Ever since your surprise field trip to a villain lair, you’d taken to keeping one of Hawks’s feathers on a necklace under your clothes. One of your sidekicks had asked about it once, but you’d laughed and said it was a fun piece of merch to support another pro hero. Keigo didn’t usually move the feather at all—it was more a way for the two of you to reassure yourselves that the other was safe in the field. Occasionally you’d take it out while alone in your office to give the edges a soft brush. The feather usually gave a little wiggle back.
Your patrol had been quiet so far. There had been a few stops you’d made, mostly greeting fans or taking the occasional photo with someone. Even if you hated having your photo taken, it was always worth it to see a citizen’s smile widen at the sight of you with them. After taking a late lunch, you were ready to start your large circuit back to your agency when your feather gave an urgent tug under your hero costume. You frowned slightly and pressed it against your chest. If Keigo just wanted to say hello, that would be response enough to know you were busy but still acknowledged him. The feather tugged harder.
You pulled the necklace up through the neck of your hero costume. Immediately the feather tugged your forward. Waving your sidekick to continue on without you, you jogged at the feather’s direction. The feather only urged you faster, prompting you to sprint. “I swear if you aren’t actually in trouble I will personally make your next patrol a nightmare,” you hissed at the feather. As you continued to follow your feather GPS, you radioed back to your agency to explain the situation. Backup would be sent after you since the situation was still unclear.
The tugging slowed as you neared an industrial area outside your usual patrol range. The buildings seemed largely unoccupied, with only the infrequent hiss of steam interrupting your slow approach. You halted outside a low level window. The feather tugged you toward the rickety fire escape above it. You gave a quick glance inside. There didn’t seem to be anyone here, at least.
The fire escape threatened to creak loudly if you climbed the ladder, so you opted to use the pipe bolted to the side of the building instead. You’d just about made it halfway up the building, shoulders beginning to ache, when the feather pointed to a window. You gave your shoes a tap against the wall, activating the spikes in the toe to help stabilize you as they bit into the brickwork. Pulling yourself closer to the side of the building, you peered inside.
You were thankfully at someone’s back. You couldn’t tell who it was quite yet, but your eyes honed in on a familiar figure wrapped in a mess of netting. Keigo’s wings were bent at odd angles, the feathers strangely depleted. You couldn’t assess him for any other injuries as the body in front of you moved. Keigo’s feather gave a slow pull toward the fire escape on the other side of the window. Inside, you could hear his voice raise. He’d be able to cover the sound of you climbing over—but you needed to be fast.
You swung over as quickly as you could, wincing at the low thud the fire escape gave at your landing. There was a window here, too—a look inside assured you it was void of life. As silently as you could, you dug your fingers under the window and slowly urged it upward. Luck was on your side—it only whispered as it rose. Urging yourself inside, you paused to update your team as quietly as you could before turning the radio off. The last thing you needed was the radio itself giving you away.
Based on the layout of the room, you appeared to be directly across the hall from Keigo and his captor. What you needed was to extract him and bounce, but it wouldn’t be easy if you had to fight more than one opponent and carry Keigo yourself. You set your shoulders. You could do this. You would do this. You activated the extra components of your hero gear, retracting your toe spikes and putting the mask you kept over your lower face in place. You tucked the feather back under the neck of your costume and put your arm and shin braces in place. “I’m going in. Any idea how many there are?” you whispered. It was a long shot, but maybe Keigo would know. The feather gave three tugs. You nodded. “Okay.”
The pair on the hallway were easy when you walked up to them. “Be quiet.” Your voice was quiet, but firm, your quirk lacing heavy authority through it. “Hands up. Sit down.” You tugged heavy rope from one of the compartments of your utility belt and bound them firmly. “Behave.”
The feather gave an urgent wiggle as you forced yourself in. The figure towering over Keigo looked nothing short of infuriated at your presence. You opened your mouth to speak again, but this man beat you to it. “Say a word and I’ll kill him.” Keigo wasn’t moving, hopefully only because there was a very heavy looking gun pressed to his head. It was difficult to tell from this angle—he faced away from you. His feathers were unmoving. You closed the door behind you.
