“You told Asui you were sending nobles with her and Sero.” Fumikage eyes Todoroki warily. “Who did you have in mind? Dark Shadow doesn’t always play well with others, you know.”
“Doesn’t matter. You’re not one of them,” Todoroki answered, flipping through a report Midoriya had brought him as Fumikage arrived.
“What? I have the most combat experience of any noble mage, and you’ll need it to be mages who go after Ryouta,” Fumikage protested.
“Not true. And we’re calling him Dabi. It’s the name he chose and it’s better than admitting one of my older brothers is alive and against me. I don’t want a war of succession,” Todoroki replied sharply, glaring over the top of the report.
“He’s cranky today,” Dark Shadow hissed, shifting on Fumikage’s shoulder.
“No shit,” Fumikage muttered back.
“So are you,” Dark Shadow informed him, fluffing his feathers indignantly.
“I bet you can’t guess why,” Fumikage drawled.
“If you two are done,” Todoroki interrupted. “As I was saying, you’re not the most experienced noble mage. All your experience is controlled environments, like duels and practice matches. I want someone who’s been in a real battle to take down Dabi. Plus, you’re too recognizable; anyone who’s been to the palace in the last twenty years knows who you are. Hawks, on the other hand-“
“You can’t be serious,” Fumikage blurted out. “Hawks? That’s not even his real name!” Fumikage was all too familiar with the cocky noble. Their magic had similar origins, both gaining power from a contract with a demon. They’d both even chosen avian demons. They’d trained together for a few months, too, as children. Hawks was older by several years, and helped him learn how to navigate Dark Shadow’s abilities when they trained together.
“It’s what people know him as, and that’s what matters,” Todoroki sighed. “I’m sending him and his brother.”
“Brother?” Hawks was an only child, at least when he and Fumikage had been close.
Oh. There was someone else Hawks was close to back then, though. Then the second prince - the one that had been brought to the palace from Hawk’s Point after the first prince, Ryouta, vanished - had gotten injured in training, and suddenly Fumikage’s training partner had better things to do, better people to be around. Less than two weeks after the second prince’s injuries, his training partner - his only friend, the boy with the demon wings who helped him learn to control Dark Shadow - was gone, called back to his family’s estate. The second prince disappeared with him.
“Apparently the hero of Hawk’s Point has a little brother, who’s also a mage. Between those two, Asui, and Sero, I believe they can handle Dabi.” Todoroki set down the report in his hand, tapping the pages absently. “Midoriya came across the information when researching Hawks for me.” Fumikage closed his eyes, wondering if he was insane for the thought that had just crossed his mind.
“Why are you telling me about this? You’ve obviously already planned it all out,” Fumikage sniffed, narrowing his eyes.
“Because Hawks hardly listens to anyone. But I think he’ll listen to you,” Todoroki explained. Hawks never listened to anyone. Ever. Especially not some kid he’d trained with and then dropped like an old toy. Unless.
Unless the crazy stupid thought Fumikage had just had was actually possible.
“He’s cranky and insane,” Dark Shadow complained. No, the insane thing was that Fumikage might actually be able to get Hawks to cooperate, just not for the reason Todoroki seemed to think.
“He might be right, actually. What’s the little brother’s given name?” Fumikage asked.
“His name?” Todoroki frowned, picked up the report again, and scanned it. “Natsuo. Apparently Midoriya thinks he might be some kind of ice mage.”
“Ice?” Fumikage repeated incredulously. “Oh, I can absolutely convince him to join your hunting party.”
“Good. My coronation is in six months. We have a lot of work to do before then,” Todoroki informed him.
“Catching Dabi, sorting out the handler situation…” Fumikage shook his head.
“We’ll have some help with that,” Todoroki said, a tiny smile pulling at his lips. “I’ll be officially appointing Aizawa as Chief Handler in the morning. He’ll appoint deputies, and we’ll start working toward improving the common mages’ situation.”
“Aizawa is worst possible choice,” Fumikage objected. “He was Hakamata’s blatant opponent. He fell in love with his mage, for God’s sake. None of the others will accept that. And even if they did, that man is in no shape to lead anyone.”
“He’ll have to be,” Todoroki insisted. “He was a Deputy Chief under Hakamata. Maybe Hakamata only appointed him to soothe Aizawa’s supporters, but that makes him the rightful successor. Besides, Shinsou and Kirishima will be here, and Aizawa has allies.”
“Are you talking about the handlers he grew up with? Because if I remember correctly-“
“And he probably does,” Dark Shadow interrupted. Fumikage patted the bird’s wing to quiet him and continued.
“Captain Kayama is managing the border outposts. Captain Iida has been in charge of security at Hawk’s Point since Captain Fukukado went missing after the incident there you’re so enamored with,” Fumikage rattled off. “We had Midoriya look into them before we approached Aizawa, remember? They’re no more use to use - or him - than they were last week.”
