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a more perfect world than the universe

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“Oh, that's good."

The white noise of the shower running in the background is a calming accompaniment to the clinking of his whisk against the sides of the bowl. Cooking has been a fun hobby to get into and he's been doing quite well after the first few dozen mishaps. He's had time to practice, after all.

"Who knew lemon zest would make that much of a difference?"

And today, he finally has a chance to show off a bit. It's not everyday that Dabi has a day-off.

The cream forms soft peaks with a thick glossy sheen. His shoulders lift with pleasure. Dabi is sure to be impressed.

"What are you up to?" Something soft drapes over his shoulder. An arm wraps around his waist and warm drops of water drip from the tips of Dabi's hair, soaking into his shirt. The brief, almost instinctual panic that surges up his throat slides back down into his stomach. Keigo sinks into his embrace.

(He hopes Dabi didn't notice. Dabi doesn't deserve that.)

"Waffles!" Keigo grins, tilting his head to rest it on the side of Dabi's face, nuzzling his cheek. He's tempted to press a kiss to one of the shining staples on the crest of his cheekbone but Dabi beats him to it.

His mouth is rough and sweet under Keigo's eye. The arm around him tightens. His breath catches and his pulse stutters in his ears. How did Keigo ever deserve him, all this gentle tender affection, for someone like himself?

"Gimme a taste," Dabi demands to the marks on either side of his nose and Keigo releases his captured breath in an airy laugh.

"Here, here~" Keigo dips his finger in the whipped cream and cups a hand under it to keep it from spilling onto their nice clean kitchen floor. His talons are growing longer even if he had just cut them two days ago. He might have to again, he can't risk injuring Dabi, not even by accident.

Dabi doesn't take the bait, so to speak, not immediately. Not even when Keigo waves his finger  back and forth enticingly. But Keigo doesn't miss the way Dabi eyes the treat with a glimmer of attentiveness. He's a kitten in this way, pretending not to want something already being willingly offered. 

Eventually, as predicted, Dabi takes a bite. Blue eyes widen by just a smidge and Keigo feels like he's floating when Dabi's teeth nip at his skin.

"Good, right?"

Dabi hums thoughtfully and slowly , a kitten through and through, to keep the things Keigo wants from him just for the sake of toying with him.

"It's good," Dabi concedes.

His shoulders bounce, heartbeat fluttering.

"Wanna eat?"

Dabi purses his mouth, enough to land a kiss to one of the sleep-loosen locks of Keigo's hair.

"Sure."

"Well, if you wanna eat, go on and get us some drinks~" Keigo pushes Dabi off and waves his whisk at him, cheeks bursting at the scowl Dabi throws at him before stepping away to the fridge.

The entire house smells like butter and sugared fruit. Strawberries, Dabi's favorite. It's such a nice day. Maybe nice enough for Dabi to let him open the curtains to the balcony.

He brings their plates to the coffee table, a glass on either end, and a flower vase with the yellow roses Dabi brought home last night placed at the center. It's a cozy little set-up, cute enough to take a picture of if Keigo only had a phone but some things are better off experienced than documented, he supposes.

He sits down on the couch, mindful of the scars on his back stretching as he shifts, and takes the remote to turn on the television.

 

BREAKING NEWS

 

And in today's story, No. 1 Pro Hero, Endeavor,

is now leading the investigation into the disappearance of No. 2 Pro Hero, Ha-

 

A warm hand, gentle and tender and affectionate, settles over his eyes.

"Keigo," Dabi whispers into his ear, drowning out the rest of the newscaster's announcement.

“Da-"

Another hand presses against his back.

"What have I told you about watching the news?"

Right between his shoulders.

"You know it's not allowed here, right?"

A flawless thumb draws circles on his temple, down half of Keigo's face. As if enough affection can smooth the scars away.

"Remember?" Dabi asks, his chin resting on Keigo's shoulder, one hand in Keigo's hair, the other nestled in the space between his shoulders, along his spine.

