Small and quirkless, Izuku treasures the colours banded around his right wrist more than anyone he knows.
There’s two, curled and twisted carefully around each other in a way that no one else’s does. There’s two, two distinct bands of colour, red and blue, and they hum with an energy that hasn’t yet shown itself.
He tries, Izuku tries to convince himself that he’s a late bloomer, that something will happen, that he can become the hero he’s always wanted to be.
The years climb on and Izuku endures; endures the feelings of inadequacy, endures the way Katsuki berates him for being a quirkless freak, endures the awful threats he gets because his band is different.
He used to try and point out that, “ Kacchan, he has- he has multiple bands too, ” but no one cared because his aren’t curled around each other, nestled so close that there’s barely any space in between. Katsuki’s are pristine , three perfect individual bands of colour divided across both his wrists.
It starts his second year of middle school.
Izuku wakes to find wet blankets; it seems to be just drool but it keeps happening, small and damp and, he realizes the third time in awe, always conveniently underneath his right hand.
He’s ecstatic to feel the thrum of some sort of quirk, even if it isn’t fully his. He learns to control it as well as he can over the course of his third year. It still leaks a bit when he gets a little stressed but it’s nothing Izuku can’t deal with. It’s calming, the sight of both bands twinned around each other and alight with a quiet energy, and his mother is impressed every time he uses it. He wants it to be enough, he really does.
But it’s not.
Izuku meets his idol during the end of his third year and hears what is probably the most encouraging news of his life, that he can be hero, that he doesn’t have to settle. He cries, brings his hands up to his face. His wrist leaks along with his eyes but he’s happy, he’s so so happy.
Izuku’s first day at Yuuei is everything he’s hoped for, with the exception of Katsuki’s explosive temper but that’s nothing he hasn’t dealt with before. Their class is full of colourful people with colourful bands and Izuku’s relieved to see some familiar faces even if they’re slightly intimidating.
He catches the glint of pink thinly penned around the smallest part of Tenya’s wrist during lunch, the shock of indigo-blue against Ochako’s. She runs her finger across the seam of Izuku’s band in awe when she sees it.
“Wow,” She breathes. “It’s so beautiful!”
Izuku smiles as Tenya comments about how unique the marking is, how he’s never seen anything like it before. He sits close and turns Izuku’s hand over and over as he tries to determine exactly how it falls together.
Ochako smiles up at him and tells them, chest puffed with pride, that she can make small gusts of wind from her band. Tenya, when prompted, announces that he’s thinks that his is a levitation quirk and then makes his fork hover several centimetres above the table. Ochako and Izuku both cheer.
Izuku catches both their eyes, curious but respectful, as he slides over a thick wad of napkins and lets water drip light from his banded wrist.
Over the course of the next month, Izuku studies his classmates, their quirks and their bands.
Katsuki’s bands are loud, bright, and Izuku counts them in colours rather than number (yellow, red, purple, yellow, red, purple).
Momo’s is violet, beautiful and alight with a shared heartbeat. Kyouka has one, thick and black that she can pull little marbles out of. They speak, the two of them, hushed voices fond, curl their banded hands together in the soft spring light. Everyone else is happy for them, so happy. Izuku watches the rest of the class secretly flaunt their shared quirks in hopes of possibly finding their other.
Everyone but him and Shouto.
Shouto does a great job of hiding things, Izuku thinks. His mark is hidden underneath the small sweatband on his left arm, Izuku has no doubt. He’s so curious to see it, to know what colour it shines, to know what it does, but he doesn’t ask, wouldn’t know how. Izuku doesn’t know Shouto that well and honestly, Shouto kind of intimidates him.
Instead, he watches, notices.
Izuku notices early how Shouto favours his right side. In fact , he thinks, it can’t even be called favouring . It’s the only hand Shouto uses, the only side he uses. Izuku’s curious, so curious, but it’s not his place to pry.
When Shouto approaches him during the sports festival before the one-on-one matches, all Izuku can think is how different they both are. They’ve both went through so much but, he thinks, there’s a stagnation Shouto hasn’t climbed over and Izuku’s frustrated for him.
He doesn’t understand.
Endeavour corners him before his match with Shouto and there’s another part to the story lining up. Izuku feels himself pressured and nearly crushed by the smoke and ash that pours hot out of Endeavour’s mouth.
He still doesn’t understand.
Shouto has grown up with everything, everything but love.
He doesn’t understand and he wants to. Izuku has grown up with nothing, nothing but the love of his mother. No quirk, no friends, and a strange band curled around his wrist like a brand. You’re different, it screams but, despite that, he’s always loved it, always found it to be oddly comforting.
Izuku has always wished to become a hero and now he has the chance. To see someone not utilizing their quirk to its fullest potential is strange and frankly, a little infuriating.
Izuku tells him as much during their match, screams at Shouto until his throat is raw because he isn’t his father. He’s himself, everything he has is his own, and it’s time for Shouto to use his power, all of it, for no one else but himself.
Izuku watches a hole burn into the side of Shouto’s wristband.
His band is emerald and glittering and it’s all Izuku can look at as he watches the arena freeze and burn. There’s a rush going through him up until the very end.
Izuku feels like he’s won something even as the shockwave carries him high outside of the ring, even as his hand is stitched back together again. He wants to fight Shouto again with nothing held back.
Though, maybe, that fight can wait until they’re better at controlling their quirks.
Approaching Shouto after the sports festival is tough. Even though Shouto thanked him, Izuku doesn’t exactly know how to go around it without feeling compelled to apologize but he really doesn’t want to.
