Phew. I started writing this chap when manga chapter 292 dropped and... well. May I just say, the last parts were awesome. It was a wild ride, and I for one am more than interested in how the Todoroki family business will be resolved. Tomorrow chapter 301 is going to drop (Oops)
Someone remarked to me why I chose to go with the students' first names. Well, simply put, when I decided that I wasn't quite sure whether to include a certain idea or not. Had I left them with their last names I wouldn't have been able to go through with it. And, secondly, I first started watching the anime in german. So the first names are just more natural for me? Thirdly, them changing to first names does symbolize them growing closer as people. I realize it might sound odd to people who only watched the english or japanese versions, but I hope it won't take the fun out of the story for you.
On another note – I just realized I fucked up. Big time.
When I started this story I was just going with a vague feeling of when to set this story. I wanted it to happen before the 2nd internship arc. That was pretty much all I thought about. Then around chapter 4 I decided I would set it after the JT arc. Up until recently I'd only watched up to season 3 and read the manga up to date. Now that I'm finally all caught up... Yikes. I hadn't realized it wasn't in the anime yet.
The thing is, if I continue writing this story as I'd like, it would obviously include major manga spoilers. For my fellow readers, the Blackwhip issue and everything involving that development. It is something I teased at already during the last chapters, but somehow managed to subconsciously avoid. (Go me, ha!) So the way I see it I have two options.
One, avoid the thing like the plague, avoiding anything and everything around it – which is bad, because the way I intended to write this thing I really wanted to fit it right here – probably going as far as excluding the POV of those who are inaugurated.
Two, I could set the story onto complete Hiatus. Problem with that: I know myself. Even while I consider the story "ongoing", my updating schedule is almost never under a month. If I allow it to go into hiatus until the Joint Training arc? Really bad. I could continue writing it for myself, but without the occasional review that keeps me going, makes me include details I'd otherwise have left out, I fear it just wouldn't feel the same.
For now I'm planning to go with the first option. I'll try my best to put off anything concerning Blackwhip as far as possible. I'll try to keep everything too spoiler-y out, but I fear it won't work completely. So, from now on, I'll put a slight spoiler warning ahead.
I apologize for the inconvenience.
I intended to make this chapter even longer but the way I would have had to split the next chapter up then would have been awful, so it's still on the longer side (a proud 11 pages) but not as big as I wanted. Oh well.
Lee had padded off soon, claiming he would try getting some rest. Judging from the way he swayed ever so slightly, he needed it badly.
Izuku wasn't aware of their host's taken route. But if he was indeed from way out into Fire Nation territory and had traveled all that in just a few days he ought to be burning with exhaustion.
He hadn't managed to get much information on the different nations, but the pieces were slowly starting to fall together. In retrospect he really couldn't help but wonder how they'd failed to realize everything sooner.
Still, there were more pressing matters now. He would have plenty of time to punch himself for not seeing, not understanding the way this world worked sooner, with all the clues they'd been given. But now... He swallowed down the lump in his throat.
Izuku still remembered all too vividly the strange dream he'd had the night before. Had that also been due to a meddlesome spirit?
The night was supposed to be their first time to rest peacefully, but after he'd been shaken from that dream it had taken him a long time to fall asleep again. He'd still woken up refreshed, but now that he'd seen Lee's strange outburst, he couldn't help but wonder if the dream was more than just his subconsciousness playing him dirty.
There had been a strange man, clad in all red, calling out to him. His outstretched hands clawing away at an invisible barrier. Thinking back he startled softly in surprise when he realized the man's features were quite similar to Lee's. Older, yes, and more worn. But the shape of his eyes, the high cheekbones... it had to be a coincidence, right?
Izuku's hands rose almost on their own, resting against the barrier between them. Now that he was closer, he could see the fractions marring the foggy walls.
The man stilled, his eyes roaming over Izuku's figure before he vehemently shook his head, shouting louder.
The words still failed to reach his ears. Pushing carefully against the glass he tried calling the old man, his voicechords straining to produce a sound.
He was sure he'd spoken, was sure he'd felt his throat vibrate, but not a single tone carried across the barren landscape.
The old man went frantic without a warning. He shouted from the top of his lungs, his arms raising as if he expected something to happen. His eyes were blown wide open.
But his focus wasn't on Izuku anymore.
His eyes were on something behind Izuku.
Whirling around he found himself backing up against the barrier.
