Chapter 1, edited
Killing the leader of the Coalition shouldn’t be such an easy mission, but it is. There’s no guards in sight, no one on lookout keeping watch over the small desert town which is the Coalition Force’s home base. What security they have is in a couple of men posted down below at each of the main entrances to the town, but other than that there’s no one up and awake just in case something happens while the leader man’s asleep.
Odd, the assassin thinks as he cuts across rooftops and weaves through a couple of alleyways completely unhindered. He considers the possibility of this being a trap, but the night is calm and unsuspecting so he continues on.
The assassin climbs in through the window of his destination with the lightest of landings. He pauses, listening, letting his eyes adjust. At the side of the room, the shape in the bed – the guy he’s been sent to take down – doesn’t move. The assassin listens for a change in breathing pattern and there are none. He moves.
For months now, there’s been a rising suspicion within the Blade of Marmora about the rebel Coalition leader being a vampire. That wouldn’t be such an issue if the Empire itself was not composed of an ever expanding army full of vampires. The Empire apparently suspects the Coalition leader, and rumour has it that the reason why he’s been able to pull together so many people to fight for him is because they fear him.
That’s why Blade of Marmora sent an assassin to the Coalition leader’s house tonight. They can’t afford to sit back and let the Coalition – a minority of people yet unturned by the Empire – be led by someone who could bend them to his will by turning them himself. That would make the Coalition no different from the Empire.
The assassin slips his knife out of its sheath and takes the final three steps to the bedside. The leader sleeps stiffly, with almost the same kind of stillness that overtakes a vampire sleeping by day. For a moment the assassin almost hesitates – it is odd that a vampire like himself would elect to sleep during the night, let alone be able to.
But then again, if the rebels in the Coalition weren’t even aware about the true nature of their leader, then it’s probably a necessary thing to do in order to fool the rest of the Coalition that he’s human.
Raising his knife, the assassin shrugs away the thought. At least the rumours were true.
An elbow to his gut. The assassin doubles over, eyes wide in alarm. The Coalition leader seizes his wrists, pulls him over himself and flips the assassin onto his back between himself and the wall. The knife is wrenched from his fingers.
Though he struggles, the assassin’s pinned down by the leader’s body weight. No matter how much he tries to lash out with his fists, the leader’s grip on his wrists remains firm.
“Matt!” the leader shouts. “We have trouble.”
Sounds of shoes on stone floor grow closer, announcing the shadow before it slips into the room. They cross the room and peer over the leader’s shoulder, a bat in their hands and a face that’s somewhat familiar. That’s all the assassin sees of the guy named Matt before a torch is switched on and shined straight into his eyes.
With a growl, the assassin struggles again. The light stays trained on his face. He can’t avoid the hand that reaches out to yank the bandana down off his face. Matt and the leader go rigid.
“Keith?” the leader whispers, astonished.
Matt inhales sharply. “Oh… Shiro, he’s a vampire. He’s a vampire!”
…wait, the Coalition leader is Shiro?!
The leader’s vice grip goes slack and the assassin yanks his hands free. It’s too dark to find his knife and too bright with the torch still blinding him, but he’s got the opportunity and he ceases it. He kicks the wall and propels himself across the bed –
Matt’s hands slam down on his shoulders. Shiro recovers then, sits on Keith’s legs before he can start kicking again and takes the torch in his hand. Matt forces him half upright, yanks his arms back and then hooks his own arm around them, locking his elbows there.
They act quickly. Shiro digs something out of his vest pocket and forces a metal bar between Keith’s teeth. Keith shakes his head, fights to dislodge Shiro’s grip on his face, but the bar is already stuck behind his fangs. Matt grabs a fistful of his hair with his free arm, lifting his head up so that Shiro can pull the straps together behind his head. The bar is deftly fastened in place and Shiro lets his face go.
He’s then rolled over onto his stomach and held there as Matt runs out of the room. Shiro doesn’t let him go, the vice grip on his wrists returned with the job of keeping him still. The leader’s a little more unsure, though, a little more hesitant, and Keith almost manages to wrestle his wrists out of Shiro’s hands. Shiro snaps back to focus before he can though, and pulls Keith’s arms further up behind his back.
He bites down on the bar in his mouth, frustrated and upper lip twitching. What a failed assassination this turned out to be.
Matt comes back with rope. He picks up the torch turns it off in favour of switching on a battery-powered lamp on the bedside table. “What the heck, Keith?”
He wastes no time binding Keith’s wrists together and when he does, he does so with extra care to make sure it’s tight. Shiro holds him in place the whole time, not shifting in the slightest when Matt crawls up onto the bed behind him to tie his ankles in the same manner.
Shiro’s too paralysed in shock to let him up even after Matt’s finished.
It occurs to Keith then, belatedly, that Shiro’s hands are warm on his forearms. Warm….as in, not vampire warm.
The leader of the Coalition isn’t a vampire. Shiro’s not a vampire.
Horror churns in Keith’s stomach. This is all a big mistake. Kolivan sent someone here to gather intel last week and they came back reporting that, yes, the Coalition leader is a vampire. That’s why Kolivan sent Keith on this mission – this assassination mission.
How on earth did we get that bit of information wrong?
“So,” Matt says lowly, “is it just you or are there more of your friends from the Empire hanging around?”
Keith twists and turns his head to glare at him. “Ahm nogh wrrph phe mhphmairhh!” I’m not with the Empire!
Matt raises an eyebrow and Shiro shifts uncomfortably.
“Maybe we should – ”
“Shiro, no,” Matt says firmly. “I understand your sentiment, but no. It’s too risky.” At some silent protest from Shiro, he grimaces. “He’s a vampire. We’re not taking that risk.”
“…he’s my brother, too.”
The silence is uncomfortable. Keith’s breath hitches at the word ‘brother’, knocks the wind out of him. No. He ran away. There’s no way Shiro can still think of him as family, not after all he’s done….not after all he is.
Matt’s gaze shifts to Keith, to the dark clothes he’s clad in and the bandana around his neck. They lock eyes and Keith grits his teeth on the bar. Matt’s far too cautious to let him go so easily.
Shiro readjusts his hold, tapping his finger on Keith’s forearm. After a few minutes of stunned silence, Shiro swallows and asks, “When were you turned?”
The question is barely a whisper but Keith hears every word as loud as the brightness of the sun. He can’t answer with the bar between his teeth. Even if it wasn’t, that’s one question he wouldn’t answer.
“He can answer us later,” Matt says, getting up. “Come on. We can talk about this downstairs. Let’s get him secured.”
Shiro apparently doesn’t have the heart to do it. His movements are stiff and Matt ends up having to do most of the hard work. He drags Keith across the room by the armpits, over to the other side of the room. Out of instinct, Keith twists and tries to pull out of Matt’s grip but his efforts are to no avail. Matt’s stronger than when he last saw him, more unwavering. Less forgiving.
Keith’s dumped beside a massive pot plant that sits beneath a window like the one he crept in. He’s hauled up by the collar of his hood so that he’s sitting against it. Matt braces an arm across his chest to keep him in place while he throws a loop of another length of rope over the pot plant. Keith knows he’s doesn’t have any chance of escaping now, so just sits there uncomfortably while Matt ties him to the pot.
