“The light in your soul is greater than the darkness.”
Nighteye came to, someone screaming far away, or maybe it was close by, his ears ringing with a symphony of misery and panic. Was he injured? He didn’t think so, but then who was shrieking their lungs empty?
A hand slapped his cheek, an explosion of pain across his cheekbone. Two hands grabbed his shoulders and shook him, making him open his eyes.
Inko. Her green hair disheveled around her round face, emerald eyes filled with tears. Why was the queen so distressed? She was saying something to him, but the damn ringing continued.
He peered up at her. Why was he on the ground? Why did everything smell like a deep forest and not the lush temple gardens? Gardenia, day lilies, roses. That’s what he should be smelling. Not this musty, deep green aroma.
“Nighteye! Can you hear me?”
He could make out her words, but then found he had none. His throat constricted, and he sat up, heaving for air. She patted his back, a little too hard, and he waved her away. She stood and walked away from him, surveying their surroundings.
“Toshi,” was all she said as she paced, over and over.
The king. Nighteye bent over and threw up, his stomach in upheaval. He retched until nothing remained in his stomach. Inko let him be sick before coming back and dragging him to his unsteady feet. He’d shifted them too far, and he’d passed out. That’s what happened.
“We have to get back to the temple,” Inko said, voice even and calm, but her eyes betrayed her; they were filled with desperation and rage.
“No,” Nighteye whimpered, a hand going to his brow. “We can’t. Not until it’s safe.”
The queen whipped around, green energy flowing over her body, and Nighteye was reminded of her son, the anxious Forest God. How this goddess had produced such a son was beyond his comprehension. If Midoriya had half the gumption the queen possessed, things might not have gone…so wrong.
“Take me back to my husband, Nighteye. I won’t ask again.”
He knew she would have left him, would have already shifted back if she knew where they were. She’d fought the king when Yagi yelled for them to run, pulling at his arm, trying to make him go too.
“ I would take you back if I could, but the shift took everything I had,” Nighteye said. Not a complete lie. He could probably shift them one spot closer to the temple, then Inko might be able to get them the rest of the way.
“How could you do this?” She asked, seething. The grass grew at her feet, and the trees bent toward her, straining to be near her power.
Nighteye struggled to keep the recent memories at bay, but his mind betrayed him.
It was a quiet morning, the weather cool and temperate, so Inko suggested they have breakfast in the gardens. Toshinori agreed quickly, to appease his wife, who had been like a silent shadow in the temple since the war council. Nighteye didn’t like the king being outdoors at the moment; he was fragile, weak from transferring the rest of the celestial abilities to the Forest God. Why had he done it? Nighteye would never understand, when there was a far better candidate to wield the celestials’ power.
He stood by the king and queen as they ate, arms behind his back, eyes alert, leery of the relative quietude of the morning. If they were in danger, he couldn’t detect it. All seemed well. Torino hadn’t objected to their meal outdoors, but he hadn’t joined them either, preferring to stew in the temple, muttering about how Hawks abandoned him. Nighteye didn’t know why the older celestial was so surprised. Hawks was ephemeral, came and went as he pleased. Though leaving his student behind was an odd choice. Tokoyami circled the temple perimeter most of the day, swooping in and out of the shadows, doing some secret task his teacher had left him with, most likely. He was no use in discovering Hawks’ whereabouts either, speaking in riddles about the coming darkness, approaching shadows, and other nonsense.
The queen’s raised voice caught Nighteye’s attention, dragging him from his thoughts.
“I don’t see why you had to pull my son into your reckless adventuring,” Inko said, her silverware clattering to the table.
Nighteye focused on the king, who was attempting to block their god-touched connection but failing. He was too weary to keep up the defenses. Not that it mattered. Nighteye knew how the king felt, every moment of every day. For some, it would have been exhausting, but he was made to carry the king’s emotional weight. None of the other god-touched had to worry about Yagi’s overwhelming mental swings: it was all focused on Nighteye.
“Inko…we’ve been over this —”
“You lying to me doesn’t count,” she bit back. “Always behind closed doors with Torino, plotting one thing or another. I want Izuku out of your schemes. Now.”
It’s too late, Nighteye thought, wishing that there was a way to extricate the Forest God as well.
“He’s my successor,” the king said, reaching for her hand. “I’ve given him everything I have.”
