Shouto remembers a time when things weren't like this.
He remembers when it didn't hurt. When he wasn't afraid.
He remembers dimly lit ballrooms filled with snow, his siblings leaping to and from piles, sneak attacks and flurries everywhere. Ice slides and laughing.
That was before Touya passed in a raid against a Southern kingdom.
That was before Natsuo was used as a bargaining chip, sent to Corona to marry their princess.
That was before the mad dash to the river, green hair twisting in the wind in his mother's saddle.
It was before he swore off his ice magic.
It was before he was alone. When he had friends and family. When his mother joined them in the midnight hours to play in the snow graced by Shouto's powers.
It was when she'd sit with him when he couldn't sleep and watch him make ice sculptures and slides, their grandest ballroom a constant playroom for Shouto.
Before Enji set his sights on the kingdom to the East.
Before he decided Shouto's powers weren't for playing anymore.
Enji decided he was going to make Shouto a weapon. He was going to groom him into something, something, never someone, that could destroy kingdoms, raze them to the ground or freeze them into oblivion.
It was before he had his scar.
He still doesn't sleep. But now there's no one to wander the halls with.
He long since shut out his only remaining sibling.
And his father quit permitting him to leave the castle years ago.
Effectively ending his only friendship as well.
Though, he supposed he did that himself when he nearly killed his friend...
His memories are a vivid thing. He wonders if it's a skill, or if they are simply ingrained there from thinking on them so much.
He remembers sitting in the gardens, picking flowers.
He can still hear his mother's voice telling him to go see the ones on the square.
She always said they were far prettier than the ones within the castle.
So Shouto went. He remembers tripping over the cobblestone, unused to stones so uneven. Remembers how he had thought it had hurt so terribly to skin his knee on the ground.
He remembers a small boy helping him up.
"Are you okay? Are you hurt?"
He remembers nodding dumbly.
Private tutors and royal education and he couldn't even manage a hello.
"My name's Izuku Midoriya. What's yours?"
"Shouto." He'd said. Just Shouto.
He'd held still while Izuku, sporting a number of gauze patches himself, had bandaged his knee.
He remembers running till his lungs burned, remembers the smell and warmth of Inko's kitchen at lunch. He remembers splinters from trying to build forts and climb trees. Remembers being scolded for having a tick when he was bathed. Remembers a time his cheeks burned from smiling.
He remembers that night. Perhaps more viscerally than any of the others.
They’d found a small hole in the wall, carved by a fox or a raccoon for scavenging.
It was disgusting really. It was dirty and the bottom of the wall had cut Izuku’s shirt when he’d forced his small body through it.
They’d thought it was so funny, that the little scratch on his forehead when he’d gotten up too soon was worth falling down in giggles.
So much has changed...
He should have listened to his father's rules. Never should have brought Izuku inside.
They’d played, Izuku’s toes were numb from the cold, his teeth chattering as he ran around, dancing in the flurries though outside the heat would swelter, bearing down on the stones in the square.
Maybe it was over-eagerness. Maybe it was numb feet.
For whatever reason, atop an ice pillar far too high for a five-year-old, he slipped and fell.
In Shouto’s haste to catch him, he’d stumbled, much like he did the day they’d met, over a shard of ice frozen to the ground and his magic had gone off course.
It struck his friend.
When his mother found them the room was no longer frozen and icy.
It was ablaze.
The floor was damp and smoke rolled out when she threw open the door to the ballroom, choking her and stalling her for his father to pass her, stalking into the destruction to haul Shouto up by his arm, straining his shoulder and making Izuku’s unconscious form slump to the ground, green hair dancing in the sudden swell of power.
The flames danced higher as Enji yelled, demeaning and cursing the child for disobedience.
He was four for fuck's sake.
He coughed in his fathers face, the smoke tickling his throat.
He was slung down subsequently, the hard marble of the floor cracking against his skull.
“Enji stop it,” his mother scolds, coughing as she scoops up Izuku. “Do you have no sense of priorities?” She barks before turning around, trying to take breaths through the fabric on her shoulder instead of the acrid air.
Shouto hesitates only a moment, sitting, crumpled in his father's shadow before scrambling up and after his mother and best friend.
His throat still hurts and his lungs ache but they are nothing compared to the pounding of his heart and the icy fear in his veins.
Is he dead?
Did I kill him?
The trek to the lake isn't a long one. Shouto would know. They've ridden it a million times.
But tonight the journey is stuck in slow motion, the horses moving through molasses, everything passing by at a snail's pace.
All he can focus on is the soft swell of Izuku's hair that flips over his mother's arm every other step.
The horse has hardly stopped when his mother slides off, her voice raw when she calls out for help.
"What happened?" Asks a throaty voice, a damp head rising up from the lake.
"Magic," she rasps out.
