The neon sign cuts through the highway fog, flags Katsuki down and lures him in with the promise of alcohol, reasonable music and information. A dog’s head, tongue lolled, bright blue strips of light, a red flashing bone wedged between its teeth. One of the S’s in the name has blown.
Crossroads Bar & Diner, three kinds of beer on tap, meat - however bloodied you fancy it. The kind of southern truck-stop hospitality people crave after days of lonely travel, the itch for conversation to remind them that the world exists away from the wheel. Where you from, sweetheart? Where you headin’?
Katsuki doesn’t care for much of it. Sick of the same questions, the same easy lies that slide from between his teeth, running out of new personalities to make up. Up north, five states over, near the beach, yeah Boston that’s it, MIT graduate, what the fuck you mean I don’t look the type? Headin’ over to your mum’s house actually. He had deserved that split lip, probably.
The carpark is reasonably packed for a Wednesday night. Katsuki kicks the stand out from his bike and dismounts, pulls his helmet from his head and breathes the night air. His hair is damp with sweat from the ride, stuck wet to the back of his neck, shoulders stiff from being hunched over the handlebars for hours on end. Katsuki twists his back until he feels it pop all the way down his spine.
The night is still, the only noise coming from the muffled jukebox inside, low indistinguishable chatter from behind the doors. No shril from the night-time bugs, no moths bouncing up against the sensor light over Katsuki’s head. No birds, no breeze.
Katsuki had snatched the local newspaper off the shelf when filling his tank two county’s over, walking back to his bike with half a mouthful of stale gas station doughnut and the headline scrunched in his palm. The excitement of a new hunt buzzed in his chest. Three victims in one week, all torn to shreds. A wild dog, police settled on. Katsuki’s certain they’re probably not too far off.
Scout the area, interview the locals, the usual business and all that. Dogs would leave signs, gore and entrails, bloody paws on concrete. But was the heart missing? How big were the prints?
The bigger picture being a werewolf, obviously.
Beasts whose presence scares the wildlife into silence, makes the locals talk hushed under their breath behind the bar. No, I saw it out my window the night it got Laura, the size of the mailbox, I swear. I wouldn’t make this shit up.
Katsuki tucks his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket, shucks it more comfortably over his shoulders and walks to where the fluorescent sign flashes OPEN over the door, gravel under his boots crunching loudly in the dead.
There’s a car in the lot, a beat up once-white piece of shit. Dented and taped back together in a way that Katsuki cringes at, flecks of roadkill blood on the bonnet, between the grill. Recognition kindles in him. Katsuki’s seen it before, been distraught over it’s condition before. A number plate from across the country, four hundred miles from anything near here. The blue and red Crossroads sign reflects in its chipped windscreen, Katsuki can’t place it’s owner.
The bell above the door chimes as he enters, recognition on the tip of his tongue, something heavy sitting uncomfortable in his gut.
The bar smells thickly of cigarettes, smoke curling around the low ceiling, blurring the lights, making the room feel fuzzy. The Best of Zeppelin melds it all together. He orders a drink and sits with it at a booth in the corner, the linoleum seats knife-split and somewhat sticky.
The bartender is a woman twice his age with deep set wrinkles that only a life of running a highway dive could carve. She’d called Katsuki love when he had paid for his glass. Katsuki takes a long sip and watches for a while.
There’s talk - three people have died, of course there’s talk - but nothing out of the ordinary. Most seem to agree with the police verdict, letting it lay as it is. Howls in the night, bring the kids in before sunset. They’d find the dogs and put ‘em out in no time. How hard could it be? They gotta be big sonofbitches though, don’t they ?
Katsuki’s onto his second drink, warm and leant into the back of the booth, one shoulder on the wall and the other on cushion, the window next to his head wet with condensation, ankle crossed over his knee. The haze of smoke makes it hard to see the other side of the room. Men are playing pool, betting for petty cash and the crack of the balls splitting is numbing in a familiar way. Katsuki almost misses him when he leans against the bar, the strange mix of red and white hair finally pushing the name off the tip of Katsuki’s tongue.
Todoroki Shouto. The owner of that hunk of scrap outside. Todoroki Shouto. Hunter, like Katsuki. The name everyone knew to scribble into their notebook, dog ear the corner.
The barkeep leans over the taps, whispers something into Todoroki’s ear, slides a bank bill into her apron.
Katsuki finishes his drink, watches the transaction over the rim.
It’s an unspoken rule of the trade. Just self-explanatory, basic preparatory manners. You don’t pick up a hunt that’s already being worked. Just as you keep your nose out of other people’s mess, don’t chew with your mouth open, don’t leave piss on the seat. It’s all fucking relative.
Most hunters went at it alone. Easier when you don’t have to watch out for others as well as yourself. Less to lose, less chance to be baited, less profits to split - on the rare occasion there are any at all.
Todoroki fits in here, all mysterious and scuffed around the edges, his eyes tired, sunken behind the scar that has always perked Katsuki’s interest. Nothing in his decade of hunting matches with how the skin prunes over Todoroki’s left cheek. An ifrit could do it, if they had any semblance of finesse. All grand gestures, just too damn big to melt half of someone and not the rest.