The rope is pulled tight across his middle, pinning his hands between his back and the pot. It hurts, but he’s a vampire – a risk – and Matt’s not taking any chances. Keith would have done the same thing in his place.
Guess Kolivan won’t be getting a mission debrief anytime soon, Keith thinks grimly.
Shiro’s sitting on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands. Keith knows the shock isn’t from nearly getting murdered.
Matt knows that, too. With a deep frown on his face, Matt turns off the lamp and pats Shiro on the shoulder. They share mumbled words as Matt switches the torch back on and then he’s ushering Shiro out of the bedroom with him, leaving Keith alone with his thoughts.
‘When were you turned?’ Shiro has asked him. All this time, Shiro’s probably been thinking he either ran away from home, was killed somehow or was captured by the Empire.
Keith’s pretty sure that Shiro’s already figured out the answer to that question now though.
Two years ago. That same night I didn’t come home from my cave exploring expedition.
He tries not to think about it. He can’t afford to let those memories surface now. Keith won’t be able to function if he gets lost in the memory of the night he was turned, and he’s got a mission to complete. The moment he’s free, knife or not, he needs to see to it that he completes his task. Mission before the individual, is what Kolivan’s always drilling into him.
But the mission was to kill the vampire leader of the Coalition. That was the whole point of needing to take him down – the Coalition won’t survive long under a vampire’s forced leadership. And yet it turns out that the leader isn’t even a vampire, and is Shiro, and if there’s anyone who would lead the Coalition without any means of forcing his people to follow, it would be him.
They pulled a dangerous move tonight. Keith’s almost glad he was caught before he could complete his mission, even if that does mean he’s going to be sitting here bound and essentially gagged until Matt and Shiro figure out what to do with him. He’d really like to be back at base before sunrise but it doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
Keith's knife gleams on the pillow, taunting him. You failed, it says. Keith glowers at it.
With an experimental tug, he tries to get his hands out from behind his back but they’re trapped there. His knuckles dig into his spine, the concrete pot squishing his fingers against his back. The metal bar in his mouth is beginning to hurt his jaw. His ankles are bound too tight to slip free of the rope binding them.
He’s stuck like this, then. Actually stuck like this. Some great assassin he turned out to be.
Shiro sits numbly at the table. The cup of water in front of him hasn’t been touched. Matt’s drumming his fingers on the table top, chin resting in the palm of his other hand, eyes narrowed in thought. A bird sings in the distance.
“Do you think he knew it was you?” Matt murmurs, a hint of anger in his tone.
They’ve been sitting in silence for two hours. Matt’s been up to check on the vampire-assassin every half hour and never comments on his way back down. Keith’s still there then, Shiro thinks. He almost wishes Keith would manage to free himself and just go. Shiro can’t deal with all the chaos going on inside his head.
“He can’t have,” Shiro chokes out. “He wouldn’t….Keith wouldn’t try to kill me on purpose, not on anyone’s orders.”
“He’s not who he used to be.”
“Being a vampire doesn’t change who he is.”
Matt snorts, raises an eyebrow.
“You said it yourself,” Shiro argues, “Pidge was terrified when she was turned. People freak out when they’re scared.”
“She nearly killed Dad.”
“The fall from the balcony she accidently pushed him over nearly killed him.”
“Keith’s still Keith. I just know…”
They fall into silence again. Darkness is finally lifting, the sun rising, but Shiro only feels exhausted. The night might be over but they still have a younger-brother-turned-assassin tied up in Shiro’s room. There’s been no one else coming for Shiro, so that’s a relief, but the fact that it’s Keith who came for him has left him more shaken than the assassin attempt itself.
Surely Keith wouldn’t surrender himself to the Empire. Maybe he was forced to join after he turned? Maybe he’s working with a group of assassins outside of the Empire? But if he’s not working for the Empire and he’s not with the Coalition then…who is he working for?
His thoughts are cut short by a strangled scream.
Shiro freezes. Another assassin? Matt’s hand comes down on the handle of the baseball bat at his side. Heart pounding, Shiro slowly rises to his feet and starts moving to the staircase, adrenaline pumping. A flash of golden light catches the corner of his eye and his heart drops.
“Oh, no, no no…”
It’s sunrise. Keith’s a vampire.
Shiro almost flies up the stairs. How the hell could they have been so stupid as to not think?
Sunlight streams in through the window, soft and gentle, but Keith’s writhing, choking on terror and pain. His body jerks against the rope that’s tied around his torso as he strains and strains to get out of the sunlight.
Shiro lunges for his pillow, grabs the knife – the one Keith almost killed him with – off it and hastily starts sawing through the rope. It’s quicker than untying the knots. He ignores Matt. The rope falls. Shiro wraps Keith up his arms, moves into a crouch and throws them both out of the sunlight.
Matt takes a step back, swearing. “What are you doing, Shi – oh, man…”
With one look at Keith, his face burnt and tear-streaked and his chest heaving, Shiro turns Keith’s head to the side and fumbles with the knot tying the metal bar in place. Keith can’t get enough air in panicking like this and with that thing in his mouth.
Matt kneels down on Keith’s other side and reaches out a hand to stop him. “Shiro, wait…”
“He won’t bite.”
“Are you freakin’ kidding me? He tried to kill you!”
Shiro grimaces. “Keith, if I take this out, will you bite me?” His hands are shaking, heart hammering inside his chest where Keith’s now doesn’t.
Matt rubs a hand over his forehead. “You’re asking an assassin for his word…”
“I’m asking Keith for his word,” Shiro says, not looking up. He raises an eyebrow. “Will you bite me?”
It takes a few seconds before he’s able to answer. Keith swallows and coughs, saliva spilling out of his mouth involuntarily. “I’mh nrph hrghha vai’ yuh,” he grits out. I’m not gonna bite you.
Matt’s bristling at the saliva tracking down Keith’s chin. Keith’s obviously trying to put his energy into making the words clear and expressing them as the truth that they most likely are. After watching Keith’s expression carefully, Shiro finishes untying the gag.
But Keith only bites down harder. His eyes screw shut and he whimpers.
Shiro taps his fingers on the hinge of Keith’s jaw. “C’mon, buddy. I need you to let go.”
When he finally unclenches his jaw enough, Shiro slips the bar out and the assassin groans.
Shiro massages the side of his face, being careful to avoid touching the burn cutting over his cheek. Matt stares at him incredulously. When he gets Shiro’s attention, he hisses, wide-eyed, and jerks his chin at the distance between Keith’s fangs and Shiro’s hand. Shiro frowns at him and quietly shakes his head. Keith watches this exchange with one eye half-open.
The sun is rising still, obviously, and with it the sunlight creeps further and further into the room. Shiro picks Keith up with an arm around his back and under his knees and takes him to the other side of the room, then pauses. For the hour he’d be safe sitting in the corner of the room at the head of the bed, but the sun will still reach there. It would only be for an hour before it would be safe again, but…
“Matt,” Shiro says, feeling the strain of keeping Keith in his arms but trying not to let it show. “Can we get a space downstairs set up?”
Matt scowls, sends a not subtle at all glance at the bindings around Keith’s wrists and ankles, then retreats downstairs. Shiro exhales slowly, readjusts his hold on Keith and then sidles out the door after him.
