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The Heart Inside

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Shouto arrives in the city by the sea with a backpack, a handful of change, and his future prospects hanging over his head like a hammer waiting to drop.

The city is impractical, improbable, and very, very lovely. It’s much smaller than the one he’s from, which is sprawling and built from concrete and iron. This place is more of a town than anything, with candy-colored buildings and flower-lined, cobbled sidewalks, arranged on startling, slanted cliffs leading down to sky-blue water. It is unassuming, idyllic, and faded soft in all the places that Shouto’s hometown was technicolor.

It fits him badly, Shouto thinks, although he supposes that was probably the idea in sending him here. If he’s going to be the most powerful mage that ever walked the earth, adapting to a seaside village should be the least of his concerns.

He can practically hear his father’s voice, even now, hundreds of miles away from home.

Discipline.

Adaptability.

Strength.

The mantra feels odd, here. Out of place between the trees and the sea breeze and the quiet kind of peace that permeates the air.

Shouto shifts his backpack into a more comfortable position on his shoulders and sets off walking, winding his way through streets lined with wrought-iron streetlamps and roses brighter than his hair. He doesn’t have a destination - or anything he’s looking for, really. His goal is vague - ridiculously so - and it is simply to prove himself as a mage, and establish himself as a contender for the League of Witches. He has a year to do so, before he will be recalled back to his hometown.

Whatever course he decides to take from here is up to him.

Or, at least in theory, it is.

“Use your time this year to build up your strength,” Endeavor had told him, before he’d left. “Focus on your magic, on adapting it to new situations. Everything else is just as distraction.”

He’s thinking about those words in particular - everything else is just a distraction - when he steps out into a slightly busier main throughway, and is promptly hit by a bike.

Shouto takes the full brunt of the hit, too taken aback to remember to soften the blow, but he comes to his senses in time to draw on his magic to keep from falling. Instead, he skids backwards on his toes, one hand on the ground for balance and the other drawn up to his side, fist already coated in ice.

His assailant doesn’t look like a evil magic-user, though. Or any kind of villain, really.

He just looks like a boy.

The villain - assailant? boy? - is on the ground a few feet away. He is hunched over a scuffed knee and bleeding palms, his bike - mint green, a little aged-looking, fitted with a wicker basket full of flowers - in a heap at his side. He’s shorter than Shouto, with a nose covered in freckles and rounded, wide eyes. His shoulders are solid, though, and it only takes Shouto a cursory glance to realize that he’s built strong despite his slightness, wiry muscle lining his arms.

A threat, then.

Was this all an elaborate ruse to catch him off his guard?

“Who the hell-” Shouto begins, clenching his iced fist, and the boy’s head flies up.

Their eyes meet.

The boy says, in a tone of absolute, profound horror, “I am so, so sorry.”

Shouto freezes.

“I can’t believe this,” the boy is continuing, the pace of his words almost too quick for Shouto to keep up with. “I’m so sorry, I should have been more careful, I was spacing out, oh, my God, I can’t believe this, are you okay? I didn’t hurt you, did I? Please tell me I didn’t hurt you?”

“You didn’t hurt me,” Shouto says, automatically, and he slowly straightens up out of his defensive stance. Bike boy’s eyes land on his right fist, which is still frosted over, mist rising from it slowly.

“Oh,” bike boy says. “Oh.”

And Shouto braces himself - for alarm, for terror, for recoil, for something . Instead, the boy gets slowly, gingerly to his feet and sticks one of his injured hands out for Shouto to shake.

“My name’s Midoriya Izuku,” he says, and then he smiles, and it’s wobbly and a little watery, but it is also the brightest thing Shouto has ever seen. Brighter than the flowers, scattered around their feet. Brighter than the noontime sky above their heads.

Brighter than flame.

“I’m really so sorry,” Midoriya says, earnestly. “Are you sure you’re not hurt? Is there anything I can do-?”

Shouto does not take bike boy’s hand, even though something inside him is itching to touch him, to find out if his skin feels as warm as his smile. Instead, Shouto lets the ice on his fist dissipate, tugs on one of the straps of his backpack, and says, “Forget it.”

“Wait, I,” the boy begins, but Shouto is already walking away.

