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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.

Chapter Text

Dabi held perfectly still, hidden in the shadows cast by the ruins of the outpost he’d destroyed. The heaps of ashes left by the inhabitants he’d incinerated with his magic had been scattered days ago. Only a few remained, the bodies of the enemies he’d only partially burned. He needed to make a statement, after all. And that meant he needed the handlers’ bodies to be recognizable.

“There’s a search party coming.” Dabi glanced up, saw one of his fellow mages - Ojiro, the newest member of Dabi’s little band - perched on top of the remains of a wall, looking down at Dabi. The mage’s long tail hung over the wall, tip twitching in anticipation.

“Get out of the way, then,” Dabi replied.

“I can fight,” Ojiro protested. “We all can!”

“Mashirao,” Dabi said sternly. “You’re supposed to be dead, remember?” Ojiro glanced at one of the only-half-charred corpses in the rubble that used to be the house he and his former handler shared. His tail curled around his legs, like he was trying to comfort himself with it. Dabi wasn’t exactly sure what kind of magic Ojiro had, but Dabi was pretty sure it had something to do with either shapeshifting or demons, considering that tail. He’d have to remember to actually ask Ojiro, before Ojiro’s former handler noticed that Dabi didn’t know and tried to tell him.

“Still-”

“No. You’ve done your part. Go back to the others,” Dabi ordered. Ojiro hesitated, then ducked his head in acceptance and rose, trotting along the top of the wall. He reached the end and dropped out of sight behind the heap of rubble. Dabi turned his attention to the road leading up to the small outpost. He stepped out into the street that led through the little village that had been formed by the soldiers, handlers, and enslaved mages that had lived there. Dabi sat, staring down the road.

Waiting.

It didn’t take long.

The mages stepped through what was once the outpost’s main gate first. Dabi watched them, evaluating their abilities. One had mist curling around her legs, and the other’s hair floated unnaturally around her, twisting in a breeze that only she seemed affected by.

Dabi held still, watching them approach. They stopped when they noticed him and exchanged confused glances.

“Why did you stop?” Ah. That was the handler. Dabi fixed his attention on her. “Keep moving unless you have something to report!” Dabi’s lips curled in a smirk as he recognized the handler, obviously not used to visiting outposts from the way she picked her way through the ash and rubble strewn across her path. She was one of that bastard Hakamata’s deputies. Uwabami, he thought her name was. He didn’t know what she was doing so far from the palace, but he wasn’t about to question it. Not until he’d completed his mission.

Dabi saw the exact moment the handler noticed him. She froze, her hand falling to her beads. Dabi chuckled to himself and activated his magic before her fingers reached the spells that would protect her and keep the two mages enslaved. He didn’t destroy the beads, not yet. Instead, he just heated the air around them with a wisp of fire, so the handler shrieked and jerked her hand back, fingertips red and blistering. “Take him!” Uwabami cried.

Both mages lashed out, expressions set in grim lines. The air around Dabi was suddenly harder to breathe, and water curled around his wrists. Dabi had to give them credit; it was a good attack, meant to subdue him without killing him. Whether it was because of a reluctance to kill a fellow mage or because the handler had told them to take him and not kill him, he didn’t know.

He didn’t know, and it didn’t matter.

Dabi closed his eyes, holding his breath, and reached for his magic, wrapping it around himself. Fire sprang into being, curling around him, so intense that the water evaporated and the air suddenly expanded from the heat, defying both mages’ grip on their power. Dabi opened his eyes, inhaled fire magic, and exhaled flames so intense they shone blue-white, searing the air and shooting toward the mages, who cried out and threw themselves to either side of the stream of fire. Dabi rose to his feet, gathering his magic around his hands as he let the fire shooting from his mouth die.

“Kaoruko! Drown him!” Uwabami hissed.

“Your name’s Kaoruko?” Dabi asked, glancing at the water mage, who was setting her feet, preparing to attack.

“Kill him!” Uwabami ordered, reaching for her beads again. This time, Dabi lifted his hand, making a show of the fire magic igniting in his hand, then vanishing, only to reappear curling around Uwabami’s beads. This time, it wasn’t just a little heated air. This time, it was a flame hot enough to reduce the beads to useless ash.

This time, he took the handler’s power.

“Wait!” Dabi called. The mages flinched at his voice, rough from years of learning on his own how to control his magic and accidentally inhaling too much fire magic. Even the handler took a step back, although that could have been because her hand was coated in ash instead of holding beads that would bring Dabi and her two enslaved mages to their knees. “Look at her beads.”

At first, the mages refused, their fear of their handler, clearly outweighing their confusion and curiosity. But when Dabi didn’t collapse in agony, when flames continues to dance on his fingertips instead of vanishing under a magic cancelling spell, the water mage and the air mage both turned to their handler.

Dabi saw the moment they realized Uwabami didn’t have any spells. Satisfaction warmed his chest as some of the fear left the mages’ eyes. That was the whole point of not just incinerating the handler on the spot. The mages needed to know that their tormenter was just a regular person, weaker than them, only given power over them by the twisted system that kept them enslaved.

“Not that I think you have to do what I say, or anything,” Dabi began, stalking down the street toward the handler, stopping between the two mages. “But she’s powerless now. Just like she’s kept you powerless. She’s hurt you two, right? Why not show her just how much those spells hurt?”

“I can’t...she’ll…” the water mage trailed off, trembling, and took a step back.

“If you won’t, then I will!” the air mage announced, thrusting her hands out in front of her, air magic bursting from her palms. Uwabami screeched in fury at being defied, a sharp, furious sound that made the water mage cringe. The handler’s cry shot upwards in pitch as the air magic hit her, throwing her into one of the nearby rubble heaps. The air mage let out another surge of power, this time aimed at the rubble at the top of the heap, over Uwabami’s head. Several of the larger pieces came loose with the gust of wind and tumbled down, striking Uwabami’s head and shoulders before settling on her legs. Dabi whistled, impressed; it had been a while since he’d seen air magic strong enough to move anything heavy enough to pin a handler in place. “I’m Hadou Nejire. That’s Awata Kaoruko,” she announced.

“Call me Dabi,” he replied. “One of you want to finish her off?” he added, jabbing a finger in the direction of the handler, who was shoving at the debris pinning her in place.

“They’ll kill us when they find her!” the water mage, Awata, protested. Dabi smirked and reached for his magic.

“Only if they think you got away,” Dabi replied. He surveyed Uwabami for a moment, debating the best course of action. Should he convince Awata to finish it, or write her off as one of the mages he’d have to leave somewhere safe? Hadou definitely had what it took to stay with him, but he wasn’t sure about the other one. “If she dies, the others will assume you did, too.” Uwabami froze, eyes wide and chest heaving with each ragged breath as she frantically renewed her attempts to free herself from the rubble. Hadou waved a hand, using another strong gust to knock another heavy chunk of rubble onto the handler, who let out a shrill wail. Awata flinched at the sound, and Dabi sighed. Yeah, Awata would definitely be going to hide with the others.

“If one of us kills her, won’t they know we survived?” Hadou pointed out. Dabi glanced at her, considering.

“Not if I burn the hell out of the body,” Dabi answered, watching for her reaction. Hadou’s expression set, stubborn and determined.

“Nejire, no!” Awata cried, stumbling toward her friend to grab Hadou’s wrist. “They’ll find out, they always find out!”

“Not this time,” Hadou said grimly, lifting her free hand. With a sweeping motion of her arm, her magic pulled the air around Uwabami away from her. The handler gasped, struggling to breathe in the absence of air. With no air in her lungs to give it volume, her final scream as she collapsed was silent.

Chapter Text

Fumikage leaned against the wall in one of the common mages’ training rooms, absently stroking the feathers on Dark Shadow’s chest.

“You do remember that war magic could kill me, right?” Dark Shadow huffed, glaring at Fumikage and fluffing up his feathers as he leaned away from Fumikage’s hand.

“You do remember that Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa asked us to assess Bakugou’s abilities, right?” Fumikage sighed.

“Why us? Why can’t he make someone who’s not us do it?” Dark Shadow whined, jumping from his place on Fumikage’s arm to perch on top of his head instead. Fumikage grimaced and reached up to rearrange the bird so his talons didn’t dig into Fumikage’s head.

“Weren’t you just complaining a few weeks ago that you haven’t been able to spar in forever?” Fumikage reminded him.

“That doesn’t mean I want to spar against a war mage!” Dark Shadow squawked.

“You didn’t object last time,” Fumikage sighed, narrowing his eyes at Dark Shadow, who fluffed out his feathers and tucked his beak against his chest, avoiding Fumikage’s eyes.

“Last time I hadn’t sensed his magic,” Dark Shadow muttered. “Didn’t you feel it when he was bickering with his handler? That war mage is stronger than any I’ve ever seen, even before I met you.”

“You don’t even remember anything from before you met me, don’t be dramatic,” Fumikage retorted, tapping the end of Dark Shadow’s beak lightly. “I’m supposed to be the dramatic one, remember?”

“Aizawa is testing us,” Dark Shadow growled, snapping at Fumikage’s finger. “And I hate being tested.”

“He’s testing Bakugou and Kirishima,” Fumikage insisted, pulling his hand back and frowning at the crow.

“He knows Kirishima. He raised Kirishima,” Dark Shadow hissed. “He’s testing us and you know it.”

“Whether you’re right or not, it doesn’t change what we have to do,” Fumikage replied, voice low and grim as he lifted his head to watch as the door slid open, revealing Kirishima and his war mage. “You know what’s at stake.” Dark Shadow let out a low hiss but didn’t pursue his protest.

“Lord Tokoyami,” Kirishima greeted him with a bow. “Thank you for agreeing to spar with us.” Fumikage felt Dark Shadow tense up and rested a hand on the crow’s wing in hopes of keeping him still and quiet until they actually started their little battle. Fumikage’s gaze darted from the handler to the war mage, and noted that Bakugou hadn’t bowed, or even inclined his head.

“The Deputy Chief Handler decided your combat capability must be tested, that is all,” Fumikage replied stiffly.

“Blowing the fuck out of two whole training rooms didn’t give him a goddamned hint?” Bakugou muttered.

“A hint is not a formal evaluation,” Fumikage replied. “Now, prepare yourselves.”

 

Katsuki watched as the crow on the bird-head noble’s shoulder fluffed out its feathers. He sank into a crouch as the bird’s outline wavered, its eyes becoming less crow-like and more burning yellow balls of actual fire that were really pretty cool, except for the nagging feeling at the back of his head that the idiot handler beside him wasn’t really very fireproof, and Katsuki wasn’t ready for Kirishima to die yet.

Katsuki shifted, elbowed Kirishima so the handler squawked in protest but ended up behind Katsuki, and then he faced the crow head on. Except it wasn’t a crow anymore, it was a giant shadow that curled around the noble with the stupid bird face, its eyes glowing brighter than any natural flame, its outline jagged and impossible to actually see well.

“Fuck. If that’s a goddamn shadow mage, I’m a fucking pineapple, ” Katsuki hissed.

“I said sort of,” Kirishima pointed out, taking a few steps back to give Katsuki room to move.

“Dark Shadow, remember not to kill them,” the bird lord said. “Kirishima, your mage may attack whenever-” The noble was cut off as Katsuki launched himself at his opponent, magic singing in his blood and sparking at his fingertips. He was going to end this before that shadow fucker had a chance to react.

The shadow that used to be a crow shrieked as Katsuki’s magic got near it. The noble darted to the side, and Katsuki shot his arms out behind him, using a wave of destructive energy to propel himself after the bird-headed noble.

“Behind you!” Kirishima shouted even as a shimmering shield erupted into being, forming a bubble around Katsuki that moved with him as he landed and spun to find part of the shadow seemed to have stretched itself along the ground, only to rise and lash out at his unprotected back. Katsuki snarled, and the shield disappeared as he lunged again, this time making contact with the shadow as he released his magic. There was a brief moment where his whole hand tingled faintly, the shadow-thing crackling beneath his fingertips, before Katsuki’s own power washed away the sensation with a flood of warmth and satisfaction as the shadow vanished.

“Arrogant child!” a voice as crackling as the feeling against his hand a second ago hissed. “Even if your magic is capable of killing me, it seems you are not.”

“I told you there was nothing to be afraid of,” the noble murmured from somewhere above Katsuki. He threw himself sideways, anticipating an attack from above that never came. Instead, when he rolled to his feet and glanced around, he saw the shadow-wrapped form of the noble arcing through the air away from Katsuki.

“Where the fuck do you fucking think you’re going, shitty feather-head?” Katsuki hissed under his breath. A chill shot down his back as he realized where the noble’s current path would take him - right towards Kirishima. “I think the fuck not,” Katsuki snarled, launching himself forward with a burst of his magic. “Handler Shitty Hair! Heads fucking up!”

Kirishima caught Katsuki’s eye and bared his stupid sharp teeth in a grin.

“Don’t worry, I trust you!” Kirishima shouted back as he started running toward Katsuki, who clearly was surrounded in fucking war magic capable of killing idiot handlers on the spot. The noble’s creepy-ass shadow thing let out a shriek of irritation as it had to land and change course to pursue Kirishima. “You can take him, Bakugou!”

Katsuki did not need stupid-ass encouragement from the idiot being chased by a noble with a bird head and surrounded by living shadow or whatever that fucking crow was supposed to be.

He also really didn’t need Kirishima to fall into a slide along the ground, still headed for Katsuki, who realized Kirishima’s plan just in time. Katsuki jumped, magic swirling around him. Kirishima passed beneath him, completely unharmed, and Katsuki landed right in the middle of the shadow as the noble and his creepy pet or whatever tried to follow the handler.

“Fucking keep your creepy-fucking-ass bird shit off him,” Katsuki snarled, igniting the magic around him into an aura of pure destruction. “I need his shitty ass alive, fuckhead.”

The shadow shrieked again, and the noble yelped something unintelligible as Katsuki’s power washed over them.

“Enough!” the noble called. “Kirishima!” Katsuki froze when his opponent called his handler’s name, cold realization dowsing his magic. Did the feather-brain have the authority to force Kirishima to punish him? Katsuki had heard about nobles punishing mages who came close to beating them in combat. Was the bird faced asshole going to try something?

“Bakugou! That was awesome!” Kirishima was beside him a moment later, beaming. “What do you think, Lord Tokoyami? Can I take Bakugou outside the palace?”

“You two are an effective team,” the bird-head acknowledged from his position prone on the ground, his weird shadow thing still curled around him almost protectively. Or maybe the shadow thing was seeking protection instead of providing it? Its fiery yellow eyes were glaring sullenly at Katsuki over the noble’s shoulder. “But I refuse to give my judgement until Bakugou gets off of me.” Katsuki realized he was still standing over the noble, but couldn’t make himself move. Kirishima wanted to take him outside the palace? What for? Was Kirishima going to hurt him after all, and he just didn’t want to ruin his goody-two-shoes reputation?

Katsuki shoved that thought away and finally stepped away from the noble. He was pretty sure Kirishima wouldn’t do that. Probably. But it didn’t matter what Kirishima’s intentions were, because once they were away from the palace, Katsuki would have his chance to escape, and Kirishima was going to walk him right out the door.

“I will make my report to Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa. Farewell,” the noble said as he got to his feet. Katsuki watched him go in silence,hardly noticing Kirishima chattering away at his side about how they definitely impressed him, and surely Aizawa would give them actual missions now.

Even if Katsuki had wanted to listen to Kirishima’s babbling, it would have been difficult over the rush of hope he was fighting to suppress.

Chapter Text

Shouta was avoiding paperwork by sitting on the floor behind Yamada, rebraiding the mage’s hair for the third time when Tokoyami returned from his sparring match with Kirishima and Bakugou.

“Where’d you learn how to braid hair?” Tokoyami asked as he walked right into Shouta’s office without knocking.

“Where did you learn how to knock?” Shouta muttered, glaring at the blond hair in his hands. Maybe if he just ignored the noble, he’d go away.

“Do you want my assessment of Handler Kirishima and his war mage or not?” Tokoyami huffed. Shouta debated for a second, then remembered that Hakamata had told him that he needed to test the rookie handlers outside the palace soon. Shouta groaned and leaned forward against Yamada’s back.

“That’s Shouta-speak for yes!” Yamada boomed. Shouta grumbled and gave up on braiding his hair, instead focusing on combing his fingers through the soft blond strands to straighten it instead.

“Kirishima and his mage Bakugou are a skilled pair,” Tokoyami began. “They appear to function well together in battle, and-”

“That war mage tried to kill me and you almost let him!” the crow on Tokoyami’s shoulder screeched.

“You’re fine, you giant baby,” Tokoyami murmured, narrowing his eyes at the shadow demon masquerading as a crow. “Bakugou seemed protective of Kirishima, too. We targeted the handler, and-”

“And that’s when the mage tried to kill me!” the crow cried, feathers fluffing out in distress.

“Bakugou protected Kirishima?” Shouta repeated, shoulders slumping in relief when Tokoyami nodded.

“That’s great!” Yamada bellowed. “Now we can relax a little!”

“Hizashi,” Shouta complained, leaning away from his mage and wincing at the volume. Yamada glanced over his shoulder sheepishly.

“Will that be all?” Tokoyami sighed. Shouta considered for a moment.

“I think so. There’s a messenger outside. Send them in when you leave,” Shouta decided. Tokoyami nodded and turned to leave. When the messenger entered a moment later, Yamada was perched on the desk, and Shouta was leaning against it beside him.

“What can I do for you, sir?” the messenger asked.

“Tell Handlers Kirishima, Shinsou, Tetsutetsu, and Sero to come see me immediately. And have them bring their mages.”


 

Hanta had no idea why Aizawa wanted to see him, and wanted him to bring Kaminari, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to find out, considering what he and Aizawa had talked about last time. Kaminari stuck close to his side as they walked, not quite clutching Hanta’s sleeve, but it was a close call.

“He’s not going to give you another mage, is he?” Kaminari whispered. Hanta tried to give Kaminari a reassuring smile and brought his hand up to ruffle Kaminari’s hair affectionately.

“No way. I haven’t even had you for very long. There’s no way they’re giving any of us rookies more than one mage any time soon,” Hanta assured him. He didn’t mention it to Kaminari, but honestly if Kirishima actually managed to tame Bakugou, they’d probably give him another mage.

No use in wasting a handler who can control unruly mages like Bakugou on just one, Hanta thought grimly. Kaminari seemed to notice he was holding back, and from the way Kaminari kept glancing toward Hanta’s bead collection it must make him nervous. Hanta didn’t carry pain spells anymore, but the fear of them was still completely ingrained in Kaminari.

“Hey, it’ll be okay, Sparks,” Hanta murmured, shifting to put an arm around Kaminari as they drew closer to Aizawa’s office. “Even if I ever do get a second mage, I won’t let them take you away. I promised I’d stick with you, remember?” Kaminari nodded, but he turned his face so it was hidden by his bangs. Hanta stopped walking, pulling Kaminari to a stop beside him. “I mean it. You’re going to be okay, and you’re staying with me. Okay?” Hanta waited until Kaminari lifted his head and met his eyes. There was still uncertainty there, but Hanta knew that was going to take a lot more time and effort to chase away than just one promise.

“Sero! You got called in, too, huh?” Hanta was angled away from the source of the call, so he rolled his eyes and made a face, which made Kaminari cover a snicker with one hand. Hanta counted that as a success and turned to face Tetsutetsu.

“Hey, Tetsu. Hello, Uraraka,” Hanta added. The mage jumped and blinked at him in shock, and Hanta grinned a little sheepishly. He’d been trying to be more pleasant to the mages he encountered, partly because he thought it was stupid and probably should be considered rude to ignore them, and partly because it really helped Kaminari relax if Hanta treated other mages like regular people too.

“Kirishima and Shinsou are already at Aizawa’s office,” Tetsutetsu told him, not commenting on Hanta’s greeting.

“What? Why would Aizawa want to talk to all four of us?” Hanta asked. He was a little relieved, though. He couldn’t have been called in because Aizawa or one of the others thought he’d done something wrong, because Tetsutetsu was considered a model rookie handler, and sure Shinsou was probably still in hot water with Uwabami over the whole formally banning her from being near Monoma thing, but Hanta was pretty sure Aizawa would rather give Shinsou an award for that than anything else.

“No idea. But we’re gonna be late if we don’t hurry,” Tetsutetsu replied. Hanta nodded and continued down the hall.

When they reached Aizawa’s office, Shinsou was glaring at Monoma, a sleep spell bead held up threateningly. Monoma was glaring back at him sullenly, while Kirishima appeared to be physically holding Bakugou back from attacking the copy mage with both arms around Bakugou’s waist and his feet planted on the floor, braced against Bakugou’s weight.

“If you murder him, we’ll just be in trouble again!” Kirishima insisted, hauling Bakugou back a few steps.

“Fucking worth it,” Bakugou snarled. Hanta sighed and gently nudged Kaminari behind him. He didn’t think Bakugou had any reason to go after the lightning mage, but just in case, Hanta would rather keep Kaminari out of Bakugou’s line of sight. He saw Tetsutetsu reach for his beads, though, and realized Kaminari wasn’t the only one he might need to protect.

“Bakugou! Do you really want Kirishima in trouble again after last time?” Hanta asked, moving forward just enough to be in Tetsutetsu’s way, but not enough to leave Kaminari exposed. Bakugou froze, then crossed his arms and went limp in Kirishima’s hold, scowling at the floor.

“Fuck you and your fucking stupid plain-ass face,” Bakugou muttered.

“Sero, I’ve told you-”

“I know,” Hanta cut Kirishima’s protest off. And he did know. Kirishima didn’t like anyone holding things over Bakugou, but honestly, what else was Hanta supposed to do? “He was scaring Kaminari.” Hanta had no idea if that was true or not, but his words made Kirishima sigh and abandon his protest. “Shinsou, I thought you were going to use silencing spells on Monoma whenever Bakugou was around.”

“I ran out five minutes ago,” Shinsou sighed, glaring at the copy mage.

“Better get more soon! Otherwise your mage won’t make it back here alive!” Yamada announced, throwing the door to Aizawa’s office open. “Come on in, kids! And no fighting!” Kirishima set Bakugou on his feet, then led the way into the office. Hanta waited until Bakugou followed him in, then led Kaminari inside, hoping that putting himself and Kaminari between Bakugou and Monoma would reduce the collateral damage.

“I can’t wait for you all to be gone for a while so you can stop causing trouble,” Aizawa sighed from his chair behind the desk.

