Bakugou is not afraid.

That is what he tells himself as hands drag him into the dark, as fog obscures his eyes and hides his classmates' defeated faces from view.

He is not afraid, he repeats in his mind as he's taken to the Alliance's hideout and strapped to a chair, as hours tick by without an opening for him to escape and he's surrounded by villains who keep spouting bullshit and staring at him like he's some sort of precious winning to their side.

He barely sleeps. He refuses what they try to give him to eat. He will not bend to this scum, will not let them crack him and give them the taste of victory, because isn't this what he's supposed to be? A hero.

And a hero does not bend to the will of villains. A hero wins.

He is not afraid.

It is easier to crush the fear down when he focuses on the anger, sneering at their idiotic assumptions about him. The thrill of being able to use his Quirk again when they release his bindings helps, too, even as his brain registers the impossibility of a fight, sweat racing down his back as he stalls for time and tries to find a way out.

He is not afraid, he is not afraid.

The wave of relief that washes over him when the pro-heroes arrive is unwelcome, and yet Bakugou can't help it, can't help the way his lips tremble as he struggles to keep his stance when All Might turns to him.

"I'm not scared!" he says aloud this time, even if his body is running on nothing but adrenaline and he's waiting for the moment when all the villains will be restrained by the pros, putting an end to what feels like a really, really long nightmare.

But it is only the beginning.

Bakugou's body seems to be working on autopilot, his mind processing too many things at once but refusing to dwell on any of them as the day drags to a close.

His parents meet him at the police station, his mother screaming at him for the trouble he caused even as she pulls him into a bone-crushing hug, followed by his father. Bakugou usually hates public displays of affection - this time, he waits a little before pulling away.

Hours of questioning later, he's allowed to go home. It isn't until after he's showered and eaten, dragging himself to his bedroom under the excuse that he's exhausted, that the events of the past days catch up to him and the control Bakugou had been oh-so-carefully keeping over himself breaks.

It starts with small tremors that slowly turn into full-body shivers. There's a pressure on his chest, making it hard to breathe, and he's too hot but when he takes off his shirt he's too cold so he wraps himself in the blankets, teeth chattering under the stifling air. His stomach twists in knots and Bakugou feels helpless, mind swimming with flashbacks of bindings digging into his arms, the feeling so real he throws the blankets away to grasp at something that's not there.

He knows he has to think logically, has to get his body under control again, but he's gasping for air, the suffocating feeling won't go away and yet he's so cold-

A buzzing sound cuts through the air and Bakugou's head snaps towards his bedside table.

He takes his phone with a trembling hand, watching the screen light up with an incoming call from Half-'n-Half.

Instinctively, Bakugou brings fingers to his cheeks, but they're dry. There's no way for Todoroki to know what's happening - and yet, he's calling Bakugou, for who knows what reason.

Bakugou shouldn't answer it. He's still trembling, not really able to breathe right, much less speak. He's never felt so vulnerable, and this is the person who already knows more about his weak moments than he would've liked.

Bakugou shouldn't answer the call, but he does.

"Bakugou?" Todoroki's voice comes from the other end of the line. A shuddering breath leaves Bakugou's throat, the familiarity of the sound somewhat grounding. He lets his head fall back against the wall, fingers digging into his knees as he tries to get his body to relax, wincing in pain as a particular strong shiver makes his jaw clench forcefully. "Bakugou, what's going on? Did something happen? Is it the villains-"

Todoroki's voice, which had been calm at first, takes on an agitated tone. Bakugou can't even blame him for jumping to conclusions - after all that happened and with how he must sound, of course Todoroki would assume the worst.

"I'm h-home, idiot," Bakugou manages to stutter. Surprisingly, his heart seems to be slowing down a little, his breathing becoming more manageable now that he's got something to keep his mind off the panic.

