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Chapter Text

 

 

Part One

 

 

 

 


Takashi Shirogane woke on his sixteenth birthday with a song in his head.

And not just any song - an ethereal song.

Shiro’s song was white noise and the lone, mourning call of a humpback whale. The clashing of metal and the sizzle of sparklers in July. It reminded him of the roll of ocean waves under moonlight and the rush of silence in a forest when a predator is near.

It sounded nothing like the soft, joyful hums his parents made when they danced together under the muted lights of their home. Nor did it sound anything like what his friends sang on the mornings of their own coming of age.

He tells no one. Not even his parents, who stare at him with grave concern when he manages a tense smile and explains to them that he wants it to be a surprise.

No one else needs to know that his song does not carry the tunes made by humanity.

He realizes this on his eighteenth birthday, while his parents blood spills across the cracked tile of their kitchen floor. One of his mother's hands stretches out to him, eyes wide and worried that his hiding place in the pantry will not be enough.

The creatures inside his childhood home begin to speak as they feast.

Not with words.

With a haunting, melody they sing in tune.

Horror and fear curl inside him like poison and he buries his face in his knees and begs for the nightmare to end.

He doesn’t want to face the truth, but it dangles before him in the most gruesome way imaginable:

Takashi Shirogane’s soulmate is not human.



-


He learns what a Wendigo is on his twentieth birthday.

A vampire on his twenty-first.

A rougarou at twenty-five.

Shiro hunts through the most dangerous, creature thick parts of the world and by the time he’s twenty-seven, has an entire book dedicated to his experience. He’s made a reputation of himself among creatures and hunters alike. His name is whispered like a curse through the hunter channels and very few dare to cross his path.

They know nothing about him. Not his past. Not his nightmare ridden dreams of a song that refuses to cease. But, he has survived and persevered and in time - was finally able to block out all thoughts of a soulmate he did not want and focus on riding the world of its darkest shadows.

“You’ve got that look on your face again.” Pidge mumbles, screwdriver poised in one hand and soldering iron in the other. She’s bent over his prosthetic arm, eyebrows drawn together behind her glasses and poking around inside the compartment above his wrist.

“What look?” Shiro frowns down at her.

“That ‘I have somewhere way more important to be, hurry the fuck up Pidge.’” She glances up, “Tell me I’m wrong.”

Shiro smiles wryly, “Am I that obvious?”

“Practically an open book.” She pushes around a few wires, “What is it this time? Another werewolf to tear off your other arm? Dracula on main street? Maybe a -.”

“Just whispers of a cannibal in a small hiking town.” Shiro shrugs his other shoulder, “I’m not in that much of a hurry.”

She scoffs, “Liar. Cannibal usually means Wendigo.”

Shiro looks down at his flesh hand and curls it into a fist, “Leave it, Pidge.”

“Sure.” She drops the subject, but her tone says more than her silence.

Shiro knows how he gets when it comes to those creatures. The ones who murdered his parents and left him alone in a world filled with monsters he couldn’t see.

The ones that sing to him in his dreams. A soulmate he actively rejects reaching out to him through a connection Shiro has only tried to weaken. They try to turn up the volume, almost like a plea, begging him to stop tuning them out.

Shiro has no interest in opening that connection.

Ever.

“Shiro!” Matt swings through the double doors dividing Pidge’s workstation from the rest of the house, “You’re back.”

Shiro chuckles as Pidge’s brother drags up a chair and twists it around to straddle it backwards, “Just passing through.”

“That so?” Matt crosses his arms over the back of the chair and grins, “Any new stories to tell?”

“Just the usual.” Shiro smirks, “Vampires took over an italian restaurant in Vegas and were using their human employees as blood banks.”

“Yikes.” Matt winces, “Shut ‘em down?”

“Always do.” Shiro replies.

Matt clicks his tongue after a stretch of silence, “Pidge tell you she found her soulmate?”

Matt !” Pidge hisses, soldering iron kicking off the side of Shiro’s arm.

Shiro winces and is glad she shut off the sensation receptors before operating on him.

She’s still flushing bright red as her head ducks deeper into his arm.

Shiro’s chest tightens but he lowers his voice and whispers, “I’m happy for you.”

Pidge flinches, “Thanks - he’s - uh- way better than I expected him to be.” She fuses the proper wire into place and screws the plate shut, “But I know you’re sensitive about that-.” She sends a glare in her brother’s direction, “So I didn’t want to bring it up.”

“Oh-.” Matt looks apologetic, “Sorry, Shiro.”

Shiro sighs, “It’s fine.”

“Can’t imagine how it feels not to have a song.” Matt mutters softly, “Would trade you mine, if I could.”

Shiro hates the twisting, angry snake slithering around inside his chest as his lie comes back to haunt him. He’s sitting in a room with the two smartest people he’s ever met. Perhaps it’s time he asked for help.

He tests the curling of his metal fingers and wonders if being brave will get him anywhere faster, “I do -.” He clears his throat, “Have a song.”

Pidge drops both of her instruments, “But you said -.”

Shiro clenches his eyes shut, “It’s not a human song.”

He’s expecting them to be disgusted, but when he looks up they’re wearing matching looks of determination.

“Sing it for us.” Matt orders.

“No.” Pidge waves her hand, “Describe it. Creature songs are elemental.”

Shiro opens his mouth, hesitates, closes it.

“We won’t force you.” Pidge says kindly.

“No.” Shiro takes a deep breath, “I’ve been holding this in long enough.”

So, he tells them.

Of roaring flames from a bonfire and the hissing of steam from a volcano. A whistle so high pitched it wakes him in the middle of the night. All simple, quick sounds that mesh and wind together like the perfect knot. Only, Shiro untangles it as fast as it forms and chases the song away with the loudest setting on his car radio.

“Whoa.” Matt breathes.

“That’s - beautiful .” Pidge whispers, “Shiro, that is not a creature.”

Shiro stares at her, “I’ve heard mates singing to each other. It sounded the same.”

“No. No.” She waves a hand at his face, “Those are seperated. Earthy. You’re telling me your sounds combine. They make one whole song, your brain is just translating the individual sounds into things you already know.”

Shiro is lost, “I don’t - follow.”

“Your song is cosmic. It’s -.” She pushes around the items cluttering her desk until the slim casing of her phone is revealed. Shiro waits in patient limbo as her thumbs fly across the screen until finally she jams her thumb against it. Her head snaps up and green eyes connect with his as sound bleeds from the speaker.

It’s - not his song, but it’s close. It’s nothing at all like the twisting, tangling melody in his dreams. But, it’s similar.

“That is what space sounds like.” Pidge whispers in wonder, “ Space .”

“Space is silent.” Shiro swallows thickly.

“Shiro’s soulmate is an alien!” Matt yelps.

“No!” Pidge sends him an exasperated look, “I mean - his soulmate is on earth - obviously . They’re just not a creature. They’re a witch .”

“No.” Shiro swallows thickly, “Witches are practically extinct. I haven’t met one my entire hunting career.”

