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An Issue of Heart

Chapter Text

Toshinori’s body hit the ground with a dull, quiet thud.

The soldiers had backed away, a ring of blood and muck surrounding the two warriors as the Kingsmen cheered and roared for the infamous hero. The wizard’s army was as deathly silent as they always were, dead eyes barely flicking to the fight before them, held back by the king’s soldiers.

Toshinori wasn’t getting back up. The others hadn’t noticed it yet, but Izuku did. He gripped his sword tighter, praying...begging for his master to get back to his feet.

A low, ominous chuckle resonated from the black-cloaked wizard. “You’ve gotten weaker, All Might,” he mused, “I’ve had my fun with you. I believe it’s your time now.” Red and black swirled around the wizard’s hands and up his forearm, his face was hooded but it was all too clear where he was looking.

Izuku was moving before he realized it, shield thrown aside as he ran to Toshinori’s side. “No!” He roared, and then he saw Toshinori turn his head, fear etched into his gaunt features. It looked like he had said something but Izuku was running on pure adrenaline and couldn’t hear him. He had barely positioned himself in front of his master when the attack meant for him hit Izuku full force. He screamed; it felt like his body was ripping apart, like his breath was being sucked out through his pores and then he fell, consciousness slipping away as the battlefield roared to life around him and his fallen master once again.

Chapter Text

It had been two months since The Battle for All and not a whole lot in Izuku’s life had changed - he still worked alongside his squadron, he still went home to see his mom once a month, he still fought and trained and surpassed whoever he needed to to be the number one. Toshinori didn’t pass his incredible power on to Izuku for nothing, after all.

It was a warm spring day, a cool breeze managing to keep them cool through their sparring uniforms as Izuku and Ochako collected their things and left the training field to the next group of Kingsmen that had reserved the area for the afternoon.

“Hey, Izuku,” Ochako hummed, setting her staff aside once they were outside the gate and wiping sweat from her forehead. They had just finished sparring and Izuku was eager to get back to his notes to adjust what he knew of Ochako’s magic.

“Yeah?” he asked, stretching his arms up over his head to release the tension in his muscles. Izuku had met Ochako the day he began knight training and the pair had become fast friends. It had been a whirlwind of too much and a thrilling excitement to know more at the time, particularly because Izuku didn’t have many friends to speak of. There was Katsuki but, well...their relationship was strained at best these days.

Ochako leaned against the fence post, watching as the next sparring match begin, her clever brown eyes trained on the fight, though Izuku could tell her attention was on him. “Are you okay?” she asked, tone heavy after the laughter and light-heartedness of their spar.

Frowning, Izuku leaned against the wooden rail and watched as Monoma’s squadron took the field for practice. “Sure,” he said, confused as to why she asked. “I mean, I’m worried about Master Yagi but other than that I’m fine.”

There was a crease to Ochako’s brow and she pursed her lips as she watched Kendo and Tetsutetsu take their places. “If you’re sure,” she said, sounding rather unsure herself. Izuku smiled and gently bumped her shoulder and she finally tore her eyes off of the other squad to look at him.

“Everything’s fine, Ochako!” he insisted, giving her a bright smile. “But, ah...why do you ask?” It wasn’t uncommon for Ochako to be concerned for Izuku (especially not with the amount of time he spent with the healers when he first joined the King’s Guard), but this level of intense concern did worry him a bit.

Ochako happily returned Izuku’s smile, though it didn’t quite reach her eyes. “I’m not sure, you’ve just seemed a bit...off recently, I guess. I dunno, if you say you’re okay then I trust you, Izuku! Just don’t overwork yourself, alright?” And with that the brunette reached up and pinched Izuku’s cheeks, pulling at them as he whined and laughed.

They spent a few minutes observing Kendo and Tetsutetsu’s fight before packing their things and heading back towards the barracks. Izuku was quieter than usual, his own thoughts turned inward as they walked. He had felt different recently but hadn’t been able to put his finger quite on why he felt like that. Honestly, he just figured it was the change in the seasons and hadn’t let it bother him too much.

But if other people are noticing it as well… Maybe this was something he should talk to Toshinori about.

“I’m gonna go ahead,” Ochako announced, dragging Izuku’s attention to the present and he took a moment to realize where they were before nodding at her.

“Oh, yeah! Thanks for sparring with me, it’s always so great to see how you’ve improved your magic,” Izuku said brightly, raising a hand to wave as Ochako walked back towards their section of the barracks. Izuku turned to look up at the horse stable Ochako had walked him to. Really, he would have preferred to go get his riding leathers and clean up a bit, but their training had dragged on a bit longer than planned and Izuku knew he’d end up being late if he went all the way back to the barracks. With a sigh, Izuku ran his hand through his messy hair and shouldered his way into the stables.

The stables were almost always quiet and Izuku was thankful for that. He loved his squad and he enjoyed watching others spar and learning from them, but all of that could get overwhelming after a while. Even if it hadn’t been particularly overwhelming recently.

There were a few stable hands wandering, taking care of the horses and tack, but no one spoke to Izuku. He was too familiar a face for people to ask what it was that he needed.

“Hey there, Kori,” Izuku hummed as he reached the back of the stable. The white stallion lifted his head at the intruder and turned a steely blue eye towards Izuku. “Your master isn’t here yet? Huh, he must be held up. Lemme get Hana ready and I’ll set you up after.” He reached over the gate keeping Kori in his stall and let the horse nudge at his hand before he pet his nose.

“Is the Prince planning an outing, Sir Midoriya?” asked a small voice. When Izuku turned he smiled at the girl standing there, muck and hay covering her boots and pants, a smear of dirt on her face and her fiery orange hair tied back in a messy bun.

“He is,” Izuku nodded. He was positive he’d never get used to being called ‘Sir’, just the recognition that he is a knight still floored him, and he’d been in the King’s Guard for four years now.

The girl grinned brightly and rushed to get Kori’s saddle blanket and tack. “I’ll set Kori here up for you, Sir Midoriya. Hana’ll be so happy to see you, she’s been so antsy lately!” Izuku smiled after the girl then wandered down a few stalls to find Hana. The chestnut mare had spotted Izuku on his way over and was at the gate, snorting and stomping at him as he approached.

“Hey, baby,” Izuku cooed, plucking a handful of oats from the nearby stores and offering them to his horse. Hana snorted at him and greedily ate the offered treats. “It’s been a while, I know. Sorry. Thing’s have been weird for a couple of weeks.” He gently pet her neck with his free hand and ran his fingers through her mane.

The horse had been a gift from Toshinori when he completed his knight training and was accepted into the King’s Guard, and though she was older than some of the other knights’ steeds, she got along well with people and other animals and was a force to be reckoned with on the battlefield.

After making his apologies to Hana by means of treats and soft words, Izuku set to getting her ready for their ride. He’d only just finished strapping Hana’s bridle on when his horse snorted and her chocolate eyes flicked to the door to her stall. Izuku ran his fingers through her mane again and when he turned he grinned brightly.

“Shou!” he said, patting Hana once more before walking over to the prince. Shouto’s mouth quirked up at the corner and his eyes crinkled in amusement.

“You stink, Izuku. Did you come here right after training?” Ever the blunt one, Shouto stood upright, looking almost out of place in his elegant riding clothes amongst the dirt and muck of the stables.

Izuku laughed and rubbed at the back of his head, a familiar nervous movement. “Yeah,” he said sheepishly, “Ochako and I were sparring and lost track of time. If I’d gone back to clean up and change into my riding clothes I’d have been super late.”

Shouto shrugged and gently nudged Izuku’s shoulder with his own. “It’s fine. The horses probably smell worse than you.” As if she had heard him, Hana snorted loudly and stomped a hoof impatiently. Izuku turned and grinned at her before looking back to Shouto.

“Kori should be good to go. You ready?” he asked, smiling brightly up at his friend and prince. Shouto hummed softly and nodded.

Ten minutes later had the pair of them riding hard down well-worn trails through the palace gardens and towards the forest. Izuku grinned and glanced to Shouto. The usually-reserved prince was smiling brightly, the wind whipping his hair back as they thundered down the path. Once they reached the treeline they slowed their pace to a walk and simply enjoyed the quiet of the forest together.

It wasn’t often the King allowed his son out of duties long enough for he and Izuku to spend much of any time together, so it was a treat to be able to see Shouto today. “So why’d the King let you have so much time off?” Izuku asked, letting the reins slack and giving Hana more freedom to move as they walked. She’d stay on the path, but he didn’t mind if she slowed to nibble on grass or flowers here or there.

Shouto was quiet for a moment, looking ahead at the soft midday sunlight as it filtered in through the trees above. “He’s been looking to find me a bride,” Shouto finally said, his tone calm but Izuku saw how he tightened his grip on his reigns.

Oh no. Izuku grimaced and absently plucked at Hana’s mane to braid a few strands together to give his hands something to do.

“I take it you haven’t told him about Momo yet?” Izuku asked.

Shouto and Momo - another of Izuku’s squadmates - had hit it off two years ago when Izuku introduced her during a formal event. If he had been anyone else it may have been hard to tell how smitten Shouto immediately was with her, but Izuku knew the moment Shouto’s eyes widened a bit too much, how he reached for her hand more tenderly than he had anyone else’s that night.

“No,” Shouto grunted, looking away to fiddle with the hem of his sleeve, plucking at the delicate embroidery. “He’ll tell me no and possibly have her sent to work with another squadron. I can’t do that to her, not when she’s so happy with you all.”

With a sigh, Izuku reached over and placed a hand on Shouto’s shoulder, gently shoving him so he wobbled in his seat and turned to look at his green-haired friend.

“What isn’t fair is that you two love each other, Shou,” Izuku told him. “And your dad standing in the way of that is bullshit.”

Shouto’s eyebrows rose ever so slowly. “Yes,” he agreed, “It is bullshit. But he’s looking to make a political alliance, though I don’t know why. With the Shadow Wizard still out there all of the kingdoms are united until he’s destroyed, and who knows how long that’ll be.” Izuku grunted, frowning at the memory of the Shadow Wizard and his Silent Army. It had been the most unnerving battle Izuku had ever taken part of - if the enemy doesn’t yell or jeer during battle it’s unsettling, but what was even worse were the dead-eyed stares from the soldiers they were defending against. How could anyone alive look so...so empty?

“If that’s the case,” Izuku shook the unpleasant memory from his mind and leaned over conspiratorially, grinning mischievously when Shouto finally looked back at him. “Just elope. What’s your dad gonna do then? Force you to divorce your wife? It isn’t like Momo’s from a low-class family, hell she’s the daughter of a powerful dutchess. If anything your marriage to Momo makes almost more sense than to some princess from another kingdom.”

Shouto eyed Izuku for a long moment, then chuckled and shrugged. “Maybe,” he said, looking back ahead of them as Izuku straightened out in his saddle. They rode on quietly for a few minutes more before Shouto spoke up again with an amused grin on his face.

“It would certainly piss him off.”

 

It was nearly an hour before they returned to the stables, laughing and catching up on nearly a month without seeing each other in more than passing. Two stablehands came for their horses as they dismounted, and both knight and prince thanked them as they lead their horses away to be brushed and cleaned.

“Really though,” Izuku said, rolling his shoulders and stretching his legs, “talk to Momo about it. She’s probably more interested in the idea of eloping than you may think.” He winked at the prince who flushed prettily before covering his face with a hand.

“Izuku you can’t say things like that where someone will hear,” he grunted, and Izuku laughed softly, patting his shoulder.

“You’re right! Sorry, sorry!” he said, then, “It’s getting late and I need to run by the market before everything closes up.” Shouto nodded, but there was a crease to his brow that gave Izuku a moment of hesitation before he left.

“Everything okay?” he asked.

Shouto simply looked Izuku over then his face pinched together in a pout. “I’m not sure,” he said after a moment, “I know it’s been nearly a month since we spent any decent amount of time together, but you seemed a bit different today. I’m not sure what it is, exactly. Are you feeling well?”

Well, that was disconcerting.

“You know...Ochako said something similar earlier,” Izuku said with a frown, crossing his arms over his chest. “But yeah, I’m fine. Are you okay?”

Shouto eyed him for another few seconds before shrugging and relaxing back. “My father is a constant stressor, but other than that I’m fine,” he said, lips quirking up into an amused grin as Izuku snorted and rolled his eyes.

Saying their goodbyes, Izuku waved Shouto off before heading into the stables to retrieve his bag he’d left by Hana’s stall earlier. Finding it where he left it, Izuku situated the satchel over his shoulder and turned to make his way home.

