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Seeing Double

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Uraraka was many things, but she was not a sore loser. At least, that’s what she was telling herself as she nursed her dislocated shoulder in Recovery Girl’s extremely busy station.

 

Her hard work had earned her a spot in the semi-finals for her final Sports Festival, but ultimately was unable to best Todoroki’s firepower. Fire didn’t care if it was airborne, it just wanted to burn. She groaned, shifting uncomfortably in her training uniform. She had burns everywhere and just wanted to cry.

 

She was so close! After the hell that was her match with Tokoyami and Dark Shadow, she had finally built up the momentum she needed to take on one of the classes Top 3. But she got cocky and assumed she knew everything up his sleeve, making Todoroki’s final attack (a vortex of ice AND fire) a surprise that blasted her out of bounds.

 

Hence her busted left shoulder.

 

Uraraka Ochako was not the same girl she was her first year at UA. The world was not the same either. Some days she wished she could go back, other days she’s thankful she couldn’t. If she was honest with herself, the thing she truly missed was the innocent wonder she perceived the world with, and the optimism that came with it.

 

But it turns out that wasn’t in the cards for her. It wasn’t really for any of her classmates, or anyone wanting to be a hero. And she had to accept that that was ok.

 

Third year Uraraka Ochako was a self-made force to be reckoned with. During the winter break between first and second year, the League of Villains ambushed she and her classmates, making it very clear that their Kill List had expanded. A simple outing turned into a life-or-death brawl that forced all of them to accept that to be a hero in a post All Might world was to be one who accepted that their lives-her life- would always be on the line. She’d never forget the memory of Iida almost being crushed to death by a car, and how an instinctive flex of her hand is the only reason why he’s not in the ground.

 

After that day, Uraraka had to make a choice. They all had to make a choice. Providing for her parents was still a top priority, but it wasn’t enough anymore. She wanted to provide for everyone now. Everyone deserved to be safe, and it was in her power to make that happen. And if she wanted to keep up with the powerhouses that were her friends, no-their equal-then Uraraka herself would have to become a powerhouse too.

 

To control her nausea, she spent 3 months straight suspended in zero gravity. After discovering they had the same gym schedules, Kirishima became her favorite sparring partner. Her now-current internship partner Bakugo would join occasionally to practice fighting in the air. Deku helped her hone her reflexes, and mornings were dedicated to pushing her quirk to its absolute limits. Over the course of her second year, Uraraka transformed, earning the respect of her classmates and teachers. No longer were people hesitant to go all out on the fragile floating girl. If her goal was to become the embodiment of her school’s motto, Plus Ultra, she achieved it and more.

 

At least, that’s the image she broadcasts. If she wants to stand on the podium with the best of them, she can’t very well also be complaining over how stiff her muscles are, or how she weeps in her room eating mochi while watching sad do videos. Her internship with Miruko taught her that to be a strong female hero meant to be an impenetrable force. Ending up sharing that internship with Bakugo taught her the necessity of speaking her mind, and an entire dictionary of new curse words.

 

She was proud of her work to earn a spot in the top 5 of her class, but sometimes a girl just wants to take a nap.

 

Fuck.”

 

“Hey! Watch your damn language!”

 

She had to crack a smile. Kirishima was in the bed next to her wrapped head to toe in bandages. It was quite impressive that he got Deku to fight THAT ferociously against him in the quarterfinals, but damn did it do a number on his body.

 

Kirishima grew into what everyone predicted he would. A wall of muscle with a wicked sense of humor complete with a shit-eating grin. His friendship was a welcomed byproduct of her reinvigorated training regimen, and she’s always been thankful for it.

 

Also, he’s not bad to look at.

 

She laughed. “Give me another minute to whine, then I’ll be a good sport.”

 

It was his turn to laugh. “If having a potty mouth helps you fight like that, please never stop saying fuck again.” He groaned as he sat up in his hospital bed, bandages straining against his muscles causing him to look like a buff mummy. Control yourself, Ochako. “Seriously, that move Todoroki did was one hundred percent his last resort. It would’ve taken any of us down. You should be proud.”

 

Uraraka sighed, trying to lean against her own bed without grimacing. Her right arm was in a sling, but the bone hadn’t been popped back into its socket. Recovery Girl’s wing was full of students, as it had been last year. Her classmates just didn’t know when to quit.

 

“I know you’re right, but I can’t help to think that every fight I lose in here would be one where a villain wins out there." She sighed again. "It’s hard not to put so much pressure on yourself.”

 

Kirishima’s grin faded, replaced with an empathetic nod. Every hero-in-training felt that pressure. “When we graduate, let’s try to get hired at the same agency so we can watch each other’s backs, okay?”

 

Her grin returned as a smirk. “What? Just the two of us? And leave Bakugo by himself? Kirishima, is this a love confession?”

 

He wiggled his eyebrows at her. “I can’t lose the only sparring partner that doesn’t use me as cannon fodder!” They both leaned back laughing, and simultaneously winced through the pain it caused.

 

“Serves you right, fucking dumbasses.” Uraraka turned her head, shocked to see the scene of Bakugo being led into the office with an absolutely obliterated left arm by a very guilty Deku. Well, it looks like we know who won Deku vs Bakugo’s semifinal. I wonder how he allowed Deku to come with him. Three years later and she still didn’t have a single clear insight into their twisted relationship.

 

“Don’t worry Bakugo, you’re invited to join us.” She quipped, very pointedly not asking about the match. “Any agency would be lucky to have UA’s most busted up third years!”

 

This earned a snort from Kirishima and a murderous glower from Bakugo. “Go fuck yourself fat face.” Well excuse me then.

 

Training had leaned her out, but genetics were determined to keep her curvy. She didn’t quite mind it though. Her body was a reminder to her that she was in fact feminine, something she feels like she has to constantly disregard in the masculine driven world of battle heroes. She grew out her hair to shoulder-length and typically kept it in a low bun. Her bangs have never failed her and she doesn’t touch them, save for the occasional trim.

 

As Uraraka opened her mouth to retort, she was interrupted by a cough from UA’s number one, in combat and in anxiety. “Kacchan I’m so sorry about your arm I really didn’t-“

 

“SHUT THE FUCK UP!” Bakugo roared. Even from his wheelchair, his unadulterated aggression left him horrifying. “We’ve been through this! Fuck my arm! If you hadn’t have done it I would’ve killed you and won the fucking thing!” He spat angrily. “Accept the fucking win and get the fuck out of my face!”

 

If Kirishima grew into what was expected, Deku’s growth quite frankly defied logic. No longer was he a mop-headed kid desperately doing wall sits in between classes to bulk up. To make himself try to look older, he now sported an undercut (from Uraraka’s suggestion) to keep his curls at bay. He wasn’t beefy by Kirishima standards, but he was still an absolute unit of height and muscle. Uraraka couldn’t remember the last time she reached past his shoulders.

 

Uraraka reasoned that Bakugo was naturally the most physically attractive out of the bunch while simultaneously being the most emotionally repulsive. His shoulder to waist ratio didn’t matter, it was like having to babysit the kid in dodgeball who was constantly tagged out but refused to leave the game. Childish and exhausting. Despite mellowing out considerably since their first year, he had a long way to go before she (or any girl) would put up with that. Now if he DID calm down…

 

He growled again and turned away from the group, angrily nursing his broken arm. Uraraka got it. She really did. Losing sucked. Interning with Bakugo didn’t make them friends, but it gave her a better understanding of how he operated. She couldn’t imagine how hard losing his final Sports Festival must be for him, someone who places his self-worth on every win he gets. It’s even more insulting when the winner is a rival that tries to make excuses.

 

She sighed. “It’s ok Deku, if you won that means you earned it. Congratulations!” She smiled.

 

Deku’s face lit up at her voice and left Bakugo to his glowering. They all knew him well enough to give him a wide berth from here on out. Deku plopped down in the chair next to her bed. According to the schedule, they had at least an hour before the final match started. He needed to be preparing for it, but she was grateful for the company. “Uraraka, your fight was insane! I can’t believe the acrobatics you pulled in the last half! I almost wish WE were going up against each other.”

 

He turned to give an apologetic wave at Kirishima. “Hey, you doing ok?” Kirishima tried to wave back, but got caught on his own bandage. “I feel like shit, but in the best way. PLEASE win so I can say I got my ass kicked by the festival champion, it would soften the blow to my pride.”

 

It was hard to stay pouting when her friends were such good sports. She quelled the frustration building in her gut. At least, that’s what this pull she felt must be. She chalked it up to residual jealousy on being unable to progress to the finals. Uraraka playfully swatted Deku with her good arm. “I wish I could’ve seen your match, hopefully I’ll be out in time for the final.”

 

Deku closed his eyes, and reached out to squeeze her arm. Two years ago the action would’ve left them both flustered and blushing messes. Now, after everything they’ve been through, their relationship ran deeper than a mere romantic attraction. It was nestled somewhere between love and family, and neither were in a hurry to explore what that meant yet. “This is the first time I’ve made it to the finals, I’ve got to make it count.” He opened his eyes, gleaming with the determination he’d been perfecting these past 3 years. Uraraka beamed. Her own loss aside, she couldn’t be more proud.

 

“We love Todoroki, but kick his ass.” She said while grabbing his arm and thrusting it into the air via victory pose. “And afterwards, we can go get pizza!”

 

“Pizza.” They both sighed together. The forbidden, greasy delicacy they only allowed themselves once a semester. He dropped her hand and shook himself. “I’ll make it a victory pizza.”

 

“You guys are fucking stupid.” A quiet insult came from Bakugo’s angry corner. He huffed to no one in particular. “Where the fuck is that old lady?”

 

Kirishima gave him a look. “If someone hadn’t decided to blow up the stadium in the first round and give the majority of UA second degree burns, then maybe Recovery Girl could get to us quicker.”

 

“I DON’T NEED YOUR ADVICE ON HOW TO WIN!” Bakugo roared.


“Well, obviously.”

 

They were immediately dowsed in tense silence. Uraraka was wondering who would be dumb enough to prod Bakugo after such a public loss, and then realized too late the words came from HER. Shit. Maybe Todoroki blasted her away a little too hard.

 

 He gave her a look that could melt glaciers. Here we go. “When we’re all put back together, I’m going to tear your ass into a new one.”

 

She flinched. There was nothing more intimidating than being zeroed in on by an angry Bakugo. She didn’t know how Deku did it all these years. She felt another pull of her stomach, one that was EXTREMELY painful. She grimaced. This wasn’t anxiety. “What the hell?”

 

Deku noticed too. “Uraraka, are you ok?”

 

She nodded, “I’m ok, maybe I have some internal bruising, I’m not sure-“ A wave of pain caused her to yelp and convulse. Something was wrong. She seized again.

 

“Uraraka? URARAKA?” Deku hunched over her, trying to keep her body from seizing. She felt like she was being torn apart. “What’s..happening?” She hissed. Her bad arm slapped against her bed, the pain making her vision go fuzzy.

 

“Someone get Recovery Girl! She might have internal bleeding!” She couldn’t tell who was shouting anymore, she couldn’t tell much of anything. What the hell was going on?

 

“Deku, something’s…not right. This isn’t…” The room started to spin, people began to fall out of focus. She must’ve been losing her mind, because she heard birds chirping.

 

“Uraraka, hang in there! SOMEONE GET HELP!” Deku was now clutching her face, trying to keep her conscious. The rip in her stomach spread through her whole body, and she flung herself against the hospital bed. “Make it stop! Please!”

 

In the future, when she was no longer experiencing the feeling of being torn apart, Uraraka wished she could’ve taken a picture of their faces for what happened next. No one can prepare you for your classmate to start glowing. “What the fuuuuuck?” Kirishima whispered in horror.

 

“Stole the words from my fucking mouth.” Bakugo looked on dumbfounded. They were both rooted in place in fear, completely at a loss for the scene unfolding in front of them.

 

Uraraka’s mind desperately grasped for some sort of reason as to why even though his grip on her was iron tight, she was slipping through her best friend’s fingers. Why Recovery Girl’s station was slowly fading away and being replaced by a lush forest. Why whatever this was felt like it was tearing her apart. And most importantly, why a steady glow emanating from her body was growing in intensity. Somewhere in the back of her mind, she thought that if this wasn’t so absolutely horrifying, the glowing might’ve looked beautiful. Something out of one of her bedtime fantasy novels of damsels whisked away to other worlds in ornate portals and magic summons.

 

But this was not beautiful. This was hell.

 

She needed to convey this to her friends, to help them understand what was going on. But all she could choke out was, “…trees?” She’d lost it.

 

“Stay with us! Ochako, Recovery Girl’s coming! Stay-“ Unfortunately Deku couldn’t finish what he had to say next. One second he was clutching his best friend in what he had perceived to be in the middle of a seizure, and the next, she was dissolving through his fingers in a flood of light. Now it was his turn to lose it.

 

“What the fuc-?” Her forest hallucination had solidified into reality. Her friends had faded, their screams muted by the now-present wind.  The bed she was laying on disappeared from under her and Uraraka hit the ground. Hard.

 

The pain wasn’t finished with her, but her body had had enough. Finally succumbing to unconsciousness, her last fleeting thought was how she wished she could’ve stuck around a second longer, just to hear Deku drop his first fbomb.

 

~

 

Pain and confusion. That’s what woke her from her slumber. That and the stray leaf that tickled across her nose. Uraraka sneezed and yelped as the state of her body forced her into consciousness. It was a soreness she couldn’t comprehend. Without opening her eyes, she ran a shaky diagnostics check. Despite feeling like it, she wasn’t actually torn to shreds. Her organs and limbs were intact, albeit filled with a stiffness and aching she wouldn’t wish on her greatest enemy. The slight burns from her match were already fading away to a dull ache. Her biggest injury remained her dislocated shoulder. She didn’t understand how her fight with Todoroki left her in this state. Why hadn’t Recovery Girl fixed her shoulder already? Wasn’t Deku with her? Another leaf blew across her face and her eyes snapped open.

 

Recovery Girl hadn’t healed her because she wasn't in her station. She wasn’t even in a building. Uraraka glanced around, still unable to lift her head. She was definitely outside, on the ground, with trees surrounding her. Did she end up in a park? Her hand shakily reached for her phone, only to stop mid-way in frustration. It was still in the waiting room with her bag, she didn’t even have time to grab it between her match ending and being sent to the infirmary. Of course, she huffed, of course I wouldn’t have my phone on me. That would just make this convenient, and we can’t have that!

 

Uraraka forced herself to maintain steady breathing as she tried to recount what had happened. Her body hurts because something happened in the recovery wing that caused her to glow, dissolve, and experience an unbelievable amount of pain. She had to double back real quick. Yes, that actually happened.

 

Thinking back, it was a miracle she hadn’t activated her quirk in the delirium. And now, she was on the forest floor, defenseless, and in her tattered training uniform. She grimaced. It must’ve been a quirk that did this, but whose? She didn’t know anyone with the power to teleport people. Did she do it to herself?

 

No, she grimaced as she braced herself to sit up. Whoever did this knew what they were doing. That was far too painful and gradual of an experience for it to be at random. But she was coming up at a loss for who could be responsible. The most important thing right now was to find either a familiar face or a store with a phone. Her muscles screamed as she wrestled upright, gauging her surroundings.

 

It was early afternoon. Her match had ended a little after 10, she must’ve been unconscious for at least a few hours. She scratched her forehead, trying to motivate herself to stand up. “This is nothing, Ochako. You are Uravity, master of zero g. If you don’t get up now, you won’t be able to get pizza with Deku and Iida.” Despite getting a hold on her nausea, she knew she was in no shape to activate her quirk on herself. She had to rely on good old-fashioned willpower to get off this ground.

 

Taking a deep breath, she pushed herself off the ground with her good arm, only to fall immediately back down. “FUCK!” She rarely swore (out loud), but the soreness that shot through her arm was enough to make a sailor out of her. And this was supposed to be her good arm!

 

Was she supposed to just wait until someone passed by? She had no idea where she was! The day’s events were starting to wear on her. She was hurt, she was starving, and she was stuck. Tears welled up and she let out another scream of frustration.

 

“Oi!” Her head shot up. Was that a voice in the distance? Uraraka bit her lip. This person could either be her knight in shining armor, or someone very dangerous she’s attracting towards her. She knew her body, she was in no position to defend herself. Regardless, he grit her teeth and made the decision. “I’m over here!” She took a gamble, she can handle herself if needed. She was a hero for crying out loud.

 

Whoever was yelling was far enough away that Uraraka had time to drag herself to rest against a tree. She sighed. All I want right now is to get back to the dorms and take a long hot bath. “Still over here!” She called after a few more minutes.

 

She heard crashing footsteps to her left. Whoever was coming to her rescue either had a vendetta against the brush they were tearing apart, or was the size of an elephant. They broke through the brush and she caught a glimpse of ash blonde hair.

 

Ah, that explained it.

 

She sank against the tree. Thank god, someone she knew. She couldn’t be that far from campus then. “Wow Bakugo am I glad to see you-“ But as he came into view her words caught in her throat and her jaw dropped.

 

This wasn’t the Bakugo from this morning. It was him…but it wasn’t. His build was slightly off. His chest was broader-well-everything was slightly broader. Obviously Bakugo was cut, but she didn’t remember to this extent. There was a hungry nature about this Bakugo that felt primal. Not only that, he carried himself in a way that made him seem a head taller. And his hair…still the ash blonde spikes, but the sides were shaved down in an undercut that Deku wished he could pull off. But nothing prepared her for his choice of clothes…or lack thereof. Adorned in pants, leather boots, and an assortment of jewelry, Uraraka could only gawk at the only thing covering his top half, a lavish burgundy cape with fur trim.  

