"The royal court has indefinitely increased the reward for the brave soul whom victoriously slays the winged demon terrorizing the skies. Five more innocents have been taken. Your cooperation is urged forthwith; if no warriors rise to the challenge, mandatory volunteers will be selected at discretion of the king until the threat is vanquished."
Inko Midoriya held the parchment between shaking hands, clutching it to her chest after one swift reading and glancing around nervously. He was nowhere in sight, thank goodness. Now, where could she hide this so that the most curious, crafty eyes in all the kingdom wouldn’t somehow stumble across it...had it not been an official royal document, she would have just burned it, but that was considered sacrilege and the last thing she needed was another reason to constantly watch behind her back…
“Mama, you should come see the flowers, they’re starting to bloom! Even faster than last year, this sudden influx has done wonders for all of the...ah? Are you all right?”
Cursing herself for her inability to hide her emotions, Inko quickly dabbed at her eyes with the corner of her apron, forcing a smile onto her full cheeks. “It’s nothing, my son! As you said, the plants are sprouting with a vengeance, and with them comes pollen...just a little irritation is all.”
Vivid green eyes so similar to her own seemed to see right through her. His voice was soft, knowing. “Is it about the dragon…?”
Liquid flowed helplessly down her face, and she grasped her only son, her sweet, young Izuku who spent his days caring for tender buds so that they might blossom into a smile on the face of a friend, a clan mate, a stranger. “How did you know, Izuku…?”
“The whole village has been buzzing with news and rumors...they say the province just to our east was the last to be attacked.”
He clung back to her, pursing his lips and staring at the floor. Ever since he could barely stand, he had wanted to save people. He’d admired the big, strong boys tussling in the mud, exchanging their sticks for swords as they marched into manhood and became hunters, warriors, knights. His frail little body had tried so hard to keep up, but alas, it only had so much to give. More times than he would like to admit, it gave out. But he always strived to see the positive side of things, even now. Especially now.
Pulling back enough to give him an encouraging smile that dimpled his freckled cheeks, he gently tucked a strand of hair from her face. “Mama, it’s okay. I’m weak. I know that and surely everyone else does too--”
“Izuku! You’re not…” Inko bit her lip, closing her eyes and looking down in shame for even considering the words to be true, if only they meant that her baby would not be taken from her, tossed carelessly to the belly of a seemingly invincible demon. Small sobs shook her frame as she buried her head against his shoulder. “I’m so sorry…”
He simply held her close as she let it all out. “It’s all right, I promise...I’m grateful for the ways I can be strong in my own way. And I’m so thankful for you, helping me to cultivate those gifts everyday. Someone will come along, a hero who will win. In the meantime, I will protect everyone’s hopeful smiles.” His face lit up as an idea struck him. “Flower crowns! Everyone loves them! I can make plenty and we’ll paint the town with their colors and sweet scent, and that will boost morale and we’ll have something new and beautiful to look forward to each day!”
The young man let out a little laugh of excitement, and his mother helplessly, contagiously, followed suit. Even as the sound echoed through an otherwise empty house, it was so filled with warmth and love that not a simple breath felt incomplete.
Shadowed eyes further darkened by the hood of his robe stared expressionlessly into the soothsayer’s lair. The reflection in her crystal ball was murky as the steam surrounding them. Groans and alien phrases dripped off her tongue like the lava oozing beneath their feet...until suddenly, she fell quiet.
Shinsou simply quirked an eyebrow, regarding the oracle with that same stoic indifference. “What do you see? The king grows impatient.”
The young man now occupying the crystal ball may as well have shared the same room as them, with how clear the image had become. Bundles of flowers sat at his feet, healthy green stems that matched his curly hair braiding into endless combinations of bulbs and petals.
“Him...he will be the one...to defeat the dragon menace, Bakugou…”
A soft grunt of surprise, and Shinsou boldly stepped closer. He squinted at the conjured image, scowling. “Forgive me if I seem a bit...unconvinced. Who is this boy?” He looked to be on the cusp of adulthood, at the most, but his features were so soft, muscles so undefined. They’d be better off attempting to offer him as a bride to appease the dragon!
The soothsayer groaned, falling nonverbal once more as the image in the ball shifted and morphed into another scene. “Izuku...Midoriya...weak of body, pure of heart...you will find him where throngs of common folk gather…” Red flowers bloomed now in unison beneath the boy’s feet, a fire in his eyes that was a stark contrast from the previous image. “...and within blades of aster...he will find...his victory…”
Shinsou opened his mouth to protest further, only for the soothsayer to toss her head back and wail, “But beware! For golden tongues will fall silent and rot…!”
