When you told Chiyo-san you were going to collect herbs in the woods, you weren't lying. But you weren’t telling the entire truth either. There’s a reason why you don’t usually come back to Yueii until after sundown. And that reason is Shinsou Hitoshi.
“Again,” he commands, standing across from you in a small clearing in the woods outside the Estate. “And this time, keep an eye on your left side. You keep leaving it exposed.”
You nod, lifting the dagger he crafted for you a while back and settling your weight onto the balls of your feet. Ever since he found you practicing fighting moves in the woods a few years back, Shinsou took it upon himself to help train you. At first, it was the blind leading the blind, but now that he’s been training with Aizawa Sensei, his instructions have gotten better. But he’s also become a much harder sparring partner.
It's been over an hour now, since you completed collecting the herbs for Chiyo-san and began training with Shinsou. You’re soaked in sweat, hair coming undone from its braid, but you charge for Shinsou again, your dagger held at chin-level. The purple haired boy dodges it with an easy grin.
“Faster. Don’t go for the obvious strike,” he instructs, drawing his katana.
You’ve been practicing different scenarios, some in which he’s unarmed, others in which he has a knife, and now you’ve moved onto fighting an opponent with a katana. You’re at an obvious disadvantage, for multiple reasons, but Shinsou didn’t craft you just one knife.
You grab your other dagger from the sheath hidden inside your obi. Shinsou swings his sword down in a tight arc, but you bring your daggers up in an x-formation to block his strike. The impact of his blade against your own sends shudders down your arms, and you nearly drop your blades. Shinsou pushes down, unrelenting.
“You can’t beat me in brute strength,” he says, “Think, L/N.”
“I know it, you ass,” you pant, then twist. You may lack strength, but you’re fast. And using smaller weapons such as daggers is helpful to that degree, besides the fact you can easily conceal them within your clothes. You draw back your blades as you turn, then dart behind Shinsou. Before he can twist his katana around to beat you back with another blow, your blades are pointed at the base of his neck.
“Checkmate.” You grin, breathing hard.
The sound of clapping comes from behind both of you. Shinsou and you lower your weapons and turn to find none other than Aizawa-sama standing at the edge of the clearing, a smirk on his face.
“Chiyo-san was worried about you, L/N,” he says, striding forward, “She was concerned about you being alone in the woods. But I think you’re more than capable of taking care of yourself.”
“Aizawa-sama.” You bow deeply.
“Sensei,” Shinsou drawls, his level of disregard for decorum nearly matching Bakugou’s.
“Yeah yeah. Come on, you brats, it's almost dark,” Aizawa sighs, looking exhausted. The man never seems to be well rested. You’ve seen him nap in the strangest places around Yueii. The ridge of a wall, edge of the koi pond, even on one of Chiyo-san’s worktables, once.
After sheathing your daggers and gathering your basket of herbs, both you and Shinsou follow Aizawa from the forest, Shinsou walking by your side.
“You’re getting better,” he comments, nudging you with his elbow.
You groan. “You’re just being nice. You’ve improved so much more. I mean look at you!” You gesture at his arms. “You used to be like a stick, and now you’re huge! Kaminari was right. You have bulked up.”
“Kaminari said that?” Shinsou asks, clearly trying to sound casual, and you laugh. For someone so adamant about not making friends with nobles, he’s rather obvious when it comes to the yellow-haired samurai.
Then again, am I obvious? You wonder, as Yueii comes into view. The training fields are empty, the apprentices no doubt bathing or eating dinner. You part ways with Shinsou and Aizawa there. The two are likely going to train more.
With your basket in hand, you enter into the healer’s quarters, which are silent. Chiyo-san must be at dinner then. You need to eat as well, but that can wait. For now, you need to start storing the various herbs you gathered. Laying them out on the main work table of the infirmary, you separate the different plants. Some will be stored in jars, while others need to be tied in bunches and hung from the rafters. It won’t be done anytime soon, and you let out a small groan. Your body is aching from practice with Shinsou, and you could do with a bath and a meal, but this needs to be done now. Rolling up your sleeves, you set to work, humming to yourself as you do so.
Bakugou’s voice startles you. You look up from the herbs to find him leaning in the doorway of the infirmary, that ever-present scowl on his face.
Giving him a quick bow, you straighten yourself and ask, “Yes?”
