It was near the end of Keith’s fourth week of modern vampire living, and he was starting to get antsy. Taking him along to class alleviated the boredom a little, but Lance could still tell. He rubbed at the pads of his fingers more often. He scowled out the window. On the days he declined Lance’s invitation to join him in class, he might vanish from the apartment for a few hours, exploring who knows where and setting everyone on edge with worry.
Today, Keith took off in the middle of Latino studies when he just could not sit still anymore. Lance had to scramble to stuff his backpack and duck out of there half-yelling an apology-excuse to the professor. He finally tracked him down at the baseball field.
“Dude, she was talking about Paraguay! That’s the one I know the least about! What gives?”
“This is stupid,” Keith muttered, slouching in the cement dugout to get away from the sun. The sunlight didn’t really hurt, but it could start to itch after a while.
Planting his hands on his hips, Lance stared him down. “Is that like your fucking catchphrase or something? Because every time I ask you what your problem is, that’s, like, the only thing that comes out of your mouth.”
“Go away, Lance.”
“You know I can’t do that.”
Keith threw his arms down as he stood, eyes flashing just for a second before he controlled himself. “I don’t need you to fucking babysit me.”
Lance let his backpack hit the concrete, cocking one hip with his arms crossed. “Um? Do I even need to remind you –”
“God! Yes! I remember the goddamn bus you don’t need to keep bringing it up .” He huffed and let his back slam against the wall, suddenly deflated. Keith chewed on his lip, feeling the cool cement through his grey shirt, visibly forcing himself to calm down with a deep sigh. “How long am I going to just tag along with you to school? How long am I gonna just sit on your couch for you guys to take care of me? You said it yourself. I can’t just live with you forever.”
Lance paused, arms falling back to his sides and brows furrowing, because he’d actually been thinking about that since their shopping trip. Like, realistically, what did they expect to do about this? Keith couldn’t remember anything. They had no leads and no means of “fixing” his condition, sending him back in time, tracking down whoever did it, yadda yadda yadda. It looked pretty hopeless.
At that point, would it really be that bad for Keith to just…start over? Sure, it was taking time, but he was adjusting. He had access to blood that didn’t hurt anyone to get. He could eventually get a job, or take a GED class so he could contribute to the household and not feel like a burden. Pidge could probably fake his paperwork easy. They had a decent system going that they could keep making better.
“…What if you did?” Lance probed, his shoulders hunched sheepishly.
There was one other factor at play as well.
“Stayed. With us. I know what I said earlier but, you could, actually. I-if you wanted.”
Lance was starting to kind of like having Keith around.
Yeah, he was kind of a surly prick who went off at the mouth and was a little terrifying sometimes. But he got ridiculously invested in a game of Go Fish, he spent over an hour trying to figure out how the light switches worked, and he decided fast food was his favorite thing about the future. Yesterday, he removed Lance’s bandages with this careful delicacy that made his eyes shine in concentration. Everything that Lance threw at him, Keith gave back tenfold. He was manly and interesting to talk to, had an opinion about everything. When Pidge and Hunk got into tech stuff he didn’t understand, Lance could go hang out with Keith and not feel isolated anymore.
Lance also didn’t want to think about Keith out all alone in the world.
So maybe he could stay.
Keith just stared at him with a pained expression, the rest of his anger melting away. “You know I can’t do that .” He approached Lance, then seemed to think better of it and stopped short a few feet away. “Lance, I appreciate that. I do. But I gotta know what happened to me. Sooner or later.”
Lance didn’t say anything for a minute, both of them plopping onto the dugout bench, keeping a good three feet or so of space between them. “But, where would you even start? You don’t remember anything. You don’t have a way to get around or earn money.”
Keith scuffed his new boot against the ground. “Actually, Pidge and Hunk took me to the library the other day while you were tutoring. There were some archives, old newspaper accounts of weird stuff that was going on in the rural areas near my hometown. Strange lights and noises. I’m gonna go check it out.”
“Next week.” Lance didn’t say anything. “I’ll pay you guys back for the bus ticket eventually, I swear.”