The living room light is blinding when Dabi lets him go.

"Right. I'm sorry. I got careless and forgot."

Dabi looks at him, eyes soft. Disappointed, maybe, and it had been such a good day, too. He reaches for the remote left on the coffee table.

"It's okay. As long as you understand." Dabi tells him in that soft-eyed, slight-frown tone of voice, equally scolding and forgiving, as he turns Keigo's face into the crook of his neck. Presses a kiss to his hair, pinches his cheek.

"It was my fault for not saying it clearly enough. Let's eat, okay?"

The television clicks off.

"What do you want to do for today?"

Keigo keeps his eyes on the curtains.

"Anything you'd like is fine."

 


 

The next morning, Dabi is gone before Keigo wakes up and so is the television.

He hopes Dabi didn’t cut himself on the glass on his way out. It’s everywhere.

 


 

"Get me some juice, okay?" He calls out, catching Dabi wave lazily at him before the door shuts and the lock clicks automatically.

Cookies are done faster without someone clinging to his back. The kitchen is clean, the portable player is set, and he almost wants to trade all this productivity for a weight to drag along as he tidied up. He feels too light without Dabi hanging off of him.

He should have asked to come along to the convenience store but Keigo knows Dabi wouldn't have let him if he had. After what happened with the television, he doesn't even want to try.

It's okay, though. There's a bookshelf with his favorite authors' works in the living room, his fifth sketchbook is in the bedroom already halfway full, and the cookbook he's been steadily working through has been keeping him occupied recently while Dabi is at work.

And of course, there's Dabi. Busy, grumpy, doting Dabi who takes care of him and provides for him, asks Keigo what he wants to do when it's his day-off and whose eyes are always so soft and bright when he eats anything Keigo makes.

Even if he can't come home every night. Even when Keigo disappoints him. Even when Keigo breaks their rules.

Scratch that, he shouldn't have sent Dabi out at all. They could have done fine with tap water, maybe they can forego groceries for another day. Besides, even if Dabi did let him come with him, nothing could be more embarrassing than getting a sudden migraine or a panic attack outside.

Keigo clutches the hem of his shirt. Weak. It's a wonder why Dabi stays with him. Quirkless. A nervous wreck. Reaches for his cheek, where the skin is thicker, darker. Damaged. A disappointment. 

He shakes his head. No, no. Thinking like that doesn't help. Thinking like that will just make his illness worse. He has to be stronger. It's the least he can do. To get better, to not trouble Dabi.

But the quiet doesn't help him either. The idleness. He's learned to fill in the spaces of their home with projects and knick knacks and pastries cooling on a rack on the counter but there's still this restlessness, this bone-deep dissatisfaction that makes Keigo feel even sicker.

He really wishes Dabi would let him open the curtains.

How ungrateful.

 


 

It’s not in the kitchen. Or the bedroom. Or the storage room. Can’t be the bathroom, unless a cat just happened to crawl into their vents and is now stuck behind the blades of the ventilation fan.

Which leaves the laundry room.

He checks behind the hamper. Inside the hamper. Opens the dryer and closes it only to open it again and half crawl inside. This is ridiculous, Keigo sighs, dropping on the floor. He must be hearing things, it’s just not possible for anything to creep in here. Unlikely that Dabi got him a pet for some anniversary Keigo doesn’t recall, hidden it somewhere and now the little critter is loose in their home.

Sighing, the silence must be getting to him, he gets up. His paints might dry out if left in open air like that. It was ribbons this time. Silken blue ribbons tied elegantly around his wrists and throat and dragging him off a cliff. Keigo had woken up to an empty bed, warm spot long cooled, rubbing at his skin trying to find the welts. There were none.

Dreams are so weird. Fun to draw, though. It can get boring here without Dabi around. Lonely.

But the mewling starts up again, loud and piercing, demanding. Right behind the washing machine.