“Gone?” Tetsutetsu repeated as they finished crowding into the room and Yamada closed the door behind them.

“Not forever, sadly,” Aizawa sighed. “You troublemakers will be back in a few weeks. But it’s customary for rookie handlers to tour some of the outposts once they’ve gotten used to their mages. I have a list of the outposts you’ll be required to check in with. I expect all of you back relatively unscathed.” Aizawa’s gaze flickered over Kirishima and Bakugou before settling on Hanta. “Sero, im placing you in command. It’s your job to make sure everyone survives this outing.”

Hanta shot an uneasy glance of his own toward Bakugou, then Monoma. He wasn’t sure both of those two surviving was a reasonable outcome.

“This is gonna be awesome! When do we leave?” Tetsutetsu shouted, grinning.

“Take the rest of the day to prepare, at least,” Aizawa sighed. “Other than that, it’s up to Sero.”

Hanta wasn’t sure he liked this whole being in charge thing, but it was just him, his friends, and their mages.

What could go wrong?

“We’ll leave in the morning,” Hanta announced.

Chapter Text

Neito pestered his handler all the way out of the palace. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been outside the mages’ quarters and training areas, let alone outside the palace.

Their first stop on the way out had been to restock the handlers’ bead supplies, including a whole bag of extras for each handler. They had also traded the short strings on their hips for sashes across their chests, keeping more beads within arm’s reach. Neito took careful inventory of the beads Kaminari’s handler had, and was relieved to see they were mostly healing and energy spells. That didn’t mean the handler’s satchel of spares didn’t contain more pain spells than anything else, but it was still nice to see blues and greens dominating the handler’s collection.

Their second stop was the stables, because making their journey to the outposts would take weeks on foot. The handlers picked up saddles and bridles from the tack room, then dispersed, apparently to retrieve the horses they’d been assigned.

Neito followed Shinsou down one of the many aisles of stalls, until Shinsou stopped outside one that held a dappled blue roan mare. Neito eyed the animal warily as Shinsou stepped inside the stall and began arranging the saddle on the mare’s back, fastening straps around her belly and chest. The horse caught Neito’s eye, and something in her demeanor changed. She went tense, her ears flicking forward for a second before laying back. Neito averted his eyes, wondering if the horse was irritated because he was staring at her. Shinsou reached up and scratched her jaw soothingly, and the horse settled with a sigh. When Shinsou led the mare out of the stall, Neito took a step back.

“This is Kaze,” Shinsou told him. “Hold out your hand for her to smell.” Neito hesitated, because he wasn’t sure he wanted his hand near the animal’s mouth - he’d caught a glimpse of how big her teeth were when Shinsou put the bit in, and just because they were flat didn’t mean they wouldn’t hurt if she bit him - but when Shinsou frowned, he decided to just get it over with and greet the beast.

Kaze the weird blue horse sniffed his hand, then turned up her nose at him and tossed her mane.

“She can smell your bad attitude,” Shinsou informed him. “Come on. The others are probably ready by now.” Neito and Kaze eyed each other for a moment, then both followed Shinsou when he started down the aisle between the stalls.

The others were indeed waiting. Sero’s horse, a light chestnut gelding that he called Natsu, with a white stripe and a stocking on each hind leg, was the only one of them that looked the way Neito thought a horse should. Tetsutetsu’s horse, Ishi, was a dapple gray gelding the same shade as the handler’s stupid hair. Kirishima’s huge black mare, Sumi, was so dark she seemed to absorb the light around her, and her feathered hooves were a little ridiculous in Neito’s opinion. She also seemed to be the only horse that was fond of any of the mages, constantly straining away from Kirishima’s grip on her reins to try to eat Bakugou’s hair.

“I always thought your hair looked like a stupid clump of hay,” Neito sneered. Bakugou glared at him and held one hand out, palm up and magic crackling between his fingers. The obvious threat lost a lot of its weight a moment later though, when Sumi shoved her giant head against Bakugou’s cheek to get his attention and nearly knocked the war mage over.

“Stop antagonizing Bakugou and get on,” Shinsou sighed. Neito glanced over at his handler and discovered that Shinsou was already on Kaze’s back, settled in the saddle, and was holding a hand out to help Neito on behind him.

“I want to ride in front,” Neito objected. “I won’t be able to see around you.” He wouldn’t be able to see Kaminari with Shinsou’s back in his face.

“Do you know how to ride, or the route to the outpost?” Shinsou asked. Neito scowled and let Shinsou pull him onto the saddle behind him.

“Why does Pom-Pom get to ride up front?” Neito whined, noticing that Kirishima had mounted his horse when Neito wasn’t looking and now sat easily astride his giant horse with Bakugou apparently perched sidesaddle in front of him.

“Because Kirishima doesn’t mind looking at his mage,” Shinsou replied. “I do.” Neito sputtered around a protest - he was much nicer to look at than Bakugou, thank you very much! - and then nearly fell off Kaze’s back when Shinsou tapped his heels to her flanks, urging her forward. Neito had to grab a handful of Shinsou’s shirt to avoid losing his balance completely.

“I hate horses,” Neito hissed as he clung to his handler while trying to glare a hole through his back.

“The horses hate you, too, Monoma,” Shinsou replied blandly. "Now hush and enjoy the fresh air."


 

Eijirou didn’t like how quiet Bakugou had been all day. The war mage hadn’t spoken since asking to ride in front, not even when Shinsou taunted him. Bakugou had threatened him with a display of war magic, sure, but he hadn’t said anything, and Eijirou didn’t like it. He was pretty sure Bakugou wouldn’t tell him what was wrong with the others around, so Eijirou didn’t pry. He just kept an arm around Bakugou’s waist and a close eye on his expression.

When they finally dismounted that evening, Kirishima slid off Sumi’s back first, gripping the reins to make sure the horse didn’t shift too much while he waited for Bakugou to slide down, too. Bakugou shifted his weight, then got one foot in the stirrup and slung his other leg over the horse’s back, so he was sitting astride the animal instead of sidesaddle.

“Bakugou?” Eijirou studied him, took in the way Bakugou’s fingers twitched like he couldn’t decide whether to seize the reins or trigger an explosion with his power. Bakugou’s eyes were fixed on the path they’d been following, his whole body leaning towards it.

He wanted to run. He wanted to spur Sumi onward, leave the palace and Eijirou and everything they stood for behind. Eijirou could see it in his eyes, in the set of his jaw, in the tremble of his knees against Sumi’s flank.

“Sumi won’t go anywhere without me,” Eijirou warned softly. Bakugou’s whole body tensed, something that might have been fear flickering in his eyes. “She’s trained not to move if there’s just a mage on her back, no handler. You’ll need to find a horse that wasn’t raised for the palace if you want to escape.” Bakugou’s eyes darted down to meet Eijirou’s. “I know you want to be free, Bakugou, but right now I’m sure you’re sore from riding all day. You’re tired, and so is Sumi, so even if she would let you ride off into the sunset, she wouldn’t get far. You need to bide your time.”

“You just want me to give up,” Bakugou hissed. “Or you’re just fucking with me.”

“You know better than that,” Eijirou replied, indignation curling in his stomach for a second before he sighed and dropped Sumi’s reins. “Look, I thought we were past this, at least a little bit. But I get it; it’s gonna take more time before you actually trust me, if you ever do. But here’s the thing, Bakugou. I know you’ve been through hell. I know, and it kills me. So just...I know you’re going to do whatever you decide have to do, but I’ll say it anyway. Do whatever you need to do. Just don’t hurt yourself or anyone else. Please.” Eijirou bit his lip as he waited for Bakugou’s response, sharp teeth nearly puncturing his skin.

“Fucking hell, Handler Shitty Hair. Don’t fucking cry,” Bakugou growled, dismounting and shoving Sumi’s reigns into Eijirou’s hand. “Take care of your fucking horse.” Bakugou stomped off, grumbling under his breath. Eijirou let out the breath he’d been holding and turned his attention to Sumi. He needed to untack the horse, rub her down, get her some grain. Then he’d figure out what to do with a war mage who desperately wanted to be free, who Eijirou desperately wanted to keep close.


 

Hanta didn’t like sleeping on the ground, and he liked sleeping on the ground outside even less. It was always cold, even in the summer, and no matter how many blankets he had under him, he always felt the rocks poking through into his body.

When Shinsou woke him up for his turn on watch, however, Hanta woke up much warmer than he expected. Hanta grumbled at Shinsou’s chilly fingers on his arm, then took in the disapproval clear on Shinsou’s face despite the low, flickering light of their fire.

“Wha…?”

“Get up before Monoma sees you,” Shinsou hissed. “He’s going to have a fit if he does.” Hanta frowned, confusion working its way through his sleep-slowed brain.

“What are you…” Hanta started to sit up and froze, taking in the warm weight against his side. “Damn it, Kaminari,” he muttered, trying to figure out how to get the lightning mage off of his arm so he could get up without waking Kaminari. “I don’t understand.”

“Sero, have you-”

“Of course not!” Hanta snapped. “You know me better than that! I’d never. I don’t even know why he...I mean I was pretty sure he’d sleep curled up with your copy mage tonight. I didn’t think I’d have to actually tell him that I’m not going to change my mind just because we’re outside the palace.” Hanta succeeded in extricating his arm from beneath Kaminari and grimaced at the tingling under his skin; his arm must have gone numb during the night.

“Monoma wouldn’t have let him,” Shinsou replied quietly. “He’s afraid of showing just how much your little zapper means to him, even though he knows we both know their history. That’s probably why Kaminari came to you. I’m sorry I jumped to conclusions, I-”

“What? Sorry you saw my mage hunkered next to me and assumed I’d take advantage of him being mine?” Hanta tucked the blankets into place around Kaminari. “I’ve been fighting to convince him all I want is friendship and I’m not going to torture him, or…” Hanta trailed off, one trembling hand resting on Kaminari’s hair for a moment. “Just go to sleep. We’ll reach the outpost by noon, so we all need to be rested.” Shinsou’s gaze darted between Hanta and his mage, then toward Monoma, still asleep as far from Bakugou as he could get and still be in the same camp.

“One more thing. I think Kirishima is going to release his mage,” Shinsou whispered. Hanta glanced at where Kirishima and Bakugou had decided to sleep, with Kirishima between Bakugou and the rest of camp, instead of between Bakugou and escape.

“That’s not what worries me most,” Hanta admitted after a moment’s consideration.

“What could be worse than a war mage who hates handlers on the loose and Kirishima getting punished or killed for allowing it?” Shinsou demanded. Hanta gave a helpless shrug as he answered.

“Kirishima could go with him. Then either we convince everyone they’re dead, or we’re all held accountable for a war mage who hates handlers being on the loose after kidnapping his own handler.”


 

Katsuki stared up at the stars, listening to Sumi let out sleepy huffs as she shifted in her sleep. It was the only sound since the crazy purple haired handler had gone to bed and the boring one had moved closer to the fire to keep watch until dawn.

Katsuki kept hearing their words over and over in his head. Would Kirishima really let him leave? He knew his shitty-haired handler was stupidly compassionate and seemed to have an extra soft spot for Katsuki himself, but that was just...ridiculous. Would he really risk his life to let Katsuki escape? Surely that was too goddamn stupid for even Kirishima.

But he had warned Katsuki that the horses they had with them wouldn’t be any help. He’d specifically said Katsuki would need a horse not meant for the palace if he wanted to escape, so maybe there was something to the handlers’ worry.

Katsuki turned his head, studying the silhouette of Kirishima against the campfire’s light. Kirishima hadn’t put himself between Katsuki and the edge of camp, like Katsuki had expected. He also hadn’t changed his demeanor since leaving the palace, like Katsuki had feared.

His shitty-haired handler was still his fucking idiotic shitty-haired fucking handler, it seemed.

Which brought Katsuki to the other thing.

The boring one was afraid Kirishima would not only let Katsuki escape, but actually help him and even flee with him. Katsuki wanted to dismiss that as the actual most goddamn fucking moronic idea he’d ever fucking heard, but if he was allowing the possibility of Kirishima letting him go at all, then he had to consider that possibility, too. After all, Kirishima had told him that he didn’t have any more choice in his role in life than Katsuki himself did.

Kirishima had been taken even younger than Katsuki, though. Being a handler was the only life he’d ever known. Surely he wouldn’t give that up for one bad-tempered war mage.

Katsuki scoffed and rolled over, turning his back on Kirishima and the campfire. He watched Sumi’s inky form shift in the shadows, mulling it over.

Even if Kirishima did want to go with him when he escaped - because it was when, not if, Katsuki was going to find a way out and this trip was his golden fucking ticket - did Katsuki want to let him? He didn’t need some stupid fucker following him around, getting him recognized and recaptured with that goddamn unmistakably shitty hair of his.

He would be glad to get rid of Kirishima when he escaped. Happy to leave him behind.

Wouldn’t he?

Kirishima had been useful. He’d protected Katsuki, and if he really did want to escape with him it would be good to have someone watch his back.

But Kirishima could - probably would - change his mind. He was used to having a comfortable bed and steady meals and nice clothes. He wouldn’t give that up to stay with Katsuki.

And even if he wanted to, Katsuki didn’t need him. Didn’t want him around either. Sure right now he felt safe and relaxed around Kirishima, but that was only because Kirishima was standing between Katsuki and a lot of pain. When that threat wasn’t there anymore, Katsuki wouldn’t feel like he needed to keep Kirishima safe and close anymore.

That was settled then.

Katsuki would escape as soon as he found a horse that would carry him, and he wasn’t taking his handler with him.

The whole point of escaping was to get away from handlers anyway.

Even nice ones with stupid shitty hair that protected him and comforted him when he was in pain.

Chapter Text

Mashirao tried to breathe through his mouth, quick shallow gulps of air as he focused on not throwing up. He couldn’t stand the smell of burning flesh. It always nauseated him, the sick-sweet stench coating his throat and refusing to fade. The smell wasn’t the worst thing about this whole rotten mission, though.

No, that was the screams.

“Why’d you even come?” Dabi grunted, torching another soldier, who screeched until his lungs were too charred to make a sound. The metal of his armor glistened as it started to melt around the soldier’s corpse. At least, the parts that weren’t caked in blood and ash did. Mashirao shuddered and turned away.

“I...I wanted to help,” Mashirao choked out, tail curling close around his body.

“I told you I can handle this,” Dabi reminded him. Mashirao looked down at the tuft of soft golden fur at the tip of his tail and focused on breathing normally. “Go keep watch. Yell if anyone comes poking around. This place is in the middle of nowhere, but it’s close enough to the palace to be a risk.” Mashirao’s shoulders slumped a little, frustrated with himself. He wanted to help, he really did. And when they’d first gotten into the outpost, he had fought and taken down several of the soldiers. But once Dabi’s flames started...the stench of seared flesh, of ash and blood and death, was too much. “Mashirao. Go on.”

Mashirao ducked his head and moved toward the fresh air outside the outpost’s walls, telling himself he wasn’t running away. He scaled the lookout post just outside the gate, tail out for balance. When he reached the top, he crouched on the platform and looked out over the surrounding hills. Up here, high enough to see but not high enough for the smoke to wash over him, Mashirao could breathe again. He closed his eyes, turning his face into a breeze that swept away the stink of Dabi’s massacre below.

Mashirao inhaled deeply, soaking in the fresh air and trying to ignore the scream of Dabi’s next target. The sound reminded him too much of his own cries, and those of his fellow mages, during their years of training.

Memories flashed on the backs of his eyelids, and Mashirao opened his eyes in hopes of stopping them. He shook his head, trying to clear it, only to freeze as his gaze landed on four horses coming up the road toward the outpost at a full gallop.

His first thought was that it was a returning patrol they hadn’t accounted for, soldiers from the outpost who had seen the smoke and were rushing home to investigate.

Then he realized that each horse bore two riders, and his blood ran cold.

Handlers and mages, four pairs.

Mashirao whirled and flung himself down from the platform, catching ladder rungs and support beams with hands and tail on the way down to slow and direct his decent.

Four handlers and their mages. Either they were rookie handlers taking their mages on a tour of the kingdom, or they were reinforcements sent to this outpost.

Dabi had to be warned.


 

Katsuki refused to let his attention be captured by the smoke rising above the hills from the outpost. The handlers and other mages were already fixated on it, and Katsuki really didn’t want to be caught unaware if whoever was fucking stupid enough to attack a royal army outpost decided to pick off four idiot handlers and their mages.

Katsuki noticed movement out of the corner of his eye and shouted, reaching for his magic and the reins. Kirishima yelped as Katsuki seized control of Sumi and wrenched her nose off course, forcing the horse into an emergency stop as she turned in a circle. The others shouted and barely managed to swerve around them.

“Bakugou, what-” Kirishima broke off as the gray asshole’s horse screamed, a high, sharp sound of terror. The gray handler’s mage screeched as she fell backwards off the horse’s rump. “Tetsu!”

The gray handler fell sideways, hissing and rolling on the ground to put out the flames that had suddenly appeared on his sleeve.

“Get the fuck down, you moron!” Katsuki hissed, shoving Kirishima off of Sumi’s back on the side away from the movement he’d seen. He tumbled gracelessly to the ground a moment later and crouched, peering between Sumi’s legs in the direction he was sure their attacker was in.

“What was that?” Kirishima hissed.

“Shut the fuck up,” Katsuki snapped back.

“Monoma, Kaminari’s magic,” the purple asshole ordered, dismounting and pulling his mage after him. Monoma darted between the horses and pressed his hand to Kaminari’s knee. Katsuki’s gaze swept their surroundings. No sign of the enemy.

“Show yourself!” Sero shouted, turning his horse in a circle, ready to point Kaminari’s lightning at anyone foolish enough to do so. The damn idiot didn’t even get his mage off the horse. What kind of fucking moron didn’t-

The air around the pair still on horseback shimmered, a shield spell springing into place around them. Okay, so maybe the boring handler wasn’t a complete dunce.

“Bakugou. There,” Kirishima murmured, attention fixed on a point on the opposite side of the path from where Katsuki had seen movement. Sure enough, a man with scars covering his jaw, neck, and arms straightened from where he’d been apparently crouched behind a boulder and stepped toward them, flames dancing along his arms. Katsuki’s skin tingled and his blood sang as a protection spell settled over him and his magic surged, strengthened by Kirishima’s beads.

“Thanks, Handler Shitty Hair,” Katsuki muttered, magic crackling in his palms.

“You’re a war mage,” the stranger realized, a sharp grin splitting his face. “Turn that death stuff on the monster beside you. You know you want to.”

“There’s more!” the plain-faced handler warned, finally dismounting and helping Kaminari down as well. Katsuki glanced over his shoulder, caught sight of more strangers emerging from apparent hiding places along their path. “Kirishima, you take the scarred one. Shinsou, the blue one.”

“Which blue one?” the purple handler muttered.

“Pick one! I’ll take the other!” the boring handler snapped. “Tetsu, there’s-”

“This weird tail guy, yeah, I got it,” the gray one replied.

“You don’t have to fight us, you know,” the scarred attacker called. Katsuki focused on him, hoping the others would manage to not die or fail fucking miserably.

“Pretty sure as fuck you’re the one fighting us,” Katsuki hissed, widening his stance and letting his magic pop against his fingertips.

“We don’t want to fight you. We just want the handlers. Help us kill them, and you’ll-”

“The fuck are you talking about?” Katsuki interrupted. “If these assholes just fucking show up dead, they’ll just hunt us down like goddamn dogs. Killing shitty handlers doesn’t do anyone any fucking good.”

“Then you’re not doing it right,” the stranger replied, surging forward in a burst of speed and flame. Katsuki hissed as the light from the fire made him wince instinctively and turn away, hands coming up to protect him from the heat as the fucking fire mage shot past him. Katsuki snarled and turned, blinking spots out of his eyes, to follow the attacker’s path, only to freeze at the sound of a familiar voice raised in fear and pain.

Kirishima was flat on his back, staring up at the stranger with wide eyes. One of his hands was pinned to the ground beneath the stranger’s boot, the other reaching for his beads. Kirishima yelped, jerking his fingers away from his beads as though they’d burned him.

Katsuki couldn’t move. Couldn’t breathe.

The stranger, this random goddamn fire mage, was going to kill his handler.

One burst of fire magic, and it would be over.

Katsuki would be free.

Kirishima wouldn’t be able to…

To what?

What had Kirishima ever done to him besides try to make sure he was safe and comfortable?

Fuck.

Fuck, fuckity fucking fuck.

“So, war mage, do you want to kill him yourself, or-”

The stranger didn’t get to finish his question, because Katsuki’s magic surged again. Not from Kirishima’s spells, but from pure unrestrained emotion, and Katsuki himself was surging and reaching and the stranger’s arm was in his hand and Katsuki was wrenching that arm behind the fire mage’s back and kicking the fire mage’s knees out from under him and there was fire everywhere and it was so bright and so hot but it didn’t hurt because fucking goddamn shitty Kiri-fucking-shima had kept his shield spell up from the beginning of the fight.

Katsuki shuddered, his breath rough and stuttering, as the fire around him vanished but the fire in his blood remained.

Silence surrounded them, or maybe it was just the blood rushing in his ears that drowned out everything around him.

“Um. Do you mind?” the fire mage hissed, squirming in Katsuki’s hold. “You know I’m on your side right?” He cursed as Katsuki tightened his hold, his chest too tight and his eyes still watery from too much light. “What the fuck? Are you trying to destroy my arm?”

“Try some shit like that again and your arm will be the only part I don’t fucking destroy,” Katsuki growled, ignoring the trembling in his fingers. “You don’t fucking touch him, got it, asshole? No one fucking touches him.”

“Are you insane?” the stranger demanded, craning his neck to peer over his shoulder at Katsuki.

“Bakugou.” One of Kirishima’s hands rested on his shoulder, the other covered his fingers where they curled around the stranger’s arm. “Let me.” It was phrased like an order, but something in Kirishima’s voice turned it into a question. Katsuki nodded absently and kept his attention on the mage as Kirishima reached for his beads. The handler let out a low hiss of pain as he touched the one he wanted, but he didn’t stop until the orange magic-cancellation bead was in his hand.

“You’re a real piece of work, you know? Turning on your own kind for one of them,” the fire mage sneered. “There’s no way you’re gonna get free now.”

“Dabi’s down!” one of the other attackers shouted. Katsuki shared a glance with Kirishima, who nodded shortly and stood. Katsuki kept his grip on the fire mage and tried not to think about the fact that he might have just given up his best shot at freedom to save Kirishima’s life.

