“You know, I’m getting real tired of you ignoring me, Icy Hot.”
“And I’m getting tired of you annoying me,” Todoroki sighed, “Yet, I bear it.”
Todoroki easily caught, in his left hand, the wad of trash hurled at his head. He promptly set it on fire in a small burst of flames.
“Hey!” Bakugou protested, watching the ash fall from Todoroki’s fingers, “That was uncalled for.”
Todoroki couldn’t keep from snorting, “Says the person who hurled it at my head. We’re here to clean trash, not throw it. Please focus on your own work and leave me be, Bakugou.”
By the way Bakugou bristled, Todoroki could tell he said the wrong thing. But, truth be told, there never seemed to be a right thing to say. Bakugou seemed to choose to be upset regardless of what a person actually says or does. He was both hilariously predictable and wildly, dangerously, unpredictable. And of course, utterly exhausting. Todoroki rolled his eyes at Bakugou’s fuming and turned to continue his own work. Bakugou, to his credit, returned to his work as well.
Todoroki and Bakugou were assigned to clean up the mountains of trash and litter from a children’s playground. The only grass visible were in the areas they had already cleaned, and even those areas were threatened of being overrun by the remaining trash. The area was off limits to the public as they cleaned, so, for better or worse, Todoroki and Bakugou were alone. Their assignment was part of their community service agreement with the UA faculty. Todoroki had hoped that, as final exams and graduation grew near, the mandatory community service would become less demanding. He was sorely mistaken.
For today’s project, they began work at dawn. The sun continued to rise higher in the sky, but there was no end in sight to the field of trash. Sweat had begun to bead at the back of Todoroki’s neck half an hour ago. And from the few times Todoroki allowed himself to look at him, Bakugou seemed to be sweating as well. Not that Todoroki noticed. Or cared. Because he didn’t. Todoroki just needed to focus on the task on hand — no letting his mind wander, and no listening to Bakugou’s nonsense.
Todoroki picked up the dozenth molded newspaper of the morning.
“If the two of you want to graduate from UA, you are going to have to prove to me, UA, and the entire city that giving you a UA degree is not a mistake.”
“How did this playground even get so fucking filthy. It’s so un-Japanese.” Bakugou grumbled.
Todoroki’s hand tightened on his garbage bag.
“I expected more from you, Todoroki. I thought you knew better than to stoop to Bakugou’s level. Was it really worth nearly getting expelled over?”
“You know what? I bet there wasn’t any trash here yesterday. I bet our teachers dumped all this garbage just to keep us busy. They’re trying to get us to give up.”
Todoroki closed his eyes and breathed deeply. Inhale. Hold it for 1... 2... 3... 4... Exhale.
“I don’t know why you let him get to you, man. He’s just trying to get a rise out of you. And it’s obviously working.”
“Too bad for them.” Bakugou continued. Todoroki could even hear the smile in his voice, could picture it clear as day, “Because there’s no way in hell I’m giving up. They’re crazy to think something as stupid as community service will keep me from graduating from UA. This whole thing is completely beneath me. I’m going to show them all. This playground is going to be the —”
“Oh for the love of —” Todoroki swore under his breath. He threw his garbage bag to the ground and spun to face Bakugou. “What do you want, Bakugou?”
Bakugou cocked his head to the side, “Huh.”
“This trash is a result of a villain attack.”
Bakugou continued to stare at Todoroki.
“Garbage Man, the Landfill Villain? You would have known this if you had paid attention in the debriefing. Which you obviously didn’t.”
Bakugou stared at Todoroki for another moment before exclaiming with mock surprise, “Oh? What’s that? Are you talking to me? I thought you must have been talking to someone else.” He sneered, “Unless you’re finally done ignoring me, Icy Hot.”
Todoroki clenched his teeth and asked again, “What do you want, Bakugou.”
“Same as always, dumbass.” Bakugou said. “I’m going to be the number one hero.”
Todoroki narrowed his eyes at Bakugou. It couldn’t just be that, could it? Todoroki thought.
