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The castle had never been a welcoming place for Katsuki. Its barred windows and heavily fortified doors had always felt more like gaping maws and eyes that scrutinized the residence of the kingdom than they had architecture, and being stuck inside had been maddening, even for a child who couldn’t have been any older than nine. The castle rose up high into the clouds, more like a panopticon than a home, all sharp angles that led up to twisted points and harsh, dark stone. If Katsuki were to describe it as anything, he would have called it a big, many-eyed monster. If he were to describe his life there, he would have compared it to living in the belly of the beast, his mother’s watchful eye always upon him, ready for him to mess up, mouth open with criticism already building upon her tongue, a hand raised and ready to strike.

But then again, he’d only been a child when she’d finally given up on him, and if he’d had any skill back then it was in his imagination. His mother was the Queen, a powerful sorceress who had married into the royal family, coiling around the monarchy like a snake and sinking her teeth into the castle, leeching it of life and setting her venom on the kingdom around her. She disapproved of Katsuki wholeheartedly, had once told him he was ‘untrainable’, and therefore a waste of her time. He’d barely been four years old.

As much as he yearned to go back, Katsuki didn’t think about his time living in the castle fondly. It was the only place he’d ever known outside of the Tower. He remembered excelling in his studies, remembered having been skilled, creative, and intelligent, but his mother had given him more than her looks – his attitude was famously abrasive, and by the time he turned eight, he had still never had a real friend. He supposed his abhorrence for anything remotely feminine had been the final straw for his mother. She’d found nothing but shame in the many accomplishments he reigned up for her attention over the years, maybe having a son rather than a daughter was more than she could handle.

She’d had the Tower built in secret a couple months before his ninth birthday. Katsuki never knew its exact location, hadn’t even found out about its existence until the night of his ninth birthday when she’d taken him away. The moon had been high in the sky, and he’d still had the faint taste of honeysuckle syrup on his tongue from dinner. She’d taken him on horseback, wrapped tightly in a heavy cloak to hide his features, farther from the castle than he’d ever dared to go. They’d crossed the huge stone bridge over the lake and left the city limits, continuing on through the fields of farmland that circled it, and into the thick forest that Katsuki had only ever seen from his bedroom window. The moonlight had been hidden by the thick canopy of branches and leaves and it’d been so dark that Katsuki remembered hiding his face in his mother’s cloak. She’d ruffled his hair, whispered a few words into it that sounded vaguely arcane, and it had brought him comfort, the last comfort he would feel for a while.

The Tower cut a tall, imposing figure into what would have been a calming, serene atmosphere. It seemed to grow from the ground, twisted like the castle itself had been, crooked and leaning ever so slightly like an old, dead tree that had lost all of its leaves. It was covered in thick, thorny vines that looked impossible to climb, and after conjuring a staircase and leading him up to the small living space at the top, Katsuki was left alone in the Tower for the very first time, left to peer out the window at his mother’s retreating form. Left to wonder if he would ever see her again or if she was done with him for good. His nightgown had been built for warm, city nights, but the forest was cold and damp and made creepy noises in the dark. There was a bed heaped with blankets in the upper room, but Katsuki had ignored it. He remembered having slept by that window those first couple weeks, and it was the only time he ever felt thankful for his long hair, which kept him warmer than his nightgown.

His hair grew unnaturally fast and strong since his first night in the tower, but he was never quite able to figure out why.

The Queen never returned herself, instead sending a maid that Katsuki had never seen before, one who introduced herself as Alina. She was not kind despite her care. She was a cold, hard presence when she was around, which wasn’t very often, only appearing once a week to drop off supplies and such. She left Katsuki to cook for himself and clean up after himself, and when he complained about the holes in his clothes, she brought him a needle and thread and refused to teach him how to use them. She only ever brought him dresses to wear, and the one time she found him stitching a pair of pants she ripped them to shreds in front of him. The fact that he cussed her out so much probably didn’t help her like him all that much. And sure, she was probably just acting on the Queen’s orders, but Katsuki had had nobody to talk to for years and when all the one person he could communicate with did was huff and snarl, it made it hard to even want to try.

On his twelfth birthday, Katsuki developed his powers. They were finicky and hard to control, as elemental magic often was. He set his bedding on fire and had barely managed to clean up the mess when Alina made her weekly arrival. His first escape attempt had been a week later; burning the vines away from around the Tower and using his own hair as a rope to scale the side of it. He’d been caught halfway down.

From then on, the vines were replaced with rings upon rings of barbed wire that pricked at Katsuki’s fingers, drawing blood when he touched it. The metal was sharp and hard, and even Katsuki’s highest temperatures just wouldn’t melt it, no matter how hard he tried.

Being alone was hard. Sometimes he couldn’t make himself get out of bed and the days would bleed into weeks of only getting up to use the bathroom and eat small meals of dried fruit or bits of dry bread. He’d never seen himself as someone who quite needed people but living in the Tower was humbling in ways he’d never wanted to experience. 

Most of his time was spent trying to keep busy; he tried to teach himself to fight, though that was difficult when the only opponent you had was a mannequin, so he ran laps around the central room of the Tower and exercised when there was nothing else to do; door frames could be used for pull-ups, heavy baskets of ingredients could be used as weights. He trained his fire magic, used it to cook and bake and boil water when he wanted a cup of tea. Used it to dispose of garbage and moulding food. He read the same five books the tower had over and over until he could quote them from cover to cover, and when he got incredibly bored and could think of nothing else to do to keep himself occupied, he painted the inside of the tower. Alina held a distaste for his paintings, but if she thought he cared at all, she was sorely mistaken. 

One thing he couldn’t distract himself from was his own body; he felt more and more uncomfortable in his own skin the more he grew. His mother left nothing sharp other than kitchen knives in the Tower, so he had no way to cut his own hair, and the only clothing Alina permitted him to own were dresses. She couldn’t stop him from binding, though, which did help some, and by the time he turned seventeen he’d sewn a few pairs of pants and loose-fitting shirts that had amalgamated a good portion of the clothing he’d grown out of. He had to believe he would escape one day, and he definitely wouldn’t be wearing another fucking dress again the day that he did. He was finally given an out when he finally reached his eighteenth birthday.

Alina arrived earlier that morning, as she always did on his birthday, with news from his mother, the first message she had sent in the 9 years of his captivity. He was almost relieved that she hadn’t forgotten about him, but then he realized how pathetic that sounded and pushed the feelings down. His mother had never been good news, who cared if she remembered or forgot about him entirely?

He tried to convince himself that he didn’t care, but he wasn’t all that successful.

His mother said that if he could ever improve his temperament enough to make someone fall in love with him, then she would take him back, and Katsuki had never felt as hopeless as he did then and there. Alina left swiftly after delivering her message and dropping her basket of cooking ingredients and fabrics on the counter, and Katsuki barely had the presence of mind to rope his hair down the side of the tower for her to use as she exited through the main window, using some magic to part the barbed wire as she scaled the Tower like she normally did. He remembered sliding down the wall to sit on the floor and he remembered really accepting for the first time that the Queen completely expected him to stay locked in the tower forever. He was a mistake she wanted to hide away where he couldn’t embarrass her. The quest she had given him was impossible even if he did have people to talk to; how could anyone love him? His own mother had known him at nine and decided that he had been and would always be unlovable. And she was right.

It was a lot harder to keep himself busy after that.

 

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Eijirou had a fairly simple childhood for a half-dragon. He was an orphan, which seemed sad to everyone who knew about it, but for him, a kid who had never known his parents, it was just how it was. Nobody really gave a shit about him and he learned fast that it was because everyone had more to worry about than the scruffy, black-haired kid who picked through their garbage every night after dark. The monarchy sucked the people dry of money, and people everywhere had been running out of things to give for years.

Eventually, he found friendship in Tamaki, another kid who lived on the street. They ran scams on the few wealthier inhabitants of the capital, and when they grew out of their cuteness and baby fat, they turned to thievery. It just seemed like the natural progression of things, a sort of justice the pair would carry out on the fancy lords and ladies who wouldn’t miss a sack of silver that would stop the family down the street from dying of starvation. They snuck into homes and raided the royal family’s coaches, stole from anyone whose fingers were laden with gems and whose pockets jangled loudly with coins. It was normally pretty easy; the guards were never used to their street-learned fighting styles, and the fancy lords and ladies were normally too weighty to get too far if they decided to try and run for it, but if they needed a quick getaway Eijirou could go dragon in a pinch. He became a well-known thief; people would recognize the large dragon as it flew over the town, scales glinting like bits of sparkling ruby in the daylight. The wanted posters called him Red Riot, but when Tamaki started getting more nervous about their heists he came to be known as Kirishima Eijirou, a simple blacksmith who worked at Fatgum’s forge. He was someone who was always around to lend a helping hand, especially if it meant fucking with the monarchy and their stupid absolutist systems along the way. This was why the story of the maiden in the woods intrigued him so much.

There had been stories of a maiden in the woods ever since Eijirou could remember, one who lived in a tower of jagged metal kept hidden by the Queen herself. Nobody knew for sure if the tales were true or not, but the idea of someone trapped like that was so upsetting to him that he kept his ears open for any new information. He’d been laughed at many times by both Fat and Tamaki for it because, sure, the monarchy was horrible, but people trapped in towers in the middle of forests were just fairy tales, but he couldn’t make himself let it go. If someone was living trapped in the woods like that, shouldn’t he try and help since apparently nobody else was going to?

Life was monotonous throughout his teenage years, despite the thievery and fairy tales; he woke up every morning and ate breakfast with Tamaki before they left for the smithy where they worked together for most of the day. They ate dinner together with Fat after closing up shop for the night and then they would go home, where Eijirou would sometimes pretend to get to bed early to cover for the raids that his roommate no longer saw as crucial. Tamaki saw them as something they should only pull when absolutely necessary, but Eijirou couldn’t help it; the fact that those in the monarch’s pocket lived so lavishly while everyone Eijirou knew were just barely scraping by sparked a huge amount of bitterness in him. But he tried to ignore it, for the most part, tried to fill his days with helping others and using what little leftover money he had to help purchase food and supplies for those who couldn’t.

His hair also started growing in bright red at some point, something that had been a bit of a shock at the time but was apparently normal when half-dragons reached maturity, according to Fat, who’d known some other half-dragons in his youth. It eventually just grew to be a part of his new normal, and he was barely twenty when he finally got confirmation that the tower was real.

