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Jungle Tales

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The boat ricocheted off the slap of a wave on the starboard. Shota Aizawa hurried through the gallery, following the sounds of children’s cries. A break in the wooden floor sent him skidding down some stairs and landing with a slap to his ass. The high pitched wails crescendoed as another wave rocked the ship. Shota slipped on the floor, his arms flailing out to try and maintain his balance. Boxes fell off the walls with loud crashes that sent their contents, precious food supplies, scattering around the floor. A small, chubby hand shot out from behind a post to swipe an apple from the ground. Shota allowed himself one relieved breath before he ran over to find his charges huddled together behind the post. Beady red eyes glared up at him defiantly as Katsuki Bakugou moved forward to shield his friends with his small body, one hand still secured around the apple. If they were in any other circumstance, Shota would have laughed at the toddler’s bravery. But they didn’t have time for that.

Shota brought them onto this godforsaken ship to escape the war, only for a storm to demolish those plans. He had promised their dying matron he would get the children to safety after their orphanage was destroyed in an ambush. Shota would happily die trying to fulfill that promise. With a tired tsk, he kneeled down and reached to scoop Bakugou into his arms.

“No!” The small boy screeched, squirming out of his reach. He pushed his friends forward with shaky lips. “Them.”

With a nod from their toddler leader, the other children obediently climbed onto Shota’s body, small hands and feet gripping where they could. Mina Ashido settled onto Shota’s shoulder, gripping at Eijiro Kirishima’s shirt to pull him up. Hanta Sero and Denki Kaminari ended up cradled in either of Shota’s arms. The two boys shook with fear. Now confident in his friend’s safety, Bakugou nodded to Shota as if in goodbye before turning to try and run away.

“You’re coming, too, you little shit,” Shota scoffed. He caught the boy by the back of his shirt, lifting him from the ground to hurriedly run back up to the deck. The storm was worse up here.Waves rose well over quarter deck and splashed salt into the young man’s face. His movements were slowed by the weight of the five toddlers, but he slowly and carefully made his way to a cockboat, ignoring the yells and cries of the sailors behind him. He couldn’t worry about the other people on this ship. All that mattered were the children. Another crash of a wave loosened the ropes of the small boat and sent it clattering down into the unforgiving ocean. Casting aside his doubts, Shota tightened his grip on all of the children and leapt off the ship.

 

Fifteen Years Later

 

The seagull’s cry may well have been a rooster call. Ochako woke with a start, gripping at the pounding of her head with a groan. She should have known listening to her brother was a mistake. Izuku insisted drinking would help her sleep through the inevitable storm they would face, and it did, but the cost was too great. A lurch of the ship sent a rustle in her stomach that rose dangerously up her throat. The door to her cabin was thrown open, revealing her green eyed brother and his usual wide grin. Ochako groaned, pushing Izuku to the side and rushing up to the deck of the ship. Veering left as soon as the fresh air hit her, she leaned over the side and released the contents of her stomach into the waters below. A soft hand landed on her back, fingers running comforting circles until Ochako was finished. Her best friend, Tsuyu Asui, giving her a soft smile when she straightened back up.

“I told you not to listen to him,” she croaked, fixing her long, dark green hair into a neat bun on top of her head. “The waters weren’t too bad.”

“You know I have a weak stomach,” Ochako chuckled. “Besides, your fiancé is a convincing man.”

Tsu smiled. “That’s why I’m marrying him.”

“Ochako!” Izuku called from the doorway. She eyed the steaming cup in his hands warily. “Don’t worry! It’s just a bit of mulled wine. The warmth will help you.”

Ochako wrinkled her nose. “Your answer for me is to drink more ? If I tell Mom about this, I’m sure she’ll yell at you.”