“Ojiro! Get Asui!” one of the blue strangers shouted. Katsuki froze.

Asui? He hadn’t heard that name in ages, not since-

“I’m here.” Katsuki slowly lifted his head to take in the newcomer, someone he was positive was supposed to be fucking dead . “Oh, hello, Katsuki. Long time no see!” Katsuki blinked several times, then reached up with the hand not gripping the fire mage’s arm to rub at his eyes.

Just to make sure he was actually seeing what he thought he was seeing.

“...What the actual goddamn living fuck? Tsuyu?”

Chapter Text

“Bakugou?” Eijirou glanced between his mage and the newcomer as he forced himself to stand. His eyelids were heavy, the strain of maintaining Bakugou’s increasing magic strength, plus the shield spell protecting him, and keeping the fire mage’s magic blocked on top of that was a lot for him.

Bakugou glanced at him, scowled, and released the fire mage in favor of supporting Eijirou as he tried to stay on his feet.

“Quit fucking moving, asshole. I swear to fuck if you pass out cause you pushed your fucking shitty ass too far again I’ll kill you myself,” Bakugou grumbled as he gripped Eijirou’s shirt and hauled him upright as he swayed.

“‘M fine,” Eijirou replied, fixing his attention on the newcomer. “Do I need to block her magic, too?”

“I sure as fuck hope not. Hey, Tsuyu, are you gonna pull the same shit this asshole did?” Bakugou called, pointing at the fire mage, who sat up and eyed the pair with something between irritation and confusion.

“What kind of mage are you?” he asked. “Are you seriously actually helping your handler?”

“Well I sure as shit wasn’t gonna help a creepy-ass fucker that just flames people for no goddamn reason,” Bakugou snapped. “You attacked us, dipshit.”

“Dabi wouldn’t hurt another mage,” the newcomer piped up. “We were just going to kill the handlers and free you guys.”

“I’ll free my own goddamn ass,” Bakugou snorted.

“Wait, wait!” Eijirou’s mind was clearing a little as he adjusted to maintaining all three spells at once. “You were just trying to help Bakugou and the others?” When the fire mage shrugged and the newcomer nodded, Eijirou beamed and released the spell blocking the fire mage from using his powers.

“The fuck are you doing, Handler Shitty Hair?” Bakugou hissed, noticing sparks gathering around the fire mage. Eijirou reached up and patted his hair soothingly.

“It’s okay, Bakugou! They’re not gonna hurt you!” Eijirou insisted. “So it’s fine!” He dropped the other two spells, too, and felt much better. He met Bakugou’s disbelieving gaze steadily as flames erupted around the fire mage.

“The fuck are you talking about? They’re gonna kill your stupid ass!” Bakugou snarled.

“You’re always saying you want me and every other handler dead,” Eijirou pointed out, brow wrinkling in confusion. “Bakugou, you’ve been planning to escape since before I met you. This is your chance, isn’t it?” Bakugou’s expression went from incredulous to confused to furious to something in between.

“Fuck you,” he hissed. “I fucking hate how goddamn stupid you are.”

“I’m just trying to help you!” Eijirou retorted. “That’s all I’ve ever done since we met! Why does that make me stupid?”

“Because I’m not worth it, damn you!” Bakugou shouted. Eijirou stared at him. Bakugou’s nails dug into his palms, his shoulders trembled, and his eyes...hurt and confusion and fury and something Eijirou couldn’t quite place swirled in his too-bright eyes. Eijirou didn’t know what their enemies were doing, or their allies for that matter, but for the moment he didn’t care. Everything else could wait.

“Bakugou. You don’t believe that. I don’t believe that, either, and you know it,” Eijirou reminded him. “I don’t want to die, and I don’t want my friends to die. But if you want to leave with these people, I won’t stop you. I expected you to escape at some point during this trip. Just…” Eijirou took a deep breath and turned to face the fire mage, trying to decide what to say to convince him to let them go. A quick glance around told him the others had subdued their opponents, but Eijirou didn’t exactly like the idea of using that.

“He’s awfully honest, and Katsuki protected him,” the newcomer mused. “Dabi, we need people inside. This is how we get people inside.”

“Wait are we friends now? Should we uh, release these guys?” Sero asked, jabbing a thumb at the other three mages, who were apparently immobilized with their magic blocked, floating above the battlefield. Uraraka was watching them quietly.

“We don’t need handlers, Tsuyu, we’ve been over this. I’ll just burn my way to the palace,” the fire mage growled, flames flickering around him.

“They’re rogue mages,” Shinsou murmured. “I recognize this one with the tail. His name’s Ojiro Mashirau. His magic is similar to Lord Tokoyami’s. He was born fused with a low level demon, I believe. Likely the result of one of his parents making a pact with one.”

“Oh is that why he has a tail?” The Fire mage tilted his head, then shook it and shrugged. “Doesn’t matter. We don’t need anyone on the inside, especially not handlers,” he sneered.

“Ojiro was assumed dead after the corpse of his handler was found. I studied his file when I was looking into different mages to have Monoma work with,” Shinsou continued. “Which brings me to these two ladies with him. I believe they belong to Deputy Chief Handler Uwabami.” At the mention of Uwabami, Sero moved between the fire mage and Kaminari, like even hearing her name would hurt his mage and he wanted to protect him from that.

“They don’t belong to anyone,” the fire mage corrected, lifting his hand toward Shinsou, flames curling around his fingers. “None of us do.”

“Did you kill Uwabami?” Shinsou demanded, meeting the fire mage’s gaze steadily.

“Maybe. Maybe not. Why do you care?” the fire mage tilted his head.

“Because if you did, we envy you. And owe you one,” Sero growled. “What do you need insiders for?”

The fire mage threw back his head and laughed.

“Fine, Tsuyu. Try it your way. I don’t care as long as I get to burn their whole damn system to the ground.”


 

Tsuyu watched the way Bakugou interacted with his handler. She hadn’t seen anything like it, not from Bakugou. He rarely let anyone in, rarely expressed himself when he cared about something, and here he was, fighting Dabi to protect a handler, helping that handler stay upright, fussing over him.

Sure, Bakugou’s rough exterior had gotten even rougher since she saw him last, but that was probably due to the extra years he’d spent in the palace. He was still the same boy she’d been friends with when they were younger.

Before her handler decided she was too insolent, that Bakugou’s influence was to blame, and that going to an outpost until she was more cooperative was the solution, anyway.

Tsuyu shook her head and refocused on Bakugou. He hadn’t stopped scowling even after they agreed to work together. Actually, the other mages that had come from the palace looked pretty unhappy, too.

Nationwide systems like the current mage handler one wouldn’t be easy to dismantle, after all.

“We can’t just walk in and assassinate people! There are too many handlers that would just take their places!” Kaminari’s Sero insisted. Tsuyu kind of liked him; he was clearly the group’s leader, and seemed like a decent enough person, but he wasn’t too confident in whether he was actually a good one or not.

“Hakamata isn’t the real cause of all of this, anyway,” Dabi shrugged. “The king is the one we really need to take down.”

“We are not committing regicide!” Bakugou’s Kirishima protested. “Look, I get it. Hakamata is evil. He’s cruel and treats mages like dirt. But killing isn’t the answer.”

“I dunno, I’d fucking love to get my magic on Hakamata’s twisted fucking neck,” Bakugou sneered. “Toga’s, too.”

“You don’t have to kill anyone. Dabi wants to do that himself,” Tsuyu piped up.

“So what exactly do you want us to do?” Monoma’s Shinsou sighed.

“Get Tsuyu into the palace. She’ll take care of the rest,” Dabi answered.

“You should get in touch with any handlers you think will be allies in this, anyone you want to survive,” Tsuyu added. “I’ll get in, signal Dabi once I can get close enough to the king, and then Dabi will handle the actual killing.”

“That’s it? It seems too easy,” Uraraka’s Tetsutetsu objected.

“Easy as burnt pie,” Dabi agreed.

“It’s pretty much impossible,” Tsuyu countered. “We need a reason to get me in, and then close to the king. That could take weeks. Or years.”

“Years?!” Sero groaned. “Fantastic.”

“I have an idea,” Monoma piped up. Tsuyu eyed the copy mage thoughtfully. He seemed fairly intelligent, but he wasn’t pleasant by any means. Just like she remembered. He probably still goaded Bakugou, too.

“Monoma, if you’re going to be obnoxious…” his Shinsou sighed. Tsuyu decided she approved of Monoma’s handler. He didn’t seem to have any red beads, but he didn’t put up with Monoma’s crap either. So a good handler and a sensible person.

“I’m serious. Look, we all look like we’ve been in a fight. The outpost was attacked, and I’m pretty sure Scarface McAshes over there didn’t leave any survivors. You could tell Aizawa the truth. We were attacked by rogue mages. Tell him they took out one of ours, but you captured one of theirs and killed the others. Dabi’s group would have to lay low and stop torching every handler they see, but it’d probably work,” Monoma insisted.

Tsuyu thought about it for a moment, then nodded. There was just one problem.

“We didn’t take out any of your group,” she pointed out. Monoma hesitated, glancing at the handlers, then apparently decided to just say what he wanted, get Dabi and Tsuyu to agree, and face the consequences later, because the next thing he said was probably a really stupid thing to say.

“Denki stays here. Tell them he’s dead. Lose a mage, take a mage, right?”

“If you think I’m going to let Kaminari stay with a maniac who burns people alive, you’re an idiot,” Kaminari’s Sero snapped. “I’m supposed to protect him, and-”

“Which is what I’m doing,” Monoma interrupted. He turned his back on Sero, apparently running with his idea, and faced Kaminari. “You’re still scared of him, I know you are. These people don’t hurt other mages. You’d be safe. No more looking over your shoulder. No more cuddling up like a pet dog because you’re afraid if you don’t play nice, you’ll be hurt or worse. You can finally stop worrying.”

Oh, of course. Tsuyu remembered Monoma protecting Kaminari when they were kids. He’d come by their age group’s training classes whenever he could to check on him. Of course Monoma’s first priority would still be Kaminari’s safety. Even if these handlers were better than the others, that didn’t mean it wasn’t still terrifying to live under their power.

“It is not safe with them,” Sero protested. “He’s safer where I can protect him. Where you can check on him.”

“Maybe let Kaminari choose for himself what he wants. We’re trying to bring down the people who think mages deserve to have no control over their lives in the first place, right?” Tsuyu pointed out.

“Right. We should start here. Only mages who want to go back have to go back,” Dabi agreed, holding up his hands coated in flame to emphasize his point. Monoma shot him an irritated look, then returned his attention to Kaminari.

“What do you want to do, Denki?”

“I don’t...I don’t know,” the lightning mage whispered. “I can’t…”

“Regardless of your choices - all of your choices,” Dabi added, glancing around at the other mages. “One of the handlers needs to stay here. I don’t trust you bastards to follow through with this unless one of your own stays with me. Call it insurance.”

“Let’s give everyone some time to think, hm?” Tsuyu suggested. “We can pick this up in a bit.” She watched as the others nodded reluctantly, then turned to go. Dabi headed for the hilltop where Ojiro was posted. Shinsou gave Monoma a level, weighing look before nodding and heading toward the horses. Monoma stuck his tongue out at his handler, then took Kaminari’s hand and led him away. Sero watched them for a moment, then seemed to make a decidion and followed them. Uraraka and her handler Tetsutetsu retreated toward the horses, following Shinsou, but Bakugou and Kirishima stayed where they were.

“You should stay,” Kirishima said after a moment. Tsuyu kicked at the ground, wondering what had gotten into the handler. He was encouraging Bakugou to escape, for the second time since Tsuyu had come across their battle with Dabi. The Bakugou she knew before...the Bakugou who had planned one escape attempt after another, the Bakugou who fought and spat and clawed for every scrap of freedom he could get, would have taken that chance and run.

“Fuck that. Your shitty ass already got thrown to Toga like a cheap chew toy once for me. Like fuck I’m gonna let that happen again,” Bakugou hissed.

“They won’t know you escaped. I’ll tell them you’re dead,” Kirishima insisted. “You don’t have to stay with Dabi’s group, you know, if you don’t want to be around him. You could go anywhere.”

“So I can hide the rest of my fucking life? I think the fuck not,” Bakugou snorted. “The fuck is with you, anyway? Weren’t you shitting rainbows cause you were so damn happy to have a mage like me around? Suddenly you’re all hell bent on trying to make me fuck off.”

“I don’t know what exactly that’s supposed to mean, but yeah, Bakugou, I like having you around. But you being safe is more important than that. Especially if anyone finds out that we’re basically smuggling an assassin into the palace. Me, they’d just kill or assume I was too stupid to realize she was a threat. But you? Bakugou, they’d want to make an example out of you. I don’t even want to think about what they’d do to you. So at least...at least think about it, okay? I’d rather die knowing you’re out there somewhere, safe, than live to see them hand you back to Toga or find something even worse to do.” Kirishima took a deep breath, then noticed Tsuyu and smiled a little. “Seems like you have some catching up to do. I’m gonna go take care of Sumi.” Kirishima turned and walked away, nodding to Tsuyu as he passed her. She blinked in surprise and barely managed to return the acknowledgement.

“Fuck. I swear, he’s the most goddamn fucking stupid thing I’ve ever met. And you know I’ve met that copy asshole,” Bakugou growled. Tsuyu hid her smile and nodded seriously.

“It must be hard to have someone so worried about you he’d rather die than force you to go back to the palace,” Tsuyu replied. “Is he as... horrifyingly considerate as he seems?”

“That asshole? You haven’t seen fucking anything. He got his goddamn shitty ass tortured because he was too nice to me and then he fucking lied to Hakamata’s shitty smug face about giving me permission to leave the mage wing because I tried to fucking escape while he was…” Bakugou trailed off, clenching and unclenching his fists around crackling scraps of magic.

“You like him,” Tsuyu observed. Bakugou shot a glare at her that would have sent most people wailing in terror. “Fine, fine. You trust him, though. That makes, what? Two people ever?”

“Three,” Bakugou corrected. “You’re forgetting that little piece of shit that turned me in before the palace got me.” Tsuyu studied him for a moment.

“You’ve changed, Katsuki.” He glared at her again, but she continued undeterred. “I saw you help him against Dabi. Last time I saw you, you would have either laughed and gloated while he died or killed him yourself the second Dabi gave you an opening.”

“He doesn’t fucking deserve that shit,” Bakugou grumbled. “He’s too stupid for his own good.”

“He’s the right kind of stupid, then,” Tsuyu countered. “He’s your kind of stupid.”

“I fucking hate him,” Bakugou muttered, glaring at the ground now. His cheeks were dusted pink, and revelation washed over Tsuyu.

You love him, she didn’t say.

“Not enough to kill him,” was what she said instead. “You wouldn’t let Dabi kill him. Are you going to let him go off alone to face being executed if this doesn’t go well?” The look in Bakugou’s eyes gave her the answer she was looking for. “Then you have two options, Katsuki. Stay, and ask him to stay as Dabi’s insurance. Or go back to the palace with him. But you know you’re too stubborn to let him go now.”

“Why the fuck were we ever friends?” Bakugou demanded.

“Because I’m right a lot and you don’t scare me,” Tsuyu answered easily. “Tell me more about your handler and his friends.”

“Fucking fine. But you’re a moron for wanting to go back there. For any reason,” Bakugou informed her. She decided now wasn’t the best time to point out how Bakugou kept insisting to his spiky handler that he wasn’t going to escape after all.

Chapter Text

Katsuki did a lot of thinking on the way back to the palace, tucked against Kirishima’s chest as he watched the world pass from Sumi’s back.

He had considered escaping. It wasn’t too late, after all. He could abandon this whole thing, and he was pretty sure no one would stop him. Kirishima would probably just get all sad and wish him well. The plain handler was out of it ever since his mage chose to stay. And the purple one was bickering with Monoma again, this time about being nice to the sad boring handler.

Tsuyu owed him answers though. He needed to know what had happened to the one person who’d managed to befriend him after he began his training as a palace mage. He could guess how she got away, but he needed to know why she escaped and never came back for him, never found a way to let him know she was alive.

More importantly, Kirishima-

No, not more important.

Just. Also noteworthy. Barely.

Kirishima would get himself killed without Katsuki keeping an eye on him. The moron would end up overdoing it with spells and end up dead before he made it to twenty-five if someone didn’t knock sense into him, and his friends didn’t seem up to doing that any time soon. His handler was a colossal idiot, and Katsuki wasn’t sure why he had chosen to stick around with this spiky asshole.

Sumi swerved around a hole in the road at Kirishima’s urging, and Kirishima’s arm tightened around Katsuki’s waist, keeping him steady on the horse’s back.

“You okay?” Kirishima murmured, peering at Katsuki as best he could while still watching the road. Katsuki studied his handler’s serious expression for a moment.

Yeah. This was why he stuck with his handler, his Kirishima. Katsuki snorted and shook his head, a memory surfacing. He and Tsuyu has declared that if the handlers were going to call them nothing more than their handlers’ mages - like someone’s pets or tools - then they’d do the same back. Katsuki wondered if Tsuyu still remembered that, and if she thought of Kirishima as Katsuki’s Kirishima the way Katsuki himself had toyed with occasionally. Originally it was a thought full of resentment, the way he would think my shitty bed or my leaky ceiling, but now…

My Kirishima had a warm ring to it even in his own mind.

Kirishima made everything warm. And safe. And comfortable.

Katsuki hadn’t known how much he needed something warm and safe and soft in his life.

Katsuki ignored the way his head comfortably tucked against Kirishima’s shoulder, his nose brushing Kirishima’s neck with the motion of the horse beneath them.

“Hey, shit-hair. You fucking die on this goddamn stupid mission and I’ll fucking kill your ass,” Katsuki mumbled. Kirishima chuckled, then responded as solemnly as he could despite the smile Katsuki could hear in his voice.

“I won’t die. And...if Dabi and the others take down this whole mage and handler system like they want…” Katsuki started to lift his head, only to nearly get smacked by Kirishima’s chin as he shook his head sharply. “Nevermind. We should just focus on what’s in front of us, right?”

Katsuki disagreed, because what was in front of them was the palace, rising into view over the hills.

“Fuck that,” he grumbled. He’d rather stay on Sumi’s back, safe and comfortable in Kirishima’s hold, than return to the palace.

His handler laughed, and Katsuki felt warmer than ever as he glanced up at his handler’s face again to catch a glimpse of that laugh.

My handler. My stupid handler with his shitty hair and his goddamn stupid way of putting me first.

Even as he thought it, he wondered what that meant that he kind of liked the way that sounded. What it might mean if Tsuyu succeeded, what it could mean if she failed.

Then he shoved the thought away, because it was stupid.

He could enjoy comfort for a bit. That was all there was to it.

And the warmth flooding his body was from his magic.

Nothing else.


 

Shouta felt like he couldn’t breathe. He heard that Sero’s group had been sighted on the road to the palace and would be coming straight to him to report in when they arrived. They weren’t supposed to be back yet. Something had to have gone wrong. Had Hakamata set a trap for them? Had something happened with one of the mages? Had Kirishima overworked himself again already and collapsed?

He tried to tell himself it was okay. They were safe. They were coming home early for whatever reason, but they were okay. No one had said anything about their condition, so that had to mean they were fine, right?

Shouta slumped forward in his chair, resting his forehead on his mage’s knee. Yamada, perched as always on his desk, reached down and patted Shouta’s hair.

“They’ll be here in a minute,” Yamada warned. Shouta grumbled and stayed where he was for a second before straightening when he heard a knock at his door.

“Come in!” Shouta got to his feet, lips pulling upwards at the corners, and...froze. Sero stood in the doorway, but there was no lightning mage at his shoulder. A trembling female mage - Tetsutetsu’s Uraraka - clung to Sero’s shirt as he strode into the room, expression grim. There was dirt smudged on his face, and a bandage on his upper arm. Behind them came Shinsou and his copy mage, then Kirishima and Bakugou, all of them just as battered and dirty. There was some stranger with them, too, a woman around the mages’ age with black hair and a wide, froglike face.

“Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa,” Sero greeted him with a short nod. Shouta’s hand was on Yamada’s thigh, holding himself steady.

“What happened? Where are the others?” Shouta demanded, gaze darting from one to the other.

“They...didn’t make it back,” Sero said grimly, gaze fixed on the floor. Uraraka sniffled. Bakugou clenched his fists and shifted, putting himself between Aizawa and Kirishima. Monoma turned his head away, oblivious to the fact that Bakugou’s movement had brought him closer to Monoma. “Kaminari and Tetsu…”

“What. Happened.”

“There’s a renegade mage out there,” Shinsou spoke up. “A group, actually. They killed Tetsu and Kaminari before we could stop them. We barely made it out alive.”

“Bakugou and Monoma got us out,” Kirishima added. “Without them, we’d have been dead, too. We-”

“I see your pupils were not as successful as you had hoped, Aizawa.” Shouta jerked his hand away from Yamada’s thigh, gripped the desk instead. He knew that voice, they all did. Bakugou hissed and whirled, pushing Kirishima behind him as he apparently determined the person in the doorway to be a greater threat than Aizawa. Not an incorrect assessment, really.

“We were ambushed, sir,” Sero said. “I lost my mage. We lost a handler, too.”

“But Kirishima managed to keep his little war dog,” Hakamata observed. “And even managed to bring him to heel, too. Impressive.” Shouta scowled, nails digging into the wood of his desk before he got himself under control. Of course this was all about Bakugou. Hakamata must have come to see how Kirishima had fared with him outside the palace walls. “If you managed to keep the copy mage and the war mage, it can’t have been a complete loss. Tetsutetsu‘s loss is a tragedy; he had a lot of potential. And we have so few lightning mages, it’s a shame you lost yours.” Hakamata’s dismissive tone set the entire remnants of the rookie group on edge, the handlers biting back protests in defense of Tetsutetsu or Kaminari, the mages bristling at the way he talked about them like prizes. “Handler Kirishima, you especially have done an excellent job, above and beyond my expectations. Therefore, I have a reward for you.”

Shouta’s blood ran cold. No reward from Hakamata was ever good unless the person was already one of his favorites. And Kirishima was definitely not one of Hakamata’s favorites. This had to be a trap or punishment somehow, and Shouta couldn’t protect them from it any more than he could protect them from what happened outside the palace.

