Shouto doesn't have many pleasures in life outside of Land of Heroes. He doesn't have enough freedom for them; his life is one anonymous car ride after another, following in the footsteps of a father he'd rather ruin than resemble. It's pathetic, but he's twenty-one years old and the only close friends he's made since the age of ten are from a video game where he plays a half-healing, half-DPS character named ShoutO in romaji. Not Shouto, like his name; ShoutO. His friends call him Shao.
"Half-and-half loser, hey!” Ground Zero calls. That’s right; one friend calls him that too. “Some help here?"
Shouto stops mindlessly lobbing death magic at the annoying mobs crawling around. Ground Zero is kiting the boss, running around slinging grenades and cantrips, and the fact that he has its full attention doesn't slow him down despite the fact that he’s a glass cannon meant to let the tanks tank. In other words, if Shouto doesn't switch from DPS to healing very soon, Ground Zero will eat it.
"Stop drawing its attention for five seconds," Shouto says, already switching forms.
Ground Zero is as annoyed as Shouto had hoped. His raspy voice is always sexy, but it’s especially good when it’s sharp with annoyance: "I didn't ask for a hot tip, I asked for some fucking healing."
"Kacchan?" Deku asks sweetly.
"Yeah?" Ground Zero says. There's a rough brand of softness in his tone. He is Kacchan to his boyfriend Deku, and to his boyfriend Deku alone.
"Please stop drawing its attention for five seconds," Deku says, making Shouto snort. "I'm trying to pull it."
"Fuck off!" Ground Zero says, but there's a laugh in his voice. Deku often makes him laugh. You can see the affection between them plain as day in the streams they do together—which Shouto has watched extensively. Shouto knows what they both look like, their real names, and all sorts of details of their daily lives—while they don’t even know who he is.
Shouto’s form-change to healer completes. He blasts Ground Zero with restorative magic, earning exactly zero thanks, but the momentum shifts not long after. They continue on with the rest of their party slamming the boss as hard as they can, and the boss drops—unlike the loot their guild was hoping for.
"Another night wasted," Ground Zero says. "Our luck is terrible. Those boots are never going to drop; we ought to just give up until Day-Bright releases."
"Time together is never wasted," says their alchemist Uravity cheerfully. She works at the same streaming company Deku and Ground Zero do, called YuuEi, and he knows her well enough to know she’d be singing a different tune if she was the one needing the rare drop. He agrees with her nonetheless.
"Easy for you to say," Ground Zero snipes. He’s not wrong; Uravity is fully outfitted. His voice gentles: "Sorry, Half-and-half. Next time. Day after tomorrow, maybe?"
"I thought we were meant to give up?" Deku teases. “You’re so kind and self-sacrificing, Kacchan. My hero!”
"I'm seriously going to murder you in your bed," Ground Zero says.
"In our bed," Deku says, followed by sounds of a scuffle. Shouto smiles through it.
Deku and Ground Zero recently moved in together, to the delight of some of their fans and the consternation of others. They talked about the moving process in their latest stream of some dumb platforming game they've been playing together for over a year. Deku—real name Midoriya Izuku—had looked flushed and happy, eyes glinting with mirth. Ground Zero—Bakugou Katsuki—had kept his joy strapped down, but during the stream he couldn't stop grinning at every dumb thing that happened.
Shouto had watched in jealous enjoyment, loving their love and… wanting it, too. Wanting that for himself. He's still not sure who he wants; when he consults his feelings they seem to answer both of them, which makes no sense at all.
It's not like it matters regardless. In their real lives Bakugou and Midoriya are two guys with all the freedom in the world, slowly finding success with their startup—and Shouto is a politician's son who can't seem to go anywhere without cameras snapping. There's nothing he can bring to their real lives except a whole lot of inconvenience and speculation; online is all he has. This guild—which fused with his old one over two years ago—is all he has.
"Are you nervous for tomorrow?" Froppy asks the scuffling pair when they rejoin.
"Why would we be?" Ground Zero asks, at the same time as Deku squeaks out a "yes!"
"I am so jealous," HardasRock says. "Getting to play games with Yagi Toshinori? What the hell?! How are your lives real?"
Shouto sucks in a breath. "I obviously missed something. What's this about?"
HardasRock groans. "Those two and their meet-and-stream. They're meeting the father of the entire AllPlay empire and playing Jump Jump Life with him. How have you not heard this?"
