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Forestial

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Eyelids slowly lift, forest green peeking through, anticipating the blinding white light provided by the morning sun. They quickly close again. Too bright.

Izuku yawns loudly, extending his arms overhead until thin fingers brush the smooth teak wood of his bed frame. He rolls over, pulling with him the fur and wool cocoon he’d formed around himself in sleep, before deciding he ought to wake. He does a few sleepy stretches—pressing hands into the mattress and arching his back, extending his legs to the end of the bed. Then he sits up on the side to reach for his toes, doing his best to keep his back flat with relative success.

Feeling slightly more functional, he climbs out of bed and pads a few steps across the room to peer at the smoothly polished obsidian hanging on the wall. He looks blearily, making a face at his own messy appearance. His wild green waves look especially unruly, so today will require a rinse in the river. While the river won’t tame his stubborn locks, the water will weigh them down enough that as they air dry, they should at least sit in a… sort-of attractive manner. If they don’t, then, well... he tried?

Izuku’s sharp eyes glance around the varying surfaces of his modest, single-room home, searching for some clean clothes to wear on his trek to the water. He finds only those laden with sweat from his daily training hanging over the back of his desk chair, plus a small pile at the base of his bed which have been present for who knows how long. He sighs in resignation as he pulls on an old white tunic and light brown pants he wore yesterday. This means he’ll have to do the laundering today, too.

He grabs the burlap sack hanging by the door and stuffs the dirty clothing inside to carry with him, crinkling his nose at the stench. After slipping on his worn leather boots, Izuku drags open the heavy oak door, throwing the bag of clothing outside. He then uses both hands to pull it shut again, locking it for good measure. He isn’t sure why he locks it. It’s not as though anyone around here would bother his things. Besides, if they really wanted to enter, they could just as easily get through with a bit of magic.

Izuku is amazed by the magic that surrounds him on a daily basis. Almost all fae have at least one major ability. Shouto can create fire and ice, Shinsou can manipulate one’s thoughts, and hell, even Denki can use magic during a thunderstorm. There is something special about the identity, the power it gives them that Izuku just can’t help but envy. He has half given up on the belief that he will develop magic at all.

Most fae manifest a calling by the age of 8, and he is now nearing 23. Izuku’s father was ( is? ) fae, but he knows little else of him, let alone what his aptitude may have been for. Izuku spent his younger years with his mother, Inko. She was elven, and, though she lived over 300 years, she was never able to perfect any magical skill that he knew of.

Because he lives in a town filled with fae, he doesn’t know much about elven magic, aside from the fact that it can develop later on in life. Being part elf, Izuku is hopeful that he’ll be able to learn something useful eventually. But, still, nothing so far.

Instead, he chooses to rely on his intelligence. Izuku knows everything there is to know about the plants of this region and is particularly gifted in using them to heal. He is, for all intents and purposes, the healer of his village, even without any healing magic. He works to counsel those who are unwell, to patch up the warriors when they return from a hunt. He grows many of the medicinal herbs he uses in his own yard so that he can have them prepared at a moment’s notice.

He considers the plants he passes now as he begins the long run to the river, dirt and stone crunching beneath his feet as his legs pick up a familiar burn he loves to hate. Izuku enjoys this trail—the sounds of birds in the trees, the scents of pine and oak and brush. Nature plays a melody his heightened senses are attuned to—the senses that his elven half provides. If he chooses to pay attention, he can even pick up the scent of feelings—pheromones, really, released unconsciously from those who may feel strongly in some way. It’s particularly easy if he knows them well, olfactory nerves familiar with their varying moods. He’s not sure what he smells like, but he wonders sometimes if his scent reacts in the same way as those of the easily-readable fae.

When he finally reaches the river, he takes a deep breath and opens his sack, removing the disgusting materials inside. He runs rope through the sleeves of each shirt, then through one leg of each pair of trousers. He ties one end to a tree, and after stripping down and wading in, he loops the other end over a large branch lodged mid-stream. Now, the currents can rinse through the material, reducing the amount he’ll have to physically scrub at it. No one can say that Izuku isn’t efficient.

