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Catalyze

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Everything was normal for a week or so, until one day Shouto woke up to a text from Midoriya.

(I_M 4:45am) I woke up to one half of my body feeling really tingly today.

(I_M 4:45am) Like not sleep tingly. Stood out too long in the cold tingly.

Shouto’s heart skipped a beat in excitement. He was quick to respond.

(S_T 7:33am) Which side?

(I_M 7:36am) The right side.

This was it, then. Midoriya was starting to manifest his Quirk. Either that or having a stroke. No, there were still a lot of possibilities, and a lot of ways things could go wrong. This could be a placebo effect, or some other weird sciencey term Midoriya had mentioned to him that he half remembered. Still, he was sure Midoriya was just as excited as him.

(S_T 7:38am) So I’m coming in today for a UV session, right?

It wasn’t his regular day for one, but he needed to check this out for himself.

(I_M 7:39am) We don’t have one scheduled...but I think it’s about time we ran some tests to confirm your Quirk is properly deactivated, so we can begin the process of reactivating it.

(S_T 7:42am) Works for me.

(S_T 7:42am) Midoriya. Don’t try anything until I’m there, okay? You could hurt yourself.

(I_M 7:42am) Do I look like the type of person to put myself in danger just to try out a new superpower? ;P

That was exactly the kind of person he was. Already anxious, Shouto hurried to get ready. He was planning on meeting Midoriya at 9am sharp, as soon as he started work. That was still plenty of time to get ready, but nerves pushed Shouto to move faster.

At the breakfast table, he shovelled down his food, holding out his hand demandingly for his medicine.

“You're in a hurry today,” his father observed, face creased in a deep scowl. Shouto felt his own mood immediately darken to match. “Some place you have to be?”

He was sure his father was being snide, pointing out the fact that Shouto never had any plans. That made it all the more satisfying to turn to him and say with a blank expression, “As a matter of fact, I do.”

“Oh, are you meeting up with that friend of yours?” his mother asked.

“That’s the one,” Shouto said, desperately hoping it didn’t lead to more questioning. His father raised an eyebrow, but didn’t press. Honestly, he probably didn’t care what Shouto did with his time, as long as he stayed out of the way. It was sort of a relief after all those years of being constantly monitored.

Shouto escaped his house without further inquisition, and made his way to the campus. Midoriya was waiting in the usual spot, practically bouncing in place in anticipation.

“Good morn-” he started, but was interrupted by Shouto pressing the back of his hand against Midoriya’s face.

Specifically the right side of his face. Was it cold to the touch? Maybe a little, but that could just be his imagination. Maybe his hands were cold, too. He shifted over to the other side of Midoriya’s face, trying to compare the halves. Oh, yeah, that was definitely warmer, but it was probably because a bright blush was breaking out on the boy’s face.

“Um, Todoroki, we’re in public,” Midoriya squeaked, ducking his head.

Coming to his senses, Shouto let his hand fall back to his crutch. What would it look like to strangers, him putting his hands all over Midoriya? The thought didn’t embarrass him, but he could see someone shy like Midoriya being bothered by it.

“Sorry,” he apologized. “I was a little too excited.”

“Me too!” Midoriya... squeed. Hands clenched into little fists beneath his chin, eyes shining bright as headlights. “I haven’t been able to think about anything else all morning. Come on, hurry up!”

Bouncing on the balls of his feet, Midoriya led him inside. They descended to the basement again, back to the room that smelled faintly of chimp. Everything was still set up the same way it had been last time.

“As excited as I am, I still have a job to do,” Midoriya explained. “Let’s get your testing out of the way first, as a formality.”

Shouto let out an exasperated sigh, but didn’t argue. A formality was really all it was. For the past week, he hadn’t been able to feel the familiar thrum of power under his skin. It had been both a relief and terrifying, but now it just felt like a footnote compared to everything else that was going on.

Testing didn’t take long. He did as Midoriya instructed, standing under the showerheads, taking the necessary precautions. When Midoriya gave him the signal, he made his best effort to summon his Quirk. Nothing. They repeated the process a few times to satiate the demands of science before Midoriya finally conceded it was enough. They convened in the room next door, at the little folding table that was still set up, so Midoriya could jot down his notes.

“The next step is to let your Quirk turn back on naturally and see if that makes any difference. We’ll be taking regular bloodsamples during this time to so we can observe-”

“Midoriya,” Shouto cut in. “Not that I’m not deeply invested in getting my Quirk back, but you know I don’t understand most of that science stuff anyways. Let’s get on with it.”

“Ah, yeah, that makes sense,” Midoriya agreed, but he hugged his clipboard to his chest and tapped his fingers against it. “The only problem is, um, I’m not actually sure how to use a Quirk. Like even if this did work and I am starting to manifest it, I have no idea how to turn it on.”

