No matter how hard and furiously he scrubbed at the metal surface, the dirt just wouldn’t come off. He tried boiling water, soap, even soaked it in for a couple of hours in hot water before trying again but this one spot just wouldn’t come off. It was mocking him, taunting him to try again and again just to fail all over again.
Eijirou felt personally offended. He was good at what he was doing, wearing his work clothes with pride and never turned someone down in the desperate need of help. So, when the kitchen boy came running to him, sobbing violently, that he just couldn’t get the pot clean, he hadn’t hesitated for a second. That was just this morning, and after spending hours over hours with this pot, he was close to just throw it out of the window.
In the time the pot soaked in hot water and soap, Eijirou met his other obligations, but his mind was occupied by different possibilities to get this damned pot clean. It was mind-numbing and frustrating, but Eijirou was nothing but persistent. When he returned to the kitchen after cleaning up the dinner table, the water had cooled down long ago, cleared from all the foam. Eijirou grabbed one handle, bringing the pot close to his face and inspecting the dirt. Which was still there. He grabbed for a washcloth and rubbed at it feverishly.
He sighed. Probably the 20th-something time in the last few minutes. The pot has to be clean for dinner preparations which had already started so he needed to do something about this. Fast. On the spot, he grabbed some drying cloth, wiped it just barely over the surface so it wouldn't trickle and sprinted out of the kitchen.
Clutching the pot under his arm, Eijirou took sharp turns, almost colliding with maids carrying bed linings or other errand boys. Every time, he threw an apology over his shoulder but didn’t stop until he reached the door at the far end of the corridor in the east wing of the castle.
The east wing was their designated place to live, to wash, to prepare. The kitchen was the place that connected their wing with the main building, so that the food could be carried for breakfast, dinner, lunch and other snacks directly to the dining hall or the royal chambers without taking detours. The west wing was used by higher personal such as academics, advisers, and physicians. Eijirou was only once in the west wing, a special occasion when he arrived at the castle when he was around 7 years old and had to be examined by the royal physician.
He screeched to a halt, when he finally arrived at the wooden door, small cracks showing its age, and knocked at it with a fist.
“Come on in!”
Eijirou’s lips spread to a grin when he entered. “Denki!” He exclaimed. Denki’s head jerked up, his blonde hair swinging with the movement, and his eyes settled on Eijirou.
“Hey.” He pushed some of the herbs he had in his hand back into its small pouch, pulling it close by its strings. “What can I do for you? Do you have another scratch? Or”, he trailed off as he saw the pot under Eijirou’s arm and raised his eyebrows in question.
Denki was the only assistant for the physician designated for the lower standing staff. Since the physician didn’t deem it necessary to be present at all times, or at all, he left Denki most of the time alone. An untrained assistant was enough for their lot. But nobody minded as much. Denki wasn’t especially good as a physician, by all means, but he was enthusiastic and took everything seriously. They were grateful they had him, and everyone trusted him with their lives, way more than the royal physicians who would just let them die anyway.
Eijirou held up the pot, the dirty spot low on the side, almost at the bottom, showing it as an affront to his very existence. Some of the soup had spilled and was burnt to the metal, the audacity it had.
“It won’t come off. Do you have something that can be used for that?” Eijirou’s was as serious as it could get, prioritizing this problem above else. “We need this pot for dinner preparations.”
Denki’s smile slowly fell and looked at Eijirou stone-faced. “I have medication for humans only. Not for kitchenware.” He deadpanned.
“I knooow.” Eijirou whined, stretching the last syllable. “I just thought, you could have something… like when you wash out a wound or something. That stuff really burns, maybe it washes out food stains as well?”
“That’s not how it works, dude!” Denki threw his hands up in the air, shaking his head in disbelief. “Flesh works differently than meta-“ He stopped midsentence, eyes growing distant in thoughts. “Actually.”
Denki whirled around on his wooden stool, leaning down to grab a small bottle from under his desk. The flask was bulbous and contained a clear liquid, which Eijirou eyed curiously.
“You could be onto something.” Denki’s eyes sparkled. He was about as adventurous as Eijirou and together they destroyed enough furniture and each other’s belongings, everyone grew wary of them.
He ushered Eijirou closer, pointing at his desk to put the pot down on it. “This is alcohol. It is used to clear out dirt and filth out of open wounds and burns like a bitch, but that’s because it literally dissolves the dirt.”
Eijirou met his eyes with the same intense sparkle. “Dissolves.” His lips curled into a wide grin. “Do it!”
Denki uncorked the flask, tilting it just lightly to drip some of the highly concentrated solution onto the metal. Holding their breath, they looked at the dirty spot. Nothing happened. Their faces grew disappointed, Eijirou furrowing his eyebrows. “That’s it?”
Denki looked at the flask, took a sniff at it and made a face. “That’s definitely alcohol.” Confused, Denki whirled the content around in its container, humming as he thought. “Ah!” Eijirou flinched as Denki grabbed the hem of his shirt and scrubbed on the metal.
“Look!” Denki pointed at the spot, ignoring Eijirou’s outcry. Eijirou followed Denki’s finger and squinted his eyes at the pointed spot. And sure enough, the dirty spot didn’t look as dark and burnt anymore. They looked at each other open mouthed and squealed.
Denki grabbed for a rug that lay around, dripped it slightly in alcohol and before he could even offer it, Eijirou yanked it from his hand and scrubbed at the metal vigorously. It took a few hard scrubs but after a good minute, the dirt was finally gone.
“You’re a genius!” Eijirou beamed at him.
“So they say.” Denki pushed his hair back, leaning back and basking in the compliment.
“Thanks, man!” Eijirou smacked his shoulder, making Denki doubling nearly over, and was almost out the door when Denki yelled after him.
“Wait!” He huffed, rubbing his shoulder. “Is it already time for the banquet?”
Eijirou walked on the spot, shaking his head. “Not yet. The day after tomorrow. Some arrived today already though, so they wanted to host them some pricy dinner.”
Denki nodded. “Alright. Off you go. What would they do without their best all-round-talent?”
