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playing with fire

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Eighteen hours of surveillance, two energy drinks, and a terribly aching back later, there is absolutely no sign of the person of interest.

 

Katsuki is more tired than angry. He does not like this type of assignments, being confined to a small space and then to wait, and wait, and wait. Being passive, lying in ambush is not his style of action but this is an important case and he would be damned to reject any involvement in it. Thus, there he has been, stuck in the car, tortured with inaction and boredom for many hours, eyes itching and dry, every muscle in silent rebellion.

 

He pulls the car door open and takes a step outside, stretching his sore limbs and taking in fresh air—as fresh as it can be in the middle of the city.

 

Clouds cover the sky in patches, darkness of nighttime a network of cracks in between the sea of warm grey. Humidity wraps over his skin like a moist, disgusting blanket, yet his lips are still chapped from dehydration. In distance, the noise of cars and crowds alike hum, and he can faintly smell the salt of sweat on himself, grimacing.

 

His stomach grumbles.

 

“You're hungry?”

 

Todoroki, who suffered alongside Katsuki during their eventless surveillance mission, is flexing his head forward and backward in an attempt to relax the tension in his neck. His question is ridiculously unnecessary. Of fucking course Katsuki is hungry—his very guts just announced so.

 

“No my stomach just fucking likes to sing.”

 

After a horrible work day as this, he deserves a great meal. Not just a good one, again, a great one. Something wholesome and complex, not a mere sandwich or some convenience store crap. Luckily, they are close to Toyocho station, which means one of Katsuki's favourite ramen spots is nearby. He will have to walk though, which sucks big time.

 

“I'm hungry too.”

 

He glares at Todoroki who looks back at him with no discernible emotion other than exhaustion, which Katsuki can relate at a molecular level. He also remembers how Todoroki treated him to both the energy drinks because the stupid vending machine was an ancient one that only accepted cash and Todoroki still carries cash in this day and age, apparently. Shouldn't be surprised as Todoroki has all the habits of a middle aged man. Still, he feels like he owes something to Todoroki and he hates owing anything to anyone. Todoroki continues staring back at him too, unwilling to let go of this staring contest, and while any other day he would go on to ensure his victory, his eyes are seriously hurting, and his stomach grumbles a second time, dictating his priorities to be mature ones and not childish rivalry. Two birds with one stone, his brain recommends: he will get to his food sooner, because car is Todoroki's, and not owe him anything any longer.

 

Two birds with one stone.

 

He wordlessly gets back in the car after stretching out his arms one last time. “There's this ramen shop at Toyou 4-6-3.”

 

Todoroki nods and enters the address to the GPS, starting up the car again and following the tinny synthesised voice to their destination which is only minutes away. Thankfully, there is no traffic.

 

When they arrive at the small shop, Todoroki looks at the ordering machine and frowns a little.

 

“There are only two options...”

 

“Yeah and they are both fucking awesome so choose one already.”

 

Katsuki himself is getting the mabomazemen; it is pretty much the only reason he comes here, though he could bet a kidney over how excellent their shio ramen is, which is the option Todoroki goes for. As expected.

 

“Get it with the wontons.”

 

Todoroki complies with Katsuki's unsolicited advice, does not even question it, which affirms Katsuki's ego just a little—everyone should trust Katsuki with their ramen orders, in his not-so-humble opinion. He knows his ramen well and one day everyone, including heretics like Ashido and Kaminari, will have to accept his superiority.

 

Inside the shop is as modest and small as outside, so they sit side by side, a bit closer than usual, but Katsuki is used to eating at cramped ramen shops and frankly does not care whether that's the case for Todoroki or not. If young master is uncomfortable, it does not show on his face, which stays as neutral as ever, though his eyes are drooping a little thanks to the maximum boredom shift they just pulled. When their orders are served, however, Todoroki blinks a few times, waking from his half-sleep, and very obviously impressed with the food placed before them.

 

“That... seems hot.” He points at Katsuki's meal as he sniffs the delicious aroma in.

 

“It is crazy spicy,” Katsuki confirms, mouth watering at the sight of the beast waiting to be devoured. “It's inspired by mapotofu.” He explains, while mixing and messing the pretty face of his meal to ensure sauce is coating all the noodles. This is essential for ultimate experience.

 

“So it's mabo ramen?”

 

“Nah, nothing like that crap.”

 

“Well, I can't see any tofu in it?”

