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Quarter-Life Crisis

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The city lights twinkled in the night sky as Shouto leaned against the balcony, lost in thought.

It’s a shame the light pollution made the stars so impossible to see, even at 2am, even when he felt the night was the darkest it could possibly get. He ached to see the stars, wondering if this restless feeling that had been plaguing him for months could be resolved with a weekend trip to the mountains.

Probably not, but one could dream.

He had actually purchased this apartment specifically because of the balcony he now meditated on. The top floor provided an excellent view of the city around him, and sometimes Shouto felt like he could keep watch over everyone when he stood out here. There was so much to watch over, after all. His emotionally-fragile family, his reckless friends, every civilian in his district, the hundreds of staff he oversaw at the agency...

Not that he didn’t spend most of his time at the agency, anyway, but he needed a place to call home. Although most of the sidekicks and interns lived at the agency, Endeavor had always kept a separate living residence, and Shouto felt it was important to keep that same professional distance.Not so distant that he could see the stars, though. Just distant enough to be alone.

As if to prove the thought a lie, warm hands suddenly encircled his waist, a chin coming forward to nestle on his shoulder.

“Still pissed about the rankings?” Katsuki teased, bare chest pressed up against Shouto’s back, a comforting warmth in the chill of the night.

“You know I’m not,” Shouto said distantly. Even if he was, they had spent a healthy portion of the evening establishing just who was on top. But that wasn’t the reason for his melancholy.

“You should be,” Katsuki responded, not picking up on Shouto’s mood. Or maybe he was, and he just didn’t know what else could be wrong. Sometimes it seemed to Shouto that rankings were all Bakugou “I’m gonna be Number One” Katsuki seemed to care about. So why would he think that Shouto could feel any differently?

“Your arrest counts have been shit so far this year,” Katsuki continued. “You gotta try to make this a real fight, y’know. It was too easy to kick your scrawny ass back to down number three.”

They had been doing this dance for years now. The two of them - and Izuku - in lockstep had climbed up the ranks after Endeavor’s retirement, leaving the world of sidekicking behind. Precisely when Shouto had accepted the inheritance of Endeavor’s agency, Izuku and Katsuki left to open up their own (though of course they both swore it was completely unrelated to the thought of Shouto being their boss). It only took two years after that for the three of them to break the Top Ten, and ever since then, he and Katsuki had been switching positions. Sometimes Katsuki was number two, sometimes Shouto, but one thing never changed:

Izuku was always number one.

Shouto made a noncommittal noise, still staring off into the distance. Maybe there would be a robbery or villain attack, and he could extricate himself from this conversation before he snapped at Katsuki again. That had been happening more and more lately.

“Stop saving work for those shitty extras you call sidekicks,” Katsuki went on with his unasked-for advice. “Y’know the only reason me and Deku are on top is because we close out so many cases ourselves.”

“You said the same thing last year,” Shouto muttered, wanting to lean into Katsuki’s embrace at the same time as he wanted to pull away.

“And I was fucking right, wasn’t I?” Katsuki said, preening a little. “You beat me out for number two then,” he added, his tone tinged with something like pride.

Shouto shrugged, ignoring the comment and subtly removing Katsuki’s chin from his shoulder. He had spent a lifetime the object of someone else’s pride, and he still hated it. “Burnin’ was out for a few months. I picked up her patrols. That wasn’t necessarily me taking your advice.”

Katsuki scoffed, pressing a soft kiss to Shouto’s right shoulder blade before releasing his hold around Shouto’s waist and moving to stand beside him against the balcony railing.

“Listen, if you’re not gonna put in the work, don’t bitch about being number three is all,” he said, mimicking Shouto’s pose by leaning forward with his forearms against the railing. But instead of looking out towards the night sky, his attention was fixed on Shouto.

“You said that last year too,” Shouto said quietly, more interested in the movements of the city than meeting Katsuki’s eyes.

Katsuki frowned. “So? All I’m hearing is that you keep makin’ me repeat myself, IcyHot.”

