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Shouta snapped awake and stayed perfectly still. He remembered strangling Hakamata and then collapsing, but he wasn’t on the floor. He was in a bed. His bed, he realized when he managed to look around and take in his surroundings. And Yamada was curled up against his side, clutching his shirt in his sleep. Tension drained from his body, and he let out a soft sigh. His ankle pulsed with a dull ache, but the pain from the various burns he’d accumulated while under the king’s command had disappeared. That was good; maybe he could hide most of what he’d been through from Yamada.

Shouta brought his hand up to finger comb Yamada’s hair and stopped, staring at the short blond strands, wishing he could kill Hakamata all over again.

Yamada stirred, and Shouta stroked his hair, hoping to ease him back to sleep, but Yamada jerked and shrank away from the touch. Shouta pulled his hand back, confused and distressed by the reaction. Yamada’s body trembled as he clutched Shouta’s shirt harder and hid his face against Shouta’s neck.

“Hizashi?” Shouta whispered, wrapping his arms around Yamada and craning his neck to try to see his face. He didn’t need to ask what was wrong; he knew it had to be what Hakamata had done to him. He’d never seen Yamada this scared or upset in all the time they’d been together, not even when Aizawa’s students had been forced to hurt him. “Hizashi, what do you need?”

Yamada lifted his head, opened his mouth, then abruptly snapped it shut again as fear flickered in his eyes. Shouta stared at him for a long moment, then slowly lifted his hand to cup Yamada’s cheek, watching his expression carefully for any sign of uncertainty. Yamada held perfectly still, too still to actually be okay, so Shouta stopped before he touched Yamada’s face.

“Hizashi?” Yamada’s lips quivered, then pressed tightly together like he was holding in whatever sound he might have made. “You can say no. If you don’t want me to do something, you can say no. I won’t hurt you for any reason, but especially not for telling me no, okay?” For a second, Yamada didn’t move, and Shouta started to try to think of something to do or say that would help, but then Yamada dropped his head, pressed his nose against Shouta’s collarbone, and gave a jerky nod. Shouta felt himself go limp for a moment in relief before he refocused. “Can you tell me what you need from me?”

This time, Yamada shook his head, his whole body quivering like he was fighting with himself. After what felt like an eternity, Yamada pushed himself upright and held out his hand. Shouta carefully propped himself up and took it.

“Is this okay?” Shouta asked, watching Yamada intently. When Yamada nodded and entwined their fingers, Shouta lifted their joined hands and bent his head, brushing his lips over Yamada’s knuckles. “I love you, Hizashi,” he whispered against Yamada’s skin. “Whatever you need, I’ll make sure you get it.”

Yamada’s lips moved, shaping words Shouta knew by heart even as no sound came out.

I love you, too, was what Yamada wanted to say.

He’d never had trouble saying those words before. But now he couldn’t give a proper voice to them, and Shouta realized he had no idea if Yamada was just too tired or scared to talk...or if he couldn’t.


 

Katsuki hated waiting. After the king died, Shinsou had taken charge of the injured and unconscious members of their group,  including Sero, Kirishima, and Aizawa. Yamada and Aizawa had been healed as best the other handlers could manage and then taken to their quarters, while Kirishima and Sero apparently had to stay in the handlers’ infirmary until they woke up, “just to be sure.”

Katsuki didn’t want to think what they were being sure of.

“How is he?” Katsuki looked up at the sound of Asui’s voice. He wasn’t sure where she’d been - come to think of it, he hadn’t seen Awase, either, not since they’d brought Kirishima to the infirmary.

“Still passed the fuck out,” Katsuki grunted, returning his attention to his unconscious handler.

“I’m sure he’ll wake up soon,” Asui murmured, resting a hand on his shoulder. Katsuki made a low, noncommittal noise. “I know he’s important to you.”

“The fuck are you talking about?” Katsuki snapped.

“I know you, remember?” Asui teased. “You keep protecting him, and you won’t let him out of your sight. That means something, Katsuki, and you know it.” Katsuki shook his head, trying to dismiss her words.