"When?" Shouto breathes.
"Tomorrow at three PM," Uravity says helpfully. "Tune into the livestream, please! I want us to hit front page on DoubleTap."
"Of course you'll hit front page with that," Shouto says. Yagi Toshinori—the game developer slash philanthropist—has been Shouto’s hero for over a decade. He's everyone's hero. Shouto knows better than anyone that someone’s public image doesn’t always match their private life, but Yagi is the real deal.
Shouto’s dad hates him for an endorsement he refused to make years ago. That would have cemented Shouto’s love for him if a thousand other things hadn’t already.
“Does that mean you’ll watch?” Deku asks. He sounds excited—like Shouto watching is important.
“Of course I will,” Shouto says. “Who’d miss it?”
“Really?” Ground Zero asks.
“Why do you sound so surprised?”
“Yeah!” Uravity says. She’s the business-minded one of the lot, as well as being a popular streamer. “What gives, Bakugou?”
“He’s been busy as shit!” Ground Zero says. “It’s been two days since he could even play with us; why the fuck would he waste his time on our stream?”
“You say that like it’s not good entertainment," Froppy says.
"I know it's good entertainment, but it's not some totally unmissable thing—Shao can just watch the recording afterwards if it's so fucking important. No rush."
"I'll watch it live," Shouto says. He's meant to be sitting next to his father at a baseball game pretending an interest in sports tomorrow at three, but for Yagi—not to mention Bakugou and Midoriya—he'll pretend to be sick, or something.
"You really don't have to," Deku says, like Shouto doesn't want to.
"Guys!" Uravity yells. "Stop telling him not to watch it! What part of 'DoubleTap's front page' don't you get?"
"I'll watch," Shouto repeats. "I'm a huge fan of Yagi's. And Deku, of course."
"Fuck you!" Ground Zero says, and the group laughs. Shouto grins as he teleports back to town and says his goodbyes.
It's nice to have something to look forward to.
The ZeroDeku stream loads just fine via 4G. Of course, Shouto had planned to watch it on WiFi, but his dad threatened to force Shouto’s mother to come with him if he didn't, so here he is: at a baseball game, one earbud in, making good on a promise.
Not like he'd miss this for the world, anyway. He just hopes the buffer of a businessman and his daughter between him and his dad will be enough to disguise the fact that he's watching something on his phone instead of the game in front of him.
He forgets where he is the moment the stream starts. There they are: Bakugou and Midoriya, sitting next to Yagi Toshinori in a studio with gaming chairs. Midoriya is bright red and sweating, his smile manic, while Bakugou's frequent glances at Yagi betray his disbelief that the man beside him is really there. Yagi, meanwhile, has lost weight since the accident. The hollows beneath his eyes are pronounced—but not more so than his famous smile.
"Hello!" Deku squeaks out. "Welcome to the coolest episode of ZeroDeku yet! Kacchan and I are here with Yagi Toshinori, the father of AllPlay. Yagi-sama—it's so good to meet you. We're both huge fans."
Yagi folds his giant hands together. "Then we're mutual fans. I've enjoyed every stream you and your friends have put out."
Midoriya's soul leaves his body more or less visibly, and Bakugou takes over.
"That's enough talk," he says, falling back on his impatient persona—but his eyes gleam. "Are you ready to play Jump Jump Life?"
"Young Bakugou—I believe I was born ready."
The businessman and his daughter are enough of a buffer for the duration of the stream, but if Shouto thought he was getting away with his inattention after the baseball game concluded, the news cycle to follow cures him of that misconception. Headlines roll in.
CelebWatch: Twitter user @Todo4Life46 documents 'politician prince' Todoroki Shouto's long moment of inattention.
Is Todoroki Shouto a gamer? GAME online asks. Heir to the Todoroki fortune spotted watching a stream at Crait baseball game.
BaseBoss is less excited: Todoroki Shouto ignores baseball team The Rust Buckets in favour of video game event.
There are more—lots more. But Shouto stops looking. His father will have heard from one of his people by now, and there’s probably a screaming match to come once Todoroki Enji emerges from his study and whatever phone call is providing Shouto with a stay of execution.
Ah, well. It was worth it.
“It’s like the cherry on top,” Deku is saying when Shouto logs on the next day. “Do you think we can send him a loot basket from the studio?”
