The last thing Shouto expects to be doing on a Tuesday morning is to get caught in a screaming match with a guy from Support.
He's tried going through the usual process: he filled out a form, filed a case with detailed specifications, re-filed the case. But every single time, his hero outfit had come back repaired or upgraded except for that one thing he had always been insistent on.
"Just put my inhibitor back on!"
Shouto is not the type to use his quirk to intimidate, but today it sure is tempting. The Support guy across from him refuses to budge, eyes as wild as the dark green curls that haloed his face like a black fire, fists clenched as he enunciated each point with the full capacity of his lungs. "IT'S AN INHIBITOR!!! It is not my job to limit your capabilities!"
The thing is-- Shouto doesn't get shouted at. Ever. His father's mastered the art of the back-handed compliment and blatant putdown but has never raised his voice at him, and teachers and bosses alike have always just-- they don't do this. Who is this guy?
He's not used to shouting back, or shouting at all, but he's also not used to actually arguing. Bakugou used to try and fight him a lot, but he was easy enough to ignore, mostly because it was Bakugou who wanted the fight. This time, it's Shouto who wants something he's not getting.
He takes a deep breath, trying to douse the frustration building in his left. He tries again.
"I asked for an inhibitor," he says, cooling down so much his right side begins to frost over. "My costume requires it."
"Why?" is thrown back at him. "You have two powerful quirks! I know you don't want to use your left side in battle, but your costume shouldn't be built to inhibit that at all. What if there's an emergency? What if you change your mind? What if you need fire?"
"Then I'll make do without."
"At the cost of your safety?"
"At the cost of other people's lives?"
"I won't let that happen. I haven't so far." Shouto keeps his gaze steady, his eyes only steely with resolve. But the other guy doesn't falter, returns the look with defiance and stubbornness. It's a battle of wills Shouto hasn't got the time to win, so he switches tactic. "I don't need this work done here. I'll use an outside company."
There's a flash of anger, but Shouto can ignore that easily. His costume is snatched from the table between them, a small huff of "Fine" signaling Shouto's victory. "This should be ready by tomorrow. I'll send it up to your office."
"Thank you," he says.
But he has a feeling the war's just begun.
Support Guy's name is Midoriya Izuku, it turns out. His manager gives him an odd look when Shouto asks-- Shouto rarely asks-- although she doesn't press further.
"I'm surprised you haven't heard of him before," Tanaka says. "He graduated from Yuuei the same year as you, didn't he?"
"Yuuei's a big school." Shouto doesn't even remember most of his classmates' names. But there is something now that tugs at his memory, a familiarity to the green eyes and defiant stare. There had been a game of capture the flag for the sports festival during his last year at Yuuei, and a team from Support wiped out almost half the hero teams by a combination of gadgetry and strategy alone. There was a student with pink hair and telescopic eyes-- she'd never been easy to ignore since the first festival. But she hadn't acted on her own.
Tanaka leans forward, lowers her voice like they're sharing a secret. "Well, he's something of a quirkless genius from what I hear," she says. "Makes the rounds at all the agencies just doing consults with them for their cases. You remember that big one Lemillion fought last month?"
"What about it?"
"Lemillion says he wouldn't have managed it without Midoriya's help. Somehow he figured out how his quirk worked."
Shouto frowns. That fight required almost a dozen heroes at the scene to try and contain the villain, who had a deflection for every single attempt. "Didn't... Lemillion play a lute?"
"Cerberus-- who'd have thought, right?" Tanaka shrugs, her lips curled in an awed smile. "If I were you," she says, "I'd probably listen to him about your costume. He knows his stuff. And we gave him a hefty signing bonus to join this agency, so don't be the hero that makes him quit."
Shouto hums, non-committal. Tanaka knows he won't budge on the matter so she leaves him alone. When he returns to his desk there's a package from Support, and when he unwraps it he finds his costume neatly folded inside, inhibitor and all. It fits just right, just like before.
He finds a small lever on his left side-- barely noticeable, but it's a jut of ice that isn't solid like the rest of the inhibitor. He frowns and pushes it, and the inhibitor falls off, leaving a mirror image of the right side of Shouto's costume behind. There's a post-it note stuck to the left chest.
Just in case, it says, along with detailed instructions in small, neat handwriting about how to put the inhibitor back on.
The note goes up in flames before Shouto can stop himself, but he doesn't go down to Support a second time.
He can probably send in a request through the official channels, but Shouto goes all the way down to the first floor to see Support the next time he has a question for Midoriya.
"You added a temperature regulator," he says.
"Yes, because you won't regulate it yourself."
"It's not intuitive. I can't use it as it is."
