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Finding Nowhere

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Hizashi Yamada, known to many as the bard Present Mic, loves to travel, almost as much as he loves fun and to sing. His past is a secret that few know, left behind by distance and years. He doesn’t care to revisit it, focusing on the now, since it’s how he got his name. As much as he loves cities in all their splendor, the road always calls him back. He sells all his valuables, hides his gold in his enchanted bag, and sets out for the great unknown, with only his voice as company.

 

Hizashi whistles quietly as he walks along the path. The city of Musutafu is his next destination, a growing town with an equally growing need for entertainment. The road is empty despite being well traveled, making Hizashi uneasy. However, he keeps going, heading towards a small village he wasn’t expecting. It seems quiet, but maybe Hizashi can still rake in some cash. The closer he gets, the stranger he feels, his nose twitching as he senses an aura of magic. As he rounds a bend in the path, Hizashi is greeted with a run down fence, mops of hair peeking up from behind it. Large eyes watch him, voices quickly shushing each other. Hizashi steps closer, feeling another set of eyes on him from somewhere . “Hello, little listeners!” He keeps his voice hushed like theirs, face gentle as he crouches. “Is there anyone here I could get directions from?”

 

“Maybe!” A happy voice pipes up. The other children shush them.

 

“We can’t talk to strangers.” Says another.

 

“Well, that's fine. If I keep walking, will I find someone to help me?

 

“It’s our home!”

 

“Shh!”

 

“Uh, hello?”

 

Hizashi steps forward again, only for the children to laugh and scream as they run towards the undergrowth at the side of the road. He watches with a bemused expression as they hide themselves, clearly having done the same thing many times before. He looks down the road again to the small collection of buildings that looks less like a proper village now that he’s closer. Maybe more of a collection of houses, with a lone tavern. He can’t see any other travellers, though there is the faintest hint of wagon tracks on the dusty road.

 

Hizashi decides to continue down the road, hoping someone will be in their home and willing to help. He goes from door to door, knocking, waiting, and moving on when no one answers. His worry for the children grows as he moves farther down the street. When he knocks on one of the last house’s doors he realizes it’s no use. There was no one else in this town besides the children. Dread forms as he wonders if the kids were just abandoned for the day or had to fend for themselves. He turns around and heads back to where they were playing.

 

Older children stand by the entrance, arms crossed as they look the bard over. The kids he met were further back now, playing as if nothing is wrong. Hizashi straightens his back, again, flashing his most charming smile.

“Not to be rude, but I think I’d like to talk to someone's… anyone's parents. “

 

“Then you can wait an eternity to talk to something that doesn’t exist.” A scrawny boy steps forward, hands shoved in his pockets, tired purple eyes on Hizashi’s.

 

Was it a trap? He heard many tales of these parts, but never a village of children with no guardians… Then again, bards tales never focus on the hopeless. Only tragic ends and heroic beginnings.

 

“Well then, how do I talk to something that doesn’t exist?” Hizashi grins. The boy pauses, scrutinizing Hizashi carefully.

 

“What?”

 

“Do I create it first? Do I pretend? Shall I speak and then it exists?” Hizashi waves his hand in a sweeping gesture, trying to amuse them to dispel the tension in the air. He pauses as a shadow falls over him, a heavy sigh meeting his ears.

 

“Another joker…” the mystery voice groans, and Hizashi turns with a smile at finally hearing an adult’s voice.

 

Of course, instead of it being a normal, everyday person, Hizashi finds himself face to face with a Sphinx. The Sphinx is bigger than Hizashi would have expected having only seen pictures in storybooks, it’s lion’s body larger than his own. A pair of large, black wings are folded on it’s back, the feathers matching his dark mane. His face is one of a tired, scruffy human, the only inhuman feature being his piercing red eyes, at least until he opens his mouth to reveal fangs. A deep, crescent scar is underneath his right eye, almost blending in with his eyebags. The Sphinx lets out a yawn, clearly not in the mood for dealing with Hizashi.

Sphinxzawa

 

“If you can answer this riddle, I won’t kill you immediately.” The Sphinx says, boredom evident in his voice. “What has four legs in the morning, two at noon, and three in the evening?”

 

Hizashi stands at his full height, hips cocked to the side as he smirks, hiding behind a mask of confidence to deal with the strange and serious situation he has found himself in. He knows those fangs aren’t just for show. “Easy, but I wanna change the deal. If I answer correctly, I want some answers of my own.” He takes a step forward as he tries to remember anything he can about sphinxes, almost nose to nose with the exhausted-looking creature, looking him over and peering around. He can’t help but wonder why a sphinx is here of all places, in this day and age. His storybooks said they fled across the sky to the moon, to escape the plagues of humanity. What is this one doing in an abandoned town full of children?

“Is this your true form?” He paces around him, his voice cheery as he whispers near the creatures ear. “The answer is man.”

 

The Sphinx frowns but doesn’t move, even as Hizashi walks in a complete circle around him. More children have gathered at a safe distance, and Hizashi can’t be sure, but none of them look older than fourteen or fifteen.

 

“That is correct. Though I do not usually agree to change my terms. Unless you’re suggesting I kill you regardless of the answer?”

 

“No!”

 

“Ah, so not only do you want death off the table, you want more than mercy?”

 

“What, do I really look so dangerous that death has to be on the table at this point?” Hizashi grins, trying not to falter in the face of fear. He can do this. The Sphinx flicks his tail.

 

“Hm. What is on a table, but cannot be removed?”

 

Hizashi thinks for a moment. This one is a step above the previous riddle, but it isn’t too difficult.

 

“A tabletop.” Hizashi answers. The Sphinx narrows his eyes.

 

“Correct.” The Sphinx sighs, annoyance in his voice, “I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to let you ask a question.”

 

Hizashi gives him a winning smile. “What’s your name, listener?”

 

The Sphinx’s eyes widen, then narrow, but he quickly covers it with an intimidating grin, showing off his fangs.

 

“That’s seriously the question you choose to ask?”

 

“I like to get to know people!” Hizashi spreads his hands. “What’s so wrong with that?”

 

“If you were anyone else, I’d have already eaten you, but something about you is intriguing.”

 

Hizashi taps his lip. “You’re stalling. Tell me who you are -- besides a Sphinx.”

 

“Names have power. They are used to summon and to banish, curse and hex. Why should I trust you with mine?”

 

Hizashi shrugs. “People always end up trusting me one way or the other. I’m told I’m very persuasive. Besides, I’m no warlock.”

 

Hizashi can feel the grumble from the Sphinx, see his sharp red eyes follow his every movement. A shiver goes down his spine. “If you won’t give me your name, I’ll just have to give you one!” His finger came forward, nearly smacking the other as he points.

“I’m gonna call you -- Eraserhead!” The bard is all grins and large movements, green eyes never leaving the creature. It feels familiar… A song he hasn't heard in ages and he can’t quite remember the words, only a bit of the melody.

 

“Eraser…head?” The Sphinx tilts his head in curiosity. Hizashi keeps grinning.

 

“Yeah! I mean, I could tell you why it fits, or do you want to give guessing a go?”

 

“Ah, is it like a riddle, then? Hm. Boring.”

 

“Wh-what!? Boring? How is it boring! You were telling me riddles and threatening me!” Hizashi’s fear is fading now as they bicker, his indignation overriding everything else.

 

The Sphinx, now dubbed ‘Eraserhead’, lies down and yawns, exposing the sharp teeth in his otherwise human mouth.

 

“I may be compelled to tell riddles and eat my enemies, but that doesn’t mean I have to enjoy it. I don't enjoy being hungry. I still have to deal with it. That sort of thing. It’s just simple logic.”

 

“You’re no fun.” Hizashi jokingly pouts. “Why do you have to eat your enemies anyway? Couldn’t you eat a cow or something?”

 

The Sphinx gives Hizashi a pointed glare. “I only agreed to one question, and I never agreed to answer it.” Eraserhead sits up, licking his lips in a way that makes Hizashi nervous. Why did he bring eating up after trying this hard to make sure he doesn’t get eaten? Think, Hizashi!

 

“What is hard, alive, ages but never grows too old and dies?”

 

Hizashi blinks. “I’d say Zeus, but I know that’s not right.” He shakes his head. When he was younger, he’d entertain the town’s kids by giving them riddles and challenges to solve. Thankfully, this was one he’d already heard. “A tree. The answer is a tree.”

 

Eraserhead deflates. “That’s right,” his voice hollows and shoulders hunch.

 

“It’s right, but is it correct?” Hizashi wonders out loud. “Trees can die, you know.”

 

“Not of old age.” Eraserhead digs his heels into the ground. “Are you questioning my answers?”

 

“Cause you keep answering my questions!” He glances back at the children, giving them a wave before looking at Eraser.

“So, is it possible to have a conversation with you that doesn't revolve around riddles? Answering your first riddle guaranteed my safety but it didn't guarantee my silence. Maybe we should take a seat somewhere?”

 

“A conversation without riddles?”

 

“Yeah! Look, clearly there’s a lot going on here I’m not aware of, but I’m not here to cause trouble. I’m a wandering entertainer! Hizashi, the bard known as Present Mic! Maybe you’ve heard of-”

 

“No. Can’t say I have.”

 

“You didn't even let me finish speaking!”

 

“I don't think you ever finish speaking.” Eraserhead sighs. Hizashi laughs, feeling a wave of fondness wash through him at the joke. The back and forth is fun- much more so now that he doesn’t feel like he’s going to be eaten.

 

“Harsh, but you’re right. I don’t! Say, I don’t suppose you’d have a place for me to stay? There’s only so many nights I can spend in a tent praying the bugs don’t find me. I can pay, of course, or earn my keep.”

 

Eraserhead’s eyes are filled with curiosity. Hizashi wishes he could read his thoughts, if only to know what he’s thinking. Does Eraserhead believe him? Hizashi isn’t lying, but he’s been accused of it many times. Eraserhead just stands with a sigh. “Fine. Follow me.”

 

The Sphinx turns away from the children, leading Hizashi down the road to one of the abandoned houses. Its a two-storey, overgrown with vines and trees scratching at the outer walls. Instead of entering through the front door, the Sphinx jumps and flies to the second story, entering through an open window. He looks at Hizashi, a shit-eating grin on his face.

 

“I don’t eat cows because they’re less foolish than humans.” With that, Eraserhead goes further into the house, disappearing from view and leaving Hizashi outside.

 

“...Damn Sphinx.” Hizashi mumbles. What is he supposed to do now? He approaches the door, but its locked, and not at all rotted enough for him to bust open. Besides, that would be rude and make a draft. He steps away to look up at the window again.

 

“What exactly are you expecting of me?” he calls, voice loud and clear. Eraserhead pokes his head out the window.

 

“If you want to stay so bad, prove it. If you can get in here without my help you can stay the night. You said you’d earn your keep.”

 

One of the children chuckles behind him. Hizashi turns to see the purple-eyed child from before.

 

“What?” Hizashi huffs. “What’s so funny?”

 

“Looks like you’re stuck out here.” The kid laughs.

 

“No, I’m not!” Hizashi throws his hands up. There has to be a way for him to follow Eraserhead up. Picking the lock on the front door would be the easy option, but something about entering that way was like admitting defeat. “It’s like….it’s like a physical riddle. Find a way in without using the front door.”

 

He takes a closer look. The abandoned-looking building has definitely seen its fair share of wear and tear. The corners of the wall are cracked. Some of the windows are shattered. Columns rise up the side of the wall in even increments, decorations that look like they belong in a haunted mansion. An aged tree bends over the roof.

 

Hizashi is a puzzle-solver and creative thinker. If Eraserhead thinks he has fooled HIzashi, he has another thing coming. Hizashi lets out a huff as he moves towards the tree. He is just a little too short to reach the nearest branch. He doesn't bother looking at anyone, choosing to ignore their judging looks. Hizashi tugs his belt off, flinging it over the branch and cheering loudly as it adds just enough length for him to reach, grab on, and swing forward to catch his feet on uneven parts of the trunk.

 

He’s panting by the time he gets up, vaulting himself to the crumbling column then to the roof, scrambling on the lip before tugging himself through the same window Eraserhead had entered. Eraserhead is sitting on a large pile of comfortable looking pillows and blankets on the floor next to a stripped mattress. Hizashi catches his breath as he looks around. The interior doesn't look as decrepit as the outside, which is a relief. The mattress has stains, but everything inside looks dry despite the broken window.

 

“Well, I made it! Uhm, is this where I'm supposed to stay?”

 

Eraserhead yawns and rests his head on his forepaws, his gaze steady despite his sleepy appreance.

 

“The mattress is free. You humans like to sleep on those, don’t you? And no, I am not sharing my pillows.”

 

Hizashi laughs. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”

 

He steps around the Sphinx’s nest and flops onto the bare mattress, the squeak of the springs much louder than he expected. He dumps his bag and pulls out his bedroll and blanket, making the bed groan as he sets it all up and takes off his boots. Eraserhead glares at him before closing his eyes and settling down.

 

“Just be quiet.” Eraserhead grumbles.

 

Hizashi chuckles softly before laying down. There’s still a little daylight out, but Hizashi finds himself drifting off surprisingly quickly, especially considering his deadly host. He never feels the effects of travel until he stands still, and he did travel a lot today. A thousand thoughts race through his mind, some questioning whether Eraserhead is trustworthy- he can feel himself being watched, but that makes sense. With this arrangement he can watch Hizashi all night. Other thoughts make him wonder how this adventure is going to end. One thought yanks him back from the edge of sleep.

 

“Eraserhead,” Hizashi hisses. “Hey, Eraserhead.” A little louder this time.

 

“I told you to be quiet.”

 

“Yeah, yeah. But you know, you never told me your actual name.”

 

“Are you waking me to ask about a subject we’ve already discussed?”

 

“You didn’t answer my question! I’m a curious person. If you don’t respond, I’ll never shut up.” Yeah. Hizashi has been told he’s a loudmouth, annoying, that he gets on peoples nerves. Over the years, he’s learned how to leverage it to his advantage. If he can’t beat them, he might as well join them.

 

“You didn’t tell me your full name.” The Sphinx says, one eye open and watching the other lazily. “I have no reason to trust you. All you’ve done is harass the children, answer riddles and climb a tree.” A long yawn leaves the creature, his brows furrowing in frustration. “And annoy me.”

Hizashi grins. “You haven't given me much to trust in either. I earned this bed by solving a riddle, not out of the goodness of your heart.”

 

Eraserhead snorts, eyes glowing a tad brighter. “Assuming I have one.”

 

“I think you do.” The blonde pulls his legs to his chest, resting his chin on his knees. “Why waste your time protecting those kids? They knew not to talk to me, but they weren’t scared of me. They knew you were watching over them.” It certainly is a mystery. It’s interesting enough to fight off sleep for awhile longer.

 

Eraserhead flicks his tail but shows no change in expression. A nervous tic? Unconscious response?  Maybe even a trick. Or maybe Hizashi is reading into things too much.

 

“I have my reasons. And they are not something I’m going to tell a stranger.”

 

“Oh-kay. Well, let me start again? I’m Hizashi--”

 

“You said that.”

 

“Also known as Present Mic--”

 

“You also said that.”

 

“I like music, singing, taking long baths and walks through the forest, and my favorite food is curry! There! Am I such a stranger now?”

 

“Yes.” Eraserhead says, voice flat.

 

“Oh come on.” Hizashi whines. Eraserhead rolls his eyes. Maybe Hizashi should change his tactics.

 

“Ok, Mr. Grouch, what would you say makes a person less of a stranger?”

 

The Sphinx shoots him an annoyed glare. “It hasn’t even been more than an hour since we’ve met.”

 

“Can I say we’re acquaintances?”

 

“Will you shut up if I say yes?”

 

“Debatable,” Hizashi shrugs. “I never shut up. Just like, as a general rule.”

 

“Not even in your sleep?”

 

“I’m a sleep-talker.” Hizashi folds his arms. That particular fact is a sore spot for him. Not only do people make fun of it, but they love to use it to their advantage and prank him. Sometimes he would wake up talking about giant plants and hurricanes, only to have someone say he’s about to be eaten or sucked away, making his dream-addled brain go into overdrive.

 

“Wonderful. Do you plan on doing that tonight?” Eraserhead gives Hizashi a doubtful look, clearly wondering if it was better to eat him after all.

 

“I don’t plan to do it… But, I have so many things on my mind! I’m probably going to dream about learning your real name… Imagine; me saying names all night, awkward pauses and everything!” He flings his arms in the air as he laughs. “Kidding… I mean, not about the sleep talking part, just the dreaming about you.” He runs his fingers through his hair, combing out knots and tangles.

 

“For someone who enjoys asking riddles and getting answers, you’re very anti-social. How many people manage to solve your twisters? Do they lack creativity?”  

 

“Well, it's not always the riddles that get them, but the fear.” Eraserhead says in a matter-of-fact tone. “Some people can't think when faced with a beast… faced with me.”

 

“Ah, I'm not scared! I think you're interesting. And you're not that beastly!” Now that his fear is mostly gone, it’s the truth. He wants to learn more about this strange Sphinx and his gaggle of children.

 

Eraserhead raises an eyebrow and yawns, making sure to expose all his long, sharp teeth. Hizashi laughs nervously, heart thumping. Ok, still dangerous! “Hah. Heh. Uh. Ok, you've made your point. But I have to say, if you're going to call anything beastly, it would have to be your personality! Wha- hey, it's a joke!”

 

Eraserhead lifts a judgemental eyebrow, his expression unreadable, before snorting in amusement. “If you're going to ignore my literal body, then don't ignore your horrifyingly big mouth.” Eraserhead lays his head back onto his paws. “If you keep talking, I'll eat you. Goodnight.”

 

“Night.” Hizashi hums in response, laying down and staring up at the ceiling. He tries to clear his mind, but he can't stop thinking about the village and Eraserhead’s victims. He doesn't seem like he wants to eat people, but like it was something he accepts he has to do. Maybe Eraserhead accidentally wandered into the village and outriddled the adults, his nature compelling him to eat them all like some twisted storybook tale.

 

Hizashi frowns. If Eraserhead ate those kids’ parents, they wouldn't be nearly as comfortable with him, would they? He knew there was something he was missing, a lost piece of the puzzle. Come to think of it, Hizashi hadn’t seen any adults for miles. Not in the village, not with the kids, not anywhere nearby. Just Eraserhead. He’s heard stories about places like this. Some call it Neverland, the place where kids never grow old, where fairies make you fly and pirates with hooks and eye patches fight for control of the land. Others called it Hamelin, where a man with a flute took the children away; never to be seen from again. Eraserhead didn’t strike Hizashi as a Pied Piper or Peter Pan.

 

He’s more of a gatekeeper than a kidnapper.

 

What made him decide who came through? The questions surmount in his mind, but he can’t ask them...not tonight. Hizashi’s never been good at silence, but he isn't good with being eaten either. He can wait.

 

He decides to settle down for the night and get some rest. He closes his eyes, his exhaustion from travel finally kicking in. As he drifts off he can feel eyes on him, but he ignores the feeling and allows himself to sleep.

 


 

The silence filling the room is broken bright and early; and not by himself. Whispers float softly, quiet and excited little sounds. Hizashi keeps his eyes closed, listening.

“He seems nice!” A grumble follows it- from the Sphinx.


“You don't let anyone stay this long. Or ever.” Another grunt in response.


“Is he your friend? Can he come play?”

Hizashi jumps a little at the loud sound that follows, Eraserhead’s voice a low growl. “I was trying to sleep…


Only laughter greets his ears. When the bard opens his eyes, he spies two children sitting by the Sphinx, one with wild purple hair, the other with long silver locks. The purple haired boy watches Hizashi, his eyes moving between Hizashi and the younger girl.

 

Hizashi sits up with an exaggerated yawn, already putting on his performance for his new audience. His smile can’t hide his messy hair or drooping eyes, though.

 

“Good morning!”

 

“Good morning!” The young girl chirps back, emboldened as she is by hiding behind her friend. The boy blinks at him. Okay, still suspicious then.

 

“I know two of you from yesterday, but who’s this little listener?”

 

“I’m Eri!”

 

“Hello, Eri. And hello, Bedhead and Eraserhead.”

 

“Bedhead?”

 

“You won’t give me a name! So I gave you one! It matches your guardian’s!”

 

Eraserhead and “Bedhead” roll their eyes scarily in-sync.

 

“Bedhead, that’s silly! His name is Hitoshi!” Eri giggles.

 

“Call me Shinsou. Only friends can call me Hitoshi.”

 

“Funny! A certain someone won't even give me their family name!” Hizashi shoots Eraserhead an exaggerated glare, receiving a huff in response. He can't help but notice that Eraser looks more exhausted than yesterday, the bags beneath his eyes darker than before.

 

“Don't worry!” Eri chirps, “Sensei won't give us his name either!”

 

“Sensei?” Hizashi’s grin widens. “Eraserhead! You never told me you were a teacher!”

 

The Sphinx grumbles something incomprehensible.

 

“I'm sorry, could you repeat that?”

 

“I said, someone had to teach these kids to read.”

 

“What about their parents?” Hizashi laughs. The room goes silent -- stony silent.

 

“Someone had to do it,” Eraserhead repeats himself.

 

Oh. Ohhhhh. Hizashi realizes his mistake too late. Him and his big mouth.

 

“That reminds me. Eri, did you finish your work from yesterday?”

 

“Yes!” The girl beams up at him, eyes wide and smile large. She certainly bounces back quick.

 

“Show it to me.”

 

The smile vanishes. Eri shifts her weight from foot to foot. “Well, the thing is….Hitoshi ate it!”

 

Eraserhead remains stock still, never blinking. His mane flares up as his eyes burn brighter. “Do your work now , or you don't get to play with the others.”

 

Shinsou smirks, holding his hand out. “C’mon, Eri. I’ll help. “

 

Hizashi bursts into giggles as Eri sticks her tongue out. “You aren't scary like that-”



“Go.”



“She’s right. You just look like a big ol’ kitten-”

 

A growl cuts Hizashi off as the Sphinx bares his teeth.

 

Hizashi sits on the mattress, watching quietly with wide eyes as Eraserhead banters with the children until they leave. Eraserhead lies back down once the door is closed as if intending to fall back asleep, but Hizashi isn’t going to let that happen.

 

“So, sensei-”

 

“Don’t call me that. Unless you want me to call you ‘kitten.’”

 

Hizashi snorts and bursts into laughter, shooting Eraserhead an incredulous look. Eraserhead just looks confused.

 

“Kitten? Eraser, please, that’s funny! That’s- okay, you do know when humans call each other that it's sort of… well, how to put it? Usually between sweethearts. Are you smitten with me already, Sensei?”

 

Eraserhead blinks, and Hizashi is treated with a sight he thought he’d never see: a blushing Sphinx.

 

Hizashi’s having trouble holding back his giggles. “So are you sure you wanna call me that?”

 

“People are weird.” Eraserhead mutters, face still cherry red. Hizashi chokes on his laughter, and Eraserhead glares at him, although the effect is lost due to his blush. If anything, it makes Hizashi laugh harder.

 

Eventually, Hizashi settles down enough to let out a sound of agreement. People are quite weird after all.

 

“So,” Hizashi leans back on his elbows. “You don’t know modern slang.”

 

“I suppose we’re frozen in time here.”

 

Something crosses his mind. “You don’t know about pet names. Do you know much about what's happening outside this orphan town of yours? How long has it been since you’ve had non-riddle-esque contact with people?”

 

“I talk.” Eraserhead protests.

 

“With people besides your kids or victims?” Hizashi raises an eyebrow.

 

A growl comes from Eraser’s throat and his eyes narrow. “Talking to prey is useless to me. Idle banter isn't entertaining- it’s a waste of my time.”

 

The bard whistles softly, leaning back. “Alright, touchy subject. “

The Sphinx almost looks surprised, hunching in on himself. “I don't like talking about me . It’s a pointless topic that won't ever reach a goal.”

“No person can’t be pointless…” Hizashi hums, falling silent as he mulls it all over. He doesn't have much to go on, but one thing is clear. Eraserhead isn't some evil beast like the stories would suggest. Perhaps Hizashi would go so far as to think Eraserhead has a soft side under the growling and shield of disinterest. Were his storybooks wrong? Or is something more going on here?

 

He looks up to find Eraserhead staring at him from his nest, making Hizashi wonder how dishevelled he looks. Hizashi flips back his messy hair and winks at Eraserhead on instinct like he always does when he catches someone staring. Eraserhead ducks his head with a blush. Well then. Can Sphinxes catch feelings for someone?

 

Instead of waiting around to think about that question, Hizashi hops out of bed and grabs his travel bag, pointing to the door.

 

“I'm gonna go wash up. And eat. And uh, do stuff! Bye!”

 

Hizashi stumbles out of the room to escape the awkward silence, hoping his sudden exit wasn’t insulting. The last thing he needed was to get on Eraserhead’s bad side.

 

He looks down the hall, only finding an empty room and stairs leading downward. The wooden steps are creaky and well worn, but Hizashi doesn’t focus on that. Instead, his eyes are drawn to the long jagged gashes in the wall, starting halfway down and becoming smaller as he descends, wavy and varying in depth, but always parallel. Are these claw marks? The marks end at the base of the steps, their width barely wider than Hizashi’s nails. The bard reaches out and aligns his fingertips with the end of the marks, a little startled when he realizes they almost line up perfectly. The gashes here seem deeper and straighter, the beginning being a lot more uncontrolled... or maybe the gashes at the top aren’t the beginning. Hizashi has it backwards. He’s looking at the beginning of the gash here at the bottom. Hizashi glances back at his hand, at his nails, before his mind wanders to his gracious host. He can’t help but wonder how large the Sphinx’s claws are, not really thinking about why he would see them up close.

 

The marks -- if they are from a human -- would be from somebody close to Hizashi’s height. Hizashi’s tall, though he wears clunky boots to make himself taller.

 

Interesting. Hizashi knows the lore of every creature he’s encountered. He loves to learn, maybe even more than he loves to talk; but not even he can recall the process of becoming a sphinx. Did his books even mention their creation? Were they born? Transformed?

 

That sounds closer to correct.

 

He reaches the bottom of the stairwell and the hall splits in two. The left leads towards laughter and the sound of children’s voices, various doors hiding rooms from sight. The right vanishes into darkness, cut off by a large, bolted door that catches Hizashi’s interest.

 

Hizashi has always been good at lockpicking.

 

His curiosity gets the better of him as he walks towards the darkened door. Looking at the way the house is set up, he can guess it leads to a closet or perhaps the basement. He drops his bag on the floor so he can lean in and examine the lock, noticing some fine runes scratched onto the surface of the metal. The wall to the side has some of the same strange scratches from before.

 

Curious.

 

The urge to open it almost gets the better of him, but his common sense wins out. He shouldn’t be trespassing, especially not through a magicked door. He sighs and turns back around, squeaking when he sees Shinsou standing a few feet away. When did he get there?

 

“Don’t bother, it won’t open.” Shinsou says, regarding Hizashi with a suspicious look. “I’ve tried every trick I know.”

 

“Oh? You know how to lockpick?”

 

“Sensei can’t open most doors. If I wanted anything from these houses I had to get it myself.”

 

“Oh.” Not the response he was expecting.

 

“If you try to lockpick the door you’ll pass out and wake up squawking like a chicken.” Shinsou mutters, blushing in embarrassment. “Actually, you should try it.” He says, grinning evilly at him. Hizashi can’t help but compare him to the Sphinx. They look eerily similar.

 

“With my luck, I’d be squawking while still passed out.” Hizashi mumbles.

 

“I’d pay to see that.” Shinsou brightens. “Anyway, none of us have been able to get through that door. Not even with our powers--.” Shinsou stops himself, then shakes his head, clearly not wanting to divulge that information.

 

Hizashi sighs. Perhaps it needs a master riddle-solver to beat it. But before he takes on that challenge, something about Shinsou still bothers him.“Are you related to Eraserhead?”

 

“Eraserhead?” Shinsou wrinkles his nose. “Must you call Sensei that?”

 

“Well, he’s not my teacher.”

 

“Fine. And no. We’re not related..”

 

Hizashi spares one last glance at the door before picking up his pack and walking away, mind whirring as he stops in front of Shinsou. He can’t help but assume Shinsou’s aborted sentence was referring to magic, which if true, is surprising. Magic isn’t common, usually only gifted to a rare few, venerated or feared by their peers for their talents.

 

“Er, wait. Powers? You said ‘our powers’? You have magic-blessed people here?”

 

Shinsou looks wary at first, but Hizashi is smiling excitedly, looking a bit manic with his unbrushed hair and rumpled clothes. He isn’t one to fear magic, especially not when he has magic of his own. He keeps his expression friendly, and Shinsou’s doubt eases away at his genuine enthusiasm.

 

“Yeah. Everyone here, actually. It’s… why we’re here.”

 

Hizashi frowns. Everyone? “What do you mean?”

 

Shinsou glares at him, closing himself off again. “Nevermind. Just… come with me.”

 

Hizashi decides not to pry and lets Shinsou lead him to the other room. Eri sits at a table near the wall, writing and drawing. Eraserhead has somehow gotten down here too, but he doesn’t greet them, watching Eri work. Hizashi suspects the large broken window he used the previous day has something to do with it.

 

“So, is this what a normal day is like for you?” He can’t tell if it’s the usual scene. Based on the amount of kids he’d seen the other day, there must be more around.

 

“Most of the other kids are working.”

 

“Working?”

 

“We have to pull our weight here.” Shinsou says. “Speaking of, you should help out too, since you’re an uninvited guest.”

 

“Chores? You’ve got to be kidding. I’m a guest!” Hizashi raises an eyebrow. Shinsou doesn’t budge.

 

“Uninvited. You can do the work that can’t be done by us. Repair, maintenance…” Shinsou grabs a tattered book from a shelf, looking it over. He holds it out to the bard.



“This is an ongoing list of things that need fixing. You may want to start with the well- it’s our only water source nearby, and using the river is risky. Some supports in the garden broke, and some of the houses are getting leaks. If you go around and ask, they’ll bring you to anything that needs your attention.” The purple haired boy gives him a wicked grin.



Hizashi stares down the list with wide eyes.



“You wanted into the village- here’s your chance to meet everyone.” Shinsou turns his back to him, glancing over Eri’s work. His next thought is mumbled. “Maybe you’ll find answers to your questions. Just don’t anger Sensei and you’ll live.”

 

Hizashi sighs, but doesn't protest any further. This is what his curiosity gets him, then. He puts the book down and finds the small bathroom, emerging many minutes later with a bandanna tied around his head to keep his hair from getting mussed or dirty. He accepts breakfast with his best manners and offers some provisions of his own, smiling when Eri squeals over his jar of fruit preserves. This stop may not be going like he planned, but it's certainly interesting, and more fun than the same old thing. He's used to being treated like something special. But here?

 

He feels like a normal person again.

 

Hizashi makes his way to the well. He saw it yesterday, but he didn’t really think about it. It’s torn straight from a children’s book. The old stone well has a bucket pulley system, except there is no bucket. Hizashi leans over the side and looks down. He can’t see the bottom.

 

Hizashi has three options. He could go into the well, search around for the bucket, and climb back up. He could just as easily make a new bucket and pray it has no leaks. Or he could use magic to retrieve it, saving him time. The final option is the most logical, but it’s also the scariest.

 

He’s not sure he’s ready to use magic here. Not in a strange place, with strange people, where anyone can see. Shinsou said they all had magic here, but that doesn’t mean they approve of using it. He hasn’t seen them using it yet. What if they’re here as a punishment for magic? He really can’t assume these things, but he doesn’t know. And not knowing is dangerous.

 

He’d much rather face a physical challenge than a mental, especially after yesterday. Hizashi opts to climb down the well. Is it what Shinsou expects from him? No. Is he doing it anyway? Yes.

 

Hizashi makes his way down- there’s only a little bit of water at the bottom. IS the bucket really the well’s problem? Or is it something more?

 

Like he suspected, the bucket sits on the ground, undamaged. It seems it had just unhooked from the rope. He picks it up, and an odd shape catches his eye.

 

Something else at the bottom of the well.

 

Scratches similar to what he found in the stairway trail down the stone. Before him, waist high is an old sigil, carved in messily. Not with a knife, but claws. Water purification marks. Aizawa is the reason they have clean water. Moss is growing over the markings, so he gently scrapes it away.

No protection to keep the sigil intact. He feels sad, staring at the faded markings, doing their best even as they chip and fade.

 

He fumbles through his pockets- it won't be much, but enough to keep the sigil safe. Just a small spell. He draws a blade, gently carving the markings deeper, humming as he did. He doesn’t need to see himself to know his magic is working. His hair rustles, almost floating around him as his eyes burn bright. After touching up the sigil, he carves a few markings of his own around it before pressing his palm to it.

 

He sings softly, almost a whisper to the stone.

 

The spell settles in anticlimactically as the magic fades, but Hizashi can feel the power. He looks at the bucket and fills it from the deeper pool in the middle. It tastes cool and fresh, though the mineral aftertaste makes him grimace. Ew. He’ll have to get used to it if he plans to stay here for more than another night. For now, his wanderlust is sedated by his curiosity of this strange little village. Maybe he can have a proper rest here before deciding what to do next.

 

He reattaches the bucket to the rope- more secure this time- before climbing out and pulling it up. His muscles are sore from the difficult climb, but he feels happy. Accomplished. He hasn’t used his magic like this in a while. And no one saw him!

 

A familiar voice clears their throat behind him. Hizashi startles, turning to see Eraserhead standing there, staring at the ground.

 

“Eraser! I fixed the well!”

 

The sphinx looks up. “Did you,” Eraserhead pauses, shifting his paws, “Were you able to repair the sigil?”

 

Hizashi pauses, unsure of how to answer. Should he reveal his magic? It takes him a moment to realize he wouldn’t have asked if he didn’t already suspect Hizashi of having magic. Can a magical beast like him sense it? Is that why he asked Hizashi to check the well first? Hizashi nods slowly, and Eraserhead looks both relieved and wary at the same time.

 

“I thought you said you weren't a warlock.”

 

“I know enough to get by,” Hizashi says. “But don’t come to me asking to revive the dead.” Hizashi supposes part of his magic is the ability to talk his way out of every situation. He’s perfected the art of misdirection and distraction.

 

“I wouldn’t trust you with a pair of rusty scissors, much less a human life.”

 

“Yet you trust me to fix your well.”

 

“Because I had no other option.” Eraserhead sniffs.

 

“What else am I supposed to do?” Hizashi rolls up his sleeves as best he can. “Hit me with another task!”

 

Aizawa gives him a dull look. “The kids won't mention it, but the leaking roofs… the task is too delicate for me to attempt…” He grimaces, and Hizashi can feel how tense Eraserhead is with his magic senses. He’s always been more in-tune with other’s emotions, and using magic always makes the feeling sharper, more apparent. The blonde smiles softly, tilting his head as he reaches out and musses the Sphinx’s hair.

 

“I'll get them. “

 

Eraserhead huffs and steps back but doesn't retaliate. Hizashi takes that as a good sign. He has Eraserhead lead him to the houses with the leaks before he gets to work, stuffing holes with straw and covering them with a special mud-and-clay mixture that hardens with a few careful words. The children that come to watch are all impressed, boosting his confidence, but he notices that not many of the older ones are around.

 

“Oh, most of them are foraging or out in the farm fields.” Shinsou later tells him when he asks. He’s back at Eraserhead’s house getting a small lunch and hiding from the afternoon sun.

 

“You guys have a farm? I didn't see it while walking up!”

 

Shinsou rolls his eyes. “Invisibility spells exist.”

 

Hizashi laughs. “You do know how uncommon it is for people to have magic, right? You can't blame a guy for forgetting.”

 

Shinsou stays quiet for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Hizashi doesn’t prefer the silence, but he knows others do, so he tries to keep his mouth shut when others seem comfortable with it. Luckily for him, it didn’t take long for the conversation to continue.

 

“Hey Mic,” Shinsou pauses, waiting for Hizashi’s eyes to meet his, “Has society changed in the past ten years?”

 

Hizashi considers it. “Everything changes. Time wears on everyone, even if they don’t show it. It’s more of a question of if the change is good, or bad.”

 

“Which way has society changed?”

 

“It’s a bit of both,” Hizashi decides, rubbing the back of his neck. “I travel a lot -- some places are better than others. Food’s definitely improved- spices are more popular now. Politics are still a mess though; always have been, always will be.”

 

“What about magic?” Shinsou squeezes his eyes shut when he asks, like he’s afraid to hear the answer.

 

Mic breaths out. “It depends on where you are. For everyone who stands with magic users, there are just as many common folk in anger… Dark magic is making a comeback and templars are still trying to “purify" us…”

 

“It's better now though… Because of how many are realizing we’re people, the same as them. There are even famous magic users that people look up to!”

 

“Famous like you?”

 

“Ah. Well, I'm more famous for my music, but there are some people who know I can use magic. I try not to use it much, especially in towns where people are wary of it unless I really, really have to.”

 

“So, you’ve been trained?”

 

“A bit. The rest I taught myself. Every person’s magic has a personality to it, like the person who wields it. So it's not always the same. You have to play to your strengths. Mine doesn't work unless I'm making a sound, but the sound itself doesn't matter.”

 

Hizashi knows he's rambling, but Shinsou still looks interested.

 

“So sometimes, to make it more powerful, I'll be louder! Or to make it more subtle, I'll hum. Or maybe I want it to last a long time, so I'll sing a whole song or hold a long note.”

 

Hizashi turns his focus back to Shinsou. “What’s your magic like?”

 

Shinsou flushes red across his cheeks. “It’s nothing special.” He mumbles, “It works better when I speak around others.” As he says it, the table grows a small bud. “But it’s most effective against other people.”

 

Hizashi grins. “Hey, that’s nothing to be ashamed of! It just means the protective aspect of your personality comes through!”

 

“Protective…?”

 

“Yeah!” Hizashi laughs, “I’ve seen how you act around the other kids!”

 

“I grew up an only child,” Shinsou admits, “but somebody has to teach them what a family can be like.”

 

“What happened to your parents?” Hizashi’s prying, but it’s bugged him since he first showed up. Sphinxes don’t run orphanages — Eraserhead is an exception.

 

“It’s more a question of what happened to me . Magic.” Shinsou sways like he’s about to lose his footing. His eyes flutter shut, and for a second, Hizashi thinks he’s going to pass out. Instead, Shinsou rightens himself and shakes out his hands, like he’s brushing away a bad memory. “After that… bad things.”

 

Hizashi frowns, rubbing his eyes  “How many of you have similar stories? And Eraser?”

