Todoroki came to accept that he loved Midoriya during his second year.
The realization came slowly, but the weight of his certainty, that he loved Midoriya, rewrote his worldview and tilted it on axis. He couldn’t imagine not watching and looking after Midoriya, not now. The Todoroki who never looked twice at his nervous, mumbling classmate had become unrecognizable to him. He had been a wounded creature back then, with his scars still oozing from his father’s poison.
Now, Todoroki watched Midoriya and thought of broken fingers and shattered ice. Of that crazy grin illuminated by his flames.
All of these memories of Midoriya piled up in his heart, creating a map of his love. Some of them were innocuous - the view of Midoriya’s back during class or the feeling of Midoriya’s bruised wrist underneath Todoroki’s chilled right palm. Others made his chest ache - the pounding blood in his ears as he had raced through Hosu, praying he wasn’t too late.
One memory tended to haunt him more than others. The night after Stain, when they had been alone on their hospital cots, Midoriya had told Todoroki that he had never had a friend rush to his aid as Todoroki did. That he never had friends before UA. Friends who broke quirk laws, shouted at police chiefs, and were ready to die for him.
“Midoriya, if you ever need me..” Todoroki had said then, serious, and the unspoken words hung between them with the weight of a vow.
“I’ll-I’ll text properly next time.” Midoriya had let out a warbled noise, as if he had been holding back tears. Todoroki had wanted to reach out and to comfort him somehow, but he hadn’t known how to express that tremulous feeling in his heart. Instead, he had lain there in the darkness, listening to Midoriya’s breathing and reassuring himself that they were alive.
That Midoriya was alive.
Todoroki couldn’t say when he fell for Midoriya, but he knew that he’s better for loving him. From the day that Todoroki first challenged him, Midoriya had pushed him, demanding his strength, but also his compassion. He had become a better hero, a better man, today because of how Midoriya smashed his way into his heart.
Despite his lack of experience with having friends, he tried to be a good one to Midoriya. He must have not done too badly, because Midoriya confided in him his uncertainties and anxieties. He told Todoroki about his fears of never living up to All Might and Todoroki, who grew up under the overwhelming shadow of Endeavor’s hatred, understood better than anyone else. Sometimes the harsh reality of being both a teenager and a hero weighed too much on Midoriya’s narrow shoulders. Todoroki consoled him with quiet truths and a hand on his shoulders when he cried. They are best friends, Midoriya declared one day, and he smiled at him with so much affection that it had made Todoroki’s heart jerk painfully.
Here was the only tragedy.
Todoroki was certain that he loved Midoriya more than Midoriya loved him.
After his acceptance, Todoroki resolved to be content with his feelings.
He had always been good at compartmentalizing- had done so his entire life to survive. So he learned to rationalize. If he had to fall for anyone, he was lucky that it was Midoriya. Midoriya who loved his friends and cherished them carefully. If anything, he was too kind at times, Todoroki thought, when he watched Bakugo walk all over him in the name of past friendship. Midoriya would never damage Todoroki's heart willingly.
He told himself to be grateful that he could be Midoriya’s friend, to be grateful that he was strong enough to protect each other amidst their dangerous lives.
Most days, he barely thought about it. Loving Midoriya was almost damningly easy. They saw each other every day, training during the day and grinding through their calculus homework at night. All around them, their classmates grew furiously in their skills and strengths, Midoriya most of all, and Todoroki had to stay focused if he didn’t want to be left behind. The rush of their everyday life didn’t leave him a lot of time to engage in wistful thinking over his feelings.
Other days, however, Todoroki felt like he was just another kid floundering in the throes of puberty. Uncomfortable with himself and really sweaty. It happened again the weekend before finals, when he was visiting his mother in the hospital. His mother had asked how that ‘Midoriya-kun he’s always talking about’ is doing and Todoroki froze up.
“...He got a confession the other day.” Todoroki finally said and his mother’s eyes widened. They had talked about a lot of things in these visits- ten years was a lot of time to catch up on and they had barely scratched the surface- but Todoroki had never spoken about this.
“What happened?” She asked, gently. His mother was always careful, trying not to create distance between the two of them. After all, they were both still so unfamiliar with each other.
Todoroki had heard about the event in passing when his classmates had crowded a red-faced Midoriya after lunch. “It was a first year he hadn’t known. He turned her down.”
