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At least there’s a bright side!

Izuku had heard that phrase, or at least some variation of it, multiple times in his short life as a Pro Hero. A day never went by without it crossing his mind: at least all the civilians had been rescued; at least no one else had been hurt; at least he hadn’t been concussed; at least he hadn’t lost an eye; at least he could still move his arms; at least he was alive.

The last one was always the hardest. If it wasn’t his mother, bent over him, crying, then it was All Might, barely restrained from doing the same. Sometimes his friends got to the hospital first, and it was Ochako and Tenya, or Eijirou, with Katsuki in the doorway, never quite stepping inside – but at least none of them were in the bed beside him.

Or worse. It could always be worse.

There were days when knowing that felt like the only bright side. Those days, when he was so tired, when his body felt like lead, sore and heavy, and his arms ached. When he was so ashamed, he couldn’t even look at All Might as they sat down for dinner. When he was alone at night, staring at the ceiling and replaying his mistakes, trying to find that one thing he could have done differently to save them—

It could always be worse.                                                     

Did Shouto know that?

“-ku. Deku, are you listening?”

Izuku flinched as Ochako placed a hand on his shoulder, her concerned frown reaching deep inside him and twisting. He tried to cover it with a sheepish grin, but it must have looked weaker than it felt, as Ochako sigh and sat down in the chair beside his hospital bed.

“Sorry for scaring you! I thought you heard me come in,” she said, placing her bag in her lap and rummaging through it. Izuku sat up a little straighter, knowing exactly what she was looking for, and a powerful feeling of affection washed over him as she revealed a green tea flavored chocolate bar. She held it up for him, but just before he could reach out and take it, she pulled it away.

“Hey—!”

“What’s wrong?”

Ochako…” Izuku whined, wincing as he stretched to grab the chocolate. Ochako only glared at him and moved it farther away. “Honestly, I’m fine. I was just thinking about the agency and—”

“And Shouto.”

“… And Shouto.” Izuku pouted as she smiled and handed him his reward. “You’re mean. Also, when did you develop a mind-reading Quirk?”

“Not a Quirk, you’re just very easy to read,” Ochako said easily, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She had pulled it up into a messy bun, which meant she had probably just finished her shift before coming to the hospital, but there were other, more telling signs: a small bandage under her chin, the bruises disappearing under her shirt, tired eyes. Izuku tore open the candy wrapper and broke off a piece of chocolate, handing it to her, and she took it with a grateful hum.

“How was work?”

“Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not!” Izuku huffed, leaning back into his pillow. He closed his eyes, acutely aware he was being watched, but he didn’t open them again until he felt the bed dip.

“… Izuku.” Ochako reached out to take his hand, careful of his IV, her pinky raised. The pads of her fingers were callused, but her touch was warm and gentle, and Izuku immediately found himself relaxing. It was no wonder that she had become a popular Pro Hero, even just two years after their graduation, but Izuku had never needed ratings to know how important she was. “Have you talked to him at all?”

“Yeah… That’s the thing, though,” he said, bringing a piece of chocolate to his lips. He couldn’t bring himself to eat it, however, so he set it aside with a heavy sigh. “He still blames himself. He won’t listen to me. It wasn’t his fault, it really wasn’t, but I don’t know how to make him see that… Honestly, if he hadn’t been there, it probably would have been worse.”

Ochako was quiet, but Izuku could see the haunted look in her eyes, his hand coming to rest against his side, bandaged beneath his gown. It could have been worse.

“… Shouto wants to help,” he continued, pushing that thought to the back of his mind. “He wants to ‘make things right,’ in his own words. He’s been, um… persistent about it.”

“Persistent,” Ochako repeated, raising an eyebrow. “How does he want to help?”

“He said something about stopping by my agency before he picks me up today. Mom and All Might are still in Hawaii, so he’s taking me home.”

“I’m surprised you were able to convince them to stay!”

“Trust me, I am, too,” Izuku said, groaning at the memory. “Kacchan had to talk them through my surgery! You can imagine how that went.”

“Someone had to do it. I think he was the only one brave enough,” Ochako said. “This means you aren’t going to have help at home, though, doesn’t it?”

“Not exactly… That’s where Shouto wants to help. He wants to help out around the house and make sure I’m comfortable.”

“That doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Well, no, but I can’t let him! I’ll just be feeding into his guilt, and he’s already got so much on his plate. Endeavor pushes him so hard and All Might’s agency won’t be finalized until next year, so the transfer is still a long way off—”

“Wait—”

“—and he’ll be inside my house!

Ochako blinked and, with a sudden burst of clarity, she laughed.

“Aw, Deku!”

“Ochako!”

Izuku folded his arms around his head, ignoring the slight sting as he pulled at his IV. He could feel the heat in his face, betraying him, while Ochako only laughed harder.

“I’m sorry,” she said after a moment. It was hard to tell if she was being sincere, but at least she was taking pity on him. Small mercies. “Listen… Maybe this isn’t such a bad thing.”

“What.”

“I know it wasn’t his fault, and I agree with you. He saved your life. I don’t want him to feel this way any more than you do… But I do know what he’s feeling, and so do you.” She reached up and gently lowered his arms, fingers brushing over his bandages, her expression thoughtful. “It’s hard to live with hurting someone you were trying to protect. I’ve been to so many hospitals, to see people hurt by my mistakes, but even if I know it wasn’t my fault, it’s always hard to walk out again, to leave them behind. It feels like I’m reliving it, over and over. You know what that’s like.

“It helps when I get to stay a little longer. Sometimes I read to kids or tell them stories about being a Pro Hero. I just want to see them smile, you know? Maybe that’s what Shouto needs right now.”

“… When you put it that way…” Izuku murmured. He couldn’t deny the weight that was slowly being lifted from his shoulders, some of the tenseness melting away.

“Maybe it’s what you need, too.”

Izuku glanced up, ready to agree that, yes, he wanted more than anything for Shouto to smile, to be okay, because he was okay, he really was. He grimaced when he was greeted by Ochako’s sly grin.

“I’m not taking advantage of him like that, Ochako.”

“You couldn’t take advantage of someone even if you tried.”

“I can and I have, but thanks, I guess.”

“Look, I’m just saying… We don’t get to spend a lot of time together these days. Everyone is so busy. This is a good opportunity for you to get to know each other again.”

Ochako squeeze his arm before standing. She gave him a sympathetic smile.

“Be there for each other, and if anything comes of it… Well,” she said, giggling at Izuku’s torn expression. She leaned down, pressing a kiss to his hair. “I’m glad you’re okay, Deku. Just try to take it easy. We want you back at your best!”

Izuku watched as she retreated into the hall, flashing him a blinding smile and a thumbs up. He waved with far less enthusiasm, letting his hand fall back onto the bed with a sigh.

If anything came of it…

It was no secret – at least, to himself and Ochako – that he liked Shouto. He was also sure Tsuyu knew, but Ochako was convinced that most of their classmates had been aware of his high school crush. Izuku couldn’t say for sure that that hadn’t been the case, but thinking about it always made him feel vulnerable. He knew he was easy to read, even if he didn’t like to admit it, but no amount of thorough analysis, rivaling that of even his most detailed notebooks, had given him a clue as to how Shouto felt about him. They had graduated as nothing more than good friends, but as frustrating as that had been, Izuku had never taken it for granted.

And yet, an uncertainty had remained. He felt it when they walked together, apologizing when he got too close, their hands brushing. He felt it when they shared a quiet moment and a good meal, away from the intensity of their public lives. And he felt it when they fought, side by side, the heat of Shouto’s flames lingering long after the battle, in every exhausted smile and careful touch.

He felt it as Shouto’s horrified scream echoed in his mind, turning his blood to ice.

Groaning, Izuku rubbed his hands over his face, his stomach churning. He couldn’t agree to it. It wasn’t fair to either of them, Shouto most of all. He was fine, he was alive, and they needed everything to go back to normal. He had to make Shouto see that.

Even if it was easier said than done.

 


 

Despite the fact he could walk – with help, but he could do it – the doctors had insisted Izuku leave the hospital in a wheelchair. He didn’t protest their orders, but he couldn’t wheel himself around with the strain it put on his injuries, so he waited as patiently as he could until his nurse came to collect him. He tried not to think about what he looked like, knowing his hair was more of a mess than it usually was, and that the clothes Ochako had brought him were wrinkled and stale from being stored in a plastic bag for so long. It made it that much harder when Shouto arrived and he was finally wheeled out of his room to meet him.

Shouto had changed since their days at Yuuei. He was broader, taller, undeniably handsome. The public had come to appreciate those particular attributes very quickly, even before their official debuts, and Izuku couldn’t fault them for it, not when cameras and advertisements followed every move, every fight, with close-ups of ripped costumes and pretty eyes. But there were things they would never see, things they wouldn’t understand. Tabloids ate up visits to the children’s ward, where kids with bandages and scars lit up when they saw him, but they never got close enough to hear his soft words of encouragement as he leaned in for a curious crowd. They never noticed the subtle way his shoulders relaxed as he commanded whirling flames and suffocating heat, nor did they see the importance of the firm set of those same shoulders, never wilting beneath his father’s touch. His eyes were clear, always focused on what was in front of him, never behind.

There were times when Izuku felt pinned by that gaze, struck speechless by the intensity behind it, but just as often he found himself freed by it, by a soft smile and a laugh he was always chasing. But as he rounded the corner and spotted Shouto waiting by the nurse’s station, he knew he would be chasing it for a while yet.

Shouto didn’t look as though he had just come from a long day of work, not like Ochako had. His hair was still slightly damp from a shower and mussed from having a hand constantly running through it. He was dressed smartly in slacks and a dark blazer, and he might have been mistaken for a nervous businessman if the world didn’t already know him as successful Pro Hero. That Shouto, Izuku’s Shouto, was hidden now, buried under fear and anxiety Izuku hadn’t seen high school. He offered him a bright smile, but Shouto only glanced at him and quickly looked away in what Izuku could only describe as thinly veiled panic, as if he hadn’t already seen him at his worst, broken and bleeding in his arms. He struggled to push that thought out of his mind.

“Hey!” he greeted.

“Hey,” Shouto murmured, completely focused on smoothing out the wrinkles of a piece of paper he was holding. When he did look up, it wasn’t at Izuku, but the nurse behind him instead. “Are you sure that’s all I need to know?”

“That should be it, yes,” the nurse replied. Izuku faltered, glancing between the two, but he couldn’t get a word in as Shouto continued.

“And this is his doctor’s number?”

It must not have been the first time he’d asked, as the nurse smiled patiently and relinquished control of the wheelchair to him. He seemed a little too eager to move out of Izuku’s line of sight.

“Yes. Please feel free to call if you have any questions or concerns,” the nurse said. Then, to Izuku, “I’ve already explained the basics of your care to Todoroki-san. With his training, he should have no problems helping you, but it’s important that you follow the instructions in your file. Again, if you have any questions, please call.”

“Okay…” Izuku said, if only because he couldn’t think of anything else to say now that he had the chance. He looked back at Shouto, who ducked away from his gaze, his knuckles white as he gripped the wheelchair. “Thank you.”

They left the hospital through the entrance reserved for heroes in need of medical care. It gave them more privacy, which Izuku appreciated now, but it was for the good of the public as much as it was for him. He’d grown up watching Pros fight through horrendous injuries, but it was an entirely different experience watching them be rushed into the emergency room – an invincible hero suddenly made vulnerable, in need of their own heroes to save them. He didn’t know how much the public knew of his own injury, only that part of the accident had been caught by news crews, but Ochako had refused to elaborate. Izuku didn’t know what that meant, but he hadn’t turned on the television in his room, not even once.

It seemed that the ride home was going to be just as cold and silent, despite the warm summer night. Shouto didn’t say a word as he helped Izuku into an unmarked car, careful hands moving as if the mere brush of his fingers could send him right back into the hospital. Izuku tried not to be annoyed by that, and it worked, especially when he saw the look on Shouto’s face every time his breath hitched or he winced in pain.

It was no small relief when Sansa turned around to smile at him from the driver’s seat.

“Tamakawa-san!”

“Hello, Midoriya-san,” the officer said, the jingle of the bell around his neck lost as Shouto finished saying goodbye to the nurse, sliding into the seat beside Izuku. “It’s good to see you. We were all very worried.”

“I’m sorry,” Izuku said with an awkward laugh, rubbing the back of his head. The tenseness of Shouto’s body beside him didn’t go unnoticed. “I’m fine, honestly. How are you?”

“I’m fine, thank you,” Sansa replied with a flick of his ear. He glanced between them, his gaze lingering on Shouto, but the reflection of his eyes (and his general lack of human facial features) made it difficult to tell what he was thinking. “Tsukauchi-san also sends his well-wishes. He apologizes for not being able to come like All Might asked.”

“That’s all right… All Might asked him to come?”

“Yes.” Sansa looked ahead again to focus on his driving. “Tsukauchi-san was going to take you home, but he had other matters to attend to. He will be visiting soon, however.”

Sansa was being as professional and straightforward as always, but Shouto’s growing discomfort was a telling sign that there was a lot going unsaid. Izuku frowned and reached out for him, but hesitated, his fingers curling in until he sighed and pulled his hand away. He was aware of Sansa’s glances through the rearview mirror, but if he saw anything, he didn’t mention it.

Izuku didn’t know whether to be relieved or anxious as they reached their destination. It was a modest, newer home, closer to his agency in Shinjuku than the old apartment, and with a little more space, though he couldn’t really say he was around much to appreciate it. He had wanted it for his mother and All Might more than himself, after all. It was strange to know he would be living alone until they returned from their trip, but… would he really? If Shouto had his way…

He was once again forced to wait as Shouto gathered his things and took them inside while Sansa helped him out of the car. He hadn’t expected to feel so worn out already, but he leaned heavily against Shouto as he was passed along. He could feel how tense Shouto was, like he had been in the car, and he tilted his head to smile at him.