But she wasn’t wrong, so he couldn’t quite call her insane or stupid for thinking that. Well he could, but once upon a time Asui had been the only one he could really trust or confide in.

“I gave up killing Toga,” Katsuki admitted. It had been nagging at the back of his mind.

“She seemed pretty dead to me, assuming the mangled thing on the floor was her,” Asui pointed out.

“I was going to kill her slower. Make her scared. Make her feel my - our - pain,” Katsuki growled, clenching his fists. “But Hakamata was attacking Kirishima and…”

“Saving him was more important than revenge,” Asui guessed. “Wow, Katsuki, you actually found something you care about more than freedom!”

“Fuck off, I’m plenty free already,” Katsuki snapped. Asui tilted her head, and Katsuki scowled at her. “Look, I just…” Katsuki curled his fingers around Kirishima’s limp hand. “If I decided to leave now, he wouldn’t stop me. Wouldn’t let anyone else try, either, the dumbass.” Katsuki picked up Kirishima’s hand, rubbed his thumb lightly over the handler’s knuckles. “He collapsed because he put too much energy into protecting me, even when he could’ve used that energy to save himself instead.”

“He’s important to you,” Asui repeated. Katsuki ignored her, lifting Kirishima’s limp hand and lowering his head slightly to press his cheek into the handler’s palm, like imitating the familiar gesture would pull Kirishima back to consciousness. Asui’s voice was an odd combination of soft and teasing as she added, “You love him.”

Katsuki stiffened, shock flooding his mind. He sputtered, dropped Kirishima’s hand, and whirled to glare at Asui.

“Fucking dumb - stupid - shithead - fucking shithell, Tsuyu! I don’t-”

“Katsuki, just because you’re too emotionally constipated to see it doesn’t mean it’s not there,” Asui informed him, eyes wide and innocent, words slow and sage. “Look, I get it. You’ve been pretty traumatized most of your life, so it’s perfectly understandable that you don’t recognize your own feelings.”

“I’ll fucking traumatize your face!” Katsuki hissed, calling his magic to his fingertips and reaching for her. Asui snorted and danced backwards, a sly smirk tugging at her lips.

“Careful, you don’t want to accidentally hurt him, throwing war magic around like that,” she teased. Katsuki’s whole body went rigid, his magic vanishing as he choked on the remembered stench of Kirishima’s skin under his magic. “Katsuki? What-”

“Don’t joke about that,” Katsuki rasped, clenching and unclenching his fists to make sure no magic lingered in his hands before he turned his back on Asui and picked up Kirishima’s hand again, resting his palm over the handprint on the handler’s arm. “That’s not funny.” Asui sobered immediately, moving closer with concern etched across her features.

“Sorry, Katsuki. I didn’t know,” she murmured. She glanced at the handprint under his shaking fingers, but didn’t ask. “You okay?”

“I’ll be just fucking peachy once this asshole wakes up,” Katsuki snorted, shaking his head in an attempt to clear it. “Enough about me. What’s your deal? When I didn’t see you after the battle, I thought maybe you were with Dabi.”

“He left without me,” Asui explained, turning her attention to Sero, who lay on the cot next to Kirishima’s. She poked his cheek absently, considering her next words. “I’m going after him soon. When Sero wakes up and a couple nobles arrive.”

“What?” Katsuki’s brow furrowed. Why would she need to wait for anyone else?

“He turned on the prince, and then he left me behind. I need answers, and the prince wants him captured. If I go as part of his task force, I might have a better shot at actually finding Dabi and getting those answers.”

“So you’re gonna stick with plain-face over there?” Katsuki asked, eyeing Sero’s slack face warily.

“At least until we find Dabi,” Asui confirmed. “What happens after that will kind of depend.” Katsuki nodded slowly. He considered asking exactly what it would depend on, but before he could make up his mind whether it was worth it to get into that or not, Kirishima stirred, letting out a low groan and scrubbing the heel of his palm over his face.

