Bakugou Katsuki moved into the decrepit shack on the outskirts of town the day after the last of the snow had melted.
Eijirou heard about him long before he met him, because real news was rare around here, and people had to be entertained somehow.
“People” meant, primarily, Mina Ashido, who could arguably obtain and spread information faster than the literal messenger god that still spent most of his time in their village.
“He’s our age,” Mina told Eijirou excitedly, mere minutes after bursting into his house to announce Bakugou’s arrival. “I couldn’t find out much more than that. He wouldn’t let me in.”
Eijirou, used to her frequent unannounced intrusions, set his lyre aside and turned to face her. “You went to his house?”
“It’s the neighbourly thing to do!” Mina said defensively. “He’s new, so I figured he’d want someone to show him around.”
“And he said no?”
Mina nodded. “Pretty violently, too. He was kind of a dick.”
Eijirou snorted, and Mina smacked his shoulder.
“He slammed the door in my face, Ei! You should be on my side!”
“You’re right, I’m sorry,” Eijirou said, raising his hands placatingly. Since he knew that Mina’s motives were meddlesome, it was easy to forget that she was usually pretty polite, at least to people she didn’t know well. Unless this Bakugou person was psychic, the door-slamming was probably just rude.
“Have you talked to Izuku yet?” Eijirou asked.
“He’s my next stop,” Mina replied. “I wanted to let you know first. Gods know you’d never find anything out if I didn’t keep you updated.”
Eijirou rolled his eyes. “It’s not like I’m a hermit, Mina.”
“Hermit, artist. Same difference, really,” Mina teased, giving Eijirou’s hair a playful ruffle before heading back toward the door. “Maybe you and the actual hermit will get along!”
“You aren’t as funny as you think you are!” he called after her. The door had slammed shut halfway through his sentence, so he doubted she’d heard.
Eijirou picked up his lyre again.
Even if he was a hermit (which he wasn’t), he wasn’t a rude one. He highly doubted he’d have any more luck with this Bakugou Katsuki than Mina had.
He’d heard plenty more about him in the week since his arrival. None of the information he got was really new, just different people meeting him and passing their impressions on to Eijirou.
The general consensus was that he was rude, loud and anti-social, but generally harmless.
Izuku was actually one of the few people that Eijirou hadn’t heard anything from yet. Ironic, all things considered.
He’d dropped by, unannounced, as were most of Eijirou’s guests, and asked if Eijirou needed anything from the market.
Izuku was funny like that; he seemed to forget he was a god, sometimes. He still went down to the market with people when he got the chance, even though he didn’t actually need anything anymore.
Eijirou had said yes, then decided to go with him to get some air and socialize a bit.
Izuku was, as usual, good company, and happily regaled Eijirou with stories about his adventures while they walked. He would float off the ground, sometimes, when he was particularly excited about something.
“Bees, Eijirou. Live bees. Harvest spirit or not, that’s not the kind of thing you have someone deliver for you!”
Eijirou let out an ugly snort at that, and had to stop walking so he could laugh without choking while Izuku hovered nearby.
When he finally gathered himself enough to look up, there was someone else on the road with them.
He was scowling at Eijirou and Izuku from the other side of the road, holding an armload of groceries, and for some reason, several planks of wood. The light breeze was blowing his hair around, but he didn’t seem bothered by it.
Eijirou knew he hadn’t seen him before, but he felt like he recognized him, and not only because he’d been hearing about him non-stop for the past two weeks.
“Hi!” he said, grinning and waving at the man who was, beyond a shadow of a doubt, Bakugou Katsuki.
Bakugou’s scowl deepened. “Do you always laugh like a dying donkey?”
“Whenever possible,” Eijirou replied.
Bakugou rolled his eyes and turned away, walking in the opposite direction from Eijirou and Izuku.
Eijirou watched him until he turned a corner and was out of sight.
“I’m going to marry him,” Eijirou declared.
Izuku looked at him like he was insane. “What?! Why?”
