It had only been a few weeks since Momo began attending her public, co-ed high school. In her near-16 years, she’d never before felt this kind of happiness. She’d always dreamed of meeting up with friends after school, sharing food and laughter during lunchtime, and exchanging text messages.
On her first day of school, she had been worried about finding at least one female friend, especially when there were only five girls in her class. But now all of them were friends.
In the past, she’d been ignored by others in class. She assumed it had been due to her academic performance. While in her private, all-girls middle school, it always felt like a competition she hadn’t even wanted to participate in. And as a result of her over-enthusiasm to share her findings from the books she consumed with her class, the other girls had shunned her, whispering about how she was a “snob” or “teacher’s pet” behind her back. But now, the opposite was happening!
Not only were her teachers enthusiastic about her knowledge - especially in science - but no one seemed to hate her for it. Some of her classmates had even asked her to tutor them!
They had even voted for her for class representative as their vice president!
Though they’d only just met, everyone in her class already held a special place in her heart, and she knew she was an important friend to them, too. Well, at least, she hoped.
As the girls sat down for lunch, Jirou, opening her lunch box, asked suddenly, "Say, Yaomomo, has Todoroki spoken with you?" Momo shook her head no in response.
Shouto Todoroki, the mysterious, quiet guy -- who also happened to be her seatmate. No one really knew why he was so withdrawn, or why it seemed like he didn’t want to make any friends. He was often alone, opting to spend his lunch breaks by himself. Whenever anyone asked him a question, he would respond with short answers. Some of the other boys in their class had tried (and were still trying) to get him to open up, but it didn’t seem to be working...
Never one to forgo the opportunity to gossip, Ashido excitedly announced to the group, "I heard some rumors about the Todoroki family."
Momo would be lying if she said she wasn't curious about these rumors.
"I don't know if you're into politics, but his father is the head of the Endeavor party - Enji Todoroki. He lost the last elections against the All Might party."
"I heard he’s a really bad guy. It’s no wonder he lost," Hagakure interrupted conspiratorially, "People say he put his wife into the hospital for 10 years."
Momo gulped, feeling sorry for her classmate. It seemed he had some big family issues. She could sympathize with that.
"But there’s even more!” Ashido continued gleefully, clearly very eager to divulge her information. “Shortly before the elections started, a video of Shouto Todoroki spread on the internet. He beat up some guy, who ended up in a really bad condition."
Ah, that was Todoroki-san?
Momo recognized the video Ashido was talking about. She had seen it when it had first surfaced, though she hadn’t recognized the male in the video as Todoroki-san.
How can people be so violent as to beat others? She would never understand it.
Already moving on from their classmate’s alleged violent past, Ashido declared proudly, "I already have the perfect nickname for our resident rebel!” She gave a short pause for dramatic effect. “Icyhot!" Ashido raised her finger triumphantly, winking at her friends and grinning widely, "Cold as ice towards everyone, but he looks so incredibly hot !"
Hakagure squealed with laughter in agreement, and Uraraka blushed a little at the description. Momo didn’t know how to respond.
It had been two weeks since Momo heard about Todoroki's family issues, and still, she wasn't sure if what she’d heard was the truth.
Even if it wasn’t, Momo wasn’t happy about the current situation. She had tried to talk to him in class a few times, but it seemed he was entirely uninterested. He’d rebuffed all her attempts at conversation with tight-lipped, one-word replies. She just didn’t understand him - he was like a puzzle she couldn’t solve, which made her all the more curious. She found herself drawn to him. Sometimes she caught herself watching him secretly in class.
Most of the time, he looked sleepy as he scribbled in his notebook or rested his head in his hand as if he was bored. As she observed him, she would think about Ashido's nickname for him: Icyhot. Cold towards others, but indescribably hot.
True, he really was cold towards everyone... But hot?
Momo was embarrassed the moment she caught herself yet again staring pensively at his face. She quickly averted her gaze, hoping he hadn’t noticed.
Todoroki had two hair colors, two different eye colors, and an unsettling burn scar on his face. If someone were to judge his appearance based solely on her description, they would probably think he was an ugly guy. After all, it all sounded odd, as if his face couldn’t decide on a consistent color scheme. But it was the total opposite.
Even with the asymmetric colors, Momo had to admit that he looked rather handsome.
Am I thinking about Todoroki-san again? Momo shook her head to clear her thoughts and sighed.
This week hadn’t been the best for her. She knew of course that class rep work wouldn’t be easy, but since Iida-kun had been sick for a few days now, she had a bigger workload than usual. And then on top of that, she couldn't stop thinking about her seatmate!
She was concerned about him. She was intimately familiar with the feeling of loneliness, and she didn't want him to feel the same. Her middle school life left a bitter taste in her mouth, and even thinking about it now made her unconfident. Lost in her thoughts, her eyes wandered to the clock and widened.