Keigo yanks hard, prying the machine away from the wall. The hose of the machine feeds through a grate and there Keigo catches glimpses of the little punk who’s been distracting him from painting all morning.

The cat mewls again, somehow sensing him through the grate, and Keigo knows the very familiar note of hunger.

“Don’t go anywhere.”

Dried fish and miso soup leftover from breakfast mixed with cold rice in a little bowl. Keigo laughs at how long the cat’s tongue is, reaching in between the bars to lap at the food. Keigo pushes his pinky out to pet the kitten between his ears.

 


 

It's one of those nights again.

The room is blue. Soft red pillows line the floor like a carpet. His feet sink into them. The walls begin to close in inch by inch. Instinctively, he knows he will die here, in this windowless room with its blue crawling walls. Instinctively, he claws at the pillows on the floor. Red pillowcases shred and the tatters cake under his nails. He might be digging a tunnel. He might be burrowing. He isn't really sure. Muttering. Increasingly loud, increasingly desperate muttering that if Keigo pays close enough attention matches his heartbeat flawlessly.

Your life and death don't matter to me. Your life and death don't matter to me. Your life and death don't matter to me. Your life and death don't matter to me-

"Every fucking time." Keigo exhales into their empty bedroom, sheets tangled around him in their empty bed. All the lights are still off. The house is silent. Dabi hasn't come home yet.

"Welp. Sleep is overrated anyway." He opens the drawer on his side of the bed and takes out his sixth sketchpad. He tears off its plastic covering, turns on a lamp, and begins sketching.

 


 

"You're up early." Dabi kisses him good morning when he comes in. He smells like smoke and looks like shit. Keigo tells him so with a giggle.

"It was a long night." Dabi sits at the foot of their bed to tug off his boots. Keigo hadn't even noticed how long he’d been awake. If their bedroom had windows, the sunlight that would peek in would look pretty on Dabi, glittering off the blue of his eyes.

Keigo puts aside his sketchbook and pencils before reaching over to brush away the sweat-drenched, greasy fringe off of Dabi's forehead.

"Aw, poor baby," He says in a mocking voice, laughing even more when Dabi glares at him. He makes it up to Dabi by taking his coat and laying it out on the floor. He'll wash it later.

"Thanks, little bird." Dabi sighs and flops on the bed.

"At least get changed first." Keigo's nose crinkles. His white shirt is basically a gray rag hanging off of the frame of his bones. There’s still some leftover soba noodles in the fridge, he could heat it up before running him a bath. Keigo doesn't even want to consider whatever it is that's streaked across Dabi's chest, soaking into his collar and sleeves, brown-black like a stroke of paint.

Dabi lifts his legs on the bed and turns his back to Keigo, snoring obnoxiously loud. Keigo pushes at him with a foot and shakes him.

"C'mon, Dabi," Keigo whines, shaking Dabi by the shoulder. The flat of his foot comes away sticky. Keigo flattens his mouth, eyes narrowing at the man blatantly ignoring him.

"This is gross. You're gross."

In response, Dabi turns over again and throws his arm around Keigo's waist, pulling him in close, humming against his hip.

"You're like a cat. A dingy alley cat," Keigo says instead, dragging his long black fingernails through Dabi’s hair. His scalp is just as sticky but he doesn’t mind as much with Dabi murmuring into his thigh.

“You were drawing?” He somehow hears Dabi ask, even muffled with exhaustion and Keigo’s sleepshirt in his mouth.

"Yeah, I was." Keigo reaches for his sketchbook with his free hand and props it on his stomach for Dabi to see his latest project.

Dabi sleepily cracks an eye open.

He hasn't begun coloring it yet, but he pictures the bed of cushions the two-faced man is laying on will be red. Scarlet red, the bright, vibrant kind. He has the paints picked out already.

The wings were a nice addition, if Keigo has anything to say about it. Large and spread out. They'll look amazing in watercolor.

