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The Warrior's Ignited, Broken Heart

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Yuuei kingdom, two years ago

King Enji of the kingdom of Endeavor struck at Yuuei’s most vulnerable time, only two months’ time after All Might had eliminated its biggest threat; the League of Villains.

The League Of Villains were a wandering people at first, merely adding soldiers, bandits, and outlaws to their ranks. In the past years, however, they had grown formidably, even joining forces with an ancient, downfallen tyrant, All For One.

All Might had bravely led the Yuueian army to battle, emerging victorious, yet at a most costly price. His injury was so grave, he nearly left his last breath on the battlefield, and stayed permanently emaciated after. As a result, he lost an important portion of his power, and because the news of the battle spread like wildfire, the citizens of Yuuei, despite their unyielding loyalty, grew concerned, some even starting to doubt his strength and ability to protect the kingdom.

Even worse, while the League Of Villains was gone, All For One wasn’t. The Yuueian forces captured him after his terrifying duel with All Might, yet he’d managed to escape, slipping away like a snake. Of course, he’d need time to regain his strength, as well as gain powerful supporters, so even if he wasn’t completely gone, things appeared safe.

Until King Enji invaded.

It was something no one —perhaps foolishly so— had seen coming. The Yuueian kingdom had been an annexation of Endeavor, only having gained its independence a little less than a century ago, and King Enji’s father had held onto a life-long resentment over the successful revolution, effectively passing it down to his son. Yuueians came to realize soon enough, that the resentment was not the only thing that was passed down from father to son, the other thing being an aching wish to reclaim and fully incorporate Yuuei into Endeavor. So, he'd taken advantage of the public’s restlessness, the army’s weakness, the king’s condition, and attacked.


 

Midoriya Izuku is sixteen years old, and desperately tugging his king.

“Your Majesty, you can't. We can't win this fight.” He hates what he's suggesting, hates it more than King Toshinori does.

“Midoriya, my boy, I cannot abandon Yuueians in such a grave time.”

“You won't. Your Majesty, I'm begging you. The enemy has passed our front door, and he's coming for us. Please, it's not about running away,” he pleads, tears of distress, of anger, welling up in his eyes. “But if we stay here, if we fight him in our current situation, you and I will die. Yuuei cannot lose its King, not now. We have to retreat.”

King Toshinori opens his mouth to reply, but a choked yell from the Great Hall that lies just before the throne room cuts him off. Midoriya recognizes the —now dead— owner of the voice as Ishiyama Ken, one of the King’s best guards, bestowed the nickname “Cementoss” for his excellent ability to block off enemies in and out of the battlefield. A shock, then Midoriya’s blood starts boiling, but he shoves those thoughts to the side.

They have to leave. It’s the only way.

“Your Majesty, please listen to me! We retreat now, and we hide, until you grow stronger. We cannot stop him, not now. The harder it is for him to take over the throne, the more Yuueian soldiers die. Hell,” he curses, because he hates this, but there’s no other way, dammit, “the more civilians will die, because after his army is done, they’ll take to the streets.”

King Toshinori’s expression is pained as he looks at the chain-sealed doors, more so than it was when he had been nigh fatally wounded by All For One, yet his eyes recognize the truth in Midoriya’s words.

“And what do we do after we run, young Midoriya?” he asks.

“We hide. We can hide in the woods, and wait until you’re strong again, or until you’ve picked a powerful successor. Then, we’ll take back Yuuei,” he says. It’s a very loose plan, with so, so many things that could go wrong, but at this point, it’s the best there is, and it’s what has to be done. They both know it.

“My King,” Midoriya addresses, bowing down, “I swear, Endeavor will not shackle Yuuei again. I will die before I let that happen,” he says, and perhaps it’s arrogant, yet he’d go to the end of the world for his King, for his kingdom. The gilded handle of the ceiling-to-floor double doors stares at him.

“I know you would, young Midoriya. I would too,” King Toshinori says. Metal scraping against metal, the clang of an iron spear falling on the floor, a guttural groan from Snipe, the royal guard’s head.

“I just pray you won’t.”

Heavy footsteps thud against the surely bloodstained by now carpet, and Midoriya and his King turn on the opposite direction and run.


They avoid the main streets while running, using cut strips from their clothes to hide their faces, but just as they reach the outskirts of the capital, King Toshinori pulls Midoriya in a narrow alley that’s crawling with rats. Midoriya doesn’t mind. They’ve both been in much worse places, but they can’t afford to stop now, if King Toshinori cannot run anymore, he’ll gladly carry him to his back, they’re nearly at the forest—

“Midoriya, my boy,” King Toshinori says, and Midoriya stops his compulsive mumbling. “I’m sure King Enji is already looking for us, so we don’t have much time. I need you to listen to me carefully.” Midoriya nods, then muffles a gasp as King Toshinori unclasps the necklace wrapping around his throat, emeralds and sapphires glinting even as the sun’s setting.

“Your Majesty—”

King Toshinori silences him with a look akin to a father’s.

“Midoriya, my boy. You know of the tradition of this necklace being passed down to the Kings and Queens of Yuuei, centuries before Endeavor annexed our kingdom. The previous Queen of Yuuei, as well as my mentor, Shimura Nana, gave it to me forty years ago. You and the rest of the kingdom believe that I have not chosen my heir, yet my choice, for a few years now, has been set in stone.” King Toshinori’s eyes are a piercing blue, sharper than the sapphires’, when they meet Midoriya’s gaze. “I despise that you’ll have to bear such a burden while still so young, yet I’m afraid we might be separated soon, and I cannot leave Yuuei without a ruler. That would be our downfall.”

Midoriya does not dare speak, barely even breathing.

“Midoriya Izuku, I’ve chosen you as my heir.”

He inclines his head, lowering his gaze, as if bowing, and Midoriya’s knees nearly buckle.

“Your Majesty, I—I can’t— you’re still…”

King Toshinori holds out the necklace in his palm, offering it like a sacrifice.

“Will you accept this burden?”

Midoriya’s mouth dries. Him, becoming king, ruling Yuuei… Even with the King practically raising him for the past eight years, he’s still woefully inadequate.

But hard times are coming —in fact, they’ve already arrived— and hard times bring hard decisions.

So he nods, and says, “I will.”

After his King has fastened the —legendary— necklace around his throat, Midoriya’s heart beats, even minutely so, louder, steadier.

They hide in the shadows of the forest for the night, wary of even the omnipresent owls watching them.


Yuuei kingdom, present day

 

“You filthy thieves!”

Midoriya grimaces as a knife whistles past his right ear, thrown by the noble he and Uraraka just stole from. He rushes past the civilians in the streets, following Uraraka, who’s shoving people left and right.

“Excuse me!”

“Passing through!”

“Sorry, we’re in a rush!”

A few heads turn to stare incredulously, especially when people register the incensed nobleman running behind them while yelling profanities, but most of them just continue what they were doing. This isn’t a rare occurrence for them, and in fact, rumours have spread about a benevolent gang’s existence, making people more curious than wary. No one is opposed to an unknown force helping the poor —especially as, under King Enji’s rule, the vast majority of the simple citizens now constitute the poor— except maybe for the King himself, as well as his cronies, such as this recently-robbed nobleman.

The amount of money Midoriya and Uraraka took would probably be enough to last the orphanage for an entire month, and Midoriya tries not to bristle at that, because if he does, he’ll turn on his heel and fight that man, something which will not end well for either of them. Still, he can’t help but grind his teeth, rolling his eyes as the nobleman pants for breath, falling behind.

He and Uraraka wind the city, turning in corners and narrow streets, just in case anyone else is pursuing them. His breathing is unsteady, heart pumping wildly both from running and the momentary panic that seized it when he saw —or rather, heard— the knife.

Still, when they reach the forest he can’t help but burst out laughing as he meets Uraraka’s gaze. She does the same and the cloths they’re both wearing that cover everything below their eyes do nothing to muffle the sound.

Apart from Midoriya’s “gang” and King Toshinori, no one knows he's the true heir to the throne, but as their charities happen quite often, Midoriya doesn’t want people recognizing him or the others in plain sight, even if his true identity remains hidden.

“Whew,” Midoriya says, walking towards their camp.

“That was a good one,” Uraraka says, the golden coins clinking inside the two sacks she’s holding. The forest is quiet, a stark contrast to the bustling of the capital. The only sounds are the leaves crunching below their feet and the low whistle of the wind as they delve deeper in the woods.

Bakugou greets them in their hideout, a small camp they finalized a little less than a year and a half ago. He snatches one of the sacks from Uraraka’s hands and peers inside.

“Fuck, that’s a lot. Good job, nerds,” he growls appreciatively. Midoriya settles down on his mattress, a dirty, old, not to mention beat-up thing, but at least it doesn’t creak. From the corner of his eye, Uraraka does the same, sitting next to Tsuyu and giving her a quick kiss on the top of her head.

“How’s King Toshinori?” he asks Tsuyu. He used to live with them, but since a few weeks, he moved a few miles up north, still in the forest. Everyone had agreed it’d be better to split up, in case someone discovered their hideout. Still, few times a week, one of them will go check on King Toshinori, and today it had been Tsuyu’s turn.

“He’s fine, Midoriya,” she answers. “He heard about the tax raises, and didn’t seem very happy about it.”

Midoriya’s huff complements Bakugou’s scoff.

“No one fucking is, except for the fucker on the throne and his rich buddies,” Bakugou spits out, and everyone agrees.

When King Enji invaded, his army clashed with the Yuueian one, and was subsequently left weakened, so he raised taxes to cover his losses, taxes the rich were, of course, exempted from, because he wanted —needed— their political and economical support. In retaliation, after they settled in the forest, Midoriya and everyone else save for King Toshinori began robbing the rich and giving the money to the poor, only keeping a tiny amount to sustain themselves.

Of course, their actions soon were caught by the King’s radar, and in a twisted game of cat-and-mouse, he raised taxes on the poor again, which of course meant them stealing more and more.

Despite that, Midoriya thinks, they’ve managed quite well so far. The rumours about a band of outlaws are gossip for the capital, but very few citizens have caught sight of their actual faces, and even then, they take shifts. That means it’s usually different people, and with the cloths covering their faces thrown in the mix, no one really knows.

They’re safe for now, though that might change in the very near future.

“Hey, nerd,” Bakugou says, and Midoriya hears footsteps approaching him. “Remember how we were saying we should go big, move on from the nobles? Take a look at this sucker.” He waves a piece of paper with cursive writing on it across Midoriya’s face. Midoriya squints.

“Masquerade Ball?” he asks, the smudged ink making it harder to decipher the words.

“Yep,” Bakugou says, stressing the p. “Was out in the capital when I found this. Apparently, it’s in three days, to find the asshole’s son a bride or some shit.”

They’ve been thinking about it for a while now, hitting the palace. Taxes have been raised sky-high, and they’re itching to show King Enji their teeth. Still, they’ve had some setbacks, like the year-old palace renovations, the guards’ replacements, and the general shift from the palace being Midoriya’s home since he was eight to enemy ground.

A Royal Masquerade Ball for potential brides to Prince Shouto?

“It’s perfect,” Midoriya says. “Everyone will be in the Grand Hall, and even the guards will have something to drink. We can get in, memorize the renovations he has made to the palace, and strike a few days later.”

Uraraka’s got a wicked grin on her face, one that Midoriya has learned to fear.

“Excuse me, but I think we need to start preparing,” Iida says, abandoning the soup sitting in the pot. “Three days are not much, and as much as I hate to say this, I think we’ll need to keep more money this time. We need costumes for the ball.”

Tsuyu nods. “He’s right. We’ll definitely be suspected if we show up in our normal clothes.”

“Alright,” Izuku says. “First of all, who’s sitting back that day? I doubt it will be dangerous enough to require everyone.”

“I can do it,” Tsuyu shrugs. “My ankle still hasn’t healed completely.”

“Everyone fine with that?” Midoriya asks, waiting for their collective nod before continuing. “So, I’m thinking; two of us mingle with the royals, dance, and gather information, as well as look for possible entrances and exits; another one keeps watch should anything go wrong; the last one explores the palace and memorizes the layout.”

Iida pales. “Midoriya, I’m afraid you are familiar with my inability to dance.”

“I know, Iida, don’t worry,” Midoriya laughs. “I was thinking you could keep watch.”

He exhales a sigh of relief as Bakugou says, “I wanna see how much the asshole has fucked up the palace.”

Midoriya nods. “So, that leaves me and Uraraka to mingle.”

Uraraka waggles her eyebrows. “We’re gonna have lots of fun.”

Midoriya snorts. He can only hope they won’t be chased out by the end of the night.

“Well, that means that while Bakugou and I should be in formal dress, only you two need masks,” Iida notes.

“Mhm,” Uraraka says, then addresses Midoriya. “Open market’s tomorrow. Wanna go then?”

“Yeah. Oh, and Bakugou,” Midoriya remembers, “apart from the layout, you have to memorize where the guards are stationed. Last time Aizawa left me a message, he told me the King was breathing down his neck about King Toshinori and the heir. He can’t give us any more information without losing his head.”

Bakugou grumbles. “Yeah, yeah, I will. So many changes, and the asshole’s guard is seriously fucked up.” He grimaces. “God, it must suck to be in the advisor’s position.”

Before the invasion, Aizawa had been King Toshinori’s royal consort, as well as responsible for Midoriya’s education. When King Enji took over, Aizawa managed to convince him he’d be useful, so he’d kept him alive. Of course, Aizawa’s ulterior plan was for King Toshinori —or Midoriya— to take back the throne, so he’s been playing the role of a double agent ever since, feeding Midoriya secrets and misleading King Enji.

“Yeah,” Midoriya agrees. “It must be very hard for him.”


He wakes up the next day before the sun rises, and nudges Uraraka awake too. Open market starts early, and he doesn’t want to be trampled to death because he’d decided to buy a mask. They get dressed in silence, as Tsuyu and Iida are still sleeping peacefully next to them, while Bakugou blearily keeps watch. After Midoriya's put on a once white but now grey-brown blouse with black pants and his hunting boots, Uraraka's outfit matching, he pulls on the dark green cloth over his mouth.

“Let’s go,” he whispers to her.


The capital’s buzzing, the news of the masquerade ball having spread overnight. Despite the early hour, people are already queuing in the market, eager to spend any meager amount of extra money they have left to attend the ball. Midoriya doesn’t blame them. Everyone needs an escape from reality every now and then.

The various counters lining up the streets bring over an assemblage of smells, mostly spices and flowers mixing in with each other. Market day has always been something Midoriya liked, and being secluded in the forest, no matter how beautiful all the greenery might be, has made him long for this even more.

He picks out a green mask with intricate gold lines swirling across, and Uraraka goes for the same in pink, red and silver. They bargain for their price, as well as the costumes’, and eventually reach an agreement. Midoriya grimaces inwardly, and he can feel Uraraka cringing next to him —she did grow up in extreme poverty, after all— but he knows this is the best he’s gonna get, so he just sighs through the cloth covering half his face.


Time passes in a blur, and the night before the ball, Midoriya’s blood’s thrumming too loudly in his veins to allow him any sleep. He kicks the moth-eaten blanket off his legs and walks away from their hideaway. He finds a tree with its branches situated low enough and scales it, nearly reaching the top. Its leafage has dispersed, leaving the view to the north clear. Even though it’s well past midnight, the capital still illuminates a bright, yet soft, yellow light, and Midoriya can practically hear its citizens going about their business.

“Can’t sleep either, Deku?”

His head snaps up and he sees Bakugou sitting comfortably on the highest branch, red eyes wide awake. He’s looking at the city while his fingers tap absentmindedly on the branch. Midoriya thinks that maybe Bakugou took the invasion worse than him, worse than King Toshinori even.

“Yeah. I’m just...agitated, I guess,” he answers.

“Afraid?” Bakugou asks. His tone shows he doesn’t believe Midoriya’s answer will be yes, but he’s not mocking him.

“No, it’s not fear. Most of it is just plain old anxiety, and not necessarily the bad kind, just the anticipation building up,” he says. Bakugou nods in understanding, still gazing at the capital in a way that Midoriya can’t decipher. It’s like the capital is something he despises yet simultaneously wants to protect the most. “And, I guess I’m kind of worried?” It comes out more as a question, and Bakugou frowns.

“Why? We’re gonna be fine, even if this is the most daring thing we’ve done in a while.”

“No, yeah, I know.” Midoriya runs a hand through his hair. “I’m just worried he will take it out on the citizens. I’m afraid he’ll raise taxes even more, and if that happens, people will start dropping dead.”

Bakugou tchs. “Fucking asshole. I want him dead. He’s caused nothing but suffering for us.”

Midoriya knows he’s referring to the entire nation, not just their group. Bakugou turns to look at him. “Stop worrying, nerd. We’ll take care of the poor as we usually do.”

Midoriya hums. “Yeah. Thanks, Kacchan. I think I’m gonna try to sleep again. You should do the same,” he suggests, carefully maneuvering to start his descent to the ground. “We have a long day tomorrow.”

“Hm,” Bakugou says. His gaze is back on the capital again, this time wistful.


“Are you sure I look like a noble?” Midoriya grimaces. Even if it’s necessary, he knows, the words leave a bitter tasty in his mouth. He wants nothing to do with them, but unfortunately today both he and Uraraka will have to play nice.

“You look like a shitty nerd as always,” Bakugou replies, tch ing as he ties his shirt, though it’s less tying and more tangling the strings together until the shirt isn’t hanging loosely from his body.

Midoriya rolls his eyes, tucking his own shirt in the itchy, uncomfortable, but formal-looking pants. “Thanks, Kacchan.”

At least the pants are easy to move in, he supposes. Better than having to walk like a duck and rendered unable to dance.

Uraraka scoffs and slaps away Bakugou’s hands, untangling his mess. “Don’t be a sourpuss, Katsuki.” In a matter of seconds, she’s tied his shirt properly. It makes him look only marginally more proper.

“Ugh.”

Iida has passed the usual fretting phase before a dangerous mission —well, that was every mission for them, really— and has allowed a calm to wash over him, rational thought back in order.

“Well, if we wish to arrive on time, I believe we should be leaving,” he announces, while a grumbling Bakugou swats Uraraka’s hands away.

“Yeah, yeah, I hear you,” he says, but the smile he curls after that is one that lets everyone know he’s not meant to be played with; he means business. “Let’s go.”


 

Before the entrance to the Grand Hall, directly outside of the palace, Midoriya notices three guards outside the window of the southwest wing, three gargoyles standing on the tiny veranda. It’s high, at least twenty meters from the ground, and with three guards stationed outside the window, let alone the actual door... the treasury must be there, Midoriya concludes, cataloguing the location for later.

Getting in is easier than expected, though the guards still shoot them a dirty look; especially at Bakugou, who just throws one with thrice the contempt in it back.

The Grand Hall, Midoriya notices, is the same, as well as vastly different.