The creature reaches his hand out, webbed fingers finding purchases on the damp ground as he pulls the rest of the way out of the water, his eyes large and dark, shining ephemerally in the moonlight.
"Let me see," he croaks, similarly webbed feet surfacing from the glass-faced lake, scales trailing up his calves before breaking off into flesh.
His mother holds him out delicately, choking on her inhale as she does.
The water ripples as another creature emerges, a woman this time, with a kind, round face, and similar amphibian features.
"Here," she says, her voice vibrating oddly, taking Izuku from his mother, letting her sit down and heave labored breaths.
"Tricky magic," the man says, hand hovering Izuku's sweaty forehead.
It's now that Shouto notices the dark streaks permeating Izuku's usually green hair, leaving the illusion of dark shadows twisting through the strands.
"Removing it is hard, keeping it from ever resurfacing harder still."
"Help him," Shouto chokes out, doubling over with the force of his retching when the words catch on his coated throat, on the ash clinging to his tongue. "You have to," he forces out over the spittle, tears dribbling from his eyes with the pain.
"Oh child," the woman croons, looking on sadly but helpless as she holds Izuku while the male concentrates.
There's a wet, slippery touch to Shouto's hand and almost instantly the pain alleviates, his breathing passing through smoother. Peeking under his elbow, he sees a third creature, long, moss green hair overhanging onyx eyes and a long tongue that drips out of her mouth.
"Ribbit," she says before plopping back into the lake with a soft splash, the ripples of the water the only sign she was ever even there.
"I need to remove all the magic. I'm afraid, even the memories, so there's nothing to recover."
"You mean," Shouto starts, hesitating, hope a dangerous thing on his lips, "he won't remember I hurt him?" Shouto isn't sure he's even heard, thundering hooves overshadowing his small voice.
"It wasn't-" his mother starts when his father arrives, dismounting swiftly, the ground streaming and sizzling where his feet land.
"What is the matter with you," he growls at Shouto, grabbing his small arm in his thick-fingered grasp. "You could have burned the entire palace down. Are you trying to kill us all?"
"It was an accident!" Shouto cries, pulling at his father's iron grip on his right arm. It burns.
"You're telling me you accidentally set the ballroom on fire? That's even worse than doing it on purpose. Are you that lacking in self-control? What's the matter with you?!" He barks, his breath hot on Shouto's nose, drying out his eyes and making him shrink away, pulling harder, his arm prickling and searing beneath the hold.
"I'm sorry!" He cries.
"Enji get off," his mother starts, a resounding crack snapping Shouto from his desperate tugging, turning just in time to see his mother clutch her face and stumble, the creatures hovering over Izuku gaping at the display.
"Neither of you will breathe a word of this. I don't think frogs take well to high temperatures," Enji threatens, spiking his own aura just to get his points across, making the cold-blooded creatures shrink back, feet delving into the waters. "And you," he says, spinning on his mother, "will not interfere again. I'll keep you from seeing any of them again, do you hear me?"
His mother says nothing, her lip trembling even as she stares him down.
"We'll see if we can make your firepower anything useful," he says, dropping Shouto's arm. Shouto brings it to his chest with a whimper, cradling the injured skin. "Maybe you can make up for this disgraceful act."
Shouto says nothing, only tries to muffle his cries of pain.
"Say goodbye to the brat. He's distracting and dangerous. You have better things to do."
Shouto glances at Izuku's soft face, the gentle smile, the fluffy curls.
The female creature looks sorrowful as she crouches, holding Izuku out to him.
He stands there, gripping his shirt in his small fists.
He's afraid to get closer.
What if he hurts him again?
A sharp jab between his shoulder blades sends him stumbling forward.
"Oh get over it," Enji barks, already moving to saddle back up.
"I'll miss you, 'Zuku," Shouto says quietly, twirling a lock of now black streaked green hair around his finger for the last time before pulling away. Enji hauls him bodily into the saddle in front of him, commanding Shouto's mother to return Izuku home and then come promptly home.
Shouto thought that was the worst night of his life.
Enji taught him the next morning, all he had left were the worst nights of his life.
But never again would he use his ice magic.
This he swore to himself when he took the last possible glance at who used to be his best friend.
Izuku stands at the palace gates. Looks up at the walls he used to sneak through to play with his best friend.
He’s not here for that though. He’s here for a wedding.
Not to get his clothes dirty slipping through a hole in the garden fence.
Not to laugh in empty ballrooms, dancing and jumping.
He hasn’t done that in a long time.
Not since his friend quit coming out of the castle. A place Izuku was forbidden to go on his own. Not since their secret passages suddenly became blocked off.
Not since a man disguised as a peddler chose Izuku to become heir to his Kingdom as the ruler had no blood children.
Now, Izuku is back in the country he spent his childhood in.
In the castle he had some of his best memories in.
He’s going to see the boy, man, that used to be his best friend.
And he’s going to marry him.