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quid pro quo

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The migraine starts on a Friday in Classical Japanese.

Todoroki knows the signs, the slight dizziness, the way the fluorescent classroom lights are suddenly far too harsh and bright, the nausea beginning to churn in his stomach.  It won’t be long before the pain starts.

Todoroki doesn’t get migraines often, perhaps a few times a year at most.  But they’re always miserable. The throbbing pain just behind his left eye.  The way any light is too bright, or any sound too loud. The vomiting. They’re not unbearable, just extremely unpleasant, leaving him wanting nothing more than to lie still in a dark, quiet room, undisturbed, as he waits it out.

But he has to make it to the end of the school day.  A headache is no reason to miss class or training, so he just has to push the pain and nausea back into a small, quiet corner of his mind, and get through.  Breathe slowly. Focus on something else. Withstand it.

Training that afternoon is a team obstacle course.  The obstacles are courtesy of the Support Course, a slew of trip wires, deep pits, stun grenades, and booby traps.  They’re divided into groups of four, each team running the course separately and vying for the fastest possible time.  It’s a good exercise, combining teamwork, strategy, and physical prowess. On any other day, Todoroki could find himself enjoying it.

But the pain and nausea are too overwhelming.  He does his best to contribute to the strategizing with Aoyama, Uraraka, and Kouda, clenching his teeth and forcing himself to speak deliberately and calmly even as the ground warps and undulates under his feet.  But then the start bell goes off and there’s no time for pain. He has to go. Now.

Endeavor’s training was cruel and brutal, how he hit Todoroki with no intention for him to block or dodge it, just to teach him to withstand the pain.  But today, Todoroki’s almost grateful for it, the way it taught him how to push the pain away when he really needs to. It’s like trying to shut an overstuffed suitcase.  He has to push hard, try to cram the throbbing agony into a small, unobtrusive box and hold it closed tight. It takes an enormous degree of focus, but he’s gotten good at it.  So good that he’s able to keep the pain at bay and remember the plan their team devised and maintain complete control over his Quirk. He’s hardly even shaking as he dodges the obstacles, climbs the ladders, and leaps across the ravines.

Todoroki’s knees go weak when he finally reaches the end and he only barely catches himself before he falls.  He feels like his left eye is going to burst and his stomach clenches and churns dangerously. He forces himself to relax his shoulders and breathe steadily through his nose.  He’s almost done. He’s almost made it. Just wait for the final group to complete the course.

Tokoyami, Iida, Ojiro, and Hagakure finally cross the finish line and the results are tallied and at last, they’re done, headed back to the locker room.  The post-training chatter is grating, making Todoroki’s head throb like a slow, steady kick-drum. But he’s almost there. Reach the locker room. Change.  Vomit in the locker room toilet. Go upstairs and finally lie down in the dark. He’ll make it.

As he’s buttoning back up his uniform shirt in the locker room, Izuku materializes at his side.

“Hey, you wanna have a Mario Kart night?  Loser has to cook the winner whatever meal he wants this weekend.”

Without a second thought, Todoroki answers.

“Absolutely,” he says, smiling slightly at Izuku.  Izuku beams, his whole face shining with it, and kisses Todoroki’s cheek.  Todoroki, despite himself, feels his face flush.

“Great!  I’ll meet you in the common room as soon as you’re changed,” Izuku replies. He lifts his backpack over his shoulder and heads for the door, stopping to flash Todoroki a small smile just before he leaves.

Todoroki dawdles in the locker room, waiting for his classmates to leave so he can vomit in the toilet unquestioned.  He ties and re-ties his shoelaces, fusses with the zipper on his backpack, smooths imaginary wrinkles in his pants. He only has to hold out for a few minutes longer.

Finally, finally, the last student leaves the locker room and Todoroki races to the toilet.  Closing the stall behind him, he kneels down in front of the toilet and stops suppressing the nausea he’s been working so hard to ignore.  He gags a few times, the retches into the basin. The process of vomiting is always extremely unpleasant, but he knows he’ll feel better after.

As soon as he’s finished emptying his stomach and is panting over the basin, a voice calls out.

“Excuse me! Are you okay in there?”

It’s unmistakably Iida, likely having just overheard Todoroki being sick.  He could’ve sworn the locker room was empty, but perhaps Iida came back for something he forgot.  He says nothing, hoping Iida will just leave when he doesn’t get a response.

It’s to no avail.  Footsteps approach the stall and Iida raps sharply on the door.

“Do I need to call a teacher?”

Todoroki knows Iida isn’t going to leave without an answer, so he replies.

