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The Way to Nowhere

Chapter Text

There were days he woke up and hated the color white. It was the color of the walls of a room that wasn't his, and it stank of medicine and rubbing alcohol. It was the color of the itchy bandages covering his face and neck. The color of the dull pills being shoved down his throat meant to ease the pain, only succeeding in making his stomach churn.

There were also days when white decided to be tolerable. It was the color of the blank pages ready to be scratched over by the charcoal in his hand, yet at the same time, its emptiness mocked him day by day. It tinted the ointment used to ease the wishes of scratching his scars raw. It was present on the fluffy snowflakes bidding goodbye to the end of another year.

Eventually, he and white became well acquainted on the day it made itself at home in his crimson red hair. He would stand it since it reminded him of his mother's platinum hair, as well as his siblings’.

Well, except Touya. He had heard from Fuyumi that now it was now dyed pitch black. She’d said that in one hand he wore a ring whose twin was tightly secured between someone else's fingers, and that his actions were a shame to the family name even though he had given it up long ago... He really wished his older brother was the one telling him what was happening outside his white-painted enclosure instead of the fleeting whispers shared outside his door and the gossip thrown at his face when he was supposedly sleeping.

And sometimes, just sometimes, white was nice and warm. Like the hug of an old friend whose wide frame seemed to be made of glass, so frail but strong in its own way. White would smell of magnolias showered by early summer showers and taste like chamomile tea with honey. It reminded him of a smile worth a thousand dollars and bright as the sun.

At that point, white turned back to being despicable, for it reminded him it couldn't be nice and warm; it couldn’t be a smile so wide it made him want to grin as well.

At the end of the day, white was plain and fake.

Years later, he would encounter a second blotch of black and red on the white canvas on which he lived. Her name was Yaoyorozu Momo. She certainly brought a bit of color back onto his spectrum, but not the way other people expected.

Not ever.

The only time his eyes flooded with colors was in his dreams. He would see the lush green of leaves brushing his hair and the rainbow-tinted glasses waving with his reflection. The pink in a girl's cheeks and the lavender of a striped sweater. The shimmer of ruby red eyes and a golden glint hanging from his neck.

There were some exceptions, but otherwise, everything was pretty much a monochromatic mess.


Shouto picked up his mother's love for art. It was like yelling out loud inside a soundproof room. No one would really know what he was saying unless he allowed them to.

Though his progenitor certainly had other plans in mind regarding what all of his adult life would revolve around, he found a way to make things play by his own rules. Giving it his all and becoming an architect, having his name flaunted in papers and magazine covers as a young man heading for success in exchange of solitude and a don't-call-me-for-the-next-twenty-four-hours pass from his father during most of the days. The sound of pencils clattering down on his work desk was far more welcome than the racket that man could make on the phone.

His mismatched eyes lazily scanned the smudged paper from all the times he had erased the same sketch. Shouto took a sip from his steaming tea and squinted at the page. It was a cobblestone path in the middle of a forest, lined by flowering shrubs and curtains of tiny colorless petals raining down on the trail. The middle was occupied by the stubborn base line of a kid looking over his shoulder at the viewer.

Every time he tried to flesh out the child, Shouto felt frustrated by the product and promptly discarded it. He had already reached the point where the leftovers of the sketching were imprinted on the paper. Shouto sighed as he placed it on the top of a pile of many more works in progress. He seemed to be in some fantasy mood, lately, with the same palace that kept popping up here and there, surrounded by trees and at the end of a dirt trail behind a plaza. People thought that he came up with all the things he made, but that really wasn't the case. The pencil, while paired with his hand, had a mind of its own.

He pulled out a dried watercolor case from another painting night, and as he went for a glass of water for it, his phone started ringing midway; upon quickly unlocking the screen, Fuyumi’s picture popped up.

Alright, so my sister’s calling me on a weekend. Either she's planning on convincing me to go out and get some fresh air, or something has happened and she needs me there for some reason... please let it be option #1.

Balancing the phone on his shoulder, he searched to no avail for a clean glass in the mess he called his sink. Good thing that dishwashers existed.

“Shouto! I was afraid you wouldn't pick up,” her voice echoed, full of relief.

“Why wouldn't I? You're my sister,” he replied, scrubbing furiously at the old stains along the surface of the glass with a soggy sponge.

“Well, Dad said you weren't picking up any of his calls—” Oh, of course. “—and you do tend to sleep ‘till late.”

“I just let the phone ring, and if he messages me, I can always leave him on read, Fuyumi. Right now it's my Enji-temper-tantrum break.”

“God, you're impossible.” She sighed. Shouto almost saw the young woman rolling her dark grey eyes in front of him. “Well, apparently there's going to be this brunch-slash-associate reunion Dad wants us to come to happening around 1:30.”

Shouto frowned at the water filling up the glass. “Next time tell him to give me a better headstart” he strode back to the desk and sat down the glass with a sharp clink. “Why does he even need us there anyway, the other people attending should be enough to boost his ego.”

“I know, I know, but he's being persistent.”

“Tell me something I don't know.” He picked up the nearest brush and dipped it into the water, swirling it in the aqueous paint next. “Anything you’d like to add before I personally tell him to f—”

“Shouto!” She hated when he cussed and would always use that reproachful tone on him. “Please do come, uhm... Oh! the Yaoyorozu family will be there!”

“You can't keep using Momo forever as an excuse to get me out of my apartment, you know,” he murmured absently as shades of baby blue swirled with turquoise and hints of diluted stormy gray.

“If you won’t do it for Yaomomo, do it for me. I don't want to be beside Hideyoshi when he starts drinking.” The stroking of the brush skewed at the mention of his brother-in-law. Of course he would be coming as well.

“That could be easily fixed with some nice divorce papers and a lawyer.” He countered. The other end of the line remained silent as he dropped the brush back into— Shouto glanced from the empty glass of water to his mug full of tea. He would need to heat up more water now.

“You're not being fair, Shouto,” was his sister's reply paired with a tired sigh. Maybe that had been too harsh; Fuyumi's so-called marriage was more of a business relationship his father had arranged years prior. Shouto’s stomach twisted into knots. His sister hadn't slipped away at time, and now...

“Fine. I'll go,” he said in resignation, pulling out the brush dripping with spearmint tea and heading back to the sink with the mug in hand. “Text me the address and I'll be there.”

“About that….”

“He’s coming to get me, isn’t he? Great.”

“Sorry.” It was easy to imagine how apologetic she looked. She did it for her husband, their father, and even when they were younger, Natsuo and him in attempts of appeasing any dire situation. She just tried too hard.

“Don't worry, I'll be fine,” Shouto dismissed her, watching the green-tinted water swirl down the drain along with his hopes of a quiet afternoon. “Anything else I should know beforehand?”

“Yes. There's a dress code for the event: black or red with white. You could use the waistcoat Mom sent you for Christmas.”

“Sounds good,” he replied, turning the electric kettle back on. “I'll see you there, Fuyumi.”

“Alright. Bye, Shouto.”

The young man swallowed dryly as he waited for the water to boil, twirling a white strand of hair around his finger. Next time he should just stay in bed drifting in and out of sleep. Checking the time on his phone, Shouto grumbled softly under his breath. He had about two hours before the impending doom of social life arrived.

“Better get to it,” he murmured, heading back to his room. Hopefully the water would be ready once he managed to find proper clothes for the event.


 “Are you really planning on going with that look?” hissed his father as the driver opened the door. Charming like always.

“Are you planning on blocking the door the whole day?” Shouto retorted, waiting for the old man to move aside and sitting as far apart as the car seat allowed him to. If push comes to shove, will I be able to open the door and get out? I have to keep it in mind.

Shouto held his breath as the car started up, drumming his fingers against his arm and just waiting for it. For a while, all he could hear was the GPS's gibberish: “Turn right on the street light, take a left on 500m and keep going for 2.2km.”

“What did I ever do to make you turn out like this?” There we go.

Want me to list the things you did chronologically or alphabetically? Rolling his eyes would have to suffice as a reply. Always the same speech about how he dedicated all his efforts solely in Shouto's education and upbringing so one day he'd take his place and continue, blah blah blah.

Shouto had been hearing those same lines since he had memory; to be exact, once his father had lost all hope on his older siblings. The thing the old man said was “education”, which translated to isolation from any distractions, and “his future” was really his father's own failed endeavors shoved at him.

Meanwhile, his father rambled on about how his so ungrateful son was unable to dress properly.

“You won't wear a proper jacket nor a tie, never look up from your phone when people try to strike up a conversation, and the most unnerving thing is your hair!” His father seethed.

“Which is aesthetically symmetrical, now,” he objected, pointing at the division of red and white. Shouto had taken the time in fixing his hair so one side covered most of the scar tissue around his eye. That man just couldn't appreciate it. “I even go according to the dress code.”

Shouto,” his father growled with a hint of a warning, giving a deep sigh and rubbing his temples. “Important people will be there, so don't embarrass me. They may be even interested in hiring you for a new project.”

“Sounds interesting! More money I don't have a need for right to my pocket.” He turned his gaze to the window, concentrating on the buildings passing by.

He had no real use for the money. Shouto felt fine with what he had, his own four walls with a nice view, all the space one person could need, along with a guest room when Momo or Kyoka decided to drop by and enough materials, ranging from paint to alcohol markers. Okay, maybe the money is good in certain cases.

“Petulant child.”

Bite me.

His father gave one last huff of annoyance, crossing his arms over his chest and taking out his phone. Shouto had to hold back the urge to scoff at his wrinkled brow. Who exactly was being childish now?

He was grateful that no more words were exchanged through the rest of the trip. He kept himself busy watching the scenery dissolve from dull grays to slopes of green, dotted with the eventual little patches of vibrant colors.

They were probably heading towards some country club out in the middle of nowhere that suited the egos of all the people getting together. Eyelids becoming heavy, Shouto pressed his forehead against the glass, pleading for sleep to take him away for the rest of the ride. To take him back to when going out to the country meant running under the shade of trees and leaping over a tiny creek, not standing ramrod straight with a drink in his hand and a knot in his stomach.