Eijirou didn’t really have an answer for him. He just knew, like it was something that had been engraved into his soul, that he was meant to marry Bakugou Katsuki.
Well, no. He was actually quite easy to find, since he was always either at home or at the market. However, he didn’t answer the door for anyone, and approaching him in the market was apparently like trying to befriend a wet cat, so Eijirou was at something of an impasse.
In the end, Eijirou ended up solving the problem by accident.
There was a field a bit beyond his house, still part of the territory of the village but decidedly wilder and more peaceful. He liked to go there to practice, when his music was giving him trouble, and he figured it was as good a place as any to try and figure things out.
It was still mostly dead grass, mud and puddles when he arrived, since spring was still too new to have had much effect yet. Still, there was a large stump that was dry enough to sit on, so Eijirou settled down, pulled his lyre off his back, and started to play.
Simple things at first, mostly for something to do with his hands while he figured out what to do about Bakugou. When that failed to yield any results, he returned his lyre to his back and ran.
Eijirou had never been much of a runner, but he had good lungs and he was really running (ha) out of ideas, so he decided it was worth a try. Get his blood pumping, like a wrestling match with himself.
He looped around the field twice, then ducked into the surrounding forest to give himself a bit more variety. Dodging roots and branches lost its charm pretty quickly and was definitely more distracting than he wanted, so he soon fought his way back out into the field.
Somehow he’d ended up near the stump again, and this time, it was occupied.
Knife in one hand, block of wood in the other, was Bakugou Katsuki.
He was looking at Eijirou with the same ferocious intensity as the first time they met, and really, Eijirou had to stop running into him when he was at his weirdest and most dishevelled.
“Hi,” Eijirou said, again.
“Who are you?” Bakugou asked.
Eijirou wanted to be offended that Bakugou didn’t recognize him, but all things considered, it was probably for the best. Not that he was making a much better impression this time around.
“Kirishima Eijirou,” Eijirou replied, inclining his head slightly. Then, without fully meaning to: “The man who’s going to marry you.”
Bakugou made a surprised scoffing noise. “Oh, so you’re crazy?”
Eijirou shook his head quickly. Bakugou had yet to stab him with the carving knife so really, this was a win. And though there were many things Eijirou did not have confidence in, his personability was unquestionable.
So, with a deep breath, a frantic prayer to any god that might help him and a smile, he said:
“No, just determined to earn the favour of the most beautiful man I’ve ever seen.”
Bakugou looked away at that, and Eijirou thought (hoped) that he saw the tips of his ears turn red.
“And why should I marry you?” Bakugou asked quickly, once again full of confrontational bluster.
“I’m a decent fighter, I can hunt, I get discounted fish at the market because the woman who runs the stand likes me,” Eijirou said, counting off his virtues on his fingers. Bakugou seemed to be fighting back a smile. “Oh! And I’m a singer.”
“Are you, now,” Bakugou said dryly.
“And I play the lyre?” Eijirou tried.
Bakugou smirked. “A liar and a player? Not doing a great job convincing me to marry you.”
“I-” Eijirou spluttered, at a loss for how to defend himself without coming off as a braggart. “I’m not like that.”
“Hm.” Bakugou studied him for a moment, then set aside his carving tools. He reclined on the stump, looking for all the world like he was sitting on a throne. “Are you at least a good musician?”
His music was, if anything, more certain to him than his personability, but with Bakugou staring him down, challenging and unwavering, Eijirou could feel his resolve faltering.
“Yes,” he said, despite it all, trying to sound like he believed it.
“Prove it, then. Play me something.”
This was honestly further than Eijirou had been expecting to get, so he scrambled to get the lyre off his back and tuned before Bakugou lost interest.
“And if I play well, you’ll marry me?” Eijirou asked hopefully.
“I’ll consider it,” Bakugou replied, and Eijirou grinned.
He took a deep breath and shut his eyes before he began playing, letting the familiarity of an old ballad calm his nerves as he played it through, pouring every bit of emotion he could muster into his music.