“And I’m telling you, Toshinori, it ends now,” she said, pulling her hand away. “What you’ve done to him, it’s changing him. Oh, yes. Don’t give me that surprised face. You think I don’t notice him training, running all over the temple, using those powers he didn’t have three thousand years ago? Acting like his life is over. A mother notices.”
Well, Nighteye thought, a mother like you notices. The king had failed to remember that his wife actually cared for her son. She wasn't like most of the other godly parents. Of course, she would know if something were amiss.
“They’re his powers now,” the king said. “He accepted them, and I gave them willingly.”
“You’ve betrayed him and me,” she said, standing abruptly. “And don’t think I don’t see you, Nighteye. You’re thick in this too.”
Nighteye looked at the ground, eyes closed. She was right. The king confided everything to him, every doubt, every choice. It had been that way since the beginning, when an awkward human alchemist had dared approach the King of the Gods during a tribute ceremony.
“Leave him out of this,” the king grumbled. “He doesn’t deserve that.”
“No?” Inko asked, anger flaring. “For all the years we’ve known each other, taken care of you together, he’s never bothered to mention that my son was a chess piece in your games.”
“That’s not fair. I asked him not to tell you.” The king was on his feet, his hair floating around his head.
The queen laughed, “Of course you did. And like a good god-touched servant, he obeyed.”
Nighteye felt like he’d been struck. The queen had never hated him; she accepted his role at the king’s side, accepted that there was more between them than just a god-touched’s devotion to his king, knew that the king loved two people and couldn’t choose between them. But he heard the venom in her voice; it was too much for her now.
The king was speechless. He stared at Inko, mouth open slightly. His entire world was crashing down, the illusion of his long life fading. Had his wife truly been harboring such bitterness their entire marriage? Nighteye felt the king’s unease through their bond, and he tried to stay still. The king didn’t think Inko would harm Nighteye, but he was nervous that she might lash out, and that concern radiated off him.
“You didn’t mean that,” the king said softly, and Nighteye turned to give them some privacy. He couldn’t leave their side, as he was the one guarding them, but he could at least make it seem like he wasn’t there.
He heard Inko sob quietly, the king trying to reassure her.
“I can’t do this anymore, Toshi,” she said.
An alarm blared in Nighteye’s mind, doubling him over from the force. He clutched his head, eyes threatening to pound from his skull. Something had crashed through one of his defensive barriers, which could withstand a god. Whatever it was hadn’t even bothered to test the defense, it had simply demolished it.
“Nighteye! What is it?” The king and queen came to his side.
He couldn’t speak, couldn’t utter one word. It was taking all of his concentration to find where the breach was, but it felt like his mind had shattered and was trying to repair itself.
A menacing drawl reached them, mocking laughter laced in the voice, “Not much of a challenge, Yagi. I expected more from you.”
“Toshi, who is that?” whispered Inko, grasping the king’s arm. Her eyes blazed with green light. No matter what the other gods thought, the queen was formidable if pressed.
“Nighteye,” the king said, standing tall. “Take Inko and get as far away from here as you can.”
Recovering from the mental onslaught, Nighteye tried to stand to his full height, but his back remained bent. In front of them, a few yards away, stood a man-shaped monster, grin like a shark's, his eyes missing. No one was with him. The breeze shifted his coat as he stood, smiling at them.
“By all means, let the lesser beings flee, Yagi,” the creature said. All For One. It had to be him. “I'll give you an entire minute to say good-bye before I obliterate you.” He said it so casually, no disdain, no contempt. Like he was going to the market to pick up provisions. Nighteye fought the urge to retch.
The King pulled him up by the shoulders, making him meet his black eyes. Fire danced there, life Nighteye hadn't seen in years. The willingness to do battle against a mighty foe, the blood lust filling his soul.
“Please, Nighteye. Go. I can't bear to lose either of you.”
“We're not going anywhere without you,” hissed Inko, trying to place herself in front of the king. “Who is he to order us around?”
The king stared into his eyes, pleading. I love you both, he sent through their bond, don't make me worry if you're all right. Don't make me fight him with her here.
A white and yellow blur appeared out of nowhere, yelling for them all to run. Torino. His celestial speed no match for All For One. The celestial caught Torino and brought the seemingly old man's face toward his eyeless visage. He said, “Torino? How splendid that one of my own family is here to witness this prestigious event. You're just in time.”