A quarter to nine already? I should go. Momo pulled her phone from her bag to call home, only to remember that she couldn’t because her phone had died sometime late afternoon. Resigning herself to her situation, she packed away her pens and loose papers, hearing the sound of the rain pattering with increasing insistence against the roof. It seemed fate wasn't her friend today, but that was hardly news.
Gingerly holding her school bag over her head to avoid the rain, she sprinted to the train station, taking shelter underneath the awning. She couldn't remember the last time she had run so fast. Her heart hammered in her chest, and she gulped heavily to catch her breath. Thankfully, she made it in time.
"Oh god, what a day." Momo took another deep breath, this time in relief, as she studied the train schedule. Her train would be arriving in seven minutes. At least she wouldn’t be waiting too long for the train. Now that she had the time to catch her breath, Momo shivered. She was completely soaked. She tried to warm herself up by rubbing her arms together, but it did little to chase away the cold as the unrelenting rain continued to pour.
It was her first time riding alone at this hour, and she was nervous. She felt a creeping sense of discomfort as she looked at the people around her laying on the ground sleeping, drinking, or listening to loud music. Were the train stations always like this in the evening?
Ignore them. Just ignore them, Momo!
But she couldn't. Her senses were immediately on alert when she spotted an adult who appeared to be around his 50's approaching her. With both of his hands in his pockets, he grinned widely, revealing only a few teeth in his mouth. As he leaned closer, she was revolted by his breath. Without warning, he put his hand on her shoulder, traveling downward to squeeze her arm. Momo pulled her arm out of his grip and took a step back.
"What a pretty girl... Are you cold? You can take a bath in my house." By now, he had given up all pretenses of propriety and proceeded to grab her arm. He stared intensely into her dark eyes, expression lecherous.
Momo felt her whole body shake in fear, not knowing what to do and unable to look away. Her voice wouldn't come out of her mouth, her mind had failed her and was drawing a blank, and she could hear her heartbeat pounding in her ears. The man tightened his grip on her arm, and she felt tears threaten to surface.
She wasn't this weak! Why couldn't she do anything? She was frustrated and terrified by her inability to do anything, to protect herself. She shut her eyes to blink away her oncoming tears.
"Aren't you a little too old, you pervert? Let her go, or I'll break your legs!"
Momo recognized this voice! The vise-like grip on her arm slackened, and she sensed the man step away. She opened her eyes, now wide with surprise, to look into the face of the disrupter.
It was him - her classmate and seatmate. The boy she’d spent all day thinking about.
The Icyhot rebel, Shouto Todoroki.
"What did you say?" the harasser spat in an aggressive tone. The old man, having recovered from his initial shock, grabbed Todoroki's collar. Momo was about to interfere, but before she could even move, her classmate, with chilling composure and a fierce glint in his eyes, grabbed the wrist of the man and squeezed until the man screamed.
"Okay, okay! Let me go," he begged. The moment Todoroki released his hand, the man wasted no time in making his escape. Although Todoroki would have preferred to report this man to the police, he couldn't just leave his classmate alone.
"Todoroki-san...," her voice, still trembling, gently reached his ears. She was still shaken with disbelief that something like this had happened to her. If her classmate hadn’t helped her in that moment, she didn't know what that man might have done to her. And the worst part was she’d just stood there without doing anything.
"Thank you... I don't know what to say," she murmured quietly, too embarrassed to meet his eyes.
"Here, put on this jacket, or you'll catch a cold," his answer straightforward, with barely any acknowledgment to her unease. He shrugged out of his jacket and held it out to her.
She hesitated briefly. She was still wet from the rain and couldn't stop trembling because of that man... but wearing Todoroki-san's jacket -- it would be the first time she wore another boy’s jacket.
"Thank you," she accepted gratefully, putting on his jacket. It was a little bit too long, but it was warm - really warm - and smelled nice. The smell was different. She couldn't pinpoint exactly how, but it brought her a strange sense of comfort. Like a hug, almost.
Unsure of how to continue the conversation, if she could even call it that, she asked somewhat awkwardly, "And you?"
Momo had so many things she wanted to say - she wanted to thank him profusely for his help - but she wasn’t able to find the words to begin. Her thoughts were interrupted by a loud blaring accompanied by a bright light signaling the arrival of her train.
Hands tightening around her bag in disappointment, Momo relented, "Well... I should go. Thank you again, and I’ll see you tomorrow at school." She waved at him with a slight smile before turning around to enter the train.
After the train doors closed, Momo looked next to her and strangely saw Todoroki beside her. The train started to move, and Momo was yet again at a loss for words. It seemed her seatmate had a distressing tendency to reduce her ability for speech to zero. Her expression must have been strange, to say the least, as she grasped at straws for something to say. Almost infuriatingly, his face remained a puzzling blank.