Shouto didn’t respond, letting a soft breeze blow through them. He inhaled deeply, wondering if he could smell the mountains or taste the sea on the wind that wrapped the two heroes momentarily in its embrace. But when nothing except for the smells of the city sat in his lungs, he exhaled, breaking his gaze from the sky and looking down at his own loosely clasped hands.

“What are we doing, Katsuki?” he whispered, the question sounding more like a private confession than something he intended to say out loud.

“Ehh?” Katsuki’s frown deepened, and his eyebrows furrowed into a mixture of confusion and annoyance. “Fuck if I know! You’re the one who left the warm, comfortable bed to come out here and mope in the freezing cold.”

Shouto fell silent, looking down. He wondered if now was really the right time to do this, but he had been searching for the right time for months now. Would there ever be a time where doing this would feel right? Things needed to change, he knew that. But would it be so bad to put this off for a little while longer?

“Quit it with that emo-boy bullshit and tell me what your fucking problem is,” Katsuki grumbled, and Shouto felt a pang of guilt. Katsuki did care about more than just the rankings; Shouto knew that. He knew that the explosion hero cared about a lot of things, even if the public didn’t. In fact, knowing just what - knowing just who - Katsuki cared about is what got them into this situation in the first place, years ago back at UA.

And knowing just how much Katsuki cared is what was making this so difficult. 

“It’s just…” Shouto forced himself to look up, turn his head and look his friend in the eye. “How long have we been doing this? Seven years, eight?”

“Doing what?” Katsuki asked forcefully, irritated with Shouto’s vagueness. “Being heroes? You want me to pull up a fucking calendar? Have you forgotten how to count, asshole? Need me to be your personal secretary? Here, let me read the date off your license for you-” Katsuki sarcastically looked at the palm of his hand as if it were the hero license that they had spent years striving for together.

“No, that’s not...that’s not what I mean-” Shouto tried to interrupt, not in the mood for Katsuki’s antics.

“-five since your old man quit and we went out our own-”

“Katsuki, that’s not what I’m talking about-”

“- eight since graduation-”

“Just listen to me for a minute-”

“-ten since our provisional licenses-”

“Would you just shut up for once?” Shouto shouted, banging his hand on the railing for emphasis.

Katsuki, still lightly used to obeying Shouto’s orders from their time together earlier that night, fell quiet. They stared at one another before Shouto broke eye contact and went back to looking out at the skyline.

After a moment, in stark contrast to the way he had just raised his voice, Shouto whispered, “I meant us.” 

He paused again, trying to wrap himself in confidence, then added slightly louder, “Whatever it is we’re doing. It’s been a long time, hasn’t it?”

Katsuki’s frown grew deeper, and he shrugged. “I guess,” he said, looking out towards the skyline as well, as if he could follow Shouto’s thoughts by following his eyes.

When it didn’t seem like Shouto was going to elaborate, Katsuki prompted, “Why’re you suddenly counting up the days, Shou?”

Shouto swallowed. He wasn’t nervous, but he was scared. Scared of what he might lose. Scared that Katsuki might react badly, might disagree with Shouto’s explanation. Maybe he was also scared that Katsuki might actually agree, might say, You’re right; we don’t need each other anymore. 

But these were just all “mights,” and Shouto had learned as a hero that when fear paralyzes you, the best thing you can do is push through it.

“We should stop,” he blurted out, forcing the words out of his mouth before he could push it off again.

“Wha-what?” Katsuki snapped his head sideways to stare at him. “Stop what? The fuck are you talking about?”

“We’re using each other as a crutch,” Shouto explained, speaking quickly, refusing to meet Katsuki’s eyes. “I mean, it made sense when we started - “

“It still makes sense!” Katsuki exclaimed, caught off guard and surprised to find himself needing to defend their...whatever they had.

“ - but now it’s just exhausting. Come on, Katsuki, aren’t you sick of sneaking around? Of the lying? And don’t tell me your PR hasn’t been on you about getting into a real relationship because I know mine has, and I have twice the popularity figures you do,” Shouto rattled off, trying to remember the list he put together to try, just try, to have Katsuki see things logically.