Eijirou jerked his hand up with a thumbs-up and bolted out the door. When he arrived back in the kitchen, he returned the pot to its rightful place. The kitchen boy spotted him almost instantly and jumped against his chest, squeezing him in a tight embrace.
“Thank you, Eijirou!”
Eijirou petted his head and grinned. “No problem.” The boy let go of him and resumed his duties, now with a small spring in his step. It was all Eijirou needed to know that all the hassle was worth it.
He rubbed his forearm over his sweaty forehead. He wore a small headband so that his raven black hair wouldn't fall into his face but it wasn’t enough to soak up all the sweat he accumulated by running through the whole east wing.
The rest of the day was spent in preparation for dinner, Eijirou taking on every task dutifully. He was only allowed in the main building on really special occasions since his appearance seemed to not appease to everybody with his black hair, red eyes and pointy teeth. That wasn’t all too bad, Eijirou could run around the east wing to his heart’s desire and helped out wherever it was needed.
By the end of the day, his body was aching pleasantly, energy almost completely spent he could fall asleep on the spot. His friends had other plans. When Eijirou opened the door to his chamber, actually a joined chamber with three other, his friends were sitting in a circle on the ground, talking animatedly.
Eijirou yawned, walked around them to just fall down on his bed but Hanta grabbed him by his wrist. “Dude!”
Eijirou yawned again, trying to convey that he wasn’t in the mood for it but, like always, they either didn’t understand or just ignored it. Hanta pulled him down, scooting over to make some space for him and Eijirou stumbled to the ground.
“What is it?” He sighed defeated. It was easier to entertain them for a while and then hit the sack instead of fighting them. He looked up with drooping eyelids, eyeing the small pot, small like a cup. It was bulbous and brown, a dark lid closing over it. The material seemed to be clay and, therefore, wasn’t see-through, not revealing its content.
His friends didn’t answer him immediately, looking at each other conspiratorial.
“We… don’t know actually.” Denki finally said. “We try to find out.”
Eijirou raised an eyebrow at that. “What?”
“It was just… there!” Mina gestured at their room. “When I came in it was just sitting on the ground and we can’t open it.”
Now, this caught Eijirou’s attention. His eyes sprung open, now eyeing the pot more warily. Hanta nodded at him in agreement, crossing his arms.
“Yeah, we all tried but nothing. Denki threw it against the wall, but nothing.”
Eijirou pressed out a surprised laugh. “What.” He shook his head at Denki who just shrugged. “Was just testing it.”
“But touching it… doesn’t do anything?”
His friends all shook their heads, so Eijirou took the pot with his fingertips, still careful as if it could explode any moment. He turned it around a few times in front of his face, turned it upside down to feel anything of its content but he only felt the weight of it, no movement inside.
“Huh.” He hummed, pursing his lips. He cautiously put his hand on the lid, giving it an experimental tug and with a low pop opened it. Eijirou’s eyes grew wider by the second, Mina taking in a sharp inhale while Hanta and Denki hold onto each other in support. Eijirou swallowed.
He slowly lifted the lid and peered inside the pot. At first, it was hard to see, the room already dark only lit by two candles, but when he squinted his eyes, he saw the outline of some gooey-ish liquid. He held the pot tipped against one of the candles to see better, confirming that it was indeed some creamlike substance, now shining in a deep red in the candlelight.
“Okay.” He hummed. Okay, what? He didn’t expect anything, but this was a little underwhelming. His friends pushed their heads into his line of vision, trying to see inside the pot as well. Tilting the pot slightly to let them see better, he looked at the lid in his hand. Turning it around to see if something was inscribed to explain the substance. Nothing.
“What is that?” Mina asked nobody in particular but they all just shrugged.
“Is it edible?” Denki mused, chin pinched between his thumb and index finger. His eyes locked with Eijirou’s and they both grinned at each other but before Eijirou could even move to dip a finger inside Hanta grabbed his wrist.
“No! Geez, guys, I wonder why you aren’t dead yet.” He shook his head. “Please don’t eat strange stuff out of magical appearing jugs.”
Denki and Eijirou looked down, huffing disappointedly but mumbled a low apology. Mina rolled her eyes. “Guys.” Before anyone could stop her, she dipped her fingers inside. Hanta yelped, jumping backwards.
“Huh.” He hummed. She pulled her fingers out, dipped in the red substance and rubbed it between her fingers. “Weird.” Eijirou leaned over, eyeing it curiously and sniffed at it.
“What does it feel like?” he asked after not smelling anything.
“I… don’t know. It doesn’t feel like anything. I only know it’s there because I see it.”
Denki and Eijirou dipped their fingers inside instantly, ignoring the groaning from Hanta. Similar to Mina, Denki hummed. “That’s like totally weird.”
Eijirou stayed silent, blinking in confusion. “Yeah, I totally can feel it.”
Mina and Denki head snapped up and squinting their eyes. “What do you mean, you can feel it?”
“Well, it feels gooey and cold and… like some of those pastes you smear on scratches.” Eijirou nodded at Denki. “But somehow different. It’s hard to explain.”
“That’s so weird! I don’t feel anything at all.” Denki shook his head.
“Maybe it is for Eijirou.” Hanta contributed, breaking his silence. Their heads whipped around, Eijirou blinking a few times.
“Look”, Hanta gestured vaguely at the pot, “we couldn’t open it, Eijirou could. We can’t feel it, Eijirou can. That sounds to me that whatever it is and whoever brought it here, wanted it to be opened by Eijirou.”
Eijirou stared at the red substance at his fingers, tuning out the bursting voices of his friends. A substance just for him, huh? What could he possibly use it for? For what is it to be used for? Rubbing it between his fingertips, a strange thought formed inside his head as if it was planted there by somebody else and without thinking it through, when did he ever?, he ran his fingers through his hair, smearing it through it.
His friends shrieked, Denki almost doubling over as he crouched before him, Mina and Hanta wailing their arms around helplessly. Eijirou just blinked. He didn’t even realize what he was doing until his fingers were in his hair.
Their silence was broken by a slow gasp. Denki’s eyes widened, opening and closing his mouth over and over again.
