It was late by the time the internship meeting ended. The dorm’s common room had bled out of color and settled for ocre shadows and the stark light of the TV that only Kaminari was watching. Tenya had been stretching for a few minutes after his evening run, near the window that gave to the courtyard so that he’d have an excuse to look out as he bent over and pulled at his muscles gently. He heard the sound of Yaoyorozu’s voice behind him as if coming from a distance. He hadn’t even noticed her arrival.
“You want me to what?” Kaminari was saying to her. His voice was lost over the low thrum of blood in Tenya’s ears. He rose from the last of his stretches and looked down into the yard again, feeling a flicker of disappointment when he caught no sign of Midoriya and the others coming back.
He hadn’t managed to get rid of the unease he had felt the last time he and Midoriya had talked.
Talked might be a bit of a stretch anyway.
Tenya turned his back to the window and came closer to the others. He turned on the ceiling lights as he went, frowning at the disgruntled moan that Sero let out from the floor behind the couches. “Too bright,” he complained, and Tenya huffed, answering, “You’ll hurt your eyes if you stay in the dark for too long.”
“Iida,” Ashido whined. She was seated on the floor as well, facing Sero, some sort of trump game spread between the two of them. “I was winning.”
“I hardly see how my making sure you can actually see your game—”
“Hah!” Sero yelled, cutting him off. “Eat dirt, Ashido.”
He placed two cards between his spread legs, his other hand raised in victory, and Ashido let out the worst insult Tenya had heard come out of her lips yet before throwing her game away in distaste. “You filthy cheater,” Sero snickered, stretching his arms above his head. His elbows cracked ominously, and Ashido made a face. “You stuck my cards together!”
“Well you stuck the aces together so you’d draw all of them—”
Tenya would have kept watching if not for Kirishima’s voice coming from the entrance. His head snapped to the door right as it opened, letting Asui and Uraraka in before Kirishima and, finally, Midoriya.
He was paler than he had been before going. Paler even than when he had come back from the first day of his internship. His face looked almost green despite the bright lighting of the room—his eyes shadowed by lack of sleep, his lips pale, his skin marred with blue veins. Tenya thought that if he were to touch it, it would feel icy under his fingers. He closed his mouth at the thought, realizing that he’d had it open for a moment like a fool.
“What is that?” Kirishima yelled, pointing at the couch.
Everyone turned their head to look. Midoriya did as well, with a second of hesitation, and when Tenya ripped his eyes away from how sickly the other looked, all he found was Kaminari, his face beet red and his hands busy trying to hide something from view.
“Yaoyorozu asked me!” Kaminari said, high-pitched. “It’s not mine! Can’t a guy charge his buddy’s epilator in peace? She said it’s faster when I do it!”
Kirishima roared with laughter, dropping onto the couch with all the exhaustion gone from his face. Uraraka was laughing nervously, Asui standing in her shadow with a smile on her lips, and Midoriya was blinking uncomprehendingly, face pale and eyes red.
Tenya felt his own smile leave him.
He hesitated. There were too many people around them for what he wanted to ask, but he didn’t want to wait until Midoriya had gone back to his room either—he knew Midoriya valued his time alone as much as he valued his time with them. And Tenya was aware that he wouldn’t be able to bring himself to question Midoriya the following day.
He attempted to step forward, but stopped himself again when Bakugou entered the room, probably brought by the sound of Kirishima’s voice.
Midoriya’s eyes zeroed in on Bakugou as they always did. Tenya had come to expect the shakiness that took Midoriya in the presence of their classmate, even if this weakness had dwindled over the months and even more since they had all moved into the dorm. But Midoriya didn’t tremble or fidget or glance around. His eyes followed Bakugou’s path into the room, his body still as a statue and his skin translucent, and when he closed his eyes, it wasn’t just to blink.
Tenya’s guts clenched at the obvious distress on his face. He looked at Bakugou too, but Bakugou wasn’t doing anything special. He wasn’t even looking in Midoriya’s direction. He simply sat down on Kirishima’s other side and growled a mocking comment in Kaminari’s direction, only snapping when Ashido patted his shoulder in greeting.