His mother had painted the wildflowers just as they welcomed the first beams of sunlight, and Touya helped him up the branch of a small tree. Natsuo would chase after the birds, searching for the one with the brightest feathers, and Fuyumi would be reading, nestled in their mother’s side.

But just like every season, it soon came to an end. Touya grew up and left him to climb on his own, Natsuo stopped being a child and started copying his older brother. His mother went out less and less, rather spending time shut in her room, and Fuyumi only went with him because she was forced to.

That had been fall, followed by winter but remaining frozen in place. Every day was winter; austere, pale and empty. Like the letters he swore to write at some point, like the empty chats under two different names. Was it bad he had become used to living in winter? Should he be longing for spring to come back?No... Spring wasn't coming, not until he could make sure it was safe to go back to those halcyon days. In the meantime, all he could do was wait and dream of the day winter would end once and for all.

Chapter Text

“We’ve arrived, sir.”

Shouto woke up with a start, trying to make sense of the blurry silhouettes standing outside the vehicle. The old man didn't pretend to wait for him, slamming the door shut and chasing away the last remnants of sleep.

Asshole.

Giving the driver a small nod, Shouto stepped out to welcome the blinding sunlight bouncing off expensive cars. His father's scowl was tamed into a more subtle frown as business partners drew near to greet him. That was his cue to look for Momo or his sister.

Moving away from the crowd’s path, Shouto quickened his pace as some gazes were already falling on his back.

“What's the rush, young man? Come have a drink.”

“He's probably off to see someone special~”

“Is your father joining us today?”

“Well, someone seems excited.”

“Now the party can get started.”

Shouto didn't bother to ponder about the odd comments directed at him, only giving courteous nods and small waves in return. There were things that deserved a better use of his brain cells. Crossing the entrance adorned by a white and cream flower arch, it appeared before him a wide garden filled with chairs and tables lined by carefully trimmed bushes that framed the way to the forest surrounding the land.

Shouto looked around for his friend but couldn’t  spot the raven-haired woman. She wasn't sitting on any of the seats decorated with far too many roses, wasn’t at the overly lace-saturated gazebo crowded with instruments, nor close to the deserted dance floor.

He had hoped to at least find Kyoka; if there was the opportunity Yaoyorozu would always make sure to bring along her girlfriend as her plus one. This time wasn't probably any different, though this “reunion” gave off had a certain feeling that wasn't pleasant in the slightest. Along with that scent of roses, which drove him nuts. Really, who was put in charge of the flower arrangements? The smell was  too overwhelming.

Shouto shook his head, trying to figure out just where they could be. He would check the forest first; that looked like the best place to look. It wasn’t as crowded as the main entrance, probably nice and quiet. For being lost in his thoughts, Shouto, without meaning to, ends up colliding with somebody, who cursed under his breath as he almost dropped his phone, managing to catch it at the last moment.

“That was close.” said the man with a sigh of relief, turning towards him. He couldn't be that much older than Shouto, though. There was something about him that seemed familiar.

“Oh! Just the sibling I was looking for!”

“...Excuse me?”

“Well, I would say I'm wounded, but I guess it's been a long time since we last saw each other. How is the littlest Todoroki doing?” Shouto stared at the stranger, who just kept smiling and shaking his head. Something about his gestures and messy blond hair seemed so... familiar. Several seconds passed until the man's shoulders slumped, and he pulled on a pair of shades with pale sky blue lenses.

“How's that?”

“...Hawks?”

The young man chuckled behind his gloved hand and nodded. “In the flesh! It's nice to see that someone else than Touya still remembers that old nickname.”

Oh right, sometimes he would forget who his brother had married. Hawks, well, Takahiro Sora to be exact, had been a close friend of Touya’s when they were younger.  The silly nickname came from the games the blond would make up to entertain Shouto, about fearless winged heroes and vigilantes out to set things right in society.

Why are you here?” he murmured, glancing over his shoulder. His father stayed too occupied with the crowd to notice, probably for the best.

“It's kind of classified but you could say  I'm a little curious as well,” he admitted with a shrug. “I believe you've got some explaining to do mister.”

“Umm—”

“Alright let me rephrase that. As my dear Touya would say, ‘what the fuck are you doing ?’”

“...I'm starting to question that myself.”

Hawks gave him a quizzical look, raising an eyebrow. “So you're telling me you have no idea, at all , about the reason for this fancy get together?”

“Yes, I mean, no. I mean… I have no idea what's going on. Fuyumi told me it was just some brunch my father was insisting on dragging us to.”

“From the looks of it, you'll be getting some answers soon enough.” murmured the blond, pointing over his shoulder. A second blond had joined them. How odd.

“Kaminari, what are you even doing here?” Shouto sighed. He had seen Kaminari once or twice along with Kyoka, and Shouto could see his easy-going nature didn't go with the suit he had obviously been forced in, a blue tie already hanging loosely around his neck.

“Uh, right now I’m messenger from our very nice lady friends.”

“I'll leave this to you, good luck,” whispered Sora, patting his back and pulling out his phone once more.

“For the record, Jirou is this close—” Kaminari murmured, holding his thumb and forefinger together, almost over Shouto’s nose as if he couldn't see it already, “—to actually murdering you, so better have a good explanation. If not, try to avoid her the best you can.”

“I'm pretty sure all of this is just a big misunderstanding,” Shouto mumbled, a bit more to himself than to Kaminari, who just shrugged in reply. “Where are they?”

“Over there.” Kaminari pointed at the wall of bushes lining the gardens. “A little further away you'll find an old fountain, they should still be around there.”

“Alright. If my father comes asking for me, tell him I went the other way,” he quickly added, Kaminari giving him a thumbs up as Shouto headed into what turned out to be a little maze of flowerless hedges. If his father did end up trailing after him, the different paths ought to slow him down.

Following the sound of trickling water, he easily found the old fountain Kaminari mentioned. Sitting under its shade were his best friend and her girlfriend. Momo was the first to notice as he approached,  and even with all the makeup and glittering jewelry he could still see the tired shine in her eyes along with the slump of her shoulders.

“Shouto.” She murmured. Just as he was to greet her back, a black heel barely missed his ear.

“I swear to God, Todoroki,” hissed Jirou, the other heel ready in her hand. “If this was your idea, I'm going to—” Momo’s grasp on her wrist held back the incoming stream of curses she probably had ready, getting Jirou to drop the shoe on the ground, too.

“Did you know this was going to happen?” the young woman asked, twining her slim fingers between Jirou’s. “Please… just tell us the truth.” Hearing her speak as if she had gone days without sleep yet looking all prim and proper in a white dress just twisted his stomach into knots.

“I… I believe I'm even more lost than you are.”

“Here. Educate yourself,” Jirou said, throwing an envelope at his feet. Shouto pulled out an invitation wreathed in gold leaf, depicting in cursive letter the names of the overjoyed Yaoyorozu and Todoroki family for the engagement of their—

All he could do was swallow dryly and look back at Kyoka, crumbling the piece of paper in his hands and shaking his head softly. The tension in her frame seemed to loosen as she leaned into Momo’s shoulder with a sigh.

“I'm so glad you weren't part of this.” Momo rubbed her temples. “That thing showed up at my doorstep this morning, and I just didn't want to believe-”

“Jirou,” he said, crouching on the ground to look at her properly, resting a hand on her shoulder. “ I would never do something like this to either of you. I know how happy you make Momo, and that’s all I could ever wish for her.”

“I'm glad at least you think that way,” Momo murmured, leaning back against her girlfriend. “Apparently my parents are completely on board with this arrangement. They’re convinced it was bound to happen.”

“Im sorry,” was all he could muster. His friend just shook her head and smiled gently. “I'm sure there’s a way we can fix this whole mess. It's not like they can force us to get married—” Shouto tried to reason, settling at Momo’s other side.

Her curled-up hair bounced when she shook her head once more.“They will try, and knowing your father, I doubt he will stop insisting. But we could always play along Shouto, we—”

“No! That... that just isn't life, Momo. If we do as they please, they’ll start expecting more and more of us. If we give in and get married, they’ll want us to live together, spend time as a couple, and eventually demand for us to have children.”

Would she grow thin and lifeless like a wilting flower, or become cold and start shut him off completely? Those possibilities seem unlikely for someone like Momo, but people change in the most unexpected ways. Everyone does.

“I refuse to make you live through all of that. Even if we got a divorce or something, they’ll just try again!”

Just like he did with Fuyumi, selling her off to the best bidder as if she’s some pretty antique waiting to be bought in an auction. She knows she can’t return, so she’s never fought back. They just can't--

Shouto ,” said Momo sharply, yet not tinged with reproach. “We’ll find a way. For now, just try to calm down.” He blinked once, twice, just realizing how his breaths had  become shorter. He gave his friend a small nod, inhaling and exhaling slowly.

“We’ll work this through,” said Momo, straightening up and brushing off the blades of grass sticking to her dress. “Let's see if we can delay your proposal.”“I like the idea,” Jirou said as she was pulled up to her feet, going to fetch her lost heel that was currently stuck in some bushes. “I always wanted to know how it felt to crash a party.”

“I’ll try to think of something in the meantime?” Shouto murmured, running a hand through his hair. Anything would work as an excuse as long as it gave them some kind of opportunity to put off the announcement of the engagement.

“Don't think too hard, you might hurt yourself.” Kyoka teased. She smoothed down her hair. “Time for crimes!” That made Momo laugh softly, heading out with only their pinkies intertwined. The latter looked over her shoulder and waved goodbye, and Shouto caught a glimpse of actual color dusting her cheeks.

He would find a way. He had to.

Shouto paced back and forth, lips drawn in a thin line. Maybe either of them could fake being sick; food poisoning would be the best option. Getting in a fight with his father would be good enough of a distraction, but in the long run it would just become a headache. He doubted Momo could convince her parents to call the thing off.

