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Beast Among Men

Chapter Text

 

A blinding white dragon soars over the tops of a forestry of mountainsides. Only a lone tower can be seen in the expanse of trees below.

 

Flying was a symphony of constant static; noise incomprehensible aside from the thunderous flap of leathery wings. Velocity and speed held no meaning where the sky was endless, where cloud formations scattered. His mouth opened but he couldn’t hear his own breath. His heart pounded but the sensation was muffled from the pull of air shrieking against his flank.

He travelled loud.

Which shouldn’t make sense, he knew. He didn’t know how he knew, but that was the way most of his knowledge went. There was a lot of things he knew without knowing.

He knew the searing pull of muscles when trying to heave a fallen log – yet his claws could flick a grown tree without an ounce of resistance. It didn’t make sense.

He knew the flinch of an undeserved scolding and punch in the gut – yet no creature had a fist large enough to poke at his sternum. It didn’t make sense.

Despite the useless facts that constructed his muscle memory, he had no idea what he was; the only information that crowded his brain was that he was not what he was supposed to be, and his strongest impulsive desire was not his own.

Find Him. Kill Him.

All Might .

That part didn’t make sense either – the desire thing. He had urges to feed and to rest, but that seemed right for some reason. He could find shelter, he could kill his prey. But this All Might his brain crowed at him as regularly as a heartbeat didn’t equate to what he actually needed to do. Like eat , and sleep , and get his brain to shut up chanting All Might without end -

-which is how he found himself flying at incomprehensible speeds, drowning out what involuntary internal monologue-ing he could while hypnotised by his vision pooling into useless streaks of light.

He briefly wondered if he was at a suitable height to be flying as blind as he was, not realising he considered the possibility too late until his stomach clipped on the tips of forest trees and sent him careening into the woodlands below. The screeching wind grinded into wood splintering against muscular hide, branches scratching and tearing into leather skin and still-open wings rolling under his body. He grinded to a sudden halt, blinking out of his daze.

He had crashed.

That was a first.

The distant cries of scattering birds accompanied the crumble of twigs and toppling trees, and his pain began to throb in sync with his ever-chanting mind. He blinked at the debris that rose past his muzzle, trying to find himself in the remains of shredded wood. He attempted to roll off from his side but let out a bellowing hiss at the unwanted tug of his wing trapped underneath him.

He had never been on his side before. His body, broad yet lithe, only seemed suited for the skies. On the ground he felt clunky and stiff. He had never considered rolling in his sleep before, and he was glad he hadn’t tried until now; the stiff frame of his wing protruding and invasive under the space of his ribs.

It hurt, a surprising amount.

Moving only pulled at the trapped muscle of his wing, giving a sensation similar to someone trying to snap his shoulder out of place. But that couldn’t be right – no creature was large enough to do that to him – yet the familiar circumstances made him hesitate. It was a striking pain he didn’t want to experience again.

It took a bit of work, but after some cautious flailing, he managed to snake his legs underneath himself, lifting his weight from his wing. He may have been strong but he was heavy, and his limbs quivered at the strain until he righted himself. He dragged his wing to his side before collapsing to the ground, the splintering forestry floor nothing more than stiff carpentry against his stomach.

Leering over his shoulder, he peeked at his crushed wing. The taut skin bled red from various gashes, open wounds littered in wood and greenery, but the sting was nothing compared to the wiry bone of his wing. He couldn’t fold it along his back to meet its parallel, and each movement of it skimming across the ground sent fiery sparks of agony trembling through his spine.

There was the passing thought of simply resting where he was for the remainder of the day, but the steady beat of Find – Kill – All Might reminded him that well-earned sleep didn’t come easy.

When his vision finally stopped spinning he took the opportunity to try and evaluate his surroundings. From where he had crashed he could barely see over the tops of the tree canopies that rose with the slope of terrain of some form of mountainside. Craning his head, he spotted the overgrown remains of a stone tower, almost like a decoration unkempt by plants that encased it. Despite it being slightly taller than the treeline, the stone blended naturally into the green, almost as if it was trying to be hidden. But he had found it.

He needed to get to it.

Wait , he shook his head, catching himself. Why would he need to do that? It didn’t have any noticeable purpose, but something told him he should .

He didn’t have a reason not to, right?

He was picking himself off the ground before he could find a reason to disagree, and found himself stumbling towards the landmark. His likely-broken wing remained anchored to the ground, splitting the dirt like a rake and sending unruly fits of pain through his body. He wasn’t going to last long, travelling like this.

There was only so far he could shuffle across the ground before the trees became too dense to pass, and the tower remained enclosed to a trail that he couldn’t manoeuvre through.

Could he ice a path? Not likely . He could freeze the tops of the trees but how easy would they shatter under his weight? He couldn’t risk jarring his wing further.

Find All Might , his head throbbed.

Tower , something smaller suggested.

Why should I , he wanted to scream. Instead his breath billowed out a cloud of permafrost, leaves stiffening like knives around his muzzle.

Get to the tower . Why?

All Might .

He closed his eyes, lowering his head to his foreclaws. The pounding was getting louder, stealing his breath from him.

Why did he need to get to the tower again?

He had to. But why ?

All Might? Was All Might in the tower? The throbbing pulsated into one amalgamation of thought. His wing throbbed. No, his body did. Was it his heart? His head?

All Might. But why!?

He was heavy. So heavy.

Find him.

Kill him.

All Might.

 


 

Within the deafening beating of heart and pain and chanting, something new whispered its way into his hearing. Voices, not internal, but physical in the same way he could hear the ground crunch under his feet. He hadn’t heard voices aside from those inside his head for such a long time. He had always been alone. That couldn’t be true , but it must be, for he couldn’t recall ever being with anyone else.

It was difficult to open his eyes when he was never aware of closing them, his vision beginning to clear from the searing white of his enclosed mind space. It throbbed in a new way, merging with the tempo of new voices he could make out.

“-our duty to investigate what could have caused such devastation within these grounds. What if it made it to the next village? People’s lives could be at stake!”

He tilted his head to the side, intrigued. Whatever was talking wasn’t in sight yet, but he could hear them. Clearly . The insistent beating in his chest quickened, outpacing the chanting. A language he could understand, nothing like the cries of birds and beasts he was used to.

“We know Iida, but there’s something really wrong on this mountain. I don’t know how to put it, but it feels like a large mass of magic seeping into the earth. I think it might be attracting things here.”

A softer voice, much higher in tone, but still easily recognisable in language. Had his kind found him? Was he no longer alone? Please find me , he tried to say. His throat gargled rapturous and encouraging, hoping they could hear him.

The frozen leaves around him shimmered with his breath, rattling in an echo of chimes. Silhouettes barely visible in the foreground stumbled in the tree’s shadows.

He could see… something. They were very small.

“W-what was that!?”

“Watch your step – are you okay?”

“How did you not flinch from that!? That was-was… Oh Gods …”

Before him stood three tiny figures. They didn’t break past the shadow of the treeline, but if he listened hard enough he could hear them quivering within their clothes. He felt ice form in his gut. He was confused. Why could he understand things so small? He was expecting company from something that could have answered what and who he was. His nostrils stung from frost settling from his breath.

“O-okay, n-nobody move,” another voice whispered, “no loud noises, no sudden movements. We need to b-back out nice and slow.”

The largest of the three stepped back, and if it was a tender step, it made no effect to muffle the sound of his armour clattering with his movements. The smallest of the group bore a crooked hat on their head, and instead of following the others, they took a step out of the trees overcast towards him. Their face was obscured by the giant hat, but he could make out the worn ruddy colour of their boots.

Oh ! Wait – wait guys! It’s stuck, I think,” she spoke low, but hurried, leaning back to grab the arm of another who was trying to leave, “this is it; what crushed all those trees over there!”

She took a few shy steps towards him, he watched them with disdain, unsure at their intentions but curious enough to see how it played out. Strangely enough, their chatter was sharpening his focus away from the symphony of All Might , and he wanted to revel in the feeling of clarity.

The armoured one spoke up. “If this is what caused all that damage, we certainly shouldn’t be entertaining the thought of approaching it Uraraka. We should reform after discussing a plan to relocate it before disturbing it further!”

“No no, you’re missing the point,” Uraraka shook her head softly, gesturing to him. “-the seeping magic in the ground, it’s luring creatures in and trapping them here. It’s like a binding spell. And–and dragon’s don’t just crash into the forest. The magic must be luring them into the area until they can’t leave.”

He exhaled noisily, almost insulted. He was no pawn to magic. He wasn’t lured in by anything.

All Might , his brain itched.

Shut up .

The group flinched at his breath, before their voices slowly picked up again. This time it was the one dressed in green, who bravened some shy steps closer to Uraraka.

“It makes sense. Look at it, it’s absolutely drained. Not only is the natural abundance of magic attracting creatures, but there must be something sapping them of their strength too. It’s like one big trap for anything pertaining to magic,” he faced Uraraka. “I mean, we came here because you could feel the magic here right? It could very well attempt to trap you next. We could search the area and try to find the source and remove it.”

The armoured one hummed loudly. “Perhaps you both have a point; after all, if a binding spell is cast here, they’re likely storing the magic for other intentions. Very well, we shall scout the area and interfere with whoever’s responsible for this.”

Almost as if unfazed at the sheer size of him, the new group began to mutter an active plan for whatever it was they were doing. He wasn’t quite so sure himself, but he attempted to keep up. An artefact, they theorised. It almost sounded nonsensical. He wasn’t attracted to objects, unless the All Might he was plagued by was a form of artefact, but even if it was he would have no idea how to find it. He had flown here on a foolish escapade to drown out the chanting, the whole situation could have only been played out by chance.

But he was ridiculously tired, despite being well fed before he had crashed. And there was a composition of static pulses from places from not only his head, combining into something too overwhelming to fight. But what could serve as the source?

All Might? No . His neck quivered as he strained to raise his head from the ground, ignorant towards the startled gasps and flurry of people fleeing at his movement. From his position he could angle his head high enough to see the top of the unkempt tower that had urged him earlier without success.

That had to be it.

He glanced back down at the party, unimpressed at the glint of an unsheathed sword in the hands of the armoured one. They had moved a fair distance away however, Uraraka peeked out from behind a tree, her staff held out ahead of her. The other one stood right beside her, seemingly unarmed.

Could they see the tower? Unlikely. He could only identify it by its roof, the rest of its girth swallowed in green. It probably blended right into the forestry from the floor.

He hoped he was correct with this. His foreleg uncurled from under his body, and he extended it to the direction of the tower, keeping his eyes focused on the group of wary people. There was a pause of silent trepidation, before the green one stepped in front of Uraraka, placing a reassuring hand on the armoured one’s shoulder.

“W-wait, I think it’s trying to help us. Iida, withdraw your sword for a moment.”

Iida started, “But Midoriya-“

Midoriya’s hand squeezed a little harder on his shoulder plate. “Trust me here, okay?”

Iida’s eyes flitted in conflict, before he nodded stiffly, sheathing his blade. Uraraka followed suit, grabbing onto Iida’s arm as Midoriya faced him again.

“W-well? Are you? T-trying to help us, I mean,” Midoriya asked him, taking tentative steps towards his fallen body. He slowly lowered his head back to the ground, his neck stretched out to face the group. Midoriya seemed skittish but continued forward, moving right up to his snout, struggling to focus on one of his eyes. He pulled some sort of face at his left, before focusing on his right.

He let out a gruff affirmation, which rattled frost around them and made everybody flinch again. It was short lived however, as Midoriya’s eyes widened with curiosity. “O-oh, you’re an ice dragon! That’s strange… N-not that it’s bad or anything, presuming you can understand us, I mean, we just don’t expect to see dragons in general and often they’re referred to as creatures born from fire, so-“

“Deku,” Uraraka held a hand over her mouth, struggling to hold back her giggles. “-you’re muttering to a dragon!”

Midoriya (Deku? A forename perhaps?) looked abash, rubbing the back of his head. “Ahah, s-sorry about that.”

He snorted a plume of frost at him, and Midoriya blinked dazedly at the icy tendrils that clung to the tips of his hair. “W- woah , c-cold. Uhm, right anyways! You’re obviously intelligent, a-and are at least willing to work with us right? S-so, if you can help us, we can help free you! Is that okay with you?”

Obviously , he wanted to reply. But another exhale would probably freeze him to the spot, so instead he thumped his outstretched limb impatiently against the ground. Iida’s arm reached instinctively for his sword, then he paused, cocking his head.

“Oh! Midoriya, he’s pointing ! Maybe he can sense the artefact’s location.”

Midoriya followed the length of his limb, gazing off into the treeline. He gave an affirmative nod. “Mhm, so it seems. Come on then, let’s go break the spell! Don’t worry Ice Dragon, you’ll be freed soon, so just wait for us!”

He blinked slowly as he watched the group progress, Uraraka offered him a little wave before she caught up with the others.

The moment they began to leave, a crescendo of All Might pressed suddenly at the front of his head, the back of his eyes - and he could barely restrain a hiss. It was too sudden, why was it back as soon as they had left?

He felt rather than heard the low rumble that bellowed from his throat, his poor attempt to cry out please come back soon, I don’t want to be alone again .

But they were gone from sight, and he was left squinting uselessly at the incessant noise of his own mind, overwhelming him to the point where the environment faded from his grasp.

 


 

He was never sure if it counted as sleeping whenever he lost himself to the noise of his own mind, especially since by the time he could recover he was left as restless as ever. He never knew how long he lost himself, but like a sudden hiccup in time, he was awake.

Disorientated, it was confusing to wake without overwhelming noise reverberating through him like he was used to. Instead, he heard the faint crackle of a fire and soft voices, curling gently around him. It felt foreign, but strangely welcoming.

Still exhausted, he groaned and stretched, only to freeze when he felt a sharp tug as he agitated his wounded wing.

“W-woah- hey , you’re awake!”

Eyelids heavy, he blinked at the three people sitting aside from him, a small fire flickering between them. It was dark out. Although they hadn’t moved from their seats, everybody looked tense, ready to bolt.

He stared at them, unsure as to what to do. They stared back, shoulders stiff. The fire crackled its own conversation.

Hesitantly, Midoriya spoke up.

“We uh, we lifted the spell from the area. I thought you would’ve sensed the magic disperse and leave, but when we came back you wouldn’t wake up.”

Uraraka chimed in. “We’re glad you’re okay now! We didn’t want to just – leave you here.”

Her breath billowed into a cloud of white, and he realised that the whole clearing was still frozen. The floor glittered against the fire’s light, and he swallowed guiltily. They must have been freezing.

Thank you , he wished he could say.

He shuffled up onto his feet, one wing folded neatly down his back, the other stiff and swelling in throbbing tension. Midoriya fiddled with the contents of his bag, while Uraraka smiled.

“Happy trails!” She called, offering a wave once again.

Iida nodded beside her. “It was a pleasure to meet a dragon, despite the circumstances.”

He took care with stepping around them. Midoriya hastily pulled out a book with quivering hands, attempting to find an empty page.

“W-wait, I didn’t – I was supposed to – I should have taken notes!” He covered his face with the book, groaning miserably. Uraraka stifled a chuckle and patted his shoulder sympathetically.

“Deku, be polite and say goodbye.”

Oh , they thought he was -. He wiggled his injured wing for emphasis, but they didn’t seem to notice. Instead, Midoriya closed the book in resignation. “Y-yeah, of course. Happy travels… I just wish I had more time to learn about you.”

The lack of maelstrom wind indicating take off had Midoriya peeking behind him uncertainly, only to screech when he was launched several inches off the ground when he collapsed around his company. Three bewildered faces peered up at him, and he curled his tail closer around them, tucking in his head and minding his wing.

The frozen earth began to condense rapidly, and Uraraka let out a startled yelp. “W-warm!”

Staring perplexed at the leathery hide around him, Midoriya was left with a wavering smile, shakily re-opening his book.

“I-I guess I should get started!”

 


 

Yup , that’s a busted wing alright,” Uraraka patted his flank sympathetically, lowering herself back to the ground with a cast of magic.

The following morning was filled with bright skies and humid winds, leaving him grimacing at his newly diagnosed limb that buffeted in the gales. Below him, Midoriya was clearing their dead fireplace. Ash scattered into the air and left soot stains across his flank.

“Can we really just leave him though?” Midoriya asked, shielding his eyes from stray ash blowing out from under his boots. “Will he be able to eat while grounded? Dragons aren’t adapted for hunting from the ground. We’ve already started helping him, so why should we stop here?”

Iida took his time sharpening his sword from beside them. “We have sworn a duty to aid this creature. It would be disrespectful to back out of our word now.”

Uraraka huffed, swinging her staff overhead. “Now you’re both putting words in my mouth! I never said we should leave him, but how are we meant to feed him? How much does he even eat? He’s not a pet, we can’t just name him and carry him in our back pocket. He probably has some… Godly destiny that dragons have sometimes! I dunno !”

Iida hummed. “Then surely we could assist him in his journey home, since he cannot fly off by himself.”

We haven’t named him !” Midoriya yelped instead, dashing for his backpack.

Deku no – Okay Iida you have a point, but ,” Uraraka quickly bee-lined for Deku, bonking him softly on the head with her staff. “-Deku we can’t name him! You of all people should know the consequences of binding names. Besides, he probably already has one, right?” She looked up hopefully at the dragon’s maw.

He stared at her figure for a moment, contemplating. Did he have a name ? He should have one, but it was lost on him for the meantime. He slowly swayed his head, Uraraka drooping at the universal gesture for ‘ no’ .

What ! How do you not have a name?”

Iida sheathed his sword, walking towards their supplies. “To be fair we don’t know dragon etiquette. Maybe dragons have no need for a concept like names.”

Midoriya peeked behind his notebook, this was becoming a signature look for him. “But for the sake of our group, he should have something we can refer him to!”

“You are so attached to him already,” Uraraka sighed, giving up.

He tilted his head, watching his new companions go about their activities. They had currently been addressing him by many new terms, although all of them surrounded the word ‘dragon’, which seemed… Wrong , for some reason. Like the rest of his knowledge, he couldn’t recollect where he had heard of the term before, and couldn’t picture what a dragon should be, but he knew he shouldn’t be one.

Why was that?

A weight against his folded forelegs had him glance down at Midoriya’s tufty crown, who was leaning against him as he flicked through his tome. He must carry a lot because it looked different from the one he had the night previous, when he was muttering so passionately about how he thought the dragon worked. For the first time ever in his recent memory, he had fallen asleep willingly , and not through losing his senses from drowning in his internal noise.

There had been a brief period when he awoke that his limbs were buzzing from the silence, leaving him floundering for a grip back into reality just long enough to startle the group into waking up. As soon as they started talking again, he could feel himself stabilising.

He was missing something important. But he needed to grasp onto what he could, if he could keep himself from going under. For now, these new people could be his life raft.

“Okay! Here’s some ideas!” Midoriya announced, seemingly found what he was looking for. The dragon lowered himself so that the curve of his maw brushed against Midoriya’s shoulder, who made a startled “ eep !” at the contact. He chuckled nervously, his shoulders still tense, and it was then that the dragon realised that maybe they weren’t as comfortable with him as he decided he could be with them. He reluctantly moved his head away, resting it on the ground instead. Midoriya coughed into his hand and focused back onto his book.

“E-erm, so I thought we could be polite and give him a name that symbolises his draconic nature? I have a couple of rune scripts recorded that were translated from dragon literature, although they’re not the best of translations b-but their language is much more complex than ours, so I can only work with what I have, s-so hopefully this isn’t an impeachment or anything-“

The recently dubbed ‘Ice Dragon’ listened offhandedly, not willing to give a response to knowledge he didn’t have access to himself. He side-eyed his company, who floundered at the lack of response.

“You’re trying your best, Midoriya,” Iida sympathised, tucking away his sword and collecting the rest of his gear. “He doesn’t seem to be against the situation at any rate. Let’s hear these terminologies and see if he’s alright with them.”

“R-right,” Midoriya nodded, glancing back at the paper. “Okay, so the most common terminology used in draconic literature refers to directions and warnings. Dragons don’t so much as write books as they leave warnings, so, uhm.  How about Hayate?”

The dragon made no attempt to move, so Midoriya continued, “Uhm, i-it refers to the sound of the wind, but uhm, I guess not. I’ll just continue. Er.”

He turned a few pages hurriedly, reading a few more words that meant nothing to him.

“Kenta? N-no luck huh? Errm, Masaru? No… Noberu?”

“Why not be more literal?” Iida asked. “Are there any terms towards ice?”

Midoriya hummed, “There’s Rin, which means cold a-and severe, or Yukio? A warning of snow…”

Not even a blink. Midoriya sighed, flicking to the next page.

“… Shou ?”

His horned head snapped back as if struck by whiplash. That was – almost right. It was like a bone had set correctly in his body – it fit, but just barely. He was hardly listening to Midoriya continue to explain the language.

“I-it’s often used as a warning for busy skies, indicating a flight zone, since it means to glide or soar.”

Shou yelped, surprising himself at the sound he made. The gang were surprised too, Midoriya ducked behind Uraraka while she tripped over him in an attempt to run the other direction. Iida had his hand on his sheathe but was otherwise left staring at his friends groaning on the floor.

“Well that was an… Odd hiccup,” Iida muttered, offering his hands to the fallen duo and pulling them up simultaneously. “I do believe we found ourselves a name, however.”

Uraraka laughed nervously, glancing up at Shou, who picked himself onto his feet and loomed over at them, eyes wide. She rubbed the back of her neck.

“Deku, only you could get away with naming a dragon and making it squeak.”

“I-I didn’t mean to!” He stuttered, brushing the dust off of his knees. “B-but, if Shou’s what he likes, then that’s what we’ll go with!”

His broken wing was still limp and dragging against the floor as he moved, but Shou stretched the other with one resounding flap. The clearing buffeted from the impact, and for a moment, Shou felt like things were starting to work out for him.

Iida, the only one who remained standing from the gust of wind, huffed in amusement. “You know, I think it suits him.”

Chapter Text

 

 “How are we supposed to know where we should go?”

They were all looking up to him, crowded together with a map in hand. Shou couldn’t see any of the details on the paper, but it wasn’t like he knew exactly what they were looking for either. He gave them a slow blink, and watched them all deflate with a simultaneous sigh.

Midoriya made a frustrated noise as he reluctantly pointed to the higher end of the map. “If we’re out of ideas, the only place I can consider checking up at is the Devil’s Gate.”

Well, that sounded pleasant.

The others seemed to share his thoughts, as Iida grimaced and Uraraka paled with a stutter. “T-the Devil’s Gate? You mean the strongest established portal between our realm and the underworld?”

Rather reasonably, Iida said, “This seems like a suicide mission. Demons and other unearthly spawns live for miles around the portal, not to mention getting into the territory. It seems almost demeaning to associate that-” Iida pointed to Shou. “-with literal hell spawn... No offense, Shou.”

Midoriya ran a hand through his unruly hair, sounding exasperated. “Trust me, I don’t want to go up there either. But there are dragons up there, and it’s the first place people go when they want to become a dragon tamer.” He grimaced. “I don’t know why dragons travel there, but dragons are a mystery to everyone, including to other dragons.”

He also gestured to Shou, who was beginning to realise he wasn’t going to get used to being addressed any time soon. “It’s been said that dragons who become too large and powerful to sustain themselves in our world will challenge the forces of the next, or so the legends go. Even if that isn’t where Shou needs to be, there’ll be people there with dragon knowledge who may be able to give us some advice on where to look next.”

Iida fiddled with the hem of his glasses. “Why do you make it sound like you know what’s up there, Midoriya?”

Midoriya folded the map away. “I have a… Friend, who’s a dragon tamer. I wouldn’t think he’d be anywhere else. Demon fighting is right up his alley.”

Iida hummed, contemplating, but Uraraka asked, “You don’t sound too confident on that. Are you sure he’s someone we can trust?”

Uhhm...,” Midoriya turned around to stash the map into one of his satchels, facing away from everyone. Shou squinted ever so slightly. Was Midoriya trying to divert himself? He let out a grunt from where he lay, making Midoriya flinch. “Well… He’s… He used to be a friend? But we’re short on options here! I mean, the worst he could do, is… Say… No...”

He stilled where he was crouched, and after a few beats of silence Shou thumped his tail on the ground. Birds erupted from the neighbouring trees into flight with hurried shrieking. The noise seemed to jump-start Midoriya’s thoughts again, and he settled for cradling his head.

“Oh who am I kidding? He’s going to kill me.”

 


 

Hunger.

He thought he was hungry at one point, but the feeling he was experiencing as of right now did not meet that description. Despite that, he continued to dig into the body of a stag, blood oozing from his maw and staining in the creases of his scales as he ate. He was sure he was more than full, finishing the third buck of the group, the rest of the herd long gone and fleeing out of the expanse of his wriggling edged vision. But that didn’t matter. He would need to find more to eat.

All Might, his brain barked repetitively, making the back of his eyes water. He focused on making every chew chomp in sync with the noise, eager to muffle whatever he could. He hated that sound, that word, so much.

Something akin to annoyance spread throughout his body. He felt like he was supposed to have escaped this somehow. Like he was forgetting some form of relief. As if there was something before his ravenous urge to feed that had granted him some sort of blessing, but now he was left with fleeting memories and a burning spread of pain down his back. He thought his wing was broken, but couldn’t be sure.

His tail thumped the floor, frustrated. He needed to fly somehow. How else could he drown out the chants?

The antler that caught in his teeth slightly before giving way to his jaw’s power came with a loud snapping sound, and briefly he wondered if he should just hunt again, find more bones to grind.

“-ello?”

The sound of something traversing through the woods behind him made him pause from the remains of his meal, head craning over his back to glance back. If prey was coming straight for him, he’d follow the thrum of the beats in his head and kill them while he still had the chance. The more bones for the long run, the merrier.

The creature stepped out of the brush, just shy of the tip of his tail, and he turned around with a roar, bloody spit flying from his mouth, ready to crush them while they were still paralysed in fear.

“Wuh-woahwoahwoahwAIT!”

Shou snapped his mouth shut.

He stared down his snout at the person – at Midoriya, who had fallen backwards in fright, hands outstretched in front of him and fear stretching across his face.

How had he – he had forgotten Midoriya existed.

 The man was quaking where he sat, still as unarmed as ever aside from a small blade hilt on the cuff of his trouser leg. Yet his hands were up and bare in front of him, making no attempt to make a grab at it.

Slowly, as if his mind was a sponge absorbing water, thoughts that were no longer there began to seep back into his mind. He had met Midoriya several days prior, along with Iida and Uraraka. They were travelling together, and he was getting hungry, so he had wandered off to go eat. And then, just like that, he had forgotten. About them. About everything.

“I-I’m s-so sorry,” Midoriya was spluttering from the floor, “I-I had no idea dragons were territorial over their meals and honestly I’m such an idiot – why wouldn’t I know that of course you’d be protective over food, I should have waited for you to come back like the others said but you were gone for a few hours so I just wanted to make sure your wing hadn’t caused you any trouble or gotten you s-stuck anywhere-“

Shou blinked at him, overwhelmed by the river of words that dribbled out of his mouth. He let the incessant apologies pool at the back of his head, washing away that cursed word and helping him regain his clarity of thought.

After a few more moments of Midoriya-drabble, he felt much calmer, for some reason. What had he been doing again? Eating – right. He was more than full after eating the second deer, but hadn’t realised under the haze of his cursed mind, while he had been eating a third. He eyed the remains warily from where he stood.

Midoriya was making it easier to breathe somehow. To think.

He wasn’t sure why that was, but he wasn’t blind enough to miss the pattern. He vaguely remembered the haziness of early mornings whenever he awoke before his allies did. This was all connected, and he’d have to find out why somehow.

For the meantime though, he nudged the messy strip of his leftovers to the still muttering man. It wasn’t a clean kill, but he’d seen the group meticulously hunt and cook every evening for the short time that they travelled, and knew what remained would be more than enough to satiate all three of their stomachs.

The mangled stag cadaver flopped in front of Midoriya, a hanging piece of stripped skin landing on his vibrant shoes. Midoriya screeched, kicking it off, and Shou tried not to snort.

Midoriya stared at it like it would eat him, before glancing up at Shou. “…You’re… Not going to eat this?”

Shou shook his head softly, and Midoriya brought a hand to his lip. “Huh. So you eating by yourself isn’t a territorial thing? It could be that you reacted that violently just because you didn’t hear me coming, but does this mean dragons aren’t innately territorial, or is it because you see me as a friend? N-not to presume, of course, I just mean-“

Shou rolled his eyes, and nudged the leg hard enough for it to flip into Midoriya’s lap. He blanched considerably, much to Shou’s amusement.

Eugh! Uhm, I mean, t-thanks! If you insist... Let’s get this back so we can clean it up before it spoils.”

Midoriya begrudgingly shoved the kill off of himself, juggling the leg with some difficulty, and they waded stiffly through the trees together and back to camp. This time, Shou was eager not to be left behind.

 


 

Travelling by foot was tedious.

Shou might have not remembered much of his past before travelling with his newfound company, but he was certain he’d never had as much difficulty as he was having now.

Midoriya often rambled about his dependency on flight, which must have been true, because it was a daily challenge traversing through the thin trees of forests, and many hours of the day were spent finding longer, more convoluted routes to avoid trails that Shou simply couldn’t manoeuvre through. He could tell by the frequent breaks and shared sighs while muddling over the map that his group were feeling the toll of his presence.

There was a small, quiet part of him that told him he should leave, and stop inconveniencing them as much as he was, but the overwhelming fear of knowing that without them he could be travelling lost for the rest of his days– in a haze of finding, killing, All Might anchored him to the team.

He was selfish.

Despite their obvious setbacks, they didn’t seem too upset. They often laughed and smiled over the flicker of campfire each evening, and Midoriya was keen on including him in the conversation regularly, despite the fact that he’d never garner a response.

One evening, Uraraka rattled her satchel over her head, grimacing as only one packet of petrified fruit pieces fell out. She sighed, “Are we close to a town soon? We’re out of food again.”

Shou, who was chewing amiably on the pelt remains of a boar he had found, cocked his head at her inquisitively. She quickly shook her head. “No no, you don’t need to hunt for us! It’s just – there’s only so much meat I can take, you know? We need to buy some non-perishables, and at the very least make some trades. We’re low on coin too.”

Midoriya plucked the packet out of her lap, and took a piece of fruit into his mouth to chew. “We’ve got plenty of pelts to sell, at least, along with a few intact bones. Magic wielders might take an interest in them.”

Iida leaned over to Midoriya, who offered him the fruit packet. He took a piece for himself, adding, “We might need to consider getting a better source of income. Usually we get services from those we aid on our travels, but now with our company-” All three glanced meekly at Shou, who thumped his tail in acknowledgement. He knew he was a nuisance, and it made his gut feel sour. “-we can’t make ourselves as apparent in towns as we’d like.”

Uraraka groaned softly as she lied onto her back. “I miss sleeping in an inn.”

Shou gargled lowly, feeling like they were rubbing salt into an open wound. Midoriya acknowledged her complaint with a hum, leaning a little more into Shou’s arm. Reluctantly, he suggested, “We could maybe – split up for a bit?”

Oh. Had they gotten divided over this? Shou couldn’t help but think of the implications. He liked Iida, and Uraraka, and Midoriya. He didn’t want to be the wedge that came between them all.

Uraraka scowled at him. “What?”

“N-nothing long-term!” Midoriya flailed his hands out erratically. “Just like – if one of us stays with Shou, then each day we can rota and get some jobs done in towns, and maybe earn some coin. We can also take turn staying in some inns, just so we’re not out here every night.”

“It’s not a bad idea in the long run,” Iida confessed. “We have a few towns coming up we can rotate work shifts through, and save up before we head further north. The villages up there are much scarcer than around here.”

“But,” Uraraka frowned, repositioning herself. “-it feels, wrong to just disband like this. Someone would be alone at all times.”

Midoriya patted Shou’s skin. “Not if the one person out stays with Shou. Then everyone is paired at all times!”

Uraraka’s frown stiffened into a grimace, and she meekly turned away from Shou. “Still,” she muttered. Shou didn’t blame her in the slightest. In fact, he actually agreed with her. He had nothing to give to the person left behind with him. He was just baggage.

Then leave, his conscience insisted.

He made no effort to listen to it, huffing his breath hard enough to disrupt the loose ground beneath him. Stray flecks of debris flew past the campfire, shimmering in the light like heavy fireflies.

“That settles it!” Midoriya clapped his hands together, ignoring the tense atmosphere. “I can take the first shift tomorrow, while you two take a visit to town! We can rendezvous here again the following morning.”

There was a reluctant agreement from everyone, and Shou squeezed his eyes shut.

Selfish.

 


 

Seeing Iida and Uraraka off had been... weird. Their smiles were hollow as they left, bags in hand, towards the closest trail that would take them to the town he was forbidden to approach.