“I need my hands bandaged, shitty woman,” he mutters, coming forward. He’s dressed in a black yukata, different from the black and orange one he had on this morning. This one is embroidered with gold koi fish. Still, like everything he wears, its main color is black. His hair is damp, the spikes slightly less voluminous. He must have bathed recently.
“Alright.” It’s an effort to keep your voice level at his derisive tone. You sigh, gesturing for him to sit at a nearby stool. Going to where the bandages and peppermint leaves are kept, you can’t help but wonder why he didn’t come earlier when Chiyo-san was here. It would have saved you both this awkwardness.
It's an unspoken agreement between the two of you that you don’t end up interacting one on one unless absolutely necessary. Normally, when Bakugou comes to the infirmary, you make sure to find some other task and leave Chiyo-san to tend to his injuries. It's less trouble for you both, that way.
As if he can read your thoughts, Bakugou says, “I came earlier, but the shitty old hag wasn’t here.”
“That’s no way to speak about your elders,” you remark, unable to keep the bite from your words as you walk back to him, bandages and peppermint in hand.
“Hah? The fuck you telling me that for?” He gripes, shifting his position on the stool as you begin to crush the peppermint leaves and lavender into a paste with a mortar and pestle, the soothing scent filling your nostrils. “It’s not like she’s here or anything. Besides, you're not my mother. Don’t tell me to fix my fucking language.”
You sigh, and an awkward silence falls as you finish blending the herbs and spread the paste on the bandages. Walking to Bakugou, you gesture for one of his hands, and he extends his left. There are blisters on his fingers and palms: red, angry sores that no doubt sting each time he grips his katana. You bite your lip and begin to wrap his right hand.
“The peppermint and lavender will soothe any aches you might have,” you murmur, trying to ignore the warmth of his skin. He always was like a furnace.
“I don’t need that pussy shit. You could have just wrapped them,” Bakugou snorts, red eyes looking anywhere but your face.
“And risk infection?” You snort. “I don’t think so.”
You both fall silent, the light of the setting sun coming through the open doorway and bathing everything in gold. The cool of evening is coming in, thank the gods. Any more of this heat and you’re sure you’ll melt. Your hair is curling from the heat, falling from your bun and into your eyes. A cold bath in the springs is sounding delightful right about now...
“What the hell is this?” Bakugou breaks the silence abruptly, his hands suddenly touching your bare forearm, calluses scraping your skin. He’s located the one scratch you received today from Shinsou’s katana. Of course he has. You curse the fates inwardly, and pull your arm away.
“I was gathering herbs in the forest earlier this evening. A branch scratched me,” you reply, biting back a retort about why he even cares.
“You were in the forest? Alone?” His crimson eyes meet yours at last, stormy with an emotion you think is worry. It disarms you as he continues speaking. “What the hell did you do that for? You tryin’ to get murked by a demon or some shit?”
You think of the two sheathed daggers hidden in your obi. “I can take care of myself, Bakugou-sama,” you retort, finding an odd satisfaction in the way his eyes shutter at the use of the honorific. There was a time when you called him Katsuki.
“Like fuck you can,” he snorts, “Shitty woman. You can barely use a bow.”
“Whatever you say, my Lord,” you say, but you tie his final bandage a little tighter than necessary, and smirk when he grimaces in pain. Maybe not entirely altruistic of you, but he had it coming.
You back away, watching Bakugou as he stands and turns to leave. The thought that’s been pestering at you all day, the one you keep ignoring, escapes you at last, and you ask, “Do you normally inquire into the well being of all the servants?”
He pauses, his broad shoulders rigid. But when he does speak, his response knocks you off balance.
“Dumbass. You said it yourself, didn’t you? You’re an apprentice. Not a servant.” With that, he walks from the infirmary, leaving you completely confused.
You’re an apprentice. Not a servant.
You’re nothing like me. You’re nothing but a charity case extra.
Bakugou’s juxtaposing remarks from today are giving you whiplash, you decide, as you munch on the pork buns Uraraka brought to you and the other servant girls for dinner.
Speaking of the kind handmaiden, she now sits beside you on the porch of the female servant’s quarters, eating a pork bun of her own. Mina is on your other side, along with Tsuyu and Hagakure. The five of you sit together, eating in silence. It seems that the day was long for them as well. Or perhaps it's just the heat making you all lazy.
Night has fallen, providing some coolness and relief from the sun, but the humidity remains, sticking your clothes to your skin. You managed a sponge bath with a bucket of water before changing into your shift, and your damp hair feels heavy in the heat. The night air is alive with the sound of crickets and other bugs, the warmth chafing at your skin.
