Midoriya had a mission. He was to deliver a top secret token of affection, and he was to be as conspicuous as possible about it. This included purposely taking the long route through camp, clutching the missive with the Bakugou seal on it, making a show of hiding it behind his back when passing a group of people. Anything to scream “I’m trying not to be noticed.” Draw the public eye. Get them talking about exactly why Bakugou’s personal servant would be sneaking letters to the youngest son of Lord Todoroki.
While the two warring kingdoms were technically under ceasefire while they negotiated, Midoriya felt distinctly out of place walking through the Todoroki camp. He was the eye of a storm of scrutiny. That was fine. That was what they wanted. It still made him sweat enough for a spring rainstorm.
The two guards posted outside of Shouto’s tent looked at him with such scorn that he almost chickened out and scurried back home. However, he wouldn’t fail his Lord.
“The y-young master Todoroki should be expecting me,” Midoriya said.
Both narrowed their eyes, but a voice from within the tent called out, “Let him pass. You’re both dismissed from your post for the evening.”
The guards exchanged looks, but they were too well-trained to argue. How different from Bakugou’s men, who treated him more like a brother in arms.
With a final breath to steel his resolve, Midoriya passed through the flaps and into the tent proper. There was Lord Todoroki’s youngest son, looking more casual than Midoriya had ever seen him. That was to say his cravat had been loosened and his waistcoat thrown over the back of the nearest chair. Even like that, he looked so pristinely beautiful that he was hard to look at directly.
“Is that it?” Todoroki asked, looking down at the parchment clutched in Midoriya’s hand. “Give it here and let’s get this over with.”
Midoriya didn’t dare refuse. Todoroki grabbed the letter and cracked open the seal. He barely glanced at the contents, then with a roll of his eyes held the letter over the oil lamp on his desk, catching it alight. Since Midoriya had seen Bakugou write the letter, he already knew the contents. A single line of “Here’s your love letter, you fop.”
Once the missive was cinders scattered across the plush interior of Todoroki’s tent, the man pulled out a similar envelope from the chest next to his bed and said, “I already drafted a reply. My half of the bargain to keep up this farce.”
With as much decorum as he could cobble together, Midoriya accepted the letter.
“Let’s hope this works,” he said. “A lot of lives could be spared if permanent peace could be brokered.”
“And all it takes is the sons to play at puppy love,” Todoroki muttered to himself. “Who devised this plan again?”
“That would be me, sir,” Midoriya replied. He felt his face heat up. True, this plan was not the most eloquent, but it was beautiful in its simplicity. Have the two exchange letters, the contents of which was irrelevant, and let rumor spread of star-crossed lovers caught on opposite sides of the war. Then perhaps this temporary truce could be transmuted into something more permanent.
At seeing his embarrassment, Todoroki dropped the matter. He dismissed Midoriya with a wave of his hand, letting him scuttle back to the opposite side of the war as indiscreetly as possible. There he delivered Todoroki’s letter to an impatient Bakugou.
“Took you long enough,” Bakugou growled, taking the letter from him and tearing it open.
Midoriya wanted to ask why the two bothered to read the letters at all, since it wasn’t like they contained any amount of romance. However, he knew better than to question Bakugou when he was in a foul mood. The grumpy prince scanned the letter, much longer and no doubt more eloquent than his own. It was well-known that the youngest Todoroki was far more verbose in script than speech, where he was a man of few, clipped words. The opposite of Bakugou, who had abhorrent penmanship but could talk for hours.
“He wrote me a fucking poem,” Bakugou said with a huff of laughter. “I think it’s a sonnet. Something about how I smell like a dog and act like a goose.”
Against his better judgement, Midoriya let out a snort of his own.
“Perhaps he means to win your favor for real with words such as those.”
Bakugou just rolled his eyes and proceeded to tear the letter to shreds.
“Too bad for him I’ve already met the love of my life.”
Again Midoriya felt his face heat. This whole situation had his skin set on high, blushing at the slightest provocation. Whose idea was it that he help set up the person he longed for with another lover? Oh, right, his.
“You know we could never actually… be anything more than master and servant,” Midoriya said.
He looked down at his shoes, not trusting himself to meet Bakugou’s eyes. In response, Bakugou took his chin and lifted his gaze, making it so their eyes locked.
“You’ve been my best friend since we could walk, you insecure idiot. There’s no way I’d ever abandon you. Especially not for some jackass that tried to rhyme ‘retch’ with ‘clench.’ Seriously, the dandy isn’t as good with poetry as he likes to fancy himself.”