“Dude, that’s not…” He trailed off, looking down at his folded hands in his lap and willing his chest to loosen and his lungs to work again.
“…I’m sorry I didn’t tell you right away.”
“Nah,” Lance said, too loudly and forcing a casual tone. “It’s fine, man. I just thought I’d offer. Go do your epic vampire revenge quest. I’m sure as hell not gonna stop you.”
Keith smiled at him. Lance tried to make sure his jaw wasn’t clenched and that his shoulders looked relaxed and easy, even if his pulse was hammering in distress. Because of course this was how it was gonna go. Keith had only been with them for four weeks – it’s not like they were best friends. Lance was just stressed from school and maybe feeling a little lonely lately, so he got attached too fast. But now he had to stop being clingy and let Keith go deal with his own stuff.
He couldn’t make him stay.
“For a cowboy, you have a terrible poker-face, Keith.”
“Fucking shut the fuck up.”
“Maybe don’t anger the vampire, Pidge?”
She shrugged. “I’m still not one-hundred percent convinced of the vampire thing anyway. I’m a woman of science.”
As if to illustrate Hunk’s point, Keith slammed his cards down on the table with a snarl. “Again,” he demanded. Pidge was already shuffling the cards with an evil glint in her eyes.
“Besides, Hunk. I’m the one you should be afraid of,” she snickered. Lance vocalized his agreement from his spot on the couch, fiddling with his phone. He’d secretly been testing to see if Keith showed up in photos for the past half hour. He did, and he looked infuriatingly handsome in all of them with his hair pulled in a low ponytail. Lance should stop before he got caught.
In his new t-shirt and sweatpants, Keith sat cross-legged on the floor by the coffee table losing card games horribly. Over the course of his extended stay in the Lance-Pidge-Hunk household, they’d discovered that flashy video games and movies, while absolutely fascinating, quickly overwhelmed Keith, even if he wouldn’t admit it. So, they pulled out the cards, poker chips, boards games, and Jenga every night instead.
“Pidge scares me way more than Keith does,” Lance continued, pretending not to notice the stern frown Keith threw at his wrist – finally healed. Their eyes met for a moment, feeling out the lingering tension from that afternoon’s confrontation at the baseball field before Lance flicked his attention back to his phone in retreat.
It wasn’t another ten minutes before Pidge declared her victory, swiping up all the cards to put back in their box. Hunk yawned loudly and soon he and Pidge were splintering off to their own rooms for the night.
Keith remained on the floor as Lance started to peel himself from the couch in a stretch. He paused, watching him tidy up the coffee table halfheartedly. “Hey, Keith?” he said quietly.
“Are you sure you don’t want my bed for a night? It’s really not a big deal. And it’d be more comfy,” Lance offered, a small strained smile pulling at his lips.
Keith blinked once before shaking his head, standing from his spot on the floor. “I’m okay. Thanks though.”
Swallowing, Lance reached up to scratch behind his head. Keith’s eyes unconsciously followed the small pale dots of scar tissue as he moved. “Seriously, Keith. I mean, if you’re only here for another week then you might as well.”
“I’m sure, Lance,” Keith insisted. Disappointed, Lance dropped his arm and shrugged helplessly. Wishing him goodnight, he shuffled back to his room, pausing at the door.
“Let me know if you change your mind.”
Keith had a hard time sleeping even before he was turned into a vampire or whatever the fuck had happened to him. He’d wake up at least three times a night in the heat of the frontier, the shabby wooden house he occupied with his dad trapping in the hot air before the night could finish cooling it. With his knife on his belt, he’d walk out to climb the tree that hung over the roof to watch the stars. From there, he could see the shape of the town, and he would think about how it was this time of night that his mother was busiest.
Maybe that was it. His dad loved working in the sun, sweating his labor with rays of light bouncing around the creek beds he stooped in for hours at a time. His mom oversaw her girls as a Madam, maintaining order with nothing but moonlight behind her. He was some sort of weird in-between child because of it. Either way, Keith would wake up sweating.
