A root catches against Izuku’s ankle and the young boy goes sprawling with a pained cry. He lays there on the forest floor, panting, trembling, tears slipping hot and sticky down his face in a constant stream.
His entire body hurts. Every single part of him, inside and out, is in aching, horrible, unrelenting pain. Like he’s being skewered through, everywhere, all at once. Each individual part of him picked apart bit by bit and tossed aside.
Even worse is the memory of hands on him, grabbing, grasping, holding him down. Men and women he’s known his entire life. Men and women who he’d thought were his friends, who smile at him and his mom every single day, who welcome Izuku to the temple and cook for him and teach him and-
And this isn’t the first time they’ve done this.
The memories are distant, fuzzy with time and age, but they still exist. He knows what happened. They’d held him down then too, told him that he wasn’t right, needed to fixed, that his insides were wrong and bad if he stayed that way he’d hurt all the people around him.
The same words had spilled from them this time too, years later.
“You’re killing your mother.”
“There’s evil inside you.”
“We just want to help.”
But their chants and harsh hands hadn’t felt like helping. The holy water they’d splashed on his skin certainly hadn’t either. His arms and chest are blistered and painful, bright, burning red, pulsing in time with his crying.
Izuku picks himself up off the ground, rubbing ineffectively at his face. The forest is quiet around him, his wailing having already scared off all the wildlife.
Not that they would have come around anyways, even if he was perfectly quiet and still. Because animals know better than to approach a demon.
The priests are right about Izuku, and he hates it. He’s old enough now to understand what being half demon means; that part of him is tainted, evil, dirty. His mom says he’s good, that having demon blood doesn’t make him bad. But how can he believe her when he only hears awful things about demons? Terrible, horrible stories about how they kill and eat people.
There’s a whole kingdom of dragon demons not far from their village, and new stories come every single day about the awful things they do.
They scare people, and hurt them, and are very, very cruel.
And Izuku is just like them.
He wishes the chants the priests use didn’t hurt so bad, because maybe then he could be purified. But the chants do hurt. They hurt so bad he thought he was going to die, and so he’d run away. If he’d stayed though, they might have been able to get all the evil out of him.
Mom says it’s not possible, that trying to purify Izuku would just kill him. And it definitely felt that way. But he still wishes.
Izuku stumbles on a root again but manages to keep his balance. He’s not sure where he’s going exactly except away. Away from the priests and their hands and words that hurt, and his mother who says everything is okay and good when it’s clearly not.
He can hear the sound of running water in the distance so he redirects his course towards it. The river goes straight through the middle of the village, and he’s seen kids playing on it’s banks. Izuku has always wanted to play with them. But his mother keeps him close and when he stares at the children they glare at him or point or run to their own mothers, who shield them with their bodies.
The bank is rocky and smooth when he finds it, the water smooth and rushing. He knows he can’t swim in it, that the current will wash him away if he tried, but he stands in the shallows, water rushing all around his ankles, and enjoys the chill on skin that feels feverish and hot. If the priests purified the whole, entire river, and he dunked himself under the choppy waves, would it be enough to make him good?
His feet are starting to go numb when he hears the snapping of twigs and underbrush. Izuku whirls, worried that maybe someone has come after him. But the person that emerges from the trees isn’t one Izuku has ever seen before.
In fact…he’s not a person at all.
Glowing red eyes regard Izuku warily, fingers tipped in dangerous looking claws twitching at his sides. There are gleaming gold scales scattered up the side of his face, disappearing into a mess of wild, ash-blonde hair and his feet…his feet aren’t human at all but huge and animal. Draconic.
He can’t be much older than Izuku himself but he’s so…different. Dangerous. He tips his head back and sniffs at the air, mouth open like the temple’s cat when she’s on a hunt. It’s animalistic and wild and Izuku trembles where he stands because this is it, right? Demons are evil and bad. Izuku is evil and bad. So this demon boy will kill him.
But then the demon cocks his head to the side and wrinkles his nose, the expression startlingly human. “You smell bad,” he says, and though his voice has a primitive growl to it, it still sounds young and boyish.
“What?” Izuku says dumbly, and then, “No I don’t!”
“You do,” the boy insists. “Why are you so smelly? You stink like humans, ugh.”
Of course I do! Izuku wants to say, but doesn’t get the chance. The demon is suddenly moving towards him, wincing as he steps into the cool, swirling water.
“What happened to your arms?” he asks, reaching rudely for Izuku and grabbing the half-human’s wrist. It makes Izuku’s robes, open and torn from where the priests grabbed him, flutter around his chest. There are purpling bruises all up his sides and more splashes of holy water across the olive skin, especially right over his heart.
“Holy shit,” the demon hisses.
Izuku gasps. “That’s a bad word! You can’t say that.” Then winces because the boy is a demon. He’s evil. He may look like kind of like a human, like Izuku, but obviously he’s not going to care about things like bad words.