Bakugou had been targeting Todoroki, more than usual, for a while now — long before their community service, and long before the fight that landed them in community service in the first place. Bakugou had always hated Todoroki, though the intensity of the hatred waxed and waned over time. Todoroki could never really keep track of why Bakugou hated him, but he couldn’t be bothered to find out either. The less time he spent assessing Bakugou’s psyche, Todoroki felt, the better. But, even so… something had changed recently. Bakugou insulted him more, challenged him more, yelled at him more, sneered at him more. It was all rather exhausting. And oddly, Bakugou refused to explain himself, so there was no hope of Todoroki reducing the target placed upon himself.
For so long, Todoroki had attempted to simply ignore Bakugou, hoping he would simply give up on whatever new personal agenda he had. But, of course Bakugou didn’t give up, and he was obviously done with Todoroki trying to ignore him.
It’s time to end this, Todoroki thought.
“I mean… What problem do you have with me?” Todoroki asked, before adding, “No. That’s not the right question, is it? You’ve always had a problem with me, haven’t you? My very existence is a problem for you. You see me as a threat —”
“I am NOT fucking threated by you —”
“— But in three years of school together,” Todoroki continued, “We learned to coexist… until now. What changed, Bakugou? What new problem do you have with me? Please enlighten me.”
“I don’t owe you an explanation —”
“You don’t? Our fight almost got us expelled!” Todoroki shouted, much louder than he intended. He was surprised by his own voice, but still continued, “I don’t even know what we were fighting over! Now we’re picking up trash when we should be studying for final exams, and you think you don’t owe me an explanation?!”
“I don’t! And I’m tired of you acting like you’re better than me.”
Oh it’s that again. Todoroki thought. Let’s put an end to this, too.
“Have you ever considered that the reason people act like they’re better than you…” Todoroki asked slowly, “Is because they are?”
Todoroki took great satisfaction in watching the effects of his words on Bakugou. His fists clenched, his nostrils flared. Any other time, Todoroki might be concerned by how much he enjoyed it. But, not today. Today, he was tired. This feud with Bakugou had been building for far too long, and they were overdue for another fight.
“You’re not better than me, Todoroki —”
“I never claimed to be —”
“— You literally just did! And you’re NOT! You want to know how I know that? Because I’m going to graduate the top of our class, without having to fuck the class rep to get there. And then I’m going to be the number one hero!”
Todoroki blinked at Bakugou, “What.”
Without having to fuck the class rep to get there.
Todoroki watched as Bakugou shook with obvious rage.
Is that really what this is about? Todoroki thought. Surely, it can’t be. Right? It didn't line up. But, then Todoroki thought about it some more. He and Tenya started their whatever-it-was at the beginning of the school year. Bakugou started targeting Todoroki — more than usual — soon after. Then only a month later, they had their fight. The fight that nearly got them expelled from UA. The fight that landed them in mandatory community service. It lined up.
Bakugou was serious.
Todoroki was so surprised, he burst into laughter. He caught a glimpse of Bakugou’s blank expression, which caused him to laugh even harder.
“Why are you laughing.”
“Are —” Todoroki said between laughs, “Are you fucking kidding me? You’re serious? That’s what this whole thing has been about? Me and Tenya?!”
Bakugou stared back at him blankly.
Todoroki doubled over and laughed even harder.
“What’s so fucking funny, asshole?!”
Todoroki wiped tears from his eyes, “This is the funniest thing I have heard in my life.” He looked up at Bakugou and stifled his laughter enough to say, “You really think my relationship with Tenya gives me an advantage? You think I’m putting ‘fucking the class representative’ on my agency applications under ‘extracurriculars’?”
Bakugou glared. “You’re not denying it.”
Todoroki stood up straight to look Bakugou in the eyes. “Denying what? ‘Fucking the rep’? Why should I? I’m not ashamed.” He stepped closer to Bakugou. “Does it bother you?”
Bakugou jutted his chin out as Todoroki stepped closer. “Yes, it fucking bothers me.”
That was an admission I wasn’t expecting. Todoroki thought.
“It’s not right.” Bakugou said.
“I didn’t think you were homophobic.” Todoroki said. “But… it does explain a lot.”
“That’s — that’s not what I…” Bakugou said, fumbling for words. “What’s that even supposed to mean?!”