Izuku’s not sorry.
He’s not, he stands behind the things he’s said to both Shouto and his father. There’s nothing left to say but he wants to know more about Shouto.
Izuku’s interested in the way Shouto starts to wear the green band around his left wrist like a favour
Shouto finds him after class one day to thank him again. His wrists hang freely along the line of his uniform jacket, playing with the hem nervously. Izuku smiles, falls into step with him and their friendship starts hesitantly.
He thinks to ask him one day, at lunch with Ochako and Tenya, if Shouto’s figured anything out about his band’s quirk.
“Oh,” he breathes after swallowing a small bite of food and holds up his left hand just high enough for the whole table to see. The emerald band is breathtakingly beautiful; it stands out, stark, against the paleness of his skin. Shouto’s eyes, brown blue, are steady as he carefully studies the mark. Like he’s never seen it before , Izuku thinks and frowns.
The words sound like an afterthought, small and light. He smiles softly across the table. Izuku can’t help but think it looks a little sad. He wonders if Shouto’s ever been allowed to try.
Ochako opens her mouth to say something, closes it on a huff when she can’t find figure out the right words.
“Sometimes, though, late at night, I can feel it hum with energy. It’s,” Shouto starts and then brings a finger up to his lips in thought. “...Nice, I suppose.”
On the other side of him, Ochako smiles bright and happy. She clasps her hands together and says, “I’m not the best at actually controlling it yet but I can make little bursts of wind.” Here she demonstrates, holding up her banded arm and letting air puff across Shouto’s face. Izuku watches Shouto’s bangs flutter soft against his cheeks. Ochako looks proud of herself when Shouto smiles, more genuine this time.
“Iida-kun thinks his is a levitation quirk!” Without stopping to let him attempt to demonstrate, she pushes on, “And Deku-kun! Have you seen his band?”
Ochako gestures for Izuku to show Shouto when he shakes his head. Izuku’s hesitant, not because of the band itself but because it’s Shouto; it’s his right hand, the one Izuku mangled during their fight at the sports festival. It’s rough with scars and he’s afraid that it’ll ruin the calm atmosphere Ochako’s managed to build.
Shouto catches his eye. “You don’t have to, show me I mean, if you don’t feel comfortable.”
Izuku shakes his head and rolls up his sleeve. He’s thankful for the out but there’s something lingering in the back of his stomach that tells him that he has to, he really does. If he didn’t, Izuku feels, it would just erase everything he made Shouto bare in that battle.
He offers his hand.
Shouto’s palm is warm, his right surprisingly, when he takes the offered hand. His gaze lingers on the scar tissue netted across the top of Izuku’s hand a beat too long before Shouto slides it down to catch on the tangled red, blue band penned about an inch and a half above Izuku’s wrist.
Izuku grins as he slowly slides the corner of his napkin suspiciously underneath his arm. He winks at Ochako as she moves to cover her mouth.
Izuku lets his wrist leak.
He watches Shouto’s eyes widen, just slightly, in shock, watches him turn his line of sight up to catch Izuku’s. He feels Shouto tighten his grip on his hand. He hears the quiet inhale of breathe, hears Shouto exhale a small, “Oh.”
To his right, Ochako titters and Izuku doesn’t have to turn to know that Tenya’s smiling, soft. Shouto breathes a small laugh that’s more air than anything else and for the moment everything’s alright.
For the moment everything’s alright.
Everything’s not alright, Izuku thinks, when he finds Tenya in that small small alleyway staring down the edge of the Hero Killer’s knife.
In that moment, Izuku knows he has to think quickly, analyze the situation, to figure out the best way to deal with this. He sends out a mass text with his location and hopes someone understands.
Izuku’s never been happier to see Todoroki in his life; the green glittering band wrapped around his wrist is finally in full view, no longer hidden under sweatbands or school uniforms, as he apologizes for almost being late.
Izuku focuses on it just long enough to let his heart burn before he relays his observations to Shouto.
The ride to the hospital is quiet, filled the impending dread of the repercussions. The situation was dangerous, Izuku knows that. He knows that Stain could have killed them at any time but, he reasons, his friends mean everything to him. He would do everything over again if the situation repeated itself.
They get a visit from the Chief of Police and Izuku expects the news, what they did was technically illegal. He doesn’t expect Shouto’s outburst, doesn’t expect the incident to be swept under the rug.
He doesn’t expect to be thanked.
He doesn’t need recognition, not when two of his closest friends are safe. He’s worked so hard all his life just to have this, this feeling of knowing someone has his back, this feeling of comradery.
Everything Izuku does, everything he feels, is one hundred percent. One day, he knows, it’ll be the death of him.
Izuku’s first year at Yuuei is all or nothing. He feels every day of it etched deep into bones, settled deeply into his muscles.
Lunch is still primarily him, Ochako, Tenya, and Shouto. Sometimes, other people from their class will join them but it’s not an often enough occurrence for Izuku to count it as usual. Izuku still studies his friend’s quirks and bands, Shouto still feels bad for causing both Izuku’s and Tenya’s hand-related injuries.
Ochako realizes, a few weeks before their second sports festival, that Tenya’s band probably isn’t a levitation quirk. She’s a mess, all spoken words and flushes, and she’s taken to fanning herself with short bursts of wind from her own indigo band. Izuku’s known about her little crush on Tenya since the end of their second semester.
They talk, sometimes, about what she wants to do. Does Ochako want to tell him? Does Tenya already suspect it? And when that topic inevitably runs them both into a high strung state of worry, they talk about Izuku’s band.