He leaves Midoriya standing there, with a ruined bike and ruined hands, but he does not shake the image of Midoriya’s eyes, or his smile, or the way he looked when he said his own name despite the magic pouring from Shouto, rising like smoke between them.

Unafraid. Gentle.

Kind.

Everything else is just a distraction, Shouto reminds himself.

He walks.

 

Shouto spends most of that afternoon exploring the city. By evening, his feet are aching and his shoulders are sorer than he’d like to admit. He doesn’t have the money for a hotel, though, so he walks up to the highest part of the city, leans on the railing on the side of the road, and watches the sun go down over the ocean.

He’s deciding on next steps, trying to make a plan, when the door of the bakery he’s standing outside of opens, and a woman with a crying baby steps outside. She seems frantic, her face pale and drawn, and Shouto watches her hustle out of the shop and head off down the street, shushing her baby as she goes.

There’s a pause, and then the bakery door bursts open again, and this time an enormous man in a strikingly pink apron swings out of it, his head almost slamming against the top of the doorframe. He’s holding a brown bag full of bread in one hand and what looks like a child’s rattle in the other.

“Ma’am, wait!” he bellows. “Come back!” Shouto is a little taken aback at the sound of his voice, which has, somehow, a different quality to it than his father’s. Something a little gentle, almost, despite the fact that his size could easily rival Endeavor’s.

The enormous man pivots back and forth between the street and the woman’s retreating back several times before turning to face Shouto with the urgency of a man on his deathbed.

“Young man,” he says, “I have no one else watching the shop right now so I can’t abandon it. Would you be able to chase down the woman who just passed and bring her these items?”

“Oh,” Shouto says, and the enormous bakery employee takes that as a yes, shoving the bag and the rattle into his hands and thanking him profusely. Before he even realizes what’s happening, he’s being bundled down the street in the direction the woman disappeared in.

She’s long gone by now. Shouto frowns and turns back to look at the bakery employee, but the door to the bakery is swinging shut, and Shouto is alone.

“Okay,” Shouto says, to the empty street, and he sets off walking.

As he goes, he draws on a little bit of magic to help him pin down the woman’s location. He lightens his feet, his bag. It’s good practice, he reasons with himself, to work on small spells, as well as large-scale offensive ones.

It isn’t long before he catches up to her, turning down into a residential neighborhood.

“Ma’am?” he calls, and the woman turns around, looking flustered, her child still wailing.

“Um, I think this is yours,” he tells her, and he holds out the bag of bread and the rattle. The woman’s face lights up, and as soon as she takes the rattle from him and hands it to her kid, the child’s wailing silences and their expression becomes a contented smile.

“Thank you so much,” she says, accepting the bag of bread from him, as well. “That’s so kind of you - oh, and Toshinori-san put extra rolls in there, I always tell him not to… Please bring him this, I’d feel terrible not giving him at least a little in return…”

The woman hands Shouto a small sheaf of money and bows gratefully.

“No,” Shouto tries, “I don’t work for the bakery-”

But the woman is already headed off down the street, cooing at her child as she goes.

Shouto looks down at the money in his hand, down the street at the woman, and then up at the hill he’s going to have to walk up again.

It’s growing dark by the time Shouto reaches the bakery again. A bell above the door chimes softly when he pushes his way inside, and a deep tiredness washes over him immediately as the warmth of the bakery inundates him, the inside lit golden by lamps and smelling of freshly baked breads and sweets.

The enormous man bustles out from behind the counter when Shouto walks in.

“You managed to catch up with her?” he asks, and Shouto nods.

“She gave me this,” he says, and holds out the money.

The enormous man’s enormous eyebrows raise. “And you didn’t take it and leave?”

Shouto blinks. He hadn’t even thought of doing that, which is now starting to seem kind of ridiculous and naive, especially for someone with about enough money in his pocket to buy a pack of chewing gum.

“No,” he settles on.

“Well,” the enormous man says, and he reaches forward and takes Shouto’s hand between his own, shaking firmly before Shouto can jerk away. “Thank you for your help, young man. You saved me a great deal of trouble, and that woman as well, I expect. You can keep that money. As payment for your good deed.”

“I don’t-” Shouto begins.