He wrenched Torino's arms from their sockets and threw him over a hedge, the celestial making no sounds as his arms flailed uselessly. All For One tilted his head to the side, like a lizard observing an insect it intended to devour.
“I certainly hope the Forest God is here as well. It would be a shame if he was at his temple at the moment.”
“Izuku,” the queen whispered, then she attempted to break Yagi's hold and lunge at the celestial. “If you've hurt my son —”
“I didn't know your wife was this spirited,” the celestial said, amused. “By all means, ma'am, attack me if you wish.”
Yagi held Inko around the waist and gazed at Nighteye, trying to convey a million emotions and thoughts and apologies in one look. Every fiber of his being said not to leave, not to leave the king with this monster. It would surely mean his end. The Forest God wasn't ready.
Don't make me leave you, Nighteye thought, sending it through their connection. Please don't...
“I'm ordering you to leave,” Yagi said, eyes shining with tears. Inko struggled, knowing that Nighteye would be compelled to obey. She yanked herself from the king's hands and spun at the celestial again, teeth bared.
“Yes, my king.” Nighteye cleared his mind, thought of his old village, ruins by now. He grabbed the queen's arm and shifted them away, the celestial's laugh echoing through his head.
“Answer me!” Inko's voice swelled, bringing Nighteye back to the gloomy forest. He looked at her, head turning slowly. What she saw in his face made her take a step back, and her confidence faltered.
“Because he asked me to,” Nighteye said. “He couldn't fight if we were there.” Inko's bottom lip trembled as she sank to her knees. Nighteye went to her and sat down, and the queen erupted in sobs, clinging to him. She couldn't get out complete sentences, kept saying Yagi's and her son's names over and over. No matter how Nighteye felt about the Forest God, he hoped the young god was safe, if only for Inko's sake. If the celestial powers left the world — which would happen if Midoriya were compromised — then so be it, but Nighteye couldn't bear seeing the queen lose the two most important people in her life at once.
He soothed her the best he could, his bond with the king gaining strength as he rested. He felt Yagi's desperation, his unflagging resolve to win, even though he knew the inevitable would come to pass. In order to save his sanity, Nighteye should try to cut himself off mentally from the king, but then Yagi would truly be alone. If he fought with Nighteye by his side, in his mind, he could keep going. Nighteye couldn't see the actual fight, but he felt the blows, each punch might as well have hit him as it hit the king, and he winced, trying to hold back his reactions from the queen. One hit made his head sweep back, and he groaned.
She kept her arms wrapped around him, and the trees reached down, forming a protective cage of branches around them. Wildflowers leaped from the ground from nothing and sang to them, their voices soft and keening. Tears ceasing, Inko started to speak an incantation Nighteye didn't recognize. He felt like the forest around him was enveloping them in comfort, trying to blunt the mental hits the god-touched was taking. Because Inko knew what Nighteye was doing, and she couldn't help Yagi in the way he could. They'd worked together for so long, keeping the king safe, commiserating over his stubbornness and righteous attitude. They'd heard his bombastic laugh more than anyone else, and had seen him at his lowest, when his injuries made him fly into incoherent rages. He didn't want to leave them. That's why he raged against his failing body.
What good was a king who left his people?
Like a dream, Nighteye felt himself slipping away, like his resolve and stamina were finished. He closed his eyes and sent the king his remaining strength, his mental fortitude, his will to keep going, his keen sense for details. But it wasn't enough. Yagi was fading, and Nighteye felt every piece of the king falling away.
Stay with me, Nighteye pleaded. Golden blood dripped from his nose, and his body shuddered. “Don't leave me,” he said out loud.
“I am here,” Inko whispered to Nighteye, the last incantation dying on her lips.
The Forest God stood in Yagi's sitting room, staring out the window. Nighteye couldn't feel him, and the lack of Yagi in his mind felt like a thousand spears being driven through his body. Part of him was gone, though he'd retained his sanity, for the most part. Pieces were missing, memories both old and new, things the king had said the day of his death. Because that's what it was. The king was dead. His body was an empty shell, laying in the throne room upon the platform Nighteye had conjured. His king wasn't there anymore, no matter what Torino said. Technicalities didn't matter when Yagi would never awaken.
He cleared his throat, alerting Midoriya to his presence. “The queen is resting in her chambers,” he said, not even trying to keep the chill from his voice. He owed the Forest God nothing. His service was complete. Nighteye wasn't sure why he hadn't died with the king, though he believed Inko may have kept him grounded enough not to escape the mortal world when Yagi lost himself. He wished she'd just let him die.