“If you want the birdie to live, you’re going to have to let me go,” he said, dark eyes watching you carefully. You circled him slowly, silently. You needed to see if Keigo was at least conscious. The villain rose slowly, body shifting to keep Keigo between the two of you.
Keigo looked unconscious. Perhaps he was acting. You certainly hoped so. It was then that something fluttering at your feet caught your eyes. The floor was oddly red in some places, too light to be blood for the most part. You bent down, eyes still on the villain, to pick some up. Keigo gave a pained groan. Your blood ran cold.
You had half a broken quill and stripped plumage sticking to your fingers. It was everywhere—you couldn’t avoid stepping on it. Your heart thundered in your chest as your brain connected all the dots. “Freeze.” You were lucky you were used to rushing your words out. The gun only went off after you’d tackled the villain away from Keigo’s body. You could hear it make contact, but luckily it wouldn’t hit the hero behind you. You kicked the gun away.
You couldn’t remember most of the fight. At one point the two of you had broken through an adjacent wall. Your ribs ached and your knees were hitting the floor a little more forcefully than you’d have liked, but you gave more than you got. Your fist collided with the villain’s temple full force. The satisfaction of his fall to the floor, of your successful restraining of his body, was entirely overwhelmed by concern for the wounded hero in the other room. You rushed back, radio in hand as you gave a status update. “I need—an ambulance? I think—” Your hands gripped the hilt of your utility knife. “I have three individuals restrained and Hawks is out for the count. Not sure what the full extent of his injuries are yet.” The radio chirped back a confirmation, but you didn’t hear it. The netting keeping Keigo confined had your full attention.
You tore it away as carefully as you could, mindful of the way it kept trying to catch on Keigo’s remaining feathers. Swallowing thickly, you took stock of what you could. Keigo’s body looked okay, for the most part. He had bruising, but you couldn’t find anything broken or malaligned. You gave him a quick shake. “Hawks,” you said, eyes watching his face carefully. He gave a small, choked noise in response. “It’s me; there’s backup on the way. Can you hear me?” Another small noise. “I need you to stay with me, okay, baby? I’ve got you.”
His wings—his wings. You could feel yourself choke on air as you took them in. Many of his feathers were simply gone, while others looked as if they’d been cut or broken off halfway. How had this happened? How long had he been here? You brushed the hair from his face. He flinched at your touch. You kept speaking in a low voice, eyes shifting between keeping an eye on Keigo in case his condition changed and glaring daggers at your hunting prizes.
Your breath caught when you finally saw a glimpse of gold eyes. “Help is almost here, I promise. Can you hold out a little longer for me?” You could hear the telltale booming voice of one of your newest sidekicks downstairs among several other pairs of footsteps. “I’m gonna get you home. You’re gonna get checked out first but—we can use the nest we’ve been working on and take care of the rest of your feathers so the broken ones aren’t bothering you.” Your fingers brushed the back of his hand soothingly, eyes searching for any recognition to pass across his face. “Does that sound okay to you?”
Keigo frowned slightly, his eyes studying your face before you were both startled by heavy bootsteps rushing in your direction. You didn’t recall moving. One second you were about to speak and the next you body was fully crouched over Keigo’s. The noise that tore out of your throat was entirely unhuman. Your sidekick skidded to a halt before landing on his back. An insistent tug on your sleeve ripped your attention back to Keigo. His eyes were wide, slightly glazed, searching your face as his hand reached for your cheek. You leaned into it. “Just friends,” you murmured. “Just friends. I’m going to get you home.”
It had taken a half hour of convincing, careful studying, and several threats to rip out a Hero Commission member’s throat to get yourself custody of Keigo after a medic had looked after him. The ambulance that had arrived was redirected to a different emergency and instead a small agency car was used to carefully drive you and Keigo back to your shared apartment. You’d snuck in the back of the building and carried him up the stairs to avoid the often-crowded elevators now that it was nearing the end of the traditional workday. You had initially worried about Keigo’s feathers getting stepped on or dragging behind you, until you’d realized that the longest ones were no longer in the shape they’d been in before. The thought turned your stomach.