“It’s so hot!” Hagakure moans, flinging herself back on the porch. “I wanna go to the forest spring. You know, where we went last summer? The water is so cold there.”
“I do too,” Mina sighs, “But there have been oni spotted roaming the forests lately. It’s not safe to go at night.”
“Which is the only time we can go, of course.” Hagakure grumbles.
“Maybe if we could get an apprentice samurai or another male servant to take us we could go,” Uraraka offers.
“I think the only apprentice up to that would be Mineta, Ochaco-chan,” Tsuyu says, and all the girls—including yourself—groan. How that purple haired creep managed to get an apprenticeship at Yueii is beyond all of you.
“I’m sure if Jirou mentioned it to Yaoyorozu-sama, she could get someone to accompany us,” Mina comments, which gains a few nods.
Jirou, a fellow maidservant, is a close companion to Lady Yaoyorozu, who is betrothed to the samurai apprentice Todoroki Shouto. At times, you can’t help but wonder if Jirou is more than a maidservant to her mistress.
If they are… it would mean that a relationship between a noble and a commoner—even a servant—is possible. But it’s a fool’s hope. Even if they are lovers, Yaoyorozu is still betrothed to Todoroki.
As Bakugou will someday be, most likely. The thought causes your stomach to twist. Would he allow himself to submit to an arranged marriage? You no longer know him well enough to answer that question. The Katsuki you knew would rather have an anchor tied about his feet and be pushed into a river. But he’s different now. If a marriage alliance would give him more power, he would be sure to take it. He’d be a fool, otherwise. And besides, why do you care?
It’s all the strange interactions I’ve had with him today, you decide. They’re making me confused.
“Y/N-chan?” Uraraka has laid a hand on your knee, her expression one of motherly concern. “Are you alright? You’re so quiet.”
You give her a tired smile. “Long day. And the heat isn’t helping.”
Your friend nods. “Go to bed early, alright? And make sure to drink lots of water. I worry for you. You healers work such long hours.”
Leaning into her, you rest your head on Uraraka’s shoulder. She hums slightly, and pats your head.
“You’re right, Ochaco-chan,” you say, already feeling sleepy. You drift off against her shoulder, and later awaken slightly as Mina leads you to your futon. You collapse upon it, muttering a prayer that there will be no dreams tonight, and that you will sleep in peace.
If only you were so lucky.
You’re with Chiyo-san, tending to the wounded, when Midoriya returns with the news. The infirmary is filled with the cries of the injured and the metallic scent of blood. Ever since the army returned from battle a few days ago, the dead and dying have been an unceasing stream into Yueii that turned to a river. You’ve barely slept in three days.
And yet your eyes keep searching for him. Among the wounded, the unscathed. Even among the corpses. But he’s nowhere to be seen.
Bakugou. Only a week ago did he leave you, a cocky grin on his face and his katana in his hand. He’d ruffled your hair and laughed at your teary eyes. Don’t cry, idiot. I’m gonna blow those joke-samurai out of the water. Just depend on me.
Those words seem to ring with irony now, as a devastated Midoriya stumbles into the estate’s main courtyard, sobbing about how Kacchan has been captured. Your blood runs cold, and the basin of red-tinted water you hold in your hands falls to the ground. It shatters, the liquid sloshing over your sandaled feet. You don’t feel it.
You don’t feel anything for the next few days, really. Which works to your benefit, in a way. The wounded still need tending to, and Chiyo-san needs all the help she can get. The older woman tries to get you to stop and rest, but you keep pushing yourself harder and harder. If you stop working, all that will be left is the hollowness in your gut and the images your subconscious conjures up of Bakugou: injured, tortured, dead.
When you do rest, it’s only to eat the food Uraraka brings you, or when you fall onto your futon in your dirty clothes in the early hours of the morning, sleeping fitfully.
Toshinori-sama and the other top samurai return at last, and Bakugou is with them. Somehow they managed to save him, but Toshinori is near dead because of it. You want to rush to where Bakugou is immediately, but the wounded still need your help. But hearing that he’s back, safe and sound, nearly sends you to your knees. Ducking out behind the healers’ quarters, you sob into your dirty hands, dizzy with relief and fatigue.
The first time you talk to Bakugou after he returns is the last real interaction you have with him for the next four years. But you don’t know that. So when you see him crossing the inner courtyard a few days later, you rush to him, smiling and arms outstretched.