“How’s the face?” he murmurs as they start down the stairs.
Keith blinks up at him, tired. “How do you think?”
“Just asking. Are you burnt anywhere else?”
“Hnnn… just my shoulder.”
“Alright. Do you mind if we give you some stuff for it? I don’t know if aloe vera works for burns on vampires the same way it does for human sun burns, but…”
Shiro spares a glance at his face. “Hm?”
“…anything would be good.”
They get to the bottom of the stairs and Shiro manoeuvres them around the table. There’s a shaded spot over by the storage cupboard that gets no sun all day long where Matt’s laying down a self-inflating camping mattress. A couple of blankets are laid out on the stone floor beside it. Shiro lowers Keith down there while they wait for the mattress to inflate. Keith almost drops.
“Whoa, whoa, hey….”
Shiro puts his hand beneath Keith’s head before it hits the ground. His stomach churns. Maybe not even a minute of sunlight exposure and Keith’s slipping into unconsciousness. Shiro shakes him on the opposite shoulder to the burn on his face.
“Hey, what’s…?” Then it clicks. “Are you falling asleep?”
Keith only groans and tries to curl in on himself.
“Uhhh, right. Guessing that’s a vampire thing, huh?”
“In case you fall asleep before I can ask, is it okay if we treat your burns now? If you can stay awake a little longer, that’d be great but…”
Keith’s arm jerks as though to gesture. “Jus’ do it.”
Then Matt walks around to stand with his feet right by Keith’s face and it takes all of Shiro’s patience not to get frustrated.
Matt nudges Keith in the chest with his shoe. “Hey. Questions first. Sleep later.”
“We can talk later,” Shiro says firmly.
“Uh, how is that fair? He broke in, tried to murder you in your sleep and then kept us awake thinking about if for the rest of the night. We don’t have the time or energy for this.”
Keith’s eyebrows twitch. “Thought th’ Coalition leader was a vamp’re,” he mutters. “Didn’t know it was Shiro. Could’ve told you that...”
“So why didn’t you?” Matt asks.
Keith grunts. “Maybe ‘cause I couldn’t?”
“Yeah, well, there’s a reason for that, isn’t there? You come in here with the full intention of killing Shiro. How am I not supposed to be worry about you turning him?”
“Told you already… ’m not with the Empire.”
“He did, Matt,” Shiro says softly. “I heard him say it – try to say it.”
Tensions die down then and there, giving way to the same confusion of earlier. Keith’s out before the next minute has passed.
Matt looks down at Keith sleeping with a slight curl of his lip but is otherwise expressionless. “Pretty trusting,” he mutters, “for an assassin.”
An assassin. A vampire. Matt keeps calling him these things but all Shiro can see is his friend. The one who disappeared without a trace two years ago, who Shiro’s only heard rumours about since.
Matt slides down the cupboard door and sits down with a heavy sigh. He hangs his head between his knees and runs his fingers through his hair.
Why did you run, Keith? Shiro tentatively rubs Keith’s back. What were you so afraid of?
With the anticipation of Keith not waking until dusk, Matt takes Shiro’s suggestion of going for a walk to clear his head. Shiro fetches what he need to deal to Keith’s sunburn.
So much for a day of rest, he thinks as he gather supplies from one of the cupboards in the kitchen.
Wariness from the night’s events has him feeling lightheaded. Inwardly, Shiro groans. He’s not looking forward to tomorrow and he doesn’t want to think about it – a full schedule of meetings to discuss defence strategies, resource management and general reports, and then there’s also the matter of what he and Matt are going to do with Keith while their out.
Today they can watch over him, but tomorrow…
Either they’ll have to let him go tonight or they’ll have to hide him. If someone happens to stop by to drop something off at the house, and if they happen to stumble across Keith while they’re here, there’s no telling what they’ll do to Keith.
Drag him to the meeting hall, maybe? Kill him on sight? Leave him as his but run and alert the whole town, or at least Admiral Sanda who’s in charge of the Coalition’s first defence forces?
Shiro’s stomach churns at the thought of leaving Keith alone and defenceless like this. Of course, he and Matt could simply let him free before they leave for the meetings and hope that, when the daylight-induced sleep comes, Keith’s able to pull himself awake enough to defend himself. If he weren’t still on edge about the attempt on his life a few hours ago, Shiro would’ve untied Keith the moment Matt left, but…
He hates himself for leaving him like that, but an assassination attempt is not something to be taken lightly – even if it is his own brother who’s the assassin. If by chance Keith does wake up before nightfall, he could pretend he’s still asleep in order to catch Shiro unawares. Although his knife’s not on him at present, Keith would still have his hands free for strangling Shiro.
With a stressed sigh, Shiro carries the aloe vera gel and gauze and roll of bandages (in case the burns are worse than he thought) over to Keith. It’s hard to reconcile that kind of person with Keith, but that’s who he is now. That’s who he’s trained to be, for good or for bad they’ll find out later.
Shiro thinks about that as he shifts Keith onto his good side. He looks the part of an assassin, hair braided, jaw sharp, figure lithe… and yet he still looks like the kid who walked down the streets of the town market, laughing, at Shiro who got dive-bombed by a bird. Keith, who’s never been related to Shiro by blood but was willing to fight for him as if he were.
“I really wish you hadn’t run,” Shiro murmurs.
The aloe vera is cool, Keith’s skin even cooler. Not quite cold, but in no way warm either. The burn on his face is bad but not terrible. It cuts across his cheek in a streak of angry red. They’re lucky it was just a shaft of sunlight, Shiro thinks, then remembers with a dip of his stomach the way Keith had screamed and reconsiders the word ‘just’.
Right, Keith’s a vampire now.
When it comes to looking at the burn on his shoulder, it almost feels like an invasion of privacy. Maybe it’s that, even though he’s still Keith, he’s a different person now. Maybe it’s that he’s out cold, or that he’s still bound up. Either way it just feels wrong, but if it comes down to the question of whether Keith wakes up with his shoulder feeling like it’s on fire or not, then Shiro will swallow his pride and higher standards for it.
Thankfully the uniform isn’t too complicated and Shiro’s able to pull down the sleeve and rub the aloe vera in before he gets too uncomfortable. The burn isn’t as bad as the one of Keith’s face, which is good, so it only takes ten seconds and the he’s pulling the clothing back into place.
Shiro grabs the cup of water off the table and downs it. That’s an issue he and Matt are going to have to talk about: how long are they going to keep Keith here before they release him, and what are they going to do if Keith gets hungry?
He wouldn’t be surprised if Keith takes off the moment they let him go. If that happens, Shiro’s just going to have to accept it. Keith will need to go back to his mysterious group of assassins and report back to them. Whether or not he’ll be required to complete his mission before he returns is another question.
But who is Keith even working for, if anyone? There’s no way he could’ve been hiding out among the Coalition, not since the Coalition’s primary goal is to stop the expansion of the Empire – in other words, kill every vampire they come across before more people can be turned and fall under the Empire’s control.
Considering the fact that Keith came here to kill as opposed to turn does at least support his claiming not to be with the Empire. The thought comes with a breath of relief, but it raises more questions than it answers.
