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will you lead me?

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Bakugou steps out onto his back porch and crosses his arms, enjoying the relative silence of the forest his house backed onto. Just the sound of leaves rustling, the occasional bird call, and if he tilted his head and really tried, he could make out the bubble of a stream not five minutes’ walk away. When he had bought the dump of a lodge, this is what he wanted. Peace away from the constant flurry of deadlines and shifts and clawing for shadowing positions of veterinary school. Somewhere he could focus on his craft and passion, somewhere he could take a break and not have to worry about anything. Not…not this.

Bakugou sighs and raises his fingers to his lips. He lets out a sharp series of whistles and waits, but he’s not left alone for long. He hears Eijirou before he sees him. Any stealth he might have used when hunting is gone, replaced by the crunch of leaves under feet and the crack of branches snapping.

A normal man might have balked, seeing a young male wolf bounding towards him, but Bakugou was no normal man, much to his chagrin. Still, his muscles tense when the wolf doesn’t stop running but throws himself at Bakugou, rising on his hind legs to plant his front paws on Bakugou's shoulders and lick his cheek to death. Bakugou stumbles backwards and against the side of his house, but Eijirou doesn’t stop with his assault of tongue.

“God, fuck—Eijirou,” Bakugou says, shoving at the wolf’s coat. “Eijirou, get down.”

Eijirou, being a wolf and not a dog, ignores Bakugou's command and continues to slobber all over his chin and neck and nose and mouth—okay, that was disgusting. Bakugou grabs Eijirou by the snout and shoves him off, Eijirou whining in protest. He’s not mollified for long, though. His tongue lolls out of his mouth and he wags his tail, trotting back and forth along the porch, nails clicking against the wood. And then, he tilts his head back.

“No, fuck you, no—” Bakugou says, but he’s too late to stop Eijirou from letting out a long howl that echoes through the trees. He flicks an ear and looks up at Bakugou, grinning, his tongue still hanging out of his mouth.

“I’m muzzling you, mutt,” Bakugou says. “Bill is going to call the Park Rangers on me for poaching wolves.”

Eijirou sneezes, but doesn’t show any sign of remorse.

It takes a couple minutes, but the rest of the wolves trickle in from the forest. The second is Tsuyu, just a slip of thing, loping into the clearing and up the porch steps. She licks Bakugou's hand once and he gives her a scratch between the ears that has Eijirou nosing at his free hand. Bakugou swats at him.

Tenya, the big dark grey and white male and his partner, Ochako, the little cream-colored female are next. Ochako has a spring in her step, trotting up to Tsuyu and ignoring Bakugou entirely. She nips at Tsuyu’s shoulder and Tsuyu turns to lick at her nose before running down the steps. Ochako does a little run in place and barks, but Bakugou snags her by the ear before she can go. Ochako turns to him and wraps her mouth around his wrist, giving it a little shake. When she releases him, Bakugou pats her on her hindquarters and she races after Tsuyu, growling and tussling.

Tenya follows after her, slower, but pauses to look up at Bakugou. Bakugou waves him off, and Tenya pursues the girls, pawing at them as they roll on the ground.

And finally, the last two of the pack arrive. Most obvious is their alpha, the biggest male of the group and full-grown. He’s an incredible mixture of darker red fur and patches of white, with heterochromatic eyes and an ugly scar over his blue eye. He moves slowly, allowing for the runt to keep up with him. Smaller than both of their females and black with fur that he never seemed to be able to keep flat and unfluffed, the runt eyes Bakugou with big green eyes.

Bakugou only looks at him for a moment before meeting the eyes of the alpha. “My opinion hasn’t changed, Shouto,” he says. “Deku’s slowing your pack down.”

He gets a round of growls from the females and Tenya and a snort from Eijirou. Deku’s legs start to shake and he tucks his tail between his legs. He’s still looking at Bakugou. Shouto is the only wolf unperturbed by Bakugou's comment. He flicks an ear and turns to Deku and parts his jaws to wrap them around Deku’s neck, at the base of his shoulder blades. Deku yips but goes limp and allows Shouto to drag him across the yard and up the porch steps.

Shouto deposits Deku at Bakugou's feet and noses him gently. Deku keeps wide eyes fixed on Bakugou but remains curled up. Shouto sits down and looks at Bakugou too, as if to say, “Look. He’s yours now.”