“What the… Dude. What. Guys. I don’t…” His eyes didn’t leave Eijirou’s hair but growing slowly in panic. Eijirou finally snapped back from wherever his thoughts were and pulled at his hair.
“What?! What is happening?” He heard the tremble in his own voice. Did his hair fall out?
“Eijirou!” Mina gasped and scrambled to her bedside, rummaging through the few belongings everyone was allowed to own and pulled out an oval-shaped mirror. It was cracked and split the image into five separate, smaller ones but was still useful. She held it in front of Eijirou’s face.
Eijirou wasn’t sure what the mirror showed at first, blinking a few times, then he yanked the mirror out of her hands and stared at his reflection. His gaze fixed on his hair. His red hair. His blindingly, screaming red hair.
His eyes darted upwards, panic slowly rising inside him, then back to his reflection. Still red hair. He grasped one of his longer strands of hair and pulled it in front of his eyes and sure enough, still red.
He ran over to their water bucket and unceremoniously dipped his whole head under water. With his fingernails, he scratches over his scalp, through his hair to try to wash out the color. He emerged his head after a few moments, staring at the water that was as clear as before.
Silently they just stared at each other, at loss for words, helpless and confused.
“Okay.” Hanta raised his hand, pushing Eijirou down on his shoulder. “We need to think this through. No need to panic. It is probably harmless.”
“Harmless?” Eijirou winced.
“Well, at least it doesn’t burn or itches. Maybe it’s toxic, but at least not instantaneously.” He shrugged.
“Not helpful!” Eijirou’s elbow connected with Hanta’s arm, earning a strangled yelp.
“Yes, yes, sorry.” He rubbed at his arm. “Maybe it’s only temporal. Maybe it will wash out tomorrow.”
Eijirou raised his eyebrows, unconvinced. “And if not?”
“Then we’ll think about something else.”
It didn’t wash out the next morning. Eijirou stared at his reflection in the water, bracing himself at the edges of the bucket. His hair was still fiercely red. It wasn’t actually that Eijirou minded. He liked the color red. And he thought it suited him. Even if he was shunned because of his red eyes, the color held something mystical to him. Red looked good on him, he decided.
However, he was just one of the lowest ranked errand boys in the royal castle. It could cost him his head if he showed up with sudden red hair. Maybe even burnt alive on suspicion of witchcraft. He shuddered. They had to do something.
His friends looked as helpless as yesterday evening. Their eyes flitted around each other, but no one came up with an idea. Denki then grabbed for one of Eijirou’s headbands and knotted it around his head. He pushed every strand of hair underneath it, pulled the headband a tad bit tighter for good measure and nodded at his work.
“At least, no one will see.”
Eijirou frowned. This wasn’t going to end well. Still, he took a glance at his reflection in Mina’s mirror, turning his head from left to right and back again, seeing no loose strand and nodded in defeat. There was nothing else they could do for now. They had to start their work soon and didn’t have the time to experiment around with his hair. When push came to shove, he could always shave his entire head.
It was nerve-wracking, to say the least. Eijirou tried his best to not think about his hair, but whenever it felt like his headband would slip or someone grabbed at him or he bumped into something or someone, his hand jerked upwards, holding on to it tightly. Some of the other working staff either eyed him a little suspicious or curiously but they let it slide without saying anything. They knew Eijirou was a good boy and whatever he did with his head, it probably involved Denki and an unsuccessful experiment.
They weren’t wrong. Still, bright red hair wasn’t something he could just wear and excuse it due to an experiment. That would scream for punishment or worse. So he kept his mouth shut, didn’t talk about it and tried his best to do his work.
When the afternoon came around, he sprung to the opportunity to help the maids with washing clothes. He grabbed one of the tubs and carried it outside, one arm pressing it in place on his hip, and followed the maids towards the river behind the castle. He searched for a place a little more upstream, not in the mood for the usual chitchat, washing in peaceful quiet.
He was halfway through the dirty clothes when he held a shirt in his hands adorned with golden stitches, detailed decoration webbed into its front and the royal crest embroidered into each side of the collar. Eijirou almost let it slip through his fingers in shock. He only had to wash bed clothing and some staff clothing, not royal garments. It must have been separated wrongly.
He stumbled a little, his feet lost their footing on the river bed, they slipped and he fell over on his back with a loud yelp. He stretched out his arms in a last attempt to safe the royal shirt and submerged almost fully in the water. Fortunately, it was still shallow were he stood, but he was completely soaked for now. Scrambling back to his feet, he examined the shirt in his hands and sighed in relief as he saw no water or dirt on it.
Wadding out of the water, Eijirou pulled down his headband that now really had shifted on his head. Carefully, he placed the royal shirt of the branch of a nearby tree, a short distance to the river, and pulled his shirt up. It was still cold, the spring still lingered with a light chill, and he was not keen to catch a cold.
In hindsight, he couldn’t say why he didn’t hear any hoofbeats approaching. There was no rushing of water, the noise of the other maids was downstream and didn’t carry all the way up to where he worked at, only a few birds were chirping but not even remotely loud enough. The fact was, as soon as he had his shirt pulled over his head, he was facing a horse straight on.
His eyes widen and after a second stumbled backward. His eyes flew upwards to the rider, that looked at him with squinting eyes. It was definitely someone with nobility. Not that riding a horse within the royal grounds were an indication, but the garment of the horse, the expensive looking horse-riding clothes and the excessive jewelry on both rider and horse were a pretty good implication.
Before Eijirou could drop to his knees, the rider’s eyes darted towards the royal garment still wafting in the slow wind at the tree branch.
“Ah, are you here as well for the banquet the day after tomorrow?” A smile dripping with fake cheerfulness stretched on his face. “It is always so boring at them, don’t you think? Old men trying to impress each other.” He shook his head not even giving Eijirou a chance to speak up.
“Well, I must say, I look forward to it now.” His eyes looked up at his red hair. “This will give them the shock of their lives.” He laughed airily. His eyes were sparkling in anticipation of entertainment at the banquet at the expanse of someone else.
“Now then, I will see you at the banquet.” He turned his horse around and galloped the way he came from.