“We’re getting close to land!” Izuku changed the subject hurriedly. Lifting his arm to Tsu, he rushed over to the other side of the ship to show them. In the distance, a large island rose from the sea. The slope of a mountain was covered in dense forests that bleed into a beach they were quickly approaching. Her mother and father emerged from the captain’s cabin, their grins wide as they surveyed the island before them. Inko and Toshinori were not her birth parents, but they had been kind enough to adopt the young Ochako after her family died during the war. Ochako was five when they were taken from her, but she still had a few memories of a bright cheeked woman working in a garden and the deep, joval laugh of her father over a violin’s song.

Toshinori walked up to Ochako’s side, towering over his daughter. His voice was full of excitement as he spoke more to the island itself than to anyone else. “Do you see how thick the forest seems? It almost looks like a field of grass. Who knows what wonders the floor is hiding.”

“Perhaps you’ll find some new species of orchids, dear,” Inko hummed, tapping her husband’s arm kindly. “We’ll see when we land, won’t we?”

“I’m just proud we will land safely!” Momo Yaoyorozu appeared by the side of the ship, shielding her eyes from the morning sun. She was dressed in loose fitting, linen trousers and a blue shirt. Her hair was tightly wound into a single tail at the back of her head. Behind her stood her husband, Shoto Todoroki, the sponsor of the research trip. His father, Enji, had gifted them this ship, the Endeavor, as a wedding present for his seafaring daughter-in-law. Momo had been quick to organize the trip. The Southern Seas were famous for their turbulent waters, where many ships had gone but never returned. Toshinori was the first to suggest the opportunity for discovering untouched islands in the area. Using Izuku’s gift for weather watching, they traveled through the seas in the hopes of finding any landform.

“Well, it’s certainly not on any map.” The gravelly voice made Ochako flinch. Her group turned to find one of the ship hands, Tomura Shigaraki, grinning over at them maniacally. Shigaraki gestured with his map, his mop of pale blue hair whipping around in the wind. The man had made Ochako uneasy from the moment he stepped on the ship. Enji Todoroki had insisted that both Shigaraki and another hand, known only as Dabi, be on the trip. Shoto’s father’s intentions were unknown for this command, but Momo caved easily, eager to start the journey as soon as possible. “Seems like we completed our quest, huh?”

“Er, yes,” Toshinori smiled softly. “Are the conditions favorable to head onto the island then?”

“Oh, yes. Very favorable,” Shigaraki practically cackled, his eyes glistening with something Ochako couldn’t place. “Do you think you’ll find any rare animals on the island?”

“Why do you care?” A deep voice scoffed. Dabi snatched the map from his companion with a mocking grin. The man was beautiful with his tall, lean stature and sky blue eyes. His dark hair looked smooth to the touch. The only blemish on Dabi’s figures were the horrid burns that snaked around the top half of his face and down his neck and arms. The deckhand was still sneering at his companion. “Go. Get the crew ready to lay anchor. We’ll set off within the hour and travel in fours.”

“Thank you, Dabi.” Momo’s smile was genuine and so was the excitement that made her jump on her toes. “We’ll all get ready!”

Ochako glanced around as the couples drifted away to gather their belongings. A small pang went through her heart, remembering how it felt to have a man on her arm. It wasn’t too long ago that she was engaged as well. Having a lover to hold would have certainly made this trip easier. Every night, she forced herself to feign innocence and ignore the way the others would sneak away from dinner to be with their partners. Sighing at the dark turn of her thoughts, Ochako turned back to the island. Her body stilled as a pair of scarred hands landed on the railing next to her. Dabi leaned over the side of the ship, resting his chin on his arms.

“You can pair with me, if you’d like,” he said. “I don’t enjoy seeing a beautiful young lady like yourself travel alone.”

“I appreciate the offer, butー”

“I’m afraid I’ve heard about your recent...misfortunes,” Dabi kept his voice smooth. Only his thumb moved, lightly touching the side of Ochako’s hand. She felt her breath quicken, bracing for the same conversation that had been following her for the past year. “I’m surprised you’re able to travel so soon after your fiancé’s death. If ever you need some company...”