Midoriya closed his eyes and leaned into Bakugou’s touch, allowing himself a moment of indulgence. Pretty soon even those moments would have to go away. If it wasn’t Todoroki it would be someone else. Sooner or later, Bakugou would have to marry for the security of his kingdom. Pretending otherwise was a (pleasant) delusion.
It didn’t take long for the kindling of gossip to spark into a full-fledged rumor wildfire. Midoriya’s nightly trips betwixt the two tents became the hottest topic whispered about behind hand-fans, hushed lips telling each other what everyone already knew. There was something happening between the two princes. That meant it was time for stage two of their plan: bringing it out into the open.
A “clandestine” meeting was arranged. Both men would leave camp under the guise of a horseback ride. Their timing would be too similar to avoid notice, and their prolonged absence would lead to speculation. When it was eventually found that both men had spent the afternoon in the same location? Full-blooded scandal.
Of course Midoriya accompanied Bakugou. He didn’t trust his liege to spend any amount of time with Todoroki without causing a fight. That meant a lot of sitting around doing nothing when they finally got to the agreed upon meadow. Todoroki was there, waiting by his horse and looking bored, but he managed a courteous nod to Bakugou and Midoriya.
“I suppose if we have to do this, the weather is nice for it,” he said.
“Great. Now we get to sit around doing nothing in the sunshine,” Bakugou complained.
“This might be a good chance for you two to get to know each other better,” Midoriya suggested. When they both looked at him like he had suddenly spoken a foreign language, he followed up with, “If everything goes according to plan, you two might end up spending a lot more time around each other.”
Todoroki scowled and Bakugou scrunched his face in disgust.
“You don’t think… this will lead to anything permanent, do you?” Todoroki asked.
Both boys exchanged a glance, and at least in their mutual revulsion of the idea they had solidarity. Todoroki looked horrified, as if he had just walked in on a person undressed, and Bakugou looked as if his mother had again suggested he spend more time with his tutors.
“It could,” Midoriya admitted. “I mean I hope for both your sake’s it doesn’t, but a political marriage might be… wise.”
Again more uncomfortable silence, broken by Todoroki mumbling, “I suppose if I must be married off, doing so to someone who will no doubt infuriate my father isn’t the worst possible outcome.”
This ripped a guffaw from Bakugou, and he looked Todoroki up and down as if seeing him for the first time.
“So not even the warlord’s own kids like the bastard, huh?”
“No, as a matter of fact, we do not.”
This revelation, spoken with a fair amount of disdain towards the topic of conversation, was enough to break the glacial barrier between them. They talked some, practically cordial to each other. Midoriya retreated to give them space. After all, it wasn’t his place to eavesdrop. If they wanted to pull this plan off long-term, then the two needed to be able to tolerate each other’s presence. Perhaps even more than that. It was a thought that made Midoriya’s stomach feel rotten and slimy, like the bottom of a swamp. Such was his lot in life. At least he could spare himself the misery of watching his… his best friend acquaint himself with another man.
Midoriya took up watch on some nearby rocks. The two were having their clandestine meeting in the shallow dip between two hills, sheltered enough to be fit for a tryst. It was the sort of space that invited suspicion on the otherwise flat grasslands that the ceasefire took place in. In fact, they had chosen this location because it was on the guards’ radar, being patrolled occasionally to deter smugglers from sneaking contraband into camps, or from improper goings-on between soldiers. It raised their chances of being spotted.
Laughter wafted up to Midoriya’s perch. Bakugou laughing. It was hard to take the boy’s mind off court matters lately, and Midoriya couldn’t remember the last time he’d sounded so carefree. Whatever the two were bonding over… it was working. Everything was going according to plan.
After enough time had passed, the two parties made their way back to camp, each taking different routes but timing it so that anyone who cared to observe would notice they both arrived very closely together. Yes, even as they handed their horses off to the stable boy, Midoriya could see the side-eye blooming amongst nearby soldiers. How easy it was to deceive others. A little harder to deceive oneself.
That night Midoriya was again on letter delivery duty. He scurried between camps in what was now a well-known pattern. Since his route was common knowledge, it was no surprise that anyone who wanted to catch him could. First daughter of Lord Todoroki did just that, stopping him with a mere word.