“No, no, please, take it. And come here and get some bread, as well, it’s fresh out of the oven.” The man steps back behind the counter and starts wiping. “My name is Yagi Toshinori, but the kids around here tend to call me All Might, so choose whichever you feel more comfortable with.”

Shouto’s eyebrows scrunch together. “Nice to meet you, All Might...-san?”

All Might barks a laugh. “You’re not from around here, right, my boy? Where are you staying?”

“Nowhere yet,” Shouto says, his tone coming out maybe a little flatter than usual to compensate for how overwhelmed he’s feeling.

“You’re not sure?” All Might looks appalled by that prospect, and he shoves another loaf of bread. “Is this your first day in the city?”

“Yes, but-”

“Stay here, then,” All Might says, decisive. “At least for one night. I’ve got a room over the shop that’s been empty for awhile, and all children deserve a place to sleep.”

Shouto pictures Endeavor’s face, if he ever found out that Shouto’s first night in the city involved an act of charity, and has to suppress a shudder.

“I can’t just stay in your room, All Might-san,” Shouto says. “And I don’t have money to pay you for it.”

All Might beams at him. “Work for me, then! I’ve been looking for someone to run odd jobs for me and help out around the bakery.” He claps a hand on Shouto’s shoulder and says, “Don’t say no, my boy.”

Shouto doesn’t.

He allows himself to be bustled into a small, wood-paneled room with a slanted roof and windows that open out to the sea, where he drops his bag and toes his shoes off and collapses onto the futon hard enough to knock the wind out of him. He accepts a luridly pink apron from All Might, scribbles his name onto a nametag, and agrees to be ready to work at eight o’clock sharp the next morning. He sits outside the window, picks a baguette apart, and eats it slowly, watching the moon inch its way up the sky.

He almost, for a moment, forgets that he is destined for greatness, for magic, for cutthroat competition and violence and glory.

For a second, he is just a boy, wrapped in twilight-darkness, and Shouto doesn’t think he minds.

 

Shouto falls into a routine almost alarmingly quickly. He gets up and eats in time to get to work at eight. He runs deliveries for the bakery, covers odd shifts, and does the heavy-lifting that All Might sometimes gets too busy with administrative work to finish.

He meets the other workers, who he thinks are probably also stray teenagers that All Might took it upon himself to make a home for. Volatile, sharp Bakugou Katsuki. Kirishima Eijirou, whose smiles come easy and who tempers Bakugou like a whetstone and a blade. Yaoyorozu Momo, smart and capable and popular with the customers. Kaminari Denki, funny and odd, a little too tactile for Shouto’s liking. Jirou Kyouka, who hums while she works and tries to teach Shouto how to beatbox.

They’re too loud, alarmingly inefficient, and a little ridiculous.

Shouto sort of likes them.

The days pass quickly after that. Shouto does his work during the day and practices magic in the evening, stopping curbside robberies and catching small-time criminals whenever he gets a chance. He begins to get used to the chaos of the bakery and the strangeness of having a man his father’s age dote on him, to not having to duck under punches or dodge strange spells, to the idea of having a place he likes to come home to.

And then one day, maybe two weeks into his stay, he is arranging pastries on the shelves when the bell above the shop door chimes. There’s an immediate rush of noise through the shop, even the customers turning to face the newcomer, especially when All Might practically vaults over the front counter.

“Midoriya, my boy!” he thunders. “How was your trip? How is your mother? You look well!”

The name Midoriya tugs at something in Shouto’s mind. He’s not sure what, exactly, though.

Next to Shouto, Bakugou slams a box of pastries down with a little too much gusto and hisses, with a tone of immense disgust, “Deku.”

Shouto blinks at Bakugou and then lifts up onto his toes so he can peer over the top of the shelves at the doorway. The boy standing at the front of the shop has a mop of unruly curls and is wearing a well-worn, bright orange t-shirt with a cartoonishly drawn icon of bubble tea and very faded, very torn skinny jeans.

He rubs his neck awkwardly as he is fawned over, Kirishima and Kaminari slinging arms around his shoulders, Jirou clapping a hand on his back. When Yaoyorozu pats his arm, his cheeks flush pink under his dusting of freckles, and he is opening his mouth to say something to All Might when he gaze lifts and, unerringly, catches Shouto’s.

