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Scales Ain't The Same As Feathers

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Mitsuki used to think that the sudden chest pains and the cold sweats would only plague her as long as it took her to get accustomed to her newfound role of mother alongside that of a queen.

Five years later though, her heart still shoots in the roof of her mouth every time she loses sight of Katsuki.

One second he’s there, playing with the fringes on the floppy edges of the tent, and the next he’s—gone. Vanished into thin air.

She scrambles off her feet and storms out of the tent, scaring the shit out of the useless guards at its entry. “I fucking lost Katsuki!” she bellows, which at this point has become the standard sentence to command all able men and women in the clan to get off their asses and launch back into the woods to track down their wayward prince.

Mitsuki is this close to losing it. They’re a clan forged in iron and blood, each of the members coming from strong lines of warriors, of heroes, their instincts honed over generations, their muscles shaped by hard training from a young age, and yet—Katsuki has only seen five summers so far, yet he’s able to give them the slip and disappear as if he were waterdrops on turned soil.

A great fighter, her son is promising to become. Yet such prowess is proving to be one big pain in the ass now.

Alerted by the noise, Masaru appears next to her with a horse at his side. “Unleash the dogs,” she tells him, taking the proffered reins and swinging her leg astride the mount.

Masaru pats her knee comfortingly. “I’m sure he’s alright.”

“Oh, I know he’s alright.” Mitsuki shrugs, “He’s Katsuki. I just want him to be alright where I can fucking see him.”

:::

In the end, it’s not the search party that finds Katsuki as much as Katsuki that finds the search party, after the clan spent most of the afternoon astride horses disturbed by the yapping of the dogs and the raucous calls of the prince’s name.

Katsuki appears out of the underbrush, almost indistinguishable from the vegetation with his clothes caked in mud and the rat’s nest of foliage and twigs in his hair. He scampers towards Mitsuki’s horse barefoot on the rough ground, dry-eyed and excited as if he’s not wandered in the forest alone for fucking hours.

Mitsuki launches herself off the horse and towards him, relief slamming through her as she soaks in the warmth of the willowy body of her son in her arms. She’s got a tirade queued up that will have the gods come down from the sky begging to tone it down, but then her eyes fall on the bundle of red-scaled wings, white teeth, whiny chirpings, and a long, long, spiked tail clawing at the crook of Katsuki’s elbow to avoid sliding off to the ground.

Katsuki sniffs proudly. “I found me a chicken.”

:::

Somehow Mitsuki persuades the clan not to kill the hatchling on sight when Katsuki struts proudly through the camp with the beast wrapped around his thin, vulnerable neck.

Maybe everyone knows deep down that if there’s anyone out there who can keep a fucking pet dragon is Katsuki. He’s a bit of a hellion – it’s said with love, but still, he is – and temperamental, and arrogant, but he’s also indomitable like a mountain lion, keen like a hawk, and brave to the point where Masaru and half the men in the clan had developed white hair by the time Katsuki began crawling.

Katsuki is also implacable training the dragon to not piss or shit anywhere that isn’t the camp latrines, and then teaching him to respond to the name of Red, and to sit, to lay, to roll over, to fetch, and to not kill the chickens in the hen-house Katsuki insists Red must sleep in, because he needs to learn things from his chicken family too.

Indeed at some point, Red did start clucking.

Yeah, Katsuki is incredibly smart, but this small detail really doesn’t dawn on him.

Mitsuki expects Katsuki to realize he’s been nursing a fucking dragon when he’s six and Red roars for the first time in the middle of a friendly game of wrestling in the packed earth. It is a terrifying sound that scares Red himself so much Katsuki has to look for him in the ashes of every hearth in the camp.

What Katsuki does when he finds him instead is squatting down before his eyes and telling him ‘You’re gonna be King of the Hen-house so fast now!’. And then proclaims he’ll sleep in the barnyard with the dragon for the night because Red is still too shaken to be left alone.

Mitsuki meets Masaru’s eyes over her son’s head after this last declaration of intents and fucking gives up.

:::

At this point, she doesn’t bat an eye when one night that they’re huddled around the hearth while Masaru weaves a tale for them – about princes and dragons, because Masaru still thinks they should ease Katsuki into the idea that Red might not be a chicken after all – Red squirms in the fireplace between them and sneezes.

The only one who needed to be eased into a new idea then is fucking Mitsuki herself, who now faces the challenge of being queen and mother to two eleven-year-olds, one of which is surely non-human while the other might just as well be.

Red now calls himself Eijirou and has crimson hair and teeth that make an involuntary shudder travel down Mitsuki’s back while affection blooms in her chest.

Katsuki takes an exhaustingly long time to come to terms with the change, sulking over the betrayal sitting in front of the pen where Eijirou used to sleep, waiting for all the other chickens to sneeze and transform.

