Friday’s dawn adumbrates a warm, pleasant day. Even if he’d awaken to rain, Todoroki thinks, he’d still be looking forward to it. It’s not that he wants to see Midoriya, per se, but...Midoriya challenges him. He’s, despite the nervousness that was rolling off him in waves during both their meetings, not afraid to speak his mind. And evidently, he has no trouble standing up for what is right.
Todoroki would like some of that courage for his own.
Plus, his interest is piqued. Technically, he already knew he was sheltered, but he’d characterize the conversation he had a few nights ago as eye-opening.
He waves off the servants running about in his chambers, preparing his bath, his clothes, and whatnot. When the two girls look at him with question written all over their faces, he simply says,
“I’ll be out until the afternoon today. You can take the day off.”
Small mercies, he supposes. Still, there’s a tiny spark of joy as they bow and profusely thank him before leaving the room in leaps.
He lets the water run as he mulls over what to wear. Most of his wardrobe screams “royal offspring”, which is the opposite of what he wishes to convey today. He searches through the closets for the mildest —lowest, his father would call it— outfit, and eventually settles on dark, nondescript, leather pants with a white blouse and his hunting boots. He still won’t blend in, not completely. The clothes are soft, the boots sturdy, everything made out of quality material.
He returns to the bathroom, mildly frustrated. After stripping himself bare, he sinks in, hissing when the hot water makes contact with his skin. The temperature’s good, maybe a bit too good, if his struggle not to fall asleep again is any indication. The candles’ flames flicker; the bathroom window is open, and a soft breeze passes through.
The more he thinks about it, the more ridiculous it is. These clothes are the plainest he owns; yet any simple folk would be more than overjoyed to have them; respectively, his father would give him a tongue lashing if he ever saw him in them; he can practically hear his voice. “It is not befitting of the Crown Prince to be dressed in such rags.”
Clicking his tongue in displeasure, he thinks about that last bit. He’ll have to wear something else on top of his clothes, too, or else his father won’t let him leave the main hall, let alone the palace.
When the water is lukewarm, he rises, careful not to slip, and dries himself off. Going back to the main chamber, he pulls out a cloak from his closet. Usually, he wears a carmine one with gold details —the colours of Endeavor— but these types of cloaks made from the softest velvet already mark him as someone from upper classes. It would be even more inappropriate if he were to wear something signifying his royal ties as well.
This one is a deep green-blue colour; a mix between emerald and sapphire. The velvet creases under his hands. Todoroki dries his hair and quickly puts his clothes on, savoring the feeling of the cloak, like a steady stream of cool water running down his arms.
His gaze falls to the various jewellery scattered on the dresser. Gold rings glint in the morning light, the silver arm cuffs gleaming next to them. He hadn’t planned on wearing any kind of jewellery today, since doing so would only denote his wealth even more but...these rings might prove useful for something.
He slips on a gold ring with a leaf carved on it on his right ring finger and another, thicker, gold ring to his left middle finger.
When he comes down, he finds his father enjoying breakfast, all types of meals spread out in front of him, covering the mahogany table in its entirety.
What a waste, Todoroki thinks. The thought surprises him.
“Father,” he acknowledges.
Enji grunts. “Shouto.” When he sees Todoroki’s still standing, he raises a disbelieving eyebrow. “You won’t join your father for breakfast?”
“Actually,” Todoroki begins, carefully, “I was thinking of venturing out. It’s a lovely day.”
Enji grunts. “I have no duties scheduled for you today, so you can do as you please. Eat something before leaving, though.” His mouth curls around the piece of bread. “The food out there is simply disgusting.”
Todoroki purses his lips, but plucks a bunch of grapes from the table nonetheless.
“Thank you, father.”
“Oh, and you’ll take a guard with you. I’ve trained you to hold your ground in a battle, but those commoners are like animals; a mob might try to tear you apart.”
Todoroki’s jaw clenches. “I don’t need a guard. I’ll make sure to stay away from crowds.”
“It wasn’t a suggestion, boy.” Enji’s eyes darken.
“Fine. Can I at least choose who will accompany me?”
“Are my guards not to your liking?”
Todoroki huffs. “Some of them are worse than savage mutts.”
“They’re loyal, aren’t they?”
Enji rolls his eyes, as if he’s dealing with a child’s tantrum. “Fine, I guess.”
“Thanks,” Todoroki replies, letting an acidic note slip into his voice. It doesn’t appear to go unnoticed, but he couldn’t care less.
In truth, he knew his father would want to assign him a guard, and knowing him for seventeen years, he also knew he’d never relent. Which was why he himself put up an argument, and succeeded in his father letting him pick the guard.
Piece of cake, he thinks, rounding up a corner for the hallway where Kirishima is supposed to be stationed. Gods, this shift in guard rotations, hours, locations, fucking everything, gave him a headache. Luckily, he finds Kirishima in his post, watching vigilantly over the place.
Kirishima bows when he sees him, which just makes Todoroki roll his eyes. Kirishima smiles apologetically.
“Protocol, Your Grace. Plus, it’d feel weird not to.”
“Sometimes, I hate protocol.”
Kirishima chuckles. “So you’ve said. How may I assist you?”
“How would you feel about accompanying me to one of my strolls out of the palace?” Todoroki asks and starts walking.
Kirishima looks taken aback for a second. “I’d love to. Will it be for the entire day?”
“I’m guessing you had plans after your shift today?”
“No, not at all!”
“You’re a terrible liar.”
He gets a sheepish smile in response. “Nothing more important than your safety, Your Grace.”