The demon makes a disgusted face at him. “I can say what I want!” he snaps, then tugs on Izuku’s wrist. “Why aren’t you healing? That looks like it hurt. Did some humans get a hold of you?”
Izuku tugs at the hold the other boy has on him, but can’t break it. Why isn’t the demon hurting him? They’re supposed to be bad and evil! Everything about Izuku hurts right now and he’s scared and confused and his face itches with drying tears. He can feel more prickling at his eyes. “Why do you care?” he manages.
The boy snorts loudly. “I don’t, but you’re too pathetic to ignore.”
Izuku sniffles loudly. “T-that’s mean.”
With a dramatic roll of his eyes, the demon pulls Izuku roughly back up onto the bank and out of the water. Then he shoves Izuku down until he’s sitting, staring up at the demon with wide, tear-filled eyes. “Don’t look at me like that,” the demon snaps, and crouches down in front of Izuku. “I’m trying to help you out here.” He fumbles at the waist of his robes for a moment and pulls a small container off of his belt. “Give me your arm.”
Izuku holds out his arm tentatively and, as he watches the demon open the container to reveal a rich, green scented cream, he decides that the other boy is very, very strange. Isn’t he supposed to be scary and mean? His fingers are tipped in sharp, dangerous looking claws, but his hands are gentle as he smears the cream on Izuku’s burns. The demon’s skin is incredibly hot compared to Izuku’s own and the cream wonderfully cool. It eases the pain of his body and Izuku can’t help the way his shoulders sag or how his eyes prickle again, this time with relief.
“Thanks,” he says quietly.
The demon glances up, his face incredibly close. His eyes are an even brighter from this distance, crimson like the sun as it’s setting, like blood. His pupils are dark and slitted, reptilian, and when he opens his mouth Izuku can’t help but notice that his teeth are sharp and jagged.
“Give me your other arm,” is all he says.
Izuku obeys and sighs again as the cream touches heated, inflamed flesh.
They sit in silence as the demon carefully applies the salve to every burn on Izuku’s body, and Izuku obligingly moves and bends to give him access to do so. When the demon finally sits back there’s a furrow in his brow. “Did somebody try to kill you or what?”
Izuku traces the shape of a hand imprinted on his side. “Sorta.”
The demon bares his teeth, dangerous, an inhuman growl rising low in his throat. “Fuckers,” he hisses, and the heat of the word is tangible in the air between them. Can dragon demons breathe fire? “Who do they think they are? Even I can see you’re fucking harmless but they thought they needed to hurt you, just because you’re a demon?”
Izuku sucks in a noisy breath. “But…but demons are bad,” he tries, voice coming out soft. They are, right? And that’s why the priests did what they did. They just wanted to help him not be bad.
“Says who?” demands the demon. “We’re not all the same, you know!”
“But the priests-”
“Priests,” the demon hisses, eyes visibly flashing. “No wonder you look like shit. They probably tried to purify you or something, right?”
Izuku can only nod and the demon bares his teeth again, all animal. “If they touch you again you come find me and I’ll take care of them. I’ll protect you!” His chin juts confidentantly and his chest puffs up as he declares again, “Yeah, I’ll keep you safe! I promise.”
Izuku blinks, lost and confused. Aside from his mother nobody has ever made a promise like that to him. It feels…nice.
“Why?” he can’t help but ask.
The demon rolls his eyes dramatically. “Because you’re weak and you need protecting, duh. And I’m strong so I can keep you safe!”
Someone to keep him safe, and to stop the priest from hurting him again… “Okay,” Izuku agrees, unable to help a small smile. “But you can’t hurt them, okay? They’re nice. Sometimes.”
The boy gives him a dubious look but scoffs, “Whatever.” His mouth is opening again to say something else, but then his head jerks up, gaze fixed on the forest over Izuku’s shoulder.
A second later, Izuku hears it too. The sound of someone walking through the underbrush and calling Izuku’s name. His mother.
The demon hisses, eyes narrowing. “Human,” he says, spitting the word out like it’s disgusting.
Izuku scrambles to his feet and glances between the boy and where he can hear his mother getting closer. He can’t let her see him. She says Izuku isn’t bad just because he’s part demon, but what will she say if she finds out he made a demon friend?
“You should go,” Izuku says quickly, and the demon stares at him, confused.
“What about you?”
“I know her, it’s okay.”
The demon eyes him warily but then seems to shrug it off. “Fine. But come back here tomorrow okay? I promised to protect you and I don’t break promises.” He hold out his hand, one pinky extended, and Izuku bites his lip as he hooks his own pinky with it. They shake and Izuku turns, his mother’s voice clear over the sound of the river now.
But he pauses, turns back to where the demon is still standing on the bank, staring at him.
“What’s your name?” Izuku whispers, not wanting his mother to hear him.
Red eyes flash and the demon’s mouth twists. “Call me Kacchan.”