 

Shinsou hangs his head. “We all have some special ability that keeps us from fitting in. Sensei… he doesn't talk about himself… who knows what kind of past a Sphinx can have.”

 

For once, Hizashi isn't sure what to stay. He pats Shinsou’s shoulder, trying to comfort him. Shinsou manages a soft smile.

 

“Well, I think you guys are great so far!”

 

“You haven't even met everyone yet.” Shinsou says in an amused tone.

 

“That's fine! I love meeting new people.”

 

Shinsou stands. “You can meet them while doing chores.” He says, a wide grin on his face.

 

Hizashi grumbles good-naturedly but follows him nonetheless.

 

Shinsou leads him out to the front of the town, where open fields border the little dirt road. Hizashi isn’t paying any attention to his leader, leading to him bumping into the purple haired boy when he stops. Shinsou shoots him a glare but quickly recovers.

 

“I suppose you still can’t see the gardens- or can you?”

 

Hizashi shakes his head. Shinsou turns to look at the seemingly-empty fields for a moment, clearly seeing something Hizashi can’t.

 

“Give me the rundown of this place,” Hizashi says. “Who’s who?”

 

Shinsou taps his chin. “Well, you’ve already met Sensei. There’s Eri and me, and a kid named Shouto. He’s been here longer than anyone. Sensei practically dragged him here. Unlike most of us, his family didn’t hate him for his magic. They wanted to use it -- use him.”

 

“Awful,” Hizashi shudders. He knows what it’s like to be forced into magical whims. “What else should I know?”

 

“Eri has to stay with Sensei or I. There are others she likes to spend time with, but she's still lacking control. She needs to be watched closely. I suppose I'm the next in charge, besides Sensei. He's taught me how to protect anyone in case anything happens to him, but Shouto is our strongest. All the others are just… kids.“

 

On that note, little voices carry over, wide eyes finding Hizashi’s. A child holding weeds and flowers stares at the blonde, seeming to appear out of thin air.

 

Hizashi waves. “Hi there-”

 

The child runs to a looming Eraserhead. The Sphinx has been watching them from the shadows. The child whispers to the creature before returning and holding out her bouquet. “Sensei says you aren't bad.”

 

The blonde beams, carefully taking the flowers and holding them close, reaching a hand out. “I'm Present Mic-”

 

His introduction is cut short as the flowers in his hand start struggling for freedom. He yelps and drops them, watching as the girl giggles and grabs them back, putting them in her hair. He watches in amazement as the flowers grow into her green hair, happily waving in the slight breeze.

 

“Oh, wow!” He smiles in awe this time. The girl blushes before running to find more plants. He looks up to find a lot of teenagers he hasn't seen before looking at him. Plants of all kinds are now visible on both sides of the road that weren't there before- or at least, he couldn't see them. He didn’t even notice anyone lifting the spell. Gardens and farms are spread out over the fields that had looked so empty just moments ago. It looks so vibrant, so alive, he can barely believe it was all hidden under a simple invisibility spell.

 

“Wow!”

 

“This is your garden?” Hizashi can barely walk in a straight line. Every way he turns his head, there’s a new flower screaming for his attention. Vibrant colors blind him.

 

“A lot of kids here have plant or animal based magic. Sensei trains us to control them so that we can create.” Shinsou smiles. Hizashi sees the appeal of a place like this.

 

“What else do you have to show me?”

 

“It’s more about what you want to see. You’ve helped today, but if you stay another night, you’ll be expected to help again tomorrow. If you want, Sensei will be gathering food for tonight's dinner. He could probably use a hand.”



Hizashi glances over at the Sphinx, who is lounging in the sun. Some of the local children are sitting close to him. He has one eye open, lazily watching the bard while his tail swishes slowly. Hizashi approaches him, his eyebrow rising as Eraser turns away.

 

“Eraser,” Hizashi says. When Eraser doesn’t immediately respond, he tries again, louder this time. “Eraser!”

 

Still no response. Hizashi bites back a huff and folds his arms. “Eraser, I know you can hear me. I’m not the quiet type.”

 

“Shh.” Eraser thwaps Hizashi on the side with a wing. “Silence. I’m trying to listen.”

 

“Listen?” Hizashi lowers his voice, but getting him to shut up is a different task altogether. If he strains, he can make out faint noises on the hill below, but he has no idea what’s being said.

 

Eraser tenses, his paws dig into the dirt and his wings fold into his back. “The kids,” is all he says. Hizashi wonders if he should pull out his weapons, but before he can decide, Eri crests the top of the hill. Her long silver hair is a rat’s nest on top of her head. Her knee and shin are red and raw, scraped up and bloody.

 

“Eri?” Eraserhead asks. “What happened?”

 

“I fell on a rock.” She sniffs as she speaks, trying to hold back the tears pooling in her eyes. “It hurts!”

 

“The cuts aren’t deep. We’ll get it washed up when we get back to the house. You’ll be fine.” Eraser says stiffly. Eri only sobs louder in response and hold her arms out, as if she wants to be picked up. Eraser hesitates, shifting his weight from paw to paw, before awkwardly extending his wings.

 

“Here,” Hizashi says. “I’ll carry you.”

 

Eraser tenses at the suggestion and a growl forms in the back of his throat. His paws dig into the ground, ready to pounce, but before he can move, Eri locks her arms around Hizashi’s neck. He picks her up and adjusts her over his hip. Her sobs fade away as she tucks her face against Hizashi’s shoulder.

 

“See?” Hizashi asks Eraser. “Simple as that.”

 

The growls softens. Something shifts behind Eraser’s eyes and Hizashi can practically see a switch flipping in his mind. Before Hizashi can determine why, Eraser spins on a heel and marches back towards the house. “Come on you two. Let’s get Eri patched up.”

 


 

Patching Eri up is the work of moments, and it isn’t long before her pain is forgotten in favor of running back out to play. Eraserhead follows her, leaving Hizashi behind to catch up. He ends up lingering and admiring the gardens as he approaches the hill again, and when he returns Eri is gently combing Eraserhead’s hair, huffing whenever it gets stuck.

 

“Well, I suppose I'll go offer my services! And I'd like to sing for everyone later too, if that's cool?”

 

“That’ll be up to Sensei, but I don't see why not. It sounds nice, actually.”

 

“Then it's settled!” Hizashi nods and heads up to Eraserhead and his entourage.

 

“Shinsou says we’re getting dinner!” Hizashi announces. Eraserhead huffs.

 

“Sure, but we don't need to leave until later.”

 

“I need to finish his hair first!” Eri says.

 

“What are you trying to do to it?” Hizashi tilts his head. She’s been brushing it for a while, but each time she set down the brush and plays with it, it ends up in more knots.

 

“I want to braid it!” She announces, holding up three sections of Eraser’s hair. “But I’m not very good.”

 

Hizashi watches her struggle to pull the sections over. “I see what the problem is.” Hizashi’s never braided anyone else’s hair, but he’s seen others do it before. “You only cross into the middle section. You don't take the same strand all the way across.”

 

Eri stares at the half-finished braid. “I guess I have to start again,” she says glumly.

 

Hizashi reaches forward, gently working his fingers through the thick black hair. “It’s alright, you hold the two sides, and I’ll hold the middle.” Eraserhead gives a warning growl, but Hizashi only sticks his tongue out with a wink.


“You told me to help people- she wants to learn how to braid!” He hums and sings as Eri weaves the strands, helping her gather more and comb it out. “If you start at the end and brush up, you won't break the hair and the knots will come out easier.”

 

Eri moves to sit in Mic’s lap as she works, focused on her important task. “If I get better at doing your hair, I might be able to braid my own.”

 

Mic glances at her. “How long have you been trying?”


“Um… Awhile now.”

 

“Well, not to worry! Once you're done with him, why don't you do mine?”

 

Eri turns around with stars in her eyes.

 

“Really?”

 

“Yeah! So let's make sure you get it right. We can practice until Eraser says we should leave, right?”

 

Eraserhead just growls again, too weak to be a real threat, which makes Eri laugh.

 

Hizashi guides Eri through the process, stopping her every once and a while to work out tangles. “See? Easy!”

 

Eri claps her hands. “Your turn!”

 

Hizashi hates to admit it, but he’s nervous to put his hair in her hands. He helped her braid Eraserhead’s, but who would help her braid his? Eri yanks on a handful of his hair and he winces.

 

“You have to be gentle,” Eraserhead rumbles. “Like you were with me.”

 

Hizashi closes his eyes, leaning back.

 

“Comb from the bottom up… no pulling hair apart.”

 

Hizashi gives the Sphinx a wink, mouthing out 'thank you’.  Eraserhead nods, the slightest hint of a smile gracing his lips.

 

“You look really good with braids, Eraser.”

 

It makes him look gentle, less angry. Hizashi finds himself looking Eraserhead over, taking in the little details of the Sphinx. The way his hair shines in the light of the afternoon sun. His sharp eyes and sharper claws. The long, sleek feathers on his wings and his glossy black fur. His handsome face and dangerous eyes. It's quite the picture. Hizashi briefly wishes he could paint.

 

Maybe he’ll write a song, once he leaves. Beauty deserves to be commemorated.

 

Eraserhead cocks an eyebrow and flicks his tail and Hizashi realizes he’s been staring. He blushes and looks up at the sparse clouds, wringing his bandanna between his hands. He slowly relaxes as Eri’s small hands work through his hair. He hopes the braid looks good, not only for his sake but for hers as well. He could tell the little girl was unsure of herself, and success, no matter how small, was the best way to combat that.

 

“Remember what Mr. Yamada showed you.” The Sphinx says. “Try to keep the hair flat and smooth as you braid.” He feels Eri adjust accordingly, untangling his hair as she braids.

 

Eri finishes eventually, patting the braid gently before removing her hands from Hizashi’s hair.

 

“Done!”

 

Hizashi turns to see a small, proud smile on her face. The bard turns to the Sphinx next, beaming. “Well? Did Eri make me beautiful? “ He reaches up, arms stretching as he pats it, feeling how neat they were- no stray hairs sticking out. “Thank you, Eri. I can't wait to see it.”

The little girl smiles bright. “Want to help with mine?”

 

“Sure! Turn around and keep your head straight.” He twirls his finger to illustrate. Eri nods and comes around to sit in front of him. Hizashi makes sure to brush her hair out first before starting a complex braid he learned as a child from some milkmaids. Eraserhead watches them when he isn't looking across the fields, noting where everyone is. Hizashi braids on, blissfully unaware of all the attention he's getting as a stranger in their midst. Only Eraserhead’s calm acceptance keeps everyone from worry or panic.

 

“Aaand we’re done!” Hizashi exclaims as he picks a wildflower and tucks it into the back of her braid. Eri moves the braid to her shoulder to look at it. “Do you like it, Eri?”

 

Eri nods enthusiastically. “Can you teach me how to do this one too?”

 

“He can teach you later.” Eraserhead says as he stands, stretching like a house cat. “Mr. Yamada and I need to hunt in order to prepare dinner.”

 

He approaches them, nudging Eri with his paw. “Why don’t you go show everyone your hair?”

 

Eri nods, practically bouncing as she goes to find someone. The blonde gives the creature a small smile. “You’ll hunt, I’ll gather?”

Eraserhead sighs. “Lets go to the fields to start with.”

Hizashi nods, following closely. “Y’know, I've never seen a place like this before… It’s nice. Magic users don't usually have a place of refuge… Did you seek them out yourself? Or did they find you?”

 

Eraserhead looks over his shoulder at Hizashi for a moment, considering his answer.

 

“A bit of both. Though some were offered to me as sacrifices once. I took them here to be safe, but I suppose their parents think I ate them. Their loss. They could have offered themselves...”

 

Hizashi shakes his head, walking quickly to keep up with Eraserhead’s long gait.

 

“You know, despite the fact that you eat people, you're a pretty nice guy!”

 

Eraserhead lets out an amused huff. “Am I?”

 

“I'd say so! I mean you didn't have to let me stay the night.” Hizashi laughs.

 

“I'd say you're the nice one.” Eraserhead comments. “Strangers usually don't treat me like a person.” Eraserhead turns his head away, looking out across the plains at the tree line.

 

That leaves a bad taste in Hizashi’s mouth. “Do a lot of people pass through here?”

 

Eraserhead clucks his tongue. “People try. How many make it is another question.”

 

“If you’re the gatekeeper of this place, why do you ask people riddles? Don’t you think it would be more poignant to ask how they felt about magic?”

 

Eraserhead snorts. “Then I would hardly eat.”

 

“But what if you eat the people who could help you? What if you ate me?”

 

The Sphinx pauses, regarding him carefully.

 

“I have an eye for the good and the bad. The only people who could help me are the ones who can do more than solve the riddles.” He huffs lightly, his bangs blowing out of his eyes. “I eat bad people because I can, not because they fail to solve my riddle. Those who fail I turn back to where they came from. Usually with no memory of coming here.”

 

“Oh.” Well, that's sort of anticlimactic. But it makes sense. “Does that mean I can help you?”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“Help you with what, exactly? Whatever is behind that magic door?”

 

“You saw that?”

 

“I mean, it was just down the stairs…”

 

“It’s enchanted so only those with magic can see it.”

 

Hizashi scoffs in mock offense. “Did you already forget I have magic?”

 

“No, although you’re so plain it would be easy to forget.” Eraserhead says with a grin.

 

“I’m not that plain! Just because my hair isn’t bright purple doesn’t mean I’m plain!”

 

Eraserhead chuckles. “I’m joking, you’re one of the furthest things from plain on this Earth. I figured you didn’t have the time to go exploring already.”

 

“The door is time-sensitive?”

 

Eraserhead hesitates. “No.”

 

“Then what?”

 

“In order to see, you must gain the trust of those around you — us.”

 

“And in order to open it?”

 

Eraserhead scoffs again. “Don’t get ahead of yourself.”

 

He gives the creature a big grin and two thumbs up. “I've lived my whole life getting ahead of myself! “ He leans in, mock whispering as he holds a hand up to cover his words. “If you get far enough ahead, the demons can't catch you- and boy have I managed to piss off too many of those.”

 

He leans back, hands on his hips. “So, what is behind the door? Do I need to solve more riddles? Cut off an ear? Arrange a virgin sacrifice? I may not be a virgin, but I can guarantee I'm a better sacrifice than most-”

 

His monologue is cut off as Eraserhead laughs, all his teeth on display. Hizashi stands with his hands on his hips until Eraserhead finally stops laughing and gets back on his feet. He wants to act indignant but he can't wipe the wide smile off his own face.

 

“It’s nothing like that.” The sphinx reassures, “It’s difficult to open, but not violent.”

 

“Ok, new question. Does the door or anything else forbid you from telling me how to open it?”

 

Eraserhead sighs. “Yes. But before you ask; yes I do know what opens it.” He seems frustrated, like he wants to tell but is unsure, instead of being spelled to keep his silence.

 

“Then you can’t tell me?”

 

“No, and there’s no reason for you to know.” Eraserhead says.

 

“Awww, come on!” Hizashi protests. “What could it hurt to try?”

 

“Better a question of who it could hurt.” Eraserhead shakes his head. Why did it sound like he was talking about himself?

 

Hizashi makes a face at him.

 

“Who’s gonna stop me?”

 

Eraserhead gives him a hard look. “If you’re at risk to harm anyone here, I will stop you.”

 

“But not from opening the door.”

 

“I won't stop you from whatever you're trying to accomplish.”

 

The blonde smiles warmly.

 

“Then I'm gonna get the door open, no matter what. I promise.” He reaches out, then stops, realizing he can't shake his hand. Instead, he places his hand over his heart, standing proudly. “I'll break it wide open!”

 

Eraserhead looks touched for a moment before his apathetic facade is back. But now Hizashi knows for sure its a mask of indifference. He wonders what is behind that door as Eraserhead tosses his hair and starts walking again.

 

“Well, curse or not, dinner still needs to happen. You're going to run into those bushes over there and scare the animals out so I can get them. You've proven you’re good at being loud.”

 

“Hmm. I suppose I can't argue with something that’s true.”

 

With that, Hizashi runs towards the large bushes, belting a battle-song.

 

“For the glory of the golden king we fight, for the broken and battered and cursed we would die, but do not fear for we will survive!”

 

“What is that?” Eraserhead makes a concerned face.

 

Instead of answering, he continues onto the next line. A group of quail fly out from the bushes, spewing into the open. Eraserhead pounces.

 

Hizashi looks away. He can’t watch this part. He isn’t a vegetarian, and he’s killed his own food before, but watching Eraserhead do it… is unsettling. Normally, people only get to watch a sphinx's attacks because they’re on the receiving end of them.

 

It is over quickly, Hizashi peeking with one eye to see Eraserhead licking his claws clean. The kills were quick, precise. The least amount of suffering. He bows his head, showing a rope loosely hanging from his neck. “Tie them with this, then let’s collect some things from the garden.”

 

The bard nods fast, reaching to carefully unravel the rope- no, it was more like a bandage?

“What do you eat? Is your diet restricted? Do you have any favorites? If you don't, I have so many ideas, and maybe I could teach the kids some recipes! I've been on the road, so I learned from the best-”

 

“Hm. Then prove it.” Eraserhead says. Hizashi stops talking for one blissful moment.

 

“What-? I mean, sure! Yes! I will show you! Let’s see, with what we have here, maybe a nice stew and some kebabs, maybe some fried rice… oh, so many good ideas to choose from!”

 

“Well you better decide by the time we get back. We will have forty-three hungry mouths to feed.”

 

“F-forty-three?”

 

“Yeah. That includes you. Used to be forty-two.”

 

“I didn't realize there were so many kids! I assume you're not counting yourself?”

 

Eraserhead couldn't stop the small, amused huff that escapes his lips.

 

“I'm not counting myself.” Eraserhead confirms.

 

“I gotta ask-”

 

“Isn’t that the only thing you do?” Eraserhead interrupts, shooting him a wide smile.

 

The bard huffs. “On the contrary! I hardly ask -- I usually just speak.”

 

“I’ve noticed,” Eraserhead’s braid tangles in a loose tree branch. He shakes it free.

 

“How do you find these kids? How do they end up here? I assume you don’t go and get them yourself?”

 

Eraserhead tenses. Is this it? Is this what the bard is here for?

 

Hizashi pauses, reaching forward. “Careful-” He gently removes the twigs and leaves remaining in the creature’s hair. Eraserhead stands still as a statue, eyes wide as he keeps himself from jerking away.

“Some of them find us, some of them were abandoned near here…. In extreme situations, I find ways of getting them here.”

 

Hizashi pouts as he thinks. “It would be better to have multiple locations then, would it not? Traveling groups to help? Why just you? Why stay in one spot-”

 

Hizashi froze, eyes wide, a realization striking him.

 

Because he can't.

 

“That door stops you, doesn't it.”

 

Eraserhead glares, shaking his hair out of Hizashi's grasp.

 

“Pick up the meat and start walking. Dinner needs to be made.”

 

“Wait, am I right? Does it have to do with that door?”

 

Eraserhead jumps ahead, using his powerful body to put distance between them.

 

“Enough talking,” is all Hizashi hears before Eraserhead runs out of sight.

 

Hizashi sighs. He wants to help him, especially since he can’t help but admire what he’s done for the kids. Hizashi wishes he could have done something before- whatever it is that happened. A curse is the most feasible reason.

 

Hizashi shakes the thought from his head. Now isn’t the time to dwell on the past. He runs to catch up with Eraserhead, silently falling in line with the sphinx’s quick pace. Eraserhead’s gait quickens to one he can’t match, so Hizashi lets the sphinx run ahead. Eraserhead probably needs the alone time.

 

So, is the door hiding a curse, or containing it? Is Eraser cursed? Hizashi’s slows. If he’s cursed, then who cursed him? And why?

 

Most curses have a story behind them.

 

What isn’t Eraserhead telling him? What isn’t he telling the kids ?

 

Hizashi wanders off the trail, picking fruit as he thinks. Eraserhead wouldn’t do anything to put the kids at risk. So the only person the curse affected, it would seem, is him. He would have to ask Eri or Shinsou if it was possible for themselves to leave the village. Or if they saw Eraserhead leave.

 

If Eraserhead was bound here, it would explain why there were no tales of a giant sphinx rescuing children far and wide.

 

The idea that it's a curse cannot be substantiated by his wondering. He needs information. SO what does he know? Eraserhead is kind, and he took in the children instead of eating them the way beasts of old used to do. Plus, the way he refers to himself and the way he treats Hizashi. So many little things, adding up. But what do they add up to?

 

He leaves the underbrush behind, laden down with a bag of berries on top of his haul of meat.

 

Eraserhead is by the garden, picking up a large basket of vegetables from a few of the kids. Hizashi decides not to approach him, walking over to Shinsou to ask about where to take the food.

 

“Todoroki Shouto is on the other end of the village starting a fire. Take your food over to him.” Hizashi can’t help but notice how Shinsou acts colder to him than before. It’s probably because Eraserhead is angry with him.

 

“Okay,” Hizashi adjusts his grip on the food. Todoroki... didn’t Shinsou say he’s the most powerful?

 

He makes his way over, taking in as much of the surrounding village as possible. He catches kids staring at him from across the fields or from behind half-closed doors.

 

What if he can’t find Shouto?

 

The fear is quickly washed away.  A few feet away, sparks dance off of a teenage boy’s palm. His hair is split down the middle, two different colors. “I was told you would be coming around,” Shouto says.

 

“I brought food,” Hizashi dumps it into a nearby basket. “I’m going to help make a stew.”

 

Shouto turns around and Hizashi does a double take. One eye is marred from the eyebrow to the cheek by an angry red scar. The boy keeps to himself as he preps, slicing and skewering the meat as needed. Kids come by dropping handfuls or baskets of food. Shouto doesn't talk much to any of them, working away.

 

“How long have you lived here in the village?”

 

“A few years.” Is Shouto’s quiet reply. Wow, so informative. Well, this is what he gets for prying.

 

“Do you like it here? Oh, cut the pieces like this for the stew, so they can be thick and juicy.”

 

Shouto watches the demonstration as he considers the question.

 

“Yes, I like it here.”

 

“That's great! It seems like an amazing place. Do you enjoy cooking?”

 

“It's alright.”

 

Hizashi stops asking questions and stays quiet for a moment, focusing on the stew. He hadn’t realized how tired he was until now. Hizashi had forgotten how tiring magic is. It’s a nice sort of tired, but a scary one too. Hizashi can’t afford to use any more magic for the day.

 

Shouto taps his shoulder, drawing him out of his thoughts.

 

“Why are you here?”

 

“Me?”

 

Shouto nods, his mismatched eyes boring into him.

 

“Nowhere else to go, I guess.” Hizashi shrugs. “I don’t call anywhere home. I travel around as I please. Stumbling across this place was just a mishap, but now that I’m here, I don’t see a reason to leave immediately.”

 

“Nowhere else to go.” Shouto repeats. “I get that. Sensei’s done a lot to keep us safe. Protect us. Teach us. But even a prison built with porcelain walls is a prison.”

 

Hizashi freezes, halting his prep.

 

“He doesn't force you to stay, right? Eraserhead can't leave, but you can go whenever you want, right…? None of you are trapped here?”

 

No, he wouldn't. The sphinx wouldn't trap them here in hope of protecting them…

 

“No. I'm not trapped. Not by magic. But by- myself?” Shouto ends his sentence in a questioning tone.

 

Hizashi tilts his head. He stirs the large pot of stew so Shouto can focus on something else.

 

“By yourself? Do you mean you don't feel like you can make it on your own? That you're limited by what you can do for yourself?”

 

Shouto nods.

 

“You're good with words. Sensei taught me so much. He worries about me. But I want to see new things. I promise to come back, but he won't allow it yet.”

 

Shouto’s eyes sparkle as he sets down the last kebab, staring at Hizashi straight on.

 

“But maybe if I went with you he’d allow it. You'd want to come back here anyways, right? It’s nice.”

 

“I would,” Hizashi admits, “but I probably wouldn't be welcomed back with open arms. I mean, I'm just some stranger who wandered upon this place, and I've been told you're the strongest, aside from Eraserhead.”

 

Shouto nods, his eyes far away as he regards Hizashi’s words. “Could you afford to stay here for a while? Or at least long enough so that Sensei will be convinced you’re not just taking an open opportunity?”

 

Hizashi stretches out his arms and looks up at the sky. “I don’t have anywhere to go in a hurry.”

 

“Then…” Shouto hesitates, stirring the pot of stew.

 

“Then what?”

 

“Then, when it comes time for you to leave, will you take me with you?”

 

Hizashi bites his lip, frowning.

 

“No. I think I should talk with Eraserhead beforehand…” Who knows- maybe the kid is being hunted. He’s protecting Shouto. Or maybe their small village is at risk, and he needs more manpower to keep everyone safe.

“I’m surprised you’re so willing to trust a stranger…”

Shouto smirks. “I trusted Sensei.”

 

Ah. “Look, I’ll have a chat with him, but he might be a little mad at me... I’ll let you know how it goes.”

 

Shouto nods and offers to watch the food. Hizashi can see a few others coming to help, so he gives them a wave and leaves them all to it. He can come back and check in with them after he finds Eraserhead.

Chapter Text

He's wondering if Eraserhead is hiding when he runs into Shinsou and Eri returning from the fields. He waves them over and asks if they’ve seen Eraserhead.

 

“Not since he left the fields earlier. Why?”

 

“Ah, I may have upset him, but I want to talk to him?”

 

“Hm. Well, he usually goes to his room if he's upset. Though you should probably leave him alone.”

 

“I'll take my chances, thank you! Feel free to say you warned me later!”

 

Hizashi enters the home through the front door, making a beeline for the stairs. The magic door is still there, to his relief, although he worried it would be gone when- if- he came back down the squeaky step- didn’t Eraserhead say he could only see if because he was trusted? The long scratches on the wall make Hizashi’s unease grow. He can’t stop from asking himself: did Eraserhead leave them as a warning, or as a silent threat?

 

When Hizashi approaches Eraserhead’s room, he knocks on the door gently. A tired grumbling comes from inside the room.

 

“What do you want.” Eraserhead growls. If he wasn’t a deadly beast who was pissed with him, Hizashi would compare him to a brooding teenager.

 

“Have any of the kids talked to you about going outside?” Hizashi asks through the door . “The village, that is.”

 

Eraserhead sighs. “Shouto keeps asking to leave.”

 

“And?”

 

“And every time, I tell him the same thing. The world is dangerous for people like him. People will misuse him and abuse him until he breaks. I won’t force him to stay, but I also won’t let him make rash decisions without thinking it through.”

 

“And when will it be safe enough for him to leave?” The blonde opens the door and steps inside, crossing his arms, brows furrowed. “Do you plan on keeping him here forever? People aren't going to change, the world won't magically stop being a bad place-”

 

“Is this your purpose here then? To take him away?”



“No! I don’t have a purpose- I just think you might have a twisted notion of how to protect someone-”

 

“He's still safe, isn't he?” Eraserhead growls. He gets up from his nest and stalks towards Hizashi as he talks. “He can grow up here. He can live without people forcing him to be something he's not!”

 

Hizashi takes a step back before holding his ground, forcing a deep breath so he can argue without shouting his head off.

 

“Okay, look. He's the one who asked me. If I leave alone it's no big deal. I've always been alone. But if I leave knowing he wants to go, and you won't let him, I'm going to wonder where your protection ends and your controlling begins.”

 

Eraserhead is definitely angry, but he seems to acknowledge Hizashi’s words.

 

“I'll think about it.” Eraserhead growls, he glares, paws scraping the floor at Hizashi’s feet, as if to say time to leave .

 

Hizashi closes the door quietly behind him, letting out a breath he didn't know he was holding. Eraserhead isn't a bad guy. He reminds Hizashi of a concerned parent, a little stuck in his ways, full of worry, and not ready to watch his kids go. But Hizashi also knows what happens when kids never leave the nest. They grow restless. Anxious. Rebellious.

 

If Shouto doesn’t leave now, he will another day… another day when Hizashi isn’t there as his guide.

 

He turns around and runs right into a mass of purple hair. Shinsou clenches his fists, arms shaking. His face is tight, shoulders tense as he says; “What did Todoroki ask?”  

 

Hizashi is quick to answer. “Just to tag along with me if I leave for a bit! I'd bring him back though.”

 

Shinsou glares. “And what if something happens to him? There are people who are still looking for him…

 

Hizashi crouches, holding his hand out. “Eraserhead didn't say yes… and I'm not going to break someone out of a safe place. I don't know who’s after Shouto, but I do know a lot about evading the people looking for me.”

 

“People are looking for you?” Shinsou blinks, and the tense aura fades. “How do you evade them? And why?”

 

“The answer is the same; magic, to put it simply. Why don't I tell the story over dinner? I can eat with the group tonight, right?”

 

“Yeah, sure. You helped cook it all.”

 

“Shouto did a lot of it! He's handy with a flame --which reminds me. Has anyone ever taught him hearth magic?”

 

“Hearth magic?”

 

“Yeah, like for a fireplace. A hearth. It's mainly for protection spells in a home, but there's something called a hearth-stone he may be interested in. It allows the person to teleport back to their home, or ‘hearth’, as it were. If he's as strong as you say, I'm sure he could make one. It involves some fire magic to bake the clay, so he could use that as his focus.”

 

“Do you have one?”

 

Hizashi winces. “No.”

 

Shinsou seems sympathetic. “Unlike you, I won’t pry.” He nervously shoots Hizashi a grin.

 

Hizashi chuckles. “For your information I pry because I care.”

 

“I care!” Shinsou protests, throwing his hands out in exasperation.

 

“Don’t act so high and mighty. You were just prying about Todoroki.”

 

Shinsou lifts a finger to argue, then immediately puts it back down and closes his mouth. “True.”

 

“We all want answers to our questions. It’s human nature.” Hizashi assures him.



The Sphinx lingers on the other side of the door, frowning as he chews on his lip.

 

A human without a place to call home is slowly working his way into the hearts of the kids. First Todoroki asking to leave with him, now Shinsou- the one he trusts most with information- letting enough slip out for the bard to piece together stories…

 

Shinsou’s voice reaches his ears as Shinsou talks to Hizashi. “It’s odd Sensei hasn't kicked you out yet. People who ask too many questions never stay for long.”

Eraserhead sighs, hanging his head and leaning against his door. It appears the bard has managed to get under his skin too.

 

Perhaps Hizashi’s magic is built around that… He should be wary, but his heart and mind can’t agree.



“I think it's good though. Sensei doesn't have anyone.”

 

“Doesn't have anyone? But he has you, right? And Eri and Todoroki and all the other orphans?”

 

“Yeah, but that's not what I meant.”

 

“Huh?”

 

“Seriously? You can solve his riddles but this confuses you? I meant he's the only adult here, except now you're here too. Even just for a little while.”

 

Shinsou sighs and turns to head downstairs.

 

“I think it's hard on him, being the only adult. Even if he is a sphinx.”

 

“Oh. So you think he needs a friend his own age, is that it? Are you sure I'm old enough? Sphinx's are rumoured to live for ages!” Hizashi laughs at his own joke.

 

Shinsou sighs. “I’m pretty sure he’s thirty in human years, I may be wrong. Besides, it doesn’t matter how close in age you are, it’s different to be around an adult than a teen or a child.”

 

Shinsou takes a step down the stairs. “Dinner should be ready in a few minutes, if you’d like to come join us.” Shinsou looks up at Hizashi. “You mentioned a performance, right? You’ve been doing chores all day, so it’s alright if you’re too tired, but I know Eri’s excited for it.”

 

“Don’t worry, I haven't forgotten!” Hizashi says with a smile, “I’ll be right along!”

 

Shinsou nods, heading down the stairs. Hizashi waits until his footsteps fade away to speak again.

 

“You could hear us, couldn’t you?”

 

“You’re too loud to ignore,” Eraserhead says through the door . “How could I look the other way?”

 

“So, is Shinsou right?”

 

“I’m around 30, yes. It’s hard to tell; I stopped keeping track of time as much --”

 

“That wasn’t what I meant.” Hizashi cuts him off and folds his arms. The door between them makes Eraserhead sound like he’s speaking through water. “Is Shinsou right about you needing another adult?”

 

“People don't need anyone. They require the base amounts of nutrients, water, sleep and physical activity to survive. No one needs anyone. ” His voice is bitter, almost too low to hear.

 

Hizashi leans against the door. “Do you think the kids should be alone then? Being raised on their base needs and nothing else?”

 

“That isn’t what I was saying-”

 

“Then just you. You don’t need anyone.”

The sphinx gives a warning growl. “I believe Hitoshi is concerned because they have all developed friendships and bonds. I’m their teacher, a role model. At most, we have a parental bond. Friendship is a waste of energy. I have better uses for mine.”

 

He huffs. “Besides, friendship is a human notion. I’m a beast.”

 

“Sometimes it doesn't seem like it.” Hizashi says. Eraserhead opens and peeks out the door as Hizashi turns towards the stairs. He doesn't reply, just watching Hizashi walk away as he mulls over Hizashi's confusing words. He has amazing hearing, but can he really be sure Hizashi sounded sad when he said that?

 

Hizashi refuses to worry about Eraserhead as he grabs his pack and heads to the large bonfire outside for dinner, grinning as he waves at everyone. The food smells wonderful, people are smiling, and he can feel his ukulele pressing against his back from inside his magic bag. He won't let tonight end on a bad note.

 

Eri bounces up to him, holding something behind her back.

 

“Why hello Eri-chan! How was your day?”

 

Eri shuffles her feet shyly. “It was good.” She looks back at Shinsou, who nods in encouragement, before she turns back to Hizashi and shoves her gift into his hands. A red apple, and a crayon drawing of Hizashi and the sphinx. He has to stifle a laugh when he sees that he’s petting Eraserhead.

 

“For me?”

 

Eri nods, smiling at him. “Yeah!”

 

“Thank you! I’ll treasure this forever!”

 

“Really?” Eri’s eyes sparkled.

 

“Of course. No one’s ever drawn me before! It’s my first official portrait!”

 

“Shinsou says you might perform for us tonight!” Eri bounces onto the balls of her feet. “Will you? Please say you will!”

 

Hizashi holds up his ukulele. “Of course! Nothing but the best for my favorite artist!”

 

Hizashi glances around, waiting for everyone to settle before he gives a few experimental strums. “What type of tale would you like tonight, Eri-chan?”

 

The girl pauses mid-bite, eyes wide as she thought.

 

“A song about love!”

 

The blonde chuckles, lowering his head. His bangs fall over his eyes. “Is there anything else you would like to hear?”

 

She shakes her head.

 

Hizashi gives her the smallest of smiles. “I guess you could say I have my own little curse… I can’t sing about things I don’t know.”

 

Eri tilts her head. “But you can sing about other people-”

 

“Because people have told me about it! Love is hard to tell others about…”

 

“Oh… Then, can you sing about me?”

 

A few of the other kids laugh, enamored with how cute she is. Hizashi would wonder if it was magic if it wasn't for the fact that he can't sense any being used at all. She's just that adorable.

 

“Ah, a ballad about a maiden? I can certainly try!”

 

Hizashi nods as Shouto comes and puts a bowl of stew with a skewer by his feet with a large cup of water, but he's too distracted thinking up lyrics to say anything. Shouto returns the gesture before moving on.

 

“Oh, through my hard travels, with so much to see,

I met the young Eri, as sweet as can be~!”

 

“Her eyes sparkle and her silver hair gleams,

she's so amazing, sweet as a dream!”

 

“WAAAAAAHH!!!” Eri is clearly enjoying it, and the other kids seem to be half amused by her enthusiasm, half impressed by Hizashi’s skill.

 

He finishes the song and waves his hand in the air. “What next--” he stops talking as he stiffens, feeling a presence behind him.

 

“Relax,” Eraserhead says as he approaches the bonfire. “It’s just me.”

 

“Come to catch the rest of the performance?” Hizashi teases as he recovers himself. Eraserhead doesn't respond, making his way to the back of the group and sitting behind his students. Eri is quick to drag Eraserhead closer, sitting against his side as she tells him what he missed.

 

Hizashi’s eyes have a dull glow to them. “Well, Eri, what next?”

 

“A song about Sensei!”

 

Eraserhead stiffens, eyes going wide. “No, that's not necessary-”

 

Hizashi grins, eyes glowing brighter as his hair begins to float. “Eri’s in charge tonight, Eraser!”

 

All eyes are on him as he strums a note and clears his throat. The thrill of their attention runs through his veins, giving power to his words. His eyes stray to Eraserhead as he starts his new verse.

 

“I met a man as sly as a cat,

Just as smart and just as fast,

His wit is sharp,

His claws are sharper,

Makes me glad I'm just a Harper!”

 

Eraserhead turns his head away in embarrassment. It only makes Hizashi’s stage smile grow. The other kids find it amusing as well, joking and prodding Eraserhead throughout the performance. Eraserhead eventually lifts his head, his cheeks red and a small, amused smile on his face.

 

Hizashi sings another three songs before he ends the performance. Eri is sweet, but she forgets that Hizashi needs food too. Shouto reheats his food as the younger kids leave the glowing bonfire for the comfort of their beds

 

“You find me witty?”

 

“I imagine all sphinxes must be, in order to come up with their riddles.” Hizashi says, tuning his ukulele. The instrument is old and well used -- it requires a tune before and after every performance, but Hizashi has too many good memories with it to trade it for a newer one.

 

“I’m afraid not -- we all keep books of riddles hidden in our lairs.” Eraserhead studies the claws on one hand as if he were a person studying their nails.

 

Hizashi freezes. “Did you just make a joke, Eraser?”

 

“Perhaps,” the corner of his mouth twitched into a smile.

 

Hizashi stares up at him from where he sits cross-legged on the ground. Hizashi’s green eyes are big and wide and his grin practically splits his face. His laughter is soft, something small and sweet as he closes his eyes, trying to calm the giddiness that was building up from seeing the other smile.

 

“You should joke more.”

 

And smile.

 

The sphinx huffs, cheeks flushed but still smirking. “I'll leave that to you. My talents lie elsewhere.”

 

“You don't need to be talented to have fun.” Hizashi scolds. He finishes with his ukulele and carefully stores it in his magic pouch where it won't get damaged. Shouto brings the reheated food and Hizashi eats like a starving man.

 

“Shinsou, Eri, why don't you two head to bed?” Eraserhead asks in a quiet tone. Eri is already half asleep so Shinsou nods for the both of them. He picks her up and glances at Shouto lingering by the fire. Shouto doesn't move, his face impassive.

 

Once the others are out of earshot, Eraserhead sighs roughly.