Her body slowly loosened up, drooping forward as she herself fell silent once more. With a resigned sigh, Shinsou departed to do as he was bidden.
“Izuku! Need a hand with those?”
A round-faced brunette ran up to Izuku, who was encumbered with the sheer number of flowers bundled into his arms and draped across his body. As he turned to greet her, the petals flopped into his face and the two shared a giggle. “Hello, Uraraka! Ah, I should be fine, but if you’d like, you could help me make flower crowns!”
Once he explained his idea, Uraraka eagerly agreed - it wasn’t often that Izuku asked for help. Together they found a quiet spot in the marketplace to work. He’d already been met with a few stares and whispers today while making his crowns- most of which couldn’t be described as friendly. “It will probably be easier to hand these out if I’m accompanied by a girl, haha…” Izuku attempted to joke but his laughter sounded weak even to his own ears.
Uraraka caught the tone in his voice and brief droop of his ever-present smile. With a soft sigh, she gently took some flowers from his pile and began to remove excess leaves. “Your intentions are pure, regardless of anyone’s bias. So yeah, I am glad I’m here, because if anyone gives you grief, I’ll kick their butt!”
Izuku laughed and shook his head, his fingers working skillfully as he looped a thin vine through the stems of a crown he’d almost completed. “I appreciate the sentiment, but all the same, I understand why people would feel…” He smiled sadly. “...let down, by me.” He ignored her protests, continuing as he paused his motions, looking down at the ground. “Now more than ever, the citizens need strong men to lead them, to save them…” He plucked up a dandelion, twirling it in his fingers. “I’ve whispered my wishes to these little ones ever since I could remember...they’re so fragile and small, easily displaced by the slightest wind, and yet...they’re still said to make your dreams come true. I feel...that not getting what you want right away isn’t a sign that it failed, or that it’s a lie. Perhaps it wasn’t the right time. But it’s always a good time to believe.” With a soft breath, eyes squeezed closed, he sent the little seeds swirling into the air. “If there’s ever a chance that I could be a hero to these aching, fearful souls, well, to anyone...I would finally believe my life has purpose.”
Brown eyes misted over, Uraraka grabbing her friend in a tight hug. “That’s not fair, Izuku...I won’t let anyone speak of you that way, not even yourself!”
Izuku’s own eyes overflowed, yet he still allowed himself to chuckle as he returned her embrace. “Really, Ura, it’s alright...it’s alright to be honest and admit that I’m weak…”
“But you’re not!” Uraraka insisted, pulling away to gaze up at him determinedly. “There’s nothing weak about refusing to be a martyr! You’re already a hero in your own right, when will you realize that…”
She averted her gaze from him, biting her lip to try and calm the tears running down her face. Suddenly, she felt a small tug at her skirt - it was a little girl. She had been chasing after the dandelion seeds when she’d caught sight of the pair. Her tiny hands tugged at her skirt, mouth pulled into a thin line that helplessly gave into a shy smile. Uraraka quickly wiped at her face and returned the smile, plucking up a crown of white roses that had been painstakingly dethorned. “Would you like one?”
The young one’s eyes lit up, and she quickly nodded, prompting a chuckle from the brunette as she shuffled forward and gently placed the crown upon her soft locks. “This young man made that all by himself, be sure to thank him.”
“T-thank you, sir,” she said quietly, taking them both by surprise as she quickly wrapped her arms around him and grinned before running to show her mother, who had been waiting a few feet away. Izuku blinked, sniffling and watching as the little girl proudly showed off her new accessory.
“See?” Uraraka folded her hands in her lap, amused at her friend’s wobbly smile and the way he poked his fingers together bashfully.
“Someone...liked them, aha...that’s...wonderful…” A sweet pink flush bloomed around his freckles, matching the petunias draped over his head. Warmth filled his chest as the girl ran around the square, squealing that she felt pretty as a princess now. And to his surprise, a few people followed her back to the kind flower man. He tensed, swallowing nervously, nevertheless offering his brightest smile as he showed off his wares. More and more joined the circle out of curiosity, staying to hear Izuku weave tales of the meaning of each flower, how a select few had won the love of gods and ended wars. Some people knew which crown they wanted; for the more hesitant ones, he would select based off of the color of their eyes, their hair, or simply the impression he got as he spoke to them.
Uraraka had since stepped back and let her friend take charge, content to finish weaving crowns from their quickly dwindling supply as he spoke with passion in his eyes about each and every bud, how he had raised them from little seeds and how each one was unique and thus needed personalized care, just like a human. His apprehension had melted away into a force of nature, one that was kind, wise, and bright as the setting sun.