Eijirou let out a breath he didn’t know he held in. His heart was drumming against his chest, jumping high into his throat Eijirou thought he would throw up any moment. His hands trembled as he slowly kneeled down, trying to take deep breathes. He just escaped death by an inch. He could have been killed for his hair, for his lack of proper mannerism in front of nobility, maybe even theft for royal garment if the rider would see it that way.
Mechanically, Eijirou stood up and finished his work in a daze. Apparently, he had half the head to put back on his shirt, tugging his hair back under his headband, when and how he didn’t remember. He didn’t even remember walking back to the east wing, bringing the tub back to the wash chamber and returning to their sleeping chambers. Furthermore, he didn’t remember taking the shirt with him.
But here he was, sitting on his bed, royal garment clutched in his hands, staring at it blankly. What a mess he was.
Mina was the first of his friends to return and she stopped dead in the doorway, surprised to see Eijirou here since he always was the last one to return.
“Eiji—” she interrupted herself when her eyes fell on the shirt in his hands. She took a step in the room and shut the door close with a bang, jolting Eijirou out of his daze. He yanked the shirt behind him, eyes wide in shock.
“What happened?” Mina’s voice wasn’t serious very often, she was the most optimistic one of them and probably kept them all sane with her cheerfulness. So, when she was the one to get serious it meant business. Eijirou could already feel the tears prodding behind his eyes.
“Mina.” He sniffed. He lunged forward, pushing himself into her arms and just held her close. A few tears fell as he trembled and inhaled shakily, thoughts still in shambles.
“Tell me what happened.” Mina urged again, softer this time. She stroked Eijirou’s back, tangling her fingers through his hair. And Eijirou told her. His words came out a little shaken, sometimes with a short stutter. When he finished, he let go of her, rubbing his hand over his eyes and took in a deep breath.
He sat back down on his bed and buried his face in his hands. “What should I do?” He mumbled.
There wasn’t a lot he could do. Either he could just ignore it and hope the noble wouldn’t ask around for someone with bright red hair, the best option. Or he could confess but it would probably cost him his life. But if the noble would ask around, there was a good chance Eijirou was going to be found out with, well, his screaming red hair.
Mina hummed in thoughts, arms crossed and head pushed back into her neck. Before she could voice her opinion, the door opened again for Denki and Hanta. They were laughing but as soon as they saw the other two remaining silent in a grave atmosphere they shut up. Mina shortly recollected what Eijirou just told her.
“Holy… Dude.” Denki shook his head. He plopped down to the floor, leaning back into his hands. “You okay?”
Eijirou just shook his head, still hiding his face behind his hands. Hanta sat down cross-legged, leaning his elbow on the bed. “Cutting it is still an option.”
They all stood silent, knowing that it was the most reasonable solution. It wasn’t uncommon to cut the servants’ hair and no one but them knew his hair was red. There would be no correlation to some noble asking for a person with red hair and Eijirou cutting his.
“Alright.” His voice was void from any emotion. It was the only option he actually had to avoid any consequences that didn’t involve him dead or heavily mutilated. He didn’t want to count on some possibility, that the noble would just forget about it. No, he would probably boast about it and wouldn’t rest until he found him again.
He grabbed under his bed for his little bag, pulled out a blunt knife but still sharp enough to do the job and handed it to Mina. Even if it was a shave and no actual haircut, he didn’t trust Denki and Hanta with a knife on his hair. Mina took it silently and sat down behind him on her knees, driving her fingers through his hair one last time.
She grabbed a handful of hair, pulled it back tightly and positioned the knife at his hairline. Eijirou closed his eyes, waiting for the scratching sound of metal against hair. But it never came. Instead, he heard Mina gasp, letting go of his hair.
He blinked in confusion. “Mina?” he croaked.
“Guys!” She gestured to Denki and Hanta to come closer and when the leaned over him, they gasped as well.
“Eijirou!” Denki turned around himself once before he grabbed for Mina’s mirror, still laying on the ground next to her bed, and shove it into Eijirou’s hands. “Look!”
Eijirou hesitantly held on to the mirror and glanced at his reflection. His breath hitched, bringing the mirror closer to his face. His hair was turning black again. The red seemingly growing out of his hair, starting from his roots the color slowly disappeared downwards until only the tips were seemingly burning. And then it was gone. Only raven black hair.
His head whipped up and his eyes darted from one pair to the other. “What the…?”
Mina started laughing first of them, the other tuning in shortly after. They were all laughing and wheezing on the ground and on the bed, holding onto their sides. Relief was all they felt. Eijirou whipped away one of the tears that spilled, rubbing the heels of his hands against his cheeks.
Mina kicked him playfully against the hip until he turned around to look at her. She was nibbling at her lip, an evil grin on her lips and eyes full of excitement.
“Eijirou, I have an idea.”
“This is fucking bullshit.” He growled for the fifth time and snapped the second quill in under 30 minutes. The ink was pooling around the tip of the quill, the parchment absorbing it slowly, rendering the already written text illegible.
“Your Highness”, the academic said, voice tired and done with his antics. “It is exactly because of this show of mannerism that we both have to go through this. Again and again until you’re presentable at today’s banquet.” He walked away from the table, the book he was holding tucked under his arm as he searched a nearby drawer for another quill. He returned to Bakugou’s side and handed him the writing utensil.
Bakugou grabbed it violently, scrunching up the parchment with one hand and tossed it away. He pulled out another sheet of paper from the side drawer of his desk and pounded it on the surface in front of him. His tutor sighed.
“All of us, least of all you, do not want a repetition of the disaster from the last banquet.”
Bakugou’s shoulders tensed up and a scowl formed on his face. The last banquet wasn’t pleasant, to say the least, and he was well aware of it. But it wasn’t his fault, all of the nobles were talking shit at politics with their fake generosity and phony helpfulness. If they really wanted to change something, help the poor and raise the level of education in their jurisdiction, they would have already done something. They had ways and means. But no, they were all just talk and no show and Bakugou had enough.
