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Tethered

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Eijirou stared at the boy chained to the floor against the wall in front of him. The boy’s red eyes glinted with fury above the muzzle covering the lower half of his face. His pale hair was matted with dirt and what looked like blood. His arms were chained to each other and to the floor, keeping him on his knees no matter how he struggled. Eijirou couldn’t keep the horror off of his face as he watched the boy thrash against his restraints, snarling as he glared up at Eijirou.

“We gave you a wild one, but you have the highest magic resistance of your class, and all of our experienced handlers have failed with him,” explained Hakamata, the chief mage-handler. “You have your spells?” Eijirou hesitated, unable to look away from the boy on the floor, and nodded. “Good. List them and show me.” Eijirou tore his gaze away from the blond boy and reached for the string of beads hanging at his waist.

“I can absorb magic without a spell,” Eijirou began, his words heavy on his tongue as his fingers brushed the first cluster of beads, the green ones. “The green beads make a mage stronger. The yellow ones weaken them. The orange ones take their power away completely. The red ones...inflict pain on a noncompliant mage.” The blond’s glare intensified at that, and Eijirou had to suppress a surge of guilt. “The blue ones heal a mage, and the different symbols on them tell what they heal. I carry spells to cure common illnesses and speed up the healing of minor and major injuries.”

“Very good. Those are the basic spells. I trust you’ve been trained in using more complex ones?” Hakamata questioned.

“Of course,” Eijirou answered dully.

“Good. Add this one to your arsenal,” Hakamata ordered, holding out a deep crimson bead with a black floral pattern etched onto it. “Use this as a last resort. If he escapes and does not respond to your other spells, or if your life is in danger, use it.” Eijirou took the bead and fastened it to the others, then frowned at Hakamata.

“Which spell is that? I don’t recognize it,” he said. It wasn’t any of the spells to heal his mage, or any of the sleeping spells, which he’d have to remember to pick up now that he had a mage of his own and would be allowed to use them.

“If you use that, it will kill your mage,” Hakamata said, his eyes fixed on the boy on the floor instead of Eijirou. “You have my permission to use it if you decide he cannot be tamed.” Ejirou swallowed hard and nodded when Hakamata glanced at him, then saluted the chief handler. “Excellent. He’s yours now. You can take him to the quarters assigned to you if you want, or you can keep him here. I’ll check on you in the morning.” Hakamata turned to leave.

“Chief Hakamata!” Eijirou blurted out. “Wait! You didn’t tell me his name!” Hakamata didn’t bother so much as glancing over his shoulder.

“He has no name, unless you wish to give him one. Otherwise, he will simply be referred to as Handler Kirishima’s Mage.” Hakamata left then, and Eijirou gaped after him, dumbfounded. Of course the mage had a name. Every mage had a name. Did all of them grow up nameless? That couldn’t be right. He had to have some kind of name, a nickname if nothing else. Right?

The boy on the floor snarled and thrashed again, jerking at his chains and drawing Eijirou’s attention.

“Hey, take it easy for a sec and I’ll get you out of there, okay?” Eijirou said, crouching in front of him and pulling out the key Hakamata had given him before they arrived at the boy’s cell. The boy’s glared intensified, but he held still. Eijirou took a deep breath to steady himself, then carefully unlocked the muzzle first. It fell to the floor, revealing dark bruising around the boy’s face, everywhere the muzzle had been. “They put that on way too tight,” Eijirou whispered, mostly to distract himself from the fact that this boy - well, young man, now that Eijirou got a good look at him; he was around Eijirou’s age - was chained like an animal, not at all what Eijirou had expected for his first assignment.

“No shit, fuckhead,” the mage snarled, wincing as speaking made the bruises on his face hurt. Eijirou reached for the beads at his waist, and the mage surged forward, headbutting Eijirou solidly in the chest. Eijirou lost his balance and landed hard, wincing at the pain. He frowned at the mage, who was smirking even as the expression made his eyes water with pain. “Serves you fucking right, you shit-haired asshole.”

I am not going to get into an argument with my mage on day one, Eijirou told himself, taking another breath and reaching for the beads again.

“Oh, fuck you. You can’t even fucking take a little shitty language, you motherfucking cowardly bastard? What are you gonna do, huh, fuckface? Make me fucking writhe and scream? I bet it makes you feel real fucking powerful,” the mage sneered.

Eijirou grimaced and forced himself to ignore the tirade, plucking a blue bead from the string. The green pattern etched on it told him he’d chosen the correct spell, one that would heal the mage’s bruises and replenish his energy. Eijirou rolled the bead in his palm, calling the magic to full strength. He curled his fingers around it, lifting his free hand to rest on the mage’s shoulder. The mage twisted and bit down harshly on Eijirou’s arm, just above his wrist. Eijirou hissed as the mage’s teeth pierced his skin. He forced himself to ignore the pain and keep his hand on the mage’s shoulder for another few seconds before withdrawing. The mage hung onto his arm just long enough that Eijirou wondered if he was going to have to do something to get his poor arm out of the mage’s teeth, then let go and spit a mouthful of EIjirou’s own blood at him.

“That’s what you fucking get for being a shitty moron, Handler Shitty Hair,” the mage smirked.

“You’re welcome,” Eijirou muttered, moving to unlock the chains on his arms as the mage blinked, frowned, and then realized what Eijirou had done.

“Are you even more fucking stupid than I thought? The fuck are you thinking, shit-brain?” he snapped. “Why the motherfucking goddamned fuck would you heal me?” Eijirou sighed and tucked the key into his pocket, then untied the scarf around his neck and wrapped it around his injured arm.

“Those bruises looked like they hurt. Can you stand?” Eijirou asked. The mage scowled at him, then surged to his feet and shoved Eijirou’s shoulders, knocking him flat on his back. The mage was on him before he could get his bearings, knees on Eijirou’s arms, keeping him from reaching his spell beads. The mage’s fingers curled around Eijirou’s neck, squeezing his throat and cutting off his air.

Eijirou choked, wheezed, and then his training kicked in. He curled his body, bringing his legs up and driving his knees into the mage’s back. The mage shouted in surprise and pitched forward, his grip on Eijirou’s throat loosening and one of his knees slipping from Eijirou’s arm. Eijirou twisted, threw his body weight to the side, throwing the mage off and propelling himself on top of him, straddling him much the same way he’d pinned Eijirou, except Eijirou trapped the mage’s wrists in one hand and pressed them to the floor above the mage’s head. Eijirou’s free hand dropped to his spell beads, tracing over them as he stared down into the mage’s furious crimson eyes. Eijirou coughed, barely keeping his hold on the mage as he fought to calm his breathing after being choked.

“Just fucking do it already,” the mage hissed, tugging at Eijirou’s grip on his wrists. “You’re just another fucking coward, hiding behind your shitty fucking spells. Go ahead, use one, I fucking dare you! Hurt me, god damn you! Prove you’re just as fucking shitty as the rest of those bastards!” Eijirou waited, his breath finally evening out as he stared down at the mage beneath him, who was panting with fury and wriggling as much as he could, trying to throw Eijirou off or at least inconvenience him. “Well?”

“What’s your name?” Eijirou asked, dropping his hand from the beads and resting it on his own thigh instead.

“Fucking seriously? The shit is this?” the mage demanded. Eijirou met his gaze steadily.

“I want to know your name,” he repeated.

“Fucking hell, didn’t your shitty ears hear that asshole bastard before? I don’t fucking have one until you give me one. Like I’m some goddamned pet,” the mage snarled.

“I’m not that stupid,” Eijirou informed him. “Even if you don’t remember what your name was before you came here, you’ve got to call yourself something, right?”

“Maybe I don’t fucking want to tell you, Handler Shitty Hair,” the mage snapped, trying to tug his wrists free again. This time, Eijirou let him, and the mage was so surprised by his success that he just lay there, blinking up at Eijirou.

“That’s fine. What do you want me to call you, then? You’re a person; you need some kind of name,” Eijirou pointed out. The mage eyed him suspiciously, and Eijirou let the silence hang between them, waiting patiently.

“Call me Bakugou,” the mage said finally. Eijirou grinned and slid off of Bakugou, then got to his feet and held out his hand.

“Nice to meet you, Bakugou! I’m Kirishima. Would you like to get a bath and take a nap? It can’t be fun to have all that dirt on you, and you look exhausted,” Eijirou said cheerfully. Bakugou swatted Eijirou’s hand away and scrambled to his feet, glaring at him again.

“The fuck are you so happy for?” Bakugou muttered. “I’m still a fucking glorified shitty attack dog, and you could fucking kill me whenever you want. Don’t fucking act nice. You’re still a bastard.” Eijirou refused to let his expression fall.

“You’ll see eventually that not all handlers are bad,” Eijirou replied.

“Fuck you. If you’re so fucking different, get me some fucking food or something,” Bakugou sneered, like he was still trying to aggravate Eijirou into hurting him.

“Sure. I’ll have something brought up. I’d say we could go to the mess hall, but you’d get dirt everywhere and then the quartermaster will have my head.”

“Fucking coward,” Bakugou muttered. Eijirou shrugged and stepped out of the cell.

“I survived fifteen years of training by not getting on the quartermaster’s bad side, and a friend of mine nearly died because he tracked mud into the kitchen while trying to steal some extra bread. He was scrubbing dishes without a break as punishment for so long he nearly starved to death.”

“Bull-fucking-shit,” Bakugou growled, stomping after Eijirou.

“Maybe. Maybe not. Tomorrow I can introduce you to my friends. I want to meet their new mages, and I’m sure they’ll want to meet you, too,” Eijirou told him.

“Maybe I’ll fucking strangle you in your sleep once I’ve gotten a decent fucking meal and a bath,” Bakugou countered. Eijirou paused and glanced at the mage, who stared back with a completely serious expression.

“Feel free to try,” Eijirou said after a second. “I’ll just wake up and pin you like I did earlier.” Bakugou scowled and crossed his arms, but followed when Eijirou started walking again.

Bakugou didn’t stop scowling all through bathing, putting on clean - and surprisingly comfortable - clothes, or eating. He even scowled when Eijirou smiled and wished him a good night’s sleep before disappearing into one of two bedrooms in the suite they would be sharing from then on.

Eijirou wondered if Bakugou ever stopped scowling, even in his sleep.


 

Katsuki glared at the bed he’d slept in the night before. He hated that bed. It was too soft. He’d fallen asleep and hadn’t woken up even when someone came in to bring food. He’d finally woken up way later than any decent person should ever be asleep, and he’d scarfed down the now-cold breakfast waiting for him while he scowled and mentally berated himself for letting his guard down and sleeping so deeply that he hadn’t heard anyone bring it to him.

Katsuki finished eating and frowned at his palms, wondering idly if his magic would work if he tried it. He debated trying it, just to see, but he knew from long experience that if he tried to use his magic and he wasn’t supposed to, he’d probably end up back in that cell again, and then he’d never have a chance to strangle his handler and escape. Sure, the idiot with the red hair hadn’t hurt him yet, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t going to, especially if he was going to introduce Katsuki to his “friends” and their mages. Last time a handler had wanted Katsuki to “meet his friends” what he really meant was he wanted Katsuki to fight his friends’ mages so the handlers could bet on the outcome.

Katsuki wasn’t in the mood to be forced to fight his fellow mages.

“Bakugou, you’re up!” Kirishima’s voice was horrifyingly cheerful, which Katsuki thought maybe was a chronic condition for him. Katsuki scowled and ignored Kirishima asking if he slept well.

“Fuck you and your fucking happy attitude,” Katsuki muttered. Kirishima tilted his head, watching him for a moment. Then he shrugged and seemed to dismiss Katsuki’s continued decidedly-not-happy attitude.

“Sero and the others are on their way with their new mages! Hurry up and get dressed!” Kirishima chirped. He fucking chirped. Katsuki realized then that Kirishima didn’t need to use spells to hurt him. Kirishima had his goddamned happy-go-lucky aura and that was torture enough.

“You gonna fucking restore my magic first, dipshit?” Katsuki demanded. Kirishima laughed, and Katsuki wanted to strangle him.

“You didn’t notice? I made sure there were no limits on your magic after you fell asleep last night. I figured the overload from having that much power back was why you slept so much,” Kirishima explained. Katsuki tensed, eyes narrowing. That would explain why he hadn’t woken up sooner, sure, but...was Kirishima serious? He didn’t put any limitations on Katsuki’s magic? Was he testing Katsuki, or was he just that goddamned fucking stupid?

Katsuki was seriously debating the merits of just blowing Kirishima the hell up right then and there versus getting a few more good meals out of him first when someone knocked on the door connecting their suite to the rest of the mage facility.

“Come on in, guys! Bakugou, you should probably put a shirt on,” Kirishima sang, practically skipping through the main room to greet their visitors. Katsuki scowled and tugged on a shirt - he’d slept with his pants on, just in case he needed to make a quick escape - before reluctantly following Kirishima into the main room. If nothing else, maybe some of his fellow mages could help with -

“Oh, fucking shitty goddamned mother-hell-fucking god no,” Katsuki hissed as soon as he laid eyes on the people making themselves at home on the couches and chairs in the main room.

“Nice to see you again, too, Pom-Pom,” smirked the one person Katsuki hated almost as much as handlers. Fucking Monoma shit-face Neito.

“I’m going to fucking murder your fucking ugly-ass face, you bastard,” Katsuki snarled, advancing on Monoma, who continued smirking and sat himself on the floor at the feet of one of the handlers who’d come in. Katsuki didn’t know how someone could look so arrogant and strangleable while sitting demurely at someone’s feet like that, but he was going to murder Monoma extra for pulling it off.

“Kirishima, please don’t let him kill my mage,” the handler sighed. Katsuki wondered how he got his weird-ass purple hair to stand up like that.

“Bakugou, please,” Kirishima piped up. “Shinsou won’t let him call you Pom-Pom if you agree not to kill him today.”

“I did not agree to this,” the handler protested. Katsuki assumed he was Shinsou and dismissed him immediately. Shinsou wasn’t Katsuki’s handler, so he couldn’t do anything to him. Katsuki reached Monoma and lunged for his neck, his magic swelling at his fingertips - Kirishima hadn’t been lying, and having so much energy at his command felt good - but fingers curled around his wrist and stopped him just short of being able to obliterate Monoma with a single touch.

“Bakugou, cut it out. Don’t make me stop you,” Kirishima insisted. Katsuki considered just maybe obliterating Kirishima instead, but then his gaze fell to Kirishima’s arm, where the marks from Katsuki’s teeth still lingered. Katsuki was abruptly reminded that Kirishima hadn’t used any spells against him, and instead had made sure he was clean, fed, and comfortable.

If he was going to escape, Katsuki would rather have the rest and food to prepare himself, as well as unlimited access to his magic.

“Don’t fucking touch me,” Katsuki snapped, yanking his arm away from Kirishima. He shot one last glare at Monoma, then stomped to the only empty chair and sat in it, his glare daring Kirishima or anyone else to comment on him taking a chair when the other mages in the room were all seated at their handlers’ feet. Kirishima simply flashed them all a pleased grin and perched himself on the arm of Katsuki’s chair, which Katsuki wasn’t pleased with - he didn’t want the handler that close to him - but didn’t protest.

“So, Shinsou, apparently Bakugou and your mage know each other,” Kirishima observed.

“No shit,” Katsuki muttered. Kirishima ignored him and kept talking.

“Tell us about him anyway!” Kirishima said, grin still in place. Shinsou sighed, then reached down then poked lazily at the side of Monoma’s head.

“Monoma is a copy mage. He’s actually two years older than us, and he’s annoyingly smug about it. Cooperative so far, though,” Shinsou said, yawning either to punctuate how non-resistant Monoma was for him or because he hadn’t slept in way too long, a theory backed up by the huge bags under his eyes.

“Sero, you next!” Kirishima exclaimed. Another handler, this one with plain, reasonable black hair, grinned and straightened up on the couch.

“Kaminari’s a lightning mage! He’s got some really cool skills!” Sero the handler announced, grinning at the blond mage Katsuki only vaguely recognized. A lightning mage could be useful in escaping, Katsuki thought, but this one didn’t look particularly, well, useful. He had a pleasant grin on his face and when Sero dropped one hand to pet Kaminari’s hair, the blond mage leaned into the touch, even twisting to blink up at his handler like some kind of overgrown dog. It made Katsuki nauseous.

“You got an elemental mage, just like you wanted!” Kirishima cheered. “That’s great, Sero!” Katsuki felt bile rise in his throat but forced himself to swallow it down. “Last but not least, Tetsutetsu!” That had to be the stupidest name Katsuki had ever heard, and he was glad it belonged to a handler, because he would have felt bad if a mage had a name like that, considering the hardships he would have as one on top of having a terrible name.

“This is Uraraka,” the last handler in the room said, grinning at the female mage at his feet. “She’s...uh…”

“I’m a variation of object-manipulation mage,” Uraraka explained. Ugh, Katsuki hated her too. She sounded way too pleasant. He wasn’t going to get any help from Kirishima’s friends’ mages. “I can move objects after touching them.”

“That sounds cool!” Kirishima said encouragingly. Tetsutetsu nodded, grinning.

“We’re going to head down to the training rooms later. You should come, too, and bring your mage! What’s his name and magic type, anyway?” he asked. Kirishima opened his mouth to reply, but Monoma beat him to it.

“Pom-Pom is a rabid attack dog,” Monoma purred. “He destroys things for fun.”

“Monoma, don’t talk,” Shinsou sighed, frowning at his mage. Monoma gave him an almost-apologetic look and fell silent. Katsuki sneered at him; leave it to Monoma to suck up to his handler. He was probably hoping to get Shinsou to give him special privileges like he’d done with the last handler he had. Katsuki realized Kirishima hadn’t said anything yet, and wondered if Kirishima even knew what his magic was. If he didn’t, that might explain why he’d given Katsuki no limits.

“Bakugou is a war mage. He’s a little rough and wild, but I’ve been told he’s skilled with his power. We might join you guys in training eventually, but Chief Hakamata wanted to check in today, and I want to get used to Bakugou’s magic on my own before I risk a group training exercise,” Kirishima said. Katsuki bristled at the idea of a visit from Hakamata, but he reminded himself that he was trying to stay on Kirishima’s good side, at least enough to keep getting food and sleep. Besides, something way more important was brought to Katsuki’s attention.

Kirishima knew Katsuki was a war mage.

He knew that Katsuki could kill Kirishima and everyone else in the room if Kirishima wasn’t fast enough restraining him.

He knew exactly how much and what type of power Katsuki had, as well as his history, presumably.

And yet he let Katsuki have full access to his magic, and hadn’t immediately established dominance by forcing Katsuki to submit.

That meant one of two things.

Worst case scenario, Kirishima was playing him, giving him a taste of how nice things could be before he snatched it away as soon as Katsuki disobeyed.

Best case scenario, Kirishima was one of those foolish, idealistic handlers that thought they could bond with their mages and, like, be equals or some shit, as though they could ever be equal when one literally carried around spell beads to give them complete control over the other’s life.