"What do you mean--"
Shouto points to the dial. "I can't be looking down at this in the middle of a fight," he says. "Can you make it self-regulate when I push a button? Voice activation would be great, too."
Midoriya looks like he's trying to bite his tongue, but instead he picks up his phone and dials a number. "This wouldn't be necessary if you used your left side," he mutters darkly, low enough to be polite, but not low enough that Shouto can't hear it. "Mei? You got a minute to talk about that regulator we added?"
Whether Mei does or not they don't find out-- a level four alarm breaks out at that moment, flashing red all across the floor. Shouto checks his phone quickly, but he's just gotten off his shift and it looks like the agency's already sending in a few heroes to deal with this. When he looks up, though, Midoriya's put his headset on, and his computer screen is patched onto a CCTV feed.
"What've we got?" he asks, tone sharper and more focused than the one he'd been using earlier. Shouto can't help looking at the screen, the chaos erupting in what looks like the financial district. Midoriya's fingers are lightning quick, pulling up different feeds in rapid succession, zooming in on certain scenes here and there. His eyes are clear and his lips move in murmurs too quiet for Shouto to hear. "Okay, there are five of them but the female mutant, that purple lizard-- she's leading them. See how she's swishing her tail-- that's not natural behavior for reptiles. I think that's her giving them signals. Get someone who can contain her; it's likely she can regenerate. The guy with the white eye mask is your next priority--"
In two minutes Midoriya breaks down, in very specific detail, how the group operates. Their M.O., their tactics, their quirks and potential weaknesses. Alongside one wall of the Support department's office are a row of TVs tuned in to various news networks; all of them are covering this particular attack. Shouto picks one to watch and though, on-screen, the heroes begin to take them down and contain the threat, other heroes showing up to do back-up work in securing civilian safety, it's Midoriya at his computer, looking at grainy videos, who's pulling the strings.
It's not that they weren't taught how to assess enemies and come up with plans on their own, in the Heroics department. Their final exam their first year alone had been plenty brutal, challenging their weaknesses and exposing their shortcomings in a way Shouto's at least continued to find useful even after all these years. So heroes know how to adapt, heroes know how to strategize.
But Midoriya does that in about a quarter of the time they would have taken. It's from a different kind of experience, a different level of knowledge, a whole new kind of intelligence.
Shouto had been eliminated at that round of the sports festival back in third year. The team from Support blasted him with an ice ray in the first minute of the event-- he'd refused to melt the ice down when his right side proved useless. What an upset! Present Mic had announced with a shrill enthusiasm and flare for drama that only he could do.
But it hadn't been an upset at all, had it?
Shouto's already having a regrettable day-- breaking his geta strap that morning should have clued him in-- when he runs into a villain attack on his way back from patrol. He doesn't think, just runs, shooting out a blast of ice that hits the back of the villain with enough force it should have knocked him over.
But it doesn't, and he turns around in the middle of his rampage, body gleaming dangerously. He roars, and shards of crystal erupt from his skin, turning into massive icy beasts mid-air and landing with cracking thuds on the concrete, breaking the road with their weight. Shouto lifts up his right hand and aims icicles at them, shooting them like bullets, but they only crack against their chests, falling in broken pieces.
Then they turn toward him.
He freezes himself a route out, creating a frozen bridge that he can slide up-- he needs to be at an elevated level to re-assess the situation, but with a quick swing of an arm one beast cracks Shouto's exit strategy, the icy structure crumbling from beneath him. He plummets to the ground, saved only when he summons a smooth slab of ice to cushion his fall.
He slides down effortlessly, which means he's back on the ground, the beasts towering above him. He shoots up thick walls of ice to surround them, but after a full shift he's starting to feel the tell-tale chill in his right side. He hasn't got enough to keep going at this rate, and he'd already turned the regulator on two hours ago.
The wall, at least, seems thick enough to contain them, so he patches himself into the agency quickly. "I'm going to need back-up for this."
"The others have prioritized pursuit of the villain--" damn it, he's lost sight of him, hasn't he? "Can you handle these? He's creating them everywhere he goes, so they're all a little tied up. Hold on-- Midoriya wants to talk to you."
Shouto blinks. "Alright."
He's connected right away, which is fortunate; his wall's beginning to shake from the inside. "Todoroki?" Midoriya's voice so close to his ear feels strange, sending a chill down his spine. But that could also be his internal temperature acting up.
"Do you have any ideas for me? These ice monsters aren't budging."
"You've got to use your left--"
"That's out of the question."
"You don't understand; fire's the only thing that's working for them."