“This is proof that one is alive.” Pidge shakes her phone, “Somewhere out there. Someone thousands of years old with the knowledge of ancients .” She looks practically giddy with excitement, which makes only one of them.

“Pidge - I -.” Shiro can feel his chest growing tight. He needs to leave.

“Whoa big guy.” Matt darts out of the chair as Shiro tries to stand.

He wobbles on his feet.

Not a creature.

A being older than human civilization itself.

Someone who will literally have to watch him age and die and it will only seem like a second in their eyes.

Pidge and Matt watch him with worried gazes.

He flees before they can say anything else.



-



Shiro pulls into a visitors center at the stateline and tries to catch some shut eye.

It’s a long drive from Matt and Pidge’s tech hub central to the cool, dry forests of the northeast. He drops his seat back as far as it will go and cranks up the heater as he crosses his arms and closes his eyes.

He’s barely ten minutes in when the song starts.

It calls to him like an old friend - curious and cautious.

Now that he knows it doesn’t belong to the creature responsible for taking his family from him, he allows it to prod.

It circles, unsure of the reception and Shiro doesn't blame it. He’s shut it out for so long -

Who are you ?

He wishes they could answer.

Instead, he sinks deeper into the uncomfortable leather of his seat and for the first time since he was a teenager - allows the song to lull him to sleep.


-




The sleepy town of Marmora rests in the valley of two snow-capped mountains. Towering pines and fir bracket the outskirts and pepper the inner subdivisions. The roads are small, with old paint and no shoulder dividing asphalt from the darkness of the woods beyond.

Shiro arrives near dawn, when pink and orange blend against blue in the sky and it shines through the overgrown tree branches like a dream. It’s breathtaking in its entirety and if Shiro were a different man born into a different world - this would be the perfect spot to settle down and live out the rest of his life.

Instead, he has to stop inside a 24 hour market to buy supplies to eliminate what he hopes is merely a Wendigo and not a human making a snack out of the locals.

Human clean up is messier than creatures.

The small shop smells of over brewed coffee and the sticky sweet aroma of fresh baked doughnuts. It’s quiet in the early morning hours and the only living beings inside are a cashier watching the morning news and a head of black hair lingering near the coffee pots.

Shiro’s eyes drag over each aisle until he finds a small section for camping equipment. In a town right smack dab in the middle one of the largest hiking destinations, he expects nothing less.

They have everything he’s lacking. He snatches up three aerosol cans and a box of basic matches. Which will most likely make him look like a teenager going out to set shit on fire, so he tucks a few miscelanous items in the crook of his arm to make it look less threatening of a purchase.

As he walks towards the cash register, his eyes drift longingly to the coffee and baked goods section. His stomach growls with the reminder that Matt’s fried chicken was the last thing he ate in nearly 48 hours.

“Another one.” someone mutters bitterly.

“Fourth one this month.” A softer, more assertive voice answers.

Shiro turns his head away from the fragrant enticement of caffeine and sustenance.

The head of black hair is twisted at the base in a makeshift bun, dark red hoodie bunched up around the back of their neck and shoulders. They’re wearing faded black jeans and boots streaked with mud. Small, gloved hands dig around inside a black leather wallet until a five dollar bill appears and is slid across the counter.

“They need to shut down the trails.” The man at the register rings up the small coffee and paper bag of food.

A scoff, “You know they won’t.”

Shiro clears his throat, “Is it not safe to be camping?”

Both the cashier and the stranger turn to face him.

The stranger is - devastatingly beautiful. Sharp features and piercing eyes that flash with suspicion. His mouth turns down in a frown as he eyes Shiro from head to foot, before taking his change and wrapping his hands around what he paid for.

“I wouldn’t advise it.” The cashier hums, jerking a thumb at the television.

Shiro doesn’t need to look at it; he watched the earlier report on his phone before he even got into town. But he drags his gaze obediently to the screen. Four cops are carrying a black bag out of a section of woods, reporters are tizzying around the area and lights flash on the outer edges of the scene.

“Did you plan on camping alone?” The gorgeous man speaks this time.

“Ah.” Shiro glances down at his supplies, “I do it all the time. A friend suggested this place.”

“Got us a bear or somethin’.” The cashier snorts.

Sharp eyes rolls, “Yea, or something.” Then he twists on the heels of his dirty boots and walks out through the glass doors.

“Don’t mind him. He’s always that cynical.” The cashier watches him with kind eyes as Shiro deposits his supplies and takes a step back to retrieve something to satisfy his stomach.

Shiro pours his coffee and watches the outline of the dark-haired stranger disappear to the left of the market parking lot.



-


The closest Shiro ever gets to the locals on his hunts is searching for food and shelter. He rarely bothers with interviews or tracking down witness to the creatures whereabouts. He’s much better at doing his research the hard way.

Which means finding a hotel for the night and sneaking out into the unknown.

He bundles himself up in a dark hunting jacket, gloves, and boots thick enough to keep his toes from freezing. It’s below thirty outside and probably even colder deeper into the woods.

He packs the aerosol cans and matches in easily accessible pockets of his backpack and buckles it across his chest.

As he’s leaving the hotel, a small woman wearing a janitor's uniform and a frayed jacket is smoking a cigarette by the ice machine. She gives him a long, curious look as he passes by, but says nothing.

Shiro’s sure she’s seen stranger sights than him in the dead of night.

He goes to the most recent crime scene first.

Bright yellow tape wraps around the thick trunks of trees lining the edge of the forest. There are footprints and tire treads from the recent activity and even the crisp snap of cold can’t disguise the scent of blood.

Shiro wrinkles his nose and ducks under the tape. He pulls a mini flashlight from the pocket of his jacket and clicks it on.

He follows the numerous boot treads for about fifteen minutes before he comes to a thicket of tramped bush and limbs. Wind whistles through the trees above him and nighttime critters chirp and hoot to the symphony of an unheard song.

It’s hard to miss the crime scene.

There’s dried blood everywhere . The loose dirt and mud is saturated with it and nearby leaves and trees present the splatter like a gruesome painting. He can smell it in the air, iron and ice a potent cocktail.

Seeing the scene for himself does nothing to dampen the tight, anxious realization blooming inside his chest.

The blood, the sheer messiness of it - was not made by a Wendigo. It’s too wide-spread, uncoordinated, unplanned. A Wendigo is a perfectly evolved hunter. It doesn’t leave a mess behind.

Whatever this is, it’s new and it’s unfamiliar with the territory. And judging by the frequency of the killings, they’re showing no sign of slowing down.

Shiro unsnaps the backpack from his chest and digs around in the front pocket for his camera. He takes numerous photos, including the human tracks leading back to the crime tape line. There’s still gobs of evidence at the scene, but none a normal human cop would be able to recognize.

Blood splatter to this degree could never be caused by a human weapon.

Claws? Teeth?

Shiro hovers above the bloody, caked mud where the body had been torn apart. There are no other tracks besides the human shoe prints. No hoof prints, no paw impressions. No struggle either. No claw marks on the nearby trees or -

He moves further away from the scene.

They didn’t run. No broken ground or any other tracks besides the ones leading from the road.

Which means the victim knew the killer. Or at least recognized them.

