What is Todoroki Shouto?
To answer, one needs to ponder, for Todoroki Shouto is many things.
He is the crown prince, the heir of his father's Nation. He is an anomaly, the weapon of his father's ambition. He is a firebender. He is a waterbender.
What he is not, however, is the Avatar.
He knows this. His father knows this. The Fire Nation — Endeavor's Nation — knows this. The whole world knows that Todoroki Shouto is impossible. To bend two elements is to defy nature.
(The rumor has it the Fire Lord Endeavor made a pact with the spirits; the rumor has it Shouto's birth costed his mother her sanity, and her heart.)
Todoroki Shouto is not someone — something — that is supposed to exist.
(Sometimes Shouto wishes he doesn't.)
(However, he is quick to learn that to wish is a privilege he does not have.)
He is a curse. He is a miracle. He is a boy. He is a weapon. He is a rumor. He is a prove that Endeavor's Nation will, ultimately, rule above all.
Shouto's life is a paradox, and it isn't even his.
"You will be the Avatar's downfall," his father tells him. His father is the brightest thing Shouto ever seen — he blinds him so. Shouto never could look at him in the eye. "You will bring the Avatar's demise."
(What is Todoroki Shouto?)
The first time Shouto encounters the Avatar, he thinks, he isn't something I'm supposed to kill.
The boy before him is the Avatar. The boy is something Shouto is supposed to kill. He is a hero, a savior, a miracle, the successor of All Might, wielder of One for All — everything that Shouto is not.
"Who are you?" the boy asks him, eyes green and spilling, mouth quivering. The boy is afraid. Afraid of me, Shouto thinks. It shouldn't surprise him, really. Everyone is afraid of Shouto, even his mother. Even the Avatar.
After all the trainings his father beat into him — this is what he is supposed to face? This is what he was made for? The Avatar is a boy, possibly his age, perhaps younger; skin littered in scars and freckles. He looks slight, small. Fragile. And yet the boy — the Avatar, Shouto reminds himself, not a boy — does not cower. His hands tremble so, yet he holds them in fists. His feet shake, yet still he stands. His eyes water, yet they hold Shouto's gaze with startling intensity.
Underneath the cold, distantly, something twists in Shouto's chest. Shouto's fire falters.
(And then Shouto thinks about the rabbit his father handed him one summer, years ago. He thinks about its small frame, its quivering heartbeat. Its brown, soft fur. He thinks about his father's voice, the coldest thing in his life: kill it, Shouto.)
Shouto thinks: he isn't something I'm supposed to kill.
Shouto answers: "I am your downfall."
It should have been an easy kill. The boy — the Avatar — is seemingly only capable to dodge his attacks, to run and run and run. His bending is clumsy, awkward, all over the place; he bends like a toddler, like he isn't used to bending at all. In face of Shouto, who learned to bend before he learned to walk, killing him should be as easy as killing a rabbit.
Later, Shouto learns that underestimating the boy was a mistake.
He learns this later, when he is struck with the realization that he has been tricked a tad too late. He learns this later, when he is swimming in cold south pole water as he watches the boy flies away on a flying bison (which, the last time he checked, is supposed to be extinct) with his two aides.
He learns this later, when his father's fist sends him hurtling across the throne room.
("He outsmarted me," Shouto confesses, mouth threatening to quiver, eyes threatening to spill, and his father's hand swings.)
He learns this later, when his father's cold, cold voice tells him that he is not to return unless he brings the Avatar's head with him.
"This is what I made you for," Endeavor tells him, after bruising Shouto's ribs into blooming purple. At least nothing broke. "This is why you exist."
(What his father means: if Shouto cannot do this, there is no reason for Shouto to be alive. )
Shouto answers: "yes, Father."
Endeavor lowers himself to his throne, his anger simmering down. Over the years, Shouto learns to read his father's mood through gestures. After all, Endeavor doesn't speak to Shouto as much as he beats him. He either commands or burns.
"What are you, Shouto?"