“Oiy!”

Or not.

Izuku was intimately familiar with that voice and it belonged to the one person he was pretty sure hated his guts more than anything else in the world.

“Spark-fuck, stop harassin’ the stablegirls an’ get out here!”

“Aw, c’mon, Katsuki, we’re just havin’ a bit of fun!”

“Bullshit you are. Look at her, you idiot, she’s only smilin’ ‘cause she doesn’t wanna piss you off. Do you know how much fuckin’ shit these girls deal with on a daily fuckin’ basis? They don’t need your static-clingy ass to bug ‘em all day!”

Izuku peeked around the corner to watch as one spiky-haired blond hauled another blond man away from the redhead that had helped Izuku earlier. The girl seemed tense and nervous, wide eyes darting between the two men.

“Apologize,” the spikey blond said, hauling the other forward and onto his knees in front of the girl. “Ain’t gonna have any one of you fucks on my squadron givin’ us a bad name.” Izuku sighed softly, grinning despite himself. Katsuki was still as determined as ever, even if it meant manhandling his own squadmates. Probably especially if it meant manhandling his squadmates.

“Sorry,” the other blond said, and now Izuku leaned against the wall, watching as Denki hung his head in defeat. It wasn’t that Denki was a bad person, he was just a flirt who sometimes didn’t pick up on social cues very well. Katsuki released Denki after he apologized then turned to stalk deeper into the stables, only to freeze when crimson eyes met emerald.

Aw hell.

Izuku tensed as those eyes narrowed and Katsuki went from frustrated to seething in a matter of seconds.

“Uh! Hey, Kacchan!” Izuku stood a bit straighter, a bit stiffer and grinned nervously at the other man. Katsuki growled and stormed over.

“The hell are you doin’ here, Deku?” he snapped, and really Izuku found that question to be a bit dumb. This was the stables, every soldier who owned a horse came here.

“I just finished a ride with Shou,” Izuku explained anyway, “I was fixing to head home.” Katsuki leered down at him, then shoved his hands into his pockets and turned away with a quiet ‘tch!’ Izuku relaxed minutely and shrugged his shoulder to re-situate his satchel. Still, Katsuki was blocking the way out and he didn’t particularly want to push past the angrier man in case of setting him off further, so he waited.

And waited.

And waited some more.

It was a long, awkward minute before Katsuki spoke again. “How is he?” his voice was quiet, concerned and his eyes didn’t meet Izuku’s when he looked up in surprise.

There was no doubt in his mind who the ‘he’ in question was.

“He’s okay,” Izuku said softly, “Weak and tired a lot of the time. The healers say it’ll get easier for him to get around in another month or so but he’ll never be able to fight again. The King has asked him to come on as an advisor and war general but he doesn’t know if he wants to accept the honor. I think he’s just tired and wants to spend time in his garden right now.”

The Battle for All had certainly done its fair share of damage to the kingdom, let alone to its strongest protector. Izuku knew how much Toshinori meant to Katsuki, so it would have felt wrong to tell him anything less than the truth, even if their past was a muddled mess of angst and miscommunication and play-fights-turned-real.

Katsuki sagged a bit at that and his eyes still didn’t quite meet Izuku’s when he glanced him over. The blond’s jaw muscles tensed and he swallowed before gritting out through clenched teeth, “Thanks,” and moved past Izuku deeper into the stables leaving the green haired man to stare at his back in confusion as to what the hell had just happened.

Shaking his head, Izuku continued on his way, thanking the stablehands on his way out and headed towards town. The market was easy enough to maneuver through this late in the evening, and even if most of the good wares were gone he still managed to snag a bottle of wine, some fruit and two loaves of bread before turning home.

 

“I’m back, master!” Izuku chimed, pushing open the door to Toshinori’s home and carefully stepping around a pile of weeds that was left out front.

There was an exasperated sigh from one of the bedrooms before a thin, bedraggled man shuffled out. His own blond hair was messy, curls pointing in every direction as if gravity were a joke to it, and despite his hollow and sunken face, his blue eyes were as clear as ever. “I’ve told you, young Midoriya, that you don’t have to call me that anymore. You’re a knight of the King’s Guard.”

Izuku set his bag down on a table near the door as he walked into the kitchen with his things from the market. “I know,” he sighed, “It’s just so weird calling you anything else.”

“Toshinori will do, you know,” the man said as he lifted the bottle of wine from the counter where Izuku had placed it and examined the label.

“Maybe one day,” Izuku hummed, pulling a knife from its holder against the wall to start slicing the bread while Toshinori pulled one of the pears from the small bag beside the wine.

They prepared their meal in companionable silence, occasionally asking for a utensil or to pass food to be prepared. When they were finally settled down to eat they shared the details of their day.

“I didn’t do much,” Toshinori sighed, “The healers came by and assured me as they always do that I’m healing up nicely. After they left I tended to the garden for a few hours - the zucchini are coming in nicely by the way - and then came in to wash up for dinner. How about you, my boy?”

Izuku shrugged, slowly chewing his mouthful of food before swallowing and speaking. “It was just another day. Momo and I went over different battle strategies, then she and Tenya left for their duties at the palace. When they left Ochako and I went to train and afterward I spent some time with Shouto for the first time in a month, which was nice. Tsuyu is still on that search-and-rescue mission by the lake looking for that lord’s son, so we haven’t heard much from her all week. All in all, it was an uneventful day.” With another shrug, Izuku bit into his sandwich.

Toshinori’s gaze, however, never left Izuku as he spoke, a frown sharp on his gaunt face.

“Izuku,” he said slowly, folding his hands together on top of the table, “Are you sure that’s all that happened today?”

Izuku stopped chewing for a moment, staring at Toshinori with all the confusion he could muster. After a moment he swallowed and nodded.

“Yeah, of course. Why?”

“It just isn’t like you to summarize your day so shortly,” he said slowly, as if choosing his words carefully, “Normally you’d tell me every tiny aspect of what happened in your day. And while yes, that can be overwhelming at times, I’ve always enjoyed hearing how excited you are about the goings-on in your life. So I’ll ask again. Are you sure that is all that happened today?”

Uhh…

That was a third time someone had pointed out that he’d been acting weird today.

“I suppose,” he said, setting his sandwich down and looking at the bouquet of wildflowers decorating the center of the table, “Ochako and Shou did say something similar today. That I’m...I dunno, acting a bit off? I don’t really know what that means, but I have felt kind of off lately but I just figured it was, I dunno, the change of season or something.”

When he looked back up Toshinori’s gaze was hard, brows drawn together in concern and hands balled into shaking fists on the table.

“How long have you been feeling off, young Midoriya?” he asked, voice quiet like he didn’t actually want to hear the answer.

Izuku swallowed. It felt like the whole world had gone silent, the birds that had been happily chirping and singing to each other outside were muffled by whatever this was that Izuku was feeling. “Since the battle,” he said softly, “Or well...since I woke up after the battle.”

“Shit,” Toshinori hissed, his head falling into his broad palms before his hands slid into his hair and pulled at the roots. “Young Midoriya why didn’t you tell me about this before?”

Something was wrong? What could it be? Was it-

Oh. Oh god, that attack he took for Toshinori from the Shadow Wizard, that had to be it.

“I- I don’t know. I thought-”

Toshinori’s hand came down hard on the table, and Izuku jumped, eyes wide as he stared across at his master.

“Young Midoriya, listen to me very carefully,” he said cautiously, “I need to check something with your magic - our magic - and I’ll need you to tell me how you feel afterwards.” Izuku nodded, and when Toshinori held out a hand and motioned for Izuku to do the same he did, resting his hand palm-up on the table between them.

Slender, bony fingers pressed to Izuku’s palm and for a moment there was nothing, and then a sharp sensation ran up Izuku’s palm, though his arm and to his chest where the feeling fizzled out and the sensation stopped. It only lasted a few seconds, and when Izuku shook his head, Toshinori had withdrawn his hand and was staring at Izuku with wide, horrified eyes.

“What- what was that?” Izuku demanded, blinking furiously before rubbing his palms over his eyes. The sensation hadn’t hurt exactly, but it left his body feeling strained.

“What did you feel, Izuku?” Toshinori sounded like he knew the answer, but he needed Izuku to tell him.

Dropping his hands to his lap, Izuku threaded his fingers together and pursed his lips before speaking. “Like a shock ran up my arm to my chest, but once it got to my chest it didn’t hurt. It just kind of felt like it fizzled out.”

A sharp intake of breath was all that Izuku needed to know that something was, indeed, very wrong.

“That bastard,” Toshinori hissed, standing and beginning to pace the room. Izuku watched for a moment before speaking.

“The Shadow Wizard?” he asked, voice small in the tense silence.

Toshinori stopped with his back to Izuku and brought a hand to his face. He slowly dragged it down before it fell to his side and when he spoke it was with his back to his pupil. “Tell me, my boy, do you know what husks are?”

“Well yeah,” Izuku said, cocking his head and frowning. “Everyone does, right? Husks are those... Dead-eyed people that fight for the Shadow Wizard.”

Finally, Toshinori turned around, and when his eyes found Izuku’s he looked more broken than he had even after the Battle for All. “A husk is a person who’s had their soul stolen, young Midoriya.”

Izuku stared, shock flooding through him. That...that could happen? People could have their souls ripped out of them? That’s what the Shadow Wizard’s army consists of?!

Worried why Toshinori was telling him this now and afraid that he already knew the answer, Izuku licked dry lips and took a breath before speaking. “Why- why are you telling me this?” Toshinori’s eyes were so, so sad when he spoke again.

“You’re a husk, my boy.”

For just a moment it felt like the whole world froze. Slowly, Izuku looked down at his trembling hands, balled into tight fists against his pants. “How can you tell?” It was almost embarrassing how small his voice sounded in the silence of the house.

Toshinori was quiet as he took shuffling steps back over to the table and leaned against his abandoned chair. Knobbled fingers gripped the back with white knuckles and it took his mentor a long moment to speak again.

“Our magics are connected because of the abilities I passed on to you,” he explained, “And all magics are powered by the souls of their wielders, often the strength of one’s soul dictates the strength of their magics.” Izuku swallowed slowly and nodded, these were all things he had learned when he began his knight training. “At the Battle for All, the Shadow Wizard was likely trying to steal my soul away for his own purposes. Had I known what spell he was casting I-”

“You wouldn’t have been able to stop me,” Izuku cut in with a wry smile. He finally looked up and caught Toshinori’s eye, the vibrant blue staring back at him. “I’m too stubborn, Master. Even if you had tried to tell me to stay back you know I wouldn’t have.”

“I should have done it anyway,” Toshinori said, slumping against the chair and dragging one hand through his hair. “I figured it was an attack spell, one that could be deflected - you’ve grown so much, young Midoriya, I had faith in you to stop the spell. Instead… Instead, you took a curse that should be mine to bear.”

Izuku chewed his lower lip, eyebrows knitted together. So...what he’d been feeling since that battle was the absence of his soul? A broad, crooked hand pressed to his chest, and Izuku tried to remember if he had felt so...hollow before. “Master,” he said hesitantly and Toshinori looked up from the half-eaten plate of food he’d been absently glaring at. “If I’m a- a husk, why don’t I act like those dead-eyed ones from the Shadow Wizard’s army?”

With a sharp intake of breath, Toshinori slowly eased down into his chair and leaned his elbows on the table to hold his head. Izuku gave him time, knowing this was as difficult for his master as it was for him; maybe even moreso.

“The process of becoming a husk like that is slow,” Toshinori explained, not meeting Izuku’s eyes as he spoke. “It usually takes about three or four months for a husk to become fully...empty like that.” Toshinori looked up and sat back, a deep frown making his sharp face look even more somber. “You’ll slowly lose yourself over time, you likely have already stopped expressing yourself as you once would have, particularly since people have already noticed the change.” Izuku swallowed and nodded. “Emotions and personality are tied to one’s soul, which is why you find such strong personalities or individuals with such powerful magics - they simply have powerful souls.”

Toshinori took a breath and sighed, rubbing his temples. “If...if my soul is gone, and all of that is tied to it,” Izuku said, drawing his master’s attention up again. “Then how come I still feel...things?”

“As I said,” Toshinori spoke quietly, like every word said pained him, “The process is slow. You know how when you do something physical for a long enough time your body remembers how to do it without thinking?” Izuku nodded. He was a soldier, he had plenty of muscle memory. “It’s like that. Your body is so used to expressing certain emotions at certain times, so for a while that’s what it’s doing. It knows that something is a joke, so you laugh, or that you’re with your friends, so you enjoy the time together. Over time, though, without the real emotions to remind your body what they feel like, you will stop expressing...and feeling those emotions.”