 

“That's the key: there is no tofu because otherwise it would get too watery by the end. The sauce used is very similar though.”

 

“I see. It looks like tantanmen...”

 

“It is a kind of tantanmen.” Katsuki slurps a nice mouthful, taking in the kick of the numbing pepper which blows his tastebuds out of this world. This is exactly what he needed and what he came for that he cannot help a little moan escaping him. He licks the sauce on his lips greedily and goes for another bite.

 

“Now I'm feeling like I made the wrong choice...” Todoroki mumbles before taking a sip of the broth in his bowl, upon which his face shines like a silly teenager in love. “Or maybe not.” He smiles, genuinely content.

 

Katsuki cannot help smirking inside, because he has never allowed anyone eat lousy food, ever—it is a matter of personal pride and honour. If he says a place is good, it must be fucking amazing.

 

“How...” Todoroki seems bewildered, taking another sip of the soup, not even starting to the noodles yet, “this is just shio ramen. How is it so good?”

 

“You deserve a chop in the head for uttering such blasphemy. What do you mean, 'just shio ramen' you asshat?!”

 

“Do you know what they add? This broth tastes very complex.”

 

“All the topnotch stuff. The salts they use to begin with are special—Okinawan seaweed salt and Mongolian rock salt. Then they have one secret, super ingredient... fish sauce made from seki aji. Pretty cool, huh?”

 

“Oh...” Todoroki tries the noodles, chewing loudly, fully engrossed. “These noodles are amazing too.”

 

“Yeah, they are handmade.”

 

“You know, I never knew you were so knowledgeable about food.”

 

“The fuck is that supposed to mean?”

 

“Because of... your personality I guess. You don't seem like the type.”

 

“Are you asking to be hit right now?”

 

“No, no... I just thought you'd be the type who regards food as just fuel. Not care about flavour or the labour that goes into it.”

 

“Hell no. Food is sacred. You respect it. Anyone who cooks will tell you that.”

 

Todoroki hums, thoughtful, a little smile blooming on his face—Katsuki furrows his brows and is about to ask what the hell is up now but Todoroki just hums again, “This is really good.”

 

“You bet it is. This is one of the best shops in the city.”

 

“Definitely agreed... I think I'll tell—“

 

“Stop right fucking there. You're not telling anyone about this place or I'll kill you.”

 

Katsuki actually pauses eating and turns to Todoroki, bodily looming—even if Todoroki is the one who is infuriatingly few centimetres taller—to emphasise his point.

 

“Why not?”

 

Todoroki's lips purse a little, almost pouting, which is a bizarre expression Katsuki has never seen Todoroki make—it looks rather childish and silly.

 

“Because,” Katsuki enunciates, ignoring the stupid pout-like-thing, “I don't wanna come here and find fucking Deku or Uraraka guzzling and destroying my peace. This is one of my personal havens. I need to keep it safe and secret.”

 

“Alright... I get it. Am I allowed to come again then?”

 

“No.” Katsuki turns back to his food—he is not sure why is Todoroki even asking, it should be obvious by extension that he is not welcome here either.

 

“Talk about childish possessiveness, huh?”

 

“There is no insult you can spew to goad me into changing my mind and I will—”

 

Fucking kill me if you do see me here, probably.”

 

“Good that you understand.”

 

“Yes, and I'm coming again, for sure.”

 

“Fucking dumbass did you not hear what I just said?”

 

“You shouldn't have brought me here if you didn't want me here ever again Bakugou...” Todoroki bites into a wonton gingerly and continues speaking only after he has swallowed. “How about we make a deal? I'll only ever come in the weekends.”

 

Katsuki would try to glare the other into surrender if he did not know by now that Todoroki is thoroughly unaffected of his glare game—it is not going to stop him from glaring at Todoroki, still, he knows when to negotiate a truce and when to attack. It feels like he has resigned way too much territory to Todoroki throughout the day but he swears to take it all back—his revenge will be swift and sure, and truly unexpected... just not now, because he is too weary and revenge is a dish eaten cold, after all. He is getting most of the week to himself, which is not too bad. Solely two days in which Todoroki is allowed. Not the worst deal in history.

 

“Fucking fine. But I am yanking you out of here if I see you in any weekday.”

 

“I'm glad we've come to an agreement. Also, these wontons are really delicious...”

