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call the fire department (i'm burning up with love)

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“Todoroki!”

Shouto stops, turning back into the classroom. Midoriya’s leaning against his desk, though everyone else has left for lunch.

“Can… can we talk?”

“Of course,” Shouto says, and Midoriya smiles back at him. That’s when he really, viscerally realizes that something is wrong, because whether Midoriya’s laughing or crying, he always emotes with his entire being, but today there’s something guarded in his smile, something afraid.

“Midoriya,” Shouto begins, shutting the classroom door. There’s a twisting, sick feeling in his gut. Somehow, he has to fix this. The alternative is unacceptable.

“I’m sorry,” Midoriya blurts, looking down at his shoes, and Shouto blinks. “Last night, I should have just told you what was happening instead of trying to hide it, and I shouldn’t have bothered you afterward either.”

Shouto takes a moment to process this, and by the time he’s almost done Midoriya is speaking again.

“I just… I know you’re really strong,” Midoriya says, and there’s enough sincere admiration there to make a small, off-task portion of Shouto’s brain dance in glee. “But I… I really care about you, and I thought after how exhausting your training is, you wouldn’t want everyone harassing you like that, and I guess I overstepped, I know it’s none of my business.” He bites his lip, still not looking up, then says in a quiet, miserable voice,  “Please forgive me.”

Shouto didn’t know it was possible to feel this guilty.

“No,” he says, and as Midoriya’s shoulders seem to crumple he rushes to continue. “You don’t need to apologize— you were trying to help. I should be the one apologizing,” he continues. “I was tired and stressed so I overreacted and said things I didn’t mean, but that’s no excuse.”

“But… I was trying to hide something from you,” Midoriya protests. He’s looking up now, and there are tears in his eyes, and Shouto feels like curling up in shame. “There were other things I could have done— even Kacchan was more helpful than me.”

Shouto snorts. Bakugou’s reaction had helped, but he sincerely doubted it was intentional.

Still, he supposes Midoriya has a point. “Fine, I’ll accept your apology,” he says, “but only if you accept mine.” When Midoriya looks like he’s going to argue, Shouto shakes his head. “Maybe you made the wrong decision by accident, but I lashed out at you on purpose, and that’s not the kind of person— the kind of friend— I want to be. So I’m sorry.”

Midoriya chews his lip, then nods. After a moment, he says, “We’re not very good at this whole thing, are we?”

Shouto snorts again, and Midoriya grins back, and for a moment Shouto doesn’t think about any of the things that haunt him.

“This whole thing,” Midoriya repeats, contemplative, and Shouto’s stomach twists.

“Yeah.”

“I- I don’t think we should ignore it anymore,” he says. Shouto swallows.

“No,” he says, and then gets stuck. They stand in awkward silence for a moment longer, and then Midoriya huffs a rueful chuckle and meets Shouto’s eyes squarely.

“You know how I feel, right?”

“Yes.”

“And… you feel the same?” Midoriya asks, and his tone sounds like he’s just confirming, but his eyes are wide like he can’t quite believe it.

“I- I feel something,” Shouto stutters, and since when is he the kind of person who stutters ? Midoriya blinks, and Shouto rushes to clarify. “I’ve never felt like this before. It’s so different— everything is so different here, and it’s…”

“Scary?” Midoriya asks, and Shouto can’t bear to look at him when he responds.

“Terrifying.” He breathes in deeply. “What happened last night, with everyone talking about the old man— I’ve run into that before and it never felt so horrible. Afterward… even I didn’t know what I was going to say.”

There’s another silence; Shouto contemplates his hands.

“I’m sorry,” Midoriya says, and then, achingly, terribly sincere, asks, “What do you need from me?”

And this isn’t fair, because that determined selflessness, that stubborn refusal to let anyone suffer if he can help— that’s why this problem even exists.

“Space,” Shouto says when the wave of fondness has passed. He remembers, suddenly, his conversation with his father after their match, the last time he’d felt so much confusion, so many warring thoughts and emotions. The comparison is absurd, but he finds himself echoing his words from that day. “I need to think.”

“Oh,” Midoriya says, tiny and slow, and then his voice firms so that Shouto knows without looking up that his jaw is set and his fists are clenched in determination. “Okay.”