Shouto answers, just like how he was taught, over and over and over: "I am the Avatar's downfall. I will bring the Avatar's demise."
Endeavor hums, satisfied of his son's compliance, of this masterpiece he has created, this weapon he owns. Todoroki Shouto, his most wonderful work, his magnum opus. Endeavor orders, "get out of my sight."
Just like how he was taught, Shouto obeys.
Shouto is intelligent. He is efficient, effective. He is the best of the best, a skilled navigator, a reverent scholar. He mastered waterbending at 11 (he has always been better at waterbending), and firebending at 13. At the age of 16, He has already beaten his father's commander and two lieutenants — who are foolish enough to insult him — in Agni Kai, only with fire. A true prodigy.
(He never lost. Not once. Not when his father is watching from his throne.)
If it were not for his failure in executing the Avatar a month ago, he would be his father's admiral as of now. Therefore, when he finds the Avatar within the waters near the Earth Kingdom territory the next month, he ponders what took him so long.
"Fuck y-you," the airbender spits at him. Literally. Shouto sidesteps and watches her saliva drops to the ground.
Ah. There he is. Shouto recognizes the green bush of hair, the gold tan of skin.
"Deku!" the airbender cries, struggles against the ice encasing her up to her neck. She is shivering, and her struggle is … well, it's obviously futile.
"Shut up," Shouto says. He tells the Avatar, "don't move or I'll burn her face off."
The Avatar stares at him in horror; even the spirited airbender seems to be afraid. They believe him. Shouto knows that threat would work; the horrid burnt mark over his left eye always does the trick. People believe you will hurt others when you have the scar to prove it. Shouto finds it funny. Shouto supposes his sense of humor is odd, but he has no one to hear his jokes anyway.
"What do you want?" the Avatar's voice, just like their encounter before, trembles. But Shouto finds that, within a month, he has changed. He doesn't look as small, or as fragile; soft, still, but Shouto can see the lines of muscle that wasn't there before. He has new scars, and his freckles has increased, it seems, in number. His hair —
Unnecessary details, Shouto chastises himself. Kill him.
"You," Shouto says. "I want you."
Seconds pass. And then The Avatar goes completely red with — anger? fear? Shouto cannot recognize the fumbling, steaming expression on his face. The Avatar is seemingly speechless, his mouth opening and closing several times.
(The airbender girl mutters under her breath, "what the hell," softly enough no one hears her.)
"Don't l-listen to him, Deku!"
Shouto's left hand burst into fire. He steps closer to the girl. "I told you to shut up."
The girl is afraid. The girl holds Shouto gaze — she is afraid, but Shouto can see the resolve in her eyes. Shouto recognizes that look; he saw it in the Avatar's eyes a month ago.
"Do i-it," she says, her voice trembling from the cold.
Shouto's freezes, genuinely surprised. Then, insulted. He narrows his eyes into slits. "Don't think I won't do it," he says, his voice lowering into a snarl.
"Ochako, what — ?"
"Then d-do it!" the girl snarls back, ignoring the Avatar's panicked shouts.
Shouto's fire falters.
Do it, he tells himself. But he won't. He knows he won't. And it must be shown on his face, because the girl's expression lights into an understanding. Shouto's fire diminish completely, his left hand trembles.
"This is foolish," he says, and he ignores the way his voice breaks. He faces the Avatar. "Surrender yourself and I will leave her be."
"D-Deku, don't — "
The airbender's speech is cut off to a gasp as the ice grows, frosting over her cheeks. "Waste more time," Shouto says, "and she will die of hypothermia within minutes."
Shouto expects more fight. More hesitation, at the very least. But the Avatar answers in a heartbeat. "Take me with you," he says. There is that sensation again — of Shouto's chest twisting itself into something he doesn't understand.
Unnecessary. Ignore it.
Shouto nods to his men. They seize the Avatar and restrain his hands, his legs, his mouth. He does not fight back. "Knock him out," Shouto orders. The airbender watches helplessly as one of Shouto's soldiers strike the Avatar. The Avatar's head lols back, limp like a doll's. Shouto watches as they bring him to the ship.