Most likely, though, Kirishima was just really, really stupid. Maybe overconfident. But definitely stupid.

Until he knew for sure, however, Katsuki would have to tread lightly.

Chapter Text

Eijirou watched Bakugou pace as they waited for Hakamata to arrive, and wondered if his restlessness was from fear, or if Bakugou was just taking advantage of not being chained up.

“You know, if you need to burn off some energy, we could go down to the training rooms. Chief Hakamata will figure out where we are if we’re not here,” Eijirou told him. Bakugou paused in his pacing to eye him warily.

“Gonna fucking put me through my fucking paces?” Bakugou sneered. Eijirou resisted the urge to sigh and shook his head.

“I just thought you might like to work off some steam and actually get to use your magic. It’s got to be bothering you to have access to it and not use it, right?” Eijirou pointed out. “Besides, if you keep pacing like that, you’re going to wear a hole in the floor.”

“Would fucking serve you and every other fucking handler right,” Bakugou replied. “Maybe I’ll just use my magic in here, so I can fucking destroy you and this shitty floor.” Eijirou didn’t have a chance to reply to that, because Bakugou shrieked and dropped to the floor, curling into a ball and shuddering, covering his face and trying to stifle his cries. Eijirou stared, horror keeping him in place. Then he stumbled forward, sank to the floor beside Bakugou, reaching for his pain relief spells.

“Don’t.” Eijirou tensed and glared over his shoulder at Hakamata, who stood in the doorway, rolling a handful of pain beads between his fingers. Bakugou’s muffled cries increased in pitch, his body shaking so badly Eijirou was afraid he might just shake right apart.

“Stop it! Leave him alone!” Eijirou shouted, surging to his feet and stomping toward Hakamata. “Everything was going fine! You don’t have to hurt him!”

“He threatened you,” Hakamata replied cooly, hardly glancing at Kirishima, his attention on the mage now writhing on the floor, biting down on his hand to keep himself from screaming at full volume and not completely succeeding.

“He’s mine! You have no right!” Eijirou hissed, smacking Hakamata’s hand. The beads tumbled to the floor, and Bakugou’s cries faded to rasping, heavy breaths. “I might be just some rookie handler, but you gave him to me because you and everybody else couldn’t control him. So let me work!” Kirishima glared up at Hakamata, fists clenched, and kept himself between the chief handler and Bakugou. Hakamata finally looked at him, really looked at him, and raised one eyebrow.

“That is borderline insubordinate,” Hakamata observed.

“Either leave and let me work, or take him from me now, because I’m not going to let someone else control my mage,” Eijirou insisted, any fear or guilt he would normally have felt at being accused of insubordination washed away by the way Bakugou’s screams echoed in his mind.

“Very well. I will be keeping a very close eye on you, though,” Hakamata warned. He took one more look at Bakugou, who hadn’t moved from where he lay on the floor, then huffed and turned on his heel. Eijirou shut the door behind him and locked it, then turned to study Bakugou, who had lifted his head and was trying to glare at him. The usual weight of fury behind Bakugou’s stare was reduced by the damp streaks on his cheeks and the blood around his mouth.

“Easy,” Eijirou murmured, keeping his voice low and - he hoped - reassuring. “He’s gone. I won’t let him do that again.” Eijirou took a step toward Bakugou, who snarled and forced himself into a crouch, one hand held out between them, magic sparking and popping around his fingers. “Okay. I won’t come any closer,” Eijirou told him. He sat, studying Bakugou, who was trembling with the effort of holding himself up. The hand supporting his weight was bloody, torn by what looked like bite marks. Bakugou must have bitten through his hand several times under Hakamata’s onslaught. “Hey, do you want a bandage or something for that hand? Or will you let me close enough to heal you?”

Bakugou snarled, and Eijirou hesitated. He wasn’t sure Bakugou would let his guard down enough to accept a bandage, much less apply it. Eijirou didn’t know how to get Bakugou to let him close enough to help, and it was killing him not to be able to do anything. He needed to do something to show Bakugou that Eijirou wouldn’t hurt him, but… Eijirou’s hand fell to his beads as something occurred to him.

“Fucker,” Bakugou rasped, his voice rough after screaming so much. “Fucking try it, you piece of shit, I’ll fucking kill you from here if you- the motherfucking shit you think you’re doing?” Bakugou hissed as Eijirou unfastened his beads from his belt and set them on the floor beside him. “If you fucking think I’m going to fucking roll over like a goddamned dog just because you put that down, you’re even fucking stupider than I fucking thought.” Eijirou ignored the mage’s tirade and plucked a handful of healing and pain relief beads from his collection before giving the rest of them a push, sliding them across the floor. Bakugou’s eyes followed the movement, then snapped back to Eijirou’s face. Eijirou met his gaze steadily, holding out his hands to show Bakugou the beads in his hands, all healing blues, no limiting or pain spells in sight.

“Please let me help you,” Eijirou urged, holding as still as possible. He didn’t realize he was holding his breath until Bakugou slumped and flopped onto his side, dropping his glare.

“Fucking fine. Do whatever the fuck you want. Not like I can fucking stop you anyway,” Bakugou grumbled. Eijirou was tempted to just stay where he was to prove that he wasn’t going to approach until Bakugou actually said it was okay, but he didn’t like how much blood was pooling around Bakugou’s hand, so Eijirou scooted across the floor until he was sitting beside Bakugou’s head, where Bakugou could watch him without having to move. Eijirou set the beads down between them, then picked up one pain relief spell and one healing spell. He curled his fingers around them and brushed Bakugou’s bangs away from where they stuck to his forehead before resting his palm on top of Bakugou’s head and activating the magic.

Eijirou could see the exact moment the pain relief kicked in, because Bakugou’s eyes fluttered shut and his breath rushed out, his body going limp in relief. Eijirou realized he was petting Bakugou’s hair and forced his fingers to stop, even though Bakugou’s hair was surprisingly soft and Eijirou kind of wanted to just keep touching it.

“Let me see your hand,” Eijirou said, shaking off his thoughts and taking his hand away from Bakugou’s hair. “I need to make sure it healed right.” Bakugou grunted, but didn’t pull away or even glare as Eijirou carefully picked up his hand and inspected it. “Looks good. How do you feel?” Eijirou asked, laying Bakugou’s hand down and studying his expression carefully.

“Fuck off,” Bakugou huffed. Eijirou let out a relieved bark of laughter.

“You must be doing a little better if you’re swearing again,” Eijirou told him, collecting the unused beads and tucking them into his pocket. He’d have to reattach them and replenish his collection later.

“Fuck you,” Bakugou muttered, glaring at him as best he could when his eyelids kept trying to close.

“Sleep if you want to,” Eijirou urged, squashing his impulse to stroke Bakugou’s hair until he fell asleep. “But you should get to a real bed before-”

“Can’t fucking make me move, Handler Shitty Hair,” Bakugou interrupted. Eijirou felt the last of the tension drain out of his shoulders. If Bakugou was calling him that again, that had to be a good sign, right? “Don’t fucking worry about me. It’s creepy as fuck.”

“You’re my mage. Of course I’m going to worry about you,” Eijirou replied. “If you don’t want to move, I could carry-”

“Fucking try it and you’ll fucking lose your goddamned hands,” Bakugou hissed, his glare making Eijirou hold up his hands defensively.

“Okay. I need to go get some new spells. Will you be okay here if I leave you alone for a bit? You won’t destroy anything, will you?” Eijirou asked. Bakugou was tense again, practically quivering before Eijirou even finished talking. “Bakugou? What’s wrong?”

“Fucking nothing, I’m just fucking peachy,” Bakugou hissed.

“Baku-”

“Just fucking leave me the hell alone,” Bakugou snarled, pushing himself up and stumbling as angrily as he could manage back to his bedroom. Eijirou watched him go, gnawing on his lip as he wavered between getting his spells replenished and staying in case Bakugou needed something.

A knock at the door interrupted his thoughts, and Eijirou scrambled to pick up his beads and attach them to his belt again before answering the door.

“Hey, man, everything okay?” Sero asked before Eijirou could even greet him.

“Yeah, everything’s fine, why?” Eijirou asked, attention darting between Sero and the blond mage who was standing behind him.

“You just said Hakamata was going to check on you, so I wanted to make sure you weren’t in trouble or anything,” Sero explained. “And I’m glad I did. Dude, you’ve been chewing your lip again; you’re gonna bleed if you keep doing that.” Eijirou blinked and pointedly released his poor abused lip from between his teeth. “Did something happen?” Sero’s eyes darted down to Eijirou’s waist. “Shit, Kiri, where did all your healing spells go?” Eijirou hastily pulled them out of his pocket and held the little blue beads up for Sero’s inspection.

“I just need to put them back on, and get a few more spells,” Eijirou explained. Sero frowned at him, seemingly evaluating Eijirou’s truthfulness.

“If you tell me what happened, you can make a list of what spells you want and how many, and I’ll pick them up for you. I need to get some anti-static spells for myself anyway,” Sero offered. Eijirou hesitated, then sighed and stepped back, allowing Sero and Kaminari into the room. Sero took the same spot on the couch he’d had earlier, and Kaminari slid to his knees at Sero’s feet without hesitation.

“Okay, so, you probably noticed that Bakugou is a little…” Eijirou hesitated, trying to decide what words to use.

“Yeah. I noticed,” Sero replied, saving Eijirou from having to continue. “He didn’t hurt you, did he? If he did...” Sero pressed, eyes narrow. At his feet, Kaminari shifted and fixed his eyes on the floor.

“No! Bakugou didn’t do anything wrong!” Eijirou insisted. “He didn’t do anything wrong. I think that’s just how he is, you know? And after what I saw, I don’t blame him.” Eijirou nodded to the red beads still scattered around the floor from when he’d knocked them out of Hakamata’s hand. “Hakamata used all of them on him at once for saying something he didn’t like.” Sero’s eyes widened, and Kaminari shuddered and seemed to shrink in on himself. Sero reached down, rubbing Kaminari’s back soothingly.

“Hey, it’s okay. Don’t be scared. I won’t let that happen to you,” Sero assured him. When he looked up at Eijirou again, Sero’s gaze was sharp, dangerous. “I hope you told him where he could stick his overkill.” Eijirou nodded quietly.

“I told him that either he has to leave Bakugou to me completely because he’s my mage, or he better give me someone else because I don’t want him treating my mage like that,” he answered. “Sero...Bakugou was really messed up about it. And considering the circumstances he was in before I got him, I don’t think this is the first time. So...for the spells,” Eijirou said, taking a deep breath. “I want a handful of sleeping spells and a lot more healing and pain relief ones, just in case.”

“You sure you don’t want some management spells? Calming ones, some more punishment spells? Maybe an immobilizer or two?” Sero offered. Eijirou shook his head. “You sure?”

“Yeah, I’ll manage,” Eijirou assured him, grinning with as much confidence as he could manage.

“Okay. Come on, Kaminari. Let’s go visit the spellmaster,” Sero said, ruffling his mage’s hair affectionately. Kaminari ducked his head and flashed a smile as he rose to his feet. Eijirou watched them go, then went to Bakugou’s door and knocked softly. When he got no reply, Eijirou opened the door just enough to peek inside. Bakugou appeared to be fast asleep, curled up in a ball. Eijirou smiled slightly and withdrew, closing the door again. He sat down on the couch and set about fastening his blue beads back to the string with the rest. Before putting his collection back on his belt, Eijirou hesitated, his fingertips lingering over the red beads, the pain spells and the death spell Hakamata had given him. Eijirou glanced at the closed door between him and his mage, and he couldn’t help but think that the door wasn’t the only thing standing between them.

Eijirou braced himself for the eventual criticism he’d undoubtedly draw, then removed all of the red beads from his collection. He carried them to his own bedroom, where a small wooden box sat innocently on his bedside table. Eijirou didn’t often keep extra beads that weren’t attached to the string with the others, but this time he’d make an exception. He placed the red beads in the box, then closed the lid and plucked a tiny copper bead out of the etching in the box. He fastened the copper bead onto his collection and patted the top of the box.

Sero and Kaminari returned shortly after that, and Eijirou ignored Sero’s questioning look at the lack of red at Eijirou’s waist. He smiled, thanked his friend, and then sat down to add the new healing spells to his collection.


 

Denki kept quiet as he followed his handler back to their suit, just down the hall from Kirishima’s. Denki’s thoughts buzzed, mirroring the pleasant hum of his magic in his veins after the training session earlier that day. He’d seen the change to Kirishima’s beads, and he knew Sero had noticed it, too. What kind of handler didn’t use pain beads? Denki shook his head, trying to rid himself of those thoughts. He could worry about that and what it might mean for the war mage in Kirishima’s care later. For now, he had to make sure his own handler had a favorable view of him. Denki didn’t want Sero to decide to put Denki in his place, which was why Denki had done his absolute best to assure Sero that he knew his place already from the moment they met, from smiling and doing as he was told without protest to leaning in when Sero patted the top of his head.

They reached their suite, and Sero led the way inside. Denki took half a second to evaluate, then crossed the room and knelt beside the chair that had a basket of strings and boxes in it, hoping he was right and this was the place Sero usually sat when he was working with his beads.

“Are you sure you’re a lightning mage and not a mind reader?” Sero laughed, plopping down in the chair Denki had guessed and ruffling his hair. Denki hummed and got comfortable, leaning against Sero’s legs as the handler pulled a length of string from the basket and started fastening the beads to it. Denki tilted his head back, watching as Sero threaded the string through each bead, tied it off, then twisted the string a few times and clipped a tiny, sharp piece of metal to the twisted part. Denki realised that must be how the handlers disconnected their beads in a hurry. “You don’t have to sit there the whole time, you know,” Sero said after a while, tying his new string of beads to the one already on his hip, adding a new row of spells he could use.

Denki considered his options. He could find something else to do. He could keep sitting at Sero’s feet, the picture of a perfectly compliant mage. Or...he could do something to try to make sure he’d stay on Sero’s good side even if he messed up in the future.

“What should I do instead?” Denki asked, turning around to rest his chin on Sero’s knee and pout up at him. “It’s not like I have any books to read, and I can’t use my magic unless you take me back to the training rooms.” Sero studied him for a second.

“There’s a bookshelf in my room. It’s mostly just magical theory books from training classes and some cheap adventure novels, but you can read any of them if you want,” he offered. Denki was tempted - he had just mentioned the book thing to illustrate his boredom, but he actually loved to read, and he’d devour any book Sero let him - but he had something more important to focus on for the moment. Denki lifted himself, still on his knees but no longer resting his weight on his heels. He let his hands fall to Sero’s knees and leaned forward, wedging himself between Sero’s knees. Denki tilted his face up, a playful smirk teasing his lips upward.

“Or we could do something that’d be interesting for both of us,” Denki purred, taking in Sero’s wide eyes and flushed cheeks.

“Ah, I’m plenty interested in these beads. You should go read,” Sero insisted. Denki hid his surprise and decided to try looking innocent instead. He widened his eyes, the picture of good intentions, and leaned forward a little more, until most of his body was between Sero’s legs, and Denki could wrap his arms around the handler’s waist, nuzzling into his stomach. “Kaminari, stop it,” Sero warned. Denki let out a little whine of defiance and dropped his head. Sero seized his shoulders and pushed Denki up and away before Denki’s mouth could make contact, much to Denki’s irritation.

“Why?” Denki pouted, showing disappointment and his best puppy eyes instead of the growing confusion and fear he really felt.

“You’re my mage. I’m not going to take advantage of you,” Sero told him firmly. “Go read a book or something, Kaminari. Or if you want, we can go to the training rooms. But I’m not doing anything sexual with you.” Denki dropped back to his heels, trying to figure out if Sero meant it or not. Maybe he wanted Denki to press, to try to persuade him? Maybe Sero just didn’t like that Denki had initiated? A shudder ran down Denki’s back. If Sero didn’t like his actions…

“Are you going to punish me?” Denki asked softly, keeping his gaze fixed on the floor, his head down.

“Of course not.” There was a shuffling sound, and Denki tensed as Sero set aside his beads and crouched in front of him. “Look, I can’t pretend I don’t know why you’d assume…” Sero trailed off, then took a deep breath and continued, “Kaminari, I’m not that type of handler. I’m not going to take advantage of you. I swear, okay? So don’t try to start something that you don’t really want and I wouldn’t accept even if you did.” Sero’s voice was rough with some emotion Denki couldn’t identify as he ruffled Denki’s hair and added, “I’m going to go find some books you might like.” Sero stood, retreated to his bedroom, and Denki was left staring after him.

Sero carried pain spells, but he hadn’t used any on Denki yet. He didn’t seem like one to use threats to control his mage, which was part of the reason Denki had assumed offering another form of control in the form of sex would work. Instead, Sero had turned him down.

That was so much scarier, because now Denki had no idea what to expect from Sero. Denki shuddered and folded his arms around himself, trying to push down his fear. Until he figured out what Sero wanted - or at least a way to get Sero to act predictably, through violence or sex or both - Denki would have to keep his calm and keep acting the way he had before. Sero had responded positively when Denki was friendly. Maybe if Denki stuck with that it would buy him time to figure out a better plan.

Chapter Text

Katsuki’s magic sang in his veins, popping and sparking at his fingertips. Katsuki surged forward, the first target coming into view, and then he was past it and the magic trailing in his wake was enough to send the target shattering, wood splinters and scraps of fabric bursting outward and then falling.

Not nearly as satisfying as a substantial target would have been, but the training ones would have to do.

Katsuki leaped, propelling himself unnaturally high with a burst of destructive energy that warped the air around him. He let out a wild shout at the sharp satisfaction that swept over him with the heat of his magic’s effects, twisting in the air and hanging, suspended for a heartbeat at the crest of his leap. All of the targets in range were in sight from that high up. Katsuki’s teeth bared in a fierce grin as he started to fall. He drew his power in tight, letting out just enough to cushion his body against the impending landing, gathering the rest into a tight, burning ball in his hands.

He hit the ground, rolled once to lessen the impact, and came to one knee. He pressed the ball of magic into the floor, and for a second, his body was alight with power, his blood singing and the glow and pressure of his power illuminating him, whipping his hair up as the power took effect.

The floor erupted, destruction rippling out from his position in waves. The room - possibly the whole building - shuddered in protest.

The magic tore through the floor, leaving rubble where the smooth surface had been. As the ripples of pure, uncontainable devastation reached the targets surrounding him, each one exploded into more splinters and charred fabric. The pieces fell, clattering to the ground.

Katsuki inhaled slowly, reveling in the low ached in his knees from his landing, his arms and hands from shaping and containing the power. Katsuki let his breath out just as gradually, relaxing closing his eyes, unable to stop the reckless grin that stretched across his face.

It was too bad he’d used up pretty much all of his power with that stunt; he wanted to do it again, just to feel like he was strong, like he was in control of something.

