“Would you calm the fuck down?” Katsuki snapped.
Izuku shot him a look and went right back to straining his neck in an attempt to spot Coburn.
“You’re gonna hurt yourself if you keep doin’ that, shortstack.”
“You know, I’m not actually that much shorter than you.”
“Enough to matter,” Katsuki snorted.
“Jerk. Anyway, I’m not apologizing for being excited to see my best friend,” Izuku said, jaw set in stubborn lines Katsuki had long become familiar with. “And you’re excited to see Shouto.”
“HAH?!” Katsuki scowled. “Like fuck I am.”
Izuku laughed, bright and clean. He turned to smile at Katsuki. “I guess I’ll have to be excited for the both of us then.”
“You would miss me too much, handsome.”
Katsuki flushed red. “I hate you.”
“Also not true.” Izuku grinned.
“Are you trying to annoy me?”
“Not entirely.” Izuku shrugged. “I’ve just really missed them.”
“And by them you mean Hitoshi.”
“No, I’ve missed Shouto too,” Izuku protested. “But yeah, I guess mostly. It would be like you being away from Eijiro or Mina for too long. He’s my family the same way they’re yours.”
“I get it, nerd. We’ll be there soon.”
“Not soon enough.”
“Jelena!” Naxhdor exclaimed, delight and hope a dangerous mixture in his bloodstream. “I didn’t realize you would come.”
“I like to keep an eye on them.”
Jelena’s answering smile was softer, sadder- an echo of the fierce joy she had once held within her. “They survived.”
“Don’t tell me you’re still angry with me, Jelena.” Naxdohr frowned, heart twisting in his chest at the very thought. “I was young and stupid, angry. The curse is lifted, just like you wanted.”
“Do you know how many people I have had to escort to my halls because of the curse? Do you know what part I was forced to play? Do you even care?”
“I care. I never meant for it to hurt you, Jel.”
“You cursed my people. How does that not hurt me?”
“It was your family that let it stand,” he argued, desperate to cast the blame aside. He had made a mistake in a fit of rage, hoping to protect his people in Ashax. He had never meant for it to hurt her, to damage their relationship. “I was protecting my people.”
“Yes.” Jelena shook her head, sorrow heavy in her eyes. “Skaista, Andris, Lauris, Kaspars, they let it stand. That doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t change that one of them was always watching me.”
“How did the curse end?” He had to know.
“My sister lifted it.” Jelena shrugged, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. “She was always the stronger of us.”
“Don’t put yourself down like that. You’re the Goddess of Death. Your job is hard and people curse your name for it and you do it still. Your job is the final one and I think you’re stronger for doing it.”
“They were strong, stubborn. They found the clues I left and I was so proud of them, even if I couldn’t say it. He was so hard for them to curse, you know. I was glad they found each other.”
“The way we found each other,” Naxdohr prodded.
Jelena met his gaze, her silver eyes heavy with sorrow. “The way we once had each other.”
“I thought time healed all wounds.” He swallowed against the panic that beat in his chest, the insipid sense of loss that threatened. “You’ve been mad for thousands of years, Jel.”
“My people have been dying for thousands of years and I was the one they often blamed.” Jelena folded her arms. “Ask me again if I am still mad in a thousand or so years.”
“I miss you.” The confession was torn from his soul. “I made a mistake and I will regret it for the rest of eternity. Please, Jel.”
“I love you, Nax.” Her eyes shimmered with tears that didn’t fall, grief an open emotion on her features. “But I love my people and what you did changed the shape of their history and culture. It made them despise me. And I couldn’t even tell them I was on their side for fear that one of the others would find out and curse them or make it worse.”
Naxdohr swallowed hard. “Can you ever forgive me?”
“I don’t know.”
Below them, the Othyian party continued their journey leading them deeper into the heart of Ashax.
Izuku slid out of the saddle and stretched, looking around the busy courtyard with interest. Last time he’d been in Ashax had been to help overthrow Enji Todoroki and put his son on the throne and the courtyard had been very different. Now, stablehands and soldiers of multiple ranks moved through on their errands, part of a healthy and thriving capital.