“I’m okay.  Just got sick, but I’m fine now.”

Todoroki wipes at his mouth and manages to get to his feet.  He flushes the toilet, then opens the stall door. Iida’s eyes are soft with concern behind his glasses.

“Are you ill?  Do you need to go the infirmary?”

“It’s just a migraine,” Todoroki replies.  “I’ve had them plenty of times before. I’ll be okay.”

“At least allow me to escort you up to your room so you can rest,” Iida says, holding out his arm for Todoroki to take.

Usually, Todoroki appreciates the almost fatherly concern Iida has for every member of the class.  But having just vomited and with his left eye still throbbing, he’s just not in the mood for it.

“Iida, really, I’m fine.  I can get back to the dorms myself.”

Iida pauses and considers it for a moment.

“If you’re certain you can make it,” he replies, “then I won’t badger you any longer.  Just please get some rest.”

“Of course,” Todoroki lies.


“Are you usually this bad at Mario Kart?” Izuku teases.  “You’ve just lost your fourth race in a row.”

Todoroki’s smile is a little strained, but he hopes Izuku won’t notice.  While he doesn’t think he’s in danger of vomiting again, the bright lights and loud sounds of the game are only making the throbbing behind his left eye worse.

“Maybe I’m just letting you win,” he jokes.  It’s something he’s only recently learned how to do, bantering with Izuku.  He finds he enjoys it, the good natured jokes and jabs. He and Izuku trust each other enough to know it’s all in good fun, and Todoroki cherishes it, that effortless familiarity and affection.

“Well if you keep letting me win, you’re gonna end up making katsudon tomorrow night.”

“Guess I’ll stop going easy on you, then.”

Izuku sticks his tongue out and the two of them laugh, warm and light.

“It’s your turn to pick the next course,” Todoroki says.

Izuku chews absentmindedly on his thumb as he scrolls through the courses.  He’s so beautiful when he’s lost in thought, completely oblivious to the world around him, the slightest crease between his eyebrows.  It makes Todoroki’s chest clench in that warm way he’s come to associate with Izuku.

“Todoroki!” It’s Iida’s brisk, sonorous voice from the common room doorway.  “I thought you were supposed to be resting!”

Todoroki’s insides go heavy and cold.

“I’m feeling much better now,” Todoroki lies, keeping his tone neutral and willing Iida to stop questioning him.  Without really knowing why, Todoroki knows Izuku will be upset with him if he learns of the migraine and the vomiting.   At the very least, he won’t enjoy having been lied to, even if only by omission.

Izuku stops scrolling and looks at Todoroki, his eyes gentle and concerned.

“Wait, are you ill?”

Before Todoroki can tell him no, smooth the whole thing over and resume playing, Iida cuts in.

“I found him vomiting in the locker room toilet.  He said he had a migraine.”

Izuku’s eyebrows knit even more tightly together.

“You were vomiting?” Izuku says, somewhat shocked.  “Is that why you’ve been so quiet this evening? And squinting at the TV like the light hurts your eyes?”

“No. I’m really feeling better.” It sounds like a lie even to his own ears.

“Nope,” Izuku says decidedly, getting up and turning off the television.  “You’re clearly still in pain. The last thing you need to be doing right now is playing a video game.  Let me get you into bed with some water, okay?”

Todoroki nods, feeling strangely small, and follows Izuku back to his room.  Izuku instructs him to sit down on his bed and fills a glass of water from the sink.  There’s a slight, unplaceable tension in the air, something Izuku obviously wants to say.  Todoroki picks at his fingernails as he waits for the other shoe to drop.

“Shouto, can I say something?” Izuku asks, sitting beside him and handing him the glass.

This is it, then.  Izuku’s going to be furious that Todoroki wasn’t fully honest with him.  He clenches his fists and squares his shoulders.

“Of course,” he replies, keeping his tone neutral.

“So I don’t know if this was something you learned from your dad, that you’re not allowed to take it easy when you’re in pain, but it’s bullshit.  The last thing you need to be doing when you’ve got a migraine is playing a game with all those bright lights and loud sounds. It’s okay to rest when you’re ill or injured, alright?”

“Okay,” Todoroki replies, a wave of relief cooling him.  Izuku’s not angry, just concerned. “Thank you.”

Todoroki takes a sip of the water and he and Izuku are silent for a moment.

“Unless,” Izuku begins slowly, a look of dawning realization on his face, “this was actually about you not wanting to disappoint me.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Todoroki says.  Somehow, he knows better than to admit to the truth.  It’s a skill he picked up long ago, an instinct for what responses are going to provoke anger or disappointment.  Izuku won’t be happy if he learns Todoroki’s true motivation. He’s sure of that much.