“I’m quite alright, thank you. Is there any specific reason for this turn of conversation?” Ochako stiffened her features until she was sure she looked unaffected by Dabi’s words or his presence. This was a mask she had grown all too used to wearing since Hiroshi passed away. Gossipers stuck around her to see how far she’d fallen and bachelors sought her out at every party or lecture she attended. Being the daughter of two great scientists and in the vicinity of wealthy heirs like Shoto and Momo made her a valuable single woman. She hated the attention and made a habit of relaxing her face until the nuisances got bored of her. “I can’t imagine you came over without a specific intention.”

Dabi chuckled. “You’re very perceptive. My...employer wants me to find someone I could rely on during this trip. An ally of sorts.”

“An ally against whom?”

“Currently? No one, but I’ve been on a couple of these expeditions before. It doesn’t take long for tensions to rise. I only want to be by the side of someone who will be strong enough to overcome petty arguments and see this voyage completed without any unnecessary casualties.”

She tapped her nails on the wood before them considering just how she’d react to any kind of conflict. Her friends had always been loving toward her. She honestly couldn’t recall a time she’d ever argued with any of them. Then again, they’d never been together for such a long period of time. Ochako liked to think she was levelheaded, but she wasn’t sure of anything anymore. “And you think that will be me?”

“I think anyone who can fool people with that indifferent face for as long as you have is capable of gaining a lot of power...if they wanted to.” Ochako couldn’t help but glance at him then, finding his eyes already trained on her. For some reason, the hidden emotions in his eyes scared her. She gulped, trying to come up with some way to get him to leave her, only to be interrupted by Shoto’s cough behind them.

“Ochako, you can ride with Momo and I. Let’s go collect your things.” Ochako let him lead her away from Dabi, who only winked at her in parting. A glance out the side of her eye found Shoto glaring over at the sailor as he guided her with a hand on her back.

 

On the island, Shota felt a shock of unease settle into his chest. He surveyed the home he had built for himself and the children. Just below the cliff, the gorillas lumbered around him, sparing him and his family only bored glances as they meandered around their land. The animals had found him and the children when they had washed up on the beaches. Shota had been looking for food when the gorilla’s leader, Kerchak, charged him for invading a nesting land. Shota would have been killed if Katsuki hadn’t revealed himself. The mothers took to grooming and caring for the human children within a fortnight. As the years passed, Shota and the others were taken in as family, though the gorillas were very wary of the older human for a while. Now, he and the children made up an isolated band of sorts within the gorilla society. They were allowed to separate themselves from the main band if they needed to hunt, but they were ultimately loyal to Kerchak’s rule and the needs of their family.

Katsuki bounded onto the cliff beside Shota, moving forward on his knuckles and toes. The boy had thrived in the jungle. He was the most skilled hunter of them all. Enough so that Kerchak prefered to keep the blonde nearby as much as possible. Shota sighed at the proud upper tilt of Katsuki’s nose. The extra attention went straight to the young man’s head and lead him into more trouble than good. He’d started more elephant stampedes with his temper than Shota cared to count. Both of them wore only a loincloth around their hips, ripped from spare cloth that would wash up from sunken ships. The boys never understood Shota’s aversion to nakedness, but with a command from Kerchak they made sure to keep themselves covered. Mina covered herself almost completely, with cloths for her chest and hips. Sometimes she would paint her skin with the juice of berries until she was pink for days.

“What the fuck is that?” Katsuki grunted, jutting his chin toward the ship in the distance. All of them spoke in the language of the gorillas, a combination of grunts and hums that Shota found hard to learn. Even now, after fifteen years on the island, there were times he had to focus to translate the language. Sometimes, when he was alone in the trees, the man would try to speak with human words, but isolation had made his grasp weak. Shota often found himself stuck without words, choosing to keep silent and observe the world around him instead.

“Outsiders,” Shota said. He wasn’t sure the gorilla’s had a word for ships. Why would they? None have ever escaped the horrors of the nightly sea storms. With any hope, these humans would leave without stepping foot on the island. The past few years had been full of peace for Shota and his children. When he thought back to the death and decay he had seen during the war, Shota could only blame humans. They were dangerous and brought violence with them. He prefered to stay away and he knew the arrival of anyone new would just bring harm to the others. This was why a furious growl ripped through his throat when small boats descended from the ship and small figures climbed down after them.