Todoroki shoots him a look. “How many times will I have to tell you to drop the title?”
“An infinite amount, I’m afraid.” Kirishima laughs, then purposefully adds, “Your Grace.”
Todoroki doesn’t deign that with a reply. About your plans, he mouths instead, don’t worry.
As soon as they’re out of the palace, he answers the inquiries written all over Kirishima’s face.
“I wanna visit this place today. My father insisted on a guard coming with me, but I got to choose, so. You’re free for the day.”
Kirishima blinks. “Really?” When Todoroki hums, he says, “Thank you, Your Gra—” then stops mid-sentence as he catches Todoroki’s glare. He waits for Todoroki to walk away before taking his leave.
Bakugou squints as he sees Kirishima exiting from the front gates with the Prince.
Well, this wasn’t part of the plan.
He’s perfectly blended in with the crowds of people out and about for street market. He keeps his eyes on Kirishima and the Prince, his scowl deepening. It’s not gonna be easy separating the pair.
But, before he can devise a plan, the Prince walks away, and Kirishima, too, takes his leave, walking toward the opposite direction. Confused, Bakugou makes his way to him, while still keeping an eye for The Prince’s bluish figure.
“Oh, Bakugou! Hi!” Kirishima says as soon as he spots him, to which Bakugou gives a “shh!” as response.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m going to the soup kitchens today to help.” Bakugou gives him a once-over, clicking his tongue at his uniform. “Figured I’d take you with me, show you how the poor live.”
“Oh.” Kirishima’s mouth hangs open for a moment. “Wait, how were you planning to, I don’t know, tell me if I hadn’t come out?”
Bakugou gives a nod with his head and starts walking back in the market. “Figured I’d sneak in.”
“You—” Kirishima starts, then throws his hands up. “It’s like you want guards chasing you.”
“Don’t say stupid shit,” Bakugou scoffs. “Although, I was itching for a fight today.”
“You were— you know what, never mind.”
They walk in silence for a while, enjoying the weather outside, until Kirishima speaks up again.
“Won’t they mind that I’m a guard? In the soup kitchens, I mean.”
“Nah. Both the people running it and the ones who need help accept anyone who’s willing to help, and you don’t look particularly threatening anyways.”
“Hey!” Kirishima protests, a background noise to Bakugou’s cackles.
“Also, what the fuck was all that about?”
“You with His dear fuckface the Prince,” he clarifies.
“Dude, you can’t talk like that about royalty!”
A snort. “Yeah, sure.”
“I’m serious!” Kirishima looks seriously worried, and Bakugou finds that just hilarious. “What if someone here,” Kirishima continues, voice lowering to a cautious whisper, “heard you? The King could have your head for that.”
“If anyone here heard me,” Bakugou says, loudly, while smirking, “they’d either join in or cheer. And you didn’t answer my question.”
“Well,” Kirishima says, stretching out his arms as he walks, “His Grace wanted to go out for a walk today.”
“How fortunate for us,” Bakugou notes. He frowns, contemplating.
“And I was supposed to be accompanying him, but he dismissed me.”
How very fortunate for us, Bakugou thinks, but doesn’t say it aloud. Instead, he asks, “Won’t you get in trouble for that, dumbass? If that useless sack of potatoes gets hurt, the blame falls on you, and somehow I doubt his father is particularly lenient.”
“Don’t call him that, dude.”
“I’ll call him whatever I want—”
“And His Majesty won’t find out. Also, the Prince is more than capable of defending himself.”
“Maybe I should fight him, then we’ll see if he’s standing when I’m finished.”
Kirishima glares, but lets it slide. “And after all, I much prefer obeying the Prince than the King.”
As they weave through the throng of merchants and customers —mostly women, doing their shopping of food and clothes for their families— Bakugou can’t help rolling his eyes.
“Yes, you’d rather obey the rotten apple instead of the rotten apple tree. What a fucking difference.”
Kirishima jabs him with his shoulder, and Bakugou is surprised he put strength in it. Still, not one to be outdone in anything, he jabs back harder, nearly sending Kirishima to a vendor’s fruit stand.
“The Prince,” Kirishima bites back, “isn’t like his father. He actually—he cares a lot more about the citizens than His Majesty.”
“Sure,” Bakugou says, causticity slipping in his voice. Still, it’s nice how Kirishima actually repays his blows. He’s never liked people that let others walk all over them.
“You’ll see,” Kirishima continues, conviction coloring his tone. “Once he becomes the King, everything will begin to ameliorate.”
“I still think he’s terrible.”
“I thought you were gonna be outside of the palace,” Midoriya says as Todoroki makes his way through the merchants. Todoroki’s caught off guard, but the only sign he shows outwardly is a blink of his eyes.
“It’d be rather weird for the Prince to say he was going out for a walk only to sit in front of the gates, don’t you think?”
“Ah, yes,” Midoriya breathes, ducking his head in what looks to be mild embarrassment. “You’re right. Also, I don’t think the guards stationed outside would have helped our case.”
Todoroki hums, careful not to step on his cloak. He inhales, and as they burrow deeper and deeper into the market —he’s assuming Midoriya’s actually leading them to the orphanage, and isn’t, instead, letting Todoroki make a fool of himself— and senses an onslaught of strong smells tickling his nose.