Time to focus on himself. He takes the bar of tea-tree soap he’s created and scrubs his entire freckled body, sure to get behind his large, pointed ears. Then he grabs another one of his creations, a liquid mint detergent, and rubs it over the clothing he’s got on the line. As it rinses, he relaxes, closing his eyes and enjoying the smell of fresh air, the feel of the cool current gliding over his skin. He listens to the quiet birdsong of the morning, the trembling of leaves in the large trees overhead.

A rustling nearby startles him into jumping upright, quick gaze searching his surroundings for motion.

There isn’t much of a need to carry a weapon around the village, as the fae don’t really use them. His best bet would be to avoid whatever predator may be lurking. Izuku knows he isn’t slow. He could run, but his curiosity has already gotten the best of him. Until he can identify the threat, he lowers himself deeper into the waves, leaving just his head exposed. When he tilts forward, his moss green waves help to camouflage him into the water. A passing glance would not identify him, and he can still hear and smell like this.

Ears peaked for the slightest of sounds, there is nothing but the wash of the river against granite. No scents are revealed but that of the water and his own soap. About 30 seconds later, the noise begins again, and he is finally able to pinpoint the quivering of brush on the eastern shore of the river. Looking closely, he can see the leaves moving—so modestly it could have been attributed to the wind... if there was any.

The motion stops again. He waits.

After a few minutes of holding still as stone in the moving water, he comes to the conclusion that there is no threat. There must have just been some small animal moving past. He relaxes and wades over to the brush, parting the branches and peering inside. What he finds brings a frown to his face: the culprit was a small sugar glider, half buried in twigs and torn greenery. Typically, he finds them up in the trees, high on the vines and branches of lush foliage… almost never on the ground.

Tilting his head in thought, he considers.

Unless…

He reaches for the small creature slowly, doing his best not to scare it off. It looks at him with intelligence, observant but unmoving, almost as if already resigned to whatever fate would come. He places his palm on the ground and slides it gradually through the dirt, towards the brown fur, doing his best to be non-threatening. It hisses at him, reeks of anxiety, but still does not move. When his hand eventually meets its destination, the glider crabs, jerking backward a bit, but freezes when he lightly brushes along its fur with one fingertip. It continues to watch him, tense.

That’s reasonable.

He’s much larger than this tiny thing—it would fit in the palm of his hand—and he’s crouched here naked in the dirt, smelling like foreign soaps and some weird inter-species blend. If he were being approached by something like himself, he’d probably be a bit concerned, too.

It must be badly injured—there’s really no other explanation for the fact that it’s still here. Sugar gliders are fast, nimble things, and most certainly would not allow Izuku to get this close otherwise. Even when hurt or ill, they are notorious for hiding it and pushing through the pain so as not to alert predators of their weakness. It must be in agony.

“You poor thing,” he whispers. “I’ll help you. I promise.”

He curls one hand over its back and slides the other beneath it, scooping the tiny animal from the ground to examine it. It’s not too happy with him doing so, but a full and thorough exam of the animal reveals that its left hind leg is broken—lumpy and misshapen, eliciting a hiss from the glider on palpation. He notes the healthy, shiny fur, meaning the sugar glider has eaten well recently—it hasn’t had the injury for long. Oh, and the little guy is male. When he finishes his exam, the sugar bear relaxes, curling up as much as it’s able with its injury. Izuku cups his hands around it, effectively closing it off from the outside world. Izuku has already resolved that he will nurse the injured animal back to health. Once it’s able to glide again, Izuku can release it back to the wild, and it can go on to find its previous colony. He smiles, feeling giddy and warm—excited at the prospect of caring for another being. Izuku loves to feel helpful, useful.