 

“Shouto, I know you’ve been wanting to leave for awhile, and I know you already asked Mic if you could leave with him. I’ll let you, but there are a few things we need to discuss.”

 

“Ok.” Shouto’s voice is even, but his eyes betray his excitement.

 

“First,” the sphinx says, turning to Hizashi, “you said people were following you. Who are they, why are they following you, and are they dangerous?”

 

“They’re only dangerous if you don’t know how to deal with them.” Hizashi shifts his weight. “I have a complicated history with them.”

 

“Who are they?”

 

“Assassins.” Hizashi says. “They’re after me for… betraying my bloodline, I suppose.”

 

“Meaning?”

 

Hizashi glances at Shouto. “Perhaps this is a conversation for just you and I, Eraser.”

The thought of the children's perceptions of him changing… Their ideas of him as a carefree musician morphing into the prince he was… It makes his stomach roll. He worked hard to distance himself from it: the price of him being hunted and chased is worth it to be anonymous, to be free, to have his voice back.

 

“Eraser, would you like to go for a walk?”

 

The sphinx glances at Shouto. “Rest for now. We’ll continue this in the morning, Shouto.”

 

Shouto nods and gets up, dousing the bonfire and heading off to his house. Hizashi follows him until he reaches Eraserhead’s house, storing his bag in the front hallway before he follows Eraserhead outside into the cool night air. Hizashi doesn't have a place in mind, but Eraserhead seems to know where he's going.

 

He wants to talk, but something stops him. Maybe it's the cool breeze coming from the fields, or maybe its the view of the moon rising in the sky against a backdrop of stars, or maybe the lightning bugs that flicker through the canopy in the forest nearby.

 

Eraserhead finally stops next to a large log. He sits next to it and drapes his front paws across it as Hizashi sits and looks at the stars.

 

“You wanted to talk? Then talk.” Eraserhead snaps as his tail swishes impatiently.

 

“Straight to the point, as always.” Hizashi mutters under his breath, knowing Eraserhead could probably hear him. As if to confirm his suspicion, Eraserhead lifts an eyebrow.

 

“Fine.” Hizashi says, rolling his eyes as he tries to figure out what to say. He looks up at the stars again. No one treats him the same after he tells them he was a prince. They suddenly give him a respect stemming from fear, as if Hizashi has suddenly become cruel and punishing. He doesn’t want that. He wants to be seen for who he really is.

 

Eraserhead huffs, breaking Hizashi’s thoughts as the sphinx shifts himself into a more comfortable position. Hizashi glances at his face, surprised to see him watching Hizashi with an expression that was two parts worry and one part sympathy. When Eraserhead notices Hizashi looking back he quickly looks away, blushing.

 

Maybe Eraserhead will react differently.

 

“I grew up in a kingdom a long ways away from here.” Hizashi starts. He can’t say the name -- he refuses. It’s dead to him. “And I was born the son of the king.”

 

“That makes you a Prince.” Eraserhead doesn’t say it with admiration, but he doesn't say it with hatred either. Just pure fact.

 

Hizashi’s face contorts. “Don’t call me that.”

 

“For a Prince to become a Bard, traveling alone, chased by assassins, using magic to survive…” Eraserhead trails off. “A fascinating transformation.”

 

Hearing the word ‘Prince’ again gets his blood boiling, and his hand clutches at his chest, right over his heart. “It was nothing close to a ‘transformation.’ I never changed- I’ve always been me! I was never a prince, and I was never going to be.”

 

He lets out a few shaky breaths, closing his eyes as he tries to calm himself. “It was merely a change in title.”

 

His green eyes open slowly as he stares down at his hands.

 

“So don’t ever call me that. It has never rang true, and never will. You can call me bard, Mic, Yamada, I don’t care. As long as it’s not that.”

 

Hizashi has been avoiding Eraserhead’s eyes, his heart thudding hard in his chest. It feels like he’s suffocating on the fear and anxiety bubbling up from his stomach to his lungs. Will he look at him differently? Maybe he will be less rude, like everyone else. Suck up to him in hopes of getting some extra cash for the village and the kids? Will he ask for proof?

 

He squeezes his eyes shut tight, baring his teeth as he tries to stamp out the feelings.

 

“Well, that doesn't mean much to me.”

 

What? Hizashi looks up in surprise.

 

“It doesn't matter why you're being followed. The assassins won't stop until they have you, correct?”

 

“Er, I suppose. I managed to sing a few away, the same way I c harmed their benefactors .” Hizashi uses his fingers to put quotations around the word ‘charmed’ as he speaks.

 

Eraserhead blinks. Hizashi blinks.

 

“You're not being followed because you're a prince but because you're a criminal ?”

 

“Yes! I mean, no! It’s both! Usually both. As soon as I know someone is following me I lure them and trap them with a song. Make them feel guilty about what they're doing. I stopped asking them why a long time ago. You're right, though. It doesn't matter why I'm being followed, just that I'm being followed, right?”

 

“I'm not sure I'm comfortable entrusting a child with a criminal, especially one who has assassins tailing him.”

 

Hizashi winces. “New rule, you can't call me criminal either. Yes, I broke the law, but it was a stupid law. It allowed rich nobles to sit on their piles of gold and grow fat while someone within their own household works more in one day then they have in their entire life.”

 

Eraserhead sighs. “A lot of laws are dumb and allow nobles to get away with things, but what specifically did you do?”

 

“Oh. I charmed the nobles into feeling guilty and giving away their riches, which is technically stealing and illegal magic use, but I see it as ‘forced self reflection’.”

 

“That makes you Robin Hood,” Eraserhead chuckles. “Honestly, I’m glad somebody did it. It was long overdue.”

 

“If I’m Robin Hood, this must be Sherwood forest.” Hizashi glances at the sights of the village. “Speaking of...was this always a village? It’s so empty. What happened to its inhabitants?”

 

Eraserhead takes a deep breath. “That’s another story for another day,” he says.

 

“Hey!” The outburst is louder than he intended, leaving his ears ringing. “That’s not fair! You can’t waltz in, demand to know everything about me, then say you won’t do the same!”

 

“You waltzed in on your first day demanding answers as well. I only wanted to know why you were being hunted so I could protect everyone here.” He’s smirking though, his tone light- almost teasing.

 

“You were answering questions in hopes of being able to take Todoroki Shouto beyond the village. Not to get answers in return.” The sphinx stretches slowly, back arcing with an uncomfortable popping noise as he yawns.

 

“If you take him with you, I have a few requests of my own. Perhaps, if you succeed in completing them, I can give you answers.” His fangs are bared in a wide grin.

 

“Do not think they will be easy to complete, Present Mic. It will test you, your abilities and your loyalties. “

 

Hizashi gulps, but an electric thrill runs through his veins despite the nerves clenching his stomach. This is the kind of excitement he's looking for. The kind of excitement he lives for. Who would he be if he refused?

 

“I accept.”

 

“That easily? You don't even know what they are.”

 

“That's fine. I want to impress you.”

 

“And what makes you think I’ll be impressed with you?” Eraserhead flicks his tail as he pins Hizashi with a look.

 

“Everything leading up to this conversation, to be honest. Starting with those first few riddles we exchanged.” Hizashi grins in return. “No one else has ever solved them so quickly, right?”

 

“I won’t say I’m not impressed with your intelligence, but I’m far more impressed by your compassion.” Eraserhead blushes a little, turning his head away.

 

“Besides,” Eraserhead continues, a devilish grin replacing his blush, “Maybe my test is a test of physical endurance.”

 

“You-!” Hizashi scoffs. “I’m more physically fit than the average person! Average people don’t climb houses and crawl out of wells!”

 

“You’re not as fit as most of the kids.”

 

“More like the kids aren’t as fit as me. Besides, most of the time, physical challenges can be prevented with the right mental endeavors.”

 

Eraserhead snorts. “How so?”

 

“Rather than having to run from bad guys, I’d put up traps ahead of time! Rather than climbing a waterfall, I’d navigate a way around. It’s all the same game, Eraser.”

 

“Then you’ll find my tasks...invigorating.” Eraserhead eyes him warily.

 

“As long as it isn’t more chores, I’m ready!”

 

“Not everything can be solved with your mind. “ The sphinx bares his fangs. “However, you’ll be plenty capable of what I need done. Above all else, you are to keep Todoroki safe. If he comes back with a single scratch, I won't hesitate to make you pay with your life.”

Eraserhead walks towards the village, leading Hizashi home.

 

“Prove me wrong about letting him wander from here. And help him find whatever it is that is drawing him out.”  

 

“When it comes to wanderlust, finding the source may take years.” Hizashi says with a shrug. “But I can keep him safe. I have something to teach him, before we leave. Maybe you can help us with it?”

 

Hizashi explains his idea of the hearthstone to Eraserhead, grinning and gesturing as he describes the magic-heavy process. Eraserhead seems impressed. At least Hizashi thinks so.

 

“Alright, I'll help you make a hearthstone.” Eraserhead says. “If you don't mind, I'd like you to make one for yourself as well.”

 

“Me?! Why?”

 

Eraserhead gives him a sad look. “I don't want you left alone if you're in trouble. Besides, it will be easier for you to travel back, so it's just logical.”

 

Hizashi can't help but smile. It’s touching to have someone worry about him, even after he told them about his past.

 

“Two stones.” Hizashi agrees. “One for me, one for Shouto.”

 

“Where do you plan to take him?” Eraserhead digs his paw into the ground, leaving a small hole. Do Sphinx’s burrow their feet in the ground when they’re anxious? Or is the gesture special to Eraserhead?

 

“Wherever he wants to go,” Hizashi leans into the breeze. “Wanderlust isn’t a destination; it’s a feeling.”

 

“Don’t let your feeling guide all your decisions.” Eraser’s tone darkens. Hizashi looks back, but the Sphinx has already wiped any expression from his face.

 

“Have you ever gotten over your wanderlust?” The Sphinx asks softly.

 

“I don't think it’s something you get over. “

 

“I never had the urge to wander, “ Eraserhead admits softly. “I don't know if I ever will.”

 

“Then what do you have an urge for?” The blonde walks closer, his voice almost a whisper.

 

“I don't know. I have responsibilities.”

 

“Have you ever let yourself wonder about it?” Hizashi steps ever closer as he asks, eyes trained on Eraserhead’s. The moonlight makes his eyes glow. It’s entrancing. Eraserhead stares back, ruffling his feathers as his wings unfurl from his back for the first time since they’ve met.

 

“I try not to. But maybe I can start.”

 

“Yeah?” Hizashi breathes out, his voice so quiet the breeze almost drowns it out. “What's the first thing that comes to mind?”

 

“You. Perhaps if you stayed...”

 

Hizashi laughs in surprise. His smile is crooked as he looks over Eraserhead’s face for any hint of a lie, but he finds none. Eraserhead’s wings give a nervous flap as he stares back, his paws shifting as if he wants to move away. Does he regret saying that?

 

A cold fear starts to bubble up within Hizashi, reminding him of why he doesn’t like to stay in one place for long or get attached to people, especially in the way he feels with the Sphinx. Romance is dangerous. Love brings pain. He tries to think of something to say, some way he could explain his apprehension, but a half-baked joke to ease the tension is tumbling from his lips before he can stop himself.

 

“Wait, you don’t mean you want to eat me, do you?”

 

Eraserhead looks like he wants to say something, but he shakes his head instead , a blush growing on his face.

 

“No, I don’t want you in the “kill and eat” sense.” Eraserhead mutters, flicking his tail and shifting himself so he’s facing away from Hizashi.

 

“Damn curse…” He mutters under his breath, the words so soft Hizashi almost thought he imagined them.

 

“The curse?” Hizashi tries to clear his mind, thankful for something else to focus on.

 

“What?”

 

“You said something about the curse. Can’t you tell me more?” Hizashi asks, plaintive.

 

“Why would I do that?”

 

“I could help you solve it!”

 

Eraserhead ignores him, turning away.

 

“Alright, if you still won’t tell me, I’ll tell you my theory. You’re bound here by whatever is behind the door. And for some reason you aren’t capable of getting in there- or maybe, just maybe, you cursed yourself. I’m not sure yet.”

 

The Sphinx turns, his warning growl small and weak, like he’s tired of putting up a front.

 

“I’ll get it open so you can be free!”

 

Eraserhead bows his head, a sad smirk on his lips. “Sure.” Free as a Sphinx, but not as himself.

 

“Hey, I'll show you! People never doubt me for long.”

 

“I said sure.”

 

“Sounded pretty sarcastic to me!”

 

Eraserhead lets out a short laugh as he shakes his head. It’s cute. His hair goes everywhere, yet somehow doesn't tangle. Hizashi can see the braids from earlier clinging in there, his mind stuck on how open Eraserhead is being.

 

“Are you using magic on your hair?” He asks suddenly, surprising himself. Eraserhead blinks.

 

“What?”

 

“I mean, it just- look, my braid is all frizzy now! And coming undone! But yours looks perfect! And you don't even have tangles yet she combed your hair hours ago.”

 

Eraserhead just looks confused by the conversation’s strange turn, his head tilting to the side as his eyebrows twist.

 

“I suppose. My body is inherently magical. I'm always using magic, in a sense. Can’t turn it off.”

 

“Interesting!” Eraserhead hums in agreement as they go back to looking up at the stars. The silence is uncomfortable. Hizashi should say something about earlier, but he isn't sure what. He looks over at Eraserhead, who is not-so-subtly watching Hizashi.

 

“About your, uh, desire.” Hizashi whispers, awkwardly trying to sound sweet again.

 

“Forget I said-”

 

“No! It's ok, I just-” Hizashi pauses as he gathers his words, “ It’s just… I…” Hizashi grimaces, wanting to explain himself fully but finding himself unable to talk about that aspect of his past. He instead chooses a different concern he has with a relationship between them and hopes Eraser will understand. You're a Sphinx and I'm a human. And while you're handsome and have an amazing personality-”

 

“I get it.” Eraserhead sounds surprisingly vulnerable. “I-I’m not upset with you.”

 

Hizashi watches as Eraserhead pulls his wings tight to himself, smoothing his feathers.

“I… Didn’t want to lead you on.” Hizashi says tentatively.

“You never were. You asked me a question, and I answered. I never expected anything in return.” He takes a few steps away from the bard, staring off.

 

Hizashi bites his lip, following. “Eraserhead... “

“I expect you both back within two weeks. Any later and I will have people out looking for you.”

 

It's a clear dismissal if Hizashi’s ever heard one. He sighs and nods in agreement, biting his tongue. Words won't help them now. He doesn't try to think about why he regrets his words now. He just focuses on returning to the house Eraserhead calls home.

 

“Two weeks it is.”



Hizashi is lying on the bare mattress, pretending to sleep, when Eraserhead finally returns. He can hear the faint sound of his paws against the wood and his soft breathing. Hizashi doesn't move even as his back prickles. He knows Eraserhead must be staring at him.

 

Eventually he hears the rustling of fabric and the prickling disappears. He slowly drifts off to sleep wondering about what-if’s and second chances.

 

Hizashi wakes up to an empty room, sound coming from the kitchen beneath him. He drags himself out of bed and wanders down the stairs. He pauses in front of the cursed door, deciding he needs a challenge to wake him up. A magical door should be a good one. Hizashi ignores the logical part of his mind as he approaches the door, ready to release his frustration.

 

Hizashi tries knocking politely, since sometimes magic requires simple answers. When nothing happens, he wiggles the handle, not surprised to see it is still locked. Hizashi remembers what Shinsou said about his attempts at opening the door, and decides to try a different method. Hizashi gathers a bit of magic in the back of his throat.

 

“Open up!” Hizashi orders, letting his magic work as his lockpick. The runes on the sides of the door begin to glow, and before Hizashi can do anything, he is blasted backwards into the wall, sparks flying everywhere as his head grows heavy.

 

As Hizashi groans in pain, he hears footsteps getting closer.



Shinsou is by his side in a moment, eyes wide with concern. Then he’s grinning, covering his mouth as he tries to keep silent. Eri pops up behind him, giggling as she catches sight of the bard. Eraserhead is close behind.



Hizashi sits up with a frown- “What are you two laughing at-”



Eraserhead’s laugh is booming, echoing. The Sphinx can’t take his eyes off the human. “Weren’t you warned about touching the door?” His manic grin is all sharp teeth.



Hizashi pats himself down quick, eyes wide, “What happened- I’m not making weird noises, I’m still me-” Eri points at her own head, to signal he should check his.



He reaches up to his neck, frowning when he doesn’t feel anything. He pats his way up until he touches his hair, finding it standing on end as if he were electrocuted- hell, maybe he had been.

 

“You know mirrors exist.” Shinsou says with a smirk. Hizashi sticks out his tongue and stumbles to the bathroom as the onlookers trail behind him. He freezes when he sees his reflection, dumbfounded at the sight.

 


 

His hair. His hair sticks up like a cockatoo’s. It looks ridiculous. He turns on the water and soaks it, ignoring how his clothes are getting wet in the process. But it's no use. As soon as he stands, hair, face and clothes dripping wet, his hair pops back up, spraying water everywhere.

 

At least everyone else gets sprayed too.

 

Hizashi can’t stop himself from bursting into laughter. He turns to face everyone and his hair smacks Shinsou in the face, which only makes him laugh harder.

 

“I’m sorry, Shinsou,” Hizashi manages to say in between his laughs, “I didn’t mean to!”

 

Shinsou shrugs, wearing a smug grin . “It’s alright. Besides, you’re the one who’s gonna have to deal with that all day.”

 

Hizashi chuckles. “Well hey, it’s not the worst look to be caused by magic, is it? I can totally pull this off!”

 

Eraserhead has his back to them as his whole body shakes with laughter. His feathers are all puffed up. It’s cute. Hizashi grins. “There are worse curses out there.” He gives Shinsou a wink before shaking his head once more. “Anyway, could I get a towel?”



Shinsou and Eri nod, leaving to find him one.

 

The bard walks over to Eraserhead with a big grin. “It isn’t that funny.” He puffs his chest out, head held high. “I think it’s quite becoming.”

 

That only makes the Sphinx burst into another bout of laughter. For all his beastly qualities, it sounds completely human.

 

“If you're becoming a laughingstock, sure.”

 

“It's worth it if I get to hear your laughter!” He grins. Eraserhead’s mood immediately shifts as he blushes and frowns, turning to head back to the dining room. Hizashi’s stomach clenches as he remembers what he said the night before. Damn.

 

Shinsou and Eri return with a towel, though only Shinsou notices the change in mood.

 

“Where did Sensei go?” Eri asks with a smile. Hizashi starts drying off so he can have something to focus on.

 

“Probably back to eating, like we should.” Shinsou says. “There's still food left. We’ll save some for you, so take your time washing up.”

 

Hizashi can read the hidden message in Shinsou’s tone. Don't rush. Give Eraserhead time. Hizashi sighs and locks himself in. If he's going to wait, he may as well bathe and let his clothes dry.



Hizashi steps out of the bathroom, bathed, dried, and hair still standing on end. It drags against the top of the doorway, an odd sensation he never thought about before. A quick meal will be best before a day of forging magical objects. It takes a lot of energy to create a hearthstone. Hizashi, with his magic stemming from his voice, is better suited to air-based magic, which is awful when working with fire and earth based enchantments.

 

Hizashi walks into the kitchen and immediately meets the gaze of mismatched eyes. Shouto raises an eyebrow at Hizashi’s hair, but says nothing. Shinsou, who is sitting across from the half redheaded boy, must have told him. Shinsou tries to make quiet conversation, but they both end up staring at Hizashi as he makes himself breakfast.

 

“So what do we have to do to make a hearthstone?” Shouto asks when Hizashi sits down, staring above Hizashi’s head.

 

Hizashi ignores the look. “We need to gather clay from here- no one else can touch it, so you gather yours and I’ll gather mine. Then we bake it and create our own sigils, binding ourselves to this place.”

 

He rubs his chin as he thinks, eyes on the ceiling. “It will wipe us of our energy - myself more than you. The conditions are not favorable for my flavour of magic.” He turns to Shouto, grinning. “So we’ll have to do our best and be prepared for the exhaustion afterwards.”

 

“You can use your flames to bake the clay, and something else to create your own sigil- create something unique to you, not something easily copied. This is a direct link to you and your village , meaning people can abuse it if it’s something easy.”

 

Shouto nods as he listens. Shinsou, despite his bored expression, listens too.

 

“And one last thing, though it isn't necessary. You can have someone else here act as another anchor. If they have magic talent, it can help your return trip be less draining, since using it will drain you too. Though it's mainly the difference between, say, passing out when you arrive and being able to sleepily ask for a pillow before you pass out. In my experience it's worth it.”

 

“Okay. Would Sensei be able to do it?”

 

Hizashi nods.

 

“I don't see why not. He has magic, after all. You can ask him- though I don't know where he went.”

 

“What about you?” Shinsou asks. “Don’t you need an anchor?”

 

“I’ll be fine.” Hizashi reassures him. “As long as I'm not out of energy I can do it.”

 

Shinsou chews his lip and stares at the floor. Before he can say anything, Shouto speaks.

 

“Didn’t you just say it was worth it to have an anchor?”

 

Hizashi sighs. “It’s fine. I’m not accepting any of you kids as an anchor anyways.”

 

“Why don’t you ask Sensei to do it?”

 

“I wouldn’t want to drain Eraser’s energy.” Hizashi shakes his head. The spike of hair rustles with each movement. “Besides, anchors need strong bonds to each other. He’d be better suited for you, Shouto.”

 

Shouto raises an eyebrow. Shinsou rolls his eyes. Neither buy his story, but the truth is far more complicated. Hizashi knows his bond with Eraserhead is strong enough by now , but to ask Eraserhead to be his anchor would be salt in an open wound.

 

“I can be your anchor --” Shinsou starts.

 

“Absolutely not.” Hizashi cuts him off with a wave of his hand. “I’m not draining you. I’m an experienced adult; I can make it on my own.”

 

They both finally accept his answer, but he can tell they still want to say something. It doesn’t matter. Getting this done matters more.

 

The clay ends up being procured from the well- Hizashi is just glad it's safe enough for Shouto to climb down too. Eraserhead has wandered over by the time they climb out with a small pouch of clay each. Eraserhead snickers at his hair again, but he smiles, not wanting to set Eraserhead off.

 

“Sensei.” Shouto steps forward with his lump of clay, showing it off. “He says you could be my anchor here, to make it safer for me to use.”

 

Eraserhead blinks, looking between them with a contemplative expression. It looks like he wants to ask something, but he keeps his mouth shut and nods.

 

“I will be your anchor. Are you doing the spell now?”

 

“Are you ready, Shouto?” Climbing in and out of a well is a tiring task, and Hizashi knows he wouldn’t mind resting for a moment before casting the spell.

 

Shouto considers it. “How much of my energy will this drain?”

 

“The first part will hardly drain you, since you’re skilled with flame magic. However when you create the sigil, it purposefully drains your magic. All magic is unique, and this is half the reason why hearthstones are so strong.”

 

Hizashi thinks for a moment. “ Typically you should still have a good chunk of energy left afterwards, maybe a little less after you bond it with your anchor.” Hizashi looks up at Eraserhead. “I’m not sure how much energy it’ll take to bond it to you, I’ve never bonded a hearthstone to anyone who wasn’t human.”

 

Shouto thinks about it for a moment. “What about you? You said it would take more energy from you, right?”

 

“Don’t worry about me, I’ll just have a deep sleep tonight.”

 

“If you pass out, I’m not carrying you back.” Eraserhead sniffs in disdain.

 

“I wouldn’t dream of it.” Hizashi snorts. “I’ll be fine.” Is this what they’ve come to? Ignoring the elephant in the room by tossing out jokes and insults? Hizashi knows humor is a coping mechanism, but the tension doesn’t dispel with their laughter.

 

“How many hearthstones have you made?” Shouto asks.

 

Hizashi hesitates, rolling his clay back and forth between his hands. “Not many,” he admits. “There aren’t many places I’ve visited worth returning to. Only a few.”

 

Eraserhead huffs.

 

“But I know enough to teach you to make them safely,” Hizashi finishes quickly. “No one's been hurt yet .” Eraserhead raises a brow, unimpressed.

 

Eraserhead glances at Shouto, watching him shape his clay. “No need to rush it.” The Sphinx paces slowly around them, watching like a hawk. “Is it the places you haven't found worth visiting again? Or the people? Have you ever anchored with someone before?”

 

Hizashi thinks quietly as he shapes his clay into a rounded disc, like a large, flat pebble. He isn't sure how to answer that. Honesty seems like the best choice. He already shared so much with Eraserhead the night before.

 

“I anchored with my mother, when she first taught me this spell. I got my magic from her.”

 

Shouto perks up, listening intently as he struggles to copy the shape of Hizashi’s clay. Hizashi has to remind himself that only Eraserhead knows he used to be royalty. He needs to keep it vague.

 

“Father didn't like it much, but he wanted me to be safe so he turned a blind eye. She’s dead now, and I broke that stone anyways, so...”

 

“Ah.” Eraserhead flicks his tail as he turns his head. “Sorry to hear that.”

 

“It's no big deal. I've had my time to mourn.”

 

They stay quiet for a moment, working in silence. Eventually, Shouto speaks.

 

“Do I have to shape the clay in any particular way? I figured it was best to shape it like yours.”

 

“Shaping it like mine is fine, although you can shape it however you want. The shape isn’t that important, what matters is that the surface is completely smooth. I usually flatten mine as much as I can by hand and then use magic to remove any fingerprints. Some people find it easier to do this in water, but it’s easier for me like this.”

 

Shouto looks at the clay and nods. “What happens if it’s not completely smooth?”

 

“Magical items always use less energy when more time and care is spent making them. It’s not that big of a difference, so you don’t have to if you would prefer not to.”

 

“The more you tell me about magic, the more tiring it seems.” Shouto says. Hizashi can’t tell if he means it as a joke or not.

 

“When I was young, my mom would always tell me magic was exhausting so that we wouldn’t use it to fix all our problems.” Hizashi works his clay smooth as he speaks. “The last thing we want is a lonely magician casting love spells on everyone they meet, or a lazy farmer stealing rain to take care of his crops, or a crooked merchant sending the economy into shambles when he makes money magically appear.”

 

“And being tired solves all that?”

 

“Not all of it,” Hizashi admits. “But it can help. If you’re too tired to do anything with your new lover, then what’s the point --”

 

“Mic,” Eraserhead swishes his tail in warning.

 

“Ah, right.” Sometimes Hizashi forgets how young even the oldest of the children are. “I guess you wouldn't understand that.”

 

Shouto stares at his feet. “Can you stop people from loving someone?” His face is neutral, but his eyes are dead serious.

 

Both Eraserhead and Mic freeze, looking the boy over.

 

“There are some things people shouldn’t meddle with.” The blonde’s voice is soft, the clay cupped tight in his hand. “Emotions are one of them. “

 

Hizashi speaks from experience. He specializes in manipulation; playing with others emotions- and trust is a big factor. He can’t stop himself from thinking of his parent’s relationship- the way the other would strike with silver tongues as sharp as knives when the other trusted them not to, twisting the other’s emotions to their advantage. Hurting each other the way they did- it was something Hizashi swore he’d never even allow himself the chance to do.

 

“But is it possible?” Shouto presses.

 

“Probably,” Hizashi sighs. Eraserhead growls in warning, but Hizashi presses on. “But it would cause more damage than would be worth it. And since it’s emotional, the damage wouldn't be apparent at first. But it would be there, hidden inside them. Messy business.”

 

“How about you change the subject to the task at hand.” Eraserhead scolds. Hizashi and Shouto both look guilty as they cringe.

 

“Ok, are you ready to bake it?” Hizashi asked. Shouto nods in confirmation. “Bake it anyway you like, as long as magic is involved and as long as it doesn’t crack it should be fine!”

 

Shouto presses his lips together in concentration, lighting his hands aflame as he began the baking process. With a little concentration and humming, Hizashi manages bake his clay too, using heated air instead of fire. While fire would be preferable, it takes more energy for Hizashi to maintain.

 

“That should be enough for you!” Hizashi still has to bake his a little more, but that doesn’t mean he can’t guide Shouto. “Make sure it isn’t cracked, and then start creating your sigil. It’s better if you do it faster, and you need to make sure your sigil is unique!”

 

Hizashi turns his attention back to his stone. It should be ready. He stops baking it, immediately turning the stone over to search for cracks, finding none. He grabs his knife and begins to hum another tune. This is going to be the draining part.

 

A sigil….what kind of sigil should he create? Hizashi has never been great at creating sigils. Visual art isn't one of his specialties.

 

He settles on something easy to remember. He draws the rough outline of a sphinx, then crosses an X out over it. “An X?” Eraserhead asks as he flicks his tail.

 

“For the curse.” Hizashi explains. “I like my sigils to tell a story. People won’t guess what they look like if they don’t know the meaning behind them.”

 

He takes a glance at Shouto’s design. “Are you sure that’s complex enough?”

 

Shouto has etched a pillar of fire with a snowflake in the middle. Shouto eyes it warily before adding another snowflake at the top of the flame. “I’m like you,” Shouto says. “Mine will tell my story.”

 

“It's much easier to remember that way! Though once it’s on the stone and fused with our return destination, we technically don't need to remember it. We already know where to go. But the sigil makes activating the spell much quicker.”

 

“Okay. I'm done.”

 

Shouto holds up his stone with the sigil carved into it. Their pictures are crude, but they work.

 

“Alright. Now, we have to set the spell to our anchoring location. Beside the well can work. Much safer than trying to do it inside and appearing on top of a new table someone moved in.”

 

Shouto cracks a smile at the mental image. Eraserhead just looks bored. Maybe too bored. Is he faking?

 

After walking over to the plush grass beside the well, Hizashi stops. “Alrighty! So we wanna redraw our sigils with the strongest physical manifestation of our magic possible. Shouto, you're also going to want to have physical contact with Eraserhead, that way the stone is bound to him as well.”

 

Shouto nods as he listens. “Is that it?”

 

“Yep! Make sure your magic is evenly spread across the symbol, otherwise it won't be efficient.”

 

Shouto leans against Eraserhead’s side and begins drawing his symbol. Fire and ice appear in the air, strong and even.

 

Hizashi lets out a low whistle. He’d figured Shouto’s magic must be strong, or else Eraserhead’s training would mean nothing, but watching him in action... maybe Shouto can be as much use to him as he is to Shouto.

 

“So, fire and ice.” Hizashi says. “Which one do you use most often?”

 

“Does it matter?” The venom in Shouto’s voice takes him aback. It isn’t rare to find people ashamed of their magic, but Shouto’s is pure rage.

 

His reply takes a minute; Hizashi is too shaken to respond immediately. “If we need to use magic on the road, I’d like to know what to expect from you.”

 

“Oh.” Shouto relaxes. “I use my ice more often. I rarely train my fire.”

 

“Really?”

 

“It's dangerous.” Shouto says quietly. Hizashi nods, keeping his mind focused on Shouto’s magical output.

 

“Fair enough. Keep your magic steady- and think about the positive things that make you want to return. Your sensei. Your friends. The cool water and tasty food cooking on the fire, the smells of the fields and forests- yes, I can feel it working!”

 

Shouto closes his eyes and wobbles a little as the magic flows into the hearthstone, wreathed in fire and steam. Eraserhead lets Shouto lean on him as the magic aura slowly fades and Shouto collapses against him, barely conscious.

 

“It… I can feel it.” Shouto says, voice tired and amazed as he stares at the stone in his hand. Hizashi smiles, sharing a proud look with Eraserhead.

 

Eraser’s expression changes from proud to something mischievous. “Don’t you have to create yours, Mic?”

 

Hizashi sighs. “I hope this grass is as soft as it looks.”

 

“I won’t let you fall.” Eraserhead mutters.

 

“You’re probably going to want to leave for now.” Hizashi watches him back up a bit, then turns away from them and begins to hum, letting his magic flow out of him freely. Unfortunately, his magic amplifies his voice to the point where his sounds can be seen, meaning it’s very loud. The houses around him shake as Hizashi focuses on creating his sigil as quickly as possible, silently praying nothing collapses.

 

When he completes his sigil, the edges of his vision begin to fade to black. His head is spinning, and he’s reminded of why he hates making hearthstones. He collapses, but something big and soft is there to cushion his fall.

Chapter Text

Hizashi groans in pain as he wakes up. He feels like his whole body is going through a growth spurt with how much his bones ache. He groans again as he shifts, freeing his limbs from the blanket tucked around him.

 

Blanket?

 

He opens his eyes to find himself in Eraserhead’s room, lying on the mattress with some extra pillows and someone else’s blanket. Right. He always stores his own blanket back into his bag by habit, and it can't be opened by just anyone.

 

Wait. Why is he sleeping? He looks over when he hears a sound, watching as Eraserhead enters through the large window and walks over. The sky outside is dark.

 

“What…?”

 

“Hush, you damn fool.” Eraserhead sighs. Hizashi closes his dry mouth with a snap. “I don't think it was wise, to make your stone so soon after being cursed by my door. Seems like it took more out of you than you said it would.”

 

“Oh.” That makes sense. How could he have forgotten about that? His hair still feels weird as it defies the laws of physics and pushes against his pillow.

 

Eraserhead curls up in his pillow pile, which seems a little smaller than it used to be. Hizashi forces himself to sit, which is a mistake. He immediately falls right back onto his pillow, feeling dizzy and tired, despite just waking up. Eraserhead shakes his head.

 

“Yeah, maybe I shouldn't have done that.” Hizashi half laughs, half wheezes.

 

Eraserhead sighs. “Please don't be so reckless with Shouto.”

 

“I promise I won't be. I would never endanger a kid.”

 

“I don't want you to endanger yourself either.” Eraserhead says sadly.

 

Hizashi sighs. “I won't.”

 

“Show yourself the same care as you would with my students. That’s all I ask.”

 

Hizashi blushes. “I didn’t think about the door, I swear. How’s Shouto?”

 

Eraserhead flicks his tail. “Recovering well. It appears both stones worked.”

 

“Good. Good.” Hizashi takes a deep breath and rubs his eyes. There’s so much to consider, so much to plan.

 

“That means you’ll be heading out soon, yes?”

 

“I... I guess so.” Hizashi’s heart sinks. Just the thought of leaving makes him cringe. In the past, it would fill him with a sense of excitement and euphoria, but now...

 

The Sphinx moves and stands before him, shuffling on his paws as he struggles with the thought of the other going.

 

“I am not your anchor, but you should know you are expected back here. Welcomed back here .” Eraserhead pauses here, as if fighting himself over what to say next. “I can send you off with a protection spell… it's nothing in comparison to your magic…”

 

The blonde perks up, blinking the sleep from his eyes. The Sphinx’s offer, combined with his invitation to return, makes Hizashi feel warm with emotion. He hasn't even left yet, and he wants to come back. He's a little surprised at how much he’s come to like this place. After wandering around for so long, fulfilling his wanderlust, it feels good to find a place that maybe, someday, he can call home again.

 

“I'm sure it will work wonders.” Hizashi smiles as he gets comfortable again. The pillows are soft and smell a bit musky. He wants to burrow his face against them, but he’s in the middle of a conversation. “You're quite powerful, even if your magic is different.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“I don't know about you, but the more I use magic, the more I can feel it. Sense it. I-” Hizashi yawns, jaw cracking as his body protests staying awake. He ignores it. “I didn't feel you until you revealed yourself, but since then, you've been a heavy weight in my mind.”

 

“A weight.” Eraserhead repeats, struggling to wrap his mind around the word. “In a good, or bad way?”

 

“I don’t keep my mind on any one thing for long,” Hizashi admits, “and you’ve taken up a significant amount of time.”

 

Eraserhead blinks, pawing the ground. Silence drapes over them both. Hizashi hates silence, but right now he is too tired to think of something else to say. “Neither of us can keep playing this game,” Eraserhead muses, “Perhaps it’s for the best that you’re leaving.”

 

Hizashi furrows his brows, head aching as he protests. “I'm not playing a game, Eraser- I'm just being honest! You won't even tell me your name-”

 

“I’m sorry I took up so much of your time.” Eraserhead is calm, eyes glowing as he stares Hizashi down. “Be back in two weeks with Todoroki, safe and sound. He has instructions on who I want you to meet with.”

 

“Eraser, wait-” his voice booms urgently, making his own head ache. The creature turns away, feathers puffed up as he storms out, leaving Hizashi on the bed surrounded by pillows Eraserhead gathered for him.

 

Hizashi is much too tired to protest or follow. His mouth feels even dryer now, but he can't bring himself to care. He turns over and burrows against his new bedding, letting his exhaustion pull him into blissful oblivion.

 


 

He wakes up to find Eraserhead still gone. He can't tell if he even returned with how messy his nest always looks. Dragging his sore body out of bed and into the washroom occupies his mind.  His hair is back to normal, but looking at his limp locks makes him sigh. He doesn't want to think about the sour feeling in his stomach.

 

Shouto is waiting for him in the kitchen instead of the dining room, a small, wrapped breakfast in his hands. A new pack sits next to his, and his own hearthstone sits on the countertop. He pockets it quickly, just so it isn’t forgotten in a moment of absent mindedness.

 

“Wow. Ready to go already, huh? Did you even tell anyone goodbye yet?”

 

“I said goodbye last night,” Shouto says. “It was easier that way — they were too tired to protest.”

 

Hizashi starts packing food into his bag. “Anyone give you trouble?”

 

“Shinsou doesn’t want me to go. He tried to trick me into falling for his magic, but I saw through him.”

 

Hizashi nods. “Good.”

 

“And you?” Shouto asks. “Did you say goodbye to everyone? Any trouble?”

 

“I said bye to Eraser.”

 

“How’d he take it?” Shouto asks.

 

Hizashi hesitates. “Both better and worse than I thought.”

 

“You're sure that's how you want to leave things?”

 

The blond nods, shoving more into his bag. “He says it was better this way. What do I know- I'm just a foolish Bard.” He gives Shouto a grin, pulling his bag over his shoulder. “Are you sure you're ready to leave?”

 

Shouto gives a firm nod, adjusting his own bag.

 

“I am. Besides-” he pulls out his hearthstone. “I'm coming back. I know I am. Leaving doesn't seem so bad knowing that.”

 

“Jeez, so young, and yet so wise.” Hizashi sighs dramatically. “Well, I'm glad you have a positive outlook on this. That's the important part! Let’s go!”

 

Hizashi leads the way as they head out, past the fields and the forest, past the worn-down sign covered in vines, all the way until the village isn't in sight anymore, even as Shouto peeks behind them. Hizashi lets him look. Leaving is always hard, even with something else to look forward to. He waits another mile before whipping out his ukulele and starting on a new song.

