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In the Land of the Impure

Chapter Text

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. 

Bakugou... 

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.” 

Chapter Text

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. 

“Oi. You.” 

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. 



Chapter Text

You sprint through the dark forest, breath a burning rasp in your lungs. Demons are fast, and some of them are sure to fly, but with your head start, you might be able to outrun them. The crash of their clawed feet trampling the underbrush fills the night sky, second only to the roar of blood in your ears. You can’t slow down. The lives of everyone inside Yueii depend on your swiftness, here, now. The Nomu only need to get lucky once—if you trip, if you falter—its game over. You have to get lucky every time. There can be mistakes. You can only keep running forward, and pray you’re fast enough.  

At last the edge of the forest comes into view, the open grassy field that spreads between the woods and Yueii’s main gates stretching out before you. The air in your lungs seems to vanish, and you heave down more oxygen, pushing the last of your strength into your legs for this final sprint. The howls of the demons fills the night sky, shattering the peaceful chirping of crickets and the whisper of the summer wind. 

Yueii is less than a hundred yards away, the torches upon its walls burning brightly. You see figures moving across the battlements of the outer wall and nearly sob in relief. They’ll have heard the howls. But they won’t know that it's Nomus. Their howls are practically identically to those of a wolf. 

“Close the gates!” You scream, hurtling forward the last a few yards. Your hair is loose, flaring out behind you, your nightgown and robe flapping against your legs, mud splattered across the hem. You’re amazed you haven’t lost a sandal yet; even more amazed that they haven’t caused you to trip. You cry out again, voice strained from a lack of oxygen, “There are demons coming! Nomus!”

The guards cry out in surprise, no doubt seeing the legion of demons now breaking free of the treeline. You hear the twang of bowstrings and the whistle of arrows, and something falls behind you with a guttural cry— an airborne Nomu, most likely. The bulking body hits the ground with a crash, shaking the earth beneath your feet. You don’t look back to see where it fell, if it was aiming for you. You keep running, trusting the archers on the walls to cover your six. 

The alarms are ringing out, torches lighting throughout the Estate, the gongs being beat upon relentlessly. Calling those warriors who are asleep—samurai and soldier alike— to arms. The rolling beats thrum in your blood, matching the pounding of your heart. 

The front gates are beginning to close just as you reach them, but even once you’re within the outer courtyard, you don’t stop running. Instead, you take a sharp right and surge up the stairs and onto the battlements, slinging your bow off your shoulder and knocking an arrow in the string as you go. 

Kirishima Ejirou is already atop the battlements, long bow in hand. The unbreakable wall— the red-haired samurai is known for holding the line in battle at all costs. The sight of him is a relief. If he’s here, that means the other samurai are likely awake and at their posts as well. You see no sign of Bakugou, however, but do spot Lady Kageyama firing arrows from further down the battlements. 

“Kirishima-sama!” You call out, running to stand behind him on the wall. 

He blinks in surprise, before a wide, toothy grin covers his face. “L/N-chan! What on earth are you doing here?” 

Despite the circumstances, you bite back a grin. His warm and bubbly attitude has remained undimmed through the years; it still brings a smile to your face. 

“Didn’t you see me?” You ask, aiming for a rogue demon that surges from the main gates ahead of the pack, eating up the ground as it runs on all fours. “I was the one running across the field and screaming like a crazy person!”

Kirishima finishes stringing his bow as you fire, the feather of the arrow brushing your cheek in farewell as you release it. It misses its mark, hitting the demon’s leathery flank, rather than the flesh of its cranium. You grit your teeth in frustration. You’re not as precise as you used to be. Next time you’re training with Shinsou, you’ll force him to go over shooting again. You’re out of practice, and it’s a little embarrassing. 

“You were the one who sounded the alarm? How manly of you, Y/N-chan!” Kirishima exclaims, knocking his own arrow. His shot takes the demon you hit (now limping, to your satisfaction) down with an arrow clean through its eye. 

You loose another arrow of your own towards the rapidly approaching crowd of monsters and snap, “I’m not a man, Kiri.” In the heat of battle, you fall back on old nicknames you haven’t used in ages. 

“Oh right!” Kirishima doesn’t see to mind, it seems. “How womanly of you, L/N!” 

“Heavens above,” you snort, and reach for more arrows. Your quiver is empty, so you restock quickly, taking some from one of the standing quivers, which are placed across the battlements so that archers don’t have to go far to restock.

The demons have reached the gate by now, crashing against the dark oak doors, scrabbling at the walls. The archers are picking them off, but those that are winged take flight and soar over the outer walls, the leathery beat of their wings blowing hot air on the faces of those standing on the battlements. You curse, and aim for one of the flying ones. But a moving target is harder to hit. 

“The demons will scale these battlements soon, L/N,” Kirishima informs you, “Get back inside the inner walls, to the second courtyard. It’ll be safer there. I appreciate your help, but you’re in not any position to fight hand to hand with these monsters.”

He’s right. The samurai and soldiers are in armor and have katanas, while all you have on is a nightgown and a robe. Your daggers are no match for a demon, and besides, they’re hidden in your chest in the women’s chambers. 

“The inner courtyard, Right.” Then it dawns on you, and you gasp, “The servant’s quarters! Those women are unarmed!” 

“Don’t worry,” The red haired boy grins, “That’s the first place Baku-bro went when the alarm was sounded. He’ll be there.”

“There? Surely he would want to be on the front lines,” you mutter. It’s not the time to analyze his behavioral patterns, but you can’t help it. 

“That’s where he thought you were,” Kirishima replies, unsheathing his katana. “So of course that’s where he went.” 

You gape at him, trying to process what he just said. But Kirishima merely turns and brings his blade down upon a clawed hand that has latched onto the top of the wall. There’s a screech as the Nomu falls back, leaving its severed appendages behind. Taking that as your cue to leave, you turn and clamber down from the battlements, calling encouragement to Kiri. To your surprise, you pass Shinsou as you go. He’s in leather armor and has a naked blade in his hand— likely one he forged himself. 

“What the hell are you doing here?” The purple haired boy asks incredulously as he brushes by you. 

“Target practice!” You reply, and sprint for the inner courtyard. 

The main courtyard is mostly empty, soldiers either on top of the battlements or working to brace the main gate. It seems that the majority of winged Nomu that have managed to escape the arrows of the archers have landed in the inner courtyard. Hoping to find it less defended, no doubt. But upon entering the gates you find it full of samurai, katanas glinting in the light of the torches and braziers. The buildings to the left of you are the women’s quarters—servants and nobility alike—and you sprint towards them, dodging the samurai and Nomu as you go. The air is thick with the smell of smoke (the male servant’s quarters are on fire) and the howls of the Nomu. The cries of men are few and far in between, to your relief. 

You sprint past the well and to the women’s quarters, drawing up short outside of it. Bakugou stands outside of it, the katana in his hand covered in black demon blood. The red glow of the torches catches on the gold strands of his hair, and casts his cheekbones and the hollows of his face into sharp relief. He looks like some kind of avenging angel, as he takes the head off of a fallen demon that lies wounded on the ground with a brutal stroke of his sword.  

A flying Nomu swoops downwards towards him. Without thinking, you pull an arrow from your quiver and take aim at the creature. Your arrow hits its mark, tearing a large hole on the fleshy membrane of the creature’s wing. The Nomu falls with a howl. Bakugou pounces on its body the moment it hits the ground, beheading it with a single strike of his katana. Then he whirls around, panting and eyes wild with bloodlust. When they land on you, he snarls:

“Where the fuck have you been, shitty woman?”

You ignore him, asking instead, “Where are the other female servants?” 

“Inside. Where you should be, dumbass.” The answer is given through gritted teeth, and he indicates the quarters behind him with a jerk of his head. 

You nod, exhaling a long breath and shoulders sagging in relief. When you look up, Bakugou is still looking at you, glowering. Seeming to come to a decision of some sort, he stomps up to you, halting less than a foot away, teeth bared and dark blood splattering his face, making him look like some kind of feral animal.  

“You didn’t answer my question,” he snaps. “Where the hell were you?”

His domineering tone needles at you, and you bristle, replying in a cold tone, “I was on the battlements.” 

“Doing fucking what?” He glares down at you. “You’re a healer, for fuck’s sake. Quit playing hero.” 

“I wasn’t playing hero, you jackass,” you say, and his face goes white with rage. But before he can bite your head off, you add, “Besides, I was the one who sounded the alarm anyways. If I hadn’t been in the woods—”

“You were in the woods? The motherfucking woods? ” Bakugou barks, then spins to kill an approaching demon, splitting it from chin to navel. Your jump back onto the porch of the servant’s quarters to avoid being hit by the spray of dark blood. Bakugou always seems to go for the bloodiest kill possible. 

Taking a moment to gather yourself, you glance around you. It seems that the battle is mostly over, at least in the inner courtyard. The flying Nomu are all dead or being killed by the other samurai. You spot Kaminari and Todoroki putting out the fire in the men’s quarters with the help of Aizawa. The groaning of wounded soldiers reaches your ears, but the clash of metal and the howls of demons have lessened considerably. Chiyo-san. She’ll likely need your help. You turn to leave, content to leave Bakugou to help with the dispatching of the last of the Nomus that lie wounded on the ground, but his voice stops you. 

“You didn’t answer my question. Again. What were you doing in the woods?” He still doesn’t address you by name. He hasn’t, not since that day four years ago when he returned from being captured. First or last, it doesn’t seem to matter. His new name for you seems to be “shitty woman”. 

You sigh, turning around to look at him. “It's not any of your business what I was doing there.” 

He lets out a low growl, and bites out, “It damn well is. Is that where you’ve been going at night?” 

“I need to go help Chiyo-san.” You’re done with his overprotectiveness and derision. You turn to go, but he grabs your arm. His hands still have the wrappings you put on them this afternoon. They’re warm, but it's an uncomfortable, chafing warmth. 

“You fucking a noble or some shit? Is that what it is?” His voice is a snarl. 

Your eyes widen in shock and outrage, and you gasp, “How dare you?” 

Bakugou’s face darkens. “Is it that half and half bastard? Todoroki?” 

“I’m not going to bother answering you,” you try to keep your tone level and fail, your voice rising in anger. “Even if it was that—which it is not— it would be none of your concern. Let me go.” 

“We’re not done here,” he growls, red eyes flashing. 

“Yes, we are ,” you snap, yanking your arm from his grip. Fury boils your blood, turning it hot as the summer night and twice as bitter. Glaring at Bakugou, you bare your teeth, your temper taking control as you snarl,  “You don’t talk to me like a normal human being for years, and then you think you can just order me around out of nowhere?What gives you the right? I don’t need your protection or your questions. I can take care of myself. I learned how to, after you cast me aside. So leave me alone.” 

He steps back, eyes wide, as if somehow you’ve wounded him. A feeling of guilt and regret washes over you, but the anger drowns it almost instantly. He can’t feel bad now, can he? He chose this path for the two of you. He dug the grave for what used to be your friendship. You’re just putting the final nails in the coffin. 

“You chose this,” you hiss, “Don’t you forget that, Bakugou-sama.” 

You’re twisting the knife now, but it feels too good to stop. Too powerful. You’re drunk on the effect your words have on him. You’ve never voiced any of your anger or frustration in the past, always choosing to keep silent in the hopes that someday the Katsuki you knew would return to you. But this is your breaking point. You can’t take this anymore. This sudden interest in your comings and goings, your personal affairs... what is he playing at? 

“I—” he starts. 

“After all,” you cut him off, your tone mockingly sweet. You hope it rots those fang-like teeth of his, “It wouldn’t do for the mighty samurai, Lord Bakugou Katsuki, to be seen inquiring about a mere servant .” 

With that, you turn and run for the infirmary. It may be childish to just leave like that, but his recent actions have been nothing if not childish. The other female servants will be safe. Bakugou is more than enough manpower, you’re willing to admit. He can protect them, should the need arise. Besides, Chiyo-san will need help with the wounded. 

You run, and don’t look back. Leaving him behind as the world around you burns. 

 


 

The infirmary is chaos when you arrive. There are not as many wounded as there would have been, had you not sounded the alarm when you did, but there are still a sizable number. Any battle with a Nomu is bound to have casualties. Chiyo-san looks up from the soldier she’s tending to when you arrive, her expression softening in relief. 

“Y/N-chan,” she says, “I’m so glad you’re alright.” 

“Me too,” you reply, “I’m going to wash out back and then I’ll get to work.” 

You manage to give her a weary smile as you roll up your sleeves. You must look a mess, your hair undone and robe and nightgown covered in mud and demon blood, a bow and quiver slung around your torso. Moving aside to allow Aizawa to escort a man with a grisly gash on his leg into the infirmary, you walk to the back of the infirmary, stepping into Chiyo-san’s garden. There’s a large basin of water next to the door, and you wash your hands and face in it, savoring the moment of peace. Removing your bow and quiver, you place the weapons against the back wall. They’ll be there later, when you have time to store them properly. Then you put up your hair and head back inside.

You’re stitching up an ugly but shallow cut on Hizashi-sama’s back (the result of a too-close brush with a flying Nomu) when Midoriya stumbles into infirmary, a limp and barely-conscious Toshinori slung around his shoulder. 

“Help!” His green eyes are frantic. You look over your shoulder to see deep, gouging claw marks stretching across the expanse of Toshinori’s broad torso. They don’t look too deep, but Midoriya seems scared. 

Chiyo-san hurries over to the pair, leading Midoriya and Toshinori to an open work table. Most of the injured need stitching and bandages, and not much more. Only a few had injuries that warranted remaining in the infirmary. You continue stiching up Hizashi’s wound, snorting when he yelps every now and then, but you keep your ear tuned into Chiyo’s conversation.

“These gashes didn’t look too bad,” Midoriya is saying, “But after a few moments, Toshinori Sensei just collapsed. And then he started having trouble breathing.”

“Let me take a closer look,” Chiyo murmurs. 

You finish with Hizashi’s stitches, bandaging his wound before moving to the table on which Toshinori lays. The gashes aren’t deep, but there’s a strange sheen to the blood oozing from them.

“His bleeding…” you say, “But the blood flow... it’s almost sluggish. But it's not congealing either. It’s almost as if something is preventing the wound from closing…” 

“Wait a minute.” Chiyo-san is taking a thin bamboo stick with a wad of cotton on the end and swiping Toshinori’s wound with it. The number one samurai groans, but remains otherwise unconscious. The cotton at the end of the stick comes up bloody, but there’s also a strange dark liquid intermixed with it. A sinking feeling of dread fills your stomach. You’ve seen this before, on a soldier who returned from battle. His wounds couldn’t seem to heal, no matter what Chiyo-san did, and he died a month later. A slow, agonizing death. 

“Chiyo-san?” Midoriya’s voice is a pitch higher than normal. “What is it?”

The older woman’s face is ashen when she answers. “Poison.”

Chapter Text

“Poison?” Midoriya gasps, eyes wide in horror. “But surely there’s an antidote, isn’t there?” 

“There likely is, but we have to study the poison further to identify what type it is,” Chiyo-san replies, “If not identified properly, any antidote we administer to Toshinori could worsen the poison’s effects.” 

She glances at you before continuing, “Though Y/N-chan’s area of study is poison and venom… it would be best if she studied it.”

Midoriya glances at you in surprise. “I didn’t know that, Y/N-san.”

You nod. “It's not something I really broadcast, but yes. And besides, it's more a hobby than anything. But I have seen something similar to this poison before. I’d have to observe Toshinori-sama’s symptoms further, but…” 

You gnaw on your lower lip, thinking. If this poison is the same as that soldier from all those years ago… then that would mean… your blood runs cold. If you’re right, then this is much more serious than you might think.

Turning to the older woman, you say, “Chiyo-san, perhaps if Midoriya took me to the Nomu that did this, I could further examine the venom and bring back a sample.”

She hums in agreement. “Good idea. In the meantime, I’ll try to make Toshinori comfortable and take care of the other wounded.” 

You nod, then turn to Midoriya. The green haired boy is muttering to himself, clearly stressed about something. 

“If I had beheaded it… it wouldn’t have jumped up and clawed him. If I had been more careful…” he murmurs, brow furrowed. 

“Midoriya,” you say, and his head snaps up, “You couldn’t have predicted this. Besides, reflecting on what you could have done won’t help Toshinori-sama  now. You did your best. Don’t beat yourself over this.” 

Midoriya relaxes, nodding. You give him a reassuring smile, despite the fact that the poison running through the number one samurai of Yueii could be a creation of the Dark Shogun, All For One, himself. Grabbing a paring knife, pliers, and a glass jar, you gesture for Midoriya to lead the way out of the infirmary and into the inner courtyard. 

The grey of dawn has begun to lighten the sky to the east of the compound, and smoke and morning mist intermingle in the air as the two of you walk side by side. Midoriya leads you to the outer courtyard, where soldiers and samurai alike have begun to pile the bodies of the Nomu just outside the front gate. There, they will be burned, as is the custom.

“Do you think they’ve collected the body of the demon that injured Toshinori-sama?” You ask. 

“It attacked us at the edge of the main courtyard, so I doubt it.” Midoriya replies, as you walk by Shinsou and Kaminari lugging a dismembered oni towards the pyre. The noxious smell of the dead Nomu makes you want to gag, and you switch to breathing through your mouth so as to avoid the smell.

You notice Kirishima and Bakugou up on the battlements, hefting a Nomu’s corpse between them. As luck would have it, Bakugou glances down and sees the two of you. His red eyes meet yours, narrowing when he notices Midoriya at your side. You look away quickly, hurrying after the green-haired samurai, who’s a few paces ahead of you. 

“Here it is!” He calls in relief, bringing you to the hulking body that lies at the edge of the courtyard, “I beheaded it after it attacked Toshinori Sensei.” 

Crouching down, you study the beast’s corpse. Its body is wingless, so it must have been among those that breached the main gate. Moving to where the severed head lies, you use your knife to lift the creature's blood-speckled lips back. Its teeth are long and bone-white, but there seems to be no sign of venom on them. Just the claws then. You move back to the remainder of the body, and look at the Nomu’s taloned hands and feet. There, at the end of each wickedly curved nail, glistens a sheen of purple liquid. 

Taking your knife, you saw off one of the hands, then use the pliers to drop the appendage into your jar. Glancing up at Midoriya, you give him a firm nod.

“This is enough,” you inform him, “I’m going to head back to the infirmary. We’ll take good care of Toshinori-sama, so depend on us, okay?” 

The green-haired samurai nods, tears filling his eyes. You pat his shoulder gently. He really hasn’t changed all that much from when you were kids. Though he has grown to match your height. Before he was so short. It was cute. 

Snapping yourself from your reverie, you wave goodbye to Midoriya and thank him for his help. 

“I’ll be sure to keep you posted on everything!” You call as you walk away, “And I’ll heal Toshinori-sama, I promise. Remember, Plus Ultra!” 

He cracks a watery grin at your use of Toshinori’s personal maxim, and echoes it back, “Plus Ultra!” 

You give him a wave, then hurry across the courtyard, past the growing pile of demon bodies. You can feel those crimson eyes on you as you go past. You ignore them.

 


 

“Dammit!” You snap, throwing down your scalpel and crossing your arms in frustration.    

“Y/N-chan? What is it?” Chiyo-san calls from across the infirmary, where she’s helping rebandage Toshinori’s wounds. The lacerations on his chest won’t close, and blood seeps through the wrappings at an alarmingly fast rate. He’s come to a few times, and deliriously accepted the water and broth Chiyo-san feeds him. But overall, he’s not getting any better. 

It’s been about four hours since the battle ended. At your mentor’s insistence, you washed and changed clothes before returning to dissect the Nomu hand, as well as grabbed a bite to eat. It’ll do no good if you’re dead on your feet, the older woman had told you, before shoeing you out the door.

That didn’t stop you from changing in record time and practically inhaling the onigiri Tsuyu gave you when she saw you in the female servant’s quarters. When you returned, you set to work dissecting the Nomu’s hand, curious to see where the venom was sourced from. But now, with the dissected hand lying before you, there is no trace of any poison glands near the claws that would have secreted the venom. 

This wasn’t a magically altered Nomu. At least, not in regards to the venom,” you mutter, “If it was, it would have glands. This Nomu’s claws were coated with the poison, yes, but not secreted by its body naturally.”

Chiyo-san frowns. “What are you thinking?”

You remove the leather gloves you put on to protect yourself from the poison as you dissected the hand, nibbling on your lower lip as you do so. “I’m not sure. Either way, it doesn’t matter how the venom got on the Nomu’s claws. I need to figure out how to stop its effects. I remember a similar case from when we had that spy return from All For One’s Estate. The one who died slowly… painfully.” 

“I remember.” Your mentor’s face is grave. 

That was a few years ago,” you say, “And All For One has been around for a lot longer. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an account of this poison in the archives. Perhaps the medical records…”

Chiyo-san hums in agreement. “It's worth a shot. I’ll hold down the fort here. There are only a few other men who are severely wounded, other than Toshinori, and they’re stable. You go.” 

You give her a firm nod. “I’ll find answers, I promise.”

The older woman smiles, tossing you a peach. “Eat this. You’ll need your energy.” 

You catch it in both hands, grinning and heading for the library. It’s a large building, separated from Shogun Nezu’s main quarters by a small garden. You make your way past koi ponds and Shishi-odoshi—the small bamboo devices that fill with water before falling to knock against river stones with a hollow “clunk”. The noise of trickling water and the buzzing of the cicadas in the midday air is soothing, and you drink it in as you walk, eating your peach as you go. The juices drip down your fingers and chin. 

Pausing outside the pagoda that houses the library, you lick the digits clean before wiping them dry on your yukata. Ishiyama-same would never let you into the library with sticky fingers. 

Speaking of Ishiyama, the hulking man sits on the porch of the library, dozing in the shade. He’s dressed in maroon, grey hair pulled back into a stubby ponytail at the base of his neck. For reasons you don’t fully understand, Chiyo calls him “Cementoss.” He hates it. But it's the best way to get him up.

“Cementoss Sensei!” You call, and he jerks awake, frowning when he sees you. 

“L/N. I should have known,” he sighs, “Come to read again, have you?” 

“Yes,” you reply, giving him an apologetic smile. “Sorry about the nickname.”

“It is some way to treat the man who taught you to read,” he mutters, “Chiyo-san’s doing, I’ll expect. Well, go ahead. I have to leave for a council meeting in a little while, but I’ll trust you to take care of the books.” 

You nod eagerly, and brush past him into the archives. The smell of paper and binding-glue greets you like an old friend, bringing up fond memories of the past. 

When you were chosen by Chiyo-san to become a healer, her first order of business was getting Ishiyama to teach you to read. You’ve spent more hours than you can count inside the cool, dark halls of the library, poring over dusty texts with the middle-aged man. The medical records are located in a far back corner, and you grab a candle to take with you. To keep the books from sun-damage, there are no windows in the library, making the interior pitch black, aside from a few torches flickering in their sconces. 

Taking a series of medical records of campaigns on All For One’s Estate, you plunk the dusty tomes on a nearby desk with your candle and begin to read. 

You’re bent over the books for what seems like hours before you find what you’re seeking. The records go back far; after all, the Dark Shogun’s life is sustained by dark magic, the source for his long life. He’s practically immortal, at this point. Which only makes your job harder. There’s so much material to go through. 