Midoriya’s eyes were still closed when he turned on his heels wordlessly. Tenya watched him take the direction of the bedrooms, torn between wanting to follow him and wanting to give him his space.
In the end, he didn’t make the choice. His feet took after Midoriya naturally.
He followed him at a distance. He didn’t think Midoriya had even noticed that he wasn’t alone, because Midoriya was never so rude as to ignore someone unless he was too deep in his own thoughts to see them—Tenya sped up when he saw Midoriya wrap his fingers around the handle of his bedroom’s door.
“Midoriya-kun!” he called, uninterrupted this time.
He faltered when Midoriya flinched. His heart had sped up too quickly, making him feel light-headed, and when Midoriya turned his head to look at him, all Tenya felt was the ache in his calves and the cool dampness of his own skin. It seemed almost foreign on him.
“Iida-kun,” Midoriya replied. His voice was windy.
Tenya stepped toward him slowly. Despite the difference in their heights, he felt as though he were the smaller one, or maybe as though there was a distance between them that he couldn’t cross no matter how fast he ran.
It took a moment for him to find his voice. He didn’t know why his stomach was cramped with worry, why his mouth felt weighed down by misery; Midoriya looked at him, face slack and eyes empty but for the deep and unsettling coldness in them. He looked like he was unable to speak as well.
Tenya cleared his throat. “I wanted to congratulate you on your internship once more,” he said. Usually this sort of formality warranted him a teasing comment from Uraraka, but Midoriya didn’t even seem to understand it. “Your hard work is an inspiration to me. To be under Night Eye’s orders… I’m very happy that professionals are recognizing your worth as a hero.”
“Ah,” Midoriya said. His hand dropped the door’s handle, thumb running across the deep scar at the base of his index. “Sorry.”
Tenya blinked. “What for?”
For some reason, Midoriya paled even more. They hadn’t turned on the corridor’s lights on their way, but the moonlight coming from the wide window beside them was gleaming off Midoriya’s face sharply.
“Are you okay?” Tenya asked. Before he could help it, he raised a hand and touched it to Midoriya’s forehead. His skin was damp with icy sweat, and the difference in temperature made Tenya’s fingertips tingle unpleasantly. “You’re freezing!”
“I’m fine,” Midoriya rasped.
He stood still for another moment before raising his own hand and pushing Tenya’s away. Tenya swallowed despite the ache in his throat.
“I apologize, I shouldn’t have—”
“It’s okay, Iida-kun.” Midoriya smiled. It was the same smile he had worn for the first few weeks at U.A.
Tenya’s heart sank.
“Midoriya-kun,” he said. “I don’t think you’re fine at all.”
Midoriya didn’t answer.
Tenya had never felt this uneasy in front of a friend. Midoriya was a private person through and through, he knew and respected that. He knew that he was being too forward and possibly putting his own feelings above the other boy’s. But he had a terrible feeling that he would regret letting the night go by and letting Midoriya deal with whatever was causing his distress alone.
“I know you can’t tell me anything about your work with Sir Night Eye,” he continued tightly. “But, and I’m sorry for asking—you know that you can talk to me about anything else, right?”
Midoriya’s mouth was upturned, his brows creased from stress or irritation. “Iida-kun…”
Tenya put both his hands on Midoriya’s shoulders. “You can share your worries. There’s no need to shoulder everything on your own.”
Midoriya’s smile turned into a parody of his usual self-assurance. “I know. Thank you.”
He tried to step away, but Tenya tightened his grip. He ignored the way Midoriya swallowed and his own instinct, which was to let him go at once.
“You are upset,” he declared, “because of your internship. And because of Bakugou-kun.”
Midoriya did flinch, then, harder than he had ever had in Tenya’s presence. Tenya let him go with an apology on his lips and his tongue and his insides feeling like a brick wall. No word came out while Midoriya got himself out of it; he could only watch the other breathe more harshly than he meant to and tell himself that he could fix it.
