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force of habit

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It starts with the clothing. All of Shouto’s hoodies and sweatshirts disappear under mysterious circumstances, and no matter how many doors he knocks on to ask about a potential laundry mishap, no one seems to know anything about where they might have ended up.

Katsuki, on the other hand, is strangely content to let Shouto borrow as many as he needs. Once the pile in his arms has reached his chin, Shouto feels obligated to ask the obvious question, “Are you sure I’ll need this many?”

“Of course you will,” Katsuki says, like Shouto’s the one being ridiculous by grossly underestimating the basic human need for a literal mountain of your boyfriend’s hoodies. He keeps rummaging through his dresser and tosses another one back. It lands on Shouto’s head.

“Good aim,” Shouto says, voice muffled by the fabric.

Katsuki turns around. “Shit,” he says. “Sorry.” He plucks the hoodie off Shouto’s head, smooths his hair back down with—frankly, worrying—care, then takes the whole pile from him, and places it aside. “I’ll help you carry these back to your room when you leave.”

Shouto laughs. “I’m pretty sure I can manage,” he says. “I carried Momo to the infirmary that one time she injured her ankle during training.”

A growl bubbles up from the back of Katsuki’s throat. He bares his teeth.

“Are you alright?” Shouto asks. “You’re not getting sick or anything, are you?” He reaches up and places a hand on Katsuki’s forehead, presses it carefully against the skin to check for a fever.

Katsuki goes quiet, shrinks into himself. “I’m fine,” he says. “It’s just—I don’t like—it doesn’t feel good to hear you talk about other people.”

Shouto blinks. “We talk about other people all the time,” he says. “Just the other day you were telling me about your mom and that—”

“Not—not that kind of talking,” Katsuki says.

And—oh. “You’re not serious.”

With both arms crossed over his chest, Katsuki says, “What if I am?”

It takes Shouto a second, usually. Growing up, he never got to spend much time with other kids, with other families. Sometimes, he forgets about the differences. Forgets there’s any at all. “Is—is this an alpha thing?” he asks.

The faintest red colors Katsuki’s cheeks. “It’s not—if a prospective mate discusses other alphas, it means they’re unhappy in their current arrangement,” he says, chewing at his bottom lip.

“I’m a prospective mate?” Shouto asks, arching an eyebrow. “Are you going to court me, Bakugou?” He leans in, jokingly, rubs his nose on Katsuki’s cheek like he imagines an omega might, and makes to pull away but—Katsuki doesn’t let him.

He grips Shouto’s arm, and pulls him in. Shouto’s eyes go wide, and he grabs the back of Katsuki’s shirt like an anchor. “Mine,” Katsuki growls, mouth on Shouto’s neck. He nips at the skin.

Shouto takes a shaky breath. “Katsuki,” he says, fingers tightening in the folds of his shirt.

It seems to snap him out of hit. He pulls away. “Sorry,” he says. “It’s—yeah, it’s an alpha thing.”

“It’s fine,” Shouto says, cheeks burning.

“You’re not hurt, are you? I didn’t—you’re alright?”

“Yeah,” Shouto says, slightly breathless. “Yeah, I’m, um, fine.”

Katsuki sighs. “That’s good,” he says.

“Also, I’m not—I’m not unhappy in my current arrangement,” Shouto says. “In case that’s an actual concern.”

“Good,” is all Katsuki says, but he doesn’t let go of Shouto’s hand all the way to his room, and Shouto feels warmer than ever.

It’s quiet for a while after that, nothing but training and homework and the occasional class movie night. A welcome anomaly, really. Shouto could do without the kidnappings and the attacks. All of them could. But—the sheer chaos never goes away.

He’s straight out of the shower, still toweling at his damp hair, when there’s a knock at his door.

“Todoroki,” says Jirou, the second he opens the door. “Come on.”

Shouto, still shirtless and now considerably confused, barely gets out a, “What?” before she latches on and drags him out of the room.

“Class movie night,” she says, still tugging at his arm.

“I’m half-naked,” he says, endlessly thankful he remembered to put on sweatpants before answering the door.

“That’s the point,” Jirou says. “Bakugou’s making popcorn. Come on, we don’t wanna miss it.”

“Miss what?” Shouto asks, but, despite his best efforts, he goes ignored.

“The best part,” Jirou says, finally, just before they enter the living room.

