Chapter Nex: Misdirection
Serenity. It was such a fleeting phenomenon; one moment it was there, serenading you with its tranquility and then the next, poof, gone in the span of a blink leaving you with nothing but anxiety, depression, clammy skin and a beating heart, short of breath and sweating bullets.
It was never a bad thing, serenity. Most took it for granted, most didn't even realize when it hit.
But she did.
Because that was the way of her family.
Patience, understanding, observation… all things she had been taught throughout her life whether by way of her parents aide or learned during the process of caring for her younger siblings. She hadn't been much older than them but her parents were often away and someone needed to be there. So, she was there, she made sure she was there, taking on and accepting an all new host of responsibilities that granted her a wider, more developed view of the world and how things operated.
She gained an acute sense of perception, she considered it her second-best trait, aside from knowing when serenity was in her midst.
And right now, as her feet dipped in and out of the water, sending a soft bout of ripples spreading into the vast lake, she knew she had found it.
She flexed her toes with a peaceful sigh and leaned back on her hands. The sky above stretched on beyond her comprehension, shifting from twilight into a soothing carpet of darkness dotted with stars that seem to resonate with their own purpose.
In the back of her mind, she didn't so much care that U.A was the greatest hero academy in existence, that it practically bled talent and had a way of pushing out some of the most extraordinary heroes to walk this world… she only cared about the people within, about Izuku, about Ochako and Mina. She only desired to uphold a promise to a friend she hadn't seen for quite some time.
"Habuko-chan… I think I'm doing it. I think I'm making friends here." There was no one to answer her back but she liked to think that somehow, someway, Habuko had heard and was thinking the exact same thing.
It was gentle, the way the water swayed back and forth, splashing over her feet, sometimes up to her calves. It was more than gentle; thanks to her quirk and her natural affinity for water, it was downright soothing, a perfect little treat after a hard day of hero training. She wasn't all too sure if the lake behind the academy was open to students after the scheduled lights out, but using common sense, and the fact that lights out meant no student out of bed, she could hazard a basic guess.
Still, that hadn't stopped her from sneaking out for the past few months now, sneaking out whenever she had to clear her mind, whenever she had to find that elusive sereni—
Underneath the water, her toes suddenly clenched; that was about the only physical cue she gave when she heard that soft crunch of grass right behind her that caused her spine to stiffen. Her stomach dropped like a rock, disappearing into a nauseating void as those crunches came to a perplexing halt.
And then started up again, more cautiously than before.
"Oh. I didn't know anyone else would be here…." The moment they spoke, she knew who it was and inwardly breathed a sigh of relief. "Actually, I didn't think anyone else knew about this spot."
Still, now that she knew who it was, that only served to bring her senses back up to par where once they had been lulled, relaxed. Of all the people she actively didn't mind not talking to, more than even Minoru, it was him.
He dropped down next to her with a sigh of his own, and from there, silence reigned between the two. Nothing but the subtle sounds of a stirring lake, the whoosh of a gentle breeze, and the intermittent croak of a frog whenever one poked its head up from the waters surface.
It wasn't until the fifth frog had appeared, exchanging a few croaks with her before vanishing, did the newcomer glance in her direction, "…You can talk to frogs?"
"It's one of my lesser known abilities, yes," came the succinct answer.
"Huh. Neat. Guess that makes sense…."
And he left it at that, content with turning back to stare out over the shimmering lake, now resembling nothing but an iris colored black hole underneath the darkened sky.
Slightly… annoying. That's what it was, this silence between them, the silence that he had brought with his presence. Granted, it had been silent when she'd been by herself but this silence was different… it almost begged her to speak and she didn't like that feeling at all.
"Why… how did you find this spot, Bakugou?"
Instead of answering, Bakugou ran a swift hand through that out of control blonde mess of spikes he called hair. That he didn't cut himself was a miracle. "I was practicing, back there in the woods? Guess I got a bit too loud 'cause Aizawa-sensei told me I had to quit, that dick…."
Too loud. That must have been his way of saying 'too destructive' as he was always naturally loud.
"Anyway, I got pissed and stumbled over here. Blew up a few fish to take the edge off," he muttered with trace amounts of a smirk. "Since then, been comin' back almost every other day. What about you, Tsuyu?"