New goal in mind, he makes his way back to his bag, folds it up in a few layers, and places his new friend inside, closing off the haven with more material. Then he gathers all of the wet clothes from the river, ringing them out as best he can, and lays them out on dry, hot stones, encouraging water to evaporate. When he’s finished that, he places the burlap sac containing the little glider in his naked lap to wait, slipping his hand beneath the material to softly stroke the animal’s back with his index finger. The smell of anxiety has dissipated somewhat, revealing one of warm honey and cedar. It releases small, soft sounds of contentment in its sleep, and Izuku relaxes backward to be more comfortable as the clothes dry…

---

When he wakes, stiff and aching from his terrible position along the water’s edge, Izuku risks a glance at the sky. The sun is too high. Already midday? He must have fallen asleep and for much, much too long. A shock of nerves run through him as he checks his lap to make sure the injured glider is still there. When he raises the edge of the material gingerly, the animal rouses, lifting its head from behind the warm sunshield its wrapped tail was providing to look at him. Izuku sighs in relief, placing the little bundle on the ground as he reviews the status of his clothing. He deems at least one outfit dry enough to wear home and pulls it on with haste. The glider fits nicely into the pouch he’s sewn to his pants as a pocket, and it cuddles up against his thigh, relaxing enough to sleep after just a few minutes. Once he determines his friend has settled, he packs the remainder of his now clean clothing into the sack and begins the hike back to the village.

It takes over an hour to get back home; Izuku doesn’t want to run for fear of jostling the glider’s injured leg. As he approaches, he sees a figure waiting outside, seemingly asleep in a slouch against the door. He can just make out the red and white he’s grown so fond of.

Shouto.

Oh! Shouto! Damn it!

Izuku had agreed to eat today’s meals with their leader a few days ago. Well, been bribed into it, really. Shouto is always on him about working too hard, and finally mandated—in a nice way?— that he take a day off. Izuku complained—the village leader doesn’t take enough time off himself, after all. Why should Izuku have to? As a compromise, the other promised he’d take the day off too, and that they could spend it together to verify that they both have the necessary day of rest.

Yes, “verify that we both have the necessary day of rest” is the language that Shouto used. Izuku doesn’t speak that way.

This, Izuku agreed to, if only for Shouto’s sake. But, when he made the plans, he hadn’t expected to do laundry, or to come across a new patient who needed help, or to fall asleep on top of all that.

It’s been a morning of surprises.

Izuku rubs the side of his face in exasperation, already dreading the disappointed, why’d you do something so idiotic glare he’s grown used to receiving from Shouto at times like this. Gritting his teeth, he finishes his trip, stopping at the front door and taking in the form seated outside.

Shouto is beautiful, really. His hair, always smooth and shining, hangs loosely around his face, framing it in the warmth of flame and the sharpness of glaciers. His clothes, though always relatively loose and modest, can’t hide the strength of his figure, with broad shoulders and strong, muscular limbs for one of the fae. He looks so peaceful in this moment, brow relaxed, shoulders low. His posture is lacking in its usual formality.

Izuku likes it. He knows the usual tense decorum will return when Shouto wakes. He really, really wishes he didn’t have to wake him.

Cringing, he nudges the faery’s foot to gently rouse him, trying to mentally prepare for the scolding he’ll receive. Shouto’s long, silvery lashes flutter, gradually opening to focus on Izuku’s shoes. He blinks a few times before his gaze darts up to Izuku’s freckle-spattered face, wide in surprise and then settling into… relief?

“Izuku?” he gasps softly, one red and one ice blue eye searching Izuku’s own, worried.

Immediately, Izuku’s gut grows sour, curdling like spoiled milk left out in the heat.

This is so much worse than disappointment. He’d disappeared half a day with no explanation, all his clothes missing, ditched his plans with Shouto… the fae must have thought he’d left town. God, Izuku could be so stupid sometimes. He should have told someone where he was going. Shouto probably spent the entire time panicking… not that anyone else would be able to tell. The guy is so stoic.