“Oh!” he says, his already round eyes going wide.

“Oh,” Shouto echoes, and nearly drops the basket of lemon meringues in his hands.

(Midoriya has not changed since the day he hit Shouto with his bike. If anything, his skin looks warmer, a little tanner, a little more freckly, like he’s been out in the sun.)

“Have you met Todoroki already, then, Midoriya?” Kirishima asks, when Shouto has extracted himself from the pastries.

Midoriya says, “I. Well. We… Sort of met? I ran him over on my bike?”

“You’re shitting me,” Bakugou says, and Midoriya winces.

“I am not.”

Completely deadpan, Bakugou announces, “That’s fucking hilarious,” and goes back to stocking shelves.

“I’m glad you two are already acquainted,” All Might says, “because I was hoping the two of you would run a job for me today. I have a bunch of cakes that need to be delivered across town, and I think it’ll be too much for one person. Would you mind helping out, Midoriya, my boy?”

“Not at all,” Midoriya says, but he looks just as mortified at the prospect as Shouto feels.

“Wonderful!” All Might says, and Shouto allows him to load up his arms with cakes, standing perfectly still while Midoriya does the same.

“Well… let’s go, then?” Midoriya says, once their arms are full. He offers Shouto an awkward, apologetic smile, and they’re close enough for Shouto to see the way his nose wrinkles when he smiles, and the way the shadow of a dimple frames the right side of his mouth.

“Yeah,” Shouto says, a little numb, and he doesn’t think he imagines Kirishima giggling into his hand behind the counter or money changing hands between Kaminari and Jirou.

They head out, Shouto falling into step beside Midoriya. The quiet between them sits heavy for a moment, until Midoriya says, “Actually, I’m glad I met you again. There was something I wanted to ask you, back then, but you ran off and - I mean, understandably! It was completely understandable! I hit you with my bike! Only-”

Shouto looks at him, and says, “What did you want to ask me?”

Midoriya’s voice cuts off abruptly. “Thanks,” he mumbles. “Sorry. I get carried away sometimes.”

“It’s okay,” Shouto says, and he is surprised to find that he says it with complete honesty.

Midoriya looks surprised, too. “O-okay,” he says. “Um. What I wanted to ask you is… Well. I wanted to ask if maybe you were training to be a mage?”

Shouto blinks.

“Oh,” he says. “Yeah, I am. Didn’t I use magic in front of you?”

“You did,” Midoriya says, and then he says, all in a rush, in a tone saturated with determination and honesty, “It was so cool.”

Shouto stares. “It was?”

Midoriya nods furiously and then flushes a little, the tips of his ears going red. “I actually… Well. Like, way back in the day, I wanted to be a mage. When I was little, you know.”

“You did?” Shouto asks, and he is not feigning the surprise in his tone - the path to becoming a witch is an incredibly difficult one, and most people would never in a million years choose that life for themselves. Especially people like Midoriya, with an almost complete absence of a magical aura. It’s an odd dream to have.

Midoriya flinches a little when Shouto looks at him. “I know it’s stupid,” he says, all in a rush, like he’s trying to apologize, or justify himself. “It was just a dumb childhood dream, nothing to worry about now-”

“I could teach you,” Shouto tells him. “Little things. If you’d like.”

Midoriya’s eyes go wide. They’re very green, Shouto thinks. Greener than the sea, and softer.

“Don’t you have to be born magical to learn spells?” he asks.

“For most things.” Shouto shrugs. “But there are spells that you just need practice for.” And then he crouches down on the side of the road and holds his hand out over a small patch of grass. Midoriya stares, his lips slightly parted and his eyes blown wide, as flowers bloom out of the earth when Shouto’s hand passes over the soil.

Their petals - yellow and sun-bright - are a little greener than Shouto had been aiming for. Midoriya doesn’t seem to notice, though.

“I… could do that?” Midoriya whispers, his tone soft and wondering.

“I think you’d be better at that one than me,” Shouto mumbles, and then he sets off walking as fast as his legs can take him.