Katsuki leaned over him, heart caught in his throat. He could feel Asui’s smug aura growing, so he flipped her off without looking away from Kirishima as the handler’s eyes fluttered open.

“Hey,” Kirishima rasped, reaching up to tousle Katsuki’s hair, the motion clumsy as exhaustion dragged at his limbs. Katsuki caught Kirishima’s hand, steadying it.

“About goddamn time, you asshole,” Katsuki whispered. “Didn’t I fucking tell you to stop getting hurt?”

“Sorry for making you worry,” Kirishima replied, a sheepish grin spreading slowly across his face. “Are they dead?”

“Toga is,” Katsuki answered. “I let Aizawa have Hakamata.”

“Hakamata’s dead, too, then,” Kirishima hummed, his eyes sliding shut again. “You saw Yamada. No way Aizawa let the bastard live.” Quiet hung between them for a moment before Katsuki spoke again.

“We won, Lieutenant Shitty Hair,” Katsuki murmured. “Dabi got his shot at the king, so you can get your weird friend back. Hakamata and Toga are dead, so things can start to change around here. You’re a lot safer now.”

“Are you leaving?” Kirishima’s eyes snapped open, searching Katsuki’s expression frantically. Katsuki blinked, realized that his words must have come off as the start of a good-bye, and snorted.

“I fucking told you, dumbass. Your stupid ass is fucking stuck with me,” Katsuki reminded him. Kirishima’s forehead creased.

“So...you’re not leaving?” Kirishima was staring up at him, confusion and hope and something else in his eyes.

“Fuck no.” Katsuki bit the inside of his cheek to keep himself from saying something about Asui’s earlier comments. Instead, he leaned down and rested his forehead on Kirishima’s. The handler relaxed, sinking back into his cot and letting his heavy eyelids ease shut once more. Katsuki figured he probably needed to sleep off the rest of his exhaustion from the battle, but there was something important he needed to say before the handler fell unconscious again. “Hey. Bakugou isn’t my given name,” he whispered. “You can call me Katsuki if you want.”

“Mm, Katsuki’s a nice name,” Kirishima hummed, fingers curling against Katsuki’s scalp gently before he began to stroke Katsuki’s hair. “Why do I get to use it now?” Katsuki braced himself with a hand on either side of Kirishima’s head, tension draining from his body at the familiar sensation.

“I’ll tell you when you stay awake for more than five goddamn minutes,” Katsuki replied. Kirishima made a soft, agreeable noise, and then a moment later his breathing evened out and his hand stopped moving, falling to his side as he slipped back into slumber.

Katsuki stared at him for a moment to make sure he was really asleep. He looked so damn peaceful and innocent like that, his lips parted slightly and his expression completely relaxed. Katsuki remembered the way Kirishima’s features had twisted in pain under Hakamata’s spell beads, and almost wished the asshole was still alive for Katsuki to kill himself.

Instead, Katsuki settled for pushing himself up, then ducking down for a moment to press his lips to Kirishima’s forehead. When he straightened up and looked around, Asui was snickering at him.

“Go fuck yourself,” he grouched at her. Asui just grinned and made a heart shape with her hands, so Katsuki flipped her off again. For a moment, it was almost like they were kids again, teasing each other and staging what rebellions they could against the handlers.

Except now they were grown up, and they’d staged a pretty successful rebellion from the sound of it, and Katsuki had Kirishima now.

So it was like they were kids again but better.

Katsuki thought he could live with that.


 

Mashirao perched in the trees above the makeshift campsite where he and Kaminari were keeping watch over the handler, Tetsutetsu. The others in Dabi’s group were spread out in other camps around the palace. If the palace guards happened to find them, they didn’t want everyone found at once. Mashirao and Kaminari had been chosen to guard the handler because Mashirao had been part of Dabi’s group longer than most, and Kaminari had the magic most useful for possibly immobilizing a certain handler without killing him.