“Thank you, Shou,” he said, hoping to lighten the mood. Shouto’s eyes were wide as he stared down at him, his arm tightening around him for a moment before he finally blinked and looked away.

“It’s fine.” It wasn’t much, but it was something. Smile still in place, Izuku bowed his head to Sansa.

“You too, Tamakawa-san. I thought getting home would be a lot more stressful…”

Sansa frowned at that, sharing a look with Shouto.

“You have friends around tonight,” Sansa said at length. “Extra patrols have been ordered in this area, for the public’s safety.”

But mostly mine, Izuku thought, his smile fading as he caught on. He’d been protected in the hospital, but he was at the mercy of the news crews, paparazzi and worried fans at home. There were villains, too, who he knew would love to the opportunity to catch a weakened hero, but that meant taking resources away from actual emergencies. What about his own agency? The work strain would be rough on his colleagues, as they would have to pick up his slack—

“Izuku,” Shouto said, and Izuku could have sworn he could see a slight quirk of his lips in the low light. “You’re mumbling.”

“Try not to worry too much. We can handle it,” Sansa added, bowing and taking a step back. “I need to return to the station. Todoroki-san, Midoriya-san, if you need anything, please let us know.”

Izuku waved, watching as Sansa returned to the car and disappeared down the road, the hum of the engine giving way to cicadas and the distant city. Only when he was out of sight did he let his arm fall to his side. He took a deep breath.

“Okay?” Shouto asked. He sounded as uncertain as Izuku felt.

“I’m okay, just tired,” he said, trying and failing to stifle a yawn. Shouto relaxed against him, just slightly, but it was Izuku’s turn to feel tense as he was slowly led into the house. The air was stale and there was a thin layer of dust on the furniture, but it was otherwise exactly as he had left it, including the reminders his mother had left by the door. Izuku blushed and focused on kicking off his hospital slippers before Shouto helped him step up onto the landing.

“I would ask where your room is, but it was kind of obvious,” Shouto said as he guided Izuku to the sofa and carefully sat him down. It was the most Shouto had said to him all night, but he was too embarrassed to appreciate that fact.

“Mom insisted I keep it… All Might wasn’t any help,” he defended himself, glancing down the hall. The first door was his, complete with the All Might inspired sign with his name, worn with age.

“I’m glad you kept it,” Shouto said. “It was your beginning.”

“Yeah, but he wasn’t living in the same house as me then,” Izuku whined, but he smiled regardless and shook his head. “I guess it’s nice to have a reminder of how far you’ve come… Not that it’s easy to forget.”

Shouto hummed in agreement, but his eyes fell to Izuku’s side. He knew what he was seeing there: a gaping wound, blood, bone, ice. He only looked away when Izuku placed his hand over it, biting his lip as Shouto cleared his throat.

“I have a list here… of dietary restrictions,” he said, taking a folded piece of paper from inside his blazer. Izuku recognized the wrinkles from earlier. “I’m sorry for being intrusive. I wanted to know what I should make for you. Are you hungry?”

“I’m really not,” Izuku said. He was being honest, despite having not eaten since lunch, but it was nerves more than pain that was making his stomach churn. “Shouto, you… You don’t have to be here.”

“You shouldn’t take your medication on an empty stomach,” Shouto went on, ignoring him. He was starting to ramble, something else he wasn’t normally prone to doing, and Izuku was shocked into silence. “Miso, maybe? Your doctor said to avoid solid foods for at least a day. Ochako gave me a list, too. Actually, she planned out two weeks’ worth of meals. She said I had evolved to survive only on soba and didn’t know how to take care of a normal person.”

He paused, as if trying to decide if he should react to his own words, but Izuku beat him to it.

“Shouto!” he cried, laughing. It was enough to earn him a small smile, the tension easing from Shouto’s expression, but they both held their breath as a sharp pain flared in his side and he froze. It passed after a moment, leaving him breathless, but he grinned anyway. He knew Shouto wouldn’t believe it – it was his signature, after all, just like All Might before him, and his master before him – but it was genuine. “I think I’ll be okay. Whatever I eat, it’ll be better than what the hospital gave me, right?”

He waited for a response, afraid for a moment that he wouldn’t get one, but Shouto nodded.

“Right,” he said, his expression softening as Izuku flashed him a thumbs-up before yawning again. He held out a hand. “How about I help you to bed?”

“It’s only seven,” Izuku said, blinking tears from his eyes, but he was already stifling another yawn. There was a dull pain in his side that was hovering over the threshold between ignorable and minor annoyance, which probably meant he needed to lie down and rest.

Distantly aware of his mumbling, he reluctantly reached out and took Shouto’s hand. It was big, warm, comforting, and he once again leaned against him as Shouto helped him down the hall and into his room.

It wasn’t like his dorm room had been, with wall-to-wall merchandise and star-spangled curtains, but his favorite figures were still on display, all in glass cases. There was an All Might hoodie draped over his desk chair, and his oldest and most treasured childhood toy stood proudly on his nightstand, watching over him while he slept. They were familiar sights, but there were new additions as well, blending with the old. There were handmade cards on his desk and drawings on his walls, green and red crayon covering almost every available space. Stuffed animals, nearly all of them bunnies, sat on the floor and on shelves. Some of them wore handsewn hero costumes while others wore simple t-shirts, all with the same simple black, hand-painted characters. And there were letters, each of them carefully crafted, right down to the little green heart stickers. All had been opened and read.

Izuku couldn’t see Shouto’s expression, some deep-rooted embarrassment making it difficult to look, but he did hear him laugh softly, and that helped him relax as he was helped into bed and tucked in.

“I’ll see you in the morning, Izuku,” Shouto whispered. Izuku wasn’t so far gone that he didn’t notice the way Shouto’s hands lingered, gentle fingers carding through his hair. They took a part of him with them as they were pulled away, leaving a hole inside him, cold and deep, and he was struck with the desire to call Shouto back. The click of his door, however, smothered that desire, replacing that empty feeling with a weight so heavy he could barely breathe.

Opening his eyes, Izuku stared at the ceiling until he adjusted to the darkness. I’ll see you in the morning. He was supposed to have said no, he should have said no.

Tomorrow, he thought, exhaustion slowly winning over anxiety and guilt. Tomorrow I’ll tell him.

 


 

Waking up was harder than going to bed.

The anxiety he had felt before had followed Izuku into the morning, but he would have given anything to have Shouto by his side now. The struggle just to stand was enough to leave him panting and shaking, sweat beading on his forehead as his side erupted with pain, but it was an entirely different battle walking on his own. His legs trembled even as he braced himself against the wall, stopping every few steps to catch his breath. He had made a poor choice in declining a wheelchair from the hospital, but poor choices weren’t anything new to him.

He let out a relieved groan as he gingerly lowered himself onto the sofa, giving himself a moment to breathe as the pain slowly began to subside into a lesser ache. He let his head fall back into the cushion and closed his eyes, acutely aware of the silence once his heart stopped pounding in his ears. He had gotten used to the sound of bustling hospital life, the beeping of machines and the stern voices of his caregivers admonishing him for trying to get out of bed. Being home again was a relief, but it was a sobering reminder that he was alone.

As if I needed the reminder, Izuku thought, wincing as he shifted to pull up the hem of his shirt.

It wasn’t easy to look at, even if the worst of it was hidden beneath a simple white bandage. It was the bruising that was the most sickening to look at, curling around his abdomen and up his ribs. He could feel it with every breath he took, watching as deep purples and reds stretched over bones. It seemed coming home had made the soreness worse, but it was bearable. He supposed it was that troublingly high pain tolerance everyone always worried about.

He lowered his shirt and let his head fall back again, heaving a heavy sigh that only aggravated his injury. His pain medication was sitting in a paper bag on the coffee table, along with everything else he was supposed to take, twice a day, with food…

Would Shouto be angry with him if he took it now?

“It’s not his responsibility to make sure I take my medicine,” he muttered to himself, but he still didn’t move, staring at the bag until anxiety and frustration made his fingers twitch. He needed to move, to do something, and the only thing he could do without getting up was to reach for the television remote.

The majority of Izuku’s time in the hospital had been spent asleep. Or thinking. The latter had been hard enough to deal with, but he hadn’t had the courage to pick up his phone for anything other than a call from his mother. The television had been ignored altogether. He was a Pro Hero – the news was his life, and his life was the news. There was no escaping it, but surely three weeks was enough time for the worst of it to blow over!

Steeling himself, Izuku tapped the power button with a little more force than necessary, holding his breath as the screen came to life. He waited, wondering if the old unit had always taken so long to turn on or if it was a sign that he should look away or unplug it and forget about it, until finally… the weather.

He could have laughed. He did laugh. He watched as numbers came and went, no clouds, all sunshine. Nothing catastrophic, nothing he had to worry about. He relaxed.

He was only lured further into a sense of security as the news returned. He placed the remote on the cushion beside him and made note of the upcoming festivals, the min min min of the cicadas outside heralding the heat the weather report had promised. And it was just past eight! It was going to be a very hot summer! That was a potential hazard; he would have to keep a close eye on heroes and civilians alike to make sure everyone was staying hydrated, even if it was usually himself who needed the reminder. Tenya would probably start sending him reminders again soon…

Too caught up in his musings, he missed the financial report and the latest political scandal. New legislation was discussed then pushed aside for railway reopenings after the latest villain attacks. Ochako had been involved in one such attack, saving the lives of dozens of civilians by floating a collapsing platform. The track had been a complete loss, something politicians had argued and complained about, but the public had been very vocal of their support for Uravity. She had become quite the popular hero—

“… It’s been three weeks since Pro Hero Deku was hospitalized—”

It was the shock of hearing his name that dragged Izuku out of his thoughts, but it was the flash of fire that smothered any sense of calm he had achieved under a wave of dread. Panicking, he scrambled for the remote, gasping as a sharp pain stopped him in his tracks. It took him a second too long to recover, the tips of his fingers grazing the remote as a wall of white drew his gaze.

Shouto

“—has yet to comment on his role in defending against the attack. Video of the incident, which took place in Shinjuku ward, was released last week following an investigation—”

An investigation into what? He saved my life…

“—which resulted in the horrific injury to his ally—”

The amateur footage jumped in and out of focus. Izuku’s chest tightened as flames were filmed being redirected by an invisible force. A forcefield? He could remember thinking he had figured out the villain’s Quirk. He narrowed his eyes, finding it harder to look away even as his fingers trembled over the remote.

It was always strange, seeing himself in action. It left him feeling exposed, as if he hadn’t expected cameras to be there, as if he hadn’t spent his whole childhood watching video after video of All Might. But All Might had never been hurt in his videos. His younger self had never had to experience the horror he’d known in Kamino. He couldn’t say the same for the young fans watching him. He watched as he leapt from building to building, street lights and traffic signs in between. He watched as Shouto used his fire to map out the maze of invisible walls separating them from the villain. He could see the moment he thought he had solved the riddle and found the opening, Shouto’s warning to wait ignored.

And then the villain was moving his hands and the walls were moving and the flames were being redirected – at him. There were no hidden barriers to stop them, only the glacier that tore through them, or perhaps it was the villain’s Quirk slicing through the ice that caused it to splinter and crack. The only thing Izuku could remember was the cold, sudden and close. He had blacked out before he had even hit the ground.

The video showed him the rest. Steam and glittering shards of ice blocked the view. Izuku could barely see the deep blue of Shouto’s costume as he sprinted toward the chaos and the camera followed. There was no sound other than the newscaster’s voice over, her voice muffled and faraway, but he could imagine the cries as terrified faces came slowly came into view. His own hand went to his mouth as he skidded to a halt with everyone else behind Shouto, who had fallen to his knees. Izuku didn’t want to look. Where was the villain? His eyes darted around the screen, frantic, but he wasn’t sure if it was out of urgency to find the villain or avoid seeing what exactly it was Shouto was reaching for.

The camera moved around for a better look, but the video was blurred. Ironically, it was the censoring effect that made Izuku’s stomach lurch, even if he could only just see the outline of the icy spike, coated in blood, impaling him. Or maybe it was the paleness of his own face, his eyes closed, or the stricken look on Shouto’s, crippled with raw panic and agony—

The video ended as abruptly as it had appeared. Izuku blinked hard and fast, the image of Shouto’s face burned into the back of his eyelids even as a new video tried to take its place. He didn’t immediately catch the blinking red indication at the bottom of the screen that what he was seeing wasn’t just stock footage, but a live feed, not until the camera moved from his front door to Shouto, blocked from moving any closer to his house by a horde of journalists.

Izuku stood a little too quickly, but he shook off the dizziness and fatigue in his hurry to get outside. To his credit, he was faster than he had been trying to reach his sofa, but it still left him severely winded and absolutely not prepared to give a statement. He hadn’t even had the chance to contact his agency’s public relations coordinator, who was surely going to kill him, and that was only if he was fortunate enough to avoid All Might and his mother first.

No one seemed to notice when his door opened, as focused as they were on eating Shouto alive. That gave Izuku just enough time to prop himself up against the gate.

“Hey!” he gasped, and he immediately felt as overwhelmed as Shouto had looked on the news as more than a dozen cameras turned his way.

The brief silence was obliterated by questions. Izuku couldn’t distinguish one from the other as microphones and recorders were shoved in his face, but he stood his ground, if only because letting go of the gate would probably send him crashing to the ground in front of what felt like the entirety of Japan. That had already happened once.