Just as you’re about to give up, you find an account from a healer over a hundred year ago about a battle that took place outside of the Dark Shogun’s Estate. He speaks of a poison that coated arrows and other weapons of All for One’s soldiers. He writes that it delayed healing and led to a slow death of the patient from blood loss and prolonged exhaustion. But there seems to be no sign of a cure. You read on, words blurring before you, desperate to find some kind of antidote. 

A few, agonizing pages later, you locate it. The healer’s successful antidote. But what you read next causes your heart to sink.

The poison can only be cured using the nectar of a blue and white flower called Nightflower. The healer found it growing on the slopes of the Northern mountains just west of All For One’s Estate. These flowers only grow in the North, and are also the only known cure for the Dark Shogun’s Nightflower poison. Nightflower poison, named for the only ingredient which can act as an antidote. 

You curse, slamming the book shut in frustration. That’s it. There is a cure, but the key ingredient is a flower which grows on All For One’s doorstep. You grit your teeth in frustration.

Not only that, but something else still needles at you. The way the poison got to Toshinori still makes no sense. In these records, Nightflower poison was always on arrows or swords, not on the claws of demons. Which means that the demon’s claws would’ve had to have been coated with the poison just prior to the attack. Otherwise the venom would have rubbed off if the Nomu was moving on all fours. 

Though you didn’t get to see that Nomu in action. Most tend to walk on two legs like a human. Only aberrants go on all fours. And the location of the Nomu that hurt Toshinori… its body was so close to the side exit, a secret way known only to those who live in the Estate, as it can only be opened from the inside. The pieces fall into place, and you sit up with a gasp, mind spinning.

“Someone let this demon in after seeing Midoriya and Toshinori-sama close to the door. It was a planned hit. They were waiting at that door… the side exit,” you’re speaking aloud without realizing it. Your mouth goes dry, tongue seeming to swell, making it impossible to swallow. “Someone was watching me. Which means that the person who let that demon in… had to have been inside the Estate.”

Your blood runs cold, even as a phantom wind blows past you, rustling the papers of the books lying open before you. The light of your candle suddenly gutters, flickering and nearly going out. Lifting your light, you cup a hand around it to protect the small flame, and look around you. The hairs on the back of your neck rise, and shiver skitters down your spine. 

“Cementoss Sensei?” You ask, but there’s no reply. It wouldn’t be him, anyways. He should be at the council meeting by now. 

The library suddenly seems sinister in the dark, like a tomb. The tall shelves cast long shadows on the floor, and you catch the faint shuffling noise of footsteps.

Drawing the knife from your obi, you creep forward, peering into the swirling darkness before you. 

“I know you’re there,” you speak into the darkness, “Show yourself, coward!” 

“What a clever little thing you are,” Comes a deep voice from the shadows, and a man in a dark purple robe steps out before you. His face swims in the shadows around him, so that you can barely make out his features. “And to think. You’re nothing more than a servant girl.”

You straighten your back and reply, “I am healer. Not a servant.” 

“Nonetheless, your death won’t be of any significance.” The man of shadows says to you. “Just a horrible accident.” 

“Like hell it will be,” you snap, raising your knife. 

You catch the glint of teeth in the darkness, as he grins. “How fascinating. You remind me of someone I used to know… what is your name, healer?”

“Tell me your name, and I’ll tell you mine,” you fire back.

“I suppose I can, since you’re going to die anyways.” His voice is nonchalant. “My name is Kurogiri. Now, tell me yours, and then I will end this.”

“My name is Y/N L/N.” Your voice is a growl. “Now come at me, you bastard.” 

There’s no way you’ll win a fight against this man, who towers above you and lurks in the shadows. But there’s no other option. Your heart pounds in your chest, adrenaline pumping through you as you prepare for a fight. 

Kurogiri, stops, his head tilting. “Y/N L/N, you say?” His tone has changed to one of surprise, and to your confusion, familiarity. As if he has heard of you before. Then he murmurs, as of speaking to himself, “I thought you looked familiar. Those eyes of yours… it's why I followed you in the first place…” 

“Well?” You snap, tired of his dawdling. Your fingers tighten around your blade. “Are you going to kill me, or what?” 

“No. I don’t think I will.” The tall man replies. For the first time, you make out his eyes in the dark as they catch the light of your candle. They’re a shocking color of yellow. Almost like the eyes of a demon. 

You shiver. “Why not?”

“Because there are people who will be very interested to know that you are still alive,” he murmurs. “Yes… the master will be very pleased.” 

“What?” 

You gape at him, unable to comprehend what he’s saying. How does he know your name? What does it matter to him? Does this have something to do with who you were, before you came to Yueii? It’s a time you can barely remember, aside from fragments of fuzzy memories that blur together like running watercolors in your mind.

But the man merely turns, whispering a string of words in a guttural language you don’t recognize as he does. Suddenly, a glowing, purple circle, as tall and as wide as one of the bookshelves, forms behind him. The inside is inky black, and he steps back into it, disappearing immediately. In an instant, he is gone, leaving you alone in the library, panting in the dark. 

 


 

After scouring the shelves of the library for any sign of the shadowy infiltrator, you sprint to the infirmary, intent on telling Chiyo-san your news. Upon arrival, however, you are met not with the sight of the older woman, but that of Uraraka and Midoriya, sitting beside the bed on which Toshinori lies.

“Ochako-chan? Midoriya? Where is Chiyo-san?” You ask, bewildered and out of breath. 

Uraraka frowns. “She’s at a council meeting with Shogun Nezu and the other Samurai. She asked us to keep an eye on Toshinori-same while she was gone. They’re meeting about the attack, and what to do now that Toshinori-sama is…” she casts a worried look at Midoriya, and murmurs, “Indisposed.” 

Midoriya studies you and frowns. “Are you alright, Y/N? You look as though you’ve seen a ghost.” 

“Something like that,” you mutter, then turn and run from the infirmary, heading for the main hall.

In all your life, you’ve never done something quite so impulsive or reckless as bursting into the middle of one of the Shogun’s council meetings. You’ve attended them in the past, when the need arose, sitting quietly beside Chiyo-san as the members of Nezu’s council debated matters of war and peace. But now, as you dash across the courtyard and push apart the double doors that bar the way into the Shogun’s hall, you’re at a loss for what to say. 

Especially as all eyes turn to you, including a pair of crimson orbs you’ve desperately been trying to ignore lately. The samurai and council members sit along the walls, nestled between the ornate pillars that hold up arched ceiling. This is so that the center remains clear, a clean stretch that leads straight to the Shogun’s seat. You approach it, kneeling hastily, palms and forehead pressed to the wood floor. 

“Nezu-dono!” You exclaim. “Forgive me, but I come with urgent news.” 

You look up, still panting from your run. The Shogun is regarding you with an intrigued expression. He nods his head in admission and encouragement, “Well then, healer L/N. I think you should tell us.” 

You rise to your feet. Then, in as brief language as you can manage, you explain the situation, which no doubt Chiyo-san has already recounted—to a point. You inform those in the hall of your discovery of the Nightflower poison and its cure. As well as the fact that the key ingredient is one that can only be found on the Dark Shogun’s doorstep. 

If we want Toshinori-sama to survive,” you conclude, “Then we must send someone to get the Nightflower plant from All For One’s lands. Otherwise he will not last the month.” 

“Then the simple solution would be to send a covert mission into those lands to retrieve the flower,” Nezu says, but he studies your expression for a moment and adds, “But that’s not all you’ve come here to say, is it?”

“No, my Lord, it is not. While examining the Nomu that did this to Toshinori-sama, I found that its claws did not secrete venom from any glands. Which meant that someone must have coated them in venom before the battle. Not only that, but I have reason to believe that the demon was let in from the side gate, which can only be opened from the inside.”

Gasps and murmurs fill the main hall. Bakugou remains silent, at least, as far as you can hear. His voice is loud and distinct, and the absence of it causes you to turn to look at him. He’s watching you with a darkened face. The murmurs die down, and you speak again, but aren’t able to take your eyes off him. 

“I know who the infiltrator is, Nezu-dono. He attacked me in the library,” you confess, and watch as Bakugou’s red eyes narrow in fury. You turn to face Nezu again. “He said that his name was Kurogiri. I expected him to try and kill me, but he merely created some kind of magic portal and disappeared into it.” 

“Kurogiri.” Aizawa frowns. “That’s the personal ward of All For One’s number one samurai, Tomura Shigaraki.”

  Your brows rise. This is news to you. You know of Shigaraki: he’s the deranged protege of All For One. Could he be the master that Kurogiri was referring to? You decide not to mention the yellow-eyed man’s strange parting words. That’s something you want to explore for yourself. 

It is for that reason I’m afraid that All For One may be expecting us,” you tell the council and samurai, “I’m no warrior or strategist, nor am I trying to be. But all the same, I would air on the side of caution. It could be a trap.”

Nezu nods, rubbing his chin. “Then it must be a mission of absolute secrecy. At the same time, we will muster our armies and prepare a march on One For All’s Estate. Too long have we stayed safely behind our walls. War is upon us, I believe, and has been for many years. Ever since Toshinori last marched on the Dark Shogun’s lands. Yes… it is time for us to go on the offensive. ” 

“A diversion,” Lady Kageyama mutters, “It's a smart move.” 

“Exactly.” Nezu grins maniacally, and a shiver runs down your spine. Despite his normally calm demeanor and love of tea, a dangerous, plotting side exists beneath the calm surface of the Shogun. 

“Then who shall we send, Nezu-dono?” Hizashi asks.

“Me.” 

You’re as surprised as anyone when you speak, the words falling from your lips almost involuntarily. Not only do you want to help save Toshinori, but you’re still puzzled and concerned by Kurogiri’s comment about your identity. It could be nothing, but you have to find out if there’s more to it.

There’s a small noise of outrage to your left, quickly smothered. You don’t need to look to know that it's Bakugou. Kirishima most likely shut him up. His anger is palpable, and you can feel his eyes boring into the back of your head. You ignore it, and wait for Nezu’s reply. 

The Shogun ignores Bakugou’s outburst—it likely isn’t the first time Bakugou has done something like this, you imagine— and looks down at you with a shrewd gaze. “You?”

You meet his gaze, squaring your shoulders. “Yes, me. You need someone who knows the plant and will be able to find it. Not only that, but I know how to properly harvest and preserve the flower for the journey back. Normally, Chiyo-san would go, I think, but you need someone who will be swift.” You glance at your mentor, who sits to the right of Nezu. “No offense,” you apologize. 

The older woman merely smiles, her eyes shining with pride. It spurs you on, and you face Nezu once more. 

“All these things aside, I’m a nondescript option. A healer traveling alone won’t raise any suspicions among spies that may be planted in the lands between here and All For One’s domain,” you say passionately, “Besides, it would be against the oaths I took as a healer to stand idly by when a patient I swore to protect lies in agony.” 

“I do not think I could argue with logic such as yours. And I feel that you would go forward to help, even if I told you to stay behind.” Nezu says, giving you a kind smile, “Very well. You will go forth with this mission then, L/N, and go North to gather the plant needed for the cure. 

“All alone? There have been more demons than usually roaming the forests of late. Not to mention the dangers posed for a woman traveling alone. It would not be wise to send her by herself,” says Lady Kageyama.

Her words bring warmth to your heart. You hadn’t fully considered what journeying North would truly mean; you were desperate to go, and acted in haste. Lady Midnight brings up a good point. 

“Kageyama-san speaks truth,” Aizawa concurs, “We don’t need to send a samurai such as myself with L/N, however. Any one of my apprentices are more than qualified to act as her bodyguard. Not only that, but a young apprentice would be little cause for attention.” 

Nezu nods. “Then it is decided. L/N will go with one of your apprentices. But which one?”

“Bakugou.” Aizawa responds without hesitation, and your heart falters. 

You risk a glance over your shoulder to where he sits beside Kirishima, kneeling with his fingers white-knuckled over his bent knees. His red eyes lock onto yours, filled with shock and some other emotion you can’t name. A shudder runs through you, and you look forward again quickly. 

Aizawa, meanwhile, continues, “Of my top three students, Bakugou is the best qualified for a mission of this length. Not only that, but it was he who rescued L/N all those years ago. I am not one to call upon superstition, but it seems as if their fates are destined to be intertwined in this matter.” 

“And because of his period of captivity within the Shogun’s Estate, he will be familiar with the terrain,” Adds Nezu, taking a sip from his teacup. “Yes… that is a wise choice. We will make the necessary preparations. The two of you will leave tomorrow at dawn. This council meeting is called to a close.” 

 


 

You’re sitting in the garden by the library, staring into One of the koi ponds, when Bakugou approaches you. You were expecting this, but after your argument last night, it’s a confrontation you’re loath to have. It’s something I have to get used to, since starting tomorrow, we’re going to be traveling alone together for the next few weeks. You think, with no small amount of dread. 

You hear his footsteps coming behind you on the pebble-covered pathway, kicking up the little stones as he comes. His sandaled feet come into view, but you don’t look up, instead continuing to study the colorful fish that swim in the pond before you. 

“What the hell are you playing at?” He snarls, “I told you not to play hero.”

You look up at him. His face is twisted in his typical scowl. “I wasn’t trying to play hero,” you say, “I was just stating the facts. Nezu-dono agreed with me. I trust his decision. Though if it were my choice, I would be going alone.”

“Hah?” He quirks a brow at you. “You gotta be kidding. I know you hate me—and believe me, I can’t stand you— but you need me. I’m the one who should be going alone. Not you.” 

His words sting more than they should. Rising to your feet, you jab a finger at him and snap, “This isn’t about the shit between us,” you snap, “It’s about Toshinori-sama. If we don’t get that Nightflower, he will die . The Symbol of Peace. Do you know how much of a loss that would be? And not just in manpower, but in morale as well.” 

“Of course I know that, shitty woman,” Bakugou barks. “But if I’m gonna be stuck with your whining ass for the next few weeks, you gotta do what I say. Starting tomorrow, I’m in charge. Got it?”

“You will do no such thing,” you fire back, “You’ll be my bodyguard and nothing more.” 

A cocky grin spreads across his face. “Oh yeah? I thought you could protect yourself, princess.” He throws the nickname out sarcastically, and you want to punch him in the face.

You shoot him a glare. “Wipe that smug look off your face. You’re only going as a precaution. And don’t call me princess.” 

That infuriating smirk only grows wider. “Wrong thing to say.”

“I swear, if you call me that again, I’ll—”

“You’ll what?” Bakugou snorts. “You may be handy with a bow, princess, but you could never take me on.” 

“Maybe not…” You shrug. “But I can do this—”

Without warning, you shove him hard in the chest with both hands. Bakugou loses his footing, and tumbles back into the koi pond, the water splashing high into the air at his impact. He resurfaces moments later, soaking wet, with a koi fish flopping about in his lap. You can’t help it: you burst out laughing. Bakugou glares at you, then throws the golden fish back into the pond, baring his teeth at you. Color rises high on his cheeks. 

“Eat shit and die!” He barks, dripping hair falling into his eyes. 

“Ah ah ah,” you croon, smiling as his red eyes narrow in fury, “You are my bodyguard, after all. It wouldn’t do for you to let me get killed while you’re on the job.”

With that, you walk away, smug satisfaction causing you to throw an extra sway into your hips as you go. Bakugou fumes behind you, spluttering and cursing. It’ll be a miracle if you don’t kill each other, you decide, before All For One can even try to kill you both. 

Chapter Text

The rest of the day passes by in a blur, a mixture of preparing for the journey and helping Chiyo-san with the remaining wounded patients. Nezu, Aizawa, Hizashi and Kageyama finalize the plan, which they explain to you at the end of the day after dinner. Bakugou is there too, kneeling beside you. Before you are Nezu and his advisors, who sit upon the dais on either side of the Shogun’s seat. 

“The plan is this:” Nezu announces, after taking a sip from the porcelain teacup resting in his hands, “Bakugou and L/N shall journey north, going by a backroad that leads to the city of Insan, and from there travel by boat to Shogun Todoroki’s Estate, Endeavor. In Insan, you will meet a contact that we have there, a group of retired samurai. They run an inn in Insan called The Wildcat. I trust them implicitly, and have already contacted them. They will serve as your contact there, and will refresh your supplies and take care of your horses while you travel further North. They will also arrange a boat for you to be transported upriver in.” 

“Bakugou,” Aizawa cuts in, “You’ve trained with them before. They’re led by a woman called Mandalay. Do you remember?”

“Like I’d forget,” Bakugou scowls, “They ran that godawful training camp for us in the woods. That shitty old hag Pixie Bob nearly got us killed.”

Aizawa sighs. “Her name is Tsuchikawa, Bakugou. And I would advise you not to call her ‘old’ when you get to Insan. Otherwise you might find yourself sleeping in the gutter. Dead.”

You bite back a smile at the samurai’s response. Bakugou merely snorts, jutting out his lower lip and muttering, “Whatever.” 

Looking heavenwards for a moment, Nezu takes a long drink of tea before continuing, “Shogun Todoroki will be expecting you both as well. He will inform you on the best routes into One For All’s lands. It is his area of expertise more so than mine. Now, do either of you have any questions?” 

You bite your lip. “Forgive me, Nezu-dono, but I’ve never been beyond the far edges of Yueii. At least, in recent memory. Will we be provided with a map or—”

“I know the way.” Bakugou cuts you off, and you shoot him a pointed glare. 

It’s Aizawa who responds. “Bakugou spent time at Endeavor Estate training a few years ago. The route to Insan is familiar to him as well.”

“Of course it is,” Bakugou grumbles, “What kind of a shitty bodyguard would I be if I didn’t know the way?” 

He has been gone more often than not in the past few years, now that you think about it. While the two of you are no longer speaking, you always were able to glean information about his comings and goings from Midoriya. It no doubt confused the green haired samurai, since the interactions you’ve had with Bakugou (up until very recently) were always bitter and cold affairs. 

“Yes,” Nezu replies, “Aizawa thought of everything when choosing your companion, L/N. Not to worry.” 

You nod. 

The meeting ends shortly after that, and you’re so swept up in putting final touches to your luggage and helping Chiyo-san tend to Toshinori that night comes quickly. 

Sleep, however does not, and you spend more time tossing and turning on your futon than you do with your eyes closed. The weather is unbearably hot, for one thing, and for another, you’re concerned about tomorrow—and the weeks following. Toshinori’s strength is already lower than it used to be, which means that he may have less time than you originally thought. His wounds aren’t showing any signs of infection, and he’s conscious now, but he’s in pain. You almost wish that he would stay asleep while the poison remains in his body. If we fail, then the number one samurai of Yueii will die.

As a healer, you’ve seen people die. Some go peacefully and without pain, while others die in terror and agony. Each life you are unable to save is a wound in your heart, but Toshinori… if he dies, it won’t just be friends and family who mourn his passing. It will be the free world. And if he does die, demons and ronin serving All For One will no doubt grow bolder. 

It is thoughts like these that keep you up, so that when you rise— an hour before the sun peeks over the horizon— there are dark smudges beneath your eyes. You dress quietly, not wanting to disturb any of your fellow servants from their well-deserved sleep. You said your goodbyes last night, and you don’t want to say them again. It would be too painful.

Still, when you arrive at the stables with your pack, quiver, and bow slung over your shoulder, you find a small group gathered in the grey light of dawn. Bakugou is there, of course, speaking in a gruff voice to Kirishima. Nezu and Aizawa are there, as well as Lady Kageyama. Shinsou and Midoriya are also present, both speaking with the stable boy, Koda Koji— a sweet young man who speaks little but has a way with animals that is almost magical. 

But what brings the most joy to your heart, and causes tears to spring to your eyes, is the sight of Chiyo-san, and with her Uraraka, Mina, Tsuyu, and Hagakure. You approach them, finding it hard to swallow past the lump in your throat. 

“I thought we promised to say goodbye last night,” you croak, a tear sliding down your cheek. 

Uraraka gives you a wobbly smile, tears filling her eyes as well. “As if we’d do just that, dummy!” She says, trying to sound fierce but failing miserably. 

  “Of course we want to see you off!” Mina grins, pulling you into a tight hug. “What kind of friends would we be if we just let you ride into the great unknown in the early hours with no send off?”

“Besides,” Hagakure grins devilishly, “I wanted to make sure that you know you’re going on a journey, alone, with one of the hottest samurai of Yueii. You’d better grab that bull by the horns, Y/N-chan, or I’ll—”

We also wanted to give you some breakfast for your journey,” Tsuyu says in her froggy voice, cutting the other girl off. 

Mina snorts in amusement at this, and Hagakure gives you a saucy wink. Your face erupts into a violent blush, worsened when you glance over to see Bakugou looking at you while he speaks with Kirishima. His eyes narrow at your no-doubt flustered expression. You look away quickly.

Tsuyu sighs, “Don’t listen to her. Here.” 

She then hands you a thermos and a small cloth bag. “Inside the bag are some red bean buns. There’s some tea in the canteen. Make sure you eat. You’re no good to anyone hungry and dehydrated.”

Their kindness overwhelms you. These girls, who have been like sisters for most of your life… your eyes fill with tears. You manage to hold back from openly crying as you embrace them each, before turning to find Chiyo waiting for you with a sad smile. 

“You already know everything I want to say. I’ve trained you well.” She pats your cheek with a wrinkled hand. “But I wanted to remind you how proud I am of you. And that if you don’t come back safely, I’ll never forgive you.”

You let out a hiccuping sob, and she chuckles, pulling you into a tight hug. You clutch at her smaller frame like she’s an anchor, managing to gather yourself and stem your tears before you pull away. 

“Thank you,” you murmur, “For everything.”

She nods. “It was my pleasure.”

Squaring your shoulders, you walk to Bakugou. He watches you approach, expression unreadable, At his side, Kirishima gives you a small smile before backing away to stand by Midoriya and Shinsou, both of whom give you solemn smiles in farewell. 

“Ready?” You ask.

He snorts, “I’ve been ready, shitty woman.” 

You sigh, walking with him to where Koda waits with your horses, Nezu and Aizawa beside him. With the latter’s help, you fasten your quiver, bow, and pack to your saddlebags before mounting your horse. 

Your horse is a gentle palomino, named Winter Melon. She has a white mane and dewy, round eyes. You’re not the most experienced rider, so Koda was kind enough to give you a horse with a calm temperament. You give him a smile and thank him as he helps you up, to which he responds with a blush and a nod of his head. 

Bakugou (because he’s Bakugou of course) rides a red stallion named Ryu. Ryu has a temper as bad as his rider’s. The rumor around Yueii is that he bucked everyone off until Bakugou mounted him and refused to be thrown off. After that, the horse would respond to no one else. 

Once the two of you are mounted, a silence falls, as Nezu steps forward. 

Farewell,” the Shogun says, speaking for the small crowd, “Our hopes and prayers travel with you. May the wind ever be at your backs, and foes that you encounter few.” 

You both nod, and turn your horses towards the front gates. Before you ride out from Yueii, you risk one glance back, the sight of your friends waving farewell bringing tears to your eyes once more. This may be the last time you see them, should your mission fail. The thought sends a spear of cold straight to your heart. 