Izuku didn’t know how it was possible to feel the frigid cool of winter in the muggy heat of summer, but his whole body felt like ice.

“So,” Izuku licked his lips, hesitating before he spoke. “So you’re saying in...in a month or so I’ll be just like those soldiers from the Shadow Wizard’s army?”

Toshinori didn’t speak, but the sadness in his hollow gaze was all the answer Izuku needed.

“There has to be a way to reverse it?” he spoke quickly now, leaning on the table, food forgotten as he tried to piece together what his life would soon become. “To- to... I dunno, somehow get my soul back?”

“You’ll have to find the Shadow Wizard, since he is the one who stole it,” Toshinori said, “Likely you will have to kill him or strike a deal with him, but without a soul it is likely he will be uninterested in anything you could trade him.”

“Why would he need my soul in the first place?” Izuku asked, frowning.

“Souls are power, young Midoriya. For a dark wizard like him, he could use it to power any number of magics or runes, and with a soul as powerful as yours, my boy… He likely won’t be willing to part with it for anything less than something more powerful.”

“So I have to kill him then?”

Toshinori frowned, eyebrows knitted together as he watched Izuku. “You don’t even know where he is, my boy.”

“But hypothetically if I find him...I’d have to kill him and that would release my soul?”

Izuku had three fingers pressed to his lips to quiet the muttering as he thought, forest green eyes focused on the half-eaten sandwich before him.

“Izuku,” Toshinori said, and for the second time that day he had used Izuku’s first name, his tone serious. The young man ceased his mumbling and looked up. “Promise me that you won’t try to find the Shadow Wizard. Let me speak with the King, I’m sure we can figure something out.”

Izuku frowned, and Toshinori narrowed his eyes. They both knew how stubborn Izuku could be, and while Toshinori was a forgiving, lenient teacher, this was something he wouldn’t budge on. Eventually, Izuku sighed and slumped, nodding. “I won’t,” he grumbled. Relieved, Toshinori smiled.

“Good. Thank you, young Midoriya,” he stood and came around the table to rest a knobbled hand on Izuku’s shoulder. “I’ll speak with the King first thing in the morning, for now finish your food and rest. The next month will be hectic.” With another tired nod, Izuku picked up his sandwich and stared at it before taking a bite.

 

Izuku was bad at keeping promises.

It was basically a fact of life at this point, and while he consistently felt bad for breaking his promises, sometimes it couldn’t be helped. Particularly when his literal soul was on the line.

Izuku snuck out that night, a heavy bag on his back filled with supplies and rations. He could hunt when he needed food, and with the rainy season quickly approaching he wasn’t too worried about running out of water. Briefly, Izuku considered heading to the stables to get Hana but that would only raise suspicions if one of the stablehands caught him, so that idea was quickly nixed.

The town was quiet as he slipped through the streets, the hood of his cloak pulled up to hide his noticeable green mop of hair. If he only had a month to find the Shadow Wizard and defeat him, then he had to get started as soon as possible. Toshinori would forgive him, and his squadron could work well enough without him until he got back, so he wasn’t too worried.

After all, how hard could it be to find one of the most terrifying beings in the Four Kingdoms?

Chapter Text

It shouldn’t have been a surprise. It really, really shouldn’t have.

Toshinori stared at Izuku’s empty bed with a hollow, anxiousness in his gut. He didn’t need to know what the folded paper on the desk read to know what it said.

“Goddammit, young Midoriya,” Toshinori hissed through clenched teeth. He loved Izuku more than anything, but he swore the next time he saw him he’d land as full powered a punch as he could on his irresponsible, promise-breaking pupil. “Couldn’t even wait ten hours,” he grumbled, turning around to find his boots and cloak.

Donning his cloak and pulling the hood up, Toshinori made his way out of the house and into the early-morning streets. It wasn’t too busy, the sun only an hour above the horizon, and at this time of morning most people out would be too tired to try and recognize the once-hero hiding under a cloak as he made his way to the palace.

Twenty minutes later and embarrassingly more winded than he felt like he had any right to be, Toshinori arrived at the gates to the palace. Two guards stopped him with a raise of their hands.

“We apologize, good sir, but the King will not be seeing visitors today,” said one masked guard. Toshinori pulled the hood of his cloak down and both soldiers visibly tensed.

“Please tell King Endeavor that Sir Yagi wishes to speak with him about a very important, very sensitive matter,” his voice carried no room to argue, and after a moment of hesitation, one of the knights slipped into the palace to relay the message.

The guard returned a few minutes later with a nervous servant in tow. “My apologies for the wait, Sir Yagi. If you will just follow me, the King will see you in the throne room,” the servant said. She spoke with a soft, pleasant voice despite the tension in her shoulders. Toshinori smiled at her and nodded.

“Thank you. Please, lead the way.”

The palace was always bustling with activity, and this morning was no different. Servants rushed to and fro with armfuls of laundry or food to be prepared for the royal family’s breakfast. Toshinori heard several people talking about receiving a couple of ambassadors from Seiai to see about arranging a marriage between the two kingdoms; palace gossip was always a wonder and though Toshinori found it endlessly amusing, today he was hardly interested in the social activities of the palace staff.

Two elegant wooden doors guarded the throne room, carved with an intricate story of the creation of the kingdom and the rise of the fire mages that rule and protect its people. The touches of paint added color to the carved details and the gold framing the doors only offset how beautiful a work of art they were.

The servant spoke quickly to the two guards on either side of the doors, and after a moment they opened one side and with a thank you, Toshinori slipped into the throne room.

“This better be important, Yagi,” came a gravelly, low voice.

Toshinori hummed, walking casually towards the throne. Enji Todoroki sat back, lounging on the oak and gold throne with an elbow propped and his chin resting on a lazy fist. With a single look at him, the man oozed power as if he were made of it, broad shoulders and strong arms, and the scar that ruined the left side of his face somehow didn’t manage to detract from his ferocity. At his right side stood a young man, arms at his side as he watched on with heterochromatic eyes.

“King Enji, Prince Shouto,” Toshinori said, coming to a halt a few paces before the throne and bowing his head slightly. Toshinori had known Enji since the king was a squire, having already been a strong and popular knight by then, despite that he still showed difference to the man when they were in a formal setting.

“You had better have a good excuse for dragging me out of bed this early, old man,” Enji grunted.

Toshinori straightened himself and nodded. “I know it’s early, thank you for seeing me on such short notice.”

“Did you make a decision about my offer.”

“Ah...I’m still thinking on it. But that isn’t why I’ve come to you today, Enji. You know my pupil, Izuku Midoriya?”

Enji hummed and his vibrant blue eyes darted to his son before looking back at Toshinori. “Yes. I’m well acquainted with your troublesome student,” he said, and Toshinori could have sworn he saw Shouto smirk for just a second.

“Young Midoriya has run off,” Toshinori said, and the Enji narrowed his eyes, arm dropping as he sat up straighter. Shouto seemed to stiffen, those intense eyes boring into Toshinori as well.

“Are you telling me that my knight has defected, Yagi?”

Toshinori shook his head and laughed, Izuku defecting from the King’s Guard? It was almost funny. “No, no I wish it was as simple as that. Young Midoriya...had his soul stolen by the Shadow Wizard during the Battle for All.” The silence in the throne room was palpable. “We only just found out last night. I believe he has run off to try and find the Shadow Wizard to retrieve his soul.”

Silence reigned as the King and Prince digested Toshinori’s words, and then. “Your student is a goddamn headache, Toshinori,” Enji sighed, a broad hand rubbed down his face and pinched the bridge of his nose. “What do you need?”

“Give me five of your Kingsmen to hunt him down and bring him home,” Toshinori said, and Enji dropped his hand and turned his frown towards his son. Shouto looked back at him with a seething glare, but neither spoke a word to each other.

It was a fairly well kept secret that the Prince and King did not get along well, and it was moments like this that Toshinori feared what a possible fight between them would look like. What destruction the pair could wreak together in their fury.

When Enji looked back at him Toshinori could see that he’d made a decision, eyebrows knitted together and lips drawn into a terse line. Shouto was silent save for the icy glare that he pierced his father with.

“I will give you five Kingsmen to hunt down your pupil,” he said, and Toshinori sagged with relief, opening his mouth to thank his king when Enji continued, “But in return you will become my advisor and war general. Once Midoriya is returned we will begin preparations to hunt down the Shadow Wizard and release Midoriya’s soul as well as any other souls the bastard may have stolen.”

Toshinori’s mouth closed with an audible click and he frowned deeply at the man before him. If if would save Izuku and keep him safe…

“I accept your terms, your Highness,” Toshinori bowed deeply.

Enji hummed as his knight straightened up and for a moment the two leered at each other. Toshinori had always been a stronger, better, more personable knight than Enji had and despite being king, Enji had always been jealous of the blond man. Still, he recognized the wisdom and strength of the other and would use that to his advantage.

“Do you know which of my men you’re taking?”

Grinning, Toshinori nodded. “Yes, I believe I do.”

 

The barracks were bustling and busy by the time Toshinori arrived. Several knights stopped and greeted him and Toshinori couldn’t help but smile and return the gesture before returning to his mission.

The door to the block Izuku’s squadron was assigned to was open and laughter filtered out through the open door. Toshinori stepped into the doorway and watched as the squad made up their beds and chatted amongst themselves.

There were five beds in the block, one being Izuku’s old one that he rarely used anymore now that he was living with Toshinori, the other four were being re-made after a night of rest. Yaoyorozu was the first to spot him, and she quickly straightened up and elbowed Iida when he asked why she stopped making her bed.

“Sir Toshinori,” Yaoyorozu said, strained but happy. The other three stiffened before spinning around and straightening as well. “It’s a pleasure to see you, Sir! We were just waiting for Izuku to arrive so we can-”

“Izuku won’t be coming,” Toshinori stepped into the room and shut the door behind him. The four knights exchanged worried glances before Uraraka stepped forward, fingertips pressed together nervously.

“Is everything okay with Izuku, Sir?”

It didn’t take long to explain the situation to the squad, all four sitting on Asui’s bed as Toshinori sat on Izuku’s. Unsurprisingly, all four jumped at the chance to save their friend.

“We wouldn’t be where we are without Izuku, Sir Toshinori! You have to let us go find him!” Yaoyorozu insisted, hands fisted in her shirt, twisting anxiously.

“It does make sense to send the four of us,” Asui said, a long finger pressed gently to her chin as she tilted her head. “We know Izuku the best, we would likely be the ones to bring him home easier.”

Toshinori offered the girls a smile and shook his head. “I know, but I know who I’m choosing to send after him,” he said, then looked to Uraraka and Iida. “Sir Uraraka, Sir Iida, I ask you as a Knight of the King’s Guard, Izuku’s mentor, and your friend to find my pupil and bring him home in once piece.”

He would feel bad for the look of betrayal on Yaoyorozu and Asui’s faces later, but he knew the additional request he had for the retrieval team would not sit well with them. They didn’t know Izuku like Uraraka and Iida did, after all.

“Yes, of course!” Uraraka agreed immediately, nearly bouncing where she sat. “Izuku is my best friend, of course I’ll go get him! And drag his stupid, dumb butt back so we can form a real plan of action, not running headlong into this issue like he always does!”

The other three grimaced slightly, but nodded. Izuku really did have a ‘reckless but it worked out in the end didn’t it?’ reputation, and no amount of scolding or punishment had ever trained that streak out of him.

“I gladly accept the honor,” Iida said as well, nodding stiffly. “Though I do wonder who our other squadmates will be if not Momo and Tsuyu?”

Toshinori smiled fondly and sighed. “Yes, well. You will meet them soon. Can you two be at my house at noon? I’ll give you a full rundown of the mission there.”

“Of course.”

“Sure!”

With a genuine smile, Toshinori thanked the two knights and let them go to start packing and preparing to leave, but not before stopping Yaoyorozu and Asui with a small wave.

“I know you two probably think I’m being unfair,” he said, “But I assure you, the kingdom needs the two of you here now more than Izuku needs you to drag him home. With the wet season quickly approaching, Asui, you will be needed more often, and you, Sir Yaoyorozu-” The girl in question tensed when Toshinori narrowed his gaze in on her. “Need to stay near the prince less he do something irrational in the wake of Izuku’s absence.”

Which was true, oftentimes when Izuku ran headlong into a problem the crown prince was hot on his heels. The pair were certainly a force to be reckoned with, but neither of them thought things through very well. Yaoyorozu and the prince’s relationship was the only other one that Shouto held close, and Toshinori had hopes that if anyone could keep the prince from acting rashly, it would be her.

