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It all starts a week after they move in together: stray boxes still littering the floor and their kitchen sink filled with kitchen things Izuku's mom had brought over and that they hadn't managed to put away yet. Izuku has exactly zero feelings about interior design, so he's recused himself to arrange his office — read: meticulously array his infinitely expanding hero collectible collection — when Todoroki knocks on the opened door and asks:

"Should I be concerned about this?"

'This' turns out to be a profoundly explicit doujinshi Jirou had found in an artist alley during a hero con. It's titled IMPACT EMBRACE, and on the cover, Bakugou is wreathed in explosions as he clutches pro hero Deku; they stared passionately into one another's eyes. Somehow, Izuku's nipples are showing through his hero suit.

"Um," Izuku says, or he thinks he says, because he feels all the blood rushing his face with such speed he feels immediately dizzy.

Todoroki pages through the book with all evidence of actual interest. "Just so you know, this comic proposes that Bakugou stole your virginity in a UA locker room," he says mildly. "Also, you look 12 years old."

"Gah," is all Izuku manages before he goes flailing after Todoroki.

The comic doesn't survive the sortie, shredded ugly two-thirds of the way through mostly because Izuku had promised their landlady he wouldn't use Shoot Style or Full Cowling inside and Todoroki had finally laughed so hard at page 24 he'd failed to dodge when Izuku had tackled him into the bed.

"I accept you, and everything you did in your past," Todoroki says, pinned under Izuku and all solemn intensity because he's an unrelenting asshole.

Izuku scowls. "This — Jirou bought this at a hero con."

"I guess I take some comfort that you didn't buy it," Todoroki says in a bland performance of emotional extremis. It makes Izuku angry and hot for him all at the same time in a way that nobody had warned him about during Present Mic's frankly mortifying sex ed class their second year at UA. "I know you and Bakugou share a tender history of being childhood friends — if you decide after all that — "

"I really, really hate you," Izuku interrupts him, and because he knows there's no way he's going to win this argument with any of his dignity intact, he goes straight for dirty pool and kisses Todoroki — all teeth and tongue and terrible, embarrassing feelings.

The line between professional hero and celebrity is pretty thin sometimes, and it's hardly like Izuku would hold it against anybody for getting over-invested in their interests. So of course he's always known about hero fandom's tendency to indulge in romantic speculation, but for some reason he'd always viewed it with the sort of tolerant humor of a person who felt, foolishly, immune to the whole thing. After all, it's like the UA business track kids had said in their final year keystone project: no matter how great Izuku's quirk was, his hair was a disaster and he was pretty average looking.

Of course that was all before the Great Catastrophic NHK Interview of March 17, where Izuku had gotten hot and confused under all the studio lights, spilled three-quarters of a bottle of mineral water on himself, cried a little because they'd let him play with a kitten, and said, "Oh, um, I call him Kacchan because well — we were childhood friends, I guess."

Todoroki: hey
Midoriya: ?
Todoroki: one of the interns here ships you
Midoriya: ???
Todoroki: and Bakugou
Todoroki: she asked if I still talk to you and I said we lived together and she got very excited and asked me if Bakugou ever came over because it was so touching how faithful your love is and how you've stuck together through thick and thin all of these years
Midoriya: no!!!!!!!!!! no!!!!!
Todoroki: don't worry I told her he hasn't been over in ages
Midoriya: okay…thank you
Todoroki: but I guess distance and time wouldn't matter when you know each other's hearts so well from a lifetime of pining
Midoriya: TODOROKI!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Even though All Might's officially retired, his hero agency is still humming, with more senior pros leading the vanguard, a thriving mid-level cadre of rookie pros and a handful of recent UA grads sidekicking. Sometimes Izuku goes to work in the morning and finds it's impossible, even living it, to imagine that he's here, that's he's allowed to be here and do this. Izuku has entire days where he's convinced someone will see through him, that he'll be at the market buying toilet paper or condoms and the whole thing will fall apart.

"You can't think about it that way," Todoroki told him years ago, more than a decade ago, when they were lying together in the cooling sheets of Izuku's dorm room bed. "You can't think about who deserves what and what they did to earn it."

Izuku remembers that all of it was so thrilling and new he could hardly think, that the sudden permission to put his head on Todoroki's shoulder and to press an open palm to his stomach felt revelatory. He'd still said, "But…"

And Todoroki had rolled them over, pinned him into the mattress. When Todoroki stares at you, you're comprehensively seen. "My mother didn't do anything to deserve my father," he'd said. "Maybe you didn't do anything to deserve your quirk. But you're doing good with it — that's all that matters."

Izuku had been 17, desperately in love and desperately in lust, but he'd managed to say, "You didn't deserve your father, either, Todoroki-kun," and Todoroki's face had been the emotional gore of an open wound: gorgeous, raw.

