“Trespasser,” hisses Katsuki.
Eijirou pauses mid-step. He’s kicking a round pebble back and forth, trying to race it before it rolls off their outcrop and into the woods. He’s already lost three of them. Katsuki would join in, except he’s too busy watching for intruders because someone has to be responsible for their turf around here. “Is it the centaur?”
“It’s not the centaur,” Katsuki says, clambering up a boulder to get a better look. He squints into the plains below. The sun’s starting to dip into the horizon, making everything glow the same shade of yellow-gold. “Looks like a human. Could be a boy.”
“Just one?” Eijirou says, coming over to investigate. His tail curls up behind him like a question mark. His eyebrows scrunch up as he looks at the grass, top teeth poking out over his lip. “He’s little.”
“Can you see if he’s armed?”
“Something on his hip. Might be a knife,” Eijirou hums. His eyesight’s much sharper than Katsuki’s, unfortunately. He should really be the one on lookout, but he's always been more interested in goofing off than keeping them alive. “He seems pretty harmless to me.”
“Not with a knife, he's not,” Katsuki says, folding his arms. “Take me to him. Let’s scare him off.”
“Aw, but I was just about to beat my high score.”
“You’re useless,” Katsuki tells him. Eijirou just smiles like the happy idiot he is. “Fine. Stay here and play. You’d better beat my high score for making me go down there on my own.”
He hops off the boulder. Pebbles cascade under his feet as he slides gingerly down the side of the hill, rolling across the rocky terrain with a pleasant clatter and disappearing from his line of sight. The intruder’s wandering aimlessly through the plains some distance away. Katsuki reaches flat ground and crouches. He hides in the overgrown grass, running across the field and weaving around rocks to stay out of sight. The soft ground dampens his footsteps. The figure in front of him gets steadily closer, and Katsuki breaks his stride, moving low and slow to circle around the boy’s back. It’s like hunting a rabbit, except this one is big and ungainly and painfully unaware of his surroundings.
He pops out of the grass with a snarl. The boy shrieks and falls over. He’s got wild hair and simple clothes, and his basket goes careening off his arm to spill its contents all over the ground. Flowers. He’d been picking flowers. And the thing on his hip is a trowel, not a knife.
Katsuki huffs. He'd been half-hoping for a fight. “Who are you?”
“Who am I?” says the boy, eyebrows creased and turned upward. He seems very offended. “Who are you?”
“I asked you first.”
“And I was minding my own business!”
“What do you need all these for?” Katsuki says, rolling a big yellow bloom over with his shoe. “You gonna eat them or something?”
“What? Who eats flowers?”
“Do I look like a nymph to you?”
Katsuki wonders if that's a trick question. The boy sits up. He has freckles, Katsuki notices belatedly. They’re sprinkled across his nose and cheeks and a little bit on his chin. There's grass in his hair, too, except it's hard to see because it sort of blends in. “Wildflowers are useful,” he says half as an afterthought, looking around for his basket and scooping some of his hoard back in. “Pretty much every one of them can be used for magic or healing. Some go in soaps. Some are nice for tea or sweets.”
“So you do eat them.”
“Why are you interrogating me?” the boy asks, obviously exasperated. He stands and dusts off his clothes, then goes looking for the rest of his stash. “You had to jump out at me? You couldn’t have just said hello like a normal person?”
“You’re on my turf.”
“What turf? There’s nothing here.”
Katsuki points behind him. The boy follows his finger to the hill, still bent over, but doesn’t seem to quite understand what he’s looking at. “That's mine,” Katsuki says, matter-of-fact. “This whole field is mine.”
“You can’t just pick a piece of land and say it’s yours.”
“The hell I can’t,” Katsuki says, outraged. “This is my territory. You’re trespassing. I should eat you.”
“Please don’t,” says the boy, straightening up. He’s about half a head shorter than Katsuki, face soft and youthful and sweet. He turns to look at him properly. His dark hair shines in the dying light, basket of blooms looped over one arm and mouth quirked into a tiny half-smile. The sun hits his face and makes his eyes a bright greeny-gold, just like emeralds.
Katsuki likes emeralds
“Why are you staring at me?” the boy asks, frowning. “You’re not actually going to eat me, are you?”
“No,” says Katsuki. Those eyes glow sweetly at him. He takes a step forward. “I like you.”
The boy goes pink. It’s very fetching, spreading from his nose to his ears like a sunburn. “Oh. Uhm. Thank you.”
“Pretty,” Katsuki says, reaching out and picking the stranger up around the middle. He’s surprisingly heavy, although Katsuki doesn’t mind. “Yes. Like you. Come see my nest.”
The boy hits him.
He’s stronger than he looks, turns out. Katsuki drops him and falls onto his back, pain blooming across his face. Birds sing. The sky’s a lovely shade of orange, clouds floating lazily by. The boy scarpers. He leaves his basket of flowers behind, footsteps thumping on the ground and fading away as he escapes.
The sun sets. Katsuki, lying flat on his back with a bloody nose, decides he’s just fallen in love.
Izuku wakes up to hurricane.
Except it’s not raining. And it stops about five minutes after it starts. He peels his face off the pillow and stumbles out of bed, stopping by the bathroom to splash some water on his face and brush his teeth. Mr Yagi’s not home. Izuku knows because he sees the fire lit once he steps out of his bedroom, crackling merrily in the hearth with a pot of tea hanging over it. It’s jasmine. He pours himself a cup and almost drops it when someone pounds on the entrance. Patting down his hair, he puts his tea down and opens the door.
And immediately shuts it.
Tries to, anyway. A leather boot is blocking it from closing, attached to an owner Izuku unfortunately recognises. “Hey! Don’t run from me, bastard. I’ve brought you your flowers.”
Izuku peeks out of the gap. “You’re the crazy man!”
“I am not. I’m just trying to nest you.”
“You’re nuts. You’re a serial killer.”
“Fucking— Eijirou!” he calls over his shoulder. “Burn his house down!”
Izuku yanks the door open, indignant. “You are not gonna burn my house down oh my god you have a dragon.”
“Hi,” says a bright red wyrm with long horns and a serpentine neck. It’s massive. Almost the size of Mr Yagi’s whole cottage, wings tucked against its back and legs curled up under itself like a cat. It thumps its tail once in greeting. “I’m Eijirou.”
“Izuku,” says Izuku without thinking. “Why are you at my house?”
“Tracked your scent,” the blond one says and holds up Izuku’s lost basket. Most of the flowers from the other day are still inside it, looking a little worse for wear. “Eijirou has a good nose.”
“You smell like cotton and grass,” says Eijirou helpfully.
Izuku takes a deep breath. “You’re a stalker.”
“Shut up,” says the unwanted visitor, shoving the basket into Izuku’s chest. “Eijirou says I scared you off by picking you up because you’re so small. I wasn’t trying to hurt you, alright? That’s just how dragons greet each other.”
“It’s true. We wind our necks together and nuzzle. It means you like someone,” says Eijirou.
“What? You’re not a dragon.”
The blond boy scowls. “The hell I’m not. What do you think these are?” he asks, lifting one defined arm. Scratchy black symbols stretch from his shoulder to his wrist. Izuku squints at them and then shrugs.
“Dragon markings,” he says haughtily. “Dragons don’t always look like Eijirou, okay? Some of us can shape-shift.”
“Like this!” says Eijirou brightly, squeezing his eyes shut and disappearing into a plume of pink smoke. It smells like leather and brimstone. When the cloud clears there’s a red-haired boy with horns and stripes alone his torso. “See? Wow, everything looks huge now.”
Izuku’s jaw goes slack. “How are you wearing clothes?”
“I dunno. I changed once and I was naked but my mom made me put some pants on and ever since then they just show up when I make myself tiny.”
“Right,” says the blond. “So anyway, you should be my mate.”
Izuku feels his ears go red. The stranger is looking at him with no trace of self-consciousness, hands on his hips like he’s waiting for Izuku to hurry up and say yes. He’s very handsome, unfortunately. Tall and muscled, expression imperious even though he’s standing there with a big fluffy cloak and no shirt. Lots of accessories, though. The fang earrings are a nice touch. “Why?”
“You’re pretty,” he shrugs like it’s obvious. “Dragons like pretty.”
“Oh my god,” Izuku says, trying to shrink into the collar of his nightshirt. He’s probably redder than Eijirou. “This is nuts. You’re nuts. We don’t even know each other.”
“So we have to get to know each other first,” the boy says slowly. “Alright. I can do that.”
“I’ll woo you,” he says like it’s the most normal thing in the world. Reaching out, he touches Izuku’s cheek and then spins around on his heel, commanding Eijirou to shapeshift back so they can go home. The puff of pink smoke returns, and the boy clambers onto his scaly companion’s back and swings his leg over like he’s mounting a horse.
“Wait,” says Izuku, clutching the basket of flowers in both hands. “Wait, I don’t know your name.”
“Katsuki,” says the boy, grinning wide. Eijirou beats his wings and lifts himself off the ground, the resulting gust of wind ruffling Izuku’s hair and blowing the blooms out of their basket. Katsuki waves one hand goodbye. They take off into the sky like an enormous bird of prey, gliding on the breeze back south, probably to the field back where they first met.
Izuku stands on there alone on the doorstep, windswept and rumpled with wilting flowers scattered around his feet. He steps back inside and shuts the door. The fire spits. Dazed, he takes his basket inside and goes back to the kitchen to drink the rest of his cold tea.
“If you want him to nest you,” says Eijirou, “then you have to convince him you’re a good mate.”
Katsuki considers this. Eijirou lounges in his bed of furs, blowing thin jets of fire into the heath because their cave tends to get cold at night. He’s boy-shaped at the moment, horns casting funny shadows on the wall. “You’re saying I have to provide for him.”
“Yeah!” says Eijirou, rolling onto his back. “You’re a good hunter. Maybe he’ll like that.”
“He’s human, though,” Katsuki says, gnawing on a rabbit bone. His own bed is exclusively deer pelt because he doesn’t like how other fur gets everywhere. “He got spooked by a normal hello. There are probably stupid human customs I don’t know about. I don’t wanna accidentally, fuck, I dunno. Break a taboo and scare him again. I don't want him to think I'm about to kill him, even if I could.”