“I won’t accept him,” Bakugou says. “It’s for the best that you leave him. I’m not saying it to be cruel—your pack needs to be strong enough to face poachers and whatever the fuck it is was that gave you that scar. You’ll lose the rest of your packmates with your selfishness.”

Shouto makes a hacking noise and spreads his paws apart. His coat starts to rustle and Bakugou can hear the cringe-worthy sound of small bones snapping and forming anew, the pop of joints shifting in and out of place, and the larger cracks as thicker bones took on new shapes. Shouto’s skin ripples and underneath the surface, his body writhes with the shift. Bakugou looks away. He had enough nightmares as it stood.

The sound of shifting ceases and Bakugou hears, “You forget, often.”

He turns back and a naked man stands before him. Same bi-colored hair, same heterochromia. Same ugly, slashing scar that runs from forehead to jaw. Shouto picks up Deku, the wolf wiggling a little in his arms before settling, licking the underside of Shouto’s chin.

“We’re not wolves,” Shouto says. “Human compassion exists within all of us. We will never leave him.”

“Clothes are the first room on the right,” Bakugou grunts. “Stop ripping up your shit. I look like I’m stealing from the poor, always going to Goodwill to shop.” He crosses his arms as Shouto passes him. “You know you’ll have to choose, one day.”

Shouto pauses, tilting his head back.

“Between being a wolf and being a human,” Bakugou says. “Your mannerisms are too animalistic to fit in with society, but your morals cloud your judgment in the wild. One of these days, having too much of one world in you will get you killed in the other.”

“Mmm,” Shouto says. “I don’t disagree. That’s why you’re here.”

“I ain’t your fucking babysitter!” Bakugou calls as Shouto walks into the house. “I’m not your owner, either!” He glares at the wolves left outside. “Well? Do you want lunch or not? Get to shifting or hunting, I don’t give a fuck.”

Ochako, Tsuyu, and Tenya, still restless from their play, take off for the woods, probably after a rabbit or a squirrel or something to eat. It wouldn’t fill their bellies, but Bakugou had plenty of peanut butter and jelly in his pantry to make up what was missing in their eight thousand calorie diets or whatever crazy high amount of food they needed to consume in a day.

Eijirou makes to follow them, but Bakugou whistles sharply and he pauses. “Nope, not you,” he says. “For you, I’ve got something special. Get to shifting, shitty fur.”

He walks back inside, ignoring Eijirou’s whine. On the way to the kitchen, he hears Shouto’s voice soft in the other room. “Do you want to try to shift today?” A soft whine, then a sigh. “That’s okay,” Shouto says. “Tenya always brings back extra.”

He better not be putting that mutt on my clean bed, Bakugou thinks.

In the kitchen, he identifies a Petsmart bag on the countertop and wonders, not for the first time, if this is a bad idea. It’s bad enough that the employees know him as ‘that guy who brought his wolf-dog in without a leash and got into a fist fight with the manager over it’ and ‘that guy who spent an hour trying to decide between six or seven large dog bowls, which means he has at least six wolf-dogs’ and ‘that guy who yells at his dog like it’s a person’ and ‘that guy we might want to call the National Park Service on because his wolf-dog is very, very much wolf.’ Now he’s going to be the guy that does all that and then spent over an hour blushing while muttering to himself that this was “definitely a dog thing and not something I should be embarrassed to buy.”

What if Eijirou doesn’t want it, or is offended by it? Bakugou supposes that wouldn’t be the end of the world. He’d just return the darn thing and they’d never speak of it again. But the fact that he went out and bought something for one of his wolves—no, no the wolves, not his wolves, he wanted no part in owning them—something they didn’t necessarily need, makes him feel stupid. And vulnerable. Fuck it, he hopes Eijirou hates it. Then they can get into a fight about it and maybe the wolves will fuck off forever.

Eijirou comes loping in a couple minutes later, naked, and turns to Bakugou, who points at the bedroom with murder in his eyes. “I do not want to see your dick, dickhead,” he says. Eijirou rolls his eyes but moves toward the bedroom anyway.

“And don’t forget a shirt!” Bakugou calls.

Eijirou returns wearing a tank top and cargo pants that are too big for him, if the tightness of the belt around his waist says anything. Bakugou scowls. “Do you even eat?” he asks.

“Dude, I can still crush you in an arm wrestling contest,” Eijirou says, crashing on the couch.

