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when the hour's late

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It’s been a long day, and an even longer week.

There is no telling when he’ll be deemed healthy enough to go back to work with what’s left of his wings burned down to the bone and the red burns marring his pretty doll face. There are quirks meant to speed up the process, pat him in the back none too kindly and force him to climb atop the special pedestal the commission reserved just for an ever smiling hero with a pair of gorgeous red wings.

The same red wings now missing from his back.

Keigo isn’t even sure they will ever grow back. Dabi’s flames had licked at the skin of his back for what felt like ages, festering on his flesh and crawling up to his shoulders until he had become a phoenix that, just like Dabi, couldn’t handle its own heat.

Every night, the hero lies on his side, carefully finding the balance between not bothering his poor back and not putting any weight on his bandaged, cracked ribs. Sometimes he will fall prey to traitorous nightmares, waking up with ash crawling up his throat he can never manage to spit out, no matter how much he coughs. The phantom feeling of Dabi’s combat boots pressing him down into the mattress chases him until he feels like he’s choking on thin air.

Maybe he deserves it.

With a shaky sigh, Keigo reaches for the remote, trying to convince himself to pay attention to whatever the blurry colors swirling on the tv in front of his bed might actually be. A few seconds and a whole lot of concentration allow him to determine it’s a magic show, and his fingers twitch stiffly, hitting a button to take him anywhere but there.

A slice of life anime set on a girls-only high school. Click. A documentary on reptiles. Click. An ad for the newest console in the market. Click. A forest fire. Click click click click—

His breathing quickens, hand shaking as he attempts to find something that doesn’t make the memories take a hold of what little sanity he has left. Keigo inhales sharply through his nose, turns down the volume, and forces himself to stare at the screen once more. There is no reason he shouldn’t, after all.

Weak on top of guilty. Pathetic.

The Commission has never been kind too kind, in retrospective. It’s so easy to give that voice in the back of his head a tone and a body once he can’t quiet it down. His handler’s. His trainer’s. The receptionist who always sneers at his back’s. Keigo is used to being told to shine a little brighter, smile a little wider; nothing he does is ever good enough for the people up there, and he can only imagine what they are thinking of him right now.

Yes, he completed his mission, but at what cost? When will he ever stretch out his wings well above the buildings of the city again, looking for any petty robberies to spice up his morning patrol?

“Fuck.” The blond mumbles, setting for switching off the tv altogether when even the white noise it offers becomes too much for his migraine to handle.

He wasn’t the only one to lose something in the battle. Both sides had their losses, blood had been spilt all over the grounds of a lawless city, and they had all been to blame. Yet, here he is, mourning the missing weight at his back and trying not to cry in the shadows of his dimly lit room like a spoiled, grounded child.

Except for the fact that kids shouldn’t have access to any alcohol, let alone drink straight from a bottle of vodka.

The thought is tempting enough to make him roll from his side and place his bare feet on the cold floor. Keigo knows there must be some around, a stray bottle or two that managed to survive Rumi’s last purge. Under any other circumstances, the hero would send a few feathers to pry the flooring boards open, fetching them without having to get his knees dirty. He sighs, letting his own body weight drag him down to floor and hoping no splinters get on his hands as he grabs a loose board and opens the crawl space underneath. A pile of opened fan letters and cheap sake bottles greets him.

Perhaps he should burn them.

Those letters had been written to Hawks, the winged hero. None of them are addressed to Takami Keigo, the broken puppet.

Keigo rakes his fingers through his hair, swallowing hard. A decision for a later time. Maybe once he’s drunk enough he won’t see the difference between mourning the death of his hero persona everyday in front of the mirror and torching every single pretty word that he no longer deserves.

As his hand reaches for the neck of a bottle, his phone starts ringing.

Not many people have access to his private number. Just like that, his body is on automatic. Keigo steps down to make way for Hawks, perfect, collared Hawks, who would never dare hang up on his handlers. He doesn’t even check the caller’s identity before he reaches for the stupid thing lying on his bedside table and traps it between his ear and his shoulder. If he had any feathers left, they would all be sharpened by his nerves alone.

“Hawks.” He rasps out, tired before even getting started.

“Hey, chicken.”

That isn’t the voice of anyone he needs to fear— not yet , at least. His shoulders drop, feeling like Miruko has used one of her powerful legs to kick the air right out of his chest.

Keigo closes his eyes. “Rumi.”

“How are you feeling? Have you taken your meds today?”

“Yeah.”

He can tell she ponders whether she should push him to answer the first question in the following silence, and for a second, he wants to hit himself. Here she is, worrying, caring, and he is only making her waste her time. Keigo stops worrying at his lip after some seconds, but just as he is about to make up some excuse that will undoubtedly be too unbelievable and late for both of them, Rumi speaks.

“Hey, that’s good. Don’t make me go there to change your bandages, okay?” She pauses for half a second. “Or— or do so. I don’t mind. I could come over sometime, I’m sure you haven’t cleaned in forever.” The whole week he’s been cooped up in here, she means.

“That’s fine, I’m a grown up boy. I’m being responsible.” He eyes the bottles of alcohol still within reach, feeling every bit like the liar he is.

“I’m sure.” She isn’t , and isn’t it a bad sign how easily he can tell? “Just wanted to check up on you, that’s all. You haven’t been active on social media lately. It’s weird to see you go quiet, y’know?”

He isn’t allowed to, but she doesn’t need to know that. Instead, Keigo forces a weak laugh past his lips.

“Yeah, well, I’ve just been resting from everything. Doctor’s orders! She said it might help with—” His mouth goes dry, and he very pointedly avoids looking at his reflection on the opaque glass near his feet. He can’t say it. “everything.”

Rumi doesn’t speak for long enough to make him want to swallow his words. Complaining, that is all he does lately. Here he is, talking about his wings to someone who will never magically grow an arm every again.

He doesn’t realize he is crying until she hushes him through the phone.

“Hey, hey, it’s okay. Calm down, it’s going to be fine.”

Later, Keigo won’t be able to tell how long she spent on the phone, patiently waiting for his quiet sobs to stop. Long enough for the last rays of sunset coming from his window to disappear and leave room for the muted city lights.

His migraine has only turned worse. Keigo could drown it all in alcohol, pay for the consequences in the morning. His mother used to be fairly fond of that method. Perhaps she still was.

“Kei.”

Being called by his name is such a foreign feeling that he almost doesn’t answer, feeling so high above the ground even though his feet may never leave the ground.

“I’m fine.”

“You’re fucking not.” Rumi snaps, realizing her volume might not help immediately and lowering her voice. “Just… just let me help you. Let’s help each other.”

She has other friends to help her heal. Then again, she’s always been stronger than him in every single way. Maybe she doesn’t even need them to put the war behind them. The League and the Liberation Army will still be a heavy clamp around his ankle long after they’re all deep inside Tartarus, plaguing his dreams for years. Just for one night, he will let himself have this.

His tear tracks have yet to dry when Keigo opens his mouth, finding the courage he doesn’t really have as his lips curl into a watery smile. “Can you come over?”

Heroes aren’t this selfish.

To be fair, Keigo isn’t sure he can even call himself one anymore.