“Humans still eat meat, though, right? They have to know what hunting is. How else do they get their food?”
“That’s true,” Katsuki muses. He tosses his bone into the fire. It lands right in the middle, sending embers floating into the air. “Alright. I’ll show Izuku I can take care of him well.”
He goes out hunting the next day. Camps out in the field from dawn to dusk, watching for prey wandering the clearing. It needs to be something big to impress Izuku, something delicious and hard to catch. Not rabbits or pheasant. But not too big that he won’t be able to carry it to Izuku’s house, because he doesn’t want to rely on Eijirou for this. He has to do it himself. So he takes his time, watching and waiting, until a beautiful doe crosses his path.
It doesn’t even see him coming. The rest of its herd scatters. Katsuki, dirt in his hair and spear in his hand, creeps closer and grins.
Eijirou’s playing with a lizard when Katsuki gets home two days later. He sits up when Katsuki comes in, tail wagging, and the lizard scuttles off to hide under the table. “How’d it go?”
“How you think?” Katsuki snarls, throwing the bloody carcass on the floor. “He screamed! He screamed at me and made me leave! I lugged an entire deer corpse all the way to his house and he wouldn’t even let me through the door!”
“What? No way. Did you give him the entrails?”
“I tried! He gagged at me like he didn’t even know you could eat an intestine!”
“What about the pelt?”
“He doesn’t know how to skin it,” Katsuki says, throwing his hands up in frustration. His arms and back ache and he smells like meat. “Stupid fucking humans. I knew this was a bad idea.”
Eijirou deflates, tail drooping sadly behind him. “Sorry. I thought it would work.”
“No, you weren’t wrong,” Katsuki huffs. “I mean, dragon mating is sensible. I don’t know what the fuck Izuku’s problem is.”
“Maybe he doesn’t like deer,” Eijirou suggests, scooting over so Katsuki can cross the cave and flounce angrily onto his bed. “You could try catching him something else.”
“I’m not going through that again.”
“Right, okay.” Eijirou hums, folding his legs in front of him while Katsuki glares at the ceiling. The late deer mocks him silently from the entrance. “Okay. What about something giving him something he does like?”
“I don’t know, he’s your mate. What does your gut tell you?”
His gut tells him Eijirou is an idiot. The idea does jog a memory, though. Bright eyes and fading sunlight, and lots and lots of pastel colours. “Okay,” he says slowly instead. “Yeah. That might work.”
“Cool,” says Eijirou, pointedly casual. Katsuki glances at him and then rolls his eyes.
“You want the deer?”
“Yes please can I have the liver!”
“Knock yourself out,” Katsuki snorts, and doesn’t even yell at him later for getting congealed blood all over the floor.
Someone knocks on the door.
Izuku almost doesn’t want to open it, because the sound is giving him war flashbacks of a half-naked blond man covered in blood and a dead deer. And he’s alone. Katsuki seems to only show up when Mr Yagi’s gone out. Either Izuku’s unlucky or Katsuki has been camping outside the cottage waiting for an opportunity like a murderer. Izuku’s tempted to pretend he’s not here, but the knocking gets more insistent and he doesn’t fancy explaining a dent in the door.
“Coming,” he says, putting down his book and getting up. Very slowly, he opens the door, peeking through and bracing himself for the sight of another dead animal with glassy eyes. Katsuki’s standing there. He’s not bloodstained, thankfully. And he’s holding something big behind his back. “You don’t have a corpse this time, do you?” says Izuku cautiously.
Something soft and fragrant is thrust into his face. Izuku squeaks and goes cross-eyed trying to look at it. “What’s this?”
“Flowers,” Katsuki says, sounding deeply annoyed. “You like these, right? You were collecting them. I saw you do it so you can’t scream at me this time.”
Izuku pulls back to look at him properly. Katsuki’s brought him an entire bush, a mishmash of blooms and weeds pulled out of the grass at random. A bee buzzes clumsily around his head. Carefully, Izuku reaches out to touch a pink foxglove. “Where did you get these?”
“I gathered them, obviously. It was a pain in the ass, too. Do you want them or not?”
“I… yes. Thank you,” Izuku says, taking them. He gives Katsuki a hesitant smile, holding the makeshift bouquet with both hands. “Uhm. It was nice of you to bring me these.”
“So you like them?”
“Well, it would be a bit more romantic if these didn’t still have dirt clinging to them,” Izuku says. Katsuki scowls hilariously. “But, yes. I like flowers. Thank you.”
“Good,” Katsuki huffs. “One of them gave me a rash. I didn’t give you that one.”
“You might have tried to pick a stinging nettle,” Izuku says, suppressing a smile. “You’re not going to bring me any more dead things, right?”
“Do you not eat meat?”
“So where do you get it if you don’t hunt?”
Katsuki frowns. “You want me to bring you a butcher?”
“Absolutely not,” Izuku says before Katsuki can begin planning an abduction. “These are fine. You, uhm. You don't have to give me things, you know.”
“I’m courting you.”
Izuku blushes. “Oh. Gosh. Thanks?”
Katsuki rolls his eyes. He doesn’t seem angry, though. If Izuku didn’t know any better he’d say the relaxed slope of his shoulders spells relief. “Thanks, he says. As if I didn’t spend all day on my knees hunting plants.”
“I’m not making you!”
“I know,” Katsuki snorts. “But it’s fine. How else am I supposed to show you I’m a good mate?”
Izuku hides behind his bouquet. Katsuki nods to himself, satisfied, and turns to go. “I’ll be back next week.”
“Do you want me to stay?”
“Uh,” says Izuku, blushing redder. “My teacher’s not home. I don’t think it would be appropriate.”
“Then I’ll come back later. By the way, I’m having venison for dinner,” Katsuki says, cloak wishing around the backs of his legs in the breeze. He walks off without saying a proper goodbye, whistling to himself as he starts off down the path that leads away from the cottage and towards the woods.
Izuku harrumphs at his back. Can’t really bring himself to be offended, though, not when the perfume of flowers is slowly starting to waft around the living room. “He’s nuts,” he says to himself, shutting the door. “I’ve attracted the attention of a madman.”
He lets it go. Goes back to writing alchemy notes in his journal, but not before putting the bouquet in some water, weeds and all.
And, well. That backfires. Quite spectacularly, one might add.
Izuku hops over a babbling brook and heads towards the purple plume of smoke wafting over the treeline. Uraraka always has some crazy potion brewing in the hearth. By the looks of it this one is part of a summoning spell, judging by the way the chimney-smoke zigzags at sharp angles. Her cottage is tiny and lopsided but lovely. Izuku pokes his head through the open window and calls out a hello, startling Uraraka into dropping her biscuit. She catches it before it hits the floor, levitating it in place and floating back up to her mouth. “Whoops. Sorry, I should have knocked.”
“It’s okay,” she says with her mouth full. “Come in. Iida’s already here, he’s getting more firewood.”
Izuku yanks open the door and makes a beeline for the lumpy sofa barely accessible between the dozens of potted plants. “I need help. I have a problem.”
“Okay,” says Uraraka. “Want some shortbread?”
“Yes please. Hi, Iida.”
“Hello,” says Iida, coming through the door with a bundle of tinder in his arms. He’s in his civilian clothes because Uraraka had laughed at him once for coming to her house in full armour. “How’s Mr Yagi?”
“He’s fine,” says Izuku, taking a biscuit out of the container floating near his head. “He’s gone to town to play board games with his friends.”
“That’s nice,” says Uraraka. “So what was your problem?”
“Hmm? Oh! Right! Guys, my life is in grave danger,” Izuku says.
“That’s a shame,” says Uraraka. “Iida, pour me a coffee?”
“Alright. Is it the Arabica I sent you?” Iida says.
Izuku huffs. “Can you at least pretend to care?”
Iida pours three cups and hands Izuku the one with the most sugar in it. “Your life is in danger quite often, Midoriya. Most of the time it’s your fault.”
“It isn’t this time,” Izuku tells him, indignant. “Listen, I was just minding my own business around Mustafu plains, and then this dragon-boy showed up and scared the absolute heck out of me. And then he picked me up! Like, bodily! And he now keeps following me around and he knows where I live. He says he wants to nest me.”
Uraraka claps her hands together. “That’s basically marriage in dragon culture! Is he cute? Do you like him?”
“No! Well, yes, he’s attractive,” Izuku says and hides behind his drink. “But he keeps trying to give me presents and then running away.”
“Are you upset about the presents or about him running away?” says Iida, sitting at the kitchen table opposite Uraraka.
“The presents! The first time he brought me a dead deer,” says Izuku, gesturing with his coffee. “It was still bleeding and everything. And then after that he figured out I liked flowers, which, okay, that’s honestly pretty sweet, but he keeps bringing them. My house is covered in them. There’s no room on my desk or the kitchen table or anything. And I’m pretty certain he’s been scavenging through the neighbours’ gardens, because he also gave me a garden gnome.”
Uraraka giggles. “It sounds like he really likes you. You know you can just say no and he’ll leave you alone?”
Izuku sighs. “But he always looks so happy when I take his gifts. I don't want to disappoint him, it's not like he's really done anything wrong.”
“How do you plan on solving it, then?” asks Iida.
“I don’t know!” says Izuku. “That’s why I’m asking you guys.”
Iida shrugs. “I’m not sure what to tell you, Midoriya. It’s not like anyone’s ever had a crush on me.”
Uraraka clears her throat nervously. “Anyway! I can hex him or something if he’s bothering you. Or maybe Iida can slay him.”
“Don’t hex him,” says Izuku.
“I’m not murdering someone for no reason,” says Iida.
“Then tell him you want something else,” she says. “Like cash. Tell him you only accept gold from now on.”
“I’m not going to rob him,” Izuku scoffs. “Anyway, he’s a dragon. He’s not going to part with his treasure.”
“That’s actually a myth,” she says. “It’s only a specific breed of dragon that does the whole hoarding thing. What’s his name? What does he look like?”
“Katsuki. He’s blond and kind of spikey. Tall with a lot of tattoos. And, uhm, he doesn’t like wearing a shirt.”