Shou watched Midoriya’s hand drop silently to his side after waving them off, a slump to his back as if a weight had just been crushed into his weak little shoulders. Suddenly it was just them, and the atmosphere held a suffocating heat of guilt.

Well!” Midoriya huffed, pulling up the cuffs of his sleeves as far back up his arm as they would allow. “There’s plenty of chores to tend to until they get back! Help me out, won’t you Shou?”

There was an underlying weight of force in his cheerful tone, but Shou would not have addressed it even if he could have. Midoriya wanted a distraction, and even if he didn’t have opposable thumbs, Shou would be willing to aid somehow.

Their day passed particularly slowly, without more than one person around to chime out a conversation. But Midoriya persisted, determined to make their small cove as whole as he could, his voice never wavering in chatter. The day was warm to the point where Shou had to sit still and be used as an ice pack multiple times to keep Midoriya from overheating. It was about as much help as he could be, considering most of their chores consisted of scrubbing clothes and writing in tomes, and talking and talking as if their company had never left. Midoriya certainly knew how to keep himself busy without argument.

At one point Midoriya removed his shirt and began mock-fighting with Shou’s tail, and he replied by wiggling it about like a lazy enemy. It was humorous, mostly. As if Midoriya had any chance of hurting him. It was clear after the first ten minutes that his plating was too tough to punch solid blows against, and Midoriya quickly gave up in sport for nursing his bruising knuckles. Shou rolled some small globules of ice down his tongue, for him to hold to numb any discomfort.

“You know,” Midoriya said, “-I was first going to consider saving your ice to use for cold drinks, but uh, now I have to ask,” he held up the frozen chunk of ice with his bare hand, watching it trail damp down his arm to his elbow. “-does this classify as your spit?”

Shou head-butted into the nearest tree and bit his tongue. The genuine laughter that rang around him did not make up for it.

 


 

Ice packs! Around the canisters!” Midoriya yelled resolutely less than an hour later, startling Shou again. No trees were dislodged this time, at least.

 


 

Eventually, the day rolled to an end, sun vanishing behind the trees and the sky pitching black. If Shou tried hard enough, he could see the lights of the nearby town glowing in the distance. He wondered how different Iida and Uraraka’s day had been compared to theirs. They’d probably swap tales once they returned the following morning.

Shou remained still, feeling the the way Midoriya fidgeted against his hide, attempting to get comfortable in his sleeping bag. There was no talk now, so he had to concentrate on the crackle of their dying campfire to keep himself present enough to fall asleep. An owl hooted from somewhere overhead, and the faint buzz of insects cut through the night.

Midoriya shuffled a little bit more before giving up with a sigh. “It’s pretty lonely without the others, huh?”

So much for not talking. But he couldn’t complain, as the whimsical tone in Midoriya’s voice made it easy to lull to. The atmosphere seemed different without everyone present though, so he had to agree. Sorry that I caused this, he thought solemnly.

“It just makes me think,” Midoriya continued, “- what it might have been like, for you. Were you always alone, before we found you?”

That was a thought. Shou craned his neck until it curved around to face Midoriya. He seemed very out of his element, rolled up in his sleeping gear, laying straight and alone with his side leaning into the crevice of Shou’s underbelly. He stared back at Shou with glassy eyes, half lidded and ready for sleep. Although his mouth was working faster than his growing need for sleep, as he kept vocalising his thoughts in that way of his.

“It makes me wonder, do dragons have families? Are they social? Are they like people, where some can live independently and others exist to help others? You’re so good with us, it makes me think that you probably have a family you care about, somewhere.”

I don’t know if I have any of that. Shou took in the dancing light that reflected in Midoriya’s eyes. I don’t remember anything of the sort.

“Where were you going before you got stuck in that trap? Were you travelling with others – left behind?”

I think I’ve always been alone. But I’m not sure I’ve ever known what loneliness felt like, before meeting you and your friends.

“I wish you could show us what your goal is. What it is you need to achieve. Where you need to get to. Maybe one day we’ll figure out how to communicate better, instead of me just rattling your ear off all the time.”

Shou leaned the weight of his head a little more into the ground, feeling his eyes grow heavy. It’s not like that. I enjoy hearing you talk. You think about many things, and it keeps my days going clearly. It’s the most safe I’ve felt about myself in a long while, somehow.

“I wish we could just – talk.”

We do talk, Shou promised, closing his eyes. I’m just more of a listener.

“We will figure it out, what you need from us,” Midoriya promised. “We’ll figure out how to help you. I promise.”

The numbing darkness of sleep was enveloping him, but Shou already knew what he thought about that.

You’re already helping me in more ways than you could even imagine.

The fire continued to echo its song, and within its noise, Shou could make out Midoriya’s voice lower into a quiet, “Good night, Shou.”

 

Midoriya talks amiably to Shou the dragon as he wedges in cofortably to rest by his stomach. The fire in front of them cast strong shadows into the darkness behind them.

 


 

Shou awoke before the sky had lightened, awoken by the sound of Midoriya playing with the dying embers of their campfire. He took the early morning as a chance to get a meal, and it took little effort to find a burrow of early rising boar, who fell to quick food for him. He had figured out a short term trick to leaving the dependency of chatter- to be quick, and focus on every noise he heard to keep himself there.

Licking his maw, he padded back to camp as quick as he could, keeping his own mantra up with the steps of his feet and the drag of his downed wing. Back home, back home, go back home, back – home.

He relaxed considerably at the sound of Midoriya’s voice picking up in the air, astonished that he could still keep himself talking even when alone. But then a voice replied, and another, and Shou felt his spirit lift. Iida and Uraraka were back! He finally broke into the clearing, spying their group finally reunited. Uraraka spotted him first, raising her hands and staff above her head.

“Hey Shou! We’re back! Did you miss us?”

Yes, yes he had. He took a step towards the smiling faces of his comrades, and then caught himself pausing.

Standing between Uraraka and Iida was another person. And although there was a smile to their face, their expression was piercing. Their entire appearance was piercing.

Pitted black eyes stared at him, wide and keen, surrounded by vibrant neon skin and lighter tufts of hair. She had horns protruding from her locks.

Who was this?

What were they?

“Shou,” Midoriya called him, unaware. “Come meet Ashido! She has information to help us get to the Devil’s Gate.”

Her eyes were unnerving, clinging onto every movement he took. He felt like she was even watching each breath of his flank. She cocked her head slightly at him, as if she could read his thoughts. Beside her, Iida lost his smile.

“Shou? Are you okay?”

Shou tried to swallow his uncertainty, and slowly approached. The weight of his wing seemed heavier than ever, trying to anchor him in place. He stopped a few feet away, and tried not to let the confused stares of everyone eat away at him. He didn’t like this new company, for some reason.

“U-umm,” Midoriya gesturing with his hands. “Shou, meet Ashido! She’s the local innkeeper from the town Uraraka and Iida went to. She was just telling us about an accessible route to get safely inland to The Devil’s Gate.” He turned back to her. “You mentioned avoiding the border of Endeavour?”

“Not just the border,” Ashido said, turning her attention to Midoriya. “I’d steer clear of the East of Yuuei entirely. There’s been raids persisting past the border itself from Endeavour’s armada, ransacking villages and burning more and more of our land. Still waiting for war to be officially declared by up-top but,” she sighed. “Been no word of anyone taking action yet.”

“It’s a menace,” Iida grumbled, “-what King Enji thinks he can continue getting away with. I don’t understand why he’s so determined to try to make a war between our two kingdoms, but at this rate it’ll be unavoidable.”

Shou was momentarily pulled in by their conversation. King Enji? That sounded… He wasn’t sure. For just a moment, he felt he had some sort of realisation towards it, but the more he thought about it, the blanker his mind supplied. Strange.

Ashido nodded. “So long as you head towards the North West, you’ll be clear of any of the damage. Shouji’s been playing messenger for us throughout this, I’ll be sure to let him know what you guys look like so he can let you know if any of the armada advances your way.”

“You’ve been such a great help,” Uraraka smiled at her. Ashido beamed.

“Of course! You paid coin for my tavern and were helping people out all day! It’s the least I could do. We don’t get as many do-gooders in this day and age. It’s refreshing to return the favour.

“A-nyway, I think I’ve snuck out of work long enough, and I’ve overstayed my welcome, if he has anything to say on it.” She cocked her hip, taking in the sight of Shou, who would have scowled at her if he knew how to. She was fluorescent pink. “–I kind of didn’t think you were serious when you mentioned an ice dragon. They’re just unheard of, you know?”

Uraraka chuckled, “Well, Shou certainly reminds us that we haven’t discovered everything.”

“Mm, I bet.” The half demon woman kept oogling at him, and it made Shou feel beyond unsettled. Were they going to leave first or her?

“You know,” Ashido hummed, “I’m actually from one of the villages in the Devil’s Gate. Lots of half demon folk up there, like me. Dragons of all kinds come and go, but, er…” She gestured to Shou, and everyone followed the movement with curious stares. “-something’s off with him. Like – I dunno, he doesn’t fit into the roles you’d expect of dragons up there.”

“Really?” Midoriya looked from her to Shou, as if her angle of view could make him see something he couldn’t. “How can you tell?”

Ashido scratched the back of her head, finally breaking off her weird stare down. “Sorry, I couldn’t give you real evidence on that. S’more of a gut feeling. I hope you get to where you’re heading safely, but, don’t be too disheartened if that’s not where he needs to be.”

“Yeah, of course!” Midoriya smiled at her. “We’re kind of running on guess work anyways, for now. Thank you for all of your help!”

“Not a problem! It’s always fun meeting wandering travellers. Always get to see new things.” There was that look again. Shou exhaled extra forcefully, enough to make the wisps of her horns sparkle white. She seemed more amused than anything else, ruffling out her hair with a rough hand, before turning and giving Uraraka a deep hug. The other woman ‘eeped’, before succumbing to the embrace and returning the squeeze.

“Good luck! Let me know how it goes, if you ever come back this way! And if you meet anybody, let them know Mina says hi!”

“Will do!” Uraraka couldn’t keep the smile out of her pinched cheeks, as they finally broke apart. Ashido then gave Iida’s breastplate an affectionate pat, before waving at Midoriya as she turned back towards the trail.

“It was a pleasure meeting you!” Iida called to her, but Shou didn’t relax until she was finally out of view.

“She seemed nice,” Midoriya quipped.

“And more than helpful,” Iida agreed.

“It’d be nice if we could visit again and let her know how this whole journey goes, don’t you think?” Uraraka said. Midoriya’s smile curled into something smug, and he gingerly elbowed at her side.

“Oh? And what was that all about, huh?”

Uraraka pinked. “What about it? She was nice!”

Midoriya rose a brow, then turned to Iida, who refused to maintain eye contact. “Don’t bring me into this.”

“I better hear the rest of this in a future campfire story.”

There’s nothing to tell!”

Shou finally let out a bellowed sigh, and turned away to wander back to where their bags were discarded on the ground. He heard the quick flurry of small steps approaching before Midoriya caught up beside him, looking up at him with concern as he powerwalked.

“Leaving already? You didn’t seem very happy about Ashido being here. Is everything okay?”

Shou gave him a look, and Midoriya stopped walking.

“O-okay, so you can’t answer that. Obviously. But like – was this a stranger danger thing, or was it because Ashido was half-demon? Was it about what she said about you?”

Shou didn’t care what she had to say about him. She wasn’t a part of the group, and she was gone now, so whatever that bad sensation had been was now irrelevant. Shou turned away from him, his broken wing buffeting space between the two.

Midoriya’s dejected sigh was pitiful. “How are we meant to help you if you won’t give us even a clue?”

Shou subtly grit his teeth, keeping his head high to assess over the treeline at where they needed to travel to next. He didn’t want to address feelings he didn’t understand himself. And it was over now, so it was time to move on.

In the roll of his gut, he could feel his conscience spell it out for him.

Selfish.

 

Chapter Text

Dragon-sitting was the newest fad in their wandering group.

Ever since the convenience of stocking up on food and gear from the last town visit, the group were once again aware of the necessities of regularly visiting civilisation– places Shou was forbidden to go to. He had never been directly told why he couldn’t go, but he somehow, maybe even innately, knew of the havoc the presence of a dragon would bring. It was just another one of those things in his life, unexplainable but there all the same.

With the more regular rotation of outings between everyone, Shou was getting his own days of being between everyone in the group. He learned that days with Midoriya on dragon-sitting duty were the most satisfying.

Midoriya was a natural chatterbox, and if they could relate on anything it was the fact that neither seemed to cope without something to fill in the gaps of the long days. Midoriya filled in that spot with his entirety, rambling about every open thought that crossed his mind. It kept Shou’s mind sharp and in control, but he found that he was enjoying it for more than the convenience of staying coherent throughout the day. The things Midoriya spoke about were actually interesting. Enriching, even. Shou could listen to Midoriya and his endless word vomit for hours, and could even find enough comfort in it to doze pleasantly when there was nothing else to do.

Iida and Uraraka’s rounds were… Slightly less convenient.

It was nothing personal against them. Having them together was often more than pleasant. They were as soulful and as interesting as Midoriya was, and Shou felt like he was quickly meshing himself into their little friend group.

Uraraka was as much of a conversationalist as Midoriya was, when she got into the groove enough, but she relied on the momentum of talking to and from other people, an expert at rallying talk between others. Iida was more refined in the art of explaining and defining context, and was most talkative when answering or clarifying topics in conversation that somebody was unsure about. Altogether the group made for an entertaining trio.

Individually, though… That made things a little more difficult.

When both Iida and Midoriya would leave for the town to find work, and Uraraka would be left on dragon duty, she wouldn’t talk to him. She had tried, once, and began the conversation by asking Shou what chores she needed to get a start on, which he could only answer with an awkwardly held stare. After laughing it off at the realisation, Uraraka diverted to tend to her business within their makeshift camp site. She hadn’t tried again since.

Which was troublesome, because Shou needed noise. He needed talk. And Uraraka’s talk would have been more than enough to keep him aware of himself, but because she wouldn’t, things were beginning to turn out weird.

He could feel himself slipping out of his control. One moment he’d be watching her cleaning out their plates and bowls in a water-filled bucket, and the scrub after scrub of sponge against stains began to beat, and beat - and suddenly he’d be blinking back into the world at the sound of Uraraka yelping as she pricked her finger while failing to sew up a hole from the clothes pile.

It wasn’t until the pounding of drums at the base of his skull whispered a daring Kill did he realise it was time to get a little desperate.

The sound was thrumming along the back of his eyeballs, and in tandem fuzzed the corners of his vision as he began to lose, and lose, and lose what he was staring at. Something moved to his side, and he could identify Uraraka between the fogging static.

Out of options, he did what he had never done before.

Uraraka let out a wheezy breath when Shou's chin pressed into her lap, and she instinctively clutched onto one of his nostrils to try and ease the weight against her legs.

"What on- Shou? What are you- get off!"

She was talking. Good. He pushed a little more persistently against her front, and her fingers hooked around the rim of his nose, making it itchy. His vision was clearing enough that he could see the wisps of her hair fly at every exhale he took.

"Fine then!" She released one hand from his snout and leaned down, conjuring her staff, and bonking him on the nose. It hardly felt more than a poke against his plated skin, but then he could feel the pinpricks of magic begin to seep through, slowly settling into his pores.

And then his head felt.

Weightless.

Feeling it rise without his control startled him, and he let out a grunt as the magic began to work its way down his system, through his neck, and the beginnings of his forelegs began to scrabble loosely at the ground. Was he floating?

On the ground below, Uraraka was turning purple, cheeks puffed out in exertion. Then she let out a gasp of breath, and within an instant her casting broke, and Shou landed back on all four legs; Uraraka fell to the ground on her back, arms and legs splayed out.

That was almost impressive, Shou thought. She had managed to render almost half of him completely weightless. He wondered if she used that antigravity cast often, and if she could train it further. Maybe if she could expand her natural magic pool, she could even sustain temporary flight by herself.

Fascinating.

Clearly defeated on the ground though, she was no match for Shou as he returned into her space, carefully pressing his chin back against her lap. She groaned from the ground.

"You... You win this round, Shou."

She gave his snout a loose pat; He snorted at her, satisfied.

"Uhh– You guys look like you're enjoying yourselves.”

Shou startled, picking himself up and swinging around, teeth bared, before snapping his mouth shut as he recognised Iida making his way back into the camp clearing. Uraraka picked herself up with some effort, huffing, "You're back already? Where's Deku?"

Shou blinked, then picked up his head, straining to see past the treeline. Where was Midoriya?

Why isn't he with you? He gurgled low at Iida, who picked his bag of supplies off of his back.

"He told me to come back to camp, we were helping a few villagers when an elderly man plucked him up on our way back and said he needed him for something. I was sceptical at first but he said something that seemed to put Midoriya at ease. I wasn't allowed to join them, I'm afraid, but I'm confident he'll be back by sunset."

"Are you sure?" Uraraka insisted. "That sounds... Really sketchy. Why would it be so important that you didn't stay with him?"

Iida shrugged. "I understand your concern, I wouldn't have trusted it either. But Midoriya seemed to know him somehow. An old family friend perhaps?"

"Still..." Uraraka plucked idly at some of the canned food Iida passed to her, looking anything but pleased. "–If he isn't back by the moment the sun sets, I’m sending Shou in to trash the place until we find him."

"...Acceptable," Iida agreed quietly.

Wait, that’s it? Shou blinked helplessly at the pair, as they began discussing the stock Iida had returned with. What happened to being paired at all times? Midoriya was left with a stranger? He let out a low whine, catching Iida’s attention, before glancing back to where he came from.

“It’s really nothing to worry about,” Iida reassured him, catching on quickly. “-Midoriya has an uncanny instinct when it comes to these kinds of encounters. You’ll have to learn to trust in him as we do.”

Unconvinced, Shou continued to stare resolutely over the bout of trees in his vision, unable to understand Midoriya's persistence to trust the unknown.

 


 

Shou was the first to hear his return, stumbling messily back into camp. He picked himself up with a cry, and ice gripped at the floor from the soles of his feet in his haste.  The last strands of sunlight were still arching over the horizon, only moments short of them preparing a rescue mission for him. Midoriya spooked at the greeting, palms held up.

"Okay, okay, sorry I'm back!"

"Deku!"

Midoriya was suddenly swamped in a hug from Uraraka, and buried beneath the creases of her cape. Iida walked up to them, smiling.

"I'm glad you made it back alright. What happened?"

Midoriya had a cheeky grin as he separated from his welcome hug. "A lot. But Gran Torino has a title I just couldn't ignore, even if he was a tad... Senile."

Shou curled around them protectively as they finally settled for camp, Midoriya retelling his day as this ‘Gran Torino’ person challenged him to several duels in hand to hand combat, and only letting him leave once he was satisfied. He had also gifted him with a personally crafted bow, which had Iida eager to assess it and its complexity.

"First thing in the morn," Midoriya promised. "-we'll try it out and see how well it can do."

Shou couldn't help but be curious too, and slept soundly knowing that his group was once again whole.

 


 

Midoriya must have been eager to try out his new gift, because he was awake well before Shou had even opened his eyes. He could tell from how equipped Midoriya was, and the pseudo targets he had set up, that he had been on his feet for a while.

From where he lay, Shou watched with half lidded eyes as Midoriya repositioned an empty can of beans they had used a few nights previous– though it looked a lot more dinted than when he had last seen it. How many times had he already hit it, Shou wondered.

Finally back to his starting point, Midoriya pulled his arm back, bow string taut and arrow at the ready, and with the way the dappled morning light splayed across his set form, Shou found himself staring with wide eyes and a loss for breath.

Oh, he realised, his form is atrocious.

For starters, there was no proper back tension in his stance. He was completely over-focusing on the state of his hands, and where the arrow sat along his fingers, that he wasn’t using the right muscles to execute the strike. Shou really wanted to correct the angle of his elbow too. He was being way more dramatic than he needed to be for an accurate shot.

Wait, Shou thought, grimacing as Midoriya forgot to pull on release, his arrow whipping out so poorly that it flipped mid-air and collided with the can sideways, -why do I know how to shoot an arrow?

He only vaguely listened to Uraraka's taunt and Midoriya's flustered retort, focused on his own front claws. He grimaced at the tough skin and platelets running down each digit, and flexed at them as if they were fingers. He couldn't hold an arrow if he tried, so why-?

Maybe all of this was some sort of twisted game where he could remember things from a past life. I wonder, Shou watched his friends laughing at Midoriya’s fourth poorly aimed arrow whizzing past the trees, if we had ever met in a past life. What would I have been doing? Would I have even been a dragon?

But that question was as useless as could be, in this life. He couldn’t be asking such impossible questions to begin with, if he was ever going to remain content living mute. He wistfully stashed away his questions alongside his newly discovered knowledge for archery.

Maybe one day he could find his answer.

 


 

The sun was warm on Shou’s body, the tree’s shadows dappled and broken across his plated skin as he rested on the ground. Midoriya sat cross legged, leaning against the crook of Shou’s elbow, softly talking to himself. They were waiting for Iida and Uraraka’s return from the nearby village, hopefully with a bountiful trade of supplies to keep them lasting on their journey. Birds tittered overhead, accompanied by the ever continuous scratching of Midoriya’s paper.

It was moments like this that Shou almost felt completely at peace.

At the sound of paper ripping, Shou glanced down, watching Midoriya break off a page and scrunch it up, dropping it to the side. He picked idly at the remaining bits of paper that clung stubbornly to the tome’s binding, laughing bitterly. “At the rate I’m going I’ll run out of paper.”

Then don’t tear it up, Shou would have said if he could. He exhaled deep enough to send the paper ball airborne, and it tumbled away from where they sat. Midoriya’s laugh became a bit more genuine.

“Do you think Uraraka and Iida would get mad at me if I asked them to buy me a new book?”

Shou didn’t need to think about the answer for that one. They were already out shopping, and returning to get a hasty “oh one more thing!” would sour anyone’s mood. So yes, they would get mad. Or maybe mad wasn’t the right word, perhaps disgruntled.

He answered by flicking the tip of his tail into Midoriya’s lap, sending his book out of his grip. Midoriya yelped, struggling to remove the offending appendage from his space as he tried to retrieve his work.

He finally reached his book, and knelt down to collect the loosened papers. As he kneeled, his sheathed short knife that sat in the holster of his pant leg loosened, flashing a single slit of silver.

And just like that, Shou’s world dipped into red.

D-danger, his mind scrambled, find, kill, him-

Midoriya stood back up, and the tension snapped like a cut wire. Shou shook his head, looking for the red, the silverwhere had it gone? He trembled down to his claws.

Wait.

When had he risen to his feet?

Midoriya turned and gave him an odd look, coming to the same conclusion. “Hey, are you okay? What’s wrong?”

Shou’s blood was bubbling, still reeling from the sensation of his veins alight – from what? Panic? – and he wobbly pulled himself down to sit on his haunches, eyes wide. Book in hand, Midoriya trotted back over and gave his leg a pat.

“Hey– I wasn’t leaving or anything. Just getting the book back– you know, that you knocked over.”

Shou ignored him to regain the natural pace of his breath, feeling ice tickle his nostrils and an insatiable heat crawling under his skin.

“I-I’m not mad,” Midoriya reassured. “–Honest! Don’t be upset, okay?”

His pats evolved into stroking at the off-white platelets of his limb, and Shou finally glanced back down at him. Midoriya’s gaze met his, his eyes wide and eyebrows creased, as if he was trying to decipher Shou there and then.

Underneath that bubbling panic Shou felt ashamed, even he didn’t know what had happened to himself. Shou bowed his head a little more, startling when a small hand placed itself at the rim of his snout. Midoriya continued his patting absentmindedly. It didn’t feel like much of anything, but it was a gesture Midoriya liked to use often. Shou closed his eyes and let him continue.

And then shot them back open the moment he heard the unmistakable approach of something rushing past the treeline.

Whatever it was, it was coming at them fast.

Adrenaline already spiked, Shou picked himself back up onto his feet, knocking Midoriya slightly who fell back with a yelp. Shou kept his head low enough to aim at the approaching figure, cold air leaking out of his nostrils in fumes. He readjusted his weight on his haunches, blood pounding, ready to attack.

There you are! I’ve been looking for you, Mister Dragon!” The intruder proclaimed, arms outstretched and overhead. With their oversized silver glinting goggles, oil covered overalls, and matted pink (Not red?) hair accessorised with some clumped leaves and twigs. He grasped at the lingering panic under his skin to open his jaw and release a quick shot of solid ice. The clump barrelled out of his throat like a cannon blast, the air around it so sharp that the grass underfoot of its trajectory froze at the tips like an ice kissed carpet. The projection collided and splintered the surrounding trees, leaving the woods crackling loudly as if aching.

Shou!” Midoriya yelped, “Why did you – no!!”

He ran towards the track of ice, much to Shou’s confusion. No? But they were advancing!

Midoriya’s dash got cut short when the stranger reappeared, poking their now ice tipped dreadlocks out from behind the glacial cannon ball. “Wowee – what kind of power was that! I thought dragons were all about fire!”

She stepped back into view, her boots crunching against the frozen ground. Midoriya waved his hand around anxiously at her.

“Uh, h-hey there, so sorry about that - can we help yo-“

“Excuse me for just a moment,” she said, not so nicely scooting Midoriya out of her path. He made a confused ‘eh?’ sound as she continued to beeline towards Shou; The dragon let out a bellowing hiss, his nostrils still fuming.

“S-Shou, don’t!” Midoriya begged, racing back towards them. Shou kept his teeth bared, but remained still, his mistrust palpable.

Ignorant to Midoriya’s pleas, the stranger muttered in earnest as she dared approach closer. “Hmm cryokinetic perhaps? I didn’t think dragons could be anything other than pyrokinetic. Perhaps a subspecies of dragon–? Those are easily mistaken, like every time someone claims that there’s a hydrokinetic dragon– Don’t they know a hydra when they see one?”

When she firmly planted her feet just inches away from Shou’s form, he almost had the urge to escape her presence and pace away from her. But her rambling was better than her colour scheme, keeping his head sharp and focused and agitated, but why wouldn’t she back off?

“Maybe I should take a sample,” she muttered, casually putting her inky hand onto his limb and digging her fingers into the crease of one of his ridged scales.

Hey!”

Shou had had enough.

Cold piled into his throat as fast as he could conjure it, splitting his maw wide and gaping, mouth echoing the chips of crackles as the ice clawed its way out of his system, ready to fire. He could see Midoriya approach again, and this time gave no margin for error, sweeping his tail and swatting him out of his path, before releasing his second blast of ice down his front.

He took a couple heaves of breath, surprised at the feel of ice beginning to cling in the narrow creases of his skin, making him feel stiff.

Midoriya groaned from where he had been knocked over, and Shou glanced over in concern. He hadn’t meant to have been so rough with him, but he was making no sense as to why he was trying to keep the griping enemy protected. They didn’t know her, but she seemed to have known Shou, if her approach was anything to go by. And Shou didn’t know any humans, had never interacted with them before until meeting his current wandering group.

Huh,” the stranger said, pacing out from behind the ice blast again. “You don’t have very good eyesight, do you? Is your vision impaired?”

Shou reeled back in surprise. What did it take to kill this person? He shifted his tail ready to swat her for good this time, when a surprise tug of weight landed on the end of his limb. Shou stopped his momentum in time to spot Midoriya gripping on tightly to one of his sharp spines recklessly.

Can everyone please just stop for a moment!?” Midoriya begged as he hugged the spike like his life depended on it. “He’s clearly upset by whatever it is you’re trying to do! I don’t know if you’re impeaching on some sort of dragon etiquette or whatever, but everyone needs to stop!”

If there was any dragon etiquette being violated, Shou certainly didn’t know of it. He just wanted her gone.

“Hmm?” The woman turned around as if finally acknowledging Midoriya’s existence for the first time. “Dragon etiquette? Could it be that this is your creature? Tell me; where did you find such a thing! Do you have records on it? Consider it my payment for helping you out with his broken wing-“

Wuh- how do you know about that?” Midoriya spluttered. Shou growled at her again, although at this point his message was being lost in the reception.  

“Why else would I be here?” she proclaimed proudly. “I’m Hatsume Mei, a blacksmith, engineer, cryptologist, and town’s tinkerer by day, and by night I’m still all of those things! There’s no time to rest, babies are a full time job after all!”

“That’s…Ambitious,” Midoriya supplied weakly.

It doesn’t explain how she knows about me, Shou sneered at her, unimpressed, before hearing something else approaching them. He relaxed only minutely when Iida ran into view, breathing heavily.

“Hatsume, you… Can’t just run off… In the middle, of our conversation.” He gaped once he realised the state of their half frozen camp. A few seconds later, Uraraka fell in from behind him, seemingly unable to breathe.

Oh Gods you all run too fast… I, uh - woah,” Uraraka shifted between looking from Shou snarling, to the frost bitten floor, to the mildly frosted Hatsume, to the Midoriya clinging stubbornly onto Shou’s tail. “Uhh, what happened?”

Midoriya groaned, “A mess. A mess happened.”

Shou lowered his tail and wiggled it just enough to shake Midoriya off without causing too much harm. He continued to side eye Hatsume warily.

Midoriya brushed the dirt from his knees, absolutely frazzled. “You uh, told H-Hatsume about us?” Midoriya glanced at the enthusiastic tinkerer a bit fearfully. Iida raised a placating hand.

“Not to worry! She’s promised to keep her secrecy for the job. We noticed her talented mechanical products in town and thought we could get a personalised brace to help protect Shou’s broken wing, and maybe aid it in repairing. But she uh, ran off the moment we mentioned about having a dragon.”

“Can you blame me?” Hatsume shrugged. “-The promise for a client with dragons is a bargain no one can resist!”

Uraraka managed to regain her breath, adding, “We’ve been leaving Shou’s wing to heal naturally for almost a month now, but it’s just not improving. And since we don’t have anything strong enough to keep it bandaged up, we thought that a metal brace could work!”

“That’s… Actually amazing guys,” Midoriya perked up. He faced Hatsume almost eagerly.  The traitor. “Do you think you could make something like that for him?”

“Of course! It’s only child’s play, but smelting a few metal beams together could make a frame to wear on the wing and cast it in place with ease.” She frowned, clearly disappointed with the idea. “It’s just such a shame, I could be making something world changing here, like dragon sized rocket boosters - for dragons! Or, you know,” she gestured at Shou. “-whatever he actually is.”

Iida grimaced, “We made ourselves clear on the rocket boosters earlier. Please, we’ll pay you for the brace, if you’ll make it.”

Oh, I can’t just shoo away such exotic customers, even if they are boring,” Hatsume tutted, resigned but willing. “Alrighty, let’s get that wingspan measured!”

Hatsume dug her hands into the metal box she had attached to her hip, but the moment she took a step forward, Shou mirrored a step back, arching his neck and spine.

“Is something the matter, Shou?” Iida asked, looking up at him in concern. Midoriya chuckled awkwardly.

“…Hatsume may have made a bad starting impression on him.”

A little more than a ‘may have’, Shou wished he could grimace. She’d probably chip away at a skin sample the moment she clambered onto his back. He didn’t know why (this was nothing new), but he knew that dragon parts were powerful, even in pieces. Something about their magical essence… But he couldn’t recall the details. But that still didn’t make him want to give out handouts of himself.

I made the bad impression?” Hatsume laughed, “-I wasn’t the one who tried to kill me on sight!”

Midoriya made an anxious praying motion. “We’re so sorry about that, I’m sure he didn’t actually mean it-“

“-Twice!”

Iida spluttered. “This all transpired in the twenty seconds we lost sight of you?”

Uraraka gave him a look. “She did list a compilation of at least 40 different metal gizmos and called them her children.”

“That’s fair.”

Anyways!” Midoriya butted in. “We still need Shou to agree to this. Shou-” Midoriya turned around to address him properly. “-I know you’re upset about Hatsume. But if you just let her measure out your wingspan and have a look at the break, she’ll be making you something that’ll help you take to the skies even faster than without.”

Shou stared at him, unsure. He didn’t know why he was so unsure; The answer was obvious as to what he should do. He knew that Hatsume was the better option out of all of this. But his blood was still spiking, he felt sour, and she came off in a self-righteous way that prickled at his nerves in a sensation he couldn’t quite justify. He felt like he was being used to be a gain for someone else.

It felt… Violating, somehow.

But, there were other people who were affected by his choices now. He was no longer only to think for himself, he had a whole traveller’s pack of people sharing this journey with him. He needed to set aside his personal feelings for logic, he knew that.

So why was it so hard?

“…Shou?” Midoriya asked once more.

With some difficulty, Shou finally relented and forced himself to settle onto his side, slowly spreading out his wings to lay beside him. Midoriya smiled, and glanced back over to Hatsume.

She pulled out her measuring tape excitedly. “It’ll be done in no time!”

