Sometimes, on the rare days he allows himself to actually look back on his childhood, Shōto feels as if he’s spent years struggling to breathe.
When he lets himself think about the past, about everything that came before, Shōto feels as if he took the world’s longest inhale the moment his mother’s hand touched that tea kettle and then he just … forgot to let it out.
Like he's been stuck with this burning, breaking, breathless sort of pressure building up inside of him since he was six years old and screaming on the kitchen floor.
Or maybe it goes more like this:
Shōto’s been drowning for as long as he can remember, lungs starving, chest heaving, vision greyed out and turning black just around the edges.
A slow and prolonged sort of almost suffocation.
Dry drowning somehow in the middle of a scalding ocean.
Sometimes when the house is quiet and it’s only Shōto still awake with his aches and the dull moonlight shining down on the koi pond outside his window, he sits in his dark room with its bare walls and just … breathes.
In and out. Rhythmic, comforting, timed to the echoing clap of the shishi-odoshi that sits further out in the garden.
The same one he and his mom used to clap to on quiet days when Endeavor wasn’t home and they could get away with playing the simple little timing game they’d made up together.
But his mother is gone now, locked away out of sight as she has been for years.
Shōto doesn’t clap anymore.
Instead he just breathes.
Sometimes, on the really bad days when his skin feels both too cold and too hot and his scar aches bad enough to make him want to claw at it, Shōto will do the opposite.
He’ll sit there, right beside his window, and he’ll just stop.
Stop moving. Stop thinking.
He’ll sit there with a hand clamped over his own mouth and nose, unseeing eyes trained on the sky, and he’ll refuse to inhale.
He’ll sit like that, holding his breath, until his vision goes even darker around the edges.
Until his chest burns.
Until that scalding ocean laps just a bit higher, burns just a bit hotter.
Until his body forces him to breathe again.
And then, shuddering and starved for air, he’ll do it all over again.
Shōto loves and hates it, the strange little habit he's developed.
Hates it because it burns and he’s so tired of the heat.
Loves it because it’s his.
It’s a hurt only he can give to himself.
A hurt only he and his own body can take away.
A choice that only he gets to make.
Shōto can hold his breath for a very long time.
After a lifetime of private tutors and “specialized training” with Endeavor, Shōto doesn’t feel much of anything about actually attending school when it comes time for him to begin UA.
He’s not interested in friends or bonds or anything other than having somewhere to go every day that isn’t Endeavor’s house or the dojo.
All Shōto’s really interested in is being one step closer to his goal, to earning a hero license that will guarantee he’ll finally be able to leave that house and never be forced to go back.
UA might be the most prestigious hero school in the country but to Shōto it's just another dull, grey place filled with dull, grey people on the road to that goal.
Just another stepping stone along the way.
Shōto will graduate as a hero and he’ll leave and no one he meets in this place will matter.
He lives his life in a state of breathless monotone and hazy monochrome, in short bitten off syllables and shades of foggy, unfeeling grey.
UA will be just more of the same.
Shōto is wrong.
He just doesn’t know it yet.
But he will.
Midoriya, Shōto decides on the very first day when he takes a few moments to survey his new classmates, is a nervous wreck.
One part stammering rabbit and one part startled deer.
Shōto doesn’t really give him all that much thought after that initial impression.
Not until the ball throw that is.
Not until that broken finger and the way Midoriya still smiles, shaky and tight but there.
Shōto decides rather early on that he really does not like Bakugō.
Aizawa's assessment gives birth to the thought while All Might’s first class just reinforces the idea.
He doesn’t like Bakugō or his burnt caramel scented explosions or his loud, vicious boasts. He especially doesn't like the sneering sort of superiority that Bakugō wears tucked around him like a fiery cloak.
Shōto looks at his fierce classmate, hears his explosions and his curses and his biting insults and all he can see and hear and feel is …
Shōto shakes his head sharply, huffs the scent of smoldering flames out of his nose and chases away the whistling of a tea kettle he knows is not actually there from his ears.