Shiro purses his lips, “Shapeshifter?”

He mumbles the word to himself, but it must carry through the silence because something snaps behind him. A twig or a branch -

Shiro twists around quickly, but his reflexes are no match for the dark silhouette barreling towards him. His camera hits the ground as a solid weight collides with his chest. He loses his footing in the mud and uses his metal elbow to cushion the fall and keep his head from connecting with anything lethal.

Something cold and sharp presses against the base of his throat and Shiro instantly knows what it is.

“Who are you? What are you doing out here?” His attackers voice is muffled by a black scarf, but Shiro recognizes that sharp gaze. It’s the same one that stared him down at the market earlier in the day.

Shiro swallows and his throat ripples against the blade. He puts his hands up slowly and those dark eyes flicker to the prosthetic, “Just -.”

“Passing through?” Metal digs into his skin, “ Camping ?”

“Hunting.” Shiro wheezes, tilting his chin up and away from the knife, but keeping eye contact with the stranger.

The pressure on his chest eases slightly, “Hunting.” There’s a long, loaded pause that prickles like awareness across Shiro’s skin. It tingles along the back of his neck and has nothing to do with the chill in the air and everything to do with the person on top of him, “Hunting what?”

Shiro could easily name any animal that comes out at night and probably get away with the lie. Except there’s a trick to that question. An underlying connotation that reminds Shiro of black market dealings for creature parts.

“I’m not sure yet.” Shiro replies truthfully.

“Hm.” The knife retreats from his neck and does a fancy twist in the strangers hand before getting shoved into a familiar, muddy black boot.

He doesn’t rise off of Shiro’s chest and the weight is surprisingly light for someone who just tackled all of Shiro’s bulk to the ground in a split second.

“Don’t get many hunters around here.” Suspicion laces the tone, “What makes you so special?”

Shiro opens his mouth to reply, but a howl cuts through the night air, startling both of them. The strangers head kicks up and twists to the left, eyes narrowing.

“We can’t stay here.”

“I’m not done -.” Shiro starts, but a gloved hand slaps over his mouth.

“Be quiet.”

Shiro’s eye cross as he attempts to stare at the appendage keeping him from speaking.

“We can’t stay here.” He’s whispering now, eyes still trained to the left, “Where are you staying?”



-



The smoking janitor isn’t anywhere to be seen by the time Shiro is steps up to his hotel door and swipes the key. It beeps twice and the LED turns green. He twists the handle and shoves inward.

Warmth greets his chilled limbs and he lets out a pleased sigh before shedding his jacket and toeing off his muddy boots.

He can barely hear the man walking behind him but a soft, “Huh. You really are a hunter.” Tells Shiro he’s entered the room.

The door clicks shut and Shiro watches as thin, glove encased fingers drift over the tops of Shiro’s books and pictures and papers. He has all of his hunting equipment out, save for the weapons stashed in the false bottom in the trunk of his car.

“You thought I was lying?” Shiro asks, amused.

A shrug, “We don’t get many hunters around here.”

“Are you one?”

The strangers head turns to face him. He’s still wearing the dark scarf around the lower half of his face, his boots are tracking mud on the carpet and he’s dressed similar to Shiro. Dark leather and versatile pants.

“And if I am?” A tilt to his head.

Shiro scratches the back of his neck with a laugh, “Makes my job a little easier?”

“I don’t usually work with others.”

The reply is sharp and final. Shiro winces with the force of it and the stranger returns to sifting through Shiro’s notes.

Shiro feels as though he should say something, maybe be a little irritated that someone is invading his space and digging through his things. Instead, he’s noting the stiff, rigid line of the man’s shoulders and the careful, gentle way his fingers parse through the pages of books and photographs. He’s respectful of Shiro’s meticulous work.

“It’s not a wendigo.”

Shiro shakes out of his reviere, “I figured that much.” He takes a step into the man’s space and taps the one good photo he has of a wendigo. The one he killed in nebraska last spring, “Scene is too messy.”

“You’re good.” is mumbled, almost in awe, “Last hunter who came here hunting wendigo didn’t make it out.”

“I’m the best.” Shiro doesn’t meant to sound over-confident, but it must come out that way because an eyebrow darts up.

“Hm.” Those dark eyes return to the desk, “But it’s nothing you’ve seen before.”

Shiro bites his bottom lip and shifts on each foot, “It reminds me of a shapeshifter. The victim knew who they were out in the woods with. There wasn’t a struggle.”

A low chuckle, “Close.”

Both of Shiro’s eyebrows fly skyward, “There’s something that mimics a shapeshifter?”

The stranger doesn’t reply for a while and Shiro is just about to lose his patience and ask again when hands move up and tug down the scarf.

A vibrant, living thing bursts to life inside Shiro’s chest.

Whoever this man is, he’s even more beautiful up close.

There’s a scar across his cheek that Shiro hadn’t seen in the store and his eyes aren’t black, but a vivid shade of blue so dark they’re nearly violet. The tip of his nose is red from the cold, even with the scarf protecting it.

“You can call me Keith.” He puts out a hand between them, “And we’re dealing with a Kumiho.”

Shiro’s hand falters mid-way to shake Keith’s.

“A -.” Keith meets him the rest of the way, his hand solid and tight before dropping.

“Kumiho.” Keith says again, “Yea. I was surprised too.”

“Those aren’t even native to America.” Shiro sputters, “What is one doing in the northeast mountains ?”

“Your guess is as good as mine.” Keith waves his hand across Shiro’s desk, “Pack your stuff. She’s trying to claim her territory and she’ll no doubt know by now that two hunter are inside it.”

“Uh - where are we going?” Shiro reaches down to grab his duffle bags and spread them across the dresser.

Keith has moved to the window, two fingers parting the curtain and eyes roaming out across the empty parking lot, “My house.”

Shiro squints, hands pausing over a lifetime of research, “I thought you worked alone.”

Keith glances over his shoulder, “If you’re as good as you claim to be, then two will be better than one. Have you ever killed a Kumiho?”

“Have you?” Shiro counters.

“Yea. So, trust me when I say it’s going to take both of us.”


-



Keith lives at the end of a winding, dirt and leaf covered road six miles from the ranger station turnoff.

The house is small, unassuming and old. Its wood is faded to a charred black and the roof could use a new set of shingles, but it’s charming, in its own way.

There’s a motorcycle propped up along a little walkway made of iridescent stones in the shape of stars.

Shiro doesn’t see a driveway, so he pulls up alongside a row of bushes.

Keith helps him gather his bags and books, then leads him through an opening of the multi colored bushes.

Shiro scans the yard in the early morning hue of dawn.

It looks like a normal middle of the forest clearing, but -

He pauses on the first stone.

The trees around the edge of the property are neatly lined. The bushes start at the walkway and form an arch around the back of the house and all the way around to meet once more at the stones.

Shiro’s willing to bet his entire reputation that from the sky, the formations are a perfect circle.

Awareness creeps up his spine and settles with a tingle at the base of his neck. It sets his hair on end and his instincts flare to life.

“Are you coming or what?”