“Thank you,” Midoriya said, his voice quavering. His normally wild green hair was lank against his neck, his green eyes dull.
Another celestial had apparently made himself known, accosting the Forest God and the foul-mouthed Sun God in the throne room. Stain. Yagi's chief creator. Nighteye had seen him a few times, though had never spoken to him. If Stain was anything like the other celestials, Nighteye had no desire to exchange words with him. They were the reason his king was gone. Stain left almost as soon as he'd arrived, cape red as blood flying behind him. Perhaps Stain was the reason Midoriya was so dejected. The celestial had probably voiced his disdain for the current situation, including the Forest God holding what had been Yagi's powers.
“If you require anything,” Nighteye said, “please call for the head shade. The god-touched are rather indisposed.” Which was true. Though Yagi wasn't as connected to the other god-touched as he was to Nighteye, they'd still felt him blink out of existence, and it was too much for most of them. Many of them were incapacitated and would remain that way for some time. Recovery would be long and arduous. Two had died outright, their once human bodies empty of their souls. They would become shades perhaps, though many god-touched never made it to the Underworld. Where their souls went, no one knew. Nighteye wished he'd been among the fallen. He couldn't help but blame himself. If he'd stayed conscious longer, retained his connection with Yagi longer, perhaps those two god-touched needn't have died.
“I understand,” Midoriya said, head bowed. His hands shook at his sides.
Taking a deep breath, knowing that Yagi would want him to at least be civil, Nighteye said, “I regret the loss of your temple. It was an extraordinary place.” One thing the Forest God excelled at was creation. Nighteye had only seen the Temple of the Forest once, but its simple beauty was enthralling. The loss of it from the world was another terrible price they'd paid.
Midoriya nodded. “Thank you.” Nighteye lowered his chin in deference and turned to leave. But the Forest God spoke again. “Could you...sit with me? Just for a bit?”
Nighteye sighed heavily. You owe him nothing. Nothing.
He walked over to the window and stared at the Forest God. He looked so young, his cheeks dotted with freckles, his shoulders slumped, large green eyes begging for help. Those ridiculous antlers tilting forward as he bent over, giving Nighteye a small bow.
“I know you've never liked me,” he said, “so thank you.”
Nighteye sat on the small stool that he'd used so often when the king and queen sat in this room by the window. His perch, his place of security. He said, “It's not that I don't like you.”
“You just don't think Yagi should have entrusted the celestial powers to me.”
Nighteye pursed his lips. It would have been impossible for Midoriya not to know his true feelings. He'd never tried to hide them. He said, “I don't. But it wasn't my decision.”
Midoriya bit his lip but didn't break eye contact. He'd at least learned not to look away from an enemy.
“I wish he hadn't given them to me,” the Forest God admitted, “but he did. So what do I do now?”
“You ask me as though I'm your adviser,” Nighteye said. “That's no longer my role.” He made to stand, but the Forest God's hand shot out and grasped his arm. Not tightly, but there was desperation in his touch.
“Please, Nighteye,” the Forest God said, “I need to get stronger. I need to be able to beat him.”
He'd lost Yagi too, Nighteye tried to remind himself. Nighteye might have known Yagi longer, but Midoriya had been more than his stepson. The king was his mentor, his idol, his father figure. The levels of despair he must be feeling…
No. No he couldn't tie himself to another god. Yagi had never asked it of him, knowing Nighteye would do everything in his power to fight such an order.
“I can't help you,” Nighteye said. He unclasped the god's hand and walked toward the door. He needed to leave, to get as far away from the king's temple as he could. He couldn't handle the fractured memories that kept coming to him when they fled just as quickly. His mind was a broken mirror.
“I know that he loved you,” Midoriya said. Not an accusation. Just a fact. He stated it with no malice. “I didn't really pay attention until now, but he did. Right?”
“The king loved your mother,” Nighteye said, fingers clenching and releasing.
“I know.” The Forest God stood up too. “But it wasn't the same way he loved you.” Midoriya walked over to Nighteye, determined. “He trusted you with everything. So do I.”
“What?” Nighteye looked down at the god, eyebrow raised.
“I trust you. Tell me what to do.” His large green eyes shined, jaw set.