His sketchbook flies across the room and crashes into the far wall.

"That's enough drawing for today. You haven't slept all night, have you?"

It falls with a sound that shouldn’t be as deafening as it is. The pages are bent on the floor, folded in on themselves. Maybe he can salvage it, straighten the page before a crease forms and the graphite rubs all over his sketch.

Dabi’s arm tightens around his waist. The soot on his arm stains his sleepshirt like charcoal. He’ll have to bleach it out. A separate load from Dabi’s coat, can’t let the color fade.

"Take a nap with me," Dabi mumbles into his hip and Keigo follows, tucking himself under Dabi’s chin even if the smell of him makes his nose tickle. He stares at the sketchbook for the rest of the night-- morning-- god, he wishes there weren’t curtains on their bedroom window.

 


 

There is a grate beside the washing machine and the cat is there again. Its teeny mewls echo throughout the house and Keigo tries not to melt at the sound.

"Come on, little guy." He pushes a saucer of cream closer to the spaces of the grate. A little pink tongue pokes out and laps at the offering.

"There you go. Have as much as you want." Keigo pushes his pinky in between the bars to pet the cat's bobbing head. It meows and keeps drinking. Keigo chuckles.

"Yeah, yeah. Just keep visiting me, all right?" He presses his pinky against the cat's ear, folding it in half, earning a light scratch for his rudeness. From what he can see, the cat’s fur seems to be black but that could be just a shadow, whether from the roof (wait, does their roof even overhang that far?) or the sun setting. Keigo wouldn’t know. They don’t have any clocks.

He should start on dinner. Better early than late, even if Dabi doesn’t come home again tonight. He can always tell when Keigo hasn’t eaten.

“Stay as long as you like. It gets a little lonely here.”

 


 

Eyeballs, this time.

Freshly-plucked like fruit off a tree, floating in space, bringing light when they open and taking it away when they blink. Keigo doesn’t know if he likes it better when they watch him or when they leave him alone to fumble.

He’s more careful now when he wakes up, easing his way out of Dabi’s arms and into the living space. Never mind the crease that did form, even ironing them out one by one didn’t work, running across the page and cutting it in two. It’s not as easy to get clean, smooth lines now, and the sketch of the man napping on pillows is missing but Keigo draws the eyes anyway, working his pencil down to a stub trying to replicate the pit-black darkness illuminated only by floating, blinking eyes.

Pencil lead marks the length of his arm by the time he’s satisfied. He hides the sketchbook under the cushions when Dabi wakes up.

 


 

“I should probably name you.”

The cat meows loudly, either agreeing or demanding Keigo for more. Keigo adds another splash of milk into his bowl.

“It’s only fair, you know. I can’t keep calling you little guy or that little guy or cat who comes by here because no one else feeds it whenever I wonder about you.”

The cat quietly drinks his milk, content to let lonely, overthinking humans do whatever they like as long as it doesn’t interfere with his meal or the finger through the grate tapping softly on his head. What else are humans good for but food and worship?

“Touya sounds like a good name for a cat, right?”

 


 

“Why is there a plate under the washing machine?”

Keigo stiffens over their dinner dishes. Shit, he forgot. Wipes his hands on his apron, chick-patterned, like all his aprons are. Adjusts the sparrow hair clip in his bangs to keep his hair from falling into his eyes and to buy himself a little more time.

“Ah, that’s…”

Dabi cuts him off, blue-blue eyes and the flat press of his mouth, small saucer in his hand with sticky, powdery residue clinging to the edges. At least Touya finished it all. Spoiled milk stinks up a place real quick. No amount of air freshener will get it out.

Thumb over his cheek, his heart thumps with every swipe, Dabi presses at the mark near the corner of his eye. It’s warm.

“The cat. There’s a cat. He passes by here sometimes.” It comes out of him, quiet, unbidden. The thumb on his eyelid smokes.

