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Dracula Ain't No City Slicker

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“Oh my god, Keith! NO!”

Lance came home to find his new and aggressive houseguest trying to jamb a flash drive into his Gamecube. Keith’s hair was frazzled and puffed out like a living embodiment of his frustration, jaw clamped tight and knee bouncing. “What’s the problem?!” he snarled, throwing the robot-shaped drive to the carpet. At least his fangs weren’t showing yet. Whatever this was about wasn’t out of hand yet.

Lance groaned, letting the weight of his shopping bags drag his arms toward the floor. “Dude, you can’t put the flash drive into the controller port. It’s not for USB. They’re for different things.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” Keith pointed to the poor drive on the floor in front of him. “Pidge said if I put this in a ‘computer’ it will teach me what I need to know.”

“Man, that’s my console! It’s not a computer.”

“They all look the fucking same!”

Lance set his groceries down with a sigh and padded into the tiny living room to pick up the flash drive. It was scratched and slightly dented from Keith’s abuse, but it would probably still work. “You couldn’t have just waited to ask me when I got back from class?”

Keith rolled his eyes and angrily folded himself into the couch. “I’m sick of sitting in your – what was it?”

“Apartment.”

“Right. You’re tiny, boring, tiny apartment.”

“You said tiny twice.”

“Gee. Almost like I wanted to emphasize it.” Keith’s tongue traced over his canine in agitation and Lance did his best not to gulp. “This place is starting to feel more claustrophobic than the goddamn coffin.”

Lance, tampering down the urge to bite back with something equally rude, grabbed his laptop and inserted the drive, waiting for the files to open. “I’ve offered to let you come to class with me.” He selected the first file, and then immediately closed it with a huff of laughter. The first things Keith learned about modern technology and culture were not going to be memes, Pidge.

“What? So I can listen to your teachers botch up history I already lived through? No thanks. I need to go figure out what happened to me and fix this,” he said, gesturing to himself.

Lance passed off the laptop once he found an appropriate starting subject: transportation and vehicles of the modern era. “Okay, first: I only have one history class, and it’s for Latino studies. You never lived in south or central America, so that’s irrelevant. And second: you’re just going to get into trouble if you go out on your own now.”

Keith squinted at the screen, eyes probably in pain and not used to reading off anything other than paper. “I’d be fine.”

“Yeah, totally,” Lance mocked. He got up to finish sorting groceries in the fridge, making sure to hide his peanut butter ice cream in the back where Pidge couldn’t see it. “That’s exactly why you completely freaked out when we brought you back here.”

“I did not freak out.”

Lance shrugged, putting Hunk’s favorite cereal away. “Look, it’s fine. If I just popped out of a coffin and saw a bunch of crazy technology and lights with these panicked college kids trying to take me somewhere, I might have tried to stab a bus too.” Keith didn’t deign to reply, just kept reading Pidge’s data with a scowl. Lance folded up their reusable grocery bags. “Please don’t break my laptop, alright?” Silence.

Tired from school and his part-time gig, Lance trudged into his room to faceplant on the bed. He was being nice here. He was already stressed from college and money and literally everything else in his life, and he still let Keith come to stay with him. And did he get a thank you? No.

That stupid grumpy vampire was just a pain in his ass.

 

 

It started, like many regrettable decisions in Lance’s life, with a dare. Not just any dare though. This was some serious shit, and Lance had to defend his honor. It was a reigning campus myth that the graveyard half a mile south of the language department was, like, super haunted. Ridiculously scary haunted.

Lance had just wrapped up his work-study as a Spanish tutor when Nyma and Rolo walked by, carrying flyers with a poorly photoshopped moon and ghost on them.

“What’re those for?”

“The Midnight Moonlighting,” Nyma preened, shoving a flyer at him.

Rolo chuckled. “It’s a challenge. See if you can stay out there past midnight. You know, the cemetery up north? Everyone’s got stories about ghosts, getting attacked, getting sick, demonic possession. Y’know. Creepy shit like that. University has a lineage of pseudo-ghost busters that have tried to document something there for like, twenty years now.”

Lance recalled every horror movie he’d ever seen that ended with dead white people. “Why on earth would you want to mess with that?”

Nyma bounced on the ball of her foot and rocks backward. “We wanna see if we can do a spooky promo video later if enough people go try it out.” She gave him a once over. “I’ll bet you couldn’t last half an hour.”

Well, Lance was easily goaded. 

 

...

 

“Oooooh, I don’t like this,” Hunk said. The gates were, of course, iron wrought and super squeaky to push open, the high pitch echoing around them like a warning bell for several seconds.

“Chill, big guy. We’re not even in yet. Pidge, make sure you record. I want those jerks to know we totally made it past midnight.”

She whipped out her phone with a sigh. “You know, this would be great if it wasn’t so damn cloudy. There’s supposed to be a red moon tonight. I could have brought my telescope.”

A low-hanging mist blanketed the damp soil beneath them. The trees slowly cleared away as they climbed the hill, Hunk muttering behind them. Lance’s foot snagged on a root, sending him toppling over, only to catch himself on a weathered gravestone.

“Oh yikes! Sorry, dead dude,” he whispered. Pidge filmed his clumsiness while the moon slowly emerged from behind thick cloud cover, a vicious red tint bearing down on them. “Whoa. Pretty.”

“Deadly looking.”

The headstones steadily crept into view as they went along, the mist swirling between them like a river. They could see each other in the saturated moonlight, but anything beyond ten feet or so was hidden.

Pidge suddenly stopped. “Hey. Is it just me, or is this fog all moving in the same direction?”

Hunk leaned over her shoulder to watch the white swirls fold in on themselves and slither up towards the far corner of the cemetery. “The wind?”

Lance licked his finger and stuck it in the air, feeling the breeze cool the skin around his cuticle. His eyes widened as he bit his lip. “The breeze is going…the other way.”

“That doesn’t make sense,” Pidge said, frowning at the ground. “Physics don’t work like that.”

“Maybe we should get out of here. I don’t like this, guys.”

Lance was somewhat inclined to agree by then, but Pidge started off ahead of them. “Not yet. This is weird, and I wanna see what’s going on.” Lance and Hunk took off after her, scrambling to keep up until they crested the hill out of breath. “This way,” she murmured, transfixed on the fog. The moon, blood red, shined heavily on them.

The mist led them to an old back section of the cemetery that looked like it hadn’t been touched in decades. Long veins of ivy stretched over the headstones and tombs that were pressed into the soil. Then, near the very end, a small stone crypt stood slightly apart from the others, all the trails of mist tickling at its edge, but stopping right at the threshold as if an invisible wall were there.

“Whoa,” Pidge mouthed, coming up to film her findings. “Did Rolo and Nyma say anything about..?”

“No,” Lance said, voice a little breathless and eyes wide as he stared at the structure. “Just mentioned typical haunting stuff. Nothing like this.”

“There’s nothing written here. No name at all.” Hunk stayed back while the two of them crept forward curiously. “Not even like it’s faded. It doesn’t look like anything was ever written.”

Lance kept staring at the line of the mist like it was a challenge. Pidge and Hunk were debating behind him, but he focused on the entryway to the crypt, the deep blackness seemed to repel the fog. Above him, the moon glinted. With a gulp, he lifted his foot to prod at the invisible barrier and stepped inside.

“Lance!” Hunk hissed. “What are you doing?”

He didn’t answer, just moved to stand completely inside the tomb, the red moon’s light at his back, like a gentle hand pushing him forward. “Who are you?” he whispered, moving further in. The air inside was heavy and stale, hardly breathable. Lance couldn’t see five inches in front of him and jerked when his shins suddenly hit an edge of stone. Lance laid his hand on it to balance himself.

Just then, a pulse of red light rippled through the entryway. Lance felt the air get sucked out of the room as the mist came crashing in behind it, the whole crypt filling up with impenetrable fog. A loud cracking sound breached his ears, and through the red haze, he saw fissures spread across the coffin lid like an earthquake.

With a short scream, he flung himself back, shoulder hitting the wall. He gaped in horror as the lid crumbled away, and two yellow dots flickered to life, piercing through the haze. They slowly rose, pinning Lance to the wall with a thrill of fear. The silhouette of a figure sat up, clutching at the sides of the coffin, breath heaving and gasping – almost a growl.

The red mist swirled around the figure violently, whipping dark locks of hair about as those glowing yellow eyes kept their focus on Lance. And just as suddenly as it came, the mist dispersed, taking the red glow of the moon with it.

The figure crawled completely out of the coffin, and just as Lance tensed his muscles, ready to run, the menacing yellow glow dimmed. The figure slouched, barely catching his weight on the coffin.

It was a boy.

Lance froze, taking him in. Black hair curled around his shoulders, which heaved and shook like he was breathing for the first time ever. He was coated in a sheen of sweat, and a drop rolled under his shirt collar – a white button up with the sleeves rolled to the forearm, complete with suspenders, tight black pants, and what honest to god looked like cowboy boots.

The boy groaned and squeezed his eyes shut in pain. “Mom?” came the broken rasp. And then he collapsed.

 

...

 

Pidge took shotgun with Hunk at the wheel (since it was his ride and he got car sick), leaving Lance to watch over the guy in the back. He maneuvered them so that Lance had a window seat with the boy buckled into the middle and leaning heavily against Lance’s side so that he wouldn’t smack his head into the car door.

They drove along out past the country acres surrounding campus and into the city, thankfully missing most of the red lights. Once they were nearing the medical district, the boy groaned again, eyes flickering open.

Lance tried to smile reassuringly. “Hey, you’re awake.” Bleary, the boy turned his head just enough to look at Lance. Just then, Hunk hit a bad pothole, jarring them violently. “Hunk, watch it! He might have a concussion or something!” The lurch of the car woke the guy up completely. His eyes started darting about the interior of the car, brow furrowed and breath coming fast.

“What is this?” he demanded, yanking himself away from Lance’s side only for the seatbelt to lock and leave him yanking against it. “Who are you? Where are you taking me?”

Lance made a placating gesture, the flicker of the streetlights passing over him in a steady rhythm. The boy’s eyes tracked the moving light warily. “Whoa, man. Chill. We’re taking you to a hospital. You’re gonna be alright.”

At that, he only got more agitated, tugging and grunting to get out of the seatbelt, looking out the window and squirming as far away from Lance as he could. “No! Let me go right now!” He bared his teeth, canines longer and sharper than they should be, and Lance jerked back.

“Lance, calm him down ,” Pidge called over her shoulder, phone tracking directions to the hospital in her hand. “We’ve got another five minutes.”

It was too late though. Out of nowhere, he pulled a knife from his pocket and sliced clean through the seatbelt. Everyone in the car started screaming when he lurched for the car door, Lance trying to grab his legs to keep the moron from killing himself. Hunk swerved off the side of the road, brakes squealing as they ground to a halt.

The crazy motherfucker flung himself from the car, taking a second to gape at its shape before he took off tearing down the street.

“Wait!”        

“That idiot’s gonna get himself hurt!”

In a flash, Lance and Pidge were racing after him. Lance’s longer legs pulled him farther much faster though, his eye trained on the dusty white button-down and flowing black hair as he turned the corner.

Lance turned as well, nearly ramming into the glass covering of a crowded bus stop. The boy had crashed straight into the throng of people, eyes wide and frantic, stumbling to find his grounding as he rolled off the bodies of tired strangers. Suddenly, the city bus pulled in, the pipes of its underbelly releasing a deafening hiss with the engine rumbling underneath. The boy jerked away with a startled yelp, wildly slashing his knife at the bus in fear. But it skimmed off the metal and the ricocheting force knocked him back. Lance shot forward, catching his wrist just before he tumbled into the road, traffic whirring by in a furious roar.

Lance yanked him hard back to the sidewalk and their chests crashed together.

“Dude, stop before you hurt yourself!”

But Lance’s words weren’t reaching him. He was still wheezing and sweaty, trying to take in his surroundings. Lance kept a firm grip on his arms, not that he looked like he could really fight him off at the moment, shaky on his feet and gaze unfocused.

Lance took a deep breath, watching as the other boy seemed to unconsciously mimic him.

“I’m trying to help you. I swear.”

“No doctors,” he rasped, not blinking.

“Okay,” Lance relented, loosening his hold and watching a fraction of the tension drain from his shoulders and neck. He ignored the startled onlookers boarding the bus. “I’m Lance. What’s your name?”

He hesitated a moment, then tucked his knife away in his belt. When he spoke, Lance could see the barest hint of his sharp teeth peering from beneath his lips. “Keith. It’s Keith.”

 

 

Pidge and Lance supported Keith’s weight back to the car. They were all worried, but Lance did not want to push the doctor issue and earn another freak-out. Hunk drove them back to the apartment slowly, careful not to jostle Keith on any more potholes.

When they stumbled in, Lance laid him out on the couch, propping his head under their only decorative pillow. Hunk flicked the lights on and Keith jerked, eyes swiveling around the room in confusion, squinting at the overhead light.

“Is…Is it day now?”

Lance tried to chalk that up to general disorientation and worsening health problems, but the memory of Keith emerging from the stone coffin bathed in red mist with glowing eyes slammed to the forefront of his thoughts. “No, we just turned the lights on. We can, uh, turn them off? If they’re hurting your eyes.” Keith nodded, and Hunk left them with only one dim lamp in the corner so that he and Pidge could sort through the first aid kit. Slowly settling into the couch cushions, Keith groaned, shifting in pain on the couch and looking like he was about to pass out again.

“Uh, Keith?” Lance sat up on his knees to lean over him from the floor. “Keith, what’s wrong?”

He tried to pry his eyes open, skin pallid, breath coming in short pants and the sweat returning to his brow. “…Hurts…”

“Okay, I know he doesn’t want to, but I really think we need to reconsider the emergency room option,” Pidge said, turning to Hunk to prepare to leave again or call an ambulance.

As they talked behind him, Lance kept his focus on Keith. With his mouth open, Lance could see that his canines were elongated and sharp. “Keith, hey, bro. You’re wigging me out a little. Talk to me.”

“I-I don’t know what’s… Fuck,” he hissed, throwing his head back and gritting his teeth.

“Lance, help us pick him up. He needs a hospital.”

Just as Lance reached out to him, Keith’s eyes shot open, a hint of that terrifying glow seeping into the irises. In a flash, Lance’s wrist was between his teeth. Lance let out a small cry, more surprised than hurt when Keith’s sharp fangs sank down and punctured the brown skin against his tongue.

Everyone froze for a second, even Keith. Lance then realized that this crazy nut job was fucking biting him and that it hurt . “OW!” He tugged in his arm but stopped when the teeth wouldn’t come loose, ripping the skin more. “You’re fucking biting me! Stop!”

Hunk was already pulling on Keith’s shoulders, but the boy seemed to blink back into awareness, gasping with Lance’s blood hanging on the corners of his lips. The glow vanished in an instant and he stared at the wound he’d left.

With a shocking amount of force, Hunk threw Keith to the floor. “What did you do to him?” Eyes never leaving Keith, Hunk knelt by Lance’s side, holding his wrist and pressing the gauze Pidge quickly handed over onto it. The blood immediately started to seep through. Lance was too stunned to move.

Keith propped himself on his elbows, looking just as horrified as everyone else. “I-I don’t know. I’m sorry – I swear I didn’t mean to… It just hurt and I needed the shaking to stop,” he explained helplessly. That was when Lance noticed that Keith didn’t seem to be in pain anymore, some color coming back to his cheeks.

“You hurt Lance,” Pidge spat.

“I know, I know. Fuck, I should have remembered.” Keith scrambled to his feet, only swaying a little this time. He backed away from them, heading for the door.

Keith was starting to look like he half expected another bus to ram through the living room wall. Lance gently pulled his throbbing hand from Hunk, standing. “Keith, wait,” He called. “Who locked you in that coffin?”

Keith stared at him. “I don’t know.”

“You said you ‘should have remembered,’” Lance urged. “What were you talking about? Why’d you bite me of all things?”

“I don’t know, okay?! I just needed…”

Pidge leaned against Hunk. “What?”

“…Blood,” he whispered, looking away. “It was the only thing that was gonna make me feel better. I don’t know why.” Keith squared his shoulders and faced Lance. “I’m sorry I hurt you. I should go.”

Lance pressed against his bandage and bit the inside of his cheek. Everything the mystery boy who magically emerged from a stone coffin said was starting to sound a lot like… Lance rubbed some of the pain in his wrist away, letting the dull throb fade into the background of his thoughts. Hunk was still tense behind him and Lance was kind of getting sick of all this ominous tension. “Okay, sure, but where the hell are you gonna go?”

“…I’ll go find my mom and dad.”

He sighed. Pidge shot him a look that said: Hoe, don’t fucking do it. But Lance was definitely a hoe and he was definitely doing it.

“Dude, you should just stay here.” He ignored Hunk’s immediate protest. “Okay, let’s just, like, lay out the facts, guys. Creepy pale kid pops out of a coffin with a fucking red moon in a haunted cemetery. Creepy pale kid proceeds to freak the fuck out over lights, cars, and other shit that’s modern and normal.”

“I did not freak out,” Keith muttered, crossing his arms.

“Uh-huh, sure. Creepy pale kid is dressed fucking weird,” Lance gestured, and Keith looked down at his own clothing, then to the rest of theirs.

“Can you stop calling me that? I gave you my goddamn name – use it. And what’s wrong with my clothes?”

“They’re old, dude. And then –” He waved his injured arm around.

Pidge stood and gave Lance a hard stare. “Lance, I am a scientist. I swear to the God whose existence I question, if you are suggesting that he is a fucking vampire –”

“Whoa, what ?” Hunk jumped in.

“– then you have lost every ounce of respect I had left for you as an intelligent lifeform.”

Lance didn’t get a chance to defend himself before Keith’s defeated voice cut between the three of them. “He’s right… It’s fuzzy, and I don’t remember much, but I know that part.” Keith leaned against the counter, trying his best to appear nonchalant. “I know I’m some kind of monster.”

They let that sit for a while, and for once Pidge had the tact not to keep fighting for logic. Lance cleared his throat. “Um, so yeah. That means you’re probably, like, pretty old. So, uh, I think you should probably hang tight here until you figure your stuff out.”

Keith didn’t move, eyes glued to the floor. “Why would you let me?”

Lance shrugged. “My family instilled a strong sense of hospitality in me?” He looked to Pidge and Hunk, pleading them not to protest letting an angsty vampire stay in their apartment when finals were coming up. They sighed after a minute and raised their hands in surrender.

Keith evaluated the three of them, nibbling lightly on his lip.

“Okay.”

Chapter Text

The morning after the flash drive incident, Lance awoke to two faintly yellow eyes boring down on him. With a shriek, he tumbled out of his twin bed, knocking his elbow against the desk and making his substantial collection framed family photos shudder. Rubbing his arm as he sat up, he could feel his funny bone shaking itself out with a violent throb.

“Keith, what the hell? Can a guy get some privacy?”

“I’m coming with you to your classes today,” Keith announced. He straightened his spine and crossed his arms, eyes dimming a little, but still shimmering just enough to unnerve Lance a little. “I need to see all this stuff for myself. Not on a console.”

“Computer,” Lance corrected. “And so what? You just stare at me like a creeper while I sleep?”

Keith frowned, indignant. “You said you leave in the morning. It’s morning now.”

Lance pulled himself back up on top of the sheets and sloppily grabbed his phone. “Dude, it’s six-o-fucking-clock. It’s still dark out. I don’t leave until, like, nine. Did they not invent clocks yet where you’re from?”

“But –”

Hurling a pillow at him, Lance shrieked, “Get out of my room, Keith!” The pillow hit Keith’s shoulder and rolled off it through the door and into the hall. Keith made his retreat, shutting the door behind him with a scowl.

Fantastic. Now Lance was missing a pillow and he was too stubborn to go out and get it.

After angrily tossing and turning for another half hour, Lance came to the disheartening conclusion that he was just too riled up to fall back asleep. Miffed and grumbling, he shrugged on his robe, viciously kicked the pillow back into his room, and shuffled out to the kitchen. His day was already shit but he was at least determined to have some decent coffee.  Unfortunately, he forgot that the kitchen was in plain view of the living room, which was where Keith had been sleeping on the couch for the past week.

