Now I'm half a world away from you
But you're always on my mind
There's a million words that I could've said
And you might still be mine
(Million Words - The Vamps)
Musutafu isn’t any different from when Shouto last set foot on the overly crowded streets: the skyscrapers are still towering over his head, still dressed in grey, gloomy hues, seemingly absorbing all the colours in the city. As always, the citizens are hurrying along, walking by each other with big, stiff steps and checking their watches every five minutes, dusting off their tailored suits whenever they rub elbows with someone else, but none of them raises their eyes towards the blue sky - the only splotch of colour in this cage of concrete.
And Shouto still ignores everyone around him, turns a deaf ear towards the muttering and not at all subtle flashes of phone cameras, and walks defiantly slow, hands stuck in the pockets of his trousers, in a city that never takes its time.
The past seven years have changed Shouto’s gait as little as they have changed the look of the city. Having left his luggage in the new apartment - Shouto lost count of how often he’s changed apartments over the course of the past years; none of them ever felt like home, anyway - he boards the train for the hero agency.
Midoriya sent him the coordinates for class A agency’s new building - now much bigger than it was when Shouto left. It’s in the core of the city, near a hospital and several bunkers that assure the civilians’ safety during raids, and it’s where all of his former classmates and close friends work.
Where she works.
Perhaps the city hasn’t changed much, but people are a whole different story, Shouto muses as he rests his forehead against the window of the rattling train and watches the buildings fly by, morphing into undefined shadows. People fluctuate as erratically as the weather, their contours as hazy as those of the passing buildings, and their hearts as hard to make out as the shadows. Splotches of messy colours on an otherwise grey canvas - that’s what they are, for the most part.
In more ways than one, Shouto feels he’s like the city, watching over these woven destinies while his is painted in the same tones of dull grey, as unflinching as concrete. His loyalties lie always with the same people - people he hasn’t seen in years , apart from the weekly video chats and the flood of snaps from Kaminari and Ashido.
A part of him is giddy about the prospect of meeting everyone again. He knows Midoriya and Uraraka are getting married - being named best man is one of the reasons why he came back, after all - and that Kaminari and Jirou got married about three years ago - the obnoxious blond sent him a folder’s worth of sappy pictures. He also knows Bakugou - Lord Grumpy the Almighty himself, as Uraraka jokingly called him on one drunken outing, and it stuck - is the number three hero and curses about it whenever his lovely squad teases him - which is daily, really.
The information, however, has been very scarce about the one person Shouto cares about the most, and that both appeases and terrifies him. He’s pretty sure the simple rumour of her missing him would have been enough for him to book the first flight to the only place he could ever bring himself to call home , and that’s exactly why he needed to cut ties with her.
Yet the other, much more vocal part of Shouto is unashamedly scared of seeing Momo in the flesh again, seeing those obsidian eyes that used to light up when he came home, the smile that sent sparkles dancing in her irises and crinkled the skin around the corners of her eyes, the laugh that bubbled out of her and untied all the knots of insecurity.
He’s afraid of seeing all of that and succumbing to his unchanging heart just to track his eyes over her figure and notice a sparkling golden band on her finger. He can already feel the drop of his stomach, even worse than the one caused by the roller coasters she loves so much, that feeling that his grey world will become black in the blink of an eye.
Daring to think Momo has waited for him is wishful thinking at best and pure idiocy - electrocuted-Kaminari levels of stupidity - at worst. Above all, it’s selfish - they broke up in the first place because Shouto wanted her to be happy, and if a gold ring on her left hand - one that hasn’t been put there by him - makes her smile without any inhibitions, he’s going to accept that.
He is. He has to.
Still, as Shouto makes his first steps out of the station and sees the imposing building with glass windows sprouting out of the concrete, he feels his throat bob and his mouth go dry. Another inner war starts - does he even want to meet her now? Has there ever been a time when he didn’t want to meet her?
Obviously, both answers are “no”, and Shouto feels frustrated with himself as he scans the ID card Midoriya gave him and walks into the hero agency.
She doesn’t even work here anymore, at least not as an active hero - he knows that much. Momo became a teacher at UA within one year of Shouto’s leave, though her reasons mostly remain a mystery to him. She’s always excelled at her job - ranked in the top 20 within her first year out of high school, Creati was headed towards big places.
