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Hesperides

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“Are you all right?”  

Your face had filled Todoroki’s vision as you held out your hand to him.  

A robbery had gone south in a crowded bank.  It was pure luck that Todoroki just happened to be in the bank, and as he was wearing civilian clothing, he was not recognized by the criminals until after he hurled focused blasts of snow and knocked them out.  Unfortunately, one of them had evaded the attack and managed to fire his pistol at Todoroki.  The bullet only grazed the Hero, but it bought the robber enough time to grab a child out of her mother’s hands as a hostage.  

Todoroki scowled at the masked man and considered his options; whether he used fire or ice, there was too great a risk of hitting the young girl.  

Then you had stepped forward, calling the robber’s focus on yourself with a firm, clear voice.  Keeping your palms up, you slowly approached him, pleading that he let the girl go so that he would not make things worse for himself.  Todoroki stared in disbelief over your brashness, but he saw that the confidence in your eyes was not for show.  He also noticed a faint smell in the air, something pleasantly sweet, but also something rather pungent...

The robber’s behaviour began to change.  The tension drained from his body, and the frenzied look in his eyes dissipated.  When things reached a point that you seemed to be waiting for, you flicked your wrist out towards the man, and a small object embedded itself in his arm--a thorn.  There was a flash of confusion and outrage in his eyes, then it was quickly snuffed out as he let go of the girl and dropped to his knees.  You ran over to the girl and brought her back to her mother, kicking the pistol away as you did.  

With that taken care of and the police rushing in to take the man into custody, you had approached Todoroki and reached out to him.

“You’re wounded,” you pointed out, nodding to his bloodied arm.  

Todoroki glanced at the injury.  With a detached curiosity, he realized he’d forgotten about it.  “It’ll be fine,” he said.  “I can get it fixed up later.”  

“Now is better than later,” you said, kneeling down to take hold of him.  A pale green glow emanated from your palm, and when the light faded, Todoroki saw a small bunch of thin, green stems covering the wound.  You tied your handkerchief around the fresh poultice and knotted it with practiced ease.  

“That smell,” Todoroki said.  “It’s the same from earlier.”  

You smiled.  “That’s lavender oil--it’ll help disinfect the wound while the yarrow will stop the bleeding.  What I used earlier was a mix of lavender, clary sage, and marijuana.”  

“Marijuana?”   

“I know, I know, it’s illegal as hell in Japan, but I needed something to calm the guy down, and it has more than its fair share of therapeutic applications.  The thorn I stuck him with was coated in opium poppy milk, so he won’t be getting up anytime soon.”  

“You’re a Hero,” Todoroki said absently.  

You giggled.  “So are you.”  

“What is your Quirk, exactly?”  

“Green Thumb,” you replied, and you held out your hands as if you were a scale.  The faint glow returned, and leaves, vines, and flowers emerged out of your body.  “I can make plants and flowers, or control ones that are already growing nearby.  If the situation calls for it, I can take on certain properties of a plant as well, like improving my tolerance to heat and drought by mimicking the structure of cacti and succulents.”  

“Sounds useful.”  

The growth stopped, and the posture of some of the plants drooped a bit.  “Sometimes,” you said modestly.  “I’m not the most adept for combat, and I’m not as energetic in the winter because of the lack of sun so I only Hero part-time.  But I help where I can.”  

“Don’t sell yourself short,” Todoroki said.  “You saved that girl when I couldn’t.  And you helped me.”  

You smiled.  A small, pink dahlia bloomed at your shoulder.  “I guess I did.”  

Todoroki looked at his makeshift bandage.  “I’ll clean this up and return it.  How… how can I find you?”  

“I work at a place in the neighbourhood--it’s a flower shop called Hesperides.  You can usually find me there.”  

You both stood up and dusted yourselves off.  This moment, this whole situation, was weird and uncomfortable to Todoroki--but he wasn’t especially in a hurry to let it end, either.  

“What’s your name?”  

“Shouto Todoroki.”  

“Codename?”  

“...Shouto.”  

You laughed.  “Just your name again?  But it suits you, in a way.”  

“What about you?”  

“What about me?”  

Todoroki frowned at your response, your impish expression.  Were you teasing him?  “What’s your name?”  

You told him.  The unbidden thought occurred to Todoroki that it was a nice name.  

“Your codename?”  

“Gardenia.”

****

“Todoroki-kun!  I saw you on the news just now—good job stopping that bank robbery!”  