When he finished the song and opened his eyes, the dead grass in the clearing had sprung up, vibrant and green again, now dotted with wildflowers.
“How did you do that?” Bakugou asked. His voice had gone a little breathless, and he was looking around the field with something that bordered on wonder.
“I’m not really sure,” Eijirou admitted. “It just happens when I play, sometimes.”
“Well,” Bakugou said, somewhat haltingly. “You were better than I expected. You can play for me again tomorrow.”
Then he stood from his tree stump and walked away, leaving Eijirou where he was, rooted in place by shock.
Eventually, Izuku appeared beside him.
“Did it work?” he asked.
Eijirou didn’t bother asking how he knew that something had happened at all. He only spared a second to hope that Mina would be merciful.
“Sort of? He said I could try again tomorrow.”
Izuku nudged him encouragingly, a small smile on his face. “Better than I thought it would go.”
Eijirou could only nod dazedly in agreement.
The next day, he waited at the same tree stump for Bakugou, who showed up around the same time, sat down on the stump again, and said: “Well? Go on.”
And so it went. Every day without fail, as spring turned to summer, they would meet at the stump at the edge of the village. Eijirou would sing, sat on the ground in front of the stump while Bakugou sat on it, and when he finished Bakugou would stand, refuse his proposal, and tell him to try again the next day.
He wrote new songs, ones for Bakugou specifically, full of fiery eyes and fierce smiles and golden hair.
The grass in the clearing kept growing until it was up to their hips, and the trees around its edge bore fruit a whole month early, so much of it that Eijirou started bringing a basket with him to collect the ripe ones to sell in the market.
They spoke too, sometimes.
“What are you carving?”
Bakugou shrugged. “Depends on the day. This one’s a bear.”
He held out the piece he was working on that day, still in its rough stage. Now that Eijirou knew what it was, he could kind of see it. Bakugou rarely let him see what he was working on, and fiercely guarded most information about himself.
“Why am I not surprised that you started with the teeth?” Eijirou teased.
“Detail work,” Bakugou replied, snatching the bear out of Eijirou’s line of sight. “It’s easier to mess up and I’d rather it happen before I get too far into it.” He paused. “Not that I will.”
Eijirou couldn’t help but grin at that, that little bit of petty defensiveness against a slight Eijirou hadn’t even hinted at.
“Never said you would,” Eijirou said, and resumed his playing.
Bit by bit, the picture of Bakugou’s life came together.
He was a carpenter by trade, and moved to Eijirou’s village primarily to spite his mother, who’d insisted he wouldn’t be able to find work there. He took pride in his work, and carved mostly to keep his skills sharp and make a little extra money.
“What do you do? I can’t imagine singing pays well, even if it does,” he paused, gesturing at the overgrown field, “that,” Bakugou asked one day, completely unprompted.
Eijirou was much more liberal with the information he gave, so questions from Bakugou were rare, and he rushed to answer.
“Guard work, mostly. Some farmers get people to watch their animals and fields when there are bandits around.”
Bakugou gave him a disbelieving look. “This place gets bandits?”
“More than you might expect, too. We’re pretty far out from any city, so they assume we’re unguarded.”
“And the god that’s always hanging around isn’t a deterrent?”
“Izuku isn’t always around,” Eijirou protested. “He has a job. And it’s not like he can go around smiting people.”
“I would,” Bakugou said without hesitation.
Eijirou laughed. “Good thing no one’s made you a god, then. I would’ve been vaporized the first time I tried to talk to you.”
“Nah, you wouldn’t have,” Bakugou said. His face promptly went flaming red, and he added: “Not because- I would’ve waited until you weren’t expecting it.”
It wasn’t an admission of anything more than tolerance, really. Eijirou kindly moved on without acknowledging it, and if he smiled to himself for the rest of the afternoon, well. There was no way of knowing whether or not Bakugou had noticed.