There’s an underlying curiosity in Katsuki. The idea of not knowing what else else lurks under the bed makes him bounce his leg, restless and anxious. You gotta be on top of it all, for this life or death job. There’ll be no wet rag to wrap around a burn if you aren’t prepared for the scald.
The neon light flickers over the raised skin; bounces off shiny. Cascades in patches down under Todoroki’s collar, raised like wax, like the skin had dripped off his own face. Katsuki wants to know.
Todoroki catches his eyes over the bar, stiffens at the recognition while Katsuki stares impolitely. Katsuki watches him finish his drink, thank the bartender and slink from establishment, the chime of the bell resoundingly final.
Todoroki’s car whines and screeches as it turns back onto the highway and Katsuki buys himself another drink, knowing full well that Todoroki has fucked his chances of information sponging, having already soaked it up for himself. Too many strangers asking the same specific questions tends to haul up walls, turns noses, crosses heavily tattooed arms across chests. Katsuki isn’t cruising for a beating, or being on the receiving end of one at least. Although he is certainly thinking about giving Todoroki a violent piece of his mind.
“You’re a breath of fresh air, sweetheart - two-fifty change.” The bartender hands him his wet coins.
“Hardly.” Katsuki tips his head to drink.
“All sorts of types tonight,” she says, slamming the register. “Didya see that last one? Twenty bucks to know what colour the eyes were.”
“The wolf that’s howling at our doors.”
“You’ve all seen it?”
“Enough of us.”
“Red, honey. That deep, blood fucking red.”
There’s a motel ten minutes down the highway. Five, if you’re going as fast as Katsuki, the bike growling under him, pushing the needle another inch to the right.
The area is thick with trees, big arching ones that curl high above the road and twine back into each other, the sliver of moon lighting the asphalt in thousands of patchy crescents. Katsuki’s working off three beers and probably shouldn’t have his semi-drunk paws over the handlebars but who the fuck is out here to stop him. Who can stop him when he’s pushing ninety down nowhere road.
He’s frustrated. Focusing on the weightlessness of his limbs instead of the kindling anger in his chest. He wouldn’t have driven the three hundred miles with a numb ass and knotted back if he knew he’d have to fucking share .
Katsuki taps the brake and slows enough to pull his helmet off, wanting the sting of midnight air on his face, to prick his cheeks red. He’s itching for a hunt, something to eat through the adrenaline he’s transported over the last three state lines. He’s thinking about pulling the axe out of his saddlebag and tearing chunks out of a big grandfather tree just to feel the burn in his shoulders. Set alight the debris because he misses the way the smell of smoke clings to clothes after a salt-and-burn.
He’s desperate for a good, fit and fair hunt and if Todoroki plans on making it a competition it’ll be man Katsuki’s got in his sights instead.
A car. Front ended and mangled around a thick oak. Katsuki registers it two seconds too late, snaps his head around as he flies by fast. There’s something protesting in the depths of his chest, the tightness of premonition. The feeling he gets when there’s something watching him from the shadows. When there’s something very off. Call it hunters intuition.
Except the car was that once-white. Number plates from across the country, four hundred miles from anywhere near here.
If he was smart he’d point his front wheel back east, check into his decrepit highway motel, climb under the musty sheets and go the fuck to sleep. Instead, he slows enough to spin his back tyre out, skidding into a u-turn and pushes back the way he’d come.
Todoroki’s car is smoking where the bonnet has crumpled against the tree, metal curved and bent, bark grazed with flecks of white paint. Katsuki steps off his bike, feels for the glock he has tucked into the waistband of his pants, pulls it out and holds it steady in his hands, scans the darkness for the source of his paranoia; whatever it is that’s causing him to hold his jaw clenched.
It’s just as quiet by the side of the road as it had been in the lot outside the bar. No breeze, no rustle of leaves from the forest that curls around him either side. Just the off-beat clinks as whatever remains of the car engine cools, drips oil into the dirt, black and thick, pooling down further into the ditch, running like blood from a gored up carcass.
Katsuki raises his gun to shoulder height, rounds the side of Todoroki’s car and holds his breath, almost certain he’s going to find Todoroki's body turned to pulp in the driver’s seat, wheel lodged inside his ribcage. The right side of his face torn to match his left, shredded by the windscreen glass.
The passenger side door is open, bent unnaturally from the force of the collision. Katsuki kicks it with his foot, the hinges squeaking too loud in the silence.
There is no one inside and Katsuki thinks that’s somehow worse. There are belongings emptied over the backseat, paper maps from every state, unfolded and lazily put back together, crumpled spare clothes, camping supplies; the usual hunter’s miscellany. Katsuki scans for sulfur, for a reason why.
The whole thing reeks. Of split engine organs and of foul play. It’s unnatural for people like him to make mistakes so superficial. Hunters know when enough is enough. How far they can push their bodies before their eyes get too heavy, know when to pull over and nap; the perfect amount of sleep that would tide them over until they got themselves to a proper bed. It isn’t in their nature to run themselves off the road out of exhaustion when they make a living out of drop-kicking hell’s locals. They just don’t go out like that.