“I wouldn't presume to tell a god what to do,” Nighteye said. He turned away but caught himself. Yagi whispered in his mind, begging him not to leave his stepson with so little. He gathered himself and touched Midoriya's shoulder. “You've been given a great gift. And a terrible responsibility. Don't waste your chance to finish what Toshinori started.”
“But what can I do?”
“Surround yourself with people you trust,” Nighteye said. “Let them advise you. Be wary of the old gods. They aren't your friends. Trust the celestials even less. Torino was one thing...the others...” He couldn't think of anything else to say. He shook his head, trying to dislodge an unkind retort. That wouldn't help. It would just make the Forest God less sure of himself. “I'm no longer who I was,” Nighteye said. “I can't be one of your people.”
Before he could go, the Forest God made one last request: “Could you please stay for a little longer? For my mother?”
That was one request the god-touched man couldn't deny.
Kendo went to the conservatory to be alone. She was alone most of the time at the Temple of the Sun, but today, she desperately wanted to avoid Kirishima. She’d had a dream about Tetsu and didn’t want to talk about it, and the baby dragon had a keen scent for other peoples’ distress. He’d know in one second that she wasn’t herself. Not that she’d been herself since Tetsu was taken, since Kirishima had forced her to go with him to his home. But that wasn’t fair. He only listened to his teacher and saved her from…something awful.
Having no idea what her mate was going through was bad enough, but he was so far away that she could hardly feel him anymore. Once every few days she’d get a pang in her chest and knew it was him, telling her that he was still alive, but it wasn’t enough. They didn’t have the intense connection that Kirishima and the god shared, which enraged her to no end. If they wanted, they could inhabit each others' minds at all times, at all distances. Kendo had no idea why they’d been blessed in that way, besides the fact that the god had branded Kirishima. God-touched had similar experiences with their gods, but even that wasn’t as insane as whatever the Sun God had done to Kirishima.
At least she could feel Tetsu now. When he'd first been taken, there was nothing. She thought the worst until realizing that he could be unconscious, or he had cut her off on purpose. Believing him to be alive was what kept her going that first week, pacing in the guest room, fuming over Kirishima trying to coax her out. She didn’t need to go anywhere, unless it was back to their cottage or to find Tetsu. She hated to admit that Kirishima was right, that the celestial must have left spies, waiting to see if they’d return to the house. They couldn’t still be there, though. It had been weeks since Tetsu had been spirited away. Why waste manpower on waiting to see if one person would show up to a cottage in the woods?
“You’re protected here,” Kirishima said, every time she asked to leave. “I know you can take care of yourself, but if they caught you, they’d use you against Tetsu.” And that reasoning kept her in the Temple of the Sun.
Now that the King of the Gods was gone, Kirishima was extra protective. She thought Tetsu was bad, well, the redhead was ten times worse. It was like he thought he was letting Tetsu down if Kendo wasn’t taken care of. She hated it. She wasn’t crazy about being stuck in a temple with a god either, though the Sun God never bothered her. She’d barely met him, just a few brief moments, like when they’d returned from the king’s temple after Yagi's death. Bakugo wasn’t quite what she’d expected. Yes, he was pleasing to look at, like most of the gods, but his face was set in a perpetual scowl, his red eyes suspicious. Tall and slim, he moved like a panther, and she’d fought the urge to run from him that first time.
He didn’t say much to her either, his voice low and raspy, and he’d avoided her gaze, as though he was a little afraid of her as well. He deferred the conversations to Kirishima, his exact opposite. She had no idea how their relationship worked with the redhead being so young and lively and the god so taciturn and older than much of the world.
And she wondered about it even more as she walked into the conservatory and heard small explosions going off. She should have turned around and left, but curiosity got the better of her. Who was setting off explosions? It couldn’t be Kirishima.
It wasn’t. The red-haired dragon-touched sat in a circle made of large stones near the central fountain, a serene look on his face, legs crossed, palms on his knees. He was meditating. Finally! A small wave of joy rushed over Kendo. He hadn’t been able to enter a dragon trance since his last one with Tetsu, so he must have made a breakthrough! Her joyful feeling was crushed a moment later as she watched the Sun God stomp around the room, muttering to himself, his palms lit with a bright yellow glow. His hair flew around his head like an ash blond hurricane, and his skin shimmered with different sun colors. What the hells was he doing?