Yaoyorozu frowned slightly, then nodded. “I should go talk to Shou,” she murmured, then sighed and turned to finish getting ready.

 

The next people Toshinori had to talk to were, surprisingly, not in their block. He had to ask around to find out that the squadron had gotten up for early-morning training exercises at the practice grounds. When he arrived, there were a few knights leaning on the fence posts watching and making bets with each other, and when he stepped up to the fence he could see why.

“C’mon, Sparks! That all you got?” Jiro teased, darting in close with her practice daggers and slicing at Kaminari’s stomach.

The blond boy laughed and bounced back, golden sparks dancing across his body and lifting his hair as he charged an attack.

“Fuckin’ hit her this time, dipshit!” barked a gruff, angry voice from the sidelines and when Toshinori saw him, Bakugou had half-climbed onto the fence and was shouting at his squadmates while his redheaded friend laughed and held him back with one rocky arm.

Kaminari loosed his attack and with a yelp and Jiro fell backwards, hitting the ground with a sharp hiss. Toshinori smiled and clapped, they weren’t perfect, but Jiro was a new addition to the squadron and things would be rocky for a while yet until they all learned how to move together more seamlessly. Still, personality-wise she fit in with the other four very well.

“Good going, asshole,” Bakugou grunted, vaulting over the fence while Kirishima ducked under it to follow. Ashido and her bubbly, bright smile stayed back, arms crossed over the fence as she watched the rest of her squad. “You didn’t completely fry yourself this time. Definitely thought Kyoka had you there for a second.”

Kaminari grinned brightly, and jabbed a thumb over towards the fence. “I only got her ‘cause she got distracted there at the end.”

“The fuck are you-”

Bakugou looked up and for just a split second Toshinori could have sworn a flash of nervousness crossed the boy’s face. Then he was jogging over, red eyes narrowed in suspicion, as if Toshinori were a puzzle to be solved.

“Sir Yagi,” the explosive blond said, dipping his head in a bow. “What’re you fuckin’ doin’ here?”

Toshinori smiled ruefully at Bakugou. “There’s been an issue, my boy, and I need your help. Do you have a minute?”

 

Bakugou was not having it. Kirishima and Ashido were sitting on the fence, watching as Bakugou paced back and forth in front of Toshinori, palms sparking with small explosions.

“Dude, just do it,” Kirishima said, frowning. “Mina and I already agreed, why are you being so stubborn about this?”

“I don’t fuckin’ get it!” Bakugou whirled around to face Toshinori, nostrils flaring as he huffed and glared. “You want me to go save Shitty Deku? Fucking why? He’s worthless to me!”

Toshinori raised an eyebrow slowly, watching as Bakugou huffed like an angry bull. “Bakugou, my boy, I’m asking you because I trust you and there are only a very select few I would ask to do this. You don’t have to, but it would mean a great deal to me if you would.”

Bakugou seemed to deflate a bit at that, though suspicion was still dancing in his eyes as he slumped back and sighed. There was a long minute of heavy silence before the explosive blond finally spoke. “Fine,” he grunted, hands balling into fists at his sides to quell the sparks still dancing along his palms. “We’ll go get Shitty Deku. Who else is coming, you said there were five right?” Bakugou’s lower lip jutted out in an angry pout and his eyes narrowed. “It’s those two from his fuckin’ squadron isn’t it? The ones he’s always hanging around with when he’s not on duty, Roundface and Legs, yeah?”

Toshinori chuckled, he had almost forgotten that Bakugou was just as perceptive as Izuku was.

“You’ll see,” he said, then looked at Kirishima and Ashido. “All three of you be at my house prepared to leave at noon. I’ll fill you in on the rest of the mission then. Understood?”

The three nodded, and with that Toshinori said his goodbyes and started the tiring trek back home.

 

Toshinori knew it wouldn’t be an easy task for the five knights, but it was one that he only trusted to them. That said, the five knights before him looked rather uncomfortable together in his presence.

“So the plan is to just go, find the nerd, and drag him home. Yeah?” Bakugou asked, leaning a back against the wall with his arms folded over his chest. “Shouldn’t be too difficult, Deku always sucked at stealth missions.” Toshinori leveled a stare at Bakugou - the blond was just as bad at stealth as Izuku.

“That isn’t entirely true,” Toshinori hummed, easing down into a chair as he looked across his small dining table at those he had gathered. “As I told you earlier, young Midoriya’s soul was stolen by the Shadow Wizard, without his soul he will become naught but an empty husk. My request for you is that you find Izuku and help him find and defeat the Shadow Wizard in order to release his soul.”

The five knights around the table all gaped. The six of them? Fighting the Shadow Wizard alone? It sounded asinine.

“I asked the five of you because I’ve seen your abilities in combat and how well you can work together with a little effort. It isn’t a request I make lightly, and if there was time to spare I would allow you to think it over before embarking on this quest, but time is against us. It will likely be less than two months before we lose what’s left of young Midoriya.”

Toshinori made eye contact with each person at his table before glancing up to meet Bakugou’s, his fierce red eyes hiding another emotion just bubbling under the surface.

“Well, of course we’ll help him!” It was surprisingly Ashido that spoke up first. Her expression determined as she looked around at the other four. “It was never really an option, right? We’re knights! We protect and save those who need help!”

Kirishima was the next to brighten up, flashing a sharp-toothed grin at the others. “Yeah! It’ll be tough, but hell, maybe a small elite squad is what’s needed to take down that shadow bastard?”

By the time Kirishima was done talking, Iida and Uraraka were grinning as well. The brunette bounced her fists in the air and nodded. “Yeah! Izuku would do the same for any of us, so of course we’ll help!”

“It’s only right!” Iida continued, a broad grin on his face as he gestured eagerly with his hands. “Izuku is our squadmate and dear friend, if he is in trouble then we will gladly assist!”

Bakugou stayed quiet as his soon-to-be companions chattered eagerly about their rescue and newfound mission. Still, his crimson gaze darted between the other four before settling on Toshinori’s. The blond opened his mouth to say something, hesitated then closed it and turned away to look out the window.

They would need to get going soon if they were going to try to catch Izuku before nightfall.

 

Assuring that they would send word once they caught up to Izuku, the party donned their own cloaks and packs and the five said their goodbyes to Toshinori before slipping out the front door and towards the city gates. Only this time, Bakugou lagged back, eyes not meeting Toshinori’s as he waited for his squad to vanish around the corner.

“Did you need something, young Bakugou?” Toshinori asked, his gaze softening as he looked upon his once-student.

“I’ll find him,” Bakugou grunted, shifting on his feet and re-settling his pack. “I’ll find him and bring him home, so don’t fuckin’ worry about him. Alright?” And then those determined eyes finally looked up and Toshinori smiled fondly at the blond.

“I know you will, my boy. I’ve never once doubted you.”

Chapter Text

Katsuki was livid. Or well, he was angrier than usual. Izuku was a fucking idiot and he should have waited, figured out a real plan, and used his big, stupid, nerd brain for fucking once. There was no way he could find the Shadow Wizard on his own and if he did he was basically walking into a death trap.

Paired up with the fact that Katsuki was lugging around with Ochako and Tenya, the nerd’s two closest idiots, and apparently would be for a while? It would take a miracle for Katsuki to make it out of this without blowing someone up.

“Dude, you need to calm down,” Eijirou said, gripping Katsuki’s shoulder with a broad, firm hand. He’d gotten used to being pulled back into himself by the redhead over the years - Eijirou had kept Katsuki back from some pretty stupid stunts when they’d first met and despite what he’d ever say, the idiot was probably one of his best friends.

“Fuck off, Shitty-Hair, I don’t need you to babysit me,” Katsuki snapped, jerking his shoulder from Eijirou’s grip. “Oiy! Roundface!”

Ochako tensed for a moment before letting out a frustrated sigh and slowly turned to glare at Katsuki. “What is it?” she asked curtly. At least he wasn’t the only one not thrilled about this team up.

“Why ain’t we takin’ the horses? How do we know Deku didn’t take his?”

“Hana was still at the stable this morning,” Tenya supplied, marching forward without bothering to so much as glance at Katsuki. “Izuku likely thought taking his horse would cause an unwanted distraction in the middle of the night.”

“Great, that doesn’t explain why we aren’t taking the horses,” Katsuki pointed out flatly. “We’d catch up to him quicker, be able to travel faster, and they could carry our shit.”

“Well,” Mina chimed in, leaning against Katsuki’s side like she had any right to be so close to him. He didn’t push her away. “If we brought the horses we’d have had to bring more rations and supplies, not to mention we’ll be heading to the outskirts of the kingdom and you know how the people out there are. We don’t wanna have to fight scavengers off every other night to try and keep them from running off with our horses or anything.”

Frowning, Katsuki had to admit that made enough sense for him to drop the subject. He was still pissed dumbass Izuku ran off though.

They passed through the guarded gates to the city and started down the path leading towards the forest. It was the most likely direction Izuku would have gone, being the closest exit from the city and therefore the fastest, and there were several taverns along this road that would be easy enough to hide in, even for a well-known knight.

Mina and Ochako had taken to chatting happily about something while Tenya lead the way. Eijirou walked a few paces in front of Katsuki to give him space and the explosive blond brought up the rear. It was a position he was familiar with - often he would follow behind his squadron, keeping an eye out for sneak attacks and making sure no one got left behind.

That was how he noticed the figure first.

A sharp, quick whistle had Eijirou and Mina bristling, immediately on the defensive as Mina gripped Ochako’s wrist and Eijirou Tenya’s shoulder. The other two stilled, realizing something was off and all four turned, looking around for whatever Katsuki had spotted.

“Oiy! Fuckhead!” Katsuki shouted towards the treeline some twenty yards off. “I saw you, so just come the fuck on out an’ you won’t be beaten stupid! S’shitty place to try and jump someone anyway. We’re still in sight of the fuckin’ gates, dumbass!”

Everything was quiet for a long, tense moment. Hardening was creeping up Eijirou’s arms, while Mina’s fingertips dripped acid on the red dirt of the road. Tenya and Ochako glanced between each other nervously but Katsuki didn’t miss how the pads of Ochako’s fingers began glowing a faint pink and how Tenya shifted into a more defensive position, hand on the hilt of his sword. Good, at least they knew to take his calls seriously.

Shadows beyond the treeline shifted, and Katsuki crouched, arms at his sides and palms sparking dangerously. Finally, a figure stepped forward and the five knights tensed even farther.

“P-Prince Shouto!” Tenya hissed, releasing his hold on his weapon and immediately standing upright, “What on earth are you doing here?”

Yeah, Katsuki thought wryly, the fuck is Prince Halfie doin’ out here?

Shouto approached the knights as all five hesitantly relaxed, and now that Katsuki got a good look at him, the bastard was decked out for travel. Sturdy boots and fresh breeches, a clean tunic was worn beneath light leather armor, a dagger at one hip and a pack slung across his shoulder.

Oh hell the fuck no.

“Well,” Shouto began, standing before the squad with a nonchalant shrug, “I intend to join your rescue operation.”

“I don’t fuckin’ think so, Half-n-Half,” Katsuki hissed, shouldering past Mina and Tenya to jab a finger into Shouto’s chest, “There’s already enough annoyin’ shit happening with this squad without you sticking your ugly face in here too.”

Shouto’s eyes narrowed in a way that Katsuki had long since learned was a silent challenge. Sure, Izuku may have been the one to get the bastard to draw out his full power, but Katsuki had been sparring with the prince long enough to know how to read his subtle moods just as well as that green haired nerd.

“Do you really think that you can take on the Shadow Wizard with only one powerhouse? Maybe two?”

Katsuki felt Tenya bristle at his shoulder and hissed through his teeth. “Who the fuck said we’re hunting that bastard down?”

Shouto almost looked exasperated. Instead, he shrugged and looked past Katsuki to the rest of the squad. “I’m well aware that Izuku is a...stubborn individual,” Katsuki snorted and crossed his arms, “And so I’m sure that Sir Yagi has spoken with you all and your mission isn’t quite what my father was told it is. I’m assuming that you intend to take back Izuku’s soul from the Shadow Wizard and I have every intention of assisting.”

“So you think you’re smart, huh?” Katsuki ground out, drawing Shouto’s attention back to himself, “You probably ran off again. Your old man’s gonna be fuckin’ pissed if you decide to do this, what makes you think we even need your help?”