“Um! Wait, I don’t—I’m sorry, could you repeat—”

Years of experience and special training could never prepare him for the adversary that was the media. Some heroes were naturals, seemingly able to answer or deflect any question with a smile and a smooth response. Others took control using fear, their mere presence demanding respect or forcing it with explosive outbursts. But Izuku wasn’t Katsuki, or Momo, or Tenya.

Nor was he Shouto, whose calm, even voice and cool expression would never reveal the trembling hand against his back.

“We’re not taking questions at this time,” he said, raising his voice to be heard over the crowd, but it didn’t do much to calm the furor. The onslaught of questions, ranging anywhere from how he was feeling to whether he would press charges – charges! Against who? The villain? – continued, even as Shouto took his arm in his other hand and slowly began to guide him back toward the house. The reasonable part of him knew it would be better to just go, but the other part, the part that was replaying that video over and over, mapping out every emotion on Shouto’s face, his control shattered and broken on the ground among the ice and blood for the world to see. And here he was again, his breathing faster and more uneven than it should have been, hot against Izuku’s ear.

“Freeze Flame! What are your intentions?”

“Did Endeavor send you?”

“Will this affect your transfer to All Might’s agency?”

No!

“He’s here because I asked him to be!”

That earned him a moment of peace as a hush fell over the crowd. Even Shouto paused, his grip on Izuku loosening enough for him to slip free, but he didn’t let him move too far away. Instead, he stood beside him, a steady, if not mildly confused, presence that made something warm bloom in his chest as he gathered his thoughts.

“I asked him to be here,” he said again. There was a ripple through the crowd as he was asked to elaborate, but the scrutiny of the cameras was nowhere near as intense as Shouto’s gaze, burning into him. “We… We both need a little time to process everything. He is not here at the request of Endeavor, or his agency, or mine.”

He paused, letting a fresh wave of questions, but he refused to let it overwhelm him again.

“He’s a very dear friend… There’s no one I want by my side during my recovery more than Shou—Freeze Flame.”

He was met with silence, but it was short-lived. Revigorated, the crowd pushed forward, boom mics and cameras and flashing lights all fighting to see which could get the closest to his face, but Shouto was pulling him back again, and he didn’t put up a fight this time, though he did consider bowing and apologizing for the impromptu press conference, which he knew was being watched by his entire contact list. He wasn’t sure if it was the pain or Shouto’s insistence that made him reconsider.

Being back inside was like finally breaking the surface for air. Izuku sucked in a breath, then sighed, leaning a little more heavily on Shouto. He had paused in the entry way to slip off his shoes, but he did so slowly, deliberately. Izuku knew he was avoiding going any farther into the house, but before he could ask why, Shouto broke his silence.

“I can leave if you want me to,” he said. There was a weight to his voice that Izuku could see reflected in the subtle knit of his brow, the narrowing of his eyes. He could feel it in the arm that was still firmly wrapped around him. Izuku let his head fall against Shouto’s shoulder. He stiffened, but he didn’t protest, and Izuku didn’t pull away.

“I meant what I said, Shouto.”

“You looked uncomfortable before, in the hospital, when I told you I would come. And last night…”

“It’s not that I don’t want you here,” Izuku said, finally pulling back to look up at him. The tension was still there, and he just barely resisted the urge to reach up and smooth it away. “I just didn’t want you to come because you thought you had to. You don’t have to be here if you don’t want to be.”

“But I want to be!” Even Shouto looked a little bewildered by his declaration, glancing away. “I do want to be here.”

Izuku followed him, shoving his face into Shouto’s line of sight until he relaxed and let their eyes meet again. Izuku smiled.

“I’m glad. I’m really glad,” he said, surprising himself with his own honesty. “That… That makes me happy. I was afraid you…”

“… What?”

Izuku shook his head and stepped up onto the landing, accepting Shouto’s hand when he offered it.

“I just… I didn’t want this to change anything between us. I mean, I didn’t want it to make you think I didn’t want you – here, I mean, that I didn’t want you here, because I do, just not because you think you should be, you know, like I said—”

He only stopped when Shouto placed a hand on his head with the same gentleness he had the night before. Warm fingers dug into wild curls until they grasped a few strands and tugged.

“It’s okay. I understand,” he said. “You probably should have brushed your hair first, though.”

“… Oh, no…”

“Mmhmm.”

Izuku flushed a deep red, groaning in dismay, but Shouto smiled and squeezed his hand. Izuku had almost forgotten he was holding it, relieved that he was already had a reason to blush. That was worth making a fool out of himself in front of the entire population of Japan.

 


 

Forgetting to brush his teeth and then subjecting Shouto to his morning breath was definitely on Izuku’s list of embarrassing and potentially life-threatening mistakes he would spend weeks overanalyzing, but he didn’t have long to wallow in self-pity. No sooner than he had left the bathroom, smelling a little too strongly of deodorant and minty toothpaste, was a different kind of terror letting itself inside his house.

“Kacchan!”

“Bakugou,” Shouto started, moving out of the kitchen to act as a buffer between him and Izuku, but nothing less than a solid steel wall would ever be enough to protect against Nitro.

“Do you idiots even have an explanation for that stunt or did the single brain cell you share abscond into the fucking stratosphere?”

There was something distantly comforting about it, Izuku decided. Did I miss this? Maybe it was still too early for him to really appreciate Katsuki’s screaming, but it meant he wasn’t in the hospital. This is normal.

“I have enough to deal with already! Riot’s patrolling our zone alone while I’m stuck playing bodyguard for two professional morons,” Katsuki continued, pulling down his mask.

“Alone? But we’re not meant to patrol alone—”

“Ha! How do you think we’ve been managing your zone?” Katsuki asked, and if Izuku didn’t know him, he might have missed the quick glance he gave Shouto, but he wasn’t given the chance to linger on it. “We’re already stretched too thin with these shitty new regulations. You think anyone has time to deal with the media? The PR Department is breathing down my neck like it’s my fault you’re out here holding your bleeding heart out to the wolves.”

“Kacchan… I’m sorry.” Izuku bit his lip. He could hear Katsuki grinding his teeth. “I didn’t think—”

“I know you didn’t, Deku,” Katsuki snapped, palms crackling as he ignored Shouto’s angry rebuke. “You moved without thinking, like you always do. Try to fucking consider what that means for the rest of us for once.”

Izuku tensed as Katsuki lifted his hand, vaguely aware that Shouto had also moved, but neither of them had time to react as Katsuki’s fingers dug into his hair, the rough pads of his gloves scratching his scalp.

“Brush your damn hair, nerd. You’re giving Eiji a run for his money.”

Izuku managed a smile at that, the tense set of Katsuki’s shoulders relaxing just enough for him to know that the immediate danger had passed, even if it had left him winded. He bowed his head with the gentle push of Katsuki’s hand as he finished driving his message into his scalp. Then he pulled away with a growl, bending to grab a plastic bag from the floor. Izuku hadn’t even noticed it, or the metal case that made him suck in a breath.

“Hatsume finished her adjustments so the agency had me bring it over,” Katsuki said. He shoved the bag into Shouto’s arms. “That’s food.”

Izuku dragged his gaze away from the case to investigate the bag. Inside were two bento boxes, one with Shouto’s design, the other with his own. He grinned.

“Kacchan! Thank you!”

“It’s not from me, idiot!” Katsuki snarled. “Uraraka asked me because, apparently, I’m everyone’s fucking delivery boy now.”

He turned on his heels, shoving his mask back onto his face. He didn’t look back.

“Hurry up and recover already.”

Izuku followed him to the door, wincing as Katsuki slammed it behind him, leaving a deafening silence behind him that was only broken by muffled voices coming from outside. There was a small explosion and a scream as the last of the journalists were chased off.

Die!”

“Die?” Izuku blinked, turning back around to face Shouto. He smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his neck. “Well, looks like we have breakfast! Are you hungry?”

Shouto still looked irritated, but there was something deeper there that made Izuku uneasy.

“… Everything okay?”

“… I brought food.”

Izuku blinked and leaned to look around him. On the kitchen counter was a half unpacked satchel of food, soba noodles included. Izuku couldn't help the grin that spread across his face and he laughed, feeling the uncomfortable tug in his side but ultimately ignoring it in favor of keeping Shouto just like he was, the severity of his expression giving way to a soft look as Izuku said, "We'll make lunch together. I promise."

 


 

The rest of the day passed without incident, much to Izuku's relief. With the chaos quelled, he was beginning to realize just how exhausted and sore he was, but he diligently took his medication and confined himself to the sofa. More helpful than that, however, was Shouto's care. He was the one to finally brush Izuku's hair, pulling it back with the same gentleness he had used the night before, nearly lulling him to sleep once again. He was also the one to prepare most of their lunch (and, later, their dinner) while Izuku resigned himself to chopping the onions for their soup. Afterward, Shouto cleaned the dishes, put away everything they would need for tomorrow's meals, started a load of laundry (much to Izuku's embarrassment), and prepared him a bath - also to Izuku's embarrassment, but he was a little less inclined to protest when he was finally free of his grimy clothes, steam warming his skin.

Regardless, he was left a little winded as Shouto helped him into the tub, and it wasn't entirely due to exertion.

Blushing, Izuku sank into the bath, letting it lap at his ears as Shouto excused himself. The warmth of the water was calming, soothing the aches and his racing heart, but his mind wasn't as easy to pacify. His thoughts bounced around in his skull, his focus scrambling to snag onto something coherent before it slipped through his fingers. Groaning, he sucked in a breath and submerged his head under the water.

It had been a nice day; he could start with that. Turbulent morning aside, he had enjoyed being with Shouto. When he hadn't been helping with chores, they had sat together and talked, watched TV (Shouto was especially interested in his old All Might clips), and played video games. Izuku wasn’t sure if he was just severely out of practice or if Shouto was just unfairly good, but he was certain Shouto had let him win that last round in Smash—no, he was getting distracted. Focus.

How was Shouto doing, really? He hadn't said much about the media after Katsuki had chased them off, but Izuku knew he had been looking. How many times had he seen him stare down at his phone, brows knitted, his shoulders tense? Replying to public forums and comment sections went against the policies of most agencies, but that didn’t mean they didn’t look.

Izuku let out a slow breath, bubbles racing to the surface. Should he bring it up? He thought he was doing a good job distracting Shouto, but maybe it would better to talk. Well, he knew it would be better to talk, but would Shouto want to? Would it make him uncomfortable? Izuku didn’t want to make things worse, didn’t want to—

He broke the surface with a gasp, finally taking a much-needed breath.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to make a habit of thinking underwater.”

“Shouto!” Water nearly splashed over the sides of the tub as Izuku startled, but his embarrassed stuttering morphed into a laugh as Shouto chuckled and sat down on the wooden stool by the tub. “I wasn’t mumbling… I don’t think…”

“Sure,” Shouto said, holding up a hand in defense as Izuku reached out and smacked his arm. Izuku could see now that he had brought the kit the doctor had sent him home with. It was a sobering sight, but he didn’t let it show. “What were you thinking about?”

“… Nothing important,” Izuku said, smiling. If Shouto thought otherwise, he didn’t say anything, letting a surprisingly comfortable silence settle over them as Izuku lowered his arms back into the water. Above them, through the open window, he could hear the occasional hum of an engine, his neighbor calling in her children. Loudest of all were the cicadas, their evening song lulling Izuku into a sense of peace. Even as Shouto began to massage shampoo into his hair, his hands occasionally going low enough to smooth over his shoulders, pushing into muscles Izuku didn’t even know were tense, tracing scars and connecting freckles, he didn’t open his eyes. He sank deeper into the water, his mind blank and his chest buzzing with a pleasurable warmth that didn’t disappear even when Shouto had to reach under his arms to lift him back up.

“Okay?”

Izuku tilted his head back just as Shouto leaned over him. Izuku’s breath caught in his throat at their closeness, but he couldn’t bring himself to turn away. He knew he wasn’t being subtle as his eyes followed a strong jawline to soft, pink lips. Those were the features the advertisers liked, but none of them had ever gotten so close as to see the rippling colors in his irises, blues and whites and grays with the slightest hint of what Izuku could only describe as gold—

“Perfect,” he murmured, half afraid he had said his observations out loud, but Shouto smiled.

“Let me know when you’re ready to rinse off. We should start applying this ointment soon.”

Shouto might as well have filled the tub with ice. Izuku barely held back a grimace, his lingering anxiety rearing its head.

“It’s okay, Shouto, I can do it!” he gasped, waving his hands.

“Your nurse said you might need some help.”

“It’s not—really, it’s not hard—”

Izuku froze, wincing at the sharp pain in his side. He leaned forward, gasping, unsure if he was grateful or guilty over Shouto’s careful touch on his back.

“… I’m going to help you rinse off, okay?”

It was another case of ‘easier said than done,’ even as the pain subsided. It left him feeling weak, his fingers trembling against the side of the tub while Shouto rinsed his hair, his expression unreadable. Izuku bit his lip and stared down at the water, which was just murky enough with soap to hide the bruises. Shouto hadn’t looked when he’d helped Izuku into the bath. This would be his first time seeing what he’d done.

 It wasn’t his fault. He saved my life, Izuku thought furiously, shaking his head and sending water flying from hair. He glanced behind him.

“Sorry…”

“It’s okay,” Shouto said. He paused, looking unsure as he continued, “Are you okay?”

For a moment Izuku considered asking him the same thing, but something stopped him. No words came. Instead, he nodded and took Shouto’s hand when he offered it, gritting his teeth as he stood and stepped out of the bath.

He wrapped his towel low around his waist once he was dry, sitting down on the stool while Shouto kneeled to his left. Izuku had to force himself not to look away as Shouto uncapped the ointment, lifting his head and coming face to face with Izuku’s scar.

