Just as he’s already learned more than a decade ago, defeat can taste like victory.
Except Izuku hasn’t been defeated.
“Winner: Midoriya Izuku!” Midnight announces from somewhere nearby, and Izuku starts in surprise.
He lets go of Todoroki’s hand and tries get up but just ends up flailing around a bit, still on his back. He feels like a starfish. Or an upturned turtle. In the end, he doesn’t make it up but manages to crane his neck enough to get a view of where he is.
The steam that had formed from the collision of the cold and hot forces is only now just starting to thin and Izuku is able to see where exactly he is.
Izuku finds himself just barely within bounds nearby where Midnight is standing (huh, that must be how she’d been able to see them through the steam) whereas Todoroki is just barely out. The heat of Izuku’s fire has melted the ice braces Todoroki had made, resulting in Todoroki being blown back by the shock and wind pressure from their blows connecting with Cementos’ walls. But Izuku had been pulling himself forwards, which is why they ended up on the same side of the arena. It looks like his pull was just enough to get him through the debris and still stay within bounds.
Which is almost funny, because winning had been the last thing on Izuku’s mind at that moment.
Todoroki manages to get up first, seeing as his arms aren’t a mess of burns and broken bones. He looks down at Izuku, and Izuku finds no hard feelings in his mismatched eyes. If anything, they look lighter and clearer than he’s ever seen before.
There’s a faint quirk in the corner Todoroki’s lips, as if the ghost of a smile is hiding in it. He offers his hand to Izuku.
Izuku unthinkingly starts to reach out for it, then freezes before catching it.
There’s just the slightest flicker in Todoroki’s face. Izuku doesn’t know how he knows, but he recognizes that Todoroki is hurt.
“No,” he hurriedly reassures. “It’s not you. It’s just that I... the back of my clothes are torn up, and I can’t... I can’t show that.” Much less on live television.
‘The back of my clothes’ is really putting it generously, because by this point all that’s left of Izuku’s P.E. uniform jumper and the shirt he’d been wearing under it are the chest and part of the right sleeve. The rest has been burned away by his flames or ripped off by One For All. Really, all he has are some scraps on his chest and a bit on his right arm.
Thankfully the steam has hidden them from sight till now, but it’s starting to dissipate and Izuku can’t afford to show his back all the more.
He doesn’t say a word about the actual scars on his back, but just like Izuku somehow understood Todoroki’s subtle facial expressions, Todoroki also seems to understand the words Izuku leaves unsaid. He blinks slowly, his eyes falling on Izuku’s bare arms. It’s the first time Todoroki has seen them this close, and even with blood, grime, and tatters of cloth covering them, quite a few scars are still visible on his arms.
Todoroki isn’t dull. He’s probably already made the connection between the scars on Izuku’s bare arms and the reason he doesn’t want to show his back.
The line of Todoroki’s mouth tightens. But then he retracts his left hand and extends his right.
“Trust me,” he says quietly.
To anyone else, Todoroki might look impassive. He might even look confident. But Izuku can hear the slight nervousness lingering in his voice, see the uncertainty in the twitch of his outstretched fingers, feel the subtle fear of being rejected in his mismatched eyes, and the willingness to risk being hurt despite all that.
Trust me, he had said. But it’s actually Todoroki who’s putting his trust in Izuku.
The magnitude of this simple gesture takes Izuku’s breath away.
He can’t help but take Todoroki’s hand.
Todoroki’s eyes lighten with relief and the corners of his lips curve slightly upwards. But other than that his expression remains the same as he sends a wave of coolness down their connected hands.
As Todoroki helps Izuku up, a thin layer of frost spreads from their joined hands and crawls up Izuku’s left arm, across his shoulders, down his back, and all the way to his right arm.
Izuku turns his arm around and watches in fascination as a thin layer of frost glitters in the light, crinkling as he moves but icing over enough to keep his scars hidden as Todoroki sends a fresh wave of chilling power. It’s like a second skin, or a thin shirt of ice.
“This is so cool,” he breathes, pun not intended. Todoroki shrugs, but Izuku catches the faint dusting of pink on his cheekbones.
“Endeavor wears flames, after all. I used to play around with the idea of wearing ice.”
Izuku laughs. He feels light and heady, and while he normally might not have made light of something so sensitive like this, something in their shared moment loosens him up enough to be able to make a joke and give him the certainty that it’ll be alright.
“You already do. Doesn’t half your costume look like an icicle?”
Todoroki seems to be feeling the same way, seeing how he almost playfully pokes Izuku’s frosted shoulder as he replies easily.
“At least I don’t look like a rabbit.”
Izuku blinks at his comeback.
“Who looks like a rabbit?”
They stare at each other, Izuku not understanding and Todoroki not understanding how Izuku can not understand, until Midnight approaches and ushers them off the arena, telling them to go to Recovery Girl. Only then does the utter chaos of Present Mic and the crowd’s screaming register to Izuku, and he hastily obliges and steps into the tunnel leading indoors. The steam had kept them hidden from view earlier, and Todoroki’s ice covered his skin after that, but having worn long sleeves at all times for ten years makes him feel vulnerable with his arms and back bare.
He sighs in relief as the cool shadow washes over him, safely out of the public eye. He turns to look at Todoroki who is quietly following him.
“I’m going to go grab a shirt before going to see Recovery Girl,” he tells the other boy. Todoroki nods.
“I’ll come with you.”
Izuku doesn’t argue.
They walk quietly side by side. It’s strange how comfortable it feels considering they’ve tried to beat the crap out of each other just a few moments ago, but everything else that happened before, during, between, and after that collision seems to be more than enough to tip the scales towards friendly kinsmanship than hostility.
It feels... nice.
But of course, before they even make it far, Endeavor finds them.
Because life isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t kind.
Izuku feels Todoroki stiffen beside him. After all, even if they’ve had a breakthrough, Izuku knows better than anyone that a few words are nowhere near enough to erase years of abuse.