Shouto swallows another lump in his throat as he talks to the secretary on the first floor. She recognizes him immediately and directs him towards Deku’s office on the fifth floor. As Shouto whirls on his heels to head for the elevator, he hears the secretary contacting Deku and informing him of his arrival, followed by the sound his best friend’s excited voice and a shuffle that tells Shouto he jumped out of his chair to run out and greet him.
Knowing Midoriya, he’ll be all dramatic and teary-eyed, warm handshakes and a truthful “Welcome back”, freckled beams and jittery mumbles. A smile tugs at one corner of Shouto’s lips - he’s missed Midoriya’s homey voice almost as much as he’s missed Momo’s smile.
The elevator’s doors creak open on the fifth floor to reveal a hallway lined with plants, from aloe vera to small bamboo plants and orchids - Shouto recognizes Ojirou’s handy work in the arrangements - and pictures. As Shouto steps out of the elevator, he notices the pictures depict class A over their high school years, then as heroes, and that there are message scribbled on post its and sticked next to each frame. He needs to bite down on a snort - of course most of them are back and forth passive aggressive notes written by Ashido, Kaminari and Bakugou. Of course.
He’s about to reread Midoriya’s instructions of getting to his office when distant voices reach his ears. One of them, boisterous and just as loud as Shouto remembers, is easy to pinpoint as Kaminari’s.
“Get back here, you little-”
The second one is high pitched, as if the speaker is laughing, and foreign to Shouto’s ears. Two sets of quick footsteps - running, albeit muffled by the thick carpet - accompany the “Uncle Kaminari, but you promised!” and the owner of the unknown voice rounds the corner, only to skid to a halt when their eyes meet Shouto’s.
It’s a child, Shouto notices with surprise, no older than seven or eight judging by his height and appearance. He looks - well, he looks like a kid, Shouto supposes, with that aura of innocence around him and big, curious eyes to complete the image. And yet, Shouto can’t help but think the boy is familiar somehow, with raven hair that spills over his forehead, stopping short of covering equally dark eyes painted with curiosity. Tucked behind his right ear is a white bang that the kid now picks at - a nervous gesture Shouto is all too accustomed to.
The child tilts his head curiously, mirroring Shouto’s confusion, but then his eyes widen as a realization dawns on him and his lips peel into a gracious smile, one that crinkles the corners of his eyes and puts dimples in his cheeks, and Shouto’s breath is cut short because-
“It’s Shouto!” the child exclaimes, and Shouto feels his stomach drop like he’s just swallowed a stone.
It’s the same fluctuation as in her voice, the same self-awareness of not pointing your forefinger at someone you’re talking to, the same contagious excitement colouring her cheeks pink, and Shouto finds worrying about a simple ring absurd now.
“Tokiya, son, I’ve told you before, you can’t just-” Kaminari stops himself the moment his eyes follow the child’s - Tokiya, apparently - and his jaw slackens.
Before adults have even the slightest chance to recompose themselves or greet each other - it occurs to Shouto that such social labels are forgotten when there is a child nearby - the little boy takes one tentative step towards a baffled Shouto, then another, slightly more confident one. He links his hands, twiddling with his thumbs, and Shouto can almost see the words sticking somewhere in his throat like they’re in a traffic jam, fighting to escape his pursed lips.
“You’re Shouto, right?”
Taken by surprise and still assessing the situation and uncomfortable feeling tightening its grasp on his heart like a leash, Shouto nods.
That simple confirmation gives Tokiya’s thoughts a push, and Shouto discovers there were more words stuck inside him than a child his age should be able to say without taking or breath - and more than he should even know, he ponders.
“You really are him! I saw so many interviews with you - I think I saw all of them more times than I can count! - so I knew I wasn’t wrong! But the last time Mom and I checked the news you were in France and I didn’t know you were coming back in Japan! Actually, why are you in Japan? Are you staying for a few days? Months? Are you staying forever? And no, that wasn’t an intentional Mulan reference - wait, more importantly, can I get an autograph?”
Each question brings the boy one step closer to Shouto, his eyes sparkling as possible answers and further questions flutter through his mind, the innocence with which the inquiries were laced bringing him closer to endearingly excited than dangerously obsessed. It reminds him so much of Momo it’s painful, and the mention of Mulan, if Shouto properly caught that, only makes the weight in his stomach increase.