While that’s true, that’s not what Bakugou was asking. All the wolves are slimmer than they should be. Bakugou knows that’s just how wild animals are—a little feral and a lot hungry, all the time. Eijirou’s pack was strong enough to handle the pressures of living wild, but even as humans, although they were muscular, there was an unnatural slimness about them that set Bakugou on edge, made him complain a little less when he had to feed them three servings of everything.

“Also,” Eijirou says, “you should be a little easier on Deku. He’s not as useless as you think. No one’s better at getting burrs out of our fur. He knows what plants are edible when elk pickings are slim. He makes the best plans of attack in cornering the elk, too, even if he can’t hunt.”

“Yeah,” Bakugou says. “He’s useful as a human. As a wolf, he’s slowing you down. Ditch him in the human world if you want to do well by him.”

Eijirou doesn’t say anything. Typical. Their family bonds were strong. And no matter how many times Bakugou warned them, they would die for their runt.

“Anyway,” Bakugou says. “I got you something.”

“Just for me?” Eijirou asks, eyes bright. He doesn’t have a tail now, but it might as well have been wagging. “What is it?”

Bakugou hesitates, then decides to dive right in. Out of the bag, he pulls a black dog collar studded with silver spikes.

Eijirou’s eyes go wide and he gets very, very quiet. Bakugou doesn’t know what to make of that.

“Listen,” he says, shifting uncomfortably. “This is only a precaution, okay? It’s not—it doesn’t mean anything. You’re the only one stupid enough to follow me into town and since there’s no way in hell I’ll put you on a leash, I figured that if you’re wearing a—a collar, no one’s going to shoot you, or call NPS on you, or call NPS on me, and that’ll be better for everyone.” He takes a breath. “You don’t have to wear it all the time, just when you follow me into town, so don’t get offended or any—”

“Can I hold it?” Eijirou asks.

Bakugou blinks. “Yeah, whatever,” he says, handing the collar to Eijirou.

It’s big. Bakugou got the biggest one he could find because Eijirou isn’t exactly a small wolf, and he’s still young enough to grow some, but even then he’s worried it might be a tight fit. Eijirou fingers the spikes that, looking back on it, were a stupid idea, Bakugou just thought they were cool and there were so many choices so he kind of—

“They remind me of you,” Eijirou murmurs. “This is the kind of thing you would buy your dog, right?”

“Uh,” Bakugou says. “I guess?” He hadn’t thought about owning a dog until seven oversized mongrels came barreling into his life.

He still can’t tell what Eijirou is thinking.

“If you don’t want it—” Bakugou starts.

“No!” Eijirou says, holding the collar close to his chest. “It’s mine.”

Bakugou holds his hands up.

Eijirou fingers the spikes again. “It’s the first gift you’ve ever given me,” he says.

“Like I said,” Bakugou grunts. “It doesn’t mean any—”

“Will you put it on me?” Eijirou asks.

Bakugou looks at him. He’s pretty sure Eijirou could slip the collar over his head with how wide it is, but that’s not the point. Eijirou could put it on himself, but that’s not the point. He doesn’t need to wear it unless they go into town, and certainly not as a human, but that’s not the point. Eijirou’s eyes are half-lidded and soft, and he can’t stop looking at the collar.

Bakugou steps forward and takes it from his hands. He pulls out the tongue of the collar, unhooks it from the eye of the collar and opens it up. He leans forward, his face hovering by Eijirou’s. He slides the tongue back through the buckle and pulls it to a tightness that he estimates would fit snugly around the neck of Eijirou's wolf. He pokes the hook through the eye and secures the length of the collar around Eijirou’s neck. When he leans back, Eijirou’s lips are parted and he’s flushed.

Eijirou wraps a hand around the collar and tugs at it. His breath catches.

This is too intimate. Bakugou should leave. He should get out of here before…

Before…

“It’s like you own me,” Eijirou says softly. “I’m really yours, now.”

“You’re not a dog,” Bakugou says. “You’re not domesticated. You’re wild.”

“But I’m wearing your mark, now.”

Bakugou sucks in a breath. “You may be a wolf,” Bakugou says. “But part of you is human. I don’t—I can’t—”

Eijirou’s fingers find the hem of Bakugou's shirt. “You have to keep me,” he says. “You gave me this gift; you have to keep me now.”

“Whatever you are, you’re sentient,” Bakugou says. “I can never own you.”

“Then keep me,” Eijirou says, tugging at his shirt. He looks up at Bakugou. “You saved my life. I owe you everything that I am. We are bonded.”