“Bakugou.” Kirishima’s voice tore through that illusion, and Katsuki’s smile was replaced by a snarl as he waited for the reprimand and punishment he’d usually get for being so reckless and destroying the entire training room. “Stay where you are for a second.” Katsuki tensed, hearing the telltale click of beads.

“Fuck, just-”

Magic surged through him, but instead of the all-consuming pain he was expecting, his own magic warmed his body, strengthening and soothing away the soreness of his limbs. Katsuki’s head came up, his eyes flying open. Kirishima stood in the shielded corner of the room, where handlers could observe their mages without risking injury, and there was definitely a bead in his hand, but it wasn’t red. It was green. Kirishima was using a strengthening spell on him.

“What the fuck?” Katsuki hissed, scrambling to his feet.

“There’s another room with more targets next door if you want,” Kirishima told him, grinning as widely as ever. Katsuki hesitated, reality crashing over him. This had to be some kind of trick, right? “We can go back if you don’t want to-”

“Fucking shut up, you creepy red asshole,” Katsuki growled. “Let’s go fuck up some more shit.” Kirishima didn’t even flinch at his language. Instead, he walked to the door - he had to hop over a few cracks in the floor and some rubble to get there - and beckoned to Katsuki.

“Come on!”

Katsuki propelled himself into another arc just because he could, landing just a little too close to Kirishima, who - irritatingly - didn’t flinch. Katsuki frowned; wasn’t Kirishima the tiniest bit afraid of him now? Everyone was at least a little afraid of him. Even the handlers were scared, and they hated him for it. But Kirishima just beamed and tucked the used strengthening bead into his pocket. The door opened, and Kirishima led him out into the hall. Katsuki trailed after him, staring at his own hand as he walked, making tiny bursts of power dance on his palm.

“That’s pretty cool,” Kirishima commented as he opened the door to the next training room. Katsuki ignored him and strode into the room, glancing around.

“There’s no targets,” Katsuki complained, glaring at what looked like a bunch of boulders scattered around the floor.

“I thought you’d like to crush something more substantial,” Kirishima replied. “And don’t worry about the danger of the shrapnel hurting you. I want to practice my battle spells, and I’ll heal you if you do get hurt.” Katsuki eyed him for a second, then decided that more time being able to just completely unleash his power was worth going along with whatever Kirishima was planning. After all, there had to be some kind of catch, right? There was no way Katsuki was getting this kind of magic use and wouldn’t have to pay for it later.

He couldn’t bring himself to care, though, not with the those boulders out there just waiting to be destroyed. Katsuki pushed the thoughts of what the consequences of taking this change might be out of his head and charged straight for the closest boulder, magic swelling around his hands again.


 

Eijirou watched Bakugou surge forward as he pulled a new string of beads out of his pocket and ran them through his fingers. This had definitely been a good idea. He hadn’t been sure Bakugou would be up for a training session so soon, but after Eijirou had finished with his beads, Bakugou had emerged from his bedroom, full of restless energy again. Eijirou had suggested going to the training rooms, and Bakugou hadn’t even protested. Eijirou figured he needed to work through what had happened by destroying something, and he’d been right.

The first boulder exploded, and Eijirou’s fingers paused over an earthy brown bead, reaching for it’s power. Copper light sparked around Bakugou, who didn’t even seem to notice it as he threw himself at the next one, but Eijirou noticed with a twinge of satisfaction that the rock shards that would have hit Bakugou were deflected by his shield spell.

Eijirou settled on the floor, cross-legged behind the shield spells that would keep him from being his by any of Bakugou’s magic - or flying chunks of rock. Eijirou noticed Bakugou charging up for another concentrated burst of power and slid his fingers along the line of beads to where the cluster of magic-enhancing green ones were, alternating with teal beads to strengthen Bakugou’s body and make sure he wouldn’t be hurt by the surge in magic above his usual capacity. Eijirou pulled one of each from the string, then glanced up at Bakugou, who was glowing with the magic swirling around him already. Eijirou remembered the way the mage had looked in the instant before his last burst of power, grinning in a way that made Eijirou want to feed him more and more magic until Bakugou was satisfied. Eijirou plucked one more of each type of bead from the string and focused on all four of them, closing his eyes and pouring as much concentration as he could into applying the spells.

The next thing he knew, Eijirou was thrown back by a huge blast of magic, the shields between him and Bakugou’s destruction giving way like paper. Eijirou shouted as he was thrown back against - then through - the wall behind him.

Pain lanced through him, and then darkness swamped him.


 

“-shima! Kirishima! Wake up!” Eijirou groaned and tried to sit up, blinking blearily at the person bent over him, calling his name over and over. After a second, everything came into focus. Eijirou winced as pain shot through his ribs, and his ears were ringing faintly, making it difficult for him to process sounds.

Then there was a rush of soothing, cool energy throughout his body. The ringing faded, and the pain in his ribs became nothing more than a lingering soreness.

“Are you okay?” Oh, it was Tetsutetsu who was calling him before.

“Fine now,” Eijirou assured him. “What happened?”

“That war mage attacked you. We haven’t managed to contain him yet; our mages have him cornered, but we’re worried that if we provoke him by trying to take him down he’ll quit messing around and destroy us. We were hoping you’d help,” Tetsutetsu replied grimly. “Sero said you don’t have any pain spells, so you can borrow-”

“No. Stop it,” Eijirou snapped, pushing himself to his feet. “Does Hakamata know about this?” he demanded, scanning the area. He really didn’t want to deal with Hakamata again so soon… He spotted Shinsou and Sero standing on the line that used to be a wall between the hallway and the training room.

“I don’t think so, but-”

“Good. Leave Bakugou alone,” Eijirou told him.

“What? Kiri-”

“Stand down!” Eijirou shouted, stumbling forward. Sero glanced back at him in surprise. “Sero, come on. Trust me here. Bakugou didn’t do this on purpose. I used too many enhancement beads without warning him. It was an accident, I swear.”

“He attacked us when we came down to train and found you unconscious in a pile of rubble,” Shinsou said, keeping his gaze fixed on the mages on the other side of what had been the training room. Bakugou had his back to the one remaining wall, magic crackling around his hands as he tried to keep Uraraka, Kaminari, and Monoma in sight all at once. “The chief handler will probably be here soon to see what happened. Are you sure?” A lot of damage had been done, and someone would have to answer for it. It would be so easy to blame Bakugou, to say he had gone through on his threats to kill Eijirou. But Eijirou knew that wasn’t it. He’d overloaded Bakugou with magic, and Bakugou hadn’t known what he was planning. Eijirou had gotten caught up in the moment. This was his own fault.

“Stand down,” Eijirou insisted. “I’ll take responsibility for this. You guys pull your mages back.”

“Kirishima-”

“Trust me.” Eijirou interrupted Sero’s protest and strode forward.

“Monoma, stand down,” Shinsou ordered, his voice pitched to carry to the mages surrounding Bakugou. Monoma didn’t turn. “Monoma! I will drop you with a sleep spell if you don’t listen.”

“Kaminari, you too,” Sero called grudgingly. “Kirishima’s coming in.”

Eijirou crossed the remains of the training room floor, taking a slight detour when he had to pick his way around what looked like a pretty impressive crater in the center, and walked past the three mages keeping Bakugou in check without so much as looking at them.

“Bakugou, take it easy,” Eijirou said, as calmly as he could. He held his hands out, showing that he didn’t have any beads. “Come on, it’ll be okay.” Bakugou glared at him, his attention darting to the other mages every few seconds to keep an eye on them until they retreated to rejoin their own handlers.

“The fuck are you gonna do? And what the fucking shit happened?” Bakugou hissed, raising his hands between them, magic sparking threateningly. “Are you trying to get me fucking killed for going on a goddamned rampage?”

“No, of course not. I made a mistake, and I overloaded your magic. It’s my fault you destroyed the whole room. Hakamata will probably be here in a minute, so I need you to listen to me. I swear I’m not going to let him hurt you, okay?” Bakugou froze at Hakamata’s name, his scowl darkening.

“You’re just fucking trying to get me to settle down so you can fucking pin this on me,” Bakugou accused. Eijirou sighed, searching for some way to persuade Bakugou, but finally just deciding that now wasn’t the time to try to tell Bakugou anything. He’d just have to show him and hope it worked out.

“Handler Kirishima, I hope you have a very good explanation for this.” Eijirou blinked, then let out a relieved laugh as he turned to face the newcomer, because that wasn’t Hakamata’s voice; it was the voice of the man who’d trained Eijirou and his friends since the day they were chosen to be handlers at age five. Fifteen years later, and Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa looked just as tired and irritated as ever, and the mage at his shoulder looked as ridiculous as always, with his long blond hair sticking straight up from his head like some kind of bird’s crest.

“Aizawa,” Eijirou greeted him, his grin turning sheepish as Aizawa continued to stare at him flatly. “Well, do you remember that incident nine years ago?” Aizawa’s eyes narrowed.

“The one where you overloaded my mage because you thought if one power boost was cool, five would be - and I’m quoting you here - ‘really awesome’?” His tone said he knew exactly where Eijirou was going with this, and he was very, very displeased. “Are you trying to tell me that you overpowered a war mage who you were completely unfamiliar with and that’s why two training rooms are completely demolished and your friends told me you got thrown through a wall?”

“Maybe?” Eijirou answered hesitantly.

“It would have served you right if Bakugou had killed you on accident,” Aizawa informed him. “As it is, I expect you both to assist in the repairs, and be glad I was the one sent to investigate an explosion instead of Hakamata.”

“What the fuck? Fucking Handler Shitty Hair’s the one who caused this shit; he said it himself! Why the-”

“Bakugou, I am fully aware of your skill level with your magic. You wanted to see what would happen just as much as Kirishima, or you would have pulled back and redirected or reshaped the magic,” Aizawa said flatly. He turned to leave, then stopped as his eyes fell on Eijirou’s bead collection hanging at his waist. “An interesting choice, Kirishima.” Eijirou blinked, then realized he was talking about the lack of red beads.

“You never needed them,” Eijirou replied, nodding to the strings of beads hanging from Aizawa’s belt. Aizawa’s tired eyes crinkled for a second in what could have been amusement or approval.

“Once you’ve finished helping to rebuild the rooms you destroyed, and figured out how to not break everything when training, I’ll recommend some sparring partners for you two,” Aizawa said. That time he really did leave, his mage trailing after him.

“That was weird,” Eijirou muttered.

“Fuck yeah it was. How the fuck is there more than one handler stupid enough to not carry fucking pain spells?” Bakugou agreed.

“No, I meant Yamada - his mage - didn’t say anything. Usually he won’t stop talking,” Eijirou said absently.

“Well, there was a fucking silence spell on him,” Bakugou snapped. Eijirou blinked, and Bakugou snorted. “What kind of fucking handler are you?”

“The kind that doesn’t rely on fear to do my job,” Eijirou retorted. “Come on. I need to go assure my friends that you’re not going to murder me as soon as they leave me alone with you.”

“Fucking watch me,” Bakugou grumbled. “I’ll murder you even with them here.” Eijirou sighed and kept walking, wondering if he’d ever manage to have a conversation with his mage without being sworn at and threatened.

Chapter Text

About five minutes before meeting the mage who had been assigned to him, Hitoshi wondered if he could maybe trade the man in for someone less exhausting. After all, he didn’t want a copy mage. He’d never wanted a copy mage. Out of every kind of magic that currently existed in the kingdom, copy magic was the most work, the least reliable, and the hardest to find good advice on how to handle.

Five seconds after meeting the mage who had been assigned to him, Hitoshi actually asked if he could have a different one, because “I never knew eyebags could be so sexy” was so not the first thing Hitoshi wanted to hear from his new mage.

Unfortunately, Hitoshi had not been allowed to trade Monoma in for a less annoying mage, and because of that, Hitoshi was getting even less sleep than usual. Sure, Monoma would stop for a little while when Hitoshi warned him to behave, but it didn’t keep him quiet forever.

Hitoshi was pretty sure even a silence spell wouldn’t keep Monoma quiet for long. Even nearly getting disintegrated by a rampaging war mage hadn’t been enough to shut him up. Instead, Monoma had just been complaining about how unfair it was that Bakugou had so much magic Hitoshi hadn’t let Monoma steal it. The last thing Hitoshi needed was Monoma with war magic, so he’d told the mage to copy Kaminari’s magic instead.

“You know, if you had let me copy Pom-Pom’s magic, I could’ve taken him,” Monoma whined, hovering too close to Hitoshi, who was taking inventory of his spell beads, hoping to fins a silencing spell among them.

“I don’t trust you with that kind of power,” Hitoshi sighed, regretfully finding no silencing spells. He’d have to go down and get some, then. He didn’t have the energy to punish Monoma every time he was annoying, and Hitoshi had a feeling it wouldn’t work, anyway. Monoma would just pitch his screaming to the most annoying level and shriek away. Besides, Aizawa had been telling him for the last fifteen years that no matter what other handlers thought, pain wasn’t the best way to handle mages.

“Aw, why not? If your spiky-hot friend can trust Pom-Pom, who has actively tried to murder handlers before, why can’t you trust little old me?” Monoma pouted, perching on the arm of Hitoshi’s chair and leaning into his space.

“Because you say things like ‘your spiky-hot friend’,” Hitoshi grimaced, shoving at Monoma’s shoulder until he gave up and slid off the chair. “I’m starting to think you just say stuff like that to get a reaction.”

“I can’t believe my lovely handler is so cold that he could possibly think I would-”

“Damn it, Monoma, can’t you just shut up for five minutes?” Hitoshi snapped, glaring at the mage. His fingers itched to reach for his beads, but he resisted, mostly because he knew that he didn’t have any silence spells, and also because if he used a pain spell now, then it would be less effective if he was eventually forced to use one on Monoma for something more serious. Monoma eyed him with so much smugness radiating from him that Hitoshi was sorely tempted to tell Kirishima he’d changed his mind, and yeah, Bakugou could murder Monoma now.

“I’ll be quiet for the rest of the day if you tell me why you’re friends with those other handlers. They all seem so much more well-rested than you. And nicer to their mages,” Monoma offered. Hitoshi hesitated. Giving in now and making a deal with his mage could set a dangerous precedent. But he also really wanted some peace and quiet.

“If I tell you, then you can’t say anything until tomorrow morning,” Hitoshi clarified. Monoma’s smirk told Hitoshi he was definitely making a mistake, but his poor tired ears told him it was worth it.

“If I say anything-”

“I will trade you to Sero. His lightning mage looks a lot nicer than you,” Hitoshi interrupted. Monoma’s pout was back, but Hitoshi ignored it. “The reason I’m friends with them is because I’m sleeping with all of them.” That was a flat out lie, of course. Sure, he and Kirishima had been together for a little while a few years ago, but that was irrelevant.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Monoma whispered, shock making him quiet.

“Sero is really into bondage,” Hitoshi deadpanned. It had been a running joke with their class of handlers, because Sero had accidentally used a paralysing spell on himself once, and had made the mistake of saying it didn’t actually feel bad.

“I don’t want to hear this,” Monoma informed him, backing away. Hitoshi hid a smug smirk of his own and continued.

“Tetsutetsu has all that energy and enthusiasm, you know? His stamina is incredible,” Hitoshi drawled. “Kirishima’s a people person, always eager to please, and-”

Monoma was gone. He fled to his bedroom and slammed the door shut. Hitoshi let out a sigh of relief and put away his beads. He needed to go through his books to see if there was any information on copy mages he might have forgotten, and now was as good a time as any.


 

Katsuki wasn’t a fan of this whole “help rebuild the training rooms” thing. As it turned out, a lot of the actual construction was done by other mages, so Kirishima had been assigned to replenish the power of the mages who appeared to be lifting materials into place and fusing them together with magic. Since Katsuki’s magic couldn’t do anything to walls besides obliterate them, he was stuck hauling the rubble to where it was needed, which turned out to be everywhere, because a lot of the material going into the new walls and floor was apparently just reshaped and repaired pieces of the old walls and floor.

Katsuki wasn’t sure how this was a punishment at first, but then he realized that Aizawa was trying to break him down with boredom, because nothing was worse than mindlessly dragging around chunks of rock or heaps of flooring pieces that could easily be lifted by mages like the one Kirishima’s gray-haired friend with the weird eyes had.

Katsuki paused and grimaced at his arms, which were covered in scrapes from the jagged edges of all the shattered shit he’d been carrying all day. He’d been trying to ignore it, because a few stinging scratches was nothing compared to what he was used to. But he had a few splinters stuck in his arms, and a few of the scrapes on his wrists and palms were bad enough that the blood from them was making it difficult to grip things. Katsuki sighed, wondering if he could maybe get out of more of this, even if it meant trekking to the infirmary.

“Hey, Bakugou, you okay?” Ah, fuck, there was his handler. Katsuki turned to glare at Kirishima, ready to unleash a barrage of complaints about how Kirishima was getting off easy, but paused, blinking and reaching up to wipe at his eyes, because something had to be wrong with his vision. He only succeeded in smearing some blood on his forehead and confirming that, for some reason, the handler who had spent the day doing nothing but fucking fondling some beads looked like death warmed over, his face pale and drawn, with huge bags under his eyes like he hadn’t slept in weeks.

“The fuck is wrong with you? You look like motherfucking shit,” Katsuki informed him.

“Ah, don’t worry about it,” Kirishima laughed, flapping a hand dismissively, which didn’t stop Katsuki from noticing that his hands were shaking.

“Fuck you, I’m not fucking worried,” Katsuki snapped, although there was that nagging thought that if Kirishima collapsed after doing basically nothing all day, Katsuki would be blamed for it.

“Of course you’re not,” Kirishima agreed. Katsuki narrowed his eyes; something in Kirishima’s voice was more strained than usual, and it was getting on Katsuki’s nerves, because obviously something was wrong, and Kirishima was bringing it over to Katsuki. “Hey, the other mages said you’ve been dropping stuff and getting blood everywhere.”

“Fuck off. It’s just a few scratches,” Katsuki snapped. Kirishima shrugged and pulled a blue bead from the string at his hip.

“Yeah, I’m sure. But just so we don’t cause them any trouble, let me heal them. Oh, and I’ll put a shield spell on your arms so hopefully you won’t get all torn up,” Kirishima said. Katsuki tried not to notice that Kirishima’s fingers shook as he pulled a brown bead from the collection, too. And even if he noticed, he definitely didn’t care. It wasn’t any of Katsui’s business if Kirishima was sick or something.

“I don’t need your fucking beads,” Katsuki snapped.

“But it’ll make this whole thing easier for everybody involved. Including you,” Kirishima pointed out, already gripping the beads tightly in one hand and resting his other hand on Katsuki’s shoulder. Katsuki held still, but only because yeah, it would be nice to just carry shit without getting blood everywhere. “There,” Kirishima announced, tucking the used beads into his pocket and letting go of Katsuki’s shoulder. He started to take a step back, wobbled, then pitched sideways. Katsuki reacted before he had a chance to process what happened or what he was doing, catching Kirishima and hauling him upright. Kirishima ended up leaning heavily on Katsuki’s chest, and Katsuki seriously considered stepping back and letting him fall.