“Alright, enough with the tears,” Bakugou sighs, tactless as ever, “We’re losing the sun.” 

You nod, unable to speak, and he studies you a moment before urging his horse forward. You follow. 

And so, the two of you are off. 

 


 

The country outside of Yueii Estate is idyllic and peaceful. The terrain makes for easy riding, despite the heat that rises with the sun. The red dirt road you ride upon winds through the low hills lazily, mossy forests lining the path on either side of you. Occasionally the tree line breaks into rice fields, farmers already at work within them beneath the light of the morning sun. 

Bakugou always rides slightly ahead of you, his eyes constantly scanning the terrain before and around you both, always on alert. You trust his vigilance and instincts, choosing to enjoy the scenery and leaving it to him to keep a weathered eye out for any danger. The ride passes in silence, both of you lost in your own thoughts. 

When the sun reaches its zenith, Bakugou banks his horse and turns back to look at you. Sweat glistens on his forehead. 

“There’s a stream up ahead. We can stop there to refill our waterskins and eat lunch.” He’s all business, the usual bite in his words absent. It's disarming. You wonder if he’s this focused and level headed on all his missions. You’ve seen him at practice, yes, but never in action. The attack a few days ago counts, you suppose, but even then, he wasn’t so serious. 

“The only things that are in those bushes are rabbits and bugs,” you tease Bakugou once the two of you have stopped. You’re sitting on the mossy bank of the trickling stream, washing the sweat from your face and neck. 

Bakugou glares at you. “I’m guarding your dumbass, so I’m gonna have to be extra careful,” he replies.

“I guess so,” you shrug, reaching into the bag from Tsuyu and pulling out a bun. You offer him one, but he shakes his head. “Ah that’s right,” you say, “You don’t like sweet things.” 

“I’m amazed you can even remember that,” he mutters, before leaning over the stream and splashing water onto his face.

“As if I’d forget,” you answer, and he looks at you in surprise. 

Water drips from the ends of his hair and eyelashes. His eyes are strikingly red in comparison to the green of the forest around you. Hagakure’s words are suddenly ringing in your head. You know you’re going on a journey, alone, with one of the hottest samurai of Yueii. 

“What’re you staring at?” Bakugou snaps, and you look away. 

“Nothing,” you answer hastily, “You just have some dirt on your face.”

“Tch. Whatever,” he snorts, and heads back to the horses. 

 


 

The rest of the day goes by peacefully, and the two of you find a place to camp off the side of the road beneath a wide oak tree just as the sun begins to set. You tether the horses to the branches, removing their saddles and rubbing them down while Bakugou builds a fire. You try to help him as he begins working on making a stew for dinner, but he refuses your help. 

“Let you help? And give us food poisoning? I think the fuck not,” he snaps, crouching over the pot with a spoon in his hand. He brandishes it like a sword, ushering you away. “Go wash up or something. There’s probably a stream or something nearby.”

“Didn’t know you were so touchy about cooking,” you reply with a snort, “Noted. I was just trying to help.” 

You don’t find a stream, but there is a small pond of water fed by a trickling brook. You bathe there, quickly removing your clothes and scrubbing off the sweat and dirt of the day. Normally you would worry about someone seeing you, but you’re far enough in the countryside that its not worth stressing over. Besides, the cool water is delicious compared to the heat of the day. 

By the time you’ve dried off and dressed, Bakugou is nearly finished with the stew. He glances up when you walk into the small clearing, drying your hair with a towel. 

“There’s a pond over that way,” you gesture with your head, “You can wash up while this finishes cooking.”

Bakugou grunts. “Alright, but come get me once the stew starts to boil, got it?”

You nod, and he stands from his crouching position and disappears into the woods, not bothering to grab a towel or blanket. He’s gone for a while, and the last of the sun finally disappears, the shadows of the trees lengthening. The light of the fire grows brighter in the dusk, and you stare into the depths of the flames, thinking. 

At last, the soup begins to boil, and you make your way through the trees. It's been awhile, so surely Bakugou is finished bathing by now. You move through the trees gingerly, and come to the pond. Upon reaching it, however, you draw up short, eyes widening. 

Bakugou is standing in the center of the pond, the water up to his hips. He’s stripped to the waist (likely further, but you can’t tell), hands scrubbing at his hair, his back towards you. The dim haze of twilight casts his surroundings in purple shadows.    

In the past, the glimpses you’ve caught of him were stolen ones, taken while he was training far off. Now he’s still, standing there in the water… you can’t help but take a close look. 

Scars litter the strong muscles of his shoulders and lower back, memories of his past battles. But what caught your eye in the first place—the reason for your prolonged stare—is the tattoo that covers his back. It’s of a red dragon, the ink beginning at the space between his shoulder blades and ending at the dimples of his back. He didn’t have this tattoo when you were younger. Or so many scars, for that matter. Where did he get them? When did he get them? You want to know their stories. 

An odd feeling grows in you. One you’re not familiar with. Regret and something else… an aching feeling. It's longing, you think, but a different form of it. It's more sensual, for one thing. For the second time today, you think of Hagakure’s words, and your heart begins to beat faster. He is really handsome, isn’t he? You think, then: What the hell is wrong with me??

Bakugou turns in your direction, and you jump back behind a tree, clapping a hand over your mouth. You’re blushing furiously, a strange warmth filling your body. 

Fuck. You wait a few moments to gather yourself, then walk forward with a hand over your eyes. It only serves to make you feel like more of a liar. 

“Bakugou.” You call.

“Hah?” You hear him turn, and then he snorts, “You can look.” 

You remove your hand, and your face heats up again, because he’s still shirtless, but his pants are on.

Gesturing lamely with a tilt of your head, you inform him: “The soup’s ready.”

He nods, hastening to dry his hair and put on the rest of his clothing. The two of you return to your clearing, where Bakugou removes the pot from the fire and sets it aside. Then, he produces two bowls from his pack. 

“Here.” He ladles some soup into one bowl and passes it to you. 

You accept it with a word of thanks, expecting him to serve himself. But Bakugou remains watching you, as if waiting for your reaction. To appease him, and because your stomach is growling, you dip your spoon in the thick broth, and take a sip. Your eyes widen, and you look up at Bakugou.

“This is really good!” You exclaim.

His grin is one of smug satisfaction. “Of course it is. I made it.” 

“I didn’t know you were good at cooking,” you say, as he pours his own bowl. 

“There’s a lot of stuff you don’t know about me, now,” he mutters, and you fall silent, unsure of what to say in response. 

The conversation stalls after that, the moon rising above the trees and the sound of the crickets filling the night air. The fire begins to die, and Bakugou sighs, tossing on another stick.

“Get some sleep,” he mutters. “I’ll take the first watch.” 

You nod, but don’t move from your spot across from him on the other side of the fire. Something has been bugging you, and you want to ask Bakugou about it, but you’re scared of his response. 

Bakugou sighs. “You going to bed or what?” 

“Do you believe what Aizawa-sama said?” You ask suddenly, staring into the dying light of the fire to avoid his gaze. “About our fates being intertwined.” 

Bakugou snorts at this, causing you to look up at him. But his expression is uncharacteristically thoughtful, the lines of his face not hardened by anger. It surprises you.  He gazes into the fire, his crimson eyes practically glowing. It’s a few moments before he finally speaks. 

“I don’t believe in superstitious shit like that,” he says, “I think that the course of our lives are determined by our actions. By what we do.” 

For an odd reason, your heart sinks at his words. Maybe it’s the dreamer in you, but you’ve always liked to imagine that there’s a greater force guiding the world around you. It makes things seem more in control, somehow.

But then Bakugou speaks again. 

“I don’t know much about fate or destiny, and it doesn’t matter to me, since I don’t believe in it,” he continues, his eyes meeting yours, “But you weren’t something I could have planned. The night I found you in the snow, I had no reason to be out there in the woods. I just remember waking up and feeling the need to go outside. To this day I can’t explain it. Maybe that’s what Aizawa was talking about.”

“Oh,” you respond lamely, shocked by the honesty of his reply. You’re at a loss for words. 

“Tch. Go to sleep, shitty woman. You’re not gonna like waking up for your watch later if you don’t.” He mutters, poking the fire with a stick. Sparks fly up around his hands, tiny explosions of light that he doesn’t seem to notice or care about. 

You nod, silent, and head to your bedroll. But Bakugou’s words still ring in your ears after you’re nestled into your blankets. They last even longer than that, for, after you finally fall asleep, you hear his voice in your dreams. 

He doesn’t wake you for your turn to watch, but lets you sleep until dawn. 

Chapter Text

You wake up in agony. Every muscle in your body is tight and sore from the previous day’s ride. Rising from your bedroll, you muffle a whimper of pain. You’re not a frequent rider, and it's showing.

Bakugou, on the other hand, is up and saddling the horses. He glances over as you rise from bed on stiff legs and smirks. 

“Don’t say a word,” you growl, stalking into the forest to relieve yourself and wash your face. 

When you return, he’s rolling up your bedding. Without looking up, Bakugou says, “Let’s go, Princess. You slept late.”

“You could have woken me,” you snap, drinking from your water skin before grabbing an apple from your pack. Glancing at Winter Melon, you groan. It's going to be hell getting up on her. 

“Still not a morning person?” Bakugou smiles, showing all his teeth.

“Still an asshole?” You snark back, adjusting the straps on your saddle to your liking. 

“You need help getting up?”  Bakugou asks, his voice suddenly inches from your ear.

You yelp in surprise, whirling around to find him right before you, head cocked slightly. Your breath catches in your throat. But Bakugou has a bored expression on his face, as if he has no idea what his close proximity is doing to you. 

“Well?”

Gritting your teeth, you lift your head and say, “I can do it myself.” 

Bakugou smirks, “Still stubborn too, huh? I should've known.” 

“I am not stubborn.” You reply, trying to regain your temper. When it's just the two of you, he makes it so easy for you to lose your cool. To lose control. 

“If you say so, Princess.” His grin is smug, and he leans back against the oak tree your horses are waiting by.

“I thought we were running late,” you say, hands grasping Winter Melon’s saddle as you prepare to haul yourself onto her back. 

  Bakugou snorts. “We are. But I’m not gonna get on my horse just to have to get back off when you cave and ask for my help.”

“I said,” you put your left foot in the stirrups, gathering your strength, “I don’t need help.”

With that, you push upwards, but your other leg barely makes it halfway up before your back barks in pain and you fall backwards. Rather than hitting the ground, however, you fall back into a solid surface. Bakugou’s broad chest, to be exact. His hands come to your shoulders, and a surprisingly sweet scent—like caramel— envelopes you. You know his smell well. When you were young, he would carry you back from long days playing with Midoriya and the others in the forests, if you complained enough. He would give you a piggyback ride, most of which you fell asleep during with your face buried in his neck. Drinking in that sugary smell. It always put your mind at ease, back then. Now it only serves to make your heart begin to race.

You realize you’ve remained still for a moment too long, and embarrassment scorches your face. Pushing away from him, you turn to find Bakugou watching you with a weary expression.

“Quit being stubborn,” he mutters, “Just let me help you.” 

“Fine,” you snap, “But only because I’m tired.” 

Bakugou snorts a laugh. “Whatever you say, Princess. 

Bracing your left foot in his hands, you attempt to mount again, and Bakugou lifts you up easily. Your sore muscles still ache with the movement, but it’s not half as bad. Once you’re atop Winter Melon, Bakugou mounts Ryu and you’re off once more.

The landscape is much the same, though green peaks of taller hills begin to rise on the road ahead, a precursor to the Northern mountain range, which divides All For One’s lands from Shogun Todoroki’s. 

But the picturesque scenery is no relief for the pain in your back. Every hoofbeat and jostle Winter Melon makes sends a dull ache through you. And there’s no right way to sit. No matter what you do, you’re uncomfortable.

Bakugou doesn’t notice—at least, you don’t think he does. Just like yesterday, he remains slightly ahead of you. Which you’re grateful for, because that way he can’t see all the strange positions and stretches you do while in the saddle to relieve some of the soreness in your back. But nothing works. 

By the time you stop for lunch, you’re so frustrated you want to scream. Not only that, but the weather is hot and humid, making your yukata stick to your skin in all kinds of uncomfortable places. Strands of hair escape from your low bun, plastering to your forehead or curling from the humidity. It’s miserable.

Bakugou chooses to break for lunch on the side of the road. There’s no stream to refresh yourself in this time, so you settle with sitting beneath the wide branches of a maple tree and chugging from your waterskin. 

“It’s hot as hell,” you groan, mostly to yourself, lying back in the grass. Being on your back is a relief from the soreness of riding, and you nearly moan in relief. 

Bakugou snorts from beside you, then tossed a strip of dried beef on your face. You snatch it and sit up, glaring at him. The constant discomfort of today has taken away most of your patience, especially with him. 

He shrugs. “Don’t look at me like that, dumbass. Eat it. You need the salt, in this heat. You’re a healer, aren’t you? You should know this shit.” 

Infuriatingly, he’s right, and you chomp down on the chewy meat, glaring at him all the while. 

“You think I don’t know that?” you grumble, “Despite what you may think, I am more than capable at my job. And for this mission.” 

“Of course I know that. Idiot.” Bakugou glances away, lower lip jutting out slightly. There’s color high on his cheeks, but you chalk it up to the heat. “I know about last spring.”

Last spring. Your eyes widen, and you glance at him in surprise.

“How? You were at the Endeavor Estate then.”

Bakugou shrugs. “Shitty Hair told me about it.”

“It was nothing,” you mutter, but both of you know that’s a lie. 

Last winter, there was another incident with a poisoning, but this time, it was a problem with an easier solution. A young girl, Eri, had escaped from the clutches of a nearby ronin, but when she arrived at Yueii, there was poison in her blood. You had been able to save her. She was so close to death; it was a miracle she was able to survive.

“I was just lucky,” you say, gnawing at your jerky, “And right now, I’m unlucky. Toshinori-sama is already at lower strength. If I don’t do this right… if I fail….” You trail off.

“Failure isn’t an option. You know that.” 

You glance up. Bakugou is staring at you, expression deadly serious. It seems he’s thought about the real cost of this mission as much as you have. Maybe more. 

“Besides,” he says, standing, “If you can’t do this, who can? Now let’s go. We’ve wasted enough time here.”

 


 

The afternoon air is beginning to cool as twilight creeps over the hills when Bakugou motions you to catch up to where he has stalled his horse. You urge Winter Melon to canter up to him and Ryu. 

Drawing up to his side, you ask, “What is it? Is something wrong?”

He shakes his head. “There’s an abandoned house off to the right here. Me and the other samurai have camped there before when traveling to Insan in the past. It should be safe, but we’ll dismount here and lead the horses from the road. If there are any people in there, I’d rather we have the element of surprise.”

You nod, clambering off Winter Melon. The muscles of your back tighten and ache, and you clench your teeth to keep from crying out. 

Bakugou leads you through the forest, each of you holding the reins of your horses. At first, it seems as though he’s just wandering aimlessly, but to your surprise, a well-worn path begins to take shape before you. Dusk is falling, filling the woods with the sounds of crickets. Fireflies begin to blink in the dim, illuminating tiny stone shrines and little statues of deities lining the path. It’s surreal and beautiful, and you’re able to take your mind off your pain as you walk. 

“It’s beautiful…” you murmur without thinking, as a crumbling stone wall supporting an arched gate comes into view. “How did you find this place?”

“Aizawa told us about it,” Bakugou replies, “I think it's a secret passed down through Yueii students. Now come on, the house is right through this gate.” 

As you pass under the gate and into a courtyard shaded by maple trees, you feel a sense of safety and calm descend upon you. This is a safe place, something deep inside you whispers. The house takes your breath away. It's much bigger than the hovel you were expecting—even bigger than a cottage. It's a traditional style Japanese country house, with sliding doors and a large circular window on the front. 

“This is not what I was expecting,” you breathe. 

Bakugou snorts, but he seems pleased by your reaction. “Looks like no one’s here. You go take a look around. I’ll take care of the horses.”

You turn back to look at him, brows raised. “Seriously?”

“Just go, shitty woman!” He barks, refusing to meet your eyes. In the dim light, you swear you see color high on his cheeks. “Yell if you find any people in there.” 

“Alright.” You giggle, and hand him Winter Melon’s lead before turning and running up to the house. 

It’s all one story, with a covered porch that wraps around the outside. The halls are dusty, with dried leaves piled in the corners and cobwebs in the ceiling beams, but despite its age, the whole house has a faint and comforting smell of pine and sandalwood. 

There’s a kitchen, the cabinets empty and pulled off their hinges—likely the work of a hungry thief. The house has a bathing area as well, but a family of squirrels has taken up residency in the tub. They’re curled on a pile of leaves within the alabaster basin, clearly settled in for the evening. You smile at the sight of the furry creatures nestled together, but can’t help but mourn the loss of a bath. There’s a study as well: most of the furniture is gone, save for an overturned desk and a few spare scrolls on the spartan bookshelves. You take these, wondering if there’s any clue in them as to who lived in this house originally.

The main room of the home is likely where Bakugou plans to have the two of you sleep. A low square cut into the center of the floor, so that those living there can have a fire in the cold winter months. In your case, it’ll likely be where Bakugou cooks dinner. The worn wood floors are covered with tatami mats, which are dry, despite the few cracks in the ceiling that no doubt let in the damp when it rains. But overall, the house is sturdy and almost cozy. It hasn’t fallen into complete disrepair. As if the samurais who stay in it from time to time take care of it each visit. 

To your immense delight, there’s an overgrown garden in the back, which is where Bakugou finds you about an hour later. You’re carefully examining the plants leftover from the past owners, gathering any herbs you recognize to carry with you. You were hoping to find chamomile to help with your soreness, but your search is fruitless. Still, there is mint and lemongrass, among other plants.

“Oi, come on inside,” Bakugou calls. He stands on the porch, his yukata swapped for a simple crimson robe. It’s loosely tied, revealing the tan skin of his broad chest. He holds a lantern aloft. “I finished making dinner.”

“Already?” You ask, looking up from your plants to realize that night has truly fallen, and the only light above you is the rising moon and faint stars. You didn’t even notice till now.

Bakugou snorts, the corners of his lips curling up in what you think might be a smile. It's disarming, watching his face soften so dramatically. It shakes the years from him, making him appear younger. A ghost from the past, holding a lantern and beckoning you inside, out of the dark. He looks like he did when he found you in the snow, all those years ago. A shiver runs down your spine, and a sudden coldness seizes you. Perhaps this house is haunted. 

Bakugou leaves the porch to stomp across the garden to where you’re crouching. To your surprise, he picks his way through the overgrown rows of plants, making sure not to step on any leaves or blossoms. He squats in front of you, crimson eyes darting to look at your dirt-covered hands, full of various herbs, before lifting to your face.

“Yes. You’ve been out here for like an hour, Shitty Woman,” he says, but the crass nickname has no bite to it, this time.

“Oh,” you reply lamely, “I was trying to find some chamomile out here. But I don’t think there’s any. I’ll look for it when we get to Insan, I guess.” 

Hopefully your back pain will be gone by then. Your sore muscles cramp as you stand to follow Bakugou inside, and you shoot a prayer heavenwards that by the time you reach Insan, you won’t be needing the chamomile anymore. 

Tonight’s dinner is eaten by the fire pit in the main room. Bakugou made a simple but hearty meal of fried eggs and crispy bacon, paired with hearty slices of bread. To your surprise, he also took it upon himself to bring you a pail of water from the well to wash up with. 

“To get all that fucking dirt off your hands,” he mutters, shoving the bucket at you. 

You bite back a smile, wrapping the herbs in a cloth and storing them in your pack before accepting the pail from him. He always shows kindness in the coarsest of ways, as if he can hide his softer side with harsh words. 

You take the bucket into the study and wash yourself, shivering at the fresh, cold well water. Since you’re not sleeping outside, you take the liberty to change out of your day clothes as well, putting on your nightgown and robe instead. You undo your bun, wincing as you untangle the knots in your hair with your fingers. Choosing to leave your hair down, you grab the pail and your dirty clothes and head back into the main room. 

Bakugou is sitting at the fire, eating. He looks up when you enter, your sandaled feet clacking on the tatami mats. His eyes linger on you, causing a flush to creep up the back of your neck. The neckline of your robe does dip a little low, compared to the high collar of your yukata. You hadn’t thought much of it until now, as his eyes darken at the sight of you in it, your hair hanging down past your shoulders. 

“You took long enough,” he says in greeting. “Your food is getting cold.”

Sitting, you thank him for the meal and eat in silence. The fire flickers, the smoke from it rising to a small hole cut in the ceiling to prevent it from gathering in the house. 

After he’s done with his food, Bakugou goes to check on the horses, and you sit atop your bedroll, trying to reach your arms back far enough to massage your aching shoulders. All your attempts are fruitless—you can never reach the spots you want. With a groan, you let your hands fall to your bedroll, tears of frustration pricking at your eyes. It's a small thing, this pain, but it's been wearing you down all day. Any relief at all would be nice. 

  Suddenly, a pair of hands takes hold of your shoulders. The smell of caramel invades your senses. Bakugou.

“What are you doing?” You yelp, jerking away from his touch. You turn around to him sitting just behind you, face flushed bright red. 

“Just sit still!” he barks, refusing to look at you,  “You’re gonna make that shit worse if you keep stretching your arms like that to get at your back. Dumbass. ” 

You blink at him, “What?”

He looks heavenward with a groan before looking back down at you, jaw jutting out. “Look. You want me to massage your fucking back or not?”

You’re unsure if you've heard him correctly, but judging from the angry and embarrassed look on his face, he’s sincere. A blush covers your own face, and you quickly turn back around to hide it.

“O-okay.” You curse the stammer in your words. 

Bakugou sighs, large hands brushing your hair over your right shoulder before he begins to massage your back, cursing and muttering under his breath as he does. His hands press against your shoulders, kneading the tight muscles there.

“Fucking hell,” he hisses, “Your back is full of knots, do you know that?”

You shrug against his hands. “Chiyo-san always said all my tension went there.” 

“I’ll say.” 

He continues in silence, his movements deft and practiced. The relief is instant, and you have to bite back a groan of satisfaction when he digs his fingers into the meat of your left shoulder. 

“How...how did you know? That I was sore? I thought I was discreet,” you ask, after a short amount of time has passed.

Bakugou snorts. “Woman, you are never discreet about anything. You think I didn’t notice you shifting and moving in the saddle today? I figured you were sore. You don’t ride horses much. It was bound to happen.”

You turn to glance at him. “How did you notice? Do you have eyes in the back of your head or something?” 

“Yes,” he deadpans, “Now face forward.” 

You obey, but still can’t help commenting, “You’re good at this.” 

“Tch. Of course I am.” His cocky response is no surprise. “I help Shitty Hair all the time. Dude’s back is always fucked, same as yours.”

You tilt your head back and look over your shoulder at him with a coy smile. “You like massaging him, huh?” 

“Shut the fuck up! He snaps. “It’s not like that, you damned pervert. Now quit turning around!” 

You laugh, which quickly turns into a yelp as he kneads a particularly stiff muscle in your lower back.

“Sorry,”  Bakugou apologizes, “Let me know if it hurts too bad.”

“Alright,” you reply, then say timidly: “Will you go harder?”