Endeavor looks like he hasn’t even noticed Izuku, too focused on his son. The man is scowling fiercely at Todoroki, possibly for losing at the second stage of the tournament. He looks like he’s about to open his mouth and say something.
Before he can, Izuku does the exact same thing he’s always done when he’d found a tormentor and a victim.
He steps between them.
Izuku feels the surprised gaze of both Endeavor and Todoroki fix onto him.
Last time, Izuku had been too wrecked by the memories of his own father and wavering between Todoroki and his mother to even say a single word to Endeavor.
But this time, he has someone to protect. And Izuku has always been at his strongest when standing with someone to protect at his back.
He bares his teeth in a grin that’s just a tad too sharp to be polite.
“Hello. I didn’t get to introduce myself earlier.” He hears Todoroki’s sharp intake behind him at the revelation that they’ve met before. He keeps his sharp, sharp grin on his face as he faces Endeavor and the flames writhing around him.
Endeavor narrows his eyes at Izuku. The man is wholly focused on him and almost looks like he’s flat out forgotten about yelling at his own son. Izuku feels the same satisfaction as that day when he’d successfully turned Hisashi’s attention from Inko to himself.
“You,” the man hisses. “You also have a fire quirk.”
Of course that’s what he’s focused on. From what Todoroki told him, and from how the man had only talked about quirks when they first met, it looks like Endeavor has pride and almost an obsession with quirks.
In that case, Izuku knows exactly where to aim.
Izuku bares his teeth.
“I do.” And he’d never thought the day would come when he’d say this, not to mention with a smile on his face, but— “So did my father.”
He pauses for a beat to let it sink in, then goes in for the kill.
“Not as special as you thought it was, huh?”
And ohh, that looks like it burns.
He casually turns away from Endeavor’s enraged face, dismissing him in favour of Todoroki.
Izuku had called the other boy “Shouto” almost without thinking during their match. It had been natural. But this time, it’s as much a calculated move as the first time he had called Bakugo “Kacchan.”
“Come on, Shouto,” he emphasizes. “We should hurry and get to Recovery Girl.”
Todoroki stares at him with wide eyes for a moment before giving him a small nod. To his satisfaction, Izuku catches Endeavor almost gape in surprise and indignation at the familiar name and Todoroki’s agreement out of the corner of his eye.
He gives Endeavor one last sharp grin before herding Todoroki around and away from him, keeping himself firmly between the two at all times.
They walk silently until they’re reasonably far away. It’s only then that Todoroki finally speaks up softly.
“What for?” he asks, genuinely confused. In Izuku’s point of view, he hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary.
But Todoroki is looking at him like he can’t even believe him.
Unfortunately, they arrive at the locker room before Todoroki has a chance to explain. Izuku darts towards his bag and pulls out the few spare shirts he had packed.
He longingly fingers the long sleeved shirt he’d brought, but eventually sighs and picks up a sleeveless top. He has to get both his arms patched up, after all, so Recovery Girl is going to have to see his bare arms anyway. If he wears a long-sleeved shirt, she’ll probably make him take it off completely. If he wears a sleeveless top, though, he might at least be able to keep the scars on his back from her scrutiny.
Besides, he’s not even sure if he’ll be able to cram his broken hand through the long sleeve anyways.
Izuku rubs a thumb over the sheen of ice on his upper body. He feels a little sorry to have to melt off this novel experience.
He should probably ask Todoroki to do it. He’s not certain if he can do it without burning himself since he still doesn’t have a good grasp on his fire and still has no clue when his fire burns him and when it doesn’t. But...
He hears Todoroki shuffle closer and turns to find the boy right behind him, a hand hovering over his back.
“Let me,” he says quietly, as if reading Izuku’s mind. After all, even if they’ve both avoided using their fire quirks, Todoroki still has infinitely more experience in melting ice, at the very least.
But Izuku still hesitates, because for Todoroki to melt the ice, he’ll have to keep a hand on Izuku, which means he’ll be close enough to see the scars on Izuku’s back.
He doesn’t want to burden Todoroki with that sight.
But then again, for some strange reason—maybe it’s the instant kinship forged between them—he doesn’t want to hide anything from Todoroki either. Todoroki doesn’t even have the choice to hide his own scar, after all.
“It’s... not exactly pretty,” he says hesitantly, and even without outright saying it Todoroki somehow instantly recognizes that Izuku is talking about the scars on his back.
Todoroki blinks at him.
“Have you seen my face?” he asks incredulously, pointing at his own scar.
“But your face is still pretty,” Izuku argues even as he obediently turns and offers his back to Todoroki. Though behind him, Todoroki straight up freezes for some reason.
A long moment of frozen inactivity follows Izuku’s statement, and he’s just started wondering if he’s said something wrong when Todoroki finally jerks into action and lays his hand on Izuku’s back.
Warmth seeps through the cool layer of ice, melting it off in steam rather than water. Izuku shivers involuntarily as the not unpleasant sensation caresses his skin in gentle waves of steam, Todoroki’s left hand a constant warmth on his back.
The moment he hears Todoroki take a sharp intake, he knows he’s seen the scars on his back.
Izuku chuckles without any mirth.
“Told you it isn’t pretty.”
He hastily fumbles with the top in order to pull it on and relieve Todoroki from the ugly sight as soon as possible. But soon, another hand joins his as Todoroki wordlessly helps Izuku into his top.
It’s only after his back is fully covered that Todoroki opens his mouth.
“Those were burn scars,” he says quietly. Todoroki may not be a professional like Recovery Girl, but it makes sense that he’d recognize that, at least. “And you said your father had a fire quirk. Did... did he...”
Izuku turns his head to look at the other boy out of the corner of his eye. He can see the horror, compassion, sadness, and anger on Izuku’s behalf raging like a storm in Todoroki’s mismatched eyes. And at that moment, Izuku reaffirms that he’ll hide his scars from as many people as possible for as long as possible.