We are bonded. Bakugou shivers.

“Then you would leave your pack for me?” Bakugou asks. “You would turn on all of them to stay by my side?”

Eijirou’s eyes fall.

“I thought not,” Bakugou says. “You’re too human and too wolf. You won’t abandon your pack, even though you have the free will to do so. You ask to be kept, but balk at the implications. As friendly as your pack is with me, you’re all feral, Eijirou. You could never be kept by me.”

Eijirou is quiet. “You’re so logical, Bakugou,” he says. “You’re so logical and so human, it’s almost cruel.” His fingers tighten around Bakugou's shirt. “I don’t want your reasoned arguments. I don’t understand what I feel. The human in me wants to stay.”

“The wolf in you wants to leave,” Bakugou says.

“No,” Eijirou says. “The wolf in me wants you.”

Bakugou falters. Eijirou presses his face into Bakugou's shirt.

“He wants to trail after you, nipping and playing. He wants to be chased away by your snarls and snapping, but always coming back for more. He wants to brush shoulders with you and sleep at your side.” Eijirou takes a breath. “And he wants to mount you over and over, seal the bond he can feel between us. He wants to go for hours, until neither of us can see or hear or smell or taste or feel anything but each other.”

“He wants you to run away with me,” Eijirou says. “He wants to take you back to the wild.”

“I’m not a wolf,” Bakugou says softly. “You need one of your own to satisfy him, and yourself.”

“No,” Eijirou says. “We want you. Both of us.”

Eijirou’s hands slide from the hem of Bakugou's shirt to his hips, holding him and looking up at him. Bakugou can see the rise and fall of his chest, his lips parted slightly to reveal wolf teeth. Even his hair, unkempt and usually studded with twigs or leaves, is inhuman, the same red-orange of his coat. Sometimes, when Bakugou met his eyes, for a second he saw wolf eyes instead of those of a human. He wasn’t lying: these kids—these wolves—were more feral than they were domesticated. Even if Eijirou did try to integrate into society, he wouldn’t be able to. He was just inhuman enough to alarm. They all were.

“What am I going to do with you?” Bakugou murmurs. He reaches out to sweep Eijirou’s bangs from his eyes and cups his cheek. “Where can you go?”

When Bakugou bought this decrepit ex-lodge, he had been looking for a home improvement project and time to focus on photography. And now, he was keeping seven orphaned werewolves who would never fit into either of their worlds.

“I can be with you,” Eijirou says. “I need to be with you.”

Bakugou swipes a thumb over his cheek and Eijirou turns his head to catch the digit in between his teeth. They’re predator teeth, sharp enough to remove Bakugou's finger in a single chomp, but Eijirou closes his lips around Bakugou's thumb and sucks at it, his tongue brushing the pad of Bakugou's thumb.

Bakugou's breath catches. Eijirou closes his eyes and nibbles at it, adding only the suggestion of teeth. He lets Bakugou's thumb go after a moment and turns to the rest of his hand, dragging his teeth over Bakugou's palm and nipping at the webbing between his thumb and forefinger. His tongue follows, lapping at the places he bites.

Bakugou knows what he’s doing.

I’m not your alpha, Bakugou wants to say. I’m not your mate. Don’t treat me like I’m one of your pack.

(But if he was.)

Eijirou looks up at him, gauging his reaction with wide eyes that vie for approval, for Bakugou's satisfaction. Bakugou can see it—Eijirou on his back in front of Bakugou, standing over him. He’d be nipping at Bakugou's muzzle, if Bakugou were a wolf, baring his belly to show his trust in Bakugou.

You’re too wolf, Bakugou thinks. This isn’t how you flirt.

Eijirou pulls on his hips, sliding Bakugou into his lap.

This isn’t how you flirt.

His hands migrate from Bakugou's hips to either side of his face, and Eijirou presses their foreheads together.

This isn’t…

“You’re right,” Eijirou says. “I’m too wild. I don’t know how this works. I don’t really understand human emotions yet. I don’t know what to call this—a crush, or lust, or love. It’s easier as a wolf.” He smiles. “You just kind of…go for it.”

“Unless you’re Shouto,” Bakugou grunts. “He’s romancing that runt of yours.”

Eijirou grins. “Yeah, we think so, too. The only ones who don’t know are them. But that’s not the point.”