"This is your expertise, isn't it? You can come up with something else." The wall begins to crack; Shouto steps back. He's not going to let his father win. From inside an icy fist punches through, shattering the ice like it's nothing.
Midoriya's voice is clear. "Then you need to try to knock them off-balance. They're made of really tough material, some kind of compound that isn't just ice. You need to hit them so they fall at just the right angle."
"What angle is that?"
"I'll tell you."
"Roger that." So Shouto waits for them to come closer, gathering as much power as he's got in his hand, his attention on their legs. "Start with the closest one?"
"Good place as any. Aim for the inside of their ankles."
He's not always good with waiting, but he waits for the right moment now, grinding his teeth as the nearest of them takes big, lumbering steps toward him. Midoriya's muttering in his ear, what sounds like a flurry of typing as he performs some calculations all the way on the other side of town, in the agency office. "Midoriya--"
"Now, Todoroki!" Midoriya yells, and Shouto winces, the full force of his power shooting out from his hand and hitting his target. All his ice does at that point is break upon impact, but it's enough of a force to make the beast wobble a little, then tip sideways. It doesn't quite shatter upon impact, but it does break off into pieces, and then it stops moving.
"It worked," Shouto says, sucking in a deep breath, a futile attempt to stabilize his right hand. "Now for the last three."
"Your suit temperature's giving me crazy readings, you can't--"
"Tell me when, Midoriya."
Midoriya doesn't protest-- taking down the beasts becoming a higher priority in the middle of the battle-- but Shouto can hear his concern anyway. He ignores it, putting all attention on the energy he needs to fire off icy blasts equally strong to the one that downed the first beast.
The second one falls in almost the exact same manner, but the third one he misses entirely, so has to re-adjust and attack again. His hand is numb; his knees are locked in place lest they collapse under him completely.
"Tell me when," he asks Midoriya, whose voice is shaking when he gives Shouto the signal.
Three down, one to go.
His entire right side is numb, his left itching for something. He reaches down, cranks the temperature regulator to full capacity. It doesn't do anything to stop him from shaking.
He won't let his father win.
"One more, Midoriya."
He can do this without his father's help. He needs to stay steady. He needs to take this shot. "Just. Just tell me."
Midoriya does. Or maybe that's just Shouto's imagination. He's not sure; there's a sound in his ear and an icy blast from his hand that sends a chill up his arm, to his chest, down his body. But it must have hit the beast.
They must have done it, because he hears something that sounds like a loud crash.
Shouto doesn't really know. The next thing he remembers is his knees buckling beneath him, and darkness when his eyes close.
It's warm when Shouto wakes up.
He's warm because he's in a hospital room under what must be five fleece blankets, the heat turned to a comfortably toasty temperature. His arm's connected to an IV, his breathing aided by an oxygen mask.
The first thing he does is pull the mask off.
He's fine. He pushes himself up to a sitting position, sucking in a gulp of sterile hospital room air which sends a bit of cold down his lungs, but that's nothing new. The IV is the only other thing in the room with him, but the bag is almost empty, so he leaves that alone for now.
Then Midoriya walks in.
"You're awake!" he says, rushing over. He has a thermos with what looks like hot tea that he sets on a table close to Shouto's hospital bed. His hair looks especially untamed, his green eyes nearly dark as they settle on Shouto. "You took your oxygen off."
"I can breathe fine on my own."
"It's not for breathing; it's supposed to help warm your airways and raise your internal temperature," he mutters, taking the discarded mask and setting it aside carefully. "But warm fluids should as well. Did you want tea?"
"Please." Shouto takes the thermos with both hands, carefully avoiding Midoriya's fingers. It's warm against his skin, the tea inside probably scalding. He puts it close to his lips and sips. "Thank you."
"It should also help you warm up." Midoriya grabs a seat and sinks down on it, running both hands through his hair before he holds his head between them. "You worried me out there."
"That wasn't my intention." Shouto glances at the IV bag, the tea, the blankets. "Hypothermia?"
"Stage Three." Midoriya sighs. "You nearly killed yourself over this. I don't-- I don't get why."
Shouto peers at him curiously. At no time since he's known him has Midoriya struck him as an idiot. He knows enough about reptilian movement to identify when a lizard tail is moving unnaturally, knows enough about quirk behavior and tendencies that he can string a solid theory together with little more than two disparate threads. And the facts of Shouto's life are public, if one knew where to look.
"I'm sure you know why," he says, but then Midoriya lifts his gaze to look at him with a searching curiosity so intensely earnest that Shouto feels simultaneously exposed and unknowable.
"I don't think I do." Midoriya looks down at his hands, calloused and worn from a different kind of heroic work. "I don't-- I don't understand. You almost died and you didn't have to. You had what you needed to help. What's more important than that?"