Now Keith woke up cold. Maybe it was the weird blood thing affecting his circulation or the A/C vent right above Lance’s couch, but he wound up shivering every time. Though it didn’t come easy, he could sleep for short bursts. It was hard to tell if that was his regular insomnia or the vampire thing, but it didn’t much matter in the end.
He sat up, drawing the blanket around his trembling shoulders and keeping his gaze away from the window. Keith had figured out that if he looked at the dark glass pane right after he woke up, he could see the reflection of glowing eyes in it.
The rumble of a passing car engine came by every once in a while, and he missed the quiet of his old world. He missed his dad.
Keith curled up into a ball, head squeezed between his knees, pulling the blanket tighter over his shoulders and watching his pale toes wiggle over the edge of the cushion. His memories were still hazy. He’d tried over and over again to recall his last moments, to see the face of someone above him in the coffin, but there was nothing.
He knew it had something to do with his mother. Krolia was soft with him, in her own way. She gave him sweets on Thursdays, taught him knife skills, held him when he was small. She stood taller than his dad with twin scars from a bar brawl when she was younger on her cheeks, always perfectly strong and protective. That was why it was so baffling and horrifying when she went missing for eight months.
Keith was maybe seventeen at the time. He came back from a week-long fishing trip with his dad only to find Krolia’s workers on the porch with tears in their eyes. No one saw her. She was just gone.
They searched the mountainside on horseback for weeks. They called for her, put up posters, tried to hold her business together while she was gone. Keith’s dad kept a good face at first, but fell apart a little after a couple months. He stopped working, stopped coming to the brothel with Keith to manage things and take care of the girls. His sleeping got even worse than Keith’s, and Keith started to wake up to an empty house. One of the horses and enough food for a few days would be missing. He searched endlessly for her.
Sometimes it was weeks before he returned from his expeditions. Every time he came back, maybe out of guilt, he would make sure to eat with Keith, talk to him a little, maybe sit with him on the roof. Keith was always scared that one day he just wouldn’t come home. That Keith would be alone in the Californian heat, a boy trying to hold what remained of his parents’ lives together by a thread.
Krolia finally came home, looking none the worse for wear. His dad was gone, had been gone for five days when she showed up on the doorstep wearing a shirt and new pants with a knife tucked in her belt. Keith yelled at her, demanded to know where she’d been, tears stinging at his eyes.
She wouldn’t tell him. She just hugged him tight enough to bruise his ribs and stroked his hair, whispering that she was sorry and that she loved him.
Something was different about her from then on. She would leave the brothel in the middle of the night, disappear into the northern tree line for hours at a time. The local hunters started complaining that they couldn’t find as many rabbits or deer.
Keith’s dad finally came home after a month. By then, the scruff on his chin was uneven, dark circles under his eyes, breath stained with whiskey. When he tied their horse, Red, up and stumbled back into the house, Krolia was napping on his bed in a patch of afternoon sun that came through the window. Keith was sitting on the corner, polishing the knife she gave him.
His dad didn’t say a word. He just stared at her until he was brave enough to reach for her hand. A light sleeper, she jerked awake and pulled him into a chokehold on the floor before she realized what was going on. Then he just started laughing, tears pricking at his eyes as she scrambled to face him.
“Just like when we first met,” he’d said, kissing her fingertips as he pulled them from his throat.
Keith’s parents weren’t married. His dad was an immigrant who struggled to learn English, and Krolia ran a whorehouse, but he knew that they loved each other, despite the strangeness of their arrangement.
Things more or less went back to normal. Krolia never told them where she’d been. The next three years of his life went by.
Keith couldn’t remember the last week or so. Then, coffin, Lance, Pidge, Hunk. The motherfucking bus.
Pulling his head back up from his knees, Keith suddenly felt his arms starting to shake, breath coming in harsh pants. He stood and went to the fridge. He’d forgotten to drink all day again. Rooting around in the fridge, he grabbed one of the bags of pig’s blood. As his fangs punctured the plastic, he willed himself not to smell it, eyes clenched shut with shame when he thought about how much sweeter Lance’s had tasted.