Shit, shit, shit.
The egg pulses to the beat of his swears, the outermost layer of its scales starting to peel away. Keigo skids to a stop in the corridor, staring down the hallway.
One of these doors has to lead out of here.
The first door, as per his luck, is an entirely shut room without so much as a window for ventilation, and he clicks it shut before making for the next, which makes for horrible luck on part of the poor occupants inside — two young ladies in a humbling lack of clothing, in a position that makes very little practical sense but seems to be doing wonders, if the face of the one on the bottom is anything to go by.
"I am so sorry," Keigo says hastily, shutting the door with a promise to himself to try that specific angle at least once before he hits his thirties. The rest of the doors are more or less just as useless — it would be his luck to end up on the floor that can’t be meant for anyone but the visiting Lords and Ladies the royal family must not-so-secretly want dead.
In hindsight, he probably should have headed straight for the largest door at the end of the corridor, but the chances of him finding Arthur’s round table seems likelier than a plain old balcony, and Keigo doesn’t feel too fortunate with the way the egg in his hands starts heating up.
"You couldn't have waited one day, huh," he mutters, juggling it from one hand to the other. "Hemlocks, an hour even. You're just bursting to come out, and for what?"
The egg pops off another scale in response.
Keigo sighs. Eyes the large, curved doors, that too, could not have waited a moment longer for him to hide before cracking open.
The intruder stares at Keigo.
Oh, right, that's Keigo. But this guy's the one in a hood.
"Is that a fucking egg?"
“Wouldn’t you like to know!”
“You’re stealing an egg,” The Hood says flatly. They both pause, registering the nearing clacks of armoured footsteps.
“Come on,” says The Hood, waving a hand that should definitely not be the colour that it is. “I know a way out.”
Dragons aren’t a source of life.
They were, once. With spirits that came with spades of energy, bestowed upon lands and its creatures. Worshipped, at one point, for the gifts they brought into this world and shared.
They’re not much, these days. They grow as big as hills, if lucky, as opposed to the mountains their ancestors used to be; they sell well, an easy way for someone to land themselves a small pile of gold, for the luxury that is violence.
Keigo isn’t a hero. It’d been a hobby at first — researching up on creatures that used to be mightier than earth itself, now reduced to playthings for those who could afford it. He’d stumbled upon his first dragon ring fight by chance, a once in a lifetime opportunity for someone like him, only to slip away with the eggs of the dead dragon he’d bet two months’ wages on.
He made it a thing, after that. Found which dragons he could, and nurtured them until they’d be strong enough to find their own way into the world. He can’t keep every last one of them from being sold off to the petty whims of lords, but— Keigo tries.
“Gonna name you Snap,” he tells the angry little dragon. They’re always so small. The infant flaps her wings weakly, blinking hard at everything she stumbles towards, before she gives up and makes her way back to Keigo.
She angrily pecks at Keigo’s hand.
“That’s a shit name,” The Hood agrees.
“You’re a shit,” Keigo says cleverly.
The guy comes close, ignoring him. He scoops the dragon up and brings her near his own weird, scaly face. The dragon blinks again, fascinated, and Keigo has to resist the urge to grab her back.
“Let’s name you Gavosmirnath,” he decides.
Keigo sputters. “Gavos- what?”
“Mirna, for short,” the fugitive — because there’s no way he’s anything else, with the way his eyes keep drifting towards the door every few minutes — croons. “Mighty name for someone so fucking tiny. You like that, huh?”
“She does not.” Mirna, the traitor, shuffles her snout into the dude’s hand, proving just how much she likes the name. Keigo concedes to it, unwilling to admit that every dragon that’s come into his care has ended up with some on-the-spot, single-syllable name.
Mirna chomps down on her holder’s cheek that elicits an odd sounding crack, to which the fugitive promptly drops her. Keigo catches her with a noise that doesn’t match the pitch of Mirna’s own offended squeak in any way, huddling her to his chest. She’s all stretched skin over toothpick-y bones, a while yet before her scales start coming in, and already more headstrong than the two dozen of her kin living down in Keigo’s basement.
“Why steal a dragon?”
“I like dragons.” Keigo says flatly.