The Hero Association Headquarters was the Heroes’ equivalent of an administrative office, meeting room, and member’s club.  Heroes could hang out and mingle, as well as submit reports on incidents both resolved and pending, and discuss strategies on how to handle certain villains, or find another Hero that could complement their own powers and weaknesses to possibly form a partnership.  

As usual, Midoriya was overflowing with enthusiasm when he saw his former U.A. classmate, and as usual, Todoroki was more or less immune to it, though still gave a polite nod to the heir of All Might’s powers.  

“Oh, yeah,” he replied, “but I’m not the one who deserves credit for that one.  The other Hero—she did most of the work.”  

Midoriya’s naturally large eyes became brighter as he remembered that part.  “Oh, yeah!  She handled everything so calmly, and she was just so cool!”  

Ochaco and Froppy showed up in the middle of Midoriya’s gushing, and immediately knew who he was talking about.  “That girl with Todoroki-kun, right?” Ochaco cried giddily, looking between Midoriya and Todoroki.  “She was really pretty, wasn’t she?”  

Froppy nodded.  “Todoroki-kun, you two looked good together, ribbit.”  

Todoroki made a face, not knowing where that comment had come from.  

Midoriya whipped out his well-used notebook and began scribbling something.  “Say, Todoroki-kun, you talked to her, right?  What are her powers like?  The news didn’t really mention anything about her.”  

Todoroki narrowed his eyes and took a slow breath.  He explained the broad strokes of your power, but when Midoriya pressed for details, Todoroki merely told him to ask you himself.  

****

Todoroki did not see you for a while.  His duties as a full-time, professional Hero kept him busy.  As a lifelong ice-wielder, he had the advantage of being far more tolerant of the winter, so he covered the workload for a number of heroes that were vulnerable to cold temperatures.  But at some point after his arm had healed, he decided to visit you.

Hesperides was a small shop, but full of beautiful flowers, pre-made bouquets, and various potted plants.  Todoroki was hardly an expert on floristry, but he recognized quality when he saw it.  Unlike your standard supermarket fare that was cookie-cutter and unremarkable, the arrangements here felt genuine and designed with a real aesthetic flair.  It was now December, so poinsettias, amaryllis, wreaths, and miniature evergreen trees were prominently featured as gifts.  

“You came!  I was wondering when you might drop by.”  

As soon as he heard you talking, he turned towards your voice.  Your worn-out shoes tapped across the floor as you walked up to him.

It was strange.  Your hair was a bit messy, and your eyes had dark circles underneath them.  The apron you wore was dirty around the pockets which bulged and clattered with pruning shears, pens, and scissors, and your jeans also managed to have black and green marks on the knees.  A quick glance at your hands showed fingers that had darkened from handling stems, leaves, and soil—no fancy manicure like Mount Lady or Midnight.  And yet, Todoroki felt far more interested in you than he had for either of those popular Heroes.  

“I came to return this,” he muttered, pulling out the cleaned, carefully folded handkerchief.  

You made a delighted sound and accepted it, thanking him more than what seemed necessary, considering it was something that originally belonged to you.  

“And your arm’s better, I see.”  

“Good as new, yeah.  Thanks for that.”  A beat, then he added, “This is a nice place you have here.”  

“Thank you.  I kind of provide an unfair advantage, but hey, business is business.”  To demonstrate, you held out your fingers to a flat of winter pansies.  The buds flared open to show their purple, white, and yellow faces as if they were saying hello to you.  “Since you’re here, did you want to get anything?  I’ll give you a discount.”  

Todoroki was about to say no when he thought of his mother.  Her room in the hospital was rather plain; it would be nice for her to have something fresh to look at.  “Maybe… Yeah.  Nothing too big, something that would be good in a room.”  

“Sure.  Did you have any colours in mind?”  

Todoroki cast his eyes around the shop.  There were the standard roses, lilies, and carnations, but also plenty of others that he’d never heard of or seen before.  

“Can you do something… white?  Something that would look like snow.”  

Something in his voice touched you.  A wistful fondness, an unguarded instant of vulnerability and emotion.  “Of course.”  

You moved about the shop quickly, picking out flowers and forming a modestly-sized bouquet.  Todoroki watched in silence as your fingers moved everything into position, adjusting the height of each bloom to its right place and giving the arrangement a once-over before presenting it to him for evaluation.  White roses with lisianthus, brunia, and Star of Bethlehem.  Pale blue sea holly added a bit of colour, and Silver Lace dusty miller provided foliage while also resembling the intricate crystal arms of snowflakes.  