Eijirou never forgot why he was doing all this. If anything, the more he learned about Bakugou, the more determined he was to marry him one day, but the urgency he’d felt initially faded. The longing that sat heavily in his chest became familiar, almost a companion, and he was content to meet Bakugou just like this. As friends.
Until, one day, late into August, when the heat and heaviness of summer was at its peak, Eijirou finished his daily song, and instead of standing, refusing, and leaving, Bakugou leaned forward, grabbed Eijirou by the collar of his shirt, and pulled him into a kiss.
“I’ll marry you,” he said, when he and Eijirou finally parted.
“Really?” Eijirou blurted, which was not the way he’d meant to respond, at all.
Bakugou rolled his eyes.
“Yes, really. I wouldn’t have agreed to it if I didn’t mean it, idiot.”
“I’m sorry, I just…” Eijirou trailed off, still beaming helplessly. “I’m very happy right now. And not fully convinced I’m not dreaming.”
“I could hit you, if you want,” Bakugou offered, but he was grinning too.
They stayed in the grass by the stump for a while after, not really doing much, just revelling in each other’s presence, closeness.
“I almost said yes the first time you asked,” Bakugou finally said.
Eijirou let out a surprised laugh. “Really? I thought you hated me.”
Bakugou shook his head, the movement making his hair brush against Eijirou’s forehead.
“I didn’t. I felt like I should, but you… I knew you. Even on the road, I felt like I knew you, even though I’d never met you.” He paused, then groaned, burying his face in Eijirou’s shoulder. “That was the sappiest fucking thing I’ve ever said, gods. You’re never allowed to tell anyone I said that.”
“I won’t,” Eijirou promised. He wouldn’t. He was going to hoard that, forever. It was theirs, no one else’s.
It wasn’t a very traditional wedding, but neither of them particularly minded.
Izuku married them (hey, getting a god to do it directly was efficient) in front of most of the village, who were somewhat surprised that their recluse musician and recluse carpenter had somehow fallen in love without anyone noticing, but too excited by the prospect of a party to care much.
Mina cried, and told Katsuki to take care of Eijirou or else, which he mostly seemed offended by.
With that sorted, they went home (Eijirou’s house, Katsuki’s was more of a workshop anyway) and got to spend the end of summer on a blissfully undisturbed honeymoon.
As usual, Eijirou took up guarding jobs when he was needed. Katsuki joined a few as well, when he wasn’t too tired.
It was on one of those occasions when that particular fall, which had so far been incredibly uneventful, abruptly became much more eventful.
The field they were guarding was large, so there were around ten people spread out around it. Eijirou had been carefully patrolling his section when he heard shouting from nearby, and the unmistakable clang of metal on metal.
He took off immediately, and found Mina, Katsuki, and a few other people from the village in a full on brawl with a group of armed bandits.
Eijirou threw himself into the fray, trying to figure out where he was most needed.
He’d just managed to pin a man who’d been threatening a downed villager when he saw one of the other bandits fire a crossbow directly at him.
Eijirou didn’t have time to react, but someone else did, and he was shoved out of the way just in time.
His saviour let out a surprised grunt of pain and Eijirou whipped around, dread already settling in his stomach.
Katsuki was still kneeling when Eijirou first turned to him, but he slumped fully onto the ground soon after, letting out another pained noise when the movement jostled the bolt lodged between his ribs.
Eijirou was at his side as fast as he could move, kneeling and pressing down on the area around the bolt. Blood was seeping between his fingers, far too fast.
There was still a fight going on around them, but Eijirou barely noticed it.
“Just hang on, okay? We can get you to a healer, we can-”
Something bumped against Eijirou’s wrist, then weakly grasped at it.
Tears were blurring his vision, but he looked away from the bolt and blood, up at Katsuki’s face.
He was breathing quickly and shallowly, face screwed up in pain. His eyes were glazed over and unfocused and Eijirou knew, despite his frantic denials, that he wasn’t going to last much longer.
Eijirou adjusted so he was pressing down on the wound with one hand and held onto Katsuki’s with the other.
A moment later, Kastuki’s breathing stopped altogether and his head fell back against the ground.