“I named him Touya.” Keigo continues because he has never really learned when to stop and keep his mouth shut. “What do you think?”

Dabi's fingers tighten around his skull.

“I think it’s a very respectable name, little bird.”

 


 

“Huh?”

Keigo pulls his pinky back, a little smudge of brown on the skin, almost like rust.

“Where have you been sneaking off to, Touya?” He asks the kitten through the grate, its tiny pink tongue slipping in to lap at bits of rice mixed with leftover fish. Keigo’s fairly certain by now that the cat is black, that it’s not just the roof’s shadow or whatever the sunset chooses to color kittens who wander behind houses. Keigo is also very fairly certain that even with its dark, dark fur, that’s an open gash on its head. Rust on its fur wouldn't have felt so… squishy.

Poor thing. Must be some neighborhood boys, assuming that they have those, Keigo has yet to meet their neighbors. But if they are, rowdy boys with nothing to do but chase cats down in the streets, he hopes they trip into a sewer.

“Don’t run off, okay?”

There aren’t tools in the house, whether under the sink or in the little storage closet where they keep the broom and the mop. Keigo found it odd at first, what would they do if something breaks? Dabi had smiled at him, the one that pulled at his staples, and kissed Keigo soft on the forehead. Told him not to mind that, thumb swiping over his cheek, he’d take care of everything if it comes to that.

They might have tools outside in the shed, assuming they have a shed. In the yard. Assuming they have a yard.

Instead, Keigo takes out the first aid kit from the bathroom and a knife.

The screws come off easily, and with a little push Touya slips inside without hesitation. Keigo was right. Black fur and blue-blue eyes. Very soft and very presumptuous, plopping himself into Keigo’s lap as if he belongs there.

“Nevermind ‘Touya’. I should have named you after Dabi.” Gets into trouble like Dabi does, too, the wound on his head stretches between his ears.

“Don’t get mad at me like he does,” Keigo warns the cat, pulling out cotton balls and disinfectant from the kit. At least Touya is more agreeable. Licks at his fingers even, Dabi would never. It makes Keigo chuckle a bit. Cute. So easily placated with another cup of milk and more petting that it startles Keigo when his hand brushes against Touya’s tail.

The black of Touya’s fur hid it very well. It’s the texture that gave it away, rough on his palm.

His tail is burnt.

 


 

Keigo adds a little more rice in the bowl. Opens the fridge and sneaks out a slice of tuna that won’t be missed, not if Keigo says he got hungry during the day and had it for lunch. Maybe this will get Touya to eat.

Yesterday’s bowl is still there, untouched just like every day for the past week. Keigo swats at the flies lazily flying around. He’ll have to bag it before the maggots hatch.

He swaps the bowls, pushing the fresh one closer to the grate, maybe that’s the problem. Maybe Touya can’t reach. Maybe his visitor suddenly became a shy eater in the days Keigo hasn’t heard from him.

Or maybe he’s just been eating somewhere else. He’ll have to come by sooner or later.

 


 

Dabi empties out the food bowl into the sink.

“Stop leaving food out,” Dabi blows into his ear, arm around his waist, unclipping his hair clip-- penguins this time, black and white and tiny orange beaks, Dabi seems to like getting him clips like these-- only to snap it more snugly back in place. Nuzzles his cheek.

“It’s wasteful.”

The stench is foul. He’ll have to scrub the sink down later.

Tiptoe, tips his head, Dabi swings the tail-ends of his apron languidly. Keigo kisses him on the cheek.

“Sorry. Won’t happen again.”

 


 

Dabi’s apologies go like this: yellow roses in a crystal vase. Tea with a full tablespoon of sugar, more than Keigo’s ever been allowed. It’s a treat, Keigo recognizes, an olive branch. Helps cut the bitterness of the grounds and the medicine Dabi stirs in. Still coats the throat with every sip, coarse on the inside of his mouth, but he drains the mug and opens wide for Dabi to peer into. He smiles like an apology, too, pats his cheek with something like approval, good job, pretty bird and kisses over the gauze on his cheek. He’s thankful it wasn’t his eye this time.