“A reward, sir?” Kirishima repeated, reaching out and resting a calming hand on Bakugou’s arm. The war mage scowled, but stepped back to stand beside Kirishima, fingers still curled, ready to call his magic forth if he needed it.

“Yes. Follow me, we have a lot to discuss. Aizawa, if Handler Sero brought that mage in, he can keep it. I’ll expect a report on where it’s from and why it wasn’t already here. Oh, and give Tetsutetsu’s mage to someone else.” Shouta caught a glimpse of a satisfied smirk as Hakamata turned on his heel and left the room. Kirishima caught and squeezed Bakugou’s hand briefly before letting go and following Hakamata, Bakugou on his heels. Shouta waited until they were out of earshot before he turned, ignoring the rookies left in his office, and pressed his face into Yamada’s shoulder.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

Tetsutetsu wasn’t supposed to die.

Kaminari wasn’t supposed to die.

Who knew what Hakamata had in store for Kirishima.

Aizawa had failed. He couldn’t help anyone, hadn’t even managed to prepare them well enough for leaving the palace, apparently.

He’d failed.

I he couldn’t even protect a handful of students as close to him as his own children, how was he supposed to manage anything like what Yamada hoped he could do?

“Fuck!” Shouta shouted, muffled by Yamada’s shirt. Shouta’s hands trembled, clenching and unclenching his fists helplessly. Yamada’s arms curled around him, a moment of support and comfort that helped Shouta get it together enough to lift his head and glare at Sero. “Tell me everything.”


 

Hanta slowly moved toward the group gathering along the road. Dabi the fire mage was perched casually on top of a boulder, while the other mage, the one Bakugou and the rogues kept calling Tsuyu  - what even was her magic, anyway? - stood next to him.

“Nervous?” Kirishima asked. Hanta twitched and shot a look at his friend, who was staring at Bakugou so intently he didn’t even glance in Hanta’s direction as he spoke. “I am. If Bakugou wants to stay…”

“You’ll stay with him,” Hanta guessed. Kirishima missed a step and nearly fell on his face before he regained his balance.

“Yeah. Probably. I mean, if he wanted me to, I would,” Kirishima admitted. “But I don’t want to just assume he’d want me around, you know?”

“I know,” Hanta agreed, trying to swallow the lump in his throat. Monoma and Kaminari were standing together, still whispering back and forth, and from the looks Monoma was giving him - half scorn, half pity - Hanta was afraid he knew exactly what they were talking about.

“Guys, I want to say something before we get started,” Tetsutetsu announced as he joined them. “I think I should be the one to stay.” Hanta and Kirishima stopped in their tracks and turned to gape at Tetsutetsu.

“What?” Kirishima blurted out. “But- you’re the one who hasn’t gotten into trouble with anyone!”

“I’m the average handler,” Tetsutetsu replied. “Kirishima, you’ve got a war mage cooperating with you that no one else has been able to tame. Sero, you’re the leader. If you don’t make it back, we’ll all look bad. Shinsou’s already on Hakamata’s radar, too. You guys are the ones with the best shots at getting to a place you can let the rogues do their thing.”

“Wow, Tetsu, that’s awfully advanced planning for you,” Shinsou murmured.

“Actually, Uraraka pointed out most of it,” Tetsutetsu confessed.

“Somehow I’m not surprised,” Shinsou sighted. “You’re right, though. Kirishima and Aizawa are already close, and while I can pass my conflict with Uwabami off as possessiveness over my mage, you haven’t drawn a lot of attention either way. If we claimed you were dead, Hakamata’s supporters and Aizawa’s would all be affected, because they lost a potential ally.”

“Okay, but if Bakugou stays and asks me to…” Kirishima began.

“Yeah, we know,” Hanta assured him, starting to walk again. “We’ve made our choices. Now let’s see what the mages think.”

“Have you guys decided who gets to be the hostage?” Dabi asked as they reached the cluster of mages.

“I will,” Tetsutetsu answered, stepping forward. He moved to the side where the mages stood, offering what was probably supposed to be a confident grin. Hanta’s stomach churned, wondering if Tetsutetsu would be okay alone among so many hostile mages.

“Great. And you’ll let your mages choose for themselves whether they stay with us or go back with you?” Dabi sounded incredulous, like he really expected the handlers to turn on them and reclaim any mages who chose to stay. Hanta couldn’t really blame him, either; any other group of handlers probably would.

“Of course,” Hanta answered. The others nodded, and then silence fell as everyone waited to see what the four palace mages would decide.

“I’m going back to the palace,” Uraraka spoke first. “My family gets compensation for me being at the palace. I need to go back.” She slowly moved closer to the handlers, pausing to smile at Tetsutetsu. “I hope my next handler is like you.”

“I’m going back, too,” Monoma announced. He didn’t offer an explanation, but he moved to stand next to Shinsou, who grimaced at him.

There was a short beat of tense silence as Bakugou and Kirishima locked gazes over the distance between them. Hanta watched as they both seemed to hold their breath, apparently evaluating each other. Then they both moved at the same time, walking until they met halfway between the handlers and mages.

“What do you want, Bakugou?” Kirishima asked, his voice low and uncertain. “If you want to stay-”

“You moron. Your stupid ass is fucking stuck with me,” Bakugou snorted. Kirishima stared at him, wide eyed and speechless. Bakugou said something else, but Hanta was too distracted by movement behind him as Kaminari fiddled with his hands.

“Kaminari? Sparks, are you okay?” Hanta asked. Kaminari flinched, and Hanta stared at him for a second. “Oh. I get it. You’re sure?” Kaminari nodded, and Hanta tried to breathe steadily, to keep his expression composed. “Okay. Stay safe, okay? I’ll...I’ll miss you, Sparks.”

Hanta fought to keep his voice even despite his confusion and dismay. Bakugou and Monoma, the mages he thought would be most likely to escape because of their pasts, were staying for whatever reasons they had.

Kirishima and Shinsou would get to keep the mages they’d gotten to know already.

But not Hanta.

The mage he’d worked so hard to keep safe and happy, the one he’d done his best to comfort and reassure, was choosing violent, potentially murderous strangers over Hanta.

He reminded himself it probably wasn’t about that. Wasn’t about him. Kaminari deserved freedom, deserved to feel safe.

Hanta wondered what it was about Kirishima that made a mage as thoroughly abused as Bakugou trust and protect him. Hanta wondered what it was about himself that kept Kaminari from trusting him.

He must have done something, right? Was it because he hadn’t handled Kaminari’s fears well enough? Had he done something to make Kaminari feel unsafe?

“Sero. We should head out.” Kirishima was talking. He was right. But Hanta didn’t want to leave.

These mages had no idea what Kaminari had been through. They didn’t know him, didn’t care about him.

Hanta didn’t trust them to take care of the mage he had wanted so desperately to befriend.

Hanta looked up when Kirishima gripped his shoulder and steered him toward their horses. For a second, over Kirishima’s shoulder, Hanta made eye contact with Kaminari, who was chewing his lip anxiously as he watched their group move away.

Hanta turned away and ended up locking eyes with Monoma, whose expression was twisted between a triumphant smirk and a desperate sort of grief that twisted at Hanta’s heart until he realized Monoma was the one who talked Kaminari into staying. Hanta hardened his heart and his expression and focused on racking up his horse.

They had a plan to execute.

And maybe if it worked, and Dabi’s group destroyed everything they wanted to, brought down the current system, maybe…

Maybe Hanta would get to see Kaminari again.


 

Shouta managed to stay focused for a lot longer than he’d expected. First he had to dismiss Sero and Shinsou, then have Uraraka escorted to the quarters reserved for mages awaiting their handler assignment. He would have to figure out who he could trust to take her; he didn’t want to let any of Hakamata’s people ruin the decent life Tetsutetsu had tried to give her.

Tetsutetsu.

Tetsutetsu and the others...they had been his pride and joy. The four handlers who were closest to his own philosophy regarding mages. He’d known them longer than any other handlers he’d trained, too. Those four had grown up together, under his watch. They’d been chosen when he was just five years older than they were now. He’d been chosen to teach them how to be handlers, he’d overseen their dormitory.

He had practically raised them.

He’d been there when Kirishima and Tetsutetsu wrestled with each other until they each lost a tooth, all because they both wanted a top bunk in the room the four boys had shared, and they hadn’t realized there were two sets of bunk beds.

He’d been there when the handler in charge of teaching them spells made them perform pain spells for one of their tests. Shouta had ended up with four children sobbing in a heap, and he remembered Tetsutetsu hugging Kirishima and sniffling. Tetsutetsu hadn’t been able to meet Yamada’s eyes for weeks.

Shouta had been there when the four of them snuck out as teenagers to explore the palace grounds. Tetsutetsu got into trouble because he’d picked flowers to give to a pretty maid he’d met, only the “maid” was a noble’s daughter and the girl’s father hadn’t been pleased with a trainee handler flirting with his daughter. Oh, and the flowers were from the royal gardens.

“Shouta?” Yamada’s voice pulled him out of his thoughts. Shouta didn’t answer right away, trying to gather himself. There was a soft touch on his cheek, Yamada wiping away a tear Shouta hadn’t realized he was shedding.

“Office,” Shouta rasped, barely forcing the word past the lump in his throat.

“It’s okay. We’re alone.” Yamada’s fingers shook as he tilted Shouta’s head up. “Shouta.” Yamada’s voice was shaking, too, and when Shouta met his eyes, they were overbright. “Did you know Tetsu was terrified when they gave him Uraraka?”

Shouta blinked, then had to do it again to get rid of the tears clinging to his lashes.

“What? Why?” Tetsutetsu hadn’t come to him with anything…

“Because of her magic. He didn’t know what he was supposed to do with a mage whose powers were that specific, you know? He’d never worked with a mage like her before. He was terrified of overworking her or not helping her use her magic to its fullest. You were napping, so he and I talked,” Yamada explained, tucking a stray bit of Shouta’s hair behind his ear before cupping his cheek. For a moment, Shouta was lost in the weight of knowing he hadn’t been able to help Tetsutetsu with his worries. But then his heart twisted, and a new thought crept to the surface.

“He always carried exactly three pain spells, you know,” Shouta murmured, reaching up to cover Yamada’s hand with his own. “He swore that he’d only use them if he had to protect Eijirou or Hitoshi or Hanta. So he carried one for each of them.” Yamada’s smile was the smallest Shouta had ever seen grace his lips, but it was something.

“He’s gone, Shouta,” Yamada sighed, his shoulders slumping. “The mages that killed him…”

“I understand.” And he did. Tetsutetsu wasn’t killed for anything he’d done. He was killed because of what mages were afraid handlers would do to them, things other handlers did on a daily basis.

The grief, the loss, the burning in his eyes and the ache in his chest, those were still there and Shouta knew they would stay there.

But beneath it all was a burning kernel of fury, partly aimed at the rogue mages who’d attacked his students, but mostly aimed at Hakamata.

It was Hakamata’s leadership that kept endangering the young handlers. It was Hakamata who had hurt Kirishima, Hakamata who sent the four of them out.

This was Hakamata’s fault, and Shouta was going to make him pay.

“Hizashi,” Shouta whispered. “We need to talk to Lord Tokoyami and His Highness again. We need to step up our timetable.”

Chapter Text

Katsuki recognized the hall Hakamata was leading them down and he didn’t like it. He was on edge, barely managing not to jump at shadows that looked like Toga or the handlers he’d had before Kirishima, come back to hurt him. He could feel metal on his throat, his wrists, weighing him down, restraining him, and no matter how many times he told himself it wasn’t real, he couldn’t manage to shake it.

Warmth replaced the ghost of metal digging into his skin, Kirishima’s fingers encircling his wrist and tugging him a little closer as they walked. Katsuki grumbled But didn’t pull away; Kirishima’s presence helped ward off the nagging worry that this time he wouldn’t be leaving these halls.

This was where mages were sent to be broken. Where they were chained and beaten until they gave up resisting their handlers’ commands.

“Bakugou?” Kirishima murmured. “I won’t let anyone hurt you. You know that, right?” Katsuki found himself nodding, and he wasn’t sure what surprised him more: that he did know Kirishima wouldn’t let anything happen to him, or the way that thought made the hallway and the cells it led to less terrifying.

“This mage I want you to work with isnt as violent as your war dog, but he is stubborn.” Hakamata’s voice chipped away at the security Kirishima’s presence lent him, but Katsuki was pretty sure he managed to hide that.

“You’re giving me another mage?” Kirishima asked, fingers tightening around Katsuki’s wrist for a moment.

“Of course. A Lieutenant Handler should have at least two mages at his command,” Hakamata replied easily. Katsuki ran straight into Kirishima’s back as the handler stopped dead in his tracks.

“I’m not a Lieutenant Handler. And I won’t be experienced enough to be one for at least five years,” Kirishima pointed out. Katsuki considered stepping back to glare at Hakamata over Kirishima’s shoulder, but decided that pressing his free hand against Kirishima’s back was better.

“Well, if you can bring a mongrel like that war mage of yours to heel after so many others failed, I imagine you’ll be up to the task,” Hakamata replied.

“But-“

“You can’t refuse a promotion, Lieutenant,” Hakamata interrupted. “And if you try, you won’t be the only one who regrets it.” Kirishima shook under Katsuki’s touch. Katsuki hesitated, trying to think of some way to calm him while trying to figure out why this was bad. Wasn’t the whole bargain with the fire asshole about climbing ranks and getting noticed to get Asui closer to the king? Wasn’t this good? Katsuki hated that he didn’t get why this was bad, and he hated even more that he wasn’t sure how to help. Finally he settled for rubbing small circles into Kirishima’s shoulder blades, because what else could he do?

“Understood, sir,” Kirishima said after a moment. “Show me the new mage.” Hakamata’s victorious smirk sent chills down Katsuki’s spine. Somehow, Hakamata was winning here. He didn’t know how, and he didn’t understand what Hakamata was actually getting out of this, but he could tell from the set of Kirishima’s shoulders and the glint in Hakamata’s eyes that this was not going well.

Hakamata led them into a cell nearly identical to the one Katsuki himself had been kept in before he was given to Kirishima, complete with a mage on his knees against the wall, hands chained behind his back and even including the metal muzzle over his face, keeping his jaw shut so any sound he made would be muffled and unintelligible. Katsuki’s fingers curled, suppressing the urge to jump forward and destroy those chains. Especially the muzzle. Katsuki’s jaw twitched, remembering the way the bruises built up under that kind of pressure.

“This one has magic opposite your war dog’s,” Hakamata said, crossing the cell to crouch in front of the restrained mage, who watched him warily. He wasn’t thrashing or snarling the way Katsuki remembered himself doing, but he did lean away from Hakamata and glare around at each of them.

“A healer, then?” Kirishima asked, his tone neutral but his hands going behind his back so Hakamata couldn’t see his fists clenching. Katsuki remembered how Kirishima had acted when Hakamata presented him to Kirishima this way, and realized the handler had been fighting the same genuine fury at the way Katsuki had been treated that he recognized in Kirishima’s posture now.

“Not quite. War magic destroys something, rips it apart. This mage can bring things together, fuse them. I thought he would make a good accessory for your war dog,” Hakamata explained. “Considering how much of the training obstacles and targets he destroyed when you took him to the training rooms. I’ll leave you to it, then. Oh, and Lieutenant?” Hakamata stood, dusted off his hands, then turned to face them. “Report to Deputy Chief Aizawa once you have him under control enough to transport to your new outpost. It shouldn’t take more than a day, right?” Hakamata swept past, satisfied smirk still in place. Kirishima waited until he was out of sight, then crossed the room.

“Bakugou, the chains. He didn’t leave me a key this time.” Kirishima’s voice was low, grim, as he knelt in front of the new mage. Katsuki grimaced and reached for his magic as he moved closer to the other mage, eyeing his restrains for a good target. He settled on the locks themselves after a moment, touching a single fingertip to the lock on the muzzle, then on the cuffs on his wrists. “Where does it hurt?”

“Why should I tell you?” the mage muttered.

“Handler Shitty Hair,” Katsuki spoke up. Kirishima glanced at him, and Katsuki met his eyes as steadily as he could. “You should just heal whatever you see and then we can get him back to our quarters. These motherfucking cells are a shitty trust builder.” The mage glanced between them, weighing them.

“That’s Lieutenant Shitty Hair now,” Kirishima replied, reaching for a handful the blue healing beads at his waist.

“You’re gonna be the fucking shortest serving Lieutenant in goddamn history if you use that many fucking spells,” Katsuki objected, scowl twisting his lips.

“But-”
“No fucking buts. You get one goddamn bead, and I swear to fucking everything if you die some shitty death right the fuck after I save your ass from a goddamned ambush, I’ll kill your shitty ass myself,” Katsuki snapped. Kirishima blinked at him several times, then sighed and nodded.

As Kirishima pulled a single healing spell from his collection and turned his attention to the new mage’s bruises, Katsuki noticed that the mage’s eyes were fixed on him, wide and incredulous. For a second, Katsuki was annoyed by the attention, but then he realized. He’d technically threatened Kirishima again, which was something Hakamata and handlers like him would have punished without hesitation. Katsuki shrugged uncomfortably at the other mage, not sure how to explain or even if he should.

Finally, he settled for reaching over and lifting the strings of Kirishima’s bead collection so the other mage could see the array of decidedly not red beads his handler carried. Katsuki watched the other mage’s expression twist with confusion, then go slack in incredulity.

“Don’t let Hakamata catch you doing that,” Kirishima murmured absently, most of his attention on checking the new mage’s face and arms for lingering bruising from his restraints. “He’s already trying to force me to fail.” Katsuki tilted his head and dropped the bead collection.

“Is that what the shit about promoting you was?” Katsuki asked, getting to his feet and holding a hand out to Kirishima, who grinned and let Katsuki pull him up.

“You know, if I’d known all I had to do to get you to worry about me so much was almost die, I would have-”

“Don’t you fucking dare,” Katsuki interrupted. He glared at Kirishima until the handler raised his hands in surrender and gave him a sheepish grin.

“Sorry. But yeah. You haven’t killed me yet, even after we were outside the palace. You didn’t escape. He’s probably worried about how much attention that will get, so he’s trying to get us both out of the way. And if he promotes me and I fail at running an outpost, he can say I was just lucky getting you to behave and try to take you back,” Kirishima explained. Katsuki thought he managed to hide the shudder that wanted to sweep over him at that thought, but apparently not, because Kirishima’s hand came up to card his fingers through Katsuki’s hair. “Relax. You know I won’t let that happen.” Katsuki wanted to lean against Kirishima and let him play with his hair until he actually did relax, which was ridiculous because Kirishima was still a handler and Katsuki was just sticking around to make sure Kirishima survived. Because Katsuki owed him for protecting him. That was it.

“Hey, new guy,” Katsuki growled, crossing his arms and frowning at the mage still on the cell floor. “What’s your name, anyway?” The mage glanced at him, then at Kirishima, before responding.

“It’s Awase.”

“Well, it’s nice to meet you, Awase. I’m sorry it had to be like this, though,” Kirishima grimaced, gesturing at the cell around them. “Let’s get you some food and a clean change of clothes and some sleep, okay?” Awase looked like he didn’t trust that, and Katsuki didn’t blame him. He remembered all too well how Kirishima’s kindness had seemed at first.

“Don’t worry. This moron is too goddamn nice for his own good,” Katsuki informed Awase, who narrowed his eyes and glared at him. Katsuki shrugged and made his way out of the cell. Considering how much it took for Katsuki to trust Kirishima, it wasn’t like he expected this asshole to take his word for it.

When he glanced back over his shoulder at his handler, though, he saw the way Kirishima held out a hand for Awase and the way Kirishima only smiled when the mage batted that hand away and stood on his own, keeping his body angled away from Kirishima to present a smaller target.

Katsuki remembered spurning plenty of Kirishima’s honestly kind actions, remembered how Kirishima had been patient and gentle no matter what.

Katsuki’s heart rose to his throat just thinking about the possibility of Kirishima being hurt for that kindness, set up to fail the way Hakamata wanted.

Awase stumbled, and Kirishima caught him, steadied him, and then let go as soon as Awase’s feet were safely under him again. Katsuki saw the flash of fear that made Awase jolt at Kirishima’s touch, as well as the confusion and relief when Kirishima released him right away.

Katsuki’s wrist burned, this time not with the ghost of chains cutting into his skin, but with the warmth of Kirishima’s fingers curled around it. It was a nice feeling, a nice memory, like the way Kirishima had held him on Sumi’s back or the way Kirishima had apparently figured out that petting his hair was the fastest way to calm Katsuki down.

Katsuki wondered how fast Kirishima would learn the same things about Awase - how to calm him, how to make him feel safe and cared for - and he wondered why that thought made his stomach turn over.

Katsuki mulled it over as the three of them made their way back to their quarters. Kirishima paused when he realized there were now three people and only two bedrooms, but Katsuki just growled and said Awase could take his room. It’s not like Katsuki had any particular attachment to it, and anyway, Awase would probably be able to rest better in another mage’s room than in a handler’s.

He was caught by surprise, though, when Kirishima plopped down on the couch instead of retreating to his own room.

“The fuck are you doing?” Katsuki glared at the stupid handler, confused by Kirishima not retreating to his room.

“You can take my bed,” Kirishima explained. “I’ll just nap on the couch.”

“The shit you will. Get your ass in bed,” Katsuki ordered. Kirishima laughed, sharp teeth flashing as he grinned up at Katsuki.

“You know, I was teasing earlier, but you really are turning into a mother hen,” Kirishima informed him.

“Because your shitty ass has room to talk,” Katsuki retorted. After a moment’s consideration, he sat on the couch beside Kirishima, who shifted to give him more room. They were both quiet for a moment, Katsuki turning over the emotions tumbling through him - worry about what Hakamata was planning, worry about how their agreement with Dabi’s rogues would turn out, that weird sour feeling from when he’d seen Kirishima fussing over Awase, and this weird warm fluttering that kept popping up in his stomach when he was close to Kirishima. “Hey. Shitty Ass.”

“Hm?”

“You treated Awase the same way you treated me when you first got me,” Katsuki said quietly.

“You mean like a person who’s been through horrible trauma and deserves kindness and respect?” Kirishima replied. “Yeah.” Katsuki wasn’t sure how to put his feelings into words. Kirishima believed that mages were just as important as handlers, Katsuki knew that. But there was something…

“Are all mages the same to you?” Katsuki was pretty sure that wasn’t actually what he wanted to ask, but it was the closest thing he could say without sorting through the whole tangle of feelings he didn’t really feel like considering at the moment.