She tensed at the mention of her name, of her first name, though her expression remained just as unperturbed as it always was. "Only my friends can call me by my first name," she deadpanned, giving her left foot a little kick.
Without even looking her way, Bakugou merely shrugged, leaning further back onto his elbows so as to take in more of the star-riddled canvass above. "Fair enough," he responded as easily as the exhale that left him, "even though I don't know your last name. What about your hero name? Can I use that?"
The immediate answer that leapt to Asui's lips was 'no' but she didn't speak it. Mostly because she was confused. Judging by all that she had seen of this loudmouthed wannabe-hero since their first meeting, since when did Bakugou ever ask permission to do things? Especially something so mundane as name-calling?
She nodded, not trusting herself to speak.
"How'd you find this place, Frops?"
Hearing her hero name shortened like that didn't annoy her as much as she thought it would. It took her a few moments to answer when another frog broke the lake's surface, this one throwing caution to the wind and hoping directly at her. Effortlessly, she slapped it back down into the water with the smallest of croaks.
"I needed serenity," she responded, turning to face him directly. He was staring at her, perhaps stunned by the previous frog-slapping scene, but he didn't make any mention, averting his gaze to stare out over the lake once more. "I remember just walking around… not even paying attention to anything. And then I fell in the lake."
Abruptly, she ended it there, feeling no need to go on. It was the simple truth, although a part of her knew such a short answer would probably just cause Bakugou to explo—
"Gotta watch where you're goin', Frops. A hero who trips is only gonna get laughed at," he muttered. "I remember this one time when I tripped and my quirk went off my accident, blew me and a couple friends sky-high. Heh, can't really get the bystanders all jazzed up to feel safe if we're facedown on the ground, can we?"
Asui hadn't taken her eyes off her company since the first word 'gotta', wholly expecting him to curse at her answer or call her some sort of insult for tripping. When he did neither… when he did pretty much the exact opposite by offering up a friendly anecdote, she quite honestly didn't know how to take that.
She settled on blinking.
A particularly cold zephyr infiltrated her nightshirt, starting at the nape of her neck and sliding all the down her spine. She shivered.
"Cold? Maybe you oughta let down your hair, get some warmth," he offered, catching that tremble with a sideways glance.
Now this was odd, the rate at which her previously gathered serenity was fast evaporating under the crushing weight of this strange boy next to her. Who… just who was he? He couldn't be Bakugou, not the Bakugou she knew from the academy at any rate. That Bakugou always carried a snarl; this one seemed to almost be grinning. That Bakugou was always frothing at the mouth with obscenities; this one was speaking with an almost hard-earned clarity. That Bakugou… was an unfriendly jerk; this one had just shared an admittedly cute story from his past….
She turned towards him, leaning closer. "Are you trying to trick me?" she asked bluntly.
"This is some kind of prank, yes? A ruse?" she pressed emotionlessly, ignoring the two frogs that were now lazily swimming about her submerged feet. "Are the others around?"
Her barrage of questions was almost comical, given the contrast between severity and the blasé expression she fixed him with, but now Bakugou was sitting up fully, staring at her with a raised brow.
"Others, what? No. I wouldn't dream of bringin' those knuckleheads here... Definitely not here," he reiterated, staring down at the circling amphibians. "I'm not tryin' to trick you or anything—dunno why you'd even think that. This is my special spot, it helps ease my nerves…Something about this lake, it fills me with so much… so much…" He sucked his teeth, a trace of the scowl that he normally wore shining through. "What's the word I'm looking for…?"
"…Serenity," supplied Asui.
"Yeah, exactly. That's the word. It fills me with a lotta serenity… takes the edge off."
Huh. Maybe that was it. Maybe what she was witnessing right now was a Bakugou without his… edge. Usually, there was this unsurmountable wall of energy layered around him, sparking and flashing, threatening to go off at any moment like his quirk. There was none of that now insofar as what she could feel being so close to him.
Nothing but serenity.
"Okay, now I gotta ask. I was tryin' not to but it's been itchin' at me for the last hour now," started Bakugou, and Asui blinked, surprised. Had an hour really passed since he'd arrived? Just how long had they been sitting there?