 

In the foreground Midoriya and Hatsume talk amiably. Behind them, Shou the dragon scowls in contempt at the sudden friendly atmosphere.


 

True to her word, Mei Hatsume took a little under three hours to finish her creation, and most of that time was simply to get back to her workshop and gather supplies. She presented it with a “tadah!”, and Shou couldn’t fault her (as much as he wanted to), because there was a noticeable precision of accuracy in her work.

“I wouldn’t lump it into my list of babies, but here she is! She should be practical enough; You just clamp her onto the corresponding wing joints, and bam! She’ll brace that sucker up like the exoskeleton of a spiny beetle snatcher.”

“I’m afraid to ask,” Uraraka said.

And!” Hatsume announced, ignoring her, “–She’s completely mobile, and can be folded and expanded along with the wing! Now your dragon baby can grab his training wheels and relearn how to open and close that busted joint!”

I’m not a baby, Shou wanted to pout. He didn’t think it worked.

“You’re so efficient, Hatsume-san, thank you so much for this!” Midoriya grinned, clearly as enamoured as the technician was. “How much do we owe you?”

If it were possible, the glint from her glasses alone were enough to set Shou on edge. “Hmm, I could price you up, but I feel we could make a compromise if I could collect a scale from this lovely specimen, wouldn’t you agree?”

Of course she would.

“A-a scale?” Uraraka swallowed, glancing at Shou. He gave his best leer at the scene, hoping to get the message across. “Shou has… A lot of magical essence to him. It’d be irresponsible to just give out his scales like that.”

Iida nodded. “We’d be happy to give you anything else, but deals regarding our friend is out of the question I’m afraid!”

Hatsume pouted at their responses. “Not even a teeny tiny one?”

When the group simultaneously shook their heads, Hatsume sighed. “Fiine. Then, you there!” She pointed to Midoriya, startling him. “Owner of this specimen! Don’t think I didn’t notice your handwritten tomes and paper strewn about! You must have personal research notes regarding him, correct? Let me read them! That’s my wager!”

“Really? That’s it?” Midoriya scratched his cheek. “Honestly they’re not very informative, just passing thoughts and theories at best.”

“Nonsense!” Hatsume passed by him once more, crouching and unfolding his scattered notes as if she owned them. “All research is good research! And the less you know about something, the more you have to discover!” One of the partially rumpled notes caught her attention, and she hummed in interest, reading diligently.

“How wise,” Iida nodded solemnly. Midoriya flushed and began to recollect his works.

“I-in that case, most of my findings regarding Shou are in here.” He held out a partially filled tome, and Shou squinted at the smudge of faded brown the hardback appeared like. He had seen Midoriya write in that one a lot. Did he have a whole tome for himself? What did he write about him?

Hatsume took the book with eager care, flicking briefly through the pages before settling back to the first page.

“A decent amount – this’ll be fine! Give me a short while to read through it, and then you can be on your way!”

Thank the Gods, Shou prayed to the slow approach of the fading sun. The sky was beginning to bleed orange. They still needed to pack up with things and remake the camp for the evening.

Hatsume was an extraordinarily fast reader. She was finished before the sun kissed the horizon, returning Midoriya’s book with a grimace and a huff. Midoriya looked sheepish. “I-I’m sorry if they weren’t what you were looking for-“

“Hm? No, your findings were intriguing, it’s just–” She gave Shou a hard stare, as if trying to see him from another light. He sneered back at her, unimpressed. “–His behaviour is… Frankly nothing reminiscent to what it should be, from a biological point of view. He’s certainly not a dragon, in any case.”

She shook her head, collecting her tools and shuffling away. Uraraka offered her a forced wave. “Uhh, bye then?”

“Thanks for your work,” Iida nodded.

It wasn’t until Hatsume left from sight, than Midoriya finally spoke up.

“Not a dragon?” Midoriya asked himself quietly, glancing at Shou. “But what else could he be?”

Shou could only stare back in response, equally at a loss.

If he wasn’t a dragon, then what else was there?

Chapter Text

 

 

The glimmer of water was a welcomed sight.

His head peeking over the treeline, Shou could see it ahead, a large blue expanse of lake. The water was so tranquil it seemed as though a pocket of sky had fallen tothe earth.

Lowering himself back to four legs, Shou watched as Uraraka fought over the map with Midoriya, pointing to follow the open path, free from the trees that limited Shou’s journey. As much as he knew she did it out of his concern, he had better priorities to reach. His nostrils fumed a cloud of frost, which rattled the treetops and froze the closest of leaves into a symphony of chimes, startling them out of their bickering. Diligently, he pointed with his head towards the lake’s direction.

Midoriya snatched his map back, looking smug as he rolled it away. “And the dragon has spoken. We’re going this way.”

Uraraka huffed, her hand on her hip. “I swear you only win these fights because you suck up to Shou’s choices. One day he’s going to disagree with you!”

Hasn’t happened yet!” Midoriya cackled, hurrying through the trees. “Come on Shou! Show us what you found!”

Shou let out a deep trill, wiggling his haunches and leaping clear over the line of trees. He heard several startled voices but landed gracefully in his hurdle, his healing wing secure across his back. Even though he had yet to return to the skies, it felt almost natural again to move without his wing anchoring him to the dirt. Midoriya charged out of the trees behind him, catching himself on Shou’s hind leg with an “oomph!” He peered around his leg with his mouth agape, staring at the view that greeted him.

Woah…”

Shou could only agree in silence, inhaling the fresh breeze that blew over the lake’s surface. He could hear Iida and Uraraka hurrying behind them, letting out their own sharp surprises. It was indeed a vivid sight to behold. The sound of clasps clicking had Shou glance over to Iida, who was beginning to undress from his armour.

“A good find, Shou! We should stock up on water supply, and have a wash while we still have the chance.”

Uraraka rolled her eyes, pushing herself against Iida’s back and shuffling him near the water’s edge. “We can do that before we leave, for now let’s enjoy ourselves!”

“W-wait Uraraka I still have my boots on–”

Iida fell in with a yelp, tripping over his armours weight in the shallows of the water and landing with a splash. Uraraka leapt in after him, fully clothed, kicking up sprays of water as she tried to scurry into deeper waters.

“Uraraka, this is demeaning!”

“It’s called multitasking! Cleaning ourselves and our clothes!”

You know this isn’t how it works!”

Midoriya let out a hearty laugh at Iida’s expense, patting at Shou’s flank. “I bet you can make a bigger splash than either of them can.”

Shou couldn’t be sure from how high he was, but he could have sworn he watched Midoriya wiggle his eyebrows at him. Was that a challenge?

He was almost tempted to follow the happy vibes and launch himself into making some large waves, but as he watched Midoriya pause to take off his shoes and socks, Shou decided to dawdle into the shallows first to wait for his friend.

He didn’t get far.

One foot in, and Shou froze, staring eye to eye with his warped reflection underneath him.

Was that… Him? He pulled his leg back onto the shore as if stung, glare stuck on what stared back at him. Midoriya reminded him frequently that he was dragon-esque, but he had never considered how… monstrous he looked.

His snout was angular and sharp; the curve of his chin was freckled in short, sharp spikes emanating out like some sort of scaly stubble. His body was mostly white, an off-white tinge of red pigments in the creases of his hide. Two thin, elongated horns tapered off from his forehead, behind his head and twisting slightly at the edges. They seemed sharp and deadly, decorated by a crown of branched horns tapering from his brow. His eyes sat on the front of his face, sunken into the bridge of his snout. His eyes were a piercing blue.

But there was something strange about the left of his face. It was still the same colour as the rest of him, but the rocky texture of his skin wasn’t there. Across his sharp cheekbone, around his eye socket, and even above his brow was a clear lack of scales, of protection. His eyes were mismatched in tone.

He tentatively brought a claw up to his face, just to feel it but the tip broke through skin instantly, and Shou flinched away at the steady stream of blood that oozed from under his eye. Had his face always been so vulnerable? It was as soft as tissue. How had he never noticed after all this time?

His blood dripped black into the water, staining it like spreading ink. He felt dirty, and no longer from the soot and earth that mottled his feet.

He didn’t like this. How unnatural this all felt. He was labelled a dragon by his friends, and not-quite by others, but was this what he wanted to be? Whoever was staring back at him wasn’t who he was. He didn’t know how but that couldn’t be him. He shouldn’t be like this. He wasn’t supposed to be a dragon. But what else could he be?

His blood refused to dissipate in the water, only blotting out its clarity with each passing drop, and Shou bared his teeth, freezing the ground from the claws up. The edges of the lake solidified into an unstable layer of ice.

“H-hey!”

Shou startled out of his trance, turning to look at Midoriya, who had undressed into his vest and shorts. His exposed toes wiggled against the frozen earth, and Shou felt his stomach drop in guilt, releasing a heat of warmth around them. Midoriya grimaced from the immediate change, watching his feet sink several inches into the newly slushed mud. He gave Shou a look.

“Hey, uh, is everything alright? You seem upset.”

Shou grumbled low and quiet, wishing he had words to speak. Maybe the world just enjoyed being cruel to him, like this. Making him so different from those he felt the closest to, while blessing him with the knowledge to understand a language that he was cursed to never respond to. He wished he could tell them everything; how he knew nothing about himself, and how he couldn’t think without them there, and how something as cursed as himself shouldn’t exist in a world clearly not built for him. How dependant he felt, and how alone he was scared to be.

He felt Midoriya’s palm rubbing against his flank, wishing he could reciprocate the sensation back to him. He felt alienated. Shou sat back on his haunches with a sigh, and watched as Midoriya eyed his every movement.

He stopped stroking against his side, and made his way over to his front. When Midoriya extended his arms out, Shou lowered his head so that he could reach his snout, and stared at the tiny, tiny digits of hands scratch at the armour of his nose.

“Are you afraid of the water?” Midoriya guessed, unsuccessfully. Shou tried to focus on the small face in front of him, staring at the permanent smudge of dirt that Midoriya always had across the length of his face. Remembering he could answer, just a little, he shook his head in a slight ‘no’ gesture. Midoriya hummed, his hands pausing.

Errmm, could it be…” he let go of Shou’s snout to turn back to the lake, as if trying to spot some sort of clear answer in front of him. Iida and Uraraka were splashing each other further in the water, their laughs indicating the state of Iida’s boots had been forgotten. Midoriya turned back to the sullen dragon, sat in the mud, stained and sour. “…Do you miss the sky?”

Todoroki had to think about that one. He did miss the sky, but it was rather that he missed the purpose it provided; the insatiable loss of sensation and the lack of challenges it gave him, with nothing to bother him. It was a necessity, back before he had discovered that the quiet lull of friends chatting amiably besides the fire could bless him with an alternative remedy.

He settled for shaking his head once more. Midoriya was clearly at a loss, and Shou couldn’t blame him, because there just wasn’t words to explain himself, so he peeked his head over the lake’s surface once more, staring at the stranger reflected back at him. The black blood of his face had stopped dripping, but was still shiny and scabbing under his eye. He bared his teeth, and released a hiss.

When he didn’t want to look at the monster anymore, he turned away to acknowledge how intently Midoriya was watching him. How did Midoriya interact with him, every day, when that was all he could see? His reflection was hard enough for him to acknowledge. Maybe Midoriya was just that polite.

Arms making grabby motions, Midoriya said, “Bring your face back over here for a second.”

Shou followed without hesitation, his nose bumping into Midoriya’s chest, who wheezed at the impact with a laugh. “Easy there you eager beaver. Just – stay there for a moment.”

Shou kept his head steady, just over the water’s edge, and refused to look down, focusing on watching his companion pull off his shirt and dip it into the lake, wringing the wet cloth as it dripped in his hand. Then he faced Shou once more, and reached it up to dab at the bloody mark under his eye.

The unprotected patch of flesh was sensitive, and the cloth was cold, and sent a sharp sensation into him so sudden that he couldn’t compare it to any feeling he’d ever felt against the protected skin of the rest of his body. He could feel his skin spasm from the contact, and Midoriya pulled back with a quick, “Sorry! Did that hurt?”

Shou inhaled slowly – relaxing back into position – and Midoriya retried, albeit much softer. It hadn’t hurt, but the sheer difference of sensation from the soft flesh around his one eye to the rest of his impenetrable body was shockingly apparent. Midoriya’s knuckles brushed against the skin as he wiped and Shou tried not to think about just how hot his flesh burned in contrast to the cool, quickly staining shirt. He stared steadily at Midoriya, so close to his eye, and watched as his expression morphed into open wonder.

“W-woah, your pupil dilated,” he whispered in awe, which was - honestly the most confusing thing Shou could have possibly heard his friend say. He grunted, maybe embarrassed, and moved out of reach. Midoriya whined after him.

Noo wait, don’t go, I wanted to see! It looks cool I promise! Can you control it willingly without the change of lighting or – Shouuu!”

Shou rose with a curl, and promptly swatted his tail into Midoriya’s legs, who splashed unceremoniously into the lake bed. He pulled his head out from the shallows spluttering, and Shou gurgled at him.

“Are you seriously laughing at me right now?”

Uraraka and Iida laughed good-heartedly further in the water, and eventually even Midoriya succumbed to his state and joined in, not bothering to pick himself back up. Shou slowly let his noises settle, left to wonder how such amazing people could ever smile and laugh with such a monster. He was nothing more than a beast among men, and only time could tell how long such a strange camaraderie could last.

 

Shou the dragon stares down at his reflection in the water's surface. His black blood drips from his cheek and stains the water below him.

 


 

Without fail, every night of their journey would end in a new spin of tales spoken into the curling tendrils of the campfire, successfully lulling Shou to sleep. It made camping habitual, a time where Shou could feel his body lax in preparation for a regular sleep schedule, a luxury that had never existed before.

The night was warm, and fireflies buzzed amiably in the shadows of their space, never straying close near the fire itself, but always curious enough to buzz overhead. It was strange, Midoriya had once mentioned that winter had passed, yet the weather hadn’t shown any signs of change. The group didn’t seem displaced by it either, as if they didn’t associate winter with the maelstrom of white and cold that Shou did. It was his element after all. So where was it, in the natural world?

Were there places that didn’t snow? Was this one of them? He wondered how much time had passed, and how long they had travelled together. The weather never seemed to range farther than sunny to additionally hot to a cool drizzle and back. He wondered when the greens of the scape would die.

Midoriya wiggled beside his haunches, evergreen hair – as unkempt as ever – brushing against him as a head rest. It reminded Shou that he should be paying attention to the conversation that kept him sane day in and out, instead of confusing himself further. Saving me from my own thoughts.

“-and then, Master Yagi came out of nowhere, his sword brandished from its hilt and balancing delicately on the skin of his neck. His presence alone jarred him enough to drop his weapon from his grip, and the authorities finally came forward to take down the criminal there and then. And Master Yagi just calmly sheathed his still-clean sword, bowed to the captain, and came to collect me from the crowd. It was the wildest egg trip I’ve certainly ever been on.”

“That’s putting it lightly,” Uraraka teased. “With the amount of stories you have of you and Sir Yagi it’s no wonder how you haven’t managed to repeat any yet. Are you sure you’re not just spiralling up some old wives tales?”

Midoriya scoffed. “Ah yes. This whole time, I’ve been nothing more than a wandering bard, creating tales across the nation to woo the hearts of all.”

Iida glanced up at Shou. “Does this make you a Pied Piper?” Shou tilted his head lightly. What was that supposed to mean?

Midoriya glanced up at him. “Wha-buh-no! Shou is a valued member of this team, thank you very much!”

Uraraka leaned over into Iida’s personal space. “Well we know he wooed at least one heart.”

Midoriya threw his shoe at her, her laughter making his mouth curl despite his protests. “Don’t joke about stuff like that! Shou’s family.”

“Clearly you have miscounted, Uraraka,” Iida chimed in. “If there’s any wooed hearts it’s three.”

Midoriya held his face in his hands, whining loudly. Uraraka cupped at her heart. “Oh the Gods, you’re so right. I’m so sorry Midoriya, we love you so much.”

Shou blinked, amused at the display. He could feel Midoriya try and press his face into the crease of one of his scales. “You’re all conspiring against me.”

“Deku, you have three incomplete hearts seeking for your affection. You can’t ignore this. Make your choice.”

No!” Midoriya slumped down until his blanket was over his head, his legs sticking out from the other end. “Can we talk about literally anything else, please?”

“Oh fine,” Uraraka relented, and Shou could feel Midoriya melt further against him from relief.

“What about that knife of yours, Midoriya?” Iida suggested.

“My… Knife?”

Shou thought for a moment. Did Midoriya have a knife? He had never seen him use one before. Then his mind flashed a simple silver, red – red from silver, and… Oh.

Yes, he did know Midoriya had a knife. As if on cue, Midoriya’s fingers fiddled with the hilt of the weapon, secured against his thigh. Shou eyed the gesture wearily.

“It-I actually got it from Master Yagi. He gave it to me.” His voice was oddly muted, and quiet. Tender, maybe. Shou wasn’t sure what it could mean.

“A memento?” Iida pressed. Midoriya nodded.

“Yeah. He told me it was granted to him by someone powerful. He likes to call it enchanted, heh. I just, don’t want to use it except for the right time.”

Uraraka reached over a bare foot to stroke against his side, making him smile. “When’s the right time?”

“Who knows? Maybe it will just present itself to me.”

A definite you-answer Shou thought, resting his eyes. Always open and welcome to the unexpected.

As the conversation lulled him further out of consciousness, Shou was left wondering; That knife, could it truly be enchanted? After all, the one time he was exposed to it, he felt the overwhelming presence of something beyond dangerous to him. Maybe it was made to kill dragons, and other entities? Not that it mattered, always secured in Midoriya’s keep.

But the silver that streaked red, and throbbed into his fears was still there, despite his conviction that Midoriya himself would never hurt him.

 


 

Shou’s wings ached.

It was a recent discovery, feeling the stiff crack of joints folded along his back, and quite honestly Shou had almost forgotten that he even had wings. No longer was he a creature built for the skies, his life grounded had become second nature to him. In fact, he had forgotten about the brace securing his wings to his body until a particularly large tree branch managed to snag against the coil of metal, the object shifting against his scales with a resonating clang.

But now that he was aware of it, they were beginning to ache. Not hurt, per say, but it was if he was suddenly hyperaware of every movement along the ridge of his spine, and how his wings moved in tandem with his flank, and how the metal framing of his brace shifted along with the rest of it.

Shou was aware of sweating. He was aware he didn’t sweat. But even so, the pits of his wings stuck to his body like wet leather, and the everlasting humidity of the world was making him itch to stretch them out and dry out the undersides.

For once, none of his friends could sense his irritability with the contraption.

Though to be fair, they were rather distracted. Stripped down to their garbs, Uraraka was currently pinning Midoriya in one fancy looking headlock, her legs locking the joints of his body in place as he flopped rather helplessly in the clearing floor. Iida was monitoring their sparring, scuffled to the point where the bridge of his glasses had bent out of shape, sat skewered on his nose. He too was free of armour, elbows and knees scraped in crusted blood and dust.

“Alright then,” Iida called out, “-Uraraka wins this round!”

She released her grip on Midoriya, and clambered away from the remains of his corpse. He reanimated a few moments later, red faced. “Whaaat – no! Let me try again! I’ll get it right this time!”

Shou watched as Uraraka leaned in and wiped a big smudge of dust from his nose, a little smug. “No way, you’ve been in every battle thus far. Besides, we aren’t all made of stamina like you. We need a break as well.”

Midoriya picked himself up onto his feet with a groan. “It’s not like you have anything to worry about. Neither of you even lost!” When he padded over to Iida he accepted the damp cloth presented to him.

“It’s just practice though,” Iida reminded him. “We don’t want to exert ourselves too far, because then we’d just be getting injured for no reason.” Midoriya hissed at a particularly nasty scrape on his elbow, proving Iida’s point.

“Now’s as good a time as any to take a rest anyways,” Uraraka added. “After all, I’m still the reigning champion out of all of us!”

Midoriya leered daggers at her.

“I can bench press you.”

Uraraka stuck out her tongue. “Doesn’t mean much if you can’t catch me first.”

The taunt was so obvious even Shou knew it was a trap, but Midoriya fell for it anyways, lunging at her back and failing to catch himself when she leapt up without gravity to pull her back down. Midoriya ate dirt while Uraraka flailed blindly in the air like a fledgling bird, barely manoeuvring her way over until she clasped desperately onto Shou’s back. When she flopped back into gravity’s grip, she landed along his spine, letting loose some sharp hisses when the edges of his prickly back poked at her legs.

“Oh, ow ow ow, ah Gods, ow – Shou you’re like a giant hedgehog, oh Gods ow!” Midoriya was laughing at her pain from the floor as she clambered down his spine until she could reach the safety of his smooth wings.

Or, wing.

Oh,” Uraraka said, realising the metal rustic brace still pinning one wing diligently to his back. It was made to fit along the ridges perfectly, almost hidden from sight from the ground, although that also kept that one stuck branch tight and caught underneath the frame. Shou didn’t blame them for forgetting about it though.

“Hey, guys?” she called down below. “How long was Shou supposed to wear that brace Hatsume made?”

“Brace?” Iida asked, “I don’t think there was a – oh Gods, that was months ago!”

Months ago? Time passed quicker than Shou could keep pace with.

I know!” Uraraka called back, panicking. “I forgot he was even wearing it! We need to take it off!”

“Are you okay up there?” Midoriya caught her panic as if it was the next epidemic. “It’s not infected or open wounded is it? Do you need help?”

Gimme a sec!” she called, scrambling for the hatch to unclasp the device. Shou held still, not really fazed. It hadn’t been too irritant, in all honesty. And the more he remained still the quicker and easier she’d be able to remove it.

His memories teetered into the view of blinding stretches of landscapes, blurring and melding into streaks of colours. The sound of whistling wind sailing through the edges of his horns. You can fly, something small told him. His heart began to race, almost in excitement.

He heard Uraraka grunt in exertion, and then the metal clunked, releasing its loyal grip and sliding off of his sides to drop onto the floor below, that blasted branch snagging along with it. Shou inhaled, his ribcage feeling like it could expand more.

Oh.

He felt weightless. Uraraka wasn’t using her magic on him now, right?

But before he could check, his unused wing slumped from his body too, dropping like lead to his side as the metal binding him had done only moments before.

That… shouldn’t have happened, right?

So much for weightlessness. Now it was deadweight. He couldn’t even feel the limb as it sprawled out on the floor like the tails of a gown, flaps folded half-hazardly by his side.

“Did it-the brace – did it not work?” Uraraka fretted, a worried hand covering her mouth. But then he felt it. The sensation of his limb began to trickle through the wiry frame of the wing, the sensation scorching like a lit trail of gunpowder igniting through his bone marrow. He let out a venomous hiss, curling his toes at the sudden burn.

His wing tensed in an uncomfortable spasm, but the more he breathed through it the more the pain began to lessen off with each exhale, until it was bordering as tingly pins and needles. He hadn’t realised he had closed his eyes until he opened them, Iida at the bridge of his nose and patting soothingly over his skin. “That looked like some painful circulation. Has it passed?”

Slowly, Shou nodded, and Iida took it as a sign to stop his ministrations and step back to give him some space. He turned to look over his shoulder, and carefully wiggled his wing around in its socket. It was numbing out now, feeling slightly more like a part of him. He gave both of them a long stretch.

Uraraka let out a screech and tumbled off of his back, floating back down to the ground like a leaf. Oops. Shou quickly tucked his wings away and peered down at her in concern. Luckily, she landed on her feet with an embarrassed laugh, reassuring she was okay.

So,” Midoriya stepped forward, looking up at Shou like he had just presented him the world. “-you’ve got your wings back! Do you think you can fly?”

Shou re-stretched his wings, tossing them down and up in multiple strong pulses. The trees around them bent in the flurry of air expulsing from his strength. Uraraka and Midoriya were left crumpled on the floor gripping for purchase, but even still, Midoriya beamed up at him in pure ecstatic joy.

Unable to contain himself, Shou bared his teeth in reply, trying to grin.

Chapter Text

 

His flying could use some work.

“Hang on, Shou, Shou , please slow down, oh Gods we’re going to die , please Shou - watch out!”

Midoriya clung like a stubborn burr to the curve of his neck, his hands finding purchase under the edges of Shou’s scales that were almost tender. He needed to itch.

It turned out that Midoriya was not a fan of flying, despite his enriching praise after Shou’s first several practice flights. He hadn’t flown too far, mostly just to get a feel back for his wings, but felt more ready than ever to finally take a real travel across the skies, willing to take his allies to The Devil’s Gate by air. Despite the initial enthusiasm, Midoriya seemed to have quickly figured out that being in the air was different than watching, and refused to even admire the views of the skies he was screaming about. Surprisingly, Uraraka and Iida were perched casually along his spine, just behind Midoriya, but at least they were enjoying themselves. He could hear Uraraka laughing at Midoriya’s expense, and Iida steadied the row of riders at the back, seated rather comfortably with his heels secure by the ridges of his shoulder blades.

His pacing was much slower than when he used to soar, mostly from the disuse of his wings, but also somewhat from the focus of having a location to find. He almost missed drowning his senses to the blind soar of flight, but remained grounded by his companions (Midoriya’s) reckless babbling (screaming).

Ahead of him the sun had kissed the horizon, melting the sky into honey and ink. They had been flying for several hours now, he was sure, as Midoriya’s voice held a crisp soreness to his slowly tiring wails. Something similar to a reddish blotch could be seen just shy from the setting sun, and Shou knew that must be where the Devil’s Gate would lay. It was odd to look at - like a blip in space, distorted and gnarled; the air thick and pungent and heavy as if emanating a dark unnatural strength. Iida’s past warning of the journey being suicidal tickled at his mind, and he knew he would have to be on his guard, if they were to find whatever it was they were looking for.

As he followed the oozing sky, the world took a distorted plunge , and everything within Shou’s being shifted just out of place, startling Shou out of autopilot. He flapped his wings once, twice, wondering what had happened. It was like his head had been plunged underwater, the world was so quiet all of a sudden.

His veins froze, blood pounding to break free. He couldn’t feel his limbs, his toes. Had his heart stopped beating? No, it was throbbing insatiably, but no matter how hard the muscle tensed the blood could not flow. His ears were drowning in the sound of the beats of his failing heart, arrhythmic in sound yet deaf to his ears. How was it silent? Why was it silent? He needed noise. He needed… he needed

All Might.

No, no not again.

Find Him.

Kill him.

He needed sound! Something !

He picked up speed, descending rapidly. The air wafted against his flank, but the sound wasn’t enough.

All Might.

He needed to be faster .

He was missing something. Something that would stop this. It shouldn’t be happening again, but it was , and he was lost, losing himself.

What was he missing?

All Might.

Who was he?

“-ou, please ! Snap out of it!”

He was- he had .

Company.

Shou!”

His wings spread as far as they could reach, wind hitting them so fast he could feel his joints crack from the impact. He barely managed to blink away his tunnel vision, watching with alarm as the broken land below was approaching at rapid speed.

Oh Gods , Shou, please keep flying, we can’t land here, there are too many demons , please Shou –”

Shou grit his teeth, limbs alive and throbbing that reminded him that his heart was truly working , igniting fire in his veins that heaved him up, up with each new wing beat. The voices behind his ear were singing a chorus of appraisals and relieved sighs, and Shou could hardly breathe. What had just happened?

He’d nearly killed them all.

I-I’m so sorry, his jaw warbled, but only an obnoxious shriek of a cry bellowed out from his throat, and he could feel hands gripping in the soft creases of his spines as if they were trying to reclaim his conscience. It was working , and he tried to pant out the rest of his nerves.

Still hyper focused on the sounds of his friend’s voices, he glanced around at the land below him, where stone stained red and inky amorphous creatures trailed after his soaring shadow. Demons . They had passed into the barren territories of demons , and he had nearly crashed there. He needed to make it up to them all after this.

Shou! Watch out-!“

Shou barely registered to blink before something equivalent to the sensation of a mountain collided into his flank so hard he couldn’t breathe. Claws the size of his own were suddenly in his face and he screeched, caught off guard, not coherent enough to react, and was left flinching away from what could have been a punctured eye. The claws whizzed noisily past his face and he recoiled, mouth open and neck twisting so he could bite whatever was on him – some kind of demon? But as his neck rolled he heard the startled wails of Uraraka, screaming out Iida’s name. He barely caught the glint of metal drop like a pin past his vision, and his stomach dropped with it.

Was that Iida? Did he just fall from him?

He needed to move, now .

Shou tried to turn his body to pursue his falling friend, but whatever was on him had latched onto his side, kicking his wing shut, a limb winding its way around the crease of his forearm, before teeth punctured into the nape of his neck. The noise he made was ear-splitting, and he couldn’t wriggle free but he was beginning to drop from the weight. But it wasn’t fast enough to catch after Iida. He could barely hear Uraraka cast her spell, before the thing on him wailed too, releasing its bite.

Shou, with his neck now free, swung around and came face to face with a beast that resembled himself , scales as solid and as russet as the ground below. It pawed agitatedly at the mound of frozen flesh that encased its brow from Uraraka’s attack, squinting at him with its uninjured eye and letting out a menacing hiss.

Uraraka whooped out a short, “Shou, keep fighting! Midoriya, stay safe!” -before her figure whipped below him so fast he realised she had let go of him too , what was happening – he couldn’t just leave them! His mouth opened as wide as he could muster and shot pure shards of ice directly at the dragon’s face.

The attacker clung on for only a moment longer before it released its grip, freeing Shou from the assault and allowing him to tuck his wings in, tight, tight , free-falling down through the dry clouds - oh Gods he’d be too late, he needed to hurry. He was about to lose everyone this was all his fault-

Midoriya was still clinging to the back of his ear like a champ, screaming for him to hurry up and he was trying , he was , but he was truly not prepared for anything of this calibre to ever happen.

He broke through a thin layer of cloud and there they were, Uraraka grabbing onto Iida and turning purple as she held her breath, slowing their descent to a snail’s pace with her oh so remarkable magic. Shou spread his wings to reduce his fall speed, curling underneath them and feeling them settle onto the spines against his back. Uraraka let out a desperate gasp for air, before promptly heaving down his side.

He couldn’t care less. The moment they were to land he was going to smother them in a not so fragile hug, puke and all.

But he didn’t have time to relax. His limbs skimmed the ground, trying to regain altitude, when the second dragon came striking down after him. This time he managed to dodge the dive, sweeping to the side and watching the red beast crater into the ground. It was absolutely unfazed though, its flank built like impenetrable armour, as it practically bounced off from its crash site and straight into Shou’s underbelly.

Shou choked on frozen spit from the hit, managing to crash land into the ground on his chest, his passengers still on his back. His chin clipped on the ground, upheaving broken rock and skidding a trail of debris and dust behind him. He managed to stop, the skin of his underbelly sore and grazed, rising to his feet just in time to see the rivalling beast land in front of him with a heavy thud.

Shou could feel the hot scramble of his comrades on his back, hear the tension of the stretch of bow string from behind his head, Midoriya aiming to take a shot. Accompanied by the gleam of metal sword and the sweet murmur of Uraraka’s already spent magic being cast, Shou almost felt confident. There was four against one, and they were grounded. Shou knew how to handle the ground. How would an airborne dragon fare?

Alright!” a distant voice yelled, angry, hungry, the voice new and agitated and excited enough to catch Shou off guard just enough to question. “Let’s cook these fuckers up and show them who the fuck they’re dealing with!”

And there, just on the hide of the other dragon, Shou could see something – a person, clambering into view on its shoulder blades. So the dragon had allies too, it seemed. It wouldn’t matter, in any case. Shou rose his head high, feeling the incoming build of frost permeating down his chest and solidifying into the back of his throat. If he aimed well enough, guided by the attacks of his allies, he could freeze them all in place and nullify the threat in one swoop.

Just as he bared his teeth, ready to erupt, Midoriya released the tension of his bow, without the whoosh of an arrow, and said, completely disarmed, “Wait – Kacchan ?”

The warning was too late, and like trying to apply brakes to an avalanche, Shou released his torrent of ice. The broken air that surrounded the Devil’s Gate crystallised in erratic shapes, shattering around the blast and turning loose ice shards black . They crumbled like soot, and as the blast exploded into a fume of smoke and ash against the hide of the red dragon, Shou realised that he was in a land that defied logic, and was clearly out of his element.

“Is that all you’ve got?” The other human crowed, balancing perfectly on the shifting muscles of the dragon as it readied itself in place, bracing its front legs and raising its head for its own turn. The frostbite developing across Shou’s chest made it a little rough to breathe, and he tried not to let the slow envelope of his ice smoulder into an inky black charcoal on his skin distract him from what was to come next.