It had been his turn to stop by the grocer after dinner at Fat’s one day, and he’d been perusing the carts of vegetables when one of the suppliers, Sero, ran into him so heavily that they both almost tumbled to the floor. The man was tall and lean with a messy mop of black hair and a shit-eating grin that was more often than not the consequence of some elaborate prank he had pulled on his partner, Kaminari. His grin was gone today, however, and when Eijirou helped him to his feet, he seemed to have still barely processed what had happened.

“Sorry, I’m in a hurry,” he said quickly, dark eyes already looking ahead to where he was trying to move.

“Wait!” Eijirou grabbed his arm, pulling him back, “Are you okay?”

Sero only then seemed to process who it was he’d run into. “Oh, Kiri! Oof, sorry, I didn’t realize it was you.” He lifted a hand to his head, bashfully, a small, awkward grin rising onto his cheeks.

Eijirou let go of him, “It’s no trouble! What’s goin’ on?”

The black-haired man looked surprised for a second, “... Uh, nothing?”

“You literally just ran into me, buddy, somethin’s up. Are you alright? Is Kaminari alright?”

“We’re both fine!” Sero said hurriedly, looking back to the door, “Look, just follow me, I guess, I’ll tell you somewhere more private.”

Sero started off towards the door again, and Eijirou gave one last longing look at the basket of vegetables he’d been collecting to buy before leaving them behind to follow. Tamaki wouldn’t be too happy with him, but he could always stop by again tomorrow after work.

The streets were packed in the early evening light as people rushed to make their final purchases in the shopping district before sundown. Sero moved suspiciously fast, darting in and out of the crowds and looking around a couple of times as if he was making sure nobody was tailing him. Eijirou followed him all the way to the other side of town where he lived and watched him hurry up the front steps of his house, pulling the large, brass key to the front door out from under his shirt. Nothing looked out of the ordinary, the path outside was emptying as the sun set and nobody was even looking their way, but Sero still looked both ways before moving to unlock the door and pull Eijirou inside after him.

Inside, the lanterns were already lit, and Kaminari was cooking something in a pot over the fire, only looking up when they entered the room.

“Hanta, why are you so late? And- oh, Kiri! Hey! Did you come to eat with us?”

Before Eijirou could even think to respond, Sero distracted them both by pulling the drapes shut.

“Babe?” Kaminari said, the question clear in his voice. “What’s going on?”

Sero turned around, looking worried. “So. You know that royal maid I’ve seen leaving the city every week for years that I thought was weird, but you told me to just ignore because nothing good can come from the royals?”

Kaminari looked like he was caught in between exasperation and amusement, “Did you finally end up following her?”

Sero nodded, “and I saw something I shouldn’t have. Remember when Hagakure went missing a couple years ago? She told me she was going to try and follow her beforehand.”

“Wait, wait... what?” Eijirou but in, “You noticed somethin’ like that an’ didn’t say anythin’?”

“Kiri doesn’t even know?” Kaminari said, “You just dragged him here? Like that’s not suspicious at all!” 

“That’s not the point! I brought him because that stupid urban legend about the maiden in the tower? It’s true! I saw it!”

Eijirou was shocked. “Why didn’t you fuckin’ lead with that!”

“Because we were in public, dumbass!” Sero responded, incredulously, “Do you want the guards to hunt me down and throw me in jail?

Kaminari rose to his feet from where he was stirring the pot. “Ok, let’s all calm down. Babe, did anyone see you?”

“I don’t think so. The woman was alone, and I was already deeper in the forest than normal because I started some new herb growths a couple of months ago, and I just saw her, so I decided to follow.” Sero sat down at the table and pulled his pack from his back to start unloading what must have been some extra herbs, “I followed her into this clearing and there was this huge-ass tower wrapped in iron barbs! This woman was sitting in the window looking real fucking depressed and she helped the maid up with her hair. I left after that because I didn’t want to get caught.”

“... How did she get past th’ iron barbs?” Eijirou asked.

“She had some kind of magic, dude, I don’t know what to tell you. The metal just parted around her as the woman in the tower pulled her up.”

Kaminari asked Sero something else, but Eijirou was already deep in thought. He’d known that the stories had to have had some grain of truth to them, but for the royal family themselves to have been involved? That was a big issue right there. Sure, stealing the odd coin from them pissed them off some, but freeing someone they’d imprisoned so drastically? That was sure to land him a more severe punishment if he ever got caught. Because he would definitely have to try – the idea of someone trapped so thoroughly made his blood boil in ways he couldn’t even describe. He wondered how long she’d been trapped there; sure, Eijirou himself would have no issues bypassing the tower’s defences, he could just turn into a dragon and fly up, after all, but for a normal person? There would be no way they could hope to escape. He couldn’t just leave them there!

“... -ishima? Kiri? You can’t possibly be thinking of going out there!” Kaminari interrupted his train of thought.

 “Well, we can’t just leave her t’ th’ royals, can we? Who knows how long she’s been there?”

“Long enough for people to be imprisoned for finding out about her, apparently. Hagakure’s disappearance can’t be a coincidence!”

“Seriously, Kami?” Eijirou said, bewildered, “You would just leave someone out there trapped like that? Sero, will you at least show me where th’ tower was?”

“Hey!” Kaminari yelped, “I’m just trying to look after my own ass, the queen is fucking terrifying! And I don’t want either of you getting caught either!”

“Wow,” Sero said, deadpan, “glad I mean so much to you, darling. Look,” he turned to Eijirou, “I don’t want to get involved. I can draw you a map, but I don’t want to get caught. I know I won’t be able to stop you from running out there and searching yourself if I refuse to help, and I’d rather you not get arrested.”

Eijirou could feel the beginnings of excitement unravelling in his gut. “Really? You’d do that for me?”

“No need to bring out the puppy dog eyes, jeez man, but yeah, sure, as long as you promise you’ll be careful. Don’t get yourself caught over this; we’d miss you.”

“Really?” Kaminari said, “You’re going to help him? Kiri, you don’t even know this person! You could get caught and we’d never see you again!”

“Kami she’s been imprisoned by th’ Queen just like th’ rest of us, except she can’t even leave that tower! Of course, I’m goin’! You have t’ understand that, at least!”

Kaminari sighed moodily, a slight scowl on his face that lightened a bit when Sero reached for his hand. Eijirou pouted at him, and they stared at each other for a couple seconds before the blond groaned loudly, his forehead falling to the tabletop with a firm smack. 

 “Fine! Do whatever you want, see if I care! I can’t stay mad at you, holy shit!”

“Thanks, Kami.” Eijirou laughed, and Sero grinned.

“You know I’d go with you, but if anything happened to me, they’d most likely find out about Denki as well. Hey, maybe you should overthrow the Queen next and then we could finally live in peace for once!”

“Yeah!” Kaminari sat up quickly, raising the hand that wasn’t in Sero’s to pump the air, “Anarchy! Rebellion! Revolution!”

“Don’t let th’ Queen’s guards hear you sayin’ that,” Eijirou laughed, “But hell yeah! First stop, freein’ this person, next stop, freein’ th’ city!”

Sero snickered, “As much as I want to throw out some kind of supportive statement here, is something burning or is it just me?”

“Oh no!” Kaminari said loudly, dropping Sero’s hand. In his hurry to get out of his chair, he tripped over his own feet and fell to the floor, groaning in pain. “My stew!”

Eijirou laughed and got up to help him salvage dinner. He could hang out with friends now; planning could come later. The lady stuck in the tower surely wasn’t going anywhere.

 

----------

 

Why did everything have to happen on Katsuki’s birthdays? It was starting to become a day he dreaded, at this point. His latest escape attempt had ended in an explosion that had set fire to the linens and his kitchen table, and Alina had come a couple days earlier to drop off supplies to fix it, missing his birthday for the first time that he could remember. Not that he was complaining, he was planning on spending his twenty-first birthday fixing the mess, and it would be easier to move around in pants than it would the dress he would have to wear were she to still stop by.

He’d just finished cleaning up after the pancakes he’d made himself as a lonely, pathetic birthday breakfast that he’d had to eat on the kitchen floor and was just starting to work on building himself a new table when a huge, crimson scaled dragon flew in through the large open window of the main room. It landed in the middle of the room and began to glow with a faint aura, and Katsuki watched as it shrank quickly, its tail disappearing altogether until a normal enough looking boy with shockingly red hair, tan skin, and a huge number of freckles was left in front of him, crouching on the carpet. Katsuki was glad that he’d had the presence of mind to pull his hair back from his face earlier, because it definitely would have gotten in the way when he leapt at the boy, explosions blaring loudly all the while.

The boy looked stunned at the sight of him but still managed to shift the skin that Katsuki’s detonating hands landed on into thick, interlocking scales, protecting him from the heat and force of Katsuki’s magic. His red eyes – like Katsuki’s own – widened in confusion, and they stared at each other. Katsuki hadn’t seen a person other than Alina in over a decade and he didn’t know what to do, so he threw another punch. His explosions were bigger this time, and he watched as a couple ruby scales became dislodged from the boy’s arm, falling to the ground like bits of glinting glass. The boy roared out in pain and knocked him backwards with the force of something unhuman and he seemed to grow in front of him, shifting into a half-dragon form that left him with a smattering of ruby scales across his cheeks like freckles that reflected light. His fingernails grew into claws and his tail extended out behind him, and when Katsuki looked back to his face two large horns were extending out of his forehead, lengths of sharp, white bone that were covered in intricate patterns. Katsuki’s palms sparked with his nerves at his side, and he threw himself back at him, explosions blaring. He threw a couple more punches, all of them landing on hardened, red scales before the dragon-man got him off of his feet again with a swipe of his tail.

“Wait, stop!” the redhead cried out as Katsuki jumped back to his feet. “I’m not tryin’ t’ hurt you!”

Katsuki could feel something warm drip out of his nose, and red dripped on the floor in front of him, and his heart quickened with his anger. “Then what the fuck are you doing here? What the fuck do you want with me?”

“Nothin’!”

Bullshit!” Katsuki responded through gritted teeth.

“Okay, fine!” the redhead responded. He raised his hands in front of him in a sign of surrender and shifted until he looked fully human again. “I came here t’ help! I heard there was some woman stuck in a tower deep in th’ woods who needed help so I came t’ offer some! Being trapped sucks and I just wanted t’ free her.”

Katsuki approached slowly, hands still raised in front of him, prepared to fight again at any second if need be. “Are you telling the truth?”

“Yes, of course! Do you know where she is? Does she even need help? Do you need help?”

Katsuki paused for a moment, unsure of how to respond. “... I’m the girl.”

The redhead seemed caught off guard, then laughed, “You’re no girl, dude, obviously you’re not!