“Of course not. Mages are people. They’re all different.” Kirishima seemed confused by the question, but after a few seconds of thought, he seemed to realize something. “Awase isn’t going to replace you, Bakugou.”

“Cause I was your fucking first? That’s sweet,” Katsuki sneered.

“Because Awase isn’t you. No one is except you. Even if Awase turns out to be like you, he still can’t replace you because you’re...you’re Bakugou, and...I don’t know, you keep me grounded. And…” Kirishima hesitated, then turned and pulled one leg up onto the couch, tucking it beneath himself so he could face Katsuki comfortably. “Look, Bakugou. I don’t know why you chose to come back here, but I’m really glad you did. I’m a lot braver when you’re here, I think.” Kirishima was watching him, eyes soft and serious, and suddenly Katsuki wasn’t sure what they were talking about but somehow it didn’t feel like they were talking about something as simple as Katsuki choosing to return to the palace to protect his stupidly kind handler.

“Dumber is what you are,” Katsuki grunted, avoiding Kirishima’s gaze because it was too much. Too warm, too kind, too... something. Katsuki couldn’t understand it and he wasn’t in the mood to try. So instead, he pitched forward to lay across his half of the couch, draping his legs over the couch’s arm and dropping his head onto Kirishima’s lap. “Make yourself useful, Lieutenant Handler Shitty Hair,” Katsuki demanded. Kirishima stared down at him in surprise for a second, just long enough to make Katsuki narrow his eyes dangerously. Then Kirishima let out a short laugh and began to run his fingers through Katsuki’s hair, gentle and soft just like always.

When Katsuki closed his eyes, the image of Kirishima staring down at him with a strange, half soft, half sad smile tugging at his lips was burned into the backs of his eyelids.

Chapter Text

Yosetsu peeked out from the war mage’s room, eyeing the mage and handler on the couch. Bakugou was dozing with his head in the handler’s lap, and Kirishima seemed to be getting sleepy too, his gentle petting of the mage’s hair slowing as his eyelids drifted shut. It was downright creepy. No wonder Hakamata was threatened by them. Yosetsu shuddered and started to ease the door closed, only for a knock at the entrance to their quarters to make him freeze. The handler jolted awake and gently slid out from under Bakugou, who let out a groggy protest and lifted his head to glare after the handler.

Kirishima opened the door, and Yosetsu caught a glimpse of green beyond the handler’s broad shoulders.

“Handler - I mean, Lieutenant Handler Kirishima? His Highness would like-“

A cry that was half disbelief and half fury tore itself from the war mage’s lungs, and he nearly fell off the couch.

“Get away from him!” Bakugou snarled, launching himself over the back of the couch and towards the door, Magic crackling at his fingertips. Kirishima barely managed to catch him with an arm around his waist and haul him back so he couldn’t reach whoever was at the door. “Let me go, Shitty Hair! I’m gonna destroy him! Fucking goddamn traitor, don’t you dare-“

“Bakugou, what’s going on?” Kirishima yelped, dragging Bakugou back another step.

“Fuckass shitfucking traitorface here is the godfucking reason I’m in this shithole in the fucking first shitty place!” Bakugou screeched, trying to pry Kirishima’s arm away from him so he could lunge at their visitor again. Kirishima hissed and almost let go.

“Kacchan.” The visitor’s voice was barely audible. “I’m sorry, I-“

“Sorry isn’t going to fucking cut it, you shitfucking assface!” Bakugou snarled.

“I think you need to leave,” Kirishima ground out, jaw clenched. Yosetsu had to give him credit; Bakugou’s palms were still bleeding magic, which had to hurt like hell against Kirishima’s skin.

“But-“

“Midoriya. I’m going to take Bakugou into the other room. I really suggest you leave,” Kirishima insisted, his words and breath harsh as Bakugou’s magic tore at his flesh, biting into his arm and leaving it raw and blistered. If Bakugou kept this up, Kirishima’s arm wouldn’t last much longer. Yosetsu shuddered to think what war magic would do in the hands of a furious and out of control mage.

“I came to recruit you! We’re going to free-“

“Like fucking hellshit you are! Fuckass like you fucking can’t be trusted worth fucking shit!” Bakugou spat. His magic flared, and Kirishima yelped. The sound made Bakugou twitch, and Yosetsu’s nose wrinkled as the stench of charred flesh wafted through the air. Bakugou’s magic was burning through Kirishima’s forearm.

“Bakugou,” Kirishima choked out. “Enough. Please.” Bakugou’s magic sputtered and disappeared. Yosetsu couldn’t see any of their expressions, but he could still smell the effect Bakugou’s magic had on Kirishima’s flesh.

“Fuck.” Bakugou’s tone was drastically different. If Yosetsu had to guess, he’d say that Bakugou sounded like he’d just forgotten about the visitor in his horror as he realized what he’d done. “FUCK!”

Kirishima slowly let go of Bakugou’s waist and tucked his injured arm behind his back, nudging Bakugou toward Kirishima’s room with his good hand. Yosetsu took in the damage and nearly threw up. Kirishima’s arm had lost its skin in a patch the size of Bakugou’s hand, and it looked like there was less muscle mass than Yosetsu remembered, too. For the moment there was no blood, but that would change in a moment as blood flow returned to replace the blood destroyed by Bakugou’s magic.

“Bakugou, go on. I’m going to send Midoriya on his way,” Kirishima said, forced cheerfulness clashing with the obvious agony in his posture. There was a moment of silence, and then Bakugou snarled and stomped away into Kirishima’s room, shoulders tense and fingers clenching and unclenching. Once Bakugou disappeared into the other room, Kirishima held his injured arm out toward the visitor. “Do you mind? You can use my beads.” The visitor must have declined and used their own, because a moment later Kirishima added. “I don’t know what you’re trying to recruit me for and I don’t care. Bakugou needs me more than whatever you’re planning does, and I won’t make him be around you when he obviously doesn’t want to be. Plus I’m in enough trouble with Hakamata as it is. I need to go to him, now, so please just...go back to the prince. Leave us out of whatever you’re planning, okay? Maybe Aizawa or someone will be up for it.” Kirishima turned and followed Bakugou, finally giving Yosetsu a good look at their visitor.

And their visitor was definitely Midoriya Izuku, servant to Crown Prince Todoroki.

Yosetsu’s stomach turned over.

The crown prince’s servant was in on something.

He was trying to get Kirishima in on it.

And Kirishima suggested Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa.

If Kirishima wasn’t actively plotting against Hakamata, he knew who was and wasn’t turning them in.

That combined with the way Kirishima handled Bakugou’s outburst told Yosetsu exactly why he had been placed with Kirishima.


 

Eijirou paused in the doorway of his bedroom, studying Bakugou as the mage paced the room, clenching and unclenching his fists, and Eijirou wondered how to handle everything.

Bakugou knew Midoriya.

Midoriya was the reason for Bakugou being in the palace.

Being in chains. In pain.

Midoriya himself had told him about it when they were little. About how he’d ended up as a handler and why he would probably be a noble mage’s servant when they finished training.

Eijirou shook his head, pushing away those thoughts. Bakugou needed him now, and trying to piece together his past from Midoriya’s wouldn’t help.

“Bakugou.” At the sound of his name, Bakugou froze.

“What the fucking godshit did that bastard tell you?” Bakugou growled, glaring at him. Eijirou kept his expression and posture as neutral and relaxed as possible.

“Nothing new. I knew his past; he told us all his side when we were kids, right after we realized the kind of handler - the kind of person - Aizawa is. But I never knew it was you. He always called you-“

“Kacchan,” Bakugou’s lips twisted into a sneer around the word, like it made him nauseated just to think about it.

“Yeah. So I never made the connection. But Bakugou...it doesn’t change anything. Whatever you want me to know or not know…” Eijirou met his glare with as much steadiness as he could muster. “Look, if you want to talk about it, I’m here and I’ll listen. I’m not gonna judge or anything.”

“Fuck off,” Bakugou snapped. “The fuck are you gonna do if I don’t wanna talk?”

“Whatever you need,” Eijirou replied. “Whatever you want. If you need time alone, fine. If you want me to just sit with you, I’ll do that. If you want to talk about something else or go to the training rooms and destroy a bunch of stuff, we can do that. Just tell me how to help you.”

For a moment, Bakugou’s glare stayed in place, his scowl no different than the first guarded, slightly incredulous one he’d given Eijirou when they met. Then his shoulders hunched and his hands came up to grip his hair, his eyes squeezing shut. Eijirou waited, watching the conflict play out in Bakugou’s expression and posture.

He was defensive, on edge, like he was in a battle. He started pacing again, Magic crackling around him like a cloak shielding him from whatever was going on inside his head.

His lips trembled, betraying the sheer amount of emotion roiling inside him. At last, he sank onto Eijirou’s bed and dropped his head into his hands again.

“It’s all his fault,” Bakugou rasped out. “I... fucking hellshitty fuck, I trusted him and…and all this fucking time that asswipe has been alive. He’s alive and he’s a handler and…” Bakugou trailed off, his unfocused gaze making Eijirou’s chest ache.

“He’s a servant,” Eijirou told him softly. He crossed the room, gently pulled Bakugou’s hands from his hair, and replaced them with his own. He combed through the blond strands in hopes of calming and grounding Bakugou as he continued. “He serves the Crown Prince. And I know that what he did when you were kids landed you here. I know you’ve been through hell since then, and it kills me. And if you never want to see him again, I’ll make sure you don’t. Okay?” Bakugou’s eyes were no longer squeezed shut against the world. Instead, they were half open, like a cat.

Eijirou’s lips twitched as he felt some of the tension leave Bakugou’s body. After a moment, he pulled one hand away from Bakugou’s hair to scratch at the scab curling around his forearm. It itched like crazy, and he’d been ignoring it up until then.

One of Bakugou’s eyes opened, following Eijirou’s movement. He took in the scab, both eyes opening and brow furrowing in confusion as he took in the strange shape. Eijirou tensed, realizing what Bakugou was looking at. He tucked that arm behind his back and put his other hand back in Bakugou’s hair, hoping to keep him relaxed so he wouldn’t think about what he’d seen.

“Your arm. That wasn’t there before.”

“It’s nothing,” Eijirou insisted, plastering a smile on his face and ignoring the way the scab’s itching was driving him nuts.

“Like mothershitting horsefuck thats nothing,” Bakugou retorted, pulling away and trying to reach for Eijirou’s arm. “If that rat bastard laid one godfucking shitdamn finger on you I swear to-“

“Midoriya didn’t hurt me, Bakugou. I promise. Everything is fine, it doesn’t even hurt. I barely noticed it in the first place.” That was a blatant lie and they both knew it. Eijirou remembered the stench of his arm burning, the sensation of his flesh being torn away and dissolved bit by bit.

It was the most excruciating thing he’d ever felt.

Even worse than Toga’s knife.

“Bull. Fucking. Shit.” Bakugou ground out. He finally succeeded in dragging Eijirou’s arm out from behind his back and flared at the scab. “The hellfuck even does damage like that? Looks like some fucker’s handprint.” Bakugou paused, blinked, and then his mouth opened slightly in shock. Slowly, like he was moving through a thick wall of horror, he lifted one of his hands to hover over the scab.

Eijirou caught Bakugou’s hand before it could line up with the edges of the wound. Bakugou seeing how perfectly the wound matched his hand wouldn’t go over well.

“It’s nothing. Really,” Eijirou insisted, twining his fingers with Bakugou’s in an attempt to distract him.

“Doesn’t look like nothing.” Bakugou’s voice was low, rough, and he wasn’t swearing or insulting anyone. “That looks like my hand.”

“That’s ridiculous,” Eijirou laughed, tucking his arm against his side so Bakugou couldn’t see it as clearly.

“No it isn’t. Shitty...Kirishima…” Bakugou’s head tilted away from him, and his shoulders shook. “That’s my handprint. I hurt you and...and you had to get him to help you heal, didn’t you? That’s why…” Bakugou’s shoulders curled in like he was trying to hold in the truth, or maybe shield himself from it.

“Bakugou, it’s okay.” Eijirou leaned forward, combed his fingers through Bakugou’s hair, then dropped his hand to cup Bakugou’s cheek. “I’m fine. Honest.”

“Liar.” Bakugou didn’t pull away from his touch, but didn’t lean into it either. “You’re a filthy goddamn liar and you’re just trying to make me feel better.”

“That’s…” Eijirou couldn’t exactly deny it.

“And it’s not okay. You...you do nothing but help people. Protect people. Protect me. And you keep getting hurt because of it. Because of me. I just can’t figure out why.” Bakugou finally lifted his eyes, gaze searching Eijirou’s face like a lost man desperately trying to read a map.

“Because I want to. If protecting you means getting hurt, then that’s just what it takes,” Eijirou answered after a moment. He slowly moved his arm until it was held out between them. Then he picked up Bakugou’s hand and guided it to rest on the scab hurling around his forearm. “If this is what it takes to make sure you’re safe and as comfortable as possible, then so be it.” Eijirou curled his fingers around Bakugou’s, holding his hand in place over his only partly healed wound. “I wish I could undo all the pain and betrayal in your heart, but all I can do is fight to make sure no one else has a chance to add to it. So that’s what I’m doing. Don’t blame yourself for that, okay?” Eijirou took in the trembling curve of Bakugou’s jaw, the tight line of his lips, the redness and overly bright shine in his eyes. “Tell me what you need.”

Bakugou pitched forward, like he was going to collapse against Eijirou, only for his fingers around Eijirou’s arm to twitch, brushing against the scab and reminding him of Eijirou’s wound. Bakugou started to straighten up, but Eijirou let go of his hand and gripped his shoulder instead.

“It’s okay. I trust you,” Eijirou murmured, giving Bakugou a light tug. It would be easy enough for Bakugou to pull away if he really didn’t want to be close to Eijirou right now, but instead he let out a shaky breath and gave in, leaning his weight against Eijirou’s chest and tucking his face against his neck. Eijirou’s injured arm with Bakugou’s hand still over the wound was pinned between them.

“Stop getting hurt, Lieutenant Shitty Hair,” Bakugou mumbled. “It’s killing me.”

Chapter Text

Shouta remembered the first time Yamada mentioned the possibility of changing how handlers and mages interacted. He remembered why, too.

“You just admitted you like me. You know I’ve been head over heels for you for ages. So why won’t you let me do something about it?” Yamada sounded desperate, confused, and he reached for Shouta’s hand as he spoke.

“I don’t want to feel like I’m...taking advantage of the system.” Shouta let Yamada have his hand, though.

“When have you ever managed to get me to do something I don’t want to?” Yamada pointed out. Shouta lifted his spell bead strings with his free hand. “Come on. Like I couldn’t break those silencing spells if I wanted to.” Shouta shook his head, and Yamada sighed. “Look, if you’re so worried about the system trapping me or something, why don’t we just change it?”

Shouta remembered when he’d decided to take Yamada’s advice, sort of. He’d raised Kirishima and the others to value mages as people, refused to let them be brainwashed into the system.

But change hadn’t come fast enough.

Now they would have to move quickly.

If only he’d let Yamada talk him into this sooner. Maybe if he had, Tetsutetsu would still be alive.

“Shouta,” Yamada murmured. “They’re here.” Shouta shook off his thoughts about the past and took a deep breath.

It was time to figure out how to do this before any more people he cared about got hurt or killed.


 

Hanta left the training rooms with a newfound respect for demon-type mages. Sure, their power wasn’t as flashy and fun to work with as elemental magic was, but Asui had some sort of water demon in her and it gave her an honestly terrifying set of abilities.

Anyone who could destroy training targets with their tongue was a force to be reckoned with.

Hanta almost pitied the king. Being strangled by a frog-like water demon’s tongue had to be one of the worst ways to die.

Asui, of course, thought Hanta’s healthy respect/fear for her powers was hilarious and she kept sticking her tongue out at him just to see his eyes go wide.

She was in the middle of another such display involving her curling her tongue into an actual noose when suddenly she tensed and her tongue shot back into her mouth, childish grin vanishing with the strange little croak that Hanta was beginning to associate with Asui being caught off guard.

“Asui? What-“ Hanta broke off as Asui threw her hand over his mouth.

“Shouto,” she hissed, pushing Hanta into a side hallway.

“Huh?” Footsteps in the hall around the corner made Hanta fall silent. He wasn’t sure why Asui didn’t want them to be seen, especially once he saw who it was. After all, wouldn’t running into Crown Prince Todoroki Shouto be in line with the rogue mages’ plan to have him climb the ranks and get Asui close to the king?

Then again, what was the prince doing in this section of the palace?

“We’re following him,” Asui whispered when Todoroki was out of earshot. Hanta was pretty sure that was a bad idea but hey, it wasn’t like he had any other ideas for this whole help Asui commit regicide thing.

Plus he didn’t want to be strangled by her tongue.

Hanta shook his head and followed Asui as she crept down the hall.

“You know you’d look less suspicious if you just stood up and walked,” Hanta pointed out. He’d pulled enough pranks with Kirishima and the others to know that firsthand. Asui rolled her eyes.

“You’re no fun,” she informed him as she straightened up.

“You’re just saying that because you haven’t seen what my friends and I got up to,” Hanta retorted. “One time we stole a bunch of healing spells from the inventory and painted them red, then put them back. Everyone kept accidentally healing their mages instead of hurting them for a week.” Asui blinked at him, then shook her head and peered around the corner.

“He has a shadow demon with him,” she announced. Hanta leaned forward and peeked around the corner.

“That’s Lord Tokoyami,” Hanta realized. “They’re headed for Aizawa’s office.”

“Shouto and a shadow demon meeting with someone here?” Asui sounded as incredulous as Hanta felt. He had no idea why Aizawa would be meeting with noble mages.

Except.

Oh.

“Asui, I think I know how we’re going to get you close to the king,” Hanta announced.


 

Fumikage was grateful for the millionth time that Dark Shadow’s effect on him included the whole bird head thing. It was a lot easier to hide his reactions to things when all people could see was a beak instead of traitorous lips that would twitch every time he wanted to snicker at Todoroki and Aizawa bickering back and forth.

“I told you he wouldn’t like your plan,” Fumikage mused, trying not to chuckle.

“It’s our best shot,” Todoroki insisted, narrowing his eyes.

“We can - we have to - find another way,” Aizawa shot back.

“You’re the one who wanted to move up our timetable. If we’re doing this any time in the next year, it has to be now and it has to be your students,” Todoroki ground out, jaw clenched so hard that Fumikage was kind of expecting his teeth to crack. Or maybe his left side would catch on fire. That hadn’t happened in a while, but last time, Dark Shadow had cackled about people calling him a difficult power to control for weeks.

“You will not involve them in this!” Aizawa hissed, surging to his feet and planting his palms on his desk as he leaned forward. “They’ve been through too much already, and they’re in too much danger from Hakamata. I will not allow-”

“Deputy Chief Aizawa, perhaps I didn’t introduce myself properly.” Todoroki drew himself up, posture stiffening and chin lifting in what Fumikage knew was usually his reaction to people questioning his resolve or capability as a prince. “I am the Crown Prince, and if I say-”

“Don’t you dare give me orders on how to commit treason!” Aizawa leaned farther over his desk and jabbed an accusatory finger at Todoroki’s chest. Fumikage worried that the normally sleepy-looking handler was going to vault the desk or something; he’d never seen Aizawa this angry, this emotional, and that meant his usual assumptions about Aizawa’s behavior might not apply. “And you better not try to give any of my students orders about it, either!”

“Shouta, we raised them for this,” Yamada pointed out, laying his hand over Aizawa’s on the desk. “They’re strong enough to handle it.”

“I wanted to move this up because I don’t want any more of them to die,” Aizawa replied, and Fumikage’s amusement at the argument died at the raw grief in Aizawa’s voice. Todoroki seemed to notice it, too, because he dropped his ‘commanding prince’ posture and sighed, running a hand through his hair and then bringing it down to hover over the scar around his left eye.

“Your students aren’t the only ones at risk right now,” Todoroki reminded him quietly. “Look...the ball next week is our best chance to take out my father and Hakamata at the same time, and I’m going to make my move whether you’re in or not. We’ll have a better chance of succeeding - and making sure everyone survives this - with your help.”

“I believe Kirishima and Bakugou would be offended if they knew you wanted to leave them out,” Fumikage piped up. Dark Shadow shuddered, feathers ruffling at the mention of the war mage. Fumikage was kind of surprised he’d kept silent so long, but that surprise changed to amusement when the raven finally spoke up.

“You don’t want to make the war mage angry.” Dark Shadow probably meant for that to come out wise and solemn but he just sounded nervous, like Bakugou would sense Aizawa planning to leave him out of a fight against Hakamata and come for them to get revenge.

“Uh...I think it might be too late for that?” Fumikage turned, surprised; he hadn’t heard anyone knock, hadn’t noticed that Midoriya had joined them.

“Wait, please tell me you didn’t send Midoriya to talk to Kirishima,” Aizawa’s tone was careful, his expression tight.

“You knew.” It was Midoriya who spoke. “You knew Kirishima had Kacchan and you didn’t tell me.”

“Wait, Bakugou is…” Todoroki looked a little bit lost. Fumikage could understand the feeling; he was feeling a bit off himself. Bakugou, the mage he and Todoroki had first become aware of when he was sent for ‘retraining’ under Hakamata after attacking a handler, was Midoriya’s childhood friend Kacchan? Bakugou the war mage was the one that Midoriya hadn’t been able to protect when they were little? Fumikage remembered Todoroki telling him about Midoriya’s past.

Midoriya had been friends with a child that was just beginning to show signs of being a mage. He’d tried to help his friend hide, but someone had told the local garrison, and the soldiers had followed Midoriya and discovered his friend’s home.

Midoriya was a noble’s servant instead of a handler like Kirishima and the others because he’d tried to protect his friend.

And that friend was Bakugou, the war mage who’d spent his whole life in chains and agony.

Fumikage remembered how volatile Bakugou was, in combat and out.

“I take it your reunion didn’t go well?” he prompted. Midoriya shook his head, his gaze darting between Aizawa and Todoroki.

“He...Kirishima won’t help us. I think we need someone else,” Midoriya said carefully, twisting his hands together. “Or at least we need to send someone else to talk to Kirishima. He won’t do it if I’m the one…” Midoriya gnawed on his lower lip.