By the time that excess leaves and stems were all that remained, the entire square was alight with bursts of color and life. Shopkeepers had offered to pay him for the arrangements to brighten up their stores, to which he had humbly refused, except for one lady who insisted that he bring home some of her fresh-baked goods. “Well Izuku, I’d say you accomplished your goal and then some,” Uraraka said, proudly admiring their handiwork with her hands on her hips. “It’s been a good few hours, you should pack up and get some rest--”
Izuku quirked an eyebrow at Ura when she suddenly stopped talking, feeling a poke on his shoulder moments later. “What were you saying? I won’t argue, I am pretty tired, haha. But you’re right, I feel really accomplished! I don’t think anything could ruin my mood--”
Another poke, more insistent this time, followed by a gruff, “Hey, you--”
“I’m quite sorry but we’re all out of flower crowns for today, if you could come back tomorrow--”
As Izuku turned to face the stranger, he paled, his words dying in his throat. The insignia of the royal guard flashed harshly in the last rays of light before nightfall. A man who looked like he hadn’t slept in a fortnight stared down at him, unruly purple hair adding to the impression that he’d just woken up. Perhaps that made him even more terrifying: the fact that a man just out of bed looked ready, and very capable to, kill him.
“Izuku Midoriya?” he drawled, eyes raking over his small form.
Uraraka stepped closer to her friend as he gulped, throat suddenly quite dry. “Y-yes, I’m Izuku...to what do I owe the honor--”
“Oh, an honor indeed.” Izuku could’ve sworn that the man’s deadpan face flickered into a cruel smirk before falling stoic again. “You’ve been appointed by the King himself to be the hero of Musutafu. You’ll be granted any wish your heart desires...all you have to do is slay the dragon who has terrorized our people.” He snort. “Shouldn’t be a problem for a man of your stature.”
It was all he could do to prevent his knees from buckling. That letter...his mother’s fears had been merited after all, but...how? “S-sir, please forgive me but there must be a--”
“You will refer to me as Sir Shinsou. And no, there is no mistake. The king’s personal soothsayer saw you and you alone in her vision. I’m sure you’re aware that resistance counts as treason?”
Uraraka butted in, to Shinsou’s clear displeasure. “Then let me come with him, at least! I’m a witch, I can provide him with enchantments--”
“Was I unclear when I said ‘him and him alone?’”
“You can’t expect him to win alone, not when he’s never battled a day in his life!” She was shaking, but the determination in her eyes was unshakable.
“Ura, please, don’t get in trouble for me...I’ll go quietly…” Izuku’s voice was muffled, hands slapped over his mouth to restrain choked sobs and whimpers. Would he even get a chance to tell his mother goodbye…? His lightly tanned skin had paled, and he looked close to fainting.
Shinsou took a deep breath and sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. “Never mind, you look like you’ll burst into tears without your sheep dog. That’s a headache I don’t need. The girl may accompany you until you embark at dawn.”
The two friends sought affirmation and strength in each other’s eyes. They had everything to lose, everything to gain, and only one option: to win. With a shaky thumbs up and a brave step forward, they wordlessly vowed to do just that, together.
“You’re telling me you actually don’t know how to fight?”
Izuku shook his head, averting his gaze and biting his lip.
“Nor how to wield a sword?”
A quiet whimper confirmed the question, and Shinsou’s eyes looked ready to roll straight back into his head. “Well that’s fantastic. Perhaps our soothsayer is broken after all.” The guard had led them straight past the royal armory after that little interrogation. They stepped through halls of splendor and riches, even the most fantastic of his childhood fairy tales paling in comparison to the genuine article. After walking for what felt like forever, they halted before a massive pair of oak doors that ushered them into...was this a library?! It felt like a castle all on its own! Stained-glass windows cast rainbows of light onto towering rows upon rows of books that stretched as far as the eye could see.
Uraraka paced back and forth, curling a lock of hair tightly around one finger as she thought. “Do you remember what she said exactly…? I know that prophets often speak in riddles, there had to have been some clue as to why she chose him!”
Shinsou sighed, closing his eyes as he thought back. “Come to think of it, she did predict that you were weak of body, so I suppose she wasn’t all wrong…” Izuku deflated, but Shinsou continued, albeit more hesitantly. “Also hailed you as pure of heart, mentioned aster blades leading you to victory...warned of muted golden tongues decaying or something like that.” He shrugged. “Never been one for talking in circles, so your guess is as good as mine.”