***

It takes less than twelve hours for Uraraka to confront him.

Shouto knew it was coming as soon as dinner began; he’d walked straight past the table the four of them usually shared and instead sank down next to Yaoyorozu, who’d given him a strange look but respected his desire to eat in silence. Just like old times, except for the brunette staring at him over Iida’s shoulder.

So he’s not surprised when, an hour or so later, he responds to a knock at his door only for Uraraka to shove her way inside.

“What happened?” she asks. Before Shouto can regain his balance— mental or physical— she’s barreling on. “Jirou said you were doing fine and we should stop, and Deku seemed so happy after Friday that I thought we’d done it! But now you’re avoiding each other and all Deku will say is that you talked .” She throws her hands into the air. “What did you say?

Shouto frowns and opens his mouth, but Uraraka sighs, face softening bubbly frustration ebbing into concern.

“Don’t worry, though, we’ll totally help you fix thi—”

“I didn’t ask for your help,” Shouto bursts out, making Uraraka rear back. “I didn’t ask for you guys to take over every moment we spent together, to manufacture your idea of a perfect romance and push us together like we were dolls—”

He stops, taking in Uraraka’s wide eyes and raised palms, the way he’s looming angrily over her. Here I am again, he thinks bitterly.

“Sorry,” he says, stepping back. “I told Midoriya this too, but I just need some space.” It sounds lame, he knows it does, but he can’t quite verbalize how fake the girls ‘dates’ made him feel, or how he feels like he’s losing control of his life.

But Uraraka nods, moving toward the door.

“I’m sorry too,” she says, looking thoughtful, and then she’s gone.

***

The problem is that even with Midoriya giving him space, nobody else is. If anything, they seem to push closer in an effort to fill some kind of gap.

He spends an awkward few English classes making a group of three with the oddly understanding Yaoyorozu and Jirou, while Midoriya does the same with Uraraka and Iida, and every time he walks into the common room it goes silent before everyone frantically tries to go on as if they aren’t all throwing him concerned glances. Iida reminds him that, as class representative, he’s willing to act as an impartial mediator in any interpersonal problems before adding that, as both of their friend, he hopes that they find a solution that makes them both happy.

After he walks into the group study session and the class splits awkwardly between trying to make them talk to each other and those who jump in and deflect, Shouto goes back to working on his homework alone. It’s the most uncomfortable he’s been since moving out of Endeavor’s house.

By the time All Might pulls Shouto aside to assure him that in Aizawa’s absence, he should feel free to come to him with anything— really, anything at all, my boy, All Might emphasizes— Shouto is exhausted. So when there’s a knock on his door, he feels entirely justified in yanking it open with an irritated, “What now?”

Kaminari blinks, taken aback, and Shouto wants to growl at the wave of instant guilt that washes over him.

“I just wanted to let you know that we were hanging out in Sero's room, and Satou made lemon tarts which sound like an old person thing but are actually really good, but if you’re not feeling that I totally understand.”

And now the guilt is back, but it’s fought by a familiar warm feeling in his stomach.

“No, I shouldn’t have snapped at you,” Shouto says, looking down. “Actually, that might be nice.”

It turns out ‘we’ consists of Kaminari, Kirishima, Satou, Sero, and Bakugou. Shouto hesitates for a moment when he sees Bakugou, who’s gripping a large stack of cards in a way that makes Shouto wonder if Sero has extra in case these go up in smoke, but the blond just growls at him to get over here so I can crush you, so Shouto obliges. (Well, the first part, at least.)

“So this game is called ‘Bullshit’,” Kirishima explains. “I have a feeling you’ll be good at it. The goal is to get rid of all your cards, and you’re only supposed to put down certain cards each turn…”

“But you can lie about your cards,” Kaminari adds, placing three card on the center stack. “Fives.”

“Then if you think someone’s lying, you say—”

“Bullshit!” Bakugou barks.

Kaminari flips over the card, revealing three fives. “Read it and weep.

Bakugou takes the stack with a hiss, seeming oddly calm compared to his usual attitude toward losing at anything.

“If you get away with lying, you call ‘popcorn’ after the next person plays,” Kaminari finishes. “Speaking of which, have some refreshments!”

