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quid pro quo

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Todoroki doesn’t know if he’s ever been to a movie theater before.  Perhaps his mother took him when he was very young, but it’s far too long ago to remember.  Certainly his father never permitted him such frivolities. It was an enormous risk even to try to sneak in some cartoons on a Saturday morning, so such an outing would have been completely out of the question.  But now that he’s finally here, he finds the cinema almost glamorous. The enormous posters outside advertising upcoming features. The overpowering aroma of salty, buttery popcorn. The neon lights and excited chatter.  He balks slightly at paying 850 yen for a ticket (Izuku informs him that they’re usually over 1,000, but matinees are less expensive), but he finds himself enjoying the experience all the same.

He’s especially enjoying being here with Izuku.  On his first actual date. With his boyfriend. Those two thoughts give him a slight thrill, his heart racing and his palms sweating from a strange cocktail of excitement and terror.   He tries to remember what Asui and Uraraka told him. It’s really no different than their usual casual hang outs. It simply has a different label. Don’t overthink it.

He can do that.  He kept his cool fighting the Hero Killer in a back alley, his friends broken and bleeding beside him.  He can stay calm for one tiny date.

“Do you want a snack?” Todoroki asks, nodding towards the bright, enticing counter stocked with every kind of candy imaginable.  Even though he can’t remember ever having been to the cinema before, he knows popcorn and candy are staples of the experience.

Izuku tilts his head, considering it for a moment.

“That’s okay.  Movie theater food is really overpriced.”

“It’ll be my treat.”  Todoroki relishes the words as he says them.

“You really don’t have to,” Izuku says hurriedly.

“I know that.  But I want to.”

And it’s true.  He does want to.  Being able to spoil his boyfriend, even a tiny bit, is one of the great joys of their relationship.  Todoroki’s only a high-school student, so he can’t do anything particularly lavish, but he uses any opportunity to make Izuku happy.  The other morning, he had woken up ten minutes early just to have a cup of tea ready for him when he got out of bed, and Todoroki had treasured the soft, sleepy smile Izuku had given him as he took the mug for the rest of the day.  So buying him some candy at the theater, giving him something sweet and good, is the sort of opportunity Todoroki leaps at.

“If you’re really sure,” Izuku says.  And of course Todoroki is.

Izuku is right.  The box of sour gummy candy Todoroki buys him is far more expensive than the convenience store equivalent, but the smile Izuku has when he eats one and the kiss he presses to Todoroki’s cheek in thanks are more than enough compensation.

Izuku leads him into the darkened theater and they take a seat about halfway back.  The chairs are large and comfortable and the screen is enormous, playing a preview for an upcoming action film.  Izuku keeps offering Todoroki some of his candy, holding out the open box to him, and while Todoroki doesn’t usually permit himself this much sugar, he takes one every time.  Izuku is offering, after all, so how can he refuse?

The lights eventually go down and the chatter subsides as the film begins playing.  It’s an action comedy Izuku had chosen. Todoroki had left the decision to him, as he didn’t really watch enough movies to have an opinion.  Izuku clearly has good taste; the film is very entertaining. The jokes are original and timed well and the fight scenes are exciting, although Todoroki finds himself criticizing the choreography just a bit.  You’re really supposed to kick with your toe, not the flat top of your foot, to inflict the most damage, but he supposes he can begrudge the actors a few imperfect moves now and again.

Todoroki imagines that if he had to choose one sound to listen to for the rest of his life, it would be Izuku’s laughter.  His small giggles at the jokes are like a fizzy drink on a hot day—sweet and bubbly and light, satisfying a thirst Todoroki didn’t know he had.  Illuminated by the screen in the darkened room, with a smile crinkling the corners of his eyes, he’s somehow even more beautiful than ever.

As an onscreen explosion lights up the theater, Izuku reaches over and takes Todoroki’s hand in his own.

Todoroki doesn’t know why his heart begins to pound the way it does.  He and Izuku have held hands plenty of times before. But something about doing it in public, surrounded by strangers, makes it all the more intimate.  It’s a public proclamation of their affection. Not only does Izuku like him, but he likes him enough that he’s comfortable with other people knowing. The thought warms Todoroki’s cheeks.

