing against wood. Kirishima closed his own door, and he didn’t knock on the wall anymore.
It wouldn’t have mattered whether he did or not, because Katsuki didn’t sleep all night.
He was knocked clear out of caring for anything by the time morning came, stomach tight with stress and his eyesight a little blurry. He didn’t touch any of the food his dad had packed for him and simply showered and dressed before going down the stairs and into the courtyard that would take him back to his school building.
He was early. No one was in their homeroom when he arrived there, not even Iida, so he hid his face into his arm and pretended to sleep until it was time for class. The others started arriving only a few minutes later. He heard Deku’s breath hitch at the sight of him, and Iida make a small comment that he didn’t bother deciphering—then Uraraka’s bright voice, and Asui’s, and the utter silence that was Todoroki taking place at his own table.
Kirishima was among the last ones to make it. They all sounded tired from staying up talking too long, but the mood was high, and Kirishima’s voice wasn’t different from it had been while he was knocking at Katsuki’s door. Katsuki felt the other’s eyes on him without needing to move. Kirishima said his greetings with less enthusiasm than he usually would have and made his way to his own seat at the back of the room. When his hands banged against the top of his desk, Katsuki heard stone instead of flesh.
Katsuki tuned his head to the side slowly. Jirou was seated next to him and looking at him with a vague frown. “What?”
She made a face. “Nothing. Just checking if you were awake.”
“Aizawa-sensei shouldn’t be long now,” Iida added eagerly from somewhere behind Katsuki. “You should start looking alive, Bakugou.”
“Shut the fuck up,” Katsuki said.
Jirou exchanged a look with Iida, whom Katsuki still couldn’t see, and her face relaxed somewhat.
Katsuki groaned lowly and sat up, rubbing a hand over his face. His skin felt like it was vibrating off his bones. He heard Deku hold his breath when he saw him move and told himself that he was too tired to get angry, but still some flicker of irritation moved through him, electric, making his shoulder twitch. He looked at the sky outside instead of anything else and tried not to flinch when Kirishima’s reflection met his eyes briefly.
Eraserhead entered the room a moment later, feet dragging loudly against the wooden floor. His eyes looked even more sunken in than they usually did and his face was bruised. “All of you shut up,” he said in lieu of a greeting. “We have work to do, and I have to make sure you all regret your little dorm party last night.”
Katsuki only maintained the bare minimum of attention to what the man said after that. Eraserhead shot him a few dark glances while he spoke but he didn’t call on him for anything. Katsuki knew how he looked. Fatigue had marked his face constantly through the last few days and he still had bruises around his wrists. The singed skin of his ribs hurt from the binding and he was wearing too many clothes for summer. He looked pathetic and helpless and stupid.
No one commented on it, though. Eraserhead kept homeroom running smoothly as he explained what they would all need to do to take the provisional hero license exam. Katsuki heard the fast murmurs around him and tried to find it in him to be excited about the prospect.
They all left for the gym not long after that, all regular classes having been canceled in favor of individual training. Katsuki locked himself into a bathroom stall to put on his costume, tugging harshly at the fabric that he knew was near-impossible to tear. He was already feeling too hot.
It was easier to focus once he was in training mode proper. Everyone was busy breaking things or running around the school grounds, trying to get someone to improve their accessories or give them tips. He didn’t see Deku all day, or Kirishima. All Might came in briefly at noon, yellow suit hanging sadly off his shoulders, so Katsuki stared at the boulder in front of him and blasted it into pieces with no care for aiming or power. “Watch it,” he heard Uraraka yell as she evaded a rock as big as her head.
Katsuki almost replied, “Sorry.” He choked on his own breath and closed his mouth, teeth hitting together painfully.
He felt weak. He knew part of it was the night spent awake, but he couldn’t ignore that he hadn’t done anything but lay in bed for the last few days and lose track of time until a memory flashed by his mind and made him blink himself awake. His body was slow, and feeble, and useless.
“Bakugou,” Kaminari drawled, strutting in his direction. “You gotta watch this.”
“Fuck off, Kaminari,” he replied lowly.
“Don’t be a loser,” Uraraka said. Katsuki jumped backward at the sound of her voice, and when he looked up she was floating above them, pale-faced but grinning.
“Don’t call me—”
“Then be nice,” she ordered, floating down to ground level and wobbling on her feet. Her face reddened with joy when she didn’t stumble.
Katsuki looked away. His chest felt tight again.
He couldn’t hide his hands in his pockets and slouch while wearing his costume, and he couldn’t put them at his hips either, so he just let them hang around his body and sway back and forth while he walked. He didn’t really want to go with them. He didn’t want to be in the company of anyone, not even Uraraka. It beat blasting rocks aimlessly, though.