Shōto does not like Bakugō.
Then there’s the USJ and that thought that had focused on Midoriya, that faint whisper of interesting, just grows.
After that Shōto can’t help but look just a bit where his timid classmate is concerned.
Can’t help but blink and watch and see.
One of the first things Shōto really and truly notices about his classmate, beyond the muttering and the stuttering of course, is the fact that Midoriya has scars.
Shōto sees them when they’re in the changing room. They catch his attention despite how hard Midoriya is obviously trying to stay hidden if the way he always tucks himself into a stall or the corner as he changes, a considerable bubble of distance between him and everyone else, is anything to go by.
Shōto is also quick to notice that the locker room is one of the few places where Midoriya is absolutely silent unless spoken to.
No muttering, no shuffling, no unnecessary noise as all.
Midoriya is ghost-like in those moments, present and yet not almost as if he’s trying to go unseen without making it obvious, a feeling that Shōto knows all too well.
It doesn’t matter though because Shōto still sees him, still sees them, still catches glimpses of indents and gashes, of what looks like starbursts and ropey lengths of red skin.
Still sees the marks written out across pale freckled skin that tell stories in a language Shōto is all too fluent in.
Familiar verses written out across his classmate's skin in an ink that Shōto knows all too well.
Shōto keeps his silence as he always does. He looks and he sees and then he gets dressed and goes to class.
But all the while his eye aches.
Shōto sees All Might in and, on a rare occasion, out of class.
What’s more is the fact that Shōto sees the way Midoriya turns towards the man automatically no matter where they are or what’s going on as if he just knows he’s there even before All Might announces himself.
He sees the way All Might pays such close attention to his classmate, at least some portion of his attention always focused on Midoriya.
Shōto sees how similar their quirks are, remembers the desperate, frantic thing that had peeked out from beneath Midoriya’s skin during their first battle training and at the USJ, and all he can think is …
Shōto has one towering inferno of a monster in his life.
But when he looks at Midoriya, when he thinks about his scars and the way he flinches at the smallest of things but not at broken bones and seeping burns, Shout thinks he might not be the only one.
When he looks at All Might and sees the way the hero seems to hover just a bit over his classmate, when he looks at Bakugō with his sneers and his snarls and his threats and the constant pop crackle pop of his quirk being aimed, inevitably, at Midoriya …
Well Shōto thinks that Midoriya might have more than one monster in his life.
He thinks he and Midoriya might have more in common than Shōto would have every thought possible.
And then …
Then there’s the Sports Festival.
And everything changes.
When they're standing across from each other in the arena, the truth that Shōto had felt compelled to share hanging heavy between them, Midoriya is no longer timid.
Instead he's fierce and brutal and, above all else, mesmerizing.
Shōto can’t look away.
Doesn’t even want to.
“It’s your quirk, Todoroki,” Midoriya, all black bruises, green curls, and pale skin, practically howls at him, bones snapping like the echoing thunk of the shishi-odoshi in the garden, his power swelling around him like a rising electric tide. “It’s always been yours. It’s your power, not his.”
The words hit him like a blow, slam into him like a fist, shatter him apart like the walls of ice Midoriya has refused to allow Shōto to put between them.
And, for what feels like the first time in almost a decade, Shōto breathes.
Inhales oxygen and exhales flames, his left side igniting like an inferno.
Flames that belong to him.
Flames that belong to Shōto alone and not Endeavour.
Because Midoriya is right. Just like Shōto’s mother was always right back before something inside of her broke too deeply to pretend otherwise anymore.
It is his quirk.
It’s his and Shōto wants to be a hero for a million and one reasons that do and do not involve Todoroki Enji.
Across from him, wreathed in jade lightning, Midoriya smiles.
And then the world around them explodes.
Shoto is declared winner of the match but, standing there bloody and bruised and gasping, he feels like, somehow, Midoriya is the one who got what he wanted in the end.