“It smells good,” he emphasizes, then frowns as Midoriya laughs. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing, nothing,” Midoriya answers. “It’s just easy to forget that you’re not accustomed to all this.” He gestures around, to the cobblestones, the merchants, the common folk dickering for all kinds of goods. It’s...mundane, Todoroki thinks, informal in a way he’s never had the privilege —or the misfortune— to experience. Midoriya continues, “And of course it smells good. We’re at the spices’ corner. What you’re smelling is a mix of everything being sold or traded, but the salient ones right now are turmeric, ginger, and…” he pauses, taking two quick whiffs, “...cumin, I believe.”
“Uh-huh,” is all Todoroki has to say, not having felt quite so ignorant since he was a kid.
Midoriya tries to disguise the rolling of his eyes, but Todoroki sees right through it. “Turmeric’s the orange-yellow one, ginger is a light ochre, and cumin is brown.” Still, the eye-roll seemed...affectionate? Not mocking, though.
“I know what color turmeric is,” he replies indignantly.
“My apologies, Your Grace,” Midoriya teases —at least, Todoroki thinks that’s teasing.
Todoroki can’t help the groan that rises from his throat. “No, not you too.”
Midoriya’s eyebrows raise in question, a playful smile pulling at his lips.
“Everyone calls me Your Grace, even my closest guard. It’s exhausting.”
“Don’t get sarcastic with me,” he warns, though it doesn’t come out threatening. He hopes.
“Of course, Your—” Midoriya stutters then, and Todoroki tallies that as his win, before Midoriya smirks again and finishes, “—Your Honor.”
He lets out a snort, loud and unbridled and honest. “You’re insufferable.”
“Well, I do aim to please.”
They walk in comfortable silence after that, and that’s unusual for him. In the palace, silence can mean so many different things —fear, anger, disapproval— and used to leave him scrambling to figure out which one it was every time. Even now that he’s gotten used to how everyone communicates, has even adopted the same language out of necessity, the overextended silences always seem unnatural, like a rope stretched taut, ready to snap the moment someone missteps. And even if the person he’s talking with is innately quiet, it still feels like a puzzle piece not quite fitting right, like coming back to your room and realizing all your furniture’s been moved an inch to the left —such a small thing, yet it makes such a difference.
This kind of silence, the comfortable, amicable one that just lets enjoy and appreciate your partner is...hard to come by. Todoroki doesn’t remember the last time he felt it.
And then, “We’re here,” Midoriya announces, and Todoroki thinks he doesn’t mind him breaking the silence too.
As soon as they turn left again, Bakugou’s heart leaps to his throat. He extends his left arm in front of Kirishima’s chest and pulls them both backwards, behind the street corner.
“Guards,” Bakugou hisses, poking his head to take a good look at them and discerns the flame pin on their uniforms. “Royal guards.”
Kirishima’s breath hitches, and turns his head to look where Bakugou’s looking. There’s only three of them, Bakugou notes, but that’s definitely enough to cause them trouble if they see Kirishima.
“We’re at the epicenter of the city, what are they fucking doing so far away from the palace?”
Kirishima’s tongue clicks. “I don’t know exactly what their job here is, but the King often sends guards to keep the order in...degraded areas.”
His eyes narrow when Kirishima pauses. “Poor,” he asserts. “You mean he sends his beasts in poor areas.”
“I…” Kirishima looks down, then inclines his head to one side. “...Yeah. Yeah, he sends them in poor areas.”
Bakugou bares his teeth. He peeks again and curses under his breath.
“They’re coming toward us,” is what he tells Kirishima as he grabs him by the wrist and starts running to the opposite direction. “I don’t think they saw anything, but I doubt they’ll be fucking cordial if they catch even a glimpse of that shitty red hair of yours.”
“Hey!” Kirishima protests, but Bakugou’s pretty sure it’s about the hair comment, not the fact that he’s dragging him around.
His blood freezes when he hears a “Hey! Stop running!”
Just his fucking luck.
“Don’t fucking look back,” he whispers to Kirishima. “They haven’t seen your face, so you might still have a chance.” Kirishima nods next to him, and as the guards start shouting for them to stop running again, Bakugou risks a glance behind him. They’re not close, not yet anyway, but all three of them start running. Bakugou gives them a taunting smile.
“Catch me if you can, bastards!” he cackles, reveling in Kirishima choking.
He runs faster and Kirishima follows at his heels. His feet pound against the beat-up cobblestone, and fuck if he didn’t miss this thrill. He takes a corner left, then right, then left again and keeps going, following a mental map of the city.
Eventually, he pulls them into something less of an alley and more of a slit in the sinuous streets. It’s the definition of cramped, but it’s hidden from sight. You won’t see it unless you’re looking for it.
They’re both panting, trying to catch their breath with their backs hunched. Kirishima’s about a hair away from him.
Bakugou looks up and finds Kirishima doing the same. After a second passes, their mouths turn into tooth-baring grins, Kirishima’s a reflection of how awesome he found this, probably, and his own more like a savage smirk.
“I...never thought…I’d say this…” Kirishima pants, “but this...was fucking incredible.”
Bakugou’s smirk widens. “Fuck yeah it was.”
He’s about to add another witty comment when he hears heavy footsteps close by. His smirk turns into a grimace, and Kirishima’s face falls.
“Bakugou, we’re trapped here—”
“Shhh.” Bakugou goes deathly quiet and inwardly sighs in relief when Kirishima apes him. He listens carefully for the footsteps again, ears straining and catching a gruff voice,
“I don’t give a shit that they haven’t done anything, find them!”
It’s definitely one of the guards. He yanks Kirishima’s sleeve again to yank them even deeper into the alley. But unfortunately, and it’s a struggle to keep quiet and not start cussing, it just gets more and more narrow the farther in it goes. He looks to the aperture again, voices getting dangerously close again. He’s fairly certain they won’t even notice the alley, but this entire thing is still much too uncontrolled for his tastes.