After another lap, the Sun God stopped near Kirishima and said, “It’s time for dinner, you idiot! You’ve been in here for hours!” Then he did the unthinkable and threw something at his husband, maybe a small rock. How dare he try to interrupt a dragon trance? Kendo almost shouted at the god, but whatever he threw bounced right off Kirishima and launched back, right into his face.
“Ow! The fuck?” Bakugo yelled, touching his cheek, the light flying over his skin in waves.
Kendo couldn’t help but laugh. The sound escaped her lips before she could stop it, and then she doubled over, crying with laughter. Tears fell down her cheeks as she gasped for air.
“What the hells are you laughing at, Fists?” The Sun God stalked over to her, his face like a storm cloud, but she couldn’t stop. She held up a hand, the other clutching her stomach.
“I’ve never seen anything like that!” she sputtered. “Never seen anyone stupid enough to try and stop a dragon trance either.”
“Stop laughing!” He crossed his arms, standing in front of her, teeth bared, which only made her giggle harder. “It’s not funny!”
“You’re wrong about that, Sun God,” she wiped the tears from her eyes, cheeks red. “You shouldn’t try to wake him up. Didn’t he tell you these trances could last a while?”
Bakugo stuck out his bottom lip and subdued the colors on his skin. He was back to his usual form, and just as cranky as the other times she’d spoken to him. He said, “He’s terrible at explaining this stuff.”
Kendo raised an eyebrow. “Were you actually listening when he was explaining?”
“Who asked you?” he said, flushing across his face and down his neck. He certainly had a god’s capricious temper. He wouldn’t dare harm her, though, not if he wanted to keep his husband happy.
“No one, but I’ve been mated to a dragon-touched for over two thousand years, so I know a few things about it.” Kendo put her hands on her hips and met his glare.
“Tch, I suppose we’re the only ones,” Bakugo said, eyeing the bite scar on Kendo’s shoulder. She reached out and touched it, and Tetsu’s smile raced through her mind. She took a deep breath, closing her eyes. Thinking about him made her a little dizzy. She must have wavered, because a hand was on her shoulder, steadying her.
Her eyes flared open, and she backed away from the Sun God, clenching her fists. He raised his hands, surrendering, and said, “Sorry. You looked like you might pass out.”
“I don’t need some god pitying me,” Kendo said.
“You’re a moron if you think I pity you,” Bakugo rasped. “Just feel bad that you can’t be with your idiot mate. I know how it feels.”
“You have no idea how it feels,” she hissed. “You’ve been together what, a year?”
“What does that matter?” Bakugo asked, annoyed by her response. “Still felt like my heart was being torn out when he was gone.” He dropped his gaze and looked at Kirishima, who still hadn’t moved.
Kendo rolled her eyes. The Sun God had the “poor me” role down. “He'll come out of it eventually. Time passes differently in the trance, at least that's what Tetsu said. He'll think he was only talking to his dragon for a few minutes, when hours pass out here.”
Bakugo glanced at her, “Can they last longer than that?”
“None that I've seen. But Tetsu never had anything too pressing to speak with Kamaishi about.”
Bakugo growled, “That the other dragon? The big silver one? At least he doesn't seem like a dipshit. Eijiro's dragon...”
“Is definitely a dipshit,” Kendo agreed. She rubbed her arms and moved closer to the god. “He's okay. The trance won't hurt him. If anything, it'll help. He needs to be able to communicate with Togarashi.”
Bakugo scoffed and ran a hand through his hair. “I just wish I could help him.”
Why did the Sun God have to say things like that? Whenever he showed that side, desperate to help Kirishima, unselfish, it made Kendo think about her opinions on gods in general.
“And I'm fucking hungry.”
There it was.
“Believe me,” Kendo said, “if he gets hungry, he'll leave the trance. Dragons are weird about food.”
As though he'd heard their conversation, Kirishima's eyelids fluttered open, showing off his enormous crimson eyes. He scratched at the small scar over his right eye and heaved a sigh. Standing slowly, he stretched his back and shoulders, humming to himself.
“Fucking finally,” Bakugo muttered, and Kirishima's head whipped around, his eyes glowing. Out of instinct, Bakugo shoved Kendo behind him and said, “Idiot! It's just me. And Fists.”
“Can you stop calling me that?” Kendo asked, stepping away from him. She tossed her gingery ponytail and walked up to Kirishima. “Hey,” she said, snapping her fingers, “don't be so grouchy when you wake up.”