Shiro snaps his head back around and Keith is standing on the front porch, one foot on the top step and the other on the second.

He doesn’t look threatening in the slightest. Even knowing there’s a knife tucked in his boot and probably numerous others hidden on his person.

It shouldn’t be as attractive to him as it is and yet.

“Yea.” He adjusts the backpack over his shoulder and joins Keith at the top of the steps.

He tries to put the weird circular bushes and perfect cropping of trees and the star shaped stepping stones out of his mind. The wind picks up and the chimes on the porch make a hollow sound as they move.

Shiro finds his eyes straying to them and almost does a double take.

Keith unlocks the door with a click and the displacement of air drags Shiro towards the warmth.

“Are those animal bones?” Shiro points at the numerous chimes dangling from the overhang.

Keith sends them a quick glance, “Rabbit. Black bird. A few others.” He lifts an eyebrow, “You’re a hunter. You don’t keep things like that?”

Not out on display. Not where anyone can plainly see them on the dashboard of his car and have him dragged off to a mental hospital for thinking the boogeyman was out to get him.

Of course - Shiro hasn’t had a home in nearly ten years.

“How long have you lived here?” Shiro steps into the warmth of Keith’s tiny cottage and the anxiety from the creepy flora and bone chimes disappears.

Keith squats down and begins to untie his boots, “A while.”

There’s not much in the house by way of furniture. Just a worn sofa with an old, hand-stitched patchwork blanket, a coffee table on cinder blocks, and a fireplace glowing red with worn embers. It’s all very - Keith.

Shiro literally knows nothing about him and yet - something lingers in the space between them. He can’t quite put his finger on it and it tickles between his shoulder blades. An itch he can’t quite scratch.

“You can put your stuff on the table.” Keith tucks his shoes against the wall and points at the makeshift table in the center of the living room, “Gonna make some coffee.” He shoves a hand through his hair, “Been a long night.”

Shiro can’t help but agree. His phone reads 6:29 am and the sky is a pretty shade of blue through a window near the fireplace. He hasn’t slept since the gas station and coffee sounds like a godsend. Sleep would also be a godsend.

He unpacks his books and notes, spreading them out across the worn, chipped wood. After about five minutes, he hears the hiss of a coffee pot and the fragrant smell of a dark roast drifts through the warm air.

While he waits for Keith to come back with their coffee, he pulls up as much information as he can on the Kumiho itself. Mostly folklore and very little on defeat.

He doesn’t realize he’s drifted away until a mug of steaming, milky black liquid connects with the wood of the table.

He startles, blinking rapidly up into the worried features of his new friend.

“You look like a cream and sugar kinda guy.” Keith points at the mug, “There’s more in the fridge.”

Shiro waves a hand with a grunt and picks up the cup. It’s warm in his flesh hand and room temperature against his prosthetic.

The first sip is heaven.

It’s rich and thick with flavor, with just the right amount of sugar and cream. Just the way he likes it.

Exactly the way he likes it.

Shiro takes another sip and observes Keith as he disappears down a short hallway and returns with a large, leather bound book.

He sets it and his own mug on the table.

There’s a latch on the cover that Keith pops open. His gloves are gone, fingers pale and delicate as they flutter down the mismatched pages. One of the fingers stops and digs in between the sheets, popping the book open on its spine.

None of it is in english, but Shiro recognizes the drawing of a humanoid fox above the bold type ink that is surely its name.

“That looks old.” Shiro mutters into his mug.

Keith leans over the book, “It was my moms.”

Shiro perks up in realization, “You come from a family of hunters.”

Keith shrugs, “You could say that.”

Shiro wonders for a moment if his moms would still be alive today had they all been hunters. If they’d known about the things that go bump in the night. Would Shiro still have a home to go back to?

He fights back the tightness in his chest and sets his half-empty mug on the table, “How do we take care of it?”

“Well -.” Keith sighs, “First we have to find out who it’s disguised as.”

“A given.” Shiro acknowledges, “But I thought they could only take the form of a woman?”

Keith scoffs, “Folklore.” He pushes the book until it’s resting directly between them and Shiro can make out its contents.

“I can’t read that.” Shiro laughs.

Keith’s lips twitches, “Habit.” His finger glides over the raised ink on the page, “Young Kumiho can’t take more than one shape, but an older one would be able to do it easily.” His brows draw together, “But why here? We haven’t had any dangerous supernatural creatures here in decades.”

Shiro’s eyebrows go up, “Dangerous?”

Keith side-eyes him, “You the type of hunter to kill them just because they exist?”

“What - no -!” Shiro blanches.

“Hm.” Keith returns to the book, “My mom and I took out a Kitsune back in Arizona when I was a kid. They’re similar in status and shape, but not in morality.”

“Kitsune are usually benevolent.” Shiro murmurs.

“The one we killed wasn’t.” Keith says, “A Kumiho though - they murder because they can. They prefer the liver of humans and can suck energy from men.”

“A shapeshifter and an succubus.” Shiro drops back against the couch. He’s exhausted. “Joy.”

Keith lets out a burst of a laugh, “Gotta give the universe credit, it comes up with some interesting mixtures.”

Shiro chuckles, “The universe, huh?” Keith turns to look at him, “Most hunters I meet only believe in God.”

Keith’s eyes are dark and beautiful and deep, “That’s because they don’t know any better.”

“You’re trusting me with an awful lot of information.” Shiro feels sleepy.

His brain is slowing down and the air is warm and comfortable - almost fuzzy. Keith’s face goes in and out of focus.

God, he’s lovely.

“Just with this.” Keith’s voice sounds so far away, a tunnel, an ocean away.

Shiro tries to grasp at consciousness. In fact, he thinks he reaches out for Keith and warm fingers curl through his own. Keith is leaning over him, voice murky and clouded, his other hand brushing the hair out of Shiro’s face.

His face is so close - and there’s something curving over his jaw, down his neckline - but Shiro can’t see it, not really. He squints and he opens his mouth to ask, but a finger presses against his lips.

The darkness crawls across his vision and Keith’s face swirls in a miasma of shapes and sounds that call to something deep. A hissing of steam and the sound of wind through tree branches in the spring.

It’s his song - it’s his -

“Rest, Takashi. You’re useless to me without any sleep.”

Shiro is helpless to obey.

His finals thought is that he doesn’t recall telling Keith his real name.


















Chapter Text

 

 

Part Two

 



 

 

 

 

 

If there was a sound for sunlight and starlight and the roar of a supernova; it existed in Shiro’s head.

When stars collide and entire universes shimmer into existence, he’s right there watching them. He can hear them, see them - sometimes almost touch them in his dreams. It’s unlike anything he’s ever known.

To think he’s gone the last ten years without it -

He feels as though he robbed himself of something beautiful and infinite and utterly irreplaceable for so long.

And even if he spends the rest of his natural life unable to find the source of his song - it’s enough to know it will always be with him.

 

-



Shiro wakes in sluggish increments. His brain is hazy with sleep and it grasps uselessly at the song fading away with his subconscious. There’s a scent in the air, cedar and smoke, and it curls around him as he struggles to pull himself back to the waking world.