Is Keith’s group also trying to stop the Empire’s expansion? But then why aren’t Keith’s group allied with the Coalition then, if they are for the same cause?
Because they’re all vampires, Shiro’s mind supplies, or at least some of them. In which case they’re trying to escape the control that the Empire has over them as people who have been turned, but can’t ally with the Coalition since they’d be killed simply for being the vampires – the risks – that they are.
“Do you think he knows where Pidge is?”
Shiro startles. Matt’s home.
“I don’t know,” he says. “We can ask him when he’s up.” With a raised eyebrow, he adds, “No gagging him this time.”
Matt grunts, bending down to take off his shoes. “Yeah, about that… I’m sorry. I…”
“It’s okay. You were right with us taking precaution and I know you’re dealing with a lot right now, so…”
“I just… it’s been two weeks and I still don’t know what to think.” Matt walks over to the table and sits down in a chair with a defeated sigh. “If she came to the door right now, I’d simultaneously feel the need to fight her and welcome her inside. I-I don’t…”
Shiro puts down the cup. Now that Matt's calmed down, his anger exhausted, Shiro can see again how distraught he is. Shiro hadn't understood the depth of that confusion and the pain it brings until last night. He does now though, what with Keith having shown up out of the blue, and now Shiro can't possibly blame Matt for his reaction.
Maybe he'd have reacted the same had he not been so shocked to see Keith again.
“I know," he murmurs, laying a hand on Matt’s shoulder. "I know. We’ll figure this out, somehow. And if it’s possible, maybe we can find out where Pidge is at and bring her home. We just have to be patient…a-and open minded.”
Matt nods, gaze flicking over to Keith and lingering on his still form. “So, uh…what are we going to do with him, though?”
“Wait till he wakes up, have a talk and see where’s best to go from there.”
“I’m meaning tomorrow.”
Shiro grimaces. “Oh yeah.”
Tomorrow’s the leadership meeting. Matt’s taking the opportunity to go see his Dad in the hospital, so he’ll be around the house longer, but Shiro’s got a full day of meetings to get through. They can’t just leave Keith tied up, alone, while they’re out. That’s not right, and if someone comes to the house to see Shiro about something and find Keith, who knows what they’ll do to him.
Shiro’s head is spinning too much to think. They’re just going to have to wait to see what becomes of tonight’s conversation. Until then there’s little he and Matt can do but wait.
And, of course, maybe try to catch up on some sleep – this time uninterrupted by an attempted assassination.
Waking up has always been ten times harder since he became a vampire. It’s like his brain is too confused to know what to do: on one hand he’s alive and on the other hand he’s not. Sometimes it can take up to an hour for his body to remember that just because his heart’s not beating doesn’t mean he can’t move.
Except tonight. Keith’s past the brain fog and the sluggish waking up within half an hour, and yet he finds he still can’t move. His hands are stuck behind his back, and his feet…
Oh, right. The failed assignation mission.
Keith forces his eyes open. There’s a light on and he startles at the brightness. The burns on his face and shoulder faintly burning in warning, but as soon as he realises that light isn’t from the sun, he lets out a breath of relief.
But light means that, though it’s night again, Shiro and Matt are still up, and that subsequently means being forced to have a two-on-one talk he really isn’t in the mood to have. Still, he’d rather talk than have that metal bar between his teeth again, so it might not be all that bad.
Depending on what they ask him, of course. There’s some things he’s not ready to even think about.
A shadow falls across the concrete. Keith tenses up. It unsettles him the way he relaxes slightly when it turns out the shadow belongs to Shiro. He thought he’d been able to let go of Shiro, but it turns out he was wrong. It’s because of that, after all, that he’s tied up instead of back at base with the Coalition leader’s blood on his knife. He’d be cleaning that blood off the blade about now if he’d not stalled so badly.
Shiro still matters to Keith and, judging by the careful yet heartbroken way Shiro is staring at him right now, Keith still matters to Shiro.
Keith’s not sure how he feels about that.
“You were an idiot,” Shiro says roughly, coming to kneel on the ground in front of him. “An idiot to think I’d think any less of you for becoming – ”
“As soon as you saw, you stuck a bar between my teeth.”
“You came into my house as an assassin.”
Keith narrows his eyes. “So you don’t think any less of me for being a vampire now, but an assassin is a different story?”
“I was in shock, alright?” Shiro’s face screws up. His throat moves as he swallows the emotion creeping into his voice. Passing a hand over his face, he takes a shuddering breath and lets it out slowly. “Do you have any idea… how hard I searched for you? You just vanished, Keith. A note would’ve been nice. Something other than strangers’ gossip to let me know that my brother hadn’t been killed out there?”
Technically speaking, I kind of was killed. Kind of.
Keith maintains eye contact. He stares Shiro down, even tries mentally persuading him to look away, but Shiro doesn’t break eye contact either.
At some stage while he was out, someone propped his head up on a cushion. Keith shifts a little so that he can look at Shiro better without straining his neck so much.
“How was I supposed to know you wouldn’t kill me?” Keith says tightly. “Remember how you used to keep your sword near the door, just in case a vampire came barging in one night?”
Shiro’s nostrils flare. “I would’ve recognised it was you.”
“Then you would’ve gone into shock, am I right? You’d have used it on me.”
“No. I wouldn’t have.”
“You don’t know. You don’t know what you would’ve done and I know you couldn’t live with that, Shiro.” Keith’s throat hurts with tears he can’t cry. “I couldn’t do that to you. I figured running away was the better option.”
He can hear Matt moving around quietly in another room on this floor, presumably the kitchen. Keith can tell he’s listening and he wishes he weren’t, but it’s too late to ask him to give them space. The conversation is here now.
“And,” Keith chokes out, “you don’t know what I might’ve done.”
They’ve been talking long enough for Shiro to get many, many glimpses of Keith’s fangs. It’s distracting, he knows, but somehow the emotion in Shiro’s eyes is unwavering. He looks like he wants to argue the same thing Keith did, that there’s no way Keith could’ve known either what he might’ve done.
But Keith’s the vampire here, not Shiro – he knows.
Matt comes over with two steaming cups of black coffee. It’s a rare aroma out here in the desert since the beans have to be sourced all the way from the Balmeran plantations, but it’s not too surprising that to think that Shiro would have some stashed away. He is the Coalition leader, and coalition means allies in all sorts of places.
Something the Blade of Marmora desperately needs, Keith thinks, then dams that thought.
Over half of the current Blades are vampires. Shiro might be willing to give an alliance with the Blades a shot, but Keith doubts the same could be said about the majority of the Coalition. Vampires are the reason they’re stuck in this war, and the reason why so many families and individuals have been forced to suffer.
But Zarkon won’t stop until he gains control of everyone. Until his Empire expands to the point that there’s no one left to resist or fight back against him, this war will go on and people will continue to be turned and killed. The Coalition has to realise at some point that they need to be willing to accept any aid they can get – even if that help comes from a group of vampire-inclusive rebels – if they want to ever have hope of the tug of war being in their favour.
That’s why Keith had been sent to kill the Coalition leader – to give the Coalition a chance to regain their footing in the fight against the Empire. The idea had been that the Coalition was stuck in the mud due to their leadership coming from a vampire, but now that is proven to be not the case, Keith wonders if the real problem is simply that the Coalition doesn’t have enough numbers to be able to make any real ground.