 

“Uhh..” But it WAS Bakugo! No one on this planet could replicate the scowl permanently set on his features. Other than his mother, she had also never met anyone else with eyes quite like that. Eyes that were now piercing her with an intensity that made her feel like a cornered animal.

 

“What the fuck happened to you?” He barked at her, not moving from his stance. Her alarm was mirrored in his eyes.

 

“I-uh” This was not what she was expecting. “Is your arm okay?”

 

His eyes widened, brows furrowed even deeper than she thought was possible. “What the fuck are you talking about?”

 

Right. Recovery Girl. Uraraka shook her head. “Sorry, dumb question I guess. Uh, Bakugo..can you please explain to me why you’re dressed like…” She motioned her chin in his direction, “..that?” She knew her welfare should be top priority right now, but she really couldn’t get over this Dungeons and Dragons ensemble. Was it for a tournament mini-game? But he had never participated before.

 

He didn’t speak for a moment, anger radiating from his body. It was clear he was thinking hard about something, but she didn’t know what. After a few moments, he shook his head and growled. “I can’t believe this shit. You run off into these damn woods some supposed voices calling your name, only to disappear for an entire afternoon and turn up batshit crazy. If you were looking to prove you could be useful, you fucking failed. Now we’re behind.” He thrust out his hand to point at her, suddenly getting very defensive. “And what the fuck am I wearing? I’m wearing my goddamn clothes. What are YOU wearing?”

 

Was this LARPing? How did Deku convince him to do this with him? Her shoulder twinged painfully. She didn’t have time for this. “Listen,” she hissed, “You and I both know I don’t know what you’re talking about. You can bully me all you want when we get back to the stadium but I need you to help me get to Recovery Girl so I can fix my shoulder.”

 

Bakugo’s eyes shifted to her injured shoulder in the sling and immediately tensed. “Who dressed that?” He whispered, looking at her in a light of suspicion. “And what ARE you wearing? And where did those mystery voices of yours go?” To her mortification, he sniffed at her. “Your scent is different too.”

 

Before she had a chance to retort, he crouched into a battle stance. His eyes alit with rage. “I knew it. There weren’t any voices. You’re a spy. This was a set up.”

 

If she wasn’t so afraid of the murderous intent rolling off him in waves, Uraraka would’ve laughed. But she didn’t even have time to blink. In a flash he was on her, roughly grabbing her jaw and bringing her to his face. He held her in place against the tree. Her face paled. “If you thought you could lure us in and pick us off one by one, you really are a stupid bitch.” The heat coming from his hand was starting to burn. She tried to squirm out of his grasp but he held tighter. “Were you just pretending to be useless? So we wouldn’t suspect you? Nice try.” He lowered his face to to meet her eyes. “When I’m done with you, you’ll have wished I would’ve ended you right here.”

 

His other hand went to her neck and started to apply pressure. This was all too much. She was losing oxygen too quickly to even slap him with her quirk. What was happening? “Your fucking murderer of a king will never win.” What?

 

If she was honest with herself, at this point, Uraraka welcomed the darkness that took her. Maybe when she woke up, this would have all been a bad dream. A horrifying, visceral nightmare, but not real. Maybe. Hopefully. Because if not, then that means this Bakugo wants her dead, and can’t do anything to stop him. Where the hell were her friends? Where the hell was she?

Chapter Text

At least when Uraraka woke up this time, she was leaning against a tree. It would be more appropriate to say tied against a tree, but she was at least thankful for the change in elevation. She had never felt so awful in her life. In addition to her injuries, she now had a sore throat from where she was choked. Jesus. Her shoulder had not been healed, she was still outside, and now she heard yelling.

 

“You can’t treat her like this, she’s our friend!” Iida?

 

She cracked open an eye. Judging by the daylight, she hadn’t been unconscious for long, and was now facing a makeshift camp. Four fuzzy forms slowly came into focus, and she recognized the one pacing back and forth, waving his hands in a fury. “I don’t know what was going through your head when you assaulted one of our party members, but you can’t get away with it!”

 

Iida always to the rescue. If she wasn’t so weak, she would’ve cried in relief. But she doubted she could even produce tears at this point she was so dehydrated. Uraraka was in a bad situation. She needed to figure out how to get out of it, and fast.

 

Opening her eyes a smidge more, the blurs slowly solidified into who she recognized as her friends. Well, her friends and this demonic version of Bakugo. It had been a long time since she felt fear like that. Two were standing while the other two were sitting around a fire.

And yet…just like with not-Bakugo, her classmates were…different. Not only in clothes, but in physical appearance as well. Is she in a glamour quirk? She still wasn’t prepared to accept the idea of physically teleporting somewhere far away from home. It filled her with more nausea than her own quirk.

 

 

 

Two were standing while the other two sat around a fire. Iida was dressed head to toe in European knight’s wear. Over his chain mail tunic he wore a navy surcoat decorated with some sort of bird of prey carrying a golden sun in its talons. This Iida was probably physically most similar to the one back home, save for the missing glasses on his face. Curiously, he had a leather belt that had multiple worn books attached to it and currently was shaking one at a dangerously quiet Bakugo.

 

He was taking in Iida’s words with closed eyes and crossed arms. The atmosphere in the campsite clearly indicated that it was time for Iida to stop, but he barreled forward. “I have known Uraraka all my life and never once has she done anything to bring harm to someone else, the fact that you would even think-“

 

“Are you done?”

 

Iida’s mouth snapped shut. A familiar tension seeped through the camp. Even here-wherever here was-no one talked to Bakugo like that. He stood up. Everyone held their breath as squared his shoulders and looked Iida dead in the eyes. He looked about eight feet tall. Uraraka shuddered.

 

The words were venom. “You think you’re brave speaking to me like that? That I won’t strike you down where you stand? You may not serve my family, vassal, but don’t forget your place.” He cocked his head, not breaking the crushing eye contact. “If you get in my way, I won’t hesitate to end you.” The last sentence wasn’t a warning, it was a promise.

 

No one moved. Iida tensed, opened his mouth as if to speak, but ultimately bowed his head. He turned away from the group in frustration, and Bakugo huffed. Threat being delivered, his demeanor went back to his (much less scary) irritable self. “Besides, I don’t know what the fuck you’re going on about being friends with that bitch. I know nothing about her. You know nothing about her. It’s fucking ridiculous you’re even defending her, I know a spy when I see one.” He spit on the ground. “Look at her. It’s obvious she doesn’t belong here.”

 

You could say that again, Uraraka thought to herself. It was a grim reminder that these doppelgangers were not her friends. They were other people entirely, and she couldn’t assume or rely on them to help her.

 

A soft but firm voice broke the silence. “Please refrain from speaking to Iida that way, Bakugo. If you want to prove how tough you are, there are betters ways of doing it than threatening my vassal.” Uraraka shifted her now-both opened eyes to catch Todoroki standing up from his previously seated position. Her breath caught.

 

His body was like a dancer’s. Proportionate, well developed muscles moved his body with grace and purpose. His hair was longer, and currently swept in front his face. She could imagine when styled back, he probably looked like a model. He still had a scar on the right side of his face, but it was significantly more faded than what she was used to. Despite wearing a worn brown traveler’s cape, his clothes underneath looked very nice. Under a white linen shirt was a royal blue surcoat held together by gold clasps.  It was tucked into gray pants and black leather boots with gold lining. His ensemble was completed by an ornate sword sheathed at his side.

 

This Todoroki was a prince. This shouldn’t have surprised her. She always thought had had a quiet command of authority, he just had no desire to ever exercise it. This Todoroki also looked uncomfortable speaking up, but he held his ground.

 

Bakugo sneered. “Big words coming from a coward.”

 

Todoroki flinched and unconsciously grabbed at one of the clasps on his surcoat. A nervous habit maybe? “Iida is right. Uraraka has served my family and the castle for years. I trust her with my life, with good reason.” He let go of the clasp and squeezed his fists. “She was the one who snuck us out of the castle. Why would she have done that if she wasn’t on our side?”

 

“You think I haven’t been thinking about that?” Bakugo snapped. “It doesn’t make any goddamn sense, but I know what’s in front of me. Whoever you’re talking about isn’t the same spy tied to that tree. For fucks sake, look at her!”

 

Uraraka snapped her eyes shut as she felt the gaze of the group shift to her. She felt extremely vulnerable and out of place in her singed training uniform-not to mention her hair had long since fallen out of her bun. She must look like a wreck. How could she explain her way out of this?

 

Someone cleared their throat. “Kacch-uh, Bakugo, I don’t blame you for being careful.” Deku’s voice washed over her like a salve. “But I think they best way to figure out what’s happened to her is to actually-well-talk to her?” Another deep breath. “I think she’s been cursed.”

 

She had to see her best friend. She risked exposing her awoken state and again cracked open an eye. Her body apparently had enough water to spare, because the sight of him immediately brought tears to her eyes. No undercut for this Izuku Midoriya, his mop of curls dwarfed his freckled face. Same height, but a much more lithe frame. His most noticeable muscles were his exposed forearms, which rippled as he nervously clutched the unusually long sword at his side. He was dressed the most plainly of the group, with brown trousers and a green vest over a cream linen shirt. His cape matched Todoroki’s, and she wondered if he had lent one to the prince.

 

He had the same kind eyes as her Deku, but they were shadowed by an expression of someone being hunted. If she was looking more closely, Uraraka would’ve seen that expression in all members of the party.  

 

Seeing that Bakugo hadn’t interjected, he rushed forward with his explanation, holding his hands up. “We can all see that something’s off. Even disregarding her clothes, she should’ve been able to heal herself by now.” Uraraka stored that information in her mind of questions to ask later. After more silence from Bakugo, he continued. “I believe that whatever led her into the forest was probably some creature that preys on travelers and hit her with whatever curse is making her appear like…this” He gestured towards her slumped form.

 

She couldn’t help but feel a little defensive. Did she really look that weird? They’re the ones that looked weird! Try looking better after the day she’s had!

 

Bakugo pinched the bridge of his nose and exhaled loudly through his nose. “And here I thought you couldn’t be any goddamn stupider. You really blow me away sometimes Deku.” Well, at least some things are similar here.

 

Iida found his voice. “I…agree with Midoriya. At the very least, we need to untie her and do an examination. I’m concerned about why her arm is still injured.” Refusing to look at Bakugo, he gave a sideways glance to Todoroki, who nodded in agreement.

 

Bakugo scowled. “We don’t have time for this. We should’ve left her and moved on already.” He turned and started briskly walking towards the brush.

 

“Where are you going?” Todoroki asked.

 

“To find my shitty-haired vassal.” Bakugo barked over his shoulder. “I’m clearly outnumbered by dumbasses and need to find someone with fucking half a brain.” He turned around a pointed a finger at them. “Don’t you dare untie her until I get back. If you do, there’ll be hell to pay.”

 

Todoroki sucked in his cheeks but said nothing. This was a compromise he needed to make if he wanted this hothead’s cooperation. There was too much on the line.

 

Bakugo took his silence as confirmation and continued his exit. “Maybe I don’t need to prove anything to you. Just ask her yourself and find out.”

 

“What do you mean?”

 

“Little snitch has been awake for a while now.”

 

~

 

Bakugo was always known for dramatic exits, but Uraraka had to admit this one took the cake. The trio froze in their places, and slowly turned to look at her. Groaning inwardly, she decided it wasn’t worth pretending to be asleep anymore. She opened her eyes and took in their mixture of shocked/guilty/anxious expressions. She must really look awful.

 

“Please help me.”

 

Iida immediately went to her and cupped her cheek. “Uraraka, I’m so sorry. We’ll get you untied as soon as we can.” He shot a desperate look at Todoroki, who hadn’t moved from his spot.

 

“We…we can’t do that yet.” He murmured, looking at the ground. “I’m sorry as well, but this alliance is too weak right now. We can’t compromise it.” She closed her eyes and sighed pathetically. Figures.

 

Deku straightened himself and dove for a traveling pack, quickly fishing out a flask. “We might not be able to free you, but that doesn’t mean we can’t help.”

 

He opened it and brought the container to her mouth. She practically inhaled the water being gently poured into her mouth, resulting in a coughing fit. He awkwardly fitted his hand between the tree and her back to pat it until the fit subsided. “Thank you”, she wheezed. The water was already helping.

 

“Uraraka…” He looked her in the eyes. She tried to blink back tears as she realized this was the first friendly face she’d seen since waking up in this nightmare. “Can you tell us what happened?”

 

Iida crouched down beside her and Todoroki joined them at her tree. They all looked at her expectantly. She bit her lip. Just what was she supposed to say to them? Instead, she looked around, grasping for the right words. The only thing that came out was, “Uhm…where are we?”

 

Iida’s mouth tightened into a thin line. That was not a good sign. He flexed his hands. “We’re…currently in the Faroh Woods, 6 leagues from the castle. I don’t know where we are in relation to the main road…but we’re headed east.”

 

The Faroh Woods. Castle. Leagues, not kilometers. That was it. Taking in their faces, she had to accept the truth. She really wasn’t in Japan anymore. The tears that were threatening to fall finally gave way, trickling down her face. Uraraka hadn’t felt this defeated since her first sports festival against Bakugo. She never thought she’d miss that angry hero so much.

 

Uraraka looked at the young men in front of her. She took a deep breath. “I…I don’t understand what’s happening.” That’s an understatement. Her mind was rapidly trying to come up with an explanation that these three would understand, but she kept coming up blank.

 

While she didn’t know much, she clearly understood that this party was in a very stressful, probably dangerous situation. From her brief analysis (thank you Disaster Relief 201), Uraraka could conclude that she needed to be very careful to not upset her present company. Nerves were frayed, there was so much tension in their bodies she feared even a wrong word could make them snap.

 

Deku nodded in understanding, misreading Uraraka’s distress. “Confusion of environment is a common sign of being affected by a willow-the-wisp.” He explained to Todoroki, with a tentative nod of agreement from Iida. “It’s a spirit indigenous to heavily wooded areas that exist to lead traveler’s astray. Tell me Uraraka,” he turned back to her, “What do you remember?”

 

While speaking softly, she could detect an urgency in his voice he was unsuccessfully trying to hide. Iida would also glance over his shoulder occasionally. She was reminded of Bakugo mentioning they were short on time. Were they being chased?

 

She bit her lip. She had to make a choice that not only kept her safe, but also kept her tied to this group. If she had a chance in hell of finding her way back to her own world, she needed all the allies she could get. If her shoulder didn’t get looked at soon, the damage and pain would probably be irreversible. She was out of options.

 

Uraraka Ochako lied.

 

“I don’t remember anything!” She wailed, succumbing to the pent up fear and desperation that had been building in her since she woke up. It came out in waves. “I woke up in a clearing with my shoulder busted, and in these strange clothes. I don’t know what happened to mine!” The tears turned progressed into sobbing. She couldn’t stop even if she tried. “I couldn’t even stand. I was so scared. And then that monster attacked me and I woke up, tied against this tree, in the worst pain of my life.” She took in a shuddering gasp, trying to keep from hyperventilating. She would try to keep it as truthful as possible.

 

Deku, Iida, and Todoroki looked at her in stunned silence. Todoroki grabbed at the same clasp on his surcoat. “Are you saying…you don’t remember anything?”

 

“Your names, and mine”, she sniffed. “That’s it.”

 

More silence followed. Iida had his face in his hands. Deku was staring at the ground, looking like he was frantically trying to solve a puzzle. His head shot up. “It explains why Kacchan thought you were a spy! He probably took you acting weirdly as being suspicious. Don’t worry!”, he waved his hands in reassurance to the others, “The affects of a willow-the-wisp is temporary! She should be getting her memories back soon!”

 

Uh oh. Well, at least she now had some time to come up with a better story. She hated lying.

 

But Iida sighed and shook his head. “You and I both know temporary is a loose term. We will have no idea when it’ll wear off. It could be years. And what about her clothes? I’ve never heard of willow-the-wisps doing something like that before.”

 

Uraraka inwardly sighed in relief while the rest of her group physically sighed in defeat. Todoroki gave her a pained look. “This is not good.” Another understatement.

 Deku frowned. “It couldn’t have been another person. There’s no one around here for leagues, we made sure of that.” He cleared his throat. “Sorry Uraraka, I know this is probably really scary, but we just need to confirm something…do you still have your healing magic?”

 

My what? Uraraka mirrored his frown. Is that why they were confused about her arm injury? “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.”

 

Todoroki joined Deku and Iida on the ground, wringing his wrists. “This is bad, this is very very bad.”

 

Her stomach dropped. She had a feeling that whatever healing magic they thought she possessed was vital to their party. And now that valuable resource was gone.

 

Iida turned and placed a hand on Todoroki’s shoulder. “It’s ok your Highness, I still have my medical training. We can lean on it in the meantime while Uraraka learns to get her magic back.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself. It wasn’t working.

 

Todoroki shut his eyes and exhaled a sharp breath. No one spoke for a moment. He stood up. “Right”, he stated matter-of-factly, “Ok. First things first then, we need to untie her.”

 

Deku bolted up and Iida blinked in surprise. “But what about Kacchan-“

 

“We don’t have much time then!” Todoroki snapped, his change of volume causing everyone to stand to attention. “Our friend is helpless right now and is in no state to travel. I refuse to leave her behind over an injury that we..Iida, could easily treat.” He paused, then added, “We can retie her after we fix her arm.”