“Ah.. Hi, Shouto,” Izuku tries, sharing a half smile with the man still seated on the ground. He puts his hand into his oversized pocket, gently petting the furry friend sleeping inside to remind himself that he did something nice today; he’s not a total asshole. He’s rewarded with a tiny chirp.

Shouto stands, brushing off his trousers and composing himself for a moment before responding. “You were gone a while,” he says, “I waited here at your door for about two hours before I started feeling drowsy.” He reaches his arms overhead in a stretch, leaning side to side as he speaks, trying to appear nonchalant. Izuku knows better, the scent of concern comes off him in violent waves large enough to capsize a battleship.

Izuku bites his lip, brows curling in apology. “I know...” he murmurs, “I- I’m sorry. I realized this morning I had no clean clothing and- and I needed to wash, but then when I got there I heard something in the bushes... and I found this little hurt sugar glider!” he motions to his pocket, but Shouto’s eyes don’t leave his own, “Ah, Shouto you should’ve seen the poor thing,” he can hear himself rambling, voice picking up speed with his nerves, “He was barely able to move, and I- well, I just couldn’t leave him there alone! So I had to examine him... but- but then, I found that his leg was broken... and I just had to help him so he could rest... But I didn’t mean to fall asleep too and—”

His onslaught is interrupted by strong arms surrounding his torso, warm and familiar, squeezing tightly. Shouto pulls him closer, burying his cheek in Izuku’s clean, soft hair. He can feel the other’s heart beating against his own—a welcome feeling, one that soothes.

“I’m just glad you’re back.”

Izuku inhales deeply, breathing in the rare scent of trickling streams and bubbling brooks. Shouto’s contented aroma always brings Izuku comfort; it’s a scent that manifests only for him. He wraps his arms around Shouto’s waist and nuzzles his face against his chest. They fit pretty well together, he thinks.

“Me, too.”

After a few good, long minutes, Shouto releases Izuku from his tight hold. Izuku pouts a little at the loss of contact, but he doesn’t chase it. He knows that in a few moments, Shouto is going to get over his relief at seeing Izuku return, and then he’s going to get that lecture. Shouto clears his throat and slides his hand smoothly from Izuku’s back down his arm, grasping his hand gently.

Here it comes.

“The next time you feel the need to take a day trip, I’d like if you alerted me or one of the warriors so that you aren’t alone,” he begins, stoic, emotionless. Izuku opens his mouth to interrupt, but Shouto doesn’t let him. “At least let us know where you are. What if you hadn’t returned today? What do you think I would have done, Izuku?” His façade crumbles near the end, voice cracking like ice underfoot in early spring, fragile.

Izuku freezes and pulls his hand away.

“I don’t need a babysitter. I can take care of myself, Shouto. You know I can.”

It’s not fair for him to require an escort. Being without magic doesn’t make him useless, doesn’t make him weak. He’s completely capable of caring for himself and he resents that anyone might think otherwise. Shouto knows that, and Izuku’s poor behavior doesn’t excuse his own.

Shouto drags his now free hand through his hair and groans. “I’m not saying that you can’t. I just—” he pauses, measuring his words and his breath as he inhales deeply through his nose. Letting it out, he continues. “Izuku. I just can’t help but want you safe. If I had it my way, you’d be by my side always. But, I know I can’t do that to you. I know you can’t be restricted in that way. Can’t you at least keep me informed?” he asks, eyes flicking between Izuku’s pair of forest green. ”Please?”

He looks so timid, so uncomfortable in that moment that Izuku relents. This is probably as close to begging as Shouto ever gets, and Izuku knows it takes something serious from him every time. He takes the hand currently mangling Shouto’s perfect hair and flips it over, tracing gentle patterns on his palm with his index finger, spelling words he wishes he could say, wishes he could mean.

“I know you worry that I’ll… that I’ll run again,” he looks up from his ministrations to lock eyes with Shouto’s pained gaze. He steels his voice. “I won’t. I know where I belong now: here, with you, with our friends. I’m not going anywhere. I promise.”