 

A two-week time limit doesn't seem like much, but Hizashi reminds himself of their hearthstones. They don't need to worry about planning a return trip in that time. After a long trek, they reach their first village, and he ends up finding a library there; he shows Shouto how to copy down maps and update them so he doesn’t get lost as easily. Shouto has a lot to learn, but he's a quick study, and always so eager underneath his quiet exterior.

 

“We go like this?” Shouto tries to copy Hizashi’s hand movements, tracing the map to the best of his ability.

 

“Not quite.” Hizashi adjusts Shouto’s movements, showing him how to outline the map more accurately.

 

“Where are we even going?” Shouto asks, staring at the map ahead of them.

 

“I’m thinking here,” Hizashi points to a town to their west. “I know a few other Bards and heroes in that area.”

 

Shouto doesn’t speak until they arrive in the new town. He hands Hizashi a stack of letters, names scrawled messily above a wax seal. “Sensei said this was up to you.”

Each stack is tied crudely with a name on top of each one. He picks a few to look at. Hizashi recognizes a few as famed heroes of the lands. He glances through them, committing them to memory. “We might not be able to get to them all… Some I’ve never heard of.”

“Perhaps the others will know? “

 

“Are these Eraser’s informants on the outside?”

 

The boy shrugs. “I don’t know. He didn’t tell me anything about these except to give them to you when we arrived.”

 

Hizashi slips the rest into his bag, closing his eyes. “I assume the contents are a threat if exposed?” Another shrug. “I’m guessing there's so many because he hadn't found someone he could trust to deliver them before now…”

 

Who delivered them before? Did anyone? If not, why trust him?

 

The bard traces the name on the stack. Midnight . At least he knows how to find her.

 

He's a little surprised Eraserhead knows someone like Midnight, famed for her talents in sorcery and seduction, but everyone has their secrets. Eraserhead more than most. Once Shouto is safely asleep in a nearby inn, Hizashi asks around the local taverns. She ends up being the easiest to find as he hops between bars until he manages to run into her. She's as beautiful as they say, and he has no doubt she's as dangerous too.

 

“Well, hello handsome!” She croons as he walks up to her table. “Not many men are brave enough to approach me without my invitation.”

 

“I'm not many men, just one!” He laughs, taking a seat across from her. She looks ready for a verbal battle of wits and mockery, but he when he pulls out the letters, her face goes rigid with suspicion.

 

“What are these?”

 

“Letters. I don't know what’s inside them, so don't ask. An acquaintance of mine asked me to deliver them as a favor.”

 

Midnight opens one of the letters, frowning at whatever is written. She folds the letter and slowly stuffs it into her bra as she thinks. Hizashi sizes up the bar patrons. They’re all drunk and wildly laughing, probably not likely to try and steal letters, but one never knows.

 

Midnight clears her throat, returning Hizashi’s attention to her. “What’s the name of this acquaintance?”

 

“I don’t know, he wouldn’t tell me. He has long black hair and a scar underneath his right eye.” Hizashi doesn’t want to fully describe Eraserhead while in public, in case someone listens in and decides to attack him.

 

Midnight’s confusion seems to be cleared up by that description anyways. “Ah yes… Him.”

 

“Don’t tell me he didn’t tell you his name either.” Hizashi groans. He was hoping Midnight would know.

 

She pauses as if trying to remember, before shaking her head. “Names aren’t important for what we discuss.” Midnight tosses the envelopes between her hands.

 

Hizashi bites back a groan. At this rate, he’ll never know Eraserhead’s name. “What do you discuss?” As far as Hizashi knows, Midnight only has two modes of communication. Outright seduction, and mild seduction. Somehow, he couldn’t see either of them working on Eraserhead.

 

“Not much, to be completely honest... He disappeared on us without a word.” She rests her chin in her hand as she pouts. “How long have you had these? His letters stopped coming at least five years ago…” She flips through a few more, breaking the seal and glancing them over. There’s a furrow between her eyebrows as if something is weighing on her mind.

 

“Is he okay? We all split up, after he left-” She frowns, her fingers tapping on her lips. “Him… He… Ah…” She bites her lip, brows furrowing. “We’ve all been so worried. When the letters stopped, we assumed the worst.”

 

Hizashi links his fingers together as he listens, a frown lingering on his face. “Did you travel together?”

 

“We were best friends! “ Her frown melts away quickly, her eyes bright. “We traveled for years with our other friends. He was probably the best rogue mage in these parts. Kept his work clean and efficient, no way of tracing it back to him. He wasn't in it for the fame or the glory.” She laughs and leans forward. “You never told me if he was well.”

 

“He is, Midnight. I’m sure whatever he needed you to know is in the rest of the letters...”

 

Midnight orders him a pint as she reads through the rest of the letters. He sips it as he watches her expression change, from a sad grin to a furrowed frown, and even a blank face that makes Hizashi curious to know what she’s reading. They must have been best friends, if she’s so affected by reading his old mail.

 

“Did you know,” she starts casually almost an hour later, surprising Hizashi out of his thoughts, “That he's the only man to ever resist my charms? Both with and without magic. I tried to trap him when we first met, but he surprised me… we were so close after that. But...”

 

She pauses, clearly conflicted about what she wants to say. She stands abruptly and gestures for Hizashi to follow her, heading into a back room and slipping through a well-hidden door. The noise from the bar cuts out as they step inside- clearly the work of magic of some kind. It makes sense, since it seems to be a bedroom. Who would want to sleep next to a noisy tavern if they could hear every noise?

 

“You say he’s well,” she starts as she turns to lock the door behind him, “But I can't remember his name. What happened? Why can't I- did a spell go wrong? Is he cursed? I wouldn't just forget. I can feel it, the hole in my memory. It doesn't feel right. And his letters don't say anything!”

 

“When did you last see him? And, uh, what did he look like?” Hizashi’s pretty sure Sphinxes can’t be rogues, but he doesn’t want to assume.

 

“He disappeared about five years ago. He was twenty five at the time, and he wore black armor with an enchanted white scarf around his neck and shoulders. Why would you ask abou-”

 

“He looks vastly different now than when you knew him.” Hizashi taps his foot as he figures out a way to tell her.

 

The bard glances around, rubbing his chin as he thinks. “He was a human then, correct?”

 

Midnight gives him a blank stare. “What the hell did he do?”

 

“I-I’m not exactly sure. When I came across him, he was a Sphinx guarding a village. He never spoke about being a human before. I assumed he was cursed to remain in the village.”

 

A Sphinx?!” Her voice is high pitched, incredulous. “ And he’s cursed to a village?”

 

Hizashi throws his hands up. “Don't shoot the messenger- I've only known him for a few days! He hasn't told me anything about how or why he was cursed. I figured it out on my own.”

 

Nemuri groans and flops onto the bed in the corner. At least her room grants them some privacy as she has an adult tantrum. It involves lots of groaning and pillow abuse. Hizashi awkwardly sits in a chair by the desk, still sipping his pint.

 

“Ugh. I can't believe… He didn't say anything in the letters. Well, nothing concrete. He did mention some ‘new purpose’ but hell if I know what that means. How is he even writing if he's a Sphinx?”

 

“I don't know. Magic? Opposable paws?”

 

Midnight sighs as she shakes her head. “I’m not sure, but now I’m pissed. Why wouldn’t he ask for help? Does he doubt me that much?”

 

“I don’t think his doubts lie with you, but maybe they lie within your riddle solving capabilities.”

 

Midnight looks confused for a moment. “Oh right, he’s a Sphinx. He really did the whole ‘riddle me this’ bit? He’s always hated riddles.”

 

Hizashi chuckles. “He told me he thinks they’re boring, but he has a compulsive instinct to tell them. Apparently he also has the compulsive instinct to eat anyone who can’t solve them. Not that he always gives into it.”

 

Midnight winces. “You know, he was one of the best rogues around, but certain things never sat well with him. He could have easily murdered anyone he came across, but I can’t recall him actually killing anyone.” She paused and thought for a moment. “Maybe one person, but I’m not sure what happened to him, and he deserved to die anyways.”

 

Hizashi frowns, taking a sip of his drink. “Do you think someone cursed him like this?”

 

Midnight frowns too, crossing her arms. “I wouldn't think so… But our group was getting more well known…” A small , humourless laugh escapes her. “He hates talking to people. Likes to keep to himself… And now he's telling riddles. ” She wipes at her eyes, turning away from the bard. “He’s a good person… One of the best. Not a selfish bone in his body. If someone did this to him, it wasn't deserved.”

 

“Do you think anyone from your party would know more?” He opens his bag, showing her the other bound stacks of letters. “He wants the rest of these delivered, so there's a good chance I’ll be able to speak with them, if I can find them.”

 

“I asked around, but no one else heard anything either, so I doubt it. But you can try, if he asked you to deliver those anyways. Snipe and Ecto patrol north of here. Who else is in there? Ah, Yagi, the All Mighty Paladin- he’ll be harder to find. He's wandering with an apprentice now.”

 

Hizashi sets those piles aside and pulls out a few more. They all vary in size, though it seems like Midnight’s stack was the biggest.

 

“Oh, I can deliver to Nedzu. He's a bit reclusive, and doesn't trust people easily.”

 

She makes as if to grab the stack, but Hizashi stops her. She raises an eyebrow at him as he stares back, hiding his nervousness.

 

“I can’t. Not unless you're willing to swear a magic oath. I made my own promises and I intend to keep them.”

 

Midnight sighs. “Just don’t make the oath ridiculous.”

 

Hizashi hummed, holding out a hand. “Swear that you will deliver these to Nedzu without opening them or betraying Eraserhead.” His voice rings with magic, the words binding to whoever grasps his hand.

 

Midnight hesitates. “Who’s Eraserhead?”

 

Hizashi chuckles, his voice losing it’s magic for the moment. “Sorry, I mean our mutual friend. I needed a name for him.”

 

“It’s a good one.” Midnight takes his hand, the oath sealing itself with a small gleam of light.

 

The bard hands over the stack. “I’ll be heading north then. Do you usually stick to these parts?”

 

“Lately, yeah.”

 

“Good. If I find anything, I’ll contact you. Eraser could use his friends.”

 

Midnight nods, reaching into her cloak and withdrawing something wrapped in leather. “Give this to him when you see him again. Tell him we miss him.”

 

“I will.” The bard takes it carefully, slipping it into his breast pocket, over his heart.

 

They part ways. Shouto and Mic leave first thing in the morning.

 

They travel north a few days, singing and foraging and having a grand time. Shouto doesn't complain, though Hizashi warns him to speak up when he notices how blistered Shouto’s feet are. He splurges on some new boots for the both of them the next town over, waving off Shouto’s awkward thanks with a smile.

 

They find Snipe and Ectoplasm, an archer and a mage, on the outskirts of the wilderness. They camp together for a night, exchanging stories as the letters are read and tokens are given to return to Eraserhead. If all of Eraserhead’s friends are going to give him gifts, then Hizashi is glad his bag is magically bigger on the inside. Eraserhead made some interesting friends in his youth.

 

“So, Mr. Mic?”

 

“You can call me Hizashi.”

 

Shouto smiles slyly at him. “Ok, Hizashi. Do we have a plan for where we’re travelling next?”

 

“Afraid not, little listener.” They’re trying to find the All Mighty Paladin next, but because he’s wandering, all they can do is ask around. The first town says he left a week ago. The next, four days. Then two. They have to be close, since the paladin and his apprentice are moving a little more slowly then they are.

 

Shouto stays quiet for a moment, lost in thought. He eventually speaks up. “Can we go visit my home town then? It’s not far.”

 

“Didn’t your parents try to use your magic?”

 

The boy considers this, eyes filled with panic.

 

“Just my father.” He glances at Hizashi, showing the angry scar taking up half his face. “He wanted me to succeed him… He’s well known in these parts. The flame warrior- Endeavor.”

 

Hizashi’s eyes widen. “You’re his son?”

 

Shouto nods. “I wouldn't want to see him. Only my mother, and my siblings, if they’re around.”

 

“Well, I want you to see your family, but it isn’t the best strategy to go into a town where you’re wanted without backup… Let’s find All Might, and maybe he’ll help us!” Hizashi has both arms in the air as he suggests his plan, his voice booming with excitement.

 

That at least brought a smile to the boy’s face.

 

He isn't as confident two days later as they wait out the rain in a hole too small to be called a proper cave. He doesn't let his doubts show as he teaches Shouto how to dry wet kindling for a fire and the best way to wash his hair with rainwater. They only have five days left, and Mic is beginning to think they’ll run out of time when a shout comes from down the road.

 

Shouto jumps into a guarded position as Hizashi grabs his ukulele and gestures for him to get back. Two figures charge down the path towards the fire, their forms taking shape as they draw near. Hizashi strums a calming tune as the soaked figures stoop at the mouth of their hole. He can only hope his magic keeps the situation peaceful.

 

“Hark! Fellow travelers! Can you spare us a seat by your fire?”

 

The large man throws back his denched hood to reveal his dripping hair and a gaunt face. Hizashi can see the barest hint of familiar armor underneath the burlap cloaks the strangers are wearing. The smaller one copies the motion, revealing a boy around Shouto’s age. Hizashi gestures to the fire with his free hand, a silent invitation. The man looks different than he remembers, but he’s almost sure he knows who this is.

 

The tall man sighs happily as he holds his hands out to the fire. “Thank you, travelers. May I ask where you’re off to?”

 

He looks up at Hizashi with a smile, his face paling slowly as if recognizing him. A moment later the man is spitting blood. “Shit! I didn’t get blood on you, did I Sir-”

 

“You didn’t!” Hizashi interrupts. “And I’m pretty sure you’re mistaking me for someone else. Allow us to introduce ourselves.”

 

Hizashi switches from his normal voice to his bard voice, a loud and lively voice he saves for performances. “I am the bard Present Mic! And traveling with me is the young mage~~” Hizashi paused as he gestured to Shouto, allowing him to introduce himself.

 

“Todoroki Shouto. Don’t use my family name.” Shouto’s voice was monotonous as he stared at the green haired boy.

 

The boy tugs on the armored man’s cloak, his eyes wide. He only smiles in return. “You may call me Toshinori. This is my apprentice, Young Midoriya.” He pulls the boy closer, obviously meant as a protective gesture.

 

Midoriya opens his cloak, pulling out a large book and removing its clasps. “M-Mr. Shouto, my notes mention you have been missing for a year now...” The boy’s wide eyes fall on Hizashi. “D-do you need assistance?”

 

Spread out on two sheets were notes jotted messily, a folded “Missing” poster shoved between them. Hizashi bites his lip-

 

“I’m here because I want to be.” Shouto says, voice brooking no argument. The air chills from the shift in mood, and everyone else shivers.

 

Toshinori bows deep, keeping Midoriya close as he quickly changes the subject. “May we please join you till the storm passes? We have no ill intent.”

 

The green haired boy, Midoriya, only grins wider. “If we did, Present Mic would know!” He flips the book open to a new section- the first page adorned with the Yamada family crest. “He can determine peoples intent and manipulate it with a song.”

 

Hizashi’s smile doesn’t waver despite the nauseous ball in his stomach at seeing the information written in Midoriya’s notebook. He nods and gestures to the free side of the fire.

 

“By all means, please join us.” Hizashi says. He eyes the group before him with a calculating look, noting how Shouto keeps shooting worried glances at the boy’s notebook, and the way Toshinori looks like he wants to say something.

 

It's a bit unbearable, and won't do if they're going to share the fire. He clears his throat and strums a light note on his ukulele for everyone’s attention.

 

“Alright. Looks like some secrets are nearing the surface, so we may as well clear the air, lest we spend the whole night awkwardly tip-toeing around each other. I'll go first. Yes, I am a Yamada. No, I do not consider myself royalty. I know you're the All Mighty Paladin, Toshinori. And Midoriya, information is power. Don't be so eager to show your hand to strangers.”

 

The green haired boy blushes and tucks his notebook behind his back. Shouto shoots Hizashi an annoyed glare, but doesn't seem upset or angry.

 

“Toshinori, I have something for you.” Hizashi dug through his bag and presented him with the stack of letters. “I haven't read them. They're from an acquaintance of mine, and old friend of yours. I've heard a lot about him, how he dropped off the face of the Earth and stopped sending letters five years back.”

 

Hizashi watches Toshinori open one of the letters, his nosy apprentice peering over his shoulder for a moment before focusing his gaze into the fire. Toshinori frowns as he reaches the end of the letter. “I know who you are speaking of, and I can remember him, but his name escapes me.”

 

Hizashi sighs. “It's the same for everyone we've come across.”

 

The paladin gives him a sad smile. “He hated me for a long while. Didn’t like my popularity.” Midoriya listens intently, jotting notes.

 

“Please tell me you aren’t delivering these because he’s passed…”

 

“No. He’s well. Apparently cursed. He’s a nameless Sphinx now.”

 

Midoriya pauses in his notetaking, mumbling to himself and flipping through pages. “Excuse me, Present Mic, but is it his body that is cursed, or his name?” He turns his book towards the other two, pointing at notes about curses and magic. “A cursed name could be a way of locking away ones magical abilities. It’s a high level curse- your friend must have upset the wrong person…” Apparently, he hadn’t taken Hizashi’s advice about information seriously.

 

“I'm still not convinced someone did this to him, but what do I know? Can cursing his name cause the body to change?”

 

“From what I've seen, change or disfigurement always happens when a name is cursed. We’ve helped a few people like that.”

 

Midoriya looks up at Toshinori with a frown, clearly uncertain. Toshinori nods and takes over as he slowly divests himself of his wet cloak.

 

“That we have, young Midoriya. It is hard but rewarding work. Where is he?”

 

Shouto tenses again, hands clenching his knees as the fire flickers to match his sudden mood-swing. Midoriya flinches at the jumping flame, eyes flitting about until he connects the dots.

 

“We have other matters to attend to before we go back, and we’ll be heading back via hearthstone. I haven’t found a map that marks the village, but I could try to describe where it’s located.”

 

Hizashi shoots Shouto a reassuring glance, and he begins to relax.

 

“Part of the reason we’ve left was to deliver these letters, but we’re stopping for a quick visit in Shouto’s hometown. He’s wanted, I’m wanted, and we’re going to be in Endeavor’s backyard. It isn’t going to be easy, but that’s our final destination before we head back.”

 

Toshinori understands what he is getting at. “We’re heading to the same place. Would you like to travel with us?”

 

Hizashi nods. “It would be appreciated. What’s your business in the village?”

 

Toshinori laughs. “I have a meeting with Endeavor- not as friends. He summoned me in hopes of taking my place as head paladin of these parts…”

 

Midoriya frowns. “He doesn't think All Might is suited for the position anymore…”

 

“Perfect!” Hizashi crows excitedly. Everyone jumps in surprise. “You can have your meeting with him, and Shouto can spend some time with the rest of his family, safe from the threat of his father! How fortuitous!”

 

Hizashi strums a jaunty tune to express his mood, grinning like a loon as Shouto cracks a hopeful smile.

 

“Please, it would be my pleasure, young Shouto. I wasn't looking forward to it, but if it can help someone in need, I will bear it gladly! And I shall go prepared! Young Midoriya! We must stall him for as long as humanly possible!”

 

“I have just the idea!” Midoriya says as he flips through a different notebook. When did he get that out? Midoriya quickly launches into muttering as he reads something over. Toshinori watches and listens with a fond, but vaguely frightened, expression.

 

They pack up for the evening, put out the fire, set protective spells, and lay down to sleep, but before Hizashi can get comfortable he feels two mismatched eyes boring into his back. Hizashi turns around and faces Shouto, who quickly shuts his eyes in an attempt to hide his stare. Hizashi holds back a chuckle as he stands, leaning over Shouto and shaking his shoulder. Shouto opens his eyes, not bothering to hide the fact that he’s wide awake, and Hizashi motions for him to follow him outside.

 

Hizashi stops them near the edge of their protective spells, just out of the way from the entrance of the shallow cave. It’s still raining, but Hizashi doesn’t pay it any mind, raising a hand and creating a small shield from the water with a soft whistle, lowering his hand once he’s sure his spell has worked. Shouto raises an eyebrow, but Hizashi decides to just answer him before he asks.

 

“Traveling and maintaining spells depletes your energy quickly,” Hizashi whispers, giving Shouto a small grin before saying what’s on his mind, “So I’m guessing you have questions about my family?”

 

Shouto nods, a frown on his face. “You don’t have to tell me anything if you don’t want to, I just thought…” Shouto pauses, his brows furrowed as he thinks, “Considering my own family, I thought you’d…”

 

Hizashi placed a hand on the boy’s shoulder, shooting him a sad smile. “You’re right, I probably should have mentioned them earlier,” Hizashi said, nervousness growing as he continued, “Your father wanted you to use your magic- to be a warrior like he is, right?”

 

Shouto nods gravely. “That’s why he convinced my mother’s family to marry her to him.”

 

Hizashi couldn’t help the frown that slips onto his face, the reality that a child could say a statement like that as a simple fact of life making him nauseous. He knows he shouldn’t feel like this, having been in a similar situation and having been just as resigned to it as Shouto is now.

 

“I… understand what that’s like, Shouto,” Hizashi said, his voice far quieter than he meant it to be, “My mother married my father because of his royal blood and money, and my father wanted my mother to create a powerful heir to the throne,” Hizashi looked down at Shouto, giving him a shaky smile and jazz hands.

 

“It’s shitty,” Hizashi continues with a sigh, “That powerful people - hell, even just normal people - can get away with treating others like property and controlling those they’re supposed to love, but at least some of us can escape it, right?”

 

Shouto nods, staring down at the ground, but he suddenly rushes forward, wrapping his arms around Hizashi in a hug. Hizashi’s caught off guard, and as the spell shielding them from the rain pops and water suddenly drenches them, Hizashi remembers that he should have taught Shouto not to surprise someone passively maintaining a spell. Despite suddenly being soaked, Shouto continues to hug him, if anything tightening his arms around him. Hizashi chuckles, returning the hug and patting his back. Shouto eventually loosens his arms, and Hizashi pulls away, ruffling his wet hair.

 

“Thank you.” Shouto whispers, his voice so soft that Hizashi can barely hear it.

 

Hizashi smiles, feeling like a weight’s been lifted off his chest. “There’s nothing to thank me for, dear listener, at least, not yet!” Hizashi says, before he throws up another sheid from the rain, “Let’s dry off and go to sleep, eh? We’ve got a long day ahead of us, you more then me!”

 

Shouto nods, watching Hizashi keenly as he cast another small spell, drawing the water from his clothes and hair. He smiled as Shouto tried to copy him, a large amount of water coming out of his clothing but a significant amount still leaving him damp. Hizashi pulled the remaining water from his clothes, letting it flow to the ground, then ushered them both inside to rest, feeling exhausted from a long day of magic use.

 

In the morning they eat breakfast together and go over their plans again. Toshinori and Midoriya leave. Hizashi and Shouto wait fifteen minutes before they leave themselves, soon heading into town. During that time they use minor appearance altering spells, removing Shouto’s scar and changing his hair so it looks long and black. Hizashi also colors his hair black, dons large orange sunglasses to obscure his eyes, and creates an illusion that erases his mustache.

 

“You could have just shaved.”

 

“And kill my signature look? I could never!”

 

The buildings all varied, some being brand new and others looking a little singed. The town was small, quiet, and eerily peaceful. Usually peace is a good thing, but the citizens looked scared.

“So we’re heading to your house, right?”

 

“No. I’ll lead the way.”

 

Hizashi hums softly with every turn they make, using magic to keep them off the radar and attempting to figure out what had the townspeople so frightened. “Is it usually so… Tense in these parts?”

 

The boy shakes his head. “No. There might have been an attack nearby?”

 

“Might explain why Endeavour is meeting with Mister Mighty…”

 

“Do you think we can trust those two?”

 

“Mighty and Midoriya?” The bard chuckles. “Do you trust them?”

 

Shouto is quiet for a long moment as they round another bend, heading towards a shrine hidden in a copse of trees.

 

“Maybe I could.” There's a hopeful quality to Shouto’s voice that makes Hizashi wonder what he's thinking of. He considers asking, but Shouto stops them outside of a large, red, ornamental gate. “I trust you too. But-”

 

“You want to meet them by yourself? I understand. If anyone approaches I'll whistle. Yagi gave us a two hour guarantee, so, we have a little over an hour now- don't let me keep you, go! Go!”

 

Shouto smiles in appreciation before approaching the gate as Hizashi waves a goodbye. He sees Shouto approach a group of people. They linger within Hizashi’s sight, but out of earshot, something Hizashi appreciates. Hizashi switches from watching Shouto’s meeting to observing his surroundings. Although they’re wearing disguises, it wouldn’t be too difficult to recognize them.

 

After around forty minutes of waiting, Hizashi is bored and antsy. If they want to go through town without encountering Endeavor, they need to go soon. Hizashi watches as Shouto hugs his family and says goodbye, taking a tantalizingly long amount of time. Hizashi idly considers that Shouto’s family might be trying to convince him to stay, but he quickly dismisses the thought. If that was the case, they would put up more of a fight.

 

“How’d it go?” Hizashi asks as Shouto returns to him.

 

“It went well. It was good to see them again.” Shouto says quietly. Hizashi shoots him a reassuring smile as they begin to head back.

 

Hizashi gives the children left behind a small wave before moving close to Shouto. “We should move quick. It won’t be safe to use our magic in town, but once we’re out, we can use our stones.”

 

Shouto nods, pulling his cloak closer to his body. Both keep their heads down, waiting, listening for any sign that they cut it too close, that they were caught or tricked or trapped.

 

But nothing comes. Outside the city gates, Hizashi lets out a laugh, turning and grinning wide at Shouto. “See! Not too bad- now we have to wait for Yagi and Midoriya!”

 

Shouto nods, a small smile lingering on his face as they walk. Their disguise magic fades as Hizashi stops focusing on it. He's feeling quite pleased with himself.

 

“So, is there anything else you want to do? We technically have four days left before Eraserhead’s curfew.”

 

Shouto thinks about it in that quiet way of his while Hizashi amuses himself by humming a tune, watching him closely. He's grown fond of the kid in their travels together. He's lost in thought as he wonders about what else he can teach him, for once not vigilant enough to notice the stranger sneaking up on him from the ditch. All it takes is a second- Hizashi whirls in surprise as he hears a sound, gasping as a blade cuts him deep across his stomach.

 

Shit!” Hizashi gasps, clutching at his stomach with one arm, which was instantly covered in blood. However, he doesn’t have time to focus on himself. He looks up at the attacker, their arm raised and aiming for Shouto.

 

Before Hizashi can think, he’s jumping in front of Shouto, and suddenly he has a blade wedged into his right shoulder. Hizashi unleashes a scream enhanced by magic, amplifying his volume and blasting the attacker away. He doesn’t register the hands tugging him back until he topples over.

 

He looks back at Shouto. He wears a brave face, but his mismatched eyes reveal panic and fear. Hizashi stumbles along, falling over on the other side of the road. Shouto summons a wall of ice as cover. Hizashi looks over at his shoulder, the knife still imbedded in it, a trickle of blood escaping the wound.

 

His eyes wander over to the attacker. The ice distorts what Hizashi can see, but it looks like they are wearing a long, red, and ragged scarf and a similar mask, except the color is tan. The mercenary Stain , his mind supplies. Fear strikes him cold.

 

“Shouto, use your stone, get out of here.” Hizashi gasps. He’s sure the knife is either enchanted or laced with poison- his body feels numb, too heavy to move. Is he going into shock?

 

The boy shakes his head. “I’m not leaving you here-”

Hizashi’s hair floats as his eyes light up, brows furrowed. “One of us has to make it back to Eraser, and I can handle myself out here. I've been traveling a long time!” He gives him the biggest grin imaginable. Then he screams, the ice wall shattering as he forcefully activates the others hearthstone , using the sigil he remembers Shouto carving . Shouto surges forward and then-

 


 

 

Then he hits the ground by the well where they anchored their hearthstones, his ears ringing, blood dripping from one as his head spins. “Mic!” He yells out to the village, covering his ears as he tries to re-orient himself.

 

Eraserhead runs with the surge of magic, excitement turning sour as he hears the desperate shout. He spreads his wings and soars to Shouto’s side, concern written across his face.

 

“Shouto, what happened? Are you hurt?”

 

Shouto groans, shifting to sit on his knees as he continues to clutch his head. Other kids are coming closer as he tries to find the words. Eraserhead places a gentle paw on his shoulders, looking him over for injuries, but he doesn't find anything other than Shouto’s ear. A shock of fear runs through him. What did Hizashi do?

 

Eraserhead looks up as he feels another surge of magic- the other hearthstone! He can feel his heart in his throat as he stands over Shouto protectively. A spell tickles his lips as Hizashi finally appears, bloodied and pale and oh-so-still. He freezes, frenzied assumptions crushed under the weight of reality.

 

“He saved me.” Shouto hiccups as he stares wide-eyed at Hizashi’s still form. There's a large knife in Hizashi's shoulder, and a bleeding gash in his stomach, barely covered by a bloody, limp arm. Blood is leaking from Hizashi’s nose and eyes, a clear sign of magic overload. Eraserhead creeps forward, stomach sinking as he reaches out with his senses. There! The spark of magic!


He's alive!  

Chapter Text

When Hizashi comes to, he feels like his mind has been washed away at sea. He’s warm and sore and content to sleep for a little longer as he tries to remember what happened. He’s drifting off when he remembers. Hizashi forcefully sits up, wincing as he shifts his wounds.

 

“SHOUTO?Hizashi shouts, only putting a little bit of magic behind his words. Of course, using his energy makes him feel weaker and more tired. He collapses back onto the bed, looking around the room and calming down as he realizes he is back in the village.

 

“Hizashi?” Eraserhead appears from through the window, quickly running to his side. “Shouto’s okay Hizashi, it’s okay.” He leans over Hizashi, eyes filled with relief, but they quickly grow worried again as he catches sight of Hizashi’s shoulder: The bandages are bloody. Eraserhead’s eyes move down to Hizashi’s stomach as he quirks his mouth into a worried frown. He raises his paw, gently placing it on the bandages.

 

“You gotta take me on a date before you start feeling me up.” Hizashi says with a chuckle. He is relieved to see Eraserhead, but he also feels a little sad now that he knows more about the man’s past.

 

Eraserhead shoots him a mild glare. “You tore stitches in both wounds, I’ll be right back.” He moves to jump out the window.

 

“Wait!” Eraserhead turns, giving Hizashi his attention. “I’m sorry.”

 

Eraserhead pauses, glancing back over. “Don't bother with apologies.”

He jumps up gracefully, disappearing and returning with Shinsou in what feels like moments. The purple haired boy looks relieved to see Hizashi awake. “I’ll fix your stitches and change your bandages. Sit still and keep your mouth shut.”

 

The Sphinx gives Shinsou a nudge, frowning. Shinsou shrugs. “What? His screaming caused enough damage.”

 

Eraserhead paces quietly, watching the boy work and glancing back to Hizashi’s face the entire time, his face still pinched in worry. Hizashi tries to smile, but it's more like a grimace as he tries to ignore the pain.

 

“Sensei hasn't been still since you got here.”

 

On cue, the Sphinx growls, stopping his movements to flop down beside the bed, lowering his head and huffing into his paws. “I have been.”

 

“How long was I out?” Hizashi asks in a quiet voice. It’s all he can manage before he grits his teeth.

 

“A few days. You got hit with a real dangerous poison.” Shinsou quickly ties his stitch, gently dabbing away any blood. “And you caused yourself some damage too…but Eri took a look at you and was able to reverse some of the injuries.”

 

A few days? Poison? Hizashi reels as he studies the wounds. The gash on his stomach looks nasty, but less grisly than when it had been bleeding. The wound on his shoulder is smaller, but his arm feels heavy and the ache is deeper. His nose and mouth are dry and his head pounds. He should be happy to be awake, but he feels like shit. Eraserhead stares at him with an intense expression.

 

“Eri did what?”

 

“She used her magic.” Eraserhead clarifies. “It's dangerous, but she healed you of your overexertion. I was here to supervise.”

 

“Over- I drained my magic? Is that why I feel like I have a hangover after a long night of--”

 

“Yes.” Eraserhead snaps, halting Hizashi's inappropriate segue. Shinsou laughs under his breath as he wraps Hizashi's re-stitched wounds back up.

 

“Where's Shouto?” Hizashi asks. He figures he must be alright- he activated the stone before Stain could touch him, and Eraserhead isn't trying to eat him for getting one of his kids killed.

 

“He had some damage to his ears, but Eri took care of it.” Eraserhead sighs. “Shouto told me what happened. An assassin, right?”

 

“Yeah. I recognised him, although he’s never targeted me before. He paralysed a friend of mine from the waist down and almost killed his younger brother. They’re okay now, but I was hoping he quit after his perfect track record was broken.” Hizashi winces as Shinsou tightens the last of his bandages. “I guess not though.” Shinsou packs up his medical supplies and shuts the door gently behind him, leaving the adults alone.

 

Eraserhead frowns at Hizashi. “I’m guessing that this assassin isn’t the type you’re used to?”

 

Hizashi shakes his head. “I’ve dealt with mercenaries before, but I was distracted this time. You know where we went, don’t you?”

 

“Shouto was hesitant to tell me, but he says you passed through his old village?”

 

Hizashi glances at his freshly bandaged shoulder. “He was after me, Shouto’s presence in the village wasn’t the issue.” Hizashi sighs. “He wanted to see his family.” Eraserhead looks annoyed. “Before you say anything, I want you to know that we knew exactly where Endeavor was! All Might helped distract him and we weren’t seen!”

 

Eraserhead shoots up from where he lay, almost pouncing Hizashi. “All Might- you found them? My informants. They all received their letters?” Hope glimmered in his dark eyes.

 

“Yeah, Yagi was the last person we got to- that's why he helped us with Shouto’s family.” The blond shifted, moving closer to Eraser.

 

“They were all well? No one was injured or in need of anything?”

 

Hizashi shakes his head, “They’re all fine… I think all that’s missing is you.” His green eyes are serious, staring the Sphinx down. Eraserhead stares back, brows raised. “No one knew your name… They knew you , could list off memories of you, things you hated, things you liked, but never your name. It isn’t just a binding curse holding you here….”

 

Eraserhead grunts and looks away with a scowl. He still doesn't want to talk about it. Well, Hizashi has his own tricks. He groans as he shifts, his good hand rubbing at the bandages on his stomach as Eraserhead looks over in concern.

 

“What? What's wrong? Did the new stitch pop?”

 

Eraser’s concern is endearing as he props his front paws on the bed. Hizashi groans again, voice cracking from dryness. Eraserhead leans in closer, his sharp eyes searching for any hint of blood or pain. Hizashi takes his chance, reaching up to stroke Eraser’s face, throwing him off guard.

 

“What must I do to get you to trust me?” He asks softly.

 

“Faking pain doesn't help.” Eraserhead says softly.

 

Hizashi quietly chuckled. “No, I suppose it doesn't.”

 

Hizashi gazes into Eraser’s eyes, searching for any anger or rejection. Eraserhead seems relieved, happy and tired. A little bit of longing as well. The two moved closer, although there was still a significant space between them.

 

“Tell me about your trip?” Eraserhead asks, voice soft. He made no move to distance himself, content to lean over Hizashi.

 

“Do you want to hear about the fun stuff or the tasks-”

 

“The fun stuff. Please?”

 

Hizashi studies his face, lingering on the bags beneath his eyes. They look darker than before, making the ragged scar underneath them stand out.

 

“Alright.” Hizashi says as he gently strokes the scar with his thumb.

 

The blond carefully shifts to the side, grunting as he makes space for the Sphinx. “I won't do it with you leaning over me like that… Sit with me.”

 

Eraserhead looks over the bed, his pale skin starting to turn a bright red. “There isn’t enough room.”

 

“You haven’t tried.”

 

He scoffs, climbing up awkwardly, doing his best not to stir the bard’s body as he attempts to lay down. The blond grins at him, teasing him as he tries. When he finally does settle, the two of them are pressed against each other. Eraserhead rests his head on his paws, unable to look at the blonde who shifted onto his good side to face him.

 

“This isn’t too bad… It's better to share stories when you’re comfortable.” His voice is small and timid: something Eraserhead has never heard from the bard before. Hizashi reaches out, running his fingers through the Sphinx’s unruly hair.

 

“We found a hot spring! I guess Shouto has never seen one that didn’t have an establishment built around it. We spent our first night camped near there after we took a bath. Sang a few songs to some folks passing through...”

 

Hizashi has to keep stopping to wet his lips as he talks, but he keeps going, eyes drooping the longer he talks. Eraserhead listens intently, watching Hizashi slowly drift back to sleep. The room feels too quiet once he stops talking. It's a strange feeling, after spending so much time seeking such quiet.

 

Eraserhead carefully untangles Hizashi's hand from his hair and sets him on his back. His claws catch in the blanket, but he manages to unhook them without any major tears. He has the thought to leave, perhaps to go check on everyone, but he knows it's an excuse. He's already checked on everyone. Quite a lot, with his agitated state these past few days. He finally allows himself time to rest, curled up next to Hizashi with one wing covering him protectively.

 

Shinsou, Eri and Shouto peek in a few hours later, finding them both fast asleep even as the smell of delicious food wafts through the air. Shouto sets a warming spell on the bowls as they leave everything on the side table, leaving the adults to their rest.

 

Something shifts, dragging Hizashi into consciousness. He doesn’t want to get up, he’s comfortable and warm, but something drags over him in a strange way, igniting his curiosity. Hizashi opens his eyes, seeing a large, dark wing covering him. He can’t stop his small smile as he looks over at Eraserhead, who is now standing beside the bed. Eraserhead notices he is awake and pulls his wing back quickly, moving awkwardly to the side.

 

“Good morning.” Hizashi says, his voice cracking uncomfortably. His throat and lips are dry, and his wounds are sore. Hizashi shifts, and more pain floods his system. He hisses quietly.

 

Eraserhead is back by his side in an instant. “Don’t get up.” He gently places a paw on Hizashi’s chest, away from his wounds, and pushes down, forcing Hizashi to relax onto the bed. He stares Hizashi in the eyes, obviously wanting to stay there, but eventually pulls his paw away, glancing around the room. His eyes linger on the side table. Hizashi turns and sees some food and water, and immediately grabs the glass.

 

“I have to go check on everyone, but I’ll be right back.”

 

The bard nods, a smirk on his face. “Tell everyone I say hi, sensei .”