His movements still, and you feel your face heat up in painful awareness of the sexual meaning that statement could hold, in another situation. 

But Bakugou merely asks, “Where?”

You bite your lip. “My lower back.”

You swear you hear him take in a sharp breath. His hands haven’t wandered from your shoulders, as if he’s afraid of making you uncomfortable. But the source of the ache is in your lower lumbar… if he could just massage there… a little bit… 

“Okay.” His voice is gruff, and you can hear the embarrassment in it. 

His hands trail down the length of your spine, causing a surge of warmth to go through you, finding its home in between your thighs. There’s no time to process exactly what that feeling is (though you already know). Your back arches unconsciously against Bakugou’s touch, and when he presses down on the sore bundle of muscle at the base of your spine, you let out a groan and gasp: 

Fuck.” 

It comes out breathless and sensual. Your whole body goes stock still. What the hell did you just do? There’s a beat of silence, and you’re moments away from jumping up to go throw yourself down the well outside when Bakugou speaks. 

“What was that? Didn’t know you wanted that kind of massage, Princess.” His tone is smug.

“I-I…” You're at a loss for words. 

Suddenly, you’re keenly aware of a dampness between your thighs, of the thick scent of caramel lingering in the air, of the shallowness of your breath. His touch becomes too much and you whirl around, meeting his smirking expression. 

“Alright!” You say breathlessly, “That’s enough. I should go to bed.”

You glare at him, Bakugou merely grins at you, as if he knows exactly what you’re feeling—what you’re desperately trying to deny. It makes you want to kick the dying embers of the fire into his eyes. You know you’re blushing like crazy, utterly humiliated for making a noise that was borderline pornographic while being massaged by your estranged childhood friend. It’s humiliating. 

“If you wanted me to help with other kinds of tension, all you had to do was ask.” He’s still grinning, but there’s a darkness to his eyes. With a shock, you realize that his pupils are dilated. Warmth surges through you, but not from embarrassment. It’s an effort not to glance downwards at his lap, to see if his body is reacting to this situation the same as yours is. 

Instead, you turn around hastily, muttering, “I’m going to bed.”

He says nothing, but you can feel the burning heat of his gaze upon your back as you flop down on your bedroll, turning your back to him. 

“Get off my bed,” you command, but your voice doesn’t carry the authority you wish it did. 

Bakugou chuckles, and you feel him rise from beside you. 

“Goodnight, L/N,” he says, voice soft in the darkness. 

You still. He hasn’t called you by name—first or last—in nearly four years. What the hell just happened? You don’t know, but what you do know is that you won’t be falling asleep anytime soon.

You have a feeling Bakugou won’t be either. 

Chapter Text

The next night is when everything begins to fall apart. 

Although the day starts normally enough— you and Bakugou are on the road before the sun is up. The sky is overcast, the distant sounds of thunder hinting at a storm approaching. Hopefully it will pass without breaking, but judging on the darkness of the clouds to the east of you, you doubt it. The air is thick with the scent of ozone all morning, and an electric feeling coats your tongue. 

By the afternoon, rain begins to fall, and you and Bakugou are forced to don your cloaks to keep from becoming soaked. The back road becomes a muddy river of sorts: each step that Ryu makes sends mud flying back in your direction. With a sigh, you urge Winter Melon forward to reach Bakugou’s side. 

“Your horse was kicking up mud,” you say in explanation, to which your companion responds with a grunt. 

You fall silent, shifting awkwardly in your saddle. The pain in your back is mostly gone, just a touch of soreness remains. All thanks to Bakugou, really. He wasn’t joking when he said he knew what he was doing. You feel a blush begin to creep up the back of your neck as you recall what Bakugou was doing. And how you messed it all up by practically outright moaning while he was massaging you. 

It took nearly an hour for you to calm down and fall asleep last night, and you can barely look him in the eye today without turning bright red. If Bakugou notices your bashfulness, he doesn’t comment on it, which is odd for him. You expected at least a dozen remarks or jokes about it by now. But he remains quiet atop his horse, just like always. The rides are usually like this, you muse; it’s when night falls that you both begin speaking more. As though the coming of the dark helps you to lose some of your inhibitions. 

Looking upwards, you open your mouth and catch a few raindrops on your tongue, savoring their earthy flavor. The tall trees spread their leaves over the path for the most part, providing a sort of canopy. It helps the rainfall from being too heavy, which you are grateful for. You reached the distant hills earlier this morning, and the ground has become a steady incline as you come closer and close Insan. Two more days of riding, and you’ll be there—that is, according to Bakugou.

Speaking of your taciturn bodyguard, he turns to look at you now, at your uptilted face. Your eyes are closed, but you can feel the weight of his gaze upon you. It’s something you’ve grown accustomed to recognizing over the past few years. Those crimson eyes have haunted your footsteps, watched you from afar, but never has the boy they belong to come closer. Until now, when you’re both forced together on this journey. 

“What is it?” You ask, opening your eyes and lowering your head to meet his gaze. 

  “Look ahead. Up to the right.” He replies.

You do, and are able to see, a few yards ahead, the bright red corner of a Shinto gate (a Torii) winking at you through the emerald-hued foliage. A shrine. You passed a small village a while back, clustered at the edges of a wide swath of rice fields. Perhaps this shrine belongs to the people who live there. Or some long-forgotten forest kami. 

As you draw near it, you look up to see that the Shrine itself sits at the top of a steep hill. You can’t see the building of the Shrine: it’s hidden by the swirling mist. A flight of crumbling stone stairs leads from the gateway up to it, tendrils of fog twining about the steps. It's an ethereal place; as though, here, the line between the supernatural world and the physical world is blurred. 

“Can we stop?” You ask, unsure of Bakugou’s response.

“Do you want to pray?”

You nod, and he sighs. “I had a feeling you were going to want that. Fine, we can stop.” 

You smile, grateful that he doesn’t force you both to keep moving forward at his normally brutal pace. 

“Thank you, Bakugou,” you say.

His whole face goes pink, and this time you’re sure that it’s not a result of the heat. “Yeah whatever, Shitty Woman,” he mutters, “But if you take too long I’ll drag your ass out of there.”

It surprises you both when you laugh lightly in response. You’ve reached the Torii by now, and as you pull Winter Melon to a stop, you say to him, “I’ll be quick.” 

“Then go,” Bakugou says, dismounting beside you, “I’ll stay with the horses.” 

You nod, handing him Winter Melon’s lead. As you turn to go, you look over your shoulder and ask him, “Anything I should pray for for you?”

He gives you a deadpan look. “Patience.” 

“Alright.” 

With a smile, you walk towards the gate, bowing before you walk beneath it. You make sure to keep to the left side of the Torii, so as to not block the energy flow of the kami that dwells there. The climb up the steep stairs leaves you slightly breathless, but you come to a small courtyard paved in shale stones that are covered in moss soon enough. At your left, you see the Chozuya, and head to the small fountain to purify your hands and mouth.

The little stone basin is swollen with water, likely as a result of the rain. You take the small ladle and wash your hands and mouth. Then you approach the shrine, once again keeping away from the center. 

To your surprise, you’re not the only one there. An old, bent peasant woman, dressed in a worn kimono, stands before the offertory box, her withered hands clasped in prayer. 

You come up beside her, trying to keep as quiet as possible so as not to disturb her prayers. The woman’s head lifts slightly as she senses your approach, but her eyes remain closed, her lips moving in silent supplication. Reaching into the small coin pouch hanging from your obi, you fish out a brass piece and place it into the offertory.

There is a small bell that hangs on a thick, damp rope, and you ring it, the clang reverberating in the still misty air, shattering the silence. Then you bow twice, with your hands at your sides, before clapping two times as well. Finally, you bring your hands together, palms kissing palms, and bow your head in prayer.

You pray for the safety of the mission, that you will travel safely into All For One’s lands, and that you will be able to help Toshinori-sama before it's too late. You pray for Bakugou as well, that he will be kept safe. All your prayers you save for others; you offer none for yourself. 

When you finish, you open your eyes and bow once more, before turning to go. You’re not sure how long you’ve taken, and the last thing you want is Bakugou storming up here and disturbing the older woman beside you. You glance up to find that she too is finished praying, and is hobbling towards the steep stairway. 

Trepidation seizes your heart. The steps are slick with rain, and if she were to fall… you quicken your pace, and call out to her:

“Obaasan!” 

She doesn’t seem to hear you, but when you are at her side, she turns to look at you. Her face is leathery with age, but her eyes are warm and kind.

“Obaasan,” you repeat, bowing deeply before her, “Please, let me escort you down the stairs. They are wet with rain, and I would hate for you to slip.”

 The older woman smiles. “How kind of you! I’ve been struggling with pain in my legs, and sometimes they are not as reliable as they should be. I deeply would appreciate the help.”

You nod, gently linking your arms through hers and you both begin to descend the stairs. 

“I think I can be of help, with your joint pain, that is,” you tell the old woman as you walk down the steps. “I’m a traveling healer, and I have some herbs in my saddlebags that may help to relieve some of your aches.”

She smiles again, showing a pink-gummed mouth missing a fair number of teeth. “What a kind young woman you are. And a healer too. I should have known. I knew you were a good soul the moment I sensed you at the shrine.”

“You’re too generous with your praise.” You incline your head in thanks. The two of you are nearly at the bottom of the steps. “I’m just happy to be of service.” 

“I thought you were gonna be quick,” Bakuguo calls out as you walk from underneath the gate. He’s standing at the edge of the road holding the horses. Then his eyes go to the old woman whose arm is linked in yours, and his expression turns grumpy. “She is not coming with us.” 

You snort. “I met this Obaasan when we were praying at the shrine. She must live in the village back that way. I wanted to help her with her joint pain. I have some herbs that may soothe her aches in my saddlebags.” 

“What was that, dearie?” The old woman asks, her wrinkled face crinkling in confusion. Thank heavens for her bad hearing. Bakugou isn’t known for his tactfulness, even around elders. “What’s this nice young man’s name? You didn’t mention you had a husband.”

Bakugou turns beet red and barks: “I am not her husband, you shitty old—” 

“This is Bakugou-sama. A samurai, and my bodyguard.” You tell the older woman, cutting him off before he can disrespect a local elder. Your own face is pink at her suggestion, and you don’t dare look at Bakugou. 

“Ah I see.” She smiles. “I’m sorry to delay you, Bakugou-sama, but your Lady was so kind to help me.” 

“Hear that?” You whisper to Bakugou, smirking as you walk to your saddlebags. “I’m a Lady.” 

“Fucking hell,” Bakugou groans, “I’m going to go take a shit.” 

He quickly ties the horses to a low hanging branch of a nearby tree, then stomps across to the other side of the road and disappears into the woods. Even Bakugou Katsuki, it seems, wouldn’t dare to relieve himself on holy ground. 

You go to your saddlebags, pulling out your healing bag. It's full of pouches of herbs, along with needles, thread, and bandages. You were unsure of what dangers the journey might bring, so you decided it would be best to be prepared. Taking some ginger root, turmeric, and white willow bark, you wrap them into a spare cloth and hand them to the old woman. By this time, Bakugou has re-emerged from the trees, and stands with his arms crossed by Ryu, clearly impatient.  

“You can boil these with water to make tea. It will help to ease your pain and soothe your joints,” you inform her, “The herbs are ginger, turmeric, and white willow bark. They’re hard to find in the countryside, but if you ever have family that goes into town, they will find them in the markets there. If I pass back this way in the future, I’ll try to bring some more to you.” 

The old woman accepts the bundle gratefully, and to your surprise, attempts to lower her body into a bow. Shocked, you take hold of her forearms, kneeling before her in the mud of the road so that you can meet her eyes. 

“Please. Don’t bow to me, Obaasan,” the respectful wording is not necessary, but you feel the need to use it, “I am a humble healer. It is my honor to serve you.”

The old woman smiles, her face soft and motherly. “So be it, but you must not kneel before me either.”

You hastily stand, the damp of the road already soaking through the layers of your yukata and cloak, staining the fabric with mud. Inclining your head once more, you say to the kindly woman, “It was my honor.”

Her expression turns suddenly serious. “Since you have helped me, allow me to aid you both with a word of caution. There has been a ferocious demon spotted in these lands, the past few nights. Its skin is the color of blood, and it preys on our livestock and horses. If it were not for our men, it would no doubt prey on us villagers as well. Be careful, dear one.”

You cast a worried glance over your shoulder at Bakugou. He’s watching you with intensity, an emotion scrawled across his features that you can’t name. But at her words, he steps forward.

“I’ll take care of her, Obaasan. Don’t worry,” his voice is rough as usual, but his gentle words bring a surge of warmth to your damp and cold body. To your surprise, he even gives her a low bow.

The old woman nods. “Very well. I will pray for you both. Take care.”

With a wave of her hand, she takes off down the road, her gait slow and hobbling. You watch her go, gnawing on your lip. The news of a demon is unsettling, especially since it could be All For One’s. Though you’ve never heard of a Nomu with red skin. 

“Don’t frown like that,” Bakugou says, smacking the back of your head lightly. You yelp, turning to glare at him. He shrugs, “What? You want to be as wrinkled as that old hag? Then go ahead and glower at me, dumbass.”

“Don’t call one of your elders an old hag!” You hiss, smacking him right back on the arm. 

Bakugou snorts. “I’ve said so much worse.”

You sigh. “I believe you.”

Once you’re back on the horses and riding through the rain, Bakugou is quiet for a while, but at last, he asks: 

“Why did you stop and help her? She was a stranger. Besides, she didn’t even ask for your help.” 

You glance over at him. “I’m a healer. It's my job to help as many people as I can. Even strangers.”

He studies you with that unreadable gaze, then says, “But you can’t help everyone. You can’t save them all.”

“As a samurai, has that mentality ever stopped you from trying to help save someone?” You ask.

Bakugou doesn’t speak. 

“Maybe I can’t save them all, but it's my job to try,” you murmur, “I owe them that.” 

“They’re strangers. You dont owe them anything.”

“You didnt owe me anything, that night when you found me in the snow.” You look at Bakugou head on, expression grave. He studies you a moment before turning his gaze back to the road, and doesn’t speak for a long while. 

 


 

It comes at night. 

You and Bakugou sleep beneath a low hanging willow tree just off the main road, its branches like a curtain on every side of you. Thanks to the thick cover of leaves, the mossy forest floor isn’t damp beneath the tree. It's why you chose to sleep here, a fire smoldering just outside the circle of leaves. The rain stopped just after the sun went down, which was a relief. You were able to change clothes, and leave your damp things hanging outside by the fire. Hopefully they’ll be dry by morning. 

In the late hours of the night, you rise from your bedroll to relieve yourself. Bakugou sleeps a few feet away, snoring slightly, the lines of his face softened by sleep. You study his face for a moment. He looks younger, somehow, when he’s slumbering. 

Taking a burning stick from the fire, you head further into the woods and use the bathroom. On your walk back, however, a change falls over the forest around you.

The moon is hidden behind the storm clouds, making it hard to see. But from the direction of the camp you hear a quiet snap, as if someone stepped on a stick. Bakugou, perhaps? He must have been woken by your movements. You bite back a groan, knowing you’ll get the brunt of his wrath at being jostled from sleep. 

There’s further rustling noises as you enter the clearing, back a few feet in the direction of the road, where the horses are. But when you look at his sleep roll, Bakugou is still there. 

A shiver runs through you. It’s likely Ryu or Winter Melon making the noise. But it doesn’t seem right. The old woman at the shrine’s warning of a demon walking the land rings in your head. The hair on the back of your neck rises. Quietly, you pick your way around the fire, the curtain of willow leaves and Bakugou’s slumbering form, torch in hand.

You come to the horses all of a sudden, pushing aside a branch to see what they’re up to. Your heart stops cold. 

There, at the base of the oak tree, a few meters away from the fire, as well as where you tethered the horses, stands a monstrous demon. An oni, judging by its dark red skin, curling horns protruding from its forehead, and tusk-like teeth jutting out from its fat lower lip. Teeth which are currently digging into the broad flank of Winter Melon. Your body is frozen as you watch it feast on your horse, and you realize with a pang of horror that the snap you heard was likely it snapping her neck. At least she met her end swiftly. 

Tears sting at your eyes at the horrific site— the muscular beast, it’s body like that of a man’s—crouched over your sweet, dead horse. Your eyes widely scan the clearing for Ryu, knowing that Bakugou would be heartbroken if the stallion met the same fate. But the horse is back away in the trees, straining on his lead with his tail between his legs and his head down, whinnying quietly in fear. 

Bakugou. You have to get Bakugou. You have your knives in your obi, but those only work against you humans. Your bow is back by your sleeping roll. Luckily, the demon isn’t facing you, its broad back turned forward. It’s too engrossed in feeding to notice the faint light of your torch.  Trembling, you move a step backward. And that’s when your foot comes down on a branch, a loud snapping noise filling the clearing. 

The demon stills, and turns to look behind it. At you. Blood and gore drips from its gaping maw, which widens into a devilish grin at the sight of you. It sniffs the air, the grin growing wider.

Pretty little thing. Unspoiled. We’ll enjoy eating your flesh.” Its voice is guttural and rasping, causing you to recoil in disgust. Nomus—the kind of demons that you’ve encountered— do not speak. Terror coats your tongue with a metallic taste, and your torch falls from your limp fingers to the damp earth. Its flame gutters and vanishes. The dark presses in about you, and the demon grins, fangs glinting in the dim light. 

You can’t help it— you scream. The sound seems far removed from you— as if someone else is making the noise. But the beast only lets out a throaty laugh at your terror, dropping Winter Melon’s corpse to stagger to its feet. Standing, it’s nearly twice your height.

Spinning with a cry, you turn back towards the woods, preparing to run. You’re desperate to get to the fire— to Bakugou. 

The demon lets out an earth-shattering roar and gives chase— the ground shaking under its long-nailed feet. 

You’ve made it barely a foot when its clawed hand encircles your leg, tripping you and throwing you to the ground. You cry out in pain, expecting the demon to be on top of you any moment, tearing you limb from limb—

Suddenly, there’s a roar that is so human it brings tears to your eyes, and the sound of someone crashing through the trees fills the hot night air. You look up just in time to see Bakugou leap over you at the demon, katana drawn and face promising death. 

Shaking like a leaf on the ground, you turn to see the demon take a swipe at Bakugou, who easily sidesteps the blow, all the while making sure to keep himself between you and the beast. 

”Goddamn filth,” Bakugou spits in disgust, ”Die!”

The demon steps forward again, trying to get around Bakugou to you. It roars in frustration and agony as Bakugou swipes downward with his katana, a long scratch appearing on one of its muscle-bound arms. Bakugou has drawn first blood. 

Scrambling to your feet, you run to the edge of the clearing, where Ryu stands, shaking. You haven’t dared touch him in the past, but you don’t want the demon using him as collateral. Taking hold of his lead, you touch a hand to his trembling flake. 

“Come with me,” you murmur soothingly, and begin to take him back towards the fire. 

“No!” The demon roars, lunging at both you and Ryu. 

You yelp as his scaled hand stretches out to grab you— only to watch it get cut off by Bakugou. The beast howls in pain, staggering away from the samurai and his katana. 

“Don’t ignore me when I’m fighting you, you fucker!” He roars, once again moving between you and the demon.

The oni’s eyes are wild with bloodlust and it surges forward again, kicking and clawing. You hurry out of the clearing, leading Ryu to the willow tree, where you tether his lead on a stump. 

A bark of pain comes from the place where the demon and Bakugou are fighting, followed by a throaty laugh. Your blood runs cold at the sound. 

“Katsuki,” you gasp, drawing your knife from your obi and running back to where he is. You don’t even register that you’ve just used his personal name for the first time in nearly four years. 

You burst through the trees, to find Bakugou on his back, warding off the demon’s snapping jaws by lifting his katana horizontally, one hand on the hilt and the other near the need of the blade. The oni’s hands grip and press down upon katana— its other hand has respawned, you realize with a jolt of horror. Bakugou snarls, body straining as he pushes against the demon’s weight. Neither of them notice you, too locked in their battle of strength to bother looking at their surroundings. 

Bakugou may have the strength to push the demon off, but that’s besides the point. There’s a long, bleeding scratch across his chest, which is likely draining his energy as he fights. Not only that, but you know enough about katanas and the way they’re built to know that the slender sword will break soon. Katanas must be angled sideways when striking, Shinsou told you once, a straight-on strike will break them. You look at Bakugou's blade. Already the metal bows under the pressure of the demon. 

Without thinking, you raise your dagger. If you can take out the thing’s eye… get it distracted enough to release Bakugou and come at you…you grit your teeth. Taking your dagger by the end of its blade, you take aim, then throw it with all your strength. The demon’s head raises at the sound of the knife whizzing through the air— and the little dagger hits it straight in the right eye. A direct hit.

The oni’s head snaps back with the impact, bellowing. Its hands loosen on Bakugou’s sword, and he grins, pulling the blade free and slicing the demon’s head clean off. It falls to the ground with a dull thump, body falling behind it in a shower of dark blood. 

Bakugou stands, panting. Then he sticks his katana deep into the earth. To clean the blade, you realize. When he removes the sword, he turns to look at you. 

You swallow hard. He’ll likely be angry at you for intervening. You brace yourself for his scathing remark, but all he says is:

“Thanks.” 

You blink, not sure if you’ve heard him correctly. Bakugou moves a step forward—towards you—then winces, his hand coming to his chest. Blood stains his yukata. Your heart falters. In the heat of the moment, you’d forgotten he was injured. 

“You’re hurt,” you gasp, rushing to him.

He snorts. “It's just a scratch.”

“But you need to bandage it,” you say, hands going to his yukata to pry apart the fabric. You need to see the extent of the damage, even if he says it's just a scratch. 

“Oi! What are you doing, Shitty Woman?” He barks, jumping away from your touch. 

You cock your head. “I need to get a better look at the wound.”

“Fucking hell,” Bakugou groans, “Don’t just start tearing off my clothes without saying something first.” 

“Oh. Sorry,” you apologize, grateful the dark hides your blush. 

He sighs. “I need to burn this son of a bitch first. Your horse as well.”

You can’t bear to look at the corpse of Winter Melon. Bakugou must notice this, because he murmurs:

“I’ll burn their bodies separately.” 

You look at him in surprise. 

He shrugs. “You go prepare your herb mix and bandages and all that shit. I’ll take care of this.”

He’s sparing you, you realize. Sparing you from the gruesome task of piling up the corpses and watching them burn. 

“Are you sure?” You feel slightly guilty, making him deal with this on his own.

“Yes,” he snaps, growing impatient, “I’m your fucking bodyguard, remember? Depend on me to take care of the mess.” 

You nod, then whisper, “Thank you.”

Bakugou sighs, “Yeah yeah. Now get going, Shitty Woman.” 

You head back through the trees, glancing only to find him watching you. Blushing, you turn away quickly and hurry to the willow tree where Ryu waits, an emotion you don’t want to name, but one that is becoming all too familiar, burning in your chest.

 


 

By the time you’ve finished boiling water and decided what herbs will work best to speed healing and help ward off infections, you can see the glow of fire through the trees. Bakugou soon walks back into the clearing, his expression tired. It’s nearly dawn. Today will be long. 