Midoriya took a long time to calm down. If anyone were to look at the scene from outside, Tenya thought that they wouldn’t even have noticed the panic that the other was in—but Tenya could, and what he saw was paralyzed limbs and a heavy chest, and in Midoriya’s blank eyes, life-old fear.
Tenya felt as if he had been punched. Or as if he deserved to be punched.
Still, he couldn’t talk.
Midoriya was the one who had to pick up the conversation. Tenya noticed at this moment exactly where he was standing—between Midoriya and the door to his room, leaving the other boy with no choice but to endure the moment or go back to where he had come from. Go back to a room where Bakugou was.
Tenya stepped away from the door and tried to ignore how much his chest hurt in sympathy.
“I know you’re trying to help me,” Midoriya said, barely louder than a whisper. “I, uh. I’m sorry.”
“You have nothing to apologize for,” Tenya replied gravely.
Midoriya looked at his feet for a moment. In the darkness it seemed all Tenya could see of him was the cracks, the scars on his arm and the flickers of fear in his eyes that too often layered over the strength—that too often caused it.
“Do you have a good relationship with your family, Iida-kun?” Midoriya asked.
Iida didn’t understand what he had said at first. When he did, his confusion was apparent. “I do.”
“Mmh.” Midoriya turned aside and leaned against the wall. “I love my mom. And I—I know that she loves me too.”
“I’m glad to hear it,” Tenya answered with a frown.
Midoriya smiled briefly at him. “I can’t imagine… I can’t figure out how you can live with a parent who hurts you.”
Tenya’s throat was tight, his voice nothing more than a wisp of smoke. “Did your—”
“No,” Midoriya cut in. “I’m sorry. Forget I said anything.”
Tenya couldn’t forget. Not Midoriya’s words, and not the way he had looked at Bakugou earlier. And though he already knew the answer, he asked, “Did someone hurt you?” The words felt like blades over his tongue as they came out.
Hot blood gathered in his face. He wanted to grasp Midoriya’s shoulders again so much that his hands ached with unspent energy—and Midoriya’s shoulders were trembling now, the way they would as recently as last month, whenever Bakugou was within touching distance.
Tenya didn’t like thinking ill of his classmates. He respected Bakugou. But he liked the thought of what anyone must have done to make someone as strong as Midoriya shiver like this at the mere mention of their name even less; to make him look as if he were readying himself for the kind of violence that he couldn’t—wouldn’t—defend himself against.
“I…” Midoriya’s hand jerked outward in reaction to the sound of Tenya’s voice, and Tenya’s placating words died a sudden death in his mouth to be replaced by the ugly truth. “I hate Bakugou-kun.”
Midoriya let out a weird, muffled sound of surprise.
Tenya knew his face was crimson now, but he kept talking. “I feel ashamed of myself, but I can’t accept someone like him as a rival or a coworker. I can barely accept him as a classmate.”
“Why?” Midoriya asked, bewildered.
“He’s never apologized for hurting you, has he?”
Midoriya’s jaw clenched. He didn’t look angry, though; only distraught and confused.
Heart beating fast, Tenya continued: “I apologize for intruding on your feelings like this, Midoriya-kun. But I’ll never accept Bakugou-kun as long as he doesn’t make amends for hurting his own classmate. It doesn’t matter how it happened, or how long ago. I can’t forgive someone who hurt my friend and acts like he can get away without an apology.” He nodded, then, satisfied with his wording.
There was a small, shaky smile on Midoriya’s lips, and the sight of it made Tenya’s chest soar with warmth. “I don’t think Kacchan realizes how you feel,” Midoriya said.
“Then I’ll tell him—”
“No!” Midoriya grabbed his wrist. His hand was cold, its skin rough. Tenya felt his blush worsen anyway. “Please, I just—thank you.” He sounded surprised even as he said it. “Thank you, Iida-kun.”
Tenya looked at him intently before asking: “Something at your work reminded you of him, didn’t it?”
Midoriya’s grip tightened around his wrist for a second. “Yes,” he admitted. “But I’ll be okay. I’ll fix it.”
Tenya tugged his hand backward; Midoriya let it go, fingers sliding down to the base of Tenya’s thumb, and Tenya turned his palm up to grab them instead, as gently as he could.