 

Eraserhead doesn’t growl or glare, just huffing and trying to hide a smile as he turns away.

 

The bard sips on his water, and as promised, Eraserhead is back as quickly as he can manage. He plops down a small bundle of herbs. “To be mixed with hot water. The kids made it to help with the pain.”

 

“Will they come by? I’d love to say thank you for all the help they’ve given me.”

 

“Maybe tomorrow. I don’t want you overexerting yourself…”

 

“So it’s just you and me again?”

 

Eraserhead says nothing, sitting beside the bed.

 

“I have gifts from your ‘informants’.” He grins as he says it, air quotations and everything. “Bring my bag here…” The Sphinx gathers it, setting it down on the bed.

 

“So your friends’ theory is that you pissed someone off and got cursed. You used to be a human with a name, now you’re a riddling Sphinx with none.” He opens the bag, rummaging through quietly and setting each item down. “But I did some digging- Yagi is travelling with a boy who keeps meticulous notes of every person he meets or hears about. One of them was a famous rogue who could take away magical abilities.”

 

Eraserhead looks at the packages lying on the bed, refusing to meet Hizashi’s eyes. He pokes at the brown wrapping on one, trying to act nonchalant.

 

“And? What does this rogue have to do with anything?”

 

“That’s you, isn't it?” He asks, but it isn’t really a question. Hizashi knows.

 

“Why is this important?”

 

“Is your magic the reason you were cursed?”

 

“You could say that. But I'm guessing he didn't have my name either.”

 

“Ah, no, he didn't. Which was odd, seeing as he copied it down from some other written passage. And yet, none of us could read it. It looked smeared. How powerful is this curse?”

 

Eraserhead looks away. “I don’t like to talk about it, just like I don’t like to talk about my name.” “So your curse doesn’t allow you to talk about it or your name?” Eraserhead doesn’t say anything, but the look in his eyes confirms it. “It’s probably the same for the door then?”

 

“I don’t like to talk about it.” Eraserhead repeats.

 

“I’ll do everything I can to help you.” Hizashi promises. Eraserhead looks grateful, but he also looks sad and a little doubting. They both stay quiet for a moment.

 

“What’s in this?” Eraserhead asks, claw lightly poking the package wrapped in brown paper.

 

Hizashi smiles, gently pulling it into his lap. “This is from Snipe and Ecto.” He unwraps it, holding out a large journal. “They said it was notes you would want to be up to date on. I’m guessing their field journal…” Hizashi doesn't open the book, instead placing it before Eraserhead. It isn’t for him to see.

 

Next he opens the leather pouch, a vial on a leather rope inside. “This is from Midnight… I don't know what's in it-”

 

“It’s one of her abilities. It’s for sleep.” The Sphinx eyes it curiously. “It’s very powerful- that can be used for a long while. If mixed right, it can be enough to aide in a regular sleep cycle, or to put someone asleep for an eternity. I’m surprised she sent it with you.”

 

“She must think highly of you. Trusting your messenger with something so powerful.” Eraserhead gives a grim nod. “It’s good to have this… A lot of the kids have trouble sleeping. I can teach Shinsou the spells.”

 

The blond has a fond smile on his face as he listens to Eraserhead fuss over the kids- no, his kids.

 

“And this one?” Eraserhead paws at the last one. It's rather cute. Hizashi grabs the package and unwraps it, feeling giddy. Even if the presents aren't for him, unwrapping them is really fun.

 

“This is from Yagi.” He says as he holds out a box with an amulet inside. Eraserhead leans in to look at it closely, sniffing it.

 

“An amulet of protection? How like him.” He huffs, but Hizashi gets the sense he's laughing inside. “I don't need this, not in this form. Maybe I’ll give it to Shouto, or whoever else wishes to go out with you.”

 

“Huh? You're going to send more kids with me?”

 

“Oh, don't act dumb. You were telling me about what you and Shouto did before you fell asleep last night. I can tell how much fun you had, traveling around with someone you could teach and inspire. Are you going to say no if I ask?”

 

Hizashi laughs, wincing as his stomach wound stings.

 

“Hah-ow! Well, no, I can't say no. It was rather fun. It's nice, not having to travel alone.”

 

“I wouldn’t know.” Eraserhead hums. He didn’t say it for pity, more reminiscent of the past than longing for a future. “It’s been a long time since I traveled with or without someone.”

 

Hizashi wants to shout; let me break your curse! But the words fall flat on his tongue. For once, he knows to bite his words. “There are other kids who want to leave?”

 

Hizashi hasn’t been around the village for long, but Shouto is the only child who mentioned leaving. Were there others? Has Shouto inspired them to follow suit? And if the kids left… what did that mean for Eraserhead?

 

Eraserhead lets out a small sigh. “Some of the younger ones don’t understand that their parents abandoned them, or tried to sacrifice them to me, or whatever the case may be. I try to explain it, but it’s a varying level of success. Some of the kids only interact with me because they watch other kids do it and return safely. I worry they’ll run away and get hurt if they don’t leave the village at some point.”

 

Hizashi’s heart sinks at the thought. “Would it be better if I stayed here then? I could try to explain it to them, and they could come to me if they’re scared.”

 

Eraserhead’s eyes widen. “You would stay here?”

 

Hizashi shrugs, immediately wincing at the thoughtless movement. “It’s nice here, I like it. And besides, despite what those kids think, the company here is great.”

 

“When was the last time you stayed somewhere for more than a break…?”

 

Hizashi bites his lip, staring down at his lap. “I haven’t unless I’ve been incapacitated.” He gives Eraserhead a grin. “Hard to stay still when you’re hiding from a King who wants you to rule a kingdom.”

 

“I think you’re long overdue for a rest.” Eraserhead rests his chin on the edge of the bed. “If you wanted to, this village is open. I owe you.”

 

Hizashi’s grin falls. “You don't owe me a thing.”

 

“Well, I want to,” Eraserhead says softly. Hizashi lies back down as his wounds ache more. The longer he’s awake, the more it hurts. He turns his head, meeting Shouta's eyes. His chest feels tight, but it doesn't seem to have anything to do with his wounds.

 

“I don't have to hide as much anymore. Not for the same reasons at least. And wandering will be much more fun if I have a home to come back to, don't you think?”

 

“I’ve always thought,” Eraserhead gazes at the ceiling, “it wasn’t the place that mattered, but the people.”

 

A smile spreads across Hizashi’s face. “Like I said, the company isn’t half bad.”

 

“Only half bad?”

 

“More like all good.” Hizashi carefully leans over to look Eraserhead in the eye.

 

“Really?” Eraserhead huffs out a laugh. “What makes the company so great?”

 

Hizashi pauses dramatically as he pretends to think about it. “Well, you give me delicious home-cooked meals for free.”

 

Eraserhead pretends to be offended. “What, is that all?” The Sphinx leans forwards a bit, still keeping a little bit of distance between them.

 

“There’s also this amazing person who takes care of me here. Really, I think my life changed for the better when we crossed paths.”

 

“Oh?”

 

“Shinsou Hitoshi is an amazing kid.”

 

Eraserhead snorts, using a wing to whap the top of Hizashi’s head.

 

Hizashi swats back, laughing hard. Then he leans in, chin resting on his hands.

 

Eraserhead is laughing too, mimicking the other as he rests his chin on his paws.

 

“There is this other person…”

 

“Oh yeah?” The sphinx smirks, fangs gleaming.

 

“A real funny guy. Seems scary at first, but he’s a big old sweetheart. Looks real cute when he gets flustered, and his hair is soft. He’s got this gorgeous smile he tries to hide behind a permanent scowl- “

 

Eraserhead leans closer, almost expectantly. “Who is it?” His voice is gruff, near a whisper.

 

Hizashi flicks his nose. “Wish I could tell you, I don’t know his name!”

 

Eraserhead blinks in surprise then growls, blushing and looking away as Hizashi falls back onto his pillow. He hiccups with laughter until Eraserhead places a paw on his chest, trying to calm him down.

 

“Don't exert yourself,” He says quietly. He starts to rub there comfortingly, trying to soothe Hizashi to sleep. It works quite well, making Hizashi yawn as his body calms down. He can feel the slightest trickle of magic coming from Eraser’s paw. His paw-pads are rough and calloused, but the fur is soft and tickles.

 

“Aw… no fair…”

 

“Shush. Sleep. You need it. If it's any consolation, I can teach you how to do it after I teach Hitoshi.”

 

Hizashi grumbles as he drifts off to sleep, barely conscious as something brushes his forehead.

 


 

Not all prisons are cells made of steel. Some are disguised as beautiful castles at the center of kingdoms.

 

That’s where Hizashi wakes. Stone walls, stone floors, stone bed. A creaky chandelier looms over his head. He hated that chandelier; he was always terrified it would fall on him in his sleep.

 

“Hizashi!” The door slams open. Hizashi cringes as the wood splinters to reveal his father. Hidden in shadows, the King’s broad shoulders and tall stature block the doorway.

 

Hizashi crawls away. “Don’t come closer!” His voice breaks. “Stay away!”

 

“It’s time you took the throne, Hizashi,” His father spits his name like it is venom. “Your mother is ill, and I can’t have you travelling any longer.”

 

He stomps over to Hizashi, looming over him. “Your coronation is in a month, and you will do as I say.” He studies Hizashi’s face, looking for any rebelliousness, before he turns the other way.

 

“Come here!” He barks, and Hizashi’s mother steps out of the shadows. She looks pale, and is having trouble walking straight. A tall man with scarring over his eyes holds her arm to steady her, guiding her to her husband. Her face radiates fear.

 

The man forces her arm out, where the King grabs it, a bright, sickly light shining between their hands as magic swirls through the air. Its thick enough to make Hizashi gag, his stomach churning with nausea and fear. The King growls triumphantly as the light fades, and the Queen falls to her knees, her wide eyes boring holes into Hizashi from across the room.

 

The Queen’s eyes are wide open and dull, her tears bloody, and Hizashi can’t sense any magic coming from her.

 

“F-father,” Hizashi chokes, tears blurring his vision, “Mother is-”

 

“I know.” His father says. His voice has a hint of sadness, but he’s otherwise unaffected. The scarred man steps forward as the King extends his hand; Hizashi can sense a stark contrast between it and the rest of his body. His father never had magic, after all, which was why he is so bitter towards those who did. Even his own family.

 

“Don’t let your mother’s death be meaningless, Hizashi. Let the last of her energy be useful.”

 

His father's hand clasps his throat tightly, a burning sensation surges through him.

 


 

The bard jolts forward with a scream that shakes the building’s foundation, glass shattering with it’s force. Every inch of him hums with energy as he sobs, bright green eyes glowing with power as his nails claw at his neck. He can't feel the stab wounds, can’t feel the bandages, can't hear or see anything.

 

All he can feel is his mother's magic coursing through him, heart thundering faster than he has ever felt it.

 

A weight settles on him as he clutches his throat. His senses come back one by one as he cries. First his sense of touch, as he feels the warmth of a heavy body and calloused paws gently prying his hands loose. He can feel the sting in his shoulder and stomach, his nerves burning as his stomach twists. He can feel the tears on his face. He can taste them, too, as taste comes back, and his tears fall into his mouth. He can taste the bile in his throat. He swallows.

 

Smell and sight come next, and he blinks away tears to find the darkness surrounding him is caused by familiar black wings. A messy mane of hair brushes his face as Eraserhead looks at him in concern, his mouth moving. Hizashi sobs, hands unclenching from his throat as he grabs Eraser’s paws instead, breathing in a musky scent that is becoming familiar.

 

“Hizashi, breathe. Please- like that, just keep breathing, please-”

 

Sound returns and Hizashi starts crying in relief at the sound of Eraserhead’s rough voice. He's not there anymore, with that man. He'll never see him again. He's safe here. He takes in another shuddering breath as Eraserhead coaxes him along, his wings rustling and bringing a faint breeze to the room.

 

“Hizashi, talk to me. What happened?”

 

Hizashi rubs his neck, staring blankly at the ceiling. His mother's face is burned into his vision, a silent plea for help never escaping her lips. “I thought I’d gotten rid of the last of them.” Hizashi manages. His voice is brittle, rusty.

 

“Nightmares?” Eraserhead asks.

 

Before Hizashi answers, the door creaks open. Eri stands with her hands clasped to her chest, worry radiating from her eyes.

 

Hizashi hears footsteps running up the stairs, and Shinsou appears behind her. Eraserhead sweeps the glass out of the way with his magic, creating a path to the bed for them, which Eri does not hesitate to take.

 

“Hey Eri.” Hizashi’s throat feels raw.

 

“Mr. Mic, are you ok? Did you scream because you're hurt?”

 

“Eri.” Shinsou comes up behind her, kneeling to her level. “Mr. Mic’s throat probably hurts right now, so let's not ask him too many questions, ok?”

 

“I wanna help.” Eri mumbles.

 

“Mic will be alright.” Eraserhead promises. “I'll be here to help him, don't worry.”

 

The girl gives him the biggest puppy eyes she can muster, making Eraserhead sigh and Shinsou chuckle.

“Let her stay while I look over his wounds. Eri, you have to keep quiet while I work, alright?” The purple haired boy moves to sit on the edge of the bed, offering the bard a damp cloth. “Must be hard having night terrors and a voice like that…”

 

Hizashi swallows, scrubbing his face hard. “Doesn’t happen often.”

 

Shinsou raises a brow but nods, carefully helping Mic sit up. Eri sits on his opposite side, taking his free hand. The Sphinx paces around them, wings fluffing in agitation. “Have they reopened?”

 

Shinsou huffs. “Sensei, you’re distracting me.” He removes the bandages, leaning close. “They haven’t reopened- definitely swollen and angry though.” He shuffles through his pockets, taking out a small container of ointment. “This will help, but you will have to stay in bed. The wound on your stomach has the highest risk for infection.” The minute the ointment touches the bards skin, it tingles and goes numb to the point that Hizashi wonders if he even has a stomach anymore.

 

“It’s strong.”

 

Shinsou repeats the process with his shoulder. Eri stays by his side, offering him water.

 

Hizashi sips the drink, letting Eri hold the cup so she feels useful- and so she doesn't look down at the red, inflamed stitches covering his body. Eraserhead doesn't bother hiding his stare as he paces, though his agitation seems to be calming down.

 

“Eraser, stop pacing.”

 

“I can't help it.”

 

“Another one of those Sphinx things? Like the riddles?”

 

“Yeah.” He flaps his wings one more time before folding them up on his back, approaching the bed to lean against it. Hizashi looks at the rest of the room now that Eraserhead isn't in the way. He can see the glass from the window all over- luckily, the balcony was already missing its door. Less glass to clean that way.

 

“Sorry about the windows. Did I-?”

 

“This is the only one that broke, but the others are cracked.” Shinsou says as he reapplies the bandages.

 

Hizashi groans. He made a policy of staying away from glass as much as he could, but sometimes it can’t be helped. “I’ll find a way to fix it,” he promises.

 

“Hizashi.” Eraserhead cuts him off.

 

“No, no,” Hizashi waves his hand, “I broke it, I’ll fix it. I’m sorry I caused you all trouble.”

 

“Hizashi!” Eraserhead’s voice jumps. “You aren’t causing trouble! The only thing that matters right now is your health.”

 

“Yeah!” Eri’s eyes are filled with a fierce protectiveness. Guilt gnaws at Hizashi.

 

Hizashi gives them both a weak smile. “Alright, I’ll drop it... for now.” Eraserhead seems a little annoyed with Hizashi’s answer, but Eri, however, is very pleased.

 

“Drink.” She demands, moving the glass of water closer. Hizashi obeys, which makes her smile. Shinsou stands from the side of the bed, done with his rebandaging, and taps Eri’s shoulder.

 

“We should go, Mic needs his rest.” Eri nods and leaves the nearly empty glass on the side table, before grabbing Shinsou’s hand and following him out.

 

Shinsou looks back at them. “Mic, you’re gonna crash pretty soon. It’s a side effect of the ointment.” He closes the door gently behind him.

 

Eraserhead doesn’t say a word. He only sits by the bed, staring Hizashi down. Hizashi frowns, looking towards the glass on the floor again.

 

“This doesn't normally happen- I promise to help with cleanup-”

 

“Stop acting like you’re going to be kicked out for having a nightmare.” The Sphinx growls, looming over him again. “I told you before- most people in the village have issues sleeping. It’s not uncommon for someone to lose control of their magic during a night terror.”

 

The blonde bites his lip, rubbing at his throat again. “People go deaf when I have nightmares.”

 

Eraserhead rolls his eyes. “And we have someone who can reverse that damage. No one was hurt. Quit worrying, Hizashi. If you were a threat to anyone here, I would step in.” He places his paw over Hizashi’s hand, trying to soothe him.

 

“You keep calling me that.”

 

“What?”

 

The blonde looks up, smiling. “Hizashi.”

 

Eraserhead twitches, as if wanting to look away, but he keeps gazing into Hizashi's eyes. They stare at each other quietly for a moment, as Hizashi waits for Eraserhead to reply. Hizashi’s smile turns into a jaw-cracking yawn before Eraserhead can even open his mouth.

 

“Ugh, I'm tired of sleeping. I like doing things, not lying about. It's so boring!” Hizashi whines, yawning again. Eraserhead snorts before gently jumping onto the bed, curling up next to Hizashi.

 

“I like lying about. It’s relaxing. Are you sure it's all bad, Hizashi?”

 

Eraserhead’s grin is mostly teeth, but his eyes are soft as they watch each other. Hizashi's eyelids grow heavy, but he doesn't want to look away from the beautiful sight before him.

 

“Stop fighting it. Silly man. I’ll handle my business and be back before you wake up, so rest. I won't let you be bored.”

 

Hizashi grumbles but doesn't complain again, settling in as his body drags him back to sleep. The warm weight of Eraserhead makes him feel safe as he drifts off, the pain fading with his consciousness.

 

“There are still things about this place I don’t know, aren’t there, Eraser?” Hizashi pushes himself onto the floor, stretching out as much as he’s able. “Maybe today I can explore.”

 

“I think you should take it easy.” Eraserhead eyes him warily. “It’s your first time up and about in a while.”

 

“Once a walker, always a walker.”

 

“What is that supposed to mean?” Eraserhead crinkles his nose.

 

“You’re the riddler here. You tell me.” Hizashi braces himself against the wall, staggering to his feet.

 

“I think it’d be best if you stayed close by. The kids want to see you — why don’t you visit them?”

 

The image of Shouto staring at Stain’s blade flashes through Hizashi’s mind, making him shudder. He glances out the window at the kids playing in the streets, but his gaze shifts towards the nearby trees. Shinsou mentioned going to a nearby river at one point, hasn’t he?

 

“I’ll be sure to say hi, but I’d like to spend a little time outside.”

 

Eraserhead sighs. “Can you even walk straight? The blades were poisoned .”

 

Eraserhead walks over to Hizashi’s side and lifts a wing, wanting Hizashi to lean against him. Hizashi walks past the Sphinx, his hand still against the wall for support. It makes Eraserhead sigh again.

 

“Will you let me come with you? I don’t want you to get hurt or lost.” The worry in Eraserhead’s voice makes Hizashi feel guilty.

 

“I was gonna drag you along anyways, Listener!”

 

After a good few steps, the blonde surrenders, leaning against the Sphinx as they wander downstairs and outside.

 

Eri charges over with Shouto and Shinsou.

 

“Mister Present Mic! We have a surprise!” She takes his hand, skipping happily with him. Shinsou snickers.

 

“You sweet talked your way into sneaking out.” Shinsou says as he side-eyes Hizashi with a mischievous gleam in his eyes. Hizashi scoffs.

 

“It’s not sneaking! He’s right here!”

 

The Sphinx rolls his eyes. “It's just for a walk.”

 

I'm sure he could weasel his way into getting more.”

 

Eraserhead gives the boy a warning growl. Shinsou raises his hands in surrender.

 

Shouto is completely unaffected, stepping closer. “Sensei told us you were thinking about staying, so we all worked together on a get well gift.” He stops in front of an old tavern, everything looking worn down except for the board hammered over the old sign. It was obviously painted by the kids, “Present Mic” messily scrawled with little doodles around it.

 

Eri beams. “And a housewarming!”

 

Hizashi gapes, looking up at the tavern. The sign is freshly painted but everything else looks worn- weathered, but not too damaged. The vines growing up one side look well cared for instead of haphazard. Shouto holds open the large door so he can walk inside, Eraserhead stepping with him.

 

The inside is worn in a charming way, though Hizashi can tell they had worked hard to clean it up. It still smells damp from all the water they used. A fire burns in a large hearth to one side, with an abandoned bar on the opposite side of the large front room. Exposed beams cross the ceiling, and Hizashi can see a few closed doors leading to private rooms upstairs and downstairs.

 

“Is this- all for me? Is anyone else staying here?”

 

“No.” Shouto shakes his head. “We all wanted to stay together, even if that meant sharing rooms. Its less scary that way. And Eraserhead helped us make protective charms. We can do that here too, now that you're staying.”

 

Shouto pauses, looking away at the fire for a moment. Hizashi gets the feeling Shouto's the one who thought of that.

 

“You are staying, right?”

 

“I would like to. Maybe I'll go wandering every now and then, but... Making a hearthstone here felt so much easier than it used to be.” He turns to smile at Eraser, a light blush dusting his cheeks.

 

“Stay as long as you like,” Eraserhead nudges him with the tip of his wing.

 

“This is...is…” Hizashi struggles to finish the word.

 

“Is fantastic?” Eri suggests.

 

“I guess this is home.” Hizashi runs his hand down the side of the wall. The wood is worn, and cracks crumble beneath his fingers. “Thank you.”

 

Eri beams at him, then rushes forwards and hugs him. Hizashi can’t stop the laughter that bubbles out of him. Shouto joins the hug too, making sure to avoid squeezing his shoulder.

 

“Join us!” Eri giggles, beckoning to the other two. Shinsou hesitantly wraps his arms around the three of them. Eraserhead sits near the edge of the group with a small smile on his face.

 

However, a smile isn’t what Eri wants. “Sensei! Join us!”

 

“Come on “Sensei”, don’t you love us?” Hizashi teases.

 

“I don’t have arms.”

 

“Don’t let that stop you, Sensei!” Shinsou smirks. Eraserhead shakes his head as he leans against the group. With Eraserhead’s weight and Hizashi’s instability, they almost fall, but Eraserhead pulls away. It takes Hizashi a moment to realize what the action was.

 

“Did you just rub against us like a cat?”

 

The Sphinx’s cheeks burned red as he turns away, wings fluffing in annoyance. “ You wanted a hug .”

 

Hizashi bursts into laughter, causing Eraserhead to curl into himself more.

 

“Wait, Eraser!” Hizashi follows, pressing against him and hugging him tight, resting his head against his hair. “There, I got a hug.” Eraserhead only huffs in response.

 

“You know, I think its really cute how cat-like you are.”

 

“Hear that Sensei? I'm not the only one who thinks you're cute!” Eri chimes in happily. Eraserhead turns his face to hide against Hizashi's chest, but he's red as a beet now. Hizashi snorts and hugs him until the moment passes.

 

“I made food for the occasion.” Shouto says, standing behind the bar. The door is open, and delicious smells waft from what must be the kitchen. A teen with red hair peeks out, brandishing a ladle.

 

“Food will be ready soon! Call everyone to eat!”

 

Hizashi grins as Shinsou steps outside to ring the old bell hanging by the door while Eri tries to set up a table for them. Hizashi steps forward but pauses when Eraserhead doesn't move.

 

“If you get tired, let me know,” Eraserhead says quietly. “Don't be stubborn. You'll have plenty of time to get to know everyone.”

 

“Stubborn is my middle name.” Hizashi shoots Eraserhead a confident grin. “What, Sensei? Aren’t you confident in your own healing capabilities?”

 

Eraserhead stiffens. “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

 

“Yeah. Join the club.” Hizashi brushes past him. They knock against each other, throwing Hizashi off balance. Eraserhead reaches out to steady him and Hizashi wiggles out of his grasp. “I got it, I’m fine.”

 

“You sure?”

 

“Positive.” Hizashi leans against the wall to regain his balance. “There. All better.”

 

Eraserhead frowns. “Let’s just get dinner, you’re gonna want to grab it when there isn’t a crowd.”

 

Hizashi can’t argue with that, walking alongside Eraserhead to the long bar. It takes longer to walk over than Hizashi expects. He wasn’t thinking about how tiring constant movement would be. Kids and teens quickly file inside the refurbished tavern, forming a line at the bar as Shouto and the red haired boy start to bring out food. A happy looking girl goes to help them.

 

“Eraser, remind me to never go near poison of any type ever again.”

 

Eraserhead laughs roughly. “I will, don’t worry.”

 

The Sphinx leads the way, guiding Hizashi to the front of the line. “Injured first.” He gently bows his head to the child that steps back. “Thank you.”

 

Hizashi squirms. It feels weird, being fed first, but Eraserhead is right. He won't last walking around for too long. He takes his food quick, making a beeline back to his table. Eraserhead follows closely, making sure Hizashi keeps his balance.

 

Some of the kids smile and wave at him, calling out his name in greeting as they pass. He smiles back, greeting them all happily, wishing his hands weren't full so he could wave back. Eraserhead huffs when Hizashi stumbles against him.

 

“They're all staying to eat in the tavern with you, so pay attention to yourself first.”

 

“Aw, but Eraser-”

 

“No buts! You're an adult, so you know you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others.”

 

Hizashi sighs, his mood changing as he giggles. Eraserhead tilts his head to look up at him curiously.

 

“No butts at all, though?” He keeps snickering until Eraserhead gets his “joke” and snorts.

 

“Well you clearly don't have one, so no. No butts.”

 

“Hey!” Hizashi yells indignantly. Eraser’s fur puffs up in surprise, his back arching.

 

Eraserhead glares, which wasn't as effective as usual due to the bright red blush across his face. He hangs his head in order to hide his face. “Go eat dinner, Hizashi.”

 

“Sorry about scaring you, Eraser!” Hizashi giggles. “You really do act like a cat, don't you?”

 

“I wonder if it's because I'm part cat,” Eraserhead mutters, making Hizashi laugh more. “You need to go eat. The kids are coming now.”

 

“Alright, alright, I'm moving!” Hizashi hurries to his table in the tavern- his new home. The kids take the other tables, the youngest in front and oldest in the back. The only exception is Shouto, who still has lingering wobbliness as the other kids wave him off the serving line. Hizashi grimaces. He was the cause of that, wasn't he?

 

Shouto sits next to Hizashi, a small, sad smile on his face. “I never got to thank you. If it weren't for you I'd probably either be dead or trapped with my father.”

 

“You don't need to thank me! I was doing what anyone would do!”

 

The boy shakes his head. “No, there aren’t many people who would do what you did for me.” He doesn’t fight it more, eating quietly.

 

Eri is sitting across the table from him, scribbling in her colouring book as they eat. Shinsou gives them both a nod when he joins. The other kids keep coming by, ignoring their dinners to say hello or ask questions, all excited and loud. Hizashi greets them between bites of his food, his eagerness to please keeping him from his meal. Hizashi rubs his brow with a frown, blinking as he tries to ignore the headache welling behind his eyes so he can keep his smile.

 

He doesn’t even notice Eri asking if he’s alright, all three of the children staring at him as he rubs his brow.

 

The Sphinx bunts against his thigh gently. “Let's get you to your new room.”

 

Hizashi almost protests, but he can't deny that he's in no shape to stay out longer. He sets aside his half-empty bowl and gets up, putting on a brave face as he addresses the room.

 

“Thank you for your kindness, everyone. I may have a ways to go in my recovery, but I'd like to get to know you all more. Please, enjoy your meal and each other’s company! Don't be quiet on my account, noise is my specialty.”

 

Some of the kids cheer, while others just wave, turning back to their food or watching as Hizashi leans on Eraserhead for support. Eraserhead leads him to one of the doors on the first floor- it opens to a hallway with a bathroom, a closet, and a bedroom at the end.

 

The bedroom isn't too large, but it fits the double bed with room to spare. There's a desk, some shelves, and lots of hooks to hang things. There's a vase with bright flowers in the window. The sheets look clean and new, and some of the pillows look awfully familiar. He glances at Eraserhead.

 

“I should head back out, the kids could use adult supervision.” Eraserhead seems reluctant to go. Hizashi wants to ask him to stay, but Eraserhead’s been watching him for the past few days and could probably use a break.

 

“Alright! I'm gonna crash, I'll see you in the morning!” Eraserhead mumbles a goodbye and starts to leave, pausing for a moment as he makes sure Hizashi doesn't fall as he climbs into bed.

 

The sheets are warm and soft to the touch, and while the pillows are slightly too soft, Hizashi can feel himself drifting off quickly. He takes a deep breath, recognising a familiar scent. He smiles as he falls asleep, thinking of Eraserhead’s kindness.

 

Hizashi stirs in the night with the sound of a door opening. He tenses under his blankets until he hears the soft padding of large feet. They linger by the door- he can practically feel them hovering.

 

He opens his eyes, catching Eraserhead peeking in. He sits up with a tired grin. “Something the matter?”

 

The Sphinx jumps, looking sheepish. “Just… wanted to check in. Did I wake you? Are you sleeping well? I can bring some tea, or water, blankets? Is everything comfy-”

 

“You can just say you’re worried. “

 

“I’m not -”

 

“Come sit.” He pats the bed beside him, smiling softly.

 

Eraserhead looks behind him, as if checking for other people, but no one is there. Hizashi can't tell what time it is, but there is only moonlight coming from the window. It must be late.

 

Hizashi scoots to one side of the bed to make room, adjusting his blankets and pillows and resisting the urge to scratch his bandages. He cannot wait to get these off. Eraserhead lingers at the side of the bed, one paw resting on the mattress.

 

“What?” Hizashi laughs softly. “You weren't this hesitant to cuddle with me last night.”

 

“That wasn't cuddling. And besides, that was my bed, anyways. This is yours. I don't want to mess it up.”

 

“I already invited you, it’s fine. Now get up here! I'm kind of chilly.”

 

Eraserhead pounces up as Hizashi says that, a frown marring his features.

 

“I can bring more blankets --”

 

“I don’t need blankets.” Hizashi spreads his hands, waving off Eraser’s concern. “Just... you.”

 

Eraserhead hesitates, then gently paws around the mattress to make room to sit. A stray feather glides over Hizashi’s nose and he stifles a sneeze. The last thing he wants is Eraserhead being concerned he has a cold, too.

 

For a second, they sit in silence. Finally, Hizashi speaks up. “Tell me something about yourself. A story.”

 

Eraserhead frowns. “None of my stories are really… fun.”

 

“I don’t mind, most of my stories aren't that fun either.”

 

Eraserhead sits in silence, looking at Hizashi with sadness in his eyes. “Alright, just let me know if you want me to stop. You know I used to be a rogue. I’d go on missions all the time, and I got to travel a lot, kind of like you.” Eraserhead takes a deep breath. “One of those missions was in my old hometown. It’s a nice place in the rich outskirts, but the inner village was filled with poverty and crime.”

 

“Magic was illegal there, or at least at the time I visited. I was a well known rogue too, which meant I worked harder to conceal my identity than most. It didn’t help that I had family within the inner city. It was a difficult mission for me.”

 

“Why'd you leave home?”

 

Eraserhead gawks, brows furrowed in frustration. “Are you always this frank?”

 

“No, I trust you to not answer if you don't feel comfortable.”

 

“There's no point in staying in a house that isn't a home.” He answers, annoyed. His tail flicks against the other’s legs.

 

“Were you caught on your mission?” Hizashi turns on his side, pulling his blanket close as he watches Eraserhead.

 

The bard is close enough Eraserhead can feel his shallow breaths against his fur.

 

“Caught isn't the right word… Recognized, more like it.” The Sphinx shifts as well, laying his head against the pillows, facing Hizashi.

 

Eraserhead looks cute, curled up on his side with his paws in between them. Hizashi feels sleepy, but he isn’t going to sleep when he has such good company. If he's being honest, he’s started looking forward to their private nighttime talks. He almost thought they would stop, now that he has his own place, but it seems he was worried over nothing.

 

“I was in a similar situation, once,” Hizashi admits. If Eraserhead is going to share, he will too. “Back when my father was still actively looking for me. I had run away by then, but his royal entourage found me by chance. It took me a week to lose them, even with my magic.”

 

Eraserhead nods, clearly listening despite how sleepy he looks. Hizashi snorts.

 

“You look so cute like that, did you know?” He whispers, shedding the somber mood for a lighter tone. Eraserhead smiles. He doesn't seem as shy as he was earlier in the day.

 

“Not usually a word people use to describe me.” Eraserhead’s words are muffled by the pillow.

 

“Well, I’m using it,” Hizashi declares, “and I’m rather certain of my words.”

 

“You’re... cute too.” Eraserhead manages to respond. It isn’t much of a compliment, but he didn’t expect a shakespearean sonnet from a sphinx. Hizashi smiles anyway, because at least Eraserhead is trying.

 

Then again… does Hizashi want him to? His mind wanders back to a few nights ago. He’d known how Eraserhead felt when he said; “I want you.”

 

But Hizashi pushed him away.

 

The Sphinx is obviously flustered, hiding behind an oversized paw. Hizashi reaches out, pulling the paw back and keeping hold.

 

“Stop hiding.”

 

“I’m not. You’re the one hiding from a whole kingdom.” Eraserhead gives the bard a light shove with the paw he’s holding before settling again, wings puffed as he rests one over the human. Hizashi only grins, curling closer.

 

“I guess we’re similar like that… You're a handsome rogue disguised as an angry Sphinx, and I’m a dashing prince pretending to be a foolish bard. It’ll be one of my most popular songs.”

 

“Oh? And what else will this song be about?”

 

Hizashi bites his bottom lip as he considers his answer. A near-death experience has a way of clearing up doubts, and Hizashi is feeling bolder.

 

“How they meet, of course. And become friends.”

 

“And?”

 

Erasers voice is soft. So soft, Hizashi is sure a cricket would drown him out. But the night is quiet. Even the trees and the wind don't make a sound. Hizashi feels like he's in a bubble, or a dream.

 

“And- and how they grow closer.”

 

Hizashi shifts, their breath mingling as he inches closer.

 

“How close?” Eraserhead asks. His eyes search Hizashi's for an answer. Their lips meet and they melt together, hands and paws moving to grasp at the other and bring them even closer.

 

It feels so much better than a dream.

 

Eraser’s lips are broad and slightly chapped, but so warm and inviting as Hizashi presses forward, only pulling away with the need to breathe. His pulse pounds in his ears as he watches Eraser’s face, feeling his strong body as they embrace so closely.

 

“Really close,” Hizashi replies.

 

Eraserhead exhales, soft enough that it’s barely heard. “I could imagine.”

 

Hizashi bites his lip. They could be so much closer — Hizashi could use Eraser’s real name. He could help break the curse. Is he selfish for wanting more?

 

“Hizashi. You aren’t… toying with me, are you?” Eraserhead looks, nerves quivering in his voice, like he is preparing himself for rejection.

 

“No! I wouldn’t do that!” Hizashi’s horrified the Sphinx would even think that. He cups Eraser’s cheek, leading him so they face each other again. He traces Eraser’s scar with his thumb as he stares into his dark eyes. “I don’t offer my love to people I’m not serious about.”

 

Eraserhead’s blush darkens. “Then why reject me earlier?” He picks at loose blanket threads with his claws, snapping them with a single tug.

 

“I was denying my feelings for you… I’m sorry.” Hizashi sighs softly. “Near death experiences always help one figure out what they want in life.” Hizashi leans closer to Eraser, tracing his jawline with his fingers. “I thought about it, and I realized I wanted you.”

 

Eraserhead stares him down fearlessly, regardless of how brightly his cheeks burn.

 

“And you want me like this?” His wings give a quick flap as he bares his fangs. “As a monster?”

 

“You’re not a monster-”

 

“Because last time we had this talk, you seemed stuck on it… The only thing that’s changed is you found out I was human before this.”

 

The bard huffs, his cheeks puffing out. “My feelings for you have nothing to do with you being a human or a Sphinx and everything to do with you being you.”

 

And I am a Sphinx. ” He growls, leaning in until their foreheads touch. “You don’t even know my name- have you deluded yourself into thinking you’ll break my curse?” He turns his head away, letting out another huff as his eyes burn in the darkness. “If you changed your mind because of that, you’re more a fool than you let on.”

 

Eraserhead closes his eyes, heart aching.

 

He wants to be wrong.

 

“Let me ask you something.” Hizashi says calmly, not rising to Eraser’s emotional bait. “How would it have felt if I had said yes, then left and never came back?”

 

“What?”

 

“I already knew I was leaving. You did too. I focused on you because back then- back then I felt I had to go. Like I always did. It was such a given to myself, I didn't even mention it.”

 

Eraserhead looks up, his angry expression smoothing out as he thinks. Hizashi sighs, reaching up to run his fingers through Eraserhead’s mane.

 

“Besides. I just kissed you, didn't I? You're still you. And so what if you only have a name I gave you? More people call me Mic than even know my so-called real name. What is a name, but a shackle to the past? We’re talking about the future here. One that could be about us, plural.”

 

Eraserhead sighs, then steps from the bed. “I’ve almost forgotten what being human was like, I’ve been stuck like this for so long.” Eraserhead turns and glares at Hizashi. “I’ve almost forgotten what was behind the door and I’ve almost forgotten my own name, I’ve been cursed for so long.”

 

He turned around and faced the bedroom door. “I’ve grown used to it. At this point I’m not sure if breaking the curse is worth the trouble.”

 

“Eraser-”

 

“What do you want now?” Eraserhead growls, turning to face Hizashi again. “The fact I was once human doesn’t matter anymore, because I’m never going to be human again. You’ll never know my name and you will get over whatever’s convinced you that you love me.” He turns around again, stepping towards the door. “I think the poison’s gone to your head.”

 

“And I think you’re a coward!” Hizashi sits up, ignoring the ache in his muscles. “I think you’re scared. You’re scared to be human again, you’re scared to see your friends again and you’re scared to be seen as anything less than a monster-”

 

Eraserhead roars, wings flapping hard enough to knock over a vase from the bedside table.

 

You have no right to call me a coward. When was the last time you were not running?

 

“Rich, coming from the guy who hides out in a village concealed by magic.”

 

“Maybe I’m hiding from people like you.”

 

“What?”

 

“You heard me. People like you. People trying to tell me who I should be and what I should do, people who think they know what's best. I make my own damn decisions, and if that makes me a coward, so be it! It's my decision!”