A stablehand took the reins of his mount with a deep bow. Izuku nodded in gratitude, straining to see if he could catch sight of Hitoshi. He’d been hoping that his best friend might be waiting in the courtyard for them but Izuku didn’t see him.
“You’re gonna fall over if you keep doing that!” Denki grinned. “Probably hit your head while you’re at it. And then what? Besides, you know he’s probably in the throne room waiting for you. It’s what’s proper and all.”
Izuku stuck his tongue out at his friend. “You sound like Kacchan.”
“He does not,” Katsuki growled. “C’mon, nerd. We’re supposed to go pay our respects. Kami, make sure that our shit gets to the right room.”
“How come I get the boring job?” Denki folded his arms.
“‘Cause I said so.” Katsuki arched an eyebrow. “Hanta can help you.”
“Isn’t this the servants’ job?” Denki whined. “I want to find Tenya and bug him.”
“I don’t care what the fuck you do after you make sure everything is good. Just don’t make your mate jealous.”
Denki flushed pink and level Katsuki with a dark look. “Not funny. You know we haven’t...”
“Who said I was being funny?” Katsuki smirked. “C’mon, shortstack.”
“Coming.” Izuku shook his head fondly as they headed for the palace proper. “You’re awful.”
“They need to figure it out.” Katsuki shrugged, clearly unrepentant. “I had enough pinning from Kiri to last a godsdamned lifetime.”
“It’s weird being back, isn’t it?” Izuku asked. Denki could fight his own battles if he chose to. “Last time we were here…”
“I’m used to it by now. I’ve had to visit parts of my empire after conquering it.”
“And it was never weird or hard?” Izuku nudged his mate.
“It was what it was.” Katsuki shrugged. “Saw no use in dwelling on it.”
Izuku smiled and shook his head. He’d learned enough about Katsuki in the past two years to read between the lines. If it had ever bothered Katsuki to walk the same halls where he’d once spilled blood, he wasn’t about to admit it here, if at all. He considered it part of being a king and warrior of the Othyian people, a burden that was his to shoulder. All Izuku could do was silently shoulder it with him and hope he made the weight on Katsuki’s shoulders that much lighter.
Katsuki paused for a moment before turning left. “This way to the throne room.”
“Isn’t there supposed to be an escort? I know we’re friends with them but this seems really informal.” Izuku’s father would have been furious if a visiting monarch had arrived without an escort. Those who had failed in their job as guides would’ve been punished.
“Don’t care and neither will they. Pretty sure Shouto expects it from us.” Katsuki grinned, wicked and teasing- young in a way he rarely seemed. “And maybe we catch ‘em off guard.”
Izuku’s knees nearly buckled, his heart beating double time at a look that was still infrequent. Katsuki had taken on too much responsibility at too young of an age. The deaths of his parents and Noboru’s reign had ensured that. He never really forgot he was the ruler of a sprawling empire. Thousands upon thousands of people relied on Katsuki to protect them and make sure they were taken care of, that they had what they needed. Yeah, he might have stewards to take care of the daily stuff, but any big problems got kicked up to Katsuki.
Moments where Katsuki was open like this, young like this, were a gift that Izuku coveted, even after two years together.
“Isn’t it different still?” Izuku smiled, his arm brushing against Katsuki’s as they walked. “Since it’s not yours?”
“I guess.” Katsuki shrugged. “Less groveling.”
Izuku laughed, the memory of blood slick stone buried under the joy of the present and a love so all-encompassing Izuku couldn’t imagine life without it anymore. “Of course that’s what you notice.”
Two guards dressed in the colors of Ashax stood on either side of a large wooden door nodded to them as they drew closer.
“Your majesty. Consort.” One of the guards bowed quickly. “Please go in. You are expected.”
“Thank you.” Izuku smiled warmly.
The other guard nodded. Together the two guards opened the large doors, motioning Katsuki and Izuku forward.
The throne room opened before them, so similar to the day they had won the war and claimed the throne for Shouto. And so different too. Banners of cool silvers and royal reds hung from the ceiling with the Ashax royal crest, a blend of colors that had belonged to Enji and Shouto’s mother. The hall was cleaned of blood and the debris of war.