He felt Midoriya’s hand turn damp in his despite how cold it was. None of the heat Tenya knew he must radiate fell through it; only the icy sweat of distress.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Tenya asked.
The fact that Midoriya didn’t draw back despite the aching discomfort he was in felt more humbling than anything he had ever experienced.
Midoriya opened his mouth. Closed it. Opened it again. “It wasn’t that bad,” he said lightly. His eyes glanced behind Tenya and around himself for a second before he continued. “He hasn’t actually hurt me in years. Mostly just… insults. Mean comments. He didn’t even get to do that so much in our last year in middle school—I, I was too busy, and he probably was too, preparing for the entrance exam here—”
Midoriya’s voice was a shiver, dismissive and hurt all at once. He had a smile on his lips that looked more deprecating than joyful, and Tenya wished above all that he could erase it.
“Sorry,” Midoriya said. “I know you probably don’t want to hear about…”
“I do,” Tenya urged. “I’ll gladly listen to anything you want to say.”
Midoriya gave him another empty smile, and didn’t reply. He didn’t try to let go of Tenya’s hand, however. “I think I should go to sleep.” He must have seen the wave of disappointment that Tenya felt, because he added: “It’s not—I’m grateful. I just don’t know how to talk about it, or if I want to talk about it. I’m tired.”
Tenya’s free hand came up to rest on Midoriya’s, still held between his fingers. “I understand,” he decided. “I’m sorry for insisting.”
“It’s okay,” Midoriya smiled. “I’ve never really had anyone say that to me. I feel a little bad for making you hate Kacchan. He’s changed lately.”
Tenya knew that Bakugou had, even if probably not in the way that Midoriya saw it. Bakugou had been abrasive from the start, brimming with the intent to hurt and offend and keep away. But even he had found people who liked him enough to want to sit next to him on a couch and watch TV together—even he could be brought into a room full of people he mostly didn’t care about if a friend was there to make the company bearable.
Not unlike the way Tenya felt attracted to everywhere Midoriya went.
He considered, for an instant, whether he wanted to say more. Midoriya’s face had grown warmer in the dimness of the hallway, no longer looking like he was coming down with a serious illness. Tenya thought that Midoriya might very well just need a good night’s sleep to overcome the worst of the hurt that shone through him.
He gave another stroke to the back of Midoriya’s hand before releasing it. Midoriya blinked softly, looking down and then up again, and for the first time this night, his forehead smoothed over.
“Thank you,” he repeated.
“No,” Tenya replied, shaking his head. “Thank you, for talking to me. You’re very strong, Midoriya-kun.”
Midoriya blushed. Tenya felt his own face warm even more at the sight, and though he wished they wouldn’t, his eyes strayed down from Midoriya’s eyes and to his mouth instead, very briefly.
He cleared his throat. “Make sure to take a shower before you sleep and to stay away from screens and monitors,” he declared.
“You, ah, you might want to take your own advice on this, Iida-kun.”
Tenya hit his own forehead with the flat of his hand. “My apologies! I’m nowhere near presentable enough to be having this conversation. I’ll be sure to thoroughly wash the sweat of my training away.”
Midoriya laughed, soft and heartfelt. He opened the door to his room and went in with an awkward wave of his hand in Tenya’s direction, Good night leaving his lips as gently as a summer breeze.
Tenya stood for a while longer in front of Midoriya’s room. He considered going back to the common room in the span of a second; but Bakugou was probably still there, ready to stay up much longer than reasonable along with Kaminari and probably even Kirishima, who should really, really know better.
He didn’t want to be anywhere near Bakugou until he could gather his composure enough to be professional around him. Right now, though, he still had Midoriya’s fear-fast heartbeat imprinted into his palms; the sound of his voice in his ears as he spoke about years of loneliness and hurt as if they weren’t worth being told; and the sight of his smile, comforting but not appeased, burned into his eyes.
Tenya didn’t know whether to feel hopeful or hopeless about it. He wished Bakugou felt a quarter as confused as he did.
It might have been enough, even for him, to make him do something about it.