When he walked in, Keith froze, mouth curled around a plastic bag of blood. Hunk and Lance picked them up from the butcher’s shop, and there were four more stacked in the fridge. Keith turned away, a glint of shame in his eyes as he finished the bag, sternly refusing to look in Lance’s direction. Too tired to begin to address all of that , Lance put his attention on the coffee pot, rubbing a finger absently over the bandage wrapped around his wrist, which was slow to heal.

Shooting a wary side-eye at Keith, he hoped he hadn’t been “turned” or whatever. He loved garlic knots way too much to handle being a vampire.

They passed the rest of the morning in an awkward silence, Keith sitting stiffly on the couch and Lance messing with his phone. Finally, Lance got dressed and slung his backpack over his shoulder, dumping his used mug in the sink. “C’mon. Let’s get this over with.”

“You’re the one who invited me,” Keith sulked, waiting for Lance to finish locking the door.

“Yeah, well I didn’t think it would mean you robbing me of my beauty sleep. Jesus, you are the worst houseguest in history.”

They made their way down the stairs and out towards the bus stop on the corner. Keith’s shoulders seized up when he saw the hulking vehicle coming their way, but Lance nudged him and did his best to offer a reassuring, albeit tired, glance. Keith huffed and crossed his arms, forcing his way on board first as if to prove that he was completely fine.

God, this guy had issues.

They sat together, Keith choosing the window seat so he could watch the landscape roll by and memorize their route. After a few minutes of messing with his phone, Lance finally heard him speak, voice a low hum that faded into the rumble of the bus.

Lance blinked. “What was that? Sorry, it’s loud in here.”

Still staring out the window, Keith’s fingers fiddled with the hem of the t-shirt Lance had lent him for the day. “I said sorry. I won’t wake you up like that again.”

“Oh. Um, okay. Thanks, then.”

Keith looked uncomfortable for the rest of the ride, and Lance caught him sneaking glances at his bandaged wrist. When they got off at the campus, Keith looked incredibly relieved, head turning to take it all in. “This is a school?”

“Uh, yeah?”

“Which building?”

“Um. All of them?” Lance started walking, ready to just get to class and get this over with. He kept checking over his shoulder to make sure Keith was still following, but he seemed to be sticking close for now. “What was school like for you anyway? Actually, how old are you? I don’t think we’ve figured that out yet.”

Keith shrugged, taking in the solar panels, elaborate fountains, and vibrant murals that decorated the campus. “One-room schoolhouse out in a field near town. I think I’m twenty-one if we don’t count my coffin time.”

“Yay. You can drink.” Keith stared at him in confusion. This was a very common expression for Keith, and it was a signal to Lance that he was waiting on a historical explanation for something major he missed. Like Prohibition. “Uh, never mind. Tell you later.”

Shrugging, Keith continued. “My dad was from Korea, but he stowed away on a Chinese ship heading for California to make his fortune or get work on the railroad lines or whatever. He met my mom at the brothel she ran.” He chuckled, head tilting. “All those miners hated to admit it, but Mom and her girls ran the whole damn town.” A wry, fond smile took over his face, canines glinting in the sun. “Well. I was born in 1851. What year is it now?”

Lance gaped at him, clutching the straps of his backpack. “Wait, so you’re from, like, legit the old west?”

“Well, I guess it’s old now …”

“Dude, you’re a fucking cowboy? Legit?”

Keith shot him a look of complete confusion. “What? No. I just told you I’m from a mining town. And the vaqueros in my area were mostly from Mexico anyway.”

“No, I – never mind. That’s, like, decades of cinema history to unpack for you to get it.” Keith glared but didn’t push it. “And, shit, Keith. 1850? That’s gotta put you at, like, nearly two hundred years old.”

Keith stared at him for a moment. Turning his eyes to the ground, he folded his arms tight across his chest, fingers reaching again to rub at the hem.

“Um, Keith? You okay?”

Just as Lance was about to reach out to awkwardly comfort him, Keith’s head snapped back up, gaze unreadable. “Fine. Where’s your first class?”

Lance stopped, wanting to say something helpful or supportive but his mind coming up blank. Reluctantly, he guided them up the steps to an old-fashioned brick building and into the lecture hall. They sat in the back together. The professor came in and began the lecture, but Lance kept getting distracted, watching Keith slouch in his periphery.

He was such a nutcase. Not that Lance could really blame him. Someone fucked up his entire life and he couldn’t even remember how it happened or who did it, much less why in the first place. Keith probably missed his parents. Lance noticed a little more softness around him when he talked about them, an affectionate curl to his lips.

Lance wanted to help him. He wanted to figure this out and then maybe Keith would lighten up a little, get closure or something. Maybe they could magically send him back in time? Scratching in the margins of his notebook, Lance tried to make up a list of everything he knew about Keith so far:

  1. Trapped in crypt
  2. Probably in there >150 yrs
  3. Vampire (cliché looking too)
  4. Tried to attack bus (failure)
  5. Does not understand tech (USB failure)
  6. Does not remember shit
  7. Cali. Gold Rush era (totes a cowboy tho)
  8. Korean
  9. Badass prostitute mom???
  10. Cuuuuute

Lance wrote the last item of his list as he watched Keith find a novelty eraser in the shape of a kitten that someone had abandoned under the desk. He held it delicately between his fingers, nose scrunching adorably as he examined it. He’d had a similar reaction to almost everything in the apartment.

Yesterday, Lance had caught him flicking the lights on and off in wonder when he thought no one was there. Keith had stuck his hand in the freezer repeatedly. He’d fallen off the couch screaming when Pidge activated her Bluetooth speaker from a different room and blasted it.  

Lance restrained a giggle when Keith bit the eraser and made a face of disgust at the taste. The professor cleared her throat and Lance jerked back to his notes, ignoring the way his wrist itched terribly under the bandage.

 

 

4:41 pm

hunky-dory: dude, can you afford to do this right now?

Lance grimaced.

4:42 pm

lancey-lance: not rlly??? But he needs his own clothes and i can sacrifice a few weeks of coffee

4:42 pm

hunky-dory: you realize that we’re about to hit finals.

He sighed in literal pain and tried not to think about his dropping account balance or approaching caffeine deficiency. Just then, the door to the fitting room slid open and Keith trudged out with the tags sticking out of the collar. “This is stupid. Why do I need so fucking many?”

“Because this isn’t 1850 anymore and people are hygienic now. We change our clothes every day. Well, mostly, anyhow.”

He could see him becoming more frustrated and uneasy the more Lance sent him back to try stuff on. They’d been at it for nearly an hour and Keith just didn’t like anything . Lance kept telling him he looked fine, even made sure to pick simple solid colors to ease him into modern fashion. But every time Keith would just tug at the fabric and his nose would crinkle until he stormed back into the fitting room to rip it off.

“Why can’t I just wear your stuff?”

“Um, unless you plan on living with me forever, you can’t honestly think that will work.”

Keith scowled with a huff. And there he went again. His fingers plucked at the seams of the dark wash jeans and black t-shirt, agitation welling up in him like a flood. “I’ll just wear my old stuff. I’m done with this.”

Stress reaching its peak, Lance rolled his eyes and slapped his side helplessly. “Fuck, Keith, just pick something. There has to be at least one thing that you’ve liked. I mean you’ve tried on like eleven different outfits. I’m doing you a goddamn favor! You could at least pretend that you appreciate it!”

“Fuck off, Lance. This isn’t my fault. I told you I didn’t want to come here.” By then, Keith’s hackles were raised and his teeth sharpened.

Lance could feel the impending explosion like static in the air. A wave of exhaustion quickly sunk his shoulders. “Dude, just…” He set down the pile in his arms and made a time-out gesture. “Stop for a second. What’s really going on here?”

Keith glared at the floor and crossed his arms. He rubbed his tongue over his canine, brows furrowed. Finally, he met Lance’s exceedingly patient stare. He pulled at the tag by his neck. “It’s too much,” he mumbled.

“What?” Lance just cocked his head and blinked, but Keith didn’t elaborate, gritting his teeth with embarrassment. “No, wait, literally what are you talking about?”

Keith growled, and Lance took an instinctive step back, feeling a bit like he was cornered by a feral cat. “It’s too much,” he hissed. “The staying with you and the – the fucking butcher’s shop and this?” he yanks the shirt, his voice pitching. “This is six fucking dollars! And you want to buy me seven of them?”

And just like that Lance’s brain clicked into place, realization dawning on him like a bad hangover.

“Oh my god.”

“Stop that.”

Lance waved his hands and grappled with the fact that Keith was ashamed of being a burden and clearly didn’t understand inflation. “Jesus, you are the worst houseguest in history.” And suddenly Lance felt like a giant grade-A douchebag.

Keith was completely out of place and completely uncomfortable with absolutely the entire world. Six dollars was probably worth, like, hundreds or something in his time. No wonder he felt guilty about Lance hovering and doing stuff for him when he couldn’t repay any of it. It was bad enough to not have any control over your life in a strange place. It must be a thousand times worse to be in debt to someone who reminded you against and again how ungrateful you seemed to be acting. There was no way for Keith to feel like he stood on equal footing and Lance kept making it worse.

Fuck, Lance was the worst host in history. His mom would be so disappointed. He dragged his hand across his face, biting his lip. “Okay, I think I’m caught up.”

“Caught up to what?”

He squared his shoulders and took a deep breath. “Keith, I’m sorry.”

What?

Lance glanced at the clothes tossed to the side. “I’m sorry,” he repeated. He stepped closer to Keith, grasping the tag that poked out of the collar and fingers brushing against his dark hair lightly. Keith’s eyes widened. “Look, I promise I’m not spending that much on you. There’s inflation and junk, so six dollars is not that much money anymore.”

With a twinge of pink on his cheeks, Keith jerked his shoulder back and looked at the pile. “But…”

Lance backed off. “Okay, how about this: We’ll only get these,” he proposed, sectioning off the half of the pile Keith had seemed most partial to. “I get it, but you need your own clothes, man. C’mon.”

 

 

The sun was starting to set by the time they’d gotten back on the bus. Keith took the aisle seat this time, but the soft pink and orange light of the sky still caught in his hair as he gripped the bag of clothes in his lap tightly.

Lance was starting to nod off against the window, the hard week of classes, tutoring, and dealing with Keith had finally caught up with him. He was just about to hit snooze-land when he felt a hesitant nudge against his elbow. “Our stop?”

“No,” Keith said, voice oddly small. “I…have a question.” Lance perked up at the astounded confusion in his voice. He waited for him to elaborate, but all Keith did was point across the bus aisle two seats ahead of them. There were two girls he recognized from class sitting together.

Lance frowned, not understanding the issue until their heads leaned close together with a hushed giggle. One wrapped an arm around the other’s shoulder and they kissed.

That was when Lance began panicking. Because, oh shit . Keith was from the fucking nineteenth century when gay stuff was absolutely not acceptable. How was Lance supposed to explain it? Was Keith going to be ridiculously prejudiced? Did Lance just have to deal with that? He didn’t want to have to argue with Keith about the complexities of different historical moral codes before bed every night.

With a gulp, he chuckled nervously. “Um. Okay, I know that this’ll probably make you uncomfortable? Because of like, old society and stuff? But that’s totally normal. Like, I’m bisexual, so I’m good with either? Er. People, like, openly get into relationships with the same gender if they feel like it, and, uh, gender itself is kind of…? Not one hundred percent a thing? Pidge can totally explain it better since she’s actually trans but…”

Lance stopped his ramble when he finally looked at Keith, who was still staring at the happy girls. He didn’t look disgusted. He didn’t look angry. His lips were slightly parted, head tilted forward, eyes wide.

He looked awestruck, more than anything.

“Keith?”

For a long minute, the only sound was the rumble of the bus as the town went by. The sun hung lower and Keith kept staring at them. The bus came to a stop and the girls waddled down the aisle to exit, hand in hand. Keith watched until they turned the corner, out of sight. He said nothing for a few more minutes, stewing in his thoughts. Then, finally, “I always thought there was something wrong with me,” he whispered.

“Oh.”

Lance held his breath. Keith blinked out of his stupor and turned to Lance, an embarrassed flush on his cheekbones. Lance absently wondered if it was weird that he could still blush as a vampire.

“I mean, I knew that people were like that. My mom managed…odd requests from the miners at her brothel sometimes, so I knew people did it and she didn’t care because there was business in it and everything. But it was still so…”

“Wow,” Lance said.

Keith looked at him as the sun finally went down, their stop coming up. “Yeah. Wow.”

Chapter Text

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.

“What?”

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.”

“Oh.”

“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.

 

...

 

“Go fish.”

“FUCK!”

“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.

“Hm?”

“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.”

“I will.”

 

...

 

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.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Keith stirred at the sound of clattering pots and pans. Rubbing at his eyes, he realized he’d fallen asleep angsting over the pig’s blood. He was sitting on the barstool, face smushed into the counter, a blanket draped carefully over his shoulders.

“Morning, Keith,” Hunk said from across the counter.

“Uh, good morning.” He sniffed the air. It was sweet.

“You looked cold, but I didn’t want to wake you up by moving you back to the couch,” Hunk explained, anticipating the question. He was good at reading people, even better than Lance was.

“Thanks.” Without preamble, Hunk slid a plate of mouthwatering buttermilk pancakes towards him with chocolate chips dotting the surface and banana slices piled on top. “Thanks,” he muttered again. Keith was really starting to get sick of that word. It seemed like the only thing he could say recently. But, he really did appreciate the pancakes (all food in the future honestly) and he appreciated that Hunk was still trying to smooth over their rough introduction. So, he would just keep saying it.

Hunk left a platter to warm in the oven for when Pidge and Lance eventually wandered out of their rooms. Keith helped do the dishes, marveling at the hot water pouring endlessly from the faucet over his hands. He felt his fingers pruning up under the heat, soap bubbles seeping under his stubby fingernails.

“So,” Hunk said, interrupting his awe-spell. “I was thinking we could go back to, y’know, where we found you.”

“The cemetery? Today?”

He shrugged, putting the last of the mixing bowls away. “I mean, yeah? There might be some clues or something that we missed in the middle of everything happening. I know Pidge was able to dig up that old article, but that’s not a lot to go on, man.”

“I guess not,” Keith agreed. “What time should we leave?”

“Leave where?” Lance stumbled into the counter, blue robe hanging from his wide shoulders and swaying with his morning imbalance. Pidge soon crawled out of her own room, smacking Hunk’s calf from the floor to demand coffee.

Lance gratefully dug into his food as Hunk explained the plan, Keith watching him from the corner of his eye when he absently scratched over the two faded puncture marks in his wrist. His gut churned unpleasantly.

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. Way to be a super sleuth, Hunk,” Pidge murmured over the lip of her mug.

“And a super chef. Man, you sure know how to feed a guy.”

Keith tore his eyes away from Lance, wondering if he would just be hungry for the rest of his life.

 

 

Lance pulled his hoodie up as they passed under the iron wrought entrance to the cemetery. Keith lingered by his side behind Hunk and Pidge as they trudged up the modest hill, picking at the sleeves of the leather jacket Lance had bought him. It was a bit of a splurge item, but it looked really good on him and Keith didn’t need to know how much it cost.

“So, you just came here because someone bet that you couldn’t?”

Lance shoved his hands into his pockets, scuffing his heel into the dirt path. “Well, uh, they didn’t really care enough to bet per say, but they insinuated that I couldn’t, so I had to prove ‘em wrong.”

“I’d say that’s really stupid, but I’d probably do the same thing.” Lance laughed at that, the cool morning air biting at his lips.

Slowly but surely, the headstones gave way to the crypts, long veins of ivy wrapping around the stone structures. In broad daylight, they looked much smaller, squished together. Pidge and Hunk waved them over to Keith’s crypt.

A quick inspection of the outside revealed that there really was no writing whatsoever on the chamber. Lance made one more roundabout, noting that Keith was stoically hushed throughout the process, staring hard as if the remains of mineral could tell him what had happened to him.

Just as Lance was about to stoop through the entryway, he felt a harsh tug on the back of his hood, the fabric tightening across his neck. He gasped and turned to yell at Keith, but stopped when he saw the faint glimmer of yellow in his irises, index finger raised to his lips, knees bent to keep him low to the ground. Lance stepped back.

Keith silently pulled his knife from his belt and motioned for everyone to stay behind him. The sunlight cut a small triangle into the crypt, small pieces of crushed stone casting a pebbled shadow against the ground. The air was still.

He slid one foot forward, standing under the lintel of his own burial site. Lance, Pidge, and Hunk watched him with bated breath as the shadow crawled over his shoulders until only his knife caught the light. Keith scanned the room, eyes freezing at the stone coffin.

“Guys,” he said quietly. They slipped in behind him.

The lid was back, resting snugly on top of the base as if it had never been shattered by the red mist and Lance’s touch. “That’s not possible,” Pidge said, already bending to pinch a piece of rubble still left on the ground between her fingers.

Keith took a deep breath. “Someone was here.” Just hovering on top of the dusty smell of the tomb lay the scents of his new friends from their first visit, but there was one more. It was older, much older, and like iron. It set him on edge, making him wonder if whoever was responsible lurked nearby.

Suddenly, he felt a warmth at his palm. Lance intentionally brushed the back of his hand into it, letting Keith’s fingers curve naturally over his longer ones, giving a slight pressure. He released a breath. “How about we open it?”

Keith stared at him for a second, letting his steady presence calm him down. Hunk was already laying his hands against the stone, biceps flexing in anticipation. “Yeah. Might as well.”

The four of them lined up against one side and started to push, but it wouldn’t budge. Not even with Hunk’s help. Soon they had all worked up a sweat and decided to take a breather outside while they came up with a different plan.

Keith was still on edge, and rightly so, because the second he followed Pidge out his feet were swept to the side and his face was in the dirt. A thick hand pressed his arm between his shoulder blades while he caught the glint of sharp metal pressing against his neck.

“Keith!”

“Don’t move.” The voice called from above them, and a man dropped from the roof of the crypt next to where the second had Keith pinned. Just ahead, Lance stood, hand outstretched and eyes flicking back and forth, unsure what to do. Hunk held Pidge, terrified shock on their faces. “Thace,” the man said. “His eyes.”

The man pinning Keith, Thace, adjusted his grip to inspect Keith’s eyes, jerking his chin up by his hair. Lance stepped forward. “Let him go!” But all Thace did was press the knife with more intention against Keith’s jugular.

“Look at me,” he commanded. Keith tried to jerk away, but finally relented when it got him nowhere. He couldn’t see Thace’s face; both of them wore masks. “He’s clear.” Finally, he pushed himself off Keith and let him stand, but kept a firm grip on his forearm behind his back to keep him from running.

“What is this?” Keith demanded roughly. “Who are you?”

The second man, approached him from the side and motioned for Thace to release him. Keith stayed where he was, keeping track of Lance and the others out of the corner of his eye. “My name is Kolivan,” he said, removing his mask and hood, letting a long white braid fall over his shoulder and frame the many scars on his old weathered face. “I knew your mother.”

Keith stared, searching for his breath and coming up short. “D-did you..?”

Kolivan looked toward the crypt. “Put you in there? Yes.”

Keith stumbled back a step, bumping into Lance’s chest as the other boy came to meet him halfway. He felt Lance squeeze his arms through the leather jacket and he found his voice again. “Why would you do that?” he rasped. He scowled. “What happened to my mom?”

He was so overwhelmed that he almost didn’t even notice Lance moving to shield him, Hunk and Pidge squaring off at either side. Kolivan leveled him with a tired old gaze, Thace standing at attention. “It was for your own protection.”

“How are we supposed to believe that?” Hunk called.

Thace stepped forward, lifting his hand and offering his knife up for inspection. Keith’s gaze narrowed in on it, pulling out his own. “The symbols match.”

“Krolia was one of us. We escaped together.”

Lance tightened his grip on Keith’s shoulder. “Escaped what? Stop being fucking cryptic, man. Just get to the point and quit freaking us out.”

Keith stared at the two men and the knife. “Those eight months,” he said. “When she went missing… That was with you?”

Kolivan nodded, but quickly glanced at the line of the forest next to them. Something rustled. “We should discuss this elsewhere.”