“The fuck happened to you?” Katsuki complained, trying to straighten Kirishima up so he wasn’t slumped against him.

“Mm, dunno what you’re talking about,” Kirishima mumbled, apparently completely oblivious to Katsuki’s attempts to get him to not lean on him.  

“If you’re going to fucking drop dead, fucking warn me so I can celebrate properly, Handler Shitty Hair,” Katsuki complained.

“If I decide to drop dead, I promise you’ll be the first to know,” Kirishima sighed. His head dropped forward on Katsuki’s shoulder, and that was the final straw.

“Fuck this,” Katsuki said out loud, taking a step back and telling himself he didn’t feel bad when Kirishima crumpled to the ground. He didn’t know what was wrong with Kirishima, but if he was sick or something, Katsuki didn’t want to catch it, and if Kirishima was messing with him, it wasn’t funny.

“Oh, no, Katsu! It looks like something happened to the little red handler!” Katsuki’s whole body reacted to that voice, a shudder running down his back as he whirled, settling into a fighting stance, his magic crackling at his fingertips.

“Fuck off,” Katsuki hissed, heart pounding and his throat closing up. “Get the fuck away from me,” he snarled at the short, female mage before him, who just gave him a wide grin.

“Aw, but Katsu...I thought we were friends! ,” she pouted. “Don’t you want to be my friend, Katsu?” Katsuki’s gaze dropped to the assortment of small knives strapped to her thighs and took a step back, his heel connecting with Kirishima’s shoulder, reminding him that if he tried to retreat, he would probably trip over the mage and fall, and then he’d be done for.

“You twisted motherfucking bitch, leave me the fuck alone. You can’t-” Katsuki shuddered again, and had to force his hands not to tremble. “I’m not-”

“I know,” she sighed. “I’ve been so sad without my favorite toy. It’s so hard without my toy. But Katsu! It’s okay! Because Tsunagu said if the little red handler dies, I can have my toy back! Wouldn’t that be fun, Katsu?” Katsuki glanced over his shoulder at Kirishima, who hadn’t moved. Shit, fuck, what if the shitty-haired idiot did die from whatever was wrong with him? Something touched Katsuki’s neck, and he froze, images and remembered sensations swamping him.

Pain, so much pain. More than any single pain spell.

His own blood flowing over his skin from more cuts than he should be able to survive.

The cold, once-soothing wash of healing magic forcing him to keep breathing, regenerating his blood so he could bleed some more.

Laughter.

“I’m having so much fun, Katsu! Aren’t you?”

His own magic, copied and turned against him, crackling overhead.

Agony as something in his leg shattered.

A cool, almost tender touch on his throat.

“Answer me, Katsu. Tell me you’re having fun.”

Katsuki roared and lashed out, his swinging hand meeting only air. He lunged forward, pursuing the other mage as she danced backwards, laughing. Katsuki’s shaking legs gave out on him, and he sank to his knees, his magic vanishing as he clutched his hair and curled forward, a cry like a wounded animal escaping his throat.

“Bakugou?” Katsuki almost didn’t hear his name being called. “Bakugou, what happened? Bakugou!” Katsuki couldn’t breathe, couldn’t face whoever was calling him. “Shit. Yamada, tell whoever was in charge of the handlers here today that they’d better have an explanation for this. Bakugou, listen to me. I have to help Kirishima.”

Kirishima.

If he died…

If that idiot fucking died, Katsuki would end up back there. Back in a cell, back in chains, back in constant pain. Katsuki couldn’t handle that, not again. He couldn’t...he couldn’t do that again. He couldn’t survive that again.

Katsuki’s hands dropped from his hair, and he wrapped his arms around himself, like he could hold his cries in, hold himself together, if he could just get them tight enough.

Then there was a hand on his back, and everything went dark.


 

The last thing Eijirou remembered was falling, and Bakugou catching him, then falling again.

Then darkness.

His first thought when he woke up was I didn’t know Aizawa was here.

His second was oh crap, I’m in for a lecture.

And then he realized that Aizawa looked stern, yeah, but he also looked really concerned, and he was saying something.

“...Uh…?” Eijirou mumbled.

“Your mage!” Aizawa snapped. “He’s freaking out. Fix him before I just knock him out!” Eijirou blinked, and then the words registered. He pushed himself to his hands and knees, looking around. Bakugou was just in front of him, kneeling and curled forward, shaking and making the most awful noises Eijirou had ever heard, low and broken, and nothing like what his loud, angry mage was supposed to sound like.

“Bakugou,” Eijirou rasped. “Bakugou, it’s okay.” Bakugou didn’t so much as twitch. “I...can’t tell if he’s ignoring me, or if he can’t hear me.” Eijirou reached for his beads - maybe Bakugou was in pain? - but Aizawa caught his wrist and pulled his hand away from his spells.

“No more beads for you today. Why do you think you passed out?” Aizawa scolded.

“I need to help him,” Eijirou protested. “At least enough to get him back to his room or something.” Aizawa sighed.

“So you don’t know what’s wrong with him?” Eijirou shook his head and started to crawl toward Bakugou - he knew from experience that his legs wouldn’t cooperate with the idea of standing for another ten minutes or so - but again, Aizawa stopped him. “I’ll use a sleeping spell on him. We can figure out what to do while he’s out.” Eijirou frowned, not liking the idea of anyone besides himself - even Aizawa - using spells on his mage, but he also knew Aizawa was right, and he probably shouldn’t use any more spell beads for a while. Aizawa plucked a white bead from his own collection and placed his other hand on Bakugou’s back. A moment later, the heartbreaking sounds stopped, and Bakugou slumped forward.

“Hey! I delivered your message!” Aizawa’s mage was back, making Eijirou wince at the volume of his announcement.

“Good. Help me get these two back to their quarters,” Aizawa ordered, barely seeming to notice his mage’s excessive volume. “But if you narrate every step again, I’ll put another silencing spell on you.”

“Fine, fine, but just know that you’re no fun!” Yamada replied. Eijirou grimaced and reached for his head, Yamada’s voice sending what felt like shards of glass bouncing through his skull. Someone - oh, no, it was Yamada - hauled him to his feet and supported him as he walked. Aizawa just picked Bakugou up and carried him.

Since Yamada was doing most of the work in transporting him, Eijirou’s mind was free to wander. What had happened to Bakugou? He’d seemed fine right before Eijirou passed out. Surely Eijirou fainting on him hadn’t made Bakugou freak out like that. Or maybe it had. Bakugou didn’t seem like the kind to appreciate someone else collapsing on them. But knowing Bakugou, he’d have just kicked Eijirou a few times and called his unconscious body something terrible. He wouldn’t have had a breakdown or whatever that was.

Something had to have happened while Eijirou was out.

Whatever it was, he was going to get to the bottom of it once Bakugou woke up, and he was going to make sure it never happened again.

 

Chapter Text

Katsuki woke with the sluggishness that experience had taught him came with being forced unconscious by a sleep spell, his mind clawing its way toward consciousness, information filtering through the haze of the magic lingering in his system.

He remembered the blond mage’s laughter shuddered, gasping for breath as he threw himself to the side like he was dodging an attack. Instead, he ended up tangling himself in blankets and falling off of the bed he was apparently sleeping in.

Bakugou shouted as he fell, then again when he hit the floor and thrashed around, trying to free himself from the clinging fabric.

He couldn't think clearly, couldn't move with the blankets wound around him. He was trapped. Helpless. Vulnerable. Panic set in, and with a desperate cry, he realized his magic was fully accessible and disintegrated the blankets.

Katsuki surged to his feet, but stayed low, fingers curled and magic popping around his fingers as he scanned the room for threats.

His gaze landed on Kirishima, who was standing in the doorway and looking incredibly conflicted.

“The fuck is this?” Katsuki hissed.

“You murdered the blankets,” Kirishima replied, sounding equal parts confused, distraught, and amused. “Aizawa is going to kill me.”

If the little red handler dies…

“I'll fucking kill stupid-ass motherfucking Aizawa first,” Katsuki snarled. Kirishima couldn't die. If he died, Katsuki would end up chained again, in constant pain, with no way out. Hakamata let him go once. Katsuki didn't think he would do so a second time.

“What?”

“What, fuckface?” Katsuki snapped, glaring at the handler. Kirishima studied him for a moment, his frown too thoughtful and his eyes too piercing for Katsuki’s liking. It took Katsuki a second to realize why. “Shit.” He'd said he would kill Aizawa...in response to Kirishima saying - probably jokingly - that Aizawa would kill Kirishima. Katsuki had jumped to Kirishima’s defense. “If anyone’s going to fucking murder you're stupid shitty face it's going to be me,” Katsuki snarled, straightening and advancing on him in what was supposed to be a menacing manner. The effect was mostly ruined when Katsuki’s feet decided not to cooperate - he fucking hated sleep spells - and he pitched forward.

Kirishima was there terrifyingly fast, and Katsuki ended up supported by the handler’s hands on his shoulders.

“Hey, you okay? What happened to you, anyway? You were freaking out so much Aizawa had to use a sleep spell,” Kirishima told him. Katsuki tried to throw him off, but the attempt ended up more of a pat in the general direction of Kirishima’s face.

“Don't fucking worry about me like that. It's even fucking creepier after waking the fuck up and not knowing shit about how the fucking hell I got here,” Katsuki growled, trying to rock backwards to put some distance between himself and the handler. Kirishima shifted his hold, bringing Katsuki closer and sliding an arm around him.

“You should sit down,” Kirishima decided. “Come on. Let’s get you to the couch. Your friend was worried about you too, you know.” Katsuki’s fingers sparked as his magic responded to his irritation as he was half-carried into the living room. Katsuki was so busy scowling and trying to figure out how to get away that he didn’t register Kirishima’s words or notice that they had a visitor until she spoke.

“Katsu’s a sleepyhead! Why’d you have to sleep so long?” the female mage seated on the couch pouted. Katsuki seized Kirishima’s shirt with one hand, fingers curling into the material until his nails dug into his palms through the fabric. His other hand came up between himself and the other mage, magic popping at his fingertips.

“Bakugou?” Kirishima questioned. “What’s-”

“Keep that twisted fucking bitch away from me!” Katsuki snarled, trying to stand straighter despite the trembling in his limbs.

“Katsu’s such a meanie,” she complained, standing. Katsuki flinched, shoulders hunching defensively.

“I thought you said you were his friend, Toga,” Kirishima accused, his arm tightening around Katsuki as he angled his body, putting himself between them. Katsuki shuddered, refusing to take comfort in having someone between him and the other mage. Toga whined, and Katsuki didn’t have to see her face to know exactly what expression she had, eyes narrow in irritation and lips turned down in a childish pout.

“I thought Katsu was my friend,” she replied. “I just wanna play a little. You said it was okay, Eiji. You said I could play with him.” Katsuki ducked his head and bit into his own arm to smother a scream. Kirishima had told her she could… Katsuki was shaking so badly he didn’t even notice Kirishima turning, sliding his other arm around Katsuki and pulling him close, one hand protectively and a little possessively on his lower back, the other coming up to rest on the back of Katsuki’s head in what was probably supposed to be a comforting gesture. Katsuki’s fingers curled into the material of his shirt as he fought to keep himself upright and quiet, waiting in terror to hear Kirishima’s reply. Would he stand by what he apparently told her? Would he let her stay? What had Kirishima really agreed to?

“You need to go. I don’t know what’s going on, but you’re upsetting my mage,” Kirishima told her. Katsuki’s whole body was rigid as Kirishima’s words registered. He was telling Toga to leave? He wasn’t going to try to force Katsuki to let her ‘play’?

“But you said-”

“You lied to me. You told me Bakugou would be happy to see you. I don’t know what your relationship with him is, but you’re obviously not friends. I want you out of my quarters, and I don’t want to see you anywhere near Bakugou unless he tells me he wants to see you,” Kirishima insisted, his hand rubbing circles into Katsuki’s back. It didn’t make Katsuki relax, but his muscles did stop trembling quite so much as he heard the distinctive huff of Toga not getting her way, and prepared himself to feel her stealing his magic to fight for what she wanted.

“You’re no fun, Eiji,” she whined.

“Go,” Kirishima repeated. Katsuki heard her footsteps retreating out of the room, but didn’t relax even when Kirishima gently ruffled his hair in an attempt to get his attention. “Bakugou?” Katsuki didn’t reply, too busy trying to figure out what had just happened. Kirishima had let Toga in, told her she could spend time with Katsuki, and then changed his mind. Was this some kind of power play? Was he trying to scare Katsuki into submission by holding the threat of letting Toga have access to him over his head? “I’m so sorry, Bakugou. I had no idea she would upset you. I won’t let her in again, okay? I promise. So please don’t kill me just yet.” Katsuki blinked at that, then realized that he was still gripping Kirishima’s shirt to support himself - well, what was left of it, anyway, because his magic had destroyed most of the fabric in his hands. Katsuki let go and pushed himself away, and this time Kirishima let him go, watching him carefully.

Katsuki shuddered, opening and closing his fists for a second as he swayed. Kirishima seemed genuinely worried, but that could just be an act. He needed time to think, to figure out what Kirishima’s plot was, what he could gain from something like this.

“Bakugou, please sit down before you fall,” Kirishima urged, reaching for him only to stop when Katsuki hissed and flinched away. “Come on. She’s gone. You’re safe.” Katsuki shook his head, trying not to listen to the calming tone in Kirishima’s voice. “Why don’t we sit down, and you can tell me if there’s anyone else you don’t want me to let in here. You don’t even have to tell me why if you don’t want to,” he offered, sitting on the floor and staring up at Katsuki, who eyes him warily.

“If you ever let her near me again, I swear I’ll kill you,” Katsuki growled, trying to sound intimidating and probably failing miserably.

“I understand,” Kirishima replied solemnly, like he and Katsuki were actually making a deal. Like Katsuki wasn’t just some unruly mage that Kirishima was trying to tame. “I swear to you, Bakugou, I won’t let anyone I know will upset you in here. These are your quarters, too. You deserve to feel safe here.” Katsuki tried to take a step back, but his knees finally gave out, and he tumbled to the floor with a shout of surprise and irritation. Katsuki scrambled to sit up and glared at Kirishima, expecting him to laugh. Instead, Kirishima looked concerned. “Are you okay?”

“I’m just fuckin’ peachy,” Katsuki hissed. His gaze landed on Kirishima’s ruined shirt, and his body went stiff again. “I ruined your stupid-ass shirt.” Kirishima blinked, glanced down at what was left of his shirt, then shrugged.

“Doesn’t matter. I have more.” Katsuki scooted back a bit. No matter how well Kirishima seemed to be taking it, there was no way he was really okay with Katsuki destroying his shirt. And even if he was okay with the loss of the clothing, he would eventually realize that Katsuki could have easily injured him with his magic, and…

Fuck.

Katsuki had been too scared to keep his magic from doing more than crackling threateningly. If he’d lost just a little bit more control...he could have injured or killed Kirishima, and then…

If the little red handler dies…

Katsuki curled forward, his body trembling with how close he’d come to destroying the one thing that might stand between him and Toga.

“Bakugou?” Kirishima sounded upset. Katsuki tried not to let himself flinch, but when he felt Kirishima’s hand on his shoulder, he couldn’t help the way his body tensed, bracing for pain. “Bakugou, what’s wrong?” Kirishima’s touch was gentle, and no pain washed over him. Katsuki bit his lip to keep from letting out the whimper that rose in his throat. He wished Kirishima would just punish him already, get it over with. Dragging it out just made it worse. “Bakugou, I promise I’m not going to hurt you. I really don’t care about the shirt. Please, just tell me what’s wrong. Let me help you.” Katsuki shuddered, trying to force his body to relax. Kirishima sighed and lifted his hand from Katsuki’s shoulder. Katsuki waited, holding his breath, but still no pain came. He lifted his head and blinked at Kirishima, who was kneeling in front of him, watching him with no trace of anger in his expression or posture.

“I could have killed you,” Katsuki said, his voice rough. He cleared his throat and watched Kirishima carefully as he continued, “My magic could have…” His gaze darted back to the destroyed garment, then back up to Kirishima’s face.

“You didn’t seem to have a problem with that when you were threatening me a minute ago,” Kirishima pointed out, his eyebrows drawing together in confusion. Katsuki hesitated. He couldn’t trust Kirishima with his fear, couldn’t trust him with his past. Not all of it, anyway. But Kirishima had seen his reaction to Toga. All he would have to do is ask one of Katsuki’s former handlers, or even Hakamata, and he’d get a full history of everything Katsuki had done, and everything that had been done to him.

Katsuki didn’t really want Kirishima knowing any of that, because that would just make it easier for Kirishima to manipulate and control him through his fear. But maybe if Katsuki gave him a little bit, Kirishima would think whatever plan he had was working. That way, Katsuki would be able to control what Kirishima found out about him, too.

“If I fucking kill you on purpose it’s fucking different, okay?” Katsuki said finally. He hesitated, debating how much to say.

“First you say you’re the only one allowed to kill me, and now you want to be intentional about it. What’s with you and planning my death in so much detail?” Kirishima asked. He sounded like he was trying to be amused, but there was an undercurrent of worry to his words that made Katsuki’s skin prickle. Fuck, how did Kirishima have the energy to be so worried all the damn time? And why? Katsuki was just a mage. Kirishima was supposed to look down on him, hurt him, treat him like some lowly servant or animal to be trained, just like the others.

Katsuki had been sure the whole caring act was a plot, but…

His gaze dropped to Kirishima’s string of beads. Still no red beads, no pain spells, and the spell Hakamata had given him to kill Katsuki if he needed to was nowhere to be found, either. Whether it was part of Kirishima’s plan or not, he had sent Toga away once he saw Katsuki’s reaction to her.

Katsuki shook his head, pushing those thoughts away. He couldn’t afford to consider the idea of Kirishima actually meaning anything he said, couldn’t afford to think that maybe Kirishima was actually a decent person who wasn’t going to torture or control him.

Katsuki had to focus on controlling what Kirishima knew about him, making sure Kirishima stuck with this caring plan. It would make it easier to escape if Kirishima was trying to make Katsuki think he cared about him.

“If you actually died, I’d end up right back where I was when Hakamata gave me to you,” Katsuki grumbled. He meant for that to come out grouchy, grudging, like Kirishima’s concern had dragged it out of him, but instead his tone was low, shaky, too full of honest fear, and Katsuki hated that anyone could get that reaction from him, and he hated even more that Kirishima had seen it. In the silence that followed, Katsuki had to fight back the urge to flee, because he felt too vulnerable, having showed Kirishima more of himself then he wanted to. He’d have to get better at controlling that, or he’d end up revealing too much. Kirishima would be able to use his weakness to keep him from daring to escape, and Katsuki couldn’t afford that. He had to get his shit together and figure out how to get away before Kirishima got tired of being nice to him and decided to bring him to heel.