It was a stark pink against the bruising, twisting like a vine in all directions, raised above Izuku’s skin. And yet, there was a kind of order to it, like ancient streets turning into new. Where the wild and winding trails of his injury ended, the surgically precise incisions began, crisscrossing in thick lines over the epicenter of it all. It was a tight, circular bunch, with jagged edges that seemed to engulf his side like waves crashing against the shore. Izuku watched as Shouto raised his hand to it, hovering so close he could feel the warmth of his fingers, but not his palm. He took a breath.

“… They said I didn’t have the stamina,” he murmured. “They tried to reduce the scarring, but they didn’t want to risk speeding up the process.”

Recovery Girl would have had something to say about it, he was sure. She had retired, of course, but her legacy was carried on by her interns, and they had picked up his case exactly where she had left off. It was their training that had kept him alive, and he was more than willing to make the trade for a few more scars.

Lost in thought, he jumped at Shouto’s touch.

“Does it hurt?” he asked, pausing, the tips of his fingers covered in ointment. He was still hard to read, but Izuku could hear how subdued his voice was, his eyes hidden under his hair.

“It doesn’t,” Izuku said honestly. “You just surprised me, that’s all… I can’t feel much around it.”

On the surface, at least.

The ointment was a special prescription designed for him, meant to target swelling and inflammation, but Izuku was content with just the cool touch of Shouto’s right side. He was careful in his application, taking his time, lingering over particularly rough spots. He hesitated near his bruises, curling his fingers back against his palm, but Izuku moved without thinking, taking his wrist and pulling him close again. Shouto tensed, but Izuku didn’t let go.

“It helps,” he said quietly. Please.

Shouto flattened his palm against Izuku’s skin, the squeeze of Izuku’s fingers around his wrist enough permission for him. The chill of his Quirk was instantly soothing, and Izuku closed his eyes, unwilling to open them again until he began to shiver and Shouto moved away.

“I’ll make you an ice pack for tonight,” he said. Izuku listened closely for humor, for anything, but he couldn’t hear it, his heart dropping back into his stomach. “Let me help you to bed first.”

Izuku was far more awake than he had been the night before. He felt everything as Shouto helped him into his bedroom, embarrassment included as his light was switched on, but he was glad for the distraction, and he liked to think Shouto was, too.

“It’s probably super arrogant of me to have so much of my own stuff, huh?” he asked, a little out of breath as he finished dressing for sleep, sitting down on his bed with some effort. For a moment he was afraid Shouto wasn’t going to respond, and he was even more terrified of what that meant, but his worrying was for nothing.

“I don’t think so,” Shouto said, reaching up to one of the shelves and taking a green plush rabbit. Like the others, it was wearing Izuku’s costume. “These are from your fans. People you’ve helped. I think it’s good that you keep them… My father never cared to.”

He sat down on the edge of Izuku’s bed, still holding the rabbit. He gently tugged on the fluffy tuft of hair between its ears.

“This one looks like you.”

“They all look like me,” Izuku said, but he took the rabbit with a smile as Shouto held it out for him. He relaxed against his pillow, exhaustion finally getting the best of him. “I should make one for you. A cat, maybe.”

“Why?”

“Why a cat?”

“Why anything.”

Izuku hesitated, staring at the rabbit. He could still remember the note that had come with it – a little boy, thanking him for saving his dog from a house fire. He could remember the tearful smile on the boy’s face as he’d held out a wriggling puppy, covered in soot but alive. Holding the toy brought back that same feeling even now.

“Every hero needs a reminder of how much they’re loved,” he said at last, holding the rabbit back out to Shouto. “He should stay with you tonight.”

He realized too late that he had no idea how Shouto would respond to that, so he was pleasantly surprised when he took the rabbit, holding it to his chest.

“I’ll bring him back,” he said, and his smile immediately eased the tension in Izuku’s chest, his anxiety releasing some of its hold on him. As Shouto left for the night, he was able to close his eyes, sleep coming a little easier.

Chapter Text

July stretched into August and still Shouto didn’t bring the rabbit back. Izuku never mentioned it, but privately he was relieved, happy. Happy to know that he was doing something right when Shouto arrived on his doorstep each day, food in hand and a smile on his face. Happy when they sat quietly, simply enjoying each other’s company as the summer evening sang around them.

“Do you hear that?” Izuku asked, stretching out his legs, his toes sinking into the cool grass. “Tsuku tsuku boshi – the end of summer.”

“Is that what it means?” Shouto asked. He had his legs crossed beneath him, hands resting in his lap. “I’ve never really noticed.”

Izuku nodded, thinking back to his childhood, filled with dread at the sound of the cicada’s cry. He had had his own reasons for not wanting to return to school, reasons he didn’t like to think back on, but he could remember what it was like to hear that sound, to feel that dread – the one thing he could claim to know, to understand, just like his classmates. Despite everything, it had given him a sense of solidarity, even when he was alone.

“They were Kacchan’s favorite to find,” he said quietly, tilting his head back. The sun had set, blue slowly fading into black, the hint of rain on the breeze. Sighing, he leaned against Shouto’s shoulder. “He liked to blow them up, though. They made him angry.”

“I think everything exists just to make him angry.”

Izuku laughed at that, but he didn’t miss the way Shouto’s arm tensed beneath him before relaxing again. If he were any more hopeful than he was, he would say Shouto was leaning against him, his hair yielding to the subtle press of Shouto’s cheek.

“I think they’re beautiful,” he continued, closing his eyes. “They have the most complex song. If you listen, you can hear it.”

He fell silent, waiting. Shouto didn’t speak, either, but Izuku could feel it as he leaned forward just slightly, listening for the change. He could feel when Shouto picked up on it, his breath hitching, the curve of his body as he bowed forward. Izuku couldn’t see it, but he knew he was smiling, could hear it in his voice.

“It is beautiful.”

Izuku wasn’t expecting Shouto to be looking at him when he opened his eyes.

“… Izuku?”

Izuku jumped as Shouto touched his arm.

“Oh! I’m sorry!” he said, smoothing his hands over the dough. The buckwheat flour made a rough sound that momentarily distracted him from his embarrassment, but Shouto could always be counted on to bring him out of his thoughts, for better or worse.

“Okay?” he asked, fingers skirting over the rolling pin. How long had he been waiting? Izuku didn’t want to know, but before he could apologize again, Shouto continued, “You’ve been quiet tonight.”

The concern in Shouto’s voice made Izuku ache with guilt, but there was nothing he could do about it. Well, nothing he could do that didn’t involve possibly making a bigger fool out of himself than he already was. He had replayed their earlier conversation over and over in his head, trying to figure out what Shouto had meant, trying to decipher a code he wasn’t even sure existed.

Sighing, he ran his hands over the dough one more time, then stepped aside to let Shouto finish working it. He watched in silent awe as he expertly rolled, spread and folded the dough until it was a nearly perfect rectangle, but he could tell Shouto was distracted, still waiting for his response. Izuku shook his head.

“You know, I think Ochako thought you were going to try feeding me instant noodles every day,” he said as Shouto moved the dough over to the cutting block. “I think she would be very impressed with you right now.”

“You think?” Shouto glanced at him, the hint of a smirk on his face. “It’s not difficult. The real skill is in getting the dough just right, but even that just takes a little practice.”

He took a flat wooden board and placed it over the dough, giving himself just enough space at the end to make the first cut with his knife. Then it was like watching an artist work. Izuku’s eyes followed the sharp movements of Shouto’s hands as he brought the blade down, slicing the dough into thin strands. His other hand shifted with the board in such a precise way that Izuku was sure each strand could be perfectly measured, but there was nothing mechanical about the way Shouto moved. Each cut was as rigid as his ice, guided by a wrist that rose and fell like his flames—

“Lost in thought again?”

“S-Sorry!”

Izuku’s face burned. Maybe he had lost his mind if he was waxing poetic about soba noodles, but it was hard to focus when he was so fascinated by the way the veins in Shouto’s hands moved when he tightened his grip on the knife—

“I was just thinking that I don’t have that kind of control,” he said with a sheepish grin. Inwardly, he cursed himself, scrambling desperately for a distraction. “My hands shake sometimes when I try to do something that precise. I didn’t exactly take good care of them in school.”

Shouto hummed in response as he stopped cutting, taking the section he had cut and dropping it into a bowl.

“Come here,” he said, stepping to the side. “I promise I’m not doing anything special. I’ll show you.”

“Are you sure you don’t want to keep the illusion?” Izuku joked, but he hesitated when he realized Shouto wasn’t going to let him out of it. This wasn’t the distraction he had been looking for… but how could he say no? Taking a deep breath to calm himself, he moved to take Shouto’s place, waiting for his instructions. “Okay, now what—”

“Here,” Shouto said, and suddenly he was pressed to Izuku’s back, deft fingers guiding Izuku’s own into position as he reached around him. Izuku could barely register the handle of the knife, still warm from where Shouto had held it; he was sure he would have dropped it if Shouto hadn’t wrapped his fingers around it for him. “Relax. The more effort you put into it, the sloppier it’ll be. Let the knife do the work.”

He moved Izuku’s hand, knife and all, into position, blade resting against the end of the board.

“Lean the knife against the board as you bring it down. Angle it just a little, like this… Now, let the board move. Don’t move it yourself, just guide it. Don’t put too much pressure.”

As it was, the only pressure Izuku was concerned about was Shouto’s chest against his back. Could he feel Shouto’s heartbeat? Probably not, but he was sure Shouto could feel his with how desperate it was to pound its way out of his body. He felt dizzy, his fingers trembling each time he lifted them from the wood, so instead he resolved to just leave them there, somehow managing to grasp onto the details of what Shouto was telling him.

“That’s it. You’re doing fine.” He sounded pleased, which gave Izuku the strength to remain standing when he finally pulled away.

It was easier than it looked, though it could have also been Shouto’s praise as Izuku sliced the rest of the dough. He let Shouto finish it, watching as he boiled the noodles before moving them into a bowl of ice water. Izuku nearly couldn’t resist dipping his face into the bowl, too, his cheeks still hot.

He wasn’t sure if Shouto knew what he was doing. He was a man of few words, naturally leaning toward a more hands-on approach, and Izuku had relied heavily on him during his recovery. He was more independent now, able to walk on his own, to cook and clean, but Shouto was still there when he needed him, close enough that Izuku only had to glance over his shoulder. But that hadn’t changed the way he touched him when he helped him brush his hair or pull a shirt over his head. It hadn’t changed the way he looked at him during quiet moments, or the way he let Izuku lean against him while talking about what to make for dinner or cicadas.

Did Shouto know what he was doing to Izuku?

“… Are you sure you’re okay?”

Izuku looked up from his soba. His body was still buzzing, the ghost of Shouto’s touch making him shiver, though it could have been the cold noodles. But the smile he gave Shouto wasn’t forced.

“Yeah! Just admiring your culinary skills. I’ve never had cold soba like this before,” he said, licking his lip. Across from him, Shouto returned the smile before slurping more noodles. Izuku laughed as the tail of one flew up to tap him on the nose. “I’m glad I didn’t ruin it for you.”

“You did a good job,” Shouto said, lowering his chopsticks as he stifled a yawn. “Ah… You never fail to impress me, Izuku.”

“Shouto…” Izuku wanted nothing more than the melt under the warmth in Shouto’s voice, to let himself spiral once again into that pleasure before he began to overthink it again, but Shouto was yawning again, blinking tears from his eyes, and Izuku instead wilted in shame. “… Are you okay?”

It was a sobering thought, that he had spent the entire evening trying to figure Shouto out when the obvious had been right in front of him. He was tired, and Izuku couldn’t pretend it was the first time he had noticed, couldn’t pretend he didn’t know why. While Izuku was at home every day, waiting for Shouto, Shouto was out working, being the hero everyone else needed. While Izuku worried over a conversation, the meaning behind a look, Shouto worried over him.

Selfish.

Shouto looked away, his smile not quite reaching his eyes.

“Don’t worry about me, Izuku. I’m more concerned about…”

Izuku curled his fingers into fists beneath the table.

“… I see my doctor again next week. I think she’ll give me the clear to go back to work,” he said. “I’m fine, Shouto. Really.”

Shouto didn’t respond and Izuku hurriedly continued.

“I know it’s a lot of extra work for you, coming here every day. I never wanted—you don’t have to exhaust yourself for me.”

“Izuku.”

“You’ve already done so much for me. I can’t keep asking more from you, Shou, I can’t. I don’t have the right to. You don’t have to keep paying for something that wasn’t your fault. You don’t owe me anything else.”

Izuku.”

“You need to rest—”

“Do you trust me?”

Izuku finally looked up, pausing.

“Of course I do,” he said, confused.

“Then believe me when I say that I want to be here,” Shouto said. “I know you’re doing better. I… saw you at your worst. I know how far you’ve come. You don’t need me anymore, but I want…”

Izuku leaned forward, waiting, but Shouto shook his head.

“You don’t need me,” he said again. “I can stop coming, if you want me to, Izuku.”

Izuku’s heart dropped to his feet and his stomach lurched. The lighthearted atmosphere had soured so quickly, leaving him cold and winded. Shouto didn’t look much better, stiff in his chair, soba forgotten. Panic gripped him, fierce and sudden, and he reached forward without thinking, taking Shouto’s hand.

I need you.

“I… I’m glad you’re here. I thought it would be harder, sitting at home while I should have been helping people. But being with you made it easier,” he said. Shouto was staring at their hands, but he hadn’t pulled away. “I want you to stay if…”

“If?”

 “… If you’ll get some rest. If you promise not to work too hard.”

Shouto shifted his hand in Izuku’s grip.

“I promise.”

“And that you’ll take a nap.”

“You don’t have to ask me to do that.”

Izuku snorted, a hesitant smile on his face that only grew as Shouto returned it, squeezing his hand.