Kaminari had installed a bunch of metal scraps into a long line. One end was resting on the stone ground and another atop a pile of papers and leaves.
It was smart. For Kaminari.
“Do you really think you’ll have time to play craft in the middle of combat, dumbass?” he offered.
Kaminari rolled his eyes. “Of course not. I’ll have someone insert that into my costume somehow. Just watch, all right?”
Katsuki wanted to say something scathing, but Uraraka slapped his shoulder briefly and smiled, and what little anger he had managed to gather evaporated. He was too tired.
“All right,” Kaminari said with a serious face. He bent over and took hold of the metal line.
There was a loud noise when he used his quirk on it. White sparks lit up the length of the line and blew parts of it away altogether, but the current traveled fast and true, and after barely a second the pile at the other end started smoking.
“Genius,” Kaminari slurred. He was smiling emptily, lids heavy over his eyes as he tried to blink away the drowsiness.
Katsuki’s clenched his teeth. He stared at the makeshift line of metal and the burning stash of paper and wood at the other end; tension ached in his neck without any specific reason why. In front of him Uraraka was holding Kaminari’s shoulder and laughing, and when he looked down at her feet he noticed that she wasn’t touching the ground.
“You all think you’re so fucking smart,” he said before he could help it.
Their conversation died down. Uraraka turned back to Katsuki and frowned. “What?”
“So you’ve discovered that you’re capable of doing something other than cower in the background.” He had fire in his mouth now, bursting out of his lungs. “Fucking sensational.”
“Dude, what is your problem?” Kaminari retorted angrily.
Katsuki laughed. “You wanna know what my problem is?” They were looking at him like he’d lost his mind, as if he had fooled them all this time into thinking he was docile and nice and friendly. He pointed to the burned pile a few feet away with his finger. “You think this shit is enough to make a hero out of you?”
“Of course not—”
“How they let hopeless freaks like you two in this class is the fucking cake,” he cut in. “What are you gonna do when you’re out there, Kaminari? Zap a villain and let girls protect your ass while you recover, like you’ve been doing so far? But I guess at least now you can hit only one person at a time with that useless quirk of yours, right?”
Kaminari was red in the face, his hair standing up and away on his head and electricity crackling off his skin.
“And you,” Katsuki said, turning to Uraraka, “you can hover without puking now. Groundbreaking. I shouldn’t have expected anything less from someone who needs Deku to—”
“You leave Deku-kun out of it, Bakugou,” she interrupted, and her tone was nothing short of a threat. “Don’t even say his name.”
“Or what?” he yelled back. He heard his voice crack from low to high but he couldn’t find it in himself to care. “What is Deku gonna do? Cry at me?”
She was crimson with anger, mouth open in her outrage but not a word coming out. Kaminari stepped between them and extended a hand as if anything of the sort would be enough to protect anyone from Katsuki. “Fuck off, dude,” he said warningly. “I just wanted to show you my idea, there’s no need to—”
Katsuki raised a hand toward Kaminari’s metal pole, open-palmed, and the sweat on his skin caught fire like oil. The pole exploded into a dozen scraps again, some of them turning red and white with the heat and melting into small puddles on the ground.
He heard his name being yelled out of Eraserhead’s mouth from far away and knew without trying that his quirk was now suppressed.
It didn’t matter. Kaminari looked scared enough.
“None of you should be more than dog shit on the bottom of my shoes,” Katsuki growled. “Talk to me never, you piece of garbage.”
He turned his back to them.
“Just because you had a fight with Kirishima doesn’t give you the right to talk to us like this,” Kaminari said darkly.
Katsuki choked on his next breath and felt ice in his fingers. The next step he took was in the direction of the exit, regardless of Eraserhead’s irritated calls of his name as he stepped around the debris of everyone’s training.
Kirishima was at the other end of the gym. He couldn’t have heard was Kaminari said. Still, he was watching when Katsuki had to walk up to him to reach the door, and though he didn’t say a word to stop him Katsuki still felt as if he had been screamed at.
He started running outside, away from all eyes. The dorm was as deserted as it had been this morning when he left it, without even the stains of the others’ activities the night before. Someone must have cleaned up after them.
Katsuki didn’t stop in the common area. He walked past the communal bathrooms and the TV room and the kitchen, up the stairs in the boys’ wing—not thinking about how much his mom must’ve screamed and begged on the phone to get him lodged there at all—into his bedroom, and into his bathroom.
He shook in front of the mirror. It was the familiarity of anger and it was something else all at once; lack of sleep on his skin like glue, sticking him in place, preventing all escape from himself and from others. Guilt for All Might’s weakness and envy for Deku’s strength, and Kaminari’s words ringing in his ears without a pause. The walls around him felt so much thinner now than they had the night before when Kirishima was scratching at them with hands turned to stone.