If this is how Todoroki—who’s never even really talked to him before today—looks like after seeing his scars, he doesn’t even want to imagine how his mentor or his mother might react.
“No,” he says, trying for a reassuring smile but not sure it came out quite right. “This, at least, was by my own quirk. This wasn’t by my father.”
Todoroki’s eyes bore into him. He must have picked something up in the way Izuku worded it because somehow he looks more pained than before. His eyes drop to Izuku’s bare arms and the numerous scars on them.
“But the others were.”
Izuku doesn’t have an answer for that.
Toshinori waits quietly in the corner while Recovery Girl fusses over young Midoriya and Todoroki.
Midoriya had managed to land a hard kick on Todoroki, and the swelling and the ugly deep bruise that’s forming on his side is prominent through his burnt P.E. uniform. There are also other bruises and cuts from the force of Midoriya’s smashes and the shards of ice.
But despite Todoroki not having been able to land a single blow on Midoriya, it’s out of the question that out of the two of them, Midoriya is the one who’s far, far worse.
“Comminuted fracture in the right hand... I’m not going to be able to put this back together cleanly the way it was. For now, the fragments need to be extracted. Healing comes after that,” the elderly nurse says with a heavy frown.
Toshinori notices that while young Midoriya himself looks almost serene at her diagnosis—and he isn’t even on painkillers yet, god, this child will be the death of him—Todoroki’s face turns as white as the sheets he’s sitting on.
Toshinori himself feels pretty much the same.
He only now fully understands just how sparingly and just how wisely Midoriya had been using One For All until today.
Before anyone can say anything more, the door bursts open.
Toshinori jumps and hacks up blood in surprise, making Midoriya shoot him a worried look before facing the newcomers. He blinks when he sees them.
“Guys?” It looks like at least a third of class 1-A is here, trying to squeeze in through the narrow doorway. “What are you doing here? What about the next match?”
“Well, you and Todoroki absolutely shattered the arena, so there’s a break as Cementos is doing the repairs.” Iida answers while adjusting his glasses, somehow having managed to get through the crowded doorway. Shoji isn’t even trying and just pokes a tentacle with an eye on the end over everyone’s heads.
Uraraka also manages to weasel in and starts approaching.
“We were worried, so we just had to come...”
And while that’s touching, Midoriya seems to pale the closer they approach. Toshinori catches him trying to shuffle his bandaged arms behind his back as subtly as possible, and understands.
He must not want his friends to see and worry about the scars on his arms that are still visible through the gaps in the bandages.
The scars that Todoroki, Recovery Girl, and Toshinori himself have already seen and have had burned into their memories.
Perhaps Recovery Girl clues into the same understanding, or she just genuinely wants the crowd out of her temporary office, because she begins herding the other students out before anyone can step close enough to get a clear view of young Midoriya’s arms.
“All right, pipe down and shoo now! It’s nice that you’re worried, but he’s preparing for surgery and needs quiet!”
Her words have the opposite effect.
“Quiet, I said!” the nurse admonishes, then whirls around to Todoroki. “You too, out. Just remember to keep that ice pack on your side for another few minutes and you’ll be fine.”
Todoroki hesitates, his eyes darting to Midoriya. But he’s shooed out before either can say anything to each other.
It’s only when the room is finally empty except for Midoriya, Recovery Girl, and Toshinori himself that he dares leave the secluded corner he’d been in and shuffle closer to his prodigy.
Young Midoriya gives him a small smile before he turns to the nurse.
“How long will the surgery last?” he asks. “Iida said the arena is being reconstructed, and there are still three more matches until the semifinals, so there’s probably a decent amount of time before my next match...”
Recovery Girl draws back in surprise.
“You can’t possibly be intending to continue?”
“Of course I am.”
The nurse frowns heavily.
“Didn’t you hear what I just said? You have to go through surgery. The stress of that alone will tire you out, not to mention the exhaustion my healing quirk will add! And with the painkillers numbing your senses, you can’t possibly participate!”
“Then don’t use your quirk,” Midoriya counters, still unerringly polite and respectful but as calm and unrelenting as a brick wall. “And don’t give me the painkillers. You said the healing has to come later anyway; a few hours probably won’t make too much difference once the surgery is done. And I can handle pain.”
His nonchalant words pains Toshinori.
Recovery Girl seems to feel the same. She presses her lips into a thin line.
“You have enough of these as it is,” she says, pointing meaningfully at the numerous scars peeking out from between the bandages on Midoriya’s arms. “I can’t heal you only for you to go right back out and hurt yourself again.”
It’s not exactly a threat, but it’s close enough. But Toshinori wouldn’t have chosen Midoriya as his successor if the boy was the type of person who backs down at a threat to his own person. (More and more often, Toshinori is coming to curse that fact rather than be glad of it.)
The corner of young Midoriya’s mouth is set in a determined line.
“I lost my focus during the first two fights. I did end up winning, but I’d been more concerned about the person in front of me than the big picture. So if I want to really make an impact and announce myself, I need to keep going.”
The elderly nurse throws her hands up.
“I thought you were being smart, not throwing One For All around willy-nilly. But now you’ve injured yourself to the point that you’ll be crippled for life, and you still expect me to let you go out and fight again? Toshinori, say something. Maybe he’ll listen to you.”
Toshinori swallows as Midoriya turns his big, green eyes on him.
He knows what Recovery Girl means. He knows and more. Despite him being so damn proud of what his boy has accomplished—not just winning, but even saving his very opponents along the way—even though he knows it makes him a massive hypocrite, he doesn’t want to see his boy being hurt anymore.
But as much as he wishes he didn’t, he also understands perfectly what young Midoriya is saying. After all, it had been Toshinori himself who had told the boy to announce that ‘I am here’ to the world at the Sports Festival. It had been Toshinori himself who had told the boy that heroes need to know to push aside their own pain and fear for the good of the masses.