He brushes fingers over Bakugou's three-day-old stubble, stroking away the scowl at the corners of Bakugou's mouth. “You act like you’re not one of us. And sure, you’re not one of us.” His smile is all teeth. “But you’re one of us.”

“I can’t replace a true mate,” Bakugou says. “You know that, don’t you? I can’t complete your soul bond the way Shouto and Deku can complete theirs.”

“I know,” Eijirou says. “We both know. And we still choose you.”

Bakugou grabs Eijirou’s collar and tugs him closer, so their noses brush and their breaths mingle. “I can only protect you so much,” Bakugou says. “This? This is all I can do to keep you safe in the human world. In Lamar Valley, and in your territory, I can’t help you.” He shakes Eijirou by the collar and Eijirou goes limp against him.

“It’s enough,” Eijirou whispers. “It’s enough just to know you’ll try.”

“And I’m not your alpha,” Bakugou says. “Stop going limp every time I do anything domineering.”

“He likes it,” Eijirou says. “So do I.”

“You want me to grab you by the neck but you still want to put your dick in me,” Bakugou says. “Make up your damn mind.”

Eijirou whines in a far, far too animalistic tone. Bakugou yanks his collar up, tilting his head back.

“Then wear this every day,” Bakugou says softly. “Let it be known to every animal and man and everything in between that you belong to me.”

“I do,” Eijirou whimpers. “I do.”

Bakugou pulls the collar again, this time towards him, so he can kiss Eijirou. Eijirou’s hands move to his hair in an instant, clawing at his scalp and pulling Bakugou down so that Eijirou can kiss him harder. His chest surges up and his back arches so that he can press himself against Bakugou.

Kissing a human with wolf teeth is more alarming than Bakugou expected. Eijirou is careful with his teeth, keeping nibbling to a minimum, but when Bakugou twines their tongue together, he brushes against a canine and jumps, pulling away.

“Jesus,” he says. “I forgot about those.”

Eijirou doesn’t let him pause to say anything else. He knocks Bakugou onto his back on the couch and crawls on top of him to kiss him, fingers fanning over his face to hold Bakugou in place. Bakugou's mind starts to go fuzzy at the edges and he tangles his fingers in hair as unkempt as a mane or the raised hackles of a beast. Distantly, Bakugou wonders about the morality of swapping spit with an entity that was at least fifty percent animal. Then Eijirou arches his back and presses his hips down, and Bakugou can’t think about anything but holy shit, they were really doing this quickly followed by fuck yes, we are really doing this.

“Things I didn’t need to see,” Shouto says from behind the couch. “This.”

Eijirou and Bakugou scramble apart, but it’s a mess: Eijirou slides into Bakugou's lap and Bakugou kind of just holds him there, while Eijirou’s hands fall at Bakugou's shoulder and they still look as compromised as they had two seconds ago. Eijirou’s lips are spit-stained and red, and he has saliva on his chin from—drooling, probably; that was what dogs tended to do when they were happy.

In Shouto’s (thankfully clothed) arms, Deku peers at them with wide eyes, his fur combed into some semblance of order, although still curly.

“Eijirou, he’s human,” Shouto says. “You can do better.”

“He’s pack,” Eijirou says tightly, his hands gripping Bakugou's shoulders.

Shouto’s odd eyes drift between the two of them. Bakugou is tensed, unsure if Shouto would shepherd his packmate back into the fold and away from the tainted human.

He walks towards them. Deku buries his muzzle in Shouto’s chest. Bakugou flinches when Shouto reaches a hand out, but he only rubs a hand over the left side of Bakugou's face. Eijirou looks between them with wide eyes.

“You’ve reached your rebellious stage, then,” he says.

Eijirou opens his mouth to protest, but Shouto keeps talking.

“He may be pack, but he’s ugly. And weak. And smells bad. Do try to work on that, Bakugou.” And he turns and heads out the door.

Eijirou’s jaw flaps open and shut. “That’s it? You’ll accept it?”

Shouto shrugs one shoulder. “If you had gone after one of us, my wolf would have seen that as a challenge, so I’d recommend against it. But since he sees Bakugou as this hulking, ugly pup, he doesn’t give a shit what you do with him.” Shouto glances over his shoulder. “Hurry up, though. Tenya said they’d be back soon.”

“I’ll show you ‘hulking, ugly pup,’” Bakugou mutters, but Eijirou just grins.

When they head back to the park after eating, seven dark shapes bounding into the forest, Bakugou can make out the glint of metal in the sunlight, and a black band around his wolf.