Every feeling Eijirou had held back from when Katsuki had pushed him out of the bolt’s path—all the pain and grief and rage he was storing in his chest—exploded out of him in one long, horrible scream.
Mina told him, later, that that was why they’d won. The bandits had dropped their weapons and run, after that, like they’d been possessed.
It was impressive, Eijirou supposed. Doing that without even meaning to.
He didn’t care.
Katsuki was dead, and Eijirou couldn’t do anything to stop it, so what did it fucking matter?
“You saved everyone else,” Mina replied, still carefully scrubbing the blood from his hands. Her voice was trembling, but her words were sure. “And I know that’s not enough for you, Ei. I don’t expect it to be, but it’s something. It’s a lot, actually.”
Eijirou wished that he could believe her.
He’d had the beginnings of a plan since he was pried off of Katsuki’s body, but it had fully solidified that morning.
He was going to get Katsuki back.
How, exactly, he didn’t know, but he had some ideas.
When he arrived at the field he sat down on the stump, Katsuki’s stump, and started to play.
It was an old song, a mourning prayer and an invocation to the Lord of the Dead.
Eijirou wasn’t quite sure how his music worked, but he knew that it was tied to his emotions, so he poured every bit of love and grief into the song, reaching out into the world and hoping beyond hope that something would come of it.
“What are you doing?” Izuku’s voice demanded from beside him, breaking Eijirou’s concentration and causing his playing to falter.
“Grieving,” Eijirou snapped.
Izuku looked cowed, but only for a moment.
He took a hesitant step forward, laying a gentle hand on Eijirou’s lyre.
“I know- I know you’ve lost a lot, but you… you can’t. You can’t pull someone back, there are rules-”
“What am I supposed to do, then?!” Eijirou exclaimed, voice breaking. “I can’t just- I need to- I need to say goodbye. I didn’t get to and I-” his voice hitched on a sob, and then the words wouldn’t come anymore, caught in his throat.
Izuku turned his head away and rocked back on his heels, clearly mulling something over.
“There are rules,” he repeated, “but there are exceptions, if you can find them.”
Eijirou looked up, something like hope rising in his chest.
“You can’t bring him back,” Izuku said hurriedly. “Not using your magic, anyway. Any interaction with the dead must be done through the Lord of the Dead.”
“And you can take me to him,” Eijirou pressed.
Izuku bit his lip, then nodded.
It was better than anything Eijirou had dared try for. A chance to say goodbye, to apologize for his failure, that had been his only goal. But with an audience with the Lord of the Dead at his disposal, Eijirou could do something much better.
He could give Katsuki his life back.
Eijirou opened his mouth to thank him, but Izuku raised a hand to stop him from speaking.
“I can get you to an entrance, and I know someone who can guide you once you get there. But you can’t stay for long, okay?”
“I won’t,” Eijirou lied.
Izuku still looked uncertain. Eijirou hoped that his compassion would overpower his cleverness, today.
“Alright. Let’s go.”
“We’re leaving now?”
“The less warning the King of the Dead has that you’re coming, the better,” Izuku said grimly. “And news might spread slower if I’m not helping it, but it will still spread.”
“Thank you, Izuku,” Eijirou said, and meant it.
Izuku gave him a tight slightly nervous smile in return. “Come on.”
The great cliff before him was shrouded in mist, and seemed to emanate cold and foreboding.
“Play it something,” Izuku said. “I can’t take you beyond here, and I can’t open it.”
A crack appeared in the cliff face, widening as Eijirou continued to play, until it was big enough for someone to pass through.
“Izuku?” came a low voice from within the crack.
Izuku smiled. “Hello, Shouto.”
A man stepped out of the crack.
He was taller than Eijirou and Izuku, lean and pale with two-toned hair and a bright scar over one eye.
Having a god live in his village may have dulled some of Eijirou’s awe at being in one’s presence, but he was polite enough to remember to bow.