“Bakugou,” Ochako huffed, stepping up beside Katsuki as the others gathered around. “Be nice.” Katsuki sent the brunette a sharp glare but said nothing.

When Ochako apparently decided that Katsuki was playing nice for the moment, she turned her full attention to the prince standing before them. “Shouto, we appreciate you wanting to help, and yeah. You’re right, our plans are a bit different than we originally thought, but we’ll be alright, you don’t need to come with us.”

Shouto huffed and Katsuki watched as a spark of frustration lanced across his stoic expression. “I’m not offering to come,” he said flatly, “I am coming. Anyway - who knows how long it will take to find the Shadow Wizard, assuming Izuku is no longer himself by that point that leaves you with one hard-hitting powerhouse and one deadweight.” As he spoke Shouto motioned to Katsuki before dropping his hand. Katsuki grunted, appreciating that at least Shouto could admit that he was the squad's powerhouse. “I’m coming because I’m one of the strongest mages in the kingdom and my best friend is in danger of becoming an emotionless husk and I refuse to see that happen to him.”

This little speech was probably more than Katsuki had heard Shouto talk in one go ever, which meant that he actually felt passionate about this. “What do you guys think?” he asked, turning to the squad and ignoring the icy glare he could practically feel against the back of his head. “Should we bring the crown prince along because he’s got a couple of good points, or shout really loud and let the Palace Guard come retrieve the spoiled brat?” The exasperated sigh from behind Katsuki felt like a win.

“I mean,” Eijirou said, shrugging, “I’m down with it. The more firepower the better, it’s not like Todoroki is weak or anything, I’d trust him to have my back.”

There was a chorus of agreement from the others, and though Tenya was hesitant, the decision was unanimous.

“Welcome to the party, Shouto!” Ochako slapped a hand against Shouto’s shoulder, and the prince seemed to sag with relief. Oh, so he had actually been worried that they wouldn’t have let him come? Katsuki grinned at that, then nodded towards the path that disappeared into the tree line.

“Deku’s probably planning on staying at an inn or tavern along this route. We can still catch up with him if we hurry,” he said. “Let’s hurry it the fuck up so I can beat his ass for running off without a proper fuckin’ plan.”

With a bit more small talk the squad set off again, this time with Shouto a few paces ahead of Katsuki, talking quietly with Mina.

Katsuki could already tell this mission was going to be a fucking headache.

 

It was nightfall by the time they decided to rest at the next place they came across. They’d already passed two taverns and an inn that were all empty of one green-haired menace-to-society and Katsuki was starting to wonder if Izuku had decided to camp for the night instead of sleep in a bed.

“Lights up ahead,” Tenya said, and the announcement seemed to breathe a sigh of relief into everyone. “Looks like another tavern. There are quite a few along this road, I wonder why.”

“This is a popular route for people who come to the city for festivals,” Mina chimed in, “Taverns popped up along the road to loosen people up for the festivals the closer they got to town and to help them relax before going home after.” She would know, Katsuki thought with a tired roll of his eyes, she always did enjoy the festivities a bit too much in his opinion.

The six ambled up to the tavern and took a moment to count out their coin. It was decided that they could get two rooms and split three in one and three in the other and then order a round and some food without cutting into their funds too much. Ochako opened the door and wandered in, the rest filed in after her. They received a few odd looks from tired patrons, but no one paid them much mind.

“I’ll get the drinks,” Katsuki said, nodding towards the bar. “Mina, with me. Eijirou, stick with Roundface to get the rooms. Half-n-Half, Legs do whatever you want.”

“You aren’t in charge here, you know,” Shouto said, but Katsuki ignored him. He was too tired to deal with the Prince’s bullshit, if Shouto wanted to get into it with him tonight about making decisions on the fly then he could wait until Katsuki had a drink in hand.

There weren’t too many people at the bar as they approached, a drunk woman lazily flirting with the bemused bartender, and two wrinkled old men who were playing a game of cards. All of whom ignored the pair of knights as they took a couple of seats. The bartender excused herself from the drunk woman to greet them and Mina and Katsuki ordered their drinks and food. The drinks arrived quickly and the bartender assured that their food would be out as soon as possible.

With a nod and grunt, Katsuki grabbed his pint and turned on the stool, leaning back against the bar as he surveyed the room. There were patrons sitting at high tables on the floor or more intimate tables along the wall, a few were alone but generally, everyone was with a partner or group.

“As good a time as any to ask about Midoriya,” Mina sighed, her own drink at her lips before she took a long swig.

Katsuki grunted again, red eyes lazily floating across the faces of those in the room. There was one person at a table near the front window in a cloak with the hood pulled up nursing their own drink. Whoever it was looked oddly out of place and Katsuki made a mental note to keep an eye on them.

“That’s assuming he didn’t camp out the night ‘cause he knew he’d have people out looking for him,” the blond returned, sipping his own drink.

“Mmh. True. I don’t think he would, though. He’s got less rations than we do, and we’re still so close to towns and civilization that camping out would be a waste of things he’d need later when there isn’t a path to wander down. You know?” Mina took another swallow of her swill and gods, Katsuki didn’t know how she could pack away alcohol so quickly. Maybe it all went to her tits?

He did nod his agreement, though. It really did make more sense for Izuku to try and save what he could before relying on rations and hunting.

The hooded figure across the room shifted and Katsuki was drawn to the movement, watching from over the top of his glass as he tipped it back. A momentary shock of green gave him pause, though, and red eyes narrowed as he focused in on the hooded bastard.

“Oiy, Pinkey,” Katsuki hissed into his glass. Mina hummed her acknowledgment. “Hooded guy by the window, you see ‘im?”

There was a short pause and then, “Yeah. Kinda broad shouldered?”

“Hmm,” Katsuki nodded. “Keep an’ eye on him.”

“You think it’s Midoriya?”

“Could be. He’s the right height and build. Thought I saw-”

Hooded guy took that moment to look up and survey the tavern, cautiously looking around and trying to be subtle about it. Except he was clearly the most suspicious fucker in the building, so Katsuki wasn’t sure what he thought he was doing.

In an instant, crisp, emerald green eyes met carmine ones before widening in shock.

“Holy shit,” Mina breathed out, then started laughing as Katsuki stood, all but forgetting his pint on the counter as he stormed his way across the floor to introduce his fist to dumbass Deku’s jaw.

Chapter Text

There were many things scarier than an angry Katsuki Bakugou, but Izuku couldn’t think of any in the moment. He thought that he’d been sneaky and quick, thought he covered his tracks well enough, thought that they would send literally anyone but Katsuki after him.

Hoo boy was he wrong.

“K-Kacchan!” Izuku yelped, jumping to his feet as the hood from his cloak fell back. Katsuki had abandoned a cackling Mina at the bar and was stomping across the room towards him.

“Deku,” the blond growled, fiery eyes pinning Izuku where he stood. “You stupid bastard!”

He really should have expected the right hook - it was Katsuki’s signature way to start a fight - but maybe he had hoped that it wouldn’t have been in a bar, surrounded by people, of all places. With quick movements, Izuku ducked back and dropped into a crouch before dodging to the side.

Katsuki stumbled for just a moment before he whirled around and grabbed a fistful of Izuku’s cloak and jerked it back hard. “Kacchan, wait!” Izuku fell back, kicking a leg out for stability, missed, and knocked into a table instead. Plates clattered to the floor as the table rocked. A mug of ale went careening off the side and two very angry voices shouted at them.

However, despite his pleas, Katsuki was not waiting. There was the telltale sound of familiar explosive popping, and Izuku twisted in Katsuki’s hold, green lighting arcing up his arm as he swung for the blond’s stomach. With a curse, Katsuki twisted, Izuku’s attack grazing his hip.

“Get off!” Izuku barked, his other hand slamming hard into Katuski’s chest, shoving him into another patron and their table.

“Aiy!”

“The fuck-?!”

Katsuki didn’t seem to hear either irate, drunk man as he straightened up and launched himself at Izuku again.

“You thought runnin’ off was a good idea, nerd?!” he bellowed, palm sparking as he prepared a low-energy attack.

“It’s my problem, Kacchan!” Izuku snapped back, lightning dancing across his body as he squared his shoulders and prepared for a fight. “No one else has to get hurt to help me!”

Why did Katsuki have to be like this?

Something hit Izuku’s back hard, sending him stumbling forward with a shout of pain. Katsuki paused in his attack, watching as a bruiser of a man broke a chair over the green haired man with a wild yell. Izuku hit the ground with a strained grunt and then suddenly everything was absolute chaos. Katsuki’s eyes never strayed from Izuku, but Izuku couldn’t help but glance around as drunkards and patrons started shoving at each other and yelling. He needed to try and formulate some kind of plan if he was going to get out of this without hurting people.

“Get ‘im, ‘Suki!”

Izuku rolled to his feet and jerked his head towards the bar in time to see Mina lift a mug into the air and cheer. And then in a rush Izuku’s breath was knocked out of him as Katsuki landed a firm punch to his gut. He stumbled again, gasping for air and curled into a ball to protect his stomach as Katsuki loomed over him.

“Dumbass,” Katsuki hissed, stomping closer. But the bruiser who smashed the chair over Izuku was back with a table this time, spinning it wildly as people screamed and ducked around him. Katsuki must have seen how Izuku’s eyes widened at the sight because when he turned he only barely managed to jump back before the table slipped from the bastard’s grip and went sailing into a wall.

Izuku took Katsuki’s moment of distraction and hunched down, ducking behind one irate patron as she launched a wooden cup across the room, then toppled a few chairs and a table behind him for good measure before turning towards the entrance to try and make a run for it. Sure, he wouldn’t get far, but it would be better than continuing a fight inside a building.

He was nearly out the door when a loud crash accompanying the echoes of popping explosions reached him. “Oiy! Roundface!”

Oh god, Ochako was here too?

“Bakugou!” Ochako shouted back, a tone of warning in her voice.

Izuku hesitated, wondering if he should go back and try to do...something to keep Katsuki from taking his anger out on someone who couldn’t handle it. “What the hell are you doing?! Put him down! For fuck’s sake! Where’s Mina- Oh my god.”

Apparently two seconds of hesitation was too long because a moment later a glass shattered against the wall beside Izuku and with a startled yelp several eyes turned in his direction. “‘At’s ‘im!” shouted a gnarled, scar of a man, pointing a knobbled finger in his direction. “‘E started the fight! Spilled m’mead all over!”

“Wh- no!” Izuku chirped, but a moment later a heavy, meaty fist came full throttle towards his face. With practiced ease, Izuku dodged and pushed forward, digging his shoulder into the brute’s sternum and knocking him breathlessly to the floor.

And that was time enough for Katsuki to shove people aside and hunt Izuku down once more like a man on a mission.

Well...he technically was on a mission..to hunt Izuku down.

Whatever, that isn’t the point.

“H-hey, Kacchan!” Izuku waved his hands and took a step back. He was well aware of how much damage the two of them caused when they fought and he really didn’t want to do that in a civilian establishment.

Just past Katsuki’s shoulder were a surprised pair of heterochromatic eyes that were so out of place in this room of thugs that is completely threw Izuku off guard and in the next second Katsuki had launched across the small space between them with precise explosions and tackled Izuku to the ground.

“You fucking brat!” Katsuki spat, trying his best to wrestle Izuku to the ground. Unfortunately for him, Izuku was broader and stronger than the explosion mage and if he didn’t manage to incapacitate him soon they both knew Izuku could throw him off.

“You’re one to talk!” Izuku hissed back, finally wrenching an arm free from Katsuki’s hold and balled his hand into a fist to throw his first punch at the other man.

And just like that Katsuki was pulled back, eyes wide and arms flailing. There was only a moment of surprise plastered to Izuku’s face before Ochako slapped his leg and he, too, went weightless and drifted a few inches off of the floor. The gravity mage held the back of Katsuki’s shirt and Shouto lifted Izuku by the hem of his and the two gently floated a shocked Izuku and a cursing Katsuki out of the building.

The resounding voices of Eijirou and Tenya trying to calm the raging drunkards in the bar followed them into the quiet of the night.

“Put me the fuck down, Roundface!” Katsuki snarled, twisting uselessly in her grasp as he tried to free himself.

“No,” Ochako said flatly, her voice giving every tell that she was seethingly furious.

Shouto was as silent as ever, but when he didn’t meet his questioning gaze Izuku realized just how upset his friend was.

“You’ll both stay out here with us until the others come out since oh, you know, you two got us kicked out for the night like a couple of lunatic teenagers!

Izuku winced as Katsuki scoffed and folded his arms across his chest.