Before he can bring himself to answer, the child comes to a sudden realisation and softly gasps, “I don’t have my notebook! I’ll be right back, would you please wait?” Somehow, he finds the time to politely bow before jogging past Kaminari and leaving the two adults to stare at each other in deadly silence.
“You’re back, Todoroki,” Kaminari says almost sleepily, as if this is all a dream he can’t wrap his mind around.
Shouto finds himself in the same predicament, for once. “Yeah,” he eloquently manages and feels put to shame by a child’s speech. He wants to ask who the kid is, why he was calling him “Uncle Kaminari”, why he’s in a hero agency of all places. Kaminari looks like he has a lot to say, too, except that he’s left blindly fumbling for words when he opens his mouth, at odds with trying to string together a coherent explanation.
Behind him, Shouto hears the all too familiar voice of Midoriya talk with a sharpness he only adopts when he’s in a pinch. “Tokiya-kun is here today?” he’s asking.
“Yes,” is the only word the woman he’s with says, but it’s enough to prompt Shouto to turn in their direction, enough for his jaw to drop just like Kaminari’s did earlier, enough for the sinking feeling to completely settle in and to pack a good punch to his guts for good measure.
Her eyes meet his and the clack of her heels against the carpeted floor ceases just a few meters away from him, replaced by the deaf sound of an object falling. When Shouto finally finds the energy to rip his gaze from her mesmerizing eyes, he notices it’s a small matryoshka - a blue one, save for the head split in red and white, just like the one he has resting on his bedside table.
If Shouto took a step, he could probably reach out a hand to cup her cheek, could run his hands through her short hair - when and why did she cut it? Did she get injured again? -, could wrap his arms around her and never let her go again.
“Mom!” the child’s voice echoes through the hallway again, and he leaps into a run towards the woman he inherited the raven hair and obsidian pools of knowledge and excitement from.
Shouto feels as if his own quirk has frozen him to the floor, and he can do nothing but watch Momo bend down to squeeze the child into a tight hug - the hug Shouto won’t give her, the hug that cuts the thin string of hope he was dangling on, the signal that tells him he’s on a roller coaster that’s only going down. Down down down and it’s all his fault all his fault all his fault-
“Now Tokiya, what did I say about running in the hallways?” Momo’s voice is strict, but coated with a maternal warmth that hurts Shouto in the same way seeing moms cradle the children that hurt themselves on the playground in their arms and kissing their scratches used to. It leaves him feeling like he’s missing something essential, and it’s all he can do not to clench his shirt where his heart is thrumming at an insane rhythm, telling him to get out out out-
“But Mom!” the kid protests, bowing his head as she ruffles his hair, and the white bang he kept tucked behind his ear falls onto his face, obstructing his right eye. “Shouto is here! And I was hoping he’d give me an autograph!”
Shouto can barely hear Momo’s “He is indeed” over the sharp breath he inhales, and when her eyes raise again to meet his, he puts on the best poker face he has, although he doubts she won’t see through it. She’s always read him like an open book, and she always got angry at him when he tried hiding his real feelings.
He just hopes she’ll realize he’s doing it for both of them now.
Momo, for her part, has an expression just as unreadable as the one he’s schooling his features into as she stands back up and straightens her skirt. “It’s been a while, Todoroki-san,” she eventually says with a smile - her smile, the one that touches her eyes and softens her face, the one that melts the edge of her cheekbones. The smile Shouto fell in love with. Paired with the return of his family name and the honorific, it’s a low blow.
But this time around, there’s something the smile is covering - apprehension, discomfort, awkwardness - Shouto can’t tell, and he doesn’t know whether he wants to tell.
“It’s been seven years, Yaoyorozu.” He doesn’t mean to hiss her last name, but he can’t hide the edge in his voice, either.
“Uhm, Shouto-san?” His eyes are drawn back to the kid, who seems to feel the tension in the air, as his voice is much quieter and shakes with uncertainty. “Would it be too much if I asked you for an autograph?”
The innocent request mixes with all of the questions in Shouto’s mind. It’s like a flood, and the downpour soaks him immediately. He wanted - still wants - Momo to be happy above all else. He told her she didn’t have to wait, didn’t he?
And after all, he would have never been able to start a family with her - not with how broken he was, not without a good father model to speak of, no. No, he couldn’t have made her smile without apprehension lingering behind the dimples.
Would her life have had a place in it for him, even if he had stayed?
