"So, we going back to camp then?" Atsuhi muttered, sound muffled by the hand still covering her mouth in order to avoid a repetition of her earlier mistake by breathing in more of the no doubt dangerous gas still covering the surrounding area just as persistently.
"I'm worried about the others too... but we passed by Ragdoll at the halfway point before the gas appeared, so she should be able to handle that area. Plus, Mandalay said so in her message," responded Todoroki, walking in the lead, as he carried an unconscious Tsuburaba from class B on his back and regained his cool-headed nature even in such dire circumstances.
"They're just orderin' us around, goddammit," grumbled Bakugo, a hand put in front of his mouth too. He stood beside Atsuhi, the two walking at an even pace as his furrowed brows gave way to the minimal worry he felt, no matter how firmly he refused to express it verbally.
The three's footsteps were the only sound beside the light breeze picking up stray leaves to echo around the trees they were surrounded by. As such, it was no less than jarring to hear the pairs of footsteps suddenly decrease from three to two.
Startled from the unexpected change, Atsuhi glanced up at Todoroki, only to find him frozen still, and though it was only his back she could see, she assumed that he was staring at something up ahead. As the girl shifted her eyes to look on in the same direction, the other two pairs of footsteps went completely silent too.
"W-what is this…!?" Atsuhi breathed out, wide eyes fixated on the hunched figure up ahead. She first took note of the person's appearance.
They wore clad in only black, which covered their entire body. Here and there, something akin to restraints seemed to have been wrapped around them, restricting their arms and legs. The person moved sharply and with a twitch, muttering something about flesh and job underneath their breath.
"Oi, which pair went ahead of us...?" Bakugo asked cautiously, moving a step or two in front of Atsuhi.
"Tokoyami-kun and..." The girl glanced at the chunk of flesh beside the person's foot. "Shoji-kun..." She felt her heartbeat quicken at the sight of the bloody disembodied hand beside what she had now officially deemed to be a villain.
"Do not engage, huh..."
All three stood frozen still, as the villain slowly turned to face them, revealing a mostly covered face except for the sight of his disgusting mouth, held open by force via metal pieces attached to the black suit that looked much like that of a prisoner.
"Atsuhi... is this guy familiar at all?" Todoroki broke the silence, albeit with a quiet question, as if that was going to save them when the enemy already knew that they were there.
I might have heard about a lot of villains from my parents... but...
"Never seen him in my life..." she managed to squeak out through gritted teeth, as she gripped her fists in anticipation of his next move. This was not how this night was supposed to go.
The villain moved, turning in a speed so painstakingly slow, it only made the girl's heart beat faster.
And suddenly, her eyes widened.
"Bakugo-kun!!" she cried, turning towards the boy who only looked at her in surprise, as she pushed him away, the two tumbling down together.
Grunting when her elbows scraped the ground as she fell on her side beside the ash blond, it was only after a sudden ring from somewhere nearby that Atsuhi opened her tightly-shut eyes. Looking back towards the villain, she could now see the dozens of sharp blades sprouting from his mouth. And, more importantly, the single blade which had lodged itself within the ground a little ways beside her leg, where Bakugo had been standing moments prior, just until she'd pushed him out of the way of the momentary attack.
She looked at the boy, who returned a stare just as wide-eyed as hers, and the two then quickly pushed themselves back up, shaken by the first display of their opponent's Quirk.
Everyone from classes A and B!
Atsuhi jumped at the sudden sound, quickly realizing it was coming from her own head.
It's Mandalay's Telepathy again!
The pro hero Eraser Head says that you are now allowed... to fight back!!
And then, the voice of the pro, communicating to them through her Quirk, disappeared again.
"W-we can... fight back now..." Repeating the new information was all Atsuhi could do, the reality that they really were under attack and would have to once again fight for their lives finally setting in for real now.