“And do a lot of your classmates get confessions?” His mother was a little confused by Todoroki’s clenched fists and ducked head, but it didn’t stop her from reaching out and brushing back his bangs.
“He said it was his first. And I don’t know. I don’t really talk about this stuff.”
Midoriya hadn’t looked pleased, more embarrassed than anything, but still, Todoroki found him clutching the confession letter to his chest after school. It made sense, Todoroki had thought, to be flattered by attention, especially for someone like Midoriya who cried the first time someone praised him on the news. “She was really nice about it even though I turned her down. Said that maybe we could be friends. But I feel guilty.” Midoriya had confided to Todoroki that evening. It had taken all of Todoroki’s willpower not to ask why he’d turned her down.
“Does it bother you?” His mother asked as her grey eyes searched his face and Todoroki jolted in his seat.
“Why would it bother me?” He replied a little too fast, a little too gruff. “Everyone’s trying to become popular for their careers. It’s only natural that people would notice Midoriya. He’s an amazing hero, after all.”
His mother’s smile turned wry and she gently ruffled his hair. “Maybe you’re right. High school’s a tricky time. It goes by fast though, Shouto, so if something bothers you, you should tell Midoriya-kun about it, rather than hold it inside.”
Todoroki didn’t respond, looking down at his hands. His mother sighed.
“Come here.” She gestured and Todoroki obediently came to sit by her side. She pulled him into her arms, half-cradling him. It was a little awkward now that he had grown far taller than her, but when she started to stroke his hair, it made him sag into her arms.
Face buried against his mother’s shoulder, something he hadn’t felt in over a decade, he felt like a child again. It made his chest tighten in a way that feels almost overwhelming and he mumbled, “...I don’t want to lose him.”
To what, Todoroki wasn’t sure.
His mother’s hand paused just for a second, as if she realized something, and then she started to card her fingers through his hair again. There was a gentle smile in her words.
“Oh, Shouto. He’s your best friend, right? You won’t lose him. He brought you back to me, didn’t he?”
After that day, an uneasy feeling began to rest in Todoroki’s heart. He stared at All Might during their practicals and wondered if his childhood idol ever had a family, ever had a loved one. Surely he didn’t- Todoroki knew firsthand how families and heroics, especially top heroes, didn’t mix.
Midoriya, who idolized All Might, who was constantly looking at All Might for his inspiration, surely would follow a similar path. Todoroki almost couldn’t imagine Midoriya looking for a quiet domestic life, not with that blazing ambitions that left him almost manic and desperate in his climb to the top. And Todoroki liked that about Midoriya - it was something he liked to think they shared and understood about each other - but at the same time, it made Todoroki’s heart hurt, just a little.
He didn’t want that climb to hollow out Midoriya - to make him less a person and more a symbol. He liked the Midoriya who couldn’t cut vegetables properly when they made curry and who complained about his old man joints on rainy days. The Midoriya who had made it his mission to watch all the old, terrible superhero movies with Todoroki as part of a 'cultural education'. The Midoriya who still loved turning over Todoroki’s hands and quizzing him on his quirk, even though, after two years, Todoroki was sure he was the only one who knew more about his quirk than Todoroki himself.
He didn’t want to lose that.
Finals came and Todoroki had to buckle down to study. Still, he found his thoughts wandering back to his mother's words at the most inconvenient times. He had forgotten, that his time with Midoriya was coming to a close.
Strange, all his life, he had been waiting for the day he’d graduate high school and escape from under his father’s thumb. But now that he had just one more year left, he wanted to savor it. Maybe long hours of studying ended up getting to him or something else, but, one night, Todoroki wrote down one goal for the day after finals.
He had too many regrets in his life and he didn’t want this thing with Midoriya to be one.
The day before break, Todoroki called Midoriya out to the quad behind their dorm. He could feel his nerves making his chest tight, but he hid behind an impassive face.
"I'd like to talk."
At first, Midoriya looked nervous, almost tense enough for battle, and Todoroki wondered if he had an inkling as to what Todoroki intended to do, until he joked, “You’re not going to ask me to fight you, are you?”
“No.” Todoroki replied, briefly taken aback. Then he remembered their conversation in the corridor during the Sports Festival, of how Todoroki had called Midoriya out, and swallowed back some year-old embarrassment. Trying to reassure his friend, Todoroki added, "It’s nothing like that. I don't have that many childhood stories to tell you."