Katsuki stilled, taking in the tense slouch of the older man’s back. The position always looked uncomfortable for him and Katsuki had caught him moving just on his legs a few times before. The blonde wouldn’t admit this, though, because telling anyone would mean telling them about the many times he’d failed to imitate Shota’s movements. The man’s night black hair fell in ragged clumps well past his tan shoulders, but even this couldn’t hide the scowl on his face. His eyes narrowed at a small movement from the thing in the distance.

“They just look like ants,” Katsuki mused.

“They’re dangerous,” Shota snapped. “If you see anyone strange, you stay away from them. Understand?”

Katsuki grunted in answer, keeping his eyes on the distant specs.

 

Ochako lifted her skirt away from the rough waves as she stepped onto the beach. Dabi had managed to squeeze his way onto the boat after her. The short ride was filled with Momo’s excited chattering and Shoto’s occasional grunts of acknowledgement as he and Dabi paddled the boat. Ochako had discarded her shoes on the way over and now her toes wiggled in the warm sand. She suppressed a giggle, turning to help Shoto drag the boat onto the beach. Dabi stomped onto the ground, picking up a rifle and almost immediately pointing it at the deep, impenetrable forest.

“Can’t be too safe, you know,” he said when he caught her staring at the weapon. She rolled her eyes. The others were arriving now and a few boats filled with their cargo were barely leaving the ship. Izuku waved over to her excitedly as he helped Tsu out of their boat.

“Dad wants us to look for a good place to camp,” he called over.

“I don’t understand his enthusiasm,” Shoto sighed next to her. “We were on that boat for nearly three months, but it never wavered.”

“Neither did Momo’s,” she reminded him with a giggle. “At least you chose to be with her, I’m stuck with Izuku.”

Shoto winced. “Yes, well, you didn’t have to listen to him prattle on with Momo all through the night about the weather. Especially after having some very soothing tea in the captain’s cabin.”

“Tea?” She questioned. She couldn’t remember any mention of late night tea meetings. The slight widening of Shoto’s eyes told her this was intentional.

“I’m sorry. We didn’t want toー”

“It’s alright,” she forced her face to flatten. “I understand. My presence would have made for odd numbers.”

“Ochako...” She left whatever excuse he would have made and dashed for her brother. Izuku hugged her with a running start, his surprising strength squeezing her shoulders.

“We made it, Ochako! We really made it! This is a whole new island. It’s not even on a map! Mom says the wildlife will be thriving since there’s no humans here. It will be perfect for her research. Maybe you could even do some sketches for her new book like you did for her others. Wouldn’t that be great?”

“I’m sure it’ll be fun,” she grinned.

“And Dad’s already run into the forest with his notebook. I could have sworn I saw some small bamboo shoots! Come on, let’s go look for a good campsite.” He took her hand into the crook of his arm and led her into the bushes. The sand slowly made way for rough, dry dirt beneath them as more plants began to spring from the ground.

“Dad must be crying right now,” Ochako giggled. “Maybe taking a soil sample...or two...what are you doing?”

Her brother was crouched down with his ear to the ground. He pulled a finger to his lips and pointed at a bright pink bug crawling on a leaf. It looked like a moving flower as it limbs slowly treaded around on needle thin legs. Slowly, Izuku pulled a glass vial out of his pocket and uncorked it. Then, with a move so quick and precise Ochako almost missed it, he caught the bug in the vial and trapped it with the cork. Its new glass prison was large enough that the creature could take a step or two within the cylinder.

Izuku hollered in triumph, inspecting his new prize. “I think it’s a praying mantis! I’ve never seen one so brightly colored before...”

“You’re not gonna kill it, are you?” Ochako thought back to the collection of pinned insects that took up a whole wall of their study back home.