Bakugou pointed down, down into the lake at her legs and Asui looked, seeing nothing out of the ordinary.
"About those frogs…" he began.
Except the frogs. Nothing out of the ordinary except the six or so frogs happily splashing around her.
"What about them?"
"Why're so many comin' to you like that? I know you're about the frog life and everything… is that why?"
She had to repeat that in her head. 'About the frog life….' That was such a bizarre phrasing that she almost giggled. Almost.
"It's…" She hesitated, staring fixedly on the creatures now performing laps around and between her ankles. Had this been Deku or Ochako she would have dived into an explanation, no questions asked. Sitting there with this new version of Bakugou was in every way unnerving… she kept expecting him to revert back at any moment, to start yelling and call her stupid, to make fun of her bland face or call her bow-styled ponytail dumb.
It was only then that she was starting to realize how much of a barrier she herself had put up against that type of behavior…. Even attempting to talk to Bakugou now felt all sorts of awkward and stilted. Because her guard was up, because she was ready for him to lash out.
So internally focused on the turmoil sloshing around just behind her chest, Asui barely caught the two words uttered by Bakugou that caused her eyes to widen. She was staring at him but she didn't see him; she was lost mentally, her mindscape a battlefield of questions waging war.
Had he really just said that?
Was she hearing correctly?
Why did he look like that?
What was there to even apologize for?
Why did her heart beat like she'd just finished a marathon?
Who was he?
"I'm sorry," he repeated and Asui flinched like the words had popped from his lips and struck her in the face. "That was probably a personal question or something…."
"No!" she burst out before she could stop herself, and she instantly slapped one of her large hands over her mouth like she had uttered the foulest of swears. "I… it's not that, it's…."
There was no settling the anxiety rumbling in the pit of her stomach while he stared at her like that, with an amalgam of confusion and sincere imploration, as if he earnestly wanted to know what was wrong. And the possibility that he did only served to drive Asui into a further bout of stammers. Her serenity was slipping—was the water getting hotter, or colder? Why wouldn't those stupid frogs quit croaking?
Bakugou started to reach out a hand. "Frops…? You okay?"
She snapped. "NONE OF YOU ARE MY TYPE!"
Even at the top of her lungs, her echoing words gave the impression of indifference, and yet all the frogs gathered around her began to sink back into the lake's depths until the surface was clear.
She was clutching handfuls of her pajama bottoms, chest heaving and face flushed. She didn't have to look to know Bakugou was staring, no doubt even more confused than he was before. "What... what was that about?"
"They were… courting me," she squeezed out breathlessly.
A baffled silence filled the area, and then,
"I'm sorry, what? Courting…?"
"Courting me, they were trying to woo me. That happens sometimes when I get around ponds and lakes. I haven't exactly figured out why—most likely due to my quirk and appearance—but I just attract frogs who think I'm one of their species, they want to be my mate essentially." Strangely, talking was a lot easier when she wasn't making eye contact with him; she kept her gaze trained on the lake. "Size difference doesn't matter to them, apparently."
"Size… difference? You mean, like, your breast? They… frogs like big breasts?"
If her face had been burning before it was nothing compared to the deep cerise that colored everything above her neck now. Her brain kicked itself into overdrive tearing apart his words: no, she hadn't meant breast size, why would he even—how was she supposed to know if frogs liked breasts, let alone big—and hold on, just what he was implying anyway? That hers were big? Was he staring now, sizing them up?
"I guess there's nothing wrong with that," Bakugou continued easily, oblivious to Asui's squirming, "frogs likin' breasts… they are pretty great, eh?"
"I certainly like mine," Asui responded without even a second of thought.
Wait wait wait.
She blinked, dumbfounded and lips pursed together, wishing in that very moment that the ground would just open up and swallow her whole. Why had she said that? It'd just… just slipped out as casually as if she were talking to one of the others.
Nodding like he expected to hear nothing less, Bakugou smirked, staring up into the sky, "I never figured that. You know, that frogs—literal frogs—might be attracted to someone who shared their traits. Makes sense in a way."