“Is that why you like him,” says Uraraka.
“I don’t!” says Izuku. “I mean, I don’t hate him, but this is all kind of a lot to deal with. Look, you know about magical creatures, right? Can you give me some dragon repellent or something? I dunno, something to make him less interested?”
“He’s not a mosquito,” says Iida. “You can’t just spray him with something and hope he’ll go away.”
Uraraka hums. “Well, maybe not, but something like suma root might work. Mother dragons tend to eat a lot of it right after laying eggs to regain muscle. Katsuki might see you more platonically if you smell like his mom. Kind of a long shot, but I guess there's no harm in trying. I'm pretty sure I have some somewhere if you want?”
“Yes!” says Izuku as she gets up to rummage around in an overflowing cupboard. She emerges with a little noise of triumph and tosses Izuku a dried root, telling him to soak it for a day and apply the water just under his ears. “Thank you, you’re the best! How can I repay you?”
“You don’t need to thank me,” Uraraka says, accepting the hug Izuku runs over to give her. “Unless you want to feed me, actually. I like cake. Extra icing.”
“I will bake you a cake,” says Izuku, lifting her off her feet a little. “He won’t notice, right? I don’t want to hurt his feelings.”
“You can say I gave you this for stress relief, maybe,” she says.
Iida sips his coffee. “How does Mr Yagi feel about this?”
“I haven’t told him,” Izuku says, chewing the inside of his cheek. “I don’t know if I should. It’s not a secret, exactly, but I don’t want to worry him. Right now he thinks I’ve just been really into flower-picking. I don’t know if he’s going to freak out about dragons knowing where we live, you know? I mean, Eijirou is bigger than our entire house. And Katsuki’s so intense. I feel like this whole situation’s probably kind of alarming.”
“Aw, I’m sure he’ll be fine,” says Uraraka, wandering around the kitchen to collect more snacks. Izuku goes back to the couch. “He’s so nice and supportive! He won’t mind you dating a dragon.”
“We’re not dating,” Izuku says. “I dunno. Mr Yagi’s just so… so nice, you know? And he’s so sick. He coughs up blood sometimes and he keeps telling me not to fret but I just don’t want to stress him out just because some dragon likes me. I know he’s a grown adult and all but I worry about him.”
Uraraka eats a muffin at him sympathetically. “You guys care a lot about each other, huh?”
“That’s noble of you, Midoriya,” says Iida. “But he’s always been open with you, has he not? I think he’s hoping that you’ll never be afraid to tell him anything. I understand the instinct to treat him like he’s fragile, but you don’t have to.”
“I don’t think he’s fragile. I just don’t want to shock him.”
“I treated my brother differently after his accident,” says Iida, not unkindly. “I didn’t realise I was doing it. But I stopped saying anything even vaguely negative because I thought it would upset him, and he already had so much to deal with. He hit me with a cushion and told me to stop acting like he’d died. He said if I didn’t start scolding him like normal again he’d run me over with his wheelchair.”
Izuku smiles crookedly. “Didn’t he put spikes on the wheels or something?”
“God, yes. He’s calling himself the horseless chariot.”
“The point is,” says Uraraka, floating the coffeepot over so Izuku can have a refill, “that you shouldn’t be afraid to talk to him if that’s what you want. Just like you shouldn’t be afraid to say no to Katsuki if that’s what you want. You’re the one who gets to decide, okay?”
“Okay,” Izuku says as the cream and sugar levitate towards him. “Thanks, guys.”
“You’re welcome,” Iida.
“You’re welcome,” says Uraraka. “Also, now you owe me two cakes.”
“Yes, alright,” Izuku says and relaxes against the couch.
“Pink or purple?” asks Katsuki.
“Pink,” says Eijirou decisively, tail drifting from side to side as he lies on his stomach. It’s just after breakfast, and the remains of their meal are sitting by the entrance for Eijirou to clean up because it’s his turn.
Katsuki squints at the flowers like they're going to help him decide. “I’ll bring both.”
“How many of those have you given him?”
“Who knows,” Katsuki says, adjusting his hair in the mirror they’d stolen from town. It’s not lying quite right at the back. “But he likes them, so whatever.”
“But you’ve been to see him, like, every other day. And you always bring him flowers,” says Eijirou, rolling onto his back. “Are you helping him make a hoard?”
Katsuki pauses. “Do humans make hoards?”
“I don’t know. I think they like collecting money, so maybe. Never heard of plants, though.”
“He said they’re useful. Does it count as a hoard if you use it? Like, isn’t that just like keeping a firewood stash or something?”
“Who says what’s useful?” says a voice from the entrance. “Ooh, did you guys have venison for breakfast?”
“Oh my god,” says Katsuki.
Eijrou scrambles to his feet as three unwanted visitors come clambering in. Katsuki tries to hide his flowers behind his back a second too late; Ashido zeroes in on them immediately, trying to grab them from him while he holds them high over her head. “What are those? Are you decorating?”
“I’m setting up a magical barrier to keep you idiots out,” Katsuki hisses. Kaminari’s hanging off Eijirou and Sero’s rummaging through the pantry. “Get out of there! Do I look like a charity to you?”
“But I’m hungry,” says Sero, biting into a whole raw potato.
“Release my root vegetables!”
Ashido manages to get at the flowers while he’s distracted. She takes a deep whiff of them and puts the purple one behind her ear. “Seriously, who are these for?”
“Can I have the pink one?” says Kaminari.
“No you can’t!” says Katsuki, trying and failing to catch Ashido as she scampers off to roll around in Eijirou’s bed. “Why are you people here? I don’t remember inviting you.”
“You never invite us,” says Sero. Those weird sticky vines that come out of his arms are crawling their way up the wall of the cave, seeking out mushrooms and moss and whatever plant-based nonsense dryads like. “We’d never see each other if we didn’t keep coming to visit.”
“I wonder why,” says Katsuki.
Eijirou disentangles himself from Kaminari and comes over to lean into Katsuki’s personal space. “Maybe they can help us,” he says so the others won’t hear. They’re obviously not listening, anyway. Ashido’s found some chalk and is doodling on the wall. “Kaminari’s a human. Maybe he can explain their mating rituals to you.”
That’s… infuriatingly reasonable, actually. “Kaminari’s never wooed anyone in his life. All he’s good for is singing and zapping everyone with static.”
“Maybe so, but he knows more about humans than me or you. Maybe you can impress Izuku by knowing his customs.”
“And how am I supposed to trust what Kaminari tells me? What if he just decides to fuck with me?”
“You’ll murder him,” says Eijirou. “And I probably won’t rescue him, that’ll teach him.”
“What are you whispering about?” calls Ashido. She’s writing something rude in orcish above Katsuki’s bed. “Tell us your secrets!”
Katsuki glances at Eijirou. Eijirou smiles encouragingly back, and Katsuki harrumphs and tries hard to look disaffected. “Kaminari. You’re human. What are your mating rituals like?”
Ashido shrieks. “Are you mating a human?”
“Shut up,” Katsuki bellows. “If you give me shit for this I’m kicking you out.”
“Who is it?” Sero asks. “Girl? Boy? Neither?”
“It’s a boy,” says Eijirou when Katsuki’s answer isn’t forthcoming. “His name’s Izuku. He’s little and cute and he likes flowers. Katsuki likes him a lot.”
“I don’t. I just want to nest him.”
“Congratulations!” cries Ashido, dropping her chalk and aborting her careful drawing of a snail. “Has he said yes? Are you courting him? Do you need advice?”
“I want a battle plan,” Katsuki says tersely. “Which is the only reason I’m asking Kaminari. It’s not like I know any other humans, and I can’t fucking ask Izuku.”
“But you’re a h—,” Kaminari tries to say before Sero slaps a hand over his mouth. “Hmphrrbt?”
“When did you guys meet?” asks Sero. “How old is he? What does he look like?”
Eijirou recounts Katsuki’s attempts at courtship thus far, only glossing over the part where Katsuki got punched and left by himself in the field. The whole story takes forty-five minutes to tell because the others (mostly Ashido) keep interrupting, shouting questions and then not waiting for an answer. Katsuki’s head aches just listening to it.
“So you want to impress Izuku by learning all about his culture,” says Kaminari, stretching out on Eijirou’s bed with one leg in the air like a self-satisfied cat. “You’ve come to the right man, my friend. I happen to be an expert at courtship. I’ve confessed my feelings to about twenty people!”
“How many have reciprocated?” asks Katsuki.
Kaminari ignores him. “Flowers are a very good start. People like flowers. It’s considered very romantic to give a bouquet to someone you like. But that can’t be all you do. Food can also be romantic. It’s a sign that you want to take care of the other person.”
“I tried that,” says Katsuki, leaning against the kitchen table. “I hunted him a deer. He got spooked.”
Ashido frowns. “Did you offer him the entrails?”
“Alright, see, you had the right idea, but humans usually get freaked out around dead animals,” says Kaminari knowingly. “Try giving him something sweet instead. Like chocolates or candy or cookies.”
“What the hell is a cookie?”
“It’s a crunchy thing with sugar in it,” says Sero. He’s found a raw onion and is eating it like an apple. “Pretty good. You can probably get them from town.”
“Sweet stuff,” says Katsuki. Eijirou wanders away to sit on Katsuki’s bed. “Okay. Fine. What else?”
“Have you spent any time together?” asks Ashido. “Do you know much about him?”
“He usually drops off the presents and comes home,” says Eijirou.
“Dates are good,” says Kaminari. “Just spending time together helps make you closer. You could go do something fun. Like hiking or singing or playing a game!”
“Hunting,” says Katsuki.
“No. Not unless he suggests it. I told you, people get weirded out by dead animals and blood.”
Katsuki scoffs. “Fine. Ask him to do something with me. I can do that.”
“Why don’t you give him something cute?” asks Ashido. “Like a rabbit. Or a baby!”
“Where the hell am I going to find a baby?”
“What about shiny stuff?” asks Eijirou. “Do humans like gold?”
“Yes, but that’s probably not the kind of relationship you’re looking for,” says Kaminari. “Look, pretty stuff and cute stuff is all well and good, but you can’t just give him presents and expect him like you. You have to get to know him. Let him get to know you, and then you’ll know if your personalities are compatible. Also, does he have a family?”