“Shouto, thank God I found you,” he heard someone saying, and recognized it as his sister’s relieved voice. Glasses hanging askew, the young woman huffed for breath, pushing past hanging branches and almost tripping on her heels.

“I'm fine,” she said, steadying herself against a tree. Turning to her brother, Fuyumi held his gaze for a moment before hiding her face in her hands.

“I'm so sorry Shouto, I had no idea.” she murmured, a mix of guilt and sadness in her raspy voice. “ I— I never thought he would do this. I thought maybe he would at least wait a couple more years! I'm so, so-”

Shouto wished his sister didn't feel the need to apologize to him. Maybe she just felt apprehensive since her wedding had been carried out in a similar way. Placing her on a silver platter to her husband’s family, sold off as the model wife.

“Fuyumi, listen.” The latter reluctantly peered between her fingers at her brother, her usual calm features plagued with shame.

“This isn't your fault. None of this is. He played us both,” he tried to reassure, giving her shoulders a gentle squeeze. The young woman sighed, not bothering to push away the messy strands of hair falling out of her ruined hairdo and leaning against her brother's shoulder.

“I'm sorry,” she then snorted. “I just can't help it. You're my little brother, whatever happens to you is on my watch.”

“Fuyumi, I'm no longer six.” He retorted. Fuyumi shook her head, having to glance upwards to meet her brother's mismatched eyes.

“Still... sometimes it's like we’re still kids. We have to look after each other.”

“We'll find a way to get out of this mess,” insisted Shouto, somehow easing the creasing between her brows.

At least, I hope so.

“ Yaomomo… does she know?” Fuyumi asked.

“Yeah, her parents are also in on this.” His sister shook her head and crossed her arms at his response. Sometimes it didn't seem real that they were families that still agreed to things like arranged marriages.

“Maybe if we fake food poisoning or I break my leg, we can get out of here?”

“Don't you think it would be easier to get hit by a car?”

“Maybe?”

Shouto was glad he managed to pull at least a tiny smile from his sister with that last remark. That look suited her far better.

“Oh!” she gasped all of the sudden, pulling something from her handbag. “This is how father told me about the arrangement.” In her hand was a tiny night blue box holding a fake alliance.

“Smooth,” Shouto murmured in reply, not bothering to look what it contained. “Like a wise woman once said, let's see how fun it is to crash fancy party.”

“You're unbelievable,” Fuyumi sighed, rolling her eyes. “Alright, lead the way.”

The siblings took their time to exit the hedge maze to try and prepare themselves for what awaited them outside. Fuyumi hesitated for a moment, worrying her lip as she scanned the crowd.

“I guess I'll go see what Hideyoshi is up to,” she sighed, straightening her currant-red dress full of frills and lace and trying to smoothen the little strands of hair sticking out in odd angles. Shouto took ahold of one her hands, too cold for a sunny day, and gave it one last reassuring squeeze.

“We all will find a way to get out of this, trust me.”

Fuyumi's turquoise eyes shone with something he couldn't quite describe; hope, maybe? The young woman nodded and squeezed his hand back.

“I'll see you on the other side, I guess.”

Shouto waited for the platinum head to disappear among the sea of black and white. He took a deep breath, and then headed the opposite way, the box hid in the tight grip of his hand.

People had  filled the tables in their absence, and were joking and sipping on quickly-emptying glasses. Music and a symphony of rehearsed laughs filled his ears, mentions of his last name and his father coming up once or twice. He managed to spot Momo sitting along with her parents, Kyoka smugly grinning and Kaminari’s shaking shoulders betraying his attempts to muffle his laughter. The young musician was a force to be admired and feared.

“Shouto, there you are,” said a well-known voice as a hand roughly fell on his shoulder. He was pretty used to the gesture by now.

“Father,” he murmured, fixing his gaze on an unknown point. “ Are you done greeting everyone?”

“Yes, I am. Did Fuyumi finish the errand I gave her?” If the box had been crystal, he would have shattered it in his grip by now.

“Yes.”

“Then you know what to do. Try to hurry it up.”

Shouto couldn't help but glance back at the man idly going through his phone as if he had just asked him what time it was. Taking a sharp intake of breath, he slapped away his hand, making an emphasis of dusting off his shoulder.

He’s just another plaything, some puppet Enji would manipulate to his will; or at least, that was his idea.

If he would just speak up, maybe he would accomplish, he had to, he had to, Touya escaped. Why can't he do the same? He can't keep living according to his father's will, but if he did, what would he do to

A loud shriek abruptly stopped his downward-spiralling train of thought. It wasn't the only one; more cries and yells soon filled the garden as women tripped over their own feet and men cursed loudly at the seeming thin air. Plate after plate and flasks of multicolored drinks were thrown to the ground, and what wasn't broken was pummeled into dust by the frenzy of people trying to evade whatever had them frightened.

A silhouette sped out from under a table, just a flash of silver that quickly disappeared into the maze. His father was yelling something, but it was as if the words couldn't quite reach Shouto’s ears.

Out came a second streak of tan and black... or was it gray? Whatever it was, he was able to spot that blotch of color stop in front of the maze, as if waiting. The creature stood still, making it easier for Shouto to make out a pair of pointy, dark grey ears followed by a sharp muzzle.  He didn't know much about dogs, but he was pretty sure that looked like a doberman. The thing was that even with his bad eyesight, he could still make out the shine of a pair of ruby-red eyes looking back at him.

Another guest went down as a third and final stray snarled its way past and crossed the arch of green. Was there something in its mouth?

The animal seemed to hesitate before turning tail and going after its companion. Enraged yells came from every direction, but Shouto couldn't shake off the feeling of familiarity clouding his senses. Without looking back, he rushed into the hedge maze, the telltale cry of his father's voice ringing in his ears.

“SHOUTO!”

Shouto wasn't sure where the maze ended, but as he ran, neat hedges gave way to unruly patches of brambles getting snared on his clothes, and the light became scarcer with trees towering over his head.

He didn't manage to catch up with the trio that wrecked the reunion, but he managed to keep up thanks to the loud rustling of the plants and crackle of branches. Shouto held back from stopping to take a breather, afraid he would lose their trail. Honestly, he wasn't even sure why he was chasing after three dogs, but something pulled him towards them or wherever they were headed.

Wait, where are they?

As Shouto came to a stop, he realized all he could hear were his own steps. Trying to catch his breath, Shouto looked around with the little sunlight that managed to filter through the tangled treetops; crooked, skinny roots poking out of the earth crossed his path, but none seemed to have been trampled by three dogs running for their lives. At least they had offered a good distraction from the party; now with everyone shaken up and the tables wrecked, the party would have to reschedule, which gave them more time to try bring Yaoyorozu's parents back to their sen—

“SHOUTO!”

“WHAT KIND OF RIDICULOUS CHILDISH BEHAVIOUR IS THIS?!”

“GET BACK HERE BEFORE I MAKE YOU.” His father bellowed from who knows where, managing to startle even some crows that he hadn't spotted beforehand, their sharp cries echoing with the man's thunderous voice. Shouto gulped dryly as he tried to ignore the cold seeping into his hands.

He has no right to force him to go back. He has no right to play with people's lives. Nobody ever wronged his father, but there’s a first time for everything.

“SHOUTO!”  

He was getting closer--

IS ALL OF THIS JUST A GAME TO YOU?”

He needs out.

Shouto brought his hand to his wrist, fumbling with the cuffs until he managed to loosen them, followed by the vest that clung way too tight to his torso. Inhaling deeply, he felt as if he could breathe a little easier.

Was it his imagination, or had the birds quieted enough so he could hear his father cursing and the snapping of branches into splinters, making his own path through the foliage?

He can't keep running forever, his father will eventually find him. Knowing that man, he’d do anything to affirm his position as the one in charge.

Maybe it wasn't so much the clothes’ fault for his lack of air. To his disgust, his legs were trembling as he took his next steps, feeling the imminent crimson shadow looming above his head. Fighting against his own feet, Shouto trudged back to the nearest tree, leaning heavily against its mottled trunk.

He can't be afraid. He has to find a way; words will fail since his father thought his own opinions were law. He isn't afraid of facing him, he just needed an actual plan in mind, something concre-

Snap!

That sounded close by.

Gulping dryly, Shouto pressed himself against the bark; he tried to remain as quiet as he could, but his breath echoed in his ears along with his hammering heart, beating wild against his ribs.


 

" ShoᷓỖo∖ do mỦ a ᕻa⃘or a௥d ग़ᕻ oట⑌side.”

“Buᗪ-૚

ᇸJ៌s☿è.σ do a▽ I ᛓay, pleasḛ."

H঵ haႌပṸt ᷝctuఐᄺ΅y leຟt, ਑ad heⅹ Hા ˖as hմdinᦞ. ɗhᣡ waᨙ he?...

...what?


 

It was like a murmur, a soft crackle just behind his back. At first, it fell to deaf ears, but it quickly turned into a succession of hollow cracks of something falling apart. Shouto didn't cry out when he was thrown back into the hollow of the tree along with the debris of the decaying bark. He didn't try to hold on to the roots or the grass. It was as if everything was happening slowly, toppling into the darkness as steps echoed painfully inside his head.

With any luck, he’ll pass out when he hits something hard enough.  

Chapter Text

Shouto awoke to the pungent smell of wilting flowers and damp leaves. His limbs ached in protest as he tried to pull away from the scent making his head feel all fuzzy and his thoughts muddled. Shaking his head, Shouto tried to make sense of his surroundings, which was pretty useless since the place was encased in pitch black darkness. He couldn't hear the crinkle of leaves between his hands. 

Huh... there are roses here too, what a coincidence.

The wrinkled petal resting on his palm wafted with the flower’s old perfume, no longer sweet, but it did manage to make him slightly nauseous. That or his distaste for roses was growing exponentially today. Shouto straightened up little by little, first stretching his cramped limbs as if he had been lying in the same position for a long time.

...Oh no.