“You’re never going back there.” Kirishima’s voice yanked Katsuki out of his thoughts. “What Hakamata did to you was horrible. No one deserves to be…” Kirishima trailed off, biting his lip, then seemed to shake himself. He met Katsuki’s eyes, his expression fierce and determined. “I talked to Aizawa before Toga showed up. Technically, Aizawa’s my boss, not Hakamata, since Aizawa’s the one who trained me. So he agreed that if I die, he’ll take you on himself until he finds someone he can trust to take care of you. You could kill me right now, and you’d still never go back to Hakamata or anyone who’d hurt you.” Katsuki stared at Kirishima, shock and incredulity overriding his need to not show any reactions that could be used against him.

“What the fuck?” Katsuki blurted out. “What the fuck? How fucking stupid are you? Do you seriously think I’d fall for that? The fuck do you want? Grattitude? You want me to fall in line because I’m just so fucking grateful because of some bullshit-”

“I don’t care if you’re grateful or not,” Kirishima interrupted. “I don’t care if you think I’m just as bad as the handlers who’ve hurt you, and I don’t care if you believe me or not. But it’s true, and you’re never going to be chained up or tortured again if I have anything to say about it.” Kirishima’s gaze never wavered as he spoke, but his voice wobbled a bit at the end, and part of Katsuki couldn’t help wondering if Kirishima was really this good of an actor or if maybe he actually meant it.

“You’re a fucking idiot,” Katsuki told him. Kirishima laughed, and the sound was just the slightest bit shaky.

“Maybe I am,” he agreed, his expression suddenly serious again. “But not for trying to keep you safe. I will never believe that’s a stupid thing to fight for.”

Katsuki didn’t have an answer for that.

He was too busy fighting with that part of him that wanted to believe Kirishima to come up with one.

Fuck.

He needed to get away fast, before whatever Kirishima was doing to him worked.

Chapter Text

Hanta hesitated, fist raised to knock on the door to Aizawa’s office. He’d left Kaminari napping in their quarters after a long joint training session with Tetsutetsu and his mage. He didn’t exactly want his mage overhearing the conversation he was about to have. He didn’t exactly want to hear the conversation he was about to have himself, either, though, so maybe it was a moot point. The image of Kaminari on his knees, leaning forward between Hanta’s legs, flashed before his eyes, and Hanta shook his head and finally rapped his knuckles on the door.

“Enter,” Aizawa’s voice called. Hanta obeyed, closing the door behind himself. Aizawa sat as his desk, although it was difficult to tell it was actually the Deputy Chief Handler since he was almost completely obscured by the mountain of blankets he’d wrapped himself in. Yamada was actually sitting on the desk, his back to the door and his legs swinging to nudge the side of Aizawa’s blanket heap.

“It’s about time,” Yamada huffed, grinning over his shoulder at Hanta. “You were standing out there for ages!” Hanta shrugged uncertainly; he wasn’t sure he’d be able to ask what he needed to with Yamada there.

“What do you need, Sero?” Aizawa sighed, shooting a glare at Yamada after a particularly energetic kick.

“Uh, well, it’s nothing really. I can come back later,” Hanta replied, reaching for the door.

“Sero.” Aizawa’s tone held no room for argument. Hanta sighed and glanced around the room, looking anywhere but at the mage on the desk or the handler in the blankets.

“Kaminari did something weird, and I was hoping you could help me figure out what to do,” Hanta admitted. Aizawa’s eyes narrowed, and Yamada stopped kicking.

“Weird how?” Aizawa prompted.

“He…” Hanta felt his cheeks burning and finally settled on studying the incredibly interesting design woven into the rug under Aizawa’s desk. “I think he expects something from me, and I don’t know what it is.” Aizawa’s gaze was like a weight on him, squeezing the truth out. “Okay, that’s a lie. I know exactly what he’s expecting. He thinks I want…” Hanta gulped, his gaze darting up to almost meet Aizawa’s before dropping miserably to the floor again. “He’s convinced I’m going to want to sleep with him.”

Silence filled the room, the weight of it slowly crushing Hanta’s determination to not turn tail and run.

“Do you?” It was Yamada who spoke, his voice sharper and much less overbearingly friendly than usual.

“Of course not! He’s my mage! If I…” Hanta trailed off, struggling to form coherent words. He took a slow, steadying breath, then finally lifted his gaze to meet Aizawa’s, then Yamda’s as he spoke. “I would never take advantage of my mage like that. But...he’s been so skittish around me ever since I told him that. If I’m not smiling enough he starts cringing and shaking, and if I smile too much he tries to get close, like he’s expecting something to happen when I’m in a good mood and I don’t know how to fix it.”

More silence followed Hanta’s admission, and he dropped his gaze back to the floor.

“Let me get this straight,” Yamada was the one to break the silence again. “You were given a mage with a history like Kaminari’s, and when he tried to seduce you, you just rejected him and said that’s not the kind of handler you are?” Hanta nodded, his brow furrowing with confusion.

“What else was I supposed to do? And what do you mean? What history?” he asked.

“I should have known better than to let Hakamata do all of the introductions,” Aizawa grumbled. “First he tries to get Kirishima to kill Bakugou, and now this.”

“Technically I think this came first. Kirishima was the last one to meet his new mage,” Yamada piped up. Aizawa glared at him for a second before focusing on Hanta.

“Do you remember what I taught you about the types of handlers most mages are used to?” Aizawa asked. Hanta blinked a few times, unsure where this was going, but nodded.

“Sure. Handlers who control their mages through constant torture, handlers who control their mages through the threat of torture, and handlers who control their mages with sex. But I told him-”

“You told him you weren’t the kind of handler who would sleep with your mage,” Yamada butted in again. Hanta’s eyes widened.

“Oh. Oh, no, he thinks…” Hanta didn’t finish that thought. He ducked his head in what could technically pass for thanks for the advice and was halfway out the door before either of them could say anything else.

Hanta sprinted the whole way back to his quarters. When he reached the door to the suite he shared with Kaminari, however, he forced himself to stop and calm down. Being insistant or upset about this would only be counterproductive. He needed to be calm, soothing, and not at all confrontational. He didn’t want to scare his mage any more than he already had on accident.

When Hanta finally stepped into his quarters, Kaminari was no longer napping in his room. Instead, the mage was pacing anxiously back and forth in front of the couch, sparks dancing in his hair. When he heard the door open, Kaminari froze in place, eyes wide and his whole body trembling.

“Kaminari, are you okay?” Hanta asked, frowning worriedly at his mage. Kaminari flinched like Hanta’s words were a physical blow. Before Hanta could even begin to process that reaction, Kaminari was skipping across the room, lips curled upward in an inviting smile. He dropped to his knees when he reached Hanta, pressing his forehead against Hanta’s thigh just above his knee.

“You look upset,” Kaminari purred, tilting his head back to look up at Hanta. “Let me-”

“Kaminari,” Hanta interrupted, closing the door behind him before sinking to his own knees in front of the mage. “I want you to listen to me very, very carefully, all right?” Every muscle in Kaminari’s body was shaking with tension, and his lips were pressed together like he was trying to stop himself from making a sound. “I’m not going to have sex with you. But I’m not going to hurt you, either.” Kaminari’s eyes darted down to Hanta’s waist, where his spell beads hung. “I know you don’t have any reason to believe me, but I swear I’m not going to torture you. I want to be friends. Would that be okay with you?” Kaminari stared at him like he was speaking a foreign language. Hanta hesitated, then sighed and reached for his beads. A tiny noise that was too shaky and scared to be called a whimper escaped his lips, and Hanta paused, his fingers not quite touching the beads. “It’s okay,” he murmured, trying to make his voice low and even, like he was talking to a scared animal. “It’s okay, Kaminari. I’m not going to hurt you, okay? Look, I’m just going to take the red beads off and put them over there, okay?” Hanta kept talking, making sure his tone didn’t waver as he removed the red beads from his string and rolled them across the floor, away from Kaminari. “I won’t hurt you, Sparks. Promise.” Hanta held out his hands, showing Kaminari that he hadn’t kept any of the red beads. “I just want us to work together, and like I said, I want to be friends, if that’s okay with you.” Kaminari didn’t move for a second, staring at Hanta’s hands intently. When he finally looked up and met Hanta’s eyes, his expression was tentative. When he spoke, Hanta wasn’t sure how to respond.

“Will you like me enough to keep me if we’re friends?” Kaminari watched him intently, searching for some sign of...Hanta had no idea what he was looking for.

“What do you mean?” he said finally. Kaminari shook his head, biting his lip. “Hey, come on, Kaminari. Talk to me. I can’t help if I don’t know what’s wrong.” Kaminari leaned away, suspicion flickering in his eyes. “Aw, don’t look at me like that, Sparks.” Hanta held up his hands in defeat. “Look, you don’t have to tell me anything you don’t want to, okay? I know I threw a lot at you just now, and I know I scared you before, and then just now with the beads, and I’m really sorry. If you want me to leave-” Kaminari surged forward, gripping Hanta’s shirt and hiding his face in his shoulder. “Whoa, what?”

“Don’t leave,” Kaminari choked out. “Don’t leave, please. I want you to like me. I want to stay with you.” Hanta hesitated, not sure what was going on, then decided to hell with it, Kaminari could shock him or something if he didn’t like Hanta’s reaction. Hanta slid his arms around Kaminari’s shoulders, holding him as gently and comfortingly as he could. He had no idea what Kaminari was thinking, why the mage reacted the way he did, but he figured it was probably part of whatever ‘history’ Yamada had been talking about.

“Kaminari,” Hanta began. The mage flinched, pressing his face harder into his shoulder, and Hanta sighed. “Sparks. I just meant that if you wanted some time alone I wouldn’t bother you.” Kaminari’s body shuddered, but once he stilled, he seemed a little more relaxed, so Hanta kept talking. “I wouldn’t just leave you, okay? You’re my mage now, remember? I’m gonna take care of you. You’re going to be just fine, Sparks.” Hanta didn’t know how long he stayed there, holding his mage and murmuring nonsense, before he realized Kaminari had fallen asleep, still clutching his shirt.


 

Shouta didn’t bother to hide his yawn as he made his way toward his quarters, Yamada at his side and chattering on about a sparring match he’d had with one of the noble mages while Shouta was drowning in paperwork. He heard Yamada pause, expecting a complaint. Shouta grumbled wordlessly and rolled his eyes as Yamada’s voice filled the silence around them, but he didn’t tell his mage to shut up. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Yamada grin and lean closer, recognizing that Shouta was sleepy enough that he actually appreciated the rhythm of his mage’s voice, and would therefore be more likely to actually engage in conversation to encourage him to keep talking without having to admit he liked listening to Yamada.

“Someone’s sleepier than usual. Did Hakamata make you do the progress reports on rebuilding the training rooms or something?” Yamada asked. Shouta grimaced and tugged his scarf up to cover more of his face.

“He said it was my idea to give a handler as impulsive as Kirishima a war mage, so I have to do all of the reports for any incidents those two cause,” he sighed. “If I’d known that kid was going to be this much work, I would’ve kicked him out of handler training before he turned six.”

“Aw, come on. You liked his class. Admit it,” Yamada laughed, daring to reach over and poke Shouta’s arm.

“You’re an idiot,” Shouta informed him, another yawn cutting off the rest of what he wanted to say.

“Maybe, but I’m right. You trusted them enough to...Bakugou?” Yamada broke off. “What are you- hey!” Shouta looked up to see the blond war mage darting away down the hall. “Kirishima isn’t with him,” Yamada noticed. Shouta grimaced and dropped a hand to his beads. One quick paralysis spell later, and Bakugou was frozen in his tracks, undoubtedly snarling and furiously trying to swear at him, but Shouta’s spell didn’t allow his mouth to move, so he was silent as Shouta and Yamada approached. Shouta released the spell as they reached him, and Yamada took hold of Bakugou’s arm as a warning not to bolt again.

“The fuck do you think you’re fucking doing?” Bakugou spat as soon as he realized he could move and therefore speak again. “You can’t just fucking use your shitty spells on me, you shitty old man!”

“Actually, I can, since your handler isn’t here,” Shouta corrected him.

“Don’t you fucking-”

“Please be quiet, Bakugou. I’m too tired for this,” Shouta interrupted. “Where is Kirishima, anyway?”

“I didn’t fucking kill Handler Shitty Hair if that’s what you’re fucking thinking, Shit Eyes,” Bakugou snapped. Shouta considered just silencing Bakugou and dragging him back to Kirishima, but that was just...so much work.

“How is he? Kirishima, I mean?” Yamada piped up. “He was pretty out of it when we took him back to your quarters.” Bakugou tensed, shuddered, and then seemed to shake off something unpleasant.

“He’s fucking fine. Up and walking around and being a fucking stupid idiot, as usual,” Bakugou growled. Shouta frowned, wondering what made Bakugou react that way. From what Shouta knew of him, very few people could get that kind of reaction from Bakugou. Something flickered in Bakugou’s eyes, and he bit his lip for a second like he was debating whether or not to say something. “Why did that happen, anyway?”

“Why did what happen? Us carrying you back to your rooms? That was because-”

“Fuck you, I goddamn mothershitting know why you fucking knocked me the shit out and took me back,” Bakugou snarled. “I fucking meant Handler Shitty Hair. The fucking hell happened to him?” Shouta hid his smug expression in his scarf. He didn’t want Bakugou to realize that Shouta had noticed him slip up and actually act like he was concerned about Kirishima, but he couldn’t help the satisfaction in the back of his head. He knew Kirishima was the right choice for Bakugou, and the violent war mage actually asking what had happened to someone else was a drastic improvement over what had happened the last time one of Bakugou’s past handlers had been vulnerable for a moment.

“Didn’t he tell you?” Shouta said, instead of saying that the one thing that didn’t happen to Kirishima was getting killed or maimed by Bakugou when he collapsed.

“That fucking asshole doesn’t tell me anything,” Bakugou snapped, shoulders hunching defensively. Shouta didn’t say that didn’t sound like Kirishima, who was one of the most friendly and talkative handlers he’d ever trained.

“I imagine he didn’t want you to worry, that’s all,” Aizawa said. “After all, he could have seriously hurt himself overworking like that.” Bakugou’s scowl darkened.

“The fuck are you babbling about?” Bakugou snapped. “All he fucking did was use those shitty beads all day. He didn’t even fucking do any real work.”

“Do you seriously think using spells to energize exhausted mages all day is easy?” Shouta blinked at the sudden incredulity bordering on venom in Yamda’s voice. “Handlers have to use their own energy to activate the spells. Kirishima used a lot more than he should have, and the senior handler in charge of the rebuilding sent him home. That’s why he wasn’t with the other handlers keeping the mages going anymore. He was half dead on his feet!” Shouta thought he wasn’t the only one with a soft spot for Kirishima’s class of handlers, but didn’t mention it. Not that he had one himself. At all.

“And apparently, Kirishima decided that healing you and casting a full strength protection spell on you after being told to go rest and not use any more spell beads for at least twenty-four hours was a good plan,” Shouta added. Bakugou was silent for a long moment.

“The fuck does that shitty asshole have to gain from that?” Bakugou muttered to himself just as Shouta was getting ready to check his beads to make sure he hadn’t silenced or paralysed Bakugou by accident.

“Gain?” Shouta repeated, eyes narrowing.

“You think Kirishima healed you and protected you just to get something from you? Like what? The only thing Kirishima would gain by doing that is crippling exhaustion, physical weakness, and a shortened lifespan,” Yamada snorted. Shouta watched with mild interest as Bakugou seemed to fight with himself, fists clenching and unclenching, sparks popping around his hands, a muscle twitching in his jaw.

“Feel free to go ask Kirishima about the details of that,” Shouta suggested. Bakugou glared at him, then turned on his heel and stomped down the hall, muttering under his breath about idiot handlers and stupid plans and something that sounded like ‘fucking creepy red asshole’ which Shouta assumed was Bakugou’s version of an affectionate nickname. When Bakugou was out of earshot, Shouta sighed and leaned sideways, resting his weight on Yamada, who obligingly put an arm around his shoulders to keep him steady. “No more noticing people wandering around where they’re not supposed to be,” Shouta ordered, yawning as he allowed Yamada to lead him down the hall toward their quarters.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. No more delaying your fourth nap of the day,” Yamada agreed good-naturedly.

“I hate you,” Shouta informed him. Yamada laughed and started retelling his story from earlier about sparring with the noble mage. Shouta hadn’t really listened before, paying more attention to the way Yamada’s voice sounded instead of the actual words coming out of his mouth, and he wasn’t planning on listening this time, either. It was easier just to let the noise wash over him and block out his thoughts for a bit so that once he got to bed, hopefully he would actually be able to sleep for more than an hour at a time.

Chapter Text

Katsuki stalked toward the suite he shared with Kirishima, fuming under his breath with every step. Just how stupid was Kirishima? Had he really been dumb enough to believe Katsuki would suddenly be more cooperative if he knew Kirishima had worn himself out and put himself at risk to help him? Because Katsuki wasn’t going to change his behavior because of this. He wasn’t. He wasn’t going to fall for this, whatever this stupid fucking plan was. Kirishima doing something nice for him wouldn’t make Katsuki like him, and he thought he’d made that clear.

So why had Kirishima done it? And why didn’t he tell Katsuki what he was doing, pushing himself like that? He should have at least mentioned being tired before he healed Katsuki. Otherwise, what was the point? He couldn’t hold this over Katsuki’s head if he didn’t even make sure Katsuki knew what he’d done.

Katsuki stopped in his tracks, his scowl dissolving into a confused frown.

Kirishima hadn’t mentioned the trouble and risk involved in healing him. He’d gone above and beyond that by casting a protection spell, and hadn’t even acted like he was doing Katsuki a huge favor. He hadn’t even said anything when Katsuki woke up, either. As far as Katsuki could tell, Kirishima hadn’t done anything to actually use the incident against him.

Katsuki couldn’t think of any benefits to the handler for his actions, not if Kirishima didn’t hold them over him. One explanation was that Kirishima had forgotten, with both of them passing out and then Toga’s visit. The problem with that was, Kirishima didn’t seem like the type to forget something when it came to his mage. He paid too much attention to Katsuki and his reactions to forget something like that.

But that left Katsuki with a much more terrifying possibility. Could Kirishima have just healed him because he felt like it, because he wanted to, not because he was planning how to use it to break Katsuki down? Was Kirishima actually even more idiotic than Katsuki thought, enough to actually care about and look out for the mage under his control? Kirishima didn’t act like any other handler Katsuki had ever met, and if anyone was stupid enough to actually follow through with protecting a mage, it was definitely Kirishima.

If that’s what was going on, that was good.

That gave Katsuki time to build up his strength, time to plan his escape.

That definitely wasn’t a reason to consider staying.