“Kaminari’s crushing us,” Satou admits, passing Shouto a plate filled with yellow pastries. “Especially Bakugou.”

Sero shakes his head over Kaminari’s maniacal cackling and Bakugou’s growled not for long, Dunce Face. “There’s something I never thought I’d hear.”

The lemon tarts are delicious. Shouto leans back at first and lets the others joke back and forth and tease each other good-naturedly, just soaking in the camaraderie of the moment. Once he’s picked up the game enough to realize how bad Bakugou is at bluffing, however, the trash talk comes out almost instinctively, and soon enough he’s drawn into the whole thing.

When Bakugou slaps down his last two cards with a snarl of fours, Shouto makes a show of not even looking at his own hand, instead eyeing Bakugou’s combative posture daring anyone to comment. “Bullshit.”

“Yeah, well you can eat it,” Bakugou growls, snatching up the huge pile of cards that’s accumulated.

“Tempting,” Shouto responds with a tone that makes Sero snort, “but no. Unfortunately you’ll have to find some other way to get rid of those. Threes,”  he adds, placing his cards on the ground between them. He tilts his head and adds with a helpful tone, “I can explain the rules if you need.”

Kirishima chokes.

“Someone open a window, I think I can smell the smoke off that burn,” Kaminari jokes, placing two cards on the stack. “Twos.”

(Bakugou actually is smoking slightly. The window’s been open for an hour, and he’s placed as far as possible from the smoke detector, but Sero still glances up at it in worry.)

“Maybe it’s the popcorn,” Shouto says, inspecting his empty hands.

This time, it’s Kaminari who chokes, and then the entire room dissolves into snickers.

It feels like a breath of fresh air, listening to them laugh at a joke he made, and a part of Shouto relaxes, just a little bit, at the thought that no matter what happens with Midoriya, at least he has this.

***

His face itches.

This is just something that happens, especially in hot, dry weather. For the first few months after the incident, he’d seen a doctor often to make sure the burn healed as well as it could. The man had explained that the oil glands keeping his skin from drying out had been badly damaged and prescribed a moisturizer that he could apply regularly— and then another one when Endeavor had read the ingredients list and realized it was flammable.

Of course, though he couldn’t be burned by his own flames, they did dry the air around him, and so Shouto finds himself bending close to the mirror in the locker room after All-Might’s class, trying to get as close to his eye as possible without getting it in his eyelashes.

“Did you ever hate her?”

Shouto starts; thankfully, his first instinct as he whirls is to throw his hands up in a guard position, so he doesn’t poke himself in the eye.

Leaning back against the locker, Bakugou snorts.

“What are you talking about?” Shouto asks, letting his hands fall to grip the edge of the counter.

“Your mom,” Bakugou says, head tilted challengingly. “Did you ever hate her for what she did?”

Shouto goes cold. “How do you know about that?”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “That hallway at the stadium wasn’t exactly private, half-and-half. You’re lucky it was me and not a journalist or something.”

That’s actually true, and Shouto wonders if perhaps there’s some part of him that wants everything to come out. Then he feels like laughing at himself, because of course there is: half of Shouto would be delighted to watch the media tear Endeavor to pieces. Meanwhile, the other half would be frantically trying to keep them from doing the same to the rest of his family.

Which brings him back to Bakugou’s question.

“Well?” his classmate challenges.

“No,” Shouto responds, and it’s true. Some days, he’s even felt— well, not grateful, precisely, but it’s the closest word he can think of for the times when he managed to look himself in the eye only by clinging to the thought that she’d burned every trace of Endeavor out of him along with his face.

“If you don’t blame her,” Bakugou says, jarring Shouto from his thoughts, “then why the fuck would you blame Deku?”

“What?” Shouto asks. “Midoriya hasn’t done anything to me.”

Bakugou snorts and pushes off the locker, heading for the door. “If you believe that, you’re a bigger idiot than he is.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” Shouto asks, chasing after him, because Uraraka is allowed to be cryptic and disappear but Bakugou is not. “Midoriya’s not an idiot,” he adds because discussing Midoriya usually sets Bakugou off, and also because it’s true and Bakugou won’t get away with saying that kind of thing if Shouto can stop it.