“It’s not too hard. You just think about it, and...switch it on in your mind…” Shouto realized as he spoke that he wasn’t entirely sure how he summoned his Quirk. He just did. It was there when he needed it, like breathing or walking or blinking. He’d been using his power since he was a child, had grown up with it. How to explain that to someone who had never experienced it before?

They stared at each other for a few moments. Finally, Shouto shrugged and suggested, “Have you tried cooling anything down? Maybe just stick your finger in a glass of water and see if you can freeze it by visualizing hard enough.”

“That’s as good an idea as anything I’ve come up with,” Midoriya agreed. “Stay here. I’ll go get supplies.”

Midoriya dashed off, returning a few minutes later with a glass of water and a thermometer.

“Um, this isn’t the most well set-up experiment, but I figure this way we can tell if I’m actually doing anything to the water. Here, you can record the results.”

He handed the clipboard off, then settled into the seat next to him.

“All right, starting temperature is 20 degrees Celsius. We’ll give it five minutes and see if there’s any change.”

Midoriya set a timer on his phone, then very carefully, as if he was afraid of causing an explosion, dipped his finger in the water. His eyebrows bunched tight in concentration. Too tight. It was like he was in physical pain, he was focusing so hard.

“Relax a little,” Shouto instructed, placing his hands on Midoriya’s shoulders and forcing them to unbunch. “Breathe. You need to concentrate, but also, your Quirk is an extension of your body. At least, it is normally. If you force it, it might come out too fast or hard. It’s more of...relaxing and letting go. You just direct where it goes.”

Midoriya closed his eyes and squirmed for a second, before breaking down in chuckles.

“I’m sorry, but that analogy just makes it sound like peeing,” he snickered, biting his lower lip.

“That...was not the comparison I was going for, but sure, if it helps,” Shouto said.

“It doesn’t,” Midoriya laughed. “It makes it way harder to focus.”

“Then stop thinking about peeing.”

“I’ll try,” Midoriya promised. However, only a few moments after closing his eyes he was holding back more laughter.

“Focus,” Shouto snapped, giving his shoulder a slight squeeze. The chuckles cut off immediately, and he felt Midoriya stiffen under his grasp. Silence permeated the room.

Great, I lost my temper again.

Shouto could have predicted that he would make a short-tempered trainer. After all, his go-to role model for this kind of situation was his father. When it came to Quirk training, his experiences had been intense and violent. It was the only template he had to follow.

With a sigh, Shouto released Midoriya’s shoulders, his hands retreating to his lap. Midoriya kept his eyes closed, the picture of absolute focus. However, for all he knew, the other man just didn’t want to look at him.

They remained quiet until Midoriya’s phone went off, the timer informing them five minutes had passed. Opening his eyes, Midoriya checked the thermometer.

“Um...19.5 degrees. Woah, a whole half a degree! Of course, it could just be because it’s cold down here in the basement, so to be extra sure we should leave the glass alone for a few minutes and repeat the experiment. What is the temperature of this room?”

Midoriya was in full science mode, muttering to himself about all the possible variables. Shouto did his duty to record the temperature, but he didn’t have any helpful input beyond that.

“Oh man, I know this probably seems like child’s play to you, but the idea of actually being able to alter the temperature of something seems pretty amazing to me!” Midoriya said, beaming.

“It is a pretty amazing,” Shouto reassured. “And this is only after a couple weeks of the Quirk Grafting treatment.”

If everything went as anticipated, in a few more weeks Midoriya would be able to shoot fire from his hands and lower the temperature of a room with just a few exhaled breaths. That was provided he had someone to teach him how.

I don’t know if I should be that person. I don’t know if I should be allowed to be in that position.

But he’d promised Midoriya he’d show him the ropes. He was the only one who could. This was still his Quirk, and thus his responsibility, and he couldn’t risk Midoriya accidentally injuring himself or others because he didn’t know how to properly control it.

Midoriya was so caught up in the excitement of the experiment that he didn’t notice Shouto’s brooding. That was probably for the best. He didn’t want to burden the boy with his emotional baggage. Not now, when he was so ecstatic.

They repeated the experiment a few more times, confirming that Midoriya could consistently bring the temperature down from around 20 degrees to a cool 19.5. Not exactly enough raw power to rank on the hero billboard, but still exciting.

Midoriya stared at his fingers like they were some priceless artifact in a museum he longed to touch but didn’t dare.

“I’ve actually done it,” he whispered. “My theory works. I’ve come up with a cure for Quirklessness.”

“This is huge,” Shouto agreed. “I hope you’re prepared to change the world with this.”

Blushing, Midoriya looked down and mumbled, “Well, there’s still a lot of stuff that needs testing. For all we know, this is as powerful as the Quirk is ever going to manifest. My body may not be able to house the power very well, or I’m missing secondary characteristics that allow me to control it.”

“The only way to find that out is to keep going.”

Midoriya met his gaze. His pupils were blown wide with excitement, with all the thoughts and potential swirling around in his brain.