He gives Izuku’s hand a small squeeze.  Todoroki imagines he knows Izuku’s hand as well as his own by now.  The protrusions of his knuckles, the slight bulge of his veins, the rough, uneven scar tissue.  He must have memorized all the textures and shapes by now. He’s certainly tried to.

Todoroki isn’t sure what to think of the scars marring Izuku’s hands.  On one hand, they speak to Izuku’s unending selflessness, his determination to save Todoroki despite hardly knowing him.  They mark the beginning of their friendship. They are the best of Izuku. On the other, they are a sickening reminder of what Izuku will endure on his behalf.   He will break himself for you, they say.   You have already hurt him.  You know you will continue to.   They are the worst of Todoroki.

Todoroki knows he should leave Izuku.  He tells himself that at least he tried to, that when he realized his feelings for Izuku he made an attempt to keep his distance.  But he is selfish. He wanted Izuku, and it only took a quick press of Izuku’s lips to his own for him to decide to indulge himself.  Every moment Izuku spends alone with him is like leaving him alone in a room with a wild, dangerous animal. Every moment they are together, Todoroki is putting him at risk.  He knows this, and even so, he can’t bring himself to walk away.

Todoroki shakes his head slightly, attempting to banish the thoughts.  He owes it to Izuku to be present during their time together, not ruminating over the inevitable instance in which he hurts him.  He strokes his thumb over Izuku’s hand and tries to bring his focus back to the film and the warmth of Izuku’s hand in his own.


 

Izuku’s hand is still clasped in his as they walk out of the theater.  Todoroki is almost giddy. He can touch Izuku whenever he wants, can take his hand as they walk together.  It’s miraculous.

“Did you enjoy the movie?” Izuku asks.  There’s a slight crease between his eyebrows that means there might be something more to this question, but Todoroki answers honestly.

“Yeah, I did.  It was really funny.”

Izuku is worrying his bottom lip with his teeth, but he says nothing.

“Okay,” Todoroki says, because he knows that look, “what are you really trying to ask me?”

Izuku looks at the ground, watching their feet move in unison.  After a few moments, he lifts his head.

“I just…” he begins, then stops again.

Todoroki doesn’t push him.  He’ll give Izuku all the time he needs.  Izuku breathes deeply, then continues.

“Don’t take this the wrong way, okay?  Because it’s not a criticism.”

“Okay,” Todoroki replies, stomach clenching slightly.  He thought the date had gone quite well, but he must have done something to upset Izuku.  He suddenly feels far too hot

“You just didn’t laugh at all, or even smile.  And that doesn’t bother me or anything. You shouldn’t have to express your emotions in a certain way just to please me.  But I just want you to know you can. You can laugh or smile or cry anything else around me. Any of that is okay. So it’s fine if you don’t want to emote or anything, but I want you to know that around me, you can.  I want you to know you’re safe to do that.”

Izuku looks back down at their feet, a blush coloring his cheeks.  He’s so painfully earnest, so intent to make Todoroki feel at ease.  Todoroki’s chest seems to clench at that. No one’s ever gone to such lengths to let him know he’s safe.

Izuku is right; Todoroki learned at an early age to suppress any outward display of emotion.  Although he spent most of his childhood terrified, looking frightened only made his father angrier, screaming at him about how he should never reveal what scared him to an opponent.  So he schooled himself to stop shaking when withstanding his father’s wrath. His mother cried every time he took a hit in training, so he quickly learned to mask his pain, to withstand blows silently to avoid upsetting her any more.  Even smiling and laughing meant trouble. One evening, his father overheard him giggling over a book alone in his room, and dragged him back into the training room to fight until he collapsed. Too much joy clearly meant he wasn’t training hard enough.  No matter the emotion, it was safer to maintain total composure.

But around Izuku, perhaps he could feel freely.  Izuku would comfort him if he was sad or scared, or share his happiness or excitement.

Just not anger, he reminds himself sternly.   Feel whatever you want, but Izuku is not safe if you are angry around him.

