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Orchid in Bloom

Chapter Text

T’was a clear summer’s night, yet throughout the land, there was a sense of unease. For months now, there had been rumors of a Hun invasion.

It was on that night that those rumors came true.

A soldier lit fire to the signal.

“Now all of China knows you’re here,” he hissed at the chapped mess standing before him.

The villain leaned in close so that he and the soldier were eye to eye. His raggedy breath reeked of rot, and as he scratched his neck, flakes of dry skin fell to the ground. With wide and bloodshot eyes, he breathed one word that sent chills down the soldier’s spine.

“Good.”

~***~

Emperor Nezu paced the throne room floor restlessly. He had awoken in the middle of the night for reasons that even he did not know, and he could not fall asleep again. He feared for the worst, for he only awoke like that when something truly terrible had happened.

His chief advisor, Present Mic, rubbed his eyes and stared at Emperor Nezu with both irritation and exhaustion. “Your Majesty, are you sure that the Huns have arrived tonight ? After all, the last time you were up like this, all that had happened was a three minute deviation from your normal breakfast time.”

Nezu folded his little paws behind his back and faced his advisor with a very grave expression. “Present Mic, you are my most trusted advisor. You have served me for many, many years. Ever since you were old enough to hold a brush, you have been a part of my palace staff, taking inventory and keeping scribe of all the ins and outs of all the little people in the home. And now, here you are, living up to your self-given name. You give commands—”

Fortunately, it was at that exact moment that the renowned general Endeavor burst into the room, effectively cutting off the emperor before he could really get into the groove of his ramblings. “Emperor Nezu!” he cried. “The Huns have managed to break through the North.”

The tiny, animalian ruler nodded his head. “So I feared.” For once, he did not meander with his words.

“There are no surviving witnesses yet, but it is assumed that they are being led by Shigaraki. I come only to tell you that I will be rallying my army and marching out at once to defeat him.”

At this, Emperor Nezu shook his head. “First, you must grow your numbers. I shall have draft notices posted throughout the land. Call up reserves and acquire as many new recruits as you possibly can. I fear that this fight will be more than we have anticipated. After all—”

“Forgive me, Your Majesty, but my army is one of your best! I’m sure that we will win without any trouble.”

“Only second best.” Nezu smiled, causing Endeavor’s blood to boil. “Besides, we shouldn’t be taking any chances. All who are able should fight.”

With a scowl, the hotheaded general left the room.

The emperor looked at his advisor and said, “His youngest son is old enough to lead a squadron now, is he not?”

Present Mic nodded. “I can only hope he does not turn out like his father.”

Nezu sighed. “I do too. By the way, that reminds me…”

~***~

Momo sighed and played with a single grain of rice out of the many in her bowl. She propped up her chin on her elbow and stared out her room window at the rising sun. Today was the day, the day she knew she was going to fuck up in one way or another.

Today was the day she was to present to the matchmaker and meet her future husband, if all went well. Then she would get married in a few months’ time, bring honor to her family, and live a normal life until she died.

She flicked away the grain of rice with her chopsticks. It wasn’t like she considered getting married and settling down to be a necessarily demeaning end, but it sounded so unfulfilling . She still had so much more to learn and do!

She turned her attention back to her rice bowl. After popping a tiny amount of rice into her mouth, she put the chopsticks down and left her room. The maid would get the rice while she was gone.

She walked over to the family shrine, where her father was praying to their ancestors. She helped him up when he was finished. He smiled at her and put his hand on her shoulder. “Don’t worry about the matchmaker, my child. You are already a wonderful young lady. You will easily bring honor to the family.”

Momo smiled uneasily back at him. Despite being told that for the better part of the last few months, she still found it hard to believe that the matchmaker would be able to find her a husband. She was, at the end of the day, nothing special. What man would want her?

Her father patted her shoulder. “You should go now, otherwise you’ll be late.”

~***~

Momo Yaoyorozu truly seemed to be the ideal bride. She was pale and tall and obedient, and she was certainly very pretty. She carried herself with grace, and rarely did she ever speak out of turn. Her interest in the arts only brought out all her fine qualities. Indeed, many of the neighboring families agreed that she was a picture perfect daughter.

“Momo,” her mother said as she carefully brushed her daughter’s hair. “Are you ready for today?”

Momo herself sunk lower into the lukewarm bathwater. “No,” she truthfully said, causing her mother to laugh.

“Don’t worry, my child. You’re already such a wonderful young lady. Just do your best at the matchmaker’s, and you will surely bring honor to us all.”

Her grandmother burst into the room. “Futaba, what are you doing still brushing that girl’s hair? Her meeting with the ‘maker is in half an hour! Get her out of the tub right now or else she’ll be wrinklier than a prune!”

“Of course, mother!” Momo’s mother yelped, quickly detangling the last few snarls and helping Momo out of the tub.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk. Momo, your mother never was the best at time management,” Grandmother Yaoyorozu said as she helped Momo into her dress. “I’m so sorry that we have to rush you now, but don’t worry. If your mother was able to pass through the matchmaker’s hands into her husband’s, then surely you , the wonderful little blossom you are, will be able to do it without a problem. Even if you were rushed.” She patted her granddaughter’s cheek.

Momo could only nod as the older women put on her makeup and did her hair. A feeling of unease was rapidly growing in the pit of her stomach. Everyone was telling her she’d be able to bring honor to the family with both hands tied behind her back, but all that it was doing was making her nervous.

“Hey, hey now,” her grandmother said softly as she popped an apple into Momo’s mouth. “If it makes you feel any better, I found a cricket this morning, and something tells me it’s a lucky one.”

Momo nodded. Her mother gave her one final once-over as her grandmother tied the cricket cage to her waist.

“Oh! And one laaast thing,” her grandmother said, hurriedly fetching a calligraphy brush and ink stone. Momo winced at her grandmother’s terrifyingly strong old lady grip as the old woman very carefully, very beautifully wrote the characters for honor and prosperity on her forearm.

“There,” the old lady said with a smile. “ Now you’re truly ready. Aoyama will love you.”

Momo inspected the wet characters drawn on her arm. A little shaky, but still beautiful. She only had to hope that it dried before she could accidentally soil her sleeves.

With smiles on their faces, both women sent her outside to join the other girls waiting to meet the matchmaker.

Momo silently prayed for luck, for honor, as she joined the train of brides-to-be.

The sun beat down upon Momo’s paper umbrella as she waited for what felt like hours before the matchmaker’s house to be called upon. She was going to be a bride. She was a perfect porcelain doll, seated upon a shop owner’s shelf, ready to be sold to whomever deemed her beautiful and affordable enough.

The door burst open, and the apparent matchmaker stepped out. Momo couldn’t see him, but he already sounded like the most extra person ever.

A scroll was snapped open in the most dramatic way possible. “Momo Yaoyorozu?” the matchmaker singsonged.

Without a word, she stood up, closed her umbrella, and walked up to the matchmaker, a strange, blond man who seemed to sparkle. Aoyama, was it? She bowed in greeting, and with a smug smile and a curt nod, he let her in.

“So, Miss Yaoyorozu,” Aoyama said as he whipped out a brush and scroll, “Please recite the final admonition.”

“Fulfill your duties calmly and respectfully,” Momo recited as she pulled out a fan, but in the process, she accidentally loosened the latch on the cricket cage. “Reflect before you act. These things shall bring you honor and glory.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the cricket take its chance and bounce away, but with the matchmaker’s eyes trained on her at all times, she didn’t want to take the risk of failing her exam by catching him.

“Veeeery good, Miss Yaoyorozu!” the blond man crooned, strutting around Momo in a circle, observing her from all angles. “It’s nice to know that you’re living up to my expectations.” With a pleased sigh, the blond man knelt down at a table and gestured to the teapot and teacups sitting upon it. “Now, be a dear and pour me some tea?” With a smile that looked more self-absorbed than anything else, the matchmaker rested his elbows upon the table and laced his fingers together, watching her intently.

Momo obediently knelt down and took the teapot.

If you’re to impress your future in-laws, you must be able to show grace! Poise! And dignity! All while merely pouring a simple cup of tea.” With every word he said, Aoyama struck a different ridiculous and dramatic pose, to the point where Momo was so distracted that for a moment, she missed the teacup.

“Ahhh…” a teeny-tiny voice sighed, and she looked down at the teacup in alarm to find the lucky cricket relaxing in the scalding tea. Hurriedly, Momo filled the cup and gave it to herself, immediately starting on a fresh one for Aoyama when—

“Tsk, tsk, Miss Yaoyorozu! As the server, you should be the last person to receive your drink,” he reprimanded, reaching for the tea himself.

“My apologies, sir, but there’s—”

“Nope! No excuses, Miss Yaoyorozu. And how dare you talk back to me!” Aoyama exclaimed as he succeeded in getting the tea. He sniffed it delicately and sighed. Momo felt her stomach sink as he began to take a sip…

…and promptly spilled the whole thing on himself with a shriek upon seeing the cricket within. Momo covered her ears and got up. Just in time, too: the matchmaker scrambled to his feet and knocked over the table— fortunately, Momo managed to snatch the teapot before it hit the ground— causing formerly barely-alive coals to burst into flame on the floor.

“You dare put a cricket in my tea??” Aoyama demanded, taking a threatening step forward, only to step on the fire that he had somehow not noticed. He yelped in pain.

With no idea what to do, Momo whipped out her fan again and tried to blow it out, only to make it worse instead. Panicking, she snatched up the still-alive cricket and shoved him back into the cage and turned her attention back to the matchmaker.

He snatched the teapot from her hands and extinguished the flames with the remaining liquid inside. Fuming, he took a step towards Momo, and terrified, she took a step back.

So not cute!” he cried as she crashed into the door. “Not only do you try to poison me with a nasty little insect in my drink—” he slammed open the door, and Momo took a further step outside, into everyone’s view. “But you also set fire to my home!” Everyone present winced.

Momo took one terrified look backwards, and her eyes met with her mother’s hurt ones. Guilt and shame immediately built up in her gut, but there was no time to think about it.

Aoyama snatched the fan out of her hand and threw it down in a rage. “You terrible little wretch! You may look like a bride, and it may seem that you act like one, but you will never, EVER be one!” Furious, he stormed away.

Faintly, Momo could hear him call for a Miss Itsuka Kendo, but she wasn’t truly listening. Her mother immediately put a protective arm around her daughter as the latter tried very hard not to cry.

Chapter Text

Momo let the cricket free just outside her house. She neither sighed nor smiled, her expression painfully neutral.

“Momo! How’d it—”

Without a word, she turned away from her father, who trailed off.

She knew she disappointed him. She knew she disappointed her whole family. And while it wasn’t her fault, technically, she couldn’t help but feel as though it was. She’d been groomed all her life to be the perfect bride: calm, obedient, and respectful. Yet, when the situation was out of her control, all that training had fallen to pieces, and she was unable to sway the events into her favor.

She wasn’t a bride. She was a fake, trained like a dog to act like one.

Sweet summer blossoms filled the air as Momo meandered through the courtyard. Eventually she ended up by the pond, and there she knelt down at its banks and stared at her reflection.

She teared up again the longer she stared.

All her life, she’d been told she would have no problem with the matchmaker. All her life, she’d been told she would bring honor to the family without even batting an eye. All her life, she’d been told she would be a perfect little girl, a perfect little wife, a perfect little mother.

She wiped her makeup away and stared at her true reflection.

Could it be that she was simply not meant to play that part?

She was torn away from her thoughts by the booming of the drum on the outskirts of town. Someone was coming? The Huns?

No, they were too far South for that, and the cadence wasn’t right for an invasion. But it wasn’t a travelling merchant or vampire escort; that she could say with certainty.

She darted over to the gate, tearing the pin holding her bun in place out as she did so, but she was stopped by her father.

“What is it?” she asked him.

“One of the imperial court and an escort,” he replied. “I do believe this is a draft. Stay inside; it’s none of your concern.” He began to walk away, but Momo grabbed his sleeve.

“You’re too old to go to war, Father! Besides, you’ve already served time in the imperial army. Why would you be summoned for the draft?” she said.

Her father gave it some thought. “You have an excellent point.”

Momo breathed a sigh of relief and let go of her father. She began to walk away when whoever had arrived began to announce their business to the town.

“Greetings, citizens! We come with an important message from the emperor himself! As you all know, the Huns have invaded China, so we are now in dire need of more soldiers. By order of the emperor, one man from every family shall serve in the imperial army under General Endeavor.”

Momo stopped, listening with a mix of curiosity and fear. While she did technically have an older brother by a few years, she only knew he existed because of the rare hushed whispers exchanged between the servants tending to the family tomb. Her father was the only man in the household.

“Beginning with…” There was a pause, possibly for dramatic effect, but more likely to unfurl the list of names. “Yaoyorozu!”

Momo’s blood ran cold, and she found herself unable to move as her father, her ever honorable father, obediently limped out the gate to accept his conscription notice.

Slowly, slowly, Momo regained her ability to move, turning around to the still open gate. The listings continued on without missing a beat, and her father returned with a scroll.

It wasn’t fair.

Though she couldn’t do anything about it at the moment without further staining the family name, she resolved not to let this slide.

There was more than one way to bring honor to her family.

~***~

Late that night, the souls were stirring.

“Oh dear, oh dear,” the greatest of them all sighed as he etherialized from the words engraved upon his tombstone. He drifted over to the metal dragon ornament upon the incense tray and flicked its nose. “Uraraka, it’s time to wake up,” he said.

The ornament trembled and smoked as it came to life, and out of the ashes rose a tiny, red-brown dragon, who smiled cheerfully at the ghost. “You called?”

~***~

The moonlight streaming into her room was what awoke Momo that night. She blinked away the sleep from her eyes and allowed them to adjust to the dark. As silently as she could, she sat up in bed. She was going to do this.

Fishing a stick of incense out from underneath her mattress, she wedged the end of it into a crack between the window frame and the wall, then struck a match to let it burn. She watched it glow for a moment as she sent a silent prayer for forgiveness before she pulled a comb out of her dresser drawer and tiptoed out of her room. She was going to do this.

~***~

Uraraka blinked slowly at the gathered spirits, confused. “So… which guardian do you want me to awaken?”

“I’m telling you, if she’s going to fight in the war, so be it. She’ll probably dishonor the family in the process, but as dead people, what can we do about it?” a tall, thin ghost lamented. “It’s all we can do to send the swiftest after her so that we can all act like she never even left!”

“No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong!” a grandly bearded old man said. “She needs to have the most cunning go after her, so that even if she’s set in her ways, she can still be brought back home through good old-fashioned trickery!”

“Oh, please ; not all of us—”

“Hush, now,” the Great Ancestor said. “We shall have Uraraka awaken the most powerful of them all.”

~***~

Momo’s stomach twisted in her gut as she replaced her father’s draft notice with her comb. She was doing it; she was really doing it.

She fled the room as fast as she could without waking her parents, running to the armory in the dark through sheer memory power. Once there, she lit a candle and allowed herself to relax, falling to her knees.

Her father’s sword hung upon the door, the first thing that caught her eye once she opened the wardrobe. Tilting her head upwards to look at it, she felt the tip of her ponytail brush against her neck, and she knew what she had to do.

She shook as she stood up, pulling the string binding her hair out as she reached for the weapon.

~***~

Uraraka clambered onto the Great Stone Dragon’s head, gong clenched tightly between her teeth. She glanced up at the sky, hoping that there were still a few hours of night left, but alas, the dawn was rapidly approaching. Uraraka grit her teeth. She could do this.

I can do this , she thought as she scampered over to the statue’s ear. Bracing herself for the aftershock, she hit the gong as loudly as she could.

Nothing happened for a moment, so she cracked one eye open, then the other.

The Great Stone Dragon’s ear was gone.

~***~

The deed done, Momo quickly brushed herself off and donned her father’s armor. It was a little big, but not uncomfortably so, and for that, she thanked her lucky stars. She took a deep breath to calm herself and attach the sword to her hip. She tied her hair into a soldier’s knot and blew out the candle.

With the rising sun approaching rapidly, Momo wasted no time escaping to the stables.

“Hey, Iida,” she whispered to her magnificent, white horse. Iida opened an eye, and upon seeing her transformation, he began to panic. “Hey, hey! Iida, Iida, it’s just me. It’s just Momo. Sorry I spooked you like that, boy. We’ve got someplace to go.”

~***~

Uraraka groaned. She’d done it now. She’d dun goof’d. The ancestors were never going to forgive her for causing the Great Stone Dragon to crumble. And then they’d never and a day forgive her for lying about awakening him, but what could she really say? She panicked!

A cricket hopped up to her and chirped. She opened an eye and looked at him curiously. “Go after her?” she asked him. “Well, why would I do that? The ancestors didn’t call on me to follow Momo to war, and I’m certainly not capable enough. I’d just get her killed.”

The cricket chirped again, this time hopping in excitement. Uraraka opened up her other eye and looked at him head on, hope blossoming in her chest. “You really think I could do it?” she breathed, a smile crossing her face. She laughed out loud when she heard the cricket chirp out his response. “Why, thank you! You should come, too! Crickets are lucky, you know.”

The cricket stopped hopping and looked a little embarrassed instead.

“What do you mean, you’re not lucky? Just believe in yourself! You can do it, uh…” The cricket chirped. “Deku! Oh, is that not your real name? Aww, I thought it was cute, but if you don’t like it, I’ll call you Midoriya anyway.”

Midoriya the cricket contemplated both options for a moment before giving Uraraka his final answer.

She laughed again. “Deku it is, then!”

~***~

Creaky breath.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

“Somebody is watching us,” Shigaraki croaked, picking at the scabs developing on his dry, dry neck. “Somebody is watching us, and I want to know who it is.”

One of the Huns dragged two soldiers out of their hiding spot and threw them before Shigaraki’s feet. “Scouts, sir, from the imperial army.”

Huff, huff.

“Kurogiri!”

The soldiers at his feet shrank back, terrified. “The emperor will stop you!” one of them yelped.

Scratch scratch scratch.

“Kurogiri!!”

The man in question practically materialized by Shigaraki’s side, and he stared sternly down at the scouts. “There, there, Shigaraki. You don’t have to worry. I’m here,” he crooned, patting the young leader on the arm soothingly. He turned to face the trembling soldiers. “Tell the emperor we’re here to play his games. Have him send his strongest armies.” Kurogiri grinned and took a step towards the soldiers, laughing softly as the fear on their faces grew. “We’re ready.”

One of the soldiers managed to recover, and he immediately ran off. However, the other remained planted to the spot out of sheer terror.

“Oh, what a shame. This one isn’t strong enough.” Kurogiri chuckled. “What do you want to do with him, Shigaraki?”

Sniff, sniff. Sniff, sniff.

“Kill him.”

~***~

With her cover of darkness gone, Momo sacrificed her stealth, but it didn’t particularly matter now that she was out of the house. Plus, she needed to be able to read in order to get to the right place.

The notice gave all the information she needed. She was due at the Mu Sheng camp by tomorrow at noon, and she had to have her own uniform and quarters prepared.

The uniform she clearly had covered, but quarters…? She hadn’t even thought far enough ahead to pack anything to eat for her ride to camp, let alone a bolt of canvas to make a tent out of. She didn’t know if she could even feasibly carry a bolt of canvas on her own, if she was being honest. Bridal training didn’t exactly involve a whole lot of working out.

Momo groaned and fell back against a tree. She was normally so good at planning. How could she have failed to think about anything that went into this idea? Nearby, Iida eyed her with what could have been concern, but was more likely to be some kind of horse lecture.

She sighed. “I should have brought a map with me.”

Something dropped out of the tree and straight onto her lap, but before she could scream, the creature held a claw to its lips. Shh.

“Hi, I’m Uraraka!” the creature said with a smile. “Your ancestors sent me to protect you in the upcoming war.”

Momo blinked, hurriedly trying to process the sudden turn of events. “I didn’t realize dragons still existed,” she said, “let alone talking ones.”

Uraraka paused for a moment, seemingly contemplating something, before she continued. “Believe it, Yaomomo.” The cricket jumped up and down on her head, chirruping cheerfully. “And that cricket is Izuku Midoriya, but he says I can call him Deku. He’s lucky.”

Momo said nothing, for she had nothing to say that would come to mind.

“Anyway, I don’t suppose you want to go home and forget this whole running away to join the army in your father’s stead thing, do you?” Uraraka asked, and Momo shook her head.

“It’s not fair,” she said. “Plus, the matchmaker hates me now. If I can’t bring honor to the family by marrying a good man, then I’ll just become a war hero.”

“I don’t really understand that leap in logic, but I’m here to support you! If you’re not going to change your mind, then let’s go!” The tiny dragon cheerfully hopped off of Momo’s knees and skipped over to Iida. But when Momo didn’t move, she turned around and gave the girl a concerned look. “What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know how to get to camp,” Momo admitted. “I’ve never been outside of town.”

Uraraka’s expression softened. “Well, that’s what you’ve got me here for! Lemme see that notice.”

Chapter Text

Shoto Todoroki watched as his father discussed battle plans with the emperor’s representative. As the son of the second-best general, it was expected of him to grow up to be as great of a commander as his father, nevermind the fact that he already had two older brothers who could have also done the job.

Well, it didn’t particularly matter to Shoto anyway. He had always wanted to be in the army and become a great general, just not under the tutelage of his slimeball father without empathy.

“Shoto!” The boy hardly reacted despite how loud and sudden he was called, choosing instead to flick his gaze towards his father almost lazily. “I don’t have time to train these low life peasants. They’re only going to end up as cannon fodder, so I leave you in charge of their training. Present Mic will be here to assist you for the next few days, but don’t rely on him. He’s only here to collect conscription notices.”

Endeavor gave his son a very long, hard look, but it was only met with a perfect poker face. With a scowl, the general continued his talking: “Since the emperor has recently informed us of the current location of the Huns, I shall be leaving with my army shortly. However, since the emperor also believes you to be too young to run a camp on your own—”

“A perfectly reasonable sentiment,” Present Mic cut in. “He’s only seventeen.”

“Which is plenty old enough, considering his breeding,” Endeavor argued, and though his face didn’t show it, Shoto inwardly flinched.

“Anyway,” Present Mic continued for Endeavor, “Emperor Nezu decided that you can’t run this camp alone, so he has had someone selected to assist you. He felt that despite his belief of you being too young, you wouldn’t appreciate working with someone too much older than you, so he’s around your age.”

Shoto nodded. He wouldn’t have minded someone older than him, but he wouldn’t be allowed to socialize with the soldiers-to-be as equals, and the chances of finding someone his age seemed low anyway. He appreciated the sentiment.

“His name is Katsuki Bakugou, and he will be arriving very soon. If I’m not gone by then, that is when I will leave.”

Shoto watched as the two men got up. Present Mic left the tent, but Endeavor lingered for just a little bit longer, making his son uneasy.

“You’d better not disappoint me, Shoto. You weren’t born to lose to some measly barbarians,” the older man said.

Mic popped his head back into the tent. “Hey, did you notice that there’s a fight going on out here?”

~***~

Momo still wasn’t sure how it all happened. One minute, she walked into the camp. There had been a lot of gross burping, itching, and snorting coming from the men all around, but she didn’t do anything about that. All she had done was bump into some random guy, and next thing she knew, she was in a warzone, and her head was the target.

“What’s going on out here?” a loud voice boomed, and everybody froze.

Momo shook with fear, as she was surrounded by at least three muscly men whom, had they not been caught red-handed to be fighting, she was convinced would have pummeled her in that instant. She looked up, letting the hands that had been shielding her skull drop down to her side, and saw three different men approaching the mob.

One was enormous and way too muscular to be simply burly . He had a fire in his sharp, blue eyes that showed he meant business and a helmet tucked underneath his arm that showed he had power .

“That’s General Endeavor,” Uraraka whispered, but Momo had figured as much.

General Endeavor turned to the smallest of the three and said something before walking away. “Good luck… captain ,” was all she could catch.

“That must be his son,” the tiny dragon continued, pressing herself up against Momo’s neck as subtly as she could.

Momo watched the apparent son as he exchanged a few words with the tall, blond man. She flinched as he turned abruptly to face the men, but she got her first good look at the captain.

He was very pretty. Despite his mismatched blue and grey eyes, split red and white hair, and massive scar, he still had handsome features. And, Momo wryly thought, he’s coming right at me.

Everybody thinned out so as to better address him. “ He did it,” someone said, pointing at Momo, and she gulped.

The captain peered at her with an unreadable expression. "What's your name, soldier?" he asked her, and the calmness his voice held sent a shiver down her spine.

"Uhh," Momo said, drawing a complete blank. She shot a look back at Uraraka in her hood, who furiously whispered, "Shoujo! Wait, no! Shoji!"

"Shoji's his name!" Momo hissed, resisting the urge to jerk her head in the direction of the aforementioned Shoji.

"I didn't ask for his name; I asked for yours ," the captain calmly said, his steely gaze practically boring into her soul.

Momo gulped. "Sorry about that. My name is, uh…"

"Deku!" Uraraka squeaked, lunging to catch the cricket as he tried to hop onto Momo's shoulder.

"Shh!"

"Shh?" Though the captain didn't appear to be getting mad, he was definitely raising an eyebrow at her.

Panicking, Momo scanned her surroundings for something— anything — that might help her. When her eyes landed on the white half of the captain's hair, she blurted, "Haku!"

"You're sure about your name this time, Haku?" He stared intently at Momo, his voice as calm and even as ever.

She felt Uraraka hunker down in her hood with Deku. Thank goodness, Momo thought with relief as she nodded, hoping the heat she was feeling wasn't a blush. "Haku Yaoyorozu, at your service, sir!" She saluted the best she could.

The captain blinked at her in a rather catlike manner. "Captain Todoroki from now on will do," he told her.

"Yaoyorozu?" For the first time, the tall, blond man standing just a short distance away spoke up. "But the Yaoyorozu's son died years ago. Plus, I would've thought he'd be older than you are by a few years."

Momo gulped yet again. Her parents had always had trouble conceiving, and the one child they had before her, her brother, had been stillborn. And now, she was taking advantage of his fleeting existence, and the guilt gnawed at her belly. "I-I-I'm a late bloomer," she stammered. "The whole dying thing was, uh, well, there was this bad accident and—"

Todoroki held up his hand to silence her. "It doesn't matter. You're here now. Turn in your conscription notice to Present Mic over there." He turned to the rest of the men, all of whom were trying their darndest to look like they hadn't been involved in a mass fight. "The rest of you, please stand at attention and give me your name when asked."

Momo couldn't look at anyone or anything but the ground as she gave the strange, blond man the scroll. He looked it over for what felt like forever, and she could hardly hear anything but the pounding in her chest. What if he knew? What if he knew? What if he kn—

"Looks good, Mr. Yaoyorozu," Present Mic said with a smile. He rolled the scroll up and stuck it into his pocket. "Welcome to the army."

Momo looked up, unable to believe the fact that she had actually passed .

"Please set up your living quarters as soon as possible. Training starts tomorrow at five in the morning, so please be ready by then," Mic instructed, and with a curt nod, he walked away.

She passed.

~***~

She was lucky , so, so lucky, that she had stumbled upon enough canvas and twine to scrounge together something resembling a tent.

She was just about finished when someone popped in from behind her.

“Hey, Haku, right?” they ( he. The only person in the entire camp that was not a man was herself.) said.

Momo spun around, her heart racing from surprise, and found herself face-to-face with a man who would be just a few centimeters shorter than herself if his shocking red hair didn’t stick out in all directions. He grinned at her to reveal a mouth full of razor sharp teeth, and she shied away when she noticed his eyes matched his hair.

“Y-yes,” Momo said, realizing too late that she had both stammered and forgotten to disguise her voice. She cleared her throat and tried again. “Yes, this is he.”

“Sorry we got off on the wrong foot earlier, with that fight and all,” the stranger said. “I couldn’t help myself. It seemed like a manly test of strength at the time, but I see now that you  had no idea what you were doing. I just wanted to apologize.” He spat into his hand and offered it to her. “The name’s Eijirou Kirishima, but I’d prefer if you called me by my surname. There’s a lot of honor behind it, and I’m proud to be carrying it.”

Momo relaxed upon taking in the man’s friendly and cheerful demeanor, so contrasting with his demonic appearance, but she couldn’t help but to hesitate before shaking his hand. It was gross, after all.

“Just take it!” Uraraka hissed into her ear. “These are men, after all. You gotta act just like one, so nevermind the fact that he spat in it!”

Momo shook the other man’s hand, giving him a pleasant smile. “I know you already saw me get singled out by the captain, but I’m Haku Yaoyorozu.” She didn’t actually say it to introduce herself, at least not to him. “Nice to meet you, Kirishima.”

“You got this, Yaomomo,” Uraraka quietly cheered, and Deku chirped in agreement.

Kirishima let go and glanced around. “Did you hear something?”

Momo mentally swore, but her companions took the hint and ducked. “…Nooo?” she said.

“Hmm. I must’ve been imagining things,” the redhead said thoughtfully, then brightened up. “Hey! Let’s go meet people!”

Momo blinked in surprise. She didn’t expect this kind of thing coming from someone she just met, but at the same time, he was a nice guy. What did she have to lose?

Before she could agree, a young man with pale blond hair stormed into sight, muttering to himself like crazy with his hands stuffed inside in his pockets. Momo and Kirishima stared at him as he started to walk by them, but he stopped to glare right back at them.

“Tch, you look like a hairbrain,” he muttered as he eyed Kirishima up and down. “Better not be as dumb as you look.”

Momo froze, her heart racing with fear as he gave her a once-over as well, mumbling angrily all the while. Her stomach turned when he abruptly pointed straight at her.

“You! You’re gonna be on bathroom duty tonight! Chop, chop, weakling!” he snapped, then stormed away without another word.

Both Momo and Kirishima watched the man storm off in silence. When he was out of sight, Momo glanced back at Kirishima, but he was still staring off at where the angry man had been with a strange expression on his face. “Uhhh…”

Kirishima blinked twice, then looked back at Momo with the bright grin back on his face. “Hmm. He was pretty handsome, wasn’t he?”

Momo looked at him funny. Handsome wasn't exactly what she'd use to describe the explosively angry man they'd just met. Handsome was more like the captain, who didn't look like his eyebrows were making out on his forehead due to a perpetual scowl. (Though even then, the captain was more pretty than truly handsome .) "You're only saying that because he looked at the both of us decided you weren't going to be on outhouse duty tonight," she said as she crossed her arms.

Kirishima shrugged.. "I’d offer to help, but I’m pretty sure we’ll all be getting our fair share of shovelling shit in time. Have fun cleaning out the potties."

"Thanks, Kirishima," she grumbled, and his smile faltered a bit.

"Hey, if it makes you feel any better, I get the feeling I’m  gonna be called 'hairbrain' all the time for a really long time," he said.

Momo only sighed.

~***~

The daylight was fading when she finally got around to bathroom duty. She sighed once more, a shovel in hand, staring down the outhouse in front of her. It had been one day of camp. Heck, technically, it hadn't even been one day. Everyone had simply been assembling. How was it that already, it was this filthy.

"Man, this is going to suck so much," an unfamiliar voice said from right next to her, making her jump out of startlement.

Once she had regained herself, Momo looked to the source of the voice and despite the dying light, she found it to belong to one very short, rather androgynous looking person. They had boyish features to go with their tiny stature, making her wonder if this person was even old enough to be in the army, bluish-purple hair, and moody eyes that seemed to bore into her soul. The stranger stared intently back at her, and she once again had to remind herself that she was the only woman in camp.

"Oh, did I scare you?" he said. "Sorry about that. You're Haku, right? Got called out by the captain earlier today, I remember."

Momo nodded, feeling a little unnerved that so many people knew about her already.

"The name's Karma Jirou. Looks like we got stuck with cleaning the bathrooms together, so I really hope we get along, otherwise this is going to stink."

Momo stared at the stranger— Karma, apparently— wondering if he realized he had just made a pun.

Karma raised an eyebrow at her. "What, cat got your tongue? Or are you simply unsure of what to do next, because if that's the case, then boy have I got some news for you."

Momo blinked, readjusting her grip on the shovel. "Right. Of course. Clearing the waste out of the outhouses," she said, half to herself.

Karma looked at her almost suspiciously. "You're weird," he declared, then gave her a firm pat on the back. "Let's do this."

~***~

The two got along startlingly well. Then again, cleaning stalls with someone does call for a great deal of cooperation and trust, but at the end of it all, when the moon was just above the tops of some nearby trees, Momo was surprised at how quickly she had made friends. Not just with Karma, but with that Kirishima kid from earlier as well.

Karma and Momo exchanged exhausted looks once they finished. They smelled like shit, but then again, Momo wasn't sure what she had been expecting when it came to cleaning outhouses.

"Hey," Karma said after a pause. "I have something to tell you."

Momo blinked. "What?" she began, for that was startlingly soon, but the blue-haired boy held a finger to his lips.

He shifted his gaze around, scanning the area, before saying, "Not here. Follow me."

Bewildered, Momo obeyed, following him until they were all alone. There, beneath the tree that marked the outskirts of the camp, they stopped.

"My real name is Kyouka, not Karma," Jirou said, his voice rising considerably in pitch at the same time. "I'm like you, dressing as a man to join the army."

Momo's eyes widened. "How did you—"

"A lady never tells," Jirou said mysteriously, then giggled. "What's your real name, Haku?"

Momo lowered her gaze, completely stupefied by the extraordinary situation she was now in. To think, she went and joined the army, and on her first day, she was literally not only known by almost all the other recruits, but also found out by the one (or at least, she thought it was only one more) other girl in the entire camp. But at the very least, it seemed that Jirou was telling the truth. "Momo," she said.

"Momo," Jirou repeated. She looked thoughtful.

Momo looked at her. "Kyouka."

"Momo."

"Kyouka."

"Momo."

"Kyouka."

The girls looked at each other and grinned, the moon lighting up their faces.

"For real, though, Momo, I'm sorry about dogpiling on you with all the other men back when we first met. I had no idea how to act natural, so I just went with whatever was going on at the time."

Momo blinked. "You were part of that?" she asked as she struggled to remember.

"Well, if we're gonna pretend I didn't try to deck you in the face as a first impression, we can go with that, too. I'm just saying, I'm apologizing for it now," Kyouka stated.

"No, no, it's okay. I really had no idea what I was doing at the time, either."

There was a semi-awkward pause as neither girl could figure out what to say next.

"You know, it’s kind of weird," Kyouka said as they started to walk back to their tents. "We've only known each other for a few hours, but we’ve already told each other secrets about ourselves that could get us killed if anyone else found out."

“Yeah, it’s kind of like…” Momo snapped as she abruptly remembered something her mother and grandmother would sometimes chat about. “It’s like we’re kindred spirits* or something!”

Kyouka nodded slowly, the grin returning to her face. “Yeah, I get you.”

“I have a sworn sisterhood back home,” Momo said, thinking fondly of the girls with whom she grew up. Then she remembered the reason why she was able to escape unattached, and the warm, fuzzy feeling in her chest vanished. “Though, I suppose it’s been dissolved now.”

The girls stopped in front of Momo’s tent. Jirou looked down, and in a low voice, she said, “You know, we don’t have the time or resources to do a proper ceremony and contract, but I think we should become kindred spirits.”

Momo blinked in surprise. Technically, becoming a kindred spirit with another girl required a lot of astrology lining up perfectly in order to be considered viable, hence why she had only a sisterhood back home. But she could feel a strong connection to Kyouka. "You know what? I think so too."

Chapter Text

"Oiii, Yaoyorozu, I'm coming in, okay?" the muffled voice of Jirou called from outside Momo’s tent.

"Okay, just a minute—!" Momo called, struggling to get her bindings on faster.

"God, they're serving porridge for breakfast," Jirou complained as she ducked inside. "There's not even anything in it, either! Just plain old rice and wa— what are you doing ?"

Momo paused her wrapping. "I'm… binding my chest so that no one finds out I'm a girl?" she said slowly, looking at her new friend with confusion.

"I— that's not good for you!" Kyouka cried, crawling over to her friend and unwinding the long strip of cloth.

"Well, it's not like I can just go around without it, now can I?" Momo sourly said, fighting the urge to cross her arms. "There's only so large a man's pecs can get before they're no longer pecs."

"No, no, no. You still need to flatten your chest and all, but good heavens, Momo! You can't just use a strip of cloth! It's not good for your ribs, and it'll restrict your breathing way too much. We're in the army. You can't just be endangering your health like this."

"Well, then, what do you recommend?"

"I'll be right back," Kyouka said, removing the last of Momo's bindings and slipping out before the latter had any opportunity to protest. Not that she didn't do so to herself, but her friend was back soon enough anyway.

Kyouka threw something at Momo. "You're way bigger than me, so any binders I have for myself won't fit you, but for now just a regular shirt of mine could work. It's made of canvas, so it'll probably itch like hell, but it's better than what you were doing. One of my aunts was a seamstress, so I can make you something proper in a few days."

Momo looked at the white shirt she now held in her hands, unsure of how to feel as she pulled it on. It definitely was a tighter fit than what she was used to, and looking down, she knew it didn't flatten her chest quite as much as her own bindings did. However, she didn't feel like she was being suffocated; heck, for the first time since running away, she could actually breathe regularly.

Kyouka grinned at her. "See? Way better. Not perfect, but as a temporary solution, it works quite nicely, doesn't it?"

Before she could respond, the tent flaps rustled, and the girls jumped to put a shirt on Momo before a blond-haired stranger poked his head in.

"God, have you guys had this morning's gruel yet? It's so bland!" he complained, then paused and blinked. "Hey, you're Haku, right? Is that an undershirt? Kinda hot for that, isn't it? But whatever. You do you, dude. Jirou, you were wearing one this morning too, huh? I wonder if I'm the only guy not wearing one. You southerners get cold so easily."

"Get out, Denki!" Jirou said with irritation, her face flushing red as she pushed the man out. She briefly waved goodbye to Momo as she herself left, dragging Denki with her.

Momo smiled as she finished dressing. Uraraka crawled out from under her helmet with Deku and stretched. "Good thing that Denki guy isn't the brightest, huh? You would've been toast if he figured out your secret."

"Lucky indeed," Momo hummed, absently reaching a finger over to affectionately poke Deku, who chirped happily.

Uraraka crawled over to Momo's shoulder, and from there, she squeezed the human girl's cheeks affectionately. "Hup, hup, hup! Your first day of training awaits! I was thinking of some rules for you last night, so just remember now, listen to that Todoroki guy, and no fighting. We don't want a repeat of yesterday. Unless, of course, someone else starts it. Then you gotta kick that other guy's butt."

"But I don't wanna kick the other guy's butt."

"Hmm, you're right. Who knows how often men clean those things. Either way—"

Outside, Iida neighed nervously, effectively silencing the dragon.

"Ohh, whatever. I'll be waiting in here until you get back!" Uraraka said, handing Momo her sword. "Do your best, Yaomomo!!" She wiped away an imaginary tear as she watched her human go. “My little baby, off to destroy people.”

"What took you so long?" Jirou whispered as they got in line.

Momo shuffled her feet uneasily, wondering if she could trust Jirou with knowing about Uraraka. “Well, I, uh—” she began.

“SHITTY BASTARDS,” a vaguely familiar voice boomed, and every single body within a half kilometer radius jumped. “DO NONE OF YOU PEA BRAINS KNOW HOW TO EVEN LINE THE FUCK UP IN THE MORNING?” In stormed the same butter-blond angry boy who had assigned Momo and Jirou to the toilets the day before, his teeth grinding so loudly, the sound of it grated her ears.

Momo froze as he passed her and Jirou by, but he completely ignored them in favor of singling out someone who just a few meters away. She watched him go, utterly terrified, and saw him stop in front of the redhead boy of yesterday. Ah, poor Kirishima, she thought, but there wasn’t much she could do about it now.

“And you , fucking hairbrain, what are you smiling about!?” angry man yelled, completely disregarding the concept of a personal bubble.

Kirishima grinned back at Mr. Angry Butter Hair, a literal ray of sunshine in the face of anger. “Well, it’s a beautiful morning, sir!” he said. “What’s there not to be smiling about?”

As the now-enraged Mr. Angry Butter Hair began to howl something unintelligible, Jirou leaned in and whispered into Momo’s ear, “he’s scowling so hard, it looks like his eyebrows are kissing,” causing the latter to suppress a snicker.

“Hey, Bakugou, what are you doing?” the deadpan voice of Captain Todoroki said, and all the recruits flinched once more upon realizing that their leader had come in without any of them noticing in the slightest.

Mr. Angry Butter Hair (complete with knitted brow) turned around without missing a beat and yelled, “YOUUUU! PIECE OF CRAP HALFLING! CAN’T EVEN PROPERLY TRAIN YOUR MEN TO STAND UP IN THE MORNING!! WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU DOING?? HOW ARE YOU GOING TO DEFEAT THOSE BITCHASSES THE HUNS, HUH?!?

Unfazed, Captain Todoroki replied, “Well, first off, I’d actually work with them instead of just yelling at them in hopes that that would do the job. You can’t be mad at someone for being ignorant, now can you—”

“HELL YEAH, I CAN!”

“That’s unreasonable,” the captain continued. He stared Bakugou much like a bored cat would, which made the latter even more pissed, if that were even humanly possible. However, before Bakugou could start yelling again, Todoroki addressed his men. “Soldiers, I expect you to assemble here swiftly and silently before the clock strikes five every morning. Anyone who fails to do so will answer to me,” he said as he first pulled a longbow off his back, then his shirt.

Jirou elbowed her friend when she noticed Momo’s staring.

“What?” Momo whispered, giving Jirou a confused look, but the latter merely smiled smugly to herself.

Bakugou loudly tch ed, crossing his arms and glaring at Todoroki. “Tough guy look, huh? I didn’t realize how fucking extraneous shirts were in this case.”

In one swift motion, the captain nocks an arrow and points his bow at Bakugou, who unflinchingly glares death straight in the face. Murmurs swept through the trainees. He wouldn’t actually, would he?

Todoroki abruptly pivoted and shot the arrow; it landed at the very top of a nearby wooden pole. “Thank you for volunteering, Bakugou,” he evenly said. “Retrieve the arrow.”

“I’m here to fucking help you train these shitheads!”

“It looks like I’m going to have to train your attitude as well. Retrieve the arrow, Katsuki.”

Bakugou scowled and cracked his knuckles. “Don’t use my first name, you mixed bastard! I’ll get that fucking arrow, and I’ll do it with my god damned shirt on,” he snapped as he stormed over to the pole, baring his teeth as if that would somehow help him climb.