 

He held Uraraka’s gaze with a gentle earnestness that caught her off guard. “I know everything is confusing right now, but you need to trust us. That man who attacked you-“ He pointed to the woods “-is the only reason why we’ve gotten this far. We don’t have time to explain right now, but we will. I will.” He lowered himself to meet her face to face. “I, Prince Shoto Todoroki of the Ember Kingdom, 4th in line to the throne, swear that I won’t let any harm come to you.” He smiled. “You’ve helped me so many times, it’s time for me to return the favor.” He stood back up, bravado gone. “Now Iida, untie her.”

 

Uraraka could only nod. She had never heard Todoroki speak so eloquently before, let alone string together that many sentences at once. But she knew for certain: this Todoroki was a friend, and she could trust him. Hopefully, she could trust all of them.

 

The ropes suddenly loosened and she fell forward, unable to support her weight. As Deku caught her, she yelped in pain as he brushed against her injured soldier. “We have to work quickly. Your Highness, please stand back.” The prince nodded and let Iida take his place in front of her.

 

He furrowed his brows together. “Uraraka, listen to me.” He stated calmly, ”I’m going to have to pop the arm back into the shoulder socket, and it is going to hurt. I need you to prepare for the pain.”

 

She gave a shaky chuckle. “This isn’t my first rodeo Iida, please just get it over with.” He and Deku looked at her confused, and she froze as she realized who she was talking to. She scrunched up her face. “It hurts so badly, please do it quickly”, she sniffled. Deku gave her hand an assuring squeeze. That was close. Pain or no pain, she needed to be careful.

 

Iida gave her a soft smile and went straight to business, taking her arm out of the sling. “Deku, please hold her in place. I haven’t done this in a while, please give her something to bite down on.”

 

Uraraka felt a piece of leather go between her teeth and was thankful for it. She’s only ever dislocated a limb once, her knee after landing weird during a training exercise, and remembered the agony of popping it back into place. Who knows, she thought, maybe after The Incident (her new name for her warping ordeal) this will just feel like a tickle.

 

Deku clutched her good shoulder one side and her waist on the other. Iida got into position and grabbed her arm at the appropriate places. “I’m going to go on the count of three, okay?” She nodded. “Ok, one-“

 

He popped it in and she screamed against the leather. Deku held her in place as she thrashed from the impact. “Sorry.” Iida panted. He looked pale. “It tends to hurt less when you don’t expect it.”

 

A manic giggle escaped her as she slumped against Deku. “No, it’s ok, thank you.” The shock was already leaving her, and she finally felt like she could move her shoulder again. She laughed again, earning alarmed looks from her friends. “It’s good I have to go back on the tree, because I can’t even support myself right now.”

 

After putting the sling back on, Deku gently placed her against the tree. He helped Iida bind her, leaving it much looser than it was previously. “The prince is right,” Deku murmured apologetically to her, “We’re in a really bad spot right now, and need Kacchan to work with us. Once we explain everything to him, we’ll have you back and on your feet in no time.”

 

The relief she felt with her shoulder back in place was intoxicating. Uraraka was finally able to come down from the pain-induced adrenaline rush and found herself crashing. She sighed, back snug and secure in her binding. What a strange thing to be thankful about. “Why do you call him that? Kacchan?”

 

Deku froze up, his ears turning red. “We, um, trained under the same master for a time when we were kids. I had no idea who he was at the time and it’s, uh, a hard habit for me to break.”

 

Uraraka snorted and asked, “Who is he then, an asshole?”

She heard a soft gasp come from Deku and Iida muttering to a shocked Todoroki something about “her physical state must be causing this vulgarity.” Whoops.

 

“Uhm, Uraraka”, Deku had his hand resting on his chin in thought, giving Uraraka a shot through the heart as she was reminded of her Deku’s signature thinking pose. “I know you probably can’t answer this right now, but I feel like it’s worth addressing” He looked at her. “Just how did your arm end up in a sling?”

 

Before she could open her mouth to reply, a massive gust of wind blew her back against the tree and caused the boys to lose their footing. As she looked up, her view of the sky was momentarily obscured by a sea of red. She blinked again, and the red shape took the form of a dragon touching down at their campsite, with a very windswept Bakugo on its back.

Chapter Text

Uraraka wondered if she would ever get used to what this strange world would throw at her. A part of her didn’t want to get comfortable enough in this place that she’d forget the normalcy of her own world. The other part really wished she wouldn’t gawk like an idiot when a dragon the size of a school bus landed in front of her.

 

Bakugo hopped off the dragon’s shoulders and landed on the ground with a solid thud. She was determined to no give him any of her attention, but couldn’t help but notice a glint of light on his neck. There was a gold necklace with a rough-hewn ruby the size of a small chicken egg swinging around his neck that caught the sun in the most peculiar way. While unpolished and set in a simple gold chain, there was something about it that put the rest of his body jewelry to shame.

 

Of course he caught her looking, and sneered. Fighting the blush on her cheek, she tried to return it with a glare of her own. Unfortunately it came out so pathetic, he sighed and turned to Todoroki. “We have to get moving. According to Kirishima, they’re less than a day away from us.”

 

Kirishima? Where is he? Uraraka looked around for her friend, but didn’t see that playful redhead anywhere. Then her eyes landed the crimson-scaled dragon in front of her. No.

 

It was like the air around him had liquified. The form of the fearsome creature slowly shrunk and shifted down into the form of a man. The process was so fluid, it was hard to imagine he was anything but a man to begin with. Before her was this world’s Kirishima Eijirou, who stood an entire head taller than the rest of the party. His natural crimson hair fell past his shoulders in a spiky mane that matched his wide mischievous eyes. He groaned and stretched his massive shoulders behind his back, arching his body in a way that made Uraraka believe that this unit of a man was comprised solely of rock and muscle. He wore no armor or weapons, and wore a loose black leather vest in place of a shirt. His pants were held up by a gold-buckled belt and his boots were a high quality dark brown leather.

 

He looked positively lethal.

 

She gulped, audibly enough that Kirishima turned his attention to her and widened his eyes in surprise. “Damn Bakugo, I know you told me what happened, but I didn’t really believe you’d tie a poor girl up to a tree like that.” He raised his eyebrows at him. “Didn’t know you were into that sort of thing.”

 

Any tension in the camp dissolved with a pop as Iida barked out a laugh, who then immediately slapped a hand over his mouth. Todoroki’s mouth twitched and Deku gave an exhale that betrayed the snort he was holding in. I guess Kirishima is the same everywhere he exists.

 

Bakugo glowered and bared his teeth. “Did you not hear what I fucking said? We have to get moving. Now.” His eyes narrowed at Kirishima. “I will kill you later.”

 

The dragon man put up his arms in defeat, his smile betraying his act of submission.

 

 Deku took this as a cue to speak up. He cleared his throat. “We..we have come to the conclusion that Uraraka has a curse on her. It has stripped her of her memories, which is why you believed her to be acting so suspicious.” He gripped the pommel of his sword for support. “Whatever this curse is has also made her lose her ability to perform healing magic.”

 

Todoroki cut in. “So we have decided that until this curse lifts, we are going to help our friend through it. We owe her that much.” He gave a sharp look at Bakugo, who was giving the group an unreadable expression.

 

“No.”

 

“No?” Todoroki blinked in surprise.

 

“No. That’s too fucking convenient. I refuse to believe you’re that gullible.” He barked back. “It’s another trick. I’m done discussing this.” He clenched his fists. “We have to go. Now. And we’re leaving this traitor to meet back up with her cronies.”

 

Todoroki took a step forward. “No.” His eyes turned steely. “We’re not.”

 

The tension was back. As Bakugo and Todoroki stared each other down, it felt like a fight was imminent. She was impressed (and a little touched) at how Todoroki was ready to fight an opponent clearly out of his league for her. Iida and Deku both quietly assumed defensive stances. Uraraka looked up at the sky, wondering for the umpteenth time that day why on earth she was put in this situation.

 

Kirishima cleared his throat. “Bakugo is right, we really don’t have time to debate this. So,” He shot a sharp-toothed grin at Uraraka, “I will speed this along.”

 

In just a few moments, Uraraka found herself blushing at an extremely close Kirishima crouched in her face. Before she knew it, he flicked his finger to the spot in her neck where her pulse was working in overdrive. He winked at the jolt he caused her before masking his face in an unnervingly neutral expression. She gulped.

 

“Ok. Answer me honestly. Is your name Uraraka Ochako?” She felt the sharpness of his nail brush over her neck.

 

She looked him in the eyes. “Yes.”

 

He didn’t blink. “Are you here to cause harm to our party?”

 

“No.”

 

He was searching for something in her gaze. “Did you really lose your memories?”

 

She was locked in his eyes. She would have to choose her next words very carefully.

 

“I have no idea what’s going on.”

 

They sat in silence for a moment longer, his finger not moving from her neck. He furrowed his eyes in concentration, before blowing out a large exhale. He relinquished his hand and stood up. “She’s telling the truth.”

 

Her trio of friends sighed in relief as Bakugo’s face screwed up into an incredulous glare. “Are you fucking serious? But she-“

 

“Bakugo.” Kirishima gave him an intense look. “You know no one can lie to me.” He turned back to Uraraka. “But something is wrong. I can tell it’s sweet little Uraraka, but her scent is drenched in residual magic. Nasty stuff. I’m not surprised you didn’t notice it. Even I had to concentrate to recognize it, and I have the sharpest nose in the kingdom.”

 

Bakugo didn’t speak. He wasn’t convinced. “Something is still off.” He crossed his arms.

 

Kirishima frowned for a second, before brightening up and clapped his hands. “The Sage in the Mountains!” He exclaimed. “It’s perfect!”

 

Bakugo scowled. “You idiot, we can’t go there.”

 

Kirishima waved his hands around excitedly. “No, it’s perfect. You know it is.”

 

Uraraka looked at the group to see if they understood what they were talking about. It turned out they all had the same confused expression as she did.

 

“Uh, isn’t that just a bedtime story?” Deku asked. “The Sage doesn’t exist, he’s just a myth.”

 

“She.” Bakugo spat. “The Sage is a she, and she’s very much real. A real pain in my ass.”

 

Kirishima shook his head. “Typically this would be a secret that’d cost us our life…but we’re in desperate times.” He put his hands on his hips. “The Sage lives in the Kirin mountain range and has been under our kingdom’s protection for the past century.” Bakugo growled, but motioned for him to continue. “She tends to a natural spring known to cure any magical ailments. It’s a little out of the way, but if we get Uraraka to her, we can lift this curse and get her healing magic back.”

 

Iida took a step forward. “If this really is true, why would you not share the resource with the rest of the world? Why keep it in secret?”

 

“The same reason why we’re in this fucking situation!” Bakugo blew up. “You Ember trash get your hands on whatever’s in front of you and abuse it until there’s nothing left!”

 

Todoroki put his hand on Iida’s shoulder. “He’s right.” He said quietly. “It was probably for the best.” He looked back at Bakugo. “We need Uraraka’s power back as soon as possible. Lead us to the Sage.”

 

Bakugo pinched the bridge of his nose, aware he was in a losing argument. “Fine.” He whipped his head to Kirishima. “We’re going to regret this.”

 

He returned a rueful grin. “Probably. But I regret everything that’s happened this past week.”

 

Uraraka caught a slight flinch from Bakugo at his words that was quickly covered up by a sharp tch. He turned his gaze to Uraraka and she blanched under the intensity. “It’s your lucky day, spy. Seems you got everyone here on your side, but I’m not convinced.”

 

The group collectively groaned at his stubbornness. All Uraraka could do was muster up a defiant glare. Iida walked forward and untied her. This time it was Kirishima who came to help support her weak state. “Bakugo’s right, we actually do need to leave. Can you stand?” He asked Uraraka.

 

She gave an experimental step and immediately buckled back into his chest. In any other circumstance, she would’ve blushed fiercely at the contact.

 

“As you can see, your prince did a number on her.” Iida muttered in a disgusted tone. He brushed Uraraka’s hair away and felt her forehead. “It’s a miracle she isn’t in worse shape.”

 

“Oi! I found her like that!” Bakugo barked. “I know what I’m doing, I’m a goddamn warrior. A simple chokehold doesn’t leave marks like that.”

 

“So you’re telling me you found her in this state and still decided to knock her out and tie her to a tree?” Todoroki’s mouth tightened in anger.

 

Bakugo returned his question with a glare. His ears were tinged with red. Guilt?

 

Kirishima sighed and turned to Uraraka. “I know you don’t remember, but…a lot has happened, and it’s making us all act a little more…careful.” He stole a quick glance at Bakugo. “I apologize on behalf of my prince and the Kingdom of Kirin. I hope that once you better understand the situation we’re all in, you can find it in you to forgive him.”

 

“I don’t need you to speak for me.” Bakugo grumbled. He glared at the ground. “Everyone gather your things, we leave in 5 minutes.” He strode away into the woods for a brief respite.

 

Kirishima rolled his eyes. “I really do. You can’t imagine how many diplomatic disputes I’ve had to fix because of that hothead. Here,” he crouched and turned around, showing his back to Uraraka. “Loop your arms around my neck and I’ll carry you.” He sensed her hesitation and craned his neck to meet her eyes. “We really don’t have time.”

 

She bit her lip and did what he said. She gave a little yelp as he grabbed her legs and hoisted her up on his back. He grinned at Deku, “This is the cutest pack I’ve ever carried.”

 

He face flared up and Deku choked out something about how propriety still applied to dragons. Kirishima just laughed again and readjusted Uraraka’s weight.

 

She gave in to her fatigue and rested her head on his massive shoulder. “I can’t believe how much you can get away with saying, especially to Bakugo.” She murmured.

 

He shrugged. “Not that you remember, but we were practically raised together. It’s always been the two of us, save for that time he was sent away to train abroad.”

 

She raised her eyebrows. “I know I’m new at this, but I’ve never heard of a prince going abroad while leaving his vassal behind.”

 

“Vassal?” Kirishima choked out. He tried to turn his body to look at her, forgetting she was on his back. She had to grip“He called me his what?”

 

At that moment, Bakugo returned, and grabbed his pack. “Hey you dick!” Kirishima yelled at him. “Stop telling people I’m your servant!”

 

Bakugo just smirked. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” He paused and pointed at him lazily. “Maybe stop acting like such a dumbass and people won’t assume you are one.”

 

He addressed the group, who all now had their packs ready. “We’re heading out.”

 

Kirishima squeaked out an offended scoff and Uraraka could only twitch her mouth in amusement. “Sorry Kirishima, what is your ranking then?”

 

He set off behind Bakugo in a quick stride. “You’re speaking to the Second Lieutenant of the Royal Army. I’m third in command of our kingdom’s forces and handle diplomatic visits with that asshole over there.”

 

She hummed in understanding. “You seem to address each other much more casually than the other three.”

 

He snorted. “Of course we do. We only recognize the strong and valiant, and you don’t need a special title to achieve that. We don’t have sticks up our asses like the citizens of Ember do. Oh sorry,” he faltered a bit, “I didn’t mean to insult you.”

 

“Does that mean I’m a citizen of the Ember kingdom?” She asked. They were traveling in a line through thick brush. She had no idea how Bakugo was leading them so confidently. Everything around them looked the same.

 

Kirishima whistled. “Damn, you really don’t remember. Do you know anything?”

 

She tensed a bit. “I remember your names. That’s about it.” She whispered. That and an entire life with you and this lot in a faraway place called UA where I’m slightly attracted to you and half the boys here.

 

He patted the underside of the right leg he was carrying. “It’ll be ok. We’re gonna fix you." He threw back a small smile. "Try to rest now, we’ll need you on your feet soon enough.”

 

His reassurance filled her with a pit in her stomach. What’s going to happen when they ‘fix’ her and find out she still can’t heal them? That the memories they think are missing were never actually there to begin with? Kirishima’s steady stride lulled her into a tired state. He was right, she had to sleep. She lowered her head and succumbed to her exhaustion, deciding that her current worries were for future Uraraka, and not her.

 

~

 

Kirishima carefully balanced the fast asleep Uraraka and strode ahead to match Bakugo’s pace. They were now far enough away from the Ember prince and company to have a private conversation. Bakugo broke the silence. “I hate this. I hate all of this.”

 

Kirishima sighed. “I know. Me too.”

 

“How the fuck did this happen?” Bakugo asked for the countless time that week. They had no answers, at least none that would satisfy. “And now this?” He gestured towards Uraraka.

 

Kirishima blew out some air. “The only reason why I’m placating these Ember idiots is because I sensed no malcontent from her. None.” He frowned. “But Bakugo, you’re right, there is something seriously not right with her.”

 

He grunted. “We shouldn’t be leading them to the spring.”

 

“I know.”

 

“What the fuck is wrong with her?”

 

“I…have no idea.” Kirishima made his own sound of frustration. “I know it’s her, but she’s…different? We’ve only known her for a short time, but even I can sense her behavior’s off.”

 

Bakugo snorted out a derisive laugh. “Today’s the first time I’ve ever seen her hold eye contact with either of us. I thought she was supposed to be fucking shy.” He frowned. “How can the other idiots not see it?”

 

Kirishima looked ahead, deep in thought. “We can chalk that up to the curse, but what confuses me the most is her body.” He readjusted her weight, and she burrowed her head deeper into the nape of his neck. “Not to sound like a pervert but uh..was she always this…sturdy?”

 

Bakugo turned to look at Uraraka’s sleeping form. It wasn’t lost on him the way her toned arm muscles slightly rippled as she hooked them across Kirishima’s neck. He frowned. “I thought so too. She looks like she’s been fighting for years. Last time I checked, she was some tiny servant girl. You can’t get this body in the course of a morning.”