Technically, King Enji hasn’t made any radical changes. No old walls have been demolished, no new walls have been built. The room is still the same size, it appears, though now there’s an added depth to it. Midoriya doesn’t know if that’s because of the burgundy enclosing them or because it’s foreign, mysterious to him. The tiles match the wall, though the golden colour is in intricate lines, looping around the wine red of the marble. Midoriya would be walking on blood if the white lines of the marble didn’t ground him. The columns are dressed in velvet, along with the chaise longues, and the throne. The throne, tainted with more velvet and cushions, undoubtedly there to ensure the King’s comfort.

“You seeing this shit?” Bakugou whispers. His voice drips with the anger in Midoriya’s heart.

“Yeah,” he rasps. Before King Enji invaded, the throne was a simple thing, meant to be uncomfortable. It signified that the King or Queen could never rest, for there was always something to do to improve citizens’ lives. “Yeah, I see it.”

“This place has changed for good,” Iida says. He didn’t live in the palace like Midoriya did, nor were his parents the King’s tailors like in Bakugou’s case, yet he’d visited often, as his brother had been a part of the royal guard.

“The Yuueian style is completely gone,” Midoriya says. Even to himself, it sounds like a lament. This place screams of riches, of arrogance. It makes his ears bleed.

Bakugou growls. “Not for long. In a few years, this place will be back to normal. It’ll be beautiful again.”

Uraraka purses her lips, done with her inspection. She’s been there once, when she was younger, and had begged King Toshinori to help her family, something he had graciously done by providing them  with jobs. “I think we should stop sitting here like a bunch of old ladies gossiping about who married whom and split up.”

Midoriya nods. “You’re right. Bakugou, start looking. Iida, go to your post.”

His words are met with, “Right away, Midoriya,” and, “Don’t tell me what to do, nerd,” but both of them oblige. Midoriya looks at Uraraka, then motions with his head to the horde of people gathered.

“Shall we, mademoiselle?” His pronunciation is terrible on purpose, and it brings a toothy, mischievous grin on her lips. Her eyes shine, the only thing visible from the upper half of her face. The pink of her mask glitters underneath the light, along with the red and silver swirls on it.

“Why, of course, good sire,” she mocks.


 

Mingling in is exhausting and interesting at the same time.

Midoriya has to constantly restrain himself from rolling his eyes or doing something worse as he hears the nobles left and right complain about the most pitiful of things.

“Can you believe it, I’ve had to fire four servants this week! Four!” The woman in front of him is from Endeavor, judging from her pronunciation. Lots of Endeavorians —all nobles, of course— had poured in Yuuei after the invasion, exacerbating the situation then. She’s wearing an animal mask, a peacock, from the looks of it.

How befitting.

“A tragedy, really,” he says, attempting to keep the sarcasm out of his voice. She doesn’t notice.

“I know! It’s a real shame, you know. One of them was even pregnant, and I felt really bad for her, but I just can’t degrade myself like that, you know?” She continues, waving her fan.

Midoriya grits his teeth. “A real shame,” he repeats, his voice ringing hollow among all the chatter that makes the Grand Hall resemble a giant wasp, buzzing, brandishing its stinger.

“Ah, but that doesn’t matter,” she waves her hand, “especially not on such an exciting night! Can you believe, Prince Shouto will find a bride tonight?”

Midoriya forces a smile. “Interested in the position?”

The woman giggles. “No, he’s far too young for me.”

She’s probably in her thirties, Midoriya judges, so that’s interesting.

“How old is the Prince, exactly?” Midoriya asks. In the past two years, neither he nor the others had bothered finding out. They were too busy trying to stay alive —and find each other, for the first six months after the invasion. Plus, the Prince hadn’t caused any troubles for them or the kingdom. It seemed that, even if his father liked to take him out for a walk, he kept a low profile.  Midoriya figures an Endeavorian will know better.

“Oh, he’s turning eighteen this year!” she answers. “Must be around your age, although I can’t judge all that well with your mask. But anyway, rumours say the King will throw a celebration for his eighteenth birthday, in January.”

“I see,” he mumbles. A few months from now...might be a good idea to crash that celebration too.

“Everyone is excited about today, though,” she remarks, switching between topics like a frog jumping from one water lily to another. “There’s a mystery the masks add, even if he’s not wearing one.”

Midoriya frowns. “Why not?”

She rolls her eyes beneath the mask. “Do you not know anything, boy?”

“Forgive me, I’m relatively new here in Yuuei.”

“Hmm.” She smacks her lips. “That accent tells me otherwise.”

“My father was from here, but I grew up west from here,” he replies, lies easily slipping from his tongue. “So, why is Prince Shouto not wearing a mask?” He steers the topic back into what he wants to know, curiosity piqued.

“Well if you ask me, it’s rather unnecessary, since everyone —or nearly everyone—” she shoots Midoriya a slightly condescending look, unfortunately not forceful enough for him to call her out on it, “knows about it. Still, from what I heard, King Enji ordered him not to wear one so that potential brides can recognize him, and so that they know what they’re getting.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“His scar, boy. The King apparently doesn’t want any women complaining about a damaged product.” Her voice is lowered, eyes darting here and there. “He’s the only one here not wearing a mask. Even King Enji himself wears one, though of course, everyone can tell who he is.”

That much is true, Midoriya concedes. Even now, in the middle of the crowd, dancing slowly, he can locate the King in an instant, calculating eyes scanning the room as he holds a conversation with some of the higher nobles, nobles Midoriya’s probably stolen from several times. He forces down a shudder.

He can’t seem to find Prince Shouto, though, even if his emblematic lack of mask is supposed to make that task easier.

The song comes to a slow halt, and he thanks the woman before stepping outside of the area where everyone’s exchanging partners. He swiftly moves to the sideline, locating Uraraka.

“Hey,” he says. “What’d you hear?”

She tells him the condensed version of everything she found out —after all, nobles were rather loquacious, save for the intelligent ones— filling him in on the latest gossip. It’s quite a bit of information, but might prove useful for later, so he files it away in his head.

Respectively, he tells her about Prince Shouto, about the possible future celebration of his birthday, about his mask, or the lack thereof. During his hushed narration, something, someone is watching him, making his skin crawl, spiders dancing on his arms, on his back. He throws a surreptitious glance the King’s way, but he’s not the culprit, now chatting with three women, perhaps mothers of Prince Shouto’s potential brides.

“Wow,” Uraraka says. “God, there’s so much to know.”

Midoriya smiles. “Well, better get dancing again, then,” he teases. Uraraka’s smile freezes just a second after, and she swallows audibly.

“Um, Mido…”

Something taps his right arm, and Midoriya turns, only to find himself face to face with Prince Shouto.

Chapter Text

The music stops. Out of the corner of Midoriya’s eye, the orchestra begins preparing for their next piece.

“Excuse me,” the Prince speaks, voice soft as drizzling honey, yet with an underlying edge that has Midoriya re-evaluating the Prince’s not being a threat to them. He bows down to Midoriya, grace evident in the tiniest of movements, in the way his knees bend, in the way his eyelashes flutter when he looks up at him.

Half red, half white hair splitting his head into two camps, a curved nose, and below it a barely-parted mouth, lips nearly drawn together. Worst of all, two different eyes, one glimmering sea turquoise and the other swirling like deep grey smoke, making up a gaze that pierces Midoriya, rendering him awestruck.

He’s beautiful.

“I’ll just...go dance...yeah,” Uraraka mumbles, slipping away to leave them alone.

“May I have this dance? This is my favorite waltz,” the Prince says, carefully, in a near tender tone that pulls Midoriya closer. Indeed, the musicians have begun anew, measured beats reverberating in the room.

“Of course.” By some miracle, Midoriya doesn’t stutter, despite his throat feeling like sandpaper. He swallows once, twice, then thrice as Prince Shouto replies, “Excellent. Thank you,” and flashes him a smile that’s hiding something from a cat, something from a tiger. “Your name?”

“Mi—Midoriya Izuku,” he replies in a heartbeat, then curses himself for giving out his actual name and not a made-up one.

“Yuueian, huh? Lovely.”

He wastes no time in taking Midoriya’s hand, leading them to the center of the hall, everyone parting to let them through. Neither of them pays much attention to the whispers circling them. The song’s barely started, the introduction closing up as they get into position.

“So,” Midoriya says, not having the slightest idea on how to navigate this. “Your Grace, I do not mean to appear disrespectful, but ah...what have I done to deserve your interest?”

The Prince’s mouth pulls into a raised smirk as they start moving. “Nervous, aren’t you?”

“You would be too,” Midoriya replies automatically, then registers his words and nearly collapses in mortification.

But the Prince laughs, just a breath escaping from his lips. “And cheeky, too. I like it.”

Midoriya bites his lips.

“But, to answer your well-placed question,” the Prince continues, spinning him with an ease that makes it clear he’s danced like this a million times before, “I was...rather tired. Or well, not tired per se, more like bored out of my mind after dancing with seven different ladies consecutively.”

Midoriya raises his eyebrows, even though the Prince can’t see it below his mask. “Sounds exhausting, Your Grace.”

“Hmm,” he hums. “Well, that was partly the reason. I also thought —and was proven right, I’d say— that you’d be easy to fluster, and what can I say. Flustering someone would be the most exciting thing about this...uneventful night.”

“You mean boring.”

“Maybe so.” The corners of the Prince’s mouth pull up again. “It had been rather tedious until I found you in my path. Though, of course,” he scoffs, “my old man will say that this was a night to find me potential brides.”

“So?” Midoriya asks, unsure of what that has to do with anything.

“So,” Prince Shouto emphasizes, sneaking his hand from Midoriya’s waist to his back, using it as leverage to bring him closer, “I don’t think my father would approve of me dancing in such an…” he pulls their bodies flush together, then whispers into Midoriya’s ear, “ ...intimate way…” it’s far too hot, Prince Shouto’s breath misting on the skin connecting his ear with the column of his throat, “...with another man, don’t you think?”

As he says it, King Enji’s eyes burn on the Midoriya’s back, snapping him from this too-humid, too-hot atmosphere and making cold sweat run down his back.

Still, despite the danger —because this is dangerous, and he knows it— he can’t help the scarlet blush overtaking his cheeks. God, he’s so grateful the forest green mask is there to hide most it.

The Prince pulls back, his eyes twinkling with something bordering on sly as he takes in Midoriya.

“Oh,” he says, as unaffected as Midoriya isn’t, “it looks like the song is over.” He draws back, leaving Midoriya room to breathe, then bows. Midoriya does the same. “Would you do me the honor of having your next dance as well?” he asks, voice light as a feather, eyes shifting from mischievous to gentle, careful, guarded.

And really, how can Midoriya say no?

“Of course, Your Grace.”

The Prince smiles.

The musicians begin again, and the Prince’s hands on either side of Midoriya’s waist feel like a promise.


 

This place reeks, Bakugou thinks. It reeks of Endeavor, it reeks of filthy riches, it reeks of greed, it reeks of blood.

He’s swift, quiet, mimicking the long shadows cast by the imposing columns. The marble statues throughout the corridors follow him with their stony, eternally unfrozen eyes. It brings a chill down his spine, which just serves to annoy him.

Disembodied voices approaching from down the hall make him momentarily freeze, but he’s always been quick on his feet. The last two years have just brought that to the forefront of his mind. He scans the corridor, but no hiding spots appearing to give him a solution.

The voices come closer, and, in a desperate attempt, he hides behind one of the statues, curling next to the base, and he’s practically sandwiched to the wall like that. He grits his teeth.

“But yeah, everyone’s just having fun tonight, and we’re stuck with guard duty. I swear, Kirishima, this is the epitome of injustice.” A scoff from someone else —Kirishima, probably— and the first guy amends his statement. “I’m kidding, god. At least the pay’s good.”

Bakugou suppresses a curse making its way past his lips once he catches sight of the guards turning around in the corner, now visible. There’s only two of them, but the distinctive pin shaped like a flame betrays they’re both members of the royal guard. Just his luck.

The clock strikes midnight, and the first guy pumps his fist in the air.

“Fuck yeah! Shift’s over, I’m gonna go get shitfaced.”

Kirishima rolls his eyes. “Have fun, dude,” he calls as the first guy runs toward the Grand Hall, completely oblivious to Bakugou’s presence as he rushes past him. “Oh, I will!”

Bakugou breathes a tiny, tiny sigh of relief, not that he’d ever admit that. One idiot gone, only another one left.

Eventually, Kirishima makes his way past him, whistling a jovial melody. He doesn’t take notice either, and once he’s disappeared, Bakugou slowly peels himself off his hiding place. He glares back at the statue before continuing his exploration.


 

As they swing to the slow melody, calmer than the previous one, Prince Shouto’s mouth curls in distasteful grimace.

“Your Grace? Is everything okay, if I may ask?” Midoriya asks as the Prince’s eyes leave his face and settle on something behind him.

“Everything’s just fine,” he spits out, annoyance evident in his voice. “My old man’s talking about taxes again, and judging from that lord’s face, he’ll raise them again.”

“What?” Midoriya chokes, brows pulling in a sharp scowl, “That’s ridic—” He bites his lips shut, remembering his company. It looks as it’s too late though, the damage already done as Prince Shouto’s eyes slide from his father to Midoriya’s. Midoriya’s stomach drops, and he starts considering the closest exit.

“It is,” the Prince replies.

Midoriya winces in a surprise. “It is? I mean, with all due respect, I didn’t mean to—”

“Relax, Midoriya.” The way his name slides from the Prince’s tongue has him suppressing a shiver. “I’m aware of my father’s...occasional unreason, as well as his greed. And of course, his pettiness.”

“I’m glad I’m not in trouble,” Midoriya smiles honestly.

“I told you, relax.”

“But, ah, pettiness?”

The Prince raises an eyebrow. “You can’t expect me to believe you don’t know.”

“I don’t really know the King personally…?” Midoriya swallows his stuttering.

Prince Shouto chuckles. “Of course you don’t. Very few people have had the pleasure. I meant that there’s no way you don’t know about the outlaws and their robbing of the nobles.”

For the third time tonight, fear spikes in Midoriya’s gut. “Ah. That. Yes, I do know of it.” I know quite a bit of it.

“Yes, well, those nobles keep complaining about it to my father, insisting that even if he can’t catch them, someone should be punished.”

Midoriya bristles. “Well, if that isn’t unfair.”

“Of course it is. And I cannot understand why he listens to them.” He grimaces. “No, wait, I can. He needs their political support. But, honestly, just let the nobles deal with it. They have enough money to hire more guards.”

Midoriya’s mouth quirks in another smile. “I doubt that would stop those outlaws.”

“Hm. Even so, there are bigger, more important things to worry about. Plus, I don’t think the common people can shoulder that much burden.”

“Of course they can’t.” Midoriya scowls, façade crumbling. “It’s infuriating, people are starving.” Prince Shouto is studying him, expression indecipherable. His cheeks burn, half in —unjustified— shame, half in bubbling anger. He lowers his head. “I’m sorry, Your Grace. I misspoke, I—I shouldn’t have talked like that. I hope you can forgive me.” Maybe he doesn’t believe a lick of what he says, but he does want to keep his head on his shoulders.

“Raise your head, Midoriya. I don’t mind, and it’s always good to know what the majority thinks. Usually, I wouldn’t talk like that either but...I can tell you’re pretty passionate about the subject.” He looks straight into Midoriya’s eyes. “I think there’s something quite special about you.”

They’ve started dancing to a new song, their third, but Midoriya’s mind barely registers the change. Prince Shouto doesn’t point it out either.

“The guards must be working overtime to guard the treasury, what with all the tax raises,” Midoriya mumbles.

“What, are you interested in the royal strongbox’s contents?”

“I—I didn’t mean—” Midoriya stumbles. Shit. But the Prince just smiles.

“I was just teasing you. But don’t be so sure about the guards. There’s more stationed outside my window which is frankly a waste. It’s so high up the only practical approach is through the actual goddamn door.”

Midoriya flinches at the curse, but Prince Shouto’s words are interesting. He’d been wrong, then. It wasn’t the window of the strongroom he’d seen; it was Prince Shouto’s bedchambers.

So the Prince is worth to King Enji more than his riches.

He tightens his hand on Prince Shouto’s waist, heart stuttering when he smiles at him in response.


 

“I was certain I’d seen someone behind that statue.”

Bakugou turns around lightning fast, his blood running cold and then furiously hot as he rips his hands from the sacks of flour he was rummaging through. The guard from before —Kirishima— eyes him up and down, assessing how much of a threat he constitutes.

“Fuck off.”

Kirishima chuckles. “C’mon, man. We can do this the easy way or the hard way.”

“Oh yeah?” Bakugou snarls. “What’s the easy way, huh, Shitty-Hair?”

“Okay, my hair is not shitty, mind you.” Bakugou snorts. “The easy way is, you come quiet with me to King Enji.”

Bakugou bares his teeth. “I’d rather die.”

Kirishima raises an eyebrow, humoring him. “What, afraid of authority? I didn’t peg you for the type.”

“Like hell,” Bakugou mutters under his breath.

He lunges at Kirishima.

He was hoping to catch him by surprise, but as Kirishima side-steps him at the last moment, he figures the guy isn’t in the royal guard for nothing. He turns, ducks to avoid Kirishima’s quick punch and gives him one on the stomach instead. He hears a forced exhale after his fist hits home, goes for his face, but Kirishima crosses his arms in front of him, blocking Bakugou. He’s built from solid muscle, Bakugou thinks, bringing his right knee in. Kirishima grabs it and twists in a lightning-quick motion. Bakugou tumbles down, but he has half a mind to kick his leg out, swiping at Kirishima and bringing him down with him.

“Nice,” Kirishima whistles appreciatively, scrambling to get back up. “Much better than I expected from a petty thief.”

“Fuck you,” Bakugou growls. “I’m not a petty fucking thief.” He gets back on his feet, looks up and down at Kirishima, mustering the most disdainful, condescending expression in his arsenal. “My actions have helped hundreds more people than you have.” He lunges again, this time more determined.

Kirishima laughs as he engages in a deadly dance of punches and blocks and kicks. “Oh yeah? How, by tossing a coin or two to a beggar?”

Bakugou’s eyes narrow, and he feels his anger spike like a thermometer’s mercury once summer hits. Deku be damned, he’s not gonna stand here and just take this bullshit.

“No, you fucking idiot, by stealing from all the arrogant, rich fucks and distributing the money to the people starving.”

Kirishima freezes mid-swing, and that’s all Bakugou needs. He lands a punch on his face, doesn’t wait for Kirishima to stumble back as he corners him. He avoids a hastily thrown punch and slams Kirishima against the wall. His hand darts out and grabs the dagger hidden in the inside of his right boot.

Kirishima’s trying to slow down his panting, looking down at the silver blade with mild concern.

“Wait— You’re the gang?” he asks.

“Do try and keep up, Shitty-Hair,” Bakugou sneers, presses the blade closer so that it’s now touching skin. It’s interesting, how Kirishima doesn’t squirm or panic.