“Idiot,” Ground Zero replies. “He probably just stumbled across the video somehow, or he’s a Yagi Toshinori fan. No way he watches our stream normally.”
“Hey guys,” Shouto says, his cheeks hot. He’s not a hundred percent sure, but he thinks they might be talking about him—the real him, not ShoutO.
“Hey!” Deku just about shouts, overexcited. “Did you watch?”
“I did. You guys were great—and Yagi-san was just as kind as he always seems.”
“He really is like that,” Ground Zero says. “Just a really nice guy. I kept trying to trip him up into saying something mean but it’s impossible.”
“He told him embarrassing stories about me,” Deku says. “How I invited him to my birthday party when I was seven, and cried when he didn’t come, then cried again when my mother made a card she pretended was from him.”
“I know,” Shouto says, even though he doesn’t mind the blow-by-blow. “I watched the stream.”
“Ah!” Deku says. “I forgot that was on air. God, that’s even more embarrassing.”
“And,” Uravity says, “To top it all off, Todoroki Shouto was spotted watching the stream at a baseball game.”
Shouto is too warm beneath his expensive clothes. “Is that a good thing?”
“Well let’s see,” Uravity says. “A handsome guy with a huge following of people with obsessive personalities was spotted watching ZeroDeku. All his fans online didn’t rest until they found the stream, watched it themselves, and then watched the backlog. I only wish it had happened at a different time, so we could tell which numbers are from Yagi-san and which ones are from Todoroki-san.”
“The numbers are ridiculous,” Ground Zero confirms.
“You make it sound so mercenary!” Deku says. “Isn’t it exciting Todoroki Shouto knows we exist?”
“Why?” Shouto asks, once he can get his mouth to work. “What has he ever done for society? All he’s famous for is being famous.”
Ground Zero laughs. “Wow, did he piss in your breakfast this morning or something?”
“You guys are a bigger deal than he is,” Shouto says.
Deku seems to be choking. “That’s—that’s…!”
“Ridiculous,” Ground Zero finishes for him. “That dude is worth thousands. He could earn more money than we do in a year by wearing… I don’t know, a specific shirt.”
Shouto doubts that, but he still doesn’t know how that makes him better than the people he admires. Why would even Ground Zero be deluded by society’s stupid perception of him?
“It’s not just that!” Deku says. “He’s funny, and charming! He doesn’t talk much, but whenever he’s in the news he’s just so… I don’t know. He’s really funny, but people don’t seem to realise it. Watch the ‘deadpan Todoroki Shouto’ collection on YuuTube and you’ll see what I mean.”
It makes no sense for Deku to admire the useless son of a two-faced politician. Shouto finds himself frowning at his screen, watching their position in the arena queue. It doesn’t move; they seem to be waiting for HardasRock to return from somewhere. The ‘player afk’ switch is toggled. They could talk about this until they get bumped from the queue for taking too long, and Shouto still wouldn’t understand.
“Deku has a crush,” Ground Zero says helpfully.
“I don’t!” Deku splutters. “I just… shut up, you think he’s pretty too.”
“Obviously. The whole world thinks he’s pretty.”
Deku exhales hard enough for his mic to catch it. “Yeah. But then, there’s more to it. Besides being pretty and famous, he seems like a genuinely down-to-earth guy. And now he watches our stream? Of course I’m flattered.”
“I’ll contact his people for comment,” Uravity says. Shouto’s stomach—filled with confused butterflies at the guys he likes calling him pretty—plummets. Right, comment.
One of his dad’s people is already busy drawing up an apology for his behaviour at the baseball game. It’s unlikely to highlight how much he loves ZeroDeku. He’ll probably have to act like he committed treason, but now he’s learned his lesson and understands that national secrets are important and shouldn’t be sold to enemy countries. It’ll be sickeningly personality-less, because that’s what he needs to be to survive in his dad’s world. It’s what he needs to be to keep his mother from suffering any more than she has.
He stares at their position in the queue. He has to do what his dad says—doesn’t he? Even Shouto doesn’t want to ruin everything his dad worked for. His policies for the country are good; he’s just a terrible person behind the scenes, obsessed with legacies and appearances. A good person would put the country’s needs before his own.
It’s never seemed like both could be possible—that Shouto could challenge his father without ruining him. But if it is possible…
If it is possible, he’d like to try.