“Sit,” you say in greeting, and he parks himself on the log you’re sitting on. The fire crackles merrily before you, casting gold and reddish light on your faces. Pursing your lips, you murmur, “Take off your shirt. I need to be able to see the wound in full.” 

Bakugou says nothing, but meets your eyes as he slides his yukata off his shoulder, the material pooling about his waist. You force yourself to look away from the toned muscles of his abdomen, the broad stretch of his chest. Instead, you dip your washcloth into the water you boiled earlier, and set about cleaning the wound. It's long, but shallow, stretching from his right pectoral to down across his chest, stopping at his abdomen. Bracing a hand on his right shoulder, you clean the wound with your washcloth, wiping away dried blood and dirt. 

Bakugou hisses, then mutters, “Your hands are fucking freezing. Goddamn.”

You wince, looking up at him. “Sorry. I can dip them in the water to warm them, if you’d like.” 

He glances down at you then looks away quickly, color appearing high on his cheeks. “Don’t worry about it. I’m not a fucking pussy. It’s nothing.” 

The silence stretches out between you once more, as you take the paste of lavender and tea tree, mixed with a bit of shea butter, and spread it across the wound. Bakugou remains still as a statue as your finger travels over the dips of his muscles, light as a feather. You’re trying desperately to ignore the warmth of his skin, the smell of caramel—trying and failing. 

“These herbs will help ward off infection,” you inform him, trying to remain somewhat professional.

For crying out loud, you’re a healer. You’ve dealt with shirtless men before. You’ve dealt with naked men too! All without batting an eyelash. Why is this suddenly so difficult? You know why, but you refuse to admit it. Instead, you grit your teeth and focus on the task at hand. 

You’ve just finished bandaging the wound when your touch strays over his heart. Bakugou’s heartbeat thrums against your fingertips, galloping and wild. You take in a sharp breath, looking up at him once more. 

Bakugou’s already staring at you, the look in his red eyes is similar to the one he had last night, when you practically moaned as he massaged your back. Your mouth goes dry, and once again, your blood begins to roar in your ears. But this time, it’s not because of any outside danger. It's the danger from within. You’re going to lose control. You always do, when it comes to him. 

“Your pulse...” you whisper, “It’s so fast.”

“I was just in a fight with a fucking demon,” Bakugou murmurs, “Of course it is. Why? You worried about my heart or some shit?”

There's a double meaning in his words that you refuse to acknowledge. His eyes bore into yours, as if daring you to answer. Your hands remain on his chest, trembling slightly. Your own heart rate matches his, now. His face is so close you can hear the pant of his breath, smell the salt of his sweat. I could kiss him. I’m that close to him.

The thought is like a bucket of ice water, snapping you to your senses.Your hands drop to your lap. You can still feel Bakugou’s skin beneath them, warm and strong. You’re unable to meet his eyes anymore, afraid of what you might do, if you witness that raw desire swimming in them once more. 

You say lamely, “I’m finished.”

Bakugou clears his throat, and there’s a rustling noise as he pulls his yukata back up over his chest. “The sun will be up soon. And it looks like another thunderstorm today,” he mutters, “We’d better get going.” 

You nod, coming to yourself again. A hot blush covers your face, and you avert your eyes. “Right.” A thought comes to you, and you ask, “What about the horse situation? I mean… Winter Melon is...” You trail off.

Bakugou rises to his feet, mouth quirking upwards in a smirk as he looks down at you. “Seems as though you’ll be riding with me, Princess. Better hang on tight. I won’t come back for you if you fall off.” 

You sit up straighter. Riding together? The close proximity… unable to cling to nothing but Bakugou… better hang on tight … your blush deepens. This isn’t going to end well. You can feel it. 

You’re right. 

Chapter Text

There’s something about riding on horseback with another person that is incredibly intimate. Particularly if that person is your estranged childhood best friend and bodyguard whom you’ve been having incredibly sensuous thoughts about for the past few days— the past few years , if you’re being honest. 

You’ve always thought Bakugou was handsome. Even as a young girl, you called him pretty (which he detested). But now, the admiration of his looks has changed to a ravenous hunger that fills your body when you look at him, when you touch him. You’ve done your best to ignore it, but now it's impossible to ignore this feeling. It’s desire, pure and simple. 

Still, no matter what your thoughts and desires towards Bakugou are, they’re not something you will ever allow yourself to act on. Especially not right now. You don’t want to speak too soon, but this journey is mending the broken ties between you. Or so you hope. Maybe you’re wrong, but something is healing.

You’ve been riding since dawn, sitting behind Bakugou on Ryu’s back with your hands clasped about his waist. He usually wears his katana in a sheath across his back, but he straps it to the saddle instead, allowing you to sit behind him. You’ve taken the pace of his weapon. It’s strange; you can feel the motions of his body: the clenching and unclenching of his muscles, the thunder of his heartbeat. You ride with your chest at his back, head propped upon his shoulder to see ahead, your legs framing his. You’re flush against him. At first, you tried to keep some distance between you both, but Bakugou rides fast. And you’re terrified of falling off, so you hang on tight. 

The storm reaches the two of you around midday, the wind becoming stronger and stronger. It buffets the trees, sending branches and leaves swirling into the road. Distant rumbles of thunder soon become louder and louder, and at last, the rain begins to fall. It falls in torrents and sheets, drenching you and Bakugou within minutes, despite your cloaks.  

“Fuck,” Bakugou hisses, his muscles tightening as the rain pours down, “We’re too far from Insan to make it today, but there’s no big villages between here and the city. If this rain keeps up, it’ll make finding a place to sleep hell.” 

You groan inwardly, already soaked to the skin and cold. A shudder runs through your body—you always were bad with staying warm. Sleeping like this will be hell. Unconsciously, you nuzzle close to Bakugou. He’s so warm, you can’t help it.

“Fucking hell,” he snorts, “I forgot how easily you get cold.” 

“S-shut up,” you retort, not having to raise your voice despite thunder and rain, due to the fact your lips are level with his ear. “It’s not my fault I’m not like you. Not all of us are a bonfire given flesh.” 

To your surprise, Bakugou huffs a laugh at this. “Guess it's a good thing I’m your bodyguard then, huh, Princess?” 

You laugh. “I guess it is. But for that reason only.”

He chuckles in response, his vibrating with the motion. 

The rain continues to pour down, even as the sky darkens. You’ve grown numb to the cold at this point, and even the broad expanse of Bakugou’s back provides no comfort. How can I feel so cold during the summer? You think miserably. The thought of sleeping in your wet clothes makes you want to groan. You wouldn’t be able to sleep at all; you’re sure of it.

“This is ridiculous,” Bakugou growls, “I’m not making you sleep outside in this damn weather. You’re shaking like a fucking leaf.”

“What?” You pull away from where you’ve been leaning your head on his shoulder to sit back a bit. 

He replies, “I’m a samurai. I’m used to conditions like this. But you? You’re a healer. It’s not right. I’m your bodyguard, dammit. You’re not dying from hypothermia on my watch.” 

“Bakugou. It’s the middle of July,” you say with a laugh, “I’m not going to die from hypothermia.” 

“Still,” He says, then mutters, “Besides, I don’t like seeing you cold. It reminds me of that night.” 

This rare display of honesty surprises you, and a warm feeling sparks in your chest. It's not the burning sun sensation of desire...no, this time, it's something different. And far more frightening.

 


 

The sky is a deep shade of plum when you spy the welcome golden flicker of candles inside windows. The rain is still pouring in torrents, and lightning occasionally splinters across the sky, the rumble of thunder close behind. You’ve just ridden out of the forest and across a wide plateau covered in rice paddies, the main road cutting through the middle of it all. The house stands at the edge of the fields, near where the road re-enters the forest. It's a small cottage, but looks well kept. And most importantly, it's got smoke rising from the chimney, promising fire and warmth.

“Bakugou, look,” you say, a smile stretching across your face at the thought of a dry place to rest your head for the night. You point over his shoulder. “A house. Farmers, from the looks of it. Maybe they’ll let us sleep in their stable or something.”  

“At this point, any shelter is a good shelter,” Bakugou concedes with a sigh, and urges Ryu forward. 

You approach the house quickly, which is surrounded by a low stone wall. The only point of entry is through a little wood archway. Upon reaching this place, Bakugou passes the reins to you and dismounts.

“Wait with Ryu.” He orders, unstrapping his katana from the saddle. “Who knows what kind of wackos live out here in the country.”

“I highly doubt ronin are hiding out in a cottage beside a rice paddy.” You snort, dismounting behind him. When you land, the muddy ground oozes beneath you, your sandals sinking in the muck. You grimace. 

“Stay back. I’ll signal you when it's time for you to join me.” Bakugou instructs.

You cross your arms. “And what, exactly, are you going to tell these people?”

“The truth,” He says, straightforward as always. 

“That might not be the best idea,” you argue, “They aren’t likely to trust a random samurai, even if you claim to be my bodyguard. Maybe we should come up with a cover…” 

“Fucking hell. It's not that complicated,” Bakugou cuts you off with a groan, clearly impatient, “Just let me handle this, Shitty Woman. I’m a samurai, for fuck’s sake. Now. Watch, and learn.” 

With great resolve, Bakugou turns and stomps towards the cottage, his posture straight and tall compared to the usual stooping look he takes on when walking around Yueii. This gives you some hope in his abilities to persuade strangers to let you stay the night, but when he reaches the door and brings up his fist to knock, you begin to lose hope. Bakugou knocks hard . You wince. If anything, he’s the ronin in this situation, not whoever is in this house. 

From your spot by their front gate, you can see the couple. They’re elderly, a man and wife, with grey hair and weathered faces. They take one look at Bakugou (who is likely glowering at them) and the katana in his hand, then begin to shut the door. That does not deter your bodyguard, however, and he sticks a boot-clad foot in the door to keep it from closing.

Even a few yards away, you hear his bark of: “We need a place to stay, shitty old man!” 

This is not going to end well , you think, and decided that now is the time for you to intervene, whether Bakugou has signaled for you or not. Dropping Ryu’s lead (the stallion would never run and leave his beloved rider behind), you dash across the flooded courtyard to the threshold of the house. The man and woman look up in surprise as you approach, and Bakugou lets out a long sigh, as if he expected this. He opens his mouth to speak again, but you cut him off before he can do anymore damage. 

“I’m so sorry,” you push in front of Bakugou, then bow to the elderly couple. “My husband is just worried for me, his tired wife. Please forgive him.”

  Bakugou goes stock still behind you. You feel your face flush, but you decide to stick to your story. This way the couple will have a reason to trust you both. Maybe with some more yelling Bakugou could’ve gotten them to invite you in, but with a temper like his, you doubt it. He’d more likely pull his sword on the elderly pair. 

The older woman looks horrified. “No wonder you were so desperate!” She exclaims, looking at Bakugou. “You didn’t mention you had a wife!”

Bakugou remains frozen, so you elbow him subtly and reply, “Ah, well, my husband didn’t want to make you feel pressured by us. Isn’t that right, Bakugou?” 

Bakugou’s eyes snap to yours, his expression still one of shock. Widening your eyes slightly, you tilt your head towards the couple in a gesture that says: you want to sleep with a roof over your head, or not?

Bakugou straightens and coughs, muttering, “Yeah. I didn't want it to seem as though we were intruding, but m-my wife”—he chokes on that part, and you glance to see him blushing furiously— “gets cold very easily, and I didn’t think it would be good for her to sleep outside tonight.”

“Of course not!” The older man says, putting his arm around his own wife. “You are welcome in our home tonight. We have a spare room the two of you can sleep in. Please, let us take care of you. I am Kuma, and this is my wife, Mizuko.”

“It’s nice to meet you,” you bow again, this time, Bakugou joining you. 

“We just finished eating, but we have some rice and pork leftover, if you would like it.” Mizuko says, taking you by the arm and leading you into the house. “Kuma, help Bakugou-san with his horse. I’ll find them some dry clothes. He and his wife are soaked to the skin! I won’t have anyone catching a cold under my roof!” 

The thought of a warm meal and dry clothing brings a smile to your face as you discard your mud-covered sandals at the door. “Thank you. We are in your debt. I’m Y/N, by the way.”

“Y/N,” The older woman smiles, her eyes crinkling, “What a lovely name.”

She leads you into the main room of the little house, which functions as the kitchen and living space. There’s a fire in the middle, and a low table surrounded by cushions. The right side of the room is covered in shelves and drawers, likely for storage. Herbs and cuts of cured meat hang from the ceiling rafters. It's a warm, cozy space, and you feel immediately guilty for dripping water onto the tatami mats. 

There are two doors off to the left of the main room, one for the elderly couple and one for their guests, most likely. After handing you a clean robe (it belonged to her daughter, before she married and moved a few towns over), Mizuko instructs you to change before eating. 

“I’ll hang up your wet clothes near the fire so they can dry by tomorrow,” she says, bustling about. “You go ahead and change in the backroom on the left.” 

You nod, accepting the dry clothes gratefully and heading to change. The back room is small, with a lantern hanging from the ceiling and a small circular window on the western wall. It's covered in tatami mats as well, with cabinets on the front and back walls. It seems to be a storage room of sorts, now that the older couple’s daughter is old and grown. 

It feels like heaven to take off your layers of wet garments, and you drop them to the floor. They land with a squelch, and you wince. You put on the robe, wringing out your hair. It’s soft and pink, which little rabbits embroidered on the cloth. You smile as you put it on: you’ve never worn something so cute and feminine before. All your clothes (like any other garment issued to servants at Yueii) are shades of grey, white and dark red. 

After you’re finished dressing, you return to the main room, and help Mizuko hang your wet clothes and set the table. She’s heating up rice and pork for you and Bakugou, as well as making tea. You haven’t had a cup of tea since leaving Yueii. You accept it from her gratefully, the earthenware cup warm between your hands. 

Bakugou enters, hefting a large bucket in his arms. Steam rises from the top of it; most likely water for washing up. Kuma follows behind, carrying your packs. 

“Where should I put this?” Bakugou grunts, the veins on his neck prominent and his arm’s flexing. A testament to how heavy that bucket is. He hasn’t looked towards you and Mizuko yet.

“Last door on the left,” Kuma informs him, grinning at his wife. “Remember when I was this strong, Mi-chan?”

She just clicks her tongue. “I don’t think you were ever that strong, dear.” 

You laugh, and Bakugou looks towards you at last, his eyes widening slightly at the sight of you. You can’t think as to why. He looks away quickly, carrying the bucket into the bedroom. He returns shortly. 

“One more should do it,” He informs Kuma, “I’ll take care of it. Wouldn’t want you to blow your back out.” 

You cringe at his wording, but Kuma merely chuckles and claps him on the back. “Fair enough, Bakugou-san.” The older man turns to you and his wife, saying, “I thought some hot water to wash yourselves with would be welcome.”

You nod. “Thank you.” 

Bakugou is out and back fairly quickly, emptying another bucket of water into a small wood basin in the spare room. When he returns after replacing the bucket outside, Kuma hands him a dark blue robe. 

“An old one of mine,” He says, “It might not fit well, but it’s dry. You two sleep well, I'm headed to bed. Please sleep well.”

  You both thank him, and Bakuguo accepts the robe with a nod, then heads into the guest room. When he emerges a while later, he’s wearing the robe, but it only covers him below the waist. Your face flames scarlet at the sight of him shirtless, lumbering into the main room with his usual slouching gait. Bakugou also looks rather red as he sits beside you at the table; you can practically feel the heat coming off of him in waves. Mizuko glances at him and then winks at you. You want to curl up and die. 

“The damn sleeves wouldn’t fit!” Bakugou barks at you, embarrassed, once Mizuko turns her back to the two of you to hang up his wet clothes. 

You snort, taking a sip of your tea before replying: “Sure they didn’t.” 

He looks like he’s about to say something else, but then Mizuko comes back to the table, two bowls of rice and pork in her hands. 

“Here,” She says, “You two eat well. I’ll get the futon ready and set out some towels. I’ll head to bed after I finish up, so take your time eating. And sleep well.” 

You both thank her, and she gives you a kind smile before vanishing into the other rooms. After quickly saying thanks for the meal, you and Bakugou dig in. There’s no speaking: you’re both famished after a long, hard day of traveling. The food is good, and it's warm— you can’t help but scrape your bowl.

Bakugou snorts at your actions. “You still eat as much as when we were kids, huh?” 

“Of course,” you reply, turning to smile at him. He stills, then glances down at your robe.

  “What?” You ask.      

“The hell you wearin’ pink for?” He murmurs, fingers catching the sleeve of your robe and studying it.

“This? It belonged to Mizuko’s daughter. She lent into me,” you reply, then add, “Why? Does it not suit me?” You feel oddly disheartened at his lack of enthusiasm. You thought it looked cute. 

“I didn’t fucking say that, Shitty Woman,” Bakugou mutters, dropping his hand. His cheeks are bright red. “Now shut up, you got rice on your cheek.”

You’re about to ask him where the rice is, when Bakugou licks his thumb and presses it to your cheek. With a focused look on your cheek, he wipes away the grain of rice, calloused finger scraping across your cheek.

“Soft…” he breathes, almost absentmindedly, then glances up at you.

You’re gaping at him, having nearly choked on the last bit of rice you were eating. What the hell did he just do? What the hell did he just say? Your body is on fire from just one touch of his fingers. If he touches you any more, you’re sure you will explode. 

  “We should get to bed.” Bakuguo stands suddenly, taking his bowl and yours and placing it in a small bucket filled with sudsy water by the backdoor. 

You nod, still speechless, and follow him to the guest room, watching the tense muscles of his back. His dragon tattoo moves hypnotically across the knobs of his spine with the rhythm of his steps. Bakugou slides the door open, and you both freeze. There’s only one, large futon on the floor. 

“I…” You’re at a loss for words.

What did you expect?” Bakugou snorts, shouldering his way in. “After all, we are married.”

“I’ll take the floor,” you say.

He lets out a barking laugh. “Like hell you will. Besides, this is practically the floor anyways,” Bakugou glances over his bare shoulder at you, eyeing you up and down. “Relax, Princess. I won’t bite.”

‘Won’t’ does not equal ‘don’t’, you think. And that thought only serves to send your mind to all kinds of places it shouldn’t be right now. Especially not with a bed in front of you. Bakugou sighs, heading over to the far corner of the room, where a large basin of water sits.

He dips his finger in it. “It's still warm. You can wash up.” 

“What about you?” You ask.

Bakugou snorts. “Take care of yourself, Shitty Woman. Don’t worry about me.” 

But I do worry about you, you think, walking over to kneel before the small tub. You dip your hands in, the water warm. With a hum of contentment, you wash your face and feet, still a little grimy from the mud. 

“Here.” Bakugou chucks a towel at you. It hits you on the side of the face. 

You glare at him, but he simply grins from his spot across the room. He’s unpacking your saddlebags, hanging the extra clothing you both packed over the ceiling rafters— all of it was soaked after today’s ride. He looks very domestic, his lower lip jutting out in a pout and he struggles to unfold one of your spare yukatas. 

“Your turn,” you call to him, toweling off your face and neck. 

He comes over beside you, crouching before the basin in a way that sends his robe riding up his strong thighs. You let out a small breath of shock. Above his left knee curves a grotesque scar, stretching across the expanse of his thick thighs. It’s thick and long, not like the small, thin scars on his back.

What is this?” You breathe, fingers reaching before you can stop them. Bakugou freezes as you brush over the ridges of the scar tissue: the skin there feels like wax. Then with a snarl, his hand captures yours in an instant, yanking your wandering fingers away from the old wound. His grip on your fingers is a vice. 

“None of your damn business,” Bakugou hisses, baring his teeth.

You recoil, drawing your hand out of his and into your lap. “I’m sorry,” you whisper, averting your eyes. 

He remains silent, watching you with a guarded expression as you stand and walk to the futon. You lie down on the far side, so that your back is to Bakugou. You’re facing the wall with the rounded window. It's quiet: the only noise is the rain falling outside. Then the sound of a harsh breath, and the lantern goes out. Bakugou must have extinguished the flame. A few moments later, you feel him lay down beside you, the futon shifting beneath his weight. 

“I really am sorry,” you whisper, shoulders curling inwards. You both were doing so well, and you messed it all up.

“Forget about it.” His voice is still firm, but softer. “And I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have grabbed your hand like that.” 

It’s okay.” 

There’s silence after that, but you can tell that he’s nowhere close to sleeping, and neither are you. The two of you lay in the dark, the sound of the rain filling the silence. After a while Bakugou speaks, his voice unnaturally loud in the quiet. 

“L/N.” His use of your surname is a rarity that sends a thrill through you.

“Yes?” 

He pauses before speaking, as if uncertain. “I’ve been turning it over in my head again and again, and one thing isn’t adding up.”

“What doesn’t?” You ask.

“That Kurogiri guy,” Bakugou begins, and you feel your stomach sink. “You said he just left you alone after he confronted you in the library. Why did he up and leave? You were a loose end. He should have killed you.”

You swallow hard, thinking of the tall man the deep resonance of his voice. His cryptic words to you. I thought you looked familiar. Those eyes of yours… it's why I followed you in the first place. There are people who will be very interested to know that you are still alive. The memory of his yellow eyes causes you to shudder. 

Bakugou lets out a harsh breath. “You left something out when you came to Nezu with your story, didn’t you?”

“No I didn’t.” You murmur, but it sounds like a lie, even to you. And Bakugou knows it. 

 “Bullshit,” he snorts. “And don’t tell me you beat him into submission and forced him to leave or some shit like that. I wouldn’t believe it for a second.”

“You think I couldn’t have fought him off?” It sends a pang of hurt through you. 

“I know you couldn’t, Princess.”

The nickname needles at you more than usual, and you turn over to face him, anger sparking in your gut. You jerk back slightly when you do. Bakugou is already facing you, crimson eyes gleaming in the dark. His face is mere inches from yours.

“You don’t know what I’m capable of,” you whisper harshly, ignoring his close proximity. 

“Please.” His lip curls up in a derisive smirk, his tone dripping with condescension. “A couple of cool looking knife tricks aren’t  going to help you against a fully grown and trained opponent. There’s no way you could have fought that son of a bitch.”

“Fuck you,” you snap, on the defensive now. 

“You’re just angry because you know I’m right.” Bakugou counters, and it hurts— because he has a point. Then he says, “I know about your training sessions with that fucking blacksmith. He doesn’t know shit. If you wanted fighting tips, you should have come to me.”

Your mouth drops open, but he continues, eyes boring into yours. He can read every expression and emotion on your face, you realize. 

He says, “I was curious about where you were sneaking off to with that purple haired bastard every afternoon, so I followed you.”

“You what?” You snap, sitting up in bed to glare down at him.

“You heard me,” he replies sitting up as well. 

“What gives you the right?” It’s an effort to keep your voice from rising, not wanting to wake Kuma and Mizuko.

He ignores your outraged query, and says, “You never answered my original question. What did you leave out from your original account to Nezu?”

“Like I’m going to tell you.” You hiss, moving to stand. You need air. 

Bakugou’s hand wraps around your arm, pulling you back. His face is so close to yours, you can feel his breath on your face as he says, “So you did leave something out. I fucking knew it.” 