The line goes silent, and for a moment Bakugou thinks Todoroki hung up. The thought causes his chest to constrict again, but then Todoroki starts talking and Bakugou finds himself closing his eyes in relief.

"I ran into a cat when I was walking home today," Todoroki says. "It was wearing a collar, so I think it belonged to someone in the neighborhood, but it was just lying in the middle of the sidewalk like that was the most comfortable place in the world."

Bakugou wants to ask Todoroki if he's gone crazy, calling him out of nowhere to ramble about some random cat, but even if what the Half-'n-Half is saying makes no sense, listening to his voice is calming.

So Bakugou stays quiet and lets Todoroki speak on. He listens as the other describes the cat, talks about how it let him pet it, exposing his belly like a dog for Todoroki to scratch it. He even describes the cat's mewl - so thin you could barely hear it and extremely cute, in his words.

As Todoroki talks, his tone gets increasingly fonder, and it's obvious that he has some kind of weak spot for cats. Bakugou doesn't think he's ever heard the other sound like this, but the usually blunt nature of Todoroki's way of speaking becomes soothing; Bakugou focuses on it as his muscles become less tense, breathing coming more easily until it's almost normal again.

Now that the worst has passed, exhaustion weighs down on him, even more so than it did before.

"Why did you call me to talk about a cat, Half-'n-Half?" he mumbles into the speaker, cutting Todoroki off mid-sentence.

There's a brief pause before he gets an answer.

"I didn't."

"You just spent the last fifteen minutes doing that."

"I called to ask if everything went okay after you left with the police," Todoroki says. "But you seemed like you needed a distraction."

Bakugou's eyes fly open, fighting off sleepiness as the words sink in. Todoroki speaks like he's doing nothing more than stating a fact, and yet Bakugou imagines him - the most inept person at conversation he's ever met - trying to come up with something to talk about for the sake of distracting Bakugou.

It had nothing to do with the pain of the tattoos, because Bakugou hadn't been crying. Todoroki could've hung up, or straight up asked if he was okay like he'd done last time, which would've most likely ended with Bakugou being the one to hang up on him.

But he hadn't.

It's such a ridiculous thing, to spend fifteen minutes talking about a stupid cat, and yet Bakugou can't bring himself to tell Todoroki off for wasting his time. He cannot even call it a waste of time. He doesn't care about the cat that Todoroki found, but it'd been better than reliving the nightmare, than losing control of his body and fighting against his own mind.

"Your boring conversational skills would be enough to distract anyone into falling asleep," Bakugou says. He can't bring himself to say thank you.

Todoroki doesn't seem to need it. Maybe it's the tiredness clear on Bakugou's voice, but he only huffs and says, "Goodnight, Bakugou."

"Goodnight, Half-'n-Half."

Bakugou puts his phone back on the bedside table before burrowing back under the covers, not even bothering to put his shirt back on.

He's asleep in a matter of seconds.

The next day, Todoroki texts him a picture of a cat, sprawled lazily underneath some bushes. Bakugou doesn't know what prompted this but he assumes, by the way the cat looks, that it is the same one Todoroki was telling him about before.

He replies saying that Todoroki's photography skills suck.

None of them mention Bakugou's breakdown or the conversation that followed, but it becomes clear over the following weeks that something has changed between them. Todoroki doesn't call again, but he texts Bakugou frequently - mostly pictures of cats and food, which Bakugou finds stupid but keeps replying to anyway.

He isn't sure why he's indulging Todoroki in whatever he's trying to accomplish with his silly photos. Perhaps it's the fact that he's locked in his house, or that sometimes he wakes up in the middle of the night covered in cold sweat, or that if he lets his mind wander too far the crushing guilt and frustration over what happened - what happened because he was weak - threatens to swallow him whole.

Whatever the reason, Bakugou starts welcoming the buzzing of his phone that signals a new message. At times, he is the one to start a conversation himself - and if Todoroki is surprised at Bakugou's sudden change in attitude, it doesn't show through his texts.