Her lips, still so tightly sealed, trembled with the urge to respond. Could she? Was normal conversation something she could take a chance on with Bakugou…? That would be the equivalent of opening up, offering up some portion of herself to be hurt if things took a turn for the worst….
She felt frozen, just like… just like….
Just like back when she used to get paralyzed by her very first friend.
The wind was blowing in earnest now, rustling the surrounding trees and sending the grass into a swaying frenzy, but Asui no longer shivered. She turned those sizeable pupils up to see Bakugou entertaining what looked like a dragonfly on his finger, just as utterly composed and unconcerned as she had once felt.
"It… happens more than you think," she spoke, and her voice caused the insect to take off. "With the frogs, I mean. I would think it's the same with some of the other animal-related quirks out there, that the person in question shares some sort of affinity to whatever they resemble or act like…."
"Glad there's no animal that explodes, then," he said gratefully. "I think we'd do nothing but kill each other."
"If there was a race of animal that could explode through whatever means, I'm pretty sure they'd be extinct long before they could do anything productive," Asui deduced, and the way that Bakugou suddenly smirked caused her heart to kick up again. She knew it, she knew it'd only be a matter of time before—
"That would explain humans then," he uttered, lifting a hand skywards. "You, me, all of us… we're nothing but more civilized animals, finding bigger and better and more destructive ways to blow each other up…."
The tension bled from Asui's shoulders… then immediately seized her again when she leaned over, palms to the dirt.
"I'd like to disagree," she started animatedly, and Bakugou turned his head in her direction, both eyebrows lifted at her sudden move, "I don't think that's giving humans a fair shake, comparing us to the common animal. While it's true that we sometimes devolve in our thinking and actions to the intelligence of the common goldish, I would beg to differ that…."
"—like I know I asked my mom to make it spicier than normal but damn, she nearly blew the top of my head off that day," Bakugou finished with a shudder of remembrance.
Despite that, despite the look of phantom pain on his face, Asui couldn't help but giggle behind one of her hands. It turned into full-blown laughter when Bakugou sucked his teeth and scratched behind his head, clearly embarrassed.
Surprisingly, that wasn't the first time she had laughed that night. More like the eighth, or ninth—she had honestly stopped keeping track. It just seemed to flow so much easier that way. Everything from conversation to the topics to the jokes to the straggles of frogs that had come waddling back for a second try only to be summarily rejected again… all of it, effortless.
What was even more shocking was when Asui realized that she had divulged more to Bakugou than she had previously done with any of her other classmates. He listened to each of her stories like they were the most interesting things he had ever heard, even that stupid one about the pancakes and the spider; she'd never told anyone that as the end result saw her sprinting from her house naked.
All around them the forest was coming to life with the usual hustle and bustle of animals foraging for breakfast, which made sense given the long swaths of reddish-orange hues tracing the sky that heralded another tiresome morning for the students of U.A.
They stared up, admiring the scene in silence. To recent memory, Asui couldn't remember ever staying out this late at her secret spot; she could already hear the tortuous lecture Aizawa-sensei was sure to shove into both her ears the moment she got back. But… at least she wouldn't suffer alone as Bakugou was right beside her, sporting that flyaway grin that said he was thinking the same thing.
When he began to stand, some strange part of her that certainly didn't exist prior to last night almost made her reach out to tug him right back down. Almost. As it stood, she let him go and took the hand he offered, climbing to her feet as well.
Dusting himself off, and with nothing further needing to be said, Bakugou turned and began heading back whichever way it was she guessed he normally took to get to the lake.
"Nice chattin' with you, Frops," he said tossing up the peace sign. "If we happen to live through this verbal ass-chewin' comin' our way, let's do it again."
"I…" she paused, only needing a second to make up her mind. "I would love that, but, hey… Bakugou?"
He glanced back over his shoulder to see her standing there, glowing resplendently underneath the morning sun with her hands clasped behind her. "Call me Tsuyu," she smiled.
Bakugou blinked. Then he chuckled, rubbing under his nose. "Alright, fair enough… Tsuyu."
A/N: As you've probably figured out, the entire story summary and actual story have nothing in common, hence the title 'Misdirection'. Just wanted to try something different. If that didn't manage to fool you, though, kudos, you know me well.