His eyes blink open, clearing his vision enough to see a wisp of white smoke drifting towards the ceiling. Its source is a small obsidian platter with a pile of ash in the center, red and orange embers glowing.

He blinks again.

He’s not in his hotel room.

Adrenaline spears through him as he shoves up on his hands, heart pounding as the strange room comes into focus.

It’s tiny and barren. With a worn wood night table holding the smoldering ash and a tattered fur rug covering old flooring. The bed is small as well, big enough for only one person, but covered in the softest sheets Shiro’s ever lain in.

His memory is a swirl of bone chimes and a gruesome murder scene and hypnotic violet eyes above a mask of black. He remembers sitting on Keith’s couch and discussing the history of Kumiho - but -

Shiro squints around the room and listens for any sign of life outside it. It’s eerily silent beyond the bed and there’s no window for him to gauge the time or how long he’s been asleep.

He’s been stripped of his jacket and his boots, leaving him in only a white undershirt and his hiking pants. Said jacket and boots are resting on a small wicker chair by the door to the bedroom, as if in wait of him waking.

He gets out of the bed hesitantly, instincts on red alert as he pulls on his boots and tosses the jacket over his arm.

The cottage is quiet as his feet creak across the old wood floors.

There’s a small fire in the hearth and the remnants of their coffee mugs and Shiro’s research are still scattered on the table in front of the couch. He circles around and picks up the mug he drank from and finds it empty.

The small flecks of black at the bottom catch his eye and he brings the ceramic to his nose and sniffs once. He smells only coffee. The mug goes right back on the table and Shiro leaves the living area and finds the kitchen.

It’s smaller than the bedroom and an herbalists dream. A high window above the sink overflows with shelves of greens and reds and purples. He recognizes some of the plants, but not all of them.

A steaming teapot rests on a tiny, two burner stove and a cutting board boasting a thin knife and a bright green stem sit on the counter beside it. Shiro picks up the stem and brings it to his nose as well.

Peppermint.

Shiro doesn’t usually meet many Hunters, but the knows Keith isn’t a normal one.

Hunters use herbs as deterrents, but never as remedies. Never as boosts. They take too long to cultivate and weapons are significantly easier to manage when it comes to taking care of business.

A hunter with a home is also - unusual.

Shiro sets the peppermint stem back on the cutting board and twists to face the rest of the house.

Where is the other hunter?

He heads for the front door and pulls it open.

It’s mid-morning, judging by the shadows of the trees. A cool breeze sweeps across his cheek bones and drags a chill down his spine.

Keith is sitting on the railing of the porch, bundled up in the same dark red hoodie from the market and weilding a knife against a piece of wood. His hair is braided over one shoulder and the dark leather gloves are back on his hands. There’s a furrow between his brows and white teeth dig into his bottom lip as the tip of the blade moves with a practiced motion.

Unknown emotion blooms in Shiro’s chest as he watches Keith work.

The chimes clack and roll with the breeze and birds sing praise from deep within the woods. His senses heighten the sounds, the smells, the sensations. He struggles to remember what happened before he passed out on Keith’s couch.

A heavy gust of wind causes hair to fall into Keith’s line of sight and he huffs and shoves it away with the hand holding the wood.

It causes his gaze to rise and meet Shiro’s.

And Shiro -

Shiro has the overwhelming urge to tug all of that dark, dense hair from its braid and sink his fingers into it. Yank it back to expose that pale throat. Fan it out across cream-colored sheets. Bury his nose in the scent of it.

“You’re up.” Keith’s voice interrupts that startling line of thought.

Shiro narrows his gaze, “You drugged me.”

A dark eyebrow shoots up, “Valerian root isn’t a drug.” He blows across the wood and little chippings flutter down to the porch.

“You -.” Shiro steps into his space, “ Drugged me.”

Keith meets him scowl for scowl, “I put a natural sleep aid into your coffee because you were dead on your feet.”

“Without permission.” Shiro hisses.

Keith says nothing for a moment before shrugging, “Fair enough.”

“You see nothing wrong with that?” Shiro asks incredulously.

“Would you have have slept if I asked you to?” Keith flips the pocket knife closed, eyes staring up into Shiro’s.

No. He wouldn’t have. Not in a strange place, with a man he’s only know a few hours at most. Who threatened him with a knife and dragged him into the middle of the woods to stay in a cottage surrounded by omens.

“You’re not like any hunter I’ve ever met.” Shiro takes a step back as Keith drops down from the railing and shoves the wood and knife into the back pocket of his jeans.

He slips past Shiro and into the house, giving him no choice but to follow.

“Hunters don’t usually stay in one place.” Shiro waves around the house, motions to the kitchen, “Or keep plants or carve out wards. Who are you?”

Keith’s back tightens, “It doesn’t matter who I am.” He turns just enough to look at Shiro, “Let’s just find the Kumiho so you can leave.”

Shiro bristles at the dismissive tone, but can’t find it anywhere inside himself to say anything. Because Keith is right. This isn’t his town and these aren’t his people. A hunter with a territory is a dangerous thing. It means they’re fortified. They’re trusted.

Shiro is just passing through.

He’ll be gone long before the blood dries after the slaughter.



-



“To behead a Kumiho -.” Keith’s boots are up on Shiro’s dashboard and the large leather book is spread across his thighs, “We’ll need a special heated blade. The beheading has to be cauterized and the body burned.”

Shiro turns neatly off of Keith’s dirt path and onto the main road, “How are we supposed to get a blade hot enough to cauterize?” His brows furrow, “And then what - carry it around?”

Keith’s finger glides down the length of the page, but doesn’t reply.

Shiro taps his fingers around the steering wheel, “Will a machete work? An axe?”

“A blade of meteorite with an ivory handle.” Keith murmurs, gloved finger following a line of text Shiro can’t read.

“You said you’ve done this before.” Shiro huffs.

“I said I’ve killed a Kitsune before. A Kumiho is the same machine, but with different instructions.” Keith informs irritably, “And besides, this blade is incredibly rare and difficult to forge.”

“I don’t suppose you have a blacksmith who specializes in rare metals on hand?” Shiro asks with a laugh.

Keith is quiet long enough that Shiro shoots him a glance, “Wait - do you?”

“I do -.” Keith snaps the book shut, “But he’s not going to like it.”



-



“No.”

Keith groans, “Hunk, there’s a Kumiho on the loose. I need this.”

“I can’t just pull a meteorite from my ass, Keith.”

Shiro watches the exchange with carefully masked surprise. The man refusing Keith’s request is big, bigger than Keith and almost as tall as Shiro. He’s dressed in muted yellows and a white apron stained with various food coloring is wrapped around his torso. He looks normal at first glance.

He almost fooled Shiro.

But Shiro’s been at the hunting game long enough to recognize the dark circles under the man’s eyes. The red welts on his arms and under the sleeve of his shirt. The dark, feral slit of his eyes as he stares down at Keith in exasperation.

Keith doesn’t seem to be at all fazed by the fact that he’s arguing with a werewolf two days out of the full moon cycle.

“Does anyone else have what I need?” Keith blows out a breath.