“You aren’t dead,” Shouto said. He sounded more confused than angry, which Eijirou decided to take as a good sign.
“I’m here for my husband,” he explained.
Shouto frowned, then turned to Izuku.
“You allowed this?”
“I suggested it,” Izuku corrected. “It was better than the alternative.”
Shouto studied Eijirou for a few moments.
“What do you plan to do to get an audience with my father?” he asked.
Now that he was closer, Eijirou could see that his eyes, like his hair, were two different colours, and seemed to bore into his very soul.
“Play until he gives me one,” Eijirou replied.
Shouto stared him down a moment longer, then nodded.
“I’ll take him.”
Izuku thanked him, then turned to Eijirou and clasped his shoulder.
“A goodbye, then leave, okay?”
Eijirou nodded. “That’s the plan.”
Izuku hesitated a moment longer, then clicked his heels together and vanished, leaving Eijirou alone with Shouto.
“Keep close,” Shouto said, and he slipped back into the crack in the cliff face, leaving Eijirou to scramble after him.
The path into the land of the dead was little more than a narrow staircase carved from stone, slippery with the moisture that dripped from the walls surrounding it.
The cold Eijirou had noticed outside grew more intense the further down he and Shouto travelled, as did Eijirou’s awareness of the distance between himself and the surface.
Eventually they emerged onto a black sandy riverbank, which had enough light for Eijirou to see again.
When he looked down at himself he was translucent and drained of all colour. He seemed solid enough, at least when he reached behind himself to check on his lyre, but it was decidedly unsettling.
“Things from the Land of the Living are simply like that, here. It’s nothing to worry about,” Shouto said.
Eijirou looked up at his words, and nearly gasped. The split between Shouto’s two sides was even more pronounced here, with his white-haired half having gone flickery and ghostlike, and the other remaining as solid as it had been above.
“You speak from experience, then,” Eijirou said awkwardly.
Shouto nodded. “I’m used to it.” He raised his hand, and a wooden pole appeared in it, shortly followed by a large, flat boat materializing in the water.
He climbed aboard, holding the craft steady with his pole. Eijirou followed, cautiously. He knew what happened to the dead who touched these waters, and he suspected the fate for the living wasn’t any more pleasant.
When he was settled, Shouto pushed off, guiding the boat upstream towards the large, indistinct collection of towers in the distance. The King of the Dead’s palace.
The pair was silent for a while, with Shouto steering and Eijirou watching the shape of the palace steadily growing closer.
“You lied to Izuku,” Shouto said, breaking their silence as calmly as though he were making an observation about the weather. “No one ever comes this far for a goodbye. You want him back.”
“If you could tell, why did you let me in?” Eijirou asked, twisting to look at Shouto, trying to gauge his mood.
His expression was unreadable, but his rowing was as steady as ever, and he made no move to tip Eijirou over into the water.
“You and your husband will both be back here eventually. It matters very little to me if that’s now or in fifty years, but it matters to you,” Shouto finally replied. “Although I should warn you that my father is more difficult about such things.”
Eijirou blinked, taken aback by the revelation, though it made sense in hindsight. Not all gods were made, like Izuku, and the story of the King of the Dead and his wife was a famous one.
“Would he part with Katsuki’s soul as long as he gets one in exchange?’
Again, Shouto took a long time to answer.
“He might. But I would advise against offering him one.”
Eijirou did not respond, that time. Actively lying to one god was probably enough of a strike against him as it was.
Finally, however, Shouto brought the boat against the bank in front of the palace’s imposing gates and held it steady while Eijirou disembarked.
“Play an ode to his greatness,” Shouto suggested.
Eijirou let out a small laugh, even though Shouto seemed entirely serious.
“Thank you,” Eijirou told him, earnestly.
Shouto nodded an acknowledgement, then pushed off the bank, and quickly disappeared down the river.
Now Eijirou was alone in the Land of the Dead, facing down the gates to its King’s palace with nothing but a lyre.
He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and started the short walk to the gates.