Kirishima's face fell, his red hair covering his eyes. “Sorry, Kendo.” He moved his shoulders around, making a face. “I'm really sore.” Kendo marched into the circle and flicked Kirishima's nose. He whined, “Hey! What was that for?”
“You got all growly,” she said. Kirishima towered over her, not as tall as Tetsu, but her head still barely reached his shoulder height. Yet he cowered before her, like he would an older sister. She couldn't help but smile at him. He was just a baby, after all, and hadn't gotten through much training with Tetsu. She said, “You were in the trance a long time. Bakugo said hours.”
Kirishima's eyes widened. “Hours?” He noticed his husband, standing awestruck outside the circle. “Hey, babe, what's for dinner?”
Kendo felt a crackling energy fly through the room, and she held in a snort. She'd never get over hearing a god be called “babe.” Bakugo seemed ready to tackle his husband, and not in a fun way.
“He threw a rock at you,” Kendo said, smirking at the Sun God.
“Did you seriously?” Kirishima looked at Bakugo, mouth open.
Bakugo looked from Kendo to his husband, mouth scrunched up, eye twitching. He mumbled, “It wasn't a big one. Bounced off you anyway.”
“And hit him in the face,” Kendo finished, triumphant. She would relish this moment forever.
The Sun God flushed again and rubbed his cheek while Kirishima giggled. He clicked his tongue at his husband and Kendo and shifted away, pouting.
“I was going to ask if you'd like to join us for dinner,” Kirishima said, “but I'm sure he went right to our room.”
“That's okay. I wanted a minute to myself.” Kendo gazed at the fountain. The conservatory was a peaceful place, reminding her of the lake near her cottage.
“Are you okay?”
Damned hells, just as she'd guessed. He knew something was wrong.
“I'm never okay, Kirishima,” she said. “But seeing you in the trance helped. What did Togarashi have to say for himself?”
Kirishima twiddled his fingers, avoiding her eyes.
“He did show up, right?”
“Yeah, but he wasn't alone.” The redhead still wouldn't look at her. “Kamaishi was there too.”
Kendo grabbed Kirishima's face and pulled it down to her level. She ignored his squawking and asked, “Did he say anything about Tetsu? Tell me now.”
“Just that he's alive,” Kirishima admitted. “He's been having trouble connecting with Tetsu, and he's not sure why.”
Kendo released him and marched out of the stone circle.
“Wait!” Kirishima chased after her. “Don't go off mad. Kamaishi said it was better for you to stay with me.”
“Better for who?” Kendo asked, striding out of the conservatory. “You can't stop me, Kirishima. I need to find him. If he can't contact Kamaishi, something is very wrong. Even if he was being held prisoner, he could do a dragon trance anywhere.”
“At least wait for me to go with you,” he said, following in her wake.
“Your husband will lose his damn mind if you leave again,” Kendo said. “I can go by myself, to the cottage. I'll get your scarf and come back here. I'm not stupid enough to wander off into the world alone, so don't worry about that.”
Kirishima paused and let her keep going. He knew it would do no good to try and talk her out of it. Tetsu was in dire need, and she wasn't going to wait around any longer.
Bakugo was in the sitting room, just as Kiri had predicted, perched at their small dinner table, chin in his hand, elbow resting on the table. He clicked his teeth together as Kiri came up to him and planted a soft kiss on the top of his head, smoothing his riotous hair. Bakugo snapped at him, and Kiri laughed.
“Stop laughing at me,” Bakugo muttered, tapping his fingers on the table.
“I'm not the one who threw a rock at his husband,” Kiri said, taking the chair across from Bakugo. He shrugged and leaned across the table, making a kissing noise.
Bakugo narrowed his eyes. “I'm not kissing you right now.”
“Come on, babe,” Kirishima said, sitting back down. “I wasn't laughing at you.” When Bakugo's eyes flared yellow, he added, “well, maybe a little. But you looked so cute and surprised.”
Bakugo crossed his arms and looked away. Shit. Kiri lowered his wards and sent out loving energy to his husband, who promptly pushed him back. “Don't.”
“What's wrong?” Kiri asked. “I'm sorry that I was in the trance that long. I had no idea it was hours.”
“Yeah, that's what your friend said.”
So, it was about Kendo. When was his husband sulking like this not about Kendo?
“She is my friend,” Kiri said, putting his elbows on the table and leaning back in. “But you're my husband. Who I love. And cherish. Even when you're being territorial and sulky.”