Midoriya hustles to catch up with him and they walk the rest of the way in silence. It isn’t until they are nearing their destination that he says, very quietly, “Thank you, Todoroki-kun,” and the smile he offers him is so entirely different from anything Shouto has ever seen before, gentle and earnest and melting-warm, that Shouto’s feet stop moving entirely.

It takes him a moment to recover.

His face feels weirdly hot, and he doesn’t think he can blame it on the sun.

 

Shouto decides, after that day, to stay away from Midoriya Izuku.

Midoriya is a sort of dangerous that Shouto has never faced before. He is dangerous in a quiet, insistent way, a new and different threat with every smile and every movement and every glance he throws at Shouto. The kind of dangerous that seeps under the skin and fills up the lungs and slowly, slowly, turns to fire.

Unfortunately for Shouto, though, Midoriya is back at the bakery the next day, and then the day after that. The floral apron suits him just as it makes the rest of them look ridiculous, even over his brightly printed t-shirts, and he moves through the shop like he was born there, like every inch of the place is an extension of himself.

Shouto keeps busy. He sort of feels like if he stays still for too long, he’ll start drifting towards Midoriya like a flower turning its face towards the sun.

The ignore-and-avoid tactic works for maybe two days before Shouto realizes that staying away from Midoriya Izuku is going to be absolutely, categorically impossible.

Shouto stumbles into the shop a little earlier than usual, his hair still sleep-mussed and his clothes a little rumpled. All Might is already hard at work in the kitchens - he’s usually up and at it by five o’clock, getting their baked goods ready for the breakfast rush - but this time, Midoriya is with him. He’s curved over an enormous array of cupcakes, piping technicolor frosting out of a plastic bag, and when he hears Shouto walk in, he looks up and beams.

“Todoroki-kun, would you mind helping me out with these cupcakes?”

“I’ve never frosted anything before,” Shouto tells him, but he lets himself be ushered over to the counter and given his own bag of frosting, anyway.

“Don’t worry,” Midoriya says, “it’s easy. And you’re good with your hands, so you’ll pick it up quick.”

Shouto’s flushing without even really knowing why, but Midoriya doesn’t seem to notice, leaning in close to show Shouto how to hold the bag, how to apply the frosting, and how to decorate. Shouto realizes with a small measure of surprise that he’s actually pretty good at it, and Midoriya’s soon graduating him to creating simple designs out of different colors of frosting, like roses and hearts.

While they’re working, Shouto realizes that Midoriya’s hands are heavily scarred, his knuckles jagged and discolored, his palms run through with nasty, serrated lines. He tries not to stare, because Shouto knows better than anyone what it feels like to have people look too closely at scars. He wonders, though. How Midoriya got them. Where he is from. Where he learned to frost cupcakes like this. What his favorite colors are, his favorite music, his favorite stars. What shape his dreams take.

He wonders if Midoriya maybe wonders about him, too.

They finish their work on the cupcakes right around the time the rest of the employees arrive for the day, and All Might shoots them a big thumbs-up and gives them to Kirishima to arrange in the display cases.

Kirishima shoots Shouto a grin when he walks by with the tray.

“Seems like you and Midoriya get along pretty well, huh, Todoroki?” he says, and the smile he gives Shouto speaks of something secret passing between them, even though Shouto’s not completely sure what it is.

From behind the counter, Bakugou rolls his eyes and mutters, “Dumbass.”

(Later that day, Shouto teaches Midoriya the spell to make flowers bloom. It takes a few tries, but before long, sprouts are emerging from the ground where Midoriya touches, and Midoriya is looking close to tears.

“I knew you’d be good at it,” he tells Midoriya, his voice maybe a little too honest, and the look Midoriya gives him makes his heart jump into his throat.

Dumbass, Bakugou says, inside his head.

Dumbass, Shouto’s own mind echoes.)

 

Shouto goes down to the bakery early every morning after that. He keeps teaching Midoriya small magics, things like speeding up the process of making water boil and turning ink different colors. Midoriya teaches him things, too, like how to bake the flakiest dinner rolls imaginable, and the scientific names of all the stars. He also introduces Shouto to two of his friends from his program at school, and Uraraka and Iida turn out to be the exact kind of warm, passionate people Shouto expected Midoriya to be friends with.