The ground in front of him was breaking away, huge chunks of stone dropping into void. The shockwaves were enough to push him back even further, but still there was not a single sound to be heard. He was grateful in a way. Had he been able to hear that, his eardrums probably would have burst. Perhaps they had and that's why he couldn't hear anything anymore.
A particular nasty gash tore through the ground, approaching him in a waving line.
Thunk. He might have been unable to hear anything, but the fist smashing against the barrier right next to his head vibrated through the glassy substance.
With a frightened glance at the nearing rift he jerked around, facing the red-clad man once more.
He shouted again, shouted over the deafening silence.
This time Izuku didn't have to hear him.
And run he did.
He leaped over one of the narrower rifts, barely managing to land on the other side. There was no need to look back. He knew without doubt the moving chasm had changed direction, was changing after him.
He knew it as sure as he knew he was very much quirkless again this moment. The thrumming presence of One for All had vanished completely, leaving him vulnerable and unable to do anything but run.
His legs ached.
Muscles strained against an invisible force slowing him down. He was running as fast as he could, his very essence straining against air itself.
He was slow, slower as if he were walking. Nothing was pushing back. His body fought, desperately trying to build up speed, but he only ever got slower. So slow he should have dropped.
Thr gound broke away in front of him, leaving him to stare into a dark abyss.
Something jerked him back. If you lay eyes on this, you'll die. It was as sure as breathing.
Forcing his legs to start moving again he turned, running along the new chasm.
And promptly smacked into the barrier.
Turning around, he found the rift groeing ever closer, broader, more powerul and sinister. A dark purple glow seemed to emanate from within.
This was it. This was the source.
And there was no escape.
The barrier was in front of him.
The spirit behind him.
With a soundless cry he forced his arms up, willing One for All to return.
Everything was blurry. The rift was mere meters away from him.
Green lightning encompassed his arms.
The rift was too broad now, no way he could escape.
There was only...
He turned around, forcing One for All up to his limits. 45 percent. It had to be enough.
Pulling back his fist, he prayed silently the barrier would be thin enough for him to break.
The floor underneath him cracked.
A face appeared in front of him, pure horror marring it.
It was the old man. His hands were raised defensively.
The man was shouting again. How he did understand the message Izuku couldn't know.
Don't do it!, the man was screaming, he'll destroy everything!
The ground crumbled away.
With a pained cry, the first sound he could actually hear, Izuku fell.
His eyes were screwed shut, a mantra of don't look, don't look, DON'T LOOK! repeating endlessly in his head.
It was cold, merciless, prodding at his chest and at his eyes and never giving in, never stopping, tearing away at everything he held dear.
Hands clasped at his shoulders, fingers digging into his skin, digging through his flesh and into his bones.
Fingers on his skin.
A voice in his ear.
"Hey, man", the voice whispered, sinister and twisted.
"Time to wake up."
Which had been the moment he'd shot up from the mattress, drawing in air as if he hadn't breathed in ages.
The fingers had disappeared.
Kaminari. Denki, he had corrected himself again. "Bad dream", he'd foced out. "I'm ok, nothing to worry about."
"Dude", Denki had said with a tired laugh, "After yesterday evening I'd rather not take any chances."
Which had in turn lead to a short recounting of the scene the electricity quirk user had stumbled across the night before. One that still made Izuku's skin crawl.
"I'm worried about Lee", Denki had entrusted him softly. "Something's not right."
Watching Lee's retreating back he couldn't help but shivering.
Katsuki Bakugo was usually a morning person.
Although said usual didn't involve multiple-day hiking trips. Sure, he'd taken up mountain climbing as a hobby just after he turned seven years old, but the crippling exhaustion filling his entire body felt nothing like the satisfying burning in his muscles after a particularly hard climb.
Mountain climbing was something he enjoyed more than he could put into words. There was no one following him, no Deku and none of the other extras. He could go as hard and fast as he wanted. Each time he turned around there was nothing but the sense of accomplishment as he looked down at the ever changing scenery. Each successful step was a win.
He'd always climbed mountains, be it a real one or a metaphorical one. Each drawback, each hindrance was nothing but a stepping stone to reach new heights.
It wouldn't be long now, he'd told himself after enrolling into UA. He was at the last part. He could almost see the glint of snow on the very top.
Then he'd seen Deku enrolled and his climb suddenly felt hollow.
He'd pushed himself up, digging his fingers into stone until they bled, pushing further and further ahead.