Todoroki had never seen anything quite like it.  A bouquet that truly encapsulated the image of winter.  “It’s beautiful,” he said.  “I’ll take it.”  

****

The hospital put its Christmas decorations up as soon as December had rolled around, with tinsel garlands adorning the walls wreaths hung over doors and (fake) trees set in the lobby with presents at their base.  

The staff did not get too intrusive with their decor, just putting a few small star-shaped decals on the window and a snowman figure made out of styrofoam balls on the nightstand.  But when Todoroki had come by previously and saw a red Christmas stocking hanging from the bathroom door, he tore it down and thrown it in the trash.  

He hated red.  

Red was blood.  

Red was pain.  

Red was fire.  

Red was ugly.  

It was the reason that his mother had finally snapped and attacked him all those years ago.  After being so abused by Endeavor and with no one to help her escape him, Todoroki was determined to keep any and every bit of harm away from her.  

“Mom.”  

She turned at the sound of his voice and smiled.  Her smile had always been gentle, but after being around Endeavor for as long as she had, it had faded into something worn and faded, like an old poster on a window.  “Shouto.  How have you been doing?”  

“I’m fine, mom.  Here, I brought you these.”  

"Oh!”  She accepted the bouquet and held it tenderly like it was a baby.  “This is so lovely—it’s like the flowers are made of snow and ice!  Thank you, Shouto.”  

“I’ll go get a vase for them.”  

****

He visited your shop several more times after that, asking for the same sort of arrangement.  Sometimes you made something more focused on greenery with pussy willow, eucalyptus, olive branches and cotton stems, or you incorporated pinecones and conifer sprigs to give an overall rustic and woodsy feel.  If one bouquet had orchids and jasmine, the next might have gerbera daisies with ball chrysanthemums and hypericum.  He did defer to your opinion on some matters, such as not using hydrangeas as they were far too sensitive to heat and dry air, but he always wanted the colour to stay white.  Aside from some subtle accents, you did as he requested.  

It was inevitable that you would end up speaking a little more.  He learned that you did not own the shop, but because of your natural skill and the real owner’s old age, you pretty much had full control of the place.  You still ordered flowers from growers because buying sub-par flowers for cheap and turning them into premium quality ones was much easier than producing them on your own with your Quirk.  Your parents both passed away when you were a child and you had no other family, so you had been self-reliant for a long time.  When Todoroki suggested that this was the reason you had been inclined to become a Hero—to be needed and appreciated by someone—you laughed and said he was probably right.  

“I’m an old pro at being alone,” you said while trimming the stems of some wax flowers.  “I like being around people.”  

“Even that customer who tried to hit on you?”  

You made a face.  That incident last week of a scruffy-looking man awkwardly pretending to be interested in flowers and then trying to get your phone number was one that you would love to forget.  Thankfully it did not get a chance to escalate further, as the man had backed off when you made spiky brambles rise up like snakes poised to strike.  When he turned to see Todoroki standing behind him with a spine-chilling look in his eyes and ice crystals already starting to crisp over his skin, the man had turned and run out of the door like a defeated puppy.

“Okay, I like being around certain people,” you specified.  “ Nice people.”  

“Those can be hard to find,” Todoroki countered quietly.  He wasn’t being argumentative, just factual, you knew.  

“They can be, but they’re around.  I think you’re nice.”  

“Me?”  

The corner of your mouth twitched--you’d spoken without thinking--but it wasn’t untrue.  “Yes, you,” you said softly.  “You’re a Hero, after all, and on top of that, you aren’t doing it for glory or money.  And you keep coming in to buy flowers for someone, so it shows you’re considerate.”  

Tying off a ribbon, you passed the bouquet to him, and he handed you some money.  At the moment of the exchange, your fingers touched and your eyes flew to meet each other’s.  He looked more surprised than you but did not jerk his hand away, instead letting the separation come slowly and naturally.  

“I’ll see you again,” he murmured.  

“Yeah… I’ll be waiting.”  

The little bell on the top of the door resounded loudly in your ears as he left.

****

Todoroki had noticed lately that he was frequently seized by compulsion to reveal more and more of himself to you.  It was a weird and disconcerting development, especially since he couldn’t stop himself despite knowing it was weird and disconcerting.  

Romantic relationships were not a thing he’d ever really dedicated much thought to.  There was lust, of course--he was still a red-blooded male in that sense--but an emotional connection, intimacy, sharing thoughts and fears and dreams?  How could he worry about that when he was busy honing his skills to become a Hero that would surpass his father?  