After that Shōto can’t bring himself to look away from Midoriya, can't bring himself to settle back into the smoke tinted haze that's pressed against his senses for so long now.
Instead Shōto breathes and with every breath he’s drawn closer, pulled further into Midoriya’s space like the ocean to the shore.
And Midoriya, with his scarred hand and twisted fingers, with the wounds he gave himself for Shōto, just looks up at him, smiles, and invites him even closer still.
Being around Midoriya, being drawn so deeply into his orbit, makes Shōto feel things he’s never felt before.
It’s like waking up, limbs aching and skin tingling, after spending far too long asleep.
It’s like, after all these years, he’s managed to finally claw his way up towards the surface of that scalding ocean that’s been so intent on dragging him further and further down.
Like his head has finally managed to break through to the surface for a few glorious gasping seconds.
It’s like breathing deep and free again for the first time in a decade.
And for the first time in longer than Shōto can remember the air tastes sweet.
Shōto has spent so long drowning that he’d given up hope of being rescued years ago, had never really had all that much hope to begin with if he’s being honest.
After losing a mother and a brother he only half remembers Shōto had stopped pretending that there was someone out there who would swoop in and save what’s left of his family.
But, in a lot of ways, that is exactly what Midoriya does.
With an outstretched hand, a wide smile, and a wider heart Midoriya saves him.
Like a hero.
And then he keeps on saving Shōto, every single day they’re together, over and over again in a million different little ways.
Draining bits and pieces of that scalding ocean out and away from Shōto until he thinks that, one day, his feet might touch solid ground again and his lungs might find absolutely nothing but the free air.
Shōto can’t wait for that to happen.
He’s willing to put the work in, willing to bleed and fight and push until it becomes a reality.
And what makes it all the sweeter is the fact that he knows, even without outright asking, that Midoriya is willing to be there every step of the way with him.
And when Midoriya puts out a call while Hosu is aflame and under siege of course Shōto goes.
Of course he does.
He goes and he fights and he bleeds and he never, not even for a second, hesitates or regrets any of it.
Because Midoriya called.
So of course Shōto answered.
There was never any other choice he was going to make.
This is what Midoriya becomes for Shōto:
A guiding star.
A pounding heart and a brilliant smile.
An outstretched hand and a breathless sort of high that doesn’t hurt.
A pressure valve bleeding off the excess and helping Shōto keep his head above the water.
Which is why Shōto’s dislike for Bakugō just seems to grow deeper and darker and thicker every single day.
Which is why when the student pairings are announced Shōto knows that the final exams are going to be a disaster.
And if the displeased set of Asui’s shoulders and the worried looks on Iida and Uraraka’s faces are anything to go by then he’s not the only one.
But all of that pales to the absolutely sick look on Midoriya’s face as he tries and fails to convince Aizawa to change his assigned partner.
Shōto hates the way Midoriya seems to fold in on himself, going quiet and small in a way that goes beyond the physical as he slinks back across the room to stand beside Shōto again.
A part of him wants to grab Midoriya by the shoulders, wants to pull him close until they're breathing the same air, wants to protect him. Or he wants to at least shelter Midoriya until he's able to expand back out to fill the space he normally does at Shōto's side again with that shining presence Shōto has become so addicted to.
But, with a helplessness that he can’t help but despise welling up inside of him, all Shōto does is brush his shoulder against Midoriya’s in a silent sort of comfort.
It’s not enough, not nearly enough, but here in the middle of their classmates, trapped with so many teachers far too close to them, it’s all Shōto knows how to safely give at the moment.
Later, when it’s finally Midoriya’s time to go, Shōto watches his friend walk away, shoulders slumped, hands curled in the fabric of his costume and a certain kind of defeat already rounding his spine.
And, left behind and loathing every burning, breathless second of it, all Shōto can do is clench his fists at his sides and seethe.