Sure enough, it makes Bakugou turn around, but instead of irritated, he looks vindicated.

“I thought you weren’t here to make friends?”

***

Shouto gets up late on Saturday.

He wakes up at six thirty, just like usual. But then he considers the day ahead of him and makes the unprecedented choice to just stay in bed.

Remedial training is canceled for the day because Gang Orca’s out of town, so refusing to get moving isn’t actually an act of rebellion. Still, Shouto can’t help but feel an illicit thrill when the sun creeps in through the blinds and falls across his still-blanketed feet.

He would have liked to go back to sleep, but his body’s still far too well trained for that. Instead, he pulls his blankets close and stares at the wall.

This last week has been less than pleasant. Shouto’s been lonely before, of course, but it had felt distant, just another hurdle to climb over. Now, even though he still has the rest of his classmates, the lack of Midoriya feels viscerally disturbing, like he’s forgotten how to breathe. Every time their eyes meet, a part of Shouto insists that he should go to Midoriya and tell him that he’s had his space and done his thinking and he’s realized that what he really needs Midoriya to do is give him a hug.

The problem is that that would be a lie. Shouto’s more conflicted than he was to begin with, because if this past week has shown him anything, it’s that he almost needs Midoriya— not to survive, but to be happy. And the part of him that kept him going for years under the thumb of a father who sees him as a tool, the chip of ice at Shouto’s core that proved too rigid for even Endeavour to mold and the spark that drove him to be a hero anyway, that part of him insists that needing someone, defining himself by them, is dangerous.

Shouto can’t let go, but he can’t hold on either, so he buries his face in the pillow and stays in bed.

***

Eventually, of course, he has to get up. This is the only weekend he’s getting for a long time, which means it’s his only chance to visit his mother.

Of course, today’s also the day the newest member of Class 1-A is going to move in, so pretty much the entirety of the class is sitting around the lounge, lying in wait.

“Hi Todoroki!” Uraraka greets as soon as he comes out of the stairwell. She’s perched precariously on the back of a couch, and when she sees him she leans forward enough to make Shouto nervous. “Where are you going?”

“Into the city,” he responds quietly, scanning the room. Sure enough, Midoriya is sitting on the couch opposite Uraraka, a notebook on his lap and pen in hand. He’s staring down at it by the time Shouto’s looking, but judging by the redness of his ears and the fact that the page in front of him is blank, he’d been looking up a moment ago.

“Alone?” Iida asks from next to Uraraka. (Apparently he’s finally given up the fight to get them to use furniture normally.)

Shouto tilts his head. “Yes?”

“Considering the fact that we were moved to campus for our own safety, and that you are easily recognizable, it seems unwise to venture out unsupervised.”

“But it’s not against the rules, right?” Shouto’s kicking himself internally for not thinking of this, because Iida’s right, but it’s far too late to ask a teacher to go with him.

“Yeah, and it’s not like Todoroki can’t handle himself,” Sero says absently from the floor, not looking up from his phone.

“He doesn’t have a license, though,” Kirishima points out, and now everyone’s starting to look their way. Shouto blinks, wishing he’d just gotten up at his normal time and left before any of them were awake.

“One of us could go with him!” Mina suggests.

“No, that’s fine,” Shouto protests, but Iida’s nodding as if this is an acceptable solution.

Shouto feels his worry rising, because if someone comes with him then he’ll have to tell them that his mother’s in a mental hospital, and he’s not ashamed, exactly, but they’re going to ask questions

“I wouldn’t want to bother any of you,” he tries, because why would they even want to follow him around, anyway?

“Todoroki, this is an issue of safety,” Iida scolds. “None of us would begrudge you that.”

“Yeah!” Uraraka agrees.

“I think a day out in the city sounds kind of fun,” Mina says, and people are nodding along now. Thank goodness for the new student or they’d all want to come.

“Depends where exactly we’d be going,” Kirishima responds. Does the we mean he’s thinking of volunteering?

“I wanted to visit my mom,” Shouto says, hoping that will be boring enough to discourage them.

Iida opens his mouth, and Shouto can tell that he’s going to volunteer, and he loves Iida, loves his dedication to their well-being and his earnest care for his friends but it’s extraordinarily inconvenient at this moment.