If that’s the case, then the resistance would really benefit from an alliance between the Coalition and the Blades. If Keith can talk to Shiro about it, maybe go back to base and talk to Kolivan about it first… maybe they’ll be able to get somewhere.
All these thoughts take only a matter of seconds to pass. The hope that sparks in Keith’s mind is quickly shut down and replaced by something else, however, when Matt sits down beside Shiro and asks his first question.
“Keith…” Matt says, handing one of the cups of coffee to Shiro. “Who turned you?”
The sickening churning in Keith’s stomach returns. He closes his eyes a moment and takes a deep breath.“I-I don’t remember.”
“…neither did Pidge, apparently.”
“Pidge?” Keith blinks. “Wait, what? You mean your sister, you mean she….?”
Matt nods. “A couple of weeks ago.” There’s a deliberate pause in which Matt takes a sip of coffee. “I take it you didn’t know, then.”
“Uh, how was I supposed to?”
Shiro frowns a little at Keith’s sarcastic tone. With a grimace, Keith fights back the torrent of emotion about to sweep over him. He shifts uncomfortably.
“Getting turned,” Keith grits out, “isn’t something that’s talked about. I-it’s a sensitive topic and most of us – most of the people who’ve been turned by the Empire that I know – don’t even remember it happening, only what it felt like. It’s….”
His voice is shaking. He’s shaking, and after he trails off Keith can’t find the heart the finish the sentence.
It’s horrible waking up changed. The memory comes unwillingly, like it always does.
A flashback of fingers wrapped around his upper arms, bruising.
Of being pinned against the wall of the cave he’d been exploring, the vampire holding him there too strong to escape from.
The jolt of terror that had gripped him when teeth sank into the side of his neck, made him tense up, freeze up, his blood turning to fire and his heart failing and blacking out before the vampire had let him go.
Warmth, all around him. Keith startles. This was never part of the memory.
The tightness is gone from his wrists and ankles. He’s not sure when that happened. He blinks, and instead of the images his mind replays from that horrible experience of two years ago, he’s seeing the light of the Shiro’s house…
…and Shiro’s neck, a hands’ width from his nose.
Keith slams his hands into Shiro’s shoulders. Too close, too close. The hug falls apart and Keith’s scrambling backwards in a hurry, fingers catching in the rope that had bound him mere minutes ago. His shoulders are aching and his legs shaking with a bad kind of adrenaline.
“Don’t d-do that,” he whispers hoarsely, eyes stretched wide in horror. His back hits the cupboard and Keith finds he can’t go any further.
This is why he never came. This is why he ran. He’s not thirsty right now, but given a night or two he will be. He won’t be able to control himself as much then.
Fight or flight. Keith choses flight, just like he’s always done. Shiro’s calling his name and Matt’s reaching for the baseball bat leaning up against the table. Keith just runs. His ankles hurt from being tied together for so long, but he sprints all the same.
The stairs are his closest exit. He takes them two at a time. His knife’s not on the pillow. It’s not on the ground by the pot where he last saw it, either. Grimacing, Keith puts it to the back of his mind; there’s no time to look for it. He has to go.
Matt’s at the top of the stairs by the time Keith has the window open. The baseball bat’s in one of his hands. Keith’s mouth pulls down in a frown and he furrows his brow.
I’m not going to fight you, he thinks, and then turns his face to the night outside and jumps.
He lands heavily. Keith picks himself up and takes off running through the alleyways. The rushing air makes the burn on his cheek sting. Shiro calls out his name from the window. Keith ignores it.
If Shiro had left him tied up when he’d hugged him, Keith wouldn’t be running right now. He wouldn’t have had the choice. But if… if he hadn’t…that hug….
That was far too close.
Keith’s never bitten a human before. He doesn’t want there to ever be a first.
He keeps to the shadows, climbing onto rooftops only once he reaches the outskirts of the building complex. Keith doesn’t want Shiro following him and he’d rather not risk people seeing him when his face is so exposed. Belatedly, he remembers the bandana around his neck and reaches up to pull it over his face. His fingers find only the collar of his clothes.
Keith bites back a frustrated exclamation. Shiro must’ve taken it off while he was asleep. Sure, it might’ve helped him breathe easier while he was out, but still. There’s a reason why Keith had been wearing that.
It doesn’t really matter anymore though, he supposes. Shiro knows his identity; he’s already been compromised. He compromised the mission, too, not to mention left his knife back at Shiro’s. So maybe running isn’t the best choice, but Keith’s too full of adrenaline – however slow moving through his vampire body it is – to change his mind.
Why do you have to be so stupid, Shiro?
‘You were an idiot to think I’d think any less of you for becoming a vampire.’
Keith misjudges a leap and crashes down into a hard roll, wrist twisting.
‘Do you have any idea how hard I searched for you?’
Shiro, I’m sorry, but you honestly don’t have any idea… it doesn’t matter if I’m your brother or not. I’m a vampire. You weren’t there when I made my first kill. You weren’t there with me after I was turned. You didn’t see…
A madness had come over him. Before the attack, Keith had kept hydrated while exploring the caves and their drawings. The second he woke up after the attack, however, he was parched, feeling almost ravaged. He’d left the torch in the cave where he’d dropped it, dumped his backpack and –
No! Stop thinking!
The coyote had seen him coming but it hadn’t been prepared for how savage an overwhelmed, newly turned vampire could be.
It hadn’t been a clean kill. Keith hadn’t had any clue or self-control. The blood had tasted awful and had left him feeling nauseous, but it had stopped his insides from hurting so much and the pain eventually ebbed. He’d been able to breathe easier then, think clearer, and that’s when the realisation of what had just happened – who he’d just become – had hit him.
Keith collapses in the dirt, breathing hard. His eyes are wide, unseeing. Clouds shift, but the moon has yet to rise. There’s no heartbeat hammering in his chest, in his ears. Just panic.
Just like before – the night he was turned ‘before’ – when he’d attracted the attention of a Blade returning to base post-mission, only this time there’s no one to help him calm down. Keith’s on his own here, on his knees halfway between Shiro and the foothills of the mountains where the Blade of Marmora base is located. In total, it’s an hour and a half’s run back to base. If he had to choose which way he wanted to go, he’d go back to Shiro in an instant… but that was before he was a vampire. Before he was a risk.
After a few minutes of doing nothing but breathing, Keith stands and keeps moving forward.
Deciding he has all night, Keith walks the rest of the way to the base. He manages to clear his head of the panic before he gets to the foothills, but he still hasn’t had time to process the fact that Shiro knows and that Shiro is the Coalition leader and Keith didn’t kill him like he was supposed to…
Pushing himself up the last of the stone steps, Keith grimaces. Now he’s just got to figure out how to break the news to Kolivan.
Apologies for the hiatus! I've been in a bit of a fanfic writing slump :P In any case, I'm keen to get back into writing this fic!
They don’t even open the doors for him. Keith loses count how many times he’s knocked. His sprained wrist throbs.