“If you kill me,” Kirishima says, and Bakugou ignores the unpleasant churning of his stomach at that word, “I’m sorry to tell ya, but the other guards will catch you and your entire gang. And then who’ will help the poor?” The question isn’t mocking.

Bakugou narrows his eyes.

“I’m all alone today,” he says, because who knows if things will go south. “And please, plenty of people will rise up to help the poor if we’re gone.” At least, that’s what he hopes. “You have no idea how fucking bad they have it.”

“I know the taxes are getting a bit too high,” Kirishima replies, and Bakugou scoffs. Like he could ever understand.

“People are fucking starving. Parents are giving away their kids to people from different cities, from different countries. The fucking garbage cans are fucking empty, because it’s all they have to eat.” It’s disgusting, and also some people’s only source of food. “The past two winters, the nobles were fucking complaining about corpses out in the streets, because poor people had no clothes and no homes, and they were fucking dying from the cold.”

Kirishima’s face is a mask of pain and shock.

“I—I didn’t know things were so bad,” he breathes out.

Bakugou lets the familiar anger burn in him, angles the knife in a dangerous, dangerous position.

“Of course you didn't. And what does our dear King do about it?” He spits the word out with as much vitriol as he has. It leaves a bitter taste in his mouth, as if his body believes he’s betraying his true King. “Nothing. He sits back on his plush throne and laughs, he conspires with the royal elite, he makes it fucking worse,” Bakugou curses. Kirishima’s breath hitches.

“You could be hanged if someone heard you talking like that,” he whispers.

Bakugou’s lips curl in a mocking smirk. “Aren’t you someone? Why don’t you hang me, huh?”

Kirishima’s mouth falls open, but Bakugou doesn’t wait for his reply. He draws back his knife, but not before leaving a tiny nick on Kirishima’s throat. He turns around to leave and continue his exploration. His gut tells him Kirishima will neither attack him nor follow him.

“Wait! Dude, wait,” Kirishima calls, and Bakugou hears his feet padding against the shiny floor before he turns around.

“What?” he barks.

Kirishima fumbles, but he pulls a pouch hanging from his belt. He tosses it to Bakugou. Taking to consideration what Bakugou’s used to, it’s surprisingly heavy.

“Take it,” Kirishima says. “Give it to the poor. It’s not a lot, but that’s all I have on me at the moment.”

Bakugou swallows. “Whatever,” he mutters.

“And hey,” Kirishima continues. “I promise I’ll help you guys, however I can.”

“Whatever,” he says again. He doesn’t trust him —he’d be an idiot to— but Kirishima is earnest, and he doesn’t rub Bakugou off the wrong way.

“Before you go,” Kirishima says, “what’s your name?”

“Why do I owe it to you?” Bakugou says, then stalks off, safely storing the pouch in one his pockets.

“You don’t,” Kirishima replies softly behind him. Despite himself, Bakugou smirks.

“It’s Bakugou.”

He leaves Kirishima alone with his thoughts.


 

The night is coming to a close; in a few hours, the sun will rise, and life in the capital will go on as it usually does. Midoriya’s legs are quite thankful for that, seeing as he danced for at least half an hour with the Prince. The Prince and his dancing expertise, and his clairvoyant eyes, and his tiny, just a little bit mischievous, smiles.

Worst of all, he’d liked it. Dancing in general, he didn’t mind, but he’d liked, flat-out loved Prince Shouto spinning him around in time with the violins’ nigh frenetic pitch. He’d loved the Prince’s intelligent, self-aware remarks, both about the royals and his father. He’d loved the Prince’s teasing, and he’d loved how, for the entire time they danced together, the Prince’s hands had made their home on his waist.

It’s disconcerting.

“I mean, it could have been worse,” Uraraka ponders, as they return to the forest. She kept a careful eye on him during his dances with the Prince, but he hasn’t said anything about his own feelings about that...experience.

Midoriya gives her a deadpan stare. “How could it have been worse?”

“The Prince could have asked you to dance with him for a foxtrot, and not a waltz,” Uraraka says. Midoriya opens his mouth, but he doesn’t really have a reply to that. He does hate foxtrot.

“I mean, I guess.”

The ancient trees cast shadows that engulf the forest, barely letting any slivers of light slip through their leaves, but both of them are used to it. They know the way by heart.

After pressing the lever that opens the entrance to their hideout, Midoriya announces, “We’re back!”

Iida welcomes them, leading them to the small pyre where Tsuyu sits next to Bakugou.

“I’m glad to see you’re safe, Midoriya, Uraraka,” he acknowledges.

“You too, Iida!” Uraraka says.

“Wait, what happened to Kacchan?” Midoriya asks. Bakugou’s lower lip has split, and his left eye looks a bit swollen. Tsuyu slaps his hands away to clean his lip.

“I got into a fucking fight, that’s what happened.”

Midoriya frowns. “With another noble, or…”

“With a stupid fucking guard,” Bakugou replies. Midoriya’s breath hitches.

“Kacchan! What if—”

Bakugou rolls his eyes. “Oh my god, shut up. I had my face covered, and I knocked the guy out so hard there’s no way he’ll remember shit tomorrow. We’re safe, nerd.”

Midoriya purses his lips. “Fine. But try to be more careful.”

“Tch. whatever.” He squirms then turns to Tsuyu. “And are you fucking done already?”

Tsuyu rolls her eyes. “All done, grumpy.” She gathers the gauzes to one places, then goes to sit next to Uraraka.

“So,” Uraraka drawls, and oh no, Midoriya doesn’t like that tone of hers at all, “why don’t you tell at everyone about our time at the ball?”

Everyone’s gazes turn to him, and he throws a menacing —he hopes— glare in response to her teasing smile.

“Did something happen, Midoriya?” Tsuyu asks. Iida must have seen him dancing with Prince Shouto while keeping watch, and Uraraka just giggles at Bakugou’s scowl.

“What the fuck is Round-Face talking about, nerd?”

“Uh,” Midoriya says. Yeah, there’s no escape from this. “It was interesting...because I, uh...danced with, um…”

“Holy shit, just spit it out,” Bakugou says.

“The Prince!” Midoriya exclaims, and Uraraka doubles over, nearly falling off her seat from the laughter. “I danced with the Prince! A lot!”

Tsuyu raises her eyebrows. “That’s dangerous, Midoriya.”

“Yeah, I know—”

“You damn nerd went and danced with the asshole’s son?” Bakugou yells.

Midoriya raises his hands in the air. “It’s not like I really had a choice, Kacchan!”

“You mean the fucker forced you? Did the fucking asshole threaten you?” Bakugou’s eyes narrow.

“What? No, quite the opposite, he was very polite. Listen, dancing with Prince Shouto obviously hadn’t been in my plans, but you can’t deny the prince when he asks for a dance, can you?”

“Yes, you can,” Bakugou says.

“Kacchan.”

“Also, Prince Shouto? That’s his name?” Bakugou scoffs. “Sounds like an asshole’s name.”

Uraraka laughs harder, while Iida looks disapprovingly. Tsuyu just scoots closer to Uraraka to cuddle.

Midoriya rolls his eyes. “Yes, Kacchan, that’s his name. Did you memorize everything?”

“‘Course I did, nerd. I’ll get started on a plan of the palace.” He stands up.

“Thanks.” Bakugou just nods. “Also, I told Uraraka about this, but apparently, Prince’s Shouto’s eighteenth birthday are sometime in January.”

Bakugou snorts, returning with some parchmen, a tiny bottle of ink, and a yellow-gold quill. “So he’ll be lawfully free to bed —or be bedded, I guess. Who cares?”

Iida splutters. “Bakugou, that’s highly inap—”

“That’s not the point,” Midoriya interrupts, motioning to Iida, just ignore him. “The point is, King Enji will probably throw a big celebration in honor of that.” Bakugou’s deft hand, already drawing intricate shapes on the parchments, putting into paper what the palace looks like, stills. Slowly, quill between his fingers, he looks up to Midoriya.

“Might be a good idea to crash it,” Midoriya suggests innocently, then watches as Bakugou’s grin burns with smug satisfaction.

“Fuck yeah,” he says, going back to the palace plan.

“That might prove to be beneficial,” Iida contemplates. Tsuyu nods as well, but she speaks up.

“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, guys. For now, we should see when and how we’re gonna break into the palace.”


 

The days after the masquerade ball pass remarkably slow, in Todoroki’s opinion. Everything is, fortunately or unfortunately —the latter, in his opinion— back to normal, and seeing as today’s Wednesday, it’s only natural the King holds his weekly meeting with any citizens seeking grievances with the King. And of course, as the heir to the kingdom of Endeavor will soon be eighteen years of age, it’s obligatory that he attends said meetings.

It’s interesting and grotesque all at once. Todoroki’s interested in the citizens and their well-being, as well as the kingdom’s prosperity. His father’s verdicts, however, are usually unjust, especially toward Yuueians, and betray his indifference, his apathy when it comes to others, others below him.

The first and only time Todoroki had voiced his disagreement, his anger, he’d gotten a “If you dare question my authority in front of anyone again, you’ll get something much worse than this,” and a beating that rendered him unable to practice his sword fighting for an entire two weeks.

Two years later, and he’s still biting his tongue at every hearing.

“Your Majesty,” the woman says, fists clenched to hide the trembling, “I’m begging you for your forgiveness. We—My family has nothing to eat, I didn’t know what to do, I—”

“Quiet,” the King orders. Todoroki purses his lips. “Did you or did you not steal bread from the palace kitchen?”

The woman’s purple hair bobs as she lowers her head. She can’t be much older than him. “...I…”

“Well?”

“I did, Your Majesty, and I’m deeply sorry for—”

“Quiet,” the King says again, dominance coloring his voice.  “And what is your reasoning for committing such an act?”

“My youngest siblings have nothing to eat,” she says. “My mother died a year ago, and it’s just I earning any money from singing or playing an instrument in the streets. It’s not enough for us to sustain ourselves, let alone pay your taxes.”

“Hm. And how many kids did your mother have, including you?”

“Seven, Your Majesty. I’m the eldest.”

“I see,” his father says, and Todoroki knows that tone. “Well, maybe your mother should have made sure she could feed seven mouths before she went and popped out seven snotty brats that only know of stealing.”

Todoroki sees the muscle in the woman’s jaw clench.

“Let’s see for your punishment,” the King continues. This is the part Todoroki hates the most. He hates the utter indifference or vicious glee, depending on the occasion, that lies in his father’s eyes as he ruins lives, despises how the poor victim’s face falls upon hearing their sentence, abhors the fact that he’s the one with his hands tied behind his back, unable to do anything.

“I decide for this woman to have her right hand cut off,” the King proclaims. Todoroki’s breath hitches. “She was caught stealing; it’s only fitting.”

“Your Majesty, please! I cannot play the lyre, the violin, I—we won’t survive like that! Music is how I keep my family alive!”

“Would you rather lose your tongue instead?” he bellows. She goes deathly still. Todoroki gulps. “The punishment shall take place tomorrow, at noon exactly. It shall be in public, so that this can serve as an example. Dismissed,” he says, both to the woman and to the guards. This is it for today.

The look on the woman’s face, eyes wide and filled with horror, desperation, breaks Todoroki’s heart.

“Father,” he says, rushing behind him as they leave the throne room.

“What is it, Shouto?”

Todoroki schools his face in a neutral mask. “Don’t you think maybe this was...a bit too much?”

“Are you questioning my sentence, boy?” he growls, and Shouto is quick to reply.

“No, father. Of course not. I was just thinking that maybe…” he gulps, chooses his next words carefully, “...maybe the commoners won’t like it. Perhaps it will serve to make you unpopular in the eyes of the people.”

The King scoffs. “Popularity amongst the people is nothing more than empty compliments. I know how to run a kingdom. Besides,” he says, scowling furiously, “this woman was just detestable. Stealing and dodging taxes, I should have had her hanged just for that.”

Todoroki knows when to keep quiet.

“As for tomorrow’s...spectacle, I expect you to be there,” his father orders. “The people should see their future ruler more, and I must get rid of that faint-heartedness of yours.”

“As you wish, father,” he replies. “If you’ll excuse me.”

His stomach churns as he makes his way to the library. Reading is one of the few sure-fire ways to curb his boredom, seeing as his father has high expectations from him but doesn’t actually let him do much.

“Your Grace,” a cheery voice calls, and despite himself, Todoroki smiles. Kirishima is always —unnaturally, in his opinion— happy, but it does lift his mood, even just a little bit.

“Kirishima,” he says. He stops walking, and stands next to Kirishima’s post.

“Is there any way I could be of assistance, Your Grace?” Kirishima asks. “You look rather troubled.”

Most people —guards or not— would hesitate at making assumptions for the Prince, but he and Kirishima have known each other for a while. A prince’s life is rather lonely, but he considers Kirishima a friend.

“Ah, yes. C’mon, I’ll tell you in the way,” he says, effectively relieving him of his post as they start walking.

“Where are we going, Your Grace?”

“To the library. Books are rather lovely companions. As for what’s troubling me,” he says, not omitting to take a hasty look around them. His old man was heading the opposite way from them, but he can never be too careful. “It’s about one of my father’s sentences.”

“Oh,” Kirishima says, and Todoroki suppresses a laugh at how his voice dampens. “What happened?”

“A woman was caught stealing bread from the kitchen.”

“Yeah, I heard about it yesterday,” Kirishima says.

“Apparently, she and her family had nothing to eat, but my father couldn’t care less about that. He couldn’t care less about the fact that he’s killing people for his pride,” he says, face twisting in a mask of poorly-controlled anger. “He decided to have her right hand cut off.”

Kirishima gasps, feet halting, then beginning again to catch up with him. “That’s...Wow,” he just says, and Todoroki can tell he wants to say much, much more than his position allows him.

“Yes, that is rather wow,” he smirks, and Kirishima laughs sheepishly. “And of course, my father was rather furious over the fact that they couldn’t pay taxes. Not, you know, because they didn’t have enough money to eat.”

“Yeah,” Kirishima agrees. “I’ve heard that the taxes are unbearable for the commoners, let alone the lower class. I realized recently, with the help of a certain someone, that I was rather...sheltered,” he admits, and Todoroki raises an eyebrow, “when it comes to how bad things really are.”

While he knew Kirishima to be an optimist, Todoroki also knew he didn’t sugarcoat things. He thinks back to the discussion he held with Midoriya Izuku at the masquerade ball.

“It’s infuriating, people are starving.”

“Yeah,” he says, voice not coming out quite right. “I guess we are oblivious to the worst of it.”


 

In retrospect, maybe they shouldn't have let Bakugou keep watch.

“Thieves in the palace!”

Midoriya shoves the last drinking goblets he can find in the sack, wincing as he hears Bakugou curse. From the sound of it, he’s getting into a fistfight with the guard.

“Uraraka, go find Tsuyu and get out of here,” he says, tossing her a sack filled with silver cutlery while fastening two other to his belt. It’s better to distribute them, just in case someone gets caught.

Uraraka flees from the kitchen to head to Tsuyu, holding the sacks against her chest to muffle the sound. Bakugou lets out a roar of pain and anger, and Midoriya’s head instinctively snaps to the fight. Bakugou’s shoulder is bent at a weird angle, and Midoriya realizes, rushing forward to help, that the guard must have just dislocated it.

Bakugou doesn’t seem to really need any help though, because he pulls his good arm back and punches the guard’s face so hard Midoriya hears the crack his nose makes as he drops to the ground, unconscious.

“Son of a fucking fuck,” Bakugou spits, grabbing his left shoulder with his right hand and then hissing in pain. “Shit, I think I might make it worse if I try to pop it back into place.”

Midoriya goes to his side, scanning the room in case they’ve left something, then places his hands on Bakugou’s shoulder.

“C’mon, I’ll do it,” he offers. “On three?”

“No,” Bakugou grumbles, another hiss leaving his lips as Midoriya slides his shoulder back into place. “Fuck.”

“Kacchan, we gotta go. What do we do with him?” He says, referring to the guard, blood currently dripping from his nose.

Bakugou shrugs, taking one of the sacks from Midoriya’s hands and tying it on his belt.

“Nothing. I knocked him out hard enough that, with a little luck, he won’t remember jackshit in the morning.”

“You’ve been doing that a lot recently,” he comments dryly, walking to the door and checking the corridors to see if reinforcements are coming.

“Fuck off, nerd.”

“We split up and meet at the camp, yeah?”

“I know, I know,” Bakugou says. Midoriya takes the left and he goes right, bringing the palace layout to his mind.

His shoulder burns, but it’s a dull ache, one he’s able to shove to the back of his head to deal with later. He runs, turning in the right corners, hopefully, and nearly falls flat on his back when he crashes into someone.

“What the—”

He grabs his dagger with one hand, and uses his bad arm to shield the sack, but he relaxes —even if it’s marginally— when the mop of red registers in his mind.

“Bakugou?”

“Shitty-Hair,” he acknowledges, still keeping a defensive stand.

“Your hair is not that much different, you know, and it’s Kirishima.”

“Whatever,” Bakugou says. “You look annoyed.” Usually he wouldn’t notice stuff like that, but Kirishima does look pissed as hell.

“Yeah, that’s because I am. I’m starting to realize what you meant about the King,” he mutters.

Bakugou raises an eyebrow, then smirks. “Told you he was a fuckass. What’d he do?”

“He decided to have a woman’s hand cut off because she stole a loaf of bread from the kitchen to feed her siblings.”

Bakugou’s head whips to stare incredulously. “What?”

“Yeah.” Kirishima’s mouth pulls into a grimace. “It’s tomorrow noon, in public.”

“Oh, fuck no,” Bakugou growls, but he’s cut off when the bells sound.

“Hey, what’s the alarm ringing fo—” Kirishima stops mid-sentence, his eyes falling on the sacks. “Did you steal—”

“Yes,” Bakugou interrupts, holding back several curses. If that’s the alarm, then he doesn’t have much time to get out. “And now I gotta fucking go unless I wanna get caught so,” he says, and starts running again.

“Wait!” Kirishima calls.

“What?” he barks.

Kirishima points to his right. “The closest exit’s that way, barely thirty meters after you turn.”

Bakugou freezes momentarily. Briefly, he considers the possibility of this being a trap, but Kirishima’s open, honest eyes do not agree with it. Plus, the way he showed him matches with his mental map of the palace. Bakugou nods dumbly. “Thanks.”

Kirishima gives him a smile before he breaks into a run in the opposite direction.


The sun has dipped below the mountains when Midoriya enters Shinsou’s smithy, carrying five sacks worth of jewellery, cutlery, and anything of value they could get their hands on in the palace.

Shinsou merely raises an eyebrow.

“That’s quite some stuff you’ve brought me tonight.”

Midoriya smiles sheepishly.

“We struck the palace today.”

“You did?” Shinsou’s tone betrays he’s impressed.