“I mean that it’s something I’ve noticed the past few months—you never turn me down or actually disagree with me on anything.  Not even stupid things, like what movie to watch or which meal is the best in the dining hall. I’ve gotta imagine you’re doing it on purpose.”

Todoroki’s heart begins to race.  Like animals that spook just before a big storm, Todoroki’s learned, at a primal level, to tell when trouble’s brewing.  He has to end this conversation quickly.

“My head really hurts,” he says.  “I think I need to lie down alone for a while.”

“Nope,” Izuku says.  “I’m not letting you get out of discussing this with me.  Just tell me the truth, okay? Are you deliberately avoiding disagreeing with me on anything?  Or ever turning me down?”

This has all the makings of an argument, all the makings of a situation when the violence Todoroki knows he’s been infected with can manifest.  He’s better off answering honestly, ending this quickly so he doesn’t fly into a rage and do something he’ll regret.

“Yes,” he says finally, voice barely above a whisper.

“Okay, then why?”

Todoroki imagines telling Izuku the truth.  “I knew I could hurt you. I knew I’d been infected.  I was doing everything in my power to avoid infecting you too.”

Then he imagines Izuku’s response.  The betrayal, the shock, the hurt. “You knew you could hurt me and yet you didn’t leave.  You’re selfish. You’d put me at risk just to have something you want. How could you?”

No, that won’t do.  He can’t tell Izuku the truth.  He’s certain of that much.

“I don’t really want to talk about it,” he says finally.

“Did you think I’d leave you if you disagreed with me on anything?  Is this, I don’t know, some kind of fear of abandonment thing?”

Todoroki’s shaking now.  It’s hardly perceptible; he learned a long time ago how to shake without anyone noticing.

“Izuku, I don’t want to get into this right now.”

Izuku stands up and begins pacing the room, agitated.  Todoroki stands as well. He’s not sure why he does it, but this doesn’t seem like the sort of conversation he can have sitting down.

“Do you realize what kind of situation that puts me in?  If you never tell me ‘no,’ think of how easy it would be for me to hurt you.  You can’t have absolutely no boundaries. That’s insane.”

For the first time in this conversation, Todoroki is sure of his answer.

“You’d never hurt me.”

“You’re not listening to me!” Izuku says, voice raised slightly. “If you never tell me ‘no,’ I’m going to hurt you.  Period. It’s inevitable. I’m bound to do something you’re not comfortable with, and I’ve got to know you’ll stop me.  You were willing to cause yourself even more pain tonight just to avoid turning me down. I’ve got to know you’re going to draw a line somewhere.”

The room seems to spin slightly, and Todoroki’s pretty certain that’s not just the migraine anymore.  He thought this was the safest possible route, refusing to disagree with Izuku. That was the way not to hurt him, to prolong their relationship, to keep him safe.  But it wasn’t. He’s only gone and made him upset. His stomach goes cold and hollow. He did it wrong. There are going to be consequences, he knows that. He did it completely wrong.

“Izuku, I don’t want to have an argument.”  Even he can hear the desperation in his voice, the plea to stop this immediately.

“But that’s the thing— we’re not having an argument .  Even now, you’re not really arguing with me.  You’re just trying to avoid having this conversation.  You’re not choosing ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ It’s just ‘none of the above.’”

Todoroki’s chest heaves up and down as if he’d just run a mile.  He can’t quite breathe. The room’s getting smaller and tighter, and the air is slowly seeping out of it, leaving him choking on nothing.

Izuku’s facing slightly away from Todoroki now, as if he can’t bear to look at him.  Todoroki supposes he deserves it.

When Izuku speaks, his voice is soft and a bit broken.

“Okay, answer me honestly.  Worst case scenario—if I asked you to have sex, and you weren’t ready, would you tell me no?”

“You’d never ask me to do something I wasn’t ready for.”

Izuku spins back to face him and throws his arms down with a frustrated groan.

Todoroki doesn’t mean to react the way he does, but Izuku is angry with him and he moved so suddenly and Todoroki’s already terrified so he doesn’t mean it, he shouldn’t do it, but he flinches back, hands flying up to cover his face.

Izuku stops dead, his eyes wide and disbelieving.  Todoroki’s insides go hollow. He’s made an enormous mistake.

“Did you think I was going to hit you?” Izuku asks, voice soft and pained.