The werewolf - Hunk - whines irritably, “Keith.”

“Hunk.” Keith meets him head on.

Hunk’s eyes dart up from Keith’s visage and land on Shiro’s, hands twisting at his stomach, “You brought a hunter, Keith. I can’t just tell you who has our stock.”

Keith waves a hand and drags Hunk’s gaze away from Shiro, “He’s with me.”

“Yes.” Hunk comments drily, “I can see that.” His nose wrinkles, “You reek.”

Keith rolls his eyes, “He’s here to kill the Kumiho and leave.” Keith turns to him, “Right?”

Shiro holds up his hands in a placating gesture.

Hunk squints at him suspiciously and lets out a world-weary sigh, “Lance and Allura might have what you need.” He wiggles a finger at Keith, “ Might .”

“Do you want a Kumiho wandering around our area?” Keith pulls a slim phone from the pocket of his jeans and starts typing away.

“No.” Hunk mutters, “Are you sure that’s what it is?”

“Pretty sure.” Keith puts the phone away.

“I feel like I would have -.” His eyes find Shiro’s again over the top of Keith’s head and the nerves are obvious on his features as he lowers his voice, “Noticed.” He clears his throat.

“She’s unfamiliar with her feeding ground.” Shiro speaks up, “But she’s probably old enough to mask her features and scent.”

Keith sends him a curious look before patting Hunk on the arm, “Thanks.”

Hunk starts wringing his hands, “Anytime. Just - uh - clear the hunter out soon?” He manages a weak smile in Shiro’s direction, “No offense.”

Shiro lifts an eyebrow, “None taken. But Keith being here doesn’t make any of you uncomfortable?”

Hunk’s brow furrows in confusion, “Why would he -?”

Keith twists around and grabs Shiro by the elbow, “Time’s wasting. Let’s go.”

As they approach Shiro’s car, Keith finally releases his elbow and heads for the passenger side. He has his phone out as Shiro climbs into the driver’s seat and is typing a reply into a text messenger.

Shiro waits patiently for directions and Keith mumbles them and shoves the phone between his thighs.

“Is there a community of creatures here?” Shiro asks softly.

Keith bristles, “Mind your own business.”

Shiro bites his lip, “I’m not going to tell anyone.”

“You won’t.” Keith’s tone is threatening, “And if you do - I’ll know. It takes a lot of effort to keep this place under wraps.”

“You are -.” Shiro searches for the right word. A perfect word that would describe the burning urge to learn everything Keith knows and to wake up in his bed again and to be so unerringly comfortable in a town full of monsters, “Odd.”

Keith’s eyebrows go up.

Shiro resists the urge to bang his forehead against the steering wheel cover.

“I just mean, Hunter’s don’t usually go around making nice with werewolves.” Shiro sighs heavily.

Keith is quiet for a moment, “You’re only used to hunting them.” Shiro can feel those intense eyes boring into him as he takes another turn, “You only see the bad ones because the good ones found a way to fit in.”

“Not all of them can just ‘fit in.’” Shiro replies bitterly.

A hand curls around his forearm and Shiro’s eyes dart to it, throat contracting as gloved fingers squeeze the muscle, “I’m sorry, Shiro.”

Because Shiro doesn’t need to say anything else for Keith to pick up the distress in his tone. He doesn’t need to spill his past all over the interior of his car, to a stranger who calls to his baser instincts. Keith’s a hunter. He already knows the price of being one.

The rest of the ride is silent, save for Keith guiding him through the local streets. Eventually, they arrive at a modest blue and white two story at the peak of a circular drive. It’s encased in large, overhanging oaks and gorgeous bushes slowly turning brown with the winter weather.

A sign hangs from a post to the left of the driveway as Shiro turns in.

Altea Inn

“A bed and breakfast?” Shiro wonders aloud.

Keith grunts in affirmation, “Allura and Lance run it together.” He waves a hand, “They’re married - I think.”

“You don’t know?” Shiro asks on a laugh.

“Well the customs are different.” Keith hesitates, “Allura isn’t exactly -.”

Shiro parks in front of the steps and turns off the car, “Human.”

“Lance is.” Keith whispers, “Allura is a vampire.”

Shiro takes in a slow, steady breath, “A vampire.”

“She’s been here for hundreds of years.” Keith says, “She’s never hurt anyone. She only feeds exclusively from Lance.”

“I feel like I walked into the twilight zone.” Shiro rubs at his temples and sighs, “Are there any humans besides you in this place?”

Keith is quiet, “A few, yea.”

“God.” Shiro pops the latch on his door, “Let’s just see if they have what we need.”

Keith leads the way up a small set of stairs and onto a porch decorated with white rocking chairs and potted plants. The front door is made of pale wood and frosted glass windows carved with moons.

Keith doesn’t bother knocking, he opens the door inward and drags his booted feet across a rug in the foyer.

A bell dings above them and hurried footsteps follow.

“Keith? Is that you?” A posh, female voice calls out.

“Yea.” Keith replies.

A tall, stunning woman in pleated beige pants and a pale pink blouse slips through an archway from the left. Her face brightens when she sees Keith, but freezes as her sharp eyes find Shiro standing behind him.

Her footsteps falter and Shiro knows that look.

He’s seen it a hundred times on the faces of creatures caught by him.

Her fingers tremble around the dishcloth in her hands, but her stare hardens into something lethal, “You did not mention a - hunter - was in our midst.”

Keith takes a step between them, “Allura, there’s a Kumiho here. He just followed the trail.”

She sniffs irritably, “That seems like something we can no doubt handle without him.”

“He’s good. I’ll need him.” Keith offers.

“Oh, I’m sure he’s quite good at his job.” Her frown deepens, “How on earth did you find him anyway?”

Shiro feels like an outsider as they talk. There’s an easy familiarity between them that feels like an intrusion on his part. Keith’s shoulders relax and he uses his hands to explain what they need and the circumstances of Shiro’s arrival.

He finds his eyes wandering over the tasteful decor and the startling lack of keys hanging behind the reception desk.

The inn is obviously a popular place to stay.

“Do many of the hikers stay here?” Shiro finds himself wondering aloud.

Allura pauses mid-sentence, “Some, yes. Most prefer to camp.”

Shiro turns his gaze to her, “Do you have any who have stayed longer than a month? Or come frequently?”

“Our longest resident is a woman in her 90’s.” Allura tosses the dish towel over her shoulder, “Her son pays for an extended stay here and a local nurse lives in a guest room beside her. Other than those two, just weekend travelers.”

“Any new residents?” Shiro asks.

Keith peers up at him, “You think it’s someone new?”

“Could be posing as someone new.” Shiro murmurs, “But she's taking familiar forms. She's observing and finding ways to get her meals out into the woods.”

“Allura,” Keith says, “Have all the hikers stayed here?

She shakes her head, “Only one, I think.”

“Allura!” Footsteps stumble on the floor above them and they watch as a man in blue jeans and a parka comes running down the stairs.

Allura barely catches him as he hits the bottom step and his socks skid across the hardwood, “Lance!”