“I didn’t start it,” Izuku tried, which only earned him a hard glare from his best friend.

“Honestly, Izuku” Ochako started, releasing Katsuki from her spell and striding purposefully over to where Shouto was holding him, “I don’t really care. Do you have any idea how worried we were? How worried Sir Toshinori is? I should have let Katsuki punch you but I didn’t feel like setting your nose tonight and that is your only saving grace. I’m absolutely furious with you for being so selfish and irresponsible.” Izuku grimaced and ducked his head, threading his fingers together as he was scolded. He couldn’t meet her eyes, he knew every word Ochako said was true even if he didn’t want to believe it - she was just an honest person, she always had been.

With a soft sigh, Ochako released Izuku from her spell and he grunted when his boots hit the ground. Katsuki was sitting on his ass where he fell, looking pointedly grumpy at Ochako but no longer like he was ready to start throwing punches again.

There was a shout from the bar, and suddenly three people were being chased out by the very angry bartender. Tenya and Eijirou slumped against each other, clearly frustrated and annoyed, but Mina was holding a beer in hand as she sauntered over to the other four.

“That was a blast!” she laughed, “You two gotta start bar fights more often. I snagged like three drinks in there!”

“You know you’re a knight of the King’s Guard and shouldn’t really be bragging about stealing drinks,” Eijirou huffed, earning a shrug from Mina.

“I wouldn’t have paid for them either way,” she winked at him, “Being cute and playful will get you many things in life, Eiji, you should give it a try.”

The redhead flushed hotly and turned away from his pink squadmate to frown at Katsuki who was stubbornly avoiding his gaze. Izuku was momentarily reminded of a dog that knew it was in trouble and then immediately wondered if he looked much the same.

“We should set up camp,” Shouto said as Tenya and the others approached. “Preferably somewhere less trafficked.” Finally mismatched eyes met Izuku’s and he grimaced at the flat look he was given. “I believe we all have questions to ask you, Izuku.”

“Someone’ll need to take first watch,” Katsuki grunted as he stood and brushed off his pants. “I vote Eijirou.”

“Fine by me,” the redhead grinned and shrugged.

A strong hand came down on Izuku’s shoulder and a smaller but equally firm grip on his other. “Izuku!” Mina chimed, the smaller hand squeezing hard before the pink girl leaned on his shoulder. “You’re gonna stick with me an Tenya for now, okay?”

The hand on Izuku’s opposite shoulder squeezed gently before Tenya spoke, “Todoroki is correct, there are several questions we have for you and for the moment we cannot trust you not to run off, so my apologies for keeping you under such scrutiny right now, Izuku.”

With a sigh, Izuku nodded. “Yeah, alright.” He really should have seen this coming.

 

Perhaps he deserved to be kept under watch after running off, but at this point Izuku really didn’t think that it was necessary anymore.

“Guys, I’m literally sitting with you and eating, you don’t have to be on top of me,” Izuku grumbled, then pointedly took a bite of the cooked rabbit before pouting at Ochako. The girl was pressed up against his side, one of her legs thrown haphazardly over Izuku’s, as if her slight weight would be enough to keep him from getting up.

It was but that’s beside the point.

Her response was a too-innocent hum and a grin. “We just want to keep you safe, Izuku,” Tenya insisted, taking a stick of cooked meat from Katsuki as the blond pulled it from the fire. “Besides, there’s the off chance that you very well could be being hunted by the Shadow Wizard’s men.”

Izuku grimaced, his nose wrinkling in distaste. He somewhat doubted the Shadow Wizard would be looking for him since he already has his soul, but he supposed he could be wrong.

With a heavy sigh, Izuku sagged slightly then glanced around the campfire at the squad that had been sent to retrieve him. “So I take it after tonight we’re heading back to the palace?” he asked. It would delay the trek to find the Shadow Wizard, but it couldn’t be helped…

“Not exactly,” Shouto said, using a discarded stick to draw mindlessly in the dirt before he looked up to catch Izuku’s surprised gaze. “Our mission is to bring you back in one piece. And right now you aren’t.” Izuku watched as Shouto flicked the stick into the fire and sat back. “We aren’t going home until you’re yourself again, Izuku.”

For a moment, everything was quiet, and then Izuku’s vision blurred before tears rolled down his cheeks. “You guys,” he keened, hands coming up to press over his eyes to still his tears. Sometimes it was annoying being an emotional crier.

“Oiy, it ain’t like we had much’ve a choice,” Katsuki hissed, “Your dumb ass would probably have run off again anyway.”

Nervous laughter bubbled up between his tears, and Izuku couldn’t help but to silently agree. He probably would have tried to run off again.

After that things around the campfire loosened up a bit, laughter and stories exchanged between friends as they all settled down for the night. Izuku wasn’t tired, though. Not really. He hadn’t really felt fatigued much the past few weeks - maybe that had something to do with his soul being missing? He still needed rest and sleep, but he seemed to need less of it than before.

As agreed, Eijirou was taking first watch. The redhead gently poked at the fire as bedrolls were unpacked and the rest of the group laid down to sleep. Izuku sat by the fire, watching the flames curl and lick at the quietly popping logs.

“Hey, man, you should get some sleep,” Eijirou dropped to sit next to Izuku, and the shorter man hummed noncommittally, eyes never straying from the dancing flames. The other man didn’t press, only settled down with a wooden stick and a knife and whittled away at it as Izuku’s emerald gaze bored into the flames.

It felt like hours had passed before Eijirou spoke again, but it couldn’t have been more than half an hour.

“Hey, Midoriya,” Eijirou said, his deep voice carrying across the quiet campsite easily. Finally Izuku tore his eyes from the fire and blinked at his late-night companion.

“Yeah?”

“Hey, so...I don’t wanna be like, rude or anything I guess, so if you don’t wanna answer I’ll drop it, but I’m kinda curious,” Eijirou tossed the whittled stick into the fire before reaching for another to busy his hands with. “What’s it feel like?”

“What’s it- Oh.”

Izuku ran a hand through his hair, breathing out a huff of breath as he thought. Eijirou was blessedly quiet, continuing his whittling to let Izuku have time to think.

“It’s like,” he started, hands dropping to his lap, “I dunno really how to explain it. It’s like a lack of excitement? Or passion? Master said that my body is only expressing emotions because it remembers how I should react in certain situations, but even then the reactions are starting to feel...Hollow I guess, if that makes sense? Like, I feel like I should react a certain way and instinctively I do because I don’t want anyone to worry.”

When he looked back up at Eijirou, the redhead’s hands had stilled and his crisp ruby gaze was boring into Izuku like he was a confusing puzzle. “So you’re just moving on... some kind of emotional autopilot?”

Izuku laughed and shrugged a single shoulder. “Yeah, something like that,” he said, still grinning. “But it’s okay! Once we find the Shadow Wizard and defeat him I’ll be back to normal!”

Probably. Now that he thinks about it, maybe Izuku should have seen if there were any books in the royal library about husks having their souls returned. If such a thing had ever happened and been recorded.

Eijirou grinned and he held a fist out to Izuku. “Hell yeah, man, we’re gonna wreck his shit and set all his stolen souls free!”

Grinning along, Izuku bumped his knuckles against Eijirou’s and nodded.

“But forreal, get some sleep man. If you’re still awake in the next ten minutes I’m gonna knock you out myself. I’m not dealing with Katsuki being pissy all morning because he found out you didn’t sleep tonight.”

Snorting softly, Izuku glanced to the blond a few feet away, curled up on top of his bedroll and breathing peacefully. “He’s going to be pissy whether or not I get any sleep,” he pointed out, but shifted around to pull out his bedroll and settle down regardless.

Eijirou chuckled.

“Yeah, but if you get a good night’s rest then it’ll be easier to deal with him acting like a brat.”

With a grin and one last glance around the campsite, Izuku settled down on his bedroll and fell into a dreamless sleep.

Chapter Text

Katsuki had been awoken by Tenya for the last stretch of the night watch. He’d woken easily enough, groggy and rubbing at a tired eye, but soon found himself stoking the fire and pulling out a small bit of his rations to tide him over until they went hunting later for lunch.

He wasn’t sure what to make of the conversation he’d heard Eijirou and Izuku having last night when the pair assumed the rest of the camp was asleep. Katsuki had always had a hard time falling asleep in the field, and last night had been no different, but now when he looked over at a mop of green hair and freckled cheeks, he wondered just how much of his childhood friend-turned-rival was still in there.

He didn’t let his mind linger on that for too long, though. Katsuki was a lot of things, but one to dwell on a problem that they were actively fixing? Nah, he had better things to do than that shit.

Like try and figure out battle strategies that involved the party members he wasn’t used to fighting alongside.

Izuku and Shouto, Katsuki had plenty of experience sparring (or outright fistfighting) with, so he knew well enough what they could do, but Ochako and Tenya were essentially wild cards to him. Sure, Tenya had crazy speed and a strong sword arm, but how well could he take a hit? Could he operate very well stealthily? Did he have any other abilities aside from his speed and strength that Katsuki wasn’t aware of? And Ochako…

Katsuki frowned, tugging out an old, worn notebook from his satchel and starting to scribble down a few formulating battle strategies.

Did Ochako have any combat potential? He was aware that she was a gravity mage, which made her deadly and dangerous, but did she still get sick from using her magic too much? How much could she lift? Didn’t she more often use her magic for rescue missions instead of combat-heavy ones?

Frowning down at his notes, Katsuki chewed on the end of his pencil.

He stayed like that for a while, scribbling notes by firelight as the first rays of sunlight began cresting the horizon and fluttering in through the treetops.

“Battle strategies?”

Katsuki absolutely did not jump at the sudden voice over his shoulder, nor did he slam his notebook shut with a jolt.

“Fucking, Deku!” he snapped, voice a deadly hiss as hot crimson eyes narrowed when he glanced over his shoulder at the innocently grinning dumbass behind him. “The fuck, when did you wake up, nerd?”

Izuku sat down beside the fire and used a stick to prod the embers back to life. “A few minutes ago,” he said, voice a soft singsong.

“Bullshit,” Katsuki grunted, “You’re worse than the hag in the mornings. You don’t wake up fucking chipper.”

There was a sudden tension in Izuku’s shoulders that, if Katsuki didn’t know the twerp from birth, might have guess it was because of Katsuki’s tone. But no, that was the distinct reaction of Izuku realizing something he didn’t like.

Neither boy said anything after that, Izuku creeping closer to the fire to warm his feet and dig out a small ration from his bag to munch on.

“Can I see your notes, Kacchan?”

Katsuki snapped his eyes up from his notebook to glower at the other, fingers curling protectively around his book.

“Why?” he barked back, eyes narrowing.

“I know you’re writing battle strategies for the group. It’s probably weird since you don’t know everyone’s skillset like you do your normal squad. I was going to offer some pointers to help fill in the blanks.” Shining eyes seemed to reflect the late-spring green of the forest when Izuku finally managed to catch Katsuki’s eye.

It wasn’t a terrible idea. Katsuki could always file away more information on the nerd’s squad to take them down the next time a contest was held during a festival. He was about to relent when Izuku continued.

“Maybe we can make some strategies together?”

Oh hell no. Katsuki absolutely did not need this little dipshit to try and tell him how to fight, he’d been doing it longer and better than Izuku for years, he wasn’t about to start taking lectures from a dumbass like him.

“Why don’t you fuck off,” Katsuki sneered back, stuffing his notebook pointedly back in his bag. Izuku watched the movement with tired eyes, then sighed and shrugged.

“You know we’ll have to cooperate eventually on this mission, Kacchan.”

“Tch.”

Katsuki rolled his eyes, then stood, ambling around the campfire to kick lightly at a sleeping body. “Oiy, fuckface. Get up. S’time to pack the fuck up.”

Mina groaned and rolled over, a pink hand slapping against Eijirou’s cheek, startling the man awake with a yelp. Katsuki laughed and cocked his head. “This is what happens when you sleep next to Ashido, Hair-for-Brains,” he hummed, then went around the campfire kicking everyone else to wakefulness as Eijirou rubbed his face and tried to piece together what the hell woke him up.

Izuku helped rouse those that weren’t awake yet while Katsuki began packing up their camp. It wasn’t long before everyone was awake enough to help pack and stuff some rations into their face. Once everything was more or less packed away for travel, the group gathered around the dying embers of fire, Mina and Ochako still slowly chewing on jerky as they drowsily woke up.

“So we need a plan,” Katsuki grunted, drawing tired eyes as he spoke. “We have an end goal-” he jerked a thumb towards Izuku, “-but how the fuck are we gonna get there? The Shadow Wizard’s never been found before, so we gotta figure out how to track the bastard down first.”