“This is why I didn’t tell you,” Aizawa sighed. He walked around the desk and rested a hand on Midoriya’s shoulder. “Bakugou blames you for what happened to him. And before you get defensive of him, your Highness, Midoriya blames himself, too. From the looks of it, though, no one got hurt, which is better than I-”

“Kirishima,” Midoriya blurted out, staring up at Aizawa with so much guilt in his eyes that it made Fumikage pull Dark Shadow a little closer, gripping the demon bird just a little too tightly as he tried to keep his own emotions clamped down. “His arm…” Midoriya gulped and brought one hand up to cover his own forearm and shuddered. “Kacchan accidentally…”

“Is he okay?” Aizawa’s voice was sharp, his face even more pale than usual. “Midoriya. Is Kirishima okay?”

“He’s fine,” Midoriya assured him. “I healed him before I left.”

“How bad?” It was Yamada who spoke this time, moving across the room and taking Aizawa’s hand in his. Midoriya glanced between them for a second, then stared down at his own arm before squeezing his eyes shut and shaking his head. “Bad, then.”

Aizawa released Midoriya’s shoulder and turned to Yamada. Fumikage couldn’t see the handler’s expression, but the set of his shoulders and the way his nails were biting into his palm told him enough. Yamada took both of Aizawa’s hands in his own, and Fumikage was abruptly reminded that these two didn’t normally show a lot of emotion, especially any kind of affection for each other, in front of other people. Yamada caught Fumikage’s eye over Aizawa’s shoulder and glanced pointedly towards the door. Fumikage inclined his head and carried Dark Shadow out of the office. He paused in the hall to wait for the others and tilted his head in surprise as he noticed two people frozen in the hall, like they’d either been on their way to see Aizawa or been eavesdropping when he came out.

“I healed him,” Midoriya repeated.

“Midoriya,” Todoroki said softly, taking Midoriya’s arm and drawing him away from Aizawa. “I think we should go.” Fumikage released his hold on Dark Shadow, and together they reached out with their magic, ensnaring the two interlopers before they could so much as twitch. Fumikage waited until the door closed behind them before he turned to Todoroki.

“I think Handler Sero here and his new mage were spying on us,” Fumikage announced. And really, why not? Enough other weird ridiculous stuff had happened lately. Why shouldn’t one of Aizawa’s students be spying on him with a mage that seemed to have some water demon in her, if Dark Shadow was sensing her powers correctly.

“Good.” Todoroki’s answer was not what Fumikage expected. “Midoriya said Kirishima won’t work with us if he’s the one asking, right? So let’s have a chat with Sero here.”


 

Shouta heard the door close behind Todoroki and the others, knew their discussion wasn’t finished. Todoroki had a point, they did need to move fast, and Shouta would rather be in on their plan than not. So he really should just pull himself together and call them back so they could plan out in detail what would happen at the ball.

“Not now, Shouta,” Yamada murmured, thumbs rubbing tenderly over the backs of Shouta’s hands. “You need to let it out.” Shouta shook his head, took a step back, but Yamada didn’t let go of his hands. He’d spent enough time grieving and being emotional. He needed to act, he needed to push the roiling heap of awful filling his head aside.

Yamada was right, he probably should take the time and sort through everything. Yamada was usually right about this kind of thing, after all.

Yamada was better at pushing aside the turmoil in Shouta’s head than Shouta himself was, probably because Yamada could pick it apart and sort it out, soothing whatever was bothering him instead of burying it.

He needed to check on Kirishima first, though. His arm...Shouta could imagine all too clearly what Bakugou’s magic could have done to Kirishima’s arm. If Kirishima still had an arm.

“Midoriya said he’s fine. Shouta, listen to me.” Yamada’s voice cut through the fog of grief and fear and anger, and Shouta wasn’t sure if it was Yamada’s magic that made it happen or if that was just Yamada.

“We should call them back,” Shouta said. He had to blink a few times as he turned to look over his shoulder at the door, mouth open as he prepared to call after the prince and his companions.

“Shouta. Shouta, Shouta, Shouta.”

Whatever he’d been planning to call out after Todoroki and the others faded, forgotten under the hypnotic quality of Yamada chanting his name. That was definitely Yamada’s magic, and Shouta should be indignant about him using it like that, but the slight buzz of Yamada’s words was too comforting, too grounding, to ruin by snapping at him right now.

“We can talk to them again in a bit. Todoroki knows parties better than we do, right? He’ll come up with a plan, but we have to give him time to think, okay?” Yamada brought Shouta’s hands up, pressed one of Shouta’s palms against his chest, over his heart, and brought the other to his lips. “We can check on Kirishima in a little while, too, alright? Right now I need you to do something for me.”

That snapped Shouta’s attention back to Yamada. He peered up at the mage’s face, searching for some sign of what he needed because even if Shouta couldn’t protect his students, he’d do whatever it took to help Yamada or die trying. Yamada was the one person he hadn’t failed to protect, at least not since that time with the kids…

Shouta’s nails carved bloody furrows into his palms as he watched Yamada’s body twist and twitch on the floor. He’d put off teaching his students how to use pain spells for too long, and now their practice target had been decided. Now they had to learn, and conveniently enough, using Yamada punished Shouta, too.

The kids were in tears - Kirishima had bitten through his own cheek during his turn to use the spells - and Shouta couldn’t even comfort them. If he tried, or if he showed just how much Yamada’s cries were killing him, who knew what other horrors would-

“Shouta.” This time his name was whispered against his lips, a brush of softness and warmth that swept away one of Shouta’s worst memories. Yamada’s hands on his waist guided him around and back and Shouta lost track of where exactly he was as Yamada let out a low hum - more magic, which normally Shouta would lecture him for - and then Yamada lifted him a little.

Shouta found himself perched on his desk, knees on either side of Yamada’s waist. Shouta blinked, brought his hands up to run his fingers through Yamada’s hair as Yamada’s humming faded, leaving Shouta with a little space between his thoughts and the crushing weight of everything from memories to Tetsutetsu’s death to whatever injury Kirishima had now to the danger he was putting all of his students and even Yamada in by allying himself with Todoroki.

“There’s my Shouta,” Yamada murmured. One of his hands came up, fingers curling around Shouta’s chin. “You know better.” Shouta nodded; he did know better. He knew he couldn’t just push everything away and let it build up. It didn’t make it easier to actually let go, though.

Yamada did, though.

Make it easier, that is.

Shouta really needed to do a better job of remembering that. He curled forward until his forehead rested on Yamada’s collarbone, and Yamada’s hand slipped back, teasing at the soft hairs at the back of his neck.

“Just let it all out, Shouta,” Yamada murmured, ducking his head to press his lips against Shouta’s hair.

And finally, there in his office with no one but the person he trusted most in the world, the person he loved so much it hurt sometimes, Shouta let go.

 

Chapter Text

“Pom Pom is a moron,” Monoma announced, flopping onto the couch as soon as he and Hitoshi returned to their quarters.

“What?”

“That idiot has been trying to escape for his entire life, and he came back when he didn’t have to,” Monoma huffed.

“You’re one to talk,” Hitoshi observed, sitting on the other end of the couch and folding his legs under him. “You came back with me, which makes a lot less sense than Bakugou coming back with Kirishima.” Monoma shot him a confused look, so Hitoshi shrugged and continued. “I assumed you’d stay with Kaminari. I have no idea why you came back.”

“But you know why Bakugou did?” Monoma guessed. Hitoshi allowed himself a smug slight smile at that.

“Kirishima would do anything to protect Bakugou. He’d die before he let anything happen to his mage. I think Bakugou saw that, too. Did you see what happened when we were ambushed? Bakugou could have let Kirishima die, but he fought to protect him instead. Bakugou was ready to give up his freedom to protect Kirishima even before our arrangement with the rogue mages,” Hitoshi explained. “Sero, Kirishima and I are only alive because those rogue mages recognized how much Bakugou wanted to protect him.”

“Pom Pom’s an even bigger moron, then,” Monoma snorted. “Trusting a handler that much. Caring about one at all, that’s…” Monoma trailed off, shooting a wary glance at Hitoshi.

“All this time, and you still worry that I’ll hurt you for things like that,” Hitoshi sighed, shaking his head. He lifted himself off the couch. “I’m too tired to deal with you if you’re just going to keep talking about how awful handlers are. I know, okay? I get it. We’ll always be the villains in your eyes, and I understand. My friends and I trying to be good isn’t enough, never will be. We still keep mages. But we’re trying to fix things, so just be patient. You won’t have to deal with any of us again once Asui gets her job done.” Hitoshi knew his tone was too sharp, knew he was taking his exhaustion out on Monoma, and while the mage was annoying, he’d chosen to stay for whatever reason, which meant Hitoshi was responsible for him for a while longer.

“It will be enough.” Hitoshi paused, glanced over his shoulder. Monoma had drawn his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs. He peered at Hitoshi over his knees as he spoke. “I stayed to keep Denki safe. If I’d gone with the rogues, someone might have remembered that Denki and I are...well. They might have realized something was up. I stayed for him, because he’s safer if I’m here.”

“Of course.” Hitoshi wasn’t really surprised. Of course Monoma was here because of Kaminari. Hitoshi had really expected something like that, but he was still surprised. After all, when it came to Kaminari, Monoma was fairly emotional and sometimes slipped up, like when he’d let Kaminari’s name slip before he told Hitoshi about their past.

“And I knew I’d be safe with you.”

“You don’t trust Sero, who went and sat through a lecture to try to figure out how to show Kaminari he wouldn’t hurt him, but you trust me? I silenced you with my spell beads. A lot,” Hitoshi reminded him.

“I don’t trust anyone when it comes to Denki,” Monoma replied, sniffing pointedly. He was quieter as he continued, “You didn’t use Denki against me. Yeah, you’ve used silence spells on me, but you could have tortured me instead. And you did what I asked and told his handler about his past so he’d be more careful. I still wouldn’t trust you with Denki, but...I trust you with me.”

Hitoshi’s breath was trapped in his throat as he stared at the copy mage, who still hugging his knees and not quite meeting Hitoshi’s eyes. Hitoshi crossed the room and knelt in front of the couch. Hitoshi rested one hand over Monoma’s, getting the mage to look him in the eye.

“I know it probably doesn’t mean much to you, but I swear I won’t take advantage of that trust,” Hitoshi promised. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to help Asui and the rogues succeed and change this kingdom. Then you won’t have to trust anyone else to take care of Kaminari.” For a moment, Monoma’s lips wavered. Then he pressed them into a thin line.

“You’re right, it doesn’t mean much. Or anything at all,” Monoma sneered. Hitoshi let out a short, harsh laugh and stood.

“I’m going to take a nap. Don’t make me silence you.”

“Hey, Eye Bags. You’ll really do anything? To bring down Hakamata and the king?” Monoma called.

“I just said so, didn’t I?” Hitoshi snapped.

“I am glad to hear it.” The new voice made Hitoshi whirl toward the door and gape at the person standing at the entrance to his and Monoma’s quarters.

“Lord Tokoyami?” Hitoshi blurted out. “What-”

“Something terrible has happened, and I need your help,” Tokoyami informed them. “May I come in?”

Hitoshi glanced at Monoma, who sat up straight, attention fixed on Tokoyami.

“What happened?” Hitoshi asked, eyes narrowing suspiciously.

“Hakamata made a move against Aizawa,” Tokoyami announced. Hitoshi’s blood turned to ice, but his mind raced. Aizawa was in trouble, but from Tokoyami’s tone, there wasn’t much to be done to help him. Tokoyami needed Hitoshi’s help, right as Aizawa was in trouble, which meant he was probably in on something that Aizawa had been working on, possibly whatever had spurred Hakamata to act now.

Tokoyami was a noble mage. He was supposedly close friends with the crown prince. That meant that Tokoyami would be a valuable ally to make, considering the whole plan with Asui.

Hitoshi had no power on his own, but if he could get Tokoyami on his side, he’d have someone with some influence to back him up. He’d be able to help Sero and Asui, and once he knew what had happened to Aizawa, maybe he could help him, too.

Hitoshi took a slow, steadying breath, then gave the noble mage the closest thing to a smile he could manage and sat beside Monoma on the couch.

“Come on in. What did you want to discuss?”


 

Eijirou breathed a sigh of relief when Bakugou fell asleep against him. His arm still itched like crazy, but he didn’t want to let go of his mage just to scratch it. Eijirou finally remembered that he needed to check on Awase and eased Bakugou down onto the bed, slipping away without waking him. He crept out of the room and shut the door as quietly as he could before looking around the room.

“You’re one weird-ass handler,” Awase observed from the couch. “Do I get to destroy your arm and get away with it too, or is the war dog just special?”

“Bakugou didn’t mean to hurt me,” Eijirou replied, sitting on the floor and leaning against the wall, facing Awase. “If a ghost from your past showed up and freaked you out so much you lost control of your magic, I’d do whatever I could to help you, too.”

“Has your war mage told you how stupid you are?” Awase asked. “Because if you think I’m buying that, you’re stupid as shit.”

“Look, nothing I say is going to convince you of anything,” Eijirou sighed. “But eventually my actions will prove-” Eijirou broke off as someone knocked on the door. He stood and made his way over to it, opening it just a crack to peer through. When he saw who it was, however, he let out a short laugh and swung the door open wide. “Aizawa, what brings you to-”

“Show me your arm,” Aizawa demanded. Eijirou blinked, brow furrowing in confusion. His arm? Why would Aizawa want to see his arm? “Now, Kirishima.” Eijirou pushed his confusion away and held out his uninjured arm. He might not know what exactly Aizawa wanted, but he wasn’t going to just show him his giant scabbed-over wound. “The other arm.” Eijirou hesitated, trying to think of some excuse, but Aizawa just grumbled and grabbed his wrist, pulling his arm up to examine the handprint wound Bakugou had left him with.

“It’s not as bad as it looks?” Eijirou tried. Aizawa glared at him and reached down for a handful of blue healing beads.

“Midoriya told us what happened,” Yamada said, stepping into the room and pulling Aizawa with him. “How is Bakugou?”

“Asleep,” Eijirou answered. “Aizawa, you don’t have to-”

“Shut it, Kirishima,” Aizawa interrupted. Eijirou wanted to protest further, but Aizawa’s fingers shook as he pressed them against the scab on Eijirou’s arm and activated the healing spells. Eijirou was silent, watching the scab fade into red, raised scar tissue. When Aizawa reached for another bead to continue, Eijirou shot a glance at Yamada, who understood and pulled Aizawa’s hand from Eijirou’s arm.

“Enough, Shouta,” Yamada murmured. “He’s fine, see?” Aizawa stared at Eijirou’s arm for a moment, then nodded slowly.

“You have to be more careful,” Aizawa said, voice low and tight like he was forcing it not to shake. “We’ve already lost Tetsutetsu. I won’t lose you, too.”

“I’m going to be fine,” Eijirou insisted. “I’m going to lay low. Take Bakugou and Awase to the outpost, stay quiet and wait for things to calm down. I already turned down Midoriya’s invitation to join whatever he’s up to, so-”

“So!” The door slammed open, revealing two people in the hallway. The person who’d opened the door was someone Eijirou only knew by sight: the king, Todoroki Enji. The other, Eijirou was all too familiar with. “As a reward for his loyalty and common sense, Lieutenant Handler Kirishima gets to keep his position.” The king tilted his head, then continued with a dismissive wave of his hand, “I think he’ll even get to keep his mages.” Hakamata stepped into the room, a sneer twisting his lips.  Eijirou shifted, putting himself between Hakamata and Awase, who made a choked sound and dropped to his knees.

“Hakamata, what are you-”

“Unfortunately, Deputy Chief Handler Aizawa has not turned down the chance to plot against myself and the king. So he’ll be losing his position, his authority, his precious mage, and pretty much everything else now.” Hakamata smirked, counting off on his fingers each thing he obviously enjoyed the thought of taking away from Aizawa.

“What are you talking about?” Aizawa demanded, his fingertips hovering over the beads strung at his waist.

“You don’t get to just make demands of your king, traitor,” Hakamata snapped, pulling a pair of crimson pain spells from his collection and holding them up warningly. “Come with us quietly, or we’ll make you get very, very loud. It’s been a while since I heard your pretty little mage scream.” Eijirou felt the color drain from his face, and while he couldn’t see Aizawa’s expression, he could imagine the fury and pain that would be there.

“I don’t know what you think I’ve done,” Aizawa said, his voice perfectly even. “But you don’t have any proof, or you would have done this in public to make yourself look better. You can’t-”

“I do not need proof of any kind of wrongdoing, suspected or otherwise, to claim a handler as my servant,” the king interrupted. “Aizawa Shouta, you are a strong and skilled handler. It would be a shame to waste that talent by allowing you to remain as Hakamata’s deputy. I have chosen you to replace Yagi. This way I can make proper use of you and make sure you don’t get any more traitorous ideas.”

Silence.

Eijirou’s mind was racing. He knew that name. Yagi...wasn’t that the name of the handler who’d been the king’s assistant, the way Midoriya served the crown prince? Yagi had died recently, and the rumor was that he’d used up all of his life force feeding the king more and more magic with his spell beads.

And now the king wanted Aizawa for that role.

“I can’t convince you I’m not a traitor, can I?” Aizawa’s voice was low, resigned, and his shoulders drooped in defeat. Eijirou’s eyes widened in shock. Surely Aizawa wasn’t just...giving in like that. He couldn’t. He had to have a plan. His back straightened, like he was putting on a good face and accepting his fate, meeting Hakamata’s victorious smirk head on. “You’re going to remove me from my position as a handler no matter what. I might as well be dead.”

“Yes, yes, which means your mage will be entrusted to Lieutenant Kirishima,” Hakamata agreed. Eijirou felt his jaw drop and hastily closed his mouth before Hakamata or the king noticed. This was Aizawa’s plan. He was going along with this, hoping they would give Yamada to Kirishima. All of this - the defeated act, probably going with them and not even resisting whatever they had planned for him - was all to protect Yamada.

Yamada.

Eijirou turned his attention to the mage. Yamada was staring at Aizawa, hands clenched into fists, tendon popping in his jaw, throat working like he was swallowing protests. Yamada was quivering with the need to do something, to help Aizawa somehow. Eijirou knew Yamada had to have realized the same thing he did; that Aizawa was basically accepting a death sentence in hopes of making sure Yamada stayed with a handler who wouldn’t hurt him.

“Shouta…” Yamada started forward, Aizawa’s name spilling from his lips, full of magic that he could unleash at any moment.

“Hizashi. Don’t.” Aizawa’s order was sharp, unforgiving. Yamada’s head went back like he’d been slapped. “What are you waiting for, Hakamata?”

“Oh, you’re not coming with me. You’re going with his Majesty straight to your first lesson on how to be a good little servant for the king,” Hakamata smirked. “I’ll be taking Yamada, though.”

“What? You can’t! You know I’ve had it set so if I can’t be his handler, he goes to Kirishima!” Aizawa protested, reaching for his beads. When his fingers touched them, he twitched and hissed like he’d been burned. Aizawa shot a baleful glare at the king.

“Of course. And Yamada will belong to Kirishima soon. We have to take care of time things first, that’s all.” Hakamata’s voice didn’t sound like he really intended to ever hand Yamada over to Eijirou. “He’ll need to be reassessed for starters before we hand him over to our favorite Lieutenant. Plus Kirishima just got his second mage, and was promoted. He’ll need time to adjust to that before I add another burden to his shoulders.”

“I can handle it,” Eijirou spoke up. He couldn’t stop any of this, couldn’t risk it. Aizawa had decided to do things this way, giving in to save Yamada. Eijirou would follow his lead; he always had, from not carrying pain spells to fighting tooth and nail to protect his mage as best he could. He would follow Aizawa in this, too. “Yamada is a very well-behaved mage, and he knows me. He won’t be a problem,” Eijirou insisted.

“Don’t get greedy, Lieutenant,” Hakamata chided. “You’ve gotten so much in so little time. Which reminds me, I’m changing your orders. You won’t be leaving for your new outpost in the morning. I want you to stay and attend the ball as one of my up and coming officers. Maybe one day you’ll even replace your mentor as my deputy.” Eijirou glanced at Aizawa’s stiff back, then Yamada’s desperate expression. They both had to be thinking of a way out.

“What about if I signed Yamada over to someone I know can take care of him?” Eijirou suggested. “Shinsou or Sero would be able to handle two mages.”

“No. Yamada will stay with me while everyone adjusts to their new roles,” Hakamata snapped.

“After the ball, then,” Eijirou said. “I want him by the time I leave for my outpost. If you won’t give him to me now, I want him by the morning after the ball.”

“I don’t think-“

“I agree. The Lieutenant will not have many chances to return and claim his mage once he leaves,” the king announced. Eijirou almost felt relieved, but a nervous churning in his gut kept him from relaxing just yet. He glanced at Aizawa once more, hoping his mentor would understand.

This was the best they were getting.

The king placed a hand on Aizawa’s shoulder and pushed him toward the door. Eijirou tensed, expecting Aizawa to shake off the touch and snap at the king. Aizawa didn’t really let anyone but Yamada touch him, and anyone who tried would end up regretting it.

But this time, Aizawa went quietly. The only time he paused was when he turned his head to meet Yamada’s gaze for a moment, then Eijirou’s. Eijirou wasn’t sure what kind of look Aizawa gave the mage who had been his partner for so long, but he understood the look Aizawa gave him easily enough.

Don’t you dare let anything happen to him. Aizawa might as well have said it out loud. He expected Eijirou to follow through, to get Yamada as soon as he could and protect him.

Eijirou did his best to make his expression as determined as possible, hoping it would reassure his mentor.

Then Aizawa was gone, marched out by the king.

Yamada was next, stumbling slightly as Hakamata shoved him toward the door.

“Chief Hakamata!” Eijirou called out. Hakamata paused, frowned at him. Eijirou met that frown head on. “After the ball. The same night, not the next morning. As soon as we leave the ball, he’s mine.” Hakamata’s eyes narrowed, but he nodded shortly before returning his attention to escorting Yamada out. Eijirou tried not to think about what would happen to Yamada between now and the ball. There was nothing Eijirou could do about it without endangering the mages already in his care. He’d have to do whatever it took to make it up to Yamada afterwards.

Not that anything would make up for how much Yamada was going to hate himself for whatever the king was going to do Aizawa.

Oh, yeah. Eijirou closed the door, waited a few heartbeats, then turned to face Awase.

