It’s snowing, the night that you meet him.
Trudging through the snow, holding your lacerated side closed with one hand, you watch as the white-blanketed ground beneath you begins to turn red with blood. Your breath is a rasp in your lungs, but you don’t stop moving forward.
Run, Y/N. Run, and don’t ever look back. Your mother’s parting words ring in your ears, a mantra that moves in time with your lagging footsteps.
Run, run, run.
How you’ve managed to come this far, you’re unsure. Your kimono is thin against the winter air coming down from the mountains, the winds harsh as they lash against your skin. You stumble and fall onto a snowdrift, the moisture of the snow quickly seeping into your clothes. Hypothermia. It won’t be long now; you can tell from the phantom warmth creeping into your toes and hands. Death will come soon, gentle and warm, lulling you to sleep before stealing the air from your lungs.
So cold. It is so cold.
Run, run, run.
You can scarcely crawl now, but your mother’s words, along with the memory of the man who broke into your home, causes you to push yourself forward, grasping handfuls of snow to try and gain traction. There is a light, flickering ahead. In the distance. Your heart begins to race, frantically beating against your rib cage.
Run, run run.
You let out a noise between a sob and a cry of pain, curling in on yourself and squeezing your eyes shut. There is no escape. The dark stranger has come for you at last. But it isn’t the sharp bite of a katana that touches you, but a warm hand. It settles upon your shoulder, shaking you gently.
“Wake up.” Comes a rough voice. It sounds young.
Opening your eyes, you blink against the snow to see a young boy hovering above you. He looks no older than you do, thirteen at most. His red eyes are bright, as if the light from the lantern he carries is caught in them. Despite the snow, his ash-blond hair still sticks up in spikes. His expression is one of grim determination.
“Who are you?” you wheeze, vision growing dim.
He’s helping you up, wrapping a thick coat around you. The boy pauses, looking at you with a fierce, if not slightly annoyed, expression.
“My name is Bakugou Katsuki,” he says, “And I’m going to save you.”
You sit up, panting in the dark. Around you, nestled in blankets atop their futons, sleep the other female servants of Shogun Nezu’s estate. They are oblivious to your waking. Even Uraraka and Mina, who sleep on either side of you, haven’t stirred. Pulling on a robe over your shift, you creep among the futons and servants, sliding the door of the servants quarters open. It creaks, and you wince, glancing back over your shoulder to see if you woke anyone. Not a girl has moved. Breathing a sigh of relief, you slide the door shut before stepping out onto the porch and into the warm summer night.
The moon hangs full and heavy in the sky, as if it too, is pressed upon by the heat. You sink down to sit upon the step of the low porch, the humid air wrapping around you like a blanket. It’s so hot, compared to that night all those years ago when Bakugou found you in the snow.
You were both thirteen then. Six years have passed since. You haven’t held a true conversation with Bakugou Katsuki in nearly four years. Spoken to him, yes. Your job requires it. But in those interactions, he is brusque and rude. The warm hand you felt that night all those years ago is more and more becoming something you’re beginning to think you imagined.
Except, what about the two years following it? Before he became an apprentice samurai to Lord Nezu, Bakugou was your closest friend. He defended you from the older boys and girls who lived on the estate, despite you being of humble birth and him being a noble. After all, only nobles can become samurai. Except for Midoriya Izuku, whom you know Bakugou has a bitter rivalry with. But after he became an apprentice of Aizawa-sama...after that night... things changed.
“It’s better that way,” you murmur to yourself, “I was a naive child. To think that our friendship would last past adolescence.”
With a sigh, you rise from your seat and head to the well across the main courtyard. The dream has left your heart nostalgic and your throat parched. Reaching the well, you take the wood bucket and lower it down into the inky blackness of the earth. The wheels of the gears squeak in protest as you lug the full bucket back up to the surface. Hoisting the bucket onto the lip of the well, you curse as it sloshes onto your wooden sandals. You take the bamboo dipper from the side of the bucket and drink deeply. The water is bitterly cold. It wakes you up, just a little.
A dark shape runs along the rooftops of the warrior’s quarters, coming to pause at the edge of the tiled roof. Bakugou. You can tell from his form and way of moving. Have it nearly memorized by now. Even from a distance, you can feel his crimson eyes upon you, glowing like molten coals in the dark. In a fluid movement that leaves you breathless, Bakugou leaps from the roof and comes striding towards you.
You suck in a breath. This isn’t the first time he’s happened upon you late at night. But he’s never come down from the roof before. You stand, silent, and watch him approach.
“This is the third time this week I have seen you in the courtyard at night. What the hell is a servant like you doing out here so late, hah?” His voice is rough and harsh, the question improperly phrased. But he’s never proper. Not even with you. Especially not with you.