“But she did describe a blade and victory!” Uraraka grinned, now flipping through books in earnest. “We’ve just go to find that aster sword, or perhaps that’s the name of an enchantment? If that’s the case, all I have to do is learn the spell and--”
Izuku held up his hand, scratching at his chin and clearly in deep thought. “Hold on a moment, Ura...there’s no point in attempting to use brawn I know I don’t possess. No offense, but not even your strongest spell could empower me to defeat a dragon singlehandedly.”
He paused, long enough for Uraraka to scoff and jerk a finger at him. “There you go again, putting yourself down in spite of all the signs before you! And my magic is quite powerful, thank you very much!
“That’s not what I meant!” he insisted, flailing his hands and sighing. “It’s just that...even if it’s an evil beast...I can’t see myself taking another’s life. Maybe that’s what she anticipated,” he added on quickly at Shinsou’s incredulous and deathly scowl. “What I’m trying to say is, perhaps she saw another way to victory, one that I could achieve. Aster happens to be a flower that grows commonly around this area. They’re rich in history and lore, and if I remember correctly, they’ve been used in purifying rituals for centuries--”
“Hold on, so you’re telling me that a flower is going to defeat a dragon that could easily burn this castle down? What makes you think there’s anything to ‘purify’ in the first place--”
“Burning, that’s it!” Shinsou twitched as Izuku fled to the bookshelves without another word, returning at a rather shocking speed with a book on flowers and their mythos. He flipped through it eagerly and methodically, mumbling to himself until Shinsou’s irritated growl made him flinch. “Sorry, aha...to answer your question simply, I don’t believe the soothsayer would suggest such a strategy if there wasn’t any merit to it. Your comment reminded me of a crucial detail regarding the flower…” He trailed off once more, brow furrowed in concentration as he searched the book dutifully. Unnerving silence broken only by shallow breaths and turning pages fell between them for a short time, until Izuku planted his finger on a certain passage.
“‘Aster flowers have long been cherished for their enchanted properties, yielding omens of love and goodwill for some and powerful holy allies for others. Most notable among the latter is the practice of burning their leaves to ward off evil serpents.’”
Uraraka almost toppled out of her chair from excitement. “A dragon counts as an evil serpent, albeit a winged one, doesn’t it?!”
Izuku nodded quickly, his eyes misting hopefully. “If we can gather as many flowers as I can carry before dawn, our only obstacle is figuring out how to lure the dragon close enough…”
“If you trap him in his cave, he won’t be able to escape the fumes! You’ll need a pretty large fire, though...what if you trick him into setting them ablaze himself? Shouldn’t be too hard if he’s got such a temper.”
Gulping, Izuku shakily nodded. “Yeah...seems the best plan is for me to act as...bait.”
“I can make a fire immunity charm for you! I’ve practiced that one a lot so I’m confident in it; of course you’ll have to be careful of how long you’re exposed to flame, but you’re fast! The signs are all here, I believe you can do it!”
Shinsou was having a difficult time processing this situation and it was evident on his face. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing, surely it can’t be that simple! What of the warning and the dying golden tongues?”
The two paused, glancing uneasily at each other before Uraraka’s resolve stiffened once more. “We’ll figure it out as we go along!”
“And if you’re wrong and don’t make it back alive?”
Izuku took a deep breath. “This is my best foot forward to avoiding that fate, and all I can do is my best, feeble as that may be. If I fail...well. I want to say I won’t allow myself to. But if that truly is my fate, then I can only hope my failure begets another’s success.”
Shinsou stared between the two, any further objections falling silent as he slowly closed his mouth. He looked as though he was seriously pondering the conundrum of reality right now. Never in all his trails had he encountered such a starry-eyed, naively hopeful, absolutely stupid and positively faithful young man. Here he was, guard to the king, yet somehow he felt as though he had no control over this situation whatsoever! And...the fire he’d seen in his eyes, shining clearly through the crystal ball. It was even more vivid now, even as he trembled and forced a big, dumb grin onto his freckled face. He threw up his hands in surrender at last, the faintest ghost of a smile betraying his stern tone. “Seems I’ve done all I can. Go forth with your crazy plan before I change my mind. And...best of luck, flower boy.”
Okay, so maybe he should have thought this out more.
Then again, could one ever truly be prepared and mentally ready to face a dragon? Alone? Without a weapon?