Midoriya laughed at that and the knot in Todoroki’s chest loosened, just a little. Looking more relaxed, his friend leaned forward with a teasing look in his eyes, “Really? You don’t want to tell me you’re objectively stronger than me and that you’ll defeat me-”
“Or that our levels are too different -” Midoriya flattened his hair and twisted his face into a mock-scowl. Todoroki had to resist the urge to slap at his hands.
“You weren’t even there for that one.” He muttered, indignant. He distinctly remembered Midoriya needing to be carted to the nurse’s office after that first match with Bakugo.
“I watched the tapes afterwards and Ojiro-kun told me.” Abandoning his absurd impression of Todoroki, Midoriya grinned. Golden sunlight, dappled from the leaves above, spilled across his freckled cheeks. The sight made Todoroki’s throat constrict. Midoriya was here, smiling and watching him expectantly.
Todoroki’s nerves ebbed, just for a moment, and his mind filled with a pleasant white static. Before he realized what he was saying, the words tumbled from his lips.
“Midoriya, I’m in love with you.”
The weight of his words filled the clearing. Midoriya inhaled sharply, shoulders and chest rising. His eyes widened, still staring at Todoroki.
“That’s what I wanted to tell you.” Todoroki added afterwards quietly.
“Oh…” Midoriya sounded shocked, more than anything, and Todoroki’s stomach sank. “Are you… confessing?”
Mechanically, Todoroki nodded. Confessing, that made it sound almost juvenile, a shallow approximation for the depth of his feelings. But, that seemed to startle Midoriya more than anything and a bright, sticky flush had begun to rise from his throat. He shrank into his jacket and his breathing grew shallow.
It was awkward, far more than he had imagined, and he watched Midoriya's eyes dart across his face.
He made Midoriya uncomfortable.
From a young age, Todoroki had known how to lose a fight. He knew how to curl his body and roll with the blows to make them less painful. But even those years of pain couldn’t quite prepare him for how the silence hurt more than a gut-punch.
Face smarting, Todoroki couldn’t look at Midoriya anymore. He ducked his head, tugging his hair over his scar, and rehearsed words bubbled up to his lips.
“This doesn’t need to change anything. I don’t want you to be… creeped out or anything. I’ll still be your friend-”
He wasn’t prepared for Midoriya to barrel into him. Strong arms wrapped around Todoroki’s middle and crushed the air out of his lungs. Midoriya’s forehead banged into his chin and his hair smushed into his cheek. Off-kilter, Todoroki stumbled backwards and they crashed painfully into the grass.
Midoriya’s weight pressing down on him made him go still.
“No, Todoroki-kun. I’m not- I’m not rejecting you. Please don’t make that face.” Midoriya’s voice trembled and oh, Todoroki could feel his own eyes begin to water.
The blood pounded loud and heavy in his ears. He could feel Midoriya’s knees digging into his thighs and his back hurt from the fall, but in this moment, held down by Midoriya’s weight, he didn’t want to move. As Midoriya nosed into his collarbone, Todoroki tentatively rested his hands on Midoriya’s back. His fingers could trace the outline of Midoriya’s shoulder blades and it made him shiver.
Staring up at the dusk sky, being crushed under his friend, Todoroki muttered, “… it’s okay. Sorry about springing this on you.”
“I wasn’t expecting… I never thought- ” Midoriya mumbled and his grip tightened to the point Todoroki heard his own bones creak. He didn’t seem like he intended to let go. The front of his shirt feels damp as Midoriya exhaled heavy and shaking into the cotton.
Todoroki couldn’t help himself. Shifting, he dropped his face into the crook of Midoriya’s neck and breathed, pressing his mouth to the exposed freckles on his skin there. Midoriya smelled of linen and sweat and shower gel and it made Todoroki go lightheaded.
Then Midoriya gasped, pushing himself up to hover over Todoroki, and Todoroki jerked back.
“S-sorry.” Todoroki didn’t recognize his own voice, cracked and strangled. Being under the boy he had liked for so long like this, with Midoriya’s strong, scarred arms braced around his sides, made his heart pound so hard that it hurt. The flush on Midoriya’s face turned deeper.
“I-it’s okay. It wasn’t bad.” Midoriya mumbled. He scrambled backwards on the grass and offers Todoroki a hand, “Sorry for pushing you.”