“You know nothing.” You snap. “You know nothing about me, who I am, or what I’m capable of. So quit pretending. I saved your ass the other night, with the oni.”

His face grows stormy, and you feel a sick sense of satisfaction,   knowing that you’ve gotten under his skin. 

“I didn’t need your fucking help.” Bakugou growls, and you grin.

“Oh yeah? Cuz you looked like you did,” you reply.

His crimson eyes flash dangerously. “You lookin down on me or some shit? I could have fucking handled it by myself. Which is more than you can say. You would’ve been dead in minutes.”

You could point out the fact that he’s the one looking down on you—literally, since he’s a few inches taller, even sitting. But you just smile, making your voice take on that sickly sweet tone you know he hates. And then you deliver a blow you know he’ll hate you for, but you don’t care, you’re sick with anger—it's a dangerous feeling. It makes you want to burn everything around you to the ground. 

“Just like you could handle your first real campaign?” You ask, tapping a finger to your chin. “What was it you said to me before you left? Depend on me?”

His pupils go dark with fury, his bare chest heaving as he snarls, “Take that back.” 

“You’re just angry because you know I’m right,” you parrot his words from earlier.

“You’re a goddamn bitch.” Bakugou hisses, upper lip curling in disgust and anger. 

With a feral grin, you reply, “And you’re an egotistical bastard.” 

There’s silence, both of you panting for air, staring at the other to see who will strike the next blow. You’ve both risen to sit on your knees at some point, faces inches apart. Bakugou’s gaze is darker than night, and you watch with a shock as it drops to your mouth. Then it goes back to your eyes, as if issuing a challenge. As if he knows exactly what you’ve been feeling these past few days, and is daring you to act on it. The thought sends a spear of heat through your chest.

“Fuck you,” Bakugou snarls.

And then he surges forward and kisses you. 

His mouth closes over yours, the momentum of his movement carrying you onto your back, and down to the futon. Bakugou follows you, his mouth never disconnecting from yours. He climbs atop you to pin your hands on either side of your head as he continues to attack your lips. 

Bakugou’s tongue swipes across the seam of your mouth. You let out a strangled noise, your blood roaring in your ears. Parting your lips, you allow him to deepen the kiss, his tongue slipping into your mouth. He tastes like caramel and smoke. Your head is spinning, but you don’t want this to stop; you’ll die if it does. It’s like the desire coursing through your veins is gunpowder, and he’s just struck a match. It's what you’ve been craving, even though you didn’t know it. 

His lips are harsh against yours. He gives you no quarter, kissing you fiercely till you can hardly breathe, till you’re both drunk on it. Your hands clench and unclench in his hold, desperate to touch him.

With a snarl, you yank your hands free, and Bakugou lets out a dark chuckle that turns into a hiss as your nails scrape across his bare chest. Your arms settle around his neck, drawing him down closer to you, so that he’s forced to brace himself on his forearms so that he doesn't crush your body with his weight. 

His mouth is hot and desperate, as if he knows this kiss will only last a few more moments before the two of you come to your senses. You know it too, and it makes you kiss him back harder, licking your way into his mouth, chasing the sweet and smoky taste of him. He lets out a groan, his hands tangling in your hair. 

Then his mouth leaves yours. You whine, only to gasp as his lips attack your neck, creating a searing trail from the spot below your ear to your collarbones. His lips are hot and heavy, and when his canines scrape across your skin. At some point, he bites down, and you can’t help it: you let out a strangled moan, back arching against his chest. Bakugou curses darkly at this, his hands tugging at your hair to further bare your neck to him. 

You’re burning, you’r falling, and all you can do is cling to him and throw your head back as he feasts on your neck. It's making you lose control, this mouth of his. Making you want to beg him to fuck you, or do something to ease the throbbing between your legs. You’re losing control…

Control . The word is like a slap to the face, reminding you of what you’re doing, what you stand to lose. How you promised not to act on your feelings, no matter how much you want to. Because of Bakugou. What he’s said. What he’s done. The years of tangled history between you that are finally healing—only to be ruined by this act of unbridled lust. One you both wanted, craved- but to what end?

With a gasp, you push Bakugou from you. He falls back, breath a rasp. His bare chest heaves, a small sheen of sweat covering it. Your hand comes to cover your mouth, feeling your swollen, spit-slick lips, your heart hammering. The throb between your thighs is still there, but fading fast. Reality is sinking in, ice water through your veins, quenching the fire burning there. 

You meet his eyes, a feeling of horror rising in you. Bakugou reads your expression, the regret there, and his face pales. 

“Fuck,” he snarls, then stands suddenly, cursing harshly, “ Fuck .” 

He pushes out of the room, sliding the door shut behind him hard enough you’re scared it’ll wake Kuma and Mizuko. When he’s gone, you fall back on the bed, curling on your side, heart still pounding as if you’ve just sprinted for miles. Your mind is whirling, wondering how the two of you went from an argument to kissing passionately. There will be hell to pay tomorrow. Knowing Bakugou, the fallout from whatever this was will be catastrophic. 

It's later when he returns, entering the room quietly. You’re laying on the futon with your back to the door, pretending to be asleep. You feel the weight of his stare on your back for a moment before he lies down, and you keep your breathing even, despite the fact that your heart has begun to race one again. 

“That was a mistake. Forget it ever happened,” Bakugou mutters, seeming to know you’re feigning sleep. 

You dare a glance over your shoulder. The bare expanse of his back faces you, the red of his tattoo dark in the low light. He’s so close to you: less than a foot. You could reach out and touch him if you wanted. Tell him that you didn’t think the kiss- as reckless as it was— was a mistake. 

But you’re too afraid of his rejection, which is practically a certainty. He’s a man, after all. He has his appetites, same as you have yours. You’ve heard the rumors from the other servant girls. Of his unbridled lust, the trail of broken hearts his left behind him with women from his travels. Never with a servant girl from Yueii, thank the gods. You’re not sure how you would’ve handled that. No woman he sleeps with is ever enough, you remember Mina telling you. It’s as though they can’t fulfill him, in some way. 

You want to be more than one of his escapades. You want to be his friend again, as ridiculous as the thought is, in light of what has just happened. So you turn back over, the ghost of lips still imprinted on your mouth, your skin. It's a long while before you fall asleep.

When you wake, he’s gone. 

Chapter Text

The bed is cold beside you. You reach out with a hand, feeling the place where Bakugou lay last night, searching for any trace of warmth. For someone whose body is so hot, the sheets he leaves behind are ice cold. You sit up, straining your ears to hear where he might be. You can hear Mizuko outside in the main room, Kuma as well. It seems as though they’re just sitting down to breakfast. There’s no sound of Bakugou though. 

Dawn’s rays peak through the window, casting the room in buttery light. Bakuguo must have let you sleep later than usual. That, or he couldn’t be bothered to wake you. Both are plausible. You dress quickly, pulling your hair back in a tight braid. Your clothes from last night are dry; Bakugou’s are already gone. His saddlebag is packed, and sits beside yours. You pack your own quickly, then wash your face. 

The water in the basin is tepid and cold—like the sheets beside you. It was warm last night… but that feels like a dream. Memories from your distratous tryst come flooding back to you, unbidden. You’re powerless to stop them. His lips, rough and chapped, feasting on your mouth, your neck. His calloused hands gripping your wrists. The sharp, fang-like edge of his canines. There isn’t a soft part to him. Bakugou is jagged edges and burning embers. But you like that about him.

You need to stop thinking about him. 

But how can I? 

You splash water on your face, grateful now for its chilled temperature. It brings you to your senses, eases the blush from your face and neck. You’re dreading going out into the main room and seeing Bakugou, dreading riding with him even more. But you square your shoulders and slide back the door. Better now than later — it's like cauterizing a wound or pulling a splinter. It’ll hurt like hell for a moment, but then recede to a dull ache.

Bakuguo sits at the low table in the main room, Mizuko and Kuma across from him. His back is to you. They’ve just begun to eat.

“Forgive my lateness,” you apologize, bowing. 

Bakugou tenses at the sound of your voice, nearly imperceptibly, but you catch it. He’s dressed in his usual black yukata, the one with orange and green koi fish embroidered upon it. It makes the grey yukata you wear look shabby in comparison. If Mizuko and Kuma note the difference in dress between the two of you, they don't comment on it. 

Mizuko merely says, “Good morning, Y/N-san. Please, sit and eat. I was about to send your husband to wake you.” She smiles at Bakugou cheekily, and Kuma chuckles. 

You resist the urge to wince as you sit beside Bakugou, who has gone still as stone. The cover story you picked for the two of you last night couldn’t be more ill chosen, given what happened afterwards.

“Thank you for the meal,” you murmur, and begin to eat. 

The meal consists of rice congee (a warm porridge of sorts) and a few slices of dried fish. It reminds you of what your mother and the other women in the brothel used to cook for you before they left for work. It's one of the few memories of your life before Yueii that your mind hasn’t locked away from you in an attempt to spare you the trauma. The memory is unexpected all the same, jumping to the forefront of your mind with startling clarity. It takes your thoughts off of the mess you’ll soon have to deal with, but only for a moment.

You’re hoping the couple will leave you and Bakugou to your food, but it seems they have other plans. 

“We didn’t have much time to talk last night,” Kuma begins, and dread curls in your stomach, spoiling your appetite. You have a feeling where this is going. And its not a good one. The older man continues, “And I’m curious, how did the two of you meet?”

“Yes yes,” Mizuko chimes in, smiling. “The two of you clearly married for love, anyone can see it. Humor an old couple with your story before you go, will you?”

You almost want to laugh— she couldn’t be further from the truth. But a fake love story? You’re scrambling, trying to think of something. To buy yourself some time, you take a bite of your rice congee.

“We’ve known each other since childhood.”

You nearly choke on your food. Bakugou. You glance at him surreptitiously. His hands are clenched around his spoon, but his voice is even. 

He continues, words clipped. “She and I were both servants at an estate, so we grew up together. When we grew old enough, I asked her to marry me. She said yes.” 

It's a fair enough story, if not incredibly brief, but what shocks you is that Bakugou changed his identity to that of a servant. You didn’t think his pride would have allowed for it. You notice his refusal to call you by your first name as well. It’s nothing new, but it still stings.

Mizuko, seeming to realize that Bakugou isn’t one to mince words, turns to you with a conspiratorial grin. “So that’s his side of the story, hm? What about you, Y/N-san? What drew you to this brooding wolf of a man?” 

Despite the awkwardness of the situation, you can’t help but laugh. You try to disguise it as a cough, hiding your mouth behind your hand, but it's hopeless. Mizuko and Kuma both laugh. Bakugou doesn’t make any noise, but you feel his crimson eyes on upon you. His intense gaze makes it difficult to formulate an answer, but you decide to be honest. You can speak truthfully here. If Bakugou asks about it later, you can chalk it up to creating a good cover. 

“He’s always taken good care of me. Ever since we were children,” you recall, a small smile lighting up your face without realizing it. “He’s stubborn and prickly, but inside he has a good heart, even if he has trouble showing it. I always knew it would be him, really.”

Bakugou goes still beside you, his stare like a searing brand. It takes all your willpower not to look at him. Mizuko and Kuma chatter about the sweetness of your reply, seemingly unaware of the rift between you and your “husband”. You finish eating quickly while the couple continues to discuss other, trivial matters. 

“Thank you for the meal,” Bakugou says when you’re all rising from the table, “We should be going, though.”

“Of course!” Kuma replies, “Forgive us for keeping you.”

“Please, don’t trouble yourselves,” you intercede, bowing slightly, “Insan isn’t much farther from here. It was nice to rest.”

“Here, I packed some lunch for the two of you,” Mizuko says, bustling off to the little kitchen area. She calls over her shoulder, “Kuma, you go with Bakugou-san to ready his horse.”

Kuma nods, heading for the front door. Bakugou moves to follow him, but his eyes snag on you, standing silent at his side. He walks up close to you, leaning his head down slightly and speaking in a low voice so that only you can hear:

“You’re a good liar.” Is what he says, but it sounds as though he’s saying something else entirely. 

You glance up at him. “I guess I am.” 

The look in Bakugou’s eyes is too knowing. He’s seeing too much in your expression. Mistake. Last night was a mistake. Dammit, Y/N. Pull it together. It hurts to remind yourself, but if you don’t, who knows what you’ll say. You turn away. 

“I’ll go get the saddlebags,” you say, walking away from him. He lets you go. 

 


 

After saying your goodbyes and thank you’s to Mizuko and Kuma, you and Bakugou are once more on the road. The sky has cleared somewhat, it’s filled with puffy, white clouds that hide the sun from view every now and again, due to the cool breeze pushing them across the blue expanse. It’s good riding weather— the rain has tempered the heat somewhat, so it’s not as unbearably hot as usual. But it seems that you’ve only traded one source of discomfort for another. 

Bakugou is silent as usual, but this time the quiet is stifling. You’re more conscious than ever of your arms around his waist, hands touching skin that was bare just last night.  If resisting the desire to kiss him before was hard, now it’s practically impossible. 

The only thing that keeps you from acting on your urges are the words he whispered to you in the dark. That was a mistake. Forget it ever happened. How can you forget the feel of his mouth on your neck, your skin? The feel of his skin, the hard planes of his chest and the strong line of his shoulders? It's agony. 

But there’s no reason for you to hope his feelings are the same. And even if there was the slightest chance they were true, you know Bakugou well enough to know he’d only see them as a distraction. You, this mission… it’s just another stepping stone to becoming the greatest samurai of Yueii— of all of Japan. And where do you come in? An orphan servant girl who has nothing to offer. Nothing but a damn extra with no status or wealth. Especially not status. You’re the daughter of a prostitute. Being with someone like you for more than a few nights would only tarnish his reputation. 

These thoughts weigh you down, making it impossible for you to even try to attempt bridging the awkwardness and making conversation. So you remain silent, holding yourself as far away from Bakugou as you can without risking falling off Ryu. You’ve never missed your sweet Honey Melon more. 

Luckily, the ride isn’t too long. The road winds upwards through the grassy hills before beginning to slope downwards into a wide valley—it is in this valley that Insan is located. You’ll be there just before sunset, most likely. Which will be fairly soon, given the sun’s low position in the sky. 

Insan is located on the edge of a broad river called the Shinju, which flows down from the northern mountains of All For One’s territory, and past the wooded lands of Lord Todoroki, before going through the green Heiwa valley, and, at last, flowing out to the sea. Insan sits on its banks, nestled in the midst of the green mountains of Heiwa. It’s the biggest city near Yueii. 

It’s also your hometown. This will be your first time here since you were a child, running the streets in ragged clothes and fishing for treasures in the river. 

Bakugou doesn’t know this. He knows your mother was a prostitute, and that you were raised alongside women like her, but he doesn’t know where exactly you come from. Only Nezu, Chiyo, and a few other council members know that. It’s not a deep secret or anything, you just never mentioned it to Bakugou when you both were children. You didn’t talk to him much about your past, aside from when you used to have the nightmares. 

The nightmares about the man in black who came to take you from your mother. Your memories of that night are hazy, as most of your childhood memories are. But you remember that man— a ronin— sent to take you from your mother. Looking back on it, he was likely a lackey of her pimp, sent to take you to begin training as a woman of the night. Your mother refused— and paid for it with her life. She bought you enough time to escape, but you remember looking back, just before you sprinted out the back door. Because you’d heard your mother scream. 

There the ronin stood, hunched over your mother’s dead body, her rapidly cooling hand outstretched towards you. You remember the man in black’s eyes. His pupils were so small that it looked as though his eyes were only made up of whites. And you remember what he did with the katana he stuck through your mother’s heart. He pulled it out, and with his long, sinuous tongue, licked the blood clean off it. 

It was that gesture that set your small feet in motion. What propelled you out of Insan and into the wilderness, where you ran and hid in the woods. You evaded the ronin for a long time, but after injuring your side in a fall during a snowstorm, you were sure he would overcome you at last. And that was the night Bakugou found you. 

After Shogun Nezu took you in, life became much better. But the nightmares remained with you, making sleeping something that you loathed, and would try to avoid entirely. Of course, Bakugou had noticed. When you were out helping to hang the wash one afternoon, he cornered you. His way of asking if you were alright was framed less delicately than most people would recommend. You look like shit, he’d snorted, arms crossed as he stared you down. 

You, of course, were used to his teasing, but this seemed particularly harsh. And so your reaction was one of any thirteen year old struggling with nightmares, grief over a lost parent, and a sudden change to her life. You burst into tears. Bakuguo was no better with emotions then than he is now, you think with a small smile. But he’d comforted you in his usual begrudging way, poking you on the forehead before hugging you tightly. 

You’re not sleeping, are you? He’d asked, glaring down at you. He always was as smart as a whip. You nodded, wiping away your tears with fisted hands. Bakugou sighed, then fished around in his pockets before producing a small ornament made of jade. It was about the size of your palm, wrought in the likeness of a dragon. He shoved it at you, muttering, put this under your pillow or something, dumbass. It’ll ward off any bad dreams. You gaped at him in shock— you’d never been given something so fine before. Bakugou, of course, just snorted and ruffled your hair. And besides, you don’t have to worry about any bad guys or shit like that, okay? I’m gonna be the best samurai in all of Japan. So they won’t mess with you cuz I’ll fuck them up if they try to. Got it? 

You still have that medallion, hidden in your saddlebags. You couldn’t bear to leave it at Yueii—not on a long journey like this one. It is more than a preventer of bad dreams to you. Over time, it has become a ward against all kinds of evil.

“We’re here,” Bakugou’s voice snaps you from your reverie: his first words since this morning. 

Looking over his shoulder, you see the wide plain outside Insan, before leading to its tall stone walls. The tiled roofs glitter and glisten in the golden light of the lowering sun, and you can see the Shinju cutting through the city— a glittering thread of silver that winds through the busy streets. You’ve been traveling west for the past few days, but starting tomorrow, you’ll be going North, towards One For All. The thought causes you to shiver slightly, and you look in that direction. Far away, in the darkening sky, you see the looming slopes of the Northern mountains, and before that, the thick tangled forests of Lord Todoroki’s lands. 

Bakugou says nothing else, just urges Ryu down towards the main city road, which leads to the large eastern gates, soon to be closed with the coming of night. Once you enter beneath them, you’re met with the site of bustling streets, teeming with people and horses, carts and oxen— even stray dogs and cats. It’s as busy as you remember, but this part of the city is much nicer than where you lived. The Yukaku, or red-light district, is where the brothels are. Those are in the southern area of Insan, shunted to the side. A dirty place, yes, but it was home to you for thirteen years. That’s the part of the city you’re from. Where you grew up. And now? It serves as a reminder of who and what you are, and who and what Bakugou is— why you can never be with him. Not truly. 

Then take what you can get. A desperate part of you whispers. You shove the thought down, but it lingers.

 


 

The lanterns on the houses and shops are being lit by their owners as you and Bakugou travel through the streets. Few people glance your way. Insan is the biggest city in the west, and it receives hundreds of travelers a day. It's good to know that you’ll blend in. Bakugou seems to know his way through the city— better than you—you can barely remember these streets. 

At last, you come to an inn that sits on the banks of the Shinyu—which looks more like a wide canal than a river, once inside the city. It's crisscrossed with various bridges, and filled with little boats. The inn is two stories, painted emerald green. The sign reads, “Tora Ryokan”, or “Tiger Inn”. A stylized tiger is emblazoned above the doorway. 

“Is this the place that Nezu-dono told us about?” You ask, as Bakugou begins to dismount. 

“Yup.” His short answer has your hackles rising. 

“You could at least try to be civil, you know,” you say, exasperated, “We can’t go the rest of this journey without speaking to one another. It's not feasible.”

“Watch me,” Bakugou snaps, then turns to march towards the doors of the inn. 

Cursing his stubbornness and pride, you let out a long sigh before dismounting, removing the bags from Ryu and giving him to a nearby stable hand. You sling the luggage over your shoulder with a grunt. A little help would have been nice , you think, glancing at your grouchy bodyguard. 

Bakugou stands at the doors of the inn, which leads into a sizable main hall. Noise and the smell of food comes from the well-lit room, but he remains just outside. He’s talking to an absolute giant of a man who’s standing in the doorway. A guard of some type, perhaps? You approach them, straining slightly under the weight of your bags. 

The tall man takes notice of you, and, to your surprise, rushes forward to help. 

“Healer L/N, I presume?” He asks, his voice a low rumble. But it's warm and kind. And besides, it's nice to be addressed by your real name instead of “Shitty Woman” for a change. 

You nod. At this close, he towers over you, but he gives you a smile as he takes the bags from your arms.

“I’m Tora,” he says, lifting the heavy luggage like it's nothing. He could crush you between his thumb and pointer finger— you’re sure of it. “Welcome to the Tiger Inn! My sisters and I have been expecting you. And your bodyguard as well, of course.” He adds, giving Bakugou a grin.

Bakugou’s eyes are narrowed, and he glances at you briefly before looking away. 

“Still a cuddly ball of sunshine as always,” Tora snorts, and you have to smile at that. Then he says, “Now, let’s get you both inside.” 

He enters the main hall of the ryokan, which is covered in tatami mats and low tables. It's warmly lit, and filled with patrons. Three women sitting at a nearby table with a dark haired young man catch your eye, each wearing hair pins that resemble cat ears. Their kimonos too, are embroidered with different kinds of wild cats and tigers. How very on brand , you think with a smile. Tora’s name, even, means Tiger. I wonder if the inn is named after him, or the animal.

“Mandalay, Pixie, Ragdoll!” Tora calls to them— they must be his sisters, you realize. Hence his use of their nicknames, no doubt.

Bakugou stiffens beside you when they wave you all over to their table. At first you think it’s because of the blonde woman named Pixie, who wears a blue kimono. Her real name is Tsuchikawa, if your memory is correct.  Back at Yueii, Bakugou called her a shitty old hag. You really hope he doesn’t do that now. The last thing you want is to have to apologize for his rudeness again. 

But his glare is focused on the young man sitting with them. He’s a samurai, judging from the katana strapped to the waist of his bright green yukata. His back is to you, but when he stands to greet you and Bakugou, your breath catches slightly. He’s handsome, with  warm brown eyes, shaggy dark hair and an easy smile that puts you at ease instantly. 

“Bakugou-kun!” He seems delighted to see your bodyguard— despite Bakugou’s glower. “Long time no see!” 

“Tch,” Bakugou snorts, crossing his arms over his chest as he continues to glare at the young man. 

But the green-clad samurai merely laughs, saying, “The same as always, eh? How cool!” 

“I could say the same for you.” Comes Bakugou’s cold reply. “Still playing nice.” 

Clearly giving up on Bakugou, the dark-haired young man turns to you, and you find yourself flustered under his gaze. For a split second, you think you see something cunning lurking in the depths of his dark eyes. As though there’s another side to him. But that thought is pushed aside when he flashes you a dazzling smile.

Bowing low, he says, “It’s nice to meet you! I’m Shindo Yo.” Then, “Bakugou didn’t mention he had such pretty friends.” 

You flush at his obvious flirting, inclining your head in response. “It’s nice to meet you too. I’m L/N Y/N.” 

His eyes light up, and he grabs your hands suddenly, exclaiming, “The healer! I’ve heard much about you! You’re Chiyo-san’s protege, yes?” 