It was mostly empty right now, no mingling courtiers waiting with interest to see what happened between their king and the visiting emperor. Izuku’s shoulders relaxed a little as he and Katsuki stepped in, the doors closing behind them.
And most importantly, there were two thrones on the dais where one had once stood. And in front of one of those thrones...
“Hitoshi!” Izuku bolted as soon as he saw his best friend, closing the distance between them in quick strides that bordered on a sprint. He slammed into his best friend, hugging him tightly.
HItoshi’s arms came around Izuku, hugging back hard enough to bruise, though he didn’t speak, not even to make a dry comment.
“Please make sure my consort can breathe,” Shouto said, voice laced with amusement.
“He’s not your consort yet,” Katsuki snorted from somewhere behind Izuku.
“I’ve missed you,” Izuku said as he pulled back.
“I had no idea,” Hitoshi said, sarcastic to the end. He was smiling though. “You only tried to break my ribs. I forget how strong you are.”
“Sorry.” Izuku flushed sheepishly.
“He’s made of stronger stuff than that, shortstack.”
“Yes, otherwise he wouldn’t have survived your barbarian country,” Shouto said, a hint of a smile on his lips.
“Hah?” Katsuki turned to glower at Shouto. “Whose barbarian country put your ass on this throne again?”
Izuku sighed. “Play nice for two minutes, you two.”
“This is them being nice.” Hitoshi shrugged. “You might as well give up.”
Izuku took a good look at his best friend, his brother in all but blood. Hitoshi’s ever-present dark circles were still there, but they didn’t look as dark as they once had. There was a sense of contentedness that clung to him, a confidence and security that no longer felt forced or fake. Like Izuku had found the place where he belonged and the person who fit his jagged edges, so too had Hitoshi. Clearly Shouto was good for his friend.
“That would require Katsuki to have manners.” Shouto arched an eyebrow.
“I HAVE MANNERS.”
Izuku turned his gaze to Shouto. It was clear that Hitoshi had been good for Shouto, too. There was more color in Shouto’s skin, a joy in his eyes that couldn’t be dampened. He still held himself straight and sure, but his muscles no longer seemed locked in place, as though he had to prove himself to the whole world.
“Stop antagonizing Kacchan.” Izuku folded his arms.
“It’s fun.” Shouto shrugged.
“I can handle Icyhot,” Katsuki growled.
“When are you two going to admit that you like each other, anyway?”
Izuku grinned as both kings turned to glare at him and spoke at the same time.
“We’re not friends, nerd.”
“I think you’re mistaken, Izuku.”
Izuku shrugged and turned to meet Hitoshi’s far too amused gaze. “Want to catch up? I have so much to tell you.”
“Yeah. I want to hear how you broke the curse. You didn’t say in your letters. For someone who babbles in real life, your letters suck.” Hitoshi motioned for Izuku to follow him.
“It’s a long story,” Izuku started.
“It always is with you. Tell me anyway.”
Izuku paused, glancing back at Hitoshi and Shouto, who were already sniping at each other again. “Should we leave them alone? They might kill each other.”
“They’re fine,” Hitoshi snorted. “Once we’re not around they’ll probably talk about news from around the world and make sure the other is fine without admitting it. The show is probably for us.”
“You’re probably right,” Izuku sighed.
“I’m always right.” Hitoshi smirked. “You should know that by now.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Izuku followed his friend out a side entrance to the throne room and down the hall. “I brought the mirrors. We should be able to finish up the two-way spell while I’m here.”
“So, you can call me and whine about the alchemy you’re stuck on?”
“Like you won’t, too.”
“Duh. I’m the charm and you’re the brains.” Hitoshi winked.
Izuku sputtered in laughter, the ache that came with missing his best friend going quiet for now. In this minute, everything seemed right with the world.
“So, marrying the purple-haired fucker, huh?” Katsuki sprawled on the chair Shouto had offered in a sitting room away from the throne room and any prying eyes or wandering ears. Both of them knew how little privacy royalty was offered and how to fight for what they had.
“That is why you’re here,” Shouto said as he sat in a chair opposite Katsuki.
“How’d you convince him?”
“Who said I had to?” Shouto frowned.