 

Kirishima looked at the foliage above them. “And we really have to talk about these clothes. I have never seen this kind of garment before in my life. No magical forest creature put those on her.”

 

They walked in silence for a time. Kirishima broke it as they passed a small stream. “I know we’re thinking the same thing, and you’re gonna hate me for saying it, but I’m gonna anyways.” He turned his head to Bakugo. “There’s someone else out here, and they did this to her.”

 

Bakugo jerked his head away in a tense scowl. “It’s fucking impossible. We’re completely alone. You should know, you chose the fucking path.”

 

“But you know it’s true!” Kirishima argued. “And you know that means there’s someone else out there gunning for us, and they’re good enough to hide themselves from us.”

 

“Of course I know that!” Bakugo roared. He kicked the ground in anger. “Just add it to the pile of shit that keeps trying to suffocate us.”

 

Silence settled between them again. Kirishima’s breathing became slightly labored. “We will get answers from the Sage.” He muttered.

 

Bakugo begrudgingly agreed. “I would’ve never agreed to this otherwise.” He stopped suddenly, causing Kirishima to come to a halt. “Give her to me.”

 

“What?”

 

Bakugo made a frustrated sound. “Don’t try to act like the tough guy. You’ve been flying around all of last night and this morning, you’re exhausted. We both know I win in stamina.” He glared at him. “So give her to me.”

 

Kirishima rolled his eyes, masking his slight relief. His knees were already slightly trembling from the extra weight. “Someone’s jealous I get to carry the pretty girl.”

 

Bakugo narrowed his eyes impatiently, not taking the bait. Kirishima sighed and finally relented. He gently shuffled Uraraka onto Bakugo’s back without waking her, and couldn’t help but let out a groan of relief. He stretched his arms again and smiled. “She’s heavier than she looks, right?”

 

Bakugo rolled his eyes and tensed as he felt her unconsciously tighten her arms around his neck. She settled her head onto his shoulder and let out a sigh. He scowled. “Whatever. Until we find out what happened to her, she’s a burden to this group. I haven’t ruled out that whoever did this to her could have planted her here for information. I’m not letting her out of my sight.”

 

Kirishima shrugged. “Suit yourself.” He looked behind them. “I’m going to join the others. We have to get better at working with them.”

 

“You get better at working with them, see if I give a shit.” Bakugo muttered. His eyes narrowed into slits. “A bunch of fucking murderers.”

 

Kirishima sighed. “What a mess.” He turned around and waved at the rest of the party, leaving Bakugo charging on with the sleeping girl.

 

He clenched his teeth. A fucking mess. He’s absolutely right, and there’s no end in sight. Tears threatened to burn through his eyes until he felt Uraraka shift, involuntarily squeezing herself around his body before nodding off again. He shook his head and looked ahead.

 

Bakugo wasn’t sure what he was more upset about: the fact that deep within himself a small part of him was jealous that it was Uraraka who got to forget the past, or the fact that he couldn’t focus on anything except how she smelled.

 

Earth and lavender.

Chapter Text

She was falling…or being pulled down. Or up? Forward. It was coming from all directions. Uraraka was careening towards an unknown destination, feeling as if she had used her quirk on herself and was now being pulled in by another’s gravity. The string pulling her along attached at her stomach. At the speed she was flying, she was completely at its mercy.

 

Her head was lolling around her shoulders as she was battling with the force to keep her neck upright. The pulling sensation somehow seemed to last both in the span of a breath and the span of eternity.

 

It was unbearable.

 

The world around her was morphed and all she could see were blurs. People, objects, scenery, they could’ve been anything. Uraraka felt like she was dissolving into the void, slowly blurring herself. She was losing herself to this vacuum in time and couldn’t even put up a fight. Just as she began to lose herself in the fear, she felt a tug.

 

She looked down at her abdomen, and then up in the distance as something came flying at her. No, someone. Her eyes widened. When they passed each other, time froze. In that split second, she saw her.

 

Chocolate brown hair whipping through the wind. Pale complexion and flushed cheeks. Rosy tunic and maroon cape billowing behind her. Wide, terrified brown eyes. Her eyes.

 

On instinct, she tried reaching out for this world’s Uraraka as the other did the same. Like a rubber band they were snapped away from each other, each being flung into the other’s previous direction. She screamed in frustration, hand still outstretched. The image of her other self screaming their name burned into her memory.

 

~

 

Uraraka slept like a rock. She wasn’t sure how she was able to sleep so soundly while also still holding onto Kirishima, but she managed it. Despite him being abnormally warm, she was able to slip into a much needed coma. But that wasn’t what stirred her. As she turned her face to reposition her head, she was met with a mass of fur that slowly suffocated her until the lack of oxygen roused her awake.

 

She jerked her head with a start, and a sharp inhale through the nose. She didn’t remember Kirishima wearing a fur collar, how long had she been out? Judging by how groggy she was, it had been a good few hours. Uraraka slowly opened her eyes.

 

“Jesus, finally awake?”

 

She nearly jumped out of her skin, causing Bakugo to stumble back and give a loud FUCK in response. “Bakugo?”

 

He was definitely carrying her. It was his cape that tried to suffocate her, she was resting on his feverishly warm shoulders, and he was gripping her legs to support her weight. “When…what? How did I get on..What?”

 

He snorted, but couldn’t hide the slight flush that appeared on his neck literally millimeters away from her face. “Get a hold of yourself. Shitty Hair needed a break and you’re heavier than you look.”

 

She suddenly became very aware of how close they were and tensed up. This morning this Bakugo put her in a chokehold and bound her to a tree. She hadn’t forgot, and surely he hadn’t either…which made this interaction very confusing. “Uh..why are you the one carrying me?”

 

He made an annoyed sound in the base of his throat and resumed walking. “We didn’t have time to stop. I don’t trust the others to keep an eye on you. I’m the strongest next to Shitty Hair. Good enough answer?”

 

She frowned, thoughts whirling around her head. She still wasn’t sure of the party’s dynamics. “I know why you don’t trust me, but why don’t you trust them?”

 

It was Bakugo’s turn to tense up. “You really don’t know shit anymore, do you?” He muttered. She was caught off guard by the change of tone. His voice had the thickness of someone desperately trying to keep something down. She decided not to push it.

 

“I think it’s time for me to be filled in, for all our sakes.” She responded quietly. He didn’t reply, only readjusted her weight and picked up his pace.

 

She looked behind them and saw the rest of the group a good 15 paces back. Deku noticed her and gave her a hesitant wave. She weakly smiled in response. Uraraka had to reassess her situation.

 

She now had allies. Bakugo didn’t trust her, but if he was willing to carry her while they’re traveling, that means she’d been accepted by him to some degree. The boys didn’t get along, but they’re traveling together in this wilderness. No, not traveling, being pursued…did they know by whom?

 

And then there’s herself. Her body was still banged up, but her shoulder being popped back into place helped immensely, and the brief rest she took gave her back some of her facilities. She was fairly positive she could fight if needed.

 

She wished she could just float away to her bed. Wait. Did she still have her quirk?

 

 She realized she hadn’t been able to feel it since she got here. Uraraka felt herself start to panic. What if it only worked in her world? Was she going to be left here defenseless? She frantically raised a hand and slapped her face with all five fingers.

 

Immediately she felt the pull in her stomach and slowly lifted off Bakugo’s back. Oh thank god. She quickly rejoined her fingers and thought Release. Her weight settled back onto Bakugo and she let out a sigh of relief. The action lasted maybe a second. Unfortunately, her ride was very observant.

 

“What the fuck was that?” Bakugo stopped in his tracks. “Did you do that?”

 

She knew it was risky, but her panic of losing her quirk overrode her cautiousness. “I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Uraraka mused innocently.“I just swatted a bug off my face.”

 

He tried craning his neck to glare at her. “You’re doing a shit job of making me think there’s nothing up with you.”

 

She could only agree. If any of her friends back home were acting this suspicious, she’d be convinced of foul play. But at the very least, she needed him to know they were on the same page with one thing.

 

She met his gaze with an unexpected earnestness. “Listen. I want to find out what happened to me just as much as you do. I’m tired of feeling lost. I want my strength back.”

 

His eyes widened. Apparently, this wasn’t an answer he was expecting. Bakugo’s eyes always confused her. She could never understand how they could hold so many hues of reds and golds.  Neither of them broke eye contact, as each was trying to find something in the other’s eyes.

 

“Everything ok?” The moment was broken as Deku joined them. She hadn’t realized the group had caught up to them.

 

Bakugo glared at him. “No.” He started walking again. “We need to stop soon. There’s a place over this hill we can make camp at.” Before Uraraka could tell him that she could probably walk by herself now, he stormed off at full speed with her still clinging to his back.

 

There was an uncomfortable silence as they descended down the slight incline of the trail. Uraraka decided to try to get some more information. “So how do you know Deku?”

 

“None of your damn business.”

 

Well ok then. She promptly shut her mouth.

 

After a few moments, she heard a quiet, “Why do you call him that?”

 

She looked up at the leaves passing above them. “It’s his nickname, isn’t it? Like yours is Kacchan?” He immediately bristled and she backpedaled. “But obviously no one calls you that anymore! I certainly don’t, neither does Deku!”

 

He huffed. “No one but me calls him Deku.”

 

“I don’t see it as an insult. I think it makes him sound…capable?”

 

He shook his head. “You’re so fucking strange.” A pause, and an uncomfortable squuze on her legs. “If you call me Kacchan again spy, I’ll end you.”

 

She closed her eyes. Bakugo back home was better at insulting nicknames. She never thought she’d prefer fat face over something as unoriginal as spy.

 

Was she really going to be able to make it in this world?

 

~

 

 They reached a small clearing in the trees and Bakugo unceremoniously dropped Uraraka from his back. She landed with an indignant squeak. Without thinking, she hissed out, “Asshole!”

 

His eyebrows flew into his forehead and his jaw dropped. She knew she just crossed a line with this Bakugo, but she was pissed. Just as he inhaled (to what Uraraka imagined tear her into a new one), the rest of the group tore into the clearing. Kirishima fell backwards onto the ground with a deep thud and let out a loud groan. “I thought we’d never stop.”

 

Bakugo rolled his eyes and stretched his neck. “You’re the one who picked this area. I’m going to find meat.” He gave one last withering stare at Uraraka before disappearing into the brush.

 

Uraraka was resigned to accept that she was never meant to get along with Bakugo, parallel world or not. She shook her head and stood to help the others unpack. Deku handed her a pack that was slightly smaller than the rest. “Here, this one’s yours. If you need help pitching your tent, let us know!”

 

She stared at the heavy rucksack in her hands. This belonged to the other Uraraka.

 

The other Uraraka.

 

A foggy memory flitted across her mind, but it was of an image that kept slipping through her mind. She furrowed her eyebrows. Was it a dream? Trying to recall it felt like sand slipping through her fingers. She disregarded it and walked to a modest spot to set up her things.

 

It would only make sense that the other Uraraka would’ve taken her place at UA in the same way she did here. She must’ve gotten a much warmer welcome, she thought dryly. There were much worse ways to wake up from being transported to another world than in Deku’s arms. She knew from experience.

 

UA will take care of her. I hate to say it, but I need to worry about myself. She sat down and unloaded the pack, taking her first glimpse into her parallel life here in the Kingdom of Ember.

 

Her belongings were fairly modest and clearly packed in haste. There was a dagger sheathed to a worn leather belt. A canteen of water. Food rations. A bag of coins. In a small pouch there was a delicate silver necklace with the charm of a rune attached. A smaller bag containing what Uraraka assumed was various herbs and medicines. Located at the bottom of the pack, to her pleasant surprise, was an extra change of clothes. At least she could get out of this training outfit now!

 

Deku walked over and observed her taking stock of her items. He rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. “I forgot to give you the pack with your tent in it.” He placed it down next to her and twiddled his thumbs. It looked like he was building himself up to ask her something. “You know, there’s a stream not far from here. You look like you could use a face scrub, and I need to get some water. Care to join me?”

 

She looked up at his familiar freckles and met his nervous smile. She must look terrible if he’s suggesting that. “I’d appreciate that.”

 

She packed away her things and rose to meet him. Deku turned to the remaining 3 men. “We’re going to go scout by the stream and get some water. My prince, I’ll refill your canister as well.”

 

“You don’t need to do that, Midoriya.” Todoroki responded. “Don’t worry yourself about me.”

 

In turn, Deku turned a funny color and started spluttering. “Oh it-s t-truly nothing! It’s-it’s only logical that I get you some re-refreshments, you n-need to keep up your strength! We a-all do!”

 

Uraraka raised her eyebrows. That was new. Todoroki shook his head and smiled. “Very well. Iida and I will pitch the tents.”

 

Deku nodded fervently and bowed. After a second, Uraraka made an attempt at a curtsey and awkwardly followed him into the woods. She decided to spare him and not pry.

 

As a result, the walk to the stream was quiet and uneventful. Once they arrived, Uraraka set off to search for a more private area. “I’ll be over here if you need me!” Deku nodded as he placed the canteens in the water.

 

She turned away and walked further down behind an outcropping of boulders. “I better not see any mermaids in here”, she muttered while warily eyeing the swelling stream. She set her things down and began to peel off her shoes.

 

She was going to have to take good care of her trainers and socks. Uraraka didn’t see any extra in the pack, and if they’re on the run, she should assume she couldn’t go into town and get new ones. The same goes for this. She grimaced as she ran a hand over her sports bra. Lord knows how the other Uraraka dealt with that here.

 

She stripped off her clothes and winced only slightly when lifting her shoulder. She shivered, feeling very vulnerable in the open, even hidden away by the rocks. Uraraka wanted to take a shower, not skinny dip in a strange body of water. Getting closer to the edge, she braced herself and took a step in. It was less cold than she feared, but it was far from relaxing. She clenched her teeth, grabbed the block of soap she found in her pack, and plunged in.

 

She attacked her skin with a fervor of one trying to scrub away more than grime. She was scrubbing away the memory of today, ready to be rid of it. On her was the dirt and blood of two worlds, and she was sick of it. It was time to become a member of this Ember, and blend in while looking for a way back. It wasn’t just her she needed to save: the other Uraraka needed to go home too.

 

Once she felt sufficiently clean, she went in on her undergarments. Placing them to dry in the late afternoon sun, she scooted onto a low and flat rock. Looking down, she caught her reflection in the water.

 

Uraraka could already tell she was changed. Maybe it was the nature of this place. She looked hardened, more hungry, more…primal. There was a harshness in this world that saddened her. The more time she spent here, the more she realized how much it wore on her. Uraraka knew eventually her eyes will match those of her present company. She shuddered and kicked the surface of the water, trying to shatter the image of her doomed future.

 

She hugged herself, trying to hold off the cold of the river. She knew she had to get back to Deku, but this was her first moment alone since getting here this morning.

 

Alone.

 

Suddenly realizing that she had no one to pretend in front of, her walls crashed down and she choked out a sob. Tears came freely and she wept for herself and her pain. She missed UA. She missed her friends. She missed being able to call her parents. Did she even have parents here? Uraraka felt an ache in her stomach as she struggled to suck in breaths. Clutching her abdomen, she looked down at it and almost screamed.

 

A thin gold mark encircled her navel. If she ran her finger over it, she could feel a light protrusion, like a fresh tattoo. She lunged for the soap and started scrubbing furiously, sobbing in anger now.

 

Someone did this to her. Someone sent her here, and now they’ve marked her. No matter how hard she scrubbed, no matter raw her skin got, the mark would not go away.

 

“You bastard.” She hissed at her stomach. “When I find you, I’ll kill you. I’ll fucking KILL you!”

 

“Uh, Uraraka?”

 

She whipped around to see Deku nervously peeking at her from behind a boulder. “I heard screaming…I came over to see if you were ok…”

 

Uraraka was definitely not ok. She was hysterically screaming at her naked torso on top of a rock. But she couldn’t explain why to Deku without compromising everything, so she gave a wobbly smile. “I’m just having a little trouble adjusting to all…this.” She vaguely gestured.

 

He returned a sympathetic smile while pointedly looking up, concern still running rampant in his eyes. “That’s understandable…I guess.” He exhaled loudly. “I honestly can’t understand how confusing this all must be for you. It’s confusing enough for those of us who actually know what’s going on.” He gave a nervous chuckle. “But I’m happy that even though you don’t remember us, you still trust us enough to let us help you.”

 

Her heart warmed and she smiled at the familiar sincerity. “Of course I trust you, Deku. You’re my best friend.”

 

He went pink in the face. “O-Oh! That’s nice to hear! I was never sure if you even liked me or not-uh, not to say I thought you hated me!” He started to wave his hands frantically. “You were just always closer to Iida and the p-prince! Considering…w-well it’s nice to hear you feel that way!”

 

Uraraka frowned at the strange response. So they weren’t as close in this world…well she was going to change that. She needed her friend. “Since losing my memories, you were the first kind face I saw since waking up. We’re always going to be friends.”

 

Uraraka caught Deku having an intense moment in the reflection of the stream. She smiled, still such a softy.”I’m almost done here. You can go wait by our meetup point, I’ll be right there.”

 

He gave a watery nod and turned back. She sighed and slid off the rock to her clothes. Her time to cry was over, now it was time to get to work. She examined her new clothes.

 

The black tights were familiar enough, and durable for travel. Over them and her underwear she put on a dusty pink knee-length dress with three-quarter sleeves. She looped the dagger and belt over it, cinching her waist. The dress was made of a surprisingly sturdy fabric, complimenting the tights. Her final item of clothing was a muted, deep purple cape that was held together by wooden clasps. The front of it didn’t go past her chest, leaving plenty of room for her arms, and the neck cowled up to slightly cover her neck and chin. She smiled as she grabbed the matching fingerless leather gloves.