Izuku took a deep breath, attempting and failing to steady his nerves. His legs shook, barely keeping him standing, heart hammering in his chest. The dragon’s cave opened up before him like a great maw ready to swallow him whole. Though it was late afternoon when he finally completed the hike up the mountain and the sun had shone brightly on his back, nothing but shadow greeted him now. Only the purple flowers bursting from every curl in his hair, pocket and crevice in his clothing, broke up the darkness with a burst of color and hope.
His body ached from the dreadfully long walk and climb, eyes still puffy from crying and not getting any sleep when he was finally left to himself for the night, hand cramping from the long letter he’d sent his mother. Still, he forced himself to hold his head high and take the first step into the unknown, guided by a self-lighting torch Ura had made for him. If he had any chance of preserving those big laughs in their tiny home, failure was not an option he could consider.
His footsteps echoed loudly in the massive cavern. He wondered just how far into the earth it went, how many passages and rooms there were, if there were traps or other dangerous creatures waiting to ambush him...gah, don’t think about it! Stifling a whimper when his foot dislodged a heavy rock, Izuku grit his teeth and analyzed his surroundings, trying to clear his head. He swung the torch in a slow circle, observing the floor, looking for claw or burn marks; the ceiling for bats or crumbling stalactites. Nothing so far...was that a good sign?
With no sun for guidance, time passed immeasurably, as did the distance he’d traveled in the winding catacombs. Had he gone up, or come down, or was he just walking in one big circle? Furthermore, why was everything so...empty? Dragons always had a hoard of some precious treasure that they guarded fiercely, so why was this place so desolate and unchanging? He was surprised he’d even gotten this far without the dragon sniffing him down and attacking...perhaps he was out...hunting? Izuku shuddered.
He rounded a corner, and that unwelcome thought couldn’t have come at a worse time.
Completely intact. slightly singed and sooty but otherwise unharmed, faces peaceful as though they were sleeping, neatly laid out on a sprawling bed of leaves.
There had to be at least fifty of them.
All color drained from Izuku’s face. He stumbled backwards, unable to stifle the cry that tore from his lips and echoed through the cave. Every bone in his body screamed for him to run and never look back. But if he did, how many more…? What had he done to them, why hadn’t they woken up when he screamed…slowly, he backed away…
A gust of wind rushed past him. The flame of his torch went out.
He froze. A heartbeat skipped. One moment passed. Two.
The only light that greeted him when he finally turned around was the crimson glare of the dragon’s eyes.
Rippling with sheer muscle and plated with scales of black and gold, the beast growled, a low rumble that shook the ground and Izuku’s very core. He felt like his heart would beat right out of his chest; surely the dragon sensed it too. The plan, remember the plan...talk to him, provoke him, use the torch to light the flowers if all else failed...but the torch wasn’t re-igniting like it should have. Ura had said the spell would last for 24 hours, so why wasn’t it…
The dragon’s snarl morphed into a cruel smirk, eyes taking in his tiny, quivering form. Another yelp left Izuku’s lips as the dragon opened his mouth and spoke. “Of all the so-called brave souls who’ve invaded my lair, none ever looked quite so pathetic, let alone come knocking with flowers in hand. Could you be here to court me, little morsel?”
Izuku’s heart leapt into his throat. “I-I…” It was hard to speak, hard to breathe.
“What, no grand declaration of battle or boast of your strength that will surely defeat me and end my reign of evil?” Another rumble shook the cave as the dragon chuckled. “Don’t make me laugh.” His glare returned, glancing to the bodies on the floor. “So you found my little collection. Isn’t it neat? Oh, but it’s far from complete, and here you brought me such an adorable centerpiece, with flowers and all. How considerate.”
Tears welled up in Izuku’s eyes as the dragon licked his lips. “I-I won’t l-let you hurt...a-anyone else…” He grit his teeth in frustration, whacking the torch against the wall, hoping for a spark, anything. But it was for naught.
Izuku’s ears rang, the dragon’s boisterous laugh dislodging rocks from the ceiling. “Is that all you’ve got? What a shame, I wanted to enjoy you for a bit longer.” The beast lowered his head so that they were mere inches apart. Tell me, oh valiant one, what is your name?”
“...I...Izuku…” The flower boy braced himself; any moment now the dragon could attack. This was it.
A satisfied smirk. “Izuku…” the dragon repeated, feeling each syllable on his tongue. “I’ll give you a great honor for your blind bravery. The last words you hear will be the greatest of all. My name is Katsuki Bakugou.”
Katsuki reared his head back. Izuku squeezed his eyes shut. The plan would work. Ura’s charm would protect him, the flowers would burn, and…
His fire was black.