“I’ll go.” Shouto whips around to look. Midoriya’s eyes are understanding, and Shouto feels a rush of fond gratitude.

“Thanks,” he says, and the entire room lets out a sigh of relief.

As Midoriya runs up to get his bag, Shouto pretends not to overhear Kaminari whisper, “Thank god, it’s been like watching my parents fight.”

***

Of course, they haven’t actually fixed anything— or rather, Shouto hasn’t actually made up his mind. Midoriya is still as carefully civil as he’s been all week, which makes for a rather awkward train ride. They don’t speak except for when Midoriya asks where they’re going to get off, and they get several judgemental looks for staring at their phones the whole time.

It’s even worse when they get off the train, since they have no method of ignoring each other. Several times, Midoriya appears ready to break the silence, but he never actually does. Instead, Shouto stares straight ahead and gives monosyllabic directions until they’ve arrived.

The first time Shouto had come to the hospital, a couple months ago, the staff had been shocked, and it had taken an arduous explanation and his Yuuei identification card to convince them to let him in. Since then, he’s made an effort to drop by when possible, but between class, the training camp, and then the ever-present villain threat and remedial training, his visits aren’t as regular as he’d like. Still, the nurses nod in recognition when he walks through the doors.

“I’ll wait out here,” Midoriya says, gesturing at the chairs. Shouto nods in confirmation, feeling guilty for dragging him all the way out here just to sit alone for hours.

“You’re back!” the receptionist says as he walks up to the desk, smiling. “We were all worried when we heard the news about your camp, and so happy when we heard all the kids were safe.”

“Thank you,” Shouto responds tentatively.

The woman— he should probably learn her name at some point— quirks a self-deprecating smile. “Well, you didn’t come here to hang out with me, did you?” She hands him a visitor’s badge and waves a hand. “Your mom’s still in the same room, go on!”

Relieved, Shouto pins the badge to his shirt as he ducks into the hallway. The hospital isn’t extraordinarily luxurious, but it is very private and thus, by necessity, very small, which means the staff have time to dedicate to every patient. After a childhood half-believing his father had put his mother in some insane asylum out of the horror movies he’d once snuck in on his older brother watching, seeing the perfectly normal and friendly nurses and the way small plants brightened the corridors had been a relief.

Of course, none of it compares to his mother’s voice responding to his knock on the door, and that is nothing to her smile as he walks in.

“Shouto!” She stands, holding out her arms, and he steps in and lets her pull him close. Resting his cheek on her shoulder, he sighs as his frustration falls away, leaving only the feeling of her fingers smoothing over his hair. “I missed you.”

Eventually, she gives him a final squeeze and lets go, and he steps away, straightening his spine. Mom sits on her bed, patting the pale blue quilt beside her in invitation, and Shouto quickly complies.

“How have you been?” she asks. “Did your move to the dorms go well?”

Shouto smiles. “Well, the first night when we moved in, Mina decided we’d all have a competition to show off our rooms…”

***

They talk for a few hours, trading stories about their respective living situations. Apparently, living in the same hospital for nearly a decade means that his mother knows almost everyone here, and her stories are filled with a fond familiarity that Shouto finds echoes his own feelings toward his classmates.

“What about that boy you have a crush on?” she asks eventually. “Ma- Midoriya, right? Do you have any stories about him?”

Even if Shouto couldn’t feel his smile slipping away, he’d know it had by the way Mom’s whole face softens.

“Oh, Shouto, what happened?” He winces, and her frown deepens. “Did he hurt you? If he did--”

“No, Mom,” Shouto cuts her off. “If anything, I’ve probably hurt him.” She raises an eyebrow, and he turns away. “He’s… he told me that he liked me, and that he knew I liked him. But I… panicked, I guess.”

“Oh Shouto,” she says, and this time there’s a hint of exasperation mixed in with the concern. “What did you say.”

“I just told him I needed space to think,” he says. “But I still don’t know what to do.”

She sighs. “What are you confused about?”

He looks down at his hands, trying to figure out how to put it into words. “Did… did you ever feel like you and my father were in love?”

She stiffens next to him, and he closes his eyes in regret. But the words are out now, so he waits for a response.