Todoroki is like the miracle of All Might, the miracle of One for All; he's an impossible, impossibly good thing that has happened to Izuku for no discernible reason. Sometimes when Izuku comes home from a day of admin or after a long patrol, he finds Todoroki following the Roomba around the apartment while talking to his sister on the phone, and it's all Izuku can do to stay on his feet, to not go to his knees with gratitude.

Todoroki is also a complete dick.

"So you work closely with pro hero Deku and pro hero Ground Zero, we understand," says Honda Minami, host of Japan's No. 1 rated talk show, Good Morning!! (The two exclamation points are part of the official name.) She's known for having the cutest laugh in broadcasting, a graduate degree in journalism from Columbia, and being voted most beautiful presenter five year's running.

Todoroki looks about as moved by all of this as he is by weird villains, UA first years, Bakugou — in short: not at all. "Ah," he says.

"How incredible," Honda bubbles at him. "Well — it seems you three have been friends since you were in school together at UA?"

"Sure," Todoroki says. Izuku assumes this is because his communications team has promised to burn down a kindergarten if Todoroki says any of the things he wants to say when confronted with questions about his relationships with Izuku and Bakugou, which fall into the categories of inappropriate and worse, respectively.

Honda turns on her most impossibly charming smile. "So you'd know if the rumors are true, then, I assume?"

Todoroki cocks an eyebrow. "About?"

"Deku and Ground Zero!" Honda laughs.

Izuku is sitting in the AMA staff break room, eating a sausage bun and scrolling through Todoroki Thirst Twitter, when that selfsame asshole turns, stares directly into camera, and says:

"Oh — it wouldn't be fair to comment on something so private."

Izuku chokes on his pastry.

The studio crowd goes wild, just a rolling wave of whispers and high-pitched shrieking.

Honda has stars in her eyes, rapture on her face. Izuku is numb except for how he can feel the nonstop buzz of his cell phone in his hand, flashing up a series of increasingly incoherent messages from Bakugou. Izuku catches, fucking kill you!!!! and tell shitty half and half i'll kill him too!!!!! Izuku thinks Bakugou can get in line.

"Todoroki-san!" Honda gasps, clasping her perfectly manicured hands in front of her perfectly blushed bustline. "Does this mean…?"

Todoroki — wearing his eternal, effortless cool and a nearly electric-blue three-piece suit — just smiles back at her, sideways, barely there, and absolutely, infuriatingly irresistible.

He tells her, "Really, it's not for me to say."

It's the number one trending topic on hero twitter for a full 48 hours, which is the exact length of Todoroki's patrol shift immediately after the interview and the only reason Izuku doesn't murder him on sight.

In the beginning, once they debuted as sidekicks, they kept their relationship quiet more by default than any actual intent. For the first eight months they were on the circuit, they'd lived more like strangers who occasionally hooked up than a couple: staggering into and out of each other's apartments at weird hours of day and occasionally catching the other for a quickie in the shower. Maybe more than early career jitters and more than lack of opportunity, explaining to people that he was dating Todoroki always felt stupid, like saying water was wet or that Bakugou had an anger management problem. They'd gotten together so young and so embarrassingly publicly at UA that everybody in their class and eventually everyone at school knew. By the time Izuku realized that the general public had made the — hurtful, but perhaps not unfair — assumption he was single as fuck and started developing their own narrative framework around his (literally) explosive working relationship with Kacchan — well.

"Is this some kind of emotional acting out?" Izuku asks, desperate and sincere and open to whatever Todoroki might be feeling. "Are you — do you feel legitimate and earnest concern that Kacchan and I might have an inappropriate relationship?"

Todoroki blinks at him. "I know you and Bakugou have an inappropriate relationship."

"You know what I mean!" Izuku yelps.

"You mean, do I think you and Bakugou are secretly in love, and that you're using me for my body," Todoroki says, with the same flatness he reminds Izuku about burnable trash day or declares he's in the hospital with a collapsed lung because a building fell on him.

Izuku once sucked Todoroki's dick in the teacher's lounge at UA, so it's completely unacceptable that he can still make Izuku blush. "Yes," he grinds out.

Todoroki cracks a smile. "Your taste is bad, but not that bad," he says softly.

Izuku's traitorous heart still flutters when Todoroki does that, but he tries to school himself into a serious expression to ask, "Then why are you doing this?"

"You have to understand," Todoroki tells him, easy and honest and without even a microgram of guilt in his tone, "it is really, really funny — "

Izuku hollers and smashes a couch cushion into his face.

" — and I think if I keep it up Bakugou's heart might explode," Todoroki finishes, muffled in the upholstery, and Izuku wishes he could run away and live in the woods.

(The truth is this: Bakugou was the worst kind of bully, and Todoroki knows from growing up in constant, paralyzing fear of one. It's why Todoroki doesn't know how to do anything else with his face; why people say he's difficult to read; why he feels an impossible gratitude for Izuku, filling up all of his own oppressive silences. Todoroki hates bullies and he doesn't care that sometime during high school, Bakugou had begun to slough off the skin of his childhood cruelty into the jagged edges of his adult asshole form — Todoroki will never forgive him, and Bakugou's too smart to ever truly forgive himself. And the inescapable drumbeat of rumors, the titillating gossip about Japan's most meteoric rising star and his 'childhood friend,' every headline, every hashtag, every time someone cuts together a seizure-inducing video to a Blackpink song and puts it up on TikTok, it's another razor sharp edge that should remind Bakugou exactly what he and Izuku aren't and can never be.)