“PR?” Katsuki snarled. “You’re worried about your fucking PR?”

“That’s not what I’m saying - “

“That’s what you just said,” he argued, shock quickly leaving his body to be replaced, expectedly, with anger.

“You know that’s not what I meant - I’m not, I’m not good at this, Katsuki, you know that-”

“You were doing just fine a few hours ago,” he snapped. Shouto winced, because he knew, he knew that he shouldn’t have done this after they had a night together, but he’s always so weak for Katsuki, and Katsuki knows just what buttons to push to make him forget about literally everything else on his mind.

He had tried, actually, several times, to bring this up in the past few months before taking their clothes off, but every time he stumbled and stuttered, and Katsuki would tease him about putting his mouth to better uses than trying to say “whatever bullshit’s about to come out your damn mouth, Shou.”

And with the choice between another night together or angry words, what was he supposed to choose?

Silence stretched awkwardly between them. Katsuki glared at him, fury covering the deep hurt Shouto knew his friend was feeling. 

Finally, Shouto offered, “You’re never going to tell Izuku.”

It was a statement more than a question, but Katsuki could answer it if he chose to. He could always answer it, always change the dynamic. He had always had that power. By bringing it up, Shouto was giving them one last-ditch effort to move forward together instead of forcing them to move forward separately.

“Tch,” Katsuki huffed, looking away, deflating only slightly. “You know why I can’t.”

“No,” Shouto disagreed, shaking his head. “I know why you won’t .”

“Fuck me, we’ve been over this a million times, Shou! If you want to tell him, tell him! You don’t need a fucking handwritten invitation from me,” Katsuki fumed, throwing his hands up in the air in frustration.

“And I’ve told you a million times, I won’t tell him until you do,” Shouto countered, the rhythms of a familiar and unresolved disagreement starting to descend on them. 

“That’s fucking stupid - it always has been, always will be, and if you want to keep your head shoved up your own ass, I don’t give a damn. But don’t blame me for your own inability to do a single fucking thing for yourself - “

“Excuse me?” Shouto interrupted, his own anger flaring up. “I run an entire agency by myself, while you and Izuku have each other to - “

“Your old man’s agency, you mean? You could have joined up with me and Deku; we wanted you to come with us - “

“And put two hundred people out of their jobs because I wanted to, what, hang out with my friends ?” Shouto said incredulously, feeling a sense of dejá vú in their years-old argument.

“It’s not your agency, Shou, it’ll never be your agency! You’ve had everything in your life handed to you on a silver platter - “ Katsuki’s voice started getting louder and louder as he worked himself into a righteous indignation, falling back into his old habits of using anger to cover hurt.

“Fuck you, Katsuki-”

“And the only thing you’ve ever built for yourself you want to throw away because PR says so?” Katsuki screamed. There was a raw edge to his voice that Shouto rarely ever heard, and even then it was only present when Katsuki spoke to - or about - Izuku. Unsure what to do with this information, Shouto ignored it in favor of his own irritation.

“Throw what away, exactly?” Shouto asked, angrily driving his point home and gesturing emphatically to the empty space between them. “What have we built? What are we doing? It’s been nothing but lies and secrets for eight fucking years, Katsuki. I can’t do this anymore. I can’t hide the way I feel. I can’t keep wondering if one day Izuku will say something or do something that will make you change your mind. I can’t keep waiting on you to forgive yourself for mistakes you made a lifetime ago!”

He breathed heavily, chest rising and falling as the weight of his words settled around them. He waited for Katsuki to respond, imploring him with his eyes to acknowledge that this was for the best.

“...I don’t understand,” Katsuki mumbled after a moment, still angry but unwilling to walk away yet. Shouto knew how much that had cost his pride, to stay here on this balcony and ask, to admit what he didn’t know, to stay here to try to fix it, instead of storming off with an explosive line like ‘You can’t break up with me if I break up with you first!’

Breaking up? Is that what they were doing? But how could they break up if they were never really even together?