Startled by his abrupt contact, you can do nothing but nod. Yet Shindo holds onto your hands a bit longer. You feel Bakugou still beside you. For reasons you don’t quite understand (why should you accommodate to his moods?) you delicately extract your hands from Shindo’s grip. 

To Shindo’s credit though, he doesn’t miss a beat, saying with a wink, “How cool! You’ll have to teach me some of your methods!”

Bakugou, clearly fed up with your exchange with Shindo, snaps, “Shut your trap. We’re not here to see you, you fucking extra.” 

You glance up at him in surprise. Is he… jealous? Bakugou doesn’t look at you— he’s too busy glaring at Shindo, but you dismiss the thought. They must have some old rivalry, no doubt. Perhaps something like what Bakugou has with Midoriya. There’s no way he could be jealous, right? Right?

“Now that your introductions are done,” Tora cuts in before Shindo or Bakugou can go any further, “Allow me to introduce my sisters.” 

He introduces them in turn. The blonde is indeed Tsuchikawa, the woman with reddish brown hair is Sosaki, and the youngest, teal-haired woman is Shiretoko. They greet you warmly, though upon turning towards Bakugou, Tsuchikawa’s expression morphs into a smirk.

“Ahh Bakugou-kun, charming as ever,” she laughs, and you can feel your bodyguard’s hackles begin to raise. Tsuchikawa however, either not noticing or simply not caring about his moods, continues on, snickering, “But how much you’ve grown! Still the explosive samurai I know, but now a man! And I’m still looking for a husband, you know!”

“As if I’d marry some washed-up old hag like you!” Bakugou barks, hands clenching. 

You cringe. Did he not listen to anything that Aizawa said back at Yueii? You can already see Tsuchikawa’s eyes narrowing into slits, and Toru looks somewhat angry as well. After his attitude today, you don’t really feel too strongly about watching Bakugou get his ass handed to him by a pussycat warrior, but you also want to eat dinner. And a fight would likely delay that. 

Before you can step in, however, Sosaki bonks both Bakugou and Tsuchikawa over the head with one of her fists and announces in a kurt voice, “No fighting in front of the customers. Besides, L/N-san likely wants to eat. And Bakugou too, though I’m sure he’d rather fight.” 

Tsuchikawa steps away, going to assist another table at their call for her, but she still glares at Bakugou as she leaves. His expression remains the same that it has all day— a glare, but he steps back as well. Sosaki sighs, and her younger sister, Shiretoko giggles.

“Things are always more lively when Yueii samurai are around,” she says.

  Sosaki nods, “Yes. Now, let’s get you two some food. Shiretoko, please go check in their meals. Tora, take their bags up to their room, will you?”

Shiretoko gives a smile before dashing away. Tora nods, taking the rest of your luggage and heading for a stairway that is set into the far-right side of the main room. You’re about to protest at Sosaki’s use of “one room”, but the brown haired woman sees your trepidation and gives you a reassuring smile.

“Don’t worry, it’s a suite. There is a main room, but the bedrooms are separated,” she informs you. 

You feel your body deflate slightly in relief. Sharing a room with Bakugou when he’s in a mood like this would be disastrous, to say the least. You sneak a glance at him to find that he’s staring down at you. His eyes are shuttered, but his mouth is set in a firm line, his jaw clenched. As if he senses your discomfort. Looking away quickly, you realize that— for reasons beyond your understanding— he’s angry.  

Shindo takes this moment to insert himself back into the conversation, something that you’re not overly thrilled about. You have some experience with overly flirtatious men, and none of it good. You’ve had male patients who were interested in you in the past—likely due to the fact that you were a woman presence they hadn’t seen much of after months away fighting in various battles. 

“If you’re worried about him,” Shindo says, jabbing a thumb in Bakugou’s direction, “You could always room with me.” 

His tone takes on a sensual edge, and you know that there’s another offer in his words. One that makes you shift in awkwardness, especially as you feel Bakugou practically spitting fire beside you. Shindo has to know the effect that his words are having. You notice a sinister glint in the green-clad samurai’s dark eyes, one that belies his warm smile. Yes, there is another side of him. Your earlier suspicions were correct. 

“L/N-san, Bakugou-san,” Sosaki saves you once again, squashing another possibility for Bakugou to start fighting someone in the ryokan’s main room, “Will you two eat here, or in your rooms?” 

  “You can always eat with me, Y/N-san,” Shindo’s use of your first name causes even Sosaki to look at him in surprise. He’s gone beyond flirting now. This is just impolite.

But he’s smart enough to know what will set Bakugou off. Indeed, you start in surprise as your bodyguard’s fingers wrap around your upper arm, pulling you against his side. You glance up at him in shock, but his eyes are on Shindo, who’s grin has turned sharp like a knife.

Bakugou’s hand is like a vice. His touch is possessive, claiming— and it makes you want to bite his head off. Shindo may be a forward jackass, but Bakugou has no right to suddenly act territorial. Especially not after what a jerk he’s been to you all day. 

“We’ll take our meals in our room,” Bakugou practically snarls, shooting daggers at Shindo with his eyes. 

“Alright, your room is the first on the left.” Sosaki barely has time to give you directions before Bakugou is heading for the stairs, pulling you behind him. You’re too outraged at his rudeness and possessiveness to protest. His grip remains on you, even as the two of you reach the second floor landing. Bakugou throws open the first door on the left and nearly drags you in. 

Thank goodness that Tora already seems to have left, judging by the pile of luggage in the center of the room. You take in the main room in a blink of an eye— tatami mats, hanging metal lanterns, and a low table. There are two sliding doors, one on the east wall and one on the west. You look for just a second, but the moment the door closes behind the two of you, you whirl on Bakugou, yanking your arm from his grip and hissing, 

“So now you’re going to act like I exist, huh? Because you’re jealous?” Your frustration and sadness at his actions throughout today has turned to anger in an instant— a strange kind of alchemy.

“I wasn’t fucking jealous. I know that asshole. He’s a piece of shit,” Bakugou says, which only serves to anger you further. 

You take a step closer to him, hissing, “You could've let me discover that for myself, instead of manhandling me!”

“This mission, in case you’ve forgotten, isn’t about you finding someone to sleep with!” Bakugou snaps.

“Excuse me?” Your voice rises in pitch, and you take another step closer to him, glaring up into his red eyes. You’re only a few inches apart now. “Need I remind you that you’re the one who kissed me last night?”

Bakugou looks away from you, uncomfortable with your accusation. “I said it was a mistake! I told you to forget it ever happened!”

“I can't pretend last night didn’t happen! You’ve made sure of that,” you shoot back, poking him in the chest, “You wouldn’t even talk to me today!”

“Just shut your fucking mouth. I’m getting a headache,” Bakugou snarls at you, then turns, heading towards his room. Dismissing you. Leaving, again. You’re so sick of looking at his back as he walks away. The anger in your gut is a devouring flame— you want to hit him where it hurts. You want to have the last word. But most of all, you want him to turn around. To get so angry he finally tells you what is going on behind those red eyes of his. 

So you say casually, “Maybe I will take Shindo up on his offer. At least he doesn’t avoid me like I’m the plague.”

Bakugou stills, and you feel a sick sense of satisfaction. He doesn’t move, but his voice rumbles low like thunder when he speaks. “Oh yeah?”

“Why not?” You shrug, making a point of studying your nails as he turns around. Masking your anger and turning it to disinterest. You know he hates that. 

“Fucking fine!” Bakugou snaps, his temper flaring up once again. “Go back to him! You’re clearly in need of a good fuck.” 

“Excuse me?” You glare at him. “If anyone needs that, it's you.” 

“Yeah?” His red eyes are narrowed in fury, and he yells, “You think I need to get my rocks off or some shit? Well then fine! I’ll go find some whore to fuck! Would that make you happy?”

“Whatever you want.” You say coldly, and now it's you turning your back on him.

He growls, then storms from the room, slamming the door behind him. The moment he’s gone, regret begins to sink in, but you’re still angry, muttering and cursing to yourself. You begin to pace without realizing it, desperate to work off some of your anger. You’ve been pacing laps around the room so many times you’re sure you’ve worn tracks into the tatami mats, when there comes a knock on the door. 

You fling the door open, expecting your fiery-tempered bodyguard, but it's none other than the teal-haired Shiretoko. She’s carrying a tray covered with steaming bowls of food, as well as a pot of tea.

“L/N-san?” She asks, concerned at the no doubt wrathful expression on your face. “Is everything alright?”

“Ah yes, I’m so sorry,” you apologize, ushering her in, “I was waiting for someone else.”

“Your bodyguard perhaps?” The petite woman probes delicately, as she sets the dishes out on the low table. 

When she glances over at you— you’re still hovering by the door— you nod.

“We had a disagreement,” you explain, somewhat ashamed. It seems such an immature thing to be arguing about, now that you’re standing in front of a retired samurai. What would she think, if she knew what the fight was over? What would Chiyo-san think? The thought is sobering. 

Shiretoko gives you a sympathetic smile. “I see. Well, I brought enough food for both of you, but you can eat his share if you want.”  She gives you a wink, which manages to coax a small smile from you.

“Did…” you’re hesitant to ask the question, “did Bakuguo leave the ryokan?” 

“He left about half an hour ago, storming out the front doors,” the teal-haired woman replies.

“I see,” you murmur. Then, “Thank you. For the food, I mean.” 

Shiretoko smiles, “Of course.” She hesitates, before adding, “We have an ofuro in the back of the inn, if you need to bathe. There are clean robes and towels in your room, should you feel the need to relax. Our customers are mostly male, so the women’s bath is often peaceful and quiet.”

The thought of a soak in hot water brings some relief to your weary heart and body.

“Thank you, Shiretoko-san,” you say again, and she gives you a little smile before leaving the room.

  You eat your dinner in peace, expecting to have Bakugou crashing through the door at any minute, accusing you of eating his food. But the door remains closed, the hallway silent. The meal passes quickly, the food warm and well seasoned. Despite the fact that you eat until you’re full, there remains a hollowness in your stomach. 

 


 

After finishing your dinner, you decide that sitting in the main room waiting for Bakugou to return is both pathetic and— as much as you hate to admit it— pointless. So, exchanging your weather-worn travel clothes for a silken robe, you head to the ofuro. You’re determined to relax, and so off you march.

Upon your arrival at the women’s baths, you strip off your robe and rinse your body before heading for one of the cast-iron tubs that line the warm, wood-paneled room.  Below each tub is a little wood stove, which keeps the water hot at all times. Right now, you’re eternally grateful for that. With a long sigh, you slip into the warm water. 

Closing your eyes, you attempt to clear your mind, focusing on the heat of the bath as it eases your aches and pains. But just as you begin to relax, the image of Bakugou entering the yukaku region comes into your mind. 

From there, the intrusive thoughts only multiply, until all you can think about is where he is right now, what he’s doing. When he said he would go fuck a whore, you considered it as bogus as you saying you were going to take Shindo up on his offer of sex. But now, you can’t help but wonder if he actually went to a brothel. Once this thought surfaces, your mind keeps showing you images of him with another, faceless woman. He’s touching her, kissing her neck, thrusting into her as he groans in pleasure, throwing his head back—

You sit up abruptly in the bath, water sloshing over the sides of the tub. The humid, steamy air is suddenly too hot. Stepping out of the tub, you dry yourself and hastily put on your robe before heading back to your rooms. Throwing open the door, your stomach sinks. He’s still not back. You even peak into his room, but to no avail. There’s no trace of him.

It’s been a while… Did he really go to the red light district? Your gut churns. For all your anger and frustration with him, the thought of Bakugou with another woman makes you feel sick with jealousy. You laugh bitterly. You want him so much, even now, when you hate his guts. You hate your own more, for still wanting him as badly as you do. 

With a sigh, you dress in a simple yukata and head to your own room, trying and failing to sleep. An hour or so passes with you tossing and turning on your futon, and there’s still no sign of Bakugou. The jealousy is still there, but now it’s eclipsed by worry. He should be back by now, sex or no. What if he got hurt? What if he ran into trouble? The brothels are located in the rougher part of town. Anything can happen in that place. You should know. You grew up there

You’re not entirely sure what prompts you to rise from bed and put on a cloak, but before you know it, you’re out the door and down the stairs. The main room shows no signs of Bakugou either, just Shindo and a couple of patrons drinking sake and chatting. You hurry by them, not responding to the green-clad samurai’s call for you to join them. Instead, you head out into the dark streets in search of your taciturn bodyguard.

He may not be in trouble, but he’s going to be, you decide, as you stride down bustling avenues and through lively night markets, heading southwards along the cobbled streets that border Shinju river. Bakugou is your bodyguard, and he can’t just leave you by yourself like he did. It's this reasoning that sets a fire in your stomach, and has you quickening your steps. 

You reach the red light district quicker than you would have thought. It seems your memory hasn’t failed you entirely after all. You recognize the brothels, with their wide, open doors. The light and music streams from the windows of the different houses, each run by an iron-fisted madame or pimp. The sight has you thinking of your mother, and the time she spent here. As much as she tried to shield you from her life, some nights she would return to her private room in the Baihua brothel with bruises lining her wrists or neck. On these nights, you would fix her chamomile tea and rub her back, trying to soothe away the rough touches of her patrons. 

Those memories are less fond ones, and you push them aside you continue your search for Bakugou. Pausing in the shadows of an alley, you scan the bustling crowds of the yukaku region— the finely dressed men, looking for pleasure they can’t find in their marriage or with their lovers; the beggar children, hoping for a spare coin; and finally, the prostitutes themselves, dressed in bright kimonos with their lips colored dark red. Standing on your tiptoes, you search the sea of people, looking for that black kimono with the orange and green koi fish, listening for the bark of that infuriating voice. Your stomach churns in worry, knotting and unknotting with each passing moment. 

A flash of ash blonde hair in the crowd. Your heart clenches. Was he here after all? Is that even him? You have to know.

“Bakugou—” You call out, stepping from the shelter of the alley. You're certain that the ash-blonde head turns in back in your direction.

“Gotcha,” hisses an unfamiliar voice, and a foul-smelling hand clamps over your mouth, another coming to wrap around your waist. Before you can so much as scream, you’re pulled you back into the darkness of the alley. 

Chapter Text

Your breath comes in gasps, your heart racing, as you twist against the grip of the stranger who dragged you back into a dark alley. In the yukaku region, it takes no time to figure out what they want. The thought causes your body to spasm in panic, activating your flight or fight response. You have to break their hold. But when your attacker speaks again, you stop struggling. They have the voice of a girl. 

“Ah, sorry Y/N-chan. I was hoping we could be friends, you know?” The voice is young sounding, as though she’s no older than you. “But you can’t scream, okay?”

The tickle of a knife point at your jugular has you freezing. There’s a small, maniacal giggle from behind you. But the hand drops from your mouth. It’s only once the hand is gone that you realize what the scent clinging to your attacker’s fingers was. 

Blood. 

Your gut roils, but in as calm a voice as you can muster, you ask, “Who are you? What do you want with me?”

“Hmmm. Let’s see,” the girl says in a sing-song voice, “What can I tell you?”

Your attacker drops her arm from around your waist, pivoting around so that she faces you, but her knife remains in its place, even as she moves. In the dim light, you can make out her features. She is young, as you thought. No older than you are. Her eyes are golden, her blonde hair pulled into two disheveled buns. If not for the slightly unhinged look in her eyes, and the fact that her knife is at your neck, you would think she’s pretty. Innocent, even. 

But even then, it's her smile that gives her away. Wide and leering, it sends a shiver down your spine. Her canines are sharpened to points, top and bottom. Her teeth remind you of a wild animal’s. The thought makes your gut twist. Who the hell is she? And how does she know your name?

Crossing your arms over your chest, you ask, “Tell me who you are.”

She giggles again, but is clearly intrigued enough in you that she doesn’t reprimand you moving your arms. And thank the gods for that, because now you have a hand over your obi, your fingers already creeping towards the hilt of your knife. 

“You can call me Toga-chan,” she replies at last. “We’re going to be friends, Y/N. I can tell. I’ve heard all about you.”

“From who? And how did you find me?” You prod, thinking of the yellow eyed man in Yueii’s library. Is she in league with him? You wouldn’t be surprised. 

“I was sent here because he thought you might come here after meeting with Kurogiri-san. He knew you would come back to the place it all began,” Toga says, confirming your suspicions. “Nobody thought you would, but here you are! And now I can take you home!”

You frown, even as your mind races. Who is this mysterious he ? Kurogiri is in league with All For One… your blood turns to ice. Could he have something to do with this? Has your mission already been discovered? And what does this girl mean when she says that she can take you home? 

Clearly deciding you won’t bolt, Toga lowers her knife, flipping it deftly in her fingers. Her movements break you from your flood of thoughts, and your hand grips around the hilt of your own knife, hidden beneath your clothes.

“Let’s go, okay, Y/N-chan?” Her use of your first name, the familiarity in the way she says it, is unnerving. “They’re all waiting for you.”

Taking a step away from her, you say, “No. I don’t think I will.”

Toga’s face crumples into an expression of displeasure. The lack of her ever-present, maniacal grin makes her seem more sinister. Setting your teeth, you pull your knife from your obi. 

“You are like me!” Toga’s smile returns in full force. “I guess we can play a bit before we go. Besides… I want to taste your blood.”

Her sentence is so jarring and disturbing that you let out a small gasp, dropping your defense. Toga lunges forward, her dagger glinting in the darkness of the alleyway. You just manage to jump back in time, but the tip of her dagger scratches a thin line across your cheekbone. Wincing, you raise your dagger, ready to strike back— you freeze. 

Toga has lifted her blade to her mouth, her small, pink tongue flicking out to lick the blood clinging to its razor-sharp edge. The motion flings you back in time, to the stranger in black, standing over the body of your mother. Such a familiar gesture. You had always assumed that the man in black was a lackey of your mother’s pimp, but now, you’re not so sure. The thought shakes you to your very core. 

Looking up, Toga meets your eyes and grins, a strange flush blossoming on her cheeks. As if she is… aroused. You stagger a step backwards, bile rising in your throat. You have to get out of here. 

But Toga won’t have it— she runs at you again, knife raised. But in her bloodlust, she moves with too much force, throwing all her weight into her charge. Ducking around her, you twist quickly so that you’re facing her back. Without hesitation, you stab your dagger square into her lower lumbar, lodging the blade there. 

Toga lets out a strangled cry, turning so fast that your hands are pulled from the hilt of your knife, buried in her back. Her eyes are wild, and she stumbles a step towards you. 

“That’s not fair,” she wails, eyes covered in a film of tears. “It’s not fair!” 

You sidestep her easily, watching in horror as blood bubbles from her mouth. You’re a healer. You know exactly where and what your dagger hit. Her spinal cord, and perhaps her spleen. She’ll be dead in minutes. She’s no threat to you now, not as she staggers to her knees before falling face first into the muck of the alleyway. She whimpers and growls, but doesn’t rise again.

You shrink back against the wall, scooting down it till you’re sitting in the muck of the alley. You watch as Toga’s body gives a few final, pitiful heaves before going still. Turning your head to the side, you vomit. 

Looking about, it becomes clear that no one noticed your abduction or Toga’s shrieks. The night is full of the sound of people’s chatter, bawdy music, and other such city noises. They’re all oblivious to the death only feet from them. 

You watch as a couple walks by the alleyway, oblivious. But that won’t always be the case. You need to get out of here. All thoughts of finding Bakugou are forgotten, the only thing on your mind now being getting somewhere safe and tearing your muddied clothes off. 

You turn to go, but glance back at the body one more time. Shinsou’s knife. The silver hilt glimmers in the dim light of the street lanterns outside the alley. You can’t leave it in the back of a stranger in some random alley of a yukaku district. Kneeling by the motionless body, you set your teeth, and pull the blade free.

It would have been smarter to wait until the body was colder, the blood less lively. The moment you yank the dagger out, a spout of red surges forth, covering your hands and the fabric of your yukata. Some even splatters on your neck. Recoiling in horror, you wipe your hands on your clothes, desperate to get the sticky substance off. You’re a healer yes, but you’ve never killed human. You turn your head and vomit again, your head spinning. You need to get back to the inn.

“Y/N….”

You jump back in shock, horror rising in you. Somehow, Toga is still alive. Her hand stretches out towards you feebly, and she manages to look up at you. Her gold eyes are wide in mania and anger.

“Not fair—” she moans, before falling back into unconsciousness. 

It’s an effort not to vomit again. Your healer instincts are telling you to stay by Toga’s side, to staunch the bleeding. But you have to get out of here. You can’t risk a run in with her other companions, if she has any. You have to leave now. Despite the fact that she was ready to abduct you, it’s harder for you to leave than you would have thought. 

Staggering to your feet, you adjust your robe as best you can to hide the blood, tucking your soiled knife into your obi before taking off down the streets, heading out of the yukaku district, away from the brothels and men with greedy hands. 

The walk back to the Toru Ryokan is a blur: you hurry through the streets, mindless to the glowing lanterns, delicious smells, and the chatter of the crowds. You’re still shaking from the adrenaline of the attack, your heart pounding. The blood on your hands is turning tacky in the summer night, crusting under your fingernails and between your fingers. 

You’ve had human blood on your hands before… but not because of something like what happened in that darkened alley. You’ve never taken a human life before. Toga may have been alive when you left her, but she couldn’t survive so grave a wound. The thought of her lifeless body in that alley sends bile rising in your throat once more. Swallowing hard, you quicken your steps.

When you arrive back at the inn, it's still full of life, despite the late hour. The main room is full of patrons, but you brush past them quickly, keeping your hands tucked closely at your sides. Luckily, Shindo is gone, so they pay you no mind. The last thing you need is him or someone else noticing the blood and asking questions. Right now, all you want is to be alone. Ignoring the sound of music and loud laughter, you dash up the stairs to your room, flinging the door open and slamming it shut behind you. The blood on your hands… you have to get it off. 

You stumble across the main room and into your own private quarters, pulling your bloody knife from your obi and dropping it to the floor. Just looking at it causes your gut to turn. You strip off your muddy and blood-stained outer garments, leaving you standing in nothing but your slip. Plunging your hands into the water basin on the dresser, you scrub furiously at your fingers and palms with soap. The milky bar turns pink, and red clouds the water.

The room opposite yours is quiet. Of course it is. Bakugou is… elsewhere. Tears sting your eyes, and you curse quietly. If he hadn’t ever left, if you hadn’t dismissed him so coldly… this would be different. You should never have gone out to find him. What were you thinking, a woman going to the yukaku district by herself? But he left you first, whispers an insidious voice deep inside you, he abandoned you. Again. You grit your teeth, and scrub harder.

“Where the fucking hell have you been.” 

You yelp in surprise at the sound of his voice. Bakugou. He must have come from the main room. Quietly enough that he didn't hear you. His voice is a low rumble—furious—sending a shiver down your spine. 

“Out.” Your voice is surprisingly level. 

“No fucking shit.” Bakugou snaps, and you hear his heavy tread on the creaking wood floors beneath the tatami mats. 

“It’s none of your business” you say sharply, feeling his presence behind you. This is too much, too soon. You’re not ready for another verbal sparring match with him. You’re at your limit. At this point, you just want him to leave.