Izuku has known pretty much from the start that any attempt to leverage peer or social pressure to get Todoroki to do anything was an automatic no-go. For a lot of complicated and literally traumatic reasons, Todoroki's reflexive response to the application of force is to either disengage completely or fight back, immediately and with prejudice. See: that time he was 15 and tried to throw down with the chief of police less than an hour after being sent for an MRI. Moreover, Todoroki has a near infinite ability to perform normalcy, unflinching, while enduring almost unimaginable anger and suffering, so there is literally nothing Izuku can do to beg, barter, or berate him into knocking it off.

Unfortunately, there's no convincing Bakugou.

"What do you mean he won't listen," he snarls. "Just — fuck him yes or something."

Izuku can't even imagine the face he's pulling. "'Fuck him yes'?" he repeats in horror.

"You know what I mean you piece of shit!" is yelled back, a deafening stereo experience through both the bone conduction earpieces and loud enough that Izuku can hear it normally over the sound of a the a four-way fight.

"Deku, Ground Zero, this is a shared comms line," comes Iida's anguished plea.

Izuku launches off of a balcony — behind the closed sliding doors, a little girl waves, starry-eyed, and he waves back on his way off the ledge — toward the center of the melee, where Bakugou's finally maneuvered the lead villain to a half-built playground. No civilians, low likelihood of property damage, and plenty of space for a punch out. Bakugou might be an obnoxious jerk but he's still annoyingly good at his job.

"Sorry, Ii — I mean, Ingenium," Izuku chirps, wind whistling through the comms.

"Fuck off, both of you shitty nerds!" is Bakugou's contribution, which by now Izuku barely hears as he feels the green electric spark of Full Cowling begin to arc outward from his skin and sees the villain's growing expression of regret.

On the local news, later that night, there's a little clip from when the remote crew had finally caught up to Izuku's leg of the fight. It's of him and Bakugou working together to close quirk neutralizing cuffs around the villain's hands and feet. The 30 second clip ends on a still frame of Izuku laughing at something Bakugou had said, rosy cheeked from the fight with the flaming June sunset behind them, while Bakugou is caught in a rare, unfiltered smile. It looks romantic as fuck.

"I can make myself scarce tonight," Todoroki offers, when they meet up for dinner after Izuku gets the all-clear from the agency, the police, and the local medics. "You know, if you want to have Bakugou over."

Izuku glowers at him. "You're a bad person."

"Please don't have sex with him on our couch," Todoroki presses onward, shameless and unflappable. "We stole that from my dad's house together and I still have a lot of tender memories associated with it so that would hurt my feelings."

Izuku puts his head down on their table. "Two seconds after that moment, Bakugou tried to bite me because both of his hands were busy," he mumbles into the laminate surface.

"I see," Todoroki says, solemn. "I guess you like it rough."

There's the sound of a ceramic clattering, and when Izuku looks up it's to see their waitress red-faced and mortified from both eavesdropping and what she's heard. She's got cat eyes and blinks them in rapid-fire confusion. Izuku's so tired from fighting dumb villains and trying to keep Bakugou from giving him any first degree burns or rabies it's all he can do to put his head back down on the table.

"Just wait," Izuku mutters, to himself, to the universe, to Todoroki, "one day, I'm going to figure out a way to get back at you, and then you'll regret how funny you find this."

"Sure," Todoroki tells him agreeably, and orders the soba with tempura house special.

The waitress refuses to make eye contact with either of them throughout the meal, but after Todoroki leaves first to make a detour at the Family Mart down the block and Izuku is finished paying, she meets him at the door to blurt out:

"Um — um! I just want to say! Keep fighting, Deku-san! For your — for you and Ground Zero! We support you!"

"We're — we're not together," Izuku chokes out.

"Oh, of course," she agrees, and winks dramatically before flashing him his own customary peace sign. "Your secret's safe with me, Deku-san!"

Todoroki, who's waiting for Izuku on the sidewalk with a reusable grocery tote weighed down with odds and ends, asks, "Everything okay?"

"Yep," Izuku tells him, manically bright, and steers him down the street toward their apartment. "FYI, we're never going to that restaurant again."

Technically, Bakugou and Todoroki are sort of coworkers.

Two months before UA graduation, Edgeshot had showed up during a practical training session, informed Bakugou he was a nasty little shit who still owed him after the entire League of Villains kidnapping debacle and said he was taking it out of Bakugou in work. The subsequent fight had been spectacular; three training drones and a yoga mat had died as a result of friendly fire, and eventually Todoroki had been recruited to do a controlled burn in the practice field so the sparks didn't accidentally light up any of the UA outbuildings. It was probably the only kind of job interview that would ever make sense for Bakugou.