Katsuki changed out of his costume and into regular clothes. He threw the thing at the bottom of his shower stall. Then he sat on top of the closed lid of his toilet with his knees under his chin and his nails digging into his calves, and he put his head into the space between his chest and his legs, and he breathed.
It was a very long time before he stopped feeling like the air was only smoke.
“Bakugou,” Kirishima said, hours later.
Katsuki’s eyes were closed. He felt half-asleep right where he was sitting on the cold ceramic; against his legs, his palms started burning. “I locked the door.”
“You didn’t.” A pause. “Sorry.”
Katsuki raised his head.
Kirishima wasn’t a dream or a hallucination. He was standing at the open door of the tiny bathroom, sun shining red on his hair and gleaming on his skin. In the hours since Katsuki’s departure from the gym the light had fallen to gold and warm, and Kirishima would’ve appeared like some weird painting of angel if he didn’t look so devastated.
Before Katsuki could decide how to react, Kirishima took a step back, bowed his head, and said, “I’m so sorry.”
“What?” Katsuki replied.
Kirishima didn’t look up. His shoulder twitched in the light, turning from flesh to stone, a great crack appearing above where his right collarbone was. “I saw you—I mean…”
And Katsuki tried not to, but he still felt his stomach open like a pit and convulse in disappointment. All anger drowned and all hope turned to poison. “Get out,” he said between his teeth.
Kirishima tried to grab his arm when he stormed passed him, but Katsuki dodged him and pushed himself away rather than pushing Kirishima—he couldn’t bring himself to make him fall again, no matter how shitty he felt.
“Dude,” Kirishima said. “Please, listen to me.”
“I don’t have to listen to any fucking thing you say,” Katsuki snapped back. He shoved his bedroom door open so hard that the thing almost fell off. “Get out.”
“I can’t,” Kirishima pleaded. He looked about ready to fall to his knees and beg, and strangely enough, the idea didn’t bring any joy to Katsuki’s mind. “I can’t just pretend—”
“Shut up!” Katsuki screamed.
Kirishima closed his mouth immediately.
Katsuki was breathing too hard. His ribs hurt and his air was scarce, but he didn’t make a move to get rid of the feeling. He closed his door again and locked it twice before turning back to Kirishima.
“I just wanted to say sorry,” Kirishima said in a small voice.
“I don’t want to hear it,” Katsuki replied. “I don’t give a shit how sorry you feel for me.”
Kirishima bit his top lip, looking miserable.
“Just keep your mouth shut,” Katsuki continued. His heart was drumming against his chest painfully, and he tasted metal and salt from biting his tongue while talking. None of it mattered, though, now that the cat was out of the bag. “If you tell anyone, I’ll kill you.”
“I wouldn’t tell anyone,” Kirishima shook his head. “Kaminari told me what he said to you, but I swear, I didn’t tell anyone anything.”
Katsuki wished he could believe that.
He stared at the floor in silence for a moment. He could feel Kirishima looking at the side of his face and concern seeping out of him like pus from an infected wound. He licked his lips.
“I’m still sorry,” Kirishima said softly. “I shouldn’t have kissed you like this.”
Katsuki’s eyes welled up with tears, and when he swallowed his throat made a small, sob-like sound. “I don’t care.”
“Fuck,” Katsuki spat out, bringing up an arm and rubbing his eyes to dryness, “I get it, okay, there’s no fucking need to tell me how disgusting you think I—” but his throat knotted up and throbbed, and he couldn’t speak anymore.
He had been so stupid. All this time spent cozying up to people like some sort of a pet and letting go of his goals in favor of sulking. He couldn’t even live up to Deku, and he spent every day in class thinking back to Uraraka struggling against him and feeling his guts ache with the want for her attention and friendship, and he had been stupid enough to think that Kirishima was someone worth feeling for the way he did. He should’ve known all of it was going to come back and hurt him. Just because he deserved it didn’t make it less painful.
“Bakugou,” Kirishima said. He sounded like he was the one crying.
“Are you done?” Katsuki replied in a shaky voice.
He felt Kirishima’s hand on his shoulder, soft, warm skin against his. “Shit,” and Kirishima was breathing hard too, “dude, I’m—If I’d known it would affect you like this, I swear, I wouldn’t have.”
“What does it matter,” Katsuki muttered. He didn’t look at Kirishima. His entire body felt run over by exhaustion.
Kirishima squeezed his shoulder. “It does. I’m really sorry. I shouldn’t have pushed my feelings on you like this.”
“I just really wanted to kiss you.” Kirishima was crying. When Katsuki looked up he was wiping his eyes on his shoulder with the green sleeve of his T-shirt and leaving dark wet spots there, like a child. “I didn’t think about how you might react. I’m sorry.”