Tanaka had said he was a quirkless genius-- Shouto's never even met anyone quirkless before, can't even imagine what his father would have to say about someone like Midoriya, can't even imagine how someone like Midoriya must have clawed and fought and thought his way to land at Yuuei, to build a career out of supporting heroes regardless. What someone like Midoriya must think when he looks at Shouto, with an abundance of gifts he refuses to use.
He can't help the overwhelming feeling of shame that washes over him then, can't help feeling like there's a gap between them that he wants desperately to bridge. He's not that person, whatever Midoriya thinks-- he's not had to think about what people think of him before, hasn't felt like he wants their judgments to change-- but he wants Midoriya to know.
"You must know about my mother," he says. "You must know about their marriage."
"Do you know where she is now?" Shouto wants to know. "Do you know what I-- what the price of creating me was? He never loved her, he never wanted children. We were-- are-- tools to an end, stepping stones to his legacy. When I use my left side, I give him what he wants. I prove him right. I won't become my mother's worst nightmare. I'm not just being--"
Warm hands gently remove the thermos from his grasp-- Shouto realizes he's almost shaking with how tightly he's holding onto it. Midoriya places the thermos on the table, replaces the thermos with his own hands. They're rough and a little scarred, fingerpads resting against his still-chilly palm, and Shouto should feel ashamed but they almost feel like an absolution.
"It's okay," Midoriya says, and Shouto squeezes reflexively. Midoriya's thumbs brush against the back of his hand, a soothing back-and-forth motion that he focuses on. "But I think it's going to take more than that for you to be anything like your father."
Shouto closes his eyes, lets the soothing sensation warm his hands, Midoriya's words a kind of calm release he hadn't known he'd needed. "I--"
"The only thing his quirk makes him is a powerful hero," Midoriya tells him. "Who he is as a person, that's beyond what quirk he was born with. And it's the same for you. Fire is just what you can do-- it's how you use it that you can truly distinguish yourself from him, isn't it? And I can't speak for her, but I think that's what your mother would say too, that you are more than one half of your mother and one half of your father. You're more than the sum of their parts. You can go beyond."
Shouto laughs, because the other option is to cry. "Plus ultra?" he asks meekly, earning a chuckle from Midoriya.
"Something like that." Drops of wet heat fall onto his hands, and when he opens his eyes again, MIdoriya's crying. He yanks a hand away to scrub at his eyes, brushing the tears off haphazardly. "Sorry, I--" The hand that's still on Shouto's continues clinging on, and Shouto doesn't let go. "I've always kind of been a crybaby. I'm sorry."
"You don't have anything to apologize to me for," Shouto murmurs. He reaches out, brushing back a stray drop that's gathered at the corner of Midoriya's eye; Midoriya leans against the touch, his eyes closing.
There's a beat of silence.
They blink at the same time, Shouto's hand frozen a few centimeters away and heat rising at an alarmingly fast rate in the entirety of his left side. He feels a pang of disappointment when Midoriya jolts back, yelling, but in the next moment he's pressing bare hands on bedsheets that have gone up in flames, and Shouto instinctively puts it out with a blast of ice.
"Todoroki, you can't--" Midoriya gasps, and Shouto remembers he's supposed to be recovering from hypothermia.
"Ah. I shouldn't have done that," he says, moments before the cold catches up to him again.
Shouto's back down in Support-- trying to apologize to Midoriya for his behavior, of all things-- when their agency gets attacked.
Maybe it just isn't his month. It's only been a week since he was released from the hospital and he's just come off his shift. Midoriya has just come over to ask him what was up when all the windows along the wall shatter inward, the effect of some kind of massive blast from outside.
Shouto grabs Midoriya by instinct, crouching his body around Midoriya's and turning his back to the source of the blast. He feels the blow against his back and braces himself against it, something metallic and heavy glancing past his shoulder and nearly knocking him to the ground.
"What the hell--" someone yells.
"Are you okay?"
Midoriya doesn't look shaken. A little shocked, maybe, but the resolve in his gaze when he looks up is not something Shouto sees often. "I'm fine," he tells him, and, "I'll move us all somewhere safer. Go."
So Shouto does. He doesn't bother with his costume-- he doesn't need it, really-- choosing to run straight toward the windows. There's another blast before he gets any closer, and he raises both fists, ice rising up in front of him, to block the impact of whatever is blown his way.
When that dies down, he's face to face with the same icy beasts that sent him to the hospital, and he feels his body grow cold, his feet frozen in their position. There are more of the beasts this time, and they've torn a hole in the wall-- including halfway up the second floor-- to lumber in. In the scattered debris of office furniture and broken equipment, there is no open space upon which he could bring them down, certainly not in the way that will make them break like last time.