“I don’t think this boy is going to turn out like Endeavor,” she says flatly, and Shouto snorts.

“That’s not what I meant.”

“Neither are you,” she points out after a moment, and he looks up at her, startled. She sighs, and the shadows around her eyes seem to deepen. “You are so good, Shouto. You could never hurt anyone the way he does. Or,” she continues, reaching up to touch his face, “the way I did.”

“It’s not your fault,” he tells her, as he’s been telling her ever since the first time he visited. “It’s his.”

She shakes her head. “I should have found a way out. For both of us.”

“It’s alright,” he lies, because even though none of it is right, she’s not the one who needs to answer for it.

She takes a long, steady breath. “I didn’t love your father. I was… fascinated by him, at first; he’s very intelligent and charming when he wants to be. My parents thought it would be a good match, and we all thought he loved me, so we married. And at first, I wondered if he’d changed, but eventually I realized that I had never really known him at all, and I was the one who changed.”

Shouto nods, frowning. “He changed you.”

“Yes,” she says, but there’s something uncertain in her tone.

“It wasn’t you,” Shouto says, because it’s true, it has to be true. “You wouldn’t--”

“I would never want to hurt you,” she confirms, and the knot in Shouto’s chest loosens. “That’s what I meant. I changed because of Endeavor, but I also changed when I became a mother, however bad at it I may have been.”

Shouto opens his mouth to protest, but she puts a hand on his shoulder, cutting him off.

“I could have killed you, Shouto. I stayed there for so long, thinking as long as I was there, I could keep you safe, and instead I hurt you because of what I thought he might turn you into. But I was wrong,” she continues, squeezing his shoulder. “Because even after I left you with him, look at what you became.”

Shouto wants to ask what, but his throat is stuck closed. Thankfully, she seems to read the question out of the wideness in his eyes and the limpness of his jaw, and her eyes and her grip soften at the same time.

“You’re a hero.”

He doesn’t know what to say, so he just leans over, wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her shoulder, trying to match his uneven breaths to her own steadier ones.

“Shouto.”

Pulling away slightly, he meets her eyes, where a hint of steel shines through the warm dove-grey.

“Everyone you know is going to change you,” she says. “If you’re lucky, sometimes you can choose what you let them change you into.”

***

When they come down to the waiting room, Midoriya’s at the desk chatting with the receptionist. He sees Shouto out of the corner of his eye and says something to her before walking over to them, smiling. “Todoroki! My phone died, I was asking Miss Yuuko if she had a charger, and I ended up showing her my notebook and it turns out that she knows–”

He seems to register Shouto’s mother and cuts off, eyes flicking nervously between them. Shouto isn’t quite sure what to say– should he introduce them even though they both know who the other is? It would feel silly, but they are meeting for the first time, so he should try to smooth the transition somehow, right?

“You must be Midoriya,” Mom says, apparently taking pity on the both of them. “I’ve heard a lot about you,” she continues, and suddenly Shouto has a whole new reason to be nervous.

“O-oh,” Midoriya stutters.

“All good things, I promise,” Mom assures him, and Shouto can feel a blush crawling up his throat, like frost but hot. “Actually, I wanted to thank you.”

“Um, you’re welcome,” Midoriya says awkwardly, shooting Shouto a look that says as clearly as words, what is happening? When Shouto widens his eyes in a silent I don’t know either, he adds, “But… what for?”

“For helping bring Shouto’s smile back to me.”

Shouto whips his head to the side, jaw dropping. The deep, sincere gratitude in her face makes his insides squirm with guilt, and he looks away, letting his gaze be drawn back to the wide-eyed Midoriya. Eventually, his classmate swallows, and then smiles.

“It was my pleasure.”

***

Midoriya spends almost the entire walk to the train station stealing glances at Shouto out of the corner of his eye. Of course, Shouto only knows this because he’s doing the same thing. He can’t help it, really; when the object of one’s internal struggle is right there, looking is pretty much instinctual.

Shouto doesn’t like to make snap decisions, but to be fair he’s been turning this issue over for weeks now, it’s about time he did something. Still, he can’t quite bring himself to speak, so they get on the train in silence, taking hold of one of the center poles. He’s just decided to give up and try this once he’s planned out what he’s going to say when Midoriya speaks up.