Katsuki turns his attention on the scrub. Todoroki couldn’t have crawled far - been taken far. The car is still warm, the collision still fresh, there’s blood on the passenger side handle, smeared into the ugly patterned seat, matted to the fabric.
He swears under his breath, runs a clammy hand through his matted hair, tugs at the knots going fifty with his helmet off had caused. Katsuki flips open his saddle bags, digs out anything that might give him an advantage here, against the big black nothing of information he had on what could be waiting. Holy water, tucked into the inside breast pocket of his jacket. Rosary beads, around his neck to sit heavy against his chest. A huge fucking knife.
Katsuki rolls his shoulders back, anticipation and nerves stuttering through his veins, down his arms. He rocks on his heels, shakes his hands loose and walks into the trees.
There’s a faint blood trail to follow, smeared over small snappy branches from where they had been pushed back and out of the way. Kicked up dirt where someone had fallen - hard. The remainder of Todoroki’s stomach contents splashed up against some bark.
He doesn’t have to walk far before the trees clear. Katsuki hides behind the trunk of the one closest, at the edge of the scrub, pushes his back into the wood. There’s light, a single flickering sodium street lamp, shining over the lot of an old house, its roof collapsed, porch wood distorted and waved with the passing of time. The orange glow lights the dirt road that passes by, presses into the night, spreads out over a crossroad. Dry grass and wildflowers grow at the edges peculiarly, stop harsh at the dirt divide.
Todoroki is crouched at the very center of where the two roads collide, head tucked between his knees, silent.
Katsuki screws up his nose as the scent of dread wafts over him, rot and decay, his stomach heaving, unsettled by the alcohol and the stench. He spins himself around the tree, trying to find the source. A body, an apparition, any hint that they might not be alone. Comes up empty. The air remains still and Katsuki moves out and away from the smell.
Todoroki doesn’t so much as twitch when he approaches, doesn’t give off any hint of being able to hear the crunch of gravel or feel the presence of another person. He keeps his gun trained on Todoroki’s head, hasn’t forgotten the demons that command the crossroads.
“Hey, asshole,” Katsuki barks, cautious to keep the ten feet between them.
Todoroki’s body starts at Katsuki’s words, jumps as he registers the company, pulls his head out from where he’s had it tucked under his arms, sliding his cut up fingers out of his blood-matted hair. He lifts his face and stares up at Katsuki with horror behind his eyes.
He’s a sight to behold, looks exactly like someone who has just pulled themselves out of a tree-wrapped car. His skin is pale white against the dark red of the blood. Cuts still ooze from his scalp and down his forehead, blinked into his eye, the sticky liquid plastering his hair flat against his skin. His cheeks are littered with nicks from the glass, from the sharp branches he’d scrambled through to end up huddled in on himself in the middle of the road. Bruises are already starting to form at the corner of his jaw, his lip is split as blood dribbles freely down his chin.
He doesn’t say anything, just stares at Katsuki like he’s not sure he’s real.
“Christo,” Katsuki says, keeping the gun steady as he gauges Todoroki’s reaction.
He doesn’t snarl back at him, his eyes keep their whites. If his body had been possessed, those would be the signs.
“What the fuck are you doing?” Katsuki asks, lowering the gun once he feels as though Todoroki isn’t going to take a bite out of his throat. He comes to stand beside him, crouches down to Todoroki’s level.
Todoroki’s eyes are frantic, searching his surroundings desperately, looking past Katsuki completely.
Katsuki scans the darkness, squints past where the orange light stops and true darkness starts. There’s nothing here with them, the hot smell of death he had caught before dissipated. A breeze catches and cools the sweat on the back of Katsuki’s neck, rustles the grass at the edges of the road. There’s an owl hooting in the line of trees he had emerged from. The tightness in his chest is gone, swept away by the sorely missed wind. The world breathes again.
Todoroki doesn’t seem to feel the relief, his hands shaking where they’re clawed at his knees. His breath is short and laboured.
“Did you see them?” Todoroki whispers, still not looking in Katsuki’s direction, as if he is afraid to take his eyes away from the fields.
Todoroki doesn’t answer, breathes deep in an attempt to calm himself, groans and presses his hands against his side.
“What did you see?” Katsuki insists.
Todoroki ignores the question, inhales as if he’s trying to screw his head back on straight.
“You’re alright, c’mon.” Katsuki drops the subject for now. “Can you stand?” he asks, tucking his gun back into his belt, prys one of Todoroki’s arms away from where he’s holding himself together and over Katsuki’s shoulders, gravel kicking up under their feet as they scramble upright. Todoroki leans into his side heavily, swears under his breath.
He drags them back the way they’d come, Todoroki’s feet stumbling badly over surface-roots. Katsuki’s hand grips tight around the wrist over his shoulder, the other at Todoroki’s waist, feeling his hands slip slick against the blood wet at Todoroki’s side.
Todoroki keeps his mouth closed, quiet besides the occasional inhale when he places his foot wrong and Katsuki digs his fingers in to get a better grip in case he is to pass out before he can sit him down.
“Can you get your leg over?” Katsuki asks, back at the bike. “I think I saw a hospital in town.”