 

This Uraraka had good style.

 

She unfortunately had to complete the look with her white trainers, but she was thankful for decent footwear in this wild terrain. She carefully folded her beat up training outfit and stuffed it in the bottom of her pack. Uraraka loathed to waste anything, and she figured she could use the fabric for something else down the line.

 

Feeling more like a human, she slung her pack over her shoulder and went to meet Deku. Much to her dismay, a Bakugo carrying a sling of dead rabbits was waiting there too. The two appeared to be deep in an argument and hadn’t noticed her yet. Before she could pause to think, she crouched down to overhear their argument. I’m going to regret this.

 

“…You let that time-bomb wander off by herself?! You shouldn’t be going out on your own with her to begin with! She’s not safe.” Uraraka frowned. Of course Bakugo would be badmouthing her.

 

Deku was shaking his head. “You don’t have anything to worry about! If you need to worry about anything, be concerned about her.” He nervously gripped his sword pommel. “We need to be careful around her, she isn’t in a stable state of mind.”

 

She knew there was no way she could’ve successfully played off her meltdown. “Hah?” Bakugo raised an eyebrow. “Who fucking cares? We’re all about to lose it. DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND WHAT’S HAPPENING?” He hissed out a breath in an effort to calm himself. He pointed his finger and jabbed it at Deku’s chest. “She obviously isn’t an immediate threat, but round face is carrying around a curse. We don’t know what else it can do, we don’t know if it can control her or reveal her location. We don’t know a goddamn thing, and she’s so fucking helpless right now she can’t even defend herself. That’s why we can’t let her out of our sight, got it dumbass?”

 

It’s not like I can’t throw a punch, she grumbled to herself.

 

Deku flinched. “Fine. You’re right. It can’t hurt being careful.” He turned to look in the direction where Uraraka was bathing. “Her magic and her life was taken from her…at least we have our memories. I just feel bad for her, Kacchan.”

 

Bakugo scoffed. “She’s fucking lucky she doesn’t have to remember. And how many damn times do I have to tell you to stop calling me that? We aren’t kids anymore, Deku.”

 

Deku laughed nervously. “It’s strange, Uraraka has seemed to have picked up that nickname too.”

 

Bakugo grimaced. “I don’t like it. I still don’t buy this ‘no memory’ shit she’s spinning, she’s acting way too familiar with all of us.”

 

Silence. She strained to hear Deku now. He was wringing his hands. “I don’t know what to make of it. It’s clearly not a willow-the-wisp, but I’m scared of letting her or the rest of them know. Morale is already low enough.” He started trembling. “Earlier, she…she called me her best friend.”

 

“Why the fuck is that weird?”

 

“Because a few weeks before you guys came to visit…she told me she hated me.”

 

Silence.

 

Bakugo looked at him. “I cannot stress to you enough how much I don’t care about your social life, idiot. We just need to take her to the mountain Sage.” He sounded like he was assuring himself more than anything, but Deku nodded along fearfully. “She will know what to do with this.”

 

Ok, eavesdropping time is over. Uraraka felt like she’d been slapped across the face. Hate Deku? Was that even possible? She felt the pit in the stomach grow heavier as she fashioned a smile on her face and strode over to meet them. If Deku could act like everything is ok, she could too.

 

Bakugo’s scowl immediately deepened as she walked up to them. “Well, at least you look a little more normal now.” He lazily looked her up and down, sending a violent flush across her face.

 

“You’re one to talk! What kind of person thinks a cape and jewelry are better substitutions for a shirt?”

 

He narrowed his eyes and crossed his arms. “How else am I supposed to show what I earned?”

 

She crossed her arms and glared at him. She wasn’t sure if he was referencing the body jewelry or the tribal tattoos etched across his skin, but she wasn’t going to humor him by asking. It was clear to her that everything about his outfit was to indicate strength and battle prowess, and that he was a very successful warrior. She was itching to spar with this Bakugo and to wipe that smug look off his face.

 

The sun descending past the horizon caused the men to look like they were towering over her. Well, even more so than usual.

 

Deku sighed. “Let’s get back to camp and eat.”

 

Bakugo smirked and pushed past, clipping her shoulder as he did. “Don’t tell me what to do, commoner.”

 

His demeanor toward Deku had completely changed. Her mouth hung open in shock and rage while Deku just shook his head. “Always a gentleman.”

 

By the time they got back to the camp, the tents had been pitched and the men were gathered around a newly made fire. Bakugo was off to the side furiously preparing the rabbits while staving off a ravenous Kirishima. Iida perked up seeing Uraraka and handed her a cup filled with dark liquid. “You look almost back to normal!”

 

Before she could stop herself, she barked out a laugh. “Sorry.” She said sheepishly as she sat by the fire.

 

Iida stared at the flame. “No, I’m sorry. Of course you’re not back to normal.”

 

She couldn’t bear to see another one of her friends so sad at her expense. “No really, it’s ok!” She took a swig of her cup and almost immediately spat it back out. This was definitely not water, but it warmed her insides.

 

Iida seemed to lighten up for a moment, but settled back into a serious posture as he gathered his breath. “Ok, we’re all here now, and we won’t be going anywhere till morning, I think it’s finally time we tell you what’s going on.”

 

An especially loud RIP resonated from Bakugo as he ripped off a rabbit hide. Iida gulped. “Right. Well..”

 

“I for one think it’s a good idea.” Kirishima cut in, being thoroughly banished by Bakugo to join them around the fire. He took Uraraka’s cup and gulped back a swig. “I will also be here to make sure you don’t make any…embellishments.”

 

“We’re not liars!” Iida bristled. “Besides, this is technically Ember business, so there’s really no need-“

 

“No, I believe the Third Lieutenant is right.” Todoroki gently interrupted. “Our perspective is biased in one way, just as his and Bakugo’s is. Hearing both sides will be beneficial.”

 

Iida gave him a long look, but relented. Deku nodded encouragingly at him. Bakugo had acquired a hunting knife and was removing the rabbit’s organs. He looked like he would rather be anywhere but there.

 

“Ok.” Iida gave one last wary look at Bakugo before turning to Uraraka. “What we’re doing right now-traveling that is-especially with this particular group..is not, well, normal.” He leaned forward and stared at his hands. “You see, it’s because…well, a little over a week ago, ah..” He groaned. “How on earth am I supposed to explain this?”

 

“It’s ok Iida, I’ll take it from here.” Todoroki had his hand on Iida’s shoulder. He looked at Uraraka.

 

“In the most simple terms: my father, the King of Ember, has lost his mind.”

Chapter Text

“Wait.”

 

The group shifted their view to note Bakugo standing towards them, pointing the hunting knife directly at Uraraka. “Only tell her the same amount of information the enemy knows.”

 

She internally groaned. Apparently, she couldn’t keep it off her face either, because he glowered at her in return. Todoroki narrowed his eyes, but put his hand up in a peaceful gesture. “Very well. Sorry my friend”, he held her gaze with a deep expression of remorse.

 

She gave an unconvincing giggle and scratched the back of her head. “Don’t worry about it, we can’t be too careful.”

 

She understood the paranoia. For all they knew, Uraraka could be a bug to gather valuable information for the enemy to extract later. She wanted to disagree, but she couldn’t rule out the possibility that the enemy-Endeavor?-switched out their Healer Uraraka for another, less useful one. The golden band on her stomach could be anything from a symbol used to bind her to the spell caster to a simple after effect of the spell. The pit in her stomach doubled in size.

 

To comfort herself, she placed her fingertips together to connect the pads. Did the other Uraraka do this? “Um…before we get to why we’re here, would you be able to tell me more about who I am?”

 

Nothing she said was right. Todoroki had a pained look on his face while Iida gave her a sad smile. “You’ve always been a bit of a mystery, Uraraka.” He straightened his shoulders. “Growing up, other than the prince and his siblings, there were rarely any other children in the castle. Since the prince and I are of a similar age, we were tutored together. It was only natural that once I turned 13 I officially assumed the position of his vassal, I’d essentially been protecting him since childhood. Oh.” Iida’s face fell slightly. “I guess it would be helpful to remind you that my family has been serving as the special guard for the royal family of Ember for generations. Since birth, I’ve been destined to be a knight and serve along my family.” She couldn’t help but catch the hint of bitterness he said it with.

 

“Anyways…One morning (we must’ve been 8 or 9 at the time), the trading caravans made their annual trip to Aberon, the capital. It happens every spring as a way for the traveling merchants to sell higher quality goods while paying their yearly tax to the crown. Following a cart was a very dirty, very lost looking little girl. It was…well, it was you.”

 

“It seemed like you were unaccompanied, like you were just following this merchant because you didn’t know where else to go.” Iida looked at his hands and Uraraka’s heart constricted. “I remembered it made me sad.”

 

Everyone around the fire was deeply invested in his story. Even Bakugo, feigning disinterest, had his ear in their direction. Kirishima had his leg pulled up against him, listening intently with his chin resting on his knees. Iida continued. “Naturally, Prince Todoroki and I saw another child enter the castle grounds and immediately became excited. It didn’t matter that the prince was forbidden to leave his quarters at the time, nothing was going to stop us from meeting a potential playmate.” He smiled. “The merchant you were following you had ordered you to fetch water from the public well. As they were setting up their caravans, you wandered into the courtyard with a bucket roughly half your size.”

 

He gave a genuine laugh that lifted Uraraka’s spirits. “It was perfect. The courtyard was just inside the castle grounds, so I was able to sneak the prince right to you. You were so startled! I didn’t blame you, after such an arduous journey you were suddenly accosted by two hyperactive boys.”

 

She smiled at the thought. “So how did I end up staying at the capital?”

 

Iida looked to Todoroki, who cleared his throat uncomfortably. “I was…dealing with a severe injury at the time.” Her eyes flicked to the right side of his face. “I was confined to my quarters so I could heal properly. When we met you, you took one look at my bandage and asked if you could see it. I’m not sure what possessed me to take it off for you, but I did.”

 

His brow furrowed. “I didn’t know why you wanted to see it. Iida was against it, convinced we were going to get in trouble. But nevertheless, I showed my…injury to you. I remember you frowned at it and I became self conscious. But then, you raised your hand to touch my face,  and you healed it. The pain was gone. I could see again. All that was left was this faint scar. You were a small girl covered in dirt, and could perform miracles that not even our top healers could pull off.”

 

Iida nodded enthusiastically. “There’s a reason why your healing magic is so special. It’s because you don’t cast to use it! I’ve never seen it before. Your fingertips glow, and whatever you touch is immediately repaired. Our mages couldn’t classify it as medical spellcasting, so they merely called it vitality magic, because it was like you were sharing your own life force. From then on, the castle took you in and you became Uraraka Ochako, royal healer to the Castle of Ember.”

 

Oh no. Uraraka returned his compliment with a strained smile. This is bad. It sounded like they were heavily depending on Ember Uraraka’s miraculous healing abilities to get them through this dangerous journey. She hadn’t felt this useless or anxious since her first year at UA. No wonder they panicked when she said she couldn’t do it!

 

Kirishima whistled, breaking her out of her growing panic. “Well damn, when we heard of how young you were yet in such a high position, I knew there was something more to you! That kind of magic is rare rare, even our kingdom hasn’t had a magic user like that in decades. Did your parents have it too?”

 

Uraraka frowned. “Todo-your highness, you said you found me following after a caravan. Did it belong to my family?” It made sense if she was dirty, she couldn’t imagine her family being wealthy in this world either.

 

She was met with an uncomfortable silence. Todoroki was slightly guarded when he finally responded. “From what we gathered from the merchants, they found you as the sole survivor of a raided village.” Oh. “They took pity on you and allowed you to join their caravan as long as you carried out chores for them.”

 

She stared hard at the fire. Kirishima softly put a hand on Uraraka’s shoulder as she tried to swallow the lump in her throat. “So she was all alone…”

 

She wanted to cry for this Uraraka, whose life sounded like her worst nightmare come true. Her parents had been long dead. She wasn’t dirty because she was a peasant, she was dirty because she was an unwanted orphan with no one to care for her. And yet, this little Uraraka had enough kindness in her heart to heal the injury of a complete stranger. Her heart swelled with emotion. Uraraka wanted to find her other self and envelop her in a fierce embrace.

 

“But you have a happy ending!” Iida urged. “While you came to us under those conditions, you have flourished since as a person and as a healer. There hasn’t been a day that’s gone by where you’ve been alone. Since that morning, I believe I can speak for the prince when I say you have been our closest friend.”

 

Todoroki softly smiled. “More like family.”

 

Uraraka sniffed loudly and gave them a watery smile, overcome with emotion. She was so lucky to have them.

 

Tch.”

 

Their heads snapped to Bakugo vehemently cutting up the now-prepared meat. “Don’t understand what’s so fucking sad. Death happens. People leave. Get over yourself and move on.”

 

To Uraraka’s surprise, no one rose to argue with him or admonish his outburst. In fact, they all shrank in on themselves. Her blood started to boil. They could ignore him, but she couldn’t. She narrowed her eyes. “And that’s what you believe?”

 

He slammed the knife down. “That’s what I know!” He threw his hands in the air in a mocking gesture. “Am I supposed to feel bad that your parents died, what, ten fucking years ago? That warrants my pity? Please.” He spat. “What you should be sad about is how weak your parents were for not even being able to protect themselves.”

 

She shot up, absolutely furious. She had had enough. “What the hell is your problem?” Uraraka was shaking with anger. “It doesn’t matter when you lose someone, what matters is the hole it leaves behind in your heart! Don’t you have any decency in you, or are you just as monstrous as your appearance?”

 

Arms crossed, jaw set to land the final blow. “If they really loved you, they would’ve fought harder to stick around.”

 

She didn’t remember walking towards him. One moment, Kirishima was trying to hold her back, the next, she was in Bakugo’s face. He met her challenge with a widened stance, eyes bloodshot and full of rage. He was emanating a cold fury that dominated the space around them. It didn’t matter that she had to stretch her neck up to look directly into his eyes, she wouldn’t back down.

 

“Uraraka-“ Deku warned.

 

“No! I don’t care if my memories were taken from me.” She thought of her recently deceased grandparents, the civilians she had failed to save, witnessing the pain of someone realizing their loved one wasn’t coming back. “You are right. People do leave you. And that feeling never goes away, it lives in each of us differently. I don’t care about what the hell you’re the prince or warrior of, you have no authority over how someone grieves. Either learn some compassion or shut up.” She was breathing heavily by the time she finished.

 

Nobody moved. She didn’t care anymore. If he flew into a rage, she knew she could knock him on his ass if she really needed to. In fact, Uraraka was almost hoping he would.

 

What happened was so much worse. As they were staring each other down, for a fleeting moment something broke behind Bakugo’s eyes and his mask slipped. The anger almost immediately came back as he bared his teeth, but the heat behind it was gone. His demeanor completely shifted, leaving the tensed Uraraka dumbfounded. Breaking away first, he ran his hand through his ash blonde hair and closed his eyes. A mirthless laugh came from his throat. “So it never goes away, huh?” It was so quiet, she almost didn’t catch it.

 

His reaction deflated her. “I…I-“ He put up a hand to silence her and peered up at the dark sky, concealing his face. “I think it’d be best if I did a lap around the perimeter.” Before she could respond, he disappeared. Silence consumed the group once again.

 

Dejected, Uraraka shuffled back to the fire and collapsed back in her seat. Kirishima shook his head and groaned. “Sorry about that…we’re all just, really stressed at the moment. He’s not handling it well.”

 

Uraraka put her face in her hands, suddenly embarrassed at her outburst. “Why do I feel like the one in the wrong?” She peeked at her friends through her fingers. “Was I overreacting?” What was that argument even about?

 

Deku scratched at his nose and didn’t make eye contact. “Kirishima is right, it’s complicated.”

 

She bit her lip. “I’m tired of not understanding. Please, tell me what’s going on.”

 

The atmosphere shifted once again. Deku leaned in and nervously bounced his knee. “It’s actually probably a good thing you sent Kacchan away Uraraka, he wouldn’t have taken this well either.”

 

Kirishima grimaced. “Yeah…it’s been a rough week.” He gave a half assed bow towards Todoroki, greatly offending Iida. “Ember prince, take it away. I’ll take over rabbit duty and chime in when needed.”

 

Uraraka wasn’t sure how much she trusted Kirishima not to sneak in a few bites for himself, but no one else objected to his help. Hand back fiddling to his clasp, Todoroki tightly nodded.

 

“Before we begin, I need to give you a brief history lesson. Do you remember the inception of the elusive country, Kirin?” Uraraka shook her head no.

 

“Right…” Todoroki cleared his throat, throwing a furtive glance at Kirishima as he dumped the meat into the pot over the fire. “Up until a century ago, Kirin existed as the western-most part of Ember. It’s a very wild landscape, surrounded by a mountain range that kept it fairly isolated from the rest of the kingdom. Compared to the rolling hills and lush valleys of Ember, it’s a severe and mysterious landscape. And although very difficult to travel to, the resources discovered there were too valuable to abandon.” Kirishima snorted.

 

“What kind of resources?” Uraraka asked.

 

“Magic.” Todoroki said bluntly. “While magic is present in Ember, it is spread far out and much less common. Confined within the Kirin mountains is a land saturated with magic and magical beings. The mountains almost act like a barrier to the rest of the country.”

 

“And also act as a great mean of defense.” Kirishima cut in, stirring the simmering stew. Todoroki nodded. “Yes, very difficult to invade.” He added begrudgingly.