And... nobody had ever seen him that way before, not that there was anyone to see him like that, but... it was nice. It was nice to be seen the way he’d always wanted to be seen. He didn’t need pity or fake validation, but this guy seemed genuine enough for someone he’d just met. He was still smiling, although the grin had softened slightly, and Katsuki realized he’d gone red.

“... Fuck off.” He muttered, hands sparking up again. “How did you even get up here past the barbed wire, anyway?”

The redhead snickered, two large, veiny wings sprouting from his back, “Don’t exactly need t’ touch them when you can just fly right past ‘em! Now, would you like some help getting’ out of here? You can tell me your story on th’ road, an’ I can tell you mine!” The boy held out his hand, and Katsuki was struck by the fact that he didn’t even know his name.

But this... this could be his only chance at a real escape. He could finally feel the green grass beneath his feet again, could feel the breeze on his face, the sun on his skin, if he wanted to. And gods did he want to... it’d been so long since he’d felt anything other than stagnant air and the shade of the Tower. It’d been so, so long since he’d felt anything other than trapped and afraid and angry and sad and lonely. 

“Fine,” Katsuki scoffed lightly, “... but only because it’s convenient.” 

“Cool! I’m Eijirou Kirishima!”

“Katsuki Bakugou.”

Fuck, why were his birthdays always so fucking weird? He reached out and took the boy’s outstretched hand.

 

----------

 

Sure, Eijirou was used to people riding on his back in his dragon form, but normally that was Tamaki and normally they were in a much more severe situation. The flight with Bakugou was more of a joyride in comparison, especially with the way the blond was acting. If Eijirou hadn’t already believed him that he’d been locked in a tower for most of his life, the way he was whooping and hollering as the wind blew his extremely long hair out behind him definitely would have. He almost didn’t want to land, but he was already pushing it by flying so close to civilization. They could probably stop by the Honking Goose tavern and talk there. Lunch might do them both some good, and Eijirou was curious; what could someone like Bakugou have possibly done to have the Queen on his bad side? He seemed to be around Eijirou’s age, and he didn’t know that he wanted to find out just how long he’d been trapped in that tower.

Eijirou landed much closer to the Honking Goose than he should have, but when he transformed back to human and saw the wide red-cheeked grin that Bakugou had on his face, he couldn’t find it in himself to regret it. The man’s hair was a bit of a mess, and Eijirou had to help him pick some of it up so that it didn’t drag on the ground, but he didn’t mind. He wondered if it was some kind of spell that made it so long.

“I was thinkin’ we could grab some lunch an’ figure out what t’ do next,” Eijirou said, beginning to walk forward towards a small, stone path.

“... Sure.” Bakugou responded. He looked irritated when Eijirou looked back at him, and he wondered if that was just his base expression.

They walked in silence for a couple minutes, and Eijirou stewed in the awkwardness.

“So...” he finally began, “What did you do t’ piss off the royal family?”

Bakugou snorted. “Exist, apparently. I pissed off the Queen and she locked me away because she didn’t agree with my choices.”

“Must’a done somethin’ pretty big t’ of pushed the Queen that far,” Eijirou laughed, “Any clarification?”

“No.” the blond replied shortly, and his scowl deepened. Maybe he really had been irritated.

“That’s fair,” Eijirou said. He wanted to say something to try and get Bakugou to open up a bit more, but he could understand not wanting to trust him. Hell, he wouldn’t want to tell everyone his own life-story, he’d probably get arrested within the day! “I’m not a huge fan of th’ royals myself. The Queen’s not th’ warmest of rulers.”

Bakugou snickered, taking Eijirou by surprise. “I’ve been cut off from civilization for twelve years because of her and I’m not surprised. She always was a huge bitch.”

“I mean I completely agree, I remember when th’ princess went missin’. Not that I paid much attention at th’ time, you can’t afford t’ spend time takin’ in th’ hot gossip from th’ castle when you’re a kid tryin’ t’ survive on your own.” Eijirou frowned, “She never sent out any search parties for him, though, that much I can remember. It always seemed super cold t’ me.”

“Of course, she didn’t, she wouldn’t have cared enough to.” Bakugou glowered, unsurprised.

He spoke so familiarly about the Queen as if he’d known her personally, words full of spite and malice. It was perplexing.

Eijirou didn’t know if he trusted him yet.

They walked in silence for another ten minutes before the tavern came into view. It was a welcoming place, outside of the city limits but situated close enough to town that it was a well-known spot. A small, wooden structure with shutters with geese carved into them, and lovely flowerbeds full of pink and white flowers and bulbs in full bloom in the early spring soil. Bakugou turned his nose up at the flowers, cutesy heart-shaped paving stones, and pastel pink painted door as they neared the front of the building, and Eijirou paused.

Seriously, dude?”

“What?” Bakugou said gruffly.

Eijirou pouted. “Leave th’ décor alone, this place’s owned by a friend of mine and it’s the manliest place I know!”

“Manly?” Bakugou looked bewildered, “This is the girliest place I’ve ever fucking been! How is it in any way manly?”

“Manliness isn’t about gender!” Eijirou felt offended! “Manliness’s about livin’ a life without regret! And I would regret not enjoyin’ this place’s lovely atmosphere, thank you very much!”

Bakugou seemed to fold in on himself, and Eijirou wondered if he’d gone too far with the teasing. Was he mad? Was he about to blast him with another explosion? But then he heard the hitching breath and he realized. Bakugou was laughing.

“You-you’re ridiculous!” he snickered, ears red, and... and he was cute.

Eijirou felt his cheeks go as red as his scales. Fuck, now was definitely not the time. He turned away hastily and opened the door to the tavern leading the still snorting blond inside.

The inside was just as sugary as the outside, booths and tables made of dark wood with handmade rosy plaid cushions and matching curtains on the windows. The bar in the corner of the room was simple but clean with wood that Eijirou himself had helped varnish the same shade as the tables. The room wasn’t packed, it was too early in the day for that, but it definitely wasn’t empty either; about half the tables were full of patrons sitting around and enjoying lunch on their day off. And – oh – that reminded Eijirou.

“Hey, you’ve been stuck in that tower for a while, would you want to go t’ a festival tonight? Experience what the city has t’ offer before you take off?”

“I... don’t know.” Bakugou responded, “I’m worried about staying in the city too long. I don’t want to get caught.”

“Oh, c’mon, man! It’ll only be one night, an’ I’m very good at hidin’ in plain sight!” Eijirou smiled widely.

Bakugou scoffed, reaching up to ruffle bright red hair. “You? Hiding? I’d like to see that.”

“Hey!” Eijirou yelped, batting the hand away, “I’ll have you know that I’m an expert at stayin’ hidden. Plus, you could spend the rest of today figurin’ out where you’re gonna go from here! You can stay at my place tonight after the festival, it’s not too close t’ th’ castle!”

The blond seemed to ponder the offer for a couple minutes, and Eijirou tugged him over to a table. Might as well be comfortable, he had a feeling they might be there a while.

 

The booth Eijirou chose was in the corner farthest from the door, near the kitchen, and if he leaned over a certain way, he could see Uraraka cooking away and plating food. The clatter was loud but felt homey by now – he’d spent many a night in this tavern, so it almost felt like a second home. He was so distracted by trying to catch the cook’s eyes so that he could greet her, that the looming presence over their table shocked him when someone put a hand on his shoulder.

He jumped, just barely reigning in his claws as they started to lengthen on his fingers, looking up to see Mina, the dark-skinned, pink-haired barmaid standing over him, a hand placed carelessly on her hip. Her face was twisted into a playful smirk, and her amber eyes sparkled with mischief.

“Hey Eiji, who’s this handsome fella?” she crooned, looking over at Bakugou who was furiously shoving hair under the table.

Eijirou had to stop himself from laughing at the heavily concentrated look on the blond’s face. “He’s just a friend. Bakugou, this is Ashido Mina, she owns th’ place.”

Mina stuck out her hand, “Hey handsome, can I get you anything?”

Bakugou looked startled, and he tensed up immediately. “Fuck off!”

“Mina, why do you always insist on flirting with new customers!” Uraraka’s voice rang out from the kitchen, and when Eijirou looked over he could see her round face peeking out from the door frame. “I’m right here!”

“I know, I love you, sweetheart!” Mina responded, smiling sappily back at her.

Uraraka’s face went beet red, and she ducked back into the kitchen, “Fuck you!”

Bakugou hid a smirk behind his hand at the exchange that Eijirou was glad he hadn’t missed.

“So, can I get you boys anything?” Mina asked, turning back to the table. “Food-wise, we’re not serving drinks until later because of the festival and all. We need to save the booze for our booth tonight! Y’all should stop by!”

She winked at Eijirou, and he grinned back at her. “We’ll have t’ see, but some food sounds great! What have you guys got on th’ menu for today?”

“The usual, mostly, but ‘Chako’s been working on a meat pie that I would highly recommend, and we’ve got an extra couple loaves of sourdough this morning! How does that sound?”

“That sounds great, Mina, thanks.”

Mina pulled a small notebook out of an apron pocket and took a note down. “No prob, babe! Let me go get that warmed up for you and I’ll be right back!”

She turned to leave and Eijirou waved after her. “So, what are you thinkin’ about the festival?”

Bakugou shrugged, tucking a spare strand of long hair behind his ear, “Why not? Alina shouldn’t be back to find me missing until next week, anyway, so it should leave me with some extra time. What is the festival for?”

“Oh! I should’ve led with that!” Eijirou said excitedly, “It’s more patriotic than anythin’ else, which I would usually say ‘fuck that’ t’, but it’s th’ only day of th’ year that townsfolk are encouraged t’ close up shop and relax! There’re always booths in the city square an’ there’s dancin’ and singin’, and at th’ end of th’ night they light fireworks over the lake! It’s real pretty reflected off th’ water!”

“Hm...” Bakugou murmured. “I’d forgotten about that.”

The table went silent again, and Eijirou traced his fingers over a knot in the wood of the tabletop. He really didn’t want to pry, but Bakugou was making him so incredibly curious. Where had he come from? Obviously, the city itself, he knew too much about the Queen to have come from anywhere else. Then who was he? He held himself like a noble, all strong shoulders and straight, rigid posture, but his clothes looked like they were made out of fabric scraps, and he’d been locked in a tower. He seemed about Eijirou’s age, so what could he have done at nine or ten that would warrant the kind of imprisonment he’d been subjected to? He felt guilty, yearning for information yet unwilling to divulge his own.

The silence was awkward, though, and Eijirou really wanted to know more about the boy sitting in front of him.

“So... what do you think you’re gonna do now?”

Bakugou scowled at him. “Didn’t we just discuss this?”