Black tongues of flame writhed from Katsuki’s mouth, surrounding Izuku, invading his lungs. Nausea bubbled viciously in his stomach and spread throughout his body. If he was burning, he couldn’t even tell.
Muted golden tongues decaying…
So this was what the soothsayer had warned of. He should’ve listened, should’ve come up with a better plan. His eyes were closing, body crumpling to the floor. Was this really it? Had he ever had a chance to begin with? He was really this useless after all...
In spite of himself, he smiled. “Mama...Uraraka...Shinsou...everyone, I’m...so sorry…”
A flash of light, an otherworldly scream...and everything faded to twilight.
“Oi, shitnugget! Wake the fuck up!”
Well then. He’d hoped for a more pleasant reception from heaven. And...a brighter one? Izuku was still floating in darkness. Not to brag, but there was no way that someone like himself could possibly be sent to hell, especially after that selfless deed. This must be purgatory, where he would have to patiently wait until--
“HEY! I SAID WAKE UP! DON’T IGNORE ME, FUCKIN DUMBASS!”
Ah. It must be time then. Heavy lidded eyes tried to pry open, greeting his fate…and proceeded to bug out as wide as possible.
Naked...man? Here?! With him?!
Indeed, a very angry, very human, very naked man stood before him. Red eyes glared down at the flower boy. There was an air of confusion, perhaps even fear that dulled the look, but that was hardly the first thing on Izuku’s mind right now. He scurried as far back against the wall as he could, hiding his face. “A-are you an a-angel?!” he squeaked.
The blonde stranger twitched, growling and leaping forward to grab Izuku by the collar. “Stop shitting around! What the hell did you do to me?!”
Izuku waved his hands, shaking his head and trying very hard to not stare at the heavenly sculpted body before him. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about, I-I swear, I’m sorry!”
“Dumbass, I’m the dragon you just tried to kill! Katsuki Bakugou! You better not have forgotten my fucking name!” Katsuki snarled, grip tightening on the smaller man. “Now, I’m not gonna ask again. What slimy trick did you have up your sleeve to revert me into this?”
He gestured to his body, and Izuku wheezed. The look on his face clearly told that the gears in his brain briefly stopped turning. “T-the...dragon…?” Forcing himself to look into those piercing eyes, Izuku saw it. They were indeed the same. His mouth hung open, his own eyes misting. “Did it...work? But how...the flowers…”
Katsuki’s head jerked over to where a pile of ashes lay. Bits of leaves and petals were still visible. He narrowed his eyes, dropping Izuku and stomping to sit across from him, grasping his head. “The fuckin flowers, seriously? There’s no damn way...but I searched your body and didn’t find any weapons, so what the hell…”
If Izuku wasn’t flushed before, he was burning all over again now. “Y-y-you searched, w-wha?!” He was about ready to pass out again, but he snapped himself out of it. “Well, wait a minute! I’ve got some questions too!” He jabbed a finger at the blonde, gulping. “What exactly did I do, did I take away your powers or something? Why are you a human now? And what did you do to those people and why?! I swear I’ll stop you if you try to hurt anyone else--”
“Would you shut the fuck up?!” Katsuki’s voice roared through the cave, and Izuku shrunk back once more. He ran a hand through his spiky locks, taking a deep breath, and for the first time Izuku noticed the stress on his features. “Tell you what...answer my damn question and maybe I’ll answer one of yours.” He fixed Izuku with a stare that didn’t leave room for argument.
Steadying himself, Izuku collected his thoughts and explained. He told him everything, about the summons, the bounty on his head, the soothsayer and the aster flowers and the charm. It may have been too much information that could be used against him, but perhaps it would prompt the other to come clean as well.
Katsuki had listened with a scowl on his face that deepened when Izuku mentioned the flowers. “Banishing evil serpents, huh? So you just assumed that every dragon is evil?”
Izuku blinked, opening his mouth and shutting it again. He sighed, squirming a bit. “I...don’t know. Humans don’t exactly have a plethora of knowledge on your kind…” An idea hit him. “Perhaps...you could educate me?” It was his turn to give Katsuki a stare that couldn’t be ignored, in the form of soft, nervous, huge green puppy eyes.
The blonde looked at him like he was crazy. “First time anyone’s ever asked me that...you stupid or something? I could always just lie.” Izuku upped the cuteness, and Katsuki visibly flinched. “Don’t fuckin look at me like that! Fine!” Averting his gaze, he folded his arms over his broad torso, pausing for several moments.
“I...let myself be possessed.”