Shouto releases the girl. She falls to the ground, wet and trembling all over, her skin near blue. She wouldn't be able to move, or to speak, for a while.
Shouto has the Avatar. He can return home, now. He just has to kill him.
He feels very, very cold.
"I have to do it," he doesn't think she can hear him, but he says it anyway. "I will do it."
True to his word, he leaves her be.
Sometimes, Shouto wonders what would happen if he were the Avatar. Would his father use him still, as a living weapon? Would he be the eventual ruler of the New World, the one his father envisions? Would his father kill him?
Would his father love him?
It is pathetic, he knows. It is more pathetic even, that he never had the guts to ask.
(The last time Shouto asked something of his father was also the last time he saw his mother.)
His father loves him, of course. Shouto knows this. His father loves him like one loves riches, or fame, or power. Shouto is precious, valuable — he is gold, meld and burnt, beaten and polished into glimmering perfection. He understands this. The best of the best. He is the one to kill the Avatar, the one to break the cycle. The one to ruin nature and bring the world into a fiery oblivion. He is his father's executioner, his father's creation, an impossibility brought to life.
The Avatar is before him, chained and still. Waiting to be slaughtered.
How will he do it? Burn him? Freeze him? But, however incompetent his bending seems to be, he is still the Avatar. Perhaps attempting to murder him with elemental attacks will be counterproductive.
Bring his head to me. You will not return unless you bring his head to me.
Shouto unsheathes his sword.
The Avatar's eyes flutter open. Dark lashes, then hazy shades of trees. He shakes his head, his curls shaking as he does — they've grown, Shouto thinks, wilder now, like spring leaves — and then he sees Shouto.
"Oh," the Avatar says. "Oh."
Do it, Shouto thinks. Do it now. Do it, and he will return home. And he will become his father's right hand. And then — then —
"Why?" his voice is tiny, shaking, small.
The Avatar stares back, nervous, and doubtlessly scared shitless — but he stares back, still. Even now, this startles Shouto, this … this bravery. This fearlessness, in spite of imminent death. The Avatar continues, voice steadying if a little, a valiant effort.
"Why do you want me dead so badly?"
Unnecessary. Ignore it.
Shut up, replies a voice at the back of Shouto's head. Shut the fuck up. This voice, Shouto faintly realizes, sounds more like his own and less like Endeavor's.
Shouto thinks of an answer. Before he can come up with one, though, the Avatar just rambles.
"I mean. I know why. Kind of, uh, I know the — the Fire Lord wants me dead, so he can rule the world and everything, but why. I don't think I'm much of a threat for him, anyway, considering he killed the Avatar before me, I don't think it will take much from him to do it again, right? I figured it would have something to do with his pride and dominance and everything — what I'm saying is — wait," the Avatar takes a breath. "Sorry, I'm rambling — um," and then the Avatar opens his mouth and closes it again, seemingly confused at himself for apologizing, considering Shouto is holding a very sharp sword that will possibly cut his head off the next minute.
"I don't know," Shouto says.
The Avatar looks at him, eyes round and surprised. He probably thinks Shouto can't form any coherent sentences other than death threats.
"I don't. I," Shouto frowns, and stops.
"Are you going to kill me?"
Shouto stares at him, deadpan. What a foolish question, he thinks. Yes, he is. Of course he will.
"You are the Avatar, and I will be the one to kill you," Shouto says. Say a word too many times, and it will lose its meaning. These are the words that Shouto repeat over and over again, the mantra he chants when he rocks himself to sleep after a day of exhaustion in his father's hands. I am your downfall. I am your downfall. I am your downfall.
The Avatar looks at him, thoughtful.
(No one ever looks at Shouto like that. Like Shouto has something worth saying, like Shouto is a person. His chest twists painfully. He ignores it.)