“No, silly,” Eijirou laughed, “I mean what are you gonna do now that you’re free? Where’re you gonna go?”

“I don’t know, any more stupid questions?”

Eijirou paused. “Have you ever had a dream?”

“What?” the blond looked confused, “Never really had much time for dreaming, asshole. There was never much of a point before this morning.”

“Oh, c’mon!” Eijirou pushed, “There’s gotta be somethin’ you’ve always wanted t’ do!”

“I’m telling you; I really don’t know! What’s your fucking dream?”

“Hmm...” Eijirou thought for a moment, “I’d say I wanna see a world where we can all be free t’ be who we want and love who we want. One where the poor don’t stay poor because the rich’re selfish an’ don’t know when t’ stop takin’. One where nobody has t’ worry about whether or not they’ll have food on th’ table because th’ Queen taxes them so much. One where we’re all... free.”

Bakugou was quiet for a moment before he spoke up again. “That’s a pretty big dream.”

Eijirou felt embarrassed. “Yeah, I know, it’s a lot a’ hopeful thinkin’.”

“I wasn’t finished,” and Bakugou looked him in the eye, the red softening slightly, “I like your dream.”

Red... red to Eijirou was freedom. It was his scales, his fire, his dragon; and his dragon made him free. His dragon let him fly and escape with his stolen prizes, it was the one true part of himself that he could let go unrestricted whenever he shifted, and he always felt the most open with people when they knew about it. It was weird, with Bakugou; he’d already trusted him with his dragon, yet he hadn’t trusted him with the thief part, both of which were usually intertwined, but he found himself wanting the blond to know. He had never seen a red so vibrant outside of his own colourings before, but Bakugou’s eyes were deep and crimson as they stared back into his own, unflinching. He felt a slight rushing in his chest, a tightness that he couldn’t describe. He barely knew this guy, but he wanted to. Maybe it was because he’d been hearing about him for years through stories of travellers, but did that really matter? Maybe if tonight went well he might agree to stay. They could cut his hair and dye it or something, he could come back to Fat’s and work in the forge if he wanted to – he definitely had the stature for it. Maybe they could –

The kitchen door slammed open, and Mina rushed over to their table, breaking Eijirou out of his stupor. She slammed her hands down on the tabletop, more serious and panicked than the redhead had ever seen her.

“You need to go. Now.” She said quickly.

“Wait, what? Why?”

“Eiji... there’re some guards outside, they said they saw Red Riot land nearby with a rider, they said he shifted into a guy with red hair and a scar on his eye, you need to leave!”

Eijirou had never told her that it was him. He’d never told her about his dragon. Sure, he’d left money on her doorstep before, but she didn’t owe him this, didn’t owe him anything. Why was she warning him?

“Come on!” She grabbed his hand and reached for Bakugou’s wrist, “You too, handsome, you need to get out of here! Go out the front and make for the town; the guards’ll probably search the forest for the rest of the day and then it’ll be too crowded in the city during the festival for them to do much else. Get going!” She dragged them towards the front door, glaring at a couple at the bar who were staring at them suspiciously until they looked away.

Bakugou looked panicked, a hand already on the doorknob despite the armful of hair he was toting, but Eijirou stopped. “Mina-”

“Thank me later, you dumbass!” Mina whispered loudly, “Thank me by getting out of here and not getting caught!”

She shoved them out the front door and closed it behind them, and Bakugou grabbed his hand, yanking him forwards towards the woods. “Run, Shitty Scales, I’m not getting caught because you’re a fucking wanted criminal apparently!”

“Hey!” Eijirou yelped, just managing to leap over a tree root as they stumbled past the tree line, “I’m not a criminal, I jus’ return money t’ people who need it!”

“We can debate the logistics of your fucking morality when we get out of here, moron! I don’t know the way to the fucking city!”

“Oh, right. I’m guessing it’d be a bad idea for me t’ shift, right about now, ha.” Eijirou pulled his bandana from around his neck and fixed it over his hair. “How do I look?”

“Like a dumbass,” the blond answered, “now let’s fucking go already!”

 

 

They made it pretty fair; Eijirou was sure that the bandana had helped some, but two men running through the woods during a hunt for an infamous thief, one of which carrying an armful of long, blond hair, were in no way subtle. A small group of guards caught on to them pretty fast, and the only mercy Eijirou could find was that they didn’t have horses. Bakugou was surprisingly nimble for someone with so much hair that could have only been a ton of dead weight, but Eijirou wasn’t made for speed. He was big, years in front of a forge had made him so and normally it was an asset, but right then? It was a huge drawback. He found himself tripping over his own feet, and whenever he looked up Bakugou seemed to be getting further and further ahead. Finally, he looked up and the blond was gone altogether. He felt a lump in his throat. Bakugou didn’t owe it to him to help him, what if he had just ditched him then and there?

Eijirou took a left at a cliffside, hoping to make his way around it when he skidded to a stop. In front of him was a crested hill of muddy brown rock, too high up for him to consider climbing, and when Eijirou turned around to retrace his steps, he was faced with three heavily armoured guards blocking his exit. He scanned his surroundings quickly, looking for an escape path, but came up with nothing as they backed him further against the rock. He could shift – but he’d be huge, and he didn’t want to end up accidentally killing anyone, plus he’d be much easier to find. He couldn’t afford to lure all the other guards in the area there, not when Bakugou could still be around.

The guard on the left snickered. “Not such a big thief now, are you? Are you too scared to go monster, boy?”

“Just come with us and we’ll lock you up nice and tight like the monster you are!” The middle guard added, and the first guard laughed.

No matter what, he couldn’t go dragon, and he wished he carried a sword. But all he had was a small dagger hidden in his boot which he slowly reached down and pulled out. The guards just laughed.

“What are you gonna do with that, boy? Poke us?”

“This kid’s not a monster, he’d just a moron!”

There was a movement in the bushes behind them, and it drew Eijirou’s gaze to a string of golden hair hanging out of one of the trees above. He followed it up a bit and saw Bakugou, perched precariously on one of the sturdier branches, his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, and a thick lock of hair in his hands as if he was about to toss it. When he saw Eijirou watching he smirked and raised a finger to his lips, and Eijirou grinned. He could be a good distraction.

He moved his gaze back to the guards, smile widening into something fierce. “Oh, I’m a monster alright. You wanna know what I’m gonna do with your eyes after I kill you? I’ll pickle them with some beets an’ dillthey’re gonna be delicious!”

Bakugou rolled his eyes at him from where he sat still up in the tree, but the guard on the right was shaking slightly by the end of it, so he counted it as a win. The middle guard didn’t seem to have taken him as seriously, though. “Oh, calm down, Jerry, we’ve got him cornered, he’s just trying to scare us so that he can try and get to run away or catch us off guard.”

“Oh, am I now?” Eijirou asked, and when he looked up, Bakugou gave him a thumbs-up as he got ready to jump down.

Eijirou let his grin sharpen, and he started to shift; not enough that his size would increase all that much, but enough that crimson red scales dotted his exposed skin like armour, and his horns grew a good foot from his forehead. He bared his teeth in a roar, exposing rows of sharp fangs, and he heard blood rush in his ears.

Bakugou swung down from the trees by his hair, the end of which was wrapped around a branch somewhere high above while the guards were distracted, tongues of flame held in the hand that wasn’t hanging onto his makeshift rope. He swung directly into the guard on the right, feet hitting the side of his helmet and knocking him prone with a deafening clang, before letting the trajectory of his swing carry him up to a tree on the opposite side of the clearing. The other two turned around, shocked and confused at the sight of Jerry unconscious on the ground, and were distinctly unprepared for Bakugou’s second swing which took down a second guard and lit the third guard’s trousers on fire. Kiri let out another roar, hardening his forehead with more scales, and headbutted the third, watching him fall to the ground like a sack of potatoes.

Bakugou, surprisingly, dropped to the ground almost immediately after pulling his hair from the branches and began searching the guards’ pockets for valuables.

“I thought you were against th’ whole stealin’ thing?”

“It’s fine if it’s from assholes,” Bakugou looked up at him, smiling wickedly, “plus what I’m really against is getting caught.”

Eijirou felt himself swoon.

 

----------

 

Katsuki was buzzing with adrenaline after the fight, despite how fast and non-contact it had been. He’d never been able to actually fight someone before, other than when Kirishima had broken into the tower, so fighting and actually winning was exhilarating! And Kirishima, despite how dorky he was, was... nice. He felt sturdy and trustworthy, and even the fact that the fucker had roared as a distraction only led to endear him more to Katsuki. He seemed like a decent enough person as well, even with his criminal history, it just pointed him out to be someone who did what he believed to be right no matter what the law said. 

The guards were easy to sneak past, after that. They stopped trying to rush through the woods, instead sticking to the shadows and climbing trees when they needed to. The barkeep from the Honking Goose or whatever the fuck the tavern they’d stopped at earlier had been called, Mina? Pinky? Had been right. They didn’t see them as frequently the closer they got to the capital.

They’d been travelling for a couple of hours, a lot longer than it probably would have taken them had they been able to travel straight there from the tavern, and it was early afternoon when they reached the edge of the forest and the farmland that led up to the bridge that ran over the lake to the kingdom. Kirishima suggested stopping to rest for a while, something Katsuki was grateful for. Sure, he’d tried to keep in shape as best as possible in the Tower, but he definitely hadn’t had the space to run for long enough to work on his endurance. They walked off the main path for a bit, stopping just outside one of the farmers’ fields, far enough that they wouldn’t be spotted from the forest. Katsuki sat down on the green, spring grass, and took in the smell of hay and livestock. The sky was a vibrant blue around them, promising a clear view of the stars that night, and the colours of the surrounding area seemed much more saturated now that they weren’t hidden from the sunlight by a canopy of leaves.

“So... Red Riot?”

Kirishima blushed, and Katsuki tried not to think about how much he liked the colour against his skin. “I didn’t choose th’ name! I usually shift when I need t’ make a quick getaway! Up until now, all th’ guards had to go off of was my dragon!”

“So... Red Riot,” Katsuki smirked, and Kirishima put his red face in his hands.

“Yes, Red Riot!”

“Why?”

The redhead looked confused. “Why what?”

“Why the need for Red Riot?”

Kirishima smiled, forlornly. “I’m an orphan, I never knew my parents. I know what it’s like t’ have absolutely nothin’, an’ what it’s like t’ have no other choice than t’ steal t’ survive. The Queen sucks this city dry an’ as I got older I guess stealin’ just became a thing I did for th’ people around me.” He leaned back against the fence and looked over at Katsuki with warm carmine eyes. “Why should some homeless kids who nobody can afford t’ take in starve while th’ wealthy throw away their kitchen scraps ‘cause they can’t finish ‘em?”