There's a question at the back of his mind every time Bakugou presses send - why Todoroki, of all people?

Whenever he thinks about it, his fingers hover over the flowers that mark his skin. He doesn't want to blame this all on the soulmate bullshit he's tried so hard to dismiss - if he's gotten into this weird sort-of-friendship with Todoroki then it's because of the circumstances and his choices, however questionable, that led him to it, and not some pre-decided nonsense.

But if he has to have this soulmate connection with anyone, Bakugou realizes, maybe the fact that it's with Todoroki isn't as bad as he thought.

When Bakugou moves to the dorms and classes start again, things are mostly the same and yet, they're completely different.

They still have boring classes first, followed by hero training. His classmates are still annoying, even more so now that he sees them on a daily basis. Todoroki still gets on his nerves every time he opens his mouth.

But their bickering has a touch of familiarity that wasn't there before, and Bakugou's camera roll continues to grow with pictures of the silliest things that Todoroki actively tries to discuss when they meet in the halls or before classes.

Hero training isn't for showing off anymore, and Bakugou pushes himself with reckless ferocity, throwing anything and everything of himself into combat, hoping to get rid of the nagging thought of not yet, not strong enough that repeats itself in his mind, that gets stronger every time he sees Deku using his fucking Quirk.

He looks at Kirishima or Iida or even at Deku himself and the memory of the night when he had to be rescued like a fucking weakling comes crashing back.

And then there's All Might.

All Might, his idol, the hero he's looked up to ever since he was a kid, who stands on the corner of the battle arena created for their training looking small and frail, who can't protect himself from rocks he'd smash through like paper if he still had his former strength.

But he doesn't.

And it's Bakugou's fault.

He takes the Provisional License exam.

Once again, he loses.

"Why did I become the reason for All Might's end!?"

This time, Bakugou doesn't even try to hold back the tears. He doesn't give them a second thought, letting them spill down his face as everything that's been eating at him becomes too much.

Using his Quirk does not fill him with the usual thrill. Bakugou is moved by desperation, emotions clawing at him as he fights against Deku, grasping for something - anything - that will bring sense to things again, that will give him back the security of when things were simple and he could just focus on being better .


And in the end, he wins, but it still feels like they've both lost.

After everything, Bakugou is drained.

He and Deku part ways without a word once Aizawa lets them go, all that had to be said between them already out in the open. Bakugou's muscles ache as he makes his way to the bathrooms after grabbing some clean clothes, intending to take a shower to get rid of the grime that covers his body before he can properly bandage himself up.

The hot water stings against his injuries. Bakugou lets his head fall back, breathing through his mouth as droplets run down his face, feeling like a heavy weight has been lifted off his chest.

And another one has been dropped on his shoulders.

This one's lighter, perhaps, because he is not alone in carrying it. And yet, as Bakugou towels his hair dry, he can still hear his own voice breaking through the screams, can remember the tears making their way down his face as everything he'd been bottling up for a long time came pouring out.

It is hard to admit he was wrong, to face the long path that extends before him when he once thought he was oh-so-close to the top.

He is tired, and not just physically.

Despite that, as Bakugou contemplates going back to his room, the idea of tossing and turning in his bed, left alone with his thoughts, doesn't appeal to him. Instead, he finds himself making his way to the fifth floor, to the only other person who has unwittingly been granted a glimpse of what Bakugou is feeling, even if he can't know the entire truth behind the pain.

Bakugou only hesitates briefly before knocking on Todoroki's door.

Todoroki opens it almost immediately. His hair is mussed as if he'd been asleep at some point, but if he was, there's no sign of sleepiness left on his face, nor does he seem surprised to see Bakugou at his door at such an hour.

"You were in a fight," Todoroki observes, closing the door after Bakugou pushes past him into the room.

"No shit, genius," Bakugou mutters, lacking the usual bite. Todoroki stays silent, looking at him - expecting him to do something, Bakugou realizes, to explain why he's here.