Meanwhile, Todoroki waited until his father had told at least two national newspapers, several cable programs, and made a LinkedIn post about his son joining the Endeavor Hero Agency to carry on the family legacy before announcing he was signing on to sidekick for Gang Orca.

"I failed my first provisional licensing exam," Todoroki had said finally, in a prepared video statement sitting alongside his new agency PR team, after a month of abject pandemonium following the news broke. "In part, it was Gang Orca who identified my shortcomings, and I've always been grateful for his honesty, clarity of vision, and drive. It's an honor to have been accepted for a role with the Wavebreaker Agency, and I look forward to continuing to learn from Gang Orca and the entire team in time."

And even though Wavebreaker's chief flak — a woman with literal bulletproof skin — was more terrifying than most of their first line hero roster, at least one reporter had managed to doorstop Todoroki on his way out of the agency that same day.

"Todoroki-san, can you please explain how you came to work for Gang Orca and Wavebreaker after your father, Endeavor — "

"I'm aware of who he is," Todoroki had interrupted, so bland it transcended milquetoast for some new level of performance art burn.

" — said you would be joining the Endeavor agency?"

Todoroki had blinked, offensively slow, and mild as milk, said, "It honestly never even occurred to me to work for him," climbed a gutter, took a flying leap to the next rooftop over, and vanished into the Tokyo night like a complete asshole.

Gang Orca's agency is massive, sprawling, with franchises in most major Japanese metropolises and at least two outposts in the EU. His sidekicks are arranged by tiers of seniority and merit, and in total number in the hundreds, all of them with quirks that lean toward the elemental: fire, wind, the ability to roil the earth below.

"It's nice not to stand out," Todoroki had admitted, trailing Izuku around a basement Book Off watching him price out limited run hero figurines.

Izuku had nodded and squeezed Todoroki's hand — the cool one — because marking Todoroki's emotional revelations with anything more than a passing acknowledgement was a guarantee he'd close up shop again.

"I'm aware this is probably some kind of manifestation of my childhood history playing out against my professional choices," Todoroki had said, unprompted and audibly annoyed by himself. "But — anyway. It's not a choice I feel bad about."

Izuku, showing enormous restraint and fighting back tears, had said, "Gang Orca is a very good hero," and his voice had only wobbled a little bit.

Todoroki had made his cool, rich boy noise — tch — but he'd been smiling, and then he'd been smiling against Izuku's mouth, so between that and the ultra rare FatGum model Izuku snagged that day, he had no complaints.

This is in direct contrast to Bakugou, who had signed a contract with Edgeshot's ultra-exclusive five-person team before realizing that Bullseye Co. hummed along by sharing back office operations and renting out space in Wavbreaker's global headquarters. There was also an informal reciprocity arrangement between the two agencies, about which Bakugou would have numerous complaints that ranged from having to hang out with shitty Whale Guy, shitty Half and Half, shitty General Losers, and shitty Edgeshot, who'd tricked him into taking the job.

"Why the fuck are we working with fucking Freezer Burn anyway?" Bakugou demands; he sounds like a three pack a day smoker, only it's from constant yelling more than any bad boy living. Bakugou still goes to bed by 8:30 every night when he's not on patrol, and ever since he started living on his own, he's adopted a Live, Laugh, Love level of douchebag gym rat minimalism that extends to a meticulously designed diet adjusted seasonally to ensure he's hitting all his macros and gains.

"Because it's part of a matrixed schedule of patrol coverage for the city, and Deku-kun still refuses to kill you for the rest of us," Mina snaps back over the line.

"Don't get fucking cocky, I hate working with you, too!" Bakugou yells at her, which is his way of expressing affection for people.

Izuku, who's on radio coordination at home base in the AMA control room while babysitting the new joiners, mutes his line and says, "Oh boy." If he wasn't being observed by the bright eyed future of hero work, he'd radio back in to tell Bakugou that Todoroki's patrolling the other side of the city and to shut the fuck up.

"Get fucked, Bakugou — you're the human version of a purebred Pomeranian: blond, incredibly loud, but you're two bucks dripping wet and Kirishima's always a half second away putting your stupid barking ass into an LV handbag," Mina snaps back, because she's always ready and willing to spit acid into Bakugou's face, and is therefore also unafraid to spout of the most fantastically defamatory things about it. Their friendship has been upsetting and confusing since they were in UA and shows no signs of tempering over time.

There's an inarticulate noise of rage over the comms, and at this point, all the interns and the new recruits observing coordination duty have gathered around Izuku's station, starry and overwhelmed. People — inexplicably — love Bakugou, but they love listening to people talk shit about him even more.

"Come say that to my face, Shitty Ashido!" Bakugou howls.

"This is the greatest day of my life," says one of the interns, reverent. She's wearing a Ground Zero enamel pin on the lapel of her suit jacket.