Katsuki nodded quietly and thought back on his mother’s terms for the first time in months. He... he didn’t hate Kirishima. In fact, he didn’t mind him. But was that enough of a basis to ask him to come to the castle with him? Could Kirishima ever actually fall in love with him? It was a stupid question and one that would only needlessly raise his hopes, of course, it was a no. But the redhead might not have anywhere to go after today, the guards knew his identity. Maybe he wouldn’t mind pretending, and then Katsuki could let him go free and unpunished when he was crowned king. But if he brought him back to the castle, would Katsuki even be able to protect him from getting arrested? He shook the thoughts from his head, hopes like that would only make him feel worse. But there was nothing to stop him from wanting to talk now, Kirishima was the first person he’d spoken to other than Alina in twelve years. It must make sense for him to be feeling like clinging so much to him.

“I’m pretty much an orphan too, I guess,” he began, pulling a bit of hair from his bangs. He needed something for his hands to fiddle with, or he wasn’t sure he would be able to keep his cool. “At least, it’s how I would consider myself.”

“Oh?”

“My mother is a piece of work. She – she basically threw me to the Queen as soon as she asked. Nothing I ever did was good enough for her, so she threw me away, was probably happy to be rid of me. She hated me for things I could never hope to change. And my father was only ever scared of her from what I can remember. I don’t know that he ever wanted to challenge her, he definitely didn’t stop that hag from locking me up.” 

He looked over at Kirishima, and the redhead seemed sad. Katsuki looked back to his hands, fisted in his lap. “I mean, I’m better off without them, but being stuck in that Tower for years and years of my life sucked. Fuck them.”

Kirishima was silent for a moment. 

“Fuck ‘em!” He agreed, with a surprising amount of force.

Katsuki found himself genuinely laughing, and Kirishima beamed back at him with pink-tinged cheeks. “Well, at least now you never have t’ think about them again!”

“Yeah, you’re right.” Katsuki smiled, “... Thanks.”

Kirishima just grinned in response.

 

 

The walk to the city took them on a long, scenic stone bridge over the lake, leading from the banks of the water to the island the city rested upon. The last time Katsuki had seen it, it had been on horseback, the day his mother took him to the Tower. He could remember the moonlight glancing off the water, the clip-clop of the horse’s hooves underneath them, and the smell of his mother’s perfume like it was yesterday. Everything seemed different, now, though. The farmers’ fields stretched out a bit further than they had a decade earlier, and the city seemed darker, somehow, its colourful decorations missing and, in their place, the orange and green flags of the royal family. There were no flowers on the bridge and no hanging baskets on the torch posts, and the coloured chalk that used to line the stones of the bridge the closer they got to town were bare and grey.

The city was surprisingly unguarded as they approached the front gates, and Katsuki wondered just how big a deal Red Riot really was to have warranted such a response. He tried not to think about what that meant for Kirishima’s criminal status that even the front gates were left deserted in place of hunting him down, though the fact that the ‘victim’ of the situation was the Queen herself did make him feel a bit better about it. Kirishima was kind, after all, she was probably just pissed that he’d been running free for so long.

He hoped Alina wouldn’t think to check on him early with all of the chaos going on.

The city was huge, and Kirishima told him that it would be too busy to tour right then, something that Katsuki definitely should have been prepared for, but hadn’t thought of at all. The city was full of more people than he’d ever been around in his life, even before being cut off from the world. People roamed the streets in herds, and there were so many different conversations going on at once that he quickly grew overwhelmed and had to sit down only a couple minutes after entering the streets. His hair was a problem as well, and the glances it drew only served to make him uncomfortable and anxious. Kirishima tried his best to braid it back for him, but even then, it still dragged on the ground, a heavy weight on the back of his neck. 

Kirishima did still take him around a couple places though before the start of the festival, doing his best to keep to areas with fewer people. He took him to a bakery that made little cakes so perfect that Katsuki didn’t want to ruin them by eating them, but that tasted so good that the sweetness sat on his tongue for the hours following. They went to a library where there were more books than Katsuki had seen in over a decade on all different kinds of topics. He spent a good two hours leaning against a bookcase while Kirishima napped on his shoulder, books on cooking and magic and all the different things he’d wanted to be able to learn in-depth for years but had only been able to teach himself, splayed across the ground in front of him. Later, as the sun was beginning to set, Kirishima took him to the town square where booths were set up in mass, selling small trinkets and sticks of flavoured candy and spun sugar for the kids that dodged in and out of the crowds. 

There were booths with masks and small bottles of sparkling potions, and there was one set up at the end of the row that the redhead pulled him over to, worked by Pinky from The Honking Goose. She had a bright orange ribbon holding back her tight curls and was dipping a ladle in and out of a keg of a clear lavender liquid labelled ‘sparkling sweet wine’ that she handed out to patrons in small cups. Her dark skin shone with a layer of sweat in the warm afternoon light and she looked tired, but as soon as she saw Kirishima it was like she’d been struck with electricity.

“Eiji!” she shouted out joyfully, and the petite round-faced cook that Katsuki had seen earlier who he could only guess was her partner reached to laughingly hold her back. “You’re okay!”

“Shh! Not so loud, Mina!” Kirishima chuckled, dropping Katsuki’s arm as he approached. He bypassed the booth and pulled the woman into a tight one-armed hug, leaning down to whisper something in her ear.

Pinky swatted him in response. “Don’t be ridiculous, Eijirou! If anything, we owe you more, now!”

Kirishima sputtered and turned red, and Katsuki found himself holding back a smile. 

“Oh, Bakugou! It’s nice to see you, I like your braid! Do you think you’ll be sticking around the capital?” Pinky said.

Katsuki froze. He kept forgetting that people talking to him was a possibility, and every time someone new called out his name it took a couple seconds for him to remember how to speak. “I don’t fucking know,”

“Fair enough! Are you just passing through?”

Katsuki opened his mouth, unsure of how to respond when Kirishima set a hand on his shoulder. “Stop pickin’ at th’ poor guy! He’s still figurin’ stuff out. He’s just here to experience th’ festival!”

Katsuki relaxed a bit once Pinky’s eyes were off him, and back on Kirishima instead, and he watched as she childishly blew a raspberry at him. “Fine, fine, y’all’re no fun! Make sure you stop by the sparklers' cart before you head out!”

Kirishima laughed again, “Of course we’re gonna pick up some sparklers, who do you take me for?”

The sun was setting by the time they finished at Pinky’s cart, orange light dying the sky different shades of pink and purple, and people started to light hanging lanterns along the streets. Kirishima led him towards one last cart that had a sign with a hand-painted explosion on it, and the old man managing it handed the redhead a paper bag with two, thin sticks poking out of it. He smiled kindly at Katsuki as he followed Kirishima away, winking at him before he turned away, and Katsuki felt a shiver run down his spine.

Kirishima led him down to some docks off of the end of the street and stepped into one of the long, skinny, wooden boats that lined them. He held out his hand for Katsuki to take, but the blond hesitated.

“Why are we going in a boat?”

“You wanted t’ experience th’ festival, right?” Kirishima grinned excitedly, “Well this is th’ best way t’ do it!”

Katsuki eyed his hand, and Kirishima sighed. “Just trust me, alright? If you don’t like it, we can come back t’ shore an’ you can explode me t’ kingdom come.”

His red eyes were soft and warm. Katsuki took his outstretched hand and let him help him down into the boat. It rocked under his feet and he almost lost his balance and tumbled into the water, but Kirishima held tight onto his hand and held him steady until he sat down carefully on one of the seats. He then took an oar and rowed them out into the middle of the lake between the city and the surrounding shores, and stopped, letting them float there in the quiet. The sun had almost set completely, the sky nearly all dark blue, except for the little bit of pink and orange that still sat on the horizon. The colours painted the water in delicate hues, and along with the faint sounds of crickets chirping and frogs croaking from the shores, Katsuki felt the most at peace than he had in years. He closed his eyes and let himself drink in the calm.

Kirishima tapped on his arm, and when Katsuki opened his eyes again the redhead was holding out one of the sticks the old man had given to him. Katsuki took it, carefully, and watched as Kirishima struck it along a textured side of the bag like a match, and it went up in sparks, white like the stars that were beginning to appear in the sky. Katsuki jumped, eyes wide.

“Are these... ‘sparklers’?”

“You’ve never seen one before?” Kirishima tilted his head to the side.

Katsuki shook his head. His mother had always done her best to keep him inside the castle, even before getting fed up with him. He’d always been sent to bed early the night of the festival.

Kirishima looked at him, gently, and held out the bag. “Here, strike yours,”

Katsuki struck the end of the long stick against it and his went up too, a bunch of small explosions popping in front of his eyes. He held his hand up to it to try and feel its warmth and watched the sparks jump and sizzle like tiny shooting stars during a meteor shower. It was beautiful.

All too soon the light went out, leaving only the faint smell of smoke behind, and Kirishima snickered at him, before putting the stick... sparkler back in the bag. He held the bag out for Katsuki again, and he was just setting the stick in the bag when a large BOOM! sounded from the city, followed by a series of crackles that echoed off of the surrounding land. Katsuki flinched so violently that the boat rocked underneath him. He barely heard Kirishima when he said “Oh, th’ show’s startin’!” and he wrenched his gaze up to the night sky.

Colours; red, blue, green, pink, yellow, orange, every colour Katsuki could imagine, lit up the sky like flowers in bloom, shooting up from the ground and unfurling their petals into multicoloured sparks that fell back to earth like rain. They looked like they were made of magic, and as the sparks fell around them Katsuki reached out over the water to catch one in his hand. Its warmth tickled his palm before fading, and another boom echoed off the water, pulling Katsuki’s gaze back up from his palm. The next shower of sparks was turquoise and made his surroundings look as though they were submerged in water and the falling sparks turning orange as they fell, wiggling around like little koi fish swimming through the dark sky. One swam past their boat and landed in the water, swimming still deeper below its surface. 

The sky was dyed green after that, and smaller beams rose up in different colours like patches of wildflowers. White sparks fell slowly around him on a breeze he couldn’t feel like little bits of dandelion fuzz, and Katsuki looked over at Kirishima in amazement.

The redhead was already looking back at him, an expression so soft and open on his face that it made Katsuki’s heart stutter. The colourful light reflected off of his face like the paintings Katsuki had left behind on his walls back at the Tower, and his eyes sparkled like different coloured gemstones as the lights exploded around them. Kirishima took his hands and Katsuki let him, and the warmth that seeped into him from his touch was warmer than the magic that fell on his shoulders, like the soft breeze that blew dandelion seeds through the air below the Tower in the summer.