 


 

Izuku didn’t bother to straighten his shoes as he kicked them off, stomping into the living room. He tossed his keys and his phone onto the sofa, then plopped down beside them, wincing at the dull pain that flared in his side. Tears of frustration began to well up, not for the first time, and he groaned, reaching up to harshly rub them away.

He didn’t understand.

His doctor had been pleased to see him. His tests had all come back normal. His physical exam had gone well. They were optimistic.

Optimistic that he could return to hero work in a couple of weeks.

Izuku wanted to scream.

He had been doing everything right. He had been taking his medication and doing his recommended exercises. He had stuck to his diet. He had been drinking plenty of water and getting plenty of sleep. He had been resting, letting himself recover, letting himself heal.

Two more weeks.

He had been out of commission for three already. The reasonable part of him knew two more would be nothing. He probably needed the extra time to continue building his strength back up, to let the rest of the bruising and soreness disappear. It was a precaution, they’d said. He couldn’t rush back into it…

It would be two more weeks with Shouto, who hadn’t sounded upset at all when Izuku had called him.

That was unreasonable, but no more so than the part of him that was desperate to get back on patrol. He hadn’t lied before, about how much Shouto had helped him deal with being stuck at home, but he still longed for the weight of his gear, the wind in his hair, the city under his watch. His colleagues, his friends, were more than capable of taking care of things on their own. He didn’t doubt them. He missed being out in the field alongside them, instead of under their guard.

Sighing, he reached for his phone. There was a backlog of paperwork waiting for him, he knew, and though administration wasn’t exactly his forte, it was something.

“Hello?”

“Hey, Ochako.”

“Oh, Deku!” Izuku smiled, pulling the phone away from his ear as Ochako launched into an enthusiastic greeting. “How are you doing? What did your doctor say?”

“I’m fine. The exam went well. Everything looked great.”

“I’m glad! I’m proud of you for taking this seriously. You needed time to recover.”

“About that…” Izuku paused. “Do you think I could come in and do some paperwork?”

“… They didn’t give you the clear to come back, did they.”

She didn’t phrase it as a question. Izuku groaned.

“I didn’t say that—”

“Izuku,” Ochako said, her voice firm but careful. Pitying. Izuku squeezed his eyes shut. “If they had, you wouldn’t be calling me about paperwork. You’d be here, suiting up in the locker room. You can’t tell me that wasn’t your plan.”

She was right. He couldn’t.

“Two weeks was the estimate,” he said dully. “I don’t understand why it’s taking so long.”

“You suffered a traumatic abdominal injury. Do you think you should be jumping around the city after something like that? Our work is dangerous enough as it is.”

“I know, I know… But, paperwork. I can do that, right? I mean, I’ll be sitting down. No jumping necessary.”

Ochako’s silence wasn’t encouraging.

“… I’m sorry, Izuku… Our agency’s insurance is very strict. You know that. Without written approval…”

“It’s paperwork.” Izuku bit his lip as Ochako sighed. “I’m sorry, Ochako. It’s just—it’s been three weeks already, not counting the time I spent in the hospital. I’m tired of sitting around doing nothing. I need to be out there with you guys. I mean, I’m sure it’s been hard on everyone, covering my area. People are going to start losing their faith in me—"

“You know absolutely no one is going to lose their faith in you. The public understands, and so do we,” Ochako said. “They care about you. I care about you. Even Katsuki doesn’t complain when he takes an extra shift. Besides, we’ve had a lot of help from Shouto.”

“That’s just it, though. I don’t want them to understand. I want them to know that I am here when they need—”

He stopped.

“Wait. Shouto?”

“Yes…? He was just here, actually.”

“Why was he there?”

“He’s taken a few double shifts. Like I said, he’s been a huge help,” Ochako said, sounding confused. “Did he… not tell you?”

“He didn’t.”

“Oh.” Izuku had the distinct feeling that she regretted saying anything at all. “Izuku…”

“It’s fine,” he replied distractedly, running a hand through his hair. “I’ll call you later, okay?”

Izuku let his hand fall into his lap as Ochako said goodbye. She was worried, he could tell, but guilt would come later. He was too distracted, a storm of conflicting emotions warring inside him.

He’s been so tired recently…

He tensed at the chime of his doorbell, the sudden rush of panic leaving him breathless. He stood slowly from the sofa, distantly aware of the pull in his side, the slight tremble in his hands and knees. What was he going to say? What could he say?

He hasn’t been lying to me, he thought to himself, moving slowly toward the door, his heart pounding faster with each slow, deliberate step. He just… never said anything about it.

And he never had to. Surely it was obvious, now that he thought about it. The signs had always been there. Shouto was tired, stressed, and Izuku had been stupid enough to accept that it was just because he spent a few hours with him every day. There had to be more; Endeavor alone was too much, regardless of how much he had changed over the years. He still pushed Shouto to his limit, wanted him to be the best, and though it had been Shouto’s choice to stay with his father’s agency, Izuku had no doubt he was looking forward to the day he officially joined All Might’s. Knowing he was being forced to shoulder Izuku’s failures alongside that pressure…

Izuku opened the door, and Shouto greeted him with a smile.

“Hey,” he said, holding up a plastic bag. “Up for takoyaki?”

The scent hit Izuku like a well-aimed punch, his stomach churning. He couldn’t even imagine eating, not when Shouto was watching him, his tilted in that kind of way it did when he was concerned. Izuku knew he was trying to cheer him up after the disappointing news, trying to make him smile, but all he could see was sheer exhaustion – dark circles against pale skin, sunken eyes, a tired smiled. Izuku let his eyes wander, his distress growing with each new discovery, such as the fresh bandage on Shouto’s left hand, the hint of a bruise along his jaw. His lip was split at the corner. Izuku’s chest ached… Shouto wasn’t just tired, he was hurt, and all Izuku could do about it was cry.

“Izuku?” Shouto lowered the bag, slightly panicked. “I’m sorry, I should have—”

“No, no, it’s—” Izuku shook his head, the words refusing to come. “—nothing. It’s nothing.”

He sniffled, rubbing harshly at his eyes before reaching out to take the bag from Shouto’s hand. His fingertips brushed the bandages, nearly sending him into a new bout of tears, but there was something else, too, like helplessness, fear.

“Thank you, Shouto. This… means a lot,” he murmured. Shouto nodded, but he looked unsure, guilty. Izuku couldn’t meet his gaze. “Let’s eat, okay?”

Shouto followed him at a distance as Izuku turned on his heel and padded into the kitchen. He offered to help set the table, falling silent when Izuku declined, but he could still feel his gaze burning into his back as he reached up to open the cabinet. His side burned with the stretch, but Izuku pushed through it, refused to acknowledge it.

Do you trust me?

Eating was as hard as Izuku feared it would be. Shouto gave him first pick, but each bite was harder to swallow than the last, a bitter taste lingering in his mouth. His hands shook.

Of course I do.

Izuku had never had a reason not to.

“… You worked an overnight shift, didn’t you?” he asked when he couldn’t stand it any longer. Shouto looked up from his mutilated takoyaki, frowning.

“That’s right.”

“You’re hurt.”

Shouto glanced at his hand.

“It’s nothing serious,” he said. “I just let my guard down.”

“You let them get close enough to hit you.” Izuku hadn’t meant to sound so accusing, and a part of him regretted it, but the greater part was relieved, like finally breaking the surface for air. “You’re tired.”

“I told you, I’m fi—”

“Have you slept at all?”

Shouto sat a little straighter at that, his lips pressed into a thin line, shoulders drawn up defensively. He was rarely one to apologize for doing something he felt was right, always standing by his actions, never willing to back down. There was a fire there, fierce and deadly, and though Shouto insisted he had been the one to ignite it, Izuku knew better. It had always been there.

He couldn’t see it now.

“Izuku…”

“I know you came from my agency. I know you took a shift – my shift.” There was an unpleasant clang as Shouto dropped his chopsticks against the porcelain plate, his hands coming to rest on the table. He looked surprised, so Izuku elaborated. “I talked to Ochako. She told me you were there. She told me you’ve been taking extra shifts.”

He reached across the table, placing his hand over Shouto’s.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

Shouto’s hand tensed beneath his touch and Izuku nearly drew back, but he stopped himself.

“I didn’t want you to worry,” Shouto said, and it might have been true, but there was something else behind his words that brought all of Izuku’s anxiety and shame crashing back down into his chest.

“But—the news. You knew I would have…” He had been avoiding the tabloids for weeks. Even his favorite forums, some of which he had been active on since he was a child, went untouched. He had been afraid of what he would find – not about himself, but Shouto. He’d had enough of that already, had probably made it worse, but even out of sight, it lingered in his mind. Only the mainstream news outlets were relatively safe, with the occasional update on his recovery, always given by an official spokesperson. He hadn’t heard anything about Shouto beyond a passing mention, and while that had been a relief at first, it didn’t seem so lucky now. “They haven’t reported on it at all…”

He sucked in a breath.

“It’s Endeavor, isn’t it? He doesn’t want it publicized. What, does he think it’s like an admission of guilt?”

“Izuku—”

With a pained expression, Shouto pulled his hand from under Izuku’s, bringing it to his chest as if he had been burned. Izuku was vaguely aware that he might have overstepped a boundary, but he felt justified. Angry.

“You can’t let him do this to you, Shouto! He’s wrong. You’ve been killing yourself trying to fill in the gaps, just to help me. You can’t let him—”

“I’m not letting my father tell me anything I don’t already know.”

Izuku stuttered as Shouto suddenly stood from the table, his chair nearly tipping backward. There was a raw kind of panic in his eyes, guilt and fear and hatred, but Izuku had the terrible feeling that it wasn’t directed at who it needed to be.

“Shouto, wait, I’m sorry—”

“You don’t have anything to be sorry for. It’s me,” Shouto said, his head bowed. Izuku stood, trying to follow him, but Shouto backed away. “I need to go. I promise I’ll get some rest, okay? Please don’t worry.”

Izuku tried again, reaching out for him, but Shouto turned away, hurriedly stepping into his shoes by the door. Then he was gone, leaving Izuku alone, his hand still outstretched, grasping at air.

Eventually, Izuku left the kitchen, food forgotten, to go to his bedroom. He paused in front of his door, staring at the old sign bearing his name, his stomach twisting as he fought tears. Shouto had said he was glad Izuku had never gotten rid of the sign.

It was your beginning, Shouto had said. Where did that leave him now? He still struggled under the crushing weight of being All Might’s successor. Even as Japan slowly accepted him as the budding symbol for peace and justice he had strived to be ever since he was a little kid, there were days when it felt like a goal he would never reach.

At that moment, he had never felt farther from it.

Growling in frustration, Izuku pushed open his door, stomping into his room. The gifts that lined his shelves and walls only made him feel worse as he sat down on his bed.

How can I call myself a hero when everyone else is doing the work for me?

Shouto was out there, hurting himself, trying to fix something that wasn’t his fault. Izuku had thought he was helping him, that their time together was built on more than just guilt. Those quiet nights spent in each other’s company, every smile… Each one had cast a long, long shadow that Shouto had trapped himself in, and Izuku had been oblivious.

Fool.

Izuku fell onto his uninjured side, bringing his legs up onto the mattress. He hugged his pillow as he stared at nothing in particular, dust swirling inside streams of sunlight coming in through his window. He could hear the cicadas outside, muffled by the glass.

He blinked, his gaze eventually settling on the stainless steel case in front of his closet. He stared at it until he fell asleep.

 


 

Izuku was no stranger to sneaking around. Stealth was an essential part of his work as a Pro Hero, from daily patrols to raids that took him deep into enemy territory. Even as a student, when he had taken part in some questionable and outright illegal missions, the ability to move without being seen had often saved his life.

But he had never felt so much like a villain than he did now.

It’s fine, he thought to himself as he perched on the ledge of the office building opposite his agency. This isn’t illegal. It’s not wrong.

Then why did it feel that way?

Because he doesn’t know I’m out here.

“He didn’t tell me he was out here,” Izuku argued with himself before shaking his head. “Focus.”

It was just after sunset. On a normal day, he would have arrived by five to relieve those just finishing up their daytime patrols. If everything went smoothly, he would be on the streets by six, prepared for a twelve-hour shift.

How many hours had Shouto put in on his behalf?

Sighing, Izuku adjusted his reinforced gloves. It had been like slipping into a warm bath that morning, comforting and familiar. Right. As if he hadn’t gone nearly two months without wearing his hero costume. Mei had even thought ahead, making a few adjustments to the fit and adding extra support for his injury. He had been afraid at first, energy crackling around him as he made the first leap from the ground to the roof of a convenience store, but beyond a little pain from the impact of landing, it had been as easy as breathing.

It was the only thing that felt right.

I’m not following him, I’m just… watching over him.

Without his agency’s approval. Without Shouto knowing.

Fighting back his anxiety, Izuku turned his attention back to the agency.

It wasn’t nearly as large and intimidating as Endeavor’s. Nestled in the heart of Shinjuku, it was like any of the other office buildings around it, with the exception of a modest sign. It was a popular agency for newly graduated hero students – a good place to build experience, All Might had told him. That had been before they had discussed an agency of All Might’s own. Before Shouto had accepted a place at Endeavor’s. One he could thrive in, without his father breathing down his neck.

It feels so far away.

On the street below, two familiar figures appeared on the sidewalk.

Izuku pushed off the ledge, a green flash as he leaped to the roof of his agency, gone as soon as you blinked. Using the neighboring office, he ricocheted from wall to wall, expertly avoiding windows and sticking to the shadows until he reached the ground, grunting as his iron-reinforced boots hit the ground. He gasped at the impact, a sharp pain rocketing up his spine and down each limb before disappearing. Maybe he was a little more out of practice than he’d thought…

Ignoring the soreness in his side, Izuku peeked through the bushes that framed the agency’s entrance.