“No, it wouldn’t,” Shouto answers, kneeling to reach the kid’s eye level. The boy’s face lights up as if a switch was pressed, and he lets go of Momo’s warm hand to give Shouto his notebook.
Shouto’s done this countless times before, but the pen is leaden under his cold fingertips now, and his mind foggy. Once Tokiya gets his notebook back, he holds it gingerly, as if it’s a work of art he’s afraid of spoiling, and looks at it in wonder, softly tracing the kanjis of Shouto’s name as not to smudge the ink.
“Waw,” he barely mouths, and then his eyes dart to Shouto, wide with admiration and honesty. “You’re my number one hero, Shouto!”
Ah, if only Shouto had the energy to laugh at fate’s sense of humor. Instead, he just blinks blankly and listens to Kaminari helpfully supply, “No kidding, your room is basically a shrine dedicated to Todoroki. Your collection is more impressive than Midoriya’s All Might one!”
“I want to argue with that, but I know it’s a fight I’d lose,” Midoriya sheepishly says, rubbing the back of his neck in embarrassment. Shouto looks at him for the first time today, in search of an anchor, of an element of normalcy to decipher this hazy situation he finds himself in the middle of, but Midoriya averts his gaze, almost as if he’s guilty.
Shouto slowly gets up again, dusting off his pants and giving his former classmates a thorough look. It’s not just Momo that changed her appearance - Midoriya’s shoulders are broader and squared, finally filling in the shirts he’s wearing, and Kaminari’s donning a golden band with a black lightning bolt on his ring finger.
Shouto’s eyes flutter to Momo again, as her nervous habit of tucking her hair behind her ear gets the better of her, and notices she wears no jewelry on her hands. Somewhat puzzled, his eyes drift back to the boy who’s still analyzing his autograph as if it’s an irreplaceable treasure, and Shouto lets out a deep sigh.
“Looks like I’ve missed out on more than just apprehending villains,” he eventually says, keeping his voice as neutral as he can. “Midoriya, fill me in?”
His friend nods somewhat apologetically, and Shouto realizes why he’s been avoiding his eyes earlier. He doesn’t blame Midoriya for not telling him about Momo’s son - not even Kaminari made a peep about the little boy who seemingly idolizes him, so he’s sure there are reasons he isn’t meant to dig out behind this obvious silence. Reasons he’s not entirely too sure he wants to dig out.
Besides, calling just to say “Hey, your former girlfriend met someone new and she’s going to have a child with him! Too bad you’re in Europe and can’t see how happy she is!” is something Midoriya is too gentle to do. Not even Bakugou hates him enough to shatter his heart in so many irreparable ways.
Shouto makes his way towards Midoriya, longing for the cold tranquility of his office, seeking not comfort, but a place where his eyes won’t be drawn to the mother and son, where his mind won’t spiral down the road of what-ifs, where he’ll lose himself in work like he’s done for seven years to forget about her.
A tug on his pants anchors him in the now , the painful now in which he’s an outsider, and he looks down to see Tokiya retracting his hand as if he’s been burned. For a second, Shouto’s heart is pierced by the fear that he did indeed lose control of his quirk. A quick glance tells him he’s still suppressing the urge to burn down everything, and the kid peeks at him. “Uhm, Shouto-san?”
“Shouto is just fine,” he answers. Even though Momo wouldn’t use his name, he still wants to hear her voice saying it - even if it isn’t coming from her.
“Shouto!” the boy says, his face melting into a genuine smile. “You didn’t answer my first question! Why are you in Japan?”
Shouto’s eyes dart towards Momo, who’s biting her lower lip as if she’s torn between stopping her son from asking personal questions and - dare he say? - wanting to hear the answers herself.
“A friend asked me to come back for an important day,” Shouto says, surprising himself with how warm his voice is. If nothing else, he’s still got Midoriya, whose eyes are already watery - be it a result of Shouto’s answer or something else entirely, the man can’t tell.
He doesn’t divulge the other reason for being there. He got to see Momo smiling at her son, and that should be enough. She has a family - her life went ahead, much unlike the city’s.
It’s not a reason to be sad.
But it hurts like hell, it hurts more than any injury ever did or will, it hurts more than the scar blemishing his skin and almost as much as having his mother taken away from him. He hasn’t realized until now how tightly he was hanging onto the unfounded and selfish hope that she’d remember his promise.
He’s just a fool, as it turns out.
“And are you returning to Europe after that day?” Tokiya asks, again pulling him out of his thoughts.