 

 

Kolivan and Thace followed them back to the apartment on their motorcycles. Lance sat with Keith in the backseat of Hunk’s car, watching him stare through his hands as if he was seeing something far away. His pinky twitched minutely, teeth worrying one chapped corner of his lips while a lock of his black hair curled against the other. Making sure Pidge and Hunk were too focused discussing theories about this so-called ‘Blade of Marmora,’ Lance reached across the seats and undid Keith’s seatbelt.

He snapped back to reality then, staring at Lance. With a nervous swallow, Lance only made a small gesture to the middle seat. Keith slid over after a moment and felt Lance’s gangly arms wrap around him like that first night in the car, keeping him from jostling too much. Lance’s hands kneaded a constant firm pressure into his back, soft jacket muffling the loud rumble of the motorcycle engines behind them. Keith just focused on the way he smelled. Like salt scrubs and clean skin.

 

 

Lance stayed near Keith as they all crammed into the tiny living room. Kolivan and Thace at least seemed a tad uncomfortable squished by the limited space, hunched on their cheap Ikea chairs with the afternoon light spilling into the room. Keith leaned next to the window, just barely in the shade while Lance sat on the armrest of the couch at his side. Pidge and Hunk took the couch itself.

“Talk. Now,” Keith demanded, and Lance wondered if he should have played good host and offered the men juice boxes first. Oh well.

Kolivan’s braid fell over his shoulder as he leaned on his elbows, meeting Keith’s piercing stare without a flinch. “Did you mother ever tell you what happened?”

“No. One day she was just gone. Dad and I looked for her, but…” Lance watched him cross his arms and downplay the hurt that practically leaked off his frame. His mom went missing? Lance realized then that he’d never asked about Keith’s parents, even though it was the first thing he said after waking up. He’d just figured that they were dead and that was all there was to it. He wasn’t sure he should bring it up and risk upsetting Keith more. “Then she just showed up one day. She wouldn’t talk about it. Ever.”

“I don’t know the particulars of her capture, but Krolia was a prisoner with us for roughly four months.”

Hunk sputtered and made a timeout sign. “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold up. That would make you guys as old as Keith.”

Kolivan blinked. “Older, actually. We’re adults.”

Lance hedged another glance at Keith. “So, you’re vampires too?”

“Crude term, but yes.” With a sigh, Kolivan looked away from Keith. “I apologize. You were not meant to wake up alone.”

“I wasn’t alone,” he corrected, a swift flick of his eyes over the group. “Just…explain this to me.”

“It starts with a woman named Haggar.”

Chapter Text

Haggar. He knew that name. Keith felt the air brush past his lips as he repeated it to the room, but he didn’t hear the sound. He was still leaning up against the wall near the window, Lance perched on the arm of the couch next to him. He startled when he felt Lance’s hand settled on his arm.

“Keith? You okay?” He managed a nod.

Kolivan started to talk again. He began the story, Keith’s story. How his entire life just fell apart. Something clicked in Keith’s brain, and as Kolivan talked, he could nearly see it play out before him. The plaster walls of his friends’ apartment chipped away until the low simmering glow of the Californian sun burst in through the wood slats, and suddenly it was like he was home again.

 

 

Sleeves rolled to his elbows, Keith cleaned the last of the plates from dinner away. Dad was in a good mood, just passed out on the cot after a calm evening of easy conversation, grilled meat, and whiskey. The alcoholism lingered a bit after Krolia’s return, but he’d been much better since she came home. Now Keith’s dad was a (much less frequent) happy sappy drunk, squeezing his son’s shoulder and telling him stories when they stargazed together on the roof. It was good. They felt like a family again.

He’d just dried his hands on his pants when the back door creaked open. Keith greeted his mother with a quiet smile but stopped when he saw the grim expression on her face. When Krolia looked at his father, she didn’t shake her head fondly like she normally did when she caught him asleep. She just frowned harder and approached Keith.

“Mom? What’s wrong?” She brushed by him and snagged his knapsack off the hook on the wall.

“We have to go. Now.”

“What? Where?”

“Away. North.” She shoved his lightest possessions into the sack, thrust it at him while she snatched Keith’s knife from the table. She pulled a small slip of paper from her shirt and tucked it into his dad’s hand. Krolia paused just long enough to kneel down in front of him. She rested her forehead against his for a moment, pressing a kiss to the scar that ran through his brow. Keith just watched, suddenly feeling tight and empty all at once.

They took both horses. Dad wouldn’t be able to follow. Dad was going to wake up alone again.

 

 

“Keith? Keith, I think you should sit down, man.” Distantly, he felt Lance tug on his hand and guide him to the couch. He plopped down, eyes boring into the fibers of the carpet while the others watched him. “Keith?” He snapped back into the room, leaving the desert.

“I’m okay,” he rasped, throat dry. His tongue caught on his teeth and he realized that his fangs were out. Hunk seemed to have noticed, because soon a half-full bag of blood was being handed to him. Keith hated feeding in front of anyone, but he gulped it down fast. When he was finished, he crushed it in his grip and stared at Kolivan. “Keep going.”

Keith didn’t realize he was still shaking until he felt Lance’s fingers gently brush against his as if asking permission. Keith didn’t look at him, keeping his gaze determined and focused ahead, but he still reached out to clasp his palm. It wasn’t much. But it helped.

 

 

They were well into the mountains. Keith had lost track of the days spent staring at his mother’s back as the saddles chafed their skin and their lips dried with thirst. Keith shivered against the frigid air, wind howling around them as flakes of snow whipped into his hair and eyes with a vengeance.

Keith was scared.

She’d told him everything once they’d made camp the first night, knowing that he wouldn’t keep following her unless he knew what it was for.

Krolia had been kidnapped. That six months when she went missing, she’d been trapped in a repurposed jailhouse with several others. Targeted because of her reputed strength and endurance when it came to running their mining town, she’d been experimented on by strange people with purple markings and dark robes – a cult maybe. She wasn’t sure. There were others. Kolivan, Antok, Regris, Ulaz, Thace… They’d been sheriffs, mercenaries, blacksmiths, and so on, all crammed together in their makeshift prison.

They’d all escaped together, but not before meeting Haggar. She was some kind of witch, and she took them one by one to cast her spells and rituals to make them into something – some kind of tool for her to use.

Keith couldn’t picture it. He couldn’t imagine anyone overpowering his mother. He couldn’t imagine that she had to drink animal blood each night to keep herself sane, from becoming a real monster.   

Krolia had made a pact with her fellow prisoners. They created a special insignia, so they would be able to recognize each other without fail. Krolia put hers on the knife that Keith carried in his belt now, tucked safely away so that if anything happened to her, he could still make it to the rendezvous point.

Fighting the blizzard, Keith tugged his hood down further and caught up with Krolia’s horse. “How can you be sure they’re still after you?” he shouted.

She pulled the reins. “One of the girls passed a message to me from Kolivan. He’s been keeping an eye on them and says they started moving our direction.” She jerked her head to the right and Keith followed her until they came to the mouth of a shallow cave. “I knew I was on borrowed time. She needs us. Me and others like me are the only thing keeping her alive.”

“What? How?”

The clop of their horses’ hooves echoed in the cave. They tugged their hoods off. “I don’t know exactly, but she feeds on us.”

They started a fire. Keith was finger-combing the mane of his horse to try to ground himself. She was a blood bay whose gleaming coat almost looked red in the right light, hence her name. As if reading the room, she nudged him until he was forced to look at Krolia. Keith scrunched his brows and suddenly cleared his throat.

“Yes, Keith?”

He looked at her, hunched over the fire with her facial scars catching the light. “The note you gave Dad. What did it say?” She froze. Keith’s fingers tightened in the Red’s black hair. She whinnied softly, blowing on his cheek. Krolia still didn’t answer, and Keith took a shaky breath. “You don’t know what he was like when you were gone the first time. He held it together for a while, but I don’t think he can do this again, Mom. Not with both of us gone. He needs someone.”

“I know.” She rose to her full height and approached Keith, resting her hands on his shoulders and looking down on him. Keith had always felt cheated. He would never outgrow her, and he would always feel like a little kid gawking up. “I know, Keith. But this is for your own protection.” She stroked his cheek. “He’s your dad. He understands that your safety has to come first. Just like I do.”

“That doesn’t make any sense!” he cried, jerking out of her hold. He began to pace around their fire. “ You’re the one they’re after. Not me. I don’t get why we couldn’t tell Dad. I don’t get why we couldn’t bring him with us.” Keith huffed and sat down away from her. “You’re still not telling me everything. I know you’re not.”

She didn’t say anything after that, instead laying out their sleeping bags and cooking their dinner. Finally, just as she got ready to lay down for the night, she whispered, “You have to trust me, Keith. Haggar knows that I have a son who might be compatible with her ritual. You’re a target.” She sighed. “I know it’s hard.” He still said nothing. Finally, she laid down. “Good night. I love you.”

He blinked and burrowed further into his hood. “G’night.”

 

 

They never got over the mountain pass. Sometime in the night, even with the snow covering their tracks, the druids found them. Keith had barely jerked awake before he was tied and gagged, writhing on the cave floor with two figures looming above him. Just a few feet away, he could hear Krolia fighting, a cloaked body sailing over him and smacking hard into the rock. But Keith was already captured, and she had no choice but to surrender.

They were blindfolded and tossed over the backs of the horses like ragdolls. The two-day journey was unbearable, jostling with all the blood rushing to his head and fear pumping in his veins. Keith’s mare kept spooking every time their captors jerked her in a new direction, so Keith kept trying to whisper to her and keep her calm. With what little movement his binds afforded him, he rubbed her side with his foot as best he could.

“It’ll be alright, Red,” he soothed.

Eventually, they were led inside a lopsided cabin that looked like it used to be outfitted for medical practice. Old vials of expired remedies and abandoned medical equipment adorned the shelves. They were handcuffed to a wall. The blindfolds were removed, and Keith squinted against the late afternoon light, vision hazy. The door shut, and then they were alone.

Mom, ” Keith croaked.

“Don’t panic,” she said, sweat collecting on her forehead. “We’ll figure something out.” She looked at him, and Keith swore he saw a flicker of doubt in her eyes. He swallowed and nodded.

The door to the cabin swung open. “Finally,” a croaky voice called. “I was starting to get impatient.” The menacing frame of a woman, back bent, and long nails peeking from the sleeves of her dark robes, emerged from the entryway.

“Release us,” Krolia snapped, teeth elongated and glinting dangerously.

“Don’t waste my time,” she sneered. “I didn’t bring you here to talk.” She suddenly looked at Keith and he felt his jaw lock in terror. Her eyes were a sickly and vacant yellow, her skin so mistreated it almost appeared purple. As terrifying as she was, he could see her hand shaking like she was running on fumes. She motioned to one of her cronies. “Bring him to the circle.”

Krolia yanked hard at her bindings, slamming her back against the wall. The sound cracked through the air – a warning shot. “If you touch him I’ll fucking kill you, Haggar. You know I will.”

Keith kept his eye on the masked man approaching him, thrashing against his binds and feeling the metal dig into his wrists. Haggar didn’t so much as flinch. “No, you will not. Because you cannot.” The druid unlatched Keith from the wall and replaced his metal restraints with glowing magical binds. They were purple and left a light burning sensation on his arms.

“Put me down!” Keith’s eyes widened as the purple glow wrapped around his arms and torso like rope and started to drag him outside. “Mom!” he yelled, jerking and yanking his limbs to be free. He saw her pulling against the cuffs, her shoulder threatening to dislocate with the force she applied.

The fresh snowfall seeped into his pant legs as he was dragged out front. A sizable patch had been cleared away with strange markings cut into the earth in a circle. Haggar followed them outside, the sun setting behind her and leaving everything tinged with red and orange.

“Hold him down.” Four other druids let magic fly from their hands, the glowing energy taking on a physical weight and pinning him to the center of the circle. Keith’s lungs fluttered rapidly to keep up with his panicked gasps.

“Let me go!” he screamed, face contorted with rage and terror.

They didn’t even look at him. Haggar just set about preparing the circle. She pulled a small ceremonial blade from her robes and came to kneel next to Keith in the center, her free hand coming to squeeze his jaw. “Open your mouth.” Keith only clamped down as hard as he could. With a snarl, she let go long enough to slit her own palm open, blood coating the handle and dripping onto Keith’s chest.

Keith tried to recoil, but she used her magic to force his jaw open. She pressed her bleeding palm to his lips and pinched his nostrils shut so he would have no choice but to swallow. Keith shut his eyes, the rancid iron taste of her blood coating his tongue and teeth as he gagged. Bitter and slick, it worked his way down his throat while she stared coldly at him. Tears beaded at the edges of his eyes and he wished more than anything to be home again with his dad.

With little fanfare, she shoved his head back into the ground and pulled her hands away. Keith coughed and spat trying to get the taste out. Haggar moved to the edge of the circle and raised her arms.

The sky grew dark and wind tousled Keith’s hair. He had blood clinging to his lips as he kept fighting to escape. Finally, crackles of magic quivered at the edges of the circle, Haggar’s voice carrying all over the forest. Keith gasped and then shrieked in pain as his skin started to burn. His teeth ached.

An arc of purple lightning struck him, and Keith was distantly aware of his own screaming. He could feel his nerves alight with agony, but for just a small moment, it all went away. He went somewhere else, back home with the morning light streaming through. Keith was a little boy with his mom’s lips against his cheek and his dad’s hand in his hair, lightly rubbing his scalp until he went to sleep. Slowly, his muscles relaxed. Keith closed his eyes, warm from the desert and his dad’s large fingers against his head.

 

 

“I-I can’t remember after that. There’s nothing.” Lance watched Keith wrack his brain and stand again, pulling their hands apart. Lance resisted the urge to grab him again.

“I’m not surprised,” Kolivan said. “You went feral, after all.”

“Feral?” Lance asked.

Kolivan turned to Keith. “I’m sure you’ve felt it before. The shaking, the fever…”

“The pain,” Keith finished.

“Those are warning signs. If you go too long without feeding, those symptoms escalate. Eventually, it drives you to complete madness. You go feral. I’m sure your mother mentioned it.”

Keith furrowed his brows. “You’re saying that I…” he trailed off. Lance kept his focus on Keith, dread locking into his limbs, the gears turning in his head.

“Not by choice. Once Haggar had turned her victims, she would then starve them of blood when they needed it most. They’d go insane, and thus become more vulnerable so she could control them with magic. She was making slaves and a food source.”

Keith reeled. “But – I escaped, didn’t I? That’s how I got here. I’m fine – not feral or anything.” It almost sounded like he was pleading. Lance nearly winced at the desperation in his voice.

Kolivan shook his head. “No. We gave you blood, but you were too far gone. The only way to save you was to seal you in that crypt with the help of an alchemist named Alfor. Once Alfor implemented his alchemical remedy, you had to ‘sleep off’ the madness, in a way, until someone retrieved you during a red moon.” Kolivan clasped his hands over his knees. “When you and Krolia never showed up at the rendezvous point, we knew you’d been caught. We tracked you down, but it took more than two weeks. It was far too late.

“Haggar had transformed you and refused to give you any blood afterward to recover,” Kolivan continued. “It put immense strain on your body, and because you were related, Krolia’s blood was not compatible to assuage your thirst, but you would not have recognized that in your delirium.”

“Bloodlust,” Thace chimed in, head bowed.

Kolivan nodded. “By the time we’d dispatched all of the druids and found you and your mother…” A haunted sheen cast over Kolivan’s eyes. Keith swallowed, not daring to blink. “You were like an animal.”

Keith staggered until his hip hit the kitchen counter.

“They left Krolia in the basement with you.”

Keith’s voice cracked, eyes wide. “I-I wouldn’t. She’s my mom. I wouldn’t .”

Determined, Kolivan pressed on. “We subdued you and dealt with her wounds. We went east, but Krolia’s injuries were slowing us down. It was only a matter of time before Haggar figured out what happened and caught up with us. We saw them coming over the ridge.” He looked Keith dead in the eye, the boy barely holding himself up on the counter. “We decided to split up, with Antok’s group making a last-ditch attack to buy us time to escape.” He sighed. “…Krolia knew she would only be a liability if she continued with us.”

“No.”

“Keith –”

No .”

“Her wounds were –”

No! ” Keith erupted, gripping the counter like a lifeline. His voice echoed off the walls, the room filling with a sharp silence. No one moved for a long moment.

Finally, Kolivan took a breath. “She wanted you to survive, Keith. Do not dishonor her sacrifice by pretending it did not happen. This is not the time to get emotional,” he hissed.

Lance stood from the sofa then, eyes narrowed, stepping between Keith and Kolivan. “Give us a minute.” Not bothering to wait for a response, he guided Keith by the arm, stumbling a little, into his small bedroom and shut the door, cutting out all the noise behind them.

 

...

 

For a long moment, he just watched Keith’s back, the way his shoulders rose with each quivering breath in the dark. Swallowing, Lance came around to face him, socked feet treading softly on the carpet, and saw that Keith’s gaze was fixed on one of the many happy family portraits that he kept on his desk.

“Are they all your siblings?” Keith asked gently, hand lifting towards the picture, but pulling away at the last second like he was afraid to touch it.

Lance blinked. “Uh. Not the littlest ones. I’m their uncle.”

“Oh. That’s nice.”

“Keith,” he started, but didn’t know how to continue. He hadn’t turned on the light yet, only the dim glow-in-the-dark stars on the ceiling illuminating them. Lance moved as if to touch him, but stopped.

“What did I do to her?” Keith whispered, barely audible, finally tearing his eyes from the photo to Lance, and Lance suddenly ached. The marks on his left wrist throbbed down to the marrow of his bones. Keith’s faintly yellow eyes shimmered with overwhelmed tears that caught on his eyelashes, his brows pinched. His voice cracked like porcelain. “What did I do to my mom , Lance?”

Lance could hardly breathe. “Oh, Keith.”

That was all it took. A guttural sob ripped itself from somewhere deep in Keith’s chest and his knees gave out from under him. Lance immediately sunk down with him, toes digging into the carpet fibers. Keith collapsed against him, tears soaking onto the shoulder of his blue baseball tee and his breath hitching violently.

Lance rearranged them so Keith could sit in his lap, wrapped impossibly tight around him as he trembled and cried into his shoulder, fingers digging hard into the muscle of Lance’s back. A pained whine came from Keith’s throat and Lance felt his own cheeks grow wet.

He ran his fingers through Keith’s hair like a mantra, rocking them together slightly. “It’s not your fault. I’m here. It’s okay. It’s not your fault.” At a loss for what else to do, he turned his head to press a kiss to Keith’s temple, keeping his lips there long enough for him to feel it, both their grips tightening. “We’ll make this right. I promise.” Keith sucked in a watery gasp and burrowed harder, hicccuping once as he tried to catch his breath. He let Lance rub his back and up his arms until one hand was nestled in his dark hair, carefully kneading out the tangles.

Slowly, Keith came back to himself, muscles unfurling into the ease of the embrace, but he didn’t make to move away. He only looped his arms around Lance’s waist and kept taking deep breaths.

“Sorry,” he mumbled into Lance’s soaked shirt.

“It’s just a shirt. It’s only worth, like, seven dollars,” Lance teased gently.

Keith didn’t quite laugh, but the quiet little huff of breath against Lance’s neck told him the joke worked. They stayed like that, Lance stroking Keith’s hair and Keith absently running a hand up and down Lance’s back. They took deep breaths, nearly cheek to cheek.

Eventually, Keith started to peel back enough to meet Lance’s red-rimmed gaze with his own. “Were you crying?”

“I’m a sympathetic crier, dude. Don’t judge,” he remarked, wiping his eyes. He stopped when he noticed Keith staring at the scar on his wrist again. “Hey,” Lance commanded. “Don’t worry about me. You’re not gonna go feral again.” He raised his right hand. “McClain oath.”

Keith sagged slightly and then got to his feet. He held a hand out. “Thank you, Lance,” he said, helping him up. They knew they had to go back out to the living room. There were so many more questions to ask Kolivan, but Lance couldn’t help but linger just a second longer, watching Keith in the light of his plastic stars, holding his hand.

“Shall we?” Keith finally prompted, squeezing his hand.

Lance twined their fingers. “Yeah.”

But before Lance could even touch the doorknob, a booming crack rang through his ears, glass shattering out beyond his bedroom door.

