Todoroki was flying, elated, wind at his back, hat sitting precariously on top of his head. He’s ridden before, of course, having all but grown up on horse back, yet he’s never soared like this. The thousand pounds of horse thundering underneath his saddle, surging over the ground at a pace Todoroki is sure they’d never been able to reach until now.
His heartbeat roars in his ears at what feels like the same intensity as the hooves that drive them forward, the smile that tugs at the corners of his mouth spreading with every stride. Adrenaline pumps intoxicatingly through his veins as they ride, the familiar smell of gunpowder thick in the air, mixing with the dust picked up by their horses.
He’s done this before, countless times, riding from a crime scene at breakneck speed had almost been part of his job description. Yet if someone had told him 6 months ago it would be as a perpetrator rather than a pursuer, Todoroki might have asked to them to promptly reconsider their taste in jokes.
He catches the sound of a fiery laugh from the rider ahead, black coat billowing out behind him as he turns to make eye contact with Todoroki. His eyes are wild, mouth pulled up into a grin that is somehow twice as audacious as usual. The man pulls back when he recognises his own excitement mirrored in Todoroki’s expression, slowing his horse to a walk and turning, cutting off the path ahead.
They’re both breathing heavily when they come to a stop, exhausted from the exertion of what they’d just accomplished. Todoroki’s body bubbles with leftover adrenaline, smile still pulling at his lips as the other rider walks his horse to stand beside his own, metal of their stirrups clinking as their legs brush.
He’s grateful for an excuse to expend the pent up thrill that bounces impatiently around his body as the man in black leans forward to fist his hand in the scarf at Todoroki’s neck, using it as leverage to pull him forward, crushing their lips together in a kiss more bruising than sweet.
From where they’ve just left, Todoroki hears the low, reverberating sound of an explosion.
If someone had told him 6 months ago that not only after fleeing a crime as an accomplice to infamous outlaw Bakugou Katsuki, he’d be kissing him, feverishly, unabashedly, at noon in the middle of a valley, Todoroki would have asked them to join him outside for an opportunity to punch slander clean off the lips they slid from.
The sun lowers in the sky, its rays still hot enough to heat the clothes on his back uncomfortably as he runs his horse into her highest gait, the man slung over her rump protesting through the rag Todoroki had shoved forcefully into his mouth. He keeps a hand behind him to ensure he won’t lose the passenger to the turbulence, the other tangled in the reins at the base of his horses neck, keeping balanced with practiced ease despite the preoccupation.
Setting sun paints the sky pink, dry grass and loose dirt tinted as it’s kicked up under hooves. It’s desolate as far as the eye can see, aside from the town growing steadily closer with each stride of his horse, framed behind by rolling hills, blanketed in brown, sunbleached grass and dotted green with the occasional shrub. As he gets closer, dusty wagon trails that snake along the side become visible.
When they cross the bridge that borders the outskirts of town he sets his horse back down to a lazy trot, she sneezes, shaking her head, nostrils flaring as she breathes at the exertion. Sundown sends laborers home for the day, the town busier than usual as he walks his horse down the main street.
There’s a crowd gathered on the verandah of the saloon, drinks in hands, working girls hanging off their arms. They make a fuss as he passes.
“He’s gone done it again!”
“What’s that, three this week already?”
“God bless him, keepin’ our town safe.”
Todoroki pays them no mind, pulling his horse up in front of the sheriff's office around the corner, sliding down expertly from the saddle, dust kicking up under his boots when he lands.
The restrained man groans, hitting the ground with a thud as Todoroki rolls him off the back of his horse carelessly. He leaves him there, pushing the door of the office open like he owns the place.
Fishing the piece of paper from his breast pocket, he unfolds it and slides it across the desk in front of him.
“He’s out the front.”
“God damn it, I was just about to hang it up for the day.”
The sheriff stands from his chair, sighs and puts out his half smoked cigarette, waving at the two men playing cards in the corner to attend to the tied up outlaw lying face down in the dirt outside.
“With all due respect Aizawa, that is not my problem.”
“I’ll write out your reward paperwork, but the bank’ll be shut by now.”
“It’s fine, I haven’t turned the last one in either, I’ll visit first thing in the morning.”
Todoroki watches as Aizawa scribbles down the details of his successful apprehension, signing the bottom officially, Sheriff of Yuuei. “You’ll be running out of pockets to put them in soon enough.”
“Maybe I’ll use this to buy a vest with extra space then,” Todoroki jokes, folding the paper back into his pocket after it’s handed to him.