Katsuki shook himself and continued toward their suite, turning escape plans over in his head. If this was going to work, he’d have to let Kirishima think Katsuki trusted him, and he’d have to make sure Kirishima didn’t accidentally kill himself trying to be nice and heal Katsuki. Not before Katsuki was ready to leave this godforsaken place, anyway.

Katsuki threw the door open when he reached their suite. He stomped to Kirishima’s door and kicked that open, too, ready to rip Kirishima a new one for being so stupid, only to freeze, blinking in confusion.

The room was empty.

Kirishima was gone. Katsuki’s eyes fell to the handler’s spell beads on the bedside table. Kirishima was gone, and he hadn’t taken his beads with.

Something was wrong.

Kirishima was gone, and that meant Katsuki’s tentative safety was, too. Katsuki fought back panic, tried to think. Without Kirishima, he’d end up back under Hakamata’s control, back where Toga could reach him, or he’d be given to someone Hakamata had trained, someone who sure as shit wouldn’t try being nice as their strategy to get him to cooperate.

Katsuki had to get out before that happened, before anyone realized his handler was gone and he was unsupervised.


 

Shouta sat on his bed, Yamada sitting in front of him, his back to the handler. Shouta gently combed his fingers through Yamada’s long blond hair, satisfied that he’d brushed the tangles out. No matter how tired he was, no matter how much he wanted to give in to his drowsiness, he always made sure to brush his mage’s hair before they went to bed. So even though Yamada’s rambling had him yawning almost nonstop by the time they got to their suite, Shouta had insisted on his routine of carefully teasing all the knots out of Yamada’s hair.

Shouta smiled to himself as he gathered the soft blond strands in his fingers and divided the mage’s hair so he could braid it for the night. Between Yamada telling him random stories and brushing out his hair, Shouta was more than ready to curl up under his nice warm blankets, with his nice warm mage beside him, finally quiet as he drifted off to sleep. But first, the braid. Otherwise, Shouta’s efforts to keep Yamada’s hair soft and untangled would be completely undone by morning. Shouta focused on his task, letting the familiar motions keep him on the edge of drowsiness.

“Aizawa! Where are you?” Shouta grimaced and fastened a hair tie around the end of Yamada’s braid.

“Please tell me I just imagined that,” Shouta sighed, leaning forward to rest his forehead on Yamada’s back. The mage twisted and patted Shouta’s head comfortingly.

“Sorry, Shouta, but it sounds like Toyomitsu needs you,” Yamada replied, his voice softer than usual. Shouta shook his head, then straightened up.

“Go scare him away, will you? Whatever it is can wait until morning,” Shouta insisted. Yamada shrugged and gently pulled away, leaving Shouta to flop forward onto the bed.

“I’ll be back in a minute,” Yamada assured him, climbing off the bed and going to the door. Shouta was halfway under the covers when Yamada returned, his expression dark. Shouta knew as soon as he met his mage’s eyes that he wasn’t going to be getting any sleep that night.

“What?”

“Hakamata took Kirishima,” Yamada said grimly.


 

Eijirou groaned as he forced his way toward consciousness. He vaguely remembered waking up with that female mage, Toga, leaning over him, and Hakamata’s voice…

Eijirou tensed and tried to sit up, only for something wrapped around his chest to hold him in place, which only sent panic spiking through him. He was strapped down to some kind of table, and he couldn’t even turn his head, and...Bakugou. Shit, Bakugou, where was Bakugou? If Toga was back, it had to be about Bakugou. Eijirou needed to make sure Bakugou was safe. If he failed to protect his mage again…

“Why’re you so scared, Eiji?” Toga pouted, leaning into Eijirou’s field of vision. “I haven’t even gotten to play yet.” Eijirou glared up at her, mind racing.

“Where’s Bakugou? Did you-”

“I’m not allowed to play with Katsu,” Toga huffed, her lower lip sticking out farther as she perched on the edge of the table and reached over to poke at his cheek. “You said so, ‘member?” Eijirou’s body relaxed, relief sweeping over him. Bakugou was safe, then. That was good. But then, why was Eijirou...wherever he was? “Tsunagu said we have to listen to Eiji, cause Eiji’s a handler. But you never said I couldn’t play with you, Eiji!” Toga exclaimed triumphantly, holding up her other hand. Eijirou’s eyes widened as he realized there was a knife dangling casually from her fingers. “Tsunagu said maybe if I play with you a bit, you’ll let me play with Katsu again!” Eijirou watched the knife, half expecting her to bring it down and plunge the blade into his body at any moment.

He was so focused on it that he didn’t notice her other hand moving until sharp metal bit into the skin over his hip. He yelped at the pain, a sound that quickly morphed into a scream as the tip of the blade hit bone and scraped.

Eijirou thrashed, vision blurring as he fought to breathe through the wave of agony sweeping up his body. The knife retreated, then returned before Eijirou could catch his breath, and his cry tore itself from his throat.

“Aw, Eiji, stay still,” Toga whined, leaning over him. “It’s no fun if you mess up my drawing!” Eijirou barely registered her words, his mind clouded with pain and shadows dancing on the edge of his vision.

The third time the knife pierced his hip to the bone, Eijirou couldn’t even scream, the world going black instead.


 

Neito was dozing on the couch in his and Shinsou’s suite when there was a knock on the door. He distantly heard Shinsou answer the door, didn’t pay attention to what was said until he heard Shinsou’s sharp, angry voice. Neito lifted his head, frowning towards the door, and froze.

There were three people at the door besides Neito’s handler. One was one of the more prominent young handlers, some noble girl...Yaoyorozu, Neito was pretty sure. It had been a while since he’d seen her in person, so he couldn’t be positive. The two others, though, he definitely knew. One was Shiozaki, a plant mage he and Kaminari had trained with when they were younger. The other, unconscious and dragged along by the vines Shiozaki must have summoned for the purpose, was definitely Bakugou.

“Shinsou, relax,” Yaoyorozu sighed. “I didn’t hurt him; I know how Kirishima is about pain spells.” Neito blinked and started paying attention to the handlers’ conversation.

“You could still get in trouble,” Shinsou insisted. “He’s not your mage, and-”

“Look, it was either knock him out with a sleep spell and bring him back myself, or let him walk straight through the barrier and end up taken away from Kirishima,” Yaoyorozu explained.

“He tried to escape?” Shinsou shook his head and crouched to get a better look at Bakugou. “Why didn’t you take him back to Kirishima?” Shinsou poked Bakugou’s shoulder and got no response.

“Kirishima isn’t in his room,” Yaoyorozu answered, her tone suddenly grim. “His beads were, though.” Shinsou was on his feet, hand on his beads in an instant.

“If that war mage-”

“There were no signs that Bakugou might have injured his handler,” Shiozaki said softly. Shinsou eyed her warily, then glanced at Yaoyorozu for confirmation. Neito stood and crossed the room, standing beside his handler and peering down at Bakugou’s still form.

“If Pom-Pom didn’t blast his spiky-hot handler to smithereens, what happened to him?” Neito asked. Shinsou shot him an annoyed look and reached for the silencing spells he’d finally remembered to add to his collection.

“Chief Handler Hakamata decided to remind him that he’s just a rookie,” Yaoyorozu answered, her expression darkening. “According to Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa, anyway. He said I could bring Bakugou to you.” Shinsou was quiet for a moment before sighing and nodding.

“Yeah, leave him here. I’ll keep an eye on him,” Shinsou agreed. Shiozaki’s vines deposited Bakugou just inside the door, and Neito resisted the urge to kick the unconscious war mage.

“Monoma, have you seen-” Shiozaki’s whisper broke off as she glanced at their handlers, who were talking quietly.

“Yeah. He’s...he’s okay,” Neito assured her. “His handler’s friends with mine.” Shiozaki took a shaky breath. “Don’t worry, I won’t let him end up like Kendo.” Shiozaki bit her lip and nodded, her gaze wavering like she wanted to say something.

“Shiozaki, come on. We should get going,” Yaoyorozu announced, apparently done talking to Shinsou. Shiozaki held Neito’s gaze for a long moment.

“Swear it,” she hissed.

“I swear,” he answered. Shiozaki managed a shaky smile and clasped her hands in front of her, the vines she’d been manipulating to carry Bakugou vanishing as she returned to her handler’s side. Neito was silent as he watched them leave, then tried to shake off the lingering grief that weighed on him whenever he saw the plant mage.  

“Wow, I never thought I’d see you actually have a conversation without trying to annoy someone to death,” Shinsou commented.

“Pom-Pom there is the only one I’ve ever seen actually be mean to Shiozaki,” Neito replied, turning his attention to the war mage.

“Don’t you dare copy his magic,” Shinsou warned. Neito pouted, hoping to distract Shinsou from Neito’s lack of teasing towards Shiozaki.

“That’s no fun!” Neito complained. “Unless you’re going to entertain me,” he added, smirking as Shinsou made a face and retreated to his bedroom.

“When Bakugou wakes up, scream or something before he murders you,” Shinsou told him. Neito kept his expression in place until Shinsou’s door closed. Then he sighed and sat on the floor beside Bakugou, his back against the wall.

“You know, Pom-Pom, I didn’t think even you were stupid enough to try escaping without a decent plan,” Neito sighed, eyeing Bakugou warily. He didn’t know what had happened to make Bakugou do something like that, and he almost didn’t want to.

Chapter Text

Eijirou didn’t open his eyes when he woke up for the...what was it, the fourth time? Maybe more? He kept passing out, and he couldn’t keep track very well. He just knew that every time he woke up, there was more pain. Agony stretched from his hip, across his stomach, up his ribs. There was a fresh line of sharp pain along his collarbone, but it barely registered through the throbbing of the wounds in his thighs.

“But Tsunagu, I’m not done!”

Eijirou flinched at the sound of that voice, making his injuries protest with another jolt of pain. He understood Bakugou’s reaction to Toga completely, now. Eijirou didn’t think he’d be able to hear her talk ever again without remembering just how much pain she was capable of inflicting.

“I don’t care. I need him awake. The Deputy Chiefs are throwing a fit.”

That voice made Eijirou tense in anger.

“Who cares? You said I could play with Eiji as much as I want!” Toga whined. “Tsunagu, you promised!”

“Do what you’re told, Himiko,” Hakamata snapped. “Go to your room.” Eijirou distantly heard Toga stomping out in a huff, but didn’t dare move. Cool energy flowed over him, soothing away the worst of the pain, and confusion shot through him. “Wake up, Kirishima. You’re more valuable as a handler than as Himiko’s toy right now.”

Eijirou considered pretending he was still unconscious.

“Unless you’d like me to handle your little war dog for you.”

Eijirou’s eyes flew open, his lips twisting in a snarl before he even realized he’d reacted. “Don’t you touch him,” Eijirou hissed. “You’ve done enough to him.”

Hakamata leaned over him and sighed as he unfastened the straps holding Eijirou down. “If you would keep him in line, I wouldn’t have to,” Hakamata replied calmly. “You told me you could handle him, Kirishima. So do tell, why was that mongrel trying to sneak out of the mages’ wing unattended?”

Eijirou jolted upright and screamed through clenched teeth as his body protested the movement. Hakamata might have used a spell bead to take away the worst of the pain, but he hadn’t truly healed any of Eijirou’s injuries, and even breathing hurt like hell.

“He wasn’t trying to escape,” Eijirou growled, biting the inside of his cheek to contain another cry.

“Interesting. Because Handler Yaoyorozu seemed to think that was his intention,” Hakamata informed him. Eijirou closed his eyes and focused on breathing shallowly for a second before he responded.

“I gave him permission,” Eijirou growled. “I...I sent him to…” Eijirou trailed off, his ribs throbbing with every inhale and exhale. What was something he’d send Bakugou to do? Something outside the barrier that kept mages from leaving the area they were allowed to roam without their handlers. “The...my beads. I used...uh, a lot. During the repairs. Didn’t have a chance to get new ones.” Eijirou forced himself to lift his head and meet Hakamata’s gaze.

“So you gave a war mage permission to wander around to fetch spell beads without supervision?” Hakamata questioned. Eijirou nodded, winced, and bit down on his lip so hard it drew blood. “If I find out you are lying to me…” Eijirou gulped and shook his head hard enough that it made the cut along his collarbone twinge. “Fine. I’ll send your friends to collect you.”


 

Katsuki really fucking despised sleep spells. He fought his way to consciousness and scowled blearily at his environment. It looked a lot like the main room of his and Kirishima’s suite, but the furniture was arranged differently.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” someone snapped. Katsuki winced, vaguely recognizing the voice but not quite able to place it, because getting hit by two sleep spells in such a short time had given him a headache.

“It’s fine, Sero. It’s just some cuts. No broken bones or anything.” That voice, Katsuki recognized instantly. He wasn’t sure what Kirishima and his handler friends would be arguing about, though.

“You got completely carved up by some crazy knife-happy mage for protecting Bakugou!” Katsuki tensed, focused on where the voices were coming from. Shinsou was kneeling next to the couch, wrapping a bandage around Kirishima’s arm. From what little Katsuki could see of him, Kirishima was completely covered in bandages. Sero was leaning over the back of the couch, scowling down at Kirishima.

“And then you lied to Chief Hakamata’s face,” Tetsutetsu added, pausing in his angry pacing to cross his arms and frown at Kirishima disapprovingly.

“He was going to torture Bakugou for trying to escape if I didn’t lie,” Kirishima argued. “I had to tell him it was my fault.”

“Kiri... Eijirou, he tortured you instead!” Sero objected. “Who knows what he’ll do if he finds out you lied!” Katsuki closed his eyes, took a deep breath. He remembered trying to flee, remembered being caught by some handler with a ponytail. He remembered deciding to try to escape because Kirishima was gone.

Now, if Katsuki was following this correctly, Kirishima had been gone because Hakamata and Toga took him to punish him for protecting Katsuki. Kirishima sending Toga away had probably been the catalyst. He’d been trying to help Katsuki, and he’d been tortured for it. Now Kirishima was laying there, covered in bandages, and his response to finding out Katsuki had tried to escape, tried to leave Kirishima to the fate Katsuki was trying to get away from, and Kirishima’s first response was to cover for Katsuki and lie to Hakamata?

Katsuki’s stomach twisted, and he lurched onto his knees, his gaze fixed on the injured handler on the couch. Tetsutetsu and Sero glanced at him, but didn’t say anything.

“It doesn’t matter what he’ll do, as long as it’s to me, not Bakugou. He’s been through enough,” Kirishima insisted. “Besides, I can take it. You guys worry too mu-”

“Fucking what the godshitting hellfuck did you motherfucking do?” Katsuki hissed, forcing himself to his feet. He stumbled as he started toward the couch, magic popping around his hands. Tetsutetsu moved to block his path, reaching for his beads.

“Bakugou, you’re awake! Are you-”

“Don’t you fucking dare ask if I’m fucking okay, you piece of shit,” Katsuki snarled. “I heard your whole shitty motherfucking conversation, you absolute shitty asshole!” Kirishima’s eyes widened, then abruptly narrowed as he frowned at Sero.

“I told you to keep an eye on him and let me know when he woke up!” Kirishima accused.

“I think Bakugou should know that he’s the reason you got hurt,” Sero replied shortly, eyeing the mage in question warily.

“The shitty-ass handler with the plain-ass face is right,” Katsuki snapped, the words leaving a bitter taste in his mouth. “How the fuck are you supposed to use this to keep me the fuck in line or whatever if I don’t-”

“That’s not why I did it!” Kirishima interrupted, pushing himself upright to frown at Katsuki. “Look, I get it. I’m just like every other handler, right? I can’t really blame you, considering even Tetsu here thinks I shouldn’t have done it.” Katsuki started to reply, but Tetstutetsu beat him to it.

“There have to be lines,” the handler insisted, his fingertips lingering on the red beads at his waist. Katsuki tensed, his attention zeroing in on Tetsutetsu’s fingers on the pain spells. “The war mage crossed one. You were being tortured for him, and he bailed.”

“He didn’t know,” Kirishima retorted. “And I see you, Tetsu. Don’t you dare.”

“Enough.” Shinsou stood, his gaze sweeping over the others. “Kirishima made a choice, and he stuck to what he believes. We have to respect that, no matter how much we don’t like the results.” Katsuki wanted to say he didn’t care about the results, but he knew full well Shinsou wasn’t actually talking to him, and...maybe he did still feel a little sick at the thought that anyone - even a handler - had been at Toga’s mercy because of him. Katsuki grimaced and tried not to look at Kirishima’s bandages. Shinsou caught his gaze and held it solemnly. “Sero, Tetsutetsu, I think we should check on our mages and take them down to the training rooms for a bit,” Shinsou said slowly. Sero frowned, and Tetsutetsu started to protest, but Shinsou silenced them with a glance. “Come on. The mages are with Aizawa. If we leave them there much longer, he’s going to murder my Monoma for talking too much.” The three handlers were gone a moment later, leaving Katsuki and Kirishima alone.

Katsuki moved to stand by Kirishima’s head, then sank to the floor, scowling at his shaky legs. He glanced down Kirishima’s body, taking inventory of the locations of his injuries. Katsuki’s heart stopped when he saw the thick bandages over Kirishima’s hip and stomach. His own hip twinged in remembrance, an old scar recognizing the likelihood that Kirishima’s hip wound matched one Katsuki had received years ago under Toga’s knife. Toga was a creature of habit, despite her apparent unpredictability, and the first thing she did to every single person she was allowed to ‘play’ with was carve a creepy-ass smiley face into their hip.

Katsuki curled forward until his forehead hit the couch, fighting back the nausea rising in his throat. Fuck, even a handler didn’t deserve something like that. No one did. Katsuki’s body shuddered as he tried to push away memories of his own pain at Toga’s hands. The problem was, when he managed that, all he was left with was the fact that Kirishima had gone through that because of his actions - or lack thereof - toward Katsuki, and he’d immediately set himself up for more just to protect Katsuki, and…

And he hadn’t even been planning for Katsuki to know about it. Just like when Kirishima had healed him and then not told him the danger he was putting himself in by overworking himself like that.

“How the fuck has your stupid ass survived this long?” Katsuki muttered, lifting his head to glare at Kirishima. He tried to focus on indignation rather than the weird tight feeling in his chest or how warm he felt all of a sudden.

“If my stupid ass didn’t survive, I wouldn’t be here to protect your grumpy ass,” Kirishima answered, lifting one hand and resting it on top of Katsuki’s head. Katsuki bristled - both at Kirishima’s words and his touch - but Kirishima continued, “You didn’t let me ask earlier. Are you okay?”

“Just fuckin’ peachy,” Katsuki muttered, glaring at Kirishima, who gave him a crooked little smile that made the tightness in Katsuki’s chest worse. “Fuck you, quit that shitty grin.”

“Only if you help me get back to our suite so I can rest in my own bed,” Kirishima replied. Katsuki hesitated, then let out a resigned huff. He supposed he owed Kirishima that much, so he slid one arm under Kirishima’s shoulders and helped him up as gently as he could. He knew exactly how much it must be hurting the handler to move. He didn’t know why the other handlers hadn’t just completely healed Kirishima’s wounds, but they had to have a reason. Katsuki supported Kirishima’s weight as the handler got to his feet. He hesitated, searching for a place to put his arm that wasn’t bandaged, and finally settled on putting it around Kirishima’s lower back, with his hand resting just above the bandage on his hip.