There is an unspoken accusation within it that you know well. Servant girls frequently out at night are usually returning from the bed of a noble or a warrior… sometimes both. It’s discouraged, but not uncommon. The man of course, is unhurt by these visits. The girl, however? The source of ridicule amongst her fellow servants.
You bristle, wishing that you wore more than a thin robe, despite the heat of the night.
“Do you really think so little of me, Bakugou-sama?” you murmur, keeping your eyes to the ground.
Silence. Then his calloused fingers are grasping your jaw, firm but gentle, and lifting your face up.
His red eyes are dark and unreadable, but his voice is strained as he grounds out, “Don’t fucking hide your eyes from me.”
Something in your chest goes tight—at his voice—his touch. So familiar, and yet so foreign. Seeming to come back to himself, Bakugou drops his hand. He looks away from you, brows furrowed and jaw tight.
“Is some bastard putting you up to coming out at night?” Another improperly phrased query. A two-fold question. Nezu-dono runs a safe and fair estate, even for his servants, but that does not mean that a visiting warrior or noble will respect the wishes of a servant.
Your lips tighten. It is not Bakugou’s job to inquire into the business and welfare of servants. Perhaps it’s for the sake of your past that he continues to question you. A sense of duty and obligation to the daughter of a murdered prostitute he saved all those years ago.
“No,” you say, and watch as a muscle in his jaw feathers. Feeling the need to explain yourself, you add, “I’ve been having strange dreams of late, my Lord.”
“Tch,” he scoffs, but the tension seems to drain from him.
It angers you, though you’re not sure why. That he still looks out for you, even from a distance. Three times this week. His training and continued apprenticeship means that his patrols are often at night. He must be tired—the shadows under his eyes are evidence of that— and yet he still watches for you. Curse his stubbornness. And curse your stupid heart for thinking it means anything. You know it doesn’t.
“I must return to bed now, Bakugou-sama,” you murmur, bowing your head, “Morning is not far off.”
“Whatever.” A careless dismissal.
He draws away from you and stands with unnatural stillness a few feet away, waiting for you to leave. You meet his crimson eyes once more before turning with a whispered: “Good-night.”
You return to your futon, but sleep no more that night.
“You didn’t sleep much last night, did you?” asks Chiyo the next morning, as you and her prepare herbal teas and morning medicines for the older residents of the Yueii Estate.
You level the old woman with a long look. “Shouldn’t you be more concerned about your patients, rather than your apprentice? Toshinori-sama will be here any minute for his morning acupuncture.”
“Shouldn’t you show more respect to your elders?” The resident physician of Nezu’s estate (and a trusted advisor of the shogun) retorts in a dry tone. “Besides, you didn't answer my question.”
Blowing out a sigh, you busy yourself with crushing herbs to avoid the healer’s knowing gaze. “I had a… vivid dream. It made it hard to fall back asleep. But I’m fine.”
“ Hmm… I can only wonder about that,” Chiyo snorts, then adds, “You better not be pushing yourself too hard. I can’t have an apprentice who’s falling asleep on the job. If you need rest, tell me.”
The older woman’s kindness warms your heart, and you smile.
“I will, Chiyo-san.”
“Good. Now, Toshinori will be here soon, so unless you want to see the Pride of Yueii naked, I suggest you take Lord Torino his tea.”
You snort. “You know there are plenty of women—and men— who would like that. But I’m a physician's apprentice. I’ve seen naked men before.”
The older woman barks a laugh. “That is true. And as for those men and women, I happen to know that you are not one of them, Y/N-chan. You only have eyes for—”
“Alright that's enough,” you say firmly, cutting Chiyo off. The older woman merely chuckles, “I’m taking Torino-sama his tea now.”
You grab the tray in question, with its steaming pot and porcelain cups, before kicking the sliding door open with your foot. Chiyo continues chuckling, the sound following you out into the courtyard and summer heat.
It seems that this week’s heat wave has not abated , you think as you walk across the courtyard to the noble’s quarters. The sun has barely risen, and already sweat drips down the back of your yukata. You only hope that the young samurai being trained are allowed sufficient breaks and water, otherwise you and Chiyo will be pressed later in the day with numerous cases of heat stroke.
You resist the urge to look in the direction of the outer courtyard and its training grounds, where Aizawa is no doubt leading early morning drills for the samurais. Bakugou is one of them. He often ends up in the healer’s quarters by the end of the day, getting his hands taped or other minor wounds bandaged. Midoriya too. Both of them are much too reckless, in your opinion.