“That’s where you’re wrong. Hakamata’s habit of promoting his opponents to get them out of the palace has backfired. Half the highest-ranking handlers are Aizawa’s people by now, including the newly ranking Lieutenant Kirishima. That support will solidify Aizawa’s position.” Todoroki has really thought this through, Fumikage had to admit. Except for the one tiny detail Todoroki seemed to be overlooking.
“You’re still assuming Aizawa is capable of handling this right now. He was tortured for nearly a week, Todoroki! And his mage is in when worse shape than he is!”
“Everyone’s been through a lot,” Todoroki replied. “Aizawa and Yamada will pull through.”
“Then you’d better be planning to keep at least one of their kids here, as well as recalling Aizawa’s allies so he can have the support he’s going to need,” Fumikage insisted. “Otherwise you’re going to destroy one of our best allies and one of the few good human beings among the handlers.” Dark Shadow hissed wordlessly, establishing his agreement with Fumikage and distaste for Todoroki’s plan.
“What else am I supposed to do?” Todoroki sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face. “Look, I don’t have a lot of options. The handlers are going to fall apart and start taking things out on their mages or fighting for control if I don’t put someone in charge soon. Aizawa is the highest ranking survivor, plus he’s one of the few handlers we can trust to do this right. Aizawa at his worst is still my best option.” Fumikage couldn’t argue with that. Well, he could, because he was pretty sure the younger handlers Aizawa had raised and trained would do just as well. The only problem with them was their rookie status. Even Kirishima, who’d been promoted to Lieutenant, wasn’t experienced or high ranking enough to command the respect of the senior handlers who’d enjoyed Hakamata’s tenure as Chief Handler.
“Like I said. Support system,” Fumikage insisted finally. Dark Shadow grumbled, but settled into silence when Fumikage lifted two fingers to stroke the bird’s beak.
“Don’t worry. I’ll make sure he gets it,” Todoroki assured him.
Hanta woke to the sound of low, distressed voices. He tried to sit up and look around, only for his muscles to turn to jelly and refuse to move. He didn’t even know who was in the room, because they were standing out of sight and he couldn’t quite make out their voices. Hanta let out a groan as he tried to turn his head, and the voices fell silent. A moment later, something sticky and wet wrapped around his torso and pulled him upright.
“Asui,” Hanta grimaced, his head spinning from the abrupt change of position.
“You’re welcome,” the mage replied, words muffled slightly because her tongue was still wrapped around Hanta’s middle.
“Sero.” Hanta recognized that voice now, despite the shaky quality of it.
“Kirishima? What’s wrong?”
“Tetsutetsu’s dead,” Kirishima whispered. He was sitting on the cot beside the one Hanta was on, and Bakugou was sitting next to him with an arm around his shoulders to steady him. “They found his body in the forest.” Hanta’s entire world stopped as he processed Kirishima’s words.
One of his closest friends was dead. Tetsutetsu had stayed behind, but he was supposed to be safe with Dabi’s group as long as Hanta and the others kept their end of the deal and got Asui close enough to the king to set up the whole murder thing.
They’d done that. The king was dead. If he wasn’t, they’d all be dead or imprisoned by now.
“Dabi killed him.” Hanta blinked; he hadn’t realized Monoma was there, but yeah, there was the copy mage, standing so close to Shinsou’s side that their arms brushed. “He killed your handler friend and I think he took his mages with him, including Denki.” There was a little whimpering sound, and it took Hanta a moment to realize it was him. “You have to find him.”
“Todoroki picked you and Asui to go after Dabi,” Shinsou explained.
“He’s sending a couple of noble mages with us,” Asui added.
“And that’s okay with you?” Hanta asked, glancing from Asui to Monoma. He hadn’t thought Asui would stick around after the king’s death. Monoma, either, for that matter. Hanta had kind of assumed he’d take off after Kaminari.
“There’s a lot to do here,” Monoma answered. He didn’t look happy about it, but his jaw was set in determination. “And if you don’t make sure Denki’s safe and sound, I’ll kill you myself.” For a second, Hanta was stunned by Monoma actually entrusting Kaminari’s safety to anyone, especially Hanta. Then he took a deep breath and met Monoma’s eyes squarely.
“If I don’t, it’ll be because I’m already dead,” Hanta replied. Monoma gave him the tiniest nod, which Hanta was pretty sure meant Monoma was taking him at his word. “How long do we have?”
“Six months,” Asui answered. “The prince wants Dabi brought back before the coronation.”
“We need to get the handler system fixed by then, too,” Kirishima added. “Aizawa’s going to be Chief Handler now, but…”
“He’s going to need help,” Hanta summarized. He remembered the way Aizawa and Yamada had looked at the ball. “You two are staying to do that?” he asked, glancing at Kirishima and Shinsou.
“Someone needs to stick around with a little rank to help keep the other handlers in line and protect their mages,” Kirishima answered.
“And someone needs to lay low and ferret out the bad handlers,” Shinsou added.
“Six months,” Hanta sighed. It felt like an eternity. It wasn’t nearly enough time. “When do we start?”
Natsuo watched as Hawks dropped out of the sky, wings half folded to speed up his descent, only to flare out just before he hit the ground, swinging his legs forward to land lightly just in front of Natsuo, who crossed his arms and raised one eyebrow.