“Don’t hide your fucking eyes from me,” he snarls, his hand coming down to touch your shoulder—to turn you to face him. You whirl around, a snarl on your face. The anger from earlier has resurfaced, consuming you. It burns away your remaining fear, reminding you that if not for him, you wouldn’t have a girl’s blood on your hands. 

“Don’t touch me,” you hiss.

Bakugou’s eyes widen as he takes in your furious expression, your clean—but still trembling—hands, the thin cut along your cheekbone. Then he takes in the rest of the room: your knife by the door, your soiled clothing next to it. 

“What the hell happened.” Once again, it isn’t asked like a question. His eyes are narrowed in fury, his jaw clenched. 

“I ran into the wrong people,” you say coldly, looking away. You’re unwilling to admit where you were. That you were looking for him. Because you were worried. Because you were jealous. 

“No shit,” he growls. “What the hell were you doing, going out without me? Were you trying to get yourself killed?”

“It's not like I had a choice!” You throw up your hands. “You were the one who left first. How was the brothel, by the way? Did you get a good fuck in?”

“What the fuck were you doing out there?” His refusal to answer your question only makes the fire in your veins burn hotter.

“I went looking for you, you fucking bastard!” You snarl, meeting his gaze. You want him to know. To know what you went through because of him. You want him to feel guilty. It's a sick, twisted feeling, but you want to see him brought off that high horse of his. You want to break his prideful facade. 

“What?” His eyes widen. “Why?”

“You were gone for so long. I was worried,” you snap, “Clearly, it was my mistake. Who was I to think that the Great Bakgou Katsuki could possibly need my help?” 

Bakugou’s entire body goes still as stone. “Where did you go, L/N?”

His lack of cursing startles you again. It throws you off balance, the fire inside you banking as you behold the horror in his eyes. You gnaw on your lip. Lying is useless at this point. He’ll guess where you went, even if you don’t tell him. 

“The yukaku district,” you murmur, looking away again. 

He lets out a harsh breath, his face darkening. “What the fuck were you thinking?” 

You throw up your hands. “I didn’t know what to think! I was jealous, alright? And then I was worried. So I went out to find you, and got attacked by some psycho with a knife! Congratulations! You’re right! I’m nothing but a dumbass who can’t even defend herself! You win!”

You’re panting by the time you finish, and Bakugou is looking at you with his mouth slightly agape. Shoulders heaving, you turn around, splashing your hands back into the water and scrubbing fiercely.

“I may have managed to escape, but not without a cost. I killed the person who attacked me,” you say in a rush, suddenly intent on confessing to all of it. 

Saying it aloud only makes the fact that you’re now a murderer reality. You swallow harshly against the tears rising in your throat, desperate not to cry. Bakugou remains silent but you can feel his stare on you, just as you always have been able to.

“I’m a healer,” you whisper, a rogue tear slipping unbidden down your cheek. “I’m meant to help people, not kill them.”

There’s a long silence, and you wonder if Bakugou has left the room. He entered it silently, so surely he could leave in the same manner. But when you turn around, you find that he hasn’t moved; he stands, watching you. Drying your hands, you let out a long sigh. The anger is gone. Now you’re just tired. Tired of it all. 

Bakugou watches you in silence for another moment, his expression tormented. His brows are furrowed, his jaw clenched. At last, he sighs, as if coming to some sort of agreement with himself. Then, stepping forward,  he takes your left hand in between his own. His touch is grounding, and you didn’t realize how much you craved it until now. The strength and warmth of him. Leaning forward slightly, you let out a shaky breath and close your eyes, body relaxing into his touch. 

“You’re too fucking hard on yourself,” Bakugou mutters, and you feel his fingers tracing the lines on your palm. “It was you or them. Don’t apologize for it.” 

You nod. “But it’s like… It’s like there’s blood on my hands, and I can’t wash it off, no matter how many times I try.” Opening your eyes, you swipe your other hand across your face at the tears, feeling weak and pathetic. 

“Then,” Bakugou’s voice is a low rumble, “I’ll help you clean them, Shitty Woman.”’

In an instant, he’s taken the middle and pointer fingers of your hand into his mouth. You’re frozen in shock, a blush already blooming on your cheeks. And yet you can’t find it in you to ask him to stop, fascinated by the way he draws your digits into the heat of his mouth. Too shocked by the comfort his touch brings you; it melts away the horrors of the night, the anger of the day.

Bakugou looks up at you, crimson eyes dark, just as he sucks on your fingers, his cheeks hollowed. A small gasp escapes you, but Bakugou doesn’t stop there. He laves his tongue over and around your fingers, causing your mind to spin with wonder of what his tongue could do in other places. Your breath has become a pant by the time he moves to your right hand, strings of his saliva now coating your left. 

Bakugou’s mouth is like the rest of him— warm. But his lips have a different kind of heat— it’s a searing kind. Like a wildfire. You want it to burn you alive. You nearly whimper when he releases your hands. They fall limply to your sides. Instantly you’re missing his touch, his mouth. 

“Better?” He asks softly.

You nod, but somehow find it in yourself to whisper, “Don’t stop. Please.” You take a step closer, taking hold of his kimono’s collar. 

Bakugou closes his eyes briefly, stepping forward and dropping his head so that his forehead rests on yours. His breathing is harsh on your cheeks: he’s struggling again. Finally, he mutters, “Just for tonight.”

“Just for tonight,” you echo, reassuring him. You want to feel him, be near him— it’s an ache you can hardly stand. You need the comfort of his touch. The security and the heat of it. Maybe tomorrow you’ll regret this choice— you know he likely will, but you just want to be close to him. You’re sick of looking at his back as he walks away, sick of feeling nothing but cold sheets beside you. For now, you’ll take what you can get. And pray it doesn’t damn everything to hell. If it does, so be it. Right now, the desire for him clouds any rational thought. 

Before you know what’s happening, Bakugou has picked you up, his arms under the bend of knees and around your waist. Silently, he carries you from your room, away from your bloodied clothes and knife and into the main room. Then he opens the door to his own chambers, the room similar to your own— paper lanterns, tatami mats, and a futon. Bakugou lays you down upon the futon, sitting beside you and looking down at you. His red eyes are molten in the lantern-light. 

“I should have been there,” he whispers, “I shouldn’t have left you. I’m sorry.”

You still. He never apologizes. Sitting up, you gently cup his face in your hand. Bakgou leans into your touch in a desperate sort of way that makes your chest go tight. Does he crave your touch as much as you crave his? 

“I forgive you,” you reply. “But this… don’t consider it a way of apologizing or a repayment of some kind.” 

He snorts, and when he looks at you, his eyes are dark. “Quit acting like I’m a fucking saint or some shit like that. I’m not Midoriya or any of those extras. I’m a selfish bastard.” 

You don’t have time to think on that before he leans forward and claims your lips, his hands braced on either side of your body. His kiss is uncharacteristically gentle, as if he doesn’t want to push you too hard. But the moment his tongue slides languidly into your mouth, the blood in your veins turns to fire. You climb up and into his lap so that you’re sitting taller than him, grabbing the fabric of his kimono and pulling him closer to you. 

Deepening the kiss, you suck harshly on his lower lip. Bakugou curses against your mouth, his arms tracing the line of your torso from your waist to your shoulders, his hands tangling in your hair. Restraint gone, he surges upward, mouth hot and fierce on yours. 

Your body keens into his, longing to be closer. Your hands claw at his back, your kisses becoming desperate. Gripping his robe, you pull away the fabric so that it pools around his waist, leaving his chest bare. Your fingers slide down his torso, feeling the strength of his muscles, the curves of his hip bones. The promise of strength and protection that lies within in his body leaves you breathless. More... you want more. You can’t get enough of him. Of this. Especially since every second of it is sand draining through an hourglass. 

Bakugou matches your pace, his own mouth dropping to your neck in the way he knows you like, kissing and nipping the sensitive skin there. The telltale knock begins between your thighs, causing you to whimper at the growing ache, your hands coming back up to hold tight to his shoulders. 

This... what you’ve both been longing for, craving, denying for so long. Your relationship may be shot to hell, but when Bakugou’s mouth is on yours, everything melts away. It's just you and him. The thought makes you think again of the brothel, and you still, even as Bakugou continues to kiss your neck.

“You’re energetic,” you say breathlessly, “You didn’t have enough from those girls at the brothel?” 

It’s the wrong question to be asking at a time like this, but you have to know, even if it ruins the mood. You saw ash blonde hair in the yukaku district. You have to know if he was there. You can’t go forward with this without knowing. To learn that he was with another woman mere hours before he was with you is something you’re not sure you can bear. 

Bakugou pauses, his lips on your neck. Then he murmurs, breath soft against your skin, “I didn’t go to a brothel.” 

You blink in surprise. You could have sworn you saw him there. Not only that, “But you said when you left…”

“I know what I said.” His voice is tight. 

“Then where did you go?”

He pulls away from your neck. “I went to get you that chamomile herb you were whining about, Shitty Woman.” He mutters, looking away from you, his face flushed. You follow his line of sight to a low table in the corner of the room. Atop it sits a little cloth pouch, the kind herbs are sold in.

“You remembered,” you breathe. You mentioned wanting that at the very start of the journey, back when your muscles were sore from riding.

He shrugs, “You always said it was your favorite tea, when we were kids. I just have a good fucking memory, that’s all.”

“Oh,” you reply, still shocked by his confession.

“You better fucking use it.” Bakugou snaps, glaring at you. “Do you have any idea how long it took me to find?”

You stare down at him from your seat on his lap, then say quietly, “I still have the jade medallion you gave me. It’s in my room, with my clothes. I didn’t forget about it. Any of it.”

It's an odd thing to bring up now, the jade medallion. But a part of you wants him to know, that through it all, you kept it. That you never forgot the time you spent so close to his side. Not even a little bit. Not at all. Bakugou’s eyes scan across your face, reading the unspoken words there. 

You’re trembling slightly in his arms, but you manage to add, “I meant it. What I said this morning. That I knew it would always be you.” To lessen the severity of your words, you add, “You, who I first gave myself away to...physically.” 

Bakugou is silent for a moment, watching you. Then he says, with no small amount of surprise. “You haven’t done this before.” 

You flush, looking away from his piercing gaze, “Aside from my own hands, no. It's not like I’ve had the opportunity.” You avoid mentioning that he has, but it doesn't really matter to you, so it's not worth bringing up.

“But I thought…” Bakugou trails off, and now he’s the one looking away. “I thought … what about that purple haired bastard?” 

“Shinsou?” You laugh at the thought, and he glares at you.

“Shut the fuck up, Shitty Woman,” he barks, then mutters. “What was I supposed to think?”

“I don’t know, maybe that healers don’t have that kind of free time.” You say blithely, and he snorts. 

“So I’ll have to show you how it's done, huh?” Bakugou looks at you with a wolfish grin.

“I guess so.” You reply, trying and failing to keep the nerves from your voice. 

He presses an uncharacteristically tender kiss to your forehead, murmuring against the skin there, “After you have me, Princess, you’ll never be satisfied with your fingers. Or want anyone else.”

I’ve only ever wanted you , you want to whisper, but that’s too vulnerable, too real. If you say that, this vener of lust will shatter, and he’ll leave. You’re sure of it. This is just for tonight. It was the promise Bakugou swore to himself. You can only hope that he’ll break his word, somehow, in the future, but knowing his stubbornness, you doubt it. 

To keep yourself from speaking, you kiss him again, losing yourself in the warmth and heat of him. Bakugou lets out a noise deep in his throat, his hands coming down to trace the line of your breasts, your nipples pebbled against the thin fabric. His hands knead the flesh there, causing a spear of heat to go straight to your core. 

“Where do you want my mouth, hah?” He rasps against your open mouth, breath hot and wet. “Tell me. On your neck? Your tits? Your cunt?”

You let out a strangled moan at his filthy words, which are only serving to strengthen your arousal. “Everywhere,” you gasp, fingers digging into his shoulders, sure to leave marks. 

Bakugou mutters a harsh, “fuck” , then proceeds to kiss you harshly, his hands going back up to your shoulders as he does so. His fingers fiddle with the straps of your slip, and when he pulls back from you for confirmation, you nod. 

Bakugou lets out a long breath, as if to calm himself. His fingers catch on one of the narrow straps of your slip, sliding the thin piece of fabric down and off your shoulders. You watch it fall, glancing down at his face as his hand goes to your other strap. His expression is one of intense focus but, to your surprise, his skin is flushed a deep red color. It’s a redness beyond arousal. He’s… he’s… 

“You’re blushing,” you say, surprised. 

“Shut up, Shitty Woman,” he mutters, looking away from you before flicking away the strap, and now it’s your turn to blush as the fabric falls and pools about your waist. 

“Who’s blushing now?” He says cockily, watching your expression with a grin as his hands come up to cup your breasts. He squeezes slightly. “You like that, don’t you? Does it feel good? Tell me.”

You gasp out a breath, unable to do anything but nod. Bakugou chuckles, then ducks his head to take one of your breasts into his mouth. As always, his mouth is hot and wet, engulfing your flesh in its warmth. His tongue swirls around your nipple, his hand tending to the other, pinching lightly. With a gasp, you bend your neck so that your forehead falls down to rest against his. Bakugou chuckles, the vibrations only adding to the sensations, the knock between your legs. You can feel the slick between your thighs, and it makes you blush. You’ve never been this wet before, when pleasuring yourself in the past. 

“Bakugou, I—” you pant, hands anchored on his shoulders, holding him to you. 

Bakugou pulls away, taking in your daze expression with a smirk. “Hah? What is it? Tell me what you want, Princess.”

You almost whimper at those words, and glancing away, you whisper, “I think I’m ready.” 

His stills. “Are you sure?”

You nod, and he swallows hard, the movement making his throat bob. Then he kisses your lips once, quickly. His hands come down to rest on your thighs, straddling his lap. Your slip is already pushed perilously high up them. The warmth of his hands is soothing, but you still can’t help feeling nerves begin to twist in your stomach. 

“I’m gonna use my fingers first, okay?” He says, sensing your trepidation, “I gotta stretch you out, so it won’t hurt. But if it does, tell me, alright?”

You nod again, and Bakugou kisses you once more, busying your mouth while his fingers trace along your thighs and underneath your slip. The further his hand goes, the more sensitive your skin is to his touch. By the time his fingers reach the apex of your thighs, you’re panting hard, forehead resting atop his shoulder. His fingers spread apart your aching heat, and Bakugou hisses:

“You’re so wet. Fucking hell, you’re dripping down my hand. ”

Shy at his sudden bluntness, you bury your face further into the crook of his neck, your skin burning. 

“That’s good, right?” You ask, unsure. 

He snorts, and you can hear the smirk in his voice when he says, “It’s fucking perfect. It’s gonna make it nice and easy for me to get my fingers in. But if anything hurts, remember to tell me.” 

You nod against his neck, fingers clutching at his shoulder blades. 

Bakugou murmurs, “Try to relax, Princess, okay? I’m gonna make you feel good.” 

His fingers move upwards, pressing against your clit, and you gasp at the contact. There. You’ve touched yourself there before, but his fingers feel different. Better. Bakugou begins to draw careful circles, and with each pass of his fingers, he brings you closer to the edge. The knot in your stomach draws tighter and tighter, till you’re panting against the skin of his neck.

“Bakugou—” His name is heavy on your lips. 

Suddenly he pulls his hand away, and you draw back to look at him, confused. Bakugou regards you with a serious expression. His red eyes are boring into yours, and you feel worry dampen your arousal. Did you do something wrong?

But then he whispers, “Bakugou? Don’t call me that when I’ve got my fingers in between your thighs. It’s Katsuki.”

You blink, unsure if you’ve heard correctly. “But—“”

“Call me Bakugou one more time, and I’ll stop. Is that what you want?” He asks severely, and you shake your head, blushing.

“Katsuki.” You try it out. His first name is strange to say, after so many years of disuse, but when you murmur it, Bakugou’s eyes go dark. 

“Say it again.” He whispers, hand resuming its previous movements.

“Katsuki.” Your voice is more breathless this time, on the brink of being a moan.

Bakugou makes a noise deep in his throat in response, kissing you fiercely as one of his fingers enters you. It's a strange, almost intrusive feeling, but as he begins to move the digit in and out of you, it becomes pleasurable.

“I’m gonna add another one,” He murmurs, and you nod.

The second finger is a bit of a stretch, but once again, Bakugou goes slowly. It's as though he knows what inner parts of you that will have your toes curling, and seeks them out. You’re a trembling, moaning mess in his arms. At last, Bakugou’s fingers brush a certain point inside you, and you have to keep yourself from coming at the touch of his hand alone. 

“That—ah—” You gasp, fingers tightening on his shoulders. 

Bakugou grins. “Feels good, yeah?”

Panting, you nod. “Yeah.”

“Fucking hell, I’m at my limit,” Bakugou says, his eyes dark. “I want to be inside you. You ready, Princess?”

“Please.” You whisper, and he nods, removing his fingers. You feel the absence of him now, and long for him to be inside you. To be closer to you than he ever has been.

You slide off Bakugou’s lap, and onto the futon pushing the remainder of your slip down your legs. Bakugou sits back on his knees, quickly ridding himself of his yukata. As you watch him strip, your eyes wander across his toned body: his strong shoulders, his broad chest, the corded muscles of his thighs… your eyes dart to the thick scar that is on his left thigh. You still wonder about that scar. Where Bakugou got it. Why he’s so hesitant to speak of it. 

All thoughts fly from your mind, however, when your gaze drifts down to the space between his legs, your face flushing. His dick is much bigger than his fingers. Will it even fit? As a healer, you know it will, but looking at it… you’re not so sure.

“You done?” Bakugou’s voice is smug and when you glance up, he’s smirking.

Immediately you look away, embarrassed. “I’m a healer. I’ve seen naked men before.” It’s both an explanation to him and a reminder to yourself. 

He snorts, “Not one as good looking as me, I’ll bet. Now lie back.”

Rolling your eyes, you do as he says, back sinking into the futon. Bakugou waits a moment, jerking his cock between his fingers, bringing it to its full length. You watch, drinking in the image of him— sitting back on his knees, head tilted back as he lets out a soft moan. 

“Pretty,” you breathe, without thinking, then go bright red.

Bakugou glances down at you, and smirks, his sharpened canines causing him to look almost wolfish. “Pretty? You haven’t called me that since we were kids.”

You blush, puffing out your cheeks in a slight pout. “It still applies.” 

“Dumbass.” Bakugou snorts, flicking your nose before crawling to position himself above you. His hands are braced on either side of your head, holding himself so that he doesn’t crush you with his weight. Bakugou expression is serious once more as he asks, 

“This good?”

You nod, leaning upwards to kiss him as he lines up at your thighs, the hard length of him brushing your thigh. His head nudges at your entrance, and you wrap your arms around his shoulders, tracing the lines of his various scars to distract yourself. Bakugou enters slowly, and the feeling is strange and foreign. He holds himself carefully as he pushes in, inch by inch, before bottoming out. You wince slightly, fingers tightening as your body accommodates to the adjustment.

“Fuck,” Bakugou hisses, breath harsh against your neck, “You’re so tight. Give me a minute, okay? I don’t wanna cum so soon.” 

After a few moments, you feel more comfortable, and murmur, “You can move, if you want. I’m ready.”

“If I want?” He snorts, but begins to move in and out of you slowly, his hands braced on either side of your head. Flushing, he mutters, “Of course I want to, dumbass.” 

Craning your neck upwards, you kiss him softly, your tongues tangling together as Bakugou’s thrusts become faster and harder, tightening the knot in your stomach and fanning the fire in your veins. You're accustomed to the length and feel of him now, and every drag of his cock against your walls has your toes curling. 

Breaking away from Bakugou’s mouth, you can’t help but let out a moan as he brushes a sensitive spot inside you. It feels so good. Bakugou chuckles darkly, moving faster, one of his hands kneading your breasts roughly. 

“Katsuki… it feels so good… hah—don’t stop… please…” Your mouth falls open, and you gasp out his name and a slur of other words and praises, unable to help yourself.

“Fuck, you’re loud, Princess. You tryin’ to tell everyone what I’m doing to you?” Bakugou’s grin is as sharp as a knife.

You clap a hand over your mouth, blushing furiously at the thought, but he pulls it away, crimson eyes burning into yours. 

“No,” Bakugou practically growls, “I wanna hear it all. Let that asshole Shindou hear, for all I care. Let him hear how I’m fucking you so good. He couldn’t even come close with that fucking limp dick of his.” 

His filthy words in your ears only cause the tension building to coil tighter, and a wanton moan escapes your mouth. Bakugou is right— you are loud. Embarrassed, you squeeze your eyes shut. 

His hand fumbles at your chin, grasping it roughly. “Don’t fucking hide your eyes from me,” Bakugou snarls, mouth agape and pupils lust-blown. “Look at me. I wanna see your eyes. Give me everything you’ve got. I’ll take it all.”

The moment you open your eyes and meet his crimson gaze, he slams into you hard, reaching a spot you didn’t know existed until now. You cry out, a mix of groan and a high breathless noise of pleasure. Your back arches, head falling back against the futon, your nails digging into his shoulder blades, sure to leave marks.

“That’s right, Princess,” he urges, grinning as he still holds your chin in place, his other hand pressing at your clit. “Come on. Come undone for me.” 

Bakugou groans, long and drawn-out and guttural, but he keeps fucking into you roughly. The room is full of the slap of skin on skin, the pant of your breaths, and the lewd sound of your sex drawing Bakugou in again and again. It’s too much… you can’t take it. 

“Katsuki—ha— fuck !” You’re unable to keep your eyes from rolling back in your head as you cum, body seizing and then going lax in his arms. A tear slides down your cheek, ecstasy filling your body. To your shock and arousal, Bakugou laps the tear up, he keeps up his brutal pace, his thrusts becoming sloppy as he nears his own climax. The 

“It’s never felt like this—” He says in a guttural voice, his eyes meeting yours. The pupils are blown, the red glazed over in pleasure. 

Those words send a feeling of pride through you, and you kiss his sweat-slick neck, whispering, “After me, no other girl will be enough.” You echo his words from earlier. “You’re mine, Katsuki.”

The last words slip out unbidden, but at the sound of them, Bakugou lets out a sinful moan, and you watch as he cums, his head thrown back, mouth agape and eyes screwed shut. His body goes limp, and he collapses on top of you, both of you sweating and panting. 

Even in his post-release exhaustion, Bakugou stays attentive, placing sloppy kisses to your neck, running his fingers through your hair.

But, as he pulls out of you with a groan, you can’t help but wonder, what now? Already, you feel shyness creeping into your limbs, your hands coming up to cover your bare chest. 

Bakugou, as if sensing your wariness, pulls you to him, so that your back rests against his chest. His strong arms wrap around you, holding you so close to him that you can feel the pounding of his heart against your back.

Pressing a kiss to the nape of your neck, he murmurs, “Stay with me. Just for tonight.”  

You nod, heart swelling in your chest. Those are the words you were hoping against hope that he would say. And so, you stay, sleeping deep and dreamlessly in his arms. Deep in your heart, you pray that he’ll change his mind. That this feeling of security and warmth won’t leave your side. You ache for it, even as you dream.

But in the morning, the sheets beside you are empty and cold.