Katsuki is indeed carrying a gigantic bowl of popcorn when their eyes meet. Shouto tries to hide, to duck behind someone or find another way to cover himself, but it’s practically impossible. It feels like there’s a spotlight on him, everyone else skirting at the edges almost purposefully.

“Hi,” he says, giving a weak wave.

“I found the butter,” Izuku says, coming out of the kitchen area.

Katsuki drops the bowl. “You fucking—,” he says, eyes narrowed. Jirou lets go of Shouto’s arm immediately. He rushes towards them, teeth gritted together, and comes to a halt right in front of Shouto. “Wear this,” he says, voice perfectly even, tugging his sweatshirt over his head, and holding it out. He’s got on a short-sleeve shirt under it, but it doesn’t do much to hide the prominent muscles of his arms.

Wordlessly, Shouto takes it.

Behind him, he hears a mumbled damn it.

He tugs the sweatshirt over his head, and feels a lot better about—everything, really. It’s soft and worn, and it smells just like the vanilla soap Shouto knows Katsuki likes to use. The sleeves are a little long on him, fall past his wrist, but he doesn’t mind. It’s cozy.

Once Shouto’s settled on the couch, he notices that Izuku managed to save the popcorn. “Why did your girlfriend kidnap me?” he asks, leaning over to whisper in Momo’s ear. The opening titles for Prisoner of Azkaban are playing on the screen.

Momo looks apologetic. “I told them not to,” she says.

“Not to what?” Shouto asks. He’s starting to gain a new appreciation for clear cut explanations.

“Kyoka and Denki thought it would be amusing to—to see how Bakugou would react if—how he’d react to you. Like that,” Momo says.

“Is this another alpha thing?” Shouto asks.

“What our lovely peach blossom is trying to say,” Kaminari says, leaning over the back of the couch to sling an arm around both their shoulders, “is that alphas get territorial, and it’s fun to watch it happen. With how hot-headed he is, I’m surprised he didn’t scent you right there.”

“Scent me?” Shouto repeats.

“Yeah,” Kaminari says. “Scent. You know, like…” he trails off, nuzzling at his own wrist.

Heat rises up Shouto’s cheeks, remembering Katsuki nipping at his neck a handful of days ago. “That’s—why do they do that?” he asks.

Kaminari bites at the inside of his mouth. “It’s a little like—marking, I guess? You smell like them, so everyone else knows that you’re spoken for.”

“It doesn’t have to be like that, though,” Momo cuts in. “It can be just—a way to bond. Like hugging or kissing or—”

“Sex?” Kaminari asks, winking.

Momo flushes. “That too,” she says. “It’s just—instinct, when you like someone.”

When you like someone, Shouto thinks, giddy. It’s a little stupid. He knows Katsuki likes him.

“Hey sparky,” Katsuki says, plopping down on the empty seat at Shouto’s side. “Beat it.”

Like the wind, Kaminari flees.

Katsuki slings an arm around Shouto’s neck, and Shouto can’t help but notice how warm he is, bare skin touching his. Alphas always tend to run hotter than most, especially compared to humans. Shouto’s hair is still wet, droplets dripping down his neck. He tries to wipe them away, but when he moves, Katsuki turns to look at him, and Shouto goes still, watching him follow the trail of water down to his collarbones until it disappears beneath the neckline of his own sweatshirt.

Suddenly, everything is too hot, and Shouto can’t focus. Katsuki holds him close during the entirety of the movie, grabs his waist and pulls him back down when he tries to get up for a glass of water, says, I got it, so close to his ear it sends shivers down his spine.

Kaminari chuckles. “Look at him trying to be a good alpha,” he says. Momo smacks him.

Shouto buries his face in the neckline of Katsuki’s shirt, and doesn’t really know what to do about the swirl of heat and embarrassment at the pit of his stomach.

In the end, after Shouto sits through watching Kaminari goad Katsuki into a hand-wrestling match while throwing a pointed glance Shouto’s way—which ends with his hand slamming into the table in three seconds flat and the most undignified wail Shouto has ever heard—he figures the only thing to do is talk about it.

“This alpha thing,” he says. “Is it why you’ve been so weird lately?”

Katsuki freezes, a spoonful of rice halfway to his mouth. “Weird?” he asks.

“Yeah,” Shouto says. “Like—the clothes and the overprotectiveness and the—the dominance thing? With Kaminari and the hand-wrestling?”

To Shouto’s surprise, Katsuki turns red. “Can’t help it,” he mumbles, shoving the rice in his mouth.