“Yeah, and it went well,” Midoriya replies. He suppresses a grimace when he remembers the guard. “I mean, kinda.”

Shinsou hums, taking everything out from the sacks and setting it on his worktop.

“When do you want the coins?” he asks Midoriya.

“How soon can you finish with all those?”

“Hm. I reckon I’ll be about halfway done until tomorrow morning or noon. For everything, I think I’ll need until Saturday afternoon.”

Midoriya nods. “So, can I come pick up the first batch tomorrow morning?”

“Sure,” Shinsou shrugs, lighting up the fires and fetching his tools. Midoriya knows he works best at night and gets little to no sleep, the black bags below his eyes indisputable proof of that.

“Thanks, Shinsou. This is so much better than going around and selling stolen goods from the palace in the black market.”

Shinsou chuckles. “Anytime. Goodnight, Midoriya,” he says, rolling up his sleeves to get to work. Midoriya takes that as his cue to leave, saying goodbye on his way out.


Midoriya returns to find the camp in chaos.

“Woah, woah, woah, Kacchan, slow down.” He raises his hands up. “What’s that about public hanging?”

“Tch. It’s not a public hanging, it’s a public punishment.” Bakugou says, scowling.

“Meaning?” Uraraka asks.

“The King has ordered for a woman’s right hand to be cut off,” Bakugou replies.

Midoriya flinches, along with everyone else. “Wha—Why? What’d she do?”

“She stole bread for the palace kitchen because her family was fucking starving.”

“What kind of reason is that to lose a hand for?”

“I don’t know, Round-Face, ask the fucking asshole about—”

“When is it?” Iida interrupts, concern drawing his brows together.

“Tomorrow noon.” Bakugou’s scowl deepens. “Apparently, the piece of shit wants to exemplify the rest of the citizens.”

Uraraka pales, but then sets her jaw and grits her teeth, determination coloring her features. “This can’t—We can’t let this happen.”

“Of course not,” Iida agrees.

“Alright, alright,” Midoriya says, rubbing his temples to delay the oncoming headache. “Everyone agrees we should go rescue her?” He waits for everyone’s nods before continuing. “Good. First things first, let’s come up with a plan.”

Chapter Text

The sound of the palace bells striking twelve times hangs above Todoroki’s head.

A large crowd has formed in the square, even with the sun that’s too harsh for autumn. Their faces are grim, solemn, as if they’re preemptively mourning. Todoroki keeps his head high, only proper for the Prince.

Hushed mumbles let him know that his father has made his appearance. Indeed, he marches across the court, followed by two guards dragging the woman, and takes his place at the chairs lined up for them and other nobles. Todoroki is seated to his right, the wood digging uncomfortably into his skin.

The woman is deathly silent, not a whimper escaping her lips even as the gravel digs into her shins. Everything is already set up for her punishment, Todoroki notes as they shackle her right wrist.

The hairs on the back of his neck stand up. He scans the perimeter, and it looks like some commoners have noticed something as well. Something’s not right. Someone’s—

“We’re ready for you, Your Majesty,” a guard calls, and Todoroki’s head snaps back to the woman. His father stands up, squaring his shoulders and walking to the centre of the square with intent. He throws a scornful look to the woman, who just returns it, and pulls a scroll from the inside of his burgundy cloak.

“I, Todoroki Enji, the lawful King of the Kingdom of Endeavor and the Kingdom of Yuuei, order Jirou Kyouka’s hand be cut off as a punishment for her crime…”


Midoriya sighs; the King’s really making this easy for them. He hasn’t stopped talking, giving them more than enough time to each get to their posts. He checks one last time, hidden behind the merlons of the tower. Luckily for them, the tower closest to the courtyard is also the shortest one.

Bakugou’s completely blended in the crowd around the woman, something completely unusual for him, but they’ve agreed he won’t fight today. Despite his displeasure and complaints, his shoulder still hasn’t completely healed, and he’s smart enough to realize —should he injure his shoulder again so soon— he’s risking permanent damage.

Iida and Tsuyu are directly below him, next to a wagon with a discarded banner thrown all over it.

Perfect.

His gaze wanders to the nobles sitting on the chairs, then to the Prince. Everyone is paying attention to the King reading the decree, but the Prince’s eyes look...pained.

“...with the grace and power bestowed to me by God,” the King finishes, tucking the scroll back in and returning to his seat. He gestured to the two guards. “Gentlemen, you may proceed with her punishment.”

Midoriya takes a quiet breath and nocks his first arrow, pulling the string taut and aiming. The guard on her right lifts the axe, and the sun gives the metal a wicked glint.

Midoriya lets his arrow fly.

It finds the axe’s wooden handle and the force throws it off the guard’s hand. All eyes turn to his direction. He gets up and stands on a merlon, slinging his bow back to his right shoulder.

“Stop!”


 The unmistakable whistle of an arrow followed by metal clattering against the ground has Todoroki’s breath hitching. His first thought is that this is an assassination attempt, for his father or him, but after a moment’s consideration, he shoves it away. The arrow’s course had been precise; the shooter’s target was the axe, not a person.

He was right before; something wasn’t right.

“Stop!”

The voice echoes in the square, only amplified by everyone’s silence. It’s a man, with unruly green-looking hair, though the sun directly overhead makes it difficult to tell. He looks about his own height, Todoroki muses. A bow and a quiver are slung across his shoulders, and his clothes betray he’s a commoner. A dark fabric covers his face from the eyes down, yet his voice still rings clear.

Todoroki risks a glance to his left. His father’s eyes are smouldering.

“People of Yuuei, listen! This woman has committed no crime worth more than five lashes. Yet here she is, about to lose a hand!”

His voice is powerful. Todoroki finds himself nigh captivated by it, like a melody he heard once in the flea market and has unexpectedly stumbled upon again.

“And for what reason, I ask you? For what reason? For not having enough money to feed her family. For not being able to pay the King’s taxes.”

The crowd has moved slightly closer, eager to hear more. Still, as he talks, Todoroki can’t shake the feeling he’s heard that voice before. Even if he talks to dozens of advisors, nobles, servants, every day, this one has a distinctive feeling to it.

“Taxes that are cruel, that are unjust, that shove the common people deeper in despair and fill his pockets with more and more gold.” He lifts a finger and points it straight to Enji. The crowd gasps just as his father lets out a small growl.

“How dare he…”

“He’s been here for less than two years and look at the state of Yuuei! When was All Might so avaricious? When did All Might ever put his own comfort above our well-being? I ask you, people of Yuuei!”

His voice...

Todoroki’s heart lurches to his throat.

he realizes. The boy he’d danced with.

His voice is different now, though. Less timid, more decisive.

“His regime is oppressive! It always has been and always will be! He thinks he can undermine us, squash us like bugs underneath his boots! But everyone…”

Something gleams from the corner of his eyes, and Todoroki’s head turns. A hooded figure is kneeled next to the woman —Jirou. He’s picking the lock of the shackles with a...bobby pin. A mess of ashy blond hair peeks underneath the hood, all puffed-up, like spikes. Todoroki frowns. Well, that’s quite impressive, he thinks as the shackle’s lock clicks open. The man ruffles his pockets, then places a pouch in her hands. He helps her up, huddling inward to the crowd. He tells her something, much too low for anyone to hear, presumably, and points west. She starts talking, probably to thank him, Todoroki supposes, but he just shakes his head and points again, grabbing her hand and making his way across the crowd with her.

Smart, very smart. While the initial shock has slowly, but surely passed, everyone, including his father, is still busy taking in the man’s words. A perfect diversion.


 “But everyone, hear me!” Midoriya calls. “Do not lose hope! For…”

He falters.

The Prince is staring directly at Bakugou untying Jirou Kyouka, and Midoriya curses his luck. They were this close to pulling this off without a hitch.

A heartbeat passes. Two. Three.

He’s not saying anything. The Prince is not saying anything. He’s not calling for the guards, he’s not notifying his father of it. Midoriya just sees a tiny, imperceptible shrug.

They still have a shot. Midoriya faces the crowd again, dozens and dozens of wide-eyes people waiting for him to continue.

“For the heir is alive! All Might’s heir is alive and guarding this country! He’s watching, protecting you! One day, he’ll reclaim the throne, take it back from this foul snake now occupying it!”

The King’s gaze burns into him, and yes, that one sealed his doom.

“And that day...that day is not far! So do not despair and have faith! Have faith in All Might, have faith in the heir, have faith in yourselves!”

He looks at the crowd again, letting out a sigh of relief when he sees Jirou’s purple hair moving farther and farther away from the square, accompanied by Bakugou.

“Guards!” The King spits out. He grabs the guard next to him by the collar. “The punishment was meant to be an example for any unruly citizens, not inspire a goddamn

Get him!”

“Yes, Your Majesty!”

They take off, but it’ll be a while before they reach him. Midoriya smiles. The damage is already done.

Even if the citizens don’t rise now, something tells Midoriya that his speech was rather memorable.

He looks below, where Iida and Tsuyu are still waiting for a signal. Still grinning, he gives them two thumbs-up and nods. Chaos has erupted around them. People are cheering and attacking the guards, though no one dares touch the King or the Prince, who seems rather unperturbed by this turn of events.

“Midoriya! We’re ready!”

Indeed, his friends have stretched the banner taut, transforming it into a safe —or, well, as safe as it can be— landing mat for him. This tower, albeit the smallest, must be around thirty to thirty-five feet.

He takes a deep breath, mentally preparing himself, then closes his eyes.


 Seeing Midoriya Izuku jump from one of the palace’s towers must be the most shocked Todoroki’s felt in a while, though he guesses he could say that for today’s entire event.

His eyes open mid-fall, as if beckoned by the peoples’ incredulous gasps and terrified screams. He appears surprisingly calm, at least outwardly.

A second later, a soft thud is heard as he hits the banner and bounces forward. Todoroki can make out the strikingly clear green of his eyes as he, a green-haired girl and a tall, stern-looking guy start running.

“You will not get away with this, scum!” His father bellows. His voice brings a chill to the warm midday.
Midoriya Izuku turns around, his smile stretching to his ears. “We already have, Your Majesty!” he laughs.

He’s beautiful, Todoroki thinks, not without a startle.
“Why you little…” His old man turns to where Jirou was tied before, only to find the spot empty. Todoroki is sure his eye twitches in rage. “Guards! Get them! I’ll have all of you hanged for treason!”
As the crowd forms a protective barrier among them and the guards still stationed near the nobles, Midoriya’s laugh fills the square. Todoroki searches carefully, but there’s no sign of Jirou Kyouka or the man that helped her escape anymore.

“I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you, Your Majesty!”

And with that, Midoriya and his companions disappeared into the capital.

His father gives a furious kick to his chair, his boots snapping the wood into pieces.

Todoroki suppresses a smile.


The cool of the forest is a nice change from the capitol’s intense sunlight as everyone’s coming down from the adrenaline high. To be fair, Midoriya’s heart is still pounding in his ears, especially from his jump. That was definitely one of the most reckless things he’d done, and he makes a point not to mention it to All Might the next time he goes to visit him.

He tenses when he hears heavy footsteps approaching, but the bell connected to the traps hadn’t rung. He slumps back on his mattress as Bakugou joins them around the fire.

“Fucking finally,” he says, grabbing a wooden bowl and filling it to the brim with Iida’s soup. “I’m fucking

“What took you so long? We thought something might’ve happened.”

“The bastard on the throne was pissed, Round Face, that’s what happened. He put the entire city on lockdown after our stunt and I had to kill two fucking hours.” He eyes Midoriya carefully. Why are you so quiet, Deku? Don’t tell me you broke a bone during landing or I’ll kill you.”

Midoriya shakes his head. “No, no, I’m fine. Everything went as we discussed.”  Remembering the Prince’s eyes on Jirou and Bakugou, he bites the inside of his cheek. “How did you do?”

“Tch, it was fucking fine. Apart from the whole lockdown ordeal, everything went like clockwork. She seemed to understand that she couldn’t go back home. I told her we’d take care of her siblings and gave her the money.”

Tsuyu hums. “That’s good. Did you tell her how to get to Yaoyorozu?”

“Of course I fucking did, holy shit.” Bakugou rolls his eyes in exasperation. “I also told her about Ponytail being a former knight, so she’ll be fine.”

Yaoyorozu Momo was training to be in the a knight in the All Might’s guard, but had to flee when Enji took over. She and Midoriya hung out a lot and sometimes even trained together. Her cottage is a bit further than the northern outskirts of the city, well-hidden from most eyes, but Bakugou’s instructions to Jirou were clear enough that she should find it without a problem.

“Well, that was a success, then,” Midoriya declares, letting his eyes go from Bakugou scarfing down the food to Iida sleeping peacefully. “Uraraka, how’s All Might?”
She shrugs. “As usual., though he did tell me he wants to see you. Still, he was pretty worried today, and I didn’t even tell him about your stunt.”

Midoriya sighs in relief. “Thanks. I don’t want him to worry about us.”

“Me neither,” Tsuyu adds.

“I’ll go and talk to him, eventually, but we really ought to be careful for the next days. The King is more than pissed, and his guards will be on the lookout for us.” He wiggles on the mattress, getting more comfortable. “Anyway, I think I’m gonna sleep now. Uraraka, you have the first shift, right?”

She nods, getting up from the semi-circle they’ve formed around the fire and climbing a tree to monitor everything from above.

“Goodnight,” Midoriya says, and lets his eyelids drop.


 Bakugou’s barely gotten out of the trees’ shade and he’s already sweating. The castle gleams under the sun in the distance, while the citizens rush about, either working or running errands, most of them looking exhausted as always. He clenches his jaw, thinks about the shithole this place has turned into. Shoving his hands deeper into his pockets, he kicks a stray rock as hard as he can. It lands among a small pile of its brethren at the side of the road, and Bakugou grits his teeth even harder.

He should be happy. Realistically speaking, this is the best they —well, he and those shitty nerds— have been since All Might’s dethroning. After they’d scattered, it had taken them three months to find each other, for fuck’s sakes, and another three to actually get their shit together and settle in the forest, figure everything out. Right now, they’ve made a name for themselves among the citizens, they’ve risen up as an opposing force —Bakugou cackles when he remembers the look on Todoroki Enji’s face during their little stunt last week— they have solid plans about this entire thing , and yet. There’s disappointment bubbling below his skin, an eternal whisper of “you should have achieved more by now” , the disgusting realization that it’s been over a year and a half and they’ve barely done shit. He’s barely done shit. Anger has always been easy for him to summon, but this— desperation leaves a bitter taste in his mouth and fills up his lungs until it’s hard to breathe.

He resists the urge to kick another rock, grasping his cloak tighter instead and heading for the southeast palace entrance.

After successfully sneaking in, despite his predilection for beating guards up, Bakugou makes his way to the storeroom next to the kitchens; the fancy kitchenware is kept there. Bakugou rolls his eyes. As if the regular kitchenware of the palace —silver gilded knives, ornate plates— are not fancy enough.

He starts from the bottom of the drawers, hoping that’s gonna make the absence of anything he can get his hands on a little less noticeable. When his gaze falls onto a silver knife that has a ruby embedded in its hilt, an honest-to-god ruby, his muscles tremble with the need to fucking stab something. This staunchly casual display of overwhelming, massive wealth, the stark comparison between in here and out there makes him grip the knife tighter, knuckles going white before he shoves it in the bag.

He’s so angry right now —not his default mode of pissed, but fucking furious. Half of him wants to smash every fucking porcelain dish he finds into a million tiny pieces, the other half wants to shove them down Enji’s throat until he chokes.

Before he can get the satisfaction of mentally doing both those things, he hears footsteps and voices echoing in the hallway, and as he realizes guards are approaching, he sees red.

“What the fuck?” a voice comes from his right.

Shitty Hair —Kirishima, his brain unhelpfully supplies— is standing in front of him, blocking the exit, no, blocking Bakugou’s way to those fucking guards.

He bares his teeth to Kirishima. “Get out of my way, Shitty Hair, I’m beating those fuckers up.” For fuck’s sakes, there weren’t supposed to be guards in this part of the castle now, what the fuck?

Kirishima’s eyes widen comically, and he shoots a look at the guards, Bakugou supposes, then back at him. “Dude, no.”

“Don’t fucking tell me what to do—”

“First of all, there’s six of them,” Kirishima interrupts, and Bakugou wants to reply that he can handle them just fine, thank you very fucking much, but Kirishima barrels on, “and you look like you’re tough as hell, but six versus one is kinda unfair, don’t you think?” he says, voice lowered. Bakugou’s eye twitches.

“I don’t give a fuck—”

His actual problem now is Kirishima himself, because he’s not sure what he’s gonna do when Bakugou attacks those fucking assholes, and the unpleasant tug to his stomach has nothing to do with the memory of Kirishima helping him and how he probably doesn’t deserve—

Before he can even finish that thought —though he’s not sure he wants to— Kirishima has bent Bakugou’s arms behind his back. Bakugou bristles, snapping his head back to hit Kirishima’s nose, but Kirishima deftly avoids it and tightens his grip on Bakugou’s arms.

“You fucking piece of—”

Kirishima’s breath against his ear startles him more than the guards had. “Play along. I’ll help you,” he promises, and his voice is so earnest, Bakugou can’t help but believe him, despite that being the most idiotic thing he can possibly do in this situation.

Kirishima pulls Bakugou’s hoodie down to obscure his face, and Bakugou nearly gets whiplash. He grabs the bag with everything Bakugou had time to grab and fastens it somewhere on his own belt, Bakugou gathers. Kirishima’s grip has loosened now, so much so he could easily slip away.

He doesn’t, for some fucking reason.

He keeps his head low as Kirishima drags him out of the storeroom; not out of fear; Bakugou is self-aware enough to know that if his eyes even cross with the guards’, he won’t be able to hold back anymore.

The guards call out Kirishima’s name when they see them, apprehension hidden in their tone, but Kirishima flashing a grin at them is reassurance enough to make them still their hands, not yet drawing their swords. Kirishima gives them a bullshit story about how he caught Bakugou trying to steal from the palace —alright, that’s technically not bullshit, Bakugou silently admits— and Kirishima’s taking him to the King now, for his fate to be decided. The guards ask if he needs any help, but Kirishima easily replies that he’s fine, and his confident attitude makes it difficult to doubt him.

All the while, Bakugou’s biting his bottom lip so hard it’s gonna start bleeding.

“Whew,” Kirishima breathes once they’re far enough, taking his hands off Bakugou’s wrists. “That was close.”

“What the actual fuck,” Bakugou hisses, “there weren’t supposed to be any fucking guards there.”

Kirishima blinks. “Wait, you don’t know about the change?”

“The what now?”

“After that little stunt you guys pulled —it was you and your gang at the square, wasn’t it— the King was livid,” Kirishima tells him. “He’s made quite a few changes in the guards’ shifts. Basically, he’s moved the guards to the places he thinks you’re sneaking to and from, and he mixed up the hours as well. The Prince is the only one who’s actually happy about that, from what I can tell.”