:::

At some point, Eijirou manages to slither back into Katsuki’s graces. It was probably that time when post-shift Eijirou strode through the camp buck-naked and streaked with the blood of the white wolf slung over his shoulders, giving Mitsuki a heart attack. The beast was almost as big as Eijirou was in dragon form, and he dumped the carcass in front of Katsuki, claiming its mangled fur would make a great, manly cape for him, before dropping to his knees to skin it.

Or maybe it was that time when Eijirou lost his first fang and instead of running to Mitsuki or Masaru for help, he’d burrowed deep into Katsuki’s empty pail and wouldn’t be coaxed out until Katsuki himself showed him he had loose teeth too. They then proceeded to pluck one out of each other’s mouths and trade them like fucking gifts of hospitality.

Masaru had told her that last part, because if Mitsuki had seen them pull one of Katsuki perfectly firm teeth – she checked them every morning, because she prides herself in passing the whitest and straightest teeth in the clan, therefore they had to be cherished – she would have exiled them both to opposed sides of the room until they were old and gray and thus trusted to recognize the importance of having a good dentition.

:::

Now, given Katsuki’s explosive reaction when he found out Eijirou could shapeshift and had a proper name, Mitsuki is just dreading the day Katsuki finds out that chickens are not supposed to hit fifteen feet of height, that they’re not carnivorous, and that they don’t normally spit fire.

She used to think that Eijirou too would have had an identity crisis at some point. But then it happened one time that an odious, pompous ass from a neighboring country come to parlay the passage of Mitsuki’s clan through a strait over ‘his’ sea stopped in front of a stuck-between-forms Eijirou and asked, “What are you supposed to be?”

Eijirou stared at him dead in the eye from all his six feet of height, six and a half counting the horns, tapping his clawed fingers over his crossed arms, leathery wings fluttering behind him, and the wicked-looking bone spikes catching the firelight on his restless tail, and answered “A chicken,” with such disdain and sarcasm that Mitsuki never dared to question his self-awareness.

One half of the problem has been taken care of without Mitsuki’s intervention, at least.

:::

The other half is way too big a hurdle though, maybe too much for a queen of forty to handle. Or actually, any other woman in her forties is basically coming of age in Mitsuki’s opinion—it’s just that any other woman hasn’t spent sixteen years despairing after a reckless son with too much power and charisma for his own good, and another kid that follows a development schedule that is radically different than any human’s, so it’s always trial by fire with him, sometimes literally.

Mitsuki is fundamentally tired, exhaustion settled deep in her bones. Some days she’d gladly lie down and rest for a century or two. Yet, it becomes worth it with every one of Katsuki’s teeth revealed by his rare smiles; with every absent gesture of affection Eijirou bestows upon them.

 Sometimes Eijirou lets her on his back with Masaru and takes them for well-deserved flights over the mountains, and the hills, and the plains, and Mitsuki’s personal favorite (also maybe Eijirou’s): over the sea. The few times they’re moving through a coastal area, Eijirou has this glint in his eyes, a yearning for the blue expansion of endless water that he often comes to Mitsuki to sate.

His wings, larger, so much larger than when Katsuki found him as a whelp, cut elegant twin white lines on the surface, and his excited roars ring in Mitsuki’s ears long after the briny wind has snatched them away.

“Now I understand why Katsuki loves you so much,” Mitsuki told him the first time Eijirou offered her a ride on his back.

Seventeen and with still some baby fat on his face, Eijirou’s smile had been blinding, his hug full of unspoken words and, Mitsuki is sure, a few shed tears too.

:::

Mitsuki is not completely sure if Katsuki knows of his feelings for Eijirou. Sure, he routinely helps him to groom his wings by getting to the caked scales Eijirou can’t reach, and always wears a necklace of Eijirou’s baby teeth along with the wolf pelt Eijirou gave him because he thinks they make him look badass. He also can’t sleep unless he’s sure Eijirou is in the vicinity, and when Mitsuki asks him to go somewhere as her ambassador, he always takes Eijirou with him. Eijirou is always the first person he asks opinions to, and they're probably the only one’s he cares about too.

But he doesn’t seem to know that he migrates towards Eijirou’s warmth at night, or what it means when he wakes up with their legs tangled, with his head on Eijirou’s chest, tucked under his chin. He doesn’t seem to know he watches Eijirou as if he’s all the heroes of his favorite stories combined, or that while he likes to deal with his problem alone, Eijirou’s he faces head-on, pigheaded and utterly ruthless in dispatching Eijirou’s demons and insecurities one after the other.

He doesn’t seem to realize that, more often than not, the new routes he proposes the clan take run along an enormous body of water.

Mitsuki supposes he’s never noticed that chickens don’t much like the water themselves.