Without so much as a word to her, Todoroki pocketed his hands and sat down in an open seat. Bewildered, Momo clutched at her school bag and marched up to him, staring down at his face.
"Ehm... Why are you on this train?"
Unfazed, he removed his hands from his pockets and crossed his arms. "I'm going home," he said simply.
Momo had read before in one of her books that humans who crossed their arms were closing themselves off to conversation and effectively signaling that they didn’t want to be disturbed. When he closed his eyes, too, she understood that he meant for his last statement to be the end of their exchange.
"Is that so?"
No response. Not that she’d expected one.
In the brief time that she’d been acquainted with Todoroki, she recognized that he was a man of few words. Tonight might have been the most she’s heard his voice.
Respecting his desire for silence, she wordlessly sat down next to him, putting her bag on her lap and folding her hands over it. Her dark eyes focused on her interlocked hands. After a few minutes, she dared to sneak a peek at him and saw that Todoroki still had his eyes closed.
Was he asleep?
He had such a flawless face. Even with his burn scar, his face was beautiful.
How did he even get that scar, she wondered.
"Thank you again, Todoroki-san," she let out, not knowing whether he was awake. "I was too afraid... and maybe I'm still afraid… to do anything. I don’t know what would have happened if you hadn't been there to help me."
She stopped to check for any reaction to her words, but she saw none. Somehow, though, Momo was sure that he’d heard her.
"Although... I'm disappointed in myself. I didn’t think I’d be so weak." She smiled ruefully, with a tinge of self-deprecation, and rubbed her arms. With a nervous laugh and a gentle smile, she murmured, "You're always so cold towards us, but your jacket really is so warm..."
She colored at her own words, instinctively burying her face deeper into the collar of her borrowed jacket, and turned away in embarrassment. She didn’t notice Todoroki slowly open his eyes to look at her after hearing her last sentence.
At the same time, the train announced that they’d arrived at her station. Face still red, Momo stood up immediately, nodded goodbye at the impassive Todoroki, and exited the train. Thankfully, the rain had let up to a light drizzle now.
But... there he was again.
"You live here, too?" she watched him quizzically.
"Something like that," he answered vaguely and followed behind her.
This was unexpected, Momo thought. She had never noticed him on the same train as her before, when she was commuting to school or back home. They walked through the dark alleys, with him still behind her, without exchanging any words until they reached an intersection.
Momo stopped, and Todoroki did the same. She grabbed the straps of her bag tightly -- it was quickly becoming a nervous habit -- and toed the ground.
"Well, I don't know where you live, exactly, but my home is two minutes away from here. It's better if we split now,” she stumbled through her words. “I don't want others seeing us... alone. Please don't misunderstand me... it's just --"
"Okay. Good night," he interrupted her and turned around. He raised his right hand in goodbye, then put both of his hands in his pockets again. It seemed to be one of his habits.
"I'm home!" Momo’s voice echoed through her house, but she didn't get a response. Her parents weren't home, as always. Suddenly, Momo felt so very alone. It was strange - that Todoroki’s absence made her more acutely aware of her solitude.
After everything that had happened today, Momo wanted someone to comfort her, but she was once again alone.
She gave herself a few minutes to banish her sad thoughts before heading to her room to charge her phone and going to the bathroom.
She was still wearing his jacket.
After she’d split with Todoroki at the intersection, Momo realized that she was still wearing his jacket. She turned around in hopes of catching him and returning his jacket, but he was no longer in sight. Maybe this way was better. At least now she can wash his jacket before giving it back to him.
"What a strange guy," Momo spoke to herself while laying in her hot bath. "But he helped me. Maybe I should give him something as a thank you?" She paused and closed her eyes for a moment. Unwittingly, his face showed up in her mind.
"I want to know more about him," she determined. Embarrassed by her admission of her wish, she plunged herself into the water.
Later, before she went to sleep, she turned on her phone to check her messages and tell the girls in her class about the day’s unexpected turn of events in their group chat. They were all shocked and apologized to Momo that they left her alone after school, though she reassured them that no apology was necessary. She wasn't angry at all. She had voluntarily stayed at school until late evening. No one was obligated to stay and wait for her. Nevertheless, it was a nice feeling to finally be surrounded by people who were concerned with her well-being.
Momo was about to write a good night message to everyone but stopped after receiving a notification of a private message from Jirou. "Yaomomo, I really love you and all, but girl... don’t you get it?" Confused, Momo had no idea how to reply. Jirou continued typing.
"He doesn't live in your neighborhood. Todoroki is from the Shizuoka prefecture. He escorted you home."
He did what?