Fumbling blindly, Shouto expected to find tendrils of roots and earth. He fell down that tree, if his memory serves him right. Instead, his hand met the rough surface of stone. Like a match, apprehension flickered to life in the back of his head, pushing away the initial confusion and urging him to find an exit. Not even a speck of light poked its way above his head, meaning he had really fallen deep.

Shouto kept his hand pressed to the wall and stumbled between boulders and mounds of decaying plants, following the uneven path of ridges and bumps with his fingertips. The only sounds were his steps, echoing loudly down the tunnel.

Some kind of underground cave, maybe? It can't be man-made, but the height says otherwise. Then again, he managed to reach that point. Some kind of old tunnel, maybe? It was so long, though; kind of like a hall of--

Deciding not to dwell much on the why or the how, Shouto concentrated on the growing squelch of his shoes. Muck dragged him back with every step, but he trudged on. Though, that didn't mean he didn't grumble curses under his breath at the dead leaves, the mud, and the tunnel itself.

The obstacles seemed to worsen as he advanced, and he cursed loudly when he tripped on one of those many damned stones and ended up on his knees with a loud splash. Shouto grimaced as the unknown liquid dripped through his clothes, a quick sniff to his sleeve making him gag. He can really use an exit at the moment.

Sighing in the grimy defeat, Shouto stood up once more, shaking off the excess substance and went on. Stubbornness or determination, who knew what compelled him to keep going; all he wanted was to see the light of day or at least taste air that didn't smell like flowers and withering promises. 

At last, after many other close calls that involved slipping and having to helplessly cling to the wall, Shouto managed to catch the faintest ray of light pouring from the end of the tunnel. Its similarity to the experience upon death didn't help, honestly, but that didn't keep Shouto from quickening his pace. An exit was just that: a way out.

He couldn't  be dead, after all, the afterlife can't be this bad and smelly. Unless he’s was hell...or the purgatory... though he didn't even believe in that, so what sense did it make?  

Shouto took a deep breath, finally free of the heavy smell, as he examined the structure. Mostly blocked by crawling plants, a high entrance stood before him. It was worn down probably with age and had thorny vines crawling over the stone, tightly constricted around the archway and poking out of any crevice. The light dimly filtered across the thick curtain of foliage growing over the entrance.

Shouto looked over his shoulder and wondered if it had always looked like that, abandoned and forgotten. Maybe if he squinted enough he could see a hall instead of a tunnel with shiny black and white tiles.

That’s a foolish idea, though. Why would a hall be needed underground anyway?

Pushing the foliage aside and stepping over boulders, Shouto silently hoped the change of scenery would be a little more hospitable. He was welcomed with the snapping of withered twigs under his foot, and he followed the trail of brambles slithering over the ground with his gaze. Biting his lip, Shouto looked around himself. Only the naked trees managed to peek over the high walls of barbs surrounding the area, bare branches swaying idly against the grey sky. He went from a pompous garden to a sharp-edged maze.

Shouto sighed as he decided to take the right. At least it was much easier to walk with a little more of natural light than blind intuition. Stepping over roots tied in knots, Shouto didn't dare to utter a sound, gulping dry as his steps seemed to echo loudly in the barren maze. The eerie silence was far too unsettling. Once or twice, he stumbled upon mounds of crumbled stone, once belonging to some kind of statue from the looks of it. The odd thing was that they didn't seem worn down with age, but deliberately smashed to bits.

Kneeling in front of a small pillar, Shouto traced the deep grooves along the surface with his fingers. Scattered among the base were probably the remnants of whatever had been standing on said pillar. It had been completely disfigured into pebbles.

 “I'm telling you, Twice, someone is here!” chirped a high pitched voice, followed by the loud crackle of brambles. Shouto swiveled around trying to pinpoint the source, but he couldn't risk looking over the hedges without getting snared in them. “ I’m sure of it~.”

“Rubbish! I'm saying you must confused or something!” retorted a second voice, much deeper and more snappish. Shouto considered calling out for help; he would have preferred just finding the way out on his own, but his hands were tied. “Nobody could get in here just like that.” 

I beg to differ, but at least it sounds like they know what this place... garden... maze thing is.

Shouto inhaled deeply, ready to call out to the pair of strangers, but before he could make a sound he was roughly tackled face-first to the ground.

 “Are you insane?!” hissed the interloper into his ear, tightly holding his hands behind his back. Shouto grunted as he trashed against the stranger's grip, managing to spot a smudge of violet as he did so. “ Shut it!

He doesn't sound menacing... at all. It’s more like a warning...?

 Twisting a little, Shouto froze as dark purple slits glared back at him; holding a single finger to his lips, the man with messy lilac hair looked away. He even hunched closer to the ground, keeping so still and holding his breath. The pair’s steps sounded much closer now as they came to a sudden halt. 

“What's wrong, Toga?”

 “Hmpf, I could have sworn he was here.” Shouto heard a weird crunching, quickly closing his eyes as prickly bits rained down on him and his companion.

 “He?!? Who's that supposed to be?!”

 “A little boy dummy. Hmm, or at least it smelled like it.” The owner of the voice sighed, kicking up more thorns. “I was looking forward to finding him.”

 “Dummy yourself. Why don't you just ask the King if you can have one?”

“It’s not the same,” the girl grumbled, ceasing her little tantrum. “Plus, he wouldn't agree anyway.”

“I bet you two can come to an agreement.”

Yeah, sure .”

The idle chatter faded away with their steps, the man’s grip loosening little by little as they did so. Finally he stumbled back with a loud gasp, bringing his knees up t0 his chest and resting his head between them .

“Dear Kings, finally,” he murmured in a raspy, tired voice. Shouto silently straightened up, keeping a close eye on him. 

This was not how he expected things to go.

If the stranger wasn't a delinquent of some type, the dirty scarf coiled around his neck didn’t help his image much. There was also his incredibly messy hair littered with twigs and leaves. Maybe he had also been trapped somewhere around here?

Shouto scooted back (when had he even started leaning in?) as something flicked out of the man’s tangled hair and he rose to squint at him quizzically. With a sigh, he stood up all the way and stretched before glancing at Shouto.

“Not the way I was expecting to see you again, but let's put the pleasantries aside and get out of here,” he murmured, fixing his scarf and moving on. Shouto stood stock still, brow furrowing further as he picked out the second abnormality from his curious companion. Coming to a stop, the man quirked an eyebrow at him, a striped tail swaying slowly at his feet.

“Unless you plan on having tea with those two, I suggest you follow me.”

Shouto sighed in resignation. After the supposed ‘hunt’ he had overheard, maybe following a cat-eared man was more appealing.

Shouto now realized he wouldn't have been able to get out on his own. Moving on quick but silent feet(would they be paws in his case? Could he even ask?), the man weaved in between the overgrown passages and twisting paths with much ease. As much as he seemed to know his way, that didn't keep either of them from ending up with a myriad of cuts on their palms from pushing aside boughs of shriveled spikes.

Throughout the walk, he diligently followed the stranger's steps, just concentrating on being almost at his heels lest he start overthinking about his whereabouts again.   He almost crashed into him as the latter decided to stop all of the sudden

Looking over his shoulder, Shouto held back a sigh of annoyance as they came up to a dead end, waiting for his guide to turn back and choose another way. Instead, he kneeled down and, pulling his sleeves over his hands, grabbed hold of the vines and tugged hard. Out came a mesh of brambles, revealing a wide opening across the wall.

 “If I were you, I would hurry up.” Jerking his head towards the entrance, Shouto just looked from the violet stranger to the gap. “It's that or the loony pair. Your choice.”

Biting his lip, Shouto sank to his knees and crawled across the entry, crouching as low as possible to avoid getting thorns snared on his hair. At least it wasn't another tunnel; he might have considered going back and just climbing over it.

He’s was very satisfied with the last experience of an almost-endless passage.

 Seeing the patch of dim light ahead, Shouto tried to quicken his pace as much as he could. Scrambling to his feet, he inhaled deeply even though he wasn't out of breath. Maybe closed paths were starting to have an effect on him. He remained on the ground, staring up at the clouded sky. Which means the tunnel had somehow led him away from the gardens... the question is where?

“You haven't changed, have you?”

Following the voice, he glanced back at the stranger as he brushed the dirt and weeds off his clothes, even his tail, which took the longest thanks to the burrs it was plagued with .

“What are you even talking about?” he muttered, mustering up the will to shake off the barbs sticking to his sleeves. “What is even this place?”

 “That back there was the Heart's maze, though it's seen better days,” the stranger said neatly, placing another barrier exactly like the one they had left behind over the hole. “Do you want the short or long explanation?”

He has no idea why this man’s speaking to him with so much familiarity, but at least it got him away from that place.

“Long.” Getting back on his feet, he waited for the stranger's next move. Taking this as a cue, the latter stretched his back, glancing at the forest that awaited ahead of them. “We have enough time, then, but I think I’ll leave some gaps for the connoisseur to fill in later.”

Another person he’s supposed to know? Great.

Chapter Text

Darkness swallowed them whole as they headed into the forest, canopies of branches tightly woven together hanging over their heads. As sight became harder, Shouto seeked out the man's steps, though the crinkling of leaves under his feet were loud and clear enough for him to follow.

An apparently deserted forest is the least of his worries.

It would have been a pretty awkward walk if he had to stay glued to his side, but gratefully little patches of light started appearing across the ground or crawling over trees.

But of course he doesn't even mind. Judging from the ears and tail, the darkness doesn't bother him anyway.

“Better?” asked the man, looking over his shoulder. Like many of the multiple surprises of that day, Shouto tried not to stare at the lilac irises clearly visible (not shining, irises don't shine) in the dark. “Bioluminescent fungus can be pretty handy.”

“What happened to that explanation?”

Chuckling softly, the man gave a brisk nod. “Just making sure you weren’t going to make me waste my breath.”

Rude.