They’re laying on their backs in a park near Ochako’s apartment watching the stars shine when she first mentions it.
“It’s always zero or one hundred with you, Deku-kun. What if this time it’s fifty-fifty?” She says and then points up at a star formation she thinks looks like Katsuki’s hair as if Izuku isn’t having a crisis from her statement.
He’s never thought about it before. Izuku had accepted the hum of his twisted band, the constant ebb and flow of water that forms in the cracks between red and blue, as a catch-all but what if?
What if there’s more?
He wonders if there’s a way to control each colour individually, he wonders if he’s really ready to know.
Beside him, Ochako hums something familiar and light. They spend the rest of the evening, hands fisted in the material of the blanket beneath them, singing Disney songs until they can’t remember any more.
Izuku places all his thoughts of red and blue bands on the back burner until the start of the sports festival. He’s excited, really excited, this time. He can actually use his quirk without breaking every single bone in his body and it’s such a relief, he doesn’t know how to handle it.
His one-on-one fights are longer and more calculated, each move a decision well-timed. Shouto promises to not to get eliminated before they can have their rematch. He wants to see how much they’ve grown, how much difference a year has made in helping them control their quirks.
Izuku’s wrist leaks in time with his heart as he watches Shouto and Fumikage battle. It’s close but Shouto ends up edging him out and Izuku is practically vibrating with anticipation. He starts to try and map out strategies that he knows he’ll forget the second he steps into the arena, the second he sees that green band nestled pretty against Shouto’s pale pale skin.
He wants an all out brawl.
To his left, Katsuki and his three pristine bands sneer out something that Izuku doesn’t pay any attention to. He had to be dragged out of the arena kicking and screaming after his match with Izuku. Katsuki swears he’ll surpass him in that ever colourful way of his.
When Izuku goes to leave, he catches Denki and Eijirou each pat one of Katsuki’s shoulders and laugh when he bristles further.
The towel Tenya gave him to pad his wrist is soaked through. He places it carefully on the table in the waiting room and heads out to take his place in the arena.
Izuku hears Shouto wish him good luck with a quiet smile and he grins in response.
“I’m not going to go easy on you, Todoroki-kun.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
The match starts and Izuku feels like he’s finally free.
Shouto fights like he lives, quiet and precise. Everything is calculated and clean and Izuku can’t wait to make him lose it, to help Shouto feel that uncontrolled freedom that he craves. Izuku lets his body move almost on autopilot. He feels out the flames, winds his way around the ice, and at the peak of his jump he strikes, fist a shockwave of water. Shouto panics, Izuku can see it in his eyes, and sends out a blast of fire.
The arena is full of steam and Izuku can barely resist the urge to laugh, he’s so giddy. He’s suddenly glad for all his years of studying people, writing observations down in his little notebook, because had Izuku jumped just a little farther to his left Shouto would have probably just frozen the whole thing.
Izuku can feel the gears turning, anticipating Shouto maybe attempting to freeze the steam, use it to his advantage. Or maybe that’s too obvious, but either way Izuku needs to get close. Shouto’s quirk is better long range and up close, Izuku definitely has a bit of an advantage.
Shouto has been trained in close combat; Izuku knows this from months of sparring together to help strengthen their abilities. In the distance, someone announces something but Izuku’s heart is beating in his ears. Shouto is right in front of him, waiting for him to make his move and the thought is exhilarating.
Izuku breathes and moves.
He’s behind Shouto before the other can even take a step, wrenching his arms back and pressing him forward into the ground.
“It’s over!” Izuku hears someone say vaguely.
It’s not, is all he thinks.
Below him, Shouto exhales sharp and pointed like ice. Below him, Shouto springs to life.
Izuku’s hands are frozen before he can think to counter. Shouto uses the leverage to push him back and stand. The look in his eyes is desperate and wild and Izuku can’t stop his heart from pumping, warm and heavy hard.
“Is that it, Midoriya?”
Izuku grins and pulls himself off the ground. His hands are bound, cold, but adrenaline is coursing through his veins and everytime he looks at Shouto he feels like he’s burning. The ice is far enough on his arms to cover the top of Izuku’s band and, briefly, he thinks back to his conversation with Ochako underneath the stars. He visualizes a faucet and turns it to hot.
“We’re just getting started right, Todoroki-kun?” Izuku says and watches Shouto’s eyes widen as the ice around his right hand melts from the inside. A few seconds and it slips off like a glove, shatters loud in the arena.
Izuku wants to win.
He wants to win so badly and when he sees Shouto smile like that, all untapped potential and stunningly dangerous, Izuku thinks that he already has.
The match ends with both of them laying face up in the middle of the arena. Everything in Izuku’s body hurts. Somewhere in the back of his mind he considers standing. It’s the last one-on-one match, there can’t be a tie but Izuku honestly doesn’t know if he can.
Above his head he can hear Shouto breathing heavy, hears him start to laugh light and airy. It’s comforting and Izuku can’t stop himself from joining in.
He pushes his body to stand and offers his hand to Shouto.
They walk out of the arena together. Shouto’s arm is thrown over Izuku’s shoulder, Izuku’s arm wrapped around his waist. Shouto’s gait is slow, a definite result of some sort of leg injury. Izuku thinks he remembers a back step gone wrong somewhere close to the end of the match.
Pressed heavy into his side, Shouto is still giggling. Izuku can’t think of anywhere else he’d rather be.