 

Katsuki is pretty sure the compliment about wontons is partially to appease him but no amount of compliment will erase the fact that he is now unable to come here in the weekends. Also, he is mostly done with the noodles. At least he has foreseen that some delicious sauce would be left and ordered a side of steamed rice to finish it with. White grains turn reddish brown as they soak the savoury gravy, every bite a soft chunk of pleasure.

 

It takes Todoroki longer to clear his own bowl, as he seems to eat slower than Katsuki; it is a bit odd, watching someone else eat when you are done with your meal and especially with Todoroki whose manners are so on point, movements always so nimble that he makes even eating a performance art. Freaking ridiculous and borderline upsetting.

 

Katsuki does not eat with others too often, but they do eat together with Kirishima and Kaminari about once a week. When they do though, it is usually at crowded places full of noise and Kirishima and Kaminari are quite loud as well; as much as he grouses about it, he has kind of gotten used to that sort of liveliness. It is almost fun, even if he will not admit it to them. This, however, is a lot different; silent and peaceful, something he is very much alien to when in others' company. With his food gone, there is nothing he can focus other than the awkward serenity of it.

 

“Shall we leave?” Todoroki asks after politely rubbing his mouth with a napkin.

 

Katsuki nods and gets up. His backside feels numb from sitting and he is conflicted whether or not he should directly go to bed once he arrives home or go for a run to properly exercise his grumpy body.

 

Car ride back home is quiet; some breeze has picked up at least and Katsuki savours the cold licks of it through a partially open window. A full stomach makes him even more tired, inclining towards sleep, and wishing for his bed dearly. Todoroki drops him off at his place, saying he will follow up with Aizawa about the case—his mismatched eyes are hazy with lethargy too. Katsuki is alright with Todoroki doing the follow up for once, as Aizawa has been clearly angry at him after the last week's public property damage complaint. Even though it is not Katsuki's fault that he had to explode a bus stop to trap the villain.

 

“Ah, and thank you,” Todoroki adds, right as Katsuki is about to turn to the entrance of the building. “For sharing that place with me. I appreciate it.”

 

With anyone else, he would be certain that they are just egging on him, and he would absolutely blast their tires out for daring to do so. But Todoroki looks as deadpan as always, and if anything, said it out of actual gratefulness, which makes the whole situation actually embarrassing, without the instigator even realising just how much. This is a problem peculiar to Todoroki and has resulted in many awkward situations in the past too, and Katsuki deals with awkwardness in the only way he knows: anger.

 

So instead of an answer he rolls his eyes and glares, for the nth time, hard, before turning to his way home. He can hear Todoroki's car starting again and picking up speed along the street.

 

After changing his clothes and brushing his teeth—because no amount of exhaustion will allow him to go to bed without any protection against nasty bacteria—he easily ventures in the sleepland, fatigue aiding him readily.

 

Unfortunately, the next morning he receives a call from Aizawa, right around the time he is having his breakfast, and thus ruining his precious day off. Aizawa is curt, sending him a photograph in the middle of conversation: it is the guy that they were trying to tail, now obviously dead, eyes gouged, halfway across the country. Oh and their informant has disappeared too, Aizawa informs him. Fucking fantastic.

 

“Todoroki found out that the informant frequented some love hotels in Nichoume. Go with him tonight to ask around.”

 

“And why do I have to babysit him?” Katsuki complains, more interested in taking the next flight to Sapporo where murder happened, hopefully in time to watch the autopsy.

 

“Because if someone preferred removing an asset's eyes out and then feeding them to him just to send a message to us, I don't want any of you moving around alone for this investigation. Unless you don't want to take part it in any longer anyway?”

 

“Fine. I'll babysit the halfling.” He gruffs, prospect of spending another shift with Todoroki souring his mood even more.

 

“Let the police do their police work. Autopsy reports will be forwarded to us later today.”

 

Aizawa's insight into Katsuki can be scary sometimes, so he keeps silent, knowing when to follow his mentor's guidance. He sends a message to Todoroki after Aizawa hangs up—Todoroki is already up to speed and tells him they can meet at 8 pm. That gives Katsuki ample time to do what he had planned to do in his well-deserved holiday: cleaning.