“Your mom seems like she’s doing well.” He doesn’t look at Shouto when he says it, and his tone is casual enough that Shouto could simply agree and go back to ignoring him. All the same, it’s clearly an invitation, Midoriya’s way of reminding him that he’s still there.

“Yes,” Shouto responds, and then, “she’s apparently been mostly better for years, now, but because of my father, she’s stuck there.”

“Ah,” Midoriya says, and then tentatively adds. “Well, at least they were able to help her…”

The train arrives at their stop, then, and the two of them get off quickly. It’s a fair walk to the dorms— the UA entrance is only about five minutes from the train station, but the campus is incredibly large and their dorms are close to the center for security reasons. Shouto finds himself grateful for the distance, since it gives him time to consider what he wants to say.

“She does this thing, though,” he begins carefully as they walk through the gate. Glancing at Midoriya’s curious expression, he elaborates, “My mother, if something surprises her, she startles really badly. Apparently before I started visiting, she would just flinch or raise her arms defensively, but now if I’m there, she’ll move in front of me.”

Midoriya makes a noise then, but Shouto doesn’t turn his head or try to figure out what it means, just continues.

“It’s called hypervigilance,” he explains. “It can be a symptom of a few things, including anxiety, and schizophrenia, which is what my mother has.”

He hadn’t actually known that, before this year; he’d thought that Endeavor was simply paying exorbitant amounts of money to keep everyone quiet. Not that that was wrong, of course, but it had still been a surprise to realize that at least right after the incident, the hospital may have actually been the best place she could have gone.

“It’s also a symptom of post-traumatic stress, though,” Shouto continues. “Which is common for victims of abuse.”

This time, he can’t help but turn around when Midoriya makes a noise and stops walking.  They’ve ended up in a little courtyard area that Shouto recognizes as being just far enough from most of the school buildings that only the first years really frequent it. His classmate’s face is filled with concern, with threads of horror and confusion seeping through.

“You must have written in your book that I have fast reflexes, and good situational awareness,” Shouto says, feeling oddly detached as Midoriya sucks in a shocked breath of realization. “I’m quiet, except for when I’m suddenly rude, and I tend to overreact,” he barrels on, remembering the Hosu chief of police. “I work hard, to the point where others call me inhuman.”

“Todoroki, you’re not—”

“I’m not anything,” Shouto bites, cutting Midoriya off. “I want to be a good friend, but I don’t know how. I want to be a great hero, but I couldn’t tell you why, and every time I think I’m starting to get there, something else he did to me comes back to bite me,” he continues, and his voice is deepening to a growl but he can’t stop it, “and it just makes me angrier because I can’t stand being the thing he made.”

He’s panting, he realizes, still feeling far, far away from his body. It’s only with an incredible effort that he can pull in a deeper breath, unclenching his fists on a shaky exhale.

“But,” he chokes out, “that’s how it is.”

Midoriya’s eyebrows draw down. “No,” he says thoughtfully. “No, I don’t think it is.”

Shouto feels his face go slack with surprise.

“Some of that might be technically true,” Midoriya allows, sounding dubious. “The reflexes, the awareness… maybe even the rudeness,” he elaborates, mouth ticking up… affectionately? Almost against his will, Shouto can feel himself calming down in the face of Midoriya’s amicable certainty.

“And the rest?” he challenges.

“Well,” Midoriya starts. “You’re definitely human, and you’re definitely something. You like cold soba and vanilla ice-cream, and you’re terrible at video games.”

Shouto huffs, too baffled at the non-sequitur to defend himself.

“You’re a complete dork,” Midoriya says, “and whether you know it or not, you’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had. I mean it,” he repeats when Shouto’s eyes widen. “You listen to me ramble and then give me thoughtful advice at the end of it, you make me laugh even when I feel like crying— and you don’t laugh at me when I do end up crying,” he adds, sounding so disbelievingly grateful that it makes Shouto’s stomach clench.

“Who would even— Bakugou,” he growls in realization. “I—”

“And that!” Midoriya goes on. “You respect me, you think I’m strong, but you also care so much about protecting me that you came running when I just texted you a location. And it’s not just me, it’s all your friends— you helped get Tokoyami and Bakugou back, you almost got in a fistfight with the chief of police over—”

“It wasn’t right,” Shouto argues, cringing at the awkward memory. “He made it sound like he was going to punish the two of you for being heroic.”