Less than half a minute later, he sees three royal guard uniforms pass by in a red-grey-gold blur and exhales in relief.
As he turns his head around, though, he realizes his chest is flush with Kirishima’s. He’s much too dignified to gasp from the shock, but his head does shake a bit.
They’re panting again, this time from the anxiety. His own natural response was to fight, but he’s smart enough to recognize when he should opt for tactical retreat instead. Plus...loath as he is to admit it, getting Kirishima in trouble was the last thing he wanted to do.
Kirishima’s pupils are dilated, black ink pushing scarlet blood out. Kirishima’s looking at him, and his stare is even more intense than Deku’s.
Bakugou stares right back, even though he has no idea what’s going on in Kirishima’s head right now. Frankly, he’s not too sure about what’s going on in his own head.
His heart, however, beats wildly, sounds like the hooves of a horse that’s gone crazy and is trampling everything in its path. The adrenaline in his system has gone haywire, from the guards chasing them in the first place, to the frenzied running, everything has resulted in an imbalanced restlessness.
His worry had skyrocketed when he heard the guards, both times, he contemplates, still holding Kirishima’s stare. It might be every man for himself, and Kirishima as a royal guard should be more than capable of handling himself, but...going to the soup kitchens had been his idea. He, no matter how bitter a taste it left in his mouth, was at least partly responsible for Kirishima.
He focuses his attention in front of him, to Kirishima still looking him, expression indecipherable. His eyebrows lift up in annoyance, and he rasps, “What?”
And then Kirishima kisses him.
The world comes to a grinding halt for a second, and all that Bakugou registers is Kirishima’s lips on his own and their chests pushed together in the confined space. He’s stunned for a second, both by Kirishima’s boldness —ballsyness, now that he thinks about it— and by how nice it feels.
Kirishima’s lips stop moving after a few seconds, and their warmth leaves Bakugou’s mouth. He opens his eyes to see Kirishima has pulled back, staring at him again, this time with an expression that could be described as either shocked or horrified.
Bakugou scowls. “The fuck did you stop for, coward?” he scoffs, then pulls Kirishima closer, smiling as he initiates another kiss.
Todoroki can’t remember a time where he’s felt as clueless as he does now. He’s surrounded by gaggles of children, their ages ranging from as young as four or five, he guesses, to fourteen or fifteen, already showing signs of entering puberty. Most of them are tugging at or admiring his cloak, and let out interjections that betray their fascination.
Midoriya must notice his puzzlement, because he leans close to him and whispers, “Remember, these kids grew up digging for food from the garbage. Most of them have never touched something as luxurious.”
Todoroki swallows the bitter taste in his mouth. He unclasps the cloak and proffers them to the kids, who all look at him with no small sense of wonder.
“Do you want to get a better look at it?” As they all give him enthusiastic nods, he slides the cloth from over his shoulder and gives it to the child closest to him —a girl, no more than eight, who had been hugging his right leg just moments prior.
He turns his head to the side only to find Midoriya staring at him, with a pensive expression.
“What?” he asks, self-consciousness stirring in his stomach. Should he not have done that?
“Nothing,” Midoriya replies, the corners of his lips pulling up to form an intrigued smile, which does absolutely nothing to dispel Todoroki’s confusion.
Hagakure Tooru, the head of the orphanage, finds them a minute later and offers to give “a tour for the newcomer”. She’s wearing a scroungy light blue dress, the fabric looking coarse as unprocessed wool, and her chocolate brown hair has started forming knots.
Still, none of that seems to bother her —in fact, she doesn’t even seem to take notice of it— as she guides them around the various rooms, holding a sleeping toddler against her chest with one arm. Occasionally, kids come to ask about food, about sleep, and she gives them a gentle pat on the head before answering, never losing her smile.
The three of them settle in the kitchen eventually, and she begins preparing the food. “So, what brings you here?”
“I…” Todoroki hesitates. He sneaks a glance at Midoriya while Hagakure has her back turned. “I’ve spent my life rather...sheltered, and Midoriya thought it’d be good for me to come here and see how you live.”
She hums, and Todoroki wonders if he’s misstepped.
“Do you want me to help with the food?” Midoriya asks. She waves a hand.
“Nonsense. It’s just soup.”
“Yeah, but you do everything around here.”
She turns around and rolls her eyes, then carefully hands the toddler to Midoriya. “Make sure he doesn’t wake up, then. That’s help enough.” She fixes her eyes on Todoroki, but her gaze is more curious than accusing. “As for you, this is a rather interesting situation. Most of your ilk would be too disgusted to even think about stepping foot in here.”
She laughs soundlessly, eyes darting to the sleeping boy. “You’re royalty. Or,” she amends, going back to the vegetables, “at least nobility. I could tell as soon as you walked in here.”
Todoroki looks to the worn-down wooden floor. “What gave it away?”
“Please. Your clothes are particularly well-made. Maybe you could afford those even if you were below nobility when All Might was our King, but those ages are no more. Plus, you have this...air around you. Your aura is just a step below imperious.”
Midoriya snorts. Hagakure shoots him a glare. “This little one got no sleep last night due to high fever. There’s a reason I want him to rest.
“And you,” she points the knife’s tip at Todoroki without even turning to him, “you walk in a room and it’s crystal clear that you command it. Or at the very least, you’re used to commanding it.”