 

“As I said before, Kirin used to exist not as an independent state, but a territory of Ember. The terrain ranges from high mountainous regions to poisonous swamps and thick forest. The land is teeming with strange magical creatures and recluses strong enough to survive on their own. For humans, it’s almost uninhabitable. That’s why despite the high demand of resources to harvest there, only one human city has remained since it’s settlement.”

 

“Tell her why, prince.” Kirishima cocked his head, smile gone. “Tell her why despite all this, you Ember colonizers were crazy enough to build there and rule our mountains.” He returned to his seat next to Uraraka and crossed his arms.

 

Todoroki shifted uncomfortably as Iida tried to make himself smaller. Uraraka leaned in with baited breath. “Well?”

 

“Well…” Todoroki gestured at Kirishima. “It was the dragons. To be able to conquer their power and harvest their magic made us the most powerful kingdom on the continent. If you ruled the skies, you ruled everything.”

 

“Two hundred years ago, a century before they rebelled-“

 

“Peacefully broke off!” Kirishima interjected defensively.

 

“Of course, my mistake.” Todoroki sighed. “A century before they, peacefully broke off, the first humans arrived in Kirin and settled the great city of Argon. It was the first time any group of people had survived long enough to do so. These people, we call them the Settlers, were able to somehow tame the dragons and ride them back to our capital, Aberon.”

 

He paused. “From there, our history books state that in that century we as a kingdom blossomed under the prosperity and valor of our link with Argon. Unfortunately, the number of dragons decreased significantly until they were virtually extinct. When Argon…split off…it was perceived as an act of selfish rebellion from the disgraced dragon tamers. We were always taught that they were corrupted by their own greed and retreated to the mountains to hoard what riches they had left…Relations between the two countries have been abysmal to this day.” He finished lamely.

 

Deku began to distribute bowls and utensils as the stew cooked. Uraraka’s stomach grumbled, she didn’t remember the last time she had eaten. “But we now know that that wasn’t the case!” Iida piped up enthusiastically, before falling back into an anxious frown. “It’s much more…complicated than that”

 

Kirishima shot him a pointed look. “Nothing complicated about the enslavement of a species, book worm.”

 

Uraraka almost spat out her meal. Iida bristled. “We had no idea dragons were intelligent, let alone could shapeshift! We didn’t even know you weren’t extinct until you transformed into one and destroyed the dining hall!”

 

“You did, or at least your superiors did.” Kirishima shot back. “When the Settlers first came, the Deity of the Mountain was so impressed by their ferocity and resilience, she granted them the magic to communicate with us in our dragon forms. She Saw a vision of an advanced society, dragon and human working together to create a utopia. The goal was coexistence, but your people took it as an opportunity to dominate us. Who they couldn’t control they killed, and boy,” he spat, “they did. Your government knew, but turned a blind eye to the carnage. Entire bloodlines were wiped out in hopes of destroying the memory that dragons were ever free.”

 

Uraraka was aghast, her eyes fixed on the young men in front of her. Deku and Iida hung their heads while Todoroki grit his teeth. She clutched her bowl of stew, trying to glean some sad excuse for comfort from the heat. “How…how did Kirin gain its independence?”

 

Kirishima, seemingly unaffected by the tense atmosphere he created, slurped down his meal in a single gulp and threw his bowl down with a satisfied thump. He puffed out his chest and smirked at her. “There was a young woman who had fallen in love with a male dragon. I can’t blame her, we are very attractive.” Uraraka blushed furiously and Iida rolled his eyes.

 

 “It’s the truth! It wasn’t uncommon at the time, save for the fact it was extremely illegal. She was the daughter of the head of Argon’s military. He was a brutal and cruel man who saw us dragons as nothing more than livestock.” He clenched his fists.

 

“According to the tales passed down by our elders, she was a gentle person whose kindness was perceived as weakness and made her an outcast in her own society. But it was that compassion that opened her eyes to the horrors happening in front of her, and opened her heart to our people.” He smiled wistfully at the fire and Uraraka couldn’t help but wonder how much of this was truth, and how much of it was a romanticized version of a rebellion born out of horror and violence. But weren’t revolutions always conceived on the ideals of the romantic? Regardless, it was clear to her that Kirishima held onto this story so tightly, with an emotion she recognized she could never understand. It twisted her heart.

 

 “One moonless night, she and her lover ran away from the city and climbed the Weeping Mountain to seek out the Deity. They pled their case and begged for her protection. Guilt ridden for her own role in this tragedy, the Deity accepted their plea. She Saw a future of peace for Kirin through the couple, and granted the woman a magic stone. With this stone, she could call on the help of all the magical creatures in Kirin and drive out the Ember colonizers.”

 

“Wait,” Uraraka was confused. She was so caught up in his storytelling that she didn’t even realize she missed something. “Who exactly is the Deity of the Mountain?”

 

“A myth.” Deku chimed in. “In Ember mythology, she’s called the Demon of the Mountain. It is said she is a being of elemental magic that claims the mountain range as her territory, therefore giving it its special magical properties. According to Ember legend, no one in living memory has seen her descend from her Weeping Mountain in centuries. She is a feared entity that you should never mess with, unless you want to be cursed.” His face fell. “Well, that’s what we were taught…”

 

“But Kirishima is talking about her like she’s real.” Uraraka argued.

 

“That’s because as we very recently discovered, she is in fact, very real.” Todoroki deadpanned. He exchanged a glance with Iida.

 

Kirishima crossed his eyebrows, unimpressed. “I won’t lie, my people have gone to great lengths to conceal our country’s secrets, but it’s pathetic how you guys are so willing to dismiss your own past and call it myth.”

 

He turned to Uraraka. “Despite the fact that not even my people have seen her since she helped us a century ago, she exists. With that magic stone, the woman was granted the Power of Kirin, the power to communicate with all magical beings in our country. Along with the dragons and the support of the ever-growing Ember sympathizers, they were able to overthrow the central government and liberate the remaining dragons!”

 

He chuckled nervously, suddenly aware of his enthusiastic outburst. Kirishima shrugged. “Well, a lot more happened. Battles, political warfare, and having to rebuild an entire society from the ground up, but you get the gist of it.”

 

The fire illuminated his face, giving an almost ethereal gleam to his pointed teeth. His hair looked like it was casting its own gentle glow and in his eyes Uraraka could see the history mirrored in them. Get a hold of yourself Ochako we’re talking about something serious.

 

His gravitas melted away and his face slightly fell. “The dragons were too weak and too few in number to survive on their own anymore. As payment to the Deity, the woman made it her life’s work to restore us to our full might and protect the magical beings of Kirin forevermore. She became the first Queen of Kirin, also known as the Queen of the Beasts. That is why Argon told the world we went extinct and hid away from the world.” He narrowed his eyes at the trio of men in front of him. “To protect and rebuild.”

 

Uraraka hummed in agreement, mind buzzing with the information she was just presented. If she was being honest, she wasn’t sure how much of this she was truly digesting. This wasn’t her history, this wasn’t her world. Magic? God-like deities? It was going to take time to understand.

 

But, there was nothing far-fetched about the oppression of innocents and exploitation. That was villain territory. Uraraka couldn’t believe she was born into such merciless kingdom. It went against every single one of her principles as a hero. She glanced at Todoroki. “And this is why we ran away? Because we found out the truth?”

 

She, again, was alarmed to see the drastic change in her colleagues. Kirishima squeezed his eyes shut and Iida stiffened like a board. “I wish that was just the case.”

 

An exasperated sound escaped from Uraraka’s throat. “You’re telling me there’s something more? Something worse than finding out you almost drove an entire species to extinction and gutted their resources for wealth?”

 

Todoroki hung his head. “We warned you, this is a mess.”

 

She shut her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Fine. Okay. Then why, us four citizens of Ember and two Kirin…diplomats (?) are currently fleeing through the Faroh woods?” She was proud of herself for at least remembering that much. She was really in one of Deku’s Dungeon and Dragon campaigns.

 

The Ember prince hadn’t moved. “It was supposed to be a summit meeting…we were supposed to fix our relationship.” He choked out in a halted voice.

 

He started again slowly, choosing his words carefully. “It was the first time in history since Argon seceded that the two heads of the kingdom would meet in person. We were making efforts to restore our broken ties with Kirin in order to reestablish some sort of trade.” His face turned to stone. “But that’s not what happened.”

 

Deku rested his head on his hands glumly. “A royal envoy arrived in Aberon the better part of two weeks ago. Along with Kirishima and Bakugo, it also contained six other guards…and the king.”

 

Uraraka raised her eyebrows. “The King?”

 

“Yes.” Kirishima slumped. “Masaru, the Gentle King of Kirin.”

 

So Bakugo is a prince! Oh god, and I basically told him to piss off. Somehow the word Prince didn’t seem to fit him though. It seemed too…refined. She remembered meeting his parents at a Parent’s Weekend during their second year. And, much to Bakugo’s annoyance, they had even invited her over for dinner once after her and Bakugo’s internship shift ended late. His father had warm eyes and a comforting way of speaking. She had really enjoyed his cooking. “The queen didn’t join?”

 

Kirishima shook his head. “The queen ruled in King Masaru’s absence. There always needs to be a royal in the capital.” He didn’t elaborate.

 

“Okay. So is the king still in Aberon?” She inquired.

 

Todoroki ran his hand through his hair, the right side of his face barely illuminated against the light of the fire. “Do you remember when Midoriya said that in Ember we knew the Deity as the Demon of the Mountain?”

 

She nodded her head. Todoroki grimaced. “We know her from an old folktale, passed down from centuries ago. The better part of three centuries in fact. The tale is called the Demon of the Weeping Mountain.”

 

Uraraka knit her brows together. “And this has to do with what happened last week?”

 

He sighed and nodded his head. “Just bear with me for a minute.” He shifted in his seat, pulling his traveler’s cloak tighter. “It was only ever rumors, superstition to confirm strange behavior. No one actually believes it. But people believe that the Ember royal family is…cursed. And that she put the curse on us.”

 

“Three centuries ago, just as the kingdom was born, the first King of Ember-my direct ancestor-set out to get the blessing from the Demon living on the Weeping Mountain. It was seen as a trial that needed to be passed in order to prove himself to be worthy of ruling. If he was deemed worthy, the Dem-Deity would grant him the gift of magic.

 

You see, humans aren’t inherently born with magic, it must be gifted by an extremely powerful magical being. After that, it can be passed down through generations, but it appears at random and you can’t predict which child will inherit it. It’s why magic is much less common in Ember, for the vast majority of magic creatures lie hidden away in Kirin. To possess any form of magic is considered an immense gift. The Weeping Mountain gets its name from being an inactive volcano. It’s said that the last time it erupted, the light from the lava could be seen from miles around. It looked like the mountain was crying for its own destruction.”

 

Kirishima put his hands behind his neck and stretched. “Kirin credits that night with the birth of dragons. As the mountain exploded, we also flew forth from the molten rock as beings of pure fire. As we mixed with the magic in the air, our exposed exterior cooled down, and we formed into what you see today. See,” he suddenly hissed out a small stream of fire, causing Uraraka to shriek in surprise. “The fire within us burns just as brightly as the night we burst out of the Weeping Mountain. As long as we’re alive, it’ll never go out.”

 

Todoroki frowned. “Can you please give us at least a small warning before you do something like that?”

 

“Oh I’m sorry prince, you don’t like me showing off?” Kirishima smiled mockingly.

 

The prince glanced down at the dragon with slight disdain. “No, you just set yourself on fire.”

 

They all followed his line of sight to see the knee of Kirishima’s pants smoking. He frantically put it out with his hands and retreated in on himself, ears burning.

 

The corner of Todoroki’s mouth twitched. “Right. While we don’t have anything in our stories concerning dragons, we do credit the Deity with stopping the eruption and saving the surrounding lands. It was a devastating explosion that would’ve wiped out Kirin and at least a portion of Ember.”

 

Uraraka was still eyeing Kirishima’s pants warily. “And when was this?”

 

Deku stretched out his legs. “Maybe…eight hundred years ago? A thousand? No one quite knows for sure if it even happened. I always thought it was just an afterthought to explain why the Deity took up residence on it.”

 

“It happened.” Kirishima mumbled with a bit of a pout in his tone, like a child insisting on the existence of the tooth fairy. Uraraka found herself smiling and gave him a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “Of course it did.”

 

It was fully dark now. The fire was their main source of light, but Uraraka was pleasantly surprised to see how brightly the stars shone. Even without the fire, she figured she could still see everyone clearly. “So…the Ember king? Three hundred years ago?”

 

Todoroki groaned. “Right, sorry. I’m really not used to speaking this much.” To further his point, he took a nervous swig of his drink and cleared his throat. “After weeks of toiling and fighting, the King finally made it to the summit. He met with the Deity and asked for her ultimate gift, the elemental magic of fire. Other than dragons, no living thing had ever possessed it.” He paused. “She said no, that fire was not meant for anyone but the dragons. She acknowledged his resolve as a future leader of men, but could not give what he was asking her. Tch.”

 

He started wringing his hands as his eyes clouded in anger. “But of course the King couldn’t take no for an answer. While his stay on the mountain, he somehow stole the power and escaped. As penance for such a heinous act, the Deity put a curse on him. Any member of the royal family born with the power to control flame shall either be consumed of it by the body or of the mind. It’s the price to pay for stolen magic.”

 

Well. Endeavor was a fire wielder in her world, it would make sense he was one in this. And it drove him to insanity? Todoroki continued. “In the span of time between Ember’s inception and now, there have only been eight pyromancers born into the royal family. Just as the curse stated, they have either been burned up by the flame itself or driven to insanity by it.”

 

Kirishima shook his head. “That’s because no one is supposed to have that internal flame except us. Humans weren’t built for it.”

 

Todoroki nodded curtly in agreement and stared into the darkness behind Uraraka and Kirishima. He didn’t continue. She prodded. “So we’re running away because your father went insane..?”

 

The prince didn’t speak again, it looked like it pained him to try. Deku made a sound of frustration and hit his knee. “It’s my fault! It’s all my fault! If I hadn’t have brought that stupid book-“

 

“No, Midoriya,” Todoroki jerked his head towards him, “This would’ve happened with or without you. It was inevitable.”

 

Deku didn’t look convinced. He swerved to look at Uraraka, pleading. “No, it is my fault, and while it was on accident, I bear that weight. I came to Aberon four years ago to train as a squire under Iida’s family. I was sent there by-my previous master, with a letter of recommendation…and a gift.”

 

He threw his head back. “It was this ancient tome that no one could translate. My master thought that even if its secrets could never be accessed, it was still valuable enough for the King to take me request seriously.” He looked like he was about to cry. “We had no idea how old it was. It was so saturated in preservation magic, it didn’t look older than a few years.”

 

Todoroki rubbed at his face tiredly. “My father has always been very public about his magical abilities. King Enji has always had the reputation of a powerful pyromancer. He used his fire to rule with an absolute fist. It sounds harsh, but since he took the throne, there have been zero internal skirmishes and our borders have been the quietest they’ve been in years.”

 

“That’s because your father’s power is horrifying.” Iida muttered to himself. He flinched when he realized everyone had heard. “Sorry.”

 

“No, you’re right.” Todoroki sighed. “He’s a bully and he’s power hungry, but he never-he-“ He struggled to finish the sentence and Kirishima tensed beside Uraraka. “No one knew about his condition, but since he couldn’t be burned by fire, we knew it was only a matter of time before he started acting strange. I don’t know what we expected…we thought maybe he would just forget who we were…”

 

He shook his head. “Turns out he had been slowly losing his mind for years, succumbing to paranoia and hallucinations he took as visions. We just couldn’t catch the signs. He wouldn’t let us.” Another sigh. “And he knew it too. He was desperate to stay on top, to be the most powerful without paying the price. My entire childhood consisted of him preparing my siblings and I for…something. He wouldn’t tell us, like he couldn’t even trust his own children. Well, except Touya.”

 

“Touya?” Uraraka had never heard of him.

 

Todoroki made a face and Iida shifted uncomfortably. “My eldest half-brother, born out of wedlock. He still isn’t recognized by the court, the people don’t even know his true name…but he was born with fire magic. My father couldn’t ignore him. His power is unique, but scars him horribly. I’ll be honest, when he finally found out how to use it without significantly hurting himself, I got scared.”

 

Iida nodded enthusiastically. “Touya’s not insane, but he’s not…quite right. Extremely violent, likes to see others suffer. He has never held any official title, but the King always kept him close, and he would sometimes disappear for weeks on end to complete…errands on his behalf. The court knew him as Dabi, and no one went near him.”

 

Kirishima made a face. “He is one scary looking son of a bitch. I tried talking to him once after we arrived…I really thought he wanted to kill me right there.”

 

Iida grunted in agreement. “A month after Midoriya arrived with the book, Dabi disappeared with it and didn’t come back for months. I think we all thought he died on whatever mission King Enji sent him on.” The smile disappeared. “But he came back.”

 

“He found a way to translate the tome.” A whisper came from Todoroki. The air grew a little colder. “They had been hiding it for years. We…didn’t know until last week.”

 

Uraraka noticed the grip Kirishima had on his knee tighten. She gulped and looked around at the group. Iida was intently watching Todoroki with worry written all over his face while Deku just looked plain sick. “How did you find out?”

 

There was a pause. When Todoroki finally spoke, it was in a hushed tone. “The book was extremely old, written intentionally in code. Dabi must’ve searched far beyond our borders for a rune matrix advanced enough to translate the symbols. I’m positive my father went through the trouble of all this to increase its cultural value-like I said before, magic in any form is extremely valuable-but that was before he understood what was contained in it. The author must’ve been a brilliant sorcerer, because in it contained research dedicated to some of the most intricate spellcasting in living memory. Particularly its documentation of curse reversal.”