Shouto is used to being on camera, but it tends to be at events. Rallies, red carpets, those kinds of things, where he can walk away when he wants to be done. Even being on camera there is the exception, not the rule; he normally just gives his comments to reporters after news stories break, and leaves it at that. This time his father has pulled out all the stops; Shouto is meeting the coach and a few players of the Crait City Rust Buckets.
On camera, after a game. Why anyone would give a shit is beyond Shouto’s area of expertise, but he has a list of highlight moments to comment on so it’s clear he’s followed the team’s progress.
The game ends—Shouto watches the whole thing—and after half an hour, he meets with some of the team as threatened. There are three film cameras, and a semicircular table where the selection of players sit with Shouto. Everyone is in high spirits; the Rust Buckets won, and everyone’s pleased the news cycle will change from Todoroki Shouto disrespects team to Todoroki Shouto is okay, actually, and also the team won.
The cameras start to roll, and Shouto does the thing his dad wants him to do, mostly. Makes nice with the players, discusses highlights—but he doesn’t apologise. Not yet.
“It seems like you’re a baseball fan after all, Todoroki-kun,” says the coach. The coach resembles a walrus: plump, with a thick beard and moustache. His smile is cautious; he wants this to go well.
“I am,” Shouto says. “I’m so sorry for the other day. It was the worst timing; I shouldn’t have gone to the game, but I thought I could do both.”
Shouto smiles, pretending this is all natural. No thought went into it at all—no, of course not. “I love sports, but I never watch a game I’m really excited for prerecorded. Do you?”
“Live is always best,” a player says. “I hate knowing the score before I start watching.”
“Yeah,” Shouto says. “So unfortunately… I was excited for that stream, and it was airing at the same time as the game. Two of my favourite streamers were playing with Yagi Toshinori. I needed to see it live, without editing."
"You're a gamer, Todoroki-kun?"
Shouto holds up his hands. "Not like the people at YuuEi, but I like watching them."
"This entertainment company of streamers and creatives. You should check them out…" Shouto waits, meeting the players' eyes in turn with a manufactured glint of humour. "...but maybe not during a game. I hear that doesn’t go well."
The players laugh. The joke lands—and Shouto sits back, hoping he managed the tightrope. He’ll have to wait and see to find out.
"Is he our entire PR department?" HardasRock asks that night in team chat when Shouto logs in for a raid. "Are we paying him? Ochako, pay him!"
"He's too rich to pay," Uravity says. "He can count it as charitable work."
"Hey guys," Shouto says.
"Shao!" Deku says. "Did you see what Todoroki Shouto said about us?"
"No," Shouto says. He earns a laugh from Ground Zero.
"We're some of his favourite streamers!" Deku says.
"Congratulations," Shouto deadpans.
"I sent him an email asking for a meet-and-stream, but he hasn't responded yet," Uravity says.
"You did?" Shouto asks, surprised—but then, of course that email wouldn't come through all the way to him. How can it, when she's going through official channels? Video games aren't part of the image his dad wants him to cultivate. "I'm surprised he didn't respond."
"Probably went to spam," HardasRock says. "My gym's emails always go to spam, even when I mark them as not spam."
No one asks why HardasRock wants to read emails from his gym; they move on.
"He probably has someone filtering his emails," Shouto says. "You could contact Creati for his personal contact details."
"Creati has Todoroki Shouto's contact info?!" Deku asks.
Shouto's old guild leader from before the merger is a childhood friend of his. Yaoyorozu hasn't played in a few months because she's traveling, but she should still have access to the internet.
"I think she mentioned him once or twice,” Shouto says. “Sounded like they were close."
"That's insane," Deku says.
"You really think I can bug him twice without putting him off?" Uravity asks.
Shouto feels a flutter in his belly at the thought of being invited to a ZeroDeku stream. She could send him a hundred duplicate invites and he’d still say yes. "If he's annoyed by that he won't survive streaming with those two."
"Hey!" Deku says, laughing. Ground Zero sighs theatrically.
"I'll ask if she has his details," Uravity says. "Thanks!"
"You won't be thanking him when Deku embarrasses himself on live camera," Ground Zero says. He sounds like he's savoring the thought.
"That's part of the appeal," Uravity says, businesslike as ever. "Just as long as you don't have a jealous outburst, Bakugou."