“Wait, one more thing,” Todoroki added. He briefly turned to the men and motioned for them to surround Bakugou for better viewing and disappeared into his tent for just a moment before returning with two large, brass weights. Bakugou squinted at them with hostility.

“This is strength,” the captain explained to his men as he tied one of the weights to Bakugou’s wrist. “And this is discipline.” He attached the other weight to Bakugou and turned to properly face the soldiers. “You need both to reach the arrow.”

Momo noticed Bakugou struggling to cross his arms and knew in an instant that she had no chance of passing this test. If the assistant captain found it hard to function with those weights on, what chance did she, a girl raised indoors to be married off, fare in this challenge?

Todoroki glanced at Bakugou and nodded. The latter grinned excitedly and jumped at the pole.

~***~

“DAMMIT, LET ME TRY AGAIN! THIS POLE HASN’T GOT SHIT ON ME!!” Bakugou yelled, cracking his knuckles in preparation for a third attempt to get to the arrow.

His determination truly was remarkable, considering the fact that he had to continually use his teeth to simply keep himself from sliding all the way back down. Even then, were the inevitable splinters in his gums really worth gouging tooth trails into the pole?

Todoroki had to physically restrain him. “No, Bakugou, you need to stop fighting the pole,” he said through gritted teeth, struggling to undo just one of the weights.

“NO, FUCK YOU.”

“My, my, my. What have we here?” an exhausted, deadpan voice said, and in an instant, everyone, from the soldiers who dozed off out of boredom to Bakugou himself, was stone still and silent.

A tall, scruffy man with bloodshot eyes rode into camp on a horse, surveying everyone and everything with a lazy eye. “And here I was thinking that this place wouldn’t be a cockfight in a pigsty. General Endeavor sure knows how to lie, doesn’t he?”

The blond man from yesterday zipped up to the new man without a care in the world and immediately began chatting away; the latter simply walked towards the crowd packed around the pole.

Momo shrank back in awe and fear, and she felt Jirou inch closer to her.

Todoroki’s eyes were steeled and narrowed at the stranger; he released Bakugou (who didn’t stop scowling as he slunk away) but didn’t back away as the stranger dismounted and sauntered right up to the two of them and crossed his arms.

“Tell me, kiddo,” he said with a disinterested glare, “what are you doing running a camp for men?”

Kiddo? ” Bakugou spat, storming right up to the man. “I am seventeen fucking years old, you hunk of stale garbage, and that is—”

Todoroki stepped between them. “Calm down, Bakugou,” he said quietly as he put his arm in front of Bakugou to silence him. Then, to the stranger: “I am Shoto Todoroki, the captain, a position entrusted to me by the emperor’s second-best general Endeavor. And you are?”

The stranger grunted. Whether it was out of approval, interest, displeasure, or anything else was anybody’s guess, but at least he answered the captain’s question. “Shouta Aizawa, one of the eight advisors to Emperor Nezu, here to keep an eye on you when he —” it was then that Aizawa jerked his head at Present Mic— “leaves for the capital again tomorrow. He’s very bad at non-intervention.”

“Thanks.” The blond frowned, then left the conversation and walked away to his tent.

“See what I mean?” Aizawa narrowed his eyes at Captain Todoroki. “I was instructed to merely make sure you didn’t burn the place down, but considering that little show I walked in on, I think that we’ll have to take more drastic measures.”

“FUCK OFF, OLD MAN!” Bakugou snapped again, but he stopped cold the second Aizawa flicked his bangs out of his eyes and leered . (Even Momo could feel its power, and she was meters away.)

“And what might your name be?” he said in a low voice and blinked.

The spell for silence was broken the instant Aizawa blinked, but it seemed Bakgou’s yelling mood had gone with it. He still scowled and stared the older man in the eye, but he managed to quietly grit out a, “Katsuki Bakugou,” with some semblance of respect. “Assistant captain, as selected by the emperor fuckface himself,” he added with a bit more of his usual flair.

Aizawa nodded, seemingly unbothered by the grave insult to the throne. He surveyed the rest of soldiers, their neat ranks and files long gone, with a critical eye. Then, at last, he spoke once more:

“Test them. Remember their names and results. I’ll be by the river. Send them to me when you’re finished with them.” He looked at Bakugou and began to walk away. “Katsuki, get my horse. You’re coming with me.”

Bakugou scowled and snatched the horse’s reins. “The name’s Bakugou . Get it right,” he muttered. Everyone’s attention gradually turned back over to Captain Todoroki until—

Aizawa stopped in his tracks, ignoring the way Bakugou slammed into him, bent down to the latter’s eye level and leered once more.

“Funny,” he said. “I could have sworn I named my horse Fumikage. But if you so insist that ‘ Bakugou ’ is correct, then so be it, Katsuki.” He stood up straight, turned around, and continued walking away, leaving a stunned collective (Bakugou in particular) behind.

Bakugou didn’t even grumble as he led the horse away.

~***~

Momo had thought that getting through tens and dozens of trainees would have taken more time than it did, at least when the test was as one-on-one as fetching an arrow with weights on. In hindsight, it was pretty ridiculous of her to expect that, since not one person made it beyond Bakugou’s tooth marks.

But she still would have liked more prep time before she stood before Captain Todoroki with her hands in front of her, waiting for the brass weights to be tied onto her wrists.

She glanced backwards at Jirou, just to see if she could provide some comfort for her frazzled nerves, only to find her friend chatting idly with Kaminari.

Her right wrist suddenly felt very attracted to the grass.

Momo turned her attention back to the captain ( still shirtless , she noted, much to her dismay), then looked at her end goal arrow.

Her left wrist joined the right all at once in its inability to resist the ground.

The sun had risen a considerable amount since the initial morning lineup. Indeed, if she had to guess, it seemed to be perhaps seven in the morning? That was weird, since it didn’t feel as if enough time had passed to make it seven, but it was hard for her to think. The sun was in her eyes.

“You may begin,” the captain patiently said, and he stepped out of the way.

Momo blinked once or twice, then stepped into the shadow of the pole, taking yet another moment to size it up. Well, here goes nothing , she thought, clenching and unclenching her fists, trying not to think too much about how many splinters she was going to have to pick out of her soft, sensitive fingertips later. Taking a deep breath, she stepped up to the challenge.

~***~

Something was different about the Yaoyorozu boy. Shoto wasn’t quite yet sure what it was, but he definitely was an oddball. Just watching him struggle to even get a hold of the pole made him wince inside. The boy clearly wasn’t strong enough to make it even a few centimeters off the ground, and while Shoto had to give him kudos for tenacity, he couldn’t help but wonder how a farm boy could be so pale and weak. Surely he’d had his fair share of chores back home?

Then again, hadn’t he also mentioned something about a bad accident? Something so awful, it led most everyone into believing that he was dead?

Again, Shoto found himself wondering how Yaoyorozu had gotten himself to training camp if he had once been so sickly. Still sickly, judging from his china-pale skin and inability to even properly lift the weights tied to him. Shoto didn’t consider them to be particularly heavy; a strong child could easily lift just one, yet it seemed this boy could lift none.

“That’s enough,” he decided aloud, stepping forward and putting a hand on Yaoyorozu’s shoulder.

The boy (was it really in his place to call Yaoyorozu a boy? After all, he looked hardly a year younger than himself) turned around (was that a flash of panic in his eyes?) as hastily as he could. “But I—”

“You’re incapable,” Shoto said flatly. He reached over and untied one of the weights. “That is all.” Upon relieving the other wrist, he looked at Yaoyorozu, finding only red-faced embarrassment in his expression. “You are excused to meet with Aizawa by the riverbank.”

What was that twinge in his chest as he watched Yaoyorozu practically slink away in shame?

He sighed, shaking his head to get rid of the feeling. “We’ve got a long way to go.”

Chapter Text

Kyouka, being the second daughter to the not-heir of her family’s property, had done her fair share of grunt work on the farm growing up. She could at least pass for a boy when it came to strength, and up until that moment, she had assumed Momo was the same. But after seeing her friend fail so miserably that even the captain had to intervene, she started to question her impression of Momo.

Up until then, she had assumed Momo was like her, a farm girl who had pulled her weight around the house. She figured her friend could weed rice paddies with an arm tied around her back, feed the chickens and gather their eggs in one fell swoop, and still stitch seams evenly by the faint, glowing light of a candle.

But perhaps she should have known, caught on to the slim, delicate fingers and stiff, almost doll-like posture.

Kyouka should have known that her friend Momo was one of those jade girls, raised indoors as the eldest heir to be matched up and married off to some golden boy the year she turned sixteen.

Not that there was anything particularly wrong with being a jade girl. Kyouka simply figured that with a nice life like that laid out for her, Momo wouldn’t have any need to join the army. She’d have enough honor just by existing as the delicate, little flower she was. To run off and fight in a war was ridiculous! Flowers were weak against even the smallest of breezes, their petals flying off into the unknown at even the lightest tug.

What was a flower doing amongst the tree saplings?

“Hey, Karma, I think it’s your turn,” Denki noted as they watched Yaoyorozu walk away, head down and rubbing her wrists.

“Thanks, fuzzbrain, I couldn’t tell,” Jirou snapped, then paused. She stole a glance upwards, but if Denki was bothered by her attitude, he didn’t show it. Cracking her knuckles, she approached the captain without even the thought of apologizing to Denki in her mind.

The captain tied the weights to her wrists, catching Jirou off guard with how much heavier they were than what she had been anticipating.

She went through the motions of cracking her knuckles once more (though no sound came out this time). Well, looks like it's time to show this pretty boy what you're made of, Kyo, she thought, and she made a leap for it.

~***~

Futaba Yaoyorozu sighed and stared out the window, her head propped up by her elbow and her embroidery left forgotten on her lap. Even though it had hardly been long since her daughter had left to join the army, it felt like forever to the older woman.

In town, they managed to excuse Momo's sudden absence by saying she was busy with her lessons. After all, someone who managed to fail so spectacularly at a matchmaking appointment was most certainly doing something wrong if everything she was taught in life led up to that meeting. Some found it strange that Momo couldn't even leave the house anymore, and okay so maybe that was a work in progress, but they'd eventually convince everyone that their daughter simply wasn't allowed out.

Rap-rap-rap.

Futaba started, then laid aside her stitching and hurried to the door.

"Hello, Mrs. Yaoyorozu," a bright girl with equally bright orange hair said with a smile. "One of my aunties told me to come visit today, see if I may join Momo in her lessons today. She said she was tired of teaching me, but that I can't let the next few months go to waste, so she decided to send me here."

It was Itsuka Kendou, another one of the local girls whose appointment with the matchmaker hadn't ended with a husband. However, her reason for failure was simply an incompatibility of zodiacs with the most hopeful prospect, not any fault of her own actions. She would simply have to wait a while until the stars nudged themselves into place, then everything would go as planned for her.

Futaba shifted her weight uneasily. "I'm sorry, Miss Kendou, but I simply cannot allow that. Having a friend over during her lessons would simply be a distraction for Momo, even if you both were learning at the same time. Please tell your auntie to find you another girl to study with.”

Itsuka’s smile faltered for the briefest of moments, but she nodded understandingly. She presented Futaba with a basket and a bow. “I shall do that, Mrs. Yaoyorozu, and please, take this gift of fish my father caught this morning to compensate for your troubles.”

A twinge of guilt plagued at Futaba’s heart as she took the basket of fish from Itsuka and watched her skip away.

If this kept going, it would be hard to maintain her poised and graceful image in the absence of her daughter.

~***~

Uraraka found it hard to stay in the tent all day.

Okay, so maybe it had only been a few hours and it wasn’t even close to lunchtime yet, but it was still hard to just. Sit in a mostly barren tent and think about how she could get Momo to keep her alive. Maybe Uraraka wouldn’t put it so selfishly, but she had to admit, she was kind of reliant on Momo’s success in the war to make sure that the ancestors didn’t imprison her in iron to be an ornament for the rest of time.

But seriously, there was only so much enjoyment a dragon could derive from lying in the indirect sunlight all day.

“We could sneak out to the stables and chat with Iida,” Deku the cricket suggested. “I’m sure he’s just as concerned about Momo as we are.”

Uraraka thought on it for a second, then shook her head. “No, someone’s bound to catch us scampering around camp. I mean—” she gestured frantically to herself— “a tiny dragon is going to attract attention regardless of the fact that I blend in with the dirt.”

“Good point,” Deku admitted, hopping over to join Uraraka on Momo’s neatly folded bedroll. However, no sooner than he had done so did they hear footsteps tramping around outside, stopping right in front of their tent. The two animals swiftly dove under Momo’s pillow as two strangers entered.

“For such a shoddily made tent, it sure is tidy in here,” one of them commented.

The other stranger grunted. “In the registry, who does it say lives here?”

There was a rapid succession of scroll shifting before Uraraka supposed to proper one was located and unfurled. “The Yaoyorozu son, it seems. Haku, he said he was called. Seemed like a bit of a nervous wreck and klutz when I met him yesterday, that much I can remember because he’d been the center of some crazy fight when he arrived. Kind of weird, too—”

“That’s enough. I get the picture,” the second voice interrupted. “In what year was he born?”

“I don’t know. The conscription notice was for his father, so I currently hold no records on the boy.”

“Hmm.”

“I know the Yaoyorozu daughter is a snake, so if I had to hazard a guess, I would say that Haku is a tiger. He did mention being a late bloomer.”

“Before you said that, I would have pegged him for a snake himself. Perhaps it was the girlish face, but I suppose it doesn’t matter. Even if he were a snake, he’d be old enough to be here, if just barely. Let’s keep going.”

Just as promised, the two strangers left the tent, but it didn’t put Uraraka at any more ease. Her heart rate, already naturally fast due to her small size, had practically doubled from the unannounced visit (she would also call it unauthorized, but the way they talked made it seem to Uraraka that they did indeed have the power to enter tents at random), and then some when the second voice commented on how feminine Momo looked.

Deku patted her with a foreleg, but it was still far, far too long until her heart stopped thudding so prominently against her chest.

Uraraka let out a long breath, not even realizing she’d been holding it in, then flopped down backwards onto Momo’s pillow. “Oh, Deku, what are we going to do?”

“About what?”

“They’ve already singled Momo out as unusual! How are we going to keep her safe from not only the Huns in battle, but also the supervisors here at camp?”

Deku hopped onto the pillow and sat down next to Uraraka’s head. “Well,” he chirped, “They seem to be fooled for now. We’ll just have to tell her to lay low and not to draw attention to herself until someone else catches their focus. Of course, to do that, we’d have to…”

~***~

If Momo were to be honest, she would have expected Aizawa to be supervising the repetitive muscle training, since he had been the one to request all trainees finished with the pole test. But, she supposed that Bakugou overseeing it made sense too, since he was technically the assistant captain and all. (Not that she felt compelled to ever call him Assistant Captain Bakugou, at least aside from straight to his face, but it was hard to forget that Bakugou was in a position of power in the camp.)

She still wondered where the older man was.

“You!” Bakugou barked, making a beeline for Momo. “Don’t just stand there; join the ranks of maggots, fucker!”

Momo’s mind drew a blank as she stumbled backwards. “U-understood!”

“Sir!” Bakugou yelled.

“Sir?” she repeated, her brain still reeling.

“Good enough! Now go run laps with all the other sissies!”

Momo was still more than a tad confused, but the way Bakugou was yelling at her scared her more than that. Without even looking up, she sprinted off to join the mass of soldiers running as quickly as her legs could carry her.

“Heeey, it’s you again!”

Momo yelped as she nearly crashed into a man in front of her. Regaining her sense of self with just a little bit of difficulty, she found herself running alongside the same unmistakable redhead she had met the day before. He grinned at her as if running for what must’ve been at least an hour for him was nothing.

“I was wondering if we’d ever see each other again,” said Kirishima. “Hope the toilets went okay last night?”

In all honesty, the toilets seemed like forever ago, being the least memorable part of yesterday, but Momo nodded pleasantly. “Yeah, this guy named Karma was stuck cleaning them too, and we really hit it off.”

Kirishima grinned. “Oh yeah, I was chatting with someone named Denki this morning. He mentioned Jirou at some point. I think he likes to go by his last name, too, though I can’t fathom why. ‘ Jirou ’ isn’t a surname I recognize, and I heard about a lot of people growing up.” He snapped. “Hey, that reminds me! I didn’t get the chance to ask you yesterday, but you come from a military family, right? I was thinking about it, and I recognized the Yaoyorozu name.”

Momo’s throat went dry, and not just from all the running. “Yeah,” was all she could manage.

“You’ve got a lot to live up to, huh, Haku?” Kirishima’s expression was suddenly filled with concern. “Hey, you’re lagging!”

Momo grit her teeth and willed her legs to move faster. They felt like lead pillars beneath her hips; she didn’t usually run this fast this long. Her lungs burned, and she wasn’t sure how long she’d be able to keep a conversation going.

“Honestly, I would have thought that you’d be way more fit than this, Haku,” Kirishima commented.

“I was a sickly child,” Momo said, trying not to let it come out all breathy.

“So I heard. Still, you must be years passed it if your dad let you come here. I guess it must’ve impacted you more than I thought.”

She pushed herself harder, focused her vision on just the ground in front of her feet. Even her thoughts were blank, save for the constant stream of right, left, right, left that ate up her concentration.

“Hey, uhh, Haku?”

Kirishima sounded strangely distant, and, come to think of it, the ground was starting to look far away.

“Haku. Listen to me.”

Failed step one.

She wasn’t even sure if she could even see anything but her feet; how could she possibly take the energy to process what he was saying? Her legs felt like they were going to fall apart. With only the sheer force of her willpower keeping them moving, how much longer would she last in this endurance training?

“It’s okay, I got him. I’ll bring him back to his tent.”

Thank you, Kyouka, was the final thing that crossed her mind before all the world went black.

~***~

In Momo’s quarters, Kyouka sighed with frustration. Halfway to her tent, Momo had begun stirring again, tried to walk on her own, and ended up fainting again. And, yeah , it had been hard for Kyouka to drag the dead weight of someone a head and a half taller than herself from the riverbank to the soldiers’ area, but Kyouka was nothing if not stubborn.

“Honestly, Yaoyorozu, the point of boot camp is to make you stronger. You can’t be doing that if you’re passed out half the time we’re supposed to be training,” she dryly said when Momo once again began to stir. Kyouka put away her stitching so that she could give a better disapproving stare. “And honestly, I should be out there running, too. Fortunately, that Bakugou guy isn’t actually a sadist and actually kind of knows what he’s doing when it comes to keeping and training troops and let me hang out here with you to make sure you don’t die in your sleep or whatever.”

Momo sat up and rubbed her forehead. “What happened?”

Apparently, she hadn’t been listening to a word her friend had said, so said friend flicked her in the temple. “You passed out, silly. Here, staying hydrated is important,” Kyouka said as she handed Momo a jug of water.

Momo took it without a word and took a swig. Then another, and another. Kyouka watched patiently until Momo started staring into the distance.

“You were an indoor girl, huh,” said Kyouka, not ungently. Momo swivelled her head to look at her friend with wide eyes, and it was all Kyouka could do not to laugh.

“How did you know?” Momo asked helplessly, and at that, Kyouka really did laugh.

“A lady never tells,” the blue-haired girl replied between giggles. “Though considering the fact that you’re built about as well as a peony, it wasn’t hard to figure out. I’m not going to lie, I thought you were a farm girl through and through. I guess shame on me for not realizing that a girl with the last name Yaoyorozu wouldn’t have a brother to carry on the family name if she had to join the army.”

Momo looked away. “My last name is that well known, huh,” she said softly, with just a hint of what could have been wistfulness mixed in.

Kyouka nodded even though her friend wasn’t looking at her.

“You know, up until just now, I thought you were raised to be a housewife, too,” Momo admitted.

“Nah, but I have a couple cousins who were raised like you. We called ‘em jade girls because they were delicate, valuable, and often kept indoors. Having one was a sign of high status and honor because you could afford to have one of your kids not help around the house.”

“Kind of sucks being fragile, though. I mean, I’m here , in my tent during training because I fainted. You brought me here yourself, did you not? That’s pretty impressive.”

Kyouka wasn’t sure what to say, but fortunately, Momo spoke up again.

“Hey, I have another secret to share with you,” she said.

“Oh?” Kyouka said, and she couldn’t help but raise an eyebrow as Momo reached under her pillow and pulled something alive out from under it. How Kyouka managed to miss something like that in the tent was beyond her, but what actually surprised her was what the creature was. “I didn’t realize dragons came in such small sizes.”

“I’m fun sized,” the tiny dragon replied as it wriggled out of Momo’s grip and settled on her shoulder.

“Kyouka, this is Uraraka. She helped me get this far,” Momo said, gesturing to the dragon as she did so. “Uraraka, this is Kyouka. She’s another girl here at camp, so I promise you can trust her.”

Kyouka had no idea how to feel about the smile that came across Uraraka’s face because those teeth were scary .

Fortunately, she didn’t have to worry about it for long. Both girls and dragon froze when they heard the soft plodding of footsteps approaching. Uraraka managed to dive into Momo’s hood just in time, for the captain poked his head inside.

“Haku,” he said, his face and voice unreadable as ever. “I was told you fainted.”

“C-captain,” Yaoyorozu stuttered as he entered, crouching down next to the girls. “D-don’t you have the arrow test to be s-s-supervising?”

“That’s finished by now,” Captain Todoroki answered, then, as if aware that he wouldn’t be getting the direct truth from her, turned to Kyouka. “You brought him back here, correct?”

Kyouka blinked in surprise, feeling quite like a cornered animal under his gaze. “I did, sir,” she replied. “I brought him here from the riverbanks myself.”

The captain nodded in acknowledgement. “Karma, was it?” A nod, albeit a slightly delayed one. “Thank you for doing that, Karma. Now, seeing that you’re both doing okay—”

“Wait,” Yaoyorozu said, stopping Captain Todoroki as he began to leave. She faltered for a second as he stared at her, but she continued bravely on anyway. “Why would you concern yourself with my well being? I’m just another soldier.”

“Don’t take it personally. Checking on one’s subordinates when they are injured is merely good practice. I’d do it to anyone else, had they also fainted on their first day,” he said matter-of-factly.

The girls were silent for a minute after he was gone.

Then came the sigh of relief.

“I thought he was going to kick me out of the military,” Momo confessed.

“It’s just the first day,” Kyouka said. “You’ll be fine, just as long as you don’t give him a reason to kick you out.”

Suddenly, both Kyouka and Momo were very aware of their genders.

“Yeah,” Momo breathed as Uraraka crawled out from her hoodie. “We’ll be fine.”

Kyouka cracked a smile and stood up, offering her hand to her friend. “That’s the spirit. Now, let’s see if you can walk.”

Chapter Text

After the first fainting incident, Katsuki made sure to keep a particular eye on the kid on the subsequent days to ensure that it wouldn’t happen again.

“The Yaoyorozu kid is a weird one,” Aizawa commented a few days later. He, Katsuki, and the half-n-half were standing atop a hill, observing the trainees as they ran up it with weights made from bamboo sticks and sacks of grain hanging from their shoulders. Two weights already lay nearby, belonging to Katsuki and Half-n-Half.

“Hmm,” Katsuki hummed, remaining otherwise silent. After getting so thoroughly sassed by Aizawa on that first day, it took a bit of thought before he could say anything to the older man, juuust to make sure that there wouldn't be a repeat incident.

“He’s lagging,” the halfling noted. And, well, he wasn’t wrong , but Katsuki appreciated less obvious observations. However, before Katsuki could make a quick quip at the other boy, the latter continued. “I’m going to go help him.”

“What? That’s fucking stupid,” Katsuki snapped almost immediately afterward.

“Too late. There he goes,” Aizawa said blandly as the two made no effort whatsoever to stop Half-n-Half from running down the hill.

Well, it wasn’t as if Katsuki thought it bad to help the trainees, per se, particularly one as fragile as that god damn daffodil, but how could any of them be expected to actually get fucking better if they weren’t allowed to fucking train? Katsuki stewed in his temper as that shitty hapa took the burden from the daffodil. Seriously. What was with his partner’s crazy soft treatment of him?

“Your internal monologue is so loud, I can hear it myself,” Aizawa abruptly said. “I would appreciate it if you opened your perspective a bit more. I do agree that Shoto is being excessive, but at least try to get where he’s coming from, Katsuki.”

Katsuki grit his teeth and spat. Fuck this. Why did he even sign up for this job?

The boy bit his tongue. He knew why.

But maaaaan , fuck that, too.

~***~

She hated it. She hated it so, so much.

She’d been trying, trying so damn hard to just run up the hill with the weight on her shoulders, just like all the other soldiers.

Momo knew her limits. She’d learned them on day one.

The captain hadn’t even said anything when he took her burden. He’d merely looked at her for the briefest of instants, then ran back to whence he came as if it were nothing.

Damn that fainting incident. She hadn’t even been the very last, but that one display of weakness resulted in Captain Todoroki’s particular attention and subsequent help. (If you could call it help. Most people wouldn’t.)

She caught up with Jirou, the job of running uphill feeling almost easy unhandicapped. Her friend shot her a grin, and they collapsed at the rest point together.

“Got singled out again, huh? That’s rough,” Jirou said after they caught their breath.

Silently as a cat, Todoroki appeared before the girls and dropped Momo’s weights in front of her before she could respond to Jirou.

Momo flinched in shock, then looked up at the captain. Her heart, still unrecovered, was no better off when staring him in the face than when she had been actually running. “Thank you,” she managed to get out, but Captain Todoroki merely stared back at her.

“You’re welcome,” he said after a time, then left.

Jirou made a face. “Weirdo. Came here and then didn’t even say anything in particular.” Momo was silent, but Jirou, not taking it for anything in particular, kept talking. “You know, lately I’ve been having this little headache that comes and goes intermittently… oh, look. Here it is again.”

Denki stopped in front of the girls and looked mildly hurt. “Wow, okay. Thanks, Jirou. I see how it is,” he said and turned to leave. Jirou burst into laughter, reaching out and grabbing his hand.

“I’m joking, Denki! Don’t worry about it.”

Denki raised an eyebrow and looked beyond Jirou at Momo. “Hey, Haku—”

“HEY, SHITHEADS!” Bakugou yelled, his voice echoing throughout the hilltops. “GET A MOVE ON AGAIN! UNLESS YOU WANT TO BE SITTING DUCKS AND DISHONOR THE EMPEROR WITH YOUR SHIT WHEN THE HUNS COME, THEN BE MY GOD DAMN GUEST!”

Momo, Jirou, and Denki exchanged glances.

Denki shrugged and trotted back to whence he came to fetch his weights once more. Jirou shrugged and returned her own weights to her shoulders with but a slight struggle. She glanced back at Momo, who sighed and shouldered her burden with a strange mix of resentful obligation and weary determination. They nodded at one another in silent agreement and began running once more.

Denki found them again in no time. “I was talking with Kiri just now, and he said he should take up on Bakugou’s guest invite and show up in his tent for dinner one of these days.”

“That sounds like a recipe for disaster,” said Jirou.

“No it doesn’t~” Kirishima sang as he joined the group. He looked hardly winded, keeping easy pace with them at a mere half jog. “He did say to be his guest. A god damned guest, but that’s still a guest.”

As Jirou pulled slightly ahead with Kirishima, Denki slowed down to stay just out of their earshot with Momo. “Hey, Haku, you don’t look too good,” he said.

Momo grunted and readjusted her bamboo pole. “I can do this. I’m not going to faint.”

Denki shook his head. “No, I’m not doubting your physical capabilities. If you say you can, then that’s great, and I trust you, but I just mean that you look really… pissed.”

In all honesty, Momo never would have guessed it would be Denki who noticed her building frustration. Judging from the binder incident on the first day, she figured he was the oblivious kind who let things fly over his head without a second thought.

Perhaps there is more to him than meets the eye than I thought. So she was honest with him.

“Yeah,” she said, for the first time since starting the exercise speaking for a purpose other than mere obligation.

“Is it ‘cause you fainted on the first day?”

“Well, that’s part of it.”

“I noticed Captain Todo brought your weights up to the rest point this time.”

Momo found herself and Denki falling behind, so she grit her teeth, adjusted her grip on the pole, and jogged up the hill with renewed vigor. Secretly, she hoped the captain and Bakugou were watching her. “Yeah. He visited after I came to when I fainted, so I guess I just stick out to him.”

“That’s problematic.”

Momo stole a glance upwards at the top of the hill, where she caught a glimpse of Todoroki and Bakugou surveying the rest of the trainees. For the briefest of instants, her and Todoroki’s eyes locked, but the moment went by so quickly, Momo wasn’t sure if it had really happened at all.

“Not really. Just frustrating.”

“I’m pretty sure you can prove to him that you can do it.”

Momo looked at the blond boy. “Really?”

Denki grinned back at her. “I believe in you, Haku!” he yelled, then ran off to join Jirou and Kirishima up ahead.

~***~

Kirishima grinned as he watched Haku stagger up to the hilltop unassisted. He’d heard the captains talking about him earlier; Todoroki specifically seemed to have taken a particular interest in the boy.

To some degree, he wondered if that was only because his last name was Yaoyorozu. After all, to be considered such a weakling so as to require assistance should by all means result in expulsion; too much time would be spent getting someone subpar up to standard, time that nobody had. Maybe Captain Todoroki had faith in Haku’s name, or maybe it was something else. At this point, Kirishima couldn’t yet tell.

“OI, MAGGOTS, DROP DOWN AND DON’T STOP UNTIL YOUR PATHETIC MUSCLES FAIL YOU!”

Kirishima broke his train of thought in order to obey Bakugou’s orders. Push ups, now those he was good at. He’d done them so often throughout the years, he was confident that he’d be able to outlast any of the other trainees easily.

But, as it turned out, he just hadn’t met Tetsutetsu Tetsutetsu yet.

The push-up battle had started just as Bakugou had commanded them, with everyone falling to their knees and counting off their push-ups in accordance with their completion. As Kirishima had expected, most gave up when they finished a few dozen at most, but he was just getting started. With a grin, he continued with renewed vigor when the guy next to him failed to push himself up again.

He looked up and glanced around when he was really starting to feel the exertion getting to his chest. Everything was going exactly as he expected— except for one thing: several meters away, among all the dead tired trainees, was someone else still doing push-ups too.

“WHAT?” Kirishima yelled, wasting precious breath and abdominal strength to do so. The other remaining trainee glanced up, and for all of a moment, their eyes met. And within that other man’s eyes, Kirishima found the fire of determined rivalry burning.

Three, six, nine . Yeah, the other one was still at it, too.

Twelve, fifteen, eighteen. A couple people were ogling at the two of them now. Kirishima supposed it was because of all the effort they were putting into their battle and not just because they were the only ones left.

Twenty-one, twenty-four, twenty-seven. Kiri’s abs were starting to feel the effort, too,  but he was so close to winning: the other trainee was grimacing now.

Thirty, thirty-two… thirty-... thirty-... Kirishima’s muscles betrayed his determination and gave out beneath him. So thirty-two plus… how many did I do before then? Vaguely, he hears the crowd loing with disappointment, so he pays his competition one more look. Much to Kirishima’s satisfaction, the former had also collapsed.

The redhead pulled himself to his feet and walked over to his opponent. There, the silvery-haired man looked up with a scowl, revealing a mouth full of teeth just like his own. Kirishima extended out his hand. “Good fight, old man,” he said.

The other man took it gladly, though he raised his eyebrow. “You don’t actually think I’m some old geezer, do you?” he asked, and Kirishima blanked out. “The grey hair’s just part of the look.” The grey-haired man threw his head back and laughed as he shook a dazed Kirishima’s hand. “The name’s Tetsutetsu Tetsutetsu; nice to meet’cha.”

Kirishima shook his head to clear away his shock and returned both Tetsutetsu’s grin and handshake. “Eijirou Kirishima, call me Kiri—”

“HEY, WE’RE IN THE MIDDLE OF A FUCKING WAR HERE!” Bakugou barked, scanning the crowd and scowling at each and every individual in it. “GET YOUR ASSES OVER HERE.”

Tetsutetsu and Kirishima exchanged glances. Not that they were confused or thinking about what Bakugou had said, but it just felt right.

Tetsutetsu snorted with laughter. “Well, see you around, Kiri. Meet me in front of the arrow pole Thursday after dinner. We’re doing this again.” And with that, the two men parted into the crowd gathering around their instructors.

Kirishima gently pushed his way to the front and was met with two indifferent stares and a piercing glare.

“Now that you have all been sufficiently warmed up, we will begin with today’s true exercises,” Captain Todoroki calmly explained, picking up a bow and a crab apple as he did so. He tossed the apple up and down a couple times, capturing the full attention of all the trainees, then suddenly threw it high up in the air. Quick as a wink, he drew and nocked an arrow, letting it fly before most even knew what was happening.

Kirishima blinked, and the next thing he knew, the apple was pinned to a nearby tree, pierced cleanly through by the arrow. Woah.

“Archery,” Todoroki confirmed, tossing the bow at Bakugou, who caught it without a thought. “Now, who here has the courage to be our volunteer?”

And with that one word, Kirishima felt like all the breath had been knocked out of his lungs. Courage . Courage, courage, courage. And as the word rang through his head, the redhead pushed down the memories associated with it and stepped forward.

“I do,” he said, sounding a lot more confident than he felt. However, if the captain noticed his true feelings, he didn’t show it. (He did, however, catch the old man raise an eyebrow at him from the shadows.)

“Good,” Todoroki said and threw another crab apple at Kirishima, who almost didn’t catch it from surprise. Pointing to the tree which had just been shot, he continued, “Stand at the base of that tree and balance that apple on your head.”

A little worm of fear began wriggling in Kirishima’s belly. This better not be what I think it is… he thought, but he still obediently did as he was told.

Bakugou nocked an arrow, and Kirishima gulped. The apple balanced precariously atop his head threatened to roll off, he was trembling so. With his hearing heightened, Kirishima could hear the bow string stretch taut as clearly as if it were being drawn mere centimeters away from his ear, and he wished that his palms would not sweat so much from the fear.

For what felt like an eternity, Kirishima stared down the point of an arrow and just beyond it, into the concentrated, red eyes of the co-captain Bakugou Katsuki. And for each eternity that passed, Kirishima could have sworn that his heart pounded against his chest countless times in slow motion. Something clouded his brain and his thoughts, and the line between pure and utter fear and total, hopeless something else began to blur.

Whoosh.

Before Kirishima could even register the arrow as released, it had already impaled the apple right off his head, harming not even a single one of his bright red hairs. As a hand floated up just to check, Kirishima let out a breath he hadn’t even realized he’d been holding. That was something.

He looked up, not even noticing his gaze lingering on the tempramental, butter-blond co-captain for just a second longer than usual, and let out a slight, breathy laugh.

That was something.

~***~

Another day, another realization that there was a lot more work to be put into the trainees than he had originally realized.

Shoto sighed as he sat down in his tent after dinner, completely beat and ready to crash for the night, but something on his table caught his eye. Curious, he pulled a scroll that had not been there that morning towards himself for observation.

The paper, while dirtied and not without its fair share of dark brown stains, still appeared quite new, as if someone had taken great care to preserve its quality without considering its cleanliness. Aside from that, the only thing of note was the dark red seal, which was imprinted with .

Aizawa strode in, Bakugou in tow. He also eyed the scroll on Shoto’s table. “Oh? And what’s that we have there?”

“A letter from my father,” Shoto admitted, but not with any degree of fondness.

“Yeah, okay,” Aizawa said, returning deadpan for deadpan. In the meantime, Bakugou sulked and scowled, but made no effort to escape the tent.

“What do you want me to say?” Shoto asked when the older man said nothing more.

“What’s the letter about, dipshit,” Bakugou growled, growing impatient. “Sheesh. I didn’t come here to deal with your petty family drama. Just read it already.”

“Essentially, yes,” Aizawa said, but Shoto simply glared at the letter.

“It’s probably just talking about how much better I could be doing,” he said disdainfully. “Last time, he evaluated all the trainees he met based on appearances alone and judged them for that. Said they all sucked .”

“…That’s rough, kiddo,” Aizawa said after a pause. “But that’s also essentially what I’m here to do today, with your and Katsuki’s opinions taken into consideration, of course.”

“That’s a shitty idea,” Bakugou instantly said, and both Shoto and Aizawa looked at him weirdly. Pink dusted Bakugou’s cheeks as he explained himself. “We need to read the fucking hapa’s letter before we can do anything.”

“He’s right, you know,” Aizawa said, nodding at Shoto, who glared at the older man. After all, despite the former’s age and wisdom, he wasn’t technically in charge and thus couldn’t make either Shoto or Bakugou do as he said. For a minute, Aizawa didn’t take the teenage boy seriously, merely giving the child captain a lazy glare, but when Shoto didn’t actually back down, Aizawa realized he wasn’t actually bluffing.

The true meaning and intensity behind Aizawa’s serious glare would never be more than an oddly specific flash of clarity in Shoto’s mind, but whatever it was, it was enough to instill fear, awe, and respect for the old man into his heart. With startling promptness, he picked up the scroll he had previously recoiled from and opened it, albeit with a distasteful look.

“Well, half-and-half? What’s it about?” Bakugou snapped after a grand total of thirty seconds.

“I can’t tell right now. My old man went ham on the extraneity of his characters,” Shoto replied, squinting at the scroll. “I have never seen him write like this in my life.”

Aizawa held out a hand. “I think I know what happened. Let me try.”

Obediently, Shoto handed over the scroll for Aizawa to squint at (which he did).

A few seconds passed, and though Shoto could tell that Bakugou was irritated at the wait, it was worth noting (to him, anyway) that the latter didn’t actually complain about having to do so.

Once the moment passed, Aizawa looked at Shoto and rolled up the scroll. “You were right about its contents. I apologize.” He tossed the scroll aside. “Present Mic was with Endeavor at the time of its writing, probably still is, hence the handwriting. Emperor Nezu wants their battle against the Huns to be recorded for the sake of history.

There was a pause as the older man set a kettle upon the fire. Shoto held his breath. “That’s all?”

“He mentioned he wanted you done with the trainees in three weeks’ time,” Aizawa replied after a bit of thought. Shoto’s stomach dropped.

“That’s stupid,” Bakugou immediately voiced, and while Shoto didn’t agree with the tone or wording, the sentiment certainly rang true. “As if those pathetic meatbags would be ready that fast.”

“And it’s exactly why we need to discuss cutting those without potential now ,” Aizawa evenly replied. “It’s a waste of resources to develop soldiers who, even at their best effort, won’t produce the chance of success.”

Shoto and Bakugou exchanged subtle uneasy glances. They had to admit he was right, but they could at least share the knowledge of their solidarity.

~***~

Momo played with the hem of her new binder as Uraraka hung lazily from her shoulders. On the ground beside them, Kyouka lay on her stomach, her legs swinging back and forth through the air, a needle and thread held between her lips and her chin propped up on her elbow. Aside from Deku the cricket, the three were having some quality Girl Time by the dim light of a single lantern.

At the moment, it was silent between them, save Deku’s chirping, having just finished discussing one of their heavier topics: Momo’s physical weakness.

“Hey, Momo,” Uraraka said, and Momo hummed in acknowledgement. “I’ve decided that I’m going to start sticking with you when you go out training. You can’t just keep going unsupported like this.”

“Hey!” Kyouka snapped, spitting out the needle and stabbing it into the blanket. Uraraka grinned sheepishly at her.

“Well, it’s not that you’re necessarily unsupportive, Kyo,” Momo said hurriedly, adjusting her posture so that she sat cross-legged. “It’s just that you’re way beyond my level right now, and I can’t keep up with anything you do.”

“I guess,” Kyouka huffed, “but Uraraka, you’re like, almost a thousand years old at this point, yeah? Wouldn’t that mean you’re way more advanced than both of us? What do you have to offer Yaomomo here?”

“Well, uhh…” Momo felt the dragon sit up on her shoulder. “I know that in a good punch, you have to keep your wrist straight and hit with the tips of your first two knuckles in order to have it really hurt your opponent.”

“Really?” Momo asked, testing the wisdom out on her palm, wincing when she hurt herself far more than she intended. Uraraka hopped onto the ground and flashed the human girls a smile. “How do you know this kind of stuff?”

“Dragon omnipotence,” Uraraka easily replied with a shrug. The girls shared a laugh, but were quickly cut short by someone outside.

“Psst, Haku!” a familiar voice whispered from outside. Momo and Jirou jumped while Uraraka dove under the blanket as a certain redhead poked his head inside the tent. “What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing much,” Jirou quickly said. “Just two dudes being bros. Trying to master our manly muscle flexes, you feel?” She showed off her bicep for a second, and Kirishima whistled, impressed.

Kaminari also popped his head in. “Hallooo~” he sang, softly because they weren’t supposed to be awake. He eyed Jirou’s muscles and nodded. “Nice.”

“Thanks,” Jirou said with a smile.

The boys squeezed into the tiny tent, and the four of them were now seated around the dim lantern. “Sorry about just barging in like this, but Kiri and I realized something,” Kaminari said.

Momo bit the inside of her cheek. “What is it?” she asked, hoping the poor lighting would keep herself and Jirou from getting caught.

“We haven’t had any deep and manly two a.m. soulbonding talks between all four of us yet,” Kirishima answered very seriously. “Denki and I had one a couple nights ago. I’m assuming you and Karma had one when you guys cleaned out the bathroom on the first night.”

Kaminari nodded. “What is a friend you cannot trust but yet another hidden enemy?”

“I had no idea you could spit straight wisdom like that, Denki,” Jirou dryly remarked.

“Thanks, Jirou.”

“Shh!” Kirishima gave Momo an apologetic look, though it quickly morphed into an excited grin. “So, are you guys in? Deep two a.m. soulbonding talks, let’s gooo !”

Momo and Jirou exchanged glances. The former bit her lip; she had rather wanted to give some more thought to guaranteeing her spot in the training camp, as an uneasy feeling had been building in her gut throughout the night.

But , she reminded herself, your life isn’t comprised of studying anymore.

Jirou turned back towards the boys and nodded confidently. “Sleep is for the weak,” she said, and everyone huddled closer to the lantern, excitement reflecting in their eyes.

“Well then,” Kirishima said gladly, “I guess I’ll start…”

Chapter Text

Early one morning, an ancient phoenix sat amongst the branches of a long-dead tree and preened her feathers. The end of this cycle was rapidly approaching; after two previous lifetimes, she was beginning to learn the signs of an approaching combustion.