Shouto finds Momo looking at him with the same questioning look as her son. “I’m not. I was planning on sticking around,” he answers, his eyes fixed on hers.
Suddenly, she snaps out of the lock he has on her and beckons the boy to come to her, “That’s quite enough, Tokiya.” Then she looks back at Shouto with that undecipherable look he doesn’t know what to make of, “It was nice seeing you again, Todoroki-san, but we should probably leave you to your own devices.” She smiles at Midoriya to make her point, and tightens her grasp on Tokiya’s hand as she adjusts the strap of her bag on her shoulder. “Come on sweetheart, dinner won’t cook itself.”
“Are we having soba?” the boy pipes up, following his mother at the incentive of tasty food.
“You can’t eat soba every day, Tokiya,” she shakes her head at his antics, but a wobbly smile is stretched around her lips.
Shouto feels like jokingly arguing the kid has good taste, but bites his tongue upon realizing that’s not any of his business. As if thinking of the little boy somehow reminds him of Shouto’s presence, Tokiya turns around and waves at him with a grin on his face. “Thank you for the autograph! And for talking to me! I hope you have a nice day!”
“You too,” Shouto says with a nod. As the two disappear into the elevator, Shouto kneels to pick up the matryoshka and recognizes the minute handcraft, the perfect replica of his scar framing the left eye of the doll, the charcoal and ice that stares back at him. Shouto’s fingers encompass the figure as he mutters, “See you around.”
He’s like the city indeed. A city in ruins.
Tokiya and I have seen the latest report on the league of villains in Paris, and we held our breaths as we waited for your name to be mentioned. The ten seconds it took the journalist to expose the situation felt like forever, and we both dug our nails into the sofa so hard our knuckles turned white. Only the caption “Shouto - Synonym for Victory?” made us loosen a breath and Tokiya squeezed my hand, saying “I knew he’d do it! Shouto always saves the day!” but I think he was even more nervous than me.
Reading the international newspapers everyday, skimming for news about you - it became a habit. It’s now a contest to see who finds your name first, and the prize is the invaluable last piece of dessert. A wave of relief washes over us whenever we find out you won a battle, and worry gnaws at our insides when there’s no update on the latest raid. When you were in the hospital last month, Tokiya skipped his dinner almost every day, toying with the vegetables in his plate and claiming he couldn’t eat. I couldn’t even blame him - food was the last thing on our minds.
Midoriya dropped by with the news of your discharge about a week after we had gotten word of your admission in the hospital, and Tokiya’s face lighted up like a Christmas tree. He really loves you, Shouto. We painted his room in red and white because that’s his new “colour scheme”, and he practices with his quirk daily in hopes to enter UA on recommendations, like you did.
Sometimes, I let myself wonder what it would be like if you two actually met. I think you’d love him - he’s “charming”, I’ve been told, and while my point of view cannot possibly be objective, I’d have to agree. He has a contagious smile, and he’s always so considerate… I don’t know who taught him about pressure points (my best bet is Kaminari, he claims that’s something you taught him to woo Kyouka) but he offered to massage me a few nights ago while I was grading papers and… it reminded me of you.
Ah, but I’m blabbering! This is nothing but wishful thinking, and the more I imagine what could have been, the more I’m wishing I had protested more vehemently to come with you. But it’s as I used to tell you, Shouto: “we can’t change the past. We can only embrace it, learn from it and look forward to the future.” Looks like I should learn to take my own advice… But what is the future I’m looking forward to? One in which I grow old alone? One in which I'll forever be a teacher and won’t ever partake in missions again?
Don’t misunderstand: I don’t regret having Tokiya, not in the slightest. He’s the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’d do anything for him in a heartbeat. Yet on some moonless nights like this one, when I’m not tired enough to drift to sleep and my thoughts take a veto right, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had been more selfish. If I had realized sooner that I could never forget you.
But don’t mind me and my pointless, answerless questions! Please take care of yourself, Shouto. We’re doing our best here, and our thoughts drift your way every day. I wonder, do you think of us, too? Is it too much to hope you haven’t completely forgotten the girl who fell in love with you and forgot how to fall out of love?
I know I’ll never get a reply, yet I still startle each time I get a new message. You’d think five years of silence and your unyielding attitude would have taught me otherwise, but I guess I never grew out of daydreaming. Here’s to hoping you did.