"I can't believe that Deku's embarrassed to tell people who he's dating when Red Riot's stuck with your stupid ass," Mina yells.

One of the rookies, the one who keeps Red Riot cheesecake photos inside his work locker, chokes out, "What?" but Izuku doesn't manage to recite his normal reminder about the nondisclosure agreements they all signed — suddenly nauseated and cold through with a lightning strike of worry.

Over the course of years, Izuku's managed — through experience, age, and abundant cognitive behavioral therapy — to rein in the worst excesses of his crippling anxiety.

Izuku's used to worrying about not having a quirk, and then having a quirk and not knowing how to use it without exploding his bones, and then being scared because Recovery Girl was disappointed in him. He's used to panicking because it was cold and damp outside and All Might was meeting him for lunch without wearing a hat, or running through the infinite potential trajectories of fights he sees Todoroki in the middle of while Izuku's stuck watching on television.

But it's been years since he had to contend with toxic second-guessing when it comes to his relationship with Todoroki, who — and this is not a criticism — has the emotional range of a Magic 8 Ball and the acting chops of an Instagram model.

Only now, Izuku wants to trap Todoroki in their kitchen for what will likely be an ugly crying (on his side) and very uncomfortable (on Todoroki's side) emotional conversation. He wants to kiss the rough skin of Todoroki's scar and hear Todoroki promise over and over that of course he knows Izuku isn't ashamed of him. He wants to be a clingy mess for 24 hours, to cook all of Todoroki's favorite food and do that thing that's completely degrading but that Todoroki likes until Izuku is sure he believes that Todoroki believes.

Fortunately for Todoroki, he's on a 72 hour shift; unfortunately for Sero, he is not.

"Midoriya, I swear to God I will choke myself out with my own tape," he says, after Izuku softens him up with two minutes of small talk and a beer.

"I tried asking Uraraka and she said since she used to have a crush on me in school it's emotionally cruel for me to ask her about my romantic relationships with other people," Izuku babbles. "I don't think it's fair since I used to have a crush on her, and she's told me about every single person she's ever dated since, but then she said she was going to hang up to go cry so I texted you."

"I also had a crush on you in school," Sero tells him earnestly.

"You once ranked all the boys in our class based on how many shots you'd need to fuck them and put me at alcohol poisoning because you said I looked like an escaped elementary student," Midoriya retorts.

Sero had also put Todoroki at, "I'd fuck you sober, bro," and Todoroki had said, "Thank you," with all evidence of sincerity.

Sero covers his face. "Fine," he sighs.

"Do you think Todoroki thinks I'm ashamed of him?" Izuku blurts out.

"Honestly, I don't think Todoroki would notice if you were," Sero says.

Izuku can feel himself starting to tear up.

"Absolutely not," Sero warns, and jams a bunch of bar napkins at Izuku's face. "Cut that out right away — you know exactly what I mean, you little weirdo. When was the last time Todoroki had a normal boy feeling about any normal boy thing?"

There's a loyal part of Izuku that wants to argue that Todoroki feels far, far more deeply than he'd ever want most people to know, that his hurts and his passions are fiercer than he ever gives away. But while that's true, it's also not inaccurate to say that outside of a targeted selection of people and things that fall within his scope of interest, Todoroki is unbelievably disinterested in what anybody thinks about him. Izuku once showed Todoorki Todoroki Thirst Twitter, and his entire response was, "I guess."

Izuku clutches at the napkins. "Do you think he cares that we've never, you know, gone public that we're together?"

"Midoriya, I think as long as you guys keep coming home to each other, that's all that really matters," Sero tells him, suddenly kind — before he grins, sideways, and adds, "But I mean, I guess if you did make it official, Mount Lady would stop trying to get with your man every time they're on patrol together."

"Ha ha ha," Izuku manages. "Don't be silly, you know that doesn't bother me."

"Okay, sure," Sero says, with the tolerant wisdom of a man who got Midoriya so drunk at their graduation party he'd burst into tears because Todoroki had smiled one more time at Eri than Izuku that week.

Izuku walks home, hands tucked into the pockets of his coat and threading into and out of chattering crowds of students still in their uniforms, people in their business suits rushing home for dinner. It's late September, and there's an unexpected cold snap: the city smelling sharp with the promise of rain. Any day now, the weather will properly turn, and he and Todoroki will visit Izuku's mom on one weekend to make sure all of her heating is in proper order and Todoroki's mom the next to make sure the roof of her little house in the countryside is holding up against the seasons. There will be the annual 3-A Christmas blowout in the two-story top floor penthouse Yaomomo shares with Jirou and their twin toy poodles, and someone will inevitably find Bakugou asleep under a pile of coats in a guest room long before the clock strikes 10 p.m. Villains will probably keep trying to stir up trouble, and Izuku will keep stopping them; All Might will meet him for lunch every Thursday. Through all of it, the steady, ceaseless metronome tick of Todoroki will be there: first thing in the morning and last thing at night. He'll do all of the laundry and remember to pay all of the bills, and he'll eat everything Izuku cooks, even if it's burned. He'll pet every cat they see on the street, and still insist that he doesn't think they should have one of their own. He'll keep getting voted sexiest rising star by teen magazines and keep sending them a neck-and-up-only low-DPI headshot when they ask him for a picture to commemorate the honor. He'll keep going to hero conventions with Izuku, even if he refuses to dress up, and he'll probably keep hinting to total strangers that Bakugou and Izuku are having a secret affair. And by the time Izuku finds himself standing in front of their apartment building, looking up at their orange-lit living room window, he realizes how simple it's always been: Izuku can't imagine anyone else driving him this crazy — Todoroki Shouto is the love of his fucking life. 