“It’s okay.” Todoroki echoed as Midoriya’s strong grip pulled him up. Even afterwards, however, Midoriya refused to left go of his hand and he stares at him. Holding hands wasn’t something they had done before, but Midoriya’s scarred fingers slipped naturally around Todoroki’s. If his heart wasn’t pounding at the moment, he might have been able to enjoy the sensation a bit more.
“I… I never expected you to have those types of feelings for me.” Midoriya muttered again, staring at their joined hands with a type of fascination that made Todoroki squirm. “C-can I ask how long?”
Todoroki thought this might be worse than waiting for Midoriya’s response. He cleared his throat and spiked cold into his cheeks to keep his face from turning hot. “A-a long time. Maybe over a year.”
Midoriya made a pained wheezing noise and squeezed his hand. “I had no idea. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. I mean. I didn’t expect you to.” Todoroki didn’t particularly want to get into questions of sexuality and late night realizations about who looked at who, so he let out a deep sigh. Then, he untangled his hand from Midoriya. That was enough, he thought. If he heard another apology from Midoriya, he feared he might start crying.
As he stood back up, however, Midoriya looked at him, confused. “Where are you going?”
“Back to the dorms. We’re going to miss curfew.” Todoroki was careful to keep his voice neutral. He could already see it - they would walk back together and Todoroki would say good night in the elevator and maybe he could make it back to his room without anyone seeing him. Then the break would start and Todoroki would have some time to shove his feelings back down before he had to see Midoriya again.
Something flashed in Midoriya’s eyes and his expression changed to something calculating. Then he sighed and gave Todoroki an exasperated smile. It was a little shaky, but it lightened Todoroki’s heart regardless. “You always do this. Confront me and then leave. I haven’t responded yet.”
Todoroki blinked in surprise, even as he automatically reached out to give Midoriya a hand and pull him to his feet. It was an old habit leftover from training.
Once again, Midoriya refused to let go of Todoroki’s hand and he stepped forward until their chests were almost touching. Todoroki could practically see the thoughts whirling in Midoriya’s head as he lifted his chin to stare at Todoroki in the eyes. It almost looked like a challenge and Todoroki didn’t budge, even if the intensity of being watched made the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
“You don’t have to respond. I-I’m not looking for a relationship. I mean. We have one.” Todoroki was never normally this tongue-tied and he hated it. But he shouldered on, goaded by Midoriya’s furrowed brow and sweaty grip. “I’m grateful to be your friend, Midoriya. Just because… I’m in love with you doesn’t have to change that.”
“I think we should try though.”
Thrown off kilter, Todoroki froze. Then his sense returned to him and he huffed.
“Midoriya, you don’t like me.” He replied, incredulous, even as his traitorous heart started picking up again, against his better sense. Midoriya was looking up at him, offended, and he still hadn’t let go of his hand. “You’ve never-”
“Of course I like you.” Midoriya snapped and seeing his angry determination up close made Todoroki shut his mouth. Then, growing flustered, Midoriya finally averted his gaze and his voice softened, “In fact, you’re one of the most important people in my life. I just haven’t even thought about d-dating, or think I would ever have a chance with my best friend. I mean. You’re you, Todoroki-kun, and I’m me.”
Midoriya’s thumb had begun to stroke Todoroki’s knuckles and it was horribly distracting. Todoroki let out a shaky breath and the icy vapor ghosted over Midoriya’s hair. He could barely get the next few words out. “But you want to try…?”
“Sorry, this probably doesn’t make any sense.” Shyness fully overtook Midoriya now and his shoulders hunched as if he was trying to make himself smaller. “I don’t know what I’m doing. You could do a lot better-”
“That’s bullshit.” Todoroki croaked and there must have been something desperate in his voice, because Midoriya looked up, mouth slack, and flushed.
“You really like me?”
“You’re serious. ...Of course you are, you’re Todoroki-kun.”
Todoroki groaned. He was starting to think someone must have used their quirk to make embarrassment contagious, because he had never been so mortified. Hiding behind his gruffness, he looked to the side. “Yeah. You’re killing me, Midoriya. I can’t just… keep saying it.”
When he looked back, however, Midoriya beamed up at him despite his watery eyes. Todoroki’s bruised heart jumped into his throat as their hands loosened.
Then Midoriya was throwing his arms around Todoroki again with a big grin. In his embrace, Todoroki melted.
“I want to try with you, Todoroki-kun. I do like you. So much.” Midoriya murmured, voice thick with emotions, and for the third time, Todoroki’s world shifted beneath him.