“The situation has been pretty grim for the last couple seasons. No one really noticed at the start, but people had been disappearing in the Red Kingdom. The king took the matter into his hands after his messages to the Red Queen were never replied. An envoy was sent to investigate since the Rabbit was injured at the time, but they... they didn't come back.”

“We waited and waited, but there was nothing. The Hatter offered to go since it would have been too risky for the king himself to, even though he would have tried anyway.” He paused for a moment to sigh and shake his head.

Maybe it was Shouto's imagination or poor eyesight on his left side, but he could swear the shadows underneath his companion’s eyes were much darker than they seemed at first glance.

“The Hatter took off, and well... he didn't return either. Since a search party was out of the question, the court tried to figure out what to do in the meantime. Impatient as always, the March Hare went on her own and disappeared as well.”

Shouto made no comment as he stopped altogether to fix his scarf, inhaling deeply before continuing.

“The Caterpillar went next... now, all that remains of the court is the king and the dormouse. A temporary court was assigned just in time for the attacks to begin. We still don't know what's been happening in Red or who's responsible for it, but until then all we can do is watch it wither away like those pesky roses Queen Nemuri loved so much.”

Maybe he’s still knocked out and everything is just some weird fever dream. He had those as a child, after all. A queen, a red and white kingdom... that person he’s been following for the last fifteen minutes.

Shouto blinked owlishly at his companion, stopping in his tracks and just waiting until the latter stopped to turn around and gesture at the path ahead.

“What is this place?” He was aware of the strain of his own voice and the dull ache running over his body, meaning all that had happened was real... somehow.

“You’re in Wonderland, you dunce,” sighed the man, going around him and giving him a light shove to keep moving. “Now step on it, Alice, before it gets dark.”

He isn't sure what to think anymore.

Shouto didn't ask any more questions through the rest of the trek across the land, which the stranger was probably thankful for. There were moments when Shouto just wished to hold him back and demand answers. H e doesn't even know the man's name, and for some reason he’s being called Alice?

For some reason, that just irked him the wrong way.

“I wasn't expecting a long face,” murmured his companion, balancing on top of roots criss-crossing their path and easily leaping over them without a sound. “Quite the contrary, actually.”

“When people are lost, you don't expect them to smile, do you?” he snapped, hurrying his pace. What does it even matter?

“I wouldn't go that way.”

What now?” he grunted under his breath, but no sooner he had taken a another step when a sharp tug made him glance down.

“Told you,” was the last thing Shouto heard before he was violently hauled off his feet and into the air. With a sharp cry, Shouto found his view flipped upside down as he dangled from his foot trapped in a snare.

What is wrong with you people?!” he hissed in exasperation, trying to reach the rope tightly coiled around his ankle.

“We're just mad, I guess,” concluded the stranger with a chuckle as he helplessly dangled in midair. Slapping his hands over his face, Shouto groaned loudly.

Maybe if he just waited until all the blood reached his head, he would fall unconscious and wake up in the garden, having to face his father's anger but at least... who knew? He could always ask the mad interloper.

Waiting until he stopped pivoting slowly, Shouto expected for footsteps to creep closer or maybe even to get dropped on his head all of the sudden; it was eerily silent instead. Trying to inhale deeply, he did his best to look around from his position( he suddenly felt bad for all those animals that got trapped in snares and just had to stay put for hours) for the telltale lilac irises of the man. Maybe he should stop calling him a man or stranger. A name to call out would be handy at that point.

...

Yeah, all this silence is exasperating and he has no time to lose hanging around. Latching his free leg onto the branch made it easier to pull up his snared ankle, releasing the pressure on it. Praying that just for once luck was on his side, Shouto pulled himself up, letting out a sigh as he shifted to a sitting position. Quickly he untied the rope, checking his ankle that simply wore the reddened shadow of the trap.

At least the branch was sturdy enough to withstand his weight, so Shouto took a moment to gather his bearings.

He can't afford staying and waiting for something else to happen. There isn't anyone or anything aside from plants in sight; his only option is to go back to the maze. Hopefully those two long gone.

Moving closer to the trunk, he chose to carefully climb down the trunk just in case any more traps were laid out around the tree.

“I must admit, I'm not surprised.”

Shouto turned to glare daggers at the smirking man( whose smile wasn't comforting at all ) who just gave him a small shrug.

“Sorry for the delay, I had to check something. Now come on.”

“Why should I?”

As if confused, the stranger looked at Shouto quizzically as he stood rooted to the spot.

“Why should I keep following someone that led me into a trap, left me alone, and hasn't even given me a name?” he countered, hands balling into fists.

Almost seeming baffled, the man sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Alright, maybe leaving you in the snare was a little too much, but you can trust me. I'm Shinsou, if you've already forgotten.” He paused, looking back expectantly. Shouto simply raised an eyebrow.

“Shinsou Hitoshi.”

“Well then, Shinsou Hitoshi, I wish to know why you've brought me into the middle of nowhere.”

Shinsou seemed to hesitate, looking over his shoulder at nowhere and back at Shouto. Beckoning him over, the newly named man turned his back to Shouto as he started kicking up the leaves from the path.

A loud, sudden knock perked up his attention as Shinsou kneeled down, and with a click, a trapdoor of sorts swung open. Without a second glance, the mess of violet hair disappeared into the opening. Slowly Shouto inched closer, peering into the wide entrance flooded with a warm golden light, catching the last glimpse of a purple tail before it disappeared from his view.

Running a hand over the neatly dug out entrance, Shouto thought through his options. Compared to the others, this one seemed ‘brighter’. Sorting through the turmoil of queries, he concluded that, well... he didn't really have anything else to lose.

Taking a deep breath, Shouto carefully slipped into the hole and to his utter surprise slid down a gentle slope instead of falling directly onto the ground. Whoever made it had used a little of sense for once.

What he wasn't expecting was being welcomed by the ruckus of voices and the steps of people echoing in what a seemed a makeshift cave or shelter of sorts. Partially hidden by the stone walls, Shouto peeked into the room bustling with people talking, carrying bundles of things, or evading children who raced in between their feet.

“What are you doing?” hissed a voice from behind. Shouto whirled around, expecting  another of Shinsou’s tricks only to find the empty air. “Look down, smart one.”

The hat the child was wearing didn't manage to hide the deep frown warping his features. Crossing his arms, he forced his head back to stare directly at Shouto.

“How did you get here?” he demanded, glaring at Shouto. For some reason, he got the feeling he shouldn't mess with the kid. Something about his defensive stance gave it away.

“I followed Shinsou down here.”

“The Cheshire? But he was by…” Eyeing him warily, Shouto stumbled back as a small leg flew out towards his own. “ YOU'RE PRETTY DAMN LATE, YOU KNOW.”

“Wha-”

“WE DON'T NEED AN ALICE NOW, SO GET LOST!”

Following the kid as he got lost in in the crowd, Shouto noticed just how silent the room had become. Raising his gaze, he found dozens of eyes trained on him. Some seemed almost hopeful, quivering lips breaking into smiles, while others just seemed so full of disbelief. Gulping, he searched for a lock of lilac or anything that spoke of familiarity, but found nothing. Hands balling into fists, Shouto faced the crowd that had started closing in on him.

 

Is it really him? Are we saved, mama?

But it just can’t be... I mean, a boy?

Maybe now we can get out of this place.

It was time!

Shouldn't we consult the hatter, though? What if...

What can he even do? He’s so scrawny.

Thanks.

Will he be taken away too?

Did that monster do that to his face?

He just... doesn't look like he could.

Can't be. I t must be a mistake.

We’re doomed.

Is that all?

 

What a surprise. Even in a completely different reality, he apparently still manages to disappoint people without moving a finger.

Glancing over his shoulder, he wondered if maybe he could manage to run up the slope and back outside before he was tugged into the crowd and shoved and inspected like some fair animal up on display whose owners forgot to put up the ‘don't touch’ sign.

He couldn't even save his own face, how can he save us?

Those arms couldn’t wield the sword even if our lives depended on it. Wait, they do.

Alright, enough of trying to be calm or remotely civil since these people didn't know either of those things. The next one that tries to shake him around like some doll--

Just as he was making up his mind, Shouto stiffened as a hand reached out from his left side, seizing his wrist. Managing to make out only a blur, Shouto didn't think before slapping the hand of whoever that was, followed by gasps and concerned murmurs.

“Sho-chan?”

Wide green eyes surrounded by a flurry of freckles gazed at him, full to the brim with worry ( or maybe something closer to pity ). Twisting his hands together, he managed a wobbly smile, trying to draw closer. Shouto simply took another step back.

“I-I know everything is kind of a mess right now, but no need to worry! Honestly, it was a surprise you arrived at such a dire moment, I really really couldn't believe when both Tos- I mean, Hitoshi and Kouta-kun came to me, but here you are!” he rambled, waving his hands in the air probably out of nerves. Once again with a hopeful look in his eyes, he took another step, Shouto hissing in frustration as he bumped against the wall. “Shou-chan...? It's me.”

Furrowing his brow, Shouto sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose, digging his nails into the skin until an angry red mark appeared.

“I'm sorry, but... you've got the wrong person,” he murmured, looking away. Seeing the crestfallen look on the man’s face just felt wrong for some reason. Taking a deep breath, he refused to watch as inaudible murmurs poured from the stranger’s lips.  

“Just... what happened to you?”

As the man hung his head, Shouto heard a soft ‘plop’ as the hat the stranger had been wearing hit the ground and rolled to his feet. A sudden chill ran through Shouto’s spine as he recognized the messy curls that he had been hiding.

How?

Why?

What is even real at this point?

Chapter Text

He had a lot of time to reflect after that curious encounter. Shouto sighed as he bitterly recalled the many fancy balls and “charity” events he had been dragged to as a teen. Once he managed to slip out of his father’s grip, he would find the quietest place in the room and watch the crowd from afar. Except now, he wasn't in a huge room adorned by glittering lights or echoing with the fake laughter of adults while fighting to loosen his tie without messing up the knot.