The squadron was quiet as Katsuki’s words settled on them, then Tenya spoke. “Perhaps we could go under cover?” he suggested, “The best way to find criminals is to ask criminals themselves where they hide, correct? So what if we stuck to bars or taverns, places those seediest to society lurk, went undercover, and seeked out information that way?”

“Not bad,” Eijirou said, nodding along.

“Poor thing thinks the seediest people hang around in bars. God, I love Tenya,” Mina murmured to a grinning Ochako.

“Shut up, Raccoon,” Katsuki snapped, tossing a twig at his friend. Mina just grinned and plucked the twig from her hair and dissolved it with her acid. “We can start with that unless someone has a better suggestion.”

Everyone exchanged glances then shrugged.

“It’s not bad,” Shouto said, leaning back on his hands and tilting his head a bit towards Tenya, “We’ll have to split up who goes in for information. If the same people do it too often then it’ll start to raise suspicions.”

“Oh! Oh! Lemme!” Mina chirped, now seemingly much more conscious than she was mere minutes ago. “Eiji and I are a great team at covert missions! Let us do it first!”

“I dunno,” Ochako hummed, tapping her lips (a quirk, Katsuki wondered, if she had picked up from Tsuyu). “Both of you are pretty recognizable right off the bat. Maybe it should be someone a bit more...ah, bland.” The brunette offered the pair an apologetic smile. “Just for the first time, to test the waters and stuff, you know!”

Crossing his arms, Katsuki frowned. “Well if that’s your reasoning, then Half-n-Half ain’t goin’ either. He’s almost more recognizable than you, Pinky.”

Shouto shrugged and nodded. “I think Ochako and Izuku should go,” the princeling said, drawing Katsuki’s hardened gaze again.

“Hahh? Why the fuck them?”

Not that Katsuki had particularly wanted to go covert in a bar, but Izuku and Ochako together information gathering just sounded like a disaster.

“Well, from what I understand, it’s easier to get drunk men to lower their inhibitions and spill information if they’re talking to an attractive woman,” Shouto continued, and Katsuki didn’t miss how Ochako’s hands flew to her face as it went pink. “And Izuku because he’s the one with something to lose if this fails, I imagine he’s thought this through and is the most likely candidate to ask the questions that we need answers to.”

The conversation stagnated there for a moment, everyone absorbing Shouto’s words. It...wasn’t a terrible idea, it’d be better if Momo was there - she was so much better at stealth than anyone in either of their squads (Katsuki would never admit it aloud, but his own squadron damn near struggled with covert missions until they just stopped being assigned them altogether) but it couldn’t be helped.

There was just one little issue.

Izuku was uncharacteristically quiet the whole time, not even a mumble. When Katsuki’s gaze found the nerd, Izuku was watching everyone with rapt attention, but he wasn’t talking.

“Oiy,” the blond grunted, kicking out a boot to nudge Izuku’s leg.

The other man turned to him, eyes wide. “Yeah, Kacchan?”

“You got any say in this, nerd? You’ve been awful quiet, and as nice as that’s been, it’s fuckin’ weird.”

All eyes turned to Izuku then, and Katsuki’s frown only deepend at the slight confusion that flashed across the nerd’s face before he smiled brightly. “O-oh! Sorry, I was listening, though! I think it’s a good idea, Tenya!”

The others around the dying campfire nodded and smiled at each other, but Katsuki’s gaze was locked on Izuku, eyebrows coming together as he narrowed his eyes. When all of this is said and done, he took a moment to promise himself, he was going to absolutely kick Izuku’s stupid ass.

 

With their plan of action decided on, the squad finished collecting their things and stomped out the campfire before covering it in dirt to prevent any dwindling embers from catching, and then made their way back to the path to find their next destination.

With Izuku traveling with them now, their group of seven seemed a bit too big. Particularly since the Kingsmen typically worked in groups of five. Regardless, it was admittedly nice to know that even if Katsuki were to be distracted during a fight, Izuku - who he could begrudgingly admit to himself was good at what he did - had the squad’s back. Not that the other five were helpless, but..well-

Few people packed a punch the way Katsuki did and he knew it. Izuku just happened to be one of those that could dish just as much as he could handle.

Katsuki still found himself bringing up the rear, but now Izuku was the only walking only a few paces ahead - apparently he was the one bringing up the rear of his own squad.

Tch. Figures.

When midday gave way to evening they finally came to a small cluster of buildings along the route. A sign signaled to them that they had arrived at a small town called ‘Summer Springs’. Quietly, Katsuki thought that it was a stupid name for a town.

“There’s a small inn up ahead,” Tenya announced, pointing towards a faded, crooked sign hanging over a doorway.

“Everything here is so small,” Izuku mused aloud, looking around at the buildings as they walked. “Why don’t Shou and I go get us some rooms for tonight and you guys scout out the area a bit?”

Ochako and Tenya nodded immediately, Shouto shrugged and took a few steps closer to Izuku. Both Eijirou and Mina cast Katsuki a nervous glance.

It wasn’t that he was some undisputed leader or that he refused to share the workload, but dumbass fucking Deku was calling the shots now? That absolutely did not sit well with Katsuki. Not one bit.

But whatever, he had other things to worry about other than a dumbass nerd.

“Oiy, Pinky, Shitty Hair. With me - we’re gonna scope out the town to see if there’s any useful information here.”

With a short conversation about meeting back at the inn later, the group split up. Once they were out of earshot of the others, Mina spoke up.

“It’s really weird, isn’t it?”

Katsuki snorted and rolled his eyes. “What is?” He may as well indulge her.

“Midoriya’s so quiet! Don’t tell me you didn’t notice, ‘Suki.”

It was true, Izuku had been uncharacteristically quiet during their travels that day, but other than that nothing seemed too off with him.

“It was fucking relaxing is what it was,” he grunted, then shoved at Eijirou’s shoulder when the redhead hip-checked him.

“Dude, be nice! The guy’s whole soul is missing!”

“Which no one has actually explained to us yet, you know,” Katsuki pointed out, slowing to a stop to round on his two friends, arms crossed across his chest. “All Might didn’t say anything, Deku hasn’t said anything, and if Icy Hot knows anything he hasn’t told us either.”

Eijirou and Mina exchanged a look before aiming their frowns back at Katsuki. “Listen, man. You don’t have to like Midoriya - gods know you two need to work some shit out - but try not to be such a jerk to him right now, okay?”

“Tch. Whatever.” With a roll of his eyes, Katsuki jammed his hands into the pockets of his breeches and turned to stalk down the road to see if there was anything interesting in this backwater town.

 

Turns out no, there was nothing interesting here. Aside from catching a few kids trying to snag some wine from a passed out drunkard outside the inn, there wasn’t anything of interest in this town.

The group was sitting around a table in comfortable silence as they picked through their food. Rice and some meager vegetables were offered by the inn, apparently not having anticipated seven very active and hungry soldiers to come bumbling through their small town any time soon.

“I just wanted some meat,” Eijirou whined quietly, stuffing a grilled carrot into his mouth.

“It is lacking a bit,” Tenya agreed, nodding solemnly even as he shoveled another forkful of rice into his mouth. “But our hosts were kind enough to offer us food.”

Katsuki snorted. “It’s the least they could do. We’re Kingsmen for fucks sake, if anything were to happen to this puny town we’re they only line of defense they’ve got right now.”

Izuku perked up at that. “That’s true, but I heard that there’s someone with some kind of earth-tremor magic nearby that helps protect the people here from bandits and stuff. It may just be a nearby mage, but it’s something we should probably pass on to the king when we return?”

Earth-tremor magic, huh? Katsuki chewed thoughtfully as he processed this new information. If they were powerful enough to keep away bandits and the like from this little spit of a town then they most likely had enough magic to be helpful to the kingdom. Idly, Katsuki wondered just why they had decided not to join the guard, or even the army.

“Eh,” he finally said with a shrug. “We’ll pass the info onto the next patrol we pass, but it isn’t really something we need to be worried about right now.”

When he looked up again, Katsuki caught Izuku staring at him and arched a single eyebrow at the other man before stuffing more flavorless rice into his mouth. Narrowing his eyes and pursing his mouth for a moment, Izuku looked like he was about to say something, but then Ochako elbowed him to get his attention and their gazes were torn apart when Izuku turned to give her his full attention.

The hell was that about?

Katsuki was about to shrug it off as Izuku being a fucking weirdo again when the doors to the inn were shoved open and a rowdy group of people entered.

Immediately the soldiers quietened and kept their attention on the thugs that dragged their muddied boots through the doors.

“Oi! There any bastards workin’ this shithole tonight?” One of the men hollered. He had a shaved head with red tattoos curving around his temples and behind his ears. Leather and chainmail armor that had definitely seen better days and a long, curved dagger glinting at his hip.

Immediately Katsuki didn’t like the look of this man. His crew was dressed similarly, though they all hung back like a crew of children behind a bully as he tormented a defenseless victim.

Almost instinctively, Katsuki glanced to Izuku, whose shining emerald eyes were narrowed at the man. He likely had the same thought because a moment later he flicked his gaze to Katsuki.

Before they could say anything to the barbarians that entered the building, an old woman came hobbling out from the back, her cane in a trembling hand as she looked up at the bruiser that glowered down at her. “Oiy, where’s the old bastard?”

“Touma is ill today,” the old woman said, wringing her hands over the head of her cane before nervously looking from the bruiser to their group in the corner. It almost looked like she was begging both groups not to make a scene..

“Well ain’t that a pity,” one of the fucks behind the bruiser said, a wide grin on gaunt features. “Ain’t really right to shake down an old woman for money, but whatcha gonna do?”

The woman took a hesitant step back, but swallowed and steeled her resolve. “We don’t have the money right now. It’s the slow season - you know that - come back in a month.”

Big Man took a step forward, a too-kind smile on his slimy face. “We don’t play like that little mama,” he cooed mockingly. His next words made the old woman’s eyes widen and the color drain from her face. “You don’t want nothin’ bad to happen to your sweet little granddaughter now do you?”

That was it.

Katsuki was on his feet before anyone could stop him, chair thrown back against the floor and in seconds he was across the room and put himself between the woman and the bruiser.

“Oiy, fucker,” he snarled, chest puffed out as if that could make him seem any bigger to the guy easily a foot taller than him. Fucking hell, what did this shithead’s parents feed him? “I think the lady said to leave her alone, so why don’t you get the fuck out before you regret it, huh?”

There was a tense silence ringing through the small inn and Katsuki had just enough sense to realize that Izuku was beside him, chin held high as he glared down the thug before them.

“What, you two little squirts think you can handle me?” the bastard laughed, his crew all chuckling along with him. “Why don’t you get out of things you ain’t got a reason to be in the middle of, eh?”

“Have you ever broken a bone before?” Izuku asked, and Katsuki glanced at him in confusion. His tone was light and airy, almost friendly, but the hard glare on his features was unmistakably fury.

“Wha-”

“When I was training to be a knight I broke both of my legs and my arms multiple times,” he continued, just as friendly sounding as ever. It was fucking unnerving. “Even when my arms were broken I would continue to fight.” He grinned now, just as innocent and charming as ever. A glance back at the bruiser showed confusion and a small amount of fear etching its way into his eyes. “I’ve won most of those fights as well. And this guy-” he tilted his head towards Katsuki, finally causing the blond to look back at the thug and give him a wide, sharp grin. “-he’s even scarier than me when he fights. Laughs as he puts people in the hospital even. So I think it’s a really good idea for you to leave now. And if we hear about you coming around again, we’ll be sure to hunt you down one by one and take care of you ourselves. M’kay?”

The silence in the room after Izuku’s little…speech? Threat? was palpable. Ochako, Mina and Eijirou were standing but no one had crossed the floor as quickly as Katsuki and Izuku had. Katsuki felt the old woman’s hand on the back of his sleeve tug gently, but he ignored her in favor of glaring down the now nervous looking thug before them, still grinning that wild smile he had become known for during his battles.

After a tense moment, the bastard thug took a step back and then spat at Izuku’s boots before glaring hard at him.

“We ain’t done yet, greenie,” he hissed, “We’ll be fuckin’ back.”

Izuku’s smile never wavered and he raised a hand to wave as the thugs edged backwards towards the door. “Sounds fun,” he hummed, far too innocently. “We look forward to keeping you in check!”

And with that the bruiser flipped them the bird and ducked out the door.