The redhead was... gorgeous. He was gorgeous and Katsuki’s heart felt like it was going to beat out of his chest. His hands were calloused and felt pleasant against his own, and he looked at him so tenderly. Katsuki felt himself leaning in as if Kirishima had a magnetic pull that he couldn’t break away from, and he saw ruby eyes flutter closed as he grew near. He could count the freckles on his cheeks if he wanted to, could trace the scar from his eyebrow to the side of his mouth. Could kiss him, if he wanted to, and he wasn’t sure that there had ever been anything that he wanted more. And then he remembered his mother’s quest.

He froze. It felt... wrong, somehow, to kiss him when he still hadn’t come clean about everything, about who he was, about why he’d been thrown away to rot in that Tower.

Katsuki made himself pull away from Kirishima’s warmth, slipping his hands from his grip and balling them into fists on his lap. He... he trusted Kirishima, for some reason. Kirishima was safe, Kirishima had given him an escape from his prison, he deserved to know his story. And if Kirishima didn’t want to come back to the Queen with him, that was fine, Katsuki wouldn’t go back either.

He could feel the redhead’s curious gaze on him.

“... I have something to tell you.”

Kirishima was understanding, just like Katsuki knew he would be, and he rowed them to the shore opposite the city, stopping to light a small campfire just off the beach to help them warm up as the night cooled the air around them. When he was done, he sat down beside Katsuki and leaned his back against a tree trunk. And Katsuki didn’t know what to say, so he started at the beginning.

He talked about his mother, talked about how nothing he did was ever good enough for her. How he tried so hard for years only to have her scorn him more when he discovered why he felt so uncomfortable in the dresses she forced him in. He spoke about the night she’d taken him, the empty Tower that had taken months to get used to. How he used to wake up from nightmares alone and shivering, with nobody there to calm him down but himself. He talked of Alina; the only person available to talk to him who seemed to hate him just as much as his mother. He recounted years of distracting himself and months where he couldn’t be bothered to try. He spoke about the years coming and going as if they were all stitched together into one long scarf instead of into several separate garments. 

And then he talked of his eighteenth birthday, three years ago, when Alina had told him of his mother’s terms for returning to the castle.

“I just want to be honest. You’ve been... kinder to me than I deserve, and you should know the truth. I know it’s a long shot, pretending to love someone, and you don’t have to do this, but we could make the kingdom fucking better, I know we could. Or I could make them let you go as soon as we got to the castle. You don’t even have to come back with me, I-”

“So, you’re th’ crown prince.” Kirishima cut him off, and his voice sounded off.

“Yes, I am.”

The redhead put his head in his hands. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I-” Katsuki sputtered, “I didn’t know if I could trust you!”

“So, it was just super convenient, then, when I showed up? Just thought ‘Oh, I’ll get this guy t’ fall for me and there’s my ticket home’?”

Oh. A wave of cold dread rushed through Katsuki as if Kirishima had just dropped a bucket of ice-cold water on him. No, he couldn’t be all alone again, he’d been alone for so long! It’d only been that morning that he’d finally known what it was like to just converse with someone else, he didn’t know what he’d do if he was left all alone again! Was he so awful a person that he hurt those around him without even meaning to?

“No, I swear, that’s not it at all!”

Kirishima picked himself up off of the ground slowly. “Well then what is it? I should’ve known, t’ be honest, royals’re never good for anythin’ an’ they ruin everything they’re involved in. I should’ve left as soon as I got you t’ th’ tavern.”

Why was he so fucking bad at this? Katsuki could feel his eyes watering as he scrambled to his feet, “No, Kirishima, wait-

“Don’t follow me.” The redhead responded; expression hidden in shadow. His red eyes glinted in the firelight, but it wasn’t enough to tell what he was feeling. “Just go back t’ your tower, it’d be better for everyone that way.”

The words felt like a bruising fist to the gut, and Katsuki was so taken aback that all he could do was watch Kirishima walk away until his back was swallowed up by shadow. A tear trickled down his cheek, and then another, and then another, until he was back on the ground by the fire, silent tears falling down his face like the sparks had fallen from the sky not an hour before. His chest felt tight and heavy; his mother had been right to lock him up. She’d been so right about him that it hurt, he was a shitty person and he couldn’t even control himself well enough to stop from hurting anyone. Maybe... maybe it would have been better for him to stay in the Tower where he couldn’t hurt anyone else.

 

He didn’t know how long he’d sat there, sobbing quietly by the shore, but after a while there was someone at his side, rubbing his back. He looked up and... he didn’t know how, but there was Alina, her dark hair fading into the shadow around her. Her expression was blank, and her hand on his back was stiff, but it was more comfort than she’d ever shown him, so Katsuki relaxed into her touch, a few more tears leaking out of the corner of his eyes.

“Do you finally understand?” she asked, and yes, Katsuki thought he did.

He nodded and tried in vain to wipe the tears from his cheeks, but more just took their place.

Alina rose to her feet, dusted off her skirt, and waited for Katsuki to follow suit, before turning and walking back into the woods. 

Katsuki took one final, longing glance back at the city, the firelight from its many torches casting jewel-like reflections into the lake, before turning around, and following her into the shadows.

 

----------

 

It was late by the time Eijirou got home. He hadn’t felt all that hurried when it came to returning, so what should have been a forty-minute walk back around the lake and into the city turned into a couple of hours. He still couldn’t believe it; sure, he didn’t know the guy too well, had only met him that morning, but they had seemed to click in a way he never had with anyone before. Bakugou had understood his drive and hadn’t criticized his need to always be moving. He hadn’t just understood, he’d agreed with him. Had all that just been a ploy to get back home? Were all royalty the same? Sure, the Queen was probably the only person Bakugou had ever known, he probably wouldn’t know what to do or where to go if not to her, but still, had he been trying to string him on in hopes that he’d be able to trick him in getting back in his mother’s good books? Sure, bring in the big bad criminal, mom would probably love that to bits. The Queen would never let him go free, Bakugou had to know that. 

But he’d seemed so open... so honest. It’d been fast, probably too fast, but Eijirou could have sworn that the blond had been about to kiss him while they were still out on the lake. Maybe it was just his own wishful thinking, he wouldn’t have been surprised. Bakugou had looked ethereal bathed in the multicoloured light of the fireworks show. He’d gotten so close that Kirishima had been able to see his pale eyelashes, like dandelion fluff, like the white sparks that had fallen into the water surrounding them. He’d had a small beauty mark on his left cheek, right on the curve of his cheekbone, and his eyes had been open in wonder. It hadn’t been an expression he’d ever thought he would experience on someone like Bakugou’s face, but there it had been, brows smooth and mouth agape as he stared into the sky with red eyes that gleamed with every new firework. If it had all been a show, why did he feel like there was something Eijirou was missing?

He arrived back to his and Tamaki’s place close to what he could only guess was midnight and was surprised to find his timid roommate still awake. They didn’t speak much more than a greeting, and Kirishima walked straight into his room to set down his bag and stuff, collapsing immediately onto his bed without even lighting the candle on his dresser. He was tired and emotionally exhausted, he could deal with the ramifications of getting caught and his identity figured out tomorrow morning; maybe he could dye his hair or cover his scar up somehow or some shit, he was too tired to think about it too deeply.

He must have dozed off because he was startled awake later to the sound of Tamaki calling out his name from outside his door. He sighed heavily, grumbling a bit to himself as he forced himself to his feet, only realizing he’d slept in his shoes when his feet met the floor. He stretched briefly and yawned, before sleepily stumbling to the door and opening it wide.

“What’s up?”

“Uhh, Ei?” Came Tamaki’s voice. His tone lit up all of the sirens in Eijirou’s mind, and all the weariness immediately vanished from his limbs. His gaze snapped up.

Standing in their sitting room was the Queen in a long, shimmering crimson cloak made out of a material so slick that it looked like blood pooling around her body, bits of gold embroidery glinting in the low light. She was flanked by two guards, their figures tall and daunting.

The guard on the left spoke up first. “Kirishima Eijirou, by order of the Queen, you are under arrest for robbery, and aiding and abetting.”

Aiding and abetting... did they know he freed Bakugou? Panic and worry filled his lungs, and he couldn’t stop the shift of scales over his skin. He had to find him, had to check that he was alright! But one of the guards came at him, sword clanging against the scales lining his side, and he couldn’t find an opening to run. He ducked under the second guard’s sword and attempted to spit a stream of flame at his weapon when the Queen suddenly waved a hand from under her cloak, the fabric rippling around the movement of her arm in a waterfall of blood. Immediately, Eijirou felt his limbs seize up, and a guard was forcing cuffs on his wrists that pushed his scales deep under his skin, so deep that they wouldn’t rise to the surface no matter how hard he called them. He attempted to spit flame but only smoke rose in his lungs, and the resounding roar he would have made sounded more like a strangled yell.

The guards made quick work of restraining him while the Queen kept him frozen, and when they were finished, she strode forward. Her eyes, though similar to Bakugou’s, were freezing cold and held no warmth. Her hair was the same blonde, her chin the same, pointed shape, and when she reached where he sat, restrained and nearly snarling on the ground, she took one of his fingers and tilted Eijirou’s face up to meet her eyes.

“I do have much to thank you for, however this looks,” she crooned, “such as breaking my daughter’s heart, for example. I’m sure she’ll be much easier for me to deal with now.” 

Eijirou growled. “Your son is stronger than you give him credit for, dealin’ with you. He’s stronger than you’ll ever be!” He felt so angry at this woman, he couldn’t help but spit at her.

The room was silent at that, and Eijirou knew somehow that he’d gone too far. The Queen smiled venomously, using her cloak to wipe her cheek, before turning to the guards. “Rough him up a bit before you bring him in, won’t you?” Then she blew a kiss and left the house, blood-red cloak curling out behind her.

Somewhere, Tamaki was yelling, but Eijirou didn’t stay conscious for too long after the first kick.

 

 

The ground was cold and hard beneath him, and his legs and arms were chained to the wall. Normally, he might be confused waking up in such a different place, but he didn’t think that anything could distract him from the rising panic in his chest. Bakugou was out there somewhere upset and alone because he’d been too blinded by his loathing for the monarchy to actually listen to him, and he was stuck in jail with no plan for escape. He was imprisoned for crimes that yes, technically he did commit, but they shouldn’t have been considered crimes in the first place! Freeing someone who was wrongfully imprisoned? Taking money from people who stole from the poor and giving it to people who had none? Maybe he should’ve just gone along with Bakugou’s plan, they could have overthrown the Queen together, Eijirou sure had the support for that. But now he would be surprised if he was given enough time to even come up with an escape plan; if they weren’t scheduling to execute him today, he would be shocked.