Only to have Deku following in his footsteps again, setting his feet carefully where Katsuki's own had left their imprints, trying to overtake the taller boy. The path was too narrow for two people to walk it. In the end, one of them would have to move.
How was it fair? How was it fair that he pushed himself so far, only to have a giant hand pick up Deku and put him down right behind Katsuki?
Then he'd seen what their classmates could do and his heart had almost stopped.
If Deku had been picked up and deposited on the mountain, Shoto Todoroki had been born on it. Had been pushed further up by a harsh and yet well experienced hand. Despite his unwillingness he'd been raised ahead, leaving him to look down onto his classmates with nothing but a harsh sneer on his face.
But that had been then, and now everything was different.
He knew now that the hand lifting Deku up hadn't held him, but had lifted him up by a rope covered in thorns. Leaving him to hang on until it dropped him on a mountain with nothing but mere words of guidance, his hands still bleeding from the effort of holding on, slowing his climb while he so desperately chased after Katsuki.
And Shoto? The hands pushing him had been burning him alive, burning him so badly he jumped off without looking back. Now he was suddenly gone from Katsuki's path, but he would appear every so often in his peripheral vision. Just a bit off to the side, sometimes right beside him, sometimes next to Deku, sometimes so far ahead Katsuki felt his heart clench at the sudden distance. But he was no longer climbing the same path, the route carefully pointed out to him, even ignoring the deliberate shortcuts the burning hands pointed out, instead crafting his own steps with a chilled breath. He never called out to them to wait, a steady presence accompanying him, sometimes gently hardening a harsh step under Katsuki's very feet or creating a railing to keep Deku from falling off.
Shaking his head Katsuki rose from the mattress, popping his aching back. It wasn't as bad as sleeping in the open, but the too thin fabric – so close to traditional japanese it almost made him laugh – provided little comfort against the solid stone floor.
It came as no surprise to him that Shoto felt right at home, the thin blanket wrapped around his heated body more for comfort than actual warmth. Most of the students, including Katsuki, had pointed the dual quirk wielder to the bed, reminding him he'd went a lot of additional effort. Seeing the form of the mattresses Shoto had quickly shut them down, telling them he wouldn't be able to sleep on the too soft bed anyway and someone else should take it.
Minoru had made to move to the fluffy heavens just before Katsuki had all but shoved Tenya onto it. Any protests that might have arisen had been shut down by the explosive hero telling him to stop trying to be a hero so badly and accept he was the one who needed the rest the most after Halfie.
Clearly he hadn't needed it so badly, or it were deeply ingrained instincts that had him rising and out of the room before the other students so much as stirred.
Deku and Denki had followed shortly after, the latter making sure to tell Katsuki in advance. He'd grumbled back a halfhearted threat about not caring and letting him sleep or else, but he'd been glad for the info.
His arm dropped over his eyes with a low groan. Usually he would have been among the first to rise, with only Glasses and Half'n'Half rivaling his early start. But he couldn't bring himself to get up. After all... what for?
So they had allies now. It might have been him to suggest they take the Avatar's friends' help, but doing so had required a great deal of restraint as well as telling himself repeatedly that asking for help wasn't a sign of weakness.
And even if it were, he couldn't be picky at this time, in this situation.
Something rustled to his left, jerking him out of his musings. Glancing over he saw Eijiro – he actually liked using the name. Not that he'd tell Shitty Hair, ever – slowly rising up, a loud yawn revealing all the pointed teeth. He fought back a snort. It really was a miracle they hadn't been outed sooner, wasn't it?
Well, he was definitely calling this their outing. Not the fiasco with the oil. Or Halfie's stunt with both quirks. This was where they'd chosen to reveal themselves. Anything else would mean failure. They couldn't afford failure, not with so many unknown factors.
Something must have shown on his face since only seconds later Shitty Hair leaned down, staring intently at him. "Hey man, you alright?"
Swatting irritably at the nose poking into his personal space he closed his eyes again. "Fine."
Usually this would have brought at least a quick retort, but as he'd pondered earlier, everything was far from usual. He didn't have to look to know Shitty Hair was nodding softly, trusting Katsuki would know of the gesture without having to see it.
"We should go wake everybody up. I mean, we all need the rest, but we should eat and think about out next steps, right?"