The bird paused her grooming and wearily eyed the horizon for signs of the rising sun. It was grey yet, but she knew when the first of her tail feathers began to singe that the night would soon be over. She sighed, resigning herself to her third immolation.

The first time had been a surprise. Despite living her whole life that she would someday go out with a bang, the sheer suddenness of her sudden demise combined with her inexperience had reduced almost an entire forest to embers.

She closed her eyes when the sky became the same rich orange hue as her feathers. Already her tail was half done molting, and she hadn’t even been hit by the morning light yet. As the tips of her wings smoldered, she resigned herself to the end of another cycle.

The second time had hurt so much more than the first. She thought she knew what to expect, but apparently she had forgotten how sensitive she could be and how much energy it really took to pull one’s entire being from a heap of cold ashes.

That life had been worth every scrap of effort though, but she wasn’t looking forward to the rebirthing process again. She still flinched when the sun peeked over the horizon, speeding her death tenfold, and her flesh began to char.

The phoenix let out a quiet sigh as more and more of her failing body was consumed. Her now exposed skin blackened and peeled away in patches, revealing the tender muscles beneath, which smelled far more foul in comparison. She could feel the warm tendrils of fire licking her face, stinging her eyes with their ashes.

The world began to fall apart. The phoenix slowly blinked one more time, spending her last moments of sight watching the sun rise above the plain. Then they were seared, and her sight was no more.

The first breath is always the hardest. It’s dry and ashy, and her newly reincarnated sense of smell was always able to pick up on every acrid scent hanging in the air from when she had burned to ash. Despite the fact that it marked her third lifetime, she still hated it with every fiber of her being.

Rising from her old remains sucked, too. Every flake of dust and every smoldering ember felt like the sky upon her shoulders, telling her to simply let go. If the world needed phoenixes, she wouldn’t be one of the last, now would she?

She almost did this time, let go. If all that lay before her was an eternity filled with an infinite number of immolations and returns, then what kept her her efforts in this life from being moot? Did she really want limitless pain and suffering to be her norm?

She had no real answer for what dramatically resparked her will to live in that moment aside from divine intervention.

Hauling herself from her deathbed, the firebird took a few steps forward and shook her head of the leftover ashes. Turning a bright eye to the heavens, she took to the skies and allowed the sun to light her wings on fire.

~***~

“But first, remember: whatever is said in this tent, stays in this tent ,” Kirishima warned, and when Denki, Jirou, and Haku nodded in agreement, he relaxed. “Okay, so. I’m an only child, so if I die out there, my dad’s branch of the family tree is just gone . Grandma doesn’t believe in me, so about a week ago, on the day when I left, she went out and commissioned someone to write up a funeral tablet for me so that all that needs to be done if the news comes back is to dot it.”

Denki reacted slightly, with concern and sympathy in his eyes, but it wasn’t much since he’d already been told two nights ago.

Jirou, on the other hand, looked disturbed while Haku chewed his lip and gave him a sympathetic look.

“That’s more morbid than I was expecting,” Jirou said slowly. “What the fuck, Kirishima. Your grandma’s a dick, picking on her only grandchild like that.”

Kirishima sheepishly shrugged. “I mean, Denki said the same thing, but I actually have a lot of cousins, so it’s not like her lineage is going to die out any time soon. She just doesn’t like me because she doesn’t like the idea of her firstborn’s inheritance going to someone with less initiative than the neighbor girl.”

His friends were silent for a few moments, and he really hoped they wouldn’t ask more in-depth about the girl next door. When it came to her and grandma, well, things got complicated. Kirishima was more than glad to be away from that soap opera for now.

Luckily, they had the sense not to pry and merely nodded in understanding.

“My turn then,” Jirou mused, then took a steadying breath. “My eldest cousin was supposed to go to war, but he broke his leg falling out of a plum tree a little while ago, so my father and uncle went to visit the fortune-teller and asked who the next best choice to go to war would be.

“The fortune teller told them that no matter which of their sons went to war, something unforeseen would befall him, and that he may not return. She couldn’t tell exactly what would happen since that depends on their birthday obviously, but she said there was bad luck over our family this year so it wasn’t looking all that good.”

Jirou paused and stared off into the distance for a second, and all the tent was quiet as they waited for him to resume. When at last he did, he spoke as if what he had to say didn't affect him in the slightest.

"They decided after a while of talking that I should be the one to go off to war. I'm the second son of a second son; I'm by far the most expendable of the ones old enough. If I die well, then, nothing but another farmhand lost. If I don't, then that's fine too. If I make a name for myself, well, then, that's just a nice perk."

"Man," Kaminari said once Jirou was finished. "That's rough, buddy."

Jirou's nostrils flared as he glared at the blond. Kirishima raised an eyebrow at Denki, wondering if he was really sure he liked this guy.

"Let's hear your deep, dark, soul bond-worthy tidbit then, dummy," Jirou snapped, and Kirishima made a mental note to never ever underestimate Jirou's emotional response when vulnerable.

Denki gave Kirishima a panicked glance because he couldn't share the same thing with Haku and Jirou that he did with Kiri. It just wasn't the time. The redhead shrugged, not knowing something Denki could substitute for this round of secrets (and even if he did, he had no idea how to suggest it).

"Well, um," the blond began, racking his brains for something to tell, "I don't really have that much to say,  since I'm pretty normal…"

Haku blinked at him. "I thought you and Kirishima did this same thing a couple nights ago."

"He's pretty forgetful," Kirishima quickly said, and Denki nodded in agreement.

"Yeah, I-I really don't remember all that much of what I told Kiri, to be honest," he stuttered, rubbing the back of his neck. (He gave the redhead a glance of relieved gratitude.) He looked up at the roof of the tent, wondering aloud what he could tell. "Well," he began again, "when I was younger I was really accident prone, so my mom never let me go down to the river by the town because she thought I would fall in and drown. I mean, in hindsight, I don't really blame her, since it was really rocky there, but, uhh… I've always really wanted to take part in dragon boat racing 'cause it seems fun and all, but she's kind of a worrywart.

“I mean, I get that’s how she liked to show that she cared about me and all that stuff, but… I don’t know how to put it. I guess I felt too grounded, like I was tethered to home, because of it. She made up for not letting me out with really good zongzi, though."

Kirishima couldn't quite tell if his friend was looking homesick or hungry at the thought of his mother's cooking. Probably both.

"That was anticlimactic," Jirou noted dryly. "But I get you. The food here sucks."

"Hell yeah , it does," Denki enthusiastically replied. "But the morning gruel is starting to really grow on me.”

“I hope you don’t mean literally,” Jirou said, badly muffling a snicker.

“So, Haku,” Kirishima said, steering the conversation back to its original intents. “What’s with you? There’s a lot we don’t know about you, like how you’re even here if you were that sickly when you were little?”

Haku’s gaze immediately fell to the floor, where they remained fixed on his feet. “Oh, well. My parents were never really the coddling type, so I could sense their disappointment in my fragility from a young age. I’m not going to lie, they didn’t even think I could make it out here as a soldier, but my father’s grown too old to fight in the war himself, so I insisted that I be the one to uphold the family honor and go.”

There was a spell of silence as the others waited for him to say more.

“You’re putting an awful lot of expectations on yourself, Haku,” Kirishima commented as the time crept by three a.m. “What happens if you can’t live up to them?”

Haku looked thoughtful for a moment. Then, he looked up, his expression nearing sorrowful. “I don’t know.”

~***~

Morning was not kind to Momo and her friends, for only fools did not forgo sleep altogether when only two hours of it were offered to them. However, it strengthened their dynamic in ways that made it (almost) worth it. (Mostly.)

Momo blinked tiredly as Bakugou recited the drilldown speech; she was too groggy to be grateful that everyone had heard it so many times, most could probably recite it themselves.

She wasn’t sure exactly when drilldown began. At some point, they were all called to attention, but she was too tired to respond in time, and she had to fall out immediately. However, despite her addled, sleep-deprived mind, the unusual looks both captains and instructor gave her upon falling out were hard to miss. She fell to the floor and began her push-ups, punishment for falling out within the first ten commands. Already her muscles ached from the days of exertion.

“You,” Bakugou barked, walking over to her when Captain Todoroki took over drilldown. “Latrines tonight. Start after dinner.”

Momo internally groaned. It was going to be a long day.

~***~

If Kyouka were to be honest, it wasn’t the fact that they were beginning work on cannons that made her skittish about the day’s practice. It was the trigger-happy nature of that co-assistant-whatever-the-hell-not-in-actual-power captain (Come to think of it, she was starting to like the idea of ‘ bitch ’) Bakugou that made her nervous. He often got the most terrifying expression when around gunpowder products.

Next to her, Denki hummed as he played around with the cannon parts. How. How could he be so cheerful, running on as little sleep as they were? Kyouka shot him a deadly, grumpy glare. What an idiot. She hoped he noticed her giving him the stink eye and shut up.

“All right, asswipes,” that bitch Bakugou barked, walking down the long rank of soldiers manning cannons for the first time. “It’s time to DIE !”

“Aww, yeah!” Denki whooped, and Kyouka concluded that he was merely delirious from exhaustion.

“Fire away!”

Obediently, Kyouka lit her tinder, albeit a little clumsily, and set the fuse alight. As she covered her ears in anticipation, she spared another glance at Denki, who was busy adjusting the trajectory of the bomb. As the fuse trickled closer to nothing. Hmm…

It took her a full three and a half seconds for her to snap out of her sleep-deprived haze and realize that what he was doing was dangerous as hell .

“Denki!” she yelled, but it was drowned out by the first cannon shot. His fuse was less than two centimeters now. She scowled and stomped her foot, but was muffled by the soft grass. “DENKI KAMINARI!” Again, she was drowned out by the shots. Denki continued to fuss over the trajectory, and she hoped to high heaven that he wasn’t still humming.

Anxiety growing in the pit of her stomach, Kyouka checked back on her own cannon fuse, though she it didn’t really matter to her how close it was to going off either. She looked back at Denki, and she knew if she yelled again it would be too late.

Adrenaline made the split-second decision for her; she didn’t even remember tackling him. The next thing she knew, she was atop him, pinning him to the ground by the shoulders as the boom of his cannon rang in her ears; its tintinnabulation drowned out her even her own scolding.

I can’t believe you! ” she yelled, though to her own ears, it sounded as though she were underwater. “ Do you have ANY idea how stupid that was? You could have DIED if you kept hanging onto the cannon like that, Chargedolt!

It was only when she saw a tear fall onto the middle of Denki’s cheek that she realized she was crying. Immediately, she felt her face flush, and her chidings came to an abrupt halt in her throat. For the first time that day, her mind was crystal clear, and for the first time ever, Kyouka noticed how strangely beautiful his golden eyes were when reflecting the light.

The bang of one of the neighboring cannons going off caught her off guard, and Kyouka’s elbows buckled. She collapsed on Denki with an oomph , but quickly scrambled off, her face burning .

“Uhh,” Denki said as the worst of the ringing began to subside. For a moment, Kyouka couldn’t understand what he meant. Her gaze tracked where he was pointing just as a shadow loomed over them, and she suddenly froze.

Bakugou.

His crimson eyes gleamed raging murder, sending chills of terror snaking down Kyouka’s spine as he towered above the two. Never before had she had the opportunity to see the infamous blood vessel of rage on his forehead so closely, and one of her last thoughts was the hope that she’d never have to see it ever again.

He tch ed. “Fucking fuzzbrain. Should’ve let him die if he’s that stupid,” he grunted as he folded his arms, and Kyouka felt a flash of cold anger run through her. “Both of you. Clean up after the cooks tonight.” With that, Bakugou walked away.

Kyouka scowled as she watched him leave. “I can’t believe how dumb you are sometimes,” she griped. “Like, do you have a single gram of smarts in that hollow skull of yours at all? It’s almost like—”

God , you sound like my mom!” Denki snapped, making Kyouka freeze once more.

His mom ?

Before she could process it further, Denki made a run for it.

~***~

God , oh god, that was hands-down the worst moment of his entire life . He just told Jirou he reminded him of his mom ! What the hell! Denki liked to think he lived a life with no regrets, but apparently, there really was a first time for everything. Sure, he’d never thought a single thing through in his life, but the fact that those words had just popped out of his mouth because he had zero self-control gave him such a burning embarrassment that Denki doubted he’d be able to look his crush in the eye for the next few days. His mother ! He said Jirou reminded him of his mother!

He slowed down as he approached the bathrooms. Well, the whole of it wasn’t so bad. Sure, seeing Jirou cry was an experience in it of itself, but— oh man , had Jirou noticed him blushing then? Denki internally slapped himself; of course he noticed! Their faces were literally less than two dozen centimeters apart!

Denki groaned aloud, and he leaned dramatically against the outhouse wall. He couldn’t face any of his friends for a while now, not while Jirou was there anyway. But how would he live? Days without meaningful interaction with his bros left Denki exhausted at the mere thought of it.

The blond entered the latrine and relieved himself, then began trudging back towards the training ground. Dread began growing in the pit of his stomach.

This is one fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, Denki, his real mother’s voice scolded inside his head. He flinched almost reflexively; he could practically feel her roughly wiping dirt off his cheeks with the hem of her coarse shirt sleeve. I swear, one of these days you’re going to just whack the head right off your shoulders with all the dumb shenanigans you do.

Hey, fucker! ” Denki could hear Bakugou’s voice before he could even see the training grounds. “ You think you’re going to get by on lucky shots alone? I think not! Hit the god damn target for once, Yaoyorozu!

Denki watched curiously from a distance as the butter-blond not-quite-a-man roared less-than-helpful… was that encouragement? It was hard to tell with Bakugou.

Hmm. But he could learn to tell.

A grin split Denki’s face. Yes, he had a way out of seeing his friends for a little while now.

He began sprinting again, catching up with Bakugou without much trouble. “Hey,” he said, hoping that his nervousness didn’t show that much. Immediately, Bakugou gave him the stink eye.

“What the fuck do you want, fuzzbrain?” he growled.

Denki slowed down, lowered his voice, and glanced around his surroundings. “I don’t think I can face my friends for a little while,” he admitted.

Bakugou huffed and turned away. “Not my problem,” he said, and began walking faster.

Denki jogged to catch up with him. “You don’t understand; I just need someone to hang out with that can keep them away from me until I can take it again.”

“Your fault for being so stupid.”

Denki took a deep breath to dissolve his penting frustration and persisted. “Please, it was just an accident, but I just can’t right now. I did something really dumb without thinking, I know, but I just want a couple days to get my shit together before I talk to them again.”

This seemed to get to Bakugou, who slowed to a stop and pivoted to face Denki. There was an unreadable look in his eye behind the default rage that didn’t quite fit with the rest of Bakugou’s style. “Fine,” he snapped, “You can sweep the stables for the next week then.”

Denki watched him walk away again, still processing Bakugou’s words, but once it clicked, he almost whooped for joy.

“Thanks, man!” he said, catching up Bakugou with a gratuitous grin on his face.

Bakugou scowled and looked away. “There’s a spare cannon over there. Go man it, you fucking fuzzbrain.”

“Will do, sir!” Denki watched the assistant captain stalk off with an undying grin, the relief was so real. Heh, Bakugou didn’t seem like such a bad guy way deep down; Denki was starting to understand what Kirishima saw in him.

Humming, Denki headed to the empty cannon to live in blissful pretendence of the events that transpired at the previous one.

~***~

Under normal circumstances, Ochako would have kept her minding to Momo only, but Kyouka’s outburst during the cannon exercise had been anything but normal. Out of everyone she was currently aware of, Kyouka was the last Ochako would have ever expected to allow her emotions overwhelm her into making an impulse decision.

The tiny dragon wriggled around in the loose folds of Momo’s uniform so that she could stealthily observe Kyouka as the girls ate together with Kirishima. The dumb blond Denki was nowhere in sight, strangely enough, though Ochako wasn’t particularly concerned about that.

“Oh, sorry, Deku,” she whispered softly as the cricket hopped frantically about Momo’s collar, trying to avoid getting crushed by Ochako’s coils.

“I-it’s fine, Uraraka,” he chirped. “What’s going on out there?”

“Oh, just dinner,” Ochako replied, giving Momo’s friends a once-over before settling back into the shirt. “Denki’s not with them right now, but I think Jirou scared him off earlier.”

“Yikes.” Deku cringed, ruffling his wings.

“Mmm, yeah, I suppose it’s yikes, but if I had to guess, they’re both just really bad at expressing themselves. Which makes sense, since everyone’s, like, a literal child. But, like, Deku.” Ochako stared straight at the cricket as he settled on her nose. “I know it’s just been a couple hours, and maybe this’ll sort itself out sooner than I expected, but I have this weird hunch that the two of them just aren’t emotionally mature enough yet to put a name to what they’re feeling and talk it out.”

Deku rested his head on his two front legs. “You’re pretty good at this stuff,” he commented, and Ochako scratched the back of her head with a sheepish grin.

“Oh, well… you kind of pick stuff up living as an incense ornament for a hundred or so years,” she said, and if her scales could change color based off her mood, they would be flushed red with embarrassment at the moment. However, before she could continue explaining her thoughts to Deku, their host got up.

“Sorry, guys,” Momo apologized, “but Bakugou said I was on latrine duty today for failing drilldown. I don’t want to wait until it’s dark.”

Kyouka groaned. “I feel you, Haku. We’re just lucky we had one another to keep from falling into those nasty shitholes, but uuuughhhh, you just reminded me of my kitchen duties. How could youuuuu.”

“I kinda wanna go looking for Kaminari,” Kirishima quietly admitted. “I haven’t seen him since the cannon thing, and I’m kinda worried about him.”

Ochako heard the three friends sigh and part ways. She waited until she sensed they were alone, then crawled out onto Momo’s shoulder and enjoyed the cool evening breeze.

“You know, Yaomomo,” she began, careful to block off her nostrils at the first whiff of the bathrooms. “I think you’re actually pretty good with those firearms.”

“Am I?” Momo asked, resigning herself to a long, late evening of cleaning.

Ochako nodded. “It’s just your aim that needs a little more work, in my opinion. I think you could really kick ass at this soldier thing at this rate!” she said, and she genuinely meant it. While sure, Momo was still but a scrap at the bottom of a barrel at the moment, her father’s legacy still coursed through her veins. Given the time and opportunity, Ochako wholeheartedly believed that she could turn the tide of war.

Momo jammed a shovel into the dirt. “You really think so?”

“Yup!” Ochako hummed, and they continued like this for hours into the night, a steady stream of advice flowing from the dragon to the human girl.

Everything was looking good when the moon began to peek into the little training camp. The rancid odors of the outhouses were muffled by the heaps of fresh dirt upon them, and there was still more than enough time for Momo to crash in her tent and wake up feeling refreshed in the morning. Ochako snuggled down yet again, already beginning to doze off when she heard the humans talking.

“Captain Todoroki? What are you doing out here at this hour? Is that my hor—”

“The army has no tolerance for those without enough potential. Pack up, go home. You’re through.”

Chapter Text

Pack up, go home. You’re through.

The captain’s words had sent Momo into a dizzying haze, hardly allowing her to process the events before cramming Iida’s reins into her hand and walking away. She wasn’t quite sure how it had happened, getting kicked out, aside from those six words; after all, mere minutes ago, Uraraka had been going on about how well she’d do with just a little time.

“Momo. Momo. ” Uraraka wriggled out of the human girl’s hood the second Captain Todoroki was out of sight and gently held her face in her claws. “Calm down. You’re going into shock. You can hear me, right Yaomomo?”

Momo blinked once, twice. She shook some of the cotton out of her head. “Yeah,” she said, “yeah. I can hear you just fine.” Uneasily, she adjusted her grip on Iida’s reins as he snuffled her hair.

Uraraka breathed a sigh of relief and let go of Momo’s cheeks. “Good,” she said as Deku hopped onto her head. She probably said a bit more after that, but Momo wasn’t listening anymore. Already, her thoughts had wandered away from her own well-being back to what went wrong.

Well, it’s not as if what went wrong was really a question worth asking; really, she should have been asking what went right during her training. From her chronic weakness of being weak, to her flat-out garbage aim, to looking like she talked to herself every ten minutes when Uraraka funnelled her advice, perhaps it should have been more of a surprise that she hadn’t been kicked out earlier.

Oh, what would she do now? She fidgeted with Iida’s reins and bit the inside of her cheek, her gaze zoning far off into the distance. Going home would leave a black mark on her family name for eons. The “son” of a famous soldier sent home before he even saw the battlefield, all out of incompetency?? There wasn’t much more shameful than that. But she couldn’t walk back in. That would be stupid.

Momo yelped, twenty sharp, little pinpricks on her scalp pulling her out of her thoughts, and she yanked Uraraka off her head to face the dragon head-on.

“I’m sorry, Yaomomo, but you weren’t responding anymore,” Uraraka apologized. “I was scared that you might have lost consciousness or something. I did the only thing I could think of.”

Momo loosened her grip on Uraraka and sighed. “Well, it’s not like it really matters if I’m gone or not. This is it. I’ve failed. There’s not much I can do anymore other than accept it.”

The dragon scrambled up Momo’s arm as the latter began leading Iida away. “C’mon, Momo! Don’t say that. I believe in you!” Deku chirped in agreement, but Momo wasn’t really in the mood to listen to a cricket’s advice. She ignored both animals and trudged back to her tent.

The moon was bright that night, bright enough for its light to cast shadows upon the earth. When Momo arrived at her tent to pack up, much to the distress of her tiny dragon, a shadow already lay over it. Ever curious, her gaze was drawn back to the top of the pole in the center of camp and the arrow that had nestled at its top since day one.

Ah, the beauty of the unattainable. There was something very lovely about the way the moonbeams came through the fletching, the way the moonlight glinted startlingly bright off the arrow’s head. Momo found herself staring at it for much longer than she’d ever care to admit.

A streak of light flew across the sky in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it kind of moment, drawing her attention to the thousands upon thousands of stars that had come out since she finished cleaning the latrines at twilight. They were pretty with their twinkling. Maybe the further out of reach something was, the prettier it got.

She wasn’t sure how long she stood there, watching the stars trail across the sky. Something about the passage of the night sky calmed her down and cleared her mind, but the moon creeping into her line of sight broke the spell it had on her. With a sigh, Momo turned her gaze back down to her feet and began dragging her feet back to her tent.

“Hey!” It was a barely vocalized whisper, but considering the only other sound to be heard in the near-dead silence of the night was that of men’s snoring, it still managed to startle Momo. She picked Uraraka off her shoulder and held her face-to-face. “What if you tried getting the arrow?” the dragon asked with a spark of hope in her eyes.

Momo blinked slowly, her eyesight still adjusting to the dark of her own shadow. “I don’t understand.”

“What if you tried getting the arrow off the top of the pole?” Uraraka repeated, just as hopefully as the first time. “Nobody’s tried since the first day, and so much has happened since then. I bet if you put yourself to it, you could get that arrow down and prove the captain wrong!”

Momo looked back at the arrow, then trailed her gaze downwards. She couldn’t see the base of the pole from where her tent stood, in the outskirts of camp, but she knew Captain Todoroki kept the test’s weights hanging on a fencepost near the pole. She absolutely could give it a shot, if she wanted.

“I’m not sure, Uraraka,” Momo said. “I can’t have actually improved that much if they’re kicking me out.”

“They don’t know you like I do. I think you can.”

“They’ve been watching me especially since the day I fainted. They’re higher-ups in the military. They’re bound to have way more experience, so their judgement must be sound.”

Uraraka huffed, a tiny pillar of flame escaping her lips as she did so. “Yeah, well, they may be more experienced than you, but I’ve also been alive for over a millenia and seen way worse than you, Momo. Remember, I have dragon omnipotence. Wouldn’t you think my opinion weighs more heavily than theirs?”

Iida tugged impatiently on the reins, eager to simply get things moving. Momo looked at him, and he flicked his head towards the pole. What have you got to lose?

Reluctantly, Momo paused to give it some thought. She supposed it was true; she had nothing left to lose but her life. Though, that didn’t really seem to be of much worth anymore. Imagine the dishonor on her family if she got herself killed without even setting foot on the battlefield.

Uraraka seemed to notice and patted Momo’s hand lovingly. “There’s nothing wrong with trying, you know. And besides, you risked it all just to come out here. You have nothing to lose if you try again, but everything you’ve worked for to get back. C’mon, Momo.”

Momo sighed and let the reins and the dragon slip from her grasp as her hand fell back to her sides. Iida promptly trotted over to her tent to wait while Uraraka scrambled up her sleeve. Momo looked about one last time, then with great hesitancy, walked silently to the center of camp.

The moon was high in the sky when she got there, almost directly above the arrow itself. Strange how bright it was tonight.

Well, all the easier to see what I’m doing , Momo thought as she lifted the brass weights from their peg and dragged them to the pole. She slipped her hands into the wrist loops and stared at the tooth marks Bakugou had left behind.

No one so far had made it past them.

Neither did she, the first time she reattempted the pole. Nor the second, the third, the fourth, the fifth…

Her muscles were screaming bloody murder at her at the end of her seventh trial as she sat at the base of the pole, her butt aching from a bruise that was sure to form by morning. Sweat dripped from her brow, stung her eyes, ran down her back. How was she supposed to climb a pole that was— what, thirty meters high?— with like, fifty kilos dragging her down? No trial seemed any better than the last; hell, if anything, they were getting worse as she tired out.

“C’mon, Yaomomo, don’t do this to me! I know you’re smart,” Uraraka pleaded.

Momo pursed her lips, still trying to recover from that last trial. Seven times now she tried, but eight was a lucky number. She stared down at her hands, at the long strips of cloth that bound the weights to her.

Now that she thought about it, why were the straps so long? No human in all of China could possibly have wrists that thick. Curious now, she unbound her wrists and tried it around her waist. She was certainly more balanced now.

A little giddy, Momo twirled around, and while it took some effort to get started, she really got going afterwards.

It was a little too much, though; when she dug her heels into the ground to stop, her legs simply twisted around, and she fell to the floor.

Groaning, Momo stared up at the sky as she tried to figure out which of the stars were real and which were simply dancing before her eyes.

“Momo? Are you okay?” Uraraka asked as she wormed her way out from beneath Momo.

Momo took in a long, raggedy gasp in an attempt to regain the wind knocked from her lungs before she let out a light, breathy laugh. Alarmed, Uraraka crawled onto her face, but the girl simply smiled. “Yeah, I’m fine,” she said as she sat up. She reached a hand toward the arrow for all of a minute, then retracted it, staring at the hand afterwards. “I think I know how to get the arrow now.”

“Oh? How?” Uraraka asked, but Momo wasn’t listening anymore. She unwound the weights from her waist and looped them back around her wrists, leaving ample length for the weights to nearly reach the ground.

They didn’t have to be deadweight, she realized when she fell. Momo swung the weights around the base of the pole, smiling to herself when they entangled themselves on the other side. Adjusting her grip on the straps, she pulled her full weight on them as she took her first steps up the pole.

Hope began to flutter in her belly when she yanked the weights higher and crawled higher up. She could do this. She could .

It all became real when she passed the tooth marks, but it also all became a blur.

Heave weights, grip straps, climb higher. Heave weights, grip straps, climb higher. Heave weights, grip straps, climb higher. As with all skills, it became easier the more times she did it.

Heave, grip, climb. Heave, grip, climb. Heave, grip, climb. Barely halfway up, and her arms were already begging her to stop. The toll of the previous attempts was indeed great, and Momo paused to stare off into the horizon. The moon had set, and the stars were already fading from sight. Down below, a tent stirred as its groggy occupant stumbled out.

Momo grit her teeth. There was no time for a break. People were rising already! She’d have to streamline the process somehow…

Heave weights, yank self higher. Heave weights, yank self higher. Back on earth, several trainees had already awoken and taken notice of her. She couldn’t hear their mumblings, but she saw them pointing from her position mere meters away from the arrow. Had she not dedicated every ounce of strength to obtaining that arrow, she would have smiled to herself. But now was not the time. Heave, yank, heave, yank.

When Momo finally pulled herself to the top and took a seat there, the relief at her journey’s end hit her like a tidal wave. She let out a breath she hadn’t realized she was holding in those last few seconds and turned her face to the sky, where the last few stars winked out of sight.

Captain Todoroki came out of his tent with the grey light of dawn, Momo yanked the arrow out from its position at the top of the pole and threw it down at his feet. The men down below murmured in shock, and the captain's gaze shot up to look at her just as the sun peeked out from over the horizon, backlighting her as she grinned at him.

"Hi."

Chapter Text

He’d only come out to see what all the fuss was about: after all, a gaggle of young men and late-teenage boys weren’t usually rowdy when it was five in the morning. It had to be something really interesting to be worth waking him up.

And Aizawa supposed they were right to be so loudly awake. To say that Yaoyorozu had surprised him was, at the very least , an understatement. That was certainly saying something, considering how infrequently anyone even met his already ground-level standards.

He squinted at the pole as the boy clambered down and handed the weights off to Shoto, whom he noted looked actually surprised for once, albeit subtly. Relatable.

Aizawa stretched lazily and eyed the trainees. Less than he expected had been weeded out, but at the same time, there wasn’t one in sight whom he would think to cut. Aizawa grunted to himself. I suppose they’re just better than the last batch.

Or maybe he was just getting soft at this ripe old age of thirty-one.

He looked the camp over a second time, and, pleased with the way Shoto got all the rascally trainees in line, trudged back into his tent to get some more sleep. He couldn’t be holding that kid of a captain’s hand the whole camp.

No sooner had his head hit the pillow did Aizawa hear Katsuki’s earsplitting roar, and he sighed. Forgot about that one, he wryly noted. Not sure how, but I did, and dammit does he need work. Aizawa lay on his cot listening to Katsuki kill his voice giving instructions for another minute, too lazy to get out yet.

When at last he did rise, he was greeted by Shoto shyly poking his head inside the tent. “Sir? Are you coming? Or are you getting too old?”

Aizawa eyed the young man warily. “ You really don’t need an ancient fart like me coming along,” he said dryly as he exited the tent, heading to the training grounds with Shoto trailing close behind. “Don’t think it’s good for you either, to have me supervise for so long. Stunts your growth as a leader. Makes you constantly unsure of yourself, constantly seeking external approval and validation.”

Shoto was silent for a moment, and Aizawa was able to appreciate the crisp morning air in peace.

“You’re right,” the former said quietly. “I won’t bother you next time.”

Aizawa stopped, having reached his perch overseeing the training grounds, but he had to fight the oddest urge to turn and ruffle the mixed boy’s hair. Instead, he grunted and let the echoes of Katsuki’s insults call Shoto back to work for him.

He surveyed the trainees with a tired eye. They were doing hand-to-hand combat today, and everyone was paired off to practice. Yet, there seemed to be something just a little bit off about it. In the short span of time that he had been supervising all these kids, Aizawa had gotten a sense of each one’s personality, the friend groups, and their dynamics. If he was made to hazard a guess, he could have predicted practice pairings easily.

Shoto and Katsuki were wanderers, the only variables that broke up partnerships regularly. Today, they had taken Yaoyorozu and Kirishima, respectively, which normally would have left their friends Kaminari and Jirou to spar with one another, but for some reason, they didn’t.

Aizawa watched with disinterest as the blond dumbass Kaminari got his ass handed to him by the silver-haired Tetsutetsu while Jirou was locked in combat with a different blond dumbass, Monoma. It really was strange. From his observations, the two were close, being among the first to bond while at camp, and there had been multiple times when Aizawa had seen Kaminari following Jirou around like a puppy. Then there was that whole thing the other day with the cannons, which had Jirou borderline annoying, what with all the crying.

He frowned, folding his arms across his chest. Yeah, that was definitely the cause of their stubborn avoidance of one another. Which was dumb, considering how much more beneficial it would be not to have infighting. Plus, it could be resolved so easily; all they had to do was communicate with one another!

Alas, Aizawa knew better than that. Teenagers sucked at feelings, and teenage boys sucked even more at being mature. To expect them to be emotionally mature enough to talk to each other was like asking the emperor to be human for a day: impossible, and frankly too unrealistic to even think about.

Aizawa wished he had some tea because then he’d be able to slowly sip it as he did absolutely nothing to resolve that little conflict.

But he’d have to settle for a sharp breath of cold air as he surveyed the trainees. He smiled slightly to himself as he did so.

Heh.

He’d never admit it out loud, but aside from a few snags here and there, he was growing proud of this pack of idiots and the captain training them.

~***~

Butterflies practically lived in Kirishima’s stomach at this point. Actually, scratch that, they’d always lived in his stomach. He’d just become good at ignoring them over the years. He took deep breaths, inhaling for four heartbeats and exhaling just as long.

It was just his own anticipation that made everything so nerve-wracking, he told himself. Captain Bakugou wasn’t a bad guy, or else he wouldn’t be in charge of a trainee squad. He was just living up to that invitation from the day they ran up the mountain.

Yes, Kirishima was perfectly aware that the invitation hadn’t been literal, but he there was something about the blond boy that had stolen his curiosity away. And besides, now was as good a time as any to face his nerves head-on, probably the best, actually. He didn’t want to serve as a mediator between Denki and Jirou forever; they had to patch that up someday . Hopefully soon. (He felt kind of bad for leaving Haku to deal with the two of them alone, but shh, it was for the greater good.)

The tent flap rustled, startling him with its suddenness. Well, here comes the point of no return, Kirishima thought, fighting the temptation to chew his lip.

“God damn that shitty hapa…” Bakugou muttered to himself as he walked inside. He shook his head for a moment, but stopped completely when he noticed the redhead sitting at the tea table facing him.

Kirishima gulped as the assistant captain peered at him with disinterested, analytical eyes, his eyebrows furrowed ( Jirou’s right, they do look like they’re kissing, Kirishima found himself thinking, much to his chagrin), and his upper lip curled in half a sneer. “Hi,” he said, infinitely glad that his voice hadn’t cracked, and he flashed Bakugou a lopsided grin despite the internal screaming.

“Who the fuck’re you,” he bluntly grunted.

“Eijirou Kirishima,” he answered.

Bakugou gave him a weird squinty look. “Hairbrain?”

Scrambling for an answer aside from his name, Kirishima tried to ignore Bakugou’s expression as well as the memories of archery training specifically coming to mind. “I, uh… You did say we could be your guest.”

Bakugou stared at him blankly.

A fuzzy haze Kirishima hadn’t even realized was clouding his mind began to fade as he adjusted to the situation. “It was the day you shot an arrow at an apple on my head, remember?” He dropped his gaze, missing the way Bakugou stiffened ever so slightly.

Both the silence and the tension in the tent was palpable for all of a minute until the assistant captain broke both by plodding forward and plopping himself down on the other side of the tea table. Kirishima glanced up to see him baring his teeth in what he hoped was a smile.

“Kirishima, huh?” he said with the weirdest fire in his eyes. “Well, let’s have some fuckin’ tea, shall we?”

All remaining fear of Bakugou flew out of Kirishima’s mind, and the latter visibly brightened. I knew he was a good guy—! “Yeah!”

~***~

On one hand, how dare Kirishima run off to have tea with that bitch of a captain Bakugou and leave poor, sensitive, still-not-over-what-he-said-to-his-crush Denki without a bro to have lunch with.

On the other hand, Denki knew he completely deserved this, and he did have to apologize to Jirou if he wanted to at least keep their friendship going.

So with a sigh, Denki Kaminari accepted his afternoon rice bowl and headed to where he knew Jirou had been hanging out with Haku to avoid him.

Hi Jirou, I’m sorry about saying you sound like my mom, it’s not like it’s not true or whatever— wait, no, he couldn’t say that! He mentally scribbled out that line— I just have this really bad habit of saying stuff without realizing it and that was just an accident, promise, please, can we be friends again?

His rehearsal time was unfortunately little, and he found himself standing before Jirou’s tent before he knew it. He really didn’t want to do this yet, so Denki took a bite of rice as stress relief. Hi, Jirou. I’m sorry about what I said the other day. I have this really bad habit of saying stuff without realizing it or thinking about it either. I didn’t mean it, it was just an accident, promise. Please, can we be friends again?

Please, can we be friends again?

Nope, still not ready. Denki shoved another wad of rice in his mouth, ready to stand in front of the tent until he fully thought through this apology, even if it took the entire lunch break and more. Hey, Jirou—

Unfortunately, the tent occupants had a different idea, as Haku poked his head out the tent flap mere seconds later. “Denki?” he asked, and Denki nearly choked on his meal, he was so startled.

“O-oh, hi, Haku,” he stumbled, grimacing at how painfully the rice went down.

Haku stepped outside, peering at Denki curiously. “Can I ask why you’re just standing in front of Jirou’s tent, eating rice?”

“I, uh…” Denki couldn’t focus on any one thing, let alone a response. Haku continued to stare at him intensely, and he gulped. “I, uh… I wanted to talk with Jirou.”

Haku’s eyes brightened with excitement. “Well, that was faster than I expected. Please, come on in!” he said, popping right back into the tent.

Denki stared after him for all of a second, desperately trying to quell the butterflies dancing in his stomach. Hi, Jirou… he thought as he stepped through the tent flaps, trying to compose his apology one last time, but everything he had flew from his brain and out his ears when his eyes met Jirou’s.

“Please, can we be friends again?” he found himself blurting, and wow could these tents hold a lot more heat than he originally thought! Jirou’s face was all red, and he was positive his own was as well. (He was also pretty sure he heard a facepalm somewhere, but since he couldn’t see who did it, he assumed he was imagining things.)

“Just friends, huh?” Jirou dryly said, raising an eyebrow at him. “I didn’t realize people were friends with their parents now.”

Denki winced, recovering some of his train of thought. “Look, I’m sorry that I complained about your fussing. I’m really glad that I can have an army buddy like you to keep me alive and all, really. I just… have a bad habit of talking without thinking. Trust me, it’s gotten me in heaps of trouble back home.” He glanced at Haku to gauge the other boy’s response. Judging by the glint of excitement in his eye, he assumed approval and racked his brain for more to the apology. “I’ll try my best not to do anything as dumb as hang around an ignited cannon again or to say dumb shit anymore. So… please, can we be friends again?” he pleaded.

Wow, it was really hot in the tent.

Jirou regarded Denki with an unreadable expression in his dark eyes. Denki held his gaze with his nervous, pounding heart worn on his sleeve, hoping, hoping, this wouldn’t be the end.

Jirou broke eye contact and rubbed his eye, mumbling something about dust in the air. Yet, he wore a smile upon his face, as slight as it might be, and something in Denki’s chest fluttered . “Yeah,” Jirou said after a beat. “Let’s be friends again.”

Something within Denki broke right then— but in a good way. That panic, that fear that Jirou would say no and they couldn’t be friends again— it snapped, disintegrating into imaginary emotional dust replaced by sheer relief so powerful, it was hard not to cry. Instead, Denki mustered a grin and said, “I’m glad.”

“You having lunch with us?” Jirou asked, and Denki froze just as he began to sit.

“Oh, uh, I can— I can go if you’d prefer,” he answered. “Kiri’s having lunch with Bakugou, but I could probably…”

“Nah, it’s okay. I was just asking— wait, Kirishima’s with that bitch of a captain Bakugou? I thought he just got stuck in the back of the lunch line.”

Denki shook his head. “He ditched me so I had to make up with you.” When Jirou shot him a look, Denki smiled nervously at him and said, “Kidding, kidding. He wanted to make good on that invitation or whatever. I wanted to apologize. By the way, Haku, that arrow thing was sick as fuck.”

The raven-haired boy brightened. “Thanks! I was telling Jirou about how Captain Todoroki told me I could stay at camp after sparring today before you showed up.”

Denki grinned at his friends, more than happy to listen to them talk about their day. It was good to have his bros back.

~***~

Katsuki peered suspiciously at Hairbrain over the rim of his teacup, taking a single tiny sip. Could be worse, I guess, he decided, savoring the bitter flavor. He took another mouthful, eyeing the redhead across from him curiously as the latter absorbed himself in swirling the leaf bits around in the cup. I wonder what he’s up to, tramping in here talking about an invitation or some shit. Credit where it’s due though, he’s got guts for it. Could’ve sworn I had all these bitches scared shitless under my thumb.

Hairbrain looked up suddenly, the dumbest smile on his face. “Y’know, I knew you were a good guy beneath that spiky exterior,” he said, then took a gulp of tea.

Katsuki was genuinely baffled. Okay, scratch brave, this guy’s just an idiot. Fits with the arrow thing too, so I guess that’s just fucken’ it. “Mmm… questionable,” he replied with a huff.

“Well, I mean, why else would you let me stay? Everyone else is terrified of you, what with all the yelling.” Kirishima paused for another sip.

Well, it wasn’t like anyone else had ever tried what this idiot was doing. Hairbrain was simply amusing, that was all. “Maybe I’m just getting ready to kill you,” he grunted, sending the other boy a sickly grin. Hairbrain looked like he’d be a chatterbox if he let him. He doubted he wanted that.

For a second, the redhead’s eyes grew wide as the moon, and Katsuki mentally congratulated himself for spooking him. That is, until Kirishima let out a snort of laughter. That made Katsuki scowl.

“What?” he snapped, putting his tea back on the table with a thunk!

“Sorry, sir,” Hairbrain said, still obviously amused, which just as obviously pissed Katsuki off.

He narrowed his eyes at Hairbrain. “We can fight hand-to-hand again if that’s what you fuckin’ want,” he said in a low voice as he leaned over the table. “If this morning means shit , you defend way too much. What, you think those dumbass Huns are just gonna tire themselves out in a fight? Can’t attack for yourself?”

Surprisingly, Kirishima leaned forward, an excited grin upon his face as he met Katsuki halfway and stared him in the eye. “Well, we can certainly test that out outside if you want, captain.”

The tent flap suddenly rustled, and Hairbrain quickly retracted to act as if he had been civilly drinking tea the whole time. With a scowl, Katsuki sat properly again and glanced at the tent opening. "Oh, well here comes the golden boy," Katsuki nearly spat as the halfling captain entered the tent.

Shoto blinked at the two of them. "Am I interrupting something? I can leave if you're really that busy."

"I'm not the boss of you," Katsuki scoffed, turning back to Hairbrain. "Do whatever you want."

Wordlessly, Shoto walked right back out of the tent, leaving the two alone again. There was an awkward pause, as they couldn’t exactly return to what they’d been doing.

"…Why'd you call him a golden boy?" Kirishima broke the silence at last, drawing Katsuki's attention back to the conversation.