 

Closing a record 11 incidents within a week meant that he has not had any chance to do laundry except once. The tall peak of dirty clothes that rise above the laundry basket like a growing, sentient monster of shame has irritated him every single morning. He has already done one cycle before sitting down for breakfast and does two more cycles after, running out of hanging space at the balcony and wondering for the hundredth time if it would be better to invest in a dryer or one of those fancy new washers that can also dry. Living on his own is not cheap, he has learnt with agony though, so he procrastinates on the idea of a dryer, yet again. His therapist would be very proud of him, probably.

 

While his wet and thoroughly clean clothes flutter with the godsent wind, he focuses on vacuuming the room, and then wiping the dust off the few pieces of furniture he has. Next, he goes on a mission to destroy any and all stains off his bathtub. Bleach is not exactly healthy but he is not going to let any fucking germs ever making it alive out of his bathroom or toilet. Ever.

 

As if programmed to ruin his food again, autopsy report comes while he is chopping up vegetables for a late lunch. Nothing like reading through graphic descriptions of a grody murder while prepping for fried rice. He puts the meat back in the fridge and takes out tofu instead. Other than the blatant hint that murderer wants them to stay away, there is not much to take from the autopsy. There is of course the matter that they have concrete evidence of the guy being in the city just couple hours before. No flight records show him travelling either. He does not have any teleportative quirk to have disappeared into thin air and materialise in Sapporo... unless someone with such a quirk was part of the murder.

 

He adds an extra spoonful of sambal to up the spice of his dish as he tries to set up a timeline of events in his head. Twilight is a strong drug with a solid market but the dealers are few and the supply is not huge either, allowing its prices to stay high. Eating a meal in silence always feels off, having grown up in a loud household mostly due to his mother, so he turns the television on, letting the news become the background noise as he chews through his food and thinks things through.

 

There is a segment about the upcoming people's hero choice awards—mainly because the particular channel is amongst the sponsors—and Katsuki recalls briefly the results in their debut year when Todoroki was actually the only one out of their classmates who won an award.

 

In the “sexiest rising hero” category.

 

That there is such a category is a joke in itself to Katsuki but he still smirks remembering how confused and unflattered Todoroki was for being chosen. Katsuki is normally not a fan of Kaminari's horrible sense of humour but he has to admit that at least half of those puns and memes Kaminari sent Todoroki on Facebook had been hilarious, even if they were motivated by petty jealousy.

 

He washes the dishes after his meal, noise from the television blurring into that of running water, sometimes abruptly cut by the horn of a passing car or his phone's notification beeps. Ashido also has a day off so it is likely her spamming him with who knows what—he is not interested to check.

 

One of the beeps apparently belongs to Todoroki who sent a message advising him to come in civilian clothes, which annoys him, because of course he would come in civilian clothes. This is investigative work, not night patrol or incident on-call. He does not reply to the haughty message, which likely was not intended to be haughty, which is the main conundrum of working with Todoroki Shouto.

 

When he meets Todoroki later, at 8 pm square at the metro station as they agreed, Todoroki is wearing pretty much the same clothes as yesterday: a navy blue baseball cap, a dark grey t-shirt, and a pair of navy slacks.

 

Todoroki's painfully plain style has not changed a bit since their school days. Katsuki has always found it both fitting and not; Todoroki is irritatingly modest at certain things but is also fucking wealthy and could afford Gucci. In any case, it's not a bad choice; at least this way they won't get as much attention.

 

They bounce ideas back and forth about what the hell happened but what they know and have predicted is same, neither contributing anything new to the other's theories. The first hotel they visit is close to the station itself and shady as fuck. Katsuki glances at Todoroki but sees no reaction of any kind. Todoroki takes the lead, even, going to the reception desk straight ahead and showing a picture of their missing informant with no hesitance.

 

Next to him Katsuki waits seemingly idle, side-eyeing the receptionist now and then, playing 'bad cop' part of their duo in passive aggression. Though Todoroki is not a 'good cop' per se. More like a, 'robot cop'. What was that show that was around when he was a kid again... 'Robocop: Hero with a Metal Heart'?

 

With no results, other than some sleazy comment about Todoroki's needs by the receptionist which Todoroki gracefully disregards, they leave for the second place. It is not a long walk but it is hot and does start drizzling, prompting both of them to open umbrellas, having come prepared. Once they arrive at the hotel, Katsuki is internally thankful for the greatest invention of all times: air conditioner. Also for his genius because he took in the laundry before leaving the house so they should be safe, sound, and dry.