By the time he’d arrived he’d chosen a song. Not an ode to the King of the Dead’s greatness, exactly, but it was about him, and his Queen, and their story.
When he finished the song the gates still hadn’t opened, so he started it again.
On and on he played, until finally the gates swung open, and he was able to make his way inside, still playing, just in case.
The palace itself made an effort to guide him to the King of the Dead, torches flickering to life in the corridors he needed to follow until he found himself in a large, echoey throne room, with a large man clothed in flame glowering down at him.
“You come to my home,” he said, voice booming through the empty hall, and cutting off Eijirou’s ongoing playing, “alive, and play a song about a wife who will no longer speak to me. I cannot decide if you are very brave or incredibly stupid.”
Eijirou inclined his head respectfully. “I have been called both before, Your Majesty.”
The King of the Dead’s face remained impassive. “What brings you here, Kirishima Eijirou?”
“My husband, Bakugou Katsuki-”
“Ah, yes. The one with the crossbow bolt in his chest.” The King waved a hand and Katsuki appeared beside him, hale and whole despite the King’s words, stumbling over his own feet as he adjusted to his new position.
Eijirou took an involuntary step forward, reaching out toward his husband. “Katsuki!”
Even though Eijirou half-expected the King to interfere, he did not, and allowed Eijirou to embrace Katsuki, run his hands over his hair and cup his face, marvel at him there and lively again.
“What are you doing here?” Katsuki asked, looking at Eijirou with the same kind of wonder Eijirou was feeling.
“Getting you back home,” Eijirou replied softly, pressing his forehead to Katsuki’s.
“And how,” said the King, startling them both, “do you intend to do that, Kirishima Eijirou?”
By Katsuki’s expression, he was wondering the same thing.
Eijirou smiled and squeezed his husband’s hands, trying to be reassuring.
“In exchange for Katsuki’s soul, I will-”
“-undergo a trial!” Katsuki interrupted, surprising both Eijirou and the King. “We want a trial.”
Eijirou shot him a worried look, which Katsuki met with confidence.
“Give a challenge, any challenge, and we’ll complete it. If we win, we get to return to our lives. If we lose, you get both our souls.”
“An interesting request,” the King said with a grin, “I’ll accept the offer, on one condition: if you fail, and I keep your souls, he,” he pointed at Katsuki, “will be Forgotten.”
Eijirou wanted to protest. Even if he couldn’t return Katsuki to life, if they did nothing, he would at least still be here when Eijirou died, but if they went through with this-
“Deal,” Katsuki replied, and the King laughed, a harsh, booming sound that echoed through the throne room.
“Very well! Your challenge will be issued soon, but I’ll leave you some time together now.” The King’s eyes gleamed, cold and hard. This was clearly not a kindness, but a chance for last goodbyes.
He vanished from his throne, and Katsuki and Eijirou were alone.
“You idiot!” Katsuki snapped immediately, grabbing Eijirou’s shoulders and shaking him. “You were going to give yourself up!”
“It should’ve been me. If you hadn’t pushed me out of the way-”
“Then I would’ve marched my ass down here to get you,” Katsuki declared. “I will have years with you, Eijirou, whatever the world tries to throw at us.”
Eijirou laughed. It came out watery.
Katsuki looked like he was about to reply, but he was interrupted by someone clearing their throat.
They both turned to find Shouto, standing awkwardly a little ways away.
“I have your challenge,” he said.
“The King isn’t issuing it himself?” Eijirou asked.
Shouto rolled his eyes. “No. He claims that your failure is inevitable and he doesn’t feel the need.”
“Is this a trick?” Katsuki, this time, suspicious and defensive.
“Not one that I’m in on,” Shouto replied evenly. “Would you like to hear it?”
Eijirou nodded before Katsuki could interrogate Shouto further.
“You,” Shouto said, gesturing to Eijirou, “have to guide him back to the surface. You can’t check to see that he’s following, or you fail.”
“That’s it?” Katsuki demanded.
Eijirou was inclined to agree. It seemed easy, suspiciously so.