 

Hizashi swallows the words he wants to say, caught off guard by the turn in their argument. He clutches his blanket and  collects his thoughts. Eraserhead stands, chest heaving, as he waits for a response.

 

“You're right. It is your choice. I- I'm sorry if I made it seem like it wasn't.”

 

“Maybe I haven’t made the decision yet.” Eraserhead says softly. “Maybe I don’t know what I want, so why turn into something I’m unsure of?”

 

“Leaps of faith,” Hizashi whispers, more to himself than anyone else. When he was younger, he used to take them all the time, jumping across rivers, chasms, and boulders. Of course, he’s taken metaphorical leaps of faith too.

 

He found those more likely to fail. Or end with him chased by an entire kingdom.

 

“Not everyone will land every jump they take.” Eraserhead turns to leave and runs right into Shinsou.

 

“What’s going on?” Shinsou asks. “I heard yelling.”

 

“It was just an argument, you can go back to sleep Hitoshi.”

 

“Why are you in Mic’s room?” A mischievous grin spreads across his face. “Did you miss him?”

 

Eraserhead sighs. “He’s still recovering, I thought I’d check on him.”

 

“You know I’m pretty sure recovery works better when you let people sleep instead of getting into yelling matches.” Eraserhead lightly slaps Shinsou on the head with his wing. It only makes Shinsou’s smile grow.

 

“You know you’re both probably grouchy because it’s the dead of night and you’re tired, right?” Shinsou looks past Eraserhead at Hizashi, smiling at him.

 

He knew Shinsou was a little brat, but it seems between Shinsou and Eraserhead, the teasing amplifies. His cheeks burn as he pulls his blanket closer to him.

The bed is sprinkled with feathers from the fight- there isn't a point in arguing it.

 

Before the sphinx can disappear, Hizashi clears his throat. “Eraser-” He doesn't turn. “I had my own leap of faith tonight.” The kiss that backfired and turned into accusations thrown both ways…

 

“I survived.”

 

Eraserhead shifts as if to turn, but he doesn't meet Hizashi’s eyes. He looks at Shinsou as he folds up his wings and shakes out his mane while Shinsou’s smile slips into a confused expression. Eraserhead sighs.

 

“I'll keep that in mind.”

 

“I was just teasing, but is something wrong?” Shinsou asks quietly. Eraserhead huffs and walks out the door, making Shinsou back up into the hallway.

 

“Don't worry about it. Let’s just go back. I have a spell to show you, since your insomnia is so bad you're wandering around at night.”

 

“It's calming!” Shinsou’s protests fade as he walks down the hallway. Hizashi sighs as he's left alone in his dark room with only his thoughts for company or comfort.

 

Hizashi’s life was a series of leaps of faith, one after the other. Did he ever really touch the ground? Sometimes — like tonight, when the kiss sent him soaring into the clouds — he knew he didn’t. But the highest of highs meant the lowest lows. He’s survived; but at what cost? He wasn’t naive enough to think that everything would be  back to normal in the morning. Rejection doesn’t heal overnight... and that was a rejection, wasn’t it?

 

But dammit, Eraser kissed back.

 

Hizashi makes a note to never open up again. He lived through this leap of faith — but he isn’t sure he’ll ever recover. Maybe he’ll feel less dramatic in the morning.

 

Morning comes quickly, and Hizashi feels dead tired, despite falling right back asleep. He idly wonders if he can hide out in his new home all day, but he knows at some point or another he will have to face Eraserhead.

 

That doesn’t mean he has to face him immediately.

 

Hizashi leaves the tavern, wandering to the edge of town. He’s a lot more stable than he was yesterday, but he is slower than usual. It’s frustrating, but he can cope.

 

“Hizashi.” He turns to see a familiar head of white and red hair. “Where are you going?”

 

The blonde gives Shouto a warm smile. “Stretching my tired bones, dear listener!” He moves to the side, a silent invitation.

 

Shouto joins him, bowing his head. “Thank you again-”

 

“Enough thank you’s. I didn’t help you because of Eraserhead, I helped you cause it was the right thing to do. For you.” He musses Shouto’s hair, his pace remaining slow as they wander along until they reach the river.

 

Hizashi regards it quietly. “So, if the well were to run dry, what’s the backup plan?”

 

“We boil water from the river.”

 

“That’s a lot of work…” The bard carefully kneels by the rivers edge, dipping his hand in. “I could teach you something useful, if you’re feeling up to it.”

 

Shouto clearly seems interested, so Hizashi finds a large rock to sit on by the water’s edge. He takes off his shoes and dips his feet into the water. Shouto copies him, to his amusement.

 

“Hah, this isn't part of the process, but it does feel nice right?”

 

Shouto gives a shy smile and a nod. What a cute kid . Hizashi turns his attention to the water, humming a tune to coax some into his hands. He doesn't talk until an orb of clear water floats above his palms, trace minerals and dirt left behind in his palm.

 

“There are plenty of ways to filter water, with or without magic, but this one is simple, and you don't have to wait for it to boil. It separates the water from anything that isn't water. But if you want mineral water you'll have to filter it another way!”

 

Hizashi dumps the water and dirt back into the river before helping Shouto try the spell. It's a very refined spell, requiring a lot of control. He has no doubt about Shouto’s power, so this seems like a perfect way to train his control. His stomach growling is the only reason he notices the passage of time, but Shouto offers him a dried bar of grain and fruit, so they eat, drink, and continue their lesson.

 

By the time the sun begins to set, Shouto has perfected his method. He can even freeze a thin sheet of ice around larger orbs, although it takes him a few tries to make sure the ice won’t break.

 

They wander back into town, soaked from Shouto’s failed attempts. They’re on the edge of town before Eraserhead appears, a worried look in his eyes. However, once he sees they’re both fine, worry turns to annoyance.

 

“Where were you? You’re supposed to be resting.” Eraserhead glares pointedly at Hizashi.

 

“We wanted to walk! I taught Shouto a few things too!” Hizashi ignores Eraser’s glare. “It was water magic, so we’re a little wet.”

 

“I can see.” Eraserhead says, unamused.

 

Shouto looks between them. “I’m going to dry off and head to dinner.” He wisely leaves them alone in the street.

 

Eraser’s tail flicks. “You shouldn’t wander off.”

 

Hizashi crosses his arms, regarding him. “I needed some air.”

“You should have told someone where you went- the tavern was empty.”

 

“I left my things behind- I’m not even wearing proper clothing… Do you really think I would just up and leave without a word?”

 

The look the Sphinx gives him is a mixture of guilt, fear and maybe… Loneliness?

 

“All I know about you is that you never stop moving. You said as much.”

 

“Then ask me something.”

 

Eraserhead raises a brow. “Excuse me?”

“Ask me something you want to know.”

 

“I…” Eraserhead seems to be lost for words as he closes his mouth, thinking quietly. Hizashi sits down on a nearby bench, tired from using magic all day with only a small meal to sustain him. Eraserhead follows, though he sits next to the bench instead of trying to fit on it.

 

“If you don't have anything to ask, then fine. I was just saying. You can’t get to know someone until you try. I like to talk about myself! But I'm not going to talk if I feel like someone doesn't care to hear it.”

 

“I would like to hear it.” Eraserhead admits. Hizashi waves at a few passing kids as he digests that.

 

“Anything specific?”

 

“No. I'd listen to it all.”

 

Hizashi feels warm as he stares ahead, watching the kids gather in the distance. Dinner seems to be in a different spot every now and then, depending on who's cooking. His own stomach growls and his mood drops as he realizes how hungry he is. He feels a little dizzy from how low his blood sugar is.

 

“Would you be angry if I ate dinner first?” Hizashi smiles at him sheepishly.

 

Eraserhead frowns. “Taking care of yourself is a part of the healing process. How much did you eat today?”

 

“First thing I'll tell you about myself: I forget to eat sometimes.”

 

Eraserhead sighs. “Are you sure you’re a bard? Fools like you are typically jesters.”

 

Hizashi chuckles as he stands, wobbling a little. Eraserhead stands by his side, ready to help catch him. “I’m pretty sure I’m a bard. Besides, I hate serving kings.”

 

The Sphinx keeps close to him, padding along silently as they join the crowd. “Can you handle a bit of walking?”

 

“Where to?”

 

Eraserhead leads the way, keeping close enough for balance if Hizashi needs it. After a short trek to pick up some dinner, they end up on the opposite end of the village, tall cheery sunflowers creating a wall between them and the unknown.

 

“First question: how do you feel about sunflowers?”

 

“Sunflowers? They're very pretty. Tasty seeds. Why?”

 

They make their way along a hidden path in the tall stalks until they reach a clearing around a large rock. The rock is still warm to the touch from the sun, but it is late enough that the sunflowers provide shade as the sun starts to set. Hizashi sets down his plate of food and takes a seat.

 

“What's all this?” Hizashi laughs as he looks around. Eraserhead lies next to him, clearly enjoying the lingering warmth.

 

“A private place. As private as one can be, out in nature at least.” Eraserhead groans and rolls on his side, acting more like his cat-side than his human-side. Hizashi smiles and starts eating, watching Eraserhead curiously.

 

Eraserhead simply stares back. “What?”

 

Hizashi shrugs. “It’s a pretty scene.” Eraserhead stiffens and blushes, his expression a little uncomfortable. Hizashi stops eating, dread weighing him down.

 

“About last night-”

 

“There’s nothing to talk about,” Hizashi interrupts, “It was unfair of me to just assume you wanted your curse broken, or to assume… anything about you really. If you’d like to pretend it didn’t happen, then that’s fine.” Hizashi picks at his food, forcing himself to eat again despite his appetite disappearing.

 

Eraserhead stares at him, his eyes filled with frustration and sadness. “I don’t want to pretend it didn’t happen, and it’s alright for you to assume things.” Eraserhead lets out a deep sigh. “I want to apologize for getting so emotional. It’s not fair of me to take out years of frustration on you.”

 

“It was unfair of me to yell too… You're not a coward… You’re allowed to be wary of me- I’m a stranger. Things have happened to you that I probably couldn't imagine, and seeing how much effort you put into taking care of others here, and sending me out to find your friends and make sure they were safe...”

 

He glances up, his bottom lip caught between his teeth as he nibbles on it. “A coward wouldn't do any of those things… So I take it back. I admit I was wrong.”

 

Eraserhead sighs. He sniffs at the air before getting up and shifting a little closer. He looks regal, sitting there with his paws crossed.

 

“I'm not sure you were wrong though. I've spent so long ignoring myself, because I don't want to confront things in my life. Focusing on others makes it easier.”

 

He glances at Hizashi’s half-eaten food.

 

“For instance, you need to eat. You were gone all day.

 

“I am eating! But I'm not gonna talk with my mouth full!” Hizashi laughs, idly rubbing at his aching shoulder. His magic helps relieve the pain, but he can only do so much before he risks exhausting himself.

 

“Why don't we play a game? The question game. We each come up with a question and ask it. If one of us won't answer, or lies, they lose and owe the other a favor.”

 

“And how do you tell someone is lying? I have a sense for it- ah. You use magic, don't you.”

 

“Yes! Let’s cast a truth-spell together. So we’ll both know for sure.”

 

“Cast it.” Eraserhead agrees. Thankfully, spells like that are Hizashi’s specialty, so he barely feels it as he hums a quick tune to a song he wrote. The spell falls over them both like a blanket, covering but not stifling.

 

“Do you want to ask the first question?” Hizashi leans back and takes a bite of his food.

 

“Do you know the names of the people after you?” Eraserhead asks immediately.

 

Hizashi wipes his hands clean on his trousers. “I know some. Not all of them — I don’t think I could know everyone who’s helping the king. But I know he’s hired hunters like Kurogiri, Shigaraki Tomura —“

 

Eraserhead lets out a low whistle. “Those are famous names. They didn’t make it so far by being nice, either.”

 

“Preaching to the choir.” Hizashi swallows another bite of food. “I found out first hand.”

 

“Ok. Ask me something.” Eraserhead settles down.

 

“Who was the first kid you took in?”

 

“Shinsou.” Eraserhead answers simply. Hizashi doesn't press for details - from what little Shinsou told him, he knows Shinsou’s birth parents weren't the greatest.

 

Eraserhead thinks for a moment. “What are you most afraid of?”

 

“Bugs.” Hizashi answers immediately. Eraserhead lets out a surprised laugh.

 

“Bugs? A man as tough as you and you’re scared of bugs?”

 

Hizashi pouts. “They're creepy! And they can be super colorful naturally so it can be difficult to figure out if they have magic qualities or if they're poisonous!” Hizashi’s protests just make Eraserhead laugh more.

 

The Sphinx’s wings flutter as his laughter dies down. “When you weren’t out and about saving people, what was your favourite thing to do?”

 

Eraserhead stretches out a little more, adding a dramatic yawn for show. “Sleep.”

 

“The sleepy hero, Eraser!” Hizashi announces with a laugh.

 

“Did you ever want to stay and be king, instead of becoming a bard?”

 

“Of course.” Hizashi leans closer, brows furrowed as he thinks. “When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a King people would be proud of. One that didn’t fight or engage in war- a king that ruled a kingdom that thrived in art and music and culture and magic…” His voice is soft, wistful. He has a stupid grin on his face.

 

“I'm guessing you learned that wouldn't be possible.”

 

“Pretty much. It was a harsh lesson, but I'm glad I didn't keep deluding myself.” Hizashi picks up a bite of food before asking his question. “Do you act the same as you did before you got cursed? For example, right now, with lying on the warm rock. Have you changed that much?”

 

Eraserhead blinks, his tail swishing about as he thinks. Hizashi eats his food, waiting patiently for his reply.

 

“No, not really. I've changed, sure, but everyone changes with age, so I can't say it's specifically the curse.” Eraser’s brow furrows as he talks, putting heavy thought into it. “I liked sleeping where it was warm, and hunting for my own food. I appreciate logic and thinking things through, and putting hard work into what matters. What are you trying to imply?”

 

“Is that your question?” Hizashi laughs, and he continues before Eraserhead can protest. “What I'm getting at is the fact that we would still be falling for each other if the curse never existed. So even if it stays- well, you're still going to be you.”

 

“How insightful, for a question about my habits.” Eraserhead’s nose crinkles around the corners as he snorts. Hizashi resists the urge to smooth out the wrinkles.

 

“Do you ever regret eating somebody?” He asks.

 

“No, but I have regretted not eating somebody,” Eraserhead swishes his tail.

 

“Really?” Hizashi sits up with interest, but then he feels the spell waver as Eraserhead starts to lie.

 

“He’s a chatty fellow. A bit nosy, a bit loud. He wields magic too,” Eraserhead takes a meaningful pause. “He doesn’t like bugs.”

 

“Hey! ” Hizashi bolts upright. “Rude!”

 

“I’m joking.” Eraserhead says. “But my answer was true. I’ve never regretted eating somebody. The children are my priority.”

 

Eraserhead looks away awkwardly, stretching his wings out before folding them back up. “Out of all the places you've been to, which is your favorite?”

 

Hizashi smiled. “Here.”

 

Eraserhead looks shocked. “Really? Here?”

 

Hizashi laughs. “Well of course! I don't keep many hearthstones around, and it's a rare occasion that I stay in a place for more than one night in a row. The kids are great, their Sensei is definitely the most memorable person I've met, and it's nice to be able to use my magic freely. Plus, I don’t think I’ve let my guard down like this since I was seven!”

 

“Since you were seven?” Eraserhead looks worried.

 

“Ok that might be a bit of an exaggeration, but you know what I meant!” Hizashi backtracks. “I haven’t been able to truly relax in a while.”

 

Eraserhead still looks dubious, and Hizashi sighs, replying with a wry smile.

 

“It's my turn! Have you ever kissed anyone other than me?”

 

Eraserhead sputters. A blush rushes across his face as he grits his teeth, unwilling to answer, but unwilling to lose. He sighs and rolls his eyes but Hizashi sits there with an expectant look on his face until Eraserhead finally speaks up, his voice quiet.

 

“No... I mean, people have kissed me on the forehead or cheek but not- not the way you did.”

 

When Eraserhead looks up, Hizashi is staring, his pale skin flushed.

 

“A-Alright, next question!” The blonde flings his arms up, trying to ignore the way his heart raced.

 

“How many people have you slept with?”

 

“Eraser, that’s not fair.

 

The creature flicks his tail against Hizashi with just enough force to make him jump, watching with a smirk. “Yes it is. Now answer.”

 

The bard’s skin is more red than pale now as he refuses to meet the others gaze. “I haven’t slept with anyone in a long time -”

 

“Not the question-”

 

“I don’t remember!” The bard crosses his arms with a huff, looking away at the sunflowers. “I… I would have to check my journal...”

 

“That many?”

 

“Well, I mean! Hey, I'm a friendly guy! And once I was free from my father, maybe I went a little overboard with the whole, uh, doing what I want thing. Or doing who I want, in this case.”

 

Hizashi throws up his hands and laughs, feeling ridiculous but happy. Both of their faces are red when their gazes meet again, eyes soft with unspoken emotions.

 

“My turn,” He says with a grin. He's feeling bold now, urged on by the small smile lingering on Eraser’s face. “Do you think I'm beautiful?”

 

He punctuates his question with a flip of his hair, leaning back on his hands in a flirty pose and wincing slightly as he pulls on the stitches in his shoulder.

 

“I think a lot of things are beautiful,” Eraserhead says. “The sky is beautiful. A river before a flood is beautiful. Sunsets are beautiful.”

 

“Am I one of those things?”

 

“You’re not beautiful,” Eraserhead says. Hizashi turns his head to hide his crumbling smile. “You’re not a river or the sky or a sunset. You’re a heart attack that never ends, you’re a breath taker, a heart stealer. You aren’t beautiful. You’re bewitching. You’re radiant. Divine.”

 

Hizashi sucks in a breath. “And they say you don’t have a way with words.”

 

“My turn,” Eraserhead says. “Would you still love me if I stayed a Sphinx forever?”

 

“Yes. I love you for who you are, not what you are.” Hizashi replies. Eraserhead looks relieved, but it makes Hizashi sad.

 

“Would you have believed me if we weren’t under truth spells?”

 

Eraserhead freezes, looking panicked for a moment before willing his face to be neutral. “I- I don’t know if I could believe anyone who could say that without being under a truth spell,” he mutters.

 

Hizashi holds and pats his paws, looking up at him. “Do you want to stop the game? We could just call it a draw?”

 

Eraserhead nods, flexing his paw gently in Hizashi’s hand, the unsheathed claws resting on his soft skin.

 

The bard gives his paws a squeeze, smiling. He shuffles over until he is beside Eraser, gently petting over his back. “There’s nothing else you want to know?”

 

The Sphinx’s back arches ever so slightly into the touch, eyes falling shut. “We can trade stories, no truth spell.”

 

“Stories, okay, I'm good at stories. You mean real stories though, right?”

 

“Yes. Something happy. Or whatever you like.”

 

“Any memory, huh? Well, I have some songs about those, but I don't have my ukulele…”

 

“I want to hear you, not your instrument,” Eraserhead says, his eyes soft and adoring.

 

“Oh- Ok.” Hizashi fights off a blush as he decides which song to sing. He sets the beat through snapping, and begins to sing.

 

A bard once escaped a grand castle, dodging assassins and thieves.

Despite this the bard loved his freedom, doing whatever he pleased.”

 

“Stealing plenty, eating well and bedding all- but a life on the run made him lonely,

At night he would cry, For it was him, the sky, and money only.”

 

Eraserhead watched as Hizashi stares off at the flowers, leaning back on his hands as he sings so softly. The Sphinx lets out a contented rumble, shuffling close enough to rest his head in the other’s lap.

 

The movement knocks the bard off his beat, his words faltering before coming to a stop.

 

“Can I touch you?”

 

Eraserhead jerks back, eyes wide and cheeks red.

 

“N-No, I mean pet you!”

 

Eraserhead bares his teeth at the comment before returning his head to rest in the others lap. “Do what you want, bard.”

 

Hizashi laughs nervously, carefully threading his fingers into Eraser’s hair. He starts to untangle it as he hums the rest of his song, feeling how soft it is. Eraserhead relaxes, a soft purr reaching Hizashi's ears. He grins as Eraser’s face smooth out into a calm, happy expression. His tail swishes lazily across the rock.

 

“Let me know if I tug too hard, ok?”

 

Eraser’s purring stutters to a stop, scaring Hizashi into thinking he’s done something wrong and making him freeze. “Ok.” Eraserhead sighs happily, his purring beginning again at a low rumble. Hizashi relaxes his shoulders, and begins to untangle his hair again.

 

Eraserhead looks at peace, his eyes shut and the slightest hint of a smile on his lips. The bags underneath his eyes seem lighter than before next to his silvery scar. Hizashi can't stop himself from tracing the mark, barely touching the thickened skin before Eraserhead cracks open his eyes. Hizashi smiles at him.

 

“It’s pretty.”

 

Eraserhead raises a brow. “It's a scar.”

 

“And it's pretty.” He traces it again, fingers slowly mapping out around Eraser’s eyes, then over his brows and down the tip of his nose. Eraserhead watches for a moment before closing his eyes, settling in to each touch.

 

“Yours are pretty too.”

 

Hizashi tilts his head, confused. “But I don't-”

 

“Your chest and back. I saw them when you came back injured.”

 

“O-Oh, right…” The bard gives a small chuckle. “There’s quite a few.” Eraserhead only snorts, bunting his face into the bard’s stomach, curling in closer.

 

“My human body had more.”

 

“Was this one from before too?”

 

“No. I got it afterwards. Protecting the kids from a demon.”

 

“A demon? Here?”

 

“Well I don't know what else to call it. It was a monster…”

 

“Can you describe it?”

 

“It was big, covered in dark fur, had a yellow beak, and an exposed brain.” Eraserhead represses his shuddering, but Hizashi still notices with how close they are.

 

“What happened?”

 

“It started to rampage. That's why many of the houses are so damaged.” Eraserhead shifts himself so his paws are across Hizashi's lap. “I evacuated most of the buildings, but it managed to corner me in the last one.”

 

Hizashi’s eyes widened. “Were any of the kids with you?”

 

“They were all hiding.” His eyes fall shut as Hizashi gently scratches his ears.

 

“Well, you won't ever have to face another monster alone again.” The bard is grinning wide as he presses a kiss to the top of the Sphinx’s head. “I’ll stand with you.”

 

Eraserhead purrs louder. They sit there as the sun sets. In the distance, someone rings a bell to call everyone for bedtime. Eraserhead doesn't stir, so Hizashi doesn't stop stroking him. It becomes a soothing rhythm as he looks up at the stars, trying to count them as they appear and losing track quickly.

 

“Will you stay?” Eraserhead asks softly as a cool breeze rustles the sunflowers.

 

“I was thinking of making another hearthstone tomorrow.” Hizashi replies. Eraserhead shifts and Hizashi looks down to see Eraserhead looking up at him from where he's lying on his back. Hizashi really wants to rub his belly, but he isn’t sure that’s appropriate.

 

“What’s wrong with the one you had?”

 

Hizashi runs his tongue over his teeth, “There was no anchor.”

 

“I… oh.” It doesn't take a genius to decipher who the anchor will be.

 

“Will you?” Hizashi hesitates. “Will you anchor the stone?”

 

“Yes,” Eraserhead says, pausing for a moment, “but I don’t want you to make it tomorrow.”

 

“Wha-”

 

Eraserhead cuts off his protests. “You’re still healing. Your shoulder and stomach still hurt, and since we can’t speed up the healing process, it’s going to take another two or three days before we can get the stitches out.”

 

Hizashi sighed. “I suppose you have a point. So can I make one in three days?”

 

Eraserhead juts his bottom lip out in a frown. “That eager to leave again? I thought you said this was your favorite place.”

 

“It is… But I still have so much to see… To do…” He peeks at the other’s stomach again, inching there slowly- slow enough that Eraserhead can tell him to stop.

 

The only sign the Sphinx notices this is his cheeks burning a deeper red.

 

“When I mentioned breaking your curse- it wasn't because of your body like this…” His hand fall into a soothing circular motion. “It was so you could leave here, have the freedom to travel, see your friends..”

 

Eraserhead sighs, closing his eyes as if it could shield him from Hizashi’s words. He seems torn between the soothing hand on his stomach and the harsh reality of his curse.

 

“You know, the kids will grow up eventually. Maybe start their own families. Move on to new places. And maybe… maybe it would be nice if we could go see them together. In the future, of course. But I certainly wouldn't mind coming home to you. This feels like a place worth coming back to. You're worth coming back to.”

 

Hizashi laughs softly, shaking his head as Eraserhead wiggles underneath his hand.

 

“Is it weird, that you're starting to feel like home to me? That sort of ephemeral feeling of safety and contentedness that you always long to return to…”

 

“Like I said, I’ve always believed home is a person, not a place.” Eraserhead hums. His tails swishes across the ground, sending leaves rattling along the grass.

 

“Then, who was your home?” Hizashi asks. “Before any of this?” He gestures to the village behind them.

 

“I didn’t have one,” Eraserhead says. “You move from place to place. I moved from person to person. Same concept, different application.”

 

Eraser’s rumbling purrs and the chirping of crickets are the only noises surrounding their silence. Eraserhead shifts his wings so they stretch out as he looks at Hizashi. Hizashi pulls his hand away from Eraser’s stomach, causing a grumbly protest. However, Eraserhead melts when Hizashi starts to stroke his cheek, nuzzling into his hand and purring happily. They study each other’s eyes, until Hizashi leans away to yawn.

 

“We should go,” Eraserhead says, reluctance clear in his voice. He pulls himself away and stands. “You need rest.”

 

“Ok.” Hizashi sighs, standing and collecting his dishes from dinner. They slowly leave the flower field and make their way over to the tavern, hesitating outside of it.

 

“I guess this is goodnight,” Hizashi says quietly, remembering their argument the night before. Eraserhead scuffs a paw against the dirt.

 

“May I... May I stop by later?”

 

Hizashi looks back, hand on the doorknob.

 

“Yeah. I would like that.”

 

“I won't wake you this time, I promise.”

 

“I won't be mad if you do.”

 

“Even Bards need sleep.” Eraserhead’s mouth twitches at the corner. He wants to be stern, but he’s too pleased to sell it. Hizashi wants him to stay. He’ll let him stay...

 

Hizashi heads inside and crashes onto his mattress, trying to determine the events of the day. There is too much to decipher; so much information to process he is powerless to process it at all.

 

Eraserhead asked him how many people he’d slept with.

 

He’d wanted to know the answer to that.

 

Hizashi sighs, shaking the thoughts from his head as best as he can. They were just playing a game, and Eraserhead was just trying to get Hizashi to lose, as well as get Hizashi back. His thoughts stray to the question before that, making him blush. Eraser’s never kissed anyone before him. It makes Hizashi feel special, making that moment all the more valuable. Hizashi’s eyelids grow heavy as he starts to drift off, thinking of kissing Eraserhead as he falls asleep.

 

The bed dips, startling Hizashi awake. It takes his eyes a moment to adjust to the dark, but once they do he sees Eraserhead curling up around him, a wing stretched over Hizashi’s body. Eraser’s eyes widen as he realizes he woke Hizashi up.

 

“Sorry, go back to sleep.” He lays his head down and nuzzles his face into the crook of Hizashi’s neck.

 

Hizashi opens his mouth to protest, but Eraserhead cuts him off. “Your bandages will come off faster if you rest properly.”

 

Hizashi chuckles. “Alright, I’m going to sleep.” He closes his eyes again as Eraserhead purrs softly.

 

Chapter Text

Waking up is like a dream. He feels warm and comfortable, without a hint of tiredness clinging to his eyes. He can feel Eraserhead sleeping next to him, a heavy, comforting weight.

 

“Good morning,” He croaks, throat dry from sleep. Eraserhead huffs, clearly not wanting to wake up. Hizashi laughs and carefully gets out of bed, washing up and applying salve to his wounds before coming back to find Eraserhead in the same spot he left him. A warm sunbeam falls across the bed, and Eraserhead is lying right in it.

 

The bard crawls in beside him, gently petting at him. “Wake up, Eraser.”

 

The Sphinx rolls over in response, purring loudly as he bares his stomach. Hizashi laughs, gently scratching him as he leans over. “We should begin our day…” Eraserhead only purrs louder.

 

The bard bites his lip, humming before he bows his head, pressing a kiss to Eraser’s lips.

 

Eraserhead kisses back slowly and lazily, inching closer to Hizashi. Hizashi pulls away, leaving Eraserhead chasing his lips for a moment. Eraserhead opens his eyes and glares softly, letting out a small huff.

 

“The kids can handle themselves,” Eraserhead says, matter-of-factly, “and I want to sleep more.”

 

“You want to be lazy,” Hizashi says with a grin as he sits beside the Sphinx.

 

Eraserhead lays back down, smiling up at Hizashi with a grin that was all teeth. “Maybe so.”

 

Hizashi sighs as he leans down and kisses him again. The Sphinx gives a low growl as his eyes fall shut. Hizashi presses closer-

 

Then the door bursts open, a very tall and very loud man bursts in, his armor barely covering his rippling muscles.  

 


 

My friend! ” The man cheers. Midoriya pops out from behind the man only to turn away quickly, cheeks burning bright.

 

Hizashi pulls away, eyes wide as he grabs for a weapon- the voice is so familiar-

 

In a burst of smoke, the man deflates into a grinning Yagi.

 

“Yagi.” Eraserhead growls, already on his feet and launching to the floor. Yagi sputters as he soaks in Eraser’s full form, blood dripping from his mouth in shock.

 

“You really are a Sphinx now! My friend- my friend….uh… Shit. You really are cursed.”

 

“What? Did you think I was half-cursed?” Eraserhead eyes him warily. “And I see you have a new student.”

 

Yagi makes a show of introducing Midoriya. “Feeling better?” Midoriya asks Hizashi. Hizashi blinks and tilts his head.

 

“The poison is almost gone, if not gone already. I feel fine.” Hizashi says. Midoriya goes pale at the mention of poison. Eraserhead harrumphs indignantly. “Don’t listen to the Sphinx. He worries too much.”

 

“You should worry more.” Eraserhead tells him, before turning to Yagi. “Are you cursed as well? You didn’t look like a skeleton before.”

 

Instead of responding to the joke, Yagi’s face turns serious. “I was greatly injured. My body is weaker than it used to be, but I can still use my magic!” He explodes into a muscular form, all round muscles instead of hard angles. Another burst of smoke appears, and Yagi is back in his original form.

 

“I’m sorry to hear about your injury,” Eraserhead says awkwardly. He shifts his paws, unsure of what to do with himself.

 

Yagi gives him a look. “I never thought you’d settle down with someone-”

 

Eraserhead sputters, then growls, turning away quickly.

 

Midoriya tilts his head. “So Present Mic lied when he said he wasn't involved with him?”

 

Yagi waves his hands, trying to dodge the subject. “Perhaps this isn't our business to discuss… why don't you head out with the children who brought us here and thank them?”

 

Midoriya nods, glancing back at Eraserhead and Hizashi. He gives a quick, nervous bow. “S-sorry for waking you!”

 

Hizashi laughs awkwardly and waves, watching the kid run down the hallway to the main room. He mentally berates himself for not hearing them approach, though he's surprised Eraserhead didn't hear them either. If he wasn't so embarrassed, he'd feel proud of how distracting his kissing must be. Yagi has the foresight to close the door.

 

“I'm, ah, rather sorry for this. I was told you'd be sleeping and I should wake you up. I see that was unnecessary.”

 

“How observant,” Eraserhead huffs. His face is sporting an impressively judgemental expression. Hizashi wishes he could hide under his blankets for awhile.

 

“Well! I wanted to discuss some things, but if now is not a good time, we can arrange for it later.”

 

Hizashi sighs and shakes his head.

 

“Now is fine. I'm curious how you got here. And how did you know I was injured?”

 

“We met Shouto at the border. He told us everything. We-ah, were a bit stressed on our way here.” Yagi’s voice softens as he covers his mouth with his hand. “There was a lot of blood.”

 

“Whose blood? Mine or yours?” Hizashi asks.

 

“When you put it that way, a bit of both.” Yagi says. “Regardless, it took us a bit to get here. We had to make some side stops.”

 

“What happened?” Eraserhead sits up, suddenly alert.

 

“The usual, I suppose. We ran into some evil magic practitioners. That was far from good.”

 

“You’re here now. And alive,” Hizashi claps his hands together. “That’s all that matters.”

 

“Same to you, my friends!” Yagi chuckles. “I’m glad to see you both!”

 

“Why else are you here?” Eraserhead asks, a little bit of annoyance still in his tone. “I assume it’s not just a friendly visit.”

 

“Oh, did you not know?” Yagi says, confused. He nods at Hizashi. “Mic mentioned your curse, and we’ve come to help break it!”

 

Eraserhead turns his annoyance on Hizashi. The blond raises his hands in defense. “I didn't ask them to!”

 

Yagi looks baffled. “Is it a bad thing we came?”

 

Both a yes and no were yelled from the bard and the Sphinx.

 

Hizashi sighs while Eraser’s wings puff up in aggravation.

 

“Sorry. It’s just- it’s his choice. Don't force the issue. We already talked about it.”

 

Eraserhead calms as Hizashi talks, flexing his claws as he thinks.

 

“Let’s not talk about that. Have you eaten? Lets get breakfast and you can tell us of your journeys. Hizashi hasn’t eaten anything either.”

 

Eraserhead pushes past them as he walks out of the room, tail flicking behind him. Yagi and Hizashi exchange a look.

 

“So… how are things with him?”

 

Hizashi smiles. “We're fine, he's just a little high strung. Seeing me return half dead wasn’t any fun for him.”

 

“Ah,” Yagi says as he considers Hizashi’s words. “I suppose that could do it. He doesn't seem to have changed much from when he was a human.” Yagi chuckles to himself. “We best get going, or he'll be upset.”

 

Midoriya is waiting for them outside the tavern, talking to Shouto and Shinsou. They all seem pretty happy to see a new face their age, so the two adults decide to leave them be as they walk over to Eraserhead’s house. When they arrive, Yagi lingers in the doorway, studying the long scratches on the inner side of the door.

 

Eraserhead gives him a warning growl, glaring until Yagi moves.

 

Midoriya sits with Hizashi, jotting down notes. Hizashi looks over at Midoriya’s book and comments, “I think you need a spell on that book of yours- if anyone got ahold of it it would be a real threat. I could help you with one.”

 

Midoriya grins, closing the book. “I would be grateful.”

 

“Can't you wait until you're healed before you start teaching everyone new magic?” Eraserhead grumbles. He's actually eating with them today, but he only has sausage on his plate.

 

“Hey, I don't need to use magic to teach it! Shouto was a special case.”

 

“Special because you forgot to limit yourself?”

 

“Don't call me out like this at the table.”

 

The kids are all laughing to themselves at the playful argument. Eri doesn't seem to understand the joke and she comes over to hug Hizashi’s stomach. He grimaces as she brushes his stitches but bears it quietly.

 

“Don't be too mad at him sensei. Mic-sensei will do better this time, right?”

 

“S-sensei?” Hizashi has a pleased blush as he tugs Eri into his lap, ignoring the twinge in his shoulder. “Eri, you're so precious! And I will be better this time, I promise!”

 

“Good!” Eri turns to Midoriya, peering over the top of his book. “Is that supposed to be Sensei? He doesn't look like that!”

 

“Eri, don't be rude.” Eraserhead chastises.

 

“But Sensei! You're not a human! You're a big, cute kitty!” Hizashi leans forward and catches a glimpse of the drawing in question.

 

When Hizashi first looked at Eraserhead’s page, the drawing of him had been close to a stick figure. Now, however, there is a detailed drawing of him as a human, although a few of his features were off. The nose is too small, he looks well rested, and his face is too narrow. He’s depicted wearing dark colored armor, a long thin scarf wrapped around his shoulders. On a separate piece of paper taped to the page, there is a small sketch of him as a Sphinx, as well as some information and speculation about his curse.

 

Eraserhead catches sight of the page too. “Yagi described me, didn't he?” Midoriya nods, pushing the book forwards so Eraserhead can read some of it.

 

“Can you really not read my name? It looks crystal clear to me.”

 

Hizashi leans in. “Your outfit was boring .” The Sphinx glares.

 

“I was a rogue, the whole point is to blend in.”

 

Yagi laughs, gently holding his side as he did.

 

“He hated being noticed, even with his friends. Always kept to himself.”

 

“Because you all found trouble every waking second. “

 

“And you never left.” The warrior is beaming, smiling at him. It quickly turns to a frown. “It was nice… After we lost you, the group fell apart.”

 

Eraserhead pushes the book aside, focusing on All Might. “I heard. I lost tabs on everyone… Tell me about the meeting with Endeavor.”

 

Yagi glances at the blonde, then Midoriya. “Perhaps this is a conversation for just you and I.” Deku frowns, but gathers his things. Hizashi helps, scooping up the book. “Young Midoriya, leave the journals from the town.” He nods, setting down a different hardcover journal- as big as the one Hizashi held, and another in a language Hizashi recognizes from his studies as a young prince.

 

“Well, how about I teach you some spells for keeping your things private? Shinsou, if you could get my bag, I can demonstrate an example without using any magic myself!”

 

“Sure. Can we invite some of the others?” Shinsou asks, their small group heading outside, leaving Yagi alone with Eraser. Tense silence shrounds the room as Yagi slowly opens the book Midoriya left behind.

 

“So, uh, Sens-”

 

His friend growls. “Call me Eraserhead.”

 

“Ok then, Eraserhead, I need to talk about Mic.”

 

Eraserhead raises his eyebrow. “Is this about our relationship?”

 

Toshinori splutters, trying (and failing) to keep blood from spilling out of his mouth. He pulls out one of his handkerchiefs and cleans up the blood on his lips.

 

“No, erm, if I may ask what-”

 

Eraserhead thinks for a moment and frowns. “I'm not sure I've ever felt this romantically inclined towards anyone before.”

 

Yagi shakes his head and waves his hands. “That isn't any of my business- I... I was wondering how much you knew about his life before he came here…”

 

Eraserhead has the nerve to hide his blush, looking away. “He's a travelling bard who ran from a life of royalty. “

 

Yes, a life of royalty, from the most powerful kingdom in this region. ” Yagi opens one of the notebooks, the page opening wide with notes on the Yamada family. He removes a folded sheet, handing it to the sphinx.

 

A missing poster- from the sheet glares a younger, more rebellious Hizashi. His blonde hair isn't long, but instead pokes out from the top of his head like he hasn't brushed it in weeks. His green eyes look sad, long tender neck hidden by a high fancy collar.