Shouto looks back at him, searching. For what, Izuku isn’t sure. But he must find what he’s looking for because he exhales a sigh of relief and turns his hand to take hold of Izuku’s once more, leading him toward the doorway. Izuku unlocks it before grabbing his sack of clothing and taking it inside.

“You didn’t let me finish telling you what happened, by the way.” He dumps his clean clothes onto the bed, spreading them out. Some are still slightly damp and need to air dry. He doesn’t have the energy to hang them on a line right now, so this will just have to do.

“I found this little guy!” he reaches into his pocket, pulling out the small sugar glider for display. He grouses, but resettles when Izuku cups both hands around him to block out the light.

Shouto raises a brow. “A chipmunk?”

Izuku rears back, shaking his head, offended. “No, he’s a sugar glider.”

Shouto leans closer and peeks at the fuzzy ball hidden in scarred hands. “It just looks like a small squirrel. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one before.”

Izuku huffs in exasperation. “He’s a marsupial, not a mammal!” He wants to throw his hands in the air for emphasis, but that would upset his new charge, so he refrains. “Like Kangaroos?” He raises his brows and his voice higher toward the end, as if a new octave will make a difference.

At that, the dual-wielding faery exhales quickly through his nose—a laugh in Shouto mannerisms. “Okay. He is a... marsupial,” he repeats, testing the word on his tongue.

Izuku rolls his eyes and giggles. Shouto is very intelligent when it comes to magic and politics, but the guy really needs to get out more. “He likes to sleep in a tight, cushy space. Here—hold out your hands.”

He transfers the glider to Shouto’s waiting palms and leaves him standing awkwardly in the middle of the room to gather necessary materials for splinting. When he returns, Shouto is in the exact same position, in the exact same spot, holding the glider as though it is the most fragile thing he’s ever seen. The sight makes Izuku snort. What a dork.

“I’m back! Just stay still while I treat his broken leg, okay?” Shouto nods, so Izuku gets to work, smoothing the limb with a salve to reduce the pain and swelling, then splinting it with wood and wax.

“Okay!” Izuku chirps once he’s settled, “I think this is good.” He looks up to meet Shouto’s deadpan expression.

“Can we eat now?” Shouto asks.

Izuku’s stomach growls audibly in response.

---

A few weeks later, Izuku is sitting at his desk, attempting to document the care he provided to Ibara, a female-appearing faery with cascading vines for hair. She uses magic to grow them to great lengths in combat, particularly useful for capture during hunts, but recently has been unable to sprout them beyond her waist. Izuku developed a new medicinal liquid he thought would help her to grow them more quickly. He will have to document carefully how she progresses in her abilities to utilize the greenery after taking the medicine today.

The problem, however, is that Aki is wide awake and wanting attention, climbing all over his clothes, up on top of his head, and then jumping off to glide all the way over to his bed. Rinse and repeat. Every time he tries to write something, he feels little claws clinging to his legs, ears, or hair, and he gets distracted again. He wonders if this is what it would be like to have children.

He scoops the little glider from his hiding spot in Izuku’s mess of green waves and holds him in his palms, just in front of his face. Aki cocks his head playfully, grabbing his thumb with both hand-like paws and nibbling. It tickles, and Izuku grins.

“You know you’re cute. That’s the problem.”

At that, the Aki hops from his hands and glides to the floor before bounding over to the bed and climbing up the blankets. Izuku can’t help the giggle that escapes him before he forces himself back to work.

‘Two parts bone meal, One part grass clippings finely grind the ingredients before

His thought process is once again derailed—this time by a frantic pounding on his door, so forceful that it rattles his ink pot. He looks back to check on Aki, and is unsurprised to find the little creature sprinting across the floor towards him. He darts right up his trousers and dives into his pocket, scared by the noise. Izuku pushes his chair back, slips on his shoes, and answers the door.

“We are in need of your assistance.” Tenya Iida is drenched from the rain and panting. He uses one hand to brush damp blue bangs from of his aquamarine eyes and fixes Izuku with them, pleading. “Now, Izuku. You must come right away!” He motions stiffly toward the village center.