“No,” Todoroki says hurriedly.  He’s digging his own grave, deeper and deeper with everything he does.  “Of course I didn’t. I know you’d never do that.”

“But you jumped.  You went to cover your face.  How else am I supposed to interpret that?”

He wants to tell Izuku “I didn’t think you were going to hit me, but I’ve never made a mistake this big and not gotten hit, so I didn’t really think it would come from you, but it had to come from somewhere.  And I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry because I know you wouldn’t hurt me and I shouldn’t have suggested that. I’m just so scared. Please forgive me.”

But the words won’t come.  He simply stands there, shaking slightly and trying desperately not to cry.

“What the fuck, Shouto?” Izuku whispers, betrayal and hurt and pain twisting his voice almost past recognition.  He pauses for a moment, taking a breath. “I’m gonna go. I need some time to myself to think, okay? I just need to be alone for a bit.”

And with that, he leaves the room, shutting the door behind him.

Todoroki can’t breathe.  He doesn’t know what he’s feeling, just that it’s far too much, the pressure of it squeezing his insides. It’s filling him up so that he doesn’t have room for air, winding around his heart so that it can’t beat right, flooding his stomach so that he worries he might be sick.  He’s full of something, something agonizing and infectious, a black, thick tar that’s quickly overtaking him. He wants to grab just below his sternum and tear himself open, let his guts spill out on the floor, in the hopes that this unbearable pressure will subside. He hardly notices the migraine anymore.  It's nothing compared to this overwhelming, all-consuming pain.

He gasps, trying to pull air into his suddenly useless lungs, and stumbles over to his bed, only just making it before his knees buckle.

Todoroki learned at a very young age not to cry.  He remembers all the times his father loomed over him, shouting that heroes didn’t cry, that Todoroki was pathetic and worthless and weak.  Endeavor always threatened to really give him something to cry about, and if Todoroki couldn’t manage to stop the tears, his father made good on that promise, leaving Todoroki, still sobbing, with a bloody nose or split lip.  So he learned, very early, to will away tears, to clench his jaw, squeeze his fists tight, and swallow down hard. He last remembers crying when he was seven years old.

But the dam breaks, and for the first time in nine years, he’s crying, his entire body shaking with the audible sobs.  It’s a desperate sound, like a man drowning, gasping for air. He grabs his pillow and holds it to his face to try to muffle the sobs.  He orders himself to breathe, to calm down, to stop acting like such a child, but it’s useless. His years of training, of learning discipline of his body and mind, are nothing in the face of this pain.

Izuku is leaving him.

It’s all he can think, echoing over and over in his head.  Izuku is leaving him. Izuku doesn’t want him anymore. Todoroki tried so desperately to this right, and he failed.  And there are consequences for failure. So Izuku is leaving him.

He can’t remember what Izuku said when he left, perhaps something about having to go.  But the look on his face when Todoroki flinched? The betrayal and hurt etched into his every feature?  Todoroki remembers that. He knows, from that one look, that Izuku doesn’t want him anymore. He curls in on himself, tighter and tighter, as if he could get small enough simply to disappear.

Eventually, the hysteria subsides.  Todoroki imagines a person can only cry that hard for so long before he simply runs out of the energy for it.  But while not sobbing, his eyes still leak tears consistently.

He lies awake all night, staring at the ceiling.  He tries to read a few times, or to play a game on his phone, but he can’t focus.   The pain is too intense, radiating through his ribcage and weighing down his limbs. He makes himself get up and drink a glass of water a few times during the night, trying to replenish what he’s losing through his tears.  But mostly he simply lies on his back, looking at some unfocused sport just beyond his nose. Time has lost its meaning. Has he been lying there for an hour? Or three days? It’s only the eventual lightening of the sky that gives him any idea.

Todoroki finally checks his phone.  It’s seven AM. He might as well get up and get ready for the day.

His movements are mechanical and slow as he changes out of his uniform into clean clothes.  His limbs seem to be twice their normal weight.

He pulls on his shoes.  No point in dawdling any longer.  He’ll go down to the dining hall and have breakfast. It’s Saturday, so if he’s this early, he’ll likely miss Izuku.  Or perhaps he should be Midoriya now. Todoroki isn’t sure he’s still permitted to use his given name.

He’ll think of it as a mission, just part of his heroics training.  Avoid Midoriya. Stay in his room as much as possible. When in public, don’t cry.  This is a training exercise. Perhaps the hardest he’s ever done, but an exercise nonetheless. He can do that.

Taking a deep breath and schooling his face into a neutral expression, he heads downstairs.