"Hey, I wouldn't kick Todoroki Shouto out of bed either," Ground Zero says. "We can share."
Shouto's entire body goes tight with something insanely pleasurable and insanely awkward. He doesn't mean that, he reminds himself. Deku and Ground Zero are a team, a pair, and two is company.
"Let's see if he replies to my next email before you start scattering rose petals around your bedroom," Uravity says. "Maybe he'll be too shy."
Ground Zero snorts. "That guy doesn't have a shy bone in his body."
Shouto closes his eyes. Ground Zero is right; he isn't shy—and when he's nervous, he doesn't show it outwardly. Meeting Deku and Ground Zero in the flesh might be the one thing that breaks his mask of neutrality.
There's nothing for it. Nothing could make him miss out on meeting the two guys he's been in love with for a year; not his own nerves, and certainly not his father.
He wonders what he should wear.
A week later finds Shouto self-conscious as anything, riding a train north-east like he knows how to use public transport. He doesn't know, not for sure, but he searched the internet extensively, and he hasn't found it too challenging thus far. He can't say the same for staying unrecognised. Despite the surgical mask he wears and the hood covering his too-famous hair, people's eyes follow him, and he's seen a few different groups taking covert pictures.
Oh well. His dad will find out where he is soon enough, and it's not like he can swoop down and kidnap Shouto off the streets—not without risking an image he's worked hard to cultivate. Shouto makes it off the train unassailed, and then there's a bus, and then he can walk the rest of the way, past a few small businesses with dingy shop fronts. Travel agent, furniture store, take-out place with sticky-looking orange tables…
Then Shouto sees the familiar YuuEi logo above a nondescript doorway, and his heart starts to hammer. He pulls down the mask, rolls up his earphones to stick them in his pocket, and pushes back his hood. Big breath in, big breath out—
He reaches for the door a moment before it opens outward. He jumps back, and finds a surprisingly short green-haired guy staring up at him.
No: Midoriya Izuku. Midoriya Izuku's eyes are wide as dinner plates, and his face is starting to fill with red-hot blood. He remembers to close his mouth after a long moment.
"Todoroki-san!" he gasp-squeaks. "You're early!"
Why had Shouto thought he could do this? Midoriya is too cute. He’s short, and his face is as cute and expressive as it is in streams, and he smells delicious. Shouto should never have come here; now he won’t know how to leave.
He puts these thoughts away and nods. "It took less long than I expected to get here."
"C-c-come in!" Midoriya says, moving aside.
"Aren't you leaving?" Shouto asks.
"I was just going to get some air!"
The high pitch of Midoriya's voice is even cuter in person, with Midoriya looking up in that way that's way too flattering. It makes Shouto feel like he’s someone special.
Shouto waits. Doesn’t Midoriya still want that air?
Midoriya gasps a breath before gesturing. "But now I've had my air, and I'm good, and you're here! Please come in?"
A hand pushes at the door above Midoriya, so Midoriya is no longer holding it open with his body. Shouto looks at the hand, then lets his gaze travel slowly down the wrist, arm, shoulder…
Yes. That nice-looking hand belongs to none other than Bakugou Katsuki, who somehow exudes raw aggression and a faint air of welcome at the same time.
"He was coming out to glance up and down the street a full thirty minutes before your expected arrival," Bakugou reveals ruthlessly, earning an indignant squeak from Midoriya. Bakugou's Ground Zero-patented growly voice sends shivers through Shouto's bones. "Then again, here you are, early, so maybe it wasn't that ridiculous."
Bakugou extends a hand. "Hey. I'm Bakugou Katsuki."
Shouto shakes it, palm tingling. "I know." He doesn't want to drop Bakugou's hand, which is cracked-earth-in-the-desert hot, for some reason—but the thought of touching Midoriya is enough of an enticement to let go for now.
Midoriya's hand is sweaty, which he apologises for profusely. Shouto grips it with a smile.
"It's good to meet you both," Shouto says. "I've been a fan for a long time."
This prompts Midoriya to laugh somewhat hysterically. "You don't have to say that! Haha! No way!"
Bakugou places a hand on Midoriya's shoulder; Shouto imagines the heat of his palm. "Calm down, dude," Bakugou says.