The blond took an angry gulp of tea. “Everything falls onto his fucking lap like a gift from the emperor or some shit, and everyone seems to think he’s the best at all this just because his dad’s a general and groomed him or what-fucking-ever,” he said scathingly.

“Oh, that reminds me. Why aren’t you in the planning tent? Don’t you guys have important stuff to discuss right now?” Kirishima quietly asked.

Katsuki looked away, lowering his cup with a sneer at the distance. “They don’t need me.”

~***~

Endeavor surveyed his troops with a calculating eye. As far as the eye could see, each man running like a perfect little cog from tent to tent in the beautiful, well-oiled machine of a camp that he ran all on his own.

“You,” he said to his advisor, and the frail, little wisp of a man hurried over. All this time, and he still hadn’t bothered to learn his name. Why should he? A man like that was a dime a dozen in the Emperor’s courts, and his advice meant near nothing when Endeavor planned and executed everything anyway.

“Yes, General Todoroki?” the advisor asked, and Endeavor scowled. That’s what he hated about this one in particular, too.

“How many times have I told you to call me by the name given to me by the Emperor on high, General Endeavor ?” he sneered.

“As many as you’ve gotten your soldiers butchered in your blood-soaked battles, sir ,” the advisor snipped back. “I swear, why even bother having me around if I don’t affect anything in the slightest?”

Endeavor decided to ignore that second little comment. “Doesn’t matter as long as it gets the results we need, correct? Anyway, I need you to write a letter to Shoto for me. I think he’ll want to see the results of our upcoming ambush on the Huns and get a taste of victory to lure him forward…”

~***~

"What is it, Shoto?" Aizawa asked blandly, eyeing the captain wearily as he paced the room. He already knew the answer to his question; he had seen the seal on the scroll that lay untouched on Shoto's desk. But he asked it anyway because it was good for the young man to talk about things.

"It's a letter from my father," Shoto replied, his voice tinged with an unusual amount of irritation. "I know what it says," he continued, causing Aizawa to raise an eyebrow.

"I didn't know you could read a scroll without opening it," he dryly commented. "You should teach me how to do that sometime."

Shoto sighed. "I didn't read it yet," he admitted. Aizawa hummed. "But you already know he doesn't write about anything except that I suck and need to be harder on the trainees."

"Well, personally, I think they've all grown to be quite fine soldiers," Aizawa said. (He'd most likely never admit it to said soldiers' faces, but just to Shoto, it was fine.) "You'll never know what that scroll is going to say unless you open it. Perhaps your father has changed his tune this time around."

Shoto's expression shifted, and Aizawa knew deep down that the likelihood of Endeavor sending a letter of praise was highly unlikely. But, it got the mixed boy to open up the scroll with a sigh and read it.

It took a grand total of thirty seconds for him to finish.

"You were right," he admitted, surprising even Aizawa himself. "It wasn't about how shitty he thinks I'm doing."

"Oh?" the older man said, careful to keep his tone neutral.

"He thinks himself good enough to ambush the Huns in a week's time. He says we should pack up and merge with his ranks, ready or not, so that when he saves the country in a blaze of glory we may bask in it and get a little bit of honor on the side because we helped," Shoto said, all the while keeping his voice disinterested. Suddenly, he rolled the scroll up once more and stared straight at the older man. "Where's Bakugou?"

Well, that wasn't exactly what Aizawa had been expecting. "Likely bathing. Why?"

"I want his opinion."

My, Shoto sure is full of surprises this evening. "Well, you're free to go fetch him. I will stay here in the tent, where it is warm. Not that it looks like you want wise, old, sensei's advice." Aizawa lay down and pulled a blanket out from under a table, fully prepared to fall asleep on the spot when the captain crouched down in front of his face.

"Don't take it personally, old man. Your word still weighs heavily in my mind, but I have also been thinking. I should involve Bakugou more in my decision-making process. Besides, you already said that I shouldn’t be relying on you so much as time goes on,” Shoto replied. He sighed, sat down, and for a moment, things were quiet.

“What?” Aizawa lazily asked after a few beats. “Not going to go find the little brat? Wouldn’t be hard.”

“No, it’s not that. It’s just that…” Shoto faltered, wondering where he was going with this.  Something had been tugging at his heart lately, especially since Yaoyorozu had pulled that stunt with the arrow, but he couldn’t place what it meant to save his life. “There’s been a little something building up in my soul.”

His mentor sat up in bed. “Are you sure it isn’t just indigestion?”

Shoto shook his head, a little bit irritated by the comment. “It’s been a while since it began.” Plus , it ran way deeper than a bit of digestive pain. “It’s weird, sir. Sometimes it’s a hollow ache in my chest. At others, it’s like a firework at the end of its fuse, ready to burst, and still others, it’s a shot to the heart. Once, it felt like a dream, red as the sunrise.” He subconsciously put a hand over his chest to feel the beating of his heart. “I just don’t understand it.”

“And neither can I if you’re going to continue using obtuse metaphors to describe it like that,” Aizawa dryly remarked. “I’ve never in my life heard such extra bullcrap fall from your mouth, Shoto. It was like you were possessed by Present Mic for a second there, and let me tell you, I don’t need that.

Shoto sighed as his hand fell back down to his lap, where he stared at it. “I don’t know. It’s just a little inkling of something that’s been growing in the last few weeks.” He got up and bowed slightly to Aizawa. “Thank you anyway. I’ll go fetch Bakugou now.”

Aizawa raised an eyebrow as the young captain left, but in the blink of an eye, he was alone in the tent.

“Well, I’m not going to stay up for those idiots,” he grumbled. The old man snuffed out the candle and was out like a light.

Chapter Text

"Bakugou!"

Never had Momo ever been more grateful that she owned a towel than she did the moment she saw Captain Todoroki walking toward the riverbank mere moments after she began to dry herself.

"Bakugou! "

"Eh?" The man in question turned around from his perch upon the rock. He scowled with irritation, for the captain had just interrupted the King of the Rock speech he was reciting to Denki and Kirishima, both of whom were howling with laughter. "Whatchu want, hapa boy?"

Momo hurriedly turned away from the riverbanks, quickening her pace. Though her weeks at camp and baths that came with them led her to accidentally seeing very many manly bits on her way out, she still found herself preferring to spare what little innocence she had left.

"I need your opinion on something. Get dressed and go to the planning tent."

Bakugou scoffed. "Give me a minute. I'm a little busy right now."

Uraraka poked her head out of the tall grass nearby. “Yaomomo,” she hissed, and Momo started. “You need to get out of here while they’re not paying attention to you!”

“Right, right, of course,” Momo said as she deftly picked her clothes up with her feet and kicked them up into her arms. Quickly she shoved her head into her undershirt as she waded through the grass, which was fortunate enough to be a legitimate shortcut to her tent. “I was just distracted.”

Uraraka sat on her haunches, crossed her forelimbs, and gave the girl a Look as she walked by. “That’s dangerous, you know. On the battlefield, something as quick as a glance could mean the difference between life and death. Don’t think that the enemy won’t take the chance to cut your neck if you present it to them so cleanly.” She fell to all fours and cantered after Momo, who sighed as she wrung out her hair.

“Yes, I know, thank you,” she said as she tied it back. “That’s why I have to act fast enough, so that they don’t even get the opportunity.”

She had expected the dragon to at least agree with her, maybe note that she was learning, but instead, Uraraka clambered up to her shoulder and settled there. “You like him, huh.”

That genuinely caught Momo off guard, but she didn’t stop walking. She gave Uraraka a side-eye for a moment, but lifted her face to the stars right after. “Well, I think he’s a great captain, certainly. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s civil.”

“You know what I mean.”

Momo pursed her lips, now facing her tent. “I know almost nothing about him,” she argued, but Kyouka poked her head out of her own tent.

“We talking about Captain Todo?” she asked as she crawled out. “And also, that doesn’t stop you from liking him. Heart wants what the heart wants.”

“Speak for yourself.” Momo crossed her arms and faced her friend. “Weren’t you lamenting just last night just how pretty Denki’s eyes are?”

“Hey, okay, fine, but at least I’m aware of what’s going on with me. And also, you called the captain a pretty boy that one time, and I don’t know if you’re even aware of this, but you even look at Todoroki differently than everyone else.”

“What? I do not! I would have noticed! And if I did, you would have made fun of me for it!”

“I am making fun of you now! I just never had the opportunity before because we were supposed to be standing at attention whenever it happened.”

“I’m gonna side with Jirou on this one,” Uraraka chimed in. “Dragon omniscience and all.”

Momo felt her jaw drop in betrayal. “Okay, girls, let’s at least have an even discussion about this—”

“What’s there to discuss?” Kyouka lazily asked. “It’s pretty obvious. If you want, we can go ask Denki if he’s noticed. Goodness knows if that dumb rock sees what’s up then it’s all over.”

“It’s not for you to argue for your side,” Momo hissed, her cheeks flushing. “It’s so that I can maybe understand what’s going on.” She looked away with her lower lip jutting out ever so slightly.

There was the briefest of pauses, and after a second, Momo side-eyed Kyouka, who had a weirdly curious expression. “Momo, haven’t you liked anyone before?”

Momo tugged at the hem of her tunic. “Well, um, could we… could we talk about this in your tent at least? It’s kind of weird discussing it out here in the open.”

Kyouka’s eyes softened. “Yeah, of course,” she said, crawling back inside and beckoning Momo to follow.

Momo sighed, savoring the precious few seconds alone and glancing up at the moon. It was nearly full again, marking just over a month since she left home. It was amazing, really, just how little time had actually passed; by this point, she felt like she’d known everyone at camp her whole life .

She crawled into Kyouka’s tent, kicked off her sandals, and settled on a heap of laundry. “Hey, Kyo,” she said quietly before the other girl could get anything in, “is it really possible to just like- like someone after knowing them for so little time?”

Kyouka let out a soft peal of laughter. “You really are new to all this. Well, you’re the smart one, and I’m no love master, so what do you think?”

Uraraka hopped to the floor as Momo sat thinking, Deku the oft-forgotten lucky cricket leaping after her. “I mean you like Denki,” Momo said.

Now it was Kyouka’s turn to flush. “I feel like a dumbass when you say it so bluntly, but, uhh,” she looked to the side and began mumbling, “yeah. I do. There you go, it’s possible.”

“But we hang out with him. We know stuff about him. It makes sense that you’d like him. Todoroki?” Momo stared at the tent ceiling. “He’s an enigma. Why would I, y’know, like him?”

Kyouka gave Momo the most deadpan look in the world. “You also hang out with Denki every day, know as much about him as I do. You’re not the one who likes him. We both hang out with Kirishima every day too, and we know about as much about him as we do Denki. Neither of us like him, not in that way anyway.”

“If it’s knowing him that’s the problem, Yaomomo, you could always just talk to him,” Uraraka pointed out. “He doesn’t go out of his way to socialize, you know. I doubt anyone knows all that much about Todoroki.”

The girls exchanged glances. “Talk to him?”

Oooh, now there was a thought.

~***~

“Couldn’t sleep again, my dear?”

Futaba Yaoyorozu shook her head sadly. She leaned against the front porch railing as her husband approached from behind. “I’m just scared for Momo again. I know it hasn’t been all that long, but I can’t help but worry if she’s been killed already.”

Her husband joined her in leaning, staring up at the smattering of stars alongside her. “They should be at the tail end of their training by now. She’ll still be safe,” he said. “But even so, count the stars, Futaba. If one day we look up and find a new one up there, that would be her. Then, and only then, will we begin her memorial preparations.”

Futaba sighed, staring at the distant, flickering pinpricks. “I hope we don’t have to.”

“Neither do I. If you prefer, we could wait for her dogtag to be sent home.”

Futaba sank low to the ground and rested her chin on her arms. “I don’t want to see her name all bloodied like that.”

Her husband went silent for a moment, lost in his memories of his own soldier days. “Yes, well,” he said slowly. “You get used to it.”

~***~

Aizawa had advised him to keep quiet about his father’s summons until a day or two before they had to leave, just in case it spooked the trainees to the point of distress, so Shoto did. It was an interesting two weeks, to say the least. Two weeks because honestly, fuck his old man; he didn’t care to sacrifice his perfectly good platoon of soldiers just because they hadn’t the time to fine-tune their training.

Shoto honestly regretted not weighing in on Bakugou’s opinions more often before. The guy had some genuinely great points to be made when it came to intimidation factors and effective division of work. Shoto supposed he should have known from the start that Bakugou was excellent at intimidation, but the second thing had been unexpected.

Of course, Bakugou was also unable or unwilling to explain away those weird tugging feelings in Shoto’s chest, simply snapping something about doling out dumb advice being Aizawa’s job, but that wasn’t actually concerning. Depending on the day, the tugging varied wildly, with it not even showing up sometimes. He hadn’t yet figured out what triggered it, but it wasn’t powerful enough to be a distraction or anything.

That’s why it got weird the day everyone packed up, when he had been hanging out with the horses.

“Good horsie,” he said as he fed his stallion a crab apple. “I hope you do okay when we get to battling later. I’d hate for you to go down just because you got spooked at the wrong time.” He pet the horse’s nose gently, and the enormous beast nuzzled his face curiously.

Shoto glanced up, and his guts did the weirdest thing when his heart leapt right into them once he saw the Yaoyorozu boy a few rows down, combing down his own horse. He guessed he must’ve been staring, because Yaoyorozu paused and gave him a diffident glance.

“Oh,” he said, just barely loud enough for Shoto to catch, as he redirected his gaze to the floor, “good afternoon, Captain.”

“Good afternoon, Yaoyorozu,” Shoto replied. He flicked his eyes all around, taking in little pieces of their setting, for his erratic heartbeat put him on edge. “You’re here alone.” Kind of a dumb statement to make, considering they were the only two people in the stable at the moment.

Yaoyorozu mumbled something he couldn’t catch as he halfheartedly finished his combing and let his arm drop down to his sid. Internally, Shoto sighed. “I can’t hear you,” he reproved, and Yaoyorozu dared look up again.

His gaze vacillated between his horse and Shoto a couple times before he took his horse’s reins and led it over to Shoto. “Yeah,” Yaoyorozu said once he stood in front of the captain. “Jirou’s still busy and doesn’t have time to get Kouda yet.”

(If Shoto hadn’t been so strangely terrible at making eye contact with Yaoyorozu at the moment, he might’ve noticed Yaoyorozu struggling with the same thing.) “Kouda?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s what he named his horse,” Yaoyorozu explained. He sent Shoto’s horse a sidelong glance. “What’s yours named?”

“Him?” Shoto blinked and also looked at his horse. “I’ve never given a name to my animals.”

“You haven’t?” Yaoyorozu cocked his head. “Why not?”

“Not allowed.” Shoto’s horse began nibbling on his hair.

“We could change that,” Yaoyorozu brightly said. “Something like… Tokidoki!”

Shoto looked right at the other boy, his expression as deadpan as ever. “What.”

Yaoyorozu’s cheeks dusted pink as he deliberately avoided Shoto’s gaze. “Sorry, it’s just something I picked up here and there—”

“If we’re naming my horse Tokidoki, yours needs to be named Sen’en.”

Yaoyorozu stopped altogether and seemed to shy away. “Oh, umm… his name’s already Iida,” he admitted. “I was just joking anyway. I think Tamaki would be a good name for him, though, if you wanted to consider it.”

Shoto gently pushed his horse’s muzzle away from his hair, as the tugging had begun to hurt.  “Tamaki, huh?” He looked at the stallion for a moment, patting his velvety nose as he considered the name. “It’s a good name. Thank you, Yaoyo—”

He had turned to look at the other boy when thanking him, but somehow, he was already gone.

“—rozu.”

Shoto glanced around the stables, but Yaoyorozu had already made his flawless escape.

His hand subconsciously rose up to his chest to feel his beating heart. Ah. The hollow ache is back.

~***~

“But first, General, what are we going to do? The Huns have us trapped in this valley, and we’re losing troops like mad with their constant barrage of arrows. We’ve been unable to recover ground or supplies, and morale is running low.”

“Do as we’ve always done: we face them head-on and declare that we are not afraid. And then we will push forward, no matter the cost.”

“But sir, we’ve been shrinking in both manpower and supplies over the last week! They burned one of our supply carts last night, and I don’t know how much longer our food and medicine will last.”

“How many horses have been left without riders because of the casualties?”

“Three— three hundred, sir.”

“And how many of those will we be needing moving forward?”

“N-none, sir.”

“Wrong. We need all of them. You said we were running low on food, correct?”

“We have maybe three days’ worth of provisions assuming we maintain our current numbers around ten thousand.”

“Tch. Half our soldiers gone, and we have only three hundred horses to spare? Pitiful. Kill them off as needed starting in three days’ time. Keep the blood. We may need it later.”

“…General Endeavor, will you not join the troops down on the battlefield? The troops’ morale must still be provided for, and I’m sure as great a general as you must be absolutely awe-inspiring in action.”

“In a few days, perhaps. There are a few things I’d like to finalize before I wish to risk my life. By the way, send a letter to General Hawks and ask him to lead that ambush on Shigaraki’s men soon. It seems Shoto will not be coming for this battle.”

“Is that a good thing?”

“That doesn’t matter. He hasn’t enough troops to make a difference, and their rookie status simply makes them cannon fodder.”

“I see.”

“I suppose I’m glad he won’t be killed this time around. He has fine potential. Now, you said earlier there has been a letter for me from home?”

~***~

Itsuka stared out the study room window, the brush pen wedged between her fingers drip-dropping ink sloooowly onto her paper. Calligraphy had never been her favorite, and all the literature it made her memorize was stupidly convoluted. Like, she got it, a century of human life was like a dream! How much more war propaganda was she going to have to swallow at this rate?

Well, it wasn’t actually propaganda , just a song that had become heavily associated with war. Still, she’d rather copy poetry about grass at this point! After all, the flower was not a flower, the mist was not a mist. At least that wasn’t weirdly depressing.

Itsuka sighed and glanced back down at her paper, doodling a little 花 in the corner. Flowers were fun, and they were happy, too. At least, in the summer they were. Most everything was in bloom then.

Not orchids, though, those sensitive little demons. Itsuka had no idea how anyone could ever keep an orchid alive, because she sure couldn’t, but somehow, her neighbors the Yaoyorozus could. She saw it in their yard when she visited them a couple weeks ago; there were two or three in bloom, four or five buds still left. She didn’t know if it had been Momo who kept them or if it had been her mother to thank, but they had been beautiful regardless. So elegant and refined.

Itsuka doodled another word on the side of her page.

蘭.

~***~

“Hey! Hey! Hey, Jirou!”

What, Chargedolt?”

“I bet’cha Sero can go waaaay faster than Kouda.”

“That’s ridiculous, Denki. Kouda’s just skittish,” Kyouka said with a snort, rolling her eyes at Denki. “Besides, just look at your own horse! He’s a mess!”

And it was true. Sero the horse was a terrible mess. His knees were so knobby, you’d never be able to tell if they’d been broken, and he had the strangest expression that made it look almost as if he was grinning at you. Which, for a horse, was a little weird. Plus, you’d think his mane was matted with the way it stuck up in spikes, but it just grew like that apparently.

“No he’s noooot,” Denki half sang, rubbing Sero’s neck, “he’s just got personality. Isn’t that right, Cellophane~”

Kyouka half-assedly stifled her snickers. “Cellophane? What kind of nickname is that?”

“A perfectly reasonable one,” Denki crisply replied as he trotted ahead. “Shows how much I love him that I gave him one, you know.”

“Nicknames are not a gauge of how much you love something, Chargedolt.” Kyouka rolled her eyes and dug her heels gently into Kouda’s flank to catch up with him.

“Oh, well now that’s a shame, considering how often you call me… what was it again? Chargedolt?” Denki leaned dangerously close to Kyouka’s face, making her blush. “I mean—”

“Hey, hey, if you keep that up, you’re going to fall out of your saddle, Denki.” Momo cantered up from behind the two, and the blond boy nearly fell out of the saddle from shock anyway.

“Woah there, Haku, you almost killed me!” Denki complained as he sat properly again, but Kyouka sent her a grateful look. “Besides, in my defense, I was left unsupervised. Where were you up until now?”

Momo raised an eye at Kyouka, who said, “It’s not my job to babysit him. We’re in the army after all.”

“Pffff, you weren’t babysitting me, Jirou. We were both in on this.”

“Oh god, that’s worse.” Kyouka barely contained a snort.

“Anyway, like I was saying, where were you, Haku? We haven’t seen you since we crossed the river and Iida got spooked.”

“Ah…” Momo began, and all three riders slowed down juuust a bit. “I just wanted a bit of time to myself. This morning was crazy, you know, so I just needed a little while to let myself process everything.” She laughed. “Where’s Kirishima, by the way?”

Kyouka waved her hand absently. “Oh, he’s just up ahead bugging that bitch of a captain again, as he does. He might be hanging out with Tetsutetsu by now, though.”

“Oh!” Denki practically jumped up in his seat. “That reminds me! I wanna go chat with Bakugou, too! I’m telling you guys, he’s pretty chill when it comes down to it.”

Momo looked at him blankly. “Why didn’t you just do that earlier?”

“Ah, well.” He waved her off in the same absent manner as Kyouka had just earlier. “I didn’t want to leave Jirou out here alone. I thought I might keep him company.”

Kyouka opened her mouth to sass him, but nothing came out, leaving her staring at him gape mouthed for all of a minute. At last, she turned away and declared, “You didn’t have to do that, you know. I can do things myself.”

“Oh, I know that,” Denki easily replied. “I just wanted to.” (Kyouka missed the grin he shot her.) “Catch ya laterrr~”

It was quiet between the girls for a few minutes after Denki galloped to the head of the caravan.

“That was nice of him,” Momo remarked at last. “He has his merits.”

“I never said he didn’t.”

“Then why do you act like he doesn’t?”

At that exact moment, Kouda stepped into a ditch Kyouka didn’t notice, and all the wind was knocked out of her. “Well, I—” she coughed twice as Momo waited patiently— “I mean…” She sighed the best she could.

She wasn’t sure. She could blame it on force of habit, but she hadn’t actually acted like this before around someone she liked. She was scared, maybe? Of scaring him off when he found out she was a girl, maybe. Maybe. Maybe.

“Because that’s how I should act, isn’t it?” She found the words fell from her mouth before she could stop them, and Momo gave her a strange look. “I mean, you’re from a military family. I’m sure you’ve heard before, there’s no place for romance on the battlefield.”

Momo bit her lip, then looked down. “Yeah. Father, when he told his war stories sometimes, would sometimes remark that one must not have feelings on the battlefield,” she said softly, and now it was Kyouka’s turn to bite her lip.

“I mean, that doesn’t stop people, I just—! I don’t know, really,” she confessed, but Momo didn’t reply.

Kyouka changed the subject a few seconds later.

~***~

scratch scratch

“Hey…… Kurogiri,” Shigaraki said slowly as he watched the endless destruction going down on the battlefield.

“Yes, Shigaraki?” Kurogiri patiently replied.

raspy inhale “Are they done burning him?” raspy exhale.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t know. He’s not screaming like we expected. He may be, into a rag, but regardless, he’s a strong one, all right. I’m simply surprised he came on board as quickly as he did.”

cough cough sniffle. “We were promised he was a vindictive one.”

Kurogiri walked up to Shigaraki and surveyed the land alongside him. “That we were. He will be a valuable addition to our arsenal.”

creaky breath “And what of the girl? She has been growing impatient. She lusts for blood by the liters every day. It is beginning to frighten me.”

Kurogiri hummed thoughtfully. “Indeed she does. Allow her to lead an ambush tomorrow; that shall satiate her.”

Shigaraki slowly curled his lips into a shaky smile. “I can’t wait.”

~***~

Momo’s butt hurt from sitting on a horse all day. Her legs ached from riding, and her arms ached from setting up her tent for the night, but it was all right since she got to at least wind down at the end of the day. Uraraka was already asleep, curled up by the pillow with Deku the oft-forgotten cricket.

Kyouka poked into the tent, as she was apt to do. “Heyyo,” she said. “Kirishima and Denki were talking about their toenails when I walked in, so you can bet I got out of there as fast as I could.”

“Now that’s not something I’ve ever heard them talking about,” Momo mused, scooting over to make room for her friend. “First time for everything I guess.”

“Yeah, well, it was gross.” Kyouka snorted, and there was a second of pleasant silence. “Sooo, what happened this morning that you had to think about?”

Momo blinked, opening her mouth to reply, but the memories overwhelmed her before she could sound like a reasonable person. “Oh, well, I stumbled upon the captain when I was getting Iida from the stables,” she said, looking upwards as if the sky were there to gaze at.

“Really? Is that it? ” Kyouka shot her a skeptical look.

“No, that’s not actually it,” Momo said. “I dunno. We just talked a bit, and it was fun. That’s all.”

Kyouka snapped, and her eyes suddenly acquired a most dangerous glint. “Oh yeah, huh! You’ve never actually sat down and talked to him before, have you?”

That pulled Momo back to reality, and she looked at her friend with alarm. "Kyouka, I'm serious! I’ve told you before; I can't do it, I can't go out and talk to him! You should have seen him when we were in the stables this afternoon, the sunlight just struck his hair and haloed him, and I swear that was my most useless moment of my life ," she lamented. "I don't even know if he noticed me staring— I mean, he didn't say anything about it, but—"

“Oh, so there was something more than just chatting.” Kyouka grinned. “This sounds interesting.”

“We do not need to discuss it.”

“I guess so, but you do want to get to know him better, don’t you? C’mon, it’s been two weeks since Uraraka brought it up, and you’ve done pretty close to jack shit.”

“Wouldn’t that be weird though? I mean, he’s the captain and we’ve never really talked before and—”

"Momo. Oh my god. Calm down," Kyouka cut in, putting her hand on her best friend's shoulder. "I don't know what you're so worked up about. Hell yeah, you can do it. It's dark out, and he's by a fire, so you wouldn't even have to look at each other if you didn't want to! You could just stare at the flames! Besides , we both know you can kick ass pretty well at this point. I mean, you got that arrow down, right? You can talk to one measly pretty boy. Every relationship’s gotta start somewhere."

“Usually, that would be the matchmaker’s house.”

Kyouka gave her a deadpan look.

Momo took a deep breath and slowly let it out. "You're right, Kyo."

"Damn right, I am. I'll stay back and keep watch over Uraraka, you just go have fun."

"What if—"

"Oh, for goodness' sake!" Kyouka unceremoniously shoved Momo out of the tent. "Just go!"

~***~

Shoto had long had a sense of morbid curiosity when it came to the fireplace. He knew better than anyone of the terrible power fire held, if his scar was any reminder. Yet, in every memory of her, his mother had been right there by the hearth, where the fire was quiet and good.

It hadn’t been her fault. He figured this out long ago. She knew better than anyone else he could think of how to tame a flame. Yet, despite knowing this, Shoto couldn’t help but still feel a little bit wary of an open fire.

“Hey.” A familiar voice cut through his internal monologue, and Shoto glanced up to see Yaoyorozu standing just a meter or two away, his expression difficult to read in the firelight. “Would you… would you like some company, captain?”

Shoto blinked. He’d never considered having company when he brooded by the fire, but then again, he’d never had to consider it. Nobody ever came. “Sure,” he said at last. Yaoyorozu crept over and sat close by him, but not near enough to say they were sitting together. Shoto redirected his gaze to the fire as it crackled and snapped, its flaming tongue diligently licking the log to black to white. He made no effort to start a conversation, for he had no idea what to say.

Fortunately, Yaoyorozu seemed to always have something. “Do you like the stars?”

Shoto paid him a glance, but he was already staring up at the sky. “I suppose,” he replied, his gaze drifting upwards as well, “they can be nice, yes.”

“You know, my father often told me that each new star you count represents a soldier fallen in battle.”

“No, I didn’t know.”

“That’s funny. I would have thought that you would have known about that, since you’re from such a prominent military family and all. I mean, your father—”

A log popped and collapsed right then, perfectly in tune with the way Shoto’s temper ticked. “Don’t,” he said in a low voice, and Yaoyorozu’s gaze dropped down to give him a curious glance.

“I-I’m sorry—”

“He’s a dick,” Shoto cut in, surprising himself to silence.

“Oh,” Yaoyorozu said in a small voice. (Was he scooting away? Was he scared of him now?)

Shoto let out a sigh and recollected himself. He stared at the fire, at the little glowing worms of pine needles twisting and writhing within it as they served their purpose. “He says I’m not doing enough. That I won’t become as great a leader as he if I keep treating you all so mildly. And I guess— I can see why you might respect him. But he’s not a good man.”

The air was tense now, and Shoto tried to ignore how obviously Yaoyorozu was staring at him with eyes wider than the moon.

“I think you’re a great captain.”

Shoto paid him yet another glance to find his earnest face closer than he expected. Not uncomfortably so, he sat a respectable distance away, but still closer. “…Anyway, I’ve heard the stars myth before,” he awkwardly said, breaking gaze yet again in favor of the fire. “I’ve simply never talked to you enough to hear it from you.”

There was a pause, but it was much milder and didn’t at all have any of the awkward tension of just a minute ago. It was nice.

“You know,” Shoto said, breaking the silence. “You don’t have to sit so far away, you know. It would be hard to talk if you did. Come closer.”

Yaoyorozu looked at him with confusion for a fraction of a second, then obeyed with a small smile on his face. “No, I didn’t know.”

Shoto didn’t quite get why that would be something to smile about, but he decided it didn’t matter. For a while, all was quiet, and he found his gaze inexplicably drawn to the tiny sliver in the sky known as the moon. “What’s your name, Yaoyorozu?” he asked.

Yaoyorozu shied away. “Oh, I’m sure you have it in your records—” he began.

“I want to hear it from you ,” Shoto said, feeling more insistent now. He didn’t know what compelled him (perhaps it was knowing the boy knew of his father, perhaps it was his response), but he leaned into Yaoyorozu, easily and unblinkingly holding his gaze. “What is your name, Yaoyorozu?” He knew already, of course, the boy’s name was Haku, but every word he said was true. He sincerely wished to hear it come from Haku himself.

“…Haku Yaoyorozu,” Haku whispered, and there was an unidentifiable something reflected in his eyes by the dying firelight. Shoto backed off, and Haku awkwardly scoot back in.

The night did strange things to a person. Shoto, for example, after successfully getting Haku to give him his name, felt almost a little drunk off the conversation. “My name is Shoto,” he said, side eyeing Haku. It was funny; even though it almost felt drunk, the decision to tell him his own name was entirely sober. Perhaps it was familiarity bias, or perhaps Haku simply had a trusting face. Maybe it had been that mysterious ache all along. Whatever it was, there was no stopping it now.

Haku stared back at him, dumbfounded. Shoto gave him his full attention and said, completely straight: “Call me Shoto. Please.” No one called him that but Aizawa these days, he noticed.

Haku blinked once, twice. “All right… Shoto.”

And now, when a warm, fuzzy feeling flooded his chest and his cheeks, Shoto realized he’d missed it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Nearby, in his tent, Aizawa rolled over on his bedroll, unable to sleep from the two chatting outside, but in all honesty, he didn’t mind at all.)

Chapter Text


by quelyn. deku cricket and mushu uraraka.


sketch

Chapter Text

Enji Todoroki grit his teeth as he surveyed the battlefield. One hand was on his sword, prepared to draw it at any moment. The other was near glued to his side, where an arrow had buried itself into his abdomen.

Those god-forsaken Huns. That Shigaraki was going to pay dearly for all the destruction he’d caused. Enji longed to charge full-speed into their army, slay them all single-handedly; after all, he hadn’t agreed to come down here for nothing.

But alas, they had the advantage of numbers. Their archers alone were near enough to wipe out his front-line shield-bearers. He had to concede: they had him pinned good, real good.

“I need you to remove this arrow and cauterize the wound as fast as you can,” Enji said to the nearby medic, who nodded and inched closer to the dagger blade in the fire.

He would hold on. If that letter proved to be true, he wanted to be the one to well and truly kick that Shigaraki’s ass.

~***~

Oh, what a pretty, pretty day~ The sun was a stunning scarlet red as it crawled over the horizon on this pretty, pretty day, the normally warm orange dawn dyed bloody from the hazy smoke still hanging in the air. A woman, she had to be just barely out of girlhood, giggled and bit down on her dagger, nearly falling off her horse in her careless wiggling.

She’d never seen a sky quite like the one this morning. The gods really know how to welcome a day like this, she thought as she ran her tongue along the flat of the blade, fighting the urge to giggle again. “Is it tiiiime yeeet?” she whined to the man sent along to keep her on track, who looked at her skeptically.

“Not quite, Toga,” he chided. “Remember, we must be like the serpent beneath the flower, waiting until the hand approaches to strike. Almost, though, almost.”

Almost, almost. They were almost ready, it was almost time. Almost, almost. Toga frowned. She gnawed on her dagger for a moment before pulling it out of her mouth slowly and flicked the excess moisture onto the ground in one smooth motion. She began to lazily toss the weapon from hand to hand, pouting as she drawled, “But what if I don’t wanna wait?”

“Patience is a virtue, milady,” he absently answered, noticing far too late Toga’s sudden change in disposition when he did so.

The girl sighed; she didn’t want to get off her horse to retrieve her dagger. But, she thought, a smile creeping onto her face once more, now it will be red.

She laughed into the silence and stares. She hopped off her horse and drew the blade out of the still warm, soft body, savoring the extra tang it had in her mouth this time around. Toga hummed as she mounted her horse again, then surveyed the land with a sigh.

Her first kill, huh. That was fun. It had been everything she’d hoped it to be, joining Shigaraki’s army. But, killing can be done in an instant. Her lip twitched in anticipation, as did the rest of her body. I like to see people in desperation.

~***~

The morning started off with a clang!

Kirishima sat up with a start, anything even resembling the haze of sleep vaporized in an instant. He looked madly around the tent, disoriented all the same. When his eyes landed on a shock of blond hair a short distance away, he realized they’d both fallen asleep during the night before.

Crap, he thought. He still had no idea what the different morning bell was going on about, but if it was— oh, it was.

"DENKI! DENKI, HOLY SHIT, WAKE UP!!" he yelled, fear clawing at his chest as his mind, crystal clear mere seconds ago, began to cloud with adrenaline.

"Mimanemamem," Denki mumbled as he rolled over.

"Crap," Kirishima said aloud, panicking now. He'd known Denki to be a heavy sleeper, waking only early due to his sleep cycle; he'd just never in his wildest dreams anticipated that his friend would sleep through what was starting to sound like an ambush. "Jirou's getting married to Haku!" he yelled.

"That's silly," Denki mumbled, weakly pushing away Kirishima as the latter shook him desperately. "Everyone knows Haku's in love with…" he dozed off for a second, then swatted at Kirishima's persistent hand. "In love with the captain."

"I'm getting married to who???" Oh, speak of the devil. Kirishima swiveled to see Jirou poking his head into the tent, a very exasperated expression. “We’re being ambushed! What the fresh hell is Denki doing sleeping at this time?”

“Jirou, oh thank goodness! I honestly don’t know about Denki, but I’ll leave him to you, okaycool!” Kirishima tugged his armor on as fast as he could and snatched his longsword, running out into the chaos that ensued before he could even reply.

~***~

“What the—” Kyouka began, but Kiri had already vanished. She sighed, a little worm of fear nagging at her from her stomach as she was left, a sitting duck, with Denki unless she could wake him up. (Because like hell she was leaving him alone in a tent when he could just die) “Of course he’d want to dash into the fray first, scrappy rascal,” she muttered, wading her way through some heap of man-junk to get a better angle on Denki’s forehead.

Flick! She got him right between the eyes, and slowly, Denki’s eyes fluttered open.

“You know,” he said with a yawn, seemingly oblivious to the banging and yelling going on outside as he grinned sleepily at Kyouka. “I could wake up like this every day if the stars would allow.”

“Well, you know, I sure wouldn’t,” Kyouoka snippily replied, and Denki’s eyes fell. “We’re being ambushed, Chargedolt. Get yourself together, we don’t have time for chit-chat.”

In an instant, Denki’s eyes shot open, and every trace of sleep left him as he bolted upright, screaming (as he should be in a situation like this). “WHAT WE ARE FUCK I SWEAR I DON’T—”

“Don’t finish that thought,” Kyouka interrupted in a low voice, and Denki blinked at her a couple times, confused.

“Understood,” he replied, uncharacteristically quiet as he grabbed a shirt and pulled it over his head. Kyouka side-eyed him, but she had her own things to be doing aside from watch him get dressed. She took a few steps toward the entrance, terrified of the clanging and yelling going on outside, then hesitated.

"And one more thing," she said slowly, shifting her gaze back to him. Kyouka yanked him down by the collar of his shirt before he could slip his armor on and glared deep into his eyes, pushing aside the pounding of her heart and the thoughts of the end all the while. "Don't you dare get killed, Denki."

~***~

Something within Katsuki burned.

It wasn’t his muscles, though the adrenaline might not last forever. It wasn’t his throat, since he hadn’t eaten anything that morning. It wasn’t even his temper, though it was most definitely a feeling. Excitement? No, that wasn’t quite it. Fear? Not in a million years. Guilt? Not for these bitches.

He grit his teeth as he slashed down yet another faceless enemy soldier, careful not to stain his hands any more than he had to. They were lucky this ambush team had no archers because he knew for a fact they were fucking toast if they had.

Nearby, the sound of clear, bell-like laughter rang through the air, sounding almost like a child, delighted at finding some tiny fairy or whatever. Katsuki scowled; who in their right fucking mind would laugh in the middle of a battlefield? Irritated, he flicked his eyes in the sound’s direction and caught a glimpse of a pair of pale blonde buns bobbing up and down in the sea of chaos.

Almost immediately, Katsuki returned his focus to the task at hand, kneeing a stranger in the crotch and killing him with the sheer blunt force trauma of the flat of his blade. Who the fuck wore buns? Like, look, man, you either had a topknot, or you didn’t have enough hair. That was it. Buns, now, those were a girl’s style.

The laughter turned to giggles, but it was just as annoying. He was about to plow his way over to it to silence the person, but a certain sharp-toothed Hairbrain managed to poke his way over.

“’Sup, Captain,” he said, managing to catch some rando off guard long enough to render him useless. “How’re things going?”

Immediately, Katsuki scowled; he thought he’d trained these idiots better than to just saunter over and start a chat. Regardless, Kirishima was still alive, and before he knew it, their backs were to each other, taking on the world together. “Pretty all right,” he replied, swiping at an enemy as Hairbrain blocked a different one. “You’re still too defensive, I see.”

“Maybe so, but it’s kept me alive this whole time,” Kirishima replied, and Katsuki could practically hear the grin on his face. “Have you seen the woman with the buns on the battlefield?”

Katsuki could feel his lips twitching, tempted to become a smirk. “So it really is a woman, huh? Her laughter’s fucken’ awful, but don’t underestimate her.”

“I know,” Kirishima said, suddenly lurching into Katsuki’s field of view to catch a blade aimed at his face, and with a now fully-fledged grin, Katsuki impaled the wielder. “She’s leaving a bloodbath behind. It was pretty scary, actually.”

“Let’s get her,” Katsuki began, but before the two could catch a break, they were officially surrounded.

He could feel Kirishima creep backwards until their backs were nearly touching, the other boy’s heavy but solid breathing almost calming. “Five against two. You down, Bakugou?”

I hope this idiot doesn’t think I didn’t notice he forgot to call me captain, Katsuki wryly noted, but with Hairbrain, he didn’t actually mind. The guy had guts, and he respected that. He adjusted his grip on his sword and braced himself for the fight. “Oh fuck yeah.”

~***~

Denki stared back into stormy grey-black eyes of Karma Jirou as his expression clouded over. Their faces were terrifyingly close together (if he just leaned forward a bit…) ; it almost didn't even register that for the first time in forever, Jirou had called him by name. "Promise," he breathed in reply, not breaking eye contact for even an instant. (It took almost all his willpower to push aside the pounding of his heart and his thoughts of the end.)

At first, Denki feared his response was lost to the ever-growing clamor outside, but Jirou grunted and released his shirt. Denki watched him walk out of the tent and into the chaos outside, but it still felt like the other boy had disappeared like a spring dream.

Denki brushed his thoughts aside and threw on his uniform. For once in his life, he had to catch himself before he could dream the day away, or else he may never see a day again. He picked his sword and shield up off the ground, took a deep breath, and followed his friends into the battlefield.

Immediately and almost instinctively, he ducked, putting his shield up to counter the swing of an opposing sword, his heart missing more than a single beat as his stomach leapt up to his throat in fear. He gulped, lowered the shield, and swung his own sword at the stranger— whoop, and the first head had rolled.

~***~

Aizawa galloped around the borders of the fight, ruthlessly slaying any enemy warrior who dared cross before his horse. He'd never been keen on fighting in massive battles like this (hence why he circled around the main action), but he was not going to just sit around and watch the soldiers die if he could help it.

How truly unfortunate that their first battle was an ambush. It was in one's first battle that the foundational experience needed to survive was gained, but bad luck had more than likely claimed at least a few of Shoto and Katsuki's trainees.

He frowned ever so slightly, urging his horse on. He would have to remind those two to continue the survivors' regular training even while on the road. Aizawa sank a polearm into the chest of a tiny enemy runner as he tried to escape, deaf to the way all the breath audibly left the creature's lungs. They couldn't risk growing dull and losing more good men if Shigaraki was going to start playing like this.

Of course, a female leader wasn’t anything new where they came from. Aizawa knew from a bit of his history studies that even prisoners of war could work their way up the ranks of the Hun army, if they pledged their loyalty to the general and proved it in battle. It was simply her loose style of commanding that made him wary. There seemed to be no strategy behind their moves; everything simply seemed to be made as bloody as possible.

Aizawa slowed for a moment and squinted into the hubbub of chaos that was their camp just a short while ago. Somewhere within the squall, the pale blonde head of the Hun party leader bobbed around, seemingly carefree as she toyed with the soldiers. Everywhere else, her troops shot each other frequent looks of tentative concern, as if they had no idea what they were to do next.

If they could just eliminate the girl, maybe, just maybe, her soldiers will retreat…

~***~

“Ugh, where’s Hapa when you need him?”

If Shoto hadn’t been already preoccupied with a skirmish, he would have glared at Bakugou. He knew that nickname anywhere, even if he’d long grown used to it.

“You mean Captain Todoroki?” a less familiar voice asked, and Shoto wished they’d stop talking about him. It was distracting.

“Yeah.” Shoto had a rare moment to catch his breath, so he did, looking up and and madly around, his eyes briefly landing on a girl landing cuts on someone he couldn’t quite make out. “Someone’s gotta take care of that bitch up there.”