Instead, he was sore, disoriented, and huddled in the farthest corner of an underground cave between spare blankets and wooden boxes. The only laughter, sounding a little strained, came from the man in the shades of green, the same he had seen so many times in the corner of his books with charcoal freckles and wide, curious eyes.

Except he was supposed to be a kid. He was a figment of his imagination, maybe even some imaginary friend he made up at some point before his mother left. But the living and breathing inconsistency is standing right there before his eyes! Looking a little troubled as he talked to Shinsou, he might add.  

At least people didn't try to approach him again, having to be content with the sharing of hushed whispers and fleeting glances, most of them burning down the length of his scar.

Soon enough, the activity died down to a gentle murmur between small groups just as three odd people showed up with bundles of white cloth in their hands. Shouto didn't fail to notice this time the floppy ears resting on top of the mussy hair as they went around giving out the contents of the parcels.

Shouto assumed they were related since all of them shared the same dark (was it really blue?) straight hair. The trio seemed to be pretty efficient on their delivery as they quickly went round the room, only stopping to smile warmly as they shook hands or kneeling down to greet children.

HELLO THERE !” yelled a voice that startled him off his spot. Do these people really not know of simpler ways to approach complete strangers?! Grumbling under his breath, he turned to meet very familiar ruby eyes . “My apologies! I didn't mean to startle you,” said the man, adjusting thin-rimmed glasses over his nose and holding out his hand to help Shouto off the ground.

I’m fine. ” Flicking away his hand, Shouto stood up and dusted off his clothes. Seeming a little taken back, the man’s ears flicked back as he straightened his jacket. He isn’t much of a dog lover, but that doesn’t seem good.

“I'm sorry for my what happened with my companions. I assume you don't recognize me either?” he asked, turning his volume down a notch. Shouto nodded, though he couldn't shake the feeling he knew him from somewhere. “Well that’s a pity, truly, but there’s nothing we can do, I believe. Now to the main concern: how did you end up here?

“Shinsou brought me.”

Catching a half choked snort, Shouto leaned to the side to see if someone was behind the man, but found nothing but thin air. Brushing it off, he glanced back at the tall stranger who was sighing and covering his face.

“Hitoshi, I'm trying to do my job properly.” He exhaled, pulling off his glasses, tucking them into his breast pocket, and holding his hand protectively over it.

“So am I,” chuckled a voice over his shoulder, but from the corner of his eye Shouto didn't catch sight of anyone.

“You’re abusing your ability!"

“I’m just making sure good things are being said about me~”

“Who are you talking to?” intervened Shouto before the conversation could carry on any longer. Tilting his head to the side, Iida inhaled deeply as something tugged at one of his ears.

“I think we made our introductions a while ago, but I guess I can repeat it for Alice.” Shouto shivered as something seemed to snake past his ankle, watching, baffled, as a dark violet smidgen took form of a bushy tail that slipped behind the man before emerging a now actual complete cat smirking widely.

“I’m Shinsou Hitoshi, also known as the White Kingdom’s Cheshire Cat, and this here is Iida Tenya, the current Rabbit,” said the feline, holding a paw to his chest. “The pleasure is all ours~”

Hitoshi, ” sighed Iida, reaching down to hold the cat, who instead hung onto his forearm and easily climbed onto his shoulder. “My apologies, Todoroki-san, I-”

“I never told you my name,”  Shouto interrupted instinctively. “What is this place? How do I apparently know you, and who,” lowering his voice, he added, “ Who is he? ” From the look the pair gave each other, he didn't need to specify who he was.

Iida scratched the back of his neck, looking over to the man talking to the kid with the hat. “I believe it's best for him to explain all of that, on the way to the capital.”

“The wha-”

Please, just answer my question.” Biting down the dozens of questions of his own without answers, Shouto gave a brisk nod. “How did you get here, as in this whole place.”

“I was following a pack of dogs that crashed a brunch party I had been attending,” he muttered, gaze flicking over to the two people of dog ears and back at Iida. “ It was you, wasn't it, The one that waited before running off?

Clearing his throat, the latter nodded. “It was my duty as Rabbit and brother to make sure we were all going to make it back. I'm awfully sorry for inconveniencing your get-together, Todoroki-san,” he said with somewhat of a bow. It must have been hard with a cat draped over his shoulders.

“It's fine, no harm done,” he murmured, stealing a fleeting glance at Shinsou snoozing on the man’s shoulder. So, animal people... that’s apparently normal for some reason. “I don't know why, but I... I followed you and your siblings and, well, got lost in the process and fell.”

“Just fell?”

Drawing his mouth into a thin line, Shouto nodded. “Right through a dead tree.”

“And into the Heart’s maze,” muttered Shinsou with a yawn. “Good thing I found him.”

“Wait,” Iida said, pulling the cat off his shoulder and holding him in the air. “ You went into the Heart´s Maze?!? Without proper weapons or reinforcements?? What were you thinking, Hitoshi?! ” he cried, reverting to his apparent usually-high volume. Flicking back his ears, Shinsou huffed and hung limply in his grasp.  

“I was thinking that some idiot had somehow gotten into the maze and I didnt want to be a part of yet another disappearance,” he muttered, glancing away.

THEY COULD HAVE TAKEN YOU BOTH! DID YOU CONSIDER THAT!?!

“DO YOU REALLY THINK I DIDNT?!” he hissed, disappearing into a cloud of smoke. “And even if they did, maybe I could have been taken where they are, Tenya! I would be doing something useful by finding out where the court is, but instead I’ve been sitting on my a-”

“Or you could have died,” interjected a fourth voice. The freckled man from before grasped the remnants of the lavender wisps and tugged hard, apparently forcing Shinsou to reappear, clinging to his bushed up tail. “We could have lost you, Toshi.”

“You would have been fine!” He insisted. “ Someone else--”

“No one can really just take the Cheshire’s place.” The smile tugging at Midoriya’s lips was betrayed by the shadows under his eyes. “We’re a team, and in a team you can't just replace people like that, you know!” Depositing the bundle of fur unceremoniously on Iida’s arm, he added, “Plus, two people I know wouldn't forgive me.”

With a huff of defeat, Shinsou quickly disappeared once again, but judging from the angle Iida held his head, Shouto doubted he had gone far.

“Now, as I was telling Todoroki here,” he continued, making a chopping motion towards him. “It would be best for you to take him to the capital and ask the King how we should proceed with the issue at hand.”

“B-But what about the shelter, the people!” Midoriya interjected, shaking his head. “I can't just leave like that, Iida. Maybe we could wait for--”

“Hitoshi and I will stay here, and on your way you can see how Uraraka and Bakugou are doing with their side,” he reasoned, cutting Midoriya off, though the latter seemed determined to remain in the shelter.

“But Iida! The King told me to--”

Your duty as part of the court is giving aid and guiding to those who need it. Are you telling me you're going to go against it now of all times?”

Biting his lip, Midoriya held Iida’s gaze for a couple seconds before hanging his head and nodding. “That wasn't fair. You shouldn’t use the Hatter card against me,” he mumbled as Iida smiled and patted his shoulder.

“Don't worry, the worst that can happen is Kouta-kun causing havoc by kicking more people.” Chuckling softly, Midoriya turned to him as Iida rejoined his siblings.

Hesitantly, Shouto remained on the spot, the other nervously scratching the back of his neck and hanging on to the odd silence between them. Tilting his head to the side, Shouto was unable to catch his fleeting glance that kept looking everywhere and nowhere at the same time. From the way he held his hand over his mouth and the deep frown, he clearly wasn't with his feet on the ground.

“Alright, so!’” Flashing a wide grin, he held out a scarred hand. “My name is Midoriya Izuku! It’s a pleasure meeting you once again, Todoroki-kun!”

Shouto took a moment to look at Midoriya from head to toe. He seemed so out of place, a bright speck of green drifting in a mass of singed browns and beiges. A burst of speckled color worn out by exhaustion.

Taking his calloused hand, he hissed in surprise as a jolt of static crackled between their fingers.

“Likewise,” murmured Shouto, waiting for the tingling to recede. “Forgive the inconvenience.”

It certainly took longer than he expected. Midoriya went here and there, checking on people, on provisions (apparently they had an inventory for it, and he kept counting the same stuff until Iida shooed him away), and escaping from a grumpy-looking kid who just when he looked calm enough would be biting at the man's ankles once again.

“You better not do anything stupid!” Shouto managed to catch as he patiently waited by the entrance, finally managing to eat some of the food that had been served during the brunch. It wasn't half that bad.

Shouto watched as Midoriya kneeled down to meet the kid's eyes, took off his top hat, and said something Shouto couldn't quite catch. He offered his hat to the child, but he refused and clung tighter to his own. Unexpectedly, the kid (his name was Kouta, right?) pointed directly at him, to which Midoriya answered with nervous flailing of his arms, before stumbling to his feet and walking (though maybe running was a more accurate word) away.

Maybe they thought I was someone else? Though that’s impossible, unless I have some kind of doppelganger or evil twin... Maybe he’s been watching too much of those conspiracy videos.

Glancing at him, the boy snorted before joining a blonde woman that called him over. Men and women as well had begun settling down, calling children to their sides and tenderly wrapping them in blankets. With a sigh, Shouto pulled his knees up to his chest to rest his head on top of them, watching as the flash of messy hair was ushered from one place just to head off to the next one.

Is it already nighttime? Just how many hours have gone by? Could all of this really be a dream? Maybe there is the chance he really is just asleep... back at home... ignoring his alarm.


“Who are you dϷawing Όoday Shoώto?”

“My fΥiΞnμ ϛϧ a kψͿghΎ.”

Should he use ψhiΞe? Maybe grey would fit the armor better. ShoulΑ he carry a sword Ϲr a shield?

“And why a kϤiϡ·t?”

A geϨtle hand tried to smΧoρh the tangled knots of his red hair. He hummed softly, αickΣng another colλr from the box.

“ͼecause that’s, what hϨ wantϣ ͵Ͽ be when we grξw up.”

“And what do yoε want tΙ be?”