“You’re right,” he said. “There’s no way I’m gonna quit. I’m going to keep pressing forward until I reach the finish line.”

“And I’ll be right beside you,” Shouto promised. “As long as you need my assistance, it’s yours.”

I just have to make sure I don’t hurt you in the process.

 

Shouto left the campus that day with a bad taste in his mouth. The bad taste continued all the way to the next day, when he had another scheduled appointment with his therapist.  

He’d seen Dr. Takanashi four times since that initial visit. It wasn’t getting any easier, and after every session he always left with a profound sense that he was wasting his time. However, one thing he was quickly learning to appreciate was being able to ask her things he’d be too embarrassed to ask anyone else.

“I don’t think I’m a very good friend,” he admitted at the start of the session.

“And why is that?” she asked, crossing her short legs.

“I was recently told that I’ve been making everyone worry about me because I’ve been ignoring and blowing them off,” Shouto said, thinking back to his conversation with Aizawa. “I don’t mean to, but when people get too close, even if they mean well, I push them away.”

He thought back to the many valiant attempts of his classmates during high school. He had been invited on endless outings, movies, shopping trips, game nights, and he had refused most of them. Really, he was amazed that people had persisted. A few had given up, taking the hint that Shouto Todoroki thought he was too good to hang out, but a few like Iida and Asui had never quite gotten the memo.

And now there was Midoriya. He had been so persistent, so eager for friendship, and Shouto had just decided to go along with it rather than constantly struggle to keep him at arm’s length. He was beginning to feel like that was the wrong decision.

“Do you like to be around people?” Dr. Takanashi asked.

Shouto shrugged. Most people were annoying, sure, but he didn’t exactly hate them. And there were others that he did enjoy being around. He thought of Midoriya’s bright smile, of his unashamed enthusiasm towards life.

“I like some people,” Shouto said, “but I’m not very good with them.”

“You don’t like not being good at things, do you?” she observed, giving him a sympathetic smile. “It’s okay to not be perfect, Shouto. Just because you feel like you are bad at interacting with people doesn’t mean you aren’t allowed to do it.”

“It’s more than that,” he mused. “It’s not just that I’m bad at it...I’m bad for other people.”

“How so?”

Shouto thought back to snapping at Midoriya. The man hadn’t even done anything, and he’d found a surge of annoyance taking over. It reminded him of the way his father used to snap during training, when he was distracted or childish or anything Endeavor didn’t want him to be.

“A friend of mine needs my help,” he began carefully, “and it’s the kind of help I think only I can give. But I...is the only reason he puts up with me because he needs me? What if he secretly despises me, and is only putting up with me because he wants something from me?”

“What makes you think he’s using you?”

“Because people always use me.”

Because no one sees me as a person. They see me as a tool, a vessel, an heir.

Dr. Takanashi was still giving him that sympathetic smile. He didn’t love the therapy thing, but he appreciated that sometimes she seemed to know how he was feeling even when he was still untangling it.

“Would you say your family uses you?” she asked.  

Like that right there.

“My father. At least he wanted to use me, but that kind of backfired,” Shouto related, feeling the same grim sense of satisfaction at that. His one solace out of his career ending was that he was sure it hurt Endeavor more than it hurt him. And it had hurt him a lot.

“Is it possible that maybe your experiences as a child color how you see the world now?” she prodded. “I think you’re right that most relationships are built off wanting something from the other person. But sometimes the things you want are their companionship, their personality, their perspective.”

With a sigh of exasperation, Shouto let his head fall against the back of his seat and said, “I objectively know you’re right. But...I don’t know, what if you aren’t? What if that’s the way it works for other people, but not for me?”

Is it arrogant to think the laws of the universe apply to everyone else but me?

Not when the rules never applied to him. Shouto had always been special, different. Nothing worked the same for him as it did for his siblings, his classmates.

“We can never really be sure what other people are feeling about us,” Dr. Takanashi reminded him. She said the same thing every week, trying futilely to talk him out of his paranoia. When Shouto glowered, she continued, “However, it might help put some of your worries to rest if you tried asking people how they felt. This week, I want you to choose someone you trust, and ask them if they still care about you even though you’re no longer a pro hero.”

“What?” Shouto asked, blood running cold. “I...I don’t know if I can ask that.”

“Because you’re afraid the answer will be no?” she asked, mouth quirking up. This, too, had become a weekly conversation between them. “Shouto, I think the answer will surprise you. And if it doesn’t, you can rub it in my face that I was wrong. I’m confident I won’t be.”

More knowing smiles from her end. Shouto grit his teeth, contemplating. It’s not that he held any animosity towards the doctor, but...he hated feeling like a coward, and he hated coming here each week looking like a bigger and bigger baby for not doing something so simple. If this is what it took to wipe that smug grin off her face…

“Okay,” Shouto agreed. “I think I know who to ask.”

“Good,” Dr. Takanashi replied. “I can’t wait to hear your results.”