They had deserved to be screamed at, to be told they were doing jack shit and had no fucking backbone. But, yeah, maybe it was little over the top to drench the person he was facing in soup. Bakugou had apologized for the broken bowl to his parents but not what he had said. He still meant it.
“Won’t fucking happen again.” He grumbled as he jotted down what he had already written before.
“It sure will with your current attitude, Your Highness”, Aizawa mumbled. “This banquet is unofficially an apology for your behavior from last time, you have to play your part as well.” He tapped his wooden pointer on Bakugou’s head.
“I know.” He snarled. “Still don’t wanna. What good does it do if I suck up to them and pretend and do fucking shit as they all do? Gonna run my future kingdom into the fucking ground, that’s what’s gonna happen.” Scribbling down the last word, he leaned back with his arms crossed in front of his chest.
“It is one thing to say something to just please the people around you and another to stay courteously. You can fight all you want and achieve everything you set your goals at, but I am sure you are well aware that you will not get there if you do not appease your entourage. They are part of your future kingdom as well.” Aizawa strolled around the desk, leaning his back against the windowsill and opened the book again.
Bakugou muttered under his breath, inhaled deeply with pursed lips and listened to Aizawa’s lecture again.
After another hour, he was finally dismissed from his class about proper banquet etiquette, all notes neatly tucked away inside his desk where he would probably never look at them again. Morning class ended a little later than usual, since he had to rewrite some of his note two times, and, therefore, he was a little late for lunch. He walked just a tad faster down the hallway, ignoring all the maids and servants making a curtsey and bowing, and strutted towards the dining hall.
The doors were opened for him, giving way for the view of a long table in the middle of the room. His parents sat on the far end, his mother at the head of the table and his father to her left, her right place empty. The other seats were occupied by various nobles chattering with each other. Somewhere in his head all the names, their jurisdiction, families and so on were filed but Bakugou wasn’t in the mood to entertain each and every one of them. He gave them a courteous nod, that he could do, and took his place beside his mother.
“How nice of you to join us.” She gave him a smile that didn’t reach her eyes, fixing Bakugou in his seat. He shot her a glare but tried to sound as calm as possible, voice wavering just a little with disobedience.
“I apologize, mother, I was held up with my classes. We covered most of today’s subject, internal and external affairs, so we can move on to our next topic tomorrow, finances and distribution.”
His mother nodded at him, pleased, finally giving him an earnest smile. He huffed, turning away from her to face his plate. Soup. Again. Their kitchen needed to be more creative to not always start with a soup. His mother raised her glass and all conversations came to a halt, mirroring her action. Bakugou grabbed his glass with an eyeroll.
“Thank you all for coming. It is always a great joy to host for my esteemed guests. This will only serve as an appetizer for today’s banquet in the evening, so please leave room for enough food.” Their guests chuckled at that. “Again, thank you for coming and enjoy yourselves.”
After Mitsuki took the first sip, the rest of the table followed suit and then they started to eat. Bakugou could hear snippets of conversation between different nobles but most of the time he tuned them out in favor of his sanity. He couldn’t stand this hypocrisy, the fakeness. They could all just go away, and he would still reign over the most prosperous kingdom they would ever see.
After the soup came the fish and after the fish came the meat and after the meat came dessert. Even if there were always different fish and meat, it was still the same dish. The dullness of his everyday routine sometimes drove him crazy. He chewed at his food mechanically, sometimes answered a question directed at him but only single wordily to not be bothered again. After he finished the dessert, he asked to be dismissed which his mother thankfully permitted, and he almost fled the room.
Bakugou was on his way to the fighting area outside in the courtyard, needing to get rid of this pent-up energy when an all too familiar face walked up to him. Internally, rolling his eyes hard at him, Bakugou only slightly rolled his eyes externally.
“Your Highness”, Monoma made an almost mocking bow, “it is nice to see you again.”
Bakugou grunted at first but took a deep breath. “Count Monoma.”
“Ah, how overjoyed I am for the young Highness to remember the name of the person they drenched in soup. I will be ever grateful.” Voice pasted in smugness, Bakugou had to muster all his patience and inner strength he had, to no grab Monoma by the throat and hurl him out the window.
“The fuck you want?”
“Ah, ah, ah. Your Highness, that is not the proper way to address a fellow noble.” Monoma shook his head slowly, one hand at his cheek.
“I can address everyone however I want. I am still above you”, he growled, leaning in closer. “Just because you have some favoritism playing into your hands, for now, does mean fucking shit to me.”
Monoma sighed, propping one hand at his hip and looking Bakugou up and down. “Don’t worry, I know exactly where you and I stand. And it won’t be long that you’ll regret making me one of your enemies.” He winked at him and walked around him to ditch him. Bakugou was seething.
“Ah, before I forget”, Monoma turned his head slightly over his shoulder as he kept walking, “this evening promises to be entertaining. I always love surprises.” He chuckled airily and then he was gone behind the next corner. Bakugou furrowed his brows at his last statement, searching his memory for any surprise to be but came up empty. He shook his head; he wasn’t going to be played with.
His feet carried him to the courtyard, already or still in full swing. They were at peace at the moment, his mother was holding a tight reign over her kingdom, but nevertheless, it would be their downfall if their military forces didn’t train as if war could break out any moment. It wasn’t something Bakugou hoped for, not at all, but the frequent work out helped him not going on a rampage every now and then.
He was handed one of the training swords as soon as he arrived, already a familiar face in their rings, and took on a sparring partner. It was freeing to be seen as some kind of equal within the training grounds. It took them some time to get used to their prince training with them instead of private lessons but soon enough they didn’t mind him anymore. Well, it wasn’t hard to not treat someone as royalty if every other word was a profanity.
Soon enough, Bakugou had risen in strength, strategy, and stamina and, unfortunately, not many could put up a real fight for him anymore. He often was the one training them now, which he liked doing as well but wouldn’t say out loud, but still. A sparring partner that could hold a candle to him would be fucking great once in a while.
By the time, Bakugou was called by one of his mother’s advisers, he was covered in sweat. He had ditched his jacket long ago, but his shirt was soaked in his own sweat, sticking at his back. He rubbed the salty liquid from his eyes with his sleeve and walked up to the advisor.