Being a meticulously analytical person and a planner by nature, of course the climax of this entire debacle would come to a head mostly by accident and while he's crying on an internet live stream.

Professional heroes have an obligatory 50 annual hours of Continuing Hero Training to complete in order to retain their active licenses, and every year since they'd gone pro, Izuku has signed himself and Todoroki up for the Nippon Hero Association booth at HeroCon Japan. It's a fantastic opportunity to engage with the community, speak with young people just coming into full understanding of their own quirks, and to help dispel myths about professional hero work. The fact that their GUEST badges are active the entire run of HeroCon is purely incidental, no matter what Todoroki says.

No matter how much Todoroki pretends to complain, it's fun: thousands of people buzzing with shared energy and excitement, fans of all ages and stripes in their homemade hero cosplay, little kids apple cheeked with hero worship, lots of breakouts where Izuku can argue with other hero nerds about costume continuity until one of the event interns has to drag him to his own panels. Plus, now that Izuku is a functional adult with a boyfriend and a free pass into HeroCon, he can both afford to lose his mind in the dealers room and make someone else carry his purchases while he's buying another All Might limited edition print.

But maybe the best part of HeroCon duty, and probably the (still ethically problematic) but ultimate reason he signs them up for it every year, is Um, Todoroki-San Hour.

Technically, the panel's called Heroes: Ask Us Anything! but the HeroCon staff know who's signing their checks, so Todoroki ends up on the panel every single year. Because Izuku is 100 percent supportive of their mission to bring greater hero awareness and acceptance, he usually abets this entire process by dressing Todoroki in whatever the most Upsetting clothes in his closet are: skintight jeans, a slate gray suit, a black t-shirt that's two sizes too small. This year, he'd made Todoroki wear an unbelievably soft gray shawl-neck sweater, dark jeans and combat boots. Todoroki Thirst Twitter is living.

"Um, Todoroki-san, I'm your biggest fan," says the first person up to the podium, a young girl with a beautiful sheen of iridescent fish scales and bubblegum pink hair.

From the stage, Todoroki says, "Okay," the way he always says okay. The audience screams. Bakugou, who says he wouldn't be caught dead at HeroCon, is probably one of the 300K people watching the live stream and getting an aneurysm.

"I just wanted to ask, um, what's your favorite school memory? Um, thank you again!" the girl finishes, in a trembly, overstimulated rush.

Izuku feels an unspoken tenderness for her, for everyone in the audience looking up at the stage, milling around the event center, electric from being so close to so many heroes — no matter what, that's the person Izuku is, too, at his core. He feels more comfortable here than he does in the AMA conference room, at hero command at Tokyo police headquarters, receiving his No. 1 Rookie Award and being blinded by flashbulbs.

"Well," Todoorki says, which is how he starts every sentence when he's taking his time to think of the single worst possible thing he can say, "my first year at UA, during the sports festival, I lost first place to Ground Zero and he was so mad that we had to tie him to a concrete pillar so that All Might could give him his medal."

The audience roars.

"Also," Todoroki adds, "I think later he blew up his medal and got a demerit for unsanctioned and dangerous quirk usage after curfew, so that was pretty great."

The next question is for one of the other panelists, a newly debuted pro who looks like they're on the verge of nervous expiration — how do you design a costume to stand out? — and the next after that is for Northstar, a pro who'd officially retired a year ago, but who'd been part of All Might's generation.

And then:

"Um, Todoroki-san."

Izuku's in three separate group chats that have three separate tallies and variously complex bets going, none of which he's allowed to participate in because Hakagure had declared that Izuku gambling on Todoroki-related things was basically self-dealing.

The question's harmless and sweet, about how Todoroki had discovered his quirk, and Todoroki trots out a well-practiced line he'd workshopped with his therapist that neatly sidesteps the reality of the whole thing. Endeavor is still Japan's No. 1 hero, but Todoroki Rei lives in a little house that has a view of a mountain range, now, a little garden and a bicycle she rides into town for her groceries every week. Her children overflow her home on the weekends. The world is and always will be deeply unfair, but it's not without its own mercies, too.

The one after that goes in a completely different direction.