Is she in charge of this? Shoto thought, frowning. It would be strange, but then again, their opponents weren’t exactly normal to be standing up to a power as large as China. She doesn’t look that dangerous— his thoughts were cut off by an attack so sudden, he couldn’t even make a sound of surprise before instinctively elbowing the stranger in the gut.

No, he couldn’t take care of the mysterious, bloodthirsty girl atop a hill, he realized; he was far too prominent of a figure to not be seen going after her. Plus, his appearance was like a beacon, the perfect halves of his hair color almost like a target on the field. Who could, though? He certainly believed in all of his soldiers, but who was inconspicuous enough? (Who did he trust enough?)

He dared take another look around the battlefield, and by sheer coincidence, he locked eyes with Haku, who was fending off an enemy footman. Shoto gestured in the direction of the blonde woman with his head, hoping Haku would get the message, and in half a second, he broke eye contact to focus again on his own fight.

Haku could do it. He knew he could.

~***~

Izuku Midoriya clung to Uraraka’s scales as his life depended on it. He wished he had hands (or at least opposable thumbs)— not for the first time of this life, he might add— because heavens above, Momo moved so much more in actual action than in training.

Well, not that that was a bad thing, by all means, no. To perform better in the real life in comparison to practice was good, very good, as it showed the ability to not only pick up information based on unpracticed examples, but also adapt quickly to a sharp learning curve.

Carefully, he crawled up to Uraraka’s ear, where he could get a breath of fresh air. “She’s doing okay, right?” he asked her.

“She’s still alive, Deku!” Uraraka chirped. “Hasn’t been needing my advice or anything. She’s been really lucky so far; she hasn’t even got a scratch! Thanks to you, of course.”

Ah, Uraraka. At it again with the lucky cricket business. Izuku shifted nervously, not wanting to protest this time around in fear of jinxing Momo. “I’m not actually doing anything, you know,” he reminded her.

“Yeah, but it’s still good to have you here! You could have still gotten trampled if we left you behind, and where would all her luck have gone then?”

Her words made him almost want to smile. The more she said it, the easier it was getting to believe. “To you, of course.”

Uraraka laughed softly. “I wouldn’t call myself lucky, not any more so than any other dragon anyway. Besides— DUCK! ” The last portion was spoken straight into Momo’s ear, but the force with which it was said left Izuku instinctively obeying as well.

“What’s going on?” he whispered, his nerves far more frazzled than they had any right to be as a cricket.

“Some girl threw a huge, long needle at us,” Uraraka replied. “The captain looked at her, then signalled to her, too, so my guess is that she’s next.”

Izuku gulped. Oh boy.

He really hoped Uraraka was right.

~***~

It wasn’t getting to the girl that was hard for Momo, since everyone was busy and she made a run for it. Neither was subduing her, since the blonde had been preoccupied herself with the slow laceration of some poor, unrecognizable soldier. No, getting the strange girl pinned to the ground and the sword up to her throat was not hard at all. Rather, it was the act of killing a victim whilst staring them straight in the eye.

The entire time, the thought of true murder had left her uneasy, though she’d known from the start that to survive a war, one had to take a life. Throughout the battle, she resorted to decommissioning the enemy soldiers, or at least focusing on the impalement zone when killing them.

But she couldn’t for this person, no. If Shoto had thought her important enough to give specific orders to kill her, she had to stare this woman straight in the eye and make sure she was well and truly dead.

The girl only grinned at Momo now that the former had a sword held up to her throat. "I like to see people in desperation," she said simply, and Momo pressed the flat of her blade more firmly into the girl's windpipe, unsure of what the girl was getting at. For all of a moment, the blonde's eyes and grin only widened, and Momo thought she was truly going insane, but then—

"You're a girl," the girl choked out, her eyes turning bloodshot as she hacked out a few drops of blood. For a second, Momo froze, terrified to the core.

How did she know? She found herself thinking, though her inner Kyouka merely whispered back, woman's intuition.

In Momo's hesitation, the general girl began wriggling, managing to free her hand and dig her long, sharp nails into Momo's hand. The latter let out a sharp cry, nearly letting the blonde sadist escape, but in that moment, someone called out to her.

"Haku!" Momo whipped her head around, reasserting herself over the blonde as she did so, and saw Shoto looking straight at her. His face had blood smears, and for a foolish second, she was scared it was his own. (But it wasn't, he was too good for that.) "Kill her, and we win the battle!"

In the background, the girl began to choke on her own laughter.

"I believe in you!"

The apical moment was over before Momo's memory could even think to record it, and she found herself kneeling atop a warm, wet body with a maniacal grin still emblazoned on its face. Shouting surrounded her from all sides, but it was fading out of her mind. Vaguely, she could feel pinpricks shooting up her spine; where were those even coming from? She wiped the sweat off her brow, realizing far too late she and Shoto now matched, with their bloodied hands and faces. How did she even start to kneel? She didn't remember anything.

Stars began to dance before her eyes, and weakly, she tried to bring herself to her feet again. A familiar face filled the last of her tunnel vision with his mismatched hair and eyes, making her smile faintly just before all the world faded to black.

~***~

Shoto didn't understand why that Jirou kid was so insistent on being the one to tend to Haku's wounds on his own, but it seemed the boy was nothing if not loud, persistent, and really good at insults. So he waited outside the medical tent until Haku regained consciousness.

“Aight, Haku’s awake,” Jirou said almost sourly as he exited the tent, nearly tripping over Shoto all the while. “He’s asking for you now that he knows you’re waiting, so if you don’t mind, I’ll just leave you two to it.”

Shoto could have sworn he saw Jirou smirk as he walked away, but then again, he’d never been the best with reading faces. “Thank you,” he said, mostly to himself at this point.

He poked his head into the tent, giving himself a moment to adjust to the dim light, and he caught the glance of one now-conscious Haku Yaoyorozu. “…Hello.”

Haku blinked at him for a moment, as if he wasn’t quite sure the person in front of him was real. “Hello, cap… Shoto.”

Shoto entered quietly, taking great care with his steps in case something sharp was haphazardly strewn about, and he crouched down by Haku so that they could better talk. “You’re all right, right?”

Haku flushed a strange color and looked away, laughing nervously. (What was this feeling, the pounding in his h e a r t—) “Oh, well, I just fainted. That’s all.”

“You seem to have a habit of doing that,” Shoto noted, and Haku laughed again, more genuinely this time. (It wasn’t meant to be a joke, but oh well.) When it died down, an awkward silence ensued. Shoto looked to the side; Haku was better at talking, he would know what to say. “You did good,” slipped out of his own mouth, catching him by surprise as he stood up again. “We move again in two hours, so if you’re well enough, please do so on your own.”

And before he knew it, Shoto was out-of-doors, staring at the horizon on a midsummer afternoon, Haku left gawking at his abrupt exit.

~***~

Y’all, that ambush was crazy.”

“I’m just glad we’re all alive .”

“Brooo, you guys should have seen me! The way Bakugou and  I just took on like, five soldiers at once was pretty epic…”

“Okay, but we have to give Haku credit here…”

“…Let’s not talk about that.”

“Why nooot? You literally saved us all. Kind of again, if you wanna count the arrow as like, a mock trial or something.”

“Yeah, dude. After that lady was dead, the soldiers pretty much scattered as if nothing happened.”

“Yaoyorozu.”

(“Hey, Denki, you wanna go bug Bakugou?”)

“Oh, Todoroki.”

(“Take me with you, I feel like I’m intruding on something.”)

“You can call me Shoto, you know. No one cares.”

(“I thought you didn’t like Bakugou, though?”)

“What? But Jirou and— oh. Huh, I guess you’re right. They were here just a second ago. Oh, well.”

(“I’ll swallow my pride just this once. I don’t want to be a third wheel.”)

“Why do you call him Jirou? That’s kind of formal.”

(“Hey, Bakugou, what’s going on over here? What’s that smoking up front? It’s way thicker than any campfire I’ve ever seen us have. I can’t see what’s up ahead yet— oh. ”)

“Same reason we call Kirishima by his last name: he asked us to when we met.”

(“Hairbrain? What the fuck’re you and fuzzhead doing here with peony’s buddy?”)

“Huh. That’s strange. I wonder why they’d prefer that.”

(“Wow, thanks, I can’t believe that one, I’m not even anything except Haku’s friend, and two, that you guys are actually friends with this guy.”)

“I don’t think it’s really my thing to tell…”

(“He grows on you, I promise—”)

“Oh.”

(“—Stop the chatter. Go back and tell Hapa about his shitty dad’s army. Now. Scram. ”)

“…It’s okay. You could ask them yourself, if you’d like.”

(“That was hostile. You guys sure he’s really that good of a guy?”)

“Hmm… I suppose, but—”

(“Trust me, Jirou. Kiri’s right, he’s just prickly…”

“Captain Todoroki! Hurry, there’s something up with the site your father told you to go to…”

“…Oh? C’mon, Haku, let’s go.”

“What could possibly be wrong? Surely they didn’t lose; they’re too powerful for tha—” Yaoyorozu stopped dead, both in word and in action, as did Todoroki. Nearby, Jirou, Kaminari, and Kirishima settled their horses, nervous themselves as they tried not to look at the land before them.

But Todoroki stared and stared, his mouth agape just slightly with the shock of it, his eyes a fraction larger than they usually were. And Yaoyorozu couldn’t keep focus, switching between Todoroki and the battlefield before them, as if neither of them could exist at the same time.

There before the group lay the charred and smoking remains of what had once been Endeavor’s army.

Chapter Text

Katsuki trotted up to the group with a scowl upon his face, though he couldn’t deny that he, too, was unsettled by how absolute the destruction of Endeavor’s army had been. He ran his hand again over the cold, blackened helmet in his arms, knowing he’d have to at least present it to the dumb halfling with some semblance of grace, since it was the last remnant of the bitch’s father (regardless of how sour of a relationship they may have had). There was no mistaking the red dyed feather atop the metal helmet, charred as it may be: it had definitely belonged to General Endeavor.

“Oi,” he said, his voice scratchy and his throat burning with all the smoke inhalation. “Got something for you, Ha… Shoto.”

God damn scrub dared blink at him in confusion. As if he weren’t one to refer to him by name ever. Which wasn’t true! (Katsuki thought back to the last time he really did refer to Hapa by his given name and found himself drawing a blank.) Okay, maybe he really didn’t call anyone by name (except Kirishima. Sometimes. On a good day.), but for fuck’s sake, couldn’t he have at least had the courtesy not to look so damn surprised?

Beyond the captain, Peony gawked at him with eyes like a koi fish. Did none of them have courtesy?

Katsuki shoved the helmet at Hapa and scowled. No, apparently not. Nobody had any damn manners around here, and by god was he not going to use them either if that was the case. “I don’t think you want to see the rest of him,” he grunted, then turned his horse around to inspect more of the remains. (Maybe there was a survivor or two, but he doubted it.) Someone called out to him, but he stubbornly ignored it until he rode up behind him anyway.

“Hey, Bakugou, you okay, man?” the concerned voice of Kirishima Hairbrain asked, annoyingly going straight through all of Katsuki’s mental barriers. How the fuck he managed to do that, he’d never know, but maybe it would be a good thing. Katsuki held in a sigh.

“I’m fine,” he grunted. Obviously, Hairbrain didn’t believe him, catching right up to him in the blink of an eye.

“If you say so,” he said, and oh? Was he really just going to take it just like that? Okay then. They rode together in silence, Katsuki occasionally picking at weird, charred lumps in the ground, but never turning up anything more alive than a scorched leaf. “Don’t just sit there and watch, dumbass,” he grumbled at last. “Help me.”

Kirishima dropped the glum expression for a moment in exchange for an inkling of a grin. “Got’chu, captain,” he said. He flicked the reins and wandered a few meters away to poke around.

Katsuki blinked twice and shot him a brief glance. Back to just captain, huh? He wasn’t too sure how to feel about that.

Well, whatever.

~***~

Shoto stared at the piece of armor now in his possession, sick to his stomach with a confusing cocktail of not good. Was this really it? Was this really the last he had of his father? What had he even said last to the man? The best Shoto could pull up was a half-assed, annoyed grunt, but those hadn’t even been words.

Why did he care so much? Why was he feeling this bad? Since the day he’d been left alone to manage boot camp, he’d put such a show on before Aizawa and Bakugou about how shitty of a dad he had. (No, not a show; his father really had sucked.) Was it grief? Was it shock? Was it simple human empathy? Regardless of how much he had hated his father, he had begrudging respect for the man’s skills, some form of attachment to him.

“A century of human life is like a dream…”

Shoto looked up, a lump forming in his throat when he saw it was Haku who had begun singing in his high, thin, little voice.

“…Life and death occur; heroes have no regrets.”

Jirou joined in, as did Kaminari soon after. Shoto bit his lip, a mystery pot brewing in his belly.

“Protect my homeland, show off my nation’s pride…”

The song caught on like wildfire among the troops, each melancholic voice rising to pay tribute to the late General Endeavor. His father.

Shoto slid off his horse as they continued, staggering over to an empty space in the front of the battlefield. He grabbed the hilt of his sword, ready to draw it, but he paused just before he went through. Something, that not-so-little part of him, whispered to kick the helmet off the edge of a cliff, to disregard his father’s life as insignificant, to honor all the poor soldiers he had doomed instead. The man deserved it, after all. Marrying to force the stars in his favor, neglecting his children, leaving a trail of bloody madness in his wake— none should respect someone who had done any of those things (let alone all) , no matter how good of a general they were or how many battles they won for the nation.

…But had he not still been human? Did someone such as his father not deserve the last dignity of a proper burial?

Shoto swiftly pulled his sword from its sheath and sank its blade deep within the crumbly, ashy earth. He very nearly threw the helmet atop it for his father’s memorial, but he forced himself to be in control. He gingerly balanced it on the hilt of his sword, giving it an almost ghostly appearance in the smoky air.

His eyes stung as he stared at it, his nose and cheeks scrunching up as that mystery stew of emotions in his gut began to boil over. He hated this. He hated crying. He hated being emotional. He hated that his father had instilled those feelings within him, told him it was a sign of weakness which he must never show.

A firm, comforting hand landed on his shoulder, knocking a few salty tears out of Shoto’s eyes involuntarily. “It’s all right,” Aizawa-sensei said in a low, gruff voice. “Just let it out. I’m sure we’ll untangle all this later. Just let it out for now. Crying is normal and healthy.”

(Maybe it was, but Shoto still hated doing it.)

~***~

Kyouka knew it hurt Momo to see Captain Todoroki like that, standing before his father's makeshift grave as silent tears streamed down an angry expression. The way her voice faltered just a little whilst singing was enough to tell. Knowing Momo, she probably wanted to run over to him and feed him all the comfort she had to offer and to make them both better.

But that would not be for the better. Feelings were messy, and though Kyouka had no idea what was going on in the captain’s head, she knew any intervention could confuse him further. So when she noticed Momo start ever so slightly for the captain, she reached out and put her hand on Momo’s shoulder. Their eyes met for all of a second, and Kyouka shook her head. No, you shouldn’t.

A tiny sigh escaped her best friend, but the atmosphere wouldn’t let Kyouka cash in on the smugness of being right.

As Momo turned aimless once the song was over, Kyouka found herself wondering. What would they be doing now? She had never known of any other plan other than the one to merge with Endeavor’s army. Did that mean they were directionless now? Were they but a wandering army? How would that work? She had no idea how any of this army thing worked; she was from a farming family, for goodness’ sake! Why they would ask for soldiers outside the military families was beyond her. All she knew was that they trained and went off to battle.

(Granted, it never occurred to her that armies had to actually go places to battle, but shhh…)

She cast a sideways glance at Momo. She should know, right? Kyouka opened her mouth to ask, but Bakugou returned from the plains.

“Set up camp on the outskirts of the battlefield,” he barked to all those present. “Funeral pyres need to be built and burnt tonight, so hop to it, you dumb eggs.” With a scowl, he rode away again, presumably to tell more people.

Kyouka shut her mouth an exhaled through her nose. Oh well. She’d just have to find out on her own. Not that she’d have to wait long anyway. It was looking like they were going to find out fairly soon.

~***~

The growing handfuls of dog tags were starting to frighten Kirishima. If he thought the thin fistful from the morning’s ambush was a lot, then he guessed he just had to shed some of that naiveté. He paused to try and cram a few more into his pockets, but a delicate wind brushed against his cheek, prompting him to look up and take in the grey landscape.

Was this really the sort of thing his grandfather used to harp on about? Sure, maybe the heat of battle could be terrifically exhilarating in the moment, but what about the cold leftovers? The chill an empty battlefield sent down one’s spine, the swirling chaos of unease reflected in the sky, the buried sorrows and regrets left in the grey ashes? Kirishima suddenly wasn’t so sure this as the best route to proving himself.

Bakugou came over, the reins of his own and Kirishima’s horses in hand. “You shouldn’t bother. There were thousands of them. Too many to make a difference,” he said, and Kirishima turned to face him, bundles of dog tags clattering all the while. “Go set up for the night. We have a fuck ton of pyres to build and burn tonight.” He crammed Riot’s reins into Kirishima’s spare hand.

Kirishima chewed the inside of his cheek and spent a moment watching him mount up and leave again. With a massacre’s worth of bodies, no, he supposed he couldn’t even make a dent in that. He clutched the bundle already in his hand. But with what he had, maybe he could spare a few of the anxiety. Just a few less hungry ghosts taking the years long traipse back home, a few more families given closure, that was all he needed.

He picked one last tag up and carefully added it to the bundle before emptying them all into one of Riot’s saddlebags.

He made a difference to that one.

~***~

It almost made Aizawa nervous how much Shoto was relying on him for guidance again now that everything had fallen through. Like, dang it, kid! No, adults did not have a book about what to do in any possible situation under the sun given to them when they turned twenty! He was really just making this up as he went along. (More so now than earlier, but there had been winging it going on since he set foot in camp.)

That’s why he chose to keep the letter he found in the remains of the general’s tent from the boy. At first, he’d assumed it was outgoing, probably telling Shoto to shape up and ship out already, but he ended up dumbfounded upon further investigation.

It seemed the elder Todoroki brother, the one whose name Aizawa didn’t know and had been burned out from the letter, had run away from home over a month ago now, leaving the household with neither head nor heir. Aizawa knew nearly nothing of Shoto’s familial relationships, only that he favored his mother and sister. Considering how temperamental the boy could be about his father, Aizawa thought it best not to say anything. Instead, he divided the letter into pieces and hoped Shoto wouldn’t pay it too much mind. After all, it would be hard to find other paper on a battlefield that had been incinerated.

Aizawa shot Shoto a sideways glance when he heard a sniffle, concerned. The boy’s eyes were bloodshot from crying, but his brow was still furrowed with barely concealed anger and frustration.

“You know,” the older man began slowly, “You don’t have to forgive Enji for anything you don’t want to. To bury him as both a general and your father is an obligation, but to honor him as such is not.”

“I guess,” Shoto replied, not looking up from his folding.

“Putting names to feelings might help get rid of them.”

“Gross,” Katsuki said as he walked in. “I heard ‘feelings’.”

“Sounds like you’ve got something to talk about,” Aizawa dryly noted, peering over his shoulder at the angrier of his students. Katsuki just stared.

“I think the fuck not,” he said, turning around. “I’m gonna go light some stuff on fire. Hairbrain’s got an assload of ID tags. Dunno what you’d do with them, but whatever.”

Aizawa let him leave. Katsuki was a tough kid (or at least he liked pretending to be one), and cracking open his shell wasn’t something he found important at the moment. The tags now, well. He’d need records to know where to send them, but they were good to have.

Shoto looked up for the first time since walking onto the battlefield. “Can I take the ID tags for something after this?”

Aizawa stood up for a moment and stretched. “Do whatever you want, kid,” he grunted. “I’m not the boss of you.” The sky was cloudy, and what little light that came through was dimming rapidly. Aizawa settled back down. Days like this always made him so tired.

~***~

If you catch a falling star and put it in your pocket, you can save it for a rainy day.

Of course, Itsuka had never been one for such childish whimsy, but it was still kind of fun to think about when the night held a meteor shower. So many twinkling lights set in the sky were coming loose and coming down; it was quite the sight to behold.

Maybe the stars would be rearranged after this? A different fate to be foretold for her, one with less waiting? Those feng shui masters did know an awful lot, but maybe there was hope for her yet. Itsuka felt a smile tug at her lips as she sat in a window frame, staring at the sky with a letter in hand.

She’d be seeing Camie again soon, it seemed. Too bad Momo couldn’t come, though Camie mentioned she hadn’t heard from the girl in what felt like forever either. Itsuka’s expression faltered for a moment as something took root in the back of her mind.

She was starting to feel as if Momo wasn’t actually at home…

~***~

One by one, mounds of kindling went up in flames, each one representative of at least a few of General Endeavor’s soldiers. Momo watched each one immolate with a tired sense of satisfaction. Long hours had been put into making all of them, and she was simply glad those soldiers hadn’t died with nothing.

Next to her, Kyouka kicked back and rested her head on Momo’s shoulder. “That was something,” she simply commented.

“Yup,” Momo replied, glancing upwards to see a few streaks zip across the sky. The souls of the departed were leaving the earth. “I wonder where we’ll be going after this.”

“I dunno,” Kyouka said with a half-assed shrug. “You’re the one with the military name. You’re smart. Figure it out and tell me, will ya?”

“We’re probably going to head toward the enemy’s main base, but where that is specifically, I don’t know.”

“Guess we’ll find out in the morning.”

Momo watched one final pyre catch fire, a single, hastily made, white paper lotus sitting atop it as Shoto stood nearby and stared. A moment later, Kirishima approached him, his expression somber as he handed off a fat saddlebag. Shoto nodded, and the two parted ways.

How curious. Momo got up to follow him, ask what was up, but Kyouka clung to her arm.

“Broooo,” she drawled, “I’m leaning on you! You can’t just leave now!”

“Lean on Denki,” Momo said.

“He’s too far! I don’t wanna walk.”

“I’m going to talk to Sho… the captain.”

Kyouka glanced up at her, a near-drunken grin on her face. “Mmmkay then,” she said, letting go with a sly look. “Go have your fun then.”

“And you have yours.”

Kyouka gasped with mock exaggeration. “I can’t believe the filthy words that have just come out of your mouth.”

Momo paused and looked back at her, confused. “I just repeated what you said…?”

“Nevermind.” Kyouka gave her one final pat on the arm before hurrying away.



She found him by the river, the saddlebag apparently filled to the brim with dog tags, and Shoto was sitting there, gently cleaning them with a rag one by one. Momo stopped dead when she realized this, simply watching him work in the faint starlight.

He seemed to sense her staring from a distance and paused. “You don’t have to stay there in the dark. If you want to help then just come over,” he said, his voice barely audible from where she stood.

Momo crept over, grateful both that she hadn’t yet removed her armor and that there was hardly any moon that night because she hadn’t bothered with a binder that day. She knelt down next to Shoto and gingerly picked up one of the tags he had set aside.

“Kosei Tsuburaba,” she read aloud, then flipped it over to find their own division number on the back. A rock wedged itself between her throat and her vocal cords, but Shoto somehow managed to voice her thoughts.

“He was killed in the ambush today,” he said evenly, his expression unreadable. “There’s about half a dozen more, but that’s it. We did well.”

Momo swallowed the imaginary stone with some difficulty. “Then the rest of these…?”

“Were my father’s soldiers, yeah. Not many. Just over a hundred, looks like.” He set aside another tag, and Momo was afraid to check the soldier’s division. Shoto noticed and paused, sending her a glance. “That one wasn’t one of us,” he assured her, then picked another one from the bag.

Momo felt the lump rise in her throat yet again, but she did her best to push it down. War was war, after all. People died. She could only hope she would not be among that statistic. She plunged her hand into the bag and drew out one of the clunky IDs, bloodied and scorched beyond recognition.

Next to her, Shoto set aside yet another cleaned tag, picking out a new one without a word. “You don’t have to clean it all the way,” he said after a spell, “Just enough to get the blood off and be readable. I don’t want their families to feel even worse when they see the blood.”

Unsure of how to feel, Momo turned her attention away from the captain and pulled out a clean rag of her own. She dipped the tag into the chilly river water, rubbing gentle circles in an attempt to get the dirt out. (Well, at least her bridal training had some use way out here.) When she finished the best she could, she set it aside and said, “I really don’t like blood.”

“Neither do I,” Shoto murmured as he handed her another one. “When I was a kid, my father would yell at me because I couldn’t even kill a rabbit. Maybe he was training me, but…” There was a barely audible shift in the intensity of his scrubbing. “That shouldn’t excuse anything.”

Momo thought back to the paper lotus on the pyre and wondered if he had even been the one to make it.

“But you get used to it, I guess.” He calmed down and paused to stare up at the sky.

Momo faltered for a moment, taking a second to simply feel the weight of the tag in her hand and make it fully real in her mind. “I don’t think it’s because you were scared back then. You just couldn’t bear to! An innocent life like that doesn’t deserve to be caught in the brutal nature of one man.”

She could feel Shoto peering at her, but she did her best to ignore the fluttering it gave her. “You don’t deserve to be here,” he said softly, and her whole body ran cold. “You may be a tiger, but your soul is too gentle for your spirit.” A smile seemed to tug at his lips as he returned to their task. Momo’s heart pounded against her sternum at the temporary scare. “You would make a great general, Haku.”

Momo’s heart soared with joy at the compliment whilst her stomach simultaneously churned with guilt at her lies. “Thank you,” she replied as neutrally as she could, setting aside another cleaned tag.

Together, they worked into the night with silent streaks of light dancing through the sky.

~***~

Denki stared intently at the last glowing embers of a pyre, little worms of light still wriggling in the dirt. His right shoulder was heavy with the weight of a half-asleep Jirou’s head; his entire arm was no longer in his possession, having been stolen for cuddles by said sleepy Jirou. On the opposite side of the fire, Kirishima was locked in an arm wrestling match with Tetsutetsu, both caught in a stalemate they couldn’t win, but neither backing down for even an instant. It was a moment to remember for sure, the oddly comfortable setting something he wanted to cling to forever.

It was just one of those nights. Some retired early, wanting to end the nightmarish day as soon as possible in hopes that they may have a sweet dream. Others stayed to pay their respects to all of the soldiers because they couldn’t bear the thought of being cremated alone. But Denki? Of the select few still out in the hours of the mouse, he was sure he was the only one left wide awake.

It was just one of those nights. The kind where you toss and turn but can’t become comfortable. The kind where you lie there with your eyes closed but can’t become anything less than a half-conscious dream. The kind where your stomach is empty but your mind is full, and you can’t help but to listen to each passing thought.

It was just one of those nights. Too much had happened that day, there was too much to think about, and Denki could be an insomniac. Of course, if he wanted to sleep outside, he at least had a cute guy cuddled up next to him. That would surely help.

“Say, Denki,” Jirou said with a yawn, “Today really was somthin’, huh?”

“Yeah,” he replied softly, not wanting to wake him too much.

Jirou settled and let out a long, soft exhale. “My cousin’s s’posed to get married one of these days soon. Ionno which one specifically, since I’ve lost track of the days, but I wonder how she’s doing.”

Denki hummed, holding in the urge to rest his head on Jirou’s. “I hope it goes well.”

“Why wouldn’t it?” Jirou half-scoffed. “She’s so pretty. Caught the eye of a boy on his way to become a scholar a few years back. He asked her when the stars were right, no matchmaker necessary.” His grip on Denki’s arm loosened, and let out with a nearly inaudible sigh, “I’ve always wanted somethin’ like that for myself.”

Something tugged at Denki’s heartstrings with that. He knew all too well the younger boy was simply loose-lipped with exhaustion, but that didn’t erase how nice it felt to hear him say things like that. “C’mon, let’s get you to bed.”

“I can do it myself!” Jirou snapped, but all its venom had been sapped by weariness.

“I’m sure you can,” Denki evenly replied, “but then you’d wake and not fall asleep again when you do find your tent.”

“I guess,” Jirou mumbled, and his head crashed back against Denki’s shoulder. The blond gently pulled his arm out of Jirou’s clutches and slipped the other beneath his legs to pick him up. As Jirou put his arms around Denki’s neck out of sleepy instinct, the latter marveled at how light the boy was, even considering his size.

Jirou’s head nestled up against his shoulder, Denki nodded to Tetsutetsu and Kirishima (the latter of which grinned in encouragement) and started his stumble through the dark.

“I’m glad you didn’t die,” Jirou murmured into the night, barely audible even in the quiet, his dark eyes already slipped shut. His breathing deepened and steadied; he had fallen fast asleep.

Denki half smiled to himself. He fell to his knees, having found Jirou’s tent, and crawled inside. He laid Jirou down as gingerly as he could, drew a blanket over him, but afterwards, he still lingered by his side.

Even the shroud of darkness could not obscure the fine, delicate features of the one he loved. It was almost breathtaking the way he looked with neither a scowl nor a glare marring his face, wonderful in its serenity. Oh, what Denki wouldn’t give to see this every day for the rest of his life.

His lips hovered just shy of Jirou’s smooth forehead, hesitant to push forward. He was asleep and would never know, sure, but if this was the only way Jirou would even remotely consider allowing a kiss, was it really something he wanted? He wasn’t here for the act of it, just the emotions it conveyed.

Jirou rolled over in his sleep. Denki’s lips barely brushed against his ear, and he froze for all of a minute because of it.

Eventually, he backed away, chewing his lip in a lesser attempt to satiate his longing as he gave Jirou one last glance before exiting the tent to feel the cool night breeze. He stared at the sky from the outside, watched a few stars fall from the heavens as he thought of Jirou’s last words.

Heh. He smiled wanly to himself, fighting a yawn as it rumbled in his throat. He thought it would be just one of those nights , but perhaps the night was changing.

The yawn came, loud and strong despite his will. Rubbing his eyes, Denki fumbled over to his own tent and fell gracelessly to the floor, fast asleep before his head even touched the ground.

Chapter Text

“Advance! Block! Retreat!”

Each word was barked with astonishing neutrality by one (assistant) captain Katsuki Bakugou. Every command was clipped and precise, and, after constant drilling whilst on the road, the squadron of men before him was starting to reflect that voice.

Kirishima grunted with every move, more so out of habit than of actual exertion anymore. Weeks of training had made their gear feel more like a second skin than weighted armor; it had been satisfying to observe.

Behind him, Kirishima could hear snickers, and he knew without looking Denki was trying to distract Jirou again, what with his dumb faces and cheesy faux death impressions. He’d known them well long enough to recognize their voices and their habits, their quirks and mannerisms. They were just lucky Todoroki didn’t angry yell.

“Advance. Block. Retreat.”

Kirishima glanced up between orders to see the captains switching off: now Bakugou prowled the ranks to catch mistakes as Todoroki called the drills. It was easy to pick up by ear; not only because they had wildly different voices and tones, but also styles of instruction. Where Bakugou was rigid and clean in his commands, Todoroki tended to slide between words, if nearly imperceptibly. It left more room for the trainees to flow and morph compared to when Katsuki had them snap and pop between actions.

Both were good, in Kirishima’s opinion. Todoroki made sure they could perform properly; Bakugou made sure they could perform quickly.

“Hey, you two fuckers! Yeah, you, Fuzzbrain . Don’t act like I’m blind, I know you were dicking around with Shortie for the last five minutes. Hapa’s just soft on you.”

It took far too much willpower for Kirishima to focus on his movements instead of snickering to himself, but he managed. Somehow.

“Block. To the rear! Retreat.”

Finding himself unexpectedly face-to-face with Bakugou, Kirishima grinned, wryly noting the deflated Denki and Jirou getting in the groove of practice again from over Bakugou’s shoulder.

The blond scowled, but his eyes weren’t so hard. “Wipe that dumb smile off your face this instant. It’ll be cemented to your face if you die like that, and I don’t want to deal with that.” He ambled out of Kirishima’s line of sight, but the latter could hear his footsteps pause. “You have good form,” Bakugou said at a perfectly human volume, which was quiet for the man. “Don’t get sloppy.”

The dirt grinded beneath the captain’s shoes, and the footsteps resumed, but who could stop smiling when complimented that loudly by their famously picky captain?

Not Kirishima, that’s who.



(“Hey, Jirou! You’re also doing real well these days. I bet you could kick my ass.”)

 

(“…Shut up, Denki.”)




 

((It was even harder to stop smiling when some of your best friends acted like that. ))

 

((Ohh, whatever. He’d just have to not die, that’s all. Then Bakugou wouldn’t have to worry about his face.))

~***~

If it hadn’t been for the fact that they were riding horses, Denki might have felt a lot more like a cow than a soldier with all the days of walking they’d done. (After all, cows didn’t ride horses. That was the biggest heap of bullshit ever passed onto the earth.) Sure, it had only been a week since they left the remains of Endeavor’s camp, but they’d stayed there hardly three days! Hardly a pit stop in the long run.

“Mmmmm… yay, yay, neigh,” he mumbled as he slouched atop Sero. His brain was full of cotton balls, statically charged to shock his train of thought anywhere but on the rails. (It sucked.)

“Bro, you sound so dead right now,” Kirishima said with concern. “Did you get enough sleep last night?”

“Last night…?” Denki thought aloud, struggling to sit up straight. “Dude, if we didn’t have gruel pretty much every morning, I wouldn’t even be able to remember what we ate for breakfast this morning.”

“Dude, we didn’t even have gruel this morning,” Kirishima said very seriously.

Denki blinked a couple times to process this information. Now that did the trick. “We didn’t?”

“Nah, I’m just messing with you. But seriously, dude, what’s up?”

“I don’t know,” sighed Denki. “Just one of those days, I guess. Why not bother Haku about himself, though? He’s been really quiet this morning, too.” Both turned their gaze toward the boy in question, who had been silent the entire ride so far.

Haku glanced back at them, his expression a little disoriented, a little tired, but otherwise perfectly neutral. “Oh, sorry,” he said, shaking a bit of the disorientation away, “it’s nothing, really. There were just a lot of tags left uncleaned, and since we were camped near a river last night, Shoto and I wanted to finish that.” He yawned, and Denki sensed Kirishima slow down beside him.

“Yeah,” the redhead said, his voice dulled. Denki didn’t get why at first, but the realization hit him like a brick to the face, his rational thought and character crashing back to station. Kirishima was the first among them to wander the mass grave. He knew the full extent of the bloodshed.

(Denki also felt more than a little bad for speaking without thinking yet again and pawning his interrogation off on Haku, although it didn’t appear to affect him all that much.)

Fuck, the group’s mood had gone bleak. Even Jirou, who had been silent the entire time anyway, looked moodier than usual. This was bad— low morale amidst even a few soldiers could dampen the whole army’s mood until it molded. There was no coming back from moldy morale.

Denki flicked his eyes between his friends with worry gnawing at his insides. What do do, what to say? He knew he was the group idiot, but he could take advantage of that. Just. As soon as he figured out how.

(How was it that he could never fail to make Jirou laugh when he wasn’t even trying, but now that he wanted to make all his friends smile, he drew a blank? How dare his stupidity be selective.)

Luckily, Sero was a smarter horse than he, spooking at a sudden bush (because suddenly… bush! was apparently a perfectly acceptable reason to go halfway to buck wild) and nearly jerking Denki right off his back— nearly.

(He still half-shrieked, the panic on his face probably clearer than the day.)

Dazed and on an adrenaline high, Denki glanced between his friends’ expressions with a shaken grin on his face. Haku and Kirishima looked back at him with visible concern, but Jirou had to look away the instant their eyes met, not even trying to hide his snort of laughter.

Ah, good old Jirou. His reaction broke the fine veil of gloom draped over all their moods, allowing Denki to breathe easy again and stop forcing his smile.

Good old Jirou.



(Something was going on with his heart now, surrounding it, holding it near, gnawing at its core.)

 

(His laugh was so nice, so light and so real.)




 

((What was it about him that captivated him so? No man nor woman back home could set his heart to such a tempo.))

 

((Ohh, whatever. Maybe he’d never know. That was all right, if he got to live it forever.))

~***~

The sky was so blue up in the mountains. You’d think there would be more clouds up there, since that’s where they always seemed to gather, but apparently that wasn’t the case.

Shoto stared up at said sky, his mind a blank. It was quiet at the front of the line, especially with Katsuki choosing to stay further back to keep tabs on stragglers and supply carts. There was only wise, old Aizawa up there with him, but being an old, wise man meant he kept to himself more often than not.

(Shoto privately suspected Aizawa was sleeping when supposedly keeping to himself, but there was no way of finding out for sure.)

They were close to General Hawks’s camp, he knew. That man had a position to hold on the edge of the war, and he could not have lost it if he was really the third-best general. (Then again, that’s what everyone had assumed of his father, and look where that had gone.)

“Halt! Soldier, state your name and business.”

That dragged him out of his thoughts. Shoto shook his head to clear away any last doubts and turned his gaze up to the scout tower, where a sharp-eyed soldier kept a keen eye on them. “Captain Shoto Todoroki,” he called back without hesitation. “Son of General Endeavor, here to merge ranks with General Hawks against the Huns for the time being.”

The scout nodded curtly, scribbled down his answer, and seemingly threw it back into the camp. Shoto wasn’t altogether sure how that was going to work, but he put those thoughts away when a short man with unruly, sandy blond hair arrived at the gate just minutes later, seemingly flying there with all the speed and grace he had been gifted.

“’Sup, kiddo, haven’t seen you in forever,” he said with a grin, and Shoto stared shamelessly back. Judging by the armor, it must have been General Hawks, but the man’s demeanor was so contrary to what he had been expecting.

“Do. Do I— have we met?” he asked. His horse was already moving again, heading inside camp after the strange man; Aizawa was doing the same, leaving Shoto feeling as if he’d been swept up in a whirlwind of something.

General Hawks unabashedly laughed, as if he’d expected such a response and took delight in it anyway. “Oh fuck,” he mused, “don’t remember me, huh? ’Course we met before. Like, ten years ago. Came visiting after the new year to talk with your dad about, y’know, stuff. Met your brother— he was cool— poked over to where you were kept, but you didn’t seem very interested. Or maybe you were just guarded. That would’ve been good to have, hope it carried over…”

Shoto shot a glance at Aizawa, who had cracked open one lazy eye to glare at Hawks with. The man was so vastly different to what he had been assuming, to what he understood a man in power to act like. His only meaningful exposure to an authority had been his father: cold, calculating, and cussed. (Which was, to say the least, unnerving at best and terrifying at worst.)

“…So, that reminds me, I got this letter from your old man maybe a couple days ago? A week? Said to prepare for the battle against Shigaraki under the assumption of no help, so I have been, and—” Hawks’s voice came to a clean stop for all of one beautiful second. “Enji was camped about a week away at most. If you’re here, then I wonder…?”

“Dead,”  Aizawa bluntly grunted. (Shoto let out a little bit of his unease, glad that he didn’t have to say such a thing out loud.) “Killed in battle, it seems.”

“Ahh, got it,” Hawks replied, seamlessly dialing back the nonchalance as he shifted his gaze to Shoto, who felt almost cornered beneath it. “Where’s your second-in-command?”

“In the back, sir,” he answered, feeling the pressure rise. He didn’t like this, not in the slightest. It wasn’t the steely gaze of his father, sure, but something about the gravity of Hawks’s stare reflected at least a part of that. Maybe it was because Aizawa hadn’t felt like a real authority figure since the first ten minutes of day one (he’d always been more like… a distant dad-thing), or maybe it was because he had been the authority until just now, but to be reminded of his true standing made Shoto feel as if he were being caged. He swallowed the lump in his throat and used it to quash the butterflies growing in his stomach. “His name is Katsuki Bakugou. He wanted to keep an eye on the stragglers.”

Hawks grunted, apparently pleased, as evidenced by his gaze easening. “Hmm. You’ll have to go find him among your ranks soon. I’ll show you where I had them led—”

Shoto looked over his shoulder to find no one following them. What the?

“—since I expected him to either be with you or not exist at all. By the way, I heard Nezu chose him despite his lack of experience, what’s up with that? Even I knew what I was getting into when I first started this gig…”

Shoto blinked a couple times, tuning the older man out. I can’t believe I didn’t notice them slip between my fingers.



(They were fine. They were safe, just elsewhere.)

 

(It looked like forging too far ahead of his men was a bad idea. To fully protect and lead them, he had to be amongst them.)




 

((Was that what made his friendship with Haku all the more meaningful? To dwell amongst the weakest of men and see from his point of view? To forge the camaraderie needed for trust?))

 

((Ohh, whatever. He liked Haku for more than just his perspective. He liked his words, his compassion, his determination.))

~***~

The air was different, Uraraka could smell it. It smelled so strongly of men; it was awful. At least at Endeavor’s old site, the stench had gone stale, but she supposed there could be nothing done about it when this Hawks guy wasn’t parked by an extra stream they could taint.

Uraraka wriggled into a random tent, her only goal to remain unseen. At some point after arriving, the supply carts had been separated from the soldiers, leaving her properly lost with nothing but Deku hanging off her horns once she woke up. Luckily for her, the tent she had chosen was crammed full of random junk to hide under, as if the owner hadn’t moved in a long time. Whatever the reason, it was convenient, so she didn’t mind.

“Shouta! It’s been forever!” a vaguely familiar voice called as the tent flap opened.

Someone else grunted with barely concealed irritation. “Two months, but that’s still not long enough,” he replied, sounding far more familiar.

(Were they the men who had discussed Momo when visiting her empty tent on that faraway first day? Small world.)

“Pff, okay. It’s whatever. I hear you’ve got a bunch of dog tags that need to be sent home, correct?”

“I would call them Shoto’s, but yes. They should be somewhere in here. He and that Yaoyorozu kid cleaned every one, so you have your work cut out for you.”

“Ahh, the Yaoyorozu kid, huh?” Feet began to shuffle, and Uraraka pressed her belly flat against the earth, hoping, hoping that if the crate she hid behind was chosen, she would at least pass for a dirt patch long enough to make her escape. “He turned out okay, then?”

“Surprisingly, yes. He was actually supposed to be cut, so I sent Shoto to deliver the news, but the next morning, Yaoyorozu was sitting atop the camp’s central pole. Went and completed the arrow challenge, so I had to change my mind.”

(Heck yeah, that was her Momo. Uraraka puffed her chest up with pride and held her breath.)

“Heh, you’ve gone soft, Shouta.”

“No, I haven’t.”

“Yes, you have. The arrow challenge is just to gauge their aptitude. It doesn’t matter if they complete it or not, just as long as they show promise.”