But what can he say, when he doesn't even know the answer to that himself?

"I-" As he stalls for time, Bakugou takes note of Todoroki's completely remodeled room and forces an amused huff to leave his lips. "Even here, you're still a young master, huh?"

His laugh sounds fake even to his own ears. Todoroki doesn't seem to find it funny; the moonlight that comes through the slightly ajar shōji doors does nothing to hide the hardness of the stare he fixes Bakugou with.

"It was the biggest one yet," he says after Bakugou does nothing but stand there in silence for a few minutes.


"The flower." Todoroki's hand hovers over the right side of his chest. He doesn't seem to be aware of the movement, but Bakugou can't look away, swallowing through the lump in his throat as he imagines what it must've felt like for Todoroki.

He does not doubt that the emotions behind this tattoo have been his strongest yet.

"Can I see it?"

At this, Todoroki's eyes widen a fraction. Bakugou tenses when he doesn't answer immediately, wondering if he's crossed an invisible line - but then Todoroki nods, pulling off his shirt with one swift movement.

Even in the dim light, Bakugou can easily see the flowers spreading from next to Todoroki's heart, the black lines smooth and clear against pale skin. The design is as he remembers from the sports festival, with two exceptions - the familiar flower that sneaks up Todoroki's throat, and a new one that covers the right side of his chest, what seems like hundreds of tiny blooms clustered in the middle of bigger petals, some of their tips going as far as to graze Todoroki's collarbone.

Bakugou moves without thinking, until he's standing in front of Todoroki and his fingers hover over the tattoo.

Todoroki's sharp intake of breath is lost to his ears as Bakugou slowly traces the lines, barely aware of the small change in temperature beneath his touch as he goes from Todoroki's left side to his right.

It's strange, how mere months ago Bakugou had detested the sight of the tattoos that connected him to Todoroki. He'd been afraid - of having his weaknesses on display for someone else, his pain made to be his soulmate's, a weapon to be used against him.

Now, as he traces the curve of a yarrow petal, Bakugou thinks of everything that's happened to him since he entered U.A. He thinks of losing in Battle Training, of the sports festival and his fight against Todoroki. Of being kidnapped and rescued, and of the weeks that followed as he battled against nightmares and his phone's chat history grew with photos of stray cats and cold soba.

He thinks of his fight with Deku, and of sharing All Might's secret, and of all the things he's been wrong and confused about and afraid of.

He remembers that Todoroki failed the Provisional License exam too.

That just as Bakugou's worst moments are drawn on Todoroki's skin, so are Todoroki's on Bakugou's own.

Bakugou reaches the tip of a leaf, finger dipping into collarbone, and suddenly his train of thought is broken by a snort of laughter escaping Todoroki's lips.

Bakugou looks up and is met with Todoroki's face incredibly close. A hint of a smile is still on the other's face even as Bakugou takes his hand away from the ticklish spot as if he's been burned, cheeks warming up as he takes a few steps back to put some distance between them.

In his distraction, he hadn't realized he'd gotten so close.

At least Todoroki looks pretty disconcerted himself as he puts his shirt back on, scratching at the place Bakugou had just been touching.

Trying to find something to break the awkward silence and refusing to meet Todoroki's eyes, Bakugou's gaze falls to the other's pants, which are covered with drawings he hadn't paid attention to before.

Bakugou squints, wondering if the weak light is playing tricks on him.

"Are those… cats?"

Todoroki seems puzzled until he follows Bakugou's line of sight, and then he nods. "Yes."

"You have fucking kittens on your pajamas?" Bakugou laughs - and this time it is not forced, the sound bubbling forth and spilling through his lips even as he raises his hand to muffle it. "This is so you, Half-'n-Half."

"I will take that as a compliment."

"Fuck you," Bakugou says despite the grin still stretched on his face.