“No, no hospital,” Todoroki says softly, pushing Katsuki away, standing unbalanced on his own two legs in a show of good health. Except he leans into a mean sway and has to catch himself when he falls onto Katsuki’s bike.
“You’re right, I’ve never seen a man so fit. Here, you drive.” Katsuki tosses his keys at Todoroki’s chest. They bounce off and onto the dirt as Todoroki blinks at him.
“Alright, okay? But if you slide off the back of my bike I’m not turning around to scrape your guts up from the highway.”
Katsuki scoops the keys up from where they landed, pulls off his leather jacket and holds it out for Todoroki to put his arms through, rifles through the duffle bag that’s tied down with bungee straps and pulls out his spare jumper.
“Here.” Katsuki hands it to Todoroki, who’s looking worse and worse for wear the longer he leans at the edge of the highway. He’s managed to get Katsuki’s jacket on though, bleeding into the fabric in a way that Katsuki knows is going to be a bitch to get out. His eyes droop, and his hands shake where they’re pressed hard against his ribs again, like he’s holding himself in.
“Look alive,” Katsuki snaps his fingers in front of Todoroki’s bruised face. He comes to, takes the jumper on offer. “Put that around your waist, I’ll tie it to my front when we’re on.”
Katsuki kicks out the passenger pedals, stands close as Todoroki uses Katsuki’s shoulder to lift himself onto the back seat, sits there like he’s just aged twenty years at the effort, tilts sideways while Katsuki holds him upright.
“You owe me one, pretty boy,” Katsuki says under his breath as he slides himself over the bike and stands it up under them. Todoroki slides heavily against his back, the whole bloody weight of him, cheek pressed between Katsuki’s shoulder blades. He grabs at the arms of the jumper Todoroki has got tied around his torso, double knots it around his waist like some kind of baby harness.
Todoroki is too close to unconsciousness to hold on properly, loosely draping his hands around Katsuki’s stomach, shaking against the thin material of his shirt, at his back, a full body tremble that makes Todoroki push his cheek further into Katsuki and groan at the pain of it.
Katsuki kicks the bike into gear, the sound ripping through the night. The vibration of the engine rumbling through their bodies, diluting Todoroki’s own shaking.
“Don’t you fuckin’ pass out,” Katsuki pleads as he pushes them over the speed limit and away from the pretzelled wreck.
There was once a bar, a hunters haunt, too far removed for anyone who didn’t already have the address memorised to stumble upon. Somewhere familiar where they didn’t water down the beer and people talked of the supernatural without bothering to lower their voices.
All worn wood and stained floors and chairs that hurt your back if you sat for more than an hour. Taxidermy deer and bear and other kinds of animals that God could have had no hand in crafting hung proudly on the walls.
He’d gone for help with some bullshit, a chupacabra hybrid he’d never come across before - slaughtered the towns livestock, moved onto farmers when there was nothing but bones to pick at. Climbed onto back porches, on summer nights when flyscreens were kept open to wade in the cool-change, killed them while they slept on downstairs couches.
Todoroki was there too, taking up space at the bar in a way that pissed Katsuki off. Chatting to the owner over a barely-noon drink.
Ashiodo’s face had lit up when Katsuki walked in, excusing herself from the conversation she was having with Todoroki to bounce around from behind the bar, crushing Katsuki into a hug that he didn’t think was really warranted.
Todoroki had looked up from his glass to see who had caused the attention, snorted when he realised who it was, and turned back to finish his glass.
Katsuki had wanted to size him up and punch him square in the jaw since day one. Take him out back and have a good ol’ fair fight, return to the bar and tell Mina to clean up on aisle nine. Pour himself a beer from the tap and drink it to soothe where his teeth had cut the inside of his lip.
But good things rarely come to those that deserve them and Todoroki had sat there yanking Katsuki’s chain by simply existing. Something truly fierce sitting behind his ribs, ready to burst out the minute Todoroki said the wrong thing.
Except all he did was help.
Katsuki had sat himself down at a table, Ashido perched on the edge with a drink of her own. He explained the situation, pulled out his notes for her to scrutinise, spread them over the table as she nodded with the facts.
“I’ve tried everything.” Katsuki had scruffed a hand across his face in frustration. “The fucker just won’t go down.”
“What about ice?” the voice from the bar pitched in, ran like a spark down Katsuki’s spine, shocked him into sitting upright, ready to pick a fight.
Todoroki had spun at some stage to face them, leaning back on the wood, his elbows perched on the bar behind him. His body language all open and casual, all not-your-enemy-no-sir, the type of false friendliness that left men dead when they turned their backs. His jacket pulled open by his posture, the black shirt he had underneath tight against his torso.
“What about minding your own fucking business?” Katsuki growled.
Todoroki took a sip from his drink and looked him down over the rim, said nothing more.
“But what about ice, for real?” Ashido echoed Todoroki’s statement.
“Now there’s a fucking idea,” Katsuki grumbled, snatching a pen from the front of Ashido’s apron, flipped open his notes on chupacarbaras and scribbled down ICE, DUH in the magin.
Katsuki stood, the legs of the chair screeching against the wooden floor, took the glass out of Ashido’s hand and finished her drink for her.