He’s got a hand on the door, about to leave when Aizawa interrupts.
“Oh, Todoroki, before you go.” He flips through paperwork, pulling out a sheet that Todoroki instantly recognises as another bounty notice. “Got this in earlier, could be interesting. Largest reward I’ve seen since Stain.”
He takes it, glancing over the details.
‘Reward for the capture, dead or alive, of one Bakugou Katsuki, better known as Ground Zero. Numerous accounts of murder, pilfering, illegal possession and use of explosives. $500.’
The grainy, badly taken picture in the centre of the page depicts a man around his age, eyes sharp, grin somehow even sharper. His mess of hair threatens to spill out from under his hat. He might have even looked scary if Todoroki didn’t make a living from dealing with men like this.
“If anyone stands a chance against this guy it’s you, Todoroki.”
The saloon is bustling, men and women spilling out onto the verandah to escape the suffocating heat inside, the few open windows not doing much to let the cool night’s breeze in. The crowd parts to let Todoroki through as he walks up the stairs, pushing the swing doors open. His half red, half white hair makes him easily distinguishable, his reputation around these parts only adding to his notability.
It was natural, his unfortunate hair colour. Bounty hunting came a degree tougher when he stuck out like a sore thumb. The bustling saloon is no different.
“Shouto! Over here!” Midoriya picks him out from the crowd, calling him from a table in the back corner of the room. It’s gratefully positioned next to an open window. He’s accompanied by Uraraka, Iida and Jirou, who all shuffle around to make space at the small round table. Todoroki takes his hat off as Midoriya rests a hand on his back in greeting, pulling a chair across for him to sit.
“Sorry, Todoroki, we only just dealt, you’ll have to wait for next game,” Uraraka apologises without looking up from her hand.
“Oh god no, if Todoroki joins we’ll all be out of pocket,” Jirou scoffs, the liquid in her glass rolling as she swishes it around before taking a sip.
Todoroki was atrocious at poker, having only learnt the rules after leaving home, unlike others, who’d been taught from a young age. He had the unreadable expression down pat - that was just his usual face - but when it came to actually playing the cards, he struggled. Despite the amount of late nights Midoriya had tried to drill in the rules and strategies, it never came easily to him. Surprising, as he thought having an educated background would have given him the upper hand in situations like these.
Although, nothing had come as easy as he’d expected since fleeing the Endeavour household.
“I had no intention of participating tonight anyway, thank you.” Todoroki smiles gently at the jab and leans over to take a peek at Midoriya’s cards, who turns them slightly, enabling him to get a better look.
“Damn, the funds from your successive bounties would have made for a game of high stakes,” Jirou continues, picking up a card. “Town’s got your name on their lips again, Todoroki.”
“I’m sure he intends to use those well deserved funds to live, rather than gambling them away irresponsibly, Jirou.”
Todoroki leans back in his chair. “I may have some coin I’d be willing to lose soon. Next job could be a big one.”
“Oh? What are the details?” Iida asks, setting down the drink he was nursing. It’s water. Sensible.
Before Todoroki can answer, there’s an arm around his shoulders and a drink pressed into his hand. “Heard you did good work again today, Todoroki. It’s your usual, on the house.” Yaoyorozu smiles, patting him on the back before sliding away to focus her attention to Jirou beside him, bending down to take a look at her hand of cards before kissing her on the cheek. She doesn’t linger, dashing off to resume her duties as bartender.
“Busy tonight,” Jirou mumbles, blush tinting her cheeks pink.
Todoroki smiles. Yaoyorozu and Jirou had been a pair ever since he’d run into them years ago, when he was still a newcomer to Yuuei. Yaoyorozu opened her doors, offered him a bed upstairs for half the price and introduced him to her friends for free. He had been grateful, fresh and green into the world away from Endeavor; she’d given him a stable block to stand on while he built himself into the reputable bounty hunter he was today. He’ll find a way to repay her, maybe help renovate the saloon with the reward from this next job.
Before he forgets, Todoroki digs his hand into his vest pocket and hands the bounty notice across the table to Iida. The way his face pales when he sees the picture printed on the worn paper is worrying.
“Oh, uh, Midoriya, you might want to take a look at this.”
Midoriya’s face makes him no less nervous as it pulls into a frown. He sighs and hands the sheet back to Todoroki. “Kacchan’s dug himself a grave.”
“Kacchan?” Todoroki almost chokes on his drink. “You know him?”