He blinked at her, a nervous crease growing between his eyebrows. “Well...yeah. I’ll put a drop of acetone in there. It’ll be a painlessー.”

“Just...wait until you’re in your tent to do that, okay?” She bit her lip, eyeing the bug. “You know I hate it when you kill them.”

“Uh, right. Let’s keep going, okay?”

The rest of their walk was silent, though Ochako noticed Izuku keeping watch for more bugs to add to his collection. The bamboo around them twisted and turned until a clearing opened up before them. It would be large enough to hold all of the tents and equipment, but also gave them a direct path back to the ship. There were other paths that splintered off from the clearing that she knew she would be dragged down eventually. It was like the area was made just for their convenience. She’d seen forests of the thin plant towers before, on different expeditions. They grew sporadically, never clumped together like the walls that surrounded her now and certainly never conveniently placed to make a clearing like this.

“What do you think made this?”

Izuku looked surprised and coughed like he was about to have an awkward conversation. “Well, we weren’t raised very religiously, but some people do say the gods made all the earth. I...I know the supernatural is hard to grasp, but it might comfort you to know that Hiroshi is in a betterー”

“Good gods. I meant the clearing! Bamboo doesn’t just grow like this. Someone had to clear it out,” she huffed, her hands tightening into fists. But she quickly discarded her flash of anger at the soft expression Izuku sent her. She sighed, testing the strength of a stalk nearby before leaning against it. “I know you’re worried about me, Izuku, but I promise, I’m fine. Hiroshi...he wouldn’t have wanted me to dwell on it too much and he would have loved this trip. So, I’m determined to love it for him. You don’t have to keep walking around expecting me to burst into tears anymore.”

“Sure I do,” Izuku leaned over to kiss her forehead. “I’m your brother. Although we both know Dad and I are more likely to randomly start crying.”

“True,” she snorted.

“But if you say you’re okay, I believe you. Just know, you can always come to me to talkーabout anything! Not just...you know.”

“I do,” she smiled. “Thanks, Izuku.”

 

He watched the two humans carefully, straining to understand their fast speech. Shota stayed hidden behind a thick shield of bamboo stalks. The people before him looked around the age of Katsuki and the others. Shota had stumbled on the adults earlier, keeping out of sight high in the trees. There was a tall man with oddly styled blonde hair, who meandered through the bushes for a while, taking leaves or flowers into his side bag occasionally. With him was a short, pudgy woman with amazing hearing. She forced her companion to stop every time something rustled in the trees above her. Shota had to throw a rock at a sleeping lemur to avoid being discovered. He left them to follow a couple, newly married by the way the mismatched haired boy would stare at his woman when she wasn’t looking. It wasn’t until he saw the older men with guns on the beach that Shota decided he’d have to do something about these strangers.

The two young ones before him began to wonder back toward the beach. The girl kept her head down, smiling behind the cover of her chestnut locks. Her cheeks had stayed a bright pink during her whole exchange with the green haired boy, no doubt an offspring of the shrewdly eared woman from before. Shota hadn’t caught any of the human’s names. He was lightly wondering which of the men “Hiroshi” could be when an elephant cried out in the distance. Shota stifled a groan, knowing almost immediately what had caused the distressed noise. He was going to skin Katsuki alive one of these days.

Shota only moved after the humans were well enough away. Darting through the clearing, he ran down the farthest path from him until he reached the thick forest. Swinging across the vines was easy for him now, though none of the humans had as much grace as Hanta. He was on the elephant’s side of the island in minutes, surveying their frantic splashing around a small lake. Katsuki was there, jumping across their backs with loud, grunting calls in an attempt to calm them. The older man swung over to Mother, the queen of the elephants, landing lightly just behind her ears.

Mother huffed indignantly in the elephant way, shaking her head as if Shota was no more than a fly at her back. He chuckled, scratching her right behind her right ear, her sweet spot. The elephant let out a pleasant grunt before barking over at her herd. They all settled down with indignant trumpets. One of them even swatted at Katsuki with their trunk. The boy hissed at it, catching a nearby vine to swing away into the trees. Shota swung after him with a snarl. As he caught up, he twisted his body mid-air to crash his feet against Katsuki’s back, sending the blonde spiraling toward the ground.