The judges consider Izuku, the first one to stand after their match, the winner.
Fumikage and Katsuki fight for third and fourth. The match is close, closer than their one from the year before. Fumikage is still at a disadvantage quirk wise and Katsuki is still just as aggressive but they’ve grown. Fumikage has been working on his close combat skills, on not relying on his quirk as much. Katsuki has learned, among other things, humility and a consciousness about collateral damage.
Katsuki begrudgingly allows them to place the third place medal around his neck with minimal comment. Shouto stands on the other side of Izuku and accepts the second place medal for the second year in a row. Shouto smiles up at him like they have a shared secret.
Behind closed doors, Izuku knows he will offer Shouto the gold medal to share. There’s no reason he wouldn’t, not when he considers the match to truly be a tie.
Izuku find this shared victory more precious than any other.
His mother nearly tackles him the minute he steps through the door. Izuku can’t understand her but he imagines a part of it is congratulations for making it to the top three. She squeezes Izuku hard enough to crack his back and he laughs as she immediately switches to worrying about his injuries.
Dinner is large and celebratory. Izuku wonders if he should’ve invited Shouto over, wonders if that would’ve been too intrusive.
Across from him, his mother gushes between mouthfuls of pork. She’s recorded his matches again this year and still running on the high from his match with Shouto, he decides to watch it with her. Dinner is packed up with the reassurance that Izuku won’t see another bowl of rice for the next week, at least.
“He’s the boy that beat you last year during the sports festival, right?” His mother asks as they settle back against the couch and flick on the recording.
He nods, breathes as he catches Shouto entering the arena. “We’re good friends now,” Izuku says as if his heart isn’t lodged firmly in his throat because Shouto smiles when his recording walks in.
The video doesn’t catch the audio very well but he thinks he hears a muffled - any other way , from Shouto before the match officially starts, or perhaps it’s his heartbeat echoing Shouto’s words firm across the room.
“You two seemed to be having a good time.” The recording zooms in on him dodging a burst of fire. He’s smiling.
“I think we’ve both been waiting to face each other one-on-one since last year. Todoroki-kun promised me that he wouldn’t lose and asked me to do the same.” On the screen, he jumps, calculates, kicks. A wall of ice falls.
His mother hums, “You were probably happy to find out that you’d be facing him last.”
Izuku watches Shouto as his recording jumps again, over him, and arcs a spray of water on the downswing. Shouto looks up, raises his left arm and blazes. Through the flames, in the space between fire and water, he spots the emerald band glittering heavy against the smallest part of Shouto’s wrist. Izuku’s throat feels dry. He excuses himself to grab a glass of water.
“I was,” Izuku says as he settles back into the couch. His mother flicks play again. “I was so excited and nervous, Iida-kun had to give me a towel because my wrist wouldn’t stop leaking.”
An announcer wails something about how the arena is full of steam and what will they find when it clears. It rises and his recording is left straddling Shouto which is something quite strange to see from an outside perspective. Izuku doesn’t let himself think any further about that.
“I really thought this would be the end,” his mother sighs.
“I didn’t,” Izuku muses as he watches Shouto’s right fingers twitch, his own hands encased in ice, Shouto shoving him backwards to stand. “Not for one second. I think I was trying to get him to fight me for real. Somewhere along the lines it stopped being about who won and more about how far we grew since last year.”
Izuku remembers the wild look in Shouto’s eyes, something not captured through camera but vivid in his memory. The sound is barely there but he can hear it, “ Is that it, Midoriya? ”
He wonders if it’s possible to get third degree burns though the television screen.
“This meant a lot to you, didn’t it?”
The room is quiet save for the clear voice of his recording echoing loud inside the screen, “ We’re just getting started right, Todoroki-kun? ” and the loud shatter of ice.
His recording presses forward and strikes, Shouto blocks and his smile is stunning. All Izuku can think is how much better it was in the moment, how much better that emerald band looks in real life instead of filtered through a television.
They watch the rest of the match with only minimal comment. Izuku reassures his mother that he’s fine every time she watches Shouto swings connect.
It’s only when their recordings are laying down, the top of Shouto’s head is centimetres away from touching his shoulder and Izuku hadn’t realized just how close they both were, that his mother speaks up again. “Izuku.”
He hums questioningly, turns to look at her but his mother’s gaze is resolute on the screen. Vaguely he hears them start to laugh. “Yeah?”
“He really means a lot to you, doesn’t he?”
Izuku turns toward the television again and catches sight of his recording offering a hand to Shouto, helping him up. Shouto’s face is alight with a quiet smile as he takes it. They’re both still laughing, holding on to each other as if they had just been working together to fight a common enemy and not trading blows between themselves.
“...Yeah,” Izuku smiles. “Yeah, he does.”
Izuku goes out to lunch with Tenya, Ochako, and Shouto the day after. It’s a bright spring day, warm and comforting. They get stopped for congratulations once, twice, by people who watched the sports festival but nothing too overwhelming.
Tenya insists on paying for their food and won’t take no for an answer no matter how much Shouto tries to argue he can pay for himself.
“I am treating the two of you, Todoroki-kun, for winning the one-on-one matches yesterday.”
Shouto frowns, crosses his arms and sinks down lower in the seat next to Izuku. Izuku would argue as well but he can feel the heat of Shouto’s leg touching his and that makes it hard to concentrate
Ochako opens her mouth to say something but Tenya raises a hand. “My treat,” he stresses and points down to the menu.
Everyone complies begrudgingly. Izuku spends more time looking at the prices of the dishes than the actual ingredients themselves before choosing something both cheap and substantial.