"What do you think Deku and Glasses disappeared to." Usually he wouldn't have been content leaving things to Deku, but he did have a not completely useless brain in there. Just as Katsuki had a warm blanket that let the feeling return fully into his cooled fingers. It was a relief, knowing he was finally getting warm enough again to be able to use his quirk again to its fullest.
So no, usually he would jump up, demanding to be included, making sure they were set on the right path.
The temperature dropped suddenly, making a shiver run through his spine. Catching Shitty Hair's look and knowing exactly who he laid next to it was easy to piece two and two together. "You better keep that heat coming or else."
Icyhot stilled for a moment before Katsuki could feel his back gradually getting warmer again.
"Wait", Shitty Hair prodded with a smirk, "you played space heater for the whole night?"
"Guess it's habit by now. I doubt any of us quite got all the warmth back in their bones."
Hearing Halfie changing behind him Katsuki curled himself further into the warmth. That part was right. Despite having been in the warmth for at least ten hours now – more like twelve, considering it was already lightening outside – his body still felt chilly.
"Lay down before you drop, idiot." After all the time spent together at the remedial course he didn't even have to look to see the slightly puzzled glance aimed his way. Annoyed, he added "You wasted the whole night warming everyone up. Better get some rest if you don't want to be completely useless."
"I though I should keep the heat coming?"
"Tsk, whatever, Icyhot." To be true, he hadn't meant to ask Icyhot to continue his heating. That had to take a huge toll. And... he had kept his quirk going while he was clearly asleep. Under a blanket. Odds they could have all burned to death were...
It wasn't quite fair and he knew it. For all his shortcomings, when it came to control Half'n'Half was one of the people who had the best control of their quirks. Even on his left, so called weaker side, he still presented an uncanny mastery over the amount of heat or flames he produced. The only time he'd ever seen an unwanted flame had been... that day, sitting in front of the television, watching Endeavor fighting the High-End Nomu. Only then had he seen the tiniest hint of a flame by Halfie's face. On the stronger right, his control was even better. Good enough to keep from seriously injuring someone he was firing away at with full strength. The way that glacier had curved around Sero's form, only exploding upwards in rage after encasing him securly... that was true mastery of a quirk. So no, he didn't believe Halfie would actually burn them to death in their sleep.
"I'm used to it. I'm constantly regulating my own body temperature after all. I just pushed it a bit higher." He could almost hear the tiny half-smirk. "I was cold too, you know."
And that was a blatant lie. But...
He could understand it. Somehow. Wanting to do something for their idiotic classmates, making sure they all got home safely.
He turned around halfway, meeting determined, mismatched eyes. There was a hint of fatigue still shadowing them, but overall he looked positively replenished.
Huffing softly he buried himself further into his blankets, his muddled mind demanding he go catch some more sleep. Or at least relax before he dealt with the insanity that was, apparently, their lives. Other people were dealing with it already. There was no need for him to involve himself just now.
From the glint in Halfie's eyes the younger teen was remembering the same day, the same course. Knowing when it's better to step down and let someone else handle the situation is one of the most important parts of being a hero nowadays. You can be as strong as you want, but there will always come a time where someone equally or better suited will take over.
That hadn't quite been what Gang Orca had meant back then, Katsuki relented after pulling the blanket closer, but it was the same baseline. There was no reason to interrupt. Somebody else would handle this.
And in the meantime he could catch some more minutes of rest.
Some shuffling and a muffled "See you later" were the last things he heard before he started drifting off again. Feeling the blanket warm again, just around his fingers, a slight smile tugged at his lips.
The door shut soundlessly.
By the time the two newly awakened teenagers arrived at the bottom of the stairs Katsuki was already dreaming of his hand closing around stone and pushing himself up the side of his mountain while the wind whipped by.
The second they turned around the corner the tension seeped out of Katara's shoulders.
Even knowing the teashop's owner wasn't home nothing could bring down her spirits. Seeing Zuko and Toph again would be great. They hadn't been apart for long, but with Aang suddenly losing three quarters of his bending – plus the ability to contact his former lives- and Sokka growing more distant with each passing second it felt like it had been months.
Katara was a healer. She fixed things. Except this time she had no idea where to start.
Aang was trudging beside her, his mind visibly racing. And not in a good direction if the strained lines around his eyes were any indication.
Interlocking her hand with Aang's she got him to look up, meeting his eyes with a smile. He hesitated shortly before returning the gesture. It didn't quite reach all the way to his eyes, but it was a start.