“The day that you hit me on your bike,” Shouto says one day, when they’re kneading bread in the morning, flour smudged on both of their faces and dusted in their hair. “Where were you going?”

“Oh!” Midoriya says. “Oh, I was leaving the city. My mom lives out of town, so I go and visit her on long weekends and breaks from school.”

“Your school is pretty good, right?” Shouto asks, and Midoriya flushes a little.

“It’s not bad,” he admits. “That’s why she was all for sending me here. My mom really wants me to get a good education.”

“What are you studying?”

“I’m in the science program!” Midoriya tells him, a note of pride slipping into his voice. “I have to decide this year what specific track to graduate on, though. I haven’t picked yet.”

“I didn’t know you liked science,” Shouto says.

“I like building things,” Midoriya says with a shrug. “Improving stuff, I guess. I like physics a lot, too, even though I sometimes have to get a little creative with visualizing things.”

Shouto thinks about that, thinks how that information fits what he knows about Midoriya Izuku like a puzzle piece sliding into place.

Midoriya takes Shouto home after work that night. He puts on a pair of thick-rimmed reading glasses Shouto has never seen him in before, and shows him the piles of odd inventions accumulating in his workshop, shows him his mountains of science textbooks and the dozens of photographs he’s taken by rigging up his simple, rickety telescope with a high-definition camera. He tells Shouto about the time he tried to hook up his bike with a propeller to make it fly, about the time he nearly burned down Uraraka’s basement trying to rig them up a machine to make their household chores go faster.

Shouto leaves his house that night later than he’d expected to, more than a little charmed.

The fond bubble in his chest expands, after that. With every spell he teaches Midoriya, with every question Midoriya asks him about being a witch, with every piece of himself Midoriya offers up to him, Shouto feels the bubble turn warmer and larger. Until he is effervescent with it, more fondness than boy, and he can barely remember the word distraction at all.

He fights small-scale villains, he works at the bakery, he practices his magic.

And he realizes that maybe, just maybe, he’d like to stay in this place forever.

 

For the first time that afternoon - the first, but far from the last - Shouto thinks about kissing Midoriya Izuku.

 

Time passes quickly, after that. Shouto watches summer fade into fall, and tries not to think about his father expecting him home come springtime.

On the day of the autumn market festival, All Might gives his employees the morning off. Midoriya and Shouto walk together to the town square, Midoriya wheeling his bike beside him. Midoriya is easily and effortlessly lovely, waving at passers-by, a flower tucked behind his ear, his t-shirt soft and petal-pink. Shouto watches him bloom like spring when a woman compliments his hair, and thinks about how he wants to see Midoriya look like this every day.

The market square is packed, with people dancing and vendors shouting and booths advertising yakisoba and takoyaki and more. Midoriya hands out flowers from the basket of his bike, and passes a lily striped red and white to Shouto.

“It looks like you!” he announces, with a smile that seems to span the whole of Shouto’s heart, and Shouto holds the flower so carefully and reverently he thinks it might dissolve between his fingers like melting sugar.

They pick their way through the crowd, Midoriya greeting people he recognizes and sometimes people he doesn’t. They spot Bakugou and Kirishima alongside the dance floor, munching on snack foods and talking animatedly about something, shoulders bumping and heads inclined towards each other. Bakugou flips Shouto and Midoriya off when he spots them, and Kirishima waves enthusiastically.

“What’s the deal with you and Bakugou?” Shouto asks Midoriya curiously.

Midoriya laughs, wrinkling his nose a little. “It’s a bit of a long story,” he admits. “Kacchan and I are childhood friends, actually.” Shouto must look aghast at the word friends, because Midoriya laughs and lifts a pacifying hand.

“I know, I know,” he says. “We grew up together.”

Shouto hums and glances back at Kirishima and Bakugou, who have now joined up with Kaminari and are headed back to the food booths.

“Do you have childhood friends, Todoroki-kun?” Midoriya asks him, and Shouto shrugs.

“To be honest,” he says, “I didn’t really have any friends until I came here.”

Midoriya looks horrified.

How?” he demands, and Shouto blinks.