It’s the base’s only entry and exit, so there’s no other way in. When he’d first come here newly turned, he’d raised an eyebrow at the design of the place, but as Kolivan had pointed out to him, a sole emergency exit point for them means only a single entry point for any adversary who might try to ambush them.
But without his knife, Keith can’t get in – the doors are locked and can only be unlocked from the outside with luxite metal. A Blade doesn’t just lose their knife. Returning without it is a tell-tale sign that he didn’t complete the mission he was sent out on.
Of course, someone on door guard could easily open the door for him, but the door guards have orders of their own: they won’t open doors manually unless the need is dire. According to Blade protocol, a Blade tasked with a mission must come back with their blade or not come back at all. It’s one of the most frustrating systems Keith’s ever come across, but Kolivan insists it’s one of the reasons why they’ve been able to stay hidden all these many, many years.
Unfortunately, that means that Keith’s stuck outside. In the open. When it’s going to be dawn in a few hours’ time.
Maybe if he waited for the sun to rise, let it burn him so bad that his situation became dire, then they’d let him in….but no, it’s not worth it. Burns on a vampire don’t heal all that well, and Keith’s not interested in spending the next week stuck in the infirmary listening to Kolivan lecturing him about his stupidity.
Keith gives up on knocking. It’s clear he’s not being let in tonight. Heaving a sigh, he sits down on the steps, back to the closed doors of the base.
“Now what?” he mutters aloud. “Go find some place to hide until it’s dark again?”
He could go back to Shiro’s. There’s enough time to make it there before sunrise if he runs. Sure, he came all the way back here and so he might as well just camp out in the forest nearby, but no matter what he does, he has to go back to Shiro’s to get his knife.
Keith narrows his eyes at the desert sprawled out before him. It’s like the universe has had enough of him running away. As soon as there were no physical restraints keeping him from fleeing, the universe decided to force him back via circumstances anyway.
The only question is…will Shiro let him back in?
‘You came into my house as an assassin,’ Shiro had said. It’s different this time, though…right? This time Keith’s not coming to murder, but rather to seek shelter from the sun and the danger of people who walk around in broad daylight and would not hesitate to kill Keith in his sleep.
There’s a bit of irony there that Keith can’t help but find funny. The laughter is no more than a dry chuckle, though.
So Shiro’s seems to be his best option, but he’ll still be returning to Shiro’s – and Matt’s – house as a vampire. They seemed to be willing to give him a chance to speak after everything. That’s a good thing, of course. But Shiro and Matt aren’t the real danger to need thinking about… Keith is.
If Keith had been hungry when Shiro had pulled him into that hug…
He’ll have to find something to eat on the way. It’s a necessary precaution, even if he’s not in need of blood at present. He has no idea how long he’ll be at Shiro’s for. It’ll be a day at least, maybe more, depending on what he learns and depending on what argument Shiro presents for him to stay longer.
In any case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Keith takes a deep breath, stands and then starts on the return trip to Shiro’s.
His legs are somewhat achy from so much travelling and being bound together for the whole duration he wasn’t moving from one place to the next. He takes a moment to stretch a little at the bottom of the stairs, but after that he takes off running.
He veers into the fringe of the forest before he goes too far. There’s a better chance he’ll find food here than closer to the Coalition settlement, and a better chance at finding food he won’t have to kill in order to feed on.
He’d rather not feed this way, but he doesn’t really have a choice. Without his knife, he can’t hunt the traditional way, which means he has to use his hands and teeth. Keith avoids it as much as he can. The vampire way brings up too harsh a memory – namely, newly turned vampire attacks coyote incident – for him to be okay with.
A larger animal is what he’s after. He finds the trail of one within minutes and follows it, inhaling through his mouth to get a better taste of the scent. The footprints are hard to distinguish among the recent boot prints in the soil though, and for a moment Keith wonders if he’s following the old trail of a hunter who’s been and gone awhile now. The scent doesn’t get any stronger no matter how long he keeps following.
He stops when he sees a shadow flit out of sight. Keith frowns. If he startled anything, its most likely instinct would’ve been freeze. It’s how he’s able to approach it without having to give chase. But this creature seems to have known about his presence for a while, since it seems to be deliberately moving away and concealing itself from him.
Keith’s confusion doesn’t abate. It doesn’t even cross his mind that it could be another vampire until there’s fingers clamping themselves around his neck and dragging him to the ground.
He lashes out, twists his body sideways with as much strength as he can muster. Keith’s assailant doesn’t let go. Remembering he doesn’t have his knife on him, Keith abandons the thought of reaching for the hilt which isn’t there and instead focuses all his energy on writhing.
His assailant hisses in his ear, wraps their legs around his waist. They’re smaller than Keith is but they’re strong, and no matter how hard he tries to throw them off he finds he can’t. They just keep clinging to him, strangling him, not bothering to bite him because they already know he’s turned –
The death grip on his throat releases. The vampire lets go and scrambles out from under his back, inhaling sharply. Keith rolls onto his side, gasping for air and choking on it. He’s so close to thinking something’s messing with his head when he looks up at the wide-eyed face above him and sees Matt.
They stare at each other, the Matt-vampire with horror in their eyes and Keith with confusion as he tries to catch his breath in between coughs.
Holding a hand to his throat, Keith sits up slowly. His eyes never leave the other vampire’s. And then, as he takes in the other’s full appearance – the familiar long-sleeved shirt, the shorts, those one pair of shoes that got worn with whatever outfit – it clicks.
The realisation is horrible.
“Pidge?” Keith croaks. “Wh-wha…”
He’s already heard it from Matt, about what happened to Pidge, but somehow seeing her like this makes the knowledge ten times worse to think about.
For Keith, being slightly paler isn’t too much of a difference; for Pidge, it’s like she’s gone from appearing human to appearing like an apparition. Her hair is cut short above her shoulders. She looks wild in a way that Katie Holt never should be, and it’s disturbing. Judging by the way she’s looking at him though, Keith’s transformation can’t be any less startling.
Not to mention that while Pidge has been missing for a couple of weeks, Keith has been gone for a couple of years.
Neither of them move. Pidge stands eerily still, frozen, no doubt torn between the urge to run and the desperation to talk to someone who understands what she’s going through. Keith’s been there. He doesn’t rush her. The only movement he makes is the odd jerk forwards every time another cough catches in his throat.
“What’re you – “ Keith’s voice cuts off as his throat constricts. He swallows hard and tries again. “What are you doing out here?”
Pidge watches his expression closely. “I’m guessing you’re not with the Empire?”
“I’m guessing you’re not.”
They fall into silence. The answer to Keith’s question is an obvious one, so Pidge doesn’t bother saying it: she’s living out here, what else? Living as much as a vampire lives, that is. Pidge must’ve already gathered from his uniform that he’s not affiliated with the Empire like most vampires are.
They may have been turned by members of the Empire, but that doesn’t mean they have any will or want to follow them. As it would appear, they both have had a successful run avoiding them…so far.
Keith worries that Pidge isn’t safe here in this forest, but it’s not like he can argue he had any better idea of where to go before the Blades took him in. Would they accept Pidge? It’s hard to say. What it comes down to, though, is that there’s nowhere for her to go that isn’t the Empire or her family. The latter is, understandably, out of the option.
Or at least so Keith thought until last night.