“How much longer do you think it’ll take?” Kaminari asked. Mashirao started to answer, then paused as the handler answered instead.

“I don’t know. Aizawa told us once that the king is one of the strongest mages he’s ever seen. He’s not someone they’ll be able to kill instantly,” Tetsutetsu pointed out. “It could be a while before-”

“Or it could be sooner than you think,” Mashirao interrupted, spotting movement in the trees. “Here he comes.”

Dabi entered the clearing a moment later, blue fire erupting around him as he stalked across the clearing, attention fixed on Tetsutetsu.

“Dabi? How did it-”

“The king is dead, and the Crown Prince turned on me,” Dabi snarled as he reached the handler, how started up at him from his seat on the forest floor. “His little pet handler blocked my magic. They were going to kill me. Your little friends betrayed our deal.”

“That doesn’t sound like them,” Tetsutetsu protested, scooting a little farther from Dabi, who stalked after him.

“Too damn bad,” Dabi hissed. “They must not care that much about getting you back.” He reached down and grabbed Tetsutetsu’s shirt with both hands, hauling the handler to his feet.

“Dabi, wait!” Kaminari stepped forward, reaching for Dabi’s arm, only to jerk back with a yelp as cobalt flames coated Dabi’s skin, burning Kaminari’s fingers when they made contact with Dabi’s arm.

“Don’t interfere, Denki,” Dabi snarled. His flames twisted along his arm, spreading as they reached his hand. Tetsutetsu let out a strained cry and tried to pull away, but the fire had already caught hold of his shirt.

Tetsutetsu screamed, and Kaminari fell back, expression twisted in horror. Mashirao almost lunged for Tetsutetsu, but the stench of charred flesh and the abrupt end of the handler’s scream told him it was too late. Mashirao managed to get around Dabi and grab Kaminari’s arm, shoving the lightning mage behind him as Dabi let Tetsutetsu’s limp form fall to the ground.

“Dabi…” Mashirao paused to swallow the bile rising in his throat. He knew Dabi had killed before, of course. He’d seen it. Smelled it. This was different. Sure, Tetsutetsu was a handler, but he hadn’t done anything to them. Mashirao didn’t know exactly what had happened at the palace, but surely killing an unarmed man for something his friends did was crossing a line.

“I should never have trusted handlers. From now on, you’re either with me, or you’re dead.” Dabi’s blue gaze burned Mashirao’s very soul, revealing his fear and hesitation. “Are you with me, Mashirao? Denki?”

“We’re with you,” Mashirao answered, fighting to keep his voice steady as he tightened his grip on Kaminari’s arm, hoping desperately that Kaminari would get the message and play along until Mashirao could figure out what to do.

There was a tug on his hand, Kaminari shifting in his hold. Mashirao turned, then dropped Kaminari’s arm in shock as he took in the way the lightning mage had dropped to his knees, head down, entire body trembling.

“I’m sorry,” Kaminari whispered. “I’m sorry, please don’t hurt me.” Mashirao was glad he was turned toward Kaminari, so Dabi couldn’t see the blatant horror and disgust on Mashirao’s face. Mashirao remembered how wary Kaminari had been of the handlers, including his own, when he’d chosen to stay with them instead of returning to the palace. This was nothing compared to that. Kaminari was terrified, clearly regarding Dabi as being similar to the handlers if the shaking and the kneeling was anything to go by. “Please, I’ll be good.”

“Let’s move, then,” Dabi ordered. Mashirao pulled Kaminari to his feet and steadied him, using those moments with his back to Dabi to school his expression into something determined and compliant rather than horrified and furious.

Mashirao wanted nothing more than to take Kaminari and run, but with Dabi acting so strangely, he couldn’t risk it. There was no way he’d outrun the flames, especially with a traumatized lightning mage in tow.

For now, he would just have to go along with whatever Dabi’s plan was.

He hoped there was a plan.

Because if not, Dabi would be even more unpredictable, and that wouldn’t turn out well for them.