It's funny to think how the three of you used to be friends. Midoriya still talks to you, though he is often busy with his training. As is Bakugou, but shortly after he began his apprenticeship, he severed ties with you. An extra. Nothing but lowborn trash who will drag him down on his path to becoming the next Shogun, you think, gritting your teeth. Not that he ever said those things to you, but you can feel it in the way he looks to you. Speaks to you. As if keeping his distance. You grit your teeth. It’s bullshit. All of it.
You’re so caught up in your reverie that you barely notice you’ve entered into the noble’s quarters, aside from the relative coolness the building provides. You reach Torino-sama’s door, rapping lightly on the wood frame.
“Come in,” comes the muffled reply.
You slide the door open, holding the tray carefully so as not to spill the tea. In the center of the room, at a low table, sit Torino-sama and—to your surprise—Midoriya. The green haired boy’s face lights up when he sees you.
“Ah, I did not realize you had company,” you apologize, bowing your head, “Should I come back later?”
“Oh no!” Midoriya is quick to apologize, as always. He jumps up from the table, bowing hastily, despite the fact that decorum doesn’t require him to bow to you. “Please come in, L/N-san. I was about to go anyways.”
“Yes, listen to Toshinori. Come on in,” Torino responds. For some reason, he is constantly mixing up Midoriya and Toshinori-sama. It makes you laugh.
You give them both a smile and walk to the table, kneeling to place the tray upon the table. Torino has always been kind to you, for which you are grateful. Compared to other older samurai, he is practically a friend.
“One cup of Chiyo-san’s herbal tea for this morning, Torino-sama. Then one with lunch.” You give him another bow before rising to leave. “I’ll come by and collect the tray in the afternoon.”
“Of course,” replies the older man, giving you a kindly look.
Midoriya, to your surprise, rises with you. “I’ll take my leave with L/N-san, Torino-san. If it’s all right.”
“Yes yes.” The older man waves you both away, and the two of you exit.
Once you’re in the hall, Midoriya turns to you with a smile. “How are you, L/N-san? I haven’t seen you in so long!”
Your heart warms at his ind tone. “I’m well. It has been a while since we talked, hasn’t it? You’ve been so busy with your training. I’ve heard amazing things!”
It’s true. Despite coming from humble beginnings like yourself, Midoriya was taken under the wing of Toshinori after a reckless attempt at helping the samurai against an oni. An oni that had captured Bakugou. This happened a year before you were brought to Yueii estate, but you had heard about it from Uraraka.
After coming to Yueii, Midoriya progressed in leaps and bounds, surpassing Bakugou and even the even-tempered son of Todoroki-sama. It is rumored that he will become the next number one samurai of Yueii. The thought is a good one, at least, to you.
“Oh please!” Midoriya immediately falls to blushing and stuttering at your praise, reminding you of when he was younger. “I’m no better than the others.”
You laugh at his embarrassment as the two of you cross the courtyard. He really hasn’t changed all that much.
“Hey, dumbass. I’ve been waiting for you,” comes a harsh voice from across the courtyard.
Your laughter falls short. Waiting outside of the healer’s quarters is Bakugou. He sits on the steps, the naked blade of his katana placed atop bent knees, which are hidden beneath the folds of his black and orange yukata. His face is twisted into a brutal scowl, and you watch as his crimson gaze darts between you and Midoriya. But it is Midoriya to whom he speaks.
“Izuku!” he growls, “Sensei sent me looking for you. I figured you were with Toshinori Sensei or some shit like that, not hanging around the servants.”
The words are a slap to the face. You feel Midoriya stiffen in discomfort beside you.
“Kacchan…” he says uneasily. “Y/N-san isn’t…”
“What?” He rises suddenly, sheathing his katana in one fluid motion. “Isn’t a servant?”
You swallow hard, eyes to the ground. He stalks towards the two of you, predatorial in his movements.
“Fucking look at me when I’m talking to you, goddammit.” Bakugou snarls, and your head jerks up, gaze clashing with his.
He wants you to push back, you can feel it. No different than when you were kids, and he would tease you relentlessly, reveling in when you would snap back at him. Such a contrast to the gentle touch of his fingers last night. Who is he? A stranger to you, now.
“I may be nothing more than a servant,” you say coolly, refusing to allow him to rile you up. If anything, all he’s doing is twisting the knife he stuck in your back years ago. Deeper and deeper. Your hands form into fists at your sides, nails digging into the meat of your palms, “But I am also an apprentice like you.”
“Like me?” he scoffs. The knife burrows deeper. “You’re nothing like me. You’re nothing but a charity case extra.”
There will be marks in your palms. Your nails have broken the skin as you resist the urge to snarl at him. Bakugou watches your silent struggle, his gaze unreadable. Why? You want to shake him, make him answer. Why are you like this? What happened to the boy I used to know?