But you had become entrenched in his mind, your voice in his ears when he heard a female laugh, his eyes falling on a potted plant when he noticed one in a store window.  He paid extra attention to the news for any mention of Hero activity, and tended to stay closer to the area near your shop in case Villains attacked there.  Even his father faded further into the background while you became more radiant like the flowers around you.  

When he’d shown up at the store to see that man pestering you, something unpleasant had churned inside of his chest.  Were it any of his old classmates from U.A. or some other woman, he would have still intervened, but with you there was the additional urge to teach the man that there was no place for him in your life-- ever.  Even after he’d gone, that same urge made Todoroki want to turn to you next, to bring you close and hug you as tight as humanly possible.  

But that felt like a crime.  He didn’t want to ruin something so good, and ice and fire killed flowers.

He was mature enough to know that he couldn’t simply ignore this, and he was self-aware enough to know that he lacked the experience to address it, but he was stubborn enough to not want to ask others for advice.  So he fell into a period of brooding silently, as was his habit, and was this way still when he visiting his mother again with another bouquet.  

“Shouto?”  

“Yeah, mom?”  

“You look a little distracted lately,” his mother said.  “Are you getting enough rest?”  

Todoroki reproached himself silently; he shouldn’t be doing this in front of her, making her worry.  “I am, mom, it’s fine.  Work’s just been a little busy lately.”  

“I’m sure.  There’s always a lot going on at this time of year, after all.  But I’m happy that you’re finding so much time to bring me flowers.  You’ve made me the envy of the hospital, did you know?”  

Todoroki froze and looked around his mother’s room.  The tables, the counters, virtually every flat surface available was home to several vases and arrangements.  He hadn’t paid attention, really--at some point it had become a given that he bring in something as often as possible so that there was something fresh and new.  

So that he had a reason to see you.

“The store I get them from, they give me a discount,” he muttered.  

“I see.  And does this store… also have someone cute working there?”  

“She’s not--I mean she is--”  Todoroki covered his mouth at the words that had spilled forth.  “She’s a Hero.”  

His mother angled her head to see his face better.  “Do you work with her?”  

“No, I just… I happened to meet her.  Her Quirk is controlling plants and flowers.”  

“I thought so.  I’ve never seen more lovely blooms from anywhere.”  She petted the waxy petals of phalaenopsis orchids on her nightstand.  “Does she only work with white flowers?”  

Todoroki shook his head, turning to face her.  “She has every colour there is.  I just ask her for white only.”  

“Why is that?”  

He didn’t answer.  

She already knew why.  She held out her hand to him, and he came to sit on the bed and touched it gingerly.  Her thumb rubbed his.  

“Shouto… I love these flowers.  And I can tell that the person who made these puts a lot of thought into them.  But sticking to just one colour forever is boring, don’t you think?”  

“White is beautiful,” Todoroki replied.  “It’s clean and pure, and bright.”  

“Only because it has the other colours to be compared with.  On its own, it’s blank.”  She squeezed his hand so that he looked at her.  Emotion was shining in her face.  “Shouto… Red isn’t him.  He doesn’t own it.  Don’t keep closing yourself off to other things because of him.”  

Todoroki narrowed his eyes.  “Mom...”  

She smiled.  “Let the snow melt.  Open yourself up.  You just might discover something beautiful.  The next time you come visit, bring me something colourful, okay?”  

****

You stretched and cracked your neck left and right.  There was still ten minutes to go before closing, but the last couple of hours had been slow, so you decided to send the other part-timers home and start cleaning up around the shop.  

“Hi.”  

You spun around and saw Todoroki.  He was dressed casually in civilian clothing, but something felt a little off about him.  

“Hi,” you answered.  “Two weeks since I last saw you.  I was starting to worry a little.”  

“Worry?”  

“That maybe you’d found another florist.”  

“Why would I go anywhere else when I’ve already found the best?”  

You blinked and laughed nervously.  Todoroki’s earnestness had a childlike quality in that he casually said things that would have made so many others blush.  “I appreciate the positive review.”  

“Are you closed?”  

“Ah, no, not yet--did you need anything?”  

“I need some flowers.  But not like the usual.  Not all white.”  

“Oh.”  You sported a coy smile.  “Upping your game, maybe?  What budget are we talking about?”  

He shrugged.  “Doesn’t matter.  I just want it to look amazing.  If it were you, what would you want to receive?”  

Me?  Um, well…”  Licking your lips, you crossed your arms and turned to look at the selection that you had.  “You’ll have to help me a bit, Shoto.  What’s this person like?”  