Todoroki resists the urge to bite his lip. “Um,” he says instead, mentally cursing his lack of eloquence, “I brought these.” He slips both rings off his finger and leaves them on table. “Thought they would help with the expenses here.”
Hagakure turns around lightning fast, coming closer to examine them. She grabs the plain one, and Midoriya takes the one with the leaf design, squinting at it.
“Is this pure gold?” Hagakure asks, voice trembling. Midoriya bites the ring, then shrugs.
“It doesn't seem fake.”
“Yes, both are pure gold,” Todoroki asks, feeling as if he’s naked under their scrutinizing gazes.
Midoriya turns to Hagakure. “Should I give them to Shinsou first?”
“If you could, yeah. But each of those could last us for over a month.” She lowers her head to Todoroki. “Thank you.”
Todoroki nearly squirms in his seat. “It's…” nothing, he was gonna say, but this clearly means everything for the orphanage. “I’m glad I could be of help.”
“You should bring him over more often, Midoriya. Helpful, sweet, doesn't talk much, not to mention handsome.” She throws a wink at Midoriya, whose ears turn red.
“Yeah, yeah, you're not, I know,” she dismisses. Todoroki tries to stop biting down on the inside of his cheek. “You two gonna stay long?”
Midoriya hums, apparently relieved from the change of subject. “Eh. I'd like to play a bit with the kids. How's Eri doing?”
“Better now that her dad's gone.”
At Todoroki’s inquisitive glace, Midoriya mouths I'll explain later.
“Good,” he replies. “After that, I’d like to show His G— him a bit of the town, if he agrees.”
Midoriya fixes his gaze on him and raises his eyebrows.
Todoroki shrugs. “Sure.”
“Wow, Bakugou, you can cook!”
“Tch,” Bakugou hisses. He’s cutting up the vegetable with a combination of speed and dexterity that’s astounding. “We have to fend for ourselves, no one prepares our meals. Of course I can fucking cook.”
“I mean, it makes sense when you put it like that, but you look like you’d be terrible in the kitchen.”
Bakugout turns his head to face him, still chopping, and Kirishima is pretty sure he catches a glint in his eyes.
“Keep saying shit like that while I’m holding the knife, that’s gonna end well for you.”
“Fine, fine. You’re so sensitive,” Kirishima sighs dramatically.
“Who the fuck did you just call sensitive—”
“Bakugou, I don’t pay you to be here to pick fights,” a voice whines, and a moment later, the woman running the place —Kirishima assumes— steps out. She’s short, but definitely eye-catching, with her impossibly deep, brown, almost black eyes and bubblegum pink hair. Kirishima wonders what she uses to dye it. He could use some of it to make his own colour more vibrant.
“Correction,” Bakugou growls, “you don’t pay me at all. I volunteer here.”
“Because you’re nice like that?” She mocks, and Kirishima cackles at that.
“You’re both fucking idiots.”
The woman pretends to wipe a tear from her eye and turns to Kirishima.
“I’m Ashido Mina, the woman in charge here.” She extends her hand to him.
“Kirishima Eijirou,” he says and wow, does Ashido give him a strong handshake.
“So,” she says, voice turning into a lilt, “Bakugou’s never come in here with anyone else, except his friends.”
“Those fuckfaces are not my friends.”
“Of course not.” She rolls her eyes and looks at Kirishima, as if saying Can you believe this guy? “So, how come you’re here?”
“Uuuh…” Kirishima stutters, and winces as Ashido claps her hands.
“Oh my god, I know, are you his boyfriend?!”
Bakugou chokes. On what, Kirishima isn’t sure, but his own ears are going horribly red.
“Shut up, Black-Eyes!”
Ashido covers her mouth with her hands. “Oh, whoops. Not at that stage yet?” She doesn’t wait for an answer before saying, “Well, kudos to you for sticking around and putting up with his bullshit for this long, apparently.”
This time, Bakugou punches her arm with no small amount of force, Kirishima notes, but she barely winces before shoving Bakugou’s shoulder back.
“Dumbass.” He glares at her, then rolls his eyes and turns to face Kirishima instead. “And you, Shitty-Hair! Are you gonna help out here or not? I didn’t bring you here to sit around!”
“Bossy as always,” Ashido mutters and deftly avoids the subsequent elbow jab. Kirishima runs a hand through his hair.
“I, actually, I didn’t—”
“It wasn’t a question, idiot. Grab a knife and get over here.”
Kirishima blinks, a bit stunned. “Okay.”
The day is nearing sundown when Midoriya and Todoroki bid everyone in the orphanage goodbye, Hagakure calling out “Do bring him again!”
He laughs at her enthusiasm. Todoroki is quiet as usual, but he seems like he’s enjoyed this, more or less. His cloak is a bit creased due to the kids’ handling it, but he hasn’t really spared a glance at it.
Midoriya extends his hand. “Come on. I think you should be going back.”
“Mm.” Todoroki hums. “How unfortunate.”
He raises his eyebrows, curiosity causing him to ask, “You don’t want to go back?”
“I…” Todoroki starts, then stops, averting his gaze to look at the cobblestone. “I don’t— this must sound ungrateful.”
“I’d still like to hear it.”
Todoroki sighs. “I would have been mad if I had any complaints about my bed, my food, the warmth, anything like that the palace has to offer. It’s even better than back home.”
Midoriya startles for a moment, remembers that since Todoroki is his age, he only moved here about two years ago. He stands out among the commoners because he’s royalty, but his accent carries very little difference to a native Yuueian’s —to Midoriya’s own accent.