He managed to hear the echoing gargle of igniting gas travelling up the dragon’s throat, and realised he knew that sound; it was the sound igniting flames from – who again? But the lost details were irrelevant – what was important was that his friends on his flank were not fireproof. Shou shook them off post-haste, slightly guilty as they tumbled ungracefully to the ground, their weapons flying out of reach. He arched over them, grounding his own feet, bowing his head and fanning his wings over them – just in time to see the light of fire blind his vision and feel the heat and molten flame drip against his body like molasses. It was hot against his frozen self, and it burned , but it was endurable, and he roared furiously, waiting for the batter of hell fire to stop.

There was a shift in force, where the brunt of the flame charge desisted, but the pounding heat and flame licked continuously at the air, and Shou hesitated to move. If he did, Midoriya, Iida, and Uraraka could still be exposed to the magmatic heat. The hesitation was just too long however, and out of the dissipating wall of flames shot out the dragon, horns at the ready and digging below his head, as if aiming straight for the people underneath.

Shou dropped his weight on the horns as fast as he could muster, attempting to crush them under his weight, when they swung their head up and Shou’s underarms caught on the tough antlers, lifting him onto his hind legs with a grunt, and kept pushing . His world careened right side up, and he found himself on his back, wings flapping the ground uselessly. His opponent held steady, forcing their weight into the base of their claws, crushing down hard on Shou’s chest. He writhed, praying that the bumps scraping underneath him was nothing more than the rough terrain catching on his armoured plating.

The dragon clambered further over his body until its elbow shoved deep into the crook of his clavicle, pinning his head in place. Shou scrabbled his claws along the appendage, trying and failing to dislodge it. The pressure was tight enough to make him wheeze, but he could still breathe.

A glint caught the edge his vision, Iida’s armour in view as he stumbled out of the way. A moment later he spotted Uraraka and Midoriya. The relief was short lived however, when a ting of explosion rocketed from the back of the other dragon.

“SO YOU FINALLY GOT THE BALLS TO CHALLENGE ME, DEKU!”

A blast of magic tore through the dry air like a heatwave, and Shou watched as the person shot out through the dark of the explosion plume, lunging straight for Midoriya. Midoriya barely had time to raise his arms over his face, shouting a timid, “H-hang on a minute-!”

The stranger’s hand shot forward and his magic exploded in his palm, striking Midoriya straight into his exposed torso. He let out a cry of pain, blasted back by the impact. Shou bared his teeth, frost ready to erupt from his throat, when the dragon pinning him started to actually crush his windpipe, cutting off Shou’s breath. He flailed, distracted, trying to shove the dragon off of him, but to no avail. From the corner of his eye he watched as the dragon rider sent wave after wave of heat and power at Midoriya, who was taking the beating without a breath to be spared.

“K-Kacchan,” Midoriya spluttered, narrowly ducking under the next explosion, soot streaking his terror filled face. “ P-please , you’ve got it all wrong-!”

You’ve got it all wrong, you dumb fuck!” Kacchan roared, his voice rising when Midoriya threw himself out of the way of his next hit, rolling across the ground. “You think you can come here, where you know I am, with a fucking dragon of your own, to surpass me? It’s like you want to die, you suicidal fuck!”

Midoriya barely got back onto two feet before Kacchan met him mid-air, swinging his left arm wide. He watched Midoriya put his arms out to catch the arm, when Kacchan’s foot clocked his chin and knocked him back, leaving Midoriya choking on his tongue.

Help him! Shou roared, absolutely furious. But to his horror, Iida was racing towards the scuffling dragons instead, and Uraraka was failing to aim a blast at the fighting humans, screeching in frustration.

“Deku, make some space between you two! I can’t get a clear hit!”

“D- don’t!” Midoriya gasped, as uncertain on his feet. “Don’t interfere! K-Kacchan needs this, I just have to-“

I don’t need anything from you , useless Deku!” His enemy yelled, throwing himself forward, ready to blast Midoriya with both of his palms. Before they reached his face, Midoriya somersaulted backwards, his legs thrown up into the air and kicking out Kacchan’s leg. He fell backwards, explosions released into the air above them, landing roughly on his elbows. Midoriya was just as ungraceful, taking the brunt of his flip by landing on his front.

Shou thrashed relentlessly, one wing free and floundering uselessly at the ground as he tried to wedge his way out from under Kacchan’s dragon, but to no avail. He swatted uselessly at its flank with the appendage, and in return it hissed, bowing its head and blocking his vision with its teeth .

Pinned on the ground, Shou could see the depths of the dragon’s throat light up, that ever-horrifying gargle building up until its tongue ignited before his eyes branded fire .

His face was –

Melting.

His scarred, unprotected eye, was nothing more than wax dripping down his maw.

For the first time in his life, Shou screamed .

The figure curling over him held his hair steady, pulling the roots, forcing him to stare at their face as they wept ugly tears.

It hurts!

Her agonised expression, looming over him, saturated out of his vision as it pooled into blinding streaks of light.

“STOP IT, PLEASE!”

He was blind, he was burning, and he was going to die .

MOTHER!”

The world stilled in an instant, warping into fragmented imagery.

He continued to wail, his vision nothing but light and water, hot water, it burns its burning - even though the searing heat of the boiling air around his head had dissipated, and the weight from his body was lifted.

His wails died out, slowly, as he drowned in the feeling of burning alive in a body that should have been fireproof. His vision began to swim in the light, taking a blurry form, and Shou shuddered out a gasp. What had just happened? Had he whited out?

He could hear the muted sounds of scuffles around him, but couldn’t connect them to their sources. Where did everybody go?

He felt himself roll onto his side, and slowly tried to regain his surroundings. His face was the essence of pain, but only stemming from the left side. There was no melting wax skin. He could still see out of both of his eyes, he was certain. Shou shook his head softly, trying to readjust.

To his right, he could make out the other dragon slumped onto its side, seemingly submissive to a person clambering over its hide. It was Iida, and by the bloodied tip of his sword indicated, he must have aided in saving Shou from the beast’s attack. He held the weapon by the crook of its neck, and the dragon remained still, as if accepting its possible death. Iida made no more move to attack though, instead holding it steady as he glanced over at Shou, giving him an odd stare, before his gaze trailed behind him.

Eyes widening, Shou followed the movement, honing in on a beyond furious Kacchan , who had one foot on the back of a very singed, unmoving Midoriya, and one palm outstretched towards Uraraka, who stood only feet away, her staff outstretched and coiling in magic. Nobody was moving, and it became clear why.

They were at stalemate.

Shou took the initiative to rise, and the sound of his ragged breath startled everyone’s attention to him. Kacchan leered at him, then barked out a wet laugh, shimmying the heel of his boot deeper into Midoriya’s back. Shou let out a low growl.

“You honestly came here with a half ass dragon like that , expecting to beat me? Your cronies did more damage than he did.”

“W’r’ naut … H’re to ch-arrenge you…” Midoriya barely managed, his face plastered in the stone below. Shou bared his teeth, edging closer. But Kacchan grinned back just as wide, as if it were a challenge.

“Go ahead you scaly ass freak, come closer so you can watch me burn this fucker’s face to match yours .”

“Don’t even try it,” Uraraka warned, the magic of her staff beginning to spark. “One more move and I will strike you again, and Iida will kill your dragon, and then all of this would have been for nothing.”

Fucking bitch ,” he spat, but remained still. Shou waited for a moment, then stepped forward again, and Kacchan snapped, “ For fucks sake, Deku! Call off your ugly dragon and accept your defeat already! I’m not giving up this land for shit turds like you!”

“We’re not oh get off me already !” Midoriya pulled his head up from the ground as much as he could. “We’re not here to challenge you! We just need your help! That’s the only reason we’re here!”

“Oh, a fucking fine example of talking you’ve given us. Gotten real good at that diplomacy of yours, huh Deku? What chapter of nerd class has trespassing and invasion in it?” Kacchan spat.

Are you kidding me!?” Uraraka was seething. “You and your dragon attacked us first! Will you just lay off already?”

Kacchan glared holes into the mage. “Call your fucking tin can off of my dragon and we’ll consider it.”

The clearing was tense in silence. Then Midoriya spoke.

“Uraraka. Iida. Do as he says.”

“Deku, think about the position you’re in right now-!”

“I-it’s okay, Uraraka! I promise – just, do as he asks.”

She let out a frustrated noise, lowering her staff as her magic fizzled out. Kacchan tensed, watching her, before glancing over at Iida, who reluctantly pulled away, scampering off from the dragon.

The beast rolled onto its front, standing itself up with a shake, and Shou tensed, ready for retaliation.

“Okay,” Kacchan grunted, “Good. Kirishima.”

The dragon perked its head up at his name.

“Kill the fucker’s properly this time.”

Are you serious!?” Uraraka yelled, racing for Iida’s arm and dragging him beside her. She rebranded her staff, Iida with his sword at the ready, and Shou clambered above them, prepared for another round of combat.

But Kirishima only stared at them, one eye wide, and the other crusty with clotted blood. Then he turned to Kacchan and, in a clearly human language, said, “Come on Bakugo, that’s way too unmanly.”

What .

Shou felt his jaw snap open in shock, muscles tense at the clearly relaxed, clearly talking dragon in front of him. Bakugo bristled.

“Kirishima don’t fuck with me ! I gave you a fucking order!”

“Dude, no . You gave your terms, and they even listened to you. You’re better than this.”

“You don’t have a right to question me, you spiky ass lizard!”

Kirishima gave him a long, slow blink, then said, “What’s with this? You’re not usually this bull-headed.”

Bakugo charged at him with a roar, and Shou watched, absolutely perplexed, as explosions blasted uselessly off the dragon’s flank. Kirishima looked resigned to be used as a punching bag, glancing over at their group and shrugging helplessly while Bakugo screamed obscenities into each blast.

What is going on?” Iida whispered below him.

I have no idea ,” Uraraka hissed back.

Shou watched in muted confusion, unable to vocalise his agreement.

Then Midoriya groaned pathetically from the floor, and they quickly pushed aside their misgivings, racing towards him in a panic. Iida lifted him by his armpits, and the smaller man groaned, head rolling back into Iida’s chest plate.

Oh Gods , guys, I thought I was gonna die .”

“You should be dead, fucking Deku!” Bakugo yelled, clearly having a tantrum over by Kirishima. Shou stepped over his friends warily, just in case.

Uraraka grumbled, “What an ass! Do I even want to know why he knows your nickname, Deku?”

Midoriya laughed painfully, “ Um , that is… Actually the guy we came up here to meet. Uraraka, Iida, Shou, meet Kacchan. K-Kacchan, meet-“

SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Bakugo exploded his palms one last time into red flank, before swivelling around on his heel to point at Midoriya. “ Nobody fucking call me that! The name’s Bakugo and you’re in my territory, where there are demons every-fucking-where , and you’re trespassing ! Give me one good reason why we don’t kill you already! No- !” He scrambled to point at Kirishima, who blinked at him innocently. “- You give me one good reason not to kill you already! Mister I-Can’t-Follow-A-Single-Fucking-Order !”

He was left panting loudly for a few seconds, as Kirishima waited before responding, “Are you done now?”

“Don’t talk to me like you’re above me. I’ll fucking kill you.”

“Aw man, don’t kill me, I like working with you!”

“For the love of the Gods will you just -“

A foul shriek tore through their bickering, distorting the air into foul miasma. Shou, distracted by the nonsensicals of their odd encounter, quickly assessed their surroundings as best as he could. Approaching fast from the direction he flew in from were large masses of ink, spreading their way across the terrain at incredible speeds.

“Demons,” Midoriya wheezed.

Iida gritted his teeth. “They must have been following us the whole flight over. We’ve been too distracted, we need to keep moving!”

Small crackles burst from Bakugo’s palms. “It’s about fucking time the cavalry showed up.”

“That’s uh, your cue to leave,” Kirishima – the dragon – piped up brightly. Shou was still at a complete loss. “You better find a place to hide for a while! Get moving while we hold them off!”

“This is-” Iida started.

“-Confusing.” Uraraka finished.

Midoriya groaned in pain in Iida’s arms.

“You’ve got the next four seconds to leave before I paint this shithole in the blood of absolutely everyone in the vicinity!” Bakugo crowed, hands glistening as if willing nitroglycerin out of his pores to soak the skin.

That felt like a promise Bakugo could keep. Shou flapped his wings, and as his body began to leave the ground he cupped his party into his foreclaws, their shouts of surprise muffled between his caged digits.

Little of the dead ground below was disturbed by the power of his wing beats, as he took off higher into the skies, carefully eyeing the inky demons rapidly approaching the downed dragon and his rider. After that display, Shou didn’t know which he wanted to be the victor.

He could feel the frantic wriggling of his friends between his clawed palms, and focused on the sensation as he tried to figure out where he needed to go. They wanted to get to The Devil’s Gate, but the portal itself was supposed to be an otherworldly sort of dangerous. With the demons already around the area, he didn’t want to approach a beacon that could potentially have more. Ahead of him, the sky distorted to a single fragmented line, as if the air itself was lazily drifting into a flat point of space. Assuming that was the gate, Shou flew off to the side and out of its direction, lowering himself to scour across the uneven craggy grounds of the land below. The ground rose and fell in drastic depths, natural overhangs and drops available for shelter. His face was still indistinguishably itchy.

Wary of the risk of demons, Shou finally made to perch upon one of the higher layers of ground, which wedged further into a crevice for even higher land. If he tucked his wings in tight, he’d be able to fit inside. Shou made sure to push his weight onto his haunches, cupping open his forelegs and watching the people inside tumble out. He winced at them, apologetic.

“So… Hot …” Midoriya gasped from the ground. Iida was making a quick scramble to remove his armour, and as it clattered to the ground the dusty ground began to sizzle on contact. From where she lay on the ground, Uraraka began aggressively wafting the corner of her hood in an attempt to fan herself.

Shou offered a forepaw, pushing for the feeling of ice to creep out from under his scales. It sat on his limb for only a few seconds, before it moulted black and crumbled off of his body. His ice was still useless in this domain then.

His company was left gasping in surprise as he huddled close to them, nudging them up to the shaded rock hurriedly with his tail. They stumbled blindly to keep up with his pace, and he pushed them into the shadowed crevice beside them, hoping it was cooler inside.

From outside, an inconspicuous noise of a dragon’s cry could be heard. Shou glanced out behind him, wondering how the battle was going. It was Uraraka’s voice that brought his attention back to the group.

“Hey, this looks like an entrance to a cave!” She had stepped further into the narrower trek of rock, peeking around a blind spot Shou couldn’t see from the entrance. The tip of her staff glowed dully for light, but her arm quivered from the use. Midoriya approached her and held onto her arm, lowering it gently.

“Uraraka, you’ve used too much magic,” he coaxed, watching her with intent until she sighed and the magic light blinked out. They were pitched into darkness, Shou barely able to see them in the crevice. At least they’d be well protected, but he stuck out like a pile of snow. He blinked when Iida clambered over his claws, walking back into the crevice. In his arms he carried his overwarm pieces of armour, bringing them into the shade. When had he-?

“We could always use Shou’s fire,” Iida suggested, slowly trying to shove each piece of metal into his carrier. Shou squinted. His what?

“Y-yeah,” Midoriya said, his voice small as he stared wide eyed at Shou. “That is… New .” He leaned into Uraraka. “When did that happen again?”

“When you were getting your ass kicked by Lord Explosion Murder.”

“Ah. Okay.”

What’s new? Shou cocked his head at the group, confused. What are you talking about?

From below his feet, Iida pulled out more utensils from his bag. “It would have been more convenient if we had known about this power from the start,” Iida huffed. “But no matter.” He pulled out a wooden spoon. “We can use this as torchwood for now, while we have no trees to work with.” When he stood up, he wiggled his spoon in hand. “I know we don’t have any lighter fluid at the moment, but I think Shou’s fire mask should have enough behind it to light the wood.”

My what?

His forepaw rose to his snout, and he patted past the bridge, trying to find something. A fire mask? What was that? His feet were as numb to heat as the rest of him, and he could feel nothing physical across his ridged face. His claws brushed against his tender skin by his eye and he winced, followed by a strange fizzing sound. Beneath him, Iida just sighed.

“-Or not .”

Shou put his foot down, grumbling in frustration. Tell me!

“Can you like-” Midoriya flicked his fingers in front of his eye repeatedly. “- ignite the fire from your face again? Or breathe fire, maybe? How did I not know about this before?”

There was a beat. Then Shou’s forepaw pushed back into his face, patting repeatedly. His face had done what ? He was on fire? Since when ? Wasn’t he supposed to be an ice dragon?

“Well, it only showed up after the other dragon breathed fire across his face,” Uraraka added. “Maybe he just – caught on fire from it?”

“Regardless of its source, we just lost our only natural lighting for inside,” Iida lamented. “Guess we’ll go in the good old fashioned way. I’ll go first, you two are exhausted.”

He stepped past them, offering their bags to them on the way, his hands clear to brand his sword with ease. He vanished into the darkness for almost a minute, before his voice echoed from inside.

“It’s all clear! There’s actually more space in here, Shou could fit if he can get through the narrow part of the entrance.”

Midoriya put a hand to his chest. “Oh thank the Gods. We can all rest.” Uraraka grabbed his bicep.

“Come on, let’s go!”

They vanished eagerly into the shadows, and after one last glance to make sure no demons had followed them, Shou gently forced his way into the crevice.

Their cave trip was completed in total darkness. Even though it was still daylight outside, the narrow twist from the entrance blocked any light from further inside. It was awkward, and Shou had to suck his gut in and press his wings forcefully into his sides to navigate through, but he hadn’t managed to squish anyone yet, so that was an achievement in itself.

Somewhere in front of him, Shou heard Iida say, “Alright, this looks like the end of it. We can probably rest here for now and recuperate.”

Shou took exactly two paces forward before his muzzle collided thickly into stone, and he felt his teeth grind as he recoiled from the impact. The walls shook, and a strange tinny echo rattled throughout the cave. There was a single point of shattering to his left, and it wasn’t the sound of his teeth or his pride. Below him, Uraraka chuckled nervously.

Please tell me that was you, Shou.”

He grumbled in response, flaring his nostrils to stretch out the pain.

Slowly, Shou manoeuvred his body to the ground, splaying out his hind legs as he tried to get comfortable on the stone. He curved his arms on the floor, feeling him nudge someone closer so he had room for his legs. His wings and tail kept knocking into things he couldn’t see, but whatever they were they clearly weren’t rock. Loose and disconnected from the ground, the things would clatter and rattle as they wobbled off-balance, some stray thuds as things knocked over completely. Whatever it was seemed to be inanimate, at least. He could feel his friends flinching, tucked in the space between his crossed forearms. He rumbled deep in his throat, hoping it was enough to convey to them that they were safe.

He stayed like that, feeling the weight of their long day press deeper and deeper into his muscles, as he waited for the awkward shuffle as everyone set out their sleeping gear. His head draped across one leg, and before the others had settled themselves comfortable into the rock cave, Shou succumbed to his exhaustion.

Shou the dragon looms overhead of his three companions - Midoriya, Uraraka, and Iida, who are all posed to fight. Shou is snarling with teeth bared, and the left side of his face alight in flames.

Chapter Text

 

Light registered under Shou’s eyelids, and the sudden intensity of it was enough to startle him into consciousness. His head whipped up, limbs jolting as if catching himself from a false freefall, and he was left swinging his head around with bleary eyes.

The cave was lit up.

But how-? Shou heard the various stages of confusion in his waking crew, and he huddled his forearms even closer, keeping them tucked in and secure under his bosom.

In light, the cave looked nothing like Shou had expected it to. In fact, it didn’t seem like a cave at all. The walls were unnaturally straight and angled, and the floor was littered in rows and rows of wooden cabinets, shelving full of various glasses and objects. A large amount by the cave’s entrance were knocked over, objects shattered and glass everywhere. Small pockets of tunnels led off from multiple places in the walls, only the size of a basic human. And in the main entrance stood two human figures, one hand held over a switch on the wall. Shou glanced up only briefly.

Oh, weird . An array of wires spread out from the switch, arcing across the ceiling like branches of lightning. He couldn’t quite tell what they were, other than the gentle pulse of magic and electricity emanating from them.

Lights.

Huh .

“What the fuck are you doing in here.”

Shou turned his attention back to the newcomers, his spines down his back bristling. He knew that voice, with how much it was shouting at them only hours earlier. Midoriya, now coherent and awake, began to scramble over Shou’s protective arm-wall, his voice echoing in the wide stone room. “ Kacchan ? Y-you found us!”

Uraraka and Iida were soon to follow, leaping over his carefully placed limb to keep Midoriya accompanied. Shou froze when he realised he didn’t have enough room to turn around, and whipped his tail between them and Bakugo. At least this limb was ridged in spines, a mildly better guard than his arms failed to be. He watched warily from his angled neck.

“I didn’t find you,” Bakugo panted, his voice clearly broken and spent from their last encounter. His teeth seemed to be bared as he spoke, yet the slump of his arm as it fell from the light switch indicated exhaustion. “ You fuckers – out of all the pits you could’ve crawled into and died in – decided to hide in my fucking house-”

“I-it was an accident!” Midoriya said, arms up. “W-we didn’t know there were arti-tificial l-lights and we stumbled here blind – I swear Kacchan-”

“Shut. The fuck up .” Bakugo grunted, and Midoriya’s mouth zipped closed instantly. “I don’t give two flying shits. Fucking leave, now .”

Iida scowled, finally at Midoriya’s side. “Has your vocabulary always been so crude?”

“And limited ,” Uraraka added, deadpan.

“Get out ,” Bakugo persisted. Shou leered across at him and the stranger at his side. His company had hair even more jagged than Bakugo’s explosive top, a deep blood red, and equally piercing eyes. His colours smudged vibrant along the reddish cave walls, and he watched the conversation in one wide eyed silence. The other eye was crusted shut in dried blood.

Bakugo himself seemed more sunken than earlier too, a hunch to his shoulders, and his bare chest and worn furs splattered in black inky substances. Leftovers of their demon battle, presumably. Even his voice didn’t carry as far, and there was an unspoken raggedness to his breath.

He was at his limit.

“Is there – are there any more demons?” Midoriya asked tentatively.

“Demons spawn every passing second,” Bakugo spat. “They’re everywhere . At all times. But I kill every one of them that I come across, and you will be next if you don’t get out in the next three seconds.”

He lifted his palm, and it fizzled only once before the stranger paced forward and grabbed it boldly, shoving the hand down to his side.

“O- kay , I’ve seen enough,” he said, voice surprisingly tilted in something akin to amiability. “ You -“ he pushed persistently against Bakugo’s shoulder, who snarled at him. “-need to go patch up. And rest, if you can, before day breaks.”

Fuck off!”

“Can’t! I live here too!” He smiled, before grimacing and pushing a hand into his side. “ Man that still hurts. I need patching up too, if that helps!”

“It doesn’t.”

Aw .”

“Excuse the interruption,” Iida said, “- but – who are you ?” The stranger bore a grin, his mouth a multitude of serrated teeth, yet somehow with less bite than any of Bakugo’s sneers.

“I’m Kirishima!” he announced.

“He’s Fuck-Face!” Bakugo said at the same time. Kirishima pouted.

“I’ve been downgraded to Fuck-Face?”

Yes .”

Shou thumped his tail, and Bakugo’s scowl somehow got deeper.

“Are you shitheads still here?”

“Look, okay – look !” Kirishima, turned in front of Bakugo, making a barrier between him and Shou’s tail, which was getting all the more tempted to accidentally nail him into his own wall. “ Look , they don’t have anywhere proper to go. And it’s still night out, you know how demons are. They blend and shit with the shadows, right? And these guys brought an ice magic wielder here, for crying out loud! They’re clearly not prepped for any kind of invasion like we first thought, you know this. So let’s just, let them stay where they are until the sun comes up, and then let them go on their merry way?”

Bakugo breathed hard, glancing from the group to Kirishima. Then, quietly, he gritted out, “Why should I?”

“Because I think their scaly friend is stuck,” Kirishima replied. Shou hissed from where he was, but Kirishima’s words rang true, because his wings smacked unceremoniously into the cave’s walls, not enough room to even lift them from his back. He felt a single hand press supporting into his side, and ceased his movement, glancing at the top of Midoriya’s unkempt hair behind him.

When he glanced away, he stared back at the focus of Bakugo’s gaze watching him. The look he received was equally unimpressed. Eventually, Bakugo scoffed.

Fine . Because they’re fucking hopeless. That’s the only reason why. Now wipe that dumb happy look off your face and get yourself fixed up. I’m going to bed.”

He made sure to roughly shoulder past Kirishima as he went, although from the look of it it was likely the norm between the two. In fact, Kirishima almost seemed fond as he watched Bakugo exit into one of the side tunnels. From inside, his voice echoed out in three different pitches.

"Don't touch any more shit in there either! You'll be replacing every single broken thing I find in there by morning too!"

"O-of course!" Midoriya called back. There was no response, and the cave fell into an awkward silence.

The sound of Kirishima clapping his hands together startled everybody.

" Well then!" he announced, "I don't know about you guys, but I just had a six hour battle with a horde of demons and am very, very tired. D'you mind if I turn the light out? I can make some fire."

"I can too," Uraraka chimed in. "I've had enough rest to function." Eager to show, she twirled her staff and its gnarled tip set alight with a flame that refused to touch its wood. "It's the least I can do to help, since you just kind of saved us right now." Kirishima whistled.

"Nicely done!" He flicked off the main switch, and the cave plummeted back into darkness, their surroundings set in intense shadows from the torch. "And don't worry about it, if anything I should apologise for his behaviour. He's usually a lot more willing to help out people, but something about your group has got him additionally riled up." There was a vague whining sound emanating from Midoriya.

Even with the sudden darkness, Kirishima manoeuvred around the place as if he had memorised every placement of objects along the vast rows of utensils. Glass broke under his foot and he sighed quietly.

"You guys uh, broke a lot of stuff." His stare at Shou made it clear he knew he was the actual culprit, however. Shou had nothing to argue against it.

"W-we really will replace everything," Midoriya promised.

"S'nah, no biggie," Kirishima reassured, hands grabbing at a vial and plucking at a box. He tapped innocently at Shou's tail blockade, and with some reluctance, Shou lifted it, letting him into the group's circle.  

" Tadah! " Kirishima presented his belongings. Shou had to squint to make out anything specific. "Some first aid stuff! Sorry about our initial attack. We kind of thought you were invaders, with your dragon get up and all. I can help if you have any injuries."

"I think the only one of us who got hurt is Deku," Uraraka said. Midoriya waved his hands in front of him frantically.

"Oh no no no - I'm fine, honest! Most of my pain is superficial."

"Dude," Kirishima looked at him. "No offense, but you're practically black and blue."

Iida took one look at him before making a hissing sound. " Oh , it got worse."

Midoriya palmed his face only once before he flung his hand away. "Yeah, okay, that hurt."

" No kidding ." At least Uraraka sounded sympathetic.

"Here." Kirishima offered something to Midoriya, and suddenly, before Shou had a moment to contemplate it, the entire group were milling around with practised ease, helping each other quietly patch up each other's scratches and bumps. Even Kirishima was being helped out with little effort, Uraraka dabbing the dried blood from his eye with a grimace.

"How did you manage that?"

His injured eye peeked open only a margin as his eyebrows rose.

"I mean, your little ice blast was a bit of a corker. Really packed a punch." Uraraka paused.

"My - what ?"

"Yeah!" Kirishima continued. "Your friend there - Iida was it? Stabbed me pretty hard in the side too."

Shou squinted at the man. When had this happened? Had they encountered him before? He didn't think so, Iida's flabbergasted look spoke volumes.

"K-Kirishima..." Midoriya tasted his name on his tongue. Now that Shou thought about it, maybe they had heard of that name before. Back when... "You're... You're Bakugo's dragon!"

Kirishima gave a loose smile. "I mean - yeah? You didn't realise?"

Shou made a slight noise, disturbed. He was a dragon - no, the dragon he had been fighting just hours earlier? How ?

"Nu- of course not!  You're - well, a human , right now!"

Thank the Gods that he and Midoriya were currently on the same wavelength. How did this happen? And why didn't he know about this being possible?

Kirishima gave a loose chuckle. "Just a basic polymorph cast. It's child's play, for dragon magic."

"Basic-?" Uraraka suddenly glanced up at Shou, and he couldn't help but suck in a sharp breath.

"Can - wait ," Iida joined in. "Shou, have you been able to do this this whole time too?"

Shou shook his head hard enough to make his vision swim. Of course not! If he could he would have been taking advantage of this long ago!

"You guys seem... Really clueless, huh?" Kirishima observed. Shou could feel himself growl from the back of his throat, hoping they weren't being ridiculed. Kirishima didn't care less, throwing a thumb back over to point at Shou's flank. "Of course he can't do it. He's not even a dragon."

"Yeah, so we keep hearing," Midoriya rubbed at his swollen forehead. He still seemed beyond exhausted, despite their short rest. "We've had a few people say he might be like a subspecies or something, especially since his element is ice."

"Uh, no ," Kirishima insisted. "He's not any kind of dragon. Or reptile, or beast. He's just made to look like one."

He wasn't - what? His heart was beginning to thrum through his limbs, making the tips of his scales shudder with each pulse. What was that supposed to mean? The shared confused glances between Midoriya, Uraraka, and Iida only fuelled his growing panic. Kirishima was still talking away like he wasn't addressing anything life changing.

“-I mean, it’s a good disguise and stuff, to try and blend into The Devil’s Gate ‘n’all, but uhh, you can't really go into dragon territory and try to fool other dragons. We can sense magic more potent than most creatures, and definitely know how to identify our own dragon magic from layers and layers of other magic. It’s pretty obvious he’s fake, ah, no offense.”

“I’m sorry – fake how ?”

“Err, well, he almost looks authentic. But he's clearly got no way to polymorph, being stuck at his size in this cave, but he looks like he's dipped in four or five layers of casting spells and has just - gotten stuck, as he is, or something. It's pretty powerful looking stuff. I wouldn't be surprised if a demigod cast some sort of curse on him.”

“I’m – no , I’m confused,” Midoriya persisted, clutching his head tighter. “Maybe Kacchan pummelled me harder than I thought, but you’re telling me that Shou -” he stretched his arm back to point at Shou. “-is not even remotely a dragon?”

Kirishima blinked. “No, he’s not. I'm really sorry?”

Midoriya threw his hands up to clutch at his hair, before shoving them back down into his lap.

Kirishima tilted his head in concern. “I am sorry, for what it’s worth. I didn’t know you didn’t know." He looked between all of them, including Shou, who watched the whole thing with wide eyes and faint breath. "Are you guys not allies or something? I thought - maybe you'd come here on a quest sponsored by a demigod, who could've cast him in a polymorph so strong it could bring you here."

"No, nothing like that," Iida's voice was quiet, but held a faint reserve of control. "We rescued him from a woods that was sapping magic from creatures and trapping them there. The entire reason we came here was so we could try to help Shou find where he needed to be. But if he's not a dragon..."

Midoriya sounded close to tears, and the fact that he was somehow responsible for it made him want to tear the cave down with his claws. "Did you know this whole time, Shou?" Midoriya asked. Glassy eyes stared up at him, and Shou responded with a weak cry, and the insistent shake of his head. Of course he didn't - he had no idea, he never would have done this if he knew otherwise!

“Did you not notice?” Kirishima asked to Uraraka. She let out an indignant gasp.

“D-don’t point fingers! I’ve never met a dragon before Shou – he’s always been full of magic, but I thought – all dragons were full of powerful magic.”

“But you can see the difference in it now right? Between me and him?” Kirishima asked.

Uraraka’s eyes flickered between the two for a moment, before she let out a reluctant sigh. “… Yeah . I can.”

All eyes were on the now-not-dragon, who could do nothing for his defence. He just continued to stare back at them with wide desperate eyes.

"So... You came here to help him figure out what he needs to do?" Kirishima prompted, catching everyone's attention. "Does that mean he doesn't recollect anything before meeting you guys?"

Midoriya wiped his snotty nose against his tattered sleeve. "I-I don't think so? We've never really - we struggle to communicate sometimes, but he's never given us any hints towards what he needs."

"Well, I may not be able to help you in regards to anything dragon related, but I could help you figure out what you could do next, from what I can see in his magic."

"You'd do that for us?" Uraraka asked.

"Yeah, of course! It's better I help you get out of here as fast as you're able anyways, if you want to survive Bakugo after he wakes in the morning."

Shou could care less about Bakugo right now. His head was pounding with a fresh kind of pain, distant and unfamiliar compared to the chanting that often plagued his mind. Somehow, all of this revelation was so much worse .

"So... Shou, right?" Shou focused back onto Kirishima, who was finishing taping some sort of gauze against his own face. He tried not to think about how the white of the gauze across his eye mimicked the pale flesh against his own. Who was the fake again? He stared at him, his innards aching in a cold that his ice wasn't responsible for.