Todoroki put his hands in his pockets.  “She’s nice.”  

She.  You did your best to ignore the invisible pinprick in your chest.  “I’ll need more than that.  What else?”  

He took a long inhale, giving it some thought.  “Nurturing.  Down-to-earth.  Kind-hearted, but also strong so that she won’t take shit from anyone.”  

You nodded as you went around choosing flowers.  “Is she more the cute type or pretty type?”  

This time the answer came much sooner.  “Both.”  

You were glad to have something to work on--it gave you ample reason to not have to keep looking at him.  “She sounds very special.”  

“She is.”  

“Does she know she’s this special to you?”  

“Not yet.”  

Your ingredients gathered, you began working at the table.  It was difficult to tell how long the process had taken--in some ways it was forever, but it also ended too quickly.  When you were finished, you held it up for Todoroki’s inspection.  

Large coral peonies caught the eye first with their dramatic shape and colour, followed by densely ruffled magenta ranunculus.  Tall, red gloriosa lilies brought a hint of the exotic and the wild, which was balanced out by the classical Juliet, Mondial, and Vendela roses and pale yellow spray roses.  Spanish jasmine, lavender lilac, and white astilbe freely sprung from between the bigger flowers like the arms of fireworks.  

Fragrant, bright, and luxurious while looking natural and effortless.  

“It’s perfect,” Todoroki said.  He paid right away, not even hearing the price you quoted him.  

You wrapped the bouquet with shades of pink rice paper, and tied a ribbon with raffia.  “I’m sure she’ll love it,” you said, handing it to him.  

He accepted it.  “Thanks.”  

There was a beat, then he held the bouquet out towards you.  

Your eyes went back and forth between Todoroki and the flowers, widening each time.  

Todoroki’s lips thinned and he looked down as if he were apologizing.  “I don’t know how to do this kind of thing.  I’ve never done this kind of thing.  But you make me feel strange when I’m around you.  I… I think I like it.  I want to know more about you.  I want to see more colours.”  

He pushed the bouquet into your hands, and you slowly wrapped your arms around it like its touch would keep you steady.  Todoroki was starting to feel stupid and regretful when you spoke at last, a shy smile curving your lips.  

“I want to know more about you, too, Shouto.  And it’s okay if you’re new to this.  We can go as slow as you want.”  

You gently reached out to take his hand, just by the fingers so that he would not be intimidated.  He twitched in hesitation, then closed into a firm grip.  It was warm and nice.  

“Is it… Is it too fast if I wanted to kiss you?”  

You stared at Todoroki.  Was he… blushing?  He was.  Oh god, it was too adorable for words.  

“No,” you said quietly, “it’s not too fast.”  

“Can I do it?”  

“Yes.  I’d like it if you did.”

He squeezed harder on your hand.  You could feel how unsure he was, and that you had to let him know he had nothing to worry about.  Adjusting the bouquet so that the flowers didn’t block your chest, you stepped closer and bent your head up towards him.  

His kiss was so precarious at first, his lips brushing over yours like feathers, but you felt a jolt of excitement course through you that threatened to take your legs out.  He heard you make a small noise of surprise and nearly pulled away, but you kept him in place by bringing your body flush against his.  He became bolder and pushed deeper, contemplating the inside of your mouth but for some reason holding back.  You wondered about it, but decided this moment was too pleasant to interrupt with analysis.  

Opening your mouth just a little, you hummed an invitation, and the sound alone was enough to make him shudder.  The tip of his tongue poked in and was greeted by yours.  The slick warmth was shockingly addictive, and though you both heard him moan from the back of his throat, he broke off suddenly, panting like he’d just dashed up a flight of stairs.  

“I…”  He struggled for the right words.  “I’m sorry.  I did that wrong.”  

“You have a strange definition of wrong, Shouto.”  

He raised his head to you.  

“That was good,” you said.  “Um… Really… really good.  Didn’t you like it?”  

“Yeah...  A lot.  You’re soft… and you taste sweet.”  

You held back an embarrassed laugh, not wanting him to think you were doing it at his expense.  “So, if we both liked it, it’s not wrong, Shouto.”  

Todoroki fell silent again.  Made a fist with his hand, opened it up.  Looked at you for a while.  

It’s not wrong.   

“Can I do it again?  I want to do it better.”  

You smiled wide, your heart fluttering in your chest.  “We can practice as many times as you like.”  

He put his hand on your cheek and closed the distance between you.  

There were still a few more months of winter to go, but in this flower shop, it felt like spring was already around the corner.