 

Eyes still on Deku, Uraraka asked, “And this was good news? Didn’t that mean you could cure your father and half brother?” Uraraka pulled up short, suddenly remembered who she was talking to. “And couldn’t it help y-“ She instinctively clapped her hand over her mouth, cutting herself off in time. You aren’t supposed to know he can control fire!

 

Todoroki’s eyes turned steely. “There are some prices too steep. Some wrongs that can’t be righted, because it would send you so far over the edge you wouldn’t be able to come back.” His face tightened. “But if you’ve already been slowly slipping into your own world of paranoia and fear, if you’ve had the voice of pure evil whispering into your ear for years, you’d be desperate enough to try anything.”

 

Uraraka felt her stomach drop. “Tell me what happened.”

 

“Sacrifice.” He replied, devoid of any emotion. “Multiple sacrifices.” It was Uraraka’s turn to shudder.

 

“Combined with the book’s instructions and Dabi’s…connections, they were able to devise a monstrosity of a plan to free the King from this curse. It took years for them to get it ready but once they did…” He gripped his knees. “We honestly still don’t know what the ritual entailed, we fled before they were able to complete it. All we know is that up until recently, it was supposed to be next to impossible to enact.”

 

“Why?” Uraraka asked.

 

The emotion slowly creeped back into his voice. “All spells can be broken, it’s one of the fundamental laws of Mana. Old, powerful curses are no different, but cast by a powerful enough sorcerer or sorceress, they can put in loopholes. For this particular curse, a bloodline curse, one of the sacrifices must be a legitimate heir carrying the same affliction. Dabi didn’t work because his blood wasn’t ‘pure’ enough to be seen as an heir to the Ember throne.” He swallowed hard. “I told you that out of the generations of Todoroki’s ruling Ember, there had been only eight fire wielders. Three of the five, including my half-brother, have all been born in the last forty years.” He closed his eyes and breathed through his nose. “I’m the eighth.”

 

“My mother was always afraid of my father’s lust for power. She must’ve known if he found out about my magic, he would’ve used it to hurt people. When I first showed her I could produce a flame, she flew into a panicked frenzy and tried to put it out with whatever water was closest…which was a boiling pot of tea.” Her eyes shifted to his scar, the same one she had healed all those years ago. “I never blamed her. She begged for my forgiveness and begged me to never show my father what I could do. Because I also inherited her great grandfather’s ice magic, I was able to keep myself from burning my skin too horribly. I thought I hid it well enough…”

 

Uraraka gave a small jolt as Kirishima let out a low growl. “It was all a trap. They didn’t want to discuss opening up trading routes. Part of the spell required the blood of someone blessed by the curse caster, and the Kirin royal family is the last bloodline in over a century to have made contact with the Deity.”

 

Uraraka’s eyes widened in horror as she understood what he was saying. “Kirishima, why did you risk exposing yourself and transformed?”

 

Todoroki shot him a sympathetic glance before continuing. “My father and King Masaru were working late in the night doing what we thought was mapping out a main road between our capital and their border. Dabi had asked me to join, they wanted my opinion on something. I thought it strange since I’m the third in line for the throne and I’m hardly listened to, but I figured it might have had something to do with my time abroad as an ambassador. So I followed him.”

 

“I didn’t trust it at all.” Iida interjected. “Granted, I’ve never trusted Dabi, and felt I had to keep a watch over the prince. Doing what I always did, I went to grab Midoriya for an extra pair of eyes.”

 

Deku nodded. “When Iida found me, I was with you Uraraka. We were…discussing something. You weren’t done with me, so you came along as well.” He looked at his hands. “I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if we hadn’t have done that.”

 

Kirishima crossed his arms over his chest. “Bakugo and I were already on our way to request our king’s presence. Bakugo had gotten into a fight with one of the guards and as our custom dictates, the king had to be the one to pass judgement and end the matter. Also, I’m pretty sure Bakugo was worried about his father overworking himself and wanted to give him an excuse to rest.” He added as a quick aside. She nodded. Leave it to blasty to try to help someone by picking a fight with someone else.

 

“It was strange.” Todoroki mused, playing with his coat clasp. “I didn’t understand why they were meeting in the catacombs. We would only go down there for burials.”

 

“Well, we know now.” Iida added darkly. Deku nodded curtly.

 

“When Dabi opened the door, I knew something was off. Father and King Masaru weren’t the only ones in there. There was a strange man with the hand of a corpse attached to his face, along with a young woman I didn’t recognize and a few other suspicious fellows. I couldn’t even ask what was happening because before I knew it, Dabi had struck the back of my head and I blacked out.” His hands started shaking. Uraraka noticed a sheen of sweat break out on his forehead. “I’m sorry. This is the first time we’ve properly discussed what happened. It’s difficult to talk about.”

 

“I…woke up, tied to an altar. King Masaru was unconscious, tied to another on the opposite side of some sort of transmutation circle. The man with the hand on his face was chanting some awful incantation and my…father stood in the center of it. I remember screaming at him to help me.” His hands tightened into fists. “He just looked at me and asked, ‘Did you really think you could keep it hidden from me?’” Now Uraraka thought she was going to be sick.

 

“He just kept smiling at me with this faraway look in his eyes. At one point he started caressing my hair and telling me how proud he was of me and how I was going to save everyone.” His eyes were burning. “I didn’t recognize him anymore. I really thought I was going to die.”

 

Deku had gotten up seated himself next to Todoroki, legs touching and a hand gently clasped on his shoulder. “We heard the screams. We thought an enemy had snuck in through the catacombs. It didn’t even occur to us who was down there…. We had. No idea.”

 

He sucked in his cheeks. “Kacchan kicked open the door. It was a nightmare. We…didn’t get there in time.” It was quiet again.

 

“What do you mean?” Uraraka pressed. Still no one answered. “What do you mean didn’t get there in time?” Then it hit her. She gasped. “No.”

 

Deku didn’t meet her eyes. “By the time we got there, Dabi had already slit King Masaru’s throat…he was already gone.” He started pulling at his hair. “If we hadn’t wasted so much time arguing earlier, we could’ve-we could’ve-“

 

Iida jerked up a hand to silence him. “You can’t think about that.” But even he was losing his nerve. “We can’t…we can’t-“ When words failed, he tried to gesture with his hands, but came up empty.

 

Kirishima was quiet. He looked lost in thought. “When he broke the door open, it was like time had stopped. We just all looked at each other in shock. Then we saw the King and I…we…” Uraraka thought he was trembling, but he was shaking in rage. “We trusted you.” He whispered. His eyes glinted in a way that unnerved Uraraka to her core.

 

Deku peered at Todoroki. “It was chaos after. Iida and I sprang to free the prince while Kacchan flung himself at King Enji. Kirishima started taking on Dabi and his cronies while you, Uraraka, were able to identify the strange man as the spell caster. You were able to wrench that awful hand off his face and break the casting.” He turned his head to Kirishima. “King Enji set himself on fire trying to get Kacchan off him. Kacchan’s tough, but I’d never seen him so burned…we were going to lose the fight. We had to run.”

 

“We made it to the dining hall before we were surrounded again. You were busy trying to heal Kacchan and I was carrying Prince Todoroki. Iida was our main point of offense at that point, and was casting every defensive spell he knew. And then-“ He nodded at Kirishima to continue.

 

Kirishima exhaled loudly and cracked his knuckles. “And then, I said to hell with it, and transformed into a goddamn dragon. The surprise bought us enough time to get everyone on my back-which was ridiculously heavy and very hard to fly with-and I was able to burst through the ceiling and get us away.” He looked at Uraraka. “And we’ve been running ever since.”

 

She blinked at them. That was…so much more than what she thought they were going to say. “Holy shit.”

 

The corners of Kirishima’s mouth twitched. “You know, you didn’t use to swear before.”

 

She stared at all of them, mouth agape. “How can I not? Oh my god? Is everyone ok?”

 

It was a unanimous chorus of “No.”

 

 She dipped her head between her knees, trying not keep herself together. “So let me get this straight. Todoroki’s father, Ende-King Enji, sacrificed the King of Kirin and tried to sacrifice his own son to reverse a curse that made him insane? And we interrupted it?”

 

She heard a quiet “Yes” from Todoroki as she tried to collect her thoughts. “And where are we running to?”

 

It was Kirishima who answered her. “Argon, back in Kirin. They have no idea what happened. We need to regroup and also figure out what to do next. I for one am going to climb the Weeping Mountain and track down the Deity myself. The Ember prince is still a target, you guys need sanctuary as well. And…we have our own rituals that need to be completed after a ruler passes.”

 

She finally looked up to see Kirishima’s eyes rimmed in red. The grief on his face shattered her nerves. This happened less than a week ago. They walked in on something so horrible, she couldn’t even imagine. Bakugo saw his own father-

 

Uraraka stood up and filled her bowl with the remainder of stew. She straightened her shoulders and set off for the woods. “Where-where are you going?” Deku squeaked.

She turned around to look at her poor group of friends, feeling absolutely wretched. “I’m going to find Bakugo…and apologize.”

Chapter Text

Marching off into the woods after dark probably wasn’t the best idea, but Uraraka’s guilt overruled her general anxiety of the unknown. The darkness seemed to envelop her as she walked on, clutching the warm bowl of her peace offering. This part of the forest was a labyrinth of pines, their fallen needles softening the sounds around her. It was a unique silence that was occasionally broken by the rustle of a breeze through the tree branches. Like in most woods, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was being watched, reminded that this place belonged to something much more ancient than her, and that she needed to stay moving or risk angering it.

 

Typically, she would chalk this up to her active imagination. Maybe later in the safety of her room in Kansai she would be inspired and write a short story or something. But this wasn’t Kansai. This was a world full of danger behind veils of mysticism, and there could very well be some evil thing watching her, waiting…

 

Snap out of it. Uraraka paused for a moment and gave her body a shake. Her friends’ tale had shaken her more than she’d care to admit, and had only sprouted more questions in her head. More importantly, she now understood the gravity of their situation, and how hard she needed to work to make sure they come out of it safely. Uraraka was a hero first. The second after they recounted their escape she had silently accepted that her own wants needed to be pushed back. She needed to dedicate herself now to protecting them. There was no way in hell she’d ever allow her friends to suffer like this. To be used as ingredients, to-

 

A twig snapped, causing Uraraka to shriek and shoot into the air. Frantically, she scanned the area to see who (or what) caused the noise. She was lost in her thoughts and wasn’t paying careful enough attention to her surroundings. Her breathing sounded so loud in her ears…she strained them to try to hear anything else. The stars lit up the sky enough for her to be able to see somewhat properly, but the world was still gray and blurred.

 

A minute passed. She held her breath. Nothing. Slowly, quietly, she lowered herself to the ground and deactivated her quirk. I’m going to pretend it was a magic squirrel that did that and not Endeavor himself coming to finish us off.

 

God. What a horrible world. At least back home, Uraraka could trust that heroes would spring into action and save the day. But who were the heroes here? Who was supposed to stop the King before he could even think of using his power for evil? Was this why she was brought here?

 

She chewed her lip and trudged on through the wood. Maybe it was good that she and Ember Uraraka switched places. She knew her other half would be in safe hands while she went on her behalf to the battlefield. But why was her quirk-magic, different? Was it because it was gifted? Who was this mysterious Ochako? She bit back a smile. I guarantee Deku has already grilled her and has found out everything I’m wondering. Probably did it within the hour of us switching.

 

She peered down at the stew and her nausea returned, threatened to be overcome with homesickness. Uraraka didn’t need that right now. Right. Time to stop dwelling on home and focus on what’s in front of me. Who’s in front me.

 

This Bakugo was not ok. No one should have to witness what he did. Her heart twinged and her eyes smarted. She couldn’t imagine the grief he must be feeling, or most likely trying to push back. His behavior made sense now. Kirishima’s “He not handling it well” echoed in her mind, but she begged to differ. Bakugo had just seen Todoroki’s father kill his own and still decided their group was worth granting sanctuary. Even after Uraraka threw a wrench in their flight by…appearing.

 

She felt so stupid and helpless. Uraraka scoffed at herself. How can you keep them safe when you’re still so ignorant about this place? These people? Just because they have your friend’s faces doesn’t mean you know who they are. Her grip tightened on the bowl. She was going to have to work especially hard to understand them and earn her place in the group. It wasn’t a question. It had to be done.

 

An owl softly hooted. Uraraka slowed her pace and lifted her head in its direction. How long had she been walking? Surely he couldn’t have gotten far. Should she risk floating again and see if she can find him from a higher vantage point?

 

“Come to yell at me again?”

 

For the second time, Uraraka shrieked, but managed to keep her feet on the ground. Her head whipped around looking for the source of the sound. “B-Bakugo? Where are you?”

 

Tch.” Her eyes chased a tree trunk and found him straddling a branch above her. “Go away.”

 

She and squinted at his dark shape in the tree. “The rabbit you prepared is really good. I’ve never had it before, but I really enjoyed it. You should eat.” She suddenly felt very foolish and squeezed her eyes shut, holding out the bowl. “Hurry before it gets cold!”

 

There was an awkward pause. Uraraka couldn’t bear to open her eyes. She hated conflict and desperately wanted them to quickly move past this. Please say something.

 

“That…” He finally managed. “Was not what I was expecting you to say.”

 

She finally opened her eyes. This was a good sign, he wasn’t immediately telling her to fuck off. He hadn’t moved from his spot, but she wouldn’t expect him to. Higher ground gives you more control over the situation, and Bakugo was always in control.

 

Uraraka sighed and retracted her arms, sheepishly cradling the bowl. “It’s safe to come back now,” she started quietly, looking at the ground, “They told me everything I needed to know.”

 

The silence returned. This time it was thick, cancelling out their surroundings. It roared in her ears.

 

“So you know.” It wasn’t a question. It was a loaded statement.

 

She looked at the ground. “For the most part, yeah.”

 

He didn’t answer. She nervously shifted the weight of her feet. It wasn’t the darkness of the forest that made her uneasy, it was this uncharacteristically quiet Bakugo. After another half minute of silence, she couldn’t take it anymore. “Listen Bakugo, I-“

 

He cut her off sharply. “I don’t need your pity.”

 

Just the verbal slap she was hoping for. That means he wasn’t too far gone. “And you’re not going to get it.” She shot back, hand unconsciously resting on her cocked hip. She cleared her throat, hoping to sound more confident than she felt. “What you’re going to get is my gratitude for helping me and my friends despite it all, and my support for the future.”

 

Uraraka was expecting it, but she still bristled at his disgusted scoff. “I don’t care if you don’t need it” A lump formed in her throat and all of the sudden it became very difficult to see through the film of tears gathering in her eyes. “I can’t live with myself knowing what happened and just…cowering.” She squared her feet, finding her resolve. “I can’t do nothing, that’s not who I am. Whether you want it or not, I pledge my honor as a hero to get you home and bring those responsible for your father’s murder to justice.”

 

Her final statement rang into the night sky. She hadn’t meant to get so carried away. Uraraka felt a blush creep up her neck. Feeling very self-conscious, she turned away and stared hard into the stupid bowl she was sick of carrying. She shouldn’t have directly mentioned Masaru. “Right.” She coughed after another minute of even more uncomfortable silence. “Well, if you won’t eat, I’ll see you back at the camp.” Before she could turn on her heels and escape, Uraraka heard the branch creak and a thump as Bakugo landed behind her.

 

“Oi, what do you think you’re playing at?” She turned to see him standing maybe five feet away from her. Even in the dim light, she could see the tightness in his eyes. He was looking at her like she had grown another head.

 

She pulled her arms tight to her body defensively. “I told you. I want to help. We…we should stick together.” She finished lamely.

 

 

His eyes narrowed and zeroed in on her face. She felt like they were seeing straight into her, figuring her out, and she hated it. “I don’t get you.” A small jolt traveled up her spine, her instincts telling her she needed to leave. This wasn’t going well.

 

He opened his mouth a few times trying to find the words, agitation building as he kept clenching and unclenching his fists. “Pledge your honor? As a hero? What the fuck is that supposed to mean?” Uraraka realized she made a mistake. The grief was still too raw, he needed space. “I don’t-I don’t-FUCK!” He bellowed and smashed his fist into the tree he just jumped from. To Uraraka’s horror, the tree’s bark imploded with a resounding crack and splintered away from the deep impact.

 

He pointed his free hand at her and she froze. “When I first met you, you were so fucking shy you couldn’t even say shit to me without running away, and now you’re saying you wanna FIGHT? For me? For my father?” Bakugo continued to point at her as he ripped his other hand away. She gulped. “Don’t ever talk about him again in front of me. It will not end well for you.” He snarled, working himself up into a frenzy. The words kept spilling out of him like a dam breaking. Uraraka unconsciously took a step back as he closed in on her space.

 

“Are you fucking kidding me? You cried the first three days we started running. The ENTIRE three days. Couldn’t shut the fuck up, when you-it wasn’t even-“ His red eyes were boring holes into her. She couldn’t move.

 

“Let’s get one thing straight brave Ember bitch, the only reason why I haven’t left you or your band of misfits to die out here is because I have no fucking clue where to go from here. I want you all dead. If it wasn’t for Kirishima..I want you to pay for what you did to us-and you think you can-how fucking dare you stand there after getting that blessing of a memory curse, thinking you have ANY idea how to make things right. You didn’t come here to comfort me,” he spat, “You came here to make yourself feel better. And guess what? I’m not gonna fucking humor you.”