They order and it’s fairly normal, comfortable. Shouto keeps smiling every time the waitress refills Tenya’s glass of orange juice with a thinly veiled look of horror. It’s up to three before their food arrives.
Izuku glares at the bowl of rice harmlessly placed in front of Tenya long enough for Ochako to laugh.
“Deku-kun.” He flicks his eyes up to meet hers. She’s smiling and Izuku can feel himself growing warm with embarrassment.
“You’re glaring at Iida-kun’s rice like it’s personally offended you.”
“A- ah. Mom made a huge dinner last night.”
Ochako smiles wider. “Too much rice?”
He nods vigorously around a bite of veggies, swallows. “ Way too much rice. I had to make her promise to not make any more for the next week.”
Beside him, Shouto puffs a cold breath on his noodles. “She must have been really excited, I take it?” he asks and takes a larger bite than he expects. Tenya watches him struggle with a raised eyebrow and wordlessly slides Shouto’s glass of water closer. Shouto thanks him with a wheezed exhale.
“Are you okay?” Izuku asks because Ochako’s starting to laugh a little.
Shouto nods and downs half the glass.
Satisfied that Shouto’s alright, Izuku sighs. “Yeah, she was. Excited, I mean. I got home and she was talking so fast I could barely understand her.”
Shouto smiles. “I’m glad. She sounds like a great mother.”
“She really is. We watched a recording of our match last night after dinner. I had to tell her that I was fine every time your hits connected.”
A laugh, slow and quiet. “Did you learn anything from it?”
“Other than how weird it is to see yourself fight?”
Shouto laughs again, a little louder but just as lovely, and nods.
Izuku pauses to consider. He doesn’t want to tell Shouto that all he could think of was how the recording didn’t capture the look in Shouto’s eyes every time they got close, doesn’t want to tell him about how filtered through the television screen Shouto’s band looked dull and wrong.
“Not really,” he says instead. “All I kept thinking about was how I felt in the moment. It’s hard to distance myself from it enough to really analyze our movements.”
Across the table, Tenya is asking for his fifth refill. Ochako smiles at the waitress when she comes back. Tenya thanks her and takes a sip before clearing his throat. “Speaking of yesterday, Midoriya-kun. I had a question.”
Izuku turns. “Yeah?”
“During your match with Todoroki-kun, I was wondering how exactly you managed to free your hands.”
“I was curious about that as well,” Shouto adds and Ochako nods.
Izuku hums and tries to figure out the best way to explain it. “I was kind of running full force and completely on instinct. Though, in the heat of the moment I was reminded of something you said, Uraraka-san, a few weeks ago.”
She cocks her head. “Something… I said?”
“Yeah, when we were watching the stars that night and you told me that-”
“Maybe it was fifty-fifty?”
Izuku nods. “It made me think about a faucet, so I kind of just pictured turning the water to hot and hoped.”
“And it worked,” Tenya says after a small bite of rice.
Izuku nods again. “And it worked.”
Shouto shifts beside him, their legs press closer and Izuku can feel himself starting to flush. “It really surprised me,” he sighs. “I thought you were going to smash your arms against the ground.”
“That was probably plan B, right Deku-kun?” Ochako laughs, the sound warm and welcoming. Izuku grins wide in response.
“Probably,” he agrees. “After a lot of internal panicking. Brute force has never let me down before.”
“Your quick wit has never let you down either,” Shouto says, quick and concise like it’s a universal fact.
Izuku counters, “Only when people are willing to listen.”
The look on Shouto’s face is fond, like Izuku means a great deal to him. “I always am.”
Tenya and Ochako murmur their agreements through what might as well be thick swaths of cloth to Izuku’s ears. He’s focused on the look in Shouto’s eyes, the feel of their legs pressed close in the booth they’re sitting in, the curl of Shouto’s fingers around his chopsticks. Izuku feels like he’s drowning, waterlogged.
He doesn’t know what will happen when he’s wrung out and, inevitably, left to dry.
Izuku feels like he’s being talked into eating sand when Ochako first brings it up.
Very nicely, he thinks to add. She really makes it sound like a lovely idea, nearly convinces him right up until she actually asks, but, in the end it’s still sand and he’s still ingesting it.
Something in his lungs feel like it’s filled full of the substance, or maybe that’s the water he accidentally inhaled over the wooden surface of her kitchen table. Izuku coughs, bracing a hand against it. “Y- you want to do what?!
Ochako looks desperate, her hands are clasped together pleadingly.
“Why?” Izuku thinks he probably sounds near hysterical.
“Why not?” She pouts and crosses her arms. “You were into it before. It’s just the beach.”
He can think of quite a few good reasons, sunburn, his lack of a swimsuit, the fact that the one her and Tenya have picked is close to a small outcropping of trees and very private, the fact that they want to spend the night. Izuku’s favourite however, and the one he explains to Ochako, is how he’s not good at talking to people fully dressed. How is he supposed to do it clothed only in a bathing suit?
Ochako sighs. “We’re inviting the whole class, Deku-kun. You should come. It’s going to be a really fun time.”
“Iida-kun told me that Todoroki-kun agreed pretty easily when he asked. I would’ve thought you’d be the easier one to convince.”
Izuku feels something sharp curl in the centre of his abdomen. Is it glass , he thinks and then glances over at his water to make sure he didn’t inhale the cup as well when Ochako surprised him earlier. It’s still there thankfully, but Izuku wonders if his heart burning at the sound of Shouto’s name was enough to turn the sand she talked him into eating earlier into silicate.