Some distant part of Todoroki’s mind yelled at him to stop before he said any more. He knew he was going to regret saying his next words. It wasn’t right for him to speak them. They weren’t his to say. And yet… this opportunity to say to Bakugou exactly what he’s been thinking for three years? It was too good to pass up. Todoroki couldn’t stop himself. The words seemed to fall out of his mouth before he could grab them, hold them back, keep them private the way they belonged.
“You and Kirishima.”
Bakugou’s entire countenance changed. He was frozen. A deer in the headlights.
Todoroki relished the fear in Bakugou’s eyes. He chose to ignore the distant voice in the back of his mind. The voice that told him not to enjoy inflicting this kind of pain.
It didn’t matter.
Bakugou deserved this.
Too far gone to stop now, Todoroki continued, “Things have changed between you two this year. Everyone in class knows. We could all see it, but we were too polite to say anything. We wanted to spare your feelings. Or, Kirishima’s at least.”
Kirishima’s love for Bakugou was glaringly obvious. Even the teachers knew. It was frequently the subject of hushed dorm room gossip circles. But no one told Bakugou. But, surely Bakugou must know, because things changed. There was a subtle shift in Bakugou and Kirishima’s friendship the past school year. They were apart more than they weren’t. There was a developing melancholy within Kirishima, while Bakugou seemed to be the same as ever.
Todoroki’s classmates all had different feelings on the matter. Todoroki at first just felt pity. But, now he knew Bakugou was homophobic, Todoroki started to feel disgusted with Bakugou. To be so repulsed by your friend that you don’t acknowledge your friend’s feelings, but instead push your friend away… It was shameful.
“No — you —” Bakugou’s voice shook, “You don’t know what you’re fucking talking about! YOU DON’T KNOW ME.”
“No. I do.” Todoroki said, coldly. “It’s so simple. You’re repulsed by Kirishima. You’re disgusted by me and Tenya. And you so desperately hate that I might be better than you —”
“— SHUT UP.”
“— You believe I’m sick, inferior. Yet, I still surpass you in every single way. You can’t accept this —”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP.” Bakugou shouted. He flung his garbage bag at Todoroki’s head. Like before, Todoroki caught it easily and set aflame. Todoroki wrinkled his nose at the foul stench of burning garbage. He expected either a fist or an explosion to come next, but none came. Bakugou remained rooted in place. He was shaking and panting with rage, but he didn’t lunge for Todoroki. It was like he couldn’t. Bakugou was an angry dog, too aware of his own leash, reduced to only his bark.
I’m right. Thought Todoroki. I’m right about it all.
It was a hollow victory.
Todoroki looked up at the sky to see how much the sun had moved. Todoroki pushed down the rest of his anger and willed his voice back to a neutral affect, “I think we’re done here. Let’s get back to work. We have a job to do.”
Todoroki glanced back at Bakugou who continued to shake where he was frozen in place.
“We’re not done…” Bakugou muttered to the ground.
“No.” Todoroki countered, with finality. “We are.”
Todoroki walked away from Bakugou and grabbed a new garbage bag. He walked back to the still-frozen Bakugou and offered the bag to him. “Here.”
Bakugou took it.
Hoping that Bakugou wasn’t going to attack him after all, Todoroki turned to his own work. He grabbed his own bag and set to work on breaking up the pile of soggy grocery bags and rotting cardboard boxes. Time passed in absolute silence.
Bakugou didn’t strike him from behind. Or set off an explosion. Or scream or threaten. Todoroki couldn’t think of a single time Bakugou was so eerily silent. Todoroki began to feel uneasy with the very silence he thought he would be grateful for. But, he willed himself to be calm and focused on the task at hand. And still he did not look back at Bakugou.
Todoroki didn’t know how much time had passed when Bakugou finally spoke.
“I don’t get what Iida sees in you.” Bakugou said quietly.
Todoroki paused in reaching for the next cardboard box. He closed his eyes and breathed. Then, he confessed what he had already been thinking for a long time, “Neither do I.”
That was another admission Todoroki wasn’t expecting today.
Bakugou didn’t have the right to talk about Todoroki and Tenya as if he knew them. He wasn’t there to hear how Tenya spoke to Todoroki so gently. He wasn’t there to see how Todoroki held Tenya after a long day. He wasn’t there for the breakfasts Tenya would make him in the morning. He wasn’t there for the quiet dinners, the hands held under tables, the inside jokes, the handwritten letters, the board game nights with friends. He wasn’t there when Todoroki met Tenya’s family.