“I,” he says, and then stops. He’s never really asked himself why he had to grow up alone before - it was always just a fact, a truth, in the same way that he always knew he was going to grow up to become the strongest mage in the League of Witches. It was the way it had to be.

“Friends,” Shouto finally settles on, “were a distraction my father did not think I could afford.”

Discipline, adaptability, strength.

Midoriya looks at him, steady. “And what about now?”

“My father isn’t here, now,” Shouto says, immediately, with a force that surprises even him.

Midoriya looks at him for another long moment before his face breaks, slow, into a smile.

“I’m glad you’re my friend, Todoroki-kun,” he says, soft, and there’s something else in there - something contained between those words that make Shouto’s heart stutter and stop because maybe, maybe-

An immense, gut-wrenching boom shakes the market square.

The sound is all-consuming, with the kind of resonance that you feel in your stomach and in your throat. Shouto moves, spinning around so that he’s facing Midoriya, but Midoriya has already moved, has placed himself between Shouto and the source of the sound so quickly Shouto barely saw it.

The crowd erupts into chaos as an enormous, bulbous monster rears up between the food stands and roars.

“Midoriya, are you okay?” Shouto yells, and Midoriya nods.

“I’m fine, but what the hell is that thing?”

“It looks like it was created by some kind of dark magic,” Shouto answers. “A witch gone rogue, probably. I’ll have to fight it.”

The monster screams, and swings an enormous arm around. Shouto sees one of the food stands splinter under the impact, shattered wood flying out and into the crowd.

“You can’t just take that thing head-on,” Midoriya shouts.

“I can try,” Shouto says, and he draws on his magic, tugs on it. His body goes cold as ice spreads over his left side, and he feels the freezing burst of energy around his right fist as his magic activates fully. Ice bursts into being beneath his feet and rushes outward, forward, to envelop the feet of the monster.

Midoriya stumbles, once, as the crowd roils like boiling water around him.

“Oh,” he breathes, almost too quietly for Shouto to hear, and then Shouto is launching himself forward, at the monster.

It only takes a couple swings for Shouto to realize that Midoriya was right - the thing is too powerful for him to take head-on. The problem is its resilience - no matter how many blows it takes, it keeps getting back up again, and it’s fast, leaving Shouto no openings to get to the soft spots under its chin and belly. Shouto ices the ground around its feet, covers its skin with a heavy, burning-cold layer of frost, and it just seems to get angrier, letting out another horrifying scream.

Shouto gets in one more solid swing with his fist before taking his first hit; right to the stomach, it sends him flying backwards, and he hits the ground hard enough to knock the wind out of him.

Todoroki-kun!”

Shouto blinks the stars out of his vision and wheezes for breath. There are hands on his shoulders, gentle, on his face, and Shouto comes back to himself completely only to realize that Midoriya is holding him.

“I’m okay,” Shouto tells him. “It just surprised me.”

“I told you you wouldn’t be able to take it head-on,” Midoriya mumbles, a little mulishly, and Shouto huffs out a surprised laugh.

“You were right,” he says. “I’m not sure what else to do, though.”

He takes the hand Midoriya extends and uses it to haul himself to his feet, pressing a hand to his stomach to double-check that none of his ribs have broken.

“It’s obvious,” Midoriya tells him, a familiar note of determination seeping into his voice. “I’ll distract him from the front, and then you come around from behind.”

Shouto says, immediately, “No. Absolutely not.”

Midoriya frowns. “Todoroki-kun. Your attacks are suited for long-range combat, so as long as you can get behind him pretty quickly, it should be all right. And, like you said, there’s no other way-”

“You could die, Midoriya-”

“I won’t die, you’ll be there-”

“I can’t lose you, Izuku.”

Midoriya freezes. For a second Shouto holds himself completely still, horrified, but then Midoriya steps forward and carefully takes Shouto’s face between his hands.

He says, very seriously, “I’m in love with you.”

And then he turns and takes off running, sprinting towards the monster with a speed and agility that shouldn’t have surprised Shouto, at this point.

“Over here!” he screams, and the monster swings around to look at him.

What happens next is, to Shouto, a blur.