“I dξn't know ;et. Mϴybe a painter like you, Mama!”


 

Pain pricked his neck as the last remnants of the dream faded into nothingness. Shouto bit back a groan, struggling to move his stiff and slightly sore limbs. Had he fallen asleep at his desk again? Maybe that's how he ended up on the floor.

Blinking away the sleep, Shouto froze as he met a glassy emerald gaze staring at the empty space which coincidentally was were he was sitting. Kneeling in front of him was his new travelling companion. Bringing his hand closer to the man's face, he snapped his fingers between his eyes, the light of consciousness quickly coming back to them.

“I-I... I WASN'T STARING!” was the first thing that escaped his lips as he tripped with his own feet, gracefully falling on his ass.

“I never asked,” Shouto clarified as he straightened up, hearing his joints popping while he tried to shake off the heaviness of them.

“S-Still... Ididn'tevenmeantostareIwastryingtowakeyouup,” he mumbled incomprehensibly, hanging his head and staring at the ground. “ButyoulookedsotiredandIwasn’tsureifIshoulddoit.”

Shouto quietly shuffled to the side as the man kept muttering under his breath. It seemed they were the only ones awake, though. Looking around the room, the only sources of light had been dimmed down to a faint glow that outlined the huddled figures snoring softly.

“B-But anyway!” he whispered, rising to his feet and adjusting the knapsack hanging from his shoulder. It looked pretty dirty, but Shouto was almost sure he could see some mustard-colored smudges beneath all the grime. “We should get going.” Without waiting for an answer, he scurried away.

Fake it until you make it, I guess.

Shouto sighed as he shook off the blanket ( he wasn't even going to wonder where it came from), hanging from his shoulders and made a beeline for the short head of green shaking somebody awake. As though it was something that happened every day, he dodged a sideways swat and kept poking the unlucky person. Shouto only managed to hear a half-garbled answer, which in contrary seemed to suffice Midoriya as he whispered something in reply, letting the person fall back to sleep in the heap of blankets (and probably someone’s back, from the sound of it).   
“Off we go, I guess,” he murmured, disappearing behind a wall of stone which, oddly enough, Shouto didn't remember seeing there when he arrived. Hopefully it was just his imagination along with a sleep deluded brain that made it seem like that . Though after seeing animal-eared people and a cat disappear, why not a moving wall?

Chapter Text

Getting out couldn't be as hard as Shouto initially thought, but after taking a better look at the opening above their heads, he huffed under his breath. They would have to hang onto stones and scrape their hands a little more to see the outside world once again. (No more leaning into burrows or any type of opening. He would never be able to look at a sewer the same way.)

Midoriya didn't seem to mind it much, as he hummed to himself while patting the walls, as if he was simply standing before one of those climbing walls covered in colored stones. With practiced ease, he latched onto a protruding stone a little above his head and heaved himself up as to hang on to an opening made from earth coming loose. He kept up this method of quickly finding footholds or small ledges to hold on to until he reached the top.

“I think Tenya-kun was still half asleep when I asked him to open up the exit, dear Kings ,” wheezed Midoriya as he quickly scrambled out of the very narrow passage. At least he managed it without kicking up any pebbles on Shouto's face.

Seconds trickled by as Midoriya disappeared from sight. For some odd reason, Shouto had a sense of deja vu. He didn't recall being left behind that literally, though.

“Everything is clear up here. Though I should have brought a rope or something, there's nothing here to pull you up...” came Midoriya’s distinctive voice, and Shouto caught the outline of his messy hairdo from the opening. “ Or maybe I could have helped you up in the first place! ” At least he hadn't left him stuck in the hole.

“It's fine,” he tried to reassure, tugging his sleeves over his scratched hands. “I think I'm getting used to being underground by now.”

“That isn't an excuse, Sho-- Todoroki.” He muttered, peeking into the hole. Devoid of natural light, all he could see was a speckled, scrunched up nose followed by a pair of concerned eyes.

“I'll be fine, really.” Shouto insisted as he managed, a lot more slowly and calmly, to ascend the tunnel. As soon as he was within reach, Midoriya held out his hands, motioning him to grab them.

“At least let me help a little.” He was also kind of blocking the way out, so Shouto had no other choice but to abide and hold on, getting tugged out in one swift movement as if he weighed no more than a bunch of grapes. Landing on the soft earth, Shouto looked around at the clearing shadowed by the canopy of leaves, hiding the shelter under its shade. It sure looked different in broad daylight, though he would to still have to look out for traps.

Midoriya was lying on his back with his arms covering his eyes.“Moving on!” He exhaled, getting to his feet and fetching his bag. “We’ve got kind of a long way to go. At best, we’ll get there in two days by foot as long as we dont run into any minor issues.”

“Issues?” Shouto asked, falling into step beside him. It was easier to see where he placed his feet, that and Midoriya had a much slower pace than his last “guide” .  

“Ah...well... right now we as a people aren't in the best situation, you could say.”

“Shinsou did say something like that, but he was being really cryptic.”

“He’s just like that, don't mind him.” Midoriya replied with a snort, suddenly going very quiet for a while. “So, you don't recall a lot, do you?”

“Not really…” murmured Shouto thinking of all those times he would look at the drawings covering the pages and wondering where they even came from. “ Some bits here and there. Though at first I thought all of this was a dream.”

“Oh? That’s curious, when we were younger you were so sure all of this was real!” A soft smile crossed his lips. It was troubling being unable to remember what were fond memories for someone else. Why didn't he remember?

“We? So we knew each other as children?”

Like a deer caught in the headlights, Midoriya's steps faltered, and he snagged his shoe on one of the multiple roots poking out of the ground. “I-I’LL EXPLAIN THAT ON THE WAY, DON'T WORRY!” he cried as he tried to regain balance.

Ehem, ” fixing his crooked hat, he continued, “the land is divided in two independent kingdoms: the red and white. Both have their own monarch and court save for the White Rabbit, who serves as an intermediary between them. The queen of the Red Kingdom was Queen Nemuri, but for the last couple seasons, she had been behaving strangely. Nemuri-san was usually a very chatty person, always trying to go visit the king or asking for the White Hatter to join her.”

“That's why he offered to go then?”

“Yes, after knowing each other for so many years the King couldn't refuse the Hatter's offer since he couldn't go in person. But as Hitoshi probably mentioned one after another went to the Red Kingdom, never to come back.” Midoriya sighed deeply, drawing his lips into a thin line. Shouto noticed the red marks that already covered most of his lower lip.

“After the Caterpillar was gone someone declared himself the Red King. According to the people, he was a man wearing a mask that could control a Jabberwocky.”

“A  Jabber-what?”

“Jabberwocky. A creature that's basically capable of destroying anything within its sight. They're pretty rare, so there isn't much information about them, but this one has raked over the main settlements and is moving into our land.”

“That's why you're hiding all those people?”

For being in the middle of a crisis it was pretty calm trail. Though maybe it was also why the only thing he could hear was Midoriya's voice. Everything and probably everyone else was gone.

“No, they managed to evacuate before it reached them. The Jabberwocky isn't the only one of our problems though. Not only does that man have that creature, but he also has done things to... I'm not sure what they even are , but we’ve been calling them nomu: mindless beasts that obey his command. They’re the reason those people lost their homes.“

The ki- Kouta-kun suddenly came to mind. Was that why he was so angry all the time? He was resentful over losing his home?

“We’re not sure how, but in the blink of an eye, those things were upon us, and had to rush out to safety.” Midoriya let out a little laugh, glancing back at him and rubbing his neck.

“Aaaand just in case you're wondering, that’s why some of us are dressed funny,” he said, gesturing at himself from foot to toe. “It was supposed to be the day we were named as the ‘surrogate’ court, but everything kind of went down the drain.”

At least that explains the top hat crowned by two feathers that bounced with every step and the luscious overcoat he wore over a simple dress shirt. The only thing that didn't quite seem in place were his worn out red shoes.

“Its fine, I guess,” murmured Shouto, looking away. “In a way, it suits you.” The colors reminded him of spring, lively and vibrant.

“T-Thanks.” With a sheepish smile, he stopped once more and pointed accusingly at Shouto. “Wait, did you just make a pun?”

“Huh?”

Shaking his head, he chuckled, rubbing his eyes tiredly “Never mind~.”

“...”

“...”

“But are you an actual hatter, though?”

“I'm more of a tailor, actually.”


“But why is he called White Rabbit if he's not a rabbit?”

“It's just a title, Todoroki-kun.”

“But you said the official dormouse is an actual mouse that walks on two legs.”

“He's an exception. Just don't think about it too hard, trust me.”

“This doesn't make any sense.”

“Nothing here really does, all of us are just a little mad~”

“At my existence?”

“...You're doing that on purpose.”

“I don't know what you're talking about.”


 

“And that's how we classify our troops. Any questions?” Midoriya asked with a very innocent smile, as if Shouto didn't feel like a whole encyclopedia had somehow been summarized, edited with commentaries, and read out loud to him.

“I need a minute,” he murmured as random facts and dates still buzzed inside his head worse than mosquitoes.

“So, both kingdoms have a court and an army which has some weird hierarchy that for some reason resembles a board game. That said, people outside the army often are divided in ranks such as Hearts, Diamonds and Clubs, depending of age or occupation, but that tradition has been worn out since the last queen died during a dispute with the Red Kingdom... I can't remember her name...”

Nodding at his words, Midoriya added, “Nana Shimura, also the king's first mentor. I've been told that she was a pretty fair ruler, metaphorically and literally, but her time as queen was pretty short.”

And knowing by heart multiple aspects about her (pretty sure Midoriya had just summarized a whole war she was involved about 25 minutes ago) was very little, of course.

“How do you know so much about…  everything?”

“I-I’m an avid reader, that's all! I needed a way to pass time as a kid after all!” he said, sheepishly scratching his neck. “People used to say I was an annoying know-it-all because I’d just start muttering out of nowhere.”

“I don’t see an issue there,” he murmured in complete honesty. “You could have ignored them.”