"Not sure why you’d care about me caring," Shouto says, looking from one to the other. Recognise me, he wills them. "I'm only famous for being famous."
Bakugou's mouth opens a little, then closes. Midoriya's eyebrows rise—but the connection doesn't get made, not audibly.
"I'm surprised you feel that way," Midoriya says. "You're always so…!"
"Smart…?" Midoriya finishes, when Shouto lets the silence lengthen awkwardly. Shouto barks a laugh, then holds a hand to his mouth.
Bakugou looks at him, head tilted. Those red eyes are startling in real life, but Shouto’s the last person to point out someone else’s weird genetics. He shifts his weight, wishing he could just… move past this moment. That he could somehow be theirs, and have them be his, and have that be okay. It seems like an impossible want, but with Midoriya and Bakugou large as life in front of him and watching him like that, it’s impossible to suppress it. He remembers what they said about him being pretty, that Bakugou wouldn’t kick him out of bed—and Ochako’s joke about the rose petals sprinkled about their bedroom.
If they extended the invitation, could once be enough? Could he live with being a sometimes-fling, just so he could be closer to them?
He puts the thought from his mind and flicks his eyes at the hall behind them.
“Shall we play?” he asks.
His crushes nod as one, relaxing slightly. This part they know how to do.
Shouto follows them into the studio.
The stream is easier than talking to Bakugou and Midoriya off-camera. Shouto knows how to act when he’s being recorded, and that lens taking him in helps him put a layer of something between him and the world—but then the cameras turn off, and his heart starts hammering again. It’s just him and the two guys he likes in a little room he recognises from countless DoubleTap streams.
“Was that any good?” he asks, even though he knows it was. Bakugou and Midoriya were charming as hell, and his own mouth hurts from smiling—which means a lot of the stream will end up in some stupid compilation. He hasn’t laughed like that since… well, he’s not sure. Probably some amazing day in Land of Heroes, with the same people, plus the rest of the guild.
“I think Ochako will want to employ you,” Bakugou says, cheeks tinged pink. He rubs his mouth.
“I want to employ you,” Midoriya says, something fey about his eyes. It sounds like a proposition, and Shouto chokes on a breath while Bakugou shakes Midoriya’s shoulder.
“Dude,” Bakugou says.
Midoriya snaps out of it, and flushes red. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I didn’t mean...”
Shouto aches as he grins, unsure what to say. Probably I’m Shao and we’re friends already would be a good place to start, but his throat is thick with all the things he wants and can’t have.
Midoriya doesn’t finish his sentence. He glances at Bakugou, who shrugs.
“There’s something familiar about you,” Bakugou says, turning to Shouto. His gaze is measuring.
Midoriya nods, squishing his hands between his knees with his shoulders rounded. It’s an adorable posture, especially when he looks up with that open face of his. “You feel familiar to me too.”
“Good,” Shouto says.
Bakugou cocks his head. “Good?”
Shouto takes a deep breath. He can’t quite fill his lungs, because anxiety is giving him heart palpitations, but he gets enough oxygen to sort of supply him for now. “Yeah. Good. I wouldn’t want to think I wasted all those hours in the Beast’s Forest saving your asses week after week.”
Two pairs of eyes focus on him, hard.
“I didn’t know how to tell you,” he adds.
“Tell us what?” Bakugou asks, sounding like he’s being choked. The temperature in the room fluctuates wildly.
“That we know each other,” Shouto says. “I thought you’d recognise me when I got here, but then—why would you? I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to trap you.”
The silence is thick as Bakugou and Midoriya process his words, which must seem nonsensical—and then Midoriya’s eyes go wide and teary.
“Shao?” he says, voice trembling. Shouto’s heart feels like it might burst.
“Hey,” he says.
The tears in Midoriya’s eyes spill over. He scrubs at them while Bakugou stands up to loom over Shouto, grabbing his shoulders.
“Shao?!” he says.
“Yeah, I’m sorry, I—”
His words fall away to nothing when Bakugou moves to hold his face in those cracked-earth hands. He licks his lip and meets Bakugou’s stare.
“What am I good at?” Bakugou asks.
Shouto blinks. “In the game? Drawing fire when you’re not meant to. Deku is the tank; you need to let him—”
“Fucker!” Bakugou says. His eyes are bright like Midoriya’s were before crying, and he seems to be laughing even while he’s cussing Shouto out. “You fucker!”