"Um, Todoroki-san," comes the next question, rapid-fire, and Izuku's wondering if he should get in line for the mic with a question for Northstar just to even everything out a little when he hears, "I was just wondering, um, so, um, are you dating anyone?"

The whole auditorium starts whispering, a rolling murmur. Todoroki gets asked this question every single year, and every single year, Todoroki says, "No one's ever asked me out," which is only true because Izuku had started crying halfway through getting out his question and Todoroki had taken pity and stuck his tongue down Izuku's throat.

This year, Todoroki says, "Yes."

There's near hysteria among the audience, and before any of the teenagers waiting in line can start demanding a full recounting, Northstar grabs one the of table mics and says, "What! Todoroki-kun! Since when! And who! Does your father know? Have you introduced them to your family?"

Izuku feels his soul leaving his body. "Oh, God," he whimpers. His phone is vibrating with incoming messages so fast it's just a long, sustained buzz in his hand.

"My father knows them," Todoroki says, which is both true and a complete lie.

"Well? Tell us more! What's this person like!" Northstar demands, and turns to the audience to back him up: they're all nearly vibrating out of their rainbow, multi-colored, multi-textured skins with excitement to be in the presence of such an epic revelation.

It's not that Izuku isn't aware of the narrative: Todoroki Shouto, literal ice prince, literal heir to a multimillion dollar hero empire, aloof and eternally alone — finally in love?

"He's very bad at tying ties," Todoroki says mildly.

The audience yells. One person, in a barely controlled sonic shriek that throws feedback across all the microphones, wails, "Bad at ties!" like their world is ending.

Northstar pretends to hurl the microphone at Todoroki. "Oi!" he threatens.

For a minute, a series of microexpressions flicker across Todoroki's face, a half-dozen different tells and different things he could tell the crowd.

What he says in the end is, "He's — very kind."

The rookie pro, on Todoroki's left side, goes wet eyed. "Oh," they say.

"We were friends, first," Todoroki goes on, to no one specifically and softly, looking down at his microphone. "He was one of the first friends I ever had, and I was very bad at making friends. But it always felt like it was okay for me to be quiet with him, I didn't have to talk, and after a while I realized there was no one else I would rather listen to."

Someone says, "Oh my God," through tears, and it takes Izuku half a beat to realize it's come out of his own mouth.

And then the spell's broken: that flash of midnight honesty, that tantalizing reveal of the Todoroki Izuku gets to know — and no one else — is folded neatly away. When Todoroki looks back up at the crowd, it's back to an expression of perfectly infuriating passive engagement, and he says, "He also has three different All Might onesies."

There's a lot of shouting after that, everyone thrilled to be included in the secret, and Izuku can't blame them. In another, much lonelier life, he'd be watching this on his computer at home, sneaking it on his phone at work, one earbud hidden in his hair. He'd feel just as special, just as shivery, to know, to be a little closer. Here, now, Izuku feels like a double exposure, doubly exposed, hiding in a shadow in the back of this auditorium, watching Todoroki gorgeous in stage lights and grinning like he's keeping a secret behind his teeth — Izuku can't believe that this is real, that he gets to have this. He can't believe he hasn't told everyone.

It's that same reflex that sent 15 year old Izuku tearing toward a sludge monster that pro heroes wouldn't touch, the idiot lizard brain that made him want Todoroki to literally go up in flames during their first sports festival — it's some amalgam of heart and spine that means at the critical moment, Izuku will always, always, always leap before he looks.

He feels the electric pulse of Full Cowling and hears a wave of screams from the audience. Somehow, he's grabbing the Q&A microphone stand now, feet still vibrating from hitting the floor. His face is hot and he's dizzy with something, a familiar urgency he remembers being 16 years old and falling embarrassingly, entirely head over heels for the cutest boy in his class. This is the emotional torture of an entire adolesent year, compressed into a single reckless moment.

"Um," he says, voice thready through the mic and in-room audio, "I have a question."

On stage, Todoroki looks supernaturally still, every muscle tensed and frozen while he processes surprise, and he doesn't shake himself out of it until Northstar roars, "Well, well! Everyone, look, it's last year's No. 1 Rookie, Deku!"

"Are you skipping your Continuing Hero Training credit duties right now," Todoroki says, recovering, even as the room around them hums with speculation.

Izuku ignores him. "Um — this person you're dating," he manages, and it comes out about an octave higher than his post-puberty voice, which is great, because there are only about 200 people taking pictures and videos of this moment, not including everybody watching on the HeroCon Twitch stream. "Do — I mean. It sounds like you're pretty serious about him."

Todoroki narrows his eyes. "I guess we've held hands once or twice."

"Wow, keep it kid-friendly there, Todoroki-kun," Northstar laughs, over the sound of a rising flood of audience noise, an ambient sound about to crest like a wave.

"So if this person were to ask you to — to marry them!" Izuku explodes, in one thrilling, lightheaded rush. "Do — I mean. Would you? If they asked? Would you say yes?"