Nonetheless, it wasn't until a shuffling sounded from the villain once more, that the three found it in themselves to move. Before the blades even had a chance to extend again, Todoroki created a thick wall of ice as protection – a solution that might've only been a temporary one, as the ice quickly began to crack when a blade or two struck it. It was but a matter of time before it was completely broken through.
Upon hearing Bakugo grumble something quietly under his breath, Atsuhi glanced at him to see him gripping his arm to prepare for an attack of his own. But-
"Bakugo-kun, don't!" she called, gripping his arm to stop him, before he could produce even a single explosion from his hands.
"Hah!? What the hell!?" The boy looked at her, tearing his arm away from her grip.
"You can't make any explosions. We can't risk starting another fire here!" she explained calmly, watching Bakugo's face fall in recognition. He turned to the side and grunted, but continued arguing.
"Half-'n-half can just stop it with his ice!" he said, though obviously displeased to have to rely on Todoroki for help.
"No good," Todoroki countered. "An explosion's going to reduce our visibility. What if it doesn't finish him off?"
Bakugo glared at him but sighed and gave in, smart enough to realize the two were right.
"Great..." he sighed, still assuming a battle stance, even when he knew his Quirk was useless.
Not just his either... I don't have my grenades with me. Which means that I can't do anything unless I touch that guy.
But with these blades... That's impossible…!
In the end, we're practically useless, only having Todoroki-kun's ice to rely on... But we still need to get out of this somehow, since who knows if there even is someone who can actually help us with this...
The three stood huddled close together and unable to move in fear of the villain's blades, all ready to stab through them at just a single wrong step. Instead, they cowered in fear behind the ice wall Todoroki renewed every now and then to keep it from crumbling completely.
But with the ice already covering his feet and the rims of his pants, who knew how long he would be able to keep it up too...
Think, Atsuhi! There's gotta be a way. A hero doesn't give up so easily – we just so happen to be facing off against a slightly tougher opponent. But that's to be expected, isn't it...
Okay, let's see. He's making great use of the terrain and his Quirk. The weird gas that's probably poisonous is right behind us. In other words, we're in some kind of trap here, aren't we?
Not to mention, I doubt we're the only ones struggling right now. So no help's to be expected – we have to somehow deal with this all by ourselves.
We have identified one of the villains' targets!
Mandalay's Telepathy again!? Wait... 'target'...?
It's the student known as Kacchan!!
No… There’s no way...
Kacchan needs to avoid fighting at all costs! Do not make any moves alone either!!
You have to be kidding me...
Atsuhi stood motionless in shock, only daring to turn to see how Bakugo was reacting to the news. And judging by his frustrated face in comparison to Atsuhi's fearful one, you'd think she was the one named 'Kacchan'.
Kacchan, huh...? I guess it was Midoriya-kun who found it out then? No one else would default to using that name otherwise. Wonder if he's doing alright. What did he have to go through to find out this much...?
But Atsuhi shook her head.
No – now's not the time for this!
Bakugo-kun's always the one saving me, wherever we go, whoever we fight. I can't just stand here. I have to return the favor.
I need to tell him everything. In just a few hours, we all have to be alive and alright so I can tell him all that I've been keeping to myself ever since the End of Term Exams.
So, now it's my turn to be the one to protect him, and not the other way around!
The loud crack of the ice as a single blade broke through, snapped the girl out of her thoughts, only now making her realize that if she planned to act, it was now or never.
"Todoroki-kun!!" Taking a cautious step forward, she called out to the boy, making him turn to wonder what's gotten into her all of a sudden. "On my signal – fire off that giant ice structure from the Sports Festival!!"
Though hesitating briefly, Todoroki nodded in the end, ready to go along with whatever she had planned, if it meant they had the slightest chance. Satisfied, Atsuhi nodded back and set off, running around the now cracked ice wall and towards the villain, quickly closing the already small distance between them. The entire time, she payed close attention to him, carefully following his movements, until the moment he turned to her and a few blades headed her way.
Though her heart rate suddenly skyrocketed at the sight and the thought of what might happen if she were to make a wrong move now, the girl gritted her teeth and sharply changed directions, moving to go around the villain.