Maybe now that Matt’s seen me interact with Shiro, Keith thinks, maybe he’ll be more accepting of Pidge? Keith’s broken the ice. Perhaps reconnecting with her family will be easier for Pidge now.
With a stab of concern, Keith imagines Pidge going to Shiro and Matt’s with him only for her to be tied up like he was. The thought almost has him dismissing the idea entirely until he remembers that he’d entered the room with a knife in his hand and the sole intention of killing.
Unless Pidge freaks or does something she shouldn’t, she should be safe.
“I, um…” Keith trails off, unsure how to tell her. “I saw Matt yesterday. I spoke to him…”
Pidge’s eyes flash. There’s so many emotions clouding her face, it’s impossible to distinguish each one of them. She clenches her jaw, one fang sticking out over her lip. She says nothing.
“I saw Shiro, too,” Keith says.
It’s hard to know how to speak about anything. Revealing reasons for being at the house means revealing his mission and who he works for, so he can’t give Pidge that information. Even if he could, there’s a chance Pidge would simply want to resume strangling him. Keith’s not going down that route.
But what can he say of Matt and Shiro? That they bound his hands and feet, freaked out in panic and confusion and concern, asked him questions that he couldn’t answer or didn’t even want to think about…?
Pidge grunts. “It didn’t go that well, did it? I’m surprised Matt didn’t beat the hell out of you, but then again, if Shiro was there…yeah, still wouldn’t want to take my chances.”
Keith frowns, moving to sit with his legs folded under himself. “Wait. Has Matt… beat you?”
“No,” Pidge says quietly. “I know he wouldn’t do such a thing. He’s my brother and he…” She closes her eyes and exhales slowly. “We’re vampires, Keith. That’s how they see us now; the other stuff doesn’t matter. They don’t view us in the same way anymore.”
“You’re wrong. Shiro, he – ”
“No, Keith. Listen to me. It’s fine when you’re acting like yourself. But the moment you lose control over your other side, you’re no longer yourself and they will see that. Shiro will see that. And when he does, he’ll do what humans do best and he’ll act on the fear that is given to him.”
Keith finds himself lost trying to follow what she’s saying. Pidge is rambling. She’s warning him against something only she can see, something that’s happened to her that Keith doesn’t know the details of. He’s not sure how to respond.
“Pidge,” Keith murmurs. “I…when they first saw me and realised what I’d become, yes, they freaked out. But Shiro was willing to listen and Matt eventually came round too.”
Matt’s sister pinches the bridge of her nose. “I almost killed him.”
“Dad.” She swallows hard and shakes her head. “And you, right now.”
“It was an accident, Pidge. You thought I was with the Em- ”
“Accident or not, it’s my fault he’s in hospital with several bone fractures and a broken leg!”
It takes Keith a moment to realise that Pidge is talking about her father. ‘I almost killed him.’
“I read the hospital records,” Pidge says thickly. “I shouldn’t have gone in there, but I had to know…I had to know he hadn’t…”
Keith raises an eyebrow. “You went in to the hospital? What were you planning on doing if you got caught?”
“I don’t know. Like I said, I just had to know. I hadn’t really thought it through.”
“Alright, well…neither had I. Thought things through, that is. I was fortunate to have a good group of people take me in after I turned. They helped me through a lot of confusion...confusion that you’re dealing with right now, about yourself.”
Pidge narrows her eyes. “So what, you’re okay with all this?”
“No, I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that…things are hard. Things like changing into a vampire is one of those things that’s terrifying, especially when you have to go through it alone. I’ll need to go back to my group of people, and when I do, I don’t think I’ll be able to take you with me. But – “
“I’m not going to Matt and Shiro’s,” Pidge says. “Also, if that’s where you’re headed, I’d say you better hurry up and get moving – you’re running out of dark hours.”
Before he has a chance to argue in Shiro and Matt’s defence, Pidge slips into the shadows and vanishes. Keith tracks her silhouette, but by the time he’s scrambled to his feet, she’s gone from sight.
Keith knows what she’s doing. She’s running, just like all the times he’s run. And it’s because of that that he also knows who she’s running from: herself. He sighs. I might not be able to see myself in standard mirrors anymore, but she’s sure a mirror if I ever saw one.
She’s right, though. Dawn’s going to breaking before he arrives back at Shiro’s, at this rate. He bites his lip. Keith knows he needs to drink, but hunting takes time and he’s conscious of Pidge’s warning. It’s either he risks himself becoming ravished around Shiro and Matt, or else he risks getting caught by the daylight and subsequently members of the Coalition – or worse, the Empire.
Since he’s without his knife, the decision is already made for him.
He makes a quick hunt as he leaves the forest but finds nothing substantial. Maybe Pidge got in before him, or maybe tonight’s just one of those quiet nights. Whatever it is, Keith doesn’t have time to waste here. He’ll just have to come back out here tomorrow night, if Shiro and Matt will let him, to feed.
Keith can’t lie to himself – this makes him nervous. He trusts his will but not his instinct. It’s why he’s stayed away, or at least the second half of the reason why (the first being his anticipating getting hurt or killed for being a vampire). He could be trapping himself, doing this. If Shiro and Matt don’t let him back out, he’s screwed. To be frank, so might they be.
Still…it could serve as an incentive not to trap. Keith doubts they’ll want to have to deal with the consequences of letting a vampire starve in the presence of readily available food sources.
They’re not food sources! he reprimands himself.
His vampire instincts beg to differ. They’re an option.
Keith grimaces. So long as he can get his knife, make peace with Shiro and leave in one piece, he’ll be fine. He can stay one day, wait for dark and then head back to base again at night (this time with his blade aka his key to get in.)
Simple. Though perhaps too easy.
He arrives back at Shiro’s just before the break of dawn. The window he came in and left through is open, but not unguarded. Matt startles when Keith slips in. He catches himself just in time to control his reflexes and not strike out. Keith’s on the edge of lashing out himself. They both ignore their screaming survival instincts to attack each other.
A minute of tense silence later, Matt speaks. “Are you here to try murder Shiro again?”
Keith scowls. “Like I said – ”
“You know what, never mind. I’m too tired to argue. Haven’t slept all night thanks to your antics last night.” He heaves a sigh. “Downstairs.”
“Shiro’s downstairs sleeping. Don’t ask me where your knife is – he’s the one who hid it. If that’s what you’re here for, go ask him. I’ll be watching, though. Keep that in mind when the blade is back in your hands.”
Keith straightens up and huffs. Frustration surges within him. “And I’ll keep in mind not to accidentally do anything that raises a cause of concern for you.”
“Too late for that.”
“I’m not going to hurt him.”
“My gut tells me you might for some reason,” Matt says dryly. “I don’t know why. It’s not like you came here to do exactly that last night, you know?”
Now Keith understands why Pidge was so adamant about not showing her face around her brother. It’s not that Matt’s unkind, he’s just… on edge and likely still reeling with what happened to his father and sister. And, of course, Keith’s assassination mission attempt last night.
“Think what you like,” Keith murmurs.
Steeling himself, he walks across the room to the stairs. He’s conscious of Matt’s gaze burning through the dark after him. Matt lets Keith go without a fight, but it doesn’t leave Keith reassured. It’s been made clear his presence here isn’t entirely welcomed. Keith’s still more a foe than a friend after all.