“Don’t be stupid. If he completed it in face of ultimate shame and defeat, I’d call that apt enough.” The shuffling stopped, and a crate was pried loudly open, its wooden slats cracking with strain. Uraraka allowed herself to breathe again. She was safe. (Even Deku let out a relieved chirp.) “Here they are. There’s maybe four hundred at most.”

There was a long whistle. “That’s a lot of missing in action.”

“If you want to go fetch a few thousand more yourself, be my guest. I’m not going to stop you.”

There was a pause, and Uraraka sensed they were distracted enough for her to make her escape, so she began inching away.

“Wow. They did a good job on these. Hardly a drop of blood on them.”

“Told you so.”

“Say, where are they anyway? I should thank them for making my work so easy.”

Uraraka stopped, her ears alert and angled toward the men. Please tell me where Momo is. I don’t want to wander around in broad daylight.

“Shoto’s tracking down Bakugou, though I’d assume he found him by now. Hawks was taking them for the promotion ceremony later. Yaoyorozu should be eating dinner, so just find where Hawks put the rest of them.”

“Gotcha. See ya.”



(Dammit, that didn’t give her anything to work off of.)

 

(Deku patted her head comfortingly with a foreleg, chirping his comfort.)




 

((She appreciated it, she really did, but she couldn’t help but worry…))

 

((Ohh, whatever. Momo was a capable girl. Heck, at this rate, she wouldn’t even need her whispering advice anymore. That was good.))

~***~

Katsuki sat crankily at the table, slouching so low, the tip of his nose was mere millimeters away from his teacup as he glared at it. Hapa made shitty tea. It was just boiled leaf water, nothing more.

He flicked his eyes toward the halfling himself, who sat and sipped tea mildly across from him, completely bemused. (Or maybe he was just zoning out. Katsuki couldn’t tell, and he didn’t particularly care, either.)

“Your tea fucking suuuuuucks,” Katsuki called, making his voice as low as possible just for the heckling of it. Half-n-Half blinked once, turned to look at him, took a sip of tea, and nothing more.

Ugh, all this dumb brooding. It was not appreciated at training camp when dealing with the Todoroki family soap opera, it was not appreciated now, again when dealing with the Todoroki family soap opera. Fucking hell, was Hapa really being this melodramatic about some petty family drama? He had thought better of him.

“Hey, you’re not concerned about being commander, are you? ’Cause it’s really not that hot of a shit. There’re gonna be higher ranked generals than you,” Katsuki snapped, and Half-n-Half finally looked like he was waking up, though he didn’t look fully convinced. He’d never been the best at this pep talk gig, and it was showing. He scowled. (What would that shitty little green bean have said?) “It’s gonna be your fucken power anyway. No one’s gonna tell you how to use it. If you don’t want to be like you shitty dad, then by god, fuck him. You’re not him.”

Shoto put down the tea with a soft clonk, seemingly ruminating over Katsuki’s words. However, before he could reply, that dumb pigeon man poked his head inside the tent. “Hey, kids,” he practically chirruped, “ready to become real men??” He stepped inside and laughed, much to Katsuki’s annoyance. “Okay, that’s not how it works, but for real. Time for you to hippity-hop off the floor and out the door and be promoted in front of all your horses and men.”

“Could you stop talking like that?” Katsuki grumbled as he shuffled out. “We’re not that young.”

“Why do the horses have to be present?” Hapa wondered aloud, and Bird Man threw his head back and laughed again. (It was almost grating his nerves how much this man laughed.)

“Don’t worry about it,” he assured the boys. “I’d say this isn’t going to take all that long, but Present Mic is here and everything, and he tends to talk a lot, so really, I don’t know. Also, we’re doing a thing tomorrow probably, so get ready for that. I’ll fill you in on the details later, but…”

Katsuki couldn’t even try to give half a shit beyond that. Pigeons here said Mic talked a lot? Well, if that was the case, then whoop-de-fucken-doo, might as well start singing a century of human life was like a dream and get his funeral over with before he died of old age . (Or boredom.)

“You got them??” a strange voice half screeched, forcing everyone within a kilometer radius to listen to him. Katsuki sneered and glared at the owner, finding him to be unfortunately tall and garishly blond. Literally impossible to miss, this man.

“Yup!” Pigeons replied, and the screecher grinned and sent them an okay sign, motioning to the haphazardly made stage before their (fortunately) beautifully trained soldiers.

It was hard not to slouch and scowl at everyone up there as that Present Mic drawled on and on about such-and-such a year when such-and-such an emperor did such-and-such a thing. (Might have been Emperor Nezu in all the stories, but… nah, it couldn’t be. For that to happen, the guy would have to be, like, infinity.) It was dry and meaningless, but also sooner than Katsuki expected.

“And now, in the tragic events of war, we have lost ourselves a hero. General Endeavor died for the country, and it has been declared that his son Shoto Todoroki shall take on the role of commander to begin following in his wake.” (Katsuki noticed the ever so slight shift in Hapa’s demeanor, and god fucking damn it, was he going to have to do that dumb pep talk thing again?) “Katsuki Bakugou, the second-in-command as chosen by Emperor Nezu himself, will be promoted alongside him! It is hoped that together, they will help bring peace to the land again!”

Scattered cheers ran through the men, and the screecher nodded curtly to one of them, who gracefully climbed the stairs onto the stage to present himself and Hapa with their new armor. Katsuki took his own wordlessly and nodded in acknowledgement, but Half-n-Half inhaled sharply.

“Haku?”

(Whaaaat the fuuuuuuck?)

Peony put a finger to his lips as he handed Hapa his armor. He bowed and trotted offstage.



(For his skill, Katsuki never would have guessed that Peony was so graceful.)

 

(And seriously, Hapa. What the fuck was that.)




 

((People weren’t just that graceful by nature. It was bred and trained into them. Just what did Peony learn in his sickly younger years?))

 

((Ohh, whatever. He had bigger shits to be taking than wondering why Peony could prance around so lightly.))

~***~

“So, remind me again. Why haven’t you just ambushed the enemy already? You said you knew their location,” Aizawa said dryly. It was late, far too late, for him to be awake. Only owls were up at this hour, eating their mice or whateverthefuck.

Hawks leaned back until only his face was dimly lit by the lantern. “Well, you know. Stuff happens. We’re caught in a stalemate right now. That’s why we haven’t been ambushed yet either.” There was an awkward, nervous grin on his face as he flicked his eyes in the direction of the enemy camp, as if he would catch the eye of someone across the camp borders.

Aizawa raised an eyebrow, not liking where this was going. “I can’t read your mind, you know,” he said blandly. “I need you to tell me the reason why.”

“It’s, uh…” Hawks sat up straight and ruffled his hair, looking anywhere but at Aizawa.

The older man decided he was putting too much pressure on the guy and took a sip of water. “When at Enji’s camp, I found a letter from home in the ashes of his tent.” Hawks settled his fidgeting and now peered curiously at Aizawa. “Took place probably six weeks ago now, but Shoto’s eldest brother ran away. We don’t know for sure of his whereabouts.”

Hawks sucked in the two ends of his upper lip to form a triangle as he chewed for a second.

“It was burned as part of a paper lotus for Enji’s pyre, so Shoto doesn’t know yet,” Aizawa continued, taking Hawks’s reaction as confirmation of the worst.

Hawks dryly chuckled. “Guess I should tell him soon then, huh?”

“I can’t read your mind, Hawks,” Aizawa chided, pretending he didn’t know out of want for a verbal answer. “What’s so daunting to tell?”

“That his brother’s the leader of the enemy across the border.”



(Somewhere out of earshot, Shoto sneezed violently, filling him with a mysterious, dreadful unease that wouldn’t go away.)

 

(Something was up in the night air. It could be smelt, felt, imperceptibly and inexplicably sensed. Something, something was up.)




 

((So it was true. He’d always heard the elder brother had been a vindictive one, but why? From what he knew, the kid didn’t even have to put forth that much effort into a good life. Shoto was the heir to Enji’s military legacy; the eldest was the heir to the family property. The middle son… well, now that was a mystery.))

 

((Ohh, whatever. Maybe if they captured the eldest, they could pick the nits out of this situation.))

~***~

Ah, the cool breeze of the night. Soft and gentle, though it still nipped sharply at the stitches holding his skin together. The prickles of hurt felt good, refreshing and invigorating him and bringing him into a liveliness he’d never felt at home.

Home was a cage. Its tenants, cattle. So when his father left to war with Shoto in tow this time, he couldn’t do it anymore. His sister had been long married off, fine. Take his twin, that made sense. Take his baby brother? That was slaughter.

Shoto has the right blessings, can’t you see his hair? With equal gifts of prosperity and death, he is the perfect one to honor my legacy! You have only prosperity, you only need your inheritance.

Stress burst one of his finer seams, allowing a thin trickle of blood to drip down his cheek. The man laughed and cracked his knuckles.



(“Hey, Dabi, anything else you wanted to put in this threat? We’re just about done.”)

 

(“Keep the kid commander alive. But don’t tell them that. That is all.”)




 

((Take his twin, that made sense. But it still wasn’t right.))


((There was no brushing that aside.))

Chapter Text

The hours before dawn were the best time for departure. After all, there was hardly anyone alive willing to awaken when the moon set and travel through the darkest hour of the night, so the roads were delightfully empty, and one could move freely through the world.

It was apparently also a good time to drop off threats and warnings. Not that Present Mic could say he knew firsthand, but it was in that moonless hour when he was packed and ready to leave that he spitted someone lurking about the camp border. He furrowed his brow, struggling to make out any more than a silhouette. “Hey! You!” he called.

The darkened figure flinched, but recovered quickly enough to be out of sign by the time Present Mic could mount his horse and chase after them. Mic sighed, trotted his horse up to the camp entrance. He hoped to at least get a clue to the stranger’s identity, and maybe he would, in the simple scroll left behind, hastily tied to a fence post.

Mic halted before it, staring at it for longer than he would have cared to admit, until his horse grew restless beneath him. He did have a duty to the country’s people, to the ghosts Enji had left wandering. Yet, this anonymous weirdo dropped off a letter in the dead of night— that could not be good. Like, at all.

It wouldn’t take long to deliver— he could just toss it onto Shouta’s face and be on his way if anything— buuuut…

~***~

“Shouta!! Hey, Shouta!!!”

Aizawa would never get used to the sound of Present Mic’s screeching in the morning. He didn’t have the opportunity for starters, and he didn’t want to have the opportunity, thank you very much. But unfortunately, he was stuck with it for the time being, so he lazily cracked an eye open and half-assedly sat up before getting instantly smacked in the face with some scroll or whatever.

“There was a huge threat left at the entrance right now, but duty calls and I gotta go now, so byeeee!” Hurried skitters away. Distant humming. That was about all.

Aizawa blinked some sleep away knowing without a mirror his eye bags were fucking awful. Oh, today was not going to be pretty. “Should’ve left it with Hawks,” he grumbled as he fumbled around with the scroll. He wasn’t in charge. He didn’t want to be in charge. That’s why he was the mentor figure. Leading Shoto and Katsuki to where they were now had been exhausting and honestly took way more energy and emotional investment than he’d have ever anticipated, which was way too time consuming in it of itself. This was why he wasn’t going to get married.

Hawks was a grown man, more or less. He could dad himself. He could read. Aizawa assumed. Then again, becoming literate was hard and tedious at best and he had neither knowledge nor interest in Hawks’s upbringing and dammit, Mic had actually made a smart choice by giving this thing to the highest authority whom he could guarantee was literate. (Still didn’t mean Aizawa had to appreciate it.)

It was still dark out, but Aizawa had exceptional night vision despite his sleep schedule. With only the dim starlight to guide him, he snapped up the short, rough proclamation from the enemy in a few instance, what little sleep still hazed around his mind rapidly dissipating. Was this what Hawks had meant by something happening tomorrow? A major battle with the enemy? He knew they were at a stalemate, but had he really been able to predict the exact date? Or perhaps it had to do with their arrival yesterday. Had Shoto’s brother been holding out for exactly this? And if they had, how did they know?

Only one person could answer those questions.

~***~

“Hawks.”

It had been a restless, endless night for Shoto, though he couldn’t quite figure out why. Maybe it was for the same reason he found his thoughts drifting constantly back to Haku during the promotion ceremony. Maybe those thoughts were the reason. But then what was the reason? (Could it be connected to those chest pangs?)

But the reason mattered little. What mattered was that Shoto was awake at an ungodly hour, coincidentally just in time to hear Aizawa call General Hawks for who-knew-what. Because obviously quarter to four was the best time to discuss…

“What’s going on? Nothing’s s’posed to happen ’till five.”

“We’ve received a warning.”

“For battle? How courteous. Who’s it from? Can’t be Touya. I didn’t realize he had legible writing.”

…His brother?

Touya?

Well, sleep was for the weak, as Katsuki probably would have put it. Shoto was wide awake now. He sat up and brushed his bangs out of his eyes (Should he start putting it up?), struggling to process Hawks and Aizawa’s dialogue as still more unfolded.

“I don’t know who wrote it. I don’t recognize the writing, and I don’t know his writing anyway. Mic didn’t specify who left it either, but I doubt he would have kept that from us even if he tried. Terrible chatterbox.”

“Guess the time for battle has finally arrived. You guys showed up in the nick of time, huh? That’s lucky. This one has been brewing in the atmosphere for a while now.”

The pieces weren’t fitting together in Shoto’s mind. What had that ben just a moment ago, that offhand comment about Touya? He hadn’t seen his brother in months, but he was sure Touya wouldn’t be out here. Fighting them as an enemy. His older brother? The one who never truly stopped ruffling his hair? The one who snapped and spat at their father when he went too far? The one who had gone quiet for so long when their grandparents had taken his twin for their own?

Granted, Shoto had been young then, six years old and going on seven quite soon, but children see and understand more than they’re accredited. Yes, Touya had been the grudging child. But, he had always been full of righteous fury. Would he have really…?”

“You need to tell Shoto before the battle begins. He’d have to get over it fast, but it’s still better than letting him find out own his own. No one can afford to get caught off-guard when you’ve swallowed the taste of life or death.”

Hawks audibly stretched and yawned. “I suppose,” he said, though he didn’t seem particularly concerned. For a moment, it sounded like he shook himself out, but then the footsteps began.

Shoto was trapped frozen to the spot. He didn’t want to believe it— his brother couldn’t possibly think this was right, could he? But now, he was going to have to, or else risk losing vital time on the battlefield.

Hawks abruptly poked his head into the tent, as seemed his habit. “Oh, you’re up, kiddo,” he cheerfully said, seemingly oblivious to Shoto’s wide-eyed look of shock and denial. “Well, anyway. Listen, kiddo, this’ll probably come as a shock to you, but, uh. Your brother’s joined the war, which was almost cool and awesome, but he’s sided against us, and we’ll be going against him instead. Yeaaaah. We haven’t been told exactly when, of course, but they were weirdly courteous enough to give us the heads-up. Sooo probably definitely sometime this morning. Juuuust thought I’d pay it forward.”

The older man clicked his tongue and gave Shoto a grin that was painfully  awkward, even for his standards, before popping out the same way he had popped in.

Shoto blinked several times, his mind finally getting a handle on what was going on.

His brother, part of the enemy.

A villain.

This was going to be a mess to figure out if they could get Touya back.

If.

If, if, if.

If all this was true. If he was to be active in battle. If they could get him back.

If, if, if.

There was only one way to steer that if into a when.

~***~

“Hapa says don’t kill the lead fucker this time around. Capture him if you get the chance. Do not let him escape if you can help it. Any questions?”

Mumbles of “No, sir,” rippled through the crowd. They were a small force, Kyouka realized now, but well-trained. Dedicated. Tightly-knit.

“I can’t hear you,” bitch-captain Bakugou snapped, his temper temporarily flaring through the apathy, and the soldiers shouted their response as onoe. “Good,” he grumbled afterward. “Return here in half an hour to receive more information on our position and role. DISMISSED.”

There was no shout of understanding after the dismissal, only immediate dispersal. If anything, it would be a waste of breath, and when you didn’t know how long that breath would be in your lungs, you saved it for as long as you could.

Kyouka wove her way through the crowd, trying her best to survive the chaos surrounding the tents. It was the first battle they would be prepared for, both mentally and physically, but it was so soon after a scene change. No one was familiar with the setting, and it was showing now. It took all of Kyouka’s evasive skills not to get trampled.

Once she was alone, she got to work. No binder today— she would need all the breathing room she could get. No one would have the time to notice, and the armor would help hide her anyway. Instead, she changed directly into her tunic, and as she adjusted the waist, she snatched up her chainmail with her foot and tossed it into her arms once done. When she began slipping that on, her body went on autopilot, and her mind went wandering.

Their last ambush had been a wild, stressful surprise. Yet, somehow, their fatalities had been low. Was it a testament to their skill and training? Surely the enemy troops had more experience than a pack of newly minted soldiers. It should have been like crushing a hatching egg to them. Had they simply lucked out? None had remained once that woman had been killed, but then again, Kyouka would have also fled if she had seen Captain Todoroki impaled before her eyes.

Don’t you dare get killed, Denki.

Kyouka froze, accidentally replaying the memory in her head from surprise. The startlement in his eyes, the stillness in the air, seemingly frozen in time— even the early morning sunlight backlighting him (her heart ached now, knowing exactly what Momo had meant when she said it was her most useless moment) and the specks of dust floating through it, all of it flashing before her eyes as clear and true as reality.

But the moment was over as quickly as it began. Kyouka had to catch herself before she yelped aloud, but for other things, it was too late. Already, heat was rising to her face, the beat of her heart speeding tenfold. (what the fuck what the fuck what the fuck what the fucking fuck fuck)

She slapped her cheeks twice to knock herself out of it (though it really didn’t help), then sped through the rest of her dressing. (why now why now why now why now why now why now) The instant she was finished, she swept her thoughts aside, pushed her way outside, hoped to find her friends and clear her mind. It could prove to be fatal if she didn’t.

“Oh, hey, Jirou!”

Case and point: the way she very literally crashed into someone because her mind was alight with an all-consuming buzz and she couldn’t pay attention to anything. Her wish was granted though (albeit not in the way she wanted or expected), for when she looked up and saw Denki grinning down at her, her thoughts simply disintegrated.

“Uhh,” she tried, taking a few steps back in an attempt to regain herself. Her stomach lurched and tumbled, but she swallowed thickly and pretended otherwise. “Good morning, fuzzbrain.”

(why him why whim why him why whim why him why him)

“Was chatting with Captain Bakugou a couple seconds ago. He said I was manning cannons today, so I just wanted to promise not to be dumb and get myself killed before you could yell at me for it,” said Denki cheerfully.

Something stopped Kyouka from forming a response of any sort. She was trapped, standing there. She must have looked like a fish, opening her mouth mutely only to close it again, and she almost found it funny, except.

Fuck.

She was scared.

~***~

“So, the woeful little pigeon comes back home again!” Hawks called across the invisible camp borders with a grin. “How unfortunate it should be, then, that he returns to find a hawk nested in his place!”

The man on the other side raised a lazy eyebrow at Hawks. Was that really Touya? The two hardly looked alike. Black hair, stitched scars, open, almost lazy posture— only their startling blue eyes were the same, though that alone was enough to convince Hawks. Eyes were the windows to the soul after all, and this man, this strange, scarred man, shared the same soul as the son of Endeavor he’d met all those years ago. It had a little more fire, a little more anger, but it was Touya’s all the same. (But could he even still be called Touya? For a transformation this drastic, perhaps he’d given himself a new one for a better reflection.)

“Oh, but don’t you remember?” the man drawled just loudly enough to be heard as he led his men ever closer. “This little bird has been burned into a phoenix.”

Hawks hardened his gaze, stiffening ever so slightly as he signalled for his soldiers to brace themselves. “Is that so?” he loudly mused, sounding a lot more nonchalant than he felt. (The temptation to cross his arms when they stopped just shy of one another was damn near overwhelming.) “Well now, that’s just tragic. After all, it’s far easier to blow away a pile of ashes than a living bird. You haven’t given up that easily, have you? Pity, but I suppose that’s just the way it is on this bitch of an earth.”

The enemy leader merely narrowed his eyes, paused as if contemplating a sufficiently scalding comeback. In the end, he remained silent, flicked the reins, and took a few steps back.

“Attack.”

~***~

There was something different about this battle compared to the ambush before it, but Kirishima couldn’t quite put his finger on what. Was it perhaps the open plain seemingly set aside for this purpose versus the hilly, tenty previous location? Was it because there everything had a build-up, devoid of that spur-of-the-moment dash into the fray? Neither explanation felt adequate, but everything aside from that felt exactly the same. It was just that one little tick that was off.

And as he seamlessly deflected an enemy sword before sinking his own into their chest, Kirishima knew what it was. The little worm of fear that lived for so long, as long as he could remember, eating away at his stomach, was there no more.

Kirishima grinned, revitalized by the realization. This was great . Maybe it had been the morning training that had killed it, maybe it had been Bakugou’s compliment. Either way, he felt invincible . This, now, this was the high his grandfather would talk about for hours. The feeling of indescribable power, as if he were on top of the world—

His euphoria quickly took a plunge into his stomach when he dodged an enemy arrow by just a hair. (Phew, almost proved Grandma right just now.) Acid burned at his throat, at the base of his tongue, but instinct and muscle memory drove him forward without hesitation. Invincible? Okay, that had proven to be a stretch, but the fear which once consumed him from within was caged now. Not quite tamed, but under control, disallowed from interfering with his abilities.

He could do this. He could prove himself. He could make it out alive.

He was brave.

He would be worthy.

~***~

Child soldiers? Really? Of course, considering how early Shoto’s training had begun, it was hard to be surprised. However, try as he might to sever any feeling but rage, Dabi couldn’t help but to feel off-put by the number of boys fighting when some couldn’t have been older than sixteen, tops. They were few and far-between, sure, but the frequency of it was still… something.

Take that blond kid over there. Any moron could see he wasn’t any better than a scared, wet cat, hissing and spitting and swiping its claws in a feeble attempt to keep the hands reaching for it at bay. Dabi could have sympathized with him, empathized even, if he so cared to. The kid had spunk, sure, but he also couldn’t have been older than his own brother. There was only so much one  could pick up through training and experience. Time was always the best teacher.

Dabi slammed the flat of his blade into the helmet o a nearby soldier and allowed his horse to finish the job.

He had to admit, though, the blond cat-kid was putting up one hell of a fight against his soldiers. He was taking out as many as he could, more than Dabi could have feasibly expected of him despite being damn near surrounded. He wondered, was cat-kid powered by fear? Or by anger?

Cat-kid didn’t drop the fury for even an instant, but Dabi could still sense something else in him. Whether it was the glint in cat-kid’s eye when he received yet another fresh cut or the nuance of his posture, it was clearer than the day that cat-kid had more volatile emotion than what reasonably belonged on the battlefield.

Hmm. But did he care? No, not particularly so. If someone wanted to volunteer for service, then they could be slaughtered like rams, nevermind their age. Cat-kid would just be another casualty, another life vanishing into the ground like a drop of rain in a storm. Nothing special.

Dabi moved on to other things.

~***~

“Fuck.” Katsuki spat both word and dirt from his mouth. A thin trickle of blood from his forehead ran down the bridge of his nose. His dusty cheeks were scraped badly from many narrow dodges and missed hits, his hands raw from gripping his sword.

He was in a pinch, that much was for sure. He wasn’t above admitting it, but like hell was he going to look for help. He was good. He was strong. Stronger than all of them. Only Hapa could match his skill, as much as he hated to admit it at times.

But, as one violently jerked elbow dug into his side, knocked him off-balance, and into another enemy’s rough shove, he was faced with a realization that almost physically pained him to admit: he needed help. He really did. At some point, he’d grown overconfident with his prowess. If he wanted to survive, he had to kick himself down a peg and admit he needed better defenses.

He seethed, teetering on the edge of seeing red. They were backing hi into a corner, taunting him with the fact that if he tried to hack his way out of it, he’d lose something along the way. Grinding his teeth, Katsuki adjusted his grip on his sword and assessed the situation.

He was out of cannon range, so he couldn’t be saved by dumb ol’ fuzzbrain. His midget friend was too small, too stubborn. Peony was a joke to even consider. The rest of the trainees, well, he hadn’t bothered with the most of them, and quite frankly, a load of them were probably shit in this situation anyway. There was nobody within earshot whom he could work well with, but a ways away, he could see it, that shock of spiky red hair bobbing in the distance. Bingo.

Katsuki near grinned as he impaled the first soldier immediately between himself and Kirishima, purposefully ignoring the loud clang! an enemy hit made against his back and the quick burst of pain that came with it. Well, they sure were trying their darndest not to let him escape without losing something, but Katsuki sure as fuck wasn’t going to let that be his life.

He crashed (and very nearly burned) his way over to Hairbrain, knowing better than to carve a path of destruction there (but that didn’t mean he couldn’t cut down one or two anyway). “Oi!” he called through gritted teeth, a drop of either blood or sweat rolling down his forehead. “You shitty Hairbrain!”

Before Katsuki had even finished calling out for him, Kirishima whipped his head in his direction, that stupid, careless smile plastered all over his face again. Katsuki bashed in the last soldier between them as the redhead ducked behind his shield (scaring the former for a split second before he had time to assure himself, he wasn’t going to hurt an ally, he could trust this dumb, shitty-haired bastard). “Bakugou!” he damn near chirruped, but Katsuki didn’t even care by that point.

Heck, he had a hard time holding in a relieved grin himself. “Shut the fuck up and cover my back, Kirishima,” he said, despite the act that the two of them were already naturally gravitating into that position anyway.

“Understood, sir!” Now this? This felt good. It was comforting almost, to fall into a particular rhythm with someone, to nakedly trust his blind side to them, to know that, as a team, there was no one they couldn’t beat. No more of that shitty fear of death.

That grin scratched its way onto Katsuki’s face, and he let it.

~***~

Denki was not the best with repetitive tasks, especially ones that involved a lot of staying in the same place. His mind liked to wander, and he’d often slip up and do something really stupid. Except this time, there was no Mama to sweep him up and bring him back home when he wandered too close to the water’s edge. There was no Jirou to tackle him and keep him from blowing his head off when he zoned out for two seconds too long.

It helped a bit that cannoneering required sharp focus and aim to keep as many allies out of the blast as possible, but that slowly became insignificant as the motion of lighting the fuse and bracing for the explosion happened over and over again, grinding away at his sanity and focus. His brain was being filled poff by poff with cotton balls, and his muscles were starting to tingle with boredom, begging him to do something else.

Except he couldn’t.

He was stuck stretching repeatedly, each less satisfying than the last, begging his brain to keep going, keep going, keep going, please please please don’t wander off on him he had to keep this going he wasn’t going to die here not with all the thing he had left to say not with this dumb war keeping him from saying them.

His weary eyes scanned the thinning crowd in front of him, kept on sharp lookout for anyone sporting an enemy emblem, but strangely enough, he caught nothing. Was the madness finally getting to him?

A hand clapped his shoulder, and Denki had to actively hold in a sharp cry of surprise. His flint cracked together rapidly in his trembling hand as he pivoted to meet the stranger. However, he was met with an amused laugh, which both confused and terrified Denki when he saw the man, whose armor told him general (but whose behavior told him dickweed older brother).

“Hey, kiddo,” the man said, sounding oddly chipper for someone supposedly leading a battle. “We chased them off. You’re not gonna find any more Huns in that crowd, so you can calm down now. Chill out, get some dinner— we got a fresh shipment of greens, and deer roam the woods nearby, so there’s that to look forward to. I’m assuming you haven’t eaten since dawn? Kid, it’s close to sundown. You should really get something in your stomach. Can’t have you fainting on your first day.”

Denki stared at him, most of what had just been said going in one ear and out the other. He wanted to pay attention, he really did, it was just. Hard. Right now. Too much had happened, but at the same time, not nearly enough. Too much to process, listening was hard. Fainting was Haku’s thing.

The man didn’t even try to hide his amusement at Denki’s facial expression. “Yeah, first battles’ll do that to you. Just get something to eat and a good night’s rest.” He patted the blond almost fondly, which was weird on its own because this man was shorter than him seriously was this the general? But alas, Denki’s thought processing power had dipped into the negatives by then, leaving him incapacitated a little while longer as the stranger sauntered away.

~***~

Momo wanted to scream. So much had gone on that day, and she had held it in for so, so long, to the point where all the stress piling up in her gut now threatened to claw its way out through her throat.

But, of course, she couldn’t. She had to control herself, there were people nearby, there was no way she could scream without someone coming in to check on her. In her vulnerable state, she just couldn’t do it, she had her secrets to keep, secrets she’d drag to the grave.

Every fiber of her being trembled with stress as she paced circles around her bedroll. The one creature in all of existence to whom she could allow herself to break down sat in its center, blinking calmly at her with a cricket perched on her shoulder, patient as ever to let Momo get it all out.

“I just— Uraraka, there was so much happening and, and it was hard not to let my thoughts get in the way of everything, I—…” Momo half choked, her heavily cracked voice threatening to crumble beneath the weight of her words. She stared at her hands, scraped and cut and dirtied from the day. Thoughts raced through her mind, but each was too fleeting to catch.

Overwhelmed, her knees buckled beneath her, and she fell to the floor, face cradled in her hands.

Immediately, claws scratched and scraped against the ground as the tiny dragon galloped over, worming her way onto Momo’s lap with startling force and settling there. “Shhh,” she whispered as the girl’s tears threatened to spill over. “It was hard, I know. Take the time to articulate your thoughts properly and give names to all that you’re feeling, then we can focus on getting through it, okay? Trust me, I’m a dragon.”

There had been an iron clamp clenched around her chest, but Momo hadn’t noticed it tightening until all at once, it was loose again, and for a moment, she could breathe perfectly. Then her sinuses swelled from all the sniffling and crying, but that didn’t hurt. She pulled her face out of her hands, ignoring the dirt stained tears left behind, and let all the nebulous unease settle down.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about that woman from the ambush,” she admitted, her voice thin and hollow, almost defeated, and they let the words hang in the air for a while. “She knew so quickly, so easily who I am. I just couldn’t help but to think about that in battle. Did anyone we fought today know, too? Surely if they knew, then it’s only a matter of time before someone here figures it out.” She closed her eyes and let out a steady breath. “Why hasn’t anyone here figured me out yet?”

“I don’t know, so I can’t tell you that,” Uraraka admitted, not unkindly, “but I’m sure you’ll make it out of this mess just fine.” Deku cricket chirped in agreement, bouncing up and down as he did so.

The silence that followed went on for what felt like eons. Momo sighed, scooping up Uraraka so that she could crawl back to her bedroll and put the lantern out.

“See you in the morning, Yaomomo.”

Chapter Text

Aizawa stared long at hard at the eldest Todoroki brother, tied up and glaring back from the corner. “You know, Touya,” the older man slowly began, “You wouldn’t be in this position had you found us first.”

“I suppose,” Touya loftily replied, shifting slightly in his constraints. “But I hadn’t found you first, now had I?”

“Fair enough,” Aizawa agreed. “I can’t pretend I know why you’re here—”

“Really? Because to me it seems you knew I ran away.”

“—but what little I do know of Shoto’s familial relationships makes me wonder how hard you really would have tried to find us.” Aizawa’s voice gaining force as he talked over Touya, his indifferent stare hardening into a leer for a moment. Only when Touya blinked and averted his gaze, Aizawa continued. “You ought to be put to death for treason.”

Again, the younger man was silent and still.

Aizawa let out a quiet sigh. He felt a little bad almost, telling the kid everything so bluntly, but then again, he had never believed in sugarcoating. Luckily, there was one more thing on his side. “But ultimately, your fate does not rest in my hands.” He was not in charge.

Touya raised his head with an eyebrow half cocked, looking almost as if he was trying to pass his hope off as merely curious apathy.

“What happens to you is up to Shoto or Hawks’s discretion.” Aizawa crossed his arms, held in the urge to yawn, and shifted his weight as he got ready to leave. “I think your chances are all right.” He turned around and started walking, but he could have sworn he heard Touya say something, so he turned around and said, “What was that?”

Touya blinked twice, then shifted his sights away once more. “Nothing.”

Yeah, whatever. He’d take that.

~***~

Haku had improved a lot since the first day of boot camp, and Shoto was pleased by that. However, it was making for a much tougher fight than he had anticipated, even if it was just practice.

Shoto grit his teeth as he ducked to avoid one of Haku’s kicks, leaning dangerously forward as he practically jumped back up, and jabbed at the boy, only to be met with nothing but air: Haku had ducked.

He didn’t even have time to blink, it was so quickly followed up with an attack. Shoto instinctively blocked it with right arm, but by then Haku’s knee was headed straight toward him, so he had to push his arm away and jump back to dodge it.

Shoto had an instant to breathe as Haku regained his balance, so he took a deep gulp of air and immediately plunged back into the battle. He brought his hand down hard and fast upon Haku, and he nearly got that perfect duel-ending hit in on the base of his neck. However, Haku threw his own arm up to block it at the last second (and their eyes met for but an instant). Not to be deterred, Shoto swung at him again, but he was blocked yet again.

Haku’s bangs fell in front of his eyes, but Shoto could still sense the fire burning in the boy’s soul, nearly distracted by it as Haku lunged, forcing Shoto to dig his toes to hold his ground. The latter let out a strong, controlled breath, blowing Haku’s hair away and forcing him to blink. In the second he had to inhale, Shoto gained on the boy, but that was lost in an instant when a strong hit to the gut knocked all the wind out of him.

The next thing he knew, he was lying on the grass, choking as he struggled to breathe. But, even if that hadn’t left him incapacitated, his shoulders were pinned to the ground, his hip and gut left immobile from a heavy weight, and his legs trapped in a tangle. Haku’s face was just centimeters from his own, and Shoto could feel his hot, steady breath brush delicately against his nose and cheeks.

Catching his breath felt just as he remembered it— a vacuum of nothing seemingly lasting for eons before everything rushed back all at once. The first breath he took again had been once been one of Haku’s, the sweet, stolen oxygen giving his lungs life again. It hurt to let some of it go, but it ebbed as he swallowed still more and more, enough to fill even his hollow chest. His breathing slowed, slowed, slowed, as he inhaled and exhaled, inhaled and exhaled, falling in sync with Haku.

Maybe there had been something flashing in Haku’s grey, catlike eyes as Shoto’s blurry, blackened vision began to clear; maybe he had hallucinated it. Bangs veiled both their faces, so it was hard to tell either way. Shoto blew the hair away, and his eyes met Haku’s.

The pressure eased on his shoulders as slowly, slowly Haku sat back and released him. Blood rushed back into his arms, making them prickle and allowing him to stir. He brushed the hair out of his eyes for good, detangling his legs from (as he now lately realized) Haku’s as the latter got off him awkwardly, almost embarrassedly. Shoto sat up, still keenly aware of his breathing, and found himself face-to-face with Haku’s helping hand.

It took a moment to process the offer, but Shoto tentatively took it. “Thanks,” he muttered quietly, though not out of ingratitude: his vocal cords were coarse and sore and his breath was full of gaps. Anything more than a whisper was near impossible. He brushed himself off as he stood, but instead of continuing to madly try to figure out what the hell happened to him, he said to Haku with all the sincerity he could convey, “The way you beat me was impressive.”

Haku flushed red and seemed to duck away. “Thank you.”

Shoto opened his mouth to say something, anything more just to keep the moment from turning awkward, but before he could, a solid, familiar hand clapped his shoulder.

“Shoto.”

Immediately, the boy in question pivoted around, instinctively frightened even though he knew better, it was just old Aizawa, he had nothing to worry about. For a second, he had to swallow his instincts and slip on a neutral mask once more. Aizawa’s expression, on the other hand, never wavered.

“Oh, did I scare you? Apologies,” he grunted, and he removed his hand. “Your brother has a lot to say, and absolutely none of it is directed towards me. I’m assuming you would like to spend some quality time with him though, no? You should go do that.”

Oh brother . His brother. Whom he hadn’t yet had the opportunity to talk to. Shoto tersely nodded in response to Aizawa, and even briefly turned his head to signal his goodbyes to Haku, but the other boy had already slipped away.

Oh.

Okay.

That was fine too, he supposed.

(The air seemed just a little colder, a little less gratifying now.)

“Is there something the matter?” Aizawa asked, his indifference so much less than perfect.

Shoto shook his head. “It’s nothing,” he mumbled, and to him it really was. It didn’t matter that much, really. “I’ll just get something to drink first.”

To wise old Aizawa-sensei, it didn’t seem quite such, but all he did was raise an eyebrow at him anyway. “All right then,” he said, sounding as if he knew of something going on.

Shoto chose to ignore it, and he dashed off to the nearest well, where Hawks happened to be zoning out. He drew a bucket, and Hawks came back just before he could dip his hands into the water.

“Oh, I wouldn’t drink out of there if I were you,” the older man commented, turning around to point at the bucket.

Shoto stared at him. “Why not?” he asked.

“It’s got cholera,” Hawks easily answered, crossing his leg.

“Oh,” was all Shoto could say, and the older man laughed.

“Just kidding,” he said, almost sang, not even trying to hide his snorts.

“Oh!” Shoto said again, and naïve as he was, cupped his hands and took a drink right then.

“It’s actually full of piss,” Hawks absently clarified, propping his chin up on his elbow, and Shoto choked as he frantically tried to spit the stuff out anywhere that wasn’t back in the well. Alarmed, Hawks jumped up and patted his back to help clear his lungs. “I’m kidding, I’m kidding!”

“HAWKS, WHAT THE FUCK,” Shoto spat, trying yet again to regain his breath (only this time was more painful), but the older man just sheepishly shrugged.

“I didn’t think you’d believe me,” he said. “I hear piss is pretty salty, you know.”

Shoto glared at him, wiping away the dribble with the back of his hand before flicking it at the man. If looks could kill, he’d be a murderer. (Not that all the soldiers he’d killed in battle didn’t count as people that were murdered but that was different.)

Without a word, he stalked off to the tent holding his brother.

~***~

After the conversation he just overheard, Dabi knew both Hawks and Shoto were just outside his tent, but he honestly had not been expecting to see Shoto first. He thought he’d speak to an adult like Hawks (though maybe Shoto was the adultier of the two, if Hawks was the same as he remembered) before getting to see his baby brother, but apparently not.

Of course, it didn’t really matter , but there was something about looking up and feeling all his dry sarcasm shrivel on his tongue when he saw his wide-eyed little brother standing there instead that was, well… something. (Dabi had never been the best with describing feelings and emotions. That had always been more of Fuyumi’s gig.)

“Touya,” Shoto said, plainly and simply. It was framed neither as a question nor as a statement, but rather, in some strange purgatory between the two that left one wondering what it really meant.

Dabi clicked his tongue in mild distaste. “I don’t much like that name,” he loftily replied. “Too sentimental. Call me Dabi now.”

Shoto’s expression shifted subtly into something a little more muddled. “Dabi,” he said, as if testing the flavor of the name on his tongue. “All right, I guess.”

It was hard for Dabi not to smile to himself as Shoto settled down in front of him. It wasn’t that he disliked his given name that much, but it had all the wrong memories attached to it to make him comfortable using it anymore. “So,” he said as nonchalantly as possible, “Old dad is dead, huh?”

“Yup,” Shoto half-muttered.

Now Dabi could crack a grin. “Thank fuck and good riddance.”

Yeah, he had been the one to burn the old man’s immediate part of the battlefield to ash and bones, and he had been taught to do a good job when destroying the enemy, but damn did it feel good to hear some external validation. For all he knew, maybe he’d been misinformed as to the bastard’s location and accidentally cremated hundreds of simple, rankless soldiers. That had been rather bothering him in the far depths of his conscience (though does the death of one terrible man justify it regardless?).

Shoto sat silent for longer than Dabi had anticipated, and the latter feared there had been some crazy redemption arc that went on at home while he was away and their father wasn’t such a bitch anymore. But rather than responding to Dabi’s comment, Shoto instead said, “Do you think those burn marks are gonna go away after a while?”

Dabi relaxed and allowed himself to settle for a bit. “Eh, maybe,” he said, and he would have crossed his arms had he not been restrained. “I don’t mind them either way. If anything, it’ll keep the girls off my heels, I hope.”

“Why’d they scar you anyway?”

“I asked them to.”

Shoto blinked at him, and Dabi didn’t blame him. Not just because he was the child most deeply affected by their father’s affinity for the flame, but also because it sounded like a damn stupid thing to do anyway.

“What can I say?” Dabi shrugged. “I had to break away and earn the title cremator somehow. No better place to start than by allowing the ‘enemy’ to burn my own self.” He paused to let his brother digest all that for a second before deciding to prod at the boy himself. “I’m guessing that scar of yours hasn’t won you any brownie points?”

“No. No, it hasn’t,” Shoto flatly answered.

Dabi pretended he didn’t notice Shoto’s lack of interest. “You haven’t told your soldiers about some brave escapade that you earned it on? That’s just tragic, bro.”

“I don’t lie to my men.”

Dabi opened his mouth to ask why when— ah. Right.

Not everyone was like their father.

(’Course, the man probably hadn’t lied about major things, but it sounded like something he’d do. At least, to Dabi it seemed so.)

“Well,” the elder said with fake mildness that just barely masked snippiness, “If not here, then maybe back home it’ll help. I’m telling you, little bro, it could look really cool if you wanted it to. Besides, one of us has got to get married after this war if we’re going to keep the family line going because we both know Natsu ain’t getting any.”

Shoto looked confused for the first second of him talking, but when it clicked in his mind, he choked on seemingly nothing and shifted away, his face slowly beginning to flush.

Gotcha. Dabi grinned, leaning in. “Oh? Someone caught your eye?”

“No,” Shoto replied, a little hasty.

“You’re not looking at me.” Dabi blinked owlishly, though he supposed he looked more like a cat with his smile.

“That doesn’t mean anything.”

Dabi cocked his head, feeling more like an older brother again. “But you always shift away like that when you’re embarrassed,” he half-crooned. “C’mon, now, you can tell me! I’m your brother! You know I care about— ack!!”

In that moment, Shoto’s temper popped, and Dabi had to fend off an irritated slap. Dabi snorted with delight as his brother got at least one hit in (he didn’t have much in the way of self-defense all tied up, after all), and the younger Todoroki glared at him.

“You always were such a cute kid,” Dabi said fondly, ducking yet another hit.

“Stop that,” Shoto snapped as his brother wriggled away.