Katsuki shrugs. “I think he has a Yagi, whatever that means.”
“Like a grandma?” says Ashido.
“You’re thinking of Baba Yaga,” says Sero.
“Ask about them,” says Kaminari. “Maybe get to know them too. Sometimes it helps when your date’s parents like you. And try to get to know Izuku, ask him about himself and his hobbies and dreams. Tell him yours too.”
“So much talking,” huffs Katsuki, scrubbing at his face. “Can’t he just decide whether I’m a good mate and be done with it?”
“Humans are a little roundabout that way,” Kaminari says, almost apologetically. “But congratulations, man. What is it about him that you like?”
Katsuki opens his mouth, and then shuts it. “He’s pretty.”
“That’s it?” says Sero.
“What else is there?”
“Dude,” says Ashido. “You’re trying to spend the rest of your life with this guy. You have to make sure you at least like being around him. Looks will fade, you know. Try to find something that lasts.”
Katsuki supposes she has a point. It’s incredibly annoying coming from her of all people, though, so he declines to acknowledge it. Instead he drops the leftover pink flower into Kaminari’s lap and settles cross-legged on the floor with his friends.
“Alright,” he says, putting his chin in his hand. “Tell me about those love confessions.”
“What’s this?” says Izuku, blinking at the little parcel balanced in Katsuki’s hand.
“I don’t know,” Katsuki grumbles. “I was supposed to give you something sweet. Just take it.”
Izuku takes it. A peek inside the brown paper bag reveals that it is, indeed, sugar. “Thanks, I guess.”
“This was stupid.”
“No, it’s nice,” Izuku says, mouth quirking up at the corner from how disgruntled Katsuki looks. “I mean, it’s a change. I kind of assumed you were going to bring me more flowers.”
“Do you want more flowers?”
“Uhm, no, no thank you.”
“You don’t like them?”
“No, I do,” Izuku says, opening the door wider so Katsuki can see into the house. “But I don’t think I have room for any more and there’s only so many salves I can make.”
Katsuki pokes his head in to look around. There are blooms stacked on every flat surface. The weird gnome thing has a place of honour on the dining table. He probably gets the message, because he shrugs and leans against the doorframe. “What are you doing?”
“Come with me.”
“See my nest.”
Izuku tries not to think of that as a euphemism. “You live so far away.”
“Okay. Something else, then. We should do a,” he pauses. “A date.”
Izuku feels himself go pink. “Oh. You want to go on a date?”
“Yes, that’s what I said. Do you want to or not? I can come back some other time.”
“No, now is, uh. Now is fine. Wait right here.” He leaves the door half open and runs off to the bathroom to check his reflection in the mirror. He looks okay, he thinks. He smells okay. His hair’s a mess but that’s never going to get better, and his clothes are more or less suitable for running around outside. Hastily he sticks his fingers in the suma water and rubs it on while looking for his jacket, then backtracks into the house almost as an afterthought.
Mr Yagi’s in his room. Izuku knocks on the door and pokes his head in, trying not to look so visibly flustered. “Hey. Can I go out for a bit?”
Mr Yagi looks up from his book. He’s sinking into an armchair by the fire, wearing a sweater even though it’s the middle of spring. “Oh, alright. Will you be home for dinner?”
“I think so,” says Izuku. “But you can eat without me if I’m not back in time. There’s yesterday’s roast in the oven.”
Mr Yagi nods and waves him off. Izuku runs back to the door where Katsuki’s waiting, patting himself down to make himself look a bit less windswept. “I’m ready.”
Katsuki turns and waits for him to lock the door behind him. He leads them down the path away from the house and towards the woods. “Who were you talking to? Your father?”
“Hmm? Oh, no. That’s Mr Yagi, my teacher. My father passed away a long time ago.”
“Why do you live with a teacher? Where’s your mother?”
The innocent bluntness of the question makes Izuku smile. “My mother lives in Mustafu town. Mr Yagi is an alchemist. One I’ve admired for a long time, so I came to his house a couple years ago to ask if I could study under him. He took me on as an apprentice and I’ve been living with him since then.”
“He’s nice to you?”
“Why didn’t you bring your mother?”
“She’s comfy in her house. And I’m the one who wanted to study. I didn’t want her to have to come all the way here just to keep me company.”
A bird swoops overhead. The path is starting to diverge into smaller roads now, one way leading to the woods and the other to the rest of the neighbourhood. Katsuki takes the one that snakes into the thicket, lined on either side with wildflowers and shrubs. “Do you miss her?”
“Yes. Quite a lot, sometimes, but I visit when I can.” The trees are starting to grow closer together, leaves making a canopy so the sunlight comes through in patches. “What about your family?”
“Eijirou’s my brother. We have a mother and father and some nest mates but they’re scattered. We moved out when we grew up, to the plains.”
“It’s normal for dragons. Too many bodies in not enough space. We come back sometimes but mostly it’s me and Eijirou on our own.”
Oh,” says Izuku, trying to imagine four or five dragons crammed together in a cave. “It’s nice that you guys are close.”
“Yeah. He’s… good. Kind of dumb, but a lot nicer than I am.”
“I think you’re nice,” Izuku says without thinking. Katsuki looks at him, and he clears his throat. “I mean, for the most part. When you’re not scaring me or bringing me corpses.”
Katsuki rolls his eyes. “It’s like you don’t know where meat comes from.”
“But deer are cute!”
“They’re also delicious.”
That startles Izuku into laughing. Katsuki stares at him for a long while but just shakes his head when Izuku asks him what’s wrong. “Okay. I think I know where to take you.”
“You’re not kidnapping me, are you?”
“That’s racist,” says Katsuki, not sounding terribly offended. “Just because one dragon stole a princess once doesn’t mean we’re all dangerous.”
He veers from the path, stepping over bushes and pausing every so often to look around and get his bearings right. Izuku’s familiar with the woods but wouldn’t dare stray from the path himself. All the trees look the same but Katsuki seems to know where he’s going, weaving through greenery and pointing out places of interest as they go. “Killed a bear there,” he says, pointing at an oak tree. “Saw a bird fall out of that tree. Sent Eijirou out to get mushrooms once and he went and picked one of those blue things and got us high out of our minds for a day.”
He takes them to a little clearing, holding his hand out to help Izuku hop over a ditch. “No talking,” he says very quietly, directing Izuku to sit on an overturned log. He crouches low to the ground and disappears behind a bush, eyes darting around looking for something mysterious. Izuku cranes his neck to see. Katsuki crawls around on his hands and knees for a while. Izuku wants to ask if he’s lost something, but Katsuki had just said to keep quiet.
“Hah,” Katsuki says suddenly, leaping behind a rock. There’s a brief struggle and then he emerges with something cupped in his hands, struggling to keep the closed around his prize without crushing it. “Gotcha, you little stinker. Stay still, stop squirming.”
“What are you doing?”
“Taming it,” Katsuki says, shuffling closer. He sits on his haunches in front of Izuku for a moment and the slowly opens his hands, revealing a fat brown face with round button eyes.
Izuku gasps. “A dormouse!”
“Here,” Katsuki says, holding his hands out for Izuku to take it. It’s surprisingly still, perhaps unsure whether it needs to make a run for it since it’s not being immediately eaten. “Let it curl around your fingers.”
“It’s so soft,” Izuku says, awestruck. The mouse weighs almost nothing in his hands, long tail curling around his palm and pink nose twitching. “Oh, Katsuki, it’s so cute.”
“Thought you’d like it,” Katsuki says, satisfied. “They’re not as skittish as rabbits, so you can hold it a little while.”
Izuku vibrates in place with delight. “Oh, gosh, what if I hurt it?”
“You won’t. They’re stronger than they look. Just don’t squeeze too hard.”
“Hello!” Izuku says, voice high and sappy. The dormouse flicks its ears. “My name is Izuku, it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“It doesn’t understand you,” Katsuki snorts and sits next to him, legs apart and elbows resting on his knees. “It’s probably thinks you’re a weird noisy plant.”
“I’m not a plant!”
“Your head is a bush.”
“Then you’re a dandelion.”
Katsuki makes a face at him. “I’m a lion-lion.”
Katsuki hits him. Gently, not enough to hurt, just hard enough to make Izuku giggle and squirm away. The dormouse squeaks. “Ah, careful! I don’t wanna squish her.”
“You don’t know it’s a girl.”
“She can be whatever she wants to be.”
Katsuki watches him gingerly pet the dormouse between the ears, brows furrowed like he’s trying to remember something. “Do you have any, uhm. Hobbies?”
“Hobbies? Well, I like learning about stuff if that counts as a hobby. I like making notes when I find new things, like animals or plants I’ve never seen before.”
“Uhm, cooking is fun. I never used to do much of it beyond helping my mom but now I make meals for myself and Mr Yagi. To thank him for letting me stay.”
Katsuki nods. “Cooking is good. Eijirou just eats raw meat but I make stuff for myself. Like pheasant. And deer.”
“Not a vegetable guy, huh?”
“Do I look like a rabbit to you?”
Izuku smiles. The dormouse has stopped squirming so much, apparently assured Izuku’s not going to eat it. Birds sing. The sun slowly descends in the sky. “Why are you asking me about my hobbies?”
Katsuki shrugs. “I don’t know. Wanted to know more about you, I guess.”
They chat for about nothing for a while, sitting on their moss-covered log and listening to the wind blow between the trees. Katsuki doesn’t talk much but listens attentively, sometimes asking questions Izuku doesn’t expect. He’s intelligent, Izuku notes. Uninformed about Izuku’s lifestyle but has no trouble understanding what he’s told, remembering pretty much everything no matter how insignificant.
The dormouse falls asleep in Izuku’s palms. Katsuki listens to Izuku with his chin in his hand, sunlight fading through the canopy and casting funny shadows on his hair. “Uhm, sorry,” says Izuku. “I feel like I just talked at you non-stop. I tend to do that.”
“You do,” says Katsuki simply. “I don’t mind. You say interesting things.”
Izuku chews his lip. “Do I?”