Midoriya is still crying outright. “I knew you were so secretive for a reason!”
“We thought you were just really pathetic in real life, maybe,” Bakugou says. He reaches behind himself for Midoriya and pulls him halfway across the floor. Midoriya thunks to his knees beside Shouto’s chair, still crying.
“This is ridiculous,” Midoriya says. “I can’t believe I fell in love with you twice.”
Shouto’s hammering heart seems to stop, just then. He’ll never breathe again. “What?” he asks with his last gasp of oxygen.
Bakugou drops to the floor too, and suddenly Shouto is sitting in a gaming chair in front of the two guys he likes, looking down at them. They’re so alive and real and right there, close enough to touch.
“What?” Shouto asks again, feeling the blood rush through his ears.
“Deku…” Bakugou says. He looks at his boyfriend, and Shouto doesn’t know how to read his expression. Fond, worried, happy. How can it be all three of those things at once?
“I don’t think you meant to say that out loud,” Bakugou tells Midoriya, and then he smiles at Shouto. “Sorry. Big moment.”
Shouto feels like his insides are being compressed. He doesn’t want to make assumptions, or else he’ll die from them not being true. “Can you please explain,” he says more than asks. His voice feels breathy.
Midoriya looks up at him tearfully. “Shao. And Shouto. How can you be both? I love both.”
“You love Bakugou,” Shouto corrects.
“I do,” Midoriya says. “So much.”
Bakugou strokes Midoriya's back. “We’ve talked about it.”
Shouto doesn't understand what there is to talk about. Midoriya loves Bakugou; Bakugou loves Midoriya. It's a closed system.
He looks down at the two guys he loves on their streams and in their guild. He wonders if he should excuse himself, but he doesn't want to leave.
"I don't understand what's happening," Shouto says. He tries for levity.
Bakugou rubs his face. "God," he says. "Where to start."
"You're really him?" Bakugou asks. "ShoutO? From our guild?"
"You used to call me Half-and-Half Bastard," Shouto says, deadpan as he's ever been. It’s a defense mechanism at this point.
“Shit,” Bakugou says, from the floor. “This is really…”
Shouto waits, but nothing is forthcoming. “Please tell me what this is. I’m dying to know.”
A hand grabs his. Midoriya. Midoriya is still crying, kind of, but it doesn’t seem to be affecting him.
“We just like you,” Midoriya says, holding on. “That’s all. Please don’t think we’re weird.”
Bakugou glances at Midoriya, before holding eye contact with Shouto. “We discussed after game sessions before. Both of us like your voice, and we’ve always felt weirdly close to you, even though you’re so private. So—yeah. Deku is right.”
“You’re weird,” Shouto says. His whole body is pins and needles. “I like you too.”
“You made Ochako contact you for us,” Bakugou says. “You bastard.”
“I’m shy,” Shouto says. Both of his crushes laugh at this.
“Bastard,” Bakugou says, while Midoriya mumbles incoherently.
“You let me talk about how pretty you are in front of you,” Midoriya says. “You were there, on voice chat, pretending like we were talking about a stranger.”
Shouto had been there, on voice chat, dying a thousand deaths. He isn’t sure what to say. Are both of them still standing by their previous statements? Would Bakugou not kick him out of bed? It seems a big assumption to make. People say a lot of dumb shit when they think it doesn’t matter.
“You guys have a weird opinion of me,” he says, trying to swallow both his hope and his fear. “I haven’t done anything good.”
Midoriya is still holding his hand. He squeezes it now. “You grew up in the limelight, and you didn’t let it go to your head. You brush shoulders with famous people every day, and you just… stay cool.”
“Nothing about me is cool,” Shouto says. He hopes Midoriya has forgotten they’re holding hands, so he won’t remember and stop. He’s not sure anyone has held his hand since childhood.
“ShoutO,” Bakugou says, mostly to himself. He looks up at Shouto. “I fucking love you, man. Why do you have to be him, too?”
“Him who?” Shouto asks, his blood oxygen-poor again.
“Todoroki Shouto. The pretty guy who’s on TV too much. The guy sitting in front of me.”
Shouto laughs slightly. “I’m not sure. I ask myself that question all the time—but you two are the famous ones. I’m just…”
Midoriya drops his hand. Shouto hates that; he looks at the guy he’s fawned over a million times, and wants to grab him back immediately. He manages not to.