" Wuh oh , he's not looking too hot," Kirishima muttered. What , could he feel his emotions too? Was this another dragon thing he couldn't comprehend? He bared his teeth but before he could let out a hiss, Uraraka's light divided into two, and he felt his head keen to the right. He barely caught himself with an elbow, and realised that oh , okay no , he felt awful . Everyone was moving around below him, but the light was dancing and dividing and morphing back into one shape to four in moments. Voices were dancing in the echo of the cavern.

"-careful, if we make some room so he ca-"

"-ou, rest your head down he-"

"Come on Shou, easy doe-"

It was strange how much cooler the floor felt against his cheek, when it didn't feel nearly as chilly where the rest of his body laid against it. After only a few moments he found that the position was actually making him feel better, and he slumped his weight further into the stone, focusing on the pulse of his breathing. His vision started to clear significantly, and watched the shadows of his friends crowd around in front of his eyes.

"He's already looking much better," Kirishima's voice resonated from just out of his sight. Midoriya leaned in close, giving him a wobbly smile, with red rimmed eyes.

"You okay there Shou?" He asked, stroking at the tender skin across the left of his face. "You nearly fainted on us."

"Just give him a few more minutes," Kirishima said distantly. Shou tried to lift his head to see just where he was, but found that his head felt too heavy all of a sudden. He gave up before he could feel the strain in his neck, and closed his eyes to succumb to the patting hands across his skin.

"His breathing's cleared out," Uraraka said.

"That's a good thing," Midoriya replied. "He's calming down."

"He didn't take that well," Iida noticed.

Midoriya sniffled again. "It's a lot to take in."

Shou peeked open his eye, and let out a keen whine. Their whole journey... What had it even been for ? Was it all for nothing ?

Somewhere near his stomach, a hand weakly swatted at him.

"I get we're all having a moment to process this all," Kirishima said, "-but please keep it down with the noises? Bakugo's trying to sleep, remember? Courtesy and all that."

" Sorry ," everyone whispered in chorus. Kirishima chuckled, finally back in view.

"Okay, I’m all done I think,” he said, and Shou watched his figure step back into the light. He then glanced at Shou and gave a tired smile. “Just looking at your magic, don’t worry. It’s all in your gut for some reason. Not sure why. I'm pretty certain you haven't eaten a magical artefact or anything like that, but that's where most of it resides right now. Might explain why you kind of-" Kirishima flicked his hand out several times in front of his mouth. "-spit ice out of your throat, instead of like, just casting it from your limbs.

"Anyways, it's really strange, but I can recognise the signatures of at least three mages in here? Like they've all cast different layers of magic on you. Now that I’ve gotten close I know for sure it isn’t work from a demigod. But this amount of magic put together is almost borderline crossing into the limit of mortal magic, y’know? Your casters are an awful deal close to desecrating the border of the Gods."

"That’s... bad ," Uraraka fretted. Kirishima grimaced.

"Well, it's certainly not good ," he agreed. "It’s like mixing cement and water and being left with hard concrete. It's set together and turned three good castings into one hellish curse."

Shou just stared at them vacantly. None of this was helpful to them right now. It was like receiving a prognosis without a remedy. How did this help them move forward? What could they take from this?

"So, how do we unravel this?" Midoriya asked. A real Godsend, he was. Always asking the questions Shou couldn't.

"The easiest option would be to find who made the casts, and just, get them to undo them," Kirishima said, giving Shou's scaly claw a pat. He exhaled loudly but didn't move away.  "-But finding them might be a whole other challenge. I mean, with this much magic, they could already be smote by the God’s for doing this to begin with. Or , you could go about and find some popular or well-known mages, who have good word in for being advanced in their magic. They might be able to provide assistance somehow. It might not work, but it'd be a start."

Iida sighed. "It feels like we're back to square one with this. Playing our journey by chance." Shou took note of the way he was looking at him. It was... New , to be on the receiving end of a mistrustful glance. Iida had questions, clearly. But Shou had a feeling he didn't have the answers.

“Well, we don’t have a time limit,” Midoriya insisted. “Travelling’s what we do best. Now we can tag along the trails for wandering mages.”

“Right.” Iida agreed unenthusiastically. Kirishima glanced between all of them.

“So, you guys got a plan? If you’re all good, I say I have maybe two hours left until daybreak if I’m lucky, so I’m gonna go sleep in my room. You good?”

Uraraka swung her head around from Iida, who was looking solemnly at the ground, to Midoriya scratching irritably at his swollen face, to Shou’s slumped form, before answering, “As good as we can be. You go get your rest. Thanks again.”

Kirishima seemed to hesitate, before nodding once more. He stalked off out of the light’s radius, to wherever his room was located. Uraraka lowered her staff with a sigh, and the light diminished back into nothingness.

“Rest up guys,” Uraraka said, and Shou felt her weight lean into the curve of his neck. “We’ve got another journey by morn.”

 

Kirishima - in human form, talks amiably to Midoriya, Iida, and Uraraka, who huddle close against Uraraka's lighted staff. In the background, Shou the dragon encases where they sit together, keeping them close.

 


 

Manoeuvring Shou back out of the cave the following daybreak was a challenge. Their rest had been short, but they had awoken at the call of an even more exhausted Kirishima, who wanted them out safely before Bakugo awoke to find them.

He managed to save the rest of their supplies on Shou’s slow reversal out of the cave, and despite a few bumps while navigating the bend in the entrance, everyone had gotten out unscathed.

The heat difference between the shadowed cave and outside was staggering .

Kirishima’s cleaned eye cut had swelled slightly overnight, and accompanied by his smudge of eye bags he looked a little worse for wear. Beside him, Midoriya looked marginally worse, parts of his skin matching the dark flecks of his hair. It was clear everyone needed a while to recuperate before their next adventure.

“You lot take care now, okay?” Kirishima yawned, standing just in the shade of the cave’s entrance. “You got out lucky this time, but I don’t know about the chances of Bakugo going out of his way to spare you again.” Midoriya rubbed lightly at the back of his head.

“Y-yeah, we got off relatively lucky.”

Kirishima cocked his head at him, then sighed. “You know, what exactly happened between you two? His reaction to you- it’s… Unlike him.”

“I wish I knew, Kirishima,” Midoriya replied. “I really wish I knew.”

Kirishima hummed, dissatisfied.

“Well then, make sure to fly South in a straight line, and don’t stop until the air clears and the ground turns green.”

Midoriya ducked his head, clutching his bag to his chest. “Right.”

Iida had still managed to put his armour on, despite the sweat gleaning to his forehead. “Let’s not waste any more time. Shou?”

What was with that look? Shou squinted at the ‘request’, his tone was clipped and face more stoic than usual. Was Iida… mad at him? He reluctantly lowered himself to allow them to climb aboard, but then the air curled in an additional layer of heat. Shou retracted his wings quickly.

“Oi.” Bakugo’s voice was thick with sleep, deep and gravelly, and his scowl cushioned by the darkened skin around his eyes. Nevertheless, Midoriya flinched as if he was reliving his beat down from yesterday.

“H-he-y Kacchan, what are yo-u do-doing up?”

Bakugo’s hand shot out and Midoriya scrambled blindly to catch the thrown object and hold it in place. It was another satchel. He raised his brow at the contents, before giving Bakugo wide confused eyes. “Are these-?”

“Supplies,” Bakugo answered, “-the only resources you’re going to see for miles in this place, so if want any chance of surviving don’t use them all up at once, greedy bastards.”

“Are you… helping us?” Uraraka asked warily, side eyeing him. It was like they were talking to an imposter.

“It’s my job to help lost weaklings, and ward off invaders, dumbass,” Bakugo sighed, clearly agitated, but much calmer than they had ever seen him before. “This doesn’t make us friends, and you’re not welcome back. Those supplies will last you a trip straight out of the Devil’s Gate’s borders, and no further. If you stay a minute too long, and run out, you’re not welcome to come back. This ain’t no fucking pit stop.”

But Midoriya seemed unfazed by his disturbing turn in behaviour, instead smiling sincerely. “Thank you so much Kacchan! We won’t bother you again, but we are indebted to you for doing this for us.”

Bakugo replied with a leer so thick Shou swore the air began to melt. Midoriya snapped his mouth shut quickly.

“Deku,” Bakugo said, “-that shitty teacher of yours. That one close with All Might. Tell him that I’m going to surpass him soon. And he better be ready to face me, because when I challenge him, I’ll kill him within three minutes.”

Midoriya let out a weak chuckle, “Y-yeah. Su-sure thing, Kacchan.”

Icicles burst through the bones of Shou’s limbs, freezing him into stasis.

All… Might?

Struggling to take his next breath, Shou stared down at Midoriya’s head.

They knew him? He knew? All Might?

Midoriya was still talking, but it was lost to the sound of his mind swimming in the haze of his curse.

He knew … All of this time. He had a route to his curse’s path and they had been travelling who knows where, for well over a year, in who knows what other direction.

All Might was a person. Izuku Midoriya was affiliated with him .

What did this mean?

Kirishima tapping his knuckles against his plating startled Shou’s joints back into liquid. “Hey, you look a little lost there. Everything cool?”

The group of humans peered up at him, pausing their conversation, and Shou quickly turned his head, glaring at nothing but the rising dawn ahead. Kirishima frowned in concern, but Bakugo scoffed.

“Does your cursed dragon asshole always pout like a spoilt brat?”

Midoriya came to his defence, per usual. “I-it’s probably a lot to deal with, finding out you’re some part of a complex curse.”

Among a few other revelations. Shou tried to level his breathing.

Distantly, a hellish shriek pierced the skies.

“Time’s ticking, bastards,” Bakugo scoffed, “Get out of my sight already.”

“R-right,” Midoriya agreed quietly. He turned to his group, and they all shared a nod of heads. Finally, Midoriya looked up at Shou. “Let’s get going then.”

Like clockwork, Shou lowered a wing to allow them to climb onto his back, but continued to avoid watching them, even slightly looking away when he felt Midoriya hesitate on the axis of his joint. They eventually settled along his ridged back with a sigh, and Shou focused on the power brimming in his tense shoulders, lifting them airborne. In his cast shadow below, Kirishima waved eagerly, still human in shape. Bakugo turned on his heel, and Kirishima pursued him back into the shadows of their cave dwelling.

Turning around, Shou set his sights back from the direction they came, the vibrating hum of the gaping blip of The Devil’s Gate behind them.

From his back, Shou could hear Uraraka pipe up.

“What kind of goodbye even was that? Was that his attempt at apologising? And what is with him threatening to kill everybody?”

“Oh, he’s not all that bad,” Midoriya insisted. “I know he doesn’t really look it, but he actually does restrain himself a lot. I’ve heard from people he’s actually been doing really well for himself lately. It’s just, uhm. Me, I guess.”

“I refuse to let you think you’re responsible for that kind of behaviour.” Uraraka muttered. “I still can’t figure out if he’s actually an ally or not.”

“He is, deep down. Just, maybe don’t help him out unless he asks first? He’s got some issues.”

“Well that sounds like an interesting tale.”

“I-I really don’t want to talk about it.”

Shou trailed on in silence, staring holes into their ongoing path as they travelled back South, his thoughts throbbing in his mind, sour like spoiled milk. Maybe it was just too many revelations at once, but what was he meant to do with all of this new information? About All Might? About Midoriya? About himself ?

Midoriya could potentially lead him straight to All Might, but did he really want to know what lay at the end of his ever-chanting curse?

 

Chapter Text

 

“So, what do we do now?”

The night out in the open was a cold one, surprisingly, and Shou idly watched the light of the campfire dance off the skin of Midoriya, Uraraka, and Iida, who sat as close as they could muster in their sleeping bags. Shou himself sat several metres away, head clouded with thoughts. For once the incessant scramble of his brain wasn’t curse related, but rather his inability to figure out what to do anymore. He agreed with Midoriya. What were they supposed to do now?

Above, the sky was full of shifting stars.

“Shou?” Uraraka asked, quietly bringing back his attention. He could see various stages of worry on their faces, eyes wide and brows furrowed. The gap between them had been growing as the day progressed. “Are you okay?”

Shou stared for a moment longer, then broke off his gaze to leer at his folded claws in front of him. No , he didn’t think he was okay. Nothing made sense anymore. Piece by piece he was beginning to learn more about himself, but every new piece of knowledge only led him to more questions. He was cursed? By a combination of spells powerful enough to be imposing the border of the Gods themselves? What did this mean? Who exactly was Shou? What had he done, to deserve such a thing? Was he someone bad, in his time before this?

Was he truly human?

He had been given an opening to find the end of his curse. Midoriya, all along, had access to the bane of his lonely existence, in the form of All Might. All he had to do was convince him to take them all there, and his curse could be completed.

But what did that mean ? Would he turn back into the being that was bad enough to be cursed to begin with? How would All Might cure him? If he found him, if he killed him, what would that make him? What would that make him to Midoriya ?

There was too much to think about.

He had no idea what to do.

“Leave him be,” Shou heard Midoriya mutter. “I think, today’s been a rough day for him. Just give it time.”

A dirty, ugly feeling welled up in Shou’s throat, and he breathed cold through his nostrils, freezing the air in front of his muzzle as he glared resolutely at the galaxies above him. Midoriya was usually his voice of reason, but for the first time he found himself wanting him to shut up . He didn’t understand at all, what right did he have to pretend he was clued in to all of this? They could be mortal enemies, for all he knew.

Oh, the world was truly cruel to him. What better way to make him suffer than to live this life befriending someone he might be intending to destroy. Cursed indeed.

Whatever beings out there chose this fate for me , Shou thought up to the cloudless night, you better be enjoying this twisted game you’ve set for us. I’d smite you myself if I were able.

Their talk dissolved into mindless bits and pieces, namely on scrapes, bruises, and scales of pain that had Shou feel like enough was enough, and he curled up, intending to use the conversation as means to sleep. But as hours passed and the conversation had died down to whispers and eventual cues of good nights, Shou still found himself on the cusp of consciousness.

He was beginning to worry; he had never not-slept before the group before, and without the conversation who knew when his damned curse would pick up again? He willed for sleep to come, but luck was never exactly in his court to begin with.

Then, a different salvation made itself known. The crunching sound of socked feet stepping over crisp grass floor caught his attention, and he lifted his head with a snap, alert for intruders. Iida paused in his approach, as tense as Shou felt. Shou relaxed, only marginally, and Iida continued to unsuccessfully tiptoe his way over. Shou tried not to shuffle awkwardly.

“We need to talk,” Iida whispered, and Shou tilted his head towards him. He was void of his usual armour, clearly ready to sleep. It was unusual for him to talk to him at all without it being a group conversation. He watched Iida’s face morph into a grimace.

“-Or rather, I need to talk. To you.” He clarified. “Alone.”

Well, here they were. Alone . Shou peered over his shoulder and could spy the resting lumps of Midoriya and Uraraka by the fire, just to confirm. He looked back at Iida, who took it as permission to continue. He took a deep breath.

“From the moment our journey began, I was just as on board with aiding you, and helping you regain your bearings, and joining you on a quest to find where you belong. You were truly an ally. Are truly an ally. But now I’m… Conflicted.”

Shou swallowed, listening carefully to the slight infliction of warble in Iida’s tone.

“-And now, this journey has taken us to places we never thought we were to travel. This quest, this game of escorts, was supposed to go well. It was supposed to go like all the other adventures we’ve pursued. And now, to find out of this curse – I’ve – I’m-”

There was something bone chilling, watching someone who had always been a pillar begin to crumble. Iida’s breathing was laboured, as if the words physically pained him to bring out to light.

“-But now, I’m having doubts. About you. And us. Because-” Iida squeezed his hands into fists. “-what kind of person does one have to be, to be cursed with intent by more than one mage? What kind of -unforgivable acts does one have to commit, where their punishment is to live out a life without voice, without contact, without memories to pin them to the evils they might have committed before?

“Shou, were you – do you think you were a bad person, before all of this?”

It wasn’t like he could reply anyways. He blinked, slowly, and accepting. These were things he had contemplated too. And with how vile the situation made his gut feel – perhaps there was some strands of something bad in there.

Maybe this was it. Maybe now was the time he was to be evicted from the group.

But Iida wasn’t done.

“Wait-“ he paused, hand out, the other gripping at his face. “-I didn’t mean – I’m really no good at this, I’m sorry, I’m just trying to compile my thoughts.”

Shou continued to watch each of his passing breaths intently, waiting for the request for him to leave.

“These thoughts of mine – they feel, invasive,” Iida explained. “I don’t want to blame you for nothing but my own false insecurities. I needed to get it off of my chest, but you have to understand, why I’m so conflicted.

Because, no matter who you could have been, that isn’t who you are now. And the Shou I know-“ his hand swept over to the rest of their party. “- we know the current you. You’re our company. You’re our friend, and yes - you have limitations, but you provide us with familiarity, and humour, and you’ve protected us time and time again. No criminal could compare to what you’ve done for us.”

The sensation of locked joints oozing warm like jelly was the only indicator that told Shou he had apparently been holding his breath during Iida’s admission. And yet the sticky, unpleasant feeling he had been experiencing for the rest of the day was beginning to melt into – relief? Maybe the expression was readable on his scaly face, because Iida forced himself a smile and approached to Shou’s foreclaws, giving them a meaningful tap.

“I can’t stop my worries and fears from making me nervous about your past,” he admitted. “-but I wanted you to know that, despite it all, we do trust you. And I’ll keep trying to keep that trust we have. We’re willing to try and keep helping you, until you get your freedom.”

Shou wished he could cry. But he couldn’t, like this, so he did the best of what he could do, sloping his head down and touching Iida’s chest with the beak of his snout. When Iida stretched out his arms to hug at his muzzle, there was no resisting.

When Iida returned to the warmth of the campfire, Shou made sure to follow.

Things were rough. But if they continued to stick together, Shou felt like they could make things work out.

 


 

Maybe once or twice in his draconic life, Shou might have juggled with the thoughts about his family; if he had one or not. With how much of his life he had simply forgotten, he couldn’t be too sure if he had, but if he were to have wondered, it would have been on what his family would have been like. Did he have parents? Siblings? Were they all white ice dragons? Some with flecks and hues? Would they have soared the skies together in hoards or gone their separate ways at maturity?

Of course, now that he knew he wasn’t a dragon, these sorts of questions would go about unanswered. They weren’t real, after all. Perhaps his frayed mind’s attempts to conjure up some sort of timeline for him to grasp onto, once upon a time, in a much simpler life.

Shou’s life was destined to be shrouded in mystery, he decided. Or, he didn’t decide that, but the universe did for him. And maybe it was for the best, to not have any sort of anchor to cling to, a destination to attend or a goal to achieve. It was time to accept what he already had. A sense of freedom from commitment, a boggy cursed memory, a confusing phobia for a certain pocket knife, and his friends.

Sure, he was a person who couldn’t be a person. But even living the false life of a dragon, with his loyalties to his found friends as they traversed the world together, he could honestly say he had never felt more human.

His past was unnecessary now, Shou decided. Because what he had now, his friends settling together around a campfire laughing at cheesy puns and burnt food, was his present. And Iida, Uraraka, and Midoriya; they were his future.

No matter where they travelled, so long as he was with them, Shou was home.

 

Shou the dragon and Iida Tenya walk side by side in the darkness, illuminated by the constellations above them.

 

Arc 1 - End

Chapter Text

Shou may not have been the best at navigating passages of time, but he thought it may have been a couple of weeks since they left from The Devil’s Gate. Now that their path forward was no longer linear, and travelling could mostly be spent through short trips of flight, Shou felt that maybe this was how his group liked to spend their leisure time – before meeting him, he meant. Although their next task involved trying to find some mages, they were still very reluctant to let him near any villages. But they stuck to their usual routine, and this night was no different; bellies were full as they lied around a crackling fire, Midoriya perched on an elbow as he delicately traced the map’s open roads with his fingertip.

They had all gone to sleep listening to his uncertain estimates of when the best time would be to catch the eye of a wandering mage able to assist them, and their days were spent more on theories than action. But that was fine, Shou thought. He was getting rather comfortable with the way things were. It was truly a time for complacency.

Which was why things were always quite jarring, when circumstances changed.

The rough sound of wing beats was what woke Shou up. Quieter than his own, but far larger and more solid than any bird could make. He swung his head up at the sound, the forest around them dark in the pre-dusk skies, hours before the sun was to bleach the world into colour.

His movement stirred his sleeping peers below him, multiple confused groans rising with their consciousness. Shou tried to squint through the darkness, looking for signs of movement.

He flinched as he spotted a figure – tall, lean, their silhouette encasing a mass where their arms should be; and Shou rose onto his feet, a deep growl grating through his throat. The figure stopped, and rose its many – many hands.

“I’m no threat,” his voice was deep, thick and muffled behind some sort of bandana across his face. His six hands held open and fixated at head level, and he made no move to step closer. Shou swept his tail in the space between them as a mild warning.

But as much as he wanted to scoop up his friends and leave to find somewhere else to rest, he had gotten a knack for how things ran around here.

Specifically Midoriya.

“Who’s there?” Midoriya asked blindly from behind Shou’s tail cover. He at least seemed to have lost any trace of sleepiness from his voice, sounding alert and almost brave, no cracks in his tone. “Why have you come here?”

“I’m assuming by your white dragon that you are Midoriya, Iida, and Uraraka, correct? Mina said that you’d be heading North near The Devil’s Gate.” The stranger cocked his head. “You are unfortunately heading in the wrong direction.”

“Ah,” Iida could barely see past the top of Shou’s tail spikes. “Mina mentioned you a while ago… Shouji, was it?” When Shouji nodded, Shou could feel Uraraka prod persistently at his limb.

“He’s a friend, Shou!” She announced, as if he wasn’t also listening to the same conversation. “Come on, it’s okay – we can handle ourselves!”

They could , but – well , he didn’t have a good enough excuse this time. Stepping over his pride, he moved his tail-fence, and left his denizens exposed to the newcomer. Shouji finally lowered his webbed arms to his side. He was dressed heavily in woollen layers, a thick satchel belt across his chest. But his many arms remained bare at his sides. They reminded him a little like his own wings; webbed skin connecting each joint like his own.

He was still unsettling to look at though. It made sense that he’d be allies with someone like Mina.

“Sorry for the confusion,” Iida bowed shortly. “We’ve already been to The Devil’s Gate. For now we are simply travelling.”

Shouji glanced over at Shou. “Even though he still travels with you?” Iida stiffened.

“Well, we did not find what we were looking for,” he admitted. Shouji made an inquisitive sound, muffled behind the mask that swamped the lower half of his face.

“A shame, truly,” Shouji said. “As much of a pleasure it is to finally see you all with my own eyes, and safe and intact even after traversing to The Devil’s Gate, I come bearing bad news.”

His words rang that ever persistent worry of a threat, leaving Shou to measure his weight against his haunches. He couldn’t help but leer in the morning haze around the tree tops, trying to listen for the gradual approach of an ambush. There was nothing he could detect from his senses alone.

Shouji continued. “You must leave your campsite as soon as you are able. You are closer to the Eastern border than you think, and a few hours ago I spotted yet another army of Endeavoran soldiers burning through the land. They are a few hours away on foot, but coming inland fast. I’ve been sending evacuation warnings to everyone I can find in this area. Head West, please.”

Midoriya seemed to have held his breath. “ Another chevauchée? How many are there this time - we could probably fight them off.”

“Enough to burn down two villages within the night,” Shouji admitted. “- and I’ve lost count of the number of fields set aflame. This is no battle for three people and a dragon, I’m afraid. As soon as I can no longer find people to warn, I will be heading straight to the Council to request for our own soldiers. For now, I want to save as many people as I can.”

"If we set off West to the Capital, we could send a request for All Might,” Iida offered, and Shou couldn’t help the sensation of his stomach roiling. Unaware of his inner turmoil, Iida turned to Midoriya. “Does All Might have any sort of messenger birds set for tracking him?"

"I-I'm not sure, honestly," Midoriya answered, scratching the back of his head. "But I know a few places he habits sometimes. I'm sure I could check and see if anyone has seen of him recently." Shouji nodded.

“You’re allies of All Might too? Your aid will be appreciated, thank you,” he said, watching as Uraraka approached to offer a skin of water.

“Thanks for finding and warning us. Please, have a drink and some food while you can.”

“I will decline the food, but I am grateful.” Shouji held the skin with a tenderness not expected from six rugged hands, but when one of his spare hands pulled down his mask to take a swig, Shou couldn’t help but notice the nose-less maw of the man’s face. His mouth stretched across from each end of his chin like a hinge. It almost reminded Shou of himself.

Half demon , he guessed. The bizarre unsettling sensation regarding his appearance held the same energy he felt when meeting Mina for the first time. Maybe it was just a part of their nature.

When Shouji finished drinking his fill, he pulled up his mask and offered the skin back, and Uraraka retrieved with a smile. Shouji nodded, thanking her again. Then his arms spread wide, an unholy halo behind him as his limbs flexed and skin stretched.

“I must continue on my journey! Please, get going while you still can!”

Ground mulch flicked into the air as Shouji began to flap his arms, and to Shou’s uttermost surprise watched as Shouji began to go airborne , body rising stiffly into the air. Then, like a morning crow, he flew out of sight, past the trees and further across the forestry lands.

“Well,” Midoriya sounded dazed. “It’s not every day you see that happen.”

“Enough dillydallying,” Iida fretted, bee lining for their equipment. He began to shove smaller utensils into his satchel, then grasped for his discarded armour to begin to dress. “We’ve best make the most of our warning, and get out of here before danger reaches us.” He tossed Uraraka’s thick hooded cape in her direction, and she squawked as she failed to catch it. “Get dressed, hurry!”

“Okay okay!” she relented, shoving it on without much thought. Midoriya went scrambling for his boots before they’d get the chance to be thrown at him.

Shou waited patiently for them to prepare to depart, and yawned into the predawn air, his breath visible even without the aid of his ice. They had mentioned Endeavour before, he knew, a few times in passing conversations. This hadn’t been the first time they’d set fire across Yuuei’s land. He remembered the worried fret of impending war between the two kingdoms, and couldn’t help but dig his claws into the soil.

What would drive a country to try and aggravate war to begin with?

They were ready and packed just in time for the first lights of day to streak across the sky. The land surrounding them was an expanse of hills, and from where Shou was stood, he could spy the off-colours of crop fields in the distance.

"Wait," Uraraka said, catching his attention. She was pointing in the opposite direction. "What's-?"

Shou swung his head around, to face the bright spot of the horizon from the East. Except - that couldn't be right. The sun didn't rise from two places. He squinted, recognising the spot of light flickering vaguely in the distance, and... Spreading ?

"Oh Gods," Iida said. "It's a fire."

"That's someone's farm," Midoriya took a step towards it. "They could be trapped inside."

"Don't be silly," Uraraka grabbed his arm, stopping him in his tracks. "Shouji said he had warned everyone to evacuate. That might be Endeavour's army."

Midoriya shrugged her grip off. "That's even more of a reason why we can't ignore it! If they're trapped, if they didn't get out in time, and are being killed as we speak-" His voice cracked, but Shou understood, somehow. Midoriya - leaving someone he knows is in mortal danger? An impossible thing.

He had done many terrible things on their journey. He had attacked strangers, held wary to allies, and caused trouble because he wasn't willing to help others over the expense of his own selfish feelings. But he wasn't the same not-dragon anymore.

Shou knelt onto his forelegs, and expanded his closest wing to the ground, giving the group a gruff gurgle. Midoriya only watched for a second, before a grin split across his face, and he fearlessly scaled the length of his wing, ignoring the indignant shouts from Iida. When he felt the man clutch tightly to one of his protruding back spines, Uraraka stomped her foot in frustration.

"Oh, I hate it how you do this!" She said, marching up the wing and settling down next to Midoriya. Iida scowled up at them.

"You know we shouldn't do this!" He insisted. Shou shoved his wing at him, one last time.

"Please Iida?" Midoriya asked. "We can be smart about this! We can just fly over, check for any stranded, and fly straight back out! But we can't waste any more time."

Iida’s glare flickered to each and every one of them, before he relented with a grimace and climbed aboard, exasperated. When he sat heavy on Shou’s shoulders, he pointed a firm finger in Midoriya’s direction.

"I will make sure you stand by that plan. And nothing more." Midoriya nodded, determined.

Shou took no hesitation and turned East, pumping his muscles fresh down his back and taking to the air. Within moments he was high enough to soar in one scale swoop down to the next hill, where the fields caught alight in small traces of flames and the land began to scar and discolour.

He flapped his wings to steady his landing, some of the nearest fires whipping out of existence. The charred wheat crunched underfoot and stained his toes black, and Shou lowered himself to the ground, practiced as his friends leapt down from his back. He stood up quickly, assessing the area.

The farm ground was fairly large, a family house and barn dancing in heat and fire. Beside it, a paddock remained untouched, but the flames were spreading slowly across the dry ground, creeping towards each wooden landmark. And stepping out of the smoke were two men, identical in coloured armour, one holding a lit torch, and the other wielding a sword.

"Those aren't farmers," Uraraka observed.

"Endeavour's men," Iida confirmed, brandishing his own sword. The two men looked spooked at their arrival.

" Woah , a dragon?"

"Forget that you idiot, they're Yuuei!" The sword wielder ran forward, swinging his weapon. Iida reflected the hit wordlessly, the sound of their blades ringing together. "Burn everything down!"

"I don't think so!" Uraraka shot a blast of arcane energy at the other man, and he crumpled to the ground, immediately unconscious. His torch bounced only a few feet away, but Shou extinguished it in a single shot of ice. The other man was left yelling angrily, pushing away before trying to shove his sword’s tip into Iida's armpit. But Iida knew how to protect the weak spots of his armour, and swung his blade up to catch its hilt, twisting until his metal bit into the palm of the soldier's hand. He let go of his weapon with a cry, and Iida returned the action to him, hitting the back of his neck with the handle of his broadsword, knocking him out.

"We need to check the building!" Midoriya's voice was further away, and Shou turned to see that he had attempted to get into the building while they were all distracted, but the entrance was smothered in wild flame.

That's reckless-! Shou collected as much cold as he could muster into the depths of his throat, angling himself to the farmhouse. One strong exhale was all it took to spread an even layer of ice across its foundations, trapping the burning wood inside. The smoulders within were lit and crackled, water already dribbling into the charred ground below.

“It won’t hold for long,” Iida warned, unfazed as Midoriya ran inside regardless. A multitude of ominous cracks could be heard echoing from underneath the ice, the wood still splintering into ash, and Shou reinforced it with another layer of ice. The embers set the melting case in an ominous orange hue.

Hurry up, Shou insisted.

Less than a minute had passed before Midoriya shot back out again, sodden from dripping water mixed with ash, but clearly intact.

“There’s nobody inside!” He confirmed, making space between him and the building. Uraraka let out a sigh of relief.

“At least they evacuated before we got here.”

“Shouji probably warned them beforehand,” Iida said. “We were too brash in our approach.”

“I just – had to make sure,” Midoriya replied, apologetic in his tone. Behind them, the buildings foundations finally seized, collapsing into itself in a wave of noise. A mix of black and white fumes of steam and smoke merged out of its remains, curling up into the morning sky.

"We should get going while we still can," Shou heard Iida say, but Shou was looking in the opposite direction, noticing a strange glint piercing out from the smoke rising around them. The smoke fanned out and lessened with every exhale he took, creating a window for him to see past the screen.

And there, at the bottom of the hill, Shou watched masses and waves of armoured men, marching in line towards the farm site. And every foot stopped the moment they spotted his horned head.

Shou roared.

He ducked lower to the ground, extending his wings. They had to go, they had to go now !

"Shou? What's-"

There was no time for talk, Shou whipped around his tail and pressed against Iida's armour, flicking him onto the web of his wings with a shout. Armour-less, Shou used his muzzle to shove Uraraka and Midoriya onto the limb persistently. Midoriya pressed into the soft skin underneath his eye.

"Hang on- what did you see? Shou?"

There's no time for this! The air rang out with the echo of undistinguishable rally of voices, but Shou knew it was the call for battle. He rose his wings, feeling his friends unceremoniously topple down until they fell into the ridge between his shoulders, and tried not to wince at their surprised shrieks. They were barely holding on, but he couldn't wait for their comfort, hearing the sound of air whizzing somewhere beside him. His wings flapped, and he was in flight, stretching each wingbeat as far as he could, as fast as he could. They needed to fly, to fly away, and get away , before it was too late.

He managed to fully turn mid-air before the rush of air fell upon him, and out of the smoke shield burst a ball wreaked in flames. It crashed into the base of his neck, and Shou choked, wingbeats stuttering. The impact stung, but the fire did nothing to his flame proof scales, and he tried to regain altitude while he still could.

Then, a mass of arrows pierced through the sky, hundreds of whistling specks descending like raindrops overhead. How had they-?

Shou gritted his teeth, tucking his wings across his back to keep his cargo safe, and rolled into a dive. The arrows clattered across his body, splintering off from his belly and sides, a few loose arrowheads wedging like splinters under the groove of some scales. He righted himself with a twist, pieces of arrows flicking off him like water droplets. He spread his wings before they could crash to the ground, but he was still too low to gain speed.