“Yes.” Squinting upward, Katsuki straightens up. “Do you have a curfew?”
“Hmm? Oh! Oh my gosh, it’s almost sunset. I told Mr Yagi I’d be back in time for dinner.”
“Let’s get going, then,” Katsuki says and stands. His cloak falls gracefully behind him. “Put your friend back where it belongs and I’ll walk you home.”
“Okay,” Izuku says, pressing a quick kiss to the dormouse’s furry head. It blinks awake slowly. “Bye, little one! I hope I get to see you again sometime!”
Katsuki snorts at him. Izuku releases his little acquaintance with some longing, sighing as it hops off into the grass. “All of those things look the same. You’d never know if you saw it again.”
“I wish I could have taken her home.”
“Want me to catch it again?”
“No,” Izuku says wistfully. “She belongs out here. Thank you for giving me the chance to play with her, though. It was really nice.”
They walk home in relative silence, shoulders bumping once or twice on the way. It’s comfy. Izuku looks around at the flowers and fireflies and Katsuki leads him back onto the path with ease. They reach the door of Mr Yagi’s cottage just a little after the sun goes down, right about when the birds have started their evening racket.
“I had fun!” Izuku says, patting himself down for his keys. “And, uhm. Thanks for the sugar. And everything else.”
Katsuki touches his cheek like he did the first time and leaves without saying goodbye. Warm despite the mid-spring breeze, Izuku unlocks the door and steps inside.
Mr Yagi’s peering into the oven with a loaf of bread in his hand. “Oh, there you are. I was wondering when you’d come home.”
“Sorry,” Izuku says and takes off his jacket. “Lost track of time for a little bit.”
“Did you go out with your friends?”
Izuku remembers the word date and tries not to blush. “Sort of.”
Mr Yagi ruffles his hair. “Well, why don’t you come help me reheat this, and you can keep this old man company. I’ve missed you today. The house isn’t the same without you always talking to yourself.”
“Of course,” Izuku says and sets about getting dinner for them both.
“Give me your horn.”
Katsuki scowls. The annoying unicorn-centaur thing swishes his tail in alarm, clutching the single spiral horn on his forehead like his life depends on it. To be fair, maybe it does. “Come on. I need it, it’s important.”
“That’s very sad for you but I’m not cutting my horn off,” says Aoyama. “It won’t grow back, you know.”
“I need something shiny!”
“You’re not that kind of dragon!”
“Not for me, moron. I want to give it to my future mate. He’s a human, they like glittery stuff.”
“I came here to visit Eijirou, not have you threaten me with bodily harm,” Aoyama huffs. “Why does it have to be my horn? Can’t you give him a nice seashell or something?”
“You’re the sparkliest damn thing in these woods.”
“Flattery will get you nowhere.”
Katsuki throws his hands up in defeat. “Alright, fine. What else do I give him?”
Aoyama relaxes very slightly. “I suppose it’s quite sweet that you’re trying to give him a present. I could give you one of my buttons, if you like. I have more.”
Katsuki regards Aoyama’s ridiculous flouncy shirt, frowning. It has bright crystals buttons of different colours all the way down the front. “The green one.”
“Alright.” Aoyama fiddles with it until it comes loose. “Here. I hope he likes it.”
Katsuki holds it up to the light to look; it’s a bright mossy green, slightly jagged around the edges but beautifully translucent, a little smaller than the nail on his pinky finger. “What is this?”
“Olivite,” Aoyama says proudly. “I found it myself near the mountains. All it took was some polishing and shaping. I make all my own accessories, you know. You should let me make you some earrings sometime.”
“You really don’t mind me taking this?”
“Oh, olivite isn’t too hard to find. I can make another one soon enough.”
“Thanks,” Katsuki says, slipping his treasure into the handkerchief Aoyama gives him and twisting it into a parcel for safekeeping. “Eijirou’s in the cave. Watch out for blood on the floor. He’s a messy eater sometimes.”
Aoyama grimaces. Katsuki nods at him and leaves, mentally deciding to be more lenient about chasing him away from their turf. His olivite sits securely in his pocket. Steps light and noon sun blazing, he starts off for Izuku’s little cottage.
Izuku’s outside tending to the garden today, wearing a big straw hat and bright yellow gloves. He waves when he sees Katsuki approach. There’s a smudge of dirt under his eye that Katsuki doesn’t point out. “Oh, hey! Let me just finish weeding this tomato plant and I’ll be right with you.”
Katsuki waits. Takes the opportunity to admire Izuku in the sunshine, freckles stark and face flushed with warmth. He’s a little sweaty, not that Katsuki really minds. And he’s humming. Completely tunelessly, but kind of pleasant, just loud enough for Katsuki to hear oven the chirp of birds.
“Sorry,” he sighs and sits back on his heels, wiping his arm across his brow. “Mr Yagi gets backaches so he can’t do this stuff himself. Did you want to do something today?”
“You like learning about stuff, right?” Katsuki says. Izuku peels off his gloves and stands up, tugging his sleeves back down to his wrists. “Let’s go to the lake by that clearing north of the woods. Pixies play there sometimes. You might see one.”
Izuku brightens up immediately. “Pixies? Oh my gosh, let me get my journal. Wait right here.”
He zips off back into the house and clatters around for his things. Katsuki waits patiently with his hands in his pockets, contemplating whether he’ll have enough time to steal a tomato off the bush before Izuku returns.
He doesn’t. Izuku comes running back with a book clutched in his hands, smile wide and youthful. The smudge is still under his eye. “Let’s go! Show me the pixies!”
The walk’s nice. Relaxed, even though Izuku chatters a mile a minute about magical creatures and how much he wants to know about them. Katsuki warns him that they might come up empty today, but Izuku remains undeterred. “At least I’ll know where to find them,” he says, hopping over a rock. “I can come back and keep looking until I get lucky. And you can come too if you want!”
“Whatever,” Katsuki says, trying not to look to pleased.
Nobody else is by the lake today, which Katsuki appreciates immensely. He sits on the grass near the edge and stretches his legs while Izuku darts around looking at plants. Izuku kind of moves like a rabbit. Lots of bouncing and nervous energy, and surprisingly fast when he’s running back and forth to write things down.
The surface of the water sparkles under the sun. Katsuki tugs Aoyama’s handkerchief out of his pocket and unwraps it, waits for Izuku to exhaust his surroundings. Izuku comes jogging back and flops gracelessly next to him. “There’s wolfsbane here! And yellow dragonflies! I didn’t know they came in yellow!”
Katsuki holds the olivite up to the light. “Got you this.”
“Oh,” says Izuku, scooting closer to look. “Oh, wow, it’s lovely. What is it?”
“Olivite. Got it from a unicorn.”
“Yeah, it used to be his button. Looks like your eyes. So I asked him for it.”
Izuku’s face goes soft and pink. “Oh. Oh, that’s so sweet. Thank you.”
His lashes cast spindly shadows on his cheeks. Katsuki rather wants to kiss him. Slowly, he leans closer, giving Izuku ample time to pull away. Izuku doesn't move. Instead he stays where he is and lets his eyes slowly flutter shut, and Katsuki takes a moment to admire his freckles in the soft afternoon light.
Something slams into the side of his head.
Izuku yelps. Katsuki swears and goes rolling over. Something sticky and purple has attached itself to his face, suffocating him with its fat little body. It makes a grab for Izuku’s present. Katsuki closes his fist over it reflexively, managing to pull his assailant off one-handed.
It snarls and launches itself onto his shoulders. “Fucking goblins,” Katsuki bellows. The stupid ugly bastard bites his ear. Katsuki tosses the olivite at Izuku and reaches for the dagger on his hip, but pauses before drawing the blade. Izuku hates bloodshed. Katsuki can’t kill this thing in front of him or Izuku will cry, and then they’re back to square one and Katsuki will have to spend another month convincing Izuku he’s not dangerous.
The goblin bites him again. This time it draws blood. Katsuki howls and makes a clumsy swipe with his fist, vision blocked by the smelly purple residue the thing leaves behind.
Izuku saves him.
Not that he couldn’t have saved himself, to be fair. But Izuku wrenches the goblin off Katsuki’s back and throws it onto the grass, sitting on its chest to pin it in place. Katsuki wipes the goop off his face. The goblin scrabbles and scratches at Izuku’s forearms, trying to break free.
Izuku draws back his fist. He punches hard. Katsuki swears he hears bone crack. The goblin stops fighting after the first hit but Izuku for some reason keeps going, wailing on it with his bare hands until the thing stops moving completely. He tosses it into the lake. Its body floats face-up and bobs aware from the shore. Izuku, fists clenched and covered in purple goblin blood, watches it drift away and does nothing.
He’s scowling. His voice is taut when he asks if Katsuki’s alright. Katsuki’s stomach flips. “I think you gave it a concussion,” he says instead. With his bare hands, to boot.
Izuku takes a deep breath. “Yeah, well. It shouldn’t have attacked you.”
His sleeves are torn up. There are scars on his arms, Katsuki’s just noticed. “I could have handled it.”
“Eijirou wouldn’t have bothered. He knows I can take care of myself.”
Izuku shrugs. He runs a hand through his hair, spreading blood. “I know.”
“You shouldn’t have fought it.”
“Maybe. But I’m not going to sit there and watch something hurt you, even if you don’t need me.”
“Oh,” says Katsuki. “Oh.”
Izuku sighs and drops to his knees to look around in the grass. The olivite’s rolled between two pebbles, and he unearths it with a little triumphant huff. “Found it!” he says, holding it up proudly. “That goblin wanted it but I didn’t let him take it.”
His smile is blinding. And he’s messy and bloodstained and there are scars up and down his surprisingly muscular forearms. And there’s a goblin body floating in the lake that might be drowning because Izuku apparently has a temper and a protective streak.
“Maybe, uh. Maybe we should get you home,” he says while Izuku admires his crystal.
Izuku blinks. “What, already? But we didn’t see any pixies!”
“You’re roughed up. At least go home and change or something”
“I’m fine,” Izuku insists. “Anyway, Mr Yagi won’t let me back out once he sees me looking like this. I may as well stay with you for a bit.”
“Unless you’re scared and need to go home?”