Katsuki arched an eyebrow. “You’re kiddin’ right? I did live with the asshole over a year. I figured he’d get hives being called Consort or Prince or whatever you’re gonna use. I’m surprised he even agreed to stay with you in the first place.”
“I don’t see why Izuku chooses to stay with you either, but here we are,” Shouto pointed out.
“It took some work,” Katsuki admitted after a minute.
“Hitoshi took… convincing, of a sort,” Shouto said quietly. “Honestly, I think part of me is waiting for him to realize what he is agreeing to and run.”
“And you know this how?” Shouto asked. “You just asked how I convinced him. You were surprised he agreed to stay.”
Katsuki shrugged. “Izuku wasn’t surprised he stayed and he knows Hitoshi pretty damn well, I think. Besides, I said Hitoshi would get hives not that he’d run for the hills. He’s never struck me as a coward.”
“I suppose I just don’t know what he sees that would make him face that. That would make him want to stay with me.” Shouto’s confession was soft and confused, an admittance that Katsuki knew would never leave this room, this conversation.
“Did you ask him?”
“It was mutual.” Shouto shook his head. “But he voiced the question first.”
“That’s your answer.” Katsuki motioned to the room around him. “All this shit might scare him but he chose you over it. If you’re askin’ if you’re worth it, you’re not. But I don’t really think anyone is.”
“So Izuku is not worth you?” Shouto asked, frown deepening.
“Eh.” Katsuki shrugged. He didn’t know how to word this right. “More like…I don’t get how anyone is worth unconditional love. I know he’s not going anywhere and all that. But how is anyone worth a mate like that? Cornerstone or not.”
“Oh.” Shouto’s expression turned thoughtful. “I think I understand.”
“Glad you’re not as slow as you look.”
Shouto glared at him. “I hate you.”
Katsuki smirked. “I know.”
The day of the wedding ceremony arrived before Izuku knew it.
He blinked awake as pale dawn light the color of champagne spilled through the windows of their guest suite. He shifted, groggy and unwilling to face the coming day, and burrowed his face in Katsuki’s collarbone in an attempt to block out the light.
Katsuki grumbled in his sleep, arms like steel around Izuku’s waist.
It took Izuku’s sleep-addled mind a minute to realize he was awake before his mate. Katsuki was usually up and moving in the predawn light, on his way to the deserted training grounds. It was rare for Izuku to be awake before him, another gift that Izuku didn’t want to waste.
He pushed himself up on his elbow, careful to keep his movements slow so as not to wake his mate. Katsuki was the lighter sleeper of the two of them and constantly teased Izuku about his snoring.
Now though, he slept undisturbed, white-gold hair glimmering in the light. His face was relaxed, wiped free of all scowls, arrogance, and walls that Katsuki had up when he was awake. In this moment he looked so heartbreakingly young and peaceful.
Izuku basked in the moment, grateful that the sunlight had woken him and given him this moment.
Katsuki blinked, waking slowly. His gaze locked on Izuku’s, still soft with sleep.
“Good morning, handsome.” Izuku’s smile was soft, warmth spreading through his veins.
How had he gotten so lucky? How had he found the one person in the world that was his match, and been lucky enough to end up with him? Katsuki was the one person who soothed his jagged edges, who matched him and filled the hole in his heart he hadn’t realized was missing. He made Izuku want to be a better person, made him want to reach for the very stars themselves.
There was also a piercing vulnerability that came with the depth of that kind of emotion. A fear of losing him that Izuku had never entirely chased away. The gods had tried to curse Katsuki, had nearly succeeded in stealing his life. Izuku had reminded himself that the curse was broken a million times. He had made a list of every single one of Katsuki’s skills and achievements, all to remind himself that Katsuki was never going to go anywhere. That what they had couldn’t be easily broken anymore, especially with the bond that stretched between them.
“Mornin’.” Katsuki yawned. “Watchin’ me?”
“Yeah,” Izuku admitted. “Sometimes I watch you because I can’t believe you’re still here. That you’re mine and I’m yours.”
“Got a bond between us that won’t let you get rid of me so easily,” Katsuki grumbled. But there was understanding in eyes of crimson.
“I know. I just… Sometimes I can’t believe how much I love you.” Izuku smiled shakily. “I know you know that, but sometimes it hits me really hard and it takes me a minute to find my balance again.”