“If I die, you’re the one I’m haunting.” He stabbed his finger in Todoroki’s direction. “Piss on all your shit, prop the freezer door open at night, wake you up in half hour increments so you never sleep properly again.”
Todoroki had snorted. “Very wise, haunting a hunter. Maybe I’ll just keep you around, never let you rest in peace.”
Katsuki turned up his nose. “You wouldn’t be able to get your hands on me anyway.”
Todoroki watched him leave with the same kind of ferocity Katsuki held in his own glares, impatience and intolerance, sipped his drink nonchalantly as though he was daring Katsuki to bite. There's more where that came from. Swing again, lets see how good your right hook is.
Katsuki had thought about it for a second, knowing how efficiently a punch to the gut shut a man up. Thought about shoving Todoroki into the bar, jamming a fist into his solar plexus and making it so he couldn’t recover, crowding up into his space while he coughed and tried to breathe, grab at his cheeks and kiss him while he spluttered.
“Children ,” Ashido had warned before Katsuki could properly think about where his mind had just wandered.
There was a property not far, a self sufficient residence with a shipping container type freezer digging heavy into the grass. Katsuki had left the door wide open, so the butchery smell wafted into the night. Spilt a bit of cows blood, and then a bit of his own and waited.
It came as he knew it would, gangly limbs and burnt flesh tight and splitting over bone, bowled into Katsuki and threw him on his back, breath fanned sickly over his face, teeth snapped inches from his nose.
Katsuki had drawn his legs up and kicked it underneath, sent it flying backwards and further into the freezer, scrambled to his feet and released a whole clip into its body as it struggled to move in the cold.
It lay there against the metal floor and died and Katsuki felt less satisfied than he should because none of this had been his idea. Dragged the thing out and dug a shallow grave for it in the middle of the field, speared his shovel into the ground so hard his palms bruised. Saddled his bike and spun the back wheel out so it kicked up farm dirt.
He drove himself halfway across the country until he felt safe knowing he wasn’t going to stumble upon Todoroki Shouto’s help anytime soon.
Katsuki hurries Todoroki into the motel room before anyone has a chance to peep out their curtains and catch a glimpse of them. Todoroki looking dead on his feet, covered head to toe in crossroad dirt and blood.
“Take the jacket off,” Katsuki says after sliding the chain across the door, kicking a chair out by the window and heading to the bathroom for a washcloth and supplies.
To his surprise, Todoroki has shrugged out of Katuski’s leather when he returns with a warm towel in hand, even hung it over the back of the chair.
He looks worse without a jacket to cover his arms, t-shirt torn in places, the dark material stained even further by patches of blood, clinging to his torso. His arms are free from cuts, but there’s bruises forming around his collar, riding up his neck.
“I thought you were better than this,” Katsuki says, pushing him back to sit in the chair.
Todoroki is quiet while Katsuki parts his hair, looking for the cut that dripped blood down his face. Feels along the rough edges of the burn scar that pushes back to the crown of his head. Katsuki’s fingers come back wet when he finds the wound, not awfully deep. He presses the washcloth to it to staunch some of the bleeding.
“You’re a fucking hunter, you know this is pitiful, right? A car crash?”
“Please shut up,” Todoroki mumbles.
“I’m just saying.”
The white cloth comes back almost completely red when Katsuki removes it. He clicks his tongue and heads back to the bathroom to rinse it again.
Katsuki drags the second chair to sit in front of Todoroki when he’s got the towel wrung and warm, pushing his knee out of the way so he can put his own between them, leans in to wipe away the crusted blood from his face without agitating any cuts that are already starting to heal over.
“You want to address the behemoth in the room or should I?” Katsuki asks, turning into the table to cut the remainder of his bandage stash into tiny strips.
“By all means, please go ahead.”
“A crossroads, huh?”
“It wasn’t premeditated.”
Katsuki hums, leaning back in to press the tiny strips to his cheek, feeling Todoroki’s breath blow shaky over his wrist, lines the white up like railroad tracks, holding two sides of the split skin together again. Todoroki takes the clean washer from over Katsuki’s knee and scrubs the blood from between his fingers.
“You think I wrapped myself around that tree for fun?”
“Whatever gets you off, sunshine.”
Todoroki just about growls, jerks back from Katsuki’s touch. “Why are you even here?”
“I’m a sucker for weres.” Katsuki shrugs, grabs at Todoroki’s wrist to keep him still while he applies the last of the home-made Steri-Strips.
“You think it’s a wolf?”
“What else could it be?”
Todoroki doesn’t gratify him with an answer, sits there patiently while Katsuki finishes his handiwork, the reparations he’s making to Todoroki’s face. Bruised and bloody is a good look on him; compliments his hair, contrasts with the piercing blue of his eye. Shame Katsuki hadn’t been the one to administer.
“Stand up,” Katsuki orders when he’s done, pushing his chair back with his foot.
Todoroki drops the cloth and uses the table to get to his feet, leaning on it so heavily it tips on its cheap metal legs. He holds his arm out but Todoroki swats it away.
“Lift your shirt.”
Todoroki narrows his eyes, screws his nose up like he’s about to spit out something accusatory. Like this whole ordeal isn’t a fucking chore to begin with.