Chapter Text

“Wait, so this Haggar lady, she’s the one who did all this?” Pidge was interrogating Kolivan, perched on the edge of her seat. “How did she even-? I mean, it’s not like magic is actually real.”

Kolivan exchanged a glance with Thace. “You’re a scientist. Consider the evidence. What alternative explanation could you offer for our conditions? How else can you explain what you saw that night in the graveyard?”

Pidge bit her lip and Hunk hummed thoughtfully next to her. “Yeah,” he agreed, “but, there still has to be some sort of mechanism to this ‘magic,’ if that’s what we’re calling it. It’s still gotta be like physics. You know, laws and things. There has to be a way to break that stuff down into scientific terms, right?”

“And if we could do that,” Pidge continued, “then we could figure out a way to reverse engineer a cure or something.” She glanced at Lance’s shut bedroom door where they were all pretending not to hear Keith’s crying through the thin wood.

Hunk sighed, slumping against the sofa cushions. “That could take years. Who knows how long Haggar had to study this stuff for?”

“That’s where Allura comes in.” Kolivan pulled a file from his traveling bag and laid it on the coffee table. A picture of a stunning black woman with dyed-white hair stared up at them. “She’s an alchemist, and her father was the one who helped us seal Keith in the crypt.”

“Wait,” Hunk said. “How is she his daughter? She’d have to be, like ancient by now.”

“Alfor conducted alchemical experiments that have increased his longevity. Now, if there’s anyone qualified to help translate magic to science, or any other cross wiring that needs to happen, it’s her.”

Hunk leaned back and made a time-out motion with his hands. “Um, wait. Hold the phone. I wanna make this clear: You’re asking us,” he pointed between himself and Pidge. “To hunt down some magical lady on what I’m guessing is some insane cross-country journey so that we can turn our vampire friend back into a human.”

Kolivan didn’t so much as blink. “Yes. I’d like us to head out tonight, if possible. The druids are still active and likely to have found Keith by now.”

“You’re asking us to miss finals.”

“Yes.”

Pidge and Hunk exchanged a look.

“For science?” Pidge hedged, extending her hand.

Hunk glanced at the door. “And friendship,” he declared, giving her the most heartfelt high-five of recorded history.

Thace stood suddenly, a palm held out towards them in shushing gesture. A dim light flared somewhere outside the apartment. “Go grab your bags,” he whispered. “Quickly.” Kolivan joined him, edging closer to the window and clinging to the shadows. Confused, Pidge and Hunk scurried off and returned with their backpacks.

Just as Kolivan was about to tell them to grab Keith and Lance, the window exploded, glass shards raining down and the curtains billowing out. “Thace, go!” Kolivan urged.

Thace darted into action, pressing Pidge and Hunk out the back door and to the parking lot. He snatched Hunk’s keys and shoved them both into the Subaru.

“Wait! Lance and Keith are still in there!” Hunk shouted.

Thace prepared to start the ignition. “Kolivan will take care of them. We’ll meet up later if we can.”

Pidge lunged over the backseat to grab at the keys. “No way, pal! We’re not leaving them behind!” Thace kept her out of reach, jamming the key into the slot and twisting. The headlights flared to life.

“We’re already out of the building. They’ll be okay. If we stay or try to go back now you’ll both likely end up dead.” With that, he shoved Pidge back and stepped on the accelerator, slipping out fast before they could stop him again.

 

 

Back in Lance’s bedroom, Kolivan burst inside, nearly bowling the boys over. “Out the window. Now,” he commanded, pushing them to crawl over Lance’s bed and shimmy out. They slipped out fast, Lance scrambling to shove a random handful of clothes into his backpack and tossing it ahead of them. He crawled out after Keith, sweat breaking out over his brow.

“What’s going on?” Keith demanded, unsheathing his knife. “Where are the others?”

Kolivan shushed him and kept them pressed against the building under the window. “Thace got them out.” Lance let out a relieved exhale, but it didn’t last for long.

From the front, they heard more crackles clanging off of trash cans and the building accompanied by bright flashes of purple light. A car alarm went off. Shit, their neighbors were going to be pissed. Someone kicked down the door, people in dark cloaks and strange bird-like masks slipping inside and rummaging through the apartment. Lance heard something break.

“They’re not here. Must have left in the car you let get away.”

“Haggar sensed him awaken. They’re nearby. I heard something.”

Lance was trembling as Keith tugged his wrist so they could follow Kolivan out into the open, making a mad dash for the two motorcycles he and Thace rode in on, silver metal glinting under the street lamps. Kolivan tucked his braid into his helmet and threw two more their way. “Follow me. Do not fall behind.”

Lance fumbled with the buckle of the helmet. “I can’t drive a motorcycle!” he hissed.

“I can.” Lance whirled, eyes bugging out of his head. “What?” Keith shrugged, catching the tossed keys and sliding to straddle the seat. “I snuck out while you were at class sometimes. Picked up a few things.”

Lance floundered as he crawled up behind Keith and wrapped his arms around his waist. “Like driving a goddamn motorcycle?! What next? Did you join a biker gang?!” In the distance, the wail of a police siren steadily approached.

“Hunk showed me the garage he works at.”

Boys,” Kolivan chastised. They snapped to attention. “They’ll hear the engines, so we have to book it.”

Refocused, they gunned the bikes at the same time and took off into the night, flooring it through the parking lot until the outstretched knock-off suburbs melded into the city. Lance held Keith in a death grip, most likely crushing his internal organs, but he was a vampire, so it was probably fine.

They leaned into a particularly steep turn and Lance screamed. “Calm down!” Keith shouted above the wind, keeping Kolivan’s tail light close in view.

“Don’t fucking tell me to CALM DOWN! You don’t have a license! You’re from the goddamn MOTHERFUCKING 1800’s and you didn’t even know what a BUS was until a few weeks ago!”

Keith tightened his grip on the handlebars. “I told you to quit bringing up the STUPID BUS!”

“Yeah, well some crazy vampire cult lunatics just blew up my apartment so I can say whatever the fuck I want!”

“Stop yelling at me! We had a bonding moment! You cradled me in your arms!”

“Well it won’t matter if you kill us in a –” Lance screamed again on a corner and hugged Keith tighter. They stayed like that for the rest of the ride, eventually following Kolivan out of town and slipping unnoticed onto the highway.

 

 

“I don’t have shoes.”

“Are you fucking serious, Lance?”

“It was a life or death situation, Keith! You’re lucky I remembered to grab anything at all!”

Kolivan pinched his brow.

Luckily, the next town over was an emergency rendezvous point Kolivan and Thace had already established. While they waited for the others to meet up, they stopped at an outlet mall and Lance managed to snag some knock-off Converse for sale. They made sure to pay with cash, and afterward, they said fuck it and got frozen yogurt. They then sat on the curb with their biodegradable spoons and fruit toppings.

They were so undeniably fucked.

“What are the chances that Professor Iverson will accept ‘aiding a cowboy vampire refugee’ as a legitimate excused absence?”

“Abysmal.”

Just then, a loud cry broke out across the empty parking lot. “LANCE!” came the tearful scream of Hunk’s watery voice. “OMG YOU’RE ALIVE!” Bounding across the pavement, he scooped Lance up, twirling and crushing him at the same time. Pidge scampered up after to join and smashed the three of them together painfully.

Keith winced at the dramatic display. “Hunk. Breathe.”

“Right, sorry.” He set Lance down with one last squeeze and tugged worriedly at his orange headband. “It’s just, uhg, that was the worst and Thace said we couldn’t go back for you and we were just so worried we really yelled at Thace – sorry by the way, dude –  and I kinda had a panic attack but Pidge calmed me down so that’s okay now and –”

Lance cut in. “Buddy, I’m glad you guys are okay and I’m sorry you freaked out, but we need to talk game plans.”

Pidge jumped in, catching Lance and Keith up on the whole deal with Allura and the alchemy they needed. If this was ever going to get fixed, they needed to do something about it now. Plus, even if Lance, Hunk, and Pidge hadn’t wanted to help, their apartment was definitely a target. There was no way they could safely resume school until these druid assholes were toast. “We were actually talking about this before uh, well, the home invasion. It sounds like we’re gonna have to go get her,” she explained.

“I’m afraid there’s more to be done than just that,” Thace said. “Kolivan, I think we’d best take Keith to Shiro and Ulaz.” At this, Keith blinked uncertainty. “If you take him, I can easily escort the others to Allura from the location codes she gave us during the last correspondence we had.”

“You mean, I go alone?” Keith hedged.

“With Kolivan.”

“Oh.”

Lance swallowed, eyes darting between Keith and the formidable Kolivan, the taut line of tension between them. He could still feel the imprint of Keith’s tears on his shirt, his trembling body against Lance’s palms. Yeah. No. That was not happening. The sad boy would not go off across the country with Captain Emotionally Constipated.

“I’ll go with Keith and Kolivan,” he announced, coming to stand by Keith as nonchalantly as possible. “I’m not going to be any help with the science stuff, and this way we’re an even number.”

Kolivan frowned. “I don’t think –”

“Thanks,” Keith interrupted.

Hunk, Pidge, and Thace seemed to shrug helplessly in unison. “Fine,” Kolivan relented. “But I expect you both to be on your best behavior.”

With that, they all turned to bid final farewells. Lance, Hunk, and Pidge came in for a group hug, faces pressed into each other’s shoulders. Hunk pulled up suddenly, looking at Keith perched awkwardly by the curb. “You too, man. Get in here.” Almost shy, Keith let himself be tugged into the tangle of arms and body heat, pressing lightly into their sides.

“We’re gonna work this out,” Pidge promised.

“Thank you,” Keith mumbled. “Really. So much.”

 

 

The next morning found Keith and Lance squeezed onto the motorcycle, Lance burrowed into the leather of Keith’s jacket and clinging like a koala for dear life. He smelled stupidly appealing for a guy who’d been running around in a graveyard and then escaping scary druid henchmen.

They followed Kolivan for hours, stopping only to refuel, piss, and snack. Lance’s hips groaned in protest from spending so long on the bike, and even Keith was starting to look downright ragged by the time the sun started to set. Kolivan pulled them off the highway into a forested pit-stop hamlet near a creek. There was only a fire station, a small grocery mart, and a crusty building with a neon vacancy sign beaming out into the darkness. Within a few minutes, the boys collapsed face-first next to each other onto a squeaky motel bed that smelled musty at best.

A bone-deep sigh flew out of Lance’s mouth as he finally closed his eyes, Kolivan looming, unimpressed, over them. Just as he felt ready to pass out right there, Keith jerked upright beside him.

“Shit.” Lance sat up and only had to take in Keith’s pallid skin and faintly trembling fingers to know what was wrong. “Kolivan –”

“I know,” he said, cuffing his black sleeves to the elbow. “Come on then.”

Keith blinked. “But there’s not a butcher or anything for miles.”

Kolivan only opened the door to the room and let in the cooling night air. “Your dad taught you how to hunt, didn’t he? Or Krolia?”

Oh. Lance suddenly felt a bit ill, eyes flicking between Kolivan and Keith, who sat rigidly on the foot of the bed. He saw Keith clamp one hand over the other to keep them still, but it was a failed effort. “We don’t have any guns or –”

“You have your hands and good eyes in the dark. Now, do you want to go feral or not?”

Keith nearly flinched and the room fell dead silent. They hung like that for a moment, the reality of it all sinking in. Keith would have to kill. Lance remembered a random exchange from last week. Keith had told him that he really liked animals, always felt like he sort of understood them. And now Kolivan was saying that he had to kill. With his bare hands.

Suddenly, their whole endeavor seemed impossible to Lance, a wild goose chase through the continent. The motel room suddenly felt as big as the whole world, and Lance had no idea how they would ever get across it.

Without a word, Keith finally stood and started out the door. Lance scrambled to his own feet without thinking. “Wait. I’ll come too.”

Keith whirled on him, his face steeled and voice low. “No.” Lance stopped.

“I...I just think I could help.”

Keith only gave him a hard side-glance as he slipped out the door after Kolivan. “No, you can’t. Stay here, Lance.” Then the latch clicked shut, and Lance was alone while Keith went out into the forest to feed. He fell back on the bed, defeated.

This sucked.

Chapter Text

Keith didn’t say anything when he came back, wiping at his mouth with a haunted shadow hanging over his frame despite the restored flush of his cheeks. Lance had just emerged from the shower, hair still damp and wanting to hold off putting on his sweat-stained t-shirt as long as he could. Keith refused to meet his gaze as he pushed by to lock himself in the bathroom. For a long minute, Lance lingered by the door, straining his ear for any sound of distress, but he only heard the faucet running.

Eventually, Keith came out of the bathroom, steam clinging to his freshly cleaned skin. He got dressed, paused awkwardly. Lance patted the other side of the bed encouragingly, and Keith then climbed in, curled in on himself and faced the wall.

They spent two more nights in a rural motel before crossing the California border. Kolivan arranged the same set up: somewhere with access to the woods so that they could hunt, two queen beds. Of course, Keith and Lance wound up sharing while Kolivan snored on whatever bed was closest to the window.  

While they bickered and talked for the rest of the trip out in daylight, Keith stopped talking right before he had to go hunt and refused to speak until the next morning after. Lance was too afraid to push it, even if he was somewhat hurt by the way Keith shut him down that first night.

Dealing with Keith was becoming a thing of increasing anxiety for Lance, especially when he got moody like that. Lance treaded more carefully than ever. His teasing and taunts had evolved into this strange hypercomplex algorithm that made him break out into a cold sweat every time he said something that might push the wrong button. He did everything he could to keep Keith’s attention while not being too obnoxious about it.

The thing was, when Lance thought about it, his days were sort of numbered. He was all aboard the Help Keith Train. Absolutely. But when Keith went out with Kolivan or turned to face away in bed without so much as a good night, Lance started to freak out a little inside. He couldn’t tell if it was Keith’s own existential angst or his mom angst or if…

If he was getting sick of Lance.

Because Keith was right. Lance couldn’t help anymore, not really. The only reason he was even out in California while Kolivan helped Keith sort out his vampire revenge quest was because he was under some fucked version of witness protection that he weaseled his way into. And for what? So he could keep Kolivan’s raging insensitivity from hurting Keith’s feelings? Yeah. He was doing a bang-up job there.

Keith really didn’t need him anymore, which was good, yeah, he knew that. Dependency was bad. But if Lance wasn’t going to help get him clothes or teach him about the modern world or let him crash on the couch or get him ethical blood, well then what was he good for?

Once this was all over, Lance wouldn’t be surprised if Keith took off and never looked back. And laying in the dark of those motel rooms, listening to Keith breathe, he really hated to think about that.

Because he’d just realized he was kind of half in love with him.

 

 

Yikes.

 

 

Broad daylight reflected off tall buildings and the sea breeze filtered between them. San Francisco was about what Lance remembered. One year his great-aunt hosted the family reunion at her place up near Sacramento, and they decided to take a weekend trip into the city while they were close by. He’d been fifteen then, a gawking boy fresh from Cuba, and as far as he could tell, not much about the city had changed since.

Of course, this was nothing like the California that Keith remembered. Lance kept an arm around him as they walked through the city, applying a firm bit of pressure at the small of his back whenever he felt Keith tensing up too much over all the new sensory input. The pressure thing was a strange trick he’d picked up without even really knowing it, but Lance randomly noticed that it seemed to help Keith a little when he got overwhelmed – firm constant touches that were sure not to leave is skin prickling afterward.

“This way,” Kolivan directed, steering them into an alley with pipes that leaked steam and stray trash bags along the ground. After days of travel, Lance was more than happy to reach their final destination, whatever it was.

As they went further through the alley, Keith sighed and let the tension in his shoulders flee. Lance reluctantly dropped his arm now that he’d gotten a handle on himself, and soon they were standing at the back entrance of a crooked looking structure made of brick with purple graffiti on the dingy door. It was the same symbol as the one on Keith’s knife.

Kolivan gave a secret coded knock, and the three of them stood in silence while they waited to be let in. Lance gazed at Keith out of his periphery. He had bags under his eyes and his hair was a ruffled mess – probably from the helmet. Lance didn’t imagine that he looked much better.

Keith tucked a stray hair behind his ear and Lance wanted to do it for him. The door suddenly slid open, the three of them ushered into an unlit hallway. Keith and Kolivan’s eyes immediately lit up, and Lance gripped the back of Keith’s jacket to keep from tripping. A third pair of eyes softly glowed in the dark, facing them from an incredible three inches or so above Kolivan’s already staggering frame.

“Ulaz,” Kolivan greeted. “This is Krolia’s son, Keith, and his…companion,” he settled on. “Lance.”

“Welcome.” Ulaz led them up a narrow staircase until they at last came to a room with light. A man hunched over it, hands spread over various maps and articles with clippings.

Lance was not ashamed to admit that he immediately started to drool. Hardcore crushing on Keith or not, he wasn’t fucking blind.

The guy was all muscle and downright erotic jawline. He had a strange shock of white hair and a scar that stretched over his nose. But even for all his raw manly energy, when he looked up at their entourage, there was something gentle and nurturing in his gaze.

“Ah, you’re here,” he said, stepping away from the desk. “Good to see you made it in one piece. Call me Shiro,” he finished with a kind smile and an outstretched hand. Oddly enough, he reached out to Lance first, but that wasn’t what made him freeze with surprise.

Shiro’s right arm was a prosthetic, but not like any Lance had ever seen before. Before he could embarrass himself in front of the hot guy, he swallowed and shook his hand, praying that his voice didn’t crack as he introduced himself.

Apparently, Lance wasn’t the only one star-struck. Keith more or less gaped up at Shiro as he took his turn to shake his hand, and Lance bit down a sudden swell of jealousy.

Kolivan cut off the icebreakers. “Shiro will watch out for you two from now on. Do as he says and try not to make his life too difficult.”

“Like a bodyguard?” Lance asked, beaming with excitement.

Shiro shrugged. “Something like that.”

“Sweet. Always wanted one of those.” He clapped his hands together and rubbed them vigorously. “So. What’s the plan, my man?”

Kolivan went to the papers at the desk. “This is a crisis. Please don’t rhyme.”

After days on end of tiptoeing around Kolivan’s surliness, Lance was done. He scoffed. “I’ll rhyme all the time, crisis or, uh, lime!” Keith made a disgusted sound. “Oh, no one asked you, Brokeback.” Behind Lance, Shiro tried not to snort.

Alright, he could try to control his jealousy for a fellow kindred memer.

Keith blinked, trying to take the insult. “Broke…what? My back is fine?”

Lance just stared at him in his gorgeous stupid confusion and dumb uncomprehending pretty fucking eyes and he deflated. “Movie. You haven’t seen it.”

With a pout, Keith leaned against the table. “Stop referencing stuff you know I don’t understand if you’re just going to get all disappointed by it.”

Boys,” Kolivan chastised. Again.

 

 

Keith fidgeted between Lance and Shiro as he kept his eyes on the screen. The tiny dark room was already hot enough without five people in it. Not to mention that Lance’s arm kept brushing up against his and it was making him sweat even more.

On the monitor, Allura pulled up a diagram. Hunk, Pidge, and Thace were at attention behind her. Her curly white hair was pulled back as she gestured to the anatomical figure, explaining the mutations all of the vampires went through under Haggar’s terrifying ritual.

“Think of magic that Haggar used as chemical compounds with unique properties. These compounds form a lining in the blood vessels. The lining feeds on antibodies from opposing blood types. So, someone with the same blood type, especially a relative, would not be suitable to feed on.” Keith looked down, remembering what Kolivan had said about what he’d done to his own mother. Her blood hadn’t been able to calm him down. “Without those antibodies, the vessels compress and set off a reaction in the blood that carries to the brain – what you call ‘going feral.’ It’s tricky to cancel out the reaction. There isn’t any chemical substance which could eliminate the compounds because, well, they’re magic.”

Shiro tapped his crossed arm thoughtfully. Keith was doing his best not to stare at the prosthetic. “So what can we do?” he asked.

Pidge piped up next. “We’ve hypothetically figured out how to reverse the effects. De-vampify, if you will.” Lance snorted. “But, uh, we kind of need Haggar to do it.”

What.” Keith said, chest seizing a fraction.

Hunk waved his hands at the camera. “Not like we need her to agree to perform a ritual or anything. We just need a blood sample.”

Keith felt the first glimmers of despair itching at his fingertips. “But she’s dead, isn’t she? It’s impossible.”