When the next sound breached, Shou tensed, ready to counteract, before spotting the wide arc of rope and netting reach out and over him. It caught in his horns, down the bristles of his spine, and the edges of one wing, and the weighted corners of the net swung into his underbelly, clattering noisily together as they collided at his chest. He tried to shake his head, but his left horn was thoroughly caught. Then his next wingbeat failed, wing caught along the rope that shouldn't be able to hold his mere strength, but it was , and he couldn't get it off. He let out a shriek as he began to plummet back to earth.

"It’s- the rope’s enchanted!" Shou could hear the frustrated cry of Iida from behind him. "I can't cut it!"

"Brace yourselves!" Uraraka cried, and Shou could sense her bout of magic as she tried to cushion them against his spiny back. Shou took in a deep breath, and got ready to try and angle his landing.

The crash hurt .

He managed to fall into the incline of the hill, his stomach plating scarring through the ground like a rake against cropland. Hedges and stray trees crumbled underneath him, splintering across his stomach and abdomen, clipping his chin and digging the rope further into his side as they caught on the landscape below. When the ground flattened further out, the rope caught on debris and stretched taut, and Shou's momentum jarred to a halt so fast that his body twisted onto its side. He could hear his friend's cries as they were propelled from his back.

The air cleared for a moment, and then pain rattled its way through Shou's senses.

He hissed into the dirt, trying to raise himself onto his feet, but the rope was underneath him, and pinning one wing to a position underneath himself.

Blasted thing-! He managed to writhe hard enough to catch the rope with his claws, and pulled them frustratedly off from his head, almost free. He could hear the offhanded groans of his friends as they picked themselves up behind him, and he increased his thrashing, managing to unsnag the hooked edge of his wing.

The cacophony of soldiers yelling rained down on them like an avalanche, and Shou was barely on his feet before he could see the hundreds of battle ready soldiers storming down the hill in a mass of glinting weapons and armour. He took a step back, and felt a hand run over the platelets of the hock of his hind leg, before his friends lined up alongside him, plucking at their own weapons.

“Shouji was right about us being unprepared,” Uraraka laughed, but it sounded wet with fear more than humour. Shou took a deep breath, preparing to conjure. If he could freeze enough of a blockade they could attempt to leave again. He glanced fitfully at the crowd, trying to locate their mobile catapults. Were there more waiting for them at the top of the hill? Midoriya’s voice shook, catching his attention. He was peering into his quiver, then swung it around back to his back.

“Six arrows don’t seem like they’ll help us much here,” he muttered. The armour glinting down the hill made it seem like arrows wouldn’t help at all. His fingers traced along the hilt of his short sheaved knife on his leg, and each graze of his skin across the weapon made Shou’s breath stutter. Don’t be stupid, he shook his head briefly, focusing back on the approaching army. If that thing was magic, it could very well save them.

Get over it, he told himself. If you can put aside your fears for meeting newcomers, you can do the same for a simple, tiny weapon.

“Shou,” Iida’s voice rang strong. “-the moment they reach the dip of the hill, try and freeze the frontlines with ice.” Shou acknowledged him with a nod, already planning on doing the same thing. It was nice to know they were all beginning to share the same thoughts. It almost made him feel confident. “It was a mistake to come here,” Iida continued. “-but we can worry about our poor choices the moment we get to safety.”

“Enough already!” Uraraka yelled. “Here they come!”

The first line of soldiers reached the foot of the hill, and Shou arched, his teeth baring. In tandem, his eyes flickered to his sides to watch Iida raise his sword, Uraraka swing her staff, and Midoriya brand his kni-

Oh.

Shou’s lungs stopped. At least, that’s what it felt like. His chest ceased and muscles burned from a curdling fiery sensation of tense contractions, and the cry of soldiers fell deaf as the sounds only blipped to the strong, rising beat of his heart.

No, that wasn’t his heart.

That was his head.

Ice crept out of his slack jaw uselessly, spilling out like frozen saliva and dribbling slush down his chin. He couldn’t blink, the presence of that rising glint of – that was no knife.

Metal vibrated into two into eight into one , it was moving and spreading as if its essence multiplied throughout the air and streaked their molecules into colour. The hand – the hand on the hilt was too small, but the knife was distorting so the hand was distorting and the silhouette of the wielder grew, and grew, and towered into the presence of a man powerful enough to hold the pride of a God.

All – Might!

The world was gone , there was nothing left nothing but the streaks and stuttering space that All Might stood, his weapon small but not in his palm and each throb of vision in tandem with the beat. Beat. Beat of his head.

All Might was here! He was here!

Find him! Found him!

Kill him!

All Might’s grin of teeth felt like Shou baring his own, and the spaces in between them melded into red .

Chapter Text

 

It was a horrifying sight, watching a fluid mass of soldiers crash down a hill to annihilate them. Tenya may have been in many crazy adventures ever since he allied with Midoriya and Uraraka, but this was far beyond anything they had ever encountered together.

Limbs stiff, he couldn’t help but notice the tremble clinking in his elbow joints, as he held his broadsword at the ready. If Shou could aim a wall of ice to aid their defence, he’d feel more confident in such a dire situation.

Shou’s maw threw open, and Tenya expected the oncoming assist of the elements, but instead of blasting ice, the dragon released an ear piercing shriek into the sky.

The sound reverberated through his armour like hitting a gong - even his breath was reduced to a shaky exhale, and he almost dropped his sword to shield his ears from how loud he was. What was Shou doing? Did he have some sort of strategy?

His friends weren’t as sturdy; Uraraka had fallen to her knees with her hands clutching desperately at her ears, and Midoriya had dropped his knife from surprise, hands also scrabbling by his head.

Tenya watched as scuffed talons rose in the air, and then reared back towards the ground - right where Midoriya was-

“Look out!”

Tenya leapt, barrelling into Midoriya the moment he had scooped down to reclaim his knife, and Tenya buried his friend into his plated chest as he rolled them back onto their feet. The ground jumped from the impact of Shou’s foot cratering the earth, and Tenya released his comrade from his grip. Midoriya let out a choked gasp, winded from being pressed against heavy metal.

“What-?” Midoriya barely croaked out, before Shou split the air with another scream that flipped Tenya’s stomach green. He felt Uraraka pull at one of his arms, and instinctively reached back to Midoriya to keep him standing.

“The army is here!” Uraraka gasped, trying to turn him to face their enemies. But Midoriya was still staring up blindly at Shou’s looming head.

“S-Shou?”

There was a whoosh of air, and Tenya focused his attention to the soldiers, only feet away, before a great spiny tail spun around and barrelled the footsoldiers off their feet. They didn’t stop it’s momentum, and it swung directly for him-

“Greuh-!” Tenya dropped down to the ground, forcing Uraraka and Midoriya down with him. The air whipped above them, and the back of Tenya’s armour screeched from points of Shou’s spines scraping across its surface. Uraraka hoisted herself onto her elbows, looking frantic.

“What’s happening?” She picked herself up shakily. Tenya followed suit, hoisting a hand under Midoriya’s elbow when he failed to stand.

“I’m not sure, but he’s attacking us right now! We need to move!”

Iida tried to run away from the dragon’s hide, but Midoriya was resisting, stumbling as he continued staring up pleadingly at the dragon’s face. “Shou? What’s going on? What’s happening?”

Shou outstretched his jaw again, and the back of his throat shimmered in light, the creeping sound of air hissing through his body. Iida spared a panicked glance at the mass of soldiers to their side, back to Shou, wondering who he needed to prioritise.

Shou gave him his answer, in a barrage of ice shooting from his mouth directly at them, and a hand shoved at Tenya’s chest as he was knocked behind Uraraka, who swung her staff up to meet the ice attack. With a grunt she counterattacked with conjured flames, blasting up to collide midair with the projectile, and forcing the air to erupt into an explosion of steam and water. It rained down on them, heavy, soaking their hair and clothes. Uraraka turned with a frustrated roar of her own.

“Run!”

They finally set off, and Midoriya snapped out of his stupor to start running in the right direction, his bow and quiver rattling on his back. Iida couldn’t turn back, but when he heard the repeated suck of air from behind him, his blood turned cold with the premonition of another attack.

A giant ball of ice soared overhead, cratering into the ground just before Midoriya. He barely managed to break his pace, scrambling around it with skittish bambi legs.

There was another forewarning sound of an attack, but Tenya could barely hear it over his own erratic breath. What could have stemmed such a 180° in Shou’s behaviour? Why were they suddenly fleeing for their lives?

The cannon blast spitfire caused him to flinch, and he watched Uraraka turn around and scream, raising her staff with a spin. A shadow swung past him, and the next ice ball fell straight onto Midoriya’s spot, only jerking out of the way at the last second from Uraraka’s interference.

That was the second time that Shou’s attacks had aimed for Midoriya. Was this on purpose?

In front of him, Uraraka yelled with frustration as she watched the chaos behind them. “Not again!”

Iida dared peer over his shoulder to see Shou rearing back for his next simultaneous attack, but before the gargle of freezing air could be heard, one of the flaming giant rocks soared into view, crashing into Shou’s face. It made his neck swing back with a crack, ashes fluming into the air from its impact, dividing his attention.

It was foolish how quickly they had forgotten their real enemy in this battle.

“Look out!” Midoriya’s voice rang out, and Iida turned away from Shou just in time to duck from the swing of a charging soldier. With his momentum he managed to swing his own broadsword back at him, knocking the footsoldier off balance. Iida kept running, there was not a moment to waste. He watched Midoriya kick off from a confronting soldier, using him as a propulsion board to spring onto the next soldier, knocking them over like bowling pins, his hands useless for striking while he carried his knife. Midoriya was terrible at using his weapons when necessary, but at least he was still fantastic at hand to hand combat.

Just ahead of them lied a thin tree line, and all three of them made a mad dash towards it, desperate for some kind of cover.

The sounds of the fight were muted by two separate beams of booms emanating from Uraraka’s blasts, and Iida found himself leaping into the dancing shadows of the trees. Midoriya was only a step behind him, and Uraraka threw herself in after them after a few seconds.

Tenya backed up behind a tree, and tried to take deep breaths. He could hear the gasps of his friends around him as they tried to regain any ability to breathe.

The ear splitting roar and thunder of piercing arrows sent the next dose of adrenaline up his spine. They needed to keep running before a not-dragon came crashing down on them and the trees above them.

“Iida!” Midoriya choked out. “There’s-there’s something wrong with Shou!”

“I gathered,” he bit out a little impolitely. Midoriya was not the only one distressed over this revelation - Tenya had only spoken with Shou weeks ago, one to one, to explain to him his doubts. He wanted to trust him - they had been travelling for so long together, but then after learning that his origins may have come from evil? That he may have been cursed to his shape for something unforgivable… And now suddenly turning on his allies? Tenya had thought he’d gotten through to him. But with no viable way for the not-dragon to answer, maybe Tenya had been fooled all along. It hurt, considerably so, knowing that their companion was so willing to attack them at the drop of a pin.

“It must be the armada,” Midoriya continued. “Something’s confused him - sent him astray. I don’t think he knows what he’s attacking right now.”

The ice balls aiming solely for Midoriya as they had fled gave Tenya a very different impression.

“There’s no more time to waste right now,” Tenya said, storming over to where Midoriya was propped against a tree trunk. The younger man yelped when Tenya manhandled him, yanking him forward to pull his bow off from his back. He shoved it hastily into Midoriya’s chest. “Right now we need to consider Shou out of bounds. Which means we’ve lost our only escape route, and now we’re stuck in the middle of a blown out battlefield.” When Midoriya finally managed to fumble his weapon into his hands, balancing the bow around his knife, Iida plucked a single arrow from his quiver. “You need to be able to fight from a distance. We have to prioritise fleeing out of sight.”

“You mean - use Shou as a distraction for us to get out of here?” Uraraka asked from his side. Tenya eyed her uncomfortably, watching her buzz with a strange sorts of energy. She had used a ridiculous amount of magic in such a short few minutes - the presence of her magic seemed to roll off her form like a static aura. She’d be beyond fatigued the moment she lost her adrenaline rush.

Midoriya pinched his brow at her words, looking ready to argue, and Tenya interrupted him. “Whatever’s ailing Shou right now - he can escape whenever he needs to. He’s no broken winged victim any longer, he’d be able to escape if the going got too tough for him.”

But Iida couldn’t help but wonder - what if Shou fled the armada only to simply resume hunting them down? Hunting Midoriya down? It was obvious the Endeavoran threat was not on the not-dragon’s priority.

“Get ready to run,” Tenya ordered, hoping he wouldn’t have to find out the answers to his thoughts. With a shaky frown, Midoriya nodded, and went to holster his knife, only to pull away when he realised the strap had torn from his leg in the fight. He settled to rest its blunt side between his teeth, fixing his arrow into place along his bow. They all tensed at the sound of something stumbling into the thicket, and knew their time was up.

With one last confirming nod from Uraraka, Tenya took the lead, and the trio ran to the opposite end of the crop of woods.

They must have been loud in their retreat, because the pursuers beelined their way and were quick to catch up by the time they had escaped the shelter of the trees. An expanse of fields lay ahead of them, untouched by the invader’s fires so far, but likely to be caught in the destruction shortly.

Something clipped at Tenya’s heel, and he was glad for his armour, for the weapon trying to slice his tendon out of commission simply bounced off with a clang, and Tenya pivoted to smack the hilt of his own sword straight across the soldier’s face. They spun dramatically from the blow, twirling slightly as they collapsed to the ground. One other pursuer was just behind them, and Iida raised his sword, only to lax his grip when the whoosh of air beside him notified him of a well placed arrow, piercing the soldier in the shoulder. They fell back with a cry, and Tenya resumed running away, towards where Midoriya had kneeled to aim his arrow. Tenya snagged his elbow as he ran past, hauling him up faster to keep running.

As much as he trusted Midoriya, he had a distinct dread in his gut telling him that his friend would slip back to try and rescue Shou the moment he looked in the wrong direction.

“Bibe abbowbs reff, ” Izuku mumbled pitifully around his cherished knife. Tenya only interpreted it as him counting his arrows when he pulled out another from his quiver, setting it along the bow’s string with worry.

Uraraka was just a bit further ahead of them, and Tenya was glad, because she had already used too much magic in this fight. He was seriously worried she would quickly fall victim to fatigue if she stopped to fight any longer.

There was a horrible crunching noise behind them, and Tenya glanced over his shoulder to watch the entire thicket flatten to the ground, Shou’s giant body rolling through the trees they were only moments before hiding in. Debris rained from his sides, and he roared over at the armada behind him, clearly getting the brunt of the fight. But his focus on the army was short lived - as if he could simply sense them, Shou swung his head around to hone in on the retreating party, and Tenya cursed under his breath. Was this their friend, or their enemy?

The following shriek Shou bellowed towards them convinced him of the latter. He shoved at Midoriya continuously, determined not to let him turn around, no matter how much he wanted to.

“Guys!” Uraraka waved at them up ahead, clearly trying to get them to hurry up. Tenya glanced back behind him one last time to see why, and felt his limbs grow cold. Shou began to charge towards them, soldiers simply vanishing underfoot like blades of trampled grass, unnoticed as he ran to catch up to them. But there was no welcoming gurgle or curious intelligent gaze, Shou’s eyes were wide and unseeing, his mouth stuck in a permanent state of a snarl, razor teeth on display and the back of his throat alight in the conjuring of his ice magic.

Behind the expanse of his wings, another molten rock arced overhead, and made another solid blow against the not-dragon’s back. Shou’s head reared up from the impact, his frost breath spluttering uselessly above him. Another wide splay of netting flew overhead too, catching along the spines of his back, as the armada continued to attempt to pin him down.

Were they trying to kill Shou, Tenya wondered, or capture him?

“He’sh hur’!” Midoirya spluttered, grinding to a stop in his run, and Tenya tried to stop his own momentum from outrunning him. Damn it, he had been distracted watching the chaos behind him. Midoriya pulled the knife from his mouth, and held it against his bow, as he aimed an arrow along it’s edge towards the battle. “He’s not going to be able to make it out without our help!”

Luckily, his arrow wasn’t wasted, because an enveloping blanket of magic encased the both of them, yanking them back with alarming speed.

“For God’s sake!” Uraraka yelled at them. “What part of running away don’t we get!” They were dumped unceremoniously backwards, left to stumble into the dirt by Uraraka’s feet. Tenya needed to both thank and apologise to her - for being so reliable while using too much of her power. If only he could get Midoriya to listen to him!

He accepted the edge of her staff to pull himself back up, and then watched as she hooked Midoriya onto his feet too. “If we can just get Shou some breathing space,” Midoriya continued, desensitised from everyone manhandling him. “-he can have enough time to figure out where he is - what’s going on - the battle’s just set something off in him!”

“Deku, something’s not right about this at all,” Uraraka admitted, tugging him forward despite his persistence. “I know Shou’s our friend, but - right now, I don’t think he could hold himself back from killing us - even if it ended up being an accident.”

“I’m sorry Midoriya,” Tenya added, steeling himself from the betrayed look Midoriya was giving them both. “But right now, Shou’s entirely unpredictable. He’s aimed several attacks at you directly already. If he does snap out of it eventually, we need to be well away from him enough to do so.”

“But he’s-”

Whatever Midoriya was about to say was drowned out in Shou’s next roar, and despite needing to run, they all turned to watch anyway, Tenya’s eyes widening as Shou struggled to stand underneath the weight of the magic rope. Then, they watched as the not-dragon’s left eye flashed indistinguishably, flames erupting from its core and blasting into a giant tailcoat of fire.

It was so much larger and louder than the time it happened in The Devil’s Gate; the roar of the flames cranking up to an immeasurable degree, fire screaming as it spread scale by scale down Shou’s back, until each one of his spikes had morphed into blazing candle wicks. Whatever tangles of rope were originally ensnared between his scales were suddenly erupting into molten heat, burning out of existence against the sheen of Shou’s blinding white body. He stood at full height, and the sight of a dragon-like being with a mane of fire rolling off him, with ice clouds still bellowing from his maw, brought unadulterated fear lancing through Tenya’s core.

Was that truly even Shou anymore?

The sheer heat that blasted from Shou sent the armada flying backwards, the unlucky ones closest to his feet were set ablaze beneath him. Without any sense of remorse for his actions, Shou faced their group again, and Tenya cried out, “Run!”

It seemed that watching Shou morph into a searing mass of fire was enough to get Midoriya to finally comply willingly, and he took off alongside Tenya and Uraraka, their hearts beating like rabbits on the run. There was a shudder in the air, and it told every instinct in Tenya’s core that Shou had taken flight, and would be over to them in seconds. He had never felt like prey before now, but the sensation of Shou’s shadow casting over him and the ground he raced against was making him feel more than helpless.

“Shou!” Midoriya yelled up at him, luckily still running forward. “It’s us! Your friends, remember!”

In reply, Shou bowed his head down, jaws outstretched. The usual blinding white light that would emanate from his throat flickered wild and with orange hues, a breaching sound approaching that didn’t resemble the ice he usually conjured. Could he breath fire too? What even was Shou anymore? Uraraka glanced up at the noise too, cursed loudly, and swung her staff, scooping them all up in her magic grip once more. They were propulsed to the side without safety, but rolling across the dirt meant nothing, when Tenya watched the space they had just occupied rupture into fire.

Shou spat out a mass of flames from his jaws, the ground billowing into black clouds of smoke as the very ground burned beneath him. The heat was so blinding, that Tenya had to scramble further away on his knees, his armour feeling close to singeing against his own skin. The fire kept roaring, and Shou’s blinding white pelt quickly disappeared, lost behind the smokescreen of his own destruction.

“When will this nightmare end?!” Midoriya cried, apparently the first one up this time. He clutched frantically at his bow at the continuous approach of the armada, still not done in their attempt to pursue the enemy, although Tenya wasn’t sure who they were after anymore. He coughed into the crook of his elbow, the smoke putrid. As he pulled himself back up, sick of falling over in pointy armour, Uraraka cast yet another spell. With the wave of her staff, she pulled the smoke around them in a vortex, creating a smokescreen around them. Once she was done, she fell to her knees with a violent shake.

“Uraraka!” Tenya clambered over to her with concern, gripping at her shoulders to keep her upright. She waved him off.

“I just need a minute to catch my breath,” she admitted, gasping. Midoriya lowered his weapons, flitting anxiously between figuring out where Shou was in the smoke and coming to Uraraka’s side.

Tenya swallowed. “We’re going to have to split up,” he said.

“What?” Uraraka glared at him.

“Why would we do that?” Midoriya asked, sounding panicked.

“For some reason, Shou’s only reacting to you,” Tenya answered, pointing a finger at Midoriya. He flinched.

“He’s just - the battle has him confused,” Midoriya tried weakly.

“I was redirecting… a lot of his attacks,” Uraraka admitted faintly. She glanced up at Midoriya, chewing at her lip. “They were all heading your way…” Midoriya fiddled with the bow and knife in his hands.

“We were all running - together - so it was probably just aimed at all of us-”

“If we split up,” Tenya interrupted, throwing him a sympathetic glance, “I think there’s a high probability that neither Uraraka nor I will be pursued by him. We’re not going near Endeavoran’s armada. We’ll all be escaping, with different routes. I think if we can simply make it hard to follow you in particular, Shou might give up the chase, and fly to safety by himself.”

“But… Why me?” Midoriya whispered, and Tenya felt his tongue sour at the tears edging at Midoriya’s eyes. “Why would he - I thought-”

“You’re right about one thing,” Uraraka insisted. “He’s not in his right state of mind right now. I think you're maybe right that-that he does need to get away from the fight, and cool down… But I don’t think he’ll settle until he’s alone. And not confusing you into his attacks. We can find him afterwards.”

Midoriya sniffled, and scrubbed at his face. “I’m so sorry guys, we weren’t even supposed to be here - this was all my fault-”

“Don't be silly,” Uraraka smiled at him. “We came with you willingly. These things just happen.”

Tenya nodded. “As much as I dislike being in this situation, Uraraka’s right. We all climbed aboard and took off with you. And now we’re all going to escape this fight, including Shou. We’re just going to leave in different routes.”

“I’ll… head South,” Midoriya agreed, his face a little puffy, but his expression steeled. Tenya stood up, putting a supportive hand on his shoulder.

“I’ll start by going South East,” he said. Midoriya frowned at him.

“The soldiers are East though.”

“Uraraka will go South West,” Tenya continued, ignoring the twin scowls he was given. “Uraraka’s used far too much magic already. I’m not going to just let her be stuck throwing crossfire with energy she no longer has.”

“Excuse you,” Uraraka huffed, standing up. “I have plenty of energy!”

“Then you’ll use it to escape to a far enough distance, and offer long range defence around Midoriya,” Iida retorted. “I won’t be heading for the soldiers, but I’m still the best to handle any head on attacks.” He knocked on his chest plate, the armour clanging from impact.

In response, a battle cry could be heard charging towards him, and Iida sidestepped, brandishing his sword to the side for someone’s boot to trip over. The soldier fell with a yelp straight into Midoriya’s awaiting fist, and they slumped to the ground, out like a light. The three of them blinked down at the man, surprised.

Sighing, Uraraka stretched her arms overheard. “Okay, get ready guys. I’m gonna spread the smokescreen as far as I can, so we have a bit more reach to run without being spotted.” She pointed her staff out forward with both hands, but hesitated. “I love you guys, you know that, right?”

Tenya squinted at the surprise sting of his own tears welling up. “Don’t be daft,” he said, “of course we do.”

Midoriya pulled them together into a swift group hug, and Tenya couldn’t fight his own arms squeezing into everyone’s sides. “We love you too,” Midoriya said. “And we’ll see each other on the other side.”

“Stay safe,” Tenya couldn't stop himself from saying, pulling away. They echoed it back to him, and they all turned to face their intended direction.

“Okay,” Uraraka exhaled. She twirled her staff overhead, and the smog around then thinned, arcing out into every direction. “Let’s go!”

They set off simultaneously, charging forward. Within a few steps, Uraraka and Midoriya were already shielded from his vision, swallowed up by the smoke. Tenya kept running, clipping shoulders with a soldier less armour clad than he, who was knocked over from the impact. Tenya kept running, and dodged another silhouette within the cloud, worried that soldiers had caught up to them so soon.

Somewhere above, Shou keened loudly.

It didn’t take him too long to escape the expanse of stretched out haze, and he found himself coughing for fresh air once he broke through. Tenya continued to run on his shortened breath, glancing around wildly. From his side, row after row of soldiers were charging into the charring smoke, determined to find whatever was inside.

But despite several soldiers spotting him racing past, none pursued him. Instead, Tenya watched as one even pointed up at the sky, confirming his worries.

They weren’t after them. They were after Shou.

Glancing over his shoulder, Tenya watched as the sooty streaked hide of Shou breach out of the smog, his back still branded alight and burning so harsh the flames were almost white. His flew up, breaching into a loop, and on the descend, released a torrent of flames into the smoke. The innards of the smoke expanded from grey into red, and whatever hold Uraraka’s magic had on it dissipated, the sheer heat of the flames forcing the smoke to rise away from the ground completely. Tenya could hear the tinny wails of soldiers screaming in agony inside, burning alive.

He turned away with grit teeth, and continued to run, the farmlands he tread nothing more than soot and ash.

Chapter Text

Ochako never really had plans for her life. As a child, she had presumed she was destined to inherit her parent’s carpenter business, despite her father’s insistence that she could find better work to do. Then she considered enrolling as a page, and eventually earn herself a  sponsorship learning business tactics to help promote her family’s work so they would find better income for their hardships. But when that seemed impossible without any sort of noble help, she assumed she could fight her way into the trading market.

All of her plans revolved around trying to pay back her parents for their hard lifestyle, because her parents had deserved so much more than what they got.

And then one day, after fighting tooth and nail against a thief trying to rob her on a woodland trail, and her adrenaline piqued and her nerves trembled with power, she discovered by chance her perception to magic.

That had changed everything.

Even that, she had figured, would still take her to the future she wanted. Being able to train as a mage would surely get a name for herself. She could continue to promote her parents business, even doing the work for them with her magic, if she could.

And then she saved a small boy from falling onto his face, who held the stories of a great adventure awaiting him, awaiting them, he told her confidently, when he remembered how to use his own feet to stand, and once again her fate had been shifted to yet another goal.

Sure, life liked to give her some giant 180’s when it came to predictability, but she could never be prepared for the situation she was stuck in right now.

Her breath burned, the smokescreen around her still thick enough to make her gag, as she ran through the densest part of the once golden crop fields. The stems loomed overhead, completely obscuring her vision, and hopefully hiding her within its depths too. No one had pursued her so far at least, and for that she was grateful. Maybe it had been a good thing that Iida had pitied her enough to allow her the furthest direction away from the armada.

She didn’t want to admit it, but he was right. She was exhausted. She had to regulate her magic on a good day, and today had been a very very bad one.

This wasn’t what she wanted to be doing, ever. She wasn’t built to combat a war fleet. She had never signed up to battle. She was supposed to be flying across the skies to safety, with her friends, to the capital of her kingdom to ask for the council’s aid. This wasn’t her battle. She wasn’t even supposed to be here.

What if she died in the middle of a broken field? What would her parents think of her? What if they blamed themselves, for their persistence for her to leave and go discover herself? She should have stayed home, against their wishes.

No! She shook her head, vision swimming. This was the panic setting in, the lack of air in her system. She didn’t regret travelling with Deku and Iida. She didn’t regret making a second family with them, seeing all the new wonders of the world through the new lense of magic she possessed, helping those less fortunate than them, finding and befriending Shou. None of these were regrets.

But it still didn’t douse the fear alight in her throat, making it tight and squeezing as it challenged her at every step.

Her eyes managed to clear once she broke out of the smoke, and she coughed heavily, trying to scrape the tar off of her tongue with her teeth. She spat a few times,slowing to a walk to be able to truly breathe properly. She had a few moments. No one would be in this direction yet.

She was tired, but not out of commission just yet. It was true she hadn’t used this much magic at once before, but there was a new factor in this battle that was a real turning point for her here; the magic of life.

And from the sheer velocity of magic abundant in the air around her right now, it was clear that hundreds of foot soldiers had already perished under Shou’s claws. Their lifeforce lingered in the battlefield, and with it was raw unattached energy, magic simply swarming the vicinity with no outlet. And Ochako, being able to wield magic, could grasp and manipulate it with surprising ease.

This was a newer discovery for her. She knew all life had magic within it, even if too weak to be used for actual magic conjuring, but she had never seen people.... die before. They had been in a lot of trouble in the past, stumbling straight into the centre of hideouts for bandits and thieves, but they had always found ways around taking life. As clumsy as Deku was, he was adept at hand to hand combat, and Iida was trained to the grand council’s levels of respect and disarming enemies with almost singular blows. Ochako fed off their styles, twisting her own uses of magic towards incapacitating people over injury.

But here, there had been no remorse from Shou. Shou, their beloved not-dragon friend who couldn’t talk but liked to snuggle, who pretended to be aloof but would worry and fret over every stranger they came across. He hadn’t had the time to learn like Ochako had, to figure out how to disarm people carefully in that monstrous form. And now he was running rampant, and the sheer deadliness of his design was being put into practice. There were no injuries at the hands of Shou. Only death. And Ochako was both overwhelmed and empowered by the magical essence of the casualties.

Hesitantly though, she pulled at the leaking magic, wielding it to her advantage. Despite her fatigue, she was essentially limitless in this kind of environment. She couldn’t just be expected to hide and rest, unless the others were, too.

She continued traversing through the tall crops, trying to figure out the direction Deku would have ran. He only had a handful of arrows at his mercy, and hand to hand combat could only do so much against several thousand soldiers. She’d rather be useful as some kind of long range defense for him until they were all clear from the battle.

Someone ran past her, and she stumbled, hesitating. Was that him?

“Deku?” she called out. The figure skidded to a halt, and Ochako quickly realised her mistake, the shimmer of coloured chest armour unfamiliar. “Oops!” She flicked a single shot of antigravity casting at him, and the soldier sprung away from the ground with a yelp, floating just off the ground and swaying in the wind like a half-filled balloon. Her bad - maybe she was still a little disoriented from the smoke inhalation earlier.

But still, she was surprised that soldiers had already caught up to her. The fact that the soldier ran past her made her wonder if they were even chasing after them anymore, or simply running away from Shou’s destruction.

Behind her, the cloud of ash they were in only minutes before imploded into a mass of fire, rushing the smoke up like a mountainous eruption. The blast of heat that followed helped blow the floating soldier further out of harm's way, at least, but the swell of power that pressed along her joints only made Ochako’s heart ache more. Why was Shou murdering everyone?

Shaking her head, she continued rushing onwards. The last thing she needed to do was dawdle, when Shou was still searching for - Deku, maybe? She wasn’t certain why herself, but what Iida had said was true; all of his close call attacks had conveniently been Deku-aimed. Speaking of which, she still needed to find him.

But Ochako was slow running in her boots, fighting off her nausea, and she quickly found herself not alone in the tall stalked fields, several soldiers overtaking her and running past her without a second glance. They may have been attacking them at first, but Ochako still felt pity for them, felt guilty for the strength coursing in the air at their comrade’s deaths. She hadn’t wanted anyone to die today. This kind of power source was toxic.

It was easy to understand now why there were so many childhood fables regarding the comeuppance of mages who played with the boundaries of death. Ochako could tell how simple it would be to collect all the residue magic, wound it up into a big mass, and have unimaginable power from such an easy source. But magic had rules, and Ochako wasn’t willing to throw her moral compass so easily out of the window.

There was a boundary - a limit to what humans could naturally wield in magic. Every living thing could harness magic, to an extent, and a mage was one of those rare conditions where the human threshold for magic was simply far above the average norm. But it too had a limit.

When situations arose from manipulating  magic from other sources, like now, was when things got a little tricky.

Ochako thought she saw a flash of green up ahead, between the stalks of gold, and catapulted herself out of the field with a magic blast to land ahead, only to clumsily roll with a hiss as she narrowly missed landing on the field’s bordering hedge. Not Deku then. Leaves. Iida was going to kill her - with well placed words and a disappointed gaze, mostly, so not killing at all, actually. Was Deku surprisingly taking Iida’s advice to heart? She hoped so, even though her gut told her otherwise. Because she sure as heck couldn't find him, but if she couldn’t, maybe Shou couldn’t, either.

But where was he?

She found herself squeezing behind the hedgeline, peering out to watch if anyone would spring out from the crops. Maybe she had overtaken him? A few foot soldiers bustled through like spooked deer, so she waited in silence, feeling rather queasy. She was so close to freedom - now if only her friends would catch up!

Theoretically, a mage could simply take other sources of magic to top onto their capped limit, but that made the repercussions all the more grand. There was also a very unclear, but very worrying line between mortals and gods.