Keigo had talked a little in the car, passing himself off as exhausted and weary but otherwise fine. He’d assured everyone his feathers would come back shortly, that he couldn’t even feel the ones he’d lost anymore, but you caught the pain that flashed across his eyes when his wings shifted and he thought nobody was looking. He’d been silent since, his hands grasping you tightly, face firmly buried in your neck.
“Does a bath sound okay?” you asked quietly, opening the apartment and locking the door behind you. Keigo nodded slowly into your neck. You deposited him on your shared bed first, grabbing a few towels and two sets of clothes. You placed them on the countertop in the bathroom before running hot water into the tub and pouring some of the bergamot orange oil into the tub as well. When the tub was full, you stopped the water and quickly walked back to Keigo.
He was still where you left him, gold eyes watching you as if you might walk right out the door and leave him behind. “Can I get you undressed?” you asked quietly, gently holding his face in your palms. Keigo’s eyes closed for a minute. “The water’s nice and hot. I bet it’ll feel good on your skin.” Slowly, he nodded.
Keigo wasn’t particularly helpful in getting undressed, but you’d expected as much. You stripped him of his hero suit as gently as you could, placing the clothes in the hamper for you to wash later. His eyes never left you even as you stripped yourself down to your own undergarments. “Ready to get in?” He nodded again.
Keigo stepped in himself, sinking into the water slowly. You sat at the edge of the tub, pulling body wash, shampoo, and conditioner toward yourself. Keigo’s hand grabbed your wrist. “Get in with me?” Something fragile passed across his face. You nodded.
“Always.” You stripped completely before stepping into the stub. Keigo immediately pulled you into his lap. You straddled him carefully, his face cradled in your hands as he studied you. His eyes locked onto your necklace.
“I didn’t think a little contour feather would be this useful,” he murmured. You quirked your lips into a half smile.
“I’m glad I had it,” you said softly, brushing a lock of hair back from his forehead. Keigo was quiet after that, eyes locked onto your face as you gently washed his hair, fingers massaging his scalp. He only closed his eyes for you to rinse his hair out, gaze immediately locked onto you again as you massaged his body wash across his skin and gently poured warm water over to wash the suds away. “Do you want me to get your wings?” Keigo shook his head.
“I can do it.” You nodded, sitting back on your heels as he leaned back to dip his wings more fully in the water. After a few seconds he turned slightly, stretched his wings out, and gave a few strokes to remove as much water as he could. Pain furrowed his brow. “I need—I need you to pull the broken ones out.”
You nodded, stroking his cheek gently. “Let’s get you dry and dressed first.” Keigo was quiet when you stepped out of the tub, drying yourself off quickly and shoving on a pair of sweats and a well-worn long sleeve. You turned back to him with a fresh towel. “Ready?”
Keigo chose to dry and dress himself as you drained the tub. He kept his eyes on you as you rearranged the soap back to its rightful place, only daring to look away once you’d fully turned to him and taken one of his hands in yours. You led him to the living room where the massive undertaking that had been the nest he’d used when you’d last come home injured still sat. You climbed in first, keeping your hand in Keigo’s as he climbed onto the middle and flopped down onto his belly.
You stroked his hair gently, examining his wings now that they were cleaner than before. He usually oiled the feathers after dipping them in water like he had earlier, but with the addition of broken feathers that needed to be removed, you weren’t sure what to do yet. “Baby?” Keigo turned his head, one gold eye studying you. “Do you want me to take care of the broken feathers right now?” If you didn’t pull them now, he’d have to pull them later. You could spare him that pain at least.
Keigo closed his eyes again. “You need to pull as close to the base as possible,” he murmured. He turned away from you.
You placed your hands on Keigo’s lower back as a warning before straddling him. “I’m going to work from the inside out,” you said softly. “I’ll try to be as gentle as I can.” Keigo didn’t say anything, just squared his shoulders and dipped his head into a swatch of your pajamas.