“No!” It was too much fun just to mess with his youngest brother again, to rile him up just a bit. Dabi narrowly dodged his brother for the third time, but he just couldn’t get away quite fast enough, and when Shoto swiped again, he nicked a bit of the tender, still-healing flesh of Dabi’s cheek. The latter drew in a sharp breath, startled at the pain, and Shoto immediately froze.

Dabi clicked his tongue a couple times, carefully readjusting his posture as Shoto slowly withdrew, and he stuck his tongue out to catch a thin drip of blood that seeped out from the delicate seam. He swiped his tongue up to clean his cheek, and he tried his best to ignore both the metallic aftertaste and the wide-eyed stare of shock coming from his brother.

A long while passed in silence, with Shoto slowly calming down and Dabi looking stubbornly away, until at last, it was broken.

“Why’d you choose the name Dabi anyway?”

Dabi allowed himself to settle into a slouch. “Oh,” he said, with the barest ghost of amusement pulling at his face. “I don’t know, really.”

Liar, liar, tongue caught fire.

“It’s short and catchy,” Dabi idly explained, sounding almost whimsically musing.

Fire, fire, all around.

“Catchy?” Shoto asked, visibly puzzled.

Kill them all without a sound.

“Yeah, I guess.” Dabi shrugged best he could. “It also rather fits what I’d been planning to do. Which is, y’know.”

With one last look, eyes gone blurred, see the shape of one now burned.

“Give Dad a proper send-off. He always said he wanted to be cremated after he was gone.”

Smoky haze block out the day, regretful mourns choke now away.

When he finished, Dabi looked up at Shoto again, feeling a little pleased and letting it show. His little brother stared at him with an unreadable expression, the cogs and gears of his mind undoubtedly turning, but eventually closing his eyes and accepting Dabi’s explanation. Their father had always been a source of hate and resentment for the two of them especially, so he wasn’t all that disturbed by his brother’s reaction.

“So, Sho-sho—” Dabi said after a spell, and his brother sent him an irritated look.

“Don’t call me that,” he snipped, but Dabi ignored him.

“—Not gonna kill me?” he finished.

His little brother shifted around until he could sit cross-legged. “No,” he finally decided.

“Why not? I have committed treason, after all,” Dabi challenged, not even sure himself why he was pushing it.

Shoto shrugged. “This is war,” he said. “There aren’t so many consequences.”

Dabi was itching to smile at that point, but he wasn’t sure his fragile skin could take the stress. His brother was a good kid, even if he said weird stuff that may or may not be beyond his years at times.

One down, one to go.

~***~

It was evening when the little halfling commander came out of his brother’s tent.

Hawks stretched and yawned, glad at last that the kid was finished with his visit. Why, the sun had turned into a semicircle on the horizon, it was so late now. He wanted a turn to chat with the guy. The old man said he’d get one later, and apparently, it was later now.

Hawks trotted over to the tent and poked his head inside. “You’re still tied up?”

Touya gave him a deadpan glare. “Hi to you too, Hawks.”

Hawks pushed his way inside and plopped down in front of the burnt man. “I can’t believe your brother didn’t let you out,” he said, cocking his head at Touya. “He seemed like a good kid.”

“Ehhh,” the other man replied, tilting his head back and forth in a “it depends” kind of way. “It’s okay. He’s always been a bit of a shy one when it came to the rules. He’s never sure when to break them. Sho-sho is a good kid, though. Yeah. A good kid.”

Hawks straightened out his gaze and began picking at his fingernails. “Anyway, should I help you out of this?” he asked, pretending to miss the way Touya rolled his eyes.

“Oh, no, no, no, it’s fine, trust me,” Touya said, his words dripping with sarcasm. “I’ll just hop around with my arms pinned behind my back, just as soon as I can figure out how to stand up again— yes, you should help me, you overgrown pigeon! My arms are killing me.”

Hawks dropped his mask of indifference with a grin, quite delighted to discover Touya’s personality for himself. “Well, I’m sorry. I just thought you might like to try to get out on your own. Figured you’d like the challenge.”

“Yeah, well,” Touya grunted as he shifted away from Hawks. “I’m pretty sure you can see I’d burn my arms off with these ropes.”

Hawks absently tossed his knife up and down for a second, then leaned in to inspect Touya’s arms. Lo and behold, about half the skin was still a fresh and shiny baby pink, as if a massive sheet of scabs had prematurely cleaved off just recently.

“Hmm, well, that doesn’t look too bad to me,” Hawks replied, mirroring Touya’s tone. He deftly cut the ropes binding the other man’s wrists, just shy of grazing the delicate skin. “I think you could have done it if you tried.”

“Thanks, I didn’t need my forearms either.”

Hawks simply hummed and freed Touya’s ankles. The latter nodded in grudging thanks as Hawks sheathed his knife again.

“Anyway,” Touya said, changing the subject. “Don’t you think it would be cool to just shove some gunpowder in your mouth and light it on fire?”

“You’d die,” Hawks answered without missing a beat.

Touya grinned, rubbing his wrists. “Yeah, but it would be one hell of a way to go out, don’t you think? It’d have a lot of flair to it.”

Hawks crossed his arms, amused by his peer. “I suppose, if you think the gods of the afterlife are going to send someone without a head anywhere other than hell.”

“You really think I’m going anywhere but there? Hilarious,” Touya snorted in reply. He saw cross-legged and cross-armed facing Hawks, an eyebrow raised. “Did you think I was restrained for the hell of it?”

“Well, maybe I thought you enjoyed it,” Hawks quipped, folding his arms across his chest with a grin. “I haven’t met you in ten years; how would I know how you’ve grown since then?”

Touya stared at Hawks for a minute before shaking his head in disgust. “It’s stuffy being in a tent all day. Let me out.”

“With pleasure,” Hawks said. He cracked his knuckles as he stood up, then offered a hand to Touya as the latter stretched. For a moment, Touya just looked at it, but eventually, he pushed it away and got up on his own. Hawks shrugged it off.

The moon was low in the sky when they were out, and the night breeze was refreshing after the suffocating stillness of the tent.

Hawks put his elbows up and cradled his head in his hands as he stared up at the stars. Next to him, Touya crossed his arms yet again and tried to find what Hawks was looking at.

“You knew my dad, right?” Touya said at last.

Ah. Here it goes. “Yeah, I trained under him a while. He seemed like an okay guy. Hella short temper and hella high standards, but outside of military work, he was almost tolerable maybe half the time,” Hawks answered truthfully. He sent Touya a sidelong glance and found the other man staring out at space with hardened eyes and chewing his lip as if mulling something over. “I’m not saying it was good that you killed him the way you did. That was pretty fucked up from what I hear. But I can’t say he didn’t have it coming if he really had treated you and your siblings the way he did me. I at least kind of asked for it.”

“But you are saying it’s good that I killed him, then.”

“No,” Hawks immediately clarified. “I’m not assigning moral weight to anything you’ve done recently. I’m not assigning moral weight to anything. I’m just saying, your dad wasn’t the best person out there from what I could see.”

Touya halfheartedly snorted. “Well, neither am I.”

“Neither are you,” Hawks agreed, dropping his arms back down to his side. “Let’s go back inside.”

“No, I want to look around for a while,” Touya said, letting his gaze fall from the sky and wander the earth. “I want to become familiar with the faces of the place so I don’t get mixed up when going up against Kurogiri.”

“Kurogiri?”

“The third of the Hun commanders,” Touya explained. “He hangs over Shigaraki’s shoulder like some kind of ghost, so you’ll kill two birds with one stone if you get to them first.”

“Who were the other two commanders?” Hawks asked, genuinely curious. It hadn’t occurred to him that Touya would have information on the people running the enemy show.

“There was Kurogiri, myself, and a girl named Toga,” Touya said, counting off each one on his fingers. “Don’t ask how Toga and I got to be commanders if we were just joining. I don’t know either.”

“All right,” Hawks said, nodding as he looked away. “Wouldn’t you get in trouble if they found out you were leaking all these enemy secrets?”

Touya laughed, dry like a desert wind. “There aren’t so many consequences in war,” he replied. “Besides, they don’t have to know.”

“Fair,” Hawks agreed, then began to saunter away. “Let’s go, Touya.”

“Wait,” Touya said, but Hawks hardly slowed down.

“I thought you said you wanted to take a look around,” he called.

“My name is Dabi now.”

Now Hawks stopped.

He pivoted around, his elbows once again up to support his lazy head, and stared at the eldest Todoroki son. He studied the latter’s stone serious expression for a moment, waiting for him to break, to laugh and say, “I’m just kidding, why would I want to be called that? Only a villain would name themselves something like cremation.”

But it never happened. The other man remain as serious as ever, gazing unflinchingly back at Hawks. Waiting, waiting for his request to be honored.

It was hard for Hawks not to laugh as he said, “All right then, Dabi. If that’s what you want.” He just had that habit, to laugh in spite of everything, in the face of everyone. It got him in trouble a lot when he was younger and even got him looks sometimes these days, but now, as in right now, it was okay because Dabi just smirked right back at him.

Normally, Hawks liked to be a chatterbox, purposefully negligent of his company’s mood in favor of being able to say whatever he wanted. But normally, he only had conversational partners during the day. Nighttime was a different story. Nighttime was a time for his soldiers to recover, to process the events of the day (or shut them out), to compartmentalize if they wanted (or import the events into their identity), to discuss their feelings with friends (in whatever definition of ‘feelings’ they chose). Normally, Hawks liked to ignore what everyone else was doing, but this wasn’t something he liked to touch. His soldiers appreciated the time; it was good for morale.

So tonight, abnormally, he and Dabi took a walk amongst the men left awake and saying nary a word. Dabi got to observe the soldiers, and Hawks got to observe Dabi. It worked out pretty perfectly.

When they reached one particular campfire, they stopped from afar. Shoto was approaching the five soldiers clustered around the fire together, and both men knew better than to influence whatever was about to happen. They weren’t doing this to socialize, after all.

Whatever Shoto said first was too quiet to catch, but everything else was audible if they tried.

“Oh! The dog tags!” the redhead cried, leaping to his feet. He picked up a bag of something and handed it off to Shoto. His embarrassment blended with sobriety, which allowed him to look Shoto in the eye as he nodded very seriously. He presumably explained something— he was too quiet to hear— and Shoto nodded, his expression unreadable.

He then turned to one soldier in particular, a black-haired one who sat up remarkably straight. They exchanged a few words, after which the black-haired soldier stood up to continue the conversation once Shoto began to leave.

“Hey!” Shoto’s second-in-command Captain Bakugou snapped after him, his words quite clear despite the distance. “Don’t forget to go the fuck to sleep at some point!! I don’t want to deal with shitty sleep-deprived—”

The redhead immediately stood up, grabbing hold of Bakugou’s arm to keep him from going after Shoto and the soldier. “Hey!” he said, along with some other things that weren’t said so loudly.

Eventually, Bakugou sat back down, a sour expression clearly etched onto his face, but he didn’t seem to actually care what Shoto was up to with that other soldier.

“That was strange,” Dabi commented, and Hawks paid him a look. “There was something weird about that other soldier, the one who followed Sho-sho. You could see it too, right?”

“He looked delicate, yeah,” Hawks agreed. “Sat up really straight.”

“Yeah, yeah!” Dabi said, crossing his arms and squinting into the darkness. “I wonder what they’re going to do.”

At this, Hawks joined Dabi in staring into the dark after the young commander and his soldier. “Wash the dog tags, if I’m not mistaken. Aizawa mentioned it was something he did with another soldier when they found the remains of Endeavor’s army. Didn’t tell me which soldier, but it’s the same one each time.”

“Is it now?” Dabi grinned. “I’m gonna have to make fun of him for that later. And that other kid, what’s up with him? Like, he leaves his friends to do what? Get prune skins, slivers, and touch blood?” He glanced at Hawks, mischief gleaming in his eyes. “I think something’s going on there. My little brother and— oh man, I’m gonna have to make fun of him for this later.”

Hawks raised an eyebrow, his fucks level hovering just between zero and one. (Which was admittedly not at all unusual.) “Do whatever you want later, but let them clean in peace at least.”

“Yeah, all right.” Dabi stretched and yawned. “Wasn’t planning on it anyway. I’m gonna crash.”

“Cool,” Hawks said, and that was that.

~***~

At some point after the fire began to die, bitch-captain Bakugou left to get a proper night’s rest. Which made sense to Kyouka, since he had been bitching about Todoroki staying up all night to clean dog tags not long before. Maybe Kirishima’s calming lecture had lulled him to sleep or whatever. The reason didn’t matter that much to Kyouka. All that was left now was just herself, Kirishima, and Denki. None of them had said a word since Bakugou left.

Denki yawned, as did Kyouka moments later, but she didn’t want to get up. The last dying embers of the fire still glowed with good warmth, which helped with the cooling nights. And Denki was a comforting presence, good to cuddle with when she became too sleepy to have impulse control.

Across from them, Kirishima stared into the fire, seemingly wide awake. Briefly, Kyouka wondered what kept him so, but it was hard to formulate thoughts so late at night.

Denki yawned again and rested his head upon hers, and suddenly, Kyouka froze.

It wasn’t so hard to think clearly anymore, not when she was shocked awake by a heart attack. But he didn’t move and she couldn’t move, and now she was stuck in a situation that she didn’t actually mind, except for the fact that she was awake.

Kirishima glanced up at them but said nothing about their position.

Already, her shoulder was starting to hurt, supporting the dead weight of Denki’s head, and still, neither herself nor Kirishima had exchanged a word since Bakugou left. Heck, they didn’t talk much in general despite being in a friend group together.

Kirishima seemed to notice this at the same time as she did. He tossed the stick he was fiddling with into the last dying embers, walked over to her, and, with an uncharacteristically serious face, said, “We should put him to bed. It’s late.”

“Put out the fire first,” she reminded him. “Can’t have camp burning down. Who would collect our dog tags then?”

If Kirishima felt anything from Kyouka’s comment, he didn’t show it. “Knowing Denki, he’d sleep through it,” he said, and Kyouka had to suppress a snicker.

She pushed the blond away just enough so that she could at least kind of pick him up as Kirishima kicked dirt over the embers and stomped out whatever stubbornly remained afterward. Kirishima then opened his arms to take Denki from her, and she obliged. Not because she wasn’t strong enough to carry someone his weight, no; she had deadlifted more during boot camp. It was just that he was half a head taller than her, and it would have been cumbersome to half-drag Denki back to his tent, especially if they were trying to let him sleep.

The trek back to their quarters was again wordless. Both were too focused on navigating the dark to say anything, lest they magically wake their friend who frankly slept like the dead.

A lantern was lit once they tucked Denki in, however, for both Kyouka and Kirishima knew the other were far from sleepy. For a moment, they simply sat cross-legged in the tent with Denki between them, adjusting to the idea of their now-inevitable late-night manly, manly bonding time. Their only qualm was that neither of them knew what to talk about or how to start talking about anything with each other.

It was Kirishima who spoke first, which made sense considering his fondness for such late-night talks.

“There’s a girl waiting for me back home,” he said, which genuinely caught Kyouka off guard. She looked at him quizzically, but he was staring at the lantern, at the floor, with unwaveringly unreadable eyes. “Her name is Mina, and she’s brave and bright and she stands out, not just with her personality, but with her looks as well. Kind of hard to miss pink hair, you know.”

He sounded detached, as if he had no real investment in this girl. He seemed to be merely regurgitating information about her, and Kyouka couldn’t help but wonder what he was getting at.

“She lived next door to me for all our lives, and when we were younger, we’d meet at our property borders and play. I’d teach her to read, and she’d teach me to take risks, though neither of our lessons ever stuck well in each other’s minds.” The corners of his lips turned up a bit. “We were friends, just friends. We still are— nothing more, nothing less— but that’s not what Grandma wants.”

“She wants you to get married,” Kyouka said, the words slipping out before she could stop them, and Kirishima looked at her.

He nodded.

“Can’t say no to Grandma, huh,” Kyouka commented.

Kirishima shook his head. “It’s hard, yeah. I want to be nice to Grandma, but she makes it kind of hard when she keeps pushing me to do stuff before I’m ready,” he said with a sigh. “I don’t even think it’s a good idea for me to marry Mina. Aside from some other things, our personalities just aren’t compatible in that way. She scares me sometimes. I’m pretty sure we’d just both end up miserable.”

“Concubines,” Kyouka said, but Kiri shook his head again.

“No thanks.”

Kyouka could see the problem he was describing. She had several cousins who knew their husbands before they got married, but they hadn’t spent enough time together to realize that despite their matching horoscopes, something else, something more tangible just didn’t line up between them: their personalities. Often, at holidays, she would overhear those cousins vent amongst themselves about their woes as a wife less liked than the concubines. Kiri was a nice guy to not want to make this girl live like that. They both deserved better than that.

“I don’t suppose this is the same grandma who had your ancestral tablet made before you left for war just so that they wouldn’t have to wait even a day to have your funeral?” she asked.

Kirishima grimaced. “The one and only,” he replied, and Kyouka let out a low whistle.

“I know I said this before, but your grandma is a dick, Kiri.”

“I guess, but I don’t think things would have turned out like this if she wasn’t.”

“Elaborate.”

“She wanted my cousin to go to war instead of me,” he answered without missing a beat. “If she were nicer, I’d have been too scared of disappointing her wishes to insist on coming for myself. And then, when I got here, I decided to go by the name we shared, our last name, to push myself to live up to her standards.” He hummed. “I wonder if she’s surprised I’m still alive.”

Kyouka grew bored of fiddling with the hem of her tunic, so she reached out and began gently combing her fingers through Denki’s matted hair. “I can’t say I can relate,” she admitted. “I am the cousin sent to war in place of the firstborn, and I don’t have anything waiting for me back home except for chores. But you know, I kind of envy you.” Her fingers stopped on a knot she couldn’t easily detangle, and she pretended she couldn’t feel Kirishima’s surprised stare on her. “My life is just made up of ripples in a pond. I’m not saying that’s bad, but going off to war has been the most exciting thing to happen to me all my life, and that’s just fucking depressing. At least you have domestic drama to keep you occupied; me? Best I get are the crows. When I go back, that’s all I’ll have again. You’ll all be gone again, and I’ll be left for the birds.”

Whoops, that got more emotional than intended, she thought immediately after. Embarrassed, she bit her lip and focused again on Denki.

They sat there in silence for all of a minute, the only sounds accompanying them those of Denki’s snoring and the wild outdoors. And then, subtly, as if he half hoped she wouldn't hear him, but at the same time just above the concert of crickets outside, Kirishima said, “He likes you, you know.”

Kyouka sat there, stunned, but trying not to let it show. She forced herself to look up at Kirishima. What? He does? she thought.

But I’m lying to them.

Her jaw parted slightly, for she could feel confessions rising up in her throat, but in their fight to come out, nothing happened.

How can he like someone he doesn’t know?

Now a lump blocked her voice.

Kirishima flicked his eyes up in her direction for all of a second, but if he saw even a fraction of what was whirling through her mind, he didn't react to it. Instead, he stood up, picked up the lantern to guide him back to his tent. Kyouka stared helplessly at him. Did he really mean to leave here here now, all alone with Denki and her thoughts? (Though, with a reveal like that, they might as well be the same.)

It was pretty cold in the tents at night, but it was warm until Kirishima left with the lantern, and all of a sudden, Kyouka was left sitting in the dark and freezing all over. In just a second, she was left feeling hollow and weightless and cold.

And terrified.

Absolutely terrified.

For now, after her long acceptance of the unrequited, her world was flipped upside down, and the possibilities of it scared her. Kiri wouldn’t lie to her. Kiri wouldn’t lie.

She just didn’t know what to do with these feelings of hers anymore except block them out and push them down.

So she did.

Chapter Text

Only three things cannot be hidden for long.

~***~

Touya was used to waking up before dawn to get his chores done, and just because he was Dabi now didn’t mean he had to break all his old habits. It was coming in handy now, as the elder Todoroki sat sipping tea near his brother’s tent, the chilly morning air nipping at his bare skin and making him shiver. The world had just begun to stir, but most everything was still too tired to make a sound. The atmosphere, in a word, was frigid.

The tent flap rustled behind him, but Dabi didn’t bother turning around before he said, “Nice to see you awake at this hour.” He took a sip of tea without breaking eye contact, then grinned as his younger brother, still disoriented from sleep, squinted at him. “I mean, cat-kid sounded like he knew what he was talking about with you needing to go to bed at a reasonable time.”

Shoto stared at him blankly. “Katsuki?”

Huh. So that was his name. Too bad for him that cat-kid was too much fun. “Yeah, whatever,” Dabi continued, waving off his brother’s interjection. “Anyway, was he talking from experience there? Like, the dog tag thing, has it happened before with that one guy?”

It took a second for Shoto to register the fact that Dabi was waiting for an answer. “Haku?” he asked, still staring dumbly down at his brother.

Was that a first name? Didn’t realize he had it in him good job, kiddo. “I don’t know, bro; I just saw you guys last night doing the thing with the dog tags and stuff and found it kind of funny,” Dabi drawled, and he noticed Shoto’s expression subtly shift: his eyebrows furrowed slightly, his eyes narrowed as they shifted off to the side, and a corner of his mouth tugged downward almost imperceptibly.

“It’s just a thing we do,” he said. “We’ve both gotten better at cleaning, and he always keeps track of the time so that we can get adequate rest anyway, and it’s just courtesy. I don’t think Mom would want to see our names come home in blood.”

Dabi internally sighed. While yes, Shoto had a perfectly valid point, he was also missing his marginally less valid point. (Of course, now was as good a time as any to be dramatically reminded of Sho-sho’s piss-poor ability to pick up on hints.) “Mom does deserve better, you’re right—” (He didn’t feel it right to say everyone who died deserved better; the words latched themselves to his throat and would not let go, so he moved on without them) “—but I don’t know. I just thought there was something to the way you interacted with… Haku, was it?”

Shoto slowly pivoted so he could leave, and Dabi knew then that he hit on something . Brilliant.

But—

“Oh, you’re both here. Fucking superb, you dumbass little Todorokis.”

Hawks manifested at that exact moment. Dabi scowled as the shorter man cracked that ditzy grin at them, but to no avail.

“Remember that meeting I told you guys about yesterday? The one where we talk about the information Dabi has to formulate our next move?”

“No,” both Shoto and Dabi answered in unison, but Hawks kept babbling about it anyway.

“Yeah, that’s happening now in the strategy tent. You guys are kind of important.”

Dabi side-eyed his brother. Foiled yet again, but there would be other days.

~***~

The sun

~***~

Guilt was a fish that swam in Kirishima’s belly. He didn’t feel it so much these days— the atmosphere and camaraderie helped a lot— but it still snuck up on him sometimes, in ways he somehow never foresaw.

The source this time?

Jirou.

(And Denki too, to some degree, since it was his secret that had been betrayed while he was asleep.)

But really, as he watched Jirou pull Haku away when Denki joined the group, Kirishima would say he pitied Denki more. He definitely had mixed feelings, but then again, it was a messy situation, all thanks to his dumb impulse.

Denki’s expression slipped from excitement into confusion as he watched their other friends walked away, and Kirishima watched him with the hollow nausea of guilt whirling in his chest. Telling Jirou was a mistake.

He seemed skittish today, and his attempts at acting normal made him unnerving. Kirishima knew exposing Denki’s crush would be a hit to the face, but he had thought Jirou would have taken it in stride and adapted to it by now. That’s what he always did, after all; Jirou usually kept a clear head despite the circumstances.

Kirishima sighed. His internal monologue weighed too heavily on him; he didn’t even realize he was done packing.

“You okay, man?” Denki asked. Kirishima bit his tongue as he turned to see the blond just in front of him, a look of concern on his face. “You seem out of it today. I mean, you’re normally the one who gets so excited about moving and all, and now you’re just. Silent.”

Kirishima relaxed slightly and allowed a wan smile to form, but the guilt wrung his heart out like a rag, and that kept him mute.

“Is it the dog tag thing?” Denki continued, still blocking Kirishima’s path. (Not that it mattered, of course; he hadn’t moved a muscle since the blond began talking.) “’Cause look man, I know a lot of guys died, and it sucks to be the first to see everything, but you’re doing the right thing by picking them out. Trust me, man, we’ll make it through this.”

“I told Jirou.” Maybe, just maybe, two impulse decisions would cancel out, and they’d be able to resolve everything like proper, mature adults, and then things would be better than before he said all that and it would all be okay—

The betrayal sank into Denki’s expression, and it began to seriously look as if it wasn’t going to be okay. “You did?” Oh, heck.

Because really, why had he ever thought any differently? Jirou was not the one who apologized; he was the one who sulked. And now, with Jirou too embarrassed to even be in the presence of Denki, what hope was there now of the two of them making up?

Kirishima nodded slowly. He had to make up for his mistakes, and that wasn’t going to happen if he lied.

Luckily, Denki merely deflated and took a few steps back. “Oh, well, then. I guess I have to deal with this now,” he said, but it was devoid of all bitterness, as if he were simply musing on the thought. “Though, it would probably be for the best if I waited until he calmed down, don’t you think?”

While the majority of Kirishima was very relieved he hadn’t lost a friend in what probably should have been the betrayal of the century (right under that burnt guy telling everyone where the enemy base was), a tiny little part of him was confused as well. “You’re not mad?”

“No,” Denki said, and Kiri finally awakened his muscles so that they could join the rest of the soldiers, packed and ready to go, assembling. “I was going to tell him when the war was over, but I think this will work out too. Better to let him adjust to the idea of it first.

The two fell into a silence. It wasn’t tense or awkward or anything Kiri could describe, really; however, there was an air of nonchalance, of contentedness and acceptance. No, Denki couldn’t do anything about Jirou now that he knew, but he’d taken it in stride and was going to work with it, it seemed.

It calmed Kirishima immensely, quite honestly. For a moment there, everything had seemed all but irreparable.

Before he knew it, they were on the road again, their destination a vague, nebulous something in their mind. After the surprise and adrenaline highs of the initial ambush and the significantly more controllable second battle, perhaps this third fight would be the one where the sky, the earth, and the blood smeared on both would all begin to blend into one in everyone’s minds. Long were they out of their freshly minted stage; though it had been barely a few weeks, enough had happened that they began to feel the creeping weight of their status.

Kirishima remained with Denki for this ride, knowing his friend may well be alone if he chose to hang out with Bakugou yet again. (Would the man miss him? Kiri rather hoped so, since it was starting to look like they had a good dynamic going.) No matter how much Denki insisted he would be okay, Kiri couldn’t do that to him. Bro code.

Both said nothing, however, leaving each to his own internal monologue once more.

Kiri found his mind wandering back to Jirou the night before. He looked like he wanted to say something at the end of it, what was he going to say? It was hard not to wonder, especially when Kirishima had been the only one unloading his thoughts.

The redhead glanced up and ahead at Haku and Jirou, laughing and chatting side-by-side on horseback. What lie could Jirou be hiding?

Was Haku a part of it? The two were close, after all. Or were they part of the same secret?

Thoughts swirled in the depths of Kirishima’s consciousness, unable to be grasped or articulated, even in the incomprehensible mess that was a mind. There was something about their friends Kiri couldn’t quite say was normal anymore, but he just figure out what.

~***~

The chilly mountain air was made far more biting by the early mornings of the waning summer’s last breaths. Momo felt its sting keenly, shivering until her teeth chattered as the dragon Uraraka slithered up her bare arm and curled against her warm neck.

“Hey, Yaomomo, I’ve been thinking,” the dragon softly said, still shifting into a comfortable position. “You’d be all right if Deku and I stayed behind this time, right?”

Momo stilled, a fresh shirt once halfway onto her head now lying half-forgotten on her lap. Uraraka quieted as well, certain that this was the natural next step in Momo’s growth. She just wasn’t sure how to break it to the girl without scaring her. She gulped.

Maybe she should have brought it up sooner than the morning they were planned to ambush Shigaraki’s men.

“Yeah, I should be,” Momo answered, just before Uraraka could continue, and the latter could hear she was reluctant to answer like that.

Concerned, Uraraka said, “I know you can do it. It’s been weeks since I’ve had to whisper advice in your ear. You know what you’re doing like the back of your hand by now. All I am by now is just a crutch to your greatness.” She put a paw to her chest to feel the tiny dragon heart beating within, exhaling as if to impart its will and greatness to Momo. “I believe in you.”

Momo chewed her cheek for a moment. “You taught me that already,” she said, her voice a little brittle from the morning mountain air, then added, almost like an afterthought, “with the arrow. I know I can do it.”

Uraraka slid off Momo’s shoulder and watched the girl’s expression harden into determination.

“I’ll do you proud, Uraraka,” she said, quickly donning her armor, and she swept her hair into a topknot just as she began to leave.

“Wait!” the tiny dragon called, and Momo looked at her from behind the bangs she hadn’t yet brushed out of her eyes. Uraraka held her breath sharply in preparation— she hadn’t done anything like this in a long, long time— and yanked a single, chestnut scale off her body with her teeth. It had been loosening ever so slightly for the last few days, which meant no blood was spilt, but those facts did not detract from the meaning of the gift.

Momo knelt down to Uraraka’s level, accepting the scale with a soft, graceful smile and scratching Uraraka just behind her nubby, little antlers as thanks.

In the background, Deku chirped his warning for the time, and Momo paid the dragon a final few pats on the head before slinging her sword around her waist and walking off to war.

Uraraka rubbed something out of her eye in hopes that maybe, it would stop her from crying. “Our little baby, off to destroy people.”

~***~

The moon

~***~

Kurogiri knew his time would come eventually.

Had he known he would fall at the hands of a Todoroki? No, not specifically, but he wasn’t surprised. Privately, he’d mistrusted that Dabi, knowing he had strong ties to the other side of the war, but the master’s decisions were not to be questioned.

Of course, he wryly thought as Shigaraki ran an anxious hand through his hair, blissfully unaware of the upcoming ambush as Kurogiri was predicting, nothing is for certain yet. He wasn’t even sure in the reliability of his predictions. Was he being dramatic?

If he was going to be killed by one of Endeavor’s spawn, so be it, but he wanted to at least look them in the eye in the moments before.

He cracked his knuckles lightly once he heard the first cannon roar nearby, jolting Shigaraki with its suddenness. “It’s time, Shigaraki.”

The man in question trembled as he turned to face Kurogiri. “Now?” His voice was hardly more than a breathy croak in his growing excitement.

Kurogiri nodded, stepping outside. “Break a leg.”

~***~

Itsuka sighed through her nose, staring out her window as the sunset faded into dusk.

Composing poetry was hard when half the words you wanted to use in rhyme would drastically alter the meaning of the line if mispronounced. And cutting it all down to three words a line? These classical studies were getting out of hand, she thought.

But challenging as it was to compose, poetry was also engaging to read. Itsuka still wanted to leave a mark somewhere, of her thoughts and feelings condensed into the beautiful lines crammed with meaning.

Her half-spent candle dripped wax onto her hand, and she winced. All right, it seemed prudent to stop with the daydreaming and get something out.

Even if it sucks, she reminded herself, swirling her brush through the ink. She stared at the empty page before her, her brush threatening to drip and mar its purity, her mind bubbling with countless variations of a first line she didn’t like quite enough to put down.

Just get it out. But her hands were shaking.

What was she scared of?

The pyre burns bright beside me

Itsuka blinked; hey, now that wasn’t half bad. Could be a bit denser, but it had potential. Maybe—

(Something— something had to be done. They had been the ones with the element of surprise, yes, but clearly that wasn’t going to win the battle for them against this many enemies.)

—she could rework it later. Nothing was ever published without at least some editing first.

I see its reflection in the lake

(She coughed, her breath seemingly never returning fully as she tried her best not to choke on the airborne ash and smoke. Her eyes darted around the landscape, nerves gnawing at her performance without that familiar presence at her back.)

Once you got started, it wasn’t so hard to keep that momentum going. The jumbled thoughts fighting for a piece of the chaos in Itsuka’s mind had suddenly lined themselves up neatly, feeding her hands the inspiration to put to paper.

Flickering, wavering, its lonely light

(The battle had worn on for hours now. She couldn’t lie; her muscles were screaming and sore. She had long lost count of the heads she had cut off. Yet, she was but a lonely, little island amongst the sea of enemies. It was nothing short of a miracle that she had come this far this near unscathed.)

Itsuka paused for a moment, propping her chin up with her elbow and watching the dusk settle. A cold breeze blew in, signalling the first dip into the night.

Upon the water replaced the harvest moon

(With a startling boom! , she remembered the cannons. Now, her gaze soared upward, to the rocky mountain with its sides wet from the long melted morning frost. Maybe, if she could just knock something in there loose…)

Oh, that reminded her, the moon festival was approaching. Waking up tomorrow at dawn to help reap what had been sown didn’t sound quite so bad anymore, but she still wanted to finish the poem before heading off to bed. Just one more line, and that would be enough.

Who hides behind clouds

(She took a deep breath, and, ignoring the unintelligible screaming all around her, lit the fuse and took aim.)

Yes, that was it.

Itsuka put down her brush, satisfied for the evening.

~***~

What had Haku been thinking just now? Firing off their last cannon into the mountainside? Had he gone mad?

Shoto had to bite his tongue to keep himself from scolding Haku right then and there, he was so taken aback by his anger. He watched helplessly as the cannon head crashed into the nearest peak, raising a visible cloud of dust, but for a moment, it seemed that was all.

Then came the low rumbling, and soon, both sides had all but stopped to search for the source.

Shoto glanced back down at Haku. He was grinning. Visibly exhausted, but grinning.

The dust billowed up on the mountainside, the low rumbling growing louder and louder until the first sharp cracks of rocks tumbling down could be heard.

Rockslide.

Shoto’s body moved before his mind could even think up the decision. Before he even realized it, he felt in his throat his voice calling out to Haku (but he was drowned out by the thundering), and he swept the other boy up and into his arms and ran with him. They were not exempt from the tumbling mountain; they couldn’t stay for much longer because as long as they were in range of the enemy, they would be crushed by boulders.

No. Shoto couldn’t allow that. He ran and ran as fast as his legs would carry him; he ran until his limbs were leaden pistons, churning and churning without feeling, each step pounding into the dirt with earth-shattering force. He stopped even thinking— if Haku had said anything at all since getting picked up, Shoto couldn’t hear him— his only existence was the rush of blood ringing in his ears and the dry, painful breaths he took without really feeling them.

And then, collapse.

Shoto fell to his knees, just scraping the edge of the torrent of tumbling rocks, not even noticing all the soldiers immediately crowding around the two of them. His whole world had become the one he now cradled, Haku, but why was he feeling like…?

Something warm and wet trickled onto his hand, and at first, he thought it was sweat. However, when he tried to wipe it away without looking, he brushed up against something different.

He didn’t get it at first, but glancing down, time slowed down. Suddenly, he could feel his heart slam against his sternum, its beating roaring in his ears.

A crimson stain, still dark and spreading. An arrow shaft.

He felt Haku bleeding into his arms.

Shoto’s heart stopped.

~***~

and…

Chapter Text

"Haku!" Jirou immediately yelled, running up to him far faster than Shoto could have feasibly expected from anyone who had spent several groveling hours in a battle. "Haku," he repeated breathlessly, nearly collapsing right alongside the captain, and for a few moments, that was all either of them could do: breathe.

"Jirou," Shoto began, but the boy turned to stare at him so abruptly, he forgot what he was going to say. (Though, something told him he wouldn't have gotten a word in anyway.)

"Captain, please, let me take him to the medical station," Jirou blurted out, "I'm sure there are many others in far worse condition than Haku, and I've taken care of him before, I can do it, so please, Captain—"

"No," Shoto cut him off, tightening his grip on the unconscious soldier in his arms. "I can do it." And maybe he'd check up on the other casualties while there, but for the moment, all he wanted was to save just this one.

~***~

The world was still bleary and dancing with stars when Momo opened her eyes again. She blinked several times, still struggling to observe her surroundings as her vision faded back in a little more each time.

The tent flap rustled open, and she whipped her head in its direction, her mind still too muddled to consider what it would mean. She rubbed the sleep from her eyes as the rest of her mind finally sharpened into perfect focus, all the while only vaguely aware of the chill that stung her almost everywhere.

“So it’s true.”

Momo’s hand fell to her lap. Vision recovered, she looked up at the person who had just spoken, and her stomach flipped down into her gut when she saw the captain staring at her coldly. She glanced around.

What happened to her? The last she remembered was firing the cannon at the mountain, then struggling to breathe for a moment as someone swept her off her feet. Then, her memories cut out, and for all she knew, she could have been brought to…

Wait, was this the medical tent?

Her heart leapt up to her throat, her hands instinctively pulled the thin blanket up to her chest to hide the bindings given to her (she should have known something like this could have happened and worn her own anyway!), but it was already much too late. He had already seen her for who she was. He already knew.

She sent him a pleading look anyway, hoping that perhaps the long hours spent of them opening up to one another by the light of the moon would somehow, in some way, repair some of the trust she knew she had just betrayed. “Shoto, please. I can explain.”

He stared back at her, his expression unreadable and making her feel very, very small. “Then explain, woman.”

Momo recoiled slightly, hurt by both the way he looked at her and his choice of words. "My name is Momo Yaoyorozu. I joined to save my father. He's old, far too old to fight in a war, so I…" She trailed off, faltering at the seeming indifference coming from Captain Todoroki. She hung her head in shame, her face burning with shame and embarrassment. "I didn't mean for it to go this far."

There was pause enough for the lump growing in her throat to feel as if it were choking her. She would not cry. She would not cry.

"I see," he said.

"It was the only way," she choked out. "Please. Believe me."

"This is high treason. The punishment is death."

A single tear slipped out unbidden. "I understand," she whispered as her gut twisted.

He extended a hand out to her, making her throat tighten with emotion. She took it, and immediately he yanked her to her feet and pushed her outside. She stumbled for a moment, the sharp rocks cutting into her feet, and she clutched the threadbare blanket like a lifeline against the sudden stares and sharp wind. Now everyone knew, but still, for a second, she dared look up and saw Shoto send Aizawa a questioning glance.

The older man said, "If you think it's right." Next to him, Hawks merely shrugged with indifference.

Shoto looked back at her, and she shivered under his steely gaze. A hand went to his waist and the blade that rested there.

"Captain?" a soldier, Tetsutetsu by the sound of it, called out, uncertain.

But the captain made no move to draw his sword or even move. "Because you won the battle for us and saved all our lives today, I'll spare yours. A life for our lives. You will put on your clothes, and you will ride home immediately under the excuse that you can no longer fight due to your injuries. I don't want to see you back here ever again. Understood?"

There was another pause as Momo struggled to process her pardon.

"Do you understand, soldier?"

"I understand," she said, keenly aware and wholly overwhelmed by all the eyes trained on her.

"Captain."

"Captain," she belatedly added. "I understand, captain."

Todoroki grunted and pushed her back into the tent, into privacy. Momo was simply left in a daze.

Her uniform was laid, neatly folded, next to the bloodied mat, most likely thanks to Kyouka. Uraraka wriggled out from the folds of her clothes and looked up at Momo. "I'm sorry I wasn't there to help when you got hurt. What happened just now, that was so lucky," she said, pulling Deku out with her.

There was a distinct pause as Momo turned to stare at the entrance, disbelieving weightlessness overwhelming her. "Yeah," she said at last. "It was."

Uraraka looked at her with concern but said nothing.

~***~

Kyouka knew the second she saw Captain Todoroki walk into that tent that Momo was in trouble. She knew Momo’s charade was up, and for all the trouble she knew her best friend would be in, she blamed herself. She should have insisted, should have caught the captain and pried Momo out of his hands to care for her herself before he left her in the dust.

But instead, she had been left staring at him leave as she stayed collapsed on the ground, too weak to even save her best friend, her kindred spirit, from certain doom.

She tasted the bitter bile as it stung the back of her tongue, watched as the captain yanked Momo out of the tent to show the world who she really was, but she also saw that look he sent the old man Aizawa, that look of confusion. A request for guidance. And when none was offered, he spared Momo.

However…

Kyouka bit her lip as she paused rolling up her sleeping mat for a moment. Did she truly dare go after Momo on her own? After returning Uraraka and that cricket, she had no one left in the army who knew of her secret. It would be a dangerous journey, especially since sneaking out was already losing her time.

In the end, it was not even she who made the decision.

The tent flap opened with a sharp snap, and Kyouka’s stomach leapt into her throat as she turned to see Kirishima walk in, his expression set in stony determination.

“We’re coming with you,” he said, and in his tone there was no room for negotiation.

“What?” Kyouka said anyway; her voice shot up an octave from nerves— the first it had happened in all her time in the army— but it hardly mattered anymore.

“We’re coming with you,” he repeated in the exact same fashion as before.

“We?” Kyouka dubiously asked, already certain of the direction this was going. (But she pretended she didn’t and finished packing her bedroll anyway.)

“Denki is coming too,” Kirishima declared, and when Kyouka opened her mouth to object, he continued: “No arguments. We both scraped together what we need, and we’re leaving with you the second you’re finished.”

Kyouka closed her mouth, painfully aware of the sharp click her teeth made when she did so. Well, that answered her question, did it not? It almost made her want to laugh and cry at the same time, how perfect this situation would be had the one person she so desperately wanted to avoid was locked in to come along.

No arguments.

It was her fault Momo had been exposed to all of the army. If she had just insisted— as she should have as her best friend— if she hadn’t been so naïve so as to think this wouldn’t have happened, then none of this would have happened. Momo simply would have been hailed a hero for taking out the final, massive enemy wave standing between them and the emperor, and maybe, just maybe, they could have finished their business in the army and gone home to their regular lives with no one the wiser. But instead—

Kyouka slung the last of her luggage over her shoulder, just hard enough to hurt when it hit a neck muscle and distract her from her own toxic thought process.

“All right,” she said, and she marched right on outside to meet Denki tending to all of their horses. She ignored him as she loaded up Kouda and took back his reins, but that became hard to do when he decided to march up to her and take up her entire field of vision.

He flicked her between the eyes. “You okay there, dude? Your eyebrows are starting to look like ol’ Bakugou’s—”

“—like they’re making out, I get it,” she sourly snapped, furrowing her brows further and shooting Kirishima a baleful glare for bringing him along. “I just.” She sighed.

“…Feel a little overwhelmed right now?” Kirishima offered, replying to her glare with a “it’s good for you so deal with it” look. “Yeah, I get you.”

Denki immediately backed out of her sight. “Yeah, I mean, who could have known that Haku was a girl the whole entire time?” he asked in earnest, and his genuinity physically pained Kyouka.