“Fuck,” Bakugou groans. It had taken them for-fucking-ever to figure out the guards’ locations and shifts; doing it all over again will undoubtedly be a huge pain in the ass. “You wouldn’t happen to know the new schedule, huh?” It’s a dark joke; even if he did, why would a guard give that kind of information to an outlaw?

“I don’t, sorry. The change is very recent, and we were only told our new shifts. I haven’t had the time to learn anyone else’s schedule apart from mine.”

Bakugou tchs.

“Hey, Bakugou?”

“What?”

“Why are you doing this?”

He gives Kirishima a deadpan look. “I told you the previous time—”

“No, I remember that. I mean why are you doing this…I don’t know, to such an extreme? If anyone else except for me had found you today, you would probably be hanged.”

The marble floor offers such a clear reflection of them; Bakugou has his arms crossed in front of his chest, a deep scowl on his face. Kirishima’s cocked his head to the side, not unlike a confused puppy. Bakugou mentally kicks himself for thinking that.

“You still don’t get it,” Bakugou mutters, voice too quiet, too small, for the hallway stretching besides this crevice they’ve settled in. “You still don’t understand how much the people that aren’t royalty, that don’t work in the palace, suffer. You don’t fucking get it.”

He runs a hand across his face; suddenly, he’s too tired for this, for everything.

“Tell you what,” he continues, while Kirishima has a look that Bakugou might characterize as pained, “go visit the orphanage.”

“Huh?”

“Visit the orphanage; bring them something if you can,” he says, more aggressive now.

“Okay,” Kirishima says. “I told you I’d help you.” He gives Bakugou his satchel back, then a pouch hanging from his belt. “It’s about double than the previous time. I’ll try to find out the rest of the guards’ schedule as quickly as I can.”

“Don’t give yourself away,” Bakugou snorts. A tiny part of him tells him he should be grateful; he tells that part to shut the fuck up.

Kirishima tells him his own shifts, “so you know when and where to find me, should you need anything,” he says, and Bakugou rolls his eyes.

He considers Kirishima’s pouch hanging from his belt, now, thinks about Tooru, the woman running the orphanage, nearly started crying when they gave her the previous one.

Kirishima tells him where most guards probably are right now, so that Bakugou knows where to leave from. When he asks if Bakugou got it, he just nods numbly and takes off, mind barely registering Kirishima bidding him goodbye.

Bakugou doesn’t know how he feels.


 When he sneaks out, he’s met with a dark, weeping sky. He pulls his hoodie out and prepares himself for a cold shower while walking back to the forest. Most people from before have gone back inside, but it really is a testament to how fucked up this kingdom is when there’s dozens still left outside, shivering and looking for any scraps to eat.

His stop to Shinsou’s place is short, he just tosses the satchel on the table and says, “today’s batch”, doesn’t stick around long enough to respond to Shinsou calling him an asshole, though he does flip him off before slamming the door shut.

When he finally reaches the camp, it’s pouring, and he shoots Round Face a nasty look before she can comment how he looks like a soaked cat. She sticks her tongue out at him in response and ducks to avoid the rock he subsequently throws.

Tsuyu looks unimpressed. “How’d it go?”

“Apparently,” Bakugou spits out, still pissed, “the guards’ schedule is changed, because His Majesty the asshole got angry at us.”

Midoriya frowns. “But there’s no reason for him to get mad at us— oh.” He seems to realize. “Yeah, never mind.”

Bakugou rolls his eyes.

Uraraka hops from the tree branch she was sitting on and lands with a soft thud. “Are you kidding me?” She groans, rubbing her temples. “It took us so long to find out their shifts!”

Bakugou gives a savage smirk. “Stop whining, I’ll know the new shifts in a few days.”

Silence falls, and Bakugou’s smirk widens at their shell-shocked faces. “You’re welcome, nerds.”

“Um—” Uraraka and Tsuyu begin at the same time.

“How could you possibly know that?” Midoriya asks, voice steady.

Oh.

Bakugou hadn’t thought that far. Kirishima’s smiling face flashes in his mind and he grabs that thought and shoves it in somewhere in the back. He briefly bites the inside of his cheek before glaring at everyone.

“I threatened a fucking guard,” he says, trying to get this shit under control. “Oh, shut up,” he adds when everyone gasps. His own eye twitches when he sees Midoriya roll his eyes, as if dealing with a five year old.

“Bakugou, that was—”

“Dangerous,” Midoriya interrupts.

“I was gonna say incredibly stupid, but that works too,” Uraraka says.

“Fucker’s not gonna say anything, I’m sure of it.” Bakugou replies. “It’s fine, get off my ass about this.”

Uraraka gives him a disdainful look that has him grinding his teeth, but Tsuyu takes her hand and pulls her to her mattress. Bakugou takes a seat at the edge of his own mattress and leans back, closing his eyes, but he cannot enjoy his peace and quiet.

“I can feel you fucking staring at me.”

Midoriya goes to sit next to him, but Bakugou pushes him off of it and cackles when he falls flat on his ass.

“I can tell you’re not telling me— us something.”

“Fucking—”

He opens his eyes to find Midoriya staring right at him, as expected, but there’s something unnerving in his gaze. “Fine,” Bakugou scoffs. He’ll tell him — only because it’d be too much pain in the ass to get Midoriya off his case. He snaps his head to the side, gesturing deeper into the forest. Midoriya seems to pick up on his unwillingness to share with the others around. Bakugou gets up and starts walking. After a second, he hears Midoriya’s footsteps behind him.

He leans against a tree, turning his gaze to the stars, if only for a moment, and then back to Midoriya. He sighs, breath barely audible in the calm of the night, in the slow wind gently rustling the leaves above them.

“A guard caught me during the masquerade ball.”

“Kacchan—”

“Stop worrying.” It comes off less forceful than he intended. “He didn’t— He helped me. And no, before you say anything, I’m pretty fucking sure it wasn’t a trap He gave me money, ‘for the poor,’ he said, and fuck, he seemed so honest.” He lets his back slide against the tree and sits down. “He saved my fucking ass today.”

Midoriya’s voice is soft. “You do know that that’s incredibly dangerous, right?” It pisses him off more.

“Of course I fucking know. ‘S why I only told him about me.” He doesn’t mention the fact that Kirishima had figured out their identity in the ball.

Midoriya sits across him. “I trust your judgement,” he says simply, and Bakugou would scoff, because his judgement is amazing, mind you, but Deku’s got the moral high ground now. “Hell, if you trust him, he might be something special.”

Bakugou bares his teeth. “The fuck’s that supposed to mean, nerd?”

“Nothing,” Midoriya smiles, and this time, Bakugou does scoff. He doesn’t have the energy to play mind games.

“Whatever, I’m going to sleep. It’s your shift today, right?”

Midoriya nods while Bakugou gets up, brushing the dirt off his clothes. Ugh, he stinks. He’ll wake up earlier tomorrow to take a swim in the lake, he can’t fucking stand the smell.

“Night,” Midoriya calls behind him. Bakugou grunts in response.

He only hopes for a dreamless sleep.


 

Chapter Text

Surprisingly, late at night is not the best time to sneak in the palace, as one might’ve thought. The guards are wary and cautious of thieves or civilians looking to stir up trouble, to upset palace folk. No, they’ve found out that one of the best two hours to sneak in is before sunrise —or, the ass-crack of dawn, as Bakugou likes to call it— because most of the palace is just then waking up, and because exhausted guards switch their posts with bleary-eyed ones that haven’t quite woken up yet. The other one is around nine or ten, because this is the time known as ‘rush hour’, meaning that the number of people requesting an audience with the King or being brought in for trial is at its highest.

Now’s the latter, and thank god for that, because a tired Bakugou is a grumpy Bakugou and Midoriya’s not in the mood to deal with that exhaustion being translated into rage. And besides, he’s nervous, too. Trusting Bakugou does not carry into trusting a guard.

But still, when Bakugou had said this morning he’d go to the palace to get the guards’ new shifts and posts, Midoriya had insisted to come with him. Bakugou had narrowed his eyes, exactly onto him, but he couldn’t really say anything else in front of everyone else, so he’d just grumbled a half-hearted ‘fuck off’ and left, groaning when Midoriya followed him.

He’d muttered under his breath for the entire walk to the castle, something that Midoriya found eternally amusing, but he was careful to keep an expressionless face, not wanting to aggravate him more.

Sneaking in today is ridiculously easy, though, guards rushing to and from the throne room like maniacs. Midoriya figures something must’ve happened during an audience.

“I hope someone spat on that snake’s face,” Bakugou cackles as he leads them up the stairwell.

He’s right, Midoriya thinks, but he shouldn’t say it.

“Now, you wait here, I’m gonna go meet with Kirishima.”

“That’s a nice name.”

Bakugou squints at him. “What the fuck are you on?”

Midoriya ignores the question. “Anyway, I’m coming with you.”

“What? Like hell you are.”

“Kacchan, keep your voice down,” Midoriya mutters, eyes darting left and right.

“First of all, don’t tell me what to do,” Bakugou says, gritting his teeth. “Nerd,” he adds in for a good measure. “Also, there’s no way in hell you’re meeting Kirishima.”

“Why not?”

“Because…” Bakugou groans. Midoriya raises his eyebrows. “Because I said so, that’s fucking why. God, do you ever stop asking questions?”

Midoriya avoids rolling his eyes. “I need to ask him about the Prince’s schedule.”

“Why?” Bakugou frowns. “I mean, I don’t give a fuck about anyone in the palace, but why do you wanna know?”

Midoriya leans against one of the pillars flanking the stairwell. He has to crane his neck to see the ceiling. “Do you know where the Prince’s chambers are?”

“Yeah? It’s high, on the southern wall, the same as the main entrance.”

Midoriya nods. “And it has a window. Well, two, technically.”

Bakugou stares at him like Midoriya’s a total dumbass —which isn’t very different from his usual stare. “Did you miss the part where it’s really fucking high?”

“Did you miss the part where I’m actually good at scaling?”

This one’s a dig at Bakugou, who gives him a deadly glare. “Shut the fuck up before I kill you. Still, dipshit, there’s too many fucking guards. You said it yourself, it’s near the main entrance.”

Midoriya smiles. “Yeah, but the second window is right where the western wall starts. I think it’ll be an easy entrance point, as long as there aren’t many guards and the Prince is elsewhere.” He straightens his back. “Now, let’s go meet that Kirishima guy. We can’t stay here forever.”

“Hey —wait a second, fucker! You’re not fucking coming with me, I told you.”

Bakugou catches up to him in two seconds, then tries to trip him. Midoriya avoids his ankle by jumping, sighing as Bakugou purposefully walks in front of him.

“You’re fucking insufferable, you know that?”

“You might’ve mentioned it once or twice,” Midoriya replies, trying not to let too much sarcasm drip from his words. Judging by Bakugou’s expression, he probably failed.

Bakugou mumbles a “fucking whatever,” and leads them through the hallways.

Kirishima isn’t how Midoriya expected him to be. Sure, he’s tall and muscular, has a fire-red mane, looks capable of taking down intruders, generally has the physical part of being a guard down. But he’s cheery and bright, smiles as often as Bakugou doesn’t, looks like an all-around puppy instead of a hungry beast ready to devour everything in its path, unlike the other guards.

Maybe he’s new here, Midoriya thinks. Still, he doesn’t think that’s the case, especially considering that Bakugou had met him during the masquerade ball.

“I’m Deku,” he introduces himself, extending a hand to Kirishima.

A nervous smile appears on Kirishima’s face. “Ah. I’ve heard a lot about you.” His handshake is firm.

“He’s not gonna hurt you, dipshit, I’m the one you should be worried about.” Bakugou’s voice is scathing. Nonetheless, Kirishima laughs at Bakugou’s hidden threat, and well, consider Midoriya impressed.

“Not that I mind or anything, but how come you came with Bakugou?”

“He wasn’t supposed to,” Bakugou hisses, “but he insisted so fucking much I wanted to chop my own ears off.”

“Stop exaggerating, Kacchan.”

Kirishima raises his eyebrows. “Kacchan?” he asks, a tiny smirk appearing.

“Not a word, shitty hair.”

“Anyway,” Midoriya interrupts, “I had a favor I wanted to ask you.” And I wanted to scope you out, he doesn’t say, but that’s easily guessable.

“Me?”

Midoriya nods solemnly. “Apart from the guards’ shifts, I need you to tell me about the Prince’s schedule.”

Kirishima’s eyes widen, as do Bakugou’s, like he hadn’t expected him to be so upfront about it.

Kirishima crosses his arms in front of his chest. “Why do you wanna know? And you do realize this is what someone who would want to assassinate him would ask?”

“We don’t hurt people,” Midoriya replies.

“I do,” Bakugou says casually.

“We don’t hurt people on purpose,” Midoriya glares. Bakugou shrugs. “Only if we don’t have another choice, with guards for example. Uh, no offence,” he amends quickly.

“None taken,” Kirishima answers.

“Plus,” Midoriya shrugs, pondering, “if I were to assassinate someone, I’d go for the King, not the Prince.”

Kirishima chokes on air.

“Still don’t know if I could do it, though,” Midoriya muses. Could he? “I’m a thief, not a killer. Whatever the case, I can promise you I have no intention of killing anyone.”

Kirishima looks half-convinced. “If you steal something from his chambers, it will be immediately noticed. If not by him, definitely by the servants.”

“I don’t plan on taking anything from there, either.”

“I’ll tell you,” Kirishima decides. “On one condition, though. “

“And what’s that?”

“You won’t lay a hand on the Prince. Well,” Kirishima grimaces, “I’m pretty sure he could defend himself, but my point still stands.”

“Don’t worry,” Midoriya reassures him. “If this goes well, I won’t even meet him.”

He doesn’t mention that he already has.

“Promise,” Kirishima insists.

“I promise. I won’t hurt the Prince.”

“This is so fucking stupid,” Bakugou calls from the side. Without looking, Midoriya can tell he’s running a hand down his face and rolling his eyes.

A few days later, Midoriya’s all done coming up with a plan —for the most part.

This night is a quiet one. The only sounds that register are the nightingales’ song, voices echoing from the inside of the palace, and his own feet deftly avoiding the fallen leaves. The moon has begun its ascent to the sky, but the light it provides is unneeded, for the palace is a shining beacon of its own, even a few hours before midnight. It never sleeps, Midoriya knows. He’s been there during all times of the day, even hours before dawn, but there’s always plenty of people awake, and not just the guards.

The sea on the northern edge glimmers, reflecting hundreds of the stars pinned to the sky. As Midoriya comes closer, he stays low and hides behind the bushes and trees of the garden. There’s two guards flanking the main gate, and effectively Prince Shouto’s window as well, and another two on the south side of the wall. The north side recedes into jagged rocks of the ocean stretching ahead; it’s too dangerous to station guards there, in case the usual calm of the ocean transforms into seaway. Midoriya would call it a strategic fault, but there are no lands across the ocean that could encircle them in attempt of a siege or attack.

Still, Midoriya can use it to his advantage.

Hiding behind a bush and adjusting his mask —the same one he’d worn to the ball— he picks up a large enough rock and hurls it in the water. The splash startles the guards, heads snapping to their left.

“Who’s there?” one asks.

Bushes stretch from him to the sea, so he risks another throw, grinning as the guards in the main gate take off; the other two don’t seem to notice.

He dashes like a madman and throws himself on the castle wall, determined to make it as far up before they return. His cloak is dark and matches with the stone the castle’s walls are made of, so they won’t notice him while coming back to their posts, but climbing rock without making a sound can be challenging. He’s adjusted pointed metal pieces to his gloves to shove between the rock’s indentations and make this easier, but he still has to try to suppress his grunts. Suddenly, he’s grateful for every single brutal workout Aizawa put him through as part of his education in the castle.

The thought of Aizawa is enough to make him bite his lip, but he quickly shakes any thoughts away. Aizawa is smart enough to have survived just fine in the palace until now, and thinking about worst-case scenarios won’t help him now. He risks a glance underneath. The guards are coming back, shaking their heads in what’s probably annoyance. Midoriya only hopes they don’t, for some reason, look up and see a dark bundle around seven meters above them slowly moving up. The hard part will be over soon. He just has to get up there, explore the routes branching from the Prince’s chambers while the Prince himself is dining, then get the hell out. He hasn’t quite figured out how he’ll do that last bit, but he’ll cross that bridge when he gets there.

They don’t look up, fortunately, and Midoriya painstakingly makes it to the veranda, grabbing the rails to haul himself up against the ledge. King Enji moved the guards around after their little stunt, and he knows for a fact that means there isn’t anyone guarding the veranda. He stays there for a second to catch his breath, spread out like hung clothes left out to dry.

“And just what do you think you’re doing?”

Midoriya’s eyes fly open to stare up at Prince Shouto’s imposing gaze. His blood freezes and the jolt makes him nearly slip from the ledge.

“I…” he starts, knuckles turning white from his grip.

His heart bounces from his chest to his stomach to his chest again and then to his throat. He’s screwed. He’s officially, royally, one-hundred percent screwed. His gaze snaps twenty meters below, to where he’ll most definitely become a splatter on the grass.

“Or rather, don’t answer,” the Prince tells him, voice icy. “Give me, instead, one reason why I shouldn’t throw you off the tower.”

“Because,” Midoriya says, brain scrambling to come up with anything, literally anything other than I don’t want to die just yet, “because you …you looked like you were having fun when we danced?”

The Prince’s expression remains the same hard, majestic stare, and Midoriya thinks this is it, he’s really gonna push him off after all, he should have brought Ochako with him, when the Prince shrugs.

“Fair enough.”

What?

“I’ll let you come in…” the Prince begins, and he sounds sincere enough for Midoriya’s face to pull into a hopeful smile, because holy hell, he might actually, by some miracle, survive this.

“...if you tell me why you’re here.”

And just like that, all hopes disappear. Midoriya tries to swallow, ignoring the discomfort hanging from a balcony brings. He’d have to tell the Prince he was the leader of a gang whose entire goal is to steal from his father. Just his luck.

“And if you try to hurt me,” the Prince continues, eyes narrowing in what could be either warning or satisfaction, “the guards are only two or three chambers away, though I am more than capable of defending myself.”

Midoriya’s feeling the ‘I’ll cross that bridge when I get there’ part of his plan quite acutely right about now.

“Okay,” he concedes. “I expected nothing less from the prince,” he says, climbing up and stretching his limbs once he’s on solid ground.

“Many do,” the Prince replies, leading them into his room through the open window.

Midoriya’s busy taking in and cataloguing all the details of the room, and his heart rate has spiked. He’s pretty sure the Prince can hear it. “What?” he asks, not understanding.

“Don’t you know, thief?” They settle in his chamber —or rather, the Prince throws himself on the bed, notices Midoriya standing in the middle of the room, then gestures to a nearby chaise longue.