“Okay,” Todoroki says finally.  “Thank you.”

He turns to Izuku and smiles, just to test it out.  It’s not a big, exuberant grin, just a slight raise of the corners of his mouth, but Izuku laughs delightedly and pulls Todoroki in for a kiss.

Izuku steps back, eyes bright and grin broad.

“A smile looks good on you,” he says, and quickly pecks Todoroki on the cheek.


 

Izuku’s head is resting on Todoroki’s shoulder on the bus ride back to campus.  From his steady breathing, he appears to be dozing. Todoroki is somewhat perplexed; they’re out in the open, practically snuggling in view of the entire class.  And Izuku isn’t ashamed to be seen with him. Of course Todoroki is proud to be Izuku’s boyfriend, a small, prideful part of him wanting to flaunt their relationship to everyone he encounters.  But that’s because Izuku is kind and strong and smart and beautiful. But Todoroki himself is disfigured and socially inept and not particularly well liked, so he can’t understand why Izuku is comfortable displaying his affection.  But he decides not to question it. He’ll just enjoy the closeness while he can, before Izuku comes to his senses.

The sky outside is dark, only a few rays of sunlight still peeking past the horizon.  Todoroki is sharing Izuku’s headphones, some soft pop song playing in his right ear.

“Look at Todoroki and Midoriya,” Hagakure stage-whispers from the seat beside him.  Todoroki’s eyes are closed, so she must think he’s asleep. “Isn’t that adorable?”

Ashido keeps her voice low when answering.

“Yeah, it’s pretty cute.  But who would’ve guessed? I know they’ve been close since the Sports Festival first year, but I didn’t expect them to start dating.”

Todoroki stomach goes hollow.  Of course they wouldn’t expect it.  Midoriya deserves so much better. Todoroki always knew it, but apparently it’s obvious even to the rest of the class.

“I know,” Hagakure replies.  “I mean, Todoroki is so smart and focused and intense--”

“Not to mention gorgeous,” Ashido interjects.

“Exactly,” Hagakure continues, volume picking up slightly in her exuberance.  “Everything about him is just so hot. Half the class has a crush on him.  But Midoriya…”

“I know.  I mean, he’s a really nice guy and all, but he’s kinda plain.  And he’s so awkward and nervous and kinda nerdy. I just never would’ve paired the two of them together.”

Anger bubbles in the pit of Todoroki’s stomach.  He opens his eyes and turns his head, careful not to jostle Midoriya, and glares at the two girls in the seat beside him.  Ashido’s dark eyes go wide and the two of them devolve into giggles. Ashido is hiding her face behind her hands, and Hagakure appears to be doing the same.

“Sorry, Todoroki,” Ashido whispers through her laughter.  “We thought you were asleep.”

“This is so embarrassing!” Hagakure says, turning to bury her face in the bus seat.  Todoroki doesn’t quite understand why, seeing as she’s invisible, but perhaps it’s simply an innate human response to embarrassment.

Todoroki closes his eyes again, jaw clenched.  He doesn’t understand how Ashido and Hagakure can be so incomprehensibly wrong.  Todoroki is not hot. He is certainly not “gorgeous.” A quarter of his face is disfigured by a bright red, massive burn scar.  How on earth did they get to thinking he was remotely appealing?

But even more infuriating is their assessment of Izuku.  Plain? Izuku is beautiful, all wide eyes and bright smiles and freckles like constellations on his skin.  And perhaps Izuku does occasionally get anxious, but he’s so much more than his blushing and muttering. He is the bravest, kindest, strongest, most incredible person Todoroki has ever known.

Could the rest of the class also be so misguided, thinking that Izuku was the one who had gotten lucky?  Todoroki couldn’t bring himself to believe that. Certainly Hagakure and Ashido were the exceptions. The others must see the arrangement for what it truly is.

Todoroki turns and presses a kiss to Izuku’s mess of curls.  His hair smells slightly of peppermint. He rests his head on top of Izuku’s and allows his eyes to droop closed.  Slowly, he too begins to drift off, lulled into sleep by the comforting weight of Izuku against his side.