“You,” she called, emerging from the space between two tents. She had two ladies trailing behind her, nervously following their mistress as if they weren’t used to wandering about unattended. Midoriya didn’t know if Enji kept a tight leash on all his children in such a manner, or if it was just the circumstances of being close to the enemy, but Midoriya had never seen Lady Fuyumi outside of a few official meetings. It was impossible to mistake the white and red hair though. Her resemblance to her brother was uncanny.
“How may I assist you?” Midoriya asked with a bow. He had worked for a royal family most of his life, and he knew how to kiss ass when it was called for.
“I have heard tell that you beseech my brother for audience every night,” she said. “Your motives I will not pretend to know. I came only to warn you of the hell you would face should you bring him harm.”
“M-Milady?” Midoriya squeaked.
“My brother has been through enough. I know his outward appearance can be deceiving, but I assure you… he has a heart that can be broken.”
Her face twisted, some long-distant memory echoing unpleasantly in her head.
“I assure you, I would never play with his emotions,” Midoriya promised, then thought to himself, At least not unless he signed onboard to it himself.
Fuyumi appraised him, eyes narrowed. Finally, she said, “Perhaps. But extend the warning to your master, as well. I suppose he’s the one I need to truly be cautious of.”
Then she swept away, the tail of her gown floating after her like mist over a lake. The encounter left Midoriya rattled, and it must have shown on his face, because within seconds of entering Todoroki’s tent he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“Oh, it’s nothing. I just… I don’t think your sister trusts me.”
“Ah. Yes. She can be overprotective of me.”
Shouto’s mouth twisted, and he stared into the space above Midoriya’s head.
“She must love you a lot,” Midoriya said, “to take such effort in protecting you.”
“Yes. I suppose she blames herself for shirking that duty in the past and-”
Reflexively, Todoroki reached up and traced the scar around his eye. Midoriya had heard many rumors about the prince’s disfigurement, most to do with a mother too ill to be trusted around her children. Whatever the truth, the look on his face was haunted.
“I can tell your sister is loyal to you,” Midoriya said. “You’re lucky. Loyal friends are hard to come by.”
“Hm,” Todoroki hummed thoughtfully. “What about you? Are you as lucky to have Bakugou?”
“Absolutely,” Midoriya replied without hesitation. “When my own family abandoned me, his took me in. They have… Bakugou has been a good friend to me through the years.”
Todoroki nodded as if that was the answer he expected.
“He speaks highly of you. Fondly, even.”
For the second time that evening, Midoriya felt himself scrutinized. While he had no clue what Todoroki was searching for, Midoriya knew what he didn’t want him to find. The awful, pathetic truth that-
“You love him, don’t you?”
Midoriya hung his head, too ashamed to meet the other’s eyes.
“It doesn’t matter,” he muttered. “Nothing can come of it.”
Todoroki had nothing else to say, but he stared at Midoriya for a long few moments. When he finally handed over the letter, Midoriya was quick to scurry out, fleeing those eyes that saw right through him to his pain.
Their charade was more effective than they could have ever hoped for. Within a week, it was widely known that the two princes were madly in love. By the end of the month, their budding affections were being used as bartering chips at the negotiation table.
“It would be a shame to ignore a peaceful solution when it is presented to us,” Enji said.
Sitting next to him, Shouto remained perfectly still. However, Midoriya could see the way he clenched his fist. His father’s meddling in his life, treating him like collateral, got under his skin. Midoriya could also see Enji’s transparent thought process: why go to war for what you could get through negotiation? If he could get into the Bakugou royal line through marriage, it would be easier on his coffers.
“I agree,” Mitsuki said. “What we have here is a way to solidify the peace between our kingdoms.”
By her side, Bakugou grit his teeth. To his credit, he kept his mouth shut.
“Of course, I’m not about to sign my son over to the first man who looks at him sideways,” Enji continued. “I believe a courtship period is in order, to make sure your son’s intentions are pure.”
It showed how much Mitsuki actually wanted an end to this pointless war that she didn’t lose her temper there. Instead, she grit her teeth and said, “Very well. That can be arranged. However, we can’t very well leave our countries unattended for months while the two play lovesick-”
“Your son can come with us,” Enji barked.
Both the Bakugous tensed and scowled. However, Mitsuki was a seasoned politician, and she was ready to use her son to get what she wanted.
“Very well,” she said. “Katsuki! Pack your bags. You’re going on vacation.”
As Bakugou’s ever-faithful companion, Midoriya was sent with him to the Todoroki castle. Their kingdom was a three day ride to the south, in an area much more verdant than their own homeland. Everything was a little different here.