 

Light pollution paints the nighttime sky a dirty orange, neon signs joining in on the fun and disrupting the quiet darkness. In the cacophony of lights and passing cars, Katsuki watches the street outside from the large glass doors of the lobby rather than joining Todoroki for 'interrogation'. There are thin lines drawn by raindrops all over the glass and it makes everything seem a tad surreal.

 

The hotel is not a super expensive one, nor is it located in the main street; still, for the clientele it caters, it is relatively famous and close to the popular bars. Not at all shady either like the other place, staff polite and professional, interior classy and bright. Some couples pass by outside, hand in hand, or slouching over each other, likely drunk, and Katsuki feels dissociated. He has never been interested in night-life, despite the rumours spread by pro-hero gossip sites, and he has never been interested in a romantic relationship either... Not that he can assume these people necessarily are; sex is a mechanical need for many, including himself.

 

“He hasn't visited here either.”

 

Todoroki's voice is as monotone as ever, which Katsuki finds rather interesting, especially in this case since he thought the environment would be disagreeable for the young master. But said young master has been utterly indifferent, asking questions about a shady informant with perfect detachment in one of the fanciest gay love hotels in town past midnight, as if he is stating his order at Starbucks.

 

“That leaves only one place...” Todoroki mentions, which he doesn't have to, because Katsuki remembers the list of places they were given.

 

“He better fucking be there... or been there.”

 

“I doubt so,” Todoroki holds the door for him like the gentleman he is, and thus receiving glare from Katsuki, “given his previous profile and what we have learnt so far, it would be more probable for him to have run away... He may be half-way around the country now.”

 

Katsuki does not appreciate being told all this because he himself has also thought all this; working with Todoroki is both extremely efficient, which is good, and irritating, which is bad—Katsuki is not exactly used to working with others who are as observant and strategical as him. Aizawa would say he is being childish, which is likely true, but he does not give a fuck.

 

“I fucking know that but one can hope.” Katsuki mutters, early summer heat hitting him on the face as soon as they have stepped out, souring his mood. Rain has stopped, at least, but he can feel humidity climbing over him like a viscid demon intent on possession.

 

“I guess—“ Todoroki starts but his sentence is cut abruptly with vibration of a phone. Katsuki cannot feel any tremble on his person and Todoroki reaches for his trouser's pocket. When he looks at the screen of the phone violently vibrating in his hand, he grimaces. Composed features of his pretty face shatter into a mosaic of hostility and distress in the blink of an eye. The ghost of troubled emotions quickly disappear in the next blink, however, returning back to the neutrality that is hard to read.

 

“Excuse me,” he says before quickly moving forward a couple steps, receiving the call. Whoever it is on the other side is shouting into the phone—that's all Katsuki can decipher. He is miffed that Todoroki is taking what is obviously a personal call on the clock and shouts a “be quick asshat” for measure behind him, Todoroki turning back to him and nodding, a small frown marking his usually straight lined lips.

 

The call doesn't last long and Todoroki even mumbles a “sorry about that” once he is back which Katsuki shrugs; Todoroki is one of the most serious ones out of their bunch so he does not feel like pushing the issue further. They proceed to go to the next location which is actually a place Katsuki had once been a patron of, so he stays outside at the front, just in case he would come across someone he did not want to. Meeting one night stands a second time is not his style and a good half of his one night stands have not ended on amicable terms either. Todoroki seems a bit confused as to why Katsuki is not coming in with him but does not raise any concern either, going in alone and doing the questioning he did at the other two hotels.

 

He comes out not too long after.

 

“No sign of him here either...”

 

“Fuck.”

 

They share a sigh at the same time, making it a bit awkward for Katsuki though Todoroki does not seem to mind.

 

“I have a feeling we will come across him sooner than later...” Todoroki says while Katsuki kicks a tiny gravel on the pavement, his hands stuck in his baggy pants' pockets.

 

“Yeah, six feet under and with a hand in his stomach or something though.”

 

“Indeed... I am sorry for dragging you here for nothing.”

 

Katsuki looks back in surprise and is irrationally upset by how frustrated Todoroki looks.

 

“It was good intel and we acted on it. Stop moping around okay? It's fucking pathetic.”

 

Rather than being irked by his insult as any other person would, Todoroki hums and they start walking down the street towards the station without any words uttered between them. Rain has ceased and air is cooler now, which Katsuki appreciates, he would also appreciate this silence, if it was not for the stray vibrations that shake and break it, coming from Todoroki's phone. Katsuki counts in his head—three times. Three fucking times—he is ready to make a snide comment on it but before then, they hear noises of an argument leaking from the narrow alley ahead.