“Settle down, I just want to check your ribs.” Katsuki holds his hands out, waves the metaphorical white flag that reads, not trying to feel you up, just want to make sure you haven’t put a hole in your lung. You freak.
Todoroki’s skin is too hot under his fingers, material hiked under his arms, face pulled into a scowl so vicious Katsuki thinks he might be a demon after all.
He prods methodically at Todoroki’s ribs, from the front to the back, the pads of his fingers catching over more of that same burn scar, over his chest and down to his waist. Welts old and settled, like someone had poured something molten and watched as Todoroki melted away under it.
Todoroki’s breath catches in his throat as Katsuki finds one and then two broken bones, pokes them gently but not gently enough.
“Nothin’ we can do about that,” Katsuki announces as he steps back and out of Todoroki’s personal space, avoiding meeting his eyes because he’s not entirely certain the look Todoroki is throwing him is hostile anymore. “I have a spare shirt, you can use that to wrap tonight but you’ll have to get something more heavy duty. Ribs don’t heal overnight.”
“Why are you doing this?”
Katsuki stiffens, sweeps the garbage off the table and into the trash can next to the box-television. “Would you prefer to be bleeding out in the dirt? It’s not too late I can take you back. Leave you to the hounds.” Katsuki returns to the bathroom, tosses the bloody rag in the sink from the doorway. “I’m doing it for a favour.”
“I pulled you out of that wreck,” Katsuki says, digging through the bag he’d left on the floor at the end of the bed, hands out his last clean shirt. “Only fair that you leave me to do my job.”
“You want this hunt?”
“I was here first.”
“You know nothing about what you’re dealing with,” Todoroki hisses and Katsuki can’t tell whether its directed at him or a byproduct of how tight Todoroki ties his shirt around his ribs. He lets his old soiled one fall back over the top, torso lumpy and face strained.
Katsuki crosses his arms and stands defiant on the other side of the room. “So you tell me what you know and you fuck off back the way you came.”
“I can’t do that,” Todoroki admits quietly, slumping back down in the chair, tired.
“You’ll fucking do as I say.”
Todoroki shoots him a heated look from where he sits next to the window, but it lacks any conviction, fighting consciousness since Katsuki had strapped him to his back on the highway.
“There’s no reason for you to be dragged into my mess.”
“What are you saying?”
“I mean this is personal.”
“Between you and fucking Fenrir out there?”
“Something like that.”
“You’re a pain in my ass, you know that?” Katsuki runs a hand through his hair, makes an exasperated noise at the back of his throat. “Go the fuck to sleep, we can discuss this when you’re not about to pass out onto the floor.”
Katsuki lets Todoroki take the bed, pretends to update his notes from the table as Todoroki lays himself on top of the sheets and promptly falls asleep, hair still crusted with blood, his breathing short around the constriction at his chest.
He rearranges himself in the plastic motel chair until his head hits the wall and his legs are splayed out, not at all a comfortable enough position to sleep in, but enough to rest. To listen to the thrum of the heater and make lazy pictures out of the stains on the roof.
Katsuki checks Todoroki’s chest still rises once every hour and finds that all he sees when he closes his eyes is Todoroki hunched at the crossroads and a dozen pairs of vermillion eyes watching from the sway of the fields.
Katsuki drives back out to the wreck at dawn, before the local authorities catch wind and Todoroki’s car is searched and printed.
It looks worse under the rising sun, all the dents visible, the blood in the front seat still not quite dry. If he didn’t know better, Katsuki would have assumed the worst. The way the metal bent, jutted out sharp at vicious angles; he’s not sure Todoroki should be alive at all.
The trunk is already half popped with the force of the collision. Katsuki gets his fingers under the gap and lifts.
The contents are exactly as one would expect from a hunter’s ride. Various firearms and little red boxes of ammunition tossed wildly around the space. Silver bullets and normal, split with a knife, buckshot and salt. Crosses and beads and cans upon cans of petrol thats purpose is not to fill tanks.
Katsuki takes the most incriminating of it, piling it into the bag on the back of his bike. Leans in the passenger side door and holds his breath at the musty stench of drying blood. He pulls out Todoroki’s duffel, shoves in the loose items of clothing and a diary that had been upturned on the floor, its pages sticky with blood that dripped through the driver’s seat.
Katsuki dumps it all at the foot of Todoroki’s bed when he returns to the motel. The spray of the shower audible through the thin wall. He rocks on his heels and thinks about what to do with the situation he’s found himself in. He’d slept like whatever the opposite of the dead is. Katsuki’s body aches and he finds it hard to keep a hold on a single chain of thought.
Todoroki emerges from the bathroom while Katsuki stands there trying to decide how to proceed. He’s pulled his old clothes over his clean body and Katsuki turns his nose up at the thought of the scratchy dried blood sticking to water-pruned skin.
Katsuki kicks Todoroki’s duffle to his feet.
“Your blood is all over that wreck, but at least they won’t find anything too damning.”
Todoroki blinks at him, like he’s trying to spot the one selfless bone Katsuki seems to have protruding out of his body.