“Your Highness”, he bowed deeply, “your esteemed mother asks for you to prepare yourself for the upcoming banquet. It is asked to wear the garment she prepared for you, as well as”, his held up his nose a tad higher than necessary, “make Your Highness look presentable.”
Bakugou narrowed his eyes at him. He knew he looked like a mess right now, but what did the servant expect when he was sparring and instructing sword fights? He just nodded at the adviser who abruptly turned around and strutted away. Bakugou grabbed his jacket, returned the sword and walked back to his chambers in which a bathtub was already prepared with hot water.
Stepping into the bathtub after peeling out of his clothes, Bakugou sighed. A warm bath after hours of working out was what he needed. The rosy smell not so much. He grunted and shouted for one of the maids he knew was waiting just around the corner.
“Your Highness”, she kneeled, facing the ground.
“Don’t put any rosy shit in the water next time”, he scoffed, collecting the petals in the water and dumping them on the ground. The maid reached for them immediately, stuffing them into her apron.
“Of course, Your Highness. Forgive me, Your Highness.” She walked outside backward in a deep bow, not looking up once. Bakugou leaned his head back, eyes open and staring at the ceiling. He liked being a prince. He wanted to be the king of this kingdom and rule it to be the greatest kingdom the world has ever seen. But sometimes he felt, there was something missing. Something he couldn’t see. Whatever it was, he was sure he would find it before he would be crowned.
He knew he didn’t have much time so Bakugou scrubbed himself clean and left the bathtub after a few minutes. After drying himself, he took the clothes his mother had chosen for him and were waiting for him on the dresser. He huffed. She always liked dressing him up in ridiculous outfits, mostly in strange colors. This one was no exception.
Black pants with silver ornaments that went from the hips to his knees, curled around them in elaborate design and a black jacket, barely long enough to fit above his belt. It was adorned by the same silver ornaments on the hem of the sleeve, curling upwards to his elbows. The seams in the middle of the jacket, just were it parted and held fast with clips underneath, were in a bright orange going from the bottom high up to his collar and curling over his shoulders around his neck. On the collar were the royal crests embroidered and the finishing touch were the silver buttons, two lines each four pieces in the middle of the chest. It had a military touch with the sharp silver edges on his shoulders and overall, Bakugou couldn’t say he hated it. It was better than most of his outfits.
Bakugou had to swat away some hands trying to apply some powder on his face before he stumped down the hallway towards the ballroom. The two wings flew open as soon as he was within reach, making way for him to enter the room. The only people attending were the same people he saw at lunch which wasn’t unusual since it was still early in the evening and most of the invited guest wouldn’t even arrive before 8 pm. Some heads looked up when he entered but he didn’t pay them any attention, taking his rightful place next to his mother for now.
As the evening went on, more and more noble men and women and people entered the ballroom, everyone was announced as if they all didn’t know anyway who they were and Bakugou had to go greet them in his mother’s stead. It wasn’t even two hours before Bakugou felt his patience wore down. Shaking hands with too many old geezers with their smug grins, kissing the rings of too many arrogant women and entertaining the rest of the guest who thought it was a good idea to strike up a casual conversation with him. As if they all didn’t know how much he hated these events.
Usually, some, dared he say it?, friends attended these kinds of events as well and made it at least endurable but this month they were indispensable at their estates, leaving him hanging at the most crucial moment.
When Monoma perked his head up in his immediate proximity, the last of his patience went out the window.
“The fuck do you want?”
“Your Highness!” Monoma stifled a satisfied laugh. “That’s not how you greet your guests. I thought you had learned from last month.”
“I already fucking greeted you this afternoon”, Bakugou narrowed his eyes, hands balled up to fists by his side. “And we established already that I can talk to you however I want. Or do you want to learn how it feels like to disobey directly to the crown prince?”
The smile on Monoma’s face faltered slightly. “Ah, Your Highness, we all know you just have a little bit of a bad temper and no one would be thinking, I did something outrages to incite your wrath.”
“Care to find out?” Bakugou leaned forward, the deepest growl in his voice he could muster, and his eyes fixed on him like his prey. His lips were stretched in a menacing grin, finally wiping away the smugness on Monoma’s face.
“Have a good evening, Your Highness.” Was all he said as he escaped through the masses. Bakugou huffed a little satisfied to himself. His eyes met the gaze of his mother raising an eyebrow at him which he answered with a subtle shrug and pursed lips. If they all couldn’t take a hint, he would make them.
Another half an hour went by without people approaching him and Bakugou actually believed he could make it through the evening without punching someone when he caught the glimpse of something outrageously red. His head whipped around but even with his concentrated eyes, he couldn’t find what caught his attention.
It could have been just a decoration on one of the exaggerated dresses everyone wore or some piece of jewelry but Bakugou trusted his guts and slowly walked through the crowd keeping an eye out for everything red.
There was a movement to his right, a flash of red and without hesitation, Bakugou squeezed through the people standing in his way. When he emerged at the back of the room, he saw a small circle of people his age. His brain offered some helpful information about their names and statuses. All but one.
A young man, probably the same age as him as well, stood inside the circle, unmissable with bright red hair. The top half of his hair was pulled back into a bun, a few braided strands at the sides while the lower half fell down almost to his shoulders. His lips were stretched into a wide smile, crinkling the corner of his eyes and showing a row of pointy teeth. There was no way Bakugou would forget someone like him, but his brain was empty. He couldn’t even remember him getting announced.
His presence was finally registered by the small group and they all bowed slightly before him. With a little confusion, he noticed, that the redhead only did after he saw the other do it.
“Your Highness”, they greeted him with fake smiles on their lips. He only grunted in confirmation, eyes fixed on this unknown person. One of the members of the little group caught on to his staring and cleared his throat.
“This is Kirishima Eijirou”, he gestured towards him with his palm up, “we were just talking to him since he wasn’t familiar to us.” The guy, Baron Iida Tenya his brain spat out, pushed up his glasses up. “We were just confirming he wasn’t anyone suspicious with his appearance and all.”