“I sleep pretty damn light, you know,” Katsuki said, his gaze stubbornly on the ceiling now.
“Yeah?” Izuku cocked his head. “I know.”
“So… I must trust you a lot, to let you watch me and not even stir.” Katsuki’s cheeks flushed a pale pink.
Izuku hummed in agreement. ‘I guess you do.”
“Don’t go anywhere, you reckless shit. Okay?” Katsuki shifted to face him.
“Okay.” Izuku closed the distance between them, his nose bumping Katsuki’s.
The vulnerability that Katsuki created in him, that bone-chilling fear of what would happen if Izuku lost him, it was to stay. As long as he loved Katsuki, he would be afraid of losing him. That was part of what love was. Izuku was okay with that, when the rewards were so great.
Their lips met in a slow savoring of one another, two lovers who had nothing but time.
There was no further conversation for a while.
Katsuki threaded through the crowd to reach Shouto. “Ready?”
“Were you nervous for your wedding?” Shouto asked, his voice pitched beneath the crowd’s chatter.
“Angry.” Katsuki shrugged. “But I wasn’t proposed to. Izuku and I were forced together.”
“It worked out.” Shouto smiled slightly.
“Yeah, and you’ll be fine. So stop acting stupid and stop being nervous.”
“I didn’t say I was nervous.” Shouto arched an eyebrow regally. “I simply asked if you had been.”
Katsuki snorted. “Sure.”
“I would prefer we do this privately,” Shouto grumbled as he started through the crowd. “It is my business who I marry.”
“You’re a king. It doesn’t matter.” Katsuki followed Shouto.
“I am aware of that.” Shouto folded his arms. “At least it is a small crowd, I suppose.”
Katsuki’s gaze swept over those gathered. Shouto’s siblings mingled among the nobility that had been invited, and he’d spotted both Tenya and Momo in a knightly finery.
Katsuki had a feeling if Shouto had had his way, the ceremony would’ve been just his siblings, the two knights who had been so fiercely loyal to him throughout his journey, and Katsuki and Izuku. The lords and ladies who had been invited were less by Shouto’s personal choice and because he couldn’t afford to insult them. Some people might think that kings had all the freedom in the world. Katsuki knew better, and so did Shouto.
He stopped Izuku on the far side of the crowd by Hitoshi’s side. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Yes.” Shouto took a deep, steadying breath. “I want to be married and have this far behind me.”
“Shy, huh?” Katsuki smirked. “Never figured that.”
“Not shy.” Todoroki frowned. “Just… private.”
“Go get your mate, then.”
“Technically he’s not my mate. You’re the only one who can use that term.” Shouto smiled though. “We use soulmates here.”
“Soulmate, mate, whatever. Does the wording really matter?” Katsuki grumbled. “At least no one’s calling him the bride. Go get him.”
“I’d like to see them try.” Shouto snorted and continued through the crowd, his destination not Hitoshi, but the sizable expanse of ground currently empty of people. A large canopy covered with sweet flowers and multiple red-and-white colored ribbons stood in the center, waiting for the ceremony to begin.
Katsuki followed behind, aware of Izuku and Hitoshi making their way from the other side of the crowd. “So, what’s the point of the ribbons and all?”
“The wedding party hold them above their heads, connecting them to the couple being married, who stand beneath the canopy.” Shouto motioned to the canopy as he spoke. “The priest officiating the ceremony wraps a ribbon around the hands of the couple, binding them together.”
Katsuki arched an eyebrow. “Huh. What about vows?”
“We don’t have to use the traditional vows if we’d prefer something more personal. It’s left to each couple to decide what they want to say.” Shouto took another deep breath and tugged at his fancy doublet, deep blue embroidered with cool silver.
Unlike when Izuku had been married, however, there wasn’t a jewel in sight. Clearly Ashax knew how to do elegant without showering people in heavy fabrics and jewels.
“Uncomfortable?” Katsuki was once again glad that Othya’s formal wear included a nicer tunic with some fancy needlework and a vest. He didn’t have to stuff himself into anything uncomfortable. There were perks to being a visiting monarch.
“A little.” Shouto shrugged and turned to face the crowd.