“What the hell was that for?” He hooted from the ground. Shota landed next to him, knocking him back down with his shoulder.

“When will you learn? Yelling around the elephantsー”

“It was my fault, sir!” A voice chirped from above them. Mina dove from one of the highest branches, spinning in the air gracefully and landing almost silently. Aside from her fingers, her skin lacked its usual pink hue. Shota raised an eyebrow, guessing who was really responsible Katsuki’s outburst. “I was trying to get more berries for my paint, but Denkiー”

“I told you not to let that fucker leave the treehouse! He tried to push me off the waterfall!”

“Enough. We all know Denki should never be allowed near the elephants, but,” Shota shot Katsuki a glare as he began to loudly protest, “Katsuki, you know better than to let yourself lose your temper like that.”

“Who said I lost my temper?” Katsuki snarled. Mina snorted.

“Anger works well for hunting, but it does nothing else to help you. Kerchak would take you off hunting rotations if he knew about this.”

“So don’t fucking tell him!”

Shota sighed, exhausted by the same conversation he had been having with the boy almost as soon as he was allowed to take to the trees. “You know what the price is for my silence.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll watch the fucking babies, but I’m not taking Eiji or the others with me this time. They act worse than the babies! Yeah, you too, Mina!” With an intelligible shout, Katsuki leap up and disappeared into the trees. Mina lingered nearby, watching the trees shift behind her friend.

“What’s going on, sir?” Her grunts were hesitant.

Shota sighed, dropping down to sit on a raised tree root. “I can never get any sleep with you five causing trouble on every side of this island.”

 

Ochako sighed, settling further down on one of the logs Dabi had cut down earlier. There wasn’t a need for a fire tonight. The heat was heavy around here, almost tangible with moisture. She had long since shed her heavier gown, changing instead into a simple black skirt and a pale pink, silk shift. She plucked at the frills of the skirt mindlessly while the others spoke in an excited chatter. The camp was mostly completed around them. Ochako thanked the hard work for distracting her from the anxious glances Izuku kept sending her. They had spent most of the day fixing tents and organizing supplies. Now the sun had set, they were gathered near lanterns and settling down for the night.

Everyone seemed to have found at least one interesting item while they explored their small area of the island. Toshinori had marveled at Izuku’s now dead bug, picking out an orchid that looked very similar to insect. They were still chatting away about it. Inko shuffled over to her daughter, biting her lip. Ochako knew she was nervous, she’d adopted that quirk herself after years of living with the Midoriya’s.

“Izuku told me about your conversation today,” she leaned over to whisper. Ochako resisted the urge to bite down in annoyance. “It’s okay if you’re annoyed, you know.”

Ochako gulped. Leave it Inko to see right through her. “I’m not annoyed...anymore. He was just looking out for me.”

“Yes, he was...but I know Izuku. He has well intentions, but he can be very confrontational about them.” Inko laughed at a memory. “I was surprised he didn’t try to wrestle with you like he would when you were little.”

“What?” Ochako couldn’t remember ever physically fighting with her brother. Inko’s eyes glazed over sadly. So it had to do with Ochako’s birth parents, then.

“It only happened a few times when you and your parents would come over. Izuku could never get you to talk about why you were crying, so he thought he could wrestle it out of you!” Toshinori glanced over with a loving grin at Inko’s laugh. “You always managed a punch or two to get him off of you, of course. I would try to split you two up, but your parents insisted you were left alone.”

“Really?”

“Oh, yes. They said they wanted their daughter to know how to defend herself!” Her adoptive mother sighed, lacing her fingers through Ochako’s. She was quickly reminded that she was the only Midoriya-Yagi who wasn’t able to start crying at any moment’s notice. The sight of tears falling down Inko’s cheeks sparked a memory in Ochako’s heart that made her arms go numb. “I’m sure they wanted you to be able to defend yourself emotionally, too. I know this past year has not been easy for you, but shutting yourself off may end up hurting you more than you know.”