“That’s it. Do you accept?”
“Can you give us a moment?” Eijirou asked.
Shouto nodded. “Of course.” He disappeared a moment later.
“It’s too simple,” Eijirou said. “It has to be a trap, or a trick, or, or something-”
“Or he’s trying to get into our heads. Make us think it’s a trap,” Katsuki suggested, gently taking Eijirou’s hands in his.
“And if he’s not? I could walk out without realizing that you’re still trapped down here!”
“You won’t,” Katsuki said fiercely.
“But how do you know?” Eijirou insisted. “I already failed you once, I could-”
“You have never failed me. I made a choice, and I don’t regret it.” Katsuki squeezed Eijirou’s hands, making firm, unwavering eye contact. “I trust you more than anyone else. To doubt yourself is to doubt me.”
Eijirou hesitated for a moment, longer, then relented. “Then I won’t fail.”
Katsuki released his hold on Eijirou’s hands to pull him in for a kiss.
“You’ve decided, then?”
They broke apart. Katsuki shot a withering glare somewhere over Eijirou’s shoulder.
“Good. When he turns away from you, you’ll have begun.”
Eijirou took a deep breath and stayed where he was for a moment longer, cradling Katsuki’s face in his hands and trying to memorize it. Just in case.
Then he spun around to face Shouto, and began the long trek out of the Land of the Dead.
From the throne room to Shouto’s ferry wasn’t bad, nor was most of the trip on the boat, but when Shouto docked them on the black sand riverbank, doubt started to coil around Eijirou’s heart.
“I don’t suppose you can tell me if he’s behind me,” Eijirou tried.
Shouto simply shook his head sadly.
Eijirou paused before stepping off the ferry to swing his lyre off his back, and start playing. To distract himself, for one thing, but the tunnel was dark, and though it had been one-way while Shouto was leading him down, Eijirou didn’t trust the King of the Dead to leave it that way.
“Stay close, Katsuki,” Eijirou said, hoping, praying to every god he thought might listen, that he wasn’t talking to no one.
He left the ferry, and started to walk.
Despite the playing keeping his hands occupied, it did little to calm his mind, especially once he entered the darkness of the tunnel.
There were so many ways this could have gone wrong.
Katsuki could have been waylaid at the palace, or fallen into the river when they left the ferry. Hell, the King of the Dead could simply have pulled him away at any point without Eijirou noticing, or Shouto being able to point it out.
Eijirou was tempted to stop playing several times, just to try and strain his ears for Katsuki’s footsteps, to make sure he was there.
At one point he swore he heard Katsuki slip on the wet stone and barely managed to stop himself from turning around to help him, to make sure he was alright.
Then, finally, Eijirou saw light ahead. They were nearly there, nearly free.
He picked up the pace slightly, anxious for this to be done, for them to be out and free and together. But right when he was about to step through the crack in the cliff face, he hesitated.
If he left now, it would be much harder for him to return to the Land of the Dead, and then he would really be out of options.
He could just glance. To be sure. They were nearly out anyway, he could just-
No. Eijirou had made a promise, and he was going to keep it. If it was a trick, then he could find another way in. He would find another way in.
Eijirou stepped through the crack, then took three more steps, just to be sure Katsuki had fully left the Land of the Dead as well.
He barely had time to think about turning around before there was a weight on his back and laughter in his ear, wild and victorious.
A gasp of relief forced its way out of Eijirou’s chest without his consent, and he twisted so he was facing Katsuki, fully.
His hair was lit up gold by the sun, like it should always be, and he was beaming.
Eijirou tackled him.
He didn’t fully intend to, but Katsuki was there, real and solid and alive, and he couldn’t help himself.
Eijirou knew he was crying, but he didn’t know how to stop. Katsuki let him, wrapping around him and carefully moving Eijirou’s lyre aside so it wasn’t digging into them.
He cried too, though Eijirou knew it would take a lot of needling for him to admit it to anyone else.
Eijirou was sure he could manage it.
They had time.