Lance waves a cellphone above his head, “There’s been another murder.”

Shiro straightens instantly and Keith steps forward as Lance twists the screen around to face them.

Keith’s eyes narrow, “That’s near my house.”

“Shit.” Shiro swallows, “She knows I’m here.”

“You practically ooze hunter.” Allura wrinkles her nose, “And you reek, but I suppose we’ll need your instincts and expertise.”

“Her killings are getting closer together.” Keith snaps, “We need to lure her out soon.”

Allura hums, “I’ll get you what you need.”



-



Hunk the werewolf needs 18 hours to forge their meteorite blade. He’s considerably less nervous around Shiro the second time and even manages a light-hearted joke before Keith is dragging them back out of the small bakery/supernatural blacksmith shop.

The sun has long since sank beneath the trees when they drive up to Keith’s little cottage in the woods. Something howls in the distance as they travel across the stone pathway to the stairs. Wind knocks the chimes around from the rafters and the haunting melody sets Shiro's teeth on edge.

Keith is eerily silent as he unlocks the door to his home and sets the large leather tome on top of the coffee table. Shiro watches him slip into the kitchen, never giving Shiro a backwards glance. He opens a drawer beside the sink and retrieves a pair of scissors and a velvet sack.

He snips carefully at the plants in his window, spreading the leaves and sprigs across the counter. The leaves are plucked from a few and the stems crushed from others. He shoves them into the bag and twists around to face Shiro.

There’s something in his gaze that keeps Shiro from asking questions. A thousand of them race through his brain as Keith takes his hand, gloves warm and smooth, and sets the black velvet in the palm. Keith makes his fingers curl over the bag.

“Keep it with you.”

“What is it?” Shiro murmurs.

“Protection.” Keith replies, “We’re going out.”

Shiro’s eyebrows climb towards his hairline, “Out into the woods?”

“The new murder was less than two miles from my house.” Keith grits his teeth, “If she thinks for one second that I’m going to let her encroach on my territory. She’s wrong.”

“I have some flashlights and a shotgun with salt rounds in my car.” Shiro offers.

Keith huffs with a half smile, “Salt rounds won’t do anything to a Kumiho.”

“Nope.” Shiro grins, “But it’ll hurt like hell.”



-



They enter the woods armed with a shotgun and the one flashlight Shiro could find in his trunk. The nightlife sounds swell around them the deeper they travel and the trees above are too thick to allow moonlight entry.

Keith seems to know where they’re going, so he mans the flashlight, while Shiro follows close behind.

Their boots crunch across dead leaves and twigs, a few rodents dart across their path and scurry into the underbrush. It feels identical to the night he arrived. Except this time Shiro doesn’t need to worry about pretty hunter boys tackling him into the mud.

Keith pauses, dragging the light across the ground, “We’re close.”

“How do you even know where we’re going?” Shiro whispers wondrously.

“I’ve lived here long enough.” Keith replies cryptically, “I know the woods better than I know the town.”

That tidbit of knowledge doesn’t surprise Shiro in the least.

Keith’s secluded home, his heavily clothed exterior; they point to a man more in tune with nature than with humanity. Someone who may know the earth better than the gods themselves.

“You’re really something.” Shiro chuckles.

Keith sends him a strange look over his shoulder, “You say that a lot.”

“You surprise me a lot.” Shiro admits, “I’ve been hunting for almost ten years and while you have the determination and ferocity of a hunter down pat, you’re not exactly standard.”

“You’re not exactly standard yourself.” Keith dips under a low-hanging branch and Shiro follows.

“Really?” Shiro asks, “I’ve made quite a name for myself.”

Keith scoffs, “You look like someone who was raised in a nice little white picket neighborhood and never missed a day of school.”

In a past life, Shiro thinks solemnly, “A long time ago, yea.”

Keith slows to a halt and the flashlight illuminates the bloodbath before them.

“What makes a good boy decide to become a hunter?” Keith’s wrist moves as he guides the light across splattered trees and leaves and dirt.

“Something killed my parents.” Shiro replies, stomach tightening at the scene.

He meets Keith’s gaze, “You don’t seem like the type for revenge, Shiro.”

No, he wasn’t.

Shiro rubs a palm over his sternum and laughs bitterly, “It wasn’t just the death of my moms. It was -.” Thinking his soulmate was one of the creatures who took them from him. It was sleepless nights fighting music he didn’t want to share. It was anger and despair and desperation that drove him to entering the Hunter network.

Ten years later and revenge is not the motivator. Routine is.

Once you get in, you never find a way back out.

You hunt or you die.

The flashlight flickers.

Keith taps it against the heel of his palm and it stabilizes.

“It’s definitely the Kumiho.” Keith scans the scene again, “Messy. Why isn’t she making this neater?”

“She’s -.” Shiro eyes the high spray up the side of a nearby tree, “Desperate. She’s in a hurry.”

“Like she’s not at full strength?” Keith mutters.

“Exactly.” Shiro steps over a branch, “The killings are growing closer together. Meaning she’s almost there. So she’s speeding up the process, but for what?”

“What any creature wants in a new feeding ground.” Keith hisses.

“Territory.” They say as one.

“And a hiking town?” Shiro waves around the wooded area, “Mostly male campers wandering around in the dead of night? It’s practically thanksgiving dinner all the time.”

The flashlight flickers again.

Keith frowns and hits it.

It doesn’t work. The light disappears and darkness swallows the small area up within the span of a second. Shiro’s nerves flare to life and he instinctively clutches his salt-loaded gun closer to his body, eyes squinting into the darkness.

Shiro tries to reach out, but only catches air.

He can hear the sound of metal shaking and a frustrated sigh.

“We should head back.” Shiro insists.

“Yea.” Keith’s voice sounds far away.

Shiro can feel goosebumps spreading across his arm and the hair on the back of his neck stands on end. The chirp and hoot of the nightlife has almost faded to a point, like he’s hearing it through water. He can barely make out Keith’s back in the muted moonlight and each step sounds like a bell toll.

“Keith.” Shiro whispers.

The darkness creeps in around him the further they walk.

“Follow my voice.” Keith replies, “Your flashlight is shit.”

Shiro laughs nervously, “I just put batteries in it before I went out the other night.”

Keith’s movements stop and Shiro runs into the back of him with a soft ‘oomf’. He puts a hand on Keith’s shoulder to steady the both of them and can feel when Keith’s smaller body twists around to face him. Shiro can barely make out his face in the darkness.

“Shiro.” Keith whispers.

Shiro can smell the shampoo from Keith’s hair and the sweat from the long walk. Can hear his own heartbeat steadily thumping inside his chest.

But that’s the only thing he can hear.

Shiro inhales sharply.

Gone are the hoots. The chirping of winter crickets.

It’s silent.

“She’s here.” Shiro murmurs, gripping both hands around the gun.

Faint, hoarse female laughter echoes from all the dark corners around them.

Keith takes a deep breath and meets Shiro’s eyes, “I’m going to give us some light. Follow it. Don’t look back.”

Shiro frowns, “Follow -?”

Keith moves quickly, arm flying up and then the quick snap of fingers. A flare of purple fire bleeds from his hand and darts ahead.