 

It is a sight that is not new or strange.

 

Some random dude hitting on two women who are clearly not interested. It rubs Katsuki the wrong way. In the past he did not even recognise such shit going on but since starting to work as a pro-hero, he has come across this sort of situations quite frequently, especially during night patrols. According to the guidelines, as long as it does not involve quirks, they are not supposed to intervene and instead contact the police. This does not make sense to him and he has gotten into trouble once over punching a parasite of this kind. Disproportionate use of power, his ass, frankly—the man had deserved it, just as this man deserves it, stepping into the women's space closer, literally cornering them behind a bar only because he is physically larger. Whenever Katsuki sees someone arrogantly flaunting their size, he feels the need to respond and flaunt his.

 

He is ready to jump in as the man lifts his arm, about to grab one of the woman, guidelines be damned; he has enough pent-up stress over the shit with the informant and is itching for a fight. Given the situation arsehole wouldn't file a complaint anyway. But just as he readies himself, Todoroki has already sprinted forward. He spews a curse and follows suit.

 

Todoroki easily catches the man's hand, pushing him a step away from the women in the process. He stands tall between them, his shoulders stiff, his eyes dead-serious, and he says, calmly: “Sir, I think it is time for you to call it a night and go home.”

 

“The hell,” the man spits out but Todoroki is unperturbed, muttering with enough chill to freeze the whole block: “Please.”

 

It is not politesse but an outright threat and the leech seems to get it, but he also looks half-drunk, so to highlight the point, Katsuki pulls his collar from the back.

 

“My friend said, 'please'... but I am not as civil as him you shithead.”

 

The man swallows thickly then stirs, shouting about letting him go, which they both do and watch him run away.

 

“I am sorry about this,” Todoroki turns his face to the victims as soon as the man is out of sight. “I hope you are not harmed?”

 

“No... we are okay...” one of the women replies, holding the hand of the other tightly. It is obvious that they are still wary and scared.

 

“Good. Where are you going? We could escort you.”

 

Katsuki is unnerved—what the hell is Todoroki spouting?! Babysitting Todoroki around is enough tedious as it is and he most certainly did not sign up for taking on more kids to oversee.

 

“Uh... you... don't have to. We have friends coming to pick us up so. You can go.”

 

“It would be best—“

 

The woman takes a step back at Todoroki's insistence, leaving him visibly baffled—he is likely not used to civilians regarding him as a threat, with all the fame and pretty face he's got. Quickly though, realisation hits him, Katsuki can watch it unravel with the way his body slightly inches back. Katsuki would prefer to leave the scene as is but he would also very much like to avoid these girls reporting them as perverts or something thanks to Todoroki's eagerness to assist, so he pulls the icy-awkward bastard back even farther, closer to himself, and looks at the ladies with a serious face, as minimally threatening as possible.

 

“We are pro-heroes.” He shows his license. Todoroki pulls out his own license too and adds, very unnecessarily: “We could keep watch from afar till your friends pick you up, if you wanted us to, of course.”

 

“Ah.” the women look at each other and whisper in between, then the one who spoke before nods, a little nervous smile on her lips. “Then, if you don't mind?”

 

“Definitely not,” Todoroki tries a smile, which sets both women even more at ease. Katsuki hates how easily reassuring Todoroki can be when he wants to be and slaps Todoroki's arm, not only to get them moving but partly out of frustration. Great, now he will be loitering around even longer... They begin walking in the same direction as the women but across the street, on the opposite sidewalk.

 

“You've gotten better at approaching people.. It took me a second to recognise.” Todoroki mumbles once they are come to stand near a traffic light, the girls standing across the street at the parallel corner, waiting for their friends to come.

 

Katsuki groans, truly done with it all and half considering hailing a cab by himself even if it would be ridiculously expensive.

 

“What? That was a compliment.”

 

“I fucking know that but it does not mean I like being a goddamn chaperone. Why the hell did you have to go and offer... I hate your goody-two shoes ways.”