“Will the wedding party please come forward?” The priest, dressed in robes of a rich, deep red, stepped forward. “We will begin the ceremony now.”
Shouto’s siblings, Tenya, and Momo stepped forward, each taking their place at one of the ribbons.
Katsuki caught Izuku’s gaze as Hitoshi joined Shouto at the canopy.
Izuku smiled brightly as he picked up one of the remaining ribbons and nodded for Katsuki to do the same.
Katsuki shook his head but moved to the single ribbon left and wrapped it around his hand. He hadn’t really expected to be part of the wedding party. It was Izuku who had pointed out that Hitoshi didn’t have family to stand for him, save Izuku. And since Katsuki was Izuku’s family, and Hitoshi’s by marriage, he had been drafted, too.
Unspoken had been the fact that Shouto had wanted him there.
“Please hold out your hands,” the priest said, his smile warm. “And we shall begin.”
Shouto and Hitoshi clasped their hands. The priest wrapped ribbons of white and red around their joined hands and up their arms.
“We are here to bind the lives of our king and his chosen consort, Hitoshi Shinsou. Once this is binding is made, it cannot be undone, not even by the will of our gods. Do you both understand?”
Shouto nodded, serious and tense.
Hitoshi shrugged. “Little late to back out now.”
Shouto smiled, tension bleeding out of his muscles. “You’ll be stuck with me.”
“I think it’s you’re stuck with me.” Hitoshi smirked. “But I’m pretty great, so lucky you.”
“Lucky me,” Shouto agreed.
“Shouto Todoroki, will you share in Hitoshi Shinsou’s pain and seek to alleviate it? Will you share in his laughter and look for the brightness within? Will you share in his burdens so that your spirit may grow with his in this union? Will you share in his dreams? Will you take the heat of anger and use it to temper the strength of this union? Will you honor him as an equal?”
Shouto swallowed, his gaze locked on Hitoshi’s own. “I will.”
“Hitoshi Shinsou.” The priest turned his attention to Hitoshi. “Will you share in Shouto Todoroki’s pain and seek to alleviate it? Will you share in his laughter and look for the brightness within? Will you share in his burdens so that your spirit may grow with his in this union? Will you share in his dreams? Will you take the heat of anger and use it to temper the strength of this union? Will you honor him as an equal?”
“I will.” Shouto’s smirk softened and warmed, becoming something rare and vulnerable Katsuki had never seen before.
Katsuki met Izuku’s gaze from across the canopy. Izuku’s eyes were shining with unshed tears, his smile bright enough to light the whole world. And suddenly Katsuki couldn’t wait for their mating ceremony this fall, couldn’t wait to call his Izuku his mate again in front of everyone that mattered. It was romantic and stupid and Katsuki was fine with that.
“Now,” the priest continued. “You will feel no rain, for each of you will be a shelter for the other. Now, you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now, there is no more loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now, you are two bodies, but there is only one life before you. May your days be good and long, may you bring each other joy and strength.”
Hitoshi and Shouto only had eyes for each other. In this minute, they’d probably forgotten anyone else was there.
Katsuki knew that feeling.
“Please seal your vows with a kiss.”
Shouto flushed pink.
“Gladly.” Hitoshi closed the distance, claiming Shouto’s lips in a kiss that had several people whistling and cheering.
Shouto’s blush was a dark red when they parted, his smile large enough to rival Izuku’s.
The priest removed the ribbons with careful motions. “It gives me great pleasure to pronounce you both married. Go with joy and love.”
The crowd erupted with deafening cheers and applause. Family and nobles alike swarmed the newly married couple, all trying to gain their attention and wish them congratulations.
Katsuki wound his way through the edges to find Izuku. There would be plenty of time to congratulate the new couple later. More than likely in a far more private setting.
“That was beautiful,” Izuku said in greeting, wiping his tears with the back of his hands. “And it makes me want it to be time for our mating ceremony even more.”
“Me too.” Katsuki wrapped his arms around Izuku’s waist and hauled him closer.
“You’ve done this since we met,” Izuku laughed. “Hauled me in whenever you wanted me.”
“Not about to stop anytime soon, so get used to it.”
“It used to annoy me.” Izuku smiled. “It doesn’t so much anymore.”