Things were so simple when it was his own wellbeing he’d had to put on the line. But when it’s his boy, Toshinori is torn.
He finally feels like he understands what he put Sir Nighteye through.
“My boy...” Toshinori begins indecisively, but he can’t find any other words. He works his jaw a few times.
In the end, he only ends up putting a hand on young Midoriya’s shoulder.
Even Toshinori himself doesn’t know if his own hand is meant to be encouraging or restricting.
Young Midoriya seems to read something in his gaze and smiles softly.
“It’ll be okay, All Might,” he says, (and Toshinori feels so incredibly lost for a moment when his boy says words that usually a mentor should say to his student, not the other way around) before turning back to Recovery Girl.
“My next fight will be with whoever wins between Tokoyami and Shiozaki. I promise that I can win that fight without being wounded anymore. So Recovery Girl, please. Let me go.”
He looks the nurse dead in the eye.
And as much as he wishes he doesn’t, Toshinori understands.
Recovery Girl seems to know she’s fighting a losing battle and puts up her last defence with a resigned sigh.
Toshinori closes his eyes. He can hear his own voice egging on and burdening his boy.
Announce that ‘I am here’ to the world!
“WEEEEELCOME to the semifinals!” Present Mic screeches into his microphone. “This is our top four, folks, and all of them are from class 1-A! Rejoice, mass media! Ain’t this exactly the type of scenario you eat up? Anyways, first up is Midoriya Izuku... Should you even be competing?!”
...Well. Izuku can’t really blame Present Mic. His right arm is in a cast and hanging from a sling, his left arm is fully covered in bandages, and there are swathes of gauze on his face and neck too, after all. With all the bandages and gauze covering every inch of skin on his upper body that’s not covered by his tank top, he’s only a little better off than Aizawa’s mummified state.
Nevertheless, he stands tall as he faces off Tokoyami, a new P.E. jumper hanging off his shoulders with the sleeves fluttering lightly in the breeze.
“Midoriya,” Tokoyami calls solemnly. “Are you certain you want to go through with this? There is no shame in choosing your battles, and I rate you too highly to risk going easy on you.”
That’s... actually really nice of him. Both the recommendation and the warning. Izuku hasn’t had much interaction with Tokoyami, not with the other boy tending to keep quietly to himself and Izuku’s tendency to give people space unless they look like they need help, but he can feel the high regard Tokoyami holds him in just by his words. It’s almost enough to make Izuku blush, but he fights it down.
Unlike Todoroki or even Shinsou, Tokoyami doesn’t need his help. And in that case, Izuku can’t afford to be distracted anymore.
“Thank you for your concern, Tokoyami. But,” Izuku bares his teeth in a grin. “I didn’t come here to lose.”
As soon as Present Mic gives the signal, Tokoyami wastes no time.
Dark Shadow bursts out, streaking towards Izuku like a bolt of black lightning. Judging from the speed and angle, the two are probably trying to have Dark Shadow envelop Izuku and push him out of bounds as quickly as possible.
But Izuku doesn’t panic. There had been a reason he'd been able to confidantly promise Recovery Girl that he wouldn't get hurt during the semifinals, after all. Against Shiozaki's vines or Tokoyami's Dark Shadow, Izuku has the upper hand.
He lifts his bandaged left arm with the palm facing the approaching darkness of Dark Shadow.
It’s our power, Todoroki’s voice assures softly in his head.
And with that soothing whisper in the back of his mind, Izuku pushes.
A burst of flame shoots forward. Dark Shadow lets out a shrill squawk and flees back to Tokoyami in the blink of an eye, cowering with its head held low as Izuku’s flames form a tight circle around them.
Tokoyami tries to jump back and out of the ring of flames before it grows too tall, but Izuku twitches a finger and pulls him back into the centre of the circle before closing off the fiery fence. The other boy looks around warily.
“Sorry, Dark Shadow,” he apologizes, and the shadowy beast looks at him with teary eyes. “You really don’t like light, do you?”
Dark Shadow trills sadly. Tokoyami sighs. “How did you figure it out so quickly?”
Izuku shrugs one shoulder. He may not have worked with Tokoyami and seen his quirk up close, but he’s seen enough. Quirk analysis is his specialty, after all.
“When you teamed up with Kacchan for the cavalry battle, you put Dark Shadow on fetch duty. Considering Kacchan’s temper, he would have blasted off explosions just to let out his frustration, but he didn’t. At least not while Dark Shadow was around. It doesn’t make sense for Kacchan to suddenly become considerate, so the only other explanation is that it was a tactical restraint. Plus, its name is Dark Shadow.”
Dark Shadow reflexively puffs out its chest at its name, though it instantly cowers back when a lick of flame flickers. Tokoyami smiles wryly, and though he seems resigned he also looks like he’s taking it well.
“As expected of you, Midoriya.” Izuku blinks. Didn’t Shoji say something along the same lines as well? How did it come to be that his classmates have such high esteem of him? He doesn’t know if he feels more happy or nervous at the acknowledgement. “After seeing you use fire in your last fight, I’d hoped to take you out before you clued in, but I see you were already a step ahead of me.”
Tokoyami takes one last look at the wall of flames surrounding him before nodding and looking towards Midnight.
“I concede defeat.”
“Alright! Winner, Midoriya!”
Izuku extinguishes his fire and exchanges smiles with Tokoyami. Dark Shadow gives him a thumbs up when the flames vanish before it itself vanishes into Tokoyami.
Izuku’s about to approach the other boy and ask more about his quirk (he's a hardcore fan of quirks in general, after all, and this is as good an opportunity as ever) as they make their way back to the stands, but instead, he’s ushered away and straight to the waiting room since there’s only one more battle before he’s up again.
It’s disconcerting sitting alone in the waiting room with only Present Mic’s voice ringing in the speakers. He’s kept his promise with Recovery Girl about not getting hurt—even his fire hasn’t burnt him this time, for some reason—so he doesn’t even have the option of having the company of the nurse either.