After all, this argument was what brought them together in the first place. It had been so long, Shouto almost forgot how he and Katsuki had only ever used each other as stand-ins for Izuku.

You should tell him, Shouto had told Katsuki in third year, months after their first passionate, angry hook-up, lazily drawing circles on his lover’s back on his tiny dorm bed.

I told him to kill himself, Shou, Katsuki confessed, facing down into the pillow, and Shouto knew the bullying was bad, but he didn’t know how bad, and he couldn’t stop himself from freezing up. 

... He’s forgiven you, Shouto recovered after a moment, continuing with the circles. I know he loves you.

I know that too, Katsuki admitted. But the damn nerd breaks his own fucking bones because he feels like it. He wouldn’t know what was best for him if it punched him in the face -  

Shouto thought that considering Katsuki was what was best for Izuku and that Katsuki had frequently punched him in the face, this was a slightly ironic choice of words.

-and he doesn’t deserve me. He deserves better. I’ll never put him in that position, Katsuki vowed. Considering that part of the conversation finished, he turned on his back, revealing his face to look up at Shouto. You should tell him, though, he added.

Shouto shook his head and made the same vow. I’ll never put either of you in that position.

And he still wouldn’t, eight years later. This thing with Katsuki, he needed it to stop, but he knew that ending it also meant ending any chance he would ever have with Izuku. Shouto would never confess without Izuku being fully aware of Katsuki’s feelings. He didn’t want to spend a lifetime wondering if Izuku was only with him because he didn’t know Katsuki was an option, that Katsuki loved Izuku with his entire soul. 

And without Shouto whispering in Katsuki’s ear, slowly but surely trying to show him that it was okay to love, to desire, to feel - just like Izuku himself had shown Shouto through his friendship all those years ago - Katsuki would never move forward.

No, Shouto wouldn’t confess. He would never be so cruel.

Shouto took a deep breath and touched Katsuki’s arm gently. “I need to move on with my life,” he said softly, anger momentarily forgotten in the face of Katsuki’s humility. “I’m done pining over Izuku. I’m done watching you pine over Izuku. I’m done with us using each other as substitutes for love because we’re too afraid to confront real emotion.” 

He wondered if Katsuki would understand what he had been dreaming about lately. He decided to try to explain and added, “I want to come home to someone at the end of the day, maybe get married, start a family. More than anything, I want you to forgive yourself for what you did to Izuku in middle school, and to tell him how you feel.”

Katsuki looked at Shouto with betrayal. “Substitutes?” he echoed blankly, but Shouto didn’t pause to acknowledge the response, too desperate to keep talking, too desperate to make Katsuki understand.

“Katsuki, I know he loves you more than anything in this world. I know he forgave you years ago. I don’t know why you keep punishing yourself like this. You two have a shot at real happiness, but you’re too stubborn to take it,” Shouto continued, moving his hand down Katsuki’s arm to squeeze his hand tightly.

“He loves you too,” Katsuki choked out. “I can’t - I know he’s forgiven me, and that’s why I can’t tell him, Shou, the - the damn nerd doesn’t know what’s good for him, he’ll accept my feelings like the goddamn martyr he is, you fucking know this already, don’t make me say it again…” Katsuki squeezed Shouto’s hand back, and brought his other hand on top of it, as if he could use two hands to hold on to what they had, even as he felt it slipping through his fingers.

“I know,” Shouto said, using his slight height advantage to place a light kiss on Katsuki's forehead. “That’s why I want this to stop. You need to face your feelings for Izuku, or find some other outlet for them. I can’t be that for you anymore. I need to let myself be happy.”

Katsuki ripped his hands away from Shouto’s, moment of weakness gone and anger back in full force. “So after all this time, you just decided now that being with me doesn’t make you happy?”

“I’m not with you, Katsuki!” Shouto exclaimed. “We’ve been secret fuck buddies - and sure it’s been nice - but we’re not kids at UA anymore. It’s time for us both to grow up, and you know that too.”