Shiro recoils in confusion, “What the hell?”

“Run!” Keith shouts.

Adrenaline and fear course through him in equal measure as the laughter turns to a shrill war cry. He follows Keith’s outline as the violet light shimmers ahead through the dense encasing of trees. It casts haunting shadows, but gives enough light that Shiro won’t trip over fallen logs and inconvenient stumps.

It doesn’t stop the Kumiho from snatching him by the waist.

Claws scrape clean through his jacket and into the soft skin of his abdomen and hip. Shiro shouts and hits the ground, shotgun landing a feet away.

He can see Keith swivel around in the distance, “Shiro!”

Shiro twists around onto his back, hand clutching at the heavily bleeding wound in his side. He scrambles backward, patting furiously for the shotgun.

He makes the mistake of looking up.

He’s seen vampires newly turned and werewolves and shapeshifters and wendigo in their natural forms. They are all ferocious and terrifying in their own rights. But Shiro’s seen them so often in his ten years as a Hunter, that no part of them scares him any more.

But this -

This Kumiho is probably older than any Wendgio he's ever hunted. She’s still covered in the blood of her last kill and wearing a tattered, ripped robe that drags the ground around her equally clawed feet. Her hair obscures half of her face, long and white and clumped with blood and dirt.

“Lost little hunter.” She cooes. The hand she scored him with is dripping onto the toe of his boots.

Time slides to a crawl. His vision is wavy and pain sears up his side, blood oozing between his fingers as he tries to use what’s left of his jacket to stave it off.

“Lost little boy with a song in his head -.” Her smile shows teeth, sharp, pointed teeth that could rip out a man’s throat - or his liver, “Let me show you what you desire. What you’ve lost.”

Shiro shakes his head.

Where the fuck is his gun -

It goes off above his head and the Kumiho stumbles backwards with a shout.

Small, frantic hands pull at his shoulders and under his armpits, struggling to help him stand.

“Come on we need to run.” Keith hisses.

Shiro’s vision goes twinkle twinkle little star upon standing. He wobbles and Keith absorbs his weight and pushes back.

“Shiro -.” Keith says, “I need you to run. We’re almost there.”

Shiro blinks, “Where -.”

“Follow the light.”

He can see it, hovering in the air amongst the trees.

The Kumiho rounds on them with a shriek. It tears through Shiro’s head and rattles out an instant headache that makes him as nauseous as the wound in his side. He almost keels over right there.

Except, Keith is yanking him forward and they’re off again.

His heartbeat pounds in his ears and he can hear the Kumiho chasing close behind. The light flickers and bounces up ahead, Keith’s grip is tight around his wrist.

They break through the trees in a stumble.

Keith’s small little cottage rests in the center, no lights in the windows. Just a circle of bushes and wind chimes lining the rafters.

It looks haunting and foreboding the closer he gets.

It’s not safe harbor, his mind tells him.

Turn around.

Fight .

“Get to my house.” Keith orders.

Sharp pain spears through Shiro’s side and he grabs uselessly at it. It’s bleeding even more now. He can barely breathe through the pain.

In. Out.

In. Out.

“Shiro -.” Keith is trying to pull him along, eyes wide as his gaze jerks to the woods behind them, “Shiro get to my house.”

“It’s no use.” Shiro wheezes, “Your house isn’t safe - we - we can’t -.”

Keith snarls and grabs him by the back of his jacket, tossing him through an opening in the bushes, “Just shut up and trust me!”

Shiro hisses in pain as he hits the ground. He can barely see. He tries to pull in lungfuls of air, but he’s lost too much blood.

He’s going to pass out.

Keith takes a running leap over the bushes and lands at Shiro’s feet. Shiro can see the Kumiho running full speed towards them, hair flying behind her and face twisted with fury.

“Keith -.” Shiro tries to stand up.

Keith twists around, boots pulling up grass and dirt with the motion. He faces the Kumiho head on, with no weapons, no way to stop her from killing him right there in front of Shiro. His gloved hands curl into fists at his side and he braces himself.

Shiro wants to thank him - stop him -

“You want him?” Keith snarls, “You’re going to have to go through me .”

Her cry is shattering and edged with hysterical laughter as she leaps into the air.

Keith raises his hands, palms to the sky and determination etched into the sharp lines of his face. The bushes around them shake and rattle, leaves shriveling up and falling to the ground.

The Kumiho hits a barrier of white light. Lightning and sparks burst out like fireworks around her and she falls to the ground, smoke pouring from her skin and voice crying out in pain. Foolishly, she tries it again.

The barrier sizzles and sparks like a welding gun. She rears back with a hiss, red welts forming on her skin and tattered robe black with burns.

“WITCH!” The Kumiho screams.

“You’re in my territory, fox.” Keith snarls.

Shock and pain flood through Shiro like a high. He mumbles something, but he doubts Keith can hear him.

The word witch, witch, witch , echoes around inside his head.

He blinks twice and the Kumiho is retreating towards the treeline. The bushes surrounding them are completely empty of leaves, the branches scorched.

Keith turns to him, face worried, hair completely loose from its braid and looking like an avenging angel in the moonlight, “Shiro - Shiro stay with me.” He slides to his knees, hands hovering above the wound on Shiro’s side, “Fuck.”

Shiro’s vision is going wavy, but he can still see Keith tearing off the leather gloves with his teeth. Shedding his hoodie and pressing it against the wound. A hand curves along his jaw and there - there -

Keith’s arms are bare and his neck is exposed and there are constellations coming to life across his skin. There’s an entire galaxy blooming to life right before his eyes. He wants to trace every star with his fingers and press his mouth to whatever lucky cluster covers the space above Keith’s heart.

“Takashi, look at me.” Keith’s voice is low and soothing, thumb caressing over the rise of his cheek.

Shiro lifts his gaze, but it’s whiting out around the edges - the pain is excruciating -

And - there are waves crashing against a cliff side. The scream of a rollercoaster as it comes to a stop. Metal grinding and fireworks bursting  in the night sky -

Shiro winces and instinctively tries to block out the sudden song. Now is not the time for his soulmate to -

“No, no -.” Both of Keith’s hands are on his face now, “Don’t block me out. Let me in. Takashi, let me in -.”

The song starts again and Shiro shudders. His soul blooms like a flower in the morning sun and his skin tingles everywhere Keith touches him.

“I can’t heal you if you don’t let me in -.” Keith presses the words against his temple, over his eyes, and finally against his lips.

Shiro lets out a wounded sound.

“It’s you -.” He slurs, “You’re my - You’re a -.”

“Don’t fight it.” Keith insists.

“No.” Shiro struggles to stay conscious, “I’ll forget again -.”

“You won’t.” Keith promises, “Rest.”

He doesn’t want to rest. They have a Kumiho on the loose and Shiro is bleeding out in Keith’s front yard and he just found his soulmate .

His soulmate. Who is probably thousands of years old.

Keith murmurs Shiro’s name against his mouth. It’s reverent and pleading and Shiro wonders how long Keith’s known him.

And how long he’s been waiting.