“You told him, didn’t you?” Eijirou accused, fingers curling into fists and a scowl twisting his expression. “You were the only one who heard me tell Midoriya I wouldn’t help him. You did this.” Plus he’d left Awase unattended while Eijirou focused on Bakugou. Awase’s eyes flew wide, and he scooted backwards, still on his knees from when the king and Hakamata had come in, hands raised between them defensively.

He didn’t deny it, though.

Eijirou trembled, fighting to keep his fury in check.

Awase was a mage with a hard past, one others had struggled to control. That was why Hakamata had given him to Eijirou. So why would a mage like that help Hakamata, especially to the point of turning in someone who was working against Hakamata?

“Who is he using?” Eijirou demanded. Awase shrank away from his harsh tone, and Eijirou kicked himself. He took a deep breath, then repeated himself in the closest he could get to an even tone. “Who is Hakamata using against you? I can’t think of any other reason you’d do this.”

“Just how fucking stupid do you think I am? Like hell I’m telling you who to hurt to punish me!” Awase snapped. He was still leaning away from Eijirou, but there was fire in his eyes when he insisted he wouldn’t tell. Eijirou sat in front of him, held out his hand, palm up.

“You don’t have to tell me. You don’t have to say anything at all. Just take my hand if I’m right,” Eijirou suggested.

“And give you the fucking chance to use one of your goddamn beads?” Awase snapped.

“I don’t have any spells that could hurt you,” Eijirou replied, lifting his other hand so Awase could see he didn’t have any beads in it. He waited, keeping his hand outstretched. Awase glanced over his shoulder, eyeing the closed door to Eijirou’s bedroom like he was weighing something.

“Say you’re right. What would you do?” Awase demanded, focusing on Eijirou again.

“Right now? Nothing. You heard what I told Aizawa; I need to lay low. Once things cool down and you and Bakugou are a little safer, and I have Yamada, I can try to help whoever you’re protecting. Unless you don’t want me to get involved. I’d like to help you, Awase, but I know I’ll have to earn your trust first.” Eijirou fell silent, watching Awase as he mulled over Eijirou’s words.

Finally, without looking Eijirou in the eye, he lifted one of his hands and laid it on Eijirou’s.

Eijirou tried to think, to keep his breathing even and his mind focused.

He could work with this.

Awase was just trying to protect someone, same as Eijirou and Bakugou and even Aizawa and the others. That just meant that Eijirou had to keep Awase from hearing anything that might be used against Bakugou or any of Eijirou’s friends until he figured out how to save whoever Awase was trying to protect.

While protecting Bakugou.

And staying on Hakamata’s good side so he’d actually follow through and hand Yamada over after the ball.

That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

Chapter Text

Shouta hated the weight of the king’s hand on his shoulder as he was steered out of Kirishima’s quarters, but he hated it even more when that hand went to the center of his lower back a moment later. The king’s touch was heavier than it really should have been, pushing him down the hall. Shouta could feel the heat of the king’s power, fire lurking just below his skin, ready to lash out if Shouta resisted.

Not that he would do so in public. Not when Yamada was in Hakamata’s hands.

Shouta had to bide his time, wait it out. The ball wasn’t too far away, just a few days. He could last that long. And after that, Yamada would be safe with Kirishima.

Shouta wondered if Todoroki would go through with his plan with just himself and Tokoyami. The two of them could probably manage it. Maybe if they succeeded, Kirishima wouldn’t have to protect Yamada. Maybe Yamada would get to be free.

“In here,” the king ordered. Shouta bit back a growl as he was shoved through a doorway, barely keeping his footing. “Give me your beads.”

Every muscle in Shouta’s body screamed with tension at the command. His spell beads had been his tools to protect himself and Yamada for years. The only time he didn’t have their comforting weight on his hip was when he and Yamada were alone at night, and even then, he kept them close. He couldn’t give them up, couldn’t surrender his last line of defense.

“Do not make me repeat myself.”

Shouta curled his fingers around his bead collection, knuckles turning white for a second before he forced himself to relax.

His beads weren’t the last line of defense.

Shouta himself was.

His cooperation would hopefully spare Yamada some pain. He knew Hakamata would hurt Yamada, of course he would. But Hakamata had to give him up after the ball. That was the agreement with Kirishima, right?

Shouta didn’t know for sure if cooperating would make things easier on Yamada, but he was pretty sure that Hakamata would take any excuse to make things worse, and Shouta resisting the king would definitely qualify.

Shouta pulled the strings of beads from his belt and turned to face the king. He held them out between them, meeting the king’s gaze steadily.

“Offer them to me on your knees.” The king’s expression was nearly unreadable, his tone flat, but Shouta caught the smug crinkling around his eyes. The bastard was enjoying this.

Shouta didn’t hesitate this time, though. He sank to his knees and held the beads out and slightly higher than his bowed head, the way he’d seen the generals present their swords to the king before they went off to battle.

The king’s hands encircled his wrists without warning, and Shouta flinched away from the unexpected touch, but he couldn’t pull away. He risked lifting his head to try to catch a glimpse of the king’s expression, searching for some indication of his intentions.

Fire engulfed the beads, biting at Shouta’s hands, from his fingertips to the heel of his palm. Shouta let out a gasp and tried to wrench away instinctively, but the king held him fast. Shouta bit down on the inside of his cheek to hold back his cry of pain.

Shouta tasted the sharp copper of blood as the beads - his weapons, his tools, his only means of protecting himself and the people he cared about - turned to ash in his palms.

Shouta’s breath came in ragged pants as the flames vanished and the king released his wrists. Shouta’s fingers trembled, the burns lacing them aching so fiercely that even thinking about moving them hurt. Shouta squeezed his eyes shut, pulled his arms in so his hands were close to his chest, and curled forward over them.

He heard footsteps, the clink of metal on metal, but the hot ash clinging to his skin made the pain from the burns that much sharper, and it took a moment too long to realize what the king was doing.

The king’s boot hit his shoulder, and he toppled sideways with a snarl. Shouta caught himself before he hit the ground, only to hiss through clenched teeth as his palms hit the floor, the impact making his burns scream.

Metal snapped shut around his ankle, tight around his boot.

Then his boot was on fire, leather burning into the skin beneath, and then his skin was burning, too, leather and flesh fusing together under the heat. Shouta jolted and screamed as he jerked his head around to see what was happening.

The king had put a manacle on his ankle, then melted it shut instead of using a lock. The manacle shone cherry red, and Shouta’s boot was turning to ash beneath it.

His foot, the lower half of his calf, everywhere his boot covered, burned. Shouta yelled, the sound muffled by his clenched jaw.

The hot metal touched his bare skin, and Shouta’s jaw dropped open in a scream.

The world swam, went shadowy for a second. He couldn’t draw breath to scream again, unable to make his lungs work through the agony lancing through him from his burns.

When Shouta’s vision returned, it was blurry but not swimming with dark spots. The stench of burning flesh filled the room, and he couldn’t feel his ankle. He could feel the burns on his hands, and the skin around the worst of the burn, around the edge of the manacle, screamed with agony, but the skin where the worst of the damage had to be was blissfully silent.

Something touched his cheek. Shouta flinched, and the fingers that had brushed his cheek shifted, gripping him by the throat and hauling him up into a sitting position.

Shouta bit his lips, tasting copper once more, but managed not to scream again.

“I have been told it helps with the pain if you let yourself scream,” the king informed him, studying Shouta’s face seriously. “Not that I care either way. I have also been told that you have information about my foolish son’s plot against me. I will have that information out of you one way or another. And when I have that information, you may see your mage again. Tsunagu seems to think the song mage is important to you, so maybe that will be an incentive to cooperate.”

Shouta pulled his lips back, blood dripping from the corner of his mouth and probably coating his teeth from biting his lips and cheek.

“I don’t know anything,” Shouta ground out. The king shrugged and brought his other hand up to cup Shouta’s cheek.

“Maybe you won’t get to see your mage or anyone else again,” the king mused. “Or maybe you’d like to see them in the same pain you’re feeling?”

Shouta shuddered, shied away from the thought of Yamada in any kind of pain, then winced as the motion made the agony of his burns flare again.

“He didn’t do anything,” Shouta hissed. “And even if he did, I would be responsible for it. I’m his handler, so he can’t be blamed for-”

“Maybe. Maybe not.” The king’s thumb traced an old scar just under Shouta’s right eye, one he’d had for so long that most people seemed to forget it was even there. “Where did you get this scar?”

“Why does that matter?” Shouta demanded.

“Because I want to know. And whatever I want to know matters,” the king replied. His thumb traced the scar again, this time leaving a streak of fire in its wake. Shouta cried out, jerked in the king’s hold, but couldn’t get free. “Let’s try this again. Tell me where you got this scar.”

“Training accident. Yamada broke a target, a piece of it hit my face because I didn’t have a shield spell up. There; are you happy now?” Shouta spat. The king let out a low chuckle and released his neck, seizing his hair instead and wrenching his head back so he could inspect the burn now covering Shouta’s scar.

“Very. You learn quickly,” the king said. “Maybe you’ll get to see your mage again after all. Though you may not recognize him if you did see him. Yamada, right? I doubt he will be the same person you knew when Tsunagu finishes with him.”


 

Hizashi recognized the path Hakamata was leading him down. Aizawa usually kept him away from the cells used to house rebellious mages whenever possible, but sometimes Hizashi had to accompany him through them. For the briefest second, Hizashi let himself hope that Hakamata was just going to chain him in one of those cells and leave him until the ball. Hizashi hated being alone, hated silence, but he could stand the quiet for a few days.

Hizashi’s tiny spark of hope flickered out as Hakamata led him past the final cell, into an area Hizashi had heard about but never been unfortunate enough to see with his own eyes. Hizashi considered running, even started to reach for his magic before he remembered that Hakamata had blocked it as soon as Aizawa was out of sight. Hizashi steeled himself and stepped into the room.

“Stand in the middle,” Hakamata ordered. Hizashi eyed the assortment of sharp objects along one wall and wondered if Hakamata was going to hand him over to his sadistic copy mage. Apparently the pause to consider that was too long, because when he didn’t immediately obey, the sharp, twisting pain of Hakamata’s red spell beads tore through his back. Hizashi stumbled, the air knocked out of his lungs from the shock of it, and nearly fell.

Fingers tangled in his long hair and wrenched him toward the center of the room. Off balance and in pain, Hizashi couldn’t pull away. Hakamata released his hair and kicked his knees out from under him, sending Hizashi sprawling next to a rather ominous pair of chains. Another pain spell drove a cry from Hizashi’s lips, made him curl in on himself as though that would shield him from the pain.

In his years with Aizawa, he’d only been subjected to pain spells a handful of times, and he hadn’t had one used on him since Aizawa’s students had been forced to do it. The burning, stabbing pain caught him off guard, overwhelmed him faster than he remembered. He couldn’t think clearly, couldn’t remember anything beyond the last few seconds of blinding agony.

Hakamata’s fingers were in his hair again, but this time they weren’t twisting or pulling. Instead, they combed through the soft strands, a light touch that made Hizashi’s skin crawl because it was so close to Aizawa’s touch, but something about it felt wrong.

“I’m sure you think all you have to do is hold out until the ball,” Hakamata mused, lifting a lock of Hizashi’s hair to inspect. “And you’re right, in a way. If Kirishima was more experienced, had more allies, he probably could have gotten you right away. Instead, he’s just a rookie who’s in over his head, and you’re here with me. I could probably tell him I killed you for trying to escape, and he’d believe me. Then you’d never be free of me.”

Hizashi shook his head, the only show of defiance he could manage when he was wrestling the lingering ache from the pain spells and the rising nausea as Hakamata went back to playing with his hair.

“You know, one thing I always admired about Aizawa was the way he took such pride in your hair. He hardly ever takes care of his own, but yours?” Hakamata let out a low chuckle. “I think you’re the only mage in the palace that’s managed to keep long hair like this. Even I can admit it’s beautiful.”

Hizashi forced himself up and glared at Hakamata, who just smiled back at him. Hizashi tried to pull away as Hakamata reached for his hair again, but his body refused to move. Hizashi’s eyes would have widened if he could move them. Instead, he could barely even breathe. Hakamata chuckled and held up a single paralysis bead.

“I’d tell you to hold still, but you don’t exactly have a choice, do you?” Hakamata sighed. He stood and made his way to the assortment of sharp tools along the wall. He returned a moment later, a heavy knife in hand. Hizashi couldn’t track Hakamata’s movements very well while paralyzed, but he felt the tug on his scalp as Hakamata gathered his hair into his fist, holding it at the base of Hizashi’s neck.

Then the weight of his hair was gone. Loose strands fell forward, tickling the back of his neck. Hizashi’s heart leaped to his throat. Sure, he’d been a little vain about his hair, but the reason he’d never wanted to cut it was because of the way Aizawa took care of it. Those soft moments, Aizawa carefully braiding his hair before bed, tenderly unweaving it in the morning and brushing it out, those were precious. The quiet, the calm, the simple comfort of having Aizawa’s hands in his hair, taking care of it - of him - that was Hizashi’s favorite thing.

A sob fought its way out of his throat, only to end up trapped on his tongue by the paralysis bead that kept him still. Hakamata dropped the severed locks of Hizashi’s hair in front of him, where Hizashi couldn’t look away from them.

“Still too long, I think,” Hakamata mused, lifting the hair framing Hizashi’s face and bringing his blade to bear once more. Hizashi couldn’t even close his eyes, much less tune out the quiet sound of the knife cutting through his hair. More hair fell to the floor, shorter bits now, smaller and smaller pieces of Hizashi’s fondest memories being chipped away.

When Hakamata finally set down his blade and ran his fingers through Hizashi’s much shorter hair, Hizashi trembled under his touch, the sob trapped by the paralysis spell escaping finally as the spell was released. Hizashi curled forward, covering his mouth to muffle his cries and keep himself from reaching up to feel just how short his hair was. He was distantly aware of Hakamata tucking the knife into his belt, but he couldn’t bring himself to care.

“Give me your hands,” Hakamata ordered, holding one of his out. Hizashi didn’t move. Hakamata’s free hand dropped to the beads at his hip.

“No. I’m not going to give you anything,” Hizashi snapped, glaring at Hakamata through watery eyes.

“That’s where you’re wrong,” Hakamata snapped. He studied Hizashi for a moment, then smiled. “Give me your hands, or I’ll take something much more precious from you.” Hizashi scoffed, the sound wetter and weaker than he meant for it to be. “Have it your way, then.”

Hakamata picked up one of the chains that lay on the ground beside Hizashi and seized his wrist. Hizashi tried to yank his hand away, but the pain from earlier had left him with almost no strength left, and Hakamata forced Hizashi’s wrist into the metal cuff at the end of the chain, then repeated the process with Hizashi’s other wrist.

Hakamata walked behind him, and before Hizashi could turn to see what he was doing, there was a metallic groan, followed by a rattling sound, and then the chains attached to his wrists began tightening, being drawn up towards the ceiling. Hizashi cried out as the chains wrenched his arms over his head and hauled him upright. It didn’t pull him up too far, just enough to get his knees under him so he was kneeling with his weight up on his knees instead of resting comfortably on his heels.

“There, that’s better. Now, what should I have you give me next?” Hakamata hummed to himself, coming to stand in front of Hizashi again. He gripped Hizashi’s chin, tilted his head up so he was forced to look at Hakamata. “I know,” Hakamata practically purred as he retrieved his knife from his belt and rested the sharp edge against the side of Hizashi’s throat. “How about your pretty voice?”

Chapter Text

Shouta refused to limp as he walked at the king’s shoulder. The metal melted into the charred mess of leather and flesh that was his ankle had only recently been removed and the wound healed by Hakamata just enough to let him walk. It still ached, still nearly gave out on him when he stood. It took every ounce of his willpower to walk like he wasn’t in constant pain.

Shouta’s hands stung every time they brushed the simple braided embroidery at the hem of the coat he wore. He had always hated formal events and the tight, overly flashy clothes that went hand in hand with them, but this had to be the worst one.

His new spell beads - all green, showing his new purpose as nothing more than someone to provide a power-up for the king - hung at his waist. Not only did he only have beads that would make the person walking in front of him stronger, he had to wear a simplified, washed-out version of the king’s outfit. Plus a handful of servants had been allowed to manhandle his hair so he didn’t look like he’d spent nearly a week in some awful servants-quarters-turned-torture-room. Now the king was going to parade him around at the ball like a prize horse.

The worst part, though, was that he had no idea what had happened outside his tiny room in the days since he became the king’s new favorite kindling. He didn’t know if Yamada was even alive, let alone if Hakamata was actually going to keep his word and hand him over to Kirishima after this damned ball.

Shouta didn’t even know if Kirishima was alive, or if he was still in good enough standing with Hakamata to actually get Yamada.

They were approaching the ballroom. Shouta kept his expression even as he followed the king inside. The king paused as he entered, taking a moment for everyone to bow to him in greeting, and Shouta stood silently at his side, taking the moment to sweep the room as everyone straightened up.

Shouta’s blood went cold as he took in the sight before him.

Tokoyami was leaning against one of the columns around the edge of the room, his long black coat with silver embroidery draped over his shoulders like a cape instead of actually being worn correctly. Beside him, wearing a short black and silver jacket with disturbingly long tails, was none other than Shinsou. Monoma was at Shinsou’s shoulder, his outfit much simpler but still in Tokoyami’s black and silver. Tokoyami had brought Shinsou and Monoma as his guests. That was bad. Shinsou would be tied to Tokoyami in the other nobles’ eyes for a long time, now. What part of don’t involve his students was difficult for the damn shadow bird and his demon crow to understand?

“I was beginning to wonder if you would show up or not, Father,” Prince Todoroki murmured, joining the king in surveying the ball. Shouta risked a glance sideways and froze all over again as he took in the prince’s entourage. There was Midoriya, as always, dressed in Todoroki’s chosen colors, red and white. And with them...with them was Sero Hanta, who was definitely one of Shouta’s students last time he checked, which meant he was definitely not supposed to be at this ball! Especially not as the prince’s companion! Sero’s new mage caught Shouta’s eye and winked at him. She actually winked. Damn it, what was going on? Sero noticed where his mage was looking and studied Shouta for a moment. Shouta narrowed his eyes, trying to figure out how to tell Sero to take Shinsou and leave in case the prince decided to act on the plan to assassinate the king in the middle of the ball. Sero calmly looked away, nodding toward the far side of the ballroom, where Chief Handler Hakamata had just entered the ballroom as well.

Hakamata swept through the crowd of nobles, clearly headed to greet the king, his entourage behind him. On either side of him was a mage, and behind him, also with a mage at either shoulder, was Kirishima, in the handlers’ officer uniform of black pants, black coat, and red shoulder cape. Bakugou and Awase followed him.

Shouta barely had a moment to despair over the fact that all of his surviving students were present as his gaze landed on the mage walking just behind Hakamata’s left shoulder. The man’s hair was short, and he was utterly silent, but Shouta knew him. He’d know that face anywhere.

Yamada didn’t look up as Hakamata led his entourage across the ballroom. Shouta had to bite his lips to keep them from whispering Yamada’s name. The pain from his burns was nothing compared to the way Shouta’s heart shattered at the sight of Yamada, shuffling along with his head down. Yamada usually made events like this bearable, sticking close to Shouta’s side and whispering his opinions on the nobles’ fashion in his ear. But this...this quiet, subdued, broken Yamada...seeing it tore at his insides, made him want to scream or cry or maybe throw up.

Shouta desperately wanted to go to him, to hold him the way Yamada always held Shouta when he was falling apart. Shouta wished he could gather Yamada in his arms and whisk him away from the ball, from Hakamata, from whatever the Chief Handler had done to give Yamada that awful look somewhere between emptiness and terror in his eyes.

Yamada looked up, saw Shouta. Yamada’s lips wrapped around Shouta’s name, but no sound escaped him.

Yamada was calling him.

Shouta couldn’t stop himself. He stepped forward, reached for Yamada, and then several things happened at once.

The glass ceiling of the ballroom shattered, raining shards of glass down on everyone.

Someone fell from the ceiling, landing a kick square to the king’s head and knocking him to the floor,landing in a crouch over him.

Someone screamed.

Shouta lunged for Yamada. He didn’t know what was happening, didn’t know how quickly he could move with his ankle still messed up, but he hadn’t been allowed any shield spells and he needed to do this.

One arm went around Yamada’s waist, pulling him close, and the other curled around the back of Yamada’s head, cushioning it as they fell. Shouta twisted, trying to get his body under Yamada’s and mostly succeeding even as his ankle finally gave out on him. Shouta hit the floor, hard, shards of glass going straight through his formal wear and sinking into his skin, Yamada’s weight on top of him only driving the shards deeper. Shouta turned his head, spotted a section of floor that was miraculously clear of glass - he was pretty sure there had been nobles there a second ago, where had they gone? - and rolled so Yamada was under him but not being pressed into any glass bits.

Only when he was sure that Yamada was as protected as could be - and he needed something to distract him from realizing Yamada hadn’t made a single sound - did Shouta look around.

What he saw made his jaw drop.

No wonder the nobles had vacated the area; those still in the room were pressed against the wall.

Because that was definitely the king on the ground, and that was definitely the crown prince standing over him, facing the person who’d dropped from the shattered ceiling. The intruder and the prince studied each other for a moment, exchanged nods, and then turned to the king as he got to his feet and was immediately surrounded by his own flames.

“Hello, Father,” the intruder chuckled. “I’m glad landing on you didn’t kill you; I’m going to do that a lot slower. With my magic or maybe my bare hands.” Brilliant blue flames danced around the stranger. Except he wasn’t a stranger. Shouta hadn’t been Deputy Chief when the accident had happened, but he remembered it. Everyone did.

A training match gone wrong.

A prince scarred nearly beyond recognition, with only his cobalt flames and eyes to reveal his identity.

The child was supposed to have died roughly a month after his injuries, but Shouta had no doubt. That was definitely Crown Prince Todoroki Shouto’s older brother, Prince Todoroki Ryouta.  

And he was definitely about to try to murder the king.

Shouta pushed himself up on one knee and tore his beads from his hip.

“Kirishima!” Kirishima was the closest, right? Shouta thought he remembered that. Kirishima turned, caught sight of him just in time to catch the green beads when Shouta threw them at him. Kirishima met his gaze for a split second, glanced at the beads, then back at Shouta. Then he nodded and turned to Bakugou.

Shouta didn’t hear what they said, but it didn’t matter.

Yamada was what mattered now.