Ochako only offered a noncommittal hum in response, sliding her hand away and glancing around for any route of escape from this conversation. Instead, she found the others peering at her from the corners of their eyes. With a growl, she surged up to her feet, refusing to let them see the wounded girl they believed her to be.

“I’m going to explore a bit. Please don’t follow me. I won’t go far,” she practically growled. Then, turning on her heel, she bounded for the first path her eyes landed on and stomped away. She kept her mind blank and her eyes down until the scent of jasmine surrounded her. Glancing around, she found the source of the smell. A large bush grew to her right, just at the roots of a thick tree. Ochako slid her fingers against the leaves, the scent growing as she rustled against the flowers. The bush pushed further into the forest, guiding her steps. Keeping a hand on the plant as she walked, she finally let herself acknowledge the memory she’d forced down.

She had been waiting in their family library all day for the mail to arrive. Hiroshi was supposed to write soon. She’d been waiting over a month for word from her finacé while he was on an expedition for the military. Something about checking for remnants of the war. Inko had rushed in soon after Izuku poured her a new glass of hibiscus and apple tea. Her mother’s eyes were flooding with tears, rivers running rampid down her pale cheeks. Ochako could never remember what the harsh parchment of the paper Inko had shoved in her hands said. Not exactly. But Toshinori had muttered the gist of it later that night, while Ochako sat in her bed screaming until her throat felt like she’d swallowed a pound of thorn bushes. Hiroshi had been trying to diffuse landmines. One of them went off. There would be no body.

Ochako startled out of her recollections as water lapped at her bare feet. Somewhere between here and the camp, she’d discarded her shoes. They were nowhere in sight, but Ochako was too distracted by the landscape before her to care. She had stepped into a small pond that was fed by a short waterfall from the rocks before her. The pond was lined with beautifully vibrant flowers. She smiled to herself, knowing Toshinori would scold her for how long it took to identify them. Rabbit-ear irises, cardinal flowers, and multi-colored primroses. The scent of the water overwhelmed that of the flowers. Making sure she really was alone, Ochako untied her black skirt and dropped it over a nearby rock. Now dressed only in her thin shift, she walked deeper into the pond, shivering at the intense chill of the water. It was refreshing against the heat.

She was oblivious to the rose tinted eyes staring at her from a dense bush at the edge of the water. One of the babies had wandered away from the main group, because Katsuki could never have an easy fucking day in his life. He’d left Mina to watch over the rest while he chased the tiny gorilla through the forest. It was her fault he’d have to look after them anyway. Fucking Aizawa always made him work more than the others, with much less room for error, too. Katsuki had kept the baby cornered, leading him toward a pond he knew he’d be afraid of. The little gorilla relished in his short lived freedom. Katsuki had just caught up with the little bastard when the woman walked out of the forest. Both of the wild creatures froze, transfixed as the woman walked toward the pond with dull eyes the color the clay Mina was fond of making statues from.

She startled when her feet touched the water, looking around dumbly as if she’d just been woken from a dream. Katsuki eyed the way she stood only on her two legs, tempted to try and imitate her stance then and there. The only thing that stopped him was his awe at seeing another human. Aizawa had told them other humans existed, of course, but he had also said those humans were too far away to ever reach their island. A few had washed up, dead, on the beaches over the years. Aizawa always carried them away to some unknown part of the island to bury them. Katsuki was never really interested in other humans, until now. The woman plucked off a dark piece of cloth, leaving only a near translucent layer of pink skinーno, not skin. It was yet another piece of cloth, smoother than any he had ever seen. Katsuki wondered if all human women tried to hide their skin like Mina. Maybe it was an instinct for them.