Dabi takes his mug, chuckling when he yawns, arms coming around his shoulders and under his legs to lift him, mouth on his temple.

“It’s okay, pretty bird.” Dabi smiles, maybe, Keigo can’t tell. His eyes flutter open and shut. Warm tea and his medicines always make him feel especially drowsy. Dabi’s heat seeping into his clothes doesn’t help fend off the sudden exhaustion either.

“It won’t matter in the morning anyway.“

 


 

It’s a nursery.

Or, rather, it’s intended to be.

The walls are bare, clean and white, and the floor is cool under his feet. They could get a carpet for that. Paint the walls, set up the crib still in its box, leaning behind the door. His stomach turns. It’s excitement, it has to be, you can be excited to the point of nausea, right? 

Of course, what else were they going to use this one spare room for?

Dabi’s hand is large and warm splayed over his stomach, swinging the keys around one finger with his nose on Keigo’s temple. He can feel Dabi’s thumb swipe just under his ribs and he vividly remembers the thumbprint mark on his cheek.

“What do you think?” The pride in his tone is endearing, guiding him further in. “You can choose the color, whatever you want.” Yellow. Yellow would look nice. “Just list it down and I’ll get it.”

There’s a notepad stuck to the refrigerator door, stamped with baby chicks like his aprons are. Keigo can write down yellow paint and gray carpeting along with this week’s groceries and he knows they’ll be here as surely as there’s a pint of coffee crumble ice cream in the freezer just because it was on the list. Just because Keigo asked.

(How ungrateful, that the only thing Keigo wants to say is wait  instead of yes, I’m ready, let’s try.)

Hesitates instead of eagerly, happily dragging Dabi down by the collar of his shirt and the back of his neck to be kissed stupid, isn’t this where every happy young couple is supposed to end up?

“Dabi, it’s--”

The thumb on his lowest rib pushes, thumbprint on the bone. Keigo swallows down a wince. 

“I’ve got one more surprise for you.” Dabi lets him go and crosses the room, pinching at the curtain hanging on the farthest wall, there’s one in every room in the house. Heavy and dark and forbidden, no, that’s against the rules hummingbird-heartbeat thumping in his throat Keigo takes a step in the direction he goes in, off-kilter, off-balance, talons twitching and catching on the sleeve of Dabi’s shirt, don’t.

Dabi chuckles at him, a huff of breath, untangling Keigo’s fingers from his clothes and nipping at his fingertips with a sweet, pleased grin.

“It’s okay.” A promise spoken to the pulse in his wrist. Dabi taps at his nose. Drops his arm.

“You’ll like it.” And he pulls the curtain back.

It’s an inch, maybe, barely an inch, but it’s more than enough for a sliver of sunlight to peek in and say hello. It’s warm. Yellow. Keigo wiggles his toes in the slice of light from the partially open window.

“Told you you’d like it.” Dabi says with a laugh woven into his words, obviously delighted at the way Keigo gawks at dust motes caught in sunbeams, it’s been so long.

Can’t believe it. Must be some mistake. Dabi is adoring and gentle and loving to a damnable fault, even when he presses on Keigo’s ribs and the marks around his eyes, even when he leaves pink-red thumbprints on his cheeks and blue-violet bruises around his throat, even when he leaves and doesn’t come home for what feels like months, Keigo can’t tell, there’s  no television and no clocks and no sun , but Dabi is also immovable and uncompromising and stubborn.Their rules are final.

No, no, he can’t cry. He isn’t allowed to cry, not here. A home is a happy place, Dabi had told him, so he shouldn’t cry here. But Dabi forgives him easily, pulling him into his arms, tight enough for his ribs to creak and smoothing his palm over Keigo’s back right over the rips in his skin.