“I’m afraid she isn’t,” Shiro corrected. “She started transforming people like you in order to feed off of those special enzymes in your blood vessels and attain immortality. That’s why this whole mess started in the first place.”

“So, like a vampire squared?” Lance supplied.

“Yes,” Allura answered. “The process of transforming someone takes a large amount of energy and from what we can tell, few actually survive the procedure. Haggar’s own sadistic vendetta aside, you are a valuable resource to her, Keith. It’s more than just immortality though. Based on the simulations that we’ve run, it’s safe to say that by the time she came into contact with you, she was much more desperate. Like a drug addict, she would have become dependent on the vampiric blood enzymes, her body decaying as quickly as it regenerates and locking her into a near-constant state of withdrawal. In a way, she has been feral for centuries.”

Lance leaned against his side and Keith furrowed his brows. They both whirled on Kolivan. “Why the fuck didn’t you say that before?!” they shouted together.

Kolivan rolled his eyes. “And have you looking over your shoulder the whole way here? Slow us down with your paranoia?” The boys both crossed their arms in a pout. He then ignored them like a jerk and refocused on Allura. “How much would you need?”

She hummed in thought. “Technically? I can work with as little as a drop, but I’d like to have extra in case something goes wrong.”

 

 

“God, I’m starting to miss my own bed.”

“I’m almost starting to miss your shitty couch,” Keith quipped.

Shiro dropped a duffle bag onto one of the motel beds. They’d left San Francisco on the highway with Shiro to investigate a lead that might point them in the right direction. “Okay. Keith, there’s enough pig’s blood in here to last you a few days.” Shiro moved the blood bags into the mini fridge. “There’s also a few changes of clothes.” Lance made a dramatic show of pulling out a new shirt and pair of sweatpants, crooning over them lovingly.

Keith tried to give Shiro a subtle once-over as he put a blood bag to his fangs, eyeing his scars and arm warily. He thought he was being pretty sneaky about it until Shiro raised an eyebrow at him.

“You’re wondering how I got involved in all this.” Keith froze, guilty. “It’s a fair question,” Shiro assured. He sat on the opposite bed from Lance. “You wanna know too, right? You’ve kind of been watching me all day.”

Lance sputtered. “I-I wasn’t-! I mean, I wasn’t trying to, uh.” Keith rolled his eyes, but in truth, he hadn’t even noticed Lance’s scrutiny. Or, was it admiration? He wasn’t sure.

Shiro smiled. “It’s okay, Lance. I’m not offended. You’re just being observant. It’s smart.”

Curiously, Lance’s ears turned red when he answered, “Ah. I guess so.” Keith wondered what that meant, eyes tracking between the two of them. He took in the handsome juxtaposition of Shiro’s soothing demeanor and rough frame. He was good-looking, even if it was still a little strange for Keith to admit his attraction to men so openly to himself. He wondered if Lance thought…

Keith shut that thought down fast, ignoring how his jaw tightened at the notion. “So,” he cut in. “Why are you involved?”

Shiro’s expression ruefully darkened. He lifted his cybernetic hand to them. “I was a prisoner of Haggar’s too.”

“Wait,” said Lance. “So you’re a –?”

“No. She was trying other things when I got wrapped up a few of years ago. I was a college athlete – martial arts – so I guess she scouted me out for my durability.” Keith restrained a shudder, remembering how terrified he’d been in captivity. He could sympathize. “She took my arm. Gave me this. She was trying to program me or something, make me into some sort of hunting dog to track down her escaped victims or worse.” He flexed his fingers. “She would have taken more if Ulaz hadn’t found me when he did. I’ve been with the Marmora ever since.”  

“Geez. That, um. That blows, dude.” Lance sat cross-legged on the bed, eyes wide with attention.

Keith didn’t know what to say, so he finished off his blood and went to brush his teeth, hearing Shiro chuckle good-naturedly at Lance’s awkward condolences. When he returned, Lance swapped to perform his own nightly routine, leaving him alone with Shiro as the door shut. Keith shifted on his feet.

“Um. Sorry you went through that.”

Shiro reclined on the bed, book in hand. “I could say the same to you. I appreciate it though.” He cracked the pages open and flicked off the main light. Lance returned then, flopping on the mattress. “Get some rest. We leave early.”

Keith still had more questions about Shiro, but now wasn’t the time to pry. He took his usual spot next to Lance, facing the wall. He prepared himself for another nearly sleepless night of avoiding thoughts about his mother and imprisonment. Behind him, the bed dipped slightly as Lance seemed to scooch a little closer before stopping abruptly. Keith wanted him nearer but couldn’t bring himself to inch backward.

“Goodnight,” Lance whispered.

Keith gripped the sheets and didn’t answer.

Chapter Text

The smell of hay made Lance’s nose itch terribly. He climbed up the ladder after Shiro to the barn loft, dusting his knees off once he stood. They’d arrived early that morning on the motorcycles, the noise of the city fading to complete silence as they approached the abandoned and dilapidated farm from the backroads. Shiro said it was an area the Marmora had pegged as a likely hideout that needed investigating. Keith immediately left to walk around the perimeter of the lot. He was probably in dire need of alone time after weeks on end surrounded by people in confined spaces. Lance stuck with Shiro to investigate the decaying barn, planks of wood rotting or peeled away, the roof slightly caved in at the center. They’d meet up afterward so all three could scope out the stables together.

Before Lance could take a look around the loft, he bumped into Shiro’s back. “Ow!” He rubbed his throbbing nose, ready to ask what the deal was, but stopped dead in his tracks when he finally saw what Shiro did. The breath was punched out of him and he felt sick to his stomach. “Oh, man.”

The whole loft was covered in blood stains and scratches. A single beam of light cut through the gory scene, dust particles drifting to land on the wood. Two rusted chains with collars were anchored to the wall. Shiro’s face was hard, and Lance was willing to bet good money that he had firsthand experience with whatever happened here.

“They were here,” Shiro announced lowly. Lance couldn’t bring himself to walk further in, but Shiro followed the sound of buzzing flies to a darkened corner.

“What is it?” Lance called, trying not to inhale the rotten stench. He wasn’t sure he wanted to know.

Shiro kneeled to inspect the pile, pinching his scarred nose shut and wincing. After a second he quickly backed away, ushering Lance back down the step ladder. “Legs. Human. Six of them.”

Lance stared back up at the loft in horror, his throat suddenly tight and his limbs like jelly.  Haggar was insane. She was willing to do anything, hurt anyone. And now Lance was actively pursuing her. He was at risk here – his friends were at risk. A bead of sweat rolled down his temple and he swallowed harshly. He didn’t realize his knees felt as weak as they did until Shiro’s hand was on his shoulder, guiding him to sit on a hay bale just outside in the shade.

“Lance? You okay? Can you take a deep breath for me?”

He chuckled nervously and waved Shiro off. “Yeah, yeah. Don’t worry about me. It’s just a lot.” Lance stretched his legs out, hooking his ankles and rolling them back and forth to chill out. It wasn’t working very well. He felt dangerously lightheaded.

Shiro let the silence hang for a moment before he leaned back to mimic Lance’s posture. “I’m your bodyguard too, remember? It’s my job to worry about both you guys.” Lance bit his lip. Shiro had only been with them for a day and Lance was already appreciating the hell out of him. “I don’t just mean physical wellbeing. C’mon. I can tell you’re a talker.”

At Shiro’s easy coaxing, Lance finally gave in, a dense weight already lifting off his chest. “I just don’t know what I’m doing here. I was taking notes in lecture hall last week and now I’m on practically the other side of the country on Keith’s weird vampire quest. I’m not even sure how much I can help anymore and I’m kind of terrified out of my mind.”

Shiro lifted his human arm to wrap around Lance’s shoulders, grounding and secure. Lance finally understood Keith’s thing about firm pressure being comforting. “I understand how you feel.”

Lance jerked up. “I didn’t mean, like... God, you and Keith went through so much worse and –”

“Lance,” Shiro interrupted. “I wasn’t trying to compare. You’re stressed and scared and that’s okay. I’d be concerned if you weren’t.”

With a pout that felt childish, Lance dug the toe of his knock-off Converse into the dirt, dragging it in a small circle. “It doesn’t feel like it. Keith’s dealing with a lot already. Haggar and, god, his mom… He doesn’t need me putting any more stuff on him.”

“You really care about him.” Heat immediately flooded Lance’s cheeks and ears, his spine hunching forward to hide his embarrassment. It didn’t work. “Oh,” Shiro said, eyes widening and making Lance’s poor skin positively boil. “It’s like that, huh?” he leered with a sly grin.

“NO!” Lance shrieked. “Maybe! A little! Who asked you anyway?!”

Shiro laughed, the sound rich and playful. “Sorry. It’s just endearing is all. Reminds me of my fiancé, Adam. Don’t be embarrassed.” He gave Lance a pat on the back to show he meant no harm.

Lance tried not to look too relieved that Shiro was taken and therefore not even remotely interested in Keith. “You’re engaged?”

“Well, sort of. We’re on hold for a bit, what with the secret organizations and manhunts and all that. Working through a bit of a rough patch right now.”

“Oh.”

Shiro squeezed his shoulder again. “But really, Lance. I get it. Love can be rough.”

And then he remembered to be embarrassed. “It-It’s not like I’m in love or anything.” He huffed and crossed his arms. “It’s just a crush. I could totally wake up tomorrow and it would be gone. You know how that goes.”

Shiro absently brushed the white tuft of hair from his eyes. “Oh sure, because crushes are so controllable.” Before Lance could devise a good comeback, he heard the crunch of gravel behind him.

“What did you guys find?” Lance whirled around to find Keith looming above them, hands on his hips with a positively deadly scowl on his face. Apparently, that stroll of solitude wasn’t long enough for Sir Grumpy-Downer of Glooms-a-lot. Lance felt Shiro’s hand slip away from his shoulder, and the memory of the buzzing flies in the barn loft returned.

Shiro stood. “They were definitely using this as an operation center. Not too long ago either.”

Keith narrowed his eyes, moving his stare from Shiro to the barn entrance. “So what now?”

“We need to figure out where they went or plan to go next. Maybe we can track them down and set a trap with the rest of the Blade.”

Lance gulped as they completely settled into serious mode, going back and forth on strategy and such. He had to contribute somehow. He couldn’t just be dead weight. An idea popped into his head then, a soft gasp passing his lips. Keith immediately faced him with concern. “What’s wrong?”

“Shiro, uh, how…fresh did the, er, legs look?”

“The legs?” Keith floundered.

Shiro winced a little, “I’d say maybe two weeks old.”

Nodding, Lance shifted side to side as he let his brain tease through the start of a plan. “Why would they just leave them here? I doubt they want to have to deal with terrified farmers calling in a police investigation, right?”

Keith crossed his arms. “So what? I don’t think Haggar cares about law enforcement. She probably has something worked out. Magic bullshit.”

“No,” Shiro interrupted, eyes drifting back to the barn entrance. “Lance is right. I’ve been following these cases for months. They find a rural spot, do whatever they do, and only leave the barest trace behind that the Blade and I can only piece together weeks or months later. They’re more careful than this. Not this messy.”

Lance grinned. “Aha! So they’ll return to the scene of the crime to erase the evidence! We can catch them then!”

Shiro frowned. “I don’t think so. This feels different. I think this was a message. She knows about our organization – at least that it exists. She also knows that someone helped you escape the apartment when her agents raided it.”

“Fuck those guys were scary,” Lance shuddered. “Lucky thing Keith knew how to ride a bike.” Keith suddenly froze and whipped around, setting a brisk pace for the stables. Shiro and Lance scrambled to catch up. “Dude, what gives?”

“Haggar caught us with our horses. I liked my horse.” Lance didn’t know what to make of that, so he just kept up with Keith until all three of them were running to the stables, a sense of dread washing over him as Keith sprinted ahead and inside.

“Keith, wait!” Shiro called. “It might be dangerous!” They finally burst in, a horrible smell weighing down the air and Keith standing frozen in front of the center stall against the back wall. “Keith?”

Keith stayed where he was, back turned to them. “It was a message,” he said suddenly, voice strained. “They bet that we would eventually find this place, so they left a message.”

Lance and Shiro crept further inside until they could see what Keith saw. A horse was leaning against the back wall of the stall, its weight pressed against the decaying wood like it was the only thing keeping it up. Its ribs poked through the deadened dust of its patchy coat. Head downturned, Lance could see how mangy its mane was, how sickly the thing appeared. It must not have eaten properly for weeks.

“Oh my god,” Lance whispered. “We gotta call a vet.”

“It’s a Blood Bay. Just like the one I had,” Keith said, reaching for the horse slowly. Keith’s face was pained and sad, brows pinched together.

The horse skittered away from Keith as best as it could, whinnying as Keith shushed it. Shiro and Lance just stood where they were, unsure how to help. The horse slowly succumbed to Keith’s gentle hands and voice, letting him draw closer. It was too ill and starved to do much of anything else. Lance couldn't stand it, how utterly exhausted Keith looked in that moment, how hurt.

“Easy there,” Keith continued. His voice was low and tender. “I won’t hurt you. Promise.” The horse blew air from its nostrils, eyeing Keith warily. “I know. Someone hurt you.” He finally touched its head lightly, laying his hand between the ears and scritching slowly. “But I won’t. I’ll take care of you.” Keith let his other hand come up to the horse’s neck, fingers fiddling with what Lance could now see was a string. Untying it, he stepped away and held up the rolled paper connected to it.

“A message,” Shiro said.

Keith didn’t say anything as he undid the knot holding keeping it rolled, fingers shaking slightly. Steeling himself, Keith unfurled it slowly, the paper sliding against his thumb. When he didn’t move, Lance bit his lip.

“Well, what is it, Keith?”

He inhaled sharply. “It’s…” He gulped, presenting a worn photo of a shack set against the sunset. “It’s my home.”

Chapter Text

The iron tang of blood made Keith grimace from his spot on the roof of their latest motel, tongue running over his sharpened canines in distaste. They’d left the barn a few hours ago, leading the stumbling and emaciated horse to the nearest town so they could get it help. Shiro fibbed excellently, saying that they were motorcyclists on a road trip who happened to find it on the side of the road. Keith had stayed perched near his bike while Shiro handled the authorities, feeling the weight of the photo digging deep into the pocket of his leather jacket as they led the poor creature into the trailer. He did his best to tune out Lance’s concerned stare, but couldn’t stop the other boy from approaching him.

“You okay, man?”

“Fine,” Keith had said, staring at the ground.

Lance huffed and stood so they were shoulder to shoulder, watching the horse get carried off. “Okay, let me rephrase: How are you dealing with not being fine?”

Fine, Lance.” Keith had turned away and refused to acknowledge any more of his prodding until he slouched and gave up. They spent the rest of the day not talking to each other, and it made Keith’s stomach churn with acid guilt.

They rode further until they reached the next motel off a scenic highway. Keith had barely recognized any of it. The whole landscape was foreign to him, even though he should know this part of the country like the back of his hand. They rode past an ashen section where part of the forest had been burned down recently. The land was carved by paved asphalt, the skyline sometimes interrupted by large white windmills that spun slowly and ominously, though Lance assured him days ago that they were good things. Once they checked in, Keith came to the motel’s roof to drink his daily dose. From there, the far mountain ranges, at least, appeared untouched by time.

In truth, Keith really didn’t like the idea of leaving Lance and Shiro alone in the room, but he needed some space to himself. He pulled out the photo of his shack and felt anger welling up in him. He was sick of this. He was sick of not knowing what was going on, of feeling cornered and trapped and worried. Part of him just wanted to sit in the living room again while Lance did his homework. He’d be bored out of his mind, but at least he’d feel safe and at least somewhat stable. He didn’t know how much more stress from this endless game of cat and mouse he could take.

The thought of Lance had Keith biting his lip.

Ever since they’d started this journey, a chasm had begun to grow between them. Keith remembered back at the apartment where Lance was almost always brushing their hands together, squeezing his shoulder, gently guiding him through crowded streets, fixing his clothes, and generally doting on him. At the time, it was slightly embarrassing, but thinking back on it now, it had been a huge help in Keith’s transition. He felt comforted, always. Now, it was only on the motorcycle that Lance touched him at all.

Keith could still feel his skin tingle with the phantom sensation of Lance’s arms around him, their chests pressed together in that small bedroom while he mourned his mother. Keith had been completely falling apart in that moment, and Lance held him together, cradled him until he found his own strength once more.

He wanted that again, but it was his own fault Lance was distancing himself from him. Keith was pushing him away – he had been ever since the first night with Kolivan and the hunt.

He’d told Lance that he couldn’t help, but that wasn’t it. In truth, Keith couldn’t stop thinking about the puncture scars he’d left on Lance’s wrist, the taste of his blood in his mouth, the way he’d yelped in pain and Hunk had shoved him to the ground, the way Keith could hurt him. If Lance saw him killing, even if it was to keep from going feral, Keith didn’t know if he could stomach it.

He let his hand brush the railing at the thought as if to wipe it away with the rust.

There wasn’t much out beyond the parking lot other than an overgrown patch of weeds and chirping bugs. Just down the slope, he spotted a large pond reflecting the neon lights declaring, “Vacancy.” Keith pulled the half-empty bag from his lips and sighed.

It seemed like so long ago now, the night he and Lance got back from the shopping trip. After they got off at their bus stop, he’d stared at himself in the bathroom mirror for a long time. His old clothes were folded and tucked neatly away in a cabinet, the new ones soft against his skin and making him feel strange. In the bathroom, Keith had tugged at the cotton polyester blend covering his torso and suddenly felt as if he were dreaming.

He doubted he was imaginative enough to conjure two girls freely kissing on a large mechanical vehicle he’d never seen before.

Fiddling with a loose thread on his new jeans, he thought back to the girls. The way they leaned into each other, occupying their own private world right out in the open both jarred and relieved him. Keith had only ever known encounters like that to happen behind closed doors with an exchange of bills first.

Keith had done it once, impulsively. He rode out of town on Red’s back, maybe eighteen years old, because one of the girls at the brothel, Acxa, had fallen in love with him and he liked her fine but he also just felt nothing. He found a seedy looking place to the west, quietly slipped some cash into the Madam’s awaiting palm, his own hands shaking, and met a boy not much older than himself upstairs.

Keith felt empty afterward. Watching the boy collect his skimpy clothing and rearrange his hair not even a minute after they finished left him with a hollow feeling in his bones he couldn’t shake. Keeping his eyes on the ground as he left, he climbed Red to ride home. He never talked about it. He stayed away from Acxa.

Keith didn’t want Lance to know about any of that; how desperate he was, how much he wanted what those girls on the bus had.

The blood bag was heavy in his hands as he thought about it. Earlier today, Keith had insisted on walking the perimeter of the farm so he could have some time to himself. That had been a mistake. As he’d returned to the partially collapsed barn from the fields, the top of the rotting silo cresting into view, he saw the vague shape of Lance and Shiro sitting outside together.

Keith froze, the barn finally completely in sight. Lance was leaning into Shiro’s grip around his shoulder, the two hunched privately together. Shiro grinned while Lance blushed bright red, and Keith felt like a pistol being cocked, the low click of realization accelerating his feet towards them like a bullet.

Ludicrously indignant, Keith had marched up and interrupted the conversation as fast as he could, looming protectively over Lance and not at all enjoying the knowing twinkle in Shiro’s eye. Keith diverted them back to the task at hand to diffuse whatever strange tension might have been there, and before long the mess with the Blood Bay was happening and his jealousy fell to the wayside for, yay, more grief.

He couldn’t catch a fucking break.

Keith’s brain still felt like it was in a fog, cloudy, confused, and disoriented. Everything was a mess and he didn’t know where to begin cleaning up. Haggar, his mom, his dad, the future, vampire bullshit, the Blade, Shiro, liking Lance...

Yeah.

He liked Lance. Keith liked Lance so damn much. Keith adored Lance.  

When he wasn’t bogged down with thoughts about his horrific condition or terrible circumstances, he was thinking about Lance or how nice Lance’s friends were. And with the exception of the past few days, those thoughts were usually soft, admiring, and pleasant things. Everything about Lance seemed surrounded by a gentle humming glow that took root in his chest and connected him to the ground, gave him his bearings in a world that was never meant for him.