He's exhausted, his injuries throb beneath the bandages, and Todoroki is looking at him with the most unimpressed expression in the world, but suddenly Bakugou is glad for whatever impulse drove him to knock on the other's door tonight.

Turns out he needed this. Whatever this is.

By the time he is able to stop laughing, Todoroki has sat on his futon, messy blankets bunching around his knees as he stares at Bakugou. Despite the late hour, he doesn't look bothered by the fact that Bakugou is here, mocking him for his fucking stupid pajama pants, still not having explained his injuries and his crying and his coming here in the first place.

But luckily for Bakugou, Todoroki doesn't seem to be curious by nature, or perhaps this soulmate connection somehow lets him know that Bakugou does not want to talk about it.

Whatever it is, as silence fills the room again all that Todoroki says is, "I have an extra futon."

Bakugou nearly chokes, wondering if this is one of Todoroki's lame attempts at humor, but the other keeps staring at him, clearly waiting for an answer.

Bakugou hesitates. He can go back to his room, alone, or he can stay. It seems like a simple choice, and yet staying brings many implications with it - it means recognizing a connection he'd tried hard to deny until then.

Bakugou doesn't realize his fingers have moved to the flower tattoos on his arms until he accidentally grazes a bruise and winces in pain. Letting his hand drop, he stares at the familiar lines on his skin, then at the tiny bits he can see peeking out from beneath Todoroki's shirt.

Then he makes a decision.

"Where is it?"

It could be his imagination, but Todoroki seems to be smiling when he points to the closet behind Bakugou. The futon is neatly folded with a blanket and pillow on top; Bakugou checks to see if they aren't dusty - it is no surprise that they aren't - before settling down next to Todoroki, trying to ignore the way the other stares at him as he slips beneath the covers.

A light breeze comes from outside, pleasant against the warm air of the room. Todoroki lies on his side, pushing back the hair that falls over his eyes with the movement.

"Goodnight, Bakugou."

Bakugou huffs, turning around so that his back is to Todoroki, clutching the pillow with his left hand and ignoring the chuckle that comes from behind him.

It takes a few minutes for him to reply.


Bakugou wants to be the best hero.

That hasn't changed, and it never will. He still gives his all in his training, pushing himself so he can become stronger, polishing his moves and looking for new, better ways to take advantage of his Quirk.

The difference is that now, as begrudgingly as he admits, he might not be as alone in his path as he was before.

He has people who will push him to keep trying, who will fight him to the top and make him work harder for it.

He has people who will train with him.

And he has a soulmate.

A very annoying soulmate, granted. One that has a terrible habit of talking back at him, that wears fucking cat pajamas and has a tendency of filling Bakugou's phone with stupid pictures.

But one that also felt Bakugou's pain in his own flesh, and that kept pushing even if Bakugou hadn't given a shit about the flowers on their skin at first. One that covered Bakugou's back with yarrow blossoms when he was a kid, but then closed off to the emotions that haunted him until he came to UA.

And now, months later, Bakugou can slowly see the changes in Todoroki, almost as well as he sees them in himself.

"You know," Todoroki says one day. They're arriving at UA from the Provisional License Course, after an afternoon of dealing with screaming brats. "I still owe you a fight. For the sports festival."

Bakugou stops walking, turning to look at Todoroki. He wonders what caused him to bring this up - if it has anything to do with his talk with Endeavor - but this does not feel like the time to reveal that he knows more about Todoroki's relationship with his father than he lets on.

He'd never admit it out loud, but Bakugou is kinda hoping that one day Todoroki will choose to tell him on his own.

But until then-

"We still have a few more hours before curfew," Bakugou says. There's a smirk on his face as he changes directions, heading for the training grounds instead of the dorms, listening to footsteps behind him as Todoroki catches up until they're walking side by side. "No holding back this time, Todoroki."

Todoroki smiles, a hint of challenge in his voice when he answers.

"No holding back."