 

He cannot bear to admit that the reason he has gotten better—not by a lot either, but just barely—is because of all the times he was mistaken as a villain rather than a hero and how often victims are scared of him. Three years of experience as a pro-hero, not counting all the situations he got involved in during school, and many hours of mandatory counselling helped him get better at learning how to actually help people. It is fucking hard—he would much prefer punching bad guys to the hell and back than try sweet-talk fearful strangers, but it is part of the job. If he wants to be the best hero out there, he has to learn how to do this as well. Even if he is not blessed with an angelic smile by nature.

 

“Or maybe you haven't gotten much better. My bad.”

 

“Shut the fuck up, I'm already pissed as is.”

 

Todoroki does not push his luck on that front but a couple hollow seconds later, goes, “Bakugou”, totally out of blue and voice distinctly contemplative.

 

“What.”

 

Silence.

 

Katsuki steals a glance to find that Todoroki is just gazing up the sky, clearly thinking something, because there is nothing interesting in the sky. Stars don't shine here.

 

“I said, 'what'? Or did you eat your tongue?”

 

“It is just...”

 

“It is just what? Stop being fucking cryptic.”

 

“To that guy... you said, 'my friend' and I...”

 

Katsuki cannot help but make a horrified face, his gut clenching in dread, hoping Todoroki never finishes that sentence he just stopped midway. Because it means a conversation they never really had, and he does not want to have right now. Or ever. Forever.

 

In total, he has had 'friendship' conversation with only three people in his life and would like to keep it as such. Three is a good number. It is an odd number—odd numbers are good.

 

The first one he had to bear that conversation with was Kirishima. It was too sugary and even included a hug initiated by Kirishima, and he feels embarrassed just remembering it—but at least it was with Kirishima who is so good at people-ing and in his defence, he was feverish with flu. The other was with freaking Deku and took years to culminate in a weird, post-near-fatal-battle, high on opioids and stuck at hospital, “I guess I saved your life and you saved my life and we are kind of friends but let's never talk about this again”... which they have not, thanks to any and all gods above and below.

 

The third was with Uraraka, in which he was regretfully sober, but Uraraka was not, and Katsuki is not sure if Uraraka even remembers it or not. Her insistent whining and screaming “Why can't you just admit we are friends?! Why must you always be a jerk?! Why can't you say sorry even when you feel it?!” and Katsuki had screamed back, “Fine, fucking fine, I am fucking sorry alright and being friends is not the end of the world, I guess, are you happy now you fucking piece of shit?!” It is amongst his best kept secrets and he sincerely hopes Uraraka does not remember.

 

And with Todoroki?

 

Todoroki is pretty much as socially giftless as Katsuki; as far as he knows Todoroki's only friends consist of their old classmates, and in that pretty much only Deku, Motor-Legs, and maybe Uraraka. Unlike Katsuki, he actually did try to befriend others at times, Katsuki knew from experience, having received Todoroki's 'friendly' advances back in the day, but his blunt tongue and inexperience did not help. And yes, on a certain level, they would be classified as 'friends' rather than mere 'acquaintances' at this point, they have known each other for more than five years now, have gone on more than a few operations as a team, even stayed in the same freaking bed one awful, sleepless school trip night... but Katsuki would prefer never to acknowledge. Any of it. He would much prefer to pretend being only acquaintances with Todoroki.

 

Especially when Todoroki's cheeks are rosy and there is a tiny smile hanging off his lips at the very idea of Katsuki's acknowledgement of their frail bond forged by years of fate pushing them together rather than any active will on either side. It is unsightly and makes Katsuki's skin crawl.

 

“It was a figure of speech dumbass and we are not talking about our feelings and shit on the clock.”

 

They are not actually on the job any more but he hopes Todoroki will ignore that.

 

Todoroki just hums, seemingly alright with Katsuki's obvious attempt at deflection.

 

Two more vibrations from Todoroki's phone and three minutes later, the ladies' ride arrives and they get in safely, waving a 'thank you' at them to which Todoroki Shouto—being the weirdo he is—actually waves back. Softly.

 

Katsuki snorts and launches the special police incident report app.

 

“Call a taxi, will you?” he orders Todoroki meanwhile, more than ready to hit the sack and leave the shitty night behind. It took three minutes extra than necessary but at least he will get away with paying only half the taxi fare.

 

“You're not doing that?”

 

“Nah, I'm filing a complaint about the shithead harasser from before.”

 

“Oh? You got his photo?”

 

“Yep, just as you were getting all handsy on him.”

 

“I see. Taxi will be here in two minutes by the way.”

 

“Good, I'm fucking tired.”