 

The amount of gold listed as a reward stops Eraser’s heart.

 

The Prince? He was in line for the Heavenly Throne?” Eraserhead taps a claw to his lips as he thinks. It feels like it should change things, but the only thing he's worried about is people coming to take Hizashi away. The thought to turn him in never even crosses his mind as he worries over Hizashi’s stories of assassins and mercenaries.

 

“He didn't tell you?”

 

“He did say he was a Prince, but not what kind. This- no wonder he seemed so worried.”

 

“Has it ever occured to you to turn him in?”

 

“Never.”

 

“Loyal to a fault,” Yagi sighs, putting the wanted poster back into his pocket. “But that wasn’t what I was asking.”

 

Eraserhead raises an eyebrow.

 

“Has it occured to you that the people looking for him might attack this place if they found out he lived here?”

 

“I knew it was a possibility ever since I found out he was on the run.”

 

“But now you know just how powerful his enemies are.”

 

“I’ve cast spells to erase this place from maps, as well as the minds of anyone who came here before. It would be difficult to find him here, and I’m sure he’s taken the steps necessary to cover up his tracks.”

 

Yagi smiles weakly before opening the other book, flipping to another page about Hizashi and placing it besides the other one. “It might surprise you to know that not many people know  Present Mic is the missing prince, but what concerns me more are his magical abilities.”

 

Eraserhead leans over and takes a look at the two books. The page about the bard lists his magic to be hypnotic, not much about the high volumes he could summon. It also lists “the ability to sense intent”, an ability that explains the blond’s trusting nature. Eraserhead turns to the Yamada page, which also included the magical background of his parents. Eraser’s blood runs cold.

 

“His mother…”

 

“Yes, she had the same abilities. But magic abilities aren't usually passed on so cleanly. They morph and change with each person. Many can be taught, but the innate magic? Something must have happened. I know she died, but I never heard how. Not the real reason, anyways. Everyone knew the proclamation of sickness was a cover for something.”

 

“Are you insinuating—“

 

“I know you trust him,” Yagi scratched the back of his neck. “But it’s time you considered perhaps things aren’t how they seem.”

 

“You think he stole her magic? Is that even possible?”

 

Yagi winces and sighs, nodding his head. “I do know of someone who can steal magic, but I’m not sure if he was involved. It’s also possible that she gave up her magic, but it’s unlikely. That means she would have killed herself willingly.”

 

Hizashi wouldn’t do such a thing. He is so selfless! A man who takes a knife for another can’t be evil. He thinks about the way Hizashi has acted, nothing really standing out as suspicious or incriminating. Even without the truth spells they used, he’s naturally attuned to sense intent, and while Hizashi has certainly kept many secrets, Eraserhead hasn’t sensed anything like malice or hostility.

 

“Yagi… I appreciate you telling me this, but what do you expect from me?”

 

Yagi folds his hands. “Help him, if you trust him.”

 

Eraserhead gives him a confused look. “Help him with what?”

 

Yagi gently places his hand over his own heart. “I may not be what I once was, but I can still feel when someone else is hurting.”

 

“I thought you didn't trust him.”

 

“Eraser, if you trust him, then I do as well. I just thought it best you know everything.”

 

The Sphinx sighs. “Leave me for a bit… in a few minutes, send Hizashi here.”

 

Yagi nods, leaving the rogue to sift through the books.

 

In the other end of the house, Hizashi is lost reading stories about Eraser, his eyes wide as he reads detail over detail. He concluded his lesson awhile ago and sent the children off to do their chores, staying behind to rest. Midoriya lent him one of his notebooks for entertainment, especially with all the questions Hizashi was asking.

 

Most of the stories are from Yagi or Eraser’s other friends, because a stranger wouldn't know some of these details. Outside of the lists, detailing skills and magics, there are little blurbs about victories and failures. Hizashi likes the one about Eraserhead falling into a river while saving a kitten.

 

He's giggling over another story when Yagi sits with him, a grim smile on his face.

 

“Yagi? What’s up?”

 

“It’s nothing to concern yourself about. What are you looking at?”

 

Yagi leans over Hizashi, easily peering at the page the book was opened to. “Oh! You’re looking at the stories Midoriya wrote!” He seems a little nervous about Hizashi looking at them, but Hizashi assumes it’s due to a story about himself that he didn’t want Hizashi to read.

 

Hizashi chuckles. “Don’t worry, I haven’t found anything embarrassing about you. I was reading about how Eraserhead and Midnight once had to disguise themselves as each other.”

 

Yagi laughs, a bit of blood dripping out of his mouth. “They both hated that!” He says as he reaches for a napkin and wipes his face off. “Sorry to tear you away from those stories, but Eraserhead needs to talk to you. Maybe you could ask him for stories?”

 

Hizashi stands, shutting the book and handing it to Yagi. “Any idea what he’d want to talk about?”

 

Yagi shrugs, a strained smile on his face. It makes Hizashi feel weird, but he pushes his suspicion aside, patting Yagi on the shoulder as he turns to leave. “Thanks anyways!”

 

Hizashi casts one last glance at the book. “Please tell Midoriya I said thank you, and I would love to read more…” And then he’s off, making his way back to Eraserhead. He knocks quietly, waiting for Eraser’s answer.

 

“Enter.”

 

Hizashi slips in with a grin. “I didn't know you liked licorice, Eraser.”

 

The Sphinx raises a brow, “Yagi told you that?”

 

“It was in Midoriya’s notes.”

 

“Ah.”

 

The blond plops down beside him, pressing against his side. “You have more dislikes than likes, you know. I could only find three: cats, sleep and licorice candy….”

 

“I've started liking new things…”

 

The bard turns to him, nuzzling lightly against his neck- “Yeah? Like wh-”

 

He freezes when he sees the books, his face staring back at him from both. “This… is what you wanted to talk about?”

 

Anxiety spikes his heart rate. Sure, he told Eraserhead about his past, but he left out certain details. The large reward listed at the bottom taunts him, a reminder of his father’s power. More social and economic power than physical or magical, but power nonetheless.

 

“Are you going to turn me in?” He whispers, swallowing around the painful lump forming in his throat. His eyes burn, his stomach twisting as his anxiety grows. Is this it? Is this how he falls back into his cage? He knows if it comes to a fight he won't win, and not because he's weak. He can’t imagine himself lifting a hand against Eraserhead. He looks up to see a shocked expression on Eraser’s face.

 

“No! No. I wouldn't.” Eraserhead shakes his head as he leans forward, trying to convince Hizashi of his sincerity.

 

Hizashi tries to push his nervousness aside, but seeing his miserable young eyes staring at him from the page doesn’t help. “So what did you want to talk about? The people after me? My kingdom? The reward?” Each suggestion makes Hizashi feel worse.

 

Eraserhead sighs, eyes watching Hizashi’s face- watching Hizashi’s anxiety manifest. He wraps a dark wing around him in an attempt to comfort him. “I need to ask you about your magic.” Hizashi’s blood runs cold. “Did you steal your mother’s power?” Eraserhead asks, slowly pulling his wing away as Hizashi tenses.

 

Hizashi shudders, tears he had been holding back cascading down his cheeks. He opens his mouth, but can’t find the words. It’s like he’s being choked again, his father’s cold eyes boring into him. He pulls his legs to his chest and tries to ignore the memories flooding in.

 

“Hizashi? Are you alright?” Eraserhead’s tone softens, but Hizashi can’t make himself move. He wants to wipe away his tears and brush off the question, ignore the ghosts haunting him, but he’s frozen. Eraserhead nudges him. “Hizashi?”

 

Eraserhead stands, circling around so Hizashi can see him. His face is twisted with concern, unsure of what to do. “Hizashi, did you do something? Did something happen to you? I need to know.”

 

“I didn’t want it.” Hizashi replies, a whisper so quiet Eraserhead barely hears it.

 

When Eraserhead leans in to comfort, the blond pulls away quickly. “Don't-” he stands, arms out and limbs shaking. “N-not now…” Hizashi moves away from him, putting the table between them.

 

Eraserhead wants to comfort him, but keeps his distance, letting the bard have his space.

 

Hizashi scrubs at the tears on his cheeks before grabbing the book that holds details of his family. He opens it to the picture of his mother.

 

Hizashi looks just like her.

 

That only made him rub at his face more, willing the tears away.

 

“I was born with an enchanted voice, like my mother.” He carefully traces the picture. “She could manipulate and read people… During her adventuring days, she called herself Song Bird… her enemies tossed around Siren, or Banshee because of her knack for tricking men with her voice and body. She was a brilliant rogue.” Hizashi bites his lip as he smiles. “I was born with the ability to amplify my voice to the point of destruction- it was more harm than good for a long time. It's hard to tell a baby that he's hurting people because he's crying, hard to keep him from harming himself when his emotions run high...” Hizashi brushes his hand over his ears.

 

He stares at the portrait of his father beside hers, his face contorting into something closer to disgust.

 

“I inherited her abilities when she passed….”

 

Eraserhead pauses, letting Hizashi’s words sink in before he replies. He could charge ahead, and say something accusative, and get an answer, but it wouldn't feel right. Hizashi is still crying silently, finger stroking at the picture of his mother safely tucked within. His face is red and blotchy, and Eraserhead can hear him sniffling as mucus collects in his nose. Eraserhead feels guilty for even thinking Hizashi is anything other than sincere.

 

“What happened?” He asks, voice gentle. He wants to offer comfort, but perhaps it's better to let him come when he’s ready. Hizashi sinks to his knees as he hugs himself, no longer ready to run now that Eraserhead doesn't look ready to pounce.

 

“It was my father’s idea. To make me the ultimate king.” He takes a shuddering breath as he struggles to keep his voice steady. “I don't know how he got her to agree to the idea, or if she even agreed at all. With what I know now, I’m pretty sure she didn’t have a choice. Like I didn’t have a choice. Her skills for manipulation, and my sheer power- with one shout I could charm anyone within miles. Or at least, that's what he thought. I’ve never tried. I never wanted to.”

 

“He forced you to take her power?”

 

“Yeah. I-” Hizashi’s voice cracks as he begins to cry again. “She looked so scared and I-” Hizashi wipes away his tears and breathes deeply, calming himself down. “I left a week later. My coronation would have been a month from the day she died. I wouldn’t have minded becoming king with my own power, I could have improved the fate of others, even if I wouldn’t be able to escape my own.”

 

Hizashi lets out a pitiful laugh. “But after that... I couldn’t be a ruler. If the people knew the truth, they would never accept me. I couldn’t accept it. ” He pauses, gathering his words. “I should probably leave here, shouldn’t I? I’m a danger to whoever’s near me.”

 

Eraserhead stands suddenly, making Hizashi freeze. “The last thing I want is for you to leave.”

 

“He owns me. He has enough money to destroy and find whatever he wants- you would only be endangering everyone here.”

 

Hizashi carefully pulls his hair up and out of his face, tying it back. He looks up, eyes red and watery, pale skin blotchy. “It wouldn’t make sense to risk everyone here when you’ve worked so hard to give them such a good life… I’ve worked hard to make sure Hizashi Yamada and Present Mic are not the same people, but… “ He stares at the open book detailing his bard exploits, and the book detailing his life of royalty.

 

Recognizable. Easily. The eyes, the face. And if you held up Midoriya’s drawing of him presently?

 

Hizashi saw his mother, through and through.

 

“It’s only a matter of time before someone connects the dots.”

 

Eraser’s face furrows as he listens, a low growl emanating from him.

 

“It doesn’t matter.”

 

All of Eraserhead’s doubts are gone. It is hard to believe he could have had any in the first place. How could he doubt Hizashi like this? After all he's done, purely from the goodness of his heart. There's no money, glory, or fame for him here. Only… himself. Eraserhead’s heart aches. Hizashi looks up.

 

“I'd be putting everyone in danger! I'd be putting you in danger. I don't want that.”

 

“And I don't want you out there alone, dealing with them yourself. The children are already in danger. It's why we have all those spells up in the first place. We would all be much safer together.”

 

“Heh. Why must you be so rational about it?” Hizashi sniffles, but there's the slightest hint of a smile on his face.

 

“Someone has to be rational for you, you big dork.” Eraserhead attempts a comforting smile, hoping his fangs are well hidden. Hizashi laughs. Everything will be fine. Eraser stands with his hind legs and leans over the table to shut the books. Hizashi gives him a curious glance.

 

“You know, I don’t think you’re that recognisable.” Eraserhead says. “The prince had sadness etched into his face. The bard has happiness.” Eraserhead tries another smile. “And even if they are the same person, I don’t want to lose them.”

 

Arms wrap around Eraserhead as Hizashi rushes forwards. “Thank you.” He mutters quietly, face pressed up against Eraserhead’s mane. “I don’t deserve you.”

 

Eraserhead ignores how willingly he leans into it, pressing his face into the bard’s neck and breathing him in. His voice is soft, pressed against his ear.

 

“What I deserve isn't your decision.” He presses a small kiss to his cheek. “You should take a moment, wash up if you would like… I feel like Yagi’s news about Endeavor has to do with you, and that’s why he shared this with me… It wasn't my intent to snoop.”

 

Hizashi nods, sniffling lightly as he pulls his cloak tighter around him. “Alright…“ He leans close enough to press a kiss to the sphinx’s nose. “Thank you, Eraser.”

 

Eraser’s wings fluff up happily even as he tries to hide behind a frown. He leans against Hizashi’s side, urging him up off the floor and acting as his support. He waits patiently while Hizashi washes up in the bathroom, sitting outside like a loyal pet. He flicks his tail in irritation at the thought. He's no one's pet. He's just got a crush. A big, mushy crush on a tall, handsome man.

 

“Heh, you remind me of a puppy, waiting for me!” Hizashi jokes as he comes out. Some of his hair is wet, hanging free of his ponytail. It's a charming look.

 

“Fine, I’ll leave.” Eraserhead says in a monotone voice. He turns, amused by the blond’s loud and rapid protests. He looks back at Hizashi, who pouts, a far too adorable look on his face. Eraserhead’s cheeks heat up and he prays he isn’t blushing.

 

“Did you want me to leave you?” He snorts. Hizashi shakes his head no, looking cuter than a thirty year old should. “Then don’t compare me to a dog. ” He turns around and begins walking away again.

 

Hizashi quickly catches up with his stride. “What? Do you hate dogs?” Eraserhead nods, and Hizashi lets out a cry of mock-outrage. “What do you mean you hate dogs? How could anyone hate a dog?!”

 

“I’ve hated them my whole life.”

 

“Why?”

 

The Sphinx’s feathers ruffle as he thinks. “They disturb cats.”

 

“Have they bothered you?”

 

“Dogs have tried.”

 

The blond reaches over, ruffling his mane. “I'll protect you from the big ol’ mean dogs then.”  Eraserhead doesn't mean to start purring at the contact, or to stretch out and push into the touch, but he does.

 

Yagi stares at them from the doorway he's standing in. He heard them coming and had meant to greet them, but seeing Hizashi pet Eraserhead is certainly a sight. Eraserhead stops purring when he spots him, his mane bristling as he hides his embarrassment under anger.

 

“What do you want?”

 

“Ah, my apologies! I just meant to come and see how you were. You talked to him?”

 

“It's fine.” Eraserhead scowls as his tail whips Hizashi in the shin. Hizashi bites his lip to hold back his laughter so he can reply.

 

“Yagi, a part of me wishes you hadn't told him, but in the end I'm glad. We talked it out. And if you have any doubts yourself, you can ask me. I'm not here to trick anyone. I don't want anyone to feel unsafe around me, so I'll do what I can to make sure that isn't the case.”

 

“You’ve already done enough.” Eraserhead hums, slapping him in the side with his tail. “Remember your injuries.”

 

“One act of sacrifice does not make a hero,” Hizashi says. “My mother used to say that.”

 

Yagi bows his head. “You have the spirit of a hero. I see that now.”

 

“I’m no hero. I’m a bard that tried to destroy his own kingdom’s wealth out of spite.”

 

“And used it to feed the poor,” Eraserhead finishes. “That part of the story is just as important.”

 

Hizashi shrugs. “It was the least I could do.”

 

Eraserhead rolls his eyes and turns to Yagi. “Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?”

 

Yagi nods, then hesitates. “Yes, but I need to ask you a question.” Yagi pauses again, trying to find the right words. “Do you want your curse broken? Or would you like to stay a Sphinx?”

 

Eraserhead expected this question sooner or later, but that doesn’t mean he has an answer to it. Being a Sphinx isn’t the best. The only real upside not tied to magic is that he can fly, and the biggest downside is that he has to eat people to satisfy his hunger. In truth, he knows he wants to be a human again, but he’s scared. He’s lived as a Sphinx for so long…

 

“I want to continue protecting the kids. I don’t care what form I’m in.”

 

Hizashi looks between the two as Yagi continues. “I know you said it’s none of my business, but if we broke the curse, you could leave the village . You could see your friends again, go out and help kids on your own…”

 

Eraserhead bristles. “My powers were locked away for a reason.”

 

Yagi frowns. “You had control over your powers, I don’t understand-”

 

“It wasn't because of me.”

 

Eraserhead sighs heavily, looking around as if searching for any spies listening in, before casting a silence spell. It makes Hizashi shiver as he feels it forming in the air around them, like a haze of static electricity. Hizashi blinks- it's that important to keep secret?

 

“The Nomus, Yagi. They make them out of people, then curse them, morph them into demons. Or something practically indistinguishable, anyways.”

 

Yagi covers his mouth, his brow furrowed.

 

“They wanted to make me one. They chased me. Found me. So many people died because of me.”

 

“So they cursed you?” Yagi croaks. He clears his throat. “Did it backfire?”

 

“They didn't curse me.” Eraserhead growls. He tries to speak, but nothing else comes out, and a heavy stone settles in Hizashi's stomach as realization dawns. He wasn’t cursed by an enemy. He cursed himself, out of desperation and fear.

 

“What does that have to do with your curse?”

 

“I can fight better as a Sphinx. I can protect the children —“

 

“What if you could do both?” Hizashi interrupts. “What if you could transform back and forth?”

 

Eraserhead stays silent, opening his mouth to speak and then shutting it, over and over until he finally finds his words. “The curse is difficult to completely break.”

 

Hizashi grins, knowing that is as close to a confirmation as Eraserhead can give. “Then do you want us to help you partially break the curse?”

 

Eraserhead pauses, clearly thinking it over, his face twisting as he argues with himself inside his head. Eventually he speaks, a simple, confident “Yes” reaching their ears. It’s the best of both worlds. Protecting the children, and returning to himself. The real him. The person he was before all of this.

 

He almost forgot that person existed.

 

There was that version of him, and then there’s the new version of him, the one who creates and protects a village full of children just because no one else would. The version who can fly, can battle any man, can conquer anything.

 

If he can have both that person, and this new version of him, he would be complete.

 

Yagi smiles. “Alright then! Is there anything you can tell us about your curse?”

 

Eraserhead thinks for a moment before shaking his head. “No. My body is bound to my name and my name is bound here. That’s all. Part of the curse was keeping me from ever uttering it.”

 

Yagi sighs, brushing his bangs back. “You would make your own curse this difficult.”

 

“That’s the point of a curse, Yagi. It’s only logical that the one being cursed shouldn’t be able to break it.”

 

Hizashi hums softly as he closes his eyes, thinking.

 

“Let’s talk to the kids and then head to the door. You may be the riddle master here, but you also have the riddle solver.” He gives the Sphinx a wink, grinning as his eyes burn bright.

 

“I’m sure with a little more info, I can figure out some plan.”

Chapter Text

Eraserhead agrees, though he seems hesitant. He still forces Hizashi to sit and wait while he finds Shinsou, collecting Eri, Shouto and Midoriya along the way. Hizashi abandoned his time-out by that point and is by the door, puzzling over the runes and sigils left on the wood. It's just as cryptic as the first time Hizashi saw it, and he can feel a tingling in his scalp as if he’s being warned.

 

Duly noted.

 

Names... Hizashi knows the power of words better than most. He could use them to raise or destroy, burn or build. But a name… a name is more than just a word.

 

A name is an identity.

 

A name is a story.

 

A name is the foundation of someone’s being.

 

A name can’t be created from thin air. It has to be accepted. But it also can’t be deleted.

 

“A person is immortal as long as his memory never dies.” He mumbles to himself, fingers hovering over the runes.

 

Something about them makes his heart ache. He lets out a shaky breath, one hand over his  chest. Everything about this dripped heartache. Loneliness. Eraserhead knew exactly what he was getting into when he cursed himself, his final emotions lingering with the spell he had cast. He had been scared.

 

He turns, green eyes falling on Eraserhead. “How does one remain in other’s memories if not by name?” He glances at Yagi. “What is it that keeps the memory of Eraserhead alive in your mind?”

 

The hero pauses, thinking. “I remember the good he did, and how dear he was to us. How he would give his life if it meant we would be safe.” Yagi sighs, scratching the back of his head. “I remember the quiet moments. The dark jokes over the campfire. His tenderness with the camp animals. The dangerous missions that barely promised any pay, just for the good of others.”

 

Hizashi nods, feeling something quiver in the runes under his hand. They may be unreadable, but he can feel them. And maybe feelings have more to do with it than any of them thought.

 

“What about you, Shinsou? Eri? Shouto? When he isn't here, what do you remember?”

 

“What he taught me. The confidence he gave me.” Shinsou says.

 

“His warm hugs and bedtime stories!” Eri smiles.

 

“His dependability. How safe I feel.” Shouto mumbles.

 

“Keep thinking of those things!”

 

Hizashi learned lots of magic in his travels as a bard, many a phrase he’s committed to memory and never used. As a bard, his power is in those words. He focuses on Eraser: kind smiles, protective growls, magic that seemed to confuse more than it answered.

 

“I think of soft words and smiles in the dead of night, and a certain something…” Eraser blushes as everyone else laughs softly. “I, the bard Present Mic, give you the name Eraserhead- accept it and be free!”

 

There was an energy humming throughout the air, just barely resonating within them. Eraserhead braced himself, the magic surrounding them feeling the same as the magic woven into Eraser’s body of fur and feathers, the magic making up the complex structure behind his fangs and femurs, the magic that makes anyone with a decent magical sense recognise him as something distinct in comparison to all else. The runes carved into the doorframe begin to glow, shining bright and filtering through an uncountable amount of colors that Hizashi knew no language could describe. Whispers of Eraserhead’s past seep out from underneath the edge of the door, memories that imprint themselves in their minds for only a moment before they slip away forever, the only sure thing about them being Eraser’s presence.

 

As Hizashi takes it all in, he realizes what they’ve released. Eraserhead’s original name surrounds them, shattered into a million indescribable parts that might have once formed a whole, still continuing to disintegrate into sands finer than any beach’s, and it's becoming even smaller still. They can do nothing but watch as Eraserhead takes a hesitant step towards the door, taking in a deep breath, and suddenly it feels as if the energy is clumping together again, except it’s starting to feel different. The magic is still distinctly a part of Eraserhead, but it feels as though it’s changing shape, becoming something different yet still being the same. The energy seems to surround Eraserhead, imbuing itself into his skin and merging with the old magic that make up his bones. There’s a flash of light around the Sphinx, and the energy is gone, leaving behind nothing but a door that’s been left slightly ajar and a newly named Sphinx.

 

Silence falls over the room, the air now thick with emotion, rather than magic. Eraserhead’s fur bristles and his feathers puff up as he feels the eyes of his friends and family on his back. He turns to look at them, suddenly doubting his decision as he feels his body shift, as something feels… different. Hizashi seems to notice his fear, taking a step towards him.

 

“Do you want me to go in with you?”

 

“No.” Eraserhead shakes his head, his voice gruff, brimming with emotion that he doesn’t care to try and hide.  

 

Eraserhead steps into the room.

 

It's a small basement- more of a root cellar, really. A wooden table sits in the middle, covered in rotting papers except for the one on top. The air is musty and stagnant, and everyone outside wrinkles their noses as the stale stench escapes. Hizashi closes the door slightly to mitigate the smell and give Eraserhead some privacy.

 

Eraserhead pauses as he stands in front of the table, memories bombarding him as he recalls the night he was cursed. He balances his front paws on the table, keeping his eyes closed as he steadies his breathing. He can remember the screaming and the smell, and how much worse it was afterwards. After he traded his freedom for power.

 

He opens his eyes, reading the name he wrote on the paper so long ago- speaking his name aloud as he imagines the future he once thought was impossible.

 

“I am Aizawa Shouta, and I want to be free!”

 

Sparks fly from the floor. Colors whizz by his eyes so fast he can’t comprehend them all. Red, yellow, orange, blue, green, purple.

 

Black.

 

Scalding heat burns his body like he’s been set on a funeral pyre. Smoke singes his nose. Embers catch in his mane.

 

When he blinks awake, he isn’t in the same position as when he entered. He’s smaller, lighter, thinner. There’s no fur or tail or wings.

 

He’s human.

 

Shouta sits, staring at his legs. His human legs. His gaze shifts to his hands as he opens and closes them, taking in the scars he never thought he'd see again. He tries to stand, accidentally knocking something over in the process.

 

“Eraser?” Shouta turns to see Hizashi peeking at him through the doorway, cheeks burning bright. Shouta starts to stumble forwards, wanting to hug him and thank everyone properly, before realizing why Hizashi is blushing furiously. His own cheeks begin to heat up.

 

After a long moment of staring at each other, Hizashi averts his gaze and clears his throat. He sticks his arm through the doorway. “I uh, I have some clothes for you, but, um, they might not fit.”

 

Shouta steps over and takes the clothes. “Thank you.”

 

His voice is barely a whisper as he accepts the clothing, his body feeling like it had fallen asleep and is slowly tingling back to life. He wobbles and sways as he pulls Hizashi’s pants on, huffing at the tight squeeze.

 

How does he fit into such skinny pants? Oh right, no butt.

 

The sphinx-turned-newly-human manages to tie them, taking a step out of the small room and regarding everyone.

 

Hizashi is holding a shirt tight to his chest, staring with wide eyes.

 

Aizawa can't find words, his own eyes drawn to Hizashi’s glowing green ones. He drags his eyes away to look at everyone else. They're all staring too. Yagi and the kids look on with wide eyes, awe and relief etched upon their features. Eri is the first to move, walking forward slowly as she stares at Aizawa’s human form.

 

“Sensei?” She asks quietly, staring at his face. He isn't sure what she's asking, but he can tell the change is alarming her. She's too young to adjust to such change on her own. He carefully kneels down after pulling on the shirt Hizashi was clutching in his hands. He holds out his arms. Eri’s eyes widen and she smiles, laughing and crying as she leaps into his arms. He hugs her tight, smiling up at everyone over her shoulder.

 

“Sensei, you still have your hair!” Eri tugs on the black locks. “I can braid it even better now!”

 

“I can’t wait.” Aizawa winces. Everything about the world as a human feels like a new perspective. He can feel the slightest breeze against his skin, the brush of the wood against his feet. His hands move so precisely -- and he isn’t even used to having them back yet.

 

“You did it.” Shouto says, stepping forward from the crowd. “You broke it.”

 

“Not me.” Aizawa’s eyes meet Hizashi’s. “Him.”

 

“No. Us.” Hizashi corrects.

 

“You’re right,” Aizawa says, closing his eyes and hugging Eri a little tighter. “Thank you all so much.”

 

“It’s good to see you like this again,” Yagi says. Aizawa didn’t have to open his eyes to know the man is smiling awkwardly.

 

The moment is quickly broken by a growling stomach. Aizawa’s eyes shoot open, looking up at everyone and chuckling in embarrassment. “I’d love to go eat something, if you don’t mind. I haven’t really had fulfilling food in a while.”

 

Shinsou winces at the comment, but then a revelation hits him. “Oh thank god! I’ll never have to stumble upon you eating someone ever again!”

 

Hizashi follows, watching the man in complete awe as he moves. He’s oddly silent - a bystander as Aizawa eats and grumbles about his new body feeling weird.

 

The blond snaps out of it long enough to excuse himself, slipping outside into the cool night air.

 

He takes a deep breath, his heart thudding fast. It feels like he hasn't been able to breathe- the man he calls Eraserhead has stolen his breath away. His hand clutches over his heart as he chuckles to himself. The man is most definitely a skilled rogue- he managed to steal Hizashi’s heart without him even noticing.

 

And he hasn't even shared his real name yet.

 

Back inside the house, Aizawa looks at the empty doorway as he chews some food, a happy Eri sitting on his lap. Shinsou, Shouto and Midoriya excitedly whisper to Yagi, who is shooting him with quick glances every now and then. Aizawa can already guess they're trying to plan some sort of surprise party, but he doesn't care. If they'll have fun, he can deal with it.

 

He excuses himself once his plate is empty, though Eri is still clinging to him after he deposits his dishes in the kitchen. He relents and carries her with him as he steps outside. Hizashi is still standing there, leaning against the side of the house as he looks up at the bright sky.

 

“Mic-sensei!” Eri says happily. Aizawa nods, as if she has helped him find the man.

 

“There you are. Are you feeling alright?”

 

Hizashi laughs, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“Yeah, I needed some air. The sun feels nice, doesn't it?”

 

“Sure. But I'm not here for small-talk.”

 

“Then what would you like to talk about?” Hizashi asks, glancing at Eri. Eri has preoccupied herself with Aizawa’s hair, braiding it and then combing her work apart, before starting another one.

 

Aizawa also glances at Eri, waiting for her to finish braiding before speaking. “Hey Eri? Would you like to head inside? Mr. Yagi would probably love it if you braided his hair.”

 

“Ok!” Aizawa sets the little girl down and watches her run into the house, shouting for Yagi.

 

Aizawa turns back to Hizashi, looking at him with soft eyes. “Are you ok with all of this?” Aizawa motions at his body.

 

Hizashi stares for a moment. “Do you think I’m upset because you look different?” The blond starts laughing, his smile splitting his face. He yanks Aizawa close, arms wrapping tight around him, hands tangling in the black strands.

 

Aizawa melts into it slowly, his arms- human arms - slipping around Hizashi. He can feel the blond tremble against him, feel the damp spot on his shoulder.

 

“I think as long as I have you, it's perfect,” The bard whispers softly into his hair, squeezing him a little tighter.

 

Aizawa relaxes in Hizashi’s arms, suddenly exhausted. He doesn't feel like moving, but he doesn’t have anywhere to be. He rubs Hizashi’s back as he cries into Aizawa’s shoulder, clearly overcome by everything.

 

“I haven't even told you my name yet,” Aizawa whispers, leaning back as Hizashi stands to look at him.

 

“Do you want to?”

 

“It’s Shouta. Aizawa Shouta.”

 

“Aizawa Shouta. I like it.” The tension in Hizashi’s shoulders releases. “It rolls off my tongue.”

 

“It feels like rust on mine.” Aizawa shakes his head and Eri’s last braid unravels. “It’s been so long since anyone called me that.”

 

“Do you like your name? Or would you rather be called something else?”

 

“Eraserhead is hardly the name for a human,” Aizawa points out. “My students would never take me seriously.”

 

“I usually tell people to call me Present Mic.” Hizashi counters. “Being called something abnormal isn’t that uncommon.”

 

Aizawa snorts. “Just because you call yourself something terrible doesn’t mean I have to.”

 

Hizashi gasps in mock offense. “Excuse you! Present Mic is an excellent name!” Hizashi can’t keep a straight face, giggling as he tries to appear angry.

 

Aizawa seems to be having difficulty keeping a smirk off of his face as well. “I have to admit, the name suits you.” Hizashi moves to cheer, but Aizawa continues. “No one else could be loud or annoying enough for it.”

 

Hizashi pouts, playfully punching his arm. “Shut up, you know you love me.”

 

Aizawa leans in closer, smiling softly. “I do. How could I not?”

 

Hizashi blinks and stares, his light blush darkening as he replays Aizawa’s confession. That was a confession, right? His expression looks too sincere to be a joke. He can feel his heart beating in his ears as Aizawa leans in close enough for their noses to touch. He idly notes Aizawa is a little shorter than him like this.

 

“And if I said I was falling in love too, what would you say to that?”

 

“Let's fall together.”

 

“Remember what I said about leaps of faith?” Hizashi says, running his hands through Aizawa’s hair. “I think we’ve both jumped.”

 

“And we’ve landed alive,” Aizawa finishes.

 

Hizashi trails his fingers along Aizawa’s jaw and stares into his eyes. Aizawa brings a hand to Hizashi’s hair, combing through it as he stares back. They stay like that for a moment, admiring each other until Aizawa can’t take it anymore. He leans forward and closes what little distance they had.

 

Aizawa quickly breaks the kiss and pulls away just as the door opens. Yagi steps out, looking between them for a moment, before turning around and walking back inside. Hizashi shoots a glance at Aizawa, noticing the bags under his eyes.

 

“Do you want me to take you to your room?”

 

“Is that an offer?” Aizawa grins, but with his drooping eyes it looks silly instead of sultry. Hizashi snorts.

 

“You look exhausted. Maybe after your nap. Come on, let’s go.”

 

Aizawa sighs but doesn't put up much of a fight as Hizashi leads him towards the stairs. Eri waves as they pass the door; Yagi’s hair is sporting messy braids, and he watches them go with a pitiful look. Shinsou and Shouto follow them to the base of the stairs, hiding their concern.

 

“I'm just going to take a nap you two. Can you make sure the perimeter is good for me? And--”

 

“We can handle it, Sensei.” Shinsou says. Shouto nods in agreement. “I know your routine, don't worry about it. Get some sleep.”

 

“Sleep sounds nice,” Aizawa admits. To Hizashi, he adds, “You didn’t tell me how exhausting curse breaking was.”

 

“My energy reserves just function better than yours.” Hizashi insists, shoving the door open.

 

Aizawa takes a minute to process what life as a sphinx must have looked like to humans. “Is that how I slept?” Aizawa observes the sorry excuse for a nest. It’s larger than any bed he’s ever seen, but the lumps and torn mattress make it look like a nightmare to sleep in.

 

“You had to make room for your wings.” Hizashi points out. “But you have plenty of room now.”

 

Aizawa collapses on the bed, picking a piece of fur off the bare mattress and flicking it away from him. Exhaustion is making it difficult to keep his eyes open, but he fights it anyways, patting at the large space beside him and looking at Hizashi expectantly. Hizashi seems hesitant, but he crawls onto the mattress and lays down beside him. Aizawa scoots closer, taking one of Hizashi’s arms and slinging it over him, while wrapping his own arms around Hizashi.

 

“Shouta…” Hizashi tries to protest, but Aizawa knows he won’t move.

 

“It's cold.” Aizawa mumbles. As a sphinx, he didn't need any way to close the broken windows in his room, his fur keeping him warm and magic protecting him from sickness and disease. As Aizawa curls up to sleep, Hizashi seems to understand, pulling Aizawa closer and letting him drift off. Hizashi gently brushes his fingers through the rogue’s hair.

“Sleep tight…” He peppers kisses along Aizawa’s hairline before tucking the other’s head under his chin, pulling a leg up over the rogues and clinging to him much like a koala. Hizashi begins humming, soft and slow.

 

A goodnight wish, a wish of love and safety…

 

A thank you.

He dozes off not long after, a note on his tongue and Aizawa safe in his arms.

 


 

 

The room is much darker when Aizawa wakes. Hizashi shifts, squeezing Aizawa a little tighter in his sleep. Aizawa lets out an amused huff, looking at the window to try and gauge the time. He can feel a cool night breeze coming in through the jagged glass. He glances at the bedside table, unsurprised to find two plates of food waiting for them. He tries to escape Hizashi’s grasp without waking him, but he eventually stirs as well, releasing his grip and sitting up.

 

“Hey Eraser.” Hizashi mumbles, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. “Are you feeling better?”

 

Aizawa chuckles. “Are you? You look like you're struggling to stay awake.”

 

Hizashi shrugs, looking out at the dark sky. “I think I'm gonna go back to sleep in my room.” Hizashi stands and stretches, smiling at him sleepily.

 

“What's the rush?” Aizawa asks. He gestures to the food. “At least eat with me. And tell me how your wounds are feeling. Are there any strange pains?”

 

Hizashi relents and sits back down, unbuttoning his shirt so Aizawa can inspect his wounds. He eats a dinner roll, staying quiet until Aizawa finally pulls back, satisfied that Hizashi is healing well. He accepts the second plate and they sit against the headboard to eat together, their shoulders touching. It’s silent for a long moment as they eat, both of them pondering their life and the situation they now find themselves in.

 

“Are we going to make a habit of sharing a bed…?” Aizawa asks. He wants it to continue. His voice is casual, but the tight lines in his face betray his anxiety.

 

Hizashi smiles, pressing a kiss to his cheek. “Why, you want me to move in?”

 

The rogue can't meet his eyes. “It would only be logical- no wasted energy or space.”

 

“Then we're living in my place…” Not anywhere near the cursed room.

 

Aizawa nods, his face relieved. “The windows are busted in here anyways.”

 

Hizashi chuckles awkwardly. “Sorry about that…”

 

“You did nothing wrong, stop apologising.” Aizawa sighs, glaring softly. “If it happens again I don't want to hear any apologies, ok?”

 

Hizashi smiles, leaning forward and kissing his cheek. “...Alright, I'll stop.”

 

“Good.”

 

“I can put some spells up to help prevent damages, anyways-”

 

“When you're healed.” Aizawa says. His tone brooks no argument. Hizashi laughs and nods.

 

“Yeah, when I'm better. Or maybe I can have someone help me? I mean, it'll be our room, right?”

 

Aizawa huffs, but he relents with a nod.

 

“Tomorrow. And you're going to eat a full meal before we even think about forming the spells.”

 

“Yes, I get it!” Hizashi laughs.

 

The blond leans in, pressing a kiss to the rogue’s neck with a grin. Aizawa huffs, wrapping his arms around the other. “You're a fool.”

 

“You are too…” Hizashi’s grin is met with a glare that melts into a shy little smirk.

 

“How’s it feel to have a human body again?”

 

The rogue grunts, stretching his back. “It’s weird… I’m... I’m used to the mannerisms of a sphinx. I’ve fallen into habits for a different creature.”

 

“Like?”

 

“None of your business.”

 

Hizashi makes a humming noise in the back of his throat. “Is there something you’re embarrassed about?” He asks.

 

“No!” Aizawa hisses, tucking his arms around his waist. “It’s nothing!”

 

“That nothing has a lot of something behind it.” Hizashi grins. “Remember, I can tell when people lie to me.” He jostles his shoulder against Aizawa’s.

 

“Don’t use your powers on me!” He complains.