For now, though, Katsuki limits himself to lead the clan’s charges against monsters, and villains, and new landscapes astride Eijirou, bellowing curses and colorful threats that Masaru began collecting to read out at the banquet for Katsuki’s eighteenth birthday. It’ll properly embarrass him. Mitsuki begged him to add that one time Eijirou let out a terrifying cluck before dropping down from the sky to lay waste to their opponents’ lines.

:::

Mitsuki should have foreseen it. Should’ve fucking known it. They’ve been parading through the continent with a dragon for years now, shit was bound to hit the fan.

Katsuki’s been beating himself up over it for weeks already, but really, at barely eighteen he still does not have the battle experience Mitsuki has, despite inheriting all of her fire. He wouldn’t have understood the signs either way; he would’ve still charged where the League’s lines broke after an exhausting fight.

In any other circumstance, he’d have been right to follow-up to the breakthrough by touching ground for the rest of the clan to reclaim it.  

This time, the broken line had been a ruse to spear Eijirou to the ground and make a pass at capturing him.

They made it out by the skin of their teeth.

And right now, Eijirou is convalescing in one of the physicians tents, his torso more pale bandages than tan skin; Katsuki carves lines pacing in his tent and in Eijirou’s alternatively; and Mitsuki had to see Eijirou pale and bleeding out on the ground summoning all his fire to melt the rock around them, and her son, dressed in blood from his neck down, dropping like a stone after holding the front himself until Mitsuki and the rest of the clan managed to push through and hold off some of the Villains on their own.

Mitsuki won’t tell Katsuki that it wasn’t his fault. It was. He led Eijirou in the mouth of the lion. Absolution from her will mean nothing but a feeble attempt at comfort that Katsuki doesn’t need to become better. But she won’t let him stew in the thought of what could have been. This fear, this regret belongs in the past where Katsuki can learn from it and be safe from drowning in it.

What matters now is that Eijirou is alive and that he has another chance at life. And maybe Katsuki has another chance at Eijirou too.

:::

When she reaches the physician’s tent, where she knows her son is because all the meat from the plate in his tent is missing, she finds it empty.

Her heart takes a familiar dive before one of the medics tilts her head towards the woods and the sound of raging waters from deeper down the tree-line.

She chuckles, thinking about five-year-old Katsuki stumbling through the underbrush much like Mitsuki herself is doing right now, chasing butterflies or maybe just hitting sticks against the tree trunks to the rhythm of his waddling, completely unaware of the fact that he’s close to adopting a goddamn dragon. He’s made of other stuff, that kid, sometimes Mitsuki can’t believe he ever came out of a womb. She’s held him weak, soft, and incomplete with his puffy squinty eyes, the bald crown of his head, and his garbled attempts to communication. Yet she almost can’t reconcile that image, that feeling, with Katsuki’s present sharp jaw and sharper tongue, with his long limbs compact with muscle, with his whip-like intelligence.

Katsuki sits on the edge of the river, running his fingers through the scales around the knob of the wing Eijirou rolled out across his thighs, while Eijirou himself dozes with his head on his crossed arms next to Katsuki’s knee, half-submerged in the water. “I just can’t understand why one would go to such lengths for a chicken.

Yeah, Mitsuki almost can’t reconcile the two images she has of Katsuki, but then he says shit like this and boom, problem fucking solved. 

She thinks it’s finally time when Katsuki freezes, hands splayed over the red scales. Eijirou twitches his wing the way he does when he wants to keep being scratched. 

“You’re not a fucking chicken.” 

Eijirou’s smile curls the muscles in his cheek even as he keeps his head pillowed on his arms. “Nope.”

“Fuck,” Katsuki hangs his head. “Eijirou. Fuck. I got myself a dragon. Shit. Fuck.” 

Yeah. Imagine my fucking surprise when you kept checking his bed in the barnyard for eggs.

Eijirou snorts, righting himself on the bank. “I quite liked being your chicken, though.”

“Shut up.” 

Eijirou slides off the bank, big wings paddling in the river to push him closer so that he can see Katsuki’s face. “Cluck cluck.”

“I will fucking pluck you,” Katsuki growls, splashing water at him. 

Eijirou laughs, and plants his hands on either side of Katsuki’s thighs. He hoists himself out of the water long enough to make Mitsuki freak out about his wounds and to press his wet lips to Katsuki’s. 

“Goddammit, one thing at a time! I just realized you’re a fucking dragon, gimme a fucking minute.” Katsuki bristles, before tangling his fingers in Eijirou’s hair to pull him back in. 

Mitsuki chuckles to herself and moves to turn back the way she’s come. What she needs to tell Katsuki can wait. She can let him have these tender moments to himself. Knowing the clan’s history and Katsuki’s duties, they’ll be rare commodities.

“Shit. I thought I was a chicken-fucker.”

But that’s her coarse attitude coming out right there. Mitsuki takes full responsibility for passing down that one too.

“Well, it turns out you’re a monster fucker, I don’t know how that’s any better.”