Ignoring the sign at the front door loudly exclaiming "CLOSED" to any potential customers Katara stepped up and knocked on the door. If both Zuko and Toph were inside odds were the door wasn't even locked. On the other hand Zuko was a paranoid, flighty firebender who was deeply convinced the world was out to get him. Which she kind of did understand after hearing just how many attempts to end his life had been executed in the short time he'd been Fire Lord. Come to think of it, would he have his personal body guards with him?
Knocking louder she gently tried opening the door. It was in fact locked.
"Maybe they are out?" Sokka offered.
"Possibly." And she didn't really want to think about that.
One last time she rapped her knuckles against the door, already having given up more or less. Just when she was about to suggest going somewhere else for a few hours she could hear a key turn in the lock.
It swung open and she found herself face to face with-
That was not Zuko.
For a long time she stood, blinking at the black haired, scarred teenager. Was this a plot? Had someone impersonated Zuko? But the Earth King knew him, so that shouldn't work. Was it a joke? Perhaps one of Zuko's underlings posing as him while the Fire Lord took some time off and roamed the streets as a peasant?
Aang gave a soft chuckle next to her. "Looking different, Sifu Hotman."
That managed to get a surprised rise of eyebrows. Otherwise the other didn't betray in any way what he was thinking. "Are you looking for Lee?"
Lee. The name Zuko always used when he wanted to blend in. "Uh, yes, we very much are." It didn't make sense. People here knew the Dragon of the West was the teashop's owner, Even knowing he had fought for them that day under the light of Sozin's comet the citizens of Ba Sing Se still kept a wary eye on him. And they knew just as well who his nephew was. So why would Zuko use a false name right here, where everyone would know it was a blatant lie?
Not-Zuko interrupted her train of thought by turning back and calling softly for an Eijiro to get Lee.
They couldn't see the other, nor could they clearly hear his reply. Their new acquaintance furrowed his brow softly before calling back "And Toph?"
So Toph went by her real name and Zuko was playing peasant? Had the situation not been so dire she knew a dozen ways she could enjoy this. But considering the circumstances she'd refrain from it. For now.
Before any further words could be exchanged someone else pushed into the hallway. Someone familiar.
"Sugarqueen! And Snoozles and... You're more of a Droopytoes today, aren't you?"
Aang managed a half hearted smile. "Hey Toph. Good to see you. We were looking for Uncle Iroh actually, but Kuei told us he's back in the Fire Nation?"
"Yeah. Long story. Come in guys, and behave! We have a couple of guests."
"I wouldn't have guessed", Sokka deadpanned with a look at the scarred teenager. Now that she could see him more closely Katara could clearly see the many ways in which he was different from Zuko. He was younger – not by much, perhaps a year or two, although much of that could have been just Zuko's nonstop scowling – and his features were different, with a sharper chin line and chubbier cheeks. Most notably though were the mismatched eyes.
She was aware she was staring, but something was odd here.
Maybe she was unconsciously mirroring her brother. Sokka kept glancing at the unfamiliar boy with a frown she recognized all too well. A Sokka with this face wouldn't rest until he knew all the details.
Toph must have felt it as well. "Oh, that's Shoto, he's staying with us together with a couple friends. Eijiro is somewhere behind that corner and- you know what, they can introduce themselves."
Shoto and a girl named Momo – and yes, apparently he'd heard that correctly – quickly excused themselves to wake up the remaining guests while Toph went to check on Zuko. Which left the newcomers with Eijiro as well as two other boys called Izuku and Tenya.
Which wouldn't have been too bad if Sokka couldn't feel the sense of wrongness radiating from them.
And if they had been less strange, perhaps.
He'd stared at Shoto already, but that had been more due to the eery similarity with Zuko. But these three?
If he had to start somewhere he would say it was the hair.
He'd seen much. He'd traveled the whole world, had fought benders of all nationalities with nothing but a boomerang, had forged a sword out of a meteor and had been abducted by a spirit. There wasn't much that surprised Sokka anymore.
Except, apparently, brightly colored hair.
Tenya's could almost have looked like a reflection of strange light. The blueish hue had to be a trick on his eyes, didn't it? And Eijiro, while he'd never seen a red tone that vibrant, still was at least close to natural hair colors. He wasn't, in fact, but comparing to the green mob of hair their third friend sported...
He tore his stare away for the umpteenth time, helping himself to some tea in the meantime. It was much weaker than Zuko's teas normally were.