“Know what?” Midoriya asks, feeling dumber by the second. Not many people have that effect on him, and he’s not even sure if the Prince is doing it on purpose.

Prince Shouto gives him a wry smile. “Many think that I’m a weakling, that I hate them and support my father’s ways.”

“Do you?” is Midoriya’s lightning-quick reply, indignation for anyone who supports King Enji rising in his chest. But then he remembers who’s sitting —well, lying— in front of him, and re-words the statement, tone dying down just a bit. “I mean, do you hate them? Do you support your father’s ways?”

The Prince’s eyes darken, body tensing. “I thought I answered that question clearly enough while we were dancing.”

“Forgive me for not believing everything the King’s son says.” He could easily lose his tongue for speaking in such a manner, but Midoriya thinks the Prince is planning to keep him alive at least for a little longer.

“Why don’t you tell me why you’re here,” the Prince answers instead.

Midoriya’s eyes have been darting all around the room, taking everything in, as well as failing to find another escape apart from the door and the window. He’s seen the state of the palace, but his mouth dries from the luxury dominating the Prince’s quarters.

His observation of the lavish sheets and furs draped on the bed is misinterpreted, however, when Prince Shouto says, “So that’s why you came? Can’t say I’m surprised, though I thought the scar was too off-putting even for the most desperate of people.” There’s a hidden bite there, Midoriya realizes. And then flushes scarlet when he understand the downright lewd meaning lying below the Prince’s words.

“No!” he exclaims, shooting up and startling the Prince enough for his hand to fly to his waist. Midoriya follows the movement and catches glimpse of a sheathed dagger.

“Keep your voice down,” the Prince murmurs, eyes darting to the door. “And you steal on the regular, no? Don’t act like your integrity’s been offended.”

Midoriya purses his lips.

“Back to the issue at hand.” Prince Shouto lies back on the bed, a leopard in its den facing the prey it’s brought in. “I’m still waiting on the explanation.”

Midoriya sits back down as well, but doesn’t relax. “I wasn’t gonna steal anything from here.” The Prince’s eyebrows nearly disappear behind stray tufts of snow-white and fire-red hair, but he doesn’t reply, waiting for Midoriya to continue. “I….your room is a good entry point. I was going to come up here and map out how it connects to all the other rooms. Though, uh, you weren’t supposed to be here.”

“No?”

“You were supposed to be dining in the main hall!” Midoriya exclaims. Prince Shouto’s smile is amused.

“My stomach ache came at the worst time for you, it seems. I’m curious, though.” He leans forward, tilts his head to the side and gazes deeply into Midoriya’s eyes, as if trying to get into his head and extract the information he wants. Midoriya gulps under his full attention. “How do you know anything about my schedule?”

Oh shit oh shit oh shit—

“I’m— an excellent spy,” Midoriya chokes out. There’s no way in hell he’s actually telling him anything about Kirishima.

“Are you now?” The Prince looks like he’s considering a million things at once.

“Yes,” Midoriya gasps, “maybe you should tighten the security around here,” he says, then considers punching himself in the throat so that he can never speak another time.

The Prince doesn’t look gravely offended —again, it’s amusement that pulls his lips upward, even barely so. “Maybe I should,” he echoes. “Do go on.”

“That—That’s it.”

Apparently, that’s the wrong thing to say, because Prince Shouto’s smirk only grows. “That’s it?”

“Y—Yes.”

“Then what were you doing at the central square Thursday noon?”

Shit shit shit motherfucking—

“Watching the dismemberment?” Midoriya squeaks. It’s a wonder he remembers to use the proper word instead of saying ‘the spectacle’.

“Ah, but of course,” Todoroki chuckles, brushing stray hairs out of his eyes. “I should rephrase, then. What were you doing distracting everyone so that your friends could rescue Jirou Kyouka? And practically declared yourself an enemy of the King while doing so?”

“Um.”

“You see,” Todoroki continues when Midoriya goes very, very quiet, “there’s no point telling me that you work alone, that you’re just a thief trying to make some easy money, although I wouldn’t exactly call robbing the King ‘easy money’. I know about your little gang, or whatever that is, hero Deku. Or rather,” he lowers his voice, examining his nails as if he’s indifferent about this and everything in the world, “should I say Midoriya Izuku?”

Midoriya has turned into a living, breathing statue, only blinking and softly inhaling and exhaling.

“It was incredibly stupid of you to give me your real name when we danced.”

“Yes, I’m aware,” Midoriya answers.

Todoroki laughs, a dry, rasping sound coming out of his throat and sits up on the bed. “Do tell me about your gang. What is it, exactly, that you do?”

Midoriya’s cheeks have turned pink, as if he’s actually ashamed or sorry, but Todoroki knows it’s probably from all the anxiety building up. “I thought we established that. I—We steal from His Majesty.”

Todoroki doesn’t miss the miniscule amount of mockery that slips into Midoriya’s voice.

“Yes, but why?” He has his suspicions, but he’d like to hear it from him. “You don’t strike me as the kind of person to do that for fun.”

“Isn’t it obvious? We give it to the poor. Mostly orphanages, really.”

“Well, aren’t you noble.” Midoriya glares at that, perhaps without realizing, but it’s been years since someone was so open, unguarded with him. Everything in the palace is hidden under honey-sweet smiles, cunning words, and false pretenses. Todoroki rather enjoys the change. “I’m only joking. But really, seeing your blonde guy getting Miss Jirou out of the cuffs with just a hair pin was impressive, I must admit.” And with his admission, they’re back to that, and Todoroki knows the question that follows.

“Why didn’t you say anything to your father, or a guard?”

Todoroki laughs joylessly and gets up, heading to the dresser where a basin full of water sits.

“Losing a hand over stealing bread that would feed her siblings? Please,” he huffs, splashing water over his face. “I’m not that cruel. And I told you, I disagree with my father’s ways on pretty much any subject at all.” He dries his skin, then turns to Midoriya who’s already looking at him, carefully. “Believe it or not, I actually wish I could help her somehow.”

Midoriya waves a hand, eyes widening immediately after he realizes he dismissed the fucking Prince. He barrels on nonetheless. “Don’t worry about that. We gave her enough money to flee Yuuei.”

Todoroki’s eyes widen. “You did?”

Midoriya nods, green curls bobbing along with the movement. “Yeah. There’s a, uh, friend we have that she can stay with.”

Todoroki returns to the bed, letting out a yawn. He’s already sleepy, and today was a long day. He strips off his shirt. He turns to Midoriya when he hears a sharp inhale of breath, but Midoriya’s head has snapped to the side, resolutely refusing to even look at Todoroki’s vicinity.

This is getting better and better. “Who’d have thought the most popular of thieves is shy?” Todoroki muses out loud, and Midoriya’s cheeks turn an even deeper shade of crimson. Ignoring a burgeoning, sudden wish to fluster Midoriya even more, Todoroki puts on his nightshirt, and quickly changes his pants.

When he’s done, Midoriya says, “So, you said you disagree with your father’s ways.”

“Mhmm. Have also said that while we were dancing, you know. But yes, you’re right.” He gets underneath the furs, throwing a dry smile Midoriya’s way. “I don’t think I’ll invite you in my bed tonight,” he risks saying, and is rewarded with Midoriya choking on his own spit. “Again, I’m only joking. No need to be alarmed.”

“Of course not,” Midoriya wheezes, “just the Prince himself teasing me.”

Todoroki hums. “Anyway like I said, I know things are bad right now.”

Midoriya’s entire expression darkens, like clouds rolling and covering the sun. “There’s so many people suffering. King Enji’s taxes are unbearable.”

“I know—”

“No, you don’t,” Midoriya snaps, eyes smouldering. He doesn’t back down, not even paying attention to the fact that he’s interrupted Todoroki, though he must realize he did it. “There’s families leaving their babies on the goddamn streets because they barely have any money to feed themselves, let alone take care of another kid. The orphanages are full, there’s kids sleeping next to each other on the cold floor without anything, no sheets, no blankets, certainly not furs,” Midoriya snarls, chin jutting out. “You don’t understand and you never will, because while people are out there starving, you throw away the most expensive food because you’ve already eaten as much as you can!”

Indignation rises in Todoroki’s chest, because how dare he, how dare this citizen, this thief talk to him like that, he’s the Prince, and he opens his mouth to tell Midoriya that he knows nothing—

Midoriya’s burning gaze challenges Todoroki to prove him right.

Todoroki swallows. He lowers his gaze to the bed. The furs certainly look a lot more extravagant now. He inhales, then lets air out slowly.

“I...You’re right,” he admits. “I think you’re right.” The words taste bitter in his mouth.

Midoriya blinks in surprise, but then his expression softens.

“Come with me to the orphanage.” Todoroki’s eyebrows furrow, but Midoriya continues. “Every Friday we go to the orphanages, soup kitchens and the like around the city, each of us to a different one to cover more ground, and we give them money and help out. We’ll disguise you, and you can see how things really are, if you’re still not sure.”

It’s probably a bad idea, all things considered, so of course, Todoroki nods.

“Okay. Friday, then.”

Midoriya looks surprised, as if he hadn’t expected him to agree, especially not after barely a few seconds of thought, but quickly recovers. “Yes!”

“What time shall I come out of the palace?” Todoroki asks.

“Two hours after dawn,” Midoriya says, and it comes out more as a question than a statement. “If that’s, uh, okay?”

“Of course,” Todoroki nods.

“Uh, excuse me, but won’t you be obligated to have guards?”

Todoroki waves a hand, much like Midoriya did before. “Don’t worry about that, I’ll deal with it. Now, for your departure from here.”

Midoriya grimaces. “I’d forgotten about that, if I’m being honest.”

Todoroki gets up again and opens the window. “Guards! Come up here!” he calls out, and sees Midoriya blanch. “Oh, don’t worry, I’m not telling them to arrest you.” He looks below to the scurrying guards, then back to Midoriya, whose face is still pulled in an apprehensive expression. Fair enough, Todoroki supposes. “All clear,” he tells him. “I’ll tell the some bullshit about how my window was open and they should look into that.”

“O—Okay,” Midoriya breathes out, relief flooding his tone. “Goodbye,” he says, rushing to the window.

Todoroki watches him step into the veranda and grab the rails, beginning his descent.

“Goodbye, thief,” he whispers lowly, then turns around to deal with the guards that will arrive soon.

When Midoriya’s feet hit the ground, he darts out of the palace courtyard. His heart hammers wildly in his ears, but it’s not from the running, not at all.

It’s from the world-shaking, literally, realization that yes, this is not a dream, this actually happened. His feet pound against the ground in sync with his heartbeat, while his brain tries to process everything that’s just happened. When his lungs begin burning, he looks around and sees the edge of the forest. Slowing down, he takes deep breaths and makes his way to their camp.

In retrospect, this is probably the stupidest, most naive idea he’s ever had, because the rational part of his head is screaming the Prince will surely betray them. He knows Midoriya’s identity, knows what he does, knows he’s not working alone, could have him hanged with just a word.

But Midoriya can’t help but think that...well, he didn't. It would have been the easiest thing for him to throw Midoriya off the ledge and sent him to his inevitable death below. Or, if he doesn’t have the heart of a killer —Midoriya snorts, because his father certainly seems to, but then again, Todoroki Shouto doesn’t appear to be his father— he could have called the guards and have him thrown in the deepest, darkest, coldest dungeon for the rest of his life.

But he didn’t. He sat him down and listened to what Midoriya had to say, and he...as much as it’s easier to pretend otherwise, the pain and wish to help in his eyes was genuine.

Then again, Midoriya considers, the Prince could be drawing this out in order to get the entire gang, deliver the whole package for King Enji to hang. But that still doesn’t make any goddamn sense, because Prince Shouto won’t get to see the others —Midoriya isn’t that dumb— and he knows it.

“The fuck are you mumbling about, nerd?”

Midoriya nearly trips and faceplants into the dirt as Bakugou’s voice snaps him out of his thoughts.

“N—Nothing, I was just thinking about today.”

Bakugou shoves him forward, toward the others huddled around the fire. “Don’t tell me you fucked it up.” He clicks his tongue.

Iida clears his throat. “How did it go, Midoriya?”

Midoriya sits next to him, while Bakugou sits across, next to Uraraka dozing off on her mattress. He grimaces at her small snores.

Midoriya shrugs. “Eh, I guess fine. I heard someone coming up, though, so I couldn’t really check thing out as I wanted.” That’s not too far from the truth.

Bakugou heaves a long-suffering sigh. “Are you fucking kidding me? You scaled an entire fucking wall for nothing, dumbass?”

“It wasn’t for nothing, Kacchan,” Midoriya defends. “I...learned a few things. Anyways, do you mind me taking the orphanage on Friday?”

“I’m fine.”

“I’m gonna go to the soup kitchens,” Bakugou murmurs, more tamely than usual.

“Sure.”

“Alright.”

“I wasn’t asking for permission!”

Midoriya rolls his eyes. “We know you weren’t. And don’t be so loud or you’ll wake Uraraka up.”

“I don’t give a fuck about Round Face’s sleeping schedule.”

“Yeah, but whenever someone wakes you up for no reason, you make a fuss.”

“I don’t make a fucking fuss—”

“Guys,” Iida interrupts calmly. “It’s already late; I suggest we all go to sleep.”

“Sure,” Midoriya replies easily.

Bakugou bites back, “Don’t tell me what to do.”

He gets in the blanket, eventually.

Chapter Text

Friday’s dawn adumbrates a warm, pleasant day. Even if he’d awaken to rain, Todoroki thinks, he’d still be looking forward to it. It’s not that he wants to see Midoriya, per se, but...Midoriya challenges him. He’s, despite the nervousness that was rolling off him in waves during both their meetings, not afraid to speak his mind. And evidently, he has no trouble standing up for what is right.

Todoroki would like some of that courage for his own.

Plus, his interest is piqued. Technically, he already knew he was sheltered, but he’d characterize the conversation he had a few nights ago as eye-opening.

He waves off the servants running about in his chambers, preparing his bath, his clothes, and whatnot. When the two girls look at him with question written all over their faces, he simply says,

“I’ll be out until the afternoon today. You can take the day off.”

Small mercies, he supposes. Still, there’s a tiny spark of joy as they bow and profusely thank him before leaving the room in leaps.

He lets the water run as he mulls over what to wear. Most of his wardrobe screams “royal offspring”, which is the opposite of what he wishes to convey today. He searches through the closets for the mildest —lowest, his father would call it— outfit, and eventually settles on dark, nondescript, leather pants with a white blouse and his hunting boots. He still won’t blend in, not completely. The clothes are soft, the boots sturdy, everything made out of quality material.

He returns to the bathroom, mildly frustrated. After stripping himself bare, he sinks in, hissing when the hot water makes contact with his skin. The temperature’s good, maybe a bit too good, if his struggle not to fall asleep again is any indication. The candles’ flames flicker; the bathroom window is open, and a soft breeze passes through.

The more he thinks about it, the more ridiculous it is. These clothes are the plainest he owns; yet any simple folk would be more than overjoyed to have them; respectively, his father would give him a tongue lashing if he ever saw him in them; he can practically hear his voice. “It is not befitting of the Crown Prince to be dressed in such rags.”

Clicking his tongue in displeasure, he thinks about that last bit. He’ll have to wear something else on top of his clothes, too, or else his father won’t let him leave the main hall, let alone the palace.

When the water is lukewarm, he rises, careful not to slip, and dries himself off. Going back to the main chamber, he pulls out a cloak from his closet. Usually, he wears a carmine one with gold details —the colours of Endeavor— but these types of cloaks made from the softest velvet already mark him as someone from upper classes. It would be even more inappropriate if he were to wear something signifying his royal ties as well.

This one is a deep green-blue colour; a mix between emerald and sapphire. The velvet creases under his hands. Todoroki dries his hair and quickly puts his clothes on, savoring the feeling of the cloak, like a steady stream of cool water running down his arms.

His gaze falls to the various jewellery scattered on the dresser. Gold rings glint in the morning light, the silver arm cuffs gleaming next to them. He hadn’t planned on wearing any kind of jewellery today, since doing so would only denote his wealth even more but...these rings might prove useful for something.

He slips on a gold ring with a leaf carved on it on his right ring finger and another, thicker, gold ring to his left middle finger.

When he comes down, he finds his father enjoying breakfast, all types of meals spread out in front of him, covering the mahogany table in its entirety.

What a waste, Todoroki thinks. The thought surprises him.

“Father,” he acknowledges.

Enji grunts. “Shouto.” When he sees Todoroki’s still standing, he raises a disbelieving eyebrow. “You won’t join your father for breakfast?”

“Actually,” Todoroki begins, carefully, “I was thinking of venturing out. It’s a lovely day.”

Enji grunts. “I have no duties scheduled for you today, so you can do as you please. Eat something before leaving, though.” His mouth curls around the piece of bread. “The food out there is simply disgusting.”

Todoroki purses his lips, but plucks a bunch of grapes from the table nonetheless.

“Thank you, father.”

“Oh, and you’ll take a guard with you. I’ve trained you to hold your ground in a battle, but those commoners are like animals; a mob might try to tear you apart.”

Todoroki’s jaw clenches. “I don’t need a guard. I’ll make sure to stay away from crowds.”

“It wasn’t a suggestion, boy.” Enji’s eyes darken.

“Fine. Can I at least choose who will accompany me?”

“Are my guards not to your liking?”

Todoroki huffs. “Some of them are worse than savage mutts.”

“They’re loyal, aren’t they?”

“Can I?”

Enji rolls his eyes, as if he’s dealing with a child’s tantrum. “Fine, I guess.”

“Thanks,” Todoroki replies, letting an acidic note slip into his voice. It doesn’t appear to go unnoticed, but he couldn’t care less.

In truth, he knew his father would want to assign him a guard, and knowing him for seventeen years, he also knew he’d never relent. Which was why he himself put up an argument, and succeeded in his father letting him pick the guard.

Piece of cake, he thinks, rounding up a corner for the hallway where Kirishima is supposed to be stationed. Gods, this shift in guard rotations, hours, locations, fucking everything, gave him a headache. Luckily, he finds Kirishima in his post, watching vigilantly over the place.

Kirishima bows when he sees him, which just makes Todoroki roll his eyes. Kirishima smiles apologetically.

“Protocol, Your Grace. Plus, it’d feel weird not to.”

“Sometimes, I hate protocol.”

Kirishima chuckles. “So you’ve said. How may I assist you?”

“How would you feel about accompanying me to one of my strolls out of the palace?” Todoroki asks and starts walking.

Kirishima looks taken aback for a second. “I’d love to. Will it be for the entire day?”

“I’m guessing you had plans after your shift today?”

“No, not at all!”

“You’re a terrible liar.”

He gets a sheepish smile in response. “Nothing more important than your safety, Your Grace.”

Todoroki shoots him a look. “How many times will I have to tell you to drop the title?”

“An infinite amount, I’m afraid.” Kirishima laughs, then purposefully adds, “Your Grace.”