Izuku gasped, and Katsuki glared harder to shut him up before he interrupted. A certain hesitance grew more obvious on his features. “Bakugou used to be a name both feared and respected amongst the dragons. I was prince of the tribe that inhabits the land you humans call Musutafu, and we were the strongest, most dominant faction of the entire continent.”
Another pause. “Wars are common amongst our people, and with that comes casualties. Two of which crowned me king.”
Izuku felt for the man, but Katsuki growled at him. “Save me your fuckin pity. It was bound to happen eventually. Guess we just...didn’t think it would be so soon. Everyone was devastated, enraged. Especially me.” He wrung his hands together. “I took it out on the ones I was supposed to lead, tried to make too many changes too fast. Wanted the wars to stop, but I ended up creating an even bigger, shittier one.”
He trailed off again, and Izuku scooted forward ever so slightly, giving him his full attention. “Just when it got so bad that I’m pretty fuckin sure someone conspired to assassinate me, a strange...thing visited me. I dunno if he was a human, dragon, or something else. Just wore a shadowed, dark robe. Of course I was suspicious and almost told him to fuck off, but...he offered me a solution that seemed so simple at the time.”
Katsuki met Izuku’s gaze again. “All I had to do was get rid of my emotions.”
“It made sense,” he continued, “my temper was getting in the way of logic. It was clear I couldn’t fix it myself, and I didn’t know what else to do. So I said yes.” The aggression had faded from his face, morphing into guilt and disgust, and he looked down at the ground once more. “He took me to some secluded place in the mountain, made me draw blood and spill it over a bunch of runes inscribed on the ground.”
His body tensed. “There was a shit ton of smoke, so much fucking pain...then emptiness. The stranger had disappeared, of fucking course. After that, I didn’t know who the fuck I was anymore. The anger was gone, but so was anything good that was left in me. I returned to my people, and their fear turned to terror. Said dealing with my constant temper tantrums was still better than this. So I left. Abandoned them. Put my right hand man, Kirishima, in charge of the kingdom til I got back. I isolated myself in this cave, and eventually it got the best of me. When the first nosy asshole human came to challenge me, I found even my magic was corrupted. I didn’t mean to hurt him, just wanted to scare him...but the fumes of my fire merely smoldered and put him into a deep sleep that I couldn’t undo.”
Turning slowly, he gazed upon the bodies still silently resting and winced. “I felt...so powerless. And...lonely. So I stopped trying to fix it. Having someone else around, even if they were an empty shell, was better than nothing. That’s how I...started my collection.” He pursed his lips, throwing his hands up. “And that’s that. Don’t think I’ve ever talked that long in my life so you better have listened. And whatever you do…” His glare returned. “Don’t you dare make assumptions about my people just because of my fuck up.”
Izuku tilted his head, frowning softly as he thought hard on all this new information. So that was how the flowers had still burned...he counted himself lucky that the corruption hadn’t completely dulled his flames. He scratched at his chin absentmindedly while he spoke. “I see...it was all a way of coping...so then, you don’t hate humans, nor do you want to hurt them?”
“You’re a bunch of annoying ants with egos way too big for your tiny ass bodies, yeah, but no, I never had any intention of harming you. After my paren...after I became king, I was in this form often to mingle with humans, to try and find a way to be on better terms with your kind. Of course, that didn’t exactly go smoothly either. Gave that up too. That’s why I was pretty damn shocked when I found myself like this after you did your weird flower magic.” Katsuki stood up, pacing around the room, and Izuku squeaked again. The blonde arched an eyebrow, finally smirking in comprehension. “Oh, and you’re all a bunch of little perverts too. Geez.” He stalked to the back of the room, ignoring Izuku’s whines of protest and wrapping one of the animal furs from an old kill around his waist. “Better?”
Izuku shook his head, realizing his mistake and quickly nodding, grasping himself as he felt dizzy again. “Anyway, ah...so, what are you going to do now? If you have no malicious intent, surely you can send these people on their way and return to your kingdom?”
Katsuki grunt and chuckled sarcastically. “Sure, that’s a great fuckin plan. Surround myself with a mob of angry, confused humans who all want a piece of my bounty, then waltz back to my kind and they’ll have arms wide open for me.” The humor faded from his face, and he grit his teeth. “I didn’t even expect to get better. I’d resigned myself to my fate, then some asshole had to come prancing in with his magical flowers, nearly piss himself from fear, yet somehow cure me anyway. How the hell am I supposed to know what to do?”