“You’re cool,” Midoriya proclaims. “Maybe a lot of it is who your dad is, and your looks, but that’s not all.”
Shouto’s stomach twists. “Please don’t tell me to watch a YuuTube compilation.”
Midoriya shakes his head earnestly. “I won’t! I just…”
Shouto waits. He looks at Bakugou, and finds him waiting too. Is this okay? Is it okay that both of them are saying nice things to Shouto in front of each other? This isn’t what TV says couples do. They’re meant to fight for each other, and punch people who get in the way. Why are they just letting Shouto slot into the space they’ve left between them?
Shouto stands, the fire in his veins too much. He can’t take any more. He should just go, and let ZeroDeku be their own thing, and—
Midoriya catches his hand. He’s stood up, and he looks at Shouto earnestly.
“It’s your personality, isn’t it? When all the cameras are gone, the person we see in our guild—that’s who you are. And that’s who Kacchan and I like.”
What kind of like? Shouto wants to ask, but the question is reserved for fourteen year-olds. He can’t ask it.
Bakugou is still on the floor. In fact, he’s spread out on it, lying face-up. His eyes meet Shouto’s.
“It’s not fair that you’re both,” he says.
Midoriya nods several times fast. “It really isn’t.”
Shouto makes to move away, but Midoriya grabs him more solidly. He realises what he’s doing after a moment, and lets go.
“You can go if you want,” Midoriya says. “But—Shao, we’d love to hang out. Both of us.”
“Speak for yourself,” Bakugou says. “I’m not getting up from here. I just found out my friend Half-and-Half Bastard is the prince of politics.”
Shouto huffs a laugh. “I’m flattered you consider me a friend. I think that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“You don’t deserve nice things,” Bakugou says. “You always wait till the last minute to switch to healing.”
Shouto’s chest is warm. “I told you what kind of healer I am.”
“A selfish one,” Bakugou says.
“And you’re terrible at letting the tanks tank,” Midoriya tells Bakugou. “You’re made for each other.”
There’s a silence, and Shouto finds his quiet exhale of a laugh filling it. “And you’re good at being a tank despite me and Bakugou messing things up. You’re the only reason we work, Deku.”
Midoriya flushes red. He’s still holding onto Shouto’s arm—and then his grip relaxes. He lets his fingers slot between Shouto’s instead, and something about his expression clears.
“You mean that?” Midoriya asks.
Shouto glances at Bakugou for an answer. Bakugou moves to a sitting position, leaning back on his hands to look up at them, eyes heavy-lidded like a pleased cat observing its domain. “He better, cause he’s right.”
“I mean it,” Shouto says. He looks between the two of them—the green-haired innocent and the blond tour de force. He can’t imagine liking anyone more than he likes the two of them: ZeroDeku. He’s a fan.
“So you’d be up for more… streams and shit?” Bakugou asks.
It’s the most idiotic question anyone has ever asked. Shouto would walk through fire just to be in the same room as these guys; he’ll fight his asshole of a father for however much freedom he needs to make this happen again. He’ll protect his mother with threats he should have made years ago.
“I’d be up for more streams.”
Midoriya’s fingers are still linked with his. He’s small and intense and expressive, and he smells good—and Bakugou’s hands are like desert earth, and Bakugou’s eyes on him are like being watched by a hungry mountain lion. Shouto wants a hundred things he doesn’t know how to want. There’s no script for being in love with two people at the same time.
“Ochako is going to shit herself,” Bakugou says, sounding pleased. Midoriya mirrors his grin.
“She’s going to be so happy to meet Shao.”
Bakugou laughs. “Shut up. She’s a mercenary piece of shit. She’s going to be happy that Shao is Todoroki Shouto, and our numbers are about to go through the roof. Shit, I’m happy about that too.”
Shouto has never in his life been happy to be who he is. His status, his father, his fame—all of it has been an unwelcome thing thrust upon him. But just now, it feels fine. Just fine.
“When are we going to tell her?” he asks. Midoriya grins up at him.
“I’m not sure,” Bakugou says. “Give me a bit, to work it out. Oh… this is gonna be good.”
Shouto can’t stop feeling the pressure of the hand linked with his, the two stares up at him. His stomach is flipping a million times a second.
He thinks it’ll be good too.