“Katsuki-kun!” You call, and he turns towards you.
“The fuck do you want.” He growls.
You draw up short and freeze, only a few paces away from him. The coldness in his eyes, the scowl on his face… this isn’t the Bakugou you know. It’s certainly not the boy you once called Katsuki.
“I… I just wanted to see you,” you say lamely, floundering, “When I heard you were captured I was—”
The wrong thing to say. You watch as his face twists in rage, his hands clenched into fists at his sides.
“You were what? Worried? I don’t need your fucking pity or worry, you damn extra. Leave me the fuck alone,” Bakugou snaps.
And in that single, fell swoop, he rips your heart in two. It hasn’t healed since.
You sit up in bed, tears sliding down your cheeks.
“Dammit all,” you hiss, swiping at them angrily.
Once again, your movements go unnoticed as you pull on your robe and creep out into the hot summer night, but this time, you sling your bow and quiver over your shoulder to take with you. The other weapon you can use, but not because of Shinsou.
Kageyama-sama, the Lady of Midnight, took it upon herself to train you a few years ago, when you first began your apprenticeship with Chiyo-san at the age of fifteen. It is not wise for a female healer to go into battle without a way to defend herself, L/N-chan. The tall, dark-haired woman told you, when she handed you the white yew bow and goosefeather arrows. Consider this my gift to you, as well as a warning. It is the spirit of youth that encourages us girls to learn to defend ourselves! She smiled broadly, and gave you a little push towards the shooting range. Now… let’s get started!
Bakugou had snorted when you told him you were learning to shoot a bow, but had praised your skill with it in his own way. Not bad, for a shitty girl. He would even challenge you to shooting matches, which you would usually beat him at, to his dismay. Those sessions together had been cut short after his own training began, and then ended completely, after he had been captured.
It’s not him on watch tonight in the inner courtyard, but Midoriya. The regular soldiers guard the outer courtyard and walls of the estate, but samurai (usually apprentices) take turns watching the inner courtyard, which surrounds the sleeping quarters of the nobles, as well as the servants. The outer courtyard houses buildings such as the stables, kitchens, barracks, and forge. Chiyo-san’s infirmary is located within the inner courtyard, not just because she sleeps there, but also so that she can be close to her patients.
Taking a back exit that is rarely monitored, you make your way into the forest, following the well-worn paths by the light of the stars. The moon isn’t out tonight, making the shadows of the trees longer. You pick your way through the forest carefully so as not to trip on rocks or roots, making your way to the small clearing where you and Shinsou practice. There, at the edge of the glen, is a tree carved with a rough target.
Positioning yourself on the other side of the clearing, you knock an arrow in your bowstring and take aim. The starlight is dim, but it's good practice for shooting in the dark. And it’s a welcome distraction from the emotions swirling in your chest, the tears still drying on your face. You shoot arrow after arrow, until they litter the trunk of the tree. Most are close to the center of your target, which gives you a small measure of satisfaction. You haven’t practiced with your bow in a while.
There’s a rustle in the woods behind you. Likely a rabbit or a squirrel, or some other harmless woodland creature. Still, you glance over your shoulder all the same.
A pair of glowing, yellow eyes meet yours from the darkness. Your body goes unnaturally still, even while your heart jumps into a gallop. You may not be a samurai, but you have heard enough stories to know that those are eyes that can only belong to an oni. A monster. A demon.
It's just one. If you can manage to shoot one of its eyes, you can kill it. But fear is heady in your veins, causing your fingers to go slack around the handle of your bow. It falls to the mossy ground with a dull thunk. You don’t move.
As if smelling your terror, the demon slinks into the clearing, grey mottled skin shining dimly in the starlight. Your breath catches. The pink, rippling muscle of its brain is exposed from its cranium. This is no wild demon. It’s a Nomu, a breed of oni created by the Dark Shogun himself. All for One. The wind in the trees seems to whisper his name.
The Nomu lets out a sickening howl, and to your horror, a chorus of similar replies follows, coming from the forest behind it. There’s an army of them. And here you are in your nightgown, with a half full quiver of arrows and your bow on the ground.
You’ve seen the wounds these creatures can inflict upon a grown man. You know that to face one and live is beating the odds. You’ve seen the bodies of those ripped apart by them. Have watched the few that survive a fight with a Nomu die from their wounds, sobbing for their mothers as they go.
There is only one thing you can do. Picking up your bow from the ground, you turn and run.
The demons follow.