“Used to, haven’t seen him since we were kids. We were raised in the same town.” Midoriya’s staring at the deck of cards in the middle of the table intently, smiling as though he’s remembering something fondly. “Looks like he never grew out of his rebellious phase.”
It’s silent around the table for a while, the game of cards suspended. Todoroki’s unsure of what to say. He’d just been hired to kill this man after all.
“I think you should pass on this one, Shouto. You’re good at what you do, I know that, we all know that, the entire state knows that, but Bakugou Katsuki is a piece of work.”
“And let him continue to have free reign to pilfer and murder? Midoriya, I respect that you once knew him, but I highly doubt this is the same man anymore,” Iida replies for him, sighing at the situation.
“If he’s responsible for the death of innocent people, he needs to be apprehended, if it’s not by Todoroki, it’ll be by someone else,” Uraraka adds.
Todoroki takes a sip of his drink, the whiskey burning down his throat and sitting warm in his stomach. “The reward on Stain was larger and I took him down just fine.”
“Stain was manic, he’d gone insane, lost his wits.” Midoriya looks up, serious. “Kacchan is smart, calculated, a sharpshooter that also excels at hand to hand combat. He’s brash, fearless and unstoppable once he’s riled up.”
“You sound like you know him well, where does he falter then? Where is he the weakest?” Todoroki’s leaning forward again, interest piqued now there was more of a challenge behind the job.
“He...” Midoriya pauses, thinking. “He has trouble understanding others. His conceited nature gives him tunnel vision; he unintentionally blocks out everything other than his impending success. But, as you said, Iida, I knew him years ago, he may have grown.”
“I have no intention of spending enough time in his company to use that to my advantage. What about physically; anything I could use to get the upper hand?”
“I could only tell you from the fights we got ourselves into as kids. Once again, I’d be surprised if he hadn’t grown. He’d always start with a right handed swing, it left him open, predictable.”
Todoroki’s confidence in his ability to succeed at the job only flourishes with every flaw Midoriya let on. It was cocky of him, his overeagerness to wave the sheriff’s bounty reward in his friends face once this was over. He’d had his fair share of cheap jobs, outlaws that could barely carry the title, cattle robbers, card cheaters and the occasional murderer, nothing like the excitement Bakugou offered. He’d get the opportunity to flex his prowess, to be challenged.
Their conversation only made Todoroki’s enthusiasm rise.
“You’re going to take the job it despite my warnings, aren’t you?” Midoriya smiled knowingly.
Todoroki nodded, unashamed, downing the rest of his drink.
He’s saddling up his horse before daylight broke, the town eerily silent as he works. Midoriya hadn’t known much about where Bakugou might be holding up, explaining that the last time he’d heard news it was from the next town over, two days ride north. Todoroki will head there first, gather any information he can and make progress with what he finds,.
Though the ride is long and lonely, it gives him time to plan what he can of the situation. It is difficult, with the limited knowledge he has on his target, having no insight on whether Bakugou is traveling alone, with companions or whether he’s still in the area at all. The uncertainty is nerve wracking. Todoroki is confident in his skills, but adapting them to a situation that can fluctuate at any time makes him uncomfortable. He would be grateful at the chance to gather more information, the 48 hour ride dangerous when left with only thoughts to keep him company.
The town comes into view at sunset on his second day, half the size of Yuuei, buildings spaced further apart. Todoroki takes note of the location of the Sheriff’s office, at the end of the street, facing towards the road. He’d be either dropping evidence of Bakugou’s death or Bakugou himself on its doorstep in the coming days.
After settling and caring for his horse - two days of straight riding more taxing on her body than his - he pays for a room for the night. He asks for a more expensive one than usual, feeling quite well off knowing that with the reward for Bakugou’s capture, he’d have enough to afford rooms like these for months. Besides, a space further away from the racket of the downstairs saloon the better. He values his sleep, especially before a job.
He takes his time to wash, the warm water - another perk to the expensive room - doing well to soothe the aches and numbness the ride had left him. Todoroki forfeits his scarf and vest, heading downstairs in more comfortable attire for some reconnaissance work. He prays he won’t have to pretend to be interested in cards.
The saloon downstairs isn’t as busy as Yuuei’s, smaller interior, less tables. Todoroki has been here before, passing through on another job years ago. He didn’t have the time to get down from his horse then and now he’s glad he hadn’t. It really isn’t anything spectacular; there’s a dozen or so people drinking, a few minding their own, the rest in groups idly chatting away. There’s a dusty piano sitting in the corner that looks like it hasn’t been touched in years. Todoroki takes a seat at the bar.