“Plural.” Keigo’s guest tilts his head back and to the left, grinning like he’s won something. Why did Keigo let a less than quarterly sane person follow him home. “There’s more than just this nugget here, huh? You witches like their shiny scales.”
“She’s the only one,” Keigo says in a tone that doesn’t even convince himself. “What does it matter to you, anyway?”
The stranger reaches up, pulling back his hood to finally reveal his face.
Or what used to be it.
Scales run up from under the guy’s shirt, covering most of what skin is visible; collarbones, neck, and nearly all of the guy's face from the hairline and below, save for the skin above his cheekbones. They gleam unpleasantly, as though wrought from iron and nightmares, instead of the healthy glow that Keigo knows dragon scales tend to have.
"Dabi," the guy introduces himself, a scaly hand to his chest. "Cursed with witch-inflicted Dragon Fever, Level Eight. You can get rid of this, right?"
Dragon expert. Witch. That’s Keigo.
Keigo reaches out, a hand hovering over Dabi's till Dabi pushes his hand into the soft of Keigo's palm himself. The scales feel as rigid as they look; brittle and bleeding in areas where Keigo pushes gently, and unforgiving where the skin is thin, as though protruding from bone itself.
There's no magic in them. They're weak, not solidly held onto anything in Dabi's form, a layer of imitation scales with no purpose but to hurt. There's no way Dabi isn't in constant pain walking around like this.
"Where else is it? Not your whole body, seeing as there's gaps," he taps at Dabi's face, "but a fair amount?"
"You're awfully touchy," Dabi drawls. “Most of everywhere. Back, below the hips—” an image of a very scaly phallus flashes through Keigo’s mind, “—but it’s been…” Dabi’s face pinches. “Growing.”
“Growing,” Keigo echoes.
“Into a tail.”
“You grew a tail,” Keigo says with glee. He barrels on. “You’ve already tried plucking them out?”
Keigo takes a quick stroll through the dragon lore he’s mentally stored away for what seems like exactly this moment. Dragon fever isn’t the worst curse to wind up with, but any cases in Keigo’s arsenal are of Level Five or lower; Level Six is as rare as a successful breeding between a dragon and a Testudines — as in not impossible, as proven by Keigo’s notes, though it did end in a fairly disturbing reaction involving carbuncles and the swift encounter of death — but anything above that ended in eventual, if not immediate, demise, often sans any attempts at a treatment.
He has no idea how Dabi’s heart is — presumably — pumping.
"I can't help you," Keigo hesitates. “I’ve only seen Dragon Fever in person once, and it was a Level Two that lasted less than the time it’d taken to cast the actual curse. You’d have better luck with a healer, or a witch that specializes in it—”
“It’s cute you think I’m giving you a choice,” Dabi says, getting all up in his face with a grin that cracks away at the small scales around his mouth, only slightly terrifying Keigo and doing a whole lot more of something else. Dabi pokes a finger at Keigo’s chin, tilting his face up. It’s— pointy. Probably a scale. It doesn’t turn Keigo on at all. “Or would you rather the King find out that there was a witch roaming about his specifically magic-banned halls, stealing from the nest of eggs in his cellars?”
The castle’s herbal room is the one place that never runs out of its stock of Juniper leaves, regardless of season, and Mirko always steals some away for Keigo when he asks. Keigo doesn’t think he’d be willing to run and relocate and risk not having a constant supply of it.
And, well, running away from a thief’s sentence will definitely have its toll, but he’s thinking practically here. Keigo keeps his gaze firmly above Dabi’s nose, trying and failing to keep his voice from sounding oddly breathy. “How d’you know so much about the castle’s layout?”
Dabi’s eyes narrow. “Wouldn’t you like to know.”
Definitely should’ve weighed the pros and cons of dragging a ball of cursed snark into his house before he did it.
“I also saved you,” Dabi unhelpfully adds.
“Your aura is filthy,” Keigo snaps, backing away from the weirdly attractive somewhat-human being in his living room. It’s too familiar. He should’ve gone straight to the workshop. “Fine. Not for free, though.” He dumps Mirna into Dabi’s hands. “You get to take care of her.”
“Easy,” Dabi says, raising the dragon to eye-level. “I’m clearly the alpha here.”
Mirna hacks a ball of smoke into his eye.