“You know, even though you've changed, you still- I MEAN, NOT APPEARANCE-WISE, YOU LOOK PRETTY FINE, LIKE YOU HAVE CHANGED A LOT BUT NOT IN A BAD WAY?!?”

Shouto just stared back quietly at the flustered man as he hung his head and groaned softly.

“I'm sorry for making this so weird, I promised myself I would try to stop,” he mumbled, most of his face hidden beneath the rim of his hat that somehow managed to defy gravity and stay in place.

“No harm done,” he tried in an attempt of consoling. “I know you remember me as a friend of sorts, so you shouldn't feel like you have to apologize all the time for something you-- er, is everything alr--?”

“Shush,” he hissed, standing frozen on the spot. Holding a finger to his own lips, he slowly leaned down, the only sound coming from the leaves being brushed aside until his fist closed around a decent-sized rock. “Don't wait for it, just run,” he whispered as he sent the thing whizzing through the air and violently tugged him forward by the wrist.

“DON'T LOOK BACK, RUN!”  Midoriya said, and he didn't release his grip. Shouto could hear cries behind them; panting, snarling, those... whatever they were stumbling across the forest floor at an odd pace. All about them screamed feral, but not quite like an animal.

The steps of the creatures thundered behind them, and Shouto couldn't help but sneak a glance from the corner of his eye.

Maybe he should have just listened to Midoriya.

“WHAT ARE THOSE THINGS?” he cried, looking away from the beast running on all fours. From that short glimpse, all he could make out were the misshapen bodies stumbling and breaking past the foliage like paper.

Weird lumps covered their bodies, and the only thing he could tell apart were the ridiculously large limbs they had. It was like watching a small bear or a really big gorilla trying to run as fast it could, but unable to control its own legs hence the constant staggering.

Well now picture that thing, heavy, damp breath on your neck, closing in as if the next course of the night was your leg.

“I TOLD YOU NOT TO LOOK BACK, DO YOU LOOK BACK IN THE MIDDLE OF A RACE?!? NO, YOU JUST GO FORWARD!” With another harsh tug, Midoriya was almost dragging him forward as they ran with a somewhat odd exhilarated look.

“ARE YOU SOMEHOW ENJOYING THIS?!?” he yelled in exasperation, feeling a great urge to just turn around and give that guy a good shake. Either everyone’s completely nuts, or he’s just stuck in some fever dream that’s now turning into a nightmare.

“IT'S A RACE, A CAUCUS RACE OF SORTS!” he panted, still holding onto the ridiculous hat as if it was more important than the things behind them. “JUST TRUST ME AND KEEP GOING!”

Having no other choice but to abide to his orders, Shouto called forth the resilience he didn't know he had, so not to flop on the ground and wait for the demon things to come. His throat felt like sandpaper; maybe yelling hadn't been a wise option, but to hell with reason.

Had Izuku been aware that thing was behind them? Why would he even throw the rock, then? Were they even heading in the right direction? What if they were lost? What was the point of going forward?

His attempt of worsening his ever present headache came to a stop as his guiding flash of green had suddenly disappeared. Coming to a screeching halt, Shouto felt his stomach drop.


“-but don'Ψ you worry, for I Ϫm here!”

Φscratche΂ arms and the θamp, bright, green eyes

“I’m ϜzuΨu, by the wayπ Midoriya Izuku,


 

Run, my ass, I’m done with running until it hurts.

“HEY UGLY BASTARD,” he cried as the creature lumbered dangerously close to Midoriya, who had been desperately tugging at something holding him down, scratching desperately at his leg. “OVER HERE!”

The creature turned its head towards Shouto, making him gag at the mass of naked flesh its head was entirely made of. With its characteristic staggering gait, the beast crept closer, mouth falling wide open to reveal row after row of  oddly shaped yet very pointy teeth.

Whoever thought a creature like that was a good idea clearly belongs here

“SHOUTO, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!” cried Midoriya as he remained unable to free himself. With a groan he simply smacked his forehead as that alerted the monster once more, swivelling its large, eye-less head towards the freckled martyr.

“UHM, HELPING??” he yelled even louder, bringing the thing’s attention back to him. At least loud noises seemed to disorient it as it kept stumbling between its own steps (were those actually hands??).

“YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO HELP IF YOU DIE!”

This was truly getting ridiculous.

“WHY ARE YOU SO UNREASONABLE?!” he yelled, copying Midoriya’s approach and launching a rock right at the creature, hitting it square on the... face, so to say. The beast reeled back and snarled with that uneven grin, shaking and pawing at the ground.

Like a bull about to charge... alright, maybe he should go back to running... yeah.

“SHOUTO!”

It was fine... at least for once he had stood his ground.

For some reason he wasn't able to flee, even when the creature was running up to him, leaving Midoriya forgotten as his yelling failed to catch his attention. He could try climbing a tree but from the look of it that would just prolong the inevitable just like running.

...Maybe if it was truly a dream, he would finally wake up.

Shouto almost didn't see it coming-- a shadow flew out of nowhere and faced the creature, making it halt. The thing reared up, yellowed fangs swiping menacingly at the new interloper who didn't move a muscle.

“We meet again, it seems... now I can see whether you truly can't be driven back into the-” said the deep voice of the man as he pulled out of his robes a single clawed arm encased in complete darkness.

“MORE CHOPPING THAT THING TO BITS, LESS MONOLOGUES, BIRD BRAIN.” bellowed a second voice, followed by a loud explosion and the screeching of more of the infernal creatures.

Maybe all of their yelling had lured them in... yeah, they would have died anyway.

Frowning, the cloaked man huffed in annoyance. "The world can't simply understand the darkness I live in.” He hissed, holding his other hand, which actually looked human, to his chest.

“TOKOYAMI!” cried several voices in unison.

The man, unsurprised, sighed at this. “If you may, please step back,” he said, glancing over his shoulder. Shouto simply nodded at the... man-bird...person.

“For I’m with the brethren of the shadows as well as the sharpest sword meant only for these fiends.”

“Nice intro, needs some more work.”

That was a fourth voice from apparently nowhere. Maybe another Cheshire?

Shouto was beginning to just slowly walk away as the claws seemed to grow, looming menacingly over the creature. Unaware of what awaited it, it kept swiveling its head towards the yelling.

“Make sure to greet your maker for me.”

Even with all the curses and cries clashing viciously back and forth, he could still clearly hear the pained screech that made a shiver run up his spine.

It was neither human nor animal.

Just... what really was that thing?

“OI! DIDN'T YOU HEAR, CANDY CANE?!? GET OUTTA THE WAY!” It was the same person whose curses were always followed by an explosion. Their hand was at Shouto's collar before he even noticed, harshly flinging him back and right against a tree.

Pain shot right through his skull, remaining on slumped on the spot like some mangled doll as he glared at the blonde head yelling soundlessly. All that reached his ears was an infernal ringing way too familiar for comfort.

Biting hard on his lip, Shouto held  his head between his knees and waited for the pain to subdue while the most “epic battle” was happening between the creatures and the three (four?) people, either that or they just felt the urge to yell a lot while trying to chase off the beasts.

“ARE YOU EVEN PAYING ATTENTION?!”

“WHERE IS HE?”

“CAN’T YOU FOCUS FOR TWO SECONDS?!?”

“DO YOU EVEN KNOW HOW TO AIM?!?”

“DUCK!”

“ASS!”

“BIGOT!”

“BEHAVE YOU TWO! ACT LIKE PEOPLE YOUR AGE!”

Where they even adults? They sounded worse than kindergarten kids, just much more foul mouthed.

With a sigh Shouto took a deep breath as now the ringing was gone, leaving only a slight throbbing at the back of his head. Stumbling to his feet, he managed to catch the last of the monsters snarling as they slinked back into the shadows.

“So those were the nomu I guess,” he murmured mostly to himself as four silhouettes stood before him. Turning around, a little bruised and roughed up, Midoriya face turned into a glare as he quickly rushed to him.

“Are you crazy! What were you trying to do, get yourself killed!?!” he yelled shaking him back and forth from the shoulders. For a man shorter than him, he had a pretty strong grip. And hello headache my old friend.

“You keep shaking me and I swear I’ll pass out, right here, right now.” he murmured, rubbing his temples. “And as if you were one to talk, you were pretending to stay back.”

Ah sorry for that, ” Taking a couple steps back, his stern face had quickly faded to one of concern, twisting his thumbs and swinging on the balls of his feet. “Iida said it himself, it's my duty to help out those in need.”

“You're unbelievable,” How did he always change so quickly, one moment he was angry, the other he was apologetic and next he was smiling.

“He is isn't he?” said a woman as she playfully ruffled Izuku’s hair. “And who might-”

Round chocolate brown eyes froze for a moment, scanning him from head to toe while round ears hid beneath the messy hair barely held up by a bun.

“Shouto? Like that Shouto?”

The blonde joined in as he snorted against his hand, stare full of disbelief.  “Either this is a really nice fucking prank or you’re a real idiot.”

Shouto simply stared back, tugging at his vest and avoiding their gazes.

“Maybe Midoriya can explain, I don't think I can.”

“Well this ought to be pretty interesting!” There were four people and this was a fifth different voice he couldn’t pinpoint, just where-

I-Is that...what is that even...how... ” Tokoyami gave him an odd look as he kept babbling.

Midoriya sighed as he ushered Shouto back into the invisible trail they had been on. “First rest, making sure Kachaan didn't give you a concussion and then questions.” he declared, without missing the edge in his voice.

“I barely grazed your boyfriend nerd,” scoffed the blonde, Kachaan apparently.  

At least that definitely made Izuku quicken his step. They arrived at the so called camp in no time.

Also, his what.

Chapter Text

Hnnn I'm sorry to whovever reading this :'D

I ran out of prepped chapters as you can see and with the school year as it is i haven't had the time or inspiration to work on the The Way to Nowhere and I'm sorry for that. I don't plan on abandoning this fic so don't give up on it either.