 

“I don’t have to.You’re a lousy liar.” Before he can press further, Shouto knocks on the door, and Aizawa tenses up as he feels his alarm wards disappearing.

 

“Shouto!” Aizawa shouts, jumping out of bed as Hizashi hastily buttons his shirt.

 

“The perimeter.” Shouto says. His voice shakes as he peeks through the door. “I could feel it coming-”

 

“The Noumu.” Aizawa hisses, sounding more like he did when he was a sphinx. Hizashi looks around for his bag before remembering it's in his new room. Dammit!

 

“Shouto- my ukulele, please! We’ll warn everyone else!”

 

“They're all in the tavern- we were going to have a party for you, sensei.”

 

Aizawa wants to stop and discuss that, but their lives are in danger. He can feel the Noumu’s power drawing closer as his hair raises with fear and his power.

 

“Keep everyone together! Tell Yagi to cast his strongest shielding spell! We’ll handle this!”

 

Aizawa turns to jump out of the window, but someone tugs on the back of his shirt. “You don't have wings anymore!” Hizashi pulls on Aizawa’s arm, running towards the door. Aizawa growls, a noise that sounds surprisingly inhuman, as he turns to follow Hizashi.

 

Yagi and his student are already on the edge of the village, looking into the open, seemingly empty fields. A large, flowerlike spell is being projected outwards by Yagi as he scolds his student into deactivating his magic.

 

“We already know there's something out there! Now's not the time to waste magic on a searching spell!”

 

“But All Might-”

 

A loud rustling drags them out of their conversation. The sunflowers shake around something large rapidly approaching the village.

 

“Aizawa, what will the beast be like?” Yagi’s sunken eyes are narrowed in concentration as he finishes his spell, the flower coming to life with a flash of red sparks and white stars.

 

“They're always different.”

 

Hizashi takes his bag from Shouto as he returns from grabbing it, holding his ukelele close, keeping himself even closer to Eraser. He gives Aizawa a sharp look. “Don't run off- we don't know what you’re capable of since the change.” Aizawa glares, but nods.

 

“And don't overdo it- you're a bard, not a tank. An injured one at that.”

 

“I’d rather be injured and in the battlefield than healed and defended by an army of children.”

 

“Fine.” Aizawa doesn’t have time to argue. “Go warn the kids!”

 

Hizashi is gone by the time he finishes.

 

He sprints into the tavern, breathing hard. “Everyone take cover! Lock the doors and don’t come out until we tell you to!”

 

The children stare at him with wide eyes. A half-complete party set up grinds to a stop.

 

Shinsou stands. “ Everyone go to the bunks!”

 

Most the children run to one edge of the room, lifting a secret door from the floorboards and heading in. Any kids that protest soon have glazed over eyes, slowly walking to the crowd of their peers. It’s painful to see Eri, usually so vibrant and full of emotion, blank faced and empty as she wanders over with the crowd. Shinsou winces, but quickly shakes away his expression.

 

“I’ll stay here and set up some more protective spells.” Shinsou turns to Hizashi. “Please take care of them. Sensei and Shouto are self sacrificing idiots, and from what I've seen, the other two are as well.” Shinsou pauses momentarily, snorting. “Now that I think about it, you're a self sacrificing idiot too. Just make sure none of you are maimed, alright?”  

 

Hizashi shakes his head at the dark humour.

 

“Of course I'll take care of them. There might not be a lot I can do, but I can certainly do it very well.”

 

He gives a strum on his newly-acquired ukulele, heading towards the door.

 

“If it decides to come here, I'll give a shout! You'll be sure to hear it!” With that said he turns and rushes back outside, spotting flashes of magic coming from one edge of the village. He starts to run, only to stop awkwardly, something nagging at the back of his mind. He looks around, focusing on the forest behind him as his magically-enhanced senses catch onto something. A feeling of intent? Intent to do what?

 

He changes course and stalks towards the woods, eyes and ears straining as he tries to feel the magic from before. Is someone else there? Could the Noumu be a diversion? His heart crawls in his throat as he swallows, steeling himself despite the shiver running through him.

 

Voices echo from the grass- older, not children. Someone was definitely beyond the barrier.

 

Before Hizashi can get a look, someone grabs his hand, yanking him back.

 

Midoriya looks at him, wide eyed. “You felt it too?”

 

“I heard it.” Hizashi says. “Stay behind me.”

 

“The Noumu... it needs a master. Someone who controls it, gives it direction.” Midoriya’s hand creeps towards his notebook, reciting information. “The Noumu are strong, but they aren't smart. They can’t think for themselves --”

 

“Shhh.” Hizashi clamps a hand around Midoriya’s mouth. Whoever the intruder is, they’re creeping closer. Footsteps crackle on dead leaves. Shadows fall over tree trunks, distorted, as if the person is hiding behind magic.

 

“We’re only after the adult, but if we have time we could look into the children.” An older, stern voice says. A voice which Hizashi recognises, unfortunately. Kurogiri continues to speak. “This is a capture mission, don’t get too rough.”

 

A young and oddly raspy laugh tears through the air. Hizashi recognises this voice as well, his breathing becoming difficult. “He’ll do anything to protect those kids, right? Can we go after them? It’ll make the job easier and more entertaining for us.” Shigaraki replies. Hizashi doesn’t have to see him to know he is wearing a creepy grin from underneath the hands of his victims.

 

Hizashi only encountered them once, but once was enough to put fear in his heart. He ducks behind a bush, dragging Midoriya with him as he recalls how vicious the two had been, chasing him for the large bounty on his head. That was the last time he traveled with any companions. He couldn't bear the thought of travelling with other people after they... and now they're after Aizawa. Surely they'll come for him too if he reveals himself. Sweat beads on his temple as he thinks over his options.

 

Hizashi isn't expecting Midoriya to whisper quietly “It's us… they must have followed us…We could create a miasma, or an illusion…”

 

Hizashi covers Midoriya’s mouth again, giving him a reassuring grin and a thumbs up. He doesn't feel reassured though. He isn't well enough to be casting…

 

But he’s even less ready to be attacked.

 

He closes his eyes, humming softly. A heavy fog surrounds them, obstructing their own vision. “Keep close to me and do not believe a thing you see…”

 

And then he begins to sing the song he created for Aizawa, a low menacing growl surrounding them, the crunching sound of heavy paws on dry leaves. That should be enough to buy them time- a wall of fog thicker than the forest’s canopy and an angry sphinx that can do enough damage to pass off as the real deal.

 

“Return back to your master, Midoriya.”

 

The green haired boy looks shocked. “But you're injured!”

 

“Someone as inexperienced as you will be killed against mercenaries like this.” Hizashi warns. “I can handle myself. Leave. Get me help, if you must.”

 

Midoriya looks reluctant, but after hearing a surprised shout from his master, he turns and runs. Hizashi lets out a breath of relief, relaxing his shoulders before the fake sphinx’s roar makes him tense again. The two men’s magic radiate an aura of anger and malice as they fight.

 

“Isn't he supposed to be human again?” Shigaraki hisses. He throws his magic around like a toddler, damaging everything in front of him. It disgusts Hizashi, but he swallows his distaste and pushes more energy into the illusion.

 

If they want him as a human, Hizashi thinks, I need to make them think he's still a sphinx. It worries him that they found out so quickly, but he’ll have to worry about that later.

 

He hums under his breath, closing his eyes and focusing his will on the illusion. How Eraserhead- no, how Shouta felt, and smelled, how graceful he had been, jumping or flying about. How powerful his voice was. And how dangerous he felt to be around when they first met. He can feel his power draining, but his foes’ cursing spurs him on.

 

Please, believe it! Leave us alone!

 

With one final roar the illusion finally breaks the villains’ resolve; they curse and turn to flee. Shigaraki calls for Kurogiri to activate their stones, and their magic vanishes with them. He gasps and sighs with relief as he collapses against the bush he's hiding in, uncaring of the scratchy, poking branches.

 

He can feel his consciousness fading as his body protests the exertion, and he looks up with unfocused vision to see a sphinx approaching him. His illusion? Just how much power did he use, for it to linger so long? He closes his eyes and passes out to the feeling of warm fur against his face.

 


 

 

“Hizashi? Hizashi!” He wakes to the sound of shouting in his ear. Something presses on his wrist, like someone checking for a pulse.

 

“Ugh,” Hizashi tries to bat them away, fighting to keep his eyes closed. Sleep. That is all he wants.

 

“Wake up!”

 

“What?” Hizashi can’t hold back the annoyance in his voice. Shouta leans over him, worry clear in his eyes.

 

“Can you stand?” Shouta asks, tearing his eyes away and looking around them. Hizashi groggily tries to sit up, failing when he finds the lack of support from his arms. Luckily, Shouta catches him before he slams his head into the ground.

 

That’s when Hizashi notices that Shouta’s nonhuman form is back. Shouta lowers him back onto the ground, pulling his wing out from under him and staring into his eyes.

 

“This is why you need to rest properly.” Shouta mutters, stroking Hizashi’s cheek idly with his wing, acting as if the last day or so hasn’t happened. Before Hizashi can ask, Shouta stands up and turns away. “MIDORIYA!”

 

“WHAT?” Midoriya calls, obviously from a distance. Hizashi wishes he could sit up, but he feels dizzy and weak, and he isn’t sure what he’s seeing is real.

 

“COME HERE!” Shouta yells, obviously exasperated. He turns back to Hizashi, before pressing a soft kiss to his forehead. “I’ll be right back.” He whispers, lips still pressed against Hizashi’s forehead.

 

“...S-Sphinx?” Hizashi stutters as Shouta pulls away.

 

“Yeah.” Shouta nods. “I'll explain later. For now you need to rest.”

 

Hizashi can feel magic building as Shouta leans in again, his nose itching. He can feel a wave of calm overtake him as Shouta kisses his forehead again- a sleeping spell. Hizashi doesn't try to resist, though he knows he can. He trusts Shouta. He falls into a deep sleep without a sound, unaware of the hands grabbing him gently, or of the strong arms that carry him to his bed. He remains unaware as the children come to visit him, all of them offering whatever help they can.

 


 

 

Hizashi wakes up to a comfortably warm room and a luxuriously soft pillow. The air smells like flowers and bread, and a relaxing chime jingles with a breeze he can't feel. He cracks open his eyes to see his room- it looks the way it should, but he can feel a heavy aura of magic over everything. He tries to concentrate, to pull apart the threads in his mind and see what spells are being used, but a headache flares behind his eyes and he stops with a wince.

 

“Promise to stay in bed and rest, and I might let up on my Erasure spell.” Shouta lays beside him, resting on his side. His chin is propped in one hand, the other wrapped around a cup of tea.

It’s odd, seeing him act so…

Human.

Stretched out lazily, sipping on a drink.

Hizashi grunts as he sits up, pouting. “ I wasn’t the one who attacked the village…”

 

“No, but you’re injured all the same.”

 

“Please,” Hizashi snorts. “You make it sound like I was stabbed again or something.”

 

“A heroic act isn’t created by the injuries obtained, but by the heart of the person doing them.” Aizawa says, raising his glass. “You should drink and rest. We have a lot to take care of in the morning.”

 

“We?”

 

Hizashi has a lot of questions. Questions about Shigaraki, and the children, and his apparent ability to now shape-shift back into a sphinx at will, but out of everything, his mind just wants to focus on that. They haven’t discussed it since the confession, but he still feels like this is what he wants. He clears his throat as Shouta hands him the rest of the tea.

 

“Yes, we. Us. Plural. This is something I want for myself. And I won't deny that, or keep it secret.”

 

Hizashi lets out a shaky sigh of relief before downing the rest of the tea dramatically. He puts the cup aside and ignores the clattering it makes as he returns Aizawa’s searching stare.

 

“I want this too, Shouta. I want to try. So let’s try together. I want to let myself love you without any doubts.” He says, hands reaching out. Shouta meets him halfway, their hands twining together as they lean in, foreheads resting together as the bask in each other’s presence.

 

They sit in silence until Hizashi’s mind catches up to the situation. He was just unconscious, so how much did he miss? How much time has passed? Is everyone else alright? He pulls back and fixes Shouta with a slight frown.

 

“Shouta.”

 

“Yes? What’s wrong?”

 

“I have so many questions.” he says quickly, staring at him with curious eyes. Shouta blinks. “How long was I out? Is everyone else okay? Are you still cursed? I didn’t just hallucinate you being a sphinx again, did I? Is there--”

 

Shouta reaches forward to cover Hizashi’s mouth before he can ask any more questions, sighing deeply. He ducks his head, but Hizashi can see the faintest hint of a smile. Shouta takes his hand away only for Hizashi to start up again. This time he’s silenced by a kiss, firm yet gentle, that steals his breath away. He can only sit and smile as Shouta huffs at him.

 

“You were only asleep for about a day. Yagi was injured, but he’s on the mend too. Most of his injuries were self-inflicted from pushing himself, but because of him, no one else got hurt.” Hizashi nods, and Shouta continues with an exasperated expression. “At least, I could say that, but that Midoriya boy somehow tripped and broke his arm during the whole fiasco. He didn’t even notice until he tried to help carry you back. I gave him a stern talking to about keeping focused. Being unaware of one’s injuries can lead to grave consequences in the field-”

 

Hizashi can’t help but laugh, feeling relieved and amused in equal measure. Of course Shouta would try to make it a lesson. Shouta manages a slight grin at Hizashi’s giggle-fit. It doesn’t last long, as Hizashi clears his throat and claps his hands on Shouta’s shoulders. His eyes widen along with his grin, even as Shouta blinks in question.

 

“Now. What the hell is going on with you and the curse? Why were you a sphinx again? Was I hallucinating? Was it my spell? Was it really you?

 

Hizashi stops before Shouta needs to interrupt him again, watching him with wide, curious eyes as Shouta rubs at the back of his neck. He keeps looking at Hizashi as if expecting him to say more, but Hizashi just waves his hand and makes an expectant expression. Shouta sighs, shrugging and crossing his arms.

 

“It was me. Though I did see your illusory spell. Very nice work.”

 

Hizashi sits up straighter at the praise. “Why, thank you! But please, continue.”

 

“I transformed when trying to use the protective spells I laid around the village. I think the magic was tied to that form- that I changed back because of it.”

 

“Well that… doesn’t really make sense.” Hizashi mutters, tapping at his chin. “Your magic is your magic. Let’s think about this. You were trying to use protective spells- did you use many of those before you became a sphinx?”

 

“I’m sure I did. Over campsites and the like. Not that I can remember specifics.”

 

“And how did it feel, when you tried to use the spells? Was the transformation instantaneous, or could you have stopped it? Could you try now? It’s clear you can change back. So why not try and let me feel it with my sensing?”

 

“You just want me to lift the spell suppressing your magic, don’t you?” Shouta huffs with a grin. Hizashi grins back. “Okay, I’ll do it. But only so you can sense me and help me figure out what’s going on.”

 

Hizashi nods, watching as Shouta concentrates. He can feel the spell lifting as his magical senses expand to their normal level. It’s a relief, but he starts to feel tired as well. He really overdid it with that illusion spell. He gives Shouta a thumbs up when he’s sure the spell is completely gone, focusing on Shouta as he starts another spell. Shouta’s magic feels like a smooth surface to Hizashi’s senses, rigid and neat. It feels like a shielding spell, meant for a large area, and Hizashi can see sweat beading on Shouta’s skin right before he starts to glow. He can feel Shouta’s magic shifting inside his glowing form, still tied to the same spell, and still just as rigid, but now it feels like a heavy weight. The transformation is quick, and Hizashi laughs as the bed dips from the extra weight. Shouta catches himself on his front paws as he stops glowing, his body returned to the sphinx-form again. He grunts and shifts around, trying not to squish Hizashi or fall off the bed.

 

“Just lie down!” Hizashi laughs, reaching out to grab Shouta and pull him close. Shouta falls across Hizashi’s lap with a grunt, still wiggling as he tries to keep his weight off of him. “It doesn’t hurt, so stop wiggling! Please!”

 

“Fine.” Shouta grumbles, finally falling still. Hizashi pets at him like he’s a lapcat. Shouta pouts but doesn’t try to move or ask him to stop. “Now, can you tell me what you felt? To me, it feels like it just won’t work until I do it that way, and I just- find myself like this.”

 

“I think maybe your curse turned into a blessing- from my point of view, at least.” Hizashi grins as Shouta shoots him a puzzled look. “What I mean is, the curse didn’t get broken, not fully. It just changed, because of what we did. Look, you cursed yourself for the power to protect everyone, right?”

 

Shouta nods, eyes narrowing as he thinks hard.

 

“And you felt like you had to sacrifice yourself to do it. You tied your protectiveness to that curse, and all your other emotional baggage. Isn’t that why our support helped you break it? Perhaps break isn’t the right word- we changed it. All of us. We changed your curse, and now its...this? This weird transformation spell? You clearly blocked my magic without transforming, but when your protection spell was being cast, I could feel your magic changing. Getting heavier, for lack of a better term. Heavy like you are now.”

 

“You said I wasn’t hurting you!”

 

“You’re not!” Hizashi laughs, rubbing his hands over Shouta’s fur to muss it up. “It’s just- it feels like your magic is stored inside that twisted spell now. Your Erasure magic- you couldn’t use it as a sphinx, right?”

 

“No. That was the point. I was hiding it, so they couldn’t steal it.”

 

“But all the other magic you could do was put into the curse.” It's a statement more than a question, but Shouta nods anyways. “So now, when you use that magic, you’re using the curse with it. And sealing away your Erasure. Does this make sense? I’m just guessing here-”

 

“It feels right.” Shouta says. His expression is thoughtful as he gazes up at the ceiling. “I can stop the transformation, but then the spell I was planning to use just stops too. Erasure has been the only thing that’s worked without a flaw in my human form. It’s a good explanation.”

 

“We can definitely do more research-”

 

“Maybe later.” Shouta says, yawning wide and exposing his sharp teeth. “All I need to know is how to control it.”

 

Hizashi smiles, reaching up to comb through Shouta’s mane. It feels the same as when Shouta was human, and it amazes Hizashi that his hair is just naturally this thick and gorgeous. Shouta’s eyes start to close, and Hizashi scratches harder, getting him to purr. His wings stretch out and shake a bit as he gets comfortable, making Hizashi bite his lip and smile. Then Shouta’s wings come back in, pulling Hizashi closer as Shouta opens his eyes and looks up at him. He shifts so he isn’t lying in Hizashi’s lap anymore, his warm body pressing closer until Hizashi can feel Shouta’s purring through his whole body and not just his hands. Hizashi moves his hands up to Shouta’s face, stroking his jaw softly as they gaze into each other’s eyes, all other thoughts lost as they completely miss the sound of approaching footsteps down the hall.

 

“Mister Aizawa!” Midoriya says as he forces his way through the door, yelping when he sees the two of them so close. He quickly turns to face the other direction as he lingers in the doorway. “Ack! Oh, sorry!”

 

Shouta just growls, pulling his wings back and jumping off the bed. “I should have locked that door…”

 

“I’m sorry! It’s just- All Might-sensei wants to talk to you! And he sent me-”

 

“I got it, problem child.” Shouta huffs. Hizashi bites his lip to withhold his laughter at the situation. Midoriya twitches and peeks over his shoulder, turning with another yelp when he sees Shouta standing so close. The sling on his arm is obvious now that Hizashi looks, but it doesn’t seem like Midoriya is in pain. “Go and tell him I’ll be there soon.”

 

“O-okay!” Midoriya bows and slips out of the room, turning on his heel to close the door behind him as an afterthought. Hizashi starts laughing once the sound of his footsteps disappear. Shouta just groans and shines brightly as he transforms back into his human form. Hizashi laughs harder when Shouta appears naked, his clothes completely destroyed by the magical transformation from earlier. Shouta just mutters and raids Hizashi’s drawers, complaining about Hizashi’s pants not fitting him properly. He compensates by finding a large shirt that hangs low, hiding his embarrassing muffin top.

 

“So, did your clothes do that the other time too?” Hizashi asks with laughter in his voice. Shouta grumbles, crossing his arms and revealing the tight fit of the sleeves on his biceps.

 

“Yes. I was fortunate enough to be alone that time.” Shouta approaches the bed and sits down hard, making Hizashi bounce up. “I didn’t try to change back until everything else was taken care of. I only thought about it when I decided to go to sleep and even then it took me awhile to figure out how to change back.”

 

“Does it work the same way?”

 

“Well, it worked once I came over here to use Erasure on you, to keep you from waking up and knocking yourself out again.”

 

“Oh, so you weren’t alone, I just wasn’t awake!”

 

“Semantics.”

 

Hizashi snorts. “Sure. Anyways, you should bring all your old clothes here. You did say you wanted to stay, right? Not that I mind you borrowing my clothes…”

 

They fall into a comfortable silence as Shouta stares at Hizashi, lost in his thoughts. Hizashi is loathe to interrupt him, but they did just get interrupted for a reason.

 

“So, are we going to go find out what Yagi wants to talk about?” Hizashi asks, flipping back his blankets. Shouta stops him with a hand on his knee.

 

“You should stay and rest-”

 

“I’m tired of sleeping! And I don’t want to miss everything!”

 

“We don’t even know what he wants to talk about--”

 

“Exactly! I’m curious. I’ll take it easy, okay? And I’ll hold your hand.” Hizashi sing-songs the last part of his reply, wiggling his fingers as he prepares to stand up. Shouta rolls his eyes but takes his hand, helping him out of bed. Hizashi smiles and kisses his cheek.

 

They forego boots and outerwear when Shouta informs Hizashi that Yagi and Midoriya are staying upstairs in the tavern. Hizashi grins and pulls out a pair of fuzzy slippers from his magic bag, laughing at Shouta’s expression.

 

“What? I like to be comfortable, and there was room. Just wait until I have time to unpack more than just my daily clothes!”

 

Shouta spares a glance at the dresser he took his borrowed clothes from, frowning as he remembers how full they were. Hizashi’s grin just grows as he pulls out a fuzzy robe as well. Shouta can only stare as Hizashi dresses himself in the fuzzy attire.

 

Yagi is sitting at the bar by the kitchen when they emerge from the hallway leading to Hizashi’s suite. Midoriya’s voice can be heard from the kitchen, his excited tone at odds with Shouto’s and Shinsou’s quieter ones. Yagi turns to greet them as they join him at the bar, Shouta narrowing his eyes at Yagi’s sly smirk. Yagi coughs and ducks his head at the glare, reconsidering whatever he was about to say.

 

“Good afternoon, you two.” he stutters slightly, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m glad to see you up and about, Mic.”

 

“I’m glad to be up and about!” Hizashi replies cheerfully. Shouta just nods and sits so Hizashi is between them. “Good to see you doing well after the fight. Also, whatever they’re cooking in there smells delicious.”

 

“Young Kirishima is showing them all how to cook something, apparently.” Yagi says with a shrug. “Curry, if I heard them correctly.”

 

“I’m sure it will be delicious, but what did you call us out here to talk about?” Shouta interrupts, still touchy from being interrupted. Hizashi reaches over to take Shouta’s hand, keeping his gaze on Yagi.

 

“Is it about the attack?”

 

“Yes. We have some things to address, but first, I wanted to apologize.”

 

“Apologize?” Hizashi turns to look at Shouta, both of them sharing their confusion with a look before they turn back to Yagi. “What for?”

 

“Well, As I understand it, two men were with the Noumu that night, correct? Young Midoriya told me about them- Shigaraki and Kurogiri. They’ve been hunting me for awhile. I must have been the reason they found this place at all.”

 

“Don’t be foolish.” Shouta scoffs. “They have been hunting me as well. It’s no coincidence that they came after I broke my self-imposed curse. I will concede that maybe they were closer to this location because of you, but that only hastened the inevitable. They were always bound to come back for me.”

 

“What should we do?” Hizashi asks, his concern clear on his frowning face. “Will concealing spells be enough anymore?”

 

“No, but that’s fine. We can work on better protection wards. I can work with Shinsou and Shouto to set a larger radius for detecting intruders. It’s time they put their lessons to good use.”

 

“I can help!” Hizashi grins, holding up his free hand as Shouta squeezes the other and frowns. “When I’m healed! I know, I know- I promise I’ll wait. But when I’ve recovered, I’m helping, alright?”

 

Shouta’s grip relaxes, his hair bobbing as he nods.  “Of course. But I’m holding you to that promise.

 

“Of course,” Hizashi chuckles, a teasing smile slipping onto his face, “But would it really hurt if I’m not completely healed when I start helping?”

 

Shouta shoots a sharp glare at him, but otherwise ignores his protest, turning to Yagi. “Before we start casting any spells, are you and Midoriya going to be staying?”

 

“For a week or two, at least. A month at most. We- well, I- have responsibilities to tend to, but they are not so urgent right now. I want to make sure you and the children are safe. Especially knowing what Shigaraki can do. I wanted to recommend that you relocate, perhaps to a city-”

 

Here Yagi holds up his hands as Shouta’s hair rises, like a cat hissing and puffing its tail.

 

“I already threw the idea out! I knew you wouldn’t want to. This place is wonderful-”

 

“It’s not just the place I’m concerned about.”

 

“Yes, moving the children wouldn’t be easy-”

 

“Or safe. I brought them here for a reason. Or they came here on their own. You’ve been wandering, I’m sure you’ve seen the rising prejudice against magic and those who use it. It was already apparent to me five years ago. I’m sure it’s only gotten worse.”

 

Yagi sighs, but he does not deny any of it.

 

“For whatever reason, I know relocation isn’t a viable option for you. However, Shigaraki now knows where you are, and while strengthening the wards will help, it will still be much more dangerous than before.”

 

“And?”

 

“And we will need help.” Hizashi says. The other two look at him in silence for a moment, waiting for him to continue. “Your old compatriots- they use magic, don’t they? And you can trust them. Why not offer them a home here? A place they can come to rest when they aren’t away on adventure or working or, uh, doing whatever it is they do.”

 

Shouta is silent as he considers the idea, face twisted in concentration. Yagi smiles, already sold on the idea.

 

“That sounds great! I can go round everyone up when the defenses are set here. I am not sure if any of them have settled down anywhere for any length of time, but having a place to return to… it is a great comfort.”

 

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt…” Shouta says quietly, “Although I can’t say I look forward to dealing with Nemuri for extended periods of time...”

 

Hizashi chuckles, giving Shouta’s hand a light squeeze. “She can’t be that bad, can she?”

 

“She’s nosy and invasive,” Shouta says, “And she can’t get her mind out of the gutter.” He adds, his nose wrinkling up in a mixture of annoyance and disgust.

 

“But she’s a great friend and a wonderful warrior!” Yagi says quickly.

 

“That she is.” Shouta murmurs, seeming a little lost in his own head. Hizashi can’t blame him. He knows Shouta never expected to see them again, and the thought of their eventual reunion must be a little overwhelming.

 

“Well, I liked her.” Hizashi squeezes Shouta’s hand, getting him to look up. “And she did promise to deliver your letters. If it’s that much of a problem though, lets give her the house furthest away from ours, huh?”

 

Shouta snorts and Yagi chuckles, the mood light as the young teens peek out of the kitchen. Dinner is ready, so everyone is called in to eat, kids and teens filing into the tavern now that it has been christened as the new dining hall. Ideas are shared and discussed over dinner, many of the children chiming in as they’re introduced to the idea of new people coming to the village. Shouta makes sure to explain it to everyone, not wanting to force a change without letting everyone know first, but his worries are unfounded- the children are excited at the news of meeting more people, more adults, with magic. It's not something that can happen overnight, but everyone is willing to work hard to make it happen.

 

The next day is bustling with activity even before the sun rises. Yagi and Shouta focus on laying down the base for the new protective spells they want, inviting the stronger teens to come help after breakfast. The teens provide most of the power as they learn to cast spells in tandem, tying their magic together into a cohesive system. It turns into a full day affair, with the younger kids and Hizashi bringing out food for everyone else as they focus on work. Shouta glares at Hizashi every time he comes near, his silent warning of ‘no magic’ ringing in Hizashi’s mind. Hizashi keeps himself under control for the day, even going in for a nap and sleeping through dinner.

 

Hizashi wakes up to Shouta’s hand shaking his shoulder. He frowns when he notices how dark it is, the only light coming from the nearby candles, the windows dark. He smells food and turns to see Shouta lounging on the edge of the bed in Hizashi’s fluffy robe, pretending to pick at Hizashi’s dinner. Hizashi laughs and accepts the plate, looking him up and down.

 

“Hey there. Don’t want to go find real clothes?”

 

“I keep ripping yours. And my clothes are too moth-eaten to wear. I’ll have ‘real’ clothes soon enough.”

 

“It’s a good thing you spent most of the day in your other form then. Speaking of, how is that going? Have you figured anything else out? You did spend the last, what, sixteen hours laying down spells and anchors? How--”

 

Shouta grabs a chicken leg off the plate and shoves it in Hizashi’s mouth to shut him up, smirking when Hizashi bites the meat off and starts to chew with a pout.

 

“Eat your dinner and I’ll tell you. You need energy to heal.”

 

“Did you eat at least?” Hizashi asks, voice distorted with the food in his mouth. Shouta gives him a flat look until Hizashi swallows.

 

“Yes. I made sure to eat and drink until I was completely full. I know how much magic can drain a person. I have to be especially careful, what with this mutated curse.”

 

“A blessing!” Hizashi says, ever the optimist. Shouta just continues as if he hadn’t heard.

 

“My initial thoughts were right, about how my magic is working now. I can only use Erasure as a human, and everything else has to be done in my other form. Trying to use any sort of magic automatically kick-starts the transformation- no matter what spell it is, I have to transform before it can manifest. But using the magic doesn’t hurt me, neither does transforming. There doesn’t seem to be much of a downside except for how tiring it is.”

 

“Well that part makes sense at least. Of course you’d be tired, transforming into a totally different body like that.” Hizashi pauses to eat some of his potatoes, making sure to swallow before he speaks this time. “You’re not too tired to transform right now, are you?”

 

Shouta blinks, thinking the question over for a beat. “I’m always tired. Why?”

 

“Aww, I just figured we could cuddle. I know you like it when I pet you. Doing it as a human might feel a little, hm, well--”

 

“Yeah.” Shouta coughs, sitting up. “I get it. Let me lock the door.”

 

“You’re learning!” Hizashi laughs, covering it up with more food as Shouta turns to give him an unimpressed look. He gets up and makes sure the door is locked before disrobing, giving Hizashi a nice look before he starts to transform. Shouta shakes out his mane once it's done, his powerful legs carrying him back to bed in two quick steps. Hizashi tries to share some of his food as Shouta joins him, but Shouta just growls.

 

“Eat it all, or no cuddles for you.”

 

“You drive a hard bargain sir!” Hizashi jokes, but he makes sure to finish his plate and set it safely on the nightstand before opening his arms. Shouta crawls over and makes himself comfortable, resting his chin on Hizashi’s shoulder as Hizashi starts to comb through Shouta’s hair with his fingers. His hands trail down Shouta’s back, petting his shoulders and between his wings, feeling Shouta start to purr as he becomes a boneless pile in Hizashi’s lap. Shouta flexes his paws against Hizashi’s sides, making sure to keep his claws in as he tries to return the favor. Hizashi can feel the purring all over with their chests pressed together like this, and he falls into a comfortable trance, just enjoying the feelings and closeness they’re sharing.

 

They stay like that for an indeterminate but comfortable amount of time, just basking in each other’s presence and relaxing after all the stress of the past few days. It feels good. Hizashi feels better about lounging there and resting when Shouta is here to share the time with him. It doesn’t feel so hard to stay put. He can dote on Shouta without having to exert himself or risk exhaustion again. After all, there are two ways to get himself to sit still- a warm person in his lap, or an instrument in his hands. In this case, the person-slash-instrument happens to be a purring Sphinx. He can’t say he minds at all. Shouta’s fur is soft and warm, so hypnotizing to pet and stroke. His purring is akin to that of at least ten cats at once, maybe more, a deep, satisfying rumble that he can feel in his bones.

 

He finds himself humming an old tune as his hands smooth out fur and untangle Shouta’s mane. Something his mother used to hum when she would brush out his hair. It had been long as a child, a sign of his status as it glimmered in the lights of the castle. He cut it in his grief when she died, letting it grow back slow as he learned how to be happy again. To find joy in life and the people around him. He may never let his hair grow that long again, but at least he knows that happiness is possible again.

 

“Say, Shouta,” he says quietly after some time, his tune long ended, his hands now still as they rest on Shouta’s shoulders- or should he say haunches? They must have dozed off for a bit. “Is it comfortable, staying like that? Now that you can change, i mean. Staying like that a long time isn’t hurting you, is it?”

 

Shouta yawns, his face twisting up in such a way that almost has Hizashi squealing at how adorable it is. He gets a front row look at Shouta’s teeth, a strange mix of human and feline, his pronounced canines no longer as threatening now that they’re close. “Mm, no, not that I’ve experienced, at least not yet. I did just spend the past five years in this form, anyways. It feels more natural than my original human body does at this point. But it’s great to have hands again.”

 

“Oh, I’m sure. You can do lots of things with hands. I could even teach you how to play my lute, if you want?”

“Your lute?” Shouta mutters, his eyes blinking slow as if he’s deciding between staying awake or falling to the siren call of sleep. He pauses for a moment as a thought hits him and he laughs, soft and low, as he shoots Hizashi a leer.

 

“I’m sure you can teach me to play a lot of instruments.” he purrs. Hizashi gulps. His eyes stray to the window - dim and growing dark as the sun sets- and then to the door - still locked from earlier- before he fixes Shouta with a coy look.

 

“I’m sure we have time before dinner for a quick lesson.” he says, voice wavering with nervousness and excitement in equal measure. A bright light meets his eyes before soft lips meet his own, and they lose more time in the day as they linger in bed, focused only on their company.

 


 

 

The next few days pass in a blur as plans are made and set in motion, everyone brimming with excitement and energy. The town feels lively, and Hizashi finally gets to meet every single child and teenager who lives here instead of just seeing them during meals. He makes sure to learn all of their names, slowly learning about their skills and passions, calling on them to help when he finds something that will get them excited on learning and working. One of the many “town meetings” they hold (usually just loud conversations had during dinner) is for the purpose of naming their little town, now that it won’t be so secret anymore. Out of everything, this is the thing that brings out the factions, as ideas are shouted out and people argue for their favorite. Shouta leaves them in aggravation, only to come back an hour later to the same circuitous argument.

 

He names the town Nowhere and dares anyone to argue with him, his impressive glare stopping everyone in their tracks. An angry looking boy in the back tries to raise his hand, but his red-haired friend pushes it back down. Midoriya compliments the name from his corner with Yagi, and that seals the deal as everyone congratulates Shouta on his choice.

 

Hizashi just laughs.

 

The idea for a party comes up the next day, and everyone is in an excited furor over the idea. Why not celebrate the naming of their little town? Hizashi agrees wholeheartedly, eben as Shouta sighs. It's a great idea. A sort of reward for everyone’s hard work, and a way to commemorate their new status as an open community. Hizashi makes sure to mark the date they choose on a calendar, hoping to make it a yearly holiday. But he’ll wait to suggest that until after the party. No use jinxing it, lest it ends up like the last party they tried to have.

 

Everyone wants to be in on the planning, but Hizashi vetoes that. He wants it to be a surprise to people. It's more enjoyable that way. He chooses a few helpers, like Shouto, Midoriya, and Ochako, their magics and skills a good set for the things he has planned. Ochako’s floating abilities make it easy to reach the rafters, and Shouto happily freezes the wine cellar, which is actually filled with bottles and kegs of fruit cider. Midoriya takes a trip with Yagi for supplies, bringing back colorful paper and certain exotic foods to serve as part of the surprise. Kirishima and a boy named Sato oversee the food preparations, the pair a diligent team that leaves Hizashi in awe.

 

Hizashi has a good feeling this party will be talked about for years to come. It fills him with a buzzing energy that tickles under his skin, urging him onwards each day until Shouta forces him to rest, the two of them retiring together to spend the night in each other’s arms.

 

 

Hizashi takes one last glance at himself in the mirror, slicking back a handful of fly-away hairs and adjusting his clothes before heading into the main room. If he thought the first party was extravagant, then this was the Great Gatsby’s tour de force. Hizashi can’t tell if he’s Daisy or Gatsby.

 

Not everyone has arrived yet, just Shouto, Midoriya, and a few of the older kids. They aren’t even finished setting up yet, but it still takes Hizashi’s breath away. Gold streamers flow from the ceiling like rain. Speckles of confetti cover the floor. Bottles of sparkling cider perch on each table. “What do you think?” Shouto asks.

 

“You’ve really outdone yourself.” Hizashi whistles. “How long did it take?”

 

Shouto shakes his head, as if to say,’ you don’t want to know.’ “We’re ready to let people in. Midoriya left to go collect the stragglers.”

 

Hizashi straightens his collar one last time and nods. “Let’s open the doors.”

 

People come in one by one, a dazed look on their face and sparkles in their eyes. In his time as a Bard, Hizashi went to his fair share of parties, but for most of the villagers, this could very well be their first big celebration. He’ll make it one to remember.

 

“You don’t have a non-dramatic bone in your body, do you?” A low voice whispers behind him. Hizashi whirls around. Aizawa’s brushed out his hair and done his best to find adequately fitting clothes.

 

“I know you don’t like flashy things, but--”

 

“I like some flashy things,” Aizawa corrects. “Let’s pick out some seats before they all fill up.”

 

“Right.”

 

They pick a seat in the middle of the room, but between the chatter of the crowds and the people coming up to speak to them, it’s hard to start a conversation.

 

But, of course, Hizashi isn’t one to sit in silence.

 

He stands and knocks a knife against his glass. The room quiets down, thought it takes a minute for everyone to silence. “If you’ll all indulge me,” Hizashi begins. “I’d like to propose a toast.”

 

Aizawa looks up at his with a raised eyebrow. Hizashi shoots him a sly grin.

 

“When I first came here, many of you were rightly suspicious of me, but you welcomed me all the same. You gave me a chance to prove myself. I suppose you could say I grew on you, like moss --”

 

“-- Or a fungus.” Aizawa mumbles, getting a few laughs from around the tavern.

 

“-- At any rate, you all gave me a chance. You trusted me when you had no reason to...when you had every reason to not. Because of your generosity, I’ve found more than I ever dreamed of. We’ve fought battles together. We’ve broken curses together. Most importantly, we’ve bonded together. You gave me what I never had; family.”

 

Hizashi clears his throat. “So, a toast to new friends, new family, and above all,” he locks eyes with Aizawa, “new beginnings.”