Midoriya grins, victorious. “Not just me and Iida, Todoroki. You were a hero too,” he insists, “and that’s exactly why. You can’t stand bullies, and you have the strongest sense of justice I’ve ever seen. You really believe that the world should be fair, even though you know it’s not.”

Shouto gapes, feeling like Midoriya’s punched him in the gut. With his quirk.

“You’re more than what your childhood made you,” Midoriya finishes, and his smile is— gentle, now, but somehow even more staggering for it. “You’re what you made out of your childhood.”

There are tears in his eyes, and Shouto blinks to clear away the ones in his own so that he can memorize with perfect clarity the expression on Midoriya’s face when he says, “And if it matters at all? I think what you made is absolutely beautiful.”

Oh, Shouto thinks, that’s his Todoroki smile.

“Well,” he says, voice cracking. “You did help. A lot.”

Midoriya’s smile goes wobbly, and the two of them practically fall into a hug. It’s warm and tight and safe, everything Shouto’s been missing this week, and when the familiar voice rumbles You’re better than this, Shouto responds with giddy carelessness, there’s nothing better than this.

Still, it isn’t the best position for talking, so eventually he has to pull away. Drawing a deep breath, Shouto meets Midoriya’s tentative gaze. “That was… quite a speech.”

Midoriya giggles, breathy and quiet and adorable. “Yeah, I actually…. This last week, All Might noticed I was… down, and when I asked him for advice on how to fix this, he told to write down what I would say to you if we were talking. I ended up writing like a million drafts, I don’t even think that was the best one, so…”

“I thought it was great,” Shouto says, and then, “All Might’s been giving very good advice, lately.”

“I know,” Midoriya responds, sounding proud. Shouto finds it amusing how their class has developed almost familial affection for the former number one, especially Midoriya. “The best part was when he found me throwing the papers away. He took one look at them, looked up at me, and said ‘If you have that much to say, it must be love.’”

When he’s quoting All Might, Midoriya deepens his voice and contorts his face into a remarkably good imitation of his mentor’s hero form.

Shouto blinks, chokes on an exhale, and then he’s laughing, every breath heaving out of his chest as forcefully as a sob and twice as cathartic. He laughs until his air runs out and then for a while longer, his shoulders curling and shuddering wildly. When he finally pulls himself together, there are tears in his eyes again, and he wipes them away with a smile.

Midoriya is staring at him, gaping really, eyes bright with wonder as if he’d watched Shouto hang the moon and then light the sun and stars on his way down for good measure. When he speaks, it’s practically unnecessary.

“It is, you know,” he says.

“Yeah,” Shouto agrees, and then for clarity adds, “Me too. I don’t really know how to, but…”

“I don’t either,” Midoriya says slowly. “I just— I’m better, when I’m with you. Happier, but also...”

“Like you can be yourself?” Shouto asks. “That’s how it is for me.”

Midoriya smiles softly. “So, do you think you want to try?” he asks, offering a hand, and there’s something so vulnerable there, and Shouto feels protective affection well up in his chest and thinks okay, maybe I can do this. Maybe it's terrifying, maybe it's risky, but maybe seeing that smile and knowing he's the person who put it there is worth it.

Shouto nods, and as he links their hands together Midoriya’s smile brightens until it almost hurts to look at.

Shouto can’t bring himself to even blink.

“In that case,” Midoriya says, starting off down the path to the dorms again, “I’ll start by trying to think of ways to make you laugh like that more often.”

“With the antics our class gets up to, that might not be too much of a challenge,” Shouto warns, making Midoriya squeeze their joined hands with a chuckle.

“Yeah,” he agrees, “our new classmate is really in.. for… it…”

He trails off. As they round the final bend, the dorm building comes into view, at the same time that a strident alarm becomes distinctly audible.

“I don’t know,” Shouto says, watching his classmates mill around while Aizawa is somehow managing to loom threateningly over a purple-haired figure without losing his characteristic slouch. “I get the feeling he’ll fit in perfectly.”