But you don’t. You merely bow your head and walk past him into the healer’s quarters.
If Chiyo-san notices something off about your behavior after you return from Torino’s, she doesn’t comment on it. Or knows better not to.
“Is that you L/N-chan?” She calls, hidden from view by a screen that covers the left work table in the infirmary. She’s in the middle of Toshinori’s acupuncture then.
“Yes!” you reply, “Should I take inventory now? I noticed we were running low on licorice root when I was making tea this morning.”
“Good idea,” the older woman replies, “I was thinking the same thing.”
“Young L/N! Good morning!” Comes the booming voice of Toshinori, the number one samurai of Yueii Estate. His strength may have diminished from what it once was, but his vigorous spirit remains the same. It brings a smile to your face. The symbol of peace.
“Good morning, Toshinori-sama,” you greet him through the screen. “How are you?”
“Very well, Thanks to Recovery Girl—ouch!” he yelps, no doubt cut off by the poke of a needle.
“I told you to stop calling me that!” hisses Chiyo-san, and you stifle a giggle behind the palm of your hand. Her old nickname is one she’s sensitive about, though you’re not sure why. Only she would snap at Toshinori. “Now lie still so I can finish this!”
Their weekly acupuncture ritual is to help with the major injuries Toshinori sustained the last time he battled the Shogun One For All. The name causes a shudder to run through you. The battle lasted a few days, and the wounds you saw were ones that still haunt your darkest nightmares. That Shogun breeds oni—demons and monsters—and uses them to fight alongside his samurai. The samurai here call them Nomus, and it is said they can tear a man limb from limb.
You shudder, despite the heat. Bakugou… Bakugou was captured by that man. It was after that, after he returned from being rescued by Toshinori-sama and a few others, that his attitude towards you changed. He was a first year apprentice back then, and though he was often busy, he at least talked to you. The Bakugou who came back to you was changed. And for the life of you, you can’t figure out why.
With a low groan, you take the inventory book from Chiyo-san’s desk and begin to check the levels of herbs and plants. You’re better than this; thinking about Bakugou will only distract from your work. And a distracted healer is a dangerous thing.
The day goes by slowly, the thick, humid air making everyone lazy. You find that Chiyo-san is running low on a number of herbs. Most are easily collected in the garden behind the healer’s quarters, but a fair number are herbs that are gathered from the forests surrounding Yueii.
“I’m going out to get the herbs. We need them for tomorrow’s tea,” you announce to Chiyo shortly after lunch.
The old woman nods. “Yes, but don’t stay out after sundown. The woods are dangerous at night.”
You chuckle, gathering your basket and small knife. “Yes, Chiyo-san, I know.”
She grunts. “You know, but you don’t listen. Reckless brat.”
You laugh, and she ruffles your hair as you walk past her and into the summer heat. The sun has reached its zenith, beating down on you as you walk through the central courtyard and out into the outer courtyard and training fields.
You hear the clash of metal upon metal and can’t resist the urge to look to your left, where you know Aizawa and his students are training. Bakugou is among them. It's as though your eyes find him instantly, his ashy-blonde hair gilded with gold in the sunlight. He’s dueling Kirishima, the only person who would dare claim Bakugou as a friend. The two exchange blows with their katanas that are so quick your eyes can barely track them. They’re both stripped to the waist, no doubt do to the searing heat.
Bakugou is ruthless in battle, fighting with cunning and a surprising amount of grace, for one who seems to decide things based on anger alone. It's one of the things you liked about him. Emphasis on the past tense.
He’s so strong that it makes you feel pathetically weak in comparison. His body is a weapon just as much as the blade in his hand is. The corded lines of his muscles are on full display, and you catch yourself staring. He’s dripping sweat, plastering his hair to his forehead. His lips are curled in a feral grin, baring his teeth and he deals Kirishima a particularly harsh blow. You can’t stop watching him.
“Oh to be one of the noble samurai,” a lazy voice drawls, “eh, L/N?”
You turn to find that Shinsou Hitoshi, the apprentice to the blacksmith, has walked up behind you. He treads lighter than a cat, and is twice as clever. Aizawa has taken a shine to him, despite his common birth, and it seems as though soon he may enter into samurai training officially.
“They are… fierce,” you reply carefully.
Shinsou gives you a knowing smile, his eyes scanning the apprentices and lingering on the figure of Kaminari, another one of Aizawa’s students.
“Yes,” he murmurs, watching the yellow haired boy fight, “We can’t help what our hearts long for, can we?”
“No,” you whisper, your gaze finding Bakugou once more. “We can’t.”