Though he can sometimes be overdramatic, it’s unlike Tenya to be so panicked. Something quite serious must be going on. Izuku nods and follows him outside. Running along with Tenya is a challenge—the faery is gifted in speed—but he manages, pushing harder, faster. He sees a fire lit ahead, hears the whispers of panicked onlookers. He doesn’t catch exactly what they say, too distracted by the smell.

Blood.

The metallic scent burns his nose, interrupted only by those of death and terror. Dread unfolds in his heart, reaching out and clawing over his lungs, making it difficult to breathe. Death means he can’t help; he can’t do anything for a person already gone. But the scent of fear forces him to suck in air. Fear means something is still there to lose. Fear means action is necessary.

Breathe. Focus. Observe.

Beneath the scent of horror, there’s something else… Something familiar that he can’t quite place. He shoves that thought in a box to open later and keeps moving, straining even with perfect sight to understand the scene ahead. He sees Shouto, standing aside, observing. Denki is kneeling next to someone else he doesn’t recognize, crouching in the dirt. There is another figure lying on the ground, totally limp, unmoving. Izuku can’t make out who it is, but he knows something is terribly wrong. The crouched man seems to be holding pressure to his back – not dead then. Where’s the morbid scent coming from?

Izuku heads toward Shouto—he’ll give the most reliable report. He’s breathless when he arrives, expecting there to be stress in the air from the fae. Instead, Shouto’s eyes are cold, his scent shifted to stagnant water, unmoving—ice. He stands with arms crossed, unemotional, over the scene, only warming when he sees that Izuku has arrived.

“Izuku—”

“What happened? What do they need?” Izuku’s words are sharp, serious. He doesn’t want the pleasantries. He wants to do something.

“These are elves from Azmarin.” He pauses, knowing this alone would shock Izuku to silence. Azmarin is the elven capital. Izuku’s mother was from Azmarin. He didn’t grow up there, but she never told him why she left, either.

“Their hunting party was attacked by a band of wild orcs a few miles from here,” Shouto continues slowly, making sure that Izuku is still following. “This one says there are no other survivors from their group. He carried his friend to the nearest village… which just happened to be ours.” He nods toward the redhead who crouches by the body on the ground.

No, not ‘body.’ Elf .

The stranger doesn’t even glance up, just continues pressing against the guy’s posterior shoulder, brow furrowed in concern, eyes glassy. He smells like a sweat soaked summer night, tainted by the bitter stench of fear, sadness. Izuku imagines that he probably has a nice, sunny scent on a good day, but anguish will do that to people. It can ruin them. It always ruins their scent.

He steps closer and kneels next to him, getting a better look at the covered injury on the back of the prone form. Izuku anticipates exactly what he finds – a shock of red, a stain spreading between the man’s thick fingers. There are no claw marks, no bites anywhere that Izuku can see. Just cuts, slices over the body’s arms and shoulders. That’s good; it’s less likely to get infected. He can’t actually see the skin of the elf’s legs, but his trousers are relatively intact. He doesn’t see any head injuries either—blond spikey hair mud-covered, but not bloody.

He takes a deep breath, mind running overdrive to decide what injuries might be present but not visible, deciding what steps he must take to help this elven stranger survive.

He turns to the conscious elf on his right. “How did this happen?” he asks, tilting his head pointedly toward the bleeding wound. Now that Izuku is taking the time to look, he sees the redhead has a number of cuts and scrapes as well, one larger gash running through his right eyebrow. That’s going to scar.

The stranger finally looks up. “Arrow,” he says, vermillion color barely visible around adrenaline-dilated pupils. He gives a wry smile, and Izuku sees that his teeth are sharp, like a shark. “Clean hit. Can you help him?”

Izuku declines to answer, instead moving directly to action. While he can lie, he doesn’t like to.

He won’t make any promises he can’t keep.