 

Fumikage saw Hakamata walk in and nodded to Shinsou, who reached over and poked Monoma’s arm.

“Now?” Dark Shadow whined in his ear. Fumikage ignored the shadow demon and glanced upward, noting the shadow on the glass ceiling. Good. Things were going the way Todoroki and Midoriya predicted, then.

Fumikage heard the ceiling shatter, saw the scarred mage drop onto the king as Aizawa lunged from the king’s side and tackled Yamada out of the way. Fumikage wondered if Todoroki had warned him somehow or if Aizawa always reacted that quickly to get Yamada out of harm’s way.

“Now?” Dark Shadow pressed.

“Now,” Fumikage agreed. Dark Shadow screeched and threw himself off of Fumikage’s shoulder, swooping around the ballroom, circling the king and the group around him. Fumikage ignored the bird for the moment and glanced around at the nobles, who were fleeing or pressing themselves against the wall.

Dark Shadow rose to circle above the king’s group, keeping watch for any noble who might decide to try to interfere.

Fumikage could sense Dark Shadow’s frustration at not being allowed to swoop in, but he held the crow back. Their job was to keep watch, nothing else.

The rest was up to Todoroki.

“Tokoyami, the nobles are all gone,” Shinsou announced.

“What now, bird brain?” Monoma added.

“Now you copy my magic. Not Dark Shadow, just the powers he gives me,” Fumikage told him, holding out his hand. “We need to use the shadows to watch for any handlers or nobles coming to help the king.”

“I’ll keep you both shielded and powered up,” Shinsou added, sitting and pulling a handful of beads from his collection.

“Fine.” Monoma grumbled and took Fumikage’s hand, then sat on the floor and closed his eyes. “Show me how, bird brain.”

Fumikage caught a glimpse of fond amusement sparkling in Shinsou’s eyes and shook his head.

Fumikage thought Aizawa’s students were maybe a little too much like him.


 

Katsuki hated the stupid uniform he’d gotten stuck with. He hated how closely it fit him, although he had to take a moment to appreciate the way Kirishima’s version of it fit him. The cape and fancy braiding at the hem were a nice touch.

Katsuki hated that he’d been distracted by Kirishima and how nicely he wore that damn uniform.

He also hated following Hakamata and Toga, hated the way Aizawa’s energetic mage was reduced to some silent husk. Kirishima hadn’t even let Toga speak to Katsuki, threatening to silence her with a spell bead if she tried.

Katsuki hated that fucking asshole Dabi, too. Fucker just had to break the ceiling didn’t he? Who the fucking shit even invited that gross-ass fucker?

Katsuki suspected Asui, and considered fighting her over it, but then there were more important things to worry about.

Sero and Midoriya flanked Todoroki, facing the king, who laughed as his two sons gathered their magic. Sero and Midoriya looked like they’d expected this whole thing and were ready to back Todoroki up in a duel with his father.

Somewhere off to the side were Aizawa and Yamada. Out of the corner of his eye, Katsuki saw Aizawa throw a lot of green power up spells in Kirishima’s direction. Kirishima caught them and turned to focus on Hakamata. Katsuki followed his example.

“Little bastards,” Hakamata growled, reaching for his spell beads.

“Bakugou!” Kirishima shouted. Katsuki glanced at him, took in the determination in his eyes as he held up an orange magic cancellation spell and a copper shield spell. “Take Toga out!”

Katsuki bared his teeth and felt his magic surge. Fucking finally. Katsuki lunged for the sadistic little fucker, magic crackling in his blood and his palms.

Katsuki’s fingers closed around the back of her neck, his magic biting into her skin.

Toga was the one screaming for once.

She couldn’t even copy his power and fight back the way she had when he’d tried to fight his way free of her torture before, because Kirishima was keeping her magic suppressed.

“Die, you fucking monster!” Katsuki hissed, tightening his grip and sending a surge of magic through her.

The skin under his hand began to disappear, but not quick enough. Or maybe not slowly enough. She’d tortured him for years, she needed to pay.

“Bakugou!” That wasn’t Kirishima’s voice. It was Awase’s, and he was screaming. Katsuki glared around, searching for the other mage. First he nearly fucking got Kirishima in trouble because he couldn’t keep his goddamn mouth shut, and now he was distracting Katsuki?

Then he saw what Awase was trying to get him to notice.

Kirishima had fallen to one knee, spell beads clutched in his hand. He was breathing hard, eyes mostly shut. Awase was on the ground in front of him, writhing in the glass shards from the shattered ceiling, as Hakamata advanced on them, crimson pain beads clutched in his hand.

Hakamata plucked another pain bead from his collection. Kirishima let out a cry halfway between a roar and a scream and fell forward, barely catching himself with clenched fists against the floor.

Kirishima was in pain.

He was being hurt, and he wasn’t even shielding himself. It didn’t make any sense.

Except it did.

Kirishima could only maintain a few spells at once and he was already pushing himself.

He was maintaining the spells protecting Katsuki instead of protecting himself.

Fuck.

Fuck his shit hair and his stupid fucking kindness right to goddamn shit.

Katsuki brought his free hand up, seized Toga’s back.

Her scream cut off as Katsuki’s magic tore right through her body, his fury making his power surge, tearing her apart piece by piece. Katsuki didn’t care about that anymore though.

Because it didn’t matter who or what the thing in his hands used to be.

Now it was just dead weight.

Katsuki shifted his grip, hurled the body disintegrating in his hands at Hakamata, then launched himself right after it.

What was left of Toga hit Hakamata and knocked him off balance, made him drop the beads in his hand.

Awase’s cries went silent, and Kirishima slumped in relief. That was all Katsuki needed. Kirishima was okay.

Now Katsuki could focus on demolishing Hakamata.

Katsuki closed in on the Chief Handler, magic dancing on his fingertips.

Hakamata threw up a shield spell and reached for his beads as Katsuki’s palms pressed against the round bubble of Hakamata’s spell. He wasn’t casting it against his skin, the way Kirishima usually did.

Good. Maybe this would use up more energy.

Then Katsuki’s magic flared, the unmistakable swell of power that came when Kirishima boosted his magic.

Katsuki’s palms shone for a moment, bright light leaking out from between his hands and Hakamata’s shield. The light - the power - flared once, twice, a second and third magic boosting bead taking effect.

Then the shield flickered once.

Then it broke.

Katsuki surged forward, a cry of victory on his lips, only for someone else’s hand to snatch Hakamata’s beads from his belt.

Katsuki barely managed to redirect his magic into the air, releasing it as a huge explosion that would have demolished the ceiling if Dabi hadn’t already done that.

“Take care of Kirishima,” Aizawa ordered, leaning heavily to one side as he wrapped the ends of Hakamata’s bead collection around his hands. “I’ve got this trash.”

Hakamata bolted.

“Get the fuck back here, asswipe!” Katsuki snarled, starting after him.

“Bakugou.” Aizawa’s voice broke into Katsuki’s furious focus. “I need you to do something.”

“Fuck off,” Katsuki snapped. “That fucker had Kirishima fucking tortured, so-”

“Kirishima needs you,” Aizawa interrupted. Katsuki was going to ignore him, to push him out of the way, but a glimpse of red at the edge of his vision caught his attention. Kirishima must have collapsed after giving him the power he needed to break through Hakamata’s spells. Katsuki’s stomach churned at the thought of how many beads Kirishima had used, how far he’d pushed himself. “You need to get him somewhere safe. There’s an alcove behind that pillar over there.” Aizawa nodded to one of the columns that was just about as far from the king and the group around him as you could get.

“The fuck should I trust you for?” Katsuki was torn. He needed to go to Kirishima, needed to protect him. But he also needed to share with Hakamata exactly how much Katsuki loathed him for all the pain he’d inflicted on them both.

“He hurt Hizashi,” Aizawa growled. Katsuki took in the darkness, the hatred in Aizawa’s eyes, and nodded slowly. He remembered the way Yamada moved on the way to the ballroom, silent and constantly leaning away from Hakamata, eyes down but attention fixed completely on Hakamata, fear making him constantly aware of where Hakamata was and what he was doing.

If Kirishima looked like that, Katsuki wouldn’t let anyone else take killing Hakamata from him.

“Fucking shit I’m going soft,” Katsuki muttered under his breath. Then he met Aizawa’s eyes again and nodded. “He’s all yours.”

Katsuki turned on his heel and headed toward Kirishima.

He didn’t look over his shoulder to check Toga’s remains. He didn’t look back to watch Aizawa take off in the direction Hakamata had gone.

Katsuki knelt beside Kirishima and scooped him into his arms, not caring that the shield spell on him had faded and glass scraped and sliced his skin as he did so.

Katsuki cradled Kirishima against his chest, remembering how warm and safe it felt to have Kirishima do the same for him on horseback.

Katsuki glanced over at Awase, who had managed to sit up and was watching him warily.

“Come on. We need to get him somewhere safe,” Katsuki growled. “Unless you’re still Hakamata’s little bitch?”

Awase shook his head and reached out, helped steady Katsuki as he stood, lifting Kirishima’s weight into his arms.

Katsuki didn’t even look back to check on the battle for the fate of the kingdom apparently playing out across the ballroom.

He had more important things to worry about, after all.


 

Shouta stalked Hakamata down the hall. His ankle threatened to collapse beneath him at any moment, but Shouta forced himself onward.

Yamada hadn’t even reacted when Shouta half carried, half dragged him to the alcove, hadn’t seemed to registered Shouta’s presence at all. He hadn’t made a single sound either, not even when a piece of glass scraped along his hand and sliced open his palm. It wasn’t a serious wound, but Shouta had expected some kind of reaction. A hiss, a complaint, something.

He heard a thud and a muffled curse. Shouta gripped the crimson beads in his hand a little tighter and rounded the corner. Hakamata was pulling himself to his feet, having apparently tripped and fallen. Shouta felt his lips curl into a feral grin as he rolled the beads between his fingers.

Hakamata’s body spasmed, and a screech tore itself out of his throat. He collapsed to the floor, and Shouta crossed the remaining distance between them. Shouta’s fingers curled around a second bead, and Hakamata writhed, his cries growing hoarse.

“Not so fun when you’re the one in pain, is it?” Shouta hissed, crouching beside Hakamata and planting one knee in the center of his back.

“Aizawa?” Hakamata wheezed, twisting to stare over his shoulder as Shouta released the pain spells. Hakamata coughed, then managed a sneer like he wasn’t trapped on the floor with a downright pissed Aizawa on his back. “If I had known shutting up that pretty little mage of yours was all it took to convince you to use pain spells, I would’ve taken him years ago.”

“I’m going to make sure you never touch Hizashi or anyone else ever again.” Shouta looped the strings of beads around Hakamata’s throat and pulled. Hakamata’s hands came up to pull at them, but Shouta shifted his grip, fingertips brushing a new red bead, and Hakamata’s body arched, seizing with the pain.

Hakamata choked, struggling to breath, a scream stuttering in his throat, cut off by his own bead collection. Shouta’s lips pulled back in a snarl and he tightened the strings, the metal pieces that would disconnect the beads cutting into Hakamata’s throat more and more as he shook and tried to curl away from the pain shooting through him.

Hakamata’s movements grew weaker, until he couldn’t do more than tremble, the bolts of pain doing more to move his limbs than Hakamata himself.

With one last, rattling attempt at a breath, Hakamata went limp.

Shouta didn’t release his hold on the beads, not until Hakamata had been still for a while. He pressed two fingers to Hakamata’s wrist, checking for a pulse. Finding none, Shouta pushed himself to his feet and turned back towards the ballroom.

Yamada and his students needed him.

Shouta stumbled, his ankle giving out on him, but he managed to angle himself to fall against the wall, holding himself up. Shouta forced himself forward, using the wall for balance as his damaged ankle refused to take any more weight.

Shouta only made it a few steps down the hallway before all of the pain - from the burn scars laced over his body, from the dead, broken look in Yamada’s eyes, from knowing deep down that Hakamata’s death wouldn’t change anything - caught up with him, the adrenaline that had let him push through his agony to protect Yamada and then kill Hakamata fading.

Shouta’s arms didn’t have the strength to hold him up any more.

He fell.

Shouta didn’t even have the energy left to curl up or try to make sure he was off to the side so no one would step on him.

He wanted Yamada. Wanted to hold him and comfort him and kiss every inch of him until he washed away whatever Hakamata had done to him.

Shouta knew that wouldn’t be enough, he knew that. But it didn’t stop him from wanting to try.

He just hoped that when all was said and done, Todoroki succeeded and defeated the king.

The world went black, and Shouta fell into unconsciousness.

Chapter Text

Hanta couldn’t help jumping a little when Dabi crashed through the ceiling and flattened the king. He’d been pretty sure Dabi would show up, considering how smug Asui had been the last day or so, but coming through the ceiling?

Hanta hadn’t expected that. They had a plan, though, and they were sticking to it. Tokoyami, Shinsou, and Monoma to keep the nobles at bay. Midoriya and Hanta to provide assistance as needed, with Midoriya calling the spells because of his experience working with the prince. Todoroki himself, along with Dabi and Asui, to take down the king.

Aizawa even managed to get himself and Yamada out of the way, while Kirishima and Bakugou could be trusted to handle Hakamata and Toga, despite not being aware of the plan for the evening.

“Magic reduction,” Midoriya reminded him, eyes fixed on the prince, waiting for Todoroki’s signal.

“Hello, Father,” Dabi chuckled. “I’m glad landing on you didn’t kill you; I’m going to do that a lot slower. With my magic or maybe my bare hands.” Hanta decided to ignore the idea of Dabi as a prince for the time being and dropped his hand to his spell beads. He brushed over the anti-static spells he hadn’t been able to put aside even though he knew Kaminari probably wouldn’t come to this fight.

“Ryouta, I thought you were dead,” the king sighed. “I suppose you always were a disappointment.”

“Ryouta. Brother.” Todoroki spoke, angling himself so he was between Midoriya and the king.

“Tsuyu told me you might need my help, baby brother,” Dabi laughed, bright blue flames swirling around him.

“I was hoping you would be up for a little light regicide, yes,” Todoroki agreed, red-orange fire curling around his left hand while frost spread over his right.

“Shouto, you really should know better,” the king sighed. “Ryouta will disappoint you, too, in the end.”

“So far he’s doing exactly what I expected,” Todoroki replied.

“Expect this,” Dabi growled, lunging for the king. Fire met fire, the king’s magic bursting into flames around him.

A single word left Todoroki’s lips, their signal to begin.

“Izuku.”

Midoriya reacted instantly, like Todoroki’s voice called the spells to life rather than Midoriya himself. Hanta was a split second behind him, focusing two magic-reduction spells on the king.

The king’s flames faded, becoming patches of fire sprouting from his arms, legs, and head rather than a cloak of flames surrounding his whole body.

“Performance issues, Father?” Dabi sneered, flames arching from his palms and weaving around themselves as they streaked toward the king, who swatted Dabi’s magic away with a sweeping blaze of his own.

“I raised you both better than this,” the king complained. “Shouto, why are you relying on others to weaken your enemies?” A wall of fire swept toward Todoroki, parted around the shield spell Midoriya flung around him, then flowed back into a solid wall as it closed in on Hanta and Midoriya.

Hanta yelped as something damp and sticky wrapped around his waist and flung him toward Midoriya. Hanta barely managed to keep track of the spell beads he needed to focus on to keep them active as he and Midoriya went down in a tangle of limbs just in time for Todoroki’s ice to appear between them and the fire, which was stopped only because  the king’s magic was already reduced by their beads.

Dabi shot two more streams of flame in his father’s direction, and this time Todoroki  joined in, lashing out with a semicircle of fire that licked at the king’s heels when he shifted his weight to counter Dabi’s attack.

Hanta risked a glance away from the fire mages and saw Asui pulling her tongue back into her mouth.

“Thanks, Asui,” Hanta grimaced as Todoroki’s ice melted. Hanta’s shirt was sticky from Asui’s tongue and damp from Todoroki’s melted ice, while Midoriya’s elbow jabbed him in the side. ALl in all, could have been worse - like if they’d let their spells fall and the king’s magic had gotten stronger - but still wasn’t the best outcome.

“No time for naps,” Asui croaked, her tongue flicking out to wrap around his arm and haul him upright. Hanta fought the urge to roll his eyes at her as he returned his attention to the battle.

“Enough of this,” the king growled, flames shooting from his body in every direction. The magic came in spurts, like he was searching for weaknesses in the layers of reduction spells Hanta and Midoriya had placed on him.

And he was finding them. Hanta had no idea mages could be this powerful. Multiple reduction spells, and the king was still countering each attack Dabi and Todoroki shot at him, plus he had energy left over to test the spells’ limits and attack Hanta and Midoriya. Todoroki was right; trying to cut the king’s magic off completely wouldn’t have ended well.

Hanta could feel the strain of holding two spells against such a powerful mage, but he knew it wasn’t enough. He didn’t know how much time had passed, but Todoroki, Shinsou, and Monoma wouldn’t be able to keep everyone away forever. Plus, he didn’t know how Kirishima and Aizawa were doing. They needed to end this quickly.

Hanta reached for his spell beads, fingertips brushing a third yellow magic reduction bead, and braced himself for the wave of exhaustion that would inevitably come from using it.

“Sero, wait,” Asui hissed, noticing his movements. “Boost Dabi instead.”

“That’s not the plan,” Hanta protested, fingers curling around the bead. “Besides, if he’s not expecting it-” Hanta remembered the destroyed training room from Kirishima overloading Bakugou unexpectedly. He was pretty sure reproducing those results in the royal ballroom wouldn’t be ideal.

“Trust me,” Asui insisted. “If he thinks Dabi has been holding back…”

“This better work,” Hanta grumbled, shifting his fingertips and attention to the green magic boost beads at his hip. He stumbled as the weight of triggering the third spell hit him, nearly fell as his mind went fuzzy from the drain. Keeping his two reduction spells on the king was taking almost everything he had, and he’d just put more than he probably should have into this third spell. Someone gripped Hanta’s arm just above the elbow, steadying him.

“What did you do?” Midoriya whispered, pulling Hanta closer to support him better.

Hanta lifted his head and took in the manic glint in Dabi’s eyes as his brilliant blue flames spun around him, a whirlwind of heat and light so intense Hanta flinched and lifted a hand to shield his eyes.

Dabi’s flames lept towards the ceiling, twirling around tighter and tighter until it formed a swirling wedge that dove toward the king’s face. The king brought his hands up, flames dancing around them to protect himself. Dabi’s attack twisted at the last moment, hitting the ground at his feet, only to erupt around his legs, covering and mingling with the king’s own fire magic as it raced up his legs.

The king roared, surged against the reduction spells in an attempt to throw off Dabi’s attack, but Hanta gripped a second green spell and bit the inside of his cheek to ground himself as he reached for Dabi’s magic, stoking the flames and intensifying them.

The king’s magic protecting most of his body vanished, focused on holding off Dabi’s around his legs.

“Shouto!” Midoriya’s voice reached Hanta’s ears distantly through the haze of exhaustion, catching his waning attention and directing it toward the prince, who was surging toward the king’s unprotected back.

Todoroki’s hand touched the middle of the king’s back.

Flames shot straight out from his palm, into the king’s body.

Dabi’s flames raced upward, suddenly unhindered by the king’s magic.

The king fell.

A moment later, Hanta did, too.


 

Dabi pressed his flames forward, urging them to bite deep into his father’s body even as the boost he’d received from one of the handlers - he didn’t know or care which - started to fade.

Burn, burn it all to ash. To nothing, Dabi snarled to himself, lips pulled back in what might have been a grin under other circumstances.

“Ryouta, enough!” his brother’s voice cut through his bloodlust just enough for his grin to turn to a grimace.

“No,” Dabi growled. “We have to be sure.”

“Ryouta, he’s dead.” Dabi felt his brother’s hand on his shoulder, barely suppressed the instinct to burn that touch away.

“Let go of me,” Dabi snapped, swatting his brother’s hand.

“He’s gone, Ryouta. He can’t hurt us anymore. We can-”

Dabi’s magic vanished.

For a second, the world stood still.

His magic was gone, a sensation he hadn’t felt since…

Not since...

Since his father’s magic had turned his patches of his skin to ash.

Dabi’s gaze fell on the handler Asui had been working with, limp on the floor, then on the handler his brother kept around, who was gripping orange cancellation beads in one hand and Asui’s arm in the other, pulling her a step farther from where Dabi’s magic had been raging a moment before.

His brother’s pet handler.

His brother’s…

His…

Todoroki’s. Not his brother’s. Prince Todoroki’s little pet had cut off his magic.

Asui said the little pet didn’t do anything without a command from Prince Todoroki.

“Shouto, you…” Dabi seized the prince’s shirt with one hand, his other coming up to hover just over the right side of Prince Todoroki’s face. Todoroki’s scarred eye widened, and then he reacted to the unspoken threat of Dabi’s hand and the flames that could so easily sprout from it if his magic wasn’t blocked.

Todoroki’s ice burst into being between them, expanding in an instant to throw Dabi back. He stumbled, tripped over the other handler’s limp form, and landed heavily on his back.

Dabi stared up at Todoroki as he stood over him, ice crystals coating one hand and sparks dancing over the other.

“What are you doing?” Todoroki demanded, fire behind his one blue eye.

His father stood over him with fire at his fingertips and in his eyes.

“What are you doing, you weakling? Get up!”

Ryouta scrambled to his feet, trembling, and held out his hands, tiny blue sparks hovering over his palms.

“I got the fire, dad!” he insisted, lifting his hands a little higher to show his magic.

“I’ll show you fire, boy,” his father snarled as he reached for him, and Ryouta held still despite his knees trying to shake out from under him.

Todoroki’s hand was reaching down toward him.

Dabi’s foot hit the body he’d tripped over, giving him the leverage he needed. He threw himself backwards, rolling to his feet and facing Todoroki and his pet, who still had a hold on Asui.

“Dabi, what’s wrong?” Asui called. She wasn’t fighting the grip on her arm, wasn’t trying to get away.

She was the one who told him their plan, told him when to come.

She’d been working with Todoroki and his pet to set up the fight with the king. Had she worked with them to set up whatever they were trying to do by taking his magic, too?

Had she been drawn in by them somehow?

But she wasn’t fighting. He couldn’t save her from whatever this was without his magic, either.

He didn’t even know if he’d be able to escape himself.  

“I’m sorry, Tsuyu,” Dabi rasped.

Then he turned and fled.