“You mean it?” His voice breaks in half, like a sketchpad snapped in two, its pages impossible to save but Keigo doesn’t care. There’s a window in the house that Dabi has said yes, you can open the curtains and it may be in the nursery, only in the nursery, but it’s more than Keigo had ever hoped for and his mouth wobbles with gratitude. Marvels at the sunlight shining off his blunted talons before Dabi fits his palm around Keigo’s face and drags him in to be kissed.

“Of course I do, little bird.” Dabi mouths over his temple, his cheek, sinks his teeth on the shell of Keigo’s ear.  “We can keep it open more often when the baby is here. It won’t be so lonely then.”

 


 

Teeth line the skin where his spine should be.

He reaches back, far back, hears his arm snap but keeps going, has to touch, are they real, they can’t be, are they? And the tip of his talon grazes a crown. The sound echoes like a xylophone struck by a mallet.

He’d love to draw it, if only he could find his sketchpad. He doodles on napkins instead, rows and rows of teeth dripping down skin like bathwater, then shreds them all over the trash.

 


 

“They look nice.”

They do. Even on the surface of the small, children’s size pocket mirror, the earrings shimmer under fluorescent lights as if Dabi had broken off star pieces just for them. It’s a wonderful present, and Keigo’s throat closes up with what has to be joy. If there’s a kind of happiness that makes someone weep, then surely there is one that makes you feel like you can’t breath.

Keigo forces his shoulders still as Dabi pinches at his earlobes, rolling the stones between his fingers and tugging at the skin. At the right angle, the earrings shine the exact same way as Dabi’s piercings do.

“So even when I’m not around,” His touch strays from his ears down his neck, to his shoulder, pulling at the loose collar and watching it fall to the side. “You know I’m always here.” Taps once at the sapphires, once on Keigo’s cheek, once on the tip of his nose.

Maybe if Keigo works his white-colored pencil to a stump, he can replicate the shine of metal and jewels and the teeth in a lover’s grin.

“I love them.” Kisses him deep and fierce and grateful, as Dabi loves and Dabi deserves, grabbing Dabi’s wrists and molding his palms over his hips so he doesn’t have to touch his back and the spreading ache-itch.

 


 

There’s a mess between his thighs in the morning and a coat pulled over his shoulders, tucked around his neck. It’s sweet of Dabi, even if he can’t stay for long the morning after. He sits up with the coat over his shoulders like a cape, still smelling of smoke and the shampoo Dabi gets him, the one that smells like orange blossoms, and winces. Ache in his hips, sting on his throat. Red-raw fingerprints pattern his chest. A handprint splayed wide over his stomach. White flakes off his inner thigh and Keigo can hear the squelch inside of him when he so much as shifts. Everything hurts but it’s the least Keigo can do when he can’t even stay up and wait for Dabi anymore, not like he used to, and the tests keep coming back with single lines.

His back itches again, though that’s most likely the scars. Can’t be more cum. Dabi wouldn’t waste it like that. Keigo knows he shouldn’t, but he reaches backwards anyway. Just a quick scritch and he’ll be done, just to alleviate the discomfort. 

Even if they had a mirror, Keigo wouldn’t look at it. No need to when touch alone can show him perfectly how gnarled and disfigured he is. He knows these scars, like a map to a familiar place traced and retraced until he can walk the path blind. There are stories about aunties and uncles who have played mahjong for decades, enough time to recognize each tile by feel, and Keigo can understand that somewhat, to know his own deformities as if imprinted on his fingers.

That’s how Keigo realizes the difference, one bump then two, breaking out from the surface of old, barely-remembered tragedies. Hard, like bone.

 


 

It’s only natural to empty out the pockets.

Spare change. A small switchblade. A box of medical staples. Keigo puts them all aside. Adds a cup of lemon detergent into the wash and turns Dabi’s coat inside out when he feels it. The thin seam of an inner pocket. Reaches inside thoughtlessly, out of habit, expecting to find nothing but just making sure, just in case.