His surprise had been noticed. "Momo made the tea", Tenya explained quickly. "She's quite knowledgeable about such practices."
"So Lee was really feeling that unwell, huh?"
"You could say that." There was honest concern written all over the taller teenager's face. "He really did not look good."
Footsteps alerted him to more people entering the room. Turning around he was glad his common sense had checked out soon after meeting Aang – or at least grew much more flexible – because the people in front of him were so far from ordinary his mind came to a complete halt.
His eyes zeroed in on the small – tiny – member of the group and the odd, beaming violet balls of hair. Never mind the purple eyes, that was just freakish!
Another one with straw colored hair and bright red eyes scowled into the round, clearly not happy about having been dragged into the room.
Momo settled down to her place again. "We couldn't find Denki."
That got a startled intake of breath from Tenya. "But he was down here with us just minutes ago!"
"We didn't see him when we came down", Eijiro pointed out. "Maybe he went outside?"
"Even Dunce Face wouldn't be that stupid", the red-eyed growled.
Which was precisely when someone barged out of the adjoining kitchen with a frantic look on his face and Sokka's brain threw its hands up and announced a spontaneous vacation.
Because that boy had bright yellow hair.
There was only so much unnaturality that he could take.
The newcomer threw his hands up in defense at the glances thrown his way. "Sorry, sorry! I was, uh, checking something out and got lost in my head."
"Checking out something in the kitchen?"
"It does make sense", a tired voice came from behind.
Sokka turned to find a white faced Zuko leaning against the doorframe. "Considering what happened yesterday."
That didn't sound ominous at all. "Oohkay, so who's explaining first? Because we kind of are in big trouble. But I prefer knowing who I'm talking with."
"Then we go first." Zuko pushed away from the door, moving stiffly over to one of the tables. Once everyone was seated he spoke up. "Everything started when I got a letter from Toph..."
By the time both sides had finished explaining themselves the sun had almost finished it's ascension into the sky. The streets were bustling with life.
Sokka's fingers thrummed softly against the table. "So those tears in the spirit world were probably caused by you coming here."
"Or the tears in your spirit world interfered with Vortex's quirk and brought us here!", Minoru shot back, his arms crossed.
"Was that what his name was?", Shoto asked, his interest obviously piqued.
"Didn't you listen to the debriefing?", Ochako teased.
"To be fair, I forgot the name too." Tenya pushed his glasses up his nose. "And I believe it was said only once, when half of us were already well on their way. I remember hearing someone saying it just as I sped away. But it slipped my mind afterwards."
"We had a lot to worry about those last two weeks. Or maybe it's closer to three weeks by now, isn't it?" Momo stirred her tea softly, a crease in her forehead.
Sokka shook his head slowly. "Whichever it was, we need to figure out how to get you home and seal those tears." Was it only his imagination or did Izuku look somewhat sheepish? Then again, he didn't know any of them. He didn't want to shatter any feeble trust they'd barely started building up by accident.
"So what now?", Katara inquired. "Should we return to where you landed?"
"That's where the knot is thickest." All eyes turned to Zuko. He shrugged at the attention and explained "I believe that's where the rifts originate from. But except for the rift itself, nothing is there. Believe me, I checked."
"You were at the exact site where we landed?" Izuku was clearly surprised now.
"Not exactly. At Yuketsu, but I would have passed your landing point on my way here. That village was the wrong direction after all."
"We didn't have a map, you know. Just trying to survive", Eijiro quipped.
Sokka snorted softly. "Good job." Turning to Aang he found himself nudging his sister's boyfriend. "Anything you want to add, bud?"
The Avatar sighed loudly. "Just wondering about something."
Denki flicked a spark in his general direction. "Share with the class, prof."
Aang briefly furrowed his brow at the term before his eyes hushed over to Shoto. "Perhaps the reason why I can't bend the other elements anymore is because there's now someone else who can bend two."
Shoto squirmed slightly under the attention. "Would something like that really influence the Avatar?"
"No." Zuko crossed his arms, a huff of flames coming over his lips. "Not only are your quirks way different from how bending works, there's no way an outsider could just... accquire part of the Avatar spirit. And if Aang still feels the other elements and just can't use them... No, it has to be something else. I'm guessing those rifts."
"The rifts? But wouldn't they have appeared weeks ago? Then my bending should have stopped working earlier!"