Gods had an unmeasurable reach of magic, and mortals greedy enough to harvest more magic than they can withstand could potentially lead them towards the boundary of the god’s powers themselves.

And every God knows every God.

And they can sense every power that rivals theirs, supposedly.

Every fable ended the same. Every mage who took too much and trespassed over the god’s magic threshold would be immediately targeted by them, and their comeuppance would be swift, and painful, maybe even tragic.

Fables may be simple moral stories, but they were good lessons. And Ochako would never be swayed by the temptation it gave. Her friends had reminded her more than enough times to be confident in her own powers, and she treasured their words more than any power boost. So she ignored the majority of the sweltering magic in the air, and only grasped at the small handfuls she needed to keep herself from running out of her own reserves. Just enough to stay on her feet.

Maybe when it was all over, and she could bump into Deku and Iida, and Shou could fly overhead and crash out against a mountain to sleep off his episode, she herself could go have a self induced coma for a month. In an inn though, not a sleeping bag. A month on a mattress sounded fantastic. Could she rent out a room for that long?

Ochako blinked out of her fantasies, disoriented. She shook her head a little, but it did nothing but make the strange dizzying sway of the air more prominent, and she found herself squinting at the sudden shift in the air.

What was that? It was as if the mass of loose magic in the air was swirling like a whirlpool, condensing into a tangled threaded mass across the fields. It was so condense Ochako could practically see it, vortexing down into the chaos of the masses of soldiers on the battlefield.

She stood up from her hiding spot, a chill pooling down her spine.

Someone was collecting the magic.

She wanted to slap herself - of course the armada would have mages! Half of their projectiles had been enchanted from the get go! She felt like an idiot.

Just because she had morals, didn’t mean a warhungry mage would.

Ochako bit her lip, trying to figure out her next move. The mass of magic being collected was likely to create something much more of a potential problem, and something far more likely able to kill Shou in the process. Was that what the army was trying to do - kill him? She wasn’t certain, but all their attention was stuck on him, so it was safe to assume that magic was being collected to subdue him.

She needed to make sure Deku was okay, but he still hadn’t caught up. What if he had been terrible after all and ran back towards wherever Shou was ripping through his smog cloud, setting everything on fire? Did she risk going back, to possibly save both of them?

The vortex of magic sang to her in a nauseating way. If that power wasn’t used on Shou, then it’s wrath would still be unleashed on Yuuei. Ochako dragged her mud scuffed glove down her face. Sorry Iida, she thought, racing back into the crop field.

Oh this is dumb, this is a dumb dumb idea, she chanted internally, flinching at each armoured man that came running past her. She narrowly missed clipping shoulders with another, and was glad they were cowed enough not to start any confrontation with her.

Was she still dizzy, or was the magic vortex dividing into two? Her step faltered as she ran, the crops around her replaced with crumpled ash and loose embers. Another mage had clearly taken to the same idea. Ochako’s nervous swallow was dry down her throat; she was no match for two mages taking advantage of the abundance of leaking magic.

But before her senses could convince her to backtrack and run South like she was supposed to be doing, there was a flash of green within the smoke, the promise of hair and not leaves, barely visible through the hazy remains of the field. Shoulders small, and not a glint of armour in sight.

That was definitely Deku.

And then he vanished again deeper into the smog. “Ack-!” So much for doubting herself - she had a friend to rescue.

She ran back to the fray, grass replaced with charred ash underfoot with the roar of soldiers ringing in the air as somehow, rows of them continued to aim and fire their arrows and projectiles to the shifting shape in the sky.

She clutched at her hood as it threatened to fly from her head, when the white mass of wreathed flamed not-dragon swept overhead, soot disrupting up into the air to follow his flight. Ochako coughed into her sleeve, before shaking her staff overhead.

“Will you just chill out already!?” She yelled up at him, but he made no indication that he was even aware of her existence. Shou was actively searching for something though, his head twisting and turning as he swooped around like an angry magpie. She prayed he wasn’t looking for the same thing she was.

Oh, she wished she had learned some sort of sleep magic. Subduing Shou herself would have been so much simpler. What use was her antigravity spells to an airborne dragon?

There was a few stray whizzing sounds, and Ochako squeaked, throwing her staff up to fling the arrows cutting through the air out from her direction. Her gut lurched from both the magic expense and the fear-adrenaline, so she sieved just a slight more of the free magic into her system.

Just enough to stop my reserves going empty, she reassured her guilty conscience, eyes scanning around her as best as she could manage.

How had she already lost Deku again!?

A catastrophic zwomph shook the earth, and Ochako fell backwards with a hiss, the air spiking in heat as Shou poured down his next flamethrower across the ground, severing what remained of the armada formation into two. To her surprise, one of the vortexes spluttered out to a halt, its condensed magic dispersing back into the air in a panic. More magic blasted into Ochako’s face, and she groaned pitifully.

She truly felt stuck within a pit of hell.

A metal encased hand was offered out in front of her, and Ochako flinched back with a yell, whacking her staff into the intruder.

“Ow!” Iida shook at his hit hand with a frown. Ochako glanced up at him with both alarm and a sickening glee, cancelling any vestiges of magic she was about to conjure against him.

“Iida!”

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you ahead already?” he asked in a hurry.

Well, she had expected this. “Why aren’t you?” She countered weakly. Her evasion worked somehow, because his face crumpled with guilt.

“I was on my way! But - I had… the suspicion that Midoriya didn’t follow the plan.”

Good intuition. “He didn’t,” Ochako confirmed with a wince. “I couldn’t catch up to him, but - I saw him running towards - into the-” she pointed at the remains of the ongoing battle.

Iida shook his head with a sigh. “Why can’t he just-” he offered his hand to her again, and Ochako pulled herself up with it this time.

“That’s not all,” she admitted. “There are mages here, or a mage, now, maybe, and they’re - using the dead for a magical boost.”

“Curses,” Iida gritted out, turning to squint at the mass of armoured men ahead of them, as if he thought he could simply spot them in the crowd.

“I think there’s only one left,” Ochako added.

Iida faced her again. “Can you tell where they are?”

She nodded, flinching when Shou’s next roar rattled her skull. Ochako pointed out towards the crowd. “I can see them collecting magic from over there. I don’t know what they look like, but they’ll probably be dressed differently than the other soldiers.” If only Iida could sense magic like she could. Locating them would have been much easier than a simple vague point to a crowd of people.

In any case, Iida seemed undeterred. He nodded with thanks, muttering, “I can handle that, I suppose.”

Ochako blinked, confused. “You can’t go out there,” she blurted. “Shou’s setting everything on fire! You’d just get caught in it!”

“So is Midoriya,” Iida reasoned. “And I’m not going to let him simply wander out there to allow himself to become a barbeque dinner. I can’t take on Shou, but I can take on someone a little more my size.”

Was that even logical? Ochako felt like she couldn't think straight enough to come up with a better argument against it. But still…

“Wait a second!” she yanked Iida back with a hand against the crook of his elbow. “Lemme just try something.”

The ground shook a little from another ball of fire having cratered into the earth some metres away, but Iida nodded, trusting her. She squinted, feeling the stray of magic coiling between her fingers. Maybe if she took a little more than usual… Brow firm, she squeezed what she had into her staff, hoping it would convert the way she wanted it to as it tapped against Iida’s armour. She had been living with Shou for well over a year now, seen his magic, felt his magic. Felt how strangely it was layered into a fireproof casing. If she could make something similar for Iida…

She gasped, forgetting how to breathe, and threw her head forward to vomit a little. Eugh, that was too much for her. Large hands grasped at her shoulders with concern, but she shrugged him off.

“‘m’ f-ine,” she gasped, feeling kind of like shit. She spat on the ground a little, then grinned up at him. “It’s not… perfect, but your armour’s a little more fireproof now. Don’t like - jump straight into his blasts though, okay?”

Iida blinked down at her in shock. “You… you truly are amazing, you know that right?”

“The best of the best,” she laughed, throat aching. “Go on. I’ll try and get Deku back before he stumbles into trouble.”

Iida nodded. “Alright then. I can probably - no, I will buy you some more time. Please, keep him and yourself safe for me. Good luck, Uraraka!”

Ochako couldn't help but grin again, wiping her gross mouth against her sleeve. “Alrighty, second time's the charm.”

She heard Iida’s retreating footsteps before she saw him go, watching him with an enviable speed charging onwards, as if their encounter had reinvigorated him. She’d never understand how he could function so fast in his heavy metal plating, but couldn’t stumble to question it now.

Back onto task now. If she was Deku, where would she be? Straight after Shou, her first impulsive thought fed to her.

Yeah, he would be. Probably trying to reason with him somehow. He liked talking to that meatloaf.

She squinted against the heat of  the battle, trying to look for any kind of pattern to Shou’s direction. Did Shou know Deku was still in there somewhere? Was he already aiming for him again, or just attacking at random?

Right at that thought, the roar of Shou’s fire overwhelmed her senses, and Ochako ducked in fright, only metres away from missing the line of fire blasting from above. She watched with watery eyes as the same plume of fire enveloped through the land and the soldiers, left at Shou’s mercy. Right towards where Iida had ran off. Oh, she hoped her spell had been enough to keep him safe.

Suddenly, the vortex of magic she had watched grow spluttered and dispersed.

For a moment she assumed that the final mage had been killed too, but then, within the fumes of the destroyed land, the vortex slowly began to reform. Not out for the count then, Ochako grimaced.

Please Iida, she thought, stay safe.

With one last dizzyingly deep breath, Ochako steadied herself, to run back towards the hazy mask of smoked land. At least, she reasoned, she could reuse it for stealth, and try to retrieve Deku safely.

Once this was all over, Ochako was going to demand some inn time.

If this nightmare ever ended.

Chapter Text

 

 

If Izuku had to try to describe the feeling he had right now, the answer would be utter confusion.

He just - couldn’t comprehend what was happening right now.

Shou; their beloved friend, their dear companion, the person they had spent over a year’s worth of country crossing to help, was attacking them? Was killing people? Had morphed into a blazing shimmering star of molten fire and wrath, and was currently setting the countryside on fire, the same way that they had come to try and stop in the first place? His friends’ conviction that Shou was doing this all to kill him in particular?

Izuku just couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

The worst part was, he couldn’t… deny these absurd claims. Because each one of those things was happening, right now.

Once Uraraka’s vortex spell had been dispelled, Izuku had set off as intended. There was no room to stall, because without her magic the fumes of the smoke were unbearable, and he found himself choking within a matter of seconds.

Luckily, he got out rather quickly, and took some greedy gulps of air. It smelled rotten and the taste of eggs and burnt meat soiled its taste, but at least he could breathe.

Eggs, he realised, as he leapt into a field of stalks. That was the smell of gas . He halted in his run, looking back in time to hear the strange rising whistle, before Shou’s blinding form flew over the ashcloud, his breath alighting into a torrent of flames that only ignited the cloud further. The blast was strong enough to knock Izuku down to the ground, and he covered his mouth to cough into his sleeve.

Huh, was Shou extracting flammable gases from the air in his throat, in order to create the fire?

Not the time! Izuku shook his head, frustrated with himself. This was no place to be trying to find comfort in figuring out how Shou ticked in that form - he wanted to slap himself for thinking that that was remotely okay to do.

The meaty smell still remained, but Izuku didn't need to wonder about that one. There were enough burning corpses around for him to put the pieces together. He wondered how Shou would react, if he knew of all the havoc he was creating. Would he feel guilty? Did he even know he was doing this to begin with?

Shou roared again up from above, grounding Izuku back into reality. Right, he was supposed to be running, not just lying around. He made to pick himself up, but then a steel toe boot snagged him right in the ribs, and he choked, pushed back to the ground as a soldier yelled in pain, tripping over him. They landed straight on their front with a cry, their armour holding them down. “To hell with it all!” they spat, picking themselves back up. They gave Izuku a glare from over their shoulder, before they continued running away, conveniently in the direction Izuku was also meant to be fleeing.

“They didn’t… attack me?” Izuku whispered to himself in disbelief, side aching from the blow. What kind of nightmare was this, a scenario in which their invading enemies were showing more mercy than their beloved friend. It was all just too much to take in.

But wait. Izuku forced himself to his feet. Who was to say they were the enemy? Yes they were Endeavoran, and yes they were setting Yuuei on fire, but these were just footsoldiers. The lowest ranking of any war. Were they even here willingly?

Izuku shouldn’t take pity during a war, but… Maybe this was what they needed. The soldiers to be unwilling enough to take a stand, and to fall back. If Shou could scare them off enough, and disperse the soldiers far enough, they’d no longer be a threat.

But Shou couldn’t just be left to his own devices. He was still murdering who knows how many lives right now.

Izuku glanced back to the skies, trying to watch Shou’s actions intently. He kept swooping a lot, particularly around that patch of land where there was nothing but rising smoke. After several flights around, he’d blast more fire inside it, then continue circling. Clearly he thought there was something still inside.

Me, he thinks I’m still in there, a voice whispered at the back of his head. He felt a chill run down his spine.

He flinched when Shou released his next flames, the edge of it catching in the corn field he was in, striking through the land, through the smokescreen, and beyond where the armada were mostly grouped, splitting them apart by the flames. He flung himself out of the field, not wanting to get caught in the kernels exploding like shrapnel within the stalks.

Maybe Izuku… Could get Shou to stop killing more people. If he truly was what Shou was searching for…

Sorry, Iida, Uraraka.

Izuku ran back towards the smoke.

 


 

Ochako didn’t know if she wanted to curse or bless the strength that was surrounding her right now. Because it filled her with enough energy to want to keep going, despite how thoroughly spent she actually was. The magic was like an extra dose of adrenaline that just kept peaking back to restlessness every time she used it.

She felt antsy.

Regardless of feelings though, she was trying her damndest to find Deku. He was like a little houdini in this mess, and Ochako felt embarrassed that she, the manipulator of magic, couldn't find one of her closest friends. She wondered if there was such thing as a tracker spell… If there were, she rather needed one for Deku at this rate.

Don't be like that, she shook her head, darting across the maimed landscape. Have better faith in your friends, she told herself.

She kept low every time Shou soared back over her, although it felt for naught, because she doubted he could actually see her (or cared, for that matter). But his movements were still rather… swoopy, which gave the impression that, at the very least, he hadn’t found Deku yet either.

Which was a good thing. She wanted to find him first, thanks.

Although… If he did find Deku, that’d make it sure of a heck easier for me to find him too.

In the barren landscape, there weren't many options for where Deku could be. He didn’t seem to be in the field stalks, or out the other end, and back over here the land was nothing but mounts of ash, and further ahead were the divided troops.

Although, with all the ash underfoot, he very well could have already been - no! She gave her cheek a rough slap, agitated with herself. Believe in my friends! Stop doubting!

There was a slim chance he was in the smog itself but she doubted it. Without her spell, it wouldn’t be safe to breathe in general. Plus the amount of times Shou had set fire from within…

So then. The only remaining options were near what remained of the groups of armada. Iida had been sent to the one with the mage left in its midsts, so if they were lucky, Deku might have stumbled into him in there. She’d go check the other side, as a precaution.

Shou roared overhead again, and Ochako ducked with a cringe, grimacing at the heat of his next fire blast scorching past. The blasts were so strong that they created scars across the ground, where each line of fire had cut across the landscape. Ochako wearily approached the most recent one, seeing the molten cinders at the bottom. With a hupp , she jumped over it, and continued traversing across the land, towards the floundering soldiers.

She was still a fair distance away, but from what she could see of them, they were scrambling to try and fix one of their rock catapults, seemingly to no avail. With no mage around to fix it, it was practically rubble at this point, she guessed. These soldiers probably knew they had no chance of facing a dragon without some kind of magic wielder aiding them.

The streak of Shou’s shadow overhead made her gut roil nauseously. Uh oh.

Further back, he soared low once again to release his fire, the current beelining towards the armada. It was going to make it to them long before Ochako could ever reach them in time.

Unless…

She swept her staff overhead, tilting it towards the group. She exhaled deeply. Not too much, but she needed…. A lot more...

Ochako wasn’t going to be what they wanted, but she intended to be what was needed.

 


 

So, here was the plan.

There was a set amount of time between each period that Shou would conjure flames. Maybe it was because he was exhausting so much magic out of the white pyre fuming out of his back like a molten cape, but the flames he was blasting out from his mouth seemed to be at the very least more restricted in use.

Because of this, Izuku was going to wait specifically for Shou to start using his flames. And then, he’d wave about, yell and shout, to try and catch his attention. He’d proceed by dashing into the smokeshield as soon as Shou had spotted him, and would begin turning around to pursue him. Izuku’s intention was that Shou would refocus his blasts more accurately into the smoke, and away from what remained of the armada. Izuku would dash in and out of the perimeter of the smoke to breathe, and maybe gallop off to the trees to the east when the time was right.

That was the plan, anyways.

As it turned out, plans did not like to work for him today.

Deep down, Izuku had hoped that his friends had been wrong, that it was the armada setting Shou off, the concept of war and the gleaming rise of attacking weaponry and armour setting off a memory deep within him.

But it was clear now, that Izuku truly was his target.

He waited for his chance, for Shou’s belly to swoop low, the heat emanating from him so hot it made Izuku’s flesh sting. Shou bellowed out his next fire blast, and Izuku ran under his shadow with a yell, waving his hands overhead.

“Shou! That’s enough already!”

But his voice was practically silent compared to the humming strength of the flames, loud in their path as Shou exhaled his wave of fire again. Damn it, how was Izuku supposed to get his attention now?

He grimaced in preparation for the mass of soldiers ahead to be smouldered into the ground, but then something strange happened. Just before the blast reached them, a loud pop echoed across the field, and the armada were thrown out into the air, as if an explosion had set off beneath them.

But instead of falling back down from the blast, they were hung suspended in the air, screaming and flailing in confusion. An antigravity cast? Was Uraraka over there? The heat of Shou’s attack was suddenly at their aid, the hot air scattering the soldiers away from the chaos like scattered dandelion seeds.

Shou ended his fire breath, gracefully turning, his wing beats and pure heat throwing the army further out of his reach. Several floated past his face, and he paid no mind to them, as if they were nothing but particles of dust.

No, he had no eyes for them, because the pinpricks of his pupils were too busy staring Izuku down, piercing mismatched blue locking his feet in place.

Shou’s wings spread out to their full length, before he beat them once, approaching rapidly.

“Oh,” Izuku gasped, forgetting to move. His adrenaline kickstarted his limbs, and he finally turned on his heel, already knowing he had moved too late, and Shou would be on top of him within a second.

Behind him, Shou screeched loudly, the sound so physical that Izuku’s ankles tremoured, making his shoes lose momentum in the loose ash underfoot.

A shadow loomed over him and quickly overtook his pacing, Shou’s shadow stretched ahead of him from the low rising sun, and Izuku knew he had lost. The sound of wind pressure, and a gust of air and dust and debris ricocheted hard around Izuku, making him stumble. He watched in dismay as he not only stumbled to the ground, but the strength of the wingbeat dispelled the smokescreen off the ground too, sniffing out the cinders below that had kept the pit smoking. There was nowhere to hide now.

But something had to be going right for him, surely. Because instead of getting gobbled up or caught on fire, Shou somehow missed him, gliding just metres above where he lay helpless in the muck, and soaring past.

Izuku watched as the not-dragon attempted to turn back around, but his wing tip clipped against the ground, dragging through the dirt like a giant plow, before he kicked off the ground to fly back up.

Oh, he had been too low to turn and too fast to stop, Izuku realised. His own clumsiness, falling at the last second, had saved him. Shou was clearly only going back up so he could gain the space to arc back around though, and Izuku had nowhere left he could hide.

He picked himself up shakily, clothes and skin caked in a mixture of wet earth and ash. His thumb wiped a streak down his blade, revealing the shimmering metal beneath. Would he really have to use it? This couldn’t be what All Might wanted. He’d… hate him, for using it for this. Izuku would hate himself for using it like this.

“Please!” Izuku’s voice broke, his screams still buffeted by the sheer noise of wind, following Shou’s powerful wingbeats as he turned back around. “P-please don’t make me do this!”

Shou’s replying roar echoed across the far hills, but it wasn’t something that gave Izuku any hope that his friend was actually responding to him. Shou finished his gliding arc, swooping back down with an intense speed, his mouth open, this time ready for another fire blast. There were no more options now.

“Damn it, Shou!” He screamed, raising his blade. He could feel the imprints of his master’s hands, where they would have moulded into the handle. Izuku spread his feet at the ready. His limbs trembled.

“S-Shou,” Izuku whispered into the blade. “I’m so sorry.”

 


 

Dark crackling energy formed so strongly that even Tenya could see its density formulating in the air. There was no doubt about it, he had found the mage within what remained of the withering crowd of soldiers. He watched in dismay as the thick presence of magic curled around the form of the furious woman, her smouldered and charred arms swooping high and low in tandem to stir air and the magic it carried. She released it with a pained cry, and the darkness split into the fallen soldiers surrounding her, attempting to awaken the recently deceased. The bodies groaned and wailed, attempting to pick themselves up from the ground.

Rise ! You must! Otherwise it’s all in vain!” The mage wailed desperately, eyes flickering back to Tenya as he approached with speed. He needed to incapacitate her quickly before they had another wave of the army reanimated to fight.

But the undead could do no more than writhe on the floor helplessly. Several who managed to clamber onto their knees and elbows grunted as their joints crumbled into ash at the motion, the magic unwilling to stick to their corpses and whisking back out into the air without purpose.

The old woman grabbed at her wiry silver hair and screamed into the air.

“That foolish man! He’s killed us all! We shouldn’t be out here, our magic is too divided!”

“That’s enough!” Tenya ordered, ramming into the woman’s side and watching her tattered robed form knock into the ground. He had been lucky enough to have narrowly avoided Shou’s last attack on the crowd, but the mage herself seemed the opposite of unscathed. She made no attempt to soften the blow, simply taking her weight on her shoulder with a yelp. She glared up at Tenya with her irises glowing gold, her hair rising against gravity.

“You’re fools! All of you! That king is too selfish to realise the mistakes he’s committed! And now because of his arrogance he’s left that loose in the kingdom!”

Her wrinkled sharp hand was void of magic as she pointed behind him, and it allowed Tenya to let down his guard just enough to turn and notice that she was gesturing at Shou, who blasted yet another uncontrolled line of flame into the ground below. Were there even any soldiers left to battle at this point? Was he simply attacking the movement of his own rising smoke? The earth was beyond charred, remaining grass and foliage lit in loose fire. Tenya grimaced, unsure how to proceed. He turned back to the weathered mage, edging his sword under her chin.

“The king had something to do with Shou? Tell me what you know about that dragon.”

“-and you!” she continued, as if he had never spoken. “You and your foolish group brought that here to begin with! Did you bring All Might with you too? It’s the only way he’d be acting like that! You’ve condemned us all to death you stupid stupid people!”

“All Might? No – what does he –?”

She continued to writhe incessantly beneath him, so Tenya rose his voice to a frustrated shout. “You need to calm down! You’re hysterical!”

“You would be too if you understood the danger here!” She screamed. “I was a part of this – I can stop it. I can – I will, it’ll be easy.”

This time her palm crackled to life with the conjuring of a spell, and Tenya knocked it aside roughly with his gauntlet.

“You should just surrender, nobody needs to get hurt!”

She sneered, drool dripping from her lips. “Just let me kill him! The moment I do, my magic will be restored! He just needs to die!”

“Damn it!” Tenya forcefully grabbed her wrist this time, shoving it into the dirt and pinning her in place. “I won’t ask again!”

“Get out of my way!” The mage head-butted him, reeling him backwards only briefly, but just enough for her to free her hand and aim it at his recoiling face. “You can die too for all I care!”

“No!” Tenya swung his head to the side, feeling the air beside his ear implode into an electrical force that shot its way whizzing past him and into the land behind them. There was a distant boom, his ears ringing and his skin static and throbbing, but Tenya kept moving with his momentum, bringing his arm and sword swinging up and around into the mage’s torso.

The metal bit deeply into her side, lodging into her ribs, and she was left spluttering as blood rose up her throat. She tried to speak, but quietly guzzled instead, drooping into Tenya’s front like a puppet with her strings cut. Her blood pooled steadily onto his armour, and Tenya closed his eyes, regretful.

He hadn’t… Intended to kill her. Remorse wormed its way through his torso, making his arms quiver.

In the background, Shou released yet another ear-splitting shriek, and Tenya took a sharp inhale. He couldn’t stay there. He had to keep moving. He cautiously lowered the elder woman’s body to rest on the battle charred ground. “I’m sorry,” he whispered down to her. He could mourn and contemplate his actions in the future.

But for now, he had friends he needed to keep alive.

 


 

Izuku could see the tendrils of light scramble up Shou’s throat, gas alighting in the charge of incoming hell flames. Izuku pressed his lips hard against the blunt edge of the blade, whispering hoarsely the words All Might had told him he needed to say. It was subtle, and faint, but he swore he could feel the tiny tendrils of what little magical essence he had seep into the weapon. Tears stained his dirtied face, and he readied his stance, prepared to duck.

Just as the flames licked at Shou’s tongue, his body shuddered into a spasm, and his mouth clamped shut, light dancing through the seams of his lips.

What?

From his descent, Izuku could see the light seeping back down Shou’s throat, illuminating his belly and the organs inside like some sort of ghastly light show, his innards pulsating, forming grotesquely into a shape that didn’t look right. It was only then that Izuku realised that Shou was still charging down at him, and there was no time , he was going to get hit-

He threw his head down, arms raised, and felt the blow of his weapon as it seared through his friend’s skin above him. The momentum should have blown him off of his feet, but the knife’s enchantment kept him grounded, tearing through the almost impenetrable dragon’s armour like tissue paper. The sound of skin ripping like wet leather made Izuku sob into his shoulder, his eyes screwed shut.

To his horror, he could feel his sweaty grip begin to slip on the hilt of his knife, the blade threatening to fly out of his hands along with the not-dragon it was slicing through.

No!

Izuku couldn’t readjust his grip against the momentum, so he pushed his palms up until he could feel the base of the metal slice into his own flesh. But there wasn’t time to think about that, the release of pressure leaving his arms swinging at empty air once the end of Shou’s belly had soared past.

Izuku could hear the sound of leaking gas for only a moment, before he heard, “Deku!”

His eyes opened, just in time to see Uraraka’s hood fluttering behind her, her staff aimed at him from a short distance away. Something heavy flattened against his back, pushing him face first into the dirt, just as a catastrophic boom resonated from overhead, sharp heat singeing the air above. Izuku screamed at the onslaught of sky melting, his arms scrambling to protect the back of his head despite the unknown pressure keeping his chin to the floor.  Grit and earth picked up from the blast and rushed past his face in a shockwave of dust-clouds. He was left coughing fitfully into the floor, skin, eyes, ears and lungs prickling painfully.

From the ground, Izuku finally pulled his hands away, and he attempted to lift himself up, but the heavy force was still against his shoulders.

“Sorry!” Uraraka gasped out nearby, and Izuku felt the invisible weight lift as her staff tip swung into view. Izuku shakily pushed off the ground with a hiss, his palm stinging. He managed to sit up just as Uraraka mumbled, “tried to… fireproof-” before she collapsed against Izuku’s legs.

He was useless to catch her, one hand still clutching his blade while the other was a bloodied mess, and it wasn’t until he realised she was unconscious that he actually found the strength in him to release the deathgrip of his weapon. His hand trembled as his fingers skimmed her forehead, parting the hair from her face. She was hot to the touch.

“Thank you, Uraraka,” he sobbed, tears still running. Even after all this, she still protected him. He tried to move her a little better across his legs, but ended up biting back a hiss at the throbbing pain of his hand. Lifting it, he could see that the palm was slit clean open, blood caking heavily down the sleeve of his arm, soot and ash clinging to the wet wound. With grit teeth he clenched his hand into a fist, and pushed it against his chest.

There was a resounding chill in the air, which was strange. Watery eyed, Izuku peered around the haze of the wispy battle field, noticing the odd debris decorating the land. Black masses of charred content stood up like rock formations across the damaged fields, along with vibrant striking blue pillars of spiked jagged ice. They stuck into the ground like giant projectiles, blasted deep into the ground from the sheer power of the explosion from above.

From Shou-

Izuku blinked out of his stupor, searching wildly. Aside from the faint glow of cinders under the blackened ground, and the icicles sprouting across the land like glassy trees, there was nothing.

No fallen dragon. No injured cry. No sign of where Shou had gone from his attack.

His voice broke a little as he croaked out a quiet, “Sh-ou?”

There was a singed hand shy from where they were sat, Izuku noticed sickeningly. He kept his vision set on the horizon, searching for any kind of movement in this dystopian hellscape.

Dust scattering in a loose horizon breeze was the only movement.

Izuku sobbed, curling over Uraraka’s cradled head to bring her closer to him. He blinked tears down onto her face.

“Wait, Iida,” he gasped, glancing around again. “Wh-where’s Iida - don’t tell me-”

Uraraka couldn't answer of course, so Izuku called out a desperate, “IIDA?”

For a moment, he thought, gods, he dreaded the thought that Iida could have also been lost in this senseless fight, but then he heard the echo of, “Hold on! I’m coming! Where are you?” that brought on a fresh wave of tears.

Izuku waved at nothing, hoping that Iida could somehow spot him. “Here!” he wept. “I’m here! Ur-Uraraka too!”

Finally, Izuku could see his friend’s soot-ridden armour glint into view, as Iida stumbled over an ash dune. His glasses were crooked from a bend on the bridge between the lenses, but his eyes shone wide with relief, and he stormed over to them, kneeling beside them.

“Uraraka, how is she?” he fretted, hand hovering over them. Izuku used the back of his fist to wipe the snot from his nose.

“She’s unconscious bu-ut, I think, I think she’ll be okay.”

“I told her she was overdoing it,” Iida sighed, tilting her head a little to the side to check for injuries. Then he scowled up at Izuku. “I am… feeling a lot of conflicting feelings right now,” Iida warned him, “but… I'm mostly glad that you’re safe, and here. What happened?”

“I-” Izuku sniffled again, to no avail. His tears wouldn't stop, no matter how tired he was, or relieved to find his friends safe. I’m so sorry, Iida, this whole thing was my fault, if I hadn’t insisted we come here to begin with, I wouldn’t have led us to such a catastrophe, is what he wanted to say. Instead, he blubbered out, “I stopped Shou.”

Iida stared at him, then glanced around, as if expecting to see their colossal friend lying down somewhere.

“I-I had to…” Izuku glanced down at All Might’s knife, lying beside him. Iida followed his gaze, and Izuku could see him swallow.

“You…”

“I had to!” Izuku sobbed. “I was - he was gonna-”

He found his face pushed into the cool steel of Iida’s chest plating. His chin leaned against Izuku’s forehead, and strong arms pulled him and Uraraka close.

“It’s okay, Midoriya,” Iida reassured him softly. Izuku felt his throat close up when he felt them gently rocking in place, as Iida tried his best to comfort them. “It’s okay. You don’t have to say it.”

He was an ugly crier, Izuku knew, but at this moment, he didn’t care, as his one good hand scrambled for purchase around Iida’s waist, wailing loudly.

It wasn’t okay.

Because he had just killed Shou.

 


 

In the long stone hallway of a distant castle, a mage gasped for breath, feeling the unexpected brunt of her own discarded magic pulsing back into her body. King Enji stared at her from his throne.

“What is it?”

“M-my magic,” she spluttered, feeling the charge of long lost power resonating back into her very being. For the first time in over two years, she felt whole again. “Y-your Majesty, my magic has returned. The spell has been lifted, somehow.”

His gloved knuckles tightened on their perch.

“I guess it’s time then.”



Arc 2 - End

Chapter Text

 

“I’m losing my patience, Shouto.”

His father stood in the doorway, arms crossed and shoulders broad enough to touch both sides of the door frame. His silhouette stretched and melded into the darkness of Shouto’s room, pitching the dark stone floor black. From the corner, Shouto could only glare, huddled and uselessly cold. There was a cot beside him, but he could never use it. The room was enchanted, and succumbing to the comfort of dropping one's guard would only let Enji get what he wanted.

And losing his patience he was. Enji’s skin ignited into brief spurts of frustrated flames at the lack of response of his son, wallowing in the shadows like a prisoner, as if he had a right to do so.

“There’s only so many times I can lock you in this room, boy,” he growled. “This rebellious streak of yours outlived its welcome during adolescence. You’re an adult now, my predecessor. Act like it.”

From his corner, Shouto had the lack of decency to scoff.

“Or what? You’ll lock me in here for another week?”

Enji hummed.

“I’ve been beyond lenient with you. You have one more chance to start using your real powers, your fire, and resume training with me to take my stead as ruler of our kingdom. The next refusal will be your last.”