"Oi, what the hell, get back here, you-!!!"Bakugo cried out from somewhere now far behind her, the desperation on his voice making Atsuhi's heart squeeze.
I'm so sorry, Bakugo-kun. But please don't worry – I plan on making it out of this alive too.
For now, I apologize, Todoroki-kun, but I'm counting on you to hold him back...
But of course that's exactly what he must've been doing, considering that the ash blond hadn't come running after the girl quite yet.
She looked at the villain again, furrowed brows taking note of the positioning of his blades.
Still not there...
Said blades were spread out all around him, surrounding him in all directions. One by one however, he was slowly moving more and more of them, as he was gradually turning to chase after Atsuhi instead. It was only a matter of time before all his weapons were turned away and it was only his back that faced the two boys.
I just have to make Todoroki-kun freeze him over when he has nothing to protect himself with. But in order to do that, I need to make sure all his blades are facing this wa-
Atsuhi's thought were cut short when she sharply stepped to the side, only to avoid one of those very same blades by a hair, left only with a small shallow cut on her cheek. If it weren't for the adrenaline rushing through her body, she was sure her knees would've long become jelly by now.
Crap, that was too close. I can't let this drag on for too long or I'm gonna be done for.
And I am not dying right before turning sixteen!
A quick glance back showed her that there were only two blades left in the opposite direction. She also caught a brief glimpse of Bakugo's face, but shook the sight off before she could let herself start feeling bad about it. Another narrow dodge later (which might or might not have cut a few strands of her hair), Atsuhi couldn't help the single morbid thought.
And I guess if all else fails... Bakugo-kun would still be able to escape...
Ah, not like this, Atsuhi!! You are coming out of this alive!!
Noticing herself approaching the frozen-over ground from Todoroki's earlier attempts at immobilizing their opponent, Atsuhi scurried to a stop to check that there was only one blade left. But in the process, her feet slid across the slippery surface and she lost her balance, falling on her back on top of the thin layer of ice. That's when the last blade moved.
There it is-
"Todoroki-kun – now!!!" Atsuhi cried out so loud, her throat was sure to hurt afterwards, as she crossed her fingers, praying for success. Though Todoroki hesitated upon noticing her on the ground, he was still quick to follow through, producing his big ice attack and aiming it towards the villain.
The enemy noticed, though a tad too late, and the girl smirked upon realizing that he really was now immobilized. A small bead of sweat ran down the side of her forehead when she felt the ice slowly creep up her elbows and feet that were still touching said ground, as she soon realized she was literally frozen in place and couldn't even get up by herself.
But now that it's safe, Todoroki-kun or Bakugo-kun can just come here and help me up. So it's alright.
She breathed out a sigh of relief. Relief that was perhaps a tad too premature.
Because the moment she did so, the villain they'd somehow managed to immobilize was suddenly crushed underneath a gigantic shadowy hand right before her eyes, her heart almost jumping out of her chest that very moment. As the hand moved to grip the villain and throw him through the forest’s trees, no doubt leaving him more than just immobilized, Atsuhi's eyes finally lit up with recognition.
Isn't that... Dark Shadow? Then- Tokoyami-kun!?
What should've only been another cause for celebration.
But the sentient Quirk never once uttered one of its signature witty remarks.
Instead, the shadow creature turned back, its eyes larger than she'd ever seen them before, and now focusing on her frame. Its claw-like hand lifted, moving to swing again.
It was only then Atsuhi put everything together, realizing something was very off.
Very dangerous too.
She panicked, moving to frantically tear herself away from the ice, only to further realize she was completely stuck, unable to even move her hands close enough to melt the ice with her Quirk.
Unlike in all the cliches she'd heard and even lived through a couple of times however, her life didn't flash before her eyes. She hadn't even closed her eyes in anticipation of the impact.
Instead, something black quickly blocked her vision, soon followed by a strong and sudden light from very nearby, finally making her turn her eyes away to shield them from the brightness.