Now Keith couldn’t seem to stop messing everything up between them, pushing Lance away when he wanted him closer. He knew it was hurting Lance’s feelings – Lance, who had done nothing but try to make him happy since they met. Keith saw it every time he turned Lance away. And this was all just shit timing, wasn’t it? Their lives were in danger, they had a witch to hunt down, alchemy or something to figure out, he had his parents to mourn, and yet all he wanted was Lance pressed against him while they rode the motorcycle out into the forest or the desert or the coast – he’d never seen the coast before.

Lance was handsome and kind and funny and precious and selfless and devoted and good. He was such a good person and it did things to Keith he couldn’t begin to articulate.

At the end of the day, Keith was hurting, and Lance was just about the only person he could turn to. That could make him laugh. And now Keith was sabotaging one of the only good things he had left.

“Keith?” He flinched at Shiro’s voice, turning to see the man climbing up the fire escape with a concerned frown. “You’ve been up here a while. Are you okay?”

He looked away and lightly shook the blood bag. “Fine. I, uh,” he stumbled, “I just don’t like drinking in front of people.”

“You mean in front of Lance?” Keith’s eyes narrowed slightly at the accusation. Shiro’s boots scraped across the rooftop until he came to sit on the ledge next to him. “He knows you need to. I don’t think it bothers him.”

“Well it bothers me,” Keith snapped, already annoyed at Shiro’s thoughtful insights on Lance.

“Oh.” They stewed in silence for a moment, Keith clenching the plastic bag, trying to just tune into the sound of it crinkling in his hand. He missed Lance always giving him something tactile to focus on in moments like this. Shiro interrupted again. “I saw his wrist. Was that…?”

Keith hunched in on himself, his shame exposed raw on his back as he felt Shiro’s stare bore into him. “Yeah. When I first woke up.”

“I’m sorry.” Shiro’s prosthetic slowly reached Keith’s shoulder, making him finally meet his gaze. “About what happened to you. I understand. I really do.” The synthetic fingers clenched slightly before drawing away, and Keith was shocked to find an aged pain in Shiro’s face, his skin not as clear and bright as it seemed at first, the scar splitting his nose and lines hanging under his eyes.

Keith was so busy feeling spiteful and jealous that he forgot.

Fuck. The legs. That must have been horrible.

Still, Shiro was opening up to him, exposing his wounds so that Keith wouldn’t feel alone in the world. It made his chest feel tight. He didn’t know what to say, so he just blabbed the first thing that came to mind.

“What was college like? Lance’s is boring, but he says he likes it.”

Shiro grinned and settled in. “Okay, first I’ll tell you about accidentally flooding my future fiancé’s frat house with dish soap bubbles in a drunken attempt to help clean up and be a polite guest. Then I’m going to tell you about Lance’s giant crush on you because I refuse to spend the rest of this trip caught in some insane imaginary love triangle because you have communication issues.”

What? ” Keith shrieked.

“Bup-bup-bup,” Shiro shushed him. “Bonding time has commenced. We’re trauma brothers now.”

Keith realized, halfway into the night when his side was in painful stitches from laughing so hard, that the one really good thing about the future was the people. They were extraordinarily kind.

Chapter Text

Lance woke up to an empty room. Shiro’s bed was neatly made and there was a crisp cold spot from where Keith had left, if he’d even gone to bed at all last night. Lance wasn’t sure that he had. With a yawn, Lance got dressed for the day and headed outside to find his travel partners. Across the gravel street from the motel was a washed-out diner, a general store, and an auto garage. That was the whole town, so it didn’t take Lance long to find Shiro and Keith out behind the diner.

Shiro held an axe, Keith leaning in to help him adjust his stance over an unsplit log. And old lady watched from the back porch, a cigarette in hand.

“How is this not right?” Shiro asked, twisting his grip in the handle.

“You wanna tear through your shoulder?”

“No.”

“Then maybe listen to me.” After a few more quick adjustments, Shiro hefted the axe skyward and brought it down with a crack onto the log, splitting it in two. Keith picked up the pieces to examine them. “Uneven, but not bad.”

Lance finally walked up, head tilted to the side. “Uh, what’re you guys doing?” Keith immediately turned away, the tips of his ears almost looking blushed in the sunlight.

“They’re fix’n me up some firewood for my stove. They get a meat pie at the end of the day for it,” the old lady called, puffing her cigarette and heading inside.

Shiro placed another log on the block. “Keith and I made a deal. He’s going to teach me some outdoor skills if I teach him some martial arts.”

“Oh, that’s cool. Um, what’s the plan for today?”

Keith kicked at a stray rock. “While you slept in, we called in back with Ulaz and Kolivan. They’re going to get Pidge, Hunk, and Allura down here so that we can head up to my old place as a group. Kolivan bets that she’ll be there, probably trying to lure us out. Numbers will be our best advantage.”

Shiro set up his swing. “So, we have some time to kill.” He split the next log, getting a slight nod of approval from Keith before straightening again. “Why don’t you and Keith go explore? I’m just going to help out here all day, so it might get boring. Just don’t go too far.”

“We could help too,” Lance politely insisted (although he hated chores), but Shiro was already waving him off with a smile.

“Don’t worry about it. Go stretch your legs. Have fun. Be boys.” Oh he had that scheming glint in his eyes – that deadly smirk only true memers and meddlers could wear. Lance knew that stare well.

Keith planted his hands on his hips. “It’ll go faster with all three of us,” he pointed out, weirdly insistent. Lance saw Keith give Shiro a strange side-eyed glance, but he wasn’t about to let his get-out-of-work-free card expire. He quickly snagged Keith by his elbow, ignoring his shouts of disapproval, and dragged him away from the diner, calling farewell to Shiro and promising to be back in a few hours.  

Lance also knew when a bro was wing-manning him, and he wasn’t about to let Shiro’s hard work go unappreciated.

After a minute of bickering, the two made their way to the motorcycles, Lance sliding into his familiar place behind Keith. “I still can’t believe you learned how to ride this thing in, what? Two weeks? All because Hunk gave you a tour of the garage a couple times?”

Keith only shrugged and knocked the kickstand up, revving the engine and taking off down the road. The sped off, the road running parallel to a shallow creek beside them. Still somewhat drowsy, Lance was content to let Keith decide where they went, drooping against the warm frame of his back and watching the trees blur by in a daze. He didn’t know what it was, but Keith seemed much lighter today. Whatever Shiro said to him on the roof last night, Lance was grateful for it. He hadn’t known how to lift him out of the latest depression with the horse – which was fucked up as shit – so this was a solid improvement.

He was shrugged out of his thoughts when Keith finally hit the brakes and then pulled over to a parking area beyond the shoulder of the road. Lance realized he had no idea how long they’d been driving. A quaint, almost unnoticeable trailhead peeked out from between the trees and shrubs. Lance heard water rushing in the distance.

“C’mon,” Keith beckoned, already off the bike and walking. “Let’s try here.” They followed the trail, hidden under a canopy with dappled sunlight dripping through patches of leaves, stray flowers brushing their arms, until they came to the shore of the creek. It was a slower spot, the water flowing into a deep pool that was clear enough to see the rocks below until it spilled over the small natural dam.

Lance lit up with excitement, frantically hopping on one foot to peel each of his shoes and socks off. “Lance, what are you doing?” Keith looked startled as Lance quickly yanked his shirt up and off his back, rolling the cuff of his jeans and nearly tripping on his way to jump in. He kicked his legs in the air with a loud holler, his silhouette brash against the beams of sunlight cutting through the trees.   

The crisp water embraced him, soaking him to the bone and making his jeans heavy. Lance felt goosebumps break out all over his skin and he burst back up through the surface furiously rubbing his arms. “FUCK that’s cold!”

When he blinked the water from his eyes, he saw Keith gaping at him from the pebbled shore. The next second, he was smirking, a low chuckle shaking his chest as he looked from the trail of clothes Lance left behind to the shivering idiot himself in the water. “You’re crazy,” he giggled. The sound of Keith’s laugh drew Lance’s remaining body heat to his cheeks.

Lance treaded the water cleanly, trying to warm himself up with the movement. “I-I bet you-you’re too ch-ch-chicken t-to jump in!” he taunted, although the effect was thoroughly ruined by his chattering teeth.

Well, Keith clearly couldn’t let that stand. He quickly whipped off his jacket and shirt, boots and socks flying off somewhere behind him. He jumped in without hesitation intentionally splashing Lance as the creek surrounded him with biting chill. They were both shirtless in the water, shivering and shaking as they stared defiantly at each other. “W-who’s ch-chicken now?” Keith gloated. Lance just laughed at him. Keith threw the first splash, and then it was war.

Lance lost track of how much time they spent like that, hollering, splashing, trying to drown one another. They figured out that they could climb up the overhanging rocks and jump from the miniature cliff, resulting in a diving contest. He hadn’t ever seen Keith like this before, actually carefree and goofing off. His smile was so wide it blew Lance away. Keith always took everything seriously, even card games back at the apartment. But here in this hidden pocket of the woods with Lance, he was a boy again.

“Okay, I’m gonna teach you a game.”

Keith huffed. “Okay?”

“Well, I’ll close my eyes, right? And then when I yell ‘Marco,’ you answer with, ‘Polo.’ That’s how I’ll find you.”

“Sounds dumb.”

“You’re dumb.”

Eventually, they wore themselves out. Lance dragged himself onto a relatively flat rock to dry and rest, Keith soon joining him. They lay there sprawled out side by side, huffing and letting the last of their tired laughs escape into the air until only the burbling water could be heard.

Keith shifted beside him, and turned his head so that they were eye to eye on their backs. “What?” Lance asked playfully, arching a brow.

Keith shook his head, smile still there. “Nothing, I just… I wonder what happens after this.”

“We dry off and head back to Shiro so we can steal some of that pie?”

Keith rolled his eyes, and looked back up at the sky. “No, I mean after everything.” The smile dropped away. “Let’s say this goes well. We get Haggar, we fix me and the others, and then what? There’s still so much about the world now that I…” He let out a short bark of laughter, chest heaving up with it. “I don’t know how to do anything, I’m basically uneducated, and I can barely talk to people because of all the references and slang that I don’t get. Where do I go?”

Lance paused for a moment, remembering how embarrassed Keith had been when Lance bought clothes for him. It stung to know how much he craved independence but couldn’t have it. Keith came from a world where he did everything for himself, built everything by hand and caught his own food. And now there was almost nothing he could do on his own and for his own sake. The motorcycle made a lot more sense, now that he thought about it. Learning how to transport himself was Keith’s way of clinging to his freedom, of knowing that he could go anywhere. Even if he got lost, it would be his choice. Lance imagined Keith like that, alone on that bike in his leather jacket, the sun fading behind him as he rode wherever the wind cared to take him. And it was a beautiful thought. Even if, in the end, Lance wasn’t in it.

Lance watched him for a moment, stray droplets sliding off his skin and catching in the sunlight, his hair fanned out under his head. Keith was the most incredible accident to ever terrorize his life. And Lance wanted him to have everything he deserved and more. But Lance was a student way in debt and way out of his depth and he couldn’t give Keith everything, nor would Keith ever accept it from him. But he could do a little.

Lance rolled onto his side to face Keith directly, catching his deep indigo eyes. He cleared his throat bashfully. “My offer still stands you know. You can come home with me and Pidge and Hunk until you feel ready to, I dunno, go out on your own. Be you again out in the wild or something. But, we…” Lance swallowed. “I like having you around, man. And if you want to do, like, your own thing, I’d miss you, but you’d always have somewhere to come back if you needed it. I’d always wait up for you.” He felt his cheeks burning, watching Keith stare at him with his mouth slightly parted and eyes wide.

“I think,” he started, voice just a little raspier than is usually was. He sat up carefully, Lance following him to sit cross-legged facing each other, their knees touching. Lance nearly bit his tongue when he felt Keith’s hands reach tentatively to brush against his. They twined them together, the webbed skin between their fingers still damp. Lance had forgotten how much he loved holding Keith’s hand. “I think that I’ve felt lost for a long time. And I don’t feel like that when I’m with you or the others. And…” His eyes flicked about Lance’s face, searching for something. His fingers lightly trailed over the puncture scars on his left wrist until Lance tugged his hand back tight again. They were leaning closer together, Keith’s voice getting quieter as the distance shortened. “I can’t imagine that staying with you would ever feel like giving up who I am or where I come from. You’ve done so much for me.”

“Keith,” Lance whispered, heart hammering in his chest and breath coming up short. Keith glanced down at his lips and back, Lance leaning in, their shaky puffs of air mingling together.

Just as Lance gathered his courage to carefully nudged Keith’s nose with his own for a better angle, Keith tensed, biting his lip. “Wait,” he said.

Lance stopped and pulled away, chest clenching with dread. “Sorry,” he blurted. “Did you not want…?” he trailed off, withdrawing his hand.

Keith hissed through his teeth and clamped down on Lance’s palm. “No. No, I do ,” he admitted, heart bounding away under his ribs. “I really do.” He pursed his lips for a moment, tongue running over a sharpened canine. “But I don’t want you hurt,” he said, gaze pleading and vulnerable, hoping Lance would know what he meant.

Lance shifted to cup his cheek. “Keith, you won’t hurt me.”

“I have before.”

“That was different.”

“No, it wasn’t,” Keith insisted, finally retreating from Lance’s hand. He pointed to his teeth. “They come out when I – when I get emotional. Over pretty much anything. Not just when I need to drink.” He paused, cheeks flushed bright red as he refused to look Lance in the eye. “I can’t be sure that, y’know, like, being with you won’t trigger something beyond my control. So I can’t. Not when I still need blood to keep from going feral and attacking you like...like–”

“Keith.”

“Like my mom.” He huddled in on himself, hugging his knees to his chest and hiding beneath his hair. “I can’t risk it, Lance,” he whispered. “Not with you. Not when they’re still after me and you’ll get caught in the crossfire.”

Lance held there for a moment, halfway kneeling with his hand outstretched until he set his jaw and brows in determination. “Hey,” he said, scooting closer. “Hey, look at me. I’m already in the crossfire and I’m managing fine.” He reached for Keith’s cheeks again, not sure if they were wet from the creek or tears when he touched them. “It’s okay.”

“It’s not.”

“It will be, ” Lance insisted, tightening his hold and leaning in. “And when you decide it’s okay, I’ll be here. And if you change your mind, I’ll still be here and I’ll still be your friend.”

Keith shoulders slowly loosened. “I won’t change my mind.”

Lance smiled and slowly gripped the base of his skull, nails scraping lightly through his wet hair, coming up to push it out of Keith’s face. He pressed a kiss to his forehead until Keith sighed against him, shoulders slumping forward and drooping into Lance’s arms with his legs tucked under him.

Humming, Lance pulled back and tucked his chin into the crook of Keith’s pale neck, the two of them pressed tightly, the water drying on their skin. When he spoke again, Keith’s voice was a low rumble against his collarbone. “There’s the other option too, you know,” Keith muttered. Lance frowned. “That this doesn’t magically work out and I don’t get better. That I get worse, or you or Shiro or someone else gets hurt. That this just doesn’t fucking end well. What about that?”

Lance squeezed him firmly. “It won’t happen, silly. Period. Quit being so gloomy.”

Keith wrapped his arms around Lance in return, nuzzling into the warmth of his skin. “I hope you’re right.”

Chapter Text

Lance wasn’t right. Lance fucking wasn’t right and Keith knew it.

They sat there until they were dry and the sun had begun to set. Lance kept touching him, long fingers soothing over his knuckles and bare skin until Keith was pliant and relaxed again. He’d missed his touch so much, and skin against skin was just this buzzing level of addictive intensity he couldn’t get enough of. Sitting with Lance by the creek made Keith want more. It made him want the apartment they’d left miles ago. It made him want more game nights and boring classes. He let his fingers trace the knobs of Lance’s spine over and over until their legs cramped up and the spell had to break.

With a nudge, they stood and redressed, shyly walking hand in hand back to the motorcycle through the foliage.

Keith should have been paying attention. He shouldn’t have taken them so far out of town away from Shiro. He should have been ready.

The first druid was waiting for them by the bike, when they emerged from the trees, hand resting on the seat patiently. Lance and Keith jerked to a stop, Keith already reaching for the knife on his belt and blood freezing. The leaves rustled behind them and they knew they were surrounded.

Feeling his teeth sharpen, Keith held Lance’s hand in a death grip, tugging him to press against his side as he stared down the druids and their strange masks.

“And there you are at last,” the one by the bike said. “Have a nice swim, boys?” He took his hand off the bike. “It was so kind of you to get that poor horse to a vet.” Keith glared. So that was how they’d found them. “Drop the knife.”

Feeling Lance’s fingers twist into the back of his jacket, Keith growled, “Do I look stupid to you?”

The mask tilted to one side. “You look loving, which amounts to the same thing in my opinion.”

“Well it’s a good thing no one asked you then,” Lance quipped.

There were two more behind them. If Keith could find a way to take the one in front out, Lance might have an opening to run through and get away. But he couldn’t ride the bike, and with their magic the druids would be too much to outrun on foot. They were pinned, he realized with dread.

“Won’t you stand down?” the druid asked. They stayed silent. “Fine.”

Just like that, the vile hum of the druids’ magic billowed out from behind them and Lance’s fingers were wrenched from his own with a gasp. Keith whirled, but the purple energy had already engulfed Lance and pulled him back between the two waiting druids, who slammed him against a tree, knocking the breath from his lungs as he collapsed on the ground.

“Lance!” Keith moved to charge in, the handle of his knife biting his palm in his fury.

“Ah, ah,” the one by the bike tutted. “I’d reconsider that move if I were you.” The two others loomed over Lance, who was now pinned by magic to the ground. One held a hand over him, that menacing purple glow threatening to spill out and pierce Lance through the chest.

“Let him go. Now.

“No.”

“LET HIM GO,” Keith shouted, panicked and furious, heart slamming against his ribs like it wanted to leap out to attack as one of them kneeled to yank Lance upright by his hair. Lance winced, cheek smeared with dirt, and Keith’s teeth must have been sharp enough to pierce steel in that moment, righteous hot fury burning in him.

He should have kissed him. Keith should have kissed him because now everything was unraveling before him again and he might never get the chance.

“Keith,” Lance started to rasp, only to be cut off by another yank to his hair, magic binding his wrists together. One of the druids took his hands to inspect them.

“Stop it,” Keith begged.  

“Sir,” the one holding Lance’s arms said. “There’s a bite here on his left arm.”

The druid by the motorcycle stepped forward. “Oh?” Keith was breathing heavy now, not daring to move, trying to hold Lance’s gaze. “That’s interesting.” After a moment’s pause, the head druid walked past Keith towards Lance and the others. “No doubt about it,” he muttered, adjusting his mask. “We’ll just take you for now then,” he said to Lance, leering over him. Turning to Keith before he could object, wisps of purple magic swirled at their feet, a glimmering mist surrounding them. “You know where to find us, Keith,” the druid said.

And then they were gone.

Lance and the druids were swallowed by the mist and banished from Keith’s sight. Keith ran to where they were, feeling out the ground where they’d been, clawing at the grasses there. “No, no, no, no,” he muttered in a fevered pitch. The dappled sunlight still broke through the trees, as if nothing had happened here, and the tranquility of the forest unnerved him. Breath hitching and on the verge of tears, he flung himself at the motorcycle and burned through the road at twice the speed he’d gone earlier.

Pulling into town, he stumbled across the gravel road, bursting into the diner. “Shiro!” he cried. He found him at the bar with the old woman, a half-eaten pie in front of him. “He’s gone, Shiro, th-they took him right out from under me and-and –”

Shiro stood, stone-faced and serious when he gripped Keith’s shoulders. Keith suddenly felt like the boy, the child, he truly was, utterly lost in the world with tears on his lashes. “Breathe. In. Out.” With a shaky gasp, he managed Shiro’s command. “What. Happened.”

“The druids. They took Lance.”

 

 

“What?”

Hunk and Pidge stood helplessly in the doorway of the diner, eyes wide with shock. Any excitement they’d had about reuniting with their friends was gone, stamped away under the heavy boot of Lance’s kidnapping.

Keith huddled further against the counter. He looked away.