Shouto stares. “Can’t help what?” he asks.

“Look,” Katsuki says, putting his spoon down with more force than strictly necessary. “I don’t appreciate it, but—it’s what happens. It’s instinctual. As an alpha, it’s my duty to show you that I can—that I’m capable of caring for you. That I’m strong enough to provide for your needs and that I can keep you safe.”

Shouto stifles his laughter behind his palm. “Sorry,” he says, when Katsuki starts glaring at him. “Sorry, it’s just—you’re so cute.”

“I’m not supposed to be cute,” Katsuki grumbles.

“But you are,” Shouto says. “I know you can take care of me. I don’t need proof of that. You can take care of me better than anyone.” He reaches out, and takes Katsuki’s hand. “You’re my big, strong alpha,” he says, voice light.

Katsuki chokes on his water. “Did—did you just say I’m your alpha?” he asks.

Slowly, Shouto nods. “Should I not have done that?” he asks.

From all the way across the room, Jirou yells, “You just accepted his marriage proposal. Except he didn’t even ask.”

“Oh,” Shouto says. “I didn’t—I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry,” Katsuki says, clutching his hand tighter. “I don’t—it’s not a marriage proposal.” He throws a glare Jirou’s way. “It’s just—it’s nice to hear.”

“Whipped,” Kaminari says.

“I could literally snap you in two if I wanted,” Katsuki says. “Where’s your self-preservation instinct?”

Kaminari shrugs. “I think I lost it when you lost your ability to be intimidating. It was around the time you and Todoroki started dating.”

 “You—,” Katsuki yells, standing up,

Kaminari ducks behind Jirou.

“Katsuki,” Shouto says, tugging at his sleeve. “Maybe we should talk about this somewhere else?”

Katsuki turns to look at him. His eyes land on Shouto’s hand. “Yeah,” he says, “Yeah, that works.”

“So,” Shouto says, patting at the space next to him on the bed. “Talk.”

For the first time in possibly the history of humanity, Katsuki looks anxious. “I know it’s a lot,” he says. “Especially for a human. The scenting and the other stupid alpha stuff.”

“Hey,” Shouto says, reaching out and taking both his hands into his own. “It’s not stupid. It’s just—different. And I don’t know that much about it, since both my parents are human. But I—I want to learn. For you. To help you.”

Katsuki looks down at his lap. “It’s just—it’s really fucking stupid,” he says. “But growing up, my mom would always say shit like my dad was the most useless alpha she’d ever met and—I don’t know, maybe it’s because they’re both alphas and she never figured out how to calm the fuck down but—I always thought that if I was good enough as an alpha, that—I wouldn’t have to deal with that stuff? That shit would work out for me? So, it matters, even beyond the instinct. I want to be able to take care of you.”

It’s—a lot. A small, lonely part of Shouto wants to cry.

“Can’t I take care of you too?” he asks. “I mean—I don’t know, I’m not, like, an omega or anything, but—can’t I help you?”

“That’s not the point,” Katsuki says. “The point is you’re not supposed to need to.”

“But I want to.”

Katsuki blinks. “What?” he asks.

“I want to help,” Shouto repeats. “I want to help my alpha. Because he’s good, and kind, even if he doesn’t like people finding out about it, and he deserves help when he needs it. Because everyone needs it sometimes.”

Katsuki surges forward, cups Shouto’s face with both hands, and steals the breath straight out of his lungs when he kisses him. “I—you’re—I love you,” he says, and doesn’t even let Shouto answer before he’s kissing him again, pinning his wrists to the bed and trailing kisses down his neck like he’ll never get another chance to.

“Slow down,” Shouto says, face aflame. “I love you too, but—slow down.”

Katsuki looks sheepish. “Sorry,” he says. "I'll try to be better about this stuff."

“It’s alright,” Shouto says, pushing himself upwards to peck at his lips. “Just tell me where my clothes went.”

Katsuki’s eyes go wide. Then, abruptly, he laughs, flopping down at Shouto’s side. “I’ll give them back,” he says. “Just—maybe wear some of mine, too?”

“Sure, alpha,” he says, leaning in to whisper in his ear.

Katsuki groans, burying his face in Shouto’s neck, and throwing an arm around his waist.

It’s only later, after Kaminari asks did he show you how knots work? and Jirou facepalms when Katsuki does actually try to hunt him down, that Shouto takes a second to think he’s really, really lucky.

For now, he just closes his eyes, and breathes him in.