Thankfully, the match doesn’t drag on too long. Judging by Present Mic’s commentary, it looks like Iida had been giving Bakugo a hard time by jetting around with his superior speed. But with a combination of good timing, genius battle sense, luck, and sheer relentless stubbornness, Bakugo managed to just barely blast himself out of Iida’s grasp and turn the tables on the other boy.
Finally, Izuku is called to leave the waiting room and enter the arena. As he steps onto the platform and stands in front of Bakugo, he notices that the other boy isn’t roaring to fight. He’s not gloating about his victory, or trying to get a rise out of Izuku, or even looking at him.
Come to think of it, Bakugo has been... strangely quiet. He hadn’t come storming to Izuku after seeing him use fire not just once, but twice against someone else. And he’d been looking at Izuku weirdly ever since lunchtime ended, too.
Izuku takes his place in front of Bakugo. In the background he distantly hears Present Mic playing up the crowds for the final battle, but his focus is on his—childhood friend? Izuku still isn’t sure how to define Bakugo—who has his head bowed with his bangs shadowing his eyes.
His voice is low enough that not even Midnight should be able to hear it over the noise of the crowd. And when Bakugo continues speaking, Izuku is fiercely glad for that fact.
“Before, I overheard you talking with Half and Half about your fathers and fire.”
Bakugo continues in that low voice, still with his eyes lowered and his brow slightly furrowed as if conflicted about something.
“And it just, everything clicked. Why you never talked about your dad. Why you and your mom used to be afraid of fire and my quirk. Why you don’t use your quirk. And I...” He looks down at his own two hands.
“So I thought about it, and I was just going to... let it go,” he says quietly. “I was set on making you use all of your fucking quirk, for ten fucking years, but... but if that was the reason you wouldn't use it, then I was going to let it go.”
Izuku listens with his heart in his throat. He doesn’t even hear the crowd or the teachers anymore. It’s almost like a repeat of the trial of battle, where Bakugo had first sprung a view shattering revelation on Izuku with no warning.
He really hopes this doesn’t become a pattern. He doesn’t know if his heart can take it anymore.
“But then Half and Half comes along, and you use that fire that you fucking hate for him. And I get it, with Half and Half. You’re you, so of course you’d be a fucking hypocrite and try to help him with his daddy issues or whatever. But then you used your fire on Birdface too. And I thought maybe that means you’re okay with using your fire. But then again, what the fuck do I know? I didn’t even know about whatever happened with your dad even after ten fucking years. So I thought about it, and kept thinking, but I still don’t fucking know.”
His voice is low and even, but Izuku swallows thickly because he knows how much it must cost Bakugo to admit something like this.
Bakugo finally looks up. His red eyes pierce Izuku with frustration, confusion, hesitation, loss, deprivation, and hope.
“So Deku. You tell me. What am I supposed to do?”
His question leaves Izuku breathless.
That steady red gaze is unwavering and relentless as it always was, yet with that same gaze, for the first time Bakugo is asking Izuku, giving him the reins. Like Bakugo said before, he’d wanted to make Izuku use his entire quirk to beat him at his best. But after hearing that Izuku is traumatized by his quirk, Bakugo said he was going to let it be.
Being the best is Bakugo's lifelong dream. Beating Izuku at his best is, in his eyes, a step he must take to fulfill that. But he’s prepared to let go of the goal he’s been chasing after for a decade in consideration for Izuku’s charred and bruised past. That act in itself is already considerate. But coming from Bakugo, it's...
Being a bad person is not the same thing as being a villain.
And no matter what kind of person he used to be, no matter what anyone else says, this right here proves to Izuku that Bakugo Katsuki has the makings of a great hero.
It's at this moment that, for the first time, Izuku is able to firmly define Bakugo as his friend.
There’s only one answer Izuku can give him.
Brilliant fire bursts up around Izuku, whipping around his body like the eye of a tornado. Izuku bares his teeth in a grin, relishing in the surprised and slightly awestruck expression on Bakugo’s face.
“Thank you, Kacchan. And... sorry for keeping you waiting. But now, I am here.”
Bakugo pulls his lips back in an answering savage grin.
“Howitzer Impact!” Bakugo shouts as he blasts himself through the wall of flames Izuku had created.
Izuku hastily pulls himself out of the way as Bakugo comes spinning at him. The jumper that had been hanging off his shoulders is blown away, and the concrete floor where he’d just been is shattered by the impact. Even in this urgent moment, Izuku’s mind is in overdrive as it analyzes and marvels at the technique. Bakugo instantly turns around and snarls as he chases Izuku.
The inability to use both his arms fully costs Izuku, and though he does his best to dodge Bakugo’s blows and block the ones he can't with his left arm, he still ends up taking quite a few hits including an elbow straight to his face.
Izuku coughs, blood spurting from his nose and dripping into his mouth.
“Absolutely SAVAGE!! Even though he’s going up against a severly injured opponent, there’s NO MERCY from Bakugo!!” Present Mic roars, and some of the crowd clamours and cheers while some actually boo.
But they don’t know Bakugo like Izuku does.
They don’t know that this is Bakugo saying ‘even with half your limbs messed up, I still see you as a serious threat.’
They don’t know that this is the highest praise Bakugo can give.
But Izuku does know.
So Izuku spits out the blood pooled in his mouth and grins through the blood on his teeth. He pulls his right arm out of its sling and readies himself. He’d only promised Recovery Girl that he wouldn’t get hurt in the semifinals, after all, and he’d said nothing about the finals. (He knows it’s only technical and he’ll get chewed out later, but at this moment he can’t afford to focus on that.)
It’s time to strike back.
Izuku points his left hand at Bakugo. He almost hesitates reflexively before aiming his fire at Bakugo because unlike making a wall of fire, it's the first time he's actually aimed it at a person since the second match. But then Todoroki’s soft voice echoes in his mind— it’s our power, not our fathers’ —and he's able to smoothly push out his fire.