“—listen? I told you, I’m not your fucking therapist. If you want to talk to him, just do it already and get out of my damn way,” Katsuki growled. He was dressed in civilian clothes, fresh off the day shift. Shouto stood beside him, fully dressed, the deep navy of his hero costume a mirror of the darkening sky.

“I think I made him angry. I don’t think he wants to talk,” he said, sounding so subdued Izuku nearly broke from the bushes to tell him otherwise. Fortunately, Katsuki said it for him.

“You’re really fucking stupid if you think Deku could be angry at you. I don’t think it’s possible even on a microbiological level.”

Shouto didn’t look convinced.

“He didn’t talk to me yesterday.”

“For fuck’s sake, you’re both morons,” Katsuki snapped, pausing as Shouto stifled a yawn. He narrowed his eyes. “… You’re playing a dangerous game, Todoroki.”

“It’s not a game.”

“Tch.” Katsuki throw his bag over his shoulder, turning and nearly hitting Shouto in the process. “Whatever. Don’t screw it up, Freeze Flame.”

Izuku shrank back as Katsuki passed, nearly crying out as a cicada shell fell from its leaf somewhere above his head, hitting him on the nose. He stared at it, biting his lip until Katsuki disappeared down the street.

Should I...?

He glanced around the bush, crushing the shell beneath his glove. Shouto was already walking in the opposite direction, toward Center Hospital – the start of his usual patrol route. From the hospital he would make his way through Wakamatsucho, then down to Yochomachi, circling around two or three times each day until he was needed elsewhere. Of course, he always made stops along the way: the Shinjukuiruma and Ikuseikai nurseries; the Ōkubo Dog Residence, now home to a new dog shelter; the hospital itself, where he helped children struggling with newly developed Quirks. Very rarely, he met a Quirkless kid, and those days were both the best and hardest. Izuku had told Shouto about how close he felt to All Might in those moments when he held a child’s hand and told them it was possible, that they could become a hero.

Did Shouto do the same? Did he feel the same?

Izuku followed at a distance, using shadows and alleyways as cover. Sometimes he got too close, freezing when he thought Shouto might turn and spot him, but he never did. His normally sharp senses were buried beneath weeks of poor sleep and stress.

Exhaustion, Izuku’s mind helpfully supplied every time Shouto paused to stretch sore muscles and rub at tired eyes. And each time, he struggled with the urge to end it, to reveal himself and carry Shouto home, if that was what it was going to take.

Each time, he stopped himself.

Shouto was expecting him to be at home, safe in his bed, resting. Izuku could only imagine how upset he would be if he found out that was far from the truth.

Tomorrow I’ll call the agency. I’ll talk to Shouto, he told himself. He had the distinct feeling that he had already resolved to have this conversation weeks ago, and he cursed himself for it now.

 


 

The hours passed without incident. It put Izuku on edge, though it wasn’t so rare a thing that he couldn’t also find relief in the quiet. It allowed Shouto to patrol in peace, greeting late-night commuters and couples as he made his way through the city. He always did so with a smile, despite his usually blunt approach to providing peace of mind to civilians (though, Izuku was pretty sure that was part of what made him so popular). People Izuku saw every day, people whose birthdays he had memorized and pets he gave treats to, greeted Shouto as if he were an old friend. It was a small sample, admittedly, being so late, but it filled Izuku with pride, hope. The civilians he protected were looking to Shouto, trusting him with their safety as much as Izuku had always trusted him with his own. It was as if nothing had ever happened. Why couldn’t Shouto see it?

Midnight came and went. Shouto stopped into a convenience store for instant soba noodles – a painful reminder, but it helped to see the owner strike up a conversation with Shouto as if he were an old friend. There was no animosity between them, only warm smiles and a wave as Shouto left. He paused outside to eat, and it was only then that Izuku’s stomach growled. Sighing, the rolled back on his heels where he was crouched behind a dumpster, tucked into an alley.

The scent wasn’t pleasant, but Izuku didn’t dare take his eyes off Shouto, even as he reached into one of his pouches for a snack. He popped the umaibo into his mouth, swiping his tongue over his lips. At least Shouto was eating and drinking well enough, even if his homemade soba noodles were much healthier—

“I would say this is a surprise, but… Well, let’s just say I knew I would find you here.”

Izuku whirled around, immediately adopting a defensive stance. He curled his fists in front of him, energy crackling around him, the green glow illuminating the alley and… a woman.

She was just taller than him, with dark hair and glassy black eyes. The reflection of his power inside them made Izuku uneasy, as if he were staring into a deep pool of water. He took a step back, but the woman matched him, stepping forward before Izuku could even lift his foot from the ground.

“Don’t come any closer, please,” he said, his voice level with authority. It was always his first instinct to establish a line of communication with a potential threat. Access the situation, determine a course of action, don’t let it escalate. He smiled. “Who are you?”

The woman mirrored his smile, but it was nowhere near as friendly. Chapped lips stretched over crooked teeth, the skin splitting. She licked the blood from her lips.

“You can call me Chie. Shall I call you Deku? Or would you prefer Midoriya while you’re off duty?”

“Chie,” Izuku repeated, dread beginning to churn in his stomach, his smile faltering just slightly. “How—”

“Freeze Flame told me,” Chie interrupted. Her voice was soft, almost comforting, despite her harsh appearance. “You see, I was following him. I was going to attack – he’s been so tired lately, you know, very vulnerable - but then he made a decision and it involved you. I wouldn’t have known you were here otherwise. Luck must be on my side.”

Izuku narrowed his eyes. This woman, Chie, wasn’t making any sense, but she had at least made her intentions crystal clear. The mention of Shouto turned his blood to ice, something cold settling in his chest, heavy and painful.

“Okay, Chie. Would you mind telling me why you want to attack Freeze Flame?” he asked. Don’t let it escalate. If she had planned to attack Shouto, then she had to have a Quirk, but there were no obvious indicators beyond her eyes. Emitter? Transformation? It was nearly dawn; early morning commuters would be on their way to work, and though the alley was tucked away from the main street, this villain was an unknown, and that was enough to pose a risk to civilians. He slowly reached for his phone.

“Do you remember yet? What happened?” Chie asked, tilting her head. “I’m sure you’ve seen it by now. It was very scary.”

Izuku froze, fingering tightening around his phone, its protective case groaning under the pressure.

“All that ice and blood… I thought he might have cut you in half,” she continued, taking another step forward. “Did you see your bones? Your ribs were shattered.”

Izuku took a hurried step back. His side seemed to explode with pain at just the mention of it, bile rising in his throat. Chie frowned.

“Freeze Flame was so distracted. Everyone was… I thought my brother would be able to escape, but he was captured,” she said. “It’s strange, isn’t it? He was charged with attempted murder and will probably spend the rest of his life rotting in Tartarus, but it was Shouto Todoroki who nearly killed you.”

He saved my life,” Izuku growled angrily, nearly forgetting his plan in a moment of fury. He fingers shook as he unlocked his phone and Chie watched, but she didn’t move to stop him. Instead, she sighed, running a hand through her hair. She was wearing a red suit made of what looked like leather, and though it didn’t seem to be outfitted with any black market support items, Izuku could see that she was physically fit. “So your brother was the villain we fought… What, are you here for revenge?”

“You get right to the point, don’t you?” she asked. She nodded. “That’s right. My motivation is pretty straightforward: I want revenge for my brother. Only… my plan has changed. Freeze Flame took my only family from me... I think it’s fitting to return the favor.”

“And you think it’s going to be that easy, huh?” Izuku asked, ignoring the pain and fatigue as he readied himself, but he paused as Chie shook her head.

“It won’t be easy, but I have more than just luck on my side,” she said. “Go ahead and send out your location. That’s what you decided to do, right? Freeze Flame will come.”

Izuku stared at her, his thumb shaking where it hovered over the screen, but there wasn’t any time for analysis. The moment he sent his location, the moment his thumb tapped the screen, Chie moved, dashing forward. Izuku barely had time to block, raising his arms so that they took the brunt of the attack. His phone clattered to the ground, the screen going dark.

There didn’t seem to be any kind of physical enhancement behind the attack, but Izuku was still surprised by the force behind it. Was it anger? Special training? Or was Izuku simply out of practice, his body unprepared for a fight? Perhaps it was all of those things, plus the pair of suntetsu she was wielding. He pushed back, but Chie was too quick, moving with him instead of against him.

Jumping back, Izuku put some distance between them. At least, he tried to. Chie seemed to anticipate what he was thinking, matching him step for step and countering his attacks. She spun the suntetsu in her hands, using one to block and the other to attack; with every attempt he made to land a hit, she deflected, using a perfectly timed strike to throw him off. He clenched his teeth as the sharp ends of the suntetsu dug into his arms, his chest, and though his suit kept him safe from punctures, it still hurt enough to distract him.

He scaled the wall of the alley, finding a ledge to crouch on as he fought to catch his breath. It hurt to breathe, his side burning, a fierce ache deep inside. Below him, Chie seemed content to let him rest for a moment, her black eyes staring up at him. Izuku looked away.

“Don’t worry. Like I said, Freeze Flame is on his way,” she said, adjusting the rings of her suntetsu around her fingers. “You’re holding back, though.”

“Shut up,” Izuku growled. “You keep saying—you can’t know. You—”

“But I do know,” Chie said, winking at him. “He’s already turned back. He’s almost here… I know what he’ll do, and what you’ll do, and how it will end. I wonder if he’ll be able to live with his next mistake.”

Izuku leapt from the ledge, drawing his fist back, but Chie was already dodging. He landed hard, jarring his injury, but he quickly pushed off the ground, only to miss again. This time, however, Chie spun, using Izuku’s own momentum to throw him off balance. He tried to right himself, but it had created an opening for Chie, and she was too fast. She struck hard, aiming right for his side.

The pain was unimaginable. He bit his tongue, choking on a scream as he fell to the ground and rolled, crashing against the wall. His body spasmed, desperate to fill his burning lungs with air as pain and nausea suffocated him, but couldn’t, he couldn’t move, his vision darkening around the edges—

Then there was light, bright and hot.

Izuku!

Izuku wasn’t sure if it was Shouto’s flames or tears that was making his vision swim. He pushed himself up, his arms trembling beneath him until Shouto appeared at his side, wrapping his arms around him.

“Shou…”

“Don’t—” Shouto started. His eyes were wide with fear, a familiar panic warping his expression. “Where are you injured?”

“I-I’m not, it’s just—she hit me,” Izuku rasped with a vague motion toward his side. “I’m okay!”

Shouto didn’t look convinced. He stared at Izuku, that deep-rooted fear still clouding his eyes, but there was anger, too.

“Why are you—”

Over Shouto’s shoulder, Izuku saw Chie emerge from the flames.

Shouto!

Shouto turned, raising his left arm to shield them from Chie’s attack. But he didn’t have the same reinforced gloves that Izuku had, the blunt force of the suntetsu coming down on his wrist. He swore, using his right hand to throw up a wall of ice.

“Who the hell is she?” he asked once there was a substantial barrier between them. He clutched his wrist, grimacing.

“I-I don’t know,” Izuku said, voice wavering. He leaned heavily against the wall as he slowly pushed himself to his feet. Shouto followed, wrapping his uninjured arm around his waist for support. “Revenge – she wants revenge.”

“For what?”

“The villain we fought. He’s her brother.”

Shouto grunted, lips twisted in a snarl as Chie’s voice echoed from somewhere beyond the ice, “I’d tell you to hurry, but there’s not much you can do. Your reinforcements won’t get here in time.”

“What is she…?”

“It—It’s her Quirk,” Izuku said through clenched teeth, biting back a whimper as pain continued to radiate from his injury. “She knows things, like—like what I’m thinking. She can guess what I’m going to do. I haven’t… She keeps countering me. It’s how she was able to land a hit.”

“She can read minds?” Shouto asked, looking horrified at the idea.

“Or she’s some kind of psychic… I just—I don’t know…”

Izuku closed his eyes, the frustration almost as unbearable as the pain. He couldn’t shake the feeling that it was obvious, that Chie had been telling him the true nature of her Quirk all along, but he couldn’t make sense of it. He couldn’t figure it out, could barely think through each agonizing breath. He had failed in controlling the situation, had been forced to involve Shouto, who was never even supposed to know where Izuku was, and now he was hurt

“We’ll think of something. She isn’t invincible. We’ll go on the defensive if we have to, wait it out until reinforcements arrive,” Shouto said. He sounded much more confident than Izuku felt, but that only made him more ashamed. “Whatever her Quirk is, she’s no match for two Pro Heroes.”

One Pro Hero, Izuku wanted to correct him. He was in no condition to fight, he knew that. Chie had hit him hard, the sharp end of her suntetsu striking him where his scars all intersected. She had known where to strike, down almost to the millimeter, and it had crippled him, muscles still spasming, sweat still pouring down his face. His tongue was thick and sticky in his mouth from nausea, and when he coughed – an agonizing experience in its own right – he thought he could taste the coopery tang of blood.

“Shouto…”

“Yeah?” Shouto said distractedly, his eyes darting everywhere but to Izuku, watching. Izuku shrank under the weight of his guilt, his fingers curling into fists that shook at his sides.

“I’m so—”

The sound of cracking ice filled the alley. It splintered, the fracture racing down to the ground like lightning. Shouto cried out a warning, moving to cover Izuku as shards of ice rained down on them. One was just large enough to graze Shouto’s shoulder. It looked like a small injury, but it cut Izuku deeply.

Shouto put up another ice wall, further destroying the previous one. Izuku could hear Chie’s suntetsu as they collided with the wall, a terrible, echoing noise that rang in his ears, nearly as loud as the blood roaring inside him.