“I’m not,” Katsuki scowls automatically. “Dumb Deku.”
“Means tiny,” Katsuki says.
Izuku snorts. Carefully, he slips his crystal into his pocket and turns to Katsuki, hair sticking up at wild angles and eyes bright and alive. “Call me what you want,” he says and comes close to bump their shoulders together. “Either way, let’s hang out here for a while. I don’t want to go home just yet.”
Something small and hard bounces off Izuku’s window.
Izuku pauses in brushing his teeth. The rattling noise happens again. Mouth still full of foam, he draws the curtains and opens the window, sticking his head out to squint into the gloom. “Hmm?”
Katsuki pauses with one arm drawn back. He drops his pebble and cups his hands around his mouth, Eijirou right beside him in full dragon form. “Oi! Izuku, come outside!”
“Wait!” Izuku hisses back and runs to the sink to spit out his toothpaste. Hastily, he gargles and sprints back to the window before Katsuki can yell again, gesturing for him to keep quiet before he wakes Mr Yagi. “What are you doing here? It’s the middle of the night!”
Katsuki gives up. He says something to Eijirou, who nods and pads closer to the wall of the house, long neck straightening out as he reaches up to poke his head in through the window. It’s slightly too small, so he only gets about halfway through. It stretches his skin back like a cat trying to open a door with its face. “Hi!”
“Hi,” says Izuku, bemused. “What are you doing here?”
Eijirou tries to adjust his face so his eyes aren’t so squinty. “Katsuki says if you’re free to come outside please.”
Somehow Izuku doubts he worded it quite so politely. “Uhm, okay. If I unlock the door I’ll wake Mr Yagi, though.”
“Just come through the window! You can walk on me, I don’t mind.”
“Really? Are you sure?”
“Yeah!” Eijirou says, pulling his head free with some difficulty. “Come on, it’ll be fun!”
Izuku goes despite his misgivings. Gingerly, he clambers onto the windowsill and steps out onto Eijirou’s head, clinging to a horn and trying desperately not to fall off when Eijirou carefully backs away from the window and lowers him to the ground. “Oh, I don’t have my shoes.”
“Forget your shoes,” Katsuki says, holding out a hand to help Izuku down. The grass is wet and pleasant under his feet. “I wanna show you something. Come here.”
He tugs Izuku along and lets go of his hand to climb up Eijirou’s side, perching just in front of his wings with graceful movements. He pulls Izuku up to sit in front of him. It’s like sharing a horse, Izuku supposes, although this one is huge and leathery and unusually talkative.
Eijirou keeps obligingly still until Izuku gets settled. Katsuki reaches around him to hold on the one of the spines that run along Eijirou’s back, caging him in. Izuku tries not to think about how thick and reassuring Katsuki’s arms are, or about how he’s close enough for Izuku to feel his body heat. “What are we doing?”
“You’ll see,” says Katsuki.
Eijirou slowly stands and starts walking away from the cottage, heading away from the woods and the rest of the houses. “I didn’t hear you guys come.”
“We walked,” Katsuki says behind him. “Didn’t want to wake your Yagi.”
“But you decided to yell outside my window.”
“He wanted to just climb in,” says Eijirou. “I talked him out of that.”
“It would have been quieter,” says Katsuki.
Izuku supresses a smile. “I’m not sure if my chastity is safe around you anymore.”
Eijirou takes them a fair distance away from the neighbourhood, halfway to the plains where the ground is mostly flat and the trees aren’t as thick. He pauses and sniffs the air as if checking for something, then lowers himself to the ground. Katsuki wraps both arms around Izuku’s waist. “Ready?”
Katsuki laughs quietly in his ear. “Hold on tight. I hope you’re not scared of heights.”
They take off. Izuku squeaks and clings to Eijirou’s back as they climb. Red scales move under him like solid waves and jostle him with every beat of powerful wings. Katsuki laughs, and Izuku’s heart wobbles in his chest.
“We’re flying!” he says, which is probably kind of obvious.
Eijirou turns around and grins. His teeth glint viciously but Izuku barely even notices. “Yeah! It’s the best feeling in the world!”
“It’s incredible,” Izuku says, Katsuki’s hands steady on him so he doesn’t fall. Carefully he leans over to look down; the city’s coming to life, lit by dots of yellow light as the sun sets. The sky’s splattered with stars peeking out of deep blue, and the chill raises goosebumps on his skin. “You get to do this whenever you want?”
“It’s more fun with company,” Eijirou says, turning around again so he can see where he’s going. A bird swerves out of the way, looking offended.
“You’re not going to fall,” Katsuki says, barely audible over the rush of wind in Izuku’s ears. “I’ve got you. You’re safe.”
They soar higher. Eijirou straightens his wings out to glide on the breeze, smooth and effortless while Mustafu coasts past them. Izuku dares to reach up. It feels like he could touch the clouds from up here, maybe grab a little piece to take home and keep in a jar on his desk. The moon watches them go. Katsuki’s cloak billows behind them, deep red like Eijirou’s scales, and Izuku laughs hoarsely at the inexplicable feeling of being free.
The city lights fade. Now they’re hovering over the wilderness, ground under them obscured by dense trees. Eijirou circles a hill and lands with heavy beats of his wings, claws digging into the earth and tail flat on the ground for balance. The view is lovely. Izuku’s heart still thumps as Katsuki helps him off, solid ground almost coming as a surprise after feeling so weightless.
It’s freezing out here. Katsuki unclips his cloak without a word and drapes it over Izuku’s shoulders, seemingly unbothered by being only half-dressed in the cold. “Here. Don’t get sick.”
“What about you?” Izuku says, grateful for the warmth. The cape’s heavy and reassuring and soft. “Aren’t you chilly?”
“I’ll be fine. I’m gonna get some firewood. Stay here with Eijirou. Don’t wander off.”
He steps over some tree roots and sets about searching the ground for kindling. Izuku watches him go. Eijirou settles onto his stomach somewhere behind him, startling him by lowering his huge head so it’s right over Izuku’s shoulder. “He likes you a lot.”
Izuku mumbles bashfully. “I still don’t know why. He’s cooler than I am.”
Eijirou grins. He curls his neck around so he’s half-wrapped around Izuku’s feet, and Izuku sits with his back to Eijirou’s scales and watches Katsuki work. “He talks about you often,” Eijirou says. “He gets kind of lonely. I mean, I’m here, but I think sometimes Katsuki feels like an outsider. Even though we all love him to bits. He’s happy to have someone like him.”
“A human,” Eijirou says quietly so Katsuki doesn’t hear. “My parents found him when he was little, in his birth mother’s arms. She was dead. We don’t know what killed her. But he was so small and helpless they decided to take him in. So now we’re brothers.”
“He was adopted,” Izuku says to himself. “Oh. Okay. That’s why I’ve never seen him shift like you.”
“He’s a little sensitive about it. I mean, he’s a dragon as far as I care,” says Eijirou. “Honorary member. But I think it stresses him out, trying so hard to fit in. We do have a human friend, Kaminari. But he lives in town and I think he’s almost too human and it makes Katsuki insecure about being neither here nor there. But he likes you. He likes that you don’t mind that he’s weird.”
“I’ve been told I’m a little weird myself,” says Izuku, curling his knees up to his chest. “Katsuki’s kind of weird is good too. Even though he makes fun of me a lot.”
“He called me Deku. He said it means tiny.”
Eijirou laughs. “Yeah, partly. It also means tough. Like a rock.”
Katsuki returns bearing an armful of dry wood that Eijirou lights. Izuku’s grateful for the warmth against his bare feet. The goosebumps on Katsuki’s arms don’t escape his notice, though. Wordlessly, he lifts one side of the cloak and lets Katsuki huddle with him, cramped under Eijirou’s wing with their sides pressed together under the spring stars.
It’s not really surprising that they fall asleep like that. By the time Izuku wakes the sun’s slowly rising, and Katsuki’s head is a comfortable weight on his shoulder. Eijirou snores.
“Katsuki,” Izuku croaks, gently shaking him. “It’s morning. We dozed off.”
Katsuki blinks awake, grumbling nonsensically under his breath. “Deku. You’re bony. You need muscle.”
“Don’t be rude,” Izuku huffs, amused. “Come on. I should get home before Mr Yagi wakes up.”
“Fine,” Katsuki mumbles and stretches. Izuku idly admires the way his muscles ripple under his skin, slipping off the cloak with some wistfulness and handing it back before Katsuki shakes Eijirou awake. “Hey, lizard-face. Get up, we have to take Izuku home.”
Eijirou yawns and opens one yellow, slitted eye. “What, already?”
“Sun’s up. We stayed out longer than we wanted.”
“Okay,” Eijirou yawns again and uncurls his long body. He shakes himself awake like a wet dog and flattens himself for them to get on as smoke rises from their dead fire. “All aboard. Back to Izuku’s house, let’s go.”
Flying in the daytime isn’t as surreal as it was last night, but Izuku still relishes the wind in his hair and Katsuki’s firm grip around his waist. Mustafu almost seems closer now, colourful rooftops barely visible against the greenery of the valley. Izuku puts his arms up and lets his fingers seek out the chill as they glide.
They land just outside the cottage by the time the sun’s cleared the horizon. The grass is dewy and makes Izuku squeak when he climbs off Eijirou’s back, rumpled and awake despite the ache in his neck from falling asleep upright. Katsuki follows. Eijirou shakes mist off and wanders away to sniff some flowers, and Izuku bounces on his bare feet and tries not to holler with glee.
“That was amazing!” he cries, smiling wide. “I can only imagine how strong Eijirou must be to actually achieve lift! You know birds have hollow bones so they’re light enough to glide through the air but dragons are built so solidly it must take an insane amount of energy to get you guys off the ground and you would think he’d have these crazy pectoral muscles to power his wings but he’s proportionate and I'm pretty sure he doesn't have hollow bones himself because how else would he support his own body weight which is pretty nuts come to think of it because he's huge and normally you only see creatures that big in the ocean where they have water to support them so they don't collapse on themselves but also—”
Katsuki kisses him, just to shut him up. “You talk a lot.”
“Oh,” says Izuku quietly. “Oh.”