It doesn’t even burn him.
Izuku shoots out a blast of fire, trusting Bakugo’s reflexes will keep him from being burned. True to his expectations, Bakugo swerves around the jet of flame and keeps running towards Izuku, using explosions from his hands to speed up.
“Blast Rush Turbo!” he shouts as a burst of explosion propels him towards Izuku.
But right before he comes into range, Izuku grins and pulls him straight into the literal line of fire.
Bakugo curses and brings his hands up in front of himself, using his explosions to negate the flame. But Izuku has used his moment of distraction to close the distance on his own terms.
Since one of his arms is in a cast and the other is covered in bandages, Izuku can’t fight like he used to. The beat down he’d received earlier has more than proved that. He needs to take a different approach.
So instead of throwing a punch, Izuku sweeps out a leg in a wide kick. Bakugo hisses as he just barely manages to block with a forearm, and before he can angle his palms and blast him Izuku streaks past and behind him again, aiming a roundhouse kick at his head. Bakugo leans back to dodge and simultaneously aims a blast at Izuku, and this time Izuku is the one forced to counter it by pushing out his own fire.
But instead of just negating it, Izuku decides to back off for a bit to get some breathing room. They’re too close to the edge of the arena for comfort, and even though Bakugo’s the one with his back to the edge, it’s probably safer to get back to the middle if he wants to avoid having the tables turned on him like Iida and get pushed out of bounds.
And suddenly, a stroke of brilliance (or idiocy, as he’ll later think back) strikes.
He’d already been thinking that he needs to find a way to cushion and redirect his flight when he’s pulling himself. Now that his mother isn’t (shouldn’t be) (please let her not be) watching, why not test it now?
First he spreads his arms out on opposite each other, his left arm faced forwards with the right arm aimed behind himself. He sends a blast of wide flame at Bakugo with his left hand, enough to negate the explosions and keep him from approaching. At the same time, he sends a small push out of his right palm too, enough to keep himself braced and prevented from flying back from the force of his own attack.
Bakugo grits his teeth and rapidly fires off explosions from his palms, negating Izuku’s flames and stubbornly inching closer.
But Izuku isn’t done yet.
Suddenly Izuku swings his right arm around next to his left. His right arm aches inside the cast, but Izuku ignores the pain as he angles his hands so that both his arms are straight and braced with the palms facing forwards towards Bakugo.
Then he grins.
“Blast Rush Turbo!” he yells as he pulls himself backwards while simultaneously pushing fire out of his palms, using the blast of flames to adjust his path and give himself an extra speed boost.
A moment of silence fills the arena.
“—WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK?!!!!” Bakugo screams as he gapes at Izuku shamelessly ripping off his own move right in front of him. But then his expression turns murderous as he uses both palms to blast himself towards Izuku. “BLAST RUSH TURBO!!”
This time, Izuku swings around his hands so that his palms are aimed behind himself and pushes out flames, using the boosters to kill his momentum so that he can meet Bakugo in the middle of the arena.
Bakugo descends on him in a flurry of blows like a vengeful demon from hell.
“I can’t even— what the fuck— how did you even— you just ripped off my— cheat— copyright —”
Izuku laughs unapologetically as he ducks around Bakugo’s enraged blows.
“Sorry, Kacchan,” he says in a parody of the trial of battle. “But if you didn’t want me to take advantage of it, you shouldn’t have shown it to me in the first place.”
Bakugo looks like he’s torn between being furious, impressed, indignant, and satisfied that Izuku really is pulling all the stops to come at him with everything he has.
In the end, he ends up just settling on all of it and snarls a shit-eating grin while earnestly trying to beat the crap out of Izuku.
“Ohhh, you fucking arrogant bastard. I’m going to bury you so deep that you eat the dirt under all this cement.”
Which may as well be the Bakugo equivalent for declaring competitive friendship from the rooftops.
Izuku bares his teeth in a savage answering grin, and instead of just avoiding Bakugo’s blows he starts striking back.
While Izuku had looked up to All Might’s ideology, in terms of fighting style it was Eraserhead he had studied more. All Might’s fighting style is more or less summed up to SMASH, and while that’s epicly cool (Izuku will fight anyone who says otherwise) Izuku knew that he himself wouldn’t be able to pull that off. (Or, well, at least that was true until he actually received All Might’s SMASHy quirk. Actually, scratch that, even now he still can't do it.) So while he couldn’t actually train physically without supervision, Izuku had studied, analyzed, picked apart, and ingrained Eraserhead’s fighting style into his memory with almost religious determination.
And just like he used the capture tape on Bakugo before, now he uses that knowledge to fight.
Izuku weaves around Bakugo, flitting in and out like he’s seen Eraserhead do in the few video clips he’d dug up and replayed until he’d memorized every frame. He’s learned from before; he can’t match Bakugo with both his arms wounded, so he’s going to have to use guerilla tactics and favour his legs.
He tries kicking Bakugo’s side, sweeping his legs out from under him, and kneeing him in the stomach. He uses small doses of One For All, and the power and speed it gives him just about makes up for his inexperience. And living up to the appraisal of being a battle genius, Bakugo swiftly adapts to Izuku’s new kick-based fighting style and focuses on Izuku's legs and starts ignoring his flailing arms.
But that was exactly what Izuku had been aiming for.
While the other boy is distracted by a feint kick Izuku makes, instead of lashing out Izuku plants that foot on the ground, uses it as an axis to spin around, and brings his right arm around in a wide arc to the back of Bakugo’s head.
The image of Aizawa plopping his cast of Izuku’s head flashes in his mind.
Izuku’s cast hits the back of Bakugo’s head with a resounding SMACK.
“Fuck—” Bakugo sputters as his head is knocked forwards and he stumbles off balance, his head ringing.
Izuku doesn’t lose his opportunity.