“She’s going to corner us!” he gasped out as the ice began to crack again. Just like with his injury, Chie seemed to know where the ice was weakest, striking with enough force to break through their defenses. As the wall began to falter, Shouto created a new one, but what little space they had was shrinking rapidly.

Shouto swore as the blows kept coming, raising his left hand. It was still bandaged from a few days before, and he held it awkwardly at the wrist where it had taken the brunt of Chie’s attack, but flames began to weave through his fingers as he waited until the fissures in the ice deepened. Then he sent them forward, fire exploding though to the other side.

Izuku waited for the flames to subside, listening for a scream, a thud, anything that would suggest Chie had been hit. A substantial amount of ice had melted under the intense heat, turning it somewhat translucent, but he couldn’t see anything through it.

“Did she dodge…?”

“She couldn’t have. She couldn’t have seen it coming,” Shouto insisted, but he stood on his guard, his arm trembling, breathing heavily. Izuku pushed himself away from the wall, his legs threatening to give out. He reached out for Shouto, but someone flashed in the corner of his eye, a blur so fast he barely had time to register it before Chie rounded the ice, crashing into Shouto.

They went down. Shouto attempted to block her, but his reactions were too slow, his hands easily knocked away, leaving his neck exposed. Black eyes stared down at him, nearly emotionless as Chie brought down her suntetsu. She held them to Shouto’s throat, his body jerking with the sudden pressure, unable to breathe. Whether she was aiming to choke him, crush his trachea or decapitate him, Izuku couldn’t be sure, and he didn’t want to know. Fighting through the pain, he rushed forward, but once again Chie seemed to anticipate his move, twisting to the side and releasing her hold on Shouto. He sucked in an agonizing breath, hands clutching at his throat, but Izuku had mere seconds to take comfort in the simple fact that Shouto was alive. Chie was already moving again, sidestepping to avoid Izuku’s attack as he took aim and flicked his finger. The burst of focused air pressure cut into the remaining ice, shattering it. Izuku saw Shouto roll to the side to avoid being hit, one hand still on his throat, but then Chie cut into his line of sight, lashing out once again with her suntetsu.

“How many times do I have to tell you?” Chie sneered. “I know what you’re going to do! You can’t hide anything from me!”

She struck again. Izuku flipped backward to avoid her, using the momentum to swing his leg around for a kick, but it didn’t connect. He landed hard, the jarring sensation knocking the breath from him. Stunned, he was just able to brace for Chie next attack as she rammed into his side. Pain overwhelmed him again, tears springing to his eyes. He coughed, his hand flying to his mouth; it was freckled with blood when he pulled it away.

“You know, I could have gone to a school like yours. I probably would have had my pick,” Chie continued. “But my eyes… They called me a demon. My classmates wanted nothing to do with me. They thought the true nature of my Quirk was causing the things I said would happen. They never understood that it was their own stupid decisions that got them in trouble.”

She turned her back on him. Izuku clawed at the ground in panic as she started back toward Shouto, dropping her suntetsu. She jerked her arm, and this time a switchblade slid from her sleeve. Shouto lifted his left arm, lips parted in a silent cry of pain as his flames flickered weakly.

“I only ever take advantage of a person’s mistakes. You’ve made a lot of them,” Chie murmured, readying the knife to throw.

The blade caught the glow of Shouto’s flames as it flew from her hand, but as quickly as that flash came and went, Izuku was there, energy swirling around him. The asphalt beneath his feet buckled and folded with the force with which he stopped himself. The wind whipped around them; Shouto shielded his eyes while Chie shrieked in surprise. And then it was over. The wind died down, the dust settled, and Izuku kneeled between them, the knife clutched in his hand.

“Izuku…”

Shouto lowered his arm, staring at Izuku. Chie did the same, eyes wide in bewilderment.

“How did you…?”

She took a step back, confusion morphing into anger, then fear, but anything she might have said or did was interrupted by a new voice.

Float!

Ochako’s slap resonated throughout the alley as Chie was lifted off the ground. She flailed, spitting curses, but she was without her weapons, rendered immobile. Izuku had a moment to simply be relieved before he began to list to the side, barely aware of the arms catching him.

 


 

Izuku leaned back in his chair with a sigh. The stack of papers on the desk in front of him was no smaller than it had been an hour ago, but he felt as if he had gone through an entire city’s worth of crime already. How long had he been working? Three, four hours? He glanced at the clock.

“Almost midnight…” he murmured before yawning. He rubbed his eyes tiredly.

He had just finished his first official week back at work, though it had taken a lot of negotiation and a very heartfelt apology to get there. To say the agency hadn’t been happy with him would have been an understatement: they had threatened to place him on administrative leave, and Izuku was sure that would have been the case if All Might hadn’t intervened.

Shame creeped up the back of his neck at the memory, forcing him to roll his shoulders. His mother and All Might had refused to listen a second time when he told them to finish their trip. They had arrived back in Japan, dressed in khaki shorts and tropical shirts, the day he was released from the hospital – again.

“I never should have left,” Inko had said. “I only have one son; the world can wait.”

All Might had been quiet, but the troubled look in his eyes still haunted Izuku as he laid in bed at night.

Izuku pushed himself away from his desk, moving to his window. It was September now, cooler, and the light breeze felt good against his skin as he opened it. Leaning against the windowsill, he stared up at the crescent moon. He listened.

Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked. Crickets chirped beneath his window. Behind him, on his desk, his phone chimed, but he ignored it.

The cicadas cried.

Tsuku tsuku boshi…” he mumbled, resting his head on his arm. Summer was ending. The cicadas were going away, their songs full of sadness and longing. Izuku shivered and closed his eyes.

“Why did you do that?” Shouto hissed. Izuku had only seen him so distraught once, and he had never wanted to see it again. He shrank back into the ambulance.

“I couldn’t let her kill you!”

You could have been killed!”

“I—”

Izuku clenched his fists, tears of frustration pricking his eyes. Beside him, Naomasa held up a hand in an attempt to mitigate the situation before it got out of hand. There was already a crowd beyond the police line, full of shocked civilians and bloodthirsty journalists, their cameras flashing.

“The important thing is that Uravity was able to apprehend the villain before anything else happened,” he said. “Chie Tsuji – a small time thief at one time, alongside her brother, Hideaki. We were keeping an eye on them both due to the nature of their Quirks, but Chie disappeared after Hideaki was captured. They had attempted to rob a bank – that was the call you answered the day you were injured, Midoriya.”

Shouto looked devastated at the reminder.

“Murder is a pretty big jump from larceny,” Izuku murmured. Naomasa gave a solemn nod. “What was her Quirk, exactly?”

“Presentiment. She has the ability to see into the immediate future based on her target's thoughts. If you planned to attack her, she would know,” he said. Izuku grimaced.

“Yeah, I figured as much.”

“You must have acted too quickly for her to see,” Naomasa commented, glancing between them.

“I didn’t think about it. I saw she was going after Shouto and I just… moved.”

Naomasa hummed, a thoughtful expression on his face. He closed his notebook.

“You did well, but you do know the rules, Midoriya. I’ll have to speak with your agency,” he said, chuckling as Izuku groaned. “Don’t worry. We’ll get it worked out. Just focus on your recovery for right now; they’ll be taking you both to the hospital in a few moments.”

He nodded to Shouto as he stepped out of the ambulance.

“You were both very lucky to have each other there.”

Shouto narrowed his eyes, watching as Naomasa disappeared back toward the alley. Then he rounded on Izuku.

“I’d ask what you were thinking, but clearly you weren’t.”

“And it apparently saved our lives!” Izuku retorted, hurt. “Why are you mad at me?”

“I’m not mad at you, I’m—” Shouto shook his head violently, his uninjured hand gripping his hair. “Look at you! You’ve reinjured yourself. You could have died. You weren’t supposed to be out here at all!”

“I wanted to make sure you were okay!” Izuku nearly shouted. “You weren’t in any condition to patrol, either, and you know it! What if you had been alone? She might have actually—”

He cut himself off, too horrified by the idea to continue.

“I was fine, Izuku,” Shouto said lowly. “You should have been home. You’re obviously not ready to go back to hero work.”

“And when should I go back? If you had your way, I’d probably never go back,” Izuku snapped. Regret, cold and sudden, washed over him as Shouto leaned back, but he didn’t stop. “What happened wasn’t your fault! You can’t keep trying to make up for it like this! You can’t keep treating me like I’m about to break!”

Shouto turned away. His shoulders were shaking, his jaw clenched tightly. The indignation Izuku had felt evaporated.

“Shouto, wait…”

“It’s fine,” Shouto said. His voice gave nothing away as he spun around. “Shouto!”

Izuku tried to get up, but the paramedic held him back, a silent, comforting presence Izuku didn’t think he deserved as he watched Shouto disappear into the crowd.

He opened his eyes.

That had been three weeks ago. A week-long hospital stay had followed, mostly at the agency’s (and his mother’s) insistence. He had spent another week at home, simply enjoying having his mother and All Might back home after their long trip, even if Inko had spent most of it hovering over his shoulder. But despite spending time with his family and allowing himself to recover, Shouto had remained an anxious thought in the back of his mind. It plagued him, keeping him up at night with nightmares of what could have happened, what did happen. Every mention of Freeze Frame on the news, every text he received that made his heart race, thinking it might have been him… Sometimes he waited for Shouto to come home, like clockwork each evening, and though he didn’t miss the worried look his mother shared with All Might, he never mentioned it out loud. He didn’t think he had to.

Sighing, Izuku reached up to hurriedly wipe away the stray tears on his cheeks as there was a knock at his door.

“Come in!”

“Still awake?” Toshinori asked as he let himself in. He shut the door quietly behind him. “You should be resting.”

There was a hint of a warning in his voice. Izuku smiled sheepishly, rubbing the back of his head.

“I know, I’m sorry,” he said. “I just wanted to knock out some of this paperwork. Sometimes I wish we could ask interns to help with it.”

“I don’t think you would have appreciated being stuck doing paperwork during your internships,” Toshinori pointed out with a chuckle. “Even if it would have been good experience.”

“I guess…”

Toshinori laughed again as he pulled the chair away from Izuku’s desk, sitting down. Just like Izuku, he was doing well under Inko’s care. She was as strict as any doctor when it came to a healthy diet and medication, but whatever she had him do, she was right there beside him. She supported him through his daily exercises, frequently joining him on morning and evening walks. She had helped him build his agency from the ground up and had resolved to help him and Mirio run it. But Izuku knew without even having to ask that Inko had given him something far more valuable, and that was the simple joy of her companionship. He saw it every day, in the lingering looks and gentle touches, in the long stretches of silence where words weren’t needed.

Izuku had had a taste of that.

On his desk, his phone chimed again.

“Why aren’t you asleep?”

“Did you forget?” Toshinori asked with an amused smile. “Can’t say I’m too surprised, considering how busy you’ve been.”

“What do you mean?” Izuku asked as Toshinori glanced at the clock.

“One more minute.”

Izuku tilted his head. One more minute until what, exactly? He followed Toshinori’s gaze to the clock. He had a nagging feeling he was forgetting something, but he couldn’t…

“… Wait…” His eyes widened. “Wait. That’s tonight?”

Toshinori threw his head back, his laughter nearly drowning out this sudden explosion of messages bombarding his phone. Midnight.

Izuku made a dive for his phone, fumbling with it. The messages were coming too quickly for him to read, his text tone going silent with the obscene amount. Izuku unlocked his phone and immediately open his favorite hero news app.

The 20XX Pro Hero Rankings Have Been Announced!

Below the headline was a live stream of the announcement, with so much text scrolling across the screen Izuku could barely see the actual video. Izuku scrolled down to find an article with the official list, published only seconds before. His thumb trembled as it hovered over the link.

“I…”

“Don’t hold me in suspense, my boy,” Toshinori said encouragingly, patting his arm.

Izuku nodded, licking his suddenly very dry lips. He swallowed hard, his heartbeat impossibly loud in his ears, and clicked the link.

“Hawks, Mirko, Endeavor…” he began, secretly pleased, as always, that Endeavor had been unseated as the number one hero. Hawks and Mirko had kept their places for the second year in a row. “Mt. Lady… Suneater jumped to number five! Kamui Woods… Nejire’s number seven! Best Jeanist fell to number eight, though, and—”

Izuku’s breath caught in his throat.

“Izuku?”

Toshinori placed his hand over Izuku’s as it shook, gently taking the phone from him. He turned the screen toward him, briefly looking over the list before smiling, his eyes shining with emotion.

“Number nine, Deku.”

Izuku’s hand flew to his mouth. He was grinning, but his cheeks were wet against his fingers, his voice stuttering in his throat each time he tried to say something. Toshinori shook his head, standing and wrapping his arms around Izuku in a tight embrace that Izuku returned. He buried his face in Toshinori’s chest.

“I-I—”

“It’s okay, Izuku,” Toshinori whispered. “My boy, I’m so, so proud of you.”

Dad—”

Izuku squeezed his eyes shut, allowing himself to feel like the child who had once looked at the man holding him as a faraway fantasy, an impossible reality that had been snatched from his grasp and returned to him all in one day by All Might. He had fought so hard, had pushed himself, destroyed himself for something so much bigger than any of his childhood dreams. All Might had given it to him, but he had made it into an undeniable truth. He was a hero, one the people of Japan trusted. Loved.

The tears came harder, faster.

It had been seven years since that first night he had sat with his friends, waiting for the announcements, and each year they had celebrated their idols, their friends and upperclassmen. Each year they had wondered if one day they would be celebrating each other. Nitro, Red Riot and Uravity were popular among children and adults alike, balancing intense focus and fun, even if it was unintentional on Nitro’s part. Creati and Earphone Jack were an unstoppable duo, while Froppy had become a guardian of Japan’s seas. His classmates had their own fanclubs, promotional contracts and merchandise, but Izuku measured their success by the scars, by the tired smiles and calloused hands. By each life saved, and the loved that life had for the heroes who protected them.