“Good.” Katsuki leaned closer, brushing his lips over Izuku’s.
“I looked at you like that, you know,” Izuku murmured.
“When we were married in Sniycia. I didn’t know you but all I could do was focus on you. Like you were the only thing that mattered. I knew you were the only person who would get me through the next few minutes.”
“Not exactly like that then,” Katsuki muttered. “‘Cause you didn’t even like me then.”
“I didn’t know you,” Izuku countered. “But you were all I saw during that ceremony. And you’re all I see now.”
“C’mere, nerd.” Katsuki smiled.
Their lips met, familiarity making the kiss no less sweet than the million that had come before it. Katsuki tugged Izuku closer, hands fisting in the back of his tunic.
All they knew in the world was each other.
And that was everything.
Jelena smiled, basking in the sheer joy of the festivities.
No one could see her or even sense her presence. She knew it was a good thing, that it would allow the people of Ashax to enjoy their celebration and would allow the Emperor of Othya and his mate to relax. It was the right thing to do, to remain hidden and cloaked in glamor.
But she wished she could be part of it all the same.
Her eyes landed on Katsuki and Izuku, the shimmering bond that tied them together visible to her. It was golden and green, a sparkling and thin connection that looked fragile, breakable.
It was anything but.
The bond that tied the two of them together had broken the curse of Othya. While Lamia had been the one to remove it from all of Othya, it was their courage and love that had created the bond. It was that bond that had given Lamia the courage to lift the curse for everyone. The love between the Sniycian prince and Othiyan emperor was beautiful to behold.
She wondered, as she drifted through a sea of twirling dancers, what it was like to be loved like that. Until it was a fact, a cornerstone of someone’s very being. A love that nothing could shatter or sunder.
Naxdohr appeared, as though summoned by her thoughts. “Jel.”
Jelena closed her eyes for a moment, steeled herself for the conversation to come. She opened her eyes again. “Well met, Nax.”
“You’re still here.” He sounded so bewildered, hope beginning to bloom in his eyes. “Does this mean-”
“I’m here because they’re still here,” she said quickly. She was a Goddess of Death, but she’d never wanted to be cruel. And it would be cruel to give him hope where there might be none.
“Oh.” He looked away.
Jelena turned to watch her emperor and his consort. They looked so happy together, so sure that they could take on the world.
“I was jealous.” The words tumbled from her lips before she realized it.
“Jealous?” Naxdohr moved to stand at her side.
“When I came to take him to my halls, I was jealous. Izuku risked his life to save Katsuki, used his very life force to keep him tied to this world. And Katsuki then attempted to cut that bond, to die if it meant Izuku would live. I envied them. I suppose I still do. I’ve never had that.” She couldn’t look at her former lover, kept her eyes firmly on the royal Othyian couple.
“Jel…” Naxdohr swallowed. “I would have done anything for you. Don’t you know that?”
“I did once.” Jelena rubbed her forearm with a heavy sigh. Once, she had believed that the two of them could do anything. “I think we both got a little confused and tangled up somewhere along the way.”
“I want to fix it.” Naxdohr brushed his arm against hers. “Can I?”
“I don’t know. You’re a deity of Vengeance and War. You’re not usually very good at fixing things.” She glanced to look at him and froze at the raw, wounded look in his eyes.
“I can be more than that if you let me. I was before.” His words were barely a whisper.
She thought of the relationship she had watched develop between Katsuki and Izuku, the odds they had overcome to find one another. They had both made mistakes and both of them had been forgiven. Together they had created a bond between them that had defied an ancient curse, a bond that had defied some gods and inspired others.
And here she was, happy they had survived and jealous that she didn’t have someone like that. Afraid to trust again.
“I don’t get how anyone is worth unconditional love. I know he’s not going anywhere and all that. But how is anyone worth a mate like that? Cornerstone or not.”
She took a deep breath, released it, took another. Finally, she turned to face Naxdohr. Her heart jumped to her throat. How was this so hard? How had the two of them made it look so easy?
“Very well?” He frowned. “What?”
“Let’s try and fix it. Together.” She held out her hand.
“Together.” He took it with a smile.
And Jelena felt hope again.