And so it’s surprising when he finds Shiro awake and watching him warily but not in the sense of anticipating Keith attacking. Instead, he looks wary like he’s waiting for Keith to bolt.
“You came back,” Shiro says flatly.
Keith doesn’t say anything, just watches him warily also. The reception is, at least, better than Matt’s. He lingers half way up the staircase, just in case.
“I’m guessing you came back for your knife.”
“And to talk. If you’ll let me.”
Shiro gets the implication. “No bar, I promise.” The nervous glint in his eyes says he might change his mind though, if Keith proves to be the danger Matt so declares him to be.
“But first, where’s my knife? I need it back.”
“I thought we could make a condition?” Shiro says carefully.
Yep, the leader of the Coalition. “What? You’ll give it back to me after we talk?”
Keith can feel the light creeping into the sky behind him. With, the first edges of sleep creep up on him too. “I have a condition too.”
“And what is that?”
“You’ll have to let me stay here, and you’ll have to give me your word that you won’t hand me over to any authorities during daylight hours.”
“You have my word, as the authority.”
“And what about Matt’s?”
“We already talked. He won’t.”
The corner of Keith’s mouth lifts. “Ah, but he was thinking about it, wasn’t he?”
Shiro sighs. The lines beneath his eyes are dark. “Look, I’m done with this argument going round and round inside my head, okay? Bottom line is this: you came into my house as an assassin with the sole intent to kill me – you have to understand the threat you are from our perspective.”
“Oh, I do. Well and clear.”
“Add to that that you’re a vampire, and things get even trickier.”
“And… add to that that you’re someone who I once regarded as my brother, well…that is where I contradict myself and do things I shouldn’t. Like giving a vampire assassin permission to stay at my house, for example.”
Keith tries not to feel too stung by Shiro’s words. ‘You’re someone who I once regarded as my brother.’ In other words, not anymore. He shakes his head. “I just need to be sure enough that you’ll let me stay here without any ulterior motive such as killing said vampire assassin or practicing torture methods on it in order to get it to answer all the questions you have for it.”
“You’re not an it. And no, none of that is going to happen.”
“You know,” Keith says, cheek twitching, “when you left me tied to the pot plant when the sun came up, I wasn’t so sure.”
Shiro swallows. He bows his head. “I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking…”
“No, you weren’t.”
“Um, about that – if you’re going to stay here, obviously that’s a risk to us both. Besides the obvious be wary of daylight thing, is there anything else I should know about? Or rather, be careful of? No hugs is one of them, right? And no asking about when you were turned?”
Keith grimaces. “Yeah. None of that.”
“Don’t ask me about who I work with. It’ll only endanger you along with all of them. We work in the shadows for a reason. And no, it’s not just because half of us are vampires.”
Too late he realises he just gave away information. He inwardly curses himself, tries to school his expression to cover up the fact that he shouldn’t have said that, but it’s too late – Shiro’s already picked up on it.
“Half? You mean… you’re vampires….living with humans?”
“I said,” Keith grits out, “no questions.”
As if he didn’t already screw up.
That was a slip of the tongue, but a bad one. He gets like this sometimes near sunrise. It’s like he’s drunk on sleepiness before it knocks him out. Part of why it’s happening now could be because he’s instinctively comfortable around Shiro – too comfortable. He’s worried Shiro or Matt will take advantage of it and use this weakness to pry answers out of him.
Keith might as well go waste away in the desert in broad daylight if that’s what happens to him.
Fortunately, the slip up actually proves to be a positive. Shiro’s expression is softer, less defensive. His shoulders aren’t so tight. His muscles don’t look so wound up for a fight.
It’s true what he accidentally said – the Blades are a mix of humans and vampires. The vampires take the roles of the assassins and the intel gatherers, while the other half – human hunters – bring back food for those on-base and keep an eye and ear out for anything of concern while they’re out. The two parts of the Blades trust each other not to cross boundaries, to keep distance where it’s necessary. In other words, they trust each other with their lives in more ways than one.
Of course, Keith has no way to prove this. But Shiro seems willing to take Keith’s reaction to accidentally speaking of it as evidence enough for now.
“Alright,” Shiro says. “I’m fine with your conditions. Are you okay with mine?”
Keith grunts. “Do I have much of a choice? Yes, I’m fine with it.” And if I decide I’m actually not, I’ll just go searching the house myself for my knife.
Shiro nods. “Okay. Okay, thank you.”
A disapproving yet accepting click of the tongue from Matt sounds from upstairs.
Keith steps down the last of the stairs. Outside, the light is steadily growing. It’s nigh on sleep time and he’s rather weary.
In the light of the candle Shiro has burning away on the table, Shiro examines Keith’s face. “How’s your burns?”
Keith frowns. “It burns?”
“Do you need some more aloe vera?”
“I mean, I suppose that would help. But it’s fine. Don’t waste your resources on me. It’s hard enough to get stuff out here as it is.”
Shiro shakes his head. “I hurt you out of ignorance. Wasn’t one of your conditions to our truce not to make you suffer? That includes not making you suffer untreated burns that I caused.”
He doesn’t give Keith opportunity to debate it. He insists, fetching the aloe vera and setting it down on the table. When Keith hesitates due to consuming such valuable resources – in the Blades, they have even less available to them – Shiro asks for consent and then applies the aloe vera himself. Keith’s sprained wrist is grateful for it.
As Shiro finishes with the burn on his shoulder, Keith realises he’s become far too relaxed for his own safety. He trusts Shiro, but he shouldn’t. Not with who Keith is to him now. But Shiro doesn’t seem to be regarding Keith as the vampire assassination who attempted to kill him last night, so that’s a good thing.
A really good thing, considering the way Keith’s whole body and mind feels like they’re about to fall to the floor and sink through it. Gravity is overpowering, as is the untameable need to sleep…
“Sun’s coming up, huh.” Shiro chuckles softly.
Keith groans. He can’t keep his eyes open. “Don’t kill me, will ya?”
“I won’t. Part of the deal too, remember?”
Part of the deal. “Guess it’s too much to ask it to be your good heart as well.”
“What? No, Keith…”
Keith shakes his head. “It’s fine. Just… tell me where I’m allowed to sleep.” He looks around, spies the inflatable camping mattress and the blankets still there from earlier. “Oh, right. Never mind.”
Knowing he’s not going to be able to last too much longer, Keith goes ahead and sits down on the bedding. His shoulders slouch and he slumps forward, head supported by his palm pressed against his forehead and his arm propped up on one knee.
“I’m sorry about earlier,” he mumbles. Gosh, it’s so hard trying to stay awake at this time.
Shiro stays where he is, giving Keith space in the vulnerability creeping over him. “I’m sorry too.”
“I’ll… we can talk in the night.”
It feels like a mistake, this coming back here. Keith hopes it isn’t, but there isn't a lot he can do about it now. Sleep crashes into him harder than he expected. He lets his body collapse into the bedding, his mind collapse into the black-out of vampire sleep. Blankets are drawn over his body. That’s the last thing Keith remembers before the brain fog shrouds his mind entirely.
He sincerely hopes this isn't a mistake.