Hunk stepped closer, Allura, Pidge, and Thace behind him as he faced Kolivan, voice nearly trembling with rage. “You lost Lance?”

“No,” Shiro cut in. Keith looked up, surprised. Shiro’s hands were wound up in tight fists as he forced himself to meet Hunk’s eye. “I did. It was my fault. I thought we were secluded enough, so I let them go off on their own. It’s my fault.” Keith frowned.

Before Shiro could say more, Hunk cut him off, eyes shimmering. “How do we get him back?” His voice was low when he spoke, stare boring down on Shiro and Keith. Neither of them could speak. “You’re telling me that you lost him. To Haggar. I’m asking you how we get him back.”

Keith stood, pleading. “Hunk –”

Hunk sighed, pinching his brow and stifling his tears. “I know. I know it’s not your fault and I know that you did whatever you could in the moment,” he hiccuped. “But she’s going to hurt him, Keith. A lot. Just to get to you.”

Keith looked away.

Shiro took a deep pained breath and straightened his spine. “I’m sorry. But I won’t stop until he’s safe.”

“Shiro,” Keith started, but was cut off by a firm stare from Kolivan.

Hunk swallowed tightly and Pidge came up at his side. “What kind of information do we have to work with? What kind of resources?”

“We know where he is,” Kolivan explained. “But we need a plan first. Time is not on our side but we have one shot to do this right or we may never find him. We cannot rush in blind.”

“We know we’re walking into a trap.”

“And that we’ll be outmatched.”

“There’s little time to stock up on equipment or arm ourselves beyond what is available in town.”

“Allura, are there any alchemical techniques you could use?”

As the others set their heads straight and began to swiftly talk through everything, Keith felt his vision going hazy. He tried to focus, but it kept slipping. Their voices all blurred together like he was underwater and he felt a low throbbing at the base of his neck. His ears started to ring and he felt sweat collecting on his brow. Trying to be discrete, he leaned his weight against the nearest chair, breath starting to come short. It wasn’t his thirst – this wasn’t the same way he felt the symptoms of going feral.

Without warning, a searing heat, like a cattle brand, burst over his left wrist. Keith screamed and fell to the floor, clutching his arm to his chest as everyone froze to stare at him. Eyes clenched shut, he didn’t see Shiro come to kneel by him, barely even heard his concerned questions through the pain as he rolled onto his back. The burn bit and tore just under the surface of his skin. His breath came in short unbearable gasps that took more energy from him than they gave him air. He trembled there on the floor, Shiro’s hand on his chest, footsteps crowding around him as he felt hot tears spring run down his cheeks like scorching iron claws stabbed at his skin from the inside out.

He managed to look down at his hand. There, on his left wrist, two red marks seemed to be burned into him. Keith blinked. It was in exactly the same place he’d bitten Lance, he realized.

He passed out.

 

 

“Keith.”

He pushed through the darkness, the clear desert sky swirling all around him, the stars dragging like comets.

“Lance,” he whispered.

Lance’s shape came into view, slowly approaching him, his footsteps soundless, the air around them muffled and buzzing.

“You’re here.”

“Of course I am,” Keith answered, stepping into his space. Their hands joined seamlessly, fingers twining, and Keith couldn’t quite make out Lance’s eyes, but was comforted by the weight of his touch all the same.

Lance lifted their hands, turning Keith’s left one over so it faced palm up. Keith somehow knew to do the same. “The game I taught you,” Lance said, and pressed his lips to Keith’s wrist tenderly.

Keith did the same, remembering how his teeth had gored this smooth skin the last time his lips had closed around it. He felt light. They stood there, mouths pressed to wrists, the touch electrifying Keith’s nerves, urging him to move, to snatch Lance away. But he stayed until Lance pulled back just by a hair, breath fluttering over Keith’s skin and the marks there.

“Marco,” Keith said, breathless.

Lance looked up. Keith could finally see his eyes.

“Polo.”

 

 

When Keith woke up, he was met with Allura’s concerned face hovering over him. She gently backed off, and he noticed a glowing blue light fading from her fingertips.

“Are you alright?” she asked.

“I think so. What happened?”

Keith sat up, realizing he was back in the motel on the bed he and Lance had shared last night. It was just him an Allura.

“We carried you over here so I could perform some healing alchemy. You’ve been passed out in a delirious fever for about a day now.” Keith jerked up at that, but she shushed him before he could make an outburst. She took her seat on the other bed in one fluid motion, tucking a stray white hair behind her ear. “From what I can gather, you bit Lance, did you not? On his left wrist?”

Keith nodded, and she pointed to his arm. Holding it up to the light, he saw two fresh scars, still slightly reddened, poking out from his skin. “Oh.”

“I believe that bite has linked you two together. It may be a side effect of the alchemy my father performed to help you recover from your ferality. Residue, in a way. You were meant to rest in that crypt to recover until someone, likely me, was sent by the Marmora to retrieve you. There is a certain wavelength of magical radiation given off by a red moon that would help you to revive, but only with the assistance of a living person with a will to help you.

“I think the remnant of my father’s alchemy created a sort of pact between you when you drank his blood. Lance is, in a way, inside of you. At least, his essence.” Keith swallowed. “I think Haggar has figured out that much as well.”

“It’s his.” Keith wheezed in dawning horror. “That was his pain.”

“Yes,” Allura affirmed quietly. After a moment, she squared her shoulders and stood, a determined glint in her eye. “Come on then. Shiro and the others came up with a plan while you were incapacitated. We’ve got most of our supplies for the raid already. We’ll fill you in on the way to the sex shop.”

“The what shop?”

Chapter Text

His old shack was, in many ways, the same as Keith remembered it. The original house seemed to have burned down, leaving only the attached side shack and tree, but the structure remained intact, the wood the same, a few dry grasses shifting in the breeze like he remembered. It looked abandoned, sunset washing it away into the desert.

But Keith knew better.

He ran his tongue over his chapped lips, but the stale desert air dried them again, reminding him not to get comfortable. The clouds above were painted with low oranges and red, rippling across the sky as if to flee the incoming bloodshed below.      

Quietly, Shiro crouched low by his side behind the sandstone boulders they’d snuck to moments ago. Off in the distance, Keith could make out the shapes of Kolivan, Allura, and Thace carrying the low-grade explosives Hunk and Pidge had rigged up from scrap. Every item they carried had a touch of Allura’s magic to give them an edge over the druids. They splintered off, surrounding the shack at a safe distance once their bombs were planted. Suddenly woozy, Keith tilted to the side, only to be caught by Shiro’s hand.

“You alright?” he whispered.

“Yeah,” Keith swallowed. He’d emptied the last bag of blood this morning, not wanting any of his symptoms to get in the way today. “It’s Lance, not me,” he explained resentfully, hand brushing over his matching wrist marks. “I’m only feeling a little bit of what he is.”

“Remember the plan, kiddo. Patience yields focus. We’ll get him back.”

They sat there, waiting for Kolivan to make the call for what felt like an eternity. Keith’s hair stood on end, canines slowly sharpening in his mouth. The grip of his mother’s knife was a welcome weight in his hand as he stared at the back door, eyes scouring for any sign of movement.  

There was a druid pacing the front porch on guard, attentive and on edge. Finally, they turned to swap with the next on duty, distracted for just a brief moment. Just then, a series of explosions rocked the perimeter of the shack, shaking the ground and lighting up the sky in a brief flash.

Keith shot out like a bullet, flinging himself around the boulders, hugging the corner tight as his legs flew. The rest of his surroundings faded into the periphery. He could only feel the lightest skim of the earth against the soles of his boots like he was barely touching it at all. The only thing in his sight was that backdoor. Shiro and Thace warded off the druids converging on his right and left, drawing them away while Kolivan and Allura went after the ones around front.

There were five total, pouring out of the shack in their dark robes like ants out of a hill. Keith recognized the mask of the one headed straight towards him – the one who took Lance. Before he could act though, Shiro was tackling him to the ground, clamping the special handcuffs from the sex store Allura had prepared on their wrists and knocking them out. If the moment wasn’t so urgent, it would have been hilarious to see a formidable druid taken down my magic cuffs with pink fuzz.

Arcs of purple light sailed above his head as he ran, more explosions going off as Hunk and Pidge initiated the second round from afar. Dodging one more spear of magic, Keith burst through the door shoulder first, knocking it off its hinges with his knife bared. The noise outside became muffled and distant, crackles and yells quieted through the wood. As the dust settled, he took in the room, limbs locking up and breath stopping.

Mostly empty except for a coffee table and some shelves, the inside of the shack was layered with dust and age. In the center of the room stood a hunched figure draped in black. Her crusty hands with pickled skin just barely showed under her long sleeves, and Keith knew that this was Haggar. It felt like his mother’s blade was humming in his hand.

She said nothing, simply staring and waiting for Keith to move first. Just then, he heard a low groan from behind her and the rattle of chains against the wood floor. Haggar lowered her hood and stepped aside to reveal Lance, curled on the floor and shaking.

“Lance,” Keith wheezed. Lance’s head was down and barely moving save for the tremors wracking his whole body. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. “What did you do to him?” Keith demanded, whirling back on Haggar and pointing his knife.

She didn’t flinch at all. “It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? The world changed so much while you were asleep.” Her voice was the same eerie rasp he remembered from all those years ago. “Did you like the horse?”

“Shut up.”

She looked out the window where the fight raged on. “You’ve created a nice diversion outside, but do not for an instant think that you have the advantage. The only way this ends is with you at my feet.”

“Right, because that worked out so well for you last time,” Keith snapped. In the corner, Lance released a shaky breath. Keith bit his lip. He just needed one more minute. One more minute and then he could carry Lance the hell out of here and get him patched up. “How long were you chasing my mom for anyway? Two years? Three? And then even when you catch us we get away again.

She scowled. “Don’t forget that she is dead because of you.” She looked almost bored as her sickly corneas bore into him. “I was a bit stunned. What kind of son, even feral, could tear apart his own mother?” Keith’s throat tightened. “But maybe it wasn’t your fault you were too weak to fight off your condition. Maybe you did recognize your own flesh and blood, but you were too hungry to care.” Just a little longer. Just a little longer. Outside, another explosion went off, purple light flaring through the dirty window. Just a little longer.

“All of that was your fault. Not mine. I’m not falling for your shitty guilt-trip.”

“Maybe,” she relented. “But what’s he?” she asked, tilting her head towards Lance. Keith swallowed. “Prince Charming? Who woke Sleeping Beauty from the evil curse?” She scoffed, a short laugh barking out of her thin lips. “I hardly think he has the mettle for such a role. If you hadn’t kept clinging to him, been such a shamelessly dependent damsel, I would never have touched him. Look, your knight can’t even stand.”

Keith swallowed his rage and held it in his belly. He could feel his fangs on the verge of piercing his lips, toes curling inside his boots, but he held his ground. This would only work if he held his ground.

“Let me demonstrate the fine work I’ve done.” She took a step toward Lance and Keith jerked, knife gleaming in the last slivers of burnt sunlight cutting through the window.

“Don’t you dare touch him.” Don’t move. Don’t. Wait. Patience yields focus. Be patient.

Haggar ignored him and the rest of the chaos outside. She cooly approached Lance’s prone form, grasping his chin between her gnarled fingers. She lifted his face up towards the light, a grin spreading across her face when Lance’s eyes finally met his.

They were glowing.

That sick pale yellow shone from Lance’s eyes, just like Keith’s own reflection in dark windows at night, and Keith was instantly gutted. Knees shaking, he watched Lance’s mouth hang partially slack, panting for air as sweat rolled down his temple. His white teeth were pointed angrily out at Keith like an accusation, like his mother’s unmarked grave somewhere in the mountains, like his father’s last lonely years.

“...Keith,” Lance muttered, finally registering him through his pained haze. Keith couldn’t breathe.

Haggar let his head drop again, but held him seated upright. Her hand reached to undo the chains anchoring Lance to the wall. “I think you should be his first meal. He’s quite literally dying of thirst, you know.”

“YOU BITCH!” In the next second, Keith’s knife found itself lodged firmly in the wall where Haggar had stood moments ago, fury rushing through his veins like a storm. She phased back into existence a few feet away, one hand clinging to the fresh gash on her arm. She hissed, fangs bared and magic crackling. Shouting, Keith yanked the dripping blade from the wood slats and threw himself at her from the other side of the coffee table. Allura finally burst through the front door.

“Keith, we had a plan!” she yelled, coming up behind Haggar with a fishing net she’d imbued with alchemy. Haggar staggered back to avoid her, but Lance breathlessly managed to kick out at the coffee table. It skidded just enough to knock her off balance. In the bluster, Allura’s trap fell true to its mark over Haggar’s head, instantly pinning her to the floor. The netting glowed a vibrant blue and the witched shrieked in her fury. She clawed uselessly at the floor. Her fingertips shimmered weakly, her attempts to teleport or shred her prison were in vain.

Allura and Keith stood, chests heaving as they stared down at their ensnared foe. Frowning in concentration, Allura spread her hands as they glowed, slamming Haggar further into the floor. “You’re through, witch,” she declared.

The chains on the wall rattled and Lance tipped forward, arms wrapped around himself as he trembled. Keith rushed to him, knees slamming into the floor as his hands came up to gently cup Lance’s cheeks. His yellow eyes were brighter now, teeth nearly ripping his own lips open.

“Lance,” Keith whispered. “Lance, look at me. You’re gonna be okay.” Lance whimpered and weakly tried to shove Keith away. “Lance?” Keith caught his shackled wrists before he could push himself further.

From the other side of the room, Allura yanked on the net. “Keith, the sooner we get her blood, the sooner I can heal Lance. Please, focus.”

At Allura’s announcement, Haggar began to thrash, clawing at the netting and shrieking in her rage. “NO!” She stopped moving, eyes locked with Keith’s as he continued to hold Lance against his side. “I will not give you anything ,” she spat. “You will suffer until your last day.”

Eyed widening, Allura moved to stop her, but it was too late. Haggar pulled up the last dregs of her magic, lining her whole body in that loathsome purple glow. Slowly, from the top of her head, she began to crumble into dust, her ashen particles flittering down into the floorboards.

“No!” Keith cried, surging forward and nearly dropping Lance. They stared at the pile that had once been Haggar, her spite radiating from the spot and drawing all sound from the air in a stunned silence. Keith’s teeth clenched.

His only chance at a remedy – at Lance’s chance – gone. Turned to hateful ash.

 

 

Lance had passed out two minutes ago, seconds after Haggar destroyed herself. The strain of the feral symptoms was too much, and now he laid with his head carefully pillowed on Keith’s thigh on the floor. The chains and shackles had been undone, and now Keith stared down at him helplessly. His eyes began to shimmer with unshed tears as it all started to sink in, that he had doomed Lance to his own terrible fate.

“I’m so stupid, ” Allura hissed as she stared down at the floor. “I made that net impossible to escape. I completely neutralized her ability to teleport. I-I just never imagined that she would…that she would destroy herself.”

Keith brushed a lock of Lance’s hair from his cheek. “It’s not your fault,” he muttered, not looking up. He was almost in a daze. “You did what you could.”

Kolivan crossed his arms from his spot by the window. “We need to figure out our next step. His feral symptoms are about to get much worse. It won’t be long before the first waves of pain and fatigue give way to the bloodlust. He’ll start attacking within the hour.”

The group remained silent, staring at their friends on the floor. Swallowing, Keith lifted his head but didn’t look any of them in the eye. “Can…can we have some space? Alone? I don’t…” He sighed. “I don’t think he’ll want a crowd.” Shiro nodded, gently clasping Pidge and Hunk on their shoulders.

“We’ll be outside. Thace is arranging transport for the druids we captured.”  

One by one they all trickled out through the battered door. Pidge and Hunk cast one last sorrowful glance at them. Running his hand through Lance’s hair, Keith heard their muffled discussion through a fog. They’d failed. There was no reversing this now.

After several long minutes, Lance stirred slightly in his lap, eyes just barely opening to look up at him. The glow had faded a little, but his irises were still golden, teeth still pointed. “Hey,” he croaked. Groaning, he tried to sit up, only to hiss and fall back against Keith. “What’s goin’ on?”

Keith bit his lip. “I’m so sorry.”

Lance furrowed his brows. “What?” He let his eyes fall to the net on the floor and the ashes scattered beneath it. “Oh.” He opened his mouth to run his tongue over his fangs. He lifted his hand to examine its violent trembling. He suddenly clamped his eyes shut, hissing through his teeth. “ Fuck that hurts.”

Feeling the matching ache on his wrist, Keith nodded. He knew that agony. It was like a bad sensitive tooth, but spread all through his veins. It was feeling too cold and too hot all at once. It was a pounding need, a terrible urge to grab the nearest living thing and rip it apart and gulp it down.

“Is it getting worse?”

“Mhmm.” Lance began to tremble again, curling in on himself as his breaths became ragged and short. It wouldn’t be long now. His muscles violently tensed and contracted against his will, almost like he was dry heaving. Keith tried to pull him closer but Lance sloppily buffeted him away. “No,” he mumbled, speech slurring. He let his arm flop across his forehead, trying in vain to wipe away the sweat there. His chest heaved. “You gotta go. Don’t wanna… Wanna hurt you.” Lance gasped. His shuddering breaths were getting shorter, more panicked. “Feels like I’m about to hurt you.”

Keith only grabbed his hand tight. Lifting it, he found the scar tissue he’d left behind on Lance’s skin. He pressed his lips to the mark, hoping the touch would be soft enough to soothe some of the pain. He heard Lance’s breath hitch, eyes wide up at him, and Keith decided that instant. He pulled his leather jacket off, then maneuvered Lance up further in his lap to lean over him. With his free hand, he tugged aside his shirt’s collar.

“Here.”

Lance recoiled, hands coming up to push away. “I-I can’t, Keith.” His eyes began to glow again, sweat beading at his temple. His fangs had elongated and sharpened to a deadly point, poking out from under his lips. “ Please. I don’t want to.”

“I know.” Keith cupped Lance’s face and drew them closer, foreheads touching. He saw Lance’s nostrils flare, his pupils dilate at the proximity to the one thing he needed more than anything in the world. He knew Lance could hear the blood rushing in his veins, could smell it, craved it. Lance’s hands came up between them, applying meager force.

“Keith, please,” he sobbed. His fingers clenched the fabric of Keith’s shirt, nearly scratching him through it. “What if I can’t stop myself?”

Keith couldn’t bear to look in Lance’s watery eyes. He couldn’t take the heartbreak he’d find there. But the thought of Lance feral and locked up in a coffin made him want to break the earth in half. “I know it’s scary. I know you don’t want to.” He firmly tucked Lance under his jaw, feeling him tense and shake in his arms. Keith bared his pulse to him. He blinked back his tears, voice catching somewhere high and tight in his throat. “I’m sorry. But I can’t think of anything else and I won’t let you go through what I did.”

They froze there, Keith waiting for Lance to move. Slowly, he felt him nod against his collarbone, his shirt growing wet when Lance sobbed once. “Okay,” Lance mumbled brokenly. “Okay.”

Keith let himself relax as Lance’s hands came up to grip him, fingers tightening and trembling in his hair. He felt the barest skim of teeth against his neck, hesitant. Keith only rubbed his back and waited for the bite. Instead, Lance pressed his mouth against his skin, kissing gently as if to ease what was to come. Keith shuddered when his chapped lips parted, Lance mouthing soft words against his pulse. I’m sorry.

“I’m with you,” Keith whispered.

Lance kissed his throat one last time. Just as Keith was about to let his eyes slide shut, a glint of light caught his gaze. He saw his knife – his mom’s knife – lying near him on the floor, the insignia glistening in the faint evening glow that managed to slip into the shack. On the edge, a faint red line ran down the blade until it fattened to a single drop clinging to the point.

Keith gasped, clutching at Lance and pulling him away. “Wait.”

“Keith?”

He reached over Lance to grab the hilt and hold the knife up. There was one drop of Haggar’s blood left from when he knicked her arm. His eyes widened and Lance whimpered once more, eyes shut. “Shiro!” he yelled. “Allura! Allura get in here!” Within seconds they burst inside, Allura already coming to kneel beside them. “A drop,” he blurted, rushed and practically jumping out of his skin. “You said you could work with as little as a drop, right?”