Bakugou never met Tensei.
Bakugou couldn’t possibly understand, and he didn’t have the right to know.
But… Todoroki still agreed with Bakugou. What Tenya possibly saw in Todoroki was a mystery. Todoroki doubted he was a good partner to Tenya, let alone friend. He wasn’t sure he and Tenya were a good match (Tenya wanted kids, for instance). Todoroki didn’t know how long they were going to last, or if they should have gotten together in the first place. But Tenya seemed happy. And Todoroki wasn’t miserable. The relationship never felt like an awful idea, so it was fine.
But, while Todoroki might not understand his own relationship, it was still his to defend.
“I don’t know what Tenya sees in me, but it’s his choice. What Tenya wants is none of your business.” Todoroki said to Bakugou. “I won’t stand for you talking about my relationship. Keep Tenya’s name out of your mouth.”
Todoroki knew how Bakugou hated to be ordered about or threatened, so he tensed and waited for some retaliation from Bakugou. Angry words. An explosion. But none came. Todoroki finally turned to look at Bakugou. He was crouched on the ground, examining some particularly interesting garbage. Bakugou must have heard Todoroki, but seemed to be ignoring him.
“Do you understand, Bakugou.”
“Yeah, yeah, Icy Hot.” Bakugou said. “I get it.”
Todoroki watched for a moment as Bakugou picked up empty liter bottles from the ground.
Was this the end? Todoroki thought. Was this feud with Bakugou finally over?
Todoroki let out a long breath and eased the tension from his shoulders. He felt lighter at the prospect of finally, finally being left alone after so many years. Todoroki almost felt like smiling, but he kept that to himself. As he watched Bakugou yank an old tire out of the ground, Todoroki thought back to his words. If Bakugou hadn’t deserved it, Todoroki might have wondered if his words were too harsh, too cruel.
That was another reason Tenya was better than Todoroki. He would never have said the same things to Bakugou, whether Bakugou deserved it or not.
“Are you gonna stand there all day or are you going to actually work, Icy Hot.”
Todoroki caught himself, “Right.” He hadn’t realized he had been staring for so long.
Todoroki scanned the playground for the next area that needed cleaning. He set out to conquer a small hill of broken glass and milk jugs, and busied himself with his own thoughts.
Graduation was coming up and everything was about to change. Todoroki had his own plans, and Tenya had his. There were conversations that he need to have with Tenya, and soon. (Todoroki tried to not dwell on that thought for too long). There were also the arrangements and appointments Todoroki needed to make. There were exams he needed to study for. And there were the mandatory community service assignments.
Too much needed to be done in too little time.
But, if the pointless feud with Bakugou was finally over, then the community service might not be so bad anymore. Todoroki was somewhat comforted by that idea.
Even so, Todoroki knew most of his worries wouldn’t be eased until graduation — when they would ultimately be replaced by new worries. Todoroki considered his classmates. Surely they were feeling the same pre-graduation dread he was feeling? They must each be facing their own challenges and fears as graduation grew closer. Their lives were all going to change in countless immeasurable ways. They were going to be true pros soon, and many of them were aiming for the top.
Todoroki paused and allowed himself one last glance in Bakugou’s direction.
Bakugou was no different from the rest of the class — his life was going to change, too. Todoroki sometimes tried to picture what Bakugou’s future might be, but never could form a solid mental image. Todoroki didn’t know what the future had in store for Bakugou, but it was certain to be spectacular.
Was Bakugou worried about graduation?
Todoroki tried to ignore the thought. He didn’t care if Bakugou was worried about graduation. Everyone was worried about graduation. It would be strange to not be worried about graduation.
But even so, Todoroki still found himself wondering.
When the day of graduation comes… Todoroki thought. The day Kirishima confesses his feelings…
It was a pitiable thought. Though the whole class knew it was coming, like a car crash in slow-motion, they remained too polite to do anything. Besides, it wasn’t their place to intervene. So they stood by and waited for the tragedy to unfold.
And the even sadder thing was, Todoroki thought as he watched Bakugou heave a broken car battery onto his back. Sometimes, Todoroki could almost see what Kirishima saw in Bakugou.