"I'm not sure. Perhaps it took time. Perhaps the Fire Palace was too far away." Something flashed in Zuko's eyes as he visibly grabbed the reigns of his mind, forcing his words to be more careful. "Whatever the reason, those are rifts between our world and the spirit world. The Avatar as bridge between those simply can't be unaffected."
"I tried getting into contact with my former lives, but that's a dead end as well." Aang shivered violently. "What now?"
"I'd suggest checking out the library in-"
Toph shut Sokka down immediately. "Not going there, Snoozles. You know we'd probably be killed on sight."
Tenya blinked at them. "What did you do in a library that would make someone want to kill you?"
"Then perhaps the archives in Ba Sing Se's university?" It wasn't his favorite option, but there had to be something usable in there, right?
"We could ask Kuei", Zuko added. "He knows most of the books by heart. Or one of the university's professors? It would be faster than having to dig through everything ourselves."
"And if that won't work?" It was rare to have Katara be the voice of pessimism. "What if the university doesn't have any helpful records?"
"Uncle." Zuko breathed out loudly. "Perhaps some of the old Fire Nation archives. I'd even take the Sun Warriors. Surely they have some additional information."
"Trying to learn more dance moves, Sparky?"
"Trying to find a solution to this mess." Leaning forward the young Fire Lord looked into the eyes of each of his guests. "Also, there's one thing I intend to find out."
Their visitors were visibly uncomfortable. "What exactly are you talking about?", Katsuki huffed.
Zuko hesitated shortly. "Each bending style does not only have distinct forms and philosophies, but also different mannerisms. I'm curious if those somehow apply to you as well."
Sokka refrained from shaking his head. If those were completely different powers from different worlds, how should they be able to work with rules made for benders? But then again, who even knew there were different worlds. And he wasn't a bender anyway, so what did he know.
"Won't hurt to try. Let's move that to when we're on the road to the Fire Nation." Toph leaned back, cracking her knuckles. "Looking forward to pound you into the ground."
Minoru narrowed his eyes at her. "We are heroes in training, do you really think you can take any of us that easily, little girl?"
Toph stilled. She didn't move in any way, but her whole focus was somehow on Minoru. "That a challenge?"
"Don't kill him, Toph!" Oh, he would pay good money to see this! Although there were a few combinations he'd rather see. How would Tenya fare against Aang in a race? Or how would Shoto do in a battle against either Katara or Zuko? Come to think of it, how would Zuko fight against any of the fireish themed quirks? "But, what happened to checking the university first?"
It was silent for a while before Aang spoke up. "Let's ask around quickly. If it yields no result we should head for the Fire Nation as fast as possible. Probably even today. If we set off a few hours before nightfall we can be at the capital tomorrow evening."
"Back to camping. What a joy", Ochako murmured.
"Don't worry! This time you're traveling with a firebender to keep you warm! Plus, you won't have to walk."
Momo shot him a look. "We had Shoto before and we still almost froze. But the not having to walk part sounds awesome, really."
Clapping his hands together Sokka rose to his feet. "Perfect! Let's just split up quickly and see if anyone can find some information for us. Back here in two hours!"
Two hours were an awefully short time to gather information.
Momo as one of the physically inconspicuous ones had accompanied Sokka, Katara and Aang to the university. By the time they'd gotten there more than twenty minutes had already passed.
But they weren't looking for anything all too specific.
So far all she had done was pulling up to different professors and asking them if they ever heard of something similar to a rupture between the spirit world and the human world or, in general, other worlds. The only result her inquiries had brought were a couple funny looks and shaking heads.
Running her hands over the book covers and scrolls she allowed herself to feel sorry to not have the time to look at them for one moment. It would certainly be interesting enough, being able to read through the assembled knowledge of an entirely different world.
Pulling her hands away Momo turned and headed back to the meeting point. Checking her watch – and wasn't it convenient that both worlds followed a nice 24-hour rotation – she gave the books one last, longing glance before promising herself she would have more than enough time learning about this world.
The thought sent a pang through her heart.
As much as she would enjoy absorbing every bit of knowledge that she could find, there was simply no way she wanted to stay longer than they had to. Never mind their own, personal discomfort. When a single UA student had been abducted the world had been fast to turn against heroes. Now, with All Might gone, as well as half of a hero class missing... how would people react?
Her brain helpfully fed her images of riots breaking out across the streets. People throwing themselves against the doors to UA, demanding answers. Her parents, desperately pleading with Aizawa to find their daughter.