Wait, wasn't this the sound of... an explosion!!
She looked ahead again, only now realizing Bakugo stood in front of her protectively, with Todoroki a little to the side, while Dark Shadow was nowhere in sight anymore and, more importantly, in its place Tokoyami knelt on the ground as he took heavy breaths.
"Oi, you okay!?" Bakugo's sudden calls interrupted Atsuhi's empty staring at the scene before her, as the boy moved to crouch beside her and used a few small explosions to crack the ice around her elbow enough to help her pull it up (making sure not to actually hurt Atsuhi in the process), while discreetly stealing a glance at the small cut on her cheek too. With one hand now free, the girl melted the rest of the ice covering her body, a pair of strong arms gripping her waist and lifting her up on her feet the moment she was done.
Quickly shaking away this brief and uncharacteristic moment of worry however, the ash blond then turned to Tokoyami and Todoroki, shouting at them in his more typical angry way, while Atsuhi brushed off the dust and dirt from her clothes, putting a hand on her scraped elbows as if that was going to stop the small stinging coming from them.
"The fuck were you two thinking, huh!? You know that could've easily killed her, right!? RIGHT!?" Bakugo growled, though his threats felt rather empty after everyone had shaken off the brief shock which had come from hearing him say something so caring, yet masked to sound like his regular insulting speech.
Tokoyami seemed to be most affected by the angry words of the ash blond, as he lowered his head and apologized to Shoji, Midoriya and Atsuhi, who only now walked up to everyone else, no trace of the ice left around her body.
And though he continued speaking and muttering apologies, Atsuhi was forced to tune him out when Bakugo turned towards her next, his accusatory eyes glaring at her for a few slow and silent seconds, until Atsuhi looked back at him with a guilty smile, the boy sighing as he rubbed his temples.
"That goddamn plan of yours was so absolutely stupid and reckless, I... can't even-" He seemed to be at a loss for words.
"Well..." Atsuhi couldn't help but sigh in agreement too, already aware of that fact. "At least it all ended well, I guess. And thank you for saving me. Again."
Here I was thinking I was gonna be the one doing the saving this time. Who was I even fooling with this. Ugh.
But of course, Bakugo didn't stop muttering small curses under his breath. He probably swore to himself to never ever let Atsuhi come up with plans by herself anymore.
"So," Atsuhi cleared her throat to get the other boys’ attention, cutting their string of apologies short a little early. Once all eyes were on her, she continued. "Are we going?" she asked, aware under any other circumstances she might've come off as too impatient. Of course, 'under attack by villains' tended to be an exception from most rules.
"It would be best if we went to camp, like Mandalay said." Shoji was the first to respond.
"Agreed. But the Pussycats are probably still fighting in the clearing," Midoriya added, no doubt having already passed by there, if only to deliver the message about the villain's target.
"Right. Then we should probably cut through the forest instead," Atsuhi’s suggestion earned a few nods in return.
"But we have to keep in mind that a villain might pop up anytime," added Todoroki, still carrying the unconscious Tsuburaba on his back.
"No worries – me and Shoji-kun can keep an eye on our surroundings. I'll take the ground and Shoji-kun can listen for any movement around the trees and from the air. Is that alright with you, Shoji-kun?" Atsuhi proposed, earning a hum of agreement from said boy, as she gladly bent down to touch the ground once, activating her Quirk on it.
"Kinda crazy. If we count in Todoroki-kun and Tokoyami-kun too... With a line-up like this," Midoriya began, a hint of optimism lacing his voice. "...we might even give someone like All Might a hard time!"
"Oi, oi." Only then were they reminded of the presence of the ash blond they were actually supposed to be protecting. "You orderin' me around or something!?"
"You walk in the middle."
"We should probably go."
Even still, he was left ignored, likely since his classmates had long gotten used to his constant grumbles of annoyance and complaints, all of that now easily tuned out by them.