“Do you have to be so dramatic?” he asked as Hawks stretched his wings, then folded them neatly against his back.
“You say that like it’s a bad thing, little brother,” Hawks laughed, clapping Natsuo on the shoulder.
“The king is dead,” Natsuo said flatly. Hawks froze, his wings vanishing as his attention was diverted from maintaining them to processing Natsuo’s words.
“Well, it’s not like anyone will miss the guy,” Hawks shrugged. “Hey, we should do some sparring. It’s been like a week since I kicked your ass, right?”
“And the prince is summoning you to the palace for the coronation,” Natsuo continued. “Both of us, actually, which kind of makes me wonder if he knows.”
“Everyone gets summoned to the coronation,” Hawks replied, dismissing the idea with a wave of his hand as his wings reappeared on his back. “Come on; I’ll fly you to the courtyard.”
“Hawks, this is serious!” Natsuo protested.
“No, it’s not. The king’s dead, big deal. Everyone hated him except that creepy Chief Handler. We’ll figure out what to do about the coronation in a little bit.” Hawks really wasn’t hearing him. Natsuo took a deep breath, then focused on the moisture in the air right against Hawks’ neck and reached for his magic. A moment later, ice formed against Hawks’ nape, making him screech and claw at his neck in an attempt to get it off. “What was that for?”
“The crown prince summoned both of us, Hawks. You said the royal family didn’t even know I existed, and now the prince is summoning me by name! Could you please take this seriously?” Natsuo snapped, scowling and hunching his shoulders. Hawks paused, then dropped his hands from his neck and rested them on Natsuo’s shoulders.
“What name did the summons call you by?” Hawks asked, voice softer as he studied Natsuo’s expression more closely. “Did they call you by the name of your birth family, or mine?”
“Then all they did is look at the records and see that you’re my little brother. There’s no way anyone at the palace knows who you were before that, I swear. And even if they did, with the king dead, you’re safe. Hell, you could go back there and reveal who you really are if you wanted,” Hawks added, giving him a crooked grin. Natsuo didn’t want to admit it, but Hawks’ words really helped. It was reassuring to see that none of this shook Hawks’ confidence, although it also kind of worried him for the same reason. Would anything shake Hawks?
“This is who I really am,” Natsuo grumbled, freezing Hawks’ hair with a thought. Hawks shrieked at the cold and swatted at him desperately.
“Make it stop! Natsuo, I’m gonna freeze to death!” Hawks cried.
“You’re a baby,” Natsuo informed him.
“And you’re a bully!” Hawks shouted, throwing his arms around Natsuo without warning and then shooting them both into the sky with one sweep of his wings.
“Hawks!” Natsuo screeched. “Put me down!”
“Not until you defrost my hair!” Hawks countered as they soared higher.
“I’ll freeze your face if you don’t- Hawks!” Natsuo wailed as Hawks tilted to one side and then flipped into a barrel roll. “I hate you!” Another roll. “Fine!” Natsuo dispelled his magic, unfreezing Hawks’ hair.
“You’re so mean, little brother,” Hawks complained. A moment later, though, Hawks landed on one of the many balconies outside their manor. Natsuo scowled as he was set down and smacked Hawks’ shoulder. “Hey.” Hawks would normally tease him more, but this time his tone was serious. “You’re not one of them, not if you don’t want to be. You’re my little brother, and I’m not going to let the royal family have you. You don’t have to go to the coronation, and even if you decide to go with, you’re still just my brother. Not...you know.”
“A prince you kidnapped and convinced your parents to adopt?” Natsuo finished, the corners of his mouth tugging upwards. “Thanks.” Warmth enveloped him a moment later, Hawks’ arms and then his wings folding Natsuo into a hug.
“I won’t let anyone hurt you,” Hawks promised. Natsuo let himself be comforted for a moment, then tapped his brother’s wing and froze a handful of his feathers.
“How are you gonna protect anyone, you big turkey?” Natsuo taunted as Hawks shrieked and twisted around, trying to bat the ice away from his wing.
“I’m trying to be a good big brother and you’re bullying me!” Hawks wailed, looking so distraught that Natsuo laughed.
“You’re the best big brother,” he chuckled. “But that just means it’s my job to bully you.”
“Is not!” Hawks protested, flapping his frozen wing to try to dislodge the ice. Instead, he nearly bowled himself over with the force of the motion. “Natsuoooooooo!” Natsuo shook his head. He knew just as well as Hawks that his brother could just stop maintaining his wings, and the ice would fall harmlessly to the ground. He also knew that Hawks was probably being so dramatic in an attempt to get Natsuo’s mind off any lingering worries he might have about being summoned to the palace.
Natsuo just hoped that getting him to worry less wouldn’t bite them both in the ass.
“So, the coronation’s just been announced. We’ve got, what? A couple months before we have to-”
“The coronation is six months from now, yes,” Natsuo interrupted. “But the prince wants us in the palace immediately. Apparently he has something he wants us to do.”