“'M not sulky,” Bakugo said, hardly audible. He stuck out his lip and looked up, crimson eyes shining. “She just said some things I didn't like.”
Surprised that they'd spoken more than a few words to each other, Kiri's eyes widened. He asked, “What did she say?”
“I don't think so,” Kiri said. “Even with your wards up I can tell you've got a lot on your mind.” Bakugo's eyes flashed, and Kiri continued, “Which makes sense, considering that we're facing some pretty shitty odds. All of us. Including Kendo. She's on edge, worried that Tetsu could be hurt, or killed at any time.”
“I get that,” Bakugo cut in, banging his hands on the table. “I tried to tell her that I understand, but she just...”
“Said we hadn't been together long enough for it to matter.” His eyes pleaded with Kiri, asking him to say it wasn't true, that being together for such a short time didn't matter.
“I don't think how long people have been together has anything to do with anything,” Kiri said. “Kendo's scared, and she lashed out at you. It's not even about you, it's about gods in general.”
“She hates us,” Bakugo said.
“She doesn't hate you, specifically,” Kiri said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Besides, gods aren't exactly the best people...to 'lesser beings.'”
Bakugo crossed his arms again and huffed out a loud breath. “The only people I've been with were humans so I don't give a shit about 'lesser beings' or 'better beings' or whatever.” His husband said that now, and he was better than most gods about being fair and unbiased, but Kiri knew that the prejudice against mortal beings was deeply ingrained in the gods, old and young.
“I know that, babe.” Kiri reached across the table, and Bakugo sighed and took his hand. “I'm sorry that you thought I was laughing at you. I tease you a lot, so I didn't know I was stepping over the line.”
Bakugo rubbed Kiri's knuckles and said, “You shouldn't have to apologize. I'm just...raw, I guess. And you and Kendo have this thing that I can't be a part of.”
Kiri frowned. “What do you mean?”
“You both know stuff about dragons and dragon-touched that I'll never understand.”
“You're married to one, so I think that makes you something of an expert,” Kiri said, chuckling. “Give it some time. Kendo's been with Tetsu for thousands of years, so yeah, she's going to know more about being mated to a dragon-touched. But you can learn. I'll answer any questions you have.”
Bakugo stared at him, biting the inside of his cheek, contemplating what to say. With his wards up, it was harder for Kiri to discern where his mind was at, though his face was too expressive to hide much.
Finally, Bakugo asked, “What did the dragon tell you today?”
That was a pretty easy question, so Kiri told his husband about his meeting with Togarashi and Kamaishi.
“We really didn't talk that much, so I have no idea why it took hours in our world. Togarashi came when I called him, even though I'm not sure why. It felt like all the other times I've tried. Anyway, he's the same, cryptic, not very helpful. He kept praising me for how quickly I was progressing but didn't elaborate on anything.”
“At least he knows that you're the best dragon-touched,” Bakugo interjected.
“Ha, well, Kamaishi might have something to say about that. He showed up, only a few minutes after Togarashi. Once he was there, Togarashi...kind of lost interest? He flew away, saying he had other business to attend to.”
“So, Kamaishi wasn't very focused either. He's worried about Tetsu, because he hasn't been able to reach him through the dragon trances. Tetsu should be able to do them anywhere. It doesn't have to be a specific place or environment. Even if he's locked in a cage, he should be able to find his dragon.”
Bakugo growled at the word “cage,” and Kiri gripped his hand harder.
“If anyone tried to take you from me...” Dark colors flowed over Bakugo's skin, and Kiri smiled.
“Not gonna happen,” Kiri said fondly. “That's basically all we talked about. He asked how I was doing with my lessons, which, I had to be honest about. But he was happy that I'd finally done a trance on my own.”
Bakugo nodded, lost in thought. He said, “Did you ask about Stain or All For One?”
Kiri bit his bottom lip. He'd meant to, but the news about Tetsu had thrown him. He shook his head and said, “Next time I will. I don't know how much dragons paid attention to other beings when they were around. They never seem very impressed with anyone besides other dragons.”
“And you, apparently,” Bakugo said, smirking.
“Well, I am exceptional.” Kiri grinned. He needed to tell his husband about Kendo's plan to return to her cottage, but he would get to that later. His stomach rumbled, making Bakugo snort. Kiri groaned and said, “Can we have dinner now?”