“But...I don’t know anything about Yuuei. Not really,” he shrugs. “We have tomes’ worth of history regarding Yuuei, but the ones available to me are the ones my father approves of. And I don’t particularly trust his brand of historical accuracy,” he adds wryly, which gets a smile from Midoriya. “Even if you go past the formalities —history, politics, art— I am, as you put it, sheltered. I don’t— you saw me when we were at the spices’ corner. My point is,” Todoroki exhales, visibly frustrated, “I’m trapped, both mentally and physically. Of course, it’s a cage made of gold, and I don’t think I’ve ever suffered a tenth than many Yuueians, but…” his eyes wander to the merchants and the civilians milling around, finishing up their shopping, “there’s a relative freedom I’ll never get to have.”
He mulls over Todoroki’s words for a while, trying to organize his thoughts in a coherent sequence.
“I think it’s something complex,” he starts slowly, frowning. “And, if you’ll allow me to be so bold, judging by your scar, you must have suffered quite a bit in the past.”
Todoroki blinks and his eyes bore into Midoriya’s, as if he hadn’t expected him to bring it up so blatantly —or at all, maybe— but he doesn’t reprimand him. He looks rather surprised instead.
“Unless you were too young to remember it?” Midoriya asks.
Todoroki swallows, then turns his head to stare at the horizon. His smile is bitter, with jagged edges. “No,” he says, sounding like he’s a million miles away, “I remember it just fine.”
He doesn’t elaborate, so Midoriya doesn’t press.
“But I think you’re entitled to feeling how you feel,” he muses. “Not being in control of your own life must be...jarring, especially when you’re so close to power.”
Todoroki doesn’t answer, so they keep walking, the mundane chattering around them filling the silence. Their shoulders brush, and Midoriya thinks about pulling away, but Todoroki’s face stays blank.
Eventually, they reach the square; not the one across the palace —no one would dare commence what’s happening now, Midoriya thinks. No, this square is at the epicenter of the city.
A man, maybe in his late twenties, is standing in a podium. They’re pretty far from him, but Midoriya doesn’t recognize him. His clothes betray he’s a commoner, yet it’s evident even from a few seconds of listening that he knows how to talk —or at least he knows how to unfold his rhetoric and captivate his audience.
“—and for far too long has this scum stayed in our kingdom, taking advantage of us, stealing our riches, plunging this country into despair!”
The crowd gathered around him cheers. Todoroki frowns —he noticed him, too— then turns to Midoriya.
“What’s all this about?”
His upbringing is evident, then, not in his accent, but in his tone. If Midoriya didn’t know Todoroki and viewed him as just another member of the royal class, it definitely would have registered as haughty, pompous, in his ears.
As it is, he understands it for what it is —annoyance, because this is yet another unfamiliar territory for the Prince, and a mild anxiety. Midoriya can’t really blame him.
“It happens, sometimes. Around the evening, people gather here to share their grievances usually. Many rhetors like to speak to the public, and things usually take a turn against the King.”
He points to the road exiting the square that’s closest to them. “Occasionally, they might get dangerous, but,” he says sharply, looking at Todoroki in a warning manner, “that’s not the people’s fault.” He takes Todoroki’s hand and starts walking, pulling him suit. “The King sends his guards here, supposedly to keep the order. More often than not, they do just the opposite, and skirmishes between them and the civilians occur. Most of the times, the crowd dissolves before someone gets seriously injured —or worse.”
He lets the statement hang, lets its full gravitas get to Todoroki. Behind them, the orator goes on about how both the royalty and the nobility are “...like leeches, I say! Worse, even! They suck everything out of us and we get no benefits!”
The crowd cheers again and well, Midoriya thinks, he’s not particularly wrong. Todoroki stays quiet, but when the reach the street that will lead them out, he freezes. It’s easy to understand why.
“And don’t think I’m letting anyone off the hook! The Prince, I’ve heard people say, is innocent!”
Midoriya freezes too. Oh no.
“How can he be innocent, I ask you, when he does the same as his father? The same as all royals. Oh he’s just a kid, you say. Maybe he was but a teen when he set foot in our land with his scum of a father, but this brat is nearly of eighteen years of age! Listen, listen, his birthday is even nearing! How can he be innocent when he lives off of my back? Off of your back?!” He points to someone in the crowd, and yells erupt again. Midoriya knows the air of the crowd has shifted, and Todoroki must realize it too. “And if he really cared for us poor souls, well why doesn’t he tell his dear ol’ daddy to back off, hmm? Is he too much of a coward to stand up to authority, someone of his status?”
Todoroki is frozen in place, chest barely moving. His eyes are clear —too clear. “I…” He looks lost, the royal offspring dressed in his aquamarine cloak, head held high despite everything and exuding a kingly aura, at the edge of a mob of people nothing like him —and who now would probably like nothing more than to tear him apart.
“Let’s go,” Midoriya hisses, grabbing his hand again. “We can’t stay here anymore. If anyone here recognizes you, we’ll be in big trouble.”
Todoroki nods numbly and fortunately lets Midoriya drag him through the most remote and narrow streets, the chants of the crowd gradually fading behind them.
After stopping, Midoriya lets a minute of silence between them pass, then two.
“Are you alright?” he asks carefully. “I had no idea this would happen today, and as far as I can remember, no one’s ever been as aggressive toward you specifically in the past.”
“I’m fine,” Todoroki snaps, then winces. “...Sorry. It’s just...he’s right, you know.”
Midoriya shakes his head violently. “No. Your father’s the one pulling the strings. Stop blaming yourself.”