The last image stung more than she'd like to admit.
Pull yourself together, she ordered herself. Each of her classmates had people worrying about them at home. The faster she got them all home the better.
She met up with their new friends – somehow she couldn't quite find it in her to call them allies – in the main hall. "So... anything?", she asked, a hint of hopefulness at the edge of her voice.
The dejected expressions told her everything.
"Can he really carry all of us?"
Never before had Momo had Izuku sound this uncertain. Which said a lot – she'd seen him in just about every state of uncertainty there was.
"Of course he can! Appa is strong! Right, buddy?" At least the Avatar Aang looked happier. There was still worry etched deeply within his features, but he looked genuinely excited to head for the Fire Nation.
They'd been ensured Aang's state as the Avatar would enable them to have a look into even theFire Nation royal archives. A thought that sounded nothing if not plain odd to her. From what she'd been able to gather the Avatar had more of a guidepost function between spirits and humans, but during these after-war times apparently held greater influence. However the Fire Nation surely must be wary of the child who brought down their nation. And wasn't that a comforting thought. A thirteen year old pre-teen who had enough power to topple an entire country.
She'd been assured there was more to it than mere fighting, that it had been more a coup d'état with Aang taking care of the former Fire Lord and installing a new one in his place. One that rejected the war.
As they'd told her about it Aang's and Sokka's glances kept wandering over to Lee.
Lee. Something was off there.
He was Fire Nation. And he obviously knew the gang since before the war ended. Apparently he'd taught Aang firebending. It was strange as well, that thought. Teenagers banding together to save the world, teaching each other along the way. It sounded like straight out of those mangas Sero and Shoto would bond over. The ones she deemed to cheesy and faked to enjoy. ("I like cheesy", Shoto had shrugged when she politely declined to be roped into an evening full of catching the manga-only Shoto up to the corresponding anime. "I mean, we are training to become heroes. Couple hundred years ago our story would have been cheesy, don't you think?") Teenagers banding together despite all odds and surviving in a horrendous world and succeeding to make it a better place. It might have been cheesy, but it was also... nice to see? It certainly lifted her spirits.
Forcing her thoughts back on track she turned her attention back to Lee. He was currently tying some bags to the outer wall of the saddle. She could only call it a wall – it was too huge to be anything else.
It sounded like his Uncle was a prominent figure in the Fire Nation. Had he been one during the war already? Or had he too been appointed by the Avatar?
There were so many ways they could take a wrong step. So many ways they could fail. Her mind was running non stop worst-case scenarios. It had become better after having been introduced to their new friends, but she still worried.
"I could make some of the stuff float if that makes it easier."
Aang blinked at the offer before beaming at Ochako. "It's okay, save your strength! We'll manage!"
Not even twenty minutes after they had returned from the university the group was slowly mounting Appa. It was a tight fit with the five teenagers from this world and nine from their own, but somehow they all managed to pile in.
Momo found herself squeezed between Ochako and Katara. She was glad for the arrangement. As she'd discovered before the waterbender was not only a strongwilled and goodnatured person but also was more than willing to tell her about living in this world.
Settling back she looked at Aang, perched on top of Appa's head next to their Momo. (It had been pretty funny when Aang started calling for his pet Momo while she was standing right next to him. And the tiny creature was a fluffy and cute animal she found herself absentmindedly petting while they were loading up the whole time.) Feeling Appa's slow but powerfull breaths she asked "So, how is he going to fly?"
Aang looked back, his eyes almost sparkling with enthusiasm. "Better hold on tight, everyone!" Facing forward again he turned to his animal companion.
"Appa, yip yip!"
Sorry for the long Bakugo introspective!
I'm currently following the story "Here we stand... As the beasts close in" by SarahUndomiel and PaigeKeeper on AO3, and their portrayal of Bakugo stuck with me. So of course someone reared his head and demanded I let him philosophize a bit as well. After all, the past chapters were harsh for him, the cold chipping away at his quirk and everything. And exploring his character is something I rarely do (not in written form at least), but I enjoy it each time.
Go check the story out (make sure to start at the beginning of the series though. Or at least the two former installations or you'll be hopelessly confused) and drop them some kudos, they're doing an incredible job at writing (every single person is in character, the whole class really shines and I swear my heart skips a beat each time I get a notification for a new chapter) while also maintaining a regular and quick update schedule!