The redhead chuckled a little at that and Iida continued. “He was telling us, that his family was just recently established, not yet announced to the royal family and his family thought it would be a good idea”, Iida shook his head in disbelief, “that their son would slip into one of the monthly banquets to make connections.”
Bakugou’s eyes never left Kirishima’s face, taking in every inch of it, noticing how Kirishima’s eyes were rested somewhere in the distance. His smile never left his face and Bakugou could see his Adam’s apple bob with every swallow.
“If you want him to be removed from this event because of his rudeness and punish his family for this unsolicited behavior, I am more than happy to receive the order, Your Highness”.
At that, Kirishima’s eyes widen and finally snapped back. His eyes were fixed on Iida but then moved over to Bakugou. He could see Kirishima's surprise and the twitch in his legs told him, he was about to flee the moment he would be in danger. What a daring guy.
“No.” He finally said, eyes narrowing down on Kirishima. “I will personally be the judge of this character and decide what to do with him.” Iida and the rest of their group were taken aback but they didn’t utter a word of disagreement, leaving them with a courteous bow to them.
Kirishima crossed his arms behind his back, tilting his head to the side slightly. “What can I do for you, Y-Your Highness?” Stumbling over his own words, huh?
“Where lays your jurisdiction?” Bakugou took a step forward, crowding Kirishima farther against the wall but he just leaned against it seemingly unfazed by Bakugou’s attempt to intimidate him. His fingers were tangled against each other in front him, his whole posture oozing out relaxation. It kind of ticked Bakugou off.
“Rather far in the north of your kingdom, Your Highness. Just right at the border, I am not certain it… that you know about it.” He coughed a little, averting his eyes from Bakugou’s face.
“Fucking try me.” Bakugou growled. How dare he imply he didn’t know all the jurisdiction of his own future kingdom? Kirishima looked back at him, they were about the same height but Bakugou still managed to tower over him with his presence alone.
“Chiba.” Kirishima answered single wordily. “Some small part of it.” He added scratching his cheek. Bakugou’s eye’s narrowed just slightly. Chiba was a not so familiar region to him, there was not a lot of business to maintain, no immediate threats from the north, no internal conflicts. It wasn’t strange he didn’t hear about a newly established noble family from there.
He nodded at him sharply and leaned back. To his satisfaction, he saw Kirishima drawing in a deep breath. Before he could say something else, one of the servants carrying a tray and offering small bites to the guests walked up to them.
Kirishima stepped forward and put one of them straight into his mouth before grabbing two more and held one of them towards Bakugou who took it a little dumbfounded. Kirishima grinned after swallowing down his first bite and then grinned at the servant.
“Thanks, man!” He chirped and took another bite for good measure.
Both Bakugou’s and the servant’s eyes widen just a fraction. Before the servant bowed their head and walked away, Bakugou could swear he caught the small tug on their lips, almost as if to suppress a smile.
His attention snapped back to Kirishima who was already at his last bite. “What the fuck was that?”
Kirishima blinked, licking the remaining crust from his fingers. “Huh? What?”
“That”, Bakugou pointed vaguely in the direction the servant disappeared to, “thanking them.” Bakugou’s eyes narrowed. He never saw a noble thanking a servant for doing their fucking job.
Kirishima, however, looked at him as if he was the one to say something utterly ridiculous. “What about it?”
“That’s their job, they don’t need to be fucking thanked.”
Kirishima had the audacity to laugh at him. He caught himself immediately, though, having half the mind to be coughing about it in embarrassment. “Well, you know, it’s probably not their dream job to kiss everybody’s as—to be overly polite to everybody around them, carrying food around that they can’t eat and have to starve until they’re dismissed.” He shrugged. “And even then, only get some leftovers if they’re lucky. The least I can do is thanking them for their hard work.”
Bakugou blinked. He didn’t even know what expression to wear to that statement, so foreign to his thoughts. His eyes lowered to the bite he still held in his hand and then turned his head around to really look at the scene. There were servants walking around with different plated trays, some with food some with refreshments. Other servants walked around with well-hidden rugs to clean up dirt as soon as they spotted it. There were a few servants who had designated nobles they attended to exclusively, never stopped walking around to find them whatever they wanted or needed, leaning in to provide information.
And not once saw Bakugou someone bat an eye at them, no word of gratitude, hell, their whole existence wasn't even acknowledged by pretty much everyone. Even he himself only just seconds ago didn’t question their presence, taking them for granted.
Bakugou gritted his teeth. He never learned about servants and their work, it was just something that just was. So why irked it him so much that he didn’t think about this earlier?
“You alri—is something the matter, Your Highness?” Kirishima had given him the time to process his thoughts and only piped up quietly.
“Of fucking course.” Bakugou snapped back, stuffing the bite into his mouth. That was something he had to address later.
Kirishima smiled at him warmly, actually smiling at him without fake friendly attitude. Bakugou’s thoughts couldn’t keep up with so many revelations in such a short time, so he did what he was best at. He scoffed at Kirishima.
“Aren’t you here to steal information to make your family look better? You’re talking to the fucking prince right now, better seize the opportunity.” He crossed his arms as he spoke.
“Dud—I mean, no!” Kirishima laughed again. This time not as restricted and it rang pleasantly in his ears. “I just wanted, well, get to know the current members of nobility so I won’t make a fool of myself, you know, by not knowing them.”
“Don’t you have a tutor to teach you?”
“Your Highness”, Kirishima chuckled but not in any condescending way at all, maybe a little sad, Bakugou mused, “not everyone has the same privileges you enjoy.”
“Hah? Do you call me a spoiled brat?” he quipped. Now, this was getting interesting. A nobody challenging his authority.
“Not at all”, Kirishima held up his hands, “I was just saying that you can’t just project your experience onto everybody else.” Bakugou swallowed around his dry mouth. Why was Kirishima hitting all the right nerves so effortlessly?
“I don’t!” Now, that was pretty convincing, wasn’t it? “You’re a noble and most nobles I know, do have a tutor to learn about this stuff because it is common courtesy to know about nobility and its different families.” He huffed out annoyed but satisfied. It wasn’t wrong what he said. Everybody had at least one academic who would teach them about the royal family and every other important noble. He wasn’t in the wrong here.