If this had been a straight out fight in hand to hand combat, Izuku wouldn’t have stood a chance against a battle genius powerhouse like Bakugo. Not with his current physical state, and perhaps not even if he’d been fully healthy either. But just like the trial of battle, this isn’t an assessment of skills in combat. It’s a competition that allows quirks, with specific rules that Izuku can exploit.
He grabs the sling hanging around his neck with his teeth, then uses his left hand charged with the smallest dose of One For All he can manage to swiftly rip it into one long strip. And with one end of the makeshift rope in his teeth, he bodyslams Bakugo to the ground and quickly ties Bakugo’s hands behind his back using his left hand and his teeth.
“Are you fucking serious?! This AGAIN?!” Bakugo shouts as he squirms on the ground, face down, legs kicking angrily. Before he can regain his feet, Izuku quickly plops down on his back and sits on him to keep him down. Bakugo tries to buck him off, but Izuku pins down his legs with his own One For All charged legs and stays on top.
“At least you’re not gagged this time,” Izuku says a little remorsefully in consolation. If only he’d had more cloth... or the mobility of his right hand... he thinks wistfully.
The look Bakugo gives him is positively scandalized.
“WOOOOOO!! That’s Eraserhead’s signature move right there! What the hell are you teaching your kids?!” Present Mic screeches delightedly, almost toppling over in his excitement.
“I didn’t do anything,” Aizawa replies, though Izuku thinks he can detect a tinge of... something else in his usually bland longsuffering voice. Is that... amusement? “That one came like that.”
“Wait a sec, is he even allowed to use his sling like that? Not to mention his cast?!” Present Mic points out.
“Hmmm...” Midnight narrows her eyes, then winks as she gives a cheery thumbs up. “I like your youthful spirit! It’s fine since it’s medical equipment!”
“The judge says it’s fine!” Present Mic echoes jovially.
“Bakugo! Do you concede defeat?” Midnight asks.
“Hell no!” the blonde snarls, still face down and squirming.
Midnight rolls her eyes. This time she changes the question.
“Can you move?”
Bakugo has no answer to that, just growling lowly like some caged animal.
Izuku is seriously tempted to pet his spiky hair, just to see how he’d react.
(He’ll probably either try to bite Izuku’s hand off or be too scandalized to even react.)
“Alright! Bakugo can’t move. Winner: Midoriya Izuku!”
Izuku stands on the highest podium, Bakugo and Tokoyami on either side. Tokoyami catches his eye and quirks a small smile at him, Dark Shadow popping out to give him a wave. Izuku grins back, glad that both of them seem to have no hard feelings. Rather the contrary, if Izuku is judging right.
This time he turns his head to the other side to meet Bakugo’s smouldering eyes.
He huffs, though Izuku is familiar enough with Bakugo to be able to see that there’s a surprising lack of actual hostility or even bitterness in his red eyes.
“Enjoy the view while you can, nerd, ‘cause I’m gonna drag you down and stomp you into the ground next time.”
Which may as well be the Bakugo equivalent to “Hey, good job, let’s hang out again later!”
Izuku grins brightly.
He can feel Tokoyami giving them a weird look at their—admittedly strange—exchange, but Bakugo just huffs lightly and turns his head.
Their relationship will probably always be at least a bit dysfunctional, but like he said, they’re making progress.
All Might soon makes a dynamic entrance to award the medals. He speaks softly with Tokoyami and Bakugo before hanging the medals around their necks, and soon, it’s Izuku’s turn.
Izuku swallows as his hero stands before him. Because of the podium, it’s the first time he’s looking down at All Might instead of up.
Just before going out to fight Shinsou, Izuku had been at his lowest in the recent years. But the words All Might had whispered in his ears while crushing him against his thin chest comes back to him.
“And I said this before too, but remember it as well. Whatever happens out there, I am so proud of you.”
Those words had helped drag Izuku out of the pit he had fallen into. They had made such an impact on him that he had even dared reach out and repeat the exact same words to Uraraka. Izuku covets those words like a dragon hoards gold, like a beggar hungers for food.
“All, All Might.” And god, he had been able to stare down powerful people like Tokoyami and Bakugo, had even butted heads against Recovery Girl, but it’s only in this moment that his voice trembles. “Did I...”
Did I make you proud?
Izuku can’t even dare to ask the question.
But it looks like All Might doesn’t even need to hear it to understand.
The hero gently crushes Izuku against his chest again, though this time he's buffed and muscular instead of thin and bony. But the embrace is still the same—tight enough to be reassuring but infinitely gentle to the point of almost being a cradle.
“Always,” All Might breathes in Izuku’s ear, low enough that no one else can hear. “I am and will always be so proud of you, my boy.”
Izuku’s breath hitches.
He no longer flinches at the words ‘my boy.’
Instead, he stands tall as All Might draws back to slip the gold medal over his head. And when the man flashes him a tender smile, he smiles right back.
After the award ceremonies, class 1-A surges forwards toward the medalists. Uraraka joins the laughing and exclamations as everyone congratulates the medalists. It’s a shame that Iida, who had also placed third, had to leave for some family business.
When she finally elbows her way to Midoriya, she finds his hair so ruffled up that curly strands fall out of his bun and the jumper on his back dishevelled from too many enthusiastic pat on the backs. But his face is flushed and his eyes are shining from laughter and happiness, and the sight brings a smile to Uraraka’s face.
She notices Todoroki hovering at Midoriya’s right side—near his cast, as if shielding Midoriya from being jostled and subtly clinging to him at the same time—with a peculiar expression. The boy’s face seems to be blank as it usually is, but somehow it looks... softer? Like the jagged edges have been chipped away and the ice has been thawed.
Honestly, Uraraka had expected Todoroki to have already left. He’s usually not one for crowds or mingling, and it looked like he and Midoriya were out to kill each other during their match. There was too much steam to see what happened directly after the collision, but still, it was intense.
But then again, this is Midoriya they’re talking about. He’s like a sun; people can’t help but gravitate towards him.
