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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.