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quid pro quo

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Todoroki is intrigued by the concept of pet names.

 

Affection seems to come so naturally to Izuku, the way he kisses Todoroki to communicate everything from “thank you” to “well done” to “good night.” Or the ease with which he praises things Todoroki has never considered particularly commendable, like his performance in training or the bright contrast of his hair.   Or that genuine look of delight he gets whenever Todoroki enters a room. Everything Izuku does seems to say, over and over, “You’re important to me. I want to be with you” Todoroki doesn’t remember ever feeling this cared for in his life. The feeling warms him from the inside out, radiating from his chest all the way down his limbs and flushing his skin.  It’s something like euphoria.

Todoroki, in turn, tries to express his affection for Izuku.  Although he doesn’t pull it off nearly as effortlessly, there are small things.  Waking up early to make Izuku tea in the morning has become a daily routine. Todoroki has smiled more at Izuku in the past two months than he’s ever smiled before in his life.  If he’s feeling especially brave, he’ll be the one to initiate a kiss. But it’s not enough. Izuku needs to know Todoroki cares for him to his very core, with everything that he is.  But the tender words and relentless affection that come so easily to Izuku seem to elude him. He wouldn’t know where to begin, or how to phrase things, or how to make his eyes shine, warm and loving, the way Izuku’s do.

Which brings him, then, to pet names.

Todoroki thinks of them as a sort of shorthand.  One word, just a nickname, that he hopes will communicate the affection he otherwise struggles to express.  True, there’s a chance Izuku won’t like it, that he’ll find it silly and embarrassing, but Todoroki at least has to try.  He’ll take any risk if there’s even the slightest chance of it making Izuku happy.

Todoroki’s been running through potential options, but finds he doesn’t like most of them.  “Baby” and “babe,” for instance, strike him as infantilizing. Izuku is not a baby, and Todoroki doesn’t understand why calling him one is supposed to communicate affection.  He worries “honey” and “dear” will make him sound like a middle-aged man addressing his spouse, so those are out. He’s not outright opposed to “my love,” but neither of them has actually spoken the words “I love you” yet, so that’s still risky territory.  After a few days of deliberation, he finally settles on “darling.”

Perhaps it’s a bit old-fashioned, but it communicates what he wants to say—that Izuku is precious to him.  It’s romantic without being corny. Out of all of the options, it seems like the safest bet.

The problem then becomes using it.

Todoroki wants to reduce the chances that Izuku will react poorly to the pet name, so he determines some conditions for trying it out.  He won’t use it in the presence of anyone but the two of them in case Izuku gets embarrassed. He’ll wait until Izuku is feeling especially affectionate towards him.  He’ll tack it onto the end of an innocuous, casual phrase so it doesn’t seem like he’s thinking about it too hard. Generally motivated by deadlines, he makes himself promise to try it by the end of the week.

An opportunity arises on a Thursday night, when Todoroki and Izuku are studying in Izuku’s room.  The two of them are sprawled on Izuku’s bed, Izuku lying at the head and Todoroki seated perpendicular at the bottom, Izuku’s feet resting in his lap.  It’s such a simple thing, Izuku’s ankles against his thighs—hardly the stuff romance novels are made of—but Todoroki finds it dizzying. Izuku’s touching him even as they work on separate tasks, completely at ease, almost as if the contact is somehow comforting.

Todoroki’s having trouble focusing on the Biology flashcards he’s attempting to make.  This opportunity is perfect to try out a pet name, the one he’s been waiting for. They’re alone, they’re comfortable, the mood, like Uraraka and Asui had told him all those weeks back, is just right.  He begins folding and unfolding the corner of a flashcard, heart rate picking up and breath going shallow. He’s going to try it. Izuku may be disgusted or offended or angry, but he’s going to try.

Todoroki scoots off the bed, doing his best to remain calm.

“I’m just going to run to the bathroom,” he says, hoping his voice doesn’t come out too strained.

Izuku looks up at Todoroki with his wide, earnest eyes, and then takes his hand and kisses it gently.  Todoroki’s stomach drops low into his abdomen. This constant, casual affection is always the most overwhelming kind.  Will he ever grow accustomed to it.

“Don’t be too long,” Izuku says.  There’s a pencil tucked behind his ear.  Why is that so endearing?

Todoroki takes a deep breath.  He’s going to do it. Now. He’s going to try.

“Can I get you anything while I’m up?” He asks, completely chickening out.

Come on, you coward.  It’s not that hard.

“Do you mind filling up my water?” Izuku asks, holding out a grey plastic bottle to him.  Todoroki takes it.

Now.  Do it now.  Just say it.

Todoroki swallows.  He takes a deep breath, heart beating a frantic staccato rhythm against his ribcage.

“Of course, darling.”

Izuku’s eyes go wide and his cheeks turn bright pink.  He simply holds Todoroki’s gaze for several long moments, absolutely silent.

The silence drags on longer and longer, stretched taut like a rubber band about to snap.  It wasn’t right, Todoroki realizes suddenly, insides going heavy and cold. He shouldn’t have tried it.  He’s just so new at this, and it’s all so difficult and confusing, but that’s no excuse. He should’ve known Izuku wouldn’t like to be called something like that.  He should’ve made the right choice. Will Izuku be mad at him now? How can he possibly begin to fix this?