He doesn’t think about Shouto in a bathing suit.
His fingers skim the line of his shorts. Slowly, he brings his hands up to cover his face, and yells.
“........Okay,” Izuku says, when he’s finished, to Ochako’s raised eyebrows; his face is probably crimson by now.
He definitely doesn’t think about Shouto smiling in a bathing suit.
Izuku has never been one to curse but the only way to describe himself as his mother hugs him goodbye that morning, is royally fucked .
He’s really, truly glad no one in their class has a mind-reading quirk because from the minute his feet touched warm sand, his mind has been screaming in tune to the same famous classical overtures Tenya listens to when they study together. Occasionally, the music pauses just long enough for his brain to point out observations about Shouto that make Izuku want to stick his head under the waves and just breathe in .
He’s sitting in the sand in the shade of a tall tree when Ochako approaches, towel wrapped firmly around her shoulders. She’s spent the last hour with Tsuyu and Tenya, swimming and trying to get the latter to give up his inner tube. “Deku-kun, are you okay?”
Izuku thinks about lying but they’ve all grown so close in the past year, he couldn’t even if he tried. “No,” he moans into the palms of his hands. “I think I’m having a crisis.”
Ochako rubs her fingers soothingly against the tops of his shoulders.
Across the beach, Shouto and Momo are talking about something. Izuku doesn’t know what, doesn’t care because Shouto’s smiling. He’s still clothed, thankfully, simple blue shorts, a nice light blue and white striped t-shirt; the neck is low enough for Izuku to notice the top of scar tissue branded into the curve of his left shoulder and neck.
“I think-” Izuku stands, wrenches off his button up, and announces, “I think I’m going to go drown myself,” before stumbling off in the direction of the water.
Behind him, Ochako laughs. He hears something rustling, her towel perhaps, and then she’s running ahead of him shouting, “Not if I do it first!”
Izuku can’t stop himself from laughing as he runs after her.
They careen into the water; he almost yells at just how cold it is. Retribution, Izuku thinks, for his suffering and dunks his head below the surface.
Ochako’s still giggling when he comes back up. He shakes his head in an effort to get the hair out of his eyes and relaxes for the first time all day.
It’s just the two of them right now, in this part of the water, so Izuku lowers his voice and asks, “Have you talked to Iida-kun yet?”
Predictably, Ochako pauses. She brings her hands up to press her fingers worryingly together. “A little, not much. I really don’t know what to say.” She’s still smiling but it’s sadder now. Izuku almost feels bad for asking. She continues, “I always get so flustered and then Iida-kun starts to worry about weird things. He carries around water bottles for me now, says he wants to make sure I stay properly hydrated. I think he thinks the heat is what causes me to flush!”
Izuku laughs and remembers the lecture Tenya gave them on the way here about hydration and sunscreen application. “He definitely cares for you.”
“That’s for sure!” Ochako’s smile is back in full force. “And what about you, Deku-kun?”
He tilts his head. “What about me?”
She opens her mouth presumably to say something and then closes it on a frown, brings her index finger up to her chin in thought. It takes a few moments for her to say, “Well, I won’t ask about your obvious crush on Todoroki-kun-”
Izuku splutters, tries to deny it. “A-ah! I- uh- I don’t!”
“-so have you figured out anything else about your band since the sports festival?”
He knows he’s bright red at this point. Izuku lowers himself into the until the surface catches the bottom of his nose and shakes his head. He gives himself a few moments to collect himself before elaborating, “I haven’t tried since then.”
“I would’ve thought you’d be curious.”
Izuku shakes his head again. “I am but... I think I’m more nervous.”
Ochako closes her eyes and nods. “Yeah, I guess it is nerve wracking getting closer to finding out who it belongs to but I mean-” Here she pauses. “-it doesn’t have to mean anything you don’t want it to.”
She pats Izuku’s shoulders soothingly.
“Have I ever told you that my parents’ bands don’t match?”
Izuku looks over at her. He’s surprised; it’s not unheard of, people having purely platonic relationships with their other, people in relationships despite mismatched bands, but it’s never really talked about. The love stories in the mass media always romanticize them. “ You’ll never be happy if you date someone with the wrong band ,” the movies all say, one way or another, but Ochako is always talking about how happy her parents are, how proud they are of her.
“Well!” She smiles. “They aren’t. Mom and her other are super close friends but they never fell in love. I think they tried dating once but it never worked out. So even if things don’t work out the way you want them to, I think it’s alright to try.”
Izuku can feel the corners of his mouth start to turn up. Being around Ochako always makes him feel better, she’s a wonderfully cheerful person. “...Thank you, Uraraka-san.”
“It’s really no problem!”
“Maybe,” Izuku grins. “Maybe, one day, when we graduate, I’ll get a pretty pink band tattooed around my other wrist. It won’t do anything but it’ll mean something big.”
Ochako’s smile grows wider, her eyes wet with sentiment. “It’s a promise then. I’ll get a matching one, not pink, but we can pick a good colour together."
Green , Izuku almost says because he can’t help himself. Across the beach Shouto’s band glitters against the sand, contrasts against white and light blue. It’s so distracting he has to dunk his head under the water for the second time today.
When he surfaces, Shouto waves with a delicate smile. He smiles so often now and every time, Izuku’s heart catches in his throat, his mouth feels dry.
His hand is slow and clumsy when he finally manages to wave back.