The lady he’d rented his room off saunters over from where she’d been cleaning glasses. She’s around forty and aging terribly, to be frank.
“You wash up alright, honey?”
“Fine, thank you,” Todoroki replies, about to slide a hand in his vest pocket for some coin before remembering he had left it over the chair upstairs.
“It’s fine, just pay before you leave in the mornin’.” She smiles, understanding. “What’ll it be?”
He thanks the waitress when he’s handed his drink, taking a sip before grabbing her attention again. “Actually, you might be able to help me with something if you had the time?”
She looks confused when she turns back to face him, flicking the rag she’d been using to dry glasses over her shoulder. “I got all the time in the world honey, but it depends on what that somethin’ is.”
“I’m looking for someone, wondering if you might have any information?” Todoroki fishes out the bounty notice from his back pocket, unfolding it and sliding it across the counter for her to look at.
“Ground Zero? Honey we all heard of him round these parts,” she tuts. “Glad they finally got around to issuing a warrant.”
“You’ve seen him recently?” Todoroki asks, taking back the bounty notice, the constant unfolding and folding making the paper weak in parts. He slides it gently back into his pocket.
“Never. Only hear second hand gossip working the bar.”
“Do you know if he’s still in the area? Is he working alone?” Todoroki tries his best to pry politely.
“He and his gang have been loitering just outta town for the last few weeks, that ain’t rare information.”
Todoroki watches as she excuses herself to slip out from behind the bar, thanking the few men that were heading home for the night. She picks up their glasses and wipes down the table with one practiced motion.
Todoroki resumes the conversation when she returns. “He’s left to run riot with no consequence?”
“There ain’t anyone with the guts to try stop him. You got a death wish if you intend to try.” She drops the glasses in the sink loudly. “But that’s where you come in right? I take it you’re a bounty hunter?”
He nods over his drink.
“There was a wagon raid a couple of days ago. Two men murdered about an hour out of town. They were transporting food and equipment to the nearby mine.”
“What kind of equipment?”
“Clothes and supplies to replace broken tools.” She pauses, looks up and taps her nose suggestively. “Sometimes, on rare occasions, dynamite.”
Todoroki straightens up on the stool. Ground Zero was renowned for illegal explosive use, and obtaining them through equally illegitimate means made sense. He sips his drink thoughtfully.
It’s a good start. If he’s able to find the location of the wagon, he technically should be able to track down where Bakugou had absconded to afterwards. Following prints in the dirt became tougher with each hour that passed, but it hadn’t been overly windy in the last two days, so unless Bakugou had actively thought to cover his tracks, Todoroki can at least try.
The news of Bakugou’s notoriety didn’t dissuade him from the task at hand. This job was catered to him, he was the only one with the skills required to be successful. With this new piece of information, Todoroki thanks the bartender and heads upstairs, for what was, - unbeknownst to him, the last peaceful sleep he’d enjoy in weeks.
The sky is dark when he rides in the morning, sun hidden behind grey curling clouds. It sets Todoroki on edge, a bad omen. He worries about the tracks. It doesn’t look like it’s rained overnight thankfully, although the rolling thunder above sends a warning of what is to come. He needs to get this over with as soon as possible.
Todoroki finds the wagon easily, tipped on its side at the edge of the road. There’s no sign of the horses that pulled it or the bodies that were caught in the crossfire. It had been days since the incident, and the scene had been cleaned up and forgotten.
He dismounts quickly, circling the area once before checking the contents of the wagon. The woman had been right, there were no traces of dynamite, all that they’d left were scraps of clothing and a two large sacks of what he assumed to be grain or similar. Too heavy and awkward to be worth taking off with.
Another rumbling bout of thunder overhead reminds him of his encroaching time limit as he turns to investigate the paths left in the dirt. He ignores the obvious tracks heading back into and away from town, scanning the ground for others. He finds them behind the wagon. Luckily the ground is soft here, enabling him to make out the imprint of five or so different types of boot. They trail off, away from the road, amidst the shrubbery where they stop, replaced by the familiar dent of horseshoes instead.
Todoroki whistles his horse over from where she was busying herself nibbling on tufts of grass, mounting again and setting off to follow the tracks. He’s nervous, the smell of rain in the air threatening to ruin his only lead, the lead that was concerningly weak to begin with. These prints could belong to literally anyone. Even if Ground Zero had been the one to raid the wagon, there was no evidence to prove that they didn’t simply take the main road. While he knows it’s unlikely - the main thoroughfare too conspicuous for a bunch of outlaws to travel down, especially with expensive dynamite in their satchels - Todoroki can’t help but doubt himself.