Todoroki breaks his gaze, unable to look at Izuku’s shock, and probable disgust, for even a moment longer.

“I’m sorry,” he manages, voice stilted.  “I just thought… I mean, I was trying to—”

“Wait, what?” Izuku says, somewhat breathless.  “Why are you apologizing?”

Todoroki doesn’t understand.

“For what I said.  It… it wasn’t right.”

Izuku stands up from the bed and takes Todoroki’s face in his hands.  His smile is just a slight, soft thing, but it slows the frenetic beat of Todoroki’s heart.

“You are so cute,” he murmurs, and kisses the corner of Todoroki’s mouth.  “But you can be so clueless.”

Todoroki’s head is spinning.   Isn’t Izuku upset? Why the sudden affection? He has no idea what’s going on, hardly knows up from down.  It must show on his face, because Izuku explains.

“It was really nice, okay?  I was just surprised, but in a good way, because it was so sweet.  You didn’t do anything wrong. Alright, darling?”

Darling.

Todoroki’s heart seems to skip a beat.  He tries to gather his thoughts, tries to respond, but all he can manage to think, echoing over and over again, is “darling.”  His chest is expanding, or perhaps it’s contracting. He can’t really tell, can’t be sure of anything right now.

“See?” Izuku says, smiling and still cradling Todoroki’s face, his touch so tender it’s almost agonizing.  “It felt like that.”


 

It’s funny, the way Todoroki and Izuku’s routines have so quickly become inextricably entwined.  From Todoroki greeting Izuku with a cup of tea each morning to Izuku’s daily kiss good night, their waking hours weave together and apart and back together with an effortless grace.

Every evening, they meet in Izuku’s room, sometimes to watch a movie, sometimes just to talk, sometimes simply to read in each other’s company.  It’s Todoroki’s favorite part of the day, something the two of them share, quiet and peaceful, just enjoying the comfort of each other’s company after a long day.

Tonight they’re lying side by side on Izuku’s bed, idly scrolling through Twitter, occasionally showing the other a funny post but otherwise quiet.  It’s miraculous, the way Izuku’s presence improves any moment, even without having to fill the silence. Simply being near him is enough.

They’re touching, as they always seem to be in each other’s presence, Todoroki’s arm wrapped around Izuku’s shoulders and Izuku’s head resting on his chest.  The weight of Izuku’s head is so comforting against him, rising and falling slightly with his every breath.

Without any prompting, Izuku turns and curls up on his side, his back to Todoroki.  For a moment, Todoroki’s heart sinks. Izuku doesn’t want to touch him any more. It’s reasonable, of course.  He hasn’t really done anything to earn Izuku’s affection today, so he can’t simply think himself entitled to it.  But it’s disappointing nonetheless.

Until, after a second or two, it dawns on him.

Izuku wants to be held.

At least, he thinks that what he wants, for Todoroki to fit his front against Izuku’s back and hold him as close as he can manage.  Todoroki can’t know for sure and he might be guessing wrong, but he trusts Izuku to forgive him if he makes a small mistake.

Slowly, giving Izuku every chance to stop him, Todoroki turns on his side and moves closer to Izuku, pressing close behind him and wrapping an arm around his waist.

And then they’re cuddling.  Spooning, really. It’s absolutely blissful.  The solid warmth of Izuku against his chest releases a tension he didn’t know he’d been holding, leaving him more relaxed than he’s ever felt.  The warmth below his sternum seems to leak out between his ribs, like afternoon sunlight filtering through trees. Could Izuku feel it, the soft, comforting glow he’s certain is emenanting from inside of him?

Todoroki wraps his arm tighter around Izuku’s waist.  Like this, he can keep Izuku safe from anything, can protect him from all the hurt and horror in the world.  He wants to fall asleep like this every night, to go to bed knowing Izuku will be safe as he sleeps.

“Shouto?” Izuku asks, breaking the silence.  “Can I ask you something?”

“Of course,” Todoroki murmurs.  Holding him like this, he doesn’t think he can refuse Izuku anything.

“I’ve just been wondering for a while, at the Sports Festival, why did you tell me all of that?  About your family, I mean. I’m glad you did, of course, because that’s how we got to know each other, but I just wasn’t sure what prompted it.”

Todoroki’s quiet for a long moment.  He’s asked himself the same question.  He hadn’t ever told anyone about his father, or his scar, or his childhood.  And he’d suddenly bared it all to Izuku without a second thought. He’s pondered it over and over, so he tries to give Izuku the most honest answer he can manage.

“I think,” Todoroki begins, “I’d been carrying it around inside me for a long time without telling anyone.  And I was about to burst from the pressure of it. I needed to tell someone, and you just have this aura about you.  I don’t know how to describe it, but I think it just makes people feel safe. I felt like I could tell you, so I did.”

Izuku doesn’t say anything for a while.  Was that the wrong thing to say? Just as Todoroki’s about to try to apologize, about to try to make amends for whatever transgression he must’ve committed, Izuku he turns to face Todoroki, his eyes damp, and kisses him, soft and tender.

“I really make you feel safe?” He whispers, almost disbelieving.

Todoroki can’t help but be honest in his answer.

“I don’t think I’ve ever felt safe before, but with you, yeah, I do.”

Izuku kisses him again, but this time there’s a passionate urgency behind it, and Todoroki knows exactly where the rest of the evening is headed.