Where moments ago Katsuki had been the epitome of pride, he now looked like a lost child. A pang settled in Izuku’s chest. “It really seems like you want to do the right thing, by everyone...I think that’s quite honorable. I know I haven’t experienced nearly what you have, but I know what it’s like to feel trapped and unsure.” He offered him a hopeful smile. “If it’s all right, I’d like to help in any way I can.”
Katsuki scoffed, appraising the man a bit more closely. “You gonna make flower crowns for everyone so they all get along? And aren’t you supposed to be handing me over so you can get your lifetime of riches from your king?”
Izuku laughed, a bright sound that echoed through the cave and made Katsuki’s heart beat a bit faster. “Maybe!” he replied brightly. “To the first question, at least. The bounty was for all the people who were taken, so if all of them are returned, I don’t see the issue personally.” He rubbed the back of his neck. “I know it’s...probably not as simple as that. But I believe it’s worth it to make sure everyone gets a happy ending, no matter the trails.”
Was this happy sunshine guy for real? Katsuki made a gagging noise, rolling his eyes. “Cut that sappy shit, gonna make me throw up. You’re definitely insane.” He stretched as a yawn interrupted his speech, strong muscles flexing. “Think it’s getting late. We can figure this out in the morning. I hope you know you’re staying here tonight.”
And so he did. What should have been rest turned into hours of sharing tales and odd tidbits about one another and their people, laughs, and playful teasing. Katsuki watched the green-headed man sleep once he’d finally passed out, wondering how such a being even existed. He was quite literally the light that had rescued him from the darkness. Something was blossoming in his chest that he’d never felt before.
In the morning, Izuku and a large group of people were spotted descending the mountain. The king’s men rushed to greet them, accounting for every person that had gone missing and hoisting Izuku up on their shoulders with chants of praise and glee. They carried everyone off to the castle, so busy celebrating that they didn’t notice the golden wings dipping in and out of the clouds, soaring to another mountain. After the merrymaking ended, Izuku was brought before the king.
King Katsuki, meanwhile, demanded - to not much effect - that his people stop teasing him about the single red aster tucked behind his ear, his face turning as red as the flower.
Months passed. On a day in spring when Izuku’s garden was in full bloom, a knock sounded at the Midoriyas’ door. Izuku ran to answer, grin splitting his face in half, bouncing on his heels.
Katsuki tried his best to maintain a scowl. “When I told you that the crows will send messages between us, I meant for an emergency, damn Deku,” he growled, the affection behind the nickname far softer than his tone implied, “not for cluttering my throne room with flowers!”
Izuku laughed, unphased as he tugged the grumbling blonde inside. “Do you need me to come and help you organize your new collection, Kacchan?” he teased, arching a knowing eyebrow and sending the king into a fit of flushing and swearing.
Huffing, Katsuki allowed Izuku to plop them down into a chair, very little space left between the two. He reached into the pouch on his hips, pulling out three flowers. One, another red aster - he had an entire field of those planted in his kingdom now - the second, a feathery white flower that reminded him of bouncy green curls so tempting to pet; the third, a row of pink buds shaped like hearts that trailed off to little pearls at the bottom. “So what do these mean, hm?”
Izuku smiled and took the first, a sweet blush blooming on freckled cheeks. “I told you before, the red aster symbolizes patience.”
Katsuki arched an eyebrow suspiciously. “Yeah? Well someone told me there’s another meaning to it too…”
“A-and this one, the astilbe, expands on that...it means ‘I will still be waiting for you’ and represents loyalty, dedication, always having patience for a certain person…”
The blonde stilled, not even angry that he’d interrupted him. His heart beat loudly in his ears. “Yeah…?”
Izuku took a deep breath, swallowing audibly as he took the third flower, twirling it in his hands. “The third, the bleeding heart, symbolizes...openness with your emotions, the intimate thoughts you share with the people closest to you...and…” He moved from looking away bashfully to meeting Katsuki’s gaze, just inches from his own. His lips mouthed quietly right before they were captured.
The embrace was blinding, timeless, breathtaking, the first and the best they would ever have. And perhaps one of the most awkward, for just then, Inko walked into the room, nearly falling over and letting out a shriek that was echoed by the two embarrassed men. Izuku rushed to steady her, redder than he thought possible for a human. “M-mom, I’m so sorry, are you all right?”
Inko gave the two a deadpan serious look, causing even Katsuki to flinch. “I’ll be fine so long as I get grandchildren.”
Katsuki’s laughter broke the pause that ensued, and it was contagious. The warmth and love in the shared sound echoed through the house, more full than it had ever been, blossoming into hollow spaces made whole once more.