He’s unable to travel fast, having to keep eyes on the ground ahead, slowing down to a walk when the terrain turns grassy, prints harder to see. Somehow, miraculously, the rain holds up, drops only beginning to fall once he’s spotted a building in the distance, tracks leading directly to it. He dismounts cautiously, the area not great for cover as he ducks behind one of the very sparsely scattered trees, a few hundred meters away from the building he recognises as a church.
The sky opens up as he’s approaching, rain soaking through his white shirt, vest thankfully just enough to keep his body warm. Todoroki shivers regardless, hair plastering to the sides of his face. He stops about halfway to pull the rifle from his back, using its scope to get a better view of the situation.
Up close he realises the church is burnt out, back half of the building completely uncovered, the thick wooden beams that would have originally held the roof up all that remains. There’s a dying campfire lit where the wooden floor of the building stops. The property is surrounded by a decaying wooden fence, five horses tied to it.
From his position he can only count four bodies, three men and a woman sitting relaxed under the shelter the front half of the church gives. Todoroki does not recognise any of them. He waits. Five horses means five people.
Lightning cracks the sky, the thunder that follows deafening. The tree he’s positioned under does little to cover him from the storm. Thankfully, he does not have to wait long before the fifth man comes into view from around the corner. Todoroki watches as he shrugs out of his black coat, dumping it over one of his companion’s head, before shaking the water from his blonde hair the same way a dog might dry its fur. He sits, lights a cigarette and falls into conversation with the rest of his crew.
Bakugou Katsuki, even from this distance, is recognisable. His mess of hair and familiar scowl memorable from the bounty notice. Todoroki wonders if the expression is permanent.
This was where it could get interesting, the weather gives him the upper hand if he chooses a stealthy approach. Though the rifle that sits heavy in his hands tempts him to take the long shot, snipe from a distance, which would have been a grand idea if Bakugou wasn’t accompanied by four others. Todoroki wouldn’t be able to get in to claim his evidence for the bounty with them on alert.
He could wait until they fall asleep for the night, choosing to approach while they’re unconscious, but dusk is still a few hours off and there is no telling if the storm will pass in that time. He tsks at the dilemma, setting his rifle down and leaning against the back of the tree.
It has to be now, he won’t get another chance like this.
Under the limited shelter the tree gives, Todoroki comes up with a loose plan. Send his horse into their line of sight in order to separate them while they investigate, move quickly and quietly around the front of the building to search for the side door he saw through his rifle. Move into the main hall, put a gun to Bakugou’s head. Take him as hostage until he can get far enough away to shoot without his companions on his tail.
It isn’t his greatest plan, but time is slipping through his fingers as fast as the rain that soaks through his shirt.
Still a good two hundred meters away, he sends his horse off with a slap to her hide. Grateful she didn’t choose that moment to take a detour, Todoroki moves forward at the same time as she trots innocently in front of the church’s back fence. He hears them once he’s pressed up against the side of the building.
“Uh, did someone decide to invest in a new horse today because last time I checked, none of us own that pretty white pony.”
“But it’s pouring!”
Their bickering fades out as Todoroki slides his way around the front of the church. He takes a pistol out of his holster in preparation, checking the chambers are loaded in case his plan turns sour. His heart pounds in his chest as he takes a deep breath to steady himself, reaching out to turn the door handle.
While the noise from the storm did well to muffle the sound of his approach, it also did not discriminate. Todoroki is taken by surprise when a hand at the back of his head sends him flying forward, face smashing painfully into the wood of the church, painting the white with flecks of his own blood.
Todoroki is good at his job, honestly. He’s built his reputation up from nothing, confident in his skills. At some stage, he now realises, that confidence had probably manifested into recklessness. He’d disastrously underestimated the danger of the job, and he’s about to die for his elementary mistake.
Todoroki is a goddamn fool for not heeding Midoriya’s warning.
When the black subsides from his vision, he realises the impact has left him sprawled on the ground, blood running a torrent from his nose. He rights himself to sit on his knees, sharp pain searing through his head at the movement, hand coming up to cup over his face.
The unmistakable slow click of a pistol’s hammer being pulled back distracts him from the pain in his face. Looking up from his humiliating position in the mud, he meets the wild vermilion eyes of Bakugou Katsuki.
“I think you might be lost, darlin’.”