Izuku pulled back.

“I… I don’t think I should be on that list.”

Toshinori stared at him in surprise before shaking his head, taking Izuku by the shoulders.

“Don’t go doubting yourself, now, my boy,” he said firmly. “You’ve worked hard for this. You’ve done all that I’ve asked of you and more. You don’t need to be number one to prove yourself as my successor.”

Izuku shook his head.

“I—thank you, All Might,” he said through a trembling smile. “It’s not that, it’s… Shouto deserved to be on that list, not me.”

Realization was quick to dawn on Toshinori’s face. He sighed, squeezing Izuku’s shoulders as he guided him toward the bed. He sat down beside him, his hand never leaving Izuku’s shoulder.

“I think—you remember what happened to Best Jeanist. He stayed ranked even when he was recovering. His popularity skyrocketed. I think that’s what’s happening to me,” Izuku continued, trying his best to make sense of the conflicting thoughts and emotions. “I know I’ve done enough. Maybe next year, if I’m still ranked, I’ll be able to accept it, but this time…”

“… You think you knocked Todoroki from the rankings,” Toshinori supplied. Izuku nodded.

“He was doing so well. Tenya and I—we did some analysis. We were certain he would be ranked. Kacchan, too. But neither of them are in the top ten,” he said. “I think it’s because of me.”

Toshinori listened quietly, rubbing his thumb comfortingly over Izuku’s shoulder.

“… If you think it’s a sympathy vote, I’d have to disagree,” he said at last. “I won’t lie: these kinds of things do boost numbers. But you’re forgetting something.”

“What?”

Toshinori lifted his hand to motion around the room. Izuku felt heat rise in his cheeks as he glanced over the plush toys and letters, drawings and get well soon cards and flowers. There had been so many over the past few weeks, more and more delivered each week. Kacchan had complained nonstop about the plush rabbits that had taken up residence at the agency. He sniffled and wiped at his eyes.

“You were loved before this happened. These cards and flowers – they’re from people who have worried for you. You were already number nine in their hearts.” Izuku snorted at that, leaning against Toshinori and closing his eyes again. Toshinori lowered his voice. “As for Todoroki…”

He curled his arm around Izuku, placing a hand on his head.

“I don’t think Japan has lost its faith in him. You saw that, didn’t you? Shinjuku placed their trust in him while you were recovering. It’s true that both of you made mistakes that day, but you’ve learned from them. It was… unfortunate,” Toshinori said, his voice slightly strained, but he shook his head and continued, “but it will make you, both of you, stronger. Even if the world doesn’t see it now, they’ll come to realize it eventually, especially when you start working together. You’ll make a powerful team.”

“… That’s if he even wants to see me again.”

“What makes you say that?”

“I haven’t even spoken to him since…” Izuku murmured. “I don’t think he wants to see me, and I don’t blame him. I just…”

He trailed off, biting his lip, but Toshinori pulled away, holding Izuku once again at arm’s length. He nudged his chin up, encouraging him to meet his eyes.

“Izuku, when my Master died, I didn’t fully grasp what she had done for me. I was angry, distraught… If it hadn’t been for Gran Torino, I would have gotten myself killed,” he said. “But nothing changed how I felt about Nana. She was like a mother to me. I love her… I would do anything to have her back.”

He paused as Izuku’s phone lit up in his lap.

“I think it’s the same for Todoroki. His anger and his fear… It came from a place of love. I think he wants to see you more than you realize.”

“How can you be sure?” Izuku asked as Toshinori picked up the phone.

“Well, this is probably a good indication,” he said with a wide grin, turning the screen toward Izuku. Shouto’s surprised expression, a picture Izuku had taken only weeks ago, filled the screen with an incoming call.

 


 

Izuku arrived two hours early, decided he didn’t like what he was wearing and made a quick dash back home to change. He said goodbye to All Might for a second time, who only shook his head with an affectionate smile as Izuku disappeared out the door in a flash of green light.

It was an unusually chilly day for September. Storms had rolled in the night before, the morning sun shimmering in lingering puddles that rippled in the cool breeze. Izuku had opted for a light sweater beneath his windbreaker, but he was also wearing a mask, the hood of his jacket pulled up to cover his hair. It was easily the most recognizable part of him when he wasn’t wearing his hero costume, and though he had always enjoyed meeting fans on his days off, it had recently become just a little too overwhelming. The fervor caused by the new hero rankings had yet to calm down, and he’d learned the hard way that it would probably be best to lay low for a while.

That was why he had chosen to wait across the street from the café. Or, at least, that was what he’d told himself. It might have also had something to do with the fact that he was absolutely terrified.

It had been two days since Shouto had called him. It had been short, tense, and at first Izuku had worried that Shouto had only reached out to him because he felt obligated to offer congratulations. But before he could really start to panic, Shouto had surprised him.

“I want… We should talk.”

Izuku wasn’t sure what Shouto had wanted to say, but he had quickly agreed after a thumbs up from All Might. Shouto had ended the call soon after that, leaving Izuku with a hasty goodbye, but it was progress.

It is progress, right? he thought to himself as he anxiously wrung a rolled-up newspaper in his hands.

He waited a few more minutes, stood from the bench, and took a step toward the crosswalk before turning on his heel and sitting back down. What was wrong with him? The number nine hero, chosen and trusted by the people of Japan, and he was afraid of a coffee shop.

Sighing, he rested his elbows on his knees and let his head hang down. He closed his eyes, taking a few slow, deep breaths. It was fine, he was fine, he could do this. It needed to be done. He missed Shouto. He wanted to make things right, to take responsibility for his mistakes and grow as a person. He wanted to grow with Shouto.

Feeling a little more inspired, he glanced up. Shouto was approaching the café.

I can’t do this, he thought, somewhat subdued as his legs began to move on their own. Shouto was waiting outside, looking into the windows and hesitating when he didn’t see Izuku. Izuku had a moment of weakness, knowing he could turn around and leave and Shouto never would have known he was there, but he silently berated himself, ashamed.

Not trusting his voice, he cleared his throat behind Shouto.

Shouto twisted around in surprise, eyes wide, but his expression instantly became guarded. Izuku had never felt so close to square one.

“… Hi,” he finally managed, offering him a smile before he remembered his mask. He pulled it down, hooking it under his chin. Shouto blinked.

“Hey…”

“Um… Do you want to go in?” Izuku asked. The air was too tense; he couldn’t leave them to stand in silence, waiting. He stepped around Shouto, pushing open the door and holding it open for him. The little bell alerted the barista, who thankfully didn’t rush over to them, but Izuku could still see the excitement in her eyes, the intense interest. The rest of the shop was empty.

They chose the corner table, framed by two solid walls. It was cozy, lit by a warm light overheard, and private, but Izuku couldn’t help but feel trapped as he took of his jacket and sat down. Across from him, Shouto did the same, hanging his satchel on the back of his chair, but Izuku still couldn’t read him, even as he spoke.

“You look good,” he said. Izuku blushed, taking off his mask and stuffing it into his pocket. “Are you feeling better?”

“I am,” Izuku said with a smile. “I was cleared for work… but you already know that.”

Ochako had told him that Shouto had attempted to take more shifts for him, but the agency had turned him down.

“I’m sure it feels good to be back. Officially,” Shouto said. Izuku’s smile faltered, but Shouto continued before he could say anything, hastily adding, “Congratulations again on being number nine. You deserve it.”

“There’s others who deserve it more than I do,” Izuku murmured, shaking his head. “Thank you, though. I… really appreciate it.”

Shouto nodded, falling silent, and Izuku shifted in his chair, very aware of the barista watching them. He knew what this had to look like, could feel the heavy awkwardness between them, even if he couldn’t sense what Shouto was thinking. He had closed himself off, and it reminded Izuku so much of his first year of high school, those weeks before the Sports Festival, that it hurt. It had been so long since he had known a Shouto so unsure of himself, so unwilling to connect with others, especially Izuku himself.

“… If you don’t want to be here, Izuku,” Shouto began, startling Izuku out of his thoughts, “you can go.”

“What?” Izuku caught a glimpse of stormy eyes and a tense jaw as Shouto made to grab his bag. Alarmed, he reached out, his fingers grabbing onto Shouto’s sleeve. “Wait—I don’t—’

Shouto was halfway out of his chair, eyes wide as he stared at Izuku’s hand. Izuku could feel the tension radiating from him, his body poised to move, as if he were ready to make a run for it. Izuku felt something hysterical bubble up inside him, a harsh laugh on the tip of his tongue. He knew the feeling! But he couldn’t—he couldn’t just sink into the floor like he wanted to, couldn’t let Shouto go, not until he said something. Anything.

“Shouto, I—"

The pressure was terrible, and growing, choking Izuku until he couldn’t breathe, but worse than that was the frustration. He had never been one to hold back an apology when one was due; he was far more likely to give apologies where none were needed. This was different. He could feel Shouto’s gaze burning into him in a way that only made him feel ashamed, panic blooming in his chest.

“I—”

His voice cracked and he cleared his throat, staring down at the table as he let Shouto’s sleeve slip from his grip, angry with himself. His vision blurred as he curled his shaking fingers into fists, his knuckles white against the dark wood. What would the public think about their top hero, the symbol of peace he was supposed to be for them, so weak and useless that he couldn’t even say he was sorry—

“Izuku.”

Izuku jumped, watching as Shouto slowly sat back down, reaching across the table and covering his fist with a warm hand. A gentle thumb brushed over scarred knuckles, fingertips ghosting over his wrist. Shouto didn’t say anything else, didn’t push him, but such a simple gesture meant the world to Izuku, giving him the courage to finally raise his head.

“… I’m sorry, Shouto,” he said at last, but the weight didn’t lift from his shoulders until a hopeful smile appeared on Shouto’s face. Then it was sunshine after the rain, a deep breath of fresh air. The tight ball of anxiety began to unwind for the first time in weeks. “What I said to you… It was wrong. I made you worry when you already had so much on your shoulders. I wasn’t thinking about how you felt, or my own health… It was selfish of me.”

Shouto listened quietly, squeezing Izuku’s hand until he relaxed, unfurling his fist until Shouto could comfortably entwine their fingers. Izuku only glanced down again to marvel at the sensation, waiting for Shouto’s response, but he wasn’t as afraid.

“… That was pretty good, but I think you missed a few.”

Izuku snapped his head up.

“What?”

Shouto reached over and took Izuku’s hand between both of his own, unperturbed as Izuku struggled to understand.

“Selfish is a good start,” Shouto continued, “but I think reckless is also good. Foolish, irresponsible… What did Aizawa call you? Problem child?”

“Shouto!” Izuku attempted to pull his hand away, laughing when Shouto tightened his grip.

“I’m only making sure we’ve covered everything. I thought you appreciated a thorough analysis.”

“Of Quirks!” Izuku whined, pouting, but he paused in shock when Shouto brought his hand up to his lips. He blushed, the intense heat seeming to engulf him from head to toe as Shouto pressed a kiss to the soft skin between his knuckles. Izuku could feel his fingers trembling against his own.

“I’m sorry, too,” Shouto said quietly, his expression shifting from nervous embarrassment into something more thoughtful, his words more deliberate. “I treated you like you were helpless, but you were far from it. I was the only one of us who was afraid… and I shouldn’t have forced that fear on you. I shouldn’t have ignored you, especially after you saved my life. That’s not what heroes do, or friends.”

“Shouto, wait—”

Shouto shook his head and Izuku fell silent.

“It’s going to take me a little while longer, I think, to come to terms with everything that’s happened, but it helps knowing that I can work to improve myself so that I don’t make the same mistakes. I want to be someone people can depend on, someone you can depend on. Spending so much time with you helped me see that… and something else, too.”

“What’s that?” Izuku asked, his voice hushed as he leaned forward.

“That you’re always going to be a problem child at heart and I’m always going to worry about you,” Shouto said, ignoring Izuku’s indignant huff, “but that’s something that happens when you care about someone as much as I care about you.”

He stood once more, but this time he brought Izuku with him. Izuku was glad he was still holding his hand, otherwise he might have faceplanted on the floor. As it was, he had all the support he needed as Shouto’s hands moved to his waist while his own came to rest on Shouto’s arms, squeezing. It had been so long since they had last been so intimately close, but it was different than anything he had experienced before. It wasn’t like cutting soba noodles. It didn’t leave him feeling confused or anxious or guilty. There was only certainty where there had once been fear.

“Are you comfortable with that?”

“Am I comfortable!”

“I’m just asking,” Shouto said, but he was smiling, lowering his head. “What about this?”

Izuku decided to let his actions speak for him, leaning up on his toes to press their lips together. He missed, the angle slightly off, but Shouto fixed it before he could pull away, laughing softly into the kiss. Izuku didn’t have it in him to be embarrassed, too focused on the way Shouto felt against him, warm and steady, confidence growing with every second. Relief washed over Izuku in waves, and he laughed, too, sliding his hands over Shouto’s shoulders, fingers lightly brushing against the back of his neck. Neither of them went far as they eased out of the kiss.

“Are we starting over?”

“I think this is something new,” Shouto replied thoughtfully. “I feel like I should have done something about it sooner, though.”

“How much sooner?”

“Our second year at Yuuei, at least.”

“I can one-up you, I think.”

“Really?” Shouto asked, blinking, and Izuku had to kiss him again before answering.

“Look on the bright side, Hand Crusher. You’ve officially graduated to holding my hands instead.”

“Izuku, that was pretty terrible,” Shouto said, exasperated, but he reached up to take Izuku’s hands from his shoulders, holding them tightly.