He tried to sit up straight so that he could work out the kinks in his back, but the cuffs chaffed his wrists painfully and he resigned himself to the cold floor and back issues if he lived longer than the next 12 hours. From the window, in his cell, he could see the sky growing lighter as the sun rose in the sky, and he counted the minutes as they passed to try and distract himself from his approaching execution. As he stared at the small square of blue in the corner of his cell, he couldn’t help but wish that he could have flown just one more time. His ribs ached from the beating he’d been given the night before, but his chest still felt tight with the yearning to feel the wind beneath his wings. He wouldn’t feel that again, not now.

What felt like hours passed brutally slowly, and Eijirou watched the sun rise in the sky until he couldn’t see it through his window anymore. He wondered what was taking the guards so long, they should really just get this over with. Leaving him to his own devices for so long was just plain stupid. 

“Hey!” Eijirou called out, fed up and tired, “Are we gonna head out anytime soon? I’m gettin’ bored in here!”

There was complete silence for a moment, other than the grumbling of some guy in the cell across from his, but then there was a loud clang and a helmet came skidding across the floor in front of the bars. It went quiet again, until another bang sounded from down the hall and a yelp, before what sounded like a body hitting the floor. Then,

“Kiri? Is that you?”

Eijirou could’ve sobbed. “Kaminari! Over here!”

Kaminari came into view, then Sero and Mina, and Eijirou would’ve been lying had he said he wasn’t tearing up at least a little.

“Oh buddy,” Sero said empathetically, “are you doing alright?”

“What does it look like, Sero?” Eijirou laughed, sniffling back tears.

Mina smirked, “Ok, crybaby, just a sec and we’ll get you out of there.”

She held the lock on the door in her hand for a second, and Eijirou watched from the floor as it melted in her hand and dropped to the floor, and the door swung open with a loud creak. The three rushed over to Eijirou at once, and Mina went straight to the cuffs on his wrists and ankles while Kaminari and Sero looked over his injuries.

“We have to be quick, Tamaki’s holding off a couple guards where we came in, if we hurry, we can go help him and get out of here and you can go rescue your prince.” Kaminari teased.

“Who told you about that?” Eijirou yelped, and Kaminari just smirked.

“You did, just now!”

“Hey!”

Mina finished with the cuffs and put a finger to her lips. “Shut up, you two! How does that feel now? Can you shift?”

Eijirou breathed in, letting the scales bead on his skin like droplets of water, and puffed some smoke out of his nose before slamming his fists together, a wide smile growing on his face. “Red Riot’s back in business!”.

The exhilaration he felt when he shifted again was like nothing he’d ever experienced. The path that Sero, Mina, and Kaminari had taken into the dungeons was surprisingly clear, and they found Tamaki easy enough, waiting for them by a side door to the castle, a couple of unconscious guards lying around him. Getting out of the castle grounds was a different matter entirely, however. The prison bells clanged noisily only minutes after they’d escaped the dungeons, and guards were pouring out of the castle. It was close, but they made it out of the main gates into the full chaos of the city square, cutting themselves off from the guards, but getting lost in the crowds themselves.

“Go!” Mina shouted over the noise, “Turn dragon and go!”

“But they’ll see!”

“WHO CARES? It’s too late to hide it now, just fucking go, Eijirou!”

He met her eyes in the middle of the crowd, amber and bright. She smiled, exposing some sharp canines, and just for a second her face took on a vaguely draconic look, bits of pink tourmaline-like scales dotting her cheeks, and the whites of her eyes darkened to black which her amber irises seemed to glow faintly against. 

“We’ll be fine,” she said, “Go get your boy!”

And then it was like she’d never been anything but normal, she was just Mina smirking at him mischievously, the woman he’d known ever since she’d moved to the city. He turned away from her and jumped, great wings sprouting from his back and sending him higher, away from the ground, shifting completely before he hit the city skyline. He could hear the sudden silence from the townsfolk as he made his escape and he tried to shove it out of his mind, but the sudden applause was much more surprising, and when he looked down citizens were whooping and hollering as he flew past. He shoved down the relief and embarrassment and pressed on, towards the tower, where he had a good idea that Bakugou would be waiting. The flight felt longer than it had before, though maybe that was just the urgency that was crushing his lungs. His wings ached something fierce from both the night before and from sleeping in such a weird position in the cell he’d been locked in, but he pushed them hard. He could feel the pain pulsing beneath his scales where he knew he would be aching tomorrow, but he had to get to the tower before the Queen had time to ride there. He had to get Bakugou out. 

Finally, after what felt like forever, he reached the circling cliffs and the jagged, violent looking tower. He was so close he could taste it, and as he angled himself towards the window, letting his wings fan out in all their bulk behind him to catch the wind, he felt himself relax a little. The tower was silent, and the barbed wire was still there, wrapped tightly around the brick, like artificial rose vines. The Queen hadn’t arrived yet.

And then he slammed into something so hard that it knocked the breath from his body and sent him sprawling through the air. He barely had the presence of mind to extend his wings enough to send him circling down to the earth rather than plummeting, though the force of his impact still sent him rolling a good hundred metres. He lied there on his back, crushing his own wings as he tried to catch his breath. His body felt like one big bruise, his joints ached, his ribcage felt like it was pinching his lungs. But he made himself get slowly to his feet and started to shift. He barely had the energy to pull himself into a shape vaguely human before the pain was too much again and he had to sit there for a couple minutes and remind himself to breathe.

He looked up to Bakugou’s window, normal as it had ever been. So, an invisible forcefield? This was feeling more and more like one of Sero’s favourite fairy tales. He slowly, gingerly pulled himself to his feet and looked at the wall. Bricks stuck out like natural footholds, but the thick bramble of metal thorns stuck out of every single crevice. It was a good thing he hadn’t shifted fully back to his human form, he probably wouldn’t have been able to sustain the scales on targeted parts of his body for too long right then, and he didn’t want to know what falling without his wings to catch him would feel like.

The barbed wire was sharp and painful to the touch despite his thick scales, seeming to pierce in between them as he climbed when he wasn’t careful enough, and soon Eijirou’s hands were slick. He gripped onto the bricks with his claws and kept his wings out wide behind him in case he slipped. His body protested every step of the way, but he kept going. It was agonizing, but every time he looked up and saw the window ledge getting closer, it filled him with a bit more energy to continue on.

Eventually, he made it to the top, pulling himself over the ledge and into the wide, circular main room he’d first locked eyes with Bakugou in, just over a day earlier. He fell onto the carpet, any grace he’d had the first time severely lacking, and he was sure he was staining the lovely patterned carpet. He let himself lie there for a couple minutes. Just until the world stopped spinning, then he needed to get a move on.

 

----------

 

“You made the right choice,” was all Alina said before she left him alone again in the Tower.

And yeah, he thought that he did. He kept himself blank as he lay himself down in bed, carefully blank as he stayed there, stone-still, for hours into the night. Carefully blank, because if he let himself feel anything too much, he would come crashing down and he wasn’t sure he’d ever be able to pick himself up again. The anger he’d been feeling for years was still there, the anger he’d felt at his mother for locking her only child away, the anger he felt at Alina for treating him as she did, but it was all inflected inwards now. He was angry at himself; angry he couldn’t change. Angry that his one chance to prove otherwise had ended in Kirishima, the kindest person he’d ever encountered, basically telling him that it would have been better had they never met.

So, it was better that he kept himself blank.

The night passed in a stream of grey, as the moonlight from the windows made its way around his bedroom before leaving it enveloped in shadow, and he barely moved. Even as the room started to fill with grey morning light from the cloudy sky above, he lied there, unable to make himself get up.

The thump from the main room was the first time he’d let himself become fully aware of his surroundings since stumbling back into the Tower the night before. And despite the fact that she had no way up to the Tower without his hair, he couldn’t think it to be anyone but Alina. He should have known better than to think that she would let an entire week go by without checking in on him again, not after his stunt the day before. He pushed himself out of bed on autopilot, if he didn’t get up now it would only be worse for him later; the stout maid could be extremely vicious when she caught him wasting time laying around. As if he had anything to do but waste time in the Tower.

He left the bedroom, still bleary-eyed, freezing by the door when he Kirishima, a pool of vibrant colour in the gray that Katsuki had locked himself in, lying face down on the carpet. He looked monstrous; halfway shifted between his human and dragon forms, and what little skin Katsuki could see in between his scales was bruised purple and bloody. His clothes were a ragged mess, tatters of fabric just barely hanging off of his body, and the scales that covered his hands and feet were crusted with blood that oozed out from beneath his scales.

“Kirishima?”

The half-dragon groaned from the floor, and Katsuki rushed forward, grabbing a loose spool of fabric from a chair as he did so.

“Oh, my gods, what the fuck are you doing here?” He spat out, as he tore pieces of fabric from the spool to wrap around the redhead’s hands. He kneeled down in front of him and his hands shook slightly as he attempted to knot off the end of the fabric. “Are you fucking stupid? You need to leave before Alina comes back! Why did you come back, dumbass?”

Kirishima looked like he was about to pass out, but he still smiled woozily. “I’m here t’ break you out of this place!”

Katsuki sat back on his legs. The world already greying again. “Why would you want to do that? I hurt you and I hurt everyone I touch, apparently. It’s better if I just stay here.”

“Bakugou, I misunderstood you. I just, I’ve hated th’ royals for so long, an’ when you told me you are one? It just made me weary. It wasn’t fair t’ you an’ it wasn’t your fault I pushed you away like that!” Kirishima sat up and looked Katsuki in the eye. “And who cares about everyone else, what about you? You don’t deserve t’ be locked up here just ‘cause you’re not perfect, nobody is! Please just come with me.”

And he held out his hand as he had the first time he’d offered to take him away, as he had when he’d helped him into the boat before the festival. And before he could think twice, Katsuki’s hand was moving to take it. He could feel his eyes watering pre-emptively; all of a sudden, the thought of staying in the Tower for the rest of his life seemed so much worse than anything else he could have ever imagined. He didn’t want to be alone anymore. His fingertips touched Kirishima’s hand, and he let out a small sigh of relief, the first tears dripping from his eyes.

“Oh, how touching,” Alina said, from where she was perched daintily on the window ledge, her apron white and pristine against her dark green dress. Katsuki felt dread open up like a pit in his stomach, and he watched as her features melted away until the person that was left looked so much like him that it was like looking into a mirror.