"That's not what I asked," the Avatar says, slowly, as if speaking to a child. He probably thinks Shouto is dense, a killing machine of the Fire Lord's. A mere brute force. Then the Avatar says, "you are Shouto, are you not?"
What are you, Shouto?
"I am the Avatar's downfall," Shouto says, each words wrung out of him like torn flesh. "I will bring the Avatar's demise," he can feel his temperature rapidly fluctuating, his left side warring with his right. Shouto's sword is sizzling, and his breath frosting. Do it, his head screams. Do it. Do it. Do it now.
Shouto gives in. "I will bring the Avatar's head to my father."
Seconds later, Shouto's ship overturned, water filling in in waves. Out of balance, Shouto's head hits steel wall and black dots start filling in his vision. He vaguely remembers water. Drowning. Cold. Warmth. An arm around his waist. Spring leaves. Golden skin. Shouto. Shouto —
When he comes to, his ship is a wreck and the Avatar is gone.
"Prince Shouto, please — "
This silences Momo quickly, but Shouto can see disapproval on her face.
"I will not hear more of this," Shouto says with finality. "We are heading to — " Shouto pauses. "Home."
"Your Highness," Momo, the brave girl, continues. "Forgive my impertinence, but I do not think — "
Shouto gives her a furious glare. "Will you go against me, Momo?"
Momo bites her lip, and then looks down. "No, my Lord."
"Do you think me incompetent? Do you think me incapable as the captain of this ship?"
Her voice is clear, honest, faithful. "No, my Lord."
"Then spare me the bullshit."
Shouto has no use for sugar coating soldiers, nor blabbering crew. If his men have something to say, then they must, truthfully.
The silence lasts a few seconds. "I am your personal guard, my Lord," Momo begins, carefully picking her words. "Your safety is what I live for. However, within the walls of the Fire Lord," Momo pauses. "I am afraid I might be unable to do my job properly."
Shouto isn't sure what to say. Shouto isn't sure why he feels — why he feels.
"Nonsense," Shouto says, back turned against his guard. Momo is holding back tears. He will spare her the shame. "You are the best there is. Nobler than any."
"I understand, my Lord," Momo answers, and Shouto ignores the way her voice breaks. Momo has always been fond of him, ever since they were kids. Shouto wonders why she decided to throw her future away — it would be a bright future, he knows it, for Momo is of nobility, is strong and amazing and beautiful — to protect the cursed crown prince. To protect a living weapon.
"Leave," Shouto says, as gently as he can — which is not much at all. Shouto does not know gentle.
"Yes, Prince Shouto."
Shouto looks to the sea. Beyond the horizon: the Fire Nation.
Shouto is wrong. His father does not blind him; the Avatar does. The brightest thing Shouto has ever seen.
Shouto can feel it — the raw power, tumbling in rapid waves, like light. Shouto is strong, Shouto's father even more so, but this — this kind of power is nothing mortal, nothing like violence. This kind of power is holy.
The temple shines. The solstice breaks. Shouto sees emerald, sees stars made freckles. Spring leaves, golden in the sun. The Avatar —
Shouto wonders how he could possibly kill pure light.
"You failed," Endeavor says. It is a statement, spit and fury. Shouto tries his very best not to throw up. His sight is red from blood.
"You failed three times. And you dare to come back. You dare to defy me."
Swallowing bile and blood, Shouto says, "forgive me, my Lord."
"I will burn your other eye," his father says. "And then you will be truly useless. Are you useless, Shouto?"
It is a miracle he can still speak.
"Prove it. His head, or your eye."
His father won't do it. His father won't do it. He is his father's masterpiece, his most wonderful work, he is his father's gold, polished to perfection, beaten and burnt and beaten and burnt —
"Don't think I won't do it," Endeavor says, his voice lowering into a snarl.
He will, Shouto thinks. I know he will.
"What are you, Shouto?"
Shouto answers. Always.
(Do not speak. Do not fight back. This is how you survive.)
Leaving the throne room, Shouto throws up blood.