Allura took the blade from Keith carefully. Her hands began to glow, the light crawling over the knife to collect the drop of blood. Pulling it off the metal, she let it float in the air in front of her for a moment, eyes shooting up to Keith. “This is only enough for one person, Keith.”

“Do it.”

Lance pried his eyes open and clutched Keith’s hands. Allura let the drop come to hover above Lance’s heart. “His shirt,” she said. Keith immediately rucked it up out of the way, anxiously waiting. He heard the door burst open again but didn’t look up from Lance as Hunk and Pidge came in. The drop began to glow brighter and slowly descended until it touched Lance’s chest, sinking into his skin.

The remedy spread gradually through his veins until Lance’s whole body was covered, finally reaching his wrists. Keith’s breath hitched when it did, his own hand tingling from where their fingers still touched. His matching scar felt like it was pulsing, and when he looked down, the bite marks they shared were glowing brightly on both of them.

Allura froze, hands still held out before her. “I don’t believe it.” She gaped at the two of them as the healing light enveloped them both.

Keith let out a breath, leaning to touch his forehead to Lance’s chest as his whole body began to feel warm and airy. He let the sensation cover him, travel through his blood with every fierce pump of his heart. Keith felt clean . Tongue pressed against his canines, he felt them shorten and dull to their normal shape, this time for good. Pressing his ear to Lance’s chest, he felt the flush in his skin and the heat of his blood, their hearts racing to the same happy pace.

When it stopped, he released a shaky sigh, unashamed tears streaming down his cheeks with relief. He felt warm and right and the endless thirst was gone.

Finally, he felt a hand against his jaw, steady and firm. He looked up and found Lance’s clear eyes waiting for him. They smiled at each other, no sharp fangs in sight.

A shaky laugh bubbled up in them both. Lance, restored, yanked Keith against him. They clasped each other tightly, faces buried in one another as they pressed their muffled laughs into each other’s shirts. Keith hiccuped between his sobs and relieved giggles, his wild dark hair undoubtedly getting into Lance’s mouth.

Sure enough, Lance spat out some of Keith’s hair. Gathering himself through his last chuckles, Keith pulled back enough to take in Lance’s face. He didn’t say anything, just stared down at him until he finally leaned down to press a kiss to Lance’s cheek.

Lance blushed through an exhausted smile. “My mom’s gonna kill me for skipping finals, but so worth it.”

A strong breeze blew through the open front door and scattered the witch’s ashes to the wind.

Chapter Text

There was a lot going on. Kolivan, Ulaz, and Thace were handling the druids, but there were missed finals to sort out and lives to resettle into after weeks of absence. They had to appease the neighbors and the landlord after the assault. Etcetera.

Keith had moved from the couch into Lance’s room. It seemed like, even with the relief that came from being human again, Keith was still wound a bit tight. Lance couldn’t help but feel like he was about to reach a tipping point, and one night he finally did.

Lance had already been in bed when Keith slunk into the room, something heavy in his gaze. Before Lance could ask him what was wrong, Keith sighed, shoulders slumping in resignation. He sat next to him on the bed, then seemed to give up on something and flop onto Lance’s side, arms wound tight around his waist. Lance froze for a moment before placing his hands on his back, stroking gently.

“Wanna tell me what’s up?”

Keith slowly leaned back to look at him, and Lance’s breath hitched. They still hadn’t kissed. Lance was so sure they were mostly together now, but they still hadn’t kissed and he didn’t want to push it. He’d promised Keith that he would wait until Keith decided everything was okay, and clearly, everything was not okay.

“I-I just…” He sighed, dropping his head onto Lance’s shoulder. “Ever since we got back, I can’t stop thinking about everything. Especially about her.”

“Haggar?”

“My mom,” he whispered.

“Oh.”

“I don’t get it. I was fine in California. I was managing. Why is it different now?”

Lance frowned, lifting his hand to comb through Keith’s hair. “Maybe it’s like, you’re safe now. So your brain is finally letting you process things.”

“I wish it wouldn’t.”

“I know.”

They stayed like that for a while, waiting for something. Finally, Keith inhaled sharply and tightened his grip. “Lance,” he said tentatively. “Um. Can I…?”

“What?”

“It’s stupid. I just.” He looked up just enough to meet Lance’s eye in the dark. “I miss her and Dad and I just kinda want to be close right now. If that’s okay.”

Something deep in Lance loosened at that, like a knot coming undone, and he let his arms come around Keith more firmly. “Yeah, ‘course.” Laying them down, he dragged Keith closer to sprawl across his chest. They adjusted for a moment, Keith fighting through his embarrassment to toss a leg over Lance’s and wrap himself completely around him like a koala. He sighed, letting his head drop and eyes close.

“Thanks.” A pause. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?”

“I know you’re having a hard time too.”

“Keith?”

“I know you get nightmares now,” Keith whispered. “And that’s my fault.”

Lance frowned. It was true. Haggar was a frequent nightly visitor now. Sometimes he woke up thinking that his teeth were sharp and he would accidentally bite his tongue. He would trace the mark on his wrist, remembering it all. Being pinned to the ground, Haggar’s blood in his mouth, a pestilence. But it wouldn’t last forever. He gently tugged Keith’s ear. “We both know it’s not your fault.”

“But it feels like it. And then here we are, you comforting me. Again. I feel like I haven’t grown. I’m making things harder for you.”

“Well, you’re wrong about all of that. Yeah, the nightmares are bad now. But they would be worse if I didn’t know that you’re with me every night. We’re still sorting things out. Together. You help me stay focused on that. That helps more than you know. Okay?”

Keith nodded against him, a small smile twitching at the corners of his lips. “Yeah. Okay. Together.”

Lance could feel Keith’s breathing even out, his heart rate winding down to a steady drum. He brushed his bangs out of the way to kiss him lightly on the forehead. “G’night.” He wanted to say ‘sweetheart’ but caught the word between his teeth. There would be a better time.

Soon, Keith fell asleep like that, curled into and on top of Lance while he lay wide awake trying to think. When morning came, he had an idea and skipped classes so they could ride on Keith’s motorcycle out to the cemetery where they’d first met.

“Lance, what are we doing? Why did I have to bring these?” He held out the knife his mother had given him, and a leather cord necklace that Shiro had tracked down at a local historical society before they headed home. It had belonged to Keith’s dad.

“Um. Well, you don’t have to.” Lance scratched the back of his neck, suddenly terrified that this was the dumbest idea he’d ever had and that Keith was about to blow up at him. “But I thought that we could make a grave for them?”

Keith blinked and said nothing. He wrapped the old leather cord around the knife, following Lance up to the tomb he’d been locked in months ago. They still couldn’t lift the stone lid after Kolivan had reinforced it, but they did find some soft earth next to the structure. Kneeling next to each other, Lance helped Keith dig a small hole. It wasn’t perfect. It wouldn’t really be marked. But it was something.

Gingerly, Keith laid his parent’s items in the grave and smoothed the soil over them. They sat there for a moment, their hands dusty, before Lance finally noticed the silent tear tracks dripping down Keith’s cheeks.

“I loved them so much,” he said. “They weren’t perfect. We weren’t perfect. But I did.”

Lance reached out to hold his hand. Keith squeezed tightly. “They loved you too.” It was quiet for a moment, the air still and cold around them. Finally, Lance twined their fingers. “I love you.”

Keith didn’t answer. He just leaned into Lance and waited for his tears to stop, shoulders hitching with his quiet watery hiccups. They spent a lot of time out there, Lance rubbing his thumb over Keith’s knuckles. When they finally stood, their joints were stiff, but Lance, at least, felt lighter. They walked in silence back to the motorcycle, not touching.

They reached the bike, but Keith stopped a few feet away from it. His posture was looser, his cheeks dry, and his eyes soft as he looked at Lance. “Hey,” he said, stepping into Lance’s space. “Thank you.”

Keith’s arms wrapped around his waist until they were pressed chest to chest. “Of course.” Keith leaned back just a hair, one hand coming up to tentatively cup Lance’s jaw. Lance had expected this moment to feel like a trainwreck, bursting and pounding in his chest and making his limbs shaky. Instead, he only felt a low warm hum, drawing Keith closer, brushing their noses together. Lance let his eyes slip closed, waiting for Keith.

Everything was okay now. Not perfect, but okay.

At first, it was just a graze, their lips lightly brushing, feeling the warmth of each other. Keith’s were slightly chapped, gliding again, catching Lance’s bottom lip. Lance let his hands rest against Keith’s lower back, pulling him closer until he could feel the plumpness of his mouth pressing against his, agonizing. It was a slow burning drag that made them both ache, heads tilting for a better angle, cheeks pink. Keith moved, kissing him again, kissing him even more tenderly. It was like it was the only thing they knew how to do.

They slowly pulled apart, flushed and a little out of breath. With a small crooked smile, Lance took Keith’s hand from his cheek, turning it to kiss his matching scar. “You didn’t change your mind?”

Keith led them back to the motorcycle. “How could I?”

 

...

 

Lance stretched his arms high above his head, backpack straps digging into his shoulders and the crisp breeze of autumn running through his hair. Skipping steps, he hummed as he left the lecture hall and crossed the courtyard. The trees were stripped down to their skeletons, the last red and orange leaves hanging on for dear life. Lance, to everyone’s superb annoyance, had been playing holiday tunes nonstop for the past month.

He grinned when he reached the edge of campus. The familiar sight of Keith’s silver and red motorcycle made his steps quicken. Keith straddled the seat, leaning over the handlebars as he idly flipped through a used paperback. His hair was half up in a loose ponytail, and Lance loved that he’d let it grow out over the past few months. He fit the sexy biker guy look to a T.

“Hey,” Lance greeted brightly, leaning in to kiss Keith’s cheek. He pointed at the book Keith was tucking away. “You go to the library today?”

“Yeah,” Keith said, slipping his gloves back on. Lance hopped on the bike and tucked his scarf into his jacket. “Got bored waiting to pick you up.”

Lance squeezed Keith’s hips when he revved the engine. “Aw. You missed me.”

Keith rolled his eyes and knocked the kickstand up. “Don’t let it go to your head.”

 

 

Their new apartment was tiny. Lance like to say it was just extra cozy, and Keith only let him get away with that because he didn’t have to sleep on the couch anymore. Instead, he slept on the left side of the bed near the nightstand where their phones charged overnight. Lance was trying to teach him the art of texting. Last week Keith sent his first emoji while Lance was in class, and Lance had to bite his tongue not to scream.

“Man, Iverson’s still giving me shit for missing his final last term.” Lance slung his backpack on the ground and collapsed on the couch. “Apparently a family emergency isn’t good enough for him, the prick.”

Keith hummed lightly and sat next to him, their shoulders touching. “Well, you’ll be done after this spring.”

Lance nodded and fished out his phone from his back pocket, opening it up to his email. His eyes widened and he sat up straight, knocking Keith a little. “Keith! We got your test scores!”

“What?” Suddenly he was pressed against Lance’s side, peering down at the unopened email from the testing center. He tried to school his expression into something approaching neutral, but Lance saw him bite the inside of his cheek with worry. Lance reached down to lace their fingers reassuringly.

“I’m sure you did great. Pidge didn’t spend all that time beating you over the head with flashcards for nothing.” Keith just took a deep breath and buried his face in Lance’s shoulder, nodding against it. Lance opened the email. He quickly scanned the document, eyes zooming in on the numbers below. “Keith,” he gasped. “Babe, you got 673!” He shoved his phone in Keith’s face, smile wide and practically shaking in his seat with excitement. “You have a GED!”

Keith scanned the email, mouth hanging slack before he looked up at Lance and let out a breathless chuckle. “I passed,” he breathed.

“You passed!” he screamed, tackling Keith onto the couch and smothering him. They couldn’t help but laugh, Keith’s arms wrapping around Lance’s back and tugging his shirt so he could reach him better. It wasn’t much of a kiss since Lance was grinning too hard, but Keith liked it all the same.

 

 

It looked like their closet had exploded all over their bedroom. Keith frowned at the piles, then at the suitcase, then back at the piles. “Lance,” he called. “I don’t know what I’m fucking supposed to pack.”

Lance poked his head into the room, flour smeared on his cheek. “Dude. What happened in here?”

“What happened to your face?”

“Hey, uncalled for.” Lance reached up to feel his cheek indignantly, hand coming away with white. “Oh. That. Hunk’s teaching me baking stuff.” He wiped his hand on his apron and stepped further into the room, scrutinizing the chaos Keith had unleashed. “We’ll only be there for like two weeks, man.”

“But it’s Cuba,” Keith insisted. “It’s different. I’ve never been on an island.”

Lance chuckled a little. “Okay, I see what’s going on here.” Quickly sorting through the piles and tossing away Keith’s winter coat, larger sweaters, thick socks, and mittens (Lance might have splurged a bit on the massive shopping trip they took once they got back, but it was his boyfriend, and Lance wanted to spoil him after all the insane trauma). He sectioned off three small piles, turning back to Keith proudly. “Just this should be fine. And no, you don’t need to bring food. We’re flying so it’ll only take a few hours.”

“I still don’t like it.”

“The plane?”

Keith huffed, cheeks tinged pink. “Are you honestly telling me that a massive metal contraption that weighs as much as a house can just pick up and fly? In the air? It’s made of metal.

Lance laughed, walking back out to the kitchen where Hunk was whisking batter while Pidge scrolled through her phone. “You’ve seen the jetstreams, babe. I promise it’s totally safe.”

Pidge glanced up. “Keith, are you doubting the marvels of modern engineering?”

Yes.”

She scoffed. “Get out of my house.”

“This is my house!”

“If that’s true,” Lance interrupted gleefully, “Then you can go get the mail.” Keith huffed and yanked the mail key off its hook by the door, storming outside. Hunk and Lance stuck their muffins in the oven and washed up, collapsing around the living room as Keith walked back in. He threw a stack of letters at Lance’s head and sat next to him.

Sorting through the pages of junk mail and bills, Lance paused. He held up a small crisp envelope. “What is it?” Keith asked.

“It has both of our names on it.”

“But I don’t get mail.”

“Yeah, I know.” He carefully opened the note, half prepared for some druid spell to come flying at them, but nothing did. Hunk and Pidge were leaning in now. “Oh, it’s from Shiro!” He quickly scanned the letter and a huge grin burst over his face. He thrust it at Keith. “Read it read it read it!”

Blinking owlishly, Keith read the delicate print, eyes growing wider and wider. “A wedding invitation. And he...he wants me to be his best man?”

“He’s finally tying the knot? With Adam?!” Hunk gasped. “That’s great!”

Pidge smirked and leaned back. “Hunk and I got our invite yesterday, but I didn’t want to spoil the surprise.”

Hunk pouted. “You hid it from me? Pidge.

Lance jumped up and bounced erratically. “Oh my god I haven’t been to a wedding in forever! This is gonna be so great. I’m gonna cry so much.” He whirled and took Keith’s hands. “And you know what this means?”

“What?” Keith laughed.

“I finally get to see you in formal wear!” Lance yanked Keith out of his seat and spun them around. “More shopping!”

Keith deflated. “Oh no.”

 

 

It was dark now, their bedroom only lit by the fairy lights that hung over the bed and around the window frame. Lance found Keith standing by the dresser in one of Lance’s oversized shirts, his hair loose around his shoulders in the soft light. Keith stared down at the framed photo, the same one he’d looked at before they left on their cross-country journey after learning about his mom.

Lance came up to his side, arm reaching across his strong shoulders. “You ready to meet them?”

Keith took a deep breath and nodded. “I think so.”

Lance bit his lip. “Look, if it’s too much – the whole family thing, like, I dunno. I know it might be a lot for you, and there will be a lot of people there, and we still don’t know how we’re going to talk about the old ass vampire thing. Just. We don’t have to. I could just go by myself for less time and…” He trailed off when he noticed Keith giving him that fond smile that Lance could stare at for hours. “What?”

Keith shook his head. “I’m fine, Lance. I’m ready. And we can work up to my...background.” Lance nodded, trying to push down the last tickles of nervousness. He looked up when he felt Keith’s hands settle on his hips, strong and still callused. “We can handle it.”

“Yeah,” Lance said, stepping further into Keith’s hold. “Okay, hot shot.” He kissed his cheek and took his hands, stepping backward until the backs of his knees hit the bed. Normally by now, they’d be sitting up against the headboard, Keith with a paperback and Lance with his phone. But this was an eve of change for them, so Lance tugged Keith’s arm until he sat next to him, pressed close and tucked under his chin.

“Tell me about them?”

Lance grinned. “They’re all great. I’ve really missed Veronica. Be prepared though. She’s gonna tease the shit out of us.”

Keith chuckled quietly. “Anyone else I should be worried about?”

“Sylvio and Nadia. They’re gonna have lots of questions, but you can just say you’re from Cali and keep it vague. It’s pretty easy to distract them with a game or something. We go on treasure hunts on the beach.”

“Treasure hunts. Okay. Got it.”

“Rachel’s pretty laid back. She likes to chat early in the morning over coffee and stuff. She and my parents are really good at Sudoku. They have, like, timed matches.”

“I’m excited to meet them.” Keith was warm against Lance’s side, wrapped up in the soft fabric of his old shirt. Lance rested his head on top of Keith’s for a moment, feeling their breath synchronize.

Just as his eyes were beginning to droop, Keith stirred, getting up to inch around the bed up on his knees, Lance’s arm in his grip. Lance let himself be pulled up so that they were both kneeling, facing one another in the dim glow of their fairy lights.

Keith looked, at the same time, incredibly soft and incredibly dangerous. “What?” Lance asked.

Before he knew it, they were pressed chest to chest, Keith’s fingers sliding up under his shirt. He bit down once on his earlobe, making Lance shiver. “We’ll be staying with your family for two weeks,” he whispered. Lance let his arms come around, pressing into the small of Keith’s back and between his shoulder blades. “This may be our last chance for a while.”

Lance barked out a laugh, letting Keith shove him onto his back against their pillows. “Well, you better giddyup, cowboy.” Keith rolled his eyes and ripped off his shirt. He crawled on top of Lance, legs pressing into him on either side threateningly. Lance only grinned, knowing very well that Keith secretly loved jokes in bed and fought very hard not to giggle.

He had a long and happy night ahead of him.

 

 

Lance woke up with sunshine peeking through their blinds. No nightmares – he hadn’t had a bad one for a while, and coitus seemed to be a sure fire way of keeping them at bay.

Yawning, he was immensely grateful that their flight was later in the afternoon. With a small groan, he turned on his side, his bare skin warm against the sheets, feeling the faint red lines running down his back Keith had left there. Keith was still asleep for once, curled up with his back to Lance, a few well-placed bruises decorating his pale skin. They were both big cuddlers, especially Keith (oddly enough), and especially after sex. But somehow they always managed to spread out overnight. That was fine. They were both sweaty anyway.

Lance let out a small happy sigh, inching closer to throw his arm over Keith and nuzzle into the nape of his neck. After a moment, he brushed the dark hair aside to place a short kiss there and felt Keith stir.

“You gonna bite me again?” he mumbled.

Lance chuckled. “Maybe I’m still part-vampire. Not like you don’t do it to me just as much.

Keith relaxed in his hold completely, something Lance never got tired of. All he’d wanted for the first few months he knew Keith was for him to be happy, and now here he was, sleepy and content and flying with him to Cuba.

“Not like I dressed up as one for Halloween,” he grumbled. “That was just in poor taste.”

“I thought it was funny until you set my fangs on fire.”

“They were two dollars of cheap plastic. You’ll get over it.”

Lance squeezed him tighter. “Never. I’m a man scorned. You still have to make it up to me.” Keith turned, facing Lance with his still-swollen lips and wild bed head sticking out everywhere. The teasing was suddenly gone from his face, and Lance frowned. “What’s wrong?”

Keith shook his head and pulled them together so that Lance was tucked snugly under his chin. His skin was warm and soft. Lance had become deeply acquainted with this skin, with every mole and birthmark on it. Keith held him tight. “I’m really glad we met.”

Lance felt sucker punched, his eyes suddenly burning and watery. He thought about their packed bags, their new apartment, the wedding invitation up on the fridge, Keith’s GED scores – printed and framed in the living room. He felt Keith breathe against him, swore he could feel his left wrist tingle where the scar was. He pressed his lips to Keith’s heartbeat, both of them warm and safe in bed.

“Me too.”