“I could stand up to him more,” Todoroki argues. “I could…” He stops, and Midoriya sees the faint dimple that betrays Todoroki’s biting his cheek.
“What?” he asks after Todoroki gives no indication of continuing.
Todoroki checks around them, scowling. He stays silent, and Midoriya thinks he’s not gonna get an answer after all, when Todoroki whispers, “Not here. I’ll tell you in my chambers.”
He tells Midoriya the plan —he’ll meet up with Kirishima, who’s bound to be waiting for him outside, and then distract the guards stationed at the southeast side of the castle so that Midoriya can climb up, much like he did the previous time.
“Then I’ll open the window from the inside and let you in,” Todoroki finishes. “Is that okay?”
Midoriya thinks how scratched up his hands were after the previous time. “Perfect,” he responds weakly.
As soon as Todoroki opens the window and he gets inside, Midoriya breathes a sigh of relief. He’s done plenty things more dangerous than this, but that doesn’t mean it stops being nerve-wracking.
The air in the room is crackling with electricity, he thinks. Or it could just be his anticipation, because Todoroki’s refusal to talk has piqued his curiosity.
“So?” he asks. “What is it that you wanted to say?”
Todoroki regards him for a long while, eyes guarded. He looks like he’s hefting the risk, but not like he’s expecting Midoriya to attack him. More like measuring what Midoriya’s reaction will be.
“Sit.” Todoroki’s voice sounds tired as he gestures to the bed. Midoriya obliges, and Todoroki settles next to him.
“I’m the youngest of four children,” he begins, and Midoriya nods, though he has heard only whispers about the older Todoroki siblings. “Fuyumi, my sister, is the second child and my father’s only daughter. Currently, she’s in Endeavor, acting more or less like a ruler. I have to say, she’s significantly more benevolent than my father. Natsuo is the third child, and he’s back in Endeavor as well. He’s focusing on his studies, mostly.”
Midoriya feels as if he shouldn’t ask. “And your eldest brother? Where is he?”
Todoroki huffs a dry laugh. “We don’t know. There’s rumours that he’s hiding in the Usagiyama kingdom, but nothing solid.”
“Touya escaped when he was a little younger than I am now. According to the way things are right now, he’s a fugitive. There’s even a reward for anyone who finds him, back in Endeavor.”
Midoriya stays quiet.
“Midoriya, can I ask you something? Haven’t you ever wondered where my mother is?”
Midoriya loses the ground beneath him. What is he insinuating…?
“And don’t you wonder, now,” Todoroki continues, undeterred by his silence, “why my brother escaped?”
Midoriya tries to swallow.
“My father married her because she was the heir to the throne in Endeavor, not him. She’s of royal blood. And the reason he had me and my siblings is because he wants someone perfect to inherit his throne. Yuuei is, unfortunately, only the first step to his plan. He wants to create an empire that spans the entire continent, for him or me to be the ultimate ruler. Touya was originally meant for that role, but according to my father he had a “weak personality”.” He gestures with his hands. “Too much like his mother, he told me once. Fuyumi he deemed good, but not good enough. Maybe to rule over Endeavor temporarily, but definitely not enough to rule the entire empire he plans to build. Natsuo…” He smiles, slightly amused, “Natsuo could have worked, actually. He has a very strong personality, but that’s also why he bucked with an incredible force once father tried to prepare him to assume a respective position. He threatened father he’d leave, too. Father told him he wouldn’t dare, but something in him shook, because he let the matter drop.”
“And thus, it has to be you,” Midoriya realizes.
“And thus, it has to be me,” Todoroki repeats. “But this is barely a scandal.” His voice turns ice cold. “Wanna know how I got this scar?”
Midoriya is too scared to reply.
“My father is a horrible, horrible person. Not just when it comes to caring for his subjects, but when it comes to caring for his family as well. My mother has suffered so much in his hands. We were sparring once, when I was maybe three, and he punched my stomach so hard I puked immediately. When my mother begged him to stop, he slapped her so hard she bled.”
“My mother started going mad from everything she endured. One night, she was boiling water to make tea. I think she wanted to calm herself. She was writing a letter I learnt later was addressed to her mother. I was four years old at that time. There was a thunderstorm,” he reminisces, frowning, “and it woke me up. I was scared, I think, so I went to her. I don’t know if she really registered it was me. I think she might have thought I was a vision, a hallucination meant to haunt her. Whatever the case, she whispered “You look so much like him”. The next thing I remember is boiling water being poured over my left eye.”
Midoriya gasps softly, unable to contain his horror. He knows, objectively, that the King is a monster. Anyone who actively perpetuates the suffering of millions is a monster. Yet, to think that there wasn’t a shred of humanity left in him, even back then, to think he’d abuse his own family like that…
“I remember that, someone calling for the physicians of the castle, and my mother lying on the floor, deathly still. My father hit her, in his rage. She’d ruined his masterpiece,” he whispers. Then he takes in Midoriya’s expression. “She’s not dead,” he adds softly. “That’s why I talked about her in present tense.”
“That’s not why this is horrible,” Midoriya answers.
“You’re right.” Todoroki inclines his head. “But after that, my father locked my mom in the Endeavorian castle’s dungeons. Ever since we came here and he realized, not without raging about it, that this castle has no dungeons, he locked her in the west tower. She’s always heavily guarded.” He swallows hard. His voice comes down to a whisper, “I haven’t seen her since the day she scarred me.” Then, he seems to notice his stance, how he’s pulled his knees to his chest, how he’s close to trembling. He clears his throat. His lip wobbles.