Atsuhi for one though, felt bad. She was worried. Almost as if she had a hunch something bad was going to happen. Then again, perhaps this was normal amidst the mess they'd found themselves in. So she shrugged it off.
Pacing her steps to match those of the ash blond, she now walked beside him, and looked at his pouting face.
"What? You here to tell me what to do too now?" he asked, obviously annoyed, yet Atsuhi couldn't help but smile.
Really, Bakugo-kun...? We're in the middle of some super messed up stuff and you're still making me smile like a high-school girl in love...
"Relax, Bakugo-kun," she assured him, keeping her voice down so as not to disturb the others walking in front of and behind them. "Even if it had been someone else they were after, we would've still done the same."
She paused to take a breath and then grinned, trying to lighten up the atmosphere under the guise that it was all for Bakugo's sake. Of course, it there was anyone who needed reassuring here, it was definitely her.
"Though those villains must be quite the stupid bunch! To even think they can split class 1A up like this!" She smiled, lifting a fist up in the air, as if she were about to punch some oblivious villain in the face.
Bakugo however, only glanced at her in confusion, making her blush a light shade of red, before she cleared her throat and sharply changed the subject.
"Anyway, so, umm...." Atsuhi began, a hint of awkwardness in her voice. Nonetheless, she needed to mention this. "There is something really, really important that I have to tell you tomorrow. Like, it's crazy important, haha..." She rubbed the back of her neck, looking away to hide the red on her cheeks, which only became brighter with each following word. "But... you have to promise me that you aren't going anywhere tonight, okay?"
It was her dumb way of reassuring herself. If Bakugo promised her, then she was sure he was going to keep his word and stay with her. It was really oh-so stupid...
A small pat to the head brought Atsuhi out of her little world. It was then followed by a small sigh and the girl turned to look at Bakugo, who only stared ahead, a gentle smile on his lips.
"Sure, sure," he muttered nonchalantly. He never realized how important that was for the blonde beside him.
The walk (or rather, short escort mission) then continued in silence. Atsuhi kept her ears sharpened to listen for any suspicious sounds around, though she knew that was a task reserved for Shoji.
Instead, she focused on the ground. She hadn't done this since the Battle Trials with All Might at the start of the school year – a time which now seemed so far in the past.
By touching something, she could not only use her Quirk on it to alter its temperature, but also discern its current temperature and any changes in it as well – an ability meant to let her know what temperature she should change it to, but also one that came in handy in situations like this.
Even if only by a little, the temperature of the ground did change every time someone stepped on it. It wasn't a change she would typically notice easily. But, if she were to focus enough on it, she could pinpoint any sudden footsteps appearing.
Putting her mind to it, Atsuhi took to analyzing what she could. One by one, she located each member of 'Bakugo's Bodyguard Brigade'.
First, Shoji and Todoroki at the front. She also knew they were carrying Midoriya and Tsuburaba respectively, though she couldn't tell just by using her Quirk, as the two's feet weren't actually touching the ground.
Next, a little ways behind them and in the middle of the formation, Bakugo and she, walking side by side.
And finally, at the very back, Tokoyami, guarding the rear with the very Quirk that had gone out of control minutes prior.
Unfortunately, nowhere within her fifty-something-meter radius could she sense the camp building, meaning they still had at least a few minutes’ worth of walking until they could hope to say they were finally safe.
It's worrying, yes. But I mean, Midoriya-kun was right – though some of us are wounded and Bakugo-kun's not permitted to fight, we can surely take on a villain even if by ourselves right now.
Of course, feeling optimistic was probably the last thing she should've been doing.
Because good things tended to come to an end right when you became a little too cocky.
Suddenly, there was a new presence.
Only for a brief second touching the ground.
But it was close.
She would've screamed out loud.
She would've pushed him out of the way of whatever it may have been.
She only had time to look at him in panic, the words never leaving her mind.
Not before the world morphed before her eyes.
And just like that, there was black.
Just like that, there was silence.
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