Tenya institutes a sunscreen check after lunch and then points everyone to the cooler full of cold drinks in a desperate plea to keep everyone at least moderately hydrated.
Izuku and Ochako are sprawled out atop a blanket Tenya brought, looking at the clouds when Izuku finds his vision obscured by a welcomed face.
Shouto smiles, face dark in the shade but no less stunning. “Is it alright if I join the two of you? Yaoyorozu’s ignoring me for her girlfriend.”
“That’s fair,” Ochako says as Izuku pats the swatch of cloth next to him. He feels giddy as Shouto takes the offered spot.
The three of them point out cloud formations for a few minutes before Ochako stands, abruptly, and tells the two of them she’s going to find Tsuyu. Izuku sits up, catches the tail end of a wink and then she’s darting off across the sandy beach.
“You seem to be a lot calmer than you were this morning.” Beside him, Shouto hugs his legs; his cheek lays squished against his knees, hair contrasting lovely against the soft blue of his swim shorts. He’s still smiling but the look in his eyes is distant.
Izuku braces his hands behind him, legs spread wide. “I’ve never done this before. I mean, I’ve been to the beach before but only my mom and I. Being here with friends is…… new.”
“I’ve never been to the beach before,” Shouto hums quietly.
It’s no surprise, Izuku thinks, but it’s sad. “Are you having a good time?”
“That’s good!” Izuku folds and unfolds his hands into the blanket underneath him. “It’d be horrible if your first time at a beach was a bad one.”
“It’s relaxing. Everyone seems off doing their own things so it’s a bit… difficult, I guess? To figure out what there is to do.”
“Hmm. Most people swim at the beach, but there’s other things like watermelon, tanning, or building sand castles. When I was little though, I used to try and build the sand up as high as I possibly could. I liked making holes for the water to rest in and sticking my feet in that.” Izuku smiles remembering how his mother used to congratulate him for building them up taller than his head. “It was like my own little pool. It made me feel like I could accomplish something for myself.”
Izuku lifts his gaze to stare at the clouds rolling by. “Talking is fun too. I think the main thing about the beach is just finding ways to enjoy yourself in the company of others.”
“I like talking to you, Midoriya.”
The way Shouto says it is slow and sure, full of fondness, and Izuku doesn’t really know how to react. His heart is pounding so loud Shouto surely can hear it. It rings in his ears and almost drowns out Shouto’s next question.
“Do you,” he clears his throat. “Do you want to see if we can build one higher?”
They start digging a few feet away from the line of the waves, pushing the sand forward and out. Slowly but surely, a mountain rises of their joint efforts. Shouto busies himself by building walls around the deepening hole. They build and dig, dig and build, until the recess is big enough to fit the two of them squished face to face and the walls are nearly tall enough to obscure Shouto’s head when they sit down.
Shouto seems giddy.
It’s not especially clear from the outside but Izuku sees the look of childlike wonder present in his brown blue eyes. He keeps thinking of how Shouto has never done this before and he’s happy, he’s ecstatic to help build fond memories here. It’s nice to see him act his age especially after their long first year at Yuuei.
Izuku likes making Shouto happy and it’s just that simple.
They light a fire when the sun starts to dip underneath the horizon. It’s big enough for everyone to fit around it, fingers curled around a collection of washed up logs and old blankets.
From the other side of the fire, Izuku hears the muffled sounds of Mina and Denki telling scary stories. Katsuki and Eijirou keep interrupting with snide jeers and loud laughter.
Tenya is relaxing for the first time of the night after spearheading the effort to set up four large tents. Ochako sits next to him and pats his shoulder as he prattles on about something Izuku can’t quite make out.
Next to Izuku, Shouto is quiet. In the warm firelight, he regards the green band around his wrist with careful consideration. The look in his eyes is wistful and Izuku wonders if he should say something.
“When I was a child,” Shouto says after a few minutes have passed. It’s soft, almost inaudible, and sudden. Izuku jumps when he says it, leans in to hear him better. “When I was a child, my father always told me that these bands never mattered. I was never allowed to pay much attention to it. I remember trying once to see if it did anything.”
“I think I remember you said it would hum, right?”
Shouto shakes his head. “Not exactly. It never did anything back then. I’d try for hours and hours before going to bed and it wouldn’t do anything .”
In the orange light, Shouto looks almost ethereal when he continues, “I was so desperate to have something, anything else, to distract me from my own quirk. It was strange to me that it did nothing. For a long time, I used to think that people lied about these.”
Izuku doesn’t know what to say.
“I don’t really know when exactly. Sometime before I started at U.A. it just...” He pauses to take a breath. “Changed. It was quiet and then one night, I could feel something.”
It’s a strange story, Izuku doesn’t think he’s ever heard of someone’s band just up and changing. It makes him think about himself, what he went through to make it here. He thinks about All Might, he thinks about the way Shouto looks at him, and he knows he isn’t allowed to share his secret but he wants to. Instead Izuku asks if Shouto has figured anything more out about his band.
Izuku watches Shouto stare at the green glittered around his wrist. It’s beautiful, here in the firelight, and the way Shouto looks at it is full of affection. He doesn’t say anything, just stares, and they remain that way for what feels like hours.
“I think,” Shouto says finally and then pauses to collect himself. Izuku’s never seen him this unsure. “I’m not entirely sure, but I think it’s something close to yours.”
It doesn’t really register with Izuku at first, his words, but the story clicks. His face colours and Izuku feels like he’s drowning. The water is hot around his hand, slowly rising to cover his torso. It doesn’t mean anything but Izuku is embarrassed nonetheless. “Something… close to mine?”