And they seemed to have something in common with their fire quirks. Uraraka had no idea that Midoriya even had a fire quirk, and she’s not sure how to feel about having found out only now. But in the end, she decides not to pry.
Instead, she smiles brightly and makes light of it.
“Congratulation, Deku! I knew you’d make it! Though you could have given us a warning before you burst into fire. I thought I was going to have a heart attack!”
Midoriya flushes as he returns her smile ruefully.
“Sorry, Uraraka. I should have worked up the courage to tell you all before, but...”
Uraraka waves away his apology before he can even finish.
“No, no, don’t worry about it. I already knew you were an angel, I was just surprised you have actual wings.” Uraraka winks, grinning unapologetically.
But Midoriya blinks.
“...I have what?”
This time, it's Uraraka who blinks. She stares at Midoriya’s genuinely confused face in disbelief. A few of their classmates who’d been in hearing range join her and gape at Midoriya.
This guy. Is unbelievable.
“Just type your name on the internet,” she finally says. “I’m sure you’re a meme by now.”
She waits for it.
“...I’m a what?”
Uraraka and the others laugh at Midoriya’s absolutely horrified expression.
Aizawa finds Midoriya on his way to Recovery Girl’s temporary office. The kid is just coming out, looking tired from having his energy sapped from the nurse’s healing quirk. Though, even without that, Aizawa wouldn’t blame Midoriya for being exhausted. The kid has had a long day, as the bandages all over him testify. Really, he looks like a slightly better off version of Aizawa himself.
Speaking of similarities, Aizawa finally gets what All Might had meant about Midoriya “pulling an Eraserhead.” That technique and deftness when he tied up Bakugo with his own sling was quite... something.
Midoriya turns from the door and finally notices Aizawa quietly watching him. He jumps a little.
“A— Aizawa sensei!”
Aizawa regards his problem child silently. He’s slowly making his way through the mountain of files of every case he’d been on in the past decade. He’s employed and an underground hero, but he still does hero work whenever he can so there have been quite a few cases. And ten years is a long time, which means a lot of files.
He hasn’t found anything that looks like it might be Midoriya yet. At first he looked into anything related to a child, and then anything related to fire quirks. Considering how absolutely traumatized Midoriya seemed to be about his fire quirk, Aizawa had wondered if maybe the kid had set off a fire when he was young and Aizawa had rescued him from his own fire or something. But whatever the truth is, he’s going to have to work on the kid’s trauma.
And the pure adoration in Midoriya’s green, green eyes as he stares up at Aizawa is not helping him think.
In the end, Aizawa ends up deadpanning and joking ironically.
“Midoriya. You didn’t tell me you were a fiery angel.”
The kid turns pink.
“I’m sorry! I mean, I’m not! I mean, no I’m not an angel, not that I’m not sorry! ...Should I even be sorry?”
Man, this kid.
Aizawa hides his grin under his bandages.
Something is on the tip of his tongue, but he refrains from saying it. He’s a teacher; he can’t have favourites, after all.
...But then again, it’s not favouritism if it’s saying the truth, is it?
In the end, Aizawa gives in to the urge.
He plops his cast on Midoriya’s head again. (And boy, is this becoming too familiar. He has an image and a reputation to maintain, damn it, but his problem child is being just that; problematic.)
“Nah. You did good, Midoriya.”
The kid beams.
But like all good things, this day too must come to an end.
The sun is setting on his back as Izuku stands in front of the front door of his apartment, his left hand resting on the doorknob but not being able to open it. He knows that he owes his mother an explanation. He knows he's going to have to confront both their pasts, fears, and traumas. He knows... he wants to tell her about his dream again.
But he is so, so afraid he might hurt her. Again.
Izuku takes a nervous deep breath.
I will always be so proud of you, All Might had promised.
You did good, Aizawa had assured him.
It’s our power, Todoroki had revealed.
He takes those words and tries to drown out the faint screaming and laughter that is always in the back of his mind. Hisashi may be his living nightmare, but those words are no dream. He draws strength and courage from those words.
Izuku straightens his shoulders, and turns the handle.
“I’m home, Mom.”
Late in the night, Inko slips from her bed and tiptoes to the living room. She puts the tv on mute—both she and her son sleep far too lightly for their own good—and turns on the recording of the Sports Festival. She had turned off the tv when Izuku had called, but she had still recorded every second.
Izuku had come home that day, and they had talked about his quirk for the first time since he'd turned four.
Inko had supported him. Of course she did. How could she not, after everything she put him through? How could she not, after how she'd first reacted to his quirk? Inko herself is still afraid of fire, but she will not let that keep Izuku back anymore. After all, her son has had to be strong for both of them all those years ago. This is the least Inko can do for him.
But saying she supports him is different from actually accepting the fact that he is using fire.
So here she is, in the dead of the night, fast forwarding the muted recording until she gets to the second round of the tournament.
Inko watches the brutal match with clenched fists. She has no idea what the two boys are saying, but the expression on Izuku's face is familiar.
It's the face he'd worn whenever he stood to protect Inko.
And finally, the moment comes when her son bursts into flames.
A halo of fire burns at Izuku's back. And then it splits in two to unfurl and become wings.
Inko pauses the video, rewinds, and watches it again. And again. And again.
Eventually, her trembling hands lose their grip on the remote control and it clatters softly to the ground. The recording is paused, and on the screen Izuku is grinning freely in a way Inko has never seen with the halo of fire at his back just about to unfurl into wings.
Inko remembers the first and only time she had seen Izuku's fire.
He had been trying to protect her, she remembers. Fire had burst out of him, just like she's seeing now. And it had formed a halo.
It probably would have turned into wings if she hadn't screamed at him.
“Oh Izuku,” Inko whispers a muffled sob as she curls up into herself. “Oh Izuku, I am so sorry.”
And Izuku leans against the far wall of the living room, out of sight from his mother. He listens to his mother's strangled sobs and closes his eyes.
No, Mom. Don't be sorry. What I wanted you to say was...