Kirishima wobbled, and Katsuki shifted his body to take more of his weight. Kirishima’s forehead dropped to Katsuki’s shoulder, his breathing labored as he tried to regain his balance. Katsuki let out a rather shaky breath himself.

As Katsuki guided - well, really he was mostly carrying him - Kirishima down the hall toward their suite, he realized a few things.

One, Kirishima was leaning on him with no doubt that Katsuki would continue to hold him up, instead of stepping away and letting him faceplant like he had during the repairs to the training rooms.

Two, Katsuki could absolutely do that, and try to escape again. He could even use his magic and kill the handler outright, and Kirishima obviously trusted him not to do that either.

Three, the warmth he’d been feeling since he realized what Kirishima had done hadn’t faded, but the tightness in his chest had eased as soon as Kirishima leaned on him.

All of this meant that Katsuki was completely and utterly fucked.

Chapter Text

Neito slid to the ground beside Kaminari, nudging the younger mage with his shoulder. Kaminari shot him a tentative smile, but most of his wary attention was on Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa, who was behind his desk, talking quietly to his mage.

“I didn’t know Yamada could whisper,” Neito muttered, giving Kaminari his best smirk. Kaminari huffed out a quiet, shaky laugh. “Hey, I saw Shiozaki earlier. She hauled Pom-Pom’s sorry ass over for Shinsou to watch.” Kaminari tensed at Shiozaki’s name, his face still turned in Aizawa’s direction, but his stare vacant instead of watching the handler suspiciously.

“She got a new handler, right?” Kaminari breathed, his hands shaking in his lap.

“Yeah. Yaoyorozu’s got her. She seemed to know Shinsou pretty well,” Neito told him. “She said she used a sleep spell instead of a pain spell on the angry puffball because his handler doesn’t use pain spells.” Kaminari’s fingers curled into fists, and Neito read the question in his eyes when Kaminari turned to look at him. “I don’t know if she uses them herself. But Shiozaki asked about you. I think she misses…”

“I miss her, too. Both of them,” Kaminari replied, lips trembling. “At least we get to see each other.” Neito glanced at Aizawa, who seemed engrossed in whatever debate he was having with his mage, then pulled Kaminari into a quick hug.

“Has your handler hurt you at all?” Neito whispered into Kaminari’s ear, voice low enough that no one would be able to overhear. “Has he touched you?” Kaminari shook his head, clutching Neito’s shirt.

“Sero’s...weird. He says he’s not...like that,” Kaminari answered just as quietly. “I...I want to trust him.”

“It hasn’t been that long. Don’t trust him yet,” Neito warned, his arms tightening around Kaminari. “Don’t ever let your guard down around a handler.”

“I know,” Kaminari sighed, hiding his face in Neito’s neck. “I know, but...Neito, he said he’d keep me. Without...without hurting me or…” A little of the tension Neito had been carrying in his shoulders eased. At least if Kaminari’s handler was saying he didn’t want sex from Kaminari and wasn’t planning to hurt him, Kaminari had a little time to process everything.

There was a knock at the door, and Neito pulled away from Kaminari in an instant. Aizawa looked up, sighed, and glanced at Yamada.

“Come in!” Yamada called. Neito winced at his volume, then froze when the door opened, and a familiar handler walked in. Her blond hair was neatly pinned up behind her head as usual, and Neito’s blood ran cold when her golden eyes landed on him.

“Uwabami,” Aizawa greeted her shortly. “What do you want?”

“I heard you had a little kitten in your office, abandoned by his rookie handler,” Uwabami answered, her voice a low purr that made Neito want to throw up. “Could I borrow him for a bit?” Aizawa’s eyes narrowed, and for a second, Neito hoped that Aizawa would tell her no.

“I don’t think his handler would approve,” Aizawa replied, following Uwabami’s gaze to Neito, who decided right then and there that Deputy Chief Aizawa might be tired and strange, but he was Neito’s favorite high-ranking handler.

“I don’t think a rookie handler gets to approve or disapprove of a Deputy Chief Handler having a chat with his mage when he’s not around,” Uwabami pouted.

“Wrong. Handler Shinsou did not give permission for anyone else to take custody of his mage,” Aizawa retorted. “I don’t care if you are a Deputy Chief, even rookie handlers get to decide who can and can’t-”

“Aw, come on, don’t be like that, Shouta,” Uwabami simpered. “I just want to talk. We’ll just go out in the hallway; I won’t take him far.” Her graze slid from Neito to Kaminari, who was watching the exchange curiously. “Maybe you have a point,” she hummed before Aizawa could respond. “What about the lighting mage’s handler?” Neito was on his feet, stepping between Uwabami and Kaminari before Aizawa could answer.

“Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa, I don’t think Shinsou would mind,” Neito blurted out, fighting to keep his expression polite. “I’m sure Deputy Chief Handler Uwabami just has some advice for me. She knows how to wield my magic better than anyone, after all.” Neito kept his eyes on Aizawa, not wanting to see the victorious smirk on Uwabami’s face. Aizawa studied Neito’s face for a moment, eyes narrow and lips pressed together. Neito knew Aizawa sensed something was wrong; he could see the suspicion in the handler’s eyes. But Aizawa must not have been able to figure out another reason to deny Uwabami’s request, since Neito had given a completely plausible reason for him to allow it.

“Fine. But if Shinsou is displeased, Uwabami, I’m sending him after you,” Aizawa said finally. Neito’s shoulders tightened, and he tried to smile at Aizawa and Kaminari as he followed Uwabami out of the room. As soon as the door to Aizawa’s office closed behind them, Neito found himself with his back to the wall, fingers fisting painfully in his hair as Uwabami’s other hand came up to his throat.

“It took you long enough to push that righteous bastard in the right direction,” she complained, her fingers gently tracing the column of his throat, a sharp contrast to the painful prickle in his scalp from her grip on his hair. Her lips curled upward suddenly, and Neito’s stomach dropped. “It’s all right, though. I know you only did it to keep me from getting my hands on that pretty little friend of yours. Is this really so horrible?” she asked, her fingertips trailing from his neck to his chest. Neito couldn’t breathe, couldn’t move for fear of losing control. Everything in him screamed for him to shove the handler away, to scrub his own skin until it was raw and bleeding, until he couldn’t feel the ghost of her touch.

“Take your hands off of my mage.”

Neito’s head snapped sideways despite the sharp pull on his hair the motion caused. Shinsou was striding down the hallway, his mouth flat and disapproving, his eyes narrow. Neito shook at the spark of anger he saw in Shinsou’s eyes. Oh, god, Shinsou was pissed that Neito wasn’t with Aizawa like he was supposed to be. He was going to punish Neito for this.

“I was just-”

“I know exactly what you were doing to my mage,” Shinsou interrupted. “All due respect, Deputy Chief, but you are not who I entrusted my mage to, so take. Your. Hands. Off.” Shinsou’s words were clipped, sharper than Neito had ever heard him speak. Uwabami huffed and stepped back. Shinsou held her gaze steadily as he added, “Monoma, come here.” Neito inhaled shakily and pushed away from the wall, his knees threatening to give out on him as he went to stand by Shinsou’s side. Neito considered just sinking to the floor, kneeling at Shinsou’s feet. Maybe that would be enough to avoid whatever Shinsou had planned for him. Before Neito could act on that thought, however, Shinsou’s arm snaked around his waist and pulled him against the handler’s chest. Neito bit back a yelp, suppressed a flinch, and forced himself to melt into his handler. Maybe if he went along with whatever this was...

“I’m a Deputy Chief Handler. I can pull a mage aside to give advice on magic use if I want,” Uwabami sniffed.

“Sero, Tetsu, go check on Kaminari and Uraraka,” Shinsou ordered. Neito blinked in surprise when the others actually obeyed, disappearing into Aizawa’s office, closing the door behind them. “Deputy Chief, Monoma is mine now, and I don’t share.”

“So he did slither right into your bed,” Uwabami mused. “I wondered, considering his history, you know. How long did it take him to win you over, hm?” Neito shuddered, glad she couldn’t see his face since it was tucked against Shinsou’s shoulder.

“Shinsou, is everything alright?” Aizawa emerged from his office, Yamada at his shoulder. Aizawa took in Neito, and Shinsou’s arm around him, then turned to face Uwabami. “I warned you, Uwabami.”

“He’s overreacting,” she huffed, rolling her eyes. “Look at-”

“Leave,” Aizawa interrupted. “Or Handler Kirishima won’t be the only one Chief Hakamata deals with personally today.” Neito risked a glance over his shoulder just in time to catch the way Uwabami’s face went pale. Neito turned back to hide in Shinsou’s shoulder again, wondering how long he should stay there. “Shinsou?”

“I’m taking Monoma back to our rooms. Would you let Tetsu and Sero know we won’t be joining them to train after all?” Shinsou asked. Neito’s entire body froze at that, warning sirens screaming in his mind. Neito didn’t hear Aizawa’s reply, but he felt Shinsou pull him along, guiding him back to their rooms. Bakugou and Kirishima were gone when they got there, which Neito wasn’t sure how to feel about, because as much as he hated Bakugou, he wasn’t sure it was safe to be alone with Shinsou at the moment.

“I thought you were into buff guys like Kirishima and Tetsutetsu,” Neito rasped as Shinsou let go of him to close and lock the door, trying for some semblance of his normal snarky persona.

“I’m not like her,” Shinsou spat. Neito flinched at his tone, and Shinsou studied him for a second. “Damn. Uwabami really did a number on you.” It wasn’t a question, and Neito wouldn’t have answered even if it was. “You should talk to someone,” Shinsou told him, his voice carefully neutral. “Do you have a friend you can-”

“No!” Neito shouted before he could stop himself. “It would get back to-” He broke off, biting his lip as he shifted from foot to foot. He shouldn’t have done that. He should’ve kept his cool, made some excuse.

“It would get back to whom, Monoma?” Shinsou prodded, watching him carefully. Neito hesitated, struggling to keep Kaminari’s name off his lips. Shinsou’s gaze was heavy, weighing him down, eating away at his defenses.

“I don’t…” Neito searched for something clever to say, some way to rebuild the careful wall of sarcasm and taunts between himself and the world.

“You don’t have to,” Shinsou told him. “If there’s anyone you want to see, though, you have to tell me. And...I really think you should talk to someone.”

“So that someone can either tell Denki or use this against me? No thanks, Eye Bags,” Neito snorted.

“Denki?” Shit. Neito realized his mistake too late. He stared at Shinsou, tremors shaking his body. He was going to find out, he would know how important Kaminari was to him, he would be able to use this, and Neito handed the information right to him.

Of course, Shinsou could get the information from Uwabami, too, Neito realized. And that would be so much worse. Shinsou hearing and possibly believing Uwabami’s side of everything was the absolute last thing Neito wanted.

There were no good choices. Neito couldn’t see how to get Shinsou to forget about this, not without… Neito shuddered and shook his head. No. Never again. So he was left with either telling Shinsou himself, or letting Uwabami be the one to control Shinsou’s first impression of Neito’s history.

“Yeah. Denki. Kaminari Denki, your friend Sero’s mage. He’s...well, he was sort of like a little brother to me,” Neito began, each word more bitter on his tongue than the last. He clenched his fists until his nails threatened to draw blood from his palms, steeling himself to tell his story.


 

Shouta stood in the hallway outside his office, staring at the place on the wall where the copy mage had been pinned. He should have known, shouldn’t have let Uwabami take Monoma. Even if Shinsou had showed up barely a minute later to reclaim his mage…

Shouta should have known.

He knew something was off with Uwabami. He’d known it for years, but he had never been able to prove anything, and he was already on thin ice with Hakamata because of Kirishima. Shouta had barged into Hakamata’s office to demand Kirishima’s release, using Bakugou’s escape attempt as an excuse to have Kirishima released. He needed to discipline his mage, after all. Hakamata wanted Kirishima to do that more, right?

Still.

Shouta should have risked it. He should have pushed Uwabami, kept Monoma where he could see him.

“You’re blaming yourself,” Yamada accused, coming up behind him to rest his chin on Shouta’s shoulder.

“Of course I am. Kirishima was taken, and now Uwabami just traumatized Monoma, and I let it happen,” Shouta snapped, pulling away from his mage.

“If you really think that, you should consider what you can do in the future,” Yamada replied sternly. Shouta looked over his shoulder, met Yamada’s eyes. Shouta inhaled slowly, then exhaled in a rush.

“You’re right. I hate it, but you’re right. Tell me that list of people you think I should talk to again,” Shouta urged, reaching up absently to brush a strand of hair away from Yamada’s eyes.

“So you’ll do it?” Yamada asked, grinning and leaning forward. Shouta closed his eyes as Yamaga’s forehead touched his.

“Yeah. Let’s start planning.”

Chapter Text

Fumikage strode through the palace halls, servants bowing out of his way as he passed. Claws dug into his shoulder, the raven perched there letting out a disgruntled noise as Fumikage’s brisk pace threatened to dislodge the bird.

“Can’t you walk a little slower?” the bird complained, flapping his wings to regain his balance.

“Can’t you fly?” Fumikage replied, lifting his arm. The raven hopped to his forearm, feathers ruffled in displeasure. “You’re a baby,” Fumikage informed the bird.

“I am a force of nature and deserve respect,” the raven retorted as one of Fumikage’s peers, Todoroki, fell into step beside him.

“Your name is Dark Shadow,” Todoroki murmured.

“That is merely the childish name my master chained me with,” the raven snapped, glaring at Todoroki and fluffing up his feathers even more. “Hearing my true name would fill you with so much fear you would collapse instantly.”

“You’re a dramatic baby,” Fumikage muttered.

“You have no appreciation for me,” Dark Shadow whined.

“Shouto, are you going to meet with the Deputy Chief Handler?” Fumikage asked, ignoring the bird’s complaint.

“Yes. Aizawa didn’t say you would be there,” Todoroki replied.

“I won’t. I saw him yesterday. I’m going to visit one of his former students,” Fumikage explained. “He asked if I would assess a certain war mage.” Todoroki raise his eyebrows.

“He wants you to spar with Bakugou?”

“That’s assuming his current handler allowed him to keep that name,” Fumikage sighed, lifting his free hand to stroke Dark Shadow’s wing as the bird started shifting from foot to foot, sulking about being ignored.  

“From what I’ve heard about Aizawa’s latest crop of rookie handlers, I think it’ll be safe to call him Bakugou,” Todoroki said, his mouth turning upwards.

“Your Highness! Wait!” Todoroki paused, and Fumikage turned to see who was shouting.

“Your poor servant looks rather dismayed,” Fumikage mused.

“I thought you had to file paperwork this morning, Midoriya,” Todoroki frowned as the young man in question stopped an appropriate distance from them, bowing so fast he nearly gave himself whiplash.

“Please let me come with you!” Midoriya begged. “I can help!”

“You don’t even know where I’m going,” Todoroki objected. Midoriya started bowing repeatedly, the string of beads at his waist swinging with the motion, and Todoroki’s frown deepened. A moment later, Midoriya was encased in ice up to his neck, standing up straight. “Stop that.”

“Sorry, your Highness,” Midoriya squeaked. “I’ll find some way to be useful! I’ll do anything! Just don’t leave me to do paperwork, please!”

“You usually don’t mind paperwork,” Todoroki observed. “What could-”

“Izukuuuuuuu! Come back! You left such a mess! You must come back and redo this form with proper calligraphy!” Fumikage turned on his heel the second he recognized that voice, not even waiting for its owner to come into view.

“Please, your Highness, if you don’t take me with, I’ll be at Lord Aoyama’s mercy for hours,” Midoriya pleaded. Todoroki turned his back on Midoriya and trotted to catch up to Fumikage. “Your Highness? Please don’t leave me here! Please! At least unfreeze me so I can run away! Your Highness!”

“Thank you for your hard work, Midoriya,” Todoroki called without looking back.

“Izuku!” that voice called again. Fumikage picked up his pace, rounding the next corner in the hallway just in time. “There you are! What happened? Why are you frozen? That’s such an awful look for you!”

“A wise decision,” Fumikage murmured.

“Thank you,” Todoroki replied. “So, do you have a strategy for dealing with Bakugou’s magic?”

“Possibly. To my knowledge, he’s never encountered anything like Dark Shadow before, so I plan to use that,” Fumikage answered.

“I’m going to be important for this match,” Dark Shadow piped up, straightening and puffing out his chest.

“Of course you are,” Fumikage agreed. “As long as you don’t start crying when Bakugou gets his hands on you.”

“I would never-”

“Isn’t war magic one of the few types that can affect shadow demons?” Todoroki asked. Dark Shadow’s feathers puffed out to their fullest, the definition of avian fear and indignation, and he turned wide eyes on Fumikage.

“Are you planning to sacrifice me?” Dark Shadow squawked.

“Of course not,” Fumikage assured him. Dark Shadow eyed him warily, but Fumikage ignored it and continued, “It’s not a sacrifice if you survive.” Dark Shadow’s shriek of protest echoed down the hallway.


 

Katsuki was pacing again. He’d been pacing a lot since he brought Kirishima back to their suite. He hadn’t gotten any sleep the night before, unable to burn off the restless energy that came with his...realizations.

“You’re going to wear a hole in the carpet,” Kirishima called from the couch, where he was propped up on a heap of pillows.

“I’ll wear a hole in your face,” Katsuki snapped, scowling.

“My face will heal. The poor carpet will have to be replaced,” Kirishima told him.

“Your stupid-ass face isn’t healing worth shit,” Katsuki retorted. “Don’t you have some bullshit healing spell?”

“I can’t use any spell beads until I heal all the way, unless it’s an emergency. Like if you try to murder someone, I’d have to stop you,” Kirishima answered. “But I definitely can’t heal myself with a spell. It would take too much energy.”

“What about the eye bag asshole? Or the creepy gray one? Or the other one?” Katsuki demanded. “They’re your supposed shitty-ass friends.”

“They are my friends,” Kirishima agreed. “But I told them not to.”

“Just fucking when I fucking goddamned think I know just how ass-shit stupid you are, you go and say fucked-up shitting goddamned shit like that,” Katsuki hissed.

“Aw, Bakugou, are you worried about me?” Kirishima teased. Katsuki’s shoulders came up defensively, and he lifted one hand, magic popping around his fingers.

“I’m just sick and fucking tired of hauling your damn injured ass everywhere,” Katsuki snapped.

“In that case, perhaps you need a more constructive outlet for your rage, war mage.” Katsuki whirled, his magic surging in his veins, crackling around his whole body as he braced himself to face the...the thing that had just walked into their suite. It looked mostly human, but that was definitely  a goddamned fucking bird head instead of a normal shitty human one. And there was another creepy bird perched on the thing’s arm, watching Katsuki with far too much intelligence for a mere bird.