And they are heading for him.
He knows-- he knows what he has to do, but the wiring in his brain misfires, and when a thud of gigantic icy feet hits the ground, jolting him to move, it's his right hand he raises, ice that comes out from him in a sudden, but ultimately futile blast. It succeeds in only throwing the monster back half a step, and a sound much like thunder rumbles from deep in its belly before it wrenches its shoulders forward, moving one more step ahead.
Shouto tries once more, but it's ice, again and again, shooting out of his palms with decreasing strength. The chill has run up his whole side, his fingers trembling with the drop in his temperature.
The shout comes first; the blast of a flamethrower follows not long after. Midoriya runs up from behind, his arms holding up a massive chunk of cylindrical metal-- heavy and unfinished-- as he aims at one of them. It glows with the heat of something igniting within its coils, but he keeps his hold on it as it revs up, teeth grinding together and the corners of his eyes watering from pain. A button lights up; he pulls the trigger and his body heaves from the recoil, but the flame that roars out snuffs the beast almost immediately.
"It's a prototype, still takes a while to re-charge," Midoriya explains, taking a few steps back as he stares down the other creatures, at the same time Shouto finds his words and states, shocked, "Your arms."
"I'm fine." Midoriya's gaze flickers toward him. "Are--"
"Watch out!" Shouto warns, but the wall of protection he sends out is shattered in seconds, the frozen arm reaching out toward Midoriya knocking the weapon out of his hands. It spins on its side, useless and out of reach. "Midoriya--"
Then another creature is there-- too close where Shouto is too far, where he can only watch as a jagged, frozen arm comes swinging for Midoriya, catching him in the chest and flinging him back. He flies through the air like he's weightless, consciousness knocked out of him when he hits the wall and crumples to the floor like a rag doll.
Shouto is shocked into a moment of clarity, a wave of heated anger like lava flowing through his left side, threatening to consume him from the inside if he doesn't release it.
It isn't hard to rain hellfire on the beasts, after that. Not anymore.
"I hope this isn't going to be a thing," are Midoriya's first words when he wakes.
Shouto swallows the lump of disappointment that rises in his throat. "I'm sorry. I can leave."
"No no no, I meant--" a bandaged hand reaches out, closing around his wrist. Midoriya winces and Shouto frowns at him.
"You burned your hands," he reminds him, gentle as he unravels the surprisingly strong hold on him. "You should be more careful."
"I meant-- I hope we don't always end up in the hospital." Midoriya's cheeks are dusted pink, freckles sharp against skin. He laughs. "I'm not even a hero and--"
"Why aren't you?"
"What?" His voice breaks when he asks, and Shouto remembers-- quirkless-- he's supposed to be quirkless, what is he thinking asking such a rude question. He rephrases. "I meant-- we had a teacher. He could erase quirks, but it's a limited ability. He couldn't use it on mutants. You don't need quirks to--"
"That's a very nice thought, but--"
"You managed that flamethrower well, you could--"
"Did you hit your head or something? A quirkless hero? Me?"
"You saved me, didn't you?" Shouto asks. "Isn't that what heroes do?"
Midoriya laughs, but it's a tired, hollow sound. "Don't obscure the facts," he says, gaze falling onto his hands. "I know what I'm good at. I know. Don't--"
"You said I was beyond the quirk I was born with. You said fire is just what I could do." Shouto frowns, staring at his own open palms. A small whorl of ice from his right, a flicker of a flame from his left, both coming to him as simply as breathing. Yet when he fought he could not rely on fire, refused to until it refused him-- but without a power of his own Midoriya had tried, had fought, seared scars into his own hands and put his life on the line until Shouto could pull himself together. It was the hardest lesson in hero work, a special trait he'd seen in very few.
Anyone can fight. Not everyone can inspire.
Shouto looks up at Midoriya, whose eyes are still turned away from him. "You-- you felt like a hero, back there. You feel like one, to me." Midoriya startles, glancing at him. He holds his gaze. "That's all."
"I'm sorry, did I--"
"It's fine. Usually, when someone does something that lands them in the hospital, they're told not to do it again." Midoriya says softly. His voice is a warm sound, and his eyes are bright.
"I've been told I'm not good with social cues."
Midoriya's laugh is warm too. Shouto flushes, and Midoriya shakes his head "It's not that," he says.
"What is it then?"
"I was just thinking-- I guess that means this is going to be a thing?" There's a flush to his smile, maybe a second question layered beneath the first.
Shouto answers both. "It could be."