He pulls out a feather. Ruby-red, like the pillows in his dreams, where the two-faced man naps in a room with blue walls caving in.

His back itches.

 


 

The lights are off.

It’s odd. The little bird doesn’t like the dark.

And the quiet. It’s too quiet. The kitchen is clean. Cold. No warm homecooking smells. No terribly marked cookbook open on the counter. No little bird with curry and cookies and a kiss on the inside of his mouth waiting at the dinner table with Dabi’s jacket on his shoulders.

Their bed is made. The bathroom is dry.

The door to the nursery is wide open, and moonlight spills outside into the hall.

The curtain pools like blood on tile, torn off its rings, scattered on the floor. The wooden board bolted to the window leans against the wall, right next to the crib he has yet to assemble. He had plans to paint it himself, pattern it with snowflakes. Get a mobile that sings nursery rhymes to hang over it.

“Welcome home.” Keigo greets him without looking back, resplendent even in his pajamas under the touch of the full moon. He’d look better in the sun, Dabi knows that for sure.

It’s too bad, really.

“I’m home, little bird.” Dabi greets him back. Careful steps across the room, the tips of his fingers light up moonlit-river blue.

It’s a shallow cut, but it stings regardless. Blood soaks into the edge of the feather, still as sharp and supple as ever.

“Ah. I’ve been careless.”

It really is too bad. He still adores the way Keigo smiles at him, even if he is a fucking damn brat. Kissable and flammable, brand the corner of his mouth with his fingerprints. The feather cuts deeper into his cheek.

“How much do you remember, little bird?” It’s only fair. Giran had guaranteed the efficacy of the pill bottle and syrup he had handed over. The doctor had been so certain injuries like that were difficult and grueling to recover from. It’s only fair that Dabi knows which of them to set aflame first.

“Enough.” He’d been so docile, too. Sweet. Just the right side of mischievous without being unbearable. But Dabi’s ribs still ache at the familiar animosity, the cut on his cheek, the bleeding. Couples fight, it was unreasonable of him to expect otherwise.

“Why did you keep it?”

And isn’t that an interesting question. Why indeed.

Exhilarating but nothing notable compared to everything else wrong with the ragdoll-sewn body he inhabits, Dabi ignores the feather piercing through his cheek, digging its way between his teeth. Strides forward, the moonlight makes Keigo’s loose clothes look like a bridal gown, and he kneels for him.

“Why didn’t you just leave?” Dabi asks him back. Takes the curve of his chin and the curve of his cheek, the burns on them have faded and that just can’t be.

“Because there’s nowhere else for you to go.” He swipes smoke and heat under his eye, look at me, don’t you dare look away. “And you know that, Keigo.” But that’s okay. It’s exactly how it should be. Just him and a little songbird far into the countryside. Exactly as intended, like you promised, he thumbs over the shining sapphire stud in Keigo’s ear, youpromisedyoupromisedyoupromised.

And promises are not broken without consequences.

Even if Keigo glares at him, talons clawing into his arm, sharp too sharp he hasn’t been cutting them has he, a feather dislodged from the meat of his grin and pressed hard to his throat, lined perfectly to his jugular where his pulse beats thick, what did you do to me , but Dabi can’t help but pinch his cheek. Tap at his nose, chuckle at the grit of the little bird’s fangs, there’s nowhere else for you to go and you know this, you know.

His hand splays over Keigo’s back, over the spine, burning its way through fabric to skin to the bit of bone and cartilage protruding from the flesh.

It stumbles out of Keigo’s pajama shirt pocket when he lunges, moonlit-river and polished-stone and kitten-eye blue in the spare room, it was supposed to be a nursery, crib hand-painted with snowflakes. 

A little note in chicken-scrawl and a test with two lines.

 

Congratulations~!