 

His chest was heaving, body language making it clear he was just daring her to say something. Uraraka had opened the flood gate he had been desperately holding back, and she had no choice but to take it. And even worse, at the root of it, he was right. Uraraka sought him out because she was feeling helpless. He didn’t need her words of reassurance, she just needed someone to receive them to ease her own guilt.  She felt wretched. Her chest felt tight.

 

She blinked, taking a moment to collect herself. Okay. She set down the long-forgotten peace offering, and returned his gaze. “Okay.”

 

Bakugo blinked, not understanding. “Okay?”

 

She started to shrug off her cape and he took a step back. “What the hell are you doing?”

 

Uraraka scoffed and began stretching. “What does it look like I’m doing? I’m getting ready to fight.”

 

He stared at her. “…to fight.”

 

There was now a good ten feet of distance between them. She bent over and suppressed a groan at the stretch she felt in her lower back. A Sports Festival and universe hopping all in one day-she was really testing her stamina here. “You’re right. I don’t know. A damn thing.” She straightened up. “So show me. Show me what you’re feeling, with your fists.”

 

He narrowed his eyes, but slightly widened his stance. “You’re a noncombatant. I’m not going to kick the shit out of someone who can’t fight back.”

 

Uraraka crossed her arms. “Didn’t stop you from trying to strangle me this morning. Speaking of,” she stretched her bad shoulder, “I’m still pretty banged up from that, so I can’t come at you with my normal strength. Still, it should be enough.”

 

She was bluffing, but he didn’t need to know that. Uraraka didn’t have a damn clue whether she could match this Bakugo at her peak strength, but this was the only way she was going to get through to him. He obviously needed to release all that pent up rage and she…Uraraka needed to hit something. Her own emotions were boiling over, and she needed to fall back on something familiar. It’ll just be like sparring with a classmate. She’d worry about the repercussions later.

 

So, she crouched down into her fighting stance, fists up. “Let’s get one thing straight prince,” Her echoes of his taunt gave the desired effect as he tightened in anger, “You don’t know a damn thing about me. You can insult me after you prove you can land a punch.” His jaw dropped. Uraraka was signing her own death warrant, but now she was too worked up to care.

 

While maintaining eye contact, he shucked off his own cloak and settled into a well-conditioned fighting stance. She forced herself to take calm breaths as her mind went into overdrive trying to figure out what this Bakugo’s style was going to be like. It certainly had nothing to do with his now bare chest and massive arms flexing in anticipation. She made a point not to count the tattoos covering his arms in rings, but good lord there were a lot. Her face was flushed because she was angry, nothing else. He exhaled through his nose, snapping her back to the present. “Your friends aren’t here to stop me. Don’t start crying when I kick your ass.”

 

She cracked her neck. “No magic. First to be pinned down for more than ten seconds wins.” He tersely nodded. A feral grin spread across his face, and Uraraka was struck with a memory from her first Sports Festival. His voice turned predatory. “I’m going to break you, and I’m going to enjoy it.”

 

Before Uraraka could decide to shelve exactly what that sentence did to her body, he was on her in a flash. She thanked every god in existence for building consistent Bakugos as she ducked his swinging right hook purely on instinct. His eyes widened slightly as she dodged it but immediately switched to his left arm and aimed for her stomach.

 

She had to admit it, he was horrifying. Uraraka had succeeded in tapping into his aggression and he was coming at her like a beast. It was unnerving the way he moved. There was no way someone that built could move that quickly, but there he was, moving fast as lightning with the strength of a battering ram.

 

Uraraka said they couldn’t use magic. She didn’t say anything about her own quirk. Using a technique she mastered the summer of her second year, she partially activated her quirk on her own body with only three fingers and flipped away from his punch just in time. She used the momentum to push herself off a pine and ricochet into a beeline aiming for his chest.

 

Or so she made him think. At the last second, she shifted her trajectory down to target his knees. As she outstretched her hands to catch him off balance, he bent down and grabbed her arms, swinging her away in retaliation. Instead of hitting the ground like he anticipated, her lessened weight caused her to spin away violently. She threw her hands out to cling onto whatever she could find and finally wrapped her arm around a branch. She hung there, panting as she willed her vision to stop spinning. He barked out a surprised laugh, eyes glinting in the starlight. “What the fuck was that, cheeks?”

 

She scowled and deactivated her quirk, landing on the ground with steady legs. With a snarl she flung herself at him and he dodged her high kick with a quick duck and returned with a blow to the stomach. She hardened her core just in time to take the impact, but it still knocked out her breath. Fuck, he was strong.

 

 She knew she could land a hit, she just needed the right leverage! Bakugo was larger and stronger, but she was faster. Her main strategy with opponents bigger than herself always involved disrupting their balance and messing with their centers of gravity. The problem was that he wasn’t giving her any time to retaliate in between attacks. Her focus had to be on constantly twisting and contorting her body to avoid taking another hit. He favored using his arms rather than his legs for power, but that didn’t stop his footwork from being impeccable. After narrowly missing a jab to her chest, she leaped away in a back handspring.

 

Uraraka almost buckled under the weight. Damn it. Her shoulder limited her mobility. Bakugo quickly caught on and charged at her. His strategy shifted to exploit the weakness of her left side, and it was working. It was all she could do to parry his attacks. This Bakugo did not disappoint. His fighting style was much more brute strength focused than the Bakugo she was used to, and it forced her to be lighter on her feet. He was gaining too much ground, pushing her back against a cluster of trees.

 

Uraraka blinked the sweat out of her eyes as she finally landed a punch across his jaw, but it was too shallow. He still swung back in time to dodge the brunt of the impact and she was unable to activate her quirk on him.

 

She grit her teeth, ducking between a double jab and surprised him by shooting back up and grappling herself around his neck with her thighs. She used the momentum of her body to swing him off balance and bring them both crashing to the ground. Panting and sweating, they locked eyes for a moment, painfully aware of Uraraka essentially sitting on top of him, thighs crushing his windpipe. If it was under any other circumstance she would have froze in mortification, but this fight was personal. Or not. She couldn’t remember at this point. The only goal now was to bring him down.

 

 Still, she unconsciously relaxed her grip on his neck. He took her split moment of hesitation to grab her from behind and rip her off him. In a tangle of limbs, they fought each other on the ground, neither willing to let the other up. Fighting in the dark seemed to throw her other senses into overdrive, overwhelming her judgement.

 

For Uraraka, it was excruciating. Her stamina was well past its expiration point and Bakugo was relentless. Still, she wouldn’t back down. Her plan of using her quirk on him backfired as the second he became weightless, she tried to flip him off too quickly and ended up slamming herself into the ground, knocking the air out of her lungs. She croaked out a tear stained Release before he could even notice what she did.

 

He grunted in exertion as he grabbed her wrists in a vice grip. She screamed in anger as he finally gained the upper hand, pinning her down with her hands forced behind her back and his knees crushing her back and legs.  

 

In a last-ditch effort, she threw her head back and slammed into his face with a loud smack! He swore loudly in pain while she saw stars from the impact. With his remaining hand, he gripped the back of her neck and pinned her down, completely immobilizing her. She heard a ragged breath by her right ear. “Don’t fucking try that again.”

 

Responding like the lady she was, she tried bucking up by her hips and spat out, “Eat shit.” He just dug his knee into her back and she yelped in pain. “Again.” He hissed, panting heavily. “Stay down.”

 

They stayed liked that for a while, Uraraka struggling in futility while Bakugo kept pressing more and more weight down on her. By the time her last dregs of strength left her, Bakugo’s entire body weight was keeping her pinned in place. Her will to fight was leaving her, now being replaced with anger at her second loss of the day.

 

Now if only he’d get off of her. Oh my god. She hadn’t even noticed that his bare chest and entire body was pressed against her. Uraraka finally stopped struggling, resigned to her defeat. But Bakugo didn’t appear to notice, making no indication he was going to let up. She was suddenly very thankful it was too dark to see the blush light up her face. Uraraka waited another few seconds to see if he’d let her go. He didn’t.

 

“Uhm…” Her breaths came out in shallow bursts, panting from the effort. “It’s been more than ten seconds.” He groaned as lifted his head off her and she almost screamed at the thought of it resting against her to begin with. “Oh shit, you’re right.” He finally tore himself off her. She gasped in relief as feeling went back into her arms. “You wouldn’t stop wiggling.”

 

He slid and fell on his back to her side. She felt a brush of indignance to him comparing her wrestling to wiggling. After gingerly rolling her wrists, he flipped on her back too. They watched the stars in silence for a while.

 

“I think you broke my nose.”

 

She turned to see his face and squeaked. The bottom half of his face was covered in blood. He raised an eyebrow at her. “Headbutt. Dirty trick.”

 

She snorted and turned to stare back at the sky. “It’s not fair you can move that fast and be that big. I gotta work with what I have.” She glanced at his nose again. “Not broken by the way. Just very ugly.”

 

He rolled his eyes and coughed, wincing slightly. It was petty, but she felt a twinge of satisfaction. It was a while before she heard him speak again. “Why did you do it?”

 

“Do what?”

 

He made an annoyed sound in the back of his throat. “Pick a fight with me, idiot. What was in it for you?”

 

She thought hard. “I think,” she began, “Sometimes your thoughts can become so twisted and knotted that you need something like action to bring them to the surface, lay them out. Then you’re free of them. Or at least, are able to understand them better.” Uraraka hesitantly added, “I didn’t peg you for a talker. I thought this might help.”

 

She shifted her head to look at him again. His expression was unreadable. “You only answered half my question. What was in it for you?”

 

She frowned and closed her eyes. , “I…really needed to hit something.”

 

A strangled laugh coming from Bakugo startled her. It wracked his body, like the sound was fighting him. She saw hand movement and was surprised to see him wipe a tear from his eye. “You’re fucking ridiculous. Seriously, who are you?”

 

He groaned as he propped himself up on his elbows. “Ember knights don’t fight like that. They aren’t that skilled in close hand to hand combat. I know because they showed us a demonstration. It was pathetic.” He gave up and laid back down on the forest floor. “They didn’t teach you that.”

 

Uraraka casted a sideways glance his way. She figured she should be slightly impressed he’s using this conversation as an opportunity to glean more information from her. His intellect was going to be a problem. She chuckled darkly. “Well, no one really knows now, do they? Probably cave trolls? They seem like they’d know how to throw down.”

 

Bakugo shot her a look that made her feel like she said the dumbest thing on earth. “Cave trolls aren’t real dumbass. Only goblins and dwarves live in caves.”

 

You’re joking. “Of course. How stupid of me.” Uraraka sat up, joints protesting. Alright, it was time to divert the conversation. “Bakugo, I have a question.” She turned her body towards him. “Do you have magic?”

 

His face remained calm but she caught the way his body tensed at the question. “What are you talking about?”

 

Uraraka could’ve sworn she felt his hands burn her when he knocked her out. That also could have something to do with the fact that she was being choked, but where were his explosions? “Well, Todoroki said that magic is much more common in Kirin. And you’re royalty…technically descended from the what, Queen of Beasts? Any perks to go along with that?”

 

He looked at her incredulously. “Perks? Are you-are you serious?” He let out an aggravated sound. “Oh my god-listen, magic is sacred, got it, cheeks? It’s like another life force, one that connects you to the world around you. Humans are disconnected from that flow because in general we’re greedy bastards who end up taking more than we give.” He sat up and faced her. “Citizens of Argon are descended from the Settlers, humans that were gifted the magic to communicate and tame wild dragons. The vast majority of citizens inherit that gift, to help fulfill the original Queen’s promise of protecting the dragons. Royalty-“He stopped. He swallowed and sneered at her. “Not really your fucking business, is it?”

 

“Sooo…” She couldn’t help but fish a little, “Nothing like, explosions? Coming out of your hands? Nothing like that?” Not for the first time, and she knew not the last, Bakugo looked at her like she was insane.

 

He blinked. “Humans can’t wield fire. Or most elemental magic.” He said carefully. “You can use magical objects, or if you’re talented enough, cast rudimentary spells, but…” He trailed off. “Humans can’t burn.” His gaze darkened. “Well, some do.”

 

The air seemed to have left her lungs. He shifted in his seat but didn’t continue. His gaze clouded over, seemingly losing himself in his own train of thought. She bit the side of her cheek. “Do you really hate them?” She whispered. Before she could stop herself, she blurted out, “Do you hate me?”

 

He shrugged but didn’t look at her. Bakugo had a pained look on his face, like he was trying to decide what emotion to show her. He seemed to be fighting his body’s natural desire to curl in on itself. “We never got along with Ember to begin with. History is messy. I know this. Kingdoms are built through conquering. People die in the process. That’s the way it is. You can listen to Shitty Hair spout out that flowery shit about the power of love and good vs evil, but what it boils down to is that our people were tired of being told what to do and we finally found the strength to fuck off and do our own thing.”

 

She stared at his profile. “And do you really believe that?”

 

His face screwed up in a grimace. “The Old Man-my father…fuck.” He rubbed his face with his hands. “The King always told me that something like oppression is hard to see from the inside, because when you’re raised in it, that’s all you know. It takes one person to truly open their eyes to just, I don’t know, see how much better you can all be, and it’s a rippling effect from there.” He started fiddling with his fingers. “As a leader, you always need to be aware of this trap and be constantly looking for better ways to serve your people. Ember’s policies didn’t make sense to our people anymore. They hurt half the population. They were cruel and outdated. We adapted.”

 

Prince Bakugo’s-no, it still didn’t feel right-worldview was fascinating to Uraraka. Much less altruistic than she’d expect and much more practical than his dragon friend, but does ruling give you a difference in perspective? Still, she thought back on her home country’s past, and realized where she came from wasn’t really all that different. Japan was an empire at one point as well. “We just need to watch out for each other.” She mumbled to herself. “And just calm down.” She wanted to know more about the late King Masaru. He sounded like a wonderful king. But she knew better than to ask.

 

The moon washed Bakugo in a pale light, causing him to look almost ethereal. His hair looked like snow and his eyes once again fell into that faraway look. He released a jagged breath. “What happened that night isn’t their fault. I know they didn’t know. Know that you didn’t know but-fuck.” His voice cracked.

 

She didn’t move, afraid that if anything disrupted the stillness of the woods the moment would pass and he would close up again. Uraraka didn’t envy him. She let him sit in his silence until he was ready to rejoin her. An owl hooted in the distance. A breeze started up again. She rested her head on her knees as she hugged herself. After a time, he rubbed his eyes. “You wouldn’t stop crying.”

 

“Hmm?” She had dozed off a bit. He glared at her, bringing her back to the present. “I was the one with third degree burns on my back with a dead dad and you were the one who couldn’t stop bawling your eyes out.”

 

Uraraka recalled Kirishima saying that she had healed him. From King Enji’s fire. She shuddered. “I guess I’m sorry for that?”

 

Bakugo shifted his glare to the ground, fixating on a nearby pine cone. “I didn’t get it.” He sounded like he was talking mostly to himself. “You didn’t know me. You didn’t know Kiri. But you saved me and convinced your band of idiots to work with us to get back to Argon.”

 

Her head snapped up at that. “Wait, I did?”

 

He rubbed the back of his neck, wincing at the stretch. “Yeah. I was ready to kill you all. Declare war and have Kirishima rip your heads off.” His face fell. “But you healed me. Said if we weren’t able to cry about it yet you’d do it for us.” He grew quiet. “Brought up common interests. Giving you an opportunity to right your wrongs, the same way we fucking did a century ago. Find the Deity. Save the day. Ridiculous.” He snorted. “I much prefer you now. You’re mean and you don’t know shit.” He gave her a lazy once-over glance. “And sturdier.”

 

Her mouth dropped open in indignation. Was that a compliment? That was most definitely an insult.  Her temper flared. “So I did all of this and you still wanted to tie me to a tree and leave me in the woods?”

 

He scoffed at her and stood up. “Don’t be dramatic. You know why.” He went to pick up his cape and tossed Uraraka’s towards her. He gingerly felt his nose and flinched. “Serves you right.” She hissed, pulling on her cloak.

 

He made a rude gesture towards her in response. “Fuck right off. I still won.”

 

She clamored to her feet and brushed off the dust, already cursing herself for getting into a fight mere hours after bathing. “Bakugo.” He raised an eyebrow at her. She took a deep breath. “It’s going to be okay. We’re going to fix this.”

 

Instead of an angry outburst she was met with a neutral mask. His energy felt wrong, too relaxed compared to what it was before. There was a hard glint in his eye that she couldn’t quite place, couldn’t remember where she’d seen it. It unsettled her.“ ’Course it’s going to be okay. I already have it figured out.” He fastened the toggle of his cape.

 

Uraraka pursed her lips. “What’s your plan then?”

 

He stopped what he was doing and held her in his gaze again. She was convinced his eyes contained a spell that froze her motor functions. His voice turned deadly serious. “You can’t stop me.”

 

“I don’t want to stop you, I want to help you.” She argued. “I think I’ve proven I’m somewhat capable.”

 

In reality, Uraraka knew the second they returned to camp whatever closeness they had just experienced would evaporate. He would go back to treating her like a liability and close himself off to everyone around him. Be a prince and put back on a brave face. If she was going to get him to take her seriously, it was now or never.

 

Bakugo considered her for a moment and frowned, signaling he finished whatever conversation he was having in his head. “Fine. Maybe I can use this…new you.” He said after a moment. “I’m going to kill the King of Ember, including anyone that gets in my way. And now you’re going to help me.”

 

He yawned and scratched his head. “Where did you put that bowl of stew? I’m fucking starving.”