Todoroki doesn’t deign that with a reply. About your plans, he mouths instead, don’t worry.

As soon as they’re out of the palace, he answers the inquiries written all over Kirishima’s face.

“I wanna visit this place today. My father insisted on a guard coming with me, but I got to choose, so. You’re free for the day.”

Kirishima blinks. “Really?” When Todoroki hums, he says, “Thank you, Your Gra—” then stops mid-sentence as he catches Todoroki’s glare. He waits for Todoroki to walk away before taking his leave.

Bakugou squints as he sees Kirishima exiting from the front gates with the Prince.

Well, this wasn’t part of the plan.

He’s perfectly blended in with the crowds of people out and about for street market. He keeps his eyes on Kirishima and the Prince, his scowl deepening. It’s not gonna be easy separating the pair.

But, before he can devise a plan, the Prince walks away, and Kirishima, too, takes his leave, walking toward the opposite direction. Confused, Bakugou makes his way to him, while still keeping an eye for The Prince’s bluish figure.

“Oh, Bakugou! Hi!” Kirishima says as soon as he spots him, to which Bakugou gives a “shh!” as response.

“What are you doing here?”

“I’m going to the soup kitchens today to help.” Bakugou gives him a once-over, clicking his tongue at his uniform. “Figured I’d take you with me, show you how the poor live.”

“Oh.” Kirishima’s mouth hangs open for a moment. “Wait, how were you planning to, I don’t know, tell me if I hadn’t come out?”

Bakugou gives a nod with his head and starts walking back in the market. “Figured I’d sneak in.”

“You—” Kirishima starts, then throws his hands up. “It’s like you want guards chasing you.”

“Don’t say stupid shit,” Bakugou scoffs. “Although, I was itching for a fight today.”

“You were— you know what, never mind.”

They walk in silence for a while, enjoying the weather outside, until Kirishima speaks up again.

“Won’t they mind that I’m a guard? In the soup kitchens, I mean.”

“Nah. Both the people running it and the ones who need help accept anyone who’s willing to help, and you don’t look particularly threatening anyways.”

“Hey!” Kirishima protests, a background noise to Bakugou’s cackles.

“Also, what the fuck was all that about?”

“Huh?”

“You with His dear fuckface the Prince,” he clarifies.

“Dude, you can’t talk like that about royalty!”

A snort. “Yeah, sure.”

“I’m serious!” Kirishima looks seriously worried, and Bakugou finds that just hilarious. “What if someone here,” Kirishima continues, voice lowering to a cautious whisper, “heard you? The King could have your head for that.”

“If anyone here heard me,” Bakugou says, loudly, while smirking, “they’d either join in or cheer. And you didn’t answer my question.”

“Well,” Kirishima says, stretching out his arms as he walks, “His Grace wanted to go out for a walk today.”

“How fortunate for us,” Bakugou notes. He frowns, contemplating.

“And I was supposed to be accompanying him, but he dismissed me.”

How very fortunate for us, Bakugou thinks, but doesn’t say it aloud. Instead, he asks, “Won’t you get in trouble for that, dumbass? If that useless sack of potatoes gets hurt, the blame falls on you, and somehow I doubt his father is particularly lenient.”

“Don’t call him that, dude.”

“I’ll call him whatever I want—”

“And His Majesty won’t find out. Also, the Prince is more than capable of defending himself.”

“Maybe I should fight him, then we’ll see if he’s standing when I’m finished.”

Kirishima glares, but lets it slide. “And after all, I much prefer obeying the Prince than the King.”

As they weave through the throng of merchants and customers —mostly women, doing their shopping of food and clothes for their families— Bakugou can’t help rolling his eyes.

“Yes, you’d rather obey the rotten apple instead of the rotten apple tree. What a fucking difference.”

Kirishima jabs him with his shoulder, and Bakugou is surprised he put strength in it. Still, not one to be outdone in anything, he jabs back harder, nearly sending Kirishima to a vendor’s fruit stand.

“The Prince,” Kirishima bites back, “isn’t like his father. He actually—he cares a lot more about the citizens than His Majesty.”

“Sure,” Bakugou says, causticity slipping in his voice. Still, it’s nice how Kirishima actually repays his blows. He’s never liked people that let others walk all over them.

“You’ll see,” Kirishima continues, conviction coloring his tone. “Once he becomes the King, everything will begin to ameliorate.”

“I still think he’s terrible.”

“I thought you were gonna be outside of the palace,” Midoriya says as Todoroki makes his way through the merchants. Todoroki’s caught off guard, but the only sign he shows outwardly is a blink of his eyes.

“It’d be rather weird for the Prince to say he was going out for a walk only to sit in front of the gates, don’t you think?”

“Ah, yes,” Midoriya breathes, ducking his head in what looks to be mild embarrassment. “You’re right. Also, I don’t think the guards stationed outside would have helped our case.”

Todoroki hums, careful not to step on his cloak. He inhales, and as they burrow deeper and deeper into the market —he’s assuming Midoriya’s actually leading them to the orphanage, and isn’t, instead, letting Todoroki make a fool of himself— and senses an onslaught of strong smells tickling his nose.

“It smells good,” he emphasizes, then frowns as Midoriya laughs. “What’s so funny?”

“Nothing, nothing,” Midoriya answers. “It’s just easy to forget that you’re not accustomed to all this.” He gestures around, to the cobblestones, the merchants, the common folk dickering for all kinds of goods. It’s...mundane, Todoroki thinks, informal in a way he’s never had the privilege —or the misfortune— to experience. Midoriya continues, “And of course it smells good. We’re at the spices’ corner. What you’re smelling is a mix of everything being sold or traded, but the salient ones right now are turmeric, ginger, and…” he pauses, taking two quick whiffs, “...cumin, I believe.”

“Uh-huh,” is all Todoroki has to say, not having felt quite so ignorant since he was a kid.

Midoriya tries to disguise the rolling of his eyes, but Todoroki sees right through it. “Turmeric’s the orange-yellow one, ginger is a light ochre, and cumin is brown.” Still, the eye-roll seemed...affectionate? Not mocking, though.

“I know what color turmeric is,” he replies indignantly.

“My apologies, Your Grace,” Midoriya teases —at least, Todoroki thinks that’s teasing.

Todoroki can’t help the groan that rises from his throat. “No, not you too.”

Midoriya’s eyebrows raise in question, a playful smile pulling at his lips.

“Everyone calls me Your Grace, even my closest guard. It’s exhausting.”

“How terrible.”

“Don’t get sarcastic with me,” he warns, though it doesn’t come out threatening. He hopes.

“Of course, Your—” Midoriya stutters then, and Todoroki tallies that as his win, before Midoriya smirks again and finishes, “—Your Honor.”

He lets out a snort, loud and unbridled and honest. “You’re insufferable.”

“Well, I do aim to please.”

They walk in comfortable silence after that, and that’s unusual for him. In the palace, silence can mean so many different things —fear, anger, disapproval— and used to leave him scrambling to figure out which one it was every time. Even now that he’s gotten used to how everyone communicates, has even adopted the same language out of necessity, the overextended silences always seem unnatural, like a rope stretched taut, ready to snap the moment someone missteps. And even if the person he’s talking with is innately quiet, it still feels like a puzzle piece not quite fitting right, like coming back to your room and realizing all your furniture’s been moved an inch to the left —such a small thing, yet it makes such a difference.

This kind of silence, the comfortable, amicable one that just lets enjoy and appreciate your partner is...hard to come by. Todoroki doesn’t remember the last time he felt it.

And then, “We’re here,” Midoriya announces, and Todoroki thinks he doesn’t mind him breaking the silence too.

As soon as they turn left again, Bakugou’s heart leaps to his throat. He extends his left arm in front of Kirishima’s chest and pulls them both backwards, behind the street corner.

“Wha—”

“Guards,” Bakugou hisses, poking his head to take a good look at them and discerns the flame pin on their uniforms. “Royal guards.”

Kirishima’s breath hitches, and turns his head to look where Bakugou’s looking. There’s only three of them, Bakugou notes, but that’s definitely enough to cause them trouble if they see Kirishima.

“We’re at the epicenter of the city, what are they fucking doing so far away from the palace?”

Kirishima’s tongue clicks. “I don’t know exactly what their job here is, but the King often sends guards to keep the order in...degraded areas.”

His eyes narrow when Kirishima pauses. “Poor,” he asserts. “You mean he sends his beasts in poor areas.”

“I…” Kirishima looks down, then inclines his head to one side. “...Yeah. Yeah, he sends them in poor areas.”

Bakugou bares his teeth. He peeks again and curses under his breath.

“They’re coming toward us,” is what he tells Kirishima as he grabs him by the wrist and starts running to the opposite direction. “I don’t think they saw anything, but I doubt they’ll be fucking cordial if they catch even a glimpse of that shitty red hair of yours.”

“Hey!” Kirishima protests, but Bakugou’s pretty sure it’s about the hair comment, not the fact that he’s dragging him around.

His blood freezes when he hears a “Hey! Stop running!”

Just his fucking luck.

“Don’t fucking look back,” he whispers to Kirishima. “They haven’t seen your face, so you might still have a chance.” Kirishima nods next to him, and as the guards start shouting for them to stop running again, Bakugou risks a glance behind him. They’re not close, not yet anyway, but all three of them start running. Bakugou gives them a taunting smile.

“Catch me if you can, bastards!” he cackles, reveling in Kirishima choking.

He runs faster and Kirishima follows at his heels. His feet pound against the beat-up cobblestone, and fuck if he didn’t miss this thrill. He takes a corner left, then right, then left again and keeps going, following a mental map of the city.

Eventually, he pulls them into something less of an alley and more of a slit in the sinuous streets. It’s the definition of cramped, but it’s hidden from sight. You won’t see it unless you’re looking for it.

They’re both panting, trying to catch their breath with their backs hunched. Kirishima’s about a hair away from him.

Bakugou looks up and finds Kirishima doing the same. After a second passes, their mouths turn into tooth-baring grins, Kirishima’s a reflection of how awesome he found this, probably, and his own more like a savage smirk.

“I...never thought…I’d say this…” Kirishima pants, “but this...was fucking incredible.”

Bakugou’s smirk widens. “Fuck yeah it was.”

He’s about to add another witty comment when he hears heavy footsteps close by. His smirk turns into a grimace, and Kirishima’s face falls.

“Bakugou, we’re trapped here—”

“Shhh.” Bakugou goes deathly quiet and inwardly sighs in relief when Kirishima apes him. He listens carefully for the footsteps again, ears straining and catching a gruff voice,

“I don’t give a shit that they haven’t done anything, find them!”

It’s definitely one of the guards. He yanks Kirishima’s sleeve again to yank them even deeper into the alley. But unfortunately, and it’s a struggle to keep quiet and not start cussing, it just gets more and more narrow the farther in it goes. He looks to the aperture again, voices getting dangerously close again. He’s fairly certain they won’t even notice the alley, but this entire thing is still much too uncontrolled for his tastes.

Less than half a minute later, he sees three royal guard uniforms pass by in a red-grey-gold blur and exhales in relief.

As he turns his head around, though, he realizes his chest is flush with Kirishima’s. He’s much too dignified to gasp from the shock, but his head does shake a bit.

They’re panting again, this time from the anxiety. His own natural response was to fight, but he’s smart enough to recognize when he should opt for tactical retreat instead. Plus...loath as he is to admit it, getting Kirishima in trouble was the last thing he wanted to do.

Kirishima’s pupils are dilated, black ink pushing scarlet blood out. Kirishima’s looking at him, and his stare is even more intense than Deku’s.

Bakugou stares right back, even though he has no idea what’s going on in Kirishima’s head right now. Frankly, he’s not too sure about what’s going on in his own head.

His heart, however, beats wildly, sounds like the hooves of a horse that’s gone crazy and is trampling everything in its path. The adrenaline in his system has gone haywire, from the guards chasing them in the first place, to the frenzied running, everything has resulted in an imbalanced restlessness.

His worry had skyrocketed when he heard the guards, both times, he contemplates, still holding Kirishima’s stare. It might be every man for himself, and Kirishima as a royal guard should be more than capable of handling himself, but...going to the soup kitchens had been his idea. He, no matter how bitter a taste it left in his mouth, was at least partly responsible for Kirishima.

He focuses his attention in front of him, to Kirishima still looking him, expression indecipherable. His eyebrows lift up in annoyance, and he rasps, “What?”

And then Kirishima kisses him.

The world comes to a grinding halt for a second, and all that Bakugou registers is Kirishima’s lips on his own and their chests pushed together in the confined space. He’s stunned for a second, both by Kirishima’s boldness —ballsyness, now that he thinks about it— and by how nice it feels.

Kirishima’s lips stop moving after a few seconds, and their warmth leaves Bakugou’s mouth. He opens his eyes to see Kirishima has pulled back, staring at him again, this time with an expression that could be described as either shocked or horrified.

Bakugou scowls. “The fuck did you stop for, coward?” he scoffs, then pulls Kirishima closer, smiling as he initiates another kiss.

Todoroki can’t remember a time where he’s felt as clueless as he does now. He’s surrounded by gaggles of children, their ages ranging from as young as four or five, he guesses, to fourteen or fifteen, already showing signs of entering puberty. Most of them are tugging at or admiring his cloak, and let out interjections that betray their fascination.

Midoriya must notice his puzzlement, because he leans close to him and whispers, “Remember, these kids grew up digging for food from the garbage. Most of them have never touched something as luxurious.”

Todoroki swallows the bitter taste in his mouth. He unclasps the cloak and proffers them to the kids, who all look at him with no small sense of wonder.

“Do you want to get a better look at it?” As they all give him enthusiastic nods, he slides the cloth from over his shoulder and gives it to the child closest to him —a girl, no more than eight, who had been hugging his right leg just moments prior.

He turns his head to the side only to find Midoriya staring at him, with a pensive expression.

“What?” he asks, self-consciousness stirring in his stomach. Should he not have done that?

“Nothing,” Midoriya replies, the corners of his lips pulling up to form an intrigued smile, which does absolutely nothing to dispel Todoroki’s confusion.

Hagakure Tooru, the head of the orphanage, finds them a minute later and offers to give “a tour for the newcomer”. She’s wearing a scroungy light blue dress, the fabric looking coarse as unprocessed wool, and her chocolate brown hair has started forming knots.

Still, none of that seems to bother her —in fact, she doesn’t even seem to take notice of it— as she guides them around the various rooms, holding a sleeping toddler against her chest with one arm. Occasionally, kids come to ask about food, about sleep, and she gives them a gentle pat on the head before answering, never losing her smile.

The three of them settle in the kitchen eventually, and she begins preparing the food. “So, what brings you here?”

“I…” Todoroki hesitates. He sneaks a glance at Midoriya while Hagakure has her back turned. “I’ve spent my life rather...sheltered, and Midoriya thought it’d be good for me to come here and see how you live.”

She hums, and Todoroki wonders if he’s misstepped.

“Do you want me to help with the food?” Midoriya asks. She waves a hand.

“Nonsense. It’s just soup.”

“Yeah, but you do everything around here.”

She turns around and rolls her eyes, then carefully hands the toddler to Midoriya. “Make sure he doesn’t wake up, then. That’s help enough.” She fixes her eyes on Todoroki, but her gaze is more curious than accusing. “As for you, this is a rather interesting situation. Most of your ilk would be too disgusted to even think about stepping foot in here.”

“My...ilk?”

She laughs soundlessly, eyes darting to the sleeping boy. “You’re royalty. Or,” she amends, going back to the vegetables, “at least nobility. I could tell as soon as you walked in here.”

Todoroki looks to the worn-down wooden floor. “What gave it away?”

“Please. Your clothes are particularly well-made. Maybe you could afford those even if you were below nobility when All Might was our King, but those ages are no more. Plus, you have this...air around you. Your aura is just a step below imperious.”

Midoriya snorts. Hagakure shoots him a glare. “This little one got no sleep last night due to high fever. There’s a reason I want him to rest.

“Sorry.”

“And you,” she points the knife’s tip at Todoroki without even turning to him, “you walk in a room and it’s crystal clear that you command it. Or at the very least, you’re used to commanding it.”

Todoroki resists the urge to bite his lip. “Um,” he says instead, mentally cursing his lack of eloquence, “I brought these.” He slips both rings off his finger and leaves them on table. “Thought they would help with the expenses here.”

Hagakure turns around lightning fast, coming closer to examine them. She grabs the plain one, and Midoriya takes the one with the leaf design, squinting at it.

“Is this pure gold?” Hagakure asks, voice trembling. Midoriya bites the ring, then shrugs.

“It doesn't seem fake.”

“Yes, both are pure gold,” Todoroki asks, feeling as if he’s naked under their scrutinizing gazes.

Midoriya turns to Hagakure. “Should I give them to Shinsou first?”

“If you could, yeah. But each of those could last us for over a month.” She lowers her head to Todoroki. “Thank you.”

Todoroki nearly squirms in his seat. “It's…” nothing, he was gonna say, but this clearly means everything for the orphanage. “I’m glad I could be of help.”

“You should bring him over more often, Midoriya. Helpful, sweet, doesn't talk much, not to mention handsome.” She throws a wink at Midoriya, whose ears turn red.

“I’m not—”

“Yeah, yeah, you're not, I know,” she dismisses. Todoroki tries to stop biting down on the inside of his cheek. “You two gonna stay long?”

Midoriya hums, apparently relieved from the change of subject. “Eh. I'd like to play a bit with the kids. How's Eri doing?”

“Better now that her dad's gone.”

At Todoroki’s inquisitive glace, Midoriya mouths I'll explain later.

“Good,” he replies. “After that, I’d like to show His G— him a bit of the town, if he agrees.”

Midoriya fixes his gaze on him and raises his eyebrows.

Todoroki shrugs. “Sure.”

“Wow, Bakugou, you can cook!”

“Tch,” Bakugou hisses. He’s cutting up the vegetable with a combination of speed and dexterity that’s astounding. “We have to fend for ourselves, no one prepares our meals. Of course I can fucking cook.”

“I mean, it makes sense when you put it like that, but you look like you’d be terrible in the kitchen.”

Bakugout turns his head to face him, still chopping, and Kirishima is pretty sure he catches a glint in his eyes.

“Keep saying shit like that while I’m holding the knife, that’s gonna end well for you.”

“Fine, fine. You’re so sensitive,” Kirishima sighs dramatically.

“Who the fuck did you just call sensitive—”

“Bakugou, I don’t pay you to be here to pick fights,” a voice whines, and a moment later, the woman running the place —Kirishima assumes— steps out. She’s short, but definitely eye-catching, with her impossibly deep, brown, almost black eyes and bubblegum pink hair. Kirishima wonders what she uses to dye it. He could use some of it to make his own colour more vibrant.

“Correction,” Bakugou growls, “you don’t pay me at all. I volunteer here.”

“Because you’re nice like that?” She mocks, and Kirishima cackles at that.

“You’re both fucking idiots.”