Enji slammed the door shut behind him, locks sealing the moment the magic circuit of the room was reconnected. The walls danced in hallucinogenic creatures and the sensation of ice continued to creep across the stone, freezing Shouto to his core.

He was left cradling his head in the darkness, too used to this routine. He’d never let his father win again, after he lost his mother’s whereabouts years ago. He’d bring his father’s whole kingdom down to find her the moment he could.

For now, he just had to wait.

 


 

When the door next burst open, Shouto barely registered that his skin had turned blue. His father’s sneering mug oogled him from the light of the doorway.

“How are we feeling today, Shouto?”

Eyes heavy enough to sleep, Shouto only replied through an exhale of icy breath. Enji tutted.

“And to think, when it’s too cold you can’t use your ice without risking freezing yourself further. How limited that power is.”

His boots crunched on the solid floor, much to Shouto’s confusion. Wasn’t the room smooth stone? Enji lowered to lean down into Shouto’s face. “That fire magic of mine will save your life one day. It could save your life right now, even. It’s time to make a choice, Shouto.”

His conjured icicle was too slow, missing Enji’s face by a whole amount. Enji caught it effortlessly with his bare fist, and it melted into slush the moment it made contact with his skin. Shouto’s body roiled as stiff frozen pain racketed through his system. He could hear his father sigh loudly.

“A shame. I’ve spent too much time to give up on you though.” Rough, hot hands gripped the fabric of his clothes from under his arms and hoisted him up precariously onto his toes. He could hardly grasp the floor from where Enji held him. “It’s time for a new strategy.”

“G-get off m-m-me,” Shouto struggled out, his muscles spasming from how cold he was. He didn’t know how long he had been in the room that time, but his body was at its limit. His struggle was minute as he was taken down the stairs and further from the dungeons. His vision still swam from the ghosts of light that were still stuck under his eyelids every time he blinked. Where were they going?

They took a few too many turns for Shouto’s memory to keep up with his internalised map of the castle, and he was quickly discarded onto the floor of another closed off room. Groaning, he shakily held himself up on his hands, glancing around. The room was much larger, like a small hall, and dimly lit in candled corners. Tomes of books engulfed on end of the room, whilst several desks and stools had been hastily shoved into the edges of the walls. The floor was smothered in paint, which Shouto barely recognised as archaic symbols etching across the span of the floor. He swallowed. This was powerful looking rune binds. Only truly powerful mages would dare mess with writing that could connect to the power of the Gods. Shouto’s inherent magic was minor in comparison, nothing more than a party trick.

Where had he been taken?

He spotted the approach of several boots, and followed them up to see the displeased faces of his father’s personal mages. There were three of them, who all were participating in various stages of scowling.

“Let’s make this quick,” he could hear his father in the background.

“What -?” Shouto barely managed before a strong pulsing force shoved him into the ground, pinning him to the symbols that he had no right to interfere with. His limbs cramped from the cold, unable to free himself from the floor, and his head remained stationed where he couldn’t see past the edges of moving feet walking past his face.

“There’s a chance this won’t work,” he could hear the disdained grumble of one of the mage’s voices. “Even with all three of us here, we’re pushing things further than we’ve ever taken them.”

“What if our magic splits?” A younger voice asked, “– this kind of spell, its – too powerful for one casting. We could lose most of our magical essence into the spell for good, just to sustain it. How long is this meant to last?”

“As long as it takes,” Endeavour confirmed, his tone silencing the mutterings of his mages. “I don’t provide you knowledge and wealth for your transgressions. You said you could make it happen, and now you’ll stay true to your word.”

“In theory! This is – obscenely rushed, your Majesty, you must realise that we’re stemming so close to messing with the Gods by doing this. There’s a limit to what we can do.”

Shouto couldn’t see them from where he lay, but nothing was as clear as his memory than the sound of roiling flame bursting into fruition.

“Enough chatter. Push yourselves to the limit if you must. This polymorph will be the only thing your lives hinge on. He will use his flames, this way. After all, what comes more naturally to fire than a dragon?”

What?

Shouto struggled uselessly against the pinning magic, grunting into the paint.

“You th-think – you can do s-something like th-th-that?”

“Oh?” His father’s voice was laced in amusement. “So you are paying attention? That’s good then, Shouto. Let’s get started.”

Against his cheek, the arcane symbols began to glow, outshining the dim flicker of the candle lights. Shouto had to squint his eyes half closed, blinded by the proximity.

“Th-this is – im-mpossible, even for you!”

“Oh Shouto, you should know by now just how far you can push the power of a person. I’m sure these lovely mages will appreciate their names going down in history for accomplishing more than their predecessors ever achieved. They will make this happen. And I will make sure you fulfil your duty too.”

Shouto spat against the floor, trying not to sob when the spit bounced off the arcane energy, leaving it unscathed. Leisurely white wisps of magic began to drip out of the symbols, falling up into the air as if gravity had been reversed.

“Your Majesty,” the third mage spoke up for the first time. “- if I may, is it really such a good idea to give your most rebellious son a power able to desecrate the entire kingdom?”

There was a silent pause for a moment.

Then, “Are you trying to tell me you can’t conjure something as simple as an amnesiac cast?”

Shouto’s struggles were as in vain as always. He was losing strength, despite the pounding blood rushing through his body . He wouldn’t-

“O-of course not, it's just-“

“Then do so. He can practice his newfound fire outside of our kingdom, where he can wreak as much havoc as he so pleases.”

There was something strong permeating the air, wafting in tandem with the arcane magic, tampering with its edges and disturbing its flow. He could feel it settle against him, almost warm, and the voices he was listening to began to lose their meaning.

“Actually… I have one more request.”

“Your Majesty?”

“How easy is it to procure a directive into something?”

“W-well, paired with the blank state of an amnesiac casting, I’d say it’d work well enough.”

“Then so be it. I have an important task I want Shouto to achieve. It’ll save us time rather than us having to wait for his return after his lesson is learned.”

The white of magic began to contort into a lazy spiral, circling around Shouto and slowly blinding his view of the room. Like peering through moving curtains, he could make out someone large approach.

“Listen closely Shouto, and listen well .”

Against his will, Shouto’s eyes rolled in his skull until they met the flaming sparks of his – his – of a man’s face, whose features warped unrecognisable in the glow of fire.

“You will find him. And you will kill him. All Might is your enemy .”

All Might is… his…

Find him. Kill him.”

He had to…

The visage of what was once a man dissipated within the curling tendrils of magic. It obscured his vision and engulfed him, his body feeling out of reach, stuffed and dull. Something began to pound at the base of his skull.

Find him.

Kill him.

All Might.

 


 

For some reason, Todoroki Shouto didn’t think that he’d ever wake up again. Yet, as he came back into consciousness, blurry eyed in a field of ash and smoke, nose clogged and face stained in the soot he lied in, there was one clear thought that swept his mind.

I’m alive.

He hurt considerably, phantom pains spasming across his body. Ghostly strikes played with the frayed ends of his nerves, and pins and needles fluctuated throughout his muscles. Strangely enough, he almost felt like he could relish the sensation.

And then, like a wave of nausea and hurt and euphoria , memories assaulted his thoughts like a battering ram, forcing themselves back into the blank spaces they belonged, and blinding him with knowledge he didn’t know he had.

He could remember .

His name, his family. The look of his mother’s face when she smiled at him, the look of her face between the flows of steaming water as it seared his flesh. His training, his father . His defiance.

His capture.

Then, the knowledge began to thin out. It was as if his memories had been washed out like spilled blotchy ink staining writing, and he couldn’t particularly recall anything aside from the wisps of hunger and fatigue, loud noises. And then.

Midoriya .

Uraraka, Iida.

His friends .

The details of what he could remember seemed as fragmented and lost as when he lived his days as a dragon, but suddenly there was a before and an after and he was currently in that after, slowly regaining control of his fingertips and toes. He wiggled them minutely, smiling to himself in the dirt.

He was free .

Shouto tried to pull himself up onto his feet, but grimaced at the wrenching tug of his abdomen, hands clasping what he felt be the split skin of his torso. Yet his body was unscathed, the tingle of fading magic charring the edges of pain that he could remember from his fake body, when Midoriya split him into two.

That elated sensation dropped almost instantly.

He had lost himself to the curse, in those final moments. Recalling it was difficult, only glimpses of fire and rage and blood. And Midoriya’s crying face, quivering body, as he reached up with his tiny insignificant knife that somehow held the courage to slice through his cursed form like butter.

The pain remained though, stagnant and lost in an unharmed body that couldn’t place where the pain should be, but that was okay. Shouto swallowed the rock growing in his throat and grit his teeth, finally urging himself onto his feet. He didn’t need to know what exactly had happened before he reverted back, because he was certain he had hurt Midoriya in the worst way possible. If only he could apologise.

No, he realised. He had a face, he had a voice .

He could apologise, now.

Shouto stumbled a little on his first step forward, as he scanned the area and tried to regain his bearings, trying to figure out where he was on the dead battlefield. He would find his group, his friends, get on his knees if he had to, and apologise with everything he had. How else could he compensate for almost murdering them? Even if they didn’t forgive him for his actions, he’d be content just knowing that they were still okay.

His lip curled with displeasure when he noticed his bare body, printed in scuffs of ash and dirt.

But maybe he could find some clothes first.

 


 

It hadn’t been the nicest prospect, rummaging through a field of charred corpses to find someone with some decently intact clothes he could borrow, but it was something that had to be done. Shou may have been on the fresh and narrow regarding morals with his entourage, but Shouto had more of a memory to bank on. This wasn’t his first battle he had been a part of, regardless of how unwillingly. His father liked to try and use him like some sort of ace hidden up his sleeve, the counter kill to any worthless battle.

And yes, all of those had been attempts to force him into displaying his putrid fire magic, and yes, every time he’d tell his dad to metaphorically suck it when he only used his conjured ice to deal the blows; but regardless of which element, Shouto had a history in killing people. And now he found himself lacking the sense of remorse the Shou version of him would have tried so desperately to find.

This knowledge somehow became rather useful, Shouto noticed, having found himself a soldier who was just a tad larger than him, but mostly intact. It took a while getting him out of his armour and then removing the clothes underneath, and only when it was being redressed onto himself did he realise that it wasn’t as intact as he had first hoped. The sleeves all but crumbled away as soon as he shoved his arms into them, and there were an alarming amount of pink spots in the front where the fabric had thinned so much he could see his skin peeking through. He left the armour where it was, in no mood to fiddle with fitting them on.

What he had was enough for what he needed, he supposed.

But maybe Shou’s empathy still remained within him, because as he searched around the area, he couldn’t help but think about how everything was charred to nothingness. This had been his doing, hadn’t it? He remembered the armada had been laying waste to the countryside by setting it aflame, but there was no fire still eating its way across. It was as if the flames had been such a high temperature that they simply vaporised whatever had lay in its path, leaving no room for anything to catch on fire.

His mouth tasted like soot.

Shouto steeled himself, treading onwards. The boots he was using were much too large, and he struggled to keep his toes hooked inside enough to keep himself from stepping straight out of them per each step. Through the haze of the charred land, he could make out the distant horizon of intact fields. There was a small ounce of relief at the colour he could see, at least not everything was destroyed entirely.

But where had his f rien- his - companions, gone? Shouto stood still, confused.

Were they his friends? Shouto didn’t have friends. Friends were baggage. Weaknesses for his father to manipulate.

But they were also - everything to Shou. He pressed his fist hard into his sternum, the aching pain back. Oh, this was confusing. It was as if he was two different people.

He probably was, now. Shou and Shouto had two very different lives. One under the strict tyranny of the father he so passionately despised, and one under the rather leisurely hitchhiking journey with his… company.

Maybe he shouldn’t find his ‘friends’, Shouto realised. What good would he be to them now? He betrayed them, he succumbed to the pull of the curse, was once again played into the hand set by his shitty father, and had just decimated a whole strip of Yuuei’s soils. It didn’t matter what the reasonings were, he had still done that.

Iida had been right. The him he was before, that he’s reverted back to now, was a terrible person. Is a terrible person. They wouldn’t want the product of an overambitious enemy nation’s king as their trusted friend.

Trusted, heh. As if he had the right to call himself that.

The soft sound of a faint voice was what pulled him away from his cynical thoughts.

“Oh, did I… black out?”

Uraraka.

Traitorously, any and all of his previous thoughts ejected out of his mind as if released from a catapult. Shouto found himself stumbling forward with sudden vigor, his desperation to see the owner of the voice overriding any sorts of established woes.

“Take it easy,” Iida’s voice was soothing, and gentle. “Don’t rise too quickly, or you’ll feel worse.”

Uraraka and Iida. Shouto’s heart sung. He hadn’t - he had no memories of them during the battle. There was the worry they had simply been swallowed up in the rest of the carnage, but they were alive-

“We’re gonna - we’re gonna get out of here soon,” the final voice, wet with tears and snot, spoke up. The swelling pain of Shouto’s missing injury bloomed in his chest, making his eyes sting.

Midoriya.

Shouto hadn’t killed him. They were all here.

He stumbled up the mound of ash, the debris slipping out from under his shoes and forcing him to use his hands to climb up, until he clawed his way to the top.

Below him, in the dip of mutilated ground, Uraraka lay spread out across the pit, her head resting in Midoriya’s lap. Beside her, Iida was on his knees. They all stared up at Shouto with wide eyes, and he could do nothing but stare back, his voice lost to him.

He was scared to blink. If he did, they could vanish into nothingness, and he’d find out his whole dragon experience had been nothing more than an endless nightmare his stupid father had dragged out for him. His nonexistence chest wound ached so deeply, but Shouto wondered if the pain was in his heart too. He wanted to-

Iida rose quickly into a stance, his sword pulled from its sheath so fast the sound of the metal whipping across the land in a hollow echo.

Shouto, rather dumbly, just stared down at the sword.

“Stand down,” Iida ordered, and an appropriate memory finally wiggled into place. Maybe not appropriate, actually, because his memory was serving him how to disarm Iida from where he stood. Instead, still a little dazed, Shouto rose his empty hands.

“I’m no threat,” his voice croaked, remembering Shouji. This had worked for him earlier that morning, hadn’t it?

He bit back his relieved sigh when Iida slightly lowered the weapon from its poise. He didn’t sheathe it however, the handle still held firm in his grasp.

“What do you want?” Iida asked cautiously.

“Forgiveness,” Shouto blurted out, eyes wide. Wait, that wasn’t what he had meant to say, exactly.

When they did nothing but continue to watch him, Shouto gestured to around them. “For - this,” he tried, and failed.

“Were you here - wi-willingly?” Midoriya spoke up, catching his attention. His tears were finally beginning to subside, but he had obvious tracks running down his ash-lathered cheeks.

Shouto shook his head. “No. I never – I never wanted to be a part of this,” He floundered briefly, so unused to words. This was what he’d always wanted, so why was it so hard?

“I… He forced me into this, I promise. I never, ever wanted to fight you.” He promptly choked on the sentence, struggling to continue. “I was… Cursed. Forced . But - you broke the spell. The mages –“

His mouth continued to work against him, so he was left gesturing blindly to the massacre of soldiers behind them as explanation.

Uraraka’s unsteady hand pulled the end of Iida’s sword down until it was limp at his side. “That’s enough,” she chastised. “Look at how scared he is. He’s a victim in this too.”

“Wars… aren’t so one sided,” Midoriya mumbled in agreement.

Todoroki nodded, overcome with desperation for them to understand what he couldn’t find the words to say. He didn’t blame Iida’s mistrust however. How could they ever feel safe around him again, after he nearly destroyed them in his rampage? He had so much he needed to fix.

“Please,” he gasped, lowering himself to one knee. “Please forgive me. Let me make it up to you. I need to repay you… For everything.”

The sound of Iida’s sword being put away made him glance up. “Please don’t… Grovel,” Iida finally said, uncomfortably. “We’re not like that.”

Right. Different rules from Enji. Shouto picked himself up slowly. “I’m sorry,” he reiterated.

“It’s okay,” Midoriya said. “We believe you.”

Shouto felt his chest swell with questionable hope.

“Wait,” Iida interrupted. “You mentioned the mages. Were they controlling all of you?”

Shouto blinked at the question, caught off guard. The whole armada? Unlikely. Endeavoran men were told to serve for the country or die a disgrace. The fear of the king would have been enough of a motivator.

Not for him though. Which was why three mages had been ordered to curse him as they did. And his actions only existed because of them and that - that - stupid directive. That violating ritual had been them controlling him, in a sense.

“Yes.”

Iida watched him for a moment, then nodded. “Okay then. I’ll believe you too.”

“Alright, as comfortable as this is, can someone get me up?” Uraraka asked from Midoriya’s lap. Midoriya gave her a wet chuckle in response, and pushed her shoulders up, her outstretched hand catching Iida’s who helped her get back to her feet. Shouto watched them fondly, eyeing the way Midoriya’s arm wrapped behind her back supportively with interest. He felt his own hands twitch.

Oh, he realised. I don’t have to watch, anymore. I have hands now too. I could have helped her up.

As Uraraka gently pat her clothes down from all the debris clinging to her, Iida asked him cautiously, “Where will you go now?”

Shouto blinked at him. Certainly not back home. “With… You guys?”

Iida rose a curved brow. “Are you now?”

Had Shouto misread the situation? He thought he had been forgiven. Was he… Not allowed back into the group?

“Please?” he tried.

“You,” Midoriya cocked his head at him, “want to join us?”

Obviously. Shouto gestured a little vaguely at himself. “What… other option do I have? Return and get my mind washed again?” I don’t want to end our journey already, his pride refused to say out loud. “You’ve helped so many people in your travels,” myself included. “I want to… repay my debt.”

“You know of us,” Iida muttered warily. Shouto frowned in confusion.

“Yes?”

“Well that’s not good,” Uraraka fretted. “How much does Endeavour know of us? Does their king have intel in Yuuei?”

Now Shouto was a little bit lost in the conversation. What was happening, exactly? How did they get to talking about his father so soon?

“Wait.” Midoriya bit at his thumb, his brow creasing. “I think… I know of a way for you to repay us,” he told him. Shouto leaned in, a little too eager to regain their trust.

“I’ll do anything,” he said, honestly.

Midoriya paused, but then shook off the weird expression beginning to form on his face. “Well… We need you to be our intel towards Endeavour’s plans for Yuuei. And help us stop whatever’s planned, if you can.”

Ah… Well, Shouto hadn’t been around to hear any new strategies for the last couple of years, but he still had plenty of his dad’s secrets in his returned memories. And well, if there was any loyalty to the king, Shouto certainly couldn't remember it now.

“Yes. I can do that,” he agreed without hesitation. He had no intention of continuing the shitty invasion once he was on the throne, anyways.

“Okay then,” Midoriya nodded, rubbing his clenched fist against his running nose. Shouto noticed with concern that his entire arm was coated in a thick sleeve of blood. “Let’s… Let’s get out of here.”

 


 

There was a certain sort of relief, once they had managed to stumble out from the damaged fields. It had been a slow process; Uraraka was practically being held up entirely between Iida and Midoriya, Shouto noticed, trailing behind them. He had thought it best to stay a little behind, if Iida’s free hand continuously resting against his sword’s handle had anything to say about it. Shouto didn’t mind too much.

After all, they had every right to no longer trust them as they once had. He had broken that trust. And now that there were no more curses plaguing against his mind, he was going to try his damndest to earn their loyalty back properly.

It was rather foolish of him, to be so invested in a small band of people. Without living as Shou, Shouto didn’t think he could find himself as so codependent as he currently felt.

Is that what that form was about, shitty bastard? Did you want me confused and needy like a lost little duckling, with the power to decimate a kingdom?

He suddenly felt rather sick. It truly had been a blessing, that in that state, it was Midoriya’s group who had found him.

“Ah!” Midoriya’s voice brought him back to the present. “Look - over there!”

Shouto did as was told, brows rising with surprise at the flowing creek, further down the crevice of the hill.

“We can stop there for a bit,” Midoriya continued, and their increased shuffle only amplified the amount of dust flaking off their forms. Ah. They were in a bit of an awful state, weren’t they? Shouto was numb to it, ash coating his body being the first sensation he felt as an actual human again.

He followed them at a slower pace, something telling him it was unwise to start sprinting towards their open backs down a hill, lest he accidentally get skewered on a surprised backhanded sword attack. By the time his shoes met cobbled stone, the men were already setting Uraraka down to the ground, Iida pulling off her boots. He dipped her feet into the running water and, to Shouto’s amusement, Uraraka pushed him away, saying, “Oh for pity's sake, I want a drink, not a bath!”

“We all need a wash,” Iida argued, but settled for opening his satchel to look for a mug. Uraraka ignored his efforts, spinning where she sat so she could dip her mouth to the water’s edge and slurp noisily.

“Uraraka!” Iida admonished.

“Multitasking!” she argued, cupping her hands into the water to splash against her face.

Was Shouto’s cheeks pinching? No, only in his mind. The battle had only lasted for some of the morning, the still rising sun told him, yet he felt like he hadn’t been with his friends for weeks.

You don’t have the right to call them your friends, something told him. Shut up. His steely glare did morph onto his face this time. Gods above, did Shouto have a split personality now? No thanks to that. Maybe he needed a drink to clear his head too.

He was unsure if he should though, feeling like there was a definite boundary between him and the rest of them right now. He’d wait until everyone else was done first, he decided, slowly lowering himself until he sat by the bank, his fingers picking at the grime encrusted on the fabric of his trousers.

His movement caused both Iida and Midoriya to glance at him warily, and Shouto tried not to wilt from the implication. Like they expected him to turn again and incinerate their backs while they were looking the other way, or something.

As he waited for his turn, he watched with a growing drowsiness as the team stripped down to their first layers, carefully scooping the cold running water onto their skin, and rubbing out particularly caked patches of dirt and ash from their clothing. Iida and Uraraka were already looking much better, unlike Midoriya, who hadn’t gotten so far. In fact, Shouto watched as Midoriya hissed the moment the water made contact with his bloodied hand, and wanted to ask if he was alright, and how he got the deep cut in the first place. But then Shouto barely caught himself as a soft wave of burning shot through his fake chest wound. He didn’t vocalise, but couldn’t stop the hand that clutched at his tunic breathlessly. Iida noticed immediately.

“Ah, are you injured?” he asked, degloving his hands and reaching for their satchel. Shouto waved an arm at his direction uselessly. Not the right person to be asking, Shouto thought.

“No, I’m not hurt,” he replied, grimacing at the steady throb seeping within his body. He’d have thought he suffered from some sort of internal injury if he wasn’t familiar with the sensation of magic. It was causing a stir in his ribcage, but no such supplies could remedy its course. He wasn’t convincing in his performance though, Iida approaching with a swath of bandages.

“Nonsense. It’d be foolish to force anyone to travel with injuries. Can you lift your -?” he motioned at his tunic with his occupied hand, and Shouto noticed his other hand idly holding the hilt of his sheathed sword by his hip.

He swallowed.

Iida was polite, but his distrust was clear. Shouto shouldn’t have expected otherwise. He watched the devastation he had caused on the field, killing everyone and everything, and barely avoided killing them too. Regardless of if they were willing to forgive him, trust would take a long time to rebuild.

Hoping his hands didn’t tremble, Shouto complied and rose the front of his tunic, exposing nothing more than sharp skin, printed in dirt and ash. Iida hummed almost inquisitively.

“Hm, no visible injuries at least. You didn’t break a rib or anything perhaps?”

Shouto shook his head. “I can breathe fine.”

After a moment, and no signs of whistling breath, Iida nodded, stepping back. “Alright then. If you are in pain, don’t hesitate to inform us.”

Mm, inform. Shouto schooled his features carefully, the twinge in his chest becoming something warm and comforting. He looked forward to being able to do so, being able to talk to them. He was sure it’d get easier to figure out his words after he got some proper rest, and the excitement of being in the same height range as everyone else wore off.

“Oh,” Iida added, catching his attention again. “I guess we should introduce ourselves properly.” His hand pressed against his sternum. “I’m Iida Tenya, and this is Midoriya, and Uraraka.” he gestured to both as he named them. They all offered Shouto a cautious smile.

Shouto blinked back at them. Was this some sort of symbolic do over or something? “...Yes. I know.”

“Right.” The attempt at politeness washed off Iida’s face with a grumble. “Of course you do.” Shouto stared at him, surprised at the reaction. Wait, had that been the wrong thing to say? What had he said wrong? Did Shouto have to relearn to talk or something? “We still need to talk about that, by the way. But, later,” Iida said as an afterthought.

“O-kay..?” Shouto settled for, because he really, really couldn’t figure out what had happened to the conversation again. Was he missing something? Did languages change within the span of this morning? He could have sworn he understood the flow of conversations better than this as a dragon.

Midoriya’s eyes flickered between them, apparently keeping a close tab on the lost context of the conversation. His chin dripped water from where he had just washed his face, although he hadn’t done too great of a job, because Shouto could still see the flecks of random dirt across his cheeks and the bridge of his nose.

“So!” Midoriya blurted out. “What’s your name then?”

Shouto frowned. Was this… a joke? He knew his - oh wait. No they didn’t. Shou was their nickname they had given him, not his own.

They want to know about me. His chest feeling was becoming lighter at the prospect.

“Todoroki,” he replied, watching Midoriya’s expression. Would he be thrilled to learn Shou’s true name? Would he decide his nickname was better and insist they still call him Shou?

His reaction was neither of those two things. Instead, Midoriya’s eyes seemed to widen, and his freshly cleaned skin seemed just a tad bit paler.

Iida spoke up next. “Isn’t that - the king’s surname?”

Oh. Oh.

Crap.

Shouto tried to control his breathing, his good feeling plummeting instantly. “Yes, it is.”

Midoriya continued to stare. “You’re…”

“His son?” Shouto finished for him. Regrettably. “Yes.”

“You’re the prince?” Uraraka spluttered behind them.

“Yes.”

“Wait, the king makes you fight in his battles?” Iida asked, sounding genuinely confused for once.

Shouto’s voice got a little sharper. “Yes.”

“Against your will?”

“Yes.”

“Wow,” Midoriya mumbled. So the king’s as bad as everyone makes him out to be.”

“Yes.”

“And he cursed you?” Iida asked.

Oh for the love of-

“Yes.”

“That’s… Wow,” Uraraka concluded.

Shouto glared at his oversized shoes, mood ruined. This wasn’t how this was supposed to go. He hadn’t want to spend his first full conversation being focused around his shitstain of a father of all things.

“Sorry,” he finally remembered how to say something that wasn’t a ‘yes’. “May I… clean up?”

Iida gestured to the water with the strict turn of his hand. “By all means.”

Shouto nodded, realising only once he stepped into the rushing water that his face was locked in a glare.

And then he felt his boots fill up with rushing water.

 


 

After almost snarling at the realisation that he had waddled out into the water with his clothes on, Shouto had given himself more of a voracious scrub than he actually needed. But the distraction was necessary, allowing the others to carry on whatever thoughts they had about him out of earshot, as he pulled what lumps of clumped ash out of his hair as best as he could.

When he eventually felt cleaner (difficult, considering the weight of his soggy clothes dragging him down along with his feelings), Shouto finally waded out from the creek, deciding he’d just dry himself off. He could regulate temperature, right? He was sure that was a thing he could do. He allowed a little bit of magic to stir through his blood system, circulating heat across his body and down to his toes.

He saw the blur of Midoriya approaching from the corner of his eye.

“Woah,” Midoriya breathed out, catching his attention. Shouto turned to look at him, droplets spraying from the tips of his hair. Yes, I know, I forgot to take my clothes off, I am aware of how stupid I look, Shouto glared. He felt humiliated, but it also seemed too late to take the damn things off.

“Your hair’s really… cool,” Midoriya whispered instead. The comment was like whiplash. Shouto rose a hand to his wet hair, confused.

“What?” was all he could figure out how to say. Midoriya eeped at the sharp tone.

“Well - l-like - it was covered in muck before, so I never realised it was so - uh - bright! And colourful!” Midoriya puckered his lips as if he bit something sour.

“Oh, wow!” Uraraka piped up from further behind him, Iida also blinking over his shoulder to see what the commotion was all about. “You’re like a candy cane!”

Shouto felt his lip curl, just the slightest. “Thank-you?”

“Um, anyways,” Midoriya coughed, catching his attention again. It was then Shouto realised that Midoriya’s folded arms were swamped with rolled up garments. “Your Highness-”

“Don’t.”

Midoriya flinched again, as if stung. Was Shouto’s voice really so threatening? He tried to lower his tone.

“Don’t call me that,” he clarified.

“O-oh, okay,” Midoriya bobbed his head, still looking quite scared of him. Shouto couldn't figure out where he was going wrong. Midoriya offered the clothing forward, a crisp clean bandage peeking out from under the pile. Oh, he had gotten his hand wrapped up at least. “Pu-please, take these! They’re Iida’s spares but… you’d probably fit in them better than mine.”

Shouto blinked down at the fabric in Midoriya’s hands. He could make out the side stitching of a tunic and the navy colour of trousers in the roll. He wanted to deny, explain that he could dry his clothes rather quickly against his skin thanks to his fire magic, but refusing a courtesy last time made the conversation unpleasant.

So, swallowing his pride, Shouto accepted the garments with a small nod. Iida and he weren’t much different in size, he agreed, maybe with exception to the other man’s broader shoulders, so it wouldn’t be too bad.

Midoriya turned away stiffly, and then Shouto realised he still hadn’t said anything. Speak you moron!

“Thanks,” he managed, quietly. Midoriya glanced over his shoulder, blessing him with a fidgety smile. Shouto swallowed.

“No problem!” Izuku added. “You should, uh, change quickly though. We need to get moving as soon as we can.”

Shouto nodded blindly, and began to strip out of his soggy garments as instructed. When he was done changing, he went to fetch his sodden boots, pulling them on with a grimace as they squelched. Oh well, they’d dry fairly quickly. He inhaled a little deeper, focusing on his internal temperature, only to stand a little straighter once Iida began to approach him.

“Sorry, Iida started, “I don’t have any spare shoes for you to borrow.”

“It’s fine,” Shouto hummed, grateful that he wasn’t calling him out for wading into the water with them like an idiot. The soles were already beginning to harden underneath his heels.

“If you can just endure them for a while, “Iida continued, “we need to keep moving until there’s somewhere safer to rest for the night. The magic seeping everywhere is still affecting Uraraka.”

Shouto turned off his magic immediately, self conscious.

“Seeping magic?”

Iida nodded. “I’m not a magic user myself, but even I can feel the sheer velocity of it in the atmosphere right now. After S- the dragon dissipated in the battlefield, it’s almost in abundance. Uraraka seems feverish over it.”

Shouto glanced around him and saw that he was right; even though Uraraka was chuckling at something Midoriya had just said to her, her forehead glistened in sweat and she was still splayed across the floor, being supported by leaning against their bags. He guessed the plan was to travel until they escaped the leaked magic’s radius to let her recover.

“It might take years for the land to absorb it back into the Earth,” Iida mumbled off handedly. “Who knows what it’ll attract in the future.”

It made sense. Then Shouto paused. Something that he just said – that didn’t make sense.

“…The... dragon?”

Iida blinked at him.

“You can’t honestly tell me you didn’t see the dragon destroying your entire armada.”

What.

“N-no, but –“

“Iida, have some sympathy,” Midoriya admonished, frowning their way. “He’s been under a curse, it’s not his fault if it tampered with his memories of the battlefield.”

Shouto could feel his tongue shrivel in his mouth. “Uh-“

“It’s probably best that you don’t remember,” Uraraka’s breath shook slightly as she wiped her forehead. “It isn’t... it wasn’t pleasant.”

Shouto could only stare in shock. They thought - they didn’t - they had no idea he was -

They weren’t even… calling him Shou.

He felt sick all over again.

He was just the dragon that killed everybody.

“What… happened, to it?” He dared to ask, limbs stiff by his sides. “The dragon, I mean.”

Midoriya clenched his hands so tightly the bandages of his palm loosened. His voice trembled. “We had to take it down. It-it doesn’t matter anymore. It’s gone now.”

It.

What a beast he was.

Shouto stared down at his too-large boots, refusing to look any of them in the eye.

“I see… It sounds… bad.”

Uraraka sobbed under her breath, and Midoriya’s next nose wipe was extra snotty sounding, but Shouto refused to look at the damage he had caused.

“I-I’m sorry,” Midoriya said, “can we – can we just go? There’s too much magic about, a-and we need somewhere safe to rest up.”

Shouto closed his eyes, and nodded faintly.

“Of course.”

Everyone packed their gear, beginning to take off further away from the battle, and Shouto was left following them slowly, without a single belonging to his name. He made sure to continue keep his distance, if only to keep Iida’s hand away from the hilt of his weapon, because for now, they didn’t feel safe with him at all.

Imagine what they’d do the moment they found out that you’re the dragon that started all of this mess to begin with.

And now, he’d do everything in his power to make sure that they never would.