“You know how it goes.” Katsuki waves a hand in front of his face. “They put two and two together and you have something more dangerous than a whining pack of werewolves.”
“How was the car?” Todoroki asks as he fishes clean clothes from his bag, turning back to the bathroom to change, leaving the door open.
“Who cares, it was a piece of shit to begin with.”
“Better than a bike.”
“Watch your fucking mouth.”
Todoroki returns from the bathroom free of blood, his mood visibly improved. His skin is bruised to hell, purple running down his jaw on his scar-free side, nicks and cuts still bright red from the heat of the shower. He’s sporting a nasty black eye.
“Coffee,” Katsuki says, and it’s not a question.
There’s a diner ten minutes up the interstate, one of those middle-of-nowhere liminal spaces that have never known the pleasure of return customers. Open twenty-four-seven and ready to serve piss-coffee and overdone eggs.
They get a booth seat by the window, Katsuki’s elbows coming back sticky when he leans against the table. The waitress doesn’t look twice at Todoroki’s demolished state, has seen worse, probably.
Katsuki’s mopping up his eggs with too-sweet bread as Todoroki folds the newspaper down to manageable size and spreads it over the table as he drinks his coffee with his free hand. Cuts line his fingers like he’d reached into a blender, wrap stark against the white of the mug.
“There was another sighting last night,” Todoroki says, interrupting Katsuki’s favourite meal of the day.
“Yeah?” Katsuki says around bread, because sue him if he’s not curious regardless.
Todoroki takes a sip of coffee before reading aloud. “Local man caught glimpse of the stray around two am last night when he returned to his home after a late shift. ‘I saw it cross the road, its head bent low as if it was following a scent.’ The man, who wishes to remain anonymous, relayed, ‘I didn’t realise how big it was until it came to stand beside the trash cans. Double the size, it would have come up to my waist and I’m six foot four. I was terrified, I’ve never felt that kind of dread in my forty-five years.’”
“Coward,” Katsuki scoffs with his mouth full.
“What time did you find my car?”
“I don’t know, around two, I guess?” Katsuki pushes his plate away and sits back with his arms crossed over his chest, satisfied. “Why?”
“Because I saw it too.”
Todoroki catches his gaze for a split second then turns his attention out the window. “It crossed the road. I swerved and hit the tree.”
“And you didn’t think to share that with me last night?”
“So there’s more than one,” Katsuki sighs, waves at the waitress for another coffee top up.
“Looks like it.”
“No, this is good, the more the merrier.” Katsuki stretches his hands over his head and cracks his fingers while the waitress fills their cups, spilling a little over the rim and not caring enough to apologise for it. Katuski slaps a napkin over it when she leaves, watches the brown soak into the paper. “I’m gonna shove so much silver up their ass they’ll be coughing up it up human.”
Todoroki smiles, just a little.
“I think,” Todoroki starts, after a small comfortable silence, “this job is too big for one person.”
“I can handle myself, thanks.”
“You’re still planning on chasing me out of town?”
“Yup,” Katsuki says, popping the p.
“I don’t have a car.”
“Then steal one, I don’t give a fuck.”
Todoroki purses his lips, his hands tight around the coffee he hasn’t touched since it was topped up.
“Listen, you know I’m in no state to be driving, I’ve been flat broke for weeks and I can’t afford to...” Todoroki flattens his palm over the newspaper for something to do with his hands, pushes out the edges, “I can’t go about my usual ways of procuring money until I’m sure I won’t puncture my lung if someone so much as bumps my shoulder too hard.”
“Why do you think I c-”
“I think you care because you wouldn’t have pulled me out of that wreck if you didn’t.”
Katsuki fiddles with the napkin, tears little pieces off and piles them up on his dirty plate like snow.
“It’s just fuckin’ hunters code. Ashido would have my neck if she knew I’d left you there.”
Todoroki huffs in disbelief, shakes his head and looks back out the window. “I’m not giving up on this case. You can fight me on it all you want but I know you know this will be easier with a partner.”
Katsuki looks at Todoroki over the table, at the bruises that line his throat, the bandages that stick to his dried blood, the ones that Katsuki had taken the time to put there himself. Everything in him begs for a hunt; his skin prickles at the idea of tracking the dogs, already has a plan of attack, played it all out behind his eyes while he listened to Todoroki snore last night. He doesn’t know when he’ll stumble upon a case as meaty as this again - if ever. Werewolves just boil his blood in the best kind of way, and the fact that they might be a different kind of breed of fucked up makes anticipation roll off him in waves, leaves him restless and desperate to start .
Katsuki needs this hunt like he needs food and water and the vibration of the road under his wheels. Essential and simple. Maybe they could share, if it means Katsuki gets to put holes in a monster at the end of the day.
“Fine, but we do things my way.”
Todoroki whips his head around like he expected a different answer, like he had a bitchy remark stuck at the back of his throat ready to bark in Katsuki’s direction for when he rebutted again. Todoroki opens his mouth to say something but snaps it closed just as quickly, tilting his head, his lips pulling up into a faint smile with Katsuki’s agreement.
Todoroki extends a hand over the table, and Katsuki begrudgingly shakes on it.