“But knowing most doesn’t mean all, you see?”
“You—” – “Katsuki!” Bakugou jerked around almost getting whiplashed as his mother walked over to him. “My dear boy”, she smiled in an icy voice. “Why are you raising your voice constantly?”
“This fucking dimwit thought—“, Bakugou turned around, already prepared to grab Kirishima by the arm but his eyes only met empty air. His head whipped around, looking for the red hair but he was standing alone seemingly talking to the wall.
“This little fucker.”
“Katsuki, language!” His mother hissed. “Do I have to remind you this banquet is held because—” – “because I’m a fucking imbecile. I already got that.” Bakugou was wheezing. Never ever had someone dared to ditch him like that.
“I have to go.” And then he proceeded to leave his mother alone. He saw her roll her eyes when he vanished inside the crowd again. He wouldn’t let him go away with this just like that. It took him approximately 10 minutes to find his red hair pop out through the masses again. With a few big steps, he was facing him again as he stumbled through pleasantries with other nobles.
Bakugou stopped, crossed his arm and just observed this spectacle. Kirishima was visible nervous talking to them, giggling a little undignified whenever his phrasing was not courteous enough or he didn’t actually get what the other nobles were talking about. He stumbled through stories about his family and their duties, but somehow everyone around him was being in a good mood. They laughed with him, touching his arm and shoulder, expressing even encouragement to be more confident.
Bakugou’s eyes flitted over the poorly assembled outfit of him. It looked a little worn out, the colors not as popping or the stitched and embroideries were losing some yarn. Except for the shirt. It was white with golden stitches, adorning both the hem of the sleeves and his chest, hugging him tightly and Bakugou just noticed how muscular he is. A loose scarf around his neck obscured the family crests on his collar, unfortunately, so Bakugou couldn’t search his memory from what family he descendant.
As Kirishima began fidgeting with his fingers, playing nervously with one of the lose threads, Bakugou finally showed mercy. He stepped up right beside him and grabbed his arm.
“I apologize for my rudeness, but Kirishima and I have somewhere to go.” His voice belittled his words, echoing undisputed authority. The nobles around them bowed immediately, nodding in acknowledgment and ushered to the sides when Bakugou pulled Kirishima with him. With a strangled noise, Kirishima followed him.
Bakugou dragged him out the door, through the hallway until they stopped in the courtyard. It was already dark outside, the moon beaming in the night sky with no clouds. The air was chilly and they both shuddered when they stepped through the door.
“Wha—” Kirishima sputtered, head whipping around. Bakugou let go of his arm, his hand strangely tingling at the loss of his firm grip on strong arms. He definitely was built.
He walked over to the barracks, where a makeshift weaponry for training sessions was situated and grabbed two wooden swords. In silence, he threw one of it at Kirishima who caught it with both arms, fumbling at first.
“You know how to fight?”
Kirishima licked his lips, examining the sword in his hands. With a slow nod, he held the sword up in one hand, positioning himself in a fighting stance. Now they were talking. Bakugou grinned in delight and mirrored a similar stance.
“First dropping his sword or getting hit, loses.” He bellowed before lunging at Kirishima. Their swords clunked against each other, sliding off the rough surfaces but Kirishima pressed on. Bakugou took a step back, letting Kirishima lose his balance for a second and lowered his sword to strike against his arm.
Kirishima caught his fall with one wide step, raising his sword vertically to intercept Bakugou’s strike. Bakugou could see his thigh flex as he pushed himself up, his strength yanking his sword upwards and making him tumble two steps back.
Kirishima took another wide step and lunged his sword forward, the tip pointing against his chest. Bakugou drew his sword close in an arching movement from the side, blew Kirishima’s sword away and with the momentum of his spin tried to slash against Kirishima’s leg. The latter, however, had stumbled forward when Bakugou had blown away his sword and made a forward roll, dodging the blow.
It didn’t take Bakugou long to notice that Kirishima was jack shit at sword fighting. There were some basic movements even a squire could perform just by watching and there was no finesse or even strategy. Just brute strength. And hell, was he strong. Bakugou could feel it in every strike he parried and every stance he either tried to break or needed to push against. Kirishima was strong both passive and active. If he had the right instructor, if he had one at all, he could probably rise in the military ranks without a hitch.
But Bakugou wasn’t weak by any means. And he could think, something Kirishima seemed to lack. Still, he entertained them both for a little while, enjoying his straining muscles whenever he pushed against Kirishima or parried a strike. They were at it for probably half an hour, both drench in sweat, hair glued to their foreheads and both grinning widely towards each other, when Bakugou took a few fast steps forward, entering Kirishima’s personal space by forcing one leg between his, twisted his ankle and yanked it against Kirishima’s calve from behind.
By the sudden loss of his footing, Kirishima flopped backwards and fell down hard on his back. Bakugou leaned down, his sword hovering over Kirishima’s throat and grinned at him as he huffed out small pants.
“My win.” He breathed.
Kirishima was panting a little bit more than him, body flush against the ground, and he had to take in a few breaths before grinning back at him.
“Your win.” His head thudded back against the muddy ground and he closed his eyes for a moment to calm his breathing. Bakugou lowered his sword and when Kirishima opened his eyes again, he offered him a hand.
Kirishima eyes wrinkled by his wide grin as he grabbed the offered hand. Bakugou yanked him up and rubbed his sweaty hand against his pants. His eyes drove over Kirishima. They both were filthy as fuck.
“We should take a bath before returning to the banquet.” He huffed. “You’re hair is so dirty it looks black.”
Kirishima’s eyes sprung open as he finished his sentence, grabbing one of his strands that fell out of his braids and stared at it in the moonlight.
“I… I have to go.” Kirishima stammered and before Bakugou could even register the words, Kirishima sprinted through the courtyard like the devil himself was behind him. When Bakugou sprung to action to follow him, he already darted around the corner of the barracks and when Bakugou reached that point he didn’t see Kirishima anywhere.
He was gone.