You did your work quickly, and you wished it was painlessly, but your unskilled fingers sometimes caused a flinch, a sudden jerk, a shallow gasp. You apologized each time, brushed other feathers gently, but by the end you were nearly in tears at the thought of possibly causing Keigo any more feather-related pain than he’d already endured. By the time you were done, his wings looked sad and sparse, shadows of what they had been just that morning.
“They’ll be back in less than a week,” Keigo said, staring at you from under his arm. You met his gaze as evenly as you could.
“It’s not the feathers I’m worried about. I’m sorry I hurt you,” you responded. “I tried my best to not make it too painful.” Keigo’s visible eye widened before he turned away again.
“Can you—I need to preen them. Can you do it?” Keigo’s voice was brittle.
“Will it hurt? If I do it?” Keigo shook his head.
“You just need to press down near the base and spread the oil on each one.” You pressed gently at the base of each wing as it connected to his torso, oil coating your fingers as you expressed it. Your nose registered nutmeg as you began to work it through Keigo’s feathers one by one, as evenly as you could get it.
At first, Keigo remained tense, the muscles of his shoulders and back jumping and twitching as he tried to anticipate your movements. You kept your touch as gentle as you could, moving from the base of each feather to its tip. You talked quietly to him through it, talking about your patrol, the way your sidekick had almost choked on some yakitori when a child had snuck up on him. You talked about a teen you’d seen who had hair of several different colors all at different lengths and wondered if it was natural or a fashion statement. Keigo almost gave a huff at that.
By the time you’d finished, Keigo’s back appeared to have relaxed a little bit. “All done,” you said softly. “I’ll order us some food. Is there anything in particular you want?” Keigo didn’t answer, just looked at you as if you were the only thing that had ever held his attention. You opened a delivery app and quickly placed an order before putting your phone away. “How can I help, Keigo?”
The feather on your necklace tugged you down and forward, and you followed it without hesitation. You found yourself on your back, Keigo curled across your lap and torso so his head rested in the crook of your neck. You kept one hand stroking between his shoulder blades softly, the other cradling his head, fingers laced through his hair. Keigo’s hands were curling under your back, his legs hooking under your knees.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get to you sooner,” you said softly, pressing a kiss to his hair. “But I’m so thankful we made it out of that.” Keigo’s hands gripped the fabric of your shirt tightly.
“That’s never happened to my feathers before,” he murmured. Something damp pressed against your skin. You didn’t say anything. “They’ve been burnt before, crushed, stepped on—but they stripped them, cut them in half—” Keigo pressed closer to you. “I couldn’t breathe.” You pulled him closer to your body, arms tightening.
“I’m so sorry, baby,” you whispered. “I’m so, so sorry.” You felt the tremor that shot down his spine. “Nobody is ever going to hurt you like that again. I won’t let them.”
“It’s an occupational hazard.” A low noise rumbled in your chest.
“It shouldn’t be.” Keigo pulled back slightly, gold eyes narrowed.
“Did you just growl at me?” Your eyes widened.
“You did!” Keigo’s mouth twisted into as close a grin as he’d come to yet. “That’s the second time today!” A flush brought heat to your cheeks. “What are you, a little puppy?”
“I just—can’t stand the thought of you hurting.” You looked away, eyes darting to the broken feathers that you’d pulled. “I wish I could protect you from everything.” Keigo shifted his weight until he was flat against your chest, his chin resting on his hands.
“You love me,” he said teasingly. “I’ve got you wrapped around my fingers.” When you caught Keigo’s gaze again, you could finally see the uncertainty he kept hidden.
“I love you,” you said gently. “I would go through hell and back just to make you smile.” The gold of Keigo’s gaze was molten, liquid, breaking.
“You love me.” You nodded. “You love me.” His voice wavered and cracked. “You love me.” His tears finally spilled. You sat up slightly and pulled Keigo as close to your body as you could.
“I love you,” you whispered. “I love you, Keigo.” You whispered it over and over again into his hair, his ear, his skin as he shook in your hold and held onto you as if you might collapse into smoke. You kept saying it even as he slowly fell asleep in your arms, until he’d gone fully lax in your arms. You’d stay up a while longer, you decided. To watch him a little more. Just in case he needed you.