He knows he moves. His legs push him forward, a wall of ice bursting up from the ground beneath him as he runs, propelling him forward. The monster is meters away from Midoriya - centimeters, now, close enough to touch - and Shouto launches himself forward and aims his left fist right at the weakest chink in the monster’s armor, right at the base of his neck.

He breathes, and releases.

Fire bursts into life around him, streaming forward in a white-hot, concentrated jet directly at the monster’s head. The monster screeches, and then thrashes, and then goes silent, keeling over, and Shouto sees it as it looms over Midoriya, as Midoriya crosses his arms over his head and braces for the impact.

Shouto is faster, though. He adjusts his trajectory, skids on a wall of ice around the top of the monster and then down, snatching Midoriya out of harm’s way just before the monster teeters and comes down with another boom loud enough to shake the earth.

There is silence.

Shouto pauses, breathes, and then curls himself over Midoriya and pushes his face into Midoriya’s shoulder. Midoriya’s breathing hard, his limbs trembling a little, and Shouto feels the first sobs go through him as he reaches up to clutch at Shouto’s back, his fingers burying in the thin fabric of Shouto’s shirt.

(“You’re a hero,” they tell Shouto, once the paramedics arrive at the scene, and Shouto wants to say, No. No, I’m not the hero, I’m not the one.

He is.)

 

In the confusion and chaos after the monster’s attack, it takes Shouto a long few days before he can see Midoriya again.

All Might sends him to Midoriya’s place with a basket of sweets and handwritten note from the bakery’s employees, complete with poorly-drawn crying faces from Jirou, about a paragraph and a half long ode to Midoriya’s bravery from Yaoyorozu, and a single, wobbly, fuckin deku written by Bakugou. Kirishima winks at Shouto when he heads out, and tells him, quietly, “You two make a good team.”

Shouto taps on the door and waits. It’s a moment before it swings open and Midoriya steps out, wearing a soft gray t-shirt and overlong, flannel pajama pants. One of his wrists is set in a brace, and he has a couple small cuts on his face, but he looks unharmed, otherwise.

His eyes go wide when he sees Shouto, even wider when Shouto presses the gift basket into his hands, and Shouto thinks they look even prettier up close, cut through with different shades of green and gold.

“I also, uh, brought you some things Kirishima said you might need to fix your bike?” Shouto says, holding up a plastic bag filled with spare parts.

Midoriya stares. “T-thank you, Todoroki-kun, but I…?”

“Oh,” Shouto says. “If you’re too tired for visitors, I’ll come back another time. I just wanted to make sure you were healing all right-”

“No!” Midoriya blurts. “No! No, I just… I thought…” He pauses, his cheeks flushing pink, and Shouto feels warm and cold in turns, like his magic is shorting out inside him.

“I thought you didn’t want to see me, maybe?” Midoriya finishes.

Why?” Shouto asks, horrified.

“B-because I,” Midoriya begins, and his cheeks are very red now. He mumbles something that Shouto can’t quite catch, and then, when Shouto continues to look blank, he finishes, much louder this time: “Because I said I love you!”

“Oh,” Shouto says. “Yes. That.”

That,” Midoriya begins in a huff, looking affronted, and then Shouto steps forward, tilts Midoriya’s jaw up very carefully with his hand, and kisses him, gently, full on the mouth.

Midoriya stiffens, for just a moment, and then he surges forward with a little gasping breath, wrapping his arms around Shouto’s neck and pressing up on his tiptoes to kiss him fully, soundly, almost hard enough to ache.

The kiss is profoundly Midoriya, careful and cautionless at once, and it sets Shouto on fire.

It is days before they break apart, or maybe it is seconds, and when they do Shouto chases Midoriya’s lips instinctively, just enough so that he’s a little embarrassed.

Midoriya leans their foreheads together whispers, “What happens when a year is up?”

“I don’t know. But right now, it seems like this city kind of needs me to stay,” Shouto whispers back, and Midoriya laughs, honest and bright.

“It seems like it kind of does,” he says, and his lips are soft like a promise when they find Shouto’s.

 

(When they return to the bakery that evening, hand in hand, Kirishima and Kaminari high-five. Jirou slaps a hand against Shouto’s shoulder and thanks him for helping her settle a bet. Even Bakugou only looks a little bit grumpy.)