Katsuki gaped at him.
Then his face started burning in shame and relief alike and he turned his back completely to stare at door, wishing that he could bury himself somewhere instead. “You fucking idiot.”
“Did I say—”
“Kirishima, shut the fuck up.”
In the silence that followed Katsuki dragged both hands down his face to erase the wet stickiness of his own tears and breathed in deeply, until his heart rate finally slowed down and his chest stopped hurting so badly.
He turned back around and said, “I’m sorry.”
Kirishima’s eyes went very wide.
He didn’t look so sad anymore, though. His eyes were red and his nose was running, and in the flickers of hope on his face and the way he leaned forward without meaning to, Katsuki could read all of his own feelings.
He bit the inside of his cheek until he ached. “I misunderstood,” he grit out. Never before had words been so difficult to find. “I didn’t mind when you… when you…”
“But,” Kirishima said, “you just said…”
“I know what I said.” He knew he must be crimson by now, knew that sweat must be shining on his forehead and cheeks like a dead giveaway of how ridiculous he felt, but for once in his life, he didn’t want to run away from it. “I thought you were talking about something else.”
But Katsuki shook his head. He breathed in loudly before exhaling all the air out of his body at once, and when he stepped forward and put his hands on Kirishima’s shoulder there was no hesitation this time.
This kiss was better than the first. Katsuki had relief coursing through him for once, the childish kind, the giddy kind, and if his face was wet Kirishima’s was wetter, the other’s hands just as eager taking hold of his wrists as Katsuki’s were gripping his shoulders. Kirishima’s lips were dry but they were earnest. The happy sound he made from the back of his throat was almost the best thing.
Katsuki broke it off after only a few seconds. Kirishima didn’t move away; he licked his lips and grinned wide and gleeful right into Katsuki’s face.
“Man,” he said, breath hitched and cheeks red, “you gotta stop playing with my feelings like this.”
“Shut up,” Katsuki replied.
Kirishima kissed his cheek. His hands were still holding Katsuki’s wrists loosely, so he trailed his fingers down to Katsuki’s instead and linked them all together.
Katsuki’s palms were horribly damp. It didn’t seem to bother him.
Katsuki was swallowing more easily now. The dreadful horror and shame were fading to leave only fatigue in their stead. Though his clothes still felt too tight and hot around his body, his back had relaxed at last, and he could actually look at Kirishima despite the sunlight framing him from the big windows to the balcony. Kirishima hadn’t stopped smiling. His dry hands pressed Katsuki’s between them with care.
He didn’t want to talk about the rest right now. He thought about the possibility of coming out with it right there and then, because Kirishima looked relieved but he also looked worried and confused, and because without raw anger burning inside him he knew, intellectually, that Kirishima would be okay to tell.
But Katsuki was tired. His eyes were heavy with sleep and he had never wanted to pass out more than he did right this instant. So he took his hands back, and though Kirishima let them go without protest, he did so with a stroke of his fingers along their backs. Katsuki’s skin tingled.
“Should I go, then?” Kirishima asked, a little pained.
Katsuki nodded. This time Kirishima was the one to unlock the door and open it wide on the empty hallway. When he walked out he bumped his shoulder with Katsuki’s lightly, as if he couldn’t help but touch him in some way.
Katsuki hesitated behind him.
“You should come downstairs tonight,” Kirishima said evenly, turning around to look at him again. “Last night was fun.”
“I don’t want to hang around you shits.”
“Yeah, right,” and he was laughing, eyes soft and bright, and Katsuki realized that it was because he had spoken.
It made him swallow reflexively and blink, fast, before his face could start burning again.
Kirishima’s smile seemed unstoppable. He raised a hand to rub harshly against his own scalp like an excited child, despite how it messed with his hair. “Well. See ya, then.”
“Yeah,” Katsuki muttered.
They stared at each other without moving.
“I’m,” Katsuki said.
Kirishima leaned forward again. His hand left his head and hovered over the wooden panel of Katsuki’s door as if to prevent it from closing.
He looked eager, and hopeful, and worried all at once, and Katsuki hadn’t known what it felt like to want to trust someone this much in his entire life. He tightened his grip against the handle and clenched his jaw.
“I’ll tell you later,” he said. “What I thought you were talking about.”
“Okay,” Kirishima breathed.
“Just—” he looked down. Breathed despite the tightness in his chest and the burn of his binder’s straps against his shoulders. “Don’t change on me all of a sudden.”
“Sure,” Kirishima replied, immediate and heartfelt.
Kirishima leaned into the space of the door as if pulled in by a magnet; and though he stepped back after a second and a shake of his head, he was smiling, arms pulled close to his body and a smile on his face, as if he was already cradling Katsuki’s secret.
Katsuki felt his own lips quiver helplessly in answer.