“Lord Tokoyami!” Kirishima exclaimed, trying to curl forward into the closet thing to a bow he could manage seated. Katsuki pulled his magic away from one hand and reached for Kirishima’s shoulder, bracing him when he nearly toppled sideways off the couch. Katsuki told himself he really didn’t need Kirishima falling and managing to hurt himself even more. Catching him was avoiding future annoyances, not concern for the handler.

“Hello, Handler Kirishima. How are you feeling?” the creature named Tokoyami asked.

“A little sore, but nothing that won’t heal soon enough,” Kirishima answered. “Bakugou, Lord Tokoyami is a shadow mage - well, sort of.”

“Shadow mage is sufficient,” Tokoyami told him, studying Katsuki with something that might have been curiosity and relief in his eyes. “It is nice to meet you, Bakugou. I have heard a lot about you.”

“Wait. Shit, back the fuck right shitting up,” Katsuki snapped. “You’re a mage. Where’s your shitty-ass handler?”

“I’m a noble,” Tokoyami said, tilting his goddamn bird head slightly. “I do not have a handler. I’ve never had one.” Katsuki’s magic vanished, his shock washing it away along with the stability of his legs.

“Fucking what the fucking hellshit,” Katsuki ground out, jaw clenched as he struggled for balance and maybe a coherent thought.

“Bakugou?” Kirishima was trying to stand, but Katsuki barely noticed until Kirishima lost his balance with a yelp and tumbled into Katsuki’s side. They both went down, Katsuki hitting hard and then Kirishima landing on his chest, driving the air out of his lungs. Not that he was breathing well anyway.  

Kirishima’s weight was lifted away, and Katsuki caught a glimpse of something large and dark and faded around the edges, like it was...like the thing was made of darkness. Kirishima was set beside Katsuki, who tried to roll to his feet, but his body wasn’t responding.

Tokoyami was a mage.

He was a mage.

But he didn’t have a handler. He’d never had one.

Tokoyami was a noble; Kirishima had called him a lord.

Katsuki’s chest was tight, the weight of this new knowledge compressing his ribs.

“I take it you were unaware,” Tokoyami’s voice sighed. Katsuki snarled as the bird-headed mage with no handler leaned over him, a shadowy and vaguely birdlike form hovering behind Tokoyami’s head. “Mages born to noble families are not brought up the same way as those born to common families. It is...barbaric, but it is the king’s decision,” Tokoyami said, as though that made this shit any easier to process. Katsuki tried to take a deep breath to center himself, but found that his throat and nose seemed to be clogged. His eyes stung, and he forced himself to at least roll onto his side. Someone touched his shoulder, and Katsuki reacted instinctively, his magic springing back to life around him.

There was a too-familiar hiss of pain, and Katsuki’s body went rigid, his magic vanishing once more.

“You should get that looked at,” Tokoyami’s voice advised.

“It’ll be fine. I think maybe you should go. Maybe he’ll be up for sparring or something later,” Kirishima replied. Katsuki’s stomach prickled with guilt. Shit, he’d hurt Kirishima, hadn’t he? It wasn’t enough for the handler to be tortured for treating him like a person and not letting Toga carve him up when she wanted to, he had to trigger his magic when Kirishima touched him. Fuck, he had no idea how badly he might have just hurt Kirishima.

Kirishima. His handler.

The one Katsuki had to have because he wasn’t born into nobility.

Fuck.

“He’s gone, Katsuki.” Kirishima’s voice shook. “I’m so sorry. I...I assumed you knew. I should’ve said something.” Kirishima’s hand - the other one, the one Katsuki hadn’t injured - was on his shoulder again, testing the water. Katsuki kept his magic under wraps this time, and Kirishima’s hand moved, going to his hair, fingers combing through blond strands in a gesture that shouldn’t have been as calming as it was.

“Your fucking injured ass should be back the fuck on that couch,” Katsuki muttered.

“My injured ass should be right here,” Kirishima replied. “I had no idea you didn’t know. I’m so sorry, Bakugou. I didn’t even know he was coming by, or I would have...I don’t know. Mentioned it.”

“You knew,” Katsuki whispered. Kirishima’s fingers paused, then resumed their ministrations.

“Yeah, I did. It’s just about the first thing they teach us when we’re chosen to be trained. Some of us are chosen to become handlers, controlling common-born mages. Some...are chosen to serve the noble-born mages,” Kirishima told him. “The ones who serve the nobles don’t get the option of pain or sleep or magic reduction spells unless the noble approves them.” Katsuki closed his eyes, trying not to think too much about how lost he felt, or how grounding Kirishima’s touch was.

“So some...some fuck-ass shitheads...end up as handlers, controlling lowly little shitty commoners like me,” Katsuki said slowly. “And others...end up in basically my fucked-over position, serving the nobles?”

“Yeah. I’m one of the lucky ones, you know,” Kirishima commented. Katsuki snorted, nearly dislodging Kirishima’s hand from his hair.

“Because your stupid ass was too fucking dumb for the nobles?” Katsuki sneered.

“No. Because I get to work with a mage like you,” Kirishima answered. His fingers stilled, like he was bracing himself. “Aizawa trained me, practically raised me. He and Yamada, his mage...they’re the closest thing my friends and I have to parents. Cause handlers are chosen when we’re five, you know? So we grow up in this...this system that tells us things work a certain way, and it always has and it always will. And Aizawa did his best to teach us to respect mages and treat them well, but I was afraid I’d get assigned to a mage who believed that system was just how things were, you know? I was afraid I’d be working with someone who’d been broken by the system, afraid I’d end up exactly what you think I am; just another handler who treats mages like they’re less than people. So every time you threaten me, or glare and snap and swear, it reminds me and every other handler that you’re a person, you have feelings and thoughts and you deserve so much better than this.”

Katsuki didn’t say anything as Kirishima let out an uncertain laugh, but he didn’t pull away from Kirishima’s hand resting on his head, either. He needed a moment to digest the handler’s words.

Assuming he believed Kirishima, his stupid handler didn’t just think Katsuki should be treated well in spite of his attitude. He was claiming that Katsuki’s attitude helped Kirishima keep from falling into the system that had told him his whole life that he should be controlling Katsuki and people like him.

Katsuki was pretty sure Kirishima wasn’t supposed to be telling him all that about how handlers grew up and shit, and Katsuki didn’t see why Kirishima would admit to something like being afraid of becoming like the people Katsuki hated. Katsuki didn’t have any power over Kirishima; there was no need for Kirishima to admit anything to him.

Except maybe, now that Katsuki knew that, maybe he did have a little power.

Was that the point? To give Katsuki some sort of leverage?

“Just how goddamned stupid are you?” Katsuki whispered. Kirishima laughed again, this time more relaxed than nervous, and he started combing through Katsuki’s hair again.

“Stupid enough to touch an upset war mage without thinking,” Kirishima answered lightly. Katsuki started to tense up, but Kirishima continued, “Oh, don’t do that. It’s my own fault. You were on edge, and I just grabbed your shoulder. I’m sorry for startling you.”

“How the fuck is everything always your goddamn fault?” Katsuki grumbled, rolling onto his back to glare at Kirishima, who just grinned and brushed his hair away from his eyes. Katsuki huffed at him, but didn’t swat his hand away.

He told himself it was because he didn’t want to risk activating his magic in his irritation and hurting Kirishima’s other hand too.

 

Chapter Text

Sero stepped into Hitoshi’s suite with the air of someone who wanted to be somewhere else.

“Kaminari’s sleeping, and I need to be there when he wakes up. Uraraka sparred with him, and it wore him out enough for him to stop worrying about Monoma, but that won’t last if he wakes up and thinks I’ve abandoned him or something. What’s so urgent?” Sero asked, frowning. Hitoshi shrugged and flopped onto his couch, beckoning for Sero to join him as he stretched out.

“Monoma told me some information about your lightning mage that I think you need to know,” Hitoshi explained.

“If it’s about Kaminari’s past, I think he should be the one to-”

“Sero. There are things you need to know, or you’re not going to be able to avoid certain things that, knowing you, you really want to avoid,” Hitoshi insisted. “For Kaminari’s sake, and so Monoma can stop worrying that you’re going to turn on Kaminari and hurt him, please. Just listen.” Sero was silent for a moment. Then he sighed and lifted Hitoshi’s feet, sat, and draped Hitoshi’s legs over his lap. “Good choice. Now, first thing’s first, if Kaminari ever needs someone - a real friend - you can send him here and Monoma will take care of him.”


 

Denki slipped through the door, into the suite where two of his three best friends had been living for the last few weeks. Monoma and Kendo had been given to a handler once they turned twenty, while Denki was left behind in general training for another two years. Once Monoma and Kendo were assigned, Denki was left alone with Shiozaki, his only other friend. Unfortunately, Shiozaki kept getting pulled into specialized training since she was in her last year before being assigned to a handler.

This left Denki with enough time on his hands to sneak out of the general mage quarters and find out which suite the handler who’d gotten Monoma and Kendo lived in, and then sneak into that suite.

Monoma and Kendo were on the couch when Denki eased his way into the room. They were both bent over books, but Kendo looked up when she heard the door close behind Denki. Her eyes widened and she shot to her feet when she recognized him.

“Denki! What are you doing here? How did you even find out where we were?” Kendo demanded, crossing the room and yanking Denki into a hug.

“Missed you,” Denki wheezed, tearing up from how tight Kendo’s embrace was as well as how good it was to see her again.

“We miss you, too, Sparky, but you shouldn’t be here,” Monoma said, getting up and going over to ruffle Denki’s hair. “If our handler finds you here, we could all be in trouble.”

“Oh, lighten up, Neito. Uwabami isn’t due back for a while longer. Let him stay for a few minutes,” Kendo insisted, swaying slightly from side to side and dragging Denki with her.

“You know Uwabami will hurt us and him if she finds him here,” Monoma replied grimly. “She’ll think we’re-”

“Neito! Itsuka! I’m back!” an unfamiliar voice sang as the door opened. Denki tried to pull away from Kendo - handlers didn’t usually like to see displays of affection or friendship between mages; they thought the mages would band together and rebel if they were allowed to bond with each other - but she tightened her hold on him, keeping him in place as she angled her body to put herself between him and the returning handler.

“Shit,” Monoma hissed, moving to block Uwabami’s view of Kendo and Denki as much as he could.

“What are you two hiding?” Uwabami asked, her tone disapproving. Denki wriggled and stretched until he could peer over Kendo’s shoulder to catch a glimpse of the woman who controlled his friends’ fate. There was a soft gasp from the handler. “Oh! You have a friend! Neito, move aside. Itsuka, let me see him!” The arms around Denki tightened protectively instead of letting go. “Itsuka.” Uwabami’s voice was sharp, warning.

“Stop making it worse!” Monoma hissed. Kendo hesitated, then slowly unwrapped her arms and stepped to the side, staying close enough to hover protectively over Denki without blocking the handler’s view.

“Oh, Itsuka, you have got to tell me how you ended up friends with two pretty blonds!” Uwabami exclaimed, sweeping past Monoma and brushing Kendo aside. Her fingers gripped Denki’s chin, tilting his head to get a better look at his face.

“He was just leaving,” Monoma said hastily, trying to lean into Uwabami’s space, probably hoping to make her move away from Denki.

“Oh, no! He doesn’t need to leave!” Uwabami exclaimed. “You two already did your training this morning, so as long as your pretty friend isn’t missing his own training, he can stay!” She focused on Denki, leaning forward to rest her forehead on his. “And you’re free to come back any time, sweetheart.” Denki held perfectly still as she lifted her head to press a kiss right under his eye, nearly making him flinch. “Well, I’m off again! I’ll leave you three to whatever you’re up to!” Uwabami sang, releasing Denki and stepping back. Denki noticed Kendo’s magic sparking around her fists, and Monoma was reaching for Denki’s arm, ready to copy his lightning magic and wield it if he had to.

The handler was gone an instant later though, leaving Denki confused. She seemed nice enough, and she hadn’t even punished them for Denki sneaking in to see his friends. So why were Monoma and Kendo so scared of her?


 

“So they were close,” Sero summarized.

“Even once Monoma and their friend Kendo were given to Deputy Handler Uwabami, yeah,” Hitoshi agreed. Sero frowned, resting his chin on his hand.

“Monoma seemed really shaken when she got in his space earlier,” Sero observed. “I take it the rumors about her are true?”

“Yeah. She picked Monoma and Kendo out of the other mages their age because she liked their looks, and she used them for more than their magic,” Hitoshi said grimly, rubbing the heels of his palms over his forehead.

“I’ve never heard of a mage named Kendo,” Sero said quietly. “Uwabami certainly doesn’t have her now, and something happened to get Monoma taken away from her.” It wasn’t a question, but Hitoshi nodded anyway.

“Yeah. Yeah, something happened.”


 

Denki woke to his bedroom door bursting open in the middle of the night. He shot upright and let out a cry when he saw a silhouette entering his room.

“Denki! It’s me!” Kendo whispered. Denki relaxed instantly, grinning in the dark as Kendo shut the door and made her way to his bed.

“What are you doing here, Itsuka?” he breathed as she climbed under his covers and dragged him down beside her.

“Don’t worry about it. Just wanted to see you. Can I stay here tonight?” she asked.

“Looks like you’ve already answered that for me,” Denki giggled, rolling onto his side to blink at his friend in the shadows.

“Well, you could kick me out,” Kendo pointed out. Denki scoffed and reached up to poke her forehead, letting out just a tiny bit of magic, enough to make her hair staticky, but not enough to trigger a response from the spell set up to punish him for using magic without permission.

“I wouldn’t do that,” Denki huffed, biting his lip to contain his laughter as Kendo whined and shoved at his shoulder, objecting to the static in her hair. Denki tapped her forehead again, reabsorbing the electricity and letting Kendo’s hair return to its previous, un-staticked state. Kendo let out a low chuckle, and Denki pulled the blanket up over both of them. “So why’d you decide to come here?” Kendo’s body went stiff, and her breath caught.

“I told you. I wanted to check on you,” Kendo answered, her voice low and tense. Denki frowned, reached for her hand under the covers.

“Itsuka…”

“Denki, please. Don’t worry, okay? It’s nothing,” she insisted, clutching his hand too tightly to really be reassuring. Denki chewed on his lip, then scooted a little closer to Kendo, resting his forehead on hers.

“You and Neito always take care of me,” Denki whispered. “Let me take care of you sometimes too, okay? Talk to me. Tell me what’s wrong.” Kendo opened her mouth, probably to insist she was fine, and Denki didn’t need to worry, but a scream came out instead. Denki froze, cringing away instinctively as Kendo screamed again and writhed, her limbs striking his body and tangling in the blanket. “Itsuka!” Denki whimpered, reaching for her only to flinch away as her limbs flailed again.

“Oh, there you are.” Uwabami opened the door and eyed the two mages with disdain. Denki’s eyes found the cluster of bright red beads in her hand, and everything fell into place.  

“Stop it!” Denki cried, sitting up and staring at the handler. “She didn’t do anything wrong, did she? Itsuka’s a good mage! I thought you liked her!”

“Silence. Speak again and Itsuka won’t be the only one in pain,” Uwabami sneered, her expression so different than usual - cruel, shadowed, instead of friendly and bright - that Denki flinched again. He knew why Monoma and Kendo feared her, now. She stalked across the small room and yanked Kendo out of the bed, pulling the blankets with her.

“I’m sorry!” Kendo shrieked. “Please, I’m sorry!”

“I gave you specific orders for tonight, Itsuka,” Uwabami hissed, planting her foot on Kendo’s stomach to keep her from writhing quite so much.

“Neito said he would-”

“I give the orders, not Neito,” Uwabami snapped. “I thought you had learned better than this, Itsuka.”

“I did! I will! Please!” Kendo sobbed, curling around the foot on her stomach. Denki bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from protesting as Uwabami pressed down, making Kendo choke and gasp for breath between cries.

“I don’t think you will,” Uwabami sniffed. “If you can relapse like this after over a year of obeying, I can’t trust you to not sneak off again.” Denki couldn’t help the confused whimper that escaped his lips. He didn’t know what was happening, but he knew that this wasn’t good. Dread rose, nearly choking him as Uwabami reached for the end of her string of beads, plucking free a deep crimson bead with a black floral pattern. “You really aren’t worth keeping around.”

Magic flared, and Denki screamed without knowing exactly why.

Then he saw that Kendo was no longer writhing, no longer gasping or crying.

And he screamed again.


 

“She killed one of her mages.” Sero’s breath left him in a rush. “Damn. That’s…”

“She killed one of Kaminari’s closest friends for not living up to her expectations,” Hitoshi replied.

“That would explain some things,” Sero said grimly, clenching and unclenching his fists, like he wanted to punch something. He took a deep breath, tried to redirect the conversation so he could process everything. “How’d you even find all this out?” Hitoshi could guess what Sero was thinking. He was probably hoping Hitoshi had heard this from an unreliable source, and maybe Kaminari hadn’t seen one of his best friends murdered right in front of him.

“Monoma told me. I don’t know why, but he did,” Hitoshi answered quietly.

“Not much reason for him to lie when we can check the facts with other handlers, huh?” Sero sighed bitterly. He closed his eyes. “No wonder…” Sero shook his head. “Damn. I need to…” To think, to check on Kaminari, to walk off his feelings or punch something, Hitoshi assumed. He sat up, slid his legs off Sero’s lap.

“I know,” Hitoshi assured him. “Let me know if you need to talk, okay?”

“Yeah. Yeah, I will,” Sero replied absently, standing. “I think I’m going to stop by the Chief Handler’s office and get one of those forms to ban specific handlers from interacting with my mage if I’m not there. It’s not a guarantee, but at least there will be consequences if Uwabami or anyone like her tries anything. You should, too.”

“There are several copies by the door,” Hitoshi told him. “I had the messenger bring me some after asking you to come here.” Hitoshi’s voice hardened with the anger burning in his stomach. “Uwabami cornered Monoma once. If she tries it again, I’ll have her head.”

“I’ll drop one off for Kirishima, too,” Sero decided, crossing the room and picking up a few sheets from the table by the door.

“Good idea. I’m sure his war mage has a past, too,” Hitoshi sighed. Sero nodded, then was gone. Hitoshi stared at the door for a second, then turned his attention to Monoma’s room, where the door was cracked open. “Well, Monoma? Are you satisfied?” The door opened, and the copy mage emerged.

“No. I still don’t trust any of you,” Monoma replied, a slight sneer twisting his lips. He glanced after Sero, then met Hitoshi’s gaze squarely and added, “I don’t care if you are sleeping with him. If he tries anything Denki doesn’t like, I’ll kill him myself. You can punish me for threatening a handler all you want, but it won’t change that.” Hitoshi just shrugged and deliberately stretched his arms over his head, away from his beads. He honestly didn’t blame Monoma, and he had a feeling Sero wouldn’t, either.