There's probably pandemonium among the attendees. People are probably out of their seats now and shouting, and cameras are going nuts every which way. On stage, behind the panel table, Northstar's face is warm and wondering, and the rookie pro has jammed most of their fist into their mouth. But honestly, Izuku really only has eyes for Todoroki, who looks stunned, speechless and wide-eyed for a long, long minute, before he tightens his hand around his microphone and catches Izuku's eyes to lean forward — deliberate and close and the shape of a secret unfurling — and say, "Yes."

Izuku doesn't really remember what happens next, which is probably a protective measure his brain takes and that is — ultimately — a failed effort, because the internet is forever. There are at least 15 clips with 1 million plus views on YouTube, but the worst is definitely the official HeroCon version, because there's a crystal clear angle as Izuku bursts into inconsolable tears, Shoot Styles the mic stand, leaps over the heads of several dozen superhero fans who are losing their shit only incrementally less than he is, and tackles Todoroki out of his chair onto the stage floor. Iida sends them a very tasteful card conveying his sincerest congratulations. Yaomomo sends flowers. Ochako, who is definitely the more emotionally cruel one here, sends Izuku a hundred copies of a looping video someone in the audience had captured: Todoroki, flat on his back on the stage floor, his hair a glorious wreck and a wild, sharp smile on his face, cupping Izuku's red, tear-streaked face and dragging him in for a kiss as Izuku grabs fistfuls of Todoroki's silk-soft hair.

Izuku's a private person, despite his very public persona, so all of this is terrible.

It is the second most embarrassing thing that's ever happened in his life, and just like the first most embarrassing thing that's ever happened in his life, it's his own fault and involves Todoroki. (Unlike the first most embarrassing thing, Aizawa-sensei isn't there and neither of them gets a cold-water hosing in the UA boys locker room.) He has absolutely nobody to blame except for himself and his dumb feelings for why he spends the rest of the day at HeroCon walking around intermittently crying from happiness and holding Todoroki's hand. Hatsume Mei catches them in the food court, tells them congratulations, and offers to make Izuku a monster mechanical dildo for the honeymoon; Cementoss gives them both a careful hug and says, "I'm very glad we didn't let you kill each other at the sports festival." Gang Orca kidnaps Izuku briefly to give him a shovel talk so outstanding Izuku's balls are still shriveled in fear. Also, the Hero Continuing Training team yells at Izuku for an hour because he'd missed two of his own sessions and was now too weepy to be trusted with his third.

But worse than that, worse than his mother's incomprehensible series of incandescently happy, barely literate text messages, worse than Present Mic dedicating a song to them on his evening commute radio show, worst of all is when Kirishima texts Izuku a link, with only the description, "lol."

It's a Twitter video, a group of girls clustered tight at the safety line of a minor incident, screaming and screaming as Bakugou hands a sooty, disoriented villain over to the police. The villain looks immeasurably grateful for it, and Bakugou looks mad, the way he always looks mad, and because — emotionally — he's been a 75 year old man since he was 10, he yells at the girls in the video, "Hey! Knock it off already!"

"Ground Zero!" one of the girls yells back, because Bakugou's fans are all crazy and don't fear death. "Ground Zero! Did you hear what happened at HeroCon?"

Bakugou pulls a face. "Are you shitting me? No! Who fucking cares?"

"Deku proposed to Shoto at a panel!" someone else shrieks. "He's been cheating on you this whole time!"

Izuku hears, "Fucking shitty Deku!" and then the rest of the video is a wash, just a series of seemingly unending, concussive, increasingly massive explosions that blow out the audio and smoke up the scene until the recording cuts out.

"Oh, no," Izuku creaks out.

Later, after they're more or less thrown out of HeroCon — "Incredible," Todoroki observes " — and after they break the living room table, permanently damage the couch, and wrench Todoroki's knee celebrating their engagement, Izuku wakes up from his post-coital nap to see his — his fiance watching the Bakugou video on repeat.

"Asking you to marry me was a mistake," Izuku croaks, but he's still got Todoroki's teeth marks in his ass so it's not his most incisive zinger.

Todoroki just slants Izuku a smile, wide open, just for him.

"This is the most perfect engagement present you could have possibly gotten me," Todoroki says, entirely earnest, and shoves the phone away so he can get handsy under the covers again. "By the way — when we get married, I'm taking your last name."

(They get married in June, on a blue sky day with blazing sun. A lot of people are probably confused by the tall, thin man who officiates, and introduces himself to all the guests as Toshinori Yagi. Endeavor is not invited.

Bakugou comes, mostly because Kirishima makes him.

At the reception, when All Might drags Izuku off for the spotlight dance because apparently it's an American wedding tradition, Todoroki — his tuxedo a disheveled mess because Izuku had gotten into the champagne an hour ago and was now both weepy and frisky — sidles up to Bakugou to say, "I really appreciate you not jumping up at that speak now or forever hold your peace part."

The ensuing melee destroys a topiary.

It's the best day of Todoroki's life.)