“Fuck you, IcyHot,” Katsuki snarled. “For a ‘fuck buddy,’ you keep running your damn mouth about your fucking feelings a whole lot,” he added, abruptly ending the conversation by walking through the balcony door to go back inside to the bedroom.

Shouto followed, closing the door behind them, and watched as Katsuki quickly picked his clothes up off the floor and got dressed.

“Don’t be like this, Katsuki,” he begged, knowing that Katsuki’s volatile reaction was the reason that he had put off the conversation for so long. If Katsuki didn’t agree with him, if this wasn’t mutual... Well, no one could hold a grudge like Bakugo Katsuki, and he would stay angry at Shouto forever. Over the years together, they had fallen into such an easy friendship; even more than Izuku or Momo, Katsuki was Shouto’s best friend. 

Some nights when he came over, they didn’t even do anything, just hung out in each other’s space, just slept in the same bed together, just made jokes and teased each other and argued together and cooked together and watched all of the same shows together and shared ideas and goals and problems and - 

“Like what?” Katsuki asked hotly, pulling the black t-shirt he arrived in over his head with more force than necessary. 

Shouto knew saying “don’t be angry” to the explosion hero was kind of like asking water not to be wet. Other responses, such as “don’t shut me out” when he was the one shutting Katsuki out, or “it’s not you, it’s me,” when Shouto had just listed some of the reasons why it was very much actually Katsuki, likewise seemed doomed to fail. That didn’t stop him from reaching out for Katsuki’s arm, however.

“Please-” Shouto started, not sure what he was going to say, probably something like admit that I’m right for once or maybe don’t cut me out of your life, but Katsuki pulled away and cut him off.

“No, fuck you,” Katsuki said again, and if Shouto didn’t know for a fact that Katsuki only ever cried in front of Izuku and no one - no one - else, he would have sworn there were tears in his eyes. “You don’t get to ask for anything, you asshole,” he continued, reaching down to pull a pair of jeans up over his boxers. 

Shouto brought his arm back to his side, accepting the reproof. He stood awkwardly in his underwear, once again cursing his own social ineptitude. While Bakugou Katsuki may have been the one other hero with possibly less social skills than Todoroki Shouto, that fact had long ago ceased to bring Shouto any sort of smug satisfaction. Now, it just served just to make him feel guiltier for ending the only type of romantic partnership - however feeble - that either of them had ever had.

“Katsuki, I-” he tried again.

“I don’t want to hear it,” Katsuki said, storming out of the bedroom and into the main living area, snatching his jacket off the hook where it was hanging, and quickly shrugging into it.

Shouto followed, shuffling behind him in time to see the brief flicker of hesitation in his eyes when Katsuki realized he had forgotten his socks somewhere in his haste to leave the bedroom. The man stubbornly shoved his bare feet into his boots where they lay by the door regardless, pride refusing to allow him to go back for a pair of stupid socks.

“You don’t have to leave,” Shouto offered, aching to reach out to Katsuki with his hands again, to physically prevent him from leaving, even though it was his own words that were pushing him out the door in the first place.

“Yeah? What the fuck are we gonna do, have a slumber party and braid each other’s hair? We’re not kids at UA anymore, Shouto,” Katsuki spat Shouto’s words back at him harshly enough for Shouto to physically recoil.

When Shouto couldn’t come up with a response, Katsuki sneered. “Yeah, that’s what I thought,”

Boots on his feet, Katsuki flung open the door violently and took a step through the doorway to the hall outside, turning his head to look back at Shouto’s apologetic form standing behind him.

Shouto felt like he should say something. Maybe Katsuki felt like it too because they stared at each other for a minute, both at a loss for words but unwilling to part without somehow acknowledging the years between them. The firsts they had together. The hurts they had together. The time spent pining after the same boy grown into time spent pining after the same man. Shouto felt like he should say something.

But neither of them were ever very good at talking.

So Katsuki let the door close behind him and walked out of the apartment, and Shouto stared at the closed door for a few moments, and once neither of them could see the other, they both started to cry.