“So now you know,” he finishes. “How broken the Prince truly is.” His voice is a breath away from a sob.
Midoriya isn’t too sure about what he should do. This —the Prince being a few seconds away from breaking down— is something entirely out of his league. But, he can’t just stand next to him mute like a statue.
So, he hugs Todoroki as hard as he can.
Todoroki’s breath jumps from the startle —or maybe from the force exerted on his ribs— and stays still for a moment. Then, hesitantly, he wraps his arms around Midoriya, and then hugs back all at once with equal, if not more, force.
They stay like that for a while, low inhales and exhales filling the room. Todoroki’s fingers grip the back of Midoriya’s shirt, and Midoriya rubs Todoroki’s back in return, trying to soothe him as much as he can.
“Thank you for telling me. Thank you for trusting me with this,” he whispers in Todoroki’s ears. “None of it was your fault. None of this is your fault.” Todoroki relaxes against him, so he pulls back. “And listen to me now,” he says. He takes Todoroki’s face in his hands, cradling it. His hands are calloused and probably scratch against Todoroki’s cheeks, but he tries his best to be as gentle as possible.
“Todoroki Shouto, you are not your father.”
Todoroki gasps and looks at Midoriya like he’s drowning.
“You are your own person,” Midoriya barrels on. “And when you become King, you will right all the wrongs your father has done. You will not live in his shadow and by his rules forever. You will build your own legacy.”
Midoriya doesn’t think he’s ever had another person look at him as intensely, as desperately as Todoroki is at this moment. They’re both devoid of movement for a moment, suspended in time, faces so close they can feel the other’s warm breath.
And then their ears pick up voices headed to them, and the moment, brittle as it was, shatters into a million little pieces.
Todoroki blanches. “My father,” he chokes. He’s right. Midoriya recognizes the King’s voice.
They rush to the window, but after Midoriya pulls it three times and it doesn’t budge, they realize it’s stuck.
He turns to look at Todoroki, stomach dropping. Todoroki looks horrified, like he’s seconds away from puking. Midoriya looks around the room, desperate for a place to hide. The curtains are translucent, he’d be discovered at sight; there’s stuff hidden underneath the bed; and it’d look suspicious if the bathroom door was closed with the Prince outside of the bathroom.
His eyes fall on the bed —or rather, above it. The columns of the bed nearly reach the ceiling, and if he holds out for enough time…
“What are you doing?” Todoroki blurts out as he sees Midoriya running to the bed. Midoriya ignores him and clambers up the posts. There’s horizontal beams in the ceiling —some weird Endeavorian design, maybe, but Midoriya is just grateful they’re there— and Midoriya manages to align his body with the ceiling, feet hooked in the space between a beam and the ceiling and hands holding onto another beam.
Todoroki’s amazed gaze snaps from him to the door, which opens exactly as Midoriya’s settled.
“Father. What is the matter?” Todoroki’s voice is impressively calm.
“Shouto.” King Enji nods sharply. “I heard whispers, so I decided to come up to see what the matter was.”
Todoroki raises an eyebrow. “Whispers? I was just reminding myself some things I need to do tomorrow.”
“Hmm.” King Enji goes around the room, inspecting it carefully. He spares a glance to the bathroom, too. Midoriya’s heart is going haywire in his chest and he’s trying to get it to calm down because he swears, it’s so loud the King will hear it. “I haven’t known you to be forgetful, Shouto.”
“Well, today was rather tiring. Which is also why I’d like to sleep soon,” Todoroki says with a bite.
“And yet you’re not even in your nightclothes.”
“I was getting to that before you decided to barge in.”
“Quiet, boy.” The King finishes his inspection, expression as sour as if he’d just bitten into a lemon. “Well, I guess you’re free to go to bed. Get a good night’s sleep at least, because tomorrow you’ll have to be at the council.” He leaves without another word.
Midoriya waits a full minute after the door’s clicked shut, just in case the King decides to come back. He jumps down, silent as a cat, while Todoroki fixes him with an unnerving gaze.
“That was impressive,” he murmurs voice so low Midoriya barely catches the words.
“You have to go,” Todoroki guesses. “You’re right; it’s getting rather late.”
“Hey,” Midoriya says, drawing closer to Todoroki. “I meant what I said.”
Todoroki smiles; it’s small, but genuine. “I know you did. Thank you.”
He pulls away and begins rummaging in a drawer. His smile changes into a smirk as he pulls out a heavy ruby pendant. He brandishes it at Midoriya.
“This is really heavy,” he emphasizes. “It’s definitely gonna make a sound if it were to drop. Even in grass.”
Midoriya eyes it. It does look heavy. The ruby is the size of a small egg. “And how would it drop, huh?”
“Well, maybe a jay saw it glinting, stole it and then accidentally dropped it. Who knows?” Todoroki shrugs slyly.
“Jays are not nocturnal, I think.”
Todoroki snorts. “Yeah, like the guards know the difference. C’mon, let’s get this damn window unstuck.”
When they manage to get it open, Midoriya grabs Todoroki’s wrist, ready to throw the pendant, signalling him to wait.
Midoriya looks at the floor, gathering his courage. There’s a beat of silence, and then, “Goodnight,” he says.
Todoroki replies, “Goodnight, Midoriya. Sweet dreams.”
And so Midoriya makes his escape down the castle’s walls, heart pounding in his ears. He resolutely doesn’t think at all about how, instead of saying goodnight, he had wanted to press his lips against Todoroki’s.