The woman pretends to wipe a tear from her eye and turns to Kirishima.

“I’m Ashido Mina, the woman in charge here.” She extends her hand to him.

“Kirishima Eijirou,” he says and wow, does Ashido give him a strong handshake.

“So,” she says, voice turning into a lilt, “Bakugou’s never come in here with anyone else, except his friends.”

“Those fuckfaces are not my friends.”

“Of course not.” She rolls her eyes and looks at Kirishima, as if saying Can you believe this guy? “So, how come you’re here?”

“Uuuh…” Kirishima stutters, and winces as Ashido claps her hands.

“Oh my god, I know, are you his boyfriend?!”

Bakugou chokes. On what, Kirishima isn’t sure, but his own ears are going horribly red.

“Shut up, Black-Eyes!”

Ashido covers her mouth with her hands. “Oh, whoops. Not at that stage yet?” She doesn’t wait for an answer before saying, “Well, kudos to you for sticking around and putting up with his bullshit for this long, apparently.”

This time, Bakugou punches her arm with no small amount of force, Kirishima notes, but she barely winces before shoving Bakugou’s shoulder back.

“Asshole.”

“Dumbass.” He glares at her, then rolls his eyes and turns to face Kirishima instead. “And you, Shitty-Hair! Are you gonna help out here or not? I didn’t bring you here to sit around!”

“Bossy as always,” Ashido mutters and deftly avoids the subsequent elbow jab. Kirishima runs a hand through his hair.

“I, actually, I didn’t—”

“It wasn’t a question, idiot. Grab a knife and get over here.”

Kirishima blinks, a bit stunned. “Okay.”

The day is nearing sundown when Midoriya and Todoroki bid everyone in the orphanage goodbye, Hagakure calling out “Do bring him again!”

He laughs at her enthusiasm. Todoroki is quiet as usual, but he seems like he’s enjoyed this, more or less. His cloak is a bit creased due to the kids’ handling it, but he hasn’t really spared a glance at it.

Midoriya extends his hand. “Come on. I think you should be going back.”

“Mm.” Todoroki hums. “How unfortunate.”

He raises his eyebrows, curiosity causing him to ask, “You don’t want to go back?”

“I…” Todoroki starts, then stops, averting his gaze to look at the cobblestone. “I don’t— this must sound ungrateful.”

“I’d still like to hear it.”

Todoroki sighs. “I would have been mad if I had any complaints about my bed, my food, the warmth, anything like that the palace has to offer. It’s even better than back home.”

Midoriya startles for a moment, remembers that since Todoroki is his age, he only moved here about two years ago. He stands out among the commoners because he’s royalty, but his accent carries very little difference to a native Yuueian’s —to Midoriya’s own accent.

“But...I don’t know anything about Yuuei. Not really,” he shrugs. “We have tomes’ worth of history regarding Yuuei, but the ones available to me are the ones my father approves of. And I don’t particularly trust his brand of historical accuracy,” he adds wryly, which gets a smile from Midoriya. “Even if you go past the formalities —history, politics, art— I am, as you put it, sheltered. I don’t— you saw me when we were at the spices’ corner. My point is,” Todoroki exhales, visibly frustrated, “I’m trapped, both mentally and physically. Of course, it’s a cage made of gold, and I don’t think I’ve ever suffered a tenth than many Yuueians, but…” his eyes wander to the merchants and the civilians milling around, finishing up their shopping, “there’s a relative freedom I’ll never get to have.”

He mulls over Todoroki’s words for a while, trying to organize his thoughts in a coherent sequence.

“I think it’s something complex,” he starts slowly, frowning. “And, if you’ll allow me to be so bold, judging by your scar, you must have suffered quite a bit in the past.”

Todoroki blinks and his eyes bore into Midoriya’s, as if he hadn’t expected him to bring it up so blatantly —or at all, maybe— but he doesn’t reprimand him. He looks rather surprised instead.

“Unless you were too young to remember it?” Midoriya asks.

Todoroki swallows, then turns his head to stare at the horizon. His smile is bitter, with jagged edges. “No,” he says, sounding like he’s a million miles away, “I remember it just fine.”

He doesn’t elaborate, so Midoriya doesn’t press.

“But I think you’re entitled to feeling how you feel,” he muses. “Not being in control of your own life must be...jarring, especially when you’re so close to power.”

Todoroki doesn’t answer, so they keep walking, the mundane chattering around them filling the silence. Their shoulders brush, and Midoriya thinks about pulling away, but Todoroki’s face stays blank.

Eventually, they reach the square; not the one across the palace —no one would dare commence what’s happening now, Midoriya thinks. No, this square is at the epicenter of the city.

A man, maybe in his late twenties, is standing in a podium. They’re pretty far from him, but Midoriya doesn’t recognize him. His clothes betray he’s a commoner, yet it’s evident even from a few seconds of listening that he knows how to talk —or at least he knows how to unfold his rhetoric and captivate his audience.

“—and for far too long has this scum stayed in our kingdom, taking advantage of us, stealing our riches, plunging this country into despair!”

The crowd gathered around him cheers. Todoroki frowns —he noticed him, too— then turns to Midoriya.

“What’s all this about?”

His upbringing is evident, then, not in his accent, but in his tone. If Midoriya didn’t know Todoroki and viewed him as just another member of the royal class, it definitely would have registered as haughty, pompous, in his ears.

As it is, he understands it for what it is —annoyance, because this is yet another unfamiliar territory for the Prince, and a mild anxiety. Midoriya can’t really blame him.

“It happens, sometimes. Around the evening, people gather here to share their grievances usually. Many rhetors like to speak to the public, and things usually take a turn against the King.”

He points to the road exiting the square that’s closest to them. “Occasionally, they might get dangerous, but,” he says sharply, looking at Todoroki in a warning manner, “that’s not the people’s fault.” He takes Todoroki’s hand and starts walking, pulling him suit. “The King sends his guards here, supposedly to keep the order. More often than not, they do just the opposite, and skirmishes between them and the civilians occur. Most of the times, the crowd dissolves before someone gets seriously injured —or worse.”

He lets the statement hang, lets its full gravitas get to Todoroki. Behind them, the orator goes on about how both the royalty and the nobility are “...like leeches, I say! Worse, even! They suck everything out of us and we get no benefits!”

The crowd cheers again and well, Midoriya thinks, he’s not particularly wrong. Todoroki stays quiet, but when the reach the street that will lead them out, he freezes. It’s easy to understand why.

“And don’t think I’m letting anyone off the hook! The Prince, I’ve heard people say, is innocent!”

Midoriya freezes too. Oh no.

“How can he be innocent, I ask you, when he does the same as his father? The same as all royals. Oh he’s just a kid, you say. Maybe he was but a teen when he set foot in our land with his scum of a father, but this brat is nearly of eighteen years of age! Listen, listen, his birthday is even nearing! How can he be innocent when he lives off of my back? Off of your back?!” He points to someone in the crowd, and yells erupt again. Midoriya knows the air of the crowd has shifted, and Todoroki must realize it too. “And if he really cared for us poor souls, well why doesn’t he tell his dear ol’ daddy to back off, hmm? Is he too much of a coward to stand up to authority, someone of his status?”

Todoroki is frozen in place, chest barely moving. His eyes are clear —too clear. “I…” He looks lost, the royal offspring dressed in his aquamarine cloak, head held high despite everything and exuding a kingly aura, at the edge of a mob of people nothing like him —and who now would probably like nothing more than to tear him apart.

“Let’s go,” Midoriya hisses, grabbing his hand again. “We can’t stay here anymore. If anyone here recognizes you, we’ll be in big trouble.”

Todoroki nods numbly and fortunately lets Midoriya drag him through the most remote and narrow streets, the chants of the crowd gradually fading behind them.

After stopping, Midoriya lets a minute of silence between them pass, then two.

“Are you alright?” he asks carefully. “I had no idea this would happen today, and as far as I can remember, no one’s ever been as aggressive toward you specifically in the past.”

“I’m fine,” Todoroki snaps, then winces. “...Sorry. It’s just...he’s right, you know.”

Midoriya shakes his head violently. “No. Your father’s the one pulling the strings. Stop blaming yourself.”

“I could stand up to him more,” Todoroki argues. “I could…” He stops, and Midoriya sees the faint dimple that betrays Todoroki’s biting his cheek.

“What?” he asks after Todoroki gives no indication of continuing.

Todoroki checks around them, scowling. He stays silent, and Midoriya thinks he’s not gonna get an answer after all, when Todoroki whispers, “Not here. I’ll tell you in my chambers.”

He tells Midoriya the plan —he’ll meet up with Kirishima, who’s bound to be waiting for him outside, and then distract the guards stationed at the southeast side of the castle so that Midoriya can climb up, much like he did the previous time.

“Then I’ll open the window from the inside and let you in,” Todoroki finishes. “Is that okay?”

Midoriya thinks how scratched up his hands were after the previous time. “Perfect,” he responds weakly.

As soon as Todoroki opens the window and he gets inside, Midoriya breathes a sigh of relief. He’s done plenty things more dangerous than this, but that doesn’t mean it stops being nerve-wracking.

The air in the room is crackling with electricity, he thinks. Or it could just be his anticipation, because Todoroki’s refusal to talk has piqued his curiosity.

“So?” he asks. “What is it that you wanted to say?”

Todoroki regards him for a long while, eyes guarded. He looks like he’s hefting the risk, but not like he’s expecting Midoriya to attack him. More like measuring what Midoriya’s reaction will be.

“Sit.” Todoroki’s voice sounds tired as he gestures to the bed. Midoriya obliges, and Todoroki settles next to him.

“I’m the youngest of four children,” he begins, and Midoriya nods, though he has heard only whispers about the older Todoroki siblings. “Fuyumi, my sister, is the second child and my father’s only daughter. Currently, she’s in Endeavor, acting more or less like a ruler. I have to say, she’s significantly more benevolent than my father. Natsuo is the third child, and he’s back in Endeavor as well. He’s focusing on his studies, mostly.”

Midoriya feels as if he shouldn’t ask. “And your eldest brother? Where is he?”

Todoroki huffs a dry laugh. “We don’t know. There’s rumours that he’s hiding in the Usagiyama kingdom, but nothing solid.”

“Hiding?”

“Touya escaped when he was a little younger than I am now. According to the way things are right now, he’s a fugitive. There’s even a reward for anyone who finds him, back in Endeavor.”

Midoriya stays quiet.

“Midoriya, can I ask you something? Haven’t you ever wondered where my mother is?”

Midoriya loses the ground beneath him. What is he insinuating…?

“And don’t you wonder, now,” Todoroki continues, undeterred by his silence, “why my brother escaped?”

Midoriya tries to swallow.

“My father married her because she was the heir to the throne in Endeavor, not him. She’s of royal blood. And the reason he had me and my siblings is because he wants someone perfect to inherit his throne. Yuuei is, unfortunately, only the first step to his plan. He wants to create an empire that spans the entire continent, for him or me to be the ultimate ruler. Touya was originally meant for that role, but according to my father he had a “weak personality”.” He gestures with his hands. “Too much like his mother, he told me once. Fuyumi he deemed good, but not good enough. Maybe to rule over Endeavor temporarily, but definitely not enough to rule the entire empire he plans to build. Natsuo…” He smiles, slightly amused, “Natsuo could have worked, actually. He has a very strong personality, but that’s also why he bucked with an incredible force once father tried to prepare him to assume a respective position. He threatened father he’d leave, too. Father told him he wouldn’t dare, but something in him shook, because he let the matter drop.”

“And thus, it has to be you,” Midoriya realizes.

“And thus, it has to be me,” Todoroki repeats. “But this is barely a scandal.” His voice turns ice cold. “Wanna know how I got this scar?”

Midoriya is too scared to reply.

“My father is a horrible, horrible person. Not just when it comes to caring for his subjects, but when it comes to caring for his family as well. My mother has suffered so much in his hands. We were sparring once, when I was maybe three, and he punched my stomach so hard I puked immediately. When my mother begged him to stop, he slapped her so hard she bled.”

“My mother started going mad from everything she endured. One night, she was boiling water to make tea. I think she wanted to calm herself. She was writing a letter I learnt later was addressed to her mother. I was four years old at that time. There was a thunderstorm,” he reminisces, frowning, “and it woke me up. I was scared, I think, so I went to her. I don’t know if she really registered it was me. I think she might have thought I was a vision, a hallucination meant to haunt her. Whatever the case, she whispered “You look so much like him”. The next thing I remember is boiling water being poured over my left eye.”

Midoriya gasps softly, unable to contain his horror. He knows, objectively, that the King is a monster. Anyone who actively perpetuates the suffering of millions is a monster. Yet, to think that there wasn’t a shred of humanity left in him, even back then, to think he’d abuse his own family like that…

“I remember that, someone calling for the physicians of the castle, and my mother lying on the floor, deathly still. My father hit her, in his rage. She’d ruined his masterpiece,” he whispers. Then he takes in Midoriya’s expression. “She’s not dead,” he adds softly. “That’s why I talked about her in present tense.”

“That’s not why this is horrible,” Midoriya answers.

“You’re right.” Todoroki inclines his head. “But after that, my father locked my mom in the Endeavorian castle’s dungeons. Ever since we came here and he realized, not without raging about it, that this castle has no dungeons, he locked her in the west tower. She’s always heavily guarded.” He swallows hard. His voice comes down to a whisper, “I haven’t seen her since the day she scarred me.” Then, he seems to notice his stance, how he’s pulled his knees to his chest, how he’s close to trembling. He clears his throat. His lip wobbles.

“So now you know,” he finishes. “How broken the Prince truly is.” His voice is a breath away from a sob.

Midoriya isn’t too sure about what he should do. This —the Prince being a few seconds away from breaking down— is something entirely out of his league. But, he can’t just stand next to him mute like a statue.

So, he hugs Todoroki as hard as he can.

Todoroki’s breath jumps from the startle —or maybe from the force exerted on his ribs— and stays still for a moment. Then, hesitantly, he wraps his arms around Midoriya, and then hugs back all at once with equal, if not more, force.

They stay like that for a while, low inhales and exhales filling the room. Todoroki’s fingers grip the back of Midoriya’s shirt, and Midoriya rubs Todoroki’s back in return, trying to soothe him as much as he can.

“Thank you for telling me. Thank you for trusting me with this,” he whispers in Todoroki’s ears. “None of it was your fault. None of this is your fault.” Todoroki relaxes against him, so he pulls back. “And listen to me now,” he says. He takes Todoroki’s face in his hands, cradling it. His hands are calloused and probably scratch against Todoroki’s cheeks, but he tries his best to be as gentle as possible.

“Todoroki Shouto, you are not your father.”

Todoroki gasps and looks at Midoriya like he’s drowning.

“You are your own person,” Midoriya barrels on. “And when you become King, you will right all the wrongs your father has done. You will not live in his shadow and by his rules forever. You will build your own legacy.”

Midoriya doesn’t think he’s ever had another person look at him as intensely, as desperately as Todoroki is at this moment. They’re both devoid of movement for a moment, suspended in time, faces so close they can feel the other’s warm breath.

And then their ears pick up voices headed to them, and the moment, brittle as it was, shatters into a million little pieces.

Todoroki blanches. “My father,” he chokes. He’s right. Midoriya recognizes the King’s voice.

They rush to the window, but after Midoriya pulls it three times and it doesn’t budge, they realize it’s stuck.

He turns to look at Todoroki, stomach dropping. Todoroki looks horrified, like he’s seconds away from puking. Midoriya looks around the room, desperate for a place to hide. The curtains are translucent, he’d be discovered at sight; there’s stuff hidden underneath the bed; and it’d look suspicious if the bathroom door was closed with the Prince outside of the bathroom.

His eyes fall on the bed —or rather, above it. The columns of the bed nearly reach the ceiling, and if he holds out for enough time…

“What are you doing?” Todoroki blurts out as he sees Midoriya running to the bed. Midoriya ignores him and clambers up the posts. There’s horizontal beams in the ceiling —some weird Endeavorian design, maybe, but Midoriya is just grateful they’re there— and Midoriya manages to align his body with the ceiling, feet hooked in the space between a beam and the ceiling and hands holding onto another beam.

Todoroki’s amazed gaze snaps from him to the door, which opens exactly as Midoriya’s settled.

“Father. What is the matter?” Todoroki’s voice is impressively calm.

“Shouto.” King Enji nods sharply. “I heard whispers, so I decided to come up to see what the matter was.”

Todoroki raises an eyebrow. “Whispers? I was just reminding myself some things I need to do tomorrow.”

“Hmm.” King Enji goes around the room, inspecting it carefully. He spares a glance to the bathroom, too. Midoriya’s heart is going haywire in his chest and he’s trying to get it to calm down because he swears, it’s so loud the King will hear it. “I haven’t known you to be forgetful, Shouto.”

“Well, today was rather tiring. Which is also why I’d like to sleep soon,” Todoroki says with a bite.

“And yet you’re not even in your nightclothes.”

“I was getting to that before you decided to barge in.”

“Quiet, boy.” The King finishes his inspection, expression as sour as if he’d just bitten into a lemon. “Well, I guess you’re free to go to bed. Get a good night’s sleep at least, because tomorrow you’ll have to be at the council.” He leaves without another word.

Midoriya waits a full minute after the door’s clicked shut, just in case the King decides to come back. He jumps down, silent as a cat, while Todoroki fixes him with an unnerving gaze.

“That was impressive,” he murmurs voice so low Midoriya barely catches the words.

“Thanks. I…”

“You have to go,” Todoroki guesses. “You’re right; it’s getting rather late.”

“Hey,” Midoriya says, drawing closer to Todoroki. “I meant what I said.”

Todoroki smiles; it’s small, but genuine. “I know you did. Thank you.”

He pulls away and begins rummaging in a drawer. His smile changes into a smirk as he pulls out a heavy ruby pendant. He brandishes it at Midoriya.

“This is really heavy,” he emphasizes. “It’s definitely gonna make a sound if it were to drop. Even in grass.”

Midoriya eyes it. It does look heavy. The ruby is the size of a small egg. “And how would it drop, huh?”

“Well, maybe a jay saw it glinting, stole it and then accidentally dropped it. Who knows?” Todoroki shrugs slyly.

“Jays are not nocturnal, I think.”

Todoroki snorts. “Yeah, like the guards know the difference. C’mon, let’s get this damn window unstuck.”

When they manage to get it open, Midoriya grabs Todoroki’s wrist, ready to throw the pendant, signalling him to wait.

“What?”

“Todoroki?”

“Yeah?”

Midoriya looks at the floor, gathering his courage. There’s a beat of silence, and then, “Goodnight,” he says.

Todoroki replies, “Goodnight, Midoriya. Sweet dreams.”

And so Midoriya makes his escape down the castle’s walls, heart pounding in his ears. He resolutely doesn’t think at all about how, instead of saying goodnight, he had wanted to press his lips against Todoroki’s.