Or rather, they were the ones that were different, obviously out-of-place. From their clothes to their accents to their manners, they were outsiders. Bakugou took it worse than Midoriya. His stubborn nature made him dig his heels in deeper with every faux pas . On the other hand, Midoriya was quicker to adapt. He changed his clothes, minded his speech, made friends. In the course of a couple of months, he was blending in perfectly.
Meanwhile, Bakugou had no one he could rely on save for Midoriya— and the prince. While both nobles had wanted this, wanted a way out of endless war for their kingdoms, neither had thought far enough ahead to the full implications. Todoroki could have ignored Bakugou, gone about his life and only interacted with the blond at dinners or events, enough to keep up their facade. However, as alone as Bakugou was here, Todoroki seemed equal parts alone. He was always apart from everyone else. Midoriya realized that if he wasn’t Bakugou’s personal servant, that perhaps would have been the fate that awaited his master— isolated by his station. So when Todoroki asked Bakugou to be his regular sparring partner, Midoriya knew they would have easy kinship. So many scars in common.
It was more than that that caused Todoroki to extend a hand of friendship. Perhaps a sense of obligation at having brought him here in the first place. Or… obligation wasn’t right. Perhaps compassion. Or maybe it was just that he was bored and thought they could get along. Whatever his real motive, the result was that the two spent hours every day sparring in the courtyard. Oftentimes it was hard to tell if they were having fun or if they were legitimately trying to kill each other. They alternated between fury and laughter.
They were falling in love. Midoriya could see it happening from a distance, waiting on the sidelines for Bakugou to need a glass of water or a moist towel. He watched the man he’d loved since he was a child slowly fall for someone else.
Fine. If that’s what it took. If it avoided a war and more bloodshed and made both of them happy… if the only one in this situation who had to be miserable was him, that was a burden he’d bear. So he stood by and watched.
As much as he tried, he couldn’t completely quell his insecurity. Perhaps he walked a little closer on Bakugou heels, was a little more eager to cater to his whims. His neediness was evident, and it had the exact opposite effect. Bakugou pushed him away, just enough to give himself some breathing room, enough to sting. Midoriya expected to push down his feelings and suffer in silence. What he didn’t expect was for Todoroki to reach out to him
It started with another banquet. Enji loved to throw elaborate banquets that lasted hours past the point of exhaustion, all for the purpose of flaunting his wealth and power. Usually Todoroki and Bakugou took these times to exchange sarcastic quips, and more recently, to play footsie under the table. Midoriya sat at the servant’s table where he could observe and be called upon, but far enough away that the nobility didn’t have to endure his presence.
This time, though, Todoroki dismissed himself from the table early and requested Midoriya’s assistance. Since Todoroki had no personal servant of his own, it wasn’t unthinkable for him to ask for Midoriya, and the boy went compliantly. The two swept out of the castle, leaving the raucous sounds of the revelry behind them.
The gardens were still in comparison. Out here, everything was peaceful and calm, like a lake with no wind. Unlike the low scrubland of his home country, here the plant life was varied and fragrant. Even though it was early spring, there were already dozens of different kinds of flowering bushes, and they walked through the carefully manicured hedges.
“Beautiful night out,” Todoroki said.
“...yes, it is.”
The weather was more temperate here. Midoriya wasn’t sure why that was a topic of conversation.
“The roses are starting to bloom. Do you have roses where you’re from?”
“I have seen them on occasion, but I believe they are imported.”
Leaning down, Todoroki plucked one of the half-furled buds from the bush, presenting it to Midoriya. He took it, rolling the stem awkwardly between his fingers. What did one do with a flower?
It was all getting to be too much for Midoriya.
“Excuse me for asking, but why did you take me out here?” Midoriya asked. “Surely you had some reason more pressing then picking flowers.”
“Not really, no. I just wanted to get away. It gets tiring, being around people who do not want you to be yourself."
Midoriya felt a twinge of pity. Todoroki could be awkward to the point of bumbling, but he was always honest and straightforward. It was something he had in common with Bakugou, a reference point Midoriya used to interact with them.
“You can always be yourself around me,” he supplied encouragingly.
“Yes. I know. It’s why I like you.”
Midoriya’s mouth went dry. For some strange reason, even though he was standing still his heart raced.
“Bakugou likes you a lot,” Todoroki said, his voice the same dry monotone. “Sometimes I think… he feels guilty for liking you, and then he feels guilty for liking me, like his feelings are some sort of betrayal. I don’t think so, but I’m very new to liking people, so maybe I’m not the best judge.”