As soon as the room was cleared and the door slammed shut, Katsuki turned around and frowned down at the old woman clinging to his shirt. He heard Izuku cross the floor to the door, probably to make sure the thugs really were leaving.

“You alright?” Katsuki grunted, prying the woman’s hand off of him as gently as he could.

“I’m fine, I’m fine. Just - thank you. My husband’s been so sick recently and we haven’t been able to make much money due to the slow season. People just aren’t traveling right now, so I was so worried that they would come by when I was here alone. I can’t thank you boys enough for stopping them.”

Grimacing, Katsuki let the woman keep ahold of his wrist as she spoke. She was still trembling slightly, nerves frayed after having been nearly shaken down for money.

“Do they come by often?”

The woman’s grip tightened minutely before she nodded. “Every month or so they show up. Says that they’re keepin’ the worse riff raff out, but we all know they’re lying. We were such a peaceful village before they showed up.” She shook her head sadly and finally released Katsuki’s arm to rub at the bridge of her nose.

“Don’t you have that earth-tremor mage nearby?” Izuku chirped from Katsuki’s side. The blond shot him a glare, but Izuku glared right back before looking at the woman. “I don’t know if they’re an officially trained mage or not, but we heard that they protect the town when they can. Has anyone tried to reach out to them?”

“Oh, Yo is a good boy,” the woman said with a sad smile, nodding. “But he’s busy and doesn’t come by as often as he once did.”

“Do you know him well?” Katsuki asked, and the woman nodded.

“After his parents passed when he was a boy Touma and I took him in. He’s a dear lad, I wish he’d come by more often.”

After a moment of thought, Izuku said, “I’m sure he’d want to know that you have those thugs breathing down your neck. It wouldn’t hurt to send him a message.”

The woman frowned slightly and shook her head before sighing. “Perhaps you’re right, son. For now, let me take care of your food tonight - as thanks for chasing those bastards off.”

“You don’t have to-” Izuku started, hands coming up between them and waving frantically, a red flush creeping across his face. Katsuki rolled his eyes and smirked, seemed like Izuku still had a hard time accepting other people’s kindness even after all these years.

“I don’t, but I want to,” the woman said, then squinted and looked around Izuku at the group now sitting at the table, chatting quietly and listening to them. “You all still have to pay, though. I’m poor, not stupid.”

Katsuki’s snort turned into a full on laugh at that, a hand slapping over his mouth to keep his guffaws quiet at the scandalized look of Eijirou and Ochako at the table. The other three shrugged and nodded.

They helped the old woman - Aiko she eventually told them - clean the table and Tenya helped her wash the dishes and before long they were all piling into one small room to get some well-deserved rest.

Katsuki found himself on the floor to the side of the bed, mashed to Mina’s side as she sleepily slung an arm over his stomach and a leg over Eijirou’s. What fucking mess and a half she was. Ochako and Shouto took the bed while Izuku and Tenya slept on the floor on the opposite side of the bed.

Bitterly, Katsuki wondered why the fuck he got stuck sleeping next to the starfish monster that is Mina Ashido, but before long the weight of the day started weighing down on him and before he could be too upset that Mina had half rolled on top of him he was sound asleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning the squadron thanked their hostess and headed out just after dawn. Tired eyes and slow bodies moved sluggishly through the quiet streets of the town. Vendors were starting to set up in the market and Mina and Ochako slipped away to pick up some last-minute supplies while the others waited near the treeline back into the forest.

Katsuki was looking through his notebook again, and Izuku couldn’t help his curiosity as he wandered towards the other man.

“Hey, Kacchan. What’s that?” Izuku knelt down beside the blond and glanced over the notebook before Katsuki snapped it closed and leered at him.

“Fuckin’- Just notes. Tryin’ to figure out the best way for our squads to work together,” Katsuki grumbled.

Izuku lit up, a bright smile plastered across his face as he leaned closer into Katsuki’s space. “Really? That’s so amazing, Kacchan! Tenya and Ochako work really well together, but I think Tenya and Eijirou’s magic would work together even better. Have you considered-”

The notebook smacked Izuku on the forehead and Katsuki glared at him. “I wasn’t asking for your help, Deku,” he snapped.

Waving his arms frantically, Izuku tried to backpedal. “I didn’t think you were, Kacchan! I just know my squad better than you do and it would be great if we could work together to-”

“The fuck did I just say, nerd?”

Katsuki didn’t wait for a response before standing and shoving his notebook into his satchel. He turned on his toes and marched over to Eijirou, snapping at the redhead when he smacked Katsuki’s back in a friendly manner a bit too hard.

Izuku frowned after him, then slumped back and sighed. Quiet footfalls approached and a warmth settled down on his left.

“It’s always impressive how angry you can make him by just existing,” Shouto mused aloud. Izuku snorted and glanced over at the mage. “Honestly I don’t know why you try so hard with him.”

Shrugging, Izuku sighed and sagged back against Shouto’s shoulder. “We just used to be so close, Shou. Like, a long time ago, and sometimes I miss that closeness, you know? Or I wonder what would have happened to us if we’d never had our falling out and cheered each other on instead of fighting all the time.”

“You can’t change the past, Izuku,” Shouto hummed, gladly sharing his warmth with his friend, letting his magic course through his body and into Izuku’s. “So there’s no use dwelling on it.”

Izuku snorted. “You can’t use my own words against me.”

“We aren’t talking about my mother this time, though.”

“I guess so,” Izuku grumbled, then flopped into Shouto’s lap with a huff. “Maybe it’s wishful thinking, but I’m still going to try to be Kacchan’s friend. Besides, I think there’s a part of him that misses what we used to have as well. After all, he didn’t have to come on this mission to help me, so something must have made him decide to do it.”

A quiet lulled between them as Shouto slowly ran his fingers through Izuku’s hair.

Time passed comfortably after that, the girls finally returning with extra supplies and rations and under Tenya’s expert timing the squadron was back on the road, a bit more awake than before.

Around noon they stopped for a break, though Izuku barely felt fatigued at all.

“Here, Izuku,” Tenya offered his waterskin, and with a quick ‘thanks’, Izuku took it and tipped it back. The water was cool and refreshing, though Izuku barely registered it. He handed the waterskin back and tilted his head when Tenya frowned at him. “You can have more than that, you know? You barely drank anything while we were traveling.”

“Really?” Izuku hadn’t even noticed. “I guess I’m not that thirsty. Thanks though, Tenya!”

Tenya opened his mouth to say something else, but Eijirou’s peppy voice cut him off.

“Hey everybody! Ochako said that there’s a sketchy tavern up ahead. Might be a good place to put our plan into action, yeah?”

Beside him, Ochako’s cheeks were puffed out and a pout of determination on her lips. Izuku grinned and nodded. “Yeah! Let’s do it!”

“Very well. You should have backup in case anything goes awry though. We aren’t going to be sending you two in blind,” Tenya said, nodding stiffly.

“I agree,” Katsuki said, sauntering forward. “I’ve never seen you two go covert and even if you can handle yourselves it’s better to have someone there just in case.”

Izuku nodded, they both had a point.

“Fine, but someone will need to watch the camp,” Ochako said, hands perched on her hips.

“I’ll stay,” Shouto offered, “I’m the most recognizable person amongst our squadron. It would be extremely suspicious if the crown prince was seen inside a shady tavern.”

“Eijirou, you stay too,” Katsuki said, and the redhead nodded without a question. “Keep each other safe, don’t do anything too stupid, and if shit does happen and you need backup use the signal.”

A bright grin spread across Eijirou’s face. “Sure man, you got it,”

“Signal?” Shouto asked.

“Oh, I’ll show you later man, it’s pretty easy, just a really crazy bird whistle.”

“I see.”

Fifteen minutes later has Izuku and Ochako dressed down in worn cloaks and dirtied clothes. Ochako smudged some dirt into her palms and upper arms then turned, face set in a determined grin. “Let’s go get some secret information to get your soul back!”

Izuku grinned and nodded. “Hell yeah! Let’s make it happen!”

---

“Where’d you two say you were from again?” the bartender frowned at Izuku and he squared his shoulders and put on a deep scowl, trying to emulate Katsuki as best he could. Katsuki, who was sitting at a table somewhere behind Izuku with Tenya and Mina.

“Hahh?? Why you so nosey, asshole?” Izuku snapped, baring his teeth in a snarl.

Ochako patted his back and leaned against the bartop, “E’scuse my hushban’,” she said, slurring her words as she rocked back against Izuku’s side, “He gets prrrrreddy angry when he drinksh.”

“Aye, fuck off,” Izuku snapped at her, making Ochako waver back with a delicate pout. Slamming his elbows down on the counter and frowning at the barkeep, he spoke again, tone hushed. “We were just wonderin’ if you’d heard anythin’ about those husk things. You know, the ones that were in that war a few months back?”

The barkeep narrowed his eyes, placing his glass down on the countertop too gently before turning to face them completely. He was a bear of a man, tall and muscled with a mane of hair down his back decorated with colored beads. “I think you two ought to stop askin' so many questions,” he grunted, meeting Izuku’s glare with one of his own. “You ain’t gonna get nothin’ from these folk. Ain’t no one ‘round here wanna talk about them soulless bastards.”

“What’d you just say to me-?!” Izuku stood up, chair clattering to the floor behind him. The barkeep still towered over him, his coal dark eyes now narrowed in displeasure.

“Oiy!” a moment later Katsuki, in full soldier regalia, slammed between Ochako and Izuku. “I thought that was you two, fuckin’ bastards. Givin’ me the slip like that back in Northborough.” Izuku turned to snap at Katsuki, to demand what he was doing, but the blond moved first.

Izuku yelped as Katsuki pulled his arm back, tugging none too gently on abused joints and ligaments until he stopped struggling. “Brawd, you too,” Katsuki snapped, gripping Ochako by the scruff of her cloak and all but hauling the two of them out of the tavern.

Once they were outside, Katsuki slipped around a corner and released them, glaring daggers at the pair as they returned matching frowns at him.

“What?” Ochako demanded first, arms crossed. “We were getting somewhere!”

“You were fucking not!” Katsuki snapped right back, taking a step forward and prodding a finger at Ochako’s chest. “You were acting like a bumbling idiot who was drunker than a fuckin’ fish. No one in their right mind would spill sensitive information to you! And you-!” Katsuki whirled around and crowded Izuku up against a wall, finger now jabbed into his chest. “Just what the fuck were you doing?! No one gets information by being an aggressive dipshit like that!”

“I was-um…” Izuku hesitated, chewing his lower lip and avoiding looking up at Katsuki’s piercing red glare.

“You were what, Deku?” The sentence hissed out between clenched teeth, the finger in Izuku’s chest turned to a fist gripping the front of his cloak. Still, Izuku couldn’t meet Katsuki’s eyes.

“I was trying to act like you,” he finally mumbled. “Though I guess that wasn’t such a great idea. Your scores with undercover operations are about the same as mine and..um...I just thought that if I tried to use some of Kacchan’s powerful confidence then I’d be able to make it work, but I guess not?”

Above him, Katsuki frowned, then shoved Izuku back against the wall with a huff. “Fucking hell,” he ground out, running a hand through his hair. “You two are so fucking stupid. Why did we decide to let you try to get information? Even half-n-half would have been better undercover.”

Before Izuku or Ochako could respond, Mina came prancing around the corner, hanging off of Tenya’s arm like a lovesick teenager. “Come on, babe, tonight’s been so much fun!” she sing-songed, and Tenya hummed his agreement, patting her hand affectionately.

The three standing in the alleyway watched on in silent confusion. Once they were a few steps in, Mina and Tenya separated and both grinned brightly at them. “You’ll never guess what we found out!” Mina squealed, rushing forward to grab Katsuki’s arms as she bounced in excitement.

“What happened?” Ochako voiced the very question that Izuku was wondering.

“Well, simply put, once Bakugou dragged you two out we approached the barkeep and asked what had happened. He said he was pretty sure you two were snooping around looking for trouble. After that, we engaged him, made up a story about how we’re newlyweds and traveling the country for my father a fabric salesman. He said that you had asked about husks and after allowing him to complain about you for a while, he opened up and from there it was all very simple.”

“Yeah, totes crazy how you two flubbed it up so bad but if you hadn’t then Tenya and I wouldn’t have been able to get the barkeep to start talking as easily!” Mina said, grinning brightly.

“Huh,” Katsuki cast a glance down at Izuku, who was frowning at the story. Had they really messed up that badly? At least they hadn’t gotten thrown out, he figured. “Whatever,” Katsuki shouldered past Izuku and towards the exit of the alley. “Let’s get back to camp and you can explain to all of us what you found out.”