His mother’s voice crooned, smooth as honey, and though she had a few more wrinkles than she had twelve years ago, she still looked surprisingly youthful. Her cloak was a rippling blood red that brought out her eyes, Katsuki’s eyes perfectly. Her hard, stern stare was virtually unchanged, though, and the way she watched Katsuki made him feel like a kid again like he’d done something particularly unpleasant that she was about to rectify by sending him to his room again without dinner.

“It’s touching, but don’t be stupid, darling. This man is a common thief and a criminal. He’s stolen so much from me, and he’s just trying to get a pretty little wife and marry into the royal family now too.” The Queen picked at her nails, then turned her critical gaze back on her son. “Honestly, I thought you’d have learned your lesson by now, you did get some intelligence from me; I was never going to take you back, that was supposed to be an impossible term to meet. You would have made a terrible queen.”

Katsuki looked to Kirishima, then back to the Queen. He was stupid, so stupid to even hope that he would ever be free of her. Then there was something landing in his lap.

“You’re not hers t’ control, you’re your own person! Stop lettin’ her hold you back!” Kirishima said, and when Katsuki looked down to see what he’d tossed him, his dagger was lying there, the same one he’d used to threaten the royal guards. The Queen waved her hand and Kirishima was forced to the ground again, a choked noise forcing its way out of his throat as his head hit the ground. But he still met his eyes with an intensity he should have been too tired to muster, and Katsuki picked up the dagger and raised it.

“Don’t you dare-” the Queen snarled, but she was too late. The dagger was sharp enough to pass through his hair like it was nothing, and the sudden weightlessness was like nothing he had ever felt.

It felt like he was finally cutting himself free of her control, the lightness felt like newfound freedom. It felt like he’d broken something magical, something that had had a hold over him for years. And then the Tower was crumbling around them as if it was made of sand, and the Queen’s angry yell sounded through the room. She lunged at Katsuki, fingernails sharp, dark red cape rippling out behind her like a sick, rushing stream of blood, and he didn’t have the time to think, he just threw. The knife seemed to travel in slow motion through the air, twisting as it flew, and the handle hit her square in the temple.

The Queen, elegant as she may have been, went down like a ragdoll. The tower gave a harsh rumble and she fell backwards, tripped over the window frame, and fell, and Katsuki watched her in complete and utter shock. The tower shook beneath their feet again and Kirishima finally got to his feet, letting his wings extended from his back.

“Bakugou, c’mon, take my hand!”

Katsuki was frozen. His mother had just fallen from the window. His mother had just fallen from the window, and it was all his fault.

“We need t’ get going or we’re gonna get crushed!”

All Katsuki could do was stare at him. The bright red hair, the thick, carved horns that rose from his hairline, his sharp teeth, as he stood there, growing increasingly panicked. But Katsuki couldn’t move.

Katsuki!”

It was his name that awakened something in him. It wasn’t the feminine name his mother had picked for him at birth, it was the name he had chosen himself, the name he had found in one of the history novels kept in the Tower. It was the name of a fearsome warlord, the name he had taken for himself because it made him feel strong and powerful, it made him feel the way he wanted to be one day.

He reached out and took his hand.

 

 

Kirishima seemed almost at his limit when they landed in the city square, and the market went silent, clearing space for him. He walked forwards, wings folding up on either side of Katsuki’s legs, to the castle’s front gates, before finally coming to a stop.

Katsuki stared unwaveringly down at the guards whose spears were pointing straight at them, their sharp tips trembling. “Take us to the King.”

One of the guards, the shorter of the two, let out a noise that Katsuki guessed was supposed to be a laugh but sounded like a yelp. “You can’t honestly expect us to bring a dragon straight to the King, especially not when it’s a criminal like Red Riot!”

Katsuki held the guard’s eye and patted Kirishima’s head between his horns before sliding off of his back. Kirishima shifted then, with what was probably the last of his energy, and he leaned against Katsuki’s side like it was the only thing stopping him from falling to the ground. Hopefully... hopefully, if they could get this sorted out quickly then he could get the help and rest that he deserved.

“Well now, he’s not a dragon anymore, is he? Listen to me closely,” Katsuki lit his hand aflame and let his anger fuel it, let it drip down his arm until beads of flame fell to the stone beneath him like water, “Neither of us will cause you any trouble if you play nice and take us to see your fucking King,” 

The guards looked at each other, “Fine,” the second spoke, “but any funny business, and-”

“And we’ll decimate you ourselves.” Katsuki spat, “Lead on, assholes.”

Katsuki put out his flames and took Kirishima’s hand and the crowd parted to let them pass. They followed the guards through the gates and into the castle grounds, through the central complex and into the castle itself. Katsuki barely took in any of it, he was set on seeing his father and getting Kirishima somewhere to rest. The guards led them up a flight of green carpeted steps to a set of tall, wooden doors that opened into a large space. Columns lined the carpeted path up to a raised platform at the end of the room which held two thrones lined with orange and black cushions. The room was bustling with servants, and Katsuki could see the King talking to one of them. Katsuki instantly pulled Kirishima past the guards, much to their frustration, towards the King, desperation to get everything over with growing in his lungs, all-consuming.

The King and his attendant turned as they approached, and Katsuki stopped in his footsteps. He could hear the guards behind him bowing in greeting, but Katsuki couldn’t bring himself to move, and Kirishima stayed a constant at his side. He could only think of how stupid he was about to sound to every single person in his room and he wouldn’t blame them; it had been a young, proper princess that had gone missing all those years ago, and it was a dirt-covered man in ragged clothing with a different name who returned. All he could hope for was that the King would recognize him.

“Father,”

The man stared at him, eyes wide for a moment, and Katsuki felt the unease pooling in his lungs, before suddenly running at him, and there were arms around him in the middle of the throne room. Katsuki gripped Kirishima’s hand like a lifeline through it all, too uncomfortable with the sudden contact to do anything else. And then it got a thousand times worse when the man started sobbing.

“Where have you been?”

It was beginning to grow tiring to do, but Katsuki recounted everything; from the night the Queen had stolen him away in the dark, to his escape attempts, to Kirishima finding him in the Tower and setting him free. He left out most of their day together, but he did tell him about the Queen’s fall. It was hard and he tried to be as fast as possible, but it didn’t spare the King’s tears, and he was beginning to soak through what was left of Katsuki’s shirt.

He pulled away, finally, after he finished talking, and looked him in the eye. “I’ve missed you, my son.”

 

Thankfully, the King seemed to understand just how weary he was, and he arranged for both his old room and a new room to be cleaned up for Kirishima, should he choose to stay. The boys were rushed through baths and a doctor was sent for to attend to Kirishima’s wounds, and they were both given sets of clean clothes to replace their old ones. The clothes were nothing like the dresses that his mother had never taken his complaints about but were good and sturdy while still being the most comfortable things he’d ever worn. The shirt was soft and felt light against his skin, loose and airy where his old clothes had been tight and unyielding.

He and Kirishima met on a flat section of roof on top of the vast castle complex sometime later, after the redhead’s wounds had been wrapped and treated with enough poultice to make him smell like a walking herb garden. The sun was setting again, and unlike the night before the sky was full of gentle pastels instead of saturated, colourful hues. The city was beginning to fall asleep for the night as the people returned home after another day of work, and the lanterns began to light up the streets like fireflies. It was peaceful and calm, and there was no sense of expectation or urgency to the careful quiet that Katsuki felt.

Katsuki turned to look at Kirishima, and they both started speaking at the same time “So, I was thinking-” “Hey-”

They both stopped, and the redhead laughed. “You first.”

Bakugou snickered. “I was thinking, and you definitely don’t have to stay if you don’t want to, but if you did want to, would you want to help me?”

Kirishima tilted his head, “Help you with what?”

“My father’s stepping down,” Katsuki began, “he told me he’s unfit to be king, that my mother’s reign taught him that. He asked me if I wanted to take over, but I know nothing about this kingdom, nor the people who live here, and I just thought that. You do, and well. You know better than most what these people have struggled with because you’ve struggled with it too.”

He paused for a second to clear his throat.

“He told me that if I wanted to leave that he would appoint another, that I have no obligation to even stay in the city after what the Queen did. But I think... I think that if you were here with me, we might be able to fix this place the right way.”

Kirishima smiled. “Are you already asking me t’ marry you or somethin’, my prince?”

Katsuki instantly became a blushing, sputtering mess. “Fuck no, It’s way too soon for that! Not that I don’t-” he stopped himself and took a second to try and slow the sudden racing of his heart, though his cheeks remained a violent red. “No,” he said finally, before finishing his sentence under his breath, “though I wouldn’t be opposed to courting you.”

The redhead’s amused smile quickly morphed into a smirk. “What was that, my prince?”

“Stop fucking calling me that!” Katsuki tried not to laugh. “You heard me perfectly fine, fucker!”

“Maybe I wouldn’t mind hearing it again, my prince.”

Katsuki punched him lightly in the arm, and suddenly they were wrestling, both with each other, and with gravity as they attempted to keep from falling off of the roof, and Kirishima was laughing his gorgeous laugh that turned his face golden. Eventually, Katsuki was able to pin both of his hands above his head, and they stared at each other, red-faced and silent. Their faces were so close that it was sobering, and Katsuki grew suddenly serious before backing off entirely.

“I don’t know you well enough to be asking all of this of you, but I want to get to know you if you wouldn’t mind.”

Kirishima was visibly swooning, and Katsuki only blushed harder. Why did he have to be so ridiculous? “Wow, such a gentleman! Just come over here an’ kiss me, why don’t you?”

“How can you just say things like that?” Katsuki protested, but he leaned over anyway, heart thumping in his chest.

Kirishima put a hand on his arm and pulled him in, and when their lips met Katsuki’s eyes fluttered closed. The redhead’s hands were large and warm when they moved up to cup his face, and his calloused fingers felt good on his cheeks. His lips were soft, so soft against his, and when he deepened the kiss, Katsuki could only let him. He felt warm in a way that Katsuki hadn’t felt in so long, a connection that he’d never had before. They drew apart for breath and came together again, and again, and after the fourth kiss Katsuki pulled back just enough to feel Kirishima’s breath on his lips. He leaned his forehead against his and opened his eyes to see red already looking back at him, rubies that sparkled like topaz in the setting sun.

“Your answer?” Katsuki asked, a puff of air against his cheek.

Kirishima kissed him breathless again, before pulling back, a lazy smile on his lips. “I’d love t’ stick around an’ get t’ know you as well, Katsuki.”