She and Kirishima shared a look, and in that moment, she knew he suspected her as well.

Kyouka grit her teeth, leapt onto her horse, and began to cantor away.

She couldn’t take it. She didn’t have time to deal with this bullshit; she was worried about Momo. Her best friend, so horribly betrayed by the one she loved, sent home in shame instead of given the honorable death in battle.

Now, it was up to her to set everything right, to bring Momo back and to make that stupid blockhead of a captain Todoroki just see the fact that she was a WAR HERO and deserved better than how he had treated her? (And maybe she would have also told him how Momo saw him had she not already known what it was like to be on the receiving end of that kind of reveal.)

“Woah, woah, woah,” Denki called as he and Kirishima ran after her, their horses in tow. “What’s going on here, Jirou? Why are you so—”

I knew what was going on the entire time, Chargedolt,” Jirou snapped as her horse stumbled over a rock. “Her name is Momo, and she’s lucky that that— that— that bitch of a captain Todoroki didn’t execute her on the spot. So now I’m going after her because what happened to her back there was bullshit, and she deserves better than to be sent home in the cold.”

Heavens knew Momo loved that dumbass captain, but by the gods, did he seriously? Have to do that to her? Screw the fact that she wasn’t a he; was he really so shallow that he couldn’t honor one perfect exception to the rules? If saving the emperor by destroying the last of the enemy leaders wasn’t reason enough to break those shitty rules, then by all means fuck them.

Denki leapt onto his horse and cut her off with his own, forcing her to look at him. “So then… what’s all this about? You’re being awfully dramatic about all this. Don’t tell me you—”

“NO, FUZZBRAIN!” Kyouka yelled, for once glad for the sting of the mountain wind excusing the tears she struggled to rein in. Was he really going to say all this to her? As if he was looking for her to break his heart? What kind of idiot… Maybe insulting him the way Bakugou did would drive home his stupidity. “It’s because I’m a girl, too.”

“That doesn’t rule anything out,” Kirishima oh-so helpfully chimed in, earning himself a glare from Kyo. Was his impulse control seriously that poor? Whatever, she didn’t have the time or care to think about it.

“Trust me when I say I don’t swing toward her that way,” she grunted, irritated. “Besides, we all know I wouldn’t have a chance with her anyway; we knew the second even fucking Denki figured out her crush on the captain. If she's going to get kicked out and sent home just because somebody found out she's not got something down there, then I'm going to make it my job to see that she at least gets the recognition deserves.”

She could feel his confused, almost hollow, gaze on her as he asked, in the scratchiest, hollowest of voices, “But why?”

She wanted to scream, to tear her hair out. Idiot, idiot, idiot. What an idiot. She even more so for even liking him idiot idiot idiot. “Heavens above, Denki,” she said, her voice too broken, too tearful to shout at him, “Haven’t you ever heard of sworn sisters? Of kindred spirits?”

“No,” he admitted, catching up and riding beside her, “I’ve never heard of any of those before. But that’s a fair point all the same.” He backed up and let her begin moving again, then fell in step with her. “So, uh… what’s your name?” he asked as Kirishima finally mounted his horse and trotted to catch up with the two of them.

Kyouka sniffled and wiped her nose, already turning red and raw from the cold. “Kyouka. Kyouka Jirou.”

Denki squinted up at the clouds, through the tiny, stinging shards of sleet starting to fall from above, and he smiled. “That’s a pretty name… Kyouka,” he said, half to himself it seemed.

“Oh, piss off,” Kyouka muttered, making it a point not to look at him.

The three fell silent.

“Well, since it seems like half our friend group has secretly been comprised of girls,” Kirishima cheerfully said after a spell, again apparently totally devoid of delicacy (and also strangely unfazed), “does anyone else happen to have any other reveals, revelations, and/or announcements?” When no one replied (Kyouka simply stewed in her anger, and it seemed Denki didn’t want to disturb that), he said, “Okay then, it looks like I’ll have to break the ice then. I’m gay, y’all.”

“We know that, Kiri,” Kyouka snapped, frankly more mad that he took her own confession so easily in stride. “We’ve seen the way you watch Bakugou, wax on about him and his manliness when we have nothing better to do, the way you follow him and bother him every chance you’ve gotten. We know.”

“Well, it’s still nice to say it out loud,” the redhead meekly replied. “For all I’ve told you guys, I could have been bisexual. Or pansexual. Or something else that is not straight.”

Kyouka huffed and flicked Kouda’s reins to get ahead.

It was going to be a loooong trip.

~***~

“All right, all right, all RIGHT!” Present Mic cheered as he entered Emperor Nezu’s room to read Aizawa’s latest report, dated back to just over a week ago. “The time has come to update his imperial maaaaajesty on the whereabouts and goings-on of the, uh…”

Nezu smiled and shook his head good-naturedly as he watched Mic peek back at the wax seal of the scroll so he could remember who it was this time. He didn’t blame Mic, no, not a mite, since there was always a lot going on that it would be impossible to remember everything.

“Todoroki kid, and his assistant captain that you picked out, Bakugou!!”

“Oh, yes, them,” Nezu said fondly. “I quite wonder what they’re up to. Do tell, my dear Mic.”

“Well!” Mic dramatically unfurled the scroll and scanned the first few lines. “Everyone here sucks, get me out of this dump, we met a dumb birdbrain the other day… Oh, he must be talking about General Hawks here. Uh, heading out to the mountains soon under the assumption that Shigaraki’s men are waiting in the pass for us there. That sounds relevant.”

“Indeed it does,” agreed Nezu. “If they’re staking out in the mountains, then that means we may come into direct danger soon.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it,” said Mic breezily, flipping through the rest of the letter. “Says here that— with the help of Hawks and his men, of course— they won a battle against… one of the other Todoroki sons? Man, this is making me curious about their family drama; there’s like zero context for that statement.”

“That doesn’t mean we should grow complacent,” Nezu chided. “Anything else?”

“Hmm… Endeavor’s youngest and his co-captain both received promotions. Blah, blah, blah, more of Shouta being negative…”

Nezu nodded along, listening with but half an ear. He was uncharacteristically silent for the rest of his report, for in his head the cogs were already turning, preparing for the possibility of the worst.

~***~

“…You’re sure Kurogiri and Shigaraki are camped out at the mountain pass?”

Dabi snorted. “Of course I’m sure. It’s part of the shortest route back to the emperor’s palace from here. If they know our location, and if they think we think they’re going to go straight for the heart of the nation now that the armies are scattered— we are the closest to the capital, after all— then the most logical place for them to be would be there. The plan would be to ambush you, and once they were done destroying everything, they could march on over to the emperor’s doorstep and have at him.”

The other men at the table stared at Dabi as he leaned back with his arms folded across his chest. A beat of silence passed, and Dabi’s self-satisfied half-smirk rapidly melted away for a scowl.

“What?” he snapped, waving an arm at them in indignance. “I was told stuff in my time as a commander. I have a brain. You guys think it’s wild that I can figure some stuff out?”

“I’d have thought not,” cat-kid muttered. “Figured you roasted half your smarts away with your face, if you had that much in the first place.”

“Katsuki,” Aizawa warned, and the kid quieted down. Huh. So that was his name. Too bad for him that cat-kid was too much fun.

“Anyway,” Hawks chimed in, “That seems pretty legit, and even if it’s wrong, we can take the time to report back in person, maybe add some more security to the imperial palace for a while. I say take the mountain pass.”

“I guess,” cat-kid grumbled.

“I’m just here to make sure none of you burn the camp to the ground,” Aizawa grunted, “but remember, we’re not taking shots in the dark as to what the enemy is thinking. As absurdly straightforward this may seem to us, that’s only because we have the bigger picture. They don’t know we know, and if it’s advice you want, I’m telling you to capitalize on that.” He mirrored Dabi’s pose, leaning back and crossing his arms.

Then, all eyes were on Shoto.

“Yeah,” he said quietly. “General Hawks is right, and I trust Dabi. We should go through the pass.”

Dabi nodded with everyone else, secretly feeling a little smidge of smug pride in the fact that his little brother trusted him. Not that he was lying to everyone or trying to trick them into walking into their dooms, no! He liked to consider himself a neutral party in this war, just doing as he pleased to get the ends he desired regardless of the means. He might not have had every scrap of information to offer them, but he figured it was enough to be useful.

“All right then,” Hawks said, sounding quite pleased with the brevity of the meeting. “We spend the rest of the day packing, spend the night under the stars, and move out at dawn. If everything goes all right, we should be there by dusk.”

“Cool,” Dabi said, parroting what the other man said the night before, but he did genuinely mean it. To some degree, anyway. The full moon was nearing, so if they fought after sundown, it wouldn’t be impossible to see in the barren, rocky mountain pass. Assuming they weren’t seen first, it could turn out to be an interesting fight.

The other men took a little longer to come around.

“Very well,” Aizawa said, sounding almost a little bored, a little skeptical as he got up at left. He didn’t wait to see anyone’s reactions, effectively declaring the meeting over.

Wordlessly, Shoto excused himself, plodding out the door with cat-kid close behind. Dabi sprang up, ready to follow his brother, but Hawks stared at him.

“What?” the former said with a scowl.

“Nothing,” Hawks replied, though his suspicious blandness suggested something otherwise. “Just, y’know. Maybe cut the kid some slack one of these days. He seems sensitive.”

Dabi cocked an eyebrow. “Which one?” he asked, and he genuinely meant it. He was fairly sure their father beat anything resembling an emotion out of Shoto since he was a kid, and cat-kid only ever seemed angry.

Hawks shrugged. “Both. But, like, just in case something happens that affects him, we should back off.”

“What makes you say that?”

“My inner good and cool uncle,” Hawks tittered with half a laugh, crossing his arms.

Dabi resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Yeah, okay,” he grunted, walking out the door with Hawks’s words already half-evaporated from his mind.

~***~

Evening tea is always nice, Itsuka thought as she sipped tea with Camie out on the pavilion.

“You know, somethin’ just doesn’t seem right about Momo these days,” Camie commented, completely out of the blue, as she set down her teacup.

Itsuka took it in stride, having harbored the same thoughts for quite some time now but never finding an appropriate opportunity to express them. “Yeah, I don’t think I’ve seen her in months.”

“And she loves tea, remember?” Camie said, propping her chin up on her elbow. She furrowed her brow just slightly as she stared at the setting sun, seemingly lost in thought. “I never thought I’d see a day when she’d miss out on an invitation to tea with the two of us.”

“But what else could have happened to her other than what her parents tell us?” Itsuka countered. “Nothing, unless she was taken away to be a ghost bride.”

“Maybe she went to war,” Camie said without missing a beat, only half joking.

“That’s absurd,” Itsuka replied, and she took a slight sip of tea. “She’d have been caught by now, I’m sure of it.”

“Guess that means she’s gone forever then, huh?”

Itsuka swallowed her tiny mouthful of tea and put her cup down delicately. She hadn’t considered that, honestly. “Nah, she’ll be back. She just has to study more, that’s all,” she said at last, and, before Camie could continue on with this conspiracy: “So, have you met your fiancé yet?”

~***~

He couldn’t say he had exactly known that Jirou was a girl, exactly. But from her expression, the way she opened her mouth as if to say something, when he told her about Denki’s crush on her, a seed of suspicion had already been planted. So when she told them just now this secret, the same one that had apparently gotten Momo kicked out, he hadn’t been surprised.

Maybe that was why she was mad at the both of them now. Denki for, well, liking her, it seemed; himself for acting like her confession was something to be brushed off when it so obviously was not.

So now, they gave her all the space they could afford, knowing she needed it. He wasn’t sure what else to do but to tag along with her no matter how hard she tried to lose them in these mountains. He dared not even speak to Denki, her still-simmering temper hiking the tension to a point neither boy dared to snap.

Something poked Kirishima in the side, and he turned to see Denki pointing ahead, mouthing, “I’m gonna try to talk to her.”

Kirishima stared at him. Was he for serious?

Maybe he was emboldened by their newfound discovery and thought he could approach Kyouka again under the lens of his crush. Maybe, maybe.

Kiri bit his tongue to keep himself from saying anything. He dearly wished to, but at the same time, maybe it was best to get that first explosive interaction over with before it putrefied into something truly sour.

It’s good for them.

That was his last thought before his mind turned completely blank, autopiloting as he stared at the ground and let Riot follow her own heart for a while. (Ideally, her heart would also be following his friends, but he wasn’t thinking anymore.)

However, time without any markers of his passing may as well have never happened at all. It seemed as if the instant he fully zoned out, Kyouka was glaring daggers in his direction. If looks could kill, he wouldn’t have even been conscious for it. He blinked a few times, just to make sure he had both feet in the real world again, then glanced upwards to find the sky replaced by the roof of a cave. (Had he really come all this way without thinking?)

He flicked his eyes back to his friends— to Denki, who sat opposite of him from a fire pit, and to Kyouka, nowhere near said fire, and whose death stare dissipated with a blink as she looked away. The dusk had turned to twilight, it seemed, and still nothing had been resolved.

Kirishima bit his tongue and hoped that his friends would make up soon. (He shot a Look at Kyouka again.) They were stubborn, but it was good for them. Even though he had contributed to the mess himself.

But for now, their little corner of the world was stone silent.

~***~

Oh, how quickly the seasons changed. How crisp and sharp the night air was! It stung at Shigaraki’s lungs, made his breath creak and crackle without even trying. It felt like hardly any time had passed since the fateful night he crossed the Great Wall.

The pale moonlight shone down on the remains of most of his forces, buried in the rockslide thanks to that one soldier. Shigaraki stared at it disinterestedly, clutching the rolled up final instructions given to him by his master.

The loss of Kurogiri was a shame, true, but he was ultimately replaceable, as were all the other soldiers who perished today. In the end, the smaller the army, the easier to move and infiltrate it became.

kraklkraklkrakl went Shigaraki’s joints as he cracked them, a nervous habit of his.

If all was as his master taught him (as it should be), then one man should be the stealthiest of them all.

Chapter Text

The world the night Shoto banished Haku from the army, it felt like the fairy realm: hazy, timeless, and altogether like a dream. He lay in the planning tent with Aizawa and Katsuki, staring at its canvas roof as if in a haze; he was trapped in a half-tempted state to reach out and take Haku— no, he had to remind himself, Momo— by the hand and keep him— her— around just because that was what he— she— deserved for saving them all.

Instead, he was left stuck in with own memory of kicking Haku— Momo— playing on loop. Something about it struck him so, leaving him both unable to banish the thought and unwilling to move, both of which visibly dismayed Katsuki.

“C’mon, you shitty hapa, have you only got half a brain left now too?” he snapped. “You’ve been staring at literal fucking nothing for the past half hour. We have shit to discuss, and we can’t even bring anyone else into here because you’re so fucking stuck on moping and shit—”

“Katsuki,” Aizawa said sharply from his nest of blankets on the floor.

“What?” Katsuki barked back, dialing his temper back a peg.

“Get out.”

“What the fuck, old man??”

Aizawa trained his laser-sharp glare upon Katsuki, and had Shoto not been practically incapacitated by his own thoughts, he would have felt that familiar chill of fear crawl down his spine. “I said, get out. What, are you so attention starved that you can’t see the poor boy needs some time to process his thoughts?” he said evenly. “Go bother Hawks or something. I’m sure Dabi’s up for taunting.”  He didn’t even bother to sit up, but it did the job.

Katsuki slunk out of the tent, mumbling something unintelligible all the while.

For a full minute, neither remaining said anything, but Shoto thanked Aizawa silently. He wasn’t sure whether the older man wanted to help or if he simply wanted peace and quiet; hell, he wasn’t even sure about his own thoughts on Hak— Momo’s true identity.

All he knew was that his chest ached with emptiness.

Was this grief? He’d been taught for so long by his father to feel nothing for the soldiers who didn’t make it out alive, but Shoto was nothing if not rebellious, and calling it grief didn’t neatly explain away what he’d felt discovering his father’s death, why he’d chosen to clean all those dog tags with—

His hand tightened around the dog tag in his hand. It was pure and neat, for its owner hadn’t died in battle, but instead he had kicked them away, following orders like nothing more than a trained dog.

“Katsuki would be calling you a bitch right now,” Aiawa grunted.

Shoto flinched at its accuracy. He threw a careful glance at the older man, just in case he had more to say, but it appeared that Aizawa was just going to let him stew in whatever this feeling he was having was. All right then.

And with that, his mind was invariably drawn back to the owner of the dog tag.

Momo Yaoyorozu, née Haku.

If it were grief he was experiencing, Shoto had no idea why. It wasn’t as if he— she had died. H… she was simply sent away. As she should have been.

He closed his eyes and drew in a long breath, but the image of Ha… Yaoyorozu flinching away from him as he addressed her was burned into his mind.

The last time he had felt this badly was over a decade ago, when it was decided his mother was possessed by demons and sent back to her family home with his brother Natsuo, but even then, he hadn’t felt the same as he did now. He loosened his grip on the wooden tag, allowing it to dangle from his finger as he exhaled and opened his eyes once more to stare at the name painted on it.

八百万白.

He narrowed his eyes ever so slightly at the words, making them blur just a bit.

八百万百.

He had been blind. But now that he knew, did it make any difference? The outcome would have been the same had he known Yaoyorozu to be a girl from the start, if not worse. His hollow chest tightened. Sending her away was sounding more and more like a mistake built on nothing but rash thinking by the minute. He had been given the choice, for goodness’ sake; why hadn’t he made the righ—

“So, Shoto. Have you figured it out yet? Or do I have to spoon feed you the information?” Aizawa asked, interrupting his internal monologue with an invitation to talk it out, it seemed. “Because it would be a massive disappointment if I had to feed you the information.”

Shoto’s hand fell back down. (He could feel his heart beating against the gentle pressure of the tag against his chest.) “Have I figured what out yet?” he asked, genuinely confused. That he should have known of Yaoyorozu’s identity the whole time? Had that look Aizawa gave him when he asked for guidance not been “as you think is right”, but rather “don’t do it, dumbass”?

“Oh dear, he’s hopeless,” Aizawa sighed, which only served to further confuse Shoto.

“What? What did I do?” (He could feel his heart rate pick up ever so slightly; what was he scared of?)

“Shoto,” Aizawa said, sitting up at long last so that he could properly deliver his best deadpan look, “what’s happening to you right now is that you’re having feelings.”

The boy blinked once, twice. “…Yes, I know that,” he said, though he wasn’t particularly confident in that statement anymore.

The older man hummed. “Okay, so maybe you’re not that hopeless after all. But do you know what those feelings are?”

“Uhh, grief?” He furrowed his brow and frowned slightly; he had ruled that out earlier, but for the time being, it was the best he could come up with. “Regret? Yaoyorozu did win the war for us with that avalanche.” (It was weird how just talking about Yaoyorozu, thinking about what she had done tied his stomach into knots.)

There was a beat of silence before Aizawa spoke again.

“You know, trusting you to identify your own feelings was a mistake. Almost as big of a mistake as sending Yaoyorozu away,” he said, and Shoto flinched at the old man’s second statement. Was he really going to be making shots at him like this? What was his point? “Seeing that you have the emotional understanding of a teacup, I should have known you wouldn’t have been able to figure this out on your own.” There was another pause and then, more softly, “How disappointing.”

Shoto sat up, gravity pulling on his head in a way that made it hard to think. “Sir?” he asked. Both his hands instinctively convened on his lap; he didn’t even notice that he was fidgeting with the dog tag he still held.

“You’re in love with her. Simple as that.”

It was a statement that should have, by all means, spurned a revelation within Shoto’s heart and soul, opening his mind to the truth in what should have felt like a great weight being lifted from his whole being. Yet in reality, they fell upon his ears like any other string of words that had little inherent meaning to him. They carried no weight, no truth in his mind, and it scared him almost. It seemed like an important statement, and yet…

“I don’t understand.”

His words rang out, hollow as his chest, and hung in the air until it nearly suffocated him.

“What about it don’t you understand?” Aizawa asked, and although it had his trademark gruffness to it, it was also not said unkindly. As if he, the person whom Shoto looked up to the most, had finally explicitly (if wordlessly) offered to mentor him in something he— the poor, deprived child that he was— genuinely wished for guidance.

“How?” Shoto blurted out before he could come up with anything else, and all the words after that felt as if they were stopped by an impenetrable wall between his throat and his mouth. He opened and closed his mouth multiple times, but each time, his question was blocked. Aizawa merely watched him, blinking slowly, not unlike a cat.

It frustrated Shoto that he couldn’t let anything out, no matter how hard he tried, no matter how he forced his vocal chords to produce sound, no matter how badly he wanted to say them, the words would not come out, and now his eyes stung and his breathing had all but stopped as he put all his effort into just trying to speak—

“Cry if you must,” Aizawa said, and even though Shoto knew that the blandness in his voice was merely superficial, that Aizawa wasn’t truly indifferent to the matter, he felt guilty for being mute regardless. “It’s good for you, and heaven knows you need it.”

The tent was cold at night, and there was no sharper reminder of this fact than the feeling of a scalding hot tear as it rolled down Shoto’s face, tear streaks leaving his cheeks that much colder than before. He bent over, his lungs seemingly collapsing from a lack of air, his diaphragm wracking with unborn sobs instead of allowing him to breathe.

It wasn’t just about Yaoyorozu anymore, or this apparent love for her Aizawa claimed he had. The moment he first started crying, Shoto relinquished all rights to the mature, stoic persona he had built up for himself through all his years in training, and the emotions of the last decade hit him and swept him off his feet in an overwhelming tsunami of a realization that there was so much he didn’t yet know, that he was so, so small in this world. So, so lost.

Like a child.

And all those things he’d said and done, all those lives he’d ended in battles just to save his own, all those families receiving the dog tags he’d washed with Yaoyorozu—

Instinctively, he recoiled when he felt a hand upon his back, the tears quelling themselves even though he hadn’t let out nearly enough to feel better. He tensed, the realization hitting him like a heap of bricks— of how pathetic it was of him to do this, to cry over some stupid temporary feelings like some lovestruck teenager obsessed with any passing girl who happened to catch his fancy. He had bigger fish to fry, he couldn’t waste his time or breath on Yaoyorozu, not when he—

“I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know how to deal with crying kids, but if it’s what you need to do, then by all means, continue until you’ve let it all out,” Aizawa said, a hint of awkwardness leaking through his tone. “You’re clearly overwhelmed right now, so just take a moment to calm down, and we can go through everything after that.”

The older man’s words almost made Shoto want to laugh. He really was nothing more than a dumb kid, wasn’t he? Deprived of any sort of childhood, forced to grow into this role far before he was ready, he supposed it made sense. And he almost didn’t want to believe Aizawa’s response to be genuine; was he really not being punished for acting so stupidly and crying?

He wiped away his final few tears as his breathing slowed again, only just then realizing that he’d been clutching Yaoyorozu’s tag the entire time. But rather than get overwhelmed again, the sight of it calmed him; for the first time in his life, he felt truly ready to talk about something.

“What makes you say I’m in love with Yaoyorozu?” he asked, his voice hoarse and raw and quiet from the prior bawling, yet surprisingly level at the same time. “We were only friends.”

“What is love but a more solid, more intimate version of the loyalty you feel toward friends?”

Shoto chewed the inside of his cheek for a moment. He had no counter to Aizawa, but then again, he hadn’t much experience with the emotion in the first place. All he had were the memories already made with Yaoyorozu, of those long night conversations by the streams, of the hours spent talking by the fire. Calling each other by their given names. Poking fun at one another’s horses.

Something stirred for the first time in his hollowed-out chest, and now, he was starting to understand it.

“How,” he asked again, though he had a much clearer picture of the answer now. “How did I fall in love with her?”

“That’s not an answer I have, and even if I did have it, I wouldn’t simply hand it over to you.”

Fair enough, Shoto thought.

There was a pause, for any other questions Shoto might have had he knew he could answer on his own. He had them, he knew them inside, so it would be a waste of breath to ask them aloud. There was just that one little thing that didn’t feel quite so real.

“So…” he said, slowly and deliberately, “I’m in love with Yaoyorozu.”

“Yes,” Aizawa replied, sounding just as matter-of-fact here as he did when he first told Shoto.

“I see,” Shoto said, and it was, to some degree, kind of true. Speaking it into existence rather helped, but it was still a little strange to wrap his mind around.

His sensei, it seemed, didn’t quite believe him. Aizawa rolled over. “Hopeless,” he grunted.

The lonely candle keeping them both company went out.

~***~

No one could sleep that night in the cave, and although Kyouka would later pretend it was because the ground was cold, hard rock, no one was fooled when she got up to stare out the entrance by herself.

Denki opened his eyes and flicked his gaze in the direction of Kirishima, who cracked open an eye of his own. They shared a meaningful look, and the redhead nodded at Denki— do it.

The blond sat up and stretched, his muscles stiff from lying perfectly still whilst also being perfectly awake for the whole night. He glanced at the girl sitting by the mouth of the cave, all alone in the cold, and the world seemed to melt away for a minute.

Do it.

But was that really such a good idea? She needed space, and they had given it to her, but… what if it wasn’t enough? Would she still be mad at him if he walked up to her now?

His arms fell back to his side, and he fought the near-irresistible urge to crack his knuckles. There was only one way to find out.

Kyouka didn't even bother to look at him as he walked up from behind her and took a silent seat next to her.  "Why are you here, Chargedolt?" she sniffled, though her words were not without their venom. Denki winced.

"Well, um," he awkwardly began, shifting his eyes everywhere but her. "Can I call you Kyo?" he blurted out.

"Why?" Kyouka suspiciously asked, though she still didn't give him the privilege of her gaze.

"Uhh… it sounds nice?" he answered,  racking his brains for something other than the memory of " Shows how much I love Sero that I gave him a nickname, you know."

"No."

"Ji?"

"No."

A cold silence fell between the two, going on for a terrifyingly long time before Kyouka finally spoke up again.

"Why are you here, Chargedolt?" She still sounded like she had been crying, but more in that her voice was hoarse and tired rather than fragile and crackly.

"I…" Denki faltered and bit his lip, struggling to put everything he felt to words, just as Kirishima had encouraged him to do. “I'm sorry about being so dumb when you told us you were a girl earlier. I'm sorry about not giving you space sooner.” He let out a breath, feeling as if there should have been so much more to what he was saying and coming up short. “I'm sorry.”

There was a pause, and Denki held his breath out of fear of Kyouka's response. It felt like it stretched out into eternity, and he was sure he was near suffocation when she finally did answer him.

"…I'm sorry," she said, so quietly that Denki was certain that if he had been breathing, he would have missed it.

He exhaled. "It's okay," he began.

"I'm sorry," she repeated, her voice loud and watery this time, and Denki's brain short-circuited. A tear rolled down her cheek and fell to the cold, stone floor with a tiny patter. Then another, and another… "I'm sorry."

Denki exhaled softly, as if doing so any harder would blow her away in the wind. He swallowed a lump forming in his throat; her tears were contagious, it seemed. "What for?" he breathed.

"Being mean to you," she replied, tipping over and leaning heavily on his shoulder. "Getting so mad when it wasn't your fault. Calling you stupid all the time. Overreacting to every little thing you do. For making you apologize all the time when it was my fault, my stubbornness, my pride."

Denki relaxed, slowly wrapping an arm around Kyouka and drawing her close, gently wiping away her tears with his free hand. "It's okay," he murmured, marveling at how warm she felt despite the snow that had begun falling softly just outside. “It’s okay, I don’t mind. I deserved it half the time anyway, for doing and saying all those stupid things.”

She thrashed for a second. “No, it’s not okay! Can’t you see I’m trying to apologize to you for once? Maybe you did deserve it half the time, but that’s another half you didn’t deserve! It’s not your fault you fell in love with a shitty, little liar who—” she caught herself before she could continue, but already, Denki’s breath was caught in his lungs once more.

It was strange. He had known because Kirishima had told him he told Jirou that he liked, well, her, at this point, but to hear her say that she knew was an entirely different story. It threw his heart into the pit of his stomach, a splash of almost tangible fear washing over him afterward.

Kyouka’s grip on him loosened, and he let her go. (Already, he felt that much colder.) She let out a breath, slow and wavering, as if preparing to say something herself.

“Friends?” she asked him after a spell, and from the corner of his eye, Denki saw her shoot him a half-hopeful glance.

Just friends? (He focused on his breathing, on keeping it normal despite the twisting snake of fear in his stomach.) “No,” he decidedly said, and Kyouka stilled beside him.

Be brave, he reminded himself, but don’t be stupid.

“I love you,” he said, his voice strangely warbled and on the verge of cracking. “You know I can’t keep going with just—”

“I’m in love with you.”

That alone was enough to shut Denki up. For the first time in forever, he truly dared look directly at her, just to be sure that she meant it, but she was looking anywhere but his direction, too embarrassed to own her words.

Tears began to fall to the floor again, more thickly than before, but perhaps that was because now they belonged to two rather than the one.

Denki stared at her, his mouth agape, his eyes shedding shameless tears, and she peeked back at him, red-eyed and nervous. Neither could say a word, for it was as if there was nothing left to say now that everything they had been holding in was laid so barrenly out in front of them.

Kyouka sniffled and wiped away her tears, half a smile already pulling at her lips, laughter already bubbling up within her despite continuing to cry.

Denki grinned, his heart lighter than the clouds.

He laughed as he pulled her close to him.

~***~

Dabi was the kind of person who was very easily bored. Maybe it was the apathy, forcing him to search for things to take it away, but that held way too much depth and sappy symbolism and meaning for his tastes. He preferred to think that he was independent to the point of following where the wind blew, wandering off with every whimsy, and seeing the world with such broad perspective that everything after it seemed mundane and boring.

However, if there was anything he still cherished, it was his status as Shoto’s older brother, and the privileges of making fun of him that came with it. He had yet to make fun of the kid when it came to that other kid— Haku? Though apparently, something happened earlier in the day when he wasn’t looking, and Haku turned out to be a girl?

Dabi was at least three percent sure Hawks wasn’t fully sober when he told him because also apparently, they didn’t even kill the supposed girl even though it was, like, y’know, a capital crime.

(Man, he never even spent that much time with Toga in their brief time on the same side, and yet somehow, in some way, he still felt influenced by her habit of constantly injecting ‘like’ into her sentences.)

Wack.

Anyway, he wasn’t completely surprised by that fact anyway, if Hawks was to be considered a valid source, of course. They kept him around, after all, so who was he to judge if they were going to keep a single measly girl alive if she single-handedly wiped out all of Kurogiri’s forces.

Dabi had to admit, that was an impressive feat. Apparently though, they didn’t keep her around regardless of her gender, which he personally thought stupid (since he knew firsthand that women could lead and kick ass just as well as men), but whatever, man! That was none of his business, really.

But, he decided as he spied with his little eye something blond and angry come out of the planning tent, I can make it my business anyway.

“Heeeey, cat-kid,” he said as he sidled up to the kid in question and fell in step with him. Cat-kid, of course, shot him a narrow glare, but Dabi pretended he didn’t notice. “Tell me about that one guy who got kicked out today. Haku? Was that his name?”

“First of all, don’t call me that, charcoal brain,” cat-kid snapped, turning to face him so sharply, Dabi instinctively jumped backwards as if to avoid getting mauled. “Secondly, why the fuck would you care?”

“If you’re going to disrespect your elders by calling them ‘charcoal brain’, then I’d say you deserve your nickname,” Dabi replied. “And also because I just figured it would be good to know about the guy who, like, y’know, saved all your asses when it came to that one fight.”

Cat-kid let the nickname thing go, but he wasn’t going to just dole out information just willy-nilly, it seemed. Dabi wondered if it was because the kid didn’t trust him, or if he was aware of the repercussions of letting the information transpire. Either way, his retort of, “What do already know anyway?” wasn’t doing Dabi any favors.

But he shrugged it off all the same; Dabi prided himself in his relatively chill attitude, after all. “Not much, really. Last night Hawks told me Haku was actually a girl and that you guys kicked her out. I know Shoto’s been in love with the kid since before then. That’s about it, I’d say,” he answered, dropping the information he guessed cat-kid thought he wanted as if it were nothing. “All I wanna know is—”

“Half-n-Half’s in love with the Yaoyorozu kid? That peony? The fuck?” cat-kid interrupted.

Bingo, Dabi thought. “Yeah, kind of obvious if you know him well enough.”

Cat-kid stopped walking, and Dabi had to try very hard not to let his glee show as he watched the gears turn in the kid’s head.

“Huh,” cat-kid grunted after a moment. “I guess. Explains why the old man kicked me out of the tent.”

Dabi raised an eyebrow. “Oh?” More fuel?

“Yeah, Hapa was just moping around like a little bitch on the ground, staring at the dog tag Peony left behind. Annoying as fuck, since I actually thought we had shit to do, but—” he cut himself off and narrowed his eyes at Dabi. “Why would you need all this information anyway?”

Dabi crossed his arms and cracked his neck. “Well, you know, it’s kind of my job to know things. That’s why I’m around, remember? I know things, I tell people, and I get to freeload off the army.”

“Yeah, I fucking guess, but what the fuck would you even know about love?” the kid retorted, crossing his arms right back at him.

Touché, kiddo; I really don’t know anything about the subject, Dabi thought. Really, it’s just for making fun of Shoto—

His mind caught onto the memory of a few nights ago, when he was first settling in and saw Shoto go off with the Yaoyorozu kid to clean dog tags. Cat-kid had been there too, he recalled, yelling obscenities until…

Dabi couldn’t help the sly grin forming on his face, even when it began to tug at his stitches. “Enough to know that you’ve got some of your own for one particular person,” he said, nonchalant despite leaning in.

Cat-kid jerked his backward, his face contorting into a mixture of confusion and disgust. “Wh— what? What the fuck?”

Dabi shrugged as he took a step forward, taking advantage of their height difference to intimidate the kid. “You know, the one that calmed you down the other day.”

Cat-kid furrowed his brow and dug his heels into the ground, making it clear he wasn’t going to let himself back down from the conversation. “Kir— Shitty Hair?” (Don’t think I didn’t notice you catch yourself, Dabi thought, getting more invested by the second.) “I’m not in love with him! What the fuck?!”

“Mhmm, of course you’re not,” Dabi said with mock skepticism. Even though he could hear the genuine surprise in cat-kid’s voice, from the way the kid’s face twisted and faltered, he figured he just hadn’t noticed it yet or knew what it was.

The kid scowled and cracked his knuckles. “The fuck’re you doing right now anyway? I thought you wanted to know about Peony or some shit, go make fun of Hapa or something, I don’t fucking know. He’s your brother and all.”

Nah, his brother wasn’t as fun. Less expressive. Had it been Shoto he was teasing, the kid would’ve stalked off fuming by now. “Too late, kitty-cat. Didn’t you say Aizawa was talking with him right now? Looks like you’re stuck as my replacement for now. Tell me more about this guy, hmm~?”

“No, fuck off.” Cat-kid was posturing up to fight him, but Dabi didn’t feel particularly intimidated. What was the worst he could do? He was just a scared kid, after all. Best he’d done was help captain a bunch of rookies, and that didn’t exactly rank high on the list of things that even remotely set an alarm off in Dabi’s mind.

“Nah,” the man said, but he regretted it in an instant when the kitty-cat kid punched him in the crotch. Dabi seethed and doubled over in pain; all the wind had been knocked out of him, leaving him incapable of skipping after and harassing… Katsuki, had his name been? Whatever he was called, the kid was stalking off now.

Dabi grinned despite the pain and watched him go. For now, he was satisfied with what he had done.

~***~

The night felt cold and unforgiving, hopeless in its sky full of clouds blocking out the moon and stars. Momo suppressed her shivers the best she could, but when all she had to help keep warm was a cold-blooded dragon and a horse’s backside, it was hard to do a good job.

Her stomach was empty thanks to her hasty packing, and her mind was full thanks to the whirlwind of a day that got her in this position in the first place. She would not be sleeping tonight, she already knew. Not while she had all her decisions and their consequences weighed so heavily on her mind.

Iida reached over and nuzzled her shoulder, and Momo sighed as she stared at the roof of the cave. Uraraka snuggled up to her breast, and Deku… well, she hadn’t kept tabs on the cricket since she left him behind for the battle. He was somewhere, probably (she trusted Uraraka to know), but she was too exhausted to care.

“I can’t believe I lost the gamble,” she said weakly at last. “I can’t believe I lost all of them.”

Uraraka fidgeted beneath Momo’s armor, which she hadn’t bothered to take off yet, and poked her cold, whiskered nose against the girl’s neck. “Do you wanna talk about it, Yaomomo?”

Momo listlessly placed her hand atop Uraraka’s head and kept it there. “All I wanted was to bring honor to the household.” Her voice was empty, altogether devoid of all emotion, as if the words were simply being pushed through her airway with no real meaning to them. “And I started… I started to think I could do it, you know?”

A tear leaked out from the corner of her eye. She let it run down her face and leave a streak of cold on her cheek. “Maybe I should have seen that wasn’t going to happen when he kicked me out. Maybe I should have gone home. At least then I put in a good effort and just came up short. Instead of being sent home knowing full well I should be dead and yet not even worth the effort of punishing.”

She sniffled, but that didn’t make it any easier to breathe. Another tear rolled down, just as icy cold as the last, and she coughed to clear her lungs of the phlegm building up from the emotion. “I shouldn’t have come. I shouldn’t have made friends. I shouldn’t have kept following him.”

She sat up again, her eyes burning now, and she hardly noticed Uraraka fall down onto her lap with a solid and unceremonious thunk. “I lost them,” she said. Her voice was like a frozen lake: the ice full of cracks on its uneven surface, betraying the tumultuous waves beneath.

Her reality was sinking in now, and her breathing became choked on the tears that began streaming down her face.

She lost them.

She lost her chance.

She lost him.

Uraraka squirmed around on her lap, but Momo could barely see her face in the blur. She said something, Momo was sure, but she could hardly even hear herself anymore. There was an ache in her chest; a pounding, whooshing, rush of blood in her ears; and a deep, deep well of regret in her soul.

She loved him.

She hadn’t meant for it to happen, but she settled into it anyway. She let her heart fall, piece by piece, into his hands; she didn’t even know at what point it was no longer her own. For all it mattered, it never was.

All she had wanted was to make her parents happy, to do as the wished, and to bring honor to the family name.

She screamed, a wild, harsh thing that left her lungs all in a rush before the last of her willpower crumbled, and she was left sobbing.

Hell would have been kinder than this.

~***~

“ADVANCE! BLOCK! RETREAT!”

Katsuki was mad.

Some would argue that this was the understatement of the millenia, but Katsuki would argue right back that he was merely cranky most of the time, not mad, so fuck you.

Right now, though, he was angry. He could feel the rage steeped in his bones, tearing at his self-control and screaming to come out. And maybe he would have, had he felt the soldiers deserved that. He knew they didn’t, they really didn’t, and that was the only thing keeping him from boiling over.

It was that shitty Hapa that made him so mad.

“TO THE REAR! BLOCK! ADVANCE!”

Morning had come again, and where had he been? Still asleep! The fuck! Aizawa told him that Half-n-Half had to sleep off a lot of feelings before he could function properly, but Katsuki kind of wanted to call the faintest whiff of bullshit on that. Of course he wouldn’t because he knew better than to fuck with Aizawa, but that didn’t stop him from hating the fact that Shoto practically went into an angst coma from kicking Yaoyorozu out or whatever.

Whatever though. He was there to help command and hell if he wasn’t going to do his damn job.

Katsuki scanned the crowd of soldiers, searching for a familiar face. He wasn’t there, Katsuki knew, because there was never missing that shock of bright red hair, but the absence of it upset him for some reason.

“ADVANCE! BLOCK! RETREAT!”

He’d seen the owner the day before, when Hapa brought Peony out for display, but since then? Nothing.

Where Kirishima could be was a mystery to Katsuki. His friends were gone too, the short, moody one and the stupid, blond one. Maybe these things were all related somehow. Fuck if he knew.

He caught the eye of that charcoal brain for a second, and the latter grinned at him. It, of course, filled him with rage because fuck what he’d said yesterday he wasn’t in love with anyone. What the fuck was this guy seeing?

…Well, it wasn’t as if Katsuki knew all that much about love himself anyway, but he scowled at himself for thinking about even entertaining the thought of charcoal brain being right.

Hawks came out and took over drilldown, allowing Katsuki to slink off and nurse his sore throat. He slipped into the nearest tent, and who would be lying there on the ground with that same slab of wood on a string in his hand?

That mixed bastard, of course.

Katsuki ground his teeth; the dumb bitch didn’t even react when he entered right in front of him. Was he dead? Oooor what?

He nudged Hapa with his foot, reluctant to strain his voice, but when still nothing happened, he started seeing red again. Something within him snapped.

“Hey! Fucker,” he barked, but it didn’t matter to him whether or not the other person was listening. In one swift motion, he bent down, snatched the dog tag out of Shoto’s limp hand, and yanked it out of reach when Shoto reacted far faster than he ever could have expected. “What the hell are you doing?

Half-n-Half didn’t answer; there was a fire in his eyes again, but it was fixated upon the name on the tag Katsuki now held.

He was tempted to chuck it out the door, to just straight-up destroy the thing, but he didn’t. Angry as he was, Katsuki still had restraint, but that didn’t keep him from blowing over in other ways. “Huh? What was that?” he taunted, somehow managing to keep Hapa at arm’s length from him.

“Give it back,” Shoto snapped, but Katsuki scowled and kept it away.

“Yeah, or else what? For fuck’s sake, man! Are you living for the dead, or for the living?” He could see the other boy’s eyes darken significantly, but he was on a roll now. “You made the shitty decision, now you live with it!— FUCK !”

That last part was because Shoto kicked him in the shin, temporarily overwhelming him enough to take back the dog tag and shove him back out the door.

He sighed. He was tired.

Katsuki sat down on the dry dirt floor with one knee pulled up to his chest and his arm resting upon that knee as he watched Hawks do drilldown. At least he tried. Unlike that shitty Hapa.

He allowed himself the time to calm down, and his thoughts inevitably wandered off. Much to his chagrin, he noticed they headed straight back toward that shitty redheaded hairbrain.



 

Maybe he wasn't in love. He couldn't say for sure. But maybe he was.

Regardless of whether or not he was, he at least knew one thing: if he had to pick someone to fall in love with, it would have been Kirishima. Everyone else was too dumb or too angsty or too whatever-the-fuck.

He just didn't know what to do with the information now that he had vanished.

Katsuki rested his head on his arm. He was tired of searching.