Katsuki smiles. It’s a genuine smile, soft and small and private. “I’m glad you had fun. I’ll take you again sometime if you want.”
“Okay,” says Izuku, fiddling with the hem of his pyjama shirt. “Yeah. I’d like that.”
“Okay,” says Katsuki. “Okay.”
He kisses Izuku again, this time on the forehead, and calls out to Eijirou that it’s time to go. He swings himself up and raises a hand to wave goodbye. Eijirou flaps his wings and they take off, circling lazily upwards and back to the plains.
Izuku watches them go. His stomach flutters, and his heart thumps steady in his chest. Sighing, he turns around and opens the front door, with damp pyjamas and dirty feet, feeling more alive than he has all year.
Mr Yagi’s awake. He’s sitting by the fire, his mug of tea looking tiny in his hands. “Izuku.”
Izuku freezes. “Oh. Hello.”
“Where have you been all night?”
“Uhm,” says Izuku, trying to hide behind a kitchen chair. Mr Yagi probably won’t be able to catch him if he runs back to his room, but he’ll have to come outside eventually and then Mr Yagi will give him that horrible disappointed-in-you look that makes Izuku want to cry. “Out.”
Mr Yagi sighs and pats the loveseat next to him. Meekly, Izuku goes, cringing at the wet footsteps he leaves on the floorboards. “You’re not a child. You’re allowed to have fun, but you know I promised your mother I’d keep you safe. You can’t disappear all night without warning, Izuku.”
“Sorry,” Izuku says, voice small. Mr Yagi’s taller than him even sitting down. Mindful of his feet, Izuku sits. The fire’s comforting after rushing around with the clouds. “I was with a friend.”
“Was it that boy who keeps visiting you?”
“I… yes. I didn’t know you’d noticed.”
“He brings you a lot of presents.”
He’s not angry, even though he sounds kind of exasperated. Izuku relaxes slightly, curling his legs under him and trying to make sure he doesn’t get his feet on the cushions. “His name’s Katsuki.”
“You came home last week all torn up. Now he spirits you away in the dead of night. Should I be worried about you, Izuku?”
“I promise he’s nice!” says Izuku, shaking his head hard. “He’s not a bad person. He’s just… kind of wild.”
“And lives with a dragon.”
“How’d you know?”
“Izuku, those two reek of magic and smoke,” Mr Yagi says, one eyebrow quirked. “And they make a racket every time they land. I’d have to be quite deaf not to notice a dragon visit my front yard.”
“Sorry,” says Izuku again. “I wasn’t trying to keep it a secret. I just didn’t want to worry you, having a dragon come to the house and all. Eijirou’s… really big. But he’s nice. He wouldn’t hurt anyone. Except your strawberry patch. I think he stepped on that. He says he’s sorry.”
“I suppose those were dying anyway,” Mr Yagi sighs. “He likes you, does he, this Katsuki?”
“I should hope so, considering he kissed you.”
Izuku puts his face in his hands. “You saw that?”
“You were right in front of the window.”
“Oh my god.”
“And do you like him?”
“I think so,” Izuku says, feeling his face flush deeper pink. “He’s… nice. And handsome. And interesting and he thinks my eyes are pretty.”
Mr Yagi sighs again, but smiles. Hesitantly, Izuku rests his head on his bony shoulder, shutting his eyes when a big, calloused hand pats his hair. “I’m just glad he’s good to you,” Mr Yagi says, softly stroking Izuku’s head. “You must be tired. Let me get you some tea, and you can tell me all about this boy of yours, my son.”
A baby bird screams for food. Its nest is perched high on a boulder, hidden away from prying eyes but just visible from the mouth of Katsuki’s cave. Its body is tiny and pink and helpless. Its mother lowers a grub into its mouth with a soft coo, brilliant blue feathers looking almost teal in the fading sun. The chick clamours for more attention. It only quiets down when its mother steps into the nest, burrowing under its wing to hide from the wind and the rest of the world.
Katsuki watches them settle. Dinner sits warm in his stomach and the fur on his cloak flutters in the breeze. Izuku’s probably indoors by now, sitting with his Yagi by the fire and talking about life. He’d be in his pyjamas, maybe. Or wrapped in a big sweater as he sits curled up in a soft chair with a mug of something warm in his hands.
Footsteps approach from inside. Eijirou sits next to him, cross-legged on the ground. In his biped form he’s slightly smaller than Katsuki, which feels like a private victory. “I’m so full I could burst.”
“Make yourself big, then.”
“Nah,” says Eijirou, leaning back on his arms. His tail thumps gently in contentment. “Easier to talk to you like this.”
Katsuki shrugs. “Where are your idiot friends?”
“They’re your friends too,” Eijirou says mildly. “Mina challenged the other two to a drinking contest and they all fell asleep. Kaminari’s in your bed, by the way. I couldn’t wake him.”
“No wonder it’s so quiet,” Katsuki says. “They have the nerve to make me cook for them and then fall asleep in my house.”
“The fact that they let you have your alone time is evidence they appreciate it.”
They both know that’s not true. This is almost routine. When things get too rowdy Katsuki escapes outside, and Eijirou eventually wanders after to keep him quiet company. “I’m gonna draw on a squid on Kaminari’s face later.”
“Why a squid?”
“Do you miss them?” Eijirou asks abruptly, voice deceptively casual. “Your family. The first one.”
“My family’s your family. Only one I care about.”
“You go outside when Kaminari talks,” Eijrou says. “About his home, I mean. About human stuff. That’s usually when you leave. You don’t like hearing about it.”
Katsuki wonders if Eijirou’s noticed he does listen. He just tends to hide himself away so the others don’t see. “He’s boring.”
“He isn’t. He’s hilarious.”
“We’re all stupid. But you don’t think we’re boring.”
“You’re bad for my blood pressure is what I think.”
Eijirou curls his knees up to his chest. “Would you have been happier? If we hadn’t found you. Or if we’d taken you to Mustafu to be raised by humans instead.”
“I don’t know,” says Katsuki truthfully. “But this is good too. You’re good. I’m happy here.”
“Okay,” says Eijirou quietly. “Izuku likes you. He wears suma to see you sometimes. I know you can’t smell it, but I can.”
“It’s an aphrodisiac,” Eijirou says, smiling crookedly. “Builds muscle, too, but I don’t think that’s why he uses it. I think he just wants you to like him back.”
“Does he know I was adopted?”
“He might have found out a little while ago.”
Katsuki can’t bring himself to be mad. Instead his limbs just feel heavy, disappointed in the face of something he couldn’t avoid. “He’s going to think I’m a barbarian. Like I’m some poor reject who doesn’t even know how to be a human person.”
“I don’t think so,” Eijirou hums. “He did kiss you, after all.”
“So you were watching.”
“I have no interest in your mating habits,” Eijirou laughs. “Even if you guys do follow each other around like puppies.”
“He fought a goblin for me.”
“It snuck up on me and tried to take the present I brought him. I could have handled it, to be clear. But I thought if I hurt it then Deku would get upset. He didn’t. He got mad and beat the shit out of it. Threw it in the lake and everything.”
“No wonder you call him Deku. You like that he’s tough?”
“I like that he tried, I guess,” Katsuki mumbles. “He didn’t have to. But he did.”
Eijirou scoots closer to bump their shoulders together. He’s almost inhumanly warm, which is the only reason Katsuki never complains about being clung to. “Do you remember that time when we were newts and we fell in a well and got trapped there for ages because I forgot I could fly?”
“I didn’t forget. I just wanted to be with you. I wasn’t strong enough to carry you out on my own, so I stayed.”
“You’re an idiot,” says Katsuki, not unkindly. “You could have gone for help or something. I would have been okay.”
“I know,” Eijirou says, resting his chin on his knees. “But just because you can take care of yourself doesn’t mean you always have to. Just because you don’t need help doesn’t mean I don’t still want to give it to you sometimes.”
“Yeah,” Eijirou says, voice soft and faraway. The sun sets. “I’m just glad Izuku feels the same way about that.”
Eijirou leaves early the next day. He doesn’t say where he’s going but he does smile knowingly when Katsuki asks, leaping off the mountain’s edge and transforming mid-air. Katsuki huffs and watches him go. The sun’s just risen and the sky’s clear and blue. It’s going to be nice out today.
He’d wander around the plains, normally, or sharpen his hunting gear until Eijirou comes home. But being alone doesn’t seem appealing today, for reasons Katsuki’s not going to try figuring out. He may as well take a walk. If he takes extra time fixing his hair or making sure he’s clean, that’s no business of anyone but his.
The walk to Izuku’s is pleasant. He picks a bright yellow primrose almost as an afterthought, absently sniffing it on the way. It’s noon by the time he arrives. He knocks on the door and leans against the wall until Izuku shows up, peeking through the crack like he always does instead of opening it all the way.
He slips out into the garden. Katsuki puts the flower behind Izuku’s ear. “Yellow suits you.”
“Thank you,” says Izuku, touching it shyly. “I, uhm. I was wondering when you’d drop by.”
“I thought maybe today you’d like to come in.”
“Your Yagi not home?”
“He is,” Izuku says, nervously twisting his fingers together. “He was hoping to meet you. You can join us for lunch.”
Katsuki stares at him for a good few seconds. Izuku slowly shrinks. “He wants to meet me.”
“Right,” says Katsuki flatly. He’s not nervous. He’s fought bears and wrestled wild boars. Nothing about this Mr Yagi is intimidating, even if he is a world-famous alchemist and Izuku’s de facto guardian. Even if he could probably banish Katsuki from the house and forbid him from seeing Izuku ever again. “Okay. Fine. Let’s do it.”
Izuku smiles at him, relieved. “Mr Yagi’s really nice,” he says, opening the door for Katsuki to come in. “And I made pasta today. It turned out pretty well, I think.”
Katsuki’s not listening. Mr Yagi’s sitting by the fire with a book, face turned toward the door to look at him. He stands up. He’s huge, spindly and sharp and at least three heads taller. His eyes are very bright blue under heavy, thick brows. Katsuki gets the distinct impression he’s being examined. “Hello, young man.”