 

“We did nothing... literally just walked around.”

 

“Not getting to do anything fucking tires me even more, okay? I'd feel so much more energetic if I got to explode someone's guts.”

 

“That does not make sense... or maybe does since it's you. I'm not sure.”

 

“Life is full of contradictions.” Katsuki shrugs, tapping the virtual 'Send' button with satisfaction—but hearing yet another vibration from Todoroki's phone does disrupt the said satisfaction by at least 48%.

 

He looks up to see Todoroki staring holes at the bright screen.

 

“You have one clingy girlfriend. Doesn't she know you're fucking busy?! Just tell her to shut up already.”

 

“I don't have a girlfriend.”

 

“A boyfriend, whatever. The same deal.”

 

Todoroki clarifies, with unfathomable anger in his syllables: “I don't have a partner.”

 

Katsuki's eyebrows does rise at that—it is a bit difficult to believe given how popular Todoroki is. At the same time, a part of him admonishes for being surprised at this, because like himself, Todoroki is a well-known workaholic, adamant about his career and becoming the best of the best. Thinking back, Katsuki cannot recall Todoroki ever dating anyone, actually; even in their third year, when more than a few people in the class did play around... Todoroki never did, rejecting all the confessions he received, which had only increased with every year, and every time he rejected someone, he apparently stated that he was not interested in dating. Katsuki commends his own memory at still remembering such frivolous details.

 

“It's my father. There's a... family situation.”

 

The answer makes Katsuki blink out of his thoughts.

 

They never actually talked about the Todoroki family matters, but he has heard a bit, and then read a bit of the rumours, and then conjectured the rest. It is something too deep and intimate to be shared between them... it is ridiculous that Todoroki Shouto, now at 21 and often lauded as the hero with the most potential much to Katsuki's outrage, is still being hounded by his shitty father-only-in-name Endeavour.

 

Todoroki pockets his phone after typing something out and their taxi arrives right about then. There is nothing Katsuki can say to Todoroki on the subject, which makes him internally kick himself over bringing the topic of Todoroki's incessant caller in the first place. It was a trivial comment, meant to be something he could use to tease Todoroki with—if he knew it would delve into such sensitive territory, he would have eaten his own shoe than to utter it.

 

Outside, as the taxi speedily moves forward, lights of the bar signs blend into each other, a thin river of colours flowing along the murky darkness of the grey buildings.

 

Todoroki sighs forlorn, as if the sight outside, which he is watching, is a sad film of sorts. It piques Katsuki, somehow. He blames the disquiet inside him to the heroic instincts he holds and the strong hatred he harbours against Endeavour.

 

“You know... I'll be kicking your shitty father off his throne soon.”

 

It's an exaggeration. Surely, he will dethrone Endeavour—that part is not an exaggeration at all—but the 'soon' part is. Katsuki can be vain but he is not stupid. He knows his current level of strength and training; it will take years to catch up and kick the shitbeard who does not deserve the title of a 'hero' down to the bottom of the ladder.

 

Todoroki does not say anything at first—still silently observing outside as they move across the downtown.

 

Then he huffs and turns to Katsuki. There is no smile on his lips but there is something tender in his eyes, almost appreciative, almost able to see through Katsuki's many layers and grasp that specific bit of care he cannot get rid off regardless how much he tries.

 

“You won't be able to.”

 

“The fuck—do you—”

 

“Because I will.”

 

Katsuki almost shivers with anticipation at the gravity Todoroki's eyes carry, bright tenderness from before giving way to an unshakeable resolution, colouring his eyes darker, almost. It is the sort of look Todoroki gave to him during the finale at the Sports Festival in their Second Year—the one where at the end Katsuki lost, fair and square, and hated every second of that loss, but loved every second of that fight. Spirit of challenge awakens in Katsuki whenever that gaze is directed at him; a switch is turned on inside, getting his 'fight fight fight' response up and ready. Todoroki's ultimatum is voiced hot and intimate, cherry on top. Katsuki sneers, even though he is not a seventeen years old highly explosive kid anymore, never backing away from Todoroki's straight gaze or cutting words.

 

“We'll fucking see about that.”

 

“That we will...”

 

They don't talk rest of the way, though Todoroki as always wishes a good night when Katsuki is being dropped off, and Katsuki does grace him with an amused huff this time, his hands still in fists from the excitement of what the future holds, inevitably.