They swap Katsuki’s room out for a twin.
Todoroki had been sleeping in the backseat of his beat-up hunk of junk for a week with no money to spend on a motel for himself and Katsuki isn’t about to slap his own hard earned cash on the counter for two seperate rooms. Besides, he’s not entirely sure Todoroki has healed enough to be safe from falling into permanent sleep with that kind of head injury.
They go about work as usual, dig around for leads, interview everyone that’s so much as whispered the word dog. They infiltrate the town’s Animal Service building for a list of reports on every bark complaint. He’s had to pry Todoroki out of the library almost every day since the crash and two of those times he had found Todoroki passed out and drooling over the pages, exhausted from the fruitless research and his body that was still fighting hard to heal itself.
But the dogs have been quiet since their dance in front of Todoroki’s car at the start of the week and Katsuki’s ideas are starting to run down as fast as his patience.
“It’s like they overheard our fucking breakfast conversation,” Katsuki complains as they pull back into the motel as dawn pushes through the trees. Todoroki steps off the bike and shakes the ride from his hair.
They’d staked out by the edge of the highway for a solid six hours and Katsuki’s ass is so numb he’d probably miss it if the very dogs they were hoping for a glimpse of sunk their feral teeth into the muscle. They had literally sat in the dark and watched the grass grow.
“Maybe it’s not the right time of the moon cycle? We don’t know what time of month they change, if at all. They could be walking around as nine-to-fivers. We could have passed them on the street.”
“I don’t even want to think about it,” Katsuki groans, peeling off his helmet, sliding off the bike to stand beside, leans against it with his arms crossed.
Todoroki gets them vending machine soda, tosses one at Katsuki and sits on the curb in front of their room, rests his elbow on the front wheel of Katsuki’s bike.
The soda is flat and warm but he drinks it without complaint because everything this last week has been a disappointment and he is just about used to it.
“Maybe we need help,” Katsuki says, the words shocking him as much as they do Todoroki who looks at him like he’s two seconds away from stripping his skin and admitting to being a shifter. The real Katsuki would never admit to needing help, yadda yadda.
“I just - I’m getting sick of chasing our fucking tails, y’know? I’ve never sat on a hunt this long.”
“Who are you thinking of? Ashido?” Todoroki asks, picking the gravel that’s dug into his hands from when he lowered himself onto the ground.
“Yeah, I guess, she might know something. Or maybe if we’re lucky there’ll a pompous asswipe lounged against the bar willing to stick his nose into somewhere it doesn’t belong.”
Todoroki snorts into his can at the reference.
They head out before anyone’s weekday alarms go off, before the sun gets high enough to climb over roofs. Katsuki tosses their room keys into the twenty-four-seven reception slot, dusts his hands of the last week of scratchy, cigarette stained comforters and springs that dug into his back.
The bike is too cumbersome for long distance travel with two passengers. Not enough space for both their supplies and Katsuki doesn’t fancy having Todoroki’s sweaty face pressed into his back for more than an hour at a time. Katsuki wheels it around the back of the motel, out of plain sight. Parks it beside the rusty hot water service. Tears a piece of paper from his journal and writes a hastily, steal this and you’ll have more to worry about than dogs scratching at your doors . Tapes the note to the seat and prays it’ll be there when they get back.
They steal a car from the lot, quick and quiet like they’ve both been taught. Todoroki’s choice, a fuck-off sized pick-up; one with steps next to the doors and handles to climb in. It’s ridiculous and unnecessary but the alternative that sat sadly next to the reception was just about in the same state as Todoroki’s old car - after it had hit the tree. They dump their bags in the tray and Todoroki takes shotgun without having to be told.
Katsuki floors it once they’ve got it jumpstarted, sits up from under the wheel so fast he almost knocks himself out on the underside of it. The monster roars to life and Katsuki turns them onto the interstate before anyone is out of bed to catch their faces. Grand theft auto has always been the easiest part of the job.
They roll the windows down once they’re far enough away from town to relax, Todoroki clears the cab of all the previous owner’s possessions, old receipts and parking tickets tucked away under the seat to be forgotten. Todoroki complains when Katsuki makes him take the pair of fluffy dice down from the rearview mirror. Katsuki promises him they’ll find a replacement that doesn’t scream compensating.
He stretches his legs in the footwell and leans back in his seat, the wind pushing through his hair, flexes his fingers against the wheel, as comfortable on the road as he is tucked up into bed. Katsuki’s never been so enthused to drive over two hundred miles with the guy he’d been set to break the nose of last week.
Todoroki has a newspaper spread over his lap again, the daily routine, edges whipping against his fingers with the open window.
“We’re heading east, right?” Todoroki asks after a pleasant half an hour of watching the sun spill over the horizon, warming his skin through the windscreen glass.
“Couple found dead in their residence after break in.” Todoroki lifts the paper up to read the headline.
“Newly wedded couple had only moved in a week prior.” Todoroki pauses to scour for more details, the excitement in his voice evident when he continues. “Second death to occur in the house within the year.”
“Poltergeist or vengeful spirit?”
“Want to go find out?” Todoroki asks, twisting in his seat to face Katsuki better.
“Hell fuck yes.”