“Hello,” Katsuki says, allowing his hand to be shaken. Even the man’s hands are gigantic. Katsuki feels small and young all of a sudden, acutely aware of how strangely he’s dressed compared to Izuku. “I’m Katsuki.”
“So I’ve heard. Izuku’s told me all about you and your dragon friend.”
Katsuki looks at Izuku. Izuku tries to hide behind his oven mitts. “Oh.”
Mr Yagi smiles. It softens his face just a bit, lines creasing on either side of his mouth. “Have a seat. Do you prefer tea or coffee?”
“I don’t know.”
“You look like a coffee person,” Mr Yagi says and directs him gently to the table. “Go ahead, sit down. Make yourself at home.”
It’s…nice. Nerve-wracking, but nice. Izuku gives him a plate of sauce and yellow stringy things he’s never seen, and he watches the other two carefully to see how they get the stuff to stay on the fork. It’s delicious. Rich and savoury, and he manages not to make too much of a mess of the table while he eats. The coffee’s good too. He likes it better without milk and sugar, which seems to amuse Mr Yagi to no end. The weird gnome watches them eat. There are dried flowers on the table that Katsuki’s sure he brought. He doesn’t ask, but Mr Yagi does smile when he catches him looking.
“I’m glad you came to join us today,” Mr Yagi says while Izuku clears their plates. Katsuki tries to help but he’s told to sit down and relax. “You’re welcome here anytime, Katsuki. Just please tell your dragon to watch out for my vegetable garden next time.”
“Sorry,” says Katsuki. He feels awkward. Like he doesn’t fit this space right, like he’s out of place at a table eating good food with a knife and fork. It’s the opposite of hunting, almost. With a blade in his hand he’s unstoppable. Here he’s clunky and ignorant and graceless.
Mr Yagi doesn’t seem to mind. He reaches out and pats him on the shoulder, movements slow and thought-out. “I’m glad that Izuku has a friend his own age. He’s a good boy.”
And Katsuki isn’t. He barely knows how to sit in a chair right. “Yeah.”
“He likes you,” says Mr Yagi like he knows what Katsuki’s thinking. “You’re… different. In a good way, I think. Izuku’s got a streak of adventure in him. I’m teaching him what I can, but I’m old. You can keep up. I think knowing you will serve him well.”
He says it so simply. Katsuki holds his gaze. A breeze rattles the chimes by the window Izuku comes back holding a bowl, round and made of metal dull from frost. “Look what I found!”
Mr Yagi lets go of Katsuki’s shoulder. “Go ahead without me, boys. I don’t think my stomach will forgive me if I dare eat dessert.”
“Enjoy yourselves,” Mr Yagi says, chair scraping against the floor as he stands. “Besides, I’ve taken up enough of your time. Katsuki didn’t come here to see me.”
He leaves them there. Izuku watches him go, and Katsuki pokes at the bowl. It’s frozen. “What’s that?”
“Oh! Ice cream. Strawberry-flavoured. I forgot I made this, it’s been sitting in the ice box all week.”
“You’ve never had ice cream?” Izuku says, face breaking out into a grin. “Oh, I’m so glad you came today. You’re gonna love this.”
He’s right. Katsuki loves it.
He eats two bowls. Tries to make it a third, except it gives him a sudden headache and Izuku laughs at him for eating too fast. Katsuki decides he’ll have more out of spite. Izuku suggests they go up to the roof to share the last bit and enjoy the afternoon sun.
Katsuki agrees. It takes a phenomenal amount of self-control not to polish off the ice cream when Izuku’s back is turned, but he dutifully climbs the stairs leading up the outside of the house and perches on the tiles next to Izuku. It’s hot out. He takes off his cloak and leaves it crumpled on the tiles.
Izuku’s still wearing the primrose behind his ear. “Mr Yagi didn’t, uhm. Interrogate you, did he?”
Katsuki decides not to mention how relieved he is that they’re finally alone. “He said you were a good boy and that you liked me.”
“Oh,” says Izuku, scratching his cheek. His freckles are darker than the last time they’d met. Katsuki wants to touch them. “Well. I guess that’s true.”
“I know it’s true.”
“You wear suma to see me.”
Izuku stiffens. “Ah. Yes. I used to. Not all the time. I haven't recently. In, like. In a while."
"Yeah. It was, uhm. For my headaches.”
“Not because suma is an aphrodisiac and you were hoping I’d be attracted to you.”
Izuku colours quite spectacularly. “An aphrodisiac. Is that what it is.”
“Yep. Would have worked better if I had an actual dragon nose, but I appreciate the effort.” Katsuki takes his hand to examine his fingers. They’re calloused and rough, surprisingly. “You have a lot of scars.”
“I’ve been training,” says Izuku, letting Katsuki play with his hand. “I know you think I’m small and weak, but I can fight.”
“You’re not weak. Just small.”
Izuku smiles crookedly. “Mr Yagi taught me how to use a sword.”
“Because,” Izuku says and then pauses. He takes a mouthful of ice cream and thinks, eyes trained on Katsuki’s hand in his. “I came here to learn alchemy, at first. But a little while ago Mr Yagi told me something. About a sword. It had a name, in the old language. Something like almighty. A hero wielded it. A champion, I guess.”
“And he used to travel the world with his horse, slaying demons and protecting innocents.” His voice is soft and wistful. A lock of hair falls over his eyebrow. “He was basically a god. They say he could cleave a mountain in twain without trying. But he vanished. A few years ago, and the sword disappeared.”
He chews his cheek. The ice cream sits abandoned in its bowl between them. Katsuki rubs Izuku’s knuckles with his thumb. “Where’d it go?”
“No-one knows. But Mr Yagi says it’s still out there, and someone’s going to find it someday. Someone will pick up the mantle again.” He looks up at Katsuki and smiles, crooked and not very happy. “It’s stupid to think it could be me, I know. But I can’t help but hope.”
“So you’ll look for it,” Katsuki says. Izuku nods. “Why?”
“Because someone has to. We’re always going to need a hero. I’m not saying I am one, but I want to help.”
“You want to help,” Katsuki echoes. He thinks of purple blood and bruised fists, and about Eijirou staying with him at the bottom of a dark well. “Are you going alone?”
“I guess I am. It’s a suicide mission,” he says with a soft laugh. “I’m going to get myself killed in a ditch before I find the thing. But I have to try.”
“You won’t die,” says Katsuki easily. “I won’t let that happen.”
Izuku watches him. “It’s a fool’s errand. It could be anywhere in the world.”
“My brother’s a dragon. Flying’s a lot faster than walking.”
“It is,” Izuku says quietly. His eyes shine beautifully in the sun. Like emeralds. Like the buttons on a unicorn’s flouncy shirt. “It’s sounding an awful lot like you want to come along for the ride.”
“We might never find it.”
“We might see unspeakable horrors and lose a couple of limbs.”
“And you’ll be with me. The whole time. We’ll go all around the world and we’ll be together all the way.”
Katsuki adjusts the primrose. “I know.”
Izuku swallows. Katsuki puts the dessert bowl aside and moves closer, hands still joined on the hot roof between them. “I don’t know when I’ll be ready to start this journey. There’s still a lot I have to learn.”
“I can help you,” Katsuki tells him. “I know how to fight. I can teach you. And you can teach me. All the crazy stuff you know, like pasta and how to use flowers. We’ll do fine.”
“I guess we will,” Izuku says. He’s smiling now. Tiny and hopeful, like he’s not quite sure if this is real. “If you’ll have me. I’d like to learn.”
“If I’ll have you. I already told you we should be mates.”
Izuku laughs. “I’m only sixteen.”
“So am I. We can wait. It doesn’t matter, as long as you’re not going anywhere. Not without me.”
“I won’t,” Izuku says, leaning forward to press a hesitant kiss to his cheek. His lips are soft and a little bit dry. “I think it would be nice to have you by my side. We can keep each other going. It’ll be good.”
“It will,” Katsuki says. He means it more than he’s ever meant anything. Somehow it’s important that Izuku knows that. “It’ll be perfect. I’ll keep you safe.”
“Oh, that reminds me,” Izuku says, reaching into his shirt pocket for a box containing something small and shiny. “I, uhm. I got you a gift. Since you’re always giving me things. I just thought it was about time for me to return the favour.”
It’s an earring. The gem in the middle is green and familiar, but smaller than he remembers. “This is the thing I gave you.”
“I took it to a jeweller,” Izuku says shyly, turning his head to show Katsuki his right ear. He’s wearing the other half of the set. “She cut the stone and set it for me into studs. It’s just stainless steel, sorry. That’s all I could afford.”
“It looks good,” Katsuki says quietly. He takes off his left earring and puts on the new one. “We match.”
“Yeah,” Izuku says, endearingly unsure. “Piercing my ear really hurt. But I think it looks nice.”
“It does,” says Katsuki, as if anything Izuku wore could ever displease him. “I should get you more.”
“You don’t have to. This is enough.”
“I’m sure,” Izuku says, reaching up to gently touch Katsuki’s face. “I like having stuff meant for both of us. It’s nice that you give me presents, but I like it better when we share.”
“Okay,” says Katsuki, letting Izuku stroke his cheek. “Yeah. Okay.”
“Okay,” Izuku says, whisper-quiet. A bird starts singing in the distance. “I’m glad you jumped out at me that time.”
“I’m glad you trespassed on my turf.”
“You can’t just claim a whole field and say it’s yours.”
“Can’t,” Izuku smiles. “Anyway, I’m allowed there now too. Aren’t I?”
“If you want,” says Katsuki, not begrudging the allowance even the slightest. “You might run into my troupe of idiots, though. They tend to drop in unannounced.”
“Exactly like you’ve been doing?”
“Yes, but I don’t like them the way you like me.”
“I should hope not,” Izuku snorts. Their fingers are still intertwined, Katsuki notices absently. Slowly, Izuku leans in. “I would be very upset if you went around kissing anyone else.”
“Stake your claim, then.”
“Okay,” Izuku says and presses their mouths together. His primrose sits steady behind his ear. The sun shines and the wind blows and Katsuki kisses back, and keeps kissing until the sun goes down and the ice cream’s melted to slush in its bowl. “Okay.”