Shouto nods and it’s the most certain action Izuku has seen him make all night. “Yeah, it seemed to be a simple strength augmentation quirk when I first started trying to figure out what it was but it seems like something more now.”
Izuku wonders if it’s alright to hope.
He can feel his wrist starting to leak something fierce. In his embarrassment, he panics, imagines turning the faucet off and instead dials it hot.
It happens slow, in steps.
Izuku raising his wrist in an effort to not soak through the blanket.
Izuku blindly searching for his discarded towel.
“Oh.” He hears from beside him, small and shocked, and that’s when he notices it.
His hand setting itself on fire.
There’s so many thinks he could say, Izuku thinks, so many things going through his mind. He vaguely hears himself ask, “Where’s my towel?” in a panicked whisper at the same time Shouto says, “Midoriya-” and reaches forward.
It reaches out and brushes Izuku’s arm briefly, above his band, and for a horrifying moment, the flames reach higher before settling on a small nuanced ember.
Izuku can hear his heartbeat in his ears and he runs towards the line of rocks near the shore.
He lays down on his stomach, looking out at the starry horizon to help settle the rocking motion of his stomach as footsteps sound behind him on the rocks. His hand still kindles but it doesn’t hurt.
Shouto settles beside him as Izuku dunks his arm into the surf. They’re close enough that his thigh brushes the curve of Izuku’s waist. Shouto places a hesitant hand against the swell of Izuku’s shoulders and brushes his thumb absently across.
They don’t speak for the remainder of the night but the silence is warm.
They need to talk. Izuku knows this, Ochako knows this, even Shouto knows this; Tenya does not but he knows something is off in their little group, not strained just off. No one knows where to start, what to say, Tenya tries but he has no idea what exactly is the issue. It falls short, inevitably, and everyone ends up changing the subject.
Ochako promises she’ll tell Tenya after Shouto and Izuku talk and Izuku desperately tries to get her to agree to the opposite.
He corners Shouto outside of the small cafe they went to for lunch on a Sunday afternoon roughly a month later. Ochako waves the two off with a stunning grin and a vice-grip on Tenya’s wrist.
Izuku smiles, polite, nervous, as returns it the gesture.
He feels like he’s being marched into a pit of lions. A beautiful, dangerous pit of lions that smile soft and sure when he turns to face them, like they aren’t going to eat him alive.
“I- uh- we,” he starts. There’s bile making its way up his throat. Izuku wrings his hands and wills himself to breathe. “We should probably talk?”
Shouto nods, “Okay.”
“It’s, uh-” Izuku stutters. He turns, robotic, swings his hands as he starts to walk down the road. He can feel his band starting to leak into the curve of his balled up fists. “My hand- it’s never-”
He takes a minute to steady himself, to sort out his spinning thoughts.
“I’ve never lit myself on fire before.”
Shouto laughs, stepping into line beside him. Izuku’s heart stutters when their bands brush.
Red and blue against green.
Water drips onto the sidewalk, leaves a solid trail of moisture against the palm of Shouto’s hand.
“Trust me, Midoriya, it took a while to get used to it myself.”
“You’re amazing,” he continues. His voice is small, fond. Izuku finds it lovely. “Only you would take two things and instinctually meld them together.”
There’s something there, something hidden, that clicks. Shouto, who’s still struggling to find himself, who’s still fighting against the weight of someone else standing on his shoulders, he’s never thought of his quirk as one. He thinks of himself in halves, left and right, hot and cold, fire and ice.
Soft, slow, he curls his hand around Shouto’s, lets the connection become a pool for the liquid that slides down his wrist. “To me,” Izuku says. “It’s never been anything but one.”
You’ve never been anything but yourself.
Shouto’s eyes are on his now, brown blue wide with awe. “You’re amazing,” he repeats, quiet and breathy.
Izuku feels himself colour, face painting a stunning ruby red. His free hand curves over the back of his neck. Izuku fingers his hairline and breaks eye contact, sheepish. “I like you,” he says, surprisingly clear. “I have for a while now.”
“Yeah,” Shouto closes his eyes. His hand shifts in Izuku’s grip, sliding closer and closer until the water is forced up and out and their palms are flush. “Me too.”
Ochako calls Izuku that night.
Her voice rings tin in his ears as she congratulates him. Izuku laughs and tells her to keep up her side of the bargain.
Three weeks later, she does.
The park is quiet around the four of them. Muted greens turn to fall reds and yellows, crisp against the vibrant grass underneath the yellow blanket Tenya pulled from his bag.
Izuku’s mother made them a light lunch that morning, full of nutrients and wonderfully refreshing. They eat it after school on a rather uneventful Saturday.
They’re pressed close like puzzle pieces. Shouto rests along the line of blanket that pours yellow into green, back down, flush against the cotton. His leg, propped up, is hooked casually around Izuku’s ankle. Ochako curls her hand around the inside curve of Tenya’s elbow, presses her shoulder into Izuku’s in an attempt to see the small laptop screen in front of them.
There’s something in this moment that feels calm, like he’s pushing his toes into sand, feeling the water lap soft around his ankles. It’s safe and wonderful.
And, Izuku thinks as he lays his right palm atop Shouto’s left, there’s no other place he’d rather be, no other people he’d rather be with.
Shouto laces their fingers together absently tight, sits up to rest against the bark of the tree behind them. Izuku feels his heart burst. It explodes in a brilliant swath of colours, pop pink, a blue so rich it hits indigo.