The woman continued forward until the water reached her shoulders. Katsuki quietly snorted at the way her jaw shook under the cold. Everyone knew this pond was cold as shit. It had nothing on the elephant’s lake though. The thought of the elephant’s shocked his attention away from the woman and back to the little bastard he was supposed to be watching. He glanced around wildly for the baby, only for his eyes to be forced back to the pond when a delighted squeal filled the air. Something about the sound coming from the woman’s pink lips sent a fire below his stomach. Katsuki shifted uncomfortably.

A splash behind her broke Ochako out of her bleak reveries. She spun around, ready to yell at whoever had decided to follow her despite her specific request. A small baby gorilla sat at the edge of the pond, slapping its tiny hands against the water to create a splash. The spray rained over her head, earning a surprised cry from her. The cold was heaven against her scalp. She’d have to remember to wear a cap to protect her from the sun. That was later, though. Now, she couldn’t tear her eyes away from the tiny animal hardly a meter from her. The baby hooted over to her, splashing the water again and jumping excitedly.

“Do you want me to spash you?” She asked, lifting her hand from the water to test this theory. The gorilla’s jumps quickened, screaming in anticipation. Hesitantly, Ochako swept her fingers across the water, sending a few drops toward the baby. The jumps stopped, the baby deadpanning in disappointment. Ochako snorted. She’d heard Inko describe gorilla behavior before, but she never imagined they were as emotive as the baby before her. With a giggle, she slapped the water harder. The sizable splash washed over the baby gorilla, who resumed its jumps and sent another splash toward her in return.

“Naked ape! Naked ape!” The baby was laughing over at the woman. Katsuki repressed the urge to throw something at him. He hated that term, though he knew it was the only way the gorillas knew how to describe humans. Kerchak had tried to explain the difference between apes and humans many times, but Katsuki knew the complicated explanation eluded the silverback as well. The woman and the baby were now locked in a splashing match, spraying water back and forth. Katsuki kept a close watch of the increasing shivers the woman gave off. Eventually she was so cold, he could hear her teeth chattering together from where he was hidden on top of the waterfall. The noises she made were odd to Katsuki’s ears as she tried to communicate with the baby. He’d only heard Aizawa speak in the human tongue a few times before. It never sounded as soothing as the sounds coming from the woman now.

“You’re a cute little thing, aren’t you?” Ochako cooed. The baby splashed her again in response. Her body was starting to go numb with how cold she was, but she had been too entranced by the animal before her to notice. “I need to get out now. I really hope I don’t scare you...”

Slowly, she edged out of the water, careful not to startle the baby. It only stared up at her with its head tilted to the side in confusion. Ochako had risen up to her hips when the baby suddenly froze with a screech at something over her shoulder following the sound of a bird’s cry. She stilled and slowly turned, hoping it wasn’t the baby’s mother. She’d be in real danger if a full grown gorilla thought she was threatening their baby. Nothing but the rustle of leaves in a bush appeared behind her. Ochako sighed in relief, turning to find the baby gone. There was no sign of the animal, save for the darkened dirt from where she had sent water flying.

“It must have run off,” she muttered to herself. She quickly left the freezing waters, and, glancing down to see just how translucent her shift had become from her submersion, she hurriedly wrapped her skirt around her shoulders to cover herself. Ochako muttered a little prayer, hoping no prying eyes would follow her when she returned to the camp.

Katsuki remained watching the pond long after the mysterious woman had left. He’d called the baby back to him with a quick whistle after the woman began to approach him. Sure, Katsuki was as transfixed by her as the baby, but he’d been charged with the bastard’s safety first. Still, he couldn’t stop himself from recalling the curves of the woman’s form that were revealed by the tight cloth when she’d left the water. His heart had stilled when she turned around to inspect the area around his hiding spot. The roundness of her cheeks had sent another flash of heat through his body. It was like nothing he’d ever known. The closest thing he could compare the feeling to was the rush he felt after a successful hunt. But this woman...he’d never felt the same pull he felt toward the stranger before.

“Home!” The baby whined near his ankle. Katsuki grunted, slinging the baby over his shoulder and reluctantly bounding away from the pond. One thing was for sure, he had to let Aizawa and Kerchek know more humans had arrived on the island.