Midoriya’s fingers clamped around the slightly-moist rose stem in his hands, letting the thorns pricking against the meaty part of his palm ground him.
“He feels guilty because someone of his station isn’t allowed to like me. At least… not in the way you mean it.”
The question was so sincere, in that usual clueless way of Todoroki’s, that Midoriya suddenly forgot all the perfectly good reasons he had accumulated over the years for why he could never, ever actually love Bakugou.
Todoroki moved closer, his hands coming to rest on Midoriya’s shoulder, making it impossible to look anywhere but his eyes.
“Bakugou likes you. And I like you. I like how loyal and kind you are. And I don’t see why we can’t all like each other.”
Midoriya didn’t have breath to respond. Then too much time had passed, and it was just them too close, staring at each other. They should have broken away forever ago, but now it would be even more awkward to do it, to break the magic thread connecting them-
And that did the trick. Midoriya jumped back. While Todoroki didn’t look nearly as flustered as Midoriya felt, he at least had the decency to take a step back and lower his arms. That didn’t change the fact that someone had seen them.
“How come I wasn’t invited?”
Bakugou swung himself over the low railing separating them. His clothing was frumpled, the cravat that had been holding his shirt closed tugged loose and trailing from his pocket. He never kept the confining southern clothes on for long.
“K-Kacchan, um, we were-”
“What did you call him?” Todoroki asked, blinking.
Midoriya realized he had never used his childhood nickname for Bakugou in front of Todoroki before. It was disrespectful, something he had weaned himself from long ago, but in the heat of the moment, with his brain on vacation, he had slipped.
In response, Bakugou cracked a grin. He hated that nickname, but perhaps seeing how discombobulated Midoriya was made up for it.
“Shouto, you jackass, are you harassing him?” Bakugou growled, giving the other man a shove. But it was— it was playful. Fond, even. “You know I told you his brain would break if you even suggested it.”
“He’s smart. He’ll recover.”
But Midoriya wasn’t recovering. He was still standing there, mouth open, jaw slack. Reaching out, Bakugou tipped it closed with one hand, gently clicking his teeth together.
“Be nice to him, Kacchan, ” Todoroki teased. “I’m growing quite fond of him.”
This made Bakugou scowl, but the corners of his lips threatened to quirk up.
“You’ll have to learn to share. You think some pampered brat like you has ever shared anything in your life? Not likely.”
Bakugou tugged Midoriya closer to his side. In response, Todoroki just smirked and took Midoriya’s other hand.
“I’m willing to learn. What do you say, Midoriya?”
It had been several tumultuous minutes since Midoriya’s brian had gone offline, but he finally managed to stutter out, “Y-you’re serious? I- think of the scandal!”
Both men laughed.
“Come on, Deku, you really think I’m gonna let a bunch of fan-fluttering nobles tell me how to live my life?”
“We can keep it a secret for now, until one of us officially ascends to the throne,” Todoroki said. “After that, no one can stop us.”
“You sound like you have this all planned out.”
Todoroki and Bakugou exchanged a conspiratorial grin.
“We’ve been talking,” Todoroki admitted.
“Got big things in store. Gonna take Shouto’s kingdom back from his shitty dad.”
“We want you with us.”
“Not just as a servant.”
“No. Ideally there would be kissing involved,” Todoroki said.
Midoriya made a noise in lieu of an actual response. At this, Bakugou rolled his eyes and said, “Look, if it bugs you that much, I’ll make you a duke or something when I get power.”
“Somehow I believe that would make things worse,” Midoriya squeaked.
Todoroki grabbed his hand. Midoriya startled, but immediately relaxed into his cool embrace. With his other hand, Todoroki took Bakugou’s hand, and then Bakugou reached out and grabbed Midoriya’s. They were a circle, all joined. Midoriya couldn’t remember the last time he had felt a part of something like this, had felt this sense of belonging.
“Deku,” Bakugou said. His voice was hushed, a feat he could only manage when he was especially serious. “I want you to be with me. With us. But… only if you want it, too. So. What do you want?”
Midoriya looked down at the outline of their joined hands. Then he looked back up, meeting the eyes of the two boys in turn.
He swallowed to clear his dry throat, then said, “I